They woke early on Sunday, in order to take Michael to the train station before they had to be at the hospital. David and Jackson were already up and had breakfast in process. As they walked to the kitchen, Jerrod said softly to Michael, “We don’t have any secrets in this house.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Just that. Don’t sweat it, though, it’ll be fine.”
They were part way through breakfast talking about the weekend, and before David or Jackson could ask anything personal, Jerrod said, “So you both know, Michael slept with us last night.”
Michael kind of blanched at that, and Jerrod said, “Michael, it’s cool.”
“It is cool, Michael,” Jackson said, catching his eye. “You looked to me yesterday like you needed some warm and cuddly companionship. Did you get what you needed?”
Michael blushed, but then finally said, “You guys are too much. Do you really talk about everything? Jerrod said there are no secrets in this house, but I guess I didn’t really believe him.”
“Yep, no secrets. It’s about more than just transparency and honesty. It’s also about being able to help each other out.”
“We told him yesterday about the ‘birds and the bees’ gay sex talk you gave us last year,” Roger added. “And we showed him The Joy of Gay Sex, and then went to Powell’s bookstore after OMSI and he bought a copy.”
“See, that makes my point. We could have told these two lovebirds we approved of their relationship and they could have sex together, but we were pretty sure they hadn’t gotten the lesson on how messy sex can be and how important cleanliness is. Silverstein talks about it in the book. Reading it will do you good.”
“Thanks for telling me that. And, yeah, I did need some warm cuddling yesterday.” He looked at Jerrod and Roger and added, “and these guys were the best for helping me out. I mean… you know, letting me in their bed… I mean sleeping…”
“Michael. You don’t have to say anymore. I can guess there was more, and that’s fine. I think Jerrod knows, maybe Roger doesn’t yet, that I did the same thing with my best friend in high school when he was confused about his sexual identity and going through a hard time.” He paused and reached over and took David’s hand and added, “My boyfriend told me it was the right thing to do and encouraged me.” He smiled and wiggled his eyes at David.
“True story. It was the right thing to do, and as they say in the movies, it all turned out well in the end!”
“Was that Will?” Roger asked.
“It was. I’ll tell you the backstory sometime if you want, or you could ask him. He’ll tell you too. It’s all part of discovering your sexual identity and feeling comfortable with it.”
The conversation paused and Michael said, “Well, it sounds kind of like what I needed too. I mean living in Pendleton there’s not much tolerance for gays.”
“You’re sure about that,” David asked?
“Yeah, I mean I think so.”
“At your school, is there no Gay Straight Alliance,” David asked? “What about policies against discriminating against gay and lesbian students and bullying?”
“I don’t know about a GSA. Yeah, there’s those policies. But I’ve never heard anything but put downs and nasty remarks about gay kids.”
“Where are your parents? Your Mom seemed like a balanced and reasonable person, and she’s a schoolteacher.”
“Yeah, she is, but she’s conservative like my Dad, and religious, so that’s a problem.”
“Why’s it a problem. When Jackson and I got together I was religious. In fact, I was a minister. Not all religious people are bigots or homophobes.”
“No way! You were a minister?”
“Sure was, although that was twenty years ago and the tolerance for gay ministers was close to zero back then, and I left the ministry within a couple of years. Why do you think your Mom is so religious?”
“Well, she goes to church every Sunday, and she’s made me go to Sunday School and church with her like forever. I only got out of it last quarter ‘cause I was sick, but it’ll for sure start again.”
“What church do you go to,” David softly inquired?
“A Methodist church.”
“Does your Dad go too?”
“No, he’s not much into joining and going to church, and he doesn’t talk a lot, but he’s one of those ‘by the book’ kind of guys. I mean he’s a good person and I love him and all, but… you know.”
“Well, at least I can guess what you think is the case. Can I say a couple of things to you?”
“It feels like you’re pretty solid in understanding that you’re gay, and if last night helped solidify that, then good. There’s a lot more to being certain about it, though, than sleeping in a warm bed with a couple of gay boys like these two, regardless of what happened. You’ve got things to think about and decisions to make, and all of us are happy to help you make them. But, you should also be thinking about how and when you bring your parents into the conversation. You’d be surprised how perceptive Moms can be, and both Roger and Jerrod can fill you in on that. You also need to think about something else very practical.”
“Yeah. You’re going home with a copy of Silverstein’s book on gay sex. I happen to think that’s good and healthy. What are you going to say, how are you going to explain it, if and when your Mom finds it?”
Michael’s eyes widened and he said, “Well, she won’t.”
“Michael, don’t count on it. She does your laundry, changes your sheets and cleans your room, doesn’t she? I’m suggesting you plan for the worst and look at this as a reason to start thinking about talking to your Mom. Recognize that even though you live in Pendleton, if your Mom is Methodist, they’re pretty progressive. You’ve had a tough year, especially the last six months or so, and I think you’ve been kind of withdrawn and understandably fearful, but I’m betting it doesn’t extend to all the parts of your life like you think it does.”
The boy was quiet, and Jerrod rubbed the back of his neck, and he looked up and smiled meekly. “I have been worried and scared a lot.”
“I’m not suggesting that the first thing you do when you get home is show your parents the book and tell them you’re gay. I’m suggesting that you’re already in a process of further understanding and accepting yourself, and it won’t be good for you or for your parents if you try and keep it a secret forever.”
“That makes sense, I guess. But what about my Dad? How would I ever tell him?”
Jerrod squeezed his shoulder and said, “Maybe it’ll be like with my family, where it started with my Mom and she helped my Dad understand.” Then he said to them all, “We’ve got to get going. Michael’s got a train to catch and then we’ve got to be at the hospital.”
Jackson reached over and took Michael’s hand. “So, you know, we’ve worked with gay kids for twenty years, and David knows what he’s talking about. We’re here, all four of us. You can call and talk whenever you need to. And we’ll also talk to your parents if that helps.”
