competing belief systems, competing churchesChapter 14
Monday’s PDA session was positive, and we were starting to get into more candid discussions about problems students were facing and how to address them. We spent some time discussing the range of human sexuality, how homosexuality had been a part of ancient civilizations. It actually turned out to be new information for most of the group, just as it had been for me less than two years ago. Ron was the most surprised, but then his religious background painted a picture of exclusive heterosexuality. Jackson asked a question that ended up with us talking about Mary Renault’s Last of the Wine, that he recommended to the guys in the group as a good historical novel that made it all understandable.
Carter brought the class to order on Tuesday, and began by pointing out that this week’s two lectures would be on Christian Gnosticism, and making the case that this was an example of a form of early Christianity for whom context was everything. His point was that until recently it has consistently been portrayed negatively, for reasons he would explain shortly, and that a number of historical components were very important to fully understand it.
His starting point was that Mediterranean society in the first century was ruled by the Roman Empire, but still substantially influenced by Classical Greek thought. That included Platonic dualism which distinguished between body and soul, as well as between the world of visible matter and the invisible world of spirit. Parts of Judaism subscribed to dualism, as did parts of early Christianity. For first century Christians this was compounded by the fact that apocalyptic expectations about the end of the world and the return of Christ were not coming to pass and they now had to adjust to that new reality. And, all of this was in the larger context of what humanity knew about the world and the universe at the time. He went on to show how until the last thirty years almost all we knew about Christian Gnosticism was the information provided by the heresy hunters, the church authorities who sought to define and wipe out what they called heresy. And, he pointed out, the old adage that the winners write the history was true here and that recent discoveries show this happened with Christian Gnosticism. In other words, you can’t depend on rabid opponents to fully understand, let alone explain the subject. What had changed, he said, in the last thirty years was the discovery of The Dead Sea Scrolls, that confirmed the intact survival of very early Scriptural documents into the present. That event was followed by the discovery of the Nag Hamadi Scrolls in Egypt, a collection of mainly Christian Gnostic writings.
By this time, as he described the archaeological finds in old jars secreted away in hidden caves, it was like he was describing an adventure movie and had the student’s rapt attention. He went on to explain Gnosticism, from the Greek work gnosis (to know) in broad terms, using Campbell’s description of the ultimate mystery. That mystery is deeper than any individual’s thinking can go and describes the intuitive realization of the mystery that transcends speech. Which made Campbell’s point about why we should properly use metaphor to speak of religious mystery. The Gnostics were religious mystics who proclaimed knowledge as the way of salvation. That meant knowledge of the mystery of life and of self, and they believed that knowing oneself truly allowed direct access to God. Direct access meaning without the need for mediation by clergy within an institution. He reminded the class that this was long before the doctrines of the Christian church such as The Incarnation, the dual nature of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity had been worked out and formalized.
Then he looked at the class and asked, “How many different forms of Christianity do you think existed in the late 1st or 2nd Centuries?” A few students hazarded a guess, and all were wrong.
“There were hundreds, because they originally came into being locally, were organized under a local bishop and that meant the inclusion of lots of local beliefs. By the 3rd and into the 4th Centuries, this led to competing belief systems, competing churches, and eventually substantial political disruption, too.”
His main message was to understand that there were substantial Christian organizational struggles going on, about which form of the church was going to prevail, which doctrines were going to become the norm, what the hierarchal structure of the church would look like, and in the midst of that power struggle also came the question about the relationship to the government of the Roman Empire because the church power struggles were a significant disruptive force in the Empire.
“So, to summarize, the Christian Gnostics were egalitarian, believing in equality. They put the emphasis on the self, in the form of self-knowledge, and that self-knowledge was the key to deeper knowledge. They sought and accepted knowledge and wisdom from multiple sources. These things put them at odds with the emerging church establishment. Then, in the midst of all of this, came the heresy hunters leading the hunt for and the elimination of the so-called heresies. Needless to say, the heresy hunters were aligned with the church establishment and the state, and the result was a standardized set of theological doctrines, a pretty well standardized form of acceptable worship, a hierarchal structure of the church, and the virtual elimination of Gnosticism and destruction of its scriptures within Christianity. In Thursday’s lecture we will discuss specific examples of doctrine and practice from the Gnostic scripture in the Nag Hamadi Scrolls. Some of those are in your reading assignment for that class.”
To say I was thunderstruck would have been putting it mildly. I had been reading some of the Gnostic scriptures in the book Carter had given me, but basically reading them as a new and novel take on spirituality. When Carter put them and the associated beliefs in this larger historical context, everything changed.
I told Jackson and Will about it when they got home after choir practice and asked how it went. “Pretty mind-blowing, to summarize it.” I gave them a quick overview, and they both acted surprised. Jackson asked what it meant. “Does it invalidate everything else?”
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t, but it does force a whole new look at everything. You asked me the other week what I thought about the book Carter gave me for Christmas. Now I know it has the potential for changing everything. The good news is that knowingly or not, this is the path we’ve already started down, by understanding that self-knowledge is critical. It turns out it’s not just limited to personal understanding and sexuality, but also extends to spirituality and belief systems, too.
I had told Ruth that at the next discussion group we’d talk about the Biblical interpretation of the role of women to be submissive and obey their husbands. She remembered I’d told her about my conversation with Jane and Michael about it. She also hadn’t forgotten the point that the only requirement on the husbands was to love their wives, with the question open to interpretation about how to love them. Our discussion group was growing as students told other students, and we’d typically run twelve or more, and pretty much all of them were astonished and outraged. Sadly, we were also watching the entire process to pass the ERA stall due to the efforts of one woman!
The next day, a new face accompanied Ruth, a student named Samantha. Ruth introduced Sam, the name she went by, as her roommate, and Sam described herself as a Portland native who had gone to high school here, was involved in athletics and had been on her high school ski team. Lewis & Clark didn’t have a ski team, so she was coping with that, but knew a good education mattered more than making another million turns on Mount Hood. She cracked everyone up with that comment, and came across as not being in the least pretentious, having a good sense of humor, and maybe even a little sassy. I liked her immediately.
She was a little over five foot six and had a moderate but muscular build. You could see that she didn’t just ski in the winter. She was an athlete and clearly kept in form year-round, and exuded a quasi-tomboy vibe. She was wearing Levi’s, a flannel shirt and very interesting blue leather hiking shoes with red laces. She carried herself confidently, with a head of curly brown hair that framed an oval face with attractive lips and introspective brown eyes. Besides introducing herself the first time, she mainly listened. But when we were discussing the reality of what Schlafly was achieving against passage of the ERA, and she made a bitter and angry comment about conservative politics that were all about putting women ‘in their place’ and keeping them there.
I hadn’t said anything to Sam about the PDA, deciding that it was better if it came from Ruth, and besides how was I supposed to know she had any sexual identity challenges. I could see that she was paying attention, and towards the end she had a couple of questions and said Ruth told her we were also going to discuss homosexuality. It was clear she hadn’t been raised in the church, and she was astonished to learn basic facts like the term “homosexuality” don’t appear in the Bible, that Jesus never said anything about it.
The second Gnosticism lecture was much more focused on the actual beliefs and practices of Christian Gnosticism and how it contrasted with competing forms of Christianity. Carter pointed out that with recent manuscript discoveries we now had a context to understand it, and we know it was significant in its time because it had major teachers in central churches like Rome. They ended up being no match in the world of consolidating church power when they came up against heresy hunters like Irenaeus of Lyon who criticized the doctrine and theology. The claim to divine knowledge apart from mediation of the church, and its tendency to asceticism and other liberal positions brought down the church’s furor which essentially eliminated it.
He went on to summarize the four major characteristics of Gnostic thought that included the conviction that direct and personal knowledge of the authentic truths of existence were accessible to human beings, and that the process of self-knowledge put the seeker in touch with the uncreated self. Though different terms were used to describe it, the concept was that achieving full consciousness and began with knowledge of self.
He paused and looked at the class. “Needless to say, the belief was that getting in touch with this divine seed through self-knowledge, of exploring and developing the real self within your person, this knowledge leads to ultimate freedom. It is worth noting, since most of you are still of an age to remember the counterculture movements of the 1960’s, that they included the pursuit of eastern mysticism in Buddhism and Hinduism. That quest was significantly motivated by the fact that Christianity did not appear to offer that approach, though originally mysticism was part of Christianity.”
