Kevin and I got in his car and drove away from the Leland campus. Neither one of us spoke for a long time. Finally, I had to ask about what had happened backstage with Ben and Terry.
"Were you backstage during the whole third act?" I asked Kevin.
"Yea. But I could still see what was happening on stage. You were great."
"Thanks," I said. "Did you see Ben and Terry arguing?"
`Everyone backstage saw it," Kevin said. "It was sort of hard to ignore."
"Did you hear what they were fighting about?" I asked.
`Yea," Kevin said hesitantly. "But, please don't ask me what they said."
I had to ask. "Why not?"
"It'll just bum you out," Kevin answered.
Despite Kevin's warning, I felt compelled to know what had happened. Kevin, I need to know. Please tell me," I said.
"Okay," Kevin said. "But just remember, I'm only the messenger." Then, he said, "No pun intended."
Kevin took a deep breath. "Terry asked Ben why you would want to speak with him – alone - after the show. I didn't hear all of what they said next. But, I could tell that Terry was getting upset. And, he asked Ben - well - if you were - his `boy toy.' Ben didn't answer, and Terry looked really pissed and left. Ben chased after him. That's all I know."
Kevin had been right again. Hearing what had gone on backstage made me even more upset. Thankfully, I held it together and managed to thank Kevin. Then, I said, "I'm sorry I pulled you into all this crap between Ben and me. I had no idea that he'd be at the show tonight."
"Joel," Kevin said. "It's okay. Why don't you just try to relax until we get back to the motel? We can talk there if you want to."
I agreed, hung my head down and rested my forehead on my hands.
Once we got back to our room, I went into the bathroom for a shower. I wanted to wash the makeup off of my face. I stayed in there as long as I could, and I let the hot water ripple down my face and body. It felt soothing. I got out of the shower and brushed my teeth. I put on a clean tee-shirt and clean briefs, and I stretched out on the bed.
While I was in the shower, Kevin had turned on the TV. He muted the sound and asked, "How are you doing?"
"Better," I said. "I'm just trying to relax and let it all go. Thanks again for being such a good friend."
"No problem," Kevin said. "And, I think I have something that will help us both relax." He reached into his shirt pocket, and he pulled out a joint.
I was shocked. "I didn't know you smoke grass," I said.
"Most of the guys at school do," Kevin said. "But, I'm not one of the stoners. I just use it to relax - once in a while. How about it? Do you want to get high with me?"
I had never smoked marijuana before, nor had I ever used any recreational drugs. Following Kevin's earlier advice, I considered whether or not I would wind up regretting smoking weed.
Quickly, I realized that I would never regret passing up Kevin's offer. And, I wasn't sure that I really wanted to make yet another entry on the list of bad decisions I had made over the last few months.
I had deliberately flirted with Ben, and that had led to our first kiss. I had played word games with Ben to try to get him to kiss me again. And, when Corey caught us kissing and got so upset that he had a terrible accident with a train, what did I do? I plotted a bunch of lies to protect Ben and me from the consequences of the truth. And then, I had snuck away with Ben during the cast party so that we could indulge in sexual acts that the church said were sinful.
At the same time, I thought about what a great friend Kevin had been to me this weekend. He stood by me, helped me out, and he hadn't judged me when my relationship with Ben became ugly. I didn't want to disappoint Kevin by turning down his request to get high with him.
But, I really didn't want to start using drugs.
"Thanks, but I'll have to pass," I said to Kevin. "I'm afraid if I get high, I will completely lose it. But, if you want to smoke, I don't object. If I did, I'd be a hypocrite. I drank some alcohol with Ben at the cast party."
"You know, Joel," Kevin said. "I'm not gay, and I don't have a problem being friends with guys who are. But, I really don't know what you ever saw in Ben. The more I know about him, the more I can't stand him. He treated you like shit, Joel. And, he's a real jerk."
