Palouse by vwl
After the Bottom – March 1995
A Month Later
Don’t only practice your art,
but force your way into its secrets,
for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.
– Ludvig van Beethoven
“I need to show you something. But it’s going to take the rest of the day. Can you do it?” Micah asked as they woke to a bright, cold morning.
“Are you sure? You don’t have homework or anything?”
“No. I’m clear, Micah.”
“Get your keys, then; we’ve got a drive. I’ll even buy you some doughnuts and coffee.”
They stopped at a bakery, where Micah bought a half-dozen doughnuts and then got lattes at an espresso stand.
“Which way?” David asked as he pulled his Civic toward the highway.
David eyebrows rose. “I’d better fill up the tank, then.” He turned into a Shell station, pulled up to a pump, slipped his credit card into the slot and filled up.
They headed up U.S. 12 to Waitsburg and Dayton, then through Starbuck and crossed the Snake River at Lyons Ferry. From there it was a long, winding stretch across the hills till they eventually got to Endicott.
“Go on through town towards St. John,” Micah instructed. About a mile later, they dropped down into the Palouse River valley and then turned toward the plateau 300 feet above it. Micah told David to turn right off the main highway onto a gravel road that crossed the wheat fields, winding across the Palouse. They drove past a large farm, with the name on the mailbox: Kingman. Two dogs were barking madly at the passing car. There probably were some eyes in the house looking out at the road, but Micah knew they wouldn’t recognize David’s car.
David’s raised his eyebrows as he turned to face Micah. “You don’t want to stop here?” he asked.
“Nope. I want to show you something, and it’s not at my house.” They drove on another half mile, where Micah told David to turn right onto a farm road. Thirty feet down it was a fence and a gate. Micah hopped out and unlatched the gate, swung it open for David’s car to pass through, then closed and latched it. Micah hopped in the car, and they drove another quarter mile across frozen wheat stubble. “Stop here,” Micah commanded. They got out, and Micah grabbed his violin and bow cases before David could lock the doors. Micah was amused at David trying to lock the car doors in the middle of a wheat field miles from any other persons. The chance that anyone would come by in the middle of a Palouse farm was almost nil, and the chance that that person would be a thief was even less.
Micah crossed the field and started down the farm track on its edge, leaving David to catch up. His feet made a hoarse whisper across the frozen stubs of the harvested wheat. After a quarter of a mile, Micah turned right and followed a faint path that led from the dirt farm track to a grove of leafless cottonwoods that grew in a hollow below the wheat fields. The path wound through the trees and ended at a natural amphitheater that sat in a creek bed banked by walls of lava topped with the deep topsoil of the Palouse. Wheat fields rimmed the enclosed space, looking like a natural thatched roof. In the center of the natural amphitheater was a flat rock as big as a living-room sofa. Micah strode up to the rock, climbed it and stood with his head proud-high, surveying the surroundings. He beckoned David to join him, and they stood side by side.
Nothing was said for a long time. The only sounds were the sough of the cold wind through the leafless trees and the screech of the raptors circling above, waiting for unlucky rodents to show their faces.
Micah undid the latches on his violin case, lifted the violin gently out as if it were a newborn baby and took out his bow, temporarily leaning it against his leg. He plucked the strings with his fingers then adjusted the pegs to bring it into tune, testing the final settings with his bow. The dissonance of the sound was, in itself, a sort of symphony to David.
Micah began to play his Mendelssohn. The sound traveled to the edges of Micah’s sanctuary and came immediately back, as if the acoustics of Carnegie Hall had been lifted into the wilds of Eastern Washington and Micah’s sanctuary had turned into the hall itself. David sat stunned at the extraordinary acoustics of the place as he listened to Micah playing.
Micah played for an hour, moving from Mendelssohn to Bach to Franck, seemingly oblivious to the presence of David – mindful only of the glorious music he was playing and his attempt to bring out its meaning. When he stopped, he looked around as if dazed until he oriented himself. David began to clap softly, his dark auburn hair glistening in the late-morning sunshine.
