Sabtu, 03 Desember 2011

GAY BOY by Peter Nolan Smith

My family moved from Maine in the summer of 1960. The moving truck pulled out of our driveway heading to a suburb south of Boston. Our house on Falmouth Foresides was empty. Our neighbors said good-bye and my grandmother wished us a good trip. She gave each of her three oldest grandchildren a $5 bill.

“So you remember me in Boston.” My grandmother had served in WWI. She met my grandfather in France. He had been a field doctor with the Royal Canadians. She was the gentlest person in my life.

“We won’t forget you.” I loved her riding in her VW Beatle, sleeping at the foot of her bed, listening to the radio at night, and swimming off the dock at Watchic Pond. I fought back tears, as I hugged her. I didn’t want to go. My best friend, Chaney, was standing on the grass. I walked over to him with leaden feet.

“I’ll see you soon.” I shook his hand. My father had promised us a vacation at the camp. It couldn’t come soon enough.

“Don’t go swimming without me.” Chaney lowered his head. Boys weren’t supposed to cry in public.

“I won’t.”

At the end of our street was Portland harbor. For all I knew there were no lakes or beaches in Boston. I reached into my pocket and gave him my Pete Runnel’s baseball card. He was our favorite player on the Red Sox.

“No, you keep it, but if you go to a game at Fenway Park, have him autograph it and then give it to me.” Chaney smiled with the prospective of having something from the Boston infielder.

“Everyone in the car.” My father was herding his five children into the sky-blue Ford Fairlane with wooden side panels. The rear of the car was packed with boxes. My older brother, our two sisters, and I crammed into the back seat. My mother, father, and baby brother sat in the front.

“You don’t know when you might have these again.” My grandmother handed us a bag of Italian sandwiches. They were a Maine favorite. I liked mine with onions and green peppers. “I wrote down which ones are for whom. Bon voyage.”

My father backed up the car and once on the street put the gear in forward. Everyone on the grass waved good-bye, as we drove away from the only house in which I had lived. It felt like a big mistake.

For lunch my father stopped at rest area next the New Hampshire tollbooth.

After finishing my Italian sandwich I went over to my parents to ask for permission to go to the bathroom. My father was speaking with my mother about schooling for their five children. She had my youngest brother on her lap. He was two.

My father was arguing for public school, while my mother insisted on a Catholic education. He had converted from agnosticism to marry my mother. There would be only one winner in this discussion.

“Can I go?” I couldn’t hold my water any longer.

My father waved his hand and I ran to the men’s room. Names and telephone numbers were scrawled on the wall. It smelled funny and I held my breath.

A minute later I exited from the toilet. My eyes blinked in the bright sunlight. Our family car was not in the parking lot. My father liked playing jokes and I expected the Ford station wagon to appear out of thin air. One minute became two and two became five. No sign of the family car, but a beat-up Chevy slowed down and a man with glasses stared at me in a strange way.

“You lost?”

“No, he’s not lost.” The toll collector grabbed my hand and stood his ground. “Get lost.”

The Chevy pulled out of the parking lot and the uniformed man brought me over to toll booth.

“Where’s your family?”

“I don’t know. I went to the washroom and when I came out they were gone.” My mother had taught me to say washroom instead of toilet.

“You have brothers and sisters?” The man signaled to his fellow workers that he was taking a break.

“Yes, there is five of us.” Three boys and two girls. The man asked my name and address. The first answer was easy. I gulped down doubt for the second. “We used to live at 8 McKinley Road was in Falmouth Foresides, but we’re moving to Boston. I don’t know where.”

I was lost.

“Don’t worry, kid, your parents will be back. Would you like an ice cream?”

“My mother said not to accept things from strange men.” She never explained why.

“I’m not strange. I work for the Great State of Maine and my name is Jim.”

“I’ll have a vanilla, please.” Jim had a nice face. He looked like my Uncle Russ. Vanilla was my favorite flavor.

“Kid, one vanilla coming up and don’t worry. Your parents will be back soon.”

Time is a funny thing for an eight year-old boy. I sat on a bench and licked at the melting ice cream cone. I was sure that if I finished it before my mother and father came back then they weren’t ever coming back. I checked my pockets. $5 bought fifty ice cream cones. I would wait until my money was gone. At the age of eight I couldn’t come up with a better plan.

Fifteen minutes a Ford station wagon approached the toll booth from the south. It was not a car built for speed, but everyone at the rest area watched, as the driver veered through the oncoming traffic to the curb. The stench of an over-taxed engine and the tries’ burnt break overwhelmed the fragrance of vanilla.

“Thank God you’re here.” My mother dashed from the car and hugged me tight. My ice cream fell to the ground. Her eyes were red from tears.

“I saw him wandering around the rest area and figured you must have forgotten him. It’s happens here more than you think.” The man brushed my crew-cut head.

“Tell that to my wife.” My father thanked the tollbooth collector. “At the Portsmouth rotary I asked my oldest son, where this one was, and he said that we left him at the rest area. I thought he was joking, until I did a fast headcount. I didn’t know that this car could hit a 100.”

“No harm done. Have a good trip.”

“Thanks.”

Back in the car my father breathed easy and had me tell him everything that happened in their absence. It was a short story, but when I mentioned the toll booth collector giving me an ice cream, my mother asked with concern, “Did he touch you?”

“No one touched me anywhere.” My man had simply held my hand. I didn’t mention the strange man in the car.

“If some man does, you have to tell us.” My father was speaking to my older brother and me, since my two sisters and younger brother had slept through the entire drama.

“Touch us how?” King Midas had turned his daughter into gold. That story couldn’t be true. If it was, someone had melted the poor girl into ingots centuries ago.

“You’ll know.” My mother closed the subject.

Our new house was a split-level ranch house on the South Shore. My brother and I shared a bedroom. It was next to my parents. We ate dinner with my cousins. They lived up the street. My Irish grandmother had a house in Jamaica Plain. My mother’s sister and Nana came over for Sunday dinner. She told her sister about my disappearance. The adults laughed until they cried, saying I was lucky that I hadn’t been kidnapped by the gypsies or the circus.

I didn’t tell them about the strange man either.

The next morning my father installed aluminum bars on the station wagon to prevent a repeat escape. He went into Boston on the trolley to Ashmont. My mother’s sister lived up the streets. My cousins and the boy next door were our new best friends. School didn’t start for another two months. We were in heaven. It didn’t last long.

In late-July my mother put me in the Ford. I thought that I had done something wrong.

“Chaney’s dead.”

“Dead?” No one had died in my life. My mother explained how Chaney had drowned in Sebago Lake. She walked away and left me in the station wagon. The sun dropped behind Big Blue Hill. I prayed to God to make what she said a lie. He remained dead and I stopped believing in him. It was a secret that I kept for many years.

