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SUMMARY: What if you were homosexual but refused to admit it to anyone, especially yourself? The year is 1971 and fourteen year old Jimmy Barnes has discovered growing up in a small town can be boring in a way not even the solitary masturbation sessions he enjoys so much can relieve. When his best friend takes a job at the local newspaper, Jimmy finds himself on his own for the summer. What follows is a decade long saga with numerous twists and turns, a tale that’ll reveal the best and the worst of the nineteen-seventies and beyond.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise noted, all of the characters in the story are fictional; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While some of the places described or mentioned in the story are fictional as well, others may be real. However, some liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. Please note that 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 For approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting 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 or fictional places 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.
NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so.
Saturday morning I awoke rested and refreshed. Skipping breakfast, I hopped into my car and drove to the nondescript building north of Dupont Circle that housed the Metropolitan Youth Center. As usual, there was hardly any traffic on the road at 6:00 a.m. in the morning.
“Good morning, Jeff,” Samantha volunteered, buzzing me into the building.
“Morning, Samantha. How was your shift?”
“Not bad; a little busy up until about 3:30 a.m., but things settled down after that,” she responded. “I sent Amy and Chris home early given how quiet things were; and now that you’re here I’ll be on my way as well.”
With that she grabbed her purse and quickly departed, leaving me by myself.
Putting my feet up on the desk, I opened the book I had brought along and began reading. Occasionally I glanced up at the screen that monitored the front door. It was kept locked at all times, but I liked to check because sometimes the kids we served were too shy or scared to press the intercom.
As usual, however, my shift proved uneventful. Four hours later I set the book down and buzzed the next three volunteers in.
“Anything?” one asked.
“Nope. It was quiet as usual.”
“That’s actually a good thing you know, Jeff; the less traffic, the better.”
“I know you’re right, but sometimes I wonder what the point is,” I replied. “In any event, I’m off to the gym.”
Even at 10:00 a.m. traffic was still light so I got to the Capitol Hill Gymnasium pretty quickly. It never ceased to amaze me how crowded the place was at that hour on a Saturday morning, but I managed to get in a good workout nonetheless. I even attracted a couple of stares in the process. If nothing else, that was flattering.
Exercise had become something of a passion for me as I got older and I liked the place where I worked out. It was interesting because of the different crowds it attracted, of which three were the most prominent.
There was an elderly crowd, guys fifty or older. I had made friends with a number of them over the years and found them impressive.
When I first started working out at the place, I assumed they were there mostly to socialize with their friends. But now, having watched them work out for a long time, I still found it surprising just how rigorous they were about their workouts. It made me wonder whether I’d still be working out when I reached their age.
There was a gay crowd as well. It wasn’t especially well represented on Saturday mornings, but there were a few familiar faces. The gay crowd was split between those who worked out seriously like me and those who were more into socializing, showing off, or just cruising the place looking for someone to pick up. I had some friends among this group as well.
The third most prominent crowd was the military. The Marines had a barracks on Capitol Hill and quite a few of them visited on a regular basis even though I had always assumed they must have a place to work out where they were stationed. They worked out harder than most of the rest of us, but I had always suspected many of them were closet cases.
I had seen them checking out guys too often not to recognize there was more to their presence than the chance to work out. Most would never admit they were gay and there were times when I felt bad for them.
Stop with the sympathy, Jeff. They don’t need it. All of them have a more active sex life than you. They know the gay guys who come here are attracted to them because of how butch they are; and they take advantage of that, which is fine most of the time.
But some of those guys are sociopaths. They’ll go home with a dude and fuck him, usually roughly; and that’s okay too if that’s what the guy they went home with wants. But some will beat the shit out of the guy when they’re finished just to prove how masculine they are.
They don’t deserve your sympathy.
And yet, like I said, I found it hard not to sympathize at times.
How different from you are they, Jeff? You’re in the closet too at work. You have to be. What choice do those guys have except to hide their sexuality? If they don’t and get caught by the military police, they’ll end up getting court-martialed and being dishonorably discharged.
