Journey to Love
Chapter Five - Brad and Booker, The True Story
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
I was debating with myself about how much I should say, but before I said anything, DeAngelo said, “Mom, once I knew Brad and Sam were gay, I did a lot of reading. I talked to my counselor and she supervised my research on the internet because the school’s filters block most sites where I could get information. Anyway, I wanted to know if they might turn me gay. I found out no one really knows why some people are gay, but 'most everyone agrees, a person is born gay. Brad Hunsinger and Sam Houston could no more not be gay than I could not be black. No one can turn anyone gay—or straight for that matter. And by the way, most men who molest children molest girls, not boys.
“I don’t know nothing about that, but I know your dad is not going to have you around Brad and Sam.”
I was really mad. Dad’s hatred was going to ruin my life and I couldn’t hide my anger. Trying to control my voice, I said, “Mom, that is pure prejudice. Dad blames whites because he didn’t advance in the Army, yet you said there was no effort on his part to do so, but he hates whites. He didn’t get the promotion at work, yet we know he refused to take the courses offered so he could advance, but he hates whites. His best friend beats his own son to where he has to be hospitalized because his son was—pardon my language—fucking Brad and it was Brad’s fault. Then, when his best friend’s son attempts to see his mom, he is beaten to death and that’s Brad’s fault because Brad turned Booker Dunning gay. All that’s nonsense and pure prejudice. Finally, Mr. Dunning picks a fight in prison—where he is serving minimum time for murdering his own son—and is stabbed to death and Dad says that too is Brad’s fault. That’s not just prejudice, that’s also pretty stupid.”
“Derek, you will not talk about your father that way! He works hard to support his family, to support you.”
“That’s not the point! What I’m saying is, had he put forth a little effort, he would not have had to work as hard and would have been able to give us better support.”
“That’s enough! Both of you, it’s past your bedtime. Goodnight.”
Mom went back downstairs and DeAngelo turned out the light on the nightstand between our beds. Neither of us said anything for a while, then I asked, “DeAngelo, you awake?”
“Yeah, awake and feeling sick.”
“I think I went too far and said too much.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. I started thinking kinda the same thing when Dad was bitching about not getting the promotion at the hospital. Mom had been on his case about taking the courses, but he told her he knew all they’d be teaching.”
We both were silent, each dealing with our own thoughts, I guess. I know I was when DeAngelo spoke again. “Derek, I’m scared, really scared. Not just about what happened tonight even though that scares the shit out of me. I’m scared of being trapped here. I’m a sophomore. I’ve got two more years of high school, then what?
“Mr. Carter, my counselor, called me into his office two weeks ago to talk about my grades. They’re not bad, but he said they were not good enough, good enough to get me beyond high school. ‘DeAngelo,’ he said, ‘I don’t mean any disrespect. I know your parents work hard, but I also know they just barely make ends meet. There is no money for college, yet you have the potential to do well in college. You have two things going for you, your grades are improving and you are developing as a basketball player, but, and that’s a big but, your grades are good enough to get you into college, but not to pay for it. You keep developing the way you have so far this season, and will likely get a basketball scholarship which would give you a free ride, but one bad move, one mean player, one slick spot on the court and your basketball career could be over. If you don’t get out of this town you know what your life is going to be like. Think about that.’
“I’ve been thinking about that, Littl' Bro.” DeAngelo fell silent again and I remained silent. “That talk scared me, Derek, it really did. Then tonight happened. You know why my basketball has improved so much? I’ve added a year of growth and maturity. Last year I was on the freshman team with the freshman coach. He’s a good guy and a good enough coach, but he’s just average. This year I’ve made varsity and Coach Andrews is tops, but those are really minor factors compared to what Brad has done for me. He has developed a program for me that has made me much quicker, improved my stamina and how I move on the court. Now, I’m smooth as silk out there. He can take credit for ninety percent of my improvement.
“That’s not all. You‘ve seen the difference in my school work. Half-ass has always been good enough and Cs with an occasional B was good enough, but after Brad and Sam have been helping us, now Bs with an occasional A because I work harder. Derek, to be honest, when Dad said we couldn’t be around Brad and Sam, I felt like he had just given me a life sentence to the same kind of life he has. I guess I more or less expected that last year, but I had hopes and dreams of a good future and because two people who have turned my life around love each other, my hopes and dreams are going down the toilet.”
