Michael looked startled. “What do you mean the politically correct version or the whole story? How crazy is this? Are you hiding something? What the hell is going on?”
“I’m not hiding anything. I have no need to. The question I’m asking is about the ability you and Jane have to hear the truth and accept it.”
“What? What are you talking about? We’re adults, we’re not ignorant? I’m your brother for God’s sakes. What are you trying to hide from us?”
“Michael, I’m not trying to hide anything from you. I have my life and you have yours. I’m letting you decide how much information you want to have. When I go home on Friday we’ll be in contact while the estate is settled. Once that’s done, there will be a decision of sorts about the level of relationship and communication we have. We’ve never been close. That’s just a fact. You just asked me some very pointed and personal questions about my life. I have no problem answering them. However, you need to understand that there is a practical reality in life: don’t ask questions unless you’re prepared to live with the answers. You have to answer that question for yourself.”
I picked up my glass and took another sip of wine. I could see Michael’s complexion getting florid, and it wasn’t from the wine.
“What are you saying? What is this? Are you secretly a member of the John Birch Society, or part of a hippie commune on the west coast? What is this all about?”
Jane reached over and put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Michael, calm down. I think David is being considerate. I think he’s letting us know that he has a different kind of life than we do, and that we may not understand it, and he’s giving us the choice to know about it or not.”
She looked at me. “David, am I right?”
“You are, and thanks for clarifying.”
Michael had gotten quiet. It seemed like what Jane said was sinking in and that instead of taking offense at something, he realized he was being given the opportunity to be in control of the communication.
Finally, he looked at me. “Of course, I want to know. You’re my brother. We’re all that’s left of this family. We haven’t been close, ever, but I don’t want this to just dwindle down to nothing, having a brother out west that I have nothing to do with. I don’t know what you can tell me that I can’t handle, unless it’s something outlandish like you’re a secret Nazi or something.”
I smiled. “Michael, I’m gay and I have a boyfriend. That’s Jackson. We live together with his brother Gary, who’s also a great person and happens to have a wonderful girlfriend.”
His face got redder, and his eyes widened, and then he seemed to relax or something, and I could see his blood pressure start to settle. Jane still had her hand on his arm and was squeezing, as if to settle him down.
“You’re gay? How come I didn’t know that?”
“Because we’ve never communicated. It’s that simple. But I think it’s really important right now that we don’t get into a tit for tat about how, why, when or where. I just told you I’m gay and have a boyfriend. You have to decide to accept that or not. If you don’t then fine, we’ll both go on with our lives, no love lost. If you do accept it, then I’m more than happy to tell you all about it, but there probably isn’t enough time for the whole story while I’m here this week. Again, it’s your decision.”
I could see in his eyes that he was struggling. Jane was still grasping his arm, as if to hold him down. “I’ve never understood it, I mean guys with guys. I’ve never been much on gay rights or any of that stuff. I was an athlete, and you know, well, uhm…”
“Yes, I know, there’s that whole macho athlete thing about being masculine and proving how masculine you are and all the rest of it. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about if you can get beyond all that stuff and accept that your brother is gay…or not. It’s that simple.”
Jane looked at me, and then at Michael, and I saw her squeeze his arm again. “Maybe you don’t need to answer right now, Michael. It’s been an emotional week. This is a surprise, and pretty important stuff. We’ve had a few glasses of wine. We’re all emotional and tired right now. Maybe you need to think about it, sleep on it tonight, and they you guys can talk about it more tomorrow.”
I could see something flare in Michael’s eyes, like he was being dared or challenged, then I watched it fade. Why I don’t know. He nodded his head and said, “You’re probably right. Let’s sleep on it and talk tomorrow. I’ll go pay the bill, and we can pick this up in the morning.” He pushed his chair back and walked to the front of the restaurant.
Jane looked at me and said, “Give him some space, and a little time, please. He’s not a bigot. He’s just opinionated and some of those opinions aren’t right. Will you do that? Give him a chance to do the right thing here.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, Jane, and thank you for understanding and helping. This decision is entirely his. I know who I am and why, and it’s his choice to accept it or not. I’ll leave the door open. You can count on that.”
We smiled at each other and left it there, seeing Michael heading back to the table.
I called home late, after Jackson got in from band practice and we talked for a few minutes. I could tell he was tired but trying to make me feel good. When he asked how the day went, I told him emotional but pretty well, and that I’d come out to my brother and his wife tonight and it went Okay. He was surprised and quizzed me about it. I told him we’d started the conversation, but left off because we were tired, and would have to see how the rest went in the morning. I’d know the rest of the details tomorrow and would fill him in on it and the funeral tomorrow night. We both sent hugs and kisses down the line and decided it was time for sleep.
When I came down Thursday morning, Jane was in the kitchen and Michael was in the shower. She poured orange juice and coffee, asked what I wanted for breakfast, and then when she served, she sat down.
“Can I ask you something personal?” I nodded, sipping my coffee.
“How did you find the strength or inner resolve to say what you did to Michael last night? About being gay?”
“Well, it starts with being in love. On top of that it’s because I’ve been reading and studying mythology over the past six months. Mythology is the big picture concept behind all of life, from which flows religion and beliefs. One of the main elements addresses the question ‘Who Am I’ which is to say identity. One part of the structure of mythology, is a thing called Atonement with the Father, which is a theme in most myths. Did you see Star Wars?”
She shook her head.
“Well, there’s a contemporary example. Luke Skywalker has to resolve a conflict with the bad guy in the story, who turns out to be his father. So that’s how it often appears in myths, but it maps directly to human experience because all of us have relationships with our own fathers and often they’re problematic and have to be resolved.
“For me, personally that always centered in an absent father from whom I always wanted approval. Approval I never received. What I started to figure out early this week is that I no longer have to live up to my father’s expectations because it is no longer possible to receive his approval. That means I can be me. I can be true to myself. I’ve been trying to be that person for years. Like going to seminary in California, not taking a church back here. But there’s no escaping those expectations while the person who is your father is still alive.”
