Palouse by vwl
Whitman String Quartet – November 1995
Six Months Later
Best gains must have the losses’ test,
To constitute them gains.
– Emily Dickinson
“I have a proposition for you, Micah,” David announced one day the following November as he came through the door to his apartment where Micah had been studying, a fixture in David’s apartment since the middle of their sophomore year.
Micah turned from his textbook, raising his eyebrows. “You want to take our relationship up another step?”
“Not exactly, but I’ll think about it. No, this is different. Our first violinist is writing a symphony for his senior thesis and wants to leave the quartet – which, at the moment is in danger of becoming the Whitman String Trio. We need a replacement to make a quartet. Are you interested?”
“I’ve never played in a quartet. The nearest thing is playing duets with you.” Micah walked to the window and stared out for a few minutes. He turned and smiled: “But I think I’d like it.”
“Does that mean yes?”
“That means yes if you’re still going to be in it.”
“I will be.” David hesitated. “There is one complication.”
“There’s a hitch?”
Yuki Hashimoto from the Youth Symphony?
“Well, you chewed her out royally one day when she played with her viola out of tune. She’s the Asian girl – now woman. She’s a member of our quartet.”
“I kind of remember her. It was when I was soloing, wasn’t it? When I was being a prima donna. Maybe a little shit, too.”
“Yes. She remembers you. She says she has put that incident in the past, and I hope she has. You just need to be a little careful when you deal with her till things settle out. Okay?”
“I’m not exactly the same person I was. I hope she recognizes that.”
“I think it will work out.” Hopefully, David thought.
The quartet’s first practice was several days later. An hour before the scheduled session, Micah parked his pickup at David’s then joined him as they hiked across the Whitman campus to the music department. The practice room was designed for a small orchestra, with two sets of risers coming off of the main floor. The four chairs arrayed in a square in front of the first riser were the only ones set up; there were four music stands in front of the chairs. The chairs looked lonely.
They had gone early so that David could get the music out of the library for Micah and for Micah to have a few minutes to acquaint himself with it.
“We don’t expect you to be fully proficient this first day,” he said. “We’ll just practice a couple of pieces while you sight-read your parts.” Of course, Micah’s sight-reading and a lesser artist’s practiced playing were not that different, as David and the other members of the quartet were soon to learn.
The other two musicians arrived a half hour after Micah and David. Micah immediately recognized the woman whom he had criticized so sharply as a girl with the Spokane Youth Symphony. She hadn’t grown much taller if Micah remembered right, and her face and figure had filled out. Micah reintroduced himself then offered an apology for his earlier behavior. Yuki accepted it.
The second violinist, Ben Claridge, watched the interplay between Yuki and Micah and was puzzled, but Yuki and Micah would not reveal what their conversation was about. Finally, he introduced himself, and they shook hands. Ben was a tall, lean blond 19-year old with short-cropped, very un-musician-like hair. He looked like the engineering student that he was.
David and Micah had started to tune their instruments before Ben’s and Yuki’s arrival, but the latecomers joined them in the final ensemble tune-up. Micah took a few glances at the music opened up before him. The first piece they planned to play that day was the Haydn Opus 77 String Quartet No. 1.
Micah’s part began to mesh well with the others by the second run-through, and by the third time the playing was almost indistinguishable from the quartet’s normal output. Over the next few practices, Micah caught up with the quartet’s repertoire. David and the other players were pleased that the quartet had lost little capability after the departure of their other violinist.
* * * * *
“This third movement needs to be done differently,” Micah announced at the sixth practice of the group. They were playing Beethoven. “I think the dynamics need to be strengthened.” He put his bow to his violin and waited for the other to follow. The others didn’t move.
“What?” he asked. “Aren’t we going to practice?” He stared across at his colleagues, who hadn’t moved to join him.
David sighed. “Micah, we need to get something straight. We all know you are a brilliant musician.” His hand swept to the other players who nodded agreement. “We know that you played for years as a solo musician, and only you and the conductor needed to decide how you wanted to play a piece. You only had one person to negotiate with, and you had a lot of power in that negotiation.
