Their Own Words – A Better Man (Part Three)
The story of a boy named Craig
Their Own Words – A Better Man (Part Three)
I have to admit that I was shocked when Craig first told me of the direction his life took once he had left the shelter of the orphanage. What can you say to someone who has just told you they made a living by selling their body? Especially when that someone is someone you had been finding yourself attracted to. For a moment I was stunned, maybe even repulsed, but then I realised that I shouldn’t be one to judge. I wasn’t exactly an angel myself.
“So, let me get this straight,” I said to him. “It was all about the money?”
“Not entirely. I wanted a happily-ever-after story most of all, but let’s face it, how many people from a background like mine ever get that? The thought of making money was there, there’s no doubt about that, but it didn’t all happen straight away. The next three or four years are all a bit of a blur to me now. After I discovered that I could be rewarded for something I enjoyed doing I went from being a guy who had started visiting local beats just for the hell of it, simply wanting intimate contact and maybe some sex with like-minded people, to someone who had just discovered a way forward . . . a way to survive. I’m not proud of what followed, but I did what I had to do.”
I guess that when he said it was all about survival, he wasn’t wrong. Was I being judgemental? Most probably, but by the time I got to know Craig that part of his life was well and truly behind him.
“It took a little while for me to figure out how to make it work for me, there was some trial and error and some scary moments, such as having a knife pulled on me one night at the park, but somehow I managed to hit on a system that seemed to work for me. I was just grateful that I had found someone to turn to and who would become a friend, a mentor and a part-time lover That was Rob, who had returned the following week, as promised. We spent some time together, and he was just as sweet as the first time we met. When he left he gave me an old cell phone with some credit on it, mainly so that I could contact him, but anyhow, that was what got me started in the game really.
“Not knowing any other way I wrote the phone number on a toilet wall, along with a price and the words ‘blow jobs’ . . . in capital letters. I had seen other phone numbers and messages on walls so it seemed like a good idea at the time. I had no idea what might actually happen but I was surprised when I got a text message the next day and a meet was subsequently arranged. As it turned out, there were tons of guys looking to get a load off with a twinky eighteen year old, for a price of course. After that, it didn’t take long for my life to become a largely nocturnal one, as I found that this was usually the best time to score.”
I sure had to give it to Craig; once he set his mind on something he certainly went for it, even if he sometimes didn’t think through what the consequences might be. To be honest, though, isn’t that how we all learn about life?
While he was happy enough to talk with me about his exploits and the things that transpired during this period of his life, it was on the basis that we shared our experiences and stories. I can guarantee you that I was the one who received (or heard) more detail than he would have, as even though I may have been older than him at the time, my experiences were rather limited; especially when compared to his. And as for my sharing his experiences through this series, he was insistent that the more intimate details of his adventures be left out of this re-telling.
“If people are just wanting to hear about these things simply so they can get their rocks off, they may as well just go and visit Nifty or some of those sites that host stories and erotic fiction. All I’m wanting to do by letting you share my own story is to let anyone who is feeling the things that I was feeling, or experiencing the things that I was experiencing, know that their lives don’t have to be lived in fear or need to follow a set path. They can be whoever they want to be regardless of who they want to sleep with. They can make their own decisions, or their own mistakes, and they can learn from them – just like I’ve done. Above all, though, they need to know that sex is just one part of what makes them who they are. There is so much more to everyone than just who it is that they screw.”
So, for that reason, some folks might be disappointed with some aspects of this chapter of Craig’s story. We make no apologies for that. As for the rest of his story, well, once he started talking about it the flood gates really opened up. It was all I could do to keep up with him.
As I’ve already said, those three or four years I spent on the streets as a rent boy, or whatever you want to call it, are something of a blur for me now. What started out as being a bit of fun here and there started to build up into something more. I had some money for the first time in my life. I thought I had made it!
I’m not proud of this, but as far as sex went, you name it and I did it. Then I was introduced to alcohol. What started with a few drinks when with my clients soon led to getting wasted and in some cases being taken advantage of. Then some of those clients also liked to partake in recreational drugs, and that took me in a whole different direction again. A couple of times when I was totally out of it, or off my face, things happened. I stole. I got robbed. I got bashed. I got raped. I got questioned by police for hanging around the park. I got abused by people in the park who called me a pervert and shielded their kids from me. I thought that this was the lowest point in my life, but I was wrong. That happened when I got thrown out of my accommodation. I had still maintained the room at the boarding house, but I made the mistake of breaking all the golden rules at once . . . booze, drugs, sex. I hit the trifecta.
