- T I M -
The pounding on the front door was tenacious. The knocking was loud and unrelenting, and it sounded like the person assailing the door was furious. And it didn’t stop. It went on and on. I didn’t want to open the door, but this was crazy. When the doorbell began ringing as well without the pounding letting up in the slightest, I sighed, gave in, and went to the door. Knowing I was making a mistake, I opened it.
“What the fuck, Tim!” Terry was standing there, his face red, his arm still raised, his hand still clenched in a fist for the next blow to the door. There was anger on his face and in his eyes.
I stepped aside and he walked in, even his stride showing his feelings. He anger was a presence of its own in the room.
I turned and walked upstairs. Whatever he had to say, I’d prefer it to be in my room. It had been my sanctuary for a long time now and I subconsciously thought I could bear his wrath better there than anywhere else in the house.
I sat on the bed and he stood in front of me.
“You’ve got to stop doing this! You’ve got to stop running away when something upsets you. You just left John, and he doesn’t know why. He’s wondering what he said. You were supposed to spend the afternoon with him. You’re talking, then suddenly, bam!, there goes Tim, off and running again! Why, Tim!? Why, this time!?”
I didn’t want to talk. Yeah, he probably thought he deserved an explanation, but that didn’t mean I wanted to give him one. And I wasn’t going to, I decided, it was as simple as that.
“What’re you acting like his personal bodyguard for? Or is it his feelings guard?” I said strongly, trying to match at least some of his passion. “I heard you, you know, when you called John a cripple. You’re worrying that I might have hurt his feelings! What about you?! I’d never say anything like that to him!”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Come on, Tim. You know I wouldn’t say something like that and mean it the way you’re saying. It’s a standing joke between us. The fact is, he calls himself that at times when he’s down, and I call him that to snap him out of it. In reality, we’ve talked about it, and he says, and believes, being a cripple is more a state of mind than a physical restriction. He says his problem will only get to him if he lets it. The fact is, John feels and acts like anything but a cripple. And by calling him that like I did at lunch, I’m acknowledging that.”
I thought about that briefly, and decided I needed to think about it again later when I had the time. It struck me there was something there that applied to me, too. If John could adjust his attitude to accept his circumstances, circumstances that were certainly worse than mine, maybe my attitude could be adjusted as well to relieve me of some of the burdens I was carrying.
“What do you need to know about me for, anyway?” I said angrily, dismissing his statement about John. “Why do you keep asking me things I don’t want to talk about? I told you I don’t want to talk about things. I didn’t define what things, just things. But now you want to set the rules on what I can decide not to talk about? Screw that! You won’t leave me alone, that’s the problem. Why is it always me we have to talk about? Why don’t you talk about your last football game? That’s a better topic of discussion for you, isn’t it?” I wasn’t even making much sense to me. I was feeling pushed into a corner and the best thing I could think of to defend myself with was anger, striking out at him. That’s what I was doing, but striking out at Terry wasn’t something that came natural to me, it was something that didn’t feel right, and maybe that’s why I was doing it in such a piss poor way.
Terry’s response wasn’t more and stronger anger. Instead, he just looked at me, and a pensive expression settled on his face. Which made me try to act even madder and to strike out even more. I didn’t want him thinking, I wanted him not to think.
“So say something already,” I yelled. “What’s the matter, your jockstrap too tight? Cutting off blood to your brain?” Yeah, that was clever!
But it did get him to talk, and some of his anger was gone. “Tim, calm down. What’s this, you’re trying to insult me? You’re mad and you’re trying to make me mad? You sound like you’re saying you think I’m dumb. Is that it? You think I’m a dumb jock and you’re going to make me mad saying so? Do you really think I’m dumb?”
Now that he was answering, I immediately pulled back, retreating to the safely of my self-imposed shell. I just looked down at the floor. Of course I didn’t think he was dumb. I was just trying to make him go on the defensive, and basically get him off his track of asking me about myself.
Terry continued to look at me. After a pregnant pause, he asked, “What do mathematicians mean when they talk about pi?”
“Uh, you use it when working with circles.”
“It’s the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Any circle. It’s always the same. Do you know the numeric value of pi?”
“Sure,” I said, no longer mad. I’d sidetracked him. I’d won. “3.14.”
“Can you go further than that?”
“That’s all I know.”
“How about 3.1415926535? And you know, don’t you, that it’s a transcendental number, continuing on infinitely without repeating itself at all?”
“That’s all right with me.” I tried to laugh, but with the emotions that were still below the surface, fading but still there, I couldn’t quite bring it off, and the noise I made wasn’t even an approximation of a laugh. “I don’t know it that many decimals out.”
“And what’s the capital of Paraguay?”
“No, that’s Uruguay.”
“Oh. What is it, then?”
I looked at him. “So what’s your point?”
He didn’t answer, just continued, “Who said, “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”
“I don’t know. Thomas Paine? Thomas Jefferson?”
“No. But those are good guesses. John Adams.”
I just stared at him, not bothering to ask him again his point.
He was relentless. “Who painted the picture named American Gothic showing a very humorless looking farmer holding a pitchfork, standing next to his wife.”
