Luke’s heart decided, at age 34 and after 16 years of marriage, it was time for Luke to start living the truth. But first, after coming out to Tracy, he takes a break to think and face his emotions.
A true story
“Hey, number 19, why don’t you join us for a beer?”
Luke, wearing a white muscle t-shirt with, in red, the number 19 printed on his left shoulder and on the back, looked to the left at the two couples at the other side of the hotel’s front porch. He raised his left arm, smiled and shook his head, making the universal signal of turning down an offer politely.
“I’m fine, thanks” says Luke.
“Come on,” said the man. “You can’t just sit there by yourself! Have a drink with us.”
Then the other three people in the group stepped in. One of the two women grabbed a chair from a neighbouring table, slid it next to her, gently tapping on the seat like one does when calling a dog to come sit, flashing Luke an inviting smile.
Luke, realising that they wouldn’t accept his refusal, got up from his chair, grabbed his bottle of Budweiser from the table in front of him and walked over to the friendly group.
“Have a seat buddy, I’m Mike.” The man stretched out his arm, giving Luke a firm handshake.
Luke introduced himself to the other three people and then sat down.
Mike, undoubtedly excited, having probably popped his first bottle of beer a couple of hours ago, started to rattle on about this amazing cool trip the four of them had made, down to Miami from Tampa. The other three people didn’t say much, cheerfully nodding at everything Steve said.
Then, as the unwritten law of social convention obliges, Luke presented the partying people with a bit of an insight into his own life. Not too much though. Luke came to Miami Beach to find peace and sitting at a table with two cheerful couples didn’t quite fit that picture. But as he’d spent most of his adult life pretending who he is, he figured a few minutes with these folks wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
As a frequent visitor to the capital of the Caribbean, famous for Miami Vice, the orange and turquoise Miami Dolphins and being the mecca of Art Deco architecture, Luke easily scored points with the four by giving them some pointers; where to go and which restaurants and clubs were a must-do. A few beers and laughs later Luke thanked them for their company, wished them a great vacation and left the porch, disappearing into the warm, humid night decorated with fast moving neon-lights, smells of grilled food and tropical sounds, heading south on Collins Avenue.
To Luke, Miami and Miami Beach felt like his second home. But this was the first time he’d come to Miami just by himself. He only decided to leave snowy suburbia to go to Miami the day before he departed.
For thirteen years in a row, Luke and his wife Tracey escaped the cold in the north, enjoying the sunshine of South Florida, the good food and lots of shopping. They always loved their tropical getaways and both started to feel homesick before flying back home.
This time it was different. This time it was just Luke. For the first time in his life he felt scared, vulnerable and lost. Emotions he’d never encountered before. Luke’s life, until recently, had been one of hard work and not complaining. He and his wife lived in a lovely house with a view, drove nice cars and had lots of friends. All of that seemed like a blur right at that moment. The cascade of new emotions which were occupying his thoughts felt like an unbearable weight that seemed to be getting heavier.
Earlier that day Luke had driven to Sawgrass Mills Mall to buy himself some time off from the headaches and anxiety. Halfway, exiting I-95 to enter I-395, Luke was confronted by a terrifying new thought, the latest lasting only a split second but lingering in his troubled head ever since. He realised that if the car was to accidentally hit the safety rail on the high fly-over and crash onto the freeway below, he wouldn’t mind. Really would not mind at all. Back in his room in Hotel Catalina, he lay down on the bed and forced himself to get a grip. He stayed in his room till it got dark, then decided to buy himself a beer, sit down on the front porch and watch the loud partygoers in their even louder cars go by. It would at least take his mind of things, if not completely, perhaps just for a while.
All of his life Luke carried his secret in silence. Instead of listening to his heart he chose what society expected from him. He wanted to fit in and for all of those years it looked like he was doing well. Until recently. Inside Luke, feelings and emotions he had ignored were getting stronger, more intense. Feelings he could not deny and he knew that he had to acknowledge these feelings and if he did it would change his life forever and the lives of others too.
Tracy sensed that Luke was not feeling well and asked, in a kind, caring way, what was going on. Luke came home from work, wearing his suit. He walked into the living room and sat down in the lounge. Tracy kneeled at his side, both hands on his knees, worriedly looking into his eyes. Luke couldn’t look back, and instead he looked down. Tracy asked him if there was someone else. Luke shook his head, then said that it was different. Not what she thinks. For the first time in his life he was honest about who he really was and, in tears, told Tracy that he was gay.
There. The word, after thirty four years, was out. They both cried, each trying hard to comfort the other. She said it was alright, that they would find a way to deal with this, that she, somehow, always knew. That she loved him regardless. He said that the love was mutual, had always been, but that this was more than just coming out of the closet.
It was the week before Christmas.
Luke and Tracy talked and cried every day. Luke made it clear to Tracy that he no longer wanted to deny that he was gay and that he openly wanted to embrace the fact that he was gay. He wanted to be with men. He wanted to love himself for who he was and no longer pretend to be straight. That he had never been straight.
Tracy and Luke decided to keep Luke’s former lifelong secret to themselves for a while until they both felt strong enough and had figured out how to move on.
After the holidays it was time to get back to work and resume life. But for Luke there was nothing to resume. He knew that if he wanted to give himself and Tracy an honest chance to be happy, they needed to break up and start a new life apart from one another. He did not know how but knew that it would be the right way.
He wished he could have been strong enough to be who he truly was when he was younger, but he wasn’t. He blamed himself for failing and making Tracy unhappy. He knew he had tried hard and that they had a good life together, but by choosing his true self and cutting the cord between him and Tracy he felt somehow broken.
He and Tracey had met when they were nineteen. Love at first sight. Tracey came into his life with a bag of emotions, hurt and sorrow and Luke became her solid rock who she could trust and who gave her unconditional love, which she returned. When Luke looked back he admitted to himself that he was glad that he’d fallen in love with Tracey. He fooled himself into thinking he was saved. That his feelings for boys would fade away.
