I asked John if we could go somewhere when I woke up this morning. When he asked if I was feeling up to it, I said yes, but I wanted to go somewhere dark, somewhere where I wouldn’t have to be seen for more than a few minutes at a time.
He asked if I wanted to go see a movie.
I said yes.
He pulled up a list on the internet and had me look through it.
We ended up going to see a film about a woman who’d lost everything.
The actress reminded me of my mother, with her golden-blonde hair and her nice, soft features. I remember seeing her walk onto screen at the beginning of the movie and feeling tears rolling down my face. I didn’t pat them away, because I didn’t want John to look up and see what I was doing, but I did bow my head at one point to fake sneezing, then brought my shirt to my face and wiped them away.
We got home about an hour ago. We’d discussed most of the movie on the way back, but got into it a little deeper when we were sitting at the kitchen table, eating chocolate ice cream John had bought the day before. He asked me if I took anything away from it and I said no, that it was a good movie, but I couldn’t relate to the woman in any way.
John asked if I knew how the woman in the film though when she lost everything.
I said no. I’d never lost my husband, my child. I’d lost my home, but it wasn’t much of a loss, and I had no friends to lose in the first place. He asked if I’d lost my happiness like the woman had and I said no, that I was happier than I’d ever been in my entire life.
That made him smile.
It’s nice to know that I can make people happy, if only for a moment.
I asked John if I could keep taking the Wort. When he asked if I’d been having trouble sleeping, I said yes and that the medicine helped knock me out within an hour each time I took it. He then asked if I was taking it just as a sleeping medication or if I was taking it for other reasons.
I fessed up and told him that I’d been worrying about stuff while I was lying in bed.
He asked what I was specifically worrying about. I told him that I wasn’t worrying about anything in particular, that something got in my head and kept me from going to sleep.
John reached forward, gripped my hand, and said that everything would be fine. He also said that I could keep taking the Wort. I just hope I don’t become dependent on it.
The swelling in my face is almost gone. The cold compresses have really been helping with the pain, but they’ve been getting rid of the discoloration most of all. As I’ve been healing, John’s said that it looks like a lot of blood vessels were broken when I was attacked. He tried not to ask what exactly had happened, but I eventually told him that I’d had my face slammed into a wall. He apologized immediately thereafter. I told him that the only reason I didn’t have a broken nose was because I was able to turn my head and raise my arm just enough to absorb most of the blow.
I’ll get around to telling him about it eventually. I’m not sure if I’ll actually tell him in person or write about it, but it’ll most like be the latter. After this morning, I realized that talking about it is a lot harder than I thought. It took all I could not to cry in front of John, but I eventually caved in and did so after he left for work. I know it isn’t his fault (and when you do read this, it isn’t your fault, John,) but—
I don’t know. I thought maybe I would have been over it by now. It’s almost been a month now and I’m still breaking down over the slightest recollection of it.
Maybe I should start talking about it, piece by piece, when John gets home at night. It doesn’t have to be a lot at a time—it can be little pieces here and there without any real definite story, just enough for me to feel comfortable talking about it and not have to break down while trying to tell the whole story.
I’ll write about it eventually.
I’m working up to it.
I know that, eventually, I’ll get up the nerve to ask John to help me get through this. He’s helped me get to the point I’m at now, which I know wouldn’t have happened had he not taken me in. I owe a lot to him. I probably would have died out there on the streets. They would’ve come back, or I would’ve gotten an infection, one of the two.
If I were still on the streets, would it have been less painful to die from a beating, or from an infection? I’ve heard that you eventually go numb and can’t feel anything both ways.
I should probably stop writing here.
I don’t want to go down the path any further than I already have, at least not now.
John read my journal.
He gave me a hug tonight after he got home from work and said he was sorry for bringing up something I wasn’t ready to face.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, leaning in close as though other people could hear us and he only wanted me to listen. “What I said was inappropriate. It won’t happen again.”
He’s kept his distance for most of the night. I’ve been trying to get him to talk to me, but he keeps shying away, as though he’s crossed some kind of invisible barrier that he wasn’t supposed to step into.
