We’ve been on an adventure trip all vacation long, fueled by a pot high. Pizza and beer makes us total addicts. We love it. For the first time, I’m blocking out the nightly memories of what Jeff is doing to me.
“We need some sign that we’re free from all the school bullshit they force on us,” Michael states.
“Let’s be blood brothers,” I actually suggest something.
“We need to wear something, like a badge of honor that we don’t follow their rules.”
“Like a uniform or team tee-shirt?” Michael suggests.
“That’s too much like the lame jocks.”
“Gross,” they both complain. I just laugh.
“Hey,” Michael understands. “We always climb without sneakers. We’re the barefoot gang.”
“Fuck the gangs,” Robby crows. “We’ll never wear shoes again, even to school. We don’t need to call ourselves anything. We’re always ready to hit the trees and escape their lame flat earth rules.”
“Not if we’re slick. With frayed jeans pushed down to cover our feet, they’ll never notice.”
“Except when they smell your feet,” Michael laughs.
“Fuck them with the noses in the air.”
Pizza comes. We keep laughing while scarfing slices.
Time to face the music. Still high, I march home to the beat of Barry Maguire’s ‘Eve of Destruction.’ I was not in a hurry.
Jeff first knocks me down. Then he socks John, who tries to stop him, only to take a punch to the solar plexus. Down he goes. We both lay there, with Jeff glaring at us. Edith comes to the head of the stairs, then turns around and walks away. The parents are home. They will not stop Jeff. He drags us to his room, locks the door, and attacks me first while John cowers in the corner. I lay there barely aware of what he’s doing. I know he has to finish or else he’ll attack John. When he is done, he gets up and unlocks the door. We hustle back to our room. What I won’t give for a lock on our door. John makes me follow him to the garage. We cuddle with Max, each of us on either side of the wiggling dog, rubbing his stomach.
“Robby gave Max a shotgun today,” I whisper to John.
He looks shocked. “Did Max like it?”
“He lay on his back like he is right now, except he wiggled all four legs in the air and couldn’t get up.”
He breaks up. Max looks at both of us and seems confused before going back to wiggling, His tail is wagging against the garage floor.
We keep laughing and hugging Max. Edith comes in and yells at us for not being in our room. I wonder where she was all the time Jeff was raping us. It’s the first time, I realize it is rape. My stoned mood crashes.
Jeff finally leaves for Orlando, back to his college life. I remain morose and withdrawn. John’s spirits lift immediately after Jeff is gone. I cannot forget as he does. John’s friends Dave and Jazz became regulars at Robby’s, the after school pot gang that makes our lives special. After the excitement of getting high up in the trees, smoking in the crowded bedroom does nothing for me. Max has been banned from Robby’s house for all the damage he caused being chased by Rocky, the black cat. I swear Rocky misses him. I decide to stay with Max in the garage, until Edith comes home from work. I go to Robby’s after she orders me out of the garage. Max becomes anxious when I leave, knowing what he’s missing.
“Why didn’t you come over after school?” Robby asked.
“I just wanted to be with Max.”
I haven’t a clue. He makes me sit next to him on his bed, loads a pinch of pot into the bowl at the side of the bong, and shows me how it works by lighting up the bowl. Sucking in the smoke until it fills the glass, he takes his finger off the hole on the back of the bong and inhales all the smoke in the glass. His eyes look like they’re ready to pop out. He finally exhales a huge cloud of pot smoke.
“You try,” he orders, refilling the bowl with another pinch of pot. It’s a one hitter. He puts my finger on the hole and lights up the bowl. As I suck in the smoke, it bubbles in the dirty water at the bottom of the glass.
“The water cools the smoke, making it a smooth tasting hit.”
He pulls my finger off the hole and all the smoke rushes into my lungs. I’m ready to explode.
Robby hits me beside the head, yelling “Bong.”
I cough all the smoke out. My eyes go crazy. I fall off the bed and go into spasms on the floor. Everyone is shouting and pointing at me. John kneels down and holds my head from banging the floor. My eyes stop twirling and I see the look of concern on his face. I shake my head and try to stand up. My legs don’t work. I flop on my back and am shaking all over.
“He looks just like Max when he gets stoned,” Michael observes.
I calm down and sit against the wall. They call me Max for the next few days. That’s cool.
“Listen, Max. We want to see the real Max. How about we ditch to the garage during nutrition,” Robby comes up to me between home room and first period.