He and Tracey were as one and no one could come between them. The outside world labelled them as the cutest couple, the kind of relationship people always dreamed about. Together they travelled the world and always had good fun. They were always together.
Luke couldn’t focus at work, couldn’t sleep, eat or even be around people. He was sinking and realised that. He needed to be away. To think, to let go of thoughts, to get a grip. Miami was the first place that came to his mind, as he never felt more at home than when he was in Miami. He bought himself a ticket to be on a flight to Miami the next day.
“Hi sexy” said the cute bartender as Luke entered Score Bar on Lincoln Road. All the tables outside were occupied. “You’re early, what can I get you?”
“Hi there” said Luke as he sat down at the bar overlooking the outside terrace. “A bourbon with ice, please. And how am I early?”
“Well,” said the bartender “At this time of the night I usually get older couples. The hotties get in around midnight right before the club opens,” pointing his right thumb towards the back. “And most of what we usually have around this time are Europeans, lousy tippers.” At this he turned around with a swirl like a true diva, rolling his eyes.
A smile appeared on Luke’s face “I know, right? And thanks, you’ve earned yourself a drink.”
Sitting at the bar, Luke, as he always did when he went somewhere, looked around, observing the crowd and confirming what the cute bartender just stated.
Luke noticed a handsome young man, mid twenties, with blond hair walking in and sitting down at the bar, only a couple of feet away from him. The boy was silent, deep in thought, looking intently at a piece of paper. The bartender gave him a glass of tap water. Luke noticed that the young man was clearly in distress, his face looking very tense.
“Tap water?” Luke said out loud, trying to override the high pitched tones and rapid beats of Madonna’s Ray of Light.
The boy looked up from his piece of paper. A frugal smile appeared on his face.
“Uhm, yeah. I don’t drink that much.”
“Would you like a drink?” asked Luke.
The boy nodded. “What are you drinking yourself?”
Luke raised his glass. “Bourbon.”
“Why don’t I just join you then?” said the young man, getting up from his barstool and moving next to Luke.
“Can I have one more of these, please?” Luke asked the bartender.
“Sure,” replied the bartender. “You want me to make you a tab?”
Luke nodded. “It’s Luke.”
The bartender grabbed a pen, made Luke’s tab and held it up for Luke to see, with a cheeky smile on his face. On the top Luke read “Sexy Luke” with a heart next to it, triggering a big grin on his own face. “I’m Ricky,” the bartender said, pouring bourbon into a tumbler and placing it on the bar in front of the young man sitting next to Luke.
“Cheers,” said the young man, touching his glass of bourbon gently against Luke’s. “I’m Jerry, and you are sexy Luke, as I happened to overhear.”
“Cheers” said Luke, laughing. “Just Luke will do. But tell me, why were you sitting there in silence, all consumed by that piece of paper? I can see you are in distress!”
Jerry unfolded the piece of paper that he’d folded back up when Luke offered him the drink. “Ugh, such drama. This asshole accused me of sleeping around while being positive, which I’m not. I have the proof right here.” He held up the piece of paper which showed that he’d recently been tested and found negative.
Luke understood that Jerry was clearly emotionally upset.
“It’s not my business but I think you should never be close to anyone who says such things if they are not true.” says Luke. “Walk away. He is not your friend.”
“I know” Jerry replied. “It’s just that I don’t have friends here.”
“What do you mean?” asked Luke. “Do you live here?”
“Well, not really,” sighed Jerry, taking a sip of his bourbon. He looked down.
“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want, okay?” said Luke, in the most comforting way he could.
Jerry took another sip of his bourbon. “No, I do. I like to be up front as we are talking anyway. I have no home. Well, I do, but not here. I am not from here. It’s a long story but to make it short, I got screwed by my ex boyfriend and now he’s in jail and I’m stuck in this fake gay Disneyland without anything. I just need to get my gay ass back home.”
“Got you,” said Luke. “I’m sorry about that and I can’t even imagine how you must feel. But if you don’t have a home here, where do you sleep?”
“I have my stuff at this ‘friend’s’ place, and I sleep in his guestroom,” said Jerry, holding up the piece of paper. “I’m trying to find a job so I can get myself a ticket home.”
Luke listened to Jerry but found himself observing his body language and his eyes more. He felt there was a lot more to this story but concluded very quickly that Jerry would be better off with some time off from this drama. His heart told him to reach out to Jerry, but his rational self said not to trust a stranger. But Luke got this voice in his head that said that he needed to help him, even though he didn’t know him and he might as well be a serial killer. This thought made Luke laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” asked Jerry, a bit surprised. “I didn’t know my shitty situation was that funny?”
“No, no, sorry,” Luke replied. “You just reminded me of myself, in a weird way.” At this Luke started laughing again. Pretty soon Jerry couldn’t hold his laughter either.
“You’re funny” said Jerry. “I like crazy and you seem to be good crazy. So, tell me, what’s your crazy story?”
Luke told him only the surface elements of his complex current situation. He couldn’t be bothered to talk about the thoughts and emotions that were raging through his system and, only hours ago, made him realise that not being alive anymore would be a way out of these frightening feelings. Right now he just wanted to chill and have a drink.
Luke and Jerry had quite a good laugh. Jerry happened to be quite a jolly joker and Luke was pleased to see him enjoying himself and that the stress in his face had disappeared. The bar was filling up and Ricky was right. The quality of clientele had improved. Luke was happy that he’d been able to let his depressing thoughts drift off a bit.
After chatting up a storm for about an hour Luke invited Jerry to have a burger. They left Score bar and walked east on Lincoln Road, heading for the beach where the partygoers were flocking in. Moments later Luke and Jerry were enjoying an old school cheeseburger meal with a creamy thick chocolate shake at Johnny Rocket south on Ocean Drive. Luke was amazed how much Jerry could eat, and how fast. It made him laugh. Luke realised that ever since he touched down in Miami he hadn’t laughed, but this night he laughed enough for the whole week.
