“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
He stared down at me. I couldn’t believe that after five years, our paths had finally crossed again. I often thought about what had happened to him, but I figured his life had ended up like mine.
He was still attractive, and he still had a boyish look about him. He had on a white jacket, blue shirt and striped tie. He looked very professional. I looked away because I was ashamed of what I had become. How was he able to make something of his life, and I couldn’t?
He walked closer to the bed and reached out and gripped my arm. “How are you, Matt? I didn’t think I would ever see you again.” Tears started to appear in his eyes.
I laughed slightly and replied, “I don’t think I’ve done as good as you.” I looked into his brown eyes. “I’m glad you made it.”
“It wasn’t easy,” he replied. “After what happened, my aunt took me in.”
I replied, “I’m glad. She did a good job. You look nice.”
He grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the side of the bed. “Can I sit down?” I nodded my head.
He spent the next ten minutes telling me about his life since we last saw each other. His parents rejected him, but his mother’s sister decided to raise him. She made sure he finished his education, and then she provided the money to send him to a community college for a degree in physical therapy. He had only been working at the hospital for a few months.
He gripped my arm and said, “What happened to you? All your chart says is that you got shot and you might need some physical therapy getting the strength back in your shoulder.”
His eyes widened when I told him Pastor Simpson had shot me. “Why?” he asked.
I then related how I had gone to the church to confront him about his secret life. It was embarrassing to tell him how I had been stripping in a gay bar, but he needed to know how I knew that Pastor Simpson was gay. I then told him how I had gone to the church to confront him, and how he had shot me when I approached him. I told Charles about the pastor shooting himself, but I still didn’t have all the details.
He shook his head when I finished. “I saw the news last night, and they talked about his death. They didn’t mention you or his suicide.”
“I’m glad the son of a bitch is dead,” I hissed. “Look what he did to us.”
“I know,” he replied sadly, “but no one deserves to die like that.”
“He was an evil man,” I insisted. “At least he won’t hurt any other young boys.”
Charles nodded his head, but I could still tell that he felt sorry for Pastor Simpson. I wanted to argue with him, but I was too weak to try.
He gripped my hand and squeezed it. “So, tell me about your life. Other than getting shot, are you doing alright?” He laughed and added, “Stripping in a gay club sounds interesting.”
Tears filled his eyes when I told him what had happened to me the past five years. Even though it sounds like he made it, I wanted him to know how Pastor Simpson had ruined my life. “I lost everything,” I said as tears fell down my cheek. He grabbed a tissue and wiped my face dry.
“He’s gone now,” he assured me. “It is time to put all that in the past and look for a brighter future.”
He gave me a puzzled look when I started to laugh. “Brighter future?” I asked. “That son of a bitch robbed me of my future.”
He gripped my hand tighter. “You have to put all that past you, Matt,” he responded. “I did. I learned to live my life the way I wanted, and I didn’t care what others thought. Pastor Simpson placed some hurdles for me to get over, but I did, and I came out a better man.”
Tears fell down my cheek as I replied, “Then I guess you’re a stronger person than me.”
“No, I’m not,” he stated emphatically. “I’m still the same person I always was. But you need someone in your life to help you like my aunt and David.”
My heart wanted to burst when he said David. For a brief second, I thought he was volunteering to help me, but he wasn’t. He had moved on and found someone else. “David?” I asked.
He smiled warmly. “He’s a wonderful man, Matt. I want you to meet him someday. Right now, we’re living with my aunt, but next year we’re going to try and buy our own place.” He beamed with pride. “He asked me last month to marry him.”
I attempted a smile and replied, “I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks,” he responded appreciatively. I think he thought I was being sincere, but I wasn’t. I was jealous of him. He had everything that I wanted. Looking at the confident look on his face, I was beginning to realize how I had fucked up my life. Why couldn’t I have just put aside what happened and move on like Charles did. Instead, I let it eat my soul away. Maybe I just bought into Pastor Simpson’s view of gays. Did I really believe that I was worthless? Had I spent the past five years proving that everything Pastor Simpson said about me was true?
For some reason, I’m remembering back to high school when I had to read the book about grapes. Can’t remember the title now, but I think Steinbeck wrote it. What was that line again? Oh yeah, there ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff that people do.
That couldn’t be more wrong. There is sin, and there is virtue. Being gay isn’t a sin, but what Pastor Simpson did to me and Charles was a sin. And because of what he did, I threw away all the virtue I had. Look at me now. I’m lying in a hospital bed with two gunshot wounds because I lost what little virtue I had. I was a good kid. I was smart, hardworking and kind. I was a perfect son, but my parents couldn’t see it because I didn’t have the same virtues as them. But that didn’t make me a bad person, right? Being gay isn’t a sin, right?
