Finals week was quiet and focused and went well for all of them. There had been a positive collective impact of Jackson, Will, Ron, Ruth and Sam spending time reading and studying together, and they all benefited. They were still fun-loving young people, but they took their studies seriously, and by Friday all expressed high confidence on how they performed on their final exams.
They all came by the Center in the afternoon as they finished up, and we spent time talking about the quarter and finals themselves, and then the next week and the summer ahead. Ron had gotten the internship at the Shakespearean festival. Will was doing summer term. Marcia had a job for the summer at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Sam had decided that she would pass on summer ski training this summer, still wanting to make sure she didn’t re-injure her hip, and was working at a mountaineering and kayak sporting goods store in east Portland. It dawned on me that Jackson had so far managed to avoid answering my questions about what he was doing for the summer.
I looked at him, and he smiled wryly and said, “I thought you’d forgotten to ask.”
“I had. Are you going to illuminate us with your plans?”
“I will, if you will.” His eyes were sparkling.
“Oh, that’s easy. I’m taking a course or two at Portland State. It’ll probably take five quarters, but my aim is a master’s in counseling psychology. Then I’ll be able to understand all you guys.”
“That’s cool. I looked at a bunch of options in the Vocations office, and applied for a few, and I’ve got a summer intern job in an ad agency downtown. I found out a couple of days ago.”
I smiled, and before I could say anything he was swamped in “way to go” and other accolades. I was pleased for him. We all promised to stay in touch, and shortly after Ruth and Sam left, Will and Ron took off to have something to eat and see a movie together.
We said goodbye to Mona, who had the summer off, though we promised each other we’d be in touch and connect socially. On the drive home Jackson put his hand on top of mine on the gear shift and said, “I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.”
“Getting a summer job and not telling you.”
“No, you didn’t because I’m sure you had your reasons. You have your life, too, you know.”
“I just wanted to be able to do it myself. I don’t want to sound selfish, you’ve helped me, and Gary, and Will and Ron and now Robert and on and on. I just felt I had to try and do this myself. Is that Okay?”
I lifted his hand to my lips and kissed the back of it. “It’s more than Okay, Love. You’ll soon be twenty. You’re plenty old enough to make your own decision, and I understand why you’d want to do it on your own. Let’s just be sure we’re keeping each other clued in. By the way, if the job’s downtown, how are you going to get to work with no wheels?”
He smiled slyly. “Well, since Will is in class for summer term, he won’t be using his car, so we’ve worked out an arrangement where I’ll drive him to class and pick him up afterwards. The ad agency has a parking lot, so it’ll be easy to park. I think it’ll work out. If not, I guess I’ll have to call Dieter about a deal on a BMW.”
We’d pulled in the driveway, and I stopped and looked at him. “Just so there’s no misunderstandings, self-actualization is a good thing. I have no problems with it. I hope it’s a great job for you for the summer. When do you start?”
“That’s hilarious. Will gets a week off before summer term starts, and you have to go straight to work. Ah well, the price of aptitude!”
“You’re sure you’re not pissed?”
“I am. I knew full well you were being coy about what you were going to do for the summer for a reason. But I’ve got confidence in you. You did a pretty good job planning out the music therapy for Will last December, remember? I’m happy for you.”
He hopped out and opened the garage door, and as we walked inside, I said, “Now we have to plan a menu for tomorrow night. With what shall we regale our guests?”
We’d had salmon the time before when Robert was at our home for dinner, so we decided on grilled pork chops, accompanied by roasted potatoes and braised red cabbage. The potatoes could be par boiled ahead and then roasted off in the oven at the end, and the cabbage was braised and then reduced with chopped apples, so it was terrific with the pork. We got six one-inch thick chops, and I planned on using a dry rub made with paprika, some sugar, garlic powder and various spices. Sear on both sides, and then let the temperature drop in the grill to finish them slowly.
Jackson was planning on handling the salad with his now-favorite Caesar dressing, and we also got a loaf of French bread, and various mixers. We didn’t have a bar at the level of Carter’s but at least we had a decent offering.
Will had been off filling out applications for part-time work at a few auto parts stores in the afternoon, and he picked Ron up on the way home. Jackson and I were finishing up in the kitchen and I heard Then Play On start to play from the living room and took that as a good sign for the evening. When Robert and Dieter arrived, Jackson let them in, and I heard him settle them in the living room. I walked in and both of them looked relaxed and happy. They both smiled unabashedly, and I had to say, “My, my, if you two don’t look like a sight for sore eyes!”
Robert looked at me and said, “As well read as you are, I presume you understand that the saying has two meanings. May I inquire which you had in mind?”
He had me. “Robert, I only know of one meaning. Why don’t you illuminate us?”
“Well, the original phrase had a negative connotation, as in ‘you make my eyes hurt.’ The later one, which replaced it in the mid-19th century was almost the opposite, namely ‘the sight of you is good for sore eyes.’ I trust your view of Dieter and I is the latter, rather than the former?”
The boys were watching with various levels of smiles on their faces, corresponding to how well they knew Robert. Ron’s smile was slight, meaning he didn’t know quite how to take it all. Jackson was all grin.
“You absolutely may! Walking in here and seeing the two of you together, made me immediately think ‘relaxed and happy.’ In other words, a sight quite good for sore eyes. Need I say more?”
“Certainly not. And I can’t speak for Dieter, but I will tell you, that the past week has been the best week I’ve had in a very, very long time.” He looked at the boys, then his eyes came back to me and he said, “I can’t thank you all enough not just for introducing us, but getting us together after Glee Club.”
I smiled slyly, looking from Dieter to Robert and said, “Well, my senses tell me love is in the air!”
They both smiled kind of devilishly, and Jackson quipped, “I could see it when I opened the front door. You guys look good together.” He looked at Will and Ron, “Didn’t you see it when we walked in?”
Will was grinning now. “Oh yeah, both of you, you were all smiles and your eyes were shiny and stuff. I’m guessing you two are an item!”
I looked back at Robert and Dieter, and said, “Welcome to our home. It’s not our usual approach to put guests on the spot as soon as they arrive, let alone embarrass them, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to put you both at ease and make sure there isn’t an elephant in the room. Are you with me? Three gay guys live in this house, and Ron and Will are dating. It appears that for this evening it’s Gays 6 to 0, so, you can be entirely at ease and totally yourselves while you’re here.”
A pleasant smile appeared on both their faces; Robert’s eyes seemed to say he wasn’t quite sure he could believe what he’d just heard. I turned to Jackson and said, “Will you hand Robert the cover to the album that’s playing?”
He did, and I continued, “Robert, you may not be a Fleetwood Mac fan, and this is an older of their albums. One that’s jazz influenced, which you might appreciate Dieter. Do either of you know the reference in the title, where it came from or what the original said?”
They both held the album and looked at it, glanced at each other, then Dieter shook his head. Robert looked at me and said, “There’s something familiar about it, but I’m drawing a blank.”
“It’s from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, specifically: If music be the food of love, play on. So, there’s lots of music in this crowd, and also a lot of love, and that is my last comment about both for the evening. With that I’ll let Jackson spring into action as bartender.”
Jackson described the drinks selection, but first he said to Robert, “Will and I were kidding you just now because we like you and care about you. But you’re also our teacher, and nothing goes beyond these walls that you don’t want known, Okay?” Robert nodded and Jackson got everyone’s order, and as he headed to the sideboard, Dieter comment on how charming the house seemed and asked if he could see it.