And, there it was. Kevin had verbalized that he knew I'm gay. And, he knew that I was involved with Ben. Kevin was not gay, and we were not on a date. Kevin didn't have a crush on me. He just wanted to be friends.
I needed to be alone to sort out the mess inside my head.
"Here's what we can do," I said to Kevin. "How about I go get us something to eat? If you want to smoke a joint while I'm gone, go for it. I hear you get the munchies when you smoke weed, and I saw a pizza place across the road. It kind of looks like a dive, but it's close. How about I go there? Is plain cheese okay? And you drink regular Coke, right?"
Kevin thought that was a great plan, so I got dressed and left to get the food.
I walked about a quarter mile to the restaurant. It had a bar and a dingy dining room. I ordered the pizza and drinks, and I sat down at an empty booth. As I was waiting for the pizza, I found myself feeling very strange. I was confused about something. It was really bothering me, but
I couldn't seem to bring it into focus. I knew I felt betrayed by Ben, but what was bothering me really wasn't that he had broken our date and taken Terry to the play instead. As much as I hated to admit it, I could sort of understand his situation.
I was so lost in thought that I barely noticed a guy walking over to me. When I realized he was standing right next to my booth, I was startled.
The guy looked to be a lot older than I – maybe in his late thirties. He had long, sandy-colored hair that was combed straight back from his forehead. His beard was scruffy. He wore a belt with a huge metal buckle. The belt did not, however, keep his faded blue jeans from sliding down in front, exposing a protruding beer belly. He had on a well-worn, brown leather jacket.
The guy sat down across from me, uninvited. "What's a good looking boy like you doin' sitting here all alone on a Saturday night?" he asked.
Instantly, I became really uncomfortable, and I was pretty sure the guy was looking for a `hook-up.' But, for all I knew, he might be planning to beat me up, rape me and take my money. Whatever the guy had in mind, I knew it wouldn't be good for me. I was scared, and I had no idea how to try to get rid of him.
"Ugh, I'm just waiting for my cheese pizza," I said.
"We can make it my treat - if you're the sociable type," he said.
"Thanks, but I have someone waiting for me at the motel," I said.
The guy smiled at me in a creepy way. "Well, if your friend is as young and cute as you are, I'll pick up some beer, you add some sausage to that pizza, and we can go to your room and have a party."
I'd had enough of this creepy guy hitting on me, and I felt my body preparing to defend myself.
"Oh, I'm not old enough to drink yet," I said. "But, we could still take some beer back to the room. My Dad's there, and he enjoys a cold beer every once in a while. I mean - when he's off-duty, of course. The Michigan State Police are real strict about things like that."
The guy stared at me. "You threatening me, Boy?"
"No," I said. "But, I'm not bullshitting you either," I lied.
The guy gave me a disgusted grunt and got up from the table. "Your loss – you shitty ass little punk," he said. "But, after Daddy goes to sleep tonight, you just go ahead and jack yourself off thinking about all the fun you could have had with my dick up your ass."
The guy turned to walk away. I should have just left things as they were. Unfortunately, that snarky voice in my head couldn't keep quiet.
"First of all, I only top," I lied. "And, unless you're more versatile than you look, neither one of us would have had much fun. And second, I came here for a plain cheese pizza. But if I decided that I wanted more, I'd be looking for a nice, fresh bratwurst - not an expired old sausage appetizer!"
When I realized what had actually come out of my mouth, I was shocked and petrified! I braced for the vicious attack that I thought was surely coming my way.
But, some people are just too stupid to know when they've been insulted.
"Oh, listen to the know-it-all, fancy-talking school boy, with his "first of alls' and `second of alls," the creep said to me. "Kid, ain't no pansy twink like you ever gonna top a man like me. And you think you're hot shit, but you don't know nothin'! Nobody puts bratwurst on a fucking pizza! Now, get your sorry ass out of here!"
I got up and went to the pick-up counter, praying that the pizza was ready. I couldn't believe I had blatantly insulted the dangerous-looking creep who had just hit on me.
