Thank you Bill, for editing.
June 4 2006
The flexing of his hand in mine woke me. My eyes opened on my knuckles and the tips of Danny's fingers sticking out from under them, all right next to my lips and nose and moist from my breath. My neck was stiff from laying my head over the edge of his bed, next to his hip. My eyes darted up to his face to find him looking right at me. A tingly rush went through my body as I realized he was LOOKING at me. My head jerked up, followed by my whole body as I stood, leaned over and in close.
"Oh Danny…" I said under my breath as I aimed my lips at his.
He looked up into my eyes and smiled, knowing I was aware that he could see again, so I kissed him gently instead of saying anything about it.
He winked at me. "Hey, Stud."
I carefully rested my forehead lightly against his and smiled. "Hey, baby."
His tongue darted out to the tip of my nose and back. "I was dreaming of you, and since I woke up I've just been watching you sleep for about twenty minutes." He took my hand and guided it down to his crotch, giving me a leering smile. He was hard as a rock. I raised my head enough to survey the room and make sure the door was closed, since I'd been asleep and hadn't looked around-- neither of us had considered whether the lady in the next bed behind the curtain was there or not, and fortunately, she wasn't. I left my hand where it was as he reached out and grabbed at my crotch.
I grinned and asked, "First thing you wanna do when you can see is play?"
He grinned back and said, "Well, yeah. I haven't been able to touch you since Friday afternoon!"
I leaned over kissed him again and moaned softly as we fondled each other, my mind racing with all the obstacles to actually doing anything at this point. Besides the headache I assumed he had, which I figured would prevent him from doing anything anyway, there was the fact that anyone could come in the room at any moment. So, after a minute, I pulled his hand off my crotch, gently framed his face in my hands and kissed him, then held my face just above his.
I whispered, "Uhhh, I think we'd better cool it, baby." I smiled at him and stroked his cheeks with my thumbs, glancing at my watch to see it was just after 6am. "We don't wanna get you too excited."
He grinned at me. "Well, just you kissing me gets me excited."
I grinned back. "Well, then I guess I'd better stop that, too." Danny scowled like that was completely unacceptable. "Don't you have a headache, anyway?"
He nodded slightly. "Yeah. It's a killer, too-- but I can kiss you! That don't hurt. Getting excited doesn't hurt any more than the steady pain; just talking loudly or any kind of fast movements hurt."
I sighed heavily and said, "Ok, then I guess I'll hafta keep kissin' ya." I smirked. "Somebody's gotta do it."
He chuckled and said, "Well, if it's a chore…"
As I brought my lips to his I mumbled, "I have a strong work ethic."
A nurse I hadn't seen before interrupted us just a couple of minutes later to give Danny a scheduled shot of some kind of painkiller. If it hadn't been so embarrassing, it would have been funny to watch both of us trying to hide our erections and the nurse trying to act like she didn't notice them. Danny was lying on his back, so the best he could do was raise his knees a little to hide his, and well, it's just impossible to hide mine in jeans when my shirt won't hang down and cover it. I just tried to stay behind her and make Danny laugh by making lewd gestures and pointing at his hardon, which deflated pretty fast with him trying so hard not to laugh.
She tested his vision and he told her that he saw a kind of smoky halo around the edges. She noted the findings and told him that the halo effect was perfectly normal and would diminish by the hour until it was gone. Then she remembered I was there and shooed me out, telling me it was about time for his full morning check-up anyway.
I wandered down the corridor to the lounge and saw Ben just waking up. Lydia was almost lying in his lap, her head having slipped off his shoulder. She had spent the most time awake in Danny's room last night. I had taken over at about 3am. Ben blinked his eyes open and looked down at Lydia. He very carefully reached down and moved her into a more comfortable position, placed her head gently on the pillow and covered her more thoroughly with the blanket without waking her.
He quietly stood and stretched, then saw me standing over by the nurse's station in the hall. His tired face lit up and he started toward me. When he was far enough away that he didn't think he'd wake Lydia, he asked, "You just come from his room? Everything fine?"
"Yeah, his eyesight's back!"
Ben clenched his eyes shut and let a shiver pass through him. "Oh thank God. Oh thank God," he repeated. He composed himself and looked over at Lydia. "I should wake her up 'n tell her."
I shook my head. "Nah, let her sleep. They kicked me out to do some check-up tests and stuff, so she can't go see him right now anyways."
Ben nodded agreement, then clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Why don't we go get something to eat? I'll write a note for Lyddie to join us if she wakes up." He went over to the reception desk and wrote the note, tucked it in Lydia's watchband and took her purse with us, holding it gingerly out from his body like it was hazardous material, the way guys do when they have to carry a woman's purse for any reason, especially without the woman present. "I told her in the note I took it, since she would be alone there asleep."
When we got in the elevator, Ben said, "Lyddie told me what happened with your folks. I'm really sorry it went that way, Jerry. How're you holdin' up?"
I stared at the floor and mumbled, "I'm ok. Thanks, Ben."
