Palouse by vwl
Back to Endicott – February 1996
A Month Later
And the question is, was i more
than i am now?
I happily have to disagree;
I laugh more often now, I cry more often now,
I am more me
– Peter Bjorn and John
“I think we need to go up to Endicott some weekend and tell my parents that I want to go to Whitman next year.”
“I heard ‘we’, so is that the only thing you’re going to tell them?” David asked, with concern in his voice.
Micah grinned. “The rest I’m going to show them.” He kissed David warmly on the lips.
“Are you sure you want me there? You do have to ask them to keep supporting you, you know.”
“How can I show them if you’re not there? I can’t hide my feelings for you. They’re going to find out soon enough if they don’t know already from Vice President Asher. I think Dad will be okay, and I think he will continue to help me financially despite Mom if she can’t be convinced. She may not like me being gay, but I think she’ll still help.”
“This I’ve got to see.”
“You will. I assure you, luv. It will be interesting.”
“‘May we live in less interesting times’ is what the Chinese proverb should have said. In fact, I’ll take boring times.”
“You know you like the challenge, David.” Micah grinned and kissed him on the cheek and let his tongue flick at David’s ear.
“The problem is that the consequences affect both you and me.”
“Not seriously. We’ll work our way through this no matter what happens.”
“I don’t want to see you hurt.” You’re still fragile and delicate, David thought.
“I am not fragile,” Micah said.
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“It’s my Navajo side.” I gambled and hit, Micah thought. Lucky guess.
* * * * *
“Hi, Mom,” Micah said into the telephone. “Can you handle a couple of visitors this weekend?”
“Of course, Micah, we look forward to it.”
“I have some news.”
“Can you tell me now?”
“Mom, I want to tell you in person.”
After he hung up, Micah thought with relief that the college must not have called his parents about his meeting with Vice President for Student Affairs Asher. So she didn’t know about his relationship, let alone the testy office visit at the college.
Later that afternoon, Micah and David were at the apartment’s kitchen table, books open for studying. When they’d both reached a rest break, Micah, said, “So. This is the meet-the-parents weekend.”
David jerked his head up.
“We’ll take your car,” Micah continued. “Yours is more reliable than a crappy pickup.”
David looked at him without speaking for a moment. “This weekend, huh? Well, I might be available. But I’m thinking, maybe it’s not me you’re inviting as much as my car – and my great driving talents. First Seattle, now Endicott. And your crappy pickup is only crappy because you won’t spend any of your savings on it.
“A chauffeur is all I’m good for, I guess.” David affected a pout. “I did drive by your house in another one of your excursions, as I recall, so maybe going again might be doable.”
“You don’t have to come, luv, even though I said you had to.”
“I want to come, I think. If I’m there, it will be more interesting, at least. I’ll be at your side, and there may be fireworks.”
“That’s what scares me shitless, but I have to do this now. With you there and a couple of very public kisses from me, I won’t have to say a word, will I?”
“You might want to think some more about how you want to make an announcement, but that’s up to you. I’ll wear body armor, in any case.”
“Does that mean a jockstrap instead of boxers?”
“No, a cup.”
“Do I get to drink out of that cup?” Micah asked with a fake leer. “I’ll furnish the coffee; you furnish the –”
“My God, I’m in love with a pervert. You don’t go into things without passion.”
“Come here, luv, let’s take a coffee break; I want a cup.”
Micah didn’t mean Starbucks.
* * * * *
They were on their way by 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, stopping for coffee and a snack-to-go at Merchant’s. Micah became increasingly quiet the farther they drove north and east, climbing slowly into the Palouse. In the lower, warmer valleys, new, brilliant spring-green wheat pushed through the stubble of the previous year, making the rolling land a patchwork of new green on the flats and winter brown on the bordering hills that framed the valleys they drove through. David reached across and grasped Micah’s hand, trying to pass some of his confidence through his fingers into Micah.
They climbed the hills into Dayton with its colorful Victorian houses and then followed U.S. 12 until turning off onto State Route 127. That took them down a steep canyon to the Snake River, which they crossed at Central Ferry State Park. As they passed the park entrance, Micah suggested they stop for a picnic.
“Let’s not,” David responded, feeling a bit of exasperation. “It will only delay the reckoning. Plus, it’s 3 p.m.”
“But the park is beautiful at this time of year.”
“So are you, and my road to you leads straight ahead.”
Micah knew he had lost the argument even before it began. They took the canyon up to the Palouse country itself and then dropped down into a crossroads called Dusty, where they turned left onto SR 26, then right toward Endicott and St. John. The distance was only about 90 miles from Walla Walla, but the twists and turns made for a long trip.
A few miles past Endicott they crossed the Palouse River and then turned off the main road and headed toward the Kingman farm. They drove past the white picket fence that enclosed the large yard. In the background, the porch furniture had been covered for the season. East of the yard, they drove up the driveway and pulled onto the graveled parking area. David turned off the key. They sat in David’s Civic for a few moments, listening to the tick of the engine cooling, then opened the door and climbed out.
By this time the kitchen door had opened and a troop of Kingmans and two barking dogs appeared, just as they had done so many years before when Micah first arrived – only they were all older now.
Micah waited for David to come around the car and then went up to Betty, Stan, Maria, Kat and Ricardo, who came up and gave him hugs. Hugs completed, Micah took a deep breath and let it out slowly, as he did at his entrance on a concert stage. “You remember David from Spokane?” He asked. David shook hands all around.
David and Micah stood side by side, Micah acting hesitant. He then took David’s hand and said: “David is my boyfriend.”
Betty frowned sharply, Stan looked pensive, but Micah’s siblings’ reaction could be described as “eyebrows raised.” A frost had settled on the welcoming environment, though.
