Alex - Chapter 8 

 

 

 

Facing that particular giant seems tiny in comparison to the ones that are in front of me right now. But still, I was grateful for Mr. Henderson’s help in facing that one, because I can see that winning against small giants gives a person a bit of confidence when they have to face the really big ones. When I was sixteen, and had nearly killed myself with a night of drinking, then the next day, told my mom flat out that I was gay, I had run away from home, thinking that I could leave the giant behind. That giant never really did get conquered. Even though I came to California almost three years ago, hoping that somehow, if I lived close enough to her, she would eventually do something for me to prove that she accepted me as her son, it hasn’t happened. Frankly, I don’t know why I ever thought it was important to me. Maybe it was just God playing with my mind, so he could get me to the West Coast, and meet Beth Ann. I still don’t talk to mom very often. And whenever I do, we still seem to get into an argument over something.

 

The incident with Dalton was probably the first time I actually took on a giant in my life. If it wasn’t for Bill and Dottie Henderson’s help, I wouldn’t have taken on that one either. I guess that’s why the bible talks so much about loving each other and being involved in each other’s lives – so we can help each other learn to cope, instead of turning tail and running all the time.

 

 

 

Dad leaned in the doorway and caught my attention.

 

“The photographer’s ready to take some pictures of the guys now that you’re all in town. You ready?

 

“I just took my meds like ten minutes ago. I’m feeling pretty crappy right now, can you get her to wait half an hour?”

 

Dad came in the room and closed the door behind him.

 

“Son, are you and Beth Ann sure you’re doing the right thing? Back when you first told us you thought you were gay, I didn’t want to hear about it, but when I saw how happy you were when you were with Caleb your senior year, I did a little reading and well… To be honest with you, I’ve read a lot of information that says if you are that way, there’s no way of changing it.

 

“Alex, you and Beth Ann made one mistake. I guess I just don’t want to see you make a bigger mistake that leaves all three of you with a life filled with regret.”

 

I was really surprised to hear my dad say that. The fact that he had actually had the courage to say something like that to me, gave me a huge lift. All my life, it seemed I had waited for dad to talk to me about life, and every time I gave him the opportunity by doing something stupid, he had vanished.

 

“Beth Ann and I have talked about that, dad. We discussed it in our pre-marital counseling too. Dad, I really do love her. It’s a different kind of love than I ever had for Caleb – this is like more than just about sex to me.”

 

Dad squeezed my shoulder, and turned to leave.

 

“A half hour then?”

 

“Yeah, that’d be good. And dad?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Thanks.”

 

His smile, as he turned to leave, seemed to take the edge off my nausea.

 

 

 

I started to think about my first summer in the California sun – the summer of my contentment. That summer was so jammed with new things I don’t know how I ever managed to fit them all in. That’s the summer I met my Californy Gammy – Ms. Sally Schwartzentruber, the summer I learned to surfboard, and the summer the Henderson’s became like a family for me to belong to in California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of the school year fast approaching, Bill Henderson suggested I let my need for summer housing be made know to the church via the “prayer chain.” I had a job assisting a copy editor in L.A. already lined up for the summer, but on what I would be earning, it seemed I would have my choice of either sleeping in a bed, or eating.

 

The very next day old Mrs. Schwartzentruber, who had been the only person brave enough to touch me and tell me that she would pray for me, as the police were escorting me away, called my cell phone and told me that she had an extra bed, and that I could stay there for free if I would mow her lawn and take out the trash for her. “It’s just getting to be too much for and old bird like me.” I was suddenly unable to talk, as I realized how the people at Faith Chapel had accepted me, and put the incident with Dalton behind them. My hesitation, must have made Mrs. Schwartzentruber think that I didn’t want to stay with her, because, with the sound of desperation in her voice, she commanded me, “Now young man, we both have a need, so I won’t take no for an answer. I’ll expect you Saturday to cut the grass, even if you’re not quite moved in.”

 

 

 

Finals were more difficult than I imagined they would be, but I managed to squeak out a 2.53 GPA, which was enough to maintain my few meager scholarships for another year. Saturday, I jammed my things into a duffel bag and my backpack, and walked the six blocks to my summer residence. Mrs. Schwartzentruber was sitting in her wicker rocking chair on the front porch of her bungalow. She was nodding off, head back, her mouth gaping wide open. The lawn mower and gas can resting in the middle of her front lawn were evidently awaiting my arrival. I looked at the mower and at the four foot by twenty foot patch of grass, and wondered why she didn’t fill the area in with river gravel.