I remember shaking my head.
I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected a lot of the military police themselves were closet cases. Being an M.P. allowed you to spend time in the gay bars; and while they might claim they were just doing their jobs trying to catch any Marine stupid enough to wander in, they seemed to enjoy themselves while they were there.
Enough, Jeff, I said to myself. You have stuff to do. Take a shower and go home.
I spent most of the day at a shopping mall that had just opened in Virginia. The place was huge and had a ton of stores in one location. That made it convenient. I picked up a couple of things for the house, but mostly I was there just to kill time. It was late afternoon when I finally got home.
When I did, there was a message from Richard waiting. He was inviting me to join him and Ronald for dinner that evening. Picking up the phone, I returned the call. It was Ronald who answered.
“Hi, Ronald; it’s Jeff. I got Richard’s message inviting me to dinner and I’d be happy to do that. Where and when?”
“We were thinking around 8:00 p.m. at Franny’s Place,” he replied. “The food is decent and the weather is cooperating so we’ll be able to sit outside and catch the early evening crowd over in Dupont Circle. That area is really beginning to pick up you know; lots of beautiful young boys wandering the streets over there these days, Jeff. There might even be one for you.”
“That’s a good choice,” I said, ignoring the last part of his comment. “By the way, did you and Richard have a good time at the baths last evening?”
“Not really,” he responded. “It’s not like the old days, Jeff, when there were always a ton of guys around and you could pick and choose among all the beauties. These days the crowds are smaller and, uh . . . trashier if you know what I mean; trashier or young boy prostitutes looking for a daddy. I told Richard it would be like that, but he refuses to listen.”
“In any event, we didn’t stay long and ended up bar hopping most of the evening,” he added. “We didn’t get home until after 3:00 a.m. I slept all morning and half the afternoon.”
“Okay, well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you were hoping,” I said. “Maybe you’ll have better luck tonight.”
“I hope so,” Ronald replied. “We’ll see you at Franny’s at 8 o’clock, Jeff.”
I arrived at the designated time, but Richard and Ronald were twenty minutes late. I knew they would be. The two of them were always late wherever they went, but the extra time gave me an opportunity to watch people coming and going.
Ronald was right. There were a ton of boys wandering the street, all of them good-looking and young.
Eventually the happy couple showed up. Over dinner they tried to persuade me to join them touring the bars that evening, but I resisted.
“I’m going hiking tomorrow in Maryland and plan to leave early,” I said. “Why don’t you guys do something different for a change and come with me. It’ll be good for you and who knows? You might even enjoy it.”
“Oh, puh-leeze,” Richard said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve never understood this fascination of yours with Mother Nature, Jeff.”
“It’s fun,” I replied. “When you finally get to the top of a mountain, climb onto a rock and look out, the views are spectacular. It’s incredibly beautiful, at least I think so.”
“Will there be any young boys visible if we join you?” Richard asked.
“Maybe,” I said, grinning at him. “You never know who you’ll run into up in the mountains.”
“But can you guarantee we’ll get to take off our clothes and make love to some lovely young lad, Jeff? Unless you can assure us of that, Ronald and I will pass on your offer; and by the way, before you answer, I’ll even include you as a possible lad we’d be willing to make love to. We’ve always wanted to have a threesome with you. Isn’t that right, Ronald?”
“Absolutely,” Ronald chimed in.
“Uh, well, I don’t think I can provide the guarantee you’re looking for,” I said. “But you’ll have a good time and it’ll be healthy for you. You should do it; at least it’ll be something different.”
As I suspected, they declined, just as I had declined their offer to join them in a round of bar hopping that evening. I was back home and in bed by 10:30 p.m. and spent most of the next day walking the woods around Cunningham Falls.
It was Monday morning and we had just finished our mandatory staff meeting at 10:00 a.m. I hated those meetings because they rarely had anything to do with what the Congressman and I were actually working on. But they made our Administrative Assistant happy as he walked through what everyone needed to get done as pompously and officially as possible.
