I was driving home from work one day about a year and a half ago. I tooted the horn when I passed the Surdiak's house, as I always did when I saw someone outside. It was late on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in October, and I was looking forward to getting those last few things out of the garden before a serious frost came. I suddenly noticed Bob in my rearview mirror flapping his arms with an excited expression on his face. I backed up into his yard.
"Hey, Bob! How goes?"
"Got a little time? We need to talk. How about a beer?"
"Sounds good. What's up?"
"KAREN! GET ANDY A BEER! There's a problem."
We walked up and sat on his porch.
Karen brought us both cold Buds. She had a pretty grim look on her face, and just turned and went back inside after greeting me.
"I guess it's serious. Mike's here. He's staying with us. Joe threw him out!"
"Don't tell anyone where he is if they ask. Mike's a wreck. He can't stop crying, but he won't tell us what it is, just that he's afraid his Dad's going to kill him."
I was stunned, "Joe adores that kid. He'd never hurt him."
Bob shook his head sadly, "Look, Andy. I thought that, too, but you gotta see Mike to believe it. He's scared about something, and he says Joe never wants to see him again."
"I don't believe it! I want to talk to Mike."
"Andy, don't. Karen's the only one he'll say anything to. He's all fucked up and she's scared he might try to kill himself."
"Kill himself? I don't get it. He's such a happy kid."
"He's not very happy now. You haven't heard anything from Joe?"
"Not since Saturday. Everything seemed fine then. When did this all happen?"
"Sunday afternoon. I saw Mikey running down the street crying his eyes out. I yelled to him, but he kept going. I ran after him to see what happened. I was really scared, Andy. I thought somebody died at the house or something. Anyhow, I couldn't catch him, but I kept yelling and he finally stopped. When I got up to him he sort of fainted. I caught him and carried him back here. Karen tried to call Joe's, but Mike screamed 'til she put the phone down. She finally shushed me out of the house so she could take care of him."
Bob took a swig of his beer and looked steadily at me. "Andy, I don't know what to do. At first all he did was cry, but then he told her what happened. Not why. Karen promised him he's safe here, but that's all he'll buy. He's quiet for a while and then he busts out bawlin' how he should just die."
"Shit! You don't have a clue?"
"None. And he won't tell us. But he's deathly scared to go home. You're Joey's pal. Why don't you stop by and see what's goin' on. That way I won't be breakin' any promises to the kid."
"I'll go. No problem. I just don't know what I'm walking into."
"I don't either. Stop back and let us know what's the story?"
"I will. I'm gonna go home and think a bit before I go over. Thanks for the beer."
I drove the short distance home in disbelief. I really didn't have time to think, it was such a short ride. Lin had skipped her aerobics class for once and beaten me home. I told her what I knew as I changed into some jeans and a sport shirt. We made drinks and sat down to think about it. Neither of us could come up with any idea why Joe Waters would suddenly turn on his own son. Was it even true? It could have been the other way around, maybe. Mike freaked out about something? We tossed around ideas like drugs and criminal activity, but none of that seemed very likely. Anyhow, Joe always tried to work things out with his kids. It was easier to convince ourselves that Mike had run away on his own, for whatever reason. I finally screwed up enough courage to drive back up the street to Joe's house.
I was not prepared for what I encountered when I got there. Raymond answered the door and he looked like he'd been hit by a train. He was unkempt and his eyes were all puffy, like he'd been crying for a week. He didn't say a word.
Lucille came into the hall to see who it was, and just pulled me into a hug and started crying.
Joe called out from the other room, "Who's there? Is it Mike?"
"No, just me," I answered. I followed his voice into the living room, where he was just getting up from the sofa. He looked a wreck. He'd obviously been crying, too, but there was something else. Something beyond sadness, beyond despair even. He pulled me into a bear hug and started crying on my shoulder. He started shuddering.
"I ... I," then he burst out crying again, almost wailing. I patted him on the back and pushed him towards the sofa.
"Joe! Calm down! What the hell's going on?" I looked over and the two girls were playing halfheartedly at a board game, but their own upset was obvious, too.
"Joe, sit and tell me what happened!"
He sat and I sat next to him. He fell into me and started to sob. "Andy," SOB, "Andy ... I hurt Mikey!" He started bawling out loud. I waited until he calmed a little, but didn't expect him to get a lot better. The rest of the family were crying openly now, Ray was holding his mother and the girls were curled up on the floor.
"You hurt him? How? Why?"
"I'm such a shit!"
His face was covered with tears and snot from his nose. He was drooling. I got up and went into the kitchen. I grabbed a roll of paper towels and started to hand them out.
"Please stop sniveling and somebody tell me what happened!"
I heard Ray from behind me. "Mikey told me he's gay. I told him to tell Dad and ...," he started crying out loud, covering his face in his hands.
Joe spoke, "And I lost it! I didn't think, I just blew up! I grabbed his shirt. I shook him! He was so scared. And that made it worse. I just told him to get out and don't come back! Oh, God - if I could just have that one minute back." He was wracked with sorrow. "Andy ... I threw my son away. My beautiful Mikey! How could I?" He went back into a crying fit.
"Do you know where he is? Do you know if he's okay?"
Lucille started, "No! I was sure he'd be at the Murphy's. Poor Jacky's been combing the neighborhood. But nobody's seen him! Not for two days. Oh, God, Andy! I'm so afraid he's hurt himself!"
