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SUMMARY: Past, present and future are mixed together and served up in this loose retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, please take note and consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my holiday gift to you. It’s undoubtedly been done before and better, but every generation of writers has a new take on the tale and this is mine. I hope it will haunt your house as pleasantly as the original. As Dickens noted, I have endeavored not to “put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.” Read, enjoy, and feel free to participate in the creative process, either directly below following the chapter or by sending me an e-mail. I would appreciate hearing from you even if only to let me know about any spelling or other errors you find since I would like to correct those wherever possible.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 2 Brian and Robbie talk for a long time before Brian finally drives his young friend back home to Virginia. Robbie asks Brian whether he plans to come over on Christmas Day, but Brian demurs, insisting that Christmas is a day families should celebrate together alone. Robbie accuses Brian of being Ebenezer Scrooge and then gives him an early Christmas present. The present turns out to be a reproduction of the first edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The choice surprises Brian and he tosses it aside, unread. Tired from his long, grueling, hike earlier that day, Brian nods off in front of the fireplace and ends up recalling how he and his family had celebrated Christmas years ago when he was just six. The memories are fond ones indeed, but end up prompting Brian to wonder how he had come to despise the Christmas holiday years later. He realizes part of the answer can be found in a box he keeps in his bedroom closet. He pulls the box down from the shelf in his closet, but finally decides not to open it. Instead, he returns the box to its resting place and goes to bed for the evening.
WITH APOLOGIES MR. DICKENS
It was mid-December and I was at the bus station in downtown Washington. I had spoken to Robbie earlier that day and somehow we had gotten into an argument. He kept insisting I should join him and his family for Christmas. I had resisted, explaining my reasons for not doing so again and again. But he just kept dismissing everything I said as the ranting of an anti-social misanthrope.
The whole thing had upset me; and so there I was, standing in the middle of a bus station, trying to marshal all the reasons for resisting his plea if he raised it again. But it was hard. Crowded with people coming and going, the place was noisy, making it difficult to think about anything much at all. To make matters worse, neither the evening darkness nor the faux Christmas decorations could disguise just how filthy the station was.
And then suddenly there had been that final indignity. Somewhere above the din, holiday music began playing, trying to lend a festive air to the place.
at the Christmas party hop
Mistletoe hung where you can see
Ev’ry couple tries to stop … ♪♪
It was Brenda Lee, the little girl with the big voice, just thirteen when she originally recorded the song for Decca Records back in 1958.
My mind started to drift back to when I was thirteen.
I don’t want to be listening to Little Miss Dynamite singing that stupid song; I don’t want to be at this bus station at all. This is the last place in the world I want to be.
So why are you here, Brian?
Looking around, I spied Emily. I wasn’t being very good company, but seeing her helped me recall the reason I was there.
Emily was the new receptionist in our office, a pretty young girl just out of college that all of us liked very much. She had decided to take two weeks leave at the holidays. She wanted to celebrate an old fashioned Christmas back home in Pennsylvania and I had offered to drive her to the bus station that evening. I had parked as close to the place as I could, then helped her with all the luggage, bundles, and gifts she was bringing along with her.
The station was in a part of town that attracted a less than desirable crowd. Most people tried to avoid the area, but I knew it well enough from a long ago time. Knowing it like I did, I had decided to stay until I could see Emily safely away on her bus. The place may have been bustling with people, but they weren’t exactly the salt of the earth. I didn’t want to leave her alone by herself.
I’m not exactly sure when I first spotted him moving quickly among the crowd, but he saw me staring and returned my glance and I knew immediately what he was selling, just like he knew I was interested in what he was peddling. It had been a long time since I had smoked, longer still since the last time I had actually bought from a dealer. I nodded at him ever so slightly and waited until Emily was safely aboard the bus before wandering off toward a distant corner away from the crowd.
It only took a couple of moments for us to complete the transaction. I looked around furtively to see whether anyone had been watching, stuffed the purchase into my pocket, and quickly headed for the exit. Safely outside, I remember shivering, then looking across the street. There was the Café Palermo, still lit up as brightly as ever; still beckoning the unsuspecting traveler who would be shocked by what he discovered if he was foolish enough to cross the street in an effort to quench his thirst.