 

Just as I was about to step onto the porch, she opened her eyes and saw me. “Allen. Come up here and put your things down young man, you must be tired, walking all that distance. I fixed a glass of ice tea for you,” she said, pointing to table at her side. “Ice is nearly all melted waiting for you to get here. I almost thought you weren’t going to show.”

 

She watched intently as I sat my bags on the porch and picked up the iced tea. “Have a seat dear, I’ve got a few house rules to tell you,” she announced loudly enough for the entire neighborhood to hear, then she leaned in, and in a quieter voice, told me, “and there’s some things that you need to know about some people at church, too.

 

“First off, I don’t abide smoking or drinking on the premises. I’m sure that’s not a problem for a Christian man like you,” she told me as she peered at me over the top of her glasses, “…but I don’t want your friends coming here and thinking they can drink, or smoke in my house. That would be a bad influence on you, and you might be tempted to join them in a weak moment.”

 

She paused, to make sure that what she said had sunk in, and then for the next forty minutes, filled me in on sordid details of the lives of most every member of Faith Chapel, always being sure to add, “of course, what do I know,” before saying something nice about the person she had just finished shredding. When she finally got to me, surprise, surprise, I found out I was nearly perfect.

 

“Young man,” she said in her sweetest voice, “you’re such a nice boy. And I didn’t believe a word of what they were saying about you, either – such gossipers. How could anyone ever think that a nice young man like you would even know about such things as they were saying you tried to do to that Henderson boy? Shouldn’t even be talking about that,” she quipped rather disgustedly. “Why the Apostle Paul himself, said those things were too shameful to even mention out loud.”

 

Mildly amused, I ventured to ask her “What things would that be, m’am?”

 

She raised her eyebrows and stared into my eyes, trying to see if I was serious before continuing. “Well if you don’t know what I’m talking about, all the better. I’m certainly not going to be the one mentioning them into your ears. It’s best you never find out about those deeds of darkness, Allen.”

 

“I see. Mrs. Schwartzentruber?”

 

“Oh, for goodness sakes, Allen, that’s the last time I want to hear you call me that. You can just call me Miss Sally, like everyone else at church does.”

 

“Okay. Miss Sally? Would you mind telling me where my room is, so I can put my things there?”

 

“Oh sure, dear. Go on up the steps. It’s the first door on the left. I cleaned one of the dresser drawers out so you could put your things away.”

 

“Thanks. I’ll be down in a little while to mow the grass. Oh, and by the way, it’s Alex.”

 

“What’s Alex, Allen?”

 

“My name. It’s Alex, not Allen.”

 

“Oh for heaven sakes, I thought you were Allen, the young man they caught trying to rape that Henderson boy at church a few weeks ago. He needs a lot of prayer and guidance, that young man does. Allen’s his name. And a reprobate if ever I laid my eyes on one, too. I can see now that you’re not him, though. You’re a little taller than he is. And you don’t have that wild look in your eyes either.”

 

She leaned back in her chair. “Huh… I thought the Lord had opened the door for me to put Allen on the right path by having him living here, too. Oh, well, ‘His ways are higher than ours are,’ and he brought you here instead. Sometimes I think I hear the Lord telling me to do something, and then I get it all out of sorts. I guess I’ll just have to pray that God sends someone else to straighten that boy out. Such a waste of a life to be doing those things.”

 

“I’ll pray for him too Mrs. Schwartzentruber.”

 

“Miss Sally” she corrected. I wondered what I had gotten myself into as I climbed the narrow stairway to my second floor bedroom.

 

 

 

When I opened the door, I felt like I was stepping into a miniature museum. Not miniature from the standpoint of having a small collection of artifacts – that definitely wasn’t the case. I mean miniature from the stand point of me not being able to stand upright anywhere but by the door. The room was built into the eaves of the building, so the further away from the door you got, the lower you had to stoop.

 

I spied a small dresser near the door, and began to pull drawers open; looking for the one she had emptied. They were all stuffed full, and I wondered if I had heard her wrong, but when I looked at the bed, I saw an empty drawer setting on top of the bed cover. It was just barely large enough for me to put either my six pairs of socks, or my seven pairs of under-shorts. I threw my socks into it and began looking around the room to see where the drawer belonged. Spotting the empty slot in a chest at the low end of the room, I decided to slide it under the bed, for easier access. When I couldn’t slide the drawer under the bed, I got down and looked to see why. I just shook my head when I saw that there wasn’t a spare inch of space down there.

 

 

 

Monday, during a break at my job, I called Phoenix to see if his dad came through with funds to let him slum in L.A. for the summer.