She nodded. “I understand. I don’t know if Michael has the same composition as you do, if he’ll be able to sort that out.”
“Honestly, Jane, I don’t know him well enough to predict. I can say he’s got a lot more work to do than I do because he hasn’t started on it. I started a few years ago, then seven months ago I had to come to grips with the fact that I’m gay. That started it. When you take on something that big you find out it’s connected to a lot of other big things in your life. When our parents came to visit in September, I was still hiding it. I didn’t want to upset them, but I was still hiding it.”
Michael had come quietly into the kitchen as I finished that statement.
I turned to him and after saying good morning said, “Jane and I have been talking and I just told here that I had to come to grips with being gay seven months ago, that I was still hiding it when our parents visited in September, but what I now know is that I am free to be myself. To be true to myself.”
“I heard the last part when I came in. Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry if I was pushy or obnoxious last night. I didn’t mean to be. I’m struggling to figure this out, and I meant what I said about not wanting our relationship to dwindle down to nothing.”
I smiled at him, and took another sip of coffee, deciding to let him lead the conversation.
“What I don’t understand is two things. First how can you be gay, and I never knew about it. I don’t just mean you telling me, I mean me never seeing anything. Second, how can you be an ordained minister and be gay. I mean isn’t it a sin?”
I smiled again. “Should I take those questions in order?” Jane had served him coffee and some breakfast and rejoined us as he nodded.
“The first question has two main parts. Don’t think all gay men are fairies or effeminate or drag queens. Most gay men aren’t. The other big part was that I was in denial. So, I’m sure by way of outward appearances I looked as straight as the next guy. Or the next minister. I have a friend who was a year ahead of me in seminary, who’s a psychologist. We’ve talked a lot and he helped me sort a lot of it out. He also pointed out that he never saw me hanging out with girls or dating or any of the normal stuff. Since you weren’t around me, you wouldn’t have seen any of that. I don’t think I’ve had a date since my junior year at Yale.”
“Wow. That’s weird.”
“No. That’s normal for me. For a guy that was not in touch with who he was.”
“And this thing with Jackson?”
“This ‘thing’ as you call it is the first and the most overwhelming experience of love I’ve had in my life. There’s a lot to it I can tell you about, but the most important, on top of what I’ve already said, is that just like you don’t plan years in advance who you’re going to fall in love with, you fall in love with a certain person that comes along. Likewise, you fall in love with a person, not a gender. When I fell in love with him that’s what it was. I fell in love with him. It literally wasn’t until the next day that it dawned on me that the result was that I was gay.”
Michael looked at me like I’d been speaking pidgin English and he had only understood half of what I’d said. Jane smiled kindly and knowingly
“As to the second question, about being an ordained minister and gay. That’s complicated too. The short version of the story is that I’d accepted everything the church teaches about homosexuality without really studying it. That includes for instance the doctrine that it is a depraved sin. I want you think about that for a minute. Our church’s position is that it is a depraved sin. So, the result of that is not just that it makes me guilty of that sin, but it also means that in their eyes I’m depraved. And that extends to the relationship I just told you about with the person that I love more than anything in this life.”
They were both silent.
“Carrying on, it turns out that there are only a few, like six, passages in the Bible from which this doctrine is derived, and it also turns out that most of them aren’t specifically about homosexuality. So, most of it comes from bias or bigotry built on the commands and prohibitions and attitudes and ideas of early Judaism and the surrounding cultures. From a time when everyone thought the world was flat and populated by demons, when no one understood disease or even how human reproduction worked. A central theme is natural law, or what at that time they thought was natural.
“Much of the sexual prohibitions, and they aren’t all about homosexuality by any means, come from Leviticus where what’s also condemned is touching an unclean animal such as a pig, eating an animal like a camel which doesn’t chew cud, eating any seafood without fins or scales, going to church within thirty three days of the birth of a boy and sixty six days for a girl, cutting your hair at the sides, getting tattoos, and on and on. Do you know that the cultural view of women at the time, which lasted all the way through the early Middle Ages, was that society is a hierarchy with men above and women subordinate, that women were chattel, meaning the property of their husbands?”
Michael acted like this was all foreign to him.
In his silence Jane spoke up. “I grew up not knowing that but learned a lot of it reading about women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment to legally give women the same rights as men.”
“Which hasn’t passed yet and is likely to be another long hard struggle even in America.
“Anyway, Michael, that’s one part of answering your second question. The second part is that when you start wrestling with substantive subjects like this, you find they’re connected to a lot of other big things. One contribution of Judaism was notion of a personal God with whom a relationship could be established. Out of that developed the western notion of the individual, which is good, but the tradeoff is the notion of a relationship with the divine being who is fickle and promulgates revelations…which are to be taken literally. Then you’re trapped in a literalist box. Think about the Leviticus prohibitions.
“When you understand the process of development of religious belief and realize that it is the localized expression of mythology, and that it developed over time, you begin to realize that it can’t be literal. What we now understand to be the senseless prohibitions in Leviticus and other places in the Bible call the whole revelation model into question.
“For me the telling element is that the major problem with western religion vs. eastern religion is that it took what was meant to be metaphorical and made it literal. That is a trap. And, if you decide that it’s not literal but rather metaphorical, and that Christianity and Judaism are mythologies that have some value in providing answers to the fundamental questions about life, then you can step out of the literal trap…and then you realize that most Old Testament laws are tied to a time and place. You realize that the concept of natural law is tied to a specific worldview that included a flat earth. You realize that ‘depraved sinner’ is a concept created by people, long ago and is no longer any more relevant than the sin of ‘eating seafood with fins or scales.’ Your beliefs have changed, but among them is the realization that if you believe that people are inherently good vs. inherently evil, then there is a real problem with the concept of depraved sin.”
