David Pearce vs. Frederick Frankenberg
The Purple Wall
Axel it was who kept me sane during those years in occupied Berlin just after the war. My mother would laugh now to hear me say that. "You weren't born till three years after the war ended," she'd say. "You sound like you were out there flirting with my young Trümmerfrauen friends. Anyway, we don't talk about that. And besides, you didn't even meet Axel until they moved here when you were both five or six."
Well, post-war memories are like that, aren't they. Sometimes they creep up on you; sometimes they ring warning bells of their arrival. Sometimes you sit there, waiting for the next one. Like a missed bus, or a bomb.
The housing block Axel and his family moved to on the corner of Grabowstrasse had survived the war, as had ours, across Harzer Strasse. Axel was in the Russian sector, the declared capital of East Germany, and I was in the American sector. We didn't take notice, except when there was the occasional patrol. They prowled either in cars or sometimes on foot. The two forces managed to avoid meeting each other along the shared border.
The day Axel and his family arrived, in the summer of 1953, I was leaning from my bedroom window on the side of our block, my knees getting scraped from the rough wooden sill. I saw him, Axel, leaning from what I learnt was HIS bedroom window. We were at the same level, that is, on the second floor of our blocks.
"Hallo!" I cried, to get his attention.
"Hei, hei!" He waved, then turned to look back up Grabowstrasse. I kept watching. Then he disappeared. He popped his head out again from a window at the front of the corner room. Just as he seemed ready to shout something, my mother called me from the hallway. I waved to Axel, then went in.
That's how it started. Over the few years of our friendship, in that quiet, watery corner of Treptow, we learnt to swim in the Landwehrkanal, we learnt our botany in the grassy bomblands and allotments nearby, we discovered anatomy in cellars and patrol cars, we sang our prayers in the churches and temples of our imagination. We were awful children, our parents' worst nightmares. The worst part of us was, as just mentioned, our imagination.
Axel's room in the corner had once been a girl's bedroom, and the walls were still papered in lambs and ponies and rabbits, as I recall. When he first showed me his room, Axel said, "This has all got to go. But my parents won't let me change it. It costs too much for new wallpaper. You got any ideas, Peter?"
"Don't ask me! My room's just all white walls. Just leave it. We can spend more time in my room, that's all. Come on over, I'll show you."
It was another two years before we finally came up with a solution to Axel's farmyard walls.
"Cover them all with curtains," I said. "Or bedsheets. Nailed to the walls. Easy."
"Hmm. White bedsheets. Dust covers, we've got lots of old dust covers, but no sheets."
"Even better. We can nail them up, then decorate them. Paint things on the covers whenever we get inspired."
"You help me, yeah?"
"Sure! You know, in our cellar we've even got old paint from when they painted those stripes on the outside. Hey! Yeah! We've got all sorts of things in there – brushes and ladders and tools – and the stencils from those designs on the balconies. We can have a ball!"
"You've really gotta help me now, Peter. You're the indisposable one – is that the word?"
"You need me, you mean. Sure, pal."
We brought over a ladder and two hammers and some nails. With the old dust covers measured and portioned out so we wouldn't have to cut them, we set to work. Axel's job was mostly just holding the ladder and handing me nails, but I didn't mind taking charge. That was just how we worked most things out best.
"Great job! Now we need some ideas for painting things."
"I like those stencils a lot! Kind of old-fashioned, but we can jazz them up. You know how to use them?"
"I think you sort of poke the paint in, not brush it on. There's a special brush for that, I think."
"We'll plan it and work on it tomorrow."
The next day, Axel came over to get the paint. Lots of the colours were nearly used up – not much left in the green or black or red buckets. Only the purple bucket was still full.
"I know. Let's just do one wall and use up these colours. We can do something else with the other walls later. Leave the purple. We've got enough with these others."
So we started poking paint through the stencils onto the cloth using the special brush, trying to use up all of one colour of paint first before dipping it into another, so we wouldn't have to clean the brush. That was my idea. The stencils had been used before and so were already crusted with paint. There was one pattern we particularly liked that was sort of Arabic looking, and we really wore that one out. The paint went on really well, and the job was easier than we'd imagined. The entire cloth was covered with colours, and we were full of high spirits.
