Learn to live with the rain! That was Robbie’s strong advice to me when I complained once again about the grayness that settled over Seattle as fall began. But Robbie made the learning easy. The rain acted as a signal for him, when we lay in bed, to pull me close. Light rain meant a soft arm across my chest and soft kisses and caresses that often turned into lovemaking—well, more than often. Heavy rain or a storm meant the full length of my body pulled into his, as if by doing so he could protect me against the elements. Moreover, it meant the full length of his erection pressed up against me as well, and it usually was followed by wild, impassioned love-making. With Robbie’s body as reward, it didn’t take me long to gain a greater appreciation of the rain, and I grew to look forward to the pelting of storms across the deck and up onto the window.
The storms outside were one thing; there was a different storm gathering in our world. Between Robbie and me, it seemed as if everything was in order, but there was another relationship in the house—between Alec and his father—that barely touched me, partly out of my choice and partly out of my work circumstances. One reason is that I was out of the condominium early in the morning for work and back later in the evening after Alec had gone to his room to do his homework. The fact that this other relationship in the same household barely touched me didn’t bother me. It saved me from having to deal with Alec and the memories his presence evoked in my mind—those memories that caused me from time to time to feel so trapped and guilty about my past.
At times, I tried to play at becoming an alternative father figure to Alec, and I thought my acting was pretty good, but the wounds to my psyche apparently could not be hidden, and nothing closed the distance between us. So much for my Academy Award, I thought ruefully.
The daily pattern of separation was blessedly broken by the trip to Boston.
I knew that Robbie would accept my invitation to go home to Boston with me even before I handed him the tickets. I didn’t know if I really wanted to go home with him, however, because I would have to face my mother with my sexual-orientation decision for the first time—a decision I had said nothing about.
I mused that maybe I could just introduce Mom and Robbie and disappear for the rest of the long weekend and let them figure things out for themselves. I grinned to myself at the fantasy of them wondering where the hell I had gone and wondering why I had pushed these two people together. Would it ever come out that Robbie was the one that was the love of my life, which is how I had announced to my mother the person coming with me? Where would Mom put Robbie to sleep if I had disappeared? The fantasy of putting Robbie and my mother in such a predicament, like two people marooned on an island, kept me amused for the start of the trip from Seattle to Detroit, the first leg on the way to Boston.
Unfortunately, my fantasy could not keep me going for the full weekend. The plane ride was both too short and too long—too short, because it would bring me face to face with what was left of my family, and too long because of all the hours in the air to think about what was going to happen.
I was so nervous when I got off the airplane that I didn’t realize that Robbie wasn’t right behind me. He had put his bag in the rack above some seats behind us, so he had to wait for the aisle to clear to get it. Meanwhile, I had joined the flow of passengers off the plane and down the tube to the terminal. There at the end, waiting, was the Mom I had known all my life, looking, it occurred to me once again, very little changed from when I was a child.
She gathered me into her arms, and we hugged. But Mom kept looking behind me at the people standing around or walking by, and I remembered why I had come. I turned, and Robbie was a couple of yards away, staying apart from our private moment. I beckoned him toward me, took his arm and pulled him up for the Great Introduction and Coming Out. Mom, however, kept looking beyond Robbie, as if not really seeing who I was with, not paying attention to Robbie at all even after I had introduced her to him. She just gave him a polite greeting and a firm handshake, reflecting her Bostonian upbringing: “Pleased to meet you, Rob.”
It dawned on me shortly that she was expecting to see the “love of my life” in the face of a young woman. I had to disabuse her of that—and probably of her thoughts of grandchildren to come.
“Mom!” I said, finally. She turned her full attention to me. “Rob is, um, the love of my life.” Mom mulled my statement over. I know from Robbie’s story that he was ready to get back on the plane and go back to Seattle—or even to the next destination of the flight we were on. I was beginning to feel the same way as I looked at her, until Mom, in her bemused way, started her merry laugh—a laugh that in my younger years would capture and suppress all the tears and fears that I was feeling. The laugh had always been warm and came from deep within her. It did this time, as well. It was a laugh that drew from her amazing ability to overcome the tragedies, sorrows and hidden places of her life and see something different. It was, as I remembered it from my youth, a healing laugh that made me ready to forget the past and turn to the next day. It was a laugh that accepted things as they were and recognized in them their inherent amusement rather than leaving them a target of anger or sadness. It was my mother at her most admirable.
