Sophomore Year

Chapter Eleven

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

“Oh fuck, now what?” Craig almost whispered.

“I don’t know, but I’m thinking we really don’t need this,” I replied just as quietly.

“Hi…Joel,” I said, forcing a smile as we approached him.

“Hi,” he responded meekly.

“Haven’t seen you around for ages,” Craig said. “You been away?”

“No,” he replied just as timidly.

Just then, a car came around the corner. Joel immediately shifted himself completely behind the tree. The car drove by very slowly. It was Joel's father. He had always been really strange, but when drove by and stared intently at Craig and me as he passed, it really gave me the creeps. It was like he was staring right through us or something. It was totally weird and seriously freaky. As soon as the car had gone past the next corner, Joel slipped back out from behind the tree.

“He can’t see me,” he almost begged. “Please.”

“Do you want to come in?” I asked and he nodded his head rather vigorously.

I ran up the steps and unlocked the door. We quickly moved into the house and I relocked the door. As soon as we got our coats off, Joel visibly relaxed which seemed to turn on the waterworks and he began sobbing. Craig and I led him over to the sofa and sat down, one on each side of him and tried to comfort him until he finally cried himself out. I got up and grabbed some tissues and three Cokes while I was at it. We sat quietly for the next several minutes sipping our Cokes.

Finally I asked him if he was hungry and got a plaintive, “Yes, please,” from him.

We moved to the kitchen where I fixed a bunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, and dug out some potato salad and some bananas. He ate them slowly, but it wasn’t hard to tell he was starving. He was totally focused on eating and ate two sandwiches for every one we ate. He ate a little of the potato salad, and a banana as well. When he was done he just sat there watching us. I don’t know what was running through his mind, but I know that Craig and I were wondering what the hell was happening here.

“You want to tell us what’s going on?” I asked finally.

“You guys are boyfriends, right?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yeah we are,” Craig replied which got us an ‘almost’ smile.

“I can’t go back there,” he said, “I just can’t. He’ll kill me this time.”

That remark really scared me and I had to ask, “Who’ll kill you?”

“My father,” he replied as his eyes filled with tears once more.

“Why?” Craig asked in disbelief.

Then he proceeded to explain his sudden disappearance and give us a brief summary of what had happened since. His story was mind-boggling. Apparently, his father had found a gay magazine hidden between his mattress and box spring and, not like it would have been a long trip for him, he literally went mad, like insane mad. Even though he had never gone to church or been in any way, shape, or form, religious, somehow or other he came to the conclusion that Joel had allowed himself to become possessed by a demon. I think that would not be the logical conclusion of the average parent, but Joel's father was not the average parent. Unfortunately, the solutions he came up with were also not those of the average parent. He became determined that through isolation, fasting, physical defeat and exorcism, Joel could be saved.

He installed several padlocks and several metal bars that dropped down across the door of a storeroom in their basement. When Joel got home from school that day, his dad confronted him with the magazine, grabbed him, and forced him downstairs and into the storeroom. During the first week, Joel had tried to escape by breaking the door, but the bars were in the way. His father replaced the wooden door with a metal door just to make sure he couldn't find a way to break through and get out. When Joel tried kicking a hole in the drywall, his father replaced the drywall with 3/4 inch plywood. He tried kicking the plywood loose but couldn't, and since there was no window, he realized he had no way out. For the next eleven months, Joel was locked in that storeroom.

He slept on the concrete floor, had been beaten, including being lashed. He had been fed corn bread and some weird juice concoction once a day except Sunday, then he got ground beef, a baked potato and orange juice. He was given a pail to go to the bathroom in that was emptied once a week. He was given a pail of cold water once a week to bathe with, and got clean clothes, well, sweats and a t-shirt, once a month. He had also undergone eleven exorcisms, one a month, the last one happening yesterday. Craig and I sat mesmerized listening to him tell his story, mesmerized and blown away. It was beyond belief, like something out of the dark ages.

