I was disappointed with my progress. I tried to imitate the old man. At one of our talks, he shared tea and asked what was troubling me. I told him that no matter how hard I worked, I was not as smooth and centered as he was.
"How old are you?"
"How old am I?"
"Old, maybe sixty."
"How long have you been practicing?"
"How long have I been practicing?"
"Fifty years, maybe."
"So, who thinks we should feel the same?"
Two years later on a Friday evening, the old man called me aside after free practice. He had wandered onto the mats to try to give me insight into a technique I was working on. He instructed without words. His English was precise, and my Japanese was passable, but words got in the way. He may have been unaware of the gift, but his hands taught me about how to touch another person.
When instructing, most teachers played tori, one who acts, to the student's uke, one who receives. The old man reversed the roles, because playing uke helped him sense defects in a student's technique. When we finished practice, bowing to each other and the kamiza, he asked me to assist in a private lesson the next day. The old man chose me because he knew that I valued playing uke.
I knew that people paid a great deal to work individually with the old man. He used the money to subsidize the time he spent with the others like me who paid nothing. When I first came to him I was nearly ten. I began in one of the sempai's, Ramsdell's, classes.
Eventually, after a year of asking every day, the old man invited me to join his family of students. At the beginning of class, we lined up with our backs to the south wall along the shimoza, or lower seat, with students of the lowest skill on the left. Starting at the left end of the line, over the years I had worked my way toward the right end, near the joseki, which symbolizes virtue and where the sempai or older brothers gathered.
Instruction blossomed on the embujo, associated with the element Earth, where honesty reigns. If you remained true, your opponent was lost as long as he persisted. If you rang false, you were lost. I was not lost as often now as when I had begun, either in my life or my art.
At ten on Saturday morning, while I engaged in free practice, the old man came onto the mats after appropriate ceremony, and the senior student called a formal end to practice. A girl, probably my age or a little older, who had the look of someone suddenly and uncomfortably placed center stage, accompanied Sensei.
Even during private lessons, students not involved could stand in a small viewing area at the hall's west side to watch quietly. Learning to perform while being watched was part of every lesson. Today, Sensei was instructing her on the art of kuzushi, or unbalancing the uke.
The old man placed me a few feet away from the girl and walked around me in a circle. He then looked at her and indicated that she should do the same thing. The girl had the uncommon good sense not to ask why she was walking around me even though I could tell she was clueless.
I spent the next hour being pushed and pulled into imbalance, occasionally by Sensei but mostly by the girl. As I reacted to her efforts in a way that showed her how well she did, I tried not to be distracted by her scent and her breasts, which my arm brushed when she pulled it across her gi. The jacket of my gi came out of my obi three or four times, and before Sensei gave me time to repair, I noticed her looking quickly at my chest.
The lesson ended with a session of moving kuzushi, a little like dancing, except that all the steps ended with me on the verge of falling. The girl wasn't bad. She felt for the openings I provided and usually took advantage. At the end of the lesson, she and I sat in the shimoza, facing Sensei and the kamiza, and finished the seated bows. We left the mats, the old man returning to his room, and I following the girl to the entrance to the hall. She thanked me and hesitated as if she were going to ask something, but left without speaking further.
Free practice had resumed, and I looked for my usual partner, Edward. I found him near the viewing area. We bowed toward the kamiza before walking onto the mats and then to each other before beginning practice. Edward was in Ramsdell's class, and although he wasn't as skillful as I, he was dedicated, funny, and very good-looking.
"I'm surprised Sensei didn't have to wipe up your drool."
"Is Robert in love?"
"I am not in love, and I was not drooling." Over Edward's shoulder I went onto my left side. I sprang up, irritated that he had used my moment of protest to throw me.
"That wasn't fair, Edward."
"All's fair in love and randori," he laughed.
"I don't even know her name."
"You know her?"
"My brother went out with her last year."
Edward's brother was a year older than we, a senior this year. "She is beautiful."
