Their Own Words – A Better Man (Part Two)
The story of a boy named Craig
Their Own Words – A Better Man (Part Two)
“So, are you going to write a book about me?” I remember Craig asking me once. I replied that I didn’t think the world would be able to handle his life story with all that drama and sex. He told me that I had led too sheltered a life, that there were hundreds of others out there who had gone through the same things he had, or worse, and that these stories should be told!
“Young people who are gay and are just trying to figure things out, they need to know what they are letting themselves in for! Wouldn’t you have liked for someone to give you a heads up about what your future may hold? What better way is there than to hear about the experiences other people who have already gone through the same thing.”
I agreed and told him that I just wished I knew back then what I know now. He simply laughed.
And so, with a word of warning for those who may be squeamish . . . you may find Craig’s description of what followed to be somewhat distressing, as I am sure many people would, but the better I got to know him the more amazed I became at his resilience and determination to survive. After all, that is what his whole story is about: survival!
The events that Craig lived through in his early childhood were largely things that were impossible for him to have any control over. Very few kids would be capable of being able to fight back when faced with those situations and given the scars that he must have been left with, both physical and emotional, who could blame him if, as he grew older and continued to be worked over by the system, he didn’t come out of that period of his life with even more scars.
What follows here is Craig’s description of what he told me was the ‘beginning of my journey into the unknown.’ Again, I will preface this by saying that this has been sourced from various conversations, emails and other correspondence between the two of us, with just a small degree of literary license taken for the sake of readability.
“I was seventeen, rapidly approaching eighteen,” Craig said to me, “and I now knew that my time at the orphanage was running out. I was also in my last year of high school, not that I was much of a student or ever had high hopes of being any kind of high achiever. I was just doing what I needed to do to make it to the end of the year.
“When I wasn’t at school I started spending more and more time down town, roaming the streets, sometimes getting into trouble, or running from it. Let’s just say that the local cops knew who I was and had delivered me back to the orphanage on more than one occasion. I didn’t do anything really bad or dangerous, but I did sometimes hang with some other kids my age who definitely were trouble, and so I guess there were some things I was most likely considered guilty of just by association. One sunny afternoon after school I was hanging out at one of the local parks and noticed a few guys of varying ages, mostly older, who seemed to be doing the same. It wasn’t a place that I had been to all that often but I was enjoying myself just sitting there and watching the world go by. Occasionally one of the guys sitting in the park would get up and go into the public toilets and when they came out again would either take a walk around the park, sometimes passing me and giving me a look up and down, or find a seat again. More than one of them seemed to be taking an interest in a kid dressed in a school uniform, and I had seen those kinds of looks before. After watching a couple of them go in more than once I felt pretty sure that they weren’t there simply because it was a fine day. They had to have something else on their mind, and it didn’t take a Rhoades Scholar to work out that it was most likely sex they were thinking about. This was something Toby had told me about, but I hadn’t been sure if he was just pulling my leg or not. The fact that they kept looking my way, however, had me curious.
“By now I was curious and figured I needed to check this out, just to be sure, so I got up and went for a walk, taking a round-about route to the toilets. The place was an old brick building and quite dark inside as there was only a narrow opening between the top of the bricks and the ceiling along one wall. As soon as I entered the building, I was hit by a stench that was so strong, it was almost primal: the smell of urine, of men, and of sex. Even a boy could recognise that.
“I went to the trough to have a pee and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. It wasn’t long before I heard footsteps outside then moments later a guy stepped up beside me. I could feel myself shaking as I glanced across at him.
“He said, ‘Hi’. I think I nodded a reply, but that was all. He looked to be about forty, at a guess, not that I’d really had much experience at telling the age of random people. A little overweight but still quite good looking. Short dark hair with some grey in it. I wasn’t repulsed by him, but I was immediately on edge. I’d already had some experiences with guys like this and they were rarely good ones.
“I sensed that his hands were moving, somewhere down low in front of him and when I glanced down I could see he already had his junk out and was slowly stroking himself. I know I wasn’t exactly inexperienced in these matters, but it still scared the shit out of me. I quickly zipped up and got the fuck out of there, walking fast, thinking about running but managing to hold it together, not slowing down or stopping until I was several blocks away. I found a seat and sat down to try and catch my breath, with my hands still shaking.
“I guess most people would be disgusted by the thought of picking up in a public toilet, and I can certainly understand why, but sometimes when you are horny and curious you do things you wouldn’t previously think about doing, and once you’ve taken that first step there’s no turning back.