That statement got a lot of smiles and head nodding. “So, getting in touch with the divine seed within you is to experience your authentic reality, and leads to the understanding that you as a person are not contingent and incidental. You are not a conception of sin, not a broken piece of creation, but the stuff of the universe with all of its mystery. It reminds me in some ways of what Carl Sagan said in his 1973 book The Cosmic Connection, when he stated “The cosmos is within us. We are all stardust.”
He paused for that to sink in, then went on saying, “Sagan, of course, was speaking of cosmology and physics, not mythology and gnosis, but I think you understand the correlation I am making.” He then went on to describe the other two main characteristics: a reverence for texts and sources of knowledge that were not limited to those approved by the church, and finally an expression of dualism which imagined God as consisting of two parts, masculine and feminine.”
He paused with a wry smile and looked over the students. “If that doesn’t sound too radical for you, I’ll give you two examples drawn from Gnostic scriptures to illustrate the point. The first concerns the conception of masculine and feminine parts which led to conceiving of Father God and Mother God. We find that manifest in in prayers like ‘From Thee, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names…’
He paused to take the measure of the reaction. Smiled, presumably because there was no obvious outrage, and then continued. “That masculine and feminine correlation is also found in local expressions such as Mary Magdalene being the consort of Jesus. Needless to say, in a male-dominated patriarchal society, concepts like this, which honored the feminine in nature and gave women much greater social and church equality, brought down its own form of condemnation.”
My mind immediately went to the current contest with a male-dominated patriarchal society, the Equal Rights movement, and how the same battles were being fought.
Carter then turned to a specific examples from the Gospels of Thomas, pointing out the understanding that Jesus reveals the necessary knowledge for salvation to those who have the spark of the divine spirit within, that salvation was conceived as a return to the place of light where there is no enmity or division, and that the understanding was that Jesus was a teacher who was a vehicle for passing on divine teaching.
“So, pull that all together, and the premise is that with the proper teachings it is possible for human being to know their true selves, by doing so they begin to understand the mystery of life, and achieve peace and unity. A rather attractive proposition, don’t you think?”
That got a round of head nodding and chuckles. Carter looked over the class and said, “We’re not going to spend more time on individual Gnostic scriptures, as this class is an overview. However, I want to close with a very important saying, that comes early in the Gospel of Thomas, and illustrates my last point. The key is knowing yourself, who you really are. The key to the salvation brought by Jesus is having the proper knowledge, gnosis, knowledge of your true identity:
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the Father's imperial rule is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Father's imperial rule is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.
“This passage especially makes the point that when you know yourself, you will be known, and then you will understand. Conversely, if you do not know yourself, you become poverty. It would be very easy to have gone through last quarter’s Mythology class, and what we’ve covered so far this quarter, especially this week’s lectures on Christian Gnosticism and decide that Gnosticism is strange and esoteric, or that religion is all a fraud and just walk away. I have no doubt that much of this new information is challenging to many of you. The important thing is to understand it and put it into context, and not lose sight of the mystery while you’re at it. At the end of all this, the point is to understand that all of these belief systems and mythologies came into being to help human beings understand and connect with the mystery that is life. It would be easy in the face of this new information to say, ‘I don’t believe anymore’ and to walk away. That would be both facile and a mistake.”
He looked around at the class, which he was getting to know quite well by now, and smiled. “We know much more today than they knew two thousand years ago. We understand infinitely more about the universe, and our world, about health and life and history. Now we’re fortunate to have these illuminating early Christian documents that give us a different perspective. The case I would make to you is that self-knowledge is even more important today than it was then. Not too long ago I was at a conference where Joseph Campbell lectured. About this challenge, he basically said that no real good is accomplished by throwing the message out, by abandoning the belief system of your youth. All the messages of myth describe what constitutes the values of your life. We all grow up in specific religious contexts, and they become part of you. The challenge is to understand how they got to be what they are and re-interpret it all so that they work for you within your time and place, in your quest to understand and experience the transcendent mystery. It is very difficult to invent your own religion!”
He paused, and got a round of light laughter at that pronouncement. “Understand that religions, like mythology, came into being and grew up in the face of specific circumstances and challenges. Creating a religion out of nothing for the sake of abandoning the belief system you were raised with is enormously difficult. It seems so much less work, then, to just walk away. But if you walk away, you still have to deal with the mystery of life. The point is that the transcendent mystery of life is the same regardless of which belief system you are in. The one in which you grew up is deeply part of you whether you know it or not, or even like it. So, my challenge to you is that the message is right there, in this very thing that seems to be blocking you because it is taken literally instead of metaphorically. Re-interpret it for yourself in a manner that enables you to move toward the mystery of life. Any questions before we discuss next week’s reading assignments?”
Ruth raised her hand and said, “I have a question. I appreciate the challenge you just gave us, but doesn’t reinterpreting the belief systems we were raised with mean we no longer believe them?”
Carter smiled, and I knew he appreciated students like Ruth. “You know, it’s quite coincidental, but Campbell got a similar question in the Q&A session after his lecture. He basically said that if we could step back and set our personal defenses aside, we’d see that there seem to be only two kinds of people. Those who think that metaphors are facts, and those who know that they are not facts. Those who know that they are not facts are called atheists, and those who think they are facts are called religious.”
The class was quiet. He went on, “Ruth, in terms of your question, he’d say ‘those who think they are facts are called believers.’ His point simply was that it doesn’t matter what label others lay on us. What matters is that we understand why we subscribe to the view that we do. I don’t want to minimize your question, but I do want you, all of you, to understand that the starkest contrast is not between believing and not believing. The starkest decision is between being a nihilist, that is believing in nothing; or believing in mystery, that there is meaning in life. What matters is that we’re making progress in our quest to understand and experience the mystery of life.”
I was actually glad that Jackson and Will had choir practice and would be home a little later. It gave me time to think about what Carter had said and what the implications were. I had a high confidence level in Carter and his motivations, and appreciated the way he couched this new information as a challenge for personal development rather than as an excuse to stop believing in anything.
Over dinner I was quizzed pretty vigorously, and tried to answer the questions completely, and did my best to summarize Carter’s position for Jackson and Will. I’d been sharing tidbits as I read the Nag Hamadi Scrolls, but hadn’t had the context to explain the Gnostic understanding and practice. Basically what I told them came down to the fact that there was a well-developed Christian mysticism in the early church, that it was deemed a heresy by the institutional church, and the most striking part, how Carter had ended the class challenging everyone to use their recently learned knowledge to reinterpret rather than abandon their belief system.
They both loved Campbell’s quote about the two kinds of people, those that think that metaphors are facts, and those who know that they are not facts, and that distinction leads to those who understand metaphors for what they are being labeled as atheists, and those who insist on facts being labeled as believers. “Ruth was right there when he made that point, asking questions about it.”
They laughed, and Jackson said, “She’s pretty sharp so I can see a statement like that being really clarifying for her. I guess that’s a pretty straight forward explanation of why we’ve all become atheists, right?”
His eyebrows were wiggling, and I knew he was goading me. I also knew he knew it was essentially true. “Yeah, if you realign to metaphor, then you pretty much can’t believe in that all that literal stuff. You guys would also have liked what he said about the difficulty of creating your own religion and the challenges of just abandoning the belief system you were raised with.”
We talked about the challenge of reinterpreting it all to make if work for you. “Do you think it’s even possible to re-interpret everything? I mean I’ve learned just enough so far to know it’s easy to talk about theory, but doing it is something different. Like, JC and Frank gave me that cool socket wrench set, but I don’t think you want me going to work on the BMW with it, do you?”
He looked over at Will and grinned.
“Good point, and you’re right about both the challenge of turning theory into practice, and that you shouldn’t be working on the BMW without some training! Now, if you and Will want to change the oil and the oil filter, that’s something different. But I think adjusting the timing and rebuilding the fuel injection system is off the table for now!”
They laughed at that, and Will said, “I’m overdue for an oil change on the Nova. Maybe we can do them both when we get a clear day where we can work in the driveway. How about I buy the oil for both cars and a filter for mine, and you” and here he looked at me, “buy an oil filter for the 2002, and we’ll be ready to go.”
