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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.
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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.
Devastated emotionally and filled with despair, I was a wreck as I drove back to Capitol Hill. At one point some jerk even beeped his horn at me because I didn’t respond immediately when the light turned green on Constitution Avenue. Lost in my thoughts, it was difficult to concentrate on anything except the conversation I had just finished with Ned Hilliard.
Jimmy loves me; at least Ned believes he loves me.
He’s back in Washington, but he’s contracted some disease no one seems to know much about; a disease that could kill him if everything people are saying is true.
But they’re wrong. They have to be wrong.
Ned himself had admitted there was a lot they didn’t know about gay cancer. Given how little they knew, how could they be certain whoever came down with the disease was going to die?
Jimmy’s not going to die!
He can’t die.
He loves me.
I’m not going to admit defeat that easily.
I’m going to do everything I can to help him and we’re going to lick this disease together.
Home at last, I opened the door, turned on the lights and made my way to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, I grabbed a beer and found my way to my favorite chair in the living room. I hardly ever drank beer anymore, especially on weekday evenings. But I needed something to calm my nerves.
Sitting down, I went over the entire conversation with Ned again. I had been skeptical going in, doubtful about the whole thing. But my curiosity had gotten the better of me so I had gone to the Clinic. I was glad about that; and yet, even now, what Ned had told me once I arrived was still hard to believe.
I had thought the patient he was talking about was someone I had met working on Capitol Hill. I had run into more gay staffers on the Hill over the years than I could have ever imagined. Like the men they worked for, whose electoral fortunes waxed and waned with every two year cycle, they came and went.
Some left town when their member departed, heading back to the mostly obscure communities from which they had come to Washington originally. But many others remained.
A few found new employers on Capitol Hill to replace those who had originally hired them, but most ended up working somewhere else; in some Executive branch agency if their party held the White House or, more recently and with a frequency many of the rest of us disdained, on K Street with some lobbying firm.
They stayed for different reasons, some enchanted by life in the nation’s capital or by the seemingly endless job opportunities; opportunities unlikely to be available if they returned home. But many others remained because they had become addicted to gay life in Washington and the sexual possibilities it offered.
Not that I blamed them. Back home many would have been forced to live in the closet. By contrast, Washington offered some opportunity to live your life the way you wanted; not as much as San Francisco or New York City if what everyone said was true, but more than most places.
The key was discretion.
Members of Congress didn’t want it known they had someone gay on their staff. That wouldn’t play well with the folks back home in most places. But a lot of members weren’t bigots either and the number willing to look the other way seemed to be growing with each passing year.
They wanted staffers who were the best and the brightest after all. As long as you were discreet, didn’t flaunt your sexuality publicly and were good at your job, they would suppress any suspicions they might have.
The same was true downtown, on K Street, and with a growing number of Washington employers. There were only a few agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation that were still into witch hunts; and the military, of course, but none of the people I worked with had any interest in the military.
So the more I thought about that call from Ned, the more convinced I became that his patient was probably someone I had met at some point on the Hill. But I had been wrong about that.
His patient was Jimmy and he was alive and in Washington; and, most important of all, he was in love with me. It was hard to comprehend after all the years that had passed.
It was even harder to comprehend that the incredibly cute boy I had known so many years ago now had a disease that threatened his life. It put everything in a different light; and yet the truth is I still loved Jimmy.
I couldn’t deny it.
He was the only person I had ever truly loved and I still loved him now.
Standing up, I walked across the room and picked up one of the many pictures of him I had gotten framed after he left.
So cute, Jimmy; you were so cute. I loved you so much.
Suddenly I started crying uncontrollably again and this time it took much longer to suppress the tears.
When I finally succeeded in doing so, I placed the picture back down on the table from which I’d retrieved it, finished my beer and headed for the kitchen.
You need to get some sleep, Jeff. Today has been incredibly stressful. You need to get some sleep if you’re going to figure out what to do next.
So that’s what I did. I climbed the stairs to the bedroom Jimmy and I had shared years ago. Turning on the lights, I surveyed the walls. There were pictures of Jimmy everywhere, mostly ones of the two of us together in what had been happier times.
But there was also that one of him and his best friend, Tommy, that I loved so much.
