Who Are They? And How Do I Deal With Them?—Clark Humphrey
The alley behind the closed bus station is about the only even vaguely “city” looking thing in this little town. There’s a dozen or more teenagers and young adults standing around in it. They’re drinking beer and Southern Comfort. They’re smoking both kinds of cigarettes.
It’s not so much that I joined up with them but more that they surrounded and engulfed me. I heard them. Then they saw me. Then they decided to bring me into their little scene.
Even though I’m pretty clearly not one of them. One drunk guy’s been calling me “Mr. Peter Perfect Boy Scout.” A girl who’s high on something (I don’t know what) keeps calling me “White-Ass,” even though they’re all white themselves. A guy with a circle-A on his leather jacket called me “Mr. Conformity,” even though they’re all like one another and I’m the only “different” one here.
But I’ve learned a lot of people don’t understand what my lifestyle and my religion mean to me. I’m not trying to “fit in” with the other kids in my school. I stand out from them, in fact. Not just because I don’t (or didn’t until just recently) drink, smoke, swear, or sleep around; but because I try to be a good student and a good person, not just to have “fun” and get by.
Our former pastor used to say “true” Christians weren’t really the “mainstream” of American society. The real American mass population, he said, consisted of secular, materialistic people who feigned an informal loyalty to some watered-down idea of Christianity. He said that we “true Christians” were the only wide-awake people in a world full of sleepwalkers. Which is more or less what these kids are saying about themselves, as opposed to me.
One reason I liked our former pastor is he wasn’t afraid to use “big words.” I try not to use long words in public. I don’t want people to think I’m too “weird.” Of course, that’s just what these people here think of me.
My youth-group leader wouldn’t pass judgement on these kids; she’s just not like that. But my old pastor would have. He’d have said they were unknowing slaves to drink, drugs, bad music, bad attitudes, and (worst of all) to the adolescent curse of sex madness.
It was my own sex drive that first got me into this mess. And now I’m even deeper into the mess. Whatever it is.
My youth-group leader, who’s the wife of our current pastor, always says we’ve always got choices to make. We can choose to let emotions and obsessions control us, or we can choose to control them. We can choose the way of selfishness and greed, or we can choose the way of compassion and love.
My youth-group leader doesn’t say much about sex, except that it’s a healthy and God-given gift that we shouldn’t spend “wastefully.” She’s talked about getting and staying out of abusive relationships; about not getting emotionally caught up too far with another kid who was just as immature as you were; and about not getting, or getting anyone, pregnant. But she’s never told us to never do it.
Which, according to these “street kids” (do any of them live “on the streets” or are they just having a night out?) is what I’ll soon have to do. They’ve collectively decided I need to be converted from what one guy’s calling “Mr. Goody Two Shoes” into someone more like them. The girls are playing an old playground game to decide which of them will be the first to corrupt me. I don’t tell them I’ve already been corrupted, by someone I’d trusted. I don’t tell them much of anything.
The guy with the circle-A jacket tells me if I let them do this “to” me, they’ll then do something “for” me. “What did you want for Christmas that you didn’t get?” I presume that means they’ll shove a bottle or a joint into my hand. I mumble that I just want to get home. “Done!,” he proclaims. I haven’t told him how far away home is for me. Right now it seems like a million years away.
The girl who won the playground game walks toward me in a pseudo-stripper strut, in a jacket and dirty jeans. She alternately looks either no older than 15 or prematurely aged. She lifts her T-shirt (just a T-shirt and a jacket, in January?). She grabs my right hand and pulls it toward her. She tells me it’s time to be a man. It turns out it was she who, from outside the closed bus station, I thought sounded like someone who used to be in my youth group. I don’t recognize her face, not in this dark place.
Now she’s reaching to my pants zipper. I didn’t think she’d really do this. I really didn’t think the rest of the kids would gather in to watch.
Even though I (really) don’t want to respond, my body does anyway. It’s over mercifully soon. She wipes herself off with my shirt tail.
How I feel right now: just weird. In my body, I’ve never felt so masculine before. In my mind and emotions, I’m confused. I’m embarrassed. I’m disgusted, mostly at myself, mostly because I didn’t hate it as much as I’m supposed to. There’s even a part of me that likes having been the center of attention.
I realize I still haven’t eaten since a sack lunch in the car this afternoon. If they make me drink with them, I’ll really be in trouble.
They make me drink with them. Southern Comfort, straight from the bottle. A lot of it. I try not to throw up. I fail.
My ordeal is cut short by the headlights of a car driving into the alley. It’s the same car I came here in. But somebody else is driving.