"So, where are your parents, Axel? Won't they notice the smell?"
"They're visiting my uncle and aunt up in Pankow. Yeah, it does smell. Let's go to your house till it dries."
The sector patrols never bothered us when we crossed the zones of Berlin. We were just boys out larking around. Sometimes the soldiers stopped and showed us their guns or their uniform patches. Once, a Russian soldier let me put on his helmet. Axel was too scared to try it on, but I could see he was dying to do it. Finally, I plopped it on his head. The soldier grinned, showing a missing upper front tooth. Then he gently removed the helmet from Axel's head.
Time has blurred many distinctions, but one I was, and still am, sensitively aware of was terminology. Axel always used the word 'Soviet' or 'East German' to describe the Eastern sector; I said 'Russian', although on occasion 'Soviet' slipped out. I learnt only later why this was so, and why it made a difference.
On our way back from swimming one day, we saw an American soldier talking into his radio. I'm not sure, but I think Axel and I were both inspired at the same time, because we both started talking about the same idea – a way to communicate between our two second-floor rooms. I suggested a speaking tube. Axel was thinking.
"What do you call those wheel things? Rollers?"
"You mean a pulley?"
"Yeah! Like they use for drying clothes outside."
"Yeah! We can pass notes across the street! But where can we get pulleys? Just two's enough."
"Wait! If we have four – two at each end – could we get it to ring a bell when the message reaches the first pulley?"
"It triggers a bell? Wow! Axel, you've got great ideas sometimes! I'm impressed!"
"Or – when a message arrives and we're not there to hear the bell, it could trip a different signal, like the 'Occupied' sign on a lavatory door."
"You're gonna be an inventor when you grow up, for sure."
"Well, it's normally you with all the ideas, I know. Hey! We're forgetting something."
"The string! Or wire."
"Yeah. Where do we get that?"
"And how long does it have to be? How can we measure between the rooms?"
"Pace it off – "
"And multiply by two – "
"Yeah. And add extra, just in case."
"People – the soldiers – they'll see it. They'll tear it down."
"I know! Fishing line! That'll even hold little baskets if we want to send something heavy."
"Like a fish? Ha ha! Listen – I'll ask my dad. Tell him I need it for school. He'll believe me."
Axel's father was like that. There was no mystery around him. He was a push-over. Axel knew just how to cajole things from him, as long as his mother was not involved. She was the dominating force. Just like my mum, I guess, except I didn't have a dad. I never knew him. Mum said he died before I was born, and now she won't talk about him anymore. Not even to tell me lies.
We were working on the pulleys in Axel's room, figuring out a trip-mechanism to alert him when I had sent a message. I was dreaming a bit, not paying attention, thinking about how we'd drop a line from the window to the ground, then attach it and haul the fishing line inside. What sounded like a loud electrical spark brought me back to my senses. It had come from behind our painted cloth nailed to the wall. Axel hadn't heard it with his head out the window. I went to the cloth and lifted it like a skirt.
"Holy Hamburg! Axel! Axel! Come here! Look!"
"Jesus, Maria, and Joseph!"
The wall covered by the cloth which we had stencilled was all blotchy with run-down drips and splotches of paint, a real nightmare on Grabowstrasse. All the delicate pokes of paint had soaked through to create a vision as hellish as Hieronymus Bosch might have painted with demonic lambs and rabbits and ponies. The entire wall was like that. I had already forgotten about the electrical spark.
"What are we going to do? My parents will be mad as hell!"
"Let me think. Ah – we take down the cloth and throw it in the canal when no one is looking. Then – hmm. Then we paint the whole wall over. We've still got that purple paint. That sort of goes with the ponies here. That should be enough."
The painting of the Purple Wall delayed our pulley-system construction by a few days, but that too was eventually installed. We had decided not to risk throwing the cloth into the canal, but instead, we just left it in my cellar with all the paints and uncleaned brushes.
Axel and I sent each other messages at least once an hour at first, but then soon realised that to do so meant that we needed to be apart from each other. We had become as close as spoons, so being apart wasn't fun. In the end, just before bedtime and just after waking up in the morning, we'd send our greetings across the street, waiting for the 'Message sent' flap to fall down. We never did manage to install a bell as well.
