The Attack

Maybe you’ve seen all the stories I’ve posted. If so you know that I had an experience involving a corvette one night that left an indelible imprint upon my psyche. I used this event to write two stories, one a straight up memoir of what happened (Little Red Corvette) and one a gruesome extension on what could have happened (The Undertaker). Well, I’ve revisited that landscape again and come away with another ‘what if?’ While The Undertaker was quite sensationalist, The Attack is much sadder and much more horrifying because it is commonplace. Harming another should never become commonplace. We cannot call civilized any society that accepts this type of incident as just another day, nothing to see here, move along. We need to be better than that. Okay, enough soapbox. On with the show.

The Attack

When I was a kid, my best friend was Will. Our dads had been best friends growing up, and since we lived about 200 yards apart it was logical we would be thrown together. I was a year older and we were quite different, but it somehow worked and we were very close throughout our childhood and adolescence. Will dated Tina during most of high school. She dumped him when he was sixteen. I then broke the Number One Bro Rule. I dated her – twice. It was wrong but she was kinda hot and I was kinda 17. If it’s any consolation, she ditched me on our second date and went home with another guy.

Will and I eventually worked around it and stayed friends. After high school he met a nice girl and they got engaged. Early in the engagement she was killed in a car accident. Will was particularly wrecked because his sister had died in an auto accident when we were young. By this time I was off at college. I found out later he had moved in with a woman in a nearby town. I was just hoping he would find himself, or at least a little happiness after all the crap life had handed him.

***

Will apparently found himself. On his 21st birthday he came to visit me in the small city not far away where I had settled. He said his birthday present to himself was to come out of the closet. Then he said, “I’m gay.” I just looked at him as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. My expression probably said, “And…?” This wasn’t exactly a newsflash. I knew he had broken off with his live-in lady friend and he had spoken a number of times about going to ‘the club’ in my city. ‘The club’ was a gay bar. I guess what he was getting at was that although he was living as if he was not in the closet, he was now announcing it to the world. It apparently didn’t go over well. You have to remember this was about 1980.

When I didn’t say anything right away he sarcastically said, “So, aren’t you going to turn against me like everyone else has?”

I wasn’t surprised by the response he was getting. We grew up, and he still lived, in a very rural, very conservative, very Baptist, very southern community. They are kind of like, hate the sin, crucify the sinner types. I had long ago shed many of the bigoted views I was brought up with. I told him, “Will, you’re my friend. I love you. Nothing would make me turn against you. You’re still you.” He looked like he needed it so I hugged him. I detected a couple of sniffles. He said, “It’s a sucky way to find out who your real friends are.”

But Will was one for living out loud, so he proudly carried on in his community, visiting the club in the city on a regular basis. He sometimes stopped by to see me on the way in or out of town.

***

One particular Saturday afternoon about a year after coming out he showed up at my door

and said, “How about coming to the club with me.” My immediate response was, “Not gonna happen.”

“It’ll be fine. I want you to see this part of my life. I won’t let anybody touch you.”

“Really not gonna happen.”

We went around for awhile until he said, “For years I went with you to straight bars. You can do this for me.” I prepared to argue that this was different, but somehow…it wasn’t.

I grudgingly agreed to go.

He said, “I’ll be with you. Nobody’s going to rape you.”

“Really not helping.”

***

Why was I so unwilling to go? Maybe somewhere down in our lizard brainstem is a primeval fear of ‘other’? At this point in my life I knew a few gay people. I guess I was hypocritically okay they were gay as long as I didn’t have to see it or think about it. Not so much removed from the bigotry I was trying to overcome.

So, I put on my big boy pants and went. We arrived about 10:30 as it was just starting to fill. As we walked past some tables a nice-looking gentleman said, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” He was dressed in a blazer and button-down shirt. A bit old, 35-40, which was ancient to me at 23. I politely declined and quickly caught up with Will.

“You should have accepted the drink,” he said.

“Hell no,” I responded. “He would have thought I was available for negotiations.”

“It’s just a drink.”

“No way. It’s never ‘just a drink’. I’m not selling what he’s looking for.”

“You’re such a prude,” Will laughed.

***

We found a bar with some stools available. I had only sat for a minute when a lumberjack came up beside me. I call him a lumberjack because he looked like the guy on Brawny paper towels, decked out in tight jeans and a flannel shirt. He was nice looking and all muscle, with that little mustache that all gay men seemed to have. He leaned on the bar and smiled at me. I looked to Will in a panic.

“Just ignore him. He’s harmless.” At 6 foot plus and 200 pounds of muscle at the peak of his power he decidedly didn’t look harmless. He decidedly looked like a predator and I decidedly was feeling like prey. He gave me a leer that said I had passed muster and was now on the menu. I studiously refused to make eye contact until he drifted away in search of greener pastures.

“Man, you have been cruised,” Will laughed. Is that what it was?

