“Oh man, she’s hot,” my best friend, Paul said. “She’s gotta be an eight.”
“Are you kiddin’ me?” I asked. “She hardly has any tits, man. I’d give her a five . . . maybe a six at best.”
“Yeah, but she’s prolly only a sixth grader,” my friend countered. “Give her another year. . . . They’ll grow.”
“Like she’d be interested in you anyway,” I laughed.
Suddenly, Paul got a hurt look on his face, like he might cry or somethin’.
“Aw Paul, I didn’t mean it that way or nothin’,” I said puttin’ my arm around him and squeezin’ his shoulder. It really had been a lame thing ta say. “You’re a good lookin’ guy an’ there’s lots of girls who’d like ta get inta your pants.”
“That’s not true, Sammy,” he said to me. “I know you’ve got your problems, too, but at least you look normal. Everyone knows I got Down’s syndrome. The only girls who’ll look at me are fellow retards.”
“You’re not a retard, Paul. You’re just a little slow, but you do fine where it counts, and you’re the best friend a guy could ever have.”
Sitting together in the food court, however, my mind couldn’t help but wonder back to the troubled days that led me here. Paul was right about one thing — I did have my problems, too. My scars were on the inside, and they ran deep . . .
I’d had mixed feelings about going to summer camp. I’d spent half my life in foster care, an’ when Mom wasn’t in jail, she was either strung out on crack or hustlin’ to make the money to buy that shit, so any chance ta get away from all that was a good thing. The trouble was, this was a church-run camp for other kids like me, an’ that meant at the least I’d be gettin’ a load a crap from folks with a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, an’ I sure as hell didn’t need any a that Bible shit.
I was put in a cabin with a bunch a other twelve-year-olds. Half of ’em were nig. . . oops . . . I know I shouldn’t call ’em that. Hell, I’ve been in foster care an’ group homes with black kids all my life. It’s just that when you’re poor white trailer trash, you’ve no one else to look down on, an’ I grew up thinkin’ like that, you know? But I swear, I’m gonna stop using the ‘N’ word from now on, OK? So like I said, half the kids in my cabin were ‘African Americans’ . . . that better?
Anyway, the counselor in our cabin was this big guy, a graduated student or somethin’ from the university, named Gary. For some reason, he kinda creeped me out right off the bat — I just didn’t know why at the time. The junior counselor was just a kid himself from one of the high schools up in the city. His name was Trevor Austin an’ he seemed real nice, that was until one of the other kids asked him, “Ain’t you that faggot that got that preacher kicked outta town?”
I thought Trevor would pummel the poor kid into the ground — I know I sure would’a if someone had called me a queer, but instead Trevor very calmly said, “First of all, the word is gay. We have people of many different backgrounds in here, and it’s just plain not OK to call people names. Words like faggot, nigger, kike, wop, chink, and so on are just plain unacceptable. No one is going to disrespect me, or anyone else for that matter. Yes, I’m gay, but that doesn’t give you a right to call me a fag, a faggot or a queer, because those are words that are meant to hurt.”
Whoa, I couldn’t believe it. Our junior counselor was a faggot, or rather, he was gay! He continued talkin’, “Being gay is not who or what I am, but rather it’s a small part of me, just as is my being left-handed or having brown hair. It’s one of many things that are a part of the whole. I’d also like to point out that it’s very likely that at least one of you is also gay, and you might even be beginning to think about it. If any of you would like to talk to me about it in private, just drop me a note and I’d be happy to, and for the rest of you, don’t go trying to figure out who among you may be gay . . . it’s none of your business.”
Yeah, it turned out that Trevor was really cool and he really knew how to take charge a things. He didn’t take crap from no one, neither. I respected him for that. All my life, I thought gays were weak sissies who couldn’t defend themselves. Boy was I wrong! Trevor wasn’t a jock, but he wasn’t a fairy — that’s for sure.
Now Gary was a whole ’nother story. Not long after camp started, he woke me up around midnight and said somethin’ to me like, “Hey Sammy, how’d you like to go for a smoke?” Well I thought that was pretty cool! Yeah, I knew we weren’t ’sposed to smoke, so havin’ my counselor invite me to go smoke with him was a big deal. It made me feel grown up.
He asked me if I’d smoked before, an’ I told him I’d done it a few times with friends back home. We talked a little ’bout my home life. I felt a little embarrassed about it, but he said his life growin’ up wasn’t all that great neither, but that he still turned out OK an’ managed ta go ta college an’ all, an’ it made me feel better ’bout myself, ya know? I really thought Gary cared ’bout me.
An’ then Gary came an’ got me a couple nights later for a smoke, an’ we talked ’bout girls. He asked me if I’d started jerkin’ off yet, an’ I sheepishly admitted I had. He asked if I sometimes did it with my friends, an’ I asked if that wasn’t queer. He laughed an’ said, “Hell no!” He said it’s always more fun jerkin’ off together, but as long as ya-all still think about doin’ it with girls, it’s OK.
Well let me tell you, over the next few nights, we went from jerkin’ off in front a each other ta jerkin’ each other off, an’ ’fore I knew what was happinin’ we were doin’ more stuff to each other. He said there was no difference between a girl doin’ it an’ a guy doin’ it, so why not help each other out? It seemed ta make sense at the time, an’ when he got me off, it felt great!
But then he wanted ta do other stuff, too. He wanted to kiss. He said it was good practice for doin’ it with girls. He wanted to feel me up all over, too. He even had a mattress set up in a clearing down by the lake. What we did together really felt good an’ I liked all the attention Gary was givin’ me, but it was more than creepin’ me out by now.
When he told me he wanted to uh. . . do me, ya know what I mean, I flat out refused, an’ that’s when Gary showed me what he was really like. He said if I didn’t let him, he’d drown me in the lake an’ make it look like an accident. Man, oh God, I’d never felt so much pain. From there it only went downhill with Gary. He started makin’ me have sex with other boys in the cabin, an’ he filmed the whole thing usin’ his camcorder.
I didn’t like bein’ used like that. I didn’t like it one bit, but I put up and shut up, ’cause I knew Gary wouldn’t hesitate to tell my mom I was a pervert, an’ I couldn’t have that. Screwed up as she was, she’d throw me out on the streets, an’ I’d just end up back in foster care, or worse. Gary wasn’t dumb, an’ he’d always told us guys if anyone found out, we were ta point the finger at Trevor, an’ . . . well, that’s what we all did.
It all went ta shit when one of the other kids, Trey, went all bezonkers an’ took his pain an’ anger out on some eight-year-old kid.
I felt bad when the police came an’ took Trevor away, but I just couldn’t take a chance on my mom finding out what I’d been doin’ with Gary. I just couldn’t.
I just shoulda known Trevor’s boyfriend, Kurt, wouldn’t let it drop. Not only did Kurt try ta catch Gary an’ me in the act, but when everything went wrong, I just had ta ‘fess up an’ side with Kurt. I dunno, maybe I’d had enough, maybe it was because I knew Kurt was such a good guy.