“You’d do that?”
“Sure would. Now, go pack your stuff and get going. They’re not going to hold that train if you’re late.”
Within ten minutes they were saying goodbye to David and Jackson, and Michael was back in the Cherokee, sitting next to Kaiser, who was in his therapy dog vest. He really didn’t know what to say. His clear scan was great enough, and the afternoon afterwards with his new friends was terrific, and then on top of that was the amazing thing that had happened with them the night before. As if that wasn’t enough there was the breakfast conversation. Simultaneously Michael’s horizons had been broadened and he was left in a state of wonder.
Roger finally turned in his seat and said, “Michael, let’s talk. We’ve only got ten minutes till we have to drop you off at the train station. What are you thinking?”
He was quiet for a while, and then said, “Like I spent the day with my two best friends in the world, friends that love me and care about me. And then last night I had this totally amazing dream where everything I’d ever hoped about being gay, what it felt like and stuff, all of it happened, and then I woke up this morning and I’m a lot less afraid.”
“Wow! That’s a pretty radical dream. All that happened to you? Where were we?”
Michael smiled wryly. “Let me think a minute about that dream. Oh yeah, it wasn’t just me getting loved and getting this fabulous hand job, there were these two beautiful gay guys who love each other so much and they showed me what a totally-in-love sixty-nine looks like.”
Jerrod had been watching in the rearview mirror, and now said, “Wow! That sounds like some dream!”
“It was, you guys. Well, except it wasn’t some dream. It was real. I never dreamed something like yesterday would happen. I mean staying with you guys instead of up at the hospital was great, and having you with me at the hospital for that first scan… you’ll never know what that meant. But then that you wanted to spend the rest of the day with me, to be my friends, and you made it fun and stuff. And then last night… I don’t know what to say.”
Roger reached a hand back and took one of Michael’s. “You’ve said it all, man. We told you our goal was to make you feel accepted and happy. Sounds like mission accomplished.”
They dropped Michael at the curb, and after a brief round of hugs he hurried inside the station. Arriving at the hospital in plenty of time, Jerrod was thankful that doing therapy dog work meant they could park in the staff lot, and didn’t have blocks to walk in the rain. Not that he minded so much, but taking wet dogs around to sick patients didn’t seem like a great idea.
They checked in and then started their round on the Ortho floor.
Now that Team Kaiser was part of the therapy dog program, the training was behind them and it was understood that the boys and the dog were dependable and part of the therapy teams, and that resulted in a change in emphasis. When they checked in with the Nurse Manager on each floor they’d talk about the patients, who was new, who really needed some warm and cuddly time with a dog, and they also talked about the conditions that brought these children to the hospital. Over the next few weeks, their time on the ortho floor broadened their understanding from broken bones to limb deformity, hip problems, spinal deformity like scoliosis and spina bifida, neuromuscular disorders like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Down's syndrome. Neither boy had realized how many orthopedic conditions there were, and the same was the case on the Oncology floor where they slowly learned the range of pediatric and adolescent cancers. It didn’t take long for them to realize that on the grand scale of things, Michael’s Stage II (favorable) Hodgkin Lymphoma was among the most treatable, and that their friend was among the fortunate.
That evening when he called home, he made a point of updating his Mom on how much he was learning about various pediatric medical conditions, which made her very happy. He related how they’d become friends with one of the patients they’d met a month earlier and how Michael had spent the weekend with them and got his first clean CT scan. She was thrilled to hear that, “After any chemo course, getting past the first few scans with a clean bill of health is important in how it sets the course for the future.”
When he talked to his Dad, he updated him on how ski racing was going, and Julius was impressed that he’d won and placed at his first race. “I guess that makes the ski racing camps last summer pay off in another way, right?” They both chuckled about that and Jerrod gave him a quick update about school and that he and Roger were starting to visit prospective universities. “I know your preference going in,” Julius said, “so I’m not going to try and influence you. It’s your decision. That’s our deal. Just keep me informed, alright?” Jerrod agreed and rang off to get to his homework.
Monday night David told them he’d spoken to both his English prof friend and the Dean of Admissions, and both were open for a short visit the next day. It was agreed they’d drive up the hill to Lewis & Clark after school. After meeting David in his office, they walked together across the quad to the building that housed the English department where they met David’s friend. He was a friendly man, and it didn’t take long to get into the details of their poetry reading and the assignment they had. He listened intently and then posed a question back to them. “Are you looking for poets who would be considered to be conventional, or those that might be characterized as unique?”
That gave them pause, but they described what they liked and didn’t, the kind of poetry that interested them both, and the man chuckled and said, “Okay, that tells me what I want to know. You’re not looking for beat or avantgarde poets, but you are interested in someone in the mainstream with a unique voice or perspective. Is that a good way to frame it?”
They nodded, and he went on, to suggest that the explore outside the mainstream American poets. “I’m saying American because as Americans, I assume you’d be most comfortable with them, and so I suggest you look for poets that catch your interest for their subject matter or locale. For instance, you live in the Pacific Northwest. Have you looked at the state poet laureates for Washington or Oregon? You also wouldn’t be remiss to look at the poetry of one of Oregon’s former poet laureates, William Stafford who taught English here for over twenty years till he retired in 1980.”
Both said no, and Jerrod admitted he didn’t know there were state poet laureates. They walked away agreeing that starting with Pacific Northwest poets was a great approach, and agreeing to do a serious read of recent local poet laureates. The visit with the Dean of Admissions was very pleasant, and he was quite impressed when he learned their GPAs. He provided an overview of the undergraduate liberal arts program, and stressed when he learned about their parents, that it was a rigorous liberal arts program. “By that I mean, Lewis & Clark is one of three law schools in Oregon, and the only one in Portland. So, there is a high level of academic emphasis in our undergraduate program to keep it in synch with the law school. Likewise, a very high percentage of our graduates go on to grad school, meaning that there is much more academic rigor overall than many liberal arts colleges. I’m sure David can fill you in on many of the details.”