I had only visited the place a couple of times years ago. To be honest, it had been a long time since I had visited any gay bar. But Eric would drag me along whenever he went to the place back then. I had known the bar by reputation even before I met Eric. I had told him what everyone said about it, but he would just laugh and tell me to stop being so judgmental and prudish. He had friends there; and because it was Eric and the two of us were friends, I would give in and let him drag me along.
Even after Eric left town and I stopped going to the bars, there had been times when I had driven past on my way home late in the evening.
As my car approached, I would slow down and stare at the boys leaning against the wall from a distance. Eventually, as I got closer, some of them would turn and stare at my car. They seemed to be waiting for something to happen, some glimmer in me I knew why I was there and what I was doing. And then I would accelerate and drive away quickly once I saw them staring at me.
But staring across the street tonight there were no boys leaning against the wall as best I could tell and I understood why. It was bitterly cold, the kind of night no one with any sense wanted to be out in for long.
I hesitated momentarily thinking about it. Everyone knew the Café Palermo was the bottom of the barrel, a place for losers without any standards who were willing to pay for sex. But I was already there after all and for some reason my curiosity had been aroused again.
I’ll just have one drink and see if it’s still the same old Palermo, I said to myself; one drink, then I’ll go home.
I crossed the street and walked toward the entrance. From somewhere hidden within the shadows of the door a boy emerged. I hadn’t noticed him because he was small and the door seemed to swallow him up. But there he was, huddling tightly against the entrance as if trying to draw heat from the building itself.
He was young and cute and reminded me of Eric in some ways. I remember feeling sad for him because the cold was already making me shiver and the kid’s jacket was definitely much lighter than mine.
He was so cold he never said a word. He just waited for me to approach and smiled. It must have been the smile. It was a beautiful smile. I don’t really know why I did it. All I remember is pulling my wallet out of my pocket and retrieving the five crisp new $20 bills it contained.
It was all I had left after my purchase and I remember feeling bad about that. I knew he could use more, but it was all I had and I didn’t hold anything back for myself. I knew he needed the money more than I needed the drink. On reflection, I realized I didn’t need the drink at all.
“Merry Christmas,” I said, handing the bills to him.
Then I turned around and started to walk away, back toward my car.
“Hey, Mister, what do I have to do for this?” he asked, following directly behind me.
I stopped, looked back at him, and smiled.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just happened to be in the neighborhood dropping a friend off at the bus station. You don’t have to do anything for the money. But if you have someone to go home to, go home and give him a kiss.”
There was a moment of shock and disbelief. Then he looked over at me and smiled.
“Hey, thanks, Mister,” he said.
“Thanks a lot. And you have a Merry Christmas too, Mister.”
I could see he was genuinely thankful just by staring into his eyes. His eyes were still alive, still capable of showing emotion, unlike the eyes of many of the rest of the boys I could recall meeting when Eric had taken me there long ago.
He turned around and walked back toward the door and I watched him disappear into the place. I remember being glad at what I had done and the words I had shared with him. Most of all, I remember being glad he was inside now, inside where it was warm.
I didn’t really think about it on the drive home to Burke that evening. By then the drive home was so routine I didn’t need to think about anything much. Eventually I pulled on to the little cul-de-sac that dead ended at my house. Unlike most of the houses on the street, mine was darkened when I arrived. The rest were alive with the colors of the season, but I didn’t put up Christmas decorations anymore.
Pressing the button, the garage door slid open at the command and I pulled in. Then, exiting the car, I took another look up the brightly lit street before pressing the button that would close the door and conceal the colors from me.
This had been my dream house when I bought it a long time ago. There were only a few houses on the street and mine was the one at the very end nestled among the trees. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have radiator heat like our home in Maine, for example. The builders didn’t use radiators anymore. But other than that it had pretty much everything I had wanted at the time I bought it.
It had cost a fortune and there were times when I wondered whether I would be able to handle the payments. The pay raises I had received over the years made that less of a concern now. But lately I had been thinking about selling it and buying something closer to town. I still liked the place, but it wasn’t a dream anymore. It was just a big empty house I went home to every night.
There was a time when I hoped someone might share it with me, but I had abandoned that hope long ago. My only roommate these days was the cat and he greeted me as usual that evening. I knew he was looking for food, not love or companionship. I made my way to the container and provided what he was looking for.