Now the food had filled up his belly, Luke felt that it is time to call it a night. The few hours out and meeting Jerry had been a welcome distraction but he wanted to give his mind some rest.
Luke paid the bill and he and Jerry left the diner, heading north on Ocean Drive.
Passing Lincoln Road, Luke and Jerry stopped still to say goodbye. But Luke decided to offer Jerry a place to sleep. The offer to invite Jerry over had gone through Luke’s mind a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure if it would be a wise thing to do. But his heart said: “do it.“
“Are you sure?” Jerry asked, surprised.
“Yes” said Luke. “I can tell you are getting upset having to go back to that place. You need a good sleep without any drama.”
Jerry smiled. “You’re not some crazy serial killer, huh?”
“Can you assure me you’re not one?” asked Luke, laughing. “ Come on, you’re tired. You can take a hot shower and get yourself some well deserved rest. ”
At this Luke wrapped his arm around Jerry’s shoulder, giving him a comforting hug as they continued their walk towards the hotel.
In the hotel room Luke made sure that Jerry felt comfortable by giving him his own space to put away his bag and his clothes, handing him a clean towel. Luke put a chilled bottle of still water on the night stand at the other side of the bed.
After a long hot shower Jerry moved himself into the bed, butt naked. Luke noticed how well built Jerry was, athletic with two firm white buns and soft skin. Seeing him obviously feeling comfortable, Luke felt pleased and was happy that he’d been able to give the young man a safe place of comfort and peace. When Luke got into bed after taking a hot shower himself, he saw Jerry sleeping like a baby, all cuddled up under the duvet. Luke grabbed the notebook which he used as a diary, and a pen, and carefully slid into the bed, not wanting to wake Jerry.
For about half an hour Luke wrote down his thoughts of the day, his experiences and what emotions had popped up at what particular moments. Luke started to write his diary the day he arrived in Miami. No particular purpose, he just felt like he needed to write everything down. Just before he finished writing and getting ready to sleep himself, Jerry turned around, moving himself against Luke, his nose touching Luke’s right arm, still sound asleep. Luke put his notebook and pen on the nightstand, turned off the light and moved his right arm around Jerry. He gently pulled the sleeping handsome young man closer to him and closed his eyes.
At 7 am, Luke was wide awake and got out of bed. On the other side of the bed, Jerry was still sleeping. Luke decided it would be better not to wake him. As Luke was getting ready for his morning skate he wrote a note and put a mango, which he’d bought yesterday, next to the note.
The note said: “Good morning handsome, I thought I’d let you sleep and have breakfast by myself. Here is a mango, it’s all I have in the room. I’ll be back around lunchtime, then we can go have some food when you’re ready, if you like. Take your time and make sure you rest. Luke.”
GOD, YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL
At the front porch of the hotel, in the bright early sunshine, Luke put his rollerblades on his feet and protection gear around his knees, elbows and wrists, on his back a small Columbia rucksack. In it a Discman, his notebook, wallet, a bottle of water, a towel, a clean tank top and black Speedos. As much as Luke loved rollerblading, Collins Avenue was not the right place to make speed. The sides of the road were full of cracks. The sewage outlets just off the curb were dangerous too as the road at these outlets made sudden dips which could cause a nasty fall. The good thing was that people in South Beach were somewhat used to rollerbladers and almost automatically kept an eye out for fast passing boys and girls on wheels.
Luke’s white tank top was rapidly absorbing the sweat his body produced, caused by his activity on wheels in combination with the hot and humid air that he loved so much. People on the sidewalk watched him going by and some people give him a friendly smile. Luke happily returned the favour. Being on his wheels in the warm sunshine and feeling the breeze flowing around the curves of his body mades him feel alive. He noticed that he is starting to feel energised. It was a big difference from how he was feeling yesterday when he was driving on the fly-over, and later that day when the two happy couples from Tampa had insisted that he join them.
The Front Porch café served freshly squeezed orange juice and freshly baked croissants. To Luke it felt like a touch of France in the tropics. From where he was having his French breakfast he overlooked Ocean Drive, the park full of palm trees on the other side of the road and the blue ocean behind that. Luke had seen this part of Miami Beach change, from a desolated street with closed, sometimes even boarded up shops and restaurants to this vibrant place where more and more people were drawn to. Even the park with the hundreds of palm trees scattered around, wasn’t there when he first visited South Beach. Back then it was a place where you could find a lot of homeless people who used the public bathrooms on the south side as a communal shower and as a washing place. Nowadays it was also a popular cruising spot.
After breakfast Luke crossed the street and found himself a spot in the warm golden sand that would soon be too hot to walk on barefoot. The beach was relatively empty. It was only ten o’clock. This part of the beach usually filled up around noon and peaked around 2pm. Too busy for Luke: he wanted to sit in silence, listen to the soothing sounds of the incoming waves and watch birds feeding themselves on small crabs. This is what Luke liked the most about Miami Beach. To him it felt like an invisible flow of energy plugging into him and charged him with lifeforce. He could feel the energy flowing into his body and mind. On this beach he felt at home and safe.
The water was warm, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Luke spent much time on his towel and swam in the crystal clear ocean water, letting the current take him a few blocks up north. He paid close attention to how far the strong current was taking him by checking the lifeguard stand at 14th Street. Sometimes the current took him as far as 17th street, from where he would walk back along the shore saying good morning to people who were either floating in the water in colourful foam tubes or soaking up the sunshine on their towels. Around noon Lukes packed his bag and got ready to go back to the hotel. As he stood up he noticed that the beach was filling up quickly, predominantly with men, both young and older. At the beach-shower he washed his feet and put on his rollerblades. Luke noticed a man, one block down, building a high sand-sculpture.
