Tuesday, in the first English Lit class of the quarter, they understood that while the majority of the class involved reading a standard set of poetry in their textbook, the main assignment for the quarter was to select a contemporary poet and read their work and then prepare a report about the poet and their style. Russian history promised to be interesting because they were now beginning the emergence of the Russian Empire into Europe with the reign of Catherine the Great.
After class on Wednesday, Jerrod and Roger met up at their lockers and then walked together to GSA. They started out as usual, but were only fifty feet down the hall when Jerrod reached out and took Roger’s hand. Roger smiled widely, his eyes gleaming. “You’re sure?”
They walked into the classroom hand in hand and it took a few seconds for it to register with the students that knew them. Then there were a couple of hoots and cheers, and Eric and Kim came over to give them a hug. Roger introduced Jerrod to the students that didn’t know him, and when everyone looked at Jerrod for more info, he smiled at them all. “Some of you know that I started school here last quarter. I got real about being gay last summer after I met Roger, but I wanted to go slow since it was my first quarter and I’m the new guy here. Anyway. Roger’s my boyfriend, and I’m out and want to be part of GSA, too.”
He got a round of applause, and then a couple of other new students were introduced, and the discussion turned to the program for the quarter. After a bit of discussion, Roger said he had a suggestion and told them about David, how he was Dean of Students at Lewis & Clark, had started a GSA there twenty years ago, had worked with gay kids for years, and he’d agreed to come talk a few times about stuff like personal identity and sexual identity and coming out. Eric added that David was one of his Dad’s best friends, and everyone could count on it being good, and that David was hip. “He won’t be talking down to anyone. The first thing he’ll tell you is that he’s gay and he and his partner have been together for twenty years!”
That sealed the deal, and Roger got the action item to sort out the specific topic details with David. Afterwards they both drove home to work with Kaiser. He was happy to see them when they walked into the house, and they took him for a short walk to the small local park to burn off some energy. When they got back, they all settled in the kitchen to let him relax, then Jerrod put a quarter on the table.
“What’s that for?”
“We’re going to flip for who does it today. Heads or tails?”
Roger called heads as Jerrod flipped the coin off his thumb. It was heads. Jerrod said, “The trimmer is in the drawer with the treats.”
Roger grinned at him and said, “Wish me luck.”
He walked over to the cabinet near Kaiser’s bed and pulled open the drawer. Kaiser had perked up and watched him walk across the room. As soon as the drawer was open, Kaiser sat up under the table, now seriously interested in what was happening. Roger pocketed a treat, picked up the trimmer and turned to face Kaiser, a wide grin on his face.
He looked at the dog and said, “Kaiser. Manicure time!”
Jerrod almost started laughing at the silliness. Kaiser was studiously watching. Roger took two steps to the middle of the kitchen, and said, “Kaiser, come. Manicure!”
He dropped to his knees and Kaiser briskly walked out from under the table and stopped in front of Roger.
Roger looked him in the eyes and smiled. “Sit!”
He did, and Roger again said, “Manicure,” and reached for his left front paw. Kaiser didn’t resist, but let his paw be picked up, and watched as Roger clipped just the tip of each claw with the trimmer. Then Roger dropped that paw and held out his hand, palm up. Kaiser picked up his right paw and dropped it in Roger’s hand. Roger smiled and said, “Good boy!” and proceeded to clip the tip of each claw, and then stroked the side of Kaiser’s head as he dropped the paw.
He glanced at Jerrod and smiled hopefully, wiggling his eyebrows. Then he reached for the first rear paw. Kaiser wiggled a little, but then sat still, and Roger was able to continue and conclude with the other rear paw.
By now Kaiser knew what was coming next, and was sitting expectantly watching Roger’s face until his left hand went into his pocket for a treat. Kaiser was now tracking that hand, and furiously wagging his tail as the treat came into view.
“Good boy, Kaiser. What a pro!”
Roger stroked his ears as he ate the treat, then said “Release,” and as he stood up so did Kaiser. Roger dropped the trimmer back in the drawer, Kaiser briefly hoped for another treat, then followed Roger back to the table.
“Wow, selle, that was amazing. How did you think of that?”
“I just figured instead of using the same commands, I’d try and teach him a new one. I was pretty sure ‘manicure’ was a new word for him, so if we can make it stick, it should be easy to do it. As long as we don’t fuck up and cut too deep with the trimmer and hurt him.”