I’m not mad at you, John. I’m not upset either. I was last night, but not at you—at myself. I hate the fact that I’m still so weak after all this time. I know it’s hard to conquer your demons, but it’s not hard to lift your sword and at least try.
I don’t think he’s read my journal yet. That, or he hasn’t said anything about it. He has, however, come back around. He asked me to go with him earlier when he said he was going to get tacos. We ended up having to detour and take the scenic route through the park, but it wasn’t a bad drive. I’m always surprised when people say that they don’t like driving at night. It’s so peaceful, so quiet, so—so alone. It seems like whenever you’re sitting in a car in the dark that you’re in another place, in another time in another world. You seem one to yourself, or whoever’s sitting in the seat behind you.
I asked John to pull over at one point. When he asked why, I said that I just wanted to sit in the car for a moment and enjoy the night.
He did just as I asked.
We sat there for at least ten minutes in complete silence. I remember closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, then looking over at John to find his head tilted back and his lips pursed, eyes set on the top of the tree line in front of us. The moon made the foliage shine like shards of silver embedded in the side of a mountain, miniature crescent-Luna fallen to Earth to mark the planet as its own.
It was a beautiful thing to see.
The tacos were good.
I’d forgotten how much I liked fast food.
The first thing I noticed this morning was that John had read my journal. When I got up at around one in the afternoon, I stumbled into the kitchen and found it lying on the table, a completely foreign place than where I normally put it on the countertop. At first, I wasn’t really bothered, particularly because I’ve known John to leave my journal in odd places after he’s read it, even though he’s usually fairly good at putting it in a place that I can find it. However, when I walked up to the kitchen table and reached out to close it, I found a sticky note stuck to the blank page just after the last entry.
“Everything’s fine,” it said. “I’m sorry for being so selfish.”
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. John’s not scheduled to be home for at least another two, if not three hours. “Clients,” he said when I asked the other day. “There seems to be so many people that need so much help nowadays.”
I wasn’t sure how to take it when he said it. Even now, more than twenty-four hours after the words first left his mouth, I’m still not sure what to think. It seems like everyone needs some kind of help nowadays. This woman’s on welfare because she can’t take care of her kids, this man’s on life support because he’s dying—rotting—of AIDs from the inside out, this little girl’s got Leukemia and she’s going to die by her fifth birthday. Me? I’m staying with a man who was a complete stranger a little less than a month ago, eating his food, wearing his clothes and sleeping under his sheets.
Everyone needs help, I guess. Maybe that’s the reality of the situation.
I don’t know.
To John—I’m sorry that I overreacted to what went on the other day. I feel really shitty that I made you feel like you’ve done nothing wrong when in reality you’ve done nothing more than help me. Like I said before, give me a while—I’m coming around. At least, I think I am. I’m holding more than a few secrets, some that are slowly digging from beneath the surface, others that are festering deep inside, but they’re starting to come out. They’re like Egyptian beetles in that movie with that lady named Evee and that Jack Conner guy who are killing all those mummies—they’ve dug their way in, but something’s making them come out.
I don’t know.
Maybe you’re my magic potion. It’s a corny analogy, I know, but it seems like you’re bringing out the best and worst of me.
I guess that’s not a bad thing.
In the end, all that matters is that I’m comfortable around you.
John’s given me a proposition that I’m finding a little hard to deal with. Though he said that I don’t necessarily have to start right away, he said that the sooner I can, the better, and that if I can get a head start on my recovery, I might as well.
Starting November 30th, I begin my transition toward recovery—the end of my pain, the slaying of my demons, the start of my new age.
I’m not sure what I think about it. I mean, I can understand why John would want to get this started, considering that my face is almost completely healed and that I’ve been here for almost a month, but—
I don’t know.
To be perfectly honest, I’m scared of facing it. The past few weeks have been—well, not perfect, but pretty close to it. Going to the movie with John, riding with him to get food, sitting in the park at night and watching the moon rise up over the trees—it’s been perfect, to say the least, and I don’t want that to go away.
They say all good things come to an end.
One foot in, one foot out—
I think I can do this.
When I got up this morning, the first thing John said was that I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to.
“This is your life,” he’d said. “I just want what’s best for you, and right now, what I think might be best for you might not be what you think is best.”