Well, that went well. Maybe I should have waited until we were leaving, Micah thought. He looked into David’s eyes and saw only sympathy, and David’s lips formed a hidden kiss. That was enough to restore some of Micah’s confidence.
Micah’s siblings picked up their luggage, and Micah put his arm around his mother’s waist and led her to the kitchen door. But the frost that had formed outside at their arrival followed them into the kitchen. Betty offered them iced tea, and soon they all were sitting at the kitchen table, glasses in front of them, trying to make conversation.
As if a light switch had been flipped, Betty suddenly warmed, seemingly casting aside her gloom. “Well, what’s the big news that brings you home?” she asked, smiling, hoping that there was some news besides her son’s boyfriend.
“I have an opportunity to go to Whitman next year,” Micah answered. “I’ve gotten some scholarship money, and I’ve gotten a tutoring job in the music department. It’s an opportunity to graduate from a far better college.” Micah did not mention that he was playing the violin, and David wondered why.
“You’re 20; you don’t need our permission,” Stan observed.
“But, I still need your help, Dad – financially. If you can help me as much as you’ve done at Walla Walla College, I’ve…we’ve figured I can make it work. Even though Whitman’s more expensive, I’ve found enough other support, plus I can dig deeper into my savings.” There was no immediate response from Betty or Stan, and Betty looked sharply at David. Micah said finally: “Please think about it tonight and tomorrow.”
Betty’s ears had perked up at one thing in Micah’s request: the tutoring job in the music department. “You’re tutoring violin?” she asked.
“Yes, and I’m playing again, Mom. I will be playing in a quartet at the Whitman music department if I go there,” Micah said with obvious enthusiasm. “And the Walla Walla Symphony said they might like me to solo for them.”
“Your mom and I will talk about your request tonight, son. We know that Whitman is a better school, education-wise, but I know your mother will be concerned about your moral education,” Stan said as he looked over at his wife.
Micah decided that he would not tell his parents that he effectively had been asked to leave Walla Walla College because of his “moral” choice. He didn’t want to raise that issue if his parents were willing to provide him some support at Whitman. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, Micah believed in this case. He knew Whitman had a relatively conservative student body, but compared to Walla Walla College, the student body was a free-love, antichrist group of people who tolerated the gay lifestyle.
What could he say about Walla Walla College to his parents? If asked, he could say he had worked for his grades but felt no intensity towards studies – that he was becoming an automaton, regurgitating lessons onto test sheets. Until David came along, he was drifting in a stream, without direction, taking life as it came to him – and passing him by. If he forsook David, he could probably stay at Walla Walla College and continue to suppress a good part of his life: his music. At this time, however, forsaking David was out of the question. He hoped it would be so at any time of his life.
“Is anybody hungry yet? Shall I start dinner?” Betty asked, changing the subject and breaking the mood that was threatening to get too serious.
“That would be wonderful. Thank you,” David said. Betty looked perturbed.
“Yes, I’m hungry,” Micah chimed in.
“I made a light supper because I didn’t know when you would get here or whether you’d be very hungry. Tomorrow, Greg’s coming up from Pullman, and we’ll have a big fried-chicken dinner with all the fixings.”
Soon, they were all sitting around the kitchen table with bowls of lentil soup, coleslaw and home-made bread and butter. David was the first to praise: “This is wonderful. Thank you.” It was the right thing to say – and the wrong thing – because it reminded Betty of David’s presence – something she would have avoided if she could.
“Thanks, Mom,” Micah said, and his siblings chimed in with compliments and thank yous.
As the dinner progressed, Betty noticed the looks of love passing between Micah and David, the casual touches between them and their hands placed on top of one another. She wished that she’d made them sit on opposite sides of the table.
Betty’s attitude began to cast a pall over the dinner despite how good the food was. She simply remained silent, planning what she was going to say to her son and his “friend,” her face showing a grim determination. Stan tried to compensate for his wife’s silence, carrying the conversation. They continued with a dessert of peach pie and ice cream, along with coffee, in the music room.
“I’m going to put David in Greg’s bed, if that’s okay,” Micah announced as the last of the dishes was being pulled from the table. Betty didn’t like the idea, but there were twin beds in Micah’s and Greg’s old room, and both were currently empty with Greg being in Pullman. She would have preferred, of course, that David sleep in the living room – or in the barn. Her lips curled in a smile at that last thought.
Life went out of the conversation fairly soon thereafter.
“Anyone want to play some Hearts?” Stan asked.
“Sure,” David answered, and there were nods from the others, except Betty.
“I think I’ll go upstairs and read awhile, instead,” Betty said.
The mood in the room lightened perceptibly after Betty left the room.
“I’m sorry,” Stan said, looking at David, “she’s not feeling well about this. I’m sure you understand.”
“It’s okay,” David said.
“Deal, then,” Stan commanded. “What’s holding you up?” He had a grin on his face.
David was happy that he was able to dump the queen of spades on Micah twice and then shot the moon, winning the first game easily. He gloated too much, because in the second game the others ganged up on him, giving him the queen of spades three times and lots of hearts.
“Unlucky cards,” David lamented.
“And it was skill when you won?” Micah sneered with a smile.
“After that arrogant statement, I’m going to bed,” Micah announced, assembling the cards into a neat pile and putting them on the mantel. He rose and gave his father a warm hug good night, kissed his younger siblings on their foreheads, took David’s hand, and led him up to the bedroom.
David and Micah fished their shaving kits out of their bags, took their toothbrushes out and walked down the hall to the bathroom. They slept in separate beds.
The next morning passed quickly as Micah gave David a tour of the farm, including a ride on the tractor out to the far corner of the property, with David standing on the three-point hitch. On the way back, Micah stopped on the farm road above Micah’s sanctuary, turned the key off and led David down the path at a run into his special place. It wasn’t music that Micah played that afternoon, except the music of the heart and the body.
