A week or so after Jonathan had been in to see Dr. Alexander, she called Hank and asked him, Wesley, Jason and me to come in. When we got to her office she was waiting for us.
As soon as we were seated she said, "Fellows, I asked you four to come in because I need help. Wesley, I suppose you know your three brothers pulled Jonathan back from self-destruction once before, and I think you need to join them in doing it again."
Wesley nodded and said, "Anything I can do, I will."
"I was sure you would," the doctor said and continued, "I am very worried about him. He is suffering deep depression. I am not big on drugs, but I gave him a mild antidepressant when Mr. Dennison brought him in, and it was not enough. Frankly, I'm not sure we have time to try something else which might be as effective, but
more long range. I am afraid he might harm himself. His therapist asked that I give him a stronger antidepressant and I have, but it will be a week or so before it makes any real difference. You guys need to keep an eye on him and if you see any change for the worse, let me know and I'll hospitalize him."
"There's another reason I asked you to come in. Hank, one way or another, your parents need to know Jonathan is gay. His rape is tearing him up inside. He blames himself for it happening because, he says, 'They only did it because I am gay.' We all know that is not true, but it is to Jonathan's mind. He feels guilty as though he were the rapist. The fact that he is being harassed at school exacerbates the problem since he takes to heart the names he is being called. His rape certainly set some bad things in motion and what has happened afterwards has made them worse but, underneath it all, is his being gay and his thinking about what that means."
"As much as he hated it, the teaching he received while with The Circle of God's Chosen did not just disappear when he was thrown out. What I fear is he has pushed it all down deep inside and when it comes out, it comes out as self-hatred and self-loathing."
"The result of his self-loathing? A CDC* study of youth suicide concluded suicide was almost epidemic among young white men and almost half those who take their lives are gay. Realizing that gay men represent about ten percent of the population, you can see my fear. The boy's on a stronger antidepressant and having an additional counseling session each week but, in the meantime, we need to deal with the underlying cause, Jonathan's self-loathing because he is gay. What do you suggest?"
Hank said he felt as though Dr. Alexander had dumped a load of bricks on him. I'm sure the other three men in the room felt the same. I know I did.
Hank then questioned Jonathan's self-loathing. Dr. Alexander pointed out that he talked about being dirty and not being able to get clean. She reminded Hank, again, that Jonathan thought the names he was being called by some at school were what he deserved. As she talked, all of us recalled little things we hadn't noticed before. To be honest, we were all pretty shaken by what Dr. Alexander said and what we had not been aware of. Hank
agreed to try to talk with Jonathan and, if possible, get him to agree to talk with his parents.
At baseball practice the next day, while Jonathan was at bat, Hank grabbed the three McElrath boys and told us Jonathan had been adamant in his refusal to talk with his parents. He told Hank he knew they would throw him out "like the trash I am." We discussed the situation off and on all during practice--earning us a trimming down by the coach because we were not playing well. But he did say he knew our hearts really weren't in the game and that he, too, was worried about Jonathan. Anyway, we agreed that Hank would come to our place after supper and bring Jonathan and we'd talk.
By the time we had done our chores and cleaned up for supper, we were all more than a little tense. Grandmom noticed it at once and, after Granddad had said grace, she asked, "What's up with you fellows? You're all as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs."
"It's Jonathan," Jason said. "Dr. Alexander called us in yesterday to talk about him. She's really worried about his mental state."
We talked about the situation and, as we talked, some of the tension was eased. Both grandparents said that with us and Hank watching out for Jonathan, he was in good hands.
Wesley shook his head and said, "I'm not sure Jonathan would agree with that." Needless to say, that didn't improve our confidence.
When Hank and Jonathan came, we all went upstairs. We were barely settled when Hank said, "I have been trying to get Jonathan to talk with the folks. I know it's pretty scary, but I also know they will not put him out. He's as much a member of the family as I am."
"Hank, you know they would not approve of my being gay even if that was all there was to it, but there's more," Jonathan said.