As Edward wheeled over my leg and onto the mats, he agreed. "Just your type. Dark hair, slender, but with a great rack."
I pulled him up and realized that he could be talking about himself, except for the rack. He did have a nice body, which he was willing to share with me along with his quirky humor. I didn't think he was gay; sex with me was just less of a struggle than with girls our age. He was something of a situational bisexual who would leave me behind and end up with a girl when sex with them became easier. We had developed a friendship that permitted talking about subjects usually avoided between teenage boys, and because he knew I had a yen for girls, being with me was somehow safe.
I whispered as he executed a wristlock, "You're my type, too."
Edward flushed and, as he pulled me up, said quietly, "We're just screwing around, Robert."
"Don't I know it? And, you're getting better with practice."
Once when I was fourteen and we were facing each other in seiza, a formal seated posture, the old man had made tea, the best green tea I have ever tasted. He inquired about my schoolwork and whether I was helpful to my mother. This kind of interview is a serious game in which an innocent question may strike the student like lightning. Students took care not to let their attention lapse. The old man took a small piece of thin rope from his sleeve and placed it between us on the mat.
In silence, I looked at the rope for a few minutes. He picked up the rope, held it behind his back and, while it was hidden from me, tied a simple overhand knot in its middle. Handing the knotted rope to me, he said, "Remove the knot."
This was too easy. I untied the knot and put the rope on the floor between us. He took the rope and put it behind him again. When he brought the rope from behind his back the knot was there again. "I told you to remove the knot."
I could see where this was going. I untied the knot and we repeated the game twice more. Rope had knot-nature. If I lost sight of the rope, its knotted nature would manifest, and the only way to avoid the manifestation was to keep the rope in view. The last time the knotted rope appeared I threw it gently at him.
He laughed. "You're a bit of a beggar, even after you've been fed." I knew that my nature held knot-nature.
The next Saturday, Sandi came in for free practice, working with another girl near the shimoseki while I worked with Edward near the opposite wall. An invisible north-south line, separating practice areas for beginners and senior students, split the embujo. Edward, giggling like a little girl, kept maneuvering us toward the space where Sandi was practicing, while I kept throwing him so that we stayed on our side. Several times we were close enough that Sandi noticed and smiled our way.
"Okay, big man, she's on the line. Just reel her in."
"You're an ass, Edward." On the next throw, I put Edward down hard, not pulling up on his right arm to help him fall on his side. I did not run the point of his shoulder into the mat because I didn't want to hurt him. I only wanted to persuade him to stop yanking my chain about Sandi.
He was a little winded when I pulled him up. "Message received, asshole."
"Sorry, Edward. That wasn't kind. Take a shot if you want."
"Robert, I'm too big a man for that."
"You're not that big, but you have a perfect shape."
When we took a break, we watched the players near the shimoseki, including Sandi. She was a little stiff and tentative, but she was coming along. Her use of kuzushi was excellent. When she saw Edward and me in the break area, she bowed to her partner and all the other stations of veneration, and walked over to us.
"Robert, thanks for helping me with kuzushi. It makes so much more sense now."
I was a bit tongue-tied. "That's okay. I was just the crash-test dummy."
Edward, ever helpful, said, "I need to see a man about a dog," and left for the restroom.
"When you're through, could I talk to you for a minute, Robert?"
"Sure, Sandi. I'm through now. We can talk after I shower." My imagination began to perk.
"Thanks. I'll wait for you."
I dressed after cleaning up and wrapping my gi. Sandi, also in civvies, was waiting near the entrance. We bowed to the kamiza before leaving the dojo. She suggested that we drive toward the beach to a park by the bay. I didn't have my license yet. Her ride was a pale blue MGB that she drove like a maniac, and as we drove west, I felt as if I was the recipient of her testosterone-fueled mania. She wound me up like a pocket watch, and my perking imagination began a rolling boil. By the time we reached the park, I had shouted answers to a dozen questions she posed about me, the wind carrying my answers away. We learned that we both lived across the causeway on the north end of the beach. She had seen me in the halls of the high school we both attended, but with the gulf between sixteen and seventeen years, we had never met.