“You’ve been rollerblading?” asked Jerry, sitting on a towel on the side of the bed, his hair wet.
“And you are up!” Luke replied, as he put his blades under the desk next to the door. “Are you ready for breakfast?”
“I most certainly am” Jerry answered. “Man, I must have slept around the clock. It feels so good.”
“Good, happy to hear that. Now let me take a shower and we’ll be on our way in a few.” said Luke.
After his shower, Luke came walking out of the bathroom and saw Jerry sitting at the end of the bed, ready to go, wearing the same clothes he was wearing last night.
“Thanks for the note and the mango,” said Jerry. “You know, I’ve never had a mango before, it’s delicious. Sweet.”
“You’re welcome” said Luke. “You gotta eat, sweetie. Oh, and it’s really hot outside, maybe you should put on of my tank tops, I have plenty in the drawers.” At this Luke pointed at the chest of drawers next to the bed. “And if you want, pick a pair of shorts as well, see if they fit.”
Jerry looked at the chest of drawers. “Really? Cool.” He got up and started browsing through the tank tops and pairs of shorts.
Luke put on a pair of camouflage cargo shorts with a grey tank top.
“What do you think?” asked Jerry, wearing a green pair of cargo shorts with a white tank top.
“I think it fits you perfectly and looks great on you,” answered Luke. “You’re all set. Now give me a minute to collect my stuff and put it in the rucksack so we can go.”
Jerry sat down on the bed, watching Luke as he cleaned out his rucksack, preparing it for the afternoon.
“God,….you are beautiful…” said Jerry out of the blue. “…and also on the outside.”
Luke, not expecting such a compliment, turned around, showing a big smile. “Wow, thank you. I don’t think I have ever received such a compliment.”
“You are,” replied Jerry, looking serious. “After what I’ve been through it seems a bit surreal to meet someone who doesn’t want something. And you’re nice. Really nice.”
Luke didn’t know what to say and shrugged, the big smile still on his face.
“Did you do anything to me last night while I was sleeping?” asked Jerry? “Not that I would have minded, but I’m just curious.”
Luke shook his head, the smile still present. “No sweetie. It would be the wrong thing to do. You were sleeping like a baby and I thought it was sweet how you cuddled up against me in your sleep.”
“Did I?” asked Jerry. Now a big smile appeared on his face too.
“Yup, you did. Now come, so we can get you some food before we both get too excited. We’ll have plenty of time for that later.”
Moments later Luke and Jerry were having pancakes, waffles and scrambled eggs at a diner on Washington Avenue. Like last night, Jerry had an enormous appetite and left nothing on his plate. He even chowed down Luke’s leftover pancake.
That day Luke took Jerry shopping at Aventura Mall. He got him a few tank tops, a pair of shorts and a set of rollerblades. Jerry told Luke that he had never been rollerblading but would like to give it a try, so Luke started to look for blades at Sears and found a set that wasn’t too expensive and probably good enough for one summer of rollerblading, or at least a few days in South Beach.
Luke was enjoying Jerry’s company. It made him feel good to see the young man happy. But off and on, feelings of guilt and anxiety filled up his mind and took over. Luke wasn’t sure if what he was doing now was right. Being out here in the sun, seemingly having a blast would not be approved of by society. Being home and taking responsibility was what society preached.
In the many moments when Luke’s mind drifted off to Tracey, dark clouds took over his mind and he had to fight hard to let the sunshine back in. It was like reality was playing ping-pong with his attempt to relax. His adopted nature told him that he needed to suffer and not be allowed to enjoy himself. But to Luke, that was the core of him not feeling well. His life had been one of pleasing others and fooling himself. As a teenager Luke slowly built a virtual closet and forced his true self to sit there in the dark and suffer, honestly hoping it would die. On the outside people saw an energetic person living it up with a beautiful wife. But no matter how much he tried, his true self did not die. In fact, it was determined to rise and fight its way out of that rotten closet. The older Luke got, the stronger his feelings for men became. To suppress those increasing feelings he became louder and more present in his daily routine. He raised the bars to succeed at work. Unrealistic bars. He became somewhat obnoxious and got easily agitated. Discussions turned into arguments. Arguments turned into fights. He hated himself for that.
By opening up to Tracy and himself that night at home, he realised that that very moment would be the start of a change he could not comprehend. His true self had broken free and there was no way it would go back. Luke believed that this was the source of the reason why he could no longer perform at work. All the energy that he had shifted to his adopted self over the years started to flow back to his authentic self. In his head it caused confusion and created an extreme form of anxiety. Because now he had to come clean to his family and friends, knowing it would destroy everything he and everyone he knew believed to be unbreakable.
Luke realised that when he got back home he might lose his family and friends. That they could possibly despise him, hate him and turn their backs on him. His life had been a lie. The thought of that was too much for Luke to bear for.
Now he was hanging out in his beloved city with a handsome young man, and enjoying it, he realised that, ‘after the storm’, regardless of the outcome, he could, at some point in the future, live a happy life. With a man, or single. The way mother nature designed him.
That night Jerry stayed with Luke in his hotel room. They both agreed on that without any discussion. This time Jerry did not fall asleep right away. He had other plans. Right after Luke got in bed, Jerry pulled Luke closer, kissed him and let Luke slide on top of him. Jerry knew what he wanted and let Luke take charge and make him feel wanted and special.
The next morning Luke got up again at seven. Jerry was awake as well. Instead of going for a skate Luke suggested they go for a ride. Jerry, coming from Dayton Ohio, has been in Miami for a few weeks now but had never been out of town.
They got into the car, heading for the Everglades. At a gas station they filled up the car and bought themselves coffees, fruit, sweets and water. Luke knew a hidden dirt road halfway to Naples and wanted to surprise Jerry, as he’d never seen an alligator in the wild.