Michael was quiet, and Jane was letting him ponder.
“Wow! That’s a lot of stuff to think about. I don’t think I can handle it all.”
“Then let me make it simple, because for many people and religions all the doctrinal and theological stuff boils down to it. Do you think your brother is a depraved sinner? Yes or No.”
“Well, uhm, I mean, well…no.”
“Okay, then you just decided to be on what I think is the right side of the religious argument. Now you’ve got to make the same decision about the social and cultural conventions. The fact is that today in this country gay rights aren’t any more universal than women’s rights, and that position is reinforced by wrong theology and cultural bias and often outright bigotry.”
“Well, I just said I don’t think you’re a depraved sinner. So, doesn’t that mean I’m against gay discrimination?”
“Not necessarily. If Jackson was here and we all went out to lunch would you feel the least bit uncomfortable if I held his hand when we walked in the restaurant?”
“Well, uhm, I mean, well…I guess not.”
“See, it’s a little different when it’s not an intellectual exercise but gets real. Remember when we lived in Egypt? You can change this line of questioning from gay rights to women’s rights by imagining we were two Egyptian Muslim men having this conversation in Cairo. The theological model is just like ancient Judaism, that women are subordinate and virtually owned. How would one of those men feel about the other walking into a restaurant with his wife who’s head was uncovered, and he was holding his wife’s hand? He’d be outraged because the women is expected to be subservient, supposed to be covered, and to follow along behind the man. That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.
Michael was quiet. Jane looked at me and said, “I wish Jackson was here. I’d like to meet him. I’d have no problem with you holding his hand when we walked in a restaurant. Even if we live in a state that’s made sodomy legal for heterosexual couples, but still makes it illegal for gays!”
Michael looked at her like she’d just farted. “What? What are you talking about?”
“It’s true. You can screw me in the ass and it’s legal. But two gay guys can’t. It’s illegal for them. That’s hierarchy and a pretty sick social and cultural convention if you ask me!
I didn’t have to say another thing!
We left for the funeral about 2:00 PM and got there in time to meet the minister and lay the palls on our parents’ caskets before the funeral began. I wasn’t wearing my clerical garb and joined Michael and Jane in the minister’s office until the funeral began. When we followed the minister out and into the nave, it was three quarters full. Our parents had lived here most of their lives and were well known.
The service followed the standard form, and included the usual hymns, which brought back memories of my confrontation with Talbot about substituting a hymn for Lilly’s funeral. We’d left the service decisions up to the minister, so I just flowed along with his celebration, appreciating the solemnity and beauty that was, in fact, built into the service and its hymns.
We processed out with the minister, and then across a courtyard to the Church Hall where the Ladies Guild had arranged refreshments for a short reception. Michael, of course, knew by name or by face most of those in attendance, and introduced me to those I didn’t recognize or know…which was the majority. “Oh yes, you’re the younger son that’s a minister out west somewhere. So sad to hear about the tragic accident that took your parents.” That was the kind of thing most said, and I had to keep reminding myself that they were trying to be kind and sincere in their own ways.
After profusely thanking the minister and the Ladies Guild for all the organization, we headed home, deciding that we’d eaten enough finger food and would settle for something simple at home like an omelet. We all changed into comfortable clothes and settled down in their living room. Michael had a good bottle of French wine in hand and proceeded to pour three glasses.
I asked them what they thought of the funeral service, and they nodded and had positive comments, especially about the hymns. I chuckled and then said, ”They were nice, weren’t they?”
Jane asked what the humor was, and I told her about the crap I’d gotten from the Minister Advocate for substituting a non-Presbyterian hymn at Lilly’s funeral to satisfy the sensibility of Jackson and Gary.
“You’re kidding me! All that crap over a hymn selection.”
“True story! Seems a lot like a tempest in a tea kettle from here, doesn’t it?”
Michael was lost in his thoughts. Jane was looking at me directly. “Do you think you’ll continue in church ministry?”
I looked back at her, and smiled, because I knew she was sincere in asking, given what we’d discussed in the last twenty-four hours. “I don’t know, Jane. It’s a question that’s taken on more and more weight over the last couple of months. I find the church position on homosexuality to be untenable. I hate living a lie and being a hypocrite. That said, I have a boyfriend and I’m one of three trustees of his and Gary’s estate, and we’re working hard to assure they have a stable family dynamic in their lives to finish school. I guess for me a lot of that will start coming into focus depending on where Jackson gets accepted to college. I’ve decided there’s no sense in losing sleep over all of it until we get to that point in time.”
She poured us all another glass of wine and said she was going to go prepare the omelet and told us to just relax in the living room. It did feel good to just sit back and not have to think about doing anything.
I was listening to the sounds coming for the kitchen, trying to convert the sounds into actions and imagine what she was doing in there. The sound of a frying pan being set on the stove, the knife on the chopping board, the eggs being hit against the side of the bowl.
I looked at Michael, and he was still lost in his thoughts. “Are you Okay? You seem a little out of it.”
“I think I am. A little out of it, I mean. The funeral delivers finality, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does, and that’s one of its important functions.”
“I’m still wrestling with what I’m going to do now.”
“We both are, Michael, you have a good job and wife. Now you’ve got to sort out your individual identity apart from Dad. I don’t know how hard or easy that will be, but it will probably be some work.”
He was quiet again. “Come on,” I said, “Let’s join Jane in the kitchen. We shouldn’t leave her in there alone preparing us dinner.” We shifted to the kitchen table, watched Jane cook the omelet and toast some bread, and ended up eating at the kitchen table with a second bottle of wine.
When I called home, I was feeling the wine and the emotion of the day. Jackson could tell and filled me in on the day at school and gave me a quick report on the meals that Susan and Ellen had prepared the night before. “Lois is doing some kind of pork chop dinner tonight.”