I said, “Of course,” and turned to Will and Ron. “Will you guys help Jackson with the drinks, while I show Dieter and Robert the house?” They followed us into the dining room where Jackson was at work and explained how Marcia did home design and helped us with decorating and obtaining the furniture we had. We moved into the kitchen and Dieter commented on the size of the O’Keefe & Merritt range and the amount of workspace in the kitchen. “Very functional, I like it very much.”
We were in the study between the two bedrooms when Jackson arrived with the drinks, and he said, “Pretty comfy pad, right?”
Both of them grinned, and Robert said how encouraging it was that we’d created a study.
“That was David’s idea, and I was originally thinking, ‘Okay, cool. It’ll be a place for my World Book encyclopedias, but when Fall quarter started it didn’t take long to figure out a dedicated place to study was way better than a bedroom.” I saw him grin, and then say, “And now David gets to use it that way, too, since he’s taking classes this summer.”
As we walked back to the living room, I explained the classes I’d be taking and that I was trying to obtain a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. As we re-entered the living room, Jackson added, “It’ll be like study hall around here this summer, because Will is enrolling in summer term. He’ll be in school full time, David will be taking two classes, so that’s almost like half time. I’ll be the only one living here who’s working full time and earning a wage.”
He was cracking up as he said it, playing the role of the shoe being on the other foot. That opened the conversation up to summer plans, and Robert was quite pleased to learn Ron had landed the internship in Ashland. “That’s a good sign. I’ve only attended as a member of the audience, but have other musician friends that are active in the festival, and I’m pretty sure it’s not an easy position to land. I have tickets for later in the summer, if Dieter wants to go with me, and maybe we can look you up while we’re in Ashland.”
The conversation continued easily, and after a bit I said, I was heading for the kitchen to start cooking, and asked Jackson to give me fifteen minutes and then come help. I could hear the chatter going on, then the album being replaced with Rumors, so clearly the discussion had included Fleetwood Mac’s newer music. Fifteen minutes later I had the potatoes roasting in the oven and low heat under the cabbage after checking the temperature of the pork chops. I turned when I heard the whole lot of them wandered into the kitchen and assembled around the kitchen table.
Jackson went to work on the salad with the comment, “They thought it would be uncouth to stay in the living room while we were slaving away in here.”
I grinned, and said, “I forgot something. Will you find that jar of apple sauce and get it out. He dug in the pantry and found it, handed it to Will and said, “Into a bowl, if you please, along with a serving spoon, and then on the table with the butter.”
I made a last check of the pork chops, pulled them off and covered them with tin foil, and as I was putting the potatoes in a serving bowl asked Ron to pour water in the glasses already on the table, and Will to open a bottle of wine, and we were on our way.
Jackson got everyone seated, and Will and Ron brought in the rest of the dishes, and we settled down for a pleasant dinner characterized by open and friendly conversation and good food. Dieter commented on pork chops and red cabbage reminding him of his youth in Germany. After we cleared the table, we were taking dessert orders, but both Robert and Dieter passed on dessert, commenting that as one gets older one has to watch the calorie intake. The boys had no qualms about devouring the ice cream with accompanying short bread cookies.
After we’d cleaned up, had the dishes in the dishwasher, and settled in the living room, Robert asked if he could make a request. I glanced at him nodding, and he said, “This request would require three people to agree. You’ve all told me about using some Moody Blues songs for music therapy, and I’m only familiar with Question. Would it be too intrusive or personal to ask you to play the other ones for us? I’m still amazed with what you did, and would really like to complete the picture in my mind with the music and the lyrics.”
I looked at Will and Jackson. “This is your call.”
They looked at each other, Jackson with an open expression on his face as if asking, and I could see a flicker of emotion cross Will’s face. Then he said, “You know, if someone had asked in class or something like that, with people I don’t know, with people that couldn’t or wouldn’t understand what happened, I’d want to pass, or even leave.”
He paused, then he looked at Robert, “But, that’s not how I feel now. You accepted me into your program. These guys,” and he pointed at Jackson and me, “saved me, but when I was getting my life back together, you accepted me into your program, so I owe you a lot. Ron knows a lot of it, but not all, and I trust him, and I trust and really like you, too, Dieter. So, I’m fine with it.”
He looked at Jackson. “You chose the songs, so, where do we start.”
“Do you want to say anything about why? You know, like a little background?”
Will swallowed hard, then looked at Robert and said, “I’ve told you a little, about how the boy I was dating Fall quarter committed suicide. What I couldn’t understand but do now, is why. That he couldn’t resolve the guilt he felt being gay in a really, really religious family. Anyway, after it happened, I went into a deep depression, and I guess it looked like I might not come out. So, after David convinced my parents to pull me out of U of O so I wouldn’t fail the quarter, and I was still in that dark place, they came and got me and brought me home. Brought me here, where I was totally accepted and loved. And then they started each day after breakfast playing me a Moody Blues song, and Jackson would sit there next to me on the couch with the song lyrics from the album cover while it played, and then afterwards they’d start talking to me about what the lyrics meant and how it applied to me and the mess I was in.”
He looked at Jackson. “Is that enough background?”
Jackson nodded and said, “Perfect, thanks man.” He looked at Robert. “I only grew up knowing a couple of their biggest hits, but David’s sister-in-law is a big fan, and David has a big record collection and when they visited last summer we were playing all kinds of music and I found the Moody Blues albums and loved the cover art, and just started listening to them all. I liked a lot of the songs, but a handful really stuck because they were about friends and friendship and problems in life and how to get through them. So, that was fresh in my mind, and I picked the songs I thought would work, and David got the discussion going, and we’d go from there.”
I was betting Ron only knew half of this, and for Dieter it was all completely new and he seemed mesmerized, but for Robert, the interest was sincere. I realized something else as I sat listening—how important it was for Will to now be able to tell some other people about what happened and how it was resolved. It gave every indication that it was behind him, a painful but fully resolved problem.
Jackson pulled out the albums, and played the songs pretty much in order, starting with Remember Me, My Friend, then Question, then Lovely to See You , moving on to Watching and Waiting and New Horizons followed by Candle Of Life and ending with Isn’t Life Strange. He explained the main points in the lyrics that we talked about, and frequently Will would comment about what touched him, what resonated for him.
When they’d finished, it was quiet. It had been heavy, and everyone was thinking serious thoughts. Robert finally said, “Will, thank you for being so open and brave. That meant so much to me, because I’ve been through a tough few years, though nothing like what you went through. Hearing the songs was so meaningful because I didn’t fully understand how relevant and incisive the lyrics were. These guys don’t fit the model of a typical rock band, or most composers, for that matter.”
Will was nodding, not saying any more than he had to, clearly dealing with the emotions that had been evoked. Robert went on, “Will, can I tell you something?”
“David’s been my counselor over the past couple of months, and I told him after the choir performance that I probably wouldn’t have selected Dufay’s Je me complains piteusement now, but it expressed the anguish I was feeling at the time.”
Will looked at him, smiling softly. “I didn’t know that, but I understand the anguish that the song conveyed. I kept trying to figure it out.”