Thursday, they were in the lunch line together when Matt and his buddy walked by. He purposefully looked at Jerrod, who was standing next to Roger, and said loud enough for a few students to hear, “So now we know you’re a fag, right? I heard you went to GSA. You and your boyfriend.”
Roger had grasped Jerrod’s arm and said, “Ignore it, liebling. Don’t give him the satisfaction.”
Jerrod bit his tongue and kept his eyes on the food being served, but was fuming inside. He knew reacting to Matt would only make the bully feel like he’d won, but he hated the idea of doing nothing.
Roger still had his hand on Jerrod’s arm, and said softly, “Come on, get your food and let’s eat.” They did, the rest of the school day was uneventful, and they met Sean and his mom at the park after they got home. Once again, Jerrod found that spending time with the boy that had cerebral palsy, watching him work to overcome his handicap and interact with Kaiser, observing the sheer joy he experienced from the session, changed his attitude.
They passed Matt in the hall on Friday, and as they walked by with Eric and Kim, he commented to his football buddies, “Look, there they are, the rump rangers. What a bunch of perverts! Hey Jerrod, you’re not going to race tomorrow are you? Now that you’re out and going to GSA. I don’t think it’s allowed!” They all broke into raucous laughter, and then the bell rang for class.
The race against Jesuit the next day went well for the team. Jerrod placed third in slalom, which ran before the GS race. Jerrod’s GS run was fourth from last, and when he finished his run, he saw he had the fastest time, but two other racers and then Matt were still to come. Roger, Eric and Kim had been watching him race, and he stood with them at the bottom on the GS course with his teammates watching the last three racers. He still had the fastest time when he heard the announcement that Matt, the last racer, was in the starting gate, and could see him come into view about halfway down the course, at the end of a fairly flat transition. Jerrod felt his excitement rise because he could see Matt was losing speed in the relatively flat section as he drifted wide of a gate.
He recovered, though, and stayed incredibly close to the fall line and literally hit every remaining gate with his elbows in his charge down the bottom half of the course. Jerrod watched with bated breath, hoping he couldn’t make up the lost time. He watched Matt strain for the finish line as if he knew he was close, but also saw he hadn’t done it. Jerrod had won.
After Matt crossed the finish line, he looked at the clock and the standings, saw he hadn’t won, and swore. Jerrod was with the rest of the team at the bottom of the course, but Matt brusquely pushed past them and disappeared through the crowd ignoring his teammates. He reappeared with his buddy for the award ceremony, and had to stand next to Jerrod as they received their awards. Jerrod shook hands with the Jesuit student who placed second, then turned to shake Matt’s hand.
“I don’t shake hands with fags,” Matt hissed at him.
Jerrod was looking him directly in the eyes, but felt no fear, and softly said, “Okay, Matt. That’s how it is. Now we know you’re a poor sport on top of being a bigot. So, for the record, you’re right. I’m gay and that’s my boyfriend over there. What are you going to do about that?
“I don’t have to do anything. You’re a couple of lightweight fags. You’re only on the team ‘cause we were short skiers.”
Jerrod laughed, though it was forced. He had never lost eye contact with Matt, and they continued to stare at each other. He remembered something Angela had told him about establishing dominance so that the dog understands who is the boss of the pack: you never break eye contact or lose the stare competition. Dogs will ultimately turn aside, and that establishes pack dominance. No way was he letting Matt win this stare down.
“So, Matt. Let me think about that. Last Saturday when we got paired in training, I beat you by over a second. Today I didn’t just beat you by almost a second again, but I won the race. So, just for the record, let me remind you that you’ve been beaten twice now by a fag. I’d say that’s not too bad for a gay boy!”
Jerrod could see the Jesuit student who placed second watching the interchange, confused at the hostility. He was aware that Roger, Eric and Kim had joined them. He felt Roger squeeze his arm and ask, “Is everything okay?” Jerrod nodded and a soft “Yeah, things are fine,” escaped his lips. He was still staring Matt down and had never felt stronger.
It seemed to Jerrod as if the world had gone silent. Not only were Roger, Eric and Kim watching Jerrod, but Matt’s buddy was watching him, and other racers and family were starting to realize there was a confrontation going on.