I told him about the omelet and the two glasses of wine. “You do sound tired,” he said. “And I’m guessing feeling it emotionally too, right?”
“To be honest, yes, but not tired enough that I wouldn’t come to life in ten seconds if a certain beautiful eighteen-year old boy’s naked body suddenly appeared in front of me.”
He giggled and said, “Cut it out. I’m on the phone in the hall. Gary and JC are in the living room. I can’t be taking about sex on the phone with you. They could walk in, then what.”
Thinking of the holding hands in the restaurant illustration that I’d told Michael and Jane I said, “And what would they learn that they don’t already know or suspect.”
He paused, and then said, “You’re right. But isn’t is supposed to be uncool to have a hard on in front of your Dad?” He giggled at that.
“Good point. Tell me how you’ve been getting along with him.”
“Great. He’s low key, he mainly wanted to get to know us, just spend time with us, help where he can, just be here. It’s so cool, no pressure, just love. Do you want to say hello to him?”
I said only if I got to get him back on the phone afterwards. JC came on the line and asked immediately how I was holding up.
I told him it had been an emotional roller coaster, but being a minister I knew how to do the minister thing, even though his son had kept telling me not to stuff my feelings and that sooner or later I’d have to quit acting like a machine.
“He told me he told you that. That was pretty strong. I didn’t know what to think.”
“It’s the best advice I’ve had all week. I’ve been on auto pilot, but just like I told you about being emotionally out of touch most of my life, I think I can say now I’ve honed it to a fine art so I can deal with or stuff the feelings associated with just about anything I don’t want to deal with. That’s not much of a claim to fame, and Jackson was right when he said, even I can’t avoid the feelings. Did he tell you about the game he cooked up?”
He said, “No, what was that?”
“To make sure I was in touch with my feelings before I left, he started hugging me really hard. I mean really hard, like I felt he was going to break a rib. Then he’d grin and ask if I felt it and say it was to remind me I still had feelings. You know, like ‘Ha Ha, you’ve still got feelings!” Then this week he kept it up a different way, saying he was sending hugs and kisses over the phone line. He kept me sane this week. You know you’ve got a good son there, don’t you?”
“That’s actually the best part of this week. I haven’t had to do much, just be here. Between Lois and then Susan and Ellen the meals were covered, I helped where I could with breakfast in the morning, and stuff like that. I was able to run down to McMinnville and see my sister a couple of times. But the best thing was just being around, spending time with all of them, getting to know both Gary and Jackson more, in a no pressure situation. That’s been priceless. You know they think the world of you. I mean beyond loving you for who you are, I’m talking about for what you’ve done for them, for their lives. They still can’t really believe you bailed on the parsonage and moved in over here to make sure they were Okay.”
“Thanks for telling me all that. It’s the best thing I’ve heard all day. You do know though, that I also had an ulterior motive, don’t you? I mean Jackson and I got a new bed in the deal!”
He cracked up. “Yeah, Jackson even told me about that.”
“Okay, let’s leave it there. Now you’ve got me worried about what else he may have told you. He is a pretty talkative person. Can you put him back on? I need to get to bed to get up for that early drive to the airport. JC, thanks for coming down and spending the time there. You don’t know how right on your comment about building a family was. You’ve figured out that’s what we’re doing, right, and now that family has gotten bigger, and you’re part of it. There’s five of us now.”
“Yeah, I have, and I’m honored to be part of it. I’m betting Lois and Gary are married before too long. She told me about the Fellowship of the Four thing.”
“Now we’ve got to figure out what to call it when there’s five people involved.”
Jackson came back on and we did the hug and kiss down the line exercise and he told me he’d be at the airport when the flight got in. “Everyone wants to come but I said no, I’m going alone in the El Camino because you’re my boyfriend and I deserve to do the drive alone with you since you’ve been gone all week. They said Okay, so we’ll have dinner when we get back here. I love you.”
That was all I needed to hear in order to sleep like a baby.
On the way to the airport Michael said, “Jane and I talked last night after we went to bed and she was really clear that you’d done something with us which neither of us have ever done with anyone else. I mean she was all over me about it.”
“And that was?”
“You bared your soul. You were open and honest. I don’t know how you did it. I don’t even know who the fuck I am, that’s why I was in such a panic after Dad died. She told me what you said about realizing that you don’t have to live up to his expectations any longer, that you started working on it years ago. I haven’t done shit. I mean I loved him and Mom, but I guess I’ve just been along for the ride. I always thought of you as my kind of dorky little brother, and then you go off to seminary and that proved the point or something. Now I know that was all a bunch of crap. I was the one that was clueless. At least you started doing the work. All I did was sit back and be Dad’s star athlete son.”
“Michael, I think that’s the most honest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“It may be. It wouldn’t have happened if Jane hadn’t gotten all over me about how much of a, of a …well, she didn’t say it, but what she meant was a coward. How much of a coward I’ve been? I’m sorry if I’ve been a shitty brother. I guess all I cared about was myself. That and Dad’s adulation. That must have meant I was never there when you needed me.”
I was quiet for a while. He was staring straight ahead into the darkness illuminated by the headlights, his hands gripping the steering wheel. Finally, I said, “You’re not a coward if you’re willing to confront the truth and do something about it. That’s what I hear you saying you’re doing. All that said, you’re my brother and we’re all that’s left. I’m with you, I don’t want our relationship to dwindle down to nothing. But I am what I am. If you can accept that, then none of the rest of it is that important. We can make all the rest of it work.”
He did something he’d never done before. He extended his hand to me, open and palm up, asking for me to take it. I did, and held it tight, while we both stared ahead out the windshield.
I fell asleep during the takeoff roll. It had been late when I fell asleep after talking to Jackson and JC, and my body was telling me it needed more sleep. When I woke up, we were two hours into the flight, and the flight attendant told me that I was so sound asleep she didn’t want to wake me when they served, but she’d kept breakfast warm if I wanted it. I thanked her for being an angel and ate it all with a couple of cups of coffee.