Over dinner that night, they discussed the campus visit and, Jackson told them about his own visit twenty years ago when he was applying and David’s personal friendship with the prof who taught comparative religion was one of the keys.
“How was it a key?”
“There’s nothing like recommendations. David made sure I had letters of recommendation from the right people in Newberg, and Prof. Higgins provided one as well. You should be thinking about that too. Then there’s the question of what other schools you are going to look at?”
Jerrod looked blank for a second and said, “Well, you know I want to go to Lewis & Clark. Do I have to look at others?”
“You should,” David said, “if for no other reason than for comparison. As Dean of Students, I recommend that to everyone who asks me. You should visit Reed College. Also, Portland State University, where Roger’s Dad can certainly show you around. I think you both should also visit University of Oregon and Oregon State.”
Jerrod nodded, but knew in his heart that he wanted to be in Portland so he could live with David and Jackson and continue building his relationship with Roger on the foundation they’d already built. “Do you think Will would write a recommendation letter for me?”
Both older men nodded, and Jerrod continued, “I think I’ll write Mr. Unger back and ask him too. What do you think?”
“I think that would be very courteous, and he would be honored.”
As they were cleaning up the phone rang, and it was Michael calling to thank them again for the great weekend. He said he’d been thinking a lot about the stuff they’d discussed, and had been reading the gay sex book, when he could do it safely.
“So, how are you feeling about yourself?” Jerrod asked.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve been thinking about what you guys said to me about being scared and withdrawn, and I’ve got to figure out what to do about that.”
“Meaning you agree?”
“Yeah. No one wants to say so, but I think it’s true. I talked to my Mom about it, and she agreed and was impressed that when I was with you guys, we’d even talked about stuff like that. I told her about David and Jackson and that they kind of challenged me about stuff like that. I think she expected it would just be some light weight stay over kind of weekend. Anyway, she wants to talk to David when we’re done.”
They talked about getting back into the rhythm of school, and Jerrod told him about their day at the hospital and how much they’d learned about orthopedics. Finally, Michael said, “Mom wants the phone, so I’ve got to go. Thanks again, Jerrod. It was a great weekend and you’re a super friend.”
Michael’s Mom came on the line and introduced herself and told him how thankful she was about the new friendship he had with Jerrod and Roger, and how positive the weekend visit had turned out, beginning with the clear scan. “Thank you for having him call me on your mobile phone after you left the hospital. If you hadn’t done that, I bet he would have forgotten completely.”
“Oh, that wasn’t me. It was the right thing to do, but it was Roger who pulled out his phone and said ‘Call your Mom. They’re probably sweating bullets up there.’ Seriously, that’s what he said.”
“Well, we were worried, and thank Roger for me, please. You have a very thoughtful friend. Now, may I speak to David please. Michael tells me that he’s your uncle. Is that correct?”
“Yes. He’s kind of my uncle once removed. Meaning my Mom is his sister-in-law’s sister, and I had a tough end to my junior year and needed some place to go for the summer, and David said I could stay with them. They got me straightened out and then said I could live here to finish high school. It was pretty fabulous. Hold on and I’ll go get David.”
Twenty minutes later David walked into Jerrod’s room where he had written a letter to Harold Unger and was now doing homework.
“That was an interesting conversation.” Jerrod raised his eyebrows, and David sat on the end of the bed. He smiled and then said, “It started probably where your conversation left off, with her thanks for letting him stay here and for the friendship you three have developed. She said he hasn’t had many friends over the last couple of years.”
Jerrod winced, thinking what a life with no friends would be like. “She said he’s always been kind of introverted, but it got noticeably worse as he got sick with HL and then especially with the diagnosis and starting treatment. She worried he was just going to withdraw into his shell and never come out.”
“Well, Kaiser took care of that. I told you how he and Kaiser hit it off the first time we met him at the hospital.”
“You did, and you’re right. Don’t sell yourselves short, though. She’s a teacher and spends much of her day observing students of all types. She can see something else that Michael hasn’t figured out yet.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“That he was accepted unconditionally by two young men who are not just seniors, but have this great therapy dog, and they were willing to become his friends and accept him just the way he was. And that just accepting him with his fears and insecurities and withdrawn behavior, helped him turn the corner.”
“Meaning he went home after his last treatment not just cancer free, but with a different attitude. An attitude that said, ‘there’s hope!’ She was quite definite about that. Specifically, that he’s been a changed person for the last month, brighter and more hopeful. So, you and Roger have yourselves to thank for that.”
“All we did was be nice to him, because he’s a cool kid.”
“Yeah, you did. And then you went back and spent time with him as his friend and shared some music with him and Kaiser gave him a CD… that he listened to non-stop for a couple of weeks. You guys connected with him and made him feel good about himself. She said even his Dad commented on the change in his demeanor.”
Jerrod raised his eyebrows. “Michael said he loves his Dad but that he doesn’t say much, is a kind of ‘by the book’ type of guy. Remember?”
“I do, he sounds like one of those reserved kind of adults—I think the word is taciturn. So, for him to make that observation says something, doesn’t it? It also probably means he doesn’t express a lot of emotion if you know what I mean. I’m thinking of something you and Michael both have in common about your fathers.”
Jerrod was quiet, and David went on. “What I’m getting at is simply that I want you to understand that what you and Roger did, as natural as it may seem to both of you, has had a transformative impact on Michael. Enough so that his parents recognized it.”
“Wow! That’s heavy.”
“It’s a responsibility, for sure. However, I’d share the title of an old rock song I remember telling Jackson about once when it was his turn to help his brother Gary: ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.’ Somehow when it’s someone you care about it’s not that hard. Am I right?”
Jerrod smiled. “Yeah, you are. He’s a good guy, even if he is only a sophomore!”
David grinned back at him. “Then his Mom asked a few delicate questions about this household, meaning the nature of my relationship with Jackson.”
