The following week was the last one before Labor Day weekend, even though my first day on the job was Friday, and then after Labor Day, fall quarter began.
On Tuesday we undertook the hike to Little Hamilton Mountain, that turned out to be a winner! It’s a promontory that delivers an amazing almost 270-degrees view of the Columbia River Gorge and a grand view of Hamilton Mountain itself. It included waterfalls, wildflowers, and wide vistas, so it certainly was a worthwhile hike in our book. A little paranoia about what could go wrong made us drive the El Camino!
I’d deposited the insurance check, and Wednesday we decided to go by Bike Gallery and look at what they had. It was still mainly a BMX store with a smattering of road bikes and other kid’s bikes, and we looked admiringly at what they had in stock. To his credit, when we talked to the owner and let him know that Gary had worked at the store in Newberg and bought all the components here to build Jackson’s new bike, he told us to wait. As soon as we got past Labor Day, the bicycle manufacturers will start having sales to reduce inventory and get ready for next year’s models, he informed us, and we’d save quite a bit. “If you’re not riding right now, and can wait a few weeks, it’ll be worth the wait.” That’s what we did.
When we settled down for our book discussion that evening, I asked him to go first. “What do we know about the parents?”
“Well, it’s not good,” he began, “they don’t get along and seem to be coming from different places. As in, they don’t communicate. The dad is a constant worrier, he’s always worrying about his son, and he’s really protective. The mom is like the opposite. She says she loves Conrad, but she wants to move on, move away from the pain. Meaning the pain of the brother’s death and Conrad’s suicide attempt. It’s almost like she wants to avoid the healing process, like she thinks they can all just move onto someplace else. The dad thinks that the family still needs to heal, and the Mom thinks that healing is done best by going on vacation. How crazy does that sound?”
I smiled, but without humor, “It might sound crazy, but it sounds to me more like avoidance on the Mom’s part. Maybe she can’t deal with it and wants to avoid the reality?”
Jackson nodded and continued, “That sounds right. The dad thinks it would be better to stay at home and talk about what has happened together as a family. Since he’s such a worrier you wonder if he’s really after the healing thing of if he’s just neurotic. You know, like Fred was telling us about neurotic religious behavior. The dad wants to talk about problems, the mom just wants to move on. How does that ever get resolved?”
“It’s probably safe to say it doesn’t. And if that’s the environment you’re raised in, you’ve got to be really conflicted as a kid.”
“Yeah, really. I mean their relationship is always tense. I can relate to that! But it’s also almost like the dad is lying to her, and maybe to Conrad, by the way he does it. Like Conrad’s in the middle, and they both treat him differently, so how’s he supposed to figure that out?”
“Not easily, that’ll make for ongoing tension,” I said, “but at least if the dad wants to talk, he can see that healing is possible on that side, right?”
“Yeah, but what’s starting to come into focus is that the thing that’s working on, or in, all of them is the older brother’s death. His name was Buck, and he and Conrad were sailing, and he drowned. I don’t know the details yet, but it’s like Conrad blames himself cause he was there, and the dad blames himself because he wasn’t there, and the mom ignores it cause she ignores the past. That’s way different than Mom and Bud, but fucked up. I mean fucked up in a different way, but still fucked up and I remember what it did to me.”
“So, you can relate to Conrad?”
“Yeah, in a way. I mean it’s different than what Gary and I went through, but fucked up is fucked up, even if it’s different. I can sure see it’s that and what the impact is on Conrad.”
“Tell me more about that.”
“Well, the big blame deal is the older brother’s death, but Conrad’s also really insecure. It’s probably too early to know if that’s just because Buck died and he thinks he should have saved him and blames himself, or if it’s because of the way his parents are and what that’s done to him…or both. I guess it could be both, too. Then for the dad, he’s still way hung up on his mother’s death when he was eleven and how he got treated by a lawyer that was his mentor when he started his career. Did I say the dad was a tax lawyer? It probably doesn’t matter, but he’s neurotic, so there’s all of that?”