I nodded, and Jackson said, “So back to the re-interpreting. How does that even work. I mean we all grow up with this stuff we learn in Sunday School, all this content that we’re told means one thing. What do we do with that? How do we change it? I get the theory of metaphorical instead of literal, but how does that work?”
I shared Carter’s comment about understanding the Virgin Birth not as a requirement to believe that Mary had been an actual virgin, but to think metaphorically about it symbolizing spiritual birth. Like the descent of the Dove at the baptism symbolizing the descent of knowledge, and of the resurrection symbolizing being actualized into the fullness of life through self-knowledge and self-actualization.
He smiled at me. “That sounds reasonable. Carter actually heard Campbell lecture, and he heard Campbell say it does no good to throw out the beliefs you’re raised with?”
“He did, and he told me that Campbell said if he had been able to choose, for his own life, he’d have chosen to be a Buddhist. But he was raised a Roman Catholic, and that’s the mythology that’s part of his DNA. I really thought Carter’s challenge was so well put, really so compassionate toward his students, to reinterpret the teachings so that they work mythologically for you, rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
“Isn’t that what you’re already doing with the worship service, taking out all the heavy-duty doctrine and stuff, and simplifying it so people can get out of it what they need,” Will asked.
I nodded. “Yep, that’s what we’re doing. The ‘we,’ meaning me and my atheist boyfriend who’s helped immensely making it happen, and his best friend who together bring these angelic voices to the service that help everyone rise up and spiritually fly away.”
They were both rolling their eyes but grinning at my comments. While we were washing up, Jackson gave Will a shoulder shove and I heard him ask if he had another hot date the next night. There was some give and take, and Will replied, “I don’t know how hot it will be, but yeah, we’re going to another movie together. It’s not that I don’t like you guys a lot, you know, but it’s fun. And, maybe more importantly, it gives you guys the house alone, so you don’t have to worry about toning it down, you know, so your cries of pleasure won’t disturb me!”
Jackson wasn’t going to go down so easy. “In your dreams, Bro! We’re very tempered in our love making, aren’t we David?”
“I’m not getting into this debate. This one’s between you two young stallions.”
Jackson looked at Will and said, “David has been teaching me about languid love making. You know, going slow and making it sensuous, and that kind of love making is soft and quiet. I’m just saying that I don’t think it would be so quiet in your car when you pull up in front of the dorm to drop Ron off! You know, the heavy breathing and all that.”
“If only you knew! Slow and sensuous sounds very nice, but don’t try and tell me that there isn’t any noisy groaning and shouting at the end. I’ve been there once or twice myself, you know! And I sleep just down the hall. Anyway, don’t forget I’m driving down to Newberg Saturday morning for Mom’s birthday, and won’t be here Saturday night, but I’ll be back Sunday afternoon to do homework and stuff.”
We were all grinning at the humor, but also just on the edge of embarrassment, and I looked at Will and said, “Can I say something to you?” He nodded.
“You asked us about going on a date, and while it wasn’t necessary because you’re a mature person and live here, it was very thoughtful. You live here, as in, this is your house. You and Ron are going out, and he lives in the dorm. Romance in cars only goes so far, or at least that’s what I’m told. Ask Jackson sometime about trying to make love in the bed of an El Camino with a camper on it! I don’t want you to feel bashful or embarrassed about bringing Ron here anytime, even after a date. I don’t want you feeling you guys have nowhere to go after a movie or something.”
I glanced at Jackson, and he picked the line of thought right up. “I’ve been thinking about that, too, but we haven’t talked about it. You should feel comfortable bringing your date home, whether it’s Ron or anyone else.”
Will acted like he didn’t know what to say for a few seconds, but then looked at us both. “Thanks for saying that? I was kind of starting to get around to it in my head, but didn’t know how to ask. Are you sure this is cool, that you’re not just saying it?”
“Will, it’s for real. You live here now. You’re part of this family. If you want to bring someone over, that’s your decision. You’re responsible. You don’t need our permission.” I glanced at Jackson, and saw something in his eyes and a slight nod. “If you want to have your date sleep with you overnight, that’s your call, too. We’ve got to be real about all of this. You’re over eighteen, it’s perfectly legal, you’re responsible, and we’re not going to be hypocritical about any of it. And what your parents don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“But,” Jackson said with a wild grin, “we would expect you to be reasonable quiet, and not make a total mess, and clean up after yourselves and like that. Oh, and no running about the house naked!”
Will started to blush, but I knew it was in good fun, and the two of them cut up for a little longer.
Friday after Will left for his date, we walked to the Sellwood Grill, and after a pleasant dinner took in a movie ourselves, and ended the evening with a pleasant bit of love making. I kiddingly asked why we hadn’t needed a quickie to start the evening off, and he looked at me with a sly grin and said softly, as he rubbed his hand across my chest and down to my pubes, “I guess the hormones weren’t running as strong tonight, Babe.”
The next day was really wet, and we stayed in, doing domestic stuff after Will had headed down to Newberg. In the early afternoon I was in the study working on the lesson for the next day’s service, and Jackson had been reading in the living room, when out of the corner of my eye I saw him walk by, going to our bedroom. A few minutes later I heard him walk into the study, and felt his hands on my shoulders, followed by his lips nuzzling into the top of my head. I loved that soft, sensuous feeling, with his warm breath moving on my scalp. His hands dropped off my shoulders and were stroking my chest and I noticed that his arms were bare. I reached around behind me with my arms, placing my hands on the outside of his thighs, and they were bare, too. Before I could say anything, he whispered to me, “Come with me. I’m pretty sure you’re up for another languid love making session, and I have a plan.”
I turned in my chair to face him, and realized he was standing before me in a pair of white briefs. “You only wear those for special occasions, right?”
“You’re a special occasion in my life,” he said, as he pulled my head to his chest and stroked it. “Come with me.”
When we walked in the bedroom, I saw he had planned this out. At the head of our bed the two pillows were leaned against the headboard atop each other. There were two others atop each other at the foot of the bed.
“First, I’m going to slowly take all these clothes off of you, and see just how excited I can make you.”
I grinned, knowing getting me excited wasn’t going to be hard at all. As he peeled the clothes off, his tongue worked on my nipples, and by the time he had me down to just my boxers, I was so hard the fabric almost couldn’t contain me. He slipped them down my legs, licking the inside of my thighs and around the edge of my pubes and lightly stroking my cock. Then he stood and dropped his briefs in a sexy wiggly move, that he made me watch, and which further added to the excitement. He stepped forward and grasped his cock and held it against mine, and slowly stroked a few times.
“You know an answer is not required, right?”
He grinned devilishly. “You’re Okay going along with me on this?”
“I’m loving it already.”
“Okay, get on the bed, and lean back against those pillows at the headboard.” He didn’t let go of my cock as I did his bidding. Then he slowly and carefully came up on the bed and straddled me, his knees on either side of my hips as he sat delicately on my thighs. He placed his cock against mine and stroked them together a few times.
My eyes must have given away the exquisite feelings coursing through me. He said softly, “I’ve been thinking about languid. Since we both came last night, I know we can go slow and languid now.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at me, while smiling demurely. I smiled back.
“Remember what I said about the shapes your mouth form when you say the word?”
He was looking at me very intently now. Then he said it to me, very slowly. “As in Laa-aaa-aan…” and his lips opened in an incredibly sexy way, and then he slowly said, “…gui-iii-iii-iid” as his lips pursed in what looked like the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. It helped, of course, that he was ever so slowly stroking our cocks together.
“Languid. You’ve sold me on the idea, Lover Boy. You can tell that by how hard I am. How hard we both are.”
“I’ve also been thinking about how to add something new and special, so I got some of this.” He reached behind him next to the pillows at the foot of the bed and showed me a bottle of baby oil.
“And, now I’m going to do this,” and he deftly slid back from straddling my thighs, and softly laid down on them, leaning back on the pillows and sliding his feet forward so they were outside of my shoulders and mine were outside his. His balls were right above mine, the roots of our cocks touching. He hadn’t let go of our cocks, and I felt his weight distribute across my legs as I settled further into the mattress. I’d been watching his eyes, seeing the rest of his movements almost as secondary. His eyes sparked, and his smile became lascivious and he silently mouthed “languid” at me, and then blew me a kiss.
