“Yes, indeed.” She seemed genuinely engaged in the meaning implicit in the saying and not at all sparring with Jerrod regarding semantic interpretations about being true to oneself.
“So, that’s the answer to your question. I finally figured out last summer that in my junior year, I wasn’t being true to myself. That I’d been lying to myself and in denial about things and because of that I was acting out, and that acting out got so bad we broke the law. I wasn’t getting along with my parents and all I could see was what they expected of me, what they demanded of me, what they wanted me to do with my life. But underneath that was something else. The something I told you about yesterday morning. I was denying that I was gay, and so I was living a lie and all the other stuff came from that. It took getting away and being out here with David and Jackson, who love me totally but didn’t cut me any slack, that finally made me realize that and accept it.”
Michael’s mom paused, but only momentarily. “I can completely understand that, Jerrod, and commend you for your honesty in coming to that realization, and your candor in telling us. I deal with plenty of students struggling with very similar matters brought about by a wide range of underlying causes. Until one can be honest about those underlying causes, it’s very hard to move toward resolution.”
“I have to tell you,” Roger softly added to the conversation, “That I was watching this from the sidelines after I met Jerrod and was getting to know him. It was really tough for him because his parents are both professionals, his mom’s a nurse manager and his dad’s a successful lawyer. Now that I know them, I like them a lot, but they didn’t understand just how rigid and demanding they were being. And at the start that included being intolerant about Jerrod being gay. Anyway, I liked him the first time I met him, but it was watching his honesty and courage as he worked through this stuff that convinced me that he was for real.”
Jerrod looked around at the adults. “I’m not blaming my parents, don’t get me wrong. They’re who they are, and they’re both conservative, and that’s fine. We just had to get to the place where I could accept myself and they could accept me for who and what I am.”
“That’s a very compelling story, Jerrod, and thank you for answering my question so completely. I hope I didn’t make you feel like I was prying. Now, why don’t we lighten this up. Will you boys clear the table and I’ll get dessert. I made a chocolate cake today.”
The conversation went back to calving with Michael’s dad and grandpa discussing if the vet would be available in the next few days. “I called the vet clinic today, to let them know that four or five had dropped. I also asked if the vet could stop by if he’s down this way in the next day or two. We didn’t need a vet call for calving last year, so maybe we’ll be lucky again. Anyway, I didn’t think the sweet young lady on the phone was understanding what I was asking her, so I said, ‘Just tell the vet to come by when he can, and we’ll be expecting him because everything is going wrong so far!’ She didn’t have much to say after that.”
“You didn’t really say that, did you?” Michael’s mom asked.
“I sure did. She wasn’t hearing what I was saying, and we’ve been customers since forever, so I just figured she needed her bell softly rung for her.” He grinned conspiratorially at the boys who grinned back.
“Well, if he shows up tomorrow,” Michael’s grandpa said, “we’ll know that she got the message.”
He pushed his dessert plate back and took a sip of his coffee and then said, “That was a very interesting conversation we just had, about the Delphic Oracle and all. I admire your honesty, Jerrod. I haven’t met many boys your age that can be that honest about themselves, especially with adults. Especially adults you’ve only just met, ones that wear cowboy boots and Stetson hats and live out here in conservative eastern Oregon.”
“I didn’t mean to be offensive with what I said about conservatives.”
“I know you didn’t. I didn’t take it that way.”
He looked at his son and said, “I see similarities in what Jerrod told us. You’ve grown up out here surrounded by all these conservatives.”
Michael swallowed and then said, “Sure did. It’s all I know, too.”
His dad went on. “I grew up here, just like your grandpa did, and that makes us conservative by nature. That’s not the same as intolerant. I may have been raised on this ranch, but I have seen a few other things, you know. I went to ag school in Corvallis. Your mom and I didn’t get married till I was twenty-five because I enlisted in the Army and that meant I took an oath to support the Constitution and the military traditions and values, just like your grandpa did. I spent most of my time overseas, and learned that they look at some things differently in Europe. Have you ever wondered why I’ve always voted Republican but never joined the Republican Party? It’s because I’m a conservative, meaning I support democratic government, personal liberty, conservative monetary policy and the kind of traditions our Founding Fathers described. That’s different than being political. I couldn’t define that till I spent time in Europe in the military and saw the opposite in communist countries. Seeing things like that makes you appreciate what you’ve got and tends to make you patriotic. I also learned that social democracies, like our allies in Western Europe work, too.”
He paused and looked from Michael over to Roger and Jerrod.