"More?" Wesley asked. "How more?"
"Wesley, don't pretend you don't know!" Jonathan said with more than a little hint of anger. "You and everybody else in the world knows I had a dick up my ass--two dicks, a dozen dicks--I don't know how many dicks."
Jonathan went on talking--ranting and raving was more like it--and several things began to be clear. He was feeling guilty for having been "butt fucked". As he talked about that, it was obvious he had decided he had asked for it since he was gay and all gays do it. His ordeal--even though he was unconscious--had left him feeling dirty. His description of the feeling being "like I had fallen in an outhouse pit" was very vivid and left no doubt of what he meant in saying he felt dirty.
Finally, his relationship with Cody was troubling him. Jonathan was definitely in love with Cody and felt as though Cody might have loved him if he hadn't been raped. "I expected my first time to have real sex..."
"Meaning?" Jason asked.
"You know, being fucked."
I saw Jason's eyebrow go up and knew this was a topic to be pursued at a later date, but he said nothing.
"I feel like I have to walk on eggs to keep being friends with Cody. But I don't deserve having a friend." Jonathan finally asked, "Why are you all even bothering with me?"
The next half hour was spent trying to convince Jonathan that he was one of us and a great guy. He wasn't buying it. Later Wesley pointed out we were presenting a rational, logical argument to a completely illogical and irrational situation, namely Jonathan's self-hatred.
After we had talked for an hour, I was pretty convinced Jonathan should tell his parents he was gay, but would not. I understood. I had been very frightened when Wesley was getting ready to tell Granddad he was gay, and Granddad was not Hayden Dennison.
Mr. Dennison isn't a bad guy. As a matter of fact he has a heart of gold, but he can get riled and when he does, he can sound pretty mean. And though we all knew he'd not lay a hand on anyone, he did let a pretty violent temper get out of control at times. Now he was very much on edge and still having a hard time getting over Jonathan being kidnapped and raped. When he really got worked up, he blamed it all on those "fags in Sadies Cove." When he said something like that, Mrs. Dennison and Hank landed on him, but he still made such remarks occasionally--or did until he made a similar comment in front of Josh. Then the doo doo really hit the fan. Josh gave him what for in no uncertain terms. Hank called it the the reformed alcoholic syndrome. Still and all there was a definite possibility Mr. Dennison'd go on a rampage if Jonathan told him he was gay.
Nothing was settled, but I think we at least made Jonathan realize that we were in his corner and did not buy his opinion of himself and his situation.
The next few days saw no real change in Jonathan. Additionally, he was complaining about how his medicine made him feel disconnected. "Sometimes it's like my body doesn't belong to me," he said.
In the meanwhile, we had put up new posters about the Coldsprings Tribe in spite of the fact that we had had no response to our earlier ones. Apparently, Mr. Duncan, the principal, had been advised about the Tribe by Ms. Kennedy, since he had approved putting up the posters. The day after the new posters went up, he saw a couple fellows deface one with a magic marker, and gave them after-school detention and assigned them to Andy. Andy said Mr. Duncan told him the boys liked to mess up things and maybe they'd like cleaning up a few messes. "I had them cleaning the toilets," he said with a wide smile and a wink.
Wesley was selected, again, to talk with Ms. Kennedy about Jonathan's situation. She was glad he was getting help, but also was concerned about his mental health. Wesley said he thought it would help if some of the real assholes would lay off the name calling. Ms. Kennedy agreed, but pointed out that nothing could be done unless a teacher heard such or Jonathan made a report.
Wesley had been so worked up he didn't realize he had called those harassing Jonathan assholes until he was ready to leave Ms. Kennedy's office. Realizing what he had said, he apologized and Ms. Kennedy said sometimes nice language was not enough, but she hoped Wesley didn't make as habit of such talk.