"Have you called the police?"
"Yes. They came today. They have to wait two days if it's a runaway."
"Who have you called?"
"Everybody, I think," Joe said.
"You never called us."
He seemed amazed, "I didn't? Oh my God! Do you have him? Who else didn't I think of?"
"I don't have him, but I'll find him for you. You guys need to get cleaned up. Joe, we need to talk. Let's sit outside."
I followed him through the kitchen to their back porch, grabbing a couple of beers on the way.
"Joe, I can't imagine how you feel. I mean, when Jason was little me and Lin talked about the chance that he might turn out gay. Not that we thought he would, but he could. It wasn't any big kind of fear or anything, just one of those things we might have to deal with at some point. I know you and I talked about this stuff and your kids. What the hell made you blow?"
"I don't know. I just don't know! It was a shock. I mean there wasn't a clue. He never said anything before. No hints ... nothing. He's my son and I always thought he was just like me. I mean, he's not a fem or anything. Kind of like an all-boy boy. Then he tells me he's gay. Just says it. We weren't even alone! Melissa was right there, too."
"What'd you do? I mean, what did you think?"
"I didn't think. Something went from my stomach to my brain. I blew my top, Andy. I jumped up and grabbed him and just started shaking him. I felt the worst fear I ever did, and I just kept shaking him! I was screaming at him! I just told him to get out of my sight and never come back! I went into the kitchen and just cried. Like I lost something I really needed. By the time my brain clicked in and I went to look for him, he was gone and everybody hated me. I don't blame them. I hate myself. If anything happens to that kid, I'll die."
"It's gonna be hard to fix, Joey. Do you want him back?"
More tears. "More than anything. I'll give anything! I can't stand it, Andy. It's my fault and I can't stand it. He didn't do anything wrong, and I just tossed him."
"What about the gay thing?"
"Oh, shit. That doesn't matter! If he just told me a different way or something ...."
"What? Send you a letter?"
"I know. I know ... I can't blame him. He always comes right out with stuff. It's my fault. You know, in twelve years I've never really been mad at him about anything. Then he tells me something important and I lose control. What the hell kind of father am I?"
"A pretty good one, Joe. Go clean up and look like one. I'll find Mike."
I went down the road to Bob and Karen's house. I was afraid for Mike, but a little excited that I might be able to help fix this family. My friends.
I took Bob's offer of a beer and talked to him and Karen. They were anxious to hear everything, but I had no idea if Mike intended to out himself beyond his family, so I tried my best to convince them that it was truly something private that had happened between Joe and Mike. I had to convince Karen that it was in Mike's best interest if he'd talk to me, though I wasn't sure that was the truth. I had to try. She disappeared into the house for a while, then came back and led me up to the room he was in.
I had just left a whole house full of damaged people, but I was no way ready for the wreck that lay before me. Mikey looked a hundred bad years old. He had no color in his face beyond redness around his nose and eyes. And those eyes! There was such a haunted look that I had to stop short. His appearance was so infinitely far removed from the happy boy I'd known all these years that the doubts that I could help at all piled up so fast in my head I thought I'd fall over.
"Hi." No response.
"I know what happened." Nothing.
"You want to fix things?" A little nod.
"I know why it happened." Apprehension showed in his face.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Do you hate your Dad?"
"No. ... He hates me."
"No, he doesn't. He loves you. He hates himself. For what he did. For what he said." I finally moved and sat on the side of his bed.
"He said he hates me."
"Think back. Did he really say that?"
" .... no."
"He got mad, though."
"That's for sure."
"Know why?" I asked.
Mike studied me cautiously, "How much did he tell you?"
The tears started up again, "That's why, then. He hates me."
"You're so wrong, Mikey! He hates himself for what he said ... for what he did. You caught him off guard! There was no building up to it! You hit a button neither of you knew he had! You launched him, and you'll never know how bad he feels right now!"
"He doesn't hate me?"
"No way, Mike, no way. He loves you all the time. He knows he hurt you, and he knows he's got to fix it. You gotta show him how."
Mike started to cry, but somehow these didn't seem like bitter tears. I wouldn't call them happy tears, either. More like hopeful ones.
"You wanna see your Pop?"
"I can go get him. They don't know where you are and everyone's scared."
"Yeah, like worried that you killed yourself or something." I gave myself a mental slap on the face as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
"I wanted to."
I scooped Mike off the bed into a hug. "Don't even think it kid. You got things to do. Lots of things. Places to go. People to meet. Tell me about being gay, Mike."
"What about it?"
"Like, are you sure? How long have you known?"
"I guess I'm sure. I mean, I never thought anything either way 'til the last year. When I started thinkin' about sex at all, it was always boys. I ... I know someone else that's gay and we talk about it a lot. Yeah. Im sure."
"It doesn't bother you at all, does it?"
"I ... not really. It's what I am and it doesn't scare me or anything.. Is it a big deal? What part of your life is really spent doing sex anyhow?"
"Not much, Mike. Not much. I guess that's why you dropped it on your Dad like that?"
"I guess. I mean I told Ray and he thought I should tell Dad, so I went in and told him."
"And he went ballistic."
"Want to see him?"
"You sure it's ok?"
"It'll be ok, Mike. Everything's gonna be fine"
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