“Oh my god!” Jerry screamed, spotting an alligator in the sawgrass only a few feet after they made the turn onto the dirt road.
Luke drove on and stopped the car a little further down the dirt road. He opened the door and instructed Jerry to be silent, to not scare the ‘gators. Jerry carefully opened his door as well, checking the ground for any animals before taking his feet out of the car. He stood up, his sharp eyes noticing a big alligator only 30 feet away, almost invisible, sunbathing in the high sawgrass with its tail touching the swamp waters.
“Look at that mother!” whispered Jerry, with excitement in his voice. “That thing is huge. I’m staying right here, no way I am leaving the car.”
Luke laughed. He had been to this secret spot many times. Dozens of small and big alligators were scattered around the canal enjoying their siësta. Jerry and Luke got back into the car and headed for Naples, one more hour driving to the west.
The humming sound of millions of mosquitos, a few crickets and the scorching humid air completed the short swamp experience for Jerry.
In Naples, Luke parked the car on Third Avenue, not far from the beach. They changed their clothes for Speedos and walked along the shoreline towards the pier. Jerry couldn’t help himself picking up shells from the beach and, like a little kid, showing the most colourful ones to Luke. It reminded Luke of Tracy, who loved collecting shells on this beach. She had a large collection of various types of shells at home.
Just before the pier Luke put his bag on the white sand and got into the water.
“Don’t just stand there! Luke yelled at Jerry. “The water is nice, come on in!”
“Uhm, I can’t swim” said Jerry.
Luke walked back out of the water, taking Jerry’s hand, promising to stay at his side and not to go in too deep. Slowly, step by step, Jerry walked into the water, squeezing Luke’s hand.
“No sharks, right?” asked Jerry.
People on the beach and in the water heard what Jerry said and smiled. Luke shook his head and slowly let go of Jerry’s hand.
“Dolphins, yes, but no sharks,” replied Luke, slowly walking backwards, a few feet away from Jerry.
A big grin appeared on Jerry’s face. “I love it here! Look at this. We don’t have an ocean in Ohio!”
Luke laughed. People in the water and on the beach were laughing too.
“We don’t!” Jerry yelled at the people on the beach. “Just cold and boring! This is amazing!”
Luke and Jerry spent the afternoon on the beach having fun. At the end of the day they showered at the beach-shower close to their car, then headed back to Miami.
“You know, Luke,” said Jerry, “I can feel my hair growing.”
Luke looked at Jerry, his brow furrowing questioningly.
“No, really.” Jerry says. “For weeks, all I ate were biscuits and cookies. I stole coffee creamer cups from gas stations, and teabags. Sometimes I grabbed a leftover sandwich from a plate on an empty table outside a restaurant. The waiters didn’t even consider me being homeless or hungry, because of the way I look, you know. Not like a bum, that is. Well, you know what I mean. I can easily prowl and attack when I see leftover food. Since yesterday I have been eating like a lion and now my system is responding to it, I think.”
Luke listened without interfering, being both surprised and shocked to hear what life looked like for Jerry until he reached out to him.
The next day Luke took Jerry rollerblading to the Front Porch Café. Jerry had no idea how to skate, so the ride took a lot longer this time. Luke taught him how to fall, where to place his feet and how to hold his body when moving forward.
After breakfast at The Front Porch Café, Luke told Jerry he need a few hours to himself. He gave Jerry enough money to buy himself lunch and they agreed to meet later that afternoon back at the hotel.
Luke spent the afternoon on the beach. Sitting on his beach towel, he stared out over the warm ocean thinking about how and when he would tell his parents that he was gay and that his relationship with Tracey, as it was, had to end. He thought about work and their house, realising it would have to be put on the market. He thought about all of the questions people were going to ask. The thought of all it made him feel powerless and confused. It was all too much for his head.
As Luke was skating up Collins Avenue he noticed Jerry sitting at the front porch of the hotel. It was a sight which made him smile.
Jerry told Luke that he went to his ‘friend’s place’. He thought it would be good to see his friend to test the waters and check if his belongings were still safe there. His friend said that he would keep Jerry’s belongings for one more week, but if Jerry hadn’t come back to pick them up by then he would put his stuff out on the kerb.
Luke nodded and said to Jerry that he’d made a smart move by checking on his belongings. It also triggered a thought, but he decided not to share this thought with Jerry until he was sure about it.
The next day Luke had another surprise for Jerry.
“Just get your cute butt into the car,” he said, after Jerry asked over and over again where they were going.
After about two hours of driving Luke spotted a huge advertisement coming up at the side of the Turnpike. He hoped that Jerry wouldn’t spot the ad. But he did.
“Disney World?” asked Jerry, trying to hide his excitement as he figured he might be wrong and didn’t want to be too disappointed.
“Have you ever been?” he asked.
“Hell no! But it’s always been my dream.”
“Great!” replied Luke. “You know that there are several parks, right? What would you like to do most?”
“Rides!” Jerry screamed. “Scary rides!”
“Then the studios it is” Luke concluded, grinning.
At the first shop they walked into after entering Disney Studios, Luke bought a disposable camera. They took pictures at almost every ride they went on. Jerry was clearly having the time of his life, and at The Tower of Terror Luke bought two white ‘Tower of Terror’ tank tops as they both agreed it was by far the best ride of all. The happiness beaming out from Jerry all day put an almost permanent smile on Luke’s face.
At the end of the day they had dinner at the bar of a packed Planet Hollywood restaurant, another new experience for Jerry.
The ride back to Miami was mostly in darkness as the Turnpike passed through remote areas where not many people lived. As they drove, they listened to Gloria Estefan; Luke had bought the CD ‘Mi Tierra” at Aventura Mall earlier that week. He and Tracey were lifetime fans of Gloria Estefan and had been to a few of her concerts, the last of which was in Miami on New Year’s Eve, the Millennium Concert which had been broadcast live all over the world.