"She told me what you guys talked about." He cocked his head and angled to look up into my face so I would look him in the eye. "You know I agree with everything she said, right? You know I feel exactly the way she said I do, right?"
I blushed and nodded yes, unable to look at him for long. "Thank you, Ben. I meant what I said too, about y'all."
The elevator stopped and opened. We exited in silence, headed toward the cafeteria. Just before we turned into the main corridor, while it was still empty around us, Ben stopped us and started speaking solemnly, "Ummm, y'know, I'm not very good at sayin' things… at saying things I should say to people… people I love, 'cept Lyddie. I guess it's the guys in my life I have a hard time saying emotional things to. I don't tell Danny how much I love him often enough, like, saying it, y'know? Anyway… It's time I told you how much I…" He searched for the right words. "You're so… good together. I want you to know that I love you both and I'm very happy that…" He looked up at me, holding his emotions in check as best he could, his eyes glistening. "Just, like last week or so-- or well, at Ron's birthday party, I realized… I wouldn't want it any other way, Jerry. You're so good for him, 'n I know he's good for you." He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "Life won't be easy for you guys; I think you're both understanding that now, and after this weekend, well, we all know it's going to get even rougher, with all the attention…" He nodded his head and pointed at me with his free hand. "But I know one thing for sure: You're the best thing that's ever happened to him."
I tried to hold my tears back, but at least a couple slipped out. I put my hand on his shoulder too and said, "No, you 'n Mom accepting and loving him is the best thing that's ever happened to him. But thank you, Ben. I love y'all too."
He sniffed and smiled, turning us toward the cafeteria. "Let's get some crappy breakfast."
'But I know one thing for sure: You're the best thing that's ever happened to him.' stuck with me, rang in my ears. Chill bumps just kept cascading over my body. Ben saying these things to me made my heart swell and my throat constrict. I was sure he had no idea how important, wonderful and satisfying what he said was to me, but I couldn't figure out a way to express that to him without sounding all mushy. I hoped he could tell, that he could see it in my eyes. I determined that sometime in the near future, in the right moment, I would come up with the words that would let him know how much his love and acceptance meant to me.
Ben had just said how he had trouble expressing his love for the guys in his life. And I mentally scowled at myself when the thought of, with my being openly gay, how I was concerned that if I told him those things and hugged him, like I wanted to do, how easily some people would wonder if there was some kind of sexual dimension to it, as if being gay made it so I couldn't express love and closeness with another guy without it having a sexual undertone to it. I thought, 'Stop being stupid! Ben would never think like that! That's stupid!' I realized there were just a lot of big and little complications to being gay, and I wondered if unexpressed thoughts like this were what had always held me back from showing affection to other guys, friends, and if maybe they had the same little things in their heads that kept them from showing love in the same ways to each other in general.
There were more people than I expected in the cafeteria. We got in line and got a breakfast of sausage and eggs, toast and juice. When we got to the cash register, I was in front and paid for both of us. Ben objected, but I insisted and he let it go.
We sat at a table and ate in a fairly comfortable silence, then sat and sipped our coffee. The breakfast had been pretty good, actually, much better than the dinner the night before, but the coffee was the most bitter, nasty stuff I'd ever tasted. The older man sitting at the table next to us was reading the Sunday morning Houston Chronicle. As he was getting up to leave, he did a double-take as he looked at me and back down to the paper he had just folded back up.
He pointed at me, even though he was only a couple of feet away. "You're him!" Several people around us looked our way with curiosity. I turned scarlet and bowed my head, trying to disappear. He held the paper up and rattled it, pointing with his index finger at the large picture on the front page. "Right here! You're him! Well if that don't beat all!" He grinned and stood up straight.
Without thinking, Ben halfway stood, grabbed the paper out of his hand and looked at the picture and the headline. He mumbled, "Oh my god."
The man cocked his head back and said, "The gay Bruce Lee, huh? Well if that don't beat all!" He looked around at the other people who were openly staring at us now, then leaned down toward me, looked me right in the eye and said quietly but firmly, "Ya did good, kickin' those punk's butts, three at a time. Ya did good, kid." He shook his head and started to walk away, mumbling, "The gay Bruce Lee. Well if that don't beat all."
I looked at the paper and Ben turned it around right side up for me. 'Oh my god' was right. I didn't remember anyone taking pictures of the fight! There on the Chronicle front page was a huge color picture taken from behind me, looking down on us-- I guessed from the front porch of a house-- in the pickup bed. I was in mid-kick, my foot almost to the second guy's face, holding onto Steven Castilar's arm, with the first guy's limp body partially visible on the street behind the tailgate. If you looked, you could see the arm dangling oddly on the guy my foot was about to connect with. It sent shivers down my spine-- and I had to admit it was a really well taken photograph, very clear for a night shot. Dave was standing on the street looking up at us, but because of a parked car, you couldn't see the guy he had incapacitated lying on the ground, but you could see a little bit of the bent passenger door hanging open and the empty, dome-lit cab of the pickup. Tyson and his opponent were out of frame.