The summer ended in September. We were driven to Our Lady of The Foothills. The nuns greeted my mother and ushered my older brother, my sisters and me to our classes. We were instructed in the rules.

Never speak unless told to speak.

If a nun claps once, stand.

If she claps twice, sit.

The only answers were yes, sister or no sister.

At lunch time the entire school marched into the auditorium where the parish paster warned the boys to be alert for lisps, limp wrists, and less than manly attire. A police officer spoke about weird men lurking in Blue Hills Reservation stretching for miles behind our suburban development. The nuns spent most of that first day at Our Lady of the Foothills defining the differences between good and bad. The list in Maine had been much smaller.

After school our classmates held a confused debate about what men might do to men. My next-door neighbor, Chuckie Manzi, had older sisters and guessed, “It’s something to do with sticking something into your belly button.”

“That’s disgusting.” I was planning on taping over my navel.

“No, it’s gross.” Chuckie shouted, because disgusting was gross for kids in Boston.

My older brother and I did well in school. Our uniforms matched and our mother loved that our parents thought that we were twins.

“Irish twins.” She loved saying that, even though we had been born thirteen months apart.

My father got us a paper route to earn pocket money. Early every morning Monday through Saturday my older brother and I delivered the newspapers. The bus picked us up at 8. Classes lasted from 8:30 till 2:30 at Our Lday Of The Foothills. The nuns educate our minds and struggled to save our souls. After school my older brother and I wandered through the wooded hills surrounding our suburban neighborhood with our cousins and Chuckie Manzi.

Atop Chickatawbut Hill a stone tower had been erected by the CCC in the 1930s. The view offered a 360 panorama of the South Shore. Empty beer cans littered the timbered floor. Teenagers drank beer here at night. I sniffed the cans. Tehy smelled vile.

My older brother pointed out our neighborhood.

“The teaberry one.” Our house was visible beyond the trees.

“You know you’re house is pink.” Chuckie had a good eye for color. He was Italian.

“It’s not pink.” My mother had said it was teaberry. She was never wrong.

“It’s pink.” My cousins agreed with his choice.

“Pink’s a queer color.” Chuckie was much more advanced than us. His sisters were teenagers.

“Queer?” The word had only one meaning for boys my age.

“You know like the priest was talking about when men kiss men.” Chuckie explained, throwing an empty beer can out of the tower. It hit the ground with a metallic thunk.

“Stop.” I shut my ears to such talk. It was bad enough that girls wanted us to kiss them let alone men wanting the same thing. Chuckie never brought up pink or queers again. Talking about these subjects made a boy suspect and even worse commies were pinkos.

Throughout the autumn my parents seemed happier than usual. My mother gained weight like the upcoming winter was promising to be harsh. The cold weather arrived early and Pearl Harbor Day 1960 dawned with a hoary frost topping the fields south of the Neponset River.

My mother was huge and I wondered if she was ever going to stop eating. I usually received any extra cake left-over from dinner. There hadn’t been for months.

During lunch my 3rd Grade class stared out the windows and studied sullen northern clouds between bites of their sandwiches. None of said a word. The nuns taught us that Jesus barely spoke during his Agony on the Cross and they expected their students to follow his example in thought and deed. We ate in silence and begged God for a snow day tomorrow. I was praying for a blizzard.

The shrill bell signaled recess and the classes boiled from the school into the sub-freezing temperature. Standing still meant frozen feet, so the girls skipped tattered ropes, while the boys kicked misshapen balls around the rear parking lot. Right before the play period ended, our station wagon rolled down the school’s icy driveway and Chuckie joked, “Here comes the jail truck from Billerica Reform School.”

Having endured endless ribbing about the metal bars across the windows of the station wagon from family and friends, neither my brother nor I laughed with our classmates. Funny was about other people.

My father got out of the car wearing a broad smile.

Mother Superior didn’t share his amusement.

“What are you doing here?” In her mind men were supposed to be at work.

“I want to speak to my boys.” He waved for us to come closer.

“Can’t it wait.” Mother Superior expected obedience.

“No.” My father had been brought up in Maine and he confirmed that his authority was greater than the Church. “You mother just had a baby boy. We’re going to see him.”

“This is a school day.” Mother Superior was standing her ground.

“Not for these boys. Go get your sisters. They’re coming too.

“We have a baby brother?” Frank was nine and I was eight. Any discussion of the birds and bees was years off.

“You didn’t know your mother was having a baby?” My father brushed his hand through my hair. It was a buzz cut.

“I thought Mom was getting fat.” Any woman would the way she had been eating.

“She was fat with your baby brother.” My father waved to the nuns that he was withdrawing his boys and our younger sisters from school.

“You can’t disrupt the school day like this.” Steam fumed from Mother Superior’s dragon beak.

“They’ll make it up at Church this Sunday.” As a convert to the faith he was immune to the nun’s wrath.

My brother asked timidly, “What about our books?”

“No one does homework on Baby Day.” We piled in the car and he drove to Beth Israel Hospital, humming IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS.

Our baby brother weighed seven pounds and his pink fingers wiggled like spring worms. My mother beamed a happiness shared with my father. We were a bigger family by one.

My parents named their sixth child after my mother’s uncle. The young priest had met a twelve year-old emigrant off the boat from Ireland and placed my grandmother in a Salem household staff. She had danced with our grandfather at a church outing in Marblehead. My mother thought our next two generations owed their existence to Uncle Mike and prayed that at least one of us might take up the Cloth to return the favor.

Michael was a miracle those first months and I rushed home from school to feed, bathe, and rock the tiny creature in a cradle from my grandmother’s house in Maine. After five kids in seven years my mother was grateful for the help. This peaceful period ended with his teething.

My mother and I sang him GOLDMINE IN THE SKY a thousand times. His bawling destroyed our attempts at harmony. One day he fell asleep and we sat on the bed in relief. The support struts creaked under our weight and his unearthly howl filled the bedroom. He seemed shocked for a second, then smiled before drifting into an infantile slumber.

That was as bad as it got. My baby brother walked and talked ahead of his age. He grew out of his diapers, since my mother toilet-trained him before age two. She had no patience for bed-wetters. My sisters and brothers treated Michael like a gift from the gods. Our aunts and uncles doted on him. Nana loved to hold him in her arms. She spoke to him in Gaelic. The priests declared that an angel had landed in our parish and people were always commenting that he should be a model, otherwise he seemed a very normal baby.

When Michael was six, my mother stopped to buy milk at the store across from the church. She returned to an empty car. The gas station boys hadn’t seen my brother. The police searched the neighborhood without success.

An hour later a woman caring for the parish priest carried Michael into the store. My brother couldn’t explained where he had been or with whom. Everyone was relieved to have him back and no one spoke much about the episode afterwards. The bars stayed on the car for another year.