It took Micah 30 seconds after arriving at the bottom of the hollow to have his clothes off, and in another 30 seconds he had David’s clothes off, both piled on the rock as a cushion and an insulator. It was cold and hard– and it was hot and hard– both at the same time.
“Are your intentions honorable, suh?” David asked as his boxers were pulled down.
“Of course they’re honorable. I want to honor this member with my best behavior.” David gasped as Micah’s soft mouth wrapped itself around his erection. He drew his fingers through Micah’s raven hair and along his pony tail in a series of caressing motions.
Micah pushed David down onto the rock where they had sat several months earlier, and David flipped Micah around so he could reach Micah’s erection. They knew each other now, and they knew the signs of pleasure and of urgency and of consummation, which came rapidly. After their final moans, Micah switched his body around so that he could give David a long, deep kiss, allowing a “frontage” soft meeting of their genitals, the feelings of a few minutes before migrating into the memory of their bodies.
“Wow,” David said when he came up for air. “The only thing missing is a cushion for the rock – and a blanket or three.” He wrapped his heels around Micah’s back. “I love you, Bright Eyes.”
“I love you, too.” Micah rolled them both onto their sides. “However, I have a feeling that we shouldn’t test Mom’s hospitality too much.”
“She didn’t look as if she was a happy hostess.”
“Unfortunately, yes. I have a feeling that we will have words sometime this weekend.”
“We’re doing the right thing,” Micah said, reassuringly. “I believe it.”
David drew Micah in for a long kiss. “I’ll suffer whatever I have to. It’s your life that’s affected.”
“Thank you, luv. I appreciate that.” They stayed clinging to each other for another few minutes. “I suppose we’d better get back. Dad’ll send another tractor out to find us if we’re gone too long.” The two young men slipped their clothes back on, linked hands and climbed the trail out of the sanctuary.
David balanced himself on the three-point hitch and put his arms this time around Micah’s waist to steady himself, managing to get in a couple of tweaks in the crotch as the ride went on.
Micah drove the tractor under the shed roof. The only sign that anything had happened earlier was the high color in David’s normally Scottish-rose cheeks and the plumpness of Micah’s crotch area – nothing that those who didn’t know them well would notice. Micah gave David a peck on the lips as they left the tractor shed. That peck was noticed from the kitchen window – with a frown – by Betty. She fled to her room to avoid having to confront David in front of her son.
* * * * *
“I’m going to tell him that he has to leave. And leave now!” Betty knew it was the right decision for Micah and the Kingman family. It was just plain wrong for two men to lie together. That’s really what this came down to, wasn’t it? She would figure out the rest. One gay son was more than enough.
She decided she would check on dinner and then tell David to leave. The kitchen was empty when Betty went through the back door. She was glad to see that Kat, who had come in from her home in Ritzville for the weekend, had started dinner, carving the chicken into pieces and putting them in buttermilk to tenderize. Kat had also peeled some potatoes, cut them up and left them in a cold-water pan, ready to be cooked for dinner. Betty could hear Kat in the den, along with Stan and Micah. And then she heard David.
That was more than she could stand; she stormed into the living room and up to a startled David. “I want you to leave,” she said sharply.
“If that’s what you want, I will,” David said, rising. Micah rose with him.
“No, he’s not leaving,” Stanley said. “I had one son leave in unhappiness, and I won’t have another.”
Betty glared at Stanley as if he were intruding into her domain. “Stanley, I want to speak with you. Right now!” She turned and disappeared down the hall into the den and waited for Stanley. She slammed the door after he entered.
David and Micah sat, trying not to listen to the sharp noises that emerged from the hallway. David finally got up, went up to Micah and Greg’s bedroom, stuffed his clothes into a couple of bags, went back downstairs and took them to his car. Micah was right behind him, carrying two of his. They went back into the house to get the rest of their bags and the boxes holding some of the things that Micah wanted to take back to Walla Walla.
They started to carry their second and last load out to the car when Stanley stopped them, putting his hand on David’s arm. “You’re not leaving,” he said forcefully.
“I think it would be best,” David said.
“No, Betty will have to learn to live with this. She can. She needs to grow up. Last time, when Robert was here, she walked out, went to her sister’s, and didn’t come back till the day he and Sam were leaving. This time, I think she’ll stay. She’s in the kitchen with Kat finishing dinner. That’s an improvement. Dinner will be a bit tense, but bear with it, David. And you, too, Micah.”
Before anyone could say anything more, the front door banged open with the arrival of Greg and his girlfriend, Rachel, to join them for dinner. Greg went off to kiss his mother hello as Stanley led David, Rachel and Micah to the living room. Greg knew to keep Rachel separate from his mother. Betty believed that, on paper, this girlfriend was everything that a mother would look for in a daughter-in-law – she was active in the church, she was polite to a fault, she had finished high school – but Betty didn’t like her. There was something cling-y about her; there was a note of desperation in her attraction to her son. Betty didn’t think she brought anything to the relationship with Greg. They think they’re adults, she would say to herself, but they’re just playing adult. They don’t know what adult is. And that goes for Micah and that David, too.
Greg returned from the kitchen shortly thereafter, a bewildered look on his face. “I think I’m missing something here,” he said, looking closely at everyone in the living room.
“You remember when Robert and Sam stopped by for a visit?”
“Yeah…oh,” he said, as he looked at Micah and David. “Oh, shit. And Mom’s leaving again?”
“Not quite,” Stanley said, “but close. She’s still here this time.”
“What’s happening here?” Rachel asked, not understanding any of the subtext of the conversation.
