Book 1: Billie Joe's Journey
by Rick Beck
Will I See You Again?
When you first come out of deep sleep, you hang suspended between the depths of darkness and the harsh realities of waking and light. That wasn't the case for me the second morning I woke up in the hotel room with Carl. The first thing I could notice or feel was the warmth. The warmth concentrated itself where I prodded Carl as we curled together in the position we always found during sleep. This time my hips didn't thrust forward because it wasn't necessary. I could feel the warmth into the depth of him. The most marvelous delicious exciting warmth I could have imagined. I'd never before awakened as part of someone else, but this morning Carl and I were united.
My hand held him, as it always seemed to be doing, but this, too, was different as he was at rest. There were no raging needs or endless desires that usually accompanied my contact with him there. He was completely and totally relaxed. I could feel his back next to my chest, and my arm under and around him to hold his chest. The feel of his skin can't be described. My face snuggled between his shoulders. It was a lot like what I imagine the sensation would be to be drifting on an oversize, billowy cloud. My body was not held by gravity, physics or any earthly thing. It floated free, and yet I existed as part of the person I was connected to. Feeling his heart beating at the point of our connection thrilled me.
It's funny what you can feel and hear when you are first returning from sleep. It wasn't the street noises or the buses that passed close by. It wasn't the horns or the elevator or the oppressions of life. It was Carl's body's life signs that I melded into in total harmony. Matching his heart beat with my own by thinking it, timing my breath with his breath, and matching my body's temperature to his through the expanses of skin we shared. In perfect harmony I held him, felt him, studied him, loved him.
Oh, god, how I loved him!
It wasn't my intention to disturb him, but as usual I was the one demanding relief. Was this my immaturity showing through? Carl seemed able to let it pass, and perhaps I'd learn to have his self control. For me, every time was a desperate need to remember he was my love. When you are devoid of that element for the whole of your life, there is something especially needy about your passion and desire. Once you rise to the occasion, it is hard to go away with out completing the thought and satisfying the need, and so that afternoon in Seattle I drove myself back into the clouds on Carl's back. Never knowing if I had awakened him or not, and not being capable of thinking about it past the instant it took to cross my mind.
Once you are on your way back to the skies, you fail to consider the sweat, the urgency, the need and the dependency of what you do. You just soar and do, and I did. And this time it didn't take hours, perhaps only seconds. Time stands still when you truly love, and that's how I knew I truly loved Carl. There was always a timelessness about my time with him. The troubles and pain and viciousness of the world never entered or interfered with mine when I rode Carl amongst the clouds and between the stars. The heavens opened and allowed an escape from the things that seem uncontrollable and harsh. Then there was the falling, the dizziness, the struggle to keep myself alive as every part of me prepared to explode, and then the drifting, drifting back to earth.
Now my sweat ran on his back, joining us in yet another way. My face felt ten degrees hotter than the coolness of his skin. Carl. Unmoved, still there in my arms with that soft skin stretched across the hard sinew that was his body. He seemed to sleep on until he too joined me back in a bed in downtown Seattle.
"You ever stop?"
"You got me started."
"I was sleeping nice and peaceful like, and then you are at it again. I didn't start it."
"Sorry! As long as you are here it's going to be like this I guess."
"Sorry? Sorry? Can you imagine what it's like waking up being loved by you? I thought I was dreaming until I felt you in there. Then I knew where I was and felt you holding me in your arms."
"Can't help myself."
"Don't. I'm yours."
"Should we go eat?"
"I don't even know what time it is. We were still at it when it was getting daylight. That's when we laid ourselves down to sleep."
"You need anything? Are you all right?"
"I'm still drained. I don't know if I'll ever get it back up again. It died after that last one this morning. Never even bent until then."
"You're telling me! We're going to have to wash that wall. You've got that shot down pretty good."
"Not my fault. You're the one forces it out of me. I ain't never done nothing like that before."
"Right! You are sooo innocent."
"I am sooo happy."
"Me too. Should we go back to sleep?"
"Not much time left."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Time's going to pass whether we talk about it or not."
I drew my head back and stretched my body taught against his.
"We've been through this."
"I know. I can always hope."
We lay there in silence for a few minutes. It became piercingly necessary for me to hold him tighter to make sure he was really there and it wasn't all a dream. My insecurity was something I couldn't control. Like my lust, it had a life of its own. I merely observed it in action.
"We're going to have to break this up, Billie."
"I've got to go."
"Where are you going?"
