Please let me start by saying: Scottie; this one is not for you to read.
I've not had any of my fiction here for some time. I do still write on occasion, but all too often I get my original idea out then lose the thread and find the story stops for me. So, I guess they are called "short stories".
This story is one such that I've found at an impasse. I don't quite know where to go with it. For that matter, I don't know if the story is even readable. I know what I'm trying to say, of course... will anyone else?
So, to describe things a bit: this story includes a couple of fades. I start with a memory of a conversation between Jimmy, the title character, and Bobby - his best friend. Jimmy tells the story of how he came to be talking with Bobby, the very recent happenings .... it's a bit confusing, so I separate with ~ ~ . The story flows from back story to present.
I guess my hope is that you will go for the ride and tell me what you think. If you would like, you may email your thoughts to my email - at the side bar (blundersonword). I don't check the 'randys_stories' email very often. I am a bit nervous about this story, so I do appreciate your input. Thank you!
Bulletproof; A Story of Survival and Renewal. by RandyBee contact author via firstname.lastname@example.org All rights reserved. Readers may copy for personal perusal. Postings are only by permission of author.
At 27, I shouldn’t feel so old, I shouldn’t feel so tired. I certainly didn’t feel like the kid that left only nine years ago, nothing but the clothes on my back and the tears on my face to start me off on this great trip called life. I was 18 then, of course, and for just a moment that day I was bullet-proof….just for a moment, though.
“I can’t believe he actually did that,” Bobby said, shaking his head in wonder. “Where will you go? What will you do?”
My thoughts exactly. What am I gonna do now? I just shrugged my shoulders. I couldn’t really talk yet, but I didn’t have an answer for him anyway. I just looked at my best friend sitting there next to me and shrugged my shoulders again, then began another bit of shaking and tears.
I’d survived that mean bastard for 18-years. I’d heard his hatred for 18 years, all the while watching my mother and my younger brothers cringe at his mere glance and quake when he spoke. I’d done the same, of course, but after 18 years I’d had enough. And for just that moment in time I stood tall, proud and angry.
“Damn queers”, he said, responding in kind with the white-suited preacher on tv that had made a career of taking God’s love and twisting it to hate with every breath. It was a rant that I’d grown increasingly tired of hearing, especially seeing the effect it had on Teddy, my 16-year old brother. Each homophobic word of hatred and loathing was a flail laying my quiet little brother to the bone.
“Damn queers,” he said again. It was the opening salvo of a weekly rant, one I could nearly recite word for word, gesture for gesture – it no longer affected me. So prepared was I that it surprised me to hear the words change this time. It was likely the real moment of ruin for my family.
“Damn queers,” he said a third time. “Why, this is why, I tell you, that we live here in Wilson Meadow. Them damn queers is out to California and New York – but not here in Kansas!” He said it with such conviction that it startled a choked off laugh out of me.
“You got somethin’ to say, boy?” That wasn’t really a question, it was a challenge. Teddy was shaking his head ‘no’ so hard I thought he’d give himself damage. But, me, well, I was bulletproof that day.
“There’s gay people everywhere, Dad. Not just in the big cities.”
“Not in Kansas,” he harrumphed.
“Yes, in Kansas, Dad.”
“Not in Wilson Meadow.”
“Yes, even in Wilson Meadow, Dad.”
“Boy, I’m telling you there ain’t no queers in Wilson Meadow. I’d know ‘em. You can see it in they’s walk and the way they holds they’s hands,” he said, waving his hands about as though imitating the mannerisms he declared so universal and declarational of orientation. “Why,” he said stroking his chin and looking up in wistfulness, “thems queers ever come to MY town, I’d shoot ‘em on sight.”
Poor Teddy was doing his disappearing into the furniture trick, pulling into himself until all that seemed noticeable were two huge eyes watching his world crumble about him.
“Dad, you’d shoot a man just because he’s gay,” I asked, “a neighbor, even?” I saw darkness seem to fill his eyes and etch the lines in my father’s face, his big hands flex and swell.