“I have no idea.” I was getting a little pissed again, but for entirely different reasons.
“Grant Wood. Should I go on?”
“I don’t know why you’re asking these things in the first place.”
“Because you seem to have the idea that I’m not too bright. That maybe I’m a little dense. That I’m just a dumb jock.”
Now what could I say? I couldn’t tell him I was just trying to get him to change the subject. I looked down at my feet. I blushed. “I’m sorry,” I said softly.
We were quiet, me looking down, him looking I don’t know where because I was looking down. My faked anger was spent, and his anger, which had been real, was gone, too. I felt his hand on my arm, and I had to look up. He was staring at me, and when I looked up his eyes locked onto mine. His look was intense.
“Tim, answer me. Are we friends? Do you think of me as your friend?”
“Sure I do. I hope we’re friends.” His intensity made me nervous.
“Do you trust me?”
I thought about that, and realized to my surprise that I did trust him. I wasn’t good at trust. Life had taught me if you didn’t trust anyone, you were a lot safer. But Terry was different. Ever since I’d begun spending time with him, the one constant with him was he was aware of my feelings and went out of his way to take them into consideration. He didn’t push me where I didn’t want to go, didn’t override my wishes to accommodate his own. I was very aware of that because I was naturally very self-protective, and with him I didn’t need to be. When you’re used to spending a lot of energy being alert watching out for yourself and then suddenly you don’t have to do that with someone, believe me, you notice.
“Yes, Terry, I trust you,” I said, breaking my eyes away from his and looking down again. I don’t know why saying this embarrassed me, but it did. Maybe I felt I was taking my shield down, opening myself up too much, and looking down was a silent plea for him not to take advantage of my vulnerability.
He was silent, and I felt he was intentionally using silence to acknowledge his awareness of the significance of what I’d said. Perhaps it was to show he understood the importance I placed on trust.
As the pause continued I slowly raised my eyes back to his. Our eyes locked again. Then he started talking, and I had to listen.
“Tim, if you trust me, that means you know I won’t do anything that would hurt you. You know I’m here for you. You know I won’t embarrass you and will support you. You know anything you say is safe with me. You know you can rely on me. That’s what trust is. Those are a lot of big, important, vital things. That’s what trust is. You’re my friend, Tim. I like you, and even more important, I respect you. I think you know you can trust me. That’s what friends are for, and how they act with each other. And friends can’t be real friends unless they really do trust each other. Without that trust, and without standing up for each other, they’re not really friends, not as I use the word. ‘Friend’ is a word that’s important to me. I’m friendly with lots of kids, but not a true friend to very many. I think of you as one of my friends, even though we haven’t known each other very long. The more time we’ve spent together, the closer we’ve become. Do you agree with this?”
By now I was looking down again. I wasn’t used to this much emotion. It was difficult to meet his eyes when he was speaking so passionately, with such intensity. So, looking down, I answered his question by nodding.
“Tim, will you be my friend,” he asked, still maintaining the intensity he’d been speaking with. The intensity that said, ‘this matters, this is important.’
Which meant, as I answered, I’d better be sure I was telling the truth. I was putting our relationship on the line, I was accepting him as a friend, and accepting what he meant by that.
“Yes,” I said softy.
Another pause. Then, “Tim, tell me why you ran away from John today.”
It had come to this. Well, I thought, I guess I could tell him part of it. Keep it simple. Maybe that would be enough.
“We were talking about my story. He had read it. But what he said about it, he saw too much. He saw something I didn’t think anyone would see. It scared me. It made me wonder what else he could see I thought I had hidden. The more I thought about that, the more scared I got. So I left. I didn’t mean to hurt him.” As I said that, and thought about John, my eyes watered and I turned away.
Terry watched me closely as I said this. He thought for a moment. Then he asked what I thought he’d ask. He asked what I’d been waiting for him to ask, what I’d been dreading and anticipating and wanting him to ask.
“Tim, can you tell me about what happened before you moved here? I know it scares you, but talking helps. Can’t you find the courage to tell me what you’ve been hiding?”
I was scared. I’d been private for so long. I had kept to myself. I had isolated myself. It was safer. And then he’d become part of my life. An important part. He was a friend I desperately needed. He was a rock I could lean against with no fear it would move, no fear it would fail me. He was keeping me sane. He wanted me to go further now than I was comfortable going. But I did trust him. I knew I could. Still, I was scared. But I did trust him. Now he wanted to know what I never told anyone. What I’d sworn to myself I never would tell anyone. And he was asking in a way that meant I had to tell him or not be the type of friend he wanted me to be, that I myself wanted to be. I wasn’t sure I could trust him that much, but I knew I wanted to. I thought I could. I needed to. For several reasons that had as much to do with me as with him.
So I answered him as truthfully as I could. “I don’t know if I can,” I said in a voice so low I could barely hear it myself.
“I think you can. I think you need to. That’s why I’m asking you to. Because I think you need to.”
There was a long, silent pause. My emotions were in turmoil. I’d been keeping them down for so long. But, I thought, he was right. I did need to.
So I told him.
End of Part 1