Palouse by vwl
Coming Out – May 1989
David at Age 14
“Mom and Dad, could I talk to you for a few moments?” David asked. “In the living room.”
“Sure, son,” his dad said, and he nodded for his wife to follow him. They sat together on the couch, with David in the armchair on the other side of the coffee table.
“I…I,” David said, wishing for the moment that he could hide forever. “Can I come sit between you?”
“Of course, honey,” Elizabeth said. She scooted sideways to leave space between her and her husband. As David sat down, Elizabeth looked over at David, Sr., with a look that bespoke questions and concern and a realization that whatever David had to say was extremely important to him. She put her arm around her son’s shoulders, and David’s father did the same.
David burst into tears. His shoulders shook with sobs as his parents tried to comfort him.
“I…I kissed a boy.”
“Son, that’s okay. In Europe, it’s normal to kiss a friend.”
“I kissed him on the lips.”
“Oh,” both parents said.
“I kissed Micah Kingman, and, well, I liked it. I felt something…well, down there. I…I think I’m gay. I think I could love Micah.” Both parents hugged him closer, and the feeling of relief in David was palpable.
“David,” his father said, “we love you. Remember that.”
David began to sob again. His mother pulled him toward her, and he became for a short time the small boy that she had always loved and protected.
“When I kissed him – it was in Seattle – he ran out of the hotel and didn’t come back for several hours. I was really worried about him. It was all my fault. When he came back, though, he told me he didn’t mind and that he had a brother who was gay. But I could tell it bothered him. I still feel bad.”
“Son, you’re just fourteen and your body and mind are going through changes that can overwhelm you. What you are feeling may be just a phase.”
“Dad, I think it’s more than that. I’m pretty sure I’m gay.” He reached for the Kleenex that his mother handed him and wiped his nose.
“Okay, son. But I want to ask for a favor.”
“I want you to talk to Samuel Kemp. He’s the best psychiatrist for teens in Spokane.”
“What kind of psychiatrist is he? Dad, are you looking for someone to cure me? I don’t want someone who’s supposed to cure me of being gay.” David was talking straight ahead, across the room, not looking at either of his parents, his voice determined.
“Hold on, son. First, Dr. Kemp has a well-adjusted gay son.” He paused to let that sink in. “Second, his other two children are straight, and third, he understands what gay children and their families go through. I want him to help you decide what you are – gay, straight, whatever – and, more importantly, for you to be happy with what you decide. Your mother and I just want you to be happy.” Both parents leaned in and pulled David into a closer hug.
“Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mom. I love you,” David said, his voice muffled by the hug.
“We love you, too, David,” his mother said.
A week later, David was sitting in a soft chair in the waiting room of Dr. Samuel Kemp for a 3 p.m. appointment. His mother had dropped him off, giving him a kiss on the cheek and wishing him well.
Promptly at 3 p.m., a receptionist ushered David into a large, comfortable room. One wall was taken up with a bookcase. Another was glass, looking out on the old World’s Fair Grounds and the Spokane River. The other two walls displayed colorful pictures painted by children. On the floor was a thick Persian rug in a deep-red-and-blue pattern. There were two comfortable chairs set near to each other at an angle, and at the far end of the room was the stereotypical couch. David smiled to himself as he spied the couch.
He was directed to one of the chairs, and Dr. Kemp took the other. “Hi, David. Call me Sam. You’re 14, I see,” he said, consulting his clipboard. “I understand that you are a freshman, and you are a cellist. I know the last bit because I know your dad and I follow the Youth Symphony.”
“That’s about right.” David sat quietly, waiting for what was next.
What was next was Dr. Kemp spending the next 45 minutes getting acquainted, gently probing David’s interests, talking about music and generally trying to make David comfortable talking about himself.
“Okay, David, we’re at the end of this session, so tell me why you are here.”
“I don’t think I’m normal.” He said that in an even tone – an announcement, not a confession.
There was a pause. Sam Kemp’s eyebrows rose, his face concealing the surprise at David’s candor. He then asked in a clear, strong voice. “Why would you want to be normal?”
The question was not what David expected. It threw him for a loop.
Before he could answer, Sam Kemp rose from his chair to indicate that the session was over. It took David a few moments to get up from his chair.
“Don’t answer now, David. I wanted to end this session with you having to think about something, and you gave me the perfect closing. I want you to tell me next time why you want to be normal.” David was ushered to the door.
“Thanks…Sam,” David said. Sam was pleased at the first breakthrough.