“Yeah? And I thought you were going to protect me from all this. All you’re doing is enjoying the show.” I was a bit annoyed.

“Hey, you’re doing fine. Can I help it if the guys think you’re hot? Would you rather they

think you’re ugly?”
            “Yes, I mean no, I mean… I don’t know.” I hate hard questions like that. No one wants to

be considered ugly, but I did not come here to find me a man.

            And then I made a connection. Is that the way women feel at bars when we leer at them? We don’t call it leering, just ‘checking them out’, but it’s basically the same thing. I felt so violated while it was happening. Is that what women experience? I whispered a quiet apology to women everywhere.

I had decided I definitely did not want to go the bathroom while at the bar. I would just feel too vulnerable and exposed. What did I expect, an orgy? But a couple of beers settled that. I had to go, no question. So I told Will I’d be right back, and to come rescue me if I wasn’t. I pressed through the crowd toward the men’s room on the other side of the bar. The crowd was fairly thick but there was no excuse for the number of hands I felt on my butt as I made my way through. When did men get so free with their hands? There was also a ladies’ room that did not seem to be used. I hadn’t seen any women. Lesbians are gay. Don’t they go to gay bars, or does it have to be a dyke bar? Or maybe it was for drag queens. I just don’t know any of the politics of being gay.

I steeled myself and went in expecting the worst. What, I don’t know. It was just a fairly ordinary bathroom like in any restaurant or bar. A difference was there were no urinals, only stalls. And no doors on the stalls. I decided not to overanalyze the thought process behind this. I waited in a short line. Most of the patrons seemed to know each other. There was a group of very young guys, probably with fake id’s, clustered around the mirror fixing their hair and makeup and being bitchy. If you’ve ever seen a teen movie with a scene of the mean girls in the school bathroom, this was it. I took care of my business and quickly exited. I endured another grope session making my way back to where I started. No stool and no Will. Oh, crap.

Almost immediately a very handsome young man sidled up to me.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.” Was that his best line? I looked over at him. He was dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt, black leather jacket and had his hair combed back like Fonzie in the old Happy Days tv show.

“That’s because I’ve never been here before,” I answered.

“Oh, just come out of the closet?”

What?! I assume the dim light covered the bright red of my face at this point. Without sputtering too much I explained I was NOT gay and was here with a friend. Even as I said it I realized how lame it sounded. The guy accepted it, but instead of walking away, he stayed and we talked. I guess I blushed even more when he told me it was too bad I wasn’t gay because he thought I was very hot. We were far enough from the dance floor to talk without shouting. His name was John and he was a waiter at a local fancy restaurant. He told me excitedly that he had also just picked up a job as a bartender here at the club. He hoped to make enough money so he could have his own place. He was currently living with an elderly aunt and it was really cramping his social life. I talked some about my work with handicapped children. He gave me the standard line that I must be “so special”. I get that a lot.

After a while he moved on in search of prey. I mean, 99.9% of the men were here for one thing only. Then I ashamedly admitted to myself that when I went out to bars, I was one of that 99.9%. Just looking for a different landscape. I had actually enjoyed talking to John. I like meeting people and this is what I enjoy about social situations. Just talking and getting to know people. It was nice. He was nice.

Will came hustling up.

“Sorry, I had to catch up with someone. I didn’t mean to desert you. I see you were talking to John. What do you think? He’s like the hottest guy here. By the way, my friends think you’re cute. They were disappointed to hear you’re straight.”

“Yay, crown me Miss America,” I said sourly. Then I realized my mood wasn’t Will’s fault, it was mine. I’m unfairly putting my straight values on what he enjoys. These are his stomping grounds, where he’s most at home. We all need a place like that. I’m glad he has it. 

  “Thanks for showing me around. It was nice. But it’s time I headed home.” He didn’t object. I think he was ready to go on the prowl also. So I left.

***

It wasn’t far home. A few blocks from the club I noticed a car following me closely. I mean it was city driving, but he stayed right on my bumper. It’s usually annoying, but late at night with the streets deserted and you’re all alone, it’s kinda creepy.

A couple blocks from my last turn, he pulled out of the lane and came up on my right. As I stopped at the red light, he oozed up to a stop beside me on the right in a low, sleek and oh so sexy Corvette. And did I mention it was black? Without the shine, it would be hard to see as it faded into the black of night like it had some science fiction cloaking device on board. I couldn’t help but admire it. The windows were tinted so I couldn’t see the driver. Probably a guy, though. Maybe making up for deficits in other areas I thought enviously. When the light turned green he jackrabbited away. Hey, if my car could do that I probably would, too. I just signaled and moved my old blue Civic into the right lane to make my turn at the next block. As I made my turn I was peripherally aware of the Corvette making a quick right turn a block down the street. My house was the next to last on the block on the right. I blessed my luck that I found curb parking just a few feet from the walkway.

