He sat there for a minute as if stunned. Finally, a wry grin appeared on his face, and he said, “You know how to ask very challenging questions.”
I smiled back, and replied, “It’s only because I’ve been through a similar dynamic albeit with very different features. Before you answer that question, let me tell you a little story.”
I proceeded to give him a quick summary of my growing up sexually clueless, pursuing ministry as a means to find a substitute father and extended community, and the way meeting and falling in love with Jackson had hit me like a bolt of lightning from Olympus.
“You’re not making any of this up for my benefit, are you?”
“Not a word. So, here’s the parallel with your situation. Until almost two years ago if you’d put me in a torture chamber, I would have sworn on my life I was heterosexual. Why? Because that’s the way I was programmed, and never having done any work on my personal or sexual identity, I would have absolutely believed it too.”
He was listening in a kind of stunned silence. “It took falling in love with the right person for me to start working through it all. And I will tell you, Robert, because we’re friends, that the love I felt was the strongest feeling I’d ever experienced and that’s what made it possible for me to sort through the moral and ethical question of being a minister in love with a young man. To address the underlying dynamics that had made me the way I was. To come to grips with what my identity really and truly was. I was lucky that I had a lot of help. I had a supportive and understanding lover. Yes, he was a teenager, but wise beyond his years. I had a good friend from seminary who’s gay and a psychologist who got me through it, and that’s why I’m talking to you this candidly. He did the same for me. And Carter helped a lot too, because as a minister I had to reconcile my own personal challenges with the so-called religious realities.”
I paused to let that settle in. “It sounds like a year from hell, if you ask me?”
I grinned at him. “No, it was a roller coaster ride, but it wasn’t hell because the foundation that it all happened on was love. The most real and intense love I’ve ever experienced. And still experience. I want to share one more thing with you, and then we should probably stop for now so I’m not giving you a case of information overload. The next most important thing that happened was happenstance.”
His brow furrowed, and he looked at me questioningly.
“Jackson came home from school with an assignment to complete an Identity Chart for psych class. I’d never done one, though I understood the concept of identity and identity definition. However, when I was answering his questions about it, I realized the importance. Now, this next part is private, between you and me, unless Jackson brings it up or chooses to tell you about it, Okay?”
He nodded. “Good. I suggested, and he agreed, that we should both fill out an Identity Chart for how we understood ourselves the day before we met, and then one for where we were at the time, which was six months later. I was serious in suggesting it, but it was more like an exercise for me. Jackson did it of his own volition, and a couple of weeks later came over and said he was ready to share it with me. That blew my mind, but nothing like the content blew my mind. The net result was that I did my before and after charts too, and shared them with him.”
“Yikes. That sounds like a pretty intense session for two people to have.”
“It was because you’ve got to open up your heart and soul and be honest with yourself and the other person. But here’s the point. The difference between both of our before and after charts were dramatic, because something had happened in between that changed us both, and there was this new dynamic that made it possible to be completely honest about ourselves. That dynamic was love. We both realized that we had found another person that we loved like we’d never loved before, and with whom love took on a completely new and different meaning. And that had changed us.”
He was pensive, then said, “If that’s the definition of love, then I’d answer your question by saying that even if I knew I was gay, I still would have married my wife. I’ll have to think about the ‘being honest about being gay’ part, meaning would I have told her, but that wasn’t your question. I loved her like I’ve loved no one else, so, Yes. I would have still married her.”
We decided to leave it there and meet again the following Friday.
Spring was in the air, and most of the days were warmer and sunnier. Jackson and Will were still driving Sam to physical therapy, though she had just a couple of weeks of PT remaining. Reading assignments and class work were already intensifying, and both of them were buckling down. Will had followed through and made an appointment with the Dean of Admissions about summer term. The Dean knew that Robert liked Will as a musician, and he had been impressed that one of Will’s arrangements had been selected for the last Glee Club performance. That made him happy that he’d helped Will get accepted for Winter quarter and that the result was a good musician was added to the student performers. The net of the meeting was a plan that would allow Will to be caught up and back on the academic schedule by the end of summer term.
He was telling us about it on the drive home after Glee Club practice and was totally jazzed. “Caught up, back on track, graduating on time. That would be pretty cool, don’t you think?”
We both agreed. He went on, “And, thanks to the dude who had the great idea.” He was reaching up from the back seat, squeezing my shoulders. I loved the connection with our best friend. “What have you found out about the classes you were thinking about,” he asked me?
“Well, they’re graduate level classes, so Lewis & Clark doesn’t offer them. That means Portland State University. I’ve got the catalog, but now I have to set up a meeting and go down there with my transcript from seminary and see what is considered transferrable and work out a program like you did. Work still to be done. Are you ready to talk to your parents about summer?”
He said he was, and I asked if I could make another suggestion. “Well, yeah. Your suggestions are working out pretty well so far.” He was laughing in the back seat, and Jackson was giggling along. “My Sexy Man, the man with all the answers!”
“Hey, you guys, cut it out. This is serious. The suggestion is that you don’t just call your parents up and dump this on them over the phone. It looks like you’ve got a printout of the classes, or something like that. This needs to be a formal presentation. We should go down to Newberg and meet with them in person, make the case, show them how serious you are, and present the class curriculum. That way they have to take it seriously. And if they get into that whole thing about not paying your way, I can deal with the fact the fact that the food costs of one more mouth aren’t that much higher, and if they’re all hung up about it, they can send me some money every month to cover it. It’s amazing how hung up some people can get about the less important stuff.”
“And I can point out that he saves us money by doing our laundry,” Jackson quipped from the passenger seat.
We had a plan. At dinner I asked Jackson what his summer plans were. He was coy, and said, “I’m working on it. Still doing my research.”
I called Gary and Lois to see which weekend would work best for them since Jackson and I would be staying at their house. They said either of the next two, so it fell on Will to set it up with his parents. It turned out that the coming weekend was the most convenient, so my schedule was to meet with Robert again on Friday, then we’d drive down to Newberg for the weekend on Saturday morning. I suggested to Will that he ask Ron if he wanted to join us all for dinner on Friday night at the Sellwood Grill so we could get caught up from Spring break. We’d be taking Gary and Lois out for dinner on Saturday night.
Mona sent Robert up to my office, and he seemed more open and less hesitant than the week before. We chatted about school stuff for a minute and I finally said, “You seem more relaxed or at peace.”
“I am, and I’m just starting to understand it all in some weird way. Here I am a forty-two-year-old man just coming to grips with all this stuff. It’s pretty feeble, isn’t it?”
“No, Robert, it’s not feeble. Feeble is often a synonym for pathetic. There’s nothing pathetic about what we’re discussing. We’re discussing you. The person, Robert Atkins. What’s pathetic about him?”
He straightened, then said, “You’re right. Sorry. That was my weak side coming through.”
“To recap what we discussed a week ago, the vast majority of people are never enabled to define their personal or sexual identities. Rather, they are given a package and told this is your identity. Unless as a person you’re able to define your identity, you have little control over it. That’s separate from the question of why one might think it’s feeble or pathetic?”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t. My mea culpa. I have thought a lot about what we discussed, and I especially appreciate the second question you asked. I had to wrestle with that a lot, but in the end where I came out was, like I initially said last Friday, yes. I would have married her even if I knew I was gay. What does that say about me?”
He was looking down at the floor. “Robert.” I waited until he looked up and caught my eye, and I continued. “What it says about you is positive. It says that you understand and value a loving relationship with the person with whom you had a shared vision. That would be a decision to be with your other half regardless of gender, and one based on love rather than sexual fulfillment.”
He was quiet.
“I want you to know that I said what I did cautiously. I never had sex with a woman, so I’m certainly no expert, but the fact is that the core value is love and shared vision. That’s what makes a life. Yes, we all have our predilections about the forms of sex, but sex is secondary, in my book, as wonderful as it feels. Great sex in the context of a miserable life isn’t such a good thing, while mediocre sex in the context of a loving and fulfilled life is probably a better outcome. I’m only speculating, as I have no heterosexual experience there.”
“What you say makes sense. I’ll tell you, in the last ten years of our marriage, we didn’t have sex much. I don’t know if that was due to early menopause or the beginning of her cancer or just aging, or what. I don’t blame her. I don’t blame anyone. It was what it was. However, during that period I started awakening to these feelings, attractions to certain men, akin to what I felt when I was a teenager.”
“And, did you do anything about them?”
“Then you were true and loyal to the person you loved.”
“And that is commendable and is a commentary on your principles and priorities. Nothing feeble there.”
“Okay, I get all of that. But I felt guilty in spite of that. About having those feelings, I mean. What about where I am now? What about what I’m going through and feeling now? I still feel like I’m a hypocrite. Like I’m being deceitful or something. And that’s on top of unresolved desire.”
“I think this is where the feeble comment is coming from, so I’m going to speak to that two ways. First, here’s a copy of the blank Identity chart I told you about. I’m also going to do something a counselor would never do, but you’re my friend and colleague, as well as an important person in Will and Jackson’s life. Come over here.”
He walked over to the side of my desk where I had laid out my before and after Identity charts from that first summer with Jackson in Newberg. I walked him through how I had struggled to fill out the before version.
“Here’s the first thing. We’re not raised to be transparent about most of this. It’s familial and tribal and deeply personal, so it’s hard to define and describe.”
He was quiet, and then said “God, I can see why. The level of personal disclosure you made here is striking. Emotionally Disconnected. Distant parents. Sexually Repressed. Insecure. No Close Friends. That must have been really hard to own up to and write down.”