They drove on, quietly humming along to the music, surrounded by the darkness. “I had a Spanish boyfriend once,” said Jerry, quite out of the blue. “He always said ‘te amo’ – that means I love you.”
Luke smiled. He knew what ‘te amo’ meant but thought it was so cute that Jerry had mentioned it.
Later, Jerry spoke again. “My mom and dad died on a road like this”.
Luke turned his head but it was so dark that he couldn’t see Jerry’s face.
“It was dark, like this,” Jerry continued. “I miss them. They were the only family I had. I’ve felt scared ever since… “They knew I was gay. They said they loved me.”
Luke stretched out his right arm and put his hand behind Jerry’s head, giving his neck a gentle squeeze. As he kept his eyes focussed on the headlights in front of the car, he felt Jerry’s hand clasp his own.
The next morning Luke was up at seven, as usual. He dressed and then slowly opened the door of his room, closing it just as slowly behind him so as not to wake Jerry. He walked outside to a payphone close to the hotel and called Tracey. She sounded perky. He asked her how she was doing and she said that she was hanging in there, but missed him. She also said she was glad that Luke had opened up to her. Yes, she would have preferred things to have turned out otherwise, but it was what it was. She understood. They actually had a few laughs and Tracey said that in time, they may even be the real life version of Will & Grace. Luke knew that she was just being brave but thanked her for being understanding.
“Hey,” Jerry said with a sleepy voice, waking up as Luke came back into the hotel room.
“Good morning,” whispered Luke. “I was up early and went to make a phone call.”
“Ok,” said Jerry. “Uhm…, listen, I think I need some more rest. Is it okay if I stay here? I mean, for the day. My head hurts and I feel exhausted.”
Luke nodded. “Sure. Take as much time as you need. I’ll get you some food so you don’t have to get up. Want anything in particular?”
Jerry shook his head on his pillow and turned around. “A sandwich will do. Oh, and a mango,” he mumbled.
Luke got Jerry’s food at the grocery store, dropped it off at the hotel room and then made for the Front Porch Café on his rollerblades. The rest of the day Luke took a few strolls along the shore and enjoyed the sunshine. Knowing that Tracey was bouncing back was a relief to him. He realised that the real struggle was still ahead of him. He also remembered that when he met Tracey, she was vulnerable and in need of warmth and security. He provided that. From there they developed a close and warm relationship. He saw similarities in how he and Jerry were spending their moments and that he needed to be careful that Jerry didn’t get too attached to him. He liked Jerry a lot but wasn’t ready to start something new. But he was aware that Jerry might be developing feelings for him and was aware he needed to be careful.
Luke stayed on the beach until he sun went down. It had been a long day of thinking and dreaming.
He washed the sand off his body at the beach shower and put on his clothes. He noticed that the man at the sand sculpture was placing candles in his creation. Walking up for a closer look, Luke noticed an open old suitcase on the ground in front of it, burning candles on each side. Inside the suitcase were some dollar bills and a few coins. Luke reached into his rucksack, found his wallet, fished out a few dollars and dropped them into the suitcase.
“God bless you,” said the sculptor.
Luke nodded. “It’s beautiful. Been working on this for a while, huh?”
“Three days,” replied the sculptor. “Now the candles are lit up it’ll attract people from the street, I hope.”
“I’m sure that will work,” said Luke. “It made me walk down here.”
“I’m Pablo,” said the sculptor, reaching out his hand.
Luke reached out his to shake hands. “I’m Luke. I noticed you the other day. You’re not here all the time, are you?”
“No,” said Pablo. “The city only gave me a permit for two weeks. Next week I’ll move further north and build a new castle.”
“So you’re travelling around?” asked Luke.
“Sort of. It’s how I live. My home is wherever I sculpt.”
“I see. Wow,” says Luke, a bit shocked. “It’s a bit of a contradiction. I mean, rich people flock here, spending a fortune, but there are people living here on the streets, trying to survive.”
“Welcome to the real world, buddy,” says Pablo.
Suddenly Luke noticed someone moving up from behind the low limestone wall just next to him. Luke moved a bit closer to the wall and saw a woman is getting up from a blanket. She glanced back at him but then quickly looked away and climbed over the low wall.
“Morning,” said Pablo to the woman.
“Yeah, morning,” she replied. “ I heard you talking.”
“I was talking to Luke here.” said Pablo, gesturing towards Luke. “Luke, meet Lavena.”
Luke and Lavena shook hands.
“Hi, Lavena. Sorry, I didn’t know you were sleeping there.”
“It’s alright. I’ve been sleeping for a few hours.”
“A few hours? In this heat?” asked Luke, surprised.
“I sleep short periods during the day and the night. That way we can stand guard off and on at night,” pointing her finger at Pablo, who was now chatting to some tourists who’d put money in his suitcase.
“Stand guard?” asked Luke. “You mean you sleep here at night as well?”
Lavena nodded. “Yup. After my shit got stolen Pablo offered to give me protection and I kinda help him by staying awake in turns so he can get some sleep. But he sleeps mostly during the day.”
Luke was shocked to hear that this lovely woman, whose eyes were reflecting the flame from one of the candles in the sand sculpture, giving them a look of shining stars, was living on the streets.
Luke and Lavena sat down on the low limestone wall and chatted for about an hour. She told him that she was 45 years old and had ended up in Miami after being evicted and losing custody of her kids to her ex-husband in Phoenix. She’d met another man, who promised her heaven and took her with him in his truck for work, but he’d dumped her here in Miami with only the clothes and bags she had. Instead of sleeping on the street in downtown Miami, she chose to sleep here on the beach. Luke also learned that it was common for some homeless people to steal from vulnerable people like herself while alone and sleeping.
“I do have to go now, my friend is waiting for me,” said Luke. “But you know what? Why don’t you come join us tomorrow for breakfast?”