As I was walking toward the steps that led up from the sidewalk, I saw a black Corvette slowly nose up to the next intersection coming from the left. Since I’m the next to last house on the block it was pretty close. How many black Corvettes are running around my neighborhood at nearly 1 am? It had to be the same one. Why had it followed me? My mind raced through about a dozen scenarios, none ending well. There was about a 1% chance it was a gorgeous blonde girl who wanted my body. About a 39% chance it was a perverted serial murderer who also wanted my body, for entirely different reasons. And a 60% chance it was a couple of redneck college students out to roll a queer. Yeah, my money was on that explanation. Had they followed me from the club? It’s not something I generally worry about. I guess you could call it straight boy privilege.

He revved the engine as I reached the steps. The deep throaty sound vibrated in my stomach. He knew I was aware of him. My blood ran cold and I felt panic coming on. I felt exposed. The car was sitting there like a black spider emitting an aura of evil. I don’t know why I got so spooked. It’s just a car. As I stood there on the sidewalk at the base of our walkway the car turned onto my street and quietly, with just a hint of a Barton thrum, glided to a stop in front of me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I nervously glanced over my shoulder at the house. Up three steps to the walk, another fifteen feet to the stairs, up ten steps to the porch, then through the front door and then unlock and get in my apartment. Could I do all that if this went sideways? I expected the window to roll down. Nothing. Just waiting. I was about to shrug and turn away when the doors flew open and two guys surged out. The driver was stocky. Not fat, just meaty, like a wrestler. He had short brown hair and a white polo shirt over jeans. His companion had to come around the front of the car, but he was fast. He was taller and more slender, still athletic looking. Longer blond hair. He had on khakis and a blue polo. One of them, I’m not sure which, said, not loudly but at least audible to me, “Get him!”

I turned and flew up the three steps, fear rising in my throat like my gorge. Halfway to the porch someone’s arms flung around me stopping my progress. It was Mr. Stocky.

“Whassa matter, gayboy? We just want to play,” he cooed in my ear. He swung me around to face Blondie. He open handed slapped me twice, very hard with his right hand. I noticed a chain wrapped his left. Oh shit!

“Filthy faggot! Out cruising around like you own the place. We’re going to teach you your place.” Then I got a right fist to my jaw followed by a punch with his chain wrapped fist in my stomach. Through the pain I realized this was going bad fast. And I wanted to keep that chain away from my face. As Blondie wound up for another blow I threw all my weight on Stocky, lifted my feet and kicked Blondie. I was aiming for his balls but he deflected it.

“You fucking queer. You’re gonna pay for that,” he sneered. Two quick punches to the belly winded me, but I straightened up and threw my head back as hard as I could. I heard a crunch as I made contact with Stocky’s face. His arms released me immediately.

“Oh, shit!” he exclaimed, grabbing his face. “You broke my freaking nose.”

I meant to make a run for it in the momentary diversion but my body had other ideas. I dropped to the ground. As I was on all fours, trying to stand, Blondie got a strong kick to my ribs. I think I heard the cracking. I yelled in pain. Blondie grabbed me by the hair and yanked me up on my knees. He had a crazed look in his eyes. He pressed my face in his groin and rubbed it around.

“You want some of this, fagboy? You wanna suck my dick? You wanna eat my meat? I bet you do, you fucking sicko. Well, you don’t deserve it, asswipe.” He pulled my head away and still holding me by my hair punched me twice in the face, breaking my nose. He unwrapped the chain from his fist and looped it around my neck. He pulled it tight. As I desperately tried to loosen it to catch my breath he walked me on my knees a few steps to his partner. Stocky grabbed my head with his bloody hands and rubbed my face in his groin also. It was gross that both of them had erections. They were really getting off on the violence. I guess I took a little satisfaction that I left blood stains all over Stocky’s jeans. Blondie loosened the chain, twirled it around his head and lashed it across my chest like a whip. The pain was intense and I screamed. As I fell, Blondie got another kick in my kidney. I was on my side and saw Stocky aiming a kick at my face. I twisted my head and he caught me in the chin rather than mouth, but my head snapped back so hard I heard cartilage crunch. They both started kicking me. Luckily for me, they were wearing sneakers rather than boots. All I could do was curl up in a ball and hope it would soon be over.

“Yeah, lay there like a pussyboy. Gonna fuck your ass after this. Bet you’ll love that.” Blondie again. He seemed to be the spokesman for Haters R Us.

“Stop it! Get away!” I heard shouting coming from my house. Jack, one of my housemates, was running down the front steps in nothing but boxers with a baseball bat in his hands.

“Shit,” Stocky exclaimed and the two took off for the car. They were in before Jack could get them, but as they tried to get away his bat took off the driver’s side mirror and bashed a taillight.

Then Jack was kneeling beside me.