 

His laughing “Du-u-u-ude” told me all I needed to know. He was a surfboard-aholic, and was now clear to spend every minute of every day at the beach. I was more excited for me than I was for him, though, because before we left school for the summer, he had promised to teach me how to surf if he got to stay. “See you Saturday at ten.”

 

I kind of figured if I could keep my balance on a skate board, picking up surfing shouldn’t be that difficult. Not! But I had had so much fun, that I skipped church the next day to try again.

 

 

 

Tuesday, Dottie Henderson called and invited me to have dinner at their house before the Youth Group meeting. Mr. Henderson picked me up at Miss Sally’s after work, and drove me to his home. Despite what had happened just four weeks ago, I was beginning to feel comfortable around the Henderson’s again. I suppose that’s partly due to the fact that they always treated me like a special guest when I was in their home. Dalton on the other hand kept his distance from me, but I would often notice him in the shadows staring. I tried to be discreet about it, but in reality, our admiration for each other was mutual. It wasn’t like I saw him as boyfriend material, but I recalled how much I used like experimenting with my brother Daryl, and worried that given the wrong set of circumstances, I might find him hard to resist.

 

 

 

July was the Faith Chapel Youth Group Retreat, and I was asked to join them. I wasn’t sure what to expect – like I kind of had this mental image of the entire group of kids sitting around a campfire, singing some lame camp songs all day. Boy was I wrong. We went camping in the Sierras, complete with white water rafting, rock climbing, swimming, zip lines, and roaring bonfires.

 

Every adult was assigned by Rex Davies, the Youth Group leader, to lead one of the devotional times we had around the campfire each night. I tried my hardest to come up with an excuse for not doing it when he asked me if I would take the Wednesday time slot, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. All that day, I fretted about what I could possible say to the kids that would be meaningful to them. It wasn’t until just before the evening meal that a story my high school friend Phil Johnson had told me, when I had run away from home, popped into my mind. I remember thinking at the time that the story was totally lame, but for some odd reason, it was all coming back to me now, and now it seemed to make more sense to me.

 

“Rex,” I called as I stepped into the chow line.

 

“Hey, Alex”

 

“Rex, my friend told me a story from the bible when I was in high school, about some guy who got an inheritance and ran away from home. I wasn’t really listening, but I think he said that the guy spent everything he had and then had to go back home to keep from starving. You know which one I’m talking about?”

 

“Yeah, the Prodigal Son.”

 

“Well, do know where it is in the bible?

 

“It’s in Luke. I think the fifteenth chapter, why?”

 

“’Cause I think that’s what I want to use for my devotional.”

 

Rex looked at me like “you mean you haven’t prepared anything yet?”

 

Later that night, wishing they would tell one more joke, or sing one more song, so there wouldn’t be time for my talk, Rex quieted everyone down and introduced me as the one leading devotions. I was shaking in my shoes as I stood up and told them the story about a young man, who decided to go his own way in life. I told them how the son had forced his father to sell off half his estate so he could set out on his own. “That guy was a lot like me,” I related to the group. “Not that my dad sold his stuff and gave it to me, but I wanted to do everything my own way, I guess – and I got myself into a lot of trouble.

 

“The story plays out, where the young man blows every penny on partying, and then decides to go home and be his father’s servant, just so he has something to eat.

 

“Back in those days,” I explained, trying my hardest to remember exactly what Phil had told me three years ago, “when a son did what that guy did, his family had to act like the guy had died. They were like totally supposed to ignore him, like he wasn’t even there if he came back home. This guy’s dad was different, though. I think he was supposed to represent God,” I told the group, “because even though his dad was supposed to pretend like his son was dead, he didn’t. Instead, he spent a lot of his time watching for his son to come home. The story says that he saw his son when he was still far away. And then when he saw him, instead of waiting for his son to come begging and all, he ran to meet him.”

 

I had to stop for a moment to compose myself, suddenly wondering to myself why my own mother couldn’t be like this guy’s dad.

 

“The most amazing part,” I said, with tears blurring my vision, “is that, even though this son had been feeding pigs, and must have smelled really bad, and had probably done a lot of stuff that he couldn’t understand, he hugged his son anyway. Then he told his servant to bring his best robe and the family ring, and put it on his son. He didn’t even make him take a bath first.

 

“That’s like God’s love for us. He doesn’t expect us to try to fix things in our life, because we can’t fix ‘em. What he really wants, is for us to ask him to take control of our life by asking him to forgive us for the things we do that the bible tells us he doesn’t want us to do.”