* * * * *
“I think I’m gay,” David announced a week later as their session started. “I don’t think that’s normal.”
“I am going to ask you to answer my question of last week later,” Sam Kemp said, “but I’m going to ask you first why you think you are gay.”
“I kissed a boy.”
“You know, one kiss doesn’t make you gay.”
“I kissed him on the lips, and I felt something…down there.”
“So, you were sexually attracted to this boy.” David nodded. “Have you felt attracted to other boys?”
“Not as much, but yes.”
“How about girls? Have you kissed a girl?”
“Yes, but I didn’t feel the same,” David replied
“Are you aware of the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid?”
“Are you aware of the Kinsey Scale?”
“It’s not as thorough as the Klein grid, but it is easier to communicate. It’s a scale that goes from zero to six, from heterosexual to homosexual. If you’re a zero you’re heterosexual, and if you’re a six, you’re completely homosexual. What Kinsey found is that very few people are at the ends of the scale. Most people are somewhere in the middle. So, it’s not unusual for someone to have homosexual feelings, even if they’re mostly heterosexual. And vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with either type of feelings. And, these feelings or the intensity of them might change over a lifetime.”
“So, I’m supposed to be on this scale somehow?”
“What did you feel when you kissed this boy.”
“Scared and wonderful. And, er, excited.”
The older man nodded his understanding. “Why did you feel scared?”
“Because I didn’t know how Micah would react. He might have hit me, or he might never have spoken to me again.”
“What did he do, this Micah?”
“He ran out, and he didn’t come back for a long time.”
“Did you feel bad about that?”
“Yes, I was scared. It was all my fault. I drove him away.”
“What did…Micah say about this?”
“He said it was okay and that he had a brother who was gay.”
“Did that make you feel better when he said that?”
“I still felt guilty. I forced myself on Micah and made him flee. I did say I wasn’t sure whether I was gay or not. It was unfair to him to impose myself like that, and I may have lost him as a friend.”
“And if it had been a girl that you kissed, do you think it could have happened the same way?”
David pondered this question for a while. “I suppose, yes. But I don’t think a friendship would end if I tried to kiss a girl.”
“For whatever reasons, there are differences between how a boy will react to another boy’s advances and how a girl will react. Maybe the differences will go away some day, but not now. In the next week, I want you to think about how you would like to deal with the differences.
“You felt guilty about kissing Micah. You felt rejected when he left. Do you think you would have felt guilty if it had been a girl who had rejected you?”
“I suppose, but I don’t think I would have felt so wonderful at the same time. I wouldn’t have been so conflicted.”
“Okay, time to call it a day. I’ll see you next week, David. Remember my question: why do you want to be normal?”
Over the next few weeks, David and Sam Kemp explored issues of sexuality and feelings by a man for another man and for a woman, about his longings, about what turned him on sexually. Sam’s probing opened up the anxieties and hidden feelings that David had been carrying around since the start of puberty – and before. The result of the sessions was that David became more and more assured and comfortable with who he was, and he decided that his place on the Kinsey scale was definitely on the gay end.
* * * * *
It was the end of their final session, by mutual agreement. Sam sat in his chair and looked closely at David sitting across from him. He felt pleased at the self-assurance shown in the young man. “Do you feel normal now, David?"
Sam raised his eyebrows.
“No. And I'm really happy about that."
Sam smiled and then stood, signaling the end of the session. David followed suit, and David headed for the door. He looked around at the comfortable office and at the chair where he had come to understand himself better. “Thanks, Sam.”
“You’re very welcome.”
At home that evening at the dinner table, David could see the curiosity in his parents’ eyes. He had told his parents nothing about his sessions with Sam except that the one just completed was the last one. Now, with the sessions ended, he would have to say something. He smiled to himself, mischievously letting the tension build, knowing that his parents would wait until their son was ready to speak.
“I’m gay,” David said, finally.
“I’m glad you understand who and what you are,” his father said. “You know, you are going to have some rough patches from time to time. We will always be there to back you. Remember that, son.”
“We love you, no matter what” Elizabeth said.
School actually became easier for David after his realization that he liked boys more than girls. The pressure to woo girls simply to prove something was gone, and he could talk to them as friends and not as potential sexual mates to brag to his male friends about. With boys, he knew he couldn’t reveal that he was gay – at least, not until he was really ready – but he didn’t feel guilty anymore about taking the occasional surreptitious peek at the other boys in the locker room or in the halls.
