As I stormed out of the Dairy Queen that day, the last
thing I heard was my dad mumbling that he had turned out just like his own
father. I thought it was just a lame excuse to get me off his back – to
shovel blame off to someone else. But after I had time to think about it, I
started to see that maybe it was true. He hardly ever talked much with his
dad. We sometimes went to visit grandma and grandpa Harper on holidays, or
when some other special event took place, but when we were all in the house
together, he and grandpa didn’t say much to each other. Even though they
only lived eight hours away from us, I only remember grandpa visiting at our
home once in my entire life.
The flight from Philadelphia to L.A. is a long flight under
normal circumstances. I remember the flight after our discussion as being
the longest eight hours of my life. I had nothing to do but sit and stew
about what had happened, and about what dad had said. He had seemed upset
sad, when I left the DQ, not upset angry. At first I thought it was because
he had been called out on his delinquent fathering, but the more I thought
about it on that flight, the more I realized how truly sad he had seemed –
sad, maybe, that life hadn’t turned out differently for him than it had.
That’s when I decided to make the phone call to him as soon as my plane
“Alex. I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon. Is
“Yeah,” I told him. “I need to apologize for the way I
treated you and Donna.”
Dad didn’t say a word.
“You still there,” I asked thinking maybe my call was
“Yeah, son, I’m still here. I was just thinking. I’m sorry
Alex. I know I haven’t been the dad you deserved. I wish I could live that
part of my life over. Even with Daryl, there are things I wish I would have
done differently. Now he’s gone, Alex. You’re all I have left. I want to try
and make up for lost time if you can forgive me. After you left last night,
I felt like my whole world had fallen apart. What you said to me made me
stop and fear that one of the things in my life that was most important to
me, had just walked out of it – maybe forever.”
Now I was silent until dad’s voice, asking if I was still
there, broke me out of my stupor.
“Yeah, I’m still here, dad. It’s just that I don’t know
what this means. We can’t start over.”
“We can’t start over, son, but we can at least start.”
For the first time ever, dad and I talked about our lives.
He actually asked me what I was studying, and how I was doing in school
before saying goodbye. Here comes my bag again, I thought as I
watched it approach me to the umpteenth time. It seemed weird that we had
talked for over an hour. I grabbed my bag off the turnstile and headed for
the bus depot.
I arrived at school just before the deadline expired for
My new roommate was sitting on his bed when I arrived,
strumming a guitar, singing something that sounded vaguely familiar. I
recognized him immediately from one of my classes.
“Ben,” I greeted him, as I slung my bag on the open bed.
“Alex, I just found out this morning you were gonna be my
new roomie. I heard you were on probation. Maybe we can both manage decent
GPAs if we help each other out a little.”
From what I could tell, Ben seemed to be a straight
shooter. I seldom saw him at any parties, and in fact he had even turned up
at one of our campus bible studies last semester.
“So, you have any rules in your room?”
“Not my room, I just live here. I kinda like to lie low
most of the time. You play any video games?”
I had a sweet feeling about this semester. Maybe I’d
finally be able to put my past behind me and concentrate on the things I
really wanted to get good at – that being, raising my GPA so I could keep my
scholarship, and being involved at church without feeling a load of guilt on
my shoulders for living a double life.
I put my things away while he connected his X-Box to my TV
set. I was just getting into a game with Ben when my cell rang. It was dad.
“Mind if I take this?” I asked Ben.
He hit pause, and I answered.
“Hey, Alex. Just callin’ to see if you got into your room
okay.” I couldn’t believe the difference that I was seeing in dad already.
We talked for another half hour, laughing and joking in a way that we had
never done before. Before he hung up, dad told me that Donna was pressing
him to make a commitment to the Lord.
“Alex, I’m scared of doing it. I mean I’ve never been the
best person when it comes to living right. I’m just not sure religion is for
me. Did it really change you when you became a Christian? Because, I don’t
want to just go through the motions, and put on airs for people if I’m not
really living the way they think I should.”
I assured him that, according to my experience, some things
had, and other’s hadn’t changed a lot for me – but that it seemed that my
perspective of how those things that hadn’t changed a whole lot had
“For instance,” I told him, “When I told Phil that I had
confronted you about what mom told me about you, he could hardly believe I
had done it. He said I always used to be scared of that sort of thing, but
now it seems like I have more courage to try stuff – like I’m not so afraid
of failing.” I told him that I felt like I still had a long way to go in
that department, but at least I was changing. I admitted to him I still
thought about guys sometimes; that some of those things didn’t seem to go
away completely, But I also told him that I had a determination inside me to
not let that desire force me into doing things that I didn’t feel the Lord
wanted for me.
“Dad, I think you should do it. When I was questioning
whether it was the right thing for me to do, Phil told me that I’ll never
know if things can change for me unless I try something different. Then he
told me to ask God to take over, and if nothing happens, then I haven’t lost
“I’ll think about that, son. Thanks bud. And Alex?”
“Well, I just want to tell you that you mean the world to
I guess he was trying to tell me he loved me without
actually saying it. It’s funny how different those words sounded from
three-thousand miles away than they did two weeks ago when he actually said
the words, and there was only a thousand miles between us.
“I hope you and Donna are happy together – I mean really
happy. She’s a pretty cool lady.”
“Thanks son, that means a lot to me. I’ll be sure to tell
My first day back, Phoenix stopped by my room to say hi.
Judging from the hungry look in his eyes, I think he had hoped that maybe we
would continue what we had been doing before break.
“Phoenix. I… I can’t.”
I couldn’t bring myself to look into his eyes, knowing how
easily it would have been to go back on the promise I had made to God not to
do it. When I didn’t look at him, he must have figured it really was over
between us. I just stood there and listened as he softly apologized once
more, as if he had taken advantage of me without my approval.