I slid my hands, palms down, onto the inside of his thighs, brought my fingertips together in his pubes and softly touched the base of his cock. “You are so beautiful and so sexy. This is just amazing.”
He softly shushed me, as he squirted some baby oil onto our cocks, rubbed it around, and then started stroking them together again. I was just enough bigger than Jackson, that with him lying on my thighs the heads of our cocks were almost at the same level. As he reached the top of each stroke, he rotated his hand, and our frenulum’s rubbed together, sending shivers through both of us.
Our eyes were locked, and he reached down, holding his cock in one hand and mine in the other, and started rubbing the heads together, rubbing the bottom of the glans of one against the other. He was moving very slowly and deliberately, the very definition of languid. The sensations concentrating in my cock were getting intense, and he must have seen it because I heard him say, “Slowly, no rush. Just enjoy the sensations”
I was stroking the inside of his thighs, trying to give some sensation back to him, and after a minute of cockhead rubbing, he moved his hands and began stroking our cocks together, squirting some more oil onto the heads and inside his hand. The lubricant was magical, everything just sliding over each other so smoothly. It was getting to him, too, because I heard him take a deeper breath and his eyes widened, and then he smiled. I was beginning to feel like I was levitating into a new level of sensuality, the combined effect of the sensations, the lubricant, and the love being almost too much.
He dropped his left hand, holding our cocks together at the base, and with the added lubrication from the baby oil started stroking the top half of our shafts together with his right, going up over the head and squeezing softly at the top of the stroke. Each one felt like a small sensory explosion in my cock! I started breathing hard, pushing down on his thighs without realizing it.
His smile widened into a grin, and he said quietly, “Languid. We’re going slow, so relax and just enjoy the feelings now. Don’t cum too fast. That would never do.”
I quieted down and consciously relaxed and let my back and neck fall onto the pillows. It was a difficult conscious effort to just go with the feelings, not suddenly get pulled into the growing sensations and the foregone result and hurry towards an orgasm. There was no point in trying, Jackson had control of our cocks, I’d agreed, and he was controlling the timing.
“I feel like I’m going to explode, like there’s tiny explosions in the head of my cock each time your hand reaches the top. Is it like that for you, too? It’s so amazing.”
He nodded, clearly having to focus on what he was doing and control the pace as well. I could see his face getting flushed, and then after another minute of producing the most amazing sensations that were just not quite strong enough to put us over the edge, he was almost panting. I was on the edge of losing it, wondering how this could go on, when I saw his eyes flicker. Then, he grinned and reached for the baby oil. Another squirt, which he spread around our cocks, and then he began raising his hips ever so slowly, pushing his cock up through his hand. Up, and back, and up, and back.
It suddenly dawned on me that he was fucking the bottom of my cock! It was a completely different sensation from anything I’d felt before. Soft and delicate, yet warm and fluid, the intensity building as his cockhead slid up the bottom of mine, ran across my frenulum and rubbed the bottom of my cockhead.
I gasped, not believing the feelings, and gasped again, each time his cockhead ran over the bottom of mine, and appeared above mine. I was caught between two competing experiences. On the one hand, the intense sensual feelings that his cock was creating as it moved on mine as his hips rose and his thighs left mine, and on the other, the amazingly stimulating sight of his very hard cockhead reaching the top of its stroke, rising above mine, red and full and glistening…and behind it was his beautiful face, with his dimples flaring and his eyes flashing.
The red from the blush of exertion was spreading down his neck, the stimulus and the effort of fucking my cock beginning to show. I could see his eyes widen further, his breathing getting ragged, and I understood he knew we were both getting close. He settled his thighs back onto mine, held the base of our cocks with his left hand and started making shorter and faster strokes on our cockheads. I was groaning and rolling my head from side to side, and I could hear his ragged breathing speed up, accompanied by soft groans, which slowly became exclamations of how close he was.
“I’m almost there, Lover Boy. This is unbelievable. This is…I, I’m…I can’t hold it any longer…” and with that I started shooting, straight up in the air, my first few shots falling on my chest, and almost immediately I could feel Jackson buck up off my thighs and start to cum, shooting onto my stomach. Then the smaller shots that were more like oozes came, and we both fell back onto the pillows…but he still had ahold of our cocks. He’d stopped stroking, knowing the sensitivity, but after a little while I realized he wasn’t done yet. When he knew he could handle it, and figured I could, too, he slowly brought his right hand back to our cockheads and delicately started circling, spreading the cum around, creating a whole new type of sensuality from that lubricant. It was almost too much to take, but not quite!
We were breathless, but still looking deeply into each other’s eyes, and eventually, as we began to soften further, he released our cocks and they fell back onto our stomachs. We both took deep breaths, recovering, and he said softly, with a demure smile, “Languid is good, don’t you think?”
All I could do was nod.
We rested for a minute and then he reached back down, taking a cock in each hand and began rubbing the heads together again. “See how well they fit together? It’s almost magical, isn’t it?”
“It’s beyond magical, and I’ll be forever thankful, but what I need now is you, up here, in my arms where I can kiss you and hug you and tell you how much I love you for being such a wonderful lover”
It wasn’t a surprise after the previous week’s discussion group, that Sam came with Ruth to the next PDA meeting. They were welcomed by all, and besides Jackson, Will and Ron, a couple of other male students had started attending, and now having two females was rounding it out. The previous week we’d been talking about how you reach the point of going public, a subject Ron had had a few questions about.
This week we began with that subject, and I tried to move the discussion forward by pointing out how really important the underlying dynamic is, that of a person understanding their identity. Point being that without that it was pretty certain they’d be unlikely to be able to resolve any conflicts between the identity bestowed on them by their family and tribe, and what they felt their true sexual identity to be. Feelings for people of the same sex were all well and good, but in the end, you had to be able to rationalize it to yourself, and maybe explain it to others.
Sam wasted no time asking questions about what I meant. That led to a brief summary about how family and tribal values are poured into a person’s identity container, and the challenges that posed. She hadn’t taken Higgin’s mythology and comparative religion course, so this was new to her. She was sensitive enough to say she didn’t want to make the whole discussion about her, but what blew her mind was that her family wasn’t religious, but they were conservative, and they might as well be ultra-religious when it came to homosexuality which they viewed as deviant. Her question was about where that came from. I told her I could give her some material to read, and Jackson said he’d help talk to her as well. After we broke up, I heard them agree to meet for lunch at the cafeteria on Wednesday.
When Will and Jackson got home from Glee Club on Wednesday, we prepared dinner together, and talked about glee club practice. Will shared that they’ve been singing a lot of songs, have a few down really well, and are about to learn what the songs in the program for the end of the quarter are going to be.
“Is that good, are you excited?”
“Yeah, Atkins is a good director and works us hard but makes it fun. He’s a lot like Susan that way.”
As we ate, I asked how lunch with Sam went. Jackson grinned. “She’s a piece of work. I like her a lot, but she’s intense. Right, Will?”
“Oh yeah, intense is the word. She’s always in a rush to get to the point, or the answer, like the problem doesn’t matter. There was some line from literature class last year about fools. What was that, Jackson?”
“You mean, ‘doesn’t suffer fools gladly,’ I think. I don’t remember the source.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. No patience for slow or dumb people! But, she’s still a cool person. She wasn’t kidding about athletics. She still races on a multi-school intramural ski team. She runs, she plays field hockey and there aren’t many places where girls can do that, she bikes in the summer to keep her legs strong. Also, Jackson slyly asked her about those cool blue hiking boots with the red laces, and it turns out she started rock climbing last summer.”
I looked at him blankly, and Jackson jumped in. “Not just hiking, like we’ve been doing, but rock climbing, like mountaineering on a small scale. Climbing rock faces and stuff like that. She said they’re called approach boots, designed to hike in and do the climb.” He looked over at Will. “What did she say they were called?”
“They’re Royal Robbins Yosemite boots. And rock-climbing sounds pretty out there. Anyway, we were talking about the homosexuality in religion stuff, and her parents aren’t really religious, but they’re big time conservatives in state politics, so they’re all signed up with the religious right. Even if they don’t go to church. So, they can’t talk about being gay, or bi in her case, in doctrinal terms, but they’re all teed up on it being depraved and morally reprobate, and all these expectations for their daughter like you’d think her Dad was Ruth’s. You know, an evangelical minister or something.”
