Alex - Chapter 4

 

 

 

 

 I jumped when the alarm began sounding from my cell phone, shaking me out of my daydream. Afraid that someone may have snuck into the room, I looked around. Relieved to find that I wasn’t going to have to explain to anyone what I was doing, I dug the prescription meds out of my backpack and lined them up on the desk in front of me. As luck would have it though, just as I started filling a small cup with the correct pills, Phil and Huong threw the door open and walked in. They both just stared at the drug store that I had displayed before me.

 

“Alex, like what’s up with that?” Phil spluttered.

 

I stared at them, not sure what to say.

 

“They’re vitamins,” I blurted out, a bit too eagerly. Neither of them knew that I had tested positive for the presence of HIV anti-bodies six months ago.

 

“Prescription vitamins?”

 

I knew right away, I wasn’t fooling Phil. “It’s a long story.”

 

Huong ducked out of the room, like he didn’t want to know, which was okay with me. I wanted to just tell Phil everything that had happened since the day I became born again at his house more than two years ago, but I couldn’t – I shouldn’t. This is Beth Ann’s day. The day she had dreamed of since she was a flower girl in her aunt Susan’s wedding when she was just four years old. I didn’t want to do anything to spoil it, so I just blankly looked at Phil and muttered, “I’m H-plus.”

 

Stunned, Phil hung onto the door knob, staring in disbelief. “Like when did that happen?”

 

“Just before Beth Ann got pregnant. Our baby’s not the only mistake I made this year.”

 

“Talk to me Alex. I want to know.”

 

“I can’t Phil. Not now.” I began stuffing the pill bottles back into my backpack. “I don’t want to lose focus on today.”

 

 

 

I swallowed the first handful of pills and dumped the second handful out of the cup that held them. Beth Ann and I had chosen today as our wedding day because it was two weeks after our sixth month HIV screening – the one that would be deadly accurate if either of them were to come back positive. Unfortunately, the overworked lab couldn’t get the results back to us in a week like they had promised, and so we’re left with a chapel full of wedding guests and a cloud of uncertainty as to what our honeymoon trip to Aruba would hold for us. Ever since that lone night together, we’d been saving ourselves for after the wedding – praying every day that the initial test results were wrong, and that we actually can come together again – not to mention, live out the “in health” part of our vows.

 

Staying out of bed with her hasn’t been all that difficult to do, actually – I mean given my condition, which was diagnosed a week after Beth Ann got pregnant – which was two weeks before we knew she was pregnant. I thank God every day that even though I would have been very contagious at the time, her initial tests came back negative.

 

 

 

“Phil?”

 

Phil walked across the room and began massaging my shoulders. “I’m here for ya bud.”

 

“Could you like give me some time alone. These things are nasty, and I usually feel pretty bad for a while after I take them. I want to lie down for a while.”

 

I felt one last squeeze, and then he turned and left the room without saying a word.

 

 

 

Deep in thought, I remembered back to how hard it had been for me to make the right choices after I returned to school after that Christmas at Phil’s house. Phil always made living like a real Christian seem so easy. Why has it been so hard for me to do?

 

Even though I had told Phil that I didn’t want to spoil the day by recounting my past, my mind was already doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had returned to school feeling so good about what had happened over break. I expected that life would become easier – somehow less complicated. Boy, was I mistaken.

 

I was unpacking my duffle bag, putting my clothes into drawers, and for some reason, sensing that my roommate was staring at me. Turning around, I saw him smirking, like he could tell something was up.

 

“So Alex, you and that boyfriend of yours must’ve had some holiday together. You look really different. What’d you two do, anyway?”

 

 “Actually, he broke up with me before I went home. I didn’t even see him.”

 

“Find someone new, then?”

 

“Not really,” I offered, wondering if finding Jesus counted.

 

A wan smile spread across Seth’s face. “Well whatever you did, it must have agreed with you.”

 

My heart was pounding in my chest as I remembered something Phil had told me after I said that prayer in his house three weeks ago. He told me that as a Christian, it was important for me to “make disciples,” by sharing what God had done for me with others. He had told me that I shouldn’t feel pressured to tell everyone about my faith – something about not “casting my pearls before swine,” but he did tell me that I would know who to share with, because the Holy Spirit would let me know when he wanted me to do it. When I had questioned him further, he told me, “You’ll just know.” He was right, because I sensed then that the pounding in my chest was somehow the Holy Spirit’s signal for me to talk – my first holy crisis!

