I only got to be in love for a year and a half. I loved Jack Murphy with all my heart. Now he's gone forever, killed in a bus crash.
For a while, I thought he was the lucky one. We had nothing but hassle from the rest of the school since people found out about us. But now I figure that I'll get to love again someday, maybe. At least I have the chance to. I can still breathe fresh air and go fishing when I want to. A lot of people who used to be my friends are trying to be again. Some of them abandoned me and others tormented me and Jacky. At first I didn't really want to get back with them, but without Jack it was just too damn lonely. I'm kind of just feeling them out one by one.
It's kind of funny, actually. At first Jacky and I didn't even like each other, or at least he didn't like me. He didn't seem to like anybody, really. His family moved into the house next door to ours when I was ten. They arrived when I was at school, so when I got home I immediately asked my mother who they were and if they had any kids. She told me there was a boy who looked about my age and I ran right over to meet him. His mother and father seemed nice, but he just wasn't interested. In anything. I tried to get him to ride bikes, to go fishing, shoot hoops, to watch TV. I tried everything. He wasn't exactly rude, but I finally gave up and went home. My Mom asked if there was any friend material there and I couldn't give her an answer.
I tried several more times, but the response was about the same and I eventually gave up. He'd say hi on the bus or when we saw each other outside, but that was about it. He was like that for almost two years.
One day I had a major bike wreck right in front of him. I was flying down the hill like I always did when my front tire popped. I lost it right away and hit the curb sideways, getting thrown off the bike and crashing my head right into their mailbox. To his credit, he ran right over to check me out. I had a major cut on my face and everything hurt.
"Oh, shit! Are you ok?" I didn't respond right away. I was on my face, and he rolled me over. "Talk to me! Man, you're bleedin' bad! Is anybody home?"
"I don't think so."
"Here, try to stand up." He grabbed both of my wrists and pulled me to my feet. I couldn't open my eyes as blood kept running into them. He pulled my arm across his shoulder and put his arm around my waist and led me into his house. I was basically blind, and he had to tell me when there was a step. He sat me in a chair and told me to put my head back as far as I could. I heard him banging around for a second, then he put a cloth on my cut and told me to hold it there. Then he started washing around my eyes with a wet towel until I could finally open them. When I did, I could see that I was sitting by the kitchen table.
"Put your hands down. I gotta clean out that cut." He lifted the cloth off my forehead and swore. "I'm gonna wash it out. This'll probably hurt. Come over to the sink." He put the cloth back on my forehead, then put my hand there to hold it as he helped me over to the kitchen sink. He took the cloth again and wet it under the faucet, then started to wash my forehead with just water. Then he rinsed it out and rubbed it on a bar of soap and really started scrubbing. I started to cry. "I know it hurts," he said, "but it's gotta be clean. It's gross to do, too."
"Sorry. It really hurts. Everything hurts."
"Here, just splash water on it to rinse off. What a wreck that was!"
I cupped my hands under the faucet and splashed water on my face over and over again until he said to stop. I kept watching blood washing down the drain. Then he led me out to the screen porch and had me lie down and hold a clean cloth on my head while he went to get bandages. He sprayed the cut with Bactine, making me squeeze my eyes shut, then he started folding up some gauze for a bandage.
He put the bandage on my head, then secured it with tape. He was just about done when I heard my father screaming.
Jack ran out to get him and brought him out to the porch.
"Oh, My God! I saw your bike out there! Are you OK?" my father asked, sounding panicky.
"I think so. I hurt everywhere."
"How bad's the cut? Does he need stitches?"
Jack said, "I don't know. It's pretty big, but I don't think it's too deep. It's still bleedin' a little, but not like before."
Dad started poking me all over and making me move everything to make sure nothing was broken. He decided to take me to the emergency room. When we were leaving he thanked Jack over and over again.
"I hope you're ok, Mike," Jack said.
At the hospital they checked me all over. When they took off Jack's bandage they said he did a good job cleaning out the cut, and that I wouldn't need stitches. They put some new goop on it and bandaged me up again. I had to lay down for the rest of the day and all of the next one. When I saw myself in the mirror I didn't recognize myself. I had the bandage on my head, which I expected, but I also had two black eyes and a black and blue nose and a very fat lip.
I wanted to thank Jack in some way, but I didn't know how. I didn't know anything that he liked. He'd lived right next door for two years and I didn't have a clue. Mom said to just go over and tell him, but I hated to go empty handed. I ended up baking a tray of chocolate chip cookies - the kind that you just slice off and bake. What kid didn't like cookies? I put them on a paper plate and walked over.
"These are for you. I made 'em myself," I said proudly, as soon as he opened the door.
"You made me cookies?" He sounded amused and astonished at the same time.
"Yeah. I just wanted to ... thank you for helping me out."
"You don't have to."
"Yes I do! You did a good job. Even the doctor said so."
"Really? Thanks." He looked at me and started to giggle. "You look like a raccoon. Come on in. MOM! Rocky Raccoon's here!"