The latest exorcism, however, had a new twist. The priest who showed up was not the usual nut job that performed the previous exorcisms. This time, it was a much younger priest. He did some weird rituals and claimed he felt the presence of demons. After a bunch of chanting and with great flair, he claimed he felt them leave Joel. 'Unfortunately', he said he felt them transfer to Joel's father. Of course, he almost went completely berserk. Satan's demons now possessed him. While he was freaking out trying to rid himself of them, the priest motioned for Joel to run for it. He didn’t need to be told twice. He ran upstairs, grabbed the first parka and boots he saw, the toque and gloves that were on the table by the door, and was out and gone in a flash. The priest wasn't far behind him, but Joel had disappeared before he got out to the sidewalk out front. He spent some time trying to find him but gave up fairly quickly. Joel knew the neighbourhood and could have been anywhere. Also he felt it was obvious Joel's father was far from being in his right mind and he didn't want to be around when he caught on and came storming out.

During his ordeal, Joel had gone from a robust 6ft and a 190lbs to a skinny, almost skeletal 120lbs and was too weak to go very far. He made it a couple of blocks and had hidden in our backyard behind the shed. That’s when he had seen Craig and I kissing at the dining room table. We were obviously gay and we gave him the hope he needed. It still took him until today to get up enough courage to show himself…that, and nearly freezing to death overnight. Extreme hunger might have had something to do with it, too.

He had just finished his story when the kitchen door opened and Dad walked in. Joel turned ghostly white, at least he did where he wasn’t bruised, and he almost stopped breathing. When Dad saw him, he just stood there with his mouth open. I quickly moved around the table, wrapped my arm around Joel's shoulders, and hugged him tight.

“Don’t be afraid. It’s my dad. You’re safe. He won’t hurt you or tell your father you’re here. He’ll help you. We’ll keep you safe. I promise,” I told him as Craig knelt down in front of him, took his hands and repeated my assurances.

It was several minutes before Joel stopped shaking and began to breathe normally again. Craig and I kept reassuring him he was safe and Dad just watched us like he couldn’t believe what was happening. Finally we got Joel calm enough that we felt we could relax and let go of him without him running. Craig and I then related what Joel had been through to Dad. A couple of times Dad stopped us so he could ask Joel some yes and no questions. Joel would nod or shake his head. He also tried to make sure Joel knew he was on his side and would do whatever he could to help him. After about fifteen minutes, Joel finally settled down and began to talk to us normally, although fear was still very evident in his voice. One of the things I was curious about was why he hadn't fought back, especially in the beginning. He had been strong, muscular and athletic, surely he could have put up a fight and maybe escaped. After he reminded us that his father was a 6ft 5in construction worker and weighed a solid 240lbs, I understood why. He didn't have a hope in hell of overpowering a man of that size and strength.

Dad asked Craig to order out for a couple of pizzas, as he felt the situation we were dealing with was more important than us getting involved in cooking dinner. Once the pizzas arrived and we all dug in, Joel became more and more relaxed and actually started to help himself to the pizza. I think he was beginning to realize that Dad really was on his side and he was safe with us. Another hour and he was talking to us normally, with no fear in his voice, and was answering Dad’s questions. He even smiled a couple of times at some of the things Craig or I said.

It wasn’t long before it became very evident that Joel was about ready to fall asleep right there in the kitchen chair. After some more reassurance that he was safe with us and that we would do whatever it took to keep him safe, he was willing to go to bed. Craig and I took him up to the spare room, showed him where the bathroom was and found him a new toothbrush. Once he was settled in, we each gave him a hug, and wished him good night. Craig and I then rejoined Dad in the kitchen. Dad was on the phone and he just looked at us and shook his head. From Dad’s part of the conversation, we knew he was talking to Sergeant Meyers of the city police. He explained what had happened and was happening with Joel in as much detail as he could.

“What’s next?” I asked Craig as I flopped onto a chair. “We just got Chad home and now this.”