“That was beautiful, Micah. I’m amazed at this place: it’s beautiful and the natural acoustics are amazing.”
“Yes. This is my special place, David. No one else has been here with me, except you.”
“I found this spot when I was ten. I was traveling down that road we drove along and got curious what was down in this creek bed. I was looking for a place I could practice my school trumpet as well as my violin.” David’s eyebrows rose. “You didn’t know I played the trumpet, did you?”
David shook his head. He didn’t want to break Micah’s train of reminiscences by speaking.
“I did for a while until I got my violin, but I played the trumpet in the high-school band. I would come out here with my violin whenever the weather let me and play for hours, and I would stop and think about what I was playing and how I wanted it to sound. This is where I was really born, where I became what I thought I was going to be for the rest of my life – that is, until I screwed everything up.”
Micah looked at David with anguish in his eyes. David patted the rock next to him, beckoning Micah to sit down, which he did. David put his arm around Micah and drew him in. They sat quietly in the sun and dry winter air, not saying anything.
“I wanted to show you this place, David, because I think I want to start over. This is the first time I’ve been here in, I think, four years. When I started to fall apart, I couldn’t come here. It would have been a desecration. But now, I want to be reborn.” David looked sharply at Micah, and Micah just grinned. “Relax – not as a Christian, but as a musician. I don’t know if I can do it. Sometimes I think it’s too late, and I get depressed, and sometimes other things happen – at school, with my family, my finances – and it almost becomes too much. It almost became too much with everything that happened with Casey.”
David nodded, in understanding.
“I was a star and a celebrity once, but I don’t want to be a star again,” Micah said. “No, that’s not true. I do want to be a star, but I don’t want to be a star like I was. I want to be a star because I offer my playing to the audience – just as a philanthropist gives his money to help people – as something I hope they will appreciate. I don’t want to be a star that accumulates adulation at the expense of why he’s there, needing adulation as a sponge needs water. If I’m to be a star again, I want to do it on my own terms. But I don’t know if I can do it, and I’m damned sure I can’t do it alone.” Micah looked at David, wanting an answer to the proposal that he was implicitly making – but maybe wanting even more from David than just help in resurrecting his career.
For David, the easy part was a willingness to support an incredible talent. He knew Micah possessed the talent. As they drove back to Walla Walla across the wheatlands and valleys of the Palouse, David thought that the hard part, was assuring himself that the hand he held out to Micah would be enough and Micah would not retreat into the small world that he had created for himself over the past few years or retreat into the bottles of pills that Micah had arrayed in front of him the night before.
David saw Micah’s crossroads. He knew he could help. His inclination was to offer to help, but he didn’t know if he could stand seeing Micah fall again, and he didn’t know if the slightest stumble would stop Micah in his renewed quest for greatness. And he didn’t know if he wanted to fall in love with Micah – again.
“Being a child prodigy is so lonely,” Micah said. “I was one. I was really different from other kids. No one else can understand what it is like to be so different. I wanted to connect with people in the music world and outside. I wanted to have people see the deepest part of me, the part that people don’t usually see. But it never happened. I was always the Guarneri Brave, the half-Navajo wonder – never a person.
searching for meaning and connection, and I found it finally at home – in
Endicott – with Amelia, but it cost me my music, and her brother and his friends
almost cost me my freedom. I wasn’t mature enough then to balance everything
They rode in silence for a long time, Micah turning to David with his eyes seeking David’s response to his unspoken request for help. They arrived in Walla Walla as dusk was settling into night. David drove to his apartment, assuming that Micah would want to have some dinner with him.
He drove up to the garage door, turned off his keys, but didn’t pull them out. “I’ve got some nice steaks that I can thaw in the microwave and a bottle of wine or two. Will you have dinner with me?” When Micah nodded, David pulled the keys from the ignition, opened his door and waited for Micah to get out as well. Micah had his instrument under his arm.