“Now, back to what we’re talking about. I didn’t know any homosexual people growing up, but I did work with a few in the Army and figured out they did their jobs and were pretty good people. I also saw that homosexuality was more accepted in Europe than here, even back then. People should get to choose who they want to be with. Far be it from me to tell people who they should be with. Any more than they should be told what to believe or who to worship. Your grandpa here, raised me to be tolerant.”
The boys had been intently listening and Michael finally said, “Gosh, dad, I didn’t know most of that. You mean you’re not against homosexuality?”
“I think that’s what I just said, isn’t it? Have I ever told you what you have to believe?”
Michael shook his head. “No, but mom makes me go to church with her every Sunday.”
“That’s because everyone needs some religious and moral teaching. Right, dear?”
“That’s right. We all need to love God, know He loves us, and have a moral foundation.”
Michael’s dad turned back to him. “Have you ever heard me make disparaging remarks about Native Americans or African Americans, or Hispanics?”
Michael shook his head again.
“Have you ever heard me call anyone a queer or put down homosexuals?”
“You may not hear me talking a lot about politics and religion, but like I said, your grandparents raised me to be tolerant.” He turned to his own father. “Isn’t that right, Dad?”
“It sure is. This country was founded by people that had to leave Europe because of what they believed, and most Americans today are descendants of immigrants that came over at one time or another. That means we’ve got to be tolerant. That’s just the way it is.”
He smiled at his son, appreciating the shared sentiment they’d both stated.
“Well, your mom and I aren’t blind. I may not say a lot, but I’m not asleep at the wheel, Michael. We’ve seen you grow up and what you have and haven’t done. You’ve gotten to know these gay people in Portland, and we know that’s been good for you, helped you get your feet back under you and feel good about yourself again. Now, you’ve invited these two friends here to visit, and it’s been a pleasure meeting them and their fine dog. You don’t really think your old man’s so dumb he doesn’t know what’s going with his son, do you?”
“What do you mean? Am I doing something wrong?”
“No. In fact my hat’s off to you for being smart and coming up with a way to show your family that all gay boys aren’t swishy light-weights and that, in the case of these two, they’re upstanding young men. They’re good students, they’re athletes, they are giving back to their community in their hospital work, they help their friends. Those are hard things to argue with, and I’m not going to.”
Michael was wide-eyed, but silent. Jerrod and Roger knew the conversation had to be between father and son.
Michael’s father ran his hand through his hair, and made a move with his other hand to reposition his Stetson, the way men sometimes do when they’re nervous or coming to a decision. Then he realized he wasn’t wearing his hat inside the house and grinned weakly, like he’d been caught out.
A smile remained on his face and he said to his son, “I want to tell you one other thing before your mom, and I ask you a question.” He paused again, waiting for Michael’s agreement. The boy smiled wanly, knowing he was agreeing to two things, and said “Okay.”
“The thing I want to tell you is something your grandpa told me when I was in high school. At the time I was so frustrated with him and how little he and mom seemed to understand about me and what I needed and wanted to do. It’s a quote from Mark Twain, and just goes to show things haven’t changed that much. Twain said, ‘When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.’ You ever heard that before?”
Michael’s eyes widened and he looked over at his grandpa who was smiling at him. A wry smile of dawning awareness spread across Michael’s face. He shook his head as he looked back at his dad whose expression was neutral but warm.
“Now, it seems to me that you’ve got something you want to tell your mom and me, so why don’t you do it. You know, I’m not going to love you any less no matter what it is.”
He watched his son quickly glance at Jerrod and Roger, and saw the smile of encouragement he got from them. He was impressed that these two gay boys had not only become examples for his son, and could be so honest about themselves, but would come all the way to Pendleton to support him.
Michael’s father had done more than clear the air, he’d empowered his son, who smiled back and said, “I’ve finally figured out I’m gay, and I know you guys won’t like it, but it’s what I am and I’m not afraid to tell you anymore.”
His dad nodded as he closely watched his son, and then, still smiling, said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was disappointed, but that’s about me. This is about you, and your mom and I want what’s best for you. How are you sure?”
“Because I don’t think about girls. You’ve seen I haven’t really had any dates. What I do think about is boys, and it wasn’t till I met Jerrod and Roger and saw the way they’re together. I mean the relationship that they have, that I saw and understood the kind of thing that deep down I know I’ve wanted but couldn’t describe. I’ve been trying to be something else, what I figured they wanted me to be at school. What the town or society wants me to be. What they want me to be at church. What I thought you and mom want me to be. That’s just not me, I can’t be that anymore, I, I… I don’t know what else to say.”
“I think you said a lot, and most of it makes sense on the surface. My first concern is that this is a phase that you’re going through, and it’ll change as you get older.”
“You don’t know how long I’ve felt this way, Dad. Even way before my cancer. What the cancer did was make me realize some things. Like I could die from it, and life’s short, and being honest about me is important.”