There were times when Axel and I didn't see each other every single day, of course. We went to different schools, but normally we met when we came home. Sometimes he'd have arrived home early and then left again, either telling me via message or his mum saying his father had taken him somewhere. Then there were days he'd be dropped off from school by a strange car. I asked him about that, and he said that his dad's office had a driver who lived nearby.
"Where does your dad work? You told me, but I forgot."
"In an office."
"Yeah, but — "
"Sort of a planning office."
"I'm not sure. I've been there, but it's all just desks and telephones. But I think he plans streets or building projects."
"Was your dad in the war?"
"He was in that same office. He's only got one lung, so he never fought. That's why he doesn't smoke. Neither does my mum."
"So, he works for the Russians now?"
"No, the East Germans. The Soviets were ready to send him to a camp in the East, he told me. Then they started asking questions about his old job. That's why we – I mean, my family – were allowed to stay in Germany. He went back to work at his old job. My mum says you don't even have a dad. Our mothers aren't too friendly with each other, are they? I don't know why."
"Sure, I HAD a dad. But he died before I was born. I've told you before."
"Did your mum tell you much about him?"
"No. She just says we don't talk about things like that."
"Didn't you ever wonder about him?"
"Of course. I went through some of her drawers and cabinets once, looking for evidence – you know, love letters or photos – but there was nothing."
"Did she give you that line about telling you when you're old enough to understand?"
"Yeah. Yeah – I'm old enough now. I'll be a teenager soon. You, too! Do you realise that? How fast we've grown up? We've already known each other six years now. And – you know, we never really talked much about my dad, did we? How come?"
"My mum told me not to ask you, even though I just did. She thinks you're illegitimate."
"What? Illegitimate? A love-child? A bastard?"
"Yeah. Sorry. She told me not to tell you, either."
"No, no. That's – fine – but just between us – as a secret, OK? What else does your mum say about me? Axel? You can tell me. It's all right."
"She thinks your dad was probably a soldier."
"I always dreamt my father was a British soldier. I love the accents. But, I don't know. My mum doesn't speak English, so it's not likely she'd go with a Brit."
"You don't need to know the language, stupid. Anyway, some day your dad in you will come out. It'll scare your mum into telling you. She's never said that – 'Ah, that's your dad in you' – when you do something?"
"No. Not really."
"My mum's always saying that when I do anything silly."
"Your mum's all right, though. I don't care what she says about me."
"Yeah, your mum's OK, too. I like her."
A few days later, Axel sent a message that they'd be going to Pankow to stay awhile with his relatives and not to miss him too much. When they returned, I asked him what he had meant by 'too much'.
"I just think you really miss me when I'm away. Don't you miss me? I hope you do. I miss you."
Did I miss him when he was gone? I hadn't thought about it that way. Of course, I always looked forward to seeing him. And he was a special friend, which is really just a coy, cowardly way of admitting to myself that he was my only friend.
One time after that when we were in his room playing chess, he left the room when his mother called out to him. He came back to tell me he'd be helping his mother for ten minutes or so, and I should just wait. I looked around the room a while, my eyes always returning to our Purple Wall. I went to his desk and took a pencil, found an inconspicuous corner of the Wall, and wrote our initials AP + PA. It was only then that I saw the mirror image of the letters. I drew a heart around them. I had no other way of expressing what I felt but scarcely understood. Whether he ever saw that heart or not, I was never sure. He never mentioned it. But I think he saw it. He must have.
Early that August, Axel and I were in the street playing around, kicking a ball, red with blue stripes, and waiting for a patrol soldier to tell us to stop making noise. No one came by to tell us off, so we stopped making the noise ourselves. A peace settled over the street. It seemed deserted, like a film set between shoots. We started strutting around, acting a bit like cowboys in a ghost town are supposed to act, according to us. Starting in front of my building, we walked up the street to where the little canal meets the curve of the big canal. After throwing a few stones into the water, we crossed the street and walked back on Axel's side of Harzer Strasse, past his building, then on to Bouchéstrasse, crossing again to end up back in front of my block. I had mentioned cowboys to Axel, but after we had passed his house, he leant toward me and whispered, "It's like we're spies. Where are all these people? Are they ghosts? What do we really know about them?"