“Well we’re not lacking for excitement,” Craig replied. “I’m so glad we have the parents we have. I just don’t understand the way some parents react. Being gay shouldn’t be some big traumatic issue. It's just about who we love. It’s such a small part of who we are. Who we will become and what we can accomplish in life has nothing to do with it. Why do so many people make such a big deal out of it?”

“I don’t know. I wish there was a way we could just snap our fingers and change it. Maybe, like Dad said, things like the GSA will help change minds and things will be better for our generation's kids. Although you gotta admit, Chad and Joel's dads are both a little extreme, actually a lot extreme. Chad's dad was probably so drunk he didn't know what he was doing and Joel's dad is just obviously insane,” I said.

“That's true. Right now, I just hope we can help Joel and that there’s no way they’ll try to send him back home,” Craig said.

“He won't be sent home,” Dad said as he hung up the phone. “Sergeant Meyers believes, just from what I told him, that his dad will be charged with forced confinement, assault causing bodily harm and child endangerment, and that’s just for starters. After he talks to Joel tomorrow, there could be several more charges.”

For the rest of the evening until Craig had to head home, we talked about Joel. What would likely happen to him now that he was removed from his home? He had missed basically an entire year of school. He was seventeen and could live wherever he chose to live, but since, we assumed, he would still be in school for another three years, he would need the help of Family Services. They would obviously want some say in where he lived and with whom. It was also going to take him a while to recover physically and mentally as well. Dad wondered if there would be some physical or mental damage from his ordeal. We hadn’t really thought about it, but he could be right. After being beaten and almost starved for nearly a year, there could be physical repercussions. Combine that with being isolated and exorcised eleven times, there was sure to be some post-traumatic aftermath. He may be free of his father, but he might not be free of the results of his father’s insanity for a while.

The next morning I woke up early. It hadn’t been my best night’s sleep as I woke up several times thinking about Joel. I showered and got ready for school. When I made my way to the kitchen, Dad was already on his second cup of coffee. There was no sign of Joel. Dad said he had looked in on him and he was sleeping soundly. It was probably the first good night’s sleep he had had in a while. He was sleeping in a nice warm comfortable bed instead of on a concrete floor, and he didn’t have to worry about his father disturbing him.

Dad had a full breakfast waiting for me on the table. He had taken the day off from work and said he would phone the school to tell them he was keeping me home as he felt Joel would need a friend by his side today. I wasn’t opposed to missing school, but I was opposed to missing Craig. I phoned him right away and explained Dad’s decision to keep me home. He said he would talk to his mom and see if he could come over and spend the day with Joel and me. About half an hour later, he was sitting at the table with Dad and me having a coffee.

A few minutes after Craig arrived, Joel made his way into the kitchen. He looked nervous and shy until he saw Craig and me sitting with Dad.

“Mornin’,” we all said at once.

“Mornin’,” he replied with a grin.

“Coffee?” Dad offered.

“Yes please,” he replied.

“There’s a plate of bacon and eggs and sausages in the oven keeping warm,” Dad said.

“Oh, wow,” he exclaimed. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s just breakfast,” Dad said.

“There’s been no such thing as ‘just breakfast’ for me for months,” he responded. “Thank you so much for doing this.”

“You’re welcome,” Dad replied with a smile.

Dad let Joel enjoy his first real breakfast in close to eleven months or more before he brought up the fact that Sergeant Meyers would be over to interview him later on this morning. Joel immediately looked frightened. Craig and I were right in there reassuring him that there was no way he would have to return home ever again. At seventeen, he could refuse to return home and his father would have no legal grounds to force him to return. Dad took over and explained that the sergeant was on his side. In fact, after talking to him, Sergeant Meyers felt Joel’s father would quite likely go to jail for a considerable period of time, considering what he had done to him. Even so, Joel was still very obviously anxious about Sergeant Meyer’s visit.