"The toilet, shithead. I've had to go since last night, but I couldn't bear the thought of separating from you. I've managed to hold on, but in a few minutes you're going to be real sorry if I don't take care of it this time."
It took awhile to give him up. Becoming my own person again had a certain cooling effect. He had finally found something he had to do alone. I dressed while he took care of business. He came out and stood with his hands on his hips staring at me.
"You don't want to...."
"No. Let's go out and get some air. I am hungry. The room's closing in on me."
"Thank god! I'm drained. I thought you might want to stay in bed."
"The thought crossed my mind. That's why I got up. I don't want the last couple of days to be just a memory of bedtime. I want to do something we can have fun with. Enjoy ourselves."
"You seem to enjoy yourself pretty good in bed."
"It's new to me. I can't get enough of you, but I know I'm going to have to get used to not having you with me."
"Only for awhile."
"A year is a long, long, long, long, long time to me," I said, not knowing what it was going to be like going back to being alone.
He walked across the room and leaned down until his face was close to mine. I finally looked up at him and he pressed his lips on my lips, and gave me one of those gentle kisses I loved so much to get.
It was bright when we went out. We reversed the natural order of things. We roamed long into the night. Carl took his green suit to the cleaners to be picked up for his travels. We had gotten it pretty wrinkled up on the bus, half a lifetime ago. He wanted to look "sharp," and I couldn't imagine there being a sharper soldier than my soldier boy.
We went to the arcade, bowled, ran up and down 1st Street. Rode the ferry out into Puget Sound, and back, of course. We kissed out at the very tip of the ferry. There weren't many people around, but I don't think we cared much. Loving was too good to hide. I'd hidden too long already. We held hands and walked and talked long after midnight. It rained. We walked. A car passed and some guys yelled out of it, "Faggots." Carl's hand shot up in the air with a salute he thought they should have. He turned and kissed me before they were out of sight. Even in his civvies he was impressive. Noises were all anyone was going to make around Carl. I sensed he was fearless.
It made me wonder. He was such a man's man. How could he feel like I felt? How could he choose to be like me? It made no sense. No one liked being yelled at or insulted. Why would someone like Carl be gay? That confused me the more I thought about it, and I didn't like being confused.
My brother took us to the airport, and Carl stood so proud and tall in that green suit. He was sharp. We didn't say anything. I held his hand on the way down Route 5. My brother saw it. Carl saw him see it. He looked at me like he didn't know why I was doing that there. I wasn't hiding any longer. I was me and if someone didn't like me, that was their problem. I was "out" and I wasn't ever going back in. John dropped us at the entrance so Carl didn't have to carry his big green bag too far. He parked and said he'd come to the gate.
My stomach was empty, and my heart was breaking. Carl's large hand stayed planted in the middle of my back all the way through the airport until we stood beside the gate where his plane would depart. He cried first. I didn't start it. We still didn't talk. We just looked at each other.
"You're going to be here when I come back?" he said, wiping his wet eyes.
"Right on this spot," I said. "I'll be standing right here when you come back to me."
"I love you," he said, and hugged me to his chest and he sobbed "I don't want to leave you." "Don't."
"You aren't going to make this easy!"
Tears ran down his cheeks.
He hugged me again and a middle-aged man who was walking by paused and said, "Disgrace to the uniform! You should be shot!"
Carl broke away from me and his face turned crimson with rage. I felt the muscles in his arms tense like a cobra readying for a strike.
"Carl," I shouted, "don't."
"Why don't you fuck off, asshole." I heard my brother John's voice. "This kid'll break you in half you don't get out of his face."
The man faded into the rush of people coming and going.
Carl held me again and didn't sob any longer, but tears continued to run down his red face. I hugged his waist and kept my face in his chest as I shook and soaked his tie and shirt.
"I love you," I said, looking up at his face.
"I love you."
I stood at the window watching the plane move back away from the terminal. The tears ran, but it wasn't like I was crying. They just did it on their own. I felt my brother's arm around my shoulder when I stopped spacing out on the plane that was stealing my love away.
John and I walked in silence to the car. I reached into the back seat and pulled out my gym bag that contained my clothes. I set it in the middle of my lap as brother John drove away from the terminal.
"You've got it bad, kiddo."
"Good," I clarified. "I've got it good, John."
"You're buying into a lot of trouble at a pretty young age you know."
"I didn't say you weren't old enough. That's not what I said. It's just that you're going up a rough road. You've got some growing to do before you can handle it, kiddo. That's what I'm saying."
"Drop me on Route 5."
"What?" he shouted, slamming on the brakes and sliding the car to the shoulder.