“Boy, I’d shoot ‘em deader than hell! I’d wipe that demon spawn perversion off this good earth and send all them queers to hell where they belong, neighbor or not!” I could see he was at his limit, but I couldn’t leave it alone. I just had to push, I guess.
“What if’n they was family, Dad? Would you shoot blood for being gay?” I could hear Teddy whine, but I was in my moment.
“Boy,” he said, shaking his finger at me, “don’t you ever speak so ill of your family. We’s strong men in this family, strong men an’ boy. We’s men, not limp wristed queers!” Oh, I tell you, the very air seemed to vibrate in that little room, not from the volume of his words but from the demands he put into them. I could hear the preacher rambling on, forgotten. I could feel Teddy shaking, I could feel the whole couch shaking from that boy’s fear. In the ringing silence I felt so angry that my little brother would find such fear in his own home. It made me righteously brave, strong, reckless….but that’s all right, because I was bulletproof that day.
“Well, Dad. Guess what? I’m gay”.
And the world stopped in silence and awe. Somewhere in the kitchen I heard glass shatter, but this was my moment. Somewhere in that area I heard my mother moan “oh, Jimmy”, but time had stopped. I was focused, fearless and angry. I smelled the tang of urine coming from Teddy, his soft mewling whine riding the waves of that same surreal stillness. But, my eyes were locked on my father’s and on that blue vein in the middle of his forehead growing larger, purple and thrumming with his heartbeat. None of it mattered, though. I was bulletproof this day; young, strong and bulletproof. And, I smiled.
Dad came out of his chair like a bull, a bellow of rage and indignation that was counterpointed by Teddy’s shrill scream. But I was ready. I was fast, young and ready….and somehow still standing; torn, bloody, but still standing while that angry god of my childhood wasn’t. And in that moment, my heart pounding like bass drums in my ears, I finally showed him that I was a man despite his hateful words.
Dad pulled himself back to his feet, all 340 pounds, 6’2” of him, pushing by me on his way to his room. Panting, hurting but triumphant, I looked to Teddy, my quiet, scared, gay little brother and he stared back in awe. I smiled as best I could. I knew that life would now be different in this house. Teddy would be safe, Joey would be safe. They could grow up without fear…..and then Teddy began to scream.
“He missed on purpose, though, right?” Bobby asked. It was another question that I was asking myself, but I didn’t know. I just shrugged because I had no words. I wasn’t shot, but I learned right then, amidst screams and horrible explosions, that I wasn’t bulletproof after all.
At 27, Chapter 2.
These roads back into town seem smaller now than when I left. Riding out, they’d seemed so huge and empty, imposing in their isolation. My return was on the same roads, now so small and old, run down. The world seems so big when you are young. Driving past the high school I heard the shrill tweet of a whistle, bringing back memories. On impulse I drove back to the practice field, over the same bumps and wallows that were there in my days, likely for generations. Coach was there, barking the same orders to a whole new crop of boys, turning them into men. I quietly made my way to the fence rail, my eyes seeing this new crop of talent amidst my own memories of my time here.
Coach noticed me in moments, likely looking for me to show up. He made his way over to the fence, a bit slower than I recall, a bit stiffer. “You look good, boy.” Oh, that made me stand even taller. At 27 his praise could still make my heart pound. “How long you stayin’,” he asked, reaching up to rub my head – an odd thing coming one man to another, but you had to know Coach.
“I don’t know, Coach”, I smiled back. “Maybe just for the funeral, maybe for longer. I’m between gigs at the moment.”
“Well, I’ll be there with you, son. You stand tall, now. I…….”
“Bill Pickens! I see you do another arm tackle like that again I’m going to have you doing sprints until you puke! Now run it again!”
Looking back to me, his face changing from coach’s wrath to surrogate father, “I’m proud of you, boy. You call me if you need anything and I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh, and nice to see you’ve finally cut that hair you were so proud of,” he smiled, walking back to his boys with a twinkle in his eye for me. I waved, sharing the humor.
I continued on to the house, going past memories every turn of the tires. Teddy was waiting for me in the driveway, a strong young man on the outside but beaten and lost on the inside. His eyes were lifeless, but he smiled as I got out of the rental car and he met me with a hug.
