Book 2: The Return Home
by Rick Beck
There was a wonderful change at work. I enjoyed going each day and there were lighthearted times in-between the mail rushes. Almost all the work was done in spurts and the rest of the time was spent preparing for or cleaning up after the rush. After the dinner with Mr. McMichael and his wife, I told Ms. Mars the approximate date of my departure. She leaned forward to scribble it down on her calendar, smiling as she always smiled.
"I, for one, will miss you, Billie Joe. Could this be what's been on your mind for the past few weeks."
"Yes, ma'am," I confessed and that's all there was to it.
This could possibly be described as the most pleasant period in my life. While it lacked the passion and direction Mr. McMichael told me about, I had something I was looking forward to and at the same time I enjoyed what I was doing.
RamTech was like what I imagined a good family should be. I wasn't all that aware of what went on in-between the mailroom and the fortieth floor, but I felt that it was all under control and filled with people who smiled when they worked, and they encouraged each other and me as we did our work.
I was sure it wouldn't be hard to find a replacement to run the stairs. Each time there was a special delivery during the day, I'd pop out on one of the floors, and the person behind the desk would be checking their watch and talking into the phone.
It was what I did. Every delivery was a hundred-yard dash that I couldn't lose. People admired my energy and how I did my job. I was no longer amazed that people noticed me. I was heading somewhere and I stopped at RamTech on my way there.
I continued writing Carl every day and I told him that I'd given my notice for late August. He was glad that it was no longer on my mind. He wrote back that I seemed worry free, but I'd better start worrying about him, because he was dreaming of us being together every night and what he was dreaming was most definitely X-rated.
Carl related a story about going drinking in town with Leon. There were sections where the soldiers frequented most and where they were most welcome. Carl was curious about and comfortable with a culture totally different from ours. He knew enough Japanese to be respectful and he did his best to be polite toward his host country. Leon wasn't necessarily of the same mind.
After having too much to drink, Leon became difficult, insulting some innocent Japanese men. Carl said he could tell by the looks on their face that they were only going to take so much. They did all within their power to avoid a physical confrontation, but the more Leon talked the more belligerent he became. Once it was obvious the four Japanese men had taken all they intended to take, Carl could see they weren't going to be able to avoid a fight.
Then, Carl said, he realized that it wasn't the Japanese men that were creating the problem and why should he get in a fight with them because Leon was being a jackass. They were merely reacting to the insults being hurled at them.
Carl told Leon to shut up and Leon turned on him. Carl once again told Leon it was time for him to shut up. Leon didn't take the hint and Carl slugged him, knocking him out. The Japanese men bowed and smiled at Carl's diplomatic solution to what might have turned out to be a very painful lesson in foreign affairs.
I wrote him to give him my approval, but he couldn't be all that happy with the outcome. Leon was no longer talking to him and the only guy he was close to wasn't close any longer. I let him know that soon there was only one guy he was going to be close to and that's all there was to it.
John seemed disappointed that I was leaving. We'd been brothers for the first time. We talked, did things together, and enjoyed being together. I told him we'd visit him and once we got located he could come to visit us. I'm not sure my brother was happy, not that I think he was unhappy. He seemed to do okay without having any particular plan of what his life might be about.
Early in August Mr. McMichael invited John and me to go sailing with him in the Sound. We fished and released what we caught, which would never have occurred to me before. The wind filled the sails of the modest sized boat as John and I moved from station to station to follow our captain's orders. We'd sailed out among the islands where the ferries chugged back and forth to each day.
There was no talk about my leaving and there were no questions about my destination. I wanted to tell Mr. McMichael about Carl. I wanted to be honest with him. He'd offered me help if I needed it. He knew I wouldn't steal from him. He knew deception or the idea of being deceptive wore heavily on me, but he could not see the secret that was so tightly woven into my character. It didn't bother me until we went sailing.
This was the secret I was always afraid to reveal. When faced with the idea of telling someone who it wasn't necessary to tell, you could depend on my silence. I wanted to be honest with Mr. McMichael, because he'd seen something in me that impressed him. It had me wanting to tell the complete truth about myself for once in my life, and yet, as impressive as I might have been to him, I disappointed myself and held tightly to my façade.
Out in the center of the Sound the argument was again on my mind. Being honest was the only way to be if you wanted people to respond to you in a way that made a difference. Silence merely assures that I'd never know who the real friends are as opposed to those who would throw you overboard for not measuring up to their particular standards. What good was the companionship of people who thought you ought to live by their rules?
I only needed to go back to my best friend to throw a monkey wrench into my ideas about who it was safe to tell and who not to tell. Ralphie would still be alive if I had told him. How could I have a best friend and not understand my silence would kill him, or me, or both of us. All I had to do was to say,
"Ralphie, I'm gay."
My failure to find a way to trust my best friend with the most important information about myself led to his suicide. I could find a dozen ways to excuse my guilt and put the guilt at Ralphie's door, but I knew the truth and I had remained silent.
I lived more in the last year than in my entire life before. I was not the same person that had let Ralphie down. This was the only escape from my guilt. I'd been punished for my ignorance. I'd been punished for thinking there was anyone out there who cared about me being a gay kid with a dead friend, frantically searching for a reason to live.
I'd gone in search of what it meant to be gay and instead I found an underworld of kids, suspended in a purgatory that had no end. Without identity, value, or purpose, we languished invisible to anyone who might be able to bring us in from our exile. I had become a non-person in a non-community seeking an answer to a question no one heard me ask.
Carl had been my only salvation. Had I not met him I'd be with Ralphie. Having him affirmed I wasn't alone. What I'd found in Carl was a reason to go on living. I'd almost forgot what he meant to me as survival dictated my moves. It was what I'd found in him that led to my rescue.
I accepted that what I'd gone in search of in response to Ralphie's death didn't exist. Discovering that allowed me to embrace something or someone that did exist, Carl.
I'd come back from my time in hell. In only a few weeks my life would belong to Carl and I'd go with him to wherever he wanted to go and being with him would become all-important to me.
I did know where I was heading.
a writer's mind…
We are brothers and sisters. We are never alone. From first step to last breath we are united by a common cause. If we don't accept one another unconditionally, who will? The kind of world the next generation of LGBTQ people will inherit is up to you and me.
If we don't fight to make things right for all of us we are agreeing to the proposition that it is okay to discriminate against queers. We are the last people it's acceptable to bash. It's time we took a stand to say, no more. Let's end it on our watch. Let's stand together. If we do the work the next generations of LGBT won't understand how hard it once could be to be gay.
...love one another
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