“I knew I was comfortable with my own sexuality and I knew just what it was that I wanted, but had I just discovered, simply by having a guy stand beside me and starting to rub himself up, that sex with men, on my own terms, outside of the experiences I’d had so far, could be a very real possibility for me if I wanted it? That some guys might actually want to hook up with me? This was way different to it being someone in authority looking to molest and force themselves upon some kid, like others had done in the past? This was like two men meeting, both wanting the same thing. This was new territory for me and afterwards, as I walked back toward the orphanage, my mind was buzzing with the possibilities. Was this how I was going to find what it was that I most wanted in this world? Somebody to like me just for being me!
“I didn’t go back near that place straight away, I left it for a while, but I was constantly thinking about what happened and what it might mean for me if I did go back there. Seeing as Toby knew about what went on there, maybe I would get to see him again? Or if not, maybe I could meet others there just like me? I didn’t think about any possible risks, I knew what I wanted and I thought I had just found out how I was going to get just that.
“It was a Saturday afternoon when I finally built up the courage to take another look. From where I sat on the opposite side of the park to where the toilet building was located I could see families sitting in the sunshine enjoying their picnics, some kids throwing a Frisbee back and forth, while others were sitting and reading or just walking around. It was busier than I had expected and I was as nervous as all hell, almost getting up to leave several times, especially when a guy walked past me, quite close, and looked me over. What the fuck was he doing? Checking out the merchandise?
“I was glad that I could see others reading, as I had brought a book with me – a school text book in case I needed a cover story – so I pulled it from my back pack and opened it up, making sure I was sitting so that I could watch the toilets as I read.
“I guess I stayed for about an hour or so, just watching the comings and goings. Nothing happened that visit, or the next time I visited for that matter. I’m not sure what I had expected to happen, but there was something in the back of my mind that seemed to be holding me back, preventing me from getting involved in the dance that some of these guys seemed to be playing at, at least for now. Sooner or later I knew I would cross the line, but it wasn’t going to be on any of those early days.
“Eventually that day did come, however. It was a few weeks later, just before I turned eighteen. I figured it was now or never so I went to the same park late one afternoon on the weekend and walked around for a little while looking to see if there was anyone about. It was a cold day, overcast and windy, and the park looked quiet. I didn’t see anyone in the park, other than an old couple, rugged up against the chill and walking their dog, so I walked through the car park where I noticed a few people sitting in their cars. Not wanting to appear too obvious I walked around the park once more, before sitting down on the same seat I had used on previous occasions, which offered a great view. There was no sign of any activity and so with trembling hands I eventually decided to head indoors and see what might happen.
“Once again the stench of the place hit me. It was so strong. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to throw up or run, but before I could make up my mind I found myself standing at the urinal taking a piss. Just like the last time it wasn’t long before I could hear the sound of approaching footsteps. Moments later a man was standing beside me and the rest, as they say, is history.”
As anyone who has done the same thing will tell you, taking that first step into the unknown is always the hardest. The world is full of crazies and you just never know what might happen or who you might meet.
When I pressed Craig on what happened he was a little reticent in opening up at first, which surprised me a little, considering how easily he had spoken about his early years and what had happened to him. As I listened to him, however, I soon realised that this day marked a turning point in his life. Of the ensuing years there was a lot that happened, he would tell me, that that he was not proud of.
“Compared to what I had experienced earlier in my life, and what would come later, that first time was kind of nice. I think the guy was just as nervous as I was and when we were done, he was out of there like a rocket. It left me wanting more, but I needed time to process what had just happened, so I cleared out as well, not wanting to face anyone else right at that moment. That was the first of many lessons I would learn about myself, and about the many differences between guys who liked guys. Fuck, who am I kidding? I’m still learning!
“When I made it back to the orphanage a short while later, my mind still buzzing. It was only just in time for the evening meal and I barely had time for a quick wash before having to sit down to eat with the nuns and other kids. I received a few funny looks from the others, including the nun in charge, Sister Mary, but didn’t think too much of it. When the meal was finished, we cleared the table and then Sister asked to see me in her office, while leaving the other kids to finish the washing up. When Sister asked us to visit her office it usually meant that we were in trouble, although if we were asked to see Father O’Brien it always seemed worse, despite the fact he wasn’t the typical old fart of a priest that you would expect. He was in fact relatively young, good looking and very easy to talk to. I liked him, but he still knew how to be stern when required.
“On this night Sister Mary asked me to close the door behind me while she went to her desk and sat down behind it, then pointed at the hard chair opposite, which I already knew well. The room was all dark timber and old wooden furniture. I remember it always smelled quite musty.