It was only a couple days later when Jason, Hank and I rounded the corner of the school and caught three overgrown sophomores pinning Jonathan to the wall. They had pulled his pants half off and were making such remarks as, "Bend over so I can get some of that boy pussy you pass around." As soon as they saw us, they tried to run, but no such luck! We each grabbed one and then told Jonathan to pull up his pants and come with us.
We hauled the three into the office and told Mr. Duncan what we had seen and heard.
"You three have anything to say for yourselves?" he asked.
The three started to deny everything, but Mr. Duncan said, "Frankly, I wouldn't believe you three on a stack of Bibles. This is the third time I have seen you in my office for harassing your fellow students. Now you have four people agreeing on what you were doing." He then turned to us and said, "I'll need a write-up of what was happening. These three have just finished the year at Coldsprings, I suspect."
Jonathan didn't want to write anything, saying they were only three and getting them in trouble wouldn't make any difference since there were plenty of others to keep up the harassment. Hank would not let him off the hook, but he was correct. We continued to hear and see enough to know he was still being harassed.
Over the weekend, Jonathan seemed to be better. I even saw an occasional smile. Jason and Wesley commented on it as well. We all agreed it looked as if Jonathan was coming out of the woods.
Monday afternoon, Jonathan begged off going to work saying he thought he had a stomach virus. To tell the truth, he didn't look as if he was feeling good.
Tom took the crew into town and I took Jonathan home. He still seemed a bit happier even if he was feeling ill. When I suggested he stay at our place until his family got home, he said he'd rather get home and get in his own bed.
I dropped him off and decided I'd stop by the house on my way to Asheville. When I walked in, Grandmom said, "You must be under a lucky star. Professor Jamison called trying to locate you. He called the school, but you had already gone. He wanted to know if we could get in touch with you and I gave him your mobile number.
He called back and said there was no answer."
I didn't carry my mobile--they were not permitted in school although most students had one. I left mine in the Jeep, but had neglected to plug it in so the battery was dead. "He leave a message?"
"Yes, he has been called out of town and will not be able to see you this week. He wants you to focus on the Beethoven."
I wasn't too happy about missing three lessons, since my solo performance with the symphony was only three weeks away, but there was nothing I could do about the situation.
Since I wasn't going to Asheville, I fixed myself a snack and sat and talked with Grandmom, a treat since there was just the two of us. There seemed to be no opportunity for the two of us just to talk any more. She asked about my relationship with Jason.
I got all mushy trying to describe how much I loved Jason.
When I finished, she tried several ways to ask a question and finally just laid it out plain, "You do love him then and it's not the sex..." her raised eyebrow finishing her question.
I assured her I was more in love with Jason every day I lived, then added, "But the sex ain't bad!" and blushed.
We talked a bit longer and then I said, "You know, I wonder if Jonathan might not like to have just the two of us talk. Like you and I have been doing. I wouldn't blame him if he felt we were all ganging up on him. Think I'll go see."
When I reached the Dennisons' I just walked in. Unless the grown folks were at home, we all just walked in and sometimes did when the adults were home. It was like we really were one big family. I figured Jonathan had gone to bed and if he was asleep, I'd just peep in and leave.
When I got upstairs, Jonathan was in bed, but he didn't look right. He looked like he was asleep, but then he didn't. He looked as if he started to get out of bed and fell, his head resting on the floor. As I approached his bed, I saw he had vomited and he was practically lying in it. I was frightened.
I lifted him back onto the bed and he barely stirred. As soon as I had him in bed, I got a wash cloth from the bathroom and cleaned his face and then started cleaning up the floor. As I did, I spied an empty bottle just under the edge of his bed. I picked it up even as I felt sick at my stomach.
Sure enough, when I read the label I realized they were Jonathan's antidepressant pills and he had, for sure, taken them all.
I didn't know what to do for him so I dialed 911. The operator told me to try to get Jonathan awake and make sure his airway was clear. "An ambulance is on the way as we speak," she said.
I couldn't get Jonathan awake, so I pretty much carried him downstairs. It was like carrying a rag doll. It seemed like hours before the ambulance arrived, but it was actually only twenty minutes.