Jerrod’s eyebrows went up, as if expecting the worst.
“No, no. There was no judgment or condemnation. She was curious and she’s more open minded than Michael gives her credit for. It turns out he told her that Jackson and I are gay and have been together for twenty years and have worked with gay kids. That kind of stuff.”
He paused, and could see a look on concern on Jerrod’s face. “No, I don’t think he said anything about you and Roger. At this point I think she thinks he’s just your best friend and you two do dog therapy work together. But, the point is that he broached the subject of homosexuality with his Mom, even if he did so indirectly by talking about me and Jackson, and that’s just fine by me. He’s really concerned about it, and this gets the subject on the table. Even if they’re concerned, his parents figure out that it’s not the end of the world and that we’re not running a house of ill repute down here in Portland. Who knows where it could go from there? The point is that it was a positive start.”
Jerrod felt a rush of joy for Michael, and suddenly realized that though he’d put it out of his mind, he’d been concerned about how their new friend would handle the whole subject when he got home and what could go wrong.
“That’s a great start. I’ve been more worried about it than I admitted to myself.”
“I know. You tend to do that, you know.”
Jerrod grinned at him. “I’m not that obvious, am I?”
“No, not really. I’m kidding actually. The point is Michael’s off to a good start. And I see a letter to Harold Unger on your desk. Good on you.”
David stood up to leave and Jerrod left his chair and stepped over to him, wrapping his arms around him in a tight embrace. “Have I told you lately how great you are?”
The next day on the drive home for lunch, Roger said, “After listening to David’s English prof friend yesterday suggest we explore outside the mainstream American poets, as well as ones from the Pacific Northwest, I had one of those ‘Ah ha!’ moments.”
“Meaning that my Dad is kind of into poetry and often brings books back from his trips, like when he attends a seminar or symposium. He’s got books of poetry from lots of different countries, most of them in English. So, it was like, ‘Hey Dumb Ass, why don’t you talk to your Dad?’ And I did and he had some good suggestions. He said he thought I’d do best with those for whom English was their native language rather than translations, so he showed me a few English and Welsh poets, and a couple of Canadian. Now I’ve got to do some reading.”
“Good for you. The next thing I’ve got to do, as in this afternoon before GSA is go research Pacific Northwest poets and our local poet laureates. You’re ahead of me selle.”
“Well, for now. That doesn’t happen too often.
On Wednesday the GSA began with the Program Committee chairperson introducing David and making much of the Dean of Students from Lewis & Clark being willing to speak to them for a few weeks on important topics to LGB students. “We agreed to have him begin with practical challenges, then talk about an area he’s done a lot of work, personal and sexual identity, and unless you all get bored and aren’t interested, moving on to the impact of religion, being authentic and coming out.”
Many were smiling or nodding their heads, and when David rose to start, he first said, “I hope that doesn’t sound like too much material or more like one of your classes than you expected. I can promise you there won’t be any homework. How’s that”
He got a chuckle on that remark, and then started out by explaining who he was and that he’d once been a minister, had been part of starting a GSA at Lewis & Clark, then got his degree in Psychology and though he became Dean of Students had been actively involved in working with LGB kids for twenty years. “Now, I need to tell you that I’d pretty well been clueless about homosexuality and being gay until I was twenty-five and fell in love with my partner. Pretty pathetic, no?” There was a twitter of laughter.
“Now, for me, that meant a lot to learn and learn it fast. It was also twenty years ago, and things have changed a lot. Most notably, there’s a much greater level of cultural and societal awareness. People talk about being gay or being lesbian or being bi and in many quarters of society it is simply accepted. In the ‘70s that seldom happened. Being gay is legal and it’s a protected status. A great example is this high school’s support of LGB youth in the form of this group, which among other things connects them with straight kids to achieve mutual understanding. Are you all with me so far? Am I making sense?”
Most of the kids were nodding their heads.
“Good,” David said. “Now, I’m going to take a little poll, ask a few questions. If you’re uncomfortable answering or acknowledging, then you don’t have to. First to the males, how many of you are gay?”
About three quarters of the hands went up.
“And to the females, how many of you are lesbian?”
More than three quarters of the hands went up.
“And to those who haven’t raised their hands, two other questions. How many are bi?”
About half of the hands went up, and when he asked how many were straight, the remainder did.
“Thank you. That gives me a much better understanding of you as a group, who I’m talking to and what probably matters most or could be most helpful. I’m going to start today talking about common challenges and problems. Then in the next few weeks we’ll talk about more challenging things like personal identity and sexual identity, where they come from and what forms them. We’ll also talk about the role religion can play in shaping sexual identity and the difficulties that arise from that. We’ll start though with challenges.”
He looked around the gathered students, and most seemed to be interested, at least so far.
“Now that I’ve gotten to know you just a little, and I have a picture in my mind of each of you that make up this GSA, what would you think if I told you that I know that as many as half of you are or have been depressed in the last year. By that I’m talking about diagnosed depression, not just bummed out because you got a poor grade on a test. What would you think if I told you that almost as many of you have considered or actually attempted suicide?”
The room was silent. David went on, “The numbers may surprise you, and we’ll talk about them, but I hope the size of the numbers make an impact on those of you that are straight, because the simple fact is like the old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Until you’ve done it you don’t really know what it’s like. The majority of adults, even those who have LGB kids, don’t know the numbers either.”
He paused again, and then asked, “How many of you are aware that the numbers are so high?”
A few people raised their hands.
“Now, except for four of you, I don’t know any of you personally, so you must know I’m not making those statements based on personal knowledge. Rather, I’m citing statistics. However, they are very important statistics that you need to understand, because those numbers apply to American LGB youth. If you’ve experienced either depression or suicide, I’m sorry and I’m glad you overcame it enough to be here today. And, if either of those conditions haven’t been part of your life so far, take my word for it that the numbers demonstrate that they very well could be.”