After the meeting I returned to my cubby and looked through my schedule for the week. It occurred to me I had committed to meeting with some counselor from the Whitman-Walker Clinic at 8:00 p.m. that evening. I added it to my calendar as W2C Hilliard. If anyone was nosy enough to look through my calendar, they wouldn’t have a clue what that meant.
The day passed quickly. As with most Mondays, there was no legislative business; and since Congressman Bresnahan was still on his way back from the district, I had plenty of time to actually get some work done. In this case, I spent most of the day preparing a series of what I hoped would be tough questions for our Subcommittee hearing the next day.
And then the day was over and I was on my way home. After a quick shower and gobbling down a salad, I climbed into my car and drove across town to 18th Street. As I drove north I was surprise at just how quickly the area was gentrifying.
Eventually I found my destination and a parking place, then made my way to the Clinic. A receptionist greeted me. After explaining why I was there, she picked up the phone and let Hilliard know I was in the lobby.
He came down, greeted me with a smile, and led me back up to his office. I remember being surprised at how young and good-looking he was. As best I could tell, he was in his late-twenties; younger than me but not a lot younger. When we finally got to his office, he quickly came to the point.
“Thank you so much for seeing me, Mr. Landry,” he said, making me feel old immediately. “I realize this is an imposition so I appreciate your help. The reason I wanted to see you is I have a patient I’m counseling. His name is Jimmy Barnes. Do you know him?”
I remember being stunned.
Jimmy? Your patient is Jimmy?
After Jimmy moved out of our place I lost track of him completely. Although I had made inquiries with Eric and some of the other boys he was friends with, they claimed to know nothing about his whereabouts. I knew they were lying, but assumed Jimmy had asked them to do that for him. They were no help at all.
Indeed, it was almost as if Jimmy had fallen off the edge of the world. No one in the bars, the baths or any of the other gay sites he visited occasionally knew where he was. And yet now here I was, years later, and some stranger was telling me Jimmy was in Washington.
“I don’t understand,” I replied, hesitantly. “You’re counseling Jimmy; Jimmy Barnes? He’s in Washington? I haven’t known where he was for years.”
“I understand,” Hilliard responded. “The reason for that is he moved to New York City not long after breaking up with you. It’s not surprising you wouldn’t know where he was under the circumstances.”
“I see,” I replied, nodding my head. “But now you’re telling me he’s in Washington. When did he come back and what brought him here; and how is he by the way? I mean, you mentioned you were counseling him for depression. Is he okay?”
“I’m afraid not,” he said. “I understand you have a lot of questions and I’ll be upfront with you. Jimmy is very sick. We’re treating him for a variety of ailments, including Kaposi’s sarcoma. Do you know what that is, Mr. Landry?”
“No,” I responded, shaking my head. “And please call me Jeff; you’re making me feel like I’m ancient.”
“No problem,” he said. “I could go into an elaborate explanation about Kaposi’s sarcoma, but to make a long story short it’s a very rare form of cancer that’s traditionally afflicted elderly men of eastern European descent or who live in the Mediterranean region.”
“That’s not Jimmy,” I responded, immediately. “He’s never been out of this country, at least to the best of my knowledge. His father is English and his mother is French-Canadian.”
“Sure,” Ned said. “I understand, but that’s not the point. Lately we’ve been seeing a growing number of cases of this disease among young gay men, especially those living in New York City and San Francisco.”
“I don’t understand,” I replied, shaking my head. “Are you telling me Jimmy has cancer?”
“Yes, he does, but it’s more than just cancer. He’s also afflicted with various other conditions. Taken together, his symptoms point to something the media has labeled gay cancer although we’re using the term GRID these days. GRID stands for gay-related immune deficiency. Have you heard about that, Jeff?”
I had never heard the term GRID before, but had read a little about gay cancer in the Blade.