“It was, but like I told you, I had a model. It was easier for Jackson because he’s younger with fewer of the hang-ups we have as professionals and adults. I saw how honest and transparent he was, how hard he was working to tell me who he was, to open his heart to me, and I had to try and be at least as good. Now, all that said, when a person undertakes this work, it’s deeply personal and private and not for general publication.”
“So, Robert, I’d encourage you to work on completing it. You’ve got to define your personal identity if you’re going to sort this all out. You’ve got to know who you are if you are going to successfully deal with these issues. Pick a point in time, like ten years ago, or twenty if that feels more comfortable, and try and be completely honest about it. Then take a break. Come back to it. Don’t rush it. Try and make it accurate. Then take another break when you think you’ve got it right. Then, set it aside. When you’re ready, come back to the process and start a new one for what your identity is today. Here’s the liberating part, and here’s the thing I think is most important for you to understand.”
He was looking at me quite seriously, with an expectant look on his face.
“Your identity today will be different than it was ten or twenty years ago, and that is natural and perfectly fine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean simply that both you as a person and your circumstances have changed, haven’t they? And on top of that you’re now in a position to make choices.”
He nodded his head softly.
“Robert, I’m going to lay out a hypothetical for you. You have to decide if it’s right or not, and if you want to accept it or not. Twenty years ago, you entered into a relationship with your true love, your other half, based on what you shared together rather than any concerns about gender or sex. That’s a wonderful thing. It may have fit into the standard social model, but today you are in a different time and circumstance. Your true love is no longer with you. That is tragic, but it is also wonderful to celebrate that you had that time in your life with your true love. Are you with me?”
He nodded, saying nothing
“That said, the death of your true love opens up a new circumstance. You know now what your sexual identity is, whether you denied it or chose to ignore it previously. That doesn’t matter now. Your true love is gone. You have to be true to yourself if you are going to be happy and fulfilled. It’s that simple. You have to decide where on that continuum between hetero and bi and homo you are. It’s no more complicated than that. Then you have to decide if you will live according to that recognition.”
He was silent. Finally, I said, “Robert, are you with me? Are you Okay?”
“Yes. I’m just struck with the magnitude of it all. On the one had it sounds so obvious, on the other it’s like my world just collapsed.”
“Either way, you’re in a new time and circumstance, and isn’t that what is prompting the conflicts you’re feeling?”
He smiled, for the first time today. “Yeah, it is. I’ve just got to decide to make a decision and sort it out, don’t I? I can’t help feeling the frustration, though.”
“What frustration is that?”
“If I’m gay, that I wasn’t true to myself. On the other hand, that somehow I wasted twenty years of my life.”
“Whoa! Robert. Do you remember what you said earlier that you would have married your wife because she was your true love even if you’d consciously accepted you were gay?”
“Okay, so in a formula like that, there’s no frustration or regret. Just accept that. All the gay sex in the world won’t compensate for time spent with your true love. Just accept it.”
He looked at me, smiling softly and looking hopeful.
“And, another thing, kind of in the category of a silver lining to every cloud, you’re in a place now where you can be true to who you are now. There’s no need to feel guilty about it. You did what you did twenty years ago because of true love. That phase of your life has ended. You have the opportunity now to move into the next phase and be truer to yourself than you were then.”
“What does that mean?”
“I may be over simplifying, but in my mind, it means this. If you meet and fall in love with another woman who is your next true love, then what? If, conversely, you meet and fall in love with a man who turns out to be your next true love, then what?”
He was quiet again, but looked blank.
“Isn’t that more or less what all of this comes down to? You’re in your early forties, and half your life is still ahead of you. Let’s talk about guilt. I think there’s two forms of it you’re dealing with. First, you’re probably still feeling guilty that you outlived your wife. That’s natural for the surviving spouse and usually resolves with time. Second, you’re dealing with some level of guilt about feeling an attraction for men while you were married. I’d argue it’s nothing to feel guilty about. If you’d been attracted to women while you were married would you feel guilty about that?”
“Probably not. At least, not the same way.”
“Okay, let’s start there. Feeling attraction for women is acceptable because it’s consistent with the accepted social model. Human beings are sexual creatures and feel attraction for other human beings. That’s the way it is. It becomes a moral or ethical issue only if it’s acted on. You told me you didn’t act on any of it, so having the feelings just confirms you’re human, and not acting on them confirms you’re a good and honorable person. With me so far?”
“You’re in a transition phase in your life. You’ve got decades ahead of you, and you’re now really wrestling with your sexual identity for the first time. That’s the second thing you mentioned, when you referenced what you’re going through and feeling now. It comes down to defining and accepting your sexual identity. Once done, then you have to decide what you’re going to do about it. Guilt isn’t part of it, and shouldn’t be, either. Can you agree with me on that?”
“Yes, when you put it that way.”
“Good. Now let’s talk about the third thing you mentioned, unresolved desire. In my mind there’s two parts to it. The first is straight forward physical desire. That comes from being a mammal with a reproductive system, and there’s not much you can do to stop it. Some early Christians tried castrating themselves, but I don’t recommend that approach!”
He grinned, appreciating a little humor to take the edge off.
“I’m guessing the other part of the unresolved desire is a mix of whether you can or should act on what you’re feeling. Let me ask you this. If the desire you feel was directed towards women, would you have any hang ups about it?”
“If true, then you’re telling me you’re not hung up about entering into a relationship with another woman this side of your wife’s death, and that would be a relationship that happens to comply with social norms. Maybe your wife would even approve. Isn’t the hang up then about the fact that it’s a homosexual desire, not a hetero one? You can’t know if your wife would approve, but with the relationship you had, she well might. But you can’t go forward in your life with ‘what ifs’ about what might have been.”
I paused, giving him some space. Finally, he looked at me and said, “You’re right. It’s all true. I’ve got to do the work to resolve the conflict, don’t I? Because, it won’t resolve itself.”
“That’s the case, and you can do the work, and I’ll help however I can. The larger context for all of this should be the maxim from Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living. You are now seriously engaging in examining your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s for the first time. What matters is that you’re doing it. Yes, if it goes in the direction of acknowledging you’re gay, then you’ll have to deal with the social and cultural challenges that come along with it. But never forget that you’re wrestling with this because you are a serious and honorable person, Robert. You need to do the work and come to the decision in order to be true to yourself.”
We agreed that the before and after identity charts would be the next step, and that he’d take the time to do them as thoroughly as possible, not rush the process, and then we’d meet again. When he got up to leave, he thanked me and started to extend his hand, and then said, “A handshake seems like such an insufficient token for what you’ve helped me understand.”
“Then how about a hug?” I stepped around the desk and pulled him in for a serious one, probably the first one he’d experienced in quite a few years. He was smiling and his eyes were damp when he stepped back.
“You call me when you have the identity charts complete, and we’ll pick up right where we just left off.”
When I got home, Jackson was in the living room alone, as Will had gone to pick up Ron. He was on the couch, and I said “Hello, Love” as I walked in, then walked to the couch and lay down with my head in his lap.
“You look happy. Good day?”
“Yes, on all fronts, including this one. What a joy to end it with a little tet a tet such as this, with my true love.”
He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “I feel the same way. I love you more every day, Babe.”
I reached up and stroked his face with my hands. “You make me so happy—so fulfilled. Being reminded of having found my other half and true love makes me ever more thankful.”
“Me too. And, can I assume from those comments that things went well with Robert today? I’m not asking for details.”
I grinned at him. “Yes, it’s fair to say that’s the case, and we discussed subjects like being true to yourself and finding your true love and other half, and having that conversation made me realize once again how fortunate we are.”
He was running his fingers through my hair, smiled and leaned over for another kiss. “Yep, we sure are.”
After a bit of simply relaxing in that pleasant and loving vibe I told him I was going to freshen up and change, and would return with two glasses of wine. I heard him put some music on, and shortly we settled in for a pleasant chat, interrupted before long by Will and Ron coming in. I told them to grab a glass of wine apiece after they’d dumped Ron’s bag, and when they joined us, we got caught up on class, progress on the quarter, and all manner of other trivial matters.
Over dinner I asked him to fill us in on his impressions of Ashland, the Shakespearean theater, and the whole scene…beyond what he’d previously said about a great trip, cool place, lots of fun. This time I wanted more details.
He smiled and said, “Ashland is a cool town, like I said before, but it’s small. As in real small after living here in Portland. That probably makes it Okay for a summer, say, during the festival when the town population doubles with festival people and all the visitors. It’s a pretty conservative area, so I don’t think I’d want to be there the rest of the year.”
I raised my eyebrows, and he went on, “I have an aunt who lives in Cedar City, which is in southern Utah, and there’s even a Shakespearean theater at the college there. I’ve gone a couple of times with my parents, and it’s a similar vibe. Real conservative people and culture that make up the town, but the tone changes during the festival because there’s all these outsiders coming in and they’re spending lots of money, so everyone gets friendly and tolerant, but you know things go back to normal when it’s all over.”
“I didn’t realize southern Oregon was so conservative. I figured it’s almost in California, so I didn’t even think about it.”
“Oh yeah, it is. I talked to a lot of people about it. Eugene and Corvallis are pockets of liberalism south of Salem, and all of southern Oregon and California north of Redding is like red-neck country. I understand it,” he was grinning now, “cause I’m from red-neck country in Utah!”
We ordered and Jackson and Will quizzed him about the festival, and the summer intern prospects.