Yeah, I still get nightmares ’bout the whole thing — the way Gary pulled a knife against my throat an’ threatened ta kill me if the camp director didn’t give him the keys to his Navigator, so he could escape. Kurt volunteered ta take my place as Gary’s hostage — told ya he was a good guy. Everythin’ worked out in the end but, man, that sure was scary!
An’ I dream a lot about Gary doin’ me. I’m long past feelin’ pain down there — at least physical — but I still wake up drenched in sweat.
I’ve been seein’ a shrink for a couple months now. He talks ta me ’bout my dreams an’ everythin’. It doesn’t make it any easier . . . least not that I can see, but I sure can’t talk to my mom ’bout none of it, so I guess it’s somethin’. For some reason, he’s asked me to bring my mom with me to the next session. Not sure why, but I’m just a kid . . . I ain’t got no say in these things. So that’s how came I found myself in Dr. Jenkins’ office one Thursday mornin’ with my mom. She was none too pleased, neither. She looked pretty strung out, an’ I was pretty sure she’d either been out late last night partyin’, or she’d had a late night trick, or maybe a little a both.
In any case, Doc called us inta his office an’ we sat down across from him. We all sat around a low table . . . kinda like what you’d have in a living room rather than what you’d expect in a doctor’s office. Doc said he liked ta be able ta see the kids he talked to, an’ a desk only got in the way. So Doc started talking. . . .
“Ms. Franklin, you have quite a son here. It’s nice to finally have a chance to meet you and chat,” he said.
“He’s quite a son when he decides ta come home,” she said, right off the bat. Typical Mom. I wasn’t ’bout to let that one go.
“I could say the same thing about you, Mom,” I said.
“Don’t you go mouthin’ off at me, child.”
“Sammy, Ms. Franklin, please. We aren’t here to fight. I have something very important to discuss with the two of you, and you really need to put your differences behind you for a while,” Doc said as he kinda scolded the both of us.
“What’s this about?” Mom asked.
“Well,” he started in answer ta her question, “as you know, Sammy was abused at the summer camp he attended . . .”
“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no abuse,” my mother interrupted loudly — an’ I cringed. I’d tol’ her what I’d dared, but I couldn’t tell her ’bout the sexual things that’d happened ta me. She’d a freaked at that. I knew she couldn’t deal with it, an’ now I suspected my worst fears were ‘bout ta come true.
“Ms. Franklin, you mean to tell me you didn’t know your son was repeatedly raped by one of the counselors?” Doc asked.
“Lord no!” she shouted. “You people sent him there, an’ then this happened to him?”
“Ms. Franklin, several kids were abused besides Sammy. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. The counselor stole someone else’s identity to get the job. No one could have possibly known he was a sex offender. He’s going to jail, probably for life, Ms. Franklin, but that still doesn’t change what he did. He’s a horrible person — a monster — but he acted alone. Social services and the people at the camp had nothing to do with it.”
“So why are you tellin’ me this?” Mom asked.
“Unfortunately, it turns out that the counselor who raped your son is HIV-positive.”
I didn’t hear the rest of what Doc was sayin’. I didn’t need to. There was only one reason he would’a said that. If Gary was HIV-positive and he’d been doin’ me all those times, then my most recent blood test must’a come back positive, too. SHIT! I was HIV-positive. I had AIDS! Well, I would soon enough, and then I’d die. My life was over.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN . . . MY SON HAS THE AIDS VIRUS?” my mother shouted at the top of her lungs, pretty much echoing my own feelings. “My son’s no queer!”
“I didn’t say he’s gay, Ms. Franklin,” Doc replied. “I didn’t say he has AIDS, either,” he added. “Your son was raped, which certainly wasn’t his fault . . . not in any way, shape or form. He’s HIV-positive, but there are medications . . . excellent medications, that can keep him from getting AIDS . . . maybe forever.”
‘What the hell?’
“More than anything, Ms. Franklin, your son needs our support. Entering the teenage years is tough, but being an HIV-positive teen is especially tough. He’ll have to take his medications several times a day, and missing even a few doses can lead to drug resistance. It’s hard when you’re a teenager dealing with peer pressure to always remember to take your meds.” Turning to look directly into my eyes, he continued, “Sammy, failing to take your meds on time can even be fatal.”
I swallowed hard as I thought about what Doc said. Still, a moment ago I was looking at what I thought was a death sentence, and now Doc was offering me a stay of execution if I stuck with the program. Hell, I could live with that!
“So what does this have to do with me?” my mother asked. Typical Mom. “My son wouldn’t even be in this situation if he hadn’t been a pervert. Boys don’t get raped less they askin’ for it. No son of mine’s a faggot. So if Sammy got AIDS, it’s your problem, not mine.
“Don’t bother sendin’ no one ta pick up Sammy’s stuff, neither,” Mom continued. “They ain’t much worth savin’, anyway, an’ by the time ya get there, it’ll all be in the trash.” An’ with that, my mom stomped outta the door.
Nothing my mom did was unexpected, least ta me. I’d been down this road before so many times, but I knew this time, it was the last time I’d ever be with my mom again. She hadn’t been much of a mother, but she was all I had. Neither of us knew who my father was, an’ so long ago her own parents had said ta hell with her an’ I had no idea where they lived, if it was in the same state, which I somehow doubted. I’d never even met my grandparents.
It was only when Doc pulled me inta a hug that I realized I’d been crying. This time . . . this time I knew it was permanent . . . no family . . . it hurt.
From here on out, I knew the drill. My case worker barely even gave me a glance as she dropped me off at the group home, where I’d be biding my time until she found me my next placement. I’d been in sooo many group homes before, and this one was no different, ’cept for all the medical stuff. I guess this one was meant for kids with health problems, ’cause there were boxes of gloves an’ red needle containers in every room. Great . . . they were already treating me like a freak.
The next day, they took me ta the hospital an’ ran all kinds a tests. They must a taken twenty gallons a blood from me, an’ they did CT scans an’ a MRI of my brain . . . man, that thing was loud! After I was done, they sent me back ta the group home with a ton a pills, an’ a whole schedule when I had ta take them. Least the doc who saw me was real nice. His name was Dr. Jacobs, but he said I could just call him Rick, an’ he said he’d see me every week at first. I really liked Rick . . . he seemed real smart for a ni . . . I mean for an African American. Yeah, he really knew his shit.
Time — a routine just let it creep on by as I kept goin’ ta school, goin’ to my counselin’ sessions with Doc an’ seein’ Rick for my HIV drugs. Rick said my counts were good, but the drugs did a number on my stomach an’ he had ta make a few changes so I could keep my food down.
All in all, life was OK, it was just shitty was all. I didn’t have any friends. The kids at the group home didn’t want to talk about the problem an’ the kids at school didn’t know about it, an’ I thought if I started talkin’ to someone at school, I‘d blurt it out. So I just kinda stayed ta myself. I didn’t really have anythin’ to do at the group home other than watch TV. It just seemed like my whole life was on hold.