“Different things effect different people different ways. I’ve told you how as I figured out my own stuff, I realize how a lot of it got passed down from by grandfather who was always distant, to my father, and then a lot of it on to me. It took this magical teenager to break through my shell and ring my bell. Remember?”
He grinned. “Did I break through your shell? I thought I grabbed your cock while you were driving.”
“What’s the difference?”
He laughed at that one, and I said, “What else about Conrad?”
“Well, they’ve all got to get their shit together, right? At this point you wonder if it’s even possible. The dad’s neurotic, Conrad’s still messed up and the mom’s in denial! You begin to realize that they’ve got to get it sorted and move on or…or else, I guess. I mean, I’m already beginning to worry that if Conrad doesn’t get it sorted…and he’s seeing a psychiatrist, in case I didn’t say…that there could be another suicide attempt. That’s pretty heavy, don’t you think?”
“Sure do, it doesn’t get much heavier than that. So, you’re feeling concern for what could happen to Conrad, where this could go?”
“Yeah,” he said, “He’s got some major conflicts. Besides the parent’s stuff, and the blame stuff, he’s really insecure around people, especially girls. Like he’s got a darker and violent side, when he gets frustrated, and I guess you’d say that makes him vulnerable, right? Like he gets this date, and it’s all going along fine till the girl says she has to leave early, and he goes tilt, you know, thinking she must not like him or something. So, he’s pissed at her and everyone else and the world, but is beating himself up in his head, in some weird way, like he deserved it something. Which he doesn’t, he’s just messed up. So, I guess if it was your friend Paul, he’d say Conrad was neurotic and angry and depressed. We’re just starting to see the anger and depressed part, but I guess it makes sense, right?”
I nodded. “Are the parents even aware of these problems, of these conflicts going on inside Conrad?”
“Maybe the dad has a sense of it, but the mom is clueless. She wants to go to the club, play golf, take vacations. You know, like avoid the reality of it all. She’s more concerned with feeling good and looking good, you know, the social expectations and stuff like that.”
“Is there any indication that Conrad sees all this for what it is, or that he’s starting to get it together?”
“Not really, not yet, but I’m only a third of the way through the book. It develops slowly. He’s trying to control his anger, he’s working on that with the psychiatrist, just like he’s also working on trying to define his guiding purpose. But it’s like he seems to think if he can just get control of everything, then it’ll all be fixed or resolved. But getting control doesn’t solve problems. Look at Bud. He had all that control and it didn’t solve any problems. It just made more. I guess he just wants control because he thinks it means he can avoid problems. It’s almost like we’re seeing two people, two personalities. I guess that makes sense, there’s the angry and depressed one that tried to kill himself, and then the cheery and social one that used to be good in school and a top swimmer and stuff. How does that all get resolved?”
“You sound worried for him.”
“I am. You know I thought about offing myself. I mean, for me it was cause I saw no hope. Till you came into my life. Conrad’s tried it and failed, but at times it has to seem easier than hassling with all this getting-better therapy stuff, and for sure it’s easier than dealing with all the problems in his life. Anyway, that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the book. Sorry, it’s kind of a downer.”
“No problem, Love, life is full of problems, and we all have them at one time or another. To your earlier question about faith, I guess the one comment I have is that given the dilemma Conrad is in, you wonder if he sees any hope ahead? If faith is a universal that all people have, but one that requires nurture and development within your family and tribe, then it’s pretty important that it happens so that people have a basic faith that they can prevail, that it will get better, that that it’s not all black. I’m pretty sure you had that. You said you thought about suicide, but you didn’t ever try. Why do you suppose that is?”
“I never thought about it that way. Maybe it was because it slowly got worse, meaning as bad as it was the last couple of years. Before that it seemed okay. I mean, I wasn’t bullied by Gary back then, Bud wasn’t abusing us. He was tough and cold, but life felt like warm and positive. Do you know what I mean, does that make sense?”