“Oh man, Curt. Are you all right? Oh, stupid question. Crap, I don’t have my phone.” He looked up where Ken, his roommate, had come out on the porch.

“Ken, call 911. We need an ambulance for Chris. Some assholes just jumped him.”

I blessedly don’t remember much about how bad everything hurt. I was just one mass of pain. Julie threw a blanket over me, even though it was July. I guess shock is an all-season thing. She also had a wet cloth and was softly dabbing my face. I was still lying on my side in a tight ball. My muscles were frozen. I couldn’t let go. Then the tears started. I felt a sharp tearing in my side with every heave, but I couldn’t stop.

“It’s okay, babe. We gotcha,” Julie soothed. She dug in my pants pocket and found my phone. The screen was shattered but it still worked. She was getting ready to tell Ken to make some calls when sirens split the night in our quiet neighborhood. Two police cars and an ambulance came screeching to a halt in front of our yard. The two EMTs swarmed me and began doing their thing. I tried to relax into their care but couldn’t release my muscles. They gently pried my fingers from around my knees and straightened me out. I howled in pain. They put a cervical collar on me and transferred me to the stretcher and strapped me down. I’m sure every family in the neighborhood was on their front porches watching the show. I wanted to flip them all off. At that moment, I hated everybody.

***

            Everything was warm and fuzzy. My bed was warm and fuzzy. My brain was warm and fuzzy. My mouth was warm a fuzzy. Yeah, I could really go for a sip of water. The warm fuzziness was shattered as I opened my eyes. Harsh light pierced my eyes making me clamp them back shut. Did I leave the curtains open again? But that wasn’t sunlight. There was no heat to it. I slowly made slits of my lids and gradually let in more and more light. Where the heck am I? Looks like a hospital room. Maybe I dropped off while waiting to see a friend. Who do I know in the hospital? As I shifted I realized two things. One was searing pain down the right side of my body, leading to the second realization. I’m the one I know who’s in the hospital. What the hell?

            I appeared to have bandages over what seemed like 90% of my body. Or at least everything above the waist. My arm was wrapped and in a sling. I could feel bandages wrapped around my face. Some thick collar was around my neck. What? Did I fall down the front stairs? I noticed that each breath in was an agony and only slightly less as I exhaled. I moaned, mostly in sympathy for myself.

            “Chris, you’re awake! Oh, thank goodness.” Marcie loomed up beside me. I smiled as she always makes me do, and it turned into a cry of pain as my lips split.

            “Take it easy, baby. Don’t try to do anything. You’re going to be okay. The doctors said so, and they know better than to mess with me when it come to your care.” She narrowed her eyes showing me the evil eye she had given the doctors. I did my best not to smile.

            “Here,” she said, placing a small pad of paper under my left hand, apparently the only part of my body that was currently working properly. She gently placed a pencil in my hand. I’m right handed so it was awkward feeling.

            “Don’t try to talk just yet. Your mouth is banged up pretty good. At least all your beautiful teeth are intact and your jaw wasn’t broken. Mostly superficial damage. Can I get you anything?”

            I painfully scrawled a barely recognizable W.

            “Oh, of course.” She gently slipped a straw through my lips, which felt like hamburger, by the way. The water was heavenly. She pulled it away before I was finished. I whimpered.

            “Not too much at once.” She gave me another long sip. “Do you remember what happened?” I scrawled a large N.

            “You were attacked outside your house late last night. Do you remember any of it?”

            I tapped the N. Then scrawled another W.

            “Well, that could be who, what or why. We’ve established where. Who, just a couple of random assholes. The police have them. What, they apparently tried to kill you. The Why is the big question.”

            I thought for a few moments.

            ‘DAY’ I scratched on the pad.

            “It’s Sunday, babe. You went to The Barn with Will last night, before all this happened.” I considered this. Okay, I went to The Barn. I remembered music and the press of bodies. Especially on my ass. I told Will I was leaving. Did I make it home? The CAR! That black Corvette was following me. My eyes flew wide and my whole body tensed. I started hyperventilating. Which hurts like a sunovabitch with broken ribs. Marcie grabbed my hand.

            “It’s okay. You’re safe. It’s me, Marcie. We’re safe. Breathe deep. Oh, well, you can’t really do that with broken ribs. Hold on to my hand, baby.” I was whining and whimpering, from the pain and from the memories that came flooding in.

            The door opened and Dad and Mom came in.

            “Is he awake yet, oh good, he is. What’s wrong, Marcie? Why’s he crying? Chris? What’s wrong, buddy?” He rushed up, nudging Marcie aside and grasped my hand. He looked so worried. Actually, Mom did, too. Imagine that. Dad started pushing the call button. He did it repeatedly like an elevator button, as if expecting repeated pushing will make it come sooner.

            “Nurse, something’s wrong,” Dad said when she entered.