When the tray was cleared, I settled back in my seat, just letting the feelings flow and processing what had happened in the last five days. There had been resolution regarding my father. There had been candor and honesty about who I was, and I knew I would never now go back on that. There was also the hope of a new and restored relationship with my brother. I hoped that would come to pass.
Eventually I closed my eyes, not sleeping, but just thinking and trying to minimize the interruptions of seeing people walk by. I found myself running through the events of the week, knowing I’d done the best I could, and being satisfied with that, and happy with where Michael and I had left off.
Then I remembered the dictionary on its stand. That’s when I started weeping. Remembering the eight or nine or ten-year old kid standing there looking at the dictionary on the stand. That kid talking to his Dad about the meaning of words, and wishing, hoping in fact, that this man he so revered could find it in himself to spend more time with him, to give him more than he was getting, to just give him enough to be happy and feel he was adequate. It never happened. That man always had something else to do, travel somewhere, entertain some business customers, attended one of Michael’s sports activities. Always something.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t weeping for the loss of my father. I was weeping for that kid. That poor kid who didn’t want a lot, but who never got enough to feel adequate. Never got enough attention to really feel loved. Never got enough love to feel secure. But who was still in thrall to his father’s image and expectations. So much so that it finally took his death to break the bonds and set him free.
That poor kid. In that situation. How fucked up was that. And that poor kid was me. But I was beginning to feel not only that I’d come to that fork in the road I’d dreamed about recently, but that I’d passed it and was free to move in this new direction.
The flight was on time, and as I stepped out of the terminal, the first thing I saw was a beaming Jackson standing by the rear of the El Camino. It was like my previous mental images, like seeing the sun god Helios radiant in a gray Oregon winter day. I dropped my bag at the curb, and he stepped up and hugged me like there was no tomorrow. Neither one of us cared who saw what. I held his head in my hand and clasped it to my chest. We didn’t cry, but the emotions were high, and we were exchanging feelings in some strange way only lovers can.
Finally, he looked up at me. “I’m so glad you’re back. Are you Okay? Is everything alright?”
“It is now. I feel better than I have all week.”
“Then let’s get this bag in the back and get out of here.”
I hopped in the passenger seat, unthinking, and as soon as he shifted into Drive reached for his hand, placing mine over his on the shifter. He glanced quickly at me, smiling and his eyes flashing, then looked back at the side mirror to make sure he was clear to pull into the moving traffic. We headed east on I-84, catching up on the details of the flight and the funeral and all kinds of other minute details. We turned south on I-5 and about five minutes later he took the Terwilliger exit and headed south.
“Do you know what time it is? It’s only noon. You’re still on east coast time. I told everyone we’d be home later this afternoon in time for dinner. Right now, you and I are spending some time together. Just us.”
I decided to be quiet and let him do what he had in mind. After another five minutes, as we turned east and headed up the hill, I had an idea where he might be going. We pulled into a visitors parking slot and were on the Lewis and Clark campus. It was a Friday afternoon, and it was quiet, but not raining. The cloud deck was high and sitting on the Cascades so that we couldn’t see Mount Hood.
“Come on. Let’s take a walk.” We got out of the El Camino and he took my hand and we walked across a large open lawn and ended up sitting on a bench looking out over the view to the east, to the part of Portland on the east side of the Willamette River.
“Now tell me what happened.” He hadn’t let go of my hand. I walked him through the details of the week, much of which he already knew. Then I told him about telling Michael and Jane I was gay, how that went, the conversations that followed and how it ended up.
“Wow, that sounds pretty heavy.”
“It was, but positively heavy. I challenged him, I made him decide, and then the big surprise for me because I don’t know Jane, and for him because he discovered a part of her he didn’t know about, was that she understood and kind of took my side. She’s hip on the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and that correlates with gay rights, and she not only challenged him about it, she wouldn’t let him off the hook and forced him to come to grips with what I told him. On the way to the airport he apologized, said he accepted I was gay and didn’t want our relationship to just dwindle down to nothing.”
“That’s pretty radical, isn’t it?” He squeezed my hand and reached around with his other arm and pulled me in for a hug. I leaned my head over onto his, and it felt so complete and warm being here with him, sharing what had just happened.
We were quiet for a few minutes, processing what had just been said. “Now I’ve got to tell you what happened on the flight back.”
He looked up at me with concern. “No, no, it was all good. It was just a major realization, a breakthrough. “
I told him about the seeing that kid who never got the attention or direction he needed, who was always trying to get his father’s acknowledgment and acceptance, About how I’d spent a lot of the flight just sitting there with my eyes closed, weeping about that poor kid.
Jackson hadn’t let go of me, he was still holding my hand with one of his and had the other arm around my waist. I was sobbing by the time I got to the end of it. “That’s about it. That poor fucked up kid who was always looking for his father’s acceptance is me.”
He squeezed me harder, and we sat quietly for a minute or two. Then he said, “You know what?”
“We’re both fucked up. That’s one reason why we need each other. Not the only reason, but a big one.”
“You don’t know how true that it. I don’t know if I’d be making it through this if I didn’t have you to hold me and love me like this.”
“Want to know what I’m thinking about now that you told me that?” I shook my head.
“One of the first things you explained to me, about the idea of the church as a hospital. If you’re in it, it’s because you’re ill, you’re damaged goods, you’re fucked up. Isn’t a lot of what you’ve been preaching on how we’ve got to recognize and admit our failures and shortcomings and then we can heal and get better?”
I nodded again. “Well, there you are. Whether we’re in the Christian church or in a spiritual church we make for ourselves, or wherever, we’re in it to help each other, to heal each other.”
I leaned back so I could see his face and paused. “Geez, out of the mouths of babes! You’d think you were the minister here.”