“A string quartet is a different beast – a very different beast. It is a conversation among equal instruments; it isn’t a lecture by one. There is no leader; there is no one in charge, so we have to make changes by consensus. And with strong-willed musicians, as we all are, consensus is frequently difficult to achieve. As a matter of fact, with your predecessor the arguments got very noisy, and there was a lot of shouting at one another.”
“In fact, Micah, that’s one reason I’m no longer bothered by what you did to me years ago,” Yuki said. “What you said was mild compared to what I’ve heard from my ‘equals’ here.” Ben took this all in and got an inkling of what Micah and Yuki had discussed on Micah’s first day.
Micah turned red from embarrassment. He was taken aback. He didn’t know how to respond. This was not the way he approached music. He knew what he wanted to do, he was certain he knew what the composer had wanted, and he was about to tell the others to go to hell.
“So, Micah, tell us what you are thinking,” Ben offered as a gesture of peace, “and we can talk about it.”
An irritated Micah started to explain how he thought the piece should be played, which started a lively discussion with the others, and after a few minutes he lost his irritation and began to enter into the mind-space of Beethoven in his Harp Quartet and to go beyond the notes and into that realm that had driven him years ago. Micah turned to the movement; he explained how he thought the group’s reading of the piece could be changed. He took his violin and showed the difference between how he thought the piece should be done and how they were doing it. It was the first time that he had to explain to others what he would have done if he had had the sole decision to do what he wanted. It was a tour de force. He was utterly convincing.
“So, I should try my part more like this,” Ben said, playing a few measures.
“And I think this interpretation means that the viola should be stronger throughout this movement,” Micah said to Yuki, who nodded tentative assent.
“Let’s find out. Let’s try it Micah’s way,” a relieved David suggested, and they spent the next hour working to get all the parts to mesh.
“What do you think?” Ben asked after they had had a clean run-through. David held back to let Yuki answer.
“I think it’s much better,” she said.
“I do, too,” David finally chimed in.
“Does this mean I get to be dictator from now on?” Micah asked as if he was hopeful that the answer was yes and before he broke into a laugh as he ducked pencils and chunks of rosin coming his way.
* * * * *
“I hope I’ve learned my lesson,” Micah said as they were walking back to David’s apartment. “Kick me in the butt if I go overboard in the future.”
The thought of kicking Micah, and exactly where to kick him, started to turn David on. It flashed erotically in his mind and caused the beginnings of an erection. He needed to change the direction of his thoughts, so when he saw an empty beer can in the gutter, he kicked it forward like a soccer ball. When he tried to kick it again, Micah stepped in front of him, and they were soon in the midst of a game of their own making, moving an empty beer can down the walkway before dumping it in a trash can outside David’s apartment.
At David’s, they had a beer and sat at the kitchen table, talking about their afternoon of practice. “I’m just amazed,” David said. “How do you do that? How do you come up with those interpretations?”
“Remember when I told you that I learned the notes in the music room and I learned the composer in my sanctuary. The same thing is happening here, except now I do it in my head. I see the notes, but I feel this collaboration between God, the composer and me, and I’m just trying to inject my own views as little as possible into the music.”
“You know that you’re not going to get easy agreement every time like you did this afternoon.”
Micah grinned. “But I’m sure as hell going to make the effort. Then, more seriously, he added, “I had no idea how much fun it would be, discussing my thoughts on musical interpretation with other serious musicians.”
Still Gay – December 1995
A Month Later
There is a tide in the affairs
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
– William Shakespeare
David and Micah were sitting at David’s apartment table after a drive in the country followed by them playing duets for a couple of hours. David once again had pulled dinner out of the freezer and heated it in the microwave. They had finished eating the hot enchiladas with some fresh salsa from the refrigerator and were on their second beers. The conversation had lapsed, particularly because of an overly quiet Micah, but neither man felt any real discomfort.
“You told me you were still gay,” Micah said, breaking the silence.
“I said I was not still gay; I’ve been gay since as long as I can remember. Okay?” There was a tinge of annoyance in David’s voice.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I meant something else.” Micah was quiet and hesitant as he swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple rising and falling.
David smiled across the table “Sorry to be so short with you. Yes, I’m still gay. I haven’t changed, and I haven’t wanted to change. I’ve been out since I was fourteen, and I knew I was gay before then.”