The silence stretched out for what was only a few seconds but seemed like minutes, and Jerrod could feel Roger getting fidgety. He was sure it was because Roger was worried about what might happen next. Jerrod wasn’t worried, because he’d seen something. He’d seen Matt blink. Two times, in fact
Matt was a tough dude, and he wasn’t going to back down easily, but he’d blinked, and Jerrod now knew where this was going. When Matt blinked for the third time, he thought he saw something change in those eyes
“Win or lose, gay boy, you’re still a faggot. Let’s see if you can even touch me on the downhill course”
Jerrod smiled and said, “Matt, didn’t you get the memo? I don’t race downhill. I’m not big and brawny enough. I only race slalom and GS.”
He paused, and Matt was doing nothing but seething. Then he said, “Oh, by the way, anytime you’re up for a rematch, you know where to find me.”
He turned to Roger and smiled, then looked to Eric and Kim and said, “Come on, guys, let’s get going. Nothing to see here!”
As they walked away, they all heard Matt hiss, “Mother fucker. You’ll pay for this.”
The four boys took a run together just to relax, and while he was happy to get the accolades for winning, he shrugged off the confrontation with Matt. They all knew he was mainly a blowhard, and Jerrod insisted they not make a big deal out of it at lunch. David and Jackson had made a few runs together, and as planned, they all met in the cafeteria at noon.
By mid-afternoon David and Jackson decided to call it a day, but the boys wanted to make a couple more runs, so they all agreed to meet back in the cafeteria when the lifts closed. Jerrod had seen Matt and his buddy ten or fifteen places back in the chairlift line, but ignored it, and they all had a fun ride up, and then started what they thought would be the final couple of cruises down the mountain to end the day.
They were about half-way down when Matt and his buddy flew by, boogying in the broken snow off the side of the trail. As they went by, the heard Matt yell, “Hey, look. It’s team faggot!” Then they disappeared behind some trees, heading further off the trail.
“Dirt bags,” Jerrod swore under his breath.
“Leave it, liebling. They’re idiots.”
“I know they are, but it still pisses me off.”
They skied on a little further with Eric and Kim right behind them when Jerrod saw Matt’s buddy come out of the broken snow and rejoin the trail about fifty feet ahead of them. As they got to where he had skied onto the trail Jerrod realized there was no sign of Matt.
“Hold up, something’s wrong,” he yelled to Roger. Eric and Kim stopped right behind them.
“Matt’s buddy just came out of the trees without Matt. Something happened.”
“So! Matt’s an asshole, who cares.”
“Eric! Come on, man. He’s an asshole but something happened. He should be here by now. I’m going to go check.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“I’m going to skate back up the trail for a ways then cut into the trees and try and find their tracks and see what happened.” He looked around. “Are you guys coming, or staying here?”
Roger shook his head, but was smiling and said, “I’ll go with you.” Eric and Kim agreed and all four skated back up the run for about a hundred and fifty feet. They were breathing heavily when they stopped at the bottom of a medium steep bump run and Jerrod said, “That’d be too hard to go up. We go in from here.”
He turned off the trail and into the trees, going laterally across the fall line, moving slowly looking for the tracks. The other three boys followed him.
They didn’t even have to go fifty feet and Jerrod raised an arm with a ski pole and said, “Here are the tracks. See?” He pointed at two sets of tracks with his pole and added, “Now we follow the tracks back to where we were, but we go slow. We’re looking for sign to see if we can figure out what happened.”
They spread out, side by side, with Jerrod the farthest into the trees and slowly followed the tracks down the hill. About seventy or eighty feet down, Jerrod saw something red above the snow next to a tree.
“Hold up. I see something.” He slowly slid toward the tree and as he got closer, he realized the red thing he was seeing was the tip of a ski, and it said ‘K2” on it – the type of skis Matt was on.
“Over here,” he called to his friends and stopped next to the tree. As soon as he got within ten feet of the tree, he understood what had happened.
“You guys, come on. Matt’s buried. We’ve got to get him out.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s fallen into the well around this tree trunk. See his ski tip? It looks like he’s head down. That means he could suffocate. We’ve got to dig him out or pull him out.”
They all undid their bindings and circled around the ski tip and started digging with their hands. It didn’t take long to expose the other ski, then Matt’s legs and then his torso, and finally see his head next to the tree trunk.
“Fuck! It looks like he’s unconscious. This isn’t good.”