I ended up staying in the group home for more than a month, an’ still I hadn’t been placed in a foster home. I couldn’t recall it ever taking so long for a placement before. My caseworker explained it was hard ta find foster parents willin’ to take kids who were HIV-positive. I couldn’t understand why — I mean, the state pays for the drugs an’ all, an’ it’s not like I’m contagious or anythin’ — not unless I have sex with their kids, so what’s the big deal? I guess folks are just scared a what they don’t know or what they don’t understand.
Then one day ’bout that time, at the end of my counselin’ session with Doc, he said he had some folks he wanted me ta meet. He pressed a button on his phone to call his secretary or somethin’ an’ in walked Trevor Austin an’ two people I’d never seen before. It scared me, but Doc was there an’ I could trust him.
“Hey, Trevor. What are you doin’ here?” I asked in fear, thinkin’ back ta how I’d lied an’ accused him a bein’ the one that’d raped me.
“Long time, no see,” Trevor answered. He was smilin’. “Sammy, if I’d known what you were going through, I’d have been here a lot sooner.”
With that, Trevor grabbed me an’ pulled me into a tight hug when all the bad thoughts of what’d happened at camp filled my head. He held onto me for all it was worth an’ we both shed tears. After we were both spent, he slowly let go of me an’ said, “Sammy, I’d like you to meet my parents. They want to be your new foster parents. I guess that means I’m going to be your brother.”
“What?” was all I could say. I couldn’t believe it. Were Trevor’s parents really going to foster me? After what I’d done ta their son, pointing the finger at him when it was really Gary that had raped me? I could tell by the way they was dressed that they was rich. Why would they wanna foster a poor HIV-positive kid like me?
The lady stooped down and looked me right in the eyes and said, “Sammy, my husband and I had a talk with Dr. Jenkins, and we understand you have good reason not to trust adults. I know it’s going to take some time for us to earn your trust, but believe me, we want to do that. There are no strings attached, and we don’t expect anything in return, other than that you be respectful of us and of our neighbors, that you do your best in school, and that you don’t do anything stupid like burn our house down, or run away, or do drugs, or break any other laws,” she said with a smile. I couldn’t help but smile back. “In other words, we expect you to live by the same rules we set for Trevor, but other than that, you’ll have a lot of freedom as long as you don’t abuse our trust. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I . . . I think so,” I replied.
“Oh, we do expect you to go to church,” she said, which brought an immediate frown to my face. Other than at camp, I’d barely ever seen the inside of a church. “Don’t look so glum,” she added. “It’ll do you a world of good. It never hurts to remember that there’s a higher purpose in life, and especially with what’s happened to you, I would think you’d want to remember that.”
She reached out an’ ruffled my hair. I couldn’t believe she actually ruffled my hair. My mother never did that. She knelt on her one knee, held her hands on my arms and we looked at each other, eye to eye. Continuing, she said, “God hasn’t abandoned you, Sammy. I know it may seem that way with the way you’ve gotten a raw deal in life, but he has something special planned for you. I just know it. No one’s going to make you believe anything you don’t want to . . . I mean, God knows, we have a gay son, after all, but at least give it a try. That’s all we ask, OK?”
“OK, Mrs. Austin,” I replied. I mean, what else could I say?
“Please, Sammy, I can’t have you calling me Mrs. Austin. I know you probably don’t want to call me ‘Mom’, either, so why don’t you call me Lindsey, alright?” she said as she stood up.
“I guess,” I agreed.
“And you can call me Rob,” Trevor’s father said as he put an arm on my shoulder.
“I know you probably don’t have much,” Lindsey said, “but not to worry. Why don’t you gather what you have, and we’ll get you settled at home, and then Trevor can take you shopping for clothes and school supplies without us ‘old folks’ telling you what we think is best. You’ll be going to Trevor’s old middle school and he certainly knows a lot more about current teen fashions than we do. That sound OK?”
“I guess,” I said again. I knew it sounded pretty lame, but what else could I say? Yeah, their words sounded good, but I wasn’t expectin’ all that much ta come outta them. Right then, I felt like I had before when I got a foster home — a hand-me-down kid that brought money inta their house.
One thing they were sure right about — I didn’t have many things. My mother didn’t let me take anything with me, not that there was much to take, an’ the state only bought me the stuff I really needed in the group home. I think my HIV drugs took up as much room in my duffle as my clothes did.
It took us ’bout a half-hour ta get ta Trevor’s neighborhood. It was lots nicer than any I’d ever lived in before. I watched the houses get nicer an’ bigger an’ newer as we drove further north. Although Trevor’s house was still prolly ’least twenty years old, it still looked bran’ new ta me, an’ it was huge.
They took me ta a room I figured I’d be sharin’ with Trevor, but then he tol’ me his room was the one next door! I asked if he had any brothers or sisters and he didn’t.
“Ya mean I have this whole room ta myself?” I asked.
“Yeah, Sammy,” Lindsey answered. “This is definitely your very own room.”
“Man,” I said in disbelief, “This room’s bigger than two rooms in the group home.”
“There isn’t much in it now,” Rob said, “but we’ll get you some posters of your favorite teams and bands so you can fix it up the way you like it, and we’ll get you your own computer, a television and a stereo, and of course you’ll be getting your own cell phone.”
“My own cell phone?” I squeaked.
“So you can call us if you need us to come pick you up when you’re with friends,” Rob answered. “Now our schools have scramblers, so you can’t text message in class,” he added, whatever that meant, “and we keep a strict lid on your minutes anyway,” he said as he gently squeezed my shoulder, which felt kinda nice. “We feel pretty strongly you should be spending your time with your friends rather than talking to them on the phone, messaging them or e-mailing them.”
“Gee, I don’t know ’bout any a that stuff,” I said. “I’ve never really had any friends before.”
Before I knew what was happening, Lindsey scooped me up into her arms and was hugging me tightly. Neither of us said anything. I couldn’t help myself and I ended up crying again, but she made me feel so good. No one — not even my own mother — had ever made me feel that way.
Then Rob held his arms and hugged me. He said, “Sammy, I think you’re going to bring a lot of happiness to this family because we need each other very much.”
After a while, Trevor’s parents left the room an’ Trevor helped me get settled in while Trevor’s mom got dinner ready.
“Man, I can’t believe we got all this space ta ourselves,” I said.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Trevor said. “I have some friends who live in much bigger houses . . . mansions, really . . . but Kurt’s bedroom is like, half the size. It’s kind of embarrassing. That’s why I feel so good we’re able to do so much to help out the kids that Gary abused at the camp, and I’m really glad we’re fostering you.”
“What do you mean you’re helping out the kids Gary abused?” I asked Trevor.
“Actually, it was Kurt’s idea,” he answered. “You guys were really traumatized . . . not physically . . . well, that, too, but emotionally. Kids who are abused often become abusers themselves. That’s what happened when Trey assaulted Willie. Of course, to put it politely, the state doesn’t pay shit toward the cost of the counseling you guys need to deal with what you’ve been through.” I laughed when he put it that way. Trevor so rarely swore. “Anyway, my boyfriend wanted to be sure that you guys got counseling until you were adults, and he got me and another rich friend of his to get our parents to pay for it.”