She screeched into a parking place, and we walked to a grassy area away from the picnic shelters and sat facing each other before a wide downslope to a band shell and the bay beyond. We both wore shorts and t-shirts, mine looser and hers tighter, in the hot Florida summer. I tried to avoid the distraction of her scent, her brown eyes, and her physical beauty —she was my type exactly. Since she had asked to talk with me, I looked into her eyes and waited for her to start the conversation.
"I've talked to a lot of people from school about you."
I wasn't sure what this meant. Most people would have given me a decent report, but there were vague rumors about Edward and me. "Why didn't you just talk to me?"
"I wanted a picture of what others thought of you."
"And … ?"
She smiled warmly. "Most people I talked to think highly of you, and that's why I feel safe talking with you."
"Glad I passed the test."
"There was no test, Robert. I needed to find out if I could trust you. I asked Sensei about you."
"Oh? Well, he knows me better than anyone else."
"He told me that you are upright, but like all of us, prone to getting knotted up. He said he would trust you with his life. That man loves you like a son."
I had no reply. That the old man would have discussed me with her was out of character for him, but he did nothing without a good reason. "Why all the interest in my character?"
She reached across and took my hand. After taking a deep breath, she said, "You know I have a brother, Brad."
I knew who Brad was but didn't know him well. He seemed to be a good guy but he was very reserved and didn't seem to have a lot of friends. "I know who Brad is, but I didn't connect the two of you."
"This is hard for me, but I'm going to take a chance. More than a few of the people I talked to couldn't figure out if you were into girls or boys." She looked quickly down and then looked into my eyes again. "I've watched you with Edward, and you seem like more than just friends."
I hadn't remotely thought that our conversation would go like this. The little stress receptors in my nervous system prickled. I was breathing rapidly and my heart was racing. I wasn't public about my little complication, letting people think what they would. I went out with girls and became close to a few, but I also developed strong attachments to a few boys. Sexual attractions weren't yet political in those days. "Edward and I are just what you see —very good friends. What are you getting at, Sandi?"
"Look, Brad is gay, or thinks he is. I have been Brad's best friend since we were little, and he confides in me. He would probably never speak to me again if he knew I was talking to you about this. He's such a good person and feels so lost. He has this sadness in him that I can't reach."
She paused, I think to see some reaction from me, then continued, "I know I'm assuming a lot here, but Brad needs help, so I set out to find him help."
This message wasn't at all the one I had hoped for. She was asking me to see her brother, not her. I was deflated. "Sandi, I don't know who you talked to, but I like girls. In fact, I was hoping you were going to suggest that we get together."
The thought that she had misjudged me put a panicked look on her face. "Shit. Robert, you can't say anything about this conversation to anyone. Brad would be so hurt if he knew I had told you."
"Wait. Let's say that I did like boys that way. You can't just throw Brad together with a stranger and expect romance to explode."
"Robert, I wasn't asking you to be Brad's boyfriend or have sex with him. He needs someone other than a big sister to talk with."
She had released my hand and looked as if she regretted this whole conversation. "So, you want me to talk with Brad about possibly being gay and you don't want him to know that you suggested it?"
"Sounds silly, but yes. But if you're not gay, the whole plan is useless."
She was so pretty, so concerned about her brother, and so uninterested in me. Crap. I thought that anyone who tried to help a brother as she was deserved some help. She had trusted me enough to reveal Brad's deepest secret. I didn't want to abuse that trust.
"I'm not gay, Sandi." Her face darkened even more. "But, I'm not exactly straight, either. If Brad is gay, he and I have something in common. I'd appreciate it if you didn't broadcast this to the rest of the world."
Her face brightened a little. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt you, Robert." She already had but not purposely.
"How do you see this little conversation with Brad happening?"
"I've already told him a little about the lesson, and I'll tell Brad that I mentioned him to you. I thought you could do the rest."