Cats were easier than dogs. They were more like me, pretty much self-sufficient and not in need of much love or affection. But he would be happy enough to curl up next to me on the bed so the two of us could share our warmth, especially on a cold mid-December night like this.
Robbie was the only reason I hadn’t already sold the place. I think he loved it as much as I did back then and there had been many a weekend when he had shared it with me when he was younger. There had been fewer weekends like that once he started high school. But we would be spending some time together New Year’s Eve and he might even stay over that evening if I suggested it. I reminded myself to talk to Robbie about that right after Christmas.
I wasn’t really hungry by the time I got home that evening. There had been a Christmas party at one of the offices on the Hill and I had filled up on the free finger food. I grabbed a drink from the refrigerator and set about getting a fire going. I loved the fireplace in the house more than just about anything else and soon enough the inferno was roaring before my eyes.
I settled into the chair and retrieved my purchase from earlier that evening. After rolling a couple of joints, I lit one up and inhaled deeply. Like I said, it had been a long time since I had smoked. My lungs rebelled and I found myself coughing. The joint I was smoking seemed more powerful than anything I had smoked in the past.
Eventually my lungs adjusted and I just sat there smoking, staring into the fireplace, and trying to make out the shapes dancing before me in the flames. I could feel myself drifting off and then my eyes seemed to be drawn to some movement within the fireplace. I remember closing my eyes momentarily, then opening them again and being astonished.
I could see his face staring at me, as calm and relaxed as ever. He was beckoning me from within the flames and I could feel myself being drawn toward him once again. Long ago he had been a beacon of peace and serenity, things I yearned for so much back then.
I was tired now and my eyes closed and there we were together again in the Church.
Mass was over and Father Richard had been talking with the parishioners who had lingered after the service that morning. There were never many of them on Tuesday and now he was ushering the last of them out the door.
He had only been at our parish for a couple of months, but I liked Father Richard. I liked him a lot. All of the boys did. He was younger than any of the priests the Bishop had previously assigned to our parish and he was different as well.
He wasn’t pompous or only interested in adults like the previous priests. He liked to make fun of himself and play jokes on us, and he never got mad if someone didn’t know the answer to one of the questions he asked from the catechism on Saturday morning.
I knew all of the answers by then. I had memorized the whole thing to avoid the anger of the previous priest, but I was glad Father Richard never got angry if one of the other boys made a mistake.
He seemed very compassionate to me, but what I liked most of all was that he was fun.
He would come out after Mass every Sunday and shoot hoops with us or toss the football around. He would take us to different sporting events around town during the summer and go swimming with us up at the lake; and when we were finished with whatever it was we were doing, he would drive us down to the A&W Root Beer stand and buy us sodas and hot dogs.
All of the boys from our parish were competing to be his favorite, but I already knew I was, just from some of the things he had told me privately. I liked being his favorite. I was thirteen years old and no one had ever paid much attention to me. Not my parents. They were too busy trying to make a living for us. Not my sister or brothers, all of whom were older than me. Not my teachers or schoolmates. I was no one special to them. Not anyone really.
So I liked the attention he showered on me.
Still, it had been almost a year since the last time I had served on the altar. I didn’t feel worthy of such an honor. Unlike the rest of the altar boys, I was a sinner and knew I didn’t belong up there. The altar was special, not a place for someone like me.
It had come as a surprise when Father Richard called my mother several days earlier and asked me to serve on Tuesday. She was ecstatic about the whole thing. Being religious and knowing that Father Richard wanted me to start serving again was all she needed to hear. I didn’t really want to do it, but I didn’t have any choice in the matter once she made up her mind.
That’s why I was there that Tuesday morning and everything had gone fine up until then. He hadn’t even raised an eyebrow when I didn’t take communion.
“Thank you for coming by so early to serve this morning, Brian,” Father Richard said.
“You’re welcome, Father,” I responded.
“Brian, you know how much I like you, but I also have to say I’m a little concerned about you as well. You haven’t been to confession since I arrived in the parish months ago. Is there some reason for that?”
There was, of course, but I didn’t want to tell him the reason.