He paused again, and now had the rapt attention of the students. “Being gay or lesbian or bi isn’t easy. Even in our society where it is legal, it is still challenging, considered pathological in some quarters, condemned as unnatural in others, and still carries a lot of shame and stigma.”
“I also want to tell you that I’ve recently been reading the publications of a gay psychiatrist named Loren Olson, and it may give you comfort that some of these insights come from ‘someone like us,’ as well as from clinical publications. So, let’s talk about these things. First, depression. The fact is that between 30-60% of LGB people experience clinical anxiety or depression at some point in their lives, a rate that is 1.5-2.5 times higher than their heterosexual counterparts. The rate remains the same for LGB youth, and it begs the question about the cause. Dr. Olson makes the case that depression is a common experience for gay men and women as they confront their same-sex attractions because they experience bullying, physical and verbal abuse, loss of support from family and friends, and disappointed expectations of their anticipated adulthood.”
He paused again and looked around. “I’d much rather have a dialogue than be giving a lecture, so feel free to comment or ask questions. Was anyone surprised by what I just quoted?”
Eric raised his hand and said, “I guess it’s no surprise since most kids are still afraid about coming out, and when they do a lot still get bullied and abused.”
“You’re right Eric, and although over time that’s improving, it’s still a reality for most LGB youth. Another dimension is that our society still attaches enough stigma to being LGB that it’s like living under a gray cloud almost all of the time. It’s essentially subconscious. You know, you’re in the mall with your boyfriend—can you hold hands? You’re at the movies with your girlfriend—can you make out? You’re constantly having to question, to second guess yourself. It happens in the little everyday events that most people aren’t even aware of. But it’s a constant pressure and it builds across your life.”
David paused again, and then asked, “Are you with me on that last point because it’s more important than most people realize.”
He got a mix of nods and blank stares, and then went on. “So, here’s the deal, whether you think of it as living under the gray cloud of stigma or think of it as the constant social pressure, it’s a reality for all LGB people. Now this isn’t the same as living right next door to a nuclear power plant or living on the Russian border, which is demonstrably stressful. This is not limited to LGB people either, it happens to all stigmatized minorities. Think about being black in the south! But guess what, stress is stress, whether it comes from the threat of nuclear death or social pressure. It accumulates and builds over time. By now you’ve all heard of the fight or flight syndrome. That is a response to danger where your body initiates a very strong and pronounced response to a stimulus. The problem with societal pressures on LGB people is that they’re low level, but guess what? Anticipating stigma and discrimination leads to chronic activation of your brain from the pressure. Questions so far?”
A girl raised her hand and said, “Back to what you said earlier, I get the part about no support from family and friends, but I’m not sure I know what you mean by disappointed expectations of their anticipated adulthood.”
David smiled at her. “You just asked about something really important that is talked about far less than it should be. When you consider the experiences of people who are bullied and abused in one way or another, who aren’t understood and supported by their family and friends, where do you think they end up?”
“You mean other than totally bummed?” Kim commented and got a round of laughter.
“Kim, you’re a really good straight man. Thanks for that wise crack.” He smiled and went on. “The practical reality is that there are people for whom their clinical depression would occur if they were straight or gay, rich or poor, whatever. It’s a medical/psychological condition. Then there’s a host of people who may be predisposed and another group who develop it because of the circumstances they’re in. Think about the cumulative effect of being bullied, harassed, abused, not understood, living under that gray cloud and not loved over the course of many years. Sadly, some of you don’t need to think about it because you’ve lived it.”
He looked around at many nodding heads. “It’s out of those cumulative experiences that many suffer from disappointed expectations about their anticipated adulthood. When you’ve been put down enough, when you’re hopes are dashed enough, you begin to think you’re not good enough, not worthy enough, and one of the things that goes along with that kind of thinking is settling for second best. Or maybe settling for third best. In other words, not being able to live up to your potential to achieve early goals or expectations you may have had. Does that make sense?”
Another boy raised his hand and said, “It really does say how important it is to be accepted and loved whether you’re gay or straight, doesn’t it?”
David nodded. ‘It does, and some of the same dynamic can be seen in heterosexual kids raised in abusive families. The kids are put down enough that they lose confidence in themselves and settle for second best. So, it sounds like you’re with me and understand that when this kind of stuff goes on long enough it builds the foundation for depression. That’s why the statistics are so high for LGB youth being depressed. The point, though, is that we now understand why it happens and can do something about it. You, in fact, are doing something about it here. You’re meeting together, hearing and supporting each other with a faculty sponsor who has your optimal development at heart. You’ve also got straight students involved who want to understand sexuality and be part of the larger support structure. Are you with me?”
He looked around at many nods, but no comments. “Now,” he added, “if we could just make sure that the bullies had to attend, we’d be on our way to solving one of the major problems.”
That got a laugh, and then David said, “Let’s turn to the other subject, the real heavy one you’ve also got to be realistic about, and that’s suicide. I know you all know what it is and have some understanding about what causes it, and usually that’s thought of as a psychological condition or a mental disorder of some type. I also know that most of you who haven’t contemplated it think it won’t happen to you. Consider what I was saying about the high levels of depression as building a foundation that can lead to suicide. Then it’s easier to understand that roughly 50% of LGB youth have seriously contemplated suicide, and compared to heterosexual youth, are three times more likely to contemplate and five times more likely to attempt suicide.”
He paused and looked at the students, and then continued. “Now I know some of you are wondering why I’m starting with such downer subjects like depression and suicide. It’s because this is life, and this is serious. Also, like I said before, being LGB still isn’t necessarily easy, and so it’s important that you understand these kinds of problems and what causes them if you’re going to avoid them. People tend to think that only people prone to depression, those with a mental or medical condition get depressed. Wrong. People also tend to think that only people with clinical depression and those mental conditions think about or commit suicide. Wrong again.”
Jerrod had raised his hand and asked, “Are the numbers really that high, like over half?”