            “I think he’s remembering what happened. Maybe a flashback,” Marcie added. The nurse, all snow-white efficiency, jabbed a hyperdermic needle into my IV line.  In a moment I felt coolness flowing into my arm. The pain faded. Dad faded. Marcie faded. And I faded.

***

            I guess you’re wondering about my injuries. Here’s the roll call. Three cracked ribs, broken ulna, hairline fracture in one of my neck vertebrae, fractured orbital socket, shredded lips, bruised kidney, concussion, broken nose, black eyes, both of ‘em, ligature marks by the chain around my neck, a chain shaped bruise on my chest and a host of welts, contusions and bruises about my chest, shoulders, back, arms and upper thighs. Seems nothing was injured below my waist other than my thighs. Thank goodness for small miracles.

            The next time I awoke a gentle looking old man was peering at me.

            “Oh, hello. I’m Dr. Goodson. How are you feeling this afternoon?” I was so glad he didn’t say “we”. I tried to speak but nothing came out but a croak. The doctor gave me a sip of water. That felt wonderful.

            “Awful.”

            “Well, that’s to be expected. You took quite a beating. As a doctor, I shouldn’t say this, but I hope you gave as good as you got.”

            “Not hardly. It was two of them.”

            “Well, that’s not sporting. Not sporting at all. There are some gentlemen from the police department who want to talk to you about all this if you’re up to it. I’m perfectly willing to tell them to go away if you’d rather not. You’re in fairly serious condition. I consider it a minor miracle there was no internal bleeding, especially to that kidney. I don’t want to alarm you, but if they had kept up a little longer, they could have killed you. Whatever did you do to make them so angry, if you don’t mind my asking?”

            “I think they thought I was gay.”

            “And?”

            “And I think they thought I was gay.”

            “Oh.” He was quiet for a long moment, looking down at the blanket, seemingly lost in thought. “I see a lot of man’s inhumanity to man here in the hospital. I have to try to put back together what men so callously destroy. Our mean-spirited hatred of our homosexual brothers saddens me the most.”

            “And I’m not even gay.”

            “Such sadness today. Now, about the police?”

            “Let them in. I’ll have to talk to them sometime. Is my Dad here? I’d like him to be here, too.”

            “I’ll send them all in.”

            After he closed the door, it was opened by Dad.

            “Hey, sport. You’re looking better already.”

            “You’re an awful liar, Dad,” I had to grin, which caused me then to cry out in pain.

            A short, matronly woman in a burgundy dress suit and a tall, younger man, snazzy dresser came in.

            “Hello, Mr. Barton. Can I call you Chris? I’m Detective Karen Garza and this is my partner, Detective Blaine Williams.”

            “I’d shake, but, well, you know,” I said.

            “We’d like to talk to you about what went on outside your house yesterday, if you don’t mind. Get the sequence straight, that sort of thing. Do you mind if the gentleman steps out to give us some privacy?” She was all business.

            “He’s my dad. He stays.”

            “You’re over 18, you don’t need a parent present anymore. It’s usual to talk alone.”

            “Dad stays. I’m not steady yet.” Something about Garza rubbed me the wrong way. I’m sure she’s a great detective. I’d just like my dad standing by.

            “OK. If that’s what you want. I understand from Ms. Marcia Grant that you were at a local gay bar on Saturday night. Is that correct?”

            “Yes.”

            “Are you gay?”

            “I hardly think that’s relevant,” my dad interrupted.

            “Please let us handle this, Mr. Barton.”

            “No, I’m not gay. Marcie’s my fiancée. I went because a friend wanted me to go with him.”

            “Did you talk to anyone or make any contacts while there?
            “Of course I talked to people. I’m not a jerk. But no I didn’t make any contacts. I didn’t make any agreements to go home and fuck anybody, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

            “No need to get defensive, Chris. I’m just trying to get all the facts.”

            “Then why am I suddenly feeling on trial? Dad, I don’t feel well. Get the doc.” There was then general confusion as the doctor and his nurse had to literally push the detectives out of my room.

            “Are you going to be okay now, son?” Dad asked.

            “Yeah. She was just making my head hurt.”

            “I could tell you didn’t care for her. I don’t think she’s had a lot of experience with teenage boys.” Dad, being catty?

            “Meow,” I said. He grinned.

            “Maybe Williams can try later.”

            Later that evening they came back and Williams led the questioning. I hit it off with him and we were talking like friends in no time. Garza was silent, shooting daggers at me with her eyes. He got all the particulars of the fight. Once the police had shown up Saturday night, Jack had told them about the Corvette, now minus a side mirror and rear taillight. They put out an apb and had the guys in no time.

            “Now, Chris. I’m going to show you some pictures. The men who attacked you may or may not be in these photos. I have several sets. Take all the time you want. If you need to go back just say so.”