“Nothing, sweetheart. I’ll tell you later,” Greg said, but he knew that he would not say anything about what was truly going on unless he had to.
They began a conversation about topics that none of them would remember a couple of hours later; there was no energy in their interaction. The sounds from the kitchen in the background – the bangs, the doors closing – sounded louder than they needed to be, and the purpose of the conversation seemed to be to drown them out.
Betty was taking her feelings out on the dinner fixings as an antidote to the anger and uncertainty that had been filling her mind. The chicken pieces were being pounded flat, something that would never have even been done normally. The vegetables suffered the wrath of a sharper, more persistent knife. Kat stood back and watched her mother’s intensity and decided that her best course was to stay out of the way as much as possible. She finally retreated to the dining room, where she began to set the table.
David jumped up to ask if he could help – his way to escape from the falseness of the living-room conversation. He was quickly joined by Micah. The three of them were able to get the table set in a few minutes. Kat squeezed the arm of each of the two men and returned through the swinging door to the kitchen.
The meal was wonderful – all Micah’s favorites, but it wasn’t soon enough for the meal to be finished and the change of one tense scene for another.
After Kat, Micah and David cleared the table and the kitchen, everyone ended up in the living room, except Betty, who had gone upstairs again to her bedroom. Relieved of the dampening cloud, the conversation quickly grew boisterous and joyful as the siblings recounted some of their growing-up adventures, with Stanley either taking his brunt of the embarrassment or turning a ‘you-did-what?’ face as he realized some of the events that he missed but probably should not have.
In one of the few lulls in the conversation, Greg asked Micah, “What are you doing with your music?”
Micah turned to look at David, a warm expression on his face, before he turned to Greg answered: “I’m playing again.”
David’s mien showed pride, just like the time that Micah made it known publicly that he was gay. For David, his ex-protégé had grown up and become his own man, as David had always hoped.
The exchange of looks and the expression on David’s face did not go unnoticed by Kat. “Play us something,” Kat said.
“If David will, too. We’ve been working on some duets.” Micah looked over at David.
“I’ll just go upstairs and get our instruments,” David offered as he got up. As David walked up the stairs and back to Micah’s bedroom, he smiled to himself in amusement at the number of back-and-forths of luggage there had been in the day that he’d been in Endicott. He retrieved the instruments along with Micah’s bow case and the music they needed and headed back downstairs. They had left the Guarneri back in Walla Walla for safe keeping.
Back in the living room, he carried the cases over to Micah and set them down at the end of the couch. Micah pulled David down by the neck and planted a chaste kiss on his lips. There was a slight pause in the conversation, a leap second or two, and then it resumed as if it had never been interrupted, as if what had happened between Micah and David had been fully absorbed, as if the love that flowed between Micah and David in that brief kiss was too deep not to be accepted. Well, Greg thought, at least Rachel doesn’t need to be told what’s going on.
They opened their cases and readied their instruments, moving off to the end of the room near the piano where there was more space to play and where they set their music sheets on the stands that had been there since Micah first performed for the family. Kat went to the piano and played an A, so they could tune the instruments, and there were a few minutes of dissonance before the violin and cello were ready.
Micah smiled at David and nodded sharply as he started into the Boccherini piece that he had used to change his relationship with David. In a minute, for Micah there was no one else in the room except David. It was he and his violin and the sounds of a cello – and the memories of that evening at David’s. All living beings, including David, were absorbed into this 300-year-old conversation with Luigi Boccherini. When the piece was done, Micah heard the applause, a clap of the hands that wakened him from a trance. David was looking deeply into Micah’s eyes. They continued to play other pieces for another half hour.
Then, Micah asked Kat if she was willing to play the piano in a Beethoven trio. It was a piece that he had hoped his mother would be willing to play with them that weekend. He knew his mother would do well sight-reading the piece. He knew Kat had played the piano for many years – she did have a piano teacher as a mother and she taught music in the Ritzville public schools – but he didn’t know how well she would do. It didn’t really matter, finally, he thought. They weren’t performing. Instead, what was significant was that this was family, making music together, enjoying each other and who they were, and that David was part of that.
Kat was only politely reluctant as Micah handed her the music. They played the first movement, with Kat’s piano only getting stronger as they continued. Stanley, Greg and Rachel and the young Kingmans wouldn’t let them stop there, even if they had wanted to stop, so they finished the piece.
“Now, you finish off the night with a duet with Kat,” David commanded. So Kat and Micah, sister and brother, played a sonata by Mozart, a piece they had played before when Micah and she were still living at home. Micah appreciated Kat’s effort but knew his mother played the piece so much better.
Upstairs, Betty cried as she heard first the duets, the trio and then the piano-violin duet – the same piece she had played with Micah many years ago. Why, she asked herself…why did life have to be so cruel? Why had God tested her so deeply?
When Stanley came up later, she had fallen asleep, but Stanley saw and felt that her pillow was wet – with tears. Somehow, he saw the fact of tears as opening up the possibility of reconciliation with Micah – and, with luck, David.
Come With Me, David – February 1996
The Next Morning
It was the next morning, shortly after breakfast – breakfast that Stan and Kat had made for the family, as Betty stayed away. They were finishing their coffee when Betty appeared at the kitchen door.
“Come with me, David.” It was an order from Betty, not a request, and it was said with a determination that brooked no compromise. She immediately left by the kitchen door. David contemplated for a few seconds how to react. Stan was about to intervene, but David waved him off. “I’m ready for this,” he said. “It has to be done if there is any hope for peace between Micah and Betty.”
Betty was waiting for him on the driveway with a stern, determined look on her face, pacing, each step a gravel crunch. Betty had been barely polite with David since their arrival. She had bristled when Micah insisted they sleep together in his and Greg’s room. She had stalked out of the room when Micah had unthinkingly given David a light kiss in the kitchen.