“Uh, well, yeah; I’ve read a little about it, at least in various gay publications,” I said. “I haven’t seen much about it in the mainstream media though.”
“That’s not surprising,” Ned replied. “They don’t want to talk about diseases afflicting gay men. In fact, no one wants to talk about them to be perfectly honest, including gay men themselves. But since I’m trying to be honest with you, I should point out a couple of things.”
“First, we don’t know a lot about these various diseases that seem to be infecting gay men. In particular, we’re not certain how people contract it, but there’s a growing sense among knowledgeable people that it’s contracted sexually or through the blood; perhaps both. Some people think it’s a virus but we don’t have any proof of that yet and the government agencies that should be looking into this aren’t doing so.”
“I should also mention . . .”
Hilliard was trying to be helpful in a dry, factual, kind of way, but that wasn’t what I was thinking about.
“Is Jimmy going to die?” I blurted out, interrupting.
Everything I had read suggested those who contracted gay cancer died; that no one had been successfully treated for it.
“We don’t like to talk about dying,” Ned said, staring at me calmly. “We prefer to talk about living. Since we don’t even know what causes all these afflictions that have been lumped together as gay cancer, the doctors treating patients diagnosed with it try to treat the specific symptoms using the best medical protocols available.”
“But everyone says people with gay cancer die,” I replied, pressing the point. “Is there any remedy for this disease you mentioned, Kaposi’s sarcoma?
“All of us die eventually, Jeff,” Ned said; “but to respond to your specific question, no. There isn’t a cure for Kaposi’s sarcoma, at least not at this time.”
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
“But that can’t be right,” I countered. “Young men aren’t supposed to die in their twenties.”
Hilliard just looked at me and then sighed.
“Look, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you for certain whether Jimmy is going to die. But, yes, we know that most young gay men displaying the symptoms he’s afflicted with do die. Some seem to live somewhat longer, but even they eventually succumb to some opportunistic infection; often it seems to be some form of pneumonia that does them in.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and slumped back in my chair.
This can’t be true. Jimmy’s too young to be dying; too alive, too vital.
It has to be some kind of elaborate hoax; or, if not a hoax, some kind of misunderstanding.
Here was someone I loved very much who had disappeared from my life years earlier. And now I was being told he was back in Washington but dying. It was hard to swallow.
“I don’t believe you,” I said, trying to remain as calm as I could under the circumstances.
“This has to be some kind of mistake,” I added. “If Jimmy’s sick, he’s been misdiagnosed because he’s spent time in New York City. If we find the right doctor, someone who specializes in whatever symptoms Jimmy seems to be displaying, we can get to the bottom of this.”
“I’m sure of it and I’m willing to pay for him to see a specialist; someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, not some counselor without any medical training.”
Hilliard just sat there impassively staring at me across the desk that separated us. By now I wanted to punch him. I wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp for lying to me.
“I know this is hard, Jeff,” he said, quietly.
“You’re damn right it’s hard,” I said, raising my voice. “And it’s not true either; I don’t believe it. You’re not a doctor. What the hell do you know about Jimmy or gay cancer for that matter?”
Ned didn’t say anything. Like before, he just sat there staring at me.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, finding it almost impossible to contain the anger that was swelling inside me.
“I’m telling you because I think you love Jimmy, at least that’s what I believe based on everything he’s told me about you; and also because I believe Jimmy loves you as well. I know that may sound hard to believe given how much he hurt you when he left. The truth is, he probably didn’t understand how much he loved you when the two of you were living together.”
“But he does now,” he continued. “Having a disease like this helps people better understand what’s important in life and what isn’t; and that’s the reason I think Jimmy came back to Washington. Because he loves you; and yet as much as I believe he loves you, he can’t bring himself to say that to you because he feels guilty about dumping you years ago.”
Hearing that, I could feel tears welling in my eyes. Suddenly I broke down and started crying like a baby. The last time I had cried was after reading the note Jimmy had left for me; and now here I was in some drab office with a guy I didn’t know anything about crying harder than I had ever cried before in my life.