The EMS crew started work on Jonathan and, at the same time, assured me he would be ok. "Fortunately, the antidepressant he is on needs a huge dose to have serious consequences. Also, for one reason or another, he vomited and that got a lot of the drug out of his system, I suspect, an EMS nurse said.
Once the EMS crew took control, I was free to panic. I could feel the color draining from my face and one of the crew, who was not working with Jonathan, took me outside. She had me sit with my head between my legs, saying she thought I was going to pass out.
The rest of the week was a kind of blur for all of us, I suspect. Jonathan had no ill effects from his overdose. There was a lengthy discussion of whether he should be sent to a psychiatric hospital and I was surprised when even Dr. Alexander said she thought he'd do best at home IF he could be watched. She did insist we all sit down and have a very frank and open discussion of Jonathan's situation.
Jonathan still objected to telling his parents he was gay, but Dr. Alexander put her foot down and said, "Jonathan, it's that or the funny farm. This time I'm calling the shots."
She would not budge and Jonathan finally agreed to sit in on a discussion of his sexuality, but said, "I'll be there, but I'm not talking."
Dr. Alexander thought it would be wise to meet with just Jonathan's family and get the issue of his sexuality settled. After that, she suggested, the whole extended family should get involved and finally she would deal with the school staff.
Jonathan tried to balk again, but when he saw that wasn't going to work, he asked if he could at least have me and Jason with him when his sexuality was discussed by the Dennisons. Dr. Alexander asked and Mr. Dennison said, "Anything he wants is fine if it'll help him."
When we were all seated in the hospital conference room, Dr. Alexander said, "We're here because we love Jonathan. I think there's no question about that. We'll get into how we are going about helping him over the very rough patch he has been going through but, before we get to that, there's an underlying issue we need to get out in the open. Jonathan?"
I was surprised that after all the fuss he put up, Jonathan looked up, dropped his head and said, "I'm gay."
The younger crowd's mouths dropped open when Mr. Dennison said, calmly, "I'm not sure that it's very important either one way or the other right now."
Jonathan looked shocked, started crying and Mr. Dennison, who was sitting next to him, reached over and pulled the boy to himself. Jonathan rested his head on his dad's shoulder and wept.
When he was finally cried out, he hugged his dad again, sat down and said, "Dad, I know you're disappointed, but I didn't choose to be gay, I just am."
"Jonathan, I'll be honest," Mr. Dennison replied, "I wish you were straight, I really do. Most of that, now, is because I know some of how you are going to suffer because you're gay. And, to be honest, a part of it is because I think being gay is wrong... no, that's not right. I guess I've heard that it's sinful long enough to where that's a part of my thinking. I'm working on it after I met Brad and Jeremy. But you're my boy and that's the solid rock bottom and nothing you are or have done or will do is going to change that."
Jonathan had another good cry and then he told his story from the time he had been beaten and left to die. As he spoke, I could see a change coming over him.
When he finished, he said he was glad that was over, and we were all a great deal more at ease. I suspect we would all have said there was no more problem, but Dr. Alexander was quick to remind us that Jonathan had a lot of work ahead of him, but he definitely had taken a major first step.
The next couple weeks saw a daily change for the better in Jonathan. He got on top of his school work quickly and became better than before on the ball field. He and Cody seemed to be enjoying each other's company and Jason, Wesley and I were more convinced than ever that Cody was gay.
Shortly after the meeting with Dr. Alexander, we started getting e-mail sent to the Coldsprings Tribe. At first it was kinda requests for advise to the lovelorn, most of which was obviously a prank, but at least it was a start.
Jonathan hadn't mentioned being harassed since he came back to school so we all assumed that, too, had passed. We were wrong.
Seems the three guys who had Jonathan pinned didn't get suspended for the rest of the year after all. One of their fathers was a lawyer in Clarksville and ended up challenging the suspension. It ended up in court and the judge had branded their harassment "just a little teenage name calling" and ordered them readmitted to school. "They have been out of school two weeks and that's punishment enough," he decreed.