David’s had admonished Micah to “cool it” for a few days. It was only going to be for a short time, he had said. But the admonition didn’t hold long enough, David realized.
David wasn’t dreading this confrontation; he knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience, but he was ready for it. As he started out the door, he saw that Betty had started down the lane that led to the fields, her jeans-clad legs striding forcefully, expecting David to follow her. Her sharp-paced walk had carried her almost to the end of the cottonwoods that bordered the road to the wheat fields before David caught up to her. They walked side by side, Betty with a look of grim determination on her face, David with a look of questioning.
They had walked a quarter of a mile before Betty finally stopped, turned to David, looked him tightly in the face and said: “I don’t like this.”
“What?” David knew what, but he wasn’t quite ready for the turn of events.
“You know damn well what.” Betty said, though the curse word didn’t ring natural to her or to David. Swearing was not normal for her, and what she said caused her to hesitate. Her emotion had driven the word out of her mouth, but she became visibly uncomfortable as she listened to herself.
The hesitancy was enough for David. “You don’t like me loving your son?”
Betty turned and started walking briskly again across the farm road, now thankfully warmed by the sun. The farm road ran between the field and the trees that lined the riverbed below them on the right. David had to rush once again to catch up.
“I already have one son who’s a homosexual. I will not have another. Do you understand me?” Each of the syllables of the question was spat out as if a metronome was keeping time.
David did not fail to notice how Betty used the term ‘son’. She spoke of Robert and Micah as if they were blood brothers David’s realization throttled the angry retort he had started to make. Betty had had the perfect opportunity to disown her adoptive son, and she hadn’t. Even though Micah had walked away from everything she wanted for him, she referred to him as her son. There was no hint of any other relationship but mother and son. David realized then the depth of her love for Micah – something that matched his own love – but he had not been prepared for it.
To David, it was as if Betty thought a split between David and Micah would recreate a “normal” world again for her prodigal son. What Betty considered normal and what David did were clearly at odds.
“I want you to leave,” Betty continued, “and I want you to leave quietly before this goes any further. I want Micah to have a normal life, and I want him to take up his violin again. If you leave quietly this morning, he won’t get hurt as much. I’ll tell him you had a phone call from your parents and you had to leave for Spokane.”
“Even if I did leave, you must realize that Micah would follow me. He would be at my folks’ house almost at the time that I got there, if I were to go there.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do know that. We are deeply in love and committed to one another.”
“Well, you can still stay friends, but that’s all.”
David began laughing. “You don’t really believe–” His words were interrupted by a hard slap from Betty’s hand. David’s hand went immediately to his cheek, and tears smarted from his eyes.
“Oh, God, what did I do? Please forgive me.” Betty pulled David’s hand away to look at the red spots that were rising on his cheek. “I’m so sorry.” She looked at David, who had tears in his eyes – not tears from the slap but tears of sorrow. Betty had tears in her eyes, too – from the awful chagrin she felt at expressing her anger so violently. But, her anger had dissipated into embarrassment.
David took a deep breath and made a decision. It was going to be a long shot, but he knew instinctively that it would work. He turned and continued down the farm road. “I want you to come with me now. I have someplace to show you,” he said to a shaken Betty. They walked silently for another quarter mile, where a small trail led down from the road to a hollow that ended where the creek dropped into the Palouse River. David marched at a stiff, determined pace, feeling secretly avenged that Betty was straining to keep up. Once the trail reached the creek bed, it turned upstream. About a hundred feet later, David climbed up on a large rock and reached back to help Betty up.
David sat, then drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them. His auburn hair shone in the clear sunshine as he pushed it back from his face. He turned to Betty, who had seated herself stiffly beside him. “Micah brought me here almost a year ago. This is his amphitheater. This is his personal place, his sanctuary. This is where he plays his violin for God, because God produced a place of amazing acoustics in this little hollow.
“Micah said I was the first person he had ever brought to his place. He was giving me the honor of coming into his sanctuary just as he let me come into his heart – after a lot of soul searching and maybe even some prayer. This place was, he said, where our hearts could be fused in peace and tranquility in front of God.”
“But God would never approve of him and you together.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Betty. I’m not a religious person; Micah is. But I know that God would never disapprove of love. The New Testament is a tribute to love, acceptance and forgiveness.”
It was time, David thought, to go a different direction, to try a different tactic; he didn’t want a theological discussion. “I want to tell you a story, Betty. It’s about a Student and a Boy, a Boy was raised on a farm similar to this and in a town similar to Endicott.” David scanned Micah’s sanctuary with his eyes. He didn’t know exactly where this was going, but he had an idea, and he had to speak.
“The Boy was talented to a fault; he played a musical instrument brilliantly for his age and had an intense internal sense of dedication. He loved playing and practicing. He loved learning new pieces of music. He and the composer would meet in a place such as this.” David’s arm made a sweep to encompass where they were sitting.
“The Boy grew better and better, but soon the life in music began to consume him. He had left no time for everything else, for balance in his life.
“Maybe it was hormones, maybe he was just growing up, but the Boy began to realize that he was missing something in his life. He had overcommitted to his music.
“What had made the Boy so special was the innate talent plus that commitment he’d made to it. He’d dedicated himself to his music. Now, the talent remained, but that commitment began to suffer. And he found that without full commitment, his playing not only wasn’t as brilliant, but he wasn’t enjoying it as much. The Boy wasn’t happy.