 

“Well I…” Totally paralyzed with fear, nothing else would come out of my mouth at that moment.  Phil might be able to share his faith with others, but I had to dorm with this guy. What if he freaked, and thought I was totally not cool because of turning to religion. “I mostly spent the holiday with a friend from high school. He’s pretty cool.”

 

Seth started smiling, like he figured we had spent a lot of time in bed.

 

“He’s not gay, man. We didn’t do anything.”

 

“Oh”

 

“He like has his life really together, and he helped me work through some things.”

 

Seth looked at me for a moment, trying to figure out exactly where I was coming from, then shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever. There’s a party at Lambda Chi Alpha tonight – sort of a welcome back to school thing. Me and some of the guys are heading over soon, so get changed before they get here.”

 

“I don’t know. I’ve only been back at school half an hour. Actually, partying’s one of the things I don’t really want to get sucked back into this semester.”

 

“What? Did you go to some church service where the preacher said you shouldn’t drink, or something? Don’t go getting all righteous on me, Doofus. A little partying’s not gonna hurt anyone.”

 

“No-oo. It’s not that I think it’s bad, it’s just that I don’t feel like it. Look, over the break, I realized that I don’t have to party in order to be content with my life.” What I really had in mind was to spend some time trying to find other Christians on campus, if there were any that is, so we could talk about the bible, which I had inexplicably taken a great interest in. “Look just go and have a cold one for me, okay? I was just kind of want to crash here tonight.”

 

Seth picked my Lakers B-ball shorts and a tee off the bed. “Here; wear these. You need to loosen up, Alex.” Just then, Shane and Zach from next door, and Seth’s friend Cal, walked into our room in high spirits.

 

“Alex is just getting ready,” he told me as he tossed the shorts and shirt in my direction. “Hey Cal, Alex’s boyfriend broke up with him.”

 

I shot Seth a look and saw him wriggling his eyebrows toward Cal.

 

Cal’s face instantly turned red as he looked down at the floor, but not before totally checking me out.

 

Feelings of confusion were washing over me. I thought things would be different now – I mean, I felt different – as in I wasn’t even wanting to find another boyfriend. I quickly turned my back to the group, so I could pull up my shorts without anyone seeing what was happening inside my boxer briefs.

 

After carefully adjusting myself, I turned around to leave, swinging my hand out of the way of Cal’s grasping paw. He was determined, though. I hunched forward slightly when I felt his hand come to rest between my shoulder blades as we left the room.

 

 

 

Instead of feeling like I had gotten back into familiar territory, the noise and wild revelry, and the smell of alcohol, pot, and puke, made me feel uneasy. I looked around the room, and wondered how many of the people I saw there were, as I had been last semester, trying to avoid things that made life difficult. Taking another sip from the still half full cup of beer in my hand I thought it strange that I no longer even liked the taste of beer. I thought about ditching it and going back to my room, wondering if maybe God had changed my taste buds so I wouldn’t be tempted to drink it anymore. Turning to go, I realized that I had a nice buzz going already. He must have reset my tolerance level for alcohol too. It made sense. After all, as Phil pointed out from his bible, I was now officially a “new creation.”

 

Watching an obviously drunk guy and girl getting a bit too friendly with each other, I recalled a part of a sermon I had heard over the break. The reason I remembered it was because the preacher said that while he was here on earth, Jesus spent his time with sinners, and that made me think that if that was true, then if he were here today, he’d probably be pretty comfortable on the USC campus. It was totally out of character for me to be considering doing it, but at that moment I found myself contemplating speaking to the couple about looking for love through a relationship with God’s Son. Taking an unsteady step toward them, I told myself that Jesus probably wasn’t drunk when he told someone about God, and stopped in my tracks.

 

Feeling a bit depressed, I drained my cup, and looked for Seth to let him know I had decided to pack it in. Unfortunately, when I found him, he shoved another beer in my hand and draped Cal’s arm around my shoulder.

 

“Chug-a-lug. Ready… set… go!”

 

“Last one, and then I’m outta here,” I told him.