I can’t really blame Mrs Burrows, the landlady, I guess. I was my own worst enemy. When she caught me trying to bring a guy into my room that was when she’d finally had enough. I was told to leave, right then and there, while some of the other residents looked on with varying degrees of disgust or shock showing on their faces. The guy that was with me turned and ran, never to be seen again, while I ended up wandering the streets on a cold night.
It’s impossible to say just why I ended up where I did that night, but at some point I found myself wandering past the old orphanage where I used to live. I looked up and saw the outline of the old mansion, silhouetted inky black against the night sky. There were no lights on anywhere, other than a couple along the street I was walking along. I was shivering. Then I remembered the space under the floor where I spent many happy times with Toby, so I jumped the fence (or perhaps just stumbled over it) and made for the door that would give me access to that space. The door was partially hidden by some shrubs and wasn’t ever locked, so I was hoping that nothing had changed. Thankfully I found it exactly how it was the last time I had been here and it was easy enough to open, even if it screeched in protest. Once inside I crouched down and felt my way forward in the darkness, aiming for some small squares of light on the far side, where an air vent or a grate or something was located in the wall. From there I knew that I needed to turn right and make my way between the foundations to the back corner.
Something made a noise somewhere close by, like a critter scurrying away. I remembered those. As my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness I could make out some familiar shapes in the corner. It seemed as if everything we had left here years ago was still here, but I had a feeling that it had also been added to. Hardly surprising really. Now down on my hands and knees and feeling around me I felt something soft, like a blanket. When I found that I dropped to my side, curling up into a foetal position, hugging myself. I felt the tears starting to build up and my chest tighten and when the first tears rolled down my cheeks then came the sobs. Jesus, what a mess I was!
I don’t remember much else from that night. For all I know I could have had rats and spiders and God knows what else crawling all over me all night. The next thing I remember was waking up and realising that there was daylight outside. Light was coming in through the air vents built into the wall. And someone was sitting on the ground, watching me. His face was a mix of concern and compassion and just seeing that almost made me want to cry again. He must have been so disappointed in me.
‘Welcome back,’ Father O’Brien said to me as I struggled to sit up. I must have looked like a proper wreck to him.
‘How did you find me?’ I asked him, to which he replied that one of the kids saw the door open and decided to investigate and found me here, before then telling the old gardener, Dick, and then Sister Mary. Lucky me, eh? Looking around me I could see that nothing much had changed here, apart from the addition of some additional blankets and some wooden crates which were serving as shelves for an assortment of odds and ends. I could see some of the magazines that Toby and I had shared were stacked on the bottom shelf of one. I had to smile at that. It felt somehow satisfying that the place was still being put to good use.
‘Do you want to tell me what’s going on?’ Father asked me. Shit! How could I answer that? ‘How about I take you home and we can talk about it?’
‘Home? I don’t have a home no more. Got kicked out,’ I said.
‘Well, how about we just get you out of here and get you cleaned up. Then we can talk about what’s going on.’
He turned and started toward the door and after a few moments I started to follow him, but not before taking one last, wistful look at my surroundings. I suspected that I would never see this place again. When I made it outside I found Father O’Brien dusting off his clothes, with Sister Mary and the gardener also being there to meet us. Not a word was said. Sister Mary just placed a hand on my shoulder, then turned and headed for the back door of the orphanage and disappeared inside. Dick just looked at me with a sad expression as Father took me to his car.
As we were about to get into the car I glanced up at the windows of my old home, where I could see a line-up of spectators, mostly young and curious faces, but there was one face that just looked sad. That was Sister Mary. They all watched as I got into Father O’Brien’s car, and I guess they were still watching as we drove away. I didn’t look back.
‘I don’t know what has happened with you, but don’t be too hard on yourself, Craig. Everyone makes mistakes in life,’ Father was saying to me.
‘What about you?” I asked him. He just smiled and said, ‘Of course! But those mistakes were what led me to where I am now, so you just never know what might be around the corner.’