Jerrod turned to Eric. “Can you undo his bindings and get his skis off? Kim, can you get those poles out of here? Roger, hold his head still, okay? I’ve got to see if his mouth and nose are full of snow.”
As Roger held Matt’s head, Jerrod slowly pulled Matt’s mouth open and removed his glove and started flicking chunks of snow out of his mouth. He saw the skis had been removed and said, “Roger, help me turn him so he’s facing down, we’ve got to clear his throat.”
They turned him and Jerrod swore. “There’s not enough room in here to do a Heimlich maneuver. I’ll just have to try and fake it.” He was only able to get his hands to meet over Matt’s lower ribs, but figured it would just have to do. He gave as mighty a pull as he could. Nothing. He swore and tried again, and this time a chunk of snow came out of Matt’s mouth. Jerrod turned his head to the side and put his ear next to Matt’s mouth.
“I can hear breath, like he’s breathing normally. Help me pull him out of this hole and get him flat on his back.”
Each boy took and arm or leg and carefully pulled Matt out of the tree well and laid him flat on his overturned skis.
Jerrod looked at them and said, “This could be serious. We don’t know how long he’s been out, or his airway was plugged. Eric and Kim, I need you guys to go for ski patrol. Follow his buddy’s tracks back to the trail, then wave down the first patrol man or ski host you see. They all have radios. Tell them we’ve got an unconscious skier who’s also had a blocked airway. Tell them we need a transport sled and a resuscitation kit. They’ll know what to do next. Go.”
They watched Eric and Kim put their skis back on and ski down toward the trail.
Roger looked at Jerrod and said, “What do you think happened?”
“Easy. It’s still early winter, so the ground hasn’t frozen deep, the trees are still kind of warm internally. There’s always a natural well around the trunk where the snow doesn’t accumulate, but on top of that there’s snow melt around the tree trunks, so the well can get pretty big. He skied too close to this tree. Either he went in the well and then hit his head on the tree, or he hit his headfirst on a branch and then fell in.”
“How do you know that?”
“When I was working on his airway. See the bruise on his forehead. He hit something.”
He knelt back down next to Matt, and put his ear next to his mouth. “He’s still breathing regularly, but slowly. And he’s still unconscious. He must have gotten a good whack. I don’t think he’ll need CPR though. I think his airway is clear the way he’s breathing. Anyway, I don’t want to do CPR if I don’t have to. Let’s hope the patrol gets here soon.
It was only a couple of minutes later when they heard the call. “Ski Patrol, looking for a downed skier in the trees.”
“Roger, go flag him down. Yell loud and wave your arms and stuff so he sees you.”
Roger walked into an opening and then moved up the hill waving his arms and shouting, “Over here.” Almost immediately he saw the red parka of a patrolman skiing toward them.
Roger pointed to where Jerrod and Matt were down in the snow and the patrolman skied over.
“We’ve got another patrolman with a sled a couple of minutes behind me. Lucky, we found you so fast. What happened? What do you know?”
Jerrod filled him in, the patrolman checked Matt’s breathing and said, “I think you’re right. The dude with the sled is an EMT, and he has the resuscitation kit, and he’ll… there he is.”
They watched Roger wave the patrolman with the sled over and point them at the tree. He skied right over to Matt, guiding the transport sled with its tow handles. After he got a quick briefing from the first patrolman, he opened his kit and pulled out a stethoscope. First, he checked breathing and then said, “You’re right, he’s breathing normally, and respiration seems a little high, but that goes along with being unconscious.” He checked Matt’s pulse and said, “Heart rate is slow and feels weak. That probably goes along with low blood pressure since he’s unconscious. Seems like his heart rate should be higher, more than 60—that seems slow.”
“He’s an athlete. He plays football and is on the ski team. He’s probably got a low resting heart rate.”
The patrolman gave Jerrod a knowing look and said, “Help me open his jacket so I can listen to his chest.” They did, and the patrolman said, “His lungs and heart sounds normal, so I’m guessing you were right, and the airway blockage was just up high, in his mouth and nose. Whatever was in his nose has melted by now. This dude’s lucky you found him, or he might have suffocated.”
Jerrod said, “That was my worry. We saw he didn’t come back onto the trail out of the trees with his buddy and so we came back to look. How long’s he going to be out?”
“That’s a good question. It looks like he knocked himself out judging by the bruise on his forehead. I’m going to try an ammonia ampoule and see if I can bring him around. I’d feel a lot more comfortable transporting him down the mountain in the sled if he was conscious.”