“It’s one of, if not the top, Shakespearean festivals in the country. So, any involvement would be great experience and look terrific on a resume. Lewis & Clark has a small drama department, so there really isn’t much set design opportunity. Portland doesn’t have that much in the way of stage production. I’m an art major, and I want to explore the career options. I like the idea of set design because it’s art on a big scale that’s combined with design and production, so that’s pretty exciting. The trip was great because they had the prospective interns down on one day for an orientation, then the next day was kind of a walk-through of how the festival operates, meeting with staff, stuff like that. That was what was planned, but it didn’t include any personal time, or getting to know any of the people, so that’s why getting invited to stay over and go to that staff party – and it was a party – was so cool.”
“You mean, you don’t really know people until you get to see and know them outside the formal setting,” Jackson asked?
“Yeah, it’s kind of like how you and Will have told me about getting to know Prof. Higgins and Robert Atkins. I’m still blown away that they invited us all over to their house after the choir and glee club performances. Meaning, you get to know them for real. Doing a summer internship is a major commitment, so it’s kind of important to know if the people are all they appear to be.”
Jackson looked at me and said, “It’s kind of like what you organized for Gary and then for me, with campus visits and meeting faculty or staff, so you stand out from the crowd.”
Will asked him about the experience he’d be getting, and he described the plays scheduled, the variety of sets, and the design and production opportunities. He sounded really excited about it.
I smiled at him, saying, “I hope you land one of the internships. It sounds like it could be a big boost to your art career prospects.”
“Me too. It could be great. Only about half the people applying for internships were able to make it, even though it was over spring break, so the other half are unknowns with just applications and resumes. Hopefully the personal part will help.”
I told him I’d provide a letter of recommendation if that would help.
He smiled and thanked me, and we finished our dinner. We had a nice walk home afterwards, since it was a pleasant spring evening. We got home in time for The Tonight Show, and Johnny had on Suzanne Somers and Michael Douglas, but no musical performance. When we went to bed Jackson seemed a little troubled.
“I think everything Ron said is probably true, but that’s not all of it.”
I raised by eyebrows questioningly.
“Meaning, that reading between the lines and knowing there are plenty of gay people in theater, it’s also like a chance for a paid summer working in a gay resort or something.”
“David, get real. Theater, lots of gay people. That’s cool, it is what it is. And, it sounds like a good internship opportunity, but it also means a whole lot else. I’m worried about Will.”
Before I could say anything, he continued. “I know, I know. I worry too much. He’s my best friend and I don’t want to see him hurt again. That’s all.”
“Lover Boy, I agree with your assessment, but don’t lose sight one important thing. Will has always said ‘we’re just dating, we’re not madly in love.’ I think he’s got a pretty good handle on all of this, and sees it for what it is. But you know what, you are so cute and basically adorable when you’re so concerned like this. It makes me want to hold you in my arms and see what I can do to make you feel good.”
He smiled, and I could see him lightening up. “Did you hear me? Feel good. Like I’m going to make you feel good. How does it feel if I do this?” I asked, as I slid my hand up his thigh and held his scrotum?
He was initially being stubborn, not wanting to change the subject, but then I could see his complexion change, deciding to let it go, the warmth of my hand having some effect in his groin, and he started to smile slyly.
“Okay, I hear you, and you have a point. I’ll chill out. And that does feel good, and it is getting my mind onto another subject. Maybe I should go get the baby oil. What do you think?”
He grinned, I grinned back, and that made the decision.
At dinner on Sunday, after Will had dropped Ron back at the dorm, he asked us what we thought about the internship in Ashland opportunity. Jackson, true to his word from Friday night was quiet and looked at me.
“On the surface it sounds like a terrific opportunity, being able to attend the orientation and then getting asked to stay over may give him an inside track, and I’ve never been an art major, but it seems like it would sure be a good experience.”
Will nodded. I caught his eye. “What do you think?”
He nodded his head again, “I agree with everything you said. It could be really good for him.”
“But it means he’s away in Ashland all summer.”
“Yeah, that’s the un-cool part. But, like I’ve told you a bunch, we’ve been dating, we’re not madly in love, so I guess I have to live up to that observation, don’t I?”
I smiled at him. “It may not be all that bad. Remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Jackson rolled his eyes, in a direction Will couldn’t see.
*****April started as a typical school month. PDA and the discussion group were positive, and I felt we were making progress discussing relevant subjects that helped the students with their specific problems or concerns. The worship service on Sunday still had eight or ten students attending and occasionally one would bring a friend or another curious student. Jackson and Will kept coming and led the singing, and that was a plus. I kept telling myself this wasn’t about success as measured by attendance, but rather just creating an alternative that was warm and welcoming and would allow those struggling with their faith to attend and take from it what they might.
Classes and the accompanying homework plus choir and glee club practice kept Jackson and Will plenty busy. One evening over dinner when I asked about practice they acknowledge that Robert had made his choir performance selection, but they weren’t going to say much other than the choir performance would be kind of a first and a little unusual, but they were sure I’d like it.
Sam had been given a clean bill of health at her final check-up, but encouraged to take it easy in the summer, and not do anything that could include another accident…say like field hockey or BMX bike racing. As she got more mobile, she didn’t need Will and Jackson to drive her around, but what had happened is that they’d become good friends, and it was a foursome with Ruth included, and they often ended up all being together in the lounge at the Center reading and studying together in the afternoon. And because Will had a car, and Jackson had access to mine, when needed, they provided the wheels.
The first Saturday was sunny and warm, and we got out our bikes, did a little tune up and lubrication and rode down to Oaks Bottom Park and then north along the river. It was pleasant to be out for the first time of the year, and we decided the next Saturday with good weather we’d find some location out of town where we could take a longer ride.
April was typically mixed weather, but we lucked out on most weekends. The next weekend we drove to Sauvie Island where we’d taken the BMW for the test drive, and rode around the whole island, then stopped for lunch on the way home. The following PDA Sam found out we’d had a great bike ride and let us know she was unhappy that she’d been left out. We told her we didn’t read minds, but we’d set something up that we could all do.
We got a third Saturday in a row with good weather, and we decided to do a short hike and asked Ruth and Sam to join us. Ron stayed overnight with Will, and we picked Ruth and Sam up at the dorm about 10:00 and headed to Lewis and Clark State Park. It’s where the Sandy River joins the Columbia, and we knew it was pretty flat and not too strenuous, and I wanted to make sure Sam was handling it Okay before we took on some more strenuous hikes.
Sam suggested that the next time we could go to Beacon Rock State Park up the Gorge on the Washington side of the Columbia, where there was a decent hike as well as the climb on Beacon Rock itself, and she could show us where she went rock climbing. She also laid down a challenge about how many of us were up for trying rock climbing. I asked her if she was ready for that, and she said her physical therapist had given her a clean bill of health…but to avoid falling on the hip! To me that said go slow.
Classes and homework continued, and April moved forward, and the following Saturday both Ron and Ruth had some assignment work to do, so they passed, and Will picked up Sam and her bike, and Jackson and I met them at Sauvie Island. Sam has wanted to do some more exciting trail ride, but I’d been adamant that she needed to work into it and go slow, and that she couldn’t afford another injury. Jackson and Will had been supportive, and even though we’d ridden the same route two weeks before, they were up for doing it again. Sam relented, and as it turned out we had a great time. She had done well with her PT, but wasn’t back to full fitness, and probably would have struggled with too many hills.
We stopped for a late lunch on the way back into town and we talked about the bike ride, school in general, the upcoming choir concert, the ups and downs of life, and finally I said, “Sam, we’re all friends here, and all in the PDA? Are you Okay? You seem down today. Is everything alright?”
She started out trying to get away with the standard ‘everything’s fine’ line, but that wasn’t flying for any of us. Jackson and Will had also detected something, and they told her they were there for her and to get honest. She finally opened up and said during the week she’d had to go home to pick some things up and ran into a high school classmate who she hadn’t seen since graduation. They’d all been in the same group with her ex-girlfriend, and it had brought back a lot of memories. What she’d been finding out over the last year was that her ex had moved on when she got sent to another school to finish high school. The high school friend she’d run into had told her that her ex was in college back east and had found a new girlfriend. Sam looked hurt, and the more she talked the more deeply pained she appeared. Will and Jackson kept her talking and it turned out she wasn’t kidding when she made the comment a couple of months back about being ripped apart. The parents had forced them apart, and they’d never even been able to really say goodbye. She’d held out hope that they’d somehow get back together, and she hadn’t been seeing anybody or dating, and now found out this news.
Will took her hand and said softly, “Maybe it’s time to move on too, Sam. I had to. I was in a pretty deep and dark place, but finally came out of it, and just had to let the pain go. If she’s moved on, then doesn’t it say that what you two had wasn’t as strong as you thought at the time? That’s no reflection on you or your girlfriend, it just is what it is.”
She was pensive, then looked at Will and said, “Thanks for saying that. I know I haven’t let the pain go. I also know what you went through was way worse than what I did.”
“But it still really hurts, doesn’t it,” Will asked softly.
Sam was on the edge of tears, but bit her lip and finally said, “Yeah, it does. I’ve just got to get real about it, and move on. It’s been almost a year, but it hurt so much when we were separated that I guess I’ve just been hanging onto hope, and there isn’t any left.”
We talked a little more, and Sam seemed to perk up a little, and then we resumed the drive. Will dropped her off at the dorm and was back at the house later than we were. After he stowed his bike in the garage, he came in the kitchen where we were sitting having a soda and talking. Jackson looked up at him and asked, “How is she? Did you guys talk more? She didn’t seem to be in a good place today.”
“She wasn’t,” Will said, “and yeah, we kept talking, and she’s still sorting out a ton of stuff. We talked more about what she’s told us about so far with her parents and their expectations, the relationship break up, and all that. I mean we all know she hasn’t worked through or recovered from all that shit. But as we kept talking it got into other stuff too.”