My eyes practically bugged out when it dawned on me what Trev was sayin’. Not only were Trevor’s folks fosterin’ me, but they were footin’ the bill for me seein’ Doc, an’ always had been. I didn’t like feelin’ like no charity case, but I honestly don’t know how I’da made it without him. As the tears started to slide down my cheeks again, I said, “Thanks, Trev. You don’t know how much those visits have meant ta me.”
Then it came to me — what Rob had said when he hugged me — Lindsey and Rob weren’t doin’ this fosterin’ thing for the monthly check they’d get from the government — they wanted — they needed to love me. And now — yeah, I needed them.
Just then, Lindsey called from downstairs that dinner was ready. We had some sort of chicken dish an’, man, was it good! It tasted better than anythin’ my mom ever made, or than anythin’ any other foster family had served me, or that I’d ever eaten in a group home before. I had seconds . . . an’ thirds.
After dinner, Trevor drove me ta the Fashion Mall at Keystone at the Crossing ta get me some new clothes. I told him it would be OK ta just get me a pair a jeans an’ a few T-shirts, but he insisted in gettin’ me all the same things he had. He said all the kids at my middle school would have nice clothes, an’ I should, too, so I’d fit in. By the time we finished, I had new Nikes an’ 501’s, an’ enough shorts, shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters an’ jackets ta outfit the whole basketball team at my old school. It felt wasteful, but Trevor insisted it was all stuff I’d need, an’ I sure wasn’t gonna complain! I’d never had new clothes before. We also stopped at Target an’ picked up some notebooks an’ pens an’ other basic school supplies.
On the way, Trev took me right by our schools. His high school an’ my middle school are on the same campus, an’ they both looked new compared to the shithole city grammar school I’d been going to downtown. He explained that the middle school was originally the high school, but the district outgrew it an’ built a new high school only seven years later, an’ doubled the space again ten years after that. Whoa.
“Most times we’ll go to school together,” Trevor continued. “I’ll drop you off in the morning and pick you up in the afternoon, at least as long as neither of us has an after-school function or anything. If you have to stay late, I’ll wait for you when I can, and when I need to stay late, you’re welcome to wait for me. Otherwise, there’s always the school bus.
“Tomorrow, since we have to get you enrolled, my mom will take you to school, and I’ll pick you up at the front entrance of the school at the end of the day. Is that a deal bro?”
“Yeah . . .” ‘Bro,’ I thought. I smiled at the comfort of the word. “This your car?” I asked.
“I’d feel better about it if I’d had to work for it the way most kids do, but my parents bought me this Jetta for my sixteenth birthday and I’m not complaining one bit! And I’d have never been able to spend so much time on the GSA if I’d had to work, which I guess makes it worth it in the long run.”
“Oh yeah, the Gay-Straight Alliance. I really hope my being gay doesn’t freak you out or anything, but I’m the president of the GSA. Actually, most of the members are straight, and the purpose of the club is to foster tolerance for people of all backgrounds, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“I used to be pretty shy, but then Kurt’s dad used to be the pastor of our church.”
“You’re shittin’ me, right?” I asked in shock.
“No shit, Sammy. Kurt DeWitt’s dad was our pastor, and he singled me out to make an example of what the evils of being gay was like. He claimed that it was because of the GSA that I ‘turned’ gay, and he started a petition drive to get the GSA disbanded. Well we weren’t going to let that happen, and we even got help from The Star, ’cause one of our members’ father’s an editor on the paper, but what really blew the pastor outta the water was when his own son, Kurt, came out in the newspaper story. The pastor couldn’t take the heat . . . he up and left town.”
“Man, what a story,” I said. “So that’s how the two a you got together?”
“Pretty much,” he answered.
By now we’d reached Trevor’s house . . . I guess it was my house, too . . . at least for now, an’ we started carryin’ my stuff inside.
“How’s his mom feel about havin’ a queer son?” I asked.
“She’s OK with it,” he answered. “At least as OK as my parents are. Kurt’s brothers are real jocks, though. One just graduated high school . . . he was the captain of the football team last year, and the other just became the new captain this year, but they both love Kurt as much as any brothers can. Actually, they told me they were kinda proud of him.”
Trevor’s parents wanted to see all my new clothes before I put them away, and then Lindsey told me I needed to try everything on ta make sure they all fit, an’ then wash ’em before I wore ’em to school. I know I musta got a ‘WTF’ look on my face, ’cause she then explained it’s ’cause a all the chemicals in the fabric — she wanted ta make sure they was all washed out ’fore they touched my skin.
“If you don’t mind a gay guy helping you out, I’ll lend you a hand,” Trevor offered. I was more than happy ta take him up on it — I didn’t care that Trevor was gay, but I sure didn’t want Lindsey watchin’ me try on shirt after shirt.
When we got upstairs, Trevor helped me open an’ unpack everything while I undressed and tried everything on. Suddenly, an ‘oh shit’ thought crossed my mind.
“Trevor, does it bother you that I had sex with your boyfriend?” I asked, kinda afraid of what he’d say.
“Sammy, you didn’t exactly have a choice, now, did you? Gary made you have sex with Kurt, just like he made you have sex with himself. It’s not like it was you who forced Kurt to have sex with him, even if you really wanted him to.
“Let me ask you something, Sammy, and you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but are you gay?”
Swallowin’ hard, I looked down at the floor and answered, “That’s somethin’ Doc and I have spent a lot of time tryin’ ta figure out. He’s told me he doesn’t want me ‘lablin’ myself one way or ta other until I’m sure, an’ I don’t hafta make up my mind, maybe even for years. Ya see, I really liked what Gary an’ I did at camp. It hurt at first, but after, the sex felt great, and now . . . well, I know sex is s’posed ta feel good, whether it’s with a boy or a girl, no matter if you’re gay or straight. Doc ’splained that what I really wanted was affection. I didn’t know that. I didn’t get any at home, so when Gary offered sex, I thought he cared.”
Looking back up at Trevor, I continued, “Gary messed me up, Trevor. When I jerk off, I think about hurtin’ people. I know it’s sick an’ I know it’s wrong, but that’s what gets me off. Doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl, neither.” I looked back down at the floor. “That’s why what your parents are doin’, ya know, payin’ for Doc and all is so important. Without Doc’s help, I’d prolly become a rapist or somthin’ worse.”
Trevor reached under my chin an’ lifted my head up an’ looked inta my eyes. “You’re a good kid, Sammy. Kurt told me what happened at camp. You could have gone along with what Gary told you to say, all the way, and framed my boyfriend, just like you framed me, but you didn’t. Somewhere in the depths of your heart, you got the courage to say ‘enough is enough.’ It would have been easier to go with the flow, but in the end, you did the right thing at great personal risk to yourself. That took guts.”
“Don’t know if I’da done it if I’d known Gary’d pull a knife on me,” I admitted.
“None of us knew what Gary was capable of,” Trevor said sad-like.
“An’ I’ll never, ever forget what your boyfriend did for me, volunteering ta take my place as Gary’s hostage.”