That made me feel somewhat better. I had almost been expecting one of those ‘God works in mysterious ways’ lectures, but thankfully I was spared that at least. It was just at that moment my stomach decided to rumble, and quite loudly. Father looked across at me and asked when I had last eaten? I said sometime yesterday. A few blocks later we were pulling into the local Macdonald’s and then stopping at the drive through window. He ordered and paid for some food and drinks then when it was ready we drove back out onto the road, before pulling up at the local park . . . my park.
‘Come on, there’s a table empty. Time we had a chat.’
Reluctantly I followed him, before sitting down opposite. He pushed some food and a coffee across the table toward me and told me to tuck in. As I did so he started telling me about when he was a young man, still in school, and how some of his friends made bad choices, which he went along with. Without giving too many specific details he said that they all landed up in hot water and in trouble with the police. His deeply religious parents were furious and sent him to see their local priest, who sat him down and asked him what had happened exactly. The priest listened patiently and then quietly suggested some penance, part of which included working with some of the programs the church was involved with. The young Father O’Brien was confused as to why the old man didn’t go right off at him, as he had been sometimes known to do, but agreed to the proposal and for the next few months showed up whenever he was asked to do so.
‘There wasn’t anything in particular that I was made do, I just helped out where needed, with various things the church did. I helped coach kids football and basketball teams. I visited some of the old folks around town and did odd jobs for them. I helped out around the church, or in the op-shop, whatever was needed. It wasn’t a real punishment for my sins, especially not in the eyes of my parents, but it was a real eye opener for me all the same.’
‘And why are you telling me this?’ I asked him.
‘Only to show you that just because someone runs off the rails on occasion it doesn’t mean they have to stay there.’
‘You don't expect me to start coaching kids, or want me to become a priest, do you?’
‘Of course not,’ he answered, with a smile.
‘Then what do you expect from me?’
‘Nothing at all. I just want to help you get back on your feet. Help you find your direction in life.’
‘I'm not really sure that I have a direction. I thought I had found something that I liked doing, but that only got me into more trouble.’
‘Should I ask what that was?’ he enquired.
‘No. It's probably best you don't know.’
‘So where do we go from here?’ he asked.
‘How would I know? I'm just a kid who keeps fucking up his life.’
‘Your life is not fucked. It may have been a few years since you left the orphanage, but you are still young. Your life is really only just beginning, still. You just have to find something else to focus your energies on.’
‘Oh, is that right? And how do I do that exactly?’ I asked, while at the same time trying to recall if I had ever heard him swear before. Maybe he really was human too.
‘You just think about things you like doing. Things that you care about. Sister Mary said you had a sister.’
‘Yeah, that’s right. I don't know where she is though.’
‘Do you want to find her? Maybe we can help?’
‘It might be possible.’
For a while nothing more was said, as we sat and ate then drank our coffees. It was a beautiful morning but my head was still all over the place. I didn't know where I was going to stay, or how I was going to get all my stuff back that was at the boarding house, or what the future was going to hold. I know that Father O’Brien’s words should have been of some comfort, but to tell you the truth, I was scared. So I said as much to Father.
‘You just let me take it take care of that,’ he replied. ‘I'm sure we can get you sorted, one way or another. Come on, how about we take you back to the orphanage for starters and then we can go from there. At least we can give you a place to stay for a little while, and who knows, you might even be able to make yourself useful by giving old Dick a hand with the gardening, until we can make some plans for you.’
‘Why are you doing this for me?’ I asked him.
’Because,’ he said. ‘A lot of people really do care about you, Craig. We all know that you’ve had a difficult lot in life and you deserve better. You're not really a bad kid, just one who has run out of options, I think. Come on let's get going.’
We left the park, and as we did so I couldn't help but take a quick look around to see if there was anyone there I knew. It looked like the place was empty, so in a way I was grateful of that. We drove back to the orphanage and we found Sister Mary in her office. When she saw us at the door she put her pen down on the desk and took off her glasses, before leaning her elbows on the desk and letting her fingers form a triangle in front of her pursed lips.
’Welcome home, Craig. It seems that once more you are in need of a little help.’
’To be honest, Sister, I'm not sure what I'm in need of,’ I answered.
’Well then, let's see what we can do for you,’ Father O’Brien said. ‘First off, how about I go and talk to Mrs Burrows and see what we can do about your stuff, or see if she can see it in her heart to let you stay there again?’
’I’d just like to get my stuff, I think. I don't think it would be a very good idea for me to stay there again, though. She was so angry. And I did break the rules.’ I wondered if I should say anything about making sure I got my money from my room, but in the end I left it, as that would more than likely raise questions I didn’t want to answer.