Southern Nights – Late Spring 1990
Micah, a Year Later
“Mom, I’ll be okay,” Micah said. He was sitting across from his mother at the kitchen table, drumming his fingers on his thigh where she couldn’t see his frustration.
“I realize it’s an honor to be asked to solo at the National Youth Festival Orchestra, but this will be your first time out on your own.”
“That’s not true, Mom! I’ve gone to Seattle many times on my own!”
“That’s different. There was someone to take care of you there. I still worried about you, even so.”
“Somebody will be there for me in Charleston. God…”
“You watch your language, young man. I don’t know this person in Charleston.”
“Mom, I appreciate what you’ve done for my career, but at some time you have to let me go – even a little. I’m 15. Cut me some slack.”
“I’ll talk to this chaperone and tell him what I want.”
“Okay,” Micah said, rolling his eyes when he saw his mother wasn’t looking. Deeper down, he wasn’t sure his mother realized the difference between mothering and smothering. He realized maybe he really needed to break away from her total dominance.
This was the first solo performance that his mother was unable to attend. She had commitments that she was simply unable to avoid. Reluctantly, she decided to let Micah go on his own.
* * * * *
The Charleston night was abnormally hot – southern, moist, humid hot – with sounds and flower-fragrances outside drifting lazily through the heavy, dark air into the soft light of walkways and commons. Micah stood at the front door of an imposing house surrounded by huge shade trees. Behind him was the chaperone waiting for him to be let in. He would return at midnight – a compromise between 11 p.m. that he wanted and 1 a.m. that Micah wanted. The house was owned by one of the sponsoring families of the festival, and two of their teen children played in the orchestra. It was those facts that convinced the chaperone to extend his curfew till midnight.
The large, heavy door of the Charleston house swung open for Micah, and a very uncertain boy from Eastern Washington stepped through to greetings from Naomi and Trish, two teenagers who played in the National Youth Festival Orchestra that was to accompany him the next day. Micah’s uncertainty lasted only a few seconds before he was quickly welcomed and hustled down to the basement, where a party was in full swing. On one table there was a red punch; on another was a lemonade-green punch. At another table were snacks, ranging from potato chips to barbecued chicken and ribs to piles of shrimp. The lights had been turned low, colored lamps shone in the corners, and several young people were dancing to some popular music – rather closely, Micah noted.
Naomi and Trish introduced him around the room, but, really, the introductions were all one-sided because nearly all of them knew who this phenom – Micah – was. The picture of this half-native-American boy with sleek black hair and a pony tail had been displayed on the front page of the festival program, along with excerpts from some of the rave reviews he had gotten. He was the superstar, and these were mere players – some players probably hoping that Micah was not as good as advertised.
Naomi and Trish guided him to a large couch and asked if they could get him some food. Besides normal, teenager hunger, he was starved from the long day of preparation for the festival. In no time, a heaping plate of food was set on the coffee table in front of him, and he was offered his choice of punch.
“I’ll take the red one,” Micah said. Trish handed him the lemonade-colored one. “No, the red one.” But Trish held the other in front of him.
“I think you’ll like this one better,” she said, winking.
What the heck, Micah thought, and took it. He began to dive into his plate of food with relish. Naomi and Trish sat on either side of him, identifying what he was eating as Micah asked. He recognized the barbecued chicken, but there was so much that he didn’t know: Hush puppies. Okra. Hot links. Brisket of beef. He took a drink of lemonade and practically choked. “What’s in this?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s a secret recipe,” Naomi said with a wink as she reached across with a napkin and dabbed at Micah’s lips to remove some of the barbecue sauce that had clung to them. “Just drink it slowly, and you’ll grow to like it.”
Micah took several more sips and realized that, for the first time in his life, he was drinking alcohol – except for the tiny sips of wine at Robbie and Jake’s in Seattle. He didn’t like the taste particularly, but in a short while he began to feel a warm buzz in his head. After he finished his plate and had his “lemonade” refreshed, the girls took him through the crowd of teenagers, where they talked of music – everything from classical to rock – but also where they came from, and what their home towns were like. It was pretty clear to Micah after a while that nobody else came from a place even remotely like Endicott, Washington.
The lemonades kept coming, and soon Micah was asked to dance. It was as if the others just wanted to touch him, as if he was a boy model from Paris instead of a musician from some small town in the West.
Naomi and Trish were never far away. A while later, they led him up the basement stairs and into the backyard. There were kids there as well, some that he had not seen at the party downstairs. There was also the glow of cigarettes and the smell of weeds burning. Someone put one in front of him and asked if he wanted a “hit.” Micah didn’t know what a “hit” was, but he was feeling fairly loose.