“That’s one of many reasons why I’m not letting him go,” Trevor smiled. “He’s one special guy.”
“No argument there,” I agreed. “You’re lucky ta’ve found him. He’s one in a million. . . .
“An’ if he has any sense,” I continued, “he won’t let you go either. You’re both special.”
Trevor an’ I ended up in a tight embrace an’ cryin’ our eyes out once again. It wasn’t sexual or anythin’, but I knew we truly loved each other. We were now brothers, just as surely as if we’d been born that way, an’ Kurt was every bit my brother, too. I knew I’d feel that way till my dyin’ day.
When we finished tryin’ on all my clothes, an’ showin’ Lindsey how they looked on me, Trevor showed me how ta read the labels an’ separate the clothes based on washing instructions an’ colors. He showed me where the laundry room was an’ how ta operate the washer an’ dryer. He kept kiddin’ me ’bout how I pronounced ‘wash’, which of course rhymes with Porsche.
By the time the first load was on, I was plum wore out an’ Trev showed me where all the linens an’ toiletries an’ other stuff was, so I could get ready for bed. I tried goin’ ta sleep, but the bedroom was empty an’ the bed was huge, an’ I just felt so alone.
After a while, sleep wasn’t comin’, so I got up an’ tiptoed ta Trevor’s bedroom an’ knocked on the door. After he invited me in, I ’splained how I felt, an’ he asked if I’d like to spend the night in his room, but he warned me first that he was in the nude. I laughed an’ told him I had boxers on an’ didn’t care what he did or didn’t wear, an’ then I jumped on his bed an’ mercilessly tickled his ribs. I knew he’d get me for that eventually. Right after I crawled under the covers, I drifted off happy.
The next morning, I was surprised ta find that Trevor and I were completely entangled with each other.
“Oh man, I’m really embarrassed about this, Sammy,” Trevor said when the alarm went off. “Kurt and I haven’t even gone beyond making out, yet,” he admitted as his skin turned a bright shade of red . . . everywhere, “but we do occasionally have sleepovers, and when we do, we always end up like this. I guess it must be my fault,” he sheepishly admitted.
“No worries,” I told Trevor. “I won’t tell your boyfriend on you, an’, ’sides, you make a great teddy bear.”
Lindsey took me ta school, and while she was busy filling out paperwork, I met with my guidance counselor, Ms. Perkins.
“Well, Sammy,” she said, “I’ve gone over your transcripts, and I must say, it looks like you have a lot of unused potential.”
“Is that just a polite way of sayin’ I’m a bad student?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” she replied. “It means you’re an underachiever, God I hate that word, . . . it makes you sound handicapped, which you aren’t, but yet, you have good reason to be. You’ve been in and out of foster care most of your life, and even when you were with your mother, you had significant problems at home, I see. Would it trouble you if we talked about your home life?” she asked.
“Ms. Perkins, ya don’t need ta coddle me or anythin’,” I replied. “Truth is, my mother’s a crack-head, an’ a whore. I’m prolly better off she kicked me out for being queer, ’cept I’m not a queer, I mean gay. Ya see, Social Services sent me ta a summer camp where a sexual predator screwed me. Now I’m HIV-positive an’ have ta take more pills than spitballs fly on a lazy summer afternoon. So my life’s been crap, but what does that hafta do with school?”
She smiled. “Sammy, the reason it’s important is that you haven’t been in a stable school situation or study environment long enough to learn how to apply yourself. When I look at your aptitude tests, however, you score well above average. In fact, if we’d had you in our school system from the time you entered kindergarten, chances are you would have ended up in our gifted program.”
“The main reason you’ve done poorly,” she explained, “is more than likely because of that unstable home situation. Not that it’ll be easy to make up for the lack of a proper study environment in one year, mind you, but based on the vocabulary you’ve been using today, even though your pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired, I think there’s a good chance you can catch up if you put your mind to it.”
“What I’d like to do, Sammy, is to put you into remedial classes this year. Now I know that’s going to be tough on you socially, just when you’re trying to fit in, but I’d really hate to see you do poorly by trying to survive in regular classes. In remedial classes, and perhaps with some tutoring and maybe with a little summer school, we can get you caught up to a regular level by the time you finish eighth grade, and if you’re motivated enough, we might even be able to get you into some advanced placement classes by the time you enter high school.”
“Advanced placement?” I asked.
“Sure, so you can get college credit for some of the work you do in high school. Not to get your hopes up, but with your test results, you’re certainly capable of the work, and have the potential to start college as a sophomore, if you apply yourself.”
“I . . . I never thought I’d go to college,” I said dumbfounded.
“Sammy, of course you’ll go to college,” Ms. Perkins answered. “There’s no reason for you not to go to college.”
“Even with me bein’ HIV-positive?” I asked.
“Lots of kids today are HIV-positive, I’m afraid,” she answered. “Most of them didn’t have to be, but that’s another story. In any case, kids with HIV go to college all the time.
“Speaking of which, after we get your class schedule set up and get you your locker assignment, we’ll take your meds to the school nurse so you’ll be all set to get your HIV meds on schedule. OK?”
“Sure thing, Ms. Perkins,” I answered. Suddenly, it felt like another piece of happiness.
After working out my schedule an’ everything, Ms. Perkins got real serious and said, “Sammy, I’d like to pair you up with a buddy . . . someone who knows the school and is in a lot of the same classes with you, and who will share your locker. We don’t have enough lockers here, so most of the students do have to share. My one concern is that pairing you up with a boy who’s in remedial classes may not be a very good match. You’re a bright kid, whereas most of the other kids in the classes will have some form of developmental delay, be it cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome.”
“Down’s Syndrome?” I asked, “You mean, like the extra chromosome thing?”
Smiling broadly, Ms. Perkins said, “Sammy, you continue to amaze me. Yes, Down’s kids have an extra twenty-first chromosome, but for reasons we don’t understand, in some cases the degree of retardation is severe, and in others it’s very mild. The kids I’m talking about are only a little bit slow. Most Down’s kids are very affectionate, and I sense you could use a friend or two, but they don’t have a lot of other friends. My fear is that if I pair you up with a boy with Down’s syndrome, once you catch up with your studies, you’ll drop him like a hot potato.”
“Ms. Perkins, you don’t know me at all. I’ve never really had any friends, so when I make some, I don’t go throwin’ ‘em away. I been through a lot in life an’ what makes a friend is who’s gonna be there for me when I need ‘em an’ not how smart or popular they are. My foster brother, Trevor, an’ his boyfriend, Kurt, are gay, an’ if they went where I used ta go ta school, they’d get called fags an’ get beat up all the time. I may not be gay, but I’d be right there with them gettin’ called names an’ gettin’ beat up, ’cause I love ’em. They’re my best friends in the whole world. Don’t tell me I’d drop someone like a hot potato, just ’cause I caught up in school.”
“Sammy,” she said, “looks like I underestimated you yet again. I think I have just the buddy for you. His name is Paul, and he lives on your street, which means you’ll be able to spend time studying with him. He’s a really sweet kid, and I know you’ll like him.”