“How are you doing, Teddy,” I asked as I held him out by the shoulders so I could see him.
“Oh, I’m ok. Been better,” he said, then looking at me with a conspiratorial grin, “been worse”.
“Yeah,” I said, sharing the memory with him. Our moment cut short by the slam of the kitchen screen door as a beautiful young woman came barreling at me. She didn’t quite resemble that nine year old little girl of knees and elbows I last saw run out of that door, but I could see where she used to be in this young woman who tackled me and sat on my chest giggling. “Hi big brother” she whispered.
“Hey pumpkin seed”, I said, remembering my pet name for her. “Been a long time, you seemed to change some” I said with a wink. She just smiled down at me. “Where’s your Momma?” That dropped her face a bit.
I wore my dress uniform for the funeral. I really didn’t own much beyond that and bdu’s except t-shirts and jeans. But, Momma seemed proud to see me as I stood at the door of the church. Teddy had her by one arm, Penny by the other. Dad followed behind, hunched over a great gut. Momma stood tall in front of me, smoothing my board and lapel. There was pride and life in those eyes, and it was a wonder to see her perk up so much and stand right out of the supporting arms of Penny and Teddy. She stroked my cheek, then laid her head on my chest and shook for a moment with emotions too terrible to loose. “Hi, Momma,” I said. Right then I made up my mind where I’d be for the coming future.
Mom reached back, gathering the arms of Penny and Teddy. Penny had tears showing. I think that was the first life Momma showed; not even yesterday when I came to see her did she look at anything but the wall. Penny and Teddy both touched me on their way to the sanctuary, smiling welcome smiles.
“So, they let faggots into the Marines now, huh?” I turned to look at this hunched over mass of what was once fearsome and incredible. He no longer inspired fear, not in me. Nine years as a marine, including combat and embassy duties, saw me past more fearsome men than this. I had nothing to say. And, perhaps that was best. As he made his ponderous way past me, I walked into the parking lot to make the phone call I’d wondered about since hearing the news of my brother.
“Colonel, sir!” I said into the phone when he answered.
“At ease, Gunny,” he chuckled into the phone. “Have you made your choice?”
“Yes sir”, I said. “I’m needed here”.
“Good luck, son. I’ll put in the papers. Semper Fi, Marine.” He closed the circuit, and that quickly my life had changed.
pulled into Penny’s shoulder, both hands clutching Penny’s in pain and desperation but making no sound throughout the service. In time the pastor nodded to me and I walked to the podium, brushing my hand on the walnut surface of the casket as I made my way by. I understood combat, I knew pain intimately, but this was hard.
“Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,” I began, looking out over distant cousins and friends, smiling at my brother, sister, and my mother. Coach winked at me, and off in the back I saw Bobby, his wife and children by his side, smiling proudly up at his old best friend.
“Joey was just a shy little boy of seven when I left town. He held his giggle for any recipient, smiled ready to please and loved all who would look his way. His letters to me talked of swimming down at the creek with friends, summer days of baseball and fall nights of football. Somewhere I missed the turn, though, and I find that to be my own fault. I wasn’t here for him when he needed me.”
“There are some of you out there today that believe things turned out somehow right. Let me tell you, this is no-where near right.” I walked out to the walnut casket, where laid my brother. “Sixteen is too young to go home. You were still needed here, Little Man,” I said to him, brushing his blond hair off his eyebrows. “But let me make this promise to you; I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. But, I’m here now. “ I reached in to take his cold, lifeless hand. “I make this vow, my brother, that no more will any boy or man,” I said, looking toward Teddy, “girl or woman,” I said, looking at my mother, “have to face the hate alone. I’m here, ready to stand tall. Never again will anyone be forced to escape by suicide the hate and bigotry for being gay,” I said, smoothing his small hand and laying it back on his chest. I walked slowly back to the center of the platform, tall in my uniform. “Trust in this, Joey; there is no man who can drive me away, ever again. I’m home, and I’m staying. Rest well, little brother.”