“They are. The percentages are rather staggering, aren’t they? Let me give you an example of something you may not be aware of about suicide. It’s a condition called predicament suicide. That’s when an individual without a mental disorder contemplates or completes suicide to escape intolerable circumstances. It applies to all people, but it seems to me that it is particularly applicable to LGB youth and the situations you can find yourselves in. To me the key phrase in the definition of predicament suicide for LGB youth is intolerable, as in intolerable circumstances. What are those things that are intolerable? Let’s stop here and talk about the things that happen that would qualify as intolerable circumstances.”
Students started suggesting various events or circumstances such as not being accepted by your parents or being rejected by church, or being bullied at school, or being outed before you’re ready, or being publicly humiliated. By the time they were done, it was pretty evident that most of the LGB students had experienced a few, or even many, of them.
“Now, this was intended to be a reality check, not a downer that sends you out of here depressed. The flip side of what we talked about is the positive, and that is how wonderful and beneficial it is when people get in touch with their personal identity and specifically their sexual identity, accept and embrace it, and begin living fulfilled lives. That’s what we’ll talk about the next couple of weeks.”
With that, David wrapped it up, and on his way out the faculty sponsor stopped him and thanked him for his candor and the reality with which he discussed these difficult subjects. “I’m straight and I try to make this group as relevant as possible, and it’s so much more believable and impactful when the message comes from someone who’s both a professional and gay.”
The next morning on the drive to school, Roger asked what Jerrod had found out about local poets. He grinned back at his boyfriend, and said, “I started researching and reading, you know, and read the poems of a couple of local poets and then I found some poems by William Stafford. Remember, the English prof told us about him. He used to be poet laureate and taught at Lewis & Clark.”
“And did you like them?”
“Yeah. They’re earthy and about nature, and use plain English.” He stopped and looked over at his boyfriend in the passenger seat. “He doesn’t do iambic pentameter.”
Roger rolled his eyes. “And they still made him poet laureate? Who’d have thought that possible! Anyway, I’ve started looking at the poets Dad suggested and kind of like two of the Welsh poets. Now we’ve both got to start reading. I was thinking we could study together and read poetry to each other. What’a ya think?”
“That sounds cool, and maybe sexy too. But I’ve got another idea in the sexy space. Are you interested?”
Roger’s eyebrows went up. “You’ve got my attention, liebling. What are you thinking?”
“You know what Saturday is, don’t you?”
Roger looked blank, and his brow furrowed. Then he said, “It’s the 14th… oh! It’s Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?” He looked wounded. “Sorry, liebling. It’s our first Valentines and I blew it. Not much of a romantic, am I?”
“Don’t sweat it. It’s kind of a sappy kid’s thing really, but it’s a good excuse for some romance, so I’m inviting you to go out to dinner with me.”
“You are? Really?”
“You don’t think I’d kid about something like this, do you? This year it’s on Saturday and I’ve got a ski race and who knows what time we’ll be back from the mountain, so I’m asking you on a dinner date for tomorrow night. Think you can work it into your busy social schedule?”
Roger collected his thoughts and then said softly, “It’s a lovely idea, and it makes me very happy, and so the answer is yes… if.” He paused, and then continued, “If I can sleep over and after dinner you fuck me hard and deep.” He gave Jerrod his most innocent smile.
Jerrod demurely smiled back.
That night over dinner, after another positive session at the park with Sean and his Mom, Jerrod told Jackson and David about his Valentine’s Day date.
They both thought it was a great idea, and Jackson was immediately on the central matter of where he was taking Roger for dinner.
“I don’t know yet. I thought I’d figure that out tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s Friday. There is this concept of dinner reservations, which is especially relevant for busy nights. You need to decide and make reservations tonight.”
“Seriously. What are you thinking? What kind of place? What type of food?”
“Well, some place romantic that’s not too expensive!”
“Okay, I’ve got just the place for you. It’s a really nice and romantic Italian restaurant in Lake Oswego. Over the Sellwood Bridge and a little south on Highway 42. Twenty minutes, max, with traffic. I’ve got the phone number. Call them now and make a reservation or you’ll never get in. It’s quiet, elegant, romantic and not really expensive.”
Friday night arrived and Jerrod picked Roger up at 6:00 PM for their 6:30 reservation. Both were wearing ties and jackets, signifying the import of the event. They were quickly seated when they arrived, noting the restaurant was still not yet three quarters filled. As the maître d’ welcomed and then seated them, they realized it was a family restaurant, and settled in for a pleasant evening and great dinner. Since it was Valentine’s weekend, each table had a pink rose on the table. Their server was a friendly young lady, but it was the maître’d who brought them the check. He was a fit older man, with a charming smile. He thanked them both for patronizing the restaurant and wished then a Happy Valentine’s day. On the tray with the bill were two heart-shaped chocolates.
When they got home, David and Jackson were in the living room listening to music.
“Pour yourselves a glass of wine and join us!”
They did, and got the third degree about the evening and the food. When they got to the heart-shaped chocolates, Jackson said, “O yeah! That’s Mario. He’s a wonderful man and gay, and a real romantic. I’m sure he spotted you two love birds when you walked in the door.”
They bowed out before too long because of the early start for the mountain, but as they settled into bed holding and stroking each other, Roger softly said, “Thank you, liebling. That was a very romantic evening. Now, you have your commitment to keep, right? It was something about hard and deep.”
Mt. Hood still had better snow than most other resorts in the state, so they were back there racing against teams from two other Portland schools on Saturday. Jerrod didn’t place in slalom, and in the final GS race caught an edge coming out of a transition, lost some time and ended up placing third. Matt didn’t place at all. Roger, David and Jackson watched a couple of his races and at mid-day they met Kim and Eric for lunch and then had a fun afternoon cruising and free skiing. The negative run ins with Matt at school had stopped, and Jerrod hadn’t heard anything from anyone about him being a bully, and he kept his distance during and after the races.