My brother and I became altar boys. Chuckie’s mother forced him to join us. Other kids ridiculed our wearing a cassock. They could laugh all they wanted. We got out of school to serve in funerals. At weddings the father of the bride paid $10 for us to act like boy saints. It was a good racket, until Chuckie discovered that the pastor never locked the cabinet for the altar wine.

We were eleven.

Chuckie and I wanted to discover the secret of the Blood of Christ and snuck into the church after school. Getting drunk didn’t take much and we staggered home through the woods. Our deadened feet stammered down a corridor of the thorny brambles into a copse of hemlocks.

A naked man was chained to the tree. The Mafia dumped their victims throughout the Blue Hills. Chuckie and I didn’t see any blood and we approached the slumped man with caution. A paper bag covered his head. Chuckie stepped on a twig.

The naked man lifted his head and a muffled voice asked us to do something awful.

We fled the woods filled with the horror of now knowing that what men did to men had nothing to do with your belly button. We didn’t discuss this incident with anyone else, since boys in the 1960s had a million names for queers and everyone was suspect.

In 8th Grade I was punched out every day by two boys, because I could read Latin and had a thing for the prettiest girl in school. The beatings stopped, after I fought the bullies to protect Kyla Rolla from a scandal. She regarded me as her hero and a reputation for violence followed me into high school.

My older brother taught Michael to ride a bike and I read him Classics Illustrated. He loved Rock Hudson movies. Never Doris Day.

Like the rest of us Michael attended Our Lady of the Foothills, where his artwork outshone his grades. The girls loved him and the boys thought he was funny. His mimicking GOMER PYLE was priceless and the Boy Scouts awarded him merit badges for wood-carving and painting. He seemed to have no troubles, until I came home from school to find him crying. He was eight. A neighborhood boy had seen him of playing with Barbie dolls. He called Michael a queer.

“Queer? You mean like Arthur?” my older brother asked too quickly for comfort.

“Arthur’s queer?” Our neighbor had given me a stainless steel model of an Eastern Airlines plane for my 10th birthday. We shook hands. Joe clapped me on the back. I felt funny, since The Bible condemned any male intimacy as an abomination.

“Yes.” My older brother nodded his head. Our hair was getting long. He was into the Beatles. I was more into the Stones.

“He didn’t try anything?” Arthur lived across the street with his parents. He flew for Eastern Airlines as a steward. Boston to Florida four times a week. Neighborhood women considered Arthur a dreamboat. His best friend was a fellow steward named Joe.

“No, Arthur’s harmless.” Neither dated a swinging stewardess, but they dodged any aspersion on their masculinity, because Arthur’s father had been a sub commander in World War I. The old man was tougher than a bent nail. He loved his son. Arthur returned the love to both his parents.

“Maybe.” He hadn’t tried anything on me and I turned to my baby brother. “But you shouldn’t be playing with Barbie Dolls.”

“Every boy in this neighborhood plays with his sisters’ dolls. Anyone who says that they don’t are liars.”

Michael had me dead to rights. Chuckie and I conducted experiments with Ken and Barbie. We had no other show-and-tell way of learning sex.

“Who said this to you?”

My baby brother didn’t want to tell the name, but I wasn’t in the mood for no.

“Bobbie.”

“Bobbie with the fat brother.”

“Yes.”

“You stay here.” I said to both him and my older brother. I didn’t need their help.

I ran down the street to a turquoise ranch house. My brother’s persecutor was a thirteen year-old. He wouldn’t come outside. I threatened to beat the snot out of his fifteen year-old brother. He was a big bully. “No one calls my brother a queer.”

“Sorry, we were wrong.” The two boys blubbered an apology.

“Just don’t do it again or else I’ll burn down your house.”

I wasn’t kidding either.

When I got back home, Michael was singing OVER THE RAINBOW to a Ken doll.

No one in my hometown touched him again, at least not unless he wanted them to touch him.

That autumn my parents went to dine at Joe Tecchi’s in the North End, entrusting the care of our younger siblings to my older brother and me. We bribed them with candy and TV to turn a blind eye to the descent of several boys and as many girls to the basement.

My girlfriend, Kyla, had a hairdo like Kim Novak in VERTIGO.

Once the lights were out, we made out on the couch. The record player repeated WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN for two hours. I got a hickey the size of a hockey puck on my collarbone. Kyla and our friends left at 10. She kissed me good-night. My parents returned home in a good mood and we slept content in our deception of the older generation.

Early the next morning my mother’s angry voice taught the error of such arrogance. A piece of chocolate had stained the living room rug and she demanded to know how it got there. My brother snitched about our friends.

Guilt of one sin earned a conviction for another.

We were grounded for a month. I came home from high school in a fury. Michael was hiding under his bed.

“Don’t you dare call for Mom.” I yanked him out by the heels

“I was only telling the truth.” He offered no resistance.

“None of my friends came upstairs.” One punch would teach him a lesson.

“I only said they were here. I never said they dropped the chocolate.”

This manipulation of the truth exhibited wisdom beyond his years,

“Don’t try it again or else I won’t protect you anymore.”

“Against what?” Michael was only scared of the Wicked Witch of the West.

“They are people who will want to hurt you.”

“You mean like those boys who beat you up every day.”

Moon Tully and Joe Barco. My shudder was an involuntary flinch of hidden fear. “You know about that?”

“Everyone knows.” It was a small town.

“And no one did anything.” I wanted to scare my brother. “Remember the time you disappeared from the car. Something really bad like that could happen to you again.”

“Not if you stop them.” Tears smeared his eyes.

I hadn’t expected this. Somebody had hurt him that day. I vowed they would never steal him again and I prayed to save him from that fate of that naked man chained to the tree, however neither shock treatment nor medicine could cure a kid from what he really was supposed to be.

The strength of my vow to protect my brother dissipated within the rising ocean of teenage angst. Kyla and I attended religious retreats to combat our shared lust. We were supposed to wait for marriage. We were the only virgin couple in our high schools. At Easter Mass I told her that I wasn’t taking her to my senior prom, thinking she would surrender to my demands.

Instead I invited Jenny, a skinny girl from the Surf Nantasket. She dressed like a hippie. On prom night Jenny and I danced to the MC5. We went all the way in the back of my father’s Delta 88 and did it again the next day on Horseshoe Beach.

Kyla and Pal Monahan were elected King and Queen at the town prom. Their marriage the next summer was only a three months before the birth of her baby boy. I wasn’t invited to the wedding. Michael served the Mass and her father gave him $10. Michael spent it on hip-huggers.

My Summer of Love with Jenny ended with her falling for the guitarist of the Ramrods. They lived in a commune on the Hull peninsula. There was no going back to Kyla.

My father noticed my moping and suggested I coach Michael’s baseball team. I should have said no. My baseball skills were minimal, however the league needed someone to count heads and insure the equipment wasn’t stolen.