“Music had been the focal point of the Boy’s life, and behind him, encouraging him to greater challenges and successes, trying to prevent any distractions, trying to make him realize his greatness, his mother continued to push his career in music. Though maybe she saw he was troubled, she ignored what she might have seen because she wanted it all for him. The boy began to resent the mother’s pushing, and he was becoming confused and increasingly rebellious. The Boy tried to talk about it, but never had the conviction or words to say how he was feeling or to penetrate his mother’s zeal and ambition. She didn’t understand his need for balance in his life. She was euphoric at his accomplishments and couldn’t see past them.
“So, confused, upset, getting no empathy at home other than pressure to continue to grow and perform as a musician, the Boy finally snapped. He couldn’t stay committed to his music against the seductive pressures of friends, girls, sex, drugs, basketball and the like, and the music he made wasn’t as good without full commitment. The Boy reached a point where he couldn’t satisfy his mother, couldn’t satisfy himself, couldn’t stay committed to his music, and so he made a decision: he’d give up his music and enjoy being a young teenage male. This wasn’t an easy or happy decision. He made it, however, and he suffered the consequences. Without his music, with having to contend with being sent away for his final year of high school, the Boy lost something of himself. The Boy lost the spark that had made him the person he’d been. After his high-school graduation, he returned to his parents’ farm, but with no ambition, no drive, no interest in the future – mainly lethargy. He was simply drifting, giving up on his talent.
“HeHThe Boy was not happy. He ended up going to a college that was pushed on him, taking classes he wasn’t interested in and had no reason to take. The Boy was basically living day to day, letting the currents take him wherever they would.
“That was the situation when a Student that he knew from years earlier encountered the Boy by happenstance on the streets of a college town. The Boy was using his great musical talent to earn spending money, with his hat on the sidewalk in front of him: busking. The Boy believed he was content in this undemanding existence.”
The memory of a 10-year-old Micah on the street in Colfax when she was late that day years ago flashed through Betty’s mind. She remembered the tears of happiness at the sight of him playing his violin, oblivious to his surroundings. Tears started to well in her eyes as she sat next to David, but these were different tears.
David went on. “It was the first time in a long time that the Boy was faced with someone to remind him of his past – and to remind him of the gap between what he was capable of and what he was doing then – on that morning, on that sidewalk. It was the first time since the disappointment that he had caused his Mother that he really felt the gap. He knew that his Mother had sublimated her own lost ambitions in the Boy’s career. And he knew the cost that she had endured. He didn’t know, sadly, that a good Mother will accept what her son had become, no matter what that is and no matter how trying acceptance might be, because that is the duty of a good parent.”
David looked at Betty to see that she had closed her eyes in concentration, nodding her head. “The Student, however, didn’t have to accept what the Boy had become. Even though the Student had long loved the Boy, he loved him partly for his extraordinary potential and partly for what he is.
“On his part, the Boy had mixed feelings about the Student. The Student was a link to his days of glory – but also to the disturbing things of his past. The Boy knew that the Student had been witness to the beginnings of the downfall – to the days when he still thought he could get by his talent alone.
“But the Boy maybe didn’t realize that the Student loved him in the past, and even on that sidewalk – in the vulnerable and unhappy state that the Boy was in – the Student still loved him. The Boy knew also that the Student loved boys and not girls.” David looked over at Betty to see her reaction. But Betty seemed more intent on listening to the tale that David was telling.
“You see, the Boy was starved for real love. He’d had admiration and adoration – maybe worship – but real, romantic love had eluded him. The Boy had had lots of casual acquaintances: people who did not understand the turmoil that the Boy had been through or was in the midst of.
“The Student did understand all that, and the Boy knew that the Student did.”
“The Mother and the Father understood, as well,” Betty said.
“Yes, they did. But the Boy’s relationship to his Mother and Father had been molded in a previous time. The Boy had fallen fast, but he couldn’t go home and ask forgiveness so that he could open a new relationship with his family.”
“But he didn’t have to ask forgiveness,” Betty said.
David smiled to himself, realizing he was on the right track. “The Boy didn’t know that. It was possible that the Boy might have remained forever in the undemanding, blank-white state that he was in.
“The Student presented him with a different dynamic – a dynamic of support and hope and unconditional love – something his parents could give him but something he could never ask of them, having been such a disappointment to them. The Student knew the Boy could go home, but the Boy didn’t and probably wouldn’t do so.
“The Student offered a new beginning. The Boy found a home with the Student, and their relationship grew into love and mutual support. The Boy started to shuck off self-doubt and grow into the person he had always wanted to be, using his art and talent. And when he was ready, when he was strong enough, he decided to go home again, taking the Student with him.”
David stopped. It was the end of his parable, his improvisation. There was silence except for the sound of the wind through the leafless trees and across the stubble of the wheat above them. David and Betty sat in the light breeze and the sun that cleansed some of the bitterness between them.
“I’m betraying Micah’s trust by bringing you here, Betty. I don’t think he would have brought you on his own. But to understand us, you need to understand the importance of this place. He told me he used to come out here with his violin and play for hours, all on his own, practicing and practicing. He said that in the music room he would learn the music. In his sanctuary, he would learn the composer. In his sanctuary, he could feel the presence of God.
“And then he stopped coming – for a number of years. Yesterday, he said he wanted to come back – to practice here again.”
“I knew he would eventually find himself,” Betty said.
“He said he would come, but only if I was with him.” David let this statement hang in the air, making sure that the silence afterwards held like a stop in music.
“Betty, I love Micah and he loves me. He’s finding his way in the world again, and he’s starting to reconstruct his life in music but in a different personal context – with me and a relationship that gets stronger by the day.”
They sat on the rock in silence side by side. An animal rustled in the brush; a hawk flew high overhead.
“I’m not leaving him, Betty.”
Betty pursed her lips, brushed the hair back away from her face with her hand and used the silence to think.