I had pretty much blanked the details of the whole scene out in my mind, but the picture brought it all vividly back to me for the first time. I could feel the adrenaline racing through my veins in that pickup bed as I acted on autopilot, assessing and calculating my moves like a machine, but with very human anger and rage driving me blindly on. I remembered making the decision between incapacitating and killing for each of the three, and how, by the time I got to the last one, Steven Castilar, as I yanked him down and straddled him between my knees… I was arguing with myself; whether to just knock him out or finish him off-- end his life. I could still hear the Lynyrd Skynyrd playing from the stereo speakers in the open truck doors in my head. "Sayin' you'll be alright come tomorrow-- but tomorrow might not be here for you!" I could still feel and hear the sounds of bone and flesh impacting bone and flesh and cries of pain that stopped as I kept going… until Dave and Jim grabbed me, shouted in my ears and brought me back from the brink.
I sat in the hospital cafeteria, staring at the picture, with the whole sequence playing in excruciating detail but at super fast speed in my head, with every emotion and every thought throbbing with the reality of what had happened, what I'd done, how far I had allowed myself to go into that surreal dimension where I had chosen life or death by my hand for other human beings on a blow by blow basis. I had not killed any of them, but I had come so close. I realized I would never see myself, or life in general, in the same light again. I had crossed a type of threshold and could never retract the steps. I would never have innocence to fall back comfortingly on again. I shuddered from head to toe.
The camera flash lit us up in detail, but we were also silhouetted by the lights from across the street and the light colored cars parked along the curb over there. The bold headline spilled across the entire front page above the photo, "The Gay Bruce Lee?" The caption under the picture had the photographer quoted as saying, "He was like the gay Bruce Lee. They were all three hitting and kicking him at the same time, one of them with a baseball bat, and he just took them out one by one." Over the beginning of the article itself were small senior class pictures of Danny and all of us involved in the fight except for the seventeen year old. At least they didn't use our mug-shots.
I mumbled, "Oh shit."
Ben gave out a low whistle and said, "Wow, Jerry. It was one thing to know it happened, but… Wow, to see you in action… Wow." He looked up at me with an incredulous expression. "How do you kick a guy in the face from barely a foot or two away? I mean, you're like a gymnast or something here." He pointed at the Chronicle picture. "Wow."
I pleaded with him, "I lost it, Ben. I'm so sorry I did that. It made everything so much…"
He put his hand on my wrist to stop me babbling and said, "It's ok, Jerry. It happened; we'll deal with it." He looked around at the people with a look that told them to mind their own business, which most of them then did, from what I could see. He leaned in a little over the table toward me and spoke quietly, "Look, Jerry, I know it wasn't the 'right thing to do', but… If I'd have been there and been…" he nodded down at the picture. "As skilled as you, I would've done the same thing, only I don't think I would've stopped. I mean, they tried to kill him-- you don't swing a bottle like you would a bat at someone's head from a moving vehicle and not think there's a damn good chance it could kill them. I'm afraid I would've…" He trailed off and looked down at the picture and we fell silent. He turned the paper back around and started reading the article.
After a minute, I said, "Nurse Stanley said Steven Castilar is gonna make it and be ok."
He nodded and mumbled, "Good," engrossed in the article. I sat in uncomfortable silence as he read. When he finished, he looked up at me and smiled. "It looks like what Tyson and Dave said is right, that overall opinion is on your side, from what they're saying here. At least, everyone they talked to in this piece who was there was more or less cheering for you. That guy, Jim, really got emotional about it, saying you just did what any 'partner', or boyfriend, would do. The police are trying to play it down, saying they plan to increase patrols in the Montrose to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. The mayor has already ordered an investigation of police response in the Montrose."
"We still face serious charges," I said with dread in my voice. "I could go to jail for a long time."
Ben squeezed my wrist again and said, "We'll work something out, Jerry. There's bound to be a way. I mean, those boys should do jail time more than you should. I don't have much money, but I'll make sure you get the best lawyer we can get, even if I have to take out a loan or something."
I realized we all assumed that when my mom kicked me out, she cut Dan Strickland off from defending me as well. Fresh chill bumps went down my spine as it sunk in that Ben was saying he was willing to pay for my defense, to take out a loan if necessary. Incredible. Just incredible. The fact that he assumed that it would fall on him and Lydia to pay for my lawyer and that he obviously didn't think twice about it told me so much.
But I rejected the offer instantly, since I wasn't about to let them put themselves through any more financial hardships because of me. I had gathered that Danny was covered under their insurance, but I know they had to be putting out some money for all the incidental stuff, not to mention both losing work time to be here for Danny. I said, "Ben, I have some money, too. I can probably pay for a decent lawyer-- not one like Dan Strickland, but maybe a more, uh, average lawyer or something."
Of course, I had no real idea of what a lawyer might actually cost, and at that moment, I couldn't even recall how much I had in my savings or checking accounts. I had a nice inheritance from my grandparents that I wasn't supposed to have access to until I was twenty-one, but I hoped that maybe I could access it for an emergency like this.
