One morning in March 2003, just after I got back from visiting West Hollywood and San Francisco for spring break, my mother called -- at 6:00 am! "Your nephew is in jail!" she exclaimed.
"Wait -- ?" I asked, confused -- that's not the sort of thing you expect to hear first thing in the morning. "What did he do?"
"He's accused of breaking and entering and sexual assault."
Sexual assault? That's a very serious charge, the Illinois equivalent of rape. "Who did he...assault?"
"It was a boy -- a college boy, one of his classmates," Mom said, the accusation barely hidden in her voice. She thought it was my influence, that I somehow encouraged my nephew to 'turn' gay and commit....
"Hey, in no way do I condone assault! No means no! Besides, how much influence could I have on him? I barely see any of Kenny's kids, and I haven't told them that I'm....you know."
I wasn't out to Kenny's kids, although Joel, the youngest, had figured it out. I lived on the other side of the country, and saw them only briefly, with their parents. We never hung out or went places alone. I gave them Christmas but not birthday presents. We weren't at all close.
"Well -- that's what happened. That's what the other boy is saying, anyway."
Maybe it was a misunderstanding, a hookup that went wrong, a college boy experimenting who got cold feet. "What does Joel say happened?"
Kenny had three sons and a stepson, but the only one who gave me a gay vibe was Joel, age 17, a punk rock singer with green hair and a nose ring. He was kind of androgynous, and he asked me to "teach him about gay sex" three years ago. But Mom said, "It wasn't Joel, it was Ethan."
"Ethan! But he's...a..." I stopped myself from saying "a good kid," but Ethan, Kenny's oldest, was, in fact, "good": quiet, gentle, polite. No one you would ever think of as capable of a violent crime.
He was 21 years old, in his junior year at Olivet, the Nazarene college, majoring in either nursing or computer science -- I didn't remember which. Tall, big-boned, with a barrel chest, thick arms, and big hands. Scruffy dirty-blond hair, a little fuzz on his chin, blue eyes.
He was a troubled kid.
He suffered from panic attacks, paranoia, and depression. He was seeing a counselor, and taking some kind of medication.
Once he ran away from home and was gone for five days.
Once he ran out of church screaming that he had committed the Unpardonable Sin, and couldn't ever be saved.
Maybe it was caused by the trauma of his mother dying when he was six years old, or bullying from his brothers and stepbrothers, or the overcrowding in that rambling house downtown. or overzealous Nazarene discipline.
Or internalized homophobia. Was Ethan gay?
The full story, with nude photos and explicit sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.