As he said that, I knew I was feeling sexual urges of panic, of thrill. Spies. Axel talking about spies. That was my awakening to erotic pleasure. I put my hands into my trouser pockets, but I don't think Axel noticed why. I looked over at him, but he seemed not to have felt the surge of electricity that was passing through me. I suddenly wanted to be alone with him, but when we got back to my building, he unexpectedly ran off to his house, shouting back, "Gotta check on my mum. I forgot she's not feeling well. See you later, Peter!"
That Friday afternoon, I got a message from him, again saying they were going to Pankow, and he was sure we'd be missing each other a lot. I sent back a noncommittal sort of message, as I felt numb, or lost in a reverie of time – past present future. He didn't answer.
The next day, Saturday, 12 August 1961, he sent me a note. "We'll see each other again." He had drawn a heart and had written inside "Peter + Axel". And he had coloured in the heart with purple ink. This seemed a bit melodramatic, but perhaps he had felt the itch for me, too. At least his absence would give me time to plan strategy, and to dream.
But I did not dream of Axel that night. Around three in the morning, great scurrying, scraping noises from the street woke me. Then there was a tap on my door, and my mum came in.
"Stay away from the window, Peter. Don't watch."
"What is it? Mum? What is it?"
"Oh, bloody hell! Watch! Look! I don't care. Someone's barricading the street. No! Don't look! Oh, DAMN!"
I had never heard her swear before. And the shock of hearing it, plus her use of an English phrase, woke excited visions of war in my mind.
So, we both sat at the front-room window and watched as tangles of barbed wire were unrolled along Axel's side of the street. Axel and his parents were in Pankow. My mum and I were alone. The men working were East German soldiers, supervised by the Russians. Axel always called them Soviet soldiers, and now I realised why. He was, literally, on their side. Not ideologically – not completely. But he had been slowly indoctrinated by the mere fact that the Soviets were HIS occupiers, as the Americans were mine. And, somehow, he knew that he had to watch his language. His father, too, or even much more so than Axel, was being subtly subverted.
As a plant will grow toward the light, the mind will turn away from what may be dangerous or harmful to the body. Readers may think I sound precocious, but one really needs to have been nurtured in an environment to understand its biology and to learn the correct responses or behaviours in order to survive.
At eight that morning, that is to say, Sunday morning, my mum tuned in AFN radio to hear the news of what we had seen. She knew only that it meant trouble. She also seemed to understand the English broadcasts.
"Mum! What's it all about? Are they locking us up?"
"No, Peter, they're locking us out, it seems. It's the East Germans – they're closing their sector border with a wall. That's what the newsreader said – a wall."
"You could understand all that in English? I didn't know you knew English. Mum! What is it?"
"I'm sorry, I just feel like crying. Oh, darling! We're back at war again, I'm afraid."
The wall did not take long to build. I imagine the workers were mostly those overworked East German soldiers. We stayed inside for the next few days but could see the progress on our section of the wall from the front window. Cement blocks and bricks at first, then poured concrete slabs rose higher and wider. The houses across were already being demolished. Axel's house was one of the last, but inexorably the destruction moved ahead. The wreckers had reached Axel's room and had gnawed away the front wall – and then stopped. The Purple Wall stood, alone, defiant, for weeks of delay over some bureaucratic detail or other. As if with telescopic vision, I could just make out the corner where I had drawn my heart for Axel and me. A day did not go by that I did not meditate on that wall – THAT wall, our wall, the Purple Wall, not the Soviet red one.
Steadily, the one wall rose higher as the other crumbled. It took me several weeks to build up the courage to paint on the new prison wall a new Purple Wall. I used, of course, the now-mouldy and partly solidified remains of the purple paint from the original wall. Other Berliners had already been painting on other sections of the wall – slogans mostly – and no one stopped me. My mum knew that I knew what I was doing.
For a while, no one painted on or over my purple wall. Of course, at first, I was too shy to paint on the heart and its enclosed initials, but I realised that, in the end, no one would know – or everyone would know – what it meant, what love meant. Slowly, my wall acquired a few more hearts and initials, nothing much, just a few. It didn't fill up – a wall like that could never fill up – an endlessly filling cup of symbolic love.