While most of the players on Gleason Funeral Home had a fair grasp of the basics, my brother’s fielding and throwing arm exiled him to right field. The players on the other teams made fun of his batting. Halfway through the season, he said, “I want to quit.”

“Me too.” The team hadn’t won a single game and angry parents yelled at my batting orders. My father said there were no quitters in our family and the team suffered loss after loss.

Our last game was against the league’s best team and somehow we led into the last inning. My brother batted first and the opposing coach commented on his practice swing. I called time. The coach had twenty years and an extra fifty pounds on me. I picked up a baseball bat.

“Don’t.” My brother took the bat from my hands.

“What about protecting you?”

“I can take care of myself.” He stepped up to the plate and parodied the macho coach by hitching his pants and scratching his ass. Our team giggled with a loser’s disregard for authority. The other team saw the humor in the uncanny mimic and soon everyone on the field laughed at Michael’s antics. The pitcher on the mound caught the spirit and lofted a cream puff at the plate.

My brother squibbed a hit into left field. He was tagged out stealing home.

Our opponents scored two runs in the bottom of the 6th and the season ended with a record of 0-17. I bought the team pizza and toasted my brother as a victory in the throat of defeat. The other players would have preferred the win.

By 1970 my hair was down to my shoulders and my older brother had sideburns. My father had a moustache. One photo shows the four boys in hip suits and the two girls in mod dresses looking like the Partridge Family substitutes. My father could have been the band manager. We loved each other. Not all the time, but we obeyed my mother’s dictate of never saying anything about each other to someone outside our circle.

At summer’s end my brother and I commuted to Boston College. My envy of the dorm students grew under an ancient regime of parental restrictions and I moved to an apartment in Brighton’s Bug Village. Driving taxi paid the rent and I spend more time behind the wheel than in the classroom. Off-hours I smoked pot with hippie co-eds from BU and drank beer at the Phoenix on Commonwealth Avenue. They had twenty-five cents beer, pinball, and Mexican food. I sold mescaline to Arrowsmith at the Hi-Hat.

I visited my parents every weekend.

The trolleys and subway trains provided a rocking study hall for the week’s lessons. My father usually picked me up at Lower Mills. One afternoon I dialed our number from the payphone next to the post office. No one answered the phone and I rode the Rte. 28 bus to a seemingly empty house. Within minutes my dirty clothes were stuck in the washer and eggs were frying in the pan. Over the hum of the suction blower I heard a giggle upstairs. I crept to my parents’ bedroom and opened the door.

Neither Michael nor his friend, Manuel, tried to explain why they were wearing my sisters’ mini-skirts and mother’s wigs, because the answer wasn’t that boys will be girls. His friend was clearly embarrassed. Not my brother.

“Don’t you think I look like Peggy Lipton?” Michael posed before the full-length mirror.

“Only a little.” My crush of THE MOD SQUAD actress was almost as big as the torch I carried for Susan Dey from THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

“Mom says that when you were born she wanted a girl and dressed you up like one for two years.”

“Only because she thought that I was going to be a girl and Dad didn’t want to throw away the clothes.”

“Right.” He said like there were other reasons.

“That doesn’t make me a drag queen. Get out of those rags.” Lou Reed’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE followed the Kinks’ LOLA in my brain’s jukebox.

“We were only having a little fun.” Michael changed into jeans and a tee-shirt.

“Fun?” Only one group of people would have interpreted cross-dressing that way.
You’re too young to be getting into this.”

“I’m just playing around.”

“Dressing like Mom is no game.” I glared at Manuel, who fled from the house.

“Are you going to tell Mom?” Michael demanded in a sudden panic.

“I’m not a snitch.” The criminal’s philosophy of undying loyalty had migrated to the suburbs with the Bowery Boys with reinforcement from the Three Stooges.

“Thank you.” He replaced the wig back in the box almost as if he were saying good-bye to a treasure. His future lay in one direction. I could not help him with a detour to enforced manhood. Queer life was a mystery to most straights. I only knew what I knew from driving cab.

Young hustlers worked the chicken hawks on Marlborough Street near the Boston Gardens. Leather boys traipsed through the Greyhound bus station. Elegant queens wore colorful leisure suits to the Combat Zone’s piano bars. Provincetown was a ferry ride across Massachusetts Bay. It was an exciting time for men seeking men, except my brother was 10.

“Wearing a dress isn’t going to make you popular at school with the boys.”

“Not all of them.” He was taking it lightly as only the young can do, when they haven’t witnessed the cruelty of reality.

The police hunted sword-swallowers in the streets, bullies assaulted fudge-packers in schools, and priests castigated their catamite behavior.

“You be careful.” All I wanted to do was save him from any pain.

“And prepared just like a Boy Scout.”

At least he hadn’t said ‘girl scout’.

That summer I worked in my father’s office.

An older woman found my youth amusing. Linda was divorced and 26. She had a young daughter. We went to a Emerson, Lake, and Palmer concert on the Esplanade. We did more than kiss in the bushes along the Charles. Our weekly rendezvous were highlighted by the desire of my 18 year-old blood. I thought we were in love. In the end she confessed that my father had been her original choice. He had told her no.

Her rejection led to heavy drinking and harder drugs.

My grades descended to sin laude, while the taxi fleet awarded my high bookings with a shiny Checker cab. One night I picked up a fare outside Boston Garden. The stocky man had a moustache. We praised Bobby Orr on the ride to the Fenway. His name was Bruce and he looked like a hockey player, so I was surprised when he told me to stop in front of the 1270 Club.

“You want to have a beer?” he asked from the back seat.

“I’m not gay.” Only men were going inside.

“And hippie taxi drivers aren’t my type. Neither are hairdressers. Come on in, we can talk about the Red Sox.”

“I said I’m not gay.” ”

“I know already you’re not a sissy. Come. Don’t come. Up to you. Only you’ll miss meeting some sweet fag hags. They don’t need to know you’re not a gay boy. In fact it’s better, if they don’t. You’re not scared you might be gay, are you?” It was a challenge most men couldn’t answer while looking in the mirror.

“I’m not scared of anything.” I went into the disco and danced the night away with a ravenous blonde model. Bruce warned not to kiss her. She asked if I found her beautiful. I said I wasn’t into women. She asked if I found her sexy. She was wearing a flowing dress with no bra. I could see her nipples. They were bigger than mine.

“You’re sexy like David Bowie.” It sounded gay to me.

“He loves Ziggy.” Bruce added from the bar.

“Really? I have his LP. You want to come to my place for a drink. I won’t touch you. Promise.” She tested my resolve at her apartment on Commonwealth Avenue. I failed with an F.

The fat hags at 1270 and Jacques were more fun than trying to outdrink co-eds at Kenmore Square boozers. Whenever the fag-hags doubted my persuasion, Bruce would proclaim my swordswallowing talents. I danced with men as camouflage. Diana Ross’ LOVE HANGOVER was our mantra.