            “Okay.” He laid a 12 inch by 18 inch sheet of cardboard on the tray on my bed. There were two rows of four pictures each. All were well groomed young men in their late teens and twenties. As soon as I glanced down I zeroed on Stocky in the second row.

            “That’s the guy who was driving the car.” Williams put an orange dot on the picture. He had me initial it. Still difficult with my left hand.

            The second set of pictures took longer. They were all blond. At first I was thinking my Blondie wasn’t there. Then I noticed number two on the top row. He was very handsome. Then when I remembered the sneer on my attacker’s face and transferred it to this guy, I realized it was him.

            “That’s him.”

            “You’re sure.”

            “Yeah, he’s the one with the chain. Seemed like the ringleader.” We did the orange dot thing again.

            “Thanks, Chris. That’s all for now. A rep from the DA’s office will want to see you in a few days about charges.” Oh, joy.

***

            The next day they let Will in. He had been frantic to see me but it was family only. The nurse had told him “like a brother” didn’t count.

            “Oh, shit, man. It’s all my fault. I’ll never forgive myself. I know you can’t. But I’m so, so sorry. You know I’d never in the world do something to hurt you. I’d rather they’d beat me up. Supposed they killed you? I’d never get over that. Not losing Scott and then you in one year.”

I had trouble breaking through Will’s apologies to tell him it was okay.

            “It’s not your fault. It’s the guys that jumped me. They were gonna do somebody that night. If not me, then somebody else.”

            “I still feel totally responsible. If I hadn’t asked, you would’ve never been on their radar. I put you in harm’s way.”

            “Will, if you don’t stop it then I WILL get mad. The only ones to blame are those two assholes who wanted to beat up a gay person.”

            “And that’s the injustice of it. You aren’t even gay.”

            “So if I was gay, then it would be okay?”

            “That’s not what I’m saying.”

            “Yeah, it is. You’ve bought in on what the world has been saying, that gay people are lesser people. That they deserve to be mistreated. If it had been a gay guy beat up it would just be business as usual. That’s so fucked up, dude. Check deep in your heart, bro. How do you value gay people? Show me some of that gay pride.”

            “With you laying there all wrapped up in bandages, I can’t even hate you. Damn it.”

***

            I was only in the hospital for a week when insurance wrongly determined I could take care of myself and I was discharged. Dad had decided I would come home so he and Mom could take care of me. I shuddered at the thought of being left in Mom’s care all day long. I told Dad I was staying in my own place.

            “But you need assistance with just about everything. Who’s going to do that? Your housemates have their own lives to tend to.

            “I’ll be there, Mr, Barton,” Marcie spoke up. “Chris’s going to be my husband, and I consider him that already. I’ll stay with him as long as necessary. I’ve already put in notice at the card shop.”

            “You’re sure, babe?” I asked. “You know how your parents feel.”

            “I’ve told them they don’t get a say in this. You’re my life. In sickness and health. What kind of fiancée would I be to just leave you hanging? Do you even think I could do that?”

            “No, I don’t think you could. I know if it were the other way around I’d move heaven and earth to be at your side. You are my all.”

            “Oh brother. Has anybody told you guys that you’re way too mushy?” Dad said, standing up. “I’ll be out in the hall when the lovefest is over. The least I can do is get you settled back in your apartment.”

***

            Once I was in my apartment, Marcie moved in as she said. I had a single bed which was too small for two people. I told Marcie I didn’t mind cuddling, but she said I needed room to move until my ribs and arm were healed. She took the sofa. She daily checked and changed the bandages on my ribs and arm, helped me bathe and cook. What helped most was when the night terrors came. I started having nightmares about being stalked. Even she had difficulty settling me down after an episode.

The bandages were eventually removed from my face and all the bruises progressed through their color palette of black, purple, green and yellow. Within a month I was doing most of my care and the nightmares had receded. School was back in session but seeing as I was only a teacher’s aide I could come in a little later an get off a little earlier for the short term.

            “I think it’s time for me to move back to my dorm,” she told me about a month after school began.

            “In a few more days. First I want a little more practice cuddling all night in a single bed.” I looked at her hopefully.

            “You drive a hard bargain mister. All right. One more week,” she smiled.

***

            I asked the assistant DA what would happen to my assailants, Brendan Langdon and Kevin Adams. It was coming up on elections so the DA wanted to go full blast on them. The assistant DA said they had a slew of lesser battery charges but there were a few biggies.

“Since they followed you it’s stalking and bringing a weapon, the chain, implies intent which leads to premeditation. The doctor says that if it hadn’t been broken up, you might have died. That makes it attempted murder, first degree. That’s a life sentence. And on top of that, it was a hate crime resulting in serious injury. Another twenty years. These two boys will probably never see daylight again. When they and their families were told this the boys turned as white as sheets and then became red faced as they bawled. Their lawyers immediately began asking for a deal. The DA’s not interested. He’s got this one in the bag,” he told me. I actually felt bad for them. They were just boys, younger than me. Nineteen is so young to be ruined. Too young.