I tried to find out what had happened to Axel, if I could get a message to him somehow. My mum tried, the neighbours tried, but there was no news. After the incidents in and around Bernauer Strasse, when people in the walled-off Russian sector had jumped from windows to try to reach the West, and tunnels had been dug and used successfully, then closed and heavily guarded, and the Death Strip had claimed the first of its victims, and all the daring escape and rescue missions, and the poignant scenes of children lost in a maze of death, and visits from presidents and other weak politicians, and no more church bells ringing from the churches across the wall, and living right on the border, for God's sake!, and after in a delirium actually planning my own tunnel INTO the East to be with Axel, after all this, then –
An American patrol car slowed then stopped in front of my house, a soldier got out and approached the front door of our block. I was watching from the window. I heard the doorbell ring. I went down.
"Sorry to bother you, but you knew the P. family from across, didn't you? Axel P."
"Yes, sir. Why? Do you know something?" (Of course he knew something. That was why he was here. Or did he want information? He didn't look the inquisitive type. Solid.)
"Axel was your friend, so I'm told."
(He's going to tell me now.)
"Yes, sir. My friend. Tell me – is he alive?" (I knew.)
"I'm sorry, no. No. He died. I saw a report from an international agency dealing with these things. It was just shortly after people started digging tunnels to escape. He was digging with some men." (Some men. Axel was just a boy. Doing a man's work.) "It was near the Pankow cemetery – the tunnel collapsed. Poor boy. The others were rescued, and they all started digging again looking for him, but he was dead." (The solid surface started cracking.) "He was just a boy! Just a fucking boy, for Christ's sake! I'm sorry." (He was beginning to burst.) "Listen, here – I've written my name and some contact addresses around here. Write me or let me know if you – if you ever need anything. You're just about his age, aren't you?" (He's ready to explode now.) Jesus! You're all just kids! It's hell out there – fucking hell on Earth."
"Fucking bloody hell." (He didn't catch the irony.)
"Yeah! And it's all psychological. That's the scary part." (He's got himself under control again.) "Sorry – I start talking and I can't stop. Listen – Good luck, kid. See ya!" (The volcano is dormant once again.)
"Yeah, thanks, uh – Colonel – Hamblin. Wait!"
"Do you know the date that Axel died?"
"Uh – yeah. Here it is – October the third – 1961, of course."
"Thank you, Colonel, sir."
"I suppose you'd like to remember, eh?"
"No. I'd like to forget."
"Jesus, kid! Don't say that. Not to me. It's breaking me up just thinking about you kids. Don't joke about it, please."
Although I wasn't joking in the least, I had never seen a man crushed so much by something I'd said. "I'm sorry, Colonel. It's affecting us both."
"God, kid, you talk like a grown-up. I guess the war's done that to all of us, one way or another."
"Yes, sir. One way or another."
Several years passed. I was studying medicine and had a chance to go to London for further research. Before I left, my mum gave me a slip of paper with a name and address on it.
"When you're in London, Peter, just pass by this house. If it's still there. It's in the south of London. It's – that's – that's your grandparents' house. It's where your dad grew up."
I was twenty-five years old. That's all I had heard in all that time about my dad. My mum had faithfully refused to discuss him. I had given up asking questions. I had set a fantasy scene, had written the drama, and now I was going to learn how it ended.
"Is Dad still alive?"
"Probably not. Possibly. You don't have to look for him. I'm sure someone else is in the house now, anyway.
"But he was English? A soldier?"
"I'm sure Axel's mother told you stories."
"It was just rumours, gossip."
"But she was right."
"So – I'm illegitimate."
"Yes. Of course. He and I were together only a few months. When I told him I was pregnant, he – 'scarpered' is the word."
"What was his name? Mum? His name."
"Peter. Peter Auden."
"The same initials as I've got now with your last name."
"That doesn't matter, does it?"
"I was digging out the rubble with the other Trümmerfrauen over at the Gedächtniskirche when he came up from behind and spun me around like a doll. He was laughing and charming and – and I fell for him. You would have liked him."
"Liked him? He was – is – my father!"
"Not every son loves his father."
"Why are you telling me now, Mum?"
"I'm just getting tired – weary of life. No, no! Not like that. Don't worry about me when you're away."