“So, did you make any progress with her,” I asked, “did you help answer her questions?”
Jackson answered. “We got started. All those questions and all that stuff isn’t going to get sorted out over one lunch in the cafeteria. She’s asking questions but not sharing much. She looks kind of tomboyish, which is cool, but she’s acts kind of defensive. Anyway, look how long it took us, or Will.” They both laughed at that.
“Seriously, though, I think the PDA will be good for her because she has some unresolved conflicts that she’s got to get through. We can see that, but she’s not ready to go there yet and talk about it. That’s what the group’s all about, right?”
I agreed. “When are you going to see her again?”
“Not till next PDA, probably,” Jackson said, “she’s got a ski race on Saturday and we’re taking different classes. As you can guess, she isn’t in choir.”
The rest of the week just seemed to move along, and Will had another date on Friday with Ron. It seemed like there was a pattern emerging, but we didn’t press, and didn’t ask on Saturday morning either. Later in the day he let us know it was another fun evening, and that he hadn’t forgotten us making clear he could bring a date home, but it just hadn’t come together yet. Sunday evening the phone rang and Jackson answered it, and I could hear an energetic conversation taking place. When he walked back into the living room, he looked at Will and then me, and raised his eyebrows. “That was Sam, and you won’t believe it. She crashed in her race yesterday and ended up in the hospital.”
“What does that mean? What’s the injury? Did she go to the ER?”
He waved his hands, “Yeah, yeah, David. Sorry, I forgot to say that. The Ski Patrol brought her off the mountain and she had an ambulance ride to Portland because they thought she broke her femur, but it turned out she was lucky and she hit hard and bruised her hip and then slid off the course and hit a tree.”
“What?” Will and I chorused at once.
“That’s what she said, but she was going slow enough when she hit the tree it was almost nothing, her feet, meaning her skis, hit first. She’s got some bad bruises from falling in the bumps and then bouncing down from there. They told her she’s got a major hip pointer, and her hip is all swollen up and she can’t put weight on it or really walk and is on crutches for a few weeks. She says it’s not that big a deal.”
I rolled my eyes. “Almost a broken femur, and it’s not a big deal. Right! But an ambulance ride means she was taken to a hospital and got treatment, you said?”
“Yeah, she was in the ER at Providence, and they discharged her after a few hours, and she was driven back to the dorm by someone on the ski team, and she was laid up today in her dorm with some pain meds, and now she’s trying to sort out how she’ll go to school tomorrow and do the rest of the week. She says she can barely get off the bed or make it down the hall to pee without Ruth to help, so that’s why she figures she needs a ride to class.”
Will had been listening and said, “And conveniently, I’ve got a car, right? No worry. We’ll pick her up and drive to her class building. The cool thing about the Nova is that it’s a two-door, and like most American two-doors, the doors are long. As in longer that a BMW, and there’s lots of room to get into the passenger seat.” He grinned at Jackson. “You’ll have to sit in the back.”
“She also needs a ride on Friday back to the hospital for a follow up. Can we do that, too?”
Will nodded. “Yeah, after class, and then I’ve got a date with Ron. Good thing we don’t have choir or discussion group after classes on Friday!”
Luckily all three of them had their first class at 9:00 AM on Monday morning, and I followed them to the dorm in case there was a complication. We got there about 8:40. Ruth had helped Sam to the Lobby, and said it was a good thing Sam mainly wore Levi’s because it was pretty easy to help her get dressed. It only took us few minutes to get her out to the car because there were no stairs, and then it took a few more minutes to work out the mechanics of getting her into the front passenger seat. Lucky for all of us, it was her left hip, and she had a brace on, so she was able to extend her left leg into the passenger side, hand Will the crutches while Jackson steadied her, and swing in holding onto the roof. All I could see was how it could go wrong and she’d fall out the door and get another injury, but she was confident and grinned when she got in seat and said, “See, no sweat, really!”
I headed for the Center, and told Jackson and Will I’d see them at lunch or after class. They came by during lunch to let me know they’d just reversed the procedure to get her out of the car, although there was a lift involved to start, but they’d worked out a system and gotten her to her first classroom, and they didn’t want me worrying all day.
“What? Me worry?”
“Yeah, right, Rev. We’ll see you after class.”
They came back when class was done, having taken Sam back to the dorm. “She was getting tired and didn’t want to deal with clambering in here and then out and back to the dorm later. She’s going to pass on the PDA today.” They settled down to study, Ruth and Ron came in after a while, along with a couple of other students. I noticed Ron was sitting next to Will, and we got started.
I pointed out that we’d talked previously about the important role of identity in addressing one’s sexuality, and asked if everyone was on the same page about the history of legality and illegality of homosexuality. Most shook their heads ‘No,’ and Ron said he thought he knew the current info, but an overview would be helpful. So, I outlined the commonality of homosexuality across cultures, how sexuality operates on continuum, and how the view of any sexual expression other than hetero for the purpose of childbearing became condemned as depraved, and that then began to be apparent in cultural norms too.
“It’s been a slow fight to get back to normalcy and achieve decriminalization. For instance, it was only in 1967 that homosexual acts between men was decriminalized in the United Kingdom, but that was only in England and Wales, not Scotland or Northern Ireland, and didn’t extend to the Armed Forces either, but even then it only applied to those over 21 and in private. In the U.S. sodomy laws were designed to prevent sex for other than having children and applied to men and women, and the changes have come even slower here because they happened state by state, with the Federal government still operating under a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that banned homosexual immigrants and was being used as a blanket Federal ban. Then as the gay rights movement made headway, many conservative states re-wrote their sodomy laws so that they were specifically aimed at homosexuals. So, as of the present only twenty-two states have rescinded U.S. sodomy laws, and enacted civil rights for homosexuals.”
I asked for their thoughts about the way progress had been achieved. Ruth was the first to comment, “On the one hand, after what we’ve discussed about the Equal Rights Amendment in discussion group, I guess it’s a consolation that women aren’t the only ones being repressed. It’s a pretty sad commentary, though, that in the U.S. and the U.K., which are western democracies, that progress is this slow.”
“It sure is, Ruth, and to me that illustrates the powerful role that tribalism and cultural norms play. In the end it’s about those things not about the theoretical stuff like equal rights. Notice how we’re so proud of being a ‘Christian nation,’ and by extension, how well equal rights have worked for African Americans!”
I turned to Ron, “What’s the situation in Utah for these two movements?”
“Not good, that’s for sure. What you said about St. Paul’s ‘women obey your husband’ stuff is even worse in Mormonism, because the theology or doctrine, which ever it is, is set up so the salvation of the wife and children, in other words of the family, is dependent on the man, on the father. The belief is that there’s all these souls on a planet called Kolob and they need bodies, so that’s why Mormons have so many children, and why sex has to be for having children. So, women are no longer chattel, owned by their husband like in the Old Testament, but it’s the next best thing because the husband controls their salvation. The whole model is wives submitting to their husbands. Then on homosexuality, Utah is one of those states that reinterpreted the sodomy laws to be anti-gay. I’m betting Utah is the last state to decriminalize homosexuality, if it ever does!”
Jackson said softly, “That sure makes going to college in Oregon a plus, doesn’t it?”
Ron smiled back at him. “Yeah, like I said before, it’s liberating. I have to tell you guys this, but six months ago, before I started college here, I almost saw no hope. Now I have some.” He paused, then went on. “No, that’s wrong. Now I have a lot of hope because I live in a different state. Because I have new friends, namely all of you. And, most importantly, because I’m learning what the reality is.”
The week progressed and Sam also passed on discussion group on Wednesday. After a long day on campus she just wanted to get back to her room and lay down.
Jackson and Will learned the program decision for the Glee Club performance and practice that week, and it included Will’s arrangement of Across The Universe. They came home pumped with that piece of news. As we ate dinner I asked if Robert Atkins had said anything about the arrangement, or what he liked about it that made him select it. They got quiet for a few seconds, and then Will said, “He asked us to stay after practice for a few minutes, and he said he selected it because he thought it did a terrific job of capturing the musical intent of the original composition in its arrangement for male chorus. His comment was that sometimes that can get lost in the translation.”
I nodded and smiled, and Jackson added, “He also said that the original had a neat light and airy feel to it which Will’s arrangement keeps. With all male voices it would be easy to lose that. I think he liked the short solo part because it adds a neat counterpoint to the performance.”