 

Within a minute of draining that cup, the room started to spin – I mean really spin. When they noticed me wobble, Cal and Seth each grabbed an arm to keep me from losing my balance. I looked at Seth, like to ask him what was happening.

 

Cal draped both my arms around him, and drug me over to where some coeds were dancing, as Seth explained, “Dude, I was afraid you weren’t going to have a good time, so I fortified your beers with some pure grain. …you’re welcome, bud. You two have a good time,” he told Cal and me. “I already found another place to crash tonight, so the room’s yours.” Then he left us there on the dance floor.

 

Well that explains why the beer didn’t taste good – I’ve always hated the hard stuff.

 

I wasn’t intending to spend my evening like that, but about the only thing I can remember from then on is Cal grinding against me while we danced, and later, the crowd around the table roaring in laughter as we kept losing at beer pong.

 

 

 

I was fighting the fog, trying to wake up enough to drag myself to the bathroom the next morning when I realized that I wasn’t alone in bed. With a start, I jerked around and saw Cal lying next to me. We were both in an advanced state of undress, and I noticed that the bandanna wasn’t hanging on the inside doorknob. Tears of anger welled up in my eyes as I opened the door slightly, and pulled the red scarf back into the room. I couldn’t believe that on the very first day back, I had let Seth trick me into doing what I had decided I wasn’t going to do anymore.

 

My anger quickly moved toward despair, thinking to myself what a failure I was at everything. Then the words to a song I had heard over and over again while staying with the Johnsons two years ago, came to my mind. “Run to Jesus, run to Je-e-e-sus…” Pulling the bible, that Phil’s parents had given me for a Christmas present, from my duffle bag, I headed across the hall to the bathroom. I know it’s uncouth to sit on the crapper and read something like the bible, but I just had to reconnect with God – “Run to Jesus,” if you will.

 

I turned to one of the pages that Phil had bookmarked for me with little stick-on tabs, hoping that it would say something helpful to me, and began to read. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” I couldn’t very well kneel, so I just closed my eyes, which were now more than a little moist, and asked God to forgive me – and them. I felt His peace fill my being once more, and knew that I could somehow make it.

 

 

 

I’m not sure if it was recently posted, or if I just had never seen it, but on my way through the student lounge area of the dorm, I saw the poster advertising a Christian campus ministry meeting. Hoping to find a way to avoid traps like the one I had stepped into last night, I punched the number into my phone and hit send before realizing that it was still relatively early in the morning – nine-oh-five to be exact.

 

After four rings, thinking that I would get voicemail, a totally out-of-it “Hello?” greeted me.

 

“Ah… sorry, man… Did I like wake you up or something?”

 

“That’s okay, I gotta get up and do some studying anyway. This is Zeke.”

 

“Oh… Hey, I’m Alex,” I responded, then, even though it was clearly noted on the poster, I continued with, “I just saw the sign for your meeting, so I was wondering when it was.”

 

It was like my words flipped a switch inside his brain, because all of a sudden he was wide awake, and started asking me all kinds of questions about who I was, what I was studying, and if I was a Christian.

 

The more he had talked to me on the phone about their meeting, the more I knew I wanted to get to know the people who met on Wednesday nights. His description of the group had me envisioning a whole roomful of dedicated Christians, like Phil, who would help me to “walk the walk” and make the “right” choices in the future. What I found when I got to the meeting five minutes early, was a real letdown. There was a goth looking guy with sixteen, I counted them, piercings on his face alone, a dorky looking guy with a bright yellow tee emblazoned with the words, “Live for Jesus, or burn” and two girls, who in my estimation were sitting way to close to each other, looking into each other’s eyes the way I used to stare into Caleb’s eyes. There were a couple of normal looking girls, too, but beside them was a guy and girl that I’m still not sure were actually a part of the group, making out on a chair. At least I hoped they weren’t a part of the group, because the way she was squirming, I swear he must have had his hand where a Christian guy shouldn’t have had it – at least not in public, even if they were married to each other.

 

Then there was Zeke. He was the leader of the bible study and looked like maybe he was a grad student. I tried not to stare, but I had trouble prying my eyes away from his hard, masculine appearance. Fortunately, he had this kind of squeaky nasally sounding voice, which totally knocked the lust out of me.

