Only the Stars Were Witness

Dark Shadow
(© 2007 by the author)

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           “I love you Byron.”  I felt his breath against my neck as he whispered the coveted phrase.


           I never thought I’d hear those words from another person, let alone another man.  I live in Deerfield, MA, population 1868.  It’s a historical quaint New England town you might visit, but wisely choose not to live in.  Those of us who are born in this gay purgatory have a bleak outlook on life. 


I knew who and what I was at an early age, and until recently that knowledge has been a lonely and desolate burden.  When you are in the world with no hope of finding a special someone, it hurts.  Seeing your classmates and everyone around you pair into carefree happy couples as easily as someone might put on a hat, makes it that much more painful to exist.  You are… for all intense purposes… alone.


At the age of 15, the prospects for someone like me to find another person that is gay seems nearly impossible.  I’ve never been anything exceptional, with my medium brown hair and eyes, lanky build, barely 5’8”, with just enough muscle stretched across my boney frame to get me from place to place. 


You can’t show your true self, or at least I didn’t dare, for fear of ridicule and being ostracized in such a small community.  It isn’t only the buildings here that are historic, the mindsets follow suit.  If you do happen across another gay person, what are the odds that you will hit it off?  I considered myself one of the luckiest people in the world when Jeff and I connected.  A sleep over and a silly game of Truth or Dare exposed our true natures to each other this past Halloween.  We have been blissfully, and sexually enrapt ever since.


Of course sex is the plus.  Jeff and I are 15.  Hormones reign supreme and we’re no less subject to that than your average teenager.  We have connected on a much deeper level though.  We were two souls drifting on an ocean of despair that finally found the other half of our selves.  At first I was afraid it was all a dream, and that I might wake having imagined it all in my desperation not to be alone. 


When the reality of our situation finally settled in my mind, a new nightmare unfolded.  It’s okay to be a depressed miserable teenager, but to suddenly have your heart and soul overwrought with joy brings suspicion.  Happy teenagers are an oddity, and we needed to be careful.


My bedroom door had barely closed behind me when I felt Jeff’s arms turn me to him.  His velvet rosy lips still held the frigid cold of winter kissed air as he pressed them against mine for warmth. 


It was Christmas Eve and I was anxious to give him his present.  It was a bracelet of braded gold with his name engraved atop the name plate, and mine hidden safely beneath.  No matter where he was I would be with him.  His kiss always had a way of distracting me, and soon the small box secreted away in my pocket was forgotten.


We were still clad in our coat, hat and gloves as we struggled against the bulk to bury ourselves in each others embrace.  A giggle escaped my lips and Jeff pulled away.  The image in my mind, as we fought against our clothing for intimacy, was too comical. 


I couldn’t fight the smile that stretched my lips as I looked into his questioning muddy green eyes.  Most people would say that they were nothing exceptional.  To me they were the most dazzling I had ever seen.  They stare back at me with complete love and trust.  Those eyes have always fueled a burning warmth in the center of my chest that travels outward to other more nefarious and mischievous destinations.


My heart began to pound as I watched terror morph his loving gaze into a tragic visage I had never seen before.  My door slammed shut and I jumped and spun around at to find my father staring back at me.


A flash of white pain filled my vision and raged against my senses as my father’s backhand sent me flying into my computer desk and then toppling to the floor.  I’m not sure if it’s a trained skill taught from father to son, but he never seemed to miss the exact spot that would send stars to my eyes and shake my world.


“Pervert!”  My father spat the words at me in a carnal growl as he rushed to where I lay. 


There wasn’t time to see if anything was broken or to attempt to stand.  In an instant he stood over me, grabbing anything within arms reach to hurl down at me.


“You sick bastard!  You are no son of mine!”  Each vicious syllable sent another barrage of pain.  A keyboard, pictures, and items I couldn’t quickly identify rained down battering my arms and hands as I tried to protect myself.


“Johnathan!  Stop!!! Oh my god stop!”  My mother shrieked the words but I couldn’t see her through the debris my father hurled at me.