***

            In the end both boys agreed to plead guilty if the DA didn’t push for the maximum sentences. Even then, they could each expect fifteen to twenty years in prison. I couldn’t shake the absolute waste of it all.

            “They deserve that and everything they get,” exclaimed Will, in my room. He was excitedly bouncing while sitting on the edge of my bed. “Those fucking assholes tried to kill you. They should be strung up by their nuts. Or horsewhipped. The funniest irony is that they beat you up thinking you were gay, and in a few weeks they’ll be taking dick down the throat and up the ass all day and night. Those two pretty boys will be real popular on their cell block.”

            “Will, shut up! Just stop it, okay? I don’t want to hear any more of that crap. This is my trial, not yours, dammit.” I think I’ve hardly ever been mad at Will before. “This is not the time for you to try to settle old scores, to get revenge for every gay bashing crime you’ve ever experienced. This is about me and two poor sons of bitches who got carried away and now are paying an awful price. It’s tearing me up, so just stop it.” By then there were tears in my voice and my eyes.

            “Hey, bro,” he said, putting an arm around me and making me sit on the bed. He gently pulled my head into his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to upset you. It’ll be okay. We’ll get past this. Just lean on me. You’ll be okay.”

            “But will they?”

***

Since there was no trial the court went directly to sentencing. Before the boys were sentenced they were allowed to have character witnesses speak before the judge. It was the usual group of mother, sister, girlfriend. A lot of talk about what a good boy he was. Trying to personalize them before the judge. I have to admit I didn’t hear a lot of it. I was stuck in my head.

Once they had all said their pieces, mixed with lots of tears, the attorney said they were done. The DA stood and said, “Your Honor, my client, the victim of this crime would also like to address the Court.”

“Proceed,” the judge said.

I stood up and tried to read the paper I had written. It was difficult because I was shaking so hard. I wasn’t exactly nervous, but upset. This whole ordeal had been awful for me. I couldn’t imagine how it had been for Brendan and Kevin and their families. I hated it.

“Your Honor, I am the victim of the crime of assault. Brendan and Kevin attacked me outside my home in July. Through this process called the justice system, I have seen the devastating effect it has had on them and their families. I am appalled. I am appalled that in the twenty-first century we still treat people like animals. Like some disposable thing that can just be tossed aside if it can’t be easily fixed. Brendan and Kevin aren’t men, they’re just boys. Like me. As part of these hearings they have stood and apologized to me. I know they were required to by the court but I sensed true remorse. Not like the thief who isn’t sorry he stole but very sorry he got caught, I’ve seen it in their faces and voices. They have realized how awful they screwed up and would do anything for a do over. Well, I want to give them one.

“If you send these two to prison for any amount of time, their lives are ruined, their lives are over. As young as they are they will be sexually assaulted and come out jaded, hardened, hate-filled criminals. They’ll have nothing to live for and blame the world for it. Can’t we think about fixing them rather than throwing them away? In a sociology course I took the professor said that a society that did not apply mercy to justice was headed toward tyranny.

“Brendan and Kevin. I accept your apology. I forgive you fully for what you did. I wish you no ill. I’ve had too many years of carrying around a load of hate. I’m done with that. Judge, please temper your justice with a little mercy. Thank you.” There was stunned silence for a moment and then many people broke out in applause. The judge angrily banged her gavel demanding silence. As order was restored, I could still hear Brendan’s mom sobbing loudly.

“I must say I’m astonished,” the judge finally said. “In all my years on the bench I’ve never had the victim of such a violent crime ask for mercy for his assailants. That is a true sign of grace. You are a remarkable young man and these two miscreants awaiting sentencing should take a page from your book. All right. The convicted will stand to receive their sentences.” Both Brendan, Kevin and their attorneys stood at the table to my right. Dressed in nice suits they looked as innocent as choirboys. The kind of boy any man would want his daughter to bring home. I didn’t have any illusions about them, however. What they did was disgusting and evil. But I feel they were too young to fully understand the repercussions of their actions. Brendan is just a follower and happened to follow the wrong person. Kevin is mean, but he can change if he wants to; if he accepts that he either has to change or spend his life in prison. If it will save these two boys’ lives then I’m willing to chance it.

“Mr. Langdon and Mr. Adams. The nature of this crime disgusts and disturbs me,” began the judge. “Beating someone nearly to death because they might be gay is beyond the pale for any civilized society or person. However, two of our children, you two, have learned somewhere, whether at home, school or elsewhere, that it is acceptable. That it is a reasonable Saturday night pastime. My first impulse it to apply the maximum sentence just for the sheer meanness of what you did. The plea for mercy from the victim may be misplaced. He apparently sees something in you that I don’t. But he is correct that justice must be tempered with mercy.