So young, so innocent; they were made to be best friends forever. Why can’t it always be that way?
Turning off the light, I stripped off my clothes and climbed into bed. As I laid there staring at the ceiling, I wondered if I would wake up in the morning and discover this was some kind of nightmare. I had often dreamed of Jimmy over the years; indeed, had often carried on long conversations with him that seemed incredibly real at the time.
Finally, I closed my eyes. If I slept that night at all it was only with the greatest of difficulties as it seemed to me I tossed and turned endlessly waiting for the morning to arrive.
Except for the Congressman and perhaps his Administrative Assistant, there isn’t much privacy in a congressional office. Stick around long enough and you may get a little more space, but you won’t ever get much privacy no matter how long you stick around. It’s the price you pay for working in a member’s office.
Fortunately, I lived on the Hill and was usually the first into the office every morning and the last out in the evening. Those private moments were when I did my best thinking.
Up early the next morning after my restless night, I got to the office even earlier than usual and tried to figure out what to do next.
Although I had never been in a relationship after Jimmy left and rarely visited the bars except when I was dragged there by friends, I did try to stay in touch with the gay community in a variety of ways. I read the Blade regularly. I volunteered at My Center.
Both of those were helpful. But my biggest source of support came from a small group of gay staffers who met regularly on the Hill to exchange information and ideas on issues likely to affect the gay community.
Not every gay staffer on the Hill joined our group and the rest of us respected that, but I always found my participation helpful and the friends I had made over the years provided the only social life I had outside of the job.
You need help figuring this out, Jeff. You need to talk to your friends and see what they suggest.
So that’s what I did. I put in calls to five of my closest gay friends on the Hill and arranged an emergency group luncheon that day. It was something each of us was comfortable doing when we faced some crisis or challenge.
There were times when someone couldn’t attend for whatever reason, but I lucked out that morning. My five closest friends were available and we agreed to meet at the backroom at Mr. Henry’s where we could talk privately.
When everyone had arrived, I came directly to the point.
“What do you guys know about this gay cancer thing that seems to be going around?” I asked.
My friends looked at one another warily, uncertain how to respond.
“Honestly, I think it’s just the latest hysteria sweeping New York and San Francisco,” Peter volunteered. “I don’t know anyone in Washington who’s gotten it; and that’s assuming there’s something to get, which I doubt. I think it’s an elaborate hoax designed to scare us away from the bars and baths. You know how much people hate us, Jeff. They’ll say anything to get us to stop having sex.”
“I don’t think so, Peter,” William responded, disagreeing. “It’s real, but mostly confined to New York and San Francisco. I’ve heard of one or two guys in Washington who may have it; at least that’s the rumor because they haven’t been around in a while. But those guys were total sluts.”
“Unlike you, William?” Sam volunteered.
“Oh, please,” William responded, rolling his eyes. “Just because I’m in an open relationship doesn’t make me a slut, Sam. Maybe straight people are into monogamy, but that’s only because they’re ugly and it’s the only way they can make a relationship work.”
“Guys, please,” I said, breaking in. “I didn’t ask you to come here to insult one another. I think someone I know has it and I need to know more about it.”
“Who is it?” John asked.
John was the group’s resident gossip and I found myself mildly annoyed he would ask something like that.
“That’s none of your business,” I said. “The point is it’s someone I know and I need to find out more about gay cancer myself. Tell me what you know for sure, not what you think. Is it contagious? Can you get it just by being around someone who has it?”
“I wish we could help you, Jeff,” Richard piped up. “I really do. But we’re as clueless as you. There are a lot of different theories about it from what I gather, but it seems like mission impossible to get any real facts about the disease. Have you tried the folks over at Whitman-Walker? They would probably know more than we do.”
“I have talked to someone over there,” I responded, “but he says the same thing as you, Richard; that what we know about it is pretty limited. I was hoping you guys would know more.”
“We don’t,” William said, agreeing with Richard. “But I know someone who might.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Tim Ward,” William responded. “A beautiful young lad indeed; alas, he plays for the other team, I fear, not ours. But he also happens to be Henry Wellman’s chief of staff on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.”