It was about 10:00 when the doorbell rang. It was Sergeant Meyers. Dad introduced him to all of us, offered him a coffee, and we all sat around the table. The sergeant then asked Joel to relate his story in as much detail as possible. He asked if Joel minded that he was recording his testimony and Joel, of course, replied that he didn’t mind. He asked Joel several questions as Joel related his story. Most of them were to clarify something Joel had said.

When Joel had finished, he asked him if he would mind him taking pictures as evidence of Joel’s physical abuse. Again, Joel had no problem with it. When the sergeant asked Dad if he could use one of the bedrooms for privacy to take the pictures, Joel stated that he wanted them done in front of us. He wanted as many witnesses as possible. The bruises on his face were obvious, but when he took his shirt off I almost threw up. His back was covered in scars and welts; many of them still red and scabbed over. Even the sergeant looked totally taken aback and stunned by what he saw. He told Joel that the Family Services representative would take him to see Dr. West in the Westways Medical Clinic this afternoon as Dr. West worked with the police on cases that required medical advice or attention.

After he had taken about thirty pictures, Sergeant Meyers’ last questions involved the name of the priest who had done the first ten exorcisms and the name of priest who had helped him escape. The first was an older priest named Father McNeil. Apparently he was well known to the sergeant and had been before the courts more than once for performing exorcisms and other weird religious ceremonies involving unwilling participants. Father Tanner was a new young priest who had recently been placed under Father McNeil’s guidance. Thankfully, he was obviously not of the same mind as Father McNeil when it came to demon possession and exorcisms.

When the sergeant was ready to leave, he double-checked with Joel to make sure he had their address correct. He then told us he would be stopping by his father’s first. His father would be arrested and a forensics crew would do a thorough inspection of the house and Joel's 'room'. Other officers would be stopping by the church and talking to Father Tanner as well as picking up Father McNeil for questioning and possible charges. He couldn’t see how Father McNeil would not have been aware that Joel was being held against his will, was being starved, for all intents and purposes, and was obviously being beaten. If that was the case, he would also be charged and likely find himself behind bars as well. As he was leaving he told Dad that the representative from Family Services would be over right after lunch to take Joel to see Dr. West and then help him find a place, get settled in and ready for school next semester.

The relief Joel was feeling was tangible after Sergeant Meyers left. The three of us went up to my room and stretched out across my bed and just talked. It was obvious Joel’s back was very sore as he made a point of lying on his right side. It was so cool see him relaxed and at ease with us. We talked about our experiences. He almost laughed out loud and told me he wasn’t sure if I was insane or just a little bit nuts when I told him I had simply come out to everyone without giving it a second thought. He definitely sympathized with Craig and his experiences with Grandpa Tom. All things considered though, we had nothing on him. His experience was far beyond the worst we could even have imagined. Well, except for Chad's. We talked about school and the GSA. He couldn’t wait to get back to school and get involved. Unfortunately, instead of being in the second semester of his sophomore year, he would be in the second semester of his freshman year. However, he didn’t care if he was going to be a sophomore, freshman, or middle schooler. He was free and that’s all that mattered to him.

One question that did come up was where Joel was going to live. That question was about to be answered in the next hour or so, when the Family Services representative arrived right after lunch. And lunch was now, as Dad yelled to us to get our butts into the kitchen to give him a hand. He had a big pot of soup warming up. I got to find the stuff necessary to make a ton of sandwiches. Craig and Joel started building those sandwiches as I dug the stuff out of the cupboards and fridge. The grin on Joel’s face couldn’t have been bigger. He was having the time of his life making sandwiches, digging through the fridge looking for the mayonnaise I forgot, and just sitting at the table eating his soup and sandwiches. I couldn’t help but think about how an everyday normal occurrence like preparing and eating lunch, something we just took for granted, could be so special for him.