Ben looked at me and said, "You need to save your money for college. We'll manage this, but I don't know how much help we can be toward your college education. Business is going well, but it also depends on which scholarship Danny goes for, as to how much we have to kick in. But we'll work something out."
I was so amazed at what I was hearing that I couldn't respond. These two people had just taken me in and made me a real part of their family, no questions asked; it was a done deal.
Speaking of his other half, Lydia came walking in right then, looking very groggy. She sat down with us and said they were still doing tests and stuff on Danny, so there was no hurry to get back for a while. Ben gave her the rest of his coffee while he went and got her some breakfast and all of us a fresh cup. She gasped at the picture and headline. Woke her up real fast. She kept shaking her head as she read the article. I tried to pretend I wasn't there.
She finished reading just after Ben came back with her food and three cups of that bitter crap with lots of creamer & sugar. He gave her a look that apparently said, 'We've already talked about the newspaper. Leave it alone.' I guess, because she didn't say anything about it. It was always very interesting to see them carry on conversations without talking aloud.
Then we talked about Danny having his sight back, so that changed the subject quickly enough as we all got to express our relief and assure each other that Danny was going to be fine. Lydia pointed out that the article mentioned the candlelight vigil of the night before, so I told them Stanley had taken me out there as it was breaking up and that's why I hadn't come and gotten them. I told them how emotional and encouraging it had been for me. I didn't tell them there would be another one tonight. I wanted to see the looks on their faces when they saw the people.
When we got back to the waiting room, we were surprised to find Dave and Tyson there so early, along with Ron & Rachel, and Robert & Bill. There were lots of hugs and well wishes all around. All of them had watched the news, read the papers and seen Dave and Tyson's pictures, so they had introduced themselves to them before we arrived. When the docs were through with Danny for the morning, they all got to visit as soon as Dr. Reitberg gave the 'all clear' for visitors, which was encouraging in itself. We filled all visitors in on not mentioning my actions after Danny was hit.
I never knew if it was just timing, or if some of them had been held back until then, but while we were at breakfast, Danny's room got filled to overflowing with flowers and balloons and wonderful cards from people like Ron, Rachel and Carly, Robert and Bill; Celia, Jet and the whole gang; Mr. Janke and all the rest of Danny's teachers; Jim, Lane, Delbert and Adam from the attack scene; Ben and Lydia's friends, and about sixteen bouquets and/or balloons from perfect strangers. Stanley was back on the job and brought in extra tables to hold everything. I can't put into words how happy this made me. Danny was deeply touched by it. After so many years of having no friends, the room stuffed full of flowers, balloons and cards just overwhelmed him, and me. We all had tears in our eyes as Ben and Lydia read all the cards aloud for him so he wouldn't strain his eyes.
Dr. Reitberg told Ben and Lydia that everything was looking really good, but that Danny had to stay for observation until at least Thursday morning. He said Danny would have severe headaches for a while, but that they should taper off and get less painful over time-- but no one could predict how long that would take, and he could possibly have headaches regularly for the rest of his life, as some head trauma victims do.
Just before noon, while Danny slept again, Bill made reservations at a nice gay restaurant in the Montrose and treated all of us to a fabulous Sunday champagne brunch. Tyson stayed at the hospital with Danny. I was struck by how much alike Dave and Robert looked walking side by side into the restaurant. They could have been brothers. Robert was just smaller, and of course he was, how should I delicately put it………. A big flamer! Hah! Love him! He had us all in stitches with his stories.
The restaurant was contemporary and elegant, with lots of dark olive tones, mirrors and subtle lighting that lit what the sun through the smoked glass windows didn't highlight.
We created quite a stir when we walked into the dining room. I don't know why I had not expected to be recognized, with my face all over the news, but I was unprepared for the hush that fell over the room, followed by the whispers and gasps as every face eventually turned our way. The maitre'd welcomed Bill and Robert by name and ushered us to a preset table for eight. A cute waiter took our orders and filled our glasses with champagne. We settled in and the restaurant went back to its noisy bustle, punctuated by the laughing and carrying on of some of the groups of friends.
Then it started. The first guy came over and told us how he and his friends were all praying for Danny and wishing him well. Then he asked me for an autograph! I was stunned. I was torn between embarrassment at my sudden celebrity and shame at what I was famous-- or infamous-- for. I didn't want to encourage people to regard me and my actions as worthy of adulation.
I admit, in the past I'd fantasized becoming famous for my basketball playing. I had pictured adoring crowds fawning all over me and women trying to seduce me as I strutted victoriously off the court in my Lakers jersey-- as that was my favorite pro team and, naturally, the one I wanted to play for. But the notoriety I had brought on myself Friday night was not at all the kind I had dreamed of, and not the kind I could revel in.
Nevertheless, I blushed and reluctantly, hesitantly signed the Houston Chronicle front page he set in front of me. Dave signed his picture too. Everyone around the table smiled nervously at each other, no one knowing what to say about that. Before our meals arrived, two couples came over to wish us well, thanking me for what I'd done. I didn't know how to react to all this. I just humbly thanked them for wishing Danny well, as did Ben and Lydia.