“My boss is on the full committee and he’s a friend of Henry’s. Henry’s Subcommittee has been looking into the disease for some time now and I know they’ve held at least one hearing on the issue. From what I gather, they don’t think the health agencies are doing enough to address the problem.”
“I don’t know this guy Ward at all,” I said. “Do you know him well enough to call to see whether he’d be willing to meet with me; preferably today if possible?”
“I do,” William replied. “Like I said, my boss is on the full Committee so I imagine he’ll meet with you if I ask, but it’ll cost you.”
“What?” I said, glaring at William.
“Oh, well, I was going to ask for some playtime with your ass,” William responded, grinning, “but you’re such a prude I imagine that wouldn’t go over well. How about a date some time so I can make Russ jealous?”
Russ was William’s boyfriend and the two of them were constantly trying to make each other jealous by flirting with someone else.
“Why do you and Russ play those games with each other, William?” I asked. “You know you’re in love. Why are you always trying to one-up one another like that?”
“Maybe because we’re both even older than you and completely unwanted by all the cute young boys at the bars,” he replied. “It lets us pretend we’re still young and desirable.”
“Well, you’d be smarter to settle for being a little older and desirable what with this gay cancer thing going around. You know what I mean?”
“You’re right,” William sighed. “It’s just that I miss being young and lusted after by everyone; so does Russell.”
After that we talked about a bunch of other things developing on the Hill. On the walk back to Rayburn William said he would call as soon as he had talked to Tim Ward.
Picking up the phone forty-five minutes later, I recognized the voice immediately.
“Don’t say I never do anything for you, Jeff,” William said, “but you’re on. Tim said he could see you at 4:00 p.m. today; if that doesn’t work for you, he said to give him a call and the two of you could set up some other time that does.”
“Thanks, William,” I responded. “I owe you for this. I owe you big time.”
“You say that to all of us whenever we do a favor for you, Jeff,” he responded, “but then you never deliver; at least you never deliver what any of us really want, which is that cute little ass of yours. In any event, remember the guy is straight, at least I think he is; and since he doesn’t know you’re gay be careful how you handle the whole thing.”
“Thanks again, William,” I said, hanging up the phone.
Looking up at the clock, I saw I still had an hour before meeting with Ward. I spent much of the time trying to think how I could broach the subject with him in a way that didn’t give me away. In the end, I realized I had no other choice. If I wanted to avoid outing myself, I’d have to lie.
I got to the Subcommittee office promptly at 4:00 p.m. and introduced myself. William had been right. Ward was both young and good looking.
“Uh, well, thank you for seeing me, especially on such short notice, Tim,” I said. “The reason I wanted to see you is because my boss is meeting with some people from our district who are concerned about this new gay cancer disease. I guess GRID is the technical term for it.”
“It is at the moment,” he responded. “But a lot of us don’t like the term. It suggests this disease only affects gay people and that isn’t true. Others are affected as well so we’re looking for some more accurate term. AIDS is the one we’re kicking around at the moment; that stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. As you can see, it’s a more neutral term than GRID.”
“I understand,” I replied. “In any event, these constituents of ours want to know what the Federal government is doing about this disease. William tells me you’re the most knowledgeable staffer in the House on the issue so I wanted to tap into your expertise to help get the Congressman prepared for his meeting.”
“I’m not sure I’m much of an expert,” he said. “But then again there are only a handful of us who know anything about it at all. I was surprised when William told me you were interested, but I’ll be happy to share what I know.”
“To get straight to the point,” he continued, “it doesn’t seem like the relevant Federal agencies are doing anything about the problem. You and the Congressman will have to decide just how honest you want to be with your constituents about that.”
“They won’t be happy if you tell them the truth, but that’s the way it is and it’s a problem; a big one. To put it another way, I wish I had some good news to share about what the Executive branch is doing to address the problem, but I don’t.”
“Really?” I said. “That seems hard to believe. It seems like this is, or at least has the potential to be, a major public health issue; and you’re telling me no one’s doing anything about it? I mean, there must be funding for some research going on at the very least. Can you tell me how much money is being spent to research the disease?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“Nothing?” I replied, incredulous.
“Zilch; not a dime, at least as far as I’ve been able to determine,” he said. “And nothing on surveillance either although I suppose that’s not technically correct.”
