Self-Discovery
Chicago to Cheyenne

HE WAS STANDING in line a few places behind us at the Chicago bus station, waiting for the west-bound bus.  A blond boy, 11 or 12, with a small bandage on his forehead.  He had a duffle bag hanging from his shoulder, and a small flowery suitcase in his hand, presumably belonging to the old woman with him.  Most likely his grandmother.  Since it appeared we would be on the same bus for the next thousand miles, I was pretty confident I would have the opportunity to meet him.

I was with Dan, a friend who knows about and is tolerant of my boy- passion, although he doesn't share it.  Dan noticed my enthralled gaze.  Jokingly, he nodded towards the grandmother and said, "Yeah, she's pretty hot.  Too bad we're up front, so we can't position ourselves strategically."

"Oh don't worry," I answered, referring to the boy, "I'll meet him."

Everyone climbed on the bus.  He ended up sitting a few rows ahead of us, but by himself, stretching across two seats.  All I could see was the back of his baseball cap.  Very frustrating.

We drove for about two hours before stopping for a break somewhere on the west end of Illinois.  My chance!  The boy jumped off the bus and trotted to a Coke machine.  I followed close behind, catching up to him, purchasing a Sprite, and trying to appear nonchalant.

He looked towards me, so I casually nodded to his forehead bandage and asked, "Get shot?"

He looked puzzled at first, and then realizing it was a joke, started to smile.  "Nope."

"Got hit by an Indian tomahawk then, right?"

He laughed and shook his head.

I raised my eyebrows, perplexed.  "Fight with a dragon?"

"Actually, I was fishing on some rocks and fell down, but I kind of wish those other things had happened instead."

"Oh no you don't!  I've fought some dragons and it really sucks.”  I paused to let him laugh again and continued.  "So you lived?"

"No.”  He said, his eyes widening, "Got knocked out and drowned!" He was playing along!

I feigned irritation.  "Great, so I'm talking to another ghost.  I hate it when I'm having a perfectly normal conversation with someone and they turn out to be a ghost.  That's the third time that's happened this week!" I reached out and touched his arm.  "You feel real, though."

"That's cause I'm a special ghost.  I go around haunting Greyhounds."

"Really?  That's strange cause I seem to remember seeing a 'No Ghost' policy."

Just then, his grandmother came up and I immediately switched to my respectful, patronizing persona that always seems to fool mothers and the like, if no one else.  She seemed very tired and not completely there.  We discussed destinations, and when the boy heard I was going by Las Vegas, he asked if I would gamble.  I told him I wouldn't be 21 for a few months yet.  He argued that I look it, so I might as well be.  A good philosophy, I think.

The bus started up as people stomped out their cigarettes at the curb.  The boy's grandmother mumbled "C'mon Justin," (Justin!) and we filed back to our seats.  Before disappearing Justin piped, "See you at the next stop 'Twenty-One.' A nickname?  Very cool.

EVERY ONCE in a while during the next couple of hours, Justin would turn around in his seat and smile or wave.  My friend Dan elbowed me in the side.  "You really scored.  What the hell did you say to him?"

"I don't know," I shrugged.  "Just my usual silliness."

"Well he must really want a friend or something."

"It's okay with me.  I've got 18 hours."

The next stop was a dinner break at a sleazy truckstop.  Sometimes I suspect the bus company of getting some kind of kickback because they always manage to choose the worst places.  Dan and I sat at a table set for four.  Justin dragged his grandmother over and asked, "Can we sit with you, Twenty-One?"

Absolutely!  Positively!  Undeniably!  Indubitably!  "Um.  .  .  sure."

During dinner Grandma zoned out over her tomato soup, while Dan and I went into this little smartass Monty-Python type comedy routine we do, geared mainly toward an adolescent or a drunk collegian audience.  Justin seemed to think it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.  He laughed hard, eyes bright with tears rolling down his beautiful face, glowing like the Wrigley building.  His innate charm and cuteness aside, the appreciation was inspiring.