"Can you bring him by the dojo next week? I don't know how else I'd run into him."
"I'll come for free practice on Monday and drag him along. Please don't hurt him."
"I'm a nice guy, remember?"
Sunday night wasn't good for sleep. I was nervous about how to approach Brad tomorrow. I was nervous about how Edward would react. I wasn't convinced that talking to Brad was a good idea. I couldn't figure out how to begin the conversation. I was disappointed that Sandi wasn't interested in me for herself. Monday morning I was tired and groggy, not how I wanted to start the day.
Sensei was seated facing the kamiza when, entering the dojo at six a.m. using my key, I skirted the Earth making my way to the symbolic entrance to the hall at the shimoza. I bowed to the kamiza as I had when coming through the exterior door. Bowing had become an act of attention, not a repeated formality. Bowing was like clearing away a shroud. No other students were present that early. As I stepped onto the Earth, Sensei held up a hand, indicating that I should join him, which I did, sitting at his left and slightly behind him.
"You have that hungry beggar's look."
I smiled and replied, "Famished."
"Out with it, then."
"What gods are up there in the kamiza?"
"Oh, you want ghost stories?"
"No, Sensei. How do I perform a difficult task, requested by a friend, when I have no idea how to approach it?" This was a very oblique question.
"Oh, just be quiet and do your best. Don't whine like a child. You have a bad habit of worrying too much, like a thirsty man brooding about the best way to get to the water directly before him."
"That simple, Sensei?"
"No, that complex."
He had given me all the answer that I would get, so I sat still with him for half an hour, my heart filling with the joy of the small and great difficulties of life. The old man's wonderful gift was the portability of this silence once it took root in me. He hoped to make himself superfluous in my life.
I was aware that he was up and walking to his room adjacent to the shimoseki. He was, after all, the world's best beginner. I bowed to the kamiza and walked onto the Earth, moving close to the joseki for stretching and preparation. At seven, I unlocked the exterior door and returned to the Earth. Eventually, two junior students entered, bowed to the kamiza, and looked at me for permission to walk on the Earth. I gave a slight bow of invitation, and they moved near the shimoseki to warm up. The hall filled over the next hour, and as the senior sempai, I oversaw practice and reminded my juniors, some much older than I, as kindly as I could about dojo etiquette.
Edward came in about nine, bowing to the kamiza. What gods did he see there? He dutifully waited until I gave him the short bow of invitation. Friend or not, I was his senior here on the Earth. He and I practiced for an hour before taking a break. Sitting in the corner made by the shimoza and the joseki, he asked about how things went with Sandi.
"Fine, kohai." Edward hated me calling him younger brother.
"I take it you bombed, sempai."
"Sandi and I had a nice talk. She's a very nice girl, but she's not interested in me that way."
"So, she let you down gently?"
"Something like that, nosy. You need work." We worked for another hour. Edward was really improving.
Just after eleven, Sandi came in to practice followed by Brad. He looked as if he was irritated at having been dragged in to see his big sister practice. He sat in the viewing area while Sandi looked to me for permission to enter the Earth. I gave her a nod, and she walked over to me. I bowed to Edward, whose face developed a suspicious look. Then Sandi and I bowed and began to work. This was unusual enough that almost all the other students stopped briefly when they noticed. Senior students had responsibility for helping their juniors but rarely worked with someone as new as Sandi, because she had a formal relationship with her instructor. Disturbing that relationship would be rude, but I was playing uke and not giving much instruction.
During the practice, she whispered, "I told him that I liked you, but not as a boyfriend." I climbed up off the mat after she threw me. Before the next throw, she continued, "He said he'd noticed you at school." Here I was, before the water, so I decided to take the old man's advice. I bowed to her and the kamiza. If there were gods there, I hoped they'd give me a hand.
I walked to the viewing area and before sitting next to him introduced myself to Brad. He shook my hand. Brad had the same kind of good looks as his sister. If you saw him across a room, you wouldn't overheat, but you'd think he was attractive. He had fairer skin and lighter hair than Sandi. I thought that if he would smile, he would rescue his face from an intense look that was a little off-putting.