“There are some people at the Centers for Disease Control spending some of their time collecting data on the spread of the disease. How many people have gotten it. Where they live. Just basic stuff. But other than that there’s really nothing going on at the CDC as far as I’ve been able to determine. Nor anything planned for that matter.”
“What about the National Institutes of Health?” I asked, trying to pretend I knew more about the health agencies than I did.
“Ah, yes, NIH,” Tom responded, smirking. “Susan Simon is Ted Wilson’s chief staffer over at the Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee. That’s the Government Operations Subcommittee with oversight of Federal health agencies and she’s always telling me that NIH stands for not interested in homosexuals. NIH isn’t doing anything either.”
“How can that be possible?” I asked. “Here you have a disease people are dying from and you’re telling me the Federal government is doing nothing?”
“Welcome to morning America as President Reagan likes to say,” Tim replied, the sarcasm in his voice all too evident. “The people dying from this disease are mostly gay men right now and they’re not the most popular group in the world; although my sources at CDC tell me they’re concerned the disease may be spreading into other groups pretty rapidly now.”
“What other groups?” I asked.
“The evidence isn’t perfect,” Ward replied, “but it seems to be spreading among intravenous drug users among others; although they don’t seem to be getting Kaposi’s sarcoma as much as gay men. Of course, drug users aren’t an especially popular group either, at least with the folks who support Reagan.”
“But the fact that drug users may be getting the disease suggests that what we’re calling gay cancer may be transmitted through the blood; and if that’s the case, it won’t be long before people who rely on blood transfusions start contracting the disease as well.”
“You would think that might be of interest to the Red Cross and some of the other big blood banks,” he added, “but you’d be wrong if that’s what you thought. From what I’m hearing, the blood banks don’t want to face up to that.”
“Even if they did, we don’t have a test at the moment to determine whether blood is infected. Like I said, we’re not even sure it’s transmitted through blood although that seems to be the prevailing opinion among those who’ve been thinking about the disease the most.”
“If this disease is transmitted through the blood, why is it infecting gay men so much?” I asked. “I mean, I wasn’t aware that gay men were injecting drugs a lot or were sharing needles.”
“They aren’t,” Ward said. “But, uh, gay men engage in anal intercourse and other activities that have the potential for opening wounds, sometimes just microscopic wounds; and the thinking among the experts is that they may be transmitting it via semen getting into the blood.”
“Sorry to be so graphic, Jeff. I didn’t mean to gross you out. But you actually seem interested in this disease, unlike most of those I deal with.”
“I am,” I replied. “But if you’re right, it sounds like the disease has the potential to be a major public health catastrophe.”
“It does,” he said. “Look, here’s the bottom line. We’ve always tried to take care of the sick and afflicted in America, but no one is abiding by the rules anymore. Reagan and his cronies won’t lift a finger to help any of the victims of this disease. A lot of them see it as a blessing; a way to rid the country of perverts and other undesirables.”
“But it’s not just Reagan and his buddies,” he added. “The medical community has its head stuck in the sand as well. They don’t want to deal with it. Even the gay community itself is a problem.”
“They don’t want to take any of the steps we think could help stop the spread of the disease, like closing the bathhouses, because we can’t tell them exactly what causes the disease and they think we’re proposing these steps to try to stop them from having sex.”
“All of that is beyond my pay grade,” he added. “But I do know we need to be doing more. I wish I could tell you others agreed, but no one apparently does.”
“So what do we know about this disease exactly?” I asked. “I mean, what are the symptoms, what remedies exist to fight it; and if the Federal government isn’t doing anything, what about the drug companies? Are they testing any possible remedies?”
Tim looked at me and sighed.
“That’s the thing, Jeff. We don’t know very much about this disease at the moment. Everything I’ve told you so far is speculative. It hasn’t been tied down precisely. The number of people afflicted is growing rapidly, but is still much too small for the drug companies to make any money so they’re doing nothing.”
“As for symptoms, that’s one of the frustrating things,” he continued. “The disease seems to manifest itself in lots of different ways.”
“For example, it displays in a lot of gay men through Kaposi’s sarcoma, this very obscure cancer that’s rarely seen in young men. But there are others who don’t display that way. They display through swollen lymph nodes, parasitic diseases, and a variety of symptoms more typical of animals than human beings, like toxoplasmosis.”