“That’s far out! You better be careful, or you’ll end up a composer or something,” I said smiling at him.
“He said that, too. I mean, after he told me about using my arrangement he asked what I was going to major in, and I said I didn’t really know, and he told me I had good natural abilities and I should think seriously about course work to support a music major, whether I wanted to perform or compose or teach.”
“Really? If he said that to you, he must be serious about it. I mean, about your abilities.”
Jackson was grinning with the pride of friendship. “Pretty cool, right?”
I nodded at that and asked Will, “So, what do you think about that idea?”
“I like it, but honestly I haven’t thought much about a major yet. It’s good to know that Robert believes in me. That’s really encouraging. Also, so you know, he asked about the music therapy you guys did for me.”
“Yeah, he said you’d told him about it, an overview, no details, and he wanted to know more if I was up for it.”
“That was thoughtful.”
“Yeah, it was, and I told him what went down, and Jackson filled in the story from the other side, explaining how he found and then selected the songs.”
“I told him about it when we met with him and asked for his letter of recommendation. He wanted some kind of assurance that you were through the crisis, and I described some of it to assure him you were.”
Jackson had been silent, knowing this was Will’s subject to talk about, and Will went on, “He told us that, and he was really interested in the songs, both the music and the lyrics. I think he’s really serious about how it worked. He tried to get Jackson to explain it to him.” He looked over at Jackson.
“I just told him I know my best friend, I know he’s a good musician, I know how he thinks and how his feelings work, and I just had a hunch it was a way to connect, and I was right. Meaning, I was lucky. It’s not like it’s a new therapy or something. It worked with us because we were able to connect through the music, and that opened up the subject in the song and we were all able to talk about it from there. That’s the other thing that we both told him, the connect from there part. It wasn’t just the music and the connection; it was the counseling kind of dialogue you brought to it that took it where it needed to go. I could have done a little of it, but just a part. It took all of us, the whole package for it to work.”
Will was getting emotional, and I reached out and put my hand on the back of his. “There’s another piece in the equation you can’t leave out, and that’s you. You heard the songs and you responded, you engaged in the discussion. You didn’t fight it. You decided to come out of that dark tunnel, you wanted to come back to the sunlight. All the other stuff wouldn’t have mattered without that.”
He was quiet for quite a while, and we waited, and then he said, “I think I’m pretty much back to normal. Living with you guys has not just brought me back, but gotten me back on track. Having something happen like today, with Robert selecting one of my arrangements for Glee Club makes me believe in myself again. It wouldn’t have happened without you two, if you hadn’t come and gotten me, and then done your music therapy.” He was choking up a little, then said, “I just want you to know that. To know that I know that, and I’ll never forget it.”
At practice on Thursday, they learned what the Capella Choir program would be for the end of the quarter performance, which would have an Easter emphasis, and it ranged from Renaissance composers like de Lassus and Gesualdo to later Baroque composers like Handel.
When I asked them what they thought, the responses were much like last year when they were singing in Susan’s choir: they were almost all new and had to be learned, most were moderately difficult, and some required some real technical effort and practice to master and perform well. They sounded like regular musicians, not allowing themselves to get too worked up about what they had to do. I had confidence in Robert Atkins, and thus confidence in them.
On Friday, Jackson and Will picked Sam up after her last class to take her to the hospital for her follow up. She saw a consulting orthopedic surgeon, who happened to be the one on call when she came into the ER. He made the situation very clear, telling her as Jackson told me later, “you’ve got to be extremely careful. Yes, you sustained what we call a hip pointer. Many of them are mild to moderate. This one is not; this one is severe. Typically, it will be a deep bruise to the ridge of bone on the upper outside of your hip, called the iliac crest. That means it will involve a lot of associated soft tissue, and that makes it extremely painful to stand and walk. The concern with your injury is that because of the way you fell on the ice and then bounced down the slope in the bumps, there’s a risk that there could be a compound bruise: a bone bruise on the acetabulum, the ball end of your femur, and a bruise in the hip joint, and that would further involve the tendons and ligaments of the hip. Those are unlikely, but there is still a major worry: the impact could have been severe enough to crush the arterial beds in the acetabulum, and the worst-case outcome is bone death: the death of the head of the femur. It happens rarely, but when it does, it’s very serious. That’s what we have to monitor, and the hopeful part is that you are young and healthy enough to heal well.”
They told me this after they took her back to the dorm and were back home. “The doc was really serious,” Jackson said, “he said everything but ‘don’t fuck it up,’ and made it sound scary.”
“Do you think that was mainly to try and give Sam a dose of fear to make sure she really takes it easy and let it heal?”
“I hope so,” Will said, “that’s what I started out thinking, but the more he talked the more worried we got that this could be worse than everyone first thought. They just won’t know for a month or more, depending on how things heal. The good thing is that she’s taking it easy, not doing too much and using ice packs a lot when she’s back in her room.” He glanced at the clock. “I’ve got to go take a shower and get ready for my date.”
I looked at Jackson inquiringly. “I want to hope it’s not that bad,” he said, “but we won’t know for a few weeks till they can see if it’s getting better. As in, the bruising is getting better. If it’s not getting better, then it could be the more serious injuries.”
“You guys and Ruth need to keep her on a short leash. Not let her do too much. If it doesn’t get better, with parents like she’s got, I can see them pulling her out of the dorm and hauling her home, and that wouldn’t be good, and would add another dimension to the whole problem.”
We’d decided to have dinner in and relax, and were doing dinner prep when Will stuck his head thru the doorway and waved and said he’d see us later. We listened to some music and were surprised when we flipped on The Tonight Show that Lola Falana was performing. Neither of us knew anything about her, and neither funk nor show tunes were our style, but she had a striking voice. She sang an interesting song called There’s A Man Out there somewhere…who turns me on and we also learned she was a major performer in Las Vegas.
We didn’t hear Will come in, but in the morning over breakfast he told us that after seeing a movie they’d stopped for a coffee and talked for a while, and Ron had opened up a little and told him he was having fun, but was nervous and still had hang-ups to get over. Will grinned. “I told him about my hang-ups last summer, how you’d been the best friend in the world and helped me through it.” He’d been looking at Jackson, then glanced at me, “and how you helped me sort it out.”
Jackson looked a touch concerned and asked if he’d told Ron about their session together? “Yeah, but with no graphic details. He said he thought it was one of the coolest things he’d ever heard of a person doing for another. I told him a little about what happened with Kevin, just enough so he’d know what I went through.”
He was quiet, then he looked at me and said, “Thanks for suggesting I do that. It is important to communicate and let people know where you’re at or where you’re coming from. I probably would have let it slide otherwise.” He was smiling as he said it, which I hoped was a sign he was in touch with his feelings and memories and not afraid of them.
Sunday was another uplifting worship service, and there were even a couple of new faces. It seemed that word was getting around. We all chatted in the lounge afterwards, and I was asked a ton of questions about litanies, and the hymns, but it was all positive. Sam had come with Ruth, and we gave them a ride back to the dorm. With her family background I was quite surprised she was there, but she seemed to be serious about understanding all the subjects we were all discussing. She was over a week out now, and seemed to be moving better, with less pain, and that was encouraging. Will and Jackson made a big deal out of her not pushing it, and that they were going to be driving her to and from class all week, no arguments, and she finally succumbed to the logic and stopped arguing about how great she was doing.
Monday Sam was at PDA and seemed to be more mobile than the day before, and was making it to the cafeteria and class slowly but steadily. She told all of us to chill out: she was being careful and not over doing it. She was moving well on her crutches and I put away my worrying that she was not paying attention to her directions to go slow and be careful. We started out talking about identity, which was now becoming a common subject, but this was only her second time. The discussion was engaging with students talking about their history and challenges, when Ron asked a general question about how you know you really love someone.
It was momentarily quiet, then came the one-liners about ‘makes you heart flutter,’ or ‘pumps your blood pressure,’ or ‘you’ve got to be with them all the time.’ Ron looked around and finally said, “Come on, there’s got to be more to it than that. You’re just describing what our biology teacher called physiological symptoms. I’m serious. How do you know, how do you tell?”
Everyone had reached the point of really liking Ron. He was majoring in art, and had an artist’s sensibility, and he was caring and nice. In addition, he was also compassionate and transparent, and it was evident in his question.