“Like image problems. It turns out that the high school friend she met last week was part of a crowd she was in, and it wasn’t all cool. She may be a good athlete and physically tough, but she’s gone through her share of shit. That’s what I mean about image problems. One of them was some kind of sleep over where all these chicks were trying on and showing off lingerie to each other, you know, like ‘does this show off my tits’ and stuff like that. When it was Sam’s turn, she tried to avoid it. Can you tell she’s not the lingerie type? Anyway, she couldn’t really dodge it and ended up having to try the stuff on and show it off, and one of them told her that it looked ugly on her because her body didn’t have any curves.”
He looked at me. “That’s what she told me this douche bag chick said. You guys probably don’t get what that means cause you didn’t date girls. It’s right up there with the worst things you could say. This chick is telling her she’s plain and not attractive and not sexy because of the shape of her body. Even if you’re bi, you’re still female, and being told that is pretty shitty, don’t you think?”
Jackson had a pained expression on his face, clearly recalling similar things that happened to him. My comment was that it was the kind of cruelty teenagers inflict on each other.
“Yeah,” Will said, “that’s true. But look at Jackson’s face. This has nothing to do with him at all, but he’s clearly gone through something similar, something that caused similar kinds of pain. And, they’re pretty deep-seated pains, aren’t they?” He was looking at Jackson now.
“Yeah,” Jackson said, quietly, “I was always hung up about being smaller than everyone else cause I was called a shrimp, and a fairy cause I had a small cock and no pubes to speak of. Till the summer before senior year, that is, then it started changing.”
He looked at me, “You know how hung up about it I was, even though you knew in the long run of life it wasn’t a big deal and made me feel better about it. But it was there, it was a hurt that had happened and wasn’t going away, and that I always worried or felt bad about.”
We were quiet. I realized that they were sharing experiences I hadn’t had and the best thing I could do was stay silent till I could add something of value. Finally, Jackson asked, “So then what happened?”
“Well, when she told me the part about being told her body was ugly because it had no curves, we were silent for a while, and I could see by glancing over at her that she was having to work hard not to just start crying. Running into that high school friend kind of brought it all back or something I mean, this was real and painful, kind of like what I went through last Fall with Kevin.”
Jackson looked at him and nodded, his expression asking, ‘and then what?’
“I reached over and put my hand on top of hers, and told her I thought her body was sexy.”
“Yeah, and I did, and I do. I mean, she needed to hear something positive, didn’t she? And she’s got a body more like a guy than one of those fucking curvy girls.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s like a tomboy. Haven’t you figured that out? And she’s an athlete, and so I… so yeah, I think she’s got a sexy body. Just like I think you’ve got a sexy body.”
It was quiet and Jackson just smiled because there was pressure in the room. Wil looked at me and said, “I can’t say if you’ve got a sexy body, David, because I’ve never seen you naked.”
We were all struck dumb for about ten seconds, and Will started grinning, and then we all cracked up and Jackson said, “And, you saw Sam naked exactly when?”
Will was still grinning. “Well, you know, you don’t exactly need to see someone totally naked, right? She’s wearing those cut off shorts when the weather’s good and she’s got great legs. She wears a tight T-shirt so you can see she’s got a strong upper body and arms.”
He paused, and we waited. He clearly was on a roll. “David, you’ve still got your shorts and T-shirt on. I can’t tell you what I think unless I see your body. Why don’t you take your T-shirt off and let me make the call?”
I didn’t know where this was going, but something about it felt important and serious. “Okay, but I don’t want any harassment. I haven’t done any real athletics since rowing in college, and that was years ago.”
I stripped off my T-shirt and stood up, tossing it on my chair. I felt myself involuntarily flex, I guess in an attempt to appear more muscular. “Well, what do you think?”
“You’re looking good for and older guy. You’ve still got good definition in your pecs, you don’t have a belly yet, but there’s not a lot of abdominal definition. Nice shoulders and a decent taper down to your waist. Still, looking good. Now, to make a final judgment I have to see your thighs, and the musculature that’s hidden by those long shorts. Why don’t you drop the shorts too?”
I glanced at Jackson, and he was grinning, and his face was lit up lit a lantern.
“Is this really necessary?”
Will looked like angelic innocence. “You asked about it, you asked what I meant, and I can’t say if you have a sexy body without seeing enough of it to be able to make a judgment.”
I could see this getting out of hand, but also the humor in it, so I undid my shorts and dropped them on the floor and stepped out of them. They were both looking me over pretty seriously, and when I looked at Jackson, he licked his lips. We locked eyes, and he licked them again, and I felt myself starting to get hard.
Will was watching it all, and said, “Okay, that’s all I need to see. I mean, that’s more than enough for me to see. Although it would be even more interesting right now if you’d drop your boxers so I could make an assessment based on seeing you completely naked. Jackson, my friend, would that be Okay with you?”
I could see the devilish look in Jackson’s eyes, and knew where he was going. “Whatever you need to make a complete and accurate assessment. You live here. We’re all best friends. Nothing to hide, right?”
Will looked back at me. “Well?”
“Are you going to drop the boxers, or not?”
“Will, is this really necessary? What is the question we’re really trying to answer here? If my body is sexy enough or how long my cock is?”
Will started laughing and said, “David, I’m sorry. I went too far. You’re such a good sport, though, you made it really fun.”
“Well, that’s a consolation, I guess. So, what’s the verdict?”
“The verdict is that you’ve got a sexy body, just like your Lover Boy does. How does that make you feel?”
“Pretty good, actually. I’ve only ever had one person ever tell me that, and that’s Jackson. So, you’re doing wonders for my ego right now.”
He looked at me and smiled, “Jackson’s right. You are a Sexy Man. If you weren’t with him, I’d be all over you in a minute.”
I paused, because that hit home, and then I said, “That’s probably the second most important compliment I’ve ever been given about my body. I don’t think I had a lot of hang ups, but I always felt a little inferior and never fully there, you know what I mean? Like I had an athlete for a brother and was comparing myself against athletes in high school and college. But, if you say I’ve got a sexy body, that’s good enough for me. It kind of validates what Lover Boy over there has been saying, and you know it’s always good to get an outside opinion.”
Jackson let out a long and slow, “What did you say?”
I just grinned at him. I turned back to Will and said, “What we just did was fun, but it was also really important, because you discovered something about Sam that probably would have gone by the rest of us, and you did the single best thing, I think, that you could have done. You told her something about herself to build her self-esteem. I couldn’t have done that. I don’t know enough about what makes a girl or a woman sexy to even go there.”
“Me either,” Jackson said, softly, “I probably would have missed it completely and she would have ended up feeling just as bad when the day was over.”
The month kept surging forward, marching toward the end of the quarter. The first Friday in May, Ron had stayed over, and the next morning we went and picked up Ruth and Sam and headed for Beacon Rock State Park. We did the hike in the foothills away from the river, then came back to the rock itself, this massive upright basalt protuberance on the edge of the river. We climbed the trail to the top that the Civilian Conservation Corps had made. It was strenuous, but Sam did well and the view from the top was stupendous. We could see up and down the Gorge, take in the amazing vista, and watch huge barges go by. When we got back down, she showed us the faces rock climbers worked on, and we watched a few go at it for a while. She looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, David, I’m not doing any. I didn’t bring any ropes or other gear, and I’m not into a fall.” She grinned, and I grinned back at her.
This time Sam rode home with us, and Ruth was with Ron and Will. We talked about rock climbing for a bit, and she educated us on Royal Robbins and his epic first climbs in Yosemite, how he was her climbing hero and he’d designed the approach shoes she wore. When I asked what made them special, other than the color, she said it was a moderate lug sole with a long steel shank in the sole so that besides being comfortable to hike in, you could carry the weight of your body on small toe holds without the sole bending. That was a foreign concept to me, but sounded cool because it meant you didn’t have to hike in boots and then switch to climbing shoes when you arrived. She told us about his pioneering minimally invasive climbing with no fixed assistance, like putting in and removing hardware as you climbed. “It’s a kind of environmental consciousness applied to climbing. No permanent pitons or fixed ropes. I think it’s really cool.”
I glanced at her, and said, “I agree it sounds like it, even if I know next to nothing about rock climbing. You know what, though, you seem in a really good mood today, like rock climbing does something magical for you.”
“Yeah, and so does BMX riding. I guess it gets me away from all the crap. You know, you have to really focus on the sport, on the particulars of what you’re doing, so you don’t have space to think about all that other stuff. It’s one of the few places I excel and am accepted for who and what I am.”
“Are you still struggling with all that other stuff you were telling us about, your ex-girlfriend and all of that?”
“I’m getting over it. What all of you guys told me was just so real, I mean so basic but so real, it was like time to just do it. Or at least try to do it. Like I told Will, my shit is a lot easier than his. I mean, my girlfriend didn’t kill herself, but it still hurts. So, I’ve just got to deal with it and move on.”
Jackson was being quiet. I could see Sam in the rearview mirror. She’s moved into the middle of the rear seat to make it easier to talk to us up front. I looked at her in the mirror, not really knowing if she saw my eyes, and said, “You know, if you want to really talk about this, if you’re ready, just call me, and we can meet at the Center. It’s summer but I’m working halftime, and the Center is open as needed. Sometimes it helps to be able to talk things out.”
She was silent.
In a minute or so, Jackson turned in his seat and reached his hand back to her and said, “Sam, can I say something?”
