Together in Secrecy
One mistake can change a life forever. Effren Gorgens committed the worst sin of all. Caught up in the influence of another man’s impulse, he engages in erotic acts on a Navy ship. His travels back to America turn dark when he’s dishonorably discharged, and stranded alone in San Francisco. He struggles to make peace with an unforgivable vice while building a new life in a strange world. Yet a man’s true identity can never be fought off. Living with homosexual desires is hard. A homosexual falling in love can be deadly.
The Pacific Ocean, 1953
It takes a village to raise a child, Effren thought, as he watched the gently rippling waters pass by. He didn’t know why he was thinking of the adage. It didn’t carry much significance, other than being one of the many fallback phrases his father used to come off as a good parent. Of all the musings to pop into his head—useless—the words of wisdom were pretty random. Then again, when meditating on the Pacific Ocean, anything could be conjured. For many on the ship, the horizons made life appear like it was already in a full circle, even though most of them were barely men. Odd memories and reflections could have as much a presence on deck as white uniforms. At twenty-two, taking refuge from a tragic existence was a common reason to join the Navy. But the isolation and the controlled environment was sometimes another form of tragically existing.
Effren didn’t let the uninvited recollection ruin his moment alone. He wouldn’t get another miniature break from his duties until the ship docked. He wasn’t supposed to be taking time off his chores, but no one was around to reprimand him. His exhaustion was especially burdensome that day, having had to stay up later to clean the lower deck, while the rest of the crew slept soundly. Officer Shorbin had become extra critical of him lately, for reasons unknown. He had taken a very passive aggressive attitude to Effren, ever since they had left the Orient. Shorbin spoke to him louder than the others, asked more bitter, rhetorical questions, and assigned extra chores usually reserved for misbehavior. Effren didn’t care. He wouldn’t have belonged in the Navy if a little extra abuse got to him more than nearly being sunk into the ocean. All he needed was some time by himself with the ocean, and he would be fine.
The only sound dancing in his ears were the little waves being pushed out by the front of the ship. It takes a village to raise a child. Effren was now bothered. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about those eight pesky words? Why did he have to do it in his father’s lecturing voice? What relevance did the meaning have to where he was now? Perhaps it was the fact he would be arriving in his home country again. It had been years, but time didn’t matter. When most days were the same, the years went by like petals on a river.
It only seemed like yesterday that Effren stormed out of his parents’ house, his dad yelling, “Don’t come back,” behind him. He wasn’t even returning to his home state. The Capella would be floating into San Francisco, three thousand miles from the small Massachusetts town he’d grown up in. Effren concluded coming back to America was illuminating faint traces of his upbringing, regardless of how far he would still be from it.
What would the city be like? Effren had never been there before. Travel was not a top priority in his family. He’d heard about San Francisco. East coasters talked about it like it was an exotic place. A few people he’d met traveled there before for business. They’d described it as a typical stuffy old city, like Boston or Philadelphia. But some had also mentioned an underlying wild streak. His sister’s art teacher had studied out there for a year and spoke lavishly about the European artists that came for inspiration, the parties, and the culture. She’d probably restrained herself from going into too much detail. The conservative was probably one parents of her students wouldn’t have liked their children to hear about—radical activities in their own country. Effren would soon find out for himself. He would get a week off to have fun, then he and his crew would get new assignments at different bases. Some might stay in San Francisco, most would be scattered across the country.
A familiar voice caught his attention from behind. “Working hard, I see.”
Effren turned around. Declan was approaching him, sporting a goofy smile. “I give my best to everything, including eyeing Mother nature.”
Declan joined Effren at the edge. They both leaned back against the guard wall, looking at each other from the side. “How is Mother nature doing?”
“She’s working harder at keeping earth beautiful. Harder than most of the other guys here.”
Declan laughed. “I know. It’s sad. Most of the other guys act as if they’ve already been discharged. I don’t blame you for stealing some time for yourself. You’ve earned it. Did you get any sleep?”
“I was supposed to be given six hours, but I really got around three or four. I couldn’t get the feeling of the mop and sponge out of my hand muscles. I wanted to move my arms to distract myself from the ache.”
Declan looked up at the pilothouse. “I wonder if that’s what I’m going to miss about being in the Navy. How working yourself to the bone makes you want to work harder. I don’t know if that will come with me when I settle back into civilian life.”
Effren’s eyes flung wide open. “I forgot! This is your last voyage. How does it feel?”
His pal continued to look up at the windows into the control room and sky behind it. “Like Lady Liberty is holding her arms open for me. It’s a damn good thing we’re not pulling into New York. If I were to see the Statue of Liberty now, I might cry. What about you? Can you stick it out on the move for a few more years? Or do you want to run back home to have a plate of mama’s cooking?”