“What I knew was that it spoke about and expressed what I was feeling, and what I know now is that my reaction was pretty much overwrought. Or, to put it another way, complaining piteously to myself only made the grief and pain and torment worse. I disagree with Dufay now. Your experience, like mine, proves that the pain of love needn’t keep us so worried, and that Fortune doesn’t necessarily wish it that way. Maybe it’s the kind of thing youth are prone to, but if so, then I was stuck in my youth. But, more importantly, now I’m not. I’m in touch with the real me, and I’ve found a new love...”
And here he took Dieter’s hand, and continued, “…and instead of complaining piteously, I am rejoicing.”
Dieter smiled at him, then looked at all of us and said softly, “I was born in Germany and raised in a German Catholic household. I quite understand what you were describing, Will, about the guilt, the unresolved guilt. I walked away from it all years ago, but the scars and some of the pain are still there. Thank you for all for sharing those songs and what the lyrics mean. It helped me just listening to them. I have a new friend and lover in my life, so I rejoice.”
Robert looked at me, “And thanks for sharing the reference behind the title Then Play On. I’m with you guys that music is the food of love.”
He looked at everyone and said, “Thanks for indulging me on playing the Moody Blues songs. I hope it wasn’t too heavy for everyone. And Dieter, I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable speaking publicly about the new love I’ve found.”
“Not at all. My heart leapt with your boldness and sincerity. I actually think we owe all of these gentlemen our thanks for connecting us.”
After Robert and Dieter left, we all settled on the couch, Jackson in my arms, Ron in Will’s. The conversation was light, and eventually Ron said to all of us, “You know something? I just have to say to all of you that the level of honesty you show each other, and extended to Robert and Dieter tonight, is kind of mind blowing. In my family almost none of it would have been talked about. Ever. You know, like ‘hush, hush!’ How do you do it?”
Jackson hugged me, and I replied for us. “Both of us grew up in families where it was ‘hush, hush’ for stuff like this. So, for us it took getting out of that dynamic and creating a new one. A new one where we established the ground rules, one that’s shaped by love and honesty. Is that right?”
I hugged Jackson, and he nodded. “Yep, that’s it. Will, your family wasn’t as up tight, right, but still a lot was the same?”
“Yeah, the same program, just not as intense, I guess. Anyway, the most important part for me is what I said earlier when we were doing the Moody Blues thing. I said you brought me home. Meaning here. Meaning you brought me into your family, into that dynamic of love and honesty. That’s why I’m back. That’s why I could talk about it tonight. That’s even why I can love being with you,” and here he hugged Ron and kissed the side of his head, “because if it hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t be here. I might have never come out of that dark place.”
He lifted his hand from around Ron and extended it our way. I lifted mine off of Jackson’s shoulder and extended it toward Will, and our fingers interlaced. I looked at him as I squeezed his fingers, and his eyes were sparkling.
Ron’s parents insisted that he had to come home for a few days if he was going to spend the summer in Ashland after the entire year in Portland without visiting them. He was out of the dorm and staying with us until he left for Salt Lake City on Monday, and Will ran him to the airport. That upset their carpooling plan, but since I didn’t start my classes at Portland State until the following week, Jackson took the BMW to work. He was trying not to make a big deal out of it, but I could see the pride he felt in ‘going to work.’ I gave him a hug and a kiss and told him to make a good impression.
Will found out in the afternoon that having worked in his Dad’s auto parts store paid off, and the experience landed him a part time job at a store in the same franchise on Saturdays. It would be a long day, 9:00 to 6:00 PM, on top of a full school schedule, but he wanted to do it, so we supported him.
That night over dinner Jackson told us what he knew about his job. He’d been assigned to a project team along with another intern, and their responsibilities could range from doing basic research, to being part of focus groups, to working on campaign development, or writing copy. Their positions didn’t have any seniority, but they would certainly provide a wide range of experience. I was beginning to figure out that was precisely what he was after, after growing up in a small town. It made sense too, since he’d be having to select a major before long.
Jackson was working 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday. Will was pretty busy during the week with class and homework, and between working at the Center half time and taking my classes, I had a pretty full week too. Will worked Saturday and Jackson and I did the domestic stuff on Saturday so that we could have a real R & R day on Sunday. With most students gone for the summer, there was no PDA or discussion group or even worship service. The first Saturday evening, while we were waiting dinner for Will to get home, Jackson called Sam to see what she was doing the next day, and she had some plans with some of the employees in the sporting goods store, but thanked him for thinking of her and asked if she could be part of next Sunday.
I was on the couch and could hear Jackson on the phone. “Well, Sam, let me think. Have you talked to David yet? You know, you were going to get together with him. Has that happened?”
He knew it hadn’t happened, and I heard them giggling and going back and forth on the phone and finally he said, “Okay, then. We’ve got a deal based on that. You’re in for any Sunday you want to be, but you’ve got to do your part.”
When he walked in the living room I said, “And just what is ‘her part?’ I heard most of that.”
“Her part is meeting with you to talk, like she said she would a few weeks ago. She’s stalling, and I told her if she wants to do stuff with us on Sunday then she needs to get serious about it.”
“So, you’re strong arming her into a counseling session? And, how’s it going to work since she’s not living in the dorm this summer?”
“No, Babe, I am strongly encouraging her to follow through with the desire she expressed to help resolve some of her hang ups. That’s different, and it’s not strong arming. She and Ruth are sharing an apartment just off campus come Fall, and she’s living there this summer. Moving home for the summer wasn’t an option.”
“Okay, I’ll accept that. Still, don’t you think you were painting her into a corner?”
“Absolutely! Otherwise it would never happen. If we hadn’t gone to Newberg and gotten Will and brought him back here, which was your idea, what would have happened? See, My Sexy Man, I’ve been watching you and learning your methods!”
“Don’t be bratty. But what you could do that would be really nice, is to come over here and lay down with your head in my lap. That’s a piece of your methodology I really appreciate.”
The next day we decided to take a hike since doing a bike ride meant taking two cars and that didn’t make much sense for three people. We drove up to Zig Zag on the south side of Mount Hood and did the Ramona Falls Trail that we’d done the previous summer. It was eight miles plus the elevation gain, and that made it a good first hike of summer, and it was the first time Will had been hiking on Mount Hood.
We got back home in the late afternoon, had dinner, and Will and I got organized for classes starting the next day. For Will starting summer term was just continuing on from Spring quarter, except without choir and glee club practice on three days of the week. I discovered I wasn’t so far out of the academic routine, and it wasn’t too much effort to get into the schedule of attending class, and doing the necessary reading and homework. It felt good, in fact. Jackson was still upbeat about his job by the end of the first week, and over dinner Friday night he filled us in on some of the ad campaigns they were working up and the possible clients they could land if it all came together. One began to realize the competitive nature of the advertising business.
For Sunday we’d planned that Will would pick up Sam with her bike, and we’d all drive out to the BMX course in east Portland where Will had won his race two summers before and advanced to Expert category. It was only moderately crowded when we got there, and we’d all agreed since this was the first BMX ride of the summer, there would be no crazy stuff. Getting home with no injuries was the goal. We rode the course as a group a couple of times, and then somehow ended up pairing off so I rode the course with Jackson and then Will and finally with Sam. It was hard to keep it down to a fun ride and not turn it into a race, but it was early enough in the summer, with no spring training behind us, that we were starting to feel our legs before long, and that helped settle it down. Still, it was apparent that Will had lost none of his bike handling ability, and Sam was a very good bike handler herself.
Sam came home with us and joined us for dinner, the most memorable part of which was Jackson asking her over dessert if she’d brought her calendar with her?