I’m not even sure what might be best for me. Right now, I’m so fucking scared of facing what happened that I feel like I should just get the hell out of here. I know better though. I know that won’t do me any good, because if I leave now, with broken ribs and a sprained ankle, I’m apt to end up back here in a week, begging for John to let me back and to give me a second chance.
I’m not sure.
I can’t even think straight right now.
Give me a little. Just—
Fuck. FUCK it. Just fuck it! I can’t let this thing get the best of me. I can’t. I’ve gone through too fucking much and am too fucking strong to let some jackasses who wanted to push me around get the best of me. I. Am. TOO. STRONG. To. Be. Pushed. Around.
My dad did it once, the people I tried to ask for help from did it twice, and the jackasses who beat and used me in ways that another person should never be used did it over and fucking over again.
I’m done with it.
I’m starting, tomorrow.
John—I’m doing it. I’m going to fucking do it, and if not for you, then for me, because tomorrow’s the start of a new day, a new week, the end of November and the beginning of the new me.
I’m not letting this take control of my life anymore.
I guess the best way to start is to tell the story of what happened leading up to the attack. I’m not sure how exactly this will go or if my writing will be as strong as it normally is, but I’m hoping I can just stick to the point and not stumble too much. I know there’s going to be some scratches, some extra lines and some other issues, but oh well—we’ll see how this goes.
I’m going to try my best, John. That’s all I can do.
Nearly six months before the night I was attacked, I was walking along the side of the interstate with my thumb in the air and my backpack over my shoulder. Colder than I’d ever been and praying to some God that someone would stop and pick me up, I pulled my hood over my head and tightened the drawstrings that hung down near my shoulder, hoping that the fabric would somehow absorb the heat coming out of my head and keep me from freezing to death. Five degrees outside: my teeth tasted like chalk and it seemed like there was blood in my mouth every time I went to spit. My ears felt like they were about to fall off and my nose was running unlike it had ever run before. It was so cold and it hurt so bad that I thought I would start crying, regardless of the fact that I’d been walking in the frigid weather for the past three hours without even stopping for a breath. At one moment, it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to hold my arm up anymore, as my shoulder started throbbing and the naked tip of my thumb seemed like it would fall off at any moment. However, just as I thought no one would stop for me—just as the vehicle that had continually passed, then fallen back into pace with me more than a dozen times slowed down—a man in a white pickup truck pulled over to the side of the road and rolled his window down.
“Hey!” he called out. “You ok, kid?”
How he knew I was a ‘kid,’ I didn’t know. Not that I’m a ‘kid’ by any stretch—I’m a grown man in fifty states in the U.S.A, but when your ears are burning cold, snot is running down your nose and your eyes are redder than hell, you can look like pretty much anything. However, whether or not I was a kid didn’t matter at that moment. I raised my head, shook it, then stepped forward, hoping that he wouldn’t get scared and drive off. (You would be surprised how many big, grown men stopped to ask if I was all right, then would drive off when I started walking toward the truck. I guess all the hitchhiker legends scared even the burliest of guys off.)
I said, without much dignity in my voice, I’m cold.
To which he replied, “I can tell.”
I stood there in what he would later say was below-freezing weather, teeth chattering and nose throbbing, watching him with eyes he said were so cold that frost adorned my lashes. In this time, I took notice of not only his face, but his features—his strong nose, possibly of Italian heritage, with dark brown eyes that seemed to pierce out at me from the cold white winter and a beautiful, strong, almost-square chin. Red hair fell from beneath the hat on his head and the beard that covered his face unarguably made him warm. In doing this—taking note of his features—I watched him for five minutes, wondering just what he would do, only to break down when he leaned over into the passenger seat and opened the front door.
“Get in,” he said.
So I did.
I pulled my knuckle gloves off my hands, shrugged my soaking wet shoes onto the floor and stripped out of my drenched shirt the moment I settled into the passenger seat. While he leaned forward to turn the heater on, hands fumbling with the dashboard and eyes darting between my face and my chest, I asked if I could take my pants off. I was freezing and couldn’t bear to have them on anymore, but knew from personal experience that a lot of men, even those looking for a hookup, were uncomfortable with the idea that a cop might pull up alongside them and see a naked guy (who could very easily be underage, as he was only nineteen and could be mistaken as being younger to some) sitting in their vehicle. The man stared at me for a moment, watching me with his brown eyes, then shrugged and told me to go ahead, that I would probably ‘freeze my nuts off’ if I didn’t.