“It does. Maybe an analogy is that water glass one, that at a minimum you saw life as half full, instead of half empty?”
He nodded. I went on, “So that makes for the old adage about hope springing eternal.”
He was quiet, processing. Then he smiled at me. “Have you been making any progress on The Two Towers?”
“Yes, but not as much as I’d hoped. There was that reading of the Fowler articles on faith. Like you said, once the quarter starts it won’t just be many fewer hikes or bike rides, but less time to read.”
He looked sympathetic and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Okay, so we left off with Merry and Pippin being captured by the orcs, the Ents having a council and deciding to mass against Sauroman, remember? While that is happening, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli find the remains of the orcs at the edge of Fangorn and follow the hobbits' tracks into the forest. Then a real mindblower happens: they meet a white-robed wizard under the trees whom they at first take to be Saruman, but he reveals himself as Gandalf returned. It turns out that when he fell into that chasm in the mines of Moria he continued to fight the Balrog and prevailed. The ordeal changed him, and he has returned in white to signify that he is now the head of the wizard's council. Am I going too fast?”
He shook his head, “No, it’s fine. I’d just forgotten that Gandalf the Grey came back as Gandalf the White. What’s that about?”
“Well, funny you should ask. So, you know Tolkien was a Christian, just like C.S. Lewis, right? They were contemporaries and in study groups together and stuff like that. So, keep that in mind, because just like The Chronicles of Narnia, but with a lot more subtlety, Tolkien’s story is replete with Christian imagery. So, the Grey-to-White transformation just happens to correlate with Christ going down to hell to resurrect the dead, and coming back in a transformed state.”
“Yeah, seriously. He’s not saying Gandalf is a Christ figure, but there’s a correlation there, and its imagery. Anyhow, not to get too far off track, Gandalf takes the three remaining members of the Fellowship to Edoras, Rohan's capital, and the mission is now to counter the evil influence of Saruman, who is an ally of Sauron and must be stopped. Of course, there’s a problem because when they get there, they find out that King Théoden has listened to the evil counsels of Wormtongue, Saruman's spy. He’s getting old, and easy to manipulate, but Gandalf rouses him from his stupor and reveals Wormtongue's treachery. Théoden then musters his army and leads them to the fortress of Helm's Deep. The Rohirrim defeat Saruman's enormous army, although they suffer many losses. Unexpectedly, a great forest of trees appears in the valley, that being the Ents, and they destroy all the orcs that try to escape.”
“I remember the Ents. I thought they were so cool when I first read it. Walking and fighting trees. Would that be cool to see or what? In my mind they looked like those big valley White Oak trees we had back in Newberg, big and hard, with tough bark, and they’re marching down on the orcs and just beat them to death because swords don’t do much damage on big trees!”
That’s as far we could go based on the reading we’d done, and as I was running my fingers through his hair, thinking about the contrast between the two books we were reading, he said, “Actually, it dawned on me today that tomorrow and Friday are really the last open reading days I’ve got, with Dad and Frank coming down for the weekend, and then class starting on Tuesday. After that I’ll have school reading assignments and homework. You, my Sexy Man, won’t have homework to do.”
“True, but I will have class preparation thanks to Carter, and there’ll be other prep work. It’s not like I’m totally off the hook, you know.” He snickered at that, and we agreed to have another book discussion on Friday evening instead of going to a movie.
The snicker became a chuckle, like he thought about something different, and then a somewhat lascivious smile formed on his face. I could see his eyes sparkling. “What now?”
“Well, I was just thinking.”
“With Dad and Frank here Saturday and Sunday, we’ll have to be somewhat muted.”
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about that as well.”
“So, that means we have tonight and tomorrow and Friday to get it on, because we’ll have to be so subdued on the weekend.”
“Are you so horny that you have to plan your sex out for days in advance?” I was grinning back at him now.
“Yes, and I’m not embarrassed about it either. You’re my Sexy Man, and as we’ve learned with our social calendar this month, we have to do some advance planning.”