“What followed was the strangest conversation I had ever had with an adult up to that point in my life . . . and believe me, I’ve had a few of these. Being told by a nun that she knows that I am not like other boys, and that she knows seventeen year old boys have ‘urges’, and that I smell of sex is about as weird and embarrassing as it gets. I was dumbfounded and was suddenly wishing that the floor would open up and swallow me. Did she know where I had been and what I had been doing? I was waiting for her to tell me that I was to see Father O’Brien, or that I was to be cast out onto the streets before my time was up, but instead she just sighed. After a lengthy silence she followed that by telling me she worried about what might happen to me if I were cast out like the others when I reached the age of maturity. I think that was the first time she had ever raised the subject with me directly. I was dreading what was going to follow, expecting the worst, so I simply stayed silent. For what seemed a long time the only sound was the ticking of the large clock on the wall.
“’Where were you this afternoon?’ she eventually asked. ‘Or is it best I don’t know?’ More silence followed. I mean, what exactly could I say? ‘I see,’ she finally said. ‘Well, what I really wanted to talk to you about was your leaving us. As you know, you are approaching eighteen years of age, which is when we say farewell to most of our children.’ BOOM! I thought. I really was about to be kicked out on my arse!
“‘But . . .’ she continued. ‘I’ve been talking to our directors about you and have suggested to them that we allow you to stay until the end of the year, seeing as your birthday falls when you are about to start your final exams at school.’ Was I hearing right, I wondered? ‘I believe that you should at least be able to finish your schooling in peace, before then beginning the next phase of your life, wherever that may take you.’
“I think I stammered some sort of surprised response, but can’t really remember what it was that I said to her. I think I was in shock. ‘How about you go and have a shower before you go to bed? We can talk more about this some more tomorrow,’ Sister suggested. So that was what I did.
“When I did go to bed I lay awake in the dark for what seemed like hours, as everything swirled around in my head. I had willingly had sex with a man . . . and it was okay. It was quite unlike what I had been forced into doing by older men when I was younger. I knew I wanted more. And then there was Sister’s bombshell . . . I wasn’t going to be turfed out just yet. What did that all mean? And what exactly was I going to do once I couldn’t live here anymore? I guessed that I would be finding out more tomorrow.
“After a fairly restless night I was up late the next morning. At least it was still the weekend. After I dressed I went downstairs to the kitchen but there didn’t seem to be anyone around, which wasn’t all that uncommon on weekends, so I made myself a cup of coffee and put some bread in the toaster. It was later than when I would usually get out of bed on a weekend, but it was still only mid-morning, and as I sat down at the table and buttered my toast I heard a noise in the hallway. Moments later Father O’Brien walked through the door, stopping in his tracks when he saw me. ‘Good morning, Craig.’ ‘Good morning, Father.’ It must have been later than I thought, as Mass must have been over. He made himself a cup of coffee and then sat opposite me. Here goes, I thought!
“I was expecting fire and brimstone, but there was none of that. Instead he asked if Sister had mentioned anything about my being able to stay at the orphanage a little longer than would usually be allowed and we ended up having a conversation about that, and about what I would do after my time was up. He mentioned that there were some church-based programs that are run for people like me, assisting with accommodation and transitioning into adult life, so that gave me at least some hope for what would lie beyond that year. We chatted for a little while longer, then he left. As I showed him out a thought flashed into my mind that confirmed I would be going straight to hell, when I fleetingly wondered what Father would look like naked.
“In the weeks that followed, life started gathering pace. Between studying for exams and exploring the local parks, at times I found it difficult to keep up. I got to talking to others who were after the same things I was after and I found it surprisingly easy to open up to some of these guys. I also fooled around with a few of them and learned way more about myself and about this new life I was exploring. I began to see this period as a time of transition and I was okay with that, even if I didn’t quite know how things were actually going to work out just yet.
“I turned eighteen the day of my final history exam. That afternoon I celebrated by picking up at the local park. Later there was a cake at the orphanage after dinner. All very surreal. My exams finished at the end of October, which meant I now had two months left at the orphanage. Two months to get my shit together, find out about new accommodation places and put in applications for financial assistance. This would also be my last Christmas at St. Pat’s. A week later I would be on my own. That scared me, yet at the same time it excited me. I would be free to do what (and who) I wanted.
