Alex - Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

 A jarring thud to my upper arm, and Phil Johnson’s laughing voice brought my thoughts back into the room.

 

 “Phil!” I bellowed, jumping to my feet.

 

Even though we pretty much went our separate ways when we got to college, Phil’s probably the best friend I’ve ever had. He stayed east and went to Penn State so he could travel home once in a while, and had just flown in this morning.

 

“You remember to bring the rings?” he asked me.

 

“Yeah they’re right here” I tell him, but not after my heart leapt into my throat when I reached into the wrong pocket and couldn’t find them.

 

 Remembering how he had gotten all quiet on the phone when I asked him to be in my wedding, because he was afraid the wedding was going to be in Massachusetts, the only state in the nation that allowed gay marriages at the time. I automatically slugged him in the arm.

 

“There! I stated emphatically. “That’s just for thinking that I might have to go to Mass. to get married. I told you, things are different, now.”

 

“Man, I am so happy for you. D’you know if it’s gonna be a boy or a girl?”

 

“Dork!” I tell him, “Of course it’s gonna be a boy or a girl. What do you think it would be?”

 

Phil grabbed me into one of his patented bear hugs.

 

“Who knows, if you’re the father.” I tried to punch him again, but he had my arms trapped.

 

“Alex, I just can’t believe all this is happening.”

 

 

 

There’s so much Phil doesn’t know though, and as much as I want to fill him in about “things” since the last time we were together, now just wouldn’t be the right time for it.

 

We chit-chatted for a good while, catching up on each other’s lives before Huong Pham showed up.

 

“You must be Phil?” Huong said as he made his way into the room.

 

“I am. …and you must be Huong. How do you put up with this dork in your dorm room all the time?”

 

“Oh, I not always there. He okay. Listen, Bet’ Ann wants to meet you. She told me to bring you to the girls dressing room as soon as you arrive.”

 

Phil looked at me to see if it was okay for him to leave for a few minutes.

 

“See you guys in a few,” I told them as they turned to go. “Tell her that I love her.”

 

“Right,” Phil answered. “I’m going to tell her the truth. That being that I got you tied to a chair so you can’t run away, idiot.”

 

 

 

Alone again, I picked up my recollections where I had left them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I had time to get over the initial shock of Caleb’s letter, I pack my duffle bag and headed to the airport. I hadn’t kept in touch with Phil that first semester. In fact, I tried hard not to think of him very often. Phil, who like me was attracted to guys, had turned to religion, and tried to avoid so many of the things that seemed to define my life. I guess, knowing that I wasn’t living the kind of life that I thought he would approve of, it had been easier to push him out of my mind than try to reconcile my actions with his ideals. Now, after facing the truth that it mustn’t have been any easier for Caleb to keep himself for me than it was for me to wait for him, I was reeling.

 

How does Phil do it? I found myself wondering. How can he just make staying out of bed seem so easy? I began to miss my friendship with him, more than I missed Caleb. His infectious, positive outlook on life had meant so much to my well-being the year we hung around together.

 

 

 

Dad had left his car at the airport for me. He and his new girlfriend were flying to Cancun for a week, and wouldn’t be back until the day before Christmas. Wanting to rekindle our friendship, I decided to swing by Phil’s house before going home. For some reason when I saw him on the front lawn of his house, building a snowman with his two little brothers, I got cold feet and drove by without stopping. He probably wouldn’t want to see me, I convinced myself.

 

Even though I hadn’t talked to him since before I left for California, I still considered Phil to be the best friend I’ve ever had. Twice during my junior year of high school, I had seriously considered leaving all the people who had hurt me with but a memory of who they had forced me to become. My mom for constantly reminding me that I was supposed to be her “little girl,” my dad for never being interested in the things I liked to do, and my former boyfriends. My former boyfriends especially. They had in turn become my hope for escaping my mom’s hell, but had treated me like I was just a cuddly stuffed animal to pull out of the toy box, and play with when they needed to get off.

 

Phil, though, was there to pull me out of it every time. He always told me about the God that he believed in, and who had changed his life. I guess it really must have, because the difference between him in ninth grade and eleventh grade was pretty amazing – he had been a stoner in ninth grade, but by the time I got to know him in eleventh grade, he was as straight laced as they came. I don’t mean straight-laced in his expectations for other people, I just mean in how he went about his own life.

 

Anyway, that year, my junior year of high school, we had this working agreement as friends, that as long as me and my then boyfriend, Eddie, didn’t try to lure him into doing things he wanted to stay away from, he wouldn’t preach to me about needing to get “saved,” whatever that was.

 

 

 

Reaching the driveway to dad’s house and seeing nothing but cold darkness through the windows of our home, I slammed the car into reverse and backtracked. Pulling into Phil’s driveway, I saw that he was no longer outside, and looked at my watch. Supper time I thought to myself. In my mind I could hear Phil’s mom calling “Boys, suppertime. Go and wash up.” She always said that, even when her boys were standing right next to her.

 

A soft knock on the kitchen door, and there was Mrs. Johnson staring in astonishment.