After observing my discomfiture, Bill said to me, "Jerry, I understand that this attention is a bit embarrassing for you, but you have to realize that these guys need a hero, badly. Aside from a few writers and activists, there are virtually no gay heroes out there for them-- especially none who've taken on the hatred and violence that so many of them have to face so much of the time. It won't hurt to let them admire you, Dave and Tyson for being the only ones they've heard of to triumph over that adversity. We all know how you feel about what happened. We see that you feel and understand what was wrong about your reaction, and I assume you will try to express that to the media, but, when these guys show their admiration for you and Dave, why not let them have that?"
I reluctantly nodded agreement. I could see what he was saying. It didn't make me any more comfortable with it, but I could see his angle. At least no one else asked for an autograph. After we got our meals, no more people came over to interrupt us, and the rest of the brunch was wonderful. The owner, who knew Bill and Robert, came over and greeted us just as our meals were being served. He picked up the entire tab over Bill's objection. Of course we all thanked him, and he came and shook my and Dave's hands, as well as Ben and Lydia's.
This was the first time Dave and I got to be in a gay public setting outside of bars and it was really uplifting to see all the couples and groups of friends in the very full restaurant, holding nothing back, some camping it up and some displaying affection openly at other tables. I watched Ben and Lydia take it all in and I would get warm tingles at seeing the awareness dawning in their eyes that there were a lot of happy gay men and women out there-- and they were fun people, too. With the bottomless champagne glasses bubbling over, the atmosphere was, to say the least, festive.
Of course, it did me just as much good to see this. I think this brunch was the first time I was able to imagine a future living openly and happily with Danny outside of 'our home', wherever that would be. It was the first time I understood the significance of having a neighborhood where it was 'ok to be gay', where a lot of the businesses were owned and operated by gays and lesbians-- even though there were still risks. After all, the attack on Danny had happened only around ten or twelve blocks away. As I watched the people around us and remembered last night's vigil, I consciously decided that I would not let the attack on Danny cower me, us. I vowed I would somehow protect him from anything like that ever happening again, whatever it took, and that we would stand proud. We would be sensible in various situations and settings, but we would not hide. We would not be ashamed.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
When we got back from brunch, we were confronted by a group of reporters as we entered by a service door they had found out we used. Ben told them that when Dr. Reitberg gave his update this evening, he would talk to them, and I echoed him when they asked me-- then I realized what I had done. I had committed to talking to the reporters. I almost lost my lunch. They asked to interview Danny, but Ben refused, explaining that he shouldn't be stimulated or stressed, and that we hadn't told him what I did and didn't want him to know yet.
Ben took Tyson to a late lunch at a nearby restaurant, since he missed out on the brunch. I could see that this gesture was very special for Tyson. I knew from what Danny had said that Tyson looked at Ben like a father much like I did. They were gone for about four hours, so they got to talk a lot. Tyson didn't say anything about it when they got back, but he seemed happy about something. I also noticed that Tyson and Dave seemed to stay close and sit next to each other a lot. I saw them exchange smiles and 'intimate' glances with each other a couple of times. At one point I gave Dave a knowing grin after one of those moments. He blushed and grinned. I was very happy to see that they had something going on; they both needed someone in their lives at this time. I wondered if they had any real chance at any kind of future together, being so different. I hoped for the best and wished them luck.
Before they left, Bill and Robert gave us the phone number, address and directions to their house, which was nearby off Holcombe St. They insisted that we all use it to sleep instead of sleeping in the lobby anymore. Our protests at imposing on them fell on deaf ears.
Robert said, "Look, y'all, Danny and all of you have become part of our family, ok? This is just a little thing we can do to help make it all a little easier for you at a difficult time. This is just what being family is all about. Please let us do this for all of you. Work out a schedule of sorts so that one or two of you are always here with Danny and the rest of you can be resting up and eating and showering at our place. It's perfect 'cause it's so close by. We have two extra bedrooms and our friends Frieda and Lacey are dying to show off their cooking skills for you. Now, y'all have to accept the offer, 'cause they won't cook for Bill and me full time like this any other way, you see? Well, you just don't know yet, of course, but they are the best cooks in the state of Texas! They'll be opening their own restaurant next year-- good investment, by the way. Anyway, we won't take no for an answer. We expect to see the first shift of sleepyheads sometime this evening. Don't worry about the hours, late or early. We don't have regular schedules, especially me, what with my acting and all, so we're used to being up at all hours of the night. Bill's clients are mostly in Asia, so he sometimes does more business at three in the morning on the phone than he does at three in the afternoon at his office."
So we all agreed to sleep at their house and they, along with Ron and Rachel, left after one more round of hugs and kisses for Danny, then all of us. Ben asked about school in the morning. Dave and I kind of shuffled around uncomfortably. I said, "Umm, I'm not leaving here until Danny does, Ben. I'm just not." Ben nodded his head, having expected as much from me, then he turned to Dave. Later, I realized that he didn't talk to Tyson about going back. I figured they must have discussed this and more during their long talk earlier.