 

“Hi. I’m Zeke. Are you Alex?”

 

“Ye-yeah, I stuttered,” and held out my fist.

 

“You said you’re a Christian, right?”

 

“Yeah. A friend led me to the Lord over Winter Break.”

 

“Cool. Well you’re certainly getting off to a good start by joining our group. We’re all about growing in the Lord, and sharing our faith with others. We’ll teach you how to share your faith with others so you can lead others to Christ, just like your friend did with you.”

 

Those words put a real chill on my eagerness to join their group. I was looking for friends who could help me understand the changes I was feeling, and Zeke was acting like he expected me to become the next Billy Graham. That was something I so-o-o didn’t want to do at this point in my life.

 

 

 

By the end of the meeting I was starting to feel comfortable with the guy who came in late and took up the seat next to me. He told me his name was Phoenix, and he asked Zeke a lot of the same questions that I had on my mind but was afraid to ask. Stuff like what happens if you mess up after you become a Christian, and if it’s wrong for a Christian to drink or smoke.

 

Zeke seemed like he wasn’t really comfortable answering those questions, and before getting to the bottom line, he made it quite clear that a Christian should try not to let bad habits control them. But after that he told us, without being specific about what actually was wrong, that we should go to God in prayer and ask his forgiveness when we did occasionally mess up. Then he mentioned the same verse that Phil had marked in my bible, so I figured I could trust him. Even though I hoped that I wouldn’t have any trouble doing the right thing all the time, after Sunday night’s party, I couldn’t be sure that I would never mess up again.

 

At the end of the meeting, Phoenix asked me if I had to be anywhere, because he wanted someone to hang out and talk about what we had discussed in the meeting. I had a lot of work to get started on, but I told him I didn’t have anything. He seemed like a pretty level headed guy, and I hoped that we could become friends.

 

“Let’s go somewhere private. I got some questions I want to ask someone.”

 

I hesitated, wondering what he meant by private, but when we headed outside to find a public area without a lot of listening ears around, I relaxed again. That is until he pulled a joint out of his shirt pocket, and lit it. After taking a hit, he held the cigarette out for me. I was so proud of myself for declining, and especially so, when after looking at me for a moment, he pinched the smoldering roach off, twisted the end closed, and stuffed the unsmoked jay back into his shirt pocket.

 

“D’you have any habits from before you became a Christian that you have trouble breaking? I mean like I’m just naturally wired, so I like, toke so I can wind down a little. I think it helps me study, because my mind isn’t racing so much.”

 

That I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes off of Phoenix’s dark tan or the long blond ringlets that reminded me so much of my brother Daryl’s, or that I kept checking out the way his silky sport shorts clung to him allowing me to see details, caused me to face up to the reality that I still had some things to work out in my own salvation too.

 

That was the first time since praying that prayer with Phil that I guess I actually realized that that part of me hadn’t really changed all that much. I mean with Cal, I had excused those thoughts because I felt that I had been trapped into it after I was too drunk to offer resistance. But looking at Phoenix, I realized that no one was forcing anything on me. I suddenly remembered some of the things I used to see Phil do in high school that hadn’t made much sense to me at the time. When he saw someone he was attracted to, he used to force himself to look away from the guy. Eddie and I used to mess with him sometimes by trying to show him what he was missing out on, but he almost always made up some excuse to ‘check out’ when we did it.

 

Forcing myself to look at Phoenix “the person,” and not at Phoenix “the body,” I casually told him that I hadn’t really thought about it.

 

“Well, the reason I asked all those questions at the meeting, was because when I was home for break, the Youth Pastor at our church told us that if we still did certain things after we made a commitment to Jesus, then he would question our commitment, and would wonder if we were even saved in the first place. I asked him after the meeting what he thought about smoking pot, and he said that trying to escape reality was like witchcraft, and that ‘witches would eventually have their place in the lake of fire.’ I’m not trying to escape reality, Alex. It’s just that I want to not be so hyper all the time.”

 

I felt his pain, but didn’t have an answer for him.

 

“Maybe my friend Phil could help us out. I got some things I want to ask him about, too.”

 

We sat and chatted for another hour before Phoenix dug the jay out of his pocket and tossed it into the flower bed behind us. “I guess it’d be better to be a flunky for Jesus, than burn in hell,” he said as he got up. “Thanks for talkin’ with me, Alex. See ya around, man.”