As we were finishing and cleaning up, the doorbell rang. When Dad answered it, it was a young guy from Family Services. He introduced himself as Greg Stanford and said that Sergeant Meyers had sent him over to take Joel to see Dr. West and to work with him to help him get set up. He and Joel had no sooner sat down at the table to start going over Joel’s situation when the phone rang. It was Sergeant Meyers.

Dad spoke to him for a few minutes. We could tell something was wrong from the look on Dad’s face. Apparently, when Sergeant Meyers and two other police officers pulled up in front of their house, his father came out onto the front porch brandishing a rifle. He ordered them to stay off his property or he would send them to hell. When one of the officers stepped onto the lawn, he started to lower his rifle and aim it at the officer. That was the last thing he would ever do. Now, Dad had to tell Joel his father was gone.

Dad pulled us off to one side in the living room and told us he would need our help. He then told us what had happened and said we would need to be there for Joel. He then went into the kitchen and asked Greg if he could talk to him for a minute. Craig and I went in and sat with Joel. He took one look at us and began to cry. We both immediately moved in and wrapped him in a double hug.

After a few minutes, he straightened himself up and said, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m sorry.”

He took a deep breath and said quietly, “I hated him with all my heart. I should be glad he’s gone and can’t hurt me anymore, but I’m not.”

“Of course you’re not,” Craig responded. “Whatever his beliefs, and whatever he did, he was still your dad.”

We sat quietly for a good ten minutes as Joel shed a few more tears and Craig and I did our best to comfort him.

“What’s going to happen to me now?” he finally asked.

Greg and Dad came back into the kitchen. They both explained to Joel how sorry they were and asked him if he would be okay. He replied that he would be fine. Greg then apologized and explained to him that it would be difficult to find a foster home that would accept a high school age male. The other options were a group home or, as he was seventeen, he could choose to go home and live on his own and Family Services would help support him. Joel was not keen on the group home idea. As far as he had heard, they were often not a good place to be if you were gay. However, he was also concerned about living alone. Too much had happened in the past eleven months in that house and he felt he would need emotional support at least for a while. It was decided Joel would stay with us until everything was sorted out with his father’s estate, and longer if necessary.

Since Joel was going to stay with us, Dad said he could take him to see the doctor. That would free Greg up and give him a chance to get a head start on the paperwork, so he had no complaints. When Joel and Dad got back, Joel had three bottles of antibiotics, ten tubes of antiseptic ointment, and five huge rolls of bandages. When he raised his shirt, he was wrapped up from his waist to his armpits like an Egyptian mummy.

Now, the next thing on Joel's agenda, besides healing both physically and mentally, was settling his father's estate. As Joel was his only child and closest blood relative, if there was no will, everything would automatically go to him. However, there could be a lot of red tape and time involved sorting everything out. As it happens, there was a will and he had left everything to Joel’s mother. However, if she died before he did, then everything went to Joel. As his mother had died two years ago, Joel was now the sole beneficiary. When they investigated, they found that his father had a lawyer to look after his estate should anything happen to him. Since the lawyer had a record of everything, it didn’t take long to sort things out.

The house and car were paid for. Thanks to his father's frugal living habits, there was a forty-eight thousand dollar chequing account, and over six hundred thousand dollars in a savings account, much of which had come from his mom's life insurance. Both were at the ATB branch near their place. There were also a number of shares in various oil companies worth another estimated five hundred thousand dollars in a safety deposit box, also at the ATB branch. The lawyer saw to it that all deeds and titles, etc. were put in Joel’s name. His father also had a substantial life insurance policy, but that was not likely to pay out any time soon or ever, due to his cause of death. Either way, Joel was financially set and wouldn’t have to worry about money any time soon, that was for sure. His father may have been crazy, but he wasn’t stupid. Obviously Family Services wouldn’t pay for his foster care, not with his bank account. In fact, Greg actually joked that Joel was worth more than their annual budget. Since Dad wasn’t concerned about the money, he and Dad worked out a nominal amount for room and board and Joel moved into the spare room.