“I’m a 3.”
“A three?” David asked.
“On the Kinsey Scale.”
“But if I work on it I could be a 4.”
“Micah, it’s not like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. You don’t practice that way. It’s what you are.”
“I can love a guy as well as a woman.” Micah’s mind flashed to the last few weeks with Casey at Idanha. “I…I want to be gay.”
That admission slowed David down. “No, Micah. Loving a guy doesn’t mean you are gay. You don’t want to be gay. The life of a gay boy and a gay man is so much more difficult than the life of a family with a wife and 2.1 kids. You don’t want to be gay just to be gay.”
“I…I want to love you – all the way – and if that means being gay, then I want to be gay.” Micah’s dark eyes glistened in the low light. His hand reached across the table and covered David’s.
David was at a loss for words. This is what he had fantasized about since his crush on Micah when Micah stayed in his south-side Spokane home and he first saw Micah playing solo in the Spokane Youth Symphony concert. He had worshiped Micah then and even excused the growing number of tirades that came seemingly with his stardom.
Then, he had seen Micah at the lowest, and as he had extended his hand to the boy-man on the streets of Walla Walla, he had also extended his heart. But David’s mind was reluctant to bow too much to his heart. He was afraid Micah’s relationship to him might be partly worship for pulling him out of his life-lethargy. Worship can be a thin shell, broken from the down periods of everyday life.
David was conflicted. Now, what he wanted was in his reach, but now he was having cold feet; the timing of Micah’s statement – of the next step in their relationship – caught him almost unawares despite the night of the Boccherini dance. Until this moment, the dream of Micah had been a fantasy, but now in real life, he was taken aback. He wanted time to process what Micah had said; he wanted to believe Micah; but he wanted to be sure Micah was saying this from a mature perception of love, not because he felt he was beholden to David, not because of hormones. David’s body, of course, was trying to throw caution to the wind and go the hormone direction, and he had to adjust his pants.
“I mean it,” Micah said. “I’m grateful for what you’ve done for me, sure. I’m grateful that my life has turned around, and I’m playing again. But none of these would make me want to be gay. I want to be gay because I want you in my life, every day for the rest of my life – every morning when I wake up, every night when I pull the blankets up around me. I want to do the little things, like clean the shaving cream from your lips with my thumbnail, like pour your orange juice. I want to ask you questions and answer yours. I want to observe the world for you, and I want you to observe it for me. I want you mind-to-mind, note-to-note, but I also want you physically, body-to-body. These are the reasons that I want to be gay. I can’t have all of you without being gay, so I want to be gay.” Micah’s hand clasped David’s harder. David raised his free palm to Micah, and Micah raised his to David’s hand, and they intertwined their fingers.
David put his other hand up on the table and lifted his palm. Micah put his other palm against David’s, and they interlaced fingers with both hands. Both sets of eyes were locked as well. David leaned across the table and placed his lips on Micah’s. The tears from their eyes intertwined on each other’s cheeks as if some rite stronger than that for blood brothers would bind them to each other.
“Can we leave it at this for tonight?” David asked. “In the morning, this all may look different.”
“It won’t,” Micah said, forcefully. “I might not be a 6 like you, but I’m going on a 4. And to set your mind at rest, this isn’t something that happened tonight, or yesterday. I’ve been feeling this for a long time, and it keeps getting stronger. I finally had to say something. It isn’t going away, David.”
David laughed. “I’ll run you back to your dorm.” Neither of them moved, though, and Micah this time leaned over to kiss David. And the kisses started soft – mere pecks and light brushes – but they became long and sensuous. No words were spoken for the next half hour; the communication was elemental and joyful. The kisses were enough.
The drive to Micah’s dorm took ten awkward minutes. The step that Micah and David had taken was a giant one. For Micah, it meant a reorientation of his life. For David, it meant the fulfillment of his formerly obtainable life fantasy – assuming he could believe that what Micah said would be durable.