“He could stay at home temporarily until he came to his senses,” Betty said. “He could choose to resume his music. He could choose a woman to live his life with. Music and a family -- that’s one choice he could make.”
“That’s one choice you want him to make, of course, but you need to think if you will have anything but a small role in his music in the future. Your role in his music life ended in a bitter and maybe not repairable way – on both yours and his sides.” David responded.
”Another outcome if he came home to Endicott,” David continued, “is that he would fall into the rut of the past, resuming the life dedicated to short-term pleasure. Maybe he would knock up some girl and have children in an unhappy marriage. In this outcome, his love for you, though, would always carry an element of resentment, and probably without music.
“There is a second choice, Betty. You can accept our relationship, become part of his musical renaissance and become part of his life again. If you want Micah, happy, back in your life, Betty, you have to accept him as he is and me as part of the bargain. You can have Micah, his music and his grateful love, but you will have to accept us both together.
“If you don’t accept our relationship, then you likely will have lost Micah and his music and your ability to influence his genius.”
David looked across the ravine. “That’s where we stand, as I see it.”
They sat side by side, with the sun warm enough to put a sheen of sweat on their faces.
David continued: “I told Micah that I play Bach, but that he is a messenger of Bach. If you listen hard enough,” David said, “you can hear Bach in these rocks, which have absorbed his playing over the years. And Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.” David became silent again and cocked his head as if listening to Micah on his violin.
“Why does life have to be so difficult?” Betty said, aloud, but mostly to herself.
“Because relationships are difficult, and love is complicated. More so if the relationships and love are between two men.” David stood and reached down to help Betty to her feet.
“Would Micah mind if I stayed here, in his place, alone for a while? I’ll meet you back at the house.”
David got up. “I don’t think he would mind. I’m sure he wouldn’t.” David stood, climbed off the rock. “I’ll be back at the house. I’ll leave if you ask me. But understand: that will probably cost you your son.”
Betty sat and looked at this place that was a part of her son she knew nothing about. The bare cottonwoods hung over the creek bed and the trickle of water it held at this time of year. The basalt pillars on all sides of this sanctuary stood like walls of an auditorium, and she knew why Micah must have liked this place.
She remembered the small boy that had been obsessed with his music – so much so that Stan had to tell her that Micah needed to stop practicing and play some basketball with his brother Greg in order to get exercise. Then she saw the swing to the other side, where the music became incidental to his life, and he became a teenager in Endicott, and basketball and girls and temptation became his passions. She had thought it had been the hormones, and the phase would pass.
She hadn’t considered that maybe the imbalance from his earlier life had to be evened out. But the changes had torn into her heart. It is so rare that a parent has such a prodigy of a child, and seeing the extraordinary talent go to waste was more than she could take; especially her. For Betty, it was the next worst thing to seeing a child die before the parents did.
Before this weekend, she had reconciled herself to what she thought Micah had become: a college student working on a practical degree, his music probably in the past. She didn’t hate him – she was his mother, after all – but the love, though still great, did not burn as strongly in her, she thought.
She realized that part of her disappointment came from the loss of the career that she had sublimated into Micah. David’s remark about her career cut short had reminded her of some of her passion that came out as anger against Micah after his downfall. Yet Micah’s career in music was always her ultimate objective.
And now…and now she faced this horrible choice. She knew in her breast that David was right: if Micah were somehow persuaded to stay home, his energies would dissipate, followed by the erosion of any hope for a career in music. The embers of creativity would turn cold. She knew that. She knew the old friends would hover around him, like the hawks in the skies above, waiting for any sign of failing. The boys, now young men, who were his high-school buddies could be seen driving their large pickups through town in the early evening, parking them outside the two taverns where the clack of the pool games and the male alcohol hum and the sound of country music on the jukebox filled the evenings – until they went home, most of the time, to their young wives and children.
She knew local girls – some still in high school and some at her church – who only wanted to get married and were ready to lay their bodies down to achieve their goals – even if the consequence was a wanted or maybe an unwanted child. And there were women whose marriages already had fallen apart who needed a man to take on part of the burden of raising the children – women whose hoped-for careers had been cut short by pregnancies.
There were good women out there, but she knew that Micah would not be able to resist the other temptations of his home town; in his bitterness, he would search them out.
Could she face herself if what Micah became in his life was what he was at the end of his high-school years? If it was her pressures alone that would force him to come back to the farm – assuming she could even force him back in the first place? She knew the answer, but she was unwilling to admit it to herself.
The low, winter sun was dropping below the rim of the hollow as she drew herself up off the rock on which they had been sitting. She brushed the dust and dirt off the seat of her jeans and started back to the farmhouse. The trip was slower than the forced march out, and Betty took the time to ruminate over the last few hours with David and with herself.
She realized she was in the terrible parent quandary: how to reconcile the parent’s personal feelings about a potential mate for a son or daughter with what her child wants – in short, how to be neutral despite her personal feelings. She was in the quandary with Greg and Rachel, and now she faced the same issue with Micah and David.
Matthew 7:1 – February 1996
Later That Day
Shooed out of the kitchen earlier so that Betty could be alone and occupied with dinner, Kat finally left Greg and Rachel in the den, went back to the kitchen and asked if she could help, catching Betty staring into the blank faces of the kitchen cabinets.
“You can set the table,” Betty suggested, as she was startled out of her daze.
“No need. Micah and David are doing that.”
“Well, why don’t you mash the potatoes, while I make some gravy. I’ve got a bowl warming in the oven to put them in. And you can put the green beans in the other bowl in there.”
“Mom, are you okay?” Kat asked as she caught her mom’s face looking sad.
“No, no. Everything’s fine,” Betty said, putting on a cheery demeanor. But the smile on her face did not translate through to her eyes, and Kat noticed.