“A couple of weeks before Christmas, Father O’Brien took me around to the boarding house he had told me about previously, to take a look and to meet the lady who ran it, a Mrs Burrows. She was one of his parishioners apparently, so I guess that’s how he knew about it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found that it was an old weatherboard house on a side street near the centre of town. It desperately needed some TLC, but it looked decent enough. At the rear of the house there was a verandah that faced out onto the back yard. There were a number of rooms which opened onto the verandah and one of these was going to be mine, apparently. There were six other boarders there, a mix of male and female, and older and younger, all people that society would class as . . . I don’t know . . . maybe not as down and outs, but possibly as disadvantaged. At first it was a bit of a shock when I realised that this was where I sat in life, but I guess it stands to reason. I have no family to support me. I won’t have a job – for the immediate future at least. So I guess I couldn’t really expect much else for now.
“Following the grand tour it was time to have the riot act read to me. There was to be no drinking, no drugs, no wild parties. No bringing girls, or boys, back for sex. If I wanted to smoke it was to be down the bottom of the yard around the barbeque area only. I was also expected to help with washing up and cleaning the kitchen at meal times. I was told what the weekly rent would be, which included one main meal a day. Anything else I wanted I would have to provide myself.
“I quickly realized that there wasn't going to be much cash left over from my benefits cheque after I deducted the rent, but I guess I would just have to make do. Maybe I could pick up some work somewhere, like in a shop or something? I just didn't know. At least I would have a couple of weeks to try and sort something out . . . if I could.
“Christmas came and went, and while traditionally there was never much in the way of presents at the orphanage this year I did receive a few small gift cards that I would be able to use at local shops, for clothing and other items. That would be handy I thought. I started counting the days down to when I would be leaving what had been home my home for a number of years now. I was kind of sad about that, but at the same time I was looking forward to getting out of here and trying to make my own way, even if that terrified me in some respects. There were also some things that I knew I wouldn’t miss, especially the weekend outings with potential foster parents, which the powers that be still tried to force on me, although I have to admit without very much success in recent years as it had been a while since I had gone outside for one of these. I guess my reputation had seen to that. Now that I was eighteen, however I had decided that I would like to try and find my sister if I possibly could, though I knew that I would need to get on my feet first. I didn't know if any of the adoption or foster care agents would help me, but I knew that at some point I wanted to try. First things first, though, I had to figure out how to survive on my own.
“D-Day finally arrived and I said goodbye to Sister Mary, Father O'Brien and the other kids. I suddenly thought about the place underneath the orphanage that Toby and I had made for ourselves and I wondered if anyone else knew about it. I wasn't going to tell them now though. Father O'Brien offered me a lift to the boarding house which I accepted only as I didn't feel like carrying my meagre possessions, which filled one backpack, an old suitcase and another carry bag, all the way down town. As we drove out the gates of the orphanage I knew the others were waving but I didn't look back. My memories of that place we're not all bad but I had no real desire to return.
“Mrs Burrows who ran the boarding house was expecting us and welcomed me like an old friend, which I thought was a bit odd. Only later I realized it was probably because I was a paying customer. She showed us through to the room that would be mine, which was the end room on the back verandah. It wasn’t very big but it had a bed, which was neatly made and had some spare blankets folded up and sitting on the end of it, a wardrobe, a table and chair and a small cupboard. I knew that the few things I owned would hardly fill any of these. As we came back out onto the verandah she closed the door and twisted the key that had been sitting in the lock, then handed it to me, telling me that I should always lock up when I left the room. Afterwards she invited us into the kitchen for some morning tea and over our drinks she reminded me of the rules of the house. I made sure that I was polite because I wanted to make a good impression and she seemed okay.
“A couple of the other residents were also there when I arrived and I was introduced to Harry, who was an older guy in his sixties, Muriel, who was a chatterbox and hardly stopped talking while we were having our drinks. She also appeared to not quite have it all together upstairs, if you get my drift. There was also another guy named Dwayne, who was skinny, greasy looking and appeared to be in his thirties. He said hello and then slunk back into his room. I didn’t like the look of him. After that I was told dinner would be served right on six p.m. and then I was left to my own devices. I said goodbye to Father O’Brien and then went to my room to pack my few things away, before sitting down on the edge of the bed and looking around me. This was my life, I thought. I know that I hadn't exactly been dealt the best of hands in life but I really was at rock bottom, wasn't I? I had no idea what the future was going to hold but I guess that it could only be what I would make of it.
“One of the good things I had found out about the boarding house was that it wasn't far from my favourite park, so at least until I got myself some sort of a job I would have plenty of time on my hands and would be able to spend as much of it there as I wanted – at least in theory.