When I met Paul, yeah he was a bit slow, but friendly an’ had a warm smile. It took no time, we understood each other, an’ we felt confident that we’d never mean to hurt each other. Kurt an’ Trevor were great — they didn’t mind havin’ Paul ’round when we rode back an’ forth ta school. Even Lindsey an’ Rob were good with him bein’ my friend. It felt like — well, more happiness.
We were up in my bedroom an’ Paul was messin’ around on my laptop, as he did so often after we got home from school.
“Hey Sammy, check this out,” Paul said as he turned the laptop so I could see it. What I saw shocked me to the core. It was a porno of a man and two women, and it had me hard in seconds.
“Holy shit, Paul,” I practically shouted. “I told you my father tracks the Internet sites we visit. He runs a security company, for Christ sake.”
“You worry too much, Sammy,” Paul replied. “I can’t get past my parents’ nanny filters at home, and I’m horny, and this stuff’s hot, and ’sides, Trevor showed me how to tunnel through your dad’s firewall, so he’ll never know we’re watchin’ this.”
“Shit, Paul, are you sure about that?” I asked.
“Sure I’m sure,” he replied, “and if I screwed up, it’s you that’ll be grounded . . . not me.”
“Asshole,” I said as I punched my best friend lightly on the shoulder.
“Hey, watch it. That’s my jerk-off arm, and right now I need that arm for . . . jerkin’ off!”
When he actually started to do just that, a whole flood of unpleasant memories came rushing back to me and I suddenly felt dizzy. I barely made it back to my bed before the whole room went black.
Slowly, Paul’s concerned face came into focus and I heard him askin’ me if I was all right, but his voice still sounded like it was callin’ out to me from the end of a long tunnel. I started to sit up, but Paul pushed me back down, pullin’ my feet up onto the bed.
“I’m not a baby, Paul,” I protested.
“I didn’t say you was, Sammy, but you passed out. You need to rest up a bit, but what happened?” my best friend asked me.
Did I dare tell him? Could I? Then I realized, if I was truly his best friend, an’ he mine, I had ta, an’ I did. It turned out Paul knew only a little about the summer camp scandal, an’ how Trevor was wrongly accused a’ molestin’ a buncha campers. He knew that Kurt captured the real molester, but was stunned ta’ learn that I was one a’ the kids that was molested . . . that I was raped, an’ that I was HIV-positive.
“Seein’ me jerk off like that . . . it reminded you of what you had to do for Gary, didn’t it?” Paul asked.
“Yeah,” I answered my best friend in the world.
“I won’t do that to you again, Sammy. I just thought we could have fun together. I didn’t know it would affect you like that. I’m really sorry.”
“Paul, it’s not your fault,” I replied, “an’ I think I can prolly mess around with ya if I know what’s commin’ ahead of time. I just wasn’t ready for it this time. The best thing is for us ta both get girlfriends.”
“You’ll get no argument there,” Paul agreed.
In the end, he hugged me tight an’ we cried tears of love for each other. “Best friends,” he whispered in my ear.
In the weeks that followed, Paul’s an’ my friendship grew stronger an’ stronger. We did everythin’ together, from studyin’ together, ta cruisin’ the mall together, ta trick-or-treatin’ together. Half the weekends he stayed at my house an’ half the weekends I stayed at his. Truth be told, I’d never had a friend like Paul.
We always went to church together on Sunday with Trevor’s an’ Kurt’s an’ Paul’s families. I still wasn’t real religious or anythin’, but everyone at church was nice ta me an’ Paul, an’ I really liked the service with all the singin’ an’ everythin’. It was surprisin’ . . . it felt good ta thank God for what I had, rather than ta curse him for all the bad breaks I’d had in life. All I had ta do was look at Paul ta keep my perspective — if anyone shoulda been bitter, it was him, but he was happy, an’ I was happy he was part a my life, too.
Before I knew it, we was comin’ up on Thanksgivin’ an’ would have vacation from school. Trevor’s grandparents were flyin’ in from Florida an’ his other grandparents were drivin’ down from Chicago, so the house was gonna be crowded ta be sure. I’d never known my own grandparents, so I was excited, but I was pretty nervous at the same time. Thanksgivin’ was always hit-or-miss in foster care, so I was really lookin’ forward ta a real Thanksgivin’ dinner with Trevor’s family.
Paul an’ his family was gonna spend Thanksgivin’ with his Aunt in Cincinnati. I was sure gonna miss him, but he was excited about the trip, an’ that made me happy for him.
The weekend before Thanksgivin’, all the grandparents arrived an’ I had ta move in with Trevor. It was a bit strange at first, meeting all those strangers who kept sayin’ how cute I was, but they all treated me like family, an’ that made me feel real good. I guess it was the first time they’d seen Kurt an’ Trevor together, an’ I could tell they was a little uncomfortable with it. I tol’ ’em they was both my brothers, an’ I guess they realized if an almost-13-year-old kid could accept it, they should, too.
Right before the start of the Thanksgivin’ school break, the high school was havin’ some kinda school assembly that Kurt was participatin’ in. The kids in the middle schools were gettin’ out early, but I still had ta wait for Trevor for my ride. Rather than just hang around my school until Trevor got out, I decided ta head on over ta the high school with Paul an’ wait over there.
Paul an’ I headed out the back entrance of our school, an’ cut through the parkin’ lots across ta the high school. The high school was way bigger than our middle school — I mean, ours was one of three middle schools that feed into the high school, an’ the high school has four grades, rather than three, an’ the high school has a vocation program fed by five other high schools in the area, so what I’m saying is that the high school looked massive compared ta my middle school.
We had no idea where we was goin’, but as luck would have it, the first door we tried was open, an’ it led us directly ta the gym, which was where the school assembly was bein’ held. Why it wasn’t bein’ held in the auditorium, I wasn’t sure — maybe the auditorium wasn’t big enough. In any case, there was a platform in the center a the gym floor an’ Kurt an’ a couple a girls was seated at a table on the platform. All the students were seated in the bleachers around the gym, an’ they was listenin’ ta one a the girls on the platform talk. She sure had their attention. I’d never seen so many thousands a kids be so quiet.
Paul and I leaned against the wall near the entrance. I looked around and saw Trevor sittin’ kinda front an’ center. I listened ta what the girl was sayin’.
“I loved my daddy, but I knew what we were doing wasn’t right. No matter how many times he told me how beautiful I was or what a mature young woman I’d become, or how much I enjoyed the extra attention he was giving me, it didn’t change the fact that I was his daughter, and he was my father. His advances toward me weren’t because he loved me, but because he wanted to have sex with me. If he really loved me, he would have never put me in that position in the first place.”
Whoa, I thought to myself, she’d been a victim of incest.
“Did I like the attention my daddy gave me?” she continued. “Sure I did. It made me feel special. It made me feel grown up, but it also made me feel guilty . . . and dirty. ‘How could he do this to me if he still loved Mom?’ I asked myself. ‘How could he do this to me, if he really loved me?’”