She looked at him and said, “What?”
He smiled slyly, and said, “Did you bring your calendar, so you and David can settle on a day and time when you two can meet. I’m not letting you off the hook on this Sam, you made a deal with me.”
She was smiling, but you could tell she didn’t find it humorous. “Okay, you win. I’ve got tomorrow off, too. David, what’s your schedule like tomorrow?”
We worked out a time in the afternoon, and agreed to meet at the center. Will took Sam to her apartment, then drove to the airport to pick up Ron. The flight from Salt Lake City was on time, but they didn’t get home till after 10:00 PM, which gave us time for a brief summary of the trip, planning on the rest in the morning.
Jackson had already left for work and I was eating breakfast when Will and Ron wandered into the kitchen still looking a little rumpled. I grinned and said, “Good morning, guys. Are you all caught up now?”
They grinned back at me, and I pointed to the orange juice and coffee. We chatted as we ate, and Ron had enjoyed seeing his parents, but not the religious pressure, that started within hours of his being home. He was also confirmed on one other thing, that the culture was so much more open and accepting in Portland, he couldn’t see ever moving back to Utah.”
“Then keep your parents happy and your grades up so your parents continue to pay your tuition, and you’ll have a ticket out of town.” He smiled at that.
I asked if he’d done anything exciting, and he replied that other than hanging out with a few old friends, it was only seeing a couple of movies. “It was the first week after the end of the school year there, too, so that meant lots of people either gone or on the move. You know, moving home, summer jobs, all that. It mainly all boiled down to making the parents happy before I go to Ashland for the summer.”
“Do you have all the details on that?”
He looked at me. “Sure do. I go down Saturday, and the weekend is to get settled. They have an arrangement with the local college that interns can use student housing, so getting that lined up and moved in is on Saturday, and then Sunday I’ve got a couple of staff meetings, and Monday it goes full time.”
“Then since Friday is your last evening here, unless you and Will already have a hot date planned, why don’t we invite Ruth and Sam over for dinner and we can have a combo farewell and beginning of summer celebration. I think she moves up to Timberline Lodge over the weekend. Does that work for you guys?”
He nodded and looked at Ron, who said, “That’d be cool.”
“We’ll be having a few dates during the week, so we’ll be caught up. Ruth and Sam are good friends, and it’ll be good having them, too.”
The Center felt somewhat empty in the summer without Mona manning her desk and greeting everyone who came in the door and making them feel welcome. When Sam arrived, I asked her if she preferred the lounge downstairs or my office upstairs. She preferred the informality of the lounge, and we settled in.
I grinned at her. “I know you’re not really here out of choice, even though one part of your brain says you should do this, but that the real reason is that my boyfriend has you strong armed into it.”
She smiled weakly, “Yeah. And there’s no point in fighting it anymore. I love him, but he can be sly and obstinate when he wants to be, can’t he?”
I raised my eyebrows. “My Lover Boy, sly and obstinate?”
“Is that what you call him? He’s that, too, I can tell!”
“It’s quite the combination of talents, isn’t it?”
She grinned at that. “Yeah, it’s all good. I know I need to talk about my shit. It’s just never been easy.”
“Can I start by asking why you refer to it as your ‘shit?’ That seems a little strong.”
“You mean like strong coffee?”
“You know what I mean.”
“You mean strong, as in harsh?”
“That’s a good synonym.”
“David, a lot of my life has felt like shit.”
“Do you want to tell me about any of it?”
“Well, you know most of the background already, right? Hyper conservative parents, about as bad as religious fanatics. I’m bi and an athlete, they wanted some pretty girl hetero daughter that would be a Rose Parade Queen and some Barbie doll kind of thing. I’m not that, never was and never would be. They wouldn’t accept it, so we don’t get along. They do their thing and I do mine…most of the time.”
“Okay, I understand the parental conflict. Most of us have some of that, it’s not that unusual. I can see that what we might call their ‘girly expectations’ of you compounded things if your sexual identity didn’t line up with what they expected or wanted. Is that what the problem is?”
She was quiet. “I don’t know what the problem is?”
“But you just told me there’s a problem with your parents.”
“Yeah, but we’ve pretty well got that sorted out. They’ve finally realized I’m not going to be what they want me to be. We don’t get along. We stay apart most of the time. I guess it works.”
“You don’t sound too enthusiastic about it.”
“Who would? You’re supposed to love your parents, aren’t you? They’re supposed to love you, too, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, that’s the usual model.”
She was silent again.
She looked up. “What are you thinking?”
“Why don’t they love me?”
“I’m betting that in their minds they think they do. Or at least, they think they do the way they define it. But, that’s where the problem comes. If I understand it correctly, they’re highly starched conservatives, and that means a big set of social and public behavior expectations. My parents were conservatives, and they weren’t even politically active, but I can tell you they had no ability to understand or accept a gay son.”
“You know what I’m talking about then?”
“Yeah, I do, even if I didn’t know I was gay then, and they didn’t either.”
“Okay, so even if they ‘think’ they love me, I mean their way, then why can’t they just accept me?”
“Now we’re into the difficult part, because so much of it is tied up with identity and tribalism and social expectations. Do you remember when we were talking about identity and identity charts in discussion group and in the PDA? It wasn’t just something to talk about to kill time. It’s major. Most people’s identity is handed to them by their family or tribe. So, if those values are highly conservative and religious, then it’s Okay if the person getting the identity is in synch with the values. If they’re not, then there’s conflict. If you were some perfect Barbie doll kind of girl, one that didn’t do your own thinking and was looking to marry the school football quarterback, thing’s would be different, wouldn’t they?”
“Sure would. And, I’d be the most miserable person in town.”
“Because I hate all that shit.”
“Meaning by ‘all that shit’ the whole all-American girl in skirts and going with the football star and all that?”
“Okay, clearly that’s not you. And you know what? I’ve gotten to know you reasonably well, I liked you from the start, and love you now like a dear friend, just like Jackson and Will do. All that ‘shit’ is not you, and for the record, the person we love is you. The Sam sitting right here in front of me. Are you clear on that?”
“What do you mean? I’m not sure.”
“What I mean, to be painfully precise, is that the Sam we love, the person we think is the most fully in touch with her identity is the one who wears Levi’s and those Royal Robbins shoes, who is a hard core ski racer and BMX rider, who’s a great bike handler and can give it and take it from most guys. Is tough enough to crash in a ski race and get a major injury and say she’s fine. She’s also incredibly cute, has a great sense of humor, and has a heart of gold. That’s the Sam I’m talking about.”
“You’re sure you haven’t confused me with someone else?” She was trying hard to keep a straight face.
“I have no doubt about it. I have a couple more questions, though?”
She smiled. “Okay, go on. I’m here, so I’ve got to do this.”
“First, do you love the Sam I just described as much as we do?”
She looked at me, a little shocked. “Well, it’s me, so, yeah, I…I guess I…what do you mean?”
“Sam, you can make the case for who you are or think you are or want to be all day long, but it doesn’t hold together unless and until you can love yourself.”
“What do you mean? I love myself?”
“Do you? I sense a lot of unresolved conflict. And trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve had to sort through the same kind of stuff. How’d you like to be the minster of a church in a denomination that calls homosexuals depraved sinners, and you figure out you’re gay. There’s my example of having to come to grips with, and accept, and ultimately love myself. I don’t mean just emotionally; I mean fully understanding and accepting and embracing the person who is me. Or, in your case,
who is you.”