“It’d be good to meet with David. He’s good at talking. He got me through my shit. He got my brother through his shit. He got Will through his too. It’s not like magic or anything. A lot of it is just being able to get it out and help you make the decisions you already know you need to make.”
She was quiet, not responding.
“You know we all love you, don’t you?”
She was still quiet. I could see her face getting emotional in the rearview mirror.
“Sam, I grew up in a family with parents who never said they loved me. That’s why I’m saying this to you. You know we love you, don’t you?”
She was sobbing now, and Jackson said, “It’s true. It’s not about if you deserve it, or are good enough, or any of that shit. We just love you because you’re you. Is that good enough?”
It took almost a minute, and Jackson was still holding her hand, and finally she choked out, “Yeah, it is. It is good enough. It’s more than good enough. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t had you guys and Ruth come into my life. Thanks. You don’t know, but thanks.”
Jackson said very softly, “When you’re ready, call David, just get together and talk, Okay?”
I could see her nod in the rearview mirror. Eventually Jackson turned back around in his seat, and we were quiet the last few minutes of the drive to the dorm. I wasn’t leaving it there. When I pulled up, I opened the driver’s door and moved the seat back forward and reached for her hand, so she had to get out on my side of the BMW. When she stood up straight, I turned her by the shoulders and pulled her in for a hug. I didn’t say anything, and didn’t have to. Her hands went around my torso and she hugged me back, and I said softly in her ear, “It’s true. We love you. Let me know when you’re ready, Okay?”
I could feel her nodding her head on my neck. Jackson gave her a big hug and we headed home
For the two students in choir and glee club, the month of May meant building toward those two performances.
The next week they came home from Glee Club practice totally enthused because Robert had selected another of Will’s arrangement for the upcoming performance. “Wow,” I enthused. “That’s outrageous. Isn’t it getting close to the actual performance, though, to make the decision and start practicing?”
They laughed. “No worry. Robert has had us practicing a lot more pieces than we’ll be performing, and I know he’s been talking to members about their preferences and what they like and don’t, and today he basically just narrowed the field to what we really focus on for the next few weeks.”
“I’m pretty impressed you had another arrangement chosen, Will. How does that make you feel?”
“Pretty awesome. I’m still a little embarrassed, but Robert told me he didn’t just dump it on Glee Club, he’d talked to most of the singers and they really liked the idea of doing a Grateful Dead song, and they even liked my arrangement of it.”
“Yeah, and there’s no solo,” Jackson said, “so no worry about it going to his head or anything like that!”
It was two weeks before Robert came back for our next meeting. He seemed energized, and we got right to it. He’d taken the time to do his before and after Identity charts, and what was taking place was a classic counseling situation, where the client had done the work and laid out the problem for himself, and could also see the solution very clearly. He said the before version was twenty years back, just before he met his wife.
“Robert, your before chart has quite a bit in common with mine, you know. Setting aside all the physical and familial element, there’s quite a few about conforming to the family desires, which means you didn’t have the opportunity to explore and decide for yourself. That was me till I decided to go to seminary.”
“I was thinking along those lines as I did this, the one big difference being that my parents were musicians, so majoring in music was what they wanted, while seminary wasn’t the desire for a businessman father, in your case, right.”
I agreed, and told him I was impressed with the level of candor his chart displayed, as well as something else. “You say here ‘Incipient Homosexual,’ can you tell me what you mean by that?”
“Simply that it was developing, and had I been allowed enough time with no societal pressure that I probably would have sorted it out and accepted it. What happened instead was that I met a woman who turned out to be my true love.”
“I’m encouraged to hear you describe both things that way, because it means you’re accepting and integrating both, and that’s healthy. What’s the situation on the guilt?”
“I spent a lot of time wrestling with that, and I’m over the guilt. It’s all falsely predicated and I’m ready to move on.” He put the current identity chart in front of me. “I think you’ll agree that some of the major elements have changed, and in terms of how I think about it, you’ve helped me sort through many of the issues, and I fully accept I’m a gay man, albeit one who was married to my true love for almost twenty years, but now ready to be who I am.”
“So, it feels like you’ve pretty well sorted out who and where you are. You’ve identified the changes to a number of important elements of your personal identity and re-defined your sexual identity. How do you feel about that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Robert, I mean how do you feel about it. I don’t mean what do you think about it. I’m asking what the vibe is in your heart or in your soul, not in your head. Part of all of this is not being in touch with your feelings.
He looked at me blankly.
“Let me tell you what Jackson did to, or better put, did for me about feelings. As I discovered who I was and our relationship grew, I realized and I told him straight up, I wasn’t in touch with my feelings and I promised him I would work on it and get in touch with them…for us. Nine months into our relationship, my parents died in an auto accident back east. We spoke on the phone every night, and he never failed to ask me how I was feeling. And when I’d blow it off or give him some lightweight answer, he’d circle back and say something like, ‘David, I’m asking about your feelings.’ He even started playing this game about making a kissing sound and saying’ I’m sending that kiss down the phone line…has it arrived? Can you feel it? Tell me how it feels.’ I know something about being out of touch with my feelings.”
He smiled weakly, and said quietly, “That’s amazing.”
“It was. And he did the same thing last summer when I had a concussion from a bike wreck and was out of it for a few weeks. He made sure I stayed in touch with my feelings. That’s why I’m asking you how you feel.”
“I guess I’m feeling good. I feel better about myself than I have in years. I feel positive because of the changes you helped me identify and define. I’ve acknowledged that I’m a gay man, and I guess I’m ready for what’s next.”
He was hesitating, and the conditional part of his response troubled me.
I waited till he looked directly at me, and then I smiled to comfort him, and said softly, “Can you tell me about the other thing you’re feeling that you haven’t completely sorted out yet?”
His face froze, then relaxed as he realized it wasn’t an interrogation session. “What do you mean?”
“Robert. I’m your friend. You described how you feel in qualified terms. You started by saying “I guess I’m feeling good,” and you ended up saying “I guess I’m ready for what’s next.”
We both were quiet.
“So, what is it you’re still guessing about? Or maybe it’s something that’s unresolved that you can’t define yet or won’t allow you to make a complete declarative statement.”
He looked spooked for a second, and then his face cleared, as it had in our first meeting, and he’d clearly made a decision. “You’ve done a lot for me and I have to be as honest as I can be. It’s the feelings I had.”
“Can you tell me what feelings, and when?”
“When my wife was still alive, even before she got the cancer diagnosis.”
“It’s the feelings, and the…the desires that I had, I mean, the feelings and desires I had for men. I wanted so much to hold a man, to be held by a man, to kiss a man, to make love with a man. But I was married. How could I have those thoughts about a man and not have them about my wife. It wasn’t just attraction. It was a kind of burning desire. And, when she got sick, it’s almost like the feelings got more intense.”
“Is that all?”
“No, before she got sick, I found myself wrestling with regret too. That it would never happen. That what I was feeling would never happen, that I’d never be held and loved by a man. I can still remember the night it got the most intense, the anguish I was feeling, and I was crying, thinking I don’t want to live a life and then die and never experience it.”
He was weeping softly as he finished, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes.
I waited till he’d calmed down. “Robert, I’m going to start by telling you there’s nothing unusual in that.”
“I’ll say it again. In my mind there’s nothing unusual in that. We’re talking about the process of recognizing and accepting you are gay. Whether you knew it or not, I think there was a dawning realization going on in your person. I’ll bet a lot of it was unconscious for a long time, and then you reached a point where it surfaced in your conscious mind, and as time went on it became a stronger realization and a more substantial part of you. Does that make sense?”
He nodded, “I suppose so, you mean like I was transitioning or something?”
“Maybe something like that. For sure a change was taking place within you. If you occasionally were attracted to certain men, then part of your mind knew about it, even if you could dismiss it as an occasional and random event, like maybe some neurons were misfiring or whatever. But when it happens often enough, an intelligent person like you realizes it’s not a few random events, right?”
I stopped again. It was important that he be able to agree to this.
After a little while he nodded his head, “Yeah, that makes sense. So, it’s something like what you said about the continuum, that I was moving from hetero to homo even if I didn’t know it. Even if I had no plans to act on it?”
“I think that’s a fair way to describe it. Or perhaps getting in touch with the real you. Then emotionally it was compounded by your wife receiving her diagnosis, and both of you having to deal with all of that.”
“But if it could reach the point where I could tell myself how much I wanted to love and be loved by a man and not die without having done so, doesn’t that mean, I mean to say…I, I don’t know…doesn’t it…doesn’t that mean that deep down I wanted her to die so I’d be free to be gay?”
Now we were either there, or close to it. He was looking at me pleadingly now.
“Robert, I suppose some hard core, anti-homosexual people or therapists could very well tell you that and pile on the guilt. But and I want you to listen to me very carefully, because this is very important for you, for the person of Robert Atkins. You did not formulate a wish for your wife to die so you could be free to start having gay sex.”
He didn’t react. He sat there numbly for ten or fifteen seconds, and then I saw his eyes flicker, and he looked at me. “Is that true?”
“I believe it is, and the surest proof of it is that we’ve been discussing for a few weeks just how difficult and full of anguish this has been for you. On top of that, and I’m going to be purposeful crass here, you didn’t run out the week after your wife’s funeral to find some guy to fuck, did you?”
Even that didn’t take him aback. “If you’d been harboring a death wish of some sort, once it came to pass, don’t you think you would have pretty much said, ‘Great! I got what I wanted. Now I can go start getting it on with gay guys.’ But that didn’t happen, did it?”
He shook his head.