“Mr. Langdon and Mr. Adams. To save time I am giving you both the same sentence because you jointly entered this evil deed. On the conviction of attempted murder, first degree I sentence you each to fifteen years in a maximum security penitentiary of this states choosing. On the conviction of committing a hate crime resulting in grievous injury I sentence you each to ten years in said penitentiary. On the conviction of stalking with intent to cause harm, I sentence you to one year. I have combined all the other convictions into one and sentence you to one year for those.” Both Brendan and Kevin had their heads bowed during sentencing and Brendan was quietly sobbing. “Consecutively that is thirty-two years, but I also rule that they be served concurrently. As the hate crime was sexually based you will be labelled as sex offenders. That is the sentence I had walking into the Court today. Now, hearing Mr. Barton, I would like to amend that sentence slightly.

“Brendan and Kevin, I am suspending that sentence and converting it to ten year’s probation. Instead you will serve one year,” there were audible gasps around the courtroom, “a full 365 days, no time off for good behavior or time already served. Instead of going to a maximum sentence prison where you would no doubt be gang raped before the day is out, I am remanding you to the county jail system, to reside there for the length of your incarceration. The most dangerous criminal your will meet there is a drunk or pickpocket. You will be housed separately and are to have no interaction with each other for the length of your probations. And Brendan, in your own interest, you should make it a permanent separation. You will be required to successfully complete a number of diversity and anger management trainings. Once completed your records will be sealed. Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call and allow you two young men to redeem yourselves and rejoin society. Don’t thank me, thank Mr. Barton. He sees something worth saving in you that I must say I fail to recognize.

“Mr. Barton. Is that enough mercy for you?” she asked looking down at me.

“Yes, your Honor.”

“All right then. Bailiff, remove them.” The bailiff walked over to the defense table and put handcuffs on both Brendan and Kevin. As they were being led out, Brendan looked back and called, “Chris. Thank you.”

            “Court adjourned,” she said and banged her gavel. There was an immediate uproar in the room. Dad leaned over the railing and hugged me.

            “Well done son. I’m so proud of you.” As he was disentangling himself the assistant DA put his hand on my shoulder.

            “The attorneys for the accused said the families wanted to speak with you. Your choice.”

            “Me? Why?”

            “Well, my guess is to thank you. You just saved those boys’ asses. Literally.”

            “Well, sure, I guess.” I didn’t know what I’d say to them. I had kinda hoped I was done. I’d seen the families all through the few days of proceedings and felt terribly sad for them. I hoped this outcome would give them some relief. Mr. and Mrs. Langdon came up first. They both still had tears running down their faces.

            “Chris Barton. I cannot find the words to thank you enough for what you have done. You have saved our son’s life,” he said. Mrs. Langdon just threw her arms around my neck and wept on my shoulder. I patted her a few times until Mr. Langdon pulled her away.

            Mr. Adams was a bit more stoic.

            “Son, that was a brave thing you did. I know Kevin’s got problems. Since his mom died I’ve spoiled him. I knew he was getting into meanness but I never knew that it was this bad. I’m a wealthy man, but all my money couldn’t buy him what you freely gave him. We have a chance to get him back on track. You can’t put a price tag on that. But if there is anything I can do for you, anything you need, just name it. Maybe your tuition?”

            “No sir.” I wasn’t sure if I should be offended that he wanted to pay me for what I did. But I decided some good could come from this. “However, I would ask that you make a contribution to the Boston LGBTQI Alliance. Give whatever your heart tells you to. It may help another kid avoid Kevin’s mistake.”

            “Consider it done. Mr. Barton,” he said turning to my dad. He reached out and shook his hand. “You have a mighty fine son here. You must be so proud.”

            “Yes, he’s tops in my book,” Dad said.

            “Hopefully one day I can say that about Kevin,” he answered. Then he shook my hand and walked away.

            As Dad turned to gather up his notes, Mom laid her hand on my shoulder. “That was a very good think you did, son. I hope you know I’m proud of you, too.”

***

Over time, the terror, and it was terror, I had experienced faded. I still think Corvettes are the sexiest car around, but no matter how long I live, the sight of a black Corvette will send a little frisson of fear up my spine.

On the whole I think I learned some pretty valuable lessons from this. First, I felt totally violated by Joe when he checked me out at the bar. I felt like a piece of meat being evaluated. Never mind that I apparently passed inspection, no one should be made to feel that way. I’m sure I’ve put any number of women in that position in my time (well, not since I reconnected with Marcie) and am resolved to do better. Second I think I may have experienced in a small way the fear all gay people live with every day. That any moment violence may overtake you for no reason. That society has determined that it is open season on you, go out at your own risk. That is no way for people to have to live. I need to do better there, also.

            And my third lesson? All good boys should be home by eleven on Saturday night.

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