She was quiet again, then finally said, “I guess I’m still working on it, right?”
“If you are, then it’s because you’re still carrying around a lot of the expectations that your parents loaded on you, and trying to resolve the conflict between what you know they want and who you are.”
“What does that mean?”
“Often it means unresolved guilt because you’re not meeting up to the standards or expectations your parents have set for you. Meaning that whether you know it or not, you’re still trying to make them happy. Unresolved guilt is a powerful thing.”
“I know that much.”
“The second thing, when we were talking about the all-American girl stuff, why was the verb you used the word ‘hate,’ as in ‘I hate’ that shit.”
“Because I do. It’s not me.”
“Sam, I’m not a drag queen and I’m also not a jock, but you know what? I don’t hate either one of them. I’m just different than they are. Why do you feel so strongly, so vehemently about it?”
“I just do. It’s not me. It’s what everyone tried to force me into being. I was a…a tom…well, anyway, I was different.”
“Sam, please finish that sentence for me. I know you, and I think I know what you were going to say.”
She was looking at me know, and her eyes were getting red, and finally she said, “I was a tomboy, and it was all Okay until one day my parents said it wasn’t.”
“Can you tell me some more about that?”
“I was never into the typical girl scene and proms and fancy clothes and all that crap. My heroes were the characters that Tatum O’Neal played, like Addie Loggins in Paper Moon and Amanda Whurlitzer in The Bad News Bears. Do you know what I mean?”
I told her I’d seen the movies and the characters, but couldn’t claim to know a lot.
“Well, they dressed more like boys than girls. You see me, mainly it’s Levi’s and flannel shirts in the winter and cut offs and a T-shirt in the summer, right? They were confident and said what they thought, and they didn’t give a shit about all the rules about boys and girls. They were them. Does that make sense?”
“You mean they knew themselves? They were comfortable in their own skin? They understood and accepted their own identity?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s a lot of why I admired them. That’s what I wanted to be. Comfortable in my own skin.”
“But that didn’t happen?”
“Well, for a while, but I think my parents were just putting up with it for a while. Then they dropped the hammer.”
“Meaning that they figured out or were told by their friends or whatever, that having a tom boy for a daughter was a problem for them. So, suddenly, it wasn’t Okay. I wasn’t acceptable anymore. I had to change.”
“That must have hurt.”
“It was the first time they rejected me.”
“Because they told me there was no room in their family for a tom boy. That meant change or else.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I tried to change. You know, dresses and braids and all that shit that I…”
She stopped and smiled. “See, I didn’t say hate.”
I grinned at her. “As they say in Australia, ‘Good on ’ya!’ Does that mean you’ve let go of the hate?”
“It doesn’t do any good to hold on to it, does it?”
“You said that was the first time they rejected you. Were there other times?”
“Well, yeah, you know about the other big one, when I was in the relationship with my girlfriend, and it was the same thing. There’s no room in our family for a bi or lesbian or whatever daughter.”
“That kind of rejection is really hard, and really painful, Sam, and don’t ever think I don’t understand that or would minimize it, Okay?”
She broke into a big smile with that. “Jackson was right about talking about it.”
“Are you feeling better, even though it’s been some pretty heavy stuff?”
She nodded, and we agreed to leave it there for the first session, and to meet again the following Monday if she wanted to. I told her she could tell me on Sunday.
I knew with everyone’s schedule that by Friday everyone would be hungry and want to relax and enjoy each other, not do a big food prep dinner. I got home early enough to prepare a large pan of lasagna, and Jackson got home a little early, too to do his salad. I’d picked up cheese and crackers at the store when I bought the bulk sausage for the sauce, as well as a couple of loaves to make garlic bread.
Will and Ron had been out doing something, and when they came in, they set the table, and said they’d clean up and do the dishes, and we were ready for the ladies to arrive.
When Ruth and Sam came in, it was like old home week, with conversation ranging all over the place. They all wanted an update on Ron’s trip home, and then discussion shifted to his position at the Shakespearean Festival in Ashland. He clearly appeared to have the most exotic employment for the summer, and the good news was that it would also advance his art education and career. Ruth was excited about the Timberline Lodge job, and we promised to hike the higher elevations of Mount Hood with her once the snowpack had receded back to the typical summer snow line. Sam made clear she was happy with her job, and looking forward to being ever more active over the summer.
Everyone knew that Will was in class, so that was already old news. There was a lot of interest in Jackson’s job, and what it was turning out to be like working in a corporate office setting. Basically, he let them know that he was at the bottom of the totem pole, frequently alternated between being a gopher and a runner, and still had no idea how office politics works. But he was also upbeat about what he was learning about the advertising business and how campaigns were planned and made to work.
The menu was pretty well guaranteed to be a hit with college students, and it was topped off with a velvet cake with ice cream, so they were all stuffed and happy. At one point, Sam came back from the bathroom, and commented on hoping she hadn’t disturbed anything, but it was so crowded.
Will replied that Ron had been staying with him, and there were two people’s gear in the bathroom for now, and apologized if it was a mess. I thought I saw a little startle on Sam’s face, as if somehow knowing that they’d been dating for months was one thing, but learning that they were sharing a bed and bathroom was something else. She made light of it, though, and the evening carried on. The conversation shifted to what became the next big thing in everyone’s life that year: when to go see Alien, which had opened on May 25th. All the reviews were billing it as a landmark scientific film, but it had opened at only one theater in downtown Portland, and was playing to sold out crowds, so they’d all decided to wait till the first surge of popularity had passed.
The evening broke up with everyone wishing one another a great summer, and promises of reconnecting before Fall quarter resumed. True to their word, Will and Ron did most of the clean-up, and joined us in the living room when they’d finished in the kitchen.
“That was fun, David. Thanks for organizing it. We all had a great time.”
“That was the point, Will. For at least a few of you it’ll be September before you see each other again, so it was important. Ron, what’s time’s the bus tomorrow? Are you all packed and organized?”
He said the bus was at 11:00 AM, so he had time in the morning for the last details, Will was working, so Jackson had offered to run him down to the bus station. We thought we heard a little extra noise and exertion from Will’s room later on, but they were up fairly early so Will could get to work. Ron walked out to the Nova with him, and it was a kind of emotional goodbye to watch.
I was watching out the kitchen window, and realized Jackson had come up next to me when his arm slipped around my waist. “I just hope it holds together for them over the summer.”
“As do I, but only time will tell. Every relationship has it’s tests, even ours did.”
He hugged me and said, “What are we doing tomorrow? We need to keep Will busy, don’t you think?
I agreed and said, we should start that evening by going to see Alien. His eyes widened. “You’re up for that? There could be a line?”
“So, what! It’s supposed to be great. We’re hiking tomorrow, so we have to decide where to go, then call Sam.”
Alien was astounding, and we were totally unprepared for what comprised the story line in the movie. Even though Jackson and I had read our share of scientific fiction, none of it was close to this in terms of the horror and thriller factor. When the alien broke out of the crew member’s chest, we all almost died right there in the theater, and then the suspense as the alien knocked off the crew members one by one, until there was just Ripley left. We were stunned when we left the theater, and it was all we could talk about till we went to bed.