I looked at her. I couldn't tell her that she didn't look tired – she DID look tired. War did that. She was just forty-five and still young enough to have a certain amount of resilience. But at that time, West Berlin had the world's highest suicide rate for women over the age of seventy. Widows, all of them, nearly always jumped from windows. This statistic held true through the next decade.
I never went past the house in south London, nor did I ever contact Colonel Hamblin. Danger lay in those directions, I knew, and I had no need to prove anything to myself, no burning desires of any sort whatsoever.
After my year in London, I visited my mum again. Nothing seemed to have changed. Walls were still walls. So I returned to the UK and did an internship in Edinburgh. There I met Catherine, an American who was also interning. No, this will not be a fall-in-love ending. Not to this story.
Catherine and I were walking through a quiet side street. I told her it reminded me of Harzer Strasse where I had grown up in Berlin. I started to tell her a few anecdotes about Axel, keeping it all rather impersonal. I think she sensed this. Two boys in the street were kicking a ball around, dodging the occasional car or lorry. One kick landed the ball, red with blue stripes, at Catherine's feet. She was no footballer, and when she kicked a return, it went wide. Now – now you see where this is going, where this is ending, at eighty miles an hour. One of the boys ran to retrieve the ball when it landed. I looked up at it, its arc, its peak, its descent into gravity. Then the sun blinded my eyes. The blue red blue red sphere spun and dazzled livid purple. I ran toward its inevitable landing spot, its target. Catherine yelled, "Stop!", and the boy stopped running. The boy in me did not stop. The maroon Corvette travelling 80mph never stood a chance. Or was it magenta? The battleblood in my eyes poured like wine, a gift from the gods, drowning out any sorrow, any anger, any regret.
Like a Gun Over His Heart
The clock says twelve and there’s no magazines in this empty waiting room. The receptionist went off to lunch five minutes ago. A row of flimsy neon-white chairs along the wall add a barren and vapid accent to the ugly black-and-white tiled linoleum floor. This cream-colored rectangular space around me seems bigger than it was before my last visit. The room surrounds me. This low ceiling—with a large fluorescent lamp emitting depthless light—hangs over me like a predator. I see nothing nice out the windows, just messy graffiti of a terrified man being stabbed to death by four other men in red shirts with large sharp daggers, sprayed on the concrete walls, at the end of the parking lot; shattered glass from a single lonely old weathered outdoor ATM litters the pavement around it.
I never noticed the machine there or the graffiti. Maybe the bank on the outside of the parking lot just installed the cash machine and degenerate kids just sprayed the mural there? Maybe I’m like that ATM? I have more than enough time to pace around and figure out what I’m gonna tell the doctor for my twelve-thirty appointment. Best to be truthful, but I don’t need him to raise the heavy sedatives. I want to stay on the Adderall, though.
The problem is, if I tell the truth he’ll raise the tranquilizers and take me off the glorious stimulants. I can’t tell him everything. There’s got to be a middle way. I’m having so much scary fun. All the dogs smiled at me in the park last week and the world changed to vivid pastel colors for a bit. Beautiful. Everyone looks alluring. The men and women all have radiant, shimmering skin with flattering features. The women’s good looks please me, but the glamorous men disturb me. I could get some sleep, though—maybe a higher dose of tranquilizers would be a good thing? Maybe people aren’t out to murder me? Now I think that, but can I believe it? Gotta gather my thoughts, gotta figure stuff out.
Trevor. Trevor. I swear he must be sixteen. Remember him telling me he was twenty-three, months ago, though. Everything out of his mouth is distorted. Bringing him to my apartment and giving him pills wasn’t a good idea. He laid on the bed with that look of fear in his eyes. Gotta make him suffer. His fear made me afraid, or maybe him on my bed scared me. It’s dangerous to get close to people like that. Besides, I’m not gay. I had more sense when I was younger—people’s sensibilities go away when they turn thirty.
As we walked back to school, he told me he had to study for the math test and took the Adderall I gave him. He started acting silly and immature. He said the stuff kicked in and looked at me with a shitfaced grin. I loved it. His high made me feel as if I just took a triple dose myself: I felt powerful, stronger than a thousand jet engines. He glowed—literally. His white skin shined at that instant. I felt like the master of the universe. It was exhilarating. I read his mind. I told him he felt happy he was going to do that stuff in the safety of the college campus. He asked how I knew, and I told him that I used to do drugs in school, too. In the past I kept my life-ruining, mind-altering chemicals all for myself, but I broke that rule. I can’t figure it out.