’Well, I'll be back shortly. I'll leave you in Sister Mary's care. Perhaps she can come up with some suggestions, for you?’
’Oh, I'm sure that we can get some use out of him,’ Sister remarked.
Father O'Brien then left us, with Sister Mary and I listening to the sound of his footsteps as they faded away. When all was quiet once more Sister looked at me across the desk and said, ‘I don't know what you've been doing with yourself, or what happened at Mrs Burrows place, but let's just put that behind us, shall we? There is a small room here that I am sure you will be comfortable in, for a short while at least; until we can get something sorted out for you. I shall ask one of the staff to prepare that for you. In the meantime let's go and see our gardening friend and see if he can put you to some use.’
‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I don't think I deserve your kindness.’
‘Nonsense. You grew up in this place, Craig, so yes you do. Come. Let's go.’
I followed Sister down the halls and outside into the morning sun. Dick was down by his shed, working on a lawn mower and he looked up as he heard us approach. ‘I thought we were rid of you?’ he said, somewhat gruffly. After having him see me emerge from beneath the orphanage this morning I couldn’t quite figure out where I stood with him.
‘Can't get rid of me that easy,’ I answered.
‘So, Richard. Do you think you can make use of this young larrikan? He’s going to be staying with us again for a short time.’
‘I'm sure that I can find something for him to do, Sister. Just as soon as I get this lawn mower going again. Leave him with me and I'll see what happens.’
‘Thank you,’ said Sister Mary, then turning to me she said, ‘We will bring you both some lunch, after we have fed the children.’ And with that. She turned and walked away.
‘So,’ Dick said after Sister was out of earshot, ‘it certainly sounds like you have been keeping yourself busy.’
‘Wh-what do you mean?’
‘Oh, just a few things I've heard,’ he offered. Instantly I felt my face flush at the thought of him knowing what I had been up to these past few years. ‘Don't worry yourself, lad,’ he soon added, while at the same time placing a hand on my shoulder. ‘We are all only human and you certainly haven't been doing anyone any harm,’ giving me a wink as he did so.
‘So, obviously you know?’ I said, to which he just shrugged and said, ‘I'm not judging you, and I don't think anyone else here would be doing that either, not that I think they might know. So you don't have to worry about us. If I were you, I would just focus on something else . . . move on with your life, become a better man than anyone expects you to be.’
That comment really struck a chord with me, but I wasn’t exactly sure why? In fact, it reminded me of something that I had heard on the radio recently. It must have been a song. Maybe that was it?
Maybe I could be that man, I thought. Maybe I could be a better man than just about all of the supposed role models I'd had in my life. As I pondered this question, Dick pulled the start cord on the lawn mower and it started first try. ‘Here you go.’ he said. ‘Why don't you go start on the front yard, as the first steps toward your redemption.’ He wasn't being condescending. He said it with a smile and a wink. ‘Why not,’ I replied, as I stepped behind the mower and started to push it away.
For the next couple of hours I stepped back in time and did what I had spent so much time doing when I was a few years younger. It felt good out in the sunshine and it didn't take long before I had built up a sweat. I pulled off my T shirt and tossed it over a gate as I continued to work. After a while the motor ran out of fuel, so I went back to the garden shed and put some more in the tank. Dick looked up at me standing in front of him shirtless and covered in sweat and for just a moment I saw something in his expression that I had seen a thousand times before on a thousand other faces. But it was just for an instant. ‘What?’ I asked him. He simply shook his head and turned his attention back to what he had been doing. Shrugging it off I picked up a fuel can and started back toward the mower. Once I had filled it I started the machine again and finish that section of the lawn, just as one of the other sisters brought out a tray of sandwiches for us, which we ate in the shade of the shed.
A few times I found him looking at me with that same expression I had seen earlier, which made me suspect that despite his age there was another side to Dick that nobody ever saw. For a split second I wondered if I should test him out, by offering something that others before him had wanted, but just as quickly as I had thought it I dropped it from my mind. If I was going to get a fresh start here at the orphanage once more then the last thing I wanted to do was fuck up that opportunity.