“Wow,” Lavena replies “Yeah, I’d like that.”
“I’ll be here at 8.30 tomorrow morning, with my friend Jerry.” said Luke, sliding off the the limestone wall.
Luke reached into his his rucksack and found a few more dollars, placing them in Leaven’s hand. “Go get you and Pablo some warm food. I’ll see you tomorrow morning then.”
“Thank you so much, Luke,” said Lavena, her face breaking into a huge smile, revealing beautiful teeth.
Luke bid farewell to Pablo, who was chatting to a couple of tourists. “See ya, buddy”, replied Pablo.
Luke and Jerry had diner at Yucca, a Cuban restaurant on Lincoln Road. Luke told Jerry about his day and about Lavena and his plan to take them both for breakfast. After dinner they strolled down the shops and galleries on the busy road, concluding the tropical night out with a drink at Score bar, where they had met only a few days earlier.
“I’ll be going home soon,” said Luke.
Jerry nodded. Luke could see that he was getting upset.
“I really like you, Luke. I know it’s stupid but I can feel myself getting attached to you. That’s why I stayed in the room today. I thought about home a lot, and about my parents.”
“I know” Luke replied, putting his arm out Jerry. “I like you too but we both have to close doors and then open new ones. I’m happy that I was able to put some smiles on your face and show you the beauty of life again. We had good fun. You’ll be alright, Jerry. You’re a smart man.”
Luke and Jerry awoke at seven and got ready to pick up Lavena on Ocean Drive. The air felt crisp. Luke loved those mornings when the sun rapidly heated up the humid air. They passed The Front Porch Café and found an empty parking space in front of the sand sculpture.
“Wait here,” said Luke. “I’ll be right back.”
Luke saw Pablo working on his sand sculpture.
“Good morning, Pablo,” said Luke. “How’ve you been? Did you do good business last night?”
Pablo turns around and smiles at Luke, showing perfect snow white teeth. “Good morning buddy. You’re here! And on time! Last night wasn’t bad at all. I survived!”
“Where’s Lavena?” asked Luke, looking around for her.
“She’s getting us coffees at Starbucks,” Pablo said “She’ll be back any minute.”
“You know,” he continued. “She wasn’t sure if she should come with you. I told her that she should and that you are good people. That she should accept the kind gesture and enjoy it.”
“Aaaw, thanks man,” said Luke.“ I can’t blame her to be honest, after all she has been through and who knows what else more!”
“Okáy!” said Pablo, in that certain way only some people do, putting the emphasis on the ‘ay’.
As it was early in the morning for South Beach with not many tourists around yet, Luke could see Lavena, walking with two Starbuck cups in her hand two blocks away from him. Lavena was a small woman. Her face was golden brown, almost leather-like. It made Luke think of ‘rednecks’ or ‘crackers’ in the south who spent way too much time in the sun. But on her it looked good. The deep tan lightened up her blue eyes and golden hair.
“Good morning, girl!” Luke said enthusiastically.
“Morning stranger,” said Lavena, smiling, handing Pablo his coffee.
“You’re ready for food?” asked Luke.
“You betcha. I was thinking about it all night, I didn’t sleep much during my sleep-turns.”
Luke shook Pablo’s hand, wished him all the best and promised to be back later that morning to drop off Lavena. He and Lavena got into the car and he introduced Jerry and Lavena to each other.
Luke drove the car over the scenic Macarthur Causeway to park the car at Denny’s in Downtown Miami. It was busy at Denny’s but the kind waiter was able to place them in a booth near a window where Luke could keep an eye on his car.
“Order whatever you want,” Luke said to both Jerry and Lavena.
Lavena ordered shrimp, pancakes, salad and scrambled eggs, Jerry felt like a skittle with beans, eggs, bacon, cheese and vegetables. Luke himself ordered scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon. All three of them had orange juice and coffee. In only a few minutes the table was full of food.
Lavena ate just like Jerry had the first time they had dinner and breakfast. The poor thing was starving. She and Jerry got along well and shared parts of their life-stories while eating, as they both seemed to feel safe and comfortable in Luke’s company. Luke took the opportunity to open up his notebook, which he carried with him in his rucksack, and started writing.
“What are you writing?” asked Lavena, her mouth full.
Luke looked up, smiling, as he noticed a drop of sauce in the corner of her mouth. He gently wiped it from her face with his thumb. “I keep a diary, I’m a bit behind.”
“You have very pretty handwriting,” said Lavena.
“Thanks,” replied Luke, setting his pen down. He looked at Jerry, still eating like a lion. Luke was amazed by the amount of food this young man could chow down. Then he looked at Lavena. Her hands were moving over the many dishes on the table, collecting the last of the shrimps and salad.
“I didn’t bring you all the way here to Miami just to have breakfast,” said Luke.
Both Jerry and Lavena’s mouths stop chewing immediately. They looked up, surprised.
Luke continued: “I know that the both of you are going through times most people could never comprehend, let alone withstand. It doesn’t matter to me whether the situations you are in are your own faults or not. We all make decisions in life not knowing the outcome. It’s a tough and unfair world, and I’ve just begun to realise that myself. You guys are walking on quicksand every day, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Not even knowing if there will be food to fill your stomachs.”
Lavena and Jerry were listening closely, both wondering where Luke was going with all of this. But they’d both resumed chewing.
Luke continued, looking at Jerry. “The day I met you, Jerry, I knew that you wanted to go back home to Dayton and pick up your life. And I think that would be the wisest thing for you to do. I know I said it last night but I really like you and you are a smart guy.”
“And you, Lavena. When I met you last night, your story broke my heart. Miami is not the place for you to be. This place is a hellhole for a woman on her own. Not a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of, sleeping on the beach. Your life is in danger, girl.”
“So”, he continued, addressing them both this time. “After this breakfast we’ll get into the car and drive to the Greyhound station. There we’ll get each of you a ticket home.”