When I was stripped down to my underwear and my clothes were on the floor, he reached into the back seat, pulled a blanket out and handed it to me. He then asked how long it had been since I’d eaten anything, to which I replied a day, before he reached into the center console and pulled out a Twinkie. “It’s not much,” he’d said, “but it’ll do.”
And do it did, at least until we pulled over to the gas station and he ran in and bought each of us a toasted submarine sandwich. He bought me ham, cheese and tomato, “the casual and fairly diverse,” he said, which was fine with me because I would’ve eaten sushi if he’d’ve been so inclined. All I wanted was something warm and that would fill me up, so getting any kind of food was a relief.
When we settled in and finished eating, he told me his name was Josh and offered his hand. I told him mine was Dakota and shook his in turn, then he asked me where I was headed. “Anywhere,” I said, to which he replied, “Where is anywhere?”
Knowing full and well that I could potentially play this situation into my hands based solely on his mannerisms, his attention to my body and his wandering, sidelong glances, I said the one thing that had charmed dozens of men before him into taking me wherever I wanted to go: ‘Anywhere you’re going.’
Three hours later, we were lying naked in a hotel room bed with a used condom on the floor.
I know what you’re probably thinking—I’m gay, but I’m not: at least, I don’t think I am. For the most part, I’ve just done what I needed to do in order to keep myself going for the last three years. I’m not gay, I’m not straight, I’m not anything as far as I know. I mean, I enjoy sex—I can tell you that much right now. The physical act of enjoying another’s naked flesh against you and feeling him inside you is an amazing feeling, but it’s not necessarily a psychological one, at least not for me. Whenever a guy fucks me, I get hard, and whenever he fucks me good he can throw me over the moon and back without me even knowing what the fuck is going on, but I’ve never remotely had a sexual interest in another man, much less another woman. I tried that once, being a callboy. It didn’t work out, so if you want to refer to me as anything, you can refer to me as ‘not straight.’ I guess that’s the best thing to say. Not attracted to women, written on the resume of my life.
Anyhow, getting back to the story—after Josh fucked me, we laid in bed for a long while talking about stuff: where I was from, what I was doing, why I was walking along the side of the interstate with my thumb in my air. I told him I was a runaway and that my dad had tried to kill me because I was gay (a complete lie, but it gave me an alibi,) that where I came from didn’t exactly matter and that I’d been walking along the interstate because there was nowhere else to go. When I asked about him, he said he was from New Jersey and that he was heading south to see his parents. He also said that he was worried about me (particularly because of how red my hands were) and that he wanted me to go to the doctor. I instantly refused, saying that I didn’t want my dad to get called in based on the fact that I was a runaway whom had likely caused the governments thousands of dollars in rescue fees, to which he immediately sobered himself, then asked if I wanted to go south with him.
“My folks live in a beachhouse,” he said. “You can come live with me for a while. You’re what? Eighteen, nearly nineteen? I’ll say you’re my new boyfriend. They don’t need to know anything.”
No one needed to know anything, which was exactly why I agreed to go south with him, toward Florida and where the oranges grew wild.
The following morning, after he paid for the room and we grabbed breakfast in the cafeteria, we started heading down the coast toward the North Carolinian border. At about noon, we stopped at a thrift store and he bought me a few pairs of clothes, particularly board shorts and tank tops because “it was warm down there” and “he thought I looked hot in them.” Playing the game that I did, I smiled, nodded and told him thanks, but even back then, when I was charming the pants off of men and the money out of their wallets, I still felt a sense of guilt for conning them into giving me what I needed. Josh was a nice guy—a nice, misguided guy, tall at six-three and good-looking with red hair and a wild, albeit attractive scruff of beard. I climbed back in the truck and we continued down the coast, passed into North Carolina, then got as far as Atlanta before, again, we stopped.
‘Why did we stop?’ I asked as we pulled into another motel.
“I want to screw around,” he said.