Now, I’m more confused than I’ve ever been in my life. Why did I have to feel that I was worthless because I’m gay and my parents hated me for it. Why couldn’t I have been more like Charles and forget the past and accept who I am? Thinking back, I’ve been fighting it since I left. I accepted what others said about me, and I’ve spent the past five years proving them to be right. I turned to drugs, alcohol and sex to get me through. I tossed out every virtue I ever had, and I let sin enter. I’m no more that person than Charles is, but he overcame it. Why didn’t I?
“Are you okay, Matt?” Charles looked down worriedly at me. I wiped away the tears that were falling down my face.
“Yeah,” I replied, not wanting to tell him the truth. “I’m just in a little pain is all.” I sat up and tried to reposition myself in bed.
“Let me help you,” he said as he grabbed me by my waist and helped me. His touch was so gentle, I wanted to cry again. He smiled and said, “I guess I should go over with you why I’m here in the first place. We need to work on a few shoulder exercises.” I smiled and nodded.
They were painful at first, but after a while the pain subsided. He even had me get out of bed and walk down the hall for a short distance. He kept his arm around my waist as we walked. I had flashbacks of the time we had sex in the shower at Pastor Simpson’s house. I wondered if things were different, could we actually renew those feelings again? We walked to the bed, and he helped my lie down. He looked at the clock on the wall and announced that he had to go. “Will I see you again?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied as he took out a business card and handed it to me. “If you need any more therapy, give me a call.”
“Can I ask you something before you go?”
I hesitated before asking, “Do you know what ever happened to Ricky?” Seeing Charles again, brought back memories of Ricky. I really hadn’t thought about him much over the past few years. When I first left Pastor Simpson’s, I thought often of going to his house. However, I knew that would be dangerous. I’m sure my parents had made his parents promise to notify them if I returned. After a couple of years, he became a vague memory. I had tried a few times to remember our first kiss, but I couldn’t. At the time, it meant so much to me. Now, it was just stuff that happened.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “We talked at school, and I know he was going to college in California when he graduated. I can’t remember where he said.”
“California?” I asked. “He never talked about going to California. We used to always talk about going to Miami and becoming beach bums.”
He smiled and replied, “Maybe he’s a surfer in sunny LA.” He gripped my hand and squeezed it. “It’s been great seeing you again, Matt. I wish it hadn’t been under these circumstances.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Take care.” He smiled and left the room.
When he left, I had never felt so alone in my life. There was no one on this earth who cared whether I lived or died. I guess the closest person was Dexter, but we were only friends. If I died right now, he would probably be fucking a new roommate tomorrow.
I was so overwhelmed with grief that I couldn’t even cry. I just lay and looked up at the ceiling. My life to this point was meaningless. Charles was a physical therapist, and Ricky was attending college hundreds of miles away. By now, he probably had a degree and was working somewhere in a suit every day. What was I doing? Two days ago, I was stripping in a gay bar while guys stuffed dollar bills into my bikini underwear. Some accomplishment.
I want to change, but I have no means to do it. Who would hire a drug addicted, alcoholic whose only job reference would be dancing as a stripper at the Ramrod? Former occupation? Gay for Pay cocksucker and man pleaser. That would look well on a job application. I managed to fall asleep a few times, but nurses kept coming in and taking my vitals.
I had just finished eating breakfast when the doctor walked into my room. “Good morning, Matt,” he said cheerfully. I looked at him and turned my head. I was in no mood for pleasantries. He examined my shoulder and arm. “You’re healing nicely,” he assured me. Again, I remained silent.
After pulling the sheet over me, he informed me he saw no reason why I couldn’t be released. “I’ll prescribe some pain medication for a few weeks,” he said. He asked, “Did you talk to the physical therapist yet?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “He came in last night.”
The doctor told me that I should follow his exercises to make sure that I didn’t lose any movement in my shoulder. “You should be back to normal in about a month.” He looked down, “Any questions?”
“Yeah,” I asked, “When can I get out of here?”
“I see no reason why you can’t be dismissed today,” he replied. “Do you have anyone who can come and get you?”
“Nope,” I responded harshly. I was already depressed. I didn’t want to think about what might happen when I left.
“I’ll arrange for your discharge,” he said as he looked down at his clipboard. “When all the paperwork is complete, you’ll be free to leave on your own.” He patted my arm and left the room.
An hour later, I was surprised when Sergeant Lattimore entered the room. He had a disgruntled look on his face. He walked over and looked down at me. “How are you, Matt?” he asked.
I stared at him and replied rudely, “I’m sure you’re not here to check on my health.”
“No, I’m not,” he responded. “A situation came up yesterday, and we’re going to need you to cooperate with us.”
I looked at him skeptically. “What situation?”
He sighed and replied, “A center for runaway children reported to one of our detectives that Pastor Simpson had tried to…um…how can I say this?”
“Pray away the gay?” I answered angrily.