I didn’t know what to say. I felt the same way. With the help of our two mentors, I was headed for an academic scholarship. I knew I could do that and, maybe, since I had three years to perfect my sport, a diving scholarship as well. I was battling tears when suddenly DeAngelo jumped out of bed and grabbed our wastebasket and emptied his stomach—we had only one bathroom and it was downstairs. I went downstairs, quietly, and got a washcloth and a pan of cold water and a cup. Back upstairs, I bathed DeAngelo’s face with a cool, wet cloth, then gave him the cup so he could rinse his mouth.
“Derek, we can’t let this happen. We just can’t.”
“I hate it, DeAngelo, but what can we do? Dad says we can’t see Brad and Sam and Mom backs him.”
“Bro, I’m sixteen. I can leave if I like, but I can’t do that and leave you here. You’re, and we both know it, in real danger. We don’t know what Dad’s going to do, but he seems to be getting angrier all the time now. If, some way or other, he found out you are gay, you’d probably end up like Booker, dead. I’m serious.”
I knew he was right and I was terrified. Finally I said, “We have mentors and we need to talk to them. Maybe they can help.”
“How? I mean how are we going to talk to them? If we’re seen with them, Dad will half kill us.”
We were both silent again, thinking. “Look, I know you have snuck out of the house when you were playing around with LaWanda last year. I’ll sneak out and call Brad and Sam.”
“No, you’re not going. I’m going. I’m sixteen. I can leave if I have to, but you’re stuck here and you know it.”
“Not arguing. I’m going.” I looked at the clock and saw it was 10:00. “Mom is sound asleep by now. We’ll both go. We’ll sneak out and ride our bikes to the Center. It has just closed and I bet we could get there before Brad leaves.” We had not undressed, so we quickly opened the window and climbed out onto the kitchen roof which was right below our attic window. DeAngelo showed me how to drop off the roof to the ground and we grabbed our bikes and were on the way to the Center as soon as we hit the ground. When we were about a block away, a jeep passed.
“Shit!” DeAngelo said. “I guess we’ll have to find a phone and that could mean trouble. You know that if someone sees us, they will ask Mom or Dad what we were doing at 10:00. Shit! Shit! Shit!”
We were standing astride our bikes, trying to think of a way out of our mess when a car came down the street toward us driving slowly. Since its lights blinded us, we couldn’t tell who it was until it was beside us. “What are you guys doing out this time of night?” It was Brad in the jeep. The jeep we’d seen was someone else’s.
I spoke before DeAngelo could. “Trying to get to the Center to see you before you left. We’ve got a big problem.”
“Parents know where you are?”
“No! And they can’t,” I said. “They are the problem.”
“Well, we can’t stay in the street and talk. Head on down to the Center and I’ll meet you there. I was on my way to pick up Sam at the hospital. I’ll give him a call, let you into my office and then go get him. I suspect he needs to be in on what’s going on.”
DeAngelo and I hopped on our bikes while Brad pulled out his cell phone, spoke briefly and then passed us on the way to the Center.
Thirty minutes later, Brad and Sam had the whole story of what had happened, of why Dad was the way he was according to Mom and of our feeling hopeless and helpless. Both sat silently for a few minutes, then Brad said, “Some of what you were told about Booker and me was true, some was not. Not that it matters a whole lot now, but I’d like you to have the real story.
“Booker and I became close friends in the first grade. Neither of our families liked it. The Dunnings were just as racist as the Hunsingers, truth be told, but we became inseparable in school. We were, however, never allowed to visit each other, go to the movies together or anything like that. When we were in our last year of grade school, Miss Grace was in a pretty bad accident and needed someone with her around the clock. Eliza had been her maid since the day Miss Grace married. Eliza's husband had died several years before, so when Miss Grace asked her to become a live-in companion, she did.
“Miss Grace had been my Sunday school teacher from the time I started school until I was in the third grade. All the kids dearly loved her, but she became very special to me. My mom had met my dad when he was in the Navy. She was from Minnesota, so I only saw my Gunderson grandparents once a year when we went to their lake place in the summer. Mom had been born when her mother was in her forties and her father was ten years older, so I only saw my Gunderson grandfather a few times that I can remember before he died. Grandmama Gunderson died when I was in second grade. My dad’s father had died before I was born and Grandmother Hunsinger was a cold and distant woman, so Miss Grace became my grandmama substitute. I often had Sunday dinner with her, took her bouquets, especially daffodils as she loved them and had thousands, but there were places where old houses had been that would be covered by daffodils in the spring and I’d pick a load of then and. . . .”