“Love to love you baby.”

Kissing Bruce drove a stewardess into my arms. It wasn’t all a lie and my college life distanced more and more from my nights.

Bruce and I went to baseball games together. We cheered the Celtics in Boston Garden. Both teams were shit, but bad teams drew small crowds, so we sat wherever we wanted in the sports arenas and few fans could overhear his admiration for the athletes.

“Look at that one’s buns.” He was pointing at the gaunt center.

“Hank Finkel.” He was a stick. “He has no buns.”

“But he has big feet and you know what big feet mean?”

“Big shoes.”

Bruce was fun. He was knowledgeable about sports too, but told me not to tell his friends about sports. “They wouldn’t understand.”

“As long as you don’t tell them that I’m not gay.” Nothing was more attractive to his friends than a straight man. Bruce’s lies were useless. Gays pegged me for what they weren’t and constantly sought my conversion to the cause.

“Leave him alone.” Bruce declared at a tea dance in Provincetown, “He’s not gay, but no man is 100% straight.”

By my graduation college in 1974 my gay friends outnumbered my straight. Bruce was my brother’s hero. He turned Michael onto Eartha Kitt. My mother thought that Bruce was cute.

“I can’t understand why he doesn’t have a boyfriend.”

“Can’t understand.” My father didn’t approved our friendship. “Bruce plays for the other team.”

“I don’t care if he likes the Yankees.” My mother ignored the hint at deviancy. Bruce had good manners.

Bruce got tickets for the 2nd game of the 1975 World Series. We celebrated the Bernie Carbo’s homer in Game 6 at 1270. My friend swore several players were in the crowd. Soon after Bruce fell in love with a jealous stockbroker.

“I’m settling down to be a wife.”

The scene was less fun without him and I took up with a teenage girl from Brookline. Her family was crazy. Her ex- and I fought over her, while she was in the hospital for a blood disease. He won and I lost.

On a visit to New York I fell in love with an artist. I quit my substitute teaching job at South Boston High and arrived on Thanksgiving. She left the next day to fulfil a painting scholarship in Paris. Stranded I moved into a Park Slope brownstone with a jazz impresario whom I had met at the Riviera Café on 7th Avenue. It was the middle ground meeting place between the straight and gay worlds.

James Spicer swept his hair back like the Silver Surfer. Sunglasses were for day and night. The claim of a one-night stand with James Dean dated his age way past 30. His lessons on loft jazz, robbing ATMs, and the delights of Hudson River shad roe were invaluable. They had a price. One night I woke to his oiling my feet like he was Mary Magdalene.

“What are you doing?” I was no Jesus.

“Oiling your feet.” James was naked.

“I can see that, but why?” My feet felt like they were prepared for a fry-up.

James drunkenly professed his love. I told him to go to sleep. This incursion into my bedroom was no big deal. James was gay. The temptation of a straight man was too much for him to handle some nights. We remained friends, until he stole my unemployment checks. I was broke. Any thoughts about returning home to Boston were short-circuited by an unnerving visit to the suburban calm of the South Shore.

Michael was the only child left at home. His girlfriend invited us for diner. Her parents weren’t home. Their split-level sat across from Kyla’s old house. Kyla and her husband had moved to the Cape. Their baby would be about seven. My brother noticed my staring.

“You thinking how different your life would be, if you hadn’t broken up with Kyla?”

“Something like that.” I lit up a joint. “I can’t remember why I did it.”

“Maybe you wanted to be something more than that person.” My brother took a puff of reefer and coughed like a cholera victim. At 18 his entire life was in front of him.

“Are you happy with Patty?” I didn’t want him to repeat my mistakes.

“Patty hopes one day she can change me.” He rolled his eyes in disbelief.

“It’s not nice to play with someone’s emotion.”

“Patty knows the odds. Some breeder will be very happy with her.” Michael signalled to Patty we were coming inside. “For now she protects me from every fag-basher in Boston.”

“Have you two even had sex?”

“We’re saving it for our wedding night.” He could never tell Patty that the idea of him with a woman was a horror. It would break her heart. “Patty goes to church every Sunday.”

After dinner Patty put on a record of CABARET. My brother acted out a sinister Joel Grey. He didn’t have to lip-synch either. Manuel came over with another boy. He had a beard. They went together to an upstairs bedroom. I heard the door lock. Patty did the dishes in the kitchen and I left for home.

“Are you bored with the suburbs.” My mother was sitting in the kitchen. My father was in the den watching TV.

“No more than usual. In fact it almost feels good being bored.” I kissed her goodnight and slept in the basement, unable to face the ghost of my bedroom. In the morning I caught the Amtrak train at 128. My parents gave me $50. With the $10 in my pocket I had $60. It was enough for a week’s rent at an SRO on East 11th Street and I hitchhiked to the Mass Pike. The trip took four hours. None of the drivers asked me if I liked gladiator movies.

The clerk at the SRO asked for $55 per week. I found a job at Serendipity 3 on East 60th Street. They were hiring busboys. The waiters were all gay. Their favorite movie was MILDRED PIERCE. Each of them had women’s names. The kitchen staff loved to shout out, ‘Pebbles’, since they thought I resembled like a caveman.

The pastry cook looked like Josef Goebbels’ nephew. Klaus sang castrati roles for opera. His name at the restaurant was Eva Braun. We toured clubs in the West Village, where men explored the most extreme reaches of sexuality in the backrooms. These exploits would have brought tears to their mothers’ eyes and their fathers would have cursed Ken dolls, yet the boys kept asking for more too.

When Anita Bryant beseeched God to punish the sodomites, gay consumers boycotted OJ and within six months she retired from her position as the Florida OJ Lady. They had the power. The West Village and San Francisco surrendered to the forces of homosexuality. The Village People scored #1 with YMCA and football fans sang WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS by Queen.

Klaus frequented Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs. They were my home at night. No one cared what you were as long as you were a punk. The Ramones played once a week. I bought a leather jacket. Bruce came to visit from Boston.

“You look really butch.” Bruce was breaking up with his boyfriend and nothing says ‘divorce’ better than a troll the back rooms of the West Village with Klaus. Bruce loved it.

“New York is so not Boston.”

He was right.

During the 1977 Black-out the boys from Serendipity raided Fiorucci, a disco accessory shop on East 60th Street, and I chucked a cinder block at the window in hopes of snatching a silver Elvis suit. The concrete missile bounced off the protective glass and nearly struck my head. We ran for our lives from the guards. It had been a funny story told ever funnier each and every time by the boys.

They introduced me to a smart hillbilly girl. Lana’s eyes were colored differently. One brown. One green. She was staying at a borrowed penthouse. In a bedroom with the view of Central Park she called out for god, as I entered her for the thousandth time.