I paused, trying to stretch it out just to hassle him. Finally, I said, softly, “For the record, I’m with you, and I have been thinking along the same lines. What say we go get started right now?”
His grin widened, and the dimples flared, and in an instant, he was up and pulling me off the couch.
For Thursday we’d talked about returning to Mount Hood, maybe going on a high elevation hike, but decided that with Friday being my first day at work we should probably do something reasonable with a low probability of surprises! We ended up hiking the Angels Rest to Devil's Rest Loop Trail that is located near the town of Corbett at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge. It was only 10 miles and is really pleasant, if hard, because it begins in a fern-filled forest and then climbs uphill to a horsetail waterfall called Coopey Falls that is over 150 feet tall. That’s quite striking to see, and made me think of Bridal Veil Falls that we’d seen recently with Michael and Jane. At the top of the ridge there is another magnificent view of the Gorge.
By the time we got home we were congratulating ourselves on a productive summer that included moving into a new house, getting the hikes completed we had planned on, getting some good reading done, entertaining more house guests than we’d anticipated, buying a cool car and growing in our love for each other. I felt fully recovered from the bike accident, and the only downer in sight was what Will was going through.
The first day on the new job was somewhat anti-climactic given that it was still Summer vacation, and the day before the long Labor Day holiday weekend. Most of the morning was getting my employment paper completed and starting to discuss programs and projects with Mona, the Campus Ministry secretary. A very nice and efficient middle aged lady, she walked me through the way it had operated under my previous two predecessors, and she stressed that I should plan on the activity being quiet to start with, and then ramping up over time as students settled in, found out about Campus Ministry and that group and individual counseling was available. She suggested that I try to get a Student Fellowship going sooner rather than later, as that would connect me directly with those students who attended. She liked the idea that Prof. Higgins had asked me to co-teach in his first few comparative religion and mythology classes, as that would get me connected with students, just as he’d said. She also strongly suggested starting a non-denominational worship service for the same reason. When I asked her about time, she smiled and said, “We’ve learned the hard way that early on Sunday morning doesn’t work!”
I grinned at that. “Do you think it should even be Sunday morning, or perhaps afternoon or evening?”
“That’s a tough one. Lots of students want to sleep in if they can on Saturday and Sunday. Then there’s those who are used to worship on Sunday morning. It’s pretty hard to please both groups at the same time. Sunday afternoon can be hard because there’s usually some activities going on, like in the winter there are ski trips to Mount Hood, and there’s also homework to be done. So, it seems it’s either Sunday morning with the trade-offs we talked about, or Sunday evening.”
I told her that was food for thought, and when I asked, learned that there were folding chairs stowed in one of the empty rooms upstairs, so with a few other pieces, it wouldn’t be hard to convert the dining room into an informal chapel. I discussed it over lunch with Carter and he liked the idea, but didn’t have any strong opinions one way or the other about timing. He was interested in what I’d read so far from the articles on faith he’d loaned me.
Basically, we discussed the introduction Fowler had written to the first article, since it seemed to lay out his theory. I told him I had been really struck by the frankness and openness with which it was written, how it was based on psychology and theology and bolstered by actual research and interviews, and I found it impressive that a Christian author could so strongly make the case for faith being universal, and essentially the same with the same developmental patterns regardless of religious beliefs.
He nodded, “And where does that fit into your thinking, personally and in terms of our work this quarter?”
“Well, personally, it’s another liberating experience because it affirms you don’t have to espouse a particular religious belief system and can still have faith. There’s more reading yet for me to do on what that faith is and what it looks like and how it operates, but if he can say that it’s ‘recognizably the same phenomenon in Christians, Marxists and Hindus…’ then it’s liberating and valuable. It’s also striking because the earliest stages he describes fairly well correlate with the age ranges for identity development in tribalism, as you had in the illustration you used last year. In terms of our work, I see it as an adjunct in the mythology study because most religious people grow up being taught that all mythology is false, you know, ‘it’s myth!’ and all other religion is false. So it can accompany the discovery of myth as a positive affirmation that one doesn’t have to embrace an abstract atheism where you believe in nothing.”