Except for the shifting of the Civic’s gears, their hands stayed joined for the short trip as if this energy connecting them could thus be solidified into deeper bonds, and unanswered questions could be addressed. David feared, though, that Micah’s desire to enter into a gay relationship might be a fleeting one that wouldn’t survive the next sunrise. He wanted Micah to sleep on his decision – alone – and to let what they had talked about be digested. He wanted Micah badly, but he wanted Micah permanently, as an equal, and as a committed gay man. He believed Micah was still fragile at this moment, but he also knew how strong Micah could be.
They kissed one last time across the front seat as they arrived at Micah’s dorm. Micah opened the door, hopped out and walked slowly to the dorm, looking back to make sure that his chosen David was still there. He reached the door just as a number of other students were exiting. He wanted to blow David a kiss, but could he do it? As he propped the door open with his foot to let the others leave, he turned, put his hand to his lips and blew a soft kiss to David. David recognized the courage of that gesture. He didn’t know that the exiting students could not see inside the car, and they had assumed that Micah had just left a girlfriend.
Micah went to his room, turned the key in the lock. He stripped down to his boxers, opened the window and lay down on his bed, his hands behind his head as he stared at the ceiling, a smile of peace on his face. He knew he had taken a large step, but he felt no regrets; he had no second thoughts, and he fell asleep with the satisfaction that he had made a life-changing decision. He felt no differently the next morning. Well, he did get an erection from thinking about David, and he took care of it in his own, personal way.
What changed most in the relationship between Micah and David in the next few weeks was the growing sense of equality between them. David could sense his protégé growing out from under his protection and guidance, and he welcomed the loss.
It was a partnership expressed physically as well as mentally, though the physical part was, for the time being, contained only in kisses and touches. The kisses, though, became longer and more sensuous over the weeks before Christmas; the touches slowly followed the path of the kisses. It was clear from the tenting in their pants that soon they would step in a new and more fulfilling direction.
New Year’s Eve – December 1995
End of the Month
The New Year’s Eve barn dance was scheduled to begin at nine outside town on a farm near the Oregon border. The large, open area under the rounded barn roof had been decorated with red and blue balloons and ribbons. The hay had been swept from the center of the room leaving an open wood-plank floor smoothed to a natural gleam with years of wear. Bales of hay had been moved along the walls to serve as seats and tables.
Someone had brought a good stereo to provide music. On a decorated table near the door, there were two large bowls of punch, one bright red and the other lemonade-colored, both with a large block of strawberry-decorated ice floating in the center and plastic ladles drooping over the edges. There were stacks of plastic cups alongside. Chips and salsa shared space on another table with party favors and hats set aside for midnight.
Most of the predominantly Walla Walla College students stood in high-school-like clumps waiting for something to happen; others sat at the few hay-bale tables at the edges of the room, while still others had found places on the stacked hay bales.
Micah was with David at one of the tables; in front of them was a small bowl of chips and salsa that Micah had filled at the refreshment table. Before they left his dorm, Micah had gone to his room and retrieved a bottle of vodka that he had secreted there in anticipation of this party. So after David fetched a couple of cups of punch, Micah slipped them under the table and topped them off. When David took his next sip, he almost coughed it up before he smiled and looked Micah in the eye.
“That’s something I would do, not something a good Adventist person like you would do,” he said quietly to Micah. Micah looked about the room innocently, his lips puckered in a whistle of nonchalance.
What Micah really wanted to happen was for the two of them to kiss in front of all the students at the party, to announce himself and his boyfriend to the world, but in order to do so he needed alcohol-courage. However, he had said nothing to David that this was his intention, so maybe that was another reason to get high. Micah thought that if he was going to be reborn, he might as well do it up in a grand fashion.
Someone finally put on some Whitney Houston, and the dancing began, tentatively.
“This barn dance isn’t supposed to happen,” David whispered to Micah. “It’s against the Adventist philosophy. Tsk. Tsk.”
“Fuck you,” Micah whispered and took another swallow of his punch. “And this is private, not church, property.”
David opened his eyes wide in mock astonishment. “My, my. Aren’t we being daring? You give the boy an inch of vodka and he takes a mile of liberties.”
“Fuck you, again. I’ve spent my time in the wilderness.” Micah’s eyes were full of flirting.