And when she took Robbie in her arms and greeted him as if he were the bride to be, I knew an instant bond had developed between them. As the weekend went on, I saw the bond become something more than that—something becoming unbreakable even if I should no longer be involved with Robbie. Over that weekend Robbie and my mother gained a lifelong affection for each other: he became a second son and she the mother that he had lost.
Mom put her arms around both of our waists and led us to Baggage Claim, then to the parking lot. She handed me the keys to the car and started to get into the back seat, but Robbie insisted that she sit in front with me. “I see too much of him as it is,” he remarked as he opened the door for her, but I think there was a twinkle in his eye.
Boston and its automobiles stir my competitive juices, and I found myself driving from Logan Airport to Newton, with a Massachusetts attitude. Those polite Seattle drivers don’t know what competitive driving really means. Mom didn’t notice anything remarkable about my driving, but Robbie…well, he had his eyes closed the whole way, I think, and was hoping, I suspect, that the trip would be short. The trip was short, because I drove in a way to make it so. I think I was taking my nervousness about this trip out on the people of the State of Massachusetts.
Returning to one’s childhood home as an adult is a weird experience at any time, but especially when one is bringing home a future partner or spouse. Everything at home is familiar in a way, but it isn’t. My bedroom which had been turned into an office while I was in the Far East and then back into a bedroom when I was at home after my father’s passing was as I had left it months earlier—a combination of my teen-age refuge and a second guest room. I felt the same about coming home on my return after Dad’s death, but this time was different. It was not just a son returning; it was a son and his significant other.
Was Robbie to be considered family or guest? Should he knock on the outside door like a visitor, or should he just open it and go in? Does he ask permission to raid the refrigerator, or does he just raid the refrigerator? Should he, as I, just lift the cover and look under the cake dish to see if there is something there? And finally, was Robbie to be housed with me or as separate-bedroom guest?
I decided he should act as if he were family with full family rights, as I had done a few months before when I had returned like a near-distant relative after a decade-long absence. I decided that there was only going to be one bedroom for us, because Robbie was going to be my life companion. I felt I was ready to defend my decision with a reincarnation of teenage rebellion if need be, but I came up chagrined when I looked in the guest bedroom to see that the bed was piled with boxes and other spare-room detritus: Mom had not even cleaned up the spare room. She had assumed that the love of my life and I would share my double bed.
First off, let me say that the weekend was wonderful. I was really happy at Mom’s reaction to Robbie, but as the weekend went on, I felt this strange tinge of jealousy because he and Mom became so close. It seemed as if he became the older, more mature brother and I was the younger brother who needed a chaperone or advice. I was most sure of the feeling on the morning that I caught Mom and Robbie talking deeply in the kitchen while I slept in. I saw something between them that signaled close ties had been formed. And she was involving Robbie in her concern.
Mom could always sense what was inside me—in this case, the dangers of the darkness within me that I couldn’t deal with—without saying a word to me. Somehow she knew where I was in my emotional life. She didn’t know exactly what was eating at me, but she knew something was. She always knew, also, when my Sawyer self-confidence was bravado and when it was real. And when it was bravado, she had a wonderful way of easing me back to reality.
When I had rushed off to Mississippi, I knew that I wanted to help those young black kids, but my self-confidence in my decision was a sheer façade. Mom understood, but she never challenged me. In fact, she stuffed those few hundred dollars in my pocket as I climbed on the bus, as I tried bravely not to show the fear at the unknown. And she said the right thing: “I’m proud of you. Go do some good for the world.” After that, I felt I could face anything, which I did for most of that summer—everything, even the entry into the all-white ballpark—everything except, I realized later, my nascent love for Robbie.
The weekend ended on a congenial note among the three of us, and as Robbie and I went into the tunnel to the plane, the sad tears of departure glistened in all our eyes. Robbie had asked Mom to come west to visit—anytime—and I was sure she would, so we had something to look forward to. Of course, she didn’t come west until much later, when she stood ready to take back her broken son, if need be.