“Um, well, not really, Father,” I replied. “I keep planning to go, but then something comes up. But I’ll be sure to come by this weekend,” I added, trying to reassure him.
It was a lie. I wasn’t planning to go to confession that weekend. I wasn’t planning to go to confession anytime soon.
“I don’t think we can wait until this weekend, Brian,” he said. “We can never be certain what will happen in life. You could walk out the door this morning and be hit by a car and die in a state of sin. We can’t be having that happen to an outstanding young man like you. I’m going over to the rectory now. When you’ve finished here, I want you to come over so I can hear your confession this morning. The door will be open. Just let yourself in and stop by my office.”
I remember panicking, then blurting out the first thing I could think of.
“Um, well, I would Father, but, um, my mother told me to come right home this morning after Mass because she needs me to do some work in the house,” I lied. “She’ll be mad at me if I don’t come home right away.”
“There’s no need to worry about that, Brian,” he said. “I’ll call your mother and explain why you’re going to be a little late.”
Damn it! What do I tell him now?
“Um, well, you don’t have to do that, Father,” I responded, caught in my lie. “I’ll only get in more trouble if you do. I mean, I guess I wasn’t telling the truth exactly. I just don’t want to go to confession this morning.”
“Why not, Brian?” he asked, staring at me benignly.
“Well, um, I can’t remember how long it’s been since the last time I went for one thing. I need to be sure about that. And, well, I guess I need to think about all the bad things I’ve done since the last time. I wouldn’t want to miss anything. You know what I mean?”
“Oh, well, you’re worrying too much about the whole thing,” he responded. “Just try your best and I’m sure that will be good enough for God.”
“I understand, Father,” I replied, staring down at my feet. “But I want to do it right. And, um, well, it’s just that, you know, I’ve done some things, um, some bad things. You’ll be disappointed with me.”
“You know perfectly well I won’t be disappointed with you, Brian. All of us are human beings and human beings are sinners. That’s why God has instituted the sacrament of confession as His way of absolving us of our sins. God loves us, Brian. You know that; and as his minister, you can be sure I’ll be pleading your case with God. God has never rejected my plea to forgive those who unburden themselves of sin through me, Brian. You have nothing to be worried about.”
“I’ll see you shortly then,” he added before turning and walking away.
Shit, I remember thinking. What am I going to do now?
I didn’t want to go to confession because I knew perfectly well the sins I would have to confess and I was embarrassed just thinking about that. I understood what Father Richard was trying to tell me, but the shame I was feeling was overpowering. He could say whatever he wanted, but he had never met a sinner like me before. I was sure of it. I was a sicko and the thought of having to admit that to him was hard, really hard.
I didn’t want to lose his respect and friendship, but I didn’t seem to have very much choice. As much as I tried to drag things out, there was only so much to do after Mass. Eventually I closed up the Church and walked up the street to the rectory.
I opened the door and walked toward the room Father Richard used as his office. I was walking as slow as I could and the place seemed incredibly quiet. That wasn’t really surprising since it had been years since more than one priest had been assigned to our parish. So, yeah, the place was quiet and I could hear my footsteps as I walked toward the room. When I finally got there, I knocked softly, hoping he wouldn’t hear and I would be able to leave.
“Enter,” the voice from within said.
I pushed open the door and walked in.
“Ah, there you are, Brian,” he said, smiling at me. “I was just saying my office. Let me turn off the light. You can kneel next to my chair here and begin your confession whenever you’re ready.”
I walked over next to his desk and knelt down. I tried to avoid looking at him. I was afraid he would know the truth just by staring at me.
Although I hadn’t been to confession in months, the words began to flow easily enough.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” I said, crossing myself. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. I think it’s been about nine months since my last confession, but I guess it could have been more. It’s been a long time, that’s for sure.”
I stopped there, waiting to be rebuked; but unlike the previous priest, he didn’t press me to be more specific about how long it had been since my last confession. In fact, Father Richard didn’t say anything at all or even move in his chair. He just sat there next to me. Glancing up, I could see his eyes were closed and he seemed to be meditating and I was thankful for that at least.
Maybe he’s not even listening that closely, I remember thinking.