The next day we did the Angels Rest to Devil’s Rest Loop trail, which was a 10-mile hike that was fairly difficult in places. Jackson and I had done it the past summer, and it started in a fern-filled forest and included the spectacular Coopey Falls waterfall that made it astounding. We started mid-morning, and carried in lunch with us, and were back out by 3:00 PM. At one point I made a comment to Will about the condition of his hiking boots, which were really just glorified work boots and well worn. Sam listened and then said he should come by the store during the week and try different styles on and she’d get him her employee discount. He raised his eyebrows, and she said, “After all you and Jackson did for me when I was laid up. It’s the least I can do.”
That pretty well established our pattern for the summer. Work and school during the week, work for Will on Saturday which let Jackson and I do our house duties, and then we’d all meet up on Sunday for a hike or bike ride. Will had stopped by the sporting goods store during the week, and he’d ended up with a good pair of medium weight hiking boots with Vibram soles.
That evening or the next I asked him over dinner how he was feeling. He looked at me with a “What?” expression on his face as he chewed his food.
“You know. Your boyfriend was back for a few days and now he’s gone again. I’m asking how you’re feeling, how you’re doing?”
“I’m doing Okay. I mean I miss him, you know. We’re not really boyfriends, though.”
“Dude, what do you mean ‘not boyfriends?’ You’ve been dating for months, and he’s stayed here with you and shared your bed. That looks like ‘boyfriend’ to me.”
“Jackson, you’re right, and we did, and it was great and all that, but boyfriends means some kind of commitment, right? I’ve told you all along that we’re dating and not madly in love. It’s still the same. I like him a lot, I always will. I’m not madly in love with him. He’s in the same place. We’ve talked about it a lot. It’s not like we’re just filling a need for each other either. It’s something else, something special, like we’ve helped each other explore and move forward. Something like that. I don’t’ know where it’ll go, we’ll just have to see.”
“You really have this understood in your mind, don’t you? I’m impressed.”
“I learned a lot with Kevin and what happened, and part of that was about unrealistic expectations and fantasies about what could be. You guys have also taught me a lot about being honest and being a realist. So, that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
I reached out and put my hand on his. “The more I know you, the more I am impressed with you as a person. You’re being amazingly objective about this relationship.”
“Okay, I’m going to say something, and I’ve thought about it a lot, and Ron and I have talked about it a lot because of what we went through. We’re lovers bound by friendship and need. We know we’re not in deeply in love, but we like each other. We enjoy each other. We’re good for each other, for where we are now. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but it’s nice the way it is.”
I still had my hand on his and squeezed it and said, “You’ve also become one of the most mature people I know.”
He grinned at that, and Jackson went over and gave him a hug, followed by a comment as he headed for the kitchen, “I’m always available to come sleep with you if you get too lonely. I do need a couple of hours notice though!”
Will threw his napkin at Jackson’s retreating back!
I met Sam at the Center on Monday again, and we made ourselves a cup of tea and sat down in the lounge.
“Do you want to start where we left off last week?”
She nodded, sipping her tea.
“After we resolved the ‘hate that shit’ part, we were talking about rejecting that all-American girl stuff. Specifically, you were talking about the kind of rejection you felt from your parents because they wouldn’t accept you were a tomboy. Was that the only kind of rejection?
I could see the emotions rise, and it was a good sign because it meant there was continuity from our last counseling session.
“Well, I guess we’re in deep enough I have to tell you everything, right?”
“Only if it’s right for you Sam. It’s your decision.”
“Well, I told you at the end last week that Jackson was right, talking about it really helps, and I want to try and be honest about it all.”
She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and said, “It won’t be easy, and I’ll probably be crying a bunch.”
“That’s Okay. Tears are often good, and this time I have tissues!” I pointed to a box on the coffee table.
She smiled and said, “After the no more tomboy business, I caved in and tried to be more like what my parents wanted. You know, doing girl stuff, wearing dresses and all. My mom bought me this whole wardrobe, but it just didn’t feel right wearing most of it. Most of it didn’t fit right, and it just felt like I was playing a part. Anyway, I hadn’t dated much before that, mainly just the school dances and the prom and stuff. But I started saying ‘Yes,’ because I knew my parents would lighten up if they saw me dating guys. That was my junior year.”
“And how did that go for you?”
“Truth? Most of the time, not so well. Some of the guys were nice and we had fun, but most of them were part of the ‘tits and clit’ crowd, and all they wanted was to get a hand under my bra and then into my pants. So, that didn’t work out because I was still pretty confused sexually. Later in the year I started getting closer to a guy, who was a senior, because he was on ski team, and we saw each other a lot during the winter with skiing, and then dated a lot in the spring and it was good. He invited me to Senior Prom, and that got me points with my parents. But then he graduated and left for a summer job, and then went to college in California, and you know how that goes. We talked a few times and there were a couple of letters, but that was it. What we had in common was skiing and school.”
“That must have hurt and left a hole in your life.”
“It did, but I was busy in the summer. I worked at the same sporting goods store I work at now, and did last summer, too. And was racing BMX and doing summer ski training camp at Timberline, so that filled a lot of time. Then my senior year I kinda started dating some guys again, and it was the ‘tits and clit’ thing all over again, and it kind of blew up for me with one of them when he got really pissed that I wouldn’t have sex with him.”
“So, he didn’t think you had a right to your own decision?”
“No, I guess he thought I owed it to him cause he was a star athlete, or whatever. Anyway, we had a big fight and he told me that…that I wasn’t…I mean he was really pissed and trying to hurt me and he told me I didn’t have a real girl’s body anyway and he’d rather sleep with a real woman.”
“What? He actually told you that?”
“Yeah, and it hurt.” She was working hard to hold down the emotion. “It really hurt because I’d been trying to be more like a ‘real girl,’ whatever that was, to make everyone happy, and then he dumped on me.”
“That’s a painful rejection story. How did you handle it long term? I mean it must have effected your senior year?”
“Well, that one was bad enough, but there was another one, too.”
“Yeah, and I told Will about it a few weeks ago when we were driving home, so I guess I might as well tell you too. My friends told me I was ugly and not sexy.”
“Can you tell me how that happened?”
“Oh, it was some stupid sleepover Fall quarter in my senior year where all the girls were trying on lingerie, and showing off. You wouldn’t know how it goes, but it’s all like ‘does one this show off my tits,’ or ‘is this one better because it highlights my figure.’ Can you imagine? Anyway, when it came my turn, one of the girls said, ‘Here, this one’s really sexy, try this one on.’ I didn’t really want to, but I went along with it, and this girl I hardly knew at school said “That’s not sexy on you. You don’t have the body for it. You don’t have any curves.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No, I wish I was. No curves. Sexy women’s clothes are designed for bodies with curves. If your body doesn’t have curves, they don’t drape, they hang. They look baggy and make you look frumpy…and not sexy. So, basically, she was saying I looked ugly in it because by body doesn’t have any curves. And everyone laughed. I just froze I was so hurt and embarrassed.”
“Hurt I can see. Why embarrassed?”
“Well, she was telling me I had an ugly body and wasn’t sexy.” She was crying now.
When she calmed down and had wiped her eyes, I said, “Sam, the girl who said that to you, can she ski top to bottom at Timberline? Can she ride the BMX course we were on the other day? Can she climb Beacon Rock?”
She wiped her eyes again and said, “Fuck, no. She can barely walk up the stairs.”
“So, this is easy. Which one of those bodies do you value? Which one do you prefer? The one you’ve got that can do those things, or the one that can barely walk up the stairs.”
“The one I’ve got, I guess.”