After several moments of dead silence, a woman stood up and addressed the students. “Most of the time, when we think of rape, we always think of the victim being a woman, or a girl. All too often, victims are afraid to come forward because of the humiliation they feel . . . because of the shame. How much more so it must be when the victim is a boy.
“You may recall a story that made the headlines over the summer . . . a camp counselor who abused several campers at a church-run camp for disadvantaged youth. Young Kurt DeWitt, a freshman here, was a volunteer junior councilor at the camp when events began to unfold. He’s here to tell his story.”
Kurt didn’t stand, but he remained seated and spoke into the microphone. “I think a lot of you know me or know of me ’cause of the flack I created nearly a year ago when I came out. My father was the pastor of the Hope Evangelical Covenant Church at the corner of Eighty-sixth Street and Spring Mill Road . . . some of you probably go to church there . . . and his having a gay son created quite a stir. But that’s all behind us now . . . my parents are divorced . . . and we have a new pastor who’s a lot more accepting of alternative lifestyles.
“The reason I’m bringing this up is that there’s a common misconception out there that it’s OK to rape gay boys. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached in the boys’ room by kids asking me if I’d mess around with them. What do they think I am, some kind of slut? That’s demeaning . . . and vulgar. I’ve heard stories from some of my friends in the GSA of worse incidents . . . things that truly constitute rape. Just to make it clear, any unwanted or coerced sexual act is rape. Any unwanted or coerced sexual act is rape. Rape is usually violent, but it needn’t be. Date rape is common. How many people here have used the excuse, ‘she said no, but I know she meant yes?’ With that as a background, let me tell you my story.
“Trevor Austin and I were both volunteering at a camp for disadvantaged youth. We had just become boyfriends, and had agreed that as much as we wanted to, we weren’t going to give the campers anything to talk about when it came to our relationship. I was assigned to a cabin of eight-year-olds and Trevor to a cabin of twelve-year-olds. There were three four-week sessions taking up the whole summer.
“It was in about the middle of the second session in the early morning when I awoke to the sound of one of my campers crying. I took him outside the cabin and noticed that his face was badly bruised, as if he’d been beaten up. On closer inspection, he had bruises all over his torso as well. I took him to the camp director and, to make a long story short, not only did he accuse one of the twelve-year-olds of molesting him, but several of the twelve-year-olds accused Trevor of having molested them as well.”
I have no idea when I’d walked into the center of the gym, but I was now facing Kurt and tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry, Kurt,” I cried out. “So, so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Sammy, what are you doing here?” Kurt asked, his voice amplified so the whole gym could hear.
“I came ta wait for Trevor,” I answered, “but then I heard you speakin’.
“Kurt, let me tell my story. I know what really happened at the camp. I know the whole story, better than you. Let me tell the story. PLEASE. I really want to.”
“Gee, Sammy, I’d like to let you, but you’re a middle school student, and besides, you need a signed release from a parent,” Kurt answered.
“Actually,” the woman who introduced Kurt said, “I don’t see what Sammy’s being in middle school has to do with it, and since he’s in foster care, I can sign his release for him. I think his message would be a powerful one, in conjunction with yours, Kurt, if you wouldn’t mind letting him co-present with you. The program’ll just run a little longer than we’d planned, since I have no intention of cutting our time for questions short.”
“Fine with me,” Kurt agreed. “Sammy, you up to it?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m up ta it. I need this,” I answered as I jumped up on the platform. Someone brought me a chair an’ everyone scooted over to make room for me ta sit down next to Kurt.
Kurt resumed the program by sayin’, “Sammy is Trevor’s foster brother, but when I first met Sammy, he was one of the twelve-year-olds this past summer at the camp for disadvantaged youth.”
Takin’ the mic, I took over an’ said, “When Kurt says disadvantaged, what he means is I was what most of you would prolly call trailer trash. Now I know for some a you-all, that hits pretty close ta home. I’ve heard some a’ the rich kids call some a’ the poor kids around here ‘river rats’, an’ I’m prolly makin’ some a’ ya squirm right now.” I got a great big grin on my face an’ said, “Good, ya should squirm. I grew up on the near west side to a mother who’s a crack head an’ a whore, an’ I spent most a my life in an’ outa foster care. I didn’t choose that life any more than the kids ya call river rats chose theirs. That’s what the word ‘disadvantaged’ means. My foster brother’s gay. He didn’t choose that, neither, but he’s a great guy, an’ I love him, like a brother.
“Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor . . . one of the most important things you can have growin’ up is love. Some poor kids have it, an’ some rich kids don’t. Growin’ up, I never had it, an’ that’s what really made me disadvantaged. So when the senior counselor in my cabin was nice ta me, I mistook it for bein’ much more.
“It started out simple . . . at first he came to me late at night an’ asked if I’d like to go out an’ smoke with him. Well for a twelve-year-old, there’s somethin’ wicked about smokin’ ta begin with. It made me feel special. While we smoked, we talked about girls, an’ sex, an’ after a few days, we progressed ta jackin’ off together, an’ he eventually talked me inta tradin’ uh. . . ya know. . .” Lookin’ up at the lady who introduced Kurt, I asked, “Can I say that kinda thing here?”
“Sammy, you can say whatever you feel comfortable saying here. Just don’t give us any graphic descriptions, OK?”
“OK,” I said as I smiled back at her, and then continued. I told the whole story of how our sex progressed from oral to anal, an’ from just me to two or more of us, an’ how Gary recorded the whole thing usin’ his camcorder. I had tears in my eyes as I confessed ta how we all pointed the finger at Trevor in the end.
Turning to look Kurt in the eyes, I said, “Kurt, I’m so sorry. We were all scared. When Trey molested Willie, we all did what Gary tol’ us ta do, ’cause we all thought Gary’d kill us if we tol’ the truth.”
“It’s OK, Sammy,” Kurt said. “You had been repeatedly raped, and you were vulnerable. You did what you had to do to survive. Let me pick up the story from here, and then we’ll get back to your story in a minute.
“When I saw my boyfriend being taken away in handcuffs, I was beside myself. I knew Trevor couldn’t have molested a fly, and I correctly surmised that the only one in that cabin capable of molesting all those kids was Gary, but the question to me was how to prove it. It turned out that he was using a false identity, had a police record and had been himself abused as a kid. Had I allowed the investigators to do their work, like a newspaper man I spoke to said I should have, all of this would have come out within a matter of days, but no, I was bound and determined to exonerate my boyfriend, and so I set out to get that proof.
“For several nights in a row, I sat up all night, hiding behind bushes, waiting for Gary to emerge from his cabin with a camper in tow. Finally it happened, and he emerged with Sammy. I followed them to a clearing by the lake, where he had a mattress already set up, and by the time I got there, they were both already going at it. I got out my cell phone intending to take a photo to get my proof, but I forgot that my cell phone uses a ‘pre-flash’ to help it focus. Before I could even think of what to do, Gary had caught me, and he forced me to strip.