The boys met up with David and Jackson and had fun free skiing in the afternoon, thankful that they’d worked out a system with their next-door neighbor to let Kaiser out and walk him around the back yard at mid-day. He was still raring to go when they all got down off the mountain. The boys took him for a short walk, and he settled down when they got back, and he was fed.
Everyone showered, and dinner was good and followed by some pleasant conversation, but it wasn’t too long before the day’s activities were catching up with them. After taking Kaiser out for a final walk, the boys said goodnight. Jerrod brushed his teeth first and was laying back on the bed with his hands behind his head when Roger came in from the bathroom. He closed the door, took a step forward and stopped, standing in his underwear till he caught Jerrod’s eye.
“Whoa! Look at you! Usually, you’re in your birthday suit!”
“Do you like the look?”
“Absolutely. What’s with the white briefs, though? I thought you were a boxer guy who graduated to boxer briefs.”
“Well, I was, but you got me in a romantic mood last night. Also, after you did that little exercise with the base layer, I got thinking about it. I used to wear briefs in junior high, then switched to boxers cause all the guys seemed to be wearing them, and then got those two pairs of boxer briefs with the gift certificate. But basic briefs, you know, Y-fronts, work best under a base layer. I also got thinking about being sexy for you, and I, well… briefs can be sexy, don’t you think?”
Roger was swinging his hips, and it slowly turned into a sexy swaying motion, and Jerrod started smiling at the image of his boyfriend with his blonde hair and his eyes sparking in the lamplight. The muted light in the room was reflecting off his body and especially the bright white briefs with the hardening cock inside it.
He swallowed hard and said softly, “Selle, briefs are very sexy on you. I love the way they sit on your hips, and show off your abs, and the nice taper in the legs where they’re hiding your beautiful cock. Will you do another strip tease for me, like you did that on my birthday? That was such a turn on.”
“Your wish is my command. And what music would you like as accompaniment?”
“I think Only Want To Be With You, like last time.”
It only took Roger less than a minute to cue up the CD and step back into the middle of the room as the music started to play. Jerrod was sitting up with his back against the headboard, watching with anticipation. Roger resumed swinging his hips to the rhythm, slowly rubbing his hands over his belly and then up, over and around his pecs. He was getting into the music, his body responding automatically. His hands ran up the back of his neck, his fingers running through his longish hair, his eyes riveted to Jerrod’s.
He smiled softly as he brought his hands down his chest to his belly, over his briefs and onto his thighs where he stroked a few times, ending by rubbing his now well-outlined cock in his briefs. Jerrod grinned in anticipation, and Roger seeing his boyfriends cock plumping, blew him a kiss. He then slid his hands back up to his belly, and pushed the fingers into the waist of the briefs, wiggling them around as he slowly pushed the waist band down to expose his dark blonde pubes.
Jerrod licked his lips. “I love.”
Roger grinned and blew him another kiss, and as the hip swinging became gyrating for a second time, he ran his hands outward to his hips where he slowly began to push the waist of the briefs down further until the waist band stopped at the base of his cock. Jerrod could see Roger was now pretty much hard and found himself wondering if the foreskin on that beautiful cock had pulled back yet. On an impulse he crawled down the bed, never taking his eyes off of Roger’s and said softly, “Can I join you, gorgeous?”
Roger grinned, knowing what he was doing was working and Jerrod took it as a ‘yes.’ He slipped off the bed and knelt down in front of his boyfriend, wrapped his arms around Roger’s waist, and put his mouth against the head of Roger’s cock. He could feel the outline through the cotton, and loved it. He licked and sucked, feeling his saliva saturate the front of the briefs, tasting the precum that was oozing. He put his hands on Roger’s hips, holding the waist of the briefs, and then glanced up and said, “Can I?”
Roger had loved the mouth work on his cock and realized his body was responding and he was losing control of the performance he thought he’d organized. But he didn’t care. This was his boyfriend, his liebling. He nodded, and felt his briefs slowly pulled downward, and when his cock came free over the elastic waist band, Jerrod’s mouth was there waiting. He was suddenly engulfed and sensuously transported. He felt his hands go to the back of Jerrod’s head, softly following the motion as Jerrod took his entire cock into his mouth, making him completely hard. Jerrod was massaging his balls, and without thinking about it, but subconsciously knowing what he wanted, he kicked the briefs off his feet and spread them apart. He felt Jerrod’s fingers move back and stroke his perineum, then rub against his hole and he shuddered. Jerrod moistened his finger with saliva and slipped it back, slowly working his way in until he found Roger’s prostate. He began to stroke it in rhythm with the timing of his mouth on Roger’s cock. Suddenly Roger felt his climax nearing, and it wasn’t long before the surge started. He felt like he was losing it as he started to cum, and had to place both hands on Jerrod’s shoulder’s to stay standing.
“Oh, liebling, this is amazing.”
Jerrod didn’t even nod, his free hand cupping one of Roger’s buttocks simply pressing him close as he felt Roger buck and begin to unload his cum into the back of his throat. After the first two pulses, he pulled back, holding Roger’s cock head with his lips so the last shots went onto his tongue where he could savor the wonderful flavor. Roger was leaning forward now, his weight on Jerrod’s shoulders, breathing heavily, and Jerrod slid his arms up, stroking Roger’s flanks. Eventually he let the softening cock slip out of his mouth and stood up to hold his love in a warm embrace.
When they were back on the bed… Roger said, “you called me gorgeous?”
“Because you are. It’s that simple. You’re beautiful.”
“Thanks. Now it’s your turn!”
Sunday at the hospital they visited six new patients on the Ortho Floor, realizing afterwards that most ortho patients had relatively short hospital stays. After a quick lunch and giving Kaiser a break in the Pavilion, they headed to the Cardiac Surgery floor which the team lead for the therapy dog program told them would be new to them, but on their rotation schedule.