We started to become friends after that. I asked why he didn't like me at first and he said he probably did, but he was afraid to make friends with anybody, because his old friends got him in trouble and that's why they moved to Morton. He didn't tell me what that was about for a long time. In the meantime, we got really close. We talked about a lot of things, one being what we wanted to be when we grew up. I changed my mind about that almost daily, but Jack wanted to be a doctor and he never wavered about that.
We rode our bikes everywhere and went fishing every chance we got. I fished a lot. A real lot. I always had with my Dad, and I loved it. Truth be told, though, I wasn't especially good, or at least not lucky. I usually caught something, but Jack got his limit whenever he set his mind to it. I think it started to piss my father off a little, but Jack started going with us all the time and we always had fun. He'd stand right beside us, using the same bait and everything, but he'd catch three fish for our one. I think I was a little pissed off, too, because I taught him how to fish.
One day we were just hacking around in the woods and I was really pressing him to tell me about what kind of trouble he got into where he used to live. We were sitting tossing pebbles into a brook.
"All right! I'll tell you if you promise never to say anything ever to anybody."
"I'll never tell, I swear."
"You're not gonna like me much when I tell you."
"Why wouldn't I like you? You're like my ... best friend. You are my best friend! Whatever you did was before, anyhow."
"Okay ... I have to trust you. Do you know what gay is?"
"Gay? You mean like suckin' dicks and stuff?"
"There's more to it, but - yeah."
"I guess I know then."
"Well, I'm gay."
"You? You do that stuff?"
"Used to. That's how I got into trouble. I was eight when I first got into it. This kid that lived next door showed me some stuff. He was about twelve. I liked it. He let me suck his dick and I liked it. We did it all the time. I mean, I did it. He just let me. Then he started tellin' his friends and they told their friends. I was doin' it to all of them. I kept doing it and they got older and older, and some of the guys were even older than them. There were some days I sucked like ten dicks. Then one day one of them wanted to stick his dick in my butt and I let him. It hurt at first, but then I loved it. I loved it, Mike, like there wasn't anything better on earth. A lot of them started doing that. I'd have a dick in my mouth and one in my ass at the same time. I was livin' for it. Living just for sex. And I was only nine years old."
"Then I got caught. By my mother. With a dick in my mouth and a dick in my ass. Right in our garage. Man, did the roof blow that day. She called the cops. She called my father. She called the doctor. Everybody got in trouble."
"So, what happened?"
"The guys I was with got arrested. They were like thirteen. I had to go to the hospital to get checked out. Then I had to talk to psychiatrists and social workers. I told them the truth. How many times and how many guys There was a giant stink. Half the kids in town got arrested. I kept tellin' everybody that it was me, but I was so little they blamed everybody else. But everyone started to hate our family because their kids were getting arrested. I never told anybody names. They were tellin' on each other. Every time somebody got busted, somebody else did the next day.
"I got sent to counseling. I listened to what they said. It made sense after a while. That sex can feel good, even to little kids, but that it's not right even so. That they way I was doin' it was destructive, like I could have really got hurt. It would'a been bad even if I was older, but I was just a little kid. They explained what gay meant and gave me lots of tests to figure out if I really was. Just because I liked what I was doing didn't mean that I always would. Then I got this really cool counselor, Jane. We talked forever about growing up, sex, love and relationships. She got me to see that what I was doing was really dumb. And dangerous. You can get really sick. She got me to think about other things. Kid things. She said sex should wait until I really love somebody and it'll be worth the wait. Do you hate me yet?"
"I don't hate you ... but it's pretty scary."
"It got worse. My father had to quit his job and move here. Everybody in town hated us. It never ended. That's why I stuck to myself after we got here. If I didn't have any friends I couldn't get in trouble again."
"Weren't you bored?"
"I hated it. I'd see everybody else havin' fun and just watch out the window. I saw you cruisin' the neighborhood and you don't know how much I wanted to go with you, but I was too afraid."
"Afraid that ...."
"That I'd start again. I had all kinds of control therapy, but it mostly made me not trust myself. All those kids that got arrested were in big trouble, like they could go to jail for. I never want to hurt anybody again." He started to cry.
I started to cry, too. Not just in sympathy, but thinking about Jack shut up in the house all that time, and that I could have tried a little harder at first and maybe he could have enjoyed those two years. I moved over and hugged him. We cried for a long time. It was the first time I'd really confronted someone else's personal misery, and it felt awful.
When it came time to go home we'd been hugging each other for a long time, and it had felt good to both of us. Like it was a necessary thing to do. We held hands as we walked out of the woods to our bikes. When we got back home, we hugged each other in the driveway. Jack whispered, "Thanks, man. I'm glad you know."
"I'm glad you told me. Things are gonna be okay now."
The truth is, I'd never felt closer to another person in my life. I love my family and lots of other people, but this was different. I felt a connection to Jacky at a whole new level. I was feeling it more than thinking it, but we hadn't gotten ten feet apart when I started to miss him.
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