 

 

 

I sat down, still shaking, and wasn’t sure exactly what I had even said. It was like the whole time I was standing up there talking, I was in some kind of a time warp, and I kept thinking of things that I had wanted to say but had missed. Apologizing to the group before I sat down, sure that I had bombed, Mr. Davies took my place, and gave an invitation for anyone around the campfire to respond to what I had shared. He asked that if anyone wanted to turn their life over to God, the way the guy in the story did, they should raise their hand.

 

Even though Rex had asked that everyone close their eyes, I watched in amazement as several hands made their way heavenward – including Dalton Henderson’s! I had been hoping that one of the things that happened this week at camp was that things would begin to be less tense between the two of us. But it seemed that no matter how hard I had tried up to that point in time, he had avoided me like I had the plague. Maybe this would be the start. I prayed that God would open the door for us to become less adversarial.

 

Thursday, the very next day, Missy, the camp’s athletic director was organizing a game of “chicken” in the swimming hole. That’s where one kid climbs on the back of a partner, and then everyone goes around and tries to knock each other over.

 

“I get Alex,” I heard Dalton holler as he splashed his way to where I was standing, and jumped on my back, sending us both sprawling into the water.

 

“Come on, wuss,” he teased me, “we’re never gonna win if you can’t keep your balance better than that.”

 

I stood to my feet again, wondering to myself if this sudden change in his behavior was an answer to my prayer, or if it might be a ruse to get me to let my guard down with him. I have to admit, though, it did feel good to have him sitting on my shoulders.

 

“You ready?” I hollered as I charged forward toward our nearest competitor. They were ready for us and put up a good fight, but we managed to dump them into the pool, and headed for the next two boys – two high schoolers. Catching them by surprise, they went over too easily, and we almost lost our balance.

 

We were the last pair standing the first two games. Dalton smacked the side of my head playfully. “Way to go horse. We’re the best!”

 

After that, it was all downhill. Everyone ganged up on us. Peels of laughter, and squeals of defeat, filled the afternoon as we tired ourselves out with roughhousing and games. Everywhere I went that afternoon, Dalton was by my side, laughing and prodding me to try something new. At supper, he sat beside me, and as we talked about family, and friends, he wanted to know everything about me – if I had a girlfriend, if I had a dog, what my high school was like, if I had any brothers or sisters, what I was studying in college – everything.

 

Before lights out, Dalton found me in the cabin that I was overseeing, and asked if we could sneak out somewhere to talk. I could tell by the way he was acting, that there was something on his mind – something heavy. I explained to him that because of what had happened between us at church last spring, I didn’t think it would be a good idea for us to be together like that, so I made a deal with him.

 

“Tell you what we could do, though. Meet me over by the mess hall tomorrow during quiet time.” He looked a bit disappointed that we couldn’t talk right now, but knowing my own history of what happens when I get myself into compromising situations, I knew that meeting in broad daylight, where others could plainly see us, was the only option.

 

I roughed his hair as he was leaving and he shot me a wan smile, like he understood.

 

“Good-night, Alex. Sleep well.”

 

“Later, Dalton. You sleep well, too.”

 

Before drifting off to sleep that night, I reclined on my bed feeling like Dalton had finally accepted the forgiveness I had extended to him after my night in jail.

 

 

 

Next morning, Dalton was again sitting beside me at the table. That boy can seriously make a dent in some food. He must have filled his plate three times, and then grabbed a jelly doughnut on his way out the door.

 

“Meet me where you said, in ten minutes, Okay, bro?”

 

Wow, my head was swelling over him calling me brother. I felt like this was the start of something good – something that I hadn’t anticipated happening. But now that it was happening, it made me feel all giddy.

 

I spied him sitting at one of the snack tables outside the mess hall, and took a chair across from him. He looked nervous again, like he had something eating at him that he had to get off his mind.

 

“So,” I said as I sat down. He was fondling the doughnut in his hand. “Not hungry anymore?”

 

“You want it?”

 

“Nah, I already feel like I’m gonna burst. So what’s up?” I probed. “You look like you got something on your mind.”

 

“Yeah.” A long pause elapsed before he spoke up. “Alex? You know how you caught me and David that time?”

 

I stared at him, wondering if was going to tell me that they were actually boyfriends.

 

“Well, that wasn’t the first time I ever did that with a guy. That was David’s only time. He said he’d never do it again, because he didn’t want to be gay.”

 

Again, I sat and waited, figuring there was more.

 

“Alex? I wanted to do it.”