They opened the door and climbed the stairs to the second floor. David flipped on the lights and wanted immediately to flip them off because the mess he had left had not cleaned itself. The clutter and stacks of CDs, books, and papers showed how David lived. The apartment was just how he had left it.
The kitchen, though, was tidy, and David pulled a loaf of French bread and two steaks from the freezer, setting the microwave to the defrost cycle for the steaks. He turned on the oven and put the bread in it. He opened the refrigerator and set the last of the salad ingredients onto the small counter that divided the kitchen from the living and bedroom areas. Without being asked, Micah took the lettuce to the sink and began to wash it then dry it with paper towels, shaking off the moisture in the sink. David handed him a paring knife, and Micah cut up the tomatoes and cucumbers, tossing them in a bowl that David had pulled from a cupboard.
They were not saying a word to each other. There was only the tacit choreography of making a meal – each one accepting a responsibility for part of the dinner. It was as if the entire mood of the day would be broken if they said a word. Micah opened cupboards till he found the dinnerware and the drawers till he found silverware. David put two placemats out on the table.
David put some cooking oil in the skillet, salted and peppered the steaks and, after the oil had heated, laid them side by side. Micah found the salad dressing in the refrigerator and mixed it with the salad fixings. He found the butter dish and set it on the table, then took the bread out of the oven and cut several slices. He found the corkscrew and opened the bottle of wine and poured two glasses.
The clatter of dinnerware and silver, the opening and closing of cupboards, oven and refrigerator doors, the sizzle of steaks cooking became the background prelude to a dinner, sounding much like a percussion concerto.
David put the steaks on the plates, dimmed the kitchen light, lit a candle and set the plates on the table. They both sat and finished dishing up their plates and paused – enough to be a moment of silence – looking each other in the eye in the dim light.
David raised his wine glass. “To you – now and tomorrow,” he said holding it in front of him. Micah clinked his glass against David’s and echoed David’s words, the first that had been said between them in hours.
The words spoken in the toasts were enough to open the floodgates of thought and repartee. The two young men dived into their steaks, salads and bread and talked of everything except what had happened that day. David was unsure of what he had seen and experienced, and Micah did not want to destroy the small, tenuous step he had made toward rebuilding his life. So they talked of school and sports and books and television.
They finished their dinners and cleared the table, and David dished up some ice cream from the freezer. After the ice cream, David poured the last of the wine, and they sat at the table in the warm buzz of a good meal and nice wine. A contented silence between them rose again as they sat and looked at each other across the table.
“Are you still gay?” Micah asked, breaking the silence, his voice low and hesitant, out of the blue.
“Yes,” David responded, “it was a nice day.”
“That’s not…” Micah stopped when he looked at David.
David was trying to keep a straight face after this forward question and its answer that Micah surely knew, but failed in the end. He didn’t know what the question meant, and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to know. David was just not sure of the permanence of the changes in Micah that maybe had begun that day. But the source of the question – Micah himself – was so innocent of so many aspects of the world that David really wanted to deflect what Micah was asking. The subject fortunately was dropped – in a way.
“You can stay the night, if you want,” David offered. When Micah looked nervous as he waited for the answer to the question, David added: “I have an air mattress and extra sheets.”
“No, I think I’ll go back to my room.” David looked worried. “I’m okay now. Trust me.”
David grabbed his keys and took Micah back across town to Walla Walla College.
Boccherini – May 1995
Two Months Later
There comes a time you discover things, step out into life … step away and become yourself. You can’t bring anyone else to those moments.
– A Map of the Harbor Islands, by J.G. Hayes
The room had darkened as night fell outside. The low light near the table provided the only interior illumination; other light came from the streetlights that filtered slowly through the curtained windows and glowed across the polished floor. The result was that the dark wood around the window frames stood stark against the soft gray of the interior flat walls, like the geometry in a painting by Franz Kline. The planks of the hardwood floor were outlined from the low light that crept in obliquely from outside.