Once she graduated, we moved into the East Village, which was a burnt out as a junkie’s vein. She loved it for not being West Virginia. I moved up to waiter at Serendipity 3. The money was good. The drugs better. I said nothing about drugs to my girlfriend.

My brother started college in 1978. U-Mass Amherst gathered minds and bodies like him. He was in heaven.

That Christmas my girlfriend returned by airplane to Charleston. I headed north on the train to New England. It was standing room only. My father met me at 128.

“You look tired.” He had good eyesight.

“I’m working nights.”

“Bussing tables is not a real job.” He didn’t say much after that comment. He was angry at someone. Not me and my younger sisters pleaded for my good behavior over the holidays. I wore a tie to Midnight Mass, although not kneeling tested my mother’s patience.

“I went down to the Valley of Death for you.”

My atheism died during the Creed. Rote repetition forced my lips to speak in tongues. My brothers joined the ancient prayer. We were all ex-altar boys. My mother cried hearing the old Latin. After the final amen, she said we were the best boys in the world. She gave us all money. I bought a nickel bag.

My younger brothers and I smoked a joint in the backyard. My older brother was straight in every way you’re supposed to be straight. I felt a little bad. He was my best friend.

The stars shone over the trees.

“You think there really was a Jesus.” Michael was focused on the constellation Orion.

“I think he existed.” IF JESUS CAME TO MY HOUSE had been a favorite bedtime story as a child.

“You believe in him?” Michael still went to church every Sunday. “I do and I think he was gay. He was never married, lived with his mother, wore a dress, and only had men friends.”

“What about Mary Magdalene?” Our other brother was borderline anti-gay.

“She was a fag hag.”

“Don’t say that about her?”

“She’s not a saint. I can say whatever I want about her or Jesus.”

“No religion.” I had reverted to my father’s belief in agnosticism. “But I have one Jesus story. Back in 1974 Bruce and I dropped acid in the White Mountains. We spoke to the rapids of the Saco River. This kid comes out of the trees. The sun was bright and he seemed to have a halo. Bruce said it was Jesus. We asked him questions and thought he was Jesus. A minute later a teenager girl grabs him by the ear, telling him to stay away from hippies.”

“Jesus.” My brothers wowed and we went inside for a good night’s sleep.

My mother’s scream broke the Christmas calm.

I ran downstairs thinking that she had dropped the turkey. The bird was fine, however my father was raging before the Christmas tree. Michael stood by the fireplace. It was his turn to ruin Christmas.

“I told them I was gay.”

“Why would you do that?” My parents guarded the secrets of sex behind their bedroom doors. I had followed their lead throughout my adult life and dragged Michael into the basement.

“My friends at college decided to come out of the closet.”

“You did it for them?”

“I thought you would understand.” His face wore an accusation of mistrust. “You went to gay discos. You have gay friends. I heard stories about you.”

“Whatever you heard doesn’t matter, because this is about you and not me and not about your friends. If you want to tell Mom and Dad that you’re gay, then tell them, because you want to do it and not because some stupid friends tell you to do it.”

“You mean like to your own self be true.”

I thought he was quoting Crosby Stills Nash and Young. “Yes.”

“Then why don’t you tell Mom and Dad about your drug habit?”

“Because it’s my business and not theirs. Same as your sexuality.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” He stormed out of the room.

Turkey must have tasted of wood for my parents. The giving of presents sparked a little life into the holiday. Michael had the perfect gift for everyone. He gave my father a bottle of gin and my mother Chanel #5. I got a studded dog collar.

Upon his return to UMass-Amherst, his friends admitted never coming out to their parents and it would take him years to put this lesson to work. I was almost as smart.

Lana organized a concert at Irving Plaza with Blondie and the B-52s. I worked security. At the end of the show I asked everyone to leave. Several rockers told me to go fuck myself. A fight broke out. Someone kicked in my ribs. I could barely breathe the next day.

I had fought with Blondie’s band. They refused to play the show, if I was in the hall. Lana sided with them. A legal suit against the group for the profits from HEART OF GLASS would have earned thousands. Instead I took a job at a punk disco uptown. It paid $100 a night and all the free drinks you could manage to glom from the bartenders. I came home smelling of cigarettes, beer, and perfume. Lana slept on the bed. I slept on the couch.

Late one night a doctor from NYU Hospital called our apartment. He reported that James Spicer was dying from pneumonia. My hillbilly girlfriend had never met James and was angry that I was leaving her alone. I couldn’t blame her, mostly because I had been seeing a blonde model from Buffalo. My promise to come back soon sounded phony even to my ears.

The hospital ward was empty. The nurses appeared reluctant to enter James’ room.

“Gay men have been dying of pneumonia. We can’t say why.” An Italian doctor explained in the corridor. “The nurses call it ‘gay men’s disease.”

This was the first I had heard of the ailment and I sat by James’ bed without any fear, as he coughed like he was giving birth to a lung.

“You?” He opened his eyes at midnight.

“Who were you expecting? Cecil Taylor?” The avant-garde pianist had been James’ friend.”

“No, he wouldn’t come. He’s scared of me.” James’ skin was drawn tight to his bones.

“Well I’m here.”

“Yes, you’re here. Old what’s his name?” He drifted back to sleep and sang jazz lullabies during the long night. At dawn his mother and father arrived from Florida. They were like my parents. Good people with a loving son unable to live in a small town.

I went to the basement cafeteria for chocolate milk and a bagel. Nothing had ever tasted so good and when I got back to the ward, James’ parents were crying on plastic chairs.

“Where have you been,” Lana asked as I walked into the apartment.

“At the hospital.”

She thought it was a lie, until his funeral on Washington Square. Merce Cunningham eulogized James. Cecil Taylor played piano. Hundreds of people showed up. No one knew the real cause of his death. It was 1979.

My infidelity was a killing blow for Lana.

The blonde model from Buffalo fielded dreams of strobe lights on a fashion runway. They didn’t feature a nightclub punk good at pinball. She flew to Europe for catalogue work. The phone calls ended after a week. I treated my broken heart with drink and drugs. My brother came down to visit. He was doing badly in school and my father had sworn to pull him out of U-Mass., if his grades didn’t improve to C. My odds were 5-1 against my brother.

“You can always come to live with me.” I told Michael at Julius, an old-timers’ bar in the West Village.

“Really?” And New York loved him.

“Free rent for the first three months and I can get you a job at Serendipity.”

“I’ll have to think about it.” My brother’s eyes lit up at the entrance of a heavy bearded beast. More hair than a dog. Michael left with the bear for rest of the weekend. Everyone likes what they like.

I never heard about the move to New York. His college career ended within the year and he was hired by the Ma Bell. My mother and father tried every tactic to turn him straight. Blind dates failed miserably.

“I’m faithful to Patty.” He loved her in his own way.

