Red Camera Flip Phone
"But when you're not used to having something great, you tend to screw it up much easier!"
We had just arrived home from church. The kids jumped out of the car and start grabbing the horse riding gear. Ruth and Mark packed up their lunches for the day and, within the hour, they were gone. Meanwhile, I stayed home, in my basement apartment and play video games. It was a normal day. College was out for the summer. I started two new jobs in the upcoming week. We were all on great terms. Nothing to have my stomach in knots for. It was 3:49 PM when that changed. I'm sitting on the couch in my living room playing Spider-Man on the Xbox when Mark opens the basement door and calls me to come up the stairs. Still nothing suspicious. I even respond jokingly with "I didn't do it this time!", which was my typical response. God, I wish I knew how inappropriate that was at the time!
I walk up the stairs and into the kitchen to find Margaret and her husband, Bennett sitting next to each other. What a pleasant surprise, I think as I go and greet them with hugs. Ruth watches as she leans against the kitchen sink. Mark pulls out one of the stools and asks me to sit down and continues to walk to the end of the island. Now I'm a little uneasy but I am still joking and waiting to get to the chase. Then Mark chuckles as he reaches into his pocket for his flip phone and slowly places it on the island top. My heart sank to what felt like my fucking feet. The smile on my face vanished as my epic fuck up resurfaced without warning. The level of fear and humiliation that washed over me almost made me want to die! My life was over as I knew it. Even the kids still don't know why I really left so suddenly. In fact, Ruth and Mark felt it appropriate to tell the kids that I found something better. I mean, how do you tell your children that you kicked out the houseguest because he was taking naked pictures with someone else's camera phone.
A few months prior...
Margaret was the counselor assigned to me when I started college. It was required that I met with her twice a week to help me navigate my college experience. Who I thought would be just another distant authoritative figure really became a vital part of my college family. Especially after failing almost every class my first semester, I really had to open up about some of the hardships I was dealing with at home. I came from a broken kind of home where I and my brothers were orphaned and left in the care of a grandmother. Although she loved us and did the best she could to take care of us, she didn't really enforce security when it came to keeping a household sound and stable. We didn't have money, which made catching a train one hour both ways to and from college five days a week very difficult, hence failing the first semester. When I did go, the traveling time versus The quiet, family home my parents left to me and my brothers became overran with my uncles and other members of the patriarchal side of the family, with whom I continued to suffer a great level of abuse through the middle and high school, and now college.
My grandmother seemed to find a lot of things to fight about after I graduated high school. One of the fights that continued to circle the block was her idea that I was going to move to Virginia with her in the summer. She decided that she was gonna move back to Virginia in my senior year of high school. I wasn't about it then and it was still a hard no after the diploma. The more concrete my 'No's' were, the angrier it made her. Meanwhile, she was getting sicker by the minute and making frequent emergency visits to the hospital for various complications. I brought this up with Margaret in our meetings and she started to suggest that it could be time for me to move out on my own and find someplace close to the college where I could work and actually succeed in my life. So she started helping me make plans. When she told me that she had found a lead on something, we went and made plans to meet with them.
Margaret promised me that they would be a joy to meet and she was not wrong! The day I met Ruth and Mark, we hit it off immediately. From sharing old college stories to just cracking jokes, the promise of privileges filled the office. After a while, I felt so great that I wanted my grandmother to speak to them so that she could be more comfortable with the idea of me being on my own. Everyone in the office listened on as we heard my brother, over the speakerphone, tell me that my grandmother was just rushed to the hospital moments before making that call. I was embarrassed, but also scared. Fortunately, it was a minor setback and she came home later that night. A couple of weeks later, she was rushed back to the hospital and died a few days later. I continued to make plans with the James's to move in during the summer, but my home life was in such shambles after the passing that it felt right to jump ship earlier than planned.
So I called Mark one late night after musical rehearsal and he drove me an hour home to grabs all of my important belongings. Leaving was bittersweet as fuck but it brought me great joy to know that I was closing a chapter of my own. At almost 1 AM, I was officially moved out of my childhood home and in with people I barely knew. Ruth and Mark James owned a large, modern scale home in the more secluded and suburban part of the college town and attended the same church that Margaret went to. It had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living rooms, and a large basement renovated into an apartment including a huge front lawn and an in-ground pool in the backyard. They shared this home with their four children (two boys and two girls) and two heart-breakingly adorable huskies. If that's not enough, they owned horses on their family ranch in upstate New York that they spent some weekends there, leaving me in the house by myself.