Dave looked flustered and wouldn't look anyone in the eye. He started and stopped a couple of times and finally said, "Man… I can't go back there alone. I'm sorry, Ben, but, man… I'm scared, ok? I mean, you saw what they did to Danny. I can't do the Kung Fu stuff Jerry does."
I saw Ben blink hard several times and his eyes got a little misty. I remembered how he thought about school yesterday and what it would be like, and I saw it really hit him how it could actually be physically dangerous for us now that everyone in metro Houston knew who and what we were. I definitely understood Dave's fear; I had that fear too. I may have been able to take on several guys at once, but I didn't think I would be able to fight off a whole group if they decided they wanted to get me, or if they had weapons. And it was really chilling to realize that all of us actually feared for our safety, if not our lives, if we went back to our own high school.
Ben stammered, "B-B-but you have to go back and finish school! We have to work something out. You need to finish out the year and graduate." He shook his head and went deep into thought.
Lydia said, "Well, the school will have to do something to… They have to protect you."
I shook my head and said, "They can't protect anyone, Mom. They can try, but, if someone wants to do something, they'll find a way. Short of having a cop stand with us every minute of the day…"
"I'll talk to the principal. It's got to be safer than that," she insisted.
Dave said, "I'll go back when Jerry and Danny go back, but not before, no way."
No one argued with him on that point.
Dr. Reitberg had agreed to do a news conference at 8pm, so Ben, Lydia, Dave and I agreed to join him, since we'd promised the reporters we would. Tyson would not do it. He just wouldn't. He stayed up in Danny's room with him.
I was shitting bricks, to be blunt about it, but I resolved to face them and go through with it. Stanley gave Dave and me a pep talk, telling us the vigil members would be there for support, and that John Gladstone of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus would be there as well. He told us that John wanted to meet all of us before the press conference.
Dr. Reitberg and Dr. Varmya, who was Steven Castilar's doctor, walked with us to the main lobby, where John Gladstone was waiting. He looked like your average accountant, short, thick around the middle and wearing thick glasses, but he had a disarming personality. After introductions all around, John asked to speak to Dave and me to the side. I told him that anything he wanted to say to me, he could say in front of Ben and Lydia. Dave seconded that.
"Ok," he said as the doctors walked a discreet distance ahead and waited for all of us. "Jerry and David, I know this is scary stuff, to talk to the press like this, especially with this whole thing being effectively your 'outing' at school at the same time. The press is brutal, by and large, and they aren't used to dealing with gay issues, especially with high school age young men who are presumably still dealing with all of this internally-- am I right?" We both nodded yes.
"Now, you don't know me from Adam, but I want you to know I'm on your side. Nurse Stanley Wozciack called me this morning and filled me in on the whole situation as far as he knew. I understand from him that all of you were in the closet before this and that dealing with the trauma of Danny's injury at the same time you have to deal with coming out in the glare of the media spotlight is a lot to handle. I want to be a friend. What I'm proposing is that I can be a buffer of sorts between you boys and the press, 'cause I'm used to dealing with them. They will ask you all kinds of questions, and I do mean all kinds. They might ask you very personal and very embarrassing questions if they're allowed to, do you understand?" We nodded again and chills went down my spine.
"I am willing to act as your representative tonight, in a way, kind of like a lawyer would do with legal questions, but I will not be responsible for any legalities, and I strongly suggest that you not answer any questions about the fight itself that might incriminate you in any way; keep that at the forefront of your mind when responding to their questions. I just don't want to see you, uh, shredded by them. Right now, the press is favorable towards y'all, but if they ask the wrong things and you give the wrong responses, that could all turn around in a heartbeat, y'all understand?" We nodded again.
"I'm going to be frank with all of you." He took in Ben and Lydia in that sweep. "This whole thing is… It has become an opportunity for the gay community to get a dialogue going with the power structure of this city. We haven't had much of a voice until recently, and we in the Caucus have the ear of the mayor and others at this moment because of the publicity this has generated. This was not just another gay bashing. You fought back and… Well, you fought back and won. That caught the attention of everyone, obviously. If I sound cold and calculating, like I'm using you and Danny for our purposes, I'm sorry. I want you to know that I do care about Danny and you, and David and Tyson. I would like to get to know all of you and become friends. I admire and respect you. I'm being totally up front about what I see as an opportunity to do some good as a result of this incident. Most importantly at this moment, I can shield you from the wrong questions from the press, if you would like me to. It's up to y'all."
He stood there, looking expectantly at us as we digested all he'd said. I looked at Ben to gauge how he was responding to this guy. Ben looked at me and nodded his head contemplatively, giving me a look that was positive, but didn't urge me one way or the other. I liked the guy. I liked that he was up front with his offer and his motives, that he seemed to be trying to do something positive with a traumatic event. I looked at Dave and he nodded to me, so I nodded to John for both of us. We walked over to the doctors and all proceeded to the doors.