“And, well, um, it’s hard to remember all the bad stuff I’ve done since the last time I went to confession, Father,” I continued. “I mean, I know I’ve disobeyed my parents quite a bit. I’m not sure exactly how many times, but it’s a lot. And, well, I’ve been in a couple of fights at school and been angry and used some bad words and called some people bad names. And I’ve probably told a few lies to my parents and teachers, nothing really big, just small stuff. You know what I mean?”
He didn’t say anything in response and I figured I had told him a lot. I decided to wrap it up. It had gone a lot better than I had expected.
“That’s about it I guess. I might have missed some stuff, Father, but that’s all I can think of right now,” I lied.
“Are you sure, my son?” he asked, softly. “It’s very important to confess all your sins so take a moment to reflect carefully now. God will know if you’re lying and then your confession will have been wasted.”
Shit, I remember thinking. He knows there’s more.
Knowing there wasn’t going to be any escape, I focused on trying to say it in a way that wasn’t so obvious.
“Um, well, there’s probably some other stuff, Father. I mean, well, there’s a store out on Route 1 that carries a lot of magazines and stuff. And, well, you know, I’ve gone there and bought a few I probably shouldn’t be looking at; more than just a few actually. And I guess they’ve caused me to have some impure thoughts and, you know, whatever.”
“Whatever?” he asked. “Does whatever include more than just impure thoughts?”
Damn! Is this ever going to be over? I remember thinking.
“Um, well, I guess so, Father,” I said. “I mean, well, um, the thing is, some of the pictures in those magazines get me a little excited at times; you know what I mean? And I’ve probably touched myself improperly a few times. I mean, more than just once or twice; probably quite a bit, actually, to be honest about it.”
“I see,” he responded. “So you masturbate then? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
I was shocked he used that word. The other priest had always talked about not touching yourself improperly. But now it was obvious I hadn’t fooled him and needed to tell the truth.
“Um, well, yes, Father, I do,” I replied. “Sometimes; well, um, a lot actually. I guess that’s a sin, isn’t it?”
I mean, the thing is, I knew damn well it was a sin, but I figured he might go easier on me if I acted a little confused about the whole thing.
“Perhaps,” he responded. “But if it is, it isn’t a serious sin. It’s a minor sin at best because sex is something to be shared with someone else in a loving relationship, not something to be indulged in simply for the pleasure it provides; although there’s nothing wrong with the pleasure it brings in the right circumstances either. It all depends.”
“But let me ask you this, my son. Do you think your body is sinful, your naked body?”
“Um, well, sure,” I replied. “I mean, I don’t know exactly why, but I’m pretty certain I’m not supposed to be looking at pictures of naked people or looking at myself naked in the mirror either.”
Father Richard just chuckled at that.
“I imagine the reason you do that is because you’re curious and that’s perfectly natural,” he responded. “But you really shouldn’t be ashamed of your body. The body is something God has provided to house our souls. It’s like the church building, the temple of our souls; and the body is beautiful, not something to be ashamed of.”
I remember being kind of surprised to hear him say that. The last priest in our parish was always telling us boys how sinful the body was.
“But getting back to what you said originally, tell me about these magazines you look at,” Father Richard continued. “Do they have pictures of men and women having sex?”
By now I was having trouble breathing and was starting to sweat. The whole thing was turning into a nightmare as far as I was concerned and I tried to hedge my answer.
“Um, well, some of them do,” I replied.
I was telling the truth. I had seen magazines in that store with pictures of men and women having sex. They weren’t the magazines I was buying, but I had seen them so it wasn’t like I was lying exactly. I just wasn’t telling the whole truth.
But I guess Father Richard knew that.
“Some of them?” he asked.
Shit, I remember thinking. What is this, the Spanish Inquisition or something?
“Well, um, some of them have pictures of men and women and some of them have pictures of other things.
“What other things?” he asked.
I remember taking a deep breath.
“Um, well, ah, I guess some of them have pictures of boys like me; or sometimes boys and men.”
“Boys and men?” he asked, and his voice seemed to rise ever so slightly.
“Boys and men having sex with one another?” he pressed, his voice climbing still another notch.
If he hadn’t been listening before, it was obvious he was listening now and by then I was practically hyperventilating.
“Um, well, sometimes, Father. I mean, sometimes it’s just boys or men naked and playing with themselves and, you know, well, masturbating. Other times it’s more.”