“Babe,” Sam said, “too much detail for tonight.”
“Right. Sorry. Anyway, Booker and I were together often at Miss Grace’s after Eliza moved in. One of the bedrooms at her place was given to us as our room. Sunday afternoons when the weather was too bad to be outside, we’d go to our room and listen to tapes—CDs had not been developed yet. By the time I was twelve, I knew I liked boys a lot and especially Booker. One Sunday we were listening to tapes and I suddenly had an urge to kiss Booker. I asked him first and he asked if I was a faggott and I told him I thought I was. ‘Well, I’m not, but we’re still friends.’ He did let me kiss him and then, later, we jerked off together, but Booker was straight, as much as I wished otherwise. We did jerk off together and occasionally I kissed him and he never objected, but there was never any question about it, he was straight.
“Booker couldn’t afford to go to any college that didn’t give him a full scholarship. Same was true for me. He won great scholarship at Morehouse in Atlanta, but it only paid for tuition, nothing for room and board and books, so he was going to refuse because he still could not afford it. His grandmother told him to accept it as she had a college fund set up for him. Truth of the matter, Miss Grace was the college fund. I also was dependent on scholarships for the most part and had one to UVA . Spring break we knew we would be going our separate ways in June, me to Charlottesville and he to Atlanta because we wanted an early start—and to get the hell out of Stanton. Booker suggested that we spend the spring break together at the Hunsinger camp, which we did. We did a lot of reading, drank a lot of beer, went for walks in the woods and swam in a small pond there.
“The night my world exploded, we had been drinking beer all afternoon and had a nice buzz on, but that’s all; we were far from drunk. Anyway, I know it’s hard to believe, but with all our experimentation and my being gay, we had never touched each other’s cock. When it was time to go to bed, we got undressed—we slept in the nude—and got to talking about the end of school and our separation. I was surprised when Booker said, ‘Brad, I’ll always remember how much you loved me and will always be a bit sad that I couldn’t love you the way you loved me, but I do want you to remember me and that I did love you.’ With that, he pulled me to himself for a real kiss, tongue and all. ‘I know I can’t make love to you the way you’d like, but this time, let’s do each other.’ We lay side by side and had just started stroking each other when all hell broke loose.”
‘Brad’s eyes became misty, his voice soft. He was hurting. We were all silent, leaving Brad space for his grief. He finally spoke. “Booker died because his father thought he was gay. He wasn’t, and the only thing that would have happened had Dad not burst in the door would have been we’d have brought each other off, shared another kiss and slept wrapped in each others arms. You need to know that’s the kind of town you live in.”
Sam asked, “You okay, Babe?” Brad nodded and Sam continued, “We’re not going to solve anything tonight, but we do need to make sure you’re safe. Do you think you are?”
“Well, I think we’re safe right now. Dad’s out getting rip-snorting drunk and will be out of it until late tomorrow or maybe even longer,” DeAngelo said, “but if Dad finds out we were here, the least we could expect is a belting. When Dad says ‘I’ll cut the blood out of you,’ he’s not kidding and I know that would be one of those times. It has happened to both of us a few times, but even one of his regular beltings . . .”
“Understand,” Sam said.
I took a long, deep breath and let it out slowly and said, “There’s something else you need to know. I’m gay.”
“I wondered if you had admitted that to yourself,” Sam said. “Makes no difference to us, of course, but you’ve heard the stories told about Brad and the results of that so be careful, very careful. You can’t let anyone find out. Now you need to get back home and we’ll put our heads together and see what we can come up with, but no one is to belt you or harm you. Any threat of that and we need to know pronto.” Brad and Sam hugged each of us and Brad said, “Fellows, we’ll get through this one way or another.”
We biked home without being seen and climbed back into our room and got undressed for bed. I lay awake thinking about shattered hopes and dreams and pushing back fear, fear that my secret would be discovered. I guess I had been lying awake for a couple hours or more when I heard voices downstairs. I got out of bed and went to the top of the stairs and looked down into the living room. A couple of sheriff’s deputies were holding Dad up between them. One was Michael Dunning, Booker’s brother. “Mr. Wilson really tied one on tonight. If you’ll turn down his bed, we’d get him in it.”