 

“Alex!” she kind of squealed, like I was a long lost relative. Then without skipping a beat, the door flew open and she was telling Arn to set another plate on the table.

 

“Dude!” Phil called as he bolted from the table and came to greet me.

 

It was the same crazy family that I had learned to love the time I ran away from home after having “come out” to my parents. That was the time after Casey, my first boyfriend, had invited me to my first party, where he promptly found someone else to spend the night with, and told me to get lost. Not having a clue that the punch was spiked, I nearly poisoned myself that night and had woken up in the ER.  After having it out with my mom the next day, I ran away, and ended up living with the Johnson’s for three whole weeks. Phil and his family had restored my hope that life didn’t have to be filled with despair.

 

As usual, the entire Johnson family seemed to all talk at the same time for the duration of the evening meal. Questions fired, answers fired back, words tumbling over other words in no particular order. I was mostly silent, except when I heard a question asked directly to me. In a crazy sort of way, I felt like this was home – the home I never had, at least not after mom and dad started fighting with each other at every meal. …and certainly not after I had seen my younger brother Daryl crumple to the floor at a summer dance, lying there silently while some chaperones tried to force life back into him.

 

 

 

“So how’s it going?” Phil asked, concern written across his face, when we were safely away from listening ears in his bedroom after supper.

 

I felt my face ball up, fighting to keep tears from my eyes.

 

Phil’s hug made my body quiver as a single sob overtook me. God this is like a rerun. When would life stop beating me senseless, leaving me to always be picking up the pieces of broken relationships, and trying to glue them back together again.

 

“I saw Caleb at the mall yesterday,” Phil somberly told me.

 

I stood up straight, freeing myself from his embrace. I saw in his eyes that he knew.

 

“Wanna talk?”

 

“Phil, why?” I asked, not expecting an answer. “Am I just a piece of crap that no one wants? Caleb and me – we were like brothers. Why did he have to find somebody else?”

 

“Alex, people change.” Somehow it seemed like there was more to what he just said, then simply moving on. But before I could ask him about it, he continued. “He told me he didn’t know how he was gonna face you next time he saw you ‘cause he feels so bad. Things just kind of happen, I guess.”

 

We talked for hours until Phil’s dad drug an air mattress and sleeping bag into the room.

 

“Alex, welcome home” he told me, giving my shoulder a squeeze. “Since no one’s home at your house, I thought maybe you’d like to stay here until your dad gets back?”

 

 “Thanks” I answered him, looking suspiciously for a second sleeping bag. That time I had run away from home after telling my mom that I was gay, and having her slap me and tell me to never to say that word again, Phil’s dad had bunked with the two of us for the entire three weeks. He and Mrs. Johnson were afraid that Phil and I would be tempted to get too friendly with each other, so he had told us to make our beds on the floor, while he slept in Phil’s bed.

 

 He just smiled, and told us “I think I can trust you two adults,” and then left.

 

We were still talking and playing video games when we heard Mr. Johnson’s alarm clock ring at five-thirty, Saturday morning. Gee it felt good to be here.

 

 

 

Phil’s eight year old brother, Aaron, or Arn as they called him, woke me with a start on Saturday afternoon when he came barging into the bedroom. “Phil, wake up. It’s time to get the Christmas tree,” he squealed while launching himself on top of me in bed. His eyes nearly popped out of his eye sockets when he realized that it was me sleeping in Phil’s bed, and not his big brother.

 

 “Sorry!” he shouted in my ear before recovering enough to ask where Phil was. I grabbed him and started tickling him as I lifted him and dropped him off the side of the bed.

 

“Aa-ro-on” sounded Phil’s agitated voice from the air mattress beside the bed where Phil was now waking.

 

“Phil, mom said it’s time to get the Christmas tree. Come on, get up.”

 

Muffled giggles came from Arn’s thrashing body as Phil now poked and prodded at his ribs.

 

“Bud, that was rude. We weren’t even awake yet.”

 

“Yeah, but mom said I could wake you up. Come on” he persisted, now standing and pulling Phil’s hand to try and get him to stand up.

 

“What’s for breakfast, buddy?”

 

Breakfast? We’re done with lunch already – and you guys aren’t getting any, ‘cause mom already put everything away.”

 

Phil tried to tickle Arn again, but he wasn’t quite fast enough. Next thing we heard was the sound of Mrs. Johnson’s voice scolding her little rascal about slamming doors. I so remember my mom telling me and my younger brother Daryl that all the time, when we were his age. I suddenly missed my brother. Why did he have to have a brain aneurism and die? Everything at home changed after that. Mom just checked out, and dad pretty much left her do it. Before that, even though they argued sometimes, at least they tried to act civil to each other most of the time.

 

 

 

“Well, I guess we better join the party” Phil said still in a daze. “You coming along with us?”

 

It had been years since our family had gotten in the car together to shop for a Christmas tree. In fact the last year mom was home, we didn’t even bother to put one up – mom said it brought back too many memories of my brother, so she just didn’t want to be bothered with it.

 

“I don’t know. You think you’re parents would mind?” I asked Phil not sure if I would be interrupting some kind of sacred family tradition.