In the days that followed I turned my hand to things I had never thought I would be capable of doing, all under the guidance of Dick. I was kind of proud of myself for sticking to my guns and not tease him with my antics, as the old Craig would have almost certainly done. The old guy was certainly growing on me and I wouldn’t want to make his life difficult in any way. As for the kid that had apparently found me sleeping beneath the orphanage – the new squatter in mine and Toby’s former place of refuge – that was a different story all together. His name was Brody, he was about fifteen and he was most definitely gay. Everywhere I went it seems he was there close to me, like a shadow. He was cute, I’ll give him that, and he was persistent, forever dropping hints about the two of us going beneath the orphanage again, but there was no way in hell I was falling into that trap. I knew his game . . . hell, maybe I even invented it . . . so I steered clear of finding myself with him in any position where things could be misconstrued, right down to making sure I wasn’t alone with him unless out in the open someplace. Admittedly I did enjoy teasing him, however, and yet despite my fears and our dancing around each other, I genuinely liked him. We often would sit and talk about the things we had in common. He asked about what went on beneath the floors of the orphanage and who with, so I told him about Toby and me, but not with too much detail, just enough to let him know that he wasn’t the first to be having these feelings and thoughts in this place.
A few weeks later I was still there at the orphanage, helping out where I could, trying to keep out of trouble. I was free to come and go as I pleased, but I found that I liked the feeling of belonging somewhere and making a contribution, however small. Father O’Brien had taken me back to see Mrs Burrows a few days after he found me here and I managed to collect my few belongings. I was particularly relieved to be reunited with the biscuit tin, in which I had kept the cash I’d managed to put aside, though I didn’t let on to anyone what was actually in it.
I was still getting messages from people wanting to hook up, but I decided that I’d had enough of that game, so at one point I paid a visit to the park and scratched my number off the wall. The messages soon dried up, there was no more playing hard and to be perfectly honest I was relieved. It felt like I was putting that part of my life behind me, but I was yet to develop a clear picture of what the future was going to hold. I had slipped back into my old life so easily and had living day to day, with very few worries or cares. Things seemed to be getting back to normal again.
Then I received a phone call from Rob. We had a long conversation and I filled him in on what had been happening with me. He was pleased that I was getting away from the alcohol and drugs and the street corners, as he put it. We had actually had a few disagreements over that, but now that I was seeing things more clearly I better understood his concerns. He told me that he was being shifted to a new area with his job, so wouldn’t be visiting my area again, but would try and pay a visit before his move. I told him I would like that very much. I was also given an open invitation to visit whenever I wanted to and I told him I would take him up on that.
One day I was helping Dick with some gardening and he asked, ‘Do you like doing this?’
‘What's that?’ I answered.
‘Mowing lawns. Working in the garden, that sort of thing.’
‘It's OK, I guess. I don't mind getting my hands dirty and I like being outdoors.’
‘Well maybe there's a future in it for you.’
‘Who knows,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t know where to even start to look for a job like this though.’ His reply was simply, ‘Hmmmmm.’ Nothing more was said about it after that, at least for a couple of days, but later in the week he said, ‘I have a friend who manages a golf club not far from here, in the next town, and he needs a new worker. I can put you in touch with him if you like.’
So that was how I started my new career. I went to work at the golf club and started to learn all about green keeping. It was a full-time job. I found myself a small flat in the town – a converted garage in the back yard of someone my new boss knew. It was sad leaving the orphanage for a second time, much more-so than the first time, but now I had some direction for which my life could follow. Once I got settled I got back in contact with Sister Mary about trying to locate my sister and she gave me some contacts to help start my search. Father O’Brien was always there to lend an ear when needed, as was Dick, while I also stayed in touch with Brody, who seemed to have adopted me as a big brother, despite my having earlier pushed him away following his initial advances.
After having learned a little about computers at school I re-discovered them through one of my workmates and after saving a few dollars I was able to buy a very cheap one to get me started again. I got hooked on them and then I discovered the internet where so many exciting opportunities for information and entertainment could be found. Once I realised that a gay guy like me could find just about anything imaginable online it didn’t take me long to start delving into a world that seemed like it was made just for me, or others like me. And to be honest, I had no idea there were so many others out there who were indeed just like me!
To be continued…
Their Own Words - An Introduction
Craig - A Better Man (Part One) . . . . . Part Two . . . . . Part Four
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About the Creator
Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters
Aussie, Queer & Country
LGBT themed fiction with an Aussie flavour, reviews, observations and real life LGBT histories.
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