I see no reason to be disturbed or bothered by the way people live. I know there are different forms of life. I know there are people with different wants and desires or likes and fashions. I see no reason to argue about this or fight. Perhaps to some, there are things about me that go against their taste. I know who I am though. I know what I like and prefer or enjoy. I know this is me and you are you and this is fine. No really, it is.
There was a young man that I shared a room with for a short amount of time. His name was Chris. He was tall. Good looking. Chris was an athlete to say the least and although his challenges did not help promote his best interest, Chris was talented, strong, charismatic, and yes, I can say that Chris was my friend. As it would be for any friend, it was difficult to see Chris go through his tough times.
Chris and I were roommates in a short-stay program. Both of us were no stranger to trouble. We both had our hang-ups and struggles. We both had our problems with some of the counselors who, in an almost perverse way, seemed to enjoy rousing young men with critical problems. There was one counselor, specifically, who enjoyed stirring the pot, so-to-speak. He did this to make us crazy for no other reason than to discipline us. Chris would explain, “I’m gonna get him!” And there was talk about this counselor. There were rumors too about his appreciation for the male body; however, there were only stories and no real proof about the counselor’s advances to young men.
Chris and I would talk at night. We’d talk about where we came from and what we went through. We’d talk about what we planned to do when we got out. Of course, not everything we spoke about was positive. Not everything we talked about was serious either but yet, there is something which happens when you’re “Away” with someone. And I say “Away,” as in “Away at the farm,” which is a common term for people when they go to dry out or spend time in rehab. Yes, we were away. We were away for different reasons. We had a different upbringing and a different background. Chris came from some upstate town that I had never heard of before. He lived a life that I could never imagine. I suppose to him, I lived a life that he could never imagine, which between us, this was fine. We were friends. We were fine together.
We never talked much about girlfriends per se. I suppose we had the typical older teenage conversations about sexual conquests but there were never any talks about anything specific. Instead, we spoke about life and what happened to us. We talked about old pains and old secrets and yes, safe to say within only days of knowing each other, Chris and I were like brothers. Then again, this is the way things go when you’re “Away.” The people we meet are unlike any we’ve ever met before, and yet there is this connection. There is this bond between the two because along the way, we face the pain and we reveal, we realize and we hurt, and we shame ourselves for the past, which we could no longer control.
So much happened in a short amount of time. By week one, I watched the State Police come and take a young man away in shackles. This was like something out of an after-school special. The police took him because he decided to refuse treatment. He was facing a long time in state prison — or, he could take the trade and go to rehab to work a program. I can never remember this young man’s name but I remember what he looked like. I remember that he was more of an outsider than a person that got along with others. Looking back, I could see the self-sabotage. I can see the contract he signed with his own self-destruction; — and on a day when this young man couldn’t take it anymore, he told his counselor, “Fuck it. Let them come and get me.”
I remember seeing him being taken away in shackles. I remember the look on his face and with this somehow abandoned surrender, he told me, “I just can’t take it anymore.” I believe his name was Brian. Yes. I think that was it.
There was another young man who had been beaten most of his life by his father. He was tall and furiously strong. He was not with us for very long. His situation was sadly cut short. I mean, we all knew. We knew about the abuse. We knew that he was big and strong and yet, when facing his father, somehow, this monstrosity of a young man would shrivel down to a small, fragile little boy. He and I got along well. The young man had a lazy eye, which was a gift to him from a beating lent down by his father. We were both frightened to live and scared to be who we were. We were both challenged at school and we both fed into the internal lie that neither of us were exceptionally smart. I used to tell him about my fears and insecurities. He used to tell me his, which was alarming to me to learn that as big as he was and as capable as he was, this young man was afraid too. How could this be?
I once asked him, “Why don’t you just fight back?”
We talked about his strength and his fights. We talked about bullies and bullyism, and the aftermath of abuse.
About a day or two later, the facility had visitors. One of the visitors was this young man’s father. The house was an old colonial style. The walls were white and so were the doors. The glossy floors were the color of light pine. There was an entryway with double doors that led to a foyer with another set of double doors. This was the entrance to the main house.
I can still see this in my head. I can see a shaft of sunlight that breached through the lowly lit room from the upper windows on a sunny morning. I can see my vision of this young man’s father as he stepped through the entryway. I can see the look on the young man’s face, which changed from sad to enraged. This all took place very quickly and yet, this all happened in slow motion.
It was as though the young man’s face changed to a scream of viciousness; and with a crazy snarl that changed hands with a loud demonic yell, he ran at his father. He literally engulfed him with a melee of blows. And us, well, we were the problem here because we ran to help. We were the reason the counselors couldn’t stop the fight because they had to stop us patients from helping this young man seek his revenge.
Unfortunately, this resulted in the young man’s removal from treatment. I can’t remember the last thing he said to me. I can only remember a sense of gratitude from him. He was happy to be somewhere that he wasn’t judged. He was with friends. And this was something he never had before. He was odd looking, tall, and somewhat unsightly. But he was our friend, nonetheless, and to us, we would have helped him destroy the man that nearly destroyed his life.
These were the things that Chris and I would talk about at night. We would talk about some of the other patients. We laughed and we talked and then eventually, we’d fall asleep. One day, one of the counselors pushed Chris too far. There was another patient who was mainly unlikable and often someone that Chris was at odds with. Both the counselor and the patient confronted Chris about something, which I have no idea what. And lo and behold, Chris decided to drop the mask. He gave them both a view of Chris’s physical capabilities. Suddenly, the line between counselor and patient evaporated. Chris threatened them both and the counselor whose possible brand of love was exposed by Chris.
It was before they threw him out and put Chris into segregation that Chris and I had our last talk. When Chris came out of the closet to me, I never saw him differently. I never really had a friendship with someone who was gay and admittedly, I was ignorant beforehand. I was blinded by the lessons of ignorance too until I met Chris. He was a good man. He was a good friend. When he told me he was gay, just because he wanted me to know, I didn’t move away or shake. Instead, I embraced him as a brother and as a friend. I told him “Be careful out there.” And that was the last we ever saw of each other.
I suppose what I remember most is the night after. His bed was empty and his things were gone. I was alone and thinking about my friend. I was thinking about the talks we had and how on certain days, had it not been for my friend Chris, I don’t know what would have happened to me. Perhaps I would have been like Brian and quit. I was young and yes I was fortunate. I was blessed to learn early that who we are is the most important thing. How we make people feel about themselves is truly impactful.
This is why I opened by saying that I don’t feel bothered or disturbed because of the choice of someone’s love.
Love is love and people are people. To me, it only behooves us to find the best we can. I owe ya Chris. I owe ya for the lessons you taught me. I owe them all, the kids from “The Hab” who sat with me, wept with me and lived with me. Faults and all, we were the greatest together. So to wherever you are, God bless each and every one of you.
(Except for that counselor, whatever his name was. He was a dick!)