They waited a few minutes to meet with the Nurse Manager and introduced themselves and Kaiser to the floor nurses that came by. When the Nurse Manager came out and asked them to come into her office, she was smiling warmly even though she otherwise might have seemed intimidating. She was a tall and naturally stern-looking woman with salt-and-pepper hair, but when Kaiser walked up to her to be introduced, and then nuzzled her hand, the smile that broke out across her face said all was well.
She thanked them for checking in with her and asked how she could help. Jerrod explained that the two of them were a team with Kaiser and that this was their first month since training and they hadn’t been with surgery patients before and wanted to know about the conditions as well as any cautions.
She smiled again in appreciation and said, “Thanks for taking that approach. This is the Cardiac Surgery floor, so most of our patients are quite young and they’re among the most delicate of pediatric patients because most have had heart surgery. Practically speaking that means that we only allow family to visit after the surgery until we’re assured that they are recovering well. The first concern after heart surgery is infection, so you’ll only see patients that have healed enough to be out of the infection danger window. That said, the thing you have to be concerned about is that many are young and small, most are not ambulating—meaning getting out of bed to walk around—and they tire easily, and on top of that, we have to be very careful about getting them too excited or animated. Like I said, there’s always an infection concern after surgery, but by the time we clear patients for your visits we’re certain they have healed enough not to be infection risks. Now, with all of that said, most of these patients have one or another form of pediatric congenital heart disease, and that causes a change in blood flow through the heart.”
“That sounds really serious,” Roger commented.
“It is. While statistically it affects less than ten out of one thousand children, most often these conditions are present at birth. That’s what congenital means, that the condition developed before the birth of the child. Most of those patients receive corrective surgery early to prevent other health problems. You won’t be visiting babies recovering from surgery, for obvious reasons.” She grinned at them, and then smiled back.
“Now setting aside the babies, the median age of patients receiving CHD surgery is ten to twelve, and some as old as seventeen or eighteen. Those patients are of an age to really appreciate this type of visit because they’re not only older, but they’re old enough and developed enough to be lonely and need company and encouragement. What else can I tell you?”
“What are the main conditions, so we recognize them if patients talk about them?” Jerrod asked.
“Most are the result of four conditions. Pulmonary stenosis where the valve between the heart and lungs becomes too narrow and stiff to work properly. That requires valve replacement surgery. Another is ventricular septal defect where there is a hole between the lower chambers of the heart that allows blood to leak back and forth and has to be surgically closed. The other two that are less common are right ventricular hypertrophy where the heart muscle become too thick and overriding aorta where the aorta has to be repositioned to function correctly. All of them cause oxygen rich blood to mix with low-oxygen blood, so the patients don’t get enough oxygen throughout their bodies, don’t have a lot of energy, and can have slow development.”
“Seriously, aorta surgery?” Jerrod asked wide-eyed. “I took first aid as part of being on the ski team at school and the aorta is a pretty big artery and pretty important. That surgery must be really serious.”
She nodded. “It is and the aorta is critical for delivery of blood out of the heart and has to work well or health is compromised. All of these surgeries are serious, some just more so than others. Now, don’t get overly concerned. The patients cleared for you to visit have recovered nicely and will appreciate seeing this good boy.” She leaned over and rubbed Kaiser’s ears, and he in turn leaned his head against her leg. “Check in with the nurse at the desk, and she’ll give you a list of the patients able to have visits.”
They visited five patients who were well on their way to recover from their surgeries, all of them happy to meet and talk with some teenagers and thrilled to spend time with a friendly dog. On the drive home they were reflective.
“Are you having the same kind of thoughts as I am?”
“Probably. If you mean thinking about how lucky we are to be healthy and able to live normal lives and ski and play tennis, then yes.”
“Geez. Who knew there are so many health conditions that are so serious that affect kids? I’m getting a whole new perspective on what we’re doing and why it’s important.”
“Yeah. I think most people think they know about this stuff and that it happens to some kids, but till you spend some time with them, like we did today with the girl with scoliosis and that cool boy that had the valve replacement, you just don’t know.”
“For sure. Without the surgeries she would be guaranteed a miserable life, and he probably would die before too long. That’s pretty heavy.”
Roger stroked the side of his face and said softly, “Sean’s Mom suggesting this to us may end up being the best part of our lives and Kaiser’s too.”
Jerrod kissed his fingers and nodded, then said, “For sure. You’ll be back there tomorrow. Do you want me to drive you for your appointment with Dr. Yanowitz? Or does your Mom want you to go with her.”
“She does, and it’s understandable.”
“Oh yeah, you being her little schatzy and all!” Jerrod grinned at him and Roger smiled back.
That night when he called his parents, he was able to talk about cardiac surgery with his Mom, which made her that much more impressed with the boy’s work at the hospital.
“You know, honey, we’re no longer putting any pressure on you about where you go to college or what you major in, but you better be careful, or you might find yourself wanting to go into medicine.” She paused, and Jerrod said, “Yeah, I’ve kind of thought about that too. We’ll have to see though.”
“Did you do something nice with Roger for Valentines?”
Jerrod smiled to himself, appreciating the question and the way it was asked, and told her about the romantic dinner they’d had, and how Jackson had given him a brief education on the need for reservations on busy nights. They both chuckled over that, and a pleasant conversation with his Dad followed. He shared the suggestion David had made about letters of recommendation, told him about his correspondence with Harold Unger, and that he’d written asking if he’d provide a letter of recommendation for him.
Julius was impressed, and said so. “It’s not only a very good strategy, but you’re also to be commended for maintaining the relationship, and for asking. Among other things it indicates you understand how important what he did for you actually was.”
Jerrod drove Roger straight home after school the next day, and he promised to call when he got home from the hospital. “It should be a breeze since the medicine is working so well.”
While he walked Kaiser, though, Jerrod had to admit to himself that he was a little worried. What if something new surfaced, in spite of the fact that Roger had now gone six weeks with no seizures?