Micah reached into his backpack and took out a CD. He walked across the room and inserted it into David’s player and pushed the play button. Micah moved out onto the open space in the apartment and spread his arms, facing a bewildered and bemused David. Boccherini’s joyous Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid began to emerge from the speakers, at first slowly and then building to the dance. Micah’s feet began to slide-step-slide across the floor as he held his arms wide, bent at the elbow with his hands up. His movements took him to the fabrics that divided the room along the cord that crossed the room. He removed them one-by-one and with bullfighter-style flourishes let them swirl as he threw them on David’s roommate’s bed against the far wall – all in time with the music. The room quickly was opened to reveal the full, gleaming hardwood floor that covered the second floor from David’s to his roommate’s bed. With the space opened, the whole of the room looked far larger than twice the half that the fabric curtain had left for David.
David was grinning.
“Come dance,” Micah said. “To this piece. I ordered a cello and violin transcription for us. Listen and then dance with me. I want it to mean something between us.” He stepped to the edge of the shiny hardwood floor. There he met and interlaced his left arm with David’s right, and the two of them slide-walked slowly across the floor to the window as if approaching the altar at a wedding.
He beckoned David to stand across from him but near and open his arms wide as Micah was doing. “Pretend that we’ve been transported to the Spanish court in the 18th Century.” Micah started them both off with a step sideways toward the Victorian-era windows. At first surprised, David began to follow. Micah guided David – step-slide-step, step-slide-step – the two of them moving across the room eyes locked on each other. Then, Micah took David’s hand in his, and side by side, Micah’s head held proud, they danced back across the room. By the time they neared the kitchen, David had figured out the basic movements; he’d seen enough elaborate dances in movies to fake it, at least. He managed to make a graceful turnaround, switching hands with Micah as though 18th Century formal court dances were the most common thing in the world to do on a Saturday night in Walla Walla, Washington.
In the Boccherini minuet, when the cello comes in, the play of the theme strengthens. Micah took this cue to lead David more spiritedly across the floor, with a vigor that amused David. In the middle of the piece the music turns to a violin trill; Micah broke the hand hold, leaving David standing still in the middle of the floor. Micah began circling him in a courtship rite, maintaining full eye contact as he danced, interrupted only momentarily as he moved from one side of David’s back to another, bobbing with the strums of the stringed instruments. Micah’s flirting eyes shone in the dim light of the room – this court of his imagining.
When the strings began strumming the opening theme again, Micah took David’s hand, and they resumed their gallant dance back and forth across the floor. The smiles got wider as their comfort in dancing rose – step-slide-step, step-slide-step.
Near the end of the piece, the violin trill reappears, and Micah dropped David’s hand again and circled him with his solo dance. The minuet comes to a sharp crescendo before ceasing abruptly. At that point, Micah spun himself around to end in a face-to-face stance with David, stopping stock still on the final beat and looking intently into David’s eyes, his lips only inches away from David’s.
The two young men gazed at each other for a full minute. Tension and energy shone in their eyes and expressions. Micah had to restrain himself from kissing David; doing so would ruin his plan, so he just touched a finger to David’s lips.
Then Micah grinned mischievously and broke the mood: “I need to get back to the dorm.” He took the CD out of the changer and put it back in its case, picked up his coat, checked to see that his car keys were in the pocket, thanked David for the dinner and was down the stairs and at the door.
“You choreographed this whole evening, didn’t you?”
“You’re crazy, you know,” David said with a grin as Micah was closing the door.
Micah hesitated, turned and blew him a kiss and a wave as he went out the door.