“Filthy Faggot!”  A new flurry of hateful words sent his feet into my side and legs as I curled up to try and protect myself from the blows.


I remember thinking to myself ‘If I die, will they send him to jail?’  It was an odd thought.    


“Jeff!  Do something!  Jonathan!!!”  My mothers cries blended into the fray as if they were a second thought or background noise.


‘Jeff was still here?’  I remember thinking ‘Please get away before he kills you too!’


There was heavy thump, much like you might hear when you rap a watermelon to check for ripeness.  My father fell on top of me with the grace of a dead tree and the room filled with a tense silence. 


He was unconscious, or at least some more noble part of me hoped he wasn’t dead.  I could smell the sick sweet scent of pipe tobacco insult my nose at regular intervals as his lungs continued their work, so I was fairly certain he was alive.  Even unconscious he seemed to continue his, albeit less painful, assault.


“Oh my God!  Did you kill him?!”  I could hear my mother ask as my father’s body shifted and I tried to help whoever was pushing him off to the side so I might escape.


Once I was free, I scrambled away from the angry behemoth as fast as my sore body would take me.  I could taste blood, and I wasn’t sure if the wet on my face was sweat or worse.  My eye had begun to swell shut and made everything appear slightly out of focus as I surveyed the room.  My mother had rushed to my father’s side and Jeff knelt beside me.


“Can you stand?”  His loving eyes were wet and shiny as tears traveled down his cheeks.


Jeff helped me too my feet pausing occasionally as I grunted through the pain.  It had happened so fast I didn’t really feel each blow.  As I leaned against Jeff for support each attack seemed to swarm my body like angry knives and I staggered.  I started to chuckle as I thought ‘I’m glad I had my winter coat on to help soften the blows’ but a flare of pain stole my laugh like a frigid cold wind steals your breath on an  early winter morning.


My chuckle shrank into a sob and tears burned my eyes as we trudged through the house and out the front door.  We didn’t bother to turn back to close it or see if we were being followed.  It was bitter cold, as it is in New England this time of year, and I hoped it might help to numb the pain.  I doubted that there was enough ice in the world to squelch the hollow in my chest, but I was glad to have my love beside me.


Jeff’s house was out of the question and we both knew it.  His parents would insist on an explanation, and I’m sure my father would be giving them one soon enough.  We were pretty sure he would get a similar welcome.


“To our spot?”  We were already walking in the direction of the woods behind the local church. 


There really wasn’t any other place we could go.  The town had long since closed and rolled up the sidewalks.  It was Christmas Eve.  Even though it was only 7:30 according to my watch, darkness blanketed the town some time ago. 


The moon had come to full last week and now waned, but I was still thankful for the fraction of blue light that bathed the baren trees as we stumbled between them to the abandoned utility shed behind the church. 


It was beautiful, in a frightening way.  The wooded area was painted in pale azure and black shadows.  It made each tree and shrub seem to claw against the night.  We came here often and I knew only the stars were witness to our escape.


Jeff lit one of the candles we kept here so that we could see.  It was one of those unattractive nondescript green three wick candles that would burn for hours and hours, while threatening to spill gallons of wax to the floor.  I stared into the dancing amber flame and a shiver wracked my body as I leaned against the wooden wall in the corner.  The sharp pangs of pain from my beating had faded to a constant dull ache as the weight of my body pulled me to the floor. 


“I’ll be right back… “  Jeff kissed my forehead and left. 


I was shivering and so very tired.  The creak of the wooden door snapped me to attention and I cowered into the corner for fear of being discovered.  It was Jeff with a blanket. 


“Baby Jesus won’t mind.”  He had borrowed it from the life-size nativity scene in front of the church.


His smile warmed me as much as the feel of his body and the blanket as he helped me out of my coat and removed his own and placed it behind me as a barrier against the frigid wall.  I fished through the pocket of my coat and dug out his present. 


“Merry Christmas.”  I smiled and handed him the poorly wrapped box. 