Soon we’re ditching every day after second period. Max is ecstatic with all the attention. He adds crawling to the corner and putting a paw over his eyes. He’s a real performer. I find out that Dave convinced John to train him to do this Petey from ‘Our Gang’ act. No one suggests I again try a bong hit. I’m saved; this time by my dog. Pot still is not making me happy. I do not get the point of being high. When I tell Michael about this problem, he has no solution.
“Why are you so sad all the time?” he asks me.
“I just like being quiet.” I’m not about to talk about Jeff and my life in Hell. Jeff has been gone for two months. It doesn’t seem so bad from that perspective, just a half-remembered nightmare.
“I have a plan. We need to cheer you up.” He doesn’t explain.
On Friday night, we leave the garage for Robby’s as usual, before Edith gets home from work.
“Bring, Max,” Robby orders. “We’ll hang out in the backyard.”
When we get there Mary and Ned have worked with Robby’s mom, the witch, in decorating the yard for a birthday party. It’s my 15th birthday. I’ve never had a party before.
“Fuck you, Jace. I’ll never try to do anything for you again.”
Mary and Ned come over and calm me down. I start laughing at being so stupid for crying because I’m happy. Max sits beside me, looking worried about my tears. Rocky shows up to tease Max. He isn’t stoned, so he reverses roles and chases the black cat all over the yard. The table with cake and ice cream is knocked over and all the streamers strung around the yard are pulled down and wrapped around Max slowing down his attempt to catch Rocky. The cat jumps into the trees, stymieing Max. Robby decides to chase Rocky up the tree. We all follow. We stop at the top, sitting on various branches. Everyone sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and the entire neighborhood. All the neighbor dogs join in by howling, including Max. Rocky is petrified from being so high up in the tree. No one tells him not to look down. Robby carries him down, being rewarded with a swipe of claws across his face once back on firm ground. Rocky hisses and jumps out of his arms. Robby has three slices across his left cheek. He likes it. Weirdo.
With the cake and ice cream destroyed, we all go to Sorrento’s for pizza, pot and beer. We are reluctant to smoke in front of the witch. I must be more mature at 15; I realize she’s a pretty nice witch, just old. I’m so happy to have had a party. I actually smile. John gives me a present. It’s my own personal bong. Great.
“You just need to not overdo it,” he advises. They all have been taking lessons from Robby.
“Let’s try it out,” Robby decides. Before he can spark it up, the Sorrento’s manager comes over to our booth in the back and shuts it down. We aren’t going to mess with our beer connection. We’re fifteen now. Happy birthday me.
We continue to explore the neighborhood through the trees. Our favorite vantage spot is the large, expansive rubber tree outside the town library. Often we whistle at passersby to see if anyone ever looks up. It never happens, although many people look confused and even stop to discover who’s calling them. It’s hilarious. We try not to laugh at their confusion. We call ourselves the Ghosts of Gables Past.
Robby makes it his mission to discover where the make out girls live. He often spends hours climbing alone through the trees, searching for his victims.
“You’re a peeping tom,” Michael accuses him.
“Yeah. I’ll bet you can’t wait for me to find those lez’s. You’ll be right there watching in their window.”
John and I look at each other. There is no way we can let anyone look into our room, even though Jeff is at college. That night we fasten the window curtains as securely as possible. Our depressing room is gloomier than ever. We’ll never feel safe there. John seldom stays, usually sleeping over at his friends. I sneak into the garage most nights, to be with Max.
With our garage now the designated ditch pad from school, Max is totally addicted to pot. Robby tries sticking a joint through the dog’s floppy lips. Before getting it lit, Max spits it out. He’s only interested in smoke. He loves playing along with Robby’s pranks. Usually he ends up in the corner with a paw over one eye. Robby doesn’t want to call us a gang, but we definitely look like the Little Rascals.
Michael decides to take the remnants of Robby’s band and create his own band, with him drumming, of course. I agree to play bass, but Michael has other ideas. He convinces Ned to lend me his Gibson SG guitar, telling me to learn guitar. There is no way Michael is going to let tone-deaf Ned ruin the new band. Ned is a little miffed to be excluded. I promise to take good care of the Gibson. He says it’s worth hundreds. I keep it in good tune. Michael checks my tuning by making me play open strings. Listening for the harmonic that shows the strings are in tune.I like tuning it ‘up’ a bit, so it rings slightly sharp. As long as all the strings are tuned ‘up’, it sounds sweet. I don’t have an amp, so the only time I can play electric is at Michael’s. His house has a music room with various instruments, including a piano, stand-up bass, the practice amp, and of course Michael’s complete drum set. Mary is going to sing but no one has come up with lyrics yet. There’s a big discussion on whether to just play our favorite cover songs or come up with our own songs. I don’t want to keep the Gibson at my house, for fear that Jeff will find some way to ruin it. I barely know how to form chords. With only occasional practices at Michael’s, it’s a slow slog improving my guitar playing. I think I’m better on the bass but Michael convinces me to stay with guitar. He believes in me. More than I do. After initial enthusiasm, our practices become dispirited. Eventually the project is put on hold.