Michael’s dad looked at Jerrod and Roger. “You’ve both been very quiet, and I appreciate that, but I have to ask where you are on this?”
Jerrod glanced at Roger who smiled and nodded. “I went through similar kinds of things. Not all the same, but similar. First, we didn’t pressure Michael or try to talk him into anything. All we did was accept him first as a cool patient, and then after we got to know him, we accepted him as what he thought he really was as he struggled with it.”
He glanced at Roger who added, “I was lucky that I knew by eighth grade and my parents are European where, like you said, being gay is more accepted than here in the States. They just accepted and supported me. I didn’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations.”
Michael’s parents looked at each other and his mom smiled softly. His dad looked back at Jerrod and said, “I was very impressed with what I heard earlier about being true to yourself. I probably wouldn’t have said it anywhere near as eloquently, but I’ve always pretty much believed that, too.”
He turned to his son and said, “Like I said, your mom and I have talked about it, and while this is not what we expected, we know it won’t be easy for you. Especially living where we do. But we’re here for you. We want you to be happy.”
“Thanks, Dad... and Mom. You don’t know... I’ve been so scared... that you’d hate me , or disown me or...”
His mom jumped in. “Michael, stop right there. Why would you ever think that. I see and hear lots of this stuff at school. Just understand a lot of what you’re saying is perception, and you’re projecting beliefs and behaviors onto us that we don’t hold. I’m happy that you’ve figured yourself out and accept it, and I will always be by your side. I love you and I understand that sexuality is important in life. That said, you’re fifteen, so focus on being a teenager, getting good grades, enjoying life. You only get one. I’m not saying to ignore your feelings, I’m saying to acknowledge then, let them be there, but don’t make it your reason for living. I want only the best for you even if we haven’t done the best job of making sure you understand what we feel, but we’ll always love you no matter what.”
Michael was happy but quiet, processing all this new information. He looked at both of his parents and smiled. Then he looked at his grandpa. “Is that the way you feel, too, Grandpa?”
“Why would you think for a second that it isn’t? Like your dad said, this is about you, not about us. Whoever you’re attracted to is for you to decide, not me. I’ll love you no matter what, even if you have poor taste in hunting dog breeds!” His eyes were gleaming as he said the last words, and Michael stepped over to throw his arms around the older man, followed by his parents.
Early the next morning Michael came into the guest room, not knowing if the boys would be awake. Roger watched him quietly walk in, and Kaiser was up with his tail wagging in no time. Jerrod woke up with the commotion and said, “What’s up?”
“I know it’s early, but you’re leaving in a while. Can we talk?”
“Sure, dude. Have a seat.” Jerrod shimmied over on the bed and patted the mattress next to his pillow. Michael sat down and said, “I just want to talk about what happened last night. I didn’t know, I mean… I didn’t expect to talk about… I sure didn’t plan on coming out… and then it happened, and the parents were so great. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“We know what you’re saying, don’t we Roger?”
Roger nodded and said, “Sure do.” Kaiser was sitting next to Roger’s bed with his head on the mattress so he could be stroked.
“I also really want to thank you guys for everything you said last night. I know I didn’t say much before we went to bed, ‘cause I guess I was still in shock that it all came out like it did, and I didn’t get thrown out of the house. You guys were great.”
Jerrod bumped Michael’s shoulder with his and said, “Well, we didn’t see it coming either, although I told you your mom apologized about the bed rules and we told her we’re gay and together.”
Roger added, “The surprise for me was not just the pretty open attitude your dad had, but that he and your mom had talked about it. It was like they knew it was coming and prompted you to tell them. They just needed something to get the ball rolling.”
“I thought about that last night. I guess it wouldn’t be very cool to just walk up to your kid and say, ‘So, we were wondering, are you gay?’ I mean that would be a mindblower. So, I get that they needed something to start, and I probably wouldn’t have if you guys weren’t here, so thanks again for that. What did you make of the whole thing?”
“That besides being tolerant,” Jerrod replied, “like your dad said, that they knew something was going on in your life. Your mom told us yesterday that she knew you were going through what she called personal matters. I kinda think that subconsciously they knew what was going on, or maybe it took your cancer diagnosis and treatment for them to become more open or sensitive or something. My mom was kinda like that, she subconsciously knew, but wasn’t ready to do something till it got forced on her. What do you think, Roger?”
“You’re probably going to think I’m a wise ass, but what I’m thinking is the old saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover.’ I mean, Michael, your parents are way different than mine. You know, city versus country. Progressive versus conservative. All of that. The way they accepted it and said they’d support you was way different than how my parents did it, but in the end what matters is that they did it. They said they’d love you no matter what and would be there for you. So did your grandpa.”