It didn’t surprise me. Few things surprised me, considering what men asked me to do or what they asked me to let them do to me, so I simply shrugged it off and walked into the hotel with him. We fucked for about two or three hours, on and off, until the sun went down and it got dark, before we walked around the corner to pick up burgers and fries. We then returned to our room, ate and laid in bed, him with his arm around me and me feeling like I had some close connection to this guy, even though I’d only met him the day before.
While we lay there, him stroking the curve of my shoulder and me with my head against his side, I wanted to ask him if he really cared about me, if he liked me for me and not just my ass. I didn’t though. Obviously, that’s more than clear, because asking a guy who picked you up on the side of the road if he’s in love with you is corny and more than stupid, but when you’re in my situation and you’re with a guy who makes you feel like you’re not actually doing it for the money or the need, you feel the urge to ask those kinds of questions.
The next morning, we woke up, ate breakfast again in the cafeteria, then crawled into his truck and started down the road. Two hours later, we were in Florida, and an hour after that, we were pulling into his parents’ driveway. His father was out front, mowing the lawn, when we pulled in and Josh disengaged the vehicle. Josh crawled out the minute his dad killed the lawnmower and I quickly followed suit.
The first words out of Josh’s mouth?
“Dad, I want you to meet my boyfriend, Dakota.”
So began the next year of my life.
Obviously, this part of the story is long, drawn-out and extremely complex, and I think it requires more attention than one entry can detail. I spent an entire year with this guy and his family and it marked (and still marks) an incredibly important period in my life, so I want to do the story justice, because I think I owe it to him (and, most importantly, to you) to give it as much detail as I possibly can.
Wondering what happened next?
I’ll give you a hint—the story didn’t end well, at all.
December 2nd. It’s started to snow and this morning, while sitting at the kitchen table, John was skimming through my journal with wide eyes and an even wider mouth. Several times, he looked up to ask how long I had spent on this entry, but I shrugged and said it only took me about an hour or so to write. He also said that he hadn’t read it, but from some of the things he caught, it was important progress, progress that he thought was important to the next steps of my life.
Before he left, he asked about Josh and whether or not I loved him, or still do.
I don’t know.
When you ‘love’ someone, does that mean you have an overt amount of affection for them?
I guess I’ll have to keep going with my story, but right now, I don’t think it merits it. I still plan on continuing, John, but it’s Monday and I’m trying to calm myself down before you get home tonight. Hopefully you’ll be fine with taking the night off to spend some time with me. I always hate it when you end up coming home from work only to end up doing more of it. You work too hard to come home to just start over again.
John didn’t read my journal last night. He did like I asked and sat down and watched TV with me after he made and we ate dinner. I think he might be under the impression that I don’t want him reading what I’m writing, especially since I’m starting to get so personal with my life, but I hope he doesn’t think that just because I’m getting deeper doesn’t mean I want to have my oxygen supply cut off.
Funny—it seems like I’m using allegories more and more often, especially as the days go by.
Oh well—at least it gives John (and, hopefully, my future self) something to relate to.
Last night, after we ate the beef stroganoff he made (from scratch, I should add,) we sat down in the living room and watched TV for about four hours, first a documentary about wildlife, then a crime special on the Black Dahlia. It’s odd to look at something like that on TV. You know it’s real, but at the same time, it’s become so sensationalized that it doesn’t seem that real at all, more like fantasy encapsulated in the world of reality (John said that’s called ‘magic realism’ when I mentioned it. He obviously reads more than I do.) It makes me wonder if people like the Dahlia are kept alive simply because of the way she died and not because she was a budding young talent who was brutally murdered. I mean, yeah—it ties into the same thing, but keeping someone alive because of how they died is far more cruel than keeping someone alive just based on the fact that they did.
Oh, yes, this young woman died.
Yes! Don’t you know? She was cut in half.
That poor, poor thing.
Same thing, same story, same reaction each and every time—once you tell a person someone was murdered, they react with shock, then when you tell them she was cut in half, they’re mortified, like someone’s just kicked a kitten into the wall in front of their four-year-old daughter and expected her mother not to react.