Jeff’s eyes danced and he rifled out a gift-wrapped box of his own from his coat pocket and we exchanged presents. 


           We opened our gifts.  Jeff had gotten me a bracelet as well, though they weren’t the same design.  The bracelet he had gotten me was silver, with a heavy chain wrap, with my name engraved on the top and his beneath. 


           “Now I’ll always have you with me.”  My cheek protested in pain as I smiled and hugged him close. 


           “And I’ll always have you with me, too.”  Jeff shivered against my chest as he laid his head on my shoulder.




           The light was so bright I had to shield my eyes.  I held Jeff’s hand in my left, though I wasn’t sure how I knew it was his.  I suppose it was familiar in the way a favorite shirt fits just right.  The light faded and we found ourselves standing in front of the church as townspeople huddled together on the sidewalk.  An ambulance was out front and two stretchers were being carried from the rear of the church.  A rushed flurry of whispers and murmurs rolled through the crowd like an ocean wave.


           “Someone vandalized the nativity scene and they followed the footprints to the shed out back.”


           “Why didn’t they go inside to stay warm?”…


           “I heard that they were homosexuals…”


           “Are you serious!! Oh my… what a disgrace…”


           “They froze to death.”


           I knew they were talking about us, but the knowledge that we were dead didn’t bother me.  It seemed as natural as taking a breath, though we no longer could.  We were the contents of those black packages they carried to the ambulance.


           “Yes… Why didn’t you go inside to stay warm?”  It was a warm and tender voice, a man’s voice, but without the harsh edge of someone more masculine.


           Jeff leaned against me and his weight felt like a loving embrace as I turned to the stranger. 


           “We aren’t welcome in there.”  I nodded to the church and smiled.


           “Of course you’re welcome.  All of God’s children are welcome.”  He smiled and waved an open hand toward the double doors of the church.


           He was dead, a ghost like us.  Many of the people here were dead, and the more I looked out, the further I saw them as if some huge gathering were taking place at a coliseum.  For blocks and blocks and as far I could see there were the dead standing side by side, in front of, behind, and in some instances, in the same place where the living stood.  Unlike the living, the dead focused on the doors to the church oblivious to the spectacle taking place as our bodies were being driven away from the church.


           “If that is true, why don’t you and all of these people go inside?”  Jeff’s voice was calm, but curious and I tightened my hand around his to make sure he couldn’t slip away.


           “We must be forgiven to enter.  Like the memories of your pain, and how the bruises and cuts still mark your face, our sins and sadness hold us here.


           “What could a priest need forgiveness for?  You are a priest aren’t you?  Even though the clothes are a bit old, I can still see your collar.”  I didn’t mean to pry, but if the priest couldn’t get into church, I seriously doubted our chances.


           The priest pulled down his collar and around his neck was an angry red ring of bruised flesh.  “I hung myself for my indiscretion.  I could not bear the guilt of my actions.  Each soul here has a sad tale to tell and reason they may not enter.  I fear it would take an eternity,” the priest paused to clear his throat from some remembered human gesture and continued.  “For many of us forgiveness seems slow to come.”


           “And what terrible sin could two young men, such as you, have committed that ties you here?”  The priest eyed us suspiciously.


           “We love each other.”  Jeff announced it, and for the first time, it was without the fear of being overheard or judged.


           The priest’s eyes widened and he took a step back.  “I see… well then, perhaps you can pray for forgiveness.  The living priest comes now and perhaps he will grant you absolution.”


           The living priest walked up the sidewalk toward the church doors and both the living and dead parted to give him room. 


           “I doubt it.”  I sighed and watched the man pass and climb the steps to the church. 


           “Merry Christmas.”  My words were barely a whisper, and my father, the living priest, paused and turned as though he might have heard them, but I knew he couldn’t. 


           “Come on Byron, the living can’t hurt us anymore.”  Jeff gave my hand a tug and together we walked away into a light of our own making.




Posted: 01/02/09