“More?” he asked and by now his voice seemed to me to be getting real high although in retrospect I was probably wrong about that.
“Well, um, I mean, sometimes it’s like they’re doing stuff with one another.”
“I see,” he continued, suddenly lowering his voice. “So we’re talking about pictures of boys and men performing homosexual acts. Is that it?”
Oh, damn, I remember thinking.
He had finally figured it out.
“Um, well, maybe, Father,” I sighed. “I guess that’s what they’re doing.”
“And you like looking at pictures like that. Is that right?”
“No,” I protested, “not really, not a lot. Um, well, ah, maybe a little, Father, sometimes. I mean, I dunno, I guess maybe I do. Sometimes I do. Yes.”
Oh please, God, don’t tell my parents, Father. Punish me however you want, but please don’t tell anyone about this. Please!
“Do you think you’re a homosexual, Brian?” he asked.
“Oh, jeez, I don’t know, Father,” I replied. “I sure hope not. I don’t really know why I look at those pictures, but I hope it’s not because I’m queer; um, well, I mean, homosexual. I wouldn’t ever want to be one of those.”
“I see,” he replied. “But from what you just told me, it’ seems like that’s definitely a possibility. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I don’t know, Father,” I responded, “maybe. But it’s not like I want to be a homosexual. I know it’s a mortal sin. Do you think there’s any chance I might not be? Or, if I am, that you could cure me? You know, maybe perform an exorcism or something?”
Father Richard just chuckled when I said that.
“I’m afraid not, Brian,” he said. “If you’re a homosexual, there’s no cure for that. But, yes, I suppose there’s a chance you’re not a homosexual. This could be some kind of phase you’re going through.”
“Like I said, it’s possible you could just be curious,” Father Richard continued. “It’s perfectly natural for a boy your age to be curious; curious about your body, curious about how your body compares to other boys your age and to those of older men. All of that would be very natural, Brian, and certainly not a sin.”
I remember being surprised at what he had said. I had never considered the possibility that what I was doing wasn’t sick or a sin after all.
“Um, well, are you sure, Father?” I asked. “I mean, when I look at those magazines, there are times when I feel really guilty; you know, like I’m doing something wrong.”
“That’s not surprising at all,” he said. “From what I gather, you’re doing all of this secretly, behind closed doors and by yourself; and so it’s natural to think it must be wrong if you’re trying to keep the whole thing secret from everyone.”
“It’s very easy to be confused about things like this at your age, Brian,” he continued. “Your body is changing. You’ve entered a stage of life called adolescence where you’re no longer a boy but not yet a man. Like I said, your body is changing as you mature and it’s very easy to be confused. But there’s nothing wrong with your body or with sharing your body with someone else within the context of a loving relationship.”
“What makes those magazines you’re looking at wrong is that they’ve been created for a shameful purpose, to make money by exciting and arousing you. The acts those boys and men are engaging in are not being done within the context of a loving relationship. They’re being done to sell magazines and make money and that’s why they’re wrong. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Um, well, I’m not sure, Father,” I replied. “Are you saying that what the boys and men are doing would be okay if it’s part of a loving relationship?”
“Yes,” he replied. “They could be if they were part of a truly loving relationship.”
“Um, but I thought the Church teaches that homosexual acts are wrong, Father,” I responded, confused.
“It does, Brian, but the Church is a human institution and it makes mistakes as well. The Church used to teach that the Sun travels around the earth and it persecuted Galileo for preaching the truth. But now we know that Galileo was right, that the earth travels around the Sun. So the Church can obviously make mistakes. But God never makes a mistake, Brian. If God made you homosexual, it’s because that’s part of His plan for you and there’s nothing wrong with it. The important thing for you is not to be ashamed of your body or looking at your body or, in the right circumstances, sharing your body with someone else. Do you understand?”
“I guess,” I replied, relieved momentarily. “I mean, I’ve just been worrying about all of this stuff so much, Father; and it’s not like I’m not trying to be good. I try and I try and I try not to think about sex, but I can’t seem to help thinking about it.”