I wanted to snuggle up to Robbie on the plane home, to feel his warmth and to share my happiness with him physically. I hadn’t seen anybody on the mostly empty plane that I knew, so I just lifted the armrest and leaned my head on his shoulder. Robbie tensed at first, but then I felt him relax after the woman across the aisle nodded at us with a friendly face. “To hell with it,” I heard him say under his breath as he put his arm around me. Maybe he’d get used to the public part of truly being gay one of these centuries.
As Robbie pointed out in his story, the next few months were less than ideal for him. In the world that I was able to create around me, I really didn’t notice a problem with Alec. Things were civil, though not warm with me and his son. I felt things were going well enough, except when, every once in a while, Robbie would tell me I needed to mend my relationship with Alec. I would make some conciliatory gesture or another and feel that I had responded to Robbie’s urgings.
The frequency of Robbie’s requests over Alec grew as the year passed. At first, I completely missed the urgency of his pleadings, but as the months went on, I sensed a tension rising between us over the Alec thing, as I began to call it. A couple of times I even resorted to escapism—some heavy drinking, one of them being the night that Robbie found me out on the deck, an incident he wrote about.
After he went back to bed that night he found me on the deck, after I’d sensed Robbie’s disapproval, I said to myself something I didn’t ever expect to say: What the hell made him such a prig about this? It was my life; it was my recently fucked-up life that I was dealing with the best that I could. ‘Don’t pressure me, Robbie,’ I wanted to say aloud.
I was in a pissy mood the next morning, partly from a hangover and partly because I was being unfairly pressed. I had thought that things were going okay, but the growing tension was threatening to end this new life and push me back to my less-certain past.
“Do you want some cereal?” Robbie asked, as he poured a bowl for himself.
“Nah! I’ll get something on my way to work.”
“Are you sure? I’ve got it out.”
“I told you no. Is something wrong with your ears?” I immediately regretted my question. “Sorry,” I tried to make up, “I didn’t mean to bark at you.”
A week later it was Robbie’s turn to be a pissant. “Could you rinse out the sink after you shave? Neither Alec nor I should have to clean up after you all the time.”
“Maybe I’ll grow a beard,” I said, not really meaning it. What the hell was this little outburst about after a year of living with him? I hadn’t done anything differently than I had for hundreds of days before.
I didn’t think I was messing things up that badly, but it became ever clearer that Robbie did. “We waited for you at the ball game, but you didn’t show up,” Robbie complained as we were getting ready for bed.
“I had to work late,” I explained, with exasperation.
“This was an important game for Alec. It was for the league lead. You could have tried a little harder.”
I didn’t want to tell Robbie that I was too uncomfortable watching Alec play. I’m not sure Alec even would have noticed my presence. I almost said to him that Alec was his son to take care of, not mine. Almost.
* * * * *
I had put my arm around Robbie’s shoulders as we walked through the park after the movie. It was dark, and there were few people on the pathway. Robbie shrugged my arm off and stepped out ahead of me. “When are you going to allow me to express my love for you outside of the condo? When?”
“Maybe never,” he mumbled, as I caught up to him.
“Look, we’re gay. We don’t have to flaunt it on every street corner, but at night, in a park, when there is almost no one else about, why can’t I put my arm over your shoulder?” My temper was becoming shorter at Robbie’s reluctance for us to express our love publicly.
* * * * *
It was Sunday night in the mountains. “You said you would be coming up Saturday night. We held up on dinner for your arrival.” Robbie didn’t say anything more, but he was angry that, once again, I failed to join them at the campground the night before.
“I would have called, but you didn’t have a phone. I had to work. Okay?” I asked sharply.
“I sure as hell hope that was all you were doing.” That comment stung.
“I only love you, Robbie. You know that.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to speak so sharply.” He came up to me and kissed me to make up. I kissed him back.
“You promised me you would make an effort to be closer to Alec. You haven’t done a fucking thing. What’s wrong with you? Ask him to a movie, for Christ’s sake.”
Of course, when I asked Alec, I must have made it seem unappealing, because Alec said he wasn’t interested in the movie I had asked him to. I went to see it anyway—alone.
* * * * *
“We have a company retreat this weekend,” Robbie announced, rolling his eyes upward to indicate his opinion of the prospect. “There is absolutely no way I can get out of it. So, you’re in charge of Alec.”