Michael was quiet, and Jerrod and Roger waited. Kaiser had laid down below his bed and Roger was reaching down to stroke the dog’s head. Michael finally said, “I thought a lot last night about what mom said about projecting beliefs and behaviors onto them. I think I was doing that, you know? Taking stuff from school and what I thought everyone thinks, even what I thought they think, and putting it on them. How could I have been so wrong about that?”
“Don’t beat yourself up. Roger, who was it who said something about nature hating a vacuum? Wasn’t it a Greek philosopher?” He looked across at Roger.
“Yeah, it was Aristotle, and he said, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum,’ which is the same thing.”
“What does that mean?”
“That unless both you and your parents were talking about sexuality and the possibility of boys being gay and all that, then you’re all assuming stuff about what each other thinks.”
“In my case,” Roger said, “remember what I said about eighth grade? I was talking to my mom in eighth grade, when I was thirteen, about what being gay meant and liking this boy or that one, and thinking I was gay, and she was telling me about how much more accepted it is in Europe. Jerrod’s telling you that he wasn’t talking to his parents and they were all assuming stuff, too.”
“Think of it this way,” Jerrod said, “remember when we told you about David and Jackson having the gay ‘birds and bees’ talk with us? And in the GSA talks at school he said that parents don’t talk to their kids about the possibility that they may grow up to be gay. So, doesn’t that just come down to we don’t live in a world with good communication about sexuality? So, in the end what matters is whether it’s accepted or not, and when it comes out.”
“Jerrod’s telling you to keep talking to your parents, Michael,” Roger said grinning at him. “It’s all going to work out fine, it seems to me.”
Michael nodded but didn’t say anything, looking straight ahead and reflecting on what had been said.
“Well, here’s what I know. I’ve got the best friends in the world, and I mean all three of you. You made me feel like there was hope when I met you in the hospital, and now you’re made me understand that most of this shit was in my head. I know most kids aren’t so lucky. But now I know I am and that’s thanks to you guys.”
Jerrod pulled him in for a hug and they watched Roger climb out of his bed, step over Kaiser and climb on top of them both for a three-way hug. Kaiser watched and got excited, and then barked twice before he jumped up on the foot of the bed, not wanting to be left out.
In a minute Michael said, “We need to get moving, so you guys can get showers before breakfast. Then it’s back to calving. You know, life on the ranch.”
They said goodbye to Michael’s mom after another great breakfast. She seemed open and at ease in the morning, and besides saying that the forecast showed snow by afternoon but that they should be back in Portland by then, asked what Jerrod and Roger suggested she do to help Michael.
“It may sound silly to you, and maybe embarrassing to Michael,” and here Jerrod looked at Michael and smiled with a wink that said, ‘stick with me on this,’ then turned back to her and said, “Why don’t you get involved in the GSA at school?”
She was quiet for a few seconds, assessing what Jerrod had said, and then nodded and said, “That makes sense. Part of it is being there for my son, another part of it is being a parent who’s involved.”
“And there’s a third part,” Roger said softly. When she looked at him inquisitively, he continued, “it seems like most GSAs are sponsored or staffed by faculty members who are straight or have no family members who are gay. I think that’s a problem that you could really do something about, especially in a conservative community like this.”
She looked over at Michael and said, “Would it be too embarrassing for you?”
“Well, no, I guess not. I mean I’m not even out at school, and told these guys I couldn’t even go to GSA ‘cause it’d be all over school the same day and you’d find out… but none of that matters anymore.”
He paused, thinking about how much had changed in his life in the last couple of days. “Actually, I think it’d be pretty cool.”
She looked back at Jerrod and Roger and said, “Okay, that settles it. We’ll work out how and when, but you can consider it done. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.”
Jerrod grinned at her and said, “If it helps at some point, I happen to have an in with a certain Dean of Students who gave four of the best GSA talks ever at our school just last month.”
They all chuckled at that and Michael’s mom encouraged them to finish breakfast and get rolling so they’d be over the Cascades before the weather changed.
Fifteen minutes later they were walking through the kitchen with their duffle bags, and stopped to say goodbye and give this new lady in their lives a big hug.
“Thanks for having us and taking such good care of us,” Jerrod said.
“It felt like being at home the whole time,” Roger added.
“I feel the same way, and it was wonderful to have you with us. You two probably don’t know it, but you do more than just dog therapy for patients. You do some wonderful other types of therapy, too. Now, you boys be sure to stay in touch, and I mean with me as well as Michael, okay?”
They nodded, and after she stroked Kaiser’s head and said goodbye, she added, “Don’t forget to stop in the barn and say goodbye to Michael’s dad and grandpa.”