“Phoenix,” I finally told him in exasperation, “Don’t you
think I could have locked the door to my room if I hadn’t wanted to do it?”
“I know, but it’s like we stopped being friends after we
started doing that. I always felt so guilty after I left your room.”
“Look, I know what most people think about being gay, and
being Christian – that you can’t be both, but I’m not sure. I mean I felt
guilty too, but maybe we were just reacting that way because we hadn’t
decided to build a committed relationship with each other first.”
“Yeah, maybe. Anyway, you know that guy who comes to our
bible study that has all the metal in his face?”
“Yeah. Well, I think he’s kinda been hittin’ on me, and I
was wondering what you thought of him. “He’s kind of cute under all the
piercings… I’ve kinda had my eye on him ever since I started coming to the
“He’s kind of quiet. I don’t know… I guess if you’ve got
feelings for him, go for it.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
It seemed kind of a strange question, so I asked him what
“Well I guess I was kind of hoping that maybe you thought
we might have a future together, ‘cause, well… Actually you’d be my first
After all the confusion and turmoil I had gone through last
semester, and given that I absolutely had to pull up my GPA, I had no
trouble telling Phoenix that that just wasn’t what I was looking for right
now. “Sorry, man. But I still want to be your friend, okay?”
We hugged briefly before he left.
The next time I saw Phoenix was at our bible club meeting,
a week later. He was sitting next to Shawn, and once when I looked over,
they were holding pinkies. I wondered what Zeke, who was leading the bible
study, would say if he could’ve seen their hands. I caught Phoenix’s eye,
and grinned. I was happy for him, I guess, but I was also a little jealous
Even though my new roommate, Ben, said he was a Christian,
I couldn’t convince him to join me at the bible study. Beth Ann was there
though. I couldn’t get over how much she seemed to have changed. I mean
before, all the guys stared at her because she was a hot babe. Now she just
looked, well… pretty. She kind of lost the hard edge that she always seemed
to carry with her.
After the bible study, she asked if I wanted to have a
latte with her. She never once pulled her top out, hoping to get me to take
Ben saw us at the café, and came over to join us. That’s
when we came up with the ultimate study game plan – the three of us would
meet after every class to discuss what we had heard, and compare notes with
When we had gotten back to our room, Ben started
“Oh my god, Alex, I had no idea you knew Beth Ann
Caruthers. Is she still like a wild woman in bed?”
“What?” I asked, stunned at his assertion.
“Is she still easy? …or do you have to beg her for it?”
“Ah… well, we never really…”
“Are you kidding me? Dude, what are you waiting for?”
“Look,” I leveled with him, “I’m just not into that right
now. She’s a great note taker, and asked me if I wanted to take a look at
her notes, that’s all. She helped me at least pass last semester.”
“Are you sure that’s all she wanted you to take a look at?”
I thought back to all the times she had hit on me as we
studied, and how I had played stupid with her. “I don’t know. She was just
helping me out. She knew I was struggling in class, and she was acing it.”
“Ah-huh.” A huge grin spread across Ben’s face. “I remember
one of the first parties I went to on campus, freshman year. She and her
friend got themselves really messed up and started comin’ on to a group of
us. I was like her fourth or fifth guy that night. She was always draggin’
guys to the bedroom at those parties. Wow! What a bod.”
“I sort of don’t think she’s like that anymore. I mean she
like goes to the same bible club that I go to. She doesn’t seem like that
kind of person to me.”
“You won’t know ‘till you try. Besides, if you’re worried
about your girlfriend back east, what happens on campus…”
“I know,” I interrupted, “…stays on campus,” we said in
“I don’t know. My dad got my mom pregnant with me when they
were in college,” I began to explain, hoping that I could avoid the real
reason for me not letting Beth Ann get me to her dorm. “Grandpa Cresswell
used to always say ‘the apples don’t fall far from the tree,’ so I guess I
kind of want to prove him wrong, and there’s only one sure way to avoid what
dad and mom went through. They got divorced my junior year of high school.
My dad even told me they only stayed together because of us kids.”
Ben shook his head from side to side, as if to let me know
that I was a basket case.
“She’s probably on the pill, dude.”
“I’m good,” I told him before changing the subject to
Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, Beth Ann, Ben, and I
would get together and study. Ben seemed a bit miffed at Beth Ann’s
conservative clothes, and behavior. I’m sure he was beginning to think he
had gotten her mixed up with some other girl, because one day he came right
out and asked her.
“Beth Ann. Did you like party a lot your freshman year? I
mean… well I kind of remember a girl who was always the life of the party,
and I was thinking it was you.”
“Not me,” she coyly replied. “I kind of remember a girl on
campus last year who looked a lot like me. I heard she met with her fate
last semester, and passed into eternity.”
Ben looked confused at what Beth Ann said, but managed to
apologize for his apparent faux pas.
By the way Beth Ann was looking at me, I figured she had
been that girl, but took the bible literally when it said that you become a
new creation when you give your life to God.
The more often we met to study, the more I grew to like
Beth Ann. I’m not saying that I thought she was girlfriend material, because
I still had no interest in girls that way. I just mean, she was a really
neat person. I guess it didn’t hurt any that she had stopped trying to get
me to her dorm room every time we got together.
She did flirt with me though. At least as far as I could
tell, that was what she was doing when I’d catch her staring at me. That’s
when she’d get red in the face and bat her eyelids. I totally froze up when
she did that. I was on the verge of telling her that I was gay one day
before mid-terms, just so she’d know she was wasting her time on me, but Ben
got us going on a conversation about Nietzsche, and she stopped doing that
thing to me with her eyes, so I let it drop.