He looked momentarily embarrassed. “No! I’ve just been learning a few things along the way so I can tell you what you need to hear when you need to hear it, just like you told me what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. That’s what people who love each other do for each other.”
I decided the best thing to do was be quiet, and just hugged him close to me. Finally, I said, to him, “You were right about me operating like a machine and stuffing my feelings. I’m trying not to do that now, but it’s going to be a hard habit to stop and I’m going to need you to help me. To hold me accountable. Will you do that for me.”
He turned his face up toward mine. “Well, like duh! You don’t think I’m going to let you off the hook, do you? It’ll be just like the way you stayed on top of me and Gary. I don’t mean on top literally, you understand, I mean it figuratively, as in how you maintained constant therapeutic oversight to assure we had a favorable outcome.”
I was starting to quietly giggle.
“Now, as to the matter of literally staying on top of me, you know I’m sure, that it hasn’t happened for almost a week. I, for one, can tell you that I am suffering from something that I believe in the textbooks they refer to as withdrawal. I mean, sexual withdrawal. I am hoping that you find yourself in the same condition, feeling the need for a physical reconnection with the person you love. Is that the case?”
I had to stifle the giggles now.
“Yes, Doctor, that pretty well describes my condition. Are you in a position to assist?”
“As a matter of fact, I am. We’ll have to depart now and head to Newberg so we’re there in time for dinner and those related familial obligations, and then at the appropriate time later in the evening we’ll be able to adjourn and go upstairs to that new bed and fuck like rabbits!”
I lost it at that. I was laughing so hard I almost fell backwards off the bench. Jackson was grinning like a devil, which I found particularly attractive at that moment, as he grasped my coat and pulled me upright.
It was somewhere around 4:00 PM when we got home. The therapeutic session Jackson had organized at Lewis and Clark had turned around my entire outlook on life. Instead of being in the emotional downer after some heavy experiences, I was in the uplift from being helped and affirmed and loved. It was with that feeling in my heart that I walked into the house hand-in-hand with Jackson and greeted Gary and Lois and JC. It was a heartfelt welcome, and obviously so good to be home.
Lois said she had dinner under control, and the only bummer was that Susan and Ellen had a prior engagement and so couldn’t join us tonight. JC appeared with a bottle of wine, and I asked what he thought of Susan and Ellen.
“They are amazing people. I’m sure there are people that would be put off by their relationship, but who cares: they’re just wonderful people. They’re intelligent and serious and caring and giving and loving. What more needs to be said? Oh? And apparently Susan is a good choir director and vocal coach because she thinks hot shot here,” and he pointed at Jackson, “has a good voice and can really sing. I’m thinking ‘Really?’ Like who in this family could ever sing? She told me he’s about got a new David Bowie song mastered. Do you know about that?”
I reached out and took Jackson’s hand. “Yeah, I know about that one. It’s special. He told me I can’t hear him sing it till he has it down. You should be here when that happens.”
“I’ll make the drive from Seattle for that performance!”
Jackson was starting to get embarrassed, and Gary gave it to him, “Yeah, my little brother the rock star! In Newberg. Right!” He was giggling and trying to grab Jackson around the head, but I knew he appreciate the newly blooming talent. That’s how the evening went, light and fun and all of us together.
We all helped with the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Before Gary took Lois home, we made a point of embarrassing her for all the dinners she’d cooked and the time she’d spent here during the week. She understood we were thanking her from the bottom of our hearts. “I’m not leaving without a group hug.”
So, the five of us somehow figured out how to do one in the kitchen, and then she and Gary slipped out the back door so he could take her home.
JC just said, “What a girl! I hope Gary knows what he’s got there.”
Jackson said, “Gary used to be slow, but he’s with it now, and he’s got it about her. Like you said a couple of days ago, Dad, they’ll probably be married before long. They’re good for each other.”
He looked at me. JC saw it and was no fool. “Speaking of ‘good for each other,’ why don’t you two head upstairs and go to sleep…or whatever! I’ll wait up for Gary and close up the house. I’ve got some reading I need to do anyway.”
I smiled knowingly at JC, and I could see a hint of embarrassment on Jackson’s face, but we gave him a hug and headed upstairs.
We’d had time to catch up, and the time he had organized at Lewis and Clark this afternoon had done wonders in reconnecting me after the funeral. I was smart enough to recognize that he had a plan for tonight, just as he had for the afternoon, so I let him lead me into our bedroom and we both took our time with the bathroom routine. When I came out, he was standing naked at the foot of our bed, his arms outstretched and smiling radiantly.
“There you are, my Sexy Man. I missed you so much. It’s so good to have you back.”
I walked into his arms. I was thinking I could go without sex tonight just to be able to have this physical expression of our love. Of course, though, that was far from what Jackson had in mind. And, truthfully, from mine, too! After we hugged and kissed, our tongues engaging in that delightful oral dance, he pushed me down on the foot of the bed, then pushed my chest to make me lie back and I felt his lips moving over by belly and nuzzle in my pubes.
“Did you miss this?”
I groaned something approaching an affirmative answer.
Then he held and licked my hardening cock.
“Did you miss this?”
I was groaning now.
He took my cockhead in his mouth and swirled his tongue around it?
“Did you miss that?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m deadly serious. That’s why I’m only going to do this,” and he took my cockhead in his mouth, then said, “one more time, and now you’re going to fuck me. I want you to have the best climax of your life and I want to feel you inside me. You, my Sexy Man, the most important thing in my life.”
With that he moved up on the bed, handed me the Vaseline and raised and spread his legs. I was no longer on emotional auto pilot, and knew exactly what to do, and it began with my tongue and his beautiful anus. I discovered I was as horny as he was, and he was writhing within a minute.
“Fuck me, please, fuck me now.”
I felt myself beginning to regain control of myself, emotionally and physically. “You’re not in a hurry are you, Lover Boy? You don’t want to rush this do you?”