David stood still, mesmerized, his emotions left hanging and his eyes staring at the staircase that Micah had just descended. Something had changed in their relationship, and David didn’t know quite what it was. The week before, he had been thinking that Micah’s relationship to him might go too far – that is, if he approached it from Micah’s perspective – even though that would sadden him. Their relationship had been built, he believed, on Micah’s gratitude for David’s help in getting him back to his music. He knew that permanent relationships couldn’t be built on one-sided gratitude – gratitude that might prove to be fragile. Eventually the reason for their relationship would recede too far into the past. He didn’t want to see Micah hurt, and he had been thinking about how to extricate himself from a relationship if Micah became too dependent on him. He wanted them to be equals.
Tonight – actually, over the last few days – something had changed – in a subtle way. What had changed was exemplified by the dance: in it, Micah had taken charge; he had dominated and made it his own. No, Micah had become self-confident in more than the dance, and that realization affected David deeply. He wanted the Micah he’d known as a teenager back, independent and confident, with the two of them as equals. Maybe, it was happening.
Though he his realization warmed him, he felt a related emptiness, a void, from Micah’s departure. He realized that Micah had ended the evening deliberately in the way that he did – with an approach and nearness and temptation designed to do just what it was doing: make David long for Micah’s presence, make David long for Micah.
David was fearful and joyful at the same time – fearful that what Micah did was but a brief flash of heat lightning over the mountains, but joyful that perhaps it wasn’t – that the relationship might grow into something more than David had expected only the day before.
Outside, Micah grinned to himself as he climbed into his pickup. He knew he had caused a divine mischief. He had accomplished what he had intended to do: to change their relationship from David-dominated to something closer to peer to peer. He had asserted himself – positively. He had broken the existing mold of their relationship, discarding the pieces into the past. The shape of their interaction would forever be changed. That much he drew from the tone of those last words of David – from David’s recognition that the choreographing of their relationship had caused a change.
Micah felt he had taken charge of his own life. For the first time, Micah had set a goal for his personal life – for himself – and not because someone was pushing him. He was no longer a person adrift in the stream of someone else’s dream. The realization that he had set his own goal was an elixir. He had set goals for his music life, but in his personal life, he had let the events and people around him take the lead. Now he had a goal for his personal life.
True, he’d had Amelia, Greg and his high-school friends and teammates in his life – but he realized now that they he had been a spectator to what was happening. And in Idaho, his life was led by a strict school environment that toughened him but did not allow him his own direction – except maybe to lead and help Casey. With Casey, he found he could take charge, gently, to help another human being who would be rebuffed in so many parts of the world. Though Casey had grown during the year in Idaho, time had run out. Casey never fully developed into his own independent person – at least strong enough to overcome the blows that hit him after Idanha. Perhaps that was why Micah was so shaken up by Casey’s death, because he once feared he also might not strong enough to be his own person.
Micah’s brush with suicide – though he wasn’t sure he would have gone through with it – was the low point, but also a turning point. He had asked for help, and help had come, unquestioning – from the man on a beautiful white horse.
David was the one he had turned to when his world had fallen apart, and David was the one he wanted beside him for the rest of his life. He wanted David; he wanted David to want him.
Micah realized that he hadn’t once thought to turn to his family when he was feeling low. He knew that his relationship with his parents – his other significant others – was still unmended. He thought he knew why. They still saw him as if he was a 13- or 17-year-old rebel teenager who lived on a farm outside Endicott; they never really saw him as an independent adult. And until recent weeks, he probably provided ample ammunition for them to think that way. But he had changed; his relationship with David was changing him. At some time in the near future, the part of his life that was now becoming stable would have to deal with the part of his life that was his past. He was discovering things, stepping out into life. He felt he had stepped away from his past and was becoming what he wanted to be in life.
Micah had seen also that David was recognizing the change in him and therefore a change in their relationship, which would grow closer slowly over the rest of the term.
The rest of the spring term saw Micah and David becoming more comfortable with each other. Summer jobs caused a short hiatus in their developing relationship. David spent it in Spokane and Micah at his family farm, but they were able to get together for a few weekends. Separately, both counted the days until the fall term.