Someone asked, “Haven’t you ever loved anyone before?”
Ron said, “I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. I’m not talking about how you love your Mom, or your brothers and sisters. I’m talking about how you know that what you feel about someone is really love. Is really real?” I noticed Will was watching Ron, and Ron did flick his eyes towards Will at one point.
It got kind of quiet, and a few students were looking at Jackson, the only person in the group who had declared he was in a deep loving relationship. I knew that meant me, too, but Jackson was their peer, and they were looking to him…for now.
He was coy, at first, looking at them all and then saying, “How come you all think I’m some kind of expert on this? What makes you think I know anything about it?”
Ruth was right on it. “Maybe because you’re in a long-term relationship and we can see that you and your boyfriend are so much in love no one could even slip a playing card between the two of you.”
Jackson smiled, sincerely. “Ruth, thanks for saying what you did, that way. It’s a real compliment, and I know I’m really, really lucky, Okay? That doesn’t make me an expert or anything, it just makes me fortunate.”
He paused, and I wondered if it was for effect. Actually, I knew it was.
Ruth glanced quickly at Ron, and then back at Jackson and said, “Well?”
“Well, it started out the way it usually does, with physical attraction…maybe infatuation. But pretty soon we figured out it was more than we were just attracted to each other, we wanted to be with each other…a lot. Then we discovered we had a lot in common, not just the usual stuff like sports and stuff, but common shared experiences and needs that helped us build a bond. Then we realized that on top of the physical attraction was a trust, a connection that made us not just happy, but made us one. We realized that we didn’t just complement each other, but to use Plato’s phrase, we’d found our other half in each other. We were fulfilled, we were made complete. Does that answer your question?”
Ruth was looking at him like she was looking at the end of the world. “I don’t know if it answers my question, but it totally blows my mind. That’s among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.”
No one said anything. Ruth went on, “You’ve become a good friend, and we’re all friends here, so I can honestly say to you that’s what I hope I can say about me and my true love someday.” She was kind of choking up as she said it.
Jackson smiled back at her, and said softly, “I don’t know why it happened. I said I was fortunate. One other thing I can say that I think is really important is that it isn’t just the love part, there has to be the stuff you have in common, like being friends.”
“Does that answer your question, Ron? It’s about love and friendship. In equal parts.”
Ron smiled at him and said, “Thanks, Jackson, that puts it together and helps a lot.”
I glanced at Ruth. “Does that answer your question?”
She looked at me hard, caring but hard, and said, “Yeah, it does, and it blows me away. Do you two know how lucky you are?”
It was quiet. Then she said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you guys on the spot. I seem to be pretty good at doing that. Your lives are your own, I’m not trying to pry or anything, just complimenting you, more than anything else. You know, like, we should all be so lucky.”
I couldn’t leave it there. I looked at everyone in the PDA. “We are lucky. We are incredibly fortunate. Finding your other half and being able to be completed, and then to spend your life together is the greatest thing that can happen to a human being. All I can say is take it seriously. Sure, there’s dating and flings and romances and all of that, but in the end, you want a long-term relationship, you want to find your other half, you want personal completion to result from your relationship. Keep that in mind. Strive for that.”
There was a bit of chatter, as everyone processed that, then Sam, with a blank expression on her face, said, “What do you do if you’ve found your other half and they’ve been ripped away from you?”
Suddenly it was deathly quiet, and everyone realized we’d suddenly moved to a completely new space.
I looked at her, and she was on the edge of tears. “If that happened to you, Sam, then you are going through one of the hardest things that can happen to you in this life. If that happened to you, I can’t tell you how sorry I am, but if it did, you need to know something. See all these people? All of us here? We’re here for you. We’ll help however we can. Maybe we can’t do anything but give you a shoulder to cry on. Maybe we can help other ways, but we’ll do what we can.”
She was wiping her nose on her sleeve, and everyone else had settled into the kind of silence that happens when you’re feeling the pain of the other person. I went on, “Sam, know something else. You’ve just shared something deeply personal with all of us. That means you trust us. We trust you the same way, we’re here for you the same way, Okay? You can talk about it here, or we can talk one-on-one, whichever is best for you?”
Sam was quiet, and I could see the emotions boiling in her. “I can’t talk about it now; it still just hurts too much.” She looked around at everyone in the group, the emotion on her face, and the tears in her eyes. “Thanks, you guys. I know you’re here for me. That means a lot. More than you know. I’ve had to go through it alone till I met Ruth, and now I’ve just got to sort this out.”
Ruth moved over to Sam and put her arm around her, and then Jackson and Will followed suit, and in a minute, everyone was clustered around her, hugging or touching her, just letting her know they cared and were there for her. I was amazed at the level of empathy. Finally, Sam broke it up. “Okay you guys. Thanks, but we’ve got to stop. I’ve never felt so loved. Seriously, I’ve never felt so loved. And, thanks for that. But I don’t want this whole PDA to be about me.”
Everyone let go at that and went back to their seats, and I tried to get back to a discussion format. “So, we were talking about how a person knows when they really love someone, right? I hope you got some insight into it, even though that meant Jackson and I had to share personal details. You know what, though? That’s cool. We’re all in this together. If we can’t be honest and transparent with each other, then what’s the point. Sam did something amazingly courageous tonight in asking the question she did, and, opening her heart to us like she did. Ron, you asked the question. Did you get a complete answer?”
“I got so much more of an answer than I thought I would, I don’t know what to do with all the information.” He got a lot of chuckles after that.
He looked across at Sam, though, and said, “I don’t know what happened in your life, but I’m sorry it did. If I can do anything, if you need to talk, whatever, I’m here, Okay?”
She looked at him, and I could almost see the layers of defense melt off her face, and she smiled simply and just said, “Thanks, Ron. That’s so nice.”
We were driving separately that night, but later when we were in bed, I asked Jackson what he thought about Ron’s question, with Will right in the room? He smiled and rolled his eyes. “I asked him about it when we drove home. That’s why I rode with him, so we could talk. I didn’t know what to think when he asked, with Will right there and all, but Will wasn’t offended. He knows that Ron is still trying to understand his sexuality and is looking for answers.”
“Yeah, but, asking a question like that when the guy you’re dating is in the room could be seen as ignorant or offensive, don’t you think?”
“It could be, but it wasn’t. You want to know what Will said to me? He said that he’s had examples to see and observe of what it could be and should be. Namely us. Ron never has. All he’s seen is the standard boy/girl romance stuff. He doesn’t have a frame of reference. I mean he’s out to us, so he’s talking about how you know you’re in love with a boyfriend.”
“That’s pretty sensitive and mature of Will. Also, I thought your answer about your other half and equal parts love and friendship was perfect.”
He rolled on top of me, and after spending a minute trying to lance the back of my throat with his tongue said softly, “you know where I learned about it, that’s why I could sound so eloquent.”
Friday, Jackson stopped by the center after class and said they’d be home in time for dinner, but wanted me to know that Sam had asked them if they’d drive her to the drugstore and help her with a couple of other errands.
I smiled. “Are these the Good Samaritans at work?” He grinned back. “Maybe. You know, as someone told me back then, you’ve got to help those in need. I think we’ll be home in time to help with dinner.”
They were, and we all set to work doing dinner preparation. It wasn’t just an enjoyable evening experience, but we were all surprised as the quarter unfolded how pleasant it was, how much plain old good quality conversation ensued while we were chopping onions or sautéing mushrooms, or whatever. It also kept us current and up to speed with each other, and that was another really important factor. Jackson had been learning the kitchen basics last year, and now Will was getting with the program, learning kitchen prep routines and seeming to enjoy it.
While we cooked, they both made comments about how well Sam was moving around, while still being careful like the doctor told her. She’d gotten in and out of the drug store alone on her crutches, and they’d had to help her carry stuff from JC Penny, but it was all good.
As we ate, they began to tell me a little more, Jackson being the first to say, “It seems like I’m not the only one from a fucked-up family. Her parents are still together, but they’re both so conservative, like dyed-in-the-wool conservatives with all the values that go with it, that I think they’ve pretty much been estranged for years. They live out east in the foothills, and it’s too far to commute so that’s why she lives in the dorm. Can you believe this? Her Dad was chair of the Gerald Ford for President campaign in Oregon two years ago! I mean, after all that Nixon stuff! Can you believe it?”