 

“Are you kidding? You saw how excited mom was to see you last night. Ever since you stayed here that time, you’ve practically been like one of the family.”

 

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Somehow, I just didn’t feel worthy of being a part of something so special – especially not after the way the last few years had panned out for me. After all I’d been through, all the rejection that I felt, had somehow conditioned me to think that no one could actually want to have me around – that people just tolerated me until someone more desirable came into their life.

 

“I don’t know, Phil. I mean I kinda want to, but… Are you sure they wouldn’t mind?”

 

“Just get dressed, dork.”

 

The half hour drive to the tree farm nearly drove me crazy. Aaron and his older brother Sammy were like wired on Mountain Dew or something. Sammy sat on the car seat between me and Phil, and couldn’t sit still to save his life. Twice he elbowed me in the gut and once he nearly poked me in the eye as he pointed out every landmark and Christmas decoration along the way. Then when we got to our destination, he nearly took my head off as he scrambled over top of me to be the first one out of the car.

 

God, I love that family.

 

Finding the right tree was no simple task. We must have looked at every tree on the two or three acre farm at least twice before settling on one that was both big enough, and small enough to suit everyone.

 

Everyone, myself included, was expected to help decorate the tree and hang garland around the house. Supper consisted of pizza in front of the TV, while we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Aaron must’ve had the entire movie memorized, because every time an angel got his wings in the movie, he was waiting by the tree so he could ring the bell tree ornament at just the right time.

 

After Sammy and Arn headed off to bed, Phil and I settled into playing video games in his room. When he saw that I was having a difficult time concentrating, he laid his game controller down and started asking me about my life.

 

It seemed like all the family togetherness that I had experienced that day should have made me happy, but in reality, the more I watched how much they had each other, the lonelier I had begun to feel. And Phil was reading me like a book.

 

“Phil” I told him bluntly, “I thought about staying in southern Cal, and just getting stoned at some party every night. I even thought about going bar hopping downtown, so I could hook up with someone for the night. I may as well give up on looking for the right one. I might as well just freakin’ join the crowd, and jump in bed for the night with anyone I can find, just like everyone else on campus does. What’s the use? You know what I mean? Like my roommate brags that he’s has never had the same girl in bed twice, so why should I think I’m any different?” I looked into Phil’s eyes to judge his reaction to what I was telling him – looking for some kind of approval, that I was right, and should just let go. “Phil, twice, he tried to hook me up with a friend of his, and like a jerk, I told him I already had a boyfriend. You know what he told me? He told me ‘what happens in the dorms, stays in the dorms.’ Everybody says that, so I guess I might as well buy into it. Pardon my French, Phil, but what the hell. You know?”

 

I couldn’t figure out why Phil was smiling as I was talking, then he like changed the subject and started to tell me more about his first semester – how he was bombarded with party invitations and naked guys and girls in the dorms all the time too. Even he didn’t have an answer for me – or so I thought.

 

“Alex? You plannin’ on going to church with us tomorrow”

 

“I wasn’t planning on it,” I answered nervously.

 

“Well let me show you something I saw on campus” he said as he grabbed a piece of scrap paper.

 

Drawing two blocks on the paper that were separated by a half inch gap, he started to explain how people are stuck on the one block, frustrated by not knowing what to expect in life, with no way off, or way of escape. Then he wrote the word “God” on the other block and continued by saying “and God’s over here, so there’s no way for us to get to him, either. That’s where Jesus comes into the picture. God sent him to make a way for us to get across the gap,” he explained as he drew a cross, bridging the gap between God and people.

 

“Even though we can’t help it, we all do things that are wrong which keep us from God, so the only way to get past that so we can find God’s purpose for our life, is to admit our wrongs and go to God through Jesus by asking him to forgive us. Alex, you’ll never know if he can help you if you don’t ask him to take control of your life.”

 

I stared at my trusted friend blankly, wondering if this really was the way out of the mess that my life had become.

 

“What do you have to lose, Alex? If things don’t change when you ask him to take control of your life, then there’s nothing lost.”

 

 

 

Sunday morning at breakfast, I felt like I was floating on a cushion of air as I walked into the Johnson’s kitchen. I saw Phil’s mom look at me kind of funny, then lean over and whisper something to Phil’s dad. I just couldn’t keep the smile that was on my face from growing bigger and bigger. When Phil walked into the room, and saw everyone’s expressions, he burst out, telling them “Guess what? Alex gave his life to the Lord last night.”

 

Mrs. Johnson nearly fell over herself to get around to my side of the table and give me a hug.

 

“Alex, I’m so happy for you.”

 

I said, will someone please pass me the jam” insisted Arn, oblivious to the celebration that was taking place in the kitchen. Without thinking, I grabbed the jam, walked around to his chair and nicely handed it to him.

 

“There you are my good sir” I announced to him like I was his butler. I had no idea what had happened to me last night, but I knew that I felt different this morning. The heaviness of my past was no longer pressing down on me – all the weight that I had carried home from California two days ago, was now gone. I was no longer angry at everyone for what I thought they had done to me.