 

“And?”

 

“Don’t you get it?”

 

I think I did get what he was trying to say, but I kept quiet. I knew that he needed to be the one to say those words.

 

Dalton began to pull little pieces off the donut in front of him and depositing them in a neat pile on the napkin.

 

“That means I must be gay. I’m always trying to get guys to mess around with me. I send pictures to them on their cell phone and make a joke about it, but in the end, I’m always hoping that they’ll want to try it with me.

 

“Alex, Did you ever like do something that you knew wasn’t what everyone expected you to do, but you liked it so much that you wanted to do it again?”

 

I was so-o-o glad we were sitting in the open. “Yeah. Like everyone does something like that sometimes.”

 

“Not that stuff.”

 

“Yeah, but everyone has something that they believe is wrong, but they do it anyway. That’s why God doesn’t put a limit on the number of times he forgives us.”

 

“I don’t want God to reject me for doing that, so last night at the campfire, when we were praying, I asked God to make me like girls instead of guys. I think he answered my prayer too, because after that I was able to stop watching Cayden Long, and I started to notice Brianna Shaffer. I guess I never realized that a girl could look attractive. I almost felt kind of like I could like her.”

 

Brianna Shaffer is probably the most immodest dresser in the entire youth group. I had even noticed her at the campfire last night.

 

“You mean, like you could see yourself in bed with her,” I asked, not sure, exactly why I had said it.” Dalton’s face instantly grew red.

 

“Well, that’s liking girls, isn’t it?”

 

“That’s not really the way a guy’s suppose to like a girl,” I answered him. “I mean, if all you want to do is have sex with a girl, to somehow prove to yourself that you ‘like’ them, then I would have to say, that would be lust. Liking girls, the way you’re wishing you could, is having a desire to be with a girl, and spend your life with her, even if there isn’t any sex.”

 

I could tell by the look on Dalton’s face that he was really struggling, so without giving any thought to repercussions, I opened up to him.

 

“Dalton? Can I be real honest with you about something? I mean, you have to promise that you won’t ever tell anyone.”

 

He looked at me and nodded.

 

Wanting to be sure he had understood me, I explained further. “Dalton, before my brother died, we used to tell each other all our secrets. No one else ever knew about the things we told each other. You have to promise that our secrets would be like that.”

 

“You can trust me, Alex.”

 

“I guess, after yesterday, I kinda feel almost like you’re like my little brother in a way. Well, before I moved to California, I had a boyfriend.” I waited for his reaction, but he didn’t say anything. “Actually, I had three different boyfriends in high school. I’ve never had a girlfriend, ever.”

 

Dalton leaned forward in his chair, and started picking at the doughnut again.

 

“I wasn’t a Christian then, but I had a really good friend who was. His name’s Phil. He’s still my best friend. He’s the one who told me about God, and showed me that even if you are drawn to guys, you don’t have to do the things that everyone thinks all gay people do. I mean it doesn’t mean that you have to have sex. My friend’s gay too, only he decided not to ever have a boyfriend again so he wouldn’t be tempted to have sex with a guy because he believes it’s wrong.

 

“The bible never says that it’s wrong to be gay, Dalton. It only says that if you’re not married to someone, you shouldn’t have sex with them. I guess that’s why so many Christians are fighting to ban gay marriages, because if two guys or two girls get married, it’d be hard for Christians to tell them they can’t have sex. I don’t understand all they say about it, but the argument that makes the most sense to me, even if I’d rather not believe it, is that God designed men and women to compliment each other. Supposedly, men and women think differently, so it’s like having a right hand and a left hand, instead of two lefts, or two rights.”

 

“Alex, then why doesn’t God just fix us if he doesn’t want us to be gay?”

 

His question was so sincere, and so simple – but unfortunately one to which I didn’t have a clear cut answer. It was the same question I had repeatedly asked God, and others.

 

“I haven’t found an answer to that one yet, bro. If I ever do, I’ll be sure to tell you.”

 

I saw that Dalton was now digging his fingers in the pocket of jelly, having disposed of the entire top the doughnut into a neat pile on the napkin.

 

Wanting to break the tension, I slid my hand across the table top toward his. His eyes met mine, questioningly. I think he was wondering if I was going to hold his hand or something.

 

You!” he shouted, leaping to his feet after I slammed his hand into the pool of jelly, splashing it all over the front of his white t-shirt.

 

Darting around the table, he jumped on my back as I stood up, and wiped his gooey hand through my hair.

 

“We’re not even, yet,” he laughed, as he tore off towards his cabin.