“Instead, what happened is that you continued to wrestle with the core issues, trying to sort out the conflicting feelings, all of that compounded by the emotion of losing your wife. You’ve just got to accept that you were getting in touch with who you really were, some of it conscious and a lot of it unconscious, and that sadly was coincidental with your wife’s diagnosis and death.”
“I guess I can accept that.” He stopped, then paused and did a double take. “That was wrong. I won’t say ‘I guess,’ instead I’ll say, ‘I accept that,’ and now I just have to make it part of me.”
“You’re at a point where you know what’s what. I really don’t think I told you anything you didn’t already know about yourself. All I did was help you talk about it, put it in context, and free you to make the decisions you need to make now. I will say this, and it’s quite important. You have to choose to feel like her death frees you to be you, or burden yourself with guilt, the kind of claustrophobic guilt that could cloud the rest of your life.”
“I can accept that too.”
“Good, because if the two of you loved each other, meaning she loved you as much as you loved her, and had a life built on shared vision, and she was as intelligent as you are, what do you think she’d be saying to you about where you go from here?”
“She’d tell me to be true to myself.”
“That’s all you need to know. The rest is just supporting information. With that you can move on to the next phase of your life, and you can handle any obstacles or hassles that life throws your way.”
Robert and I met a couple more times in the next few weeks. By those meetings it seemed like he had resolved the conflicts he had been struggling with, and that process had been assisted by the charts that helped him map out his old and current identity. Most of what he now wanted to discuss was where to begin, how to go about it.
“Don’t look at me like I’m some expert. I’d had exactly one lover and one boyfriend in my life. I have nothing to share about the gay dating scene, no pointers or inside tricks, or anything like that. I will suggest one thing to you though, go down to Powell’s Bookstore and buy yourself a copy of Silverstein’s The Joy of Gay Sex. On the one had it’s a kind of how-to manual, but more importantly is how he, as a psychologist, treats and explains contemporary gay relationships and gay sex within them. Jackson bought me a copy for my birthday the year before last, and it was amazingly illuminating. And a little stimulating as well,” I concluded with a wry smile.
As we said goodbye, he did tell me, though, that he was pretty sure I would determine that one of the hymns he’d chosen for the upcoming choir performance was a very Freudian decision. I asked what me meant and he said, “It’s a hymn by Guillame Dufay, the Renaissance composer, and you’ll have to read the lyrics and hear the composition to fully understand. I have to say that if I was selecting pieces today, I not sure I’d include it. You’ll have to tell me what you think after the concert.”
We’d become something of a Jackson and Will Fan Club, and all met in the chapel lobby at 6:45. Meaning Mona and her husband, Carter and Marcia, Ron, Sam and Ruth, and an occasional student or two from the discussion group or the PDA. There was a little excitement based on what they had let us know about the performance and the lineup of hymns that Robert had selected. We sat and scanned our programs.
Capella Chorus Spring Quarter Performance: Hymns of Christian West and East
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire - Johann Sebastian Bach
Al sentido confuso- Juan de Araujo
Lacrimosa (Requiem) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Je me complains piteusement - Guillame Dufay
Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae – Guillame Dufay
Hymn of the Cherubim – Piotor Illych Tchaikovsky
Bless the Lord, O My Soul - Sergei Rachmaninoff
I could see scanning the program what Jackson and Will said about how I’d like the program selection. I especially liked the Eastern Orthodox hymn selection after our work with the hymns for the worship service, and wondered to myself if they’d shared any of that with Robert.
Starting the performance with Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire was, in a way, a typical Robert Atkins move; begin with something familiar and upbeat to engage the audience and set them up to then be presented with something they probably hadn’t heard before. Everyone knew the melody of Bach’s hymn, even if they didn’t know the lyrics. It was well sung, with a robust feel to it.
The move from Bach’s Baroque music to de Araujo’s Al sentido confuso was one I was pretty sure the audience would not know, even though it was 18th Century High Peruvian Baroque music. It had a brisk and engaging pace, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Then the big switch came, from the upbeat feeling everyone had been enjoying, to the hymn from Mozart’s Requiem, titled Lacrimosa. It is the Latin word for weeping, and the feeling was certainly conveyed and suddenly it felt like we were all attending a funeral. I was impressed with the change in vibe and tone the choir was able to accomplish, and the hymn sorrowfully marched forward with due solemnity.
Robert had taken us from joy to sorrow, and thinking about his words concerning Freudian dynamics being at play in his hymn selection, I wondered what the Dufay piece would be like. The program had the lyrics, and they jumped off the page knowing what Robert had been going through these past months. As I listened, I could hear the plaintive anguish, and appreciated the difficulty in singing it with his slow pace and echoing voices built off the high voices in the choir.
Je me complains piteusement
A moi tout seul plus qu'a nullui,
De la griesté, paine e tourment,
Que je souffre plus que ne di.
Dangier me tient en tel soussi
Qu'eschever ne puis sa rudesse,
Et Fortune le veult aussi,
Mais, par ma foy, ce fait Jonesse.
I complain piteously
To myself alone more than to anyone else
Of the grief, pain and torment
I suffer more than I can say.
The Pain of Love keeps me so worried
That I cannot escape its brutality
And Fortune wishes it so too
But by my faith, this is what Youth does!
The mood had certainly changed, and while he had the audience feeling and wrestling with anguish and pain, he carried the mood forward with another hymn in a similar vein, Dufay’s Lamentation for the Fall of Constantinople. I certainly wasn’t familiar with it, but I understood the significance of the fall to the Ottomans of what had been the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and one of the glories of Christianity. The hymn was technical and complex, and the choir did quite a good job executing it.
The chapel was in absolute silence as the hymn ended, and only very slowly and quietly did applause begin, the feeling being akin to wanting to applaud a superb hymn rendition at a funeral.
The next two hymns not only continued the Eastern Christian aspect of the program, but drawing on compositions by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff moved to a brighter and more celebratory feeling with a hymn from the Sunday Divine Liturgy, and closing with Bless the Lord, O My Soul. You could almost feel the festive vibe move back into the chapel, and reinfuse the space.
The applause was long and loud at the end, the audience appreciating the wide range that the choir had performed as well as the technical difficulties and musical complexity they had mastered.
Will and Jackson were still flushed with satisfaction when they walked into the lobby, Robert not far behind them. They came over to our little cluster of fans, and it was immediately apparent they were more than happy with the choir performance and their role in it.
I hugged Jackson close, and whispered, “You seem pretty satisfied with tonight’s performance.”
“Oh yeah, some of those pieces were hard, but we pulled it off. Even Robert told us all afterwards that he was exceptionally pleased with how we’d mastered the music and executed near flawlessly.”
He leaned back, grinning at me, “You know we’re human, so we get to make a few mistakes, right?”
I saw Ron hugging Will, and then it dissolved into everyone clapping them on the shoulders or giving them hugs, and Robert joined our little group. He graciously accepted the compliments for song selection and direction, but waved at Jackson and Will and said, “all the credit goes to the performers.”
Carter stepped in at that point and said we were all invited to their home for a short post-performance celebration. I could see Robert dither, but Carter was having none of it, and when Marcia turned on the charm, he was in.
After arriving at the Higgins, Carter went through his usual bar tending routine, much to everyone’s enjoyment, and as people moved around talking to one another, I introduced Robert to Mona’s husband, and made sure he understood that she was the person that ran the center and particularly looked out for the students who were anchored there.
“I’ve heard good things about what goes on there. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you’re the one who keeps it running. It’s that way in most departments. The Chair is out front getting all the credit, but there are always one or two staffers without whom it wouldn’t function.”
Carter was walking by with drinks, and Robert said, “Isn’t that the case, Carter?”
He nodded knowingly as he walked by, and I told him that Mona had been born in Romania and had had a very interesting life up to and including meeting her husband. As I walked away to talk to students, I heard them talking about escaping the Nazis. A little later, I specifically waved him over and introduced him to Ruth and Sam, and made sure he understood that they were among the anchor students. He asked a question or two about the programs and their involvement, and both answered them, and then Ruth turned to him and said, “You know Pastor Dave leads a weekly discussion group on faith and current events, and also a really great Personal Development Alliance meeting for gay students.” I didn’t think Robert knew this previously, and his reaction confirmed it, and he was suitably impressed.
He chatted with Jackson and me before he departed, and I confirmed that he’d been told by them about the worship service and how we started singing two Russian Orthodox hymns, It was curious that he’d started having his choir perform eastern liturgical music, and that we’d done the same. I was happy that he was now connected with our circle of friends.
“What can you tell me about how you chose the Dufay hymns?”
He smiled and said, “I have to ask you first if you think the first one was Freudian?”
I grinned. “Pretty certainly.”
Robert looked at Jackson and said, “I have to be honest with you about going through some pretty rough times the last six or nine months, a lot of it including anguish about my sexuality, and I’m afraid I let that feeling effect my song selection. I’m sure David didn’t break his counselor confidences, but the fact is I accept I’m gay, and I had to sort that all out.”
Jackson smiled then, and said, “Rest assured, David said nothing. Even when we asked, just in general terms how the meetings went, he’d just say ‘it went well.’ No gossip about you at our house.” He paused, and looked at Robert. “But I have to tell you I’m really glad to hear you’re through it, and that it’s resolved. All the better if it’s resolved on the gay side, but I’d say the same thing if you were straight.”
Robert put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder and said softly, “Thanks, Jackson. That means a lot. One of the big things that made it possible for me to get it sorted out was David telling me about the before and after identity charts the two of you did. He even showed me his, and suddenly I understood the honesty and transparency you two have in your relationship. It amazes me still. But it made it possible for me to start being honest with myself. So, I’m on my way. Now we’ll see where it goes.”