For the duration of my spring semester, my one-hour train commute to school turned into a 10-minute ride in the minivan with Ruth. I was able to pick up my GPA in all of my classes, which really gave me hope. Mark helped me find two jobs and set up a savings account. Ruth wrote letters advocating for me to work at the different places I applied to. They even encouraged me to start studying to get my driver's license. Mark and Ruth had the perfect setup for me to get my life in order like never before. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had opportunities at my fingertips. But when you're not used to having something great, you tend to screw it up much easier. The downfall of living a new life is realizing all the freedoms you lost in the move. This beautiful home was in a half-rural, half-suburban town that had no way of getting anywhere on foot. There were no sidewalks, no corner stores, I had no local friends to hang with. The James's didn't even have a television with cable. It was in the family room (living room 1) with various DVDs, nothing over PG-13 and the occasional R rating. So the only other form of entertainment in the house was the family computer right outside of the office.
The only access to a computer I had, back at home, was at the library and my uncle's laptop while he was at work at night. The closest I came to having one was a year prior when my grandmother made me chose between a cellphone and a laptop. I chose the phone because it was the most practical considering I was never home. I spent a lot of time on the computer checking Myspace, watching music videos and other tv shows on Youtube. Pretty soon, my curiosities drifted onto the wilder side of the internet. I began indulging myself in a lot of pornographic materials, including gay dating sites. When the family was away riding their horses, I was on the computer watching porn and talking to guys in the area who wanted to have sex with me. They all had computers and camera phones to take pictures with and they were demanding pictures from me. In an attempt to keep up with the virtual society, I started taking pictures of myself... with Mark's red flip camera phone. My phone had no camera and the placement of the family computer was not a safe bet. So I would slip into the kitchen cupboard, where Mark kept his phone, and take it to my room and take pictures. I had done this on multiple occasions making sure to erase the evidence with success. Then I started feeling really bad, so I decided to do a once-and-for-all photoshoot catching all of my different angles to have pictures at my disposal. And that's just what I did and I never touched it again!
A Couple of Weeks later (May 27th)
Mark said things like, "We took you into our home..." and "We trusted you." Bennett said things like, "You could've covered your tracks!" while Margaret gently tells him to calm down. I felt like absolute shit! Forget that I took the pictures. How in the hell did I forget to delete them? How stupid and novice of me!! After the reprimanding, I was asked to immediately pack up my things and find someone else to stay with. I was not about to go back to my family with my failures, so spent the rest of the summer of 2007 couch hopping and sleeping in a homeless shelter. I went on to work my two jobs for a few years and kept those for a few years. My bosses were very understanding and helped in every way that they could. When people asked me what happened, I was so mortified at the truth that I couldn't even come up with a mediocre lie to tell them. It happened to be the same summer that I came out of the closet, so people assumed that I was kicked out because I was gay. That was better than the truth and it was foolproof. So I let people believe it. Ruth and Margaret continued to help me get back on my feet by paying my phone bill when I needed it and taking me to viewings of potential places to live. In the fall semester, I found a place to live and moved out of the homeless shelter. From that moment forth, I started rebuilding a life of my own.
In 2012, after hurricane Sandy, Margaret wrote me an email informing me that Ruth and Mark James died. During the storm, they and their two sons drove to Upstate New York to check on their horses. A tree fell on their pickup instantly killing them and sparing the boys. Friends and families memorialized Ruth and Mark by pitching in the keep the children fed and taken care of until they moved in with distant relatives. They have all grown to graduate schools and start lives of their own. I, on the other hand, have graduated from two colleges and have grown to flourish in my own life. And for over a decade, the kids still don't know why I left nor have I ever spoken about my dumbest mistake. You know those moments when you randomly remember a mistake you made and you, immediately, feel that shame again. Well, this is my moment and I think it's time to joke about it.
About the author
I've been on stage as a dancer, actor, and singer my whole life, I even hold two degrees in Modern dance. But that's not even my final form! Follow, like, tip, and share as I bring to you some original content!