“I heard Campbell make a similar comment the last time I heard him lecture, he said, ‘Myth is other people’s religion: religion is misunderstood mythology,’ and it actually drew a chuckle from the crowd.”
“That is a nice summation,” I said, “especially for believers. Because is simply illustrates the false understanding. The idea that faith is universal is important because if you’re coming from a belief position, you’re taught that the opposite of believing in God is atheism…that implies that if you take away God, you’re left with nothing. So, the assertion is that there’s nothing to believe in, you believe in nothing, you live in a black vacuum of some sort, and all the emotional benefit, solace and joy your faith may have provided goes out the window too. To learn faith is a universal human truth that’s so fundamental that we can’t live without it may allow us to reframe that fear.”
He smiled knowingly. “I knew there was a good reason I wanted you involved in the mythology part of the comparative religion class. See, you’re bringing value already, and class hasn’t even begun! You are welcome to use my illustrations if it helps you make the point about tribalism and faith. The first lecture will be Tuesday morning, and it’s the one you attended last Fall, which is mainly the course introduction, reading assignments, etc. Then beginning Thursday I’ll introduce Campbell’s approach, his purpose statement about the three main functions of myth, and then turn it over to you to open the discussion on identity. Then in the next two classes, I’ll shorten up the mythology material so you can continue the discussion in identity, moving to defining one’s own identity, the factors that effect it, etc. If we need to extend it beyond three lectures, we can do that. How does that sound?”
I know I was smiling and told him it sounded like a great approach to me. “I can see already how the discussion about the role of tribalism can be expanded and improved by adding in faith as a universal, because Fowler not only makes a strong case that we’re endowed at birth with nascent capabilities, but that the environments we grow up in activate and grow those capacities…and how people’s faith is shaped by initiatives beyond us. I think it will be really positive and great fun.”
When I got home, Jackson said he’d called Will to check in and pretty much all was good. He was getting ready to move to Eugene to start college at U of O, had done pretty well on the BMX circuit for the summer, and had earned some decent money working at his Dad’s auto parts store. He still didn’t know what was going on with Kevin, because they don’t talk that often and he sometimes it feels like it’s on and sometimes like it’s off. But he said with a wry smile, “Still, he sounded upbeat because he and Kevin are going to get together over Labor Day weekend and do something. They’ve both got a race on Saturday, then I guess they’re going to do something on Sunday. I hope it goes well.”
He looked a little worried, then asked how my day went, and I gave him a brief overview, stressing the upbeat conversation with Carter over lunch. When I asked what he’d been doing, it came down to reading Ordinary People to prepare for our evening book session, and listening to Moody Blues albums.
“Geez, you’re being so serious about this,” I kidded him as I pulled him in for a hug.
“So, what are we doing for dinner?”
It turned out he’d also looked at a cookbook during the day, and then went to the grocery store where he got two nice filets of sole that he said we were going to poach in a white wine and fines herbes liquid, and serve it with rice and new green peas!
“I’m impressed. That sounds terrific. You tell me what you want me to do, since clearly you are chef for the evening.”
We cooked together and it turned out quite well, and the white wine we used for the poaching liquid was really good to sip while cooking and as an accompaniment to the dinner!
When we settled on the couch, he insisted I go first since he’d taken so much time on Conrad and his troubles last time. I hadn’t done a lot of reading in The Two Towers, but had made progress, and started recalling Saruman’s defeat at the battle at Helm’s Deep, after which Gandalf takes Théoden and his companions to Isengard. The surprise is that where they had expected to find a wizard's stronghold, they find ruins. Merry and Pippin, left to wait at the gate, explain that the Ents have destroyed Isengard, although Saruman himself remains hidden in the impenetrable tower of Orthanc.