Psychiatrists prescribed therapy. My brother seduced two. Priests avoided any attempt at sexual exorcism. Finally my parents accepted my brother’s sexuality and he moved into the South End to be on his own.

He wasn’t leaving Boston.

There were Easter egg hunts for our nieces and nephews. His comedy routines were well-received in the Boston gay bar circuit. Men sought his company. My brother gave them a night or two before moving onto another flavor.

One summer he spotted a speedboat offshore a Provincetown beach and swam out to meet the owner. Tom and he became close friends. Neither ever admitted to being lovers. My mother loved Tom. My father too.

Michael stopped doing drugs. He wanted to be healthy. His body was a weapon in his ministry of Gay Liberation for freedom. He grew more radical, as AIDS was reaping its harvest.

The boys from Serendipity died one by one. Lana and I met at their funerals. Her best friend bequeathed an elephant foot to me. I called it Stumpy. My brother’s radio show educated the Boston gay community to the dangers. For some it was too late.

My father drove Michael back and forth to the studio. My parents and I went to a South End restaurant to celebrate the show’s first year on the air. The station manager praised Michael’s civic contribution. He did more than that for his family.

Michael guided his cousin, Tara, on her Broadway dream. She sang as Julie Andrew’s understudy. After her first show Tara declared that the star of VICTOR/VICTORIA had called her ‘darling’.

“That’s because she can’t remember everyone’s name.” Michael joked under his breath. Living in a small city hadn’t stopped him from being funny.

My prayers for his eternal life were wishful thinking, for he contracted AIDS in 1994. The doctors at Beth Israel fought the infections with a series of toxic drugs. His health fluctuated between bad and worst. My friend, Scotty, opened a nightclub in Beverly Hills.

“You mind if I go.”

“I’m dying and you want to go to Beverly Hills.” His looks were suffering from the drug cocktails.

“You’re not dying.”

“Not yet?” AIDS was a death sentence.

“What about your married mistress?” His last boyfriend had been a fish truck driver from Gloucester. He slept around. In my parents’ minds the boyfriend had infected their son. In truth it could have been anyone.

“How you know about that?” I didn’t tell anyone about my relationships.

“Bruce told me. Funny, before this it wouldn’t bother me. But now I had AIDS, I think about the 10 Commandments. Not all of them. Just one and it was about me. Seeing a married woman isn’t right.” His morality was funny when it came to his older brother.

“Thanks for the lecture.” It was time to end it with Ms. Carolina. Moving to LA was the coward’s way out.

“Not a lecture, just a comment.” he gave me a hug. His body was small. Almost all bones. “You can go to Beverly Hills as long as you get Tom Selleck’s autograph.”

“I will.”

The star of MAGNUM PI never visited the Milk Bar, but other big names did.

My friend Scottie banned asking for autographs, so I stole their credit card slips.

In the winter I flew back once to see Michael.

“You’re starting to look like Orson Welles.” He lay gaunt in his hospital bed.

“It’s all the good food.” Nobody had told a story or joke during my six months in LA and I laughed at his humor.

“More like the drink and drugs.”

No lectures.” I handed him the credit card slips and I told him about Hollywood parties, the pretty boys, and having met James Brolin.

“Did he have a beard?” Michael’s yes lit up.

“Big and bushy.”

“A real bear.” I kissed him good-bye. The smell of death was on his skin.

“Nice.” He held up the autographs. “I’ll cherish these forever. And just do me one last favor.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t let a bagpiper play DANNY BOY at my grave.” The man in a kilt invariably cursed many an Irish funeral in Boston. The final choice was up to my mother. I told my brother, “I’ll have them play IT’S RAINING MEN.”

“Oh, they are all such closet cases in those skirts. No underwear too. Mmmm.”

In the spring of 1995 his worsening condition forced doctors to choose a more experimental treatment. 50% of the patients were receiving a placebo. We learned later Michael was one of them. I drank heavily at the nightclub. Only the owner asked why. Scottie and I had worked together in New York. He said whenever I had to go was good with him. I had outlived my usefulness.

Days went by without any news from my parents. I made money any way I could. Glomming from the door receipts. Tips from drug dealers. The cash went to buying a stand-by ticket. The telephone rang in July. No one ever called the backyard guesthouse Scottie and I shared in the Valley. I knew who was on the other end before I lifted the receiver.

“Michael doesn’t have much longer.” My mother was choked with tears.

“Is he still conscious?”

“He’s barely alive.” It was a terrible thing for an older brother to hear and even worse for a mother to say about her youngest child, especially since she was stricken with cancer.

“I’ll be on the next plane out of LAX.” I told Scottie I was leaving. He wished me luck. I wasn’t coming back. My cocaine habit was out of control. LA nightlife gave everything that the TV promised the masses of America. A mess.

As I packed my bag, my girlfriend called from Raleigh. Our affair had ended with my move to LA.

“Can’t you stop in DC before you go to Boston? Just for one night?” Mrs. Carolina couldn’t let ‘us’ go.

“No.”

“No what?” Ms. Carolina had once boasted about her ice queen of Cape Hatteras.

“No, I can’t meet you.” I broke her heart by telling the truth. The only part I could tell her. “My brother’s dying. I want to be with him. Nothing else in the world matters.”

“What about us?”

“There is no ‘us’.” I couldn’t believe she was thinking of ‘us’. Not when my brother was dying. Scottie stopped my heaving the telephone through the window. It was a rented house.

“She wants love. That’s all.”

“And that’s something I can’t give.” I wish it wasn’t true.

The phone rang during the wait for the taxi. Scottie didn’t answer. It was none of his business.

My brother sat in my head every second of the six-hour flight to Boston. Last summer’s swim in the Saco River. I had held his hand, as the water rippled over his ravaged body. The rapids could have carried him to the sea. Even knowing his fate we had been happy.

A taxi from Logan Airport drove straight to the South Shore hospice caring for my brother. My father and mother were at the foot of the bed. Machines registered feeble vital signs. The tube into his vein dripped morphine. His face clung to his skull. His skin was dry and his lips were parched. The virus was eating him whole.

“Aren’t you giving him any water?” I hugged them and then leaned over to kiss my brother.

“No food. No water.” My father’s resolute voice announced the family decision to allow my baby brother to pass from this earth.

My brother didn’t deserve this fate and I didn’t leave him for the next three weeks, except for the times my family gathered to see him. We sang songs and told stories. I can’t remember which ones. I never loved him more than at my youngest sister’s wedding at a hotel along the Charles River.

Pam and he danced to IT’S RAINING MEN. His other three brothers embarrassed the gathering by gatoring across the floor. Michael hated this family folly. It was too macho. I pulled him onto the dance floor. He couldn’t refuse me. My sisters joined him on the floor. After the official festivities the immediate family retired to rooms upstairs. The hotel had a whirlpool. I needed to sober up.