The sun had given up for the day and the candles of the forty or so vigil members vied with the harsh camera lights to light up the little podium the hospital rolled out for these occasions. I was sweating and shaking as we approached. The reporters immediately began shouting questions at all of us. I waved hi to several of the vigil holders from last night. Dr. Reitberg motioned for silence and proceeded to give an update of Danny's condition, including his eyesight this time. Dr. Varmya did likewise for Steven's condition as well as the other two. It was apparent from the outset that the reporters were more interested in pouncing on me than anything else.
The doctors stepped back but stayed, which surprised me. John Gladstone stepped up and introduced himself then set the tone for the whole thing brilliantly.
He said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're in the middle of a story here. Everyone recognizes that, but what we all need to keep in mind is that we are talking about real people here, young men who are going through a very traumatic experience. These young men are dealing with a whole lot of very difficult emotions right now. It's your job to ask them the questions you need answered so you can write your story or show your piece on the news, but I'm asking you to keep in mind how sensitive many questions would be to a young man who is dealing with things he doesn't know all the answers to yet. I've just met these two and I'm impressed with them. I have agreed to be a moderator of sorts for this session. I am not a lawyer, and I can't answer any legal questions, but I have agreed to be a liaison of sorts for them tonight, so I will intercede with any inappropriate or overly sensationalistic questions. Jerry and David are young adults and can certainly think for themselves, but understandably at this time, they are worried, unsure of many things and they've had little sleep in the past two days, so go easy on them, ok?" He smiled an endearing smile and signaled that the questions could begin.
Every reporter there shouted at once and John pointed to one close to the front. The rest quieted and let him ask his question.
"Did you intend to kill those boys?"
"No!" I answered quickly. "If I had wanted to kill them, I…" I realized how the truth of the statement would likely sound arrogant if I finished it, so I just mumbled, "Didn't want to."
They understood what I almost said, though. "You're saying you could have if you had wanted to?"
I had a fast debate in my head whether answering this would go against me in court later and decided to just say, "I wasn't trying to kill anyone."
"They're calling you the gay Bruce Lee. I heard talk that you were going to teach gay men how to defend themselves from these kinds of attacks. Any comment on that?"
I jerked my head back in surprise. "You heard what?" I shook my head in wonder. "No, I am not the gay Bruce Lee. First of all, my level of knowledge and skill is so far below..." I shook my head to clear it this time. "This is crazy. I am no Bruce Lee, and no, I am not going to teach anybody any martial arts. I'm not qualified to teach anything."
"What about Daniel? Wouldn't you teach him what you know? And David and Tyson?"
I was caught off guard by that one, because it made sense that I could at least teach Danny how to defend himself and I wondered why I hadn't thought of that before. I said, "Well… Yeah, it would be good for him to learn some of this. It's good for the mind as well as the body; it teaches you to focus, among other things. Maybe I'll take him to my sensei and get him started, when he's fully recovered from this."
"Jerry, how do you feel about what you did, now that it appears everyone is going to recover?"
I cleared my throat and tried to stop from trembling. "Umm, I feel horrible about it. I shouldn't have gone after them. I should have let the police handle them." Flashbulbs were going off all over the place and I was like a deer in the headlights as they again all yelled their questions at once.
John pointed to another one and he asked, "How will you plead in court? Do you think you'll do jail time, or even prison?"
I shuddered and replied, "I hope not. I don't want to comment on the case until I get a lawyer."
"Your lawyer got you and the others out of jail. Where is he? Is he no longer representing you?"
"Ummm, I uh… don't know. I can't comment any further on that right now."
"Is it true that all of you are homosexual, and did your family or friends know about any of you before this?"
I looked at Dave. Of course everyone knew we were all gay by now, but I still had a hard time saying it for all of us. I saw the resignation in his eyes. There was no use trying to dodge the bullet now; it had been fired Friday night.
"Well, it's not my place to speak for all of us on that matter," I thought I sounded so diplomatic. "But for myself, yes, and no. I was not out at school, or totally to my family."
"What do you mean by 'totally to your family'?"
I reddened and stammered. "Uhhh, I mean, uhhh… I had kinda… They found out not long ago, but they… We didn't… It's too hard to explain, sorry."
"From what the witness Jim Watson, from the fight scene said, you and Daniel Dresden are in a homosexual relationship?"
I blushed all the way to my toes and dropped my gaze. Oh shit! This was the hardest thing I had ever done. John had said he would intercede? I guess he didn't think this was too personal? Shit!
"Ummmm… Yes. We're… We're…" I was shaking so bad I had to stuff my hands in my pockets again and lock my knees to keep from wobbling. I was standing in front of the world and having to declare my love for a guy, my guy. Saying 'We're dating' would be inaccurate and kind of trivializing of our relationship. But saying 'We're lovers' would probably sound too… purely sexual or something. Finally, I looked up and said, "We're a couple."
He quickly asked, "Have you had a lot of sexual partners? We hear from your classmates we were able to contact that you were quite the ladies' man before…"
He was cut off by another reporter asking, "Ever done anything with young boys?"