“During my recent visits to the park I had met quite a few people there who were what could be called regulars. I had spoken with most of these and knew some of them well enough to chat with. I learned a lot about what went on there at all hours of the day and night, who was approachable and who to avoid, even what to do if the cops came around. While most of these people were older, with jobs, some even with wives and families, there were a few about my age who also seemed to be experimenting, exploring their sexuality, or at least that's the impression I got. I know that when I had bumped into a few of them downtown, some with their girlfriends, they were quick to look the other way when I noticed them and they noticed me. I guess I knew where I stood with these guys at least, so I would be making sure I didn’t get too close to them when we would next meet. Anyhow, I wasn’t really that interested in those younger guys . . . for some reason it was the older ones I had a greater interest in.
“On that first afternoon at the park, on my first day of independence, I was approached by a guy in his forties who had been sitting in a fancy car. I had just been sitting back and watch the comings and goings and went into the toilets just once but there was no one there so I came back outside and sat down to watch. After a while I noticed this guy do a lap of the park, before eventually coming up to me and saying hello. He sat on the bench beside me and looked me up and down. I couldn’t recall having seen him before but I decided I liked the look of him. The conversation that followed went something like this: ‘You come here often?’ he asked. ‘Sometimes,’ I replied. ‘Nice place to hang out?’ ‘I guess.’ ‘So, much happen around here?’ ‘W-what do you mean?’ ‘Oh, you know . . . people hanging around or coming and going, that sort of thing.’ ‘You interested, are you?’ He gave me a long stare and then said, ‘Only in those that are old enough, if you know what I mean?’
“I smiled back at him. ‘I guess it's my lucky day then. Or is it yours? My name is Craig.’ ‘I'm Rob,’ he replied and offered his hand, which I shook. At least I didn’t see a wedding ring there. For some reason I wasn't spooked by this guy so I asked, ‘What you got in mind?’ ‘I'm staying in a motel,’ he answered as he stood up. I got to my feet as well and together we walked down to his car.
“This was the first time that I had actually gone anywhere with anybody I had met at this place, but as I said before I didn't feel spooked by him, and from my earlier experiences in life I thought I was a pretty good judge at sensing a person’s character. We parked outside of room number 12. ‘This is it,’ he said as he turned off the car. ‘Have you done this very often?’ he asked. I wasn't sure how to answer so I just said, ‘Not much.’ He gave me a nod and opened his door, so I did the same, then I followed him inside.
“I’m not going to describe the sex that we had . . . that would just be weird I think . . . but what happened between us was nice, I guess. I had been lucky so far with those guys I had picked up. It wouldn’t always be like that. We sat on the bed and talked for a while and he wanted to know all about me, so I told him I had just left where I had been living and was now on my own. He asked if I had a job and I said, ‘No, not yet.’ ‘So, what do you do to survive?’ ‘I don't really know yet,’ I replied. ‘You mean you’ve got no job, no money?’ ‘Not much.’ ‘Parents to support you?’ ‘No,’ I answered, and so that was how I got paid for a fuck for the first time. I didn't ask for it, and I certainly didn't expect it, but he opened his wallet and handed me fifty dollars, and seemed apologetic that he didn't have any more cash on him at that moment. I tried to give it back to him but he insisted, folding my fingers closed over the cash and saying. ‘It's tough enough out there. Some young guys need all the help they can get and I'm just glad that I could give you some. Maybe I can see you again when I'm back in town, which I am hoping will be sometime next week?’
“’I think I would like that,’ I answered. And then I hugged him. I don't know what made me do that. But just at that moment it felt right. He pulled a business card from his wallet and also handed it to me. ‘Give me a call sometime if you want. Even if you just need someone to talk to.’ At the time I didn't own a phone but I guess there was always public telephones that I could use if I needed to.
“’Thank you,’ I said. I didn't know what else to say. This was the first time in a long time that an adult and treated me with real kindness in this way. He showed me out and we hugged again briefly at the door then I set off toward the boarding house. I was actually feeling good about what had happened and for the first time I was feeling good about what the future might hold.
“I arrived back at the boarding house well before dinner time and after cleaning up I walked into the kitchen just as dinner was about to be served, where I was soon introduced to all the other residents. They were certainly an odd bunch to my eye and over dinner most of them seemed interested in the new boy, asking all sorts of questions. I tried not to give too much away about myself on that first night. These were all still strangers to me after all.
“Afterwards some of us watched some television in the living room but I didn't stay there too long. I went back to my room and sat on my bed, staring at the money I was holding in my hand and thinking about what that meant to me, and in particular what possibilities it might present for my future.
“I had no idea at the time just what that future was going to hold.”
To be continued…..