Our next stop was Omaha, where we had a three-hour layover.  It was starting to get late, but Justin was still wide awake and wanted to talk.  Amidst the squalor of the bus station, we split a Coke and discussed movies, video games, music, cars, all those wonderful simple things you talk to boys about.  I told him about an Alfa Romero I used to have, and he just about ejaculated.  I'm not sure if he knew what it was, or if he just liked the name.  Either way it made me happy.  It's wonderful being with any boy, wherever he's from, but his Midwestern accent and mannerisms came off somewhat different and exotic to a San Diego suburbanite like me.

When we got back on the bus, Justin insisted I sit next to him (as if I wouldn't pay for the chance).  Most everyone fell asleep, but we stayed up.  We shared my Walkman, each with an earphone, listening to Morrissey.  We played portable checkers (he kicked my ass), he showed me a card trick, and we joked about street signs.  He told me about his crazy teacher last year at school, getting flipped off by a Mennonite (I didn't know they could do that), and a kid he knows who can play piano with his penis.  I got the feeling that people didn't often listen to him, and that he was just elated by this opportunity for conversation.

I would have talked like this forever, he was so enchanting.  But with the good comes the bad, and eventually the mood changed.  I had asked if he lived with his grandmother.  At first he was quiet and then evasive.  I became incredibly curious because I was really starting to like this kid, and yet I had somehow hit a sensitive spot.  He finally told me.

"Yeah, I've lived with her for a few weeks."

"Why so short?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Well, we're friends.  I just do."

"Well.  .  .  I was just taken away from my Mom."

What?

"You see.  .  .  she was beating me."

What?

"Again."

Oh my fucking God- someone intentionally hurt my boy?  My beautiful boy?

Please tell me he didn't say beating him, God!

He looked at me solemnly.  "Now are you sorry you asked?"

I ignored his question and appeared to remain calm.  "What about your Dad?"

"He's been in jail.  He said when he gets out he's gonna kill her or something, but I don't think he's getting out."

My boy, my poor boy, they're hurting my boy!  "So you live with your grandma?"

"For now.  She can't really take care of me, though.  I just know I'm not going back to my Mom."

"You're sure?"

His pretty blue eyes were starting to water up.  He was speaking haltingly.  "I'm sure.  .  .  cause I.  .  ."

"Cause you what?"

"Cause I told the social worker; .  .  if she sent me back.  .  .  I would.."

"You would what?"

"I would kill myself"

"NO!"

"And I will."

It is rare for someone as loquacious as me to be rendered speechless, but it happened.  I reached over and wiped away a tear from his eye.  He was turning red, straining himself to keep from sobbing.  I couldn't believe he was telling me all this.  He was quiet then and shut his eyes.  After about 30 seconds he turned, put his head on my chest and his arms around me in a gentle embrace, falling asleep that way.  He had just bared his soul, and it had exhausted him so much that he had to just lay on me and absorb the warmth.

I HELD HIM for hours, not being able to sleep with 12 years worth of boy in my arms and his tragic problems in my soul.  I looked outside at the August moon reflecting off the Nebraska corn fields, so eerie yet so peaceful.  Justin was asleep on me.  I could hear his rhythmical breathing, feel the cool nylon of his shorts contrasting with the warm flesh of his leg against mine, smell his sweet hair, and know his divine beauty.

Here was someone who needed safety.  I could give it to him.  He needed attention.  I could give it to him.  He needed someone to listen and someone to care, someone to smile and someone to make him laugh and feel good, to feel wanted and important.  I could deliver.

And more than anything, he needed love.  So simple.  So easy.  I could love him so much!  I could always be there with a hug and a tear.  Love him, and love him, and make him my world.  He had been neglected so long, why not let him be worshipped awhile?

But it's not going to happen.  Not now, maybe never.  They would rather he go to an abusive mother than to a man who loves boys.

And so, the next morning, in that hell-town Cheyenne, we exchanged addresses and a hug.  He went towards Idaho, and I towards California.  I sent him a letter and a Christmas card, but never got a response.  I hope he's just lazy.  Boys so often are.

From the NAMBLA Bulletin, Vol. 14, No. 7, Pgs. 14 - 15, Oct. 1993.
Copyright © NAMBLA, 2008

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