Just as Wesley, Jason and I were walking into the cafeteria for lunch, we saw the three pass Jonathan who was sitting at our usual table. They said something and when they did, Jonathan leapt to his feet and shouted, "I have had enough from you and your crowd of assholes!" He climbed on the table and shouted again, "Hey! Everyone! I have had enough!"
"I am picked on every day in school. Yes, I am gay. I am what you have been calling me. I am a fag, queer, homo and all those other things. I am what I am because I was born this way. If any of you can change that for me, so that I can be like you, then please do. If you can't do that for me, then please just leave me alone."**
The cafeteria had gotten quiet when Jonathan climbed on the table and shouted, but when he finished his short speech even my breathing sounded loud. That lasted for a few seconds and then Janie and Sandra stood and started applauding slowly. Soon other students were joining them and the applause took on a rhythm as it
grew louder and louder. Finally at least half the school was standing and applauding.
I glanced toward the faculty table to see how the faculty was responding. Just as I looked, I saw Ms. Kennedy stand. She was soon joined by other faculty members. There were some still seated, but not many, when the baseball coach, the only coach taking part, stood and yelled above the applause, "Way to go, Hoss!"
That provoked other cheers and the applause grew louder as some students started whistling.
I was very, very proud of Jonathan and so were his other brothers. Hank was patting him on the back and Cody threw his arms around his friend and in front of the whole school, kissed Jonathan full on the mouth. Jonathan was, of course, shocked, but I think he might have got in a little tongue, "like Hank does with Beth."
I am sure we all thought the crisis was over and all was well with Jonathan, but time would prove otherwise.
One result of Jonathan's speech was a flood of e-mail to the Coldsprings Tribe. I was not surprised when about half of it was filled with homophobic nonsense. Maybe a fourth of it wanted to know who we were so the writer could help us find Jesus and get saved. We let Wesley answer those and was pleased that he did so without too much rancor.
We did a form response to the homophobic ones stating that we had neither time nor desire to respond beyond acknowledging we had received the e-mail.
Most of the other e-mails poured out the writer's story of feeling isolated and alone and all praised Jonathan's courage.
Jonathan was doing well, but his relationship with Cody proved to be a real monkey wrench in the works. After the kiss in the cafeteria, Jonathan assumed his relationship to Cody was on an entirely different level. The first blow to his perception of their new relationship came when Cody told him he only kissed him to show him how proud he was of his friend. "It didn't mean anything except that and I'm NOT gay," he said.
For his own sanity Jonathan told Cody they couldn't just be friends. "Cody, I'm sorry. I wish we could be just friends, but we can't. I keep getting mixed messages from you and it keeps me on an emotional roller coaster. I'm still not all together from what happened to me. I guess my speech makes it seem like I am on top of it, but I am not. Until I am more stable and sure of myself, we'll just have to each go our own way."
Life definitely became easier for Jonathan after his speech and deciding to just break off his relationship with Cody helped. Of course he was hurt by having to break up his friendship--he couldn't just turn off his love for Cody like he was turning off a light. Nonetheless, finally admitting that he was in love with his friend and couldn't not be in love with him, gave him a great sadness, but also the freedom and courage he needed to move on
with his life. Yes, life was definitely easier and it showed in his school work and his baseball. But easier was not easy and gradually it looked as if he'd slip back into depression.
One evening when we had finished our homework and were sitting in our den, Jason and Wesley playing guitar, they stopped and Jason said, "Stone talked with us today about Jonathan. Seems Stone was still at work when Jonathan came in to clean his office earlier this week, and when he asked Jonathan how things were going, our Hoss fell apart. He and Jonathan talked for about a half hour. Stone told us he was worried about Jonathan and wanted to know what was being done to help him."