When they walked in the alleyway, it was clear the feeding was over, and both men were in the third corral working with a cow. The boys walked over, leaned on the fencing to watch, and after a few seconds, Michael said, “She looks like she’s birthing just fine. They just don’t have anything else to do.”
They cracked up, and about then Michael’s grandpa saw them. “If you boys can’t find anything more productive to do than stand there laughing, you’re not good for much!”
“Not to worry, Grandpa. We were appreciating how professional and competent you and Dad are. Who even needs a vet with you two around?”
“Well, you know that old saying,” he said as he started walking toward the boys, “‘no generalization is worth a damn, including this one?’ Or, that one, in your case. Your dad and I may have plenty of practice, but that don’t make us as good as the vets. Course, we haven’t had a cow in real trouble so far.”
He’d reached the fence and assumed his leaning position on the side opposite the boys, both forearms on the top rail, with his left foot up on the bottom rail. Ruby had followed him over, and she and Kaiser were sniffing each other through the rail fence, their tails wagging.
“So, you city slickers ready to head back to the bright lights?”
“Yes, Sir!” Jerrod said, with a big smile on his face.
“Don’t you call me Sir! That’s for officers. I was just a corporal, and as my sergeant regularly told me, that’s just a shave better than an enlisted man!”
“I bet you’d have made a great officer,” Roger offered.
“Don’t you go brown nosing me, son,” he replied with a big grin on his face. “I did my duty, that’s all.”
Michael’s dad had come up behind his father and leaned on the fencing next to him. “What’s all the commotion about.”
“Jerrod and Roger are just trying to pay Grandpa a compliment, but you know how he is.”
“Yeah, I do. Too humble for his own good.” He turned to his father, saying, “You be kind to these boys now, Dad. They’re for real, and boys like this are few and far between.”
“Oh, I know that. I also know if you give boys this age an inch of space, it all goes to their head. Ain’t that right boys? Gotta keep the likes of you three on the straight and narrow.”
They all laughed, and the conversation got back on track and everyone said goodbye. It wasn’t until Jerrod drove through Pendleton and got on the freeway that it dawned on him. He turned to Roger, “I just realized something?”
Roger raised his eyebrows, his eyes sparkling in the morning light.
“When we said goodbye to Michael’s Dad and his Grandpa, they both stayed on the other side of the fencing. Remember, we shook hands through the fencing. Even though they were real friendly, there was no hugging and stuff. The fencing took care of that.”
“Yeah! What does that mean?”
“Probably nothing, really. They’re not David and Jackson. Remember Jackson telling us that your home is a place where everyone gets hugs? There weren’t that many hugs in Michael’s house. I’m not saying it was cold or unfriendly or anything like that, just that there wasn’t lots of… what would you call it?”
“Demonstrations of affection.”
“Yeah, that’s it. But you know what? That’s who they are. It probably goes along with the communication problem they had with Michael. Don’t you think? Not a lot of affection even though he knows he’s loved. Not a lot of communication about really personal stuff, even if it is way important for him and his life.”
Jerrod pondered as he drove west down I-84. Finally, he said, “That’s the way it used to be at home back in Philly. That’s the way my parents were. It was so different when David and Jackson finally got through to me, and when Kaiser did, too. Suddenly showing your affection, how you felt, just became normal.”
“See, that’s what I’m saying.”
“Okay, so here’s the deal. Whether we see them next back here in Pendleton, or down in Portland, they’re not getting away without some serious hug sessions. Are you with me?”
“Yeah. They’re actually cool people, even if they have a different style from us. Hugs it is. That’ll be fun. Michael’s mom will go for it, but I can already see how flustered and almost embarrassed his dad will be!”
They got home in time for a late lunch, Jerrod unpacked and dropped his dirty clothes in the washing machine. Then they called David and Jackson to let them know they were back, and that Jerrod would be home after they met up with Sean and his mom, and then took Roger home. It was another fun session at the park, and another exhilarating meeting with Kaiser for Sean.
They were all sitting in the kitchen after dinner, Kaiser under the table with his chin on Jackson’s foot, getting caught up about the trip and Jerrod was filling them in on what they did with Michael, learning about ranching in eastern Oregon and being part of calving, and the discussions about homosexuality that let to Michael coming out to his parents.
“Wow! That’s a lot for a couple of days out of town,” Jackson quipped.
“You know, it probably seems like it, but we just slid through it, doing what came naturally. It wasn’t like we had an agenda or there was any confrontation. That’s what made it so fun and cool. And, to top it off, his parents and grandpa are really nice people.”
“She seemed very pleasant and open minded when we spoke on the phone,” David commented.