Also dampening our musical ambitions, Ned announces his family is moving after school is out for summer. Mary is bereft. I feel sorry for her, but it seems like what normally happens. She’s a pretty latina. I know she won’t be lonely for long. I figure Ned will want his expensive guitar back. My music career will be very short. I go to Ned’s house with the guitar to return it.
“You should keep it,” Ned says. “I really can’t play it well enough. You’re great on it.”
“Really? You’re kidding me. I can’t pay you for it.”
“I’m coming back for college at the U. You’ll be a big rock star. You have to let me in to all your shows.”
“Is Mary waiting for you?”
“What’s it like being in love?”
“It’s hell, especially when you have to leave.”
I guess I will have to find out for myself. Everyone’s expected to fall in love and then when it’s over you wish it never happened. Maybe it’s the same as hating someone.
Speak of the devil. Just when things seem normal, Jeff comes home for the weekend. He goes crazy with John and me. When I’m not able to ‘satisfy’ him, he really goes after John. John moans all night and in the morning his bed sheets are covered with blood. I freak out and run into the parents’ bedroom. I never go in there. Dad rushes into our room. Once he sees the blood, he picks John up and drives him to the hospital. I have to stay behind.
Five minutes later, Edith rushes into my room. Jeff is right behind her.
“What have you been doing to my son, you sick pervert?” she screams at me.
Calling me a pervert tells me she believes Jeff’s lies. I’m blamed for what Jeff did to make John bleed. In my confusion I think it’s true. Jeff once made me do it to John, as a punishment to show that I was not his brother. Life with Jeff is hell. I know that now they will send me to prison. I throw myself on my bed and bury my head in the pillow. It cannot get worse. Edith locks the door to my room.
“We’ll deal with you later,” she yells, as they leave for the hospital.
Later comes soon enough. Once back from the hospital, Dad drags me into the backyard, takes off his belt and beats me until I stop crying. He pulls me back to my room and locks me in again. I’m feverish from the beating, only able to sleep in short spans, waking every time to the horror I’m living.
John is moved into Jeff’s room, to protect him from me.
“You’re on shaky ground, boy. One more incident like Friday night and you’ll be sent away,” Dad chastises me.
“I didn’t do it, Dad,” I mumble to deaf ears. I try to tell him that John should not sleep in John’s room. He does not believe me.
On Monday, we all ditch to the garage after second period to get high. John takes me into the backyard and tells me what happened at the hospital. Dad made him lie about what caused his butt to bleed. He tells the nurses that he sat on a nail before going to bed. He didn’t think it was so bad until he woke up covered in blood. We promise to never tell anyone about what really happened. John giggles that he has to wear a woman’s Maxi-Pad for the next three days. He’s excused from gym. I’m impressed that John can laugh about it. He is so tough. I feel like a wimp . Max is excited that everyone visits him at the garage. All the weekend drama means he was left alone. He is overly excited to get high. Instead of cowering in the corner, he crawls over to me and John. We sit on the floor, rub his belly and scratch behind his ears.
“What a happy family,” Robby mocks us.
It means everything is back to normal. I’m not going to jail. All the lying saves me.
The next few months sees our pot gang consumed by the drama of Ned’s departure and Mary having to deal with their breakup. Robby sees his opportunity by comforting her on her loss. Soon she is now Robby’s girlfriend. He is so possessive of Mary that we are not allowed to act friendly toward her. He isolates her for his sole benefit. He lets everyone know they’re having sex. That is too much information for sex-phobic me.
John’s butt recovers quickly. Having to share a bedroom with Jeff, who has returned from college for summer vacation, means John permanently stays over at Dave or Jazz’s homes. Jeff continues to molest me but on a less frequent basis. He says he’s getting sick of me as I get taller and stronger. He makes up excuses to lure John home at nights. We always stay in the garage where Jeff is still afraid of Max. When it is just me at home, he threatens to kill me if I spend the night in the garage. I really believe him. Sex is a one-way street with him. I just lay there, trying to ignore what he’s doing. He calls me a fag but I know I’m not because I never get horny. I’m fifteen and haven’t gone through puberty. I keep growing to well over six feet. I’m bigger than Jeff but too afraid of him to fight back. Dad gets Jeff a job at one of his clients. We all laugh when we find out he’s flipping burgers at Burger King. We called it the BK Lounge and go there on Bird Road just to mock him. I have to be careful not to mock him for fear of retribution later that night. In reality, he can’t do anything worse than he’s already doing, except maybe kill me. That would be a relief.