He pulled an ampule out of his kit, looked at Jerrod and the other patrolman and said, “You guys hold an arm and shoulder, so if he jerks when he gets the ammonia whiff, he doesn’t hurt himself or us.”
He cracked the ampule and waved it under Matt’s nose. It took a second try before Matt coughed and flexed in their hands. “Lay back, man, relax. You hit a tree, but you’re okay now. We’re going to transport you down to the clinic in a sled. Do you understand?”
Matt groggily nodded and then started to say something, and the EMT said, “No, you don’t understand. You’re in no shape to ski. You’re going down in the sled and that’s the way it is. We’re going to lift you in, then I’ll strap you down and we’ll head out.”
He turned to the other patrolman and then said, “If all four of us lift him, it’ll be easy, and we should be able to do it in one move.” They did, and after the EMT strapped him in, the other patrolman picked up Matt’s skis and poles and said, “I’ll follow you down just in case.” Then he looked at Jerrod and Roger. “Thanks, you guys. What you did was the right stuff and just in time. Follow me down, okay. Your friend’s going to the clinic, but I need you for a few minutes in the patrol hut to write up an accident report.”
It was a slow line going down as they followed the sled, but when they got to the patrol hut, Eric and Kim were waiting, and they got a brief update.
“I’ve got to go give the patrol an accident report.” He handed Roger the keys to the Cherokee and added, “Why don’t you guys go dump all the gear, mine, too, okay? Then go find David and Jackson in the cafeteria so they know what’s going on. The report shouldn’t take more than ten minutes and then I’ll come find you. If you see Matt’s buddy, tell him what happened.”
Meeting everyone in the cafeteria was a brief affair to confirm everything necessary about the accident had been taken care of. Roger, Eric and Kim had filled David and Jackson in on what happened, and then they headed for the parking lot, knowing they’d be among the last skiers to leave, and would be part of the traffic down the mountain. David and Jackson walked Jerrod to his car, both with an arm around his shoulder, and David said, “You really rose to the occasion today. I’m proud of you. Enjoy the night over at Roger’s and we’ll talk more tomorrow.” Jackson whispered in his ear, “You’re the man!”
Dinner was mainly retelling the circumstances of the ski races and then Matt’s accident to Roger’s parents, who were dutifully impressed with both events. Roger had been listening patiently, adding a few details here and there, but mainly letting Jerrod do the talking, and well aware of the lack of self-promotion involved. He thought to himself, ‘He’s talking about these things like it’s no more of a deal than mowing the lawn.’ Finally, at a lull in the conversation he looked at his parents and said, “There’s another piece to what happened today you need to know about. The guy he beat in the GS race is a bully and has been harassing Jerrod for being gay all quarter. Jerrod didn’t want to report him because it would hurt the ski team, so he put up with it. But he beat him last weekend in a training race and beat him again today. In other words, gay boy gets his revenge!”
Jerrod poked him in the ribs, wanting him to stop, but he turned to his boyfriend and said, “No, liebling, you’re too modest. They need to know you put up with all this crap from this guy and why… and then you beat him. You know, gay boys are supposed to be wusses, right?”
He looked back at his parents. “Well, my boyfriend is no wuss! And on top of that, the bully was the guy that had the accident. Eric and Kim and me, we wouldn’t have even noticed the jerk was missing, but Jerrod did, and he insisted on climbing back up the hill to see what happened. If it wasn’t for Jerrod, they might not have found him till Spring. And that was the jerk who’d been bullying him all quarter.” He put his hand around the back of Jerrod’s neck and squeezed softly, “That’s my liebling. That’s the kind of guy he is.” His eyes were red with emotion, but he felt every ounce of it. Jerrod was blushing and looking down at the table.
Roger’s parents gave him space, then his Mom said, softly, “Jerrod, I know it can be embarrassing to be put on the spot, even about something good like this, but I want you to know how impressed I am with what you did. Winning your race was magnificent, and a great achievement. What you did this afternoon, though, really touched my heart because of the spirit of the act. You didn’t have to do it, the boy who is a bully didn’t deserve it after what he’s been doing to you, but you did it because it was the right thing to do. Because you have a good heart and don’t hold grudges. I think that is what Roger was saying, too.”