"I'm going to California. Drop me off at Route 5. That's what I said."
"Not going to happen, kiddo! Even if you were older, the old man would skin me."
"You and the old man don't have any thing to do with it, John. I'm going to California. You can drop me off on Route 5, or you can take me back with you, and the first time you turn your back I'll be out on Route 5 in the middle of downtown and probably get my ass run down. I don't care what you do. I'm going to California."
"Even if I let you, mom and dad'll shit themselves."
"I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry about being a fag, but that's what I am, John, and I ain't going back to stupid Minnesota to get my brains bashed in by some ignorant redneck. I'm going to where people will let me find out who I am."
"Does Carl know you're doing this?"
"Yes, he had the same reaction you did. Said exactly the same thing. Carl's gone."
"If you loved him, really I mean, you'd wait for him."
"You see, that's it right there. That's why I'm going. I do love Carl. You want to watch my lips. We've been holed up in a motel room since we left your place. We found each other and we somehow fell in love. I can't go back to Minnesota. I can't go back to being mom and pop's little boy. I'm not a little boy, John. I know what I am, and I know what I want, and I know I can neither be what I am, nor get what I want at home in Minnesota. Not going to happen. Now I'm taking this summer for myself. I'm going to try to screw my head on tight, and then I'll go home to Minnesota and wait for Carl. That's the only deal there is. There is nothing you, mom, pop, or any one else can do about it."
"What happened to my little brother, kiddo? You were always so damn smart. This is dumb."
"You don't know what it's like feeling what I feel, John. Ralphie killed himself because he was gay. I can't go back there knowing that."
"Mom said it upset you quite a bit. Were you and Ralphie…?"
"No, I didn't know he was gay. I never told him I was. I don't want that happening to me. I've got to find people like myself. Don't tell me I'm stupid for deciding to fight. I watch people all around me every day that feel nothing. I felt nothing all my life. I've finally found a way to feel something. I don't like it, but that's the way it is. Now I've got to live with it. I'd die in Minnesota. Faggot's don't flourish and grow in Minnesota, John. They sometimes don't survive," I said, remembering my brother broke away from home when he was only a year older than me.
The car screeched off the shoulder and another car slammed on the brakes and swerved around us giving us a one finger salute. My brother's face turned as red as Carl's had been. We passed the car that passed us just as he was trying to move in front of us. John leaned on the horn and saluted back and we were doing eighty miles an hour on that access road. John screeched the car to a halt at the Route 5 overpass. One ramp went north and back to Seattle and his apartment, and one ramp went south into the unknown.
"Get the fuck out of my car," John growled, not looking at me.
"I'm sorry, John. I've got to go. I can't stay. I've got to find out who I am."
"You better call me every night. Collect. Just call and I might accept the call and I might not. Depends on whether or not I'm pissed at you at the time. At least I'll know you are alive. What do I tell mom and dad, Billie Joe? What do I tell your parents? You're putting me against the wall here."
"I'm sorry, John. You think of something. You do what you have to do. I'll call. I'll be all right."
Before I slid out, John pressed a twenty-dollar bill into my hand.
"It's all I got, kiddo. Don't buy soft drinks or junk. Get the jumbo burgers. No fries. You might survive a few days on that."
"Thanks, John. I'll be back before school starts. Tell them that. Whatever you want. I can't go home. Tell them. Thanks."
John stayed there on the edge of the road as I walked down through the dirt and grit on the ramp. I put his twenty in my jacket pocket and found an envelope with a note from my lover.
I stood at the bottom of the ramp and stuffed the twenty in my pocket and found a crisp new hundred-dollar bill folded in the note.
"I'll worry about you, Billie Joe," the note said. "I wish you luck. Don't worry about me. Do what you got to do. Carl. P.S. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm crazy about you. I knew you wouldn't take the money, but I've got to know you are eating okay."
I wiped the tears from my eyes and swallowed some bad air. I heard the air brakes from a truck swish and puff as the longest truck I'd ever seen up close slid off onto the shoulder and a horn tooted two short bursts. As I climbed up into the cab I saw John's car slowly moving across the bridge. I stuck my hand up and waved.
I slid in beside a red-haired boy who seemed a little older than me. The driver smiled and the truck was immediately moving forward and sliding right back out on the merge lane as he shifted more gears than I knew existed in one vehicle.
"Where you headed, son?"
"California," I said.
"Me too," the red headed kid smiled and reached for my hand.
The truck cut through the cloudy cool day. I was on my way… somewhere.
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