He looked back at me. “To answer your question, the first Dufay hymn was, in retrospect, pretty Freudian, all about anguish. Dufay was recognized as one of the most capable and almost astonishing composers of his time, and no one knows why he wrote Je me complains piteusement, but like I told the choir, it is a stylistically perfect piece of early Renaissance polyphony, and does an absolutely monumental job of conveying anguish.”
He glanced at Jackson, “Now you know what was motivating my selection.”
Jackson just smiled, indicating he should go on.
He did. “But once I’d selected that one, and started looking for other eastern hymns, his monumental hymn about the fall of Constantinople seemed like a perfect transition, because historically, the West was ignoring what was going on with the siege of Constantinople, they even ignored appeals for help from Rome’s sister city. And then, when the Second Rome fell, it was cataclysmic, many people thought it was the beginning of the end of the world. And from Dufay came this lamentation that at a bare minimum didn’t just express his personal anguish, but maybe got many people in touch with what had happened. With what they had allowed to happen.”
I told him I didn’t know what to say to that, given I actually knew so little history from that period.
“There are also lamentations by Greek composers in Byzantine chant about the fall. Fortunately for us, one western composer saw fit to address it, and it is in a musical form we can relate to.”
I smiled at him. “I didn’t’ realize you were such a historian. Thank you for the two Orthodox hymns. We’ve just gotten tuned in to Russian Orthodox music, so they were both uplifting and inspirational.”
“Once I’d decided to do the West and East approach, it was actually Will and this guy, when they were telling me about your worship service at the center, that pushed me to consider grand and beautiful liturgical music. You were happy with it?”
“More that satisfied.” I was grinning.
“Care to let me in on the joke?”
“Sure. Once again, my self-declared atheist boyfriend influences the selection of the liturgical music. One day I’ll have to tell you about how we chose the hymns for the worship service.”
It was a low-key weekend, with the last week of class before finals looming. That Monday, May 21, came the news of the verdict in the Dan White trial in San Francisco, that the jury returned two verdicts of voluntary manslaughter, and the judge gave White a sentence of seven years and eight months imprisonment. This for two cold blooded murders, and with good behavior he could be out in five years. Rioting broke out in San Francisco. There was no PDA or discussion group because it was the last week before finals, but the news got around to the PDA members pretty quickly. Everyone was shocked that such a light sentence could be handed down. Word was that a protest march about it would be held at the Portland City Hall on Wednesday at noon.
On the drive home, we discussed it further, and Jackson said he wanted to be part of the protest, that as gay men we had to stand up for our rights. He wanted to know if I’d join him. I said, “Yes,” and from the back seat, Will said he wanted to be there too. A few other PDA members had given the indication that they’d be there, and when we arrived it turned out to be a fairly sizeable crowd, almost like the Gay Pride parade all over again. It was controlled, with police officers on the sidewalk observing, but no rioting or bad behavior took place. Rather it was a public statement that there were homosexual residents of Portland, and we had legal rights, and the city government and community at large needed to know and respect that. Most of the hand-made placards were along the line of “We have legal rights too!” and “Justice For All!”
When we reached the end of the march, we were a few blocks from where we’d parked, and stood around for a while to see if we could spot other PDA members. Eventually Sam emerged from the crowd, and we waved at her. She came over on her crutch.
Jackson said, “I thought you were off your crutch!”
She smiled ruefully, “Yeah, technically I am, but I figured it wasn’t worth the risk of marching without it. If something had happened, you three would never have let me live it down, to say nothing of the non-stop harassment I’d be getting from you two. Besides, Ruth dropped me off, and now that I’ve found you guys, can I have a ride back to campus?”
We all laughed, and Jackson and Will gave her a hug. That’s when I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to be looking straight into Dieter’s face. He was smiling widely, and I immediately responded in kind. He said hello, and how wonderful to see us all, and the wheels were turning in my brain and I said back to him, with a wide smile, “Why am I not surprised to see you here?”
He continued smiling, looking directly at me, and said, “Because I am too, and we have to stand up for our legal rights, do we not?” We exchanged a modest hug.
By this time Jackson and Will had turned to us, and Jackson recognized Dieter and took the two steps to come over and say hello. Dieter extended his hand and Jackson took it, but then pulled him into a similar hug. When he released him, he said, “I want to introduce you. This is Will Summers, my best friend, and this is Sam, another student at Lewis & Clark.”
They all shook hands and exchanged greetings, and Jackson said, “Will is living with us while he goes to college at Lewis & Clark too, and he’s the guy who taught me how to change the oil on the BMW.”
Dieter smiled, and looked at Will and said, “Ah ha! So, you are the guilty party!”
Will grinned and responded, “Yes indeed! Guilty as charged.”
They laughed, and Dieter said, “Just be careful and thorough. I expect you understand what happens if engine oil levels run low or run to empty. I can only say that repairs on that engine are quite expensive.”
Will was still smiling, but serious now, and replied, “I figured they’d cost more than for the engine in my Chevy, but I take as good care of their 2002 as I do my Nova.”
Dieter turned his attention to Sam and said, “I’ve come to know these gentlemen through the automobile I sold them, but it would be impolite for us to stand here and continue discussing automobiles. It is a pleasure to meet more people in David and Jackson’s circle of friends.”
That was when the lights went on in my head. Dieter kept chatting away with Jackson and Will and Sam, and when there was a lull in the conversation, I said, “Dieter, you are clearly a sophisticated person, so is it fair to assume that you have an appreciation for good musical performance?”
He nodded, smiling still but in his eyes, I could see he was wondering if this was a friendly set up of some sort. “Absolutely I do. I must ask, though, just what you have in mind?” His eyes were twinkling in the sunlight.
“Well, Jackson and Will sing in both the college’s Capella Chorale and Men’s Glee Club. The Chorale performed its concert for the quarter last Friday, and it included Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desire. This Friday the Glee Club is performing, and I am confirming your interest because you are being invited to join us and attend. It begins at 7:00 PM at the Campus Chapel.”
His smile widened, and so did his eyes, and he said, “That it very gracious of you indeed. I would be most honored to join you. I expect it will be wonderful.”
He turned to Sam, “And, you do not sing?”
“No, and this Friday is Men’s Glee Club. The Women’s Glee Club performs on Saturday. But I don’t sing. I’ll be there though. Wouldn’t miss it.”
Will leaned in a little and said, “Dieter, Sam is a ski racer and quite the athlete. She’s on a crutch because she’s almost recovered from a fall she took in a race back in January.”
He looked us all over. “My, what a collection of varied talents. This will be an interesting evening to be sure. I am so pleased you invited me, and I will be at the chapel at 6:45 PM.”
“Good,” I said, “and now we’ve got to leave to get back to campus. This is the last week of class before finals, and the march today was not the best for student schedules.
On the drive, Sam and Will were all chatty about what a gentleman and cool all-around guy Dieter was, and what a surprise to see him at the gay rights rally. I just smiled and said, “I had my suspicions. I told you I ran into him when I went by the dealership to buy the oil filter, and we had lunch, and he was very complimentary of our relationship.” I squeezed Jackson’s thigh. “I think he has a crush on you.”
“Get out of here! I’m still a kid, he’s an older gentleman.”
“Yeah, he’s middle-aged, but apparently he has good taste in music and very good taste in boys. Don’t you two in the back seat agree?”
They were both hooting and cracking up back there, commenting about how Jackson would have to be on his P’s and Q’s, and I’d have to make sure there wasn’t too much flirting going on!
We dropped Sam in front of the building that her next class was in, and as I headed to the other end of campus, Jackson looked at me and said, “Don’t get me wrong, I like Dieter a lot, all joking aside. But what made you ask him to come? I mean, I think it’s neat, but I’m curious.”
“It was just the way he said what he did about meeting some of our circle of friends. I thought I heard the desire to have more varied friends, or perhaps even be part of ours. We’ll see what happens. If he tries to hit on either of you, we’ll straighten that out really quick!”
I was grinning, and Jackson hooted back, and then said, “And, that would guarantee two fewer BMWs he’d sell in the next few years.”
Will asked from the back seat, “Are you buying one too?”
Jackson looked over the seat and said, “No, I’m thinking about David and Spencer. Remember, Spencer is also a friend of Dieter’s and I told you he’s actually the one that got David into this car?”
“Ahh, now I understand. Yeah, that’s good insurance. Although, he does look like a fun guy, don’t you think Jackson?”
“You mean fun as in more mature and probably more experienced as well as being European and sophisticated?” He was grinning and the dimples were flaring, and it was all he could do not to start laughing. Will finally lost it in the back seat.
As I pulled over to the curb, I said, “Ha, ha, boys. Very funny! Cut me some slack here!”
The next few days were all final classes and preparation for final exams. Friday evening, we all met in the lobby as usual, and Dieter was there promptly at 6:45. I made quick introductions to Mona and her husband, Carter and Marcia, and finally to Ruth who had just walked up with Sam. We headed in to take our seats and scan the program.
Spring Quarter Glee Club Program
Under the Boardwalk, by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick
My Gallant Crew, by Arthur Sullivan
There’s A Meeting Here Tonight, Traditional
Thou didst delight my eyes, by Robert Bridges
There Is Nothin' Like a Dame, by Oscar Hammerstein
The Pasture from “Frostiana”, composed by Robert Frost, arranged by Randall Thompson
Attics Of My Life, composed by Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter, arranged by Will Summers
Alexander's Ragtime Band, by Irving Berlin
Banana Boat Song, by Irving Burgie
America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates, arranged by Samuel A. Ward,
The Glee Club came in and assembled on the riser, and Robert followed, bowing to the audience and then pausing to address us. “Thank you for being here tonight. We have another varied program that we hope you will enjoy. Once again, we’re fortunate to be able to perform a song arranged by one of our own members, Will Summers. I give you the Men’s Glee Club,” and with the sweep of his arm called all the members to the audience’s attention.