Jerrod grinned mischievously. “Well, the first night she did make a deal about how we’d be sleeping in twin beds so that we’d comply with what she called the rules of the house.”
Jackson raised his eyebrows. “What did that mean and how’d that go down?”
Jerrod grinned back. “It meant she was already figuring out Roger and I are together. We confirmed that it’s hard to have serious sex in a twin bed, but were able to successfully confirm that a really good sixty-nine is more than possible.”
Both older men broke out laughing. “Seriously?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah. It just seemed like a fun thing to do. Anyway, what was most interesting was that the next morning she apologized for the bed and rules comment. She said our relationship wasn’t any of her business. We were good friends of Michael’s and that’s what mattered.”
“Apologizing over something like that,” David replied, “is a sign of a fair- and open-minded person.”
“She’s that. I asked her if it would matter if we were gay. I was watching Roger, and he nodded to go on, so I did. She said it wouldn’t matter to her. That kind of set the stage for the later conversation when Michael told his family that he’s gay.”
David smiled with pride and said, “I seem to remember making a comment about you and Roger taking over the next generational role of helping gay kids. That was quite an accomplishment, what you two did with his family.”
“It wasn’t that big a deal, really. You know why?” Jerrod asked. “It’s because I actually listened to what you two told me last summer, and there’s something about knowing yourself and accepting yourself. You don’t have all those hang-ups about facing it and talking about it any longer. Michael had reached the point of accepting himself. I told Michael’s mom when we were talking about the Delphic Oracle and stuff, that I’m not some wise-ass kid that reads history and philosophy. Basically, I know what you two taught me, and that made it possible. Anyway, it turned out really well.”
He looked at the clock on the wall and said, “Shit, I forgot to call Michael and let him know we got home safely. His mom was worried about the weather changing before we got through the Cascades. We got busy with Sean and then dinner, and I spaced it.”
David looked at him and said, “When you’re done, come back, because something came in the mail for you yesterday.”
Jerrod headed to his room with Kaiser in tow. After he apologized for calling late and filled him in on the day, Michael said, “You won’t believe what happened this afternoon.”
“Grandpa pulled me aside when dad was busy calving and told me how happy he was that I had you and Roger for friends. He said he meant ‘real friends,’ friends that would drive all the way to Pendleton to help me out and be totally honest about themselves. He was impressed.”
“That’s really nice of him to say.”
“Yeah, it is, but he really meant it in a way I didn’t understand before. Then he told me he really wanted me to understand that he meant it when he said he was okay with me being gay and would love me no matter what.”
“Yeah, but that’s not the half of it. Then he blew my mind when he told me he understood in a way I didn’t know about. When I asked him what he meant, he said that when he was in Korea, he had what he called a ‘special friend.’ Another guy in the Army, a real dear friend, he said, that he was closer to than anyone in his life.”
“Yeah. He didn’t say they were gay, but that they were close enough that he understood something about being gay, and that watching you and Roger he could see what he’d experienced way back when.”
“You’re not shitting me, are you?”
“No way! This is for real. I told you he blew my mind.”
“What happened to his special friend?”
“He got killed. It was a war. Anyway, when he came home, he started dating his old girlfriend, my grandma, and they got married and that was that.”
“That’s too bad for your grandpa. But now we know where your dad’s tolerance comes from. I think it’s a good thing for you. It means you’ve got someone really important in your corner, you know. Someone you can always to talk to… probably about anything. You know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I mean, you get a crush on someone, how do you deal with those feelings, stuff like that? You can always call me or Roger, but how do you talk to your parents about that stuff? It’ll be hard, right? But your grandpa is pretty much telling you he’s been there, or pretty close, and you can talk to him. I didn’t just like him a lot, but also think he’s a really sharp guy. Oh, and he’s now Roger’s grandpa, too, so he’s part of the family. Don’t let him forget it!”
They laughed about that, talked about what a great trip it had been and then about school starting the next week. “Do you think your mom will follow through on the GSA thing?”
“Yeah, we talked about it over dinner. She wants to help, but was mainly concerned about how to do it so she didn’t embarrass me. I think that’s cool. Mainly the good part is I can start going to GSA and not worry about being outed. It’s over already!”
When they were done talking Jerrod said, “I haven’t said it before, Michael, but I love you, you know. You’re one of my best friends now. We’re all in this together.”
“I know, man, me, too. Tell Roger for me, will you? I love you guys.”
“And Kaiser, too?”
“Well, yeah! Grandpa thinks Kaiser rocks!”
He walked back into the kitchen with a smile on his face. He looked at David and Jackson and said, “All is well in Pendleton,” then told them what Michael had shared about his grandfather.
David nodded wisely and said, “Having that kind of support at home will be very helpful.”