Eventually I composed myself and remember being embarrassed. Ned must have sensed that.
“You don’t have to be ashamed of crying in front of me, Jeff,” he said softly. “I’ve seen Jimmy do exactly the same thing on several occasions when we’ve talked about his feelings for you. I’m actually pretty touched to be honest. I’m gay myself, but never understood how much two men can love one another until I started this job a few months ago.”
“It’s been a very powerful and emotional experience for me to see that; to realize being gay doesn’t mean someone is completely hedonistic and without the capacity to feel the tender emotions I always associated with real love. This job has been life changing for me.”
“So, no, you shouldn’t be ashamed,” he added, dabbing his own eyes with a tissue. “I see this every day.”
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, trying to suppress the tears that were still so close to the surface. “It’s just very hard to process all of this. It’s dragged up memories and feelings I thought were long since buried. I don’t know whether to hug or slap you for telling me this.”
“I understand,” he said.
“I mean, there’s a part of me that would be happier if you had never called,” I continued; “if I had never learned Jimmy was still alive and in Washington and what’s happened to him. And yet there’s another part of me that’s glad you called. It’s hard to explain.”
“I understand,” he said again, trying to reassure me.
Then he sighed.
“But the reason I called is not because I wanted to pass along some bad news and dredge up all these painful memories for you,” he said. “I called because I need your help; and before explaining what I mean, I want to assure you I’m not a judgmental person, Jeff. If you decide I’m asking too much and can’t help, I’ll understand.”
“Now I’m the one having trouble understanding,” I said, confused by what I had just heard.
Of course I’ll help, you idiot. How can you have any doubt about that?
“How can I help?” I added, ashamed of myself for silently lashing out at the guy.
He was just doing his job and I was beginning to realize what a hard job it must be.
“Look, Jeff, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “Whitman-Walker is a great resource for the gay community in Washington and I love working here. Unfortunately, like every other institution in this country, we’re so far behind in addressing this gay cancer crisis it’s pathetic. We’re used to dealing with venereal diseases; with helping to fix up people with those diseases and tracing their contacts so we can help them as well.”
“But this gay cancer thing is something entirely different. It’s deadly, but we don’t know what causes it or how to treat it effectively; and although a lot of us think it’s spread sexually, through anal intercourse and perhaps in other ways as well, a lot of people in the gay community don’t want to hear that or what we think needs to be done to address the problem.”
“Here at Whitman-Walker we’ve been talking about starting a telephone hotline and a buddy program to pair up people affected by gay cancer with people willing to help,” he continued. “But it’ll be another year at least before we get such a program off the ground, at least officially. We’ve also been talking about establishing a facility where people affected by gay cancer can live, but that’s likely to take even longer to get up and running.”
“The truth is we don’t have the money to address this problem and people don’t understand just how big a problem it is. We’re trying to get some foundations and the city government to help us financially with those programs I mentioned; and we’re planning to hold a fundraiser within the gay community as well at some point.”
“But right now people with the disease are pretty much on their own. They have to fend for themselves and that’s very hard because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to hold down a job when you’re as sick as these people are; and without a job it’s hard to pay for an apartment or food, let alone health insurance. We’re seeing more and more gay men with this disease who are homeless.”
“The bottom line is that people like Jimmy are pretty much on their own in dealing with their problems; and once it becomes known they have gay cancer, no one wants to have anything to do with them. Right now Jimmy is sweeping floors and cleaning toilets at one of the more disreputable gay establishments in town. He doesn’t make enough to live on his own so they let him sleep on a dirty mattress in a back room on the floor. He isn’t eating properly.”
“I counsel him three times a week, which mostly involves listening to what’s going on his life and offering whatever suggestions I can. I would like to help more, but Jimmy is one of 50 patients I’m counseling and there are only so many hours in the day. He needs a buddy; and from everything he’s told me over the last couple of months, you’re the only person who possibly fits into that category.”