David raised his eyebrows and flirted back. His fall for Micah had gone from a shallow slide to a tumultuous tumble.
“Do you want to dance?” Micah asked.
The request stunned David. “I, er, I don’t think that would be too good an idea – with this crowd.” Was Micah’s pendulum swinging too fast to the other side? David asked himself. He knew he wanted Micah to be free and open about life and their budding relationship, but he wanted above all a well-grounded relationship, not one exposed by too much alcohol. He suddenly feared that Micah was going to throw away his life at Walla Walla College – suddenly and irreversibly; David didn’t want that to happen. He wanted Micah to wade into the pool of life, not jump in from 10 meters.
David began to be concerned about the number of times Micah was visiting the punch bowl. In truth, he was concerned about Micah’s ability to handle both the alcohol and the abrupt changes in his life.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough for a while, Micah?”
“What are you, my nanny?” Micah answered half in jest and half in irritation.
“Maybe somebody has to be your nanny,” David mumbled to himself a bit loudly.
“Look, David, I’m nervous. I know you have helped me out. I know you’ve taken responsibility for me, but I am an adult, and I want to be treated like one, even if it means you mumbling more quietly. In fact, I think it would be better if you didn’t think you had to mumble at all.”
“Okay, I know I’ve maybe been overbearing at times, but it’s because I love you. Plus, I’ve seen you dipping heavily into the vodka.”
“David, I’m not going anywhere at the end of the night but to my room, and you’re driving. Hell, I can walk to my dorm if I have to. So, if I get shitfaced, that’s my problem. Okay? The only thing that might affect you is me asking you to dance and kissing you at midnight.”
“Doing what at midnight!?”
“Kissing you. It’s going to be a gratitude kiss, and it’s going to be my first public gay kiss. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I want to do it.” Micah’s eyes turned merry. “Of course, it will be easier if I’m half-potted.”
“Half potted? God, what have I gotten myself into?” David sighed.
“Exhibitionism, with a tinge of love, I hope.”
“Before you get too ‘half-potted’, can we talk about this?”
“Sure,” Micah said, taking another sip of punch. “That’s what we’re doing.”
“You know that I’m already outed, so it makes no difference to me, but you…you will be outing yourself, and that will change how everybody relates to you.”
“David, anyone who knows you and your sexual orientation and my association with you is going to see us around town and put one and one together and get queer. Walla Walla is a small city, and our budding but wonderful relationship is going to be noticed eventually. It’s just a matter of time. Someone will see us too many times together at Merchant’s or the movies or wherever and the arithmetic of our relationship will be tallied. So, I’m simply controlling the timing of the announcement. Okay?”
David sighed, but he saw that Micah had thought about this. David’s estimation of Micah took a step upward.
The two young men stared into each other’s eyes. Anyone looking closely could only have judged that it was a look of love.
A rock song sounded from the stereo. “Let’s dance. I mean, let’s find someone to dance with,” Micah offered. “A fast dance, so nobody will know that we’re really dancing with each other – till later.” He turned to David and bowed. “May I have this dance?”
“I’d be honored, suh.”
Micah extended his hand, which David took. After they both were on their feet, Micah dropped David’s hand. He approached a pile of hay bales where two smiling, Levi-wearing women were nursing their punch. “May we have this dance?” The women brightened with smiles. The party had been slow to get started, and two handsome men asking two pretty women to dance would liven things up.
David and Micah danced for a while with the two at the table, and then they danced with a number of others who had lost their shyness and begun to join the group on the dance floor. The party had moved into full swing, and it appeared that some others had brought some fortification for their punch.
David and Micah returned to their table as the time for the end of the year arrived. Micah rose and got another punch and some New Year’s favors.
David lifted his eyebrow. “Just punch. I swear,” Micah said. “I got thirsty from the dancing.” They sat and watched the dance floor.
“Last dance. Last dance before midnight,” the DJ announced.
“May I,” Micah said, extending his hand.
David and Micah wended their way to the area set out as the dance floor. The song was Mariah Carey’s I Can’t Live (If Living Is Without You), and a decision point had come. Micah reached around David and drew him in.