“I know you can’t Brian,” he responded. “It’s natural for a boy your age to think about sex; and I understand it can be very confusing at times. Like I said, curiosity isn’t a sin,” he continued, “and you could just be going through some kind of phase in your sexual development. But it’s also possible you are a homosexual rather than just curious. There’s only one way to know, of course, but there’s definitely a good chance you are.”
Suddenly it was as if I was on some kind of emotional roller coaster because I remember feeling depressed again, totally beaten down, totally ashamed of myself. I had been fighting it so long, trying not to believe it, pretending it was just a phase or something, but deep down inside I knew he was right. I knew I was queer. And then I began to cry.
I was surprised when Father Richard stood up, lifted me to my feet, and embraced me. He held me tight while I just stood there crying for what seemed like forever. I didn’t want to be queer. I wanted to be normal like the rest of the boys.
Later, when I had finished crying and gotten control of myself, Father Richard finally spoke up.
“I know this is very difficult, Brian, but keep in mind you have no control over whether you’re a homosexual. If you are, God created you that way and He created you that way for a reason. Like I said before, God does not make mistakes, Brian. If you’re a homosexual, it’s because God decided you should be; and while it’s not always immediately apparent to us why God does certain things, we can be certain He does have a reason and a purpose for this.”
“So it’s important for you to understand there’s nothing wrong with being a homosexual,” he continued. “You’ve been so conditioned to believe there’s something wrong with it that you have very little self-esteem left, if any, and that worries me. It’s one of the challenges we face, making you understand there’s nothing wrong with you at all.”
“On the other hand, I won’t lie to you, Brian. It’s very hard being homosexual in our society. As I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of prejudice against homosexuals. I’m sure a lot of the boys you hang around with are prejudiced like that. I’m sure they call homosexuals bad names like pansies, fairies or faggots. It’s not right, but sadly it’s the way things are and, like I said, it can be very hard dealing with all of that.”
“But whether you’re homosexual or not, you’re going to be very unhappy when you grow up if you have an unhealthy attitude when it comes to your body and sex,” he continued. “That’s a shame because you’re such a fine young man and I see so much potential in you to do something important with your life; much more so than the other boys in our parish I should add.”
“Most of them are good boys, but they’re not as smart or talented as you. You could be someone important, Brian, make some real contributions to our church, our community and our nation. But all of that could be thwarted if you have an unhealthy attitude about your body and sex.”
By then I wasn’t sure what to think. On the one hand, I was proud Father Richard thought I could be someone important. I had never been praised like that before and it made me feel good. But what he was telling me was a lot different than what I expected him to say.
“I don’t know what to think, Father,” I finally replied. “I mean, the thing is, the last priest who was here was completely different from you. All he talked about was how we were sinners and going to Hell if we didn’t obey the rules. And, well, he was always saying that just thinking about sex was a sin for boys like me. I don’t want to go to Hell, Father, I really don’t, but I keep worrying that maybe that’s where I’m headed.”
“If you’re thinking you’re going to Hell, you’re in much worse shape than I thought, Brian,” he responded, “and that’s a shame. A lot of the older priests do terrible damage to young men like you with all the nonsense they spout.”
“I think it would help you if you knew more about sex and its place in God’s scheme of things, Brian. We’ve talked about it enough for today. If you want to learn more we can revisit this conversation in the future; but only if you’re comfortable with that and feel the need to talk to someone about sex. If not, I know just the book you could read that might help better explain all of this to you. I would have to ask your parents about letting you read it, of course.”
It had been hard talking about all of this, but I was feeling a little better now knowing God didn’t hate me, that Father Richard didn’t hate me.
“I don’t really understand sex that well, Father,” I responded. “It’s very confusing. We don’t have any sex education at school and my parents have never talked about sex with me and I don’t feel comfortable with them knowing I’m thinking about stuff like what we just talked about. But I’m would like to know more, Father.”
“Fine; then we’ll talk about it again whenever you like. But for now, for your penance for your actual sins, I want you to say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys; and I also want you to stop worrying that your body is shameful or that thinking about sex is wrong. And most important of all you need to understand and accept that God loves you and I love you and nothing has changed between us or between you and God. Understood?”
“Now say your act of contrition and go in peace, my son. And always remember that God loves you and that part of loving God involves loving yourself exactly the way He made you because God made you perfect exactly the way you are.”