“Before the night was out, I was forced to perform oral and anal intercourse with Sammy while Gary recorded the whole thing using his camcorder. He also recorded several shots using my own cell phone to use as evidence of my ‘molestation’ of Sammy, to be turned into the authorities. But things didn’t go like he planned, did they, Sammy? Sammy, when you didn’t play along with him, and ‘fessed up to all that Gary had been doing, he took you hostage, but what you did took guts!”
“But then you asked ta take my place as his hostage,” I said. “That took guts, and I’ll always love ya for that bro.”
Gettin' a real serious look on his face, Kurt continued, “But we have some more serious stuff to talk about here, and we’d best get to it. There’s a reason you’re no longer living with your mother this time, Sammy, and it’s not because your mother’s in jail. It has to do with some test results you got a few months back that your mother couldn’t deal with. Isn’t that right?”
“Yeah,” I admitted, “I found out I’m HIV-positive.” There was a collective gasp from the student body.
“Why don’t you tell everyone here what that means?” Kurt suggested.
“Well, obviously, it means Gary was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, which serves the bastard right. Unfortunately, he also passed it on ta me. Sometimes I feel real pissed about bein’ the only one outta all the campers that got it . . .”
“But you weren’t the only one, Sammy.” Kurt interrupted me. “Three of the other campers got it, too, and of course the rest of the campers Gary had sex with won’t be totally in the clear until January . . . and that includes me. Until then, it’s possible still more of us could turn out to be positive.”
“Oh man, I’m shocked,” I said. “I had no idea. Why didn’t somebody tell me?”
“Because the information is confidential,” the lady who introduced Kurt, answered. “Sammy, would you continue please?” she asked.
I nodded my head lookin’ down at the floor before I looked up at the kids and started again. “So thanks to the sick screwed up head of someone who himself was molested as a kid, four of us are goin’ ta have ta live with this virus, perhaps for the rest of our lives, taking tons of pills every day, always worryin’ that someday the virus could change to one that’s resistant ta the drugs. Yeah, maybe someday there’ll be a cure, but someday’s a long way away when you’re not even thirteen.”
“If there’s one take-home message for everyone today, it’s that you can get HIV,” Kurt added, “and it’s not just from gay sex. “Yes, Sammy had repeated anal intercourse with a man, but what Sammy doesn’t know is that Gary’s HIV came from one of the other campers. In other words, there was already a twelve-year-old at camp with HIV who didn’t even know he had HIV.
“So how does a twelve-year-old kid end up having HIV? Was it incest? Was it IV drugs? Was it a bad blood transfusion? I don’t know. The true reason’s confidential, and it’s in the hands of Child Protective Services, but the fact of the matter remains . . . that if an ordinary twelve-year-old kid could have HIV, any kid in this school could have HIV.
“Think you’re safe having oral sex? Think again. There are T lymphocytes in semen. T lymphocytes are filled with HIV. You have oral sex with someone and their semen has HIV in it, that HIV can enter your immune system through your tonsils, your gums or the underside of your tongue. You don’t even have to have a sore throat or an open sore in your mouth. All it takes is a single exposure and, WHAM, you’re HIV-positive.
“Girls, think you can’t get HIV from intercourse? Think again. In Africa where AIDS originated, HIV transmission is mostly heterosexual. In Asia, HIV is mostly a heterosexual disease. HIV is easily transmitted by any and all forms of sexual contact in which there is an exchange of body fluids. It is also transmitted by the sharing of needles during IV drug use.
“You can’t do much about being the victim of sexual abuse or rape, but you can do something about having unprotected consensual sex, or about IV drug use. And if you are the victim of abuse or rape, you need to seek help right away. Removal from an abusive relationship is paramount, as well as the administration of anti-retroviral drugs immediately after exposure can prevent transmission. I’ll repeat that. If you’re forced to have sex with someone who’s HIV positive, rapid administration of anti-HIV drugs can prevent transmission, so you owe it to yourself to get help right away.”
Wow! I was so proud a the way Kurt handled himself that afternoon, but he later told me he was proud a the way I handled myself, too. It sure was an emotional presentation, with lotsa tears all around. There were many, many questions from the students in the audience, some of them even directed at me. How do you like that? It was kinda cool havin’ seventeen an’ eighteen-year-old kids askin’ me questions ’bout survivin’ rape, an’ what it’s like bein’ a kid with HIV. It made me feel important.
At one point a boy, I’m guessin’ was fifteen, asked the girl who was speakin’ when I first entered, how she got the courage to turn her father in. While he listened to the girl’s short answer, he had tears in his eyes an’ burst inta one big sob an’ it was clear he was a victim, too. A nice lady went up ta him and took him outta the gym.
As soon as the lady called an end ta the question period, the kids started leavin’. Right away, Paul came runnin’ up to me and hugged me. “You were awesome!” he said smilin’.
Trevor an’ Kurt were in a hug too, but were quick to look at Paul an’ me.
“Sammy, I couldn’t have gotten the story across with such impact if it hadn’t been for you,” Kurt said with his hand on my shoulder.
“Ya mean it?” I asked.
With a big smile he said, “Positively!”
Lookin’ around, I realized I was thinkin’ ’bout how in less than two years I’d be goin’ ta school here. Never in my life did I used ta think more than a few days ahead, let alone years ahead.
Thinkin’ back ta the kid at the end of the program who asked ’bout getting’ the courage ta turn in his old man, I knew from experience he had some pretty tough times ahead, but his life was gonna get better for the first time in years. This might well be his best Thanksgivin’ ever.
Thinkin’ ’bout my own situation, I realized that in spite of all the bad things that had happened ta me in my life, even bein’ HIV-positive , I could prolly say the same thing. Soon I’d be spendin’ Thanksgivin’ with my bro, his parents an’ grandparents, an’ I had the best friend I could ever have. It was soberin’ ta think my days might be numbered, but for the first time in my life, I was happy, an’ loved.
This story hit me right in the gut.
Back in the ‘40’s, when I was growing up, my brothers and I were in and out of many foster homes as pre-school kids, unfortunately, never together. Reason: Our mother was an alcoholic and was probably picked up for D&D and put in jail for up to 3 months. Our dad had no choice — he had to work. We were too poor to afford babysitters and too proud to ask a relative for help, so Children’s Aid would be called upon. In those days, it was before 'group homes' and the modern settings many of them have today. It was a simple dormitory style sleeping quarters, crappy food served on long wood tables while we sat on hard benches. I remember there was never enough milk — I guess that was the most appetizing part of the whole meal. You were never there long enough to make friends — all your friends were back in your neighborhood. In time, yes, we’d get shunted off to an accepted 'qualified' foster home. I remember once, maybe I was 5, I fell down the basement stairs at this one, very old, untidy, foster home. I banged my head pretty bad, ending up with a big bump on my forehead. Next thing I knew, same afternoon I’m sure, a lady had me in her car and took me to another foster home. It was a farm. It was a lot nicer than the one I'd been at in the city. I remember the people were kind; the lady was real nice and the man was always making me laugh. It was sad to leave there when Mom and Dad picked me up, because I knew what would happen again a month or two down the road — the addiction would reign supreme and promises would be broken.
David of Hope