Why are people out to kill me? Trevor must have friends in the Bloods. He wears a red jacket. I just walked with him in the woods yesterday—wait—was it yesterday? Has it been two days since I slept? I’m not one bit tired. He’s deceiving me. At first, he acted like nothing happened until I told him I gave his name to the cops when they brought me to the psych ward after I dialed the suicide hotline. He told me ten cops threatened to charge him with abusing the disabled. I’m not a fucking retard—what an insult. From what he says, they let a petty felon like him attend Community College. I understand his type all too well. I used to be a drug addict. I would have already gotten arrested if he was a minor, but maybe the cops didn’t know.
Terrible thoughts ran through my head that night I dialed the suicide hotline. I could be one of those creepy sulking pedophiles, just waiting to get raped in jail. His age got me going—something must be wrong with that. Just like there’s something wrong with how I got caught in that group home with underaged porn. If it wasn’t for “Care and Concern,” I would’ve got the cops called on me and sent to rot in jail for an outrageous amount of time. If I am one of those people, I should go jump off the bridge right now. When I called him, he started moaning on the phone and making slurping noises—I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wanted to scream. This is all just a misunderstanding. It has to be.
I can still remember when I had that porn on my computer. Now I’ve got the boring stuff. Those supple wrinkle and hair-free bodies dancing and stripping to that European techno music really got me going. Those young girls lacked what the women my age had—and I didn’t want. I remember I had a dedicated girlfriend a long time ago, but I fell in love with the curvaceous delicate bodies of teen models. It’s not the touching I take pleasure in, it’s more of the looking. The fat-in-the-wrong-places regular unexciting commonplace women only slightly attract me. But the videos with the underaged teens with their legs up getting it from a fat man, closing their eyes and faking a smile—that makes me feel sort of sick. I shouldn’t think in the present with this stuff. My days of downloading that terrible stuff are over.
But that’s enough evidence to hang me. I’ve seen people calling out for same-sex marriage rights, like the ridiculous right for a man to sodomize another man, but you never see anyone taken seriously who campaigns to lower the age of consent to some low number or to legalize child porn. Listening to all those celebrities and commercials propagandizing tolerance of gay people when there’s very little acceptance of pedophiles sickens me. Just hypocrisy. All that’s wrong, but maybe I’m wired to do wrong. I’m also not gay.
To make matters worse, on the beach, I sat on a bench in front of an outdoor shower waiting for the rest of the invalids in my group home to show up so we could go home. A careless mother took her young hairless-body girl child, stripped her naked, and washed her off in the outdoor shower right in front of me in the shaded enclosure. I watched the girl as if she was a computer screen. The mother looked at me horrified as she dried off and dressed her daughter. I could tell she would think twice before doing something like that again.
When Trevor messaged me with a shirtless picture on Facebook and asked me if I had any “wyverns,” I knew exactly what he meant. I had him call me because Facebook leaves a paper trail. He called me from an iPod with a sketchy number, like someone trying to avoid detection by the police. Turns out he needed Adderall to study for a Calculus test. I figured I’d see how far he’d go for the stuff.
On the nature trail, the minute I told him I ran out of uppers, he said we should walk back. His mood changed—he was no longer smiley or interested in what I had to say. He told me he was only being “friendly” the whole time. I saw blood dripping down my vision, blocking it, as if he’d shot me. I blinked, and it went away. I got angry. I told him I didn’t care what illegal stuff I did with him, if he fucks with me, I’m going to the cops again. He told me he was a “goodfella,” a ridiculous thing to say. I stuck out my index finger, pulled my thumb back like my hand were a gun, and put it to his heart. I told him that he wasn’t an animal like those people and was only a minor pretend felon who threw flaming pieces of paper off a subway platform for arson. We took a tense, quiet walk back to the street and parted ways.