“What do I do?” he asked.
“You inhale some smoke and hold it in your lungs as long as you can.”
Micah tried some, but his efforts ended in a coughing fit, which he and the others thought was funny.
“Try it again, but slowly.”
Micah did, and he felt the warmth and euphoric feeling coursing through his body. “Whew,” he said. “My head is really spinning. I need to sit down.”
“Come on, sweetheart,” he heard Trish say. “I know just the place.”
From then on, the evening was a fog. Micah recalled being led to a bedroom and sitting on the bed. He recalled the kisses from Naomi and Trish and the unbuttoning of his shirt and then his pants. He recalled the hands on his crotch and the erection that followed. He recalled being naked. He recalled the pubic hair of Naomi in his face and him instinctively lifting his tongue to lick the juices that were forming around the vaginal opening. He recalled the hands on his erection, pulling and stretching.
At some time in the evening, he recalled looking down at his crotch and seeing a boy looking back at him with his mouth wrapped around his cock. He recalled feeling a cross between guilt and ecstasy, with an unforgettable (he would realize) snapshot of that boy’s face in his mind. As the boy moved his mouth up and down, Micah became harder and harder, and the richness of the experience with sex, alcohol and marijuana struck him.
The next thing he realized was that Rachel was astride his penis, and he was thrusting instinctively toward her and toward the oblivion of orgasm. And there were feelings of hands on his legs and his chest, rubbing his nipples and sensing the wire of the hair on his legs.
It was a revelation, as startling as a religious revelation. Was this what other, normal kids did? Micah asked himself. It was certainly what the kids in Endicott talked about in the halls of the school. He began to fully realize how much he was missing during all the years of isolation necessitated by his music, by the relentless schedule his mother set for him. He was missing the wondrous teenage experiences that were now causing such joy and feelings inside him. He was realizing how much he had forsaken for his talent and drive to maximize it. He vowed to make his life more “normal” when he got home.
Somehow, with the help of Trish and Naomi he had become dressed again. Then, he was at the buffet table eating ravenously. And then, midnight came, and the chariot or the pumpkin became the rental car of his chaperone, ready to take him back to the hotel. He begged to be allowed to stay, but his chaperone was insistent that Micah’s evening was at an end.
Micah slid the card into the door of his hotel room. The boy who had been assigned to share the room with him was in bed, his lump illuminated by the small lamp in the corner of the room. Micah stripped, threw his clothes on the floor next to his bed and slipped under the covers – sleeping naked for the first time in his life. He began to feel the letdown of the high he had been on and fell into a light, fitful sleep.
The next morning belonged to the piper. Micah had never felt such pain as what hammered in his head. He realized the cost of how much he had drunk and smoked, but he also remembered the pleasure of all that had been new: of the high, of the food and of the sex. For his head, he reached into his shaving kit to retrieve a bottle of aspirin and took two, washing them down with a glass of water from the bathroom sink.
His orchestra mate had disappeared from the hotel room, so Micah left his clothes on the floor as he went to the bathroom for a long shower, washing off all the sweat and smoke of the evening before. As he washed his genitals, the pleasure-memory of the time in bed kept coming back to him, causing a stirring, intense as a moth seeking light. He put his hand around his rising erection and stroked himself to orgasm, with flashes of the night being reawakened by the joy he was experiencing.
The concert was a triumph. Somehow, drawing on the hours and hours of daily practice, Micah was able to overcome his hangover. But that wasn’t all: the physical and emotional experiences from the night entered the music, making it richer and deeper. As he pulled his bow away for the last time, the audience erupted in loud applause. Micah turned and shook the hand of the director. He turned further and applauded the orchestra, spying Naomi and Rachel in their chairs. Then, in the percussion, he spied the boy whose eyes had sought his across his naked torso, and Micah’s cheeks turned red.
What he couldn’t get out of his head over the next few months and years were snapshots of that night in Charleston, among them the image of that boy’s face, deep on his erection, staring with his blue eyes and long blond hair into Micah’s dark-brown eyes. That was supposed to be so wrong, but it felt so good. Maybe that was what his brother and Sam did – and what David probably wanted. He knew he had lost his virginity to Rachel, and then to Naomi, but he wondered if he had lost it to that boy as well. Should he write a letter to Robert and Sam and ask them? The fog of his evening was too intense for him to sort out what had happened. He didn’t feel any regrets – something his mother certainly would have expected of him.