“It isn’t, Mom. I can see that.”
Tears rose in Betty’s eyes. “I…I almost… I told David to leave this house, yet I accepted Rachel here even though I don’t think she is good for Greg. But I realize that David is good for Micah. I’m so confused.”
The conversation was interrupted by Micah and Greg asking if they could help bring the serving dishes to the dining room. So the next few minutes were filled with the bustle of a large group of people getting ready to have a big farm dinner. The distraction allowed Betty to recompose herself.
The long dining-room table was nearly full again – for the first time since most of the Kingmans had been still living at home. It was a good feeling for Betty and Stan, and Betty asked if she could say grace.
They all joined hands, bowed their heads and waited. David held Micah’s hand on one side, and Stanley took Micah’s other. Kat held David’s other hand. It took Betty a few minutes to compose herself. “Father, we thank you for this food and for the people in this room. The Bible says ‘Judge not that ye be not judged,’ and I hadn’t realized the wisdom of those words until this afternoon. I ask you for the forgiveness that I have failed to extend to others. I ask that forgiveness so that we can enjoy the bounty that you have provided us this evening. Amen.”
David looked up at Micah, smiled and squeezed his hand. Betty looked at Rachel and then David, resting her gaze upon her son’s lover. David glanced at Betty, then looked her in the eye and smiled a silent thank you. She smiled back.
Dawn came with its long shadows across the eastern hills, intensifying the colors of the Palouse into postcard beauty. The air had cooled, and David sat on the porch in a robe. He had awakened a few minutes earlier and slipped on his outer shirt, his Levi’s and Greg’s robe before he descended the stairs and went out onto the porch, settling into one of the Adirondack chairs that always waited for someone to enjoy their comfort. David had shivered when he first came outside, but the sun warmed him enough for comfort. He didn’t have anything to do. He’d left his book in Micah’s and Greg’s room and didn’t want to disturb the household, so he sat and watched the passage of the sun rising at a low, winter angle across the early-morning hills.
He was deep in thought, and his attention broken only by the changing light on the hills, fields, trees and fences of the Kingman farm. He didn’t notice when Betty sat down on the chair next to his, handing him a cup of coffee, its steam showing in the cool air. She stared at this young man who had stolen her son’s heart and represented what was wrong with the world, but she knew that what David and Micah had developed between them was somehow not wrong, even though her religion and upbringing had said it was.
“I want to make peace,” she said, the sound of her voice breaking the morning silence.
David thought about her offer then nodded. He thought that maybe she really meant détente, but he instinctively knew that a quip in that regard would not get the conversation off to a good start. He accepted her statement as a sincere response to his and Micah’s relationship.
* * * * *
“Well, that was interesting,” Micah said as they were driving south from the Kingman farm.
“It was okay, Micah. It started pretty badly…”
“… but it turned out peaceful. Certainly, far more than I hoped for after that first night. The road from war to peace or détente was…what did you call it, ‘interesting’.”
“I’m still shaking inside.”
“Come shake against me,” David said as he pulled Micah to him. In 10 minutes, Micah was fast asleep with his head leaning on David’s shoulder.
A week later, a letter arrived from the Whitman’s Admission’s Office notifying Micah that he had been accepted into the college and been offered a scholarship. David was there when Micah opened the letter, and David was there to accept an extremely soft and sensuous kiss. Uncertainty over, Micah fell into David’s arms, and then the two Whitman students melted into each other for the next hour.
“We’re going to celebrate,” David said. “Much as I like you as you are, get showered and get dressed. We’re going out to dinner and champagne.”
In a half hour, they were on the road to Patit Creek Restaurant in Dayton, a town 33 miles away with a population of 2,500 persons. Patit Creek was an oddity. It was a fine French restaurant in the middle-of-nowhere, wheat country, tens of miles from any large city. It had, though, the good fortune of having many millionaire wheat farmers who had spent winter weeks in Paris and wanted a Parisian-type restaurant nearby.
David pulled out his fake ID and ordered Roederer champagne to start along with goose-liver pate and snails, followed by a Chateau Margaux with the steak and béarnaise sauce. A 1977 vintage Sandeman’s Port topped off the chocolate mousse. David winced as he looked at the bill, but figured his parents wouldn’t mind if he remembered to tell them why they were celebrating.
With his near-future settled, the remainder of the spring term went quickly for Micah. He virtually abandoned his dorm room, staying at David’s, whose roommate had virtually abandoned his bed for his girlfriend’s. Life was good. The last semester at Walla Walla College was good, his grades reflecting the renewed purpose in his life.
The summer would see the two young men in different places. David had a summer job in Spokane; Micah worked for his father. Though farm work didn’t allow regular days off, Micah spent those that he did have in Spokane at David’s welcoming home. He reestablished his fond relationship with David’s parents, who reciprocated. He hoped someday that David could be as welcome in Endicott, but he didn’t want to roil the waters yet. His mother needed time to accept David. Rather, his mother needed some time to accept David with Micah, and neither wanted to press the matter.
Classes at Whitman started at the end of August, shortly after Micah’s dawn-to-dusk harvest ordeal on one of the combines. Wheat prices were good, so Stanley was extra-generous with Micah, sending him off to Whitman with a few extra thousand dollars in the bank.
If Micah thought there would be any respite between the long hours of the wheat harvest and the start of school, he was mistaken. Well, the first day was long because it was with David – together in their top-floor apartment. One hour of that day was spent unpacking; the other hours were, well, used to get reacquainted, only to be rudely interrupted the next day by classes and their syllabi. The weekend was filled with the first string-quartet practice of the school year – a practice that was intensive and boded well for the future.
In the end, though, life was a duet between a violin and a cello, between Micah Kingman and David Stirling.