“He’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight, Michael. I know he’ll start puking sometime and I don’t want no puking drunk in my bed. Just pour him on the couch and I’ll cover him up. And thanks for bringing the idiot home.”
“No problem, Ms. Wilson,” Michael replied and the two left.
I watched as Mom covered Dad with a quilt and placed a bucket beside the couch. “Probably a waste of time ’cause I doubt you’ll hit it,” she said, then turned and went into her bedroom.
It was then I noticed DeAngelo standing beside me. He put his arms around my shoulder and said, “Littl' Bro, I think we’re about all we have, but we do have each other.” He gave me a hug and we went to bed.
Sometime in the night I woke to the sound of DeAngelo groaning and, I guess, trying to call out, but he was just making strange noises. I walked over to his bed and shook him gently, calling his name. When he was awake, he grabbed me and pulled me close. “You’re okay,” he said, sounding surprised.
“Of course I’m okay,” I replied.
“Had a nightmare. Dad found out you were gay and was beating you with his belt. Over and over he hit you. He was killing you and Mom said nothing and I couldn’t reach you. I was tied up or something. I couldn’t stop it.” I held DeAngelo tight until he relaxed and was nearly asleep when he said, “Stay with me, Littl' Bro.” Our room was very small and we had twin beds which were hardly big enough for one of us, but somehow or other, we squeezed together on DeAngelo’s. He soon drifted off to sleep. It took me longer.
The next morning, DeAngelo and I were up early for our morning bike ride as usual. We were very quiet going down the stairs and as we passed the living room, I saw Dad was still passed out on the couch and, true enough, he had missed the bucket. The whole downstairs was stinking from his vomit. It was almost enough to make me empty my stomach. In the kitchen, we left Mom a note saying we were going on a long bike ride and not to wait breakfast, not that she would with Dad’s vomit stinking up the house. She’d get breakfast at the school where she worked. We walked through the kitchen and out the back door and as soon as we were outside, DeAngelo said, “Littl' Bro, you look like shit,”
“Must look about the same as you, Big Bro,” I responded. “Neither of us look ready for a long ride.”
“Ready or not, let’s do it. Maybe it will help clear our heads and we’ll come up with a way out of this mess.”
We rode easily for a couple miles to get warmed up, then gradually increased our speed. We were riding on a country road that could be treacherous, especially given our speed, so we concentrated on riding and rode as fast as we could. After we had passed the nine-mile mark, we turned around and headed back, taking a different road which was easy biking and after a couple miles, slowed down and rode side by side so we could talk.
“Derek, we need to see some people today. I need to talk to Coach and see if he can help us out since Brad and Sam are the major cause of how good everything’s been going for me up till now. He knows and respects Brad and Sam and can talk Dad’s language about my ball playing. Who’s your counselor?”
“Miss Kaplan, the new counselor. I don’t know much about her as I haven’t needed to talk to her and she hasn’t asked me to come by or anything. I do know she’s got three strikes against her as far as Dad is concerned. First off, she’s a white woman and Dad’s not going to listen to an educated white woman. Then, she’s not Virginian; she’s from New York and new to . Also, she’s Jewish and not a part of the Jewish community.
“I guess Stanton’s Jews are like everyone else in . You have to have been here for a few generations before you count.”
“Right. I suspect those are three good points so far as her accepting us is concerned, but Dad? You can forget his listening to her. Maybe Mr. Carroll will see you. He’s my counselor and I really like him. I trust him, but I wouldn’t tell him you’re gay if I were you. I think that’s a secret between you and me and our mentors.”
“You’re right about that. I will see if I can make an appointment with Mr. Carroll.”
When we got home, Mom had gone to work and her bedroom door was closed and I supposed Dad had moved from the couch to bed once Mom was up, but he hadn’t cleaned up his mess. When I started to do so, DeAngelo said, “Hell no, you’re not cleaning up his puke. He made the mess, and as he has often told us, he can clean it up.”
I was pretty sure Dad wouldn’t be going to work today. Just in case he might be stirring, DeAngelo and I grabbed our things, got back on our bikes and headed for school.
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