“You’re not going alone?” Michael had been to several drug addiction clinics. His fellow addicts related crazy stories about near-fatal accidents. Several had been in hot tubs “I’ll buddy-up with you just in case.”

For a half-hour we had the facility to ourselves. Steam, jacuzzi, cold shower. I was almost ready for another beer. The door opened for a young blonde woman in a skimpy bathing suit.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“Sure.” My brother was always trying to act as a matchmaker. He grilled her for the essentials. She came from Kentucky. Her husband had been working for Rick Pitino as an assistant coach. A serious illness had crippled him and he was undergoing treatment at Mass General Hospital.

“I’m so lonely here.” Her tears mingled with sweat. “I don’t know anyone.”

“I know Boston.” Her vulnerability tempted the devil in me.

“Yes, my boyfriend and I would love to show you the sights.” My brother drove an elbow into my ribs.

“Boyfriend?” she smiled ruefully. “Why are all you good-looking guys gay?”

“Because we’re born that way.”

We met the basketball coach’s wife at her room. She was in a short dress. Her nipples were showing that she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“I feel so safe with you boys.”

“Yeah, you can be free with us.” My brother led her to the elevator and I cursed him under my breath.

That night we toured Boston gay bars. My brother flirted with bearded men and the blonde girl drank white wine. She forgot her problems and her hand touched mine. My brother came over to viciously comment about women smelling like fish and the blonde told a joke about Eve swimming in the ocean for the first time. After we dropped her at the hotel room, he defended his cockblocking. “I’m not asking you to be a saint, just to show a little compassion for someone in pain.”

Michael cared about people and worked hard for the gay community. Now my baby brother was dying and I held him in my arms, praying for a god to take my body instead. My father and mother said the same prayer, instead the gods took Michael away ounce by ounce.

Two weeks into his death vigil my other younger brother called me into the room.

“He’s going.”

Everyone was crying. The vital signs on the machine were unchanged. Joni Mitchell’s URGE FOR GOING was on the small tape player next to the bed.

“No sad songs.” I tore out the cassette.

Gloria Gaynor’s I WILL SURVIVE harvested more tears from our eyes. My younger brother brought his guitar into the room and played FREEBIRD.

“I played it a million times and he always hated it.” Patrick sniffed through misty eyes. “Hearing is the last thing to go, so I know if he can hear it, he’ll think of me.”

The nurse approached us out of the earshot of the attending doctors.

“Funny, our patients never leave if a family member is in the room. The hospital encourages your being with him, because the longer you’re with him the bigger the bill.”

My father called the rest of the family. They came over within the hour. We spoke to Michael for a little while and then said our good-byes. My mother hugged him for a long time and my father pulled her into the corridor. The doctors looked at us funny. Within the hour Michael had gone over to the angels.

My sisters and brothers eulogized him at the funeral. I choked on my grief. Some of it might have been kicking my jones. Mrs. Carolina called every day. She sent flowers to the funeral home. My father said talk to her. I wasn’t talking to anyone.

I was mad that my brother had died, that there hadn’t been a cure that somehow the blood of millions had been infected by a killer and no one was doing anything about it. I couldn’t put this rage into words. I was hurt. I treat the hurt the only way I knew how. My cocaine addiction would become a heroin habit, if I stayed in the States, and my brother’s memory deserved better. I was heading to Tibet.

Bruce came to the funeral home.

“Sometimes I feel like the last whale in the ocean.” He had lost his lover the year before.

“No matter where I am I’ll hear your call.”

“Thanks for lying.” He could still smile after all this, which meant I could too one day.

A round-the-world air-ticket was within my budget and I bid fare-well to America. My parents asked when I would come back. I had enough money for six months. More if I tapped the American Express card Mrs. Carolina had given me for emergencies. She could forgive me later. Mrs. Carolina had a good heart.

It’s almost ten years since my brother’s death. Lana lost her brother, Bobby. We are friends again. So is Mrs. Carolina.

The idea of an afterlife scares an agnostic. We think of the hereafter as a blank, however Michael has appeared in dreams along with my mother. They visit me in a Cape cottage. There is no furniture, so they can’t stay very long. My mother is happy to be with him, although I can tell Michael has places to go and she’s waiting for the rest of us to join her. These dreams challenged my disbelief in heaven, because spending eternity on the Cape wouldn’t be so bad, especially with everyone we’ve lost over the years.

Their names number in the millions. Society is a sadder place without them, yet the tragedy has opened strange hearts. The Vice-President’s daughter is a lesbian. The governor of New Jersey admitted to being a homosexual. Even Rock Hudson came out in the end. The media had been waiting for this news a long time.

I interviewed him at the Deauville Film Festival. The Oscar committee had nominated his performance opposite James Dean in GIANT. My story angle was that Rock would have been a more gracious dinner companion than the teenage idol. Dinner at the casino was elegant. The Sole Atlantique was delicious and the wine crisp. The conversation was gentle, until we were joined by a British journalist.

“So tell us, rock, what was it like to have sex with Gomer Pyle?”

“Firstly his name is Jim Nabors and we are just good friends.”

“So that’s what they called it now?” The journalist was relentless.

“Yes.”

Like Bruce and I were friends, because Gomer Pyle and Rock Hudson don’t seem like such a good match, unless you’ve consider the tales about Jim Nabor’s endowment. I don’t know whether that legend is true or if Errol Flynn slept with Tyrone Power or that J. Edgar Hoover wore dresses and neither can I fathom why gays want to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade with puking drunks or celebrate a sacrament with a 50% failure rate, however if marriage is what they want, then that’s fine by me.

In the 2004 Democratic primaries Howard Dean gave a speech to a few farmers in Iowa.

He recounted meeting a WWII veteran who thanked him for enacting same-sex unions in Vermont. The frontrunner said that if this man could offer his life to his country on D-Day, then his country could afford a gay man the same freedoms as the rest of the nation. This statement earned him my support; however anyone telling the truth can’t get elected to president, especially if you roar like an animal.

I don’t live in America any more. Maybe I will someday. Mostly because I do have hope, because the winter my brother died, my mother passed away. The funeral in Boston was a blur and I returned to New York without much heart.

Coming out of the Astor Place subway, I noticed several people looking at the blue sky. Two rainbows were floating on a high snow squall and an older man said, “I can’t ever recall seeing a rainbow in the winter.”

I couldn’t either, yet knowing that they were special, I recognized a message from the other side. My brother had one time asked if I was gay. I hadn’t given him an answer. Now I had the answer.

Being straight, gay, black, white, old, young, and all the in-betweens and outsides and insides doesn’t matter, because we are all special as that winter rainbow. It only takes a little bit of faith to see the truth and that leap can take us to the stars. They’re not as far away as you fear.

PS my brother’s name was Michael Charles Smith.

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