"We told him Jonathan was seeing his therapist twice a week and was still on antidepressants," Wesley said. "He wanted to know what steps were being taken to make sure he didn't overdose and we told him Mrs. Dennison kept his medicine and doled it out to him. We told him we were worried Jonathan was on the slope back into depression but, since he was still on his drugs and seeing his counselor twice a week, we had no ideas about what else could be done."
"He said he didn't want to say any more about it until he checked something out, but he thought Wes Bushyhead might be able to recommend something. Said he'd let us know something in the next day or so," Jason said. "I sure hope so."
"Agreed," Wesley said.
"And I make three," I said.
Wesley had checked the Coldsprings Tribe's mailbox earlier and said we had to get a form response for "those good Christians who are out to save our souls. They are writing more than the homophobes these days."
We finally agreed to do a form response which said, "We are all baptized Christians who are in church every Sunday. We are very confident in our salvation, but thank you for your interest and prayers." Wesley typed the response and put it in our enhanced clipboard so all we had to do was hit "Reply" and then a hot key and the message was ready to send. We were all proud of the fact that we had gotten all the flippant and sharp answers out of our systems before composing the response. We came up with the final version after Jason said, "I think they are misguided and wrong, but those people mean well."
Before we headed for bed, Wesley checked the Tribe's account one last time and downloaded a couple of bombshells.
The first e-mail started with, "I hope you can help me. I don't want to be gay and I know I'm not. But my best friend has broke up with me and I am going crazy. If I was gay I could understand how I feel, but I can't since I'm not. I love my best friend sooo much, but he barely speaks to me. He says I'm very confused and he has too much on his mind to try to find out what I mean when I do things. Sometimes I hurt so much I don't want to go on. What can I do?" The email was signed "A Coldsprings Freshman."
Wesley said, "Any guesses as to who wrote that? You get three and the first two don't count."
"Ok, I'm sure we all think Cody wrote that, but we can't be sure. But even if we were sure, we can't let on. We have to have people trust us and if we go guessing, even if we're right, the whole program is doomed," I said. "But I do think that letter's from Cody. Who's going to respond?"
"I'll get to work on it," Jason said as he sat down at the other computer.
"Ok," Wesley said as he turned back to the computer and downloaded another e-mail. As soon as he had opened it, he said, "Good golly, Miss Molly. I may be wrong, but this kid sounds like Jonathan."
Wesley then read the e-mail aloud. "Hi, I hope you can help me. I'm gay and I have been raped. That makes me feel bad a lot of the time. I thought I was getting over it, but I guess I'm not..."
"It's Jonathan all right," Wesley said after the writer described a speech he made in the cafeteria and then added, "People are leaving me alone, but I still feel very sad most of the time. I broke up with my best friend because he keeps doing things like kissing me. I like it, but then he says he's not gay and all."
The e-mail went on at length, but it contained nothing we didn't know until the last paragraph. That read, "My family loves me and I have four big brothers--well, they're not really my brothers, but they are. They all try to help, but nothing seems to work. I just want to stop hurting."
"Red alert. We know Jonathan has tried to stop the hurting before. But we can't confront him," I reminded them. "The Coldsprings Tribe must keep its promise to reveal neither who we are nor any communications we have from our readers, without expressed permission. We break trust and we may as well fold up shop."
"But do we keep silent and just ignore what Jonathan may be thinking about doing?" Wesley asked.
"I think we are once again caught on the horns of that bull named dilemma," Jason said.
"Yeah," was all I could say, and got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"You two go on to bed and I 'll take care of these e-mails if you trust me," Wesley volunteered.
We quickly took him up on his offer.
*Center for Disease Control (CDC), a federal government agency which studies diseases, causes of death, and has major concern for epidemics. It studied teen suicide as an epidemic among youth.
** This paragraph is a verbatim, with the exception of the omission of a phrase about his bus, of the speech given by Aaron of The Mail Crew and is used with his permission. You may read the speech and its context from the Mail Crew website at [ http://www.themailcrew.com/bus.html]. A special thanks to Aaron for permission to use his speech.