I haven’t talked to him and can’t possibly see him. I’m not scared of him with his small stature, but I’m afraid of his friends. He must be who he says he is. I’ll send that motherfucker to jail, even if I go to jail, too. Tricking me like that. I’ve got nothing to lose. Probably anytime someone’s gonna run up in my apartment, put a gun in my mouth, and, BOOM! My unrecognizable remains get scattered on the cheap purple carpet. I wish he would do it instead of his friends.
A ring on my cellphone—my mother. She’s calling because she heard nothing from me all week. I answer. She says she hopes everything’s okay and asks why I haven’t called. I’ve been busy with things like school even though I got kicked out and am a persona non grata. I tell her everything’s fine and to keep sending the money. How else am I going to afford my car and my fancy clothes?
I remember when I legitimately attended Rockwell Community College before they kicked me out. Janice, a barely eighteen-year-old girl, needed some pot and I had money, so I helped her out. I first met her on the corner of campus, in a clearing in the bushes where everyone smoked cigarettes despite the campus-wide ban. Things got scary when I brought her to my apartment for a bit. I flipped out on her, yelling and screaming that I didn’t want to do that and I threw a book across the room, so I drove her back to the college in a silent car ride. Despite my reaction, she didn’t complain when I bought her drugs when we got back in her apathy and quietness accompanied by a few other users. After that, we lit one up right in the smoking spot before Campus Police got us. I had to see the Dean later that week after my suspension—to get kicked out since it was the second time I got caught smoking pot there. I never saw her again. Thank the Lord no one was seventeen, or I would’a been endangering the welfare of a minor. But she was fat, and that makes her unimportant.
Dr. Jansen opens the door. He says I look tired. Once we get inside his office, I start talking about Trevor. I tell him of my time with the kid in my bedroom, his boyish looks, but don’t tell him he’s sixteen or about the Adderall. He seems interested and looks up from his notes. He asks me if I’m gay.
Ridiculous! I tell him Trevor’s cohorts are out to get me, I never had sex with him, I gave his name to the cops because he played me, and I only expected to live to thirty and I’m thirty-three. Besides, I like girls and my computer is full of them. The garbage bin I kick bounces off the wall. I tell him he can’t figure me out! I just need time to think through this stuff.
His expression changes. He tells me the hospital would be a good place to gather my thoughts. I’ve got stuff to do, my bags aren’t packed, and I can’t just leave my car in the parking lot. He recommends I go there immediately and not to worry about those things. He has the phone in his hand ready to call the ambulance and his fingers on the buttons.
Maybe he’s right. I never do weird things like this. I couldn’t possibly be gay. I thought he was sixteen. Maybe he could still be? Let’s figure this out. I asked Trevor for a lethal dose of heroin in exchange for my bottle of pills, and he told me he doesn’t deal with that stuff because his mother died from an overdose. I told him my father drank himself to death and I deserve to die because I’m a pedophile. We talked and I noticed him looking at the bottle brimming full of Adderall behind us on the table. He mimicked every movement I made. I walked into my bedroom and he followed. I asked him if he came to rape me or kill me and he laid on my bed looking scared. I touched him and saw a monster. The hollow image of a ghost’s white mesh face appeared in front of my eyes. We never had se—
Dr. Jansen says my name and I hear it again. I get out of my daze. I tell him someone could kill me there. He says that I’ll be safe. I tell him they won’t take me, you gotta be a danger to others or yourself to get admitted. It’s Trevor who’s the dangerous one. He tells me that I should be on observation, he’s never seen me this bad, and the cops are coming.
“Trevor. It’s you.”
“Who is this?”
“Tommy? You still got that Adderall? Where are you?”
“I’m in the psych ward.”
“Really? I got like twenty calls from this number.”
“I finally reached you. The payphone here doesn’t cost any money.”
“What’re you doing there, Tommy? You try to off yourself?”
“I thought you were in a gang or know people who were gonna have me killed.”
“Wow, I always wanted to be in one of those.”
“How old are you, Trevor? Sixteen? Twenty-three?”
“They got me on a lot a meds. I’m drooling on myself and sleeping all day.”
“Well, that’s better than…. Hey, thanks for hooking me up with that stuff before that math test. I was desperate.”
“We could do it again. I promise I won’t give your name to the cops.”
“I’ve got my own prescription now, Tommy.”
“I want the old Trevor back. Trevor—”
“Tommy, the old Trevor was never there.”