The social evening in South Carolina with his peers was the last that Micah would experience for some time. Micah’s world was changing; no longer playing with youth symphonies, he was entering a world of adults – music patrons, other professional orchestra musicians, the press.
After that evening, there was a difference in Micah, something that later his mother noticed and thought needed watching. There was an increasing confidence in his voice and manner – confidence, verging on cockiness. At the after-concert receptions for the patrons of the concerts that were on his schedule during the next year, Micah noticed how constantly he was surrounded by admirers dressed in their concert-going finery – almost always adults – plying him with hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks and inadvertent light touches on his arms, cheeks, and hair – as if the nearness to this part-native-American phenomenon gave them additional cachet.
And there were the advances of the women – and a few men, he realized later – who wanted to bed him. Some of the patrons wanted to come to his hotel room after the receptions, but he was fifteen, and he knew he wasn’t ready for that kind of life, tempting as it was. Besides, he was afraid of disease and being embarrassed about not knowing exactly what to do. He found, though, that if he gave the impression that he was bedding these patrons – winks, touches, innuendo, flirting – that other women would flock to him.
* * * * *
“It turns me on when I flirt like that. It’s like a game.” Micah spoke across the bedroom to Greg when the lights were out and they were talking. They both were lying on their backs, hands behind their heads, the moon outside passing a soft glow through the window.
“You’ve got it made, so what’s holding you back? It’s the dream of every teenage boy.”
“I’m not ready. I’m only fifteen. I’m afraid I could get addicted to this fame – to all the attention I get and the power that I have. I could have a new – well, older – woman every night on the road; I could have alcohol; I could have drugs. I like to look at it – from the outside – but Greg, that’s not me. If that’s what fame is all about, I’m not sure I really want it. That’s not the Palouse upbringing that I’d had. That’s not our family, our friends here. It’s kind of the opposite. Emotionally, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. My right hand is better for the time being than older woman after older woman. I just want something more normal, whatever that is.”
“God, I wish I had your problems,” Greg said. “I wish I even had the option to have your problems. I get so fucking horny.”
“Good night, Greg.” Micah laughed, knowing that Greg would solve the immediate problem soon.
“Good night, Micah.”
* * * * *
Outside of school hours, Micah’s contacts with other teenagers became virtually nonexistent over the next year despite his vow to himself to be more “normal.” He saw his siblings only at meal times. He saw his fellow students during classes and at lunch, but then only during the half hour in the cafeteria line and tables. He was by far the best-known person in Endicott, but only when he sat with a group of fellow teenagers, his concert-band classmates – he still played the trumpet in the band – that he could be laid back, could be just another schoolmate, just another teenager in the vast expanse of the Palouse.
Micah realized, too, how artificial his life was becoming outside of Endicott. He felt forced into a persona on the road that felt more and more contrived the more often he played the role of half-Navaho violin prodigy. He knew how to smile and accept the accolades, but it became more and more difficult to make the effort, though he knew that was part of the “job.”
But the road was taking its toll. Micah was beginning to resent the pressures of his schedule – or rather, his mother’s schedule for him. He had been traveling to engagements now for over a year, almost always accompanied by his mother. It seemed as if every weekend he was in a different city, with hotels that looked all the same and patrons’ parties populated by cardboard-cutout wealth. He was living in a world of adults that he didn’t really enjoy despite the money that was going into his college fund.
There was no time for relaxation, no time to be a teenager with all the angst and joy of being 15. He had had sex with people his age, he had had alcohol and marijuana, and those experiences became more memorable as time passed. The fact that they seemed unattainable now made them more desirable. The tight schedule and the lack of free time left the experiences embers of memory that would not die out. He could relieve himself sexually, which he did, but he could not experience the full sensuality of that night in Charlotte. True, he was the star of that teenager party as he was the star of the fancier soirées of the arts patrons, but there was a kinship with people his own age that he didn’t feel with the jewelry-bedecked and cumberbunded patrons of the arts.
One crystal of Micah’s world had shattered that night in Charlotte. The next year would see his passion turning from music and the constricted life he led in pursuing his musical goals to recovering what he had physically and personally lost through the years.
Betty saw none of Micah’s frustrations, none of the changes he was on the brink of making. She was wrapped up in his career – his brilliant career as she called it. The fancy soirees, the hobnobbing with the arts patrons – these were what she had missed with her own career in music when she was forced to get married. Through Micah, she was able to live some of her own dream. In a way, she was so wrapped up in her surrogate career that she missed the signs of Micah’s growing restlessness.