Jerrod had stopped feeling embarrassed, and appreciated what he heard, and now it was his turn to get emotional. “It didn’t seem like a big deal or even a hard decision. It’s just what needed to be done. The guy was missing. He needed to be helped. That’s all.”
“That’s a pure and commendable motivation, Jerrod,” Roger’s father said. “It speaks to your values. On top of that, the good fortune of the day was that you not only saw and understood what had happened, but with your first aid training you knew what to do.” He paused, and to take the pressure out of the room, smiled widely at Jerrod and then said, “I want you close by when I have my next accident! Can we arrange that?”
It wasn’t long after dinner that the boys begged off and headed for Roger’s room. It had been a long day with an early start, and they were both feeling it, physically and emotionally. When they climbed into bed, Jerrod slid over next to Roger, his head on his boyfriend’s shoulder and pulled himself into an embrace. He felt Roger’s arm wrap him close.
“Will you just hold me for a while? I feel like I’ve been running on adrenaline all day. I just want to lay here and feel your heartbeat and your arm around me. It feels so warm and safe.”
Roger kissed the top of his head and softly said, “Sure, liebling. It’s wonderful.”
He heard, “I love you,” in response, and only seconds later heard Jerrod’s breathing deepen and realized he was already asleep. He wasn’t far behind, falling asleep thinking about how fortunate he was not just to be in a relationship with someone he loved emotionally and sexually, but who was also just a great person!
They woke early enough to have breakfast and head home to pick up Kaiser and drive to Doernbecher. When they walked into the training room to check in, there was Suzanne and her Yellow Lab, Rufus. They chatted briefly about the holidays and getting started for real, and Jerrod commented on how lucky it was that they were working at the same time. Suzanne raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Rufus likes Kaiser, and it was fun working with you guys. I wanted to be here on your first day, to kind of continue where we left off last month, and be around if anything comes up. I’m sure you’ll do just great.”
With that they headed up, riding the elevator together, with Suzanne and Rufus getting off a floor below them. She reminded them to always start by checking in with the nurse manager on the floor as a courtesy, and to see if any patients were having specific problems or needs. They’d talked about their approach, and since this was their first day, they couldn’t use Suzanne’s line about how Rufus wanted to see the patient again, but they decided on a related approach. They’d introduce themselves, ask if the patient knew Rufus, and if so, then their approach would be he and Kaiser are friends and Rufus said to come visit. They knew it might sound dumb, but it was non-threatening and felt like it would make for an easy start.
It turned out that it did, and over half of the patients they saw had been visited by Rufus at least once, and most thought the idea that Rufus sent them for a visit with Kaiser was cool. Roger made a mental note: whatever builds the patient’s self-esteem is a good thing. They stopped for a short lunch and let Kaiser chill out in the pavilion, and by the time their four hours was up they’d visited eleven patients. None of them were the type of visits like they had with Michael, but they were all positive and the patients seemed appreciative and most asked for another visit from Kaiser next time he was working.
On the drive home they talked about that and just agreed that they’d had a fortunate and unusual start, having really open and friendly visits with two patients, one of them turning into a friendship. Then they talked about Michael being in town for tests the following weekend and what they could do together on Friday and Saturday night. They eventually got around to the requisite talk about homework assignments, since the excitement of the weekend was over and there was school the next day.
“Call me later, okay, selle? I’ll pick you up in the morning.”
When he got home, he fed Kaiser and gave David and Jackson a quick summary of the therapy session and then said, “Is it okay with you guys if I go take a short nap? I’m still tired from yesterday.”
They sent him on his way with the promise to wake him up fifteen minutes before dinner if he didn’t wake up himself. He walked back into the kitchen with Kaiser in tow, commenting, “That felt great. Now I’m ready for dinner and then homework! Anything I can do to help?”
“Just relax for a few minutes, then you can help us serve.”
Over dinner Jackson said, “We got a very interesting call from Roger’s mother this afternoon.”
Jerrod’s antennae went up, and he said, “Oh?”
“She thinks you’re a wonderful young man and all that, but also says you’re way too modest. She wanted to make sure we understood some of the things that happened yesterday, the things she was pretty sure you wouldn’t tell us if Roger wasn’t here to force you.”
“Like, the three of them not only wouldn’t have noticed Matt was missing but wouldn’t have bothered. That wasn’t the way you saw it. She also told us about the face down you and Matt had after the race following the award ceremony, and making sure he understood he got beaten twice by a gay boy. I thought what you did saving his ass was tremendous, but standing up to him after putting up with his shit, is even greater.”