As I watched a girl boxing up my pizza, the reality of what had just happened slapped me in the face. "Holy shit!" I thought to myself. "I could have gotten killed!" I decided I must get better control of that snarky voice in my head that always wants to win – regardless of the possible consequences. I paid for my order, stuck the pop cans into the pockets of my jacket, and I grabbed the pizza. I headed for the door.
Once I was outside, I became so scared that my upper body began trembling. I was all alone in a strange place - at night. There was a strong wind pushing at my back. Cars were speeding by on the four-lane highway I had to cross. And now, the motel didn't seem so close; it looked to be far away. I prayed that I'd get back there alive. I continued walking as fast as I could. But, I kept looking back to the restaurant to make sure that the creepy guy, and maybe his friends, hadn't decided to follow me.
When I finally got back to the motel, I had trouble unlocking the door. My hands were shaking. When I did get the door open, I went inside quickly. I set the pizza box down, turned the deadbolt lock on the door, and I connected the chain door guard. I looked through the peephole for a long time – just to be sure I was safe. Then, I noticed the heavy smell of marijuana in the room.
Kevin was stretched out on his bed, looking like he was in a daze. "Wow, Man," he said. You've been gone forever. Like a really long time!" Then, he came and got the pizza box. I handed him a can of Coke from my pocket. He dug into the pizza as if he hadn't eaten all day, and he guzzled the pop. I sat on my bed and nibbled on one piece of the pizza, not even finishing it. As soon as he was done eating, Kevin fell asleep on top of his bed. I covered him up.
I took off my clothes and tried to go to sleep in my bed. But, I couldn't turn off my mind.
The whole incident with the creep at the pizza place made me feel nauseous and tense. I chastised myself for being such an idiot. And, I promised myself that I'd never again let my snarky attitude place me in physical danger. "Just keep your damn mouth shut!" I thought to myself.
When I was finally able to put all of that aside, I began feeling strange again about the situation with Ben. I was still confused. Something was bothering me that didn't involve Ben breaking our date and taking Terry to the show instead.
I played back all of the events at Leland in my mind. And then, it hit me. I knew what was bothering me. Ben had sex with me knowing that he was going to break our date and cut off our relationship the next day. He hadn't been upfront with me before we made love for the first and only time. He had not given me the chance to decide what I wanted to do under the real circumstances of the situation. Sure, maybe I would have taken him to the storage room anyway. But, the way Ben handled the situation didn't give me a choice – a choice that should have been mine. That's the reason I felt so manipulated and betrayed – just like I felt manipulated and betrayed when David...
I sat up in utter and complete shock. David had done the same thing to me. He kept it a secret that we would have to break up the day after the state championship. He had withheld the truth from me just to increase our chances of winning the state title. And, he had not told me he was moving away until the day after I had let him fuck me - for the first and only time.
I was only 16, and I had already been involved with two guys who had betrayed me. Both relationships had left me deeply hurt and feeling awful about myself. And, I had started lying all the time to hide what I was doing. And now, I had foolishly tried to insult a scary creep who had tried to pick me up! What the Hell was I thinking?!?
And then I realized what my real problem was. I wasn't thinking. I wasn't making decisions based on what I wanted my future to be. I was letting my emotions, my out-of-control sex drive, and my snarky mouth push me into bad decisions that were short-sighted and making a mess of my life.
I resolved right then and there to take control and change my life. I knew right from wrong, and I had been making choices to do wrong things. I had grown up pretending to be the confident, smart and obedient child that my parents, my teachers and the church expected me to be. But, I wasn't really that person. In fact, I was a fake.
I decided that the key to turning my life around was to become the person I was supposed to be. If I stopped pretending, if I stopped doing wrong things, maybe I could be that person. Maybe, that would make me feel good about myself. Maybe that way, I could find some lasting peace and happiness.