“Look, I told you I was going to be honest,” Ned added. “If the people who run this place knew I was talking to you like this, sharing privileged information about a patient like I have, they would go ballistic. We’re not supposed to do stuff like that; and it’s not just them. If Jimmy knew I was telling you this, he would go ballistic as well.”
“Like I told you before, most of the time he feels very guilty about leaving you. The rest of the time he feels like he did you a favor; that if he hadn’t left when he did you’d have gay cancer as well. Frankly, I’m at my wits end. I can argue with people we need to be doing things differently. But all my arguing isn’t going to change anything and I’m left with 50 patients like Jimmy that need help.”
Ned had spoken passionately and I could see him growing visibly angry the longer he spoke. He wasn’t angry at me. He was angry at a system that didn’t seem to be responding like it should. I could understand his frustration. I didn’t understand why a place like Whitman-Walker wasn’t moving faster to address the problem either.
But up until the moment I walked into the place, I hadn’t really understood there was a problem or just how big it was myself.
“What can I do?” I asked.
“At the least, you can be his friend,” Ned said; “someone to talk to in all those hours when I’m not available to do so. If you can do more, perhaps provide a place for him to live or help him out financially, that would be great, but I don’t know what’s possible for you and I realize I may be asking too much under the circumstances.”
Hearing what he said, I suddenly grew more cautious.
“Uh, well, some people say this gay cancer is contagious,” I replied; “that you can get it just by being around people who have it. Is that true?”
“I wish I could tell you for sure it wasn’t contagious,” Ned said, “but at this point we don’t know for certain. The most knowledgeable people I talk to don’t seem to think so. They think it’s transmitted sexually, at least primarily; and that so long as you avoid having sex with someone who has it, you probably won’t get infected. But we’re still very early in this crisis. The first cases we’re only diagnosed within the last year.”
“There’s a lot we don’t know so I don’t blame you for being concerned. If you decide you don’t want to do anything more, I’ll understand and I won’t mention any of this to Jimmy. If you’re willing to do something, anything really, I still face the challenge of telling Jimmy what I’ve done and persuading him to see you. I’m not sure he will.”
“Why not?” I asked, surprised.
“I’ve talked to him about that,” he said. “He knows you still live on Capitol Hill, but he doesn’t have any plan to contact you and he’s forbidden me to do so. But, yes, once in a while when I get him on a roll about some of the positive things in his life, he’ll say he misses you. He just doesn’t feel like it would be right for him to contact you although he’s asked me to let you know once he dies.”
“And how soon will that be?” I asked, stunned.
“We don’t know, Jeff,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “People are experimenting with different treatment protocols. Some seem to work a little better, at least with some people with certain conditions; some don’t seem to work at all.”
“At the moment, Jimmy seems a little healthier than some of my other patients. He does tire easily, however, sometimes to the point of having to skip a day or two from work; and, honestly, to tell you the truth, he shouldn’t be working at all at this stage of the game.”
“But most days he’s able to work, at least a little; and we haven’t had to put him in a hospital yet. Thank God for that! Getting hospital space for people like Jimmy is a nightmare.”
By now I was totally exhausted by our conversation. I couldn’t take any more.
“I need to think about this,” I said. “About whether I can help and how much; and about even whether I want to see Jimmy again. It’s so hard.”
“I understand,” Ned replied. “It’s not something you should rush into. And like I said, I won’t think any differently if you decide you can’t help. I’ve had others tell me that before.”
“Take however long you need to think about it, but I do hope I’ll hear from you at some point one way or the other. There’ve been quite a few people who’ve left this place promising to help that I’ve never heard from again.”
After that he walked me down the stairs and out to my car.
“Thanks again for coming by to see me, Jeff,” he said, squeezing my arm. “I wish I didn’t have to be the one to tell you this. But, then again, I wish a lot of things these days and not many of my wishes seem to come true.”
I watched as he disappeared back into the building. Then, opening the door to my car, I climbed in and drove off.