“You’re kidding me!” screamed Jerry.
Luke shook his head. ”Nope. You’ll be home soon.”
Lavena was quiet, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks. Through her tears Luke could see joy in her beautiful eyes.
Then Lavena cleared her throat. “Luke, tell me, are you sure you don’t have wings on your back?”
Luke looked surprised. “Uh, I don’t know. There was nothing this morning, was there, Jerry?”
Jerry laughed and shook his head.
“Because you must be an angel,” Lavena continued. “You know, last night, after you left, I prayed to God, asking him if he could help me to get home, for my birthday. Tomorrow is my birthday.”
More tears were rolling down Lavena’s cheeks.
“And now you’re getting me a ticket home.”
By now she was bawling her eyes out. Both Luke and Jerry couldn’t hold it in anymore and the whole table was sobbing.
After all three of them were full, Luke drove them to the Greyhound station, not far from Denny’s. The first available bus left in three days and Luke got them both their ticket for that bus so they could go home. They would travel on the bus to Atlanta, where Jerry would have to get his bus to Dayton, Ohio. Lavena would get hers to Phoenix, Arizona.
Driving back to Miami Beach Luke made Jerry promise to look after Lavena until they arrived in Atlanta. Jerry said that he would guard her with his life.
On Ocean Drive Lavena got out of the car to fetch what was left of her belongings. Luke saw her talking to Pablo, who looked up and noticed Luke and Jerry in the car. Luke opened his door, got out and leaned over the roof of the car.
“Good luck, buddy and be safe,” Luke yells at Pablo.
Pablo nodded and blew him a kiss, completing this with a big smile, showing his white perfect teeth again. Lavena got back into the car and drove with Luke and Jerry to the hotel.
“Use the shower and make yourself at home,” Luke said to her. “This room is yours for the rest of the day. I know you’re exhausted.”
“Oh my god, I will sleep till midnight,” Lavena says. “Yaay.”
He and Jerry spent the day, their last one together, shopping at Sawgrass Mills Mall, where Luke got himself and Jerry CK underwear and t-shirts. Jerry picked some clothes for Lavena at the Gap, as he had a good eye for fashion. For lunch they had orange chicken and beef & broccoli at Panda in the food court, and after lunch they resumed shopping.
By the time they left the mall it was dark. Not far from the mall was a huge drive-in cinema where they watched The Lord Of The Rings. On their way back to the hotel Luke and Jerry stopped at Publix to get groceries for Jerry and Lavena for the next three days. Real food like bananas, apples, bread, cereals and much more.
It was almost midnight when they arrived back at the hotel. Lavena was sitting in the bed, watching tv. Instead of sending her back to Pablo, Luke arranged a bed in the same hotel so that she didn’t have to spend another night on the beach.
The next morning Luke woke up at seven with Jerry’s face resting against on his chest, his right arm over his stomach. Luke pulled Jerry closer to him, as close as he could, planting a kiss on his forehead.
“Hey,” said Jerry, with a cracking morning-voice and moved up Jerry’s chest to give him a gentle kiss.
Jerry mumbled, as his lips were pressed against Luke’s chest. “I’m going home.”
“You are,” Luke replied. “Me too. But not until we’ve had breakfast at the beach.
“Uh-huh,” whispered Jerry. “But first I want to lay like this for a while. Breakfast can wait.”
Luke smiled and gave Jerry another kiss on his forehead.
The last surprise that Luke had for Jerry and Lavena was that they could stay in the hotel until their bus left for Atlanta. After breakfast Luke packed his bags and got ready to drive to the airport. He gave Jerry and Lavena money for transport to Miami and for food while traveling. Jerry and Lavena walked Luke to his car in front of the hotel.
“Thank you angel”, Lavena said, giving Luke a big hug and a kiss. “I’ll pray to God to bless you.”
“You are so welcome, sweetie and thank you. Make sure you are safe, okay!”
Then Luke turned to Jerry, whose eyes were watering. Luke wrapped his arms around him and Jerry wrapped his around Luke. They hugged in silence, completing it with a long kiss.
“I promise to call you once I’m safely home,” Jerry said, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Thanks for everything.”
Luke, feeling emotional himself, got into the car, pulled back, shifted gear and drove off, waving to Jerry and Lavena.
On the plane going back home, Luke thought a lot about his experience in Miami, and the future. He realised that his headaches had gone. The anxiety was still there but he felt like he was stronger and able to think more clearly. He smiled and mumbled to himself that he’d finally ‘got that much needed grip.’
Luke had many thoughts during his flight. At first he was afraid that his time in Miami was just running away from his problems, but then he realised that something beautiful had happened. Luke had followed his guts and listened to his heart. Something he had stopped doing somewhere back in his teens. By listening to his heart and opening up, he met two souls he otherwise never would have met. He helped them because they needed a helping hand and he was in the position to do so.
Staring outside the window up high in the sky, Luke’s thoughts make him smile.
“Call it karma…” he thought…”or anything you want. Jerry and Lavena helped me without them even knowing it. Their situations made me see that one’s life can take a much worse turn. Yes, I still have to a lot to deal with and it’s going to be a struggle, but I’m healthy. I don’t have to sleep on the streets and I don’t have to go to sleep hungry.”
“Anything to drink sir?” asked the flight attendant, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“Can I have a bourbon, please? With ice.” replied Luke.
The flight attendant prepared the drink and handed it over to Luke.
Luke moved his head back to the small airplane window, stared at the clouds below him and raised his glass, drifting back to his thoughts.
“Yes, I do have to tell my parents that I’m gay and that Tracey and I will have to divorce but you know what? I still have my parents. I have no excuse. I can do this! Cheers!”
Author: Arjan Eikelenboom
Editor: Niall McMurray
Copyright: Arjan Eikelenboom
December 24 – 2015