My eyes went wide and the shock could easily be seen on my face, but John pointed and thundered at him, "What a disgusting question to ask! For your information, gay does not equal pederast! Do you have some kind of personal problem? You should apologize to Mr. Loring for that!"
I snapped my head in John's direction, surprised that he would put his rebuke that way. It was almost humorous, all but accusing the reporter of having some hidden inclination for it himself for asking such a question, but it worked well enough to defuse the tension and made a couple of other reporters snicker patronizingly at the guy who asked it. He didn't apologize, though.
Then another reporter picked back up on what I felt was the hostile theme. "But you know that homosexual sex is against the law in Texas, don't you?"
I blinked at the man and, without thinking of a diplomatic way of putting it, said, "Well it shouldn't be." That got some chuckles and hushed comments throughout the crowd, as well as a cheer from the candlelight vigil members.
"You don't think what you're doing is wrong or un-natural?"
John threw up his hands and chided the reporter by name. "C'mon, George! What the heck kind of questions are these?! It's 1977, and we're not here to talk about whether it's legal or…"
I shook my head and felt some anger rising in the pit of my stomach, but I kept my cool and waved at John. "No, I'll answer that one. It's not wrong. We love each other, very much." I remembered something Danny had said to me and added, "I think y'all look at it as just sex, but… but, our love is just as strong for each other as yours is. I see how that's hard for most people to understand, and I know that lots of people will never accept it, but… you don't choose who you fall in love with. Love just happens to you-- and how can anyone be against real love?" No one answered that one.
A young female reporter asked, "How do your parents feel about this? How do Daniel's parents feel about you?"
Ben stepped over and put his hand on my shoulder, while Lydia stepped from behind me on the right to take hold of my arm. I took my hand out of my pocket to grasp hers, grateful for their support. Ben spoke calmly and decisively, "I'm proud of my son and I'm proud of Jerry. My wife and I love them both unconditionally and we support them in every way." Cameras flashed from every direction.
"Well what about your parents now, Jerry?"
I bowed my head a little and responded sadly, "So far, they don't… They don't accept this, me."
"How did they react to this fight Friday night?"
"Ummm, I don't want to talk about that, sorry."
"We were told that you had a very loud argument with your mother at the police station. What happened?"
John said, "Uh, he said he doesn't want to talk about that. Next question?"
"How do you feel about going back to school?"
"I'm, uh, worried. We all are. We don't know how our friends and the rest of the people will react."
One of the reporters chuckled and said, "Well I doubt any of them is gonna pick a fight with you!" Everyone else laughed but us.
I said, "Well, it's not just about that. I mean, it's just as much about how our friends and our coaches and teachers and all will react to us now." Ben and Lydia had stepped back a step and I spread my hands imploringly. "We're the same people we were before all this happened. We just want to finish and graduate without any hassles."
"Well, a lot of people strongly object to your lifestyle," a young reporter said with a noticeable amount of contempt in his voice. "You don't expect everyone to just accept you, do you?"
John was about to object, but I waved him off again. I let the anger rise a little bit in my voice, but I felt more in control of myself than I had up to this point. "No, I don't expect everyone to accept us, but… does that mean any of us should accept being beat up or something? Just because somebody doesn't like that we're gay, does that give them the right to assault us or treat us like scum or something?"
The same reporter retorted, "Do you expect teachers and other students to be ok with you flaunting your lifestyle in front of them?"
I bristled but threw John a look that said I was going to deal with this asshole head on. "First of all, nobody's flaunting anything. Everyone knows about us now because of this, but we're not going to do anything different. We just want to graduate in peace. We don't want any trouble with anyone, and just want to be left alone." I faltered a moment, turned my head and then snapped it back to face him. "Really, what makes you so afraid?" He looked stunned at the question and the silence was thick.
I was trembling almost uncontrollably and my voice was wavering, but words just came out of my mouth faster than I could even think them out. "You say 'lifestyle' like it's a choice-- and I know people who aren't gay say all the time it's a choice, but, think about it: You think I would choose to be hated by nearly everyone I know, as well as people like you? You think I feel good about being disowned by my parents and thrown out of my house yesterday? Do you think I would choose all that?" My anger was easy to see, and I don't know how I kept it together, but I did, though everyone could see that I was trembling and rushing with adrenaline.
I grabbed the edges of the podium and leaned out toward the reporter. "Well I'm gonna tell ya: I fought with myself about this, Danny fought with himself for years about this. No one wants to be gay! No one wakes up and says, 'Hey, I think I'll start being gay today so everyone will hate me and people will beat me up and try to kill me and my parents will disown me and throw me out. What a great way to start the day! Whattaya think?!" I glared at him and he averted his eyes. After a short pause, I added, "But when two people fall in love, it can't be wrong. It isn't."
He looked me in the eye again for just a moment, but he didn't reply. I could tell when our eyes locked that I had not gotten through to him, and no one probably ever would. But others… who knows.
No one said a thing. After a long strained moment, John stepped over and said, "I think this is a good point to end this news conference. Thank you and goodnight."