I glanced at him. “Remember what I said the other night about the Christian motifs? Here’s one: Gandalf speaks to the fallen wizard, Saruman, who sold his soul to the devil Sauron in search of more power, and offers him a chance to repent. When Saruman refuses, Gandalf breaks his staff, so you see the offer of redemption if he would have acknowledged his wrong and turned away from it. The interesting thing is that Wormtongue, the guy who was the slimy advisor to Théoden is there, and during the confrontation throws a crystal ball out the window. Later that night, Pippin sneaks a look into the stone and encounters Sauron himself. What they found out is that Saruman and Sauron have been communicating through these crystal balls. Is that wild? Kind of like a magical two-way TV system or something. Anyway, luckily for the Fellowship, Gandalf breaks the contact before the hobbit has a chance to reveal Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring.”
Jackson was smiling. “Yeah, I remember that, I guess it was really a close call. If he’d been able to do a mind meld or get into Pippin’s head and found out Frodo and Sam were sneaking into Mordor, that would have changed things.”
“Right, and now we see the good fortune in the Fellowship having been split, because Sauron has his eyes on the big activity, and isn’t watching his flank. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam have become lost among the pathless hills of the Emyn Muil. They figure out that Gollum is following them and finally manage to catch the creature, and even though Sam disagrees, Frodo bargains with Gollum for guidance to the Black Gate of Mordor. Gollum agrees and leads them out of the hills and through the Dead Marshes, a haunted swamp. When they reach the Black Gate, Frodo and Sam can’t see any way of getting past the constant guards but know they have to try. Gollum, however, begs them to take another way — a secret passage that only he knows. Desperate, Frodo agrees, and they head away from the Black Gate. Who knows how this is going to work out!”
Jackson was smiling again. “Not a cliff-hanger, but still, you can feel the danger, and have to wonder if this gets around it, or just dumps them right in the middle of it!”
I grinned at that and said, “So, what additional insight do we have into Conrad and his family’s situation? Is that plot thickening too? Are you learning more?”
“Yeah, but it hasn’t turned into a warm and fuzzy situation yet, if it ever will. You remember that the dad was this thoughtful and sensitive type guy, almost too much that way? Well, now we’re finding out that it’s more appearance than reality, and while the mom wants to put the bad stuff behind her and move on with her life, the dad is actually kind of desensitized to suffering. Like he acts sensitive, but he can’t really feel it, can’t understand what people are going through. I was trying to figure that out, and I remember once I cut my fingertip open with a pocket-knife and had to get a couple of stitches, and I remember how much the cut hurt, and all the time it was healing it really hurt. You know how sensitive your fingertips are? Well, anytime someone tells me about cutting themselves, or any kind of injury like that, I just shudder cause I remember the feeling. It’s almost like the dad can’t feel.”
“Wow! I didn’t know that happened to you. Now I’m even more impressed you were up for learning how to chop an onion and use a kitchen knife.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I was really careful. What made it work was you were talking to me about technique, remember? About how to hold the knife, and if I lean the side of the blade against the knuckles, then I can’t cut that finger, stuff like that. Also, the first time you gave me the lesson, you leaned around me and held my knife hand and had the side of your face on mine and I felt so safe I wasn’t worried. But I was always thinking in my head ‘If I do this next step wrong what’ll happen.”
“Thinking like that is the best way to avoid accidents, and sadly for most of us we only learn through close calls. It’s like the bad joke about grabbing the handle on a hot cast iron skillet!” I could see him wince.
The he smiled. “Okay, carrying on. The dad has a problem relating and feeling, even though he comes off like he cares. But now we’re not only finding out that Conrad is complicated, but he can’t be believed. He lies to himself and he lies to others. And it’s not all planned or on purpose, but a lot of the things he says and does end up not being true or completely true or outright lies. Like he quit the swim team and didn’t tell his parents and then kept coming home at the same time, which let them assume nothing had changed. What do you call that?”