“Well, it was time. You know, enough already. And then when it was obvious that he was missing, it was just the right thing to do. I’ve skied long enough to know bad things can happen on the mountain, and people have to help.”
“That’s all true,” David said, “but the point Jackson is trying to make is about character. You’ve got it, and it compliments your values. Now, we’re not going to embarrass you about this by going on and on about it. But when you call your parents after dinner, I want you to tell them. You don’t have to get into all the details, but they deserve to know. And, you know what will happen if you don’t tell them?”
“I’ll have to find a reason to call them in the next day or two and fill them in.”
“God, you guys are hard core sometimes. Alright, I will. I promise. Then I’ll get on the homework, okay?”
Jackson was closely watching Jerrod and said, “That’ll work, but first there’s something I want to do.” He stood up, smiled at David and then looked back at Jerrod and wiggled his finger. “Come with me, if you please.”
They both followed Jackson into the living room where Jackson knelt down in front of their album collection, saying, “After reading the letter you received from Mr. Unger, the homeowner in Philly, and now after getting all the details about what’s been going on at school and what happened yesterday, I want to play you a song.”
He set the album on the turntable and turned to Jerrod. “Relax. This isn’t a love song! Rather, it’s a perspective on life song, and I think of it as a rock ballad. The situation is someone about my age, in their late thirties, looking back across the last twenty years. The person is considering where he started out, what he went through, and where he ended up. Most importantly, and this has been on my mind since I read Mr. Unger’s letter, is what he said to you about setting lofty goals and working hard in life and love, just think about that and the song’s message, okay?”
Jerrod nodded, starting to wonder where this was going.
“You’ll recognize the tune, because it was used in a popular truck commercial on TV, but I’ve loved the message in the lyrics since I first heard it twelve years ago.” With that he cued up Like A Rock by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.
Stood there boldly
Sweatin' in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I'd never felt that strong
Like a rock
I was eighteen
Didn't have a care
Working for peanuts
Not a dime to spare
But I was lean and
Like a rock
My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock
Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin' ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock
And I stood arrow straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes
I stood proud, I stood tall
High above it all
I still believed in my dreams
Twenty years now
Where'd they go?
I don't know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they've gone
And sometimes late at night
Oh, when I'm bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin' a ghostly white
And I recall
Like a rock, standin' arrow straight
Like a rock, chargin' from the gate
Like a rock, carryin' the weight
Like a rock
Oh, like a rock, the sun upon my skin
Like a rock, hard against the wind
Like a rock, I see myself again
Like a rock
Oh, like a rock
When the song ended, Jackson lifted the tone arm and turned to Jerrod and said, “Thanks for listening, and I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this. But I do want to point out a couple of things to you, if that’s okay?”
Jerrod, beginning to understand what Jackson was doing, smiled and nodded.
“Good. First, you’re eighteen and Bob Seeger begins by thinking back to when he was eighteen. The circumstances are different because you had a few cares last summer, you didn’t have to work for peanuts, and you’ve got more than a dime to spare. Are you with me so far?”
Jerrod nodded, starting to feel a little bit on the spot.
“Good. What I want you to think about is the trajectory of life he’s singing about. Where it ends up twenty years from now and how you feel about it, looking back from that point. Two things particularly. First, the verse: My hands were steady, my eyes were clear and bright, my walk had purpose, my steps were quick and light, and I held firmly to what I felt was right, like a rock.”
He paused, looking at Jerrod and watching. The boy was processing what had been said.
“It’s hard not to feel kind of invincible when you’re eighteen. But notice what he said about holding firmly to what he felt was right. That’s values and character. I’m not embarrassing you, am I?”
Jerrod smiled meekly and shook his head, and Jackson grinned back at him.
“Then there’s the next verse: And I stood arrow straight, unencumbered by the weight of all these hustlers and their schemes. I stood proud, I stood tall, high above it all. I still believed in my dreams. Now we’re in the space of what Mr. Unger was encouraging you about in his letter. Your goals and your dreams. What you’re going to make out of yourself.”
Jackson stopped, and Jerrod was silent, starting to blink as he felt the weight of what had just been said.
“Okay, but... that’s the way you feel about me?”
“Every bit of it. We’ve been telling you for six months that you’re a good guy. You’re now proving yourself to be among the best.”