“You said I got some mail? Is it what I’m hoping for?”
“You did, and it might be.” David reached onto the counter behind the table for an envelope he passed over to Jerrod.
“It says Lewis & Clark.”
“We’re quite aware of that. It is that time of the year, you know.”
Jackson was grinning at him and wiggling his eyebrows. “You’re not suddenly in a panic that you didn’t get accepted, are you?”
“Well, no. Not really. But… you know, you always worry. I mean it’s competitive and stuff.”
“Just open the envelope, my man!”
Jerrod did, and slowly unfolded it and then read the letter. As he did his expression changed from blank to happy, and then a wide grin spread across his face. He looked up radiantly happy.
“I have to say, that’s the largest shit-eating grin I’ve seen in the last month or two,” Jackson threw at him.
“Yeah! I got accepted. I’m going to Lewis & Clark. Is that cool or what?”
“It’s very cool, and more than anything it is a commentary on you,” David said softly. “I didn’t do anything, like pull any strings, because I didn’t have to. You have a high GPA, you came off in the meeting with Admissions as mature and competent. You had good letters of recommendation to accompany your application. And, in addition to good academics, you are involved in your community with dog therapy, and that is an impressive combination. You’re the kind of student we want to have on campus.”
Jerrod was quiet for a minute. “You know, there was so much going on the last few days, I didn’t even think about the college applications or when the decision letters would arrive. And there was this moment of panic when you handed it to me. But I’m so happy ‘cause this is what I really, really wanted. And, it’s not just going to Lewis & Clark, it’s being able to live with you guys when I go to college. You don’t know… I mean, you’ve done so much… you know, you’ve turned my life around and …” the sentence faded as tears of joy appeared in Jerrod’s eyes.
“You don’t have to say another thing. Words aren’t necessary. We feel exactly the same way. Having you live here and be part of our lives is the best thing we’ve got going these days.”
“Well, best thing other than the dog,” Jackson quipped.
They all smiled at each other and David added, “You probably should go call you parents and fill them in on the week and your acceptance.
He did, knowing that even though it was late, his parents would still be awake back in Philly. His mom was clearly pleased to hear his voice and immediately said, “Now, dear, you’ve got to tell me about your Spring Break and your trip to eastern Oregon.”
He gave her a shortened version, describing the country, life on a ranch, that they’d been part of calving, and how nice Michael’s parents had been. His mom had a lot of questions about those subjects, and finally said, “I’m really happy to hear you had such a good time, especially that it was with your new friend from the hospital. Most patients are admitted, receive their treatment and then are discharged and you never know what happens to them, or how they’re doing. Only a few stay in touch with their caregivers. I think it’s really great that you’re in touch with that boy and have the friendship that you do.”
Jerrod said, ‘He’s not the only one.” Then he went on to tell her about Nate, the boy with the partial body cast from Perthes disease. “He’s really a cool kid, too. He was a Little League baseball player till the hip problem, and now he’s got like six weeks in that monster cast after the surgery. But just like Michael, Kaiser really likes him, he loves Kaiser, and he’s part of Kaiser’s Pack.” He’d told his mom about the Pack, and she thought it was a sweet idea, but now that she was understanding how it was growing, she was even more surprised.
“I have some pretty great news, too.”
“Let me guess, given the time of the year. Does it have something to do with college acceptances?”
“It does. I got my acceptance to Lewis & Clark today. I’m totally stoked.”
“Well, you should be very proud. I bet David and Jackson are happy for you.”
“They are, and they’re so cool, Mom. I told them how happy I was about it, you know living here and getting into the college I wanted and being here with Roger and what they’d done to turn my life around, and, and…” He found himself getting emotional.
“Take your time, dear.” She waited patiently and heard Jerrod swallow a couple of times.
“They told me I was the best part of their lives. I mean, it was so…”
“I understand, Jerrod. Don’t worry about being emotional either. You just reached a major milestone in your life, and to be reinforced like that is not only a great feeling, but it’s a very positive statement about the young man you’ve grown into.”
She paused, feeling the emotion herself as she thought about Jerrod graduating, going to college, the empty nest and how he’d never be living at home with them again.
“Mom, are you there?”
“Yes, yes, dear. I was just thinking for a second about you and how fast eighteen years goes by and how much I love you and how proud I am of you. Now, let me put your father on. He’ll be very interested to know all the details. Give my love to David and Jackson, and to Roger as well, please.”
The line went quiet, and he heard the phone transfer and his father’s baritone voice come over the line. “Good evening, Jerrod. Your mom says you have some exciting news to share.”