“Um, yes,” he replied. “We’ve known about Pastor Simpson’s interventions for some time, but we were powerless to do anything about it because parents agreed to it.”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied sarcastically.
Sergeant Lattimore gave me a concerned look. “Were you one of the boys he did an intervention with? Is that why you went to the church on Sunday?”
I looked away. “You could say that,” I replied.
“Matt,” he said sternly. “Look at me.” I turned and faced him. “When you were with Pastor Simpson, did he ever molest you?”
“What? Molest me?” Pastor Simpson had mentally tormented me, but he never touched me sexually. “No,” I replied.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “He never touched you?”
“Not then,” I replied.
Lattimore gave me a puzzled look. “Not then?” he asked. “So, he has touched you?”
“Why are you asking me these questions?”
“The counselor for the boy who showed up yesterday, is alleging that Pastor Simpson sexually assaulted him,” he replied. “Are you sure he never touched you?”
“Pastor Simpson is a faggot,” I responded angrily. I didn’t care if he was dead. The truth wasn’t going to buried with him, especially if it meant an innocent boy was involved.
“How do you know, Matt, if he never touched you?”
“Oh, he touched me,” I replied. “But it was the other day.”
I told Lattimore all about the incident at the bar. I told him how I was naked, and Pastor Simpson tried to grab my cock. I then told him how I had jumped from the bar and hit him, and he managed to quickly escape.”
“So that is why you went to his church the next day?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I responded angrily. “He was a lying bastard. He would preach about how sinful gay people are, then he goes out to a gay bar the night before to commit the same sins. I wanted to expose him.”
Lattimore shook his head. “Well, he’s been exposed,” he replied. “The boy’s parents went to the newspaper, and they are now digging into the story. They haven’t tried to contact you yet?”
“No, why?” I asked skeptically.
“The church was trying to cover up what happened Sunday, but it has come out that he committed suicide,” he replied. “It is only going to be a matter of time until they discover your name.”
“Shit,” I hissed. I was planning to leave later and go back to my place. I was afraid if the media tried to contact me, then Dexter and the others would put me out. Things went on in the house that they wouldn’t want to media or police to know about.
“Your testimony is going to be critical to this case,” he said. “We are trying to get corroborating witnesses, but so far no other boys will say that Simpson did anything sexual to them. They didn’t like what he did, but he didn’t appear to touch any of them. You’re the only one right now who knows for a fact what Simpson was hiding.”
“What do you want me to do?” I asked skeptically. My situation was seeming to go from bad to worse as we spoke.
“Where do you plan to go when you get released?” he asked. “You didn’t give an address when you were admitted.”
I answered hesitantly, “I got a place I stay.”
“Sorry,” I replied. “I can’t tell you that.”
“Matt,” he said worriedly. “The boy and his family need you. If you leave today and disappear into the streets, his case goes out the window.”
“Look,” I responded angrily. “I ain’t no body’s keeper. There ain’t been one person who has given two shits about me since I was sixteen. Why the hell would I want to help some kid now?”
“If you don’t,” Sergeant Lattimore responded sadly, “he’ll end up on the streets like you. Is that what you want?”
“I don’t give a fuck,” I answered angrily.
“Will you at least do one thing before you say no?”
I asked skeptically, “What?”
“Will you meet with the boy and his parents?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because I believe deep down inside, behind that tough exterior, is a young boy screaming out for love,” he answered softly. “Do you really want another boy to go through what you’ve been through, Matt?” He reached out and gripped my arm. “Don’t give me an answer right now. I’m going to check with your doctor and see when you’ll be released. I’ll be back to get your answer. You can meet the boy, or I’ll drive you to wherever you want me to take you.” He squeezed my arm tighter. “Fair enough?”
I turned my head and refused to give him an answer. He patted my hand and then left the room.
I suddenly began to cry uncontrollably. I was tough. I had built up a wall to protect myself, and I refused to let anyone in. Life had hardened me. I had been stripped of everything, but Lattimore saw through my defenses. I was still a young boy desperate for love. Maybe I couldn’t save myself, but I had an opportunity to save another boy. If I could prevent him from spending one day in the hell I lived in, then I had to take a chance, even if it destroyed me.
I knew that once I let down my defenses, I would be vulnerable. However, I had no future. I was lying in a hospital bed, and no one cared. I was a lonely shell with a sad and dark past and no hope for a better tomorrow. I decided I would at least give the boy I had never met a chance that was never given to me. Then, I would do what I knew deep down inside what I had to do. My life was over. At least I would die knowing that I had done the right thing.
When Lattimore appeared a few hours later, he smiled when he saw me sitting on the edge of my bed fully dressed. He didn’t say anything to me. He turned and I followed him quietly down the hall. He didn’t even look at me when we entered the elevator. I think he sensed that he was leading me to my final destination.