Seeing that last night, it makes me wonder if they would have had the same reaction if John hadn’t have come along and I had died in that alleyway. Knowing the public though, they probably wouldn’t have bat an eyelash at a homeless person being beaten to death in an alley. In today’s day and age, you have to die tragically to end up on the news, or at least accidentally. A biker can fall into a culvert whilst riding his magical unicycle and get his fifteen minutes of fame, but a man who gets shot will never end up on the news.
That’s the way life works, I guess.
If only people were more caring.
I’m not sure if John’s read my journal. If he has, he hasn’t mentioned anything about it, though I don’t think it necessarily matters right now. He may not just be saying anything for fear of upsetting me or bringing about any unnecessary feelings, or he may just not have read it at all. I wouldn’t put it past him, considering how he’s been returning from work the past few nights, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Regardless, I guess it’s time to continue, even if I don’t necessarily want to revisit this time in my life.
(To John—I’m working toward it. Hopefully this backstory, if you have or when you do read it, isn’t detrimental to the process.)
His father’s name was Lenore. His mother's was Theresa. I only found out their last name was Camble later the evening we arrived, while we were sitting in the living room and someone came asking for the senior Mr. Camble. Even now, writing this, I’m not too sure I would’ve ever found out the family’s last name had that man not come to the door wanting to ‘cause trouble,’ as Josh so kindly put it. I’d never snooped in their mail, checked their records or ever found anything that could indicate what their last name was. At the time, it didn’t necessarily bother me, as I was simply playing a role in order to put myself into a better situation and not thinking much of it. It ‘wasn’t necessary’ was always what I told myself whenever I got a wild hair and tried to find out more about them. Now, though, it makes me uneasy to think that I could have lived in that house for all that time and have never known Josh’s last name.
Anyhow, I’m distracting from the point.
As I was saying, we were sitting in the living room making small talk and watching the tide roll in when a knock came at the door and the stranger asked to speak to the senior Camble. Almost immediately upon turning to look at the front door, Josh had wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close, as though the stranger posed some threat to his livelihood and the relationship he purported we had. When I asked if something was wrong, he simply shook it off and said not to worry about it, then his father went out the front door and his mother stood and made her way into the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, Josh beckoned me to my feet and we went to his room to retire.
You can probably imagine I didn’t sleep very well that night. It was hard enough to go along with the whole ruse—playing ‘boyfriend’ and ‘the new man in the family’ and all—but it was even harder to think that something could possibly be wrong and you couldn’t do anything about it.
Sometime between the time I first crawled into bed and the moment Josh pulled me back against his chest, I stopped caring and pushed the thoughts out of my head. I didn’t fall asleep until sometime after midnight.
At six, Josh woke me up and asked if I wanted to go out on the beach. I said I was tired and didn’t feel like it. He rose and told his mother that I wasn’t feeling well. When she asked what was wrong, he said that we’d had a long drive up here and that he thought I may be catching a cold. However bogus the response was, it kept me in bed for another four hours before I dragged myself out of bed, into the shower and out into the living room in an open vest and a pair of board shorts.
That morning, I learned the first things about my new family—his father read the morning paper, his mother made cinnamon rolls and toast and brought them out to the men in her family and Josh liked to lounge around without his shirt. It established a routine that I came to follow over the next six months.
I didn’t ask about what had happened last night. Though Lenore seemed decent enough, even going so far as to ask if I was feeling better after Theresa asked if I wanted her to run down to the store for some medicine, I didn’t necessarily trust either of them, particularly because of the family matter that hadn’t personally been explained the moment I walked out the bedroom door. No apology, no insight, no excuse for having left the room to leave me and Josh to retire to bed—in some strange, maybe even sick and twisted way, I couldn’t help but feel as though there was a deep, dark secret lying beneath the floorboards, festering like malignant cancer that has been undiagnosed by the world’s greatest physician. That kind of thing doesn’t earn you bonus points, especially when you’re new to a family and they’re already pushing things off the table for the cat to chew on.
As nice as they were, I couldn’t trust either of Josh’s parents. Oddly enough though, I felt as though I could trust Josh, even though he picked me up off the side of the road only to fuck me two times before we got to his parents’ house.
It might be best to start here. I need a while to process how I should tell the next part of this story without overwhelming you beforehand.