“No, I don’t think it’s that bad. Wouldn’t that be a person who is purposefully lying all the time to deceive people and cause trouble? Conrad thinks he’s doing the right thing or helping himself or helping others, but he’s not.”
“Are you up for a religious way of thinking about it?”
“Yeah, if it’ll help me understand it.”
“In theology there’s this concept of omission and commission. There are sins of omission whereby failing to do something you should or must, you fall short, you fail, you sin. Then there are the sins of commission, where you consciously plan on misleading or deceiving other people. The point is that they both are sins, we’d think of them now as personal ethical failures instead of a moral ‘sin,’ right? The sins of omission often happen unconsciously, but the result is the same as the sins of commission which are planned.”
“Yeah, that helps. I guess ethically speaking you’d talk about what Conrad’s doing that way. But a lot of it is avoidance, even though he’s trying to get his act together. Like it’s coming up on Christmas and they go to get a tree and it blows up because the dad gets sensitive and wants the wimpiest tree in the lot, and Conrad kind of exerts himself and says no, they should get a better looking tree, and they end up getting the tree Conrad wants, and then the mom gets upset because she wanted to use the artificial tree in the garage. So, none of them are really communicating with each other, and no one’s happy, and there’s all these hidden agendas and stuff. Then when they get the tree home it turns into a fight and the mom goes tilt when Conrad says she never visited him at the hospital. Like she can’t accept that her son tried to commit suicide, she wants to move on and almost ignore him.”
“So, where does it go?”
“They’re swearing, or Conrad is swearing and finally leaves when the mom says Buck would never have been in the hospital…you know, like he wouldn’t have been weak enough to try and commit suicide…and Conrad storms upstairs and the dad wants to go comfort him and then the mom jumps the dad for being weak and coddling Conrad. I mean, it’s a mess.”
“Do you see it getting better?”
“I’m beginning to think no. Like they’re so different and messed up in different ways and so far apart, how can they even get to the same place to sort shit out? It’s pretty depressing. In the next chapter Conrad sits down to write a list of virtues he’d like to achieve. Remember that opening line about a guiding purpose in life? It’s kind of like that. So, he writes the list and starts working on it, like getting serious about schoolwork, dating, getting friends and stuff like that. But he doesn’t have improving family relations on his list, or anything about fixing the mess with his parents. Anyway, after that line about Buck wouldn’t have even been in the hospital, it’s starting to feel like his death is the central thing here. What was that term I read last year, oh yeah: lynch pin. It’s starting to feel like Buck’s death is the lynch pin, and all their problems tie back to that.”
“It’s not sounding good, is it?”
“No, and on Christmas the dad and grandad give Conrad a car for his Christmas present, and he doesn’t know what to think. You’re not sure if doesn’t think he deserves it, or he’s surprised or what. But the dad freaks cause he thinks Conrad is rejecting it and rejecting him, and when he talks to the mom about it, she tells him he worries too much about Conrad and that his main problem is wanting a perfect family. How does that get fixed?”
“It may not get fixed. Have you thought about that? I mean I know you’ve connected to and feel for Conrad, but it’s possible this mess may not get fixed.”
He was quiet, looking down and the book in his hands. Finally, he said, “I’m beginning to figure that out, and it bothers me, but not for the reason you think.”
“Oh! Tell me?”
Eventually he looked up, “The more I read the more worried I get about Will.”
“Why? What does this have to do with Will. He’s not in a family like this. He’s not like Conrad at all. Am I missing something?”
He looked a little sheepish, “Well, maybe I’m reading between the lines, and being paranoid and stuff, but I don’t see the behaviors in Will. I see some of them in Kevin.”
I was caught off guard by that, but not surprised once I thought about it. “Why don’t you put the book down and come over here where I can put my arm around you, and you can tell me about it.”
He turned and moved down the couch and snuggled up against my side. I hugged him tight.