“In turn, the lack of uniform symptoms makes treatment difficult. They’re not a lot of doctors who are treating this disease; the ones who do have to improvise treatments for multiple symptoms. I hate to tell you, but this is a very cunning disease we’re dealing with, Jeff. It seems to be quite ingenious in hiding itself behind a lot of other things.”
“That’s why the government needs to be doing so much more,” he added, “but Reagan and his cronies are only interested in cutting Federal spending on health, not spending money to better understand and treat a disease that is mostly affecting people considered socially undesirable.”
“They’re being stupid and short-sighted because this is going to come back to bite them in the ass when the disease starts spreading among the general population,” he concluded. “And it will; I’m absolutely convinced of that.”
“Uh, well, I don’t know if you know, but my boss is on the Appropriations Committee,” I said. “We’re not on the Subcommittee that funds the different health agencies like the CDC and the NIH. But we do have a vote in the full Committee and I’m sure my boss will be interested in trying to do something more once I brief him on this.”
“That’s one of the reasons I agreed to meet with you Jeff,” Tim replied. “William mentioned that connection and it interested me. Henry knows a couple of members over there. Like everyone else, however, they’re not interested in this. There’s no political upside in it. But we could use all the help we can get from someone on Appropriations.”
“Sure,” I said. “I understand. But to get back to his meeting with our constituents, is there something we can tell them they should be doing?”
“I wish I could tell you there was,” Tim responded, “but other than writing their Representatives and Senators — and Teddy Kennedy from your home state has been terrific on this issue I should add — and helping to educate their friends and neighbors, there’s not a lot I can suggest. It’s very discouraging.”
“In any event I’m going to have Henry talk to your boss. The more members we can get involved with this issue, the more pressure we can bring to bear on the Reagan administration. But it’s going to be a long haul, Jeff, and things are going to get worse before they get better; a lot worse. Is there anything else I can tell you?”
Yeah, Tim, tell me how can I prevent the person I love more than anyone else in the world from dying.
“Uh, I guess not,” I replied.
Standing up, I started to walk to the door, then stopped and turned around.
“Uh, well, I guess there is one other thing,” I said.
“The thing is, one of the people in the group who’ll be meeting with the Congressman apparently has this disease; and, uh, well, I was just wondering whether there were any special precautions we needed to take.”
“I mean, should I tell the Congressman not to shake hands with people in this group? Or make sure they’re far enough away from him so if someone sneezes or . . . .”
“I don’t know what I’m asking exactly,” I finally said, frustrated, as my words drifted off into silence.
“It’s like everything else with this disease, Jeff,” he said, smiling at me. “We have questions, lots of questions, but we don’t have answers; at least we don’t have definitive answers. I can’t tell you what to do, but the people I know who work day to day with people afflicted with this disease don’t seem to think it’s transmitted through casual contact; that you have to go out of your way to contract it from them.”
“But, then again, it seems like the gestation period for this disease may be longer than any of us realize. So it’s possible they’re wrong and could come down with the disease sometime in the future. Or maybe not; I wish I could be more helpful.”
“No; you’ve been honest with me, Tim, and I can’t ask for anything more than that,” I replied. “I came here with a lot of questions. I’m not leaving with many answers, just with more questions. But I’ll say this.”
“I’ve been battling the Reagan folks for a long time now over their foreign policy. It’s nice to know my assessment of how bad these people are applies to domestic policy as well. I can’t understand how any President of the United States can stand by and let people die without making some effort to respond to the problem. It’s inconceivable.”
“I know,” Tim said, nodding his head. “And yet inconceivable as it may seem, it’s the truth. They just don’t give a damn."
“Unbelievable,” I responded. “In any event, thanks for seeing me. This is a two-way street, you know, Tim. If I can help or my boss can help in any way, let me know. But, uh, maybe you should hold off having your boss talk to mine until I’ve had a chance to fill him in. I’ll let you know once I have.”
“Sure," he said.
Instead of heading back to the office immediately, I went outside and found myself walking up Independence Avenue. At some point, I stopped and looked over at the Capitol where the American flag was waving.
How can something like this happen in America? I asked myself.
How can people let it happen without trying to do something about it?