I applied my tongue to him again and felt him open so I could dart my tongue inside him. Now I could hear him groan, and knew he was enjoying the feelings.
I knelt up next to him, slowly placing my cockhead against him, feeling his opening, and I pressed gently. He opened more, and I began to slip inside. A little more pressure and he opened further, and my cockhead was in him. I gasped, and I could hear his groan get throatier. I paused, knowing not to rush, but to let him get used to the feeling, and after a minute he said, “I want more of you.”
I pushed harder and felt myself slip through and suddenly was all the way in, my pubes against his smooth buttocks. He groaned and whispered, “Oh my god, I’ve wanted this all week.”
I purposefully tried to go slow, to draw the pleasure out for him, and I saw that not only one was he enjoying it, but was in a kind of sensory overload, his eyes rolled back in his head. I leaned down to kiss him, knowing it would slow my thrusts, but more importantly convey to him the immense love I was feeling for him. His eyes came back into focus and he smiled provocatively, and he whispered to me, “There’s nothing in the world like the feeling of you inside me. It makes me whole. It makes me yours.”
That was motivation enough to resume long slow strokes for as long as I could. Soon I was getting close and I felt my strokes involuntarily become shorter and faster. Almost there when I heard him hiss, “Oh my god, I’m going to cum,” and I kissed his forehead in sheer joy. Then I saw him start to shoot on his belly and onto my chest that was poised over his. That was all it took to push me over the edge, and I started to cum deep and hard inside him.
He clasped me hard to him with his arms, whispering, “I can feel you hot and inside me. You, inside me. So hot, so deep, oh god, David. I love you.”
To which I could only respond, “And I love you, my beautiful boy.”
Saturday morning began much like the last, with me waking up first and delighting in lying there and looking at his totally relaxed and beautiful demeanor. He was facing me, his chest slowly rising and falling, his eyelids occasionally flickering, his hair messed up and down across his forehead, and his hands almost clasped together holding the top of the blanket against his chest. It was an almost beatific scene that I could have observed for hours.
It was only a few minutes before his eyelids fluttered and opened, and slowly his eyes focused on me, I could see consciousness appear in them and he eventually said, “You’re watching me again, aren’t you?”
I told him, as I had before, it was among the most beautiful things I’d seen in life, wouldn’t miss it for anything, and then so I didn’t sound repetitive I ran my hand under the sheets and tickled him. He jumped and murmured something about it being unfair while he was waking up, but he was smiling and wiggled over close to me. I hugged him close.
He whispered in my ear, “How are you feeling this morning? Get it, feeling? And I mean feeling in every way possible.”
I smiled back. “Well, first, I am feeling incredibly at peace lying here with you after an emotional week and a wonderful love session last night.”
“My cock feels a little overworked. It was probably out of practice from being away from you for a week. I probably need to put some skin cream on it.”
He grinned. “Go on.”
“Emotionally, I feel like I’m on the other side of a divide in my life. I told Michael and Jane that it wasn’t until I fell in love with you that I realized I was gay, and what I started to figure out early this week is that I no longer have to live up to my father’s expectations because it is no longer possible to receive his approval. Even though I’d been trying to be my own person for years, as long as my father was alive and I was seeking his approval, I wasn’t my own person.”
We were eye to eye, and he was listening deeply. “Go on.”
“In Campbell’s terms that would be Atonement with the Father. In the myths it would be the Hero coming up against a “father figure” that has to be persuaded or overcome in some way, or whose approval has to be achieved. In the case of most of us, men with ambiguous relationships with their father, it’s not a final persuasion or fight to the death or anything like that, it’s getting through the event that enables the person to stand on their own as an individual. To be free, to be themselves, enabling them to be a parent or a lover or a leader or whatever.”
His smile got serious. “Wow! That does sound like crossing a divide, or like that Doors song you told me about, ‘break on through to the other side.’ It’s a big deal isn’t it?”
“Yeah, and it was for you, too, we just hadn’t gotten enough far along in understanding Campbell’s mythology to be able to talk about it in those terms. For you there was an indirect confrontation, the father figure turned out to be a false father, and he was arrested and removed by CPS. And then you were free to become the real you, and that included becoming a leader. And then good fortune came into play and you experienced the ultimate atonement with the father by meeting and reconnecting with your real father.”
“I never thought about it in those terms, but you’re right, that’s the way I feel about it.”
“I hadn’t thought about it in those terms either, but as I was trying to process what I was going through, and then explain it to Michael and Jane, it didn’t just clarify for me, I also understood how it happened for you. We’re both pretty lucky, don’t you think? This happens for both of us in a very short period of time, freeing us to be ourselves, true to ourselves and together. How many people have that happen to them? Most are carrying baggage all their life, like I’m worried Michael will.”
He stroked my face and kissed me. “We are lucky.”
“I guess the thing I realized is that if we can get our heads around all this stuff and understand mythology and religion and all that, we can become the hero in our own life and redeem it.”
He smiled wisely and kissed me again.
Gary and JC were up and sipping coffee when we came downstairs. They both smiled at us as we walked into the kitchen.
I could see on Gary’s face an expression form that wanted to make a wise crack, but he thought better of it and just settled for a sly smile.
JC watched our first steps into the kitchen, studied our faces, responded to the smiles we sent towards both of them and then said, “You two look about as happy as two people could hope to be together.”
Then he looked over at Gary and said to him, “That’s kind of the way you and Lois look, too, you know.”
The sly smile disappeared from Gary’s face, replaced by surprise. “Really?”
JC grinned. “Yes. Don’t you realize how in love with that girl you are. She’s absolutely the best, and all of us can see that you are heads over heels in love with her. So, what are you going to do about it?”
Gary looked like a deer in the headlights “What do you mean?”