He was slow starting, and I gave him the space he needed. “I guess it’s starts with the lying stuff, and what you said about omission and commission helped. Kevin is living a lie, just like Conrad is. I mean, in a way Will is, too, but he’s as open about it as he can be, at least with us and he says when he gets to college. Kevin is like still in denial. Then I wonder if he’s really in touch with his feelings, cause if he was, he’d not only know how he feels but he’d know what he’s doing to Will. Then there’s all the religion stuff. What if Kevin’s situation, that I think is a mess, can’t get fixed. What does that do to Will?”
“Well, Love, if you’re right about it, then it could be a real problem for both of them. But have we seen any signs that your concerns are real?”
“There was that weird thing the next morning when they were here, remember, when Kevin got all weirded out and got cold towards Will.”
“I thought we agreed that was likely due to his strong Catholic upbringing and it being a first time being around gay guys and the first time being intimate with a guy,too.”
He was quiet again. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s what we kind of agreed. Like I said, maybe my problem is playing amateur psychologist and being paranoid. I don’t want Will hurt. I really don’t.”
“That’s two of us. You’re staying in touch with him. The news today was upbeat, right? I mean they see each other at races, are obviously communicating, they’re going to get together this weekend. It doesn’t sound anything like Conrad’s situation or like your typical crisis.”
He nuzzled his face into my chest and slid his arm around my waist and pulled himself close to me. I could feel his warmth seeping through his clothes to me. I rubbed my face in his hair, and the smell was wonderful, my Lover Boy. No one else smelled or felt this good.
Finally, he said, “You’re right. I guess it’s just me. I’ve been paranoid since the first time, haven’t I? I guess I’ve got to admit I can’t live his life even if he is my best friend, and that I’m being way paranoid and there isn’t the reason to be that way. It hadn’t dawned on me before that if Will had come to stay with a potential girlfriend instead of a boyfriend, it could have gone the same way. I probably would have taken that for granted then, right?”
I had to giggle at that. “You’re ahead of me, Lover Boy. That is one thought I didn’t have. Maybe we wouldn’t have thought about it if he was a she. Anyway, it seems to me that until or unless something obvious and definitive happens there’s no use getting all worried about it. Just stay in touch with Will so you know what’s happening. Will he have a phone in the dorm?”
“No, but he said there’s a pay phone on his dorm floor that can receive calls. Probably not very private, but at least it’s a phone. And, he lives close enough that he’ll probably be home a bunch of weekends. He’s got wheels, so he doesn’t have to stay in Eugene if he doesn’t want to. His dad wanted him to work weekends in the auto parts store, but he said ‘No,’ he wanted his weekends free.”
He was quiet again. “Okay, I’ll turn off the paranoia and then call him Sunday or Monday and see how the weekend went. How’s that?”
“That sounds like what a best friend would do.” I kissed the top of his head and hugged him. After a bit we started talking about what we’d be doing over the weekend with JC and Frank coming down to stay. Even though we’d gotten an overdose of house guest so far this month, we were looking forward to it.
Jackson had swung around and was laying with his head in my lap and I was stroking his head…it was now such a familiar position. We talked and laughed and then he said, “Remember when I did this?”
He rolled over onto his belly, with his face down in my crotch, and proceeded to start blowing into my groin. I started giggling and said something about what that horny teenager had done last summer, then I realized I was enjoying his warm breath moving through my shorts and briefs and that I was getting hard.
I stroked the back of his head and on down his back squeezing both of his buttocks. “I’d forgotten just how good that feels,” I whispered to him. He groaned something and kept on blowing his hot breath on me. I slid my hand under the waist of his shorts, which were just loose enough that I could reach a finger into the top of his crack and slowly stroke it. My head was leaning on the back of the couch, enjoying the sensations, and I felt his hands start to open my fly. My Lover Boy was on a mission.
“I love what you’re doing, but why don’t we just go to our room and get naked and stop fighting around these clothes?”
He rolled over, looking up at me with his dimples flaring and said, “I thought you’d never ask!”