Under the Pink Sky
“There is a huge pressure in life, and especially in youth, to belong. The worst place to be is no place, and to be someplace you have to be with someone. It is biological— an evolutionary adaptation that makes us want to work in groups. We strive, instinctually, to be in the best of them.
Cavemen worked in tribes and survived the harshness of the natural world. Teenagers do it and survive the isolation of the modern wild. It becomes the question then; what group do I belong to, what group is best for me? Most kids strive for the cool clique, but I didn’t have that option. I had to find the group that could protect me and feed me, the one that had shelter and money. This is where I think that homosexuals have an edge as a modern adapted sub-culture. They are community-oriented, made so by the constant oppression and harassment in their individual lives.”
03:54:45 January 2002
Part One “The Child of Woe”
(Early October 1986)
The hum of the bus’s engine lulled him to a place just before sleep. The two-hour ride had sedated his anguished heart allowing him to forget the last few days. Joey, at 15, had seen enough of the world and was ready to end it, but not in the small town of Northbay. He never belonged there; he was heading to the big city. He wanted the perfect, amicable, suicide.
He looked out the window of the Greyhound bus trying to catch a glimpse of the Bay Bridge. He knew as the green and yellow hills of his hometown blurred into man-made colors that he was getting closer to the city. He had come to San Francisco to visit the wharf when he was 10-years-old. The image of the distant Golden Gate had stayed with him. It had looked so peaceful from the pier. He wanted to die there in that place, in that peaceful bliss. It would be a wonderful last thing to see before hell.
There would be no heaven for him, his sins were unforgivable. God, if he were real, would never have him.
Sleep took him for a moment.
He woke as he was crossing the bridge into the city. He looked out the window only to see his face reflected. His light Latino skin was whitewashed by the glass. He shuddered and turned away from his own ugliness. He felt gross, contaminated, and broken. Small, weak, and stupid. He shouldn’t have drank at all last night. There was no one to blame now, but himself.
He swallowed deeply— no tears. It would only bring the pity of strangers. He wanted to fade back into the place just before sleep, but his mind was now racing with harsh red memories and regrets. He replayed the events, or what he could remember, over and over, and always came to the same conclusion. This was the only way to make everyone happy.
The steel of the Bay Bridge stretched across the water like the skeletal remains of some time-forgotten beast. The iron ribs shot up beyond his sight and zoomed past as the skyline of the city grew closer. The bus then drove into the city itself and as it came to a stop Joey felt as if he had crossed a threshold. Everything from this point forward had an expiration date.
As he stepped off the bus Joey was greeted by the cold damp embrace of San Francisco. He put his hands through his gloss black locks, long and draping past his shoulders, and wished that he had showered before he left. His army surplus coat seemed thin against the cold October afternoon. He had left in a hurry and hadn’t brought any food or extra clothes.
He looked around for something familiar to navigate with, but it all looked different from his childhood visit. The streets were dirty, the fantastic skyline miles away, and the ramshackle buildings around the bus station were less majestic than those of his memory. Hunger drew him back.
He grabbed lunch from a vending machine and reviewed a rudimentary map that was on one of the walls of the terminal. People walked past, and no one noticed him. In his town, everyone knew his family so everyone knew him, which meant everyone soon would know what he did. The anonymity was a respite.
With a general understanding that the wharf was at the north end of the city, he began his dead man’s walk from the bus terminal to the shore. There was some strange attraction to the cold grey bay, something calming and distant. There were now fewer steps ahead than behind.
Signs throughout the area pointed him to the wharf but the journey was slow. The steel and glass canyons begged for his attention and he found himself at times just staring. The endless flow of people rushing and moving around was alien to his small-town lifestyle, but he liked that nobody cared about him. No judgments just everyone doing their own thing.
The concrete and glass towers eventually gave way to the blue-grey shore of the Fisherman’s Wharf. The sun was low in the sky, but the streets were lit with bright Halloween decorations. Every store had pumpkins and kid-friendly spooks painted on the windows. Cartoon witches, ghosts, and vampires were everywhere. The shops were exactly the same as they were when he last visited. They were filled with SF’ themed knick-knacks, t-shirts, and snow globes. He wondered if it ever snowed here.
The main concourse was pier 39, an extended row of novelty stores and restaurants sitting on a huge wooden pier. It was a world-famous, open-air mall, with multiple levels, and a huge crowd. The end of the pier was close now. He could jump and die quickly.
A giant video game arcade caught his eye. He remembered this place but hadn’t had the chance to go in before. Death, he thought, could wait for a few last video games.
A blast of electronic sound washed over him clearing away some of his angst. Comic books and video games were his first loves. Hundreds of brightly decorated cabinets stood in rows and along the walls. Most were made to stand at and use and some were sit-down. Ms. Pac Man, Tempest, Dig Dug, Burger Time, all the standard fare was here. They also had some of the newer games like Commando, and Bubble Bobble. The game with the biggest line was OutRun from Sega. It was a sit-down with a steering wheel, shifter, and pedals. The line was seven deep and it cost four quarters to play.
He drifted from game to game, playing a few old favorites simply for the memories. No one liked ‘Space Invaders’ but it had its place in his heart. He spent most of his money at a sit-down game about Star Trek.
Ten dollars and two hours passed, and he looked back out at the pier. The chorus of game sounds locked him in place, and he struggled to move. He was done with the games, but he didn’t want to go. It took a moment, but he remembered why he was here and walked out quickly. He wasn’t going to fail. He couldn’t live with what he had done.
Joey forced himself to walk to the end of the pier. He sat on a bench that overlooked the bay, with the Golden Gate barely visible through an incoming fog bank. He didn’t move or give much thought to anything. His shameful memories, his ruined life, were all lost in the watercolor blur before him. And when the dimming sky turned to night, the blackness driven back by pink artificial light, his feet and hands cold, he knew his time had come.
The seagulls culled and Joey drew his eyes back to the chilling concrete skyline. A million people walked and moved before him, but all he could see was the unfolding of his life in the struggling darkness. The people were incidental to the world and no longer part of his perception. It was only him and the city now.
The waves lapped against the pier and he walked forward. The sea below was dirty, black-brown, with chunks of garbage rolling in it. It didn’t look as far away as he remembered. His imagination had him dying on impact with the water, maybe breaking his neck, and dying numb and happy.
If he jumped from here, he realized he’d just get wet.
Joey looked to the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. There was a place to truly end it all. If he jumped from there…
That was where he would end it.
Next Episode: Forsaken Boy
Joey, still not ready to end it, takes a wild ride through the world-famous Castro District. What he finds there will change who he is forever…
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