The performance started strongly with the song made famous by The Drifters back in the ’60’s that begins by talking about resting in the shade under the boardwalk. Everyone loved it, many singing along. Fewer were able to sing along with My Gallant Crew from H.M.S. Pinafore, but most knew the melody. It had that wonderful and punchy rhythm that so many Gilbert & Sullivan songs possess.
Then the feeling shifted substantially as the next song was the traditional spiritual that had become a protest song in the ‘60s, and which made the Limelighters famous, and which then birthed individual solo performers like Glenn Yarborough who kept it alive for years.
Then the kind of shift Robert was becoming known for, from the upbeat and strongly rhythmic spiritual to a reflective love song Thou didst delight my eyes by Robert Bridges, and then moving to another boisterous song in Hammerstein’s There Is Nothing Like a Dame from South Pacific.
I wondered if some in the audience were getting motion sickness from the change ups. Ruth and Sam were loving it, but even they weren’t prepared for the next shift to an arrangement of a Robert Frost poem that was commissioned to celebrate the anniversary of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, from the part of the state that the poet lived. It was hushed and almost meditative. It did, however, settle the mood in the chapel, and was a very good precursor for Will’s arrangement of Attics of My Life, which has substantial lyrics about the meaning of life, and was now coupled with a more somber arrangement sung in male voices.
I still loved the opening verses and the personal and metaphysical embedded meanings as the song unfolded:
In the attics of my life, full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know, and lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear, you sang to me
I have spent my life seeking all that's still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune, and closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play, you played to me
In the book of love's own dream, where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days, and all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me
In the secret space of dreams, where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told, and the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine, you dreamed of me
When I’d been younger, alone and more idealistic, I’d always thought of it in terms of the movement of the object toward me, the subject that concluded each verse, in general metaphysical terms. Now that I had found my other half and true love, that had changed, and the motion described now was embodied in Jackson.
The metaphysical musings didn’t last long, as the program moved on to the boisterous Alexander’s Rag Time Band, followed by the upbeat calypso The Banana Boat Song. And then it settled down to a fitting close with the lovely America the Beautiful. It’s pretty hard not to hear the line Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, and not be moved to a reflective mental space where you see and contemplate the extraordinary imagery that Bates sets before your eyes.
They sang all four verses, and as the refrains of the last line, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea, faded away, I found myself thinking of the hate that had caused us to march downtown just two days previously, and wonder if a nationhood of brotherhood would actually ever come to pass.
The audience response was incredibly positive, being impressed with the performers ability to change mood, music and tempo so dramatically and so often. That on top of an all-around great vocal performance.
After the applause died down, we all trooped out to the lobby to wait for Jackson and Will, and I was particularly curious what Dieter thought of the song selection and performance, my sense being that he was much more traditionally European. “I loved it, though I grew up with the classics in Germany. I played piano, so it was all Bach and Beethoven until I moved to the United States. I had a long relationship with an American musician, and that, how do you say, ‘broadened my horizons’ about other forms of music. I very much appreciate Jazz, and some of the contemporary rock and roll.”
“So then, the song selection this evening didn’t offend you?”
“Not at all, and they were all so very well sung. I was quite impressed that Will arranged one of the pieces. Though, I must confess, I have never heard of The Grateful Dead, but I very much liked the song and the way they sang it.”
I could see Jackson and Will had joined our group. “You should tell Will that. It would be important.”
He nodded, and walked right over to Will and Ron and said, “Will, are you not going to introduce me to your charming young friend?”
Will did, and then Dieter poured on the praise about his arrangement. Will was embarrassed, but loving every minute of it.
After a few minutes, Robert came into the lobby, and I waved him over. As usual, that led to a new round of accolades for the director, and again he demurred to the performers. Everyone in our group was entranced about Will’s arrangement of Attics of My Life, though it turned out that only Mona’s husband knew the Grateful Dead music. He later turned out to be what everyone called a “Dead Head,” though he had broad musical tastes. He and I spent a little time that evening talking about Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.
Robert was watching the direction that the conversation was moving with a smile of satisfaction, and I stepped to his side and said softly, “You did it again. A terrific music program, striking change ups, and one more notch on Will’s return to full confidence.”
He smiled at me knowingly, “He’s the guy with the arranging talent. I’m nothing more than the one doing the selection. I’m kind of like the switchman down at the railroad yard.”
I grinned at him and said, “Give me a fucking break! By the way, in case no one has told you recently, you’re a really great person, even if you are gay!”
His eyebrows rose, but he was smiling.
I went on, “Now, Robert, on that note, I want you to come over here and meet a friend of mine.” With that I took him by the arm and hauled him over to the group of friends gathered around Will and Jackson, tapped Dieter on the shoulder, and said, “Dieter, I want you to meet my dear friend Robert Atkins, who is the musical director of the glee club you just heard.”
Dieter smiled, at first politely, as you would expect, and then as he made eye contact with Robert, his eyes sparkled and his smile widened, and he said, “Robert, it is a pleasure to meet you. I understand full well that you have a great deal of talent to work with, but I thought your program tonight was superb, the mix of selections especially, but as you might expect, I was especially taken that you selected for performance the arrangement of my newest young friend, Will Summers.”
Robert, extended his hand, but was almost speechless, looking directly at Dieter, as though he was visually trapped in a tractor beam on the Starship Enterprise. He said a thing or two about great students making the performance, but wasn’t really making sense. After a minute I said, “Carter and his wife have invited us all over to their home for a celebratory drink. Would you two like to ride with Jackson and me?”
They both nodded, and shortly Jackson and I were loading them into the back seat of the 2002. I’d given Jackson the visual high sign on the walk to the car, and by the time we got there he’d figured out what was going on, and after he’d held the passenger seat forward for Dieter to climb in back, while I did the same for Robert on my side, he caught my eye over the roof of the car and whispered very quietly. “I don’t fucking believe this. You knew all along and didn’t tell me!” I blew him a kiss and we drove to the Higgins.
It was much the same as the previous Friday, with Carter and Marcia being great host and hostess, settling everyone in with a drink, and facilitating the conversation. Dieter, to his credit, made the rounds being the gracious guest, and spoke to everyone. This time he had Robert in tow. He was particularly taken to see Sam again, and pleased to meet her best friend Ruth. Mona’s husband and Dieter turned out to have something in common, since while he was an engineer, he worked on cars, and was rebuilding an older Saab. Who would have guessed!
I watched Dieter do the circuit, and most everyone engaged Robert in conversation, but both of them were frequently looking at each other, and eventually were able to settle into a quiet corner, just the two of them. At one point they both looked at me knowingly, and I gave a little wave and a smile. Jackson had buttonholed me about setting this up, and all I could say was, “Some of this is confidential, as I’ve told you, but I had my suspicions all along. Robert’s now told you he’s gay, and we know Dieter is, and hopefully this is a successful expansion of our circle of friends for both of them.”
He grinned crazily, leaned over and said, “When are we inviting them over for dinner?”
“That, Lover Boy, is a terrific idea. Maybe we should do it on the weekend after finals, as a celebration. What do you think? Ron will still be here, so, we can make a dinner party out of it.”
He was wiggling his eyebrows, almost like he was unconsciously becoming part of the matchmaking.
When the party broke up, and after we’d assured everyone was safely off home, we thanked Carter and Marcia and headed toward campus, where both had left their cars. I pulled up next to Dieter’s BMW and asked Robert where his car was. He pointed down the block and said he’d get out here too, and thanked us both for the ride. I could only imagine where this might go, but before it got too far afield, I looked at Jackson and said, “Aren’t you going to ask them both while they’re right here?”
He looked momentarily flabbergasted, then recovered and casually said, “We’d like to invite you both to dinner next weekend after finals. Either Friday or Saturday, whichever works best for you. It will be a way to celebrate the end of the school year and the start of summer.”
They both smiled, and Robert said, “Friday is pretty busy for me, being the last day of the quarter and with individual voice testing and such will run late. Will Saturday work?”
He looked at Dieter, who smiled back and said, “Oh yes, that would be perfect.”
I said, “Good night, gentlemen,” and Jackson and I hopped back in the car and headed down the hill.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know all along.”
“Listen, Lover Boy, you know something now that you didn’t know before. Robert is gay, and he’s had a complicated life story and I will let him tell you that since most of what I know I learned in counseling, and that’s the confidential part. Dieter we knew about after the march a few days ago. The point simply being that it was an opportunity that seemed like it might work, and happily both of them seemed to connect with each other.”
He was giggling. “My Sexy Man, the gay matchmaker. I can’t believe it. Don’t get me wrong, I like them both and I think its way cool. It’s just too funny, though.”
“Let’s not make a big deal at home, Robert’s story is confidential until or unless he decides to tell you guys, Okay?”
He nodded. “I have to say I wouldn’t have guessed about him. I thought I heard that his wife died a year or so ago?”
“That’s true and, and it’s part of what makes his life story complicated, and why some of it is still confidential.”
“Okay, I get it. And I won’t press anything.” He reached over and put his hand over mine on the gear shift. “I actually think its sweet and wonderful that you made the connection possible. You’re a pretty loving guy, you know?”
I smiled at him, and he squeezed my hand.