TREE CLIMBING NIGHTS
Robby’s nightly excursions climbing trees in the neighborhood (when Mary doesn’t stay over) are no longer fun for me. He wants to watch neighbors ‘doing’ it. It makes me sick. The junior high kids, including John, find it exciting. I just go home and hang out with Max in the garage until Jeff forces me to get into bed. His decreased ardor means he finishes quickly and goes to his room. I lay there disgusted and wonder how it just seems normal now. Often my dreams are filled with violent images and hopeless scenarios where I wander around lost, unable to find my way home.
I still like to hang out in the tree at the library, scaring clueless kids walking by or sometimes sitting underneath us. We spit on them or drop small branches to harass them. One night a jock with short blond hair is sitting with a blonde girl. Robby makes us stay quiet, so he can hear their conversation. It makes little sense, but the jock puts his arm around her and is comforting her. They leave but presently the boy returns, sitting there dreaming about the girl we figure is his girlfriend. We start whistling to make him think he’s being haunted by ghosts. Unlike most of our victims, he looks up and spots us high above him.
“Where’d your girlfriend go?” Robby asks.
“You saw all that. She’s my best friend’s girl.”
“Tryin’ to snake her?” Robby yearns to dig up drama.
“Naw. They’ve been separated since they got caught screwing. I’m just passing notes back and forth.”
“Com’n up here and tell us all about it,” Robby dares him.
“You get high?” Robby dares him.
“Not for awhile. It interferes with my workouts.”
“Just a jock, huh?”
“Your best friend the guy who stays over most of the time?” Robby, the peeping tom, knows details and wants more info.
“How do you know that?”
The jock is shocked and the news that Robby knows about his sex life shuts him up.
“So, you guys are fags, right?” Robby presses the point.
“Ain’t denying it. What do you care?”
“Now he has a girlfriend?”
“We both do. It’s complicated. Having a boyfriend is a lot easier. And we still like girls.”
“We’ll wait until you calm down,” Robby announces.
“My name’s Tim,” he sticks out a hand and almost loses his balance again.
Robby decides it will be fun to leave him 40 feet up the tree, panicked about getting down.
“See ya,” he announces and jumps to the next tree. We all follow our route back to Robby’s house. Tim forgets his fears and jumps with us. He lands fine until all those muscles make him too heavy for the branch which breaks when he lands it on it. Michael saves him by swinging him over to his branch just as he’s about to take the 40-foot drop. Everyone is laughing at Tim’s death defying moves.
“See,” Robby motions toward the house on the other side of the back fence once we’re in his yard. “You live right over there. Your sleep in the tower room. I can see right in.”
That is doubtful from the ground, but Robby has been spying from the trees. We can see a darker-haired boy walking around Tim’s room. It amazes me that they are boyfriends. Neither seems like Jeff. I wonder if Tim beats up the boy to get him to have sex.
“Well, thanks for the pot and the tour of the trees. I gotta get home.”
“He’s waitin’ for ya,” Dave observes.
“Well, I’m pulling the curtains shut from now on.”
We all laugh. He jumps over the fence and soon is waving at us before closing the curtains. We all pile into Robby’s room through his window. All we talk about is the fags in the neighborhood.
“I see them doing it all the time,” Robby has the evidence.
“With girls, too?” Dave is curious.
“Not doing it, but there is one girl who they make climb up a ladder to get in.”
“Is she a skank?”
“Think they all do it together?”
“I thought fags can’t get it up with girls.” Dave seems to know more than anyone.
“Maybe jocks take hormones that make them super horny.”
“I’m going out for football then,” Jazz announces.
“But fags are wimpy,” Dave waves his wrist in a girly way.
“One of them has to be the girl.”
“How does that work?”
“One’s the top person and the other’s on the bottom,” Robby has seen them doing it, so he must know.
“What do you mean?”
“The top acts like a normal guy and the bottom uses his butt hole as the cunt,” Robby is too graphic.
“Eww,” everyone is grossed out.
It’s too much for me. I jump up and leave Robby’s bedroom through the window. Once in the backyard, I glance up at Tim’s window. I shiver thinking what’s going on behind the closed curtains. It’s all too close for comfort.