Jerrod was quiet, overwhelmed with the emotion.
“I think it’s fair to say,” David added, “that Jackson hopes you’ll feel the same way about it when you look back in twenty years. I think it was wonderful that he played the song for you, meaning he could have shared the message in the lyrics. However, that leaves something important out. By playing the song what gets conveyed is the spiritual, intellectual and emotional aspects. The words are fine, and they convey the meaning, but often the words alone don’t convey the emotion that goes along with them. This song certainly conveys the emotion.”
Sitting down next to him, Jackson pulled him close in a hug and said, “Think of this as a big brother talk, okay? We met you six months ago, and you’re a completely different person today. You’ve got your head screwed on straight, you’re in love, and you’ve got an amazing life ahead of you. Just hold firm to what you know is right and believe in your dreams.”
Jackson paused again, and he could see Jerrod’s face flushing and the emotion welling up. In the silence Jerrod looked up at the man he referred to as his older brother and smiled. Jackson smiled back and said, “That’s all, other than to tell you that there’s another ballad on this album that you should listen to some time. It’s about a life that didn’t turn out so well. Now, however, I think David and I should go do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. You go call your parents and then get started on your homework.”
On Monday, Roger and Jerrod were heading for the Cherokee to go home for lunch and let Kaiser out when they met up with Eric and Kim and walked to the cafeteria with them. As they entered the last hallway, they went past Matt’s locker. He was standing there with a bunch of football player buddies and had watched the group of boys approach. Jerrod noticed that multiple emotions were flashing across his face. He looked at him and Matt quickly looked away.
Jerrod stopped and so did the rest, and he said, “Matt, are you okay from hitting your head? Any complications?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I had a headache till this morning, but I’m good today. Ready to rock and roll.” His tone was dismissive.
The boys were waiting for the nasty comment to follow, but it didn’t come. Matt’s face twisted in discomfort, and he blinked a couple of times, but there was silence. Jerrod waited, wondering what was going on in Matt’s head.
Finally, Eric stepped forward and said to Matt, “And what else?”
“What’a ya mean?”
“Matt, you knocked yourself out and were buried in the snow. Jerrod should hate your guts for all the harassment you’ve given him, but he’s the one who stopped and the one who found you. Have you thanked him?”
Matt was quiet, and looked at a couple of his friends. It dawned on him that he was coming off like a jerk. He looked back at Eric and then Jerrod and said, “Well, thanks you guys for finding me and calling the patrol and stuff.”
The boys looked at Jerrod, waiting to see what he’d say, but from the expression on his face they knew he was controlling his emotions and not saying anything. Matt said no more, trying to act defiant and thankful at the same time. He gave the impression that he’d said his bit and that was enough, all he needed to do.
Eric finally had enough and stepped closer to him. “Matt, what the fucks up with you. Yeah, we were all there, and called the patrol and got you out of there. But that only happened because Jerrod figured out something was wrong and said we had to go find you. I said, ‘Why? He’s an asshole!’ But Jerrod insisted. You were buried and out cold and couldn’t breathe. This guy saved your fucking life, dude. And you still stand here acting like a fucking spoiled five-year old. Jesus. You are a piece of work.”
“Hey, don’t try and ride my case. I said thanks. What do you want me to do, buy you guys some roses or something?”
He looked at his buddies and they all broke out laughing.
Jerrod was still quiet, watching. Finally, he turned to Roger, Eric and Kim and said, “Come on, let’s go get lunch. No point in wasting any more time.”
Jerrod told Eric and Kim to come home with them for lunch, and on the drive thanked Eric for making the case. They all agreed that the outcome was predictable. Eric and Kim took Kaiser out while Jerrod and Roger made sandwiches, and then they zipped back to school. During English lit they got more details on their quarter’s assignment to read a contemporary poet, the teacher encouraging them to start early so they weren’t having to do lots of reading at the end of the quarter and then rush to write their report.
Roger usually met Jerrod at the Cherokee after school, which he always parked on the far side of the parking lot to protect the paint. They had different subjects for the last class of the day, meaning they came out of different doors and met at the Jeep.
Jerrod was almost to the doors, thinking about taking Kaiser for a quick walk when he got home, when he heard the shout from behind him. “Hey, Jerrod.”
He stopped and turned, and it was Matt, barreling down the hall toward him.