“Why do you say, ‘I guess?’ Don’t you know? You know for sure that you hate that shit.”
“I prefer me, the way I am, because…because, I don’t know, because…it’s who I am and what I can do. Why does that make no sense?”
“Because I don’t think you’ve ever resolved the deep down tension between what you are, meaning the person and the body and the abilities that make you who you are, and the expectations for something completely different that your parents and their whole social set placed on you…and some of which you absorbed into your identity.”
“What does that mean about me?”
“It just means you haven’t sorted it all out and finally accepted yourself. Until you do that, you can’t really love yourself. If you’re dating someone and there’s something about them that you can’t accept, can you really expect to be able to love them?”
She was quiet, thinking about what I’d said, and then the slightest smile appeared on her face, and she looked at me, and her expression had softened. “If I tell you something, will you promise it’s like totally private?”
“Sam, everything we’ve talked about today is totally private. This is a counseling session. Totally confidential.”
“When I told Will about that lingerie thing with my friends, when one of them said my body looked ugly in it, you know what he said?”
“What? Now you’ve really got me curious.”
“He told me he thought I had a sexy body.”
“Wow. Really! That’s very cool.”
She was starting to sob again. “It’s one of the most wonderful things anyone’s ever said to me. I mean I know I’m a pretty good athlete because of the body I’ve got, and because I’m competitive, but it’s not what all the other chicks consider important. Most of them don’t just think it’s not sexy, they think it’s ugly like that one friend said. Well, she was no friend. So, to be told I was sexy, was just so great. Even my girlfriend never told me that. And this wasn’t another lesbian or bi girl, this was a guy telling me I was sexy. I’ve felt better about myself ever since.”
“Maybe that’s why you thought we didn’t need to get together and talk.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I think I mainly just wanted to avoid it. But you know what? It helps, doesn’t it? That’s what Jackson was telling me. It helps to get it out. I’m sorry I’m such a mess? You’d think someone who has all the trophies I’ve got could hold their shit together.”
“Sam, do you know when we’re most real as human beings? It’s when we’re the most open and vulnerable. That’s what you’ve been today. Open and honest and vulnerable. You put down the shield and showed me the real you. I showed you part of the real me. In the end, that’s what matters most. Can you tell me about your girlfriend? How did that come about?”
“Well, after the all that shit with dating boys and then the ugly body thing, I stopped dating. I couldn’t see how anyone would want to anyway, and I didn’t want any more embarrassment. But then I got really close to this other girl on ski team. We’d known about each other from our junior year, but never got close. We started training together and riding together and got closer, and then we were attracted to each other and started getting physical and stuff.”
“This is the person you referred to as your other half?”
“Yeah, because we had so much in common, and we accepted and appreciated each other the way we were. Neither of us had a curvy body, and who cared? We were goth good ski racers, and we liked each other a lot, and we have a good time together. We made each other feel good.”
“That’s a good thing, and you don’t need to get into any details unless you want to.”
She was quiet, reflecting back on the person and experience she’d just told me about. “I’ll just say I never felt anything like that physically before.”
“Can you tell me how it ended?”
She looked back at me, “Yeah. It was at the end of Winter quarter, and ski racing was over and we weren’t going up to Timberline all the time or traveling to races, and we thought we had it all together and were making out and half naked in her bedroom when her Mom walked in on us. Her Mom freaked and told my parents, the parents got together, and that blew it all up. They sent her to a school back east for Spring quarter. I bet that cost a ton of money! Anyway, then she graduated and went to college and we lost touch. Our parents told us we couldn’t communicate.”
“That must have been horrible to experience.”
“It was pretty much the worst year of my life. Can you see why I was so gun-shy and messed up?”
“I saw the gun-shy part, we all did. None of us ever said you were messed up. We just knew you were going through something major.”
“So, what do you think my problem is?”
“Sam, you’re trying to reduce this to some simple formula. It doesn’t work like that. First, problem is the wrong word. That implies there’s something wrong. There’s nothing wrong.”
“Really. You’re mainly still trying to sort out a few unresolved conflicts. They’re pretty fundamental and important ones, and that’s why they’re causing distress. But they’re not problems. There’s nothing wrong here. You know why?”
She looked at me wide eyed.
“Because you are who you are. If you’re bi or lesbian and a cute tomboy and a great athlete too boot, guess what? That’s wonderful. That makes you a wonderful human being. It makes me very happy that you’re one of my friends.”
“I meant every word of it. And for the record, I’m sitting here with you this afternoon being very explicit, but there’s a bunch of other people who have been sending you the same message, though in more general terms. Let’s see, there’s Ruth and Jackson and Will and Ron and Mona and the other students in discussion group as well. Didn’t they all accept you. Didn’t most of them tell you you’re their friend and that they love you?”
“So, who are you going to believe? Your friends you are telling you they like what they see and the person they experience, or that little voice that your parents planted in your mind when you were a child about what they wanted you to grow up to be?”
“When you say it that way, it’s kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it?”
“Sometimes the most painful problems have straight forward solution.”
“Shouldn’t I be feeling bad for not being able to sort this out for myself?”
“No, because feelings and guilt and conflict are tough ones to deal with. Like Jackson said, sometimes it helps a lot to talk about it, because when you can hear yourself describe it, it somehow falls into place and you can see a way out of the woods and into the light.”
She smiled and her eyes brightened.
The following Friday, Jackson called me in the afternoon to make sure I wasn’t planning on cooking dinner. He said he was asking me out on a date. I said, “What about Will?”
He replied, “He’s a big boy. I’ve talked to him. He’s cool with it.”
“Are you sure? This feels suspicious.”
“David, please. Just do this. It’s important, and it’s all cool. Okay?”
I relented, and he said, “I’m taking you out to dinner. I’ll clean up when I get home, and we’ll leave about 6:30, Okay?”
I agreed, and he said, “Thanks, Babe. You’re the best. It’ll be fun. I promise.”
He’d made reservations at a restaurant downtown with a view of the Willamette. He’d been told about it by one of the ad people he worked with, and it had a great view and good food.
I’d realized that this was important to him for some reason I hadn’t figured out. It wasn’t a birthday or anniversary, but I realized I needed to act like it was. But when he cleaned up, he came out of the bedroom wearing his one and only blue sport jacket with an open collar. That upped the ante on the evening, so I got my sport coat, too, and we were on our way.
We’d each ordered a glass of wine with our appetizer, and he didn’t get carded, which surprised me. Maybe it was the sport coat, or that was part of the recommendation he received from his co-worker! At any rate, after we’d sipped our wine and talked about the week, and he filled me in on the current projects and how some potential campaigns were coming together, I saw his expression change.
“David, thanks for changing plans to be with me tonight this way. We’re doing this for us.”
I smiled and squeezed his hand as discreetly as I could.
“So, I’ve got something I want to give you,” he continued. “This is for us.”
I was quiet and watched him reach inside his jacket and remove an envelope from his inside coat pocket. He put it face down on the table and slid it over to me.
I looked up at him from the envelope on the table, and saw him smile, and it was a smile of love and humility.
“What is this, Love,” I said softly, putting my hand on his.
“It’s for us. Open it.”
I picked up the envelope and it had already been opened, and inside it was a paycheck made out to Jackson Dean. He’d endorsed the back of the check.
“What?” I stammered, a little confused but trying not to be offensive.
“It’s my first paycheck, and it’s going into our bank account. This is for us because I want to be, need to be, contributing to our life together.”