“I guess that means you lead,” David said with a grin on his face. They closed the distance between them, rested their heads on each other’s shoulders and moved slowly to the rhythm of the music. They didn’t hear the reaction around them, as some couples drifted away from where they were, while others, after a glance at them, continued in place. At the end of the dance, the DJ put on Auld Lang Syne, which started everyone singing. As the last notes died away, Micah took David’s face in his hands and kissed him – deeply and passionately. There would be no question in the dormitory, and probably at Walla Walla College, about Micah’s sexual orientation. Wrapped up in each other, they didn’t hear some of the angry murmurs, nor see the curious glances. Nor did they notice the few who seemed to accept what they were doing.
* * * * *
It was about one when they got to the dorm. The common room was empty; most students were still out on Christmas break. A few pop cans littered the coffee tables that fronted the low Danish-style couches. Micah went to the pop machine and bought two fresh Cokes.
A blond-wood upright piano sat in the corner of the room. Micah led David over to it. “I want to play something for you,” Micah said as he sat at the piano, paused, took a breath and began to play. David didn’t recognize the piece.
A few minutes later, Micah laid his fingers on the keyboard for the last notes, then looked up at David. “It’s Bach – one of his Sinfonias at love-song tempo.”
“It was beautiful,” but David didn’t understand why it was so important for Micah to play the piano at one in the morning. And then he found out.
“I wrote some lyrics for it – a song. Dedicated to you.” Micah raised his Coke can and clinked it against David’s, took a sip and set it on the coaster on the piano. He began to play – in a slower tempo this time – and in his clear voice sang:
You told me that I shouldn’t love you,
You told me that I should leave you,
You said you’d only hurt me,
You said that it’s time to move on
You said the time for us is done
That I no longer need you
But your eyes said something else
And I cannot, I will not let us part
What you did to help me
Is in the past and now is over.
It’s time to move to tomorrow and then on
You are my light. I love you.
You’ll give me the life I’ve wanted
You are all I ever dream of
and I want to give you my love
I know that you love me
I know you’ve seen how I’ve changed
Now, let me into your life
And let us be forever together
I want our lives together
From now and ever more, forever
together to become as one
Is what I want to live for
With you as my beloved,
as my joy of life
You are the life that I long for
You are the one that I want beside me
From now until forever
I know that you love me too
I see it in your eyes
That we should be as one and we should be to each other
forever together true
David’s eyes were shiny when Micah finished the last few notes of the song. “You wrote that?”
“No, Bach did.”
“I mean the words, nitwit.”
“Yes.” Micah visibly reddened.
“Doubly beautiful,” he said, and he sat beside Micah on the piano bench, leaned over and kissed him fully, energetically and passionately on the lips.
“I still need to go home, but I’ll remember the song as I go to sleep.” David said with a yawn.
Classes began several days after the new year. David and Micah decided to study together at Merchant’s late in the afternoon after their first class; they had coffee and opened their books on the café table; in the evening they stopped by McDonald’s before heading for Micah’s dorm in David’s Civic.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come home with me?” David asked as Micah was about to close the car door.
“I’d better not. I have a paper to work on tomorrow plus a test to study for. Besides, I want to face my dorm mates – on my own. I feel I may have caused an earthquake, and I need the aftershocks to keep me close to reality. There probably will be some ugly ones.”
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
“I’d love that. But it’s not a good idea. Go home. Good night. I love you. Drive safely, really safely,” Micah said and leaned in and gave David a quick kiss on the lips.
As David drove back to his apartment through the evening streets of Walla Walla, he couldn’t help but admire how well Micah had handled the “official” coming out – despite the intoxication. He pulled up in front of his house, unlocked the door and climbed the stairs to his apartment. He stripped, brushed his teeth and climbed into his bed – with a full erection and fond memories of their kiss and parting.
The phone rang at the apartment too early for David the next morning. “I survived,” Micah’s voice said. “I got a few scurrilous remarks this morning at breakfast, but most of the dorm didn’t do anything. It’s a good thing we don’t have a bunch of football-team-sized guys at Walla Walla College, though.”
“Good. But you’ve only been up a few hours. The storm hasn’t had time to gather.”
“Don’t worry, but I’m counting on you if I need you.”
“Call if you need me.”