And perhaps no other culture has valued the contrived happy ending as much as ours. For all its abuse and kinky sex, the JT story is really just another heartwarming rags-to-riches tale for the punk generation. But what if America isn’t really the sort of place where a street urchin can charm his way to the top, through diligence and talent; what if instead it’s the sort of place where heartwarming stories of abused children who triumph through adversity are made up and marketed?
And what happens next? In The Night Listener, when Armistead Maupin showed up at the door of the boy he’d befriended on the phone, the boy’s mother told him he’d just died. But let’s hope there’s nothing so drastic in store for JT. During the past few months, as I interviewed people and tracked down clues, I sometimes began to believe there really was a lost child at the center of the maze, and I didn’t want to hurt that child either. At the center of this story is either a dramatic absence or, at least, the image of a boy. Or maybe not even a boy—an androgynous trickster figure like one of those obscure alchemical emblems Carl Jung was so fond of. “Maybe I’m Astor and Speedie, or maybe I’m an amalgam of the universal unconscious,” JT had told me. Or maybe JT’s human after all. In the most touching scene from Sarah, the narrator wonders why his mother always comes back for him. “She slowly rolled her head to me, flopped an arm over the back of my neck, and pulled me closer as if she were pulling in won poker chips. ‘Everybody needs someone to know who they really are,’ she laughed and guided my head down to lie next to hers.”