 

“Yeah, later, Phoenix.”

 

 

 

Life moved on that year, and I have to tell you, the first time I let Zeke talk me into approaching someone on campus to tell them about my faith did nothing to alleviate my fear of sharing the “good news” with others. It was near mid-terms when Zeke called my cell phone to tell me that he’d been praying about who to take with him to share with a guy in his dorm that he thought was ready to listen.

 

“Alex, it’s time for you to get over your fear of talking, and share your faith man. Listen, I’ll be right there with you, in case you get stuck, or if he asks some stupid question about why God lets people in Africa starve.”

 

“I don’t know, Zeke. I don’t think I’m ready… I mean, I hardly know anything about the bible.”

 

“You don’t have to know the bible to share about your life, Alex. All you need to know is that your life changed after you asked God into it. Just share that. Meet me at the library at quarter of two. We’ll go together.”

 

It was twelve-thirty already, so I didn’t have all that much time to kill, but it was enough time to get myself worked up enough to have to make a couple of quick trips to the bathroom to relieve my churning stomach.

 

Scared as I was, I really did want to do this. I knew that my life was different – even Seth had told me on more than one occasion that he wished he cold find whatever it was that I had found, so he could settle down. When I finally had told him that I had become a Christian over break, he just told me he was glad for me, but religion wasn’t how he saw himself working out the details of his life. That time, it had been so natural telling him about why – and how I had changed. I mean I was just telling him a few simple facts about me – but this was different. What Zeke was asking me to do was not simply answering someone’s question as to why I was different than before. This felt more like me pointing a finger at someone and telling them they’re wrong, and that they had better turn it around before it was too late.

 

Actually, after we left Collin’s dorm room, and after having led him to pray the simple prayer that Phil had led me to pray, I felt pretty darn good about myself. I had done it – the impossible. With Zeke’s help, I had faced down a huge fear of mine, and helped someone else find their way to a peaceful life full of hope. My euphoria was short lived, because on the way across campus, Zeke started telling me how I needed to single out someone I knew, and begin praying for an opportunity to share with them.

 

It was my good fortune that by chance, we met Phoenix, who I had become pretty good friends with over the past several weeks, on the way back to my dorm.

 

“Hey, Alex, wanna grab a cup of joe? I need to talk about something.”

 

Grateful for the excuse to get away from Zeke’s pressure, I blew Zeke off by telling him that I had someone in mind to pray for, and excused myself.

 

We didn’t head for the coffee shop on campus, instead, catching a Metro bus out Santa Monica Boulevard, to West Hollywood. The first thing I saw when we finally got to our destination was two guys standing on the sidewalk making out with each other. We walked right past them on our way to LA Cappuccino, and it didn’t escape my notice that Phoenix seemed more than a little interested in what they were doing.

 

Phoenix wouldn’t look at me directly again until after we had found a table inside, and even then, his glances were furtive.

 

“Alex,” he finally started. “Maybe you figured out already about a part of me that I hate about myself.”

 

“You’re gay?” I calmly asked him.

 

“I don’t want to be that way, Alex. If it’s such a bad sin, why won’t God change me?”

 

I had been wondering the same thing lately, as it seemed the farther away from the day I prayed that prayer with Phil, the harder it was becoming to not think about guys. I missed the closeness of holding Caleb in my arms and tenderly caressing his hard, muscular body.

 

“Why’re you asking me?” I shot at him, suddenly annoyed at my own struggle with my feelings for Phoenix. “Zeke’s the one who knows the bible.”

 

“It’s just that I’m afraid to ask him. I thought maybe you understood,” he said staring into my eyes hoping that maybe he was right.

 

I closed my eyes. Why me Lord? Why can’t you hook me up with straight guys, so I can just stop dealing with this? Why can’t you make things easier for me now that I’m your son?

 

“I don’t know,” was all I could offer to him before changing the subject to the upcoming USC basketball game with UCLA.

 

We talked for hours, before finally getting up to leave. I wasn’t prepared for it, but his tender kiss as we were leaving felt so right – and so wrong at the same time. We held each other’s hands as we made our way back to the bus stop, and then it was like nothing had happened when we climbed on board.