"Your sister is coming along nicely."
"She likes working out here. She said you were helping her. I know boys fall for her all the time. She says she doesn't think about you that way." He was apparently a chivalrous soul, willing to stand between his sister and me.
"Yeah, I get that." Here I made the first move in my gambit. "No offense, I'm not really attracted to her." That was a lie, but I knew that she wasn't interested in me. No sense begging after you'd been fed.
While we watched his sister with another girl close to her own skill level, Brad said, "I'm not interested in doing this stuff."
"Not everyone's cup of tea. What do you like to do?"
"Read. I write songs and poetry." He had started to generate some enthusiasm, which he promptly turned down. "I'm not big on sports."
I thought I would go directly for the water. "I'm through for now. Would you do me a favor and let me take you to lunch? I need to clean up, then I want your opinion on something."
He was about to refuse my offer when he looked over to his sister who smiled at him. "Sure. She's going to practice through lunchtime."
I went to shower and change. ‘This is going just swimmingly,’ I thought —sarcastically.
Even in civvies, I bowed to the kamiza before leaving the hall with Brad in tow. Wondering if the little gods seated there were mocking me, I suggested that we walk to a sandwich shop two blocks away from the dojo. Brad agreed, and we walked in absolute silence. When we arrived at the deli, we ordered. He insisted on paying for his food. So much for creating an obligation. We sat at a corner table and waited for the food to be delivered.
"What's all that bowing and scraping crap about?" I liked him immediately.
I explained a little about the worldview represented by the dojo. I borrowed a pen from our server and drew a diagram on a napkin showing the four walls of the dojo and the elements associated with them, filling in the practice area and the kamiza. I explained the rituals, the etiquette, and their purpose. The food came, but he was polite enough not to start eating until I finished my explanation.
"That's very interesting. I like the five-elements thing. Now I know what Sandi meant about practicing on the Earth. Do you really believe that gods live in that alcove?"
"I would say that the notion of kami sitting there reminds us of the spiritual dimension of our practice and the great teachers from the past who reach out to us through our own teacher. The practice is all I have; I try to have an attentive mind all the time." He looked at me with a question in his eyes. "But, I'm sixteen, like you, and my attention wanders a lot."
He laughed as we started eating our sandwiches. "These are really good. So, Robert, you had something to ask me?"
I struck directly for the water. "I don't know how much Sandi told you about me. I'm taking a chance here, but I think we have something in common —other than your sister."
"Okay." The word was as much a question as a reply.
"I'm attracted to men —other boys, that is. I thought you might be as well."
He blanched and looked at me as if I had stabbed him. "What the fuck makes you think that?"
"Calm down, please, Brad. I said I was taking a chance. If you're not, then sorry for the mistake."
"I don't even know you. Why would you think that?"
The venom in his reaction, given what Sandi had told me, showed that he was deeply unhappy with himself. "Sometimes I get impressions about people, that's all."
"Well, you have the wrong impression."
We finished our sandwiches in silence. This little exercise had gone badly, but I didn't believe that Brad would tell anyone except maybe Sandi about my suggestion. We walked quickly back to the dojo, and I dressed for afternoon practice. When I came out of the dressing area, Sandi and Brad were gone.
Once when I was twelve and cleaning the area around the kamiza, the old man came over to help. He took responsibility for everyone and everything in our dojo. As I carefully worked, I told him, indicating pictures of the founder of our method and the founder's disciples, "You knew some of these people. They made you their voice."
"I knew many of them, and I occasionally irritated them as much as you occasionally irritate me," he laughed. "I carry their water."
"Respectfully, Sensei, you are as good as any of them could have been."
He stopped cleaning and asked me to sit on the platform of the kamiza. "Many of my fellow students were more talented, but some died of illness, some died in the war, and some became distracted and left."
"You must have worked very hard."