He was smiling softly, and his eyes were glistening, and suddenly the scales fell from my eyes. “Now I get it. This is why you did the summer job work on the quiet, right?”
“Yeah, I wanted it to be a job I got on my own, and I wanted it to be a good job, and I wanted to earn my paycheck so I could contribute it to our life. I’ve got to do my part, too, you know.”
I wasn’t going to even mention that Spencer had made sure Bud’s child support payment came our way each month. That wasn’t the point. The point was that Jackson wanted to be an equal contributor and had made it happen the best way he could.
“This is incredibly thoughtful and responsible and loving of you to do. You know you didn’t have to do it, don’t you? I wouldn’t love you any less if you hadn’t, and I don’t know how I could possible love you any more even though you have done it.”
“David, that’s not what it’s about. Do you remember back in Newberg my senior year when you told me I had to get serious about school and get good grades if I wanted to get into a decent college? And I did. Do you remember what I told you about what I realized, and why I decided I had to do it?”
I shook my head.
“Because I realized I didn’t want to be your dork lawn-mowing boyfriend for the rest of my life. If we’re partners, and we are, then I need to do my part.”
I was looking directly at him and could feel tears welling up in my eyes. “Well, you’re more than doing your part, Lover Boy. Rest assured of that. So, I’ll deposit this in our checking account on Monday, but you know you’re free to take out as much as you need for whatever you need. It’s a joint account, there’s your money in there and mine, too. That’s the way it is.”
JC had called about the 4th of July weekend because this year he was off duty and not even on call. I explained our schedules and asked if he’d be up for coming down to visit us. He thought a minute and said that it’d work because his Dad always spent the 4th with his retired Army buddies around Fort Lewis. It meant Frank and Jackson wouldn’t see each other, but they could talk on the phone and maybe work something else out later in the summer. He’d been working long shifts, and had managed not just to have the 4th off, but the Friday before and the Tuesday after the weekend off. I asked how he’d pulled that off, and he laughed. “It’s a combination of earned time and seniority. If you put in enough back-to-back days or long shifts, eventually you can call the cards.”
He drove down on Friday and got to our place in the early afternoon. I made sure I was home early, and helped JC bring in his couple of bags and get him settled in the study with the fold out love seat. I was apologetic about the sleeping arrangement, but he stopped me.
“Listen, I’ve slept on this before, when Dad slept in the guest room, and it’s fine. What you’re doing having Will live here with you is far more important than if I get my own room. Jackson’s been keeping me updated each time we talk on the phone, and it sure seems like Will’s not just turned the corner but is on solid ground. Am I reading that right?”
I told him he was and outlined how Will was able to describe what happened and the music therapy part to Robert and Dieter, and he just nodded his head and smiled. “Yep, sounds like he’s on solid ground to me. So, what are the plans for the weekend?”
“Well, Will has to work tomorrow, then he also has Monday off. What are you thinking?”
“My sister and her husband are having a cookout tomorrow. If you and Jackson are up for it, I can get my family duties out of the way, and he can connect with his aunt, and then I get to spend Sunday and Monday with my three most favorite gay guys on the planet. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like the kind of plan only you could have come up with. I also want to give you a report on your son, on the QT, though, unless he tells you about it, Okay?”
His eyes took on a conspiratorial glint, “Sure, fill me in.”
I told him about the coy game Jackson played about getting a summer job, how he’d qualified opportunities at the Vocational Office and the info about the position he got only leaked out after he was hired, and then filled him in on what happened the Friday of his first paycheck.
He was silent, listening hard, and his expressions shifted from interest to surprise to complete pride. “Well, that is a commentary on being responsible and committed, isn’t it?”
“It sure is. I’d forgotten about the ‘dorky lawnmowing boyfriend’ comment, but he hadn’t, and he was so humble but so serious about this whole thing it was quite impressive. I’m telling you because the odds are that you’ll only get bits and pieces but not the whole narrative, and I think it’s important for you to know. You’ve got a lot to be proud of in that son of yours.”
He just smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Thanks for letting me know the whole story.”
“Are you up for a hike on Sunday? With Will working Saturdays, we’ve gotten into this pattern of alternating bike rides or hikes on Sundays. We could make a day of it and go down to Silver Falls State Park and do the long hike that includes ten waterfalls. It’s absolutely mystical. I know you haven’t done it, and I’ll bet money Sam hasn’t either.”
“Sounds good to me. So, get me up to speed. Sam is the gal Jackson’s mentioned from the group at school, right? What do you call that thing?”
“You mean PDA, as in Personal Development Alliance? Yep, that’s it. She’s bi, like Will, and also recovering from a few really tough years. It’s amazing to me how many people there are walking around that are damaged goods when you get to know their stories. Like I wa,s too. It’s a pretty sad commentary on the human race.”
Will came in shortly after that, having gotten a ride home from a friend at school so he wouldn’t have to wait for Jackson to pick him up after work. He and JC picked up like they’d last seen each other the weekend before. JC gave him some flack about having to bum a ride and not being able to drive his own car while Jackson used it to commute to work.
Will smiled at him. “I’m still pissed that you didn’t invite me on that fishing trip in the spring. I mean I had to stay here and house sit, and then organize that fish fry for Jackson, the one you suggested he needed to have to get rid of all that extra salmon, and then I had to cut and package the fish, and I didn’t even get to go on the trip.”
“Oh, you poor baby. If only I’d know that it was so important to you. Let’s see, what did I miss? Oh! I know, my friend Will never once told me that he liked to fish. And, since I don’t read minds, how was I supposed to know?”
Will grinned, knowing this could go round and round for hours if they kept it up.
“Are you so pissed at me still that you won’t give me a hug,” JC asked with a glint in his eye?
“Well, I’m not sure. I have to think about that. Okay, thinking’s over. I think I need that hug. But you have to promise that I’m part of the program next time.”
I knew what would be important for JC to see when Jackson came home, so I purposely made sure we were all sitting in the living room talking with some music on and a glass of wine apiece when the Nova pulled into the driveway.
The front door opened, and I watched JC, who hadn’t seen his son since spring break. Jackson walked in, in slacks and a dress shirt with tie, a smile on his face. JC’s face lit up, and it wasn’t just from seeing his son, it was also pride. The kind of pride that comes from seeing your flesh and blood growing up, not only into what you’d hoped for, but maturing beyond that. It was a joy to watch them walk across the living room to embrace each other.
After a few seconds, JC leaned back and held Jackson at arm’s length, his hands resting on his shoulders.
“You look terrific, son. You really do. You look so mature.”
“Well, I am growing up. And, I’ve got a job now for the summer, so that’s progress, don’t you think.”
“It is. It’s real progress. Still, there’s a problem here.”
Jackson flinched. “What’s that, Dad?”
“Well, it’s kind of a patriotic thing. David’s driving that German car. And, Will drives that Chevrolet thing. What’s the model?”
He looked at Will, who was completely caught off guard, and stammered, “It’s a Nova. It’s a good car.”
“Well, maybe for a Chevrolet. But it’s still unpatriotic, by God! It’s the 4th of July in a couple of days, and it’s time we stop all this unpatriotic crap.”
I was stunned. I’d never seen JC act this way. Jackson was somewhere between confused and offended, and Will didn’t know what had happened.
“So, what are we going to do about it boys? How are we going to end all this unpatriotic crap?”