“I can. My father was a conservative, and even though he disagreed with a lot of the stuff Nixon did, he still voted straight Republican every time. I guess that part doesn’t change. And, he probably would have been right there with Sam’s parents if he’d found out one of his sons was gay. Maybe it’s Okay if the reason is your understanding of constitutional government or economics. But what’s changing is all the culture war stuff that’s going along with it. As in Anita Bryant and Phyllis Schlafly and the new thing coming this year, the Moral Majority. That’s all about bigotry. Is that where her parents are coming from?”
“Sure, looks like it, and like she said at PDA, they’re not Bible-banging Christians, for them it’s political, but for Sam on the receiving end, it seems pretty much the same.”
“Can you translate that into practical terms for me?”
Will said softly, “She’s just starting to talk about it, but it seems like a whole bucket of expectations for their daughter, like star student, Prom Queen, Rose Parade Queen, all that kind of stuff is what they wanted in a daughter. But none of it was her. She’s an athlete, and that didn’t fit the model her parents had in mind for her.”
“Meaning, she laughs it off, like too bad for them, they didn’t get what they wanted, Ha, Ha! But it sounds like she was at odds with them all the way through high school. They supported her athletic stuff up to a point, but for them it was supposed to be extracurricular, not the main program. For her it was the main program. That’s conflict, isn’t it?”
“That sounds like a set up for conflict for sure. Then on top of that, what she was talking about at PDA was a bigger deal than this kind of conflict, though, don’t you think?”
Jackson jumped in, “Yeah, it was, but she’s not ready to talk about it yet. I think she meant what she said about never being loved and accepted this much, and is still sorting out how a bunch of other students she just met can be this honest and care for her and be there for her. You know, she’s not your typical girly-girl type. She’s tougher and more athletic, so you wonder how she did in the friends department. This may be the first group to just accept her for what she is, no questions asked. You agree, Will?”
He nodded, looking at me, “There’s a lot of what you’d call ‘unresolved conflict’ in there. I think there’s hope though. She and Ruth are close, and Ruth’s helped her a lot, she told us that. She’s still dealing with a lot of pain, and she’s still trying to figure out if PDA is what it seems to be. She’s still a little suspicious, but the good news is that we’re there. That was your point and the Center’s point in having a group like that, right?”
“It was and is. I guess you expect most of the work will be with helping people be comfortable with their sexual identities and with coming out and stuff, not heavier duty stuff like this. Still, that’s what we’re here for, so we’ll do all we can. You guys have been great, being a taxi and valet service for her.”
I was wiggling my eyebrows at them as I said it, and they got the joke. Jackson made believe he was going to flip his last piece of broccoli at me with his fork!
We were quiet for a minute, and it dawned on me, and I turned to Will. “How come you’re here? It’s Friday. Aren’t you usually on a date with Ron? No pressure, you know, just asking?”
He smiled wryly. “No date tonight. He didn’t ask me, and we got busy with helping Sam, and I didn’t press it. I don’t know if he’s out with someone else or what? No biggie, though. I told you guys we’re not madly in love, just dating. It’s cool.”
I didn’t let go of eye contact. “I can take that to the bank?”
It took five or ten seconds, then he said, “You can. This isn’t heart break hotel or anything, Okay? I’m getting back to normal, and it’s not like we were going steady or anything. I like him and he likes me, and he’s fun to be with, kind of like this dork over here, but it’s cool. We’re friends plus. Does that make you feel better?”
“Yeah, it does. I don’t want to be digging into your life, because it’s your life. But, I’m concerned, you know, that it isn’t some emotional train wreck or something.”
“David.” I turned to Jackson. “It’s cool. I quizzed him big time on the way home, and he’s good and it’s good. They had a few dates, they’re friends, maybe they’ll have more. No need to overdo it.”
I felt chastised and reached out and took Will’s hand. “You know I’m not trying to pry or run your life, don’t you? I just love you and am concerned for your wellbeing. That’s all. If you say it’s cool, that’s good enough for me.”
He grinned at me. “Hey, I’m not offended. You know what I know now? This is what it feels like to have friends and be loved. Concern comes along with it, and I’m good with that. You guys are my best friends. If you weren’t concerned, then I would be worrying!”
“Okay, changing the subject, you haven’t told me how choir and glee club practice went this week.”
“It was work,” Jackson said, “I told you some of the new pieces, especially the Renaissance polyphony are pretty technical and take a lot of work. Glee Club is almost a lightweight song fest by comparison. Don’t you think so, Will?”
“Oh yeah! Learning the de Lassus and Gesualdo pieces, and being proficient with them, is serious business. Jackson’s right, singing harmony in Glee Club is a break by comparison.”
“How are you feeling about your arrangement making it into the program this quarter? You haven’t said much about it.”
“Well, sure, I feel good about it, but I’m also kind of embarrassed. I mean I’m new this quarter and show up after dropping out of college last quarter, and suddenly I’m the new kid who arranged something and it gets selected for the performance. I feel like I don’t deserve it, like I haven’t paid my dues or something.”
I looked at Jackson, and he was rolling his eyes.
“So, Will,” I said softly, trying to not be confrontational, “has anyone given you any shit about it?”
“Has anyone in Glee Club said anything to you except good comments?”
“So, what’s the problem? You said you like Robert Atkins and have a lot of respect for his abilities. You don’t suddenly think he doesn’t know what he’s doing do you?”
He was silent, just looking down at the table.
“Bro, tell him. Just tell him. Give it up and get over it.”
Will looked up at me, and there was a hint of a blush on his face. “The arrangement I wrote for Across The Universe that Robert wants to do has a short solo section. He’s having me sing it. It’s not just my arrangement everyone is having to sing, but he’s having me sing the solo.”
“What’s with the ‘having this and having that’ verb form? You make it sound like it’s a kind of punishment or something. He chose your arrangement because he thinks it’s good, and presumably he’s having you sing the solo part because you’ve got the voice for it. Am I missing something?”
Will was silent. Jackson finally said, “He’s just embarrassed. The solo section is really neat, but it’s short. It’s not like some opera aria or anything, it just is a highlight within the harmony singing. It’s written for a lower tenor voice, and he’s got one. Remember why I ended up singing Heroes last year, because it requires a higher tenor voice, and I’ve got it and Will doesn’t? Same kind of thing. He’s just got to let go of the ‘new kid on the block’ embarrassment and do it, that’s all. Everyone likes the arrangement, and unless he fucks up on singing the solo, everyone is going to be over the top on the performance too. Right Will?”
He poked him in the ribs. Will flinched, then smiled, the smile turned into a grin, and finally he said, “I know what it is. I don’t think I deserve it because of what happened last quarter. I know I’ve got to let go of that. So…” And he looked back and forth at both of us. “So, I will. Okay? You both made your points, and you’re right, and I’m acting kind of stupid about it, and I’ll let it go.”
“You’re my man!” Jackson poked him in the ribs again, and said, “Now that we’ve got that settled, I don’t want you to be lonely tonight. Do you want me to sleep with you? You know, kind of hold you and cuddle you so you don’t feel lonely and stuff?”
“In your dreams! I’m doing just fine, thank you, and if I need some help, I’ve got it right here…” He held up his right hand. We cracked up.
“That’s not to say I don’t appreciate your friendship. You’re the best friend in the world, but I think you need to be with your boyfriend. Anyway, isn’t it time we all go wash the dishes?”
The weeks of the quarter started to move by, and though Jackson and Will had assignments and quizzes and tests, and I had my responsibilities, it seemed like things were all shaping up around the two looming performances of the quarter, choir and then glee club.
I woke up one morning totally confused. The sheets had been peeled back slowly and carefully to my waist, so’s not to wake me. I was lying on my back, and I felt something on my lips and I’m pretty sure I swiped at it once or twice, like you do a fly. Then my brain cells started firing and I realized it wasn’t a fly, it was a finger, ever so softly stroking back and forth across my lips. My eyes slowly opened, and I confirmed it was a finger. In fact, the finger of my lover, who was supposed to be asleep next to me. I glanced over and he was lying kind of on his side, smiling while he stroked my lips. I looked down his naked body and he had a red ribbon tied in a bow on his cock, and a red maraschino cherry in his belly button.