"Many of my fellow students worked harder than I did, but some died of illness, some died in the war, and some became distracted and left."
He told me that he doggedly practiced every day as long as he could and that he had not died of illness, or died in the war, or become distracted and left. We returned to cleaning the kamiza.
Tuesday morning, Sandi came by the dojo but not to practice. After bowing to the fickle residents of the kamiza, she looked imploringly at me. I bowed to the junior student I was helping, to the kamiza, and joined Sandi in the viewing area.
"Brad was furious. He grilled me for an hour until I finally admitted that I had engineered his meeting with you. He just cried because he thinks you're going to tell everyone."
"I hope you told him he doesn't have to worry."
"I did. He's just so confused and angry. I wanted to apologize for roping you into what was probably the worst idea of my life."
"You tried. He'll find his way."
"Thank you, Robert. You're a really good man." She emphasized the word man, as she left.
I shrugged and went back to morning practice, a session in which I was almost completely distracted, enabling Edward to wipe the Earth with me.
"Yeah, just a little out of sorts."
"I'll say. I never get you like this. What happened with you and Brad?"
"Nothing. Drop it."
"Are you and he … ?"
"NO! Leave it alone."
"Consider it left. Robert, you can always talk to me … about anything."
"I'm going to sit for a while." Bowing to Edward had its usual effect, and I went to sit at the joseki. The old man walked by on his way to the bathroom, cocked his head, and smiled. He was able to read me, and I couldn't close myself off from him, so I had given up trying. Sensei could not abide useless drama. I sat for a couple of hours trying to get past my performance with Brad.
At lunchtime, I ate my small sandwich in the front corner of the old man's room and then went back to the Earth. A little after one, I caught sight of Brad entering the dojo and saw him scanning the crowd on the embujo for me. Some surprises, like this one, were complete. I was not the senior student on the Earth that afternoon, and I left the embujo to join him in the viewing area.
"Would you have time for another lunch," he asked a little sheepishly. "I talked with Sandi about how our meeting yesterday was planned. You were very sweet to try."
"Let me change, and we'll grab another sandwich."
On the short walk to the deli, he said, "You must have thought I was a real jerk yesterday, given what Sandi had told you."
"I thought you were angry because a stranger tried to talk with you about something very private. I was more upset with myself than I was with you."
"She's right, I know. I could use another sounding board, especially one I have something in common with."
We sat in the deli, and while he ate and talked, I mostly listened. He talked about feeling wrong about his attraction to boys. His family wasn't fundamentalist, but they had a strong Christian faith.
"I've prayed, but I don't know what God thinks about me, what He wants me to do. I just have no sexual feelings for girls at all. Sandi thinks I'm just fine, but she's a little prejudiced in my favor. She's been very good about listening."
After he ran out of doubts to express, I asked, "Are you worried about the consequences of your parents or other people knowing or are you worried that there's something wrong with you?"
"A little of both. What about you? Do your parents know?"
"I just have my mom, and she does. She's been very helpful."
"I'm not sure mine would be as supportive."
"Why do you think you have to tell them now?"
"I just would like them to know."
"I can understand that, but telling parents when you're our age can be iffy."
"I just wanted to tell someone other than Sandi."
"Well, you have now. I'm obviously okay with you."
"I wish I were okay with myself."
"What if you took sexual activity out of the picture altogether?"
"What do you mean? How?"
"Well, nobody says you have to have sex until you're ready. What if you just considered attraction and romantic feelings?"
"I don't follow."
"Try to get at the root of your problem, and the root of your problem isn't who you have orgasms with. What's the source of your attraction to guys? The old man taught me to be quiet and let my fears collapse until I could see where they came from. I found that my attractions were part of my basic nature."
"I thought you were learning to kill people."
"Yeah, that, too. What I mean is, I got to the point where I had to decide whether my basic nature was screwed up or not. That was important to me because I can't change my basic nature."
"And you decided that your nature was peachy?"