“You can’t just sit back and let something like this happen on its own. You’ve got to have a plan. You know, like when I fly a helicopter, I have to file a flight plan. What’s your plan? You can’t just dawdle around thinking somehow it’ll all work itself out or something.”
I decided this was their conversation and grabbed Jackson’s hand and walked him over to the coffee brewer and poured two cups, signaling him to be quiet. We stood back and watched and listened.
Gary was processing, and finally said, “Well, I love her a lot and want us to be together.”
“Do you think that’s enough for her? Does she know that? She’s a young lady. Don’t you think she’s wondering where this is going and what you want for both of you in a year, or two years or three years and on from there? That was one of the things I blew with your Mom. I mean, I was young and stupid, and it was a fling, but back then I never thought ahead about what could or should happen. What do you think Lois’ parents are thinking?”
We’d joined them at the table by now, and Gary looked flummoxed. I said, “In the old days they’d have said that the parents are wondering what your intentions are.” I heard Jackson giggle, and Gary didn’t look like my comment had helped at all.
JC picked it back up. “Gary, they have a daughter they love, and they want the best for her, right?” He nodded. “And you’re her boyfriend at present, and so they have to be wondering if you’re the one, wondering what’s next. It’s not about marrying off their daughter. If they’re like any of the parents I know they just want to be comfortable and secure in knowing what’s going on and where it’s going. Do you know what I mean? Have you talked to her parents?”
There was the slightest smile on Gary’s face, and his eyes had a little glimmer. “Oh, I get it. This isn’t a guilt trip thing. This is a communication thing.” He looked at me. “Right, like we’ve talked about before, about not stuffing your feelings. Remember like you told me I had to tell Lois what happened to me and stuff.”
“Yeah, that’s it. And JC’s point is that you not only have to tell her the past, what happened, but talk to her and her parents about the future. What you want together and where you want this relationship to go. You don’t have to be afraid of this, Gary. Do you think Pat would have done this truck deal for you if he didn’t like you and trust you and know that somehow this was part of your future with his daughter?”
Gary was quiet for a minute. “Sometimes I’m so fucking stupid. Why didn’t I know this already?”
Jackson was sitting next to him and put his hand on top of Gary’s. “Bro, you can’t know everything, you know. Dad’s just encouraging you to start thinking about this kind of stuff and talk to Lois and her parents about it. He’s right. You don’t have to be embarrassed about any of it. I can see you love her like I love David. If I can see it, they can see it. It’s just time to talk about it, that’s all. Like in three months she graduates from high school and you graduate from community college. Then what?”
Gary looked like he was understanding what his little brother was saying. “Do you have a plan? Are you thinking about next year and the future?”
“Sure am! David and I are in for life. I’m going to college. Prof. Higgins asked me some tough questions when I was at Lewis and Clark the other week, and as I answered them, I realized I’m pretty good at organizing and I like to help kids sort out their problems. Maybe I’ll study education and be a teacher, or study psychology and be a counselor. Something like that. Gay people can’t get married in this country, but if they could, I’d tell you that’s what I want, too.”
Jackson was earnestly eloquent. Gary was quiet, processing what he’d heard. Jackson went on, “The other big thing for the future is all of us.” He looked at his Dad and me, and then back at Gary. “We’re all in this. We’re building a family not just for now, but for tomorrow and next year and the rest of our lives. A family that works.”
Gary looked at Jackson, then at JC and me. “Can I say something to all you guys?”
We all nodded. “If I’m honest, for a while I thought all this ‘build a family’ stuff was weird, like, ‘what’s this all about?’ I mean like I went along with it, and it felt good and stuff, but what was it really? Now I’m starting to see, it’s about being in it together, isn’t it? Helping each other out? Taking care of each other? Being there for each other? All that stuff we never had in our family.”
He was starting to sob now.
I looked at JC, and it was like we both knew it was time for us to be quiet.
“That’s what it is, bro,” Jackson said, still holding Gary’s hand. “We all have to go through it, and be willing to be open and be vulnerable, and then we discover that’s what it is. I had to decide last year if I was going to be totally honest with David, like no secrets. That I’d let him see inside, just how fucked up I really am. Or was! And we got closer together and started sharing our dreams. It’s the same kind of thing, I think. You shared the past already, talking with Lois about what happened to you with Bud. That means you can talk to her about anything else, dude! I mean talking about the future is nothing compared to talking about the past you and I had.”
For me it was unbelievable to watch, because he said this with love and affection, a smile on his face. Yet he was talking about the worst kinds of experiences I personally knew of happening to kids. They’d happened to him and Gary. But now he could talk about it openly and in a healthy and even happy manner because he was on the other side of it and healing.
“You’re right. I know it. It’s just taken me longer than it took you. Hey, don’t think I don’t know and appreciate what we’ve got. I do. David, I’ve told you, you saved me. JC, I couldn’t believe you’d come down here and stay with a couple of kids like us, even if one was your son. I mean, my Dad would have just blown it all off. So, I get it. I just need to keep learning and understanding it, I guess.”
“Yep, that’s all,” Jackson said, “Just try to get in touch with those pictures in your mind, about where your relationship with Lois is going, and start talking to her about it. That’s all.”
Then he turned to me. “So, Rev, what are you cooking for breakfast?”
I grinned at him, looked at JC and Gary like they were taking advantage of me…and went to work!
JC packed, loaded up and headed back to Seattle after breakfast. He and Jackson spoke at least once a week by phone, and he was going to try and shift his schedule to be able to come down for the band’s performance of Heroes in early March. We knew he’d taken vacation time off this week and could only do so much with his schedule, but also talked about maybe getting together during Spring Break at the end of March. He said he’d let us know as soon as he had his schedule sorted out.
I had done no sermon preparation during the week and had to do that today. Jackson agreed to study this afternoon while I did sermon prep if we could go do something Sunday afternoon. Gary was going down to the college to work on his horticulture projects in the green house. We were back in our routine, and it felt great!