Jerrod began with the acceptance to Lewis & Clark, and his dad’s reply was positive and encouraging. He asked about other acceptances, and Jerrod told him he was still waiting to hear from the other three colleges he’d applied to. His dad went on, “I’m proud and impressed, Jerrod. You not only were accepted, but you did this all on your own. You maintained a high GPA, you stayed involved in sports, and you and Roger started doing dog therapy work. I have to say to you that it is a very different outcome than I anticipated at the end of last school year.”
“It is, Dad. It is. And thanks for you and mom letting it happen. I know I was in trouble last year, and I know David and Jackson helped turn my life around, but it wouldn’t have happened if you and mom hadn’t agreed and been part of it, and made it happen. I love you guys, and owe you big time.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual. I’m a very proud father tonight. Proud for another reason I don’t believe you know about.”
“Harold Unger called me some time back to let me know that you’ve stayed in touch with him by mail, and that you asked him if he’d provide a letter of recommendation for your applications.”
“He called and told you that?” Jerrod simultaneously felt elated and a little embarrassed.
“He did. He was very positive and took it as a great compliment. He also told me you are the only boy from that unfortunate event who apologized and stayed in touch with him. So much for prep school education!”
“Well, Dad, he’s a super person. You know what he did for all of us, and he asked if I’d keep in touch and he wrote me a really encouraging letter, too. I wasn’t sure about asking him about the letter of recommendation, but David encouraged me and said it was the right thing to do.”
“It was for many reasons, thanks not being the least of them. Equally important, though, was the acknowledgment of him as a person and of the import of what he did for you.”
Jerrod acknowledged his dad’s comment, but found himself wondering if his dad would be quite so effusive if he knew Harold Unger was gay. He didn’t need to know. That was between Jerrod and Harold.
His dad went on to ask about the trip to eastern Oregon, and Jerrod gave him the same overview he’d given his mom, including the pleasant stay with Michael’s family.”
“Can I tell you something else, Dad?”
“I have a new-found respect for conservatives.”
“Really! Will wonders never cease! Tell me more.”
Jerrod told him about Michael’s granddad being raised on the ranch and fighting in the Korean War, and his dad also serving in the Army, and what they’d said about loyalty and traditional conservative values and being tolerant.
“Very interesting. Somehow, I’m not surprised, given that he’s a rancher and that he doesn’t live in a metropolitan city.”
“I know, Dad, but I mean, Michael’s dad wears cowboy boots and a Stetson, you know! And Michael’s gay and he’s been scared to death about telling his parents. But he did, while we were there, and mainly what his dad said was ‘My dad raised me to be tolerant, and I love you no matter what.’ It made me think about you.”
Jerrod’s dad paused, then said, “Well, son, thank you for counting me among such good company. It’s nice to know I’m not the only conservative who’s proud of his gay son.”
After they said goodbye, Jerrod was walking back to the living room when the phone rang, and it was Michael’s mom. After saying hello, she went on, “I want to thank you and Roger, I mean to say, our whole family wants to thank you both, and Kaiser, for taking the time to travel out here to visit. It was so pleasant and so good for Michael. The whole family dynamic has improved because of it.”
Jerrod smiled to himself and said, “To thine own self be true is really important. I was on the phone with my parents till just before you called, and told them about our trip to your house. They thought it was great.”
“That explains why the phone was busy the first three times I called,” she chuckled.
“And guess what? I got my acceptance letter today to Lewis & Clark. That was my top pick for college.”
“Congratulations. That’s wonderful to hear, Jerrod. Now, may I speak to David?”
He told her to hold on and went to the living room to inform David. They traded places, David heading for the kitchen, and Jerrod sitting down on the couch next to Jackson. Kaiser had followed him in and circled to lay down between them with his chin on Jackson’s foot.
They heard bits and pieces of the conversation drift in from the kitchen, and understood Michael’s mom was sharing her side of the visit and thanking David.
Jackson reached over and put an arm around Jerrod’s shoulder. “This seems like a perfect time for one of those big brother hugs.”
Jerrod smiled softly and warmly, and felt himself being pulled close to this middle-aged man who loved him so much and had done so much for him. Him, a person that Jackson had only met once before last summer. He reveled in the love and the emotion, leaning against Jackson’s shoulder.
“You know what I’m betting she’s telling David? That she hopes when Michael is your age, he turns out as well as you have. It’s one of those things mother’s do.”
Jerrod and Roger have moved into a new phase of their life, giving back some of the benefits they’re received. Spring break is over, and Spring Quarter is ahead. While there are new members of the Pack, there’s still the looming matter of Matt and his younger brother Nate.
Stay tuned! More to come.
Many thanks to my editor, Michael, for the time and effort to proof and edit this story and make it a much better experience for you, the reader!