"No. I saw that my sexual and romantic attractions are one thread in a complex nature that is just fine. My attractions come out of bedrock that can't be broken down any further. I can be a decent person who is attracted to boys, or I can be an asshole who is attracted to boys. I just can't not be attracted to boys."
"This is what your teacher taught you?"
"No. He just told me that he didn't find the issue particularly compelling as a defining characteristic of my worth." I laughed. "He told me to stop whining about the inconsequential, because I had, in essence, bigger fish to fry."
"How long did it take you to come to these conclusions?"
"I've been working on them for five years now. Look. All I'm trying to say is that you don't have to start having sex with anyone until you're ready. Once you give yourself some room, maybe you won't be so desperate to judge yourself or let anyone else judge you."
"But, you have had sex with other boys."
"I take the fifth. I don't think that's an issue here. Refraining from sex isn't a crime."
"You seem so normal."
"I'm just trying to be the best me I can be. How do you think Sandi came up with the idea of having you talk to me?"
"No idea, but I'm glad she did."
"I will. I hope we can talk again after I think a little more about this."
"Since we're going to be friends, I think we should talk from time to time."
Wednesday evening, Edward and I were the last ones in the hall. The old man had asked me to lock up after closing practice. Edward and I were sitting on the platform of the kamiza with a single overhead lamp illuminating the Seat of the Divine. We were comfortable enough with each other to be quiet together. I turned on my butt until I was perpendicular to him and stretched out with my head in Edward's lap. He smiled down at me and put a hand on my chest, idly stroking me.
"Robert, I have to find a serious girlfriend. Otherwise you'll end up as my wife."
This seemed funnier than anything I had ever heard, and I started laughing uncontrollably. Through the laughter, I reminded him, "I thought you said we were just fooling around."
"You know how you talk about being really quiet? I feel that quiet sometimes just after you make me come."
My laughter stopped. "Really?"
"It's the only time I feel truly quiet and peaceful."
"Edward, you just need to spend more time sitting and watching. If you can manage that kind of quiet after sex, you can manage it any time."
"I don't know. Sometimes what we do scares the shit out of me." He looked down at me, continuing to stroke my chest. "I don't mean because we have sex, I mean because of how it makes me feel. You're the only guy I ever think about fucking around with."
"Edward, where are you going with this?"
"I think I've learned that sex with you doesn't make me any different than I was before we started. It's just another dimension of friendship."
I reached up to touch his forehead. "I hope it's part of friendship. You find girls all the time. They're just not as easy as I am."
"What about you? You going to end up with a girl or a guy?"
"Don't know. I suppose it'll be luck of the draw."
"I hope you end up with a girl so we can double-date and compare experiences."
"If I end up with a guy, we can still double-date and compare experiences, dummy."
"I suppose. Maybe we can get time to stand still."
"This is as good and as bad as it will ever be, Edward. I don't want to stand still. It's all here, and we'll be all right." I pointed to the old scroll hanging in the alcove of the kamiza next to the pictures of the founders.
Edward smiled and repeated the phrase consisting of Kanji characters for “Seven fall down, eight rise.”
I thought about the lesson of the old man's life. Keep after it; don't stop paying attention; survive. Give things a chance to develop. My new friendship with Brad had taught me that every little disaster might give way to warmth and value if I gave things their time. I thought about my feelings for Sandi and for Edward, about how love and responsibility were so tightly woven together. I thought about how often I had gotten off track and how some part of me was self-correcting, never letting me go far enough to really injure myself or others.
I don't have any idea why, but I began to weep. Not just a few tears, but a torrent of sobs. Edward was alarmed and leaned over to hug me with my head still in his lap. "Robert, what's wrong, man? You're scaring me. Stop crying, please!"
The spirits weren't sitting above us in the upper seat, above the Earth, above the lower seat, laughing at us. I and Edward and Brad and Sandi were the kamiza, where the spirits were threads woven into our natures. When we bowed to the kamiza, we were bowing to all the possibilities, including the knots, in us. Edward didn't understand that I was crying tears of joy.