And, the first two things I had to change would be the hardest ones. I had to stop having romantic and intimate relationships with guys, and I had to leave Joliet.
I liked girls – sort of. And there were several girls at school that I thought were cute. I knew I preferred guys, but I was pretty sure I could change – if I tried hard enough.
Staying at Joliet for my senior year just wouldn't work. My reputation there was pretty much shot. And, it would be hard to reinvent myself surrounded by my past.
I don't remember when I fell asleep that night. But, I know I had some disturbing dreams.
Kevin and I had a good time looking around the U of M campus on Sunday, and we both really liked downtown Ann Arbor. But, it wasn't the fun adventure I had hoped it would be. I decided that I wouldn't apply to the U. of M. for college. I wanted to go out of state. I wanted to go to Princeton.
I was glad when Kevin dropped me off at home in the late afternoon.
The next day at school, Kevin told many of our friends about how I had taken over the role of the Messenger at Leland College over the weekend. Most of the people Kevin talked to thought it was super cool, and they congratulated me throughout the day. I truly appreciated that Kevin never mentioned Ben when he told the story. He just told them that Jennifer was there doing makeup, and she had asked me to take over the role when the lead got sick. And of course, that was all true. I was glad that Kevin told the truth - without full disclosure.
Over the next few weeks, I thought a lot about the changes I had to make. And, I became committed to becoming the person I was supposed to be. I wanted to stop pretending to be that person. I wanted to stop doing things that I felt had to be covered up by lies.
And, I did leave Joliet for my senior year. Mrs. Weber, Jim, and Sara all tried to talk me out of it. But, I was determined to leave my past behind me. And, my parents were thrilled to send me to private school. They even promised me my own car if that would help me make the final decision to change schools.
I wound up at Lakeside Academy. It was a prestigious, private preparatory school. I hated the fact that I had to wear a uniform – white shirt, rep tie, navy blue blazer and khaki pants. But, I considered it part of my penance as I transformed myself into `the real thing.'
I was offered a spot on the Lakeside debate team – even though I didn't attend tryouts. I considered debating again, but I ultimately turned down Lakeside's offer - for three reasons. First, debate was too closely associated with my past and all the things I had to change. Second, I was still loyal to Mrs. Weber, Sara, and Jim. I could never try to defeat them. And third, I already had enough debate and theater activities to put on college applications. What I needed was sports – both to round out my high school experiences and to show my father that I really was the kind of son he had always wanted.
My father was very excited when I went out for football at Lakeside. I knew I wasn't a good football player. But, I made the team because there were so few guys who wanted to play. I wound up being a mediocre player on a mediocre team. But, Dad was at every game rooting for me.
Being part of the football team had some definite advantages. I started hanging out with the `cool kids,' and I made a lot of friends very quickly. And, by Thanksgiving, I had my first girlfriend.
Komiko was a Japanese-American girl who was absolutely stunning to look at. She played the piano beautifully, and she was smarter than I. I was totally smitten with her, and we became inseparable. Our friends merged our names and called us `JoKo.' Her parents seemed to like me, and Komiko and I spent a lot of time together at her home, studying - and making out. We finally made love for the first time on Valentine's Day.
My parents were `over-the-moon' happy about my relationship with Komiko. They treated her as a member of our family.
Komiko and I both applied to Princeton. She was accepted. I was wait-listed. And ultimately, I was informed that there wouldn't be a place for me at Princeton. I thought it was totally unfair!
I wound up accepting a spot in the freshman class at my second choice college – Oberlin Wesleyan University in Ohio. Komiko and I broke up in August so that we could both start college unencumbered. The break up was painful, but we both realized that a long distance relationship wouldn't work. And, neither of us was ready to make a life-long commitment.
As I prepared to leave for college that fall, I was proud of myself for making the decision to leave Joliet behind and to become the person that I was supposed to be. And, I promised myself I wouldn't let college change that. I would continue down the straight and narrow path toward true and lasting happiness.
Or, so I thought.
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