“Can’t he go over to Anne’s?” I asked, hopefully.
“No, she’s taking Celly to the beach with some girlfriends.”
“Well, women friends. I don’t think they would appreciate a 13-year old boy, so he’s yours.”
I was suspicious that I had been set up. Robbie was trying hard to get Alec and me together—to somehow make peace, whatever that was. So I was probably right to be suspicious.
Alec was probably as enthralled with the prospect as I was, and I think Robbie had the same hope for him to make some type of accommodation with me.
So it was just the two of us Friday night, Robbie having taken off in the morning not to return until Sunday night. He was going to be at some exotic resort across the Sound, and I was stuck in Seattle with a teenaged boy. I was envious of Robbie’s escape and scared of the weekend ahead. Well, time to pull out the acting skill and make as if everything was hunky-dory.
I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the sports page when Alec arrived. I smiled at him with my friendliest smile. That just made him uneasy.
“Hi,” I said. “Just you and me this weekend. What do you want to do?” Well, that threw him. I thought, anyway. Alec didn’t say a word.
“Want a beer?” Maybe the way to a teenager’s heart was through temptation and a relaxation of defenses.
He hesitated, unsure of himself. “Okay.”
I opened a can of beer for him. He took a sip, made a face, then smiled and said: “Thank you.”
We sat in absolute silence for five minutes, him taking a few tentative sips on his beer. There was no way he was going to relax his defenses at this rate.
“Why are you doing this?” he finally asked.
“I just want to get to know you better, okay?”
We sat in silence for another five minutes. “Well, anything else you want to do this weekend?” I asked.
Alec grinned. “Look, you can live your own life as you want. We don’t need to go through this slow dance.”
“I’d like to do something with you so I can tell your dad we did something.”
“Okay, let’s go to a movie tomorrow.”
“Then you can tell Dad we did something,” Alec said, not hiding his attitude very well.
We went to see Gandhi. We both enjoyed it, despite ourselves.
Robbie arrived home Sunday night, and we both said that we’d had a good time.
* * * * *
Robbie and I continued to argue about small things, but underlying those arguments were the growing real problems dividing us: my inattention to Alec really bothered Robbie, and I began to retaliate about how much he should face up to being gay, so that we could have a more normal life outside the condo.
We were definitely going through a low point in our relationship. I didn’t think it was anything but a low point in the normal ebb and flow of any relationship. I could live with the disagreements and the bad spells. I assumed that Robbie, too, would consider this all temporary. I knew I could live with only being able to act normal when we were with our friends and family who accepted us. Robbie could live with the whiskers in the sink. Nothing was seriously wrong, in other words.
It came as a complete shock, then, when Robbie announced his ultimatum: he was going to make a choice between Alec and me, and he would have to choose Alec unless I would make amends with Alec. And, he wouldn’t tolerate a symbolic effort, either.
What is this, I asked myself. What the hell is going on? Robbie and I were reasonably happy, as far as I could tell. Alec was 13-years old, and he would be leaving home for college in a few years, so I didn’t need to have a lovey-dovey relationship with him. In other words, the Alec pressure would abate in a few years. Why was Robbie making an ultimatum now? Why not just wait it out? He couldn’t mean what he was doing. He really couldn’t.
But Robbie was not budging this time. I had said I would work harder at my relationship with Alec, and I believed I could. If Robbie didn’t think it was enough, why didn’t he say so? Of course, I realized, he was saying so now—in the most explicit way possible. He had set up this Last Chance Hike, as I began to think of it, and I really feared he meant it to be just that. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t a joint decision that a committed couple would make. He was making a unilateral decision: Alec alone or Alec and me.
I was pissed. It really wasn’t fair. I offered to leave—permanently—but Robbie said he wasn’t ready for that, and his face showed the pain and anguish stemming from his ultimatum. Somehow, I knew that I couldn’t charm my way out of this, and I had to ask myself whether or not this life with Robbie was worth it. I thought I had come far breaking out of my depression over my fucked-up life, but he apparently thought it wasn’t far enough. I needed to get away for a while, so I packed a light bag and promised Robbie I would return before he left on his hike. I hoped I could keep my promise.