Copyright© 2013 – Nicholas Hall
Gif's Island – Chapter Two – "It is sweet to feel by what fine spun threads our affections are drawn together" – ( Sterne)
I needed more than coffee and a roll now; it was time for breakfast before I tackled any projects for the day, if I indeed decided to. The chickens were producing eggs, in spite of the heat, so I scrambled three eggs to go with the piece of smoked fish I had left in the refrigerator. It may sound strange to some, I thought, but scrambled eggs and smoked fish make a nice breakfast, if you like eggs and smoked fish.
Returning to the porch to eat breakfast, my thoughts returned to that summer before we entered the community college for the start of our new academic career. Cameron and I had a very good summer financially, both on the river and in lawn care and other odd jobs. The warm weather and constant rain that year made grass grow and grow well. We'd also contracted with a small local cemetery to mow and trim around the headstones. I was happy we hadn't bid a single price for the summer, but instead opted to mow when needed. Well, it needed it a great deal that summer!
The fall term at the community college began and although it didn't have the same atmosphere and social setting or cultural advantages of a four year university, it did offer us an inexpensive way to complete the first two years of a bachelor's degree and, once transferred to a four year institution, the final two years. My major was to be Wildlife Biology with a minor in Business Administration and Cameron wanted an Accounting major. The university would be the location to complete both of those. The community college also gave us the opportunity to be together, finding time on weekends and an occasional week night to "study" together, while living in a community which wasn't altogether accepting of our sexual preferences or us as a couple; still frowning on such liaisons, although the world was changing more and more. We were able to escape to the Island for hunting and fishing, so made the best of it.
The fall duck hunting season was fabulous! We spent some chilly mornings at the end of October setting out decoys, shivering in the duck blind at the end of the Island, and killing our share of Bluebills, Canvasbacks, and Mallards. The northern duck flight was a joy to watch. The birds we took were shared with Cameron's family, Momma, my grandparents, and Uncle John. Uncle John, Grandpa Gifford's older brother, was getting along in years and stiffening up with arthritis. He found it more difficult to clamber in and out of the boat during such cold weather, handling decoys and ducks, so he really appreciated what we brought him. It was also the time of the year that we made certain he had plenty of bottle gas, split wood, and groceries to get him through the time period when Johnson's Slough just began to freeze and that time when the ice was thick enough to walk across to town.
At the end of the second semester, the spring semester, both Cameron and my grades were pretty decent, although his were better than mine. Academically, there'd be no problem continuing on to the second year and to the university after that, unless something, such as a lack of funds or some other catastrophic event occurred. It so happens that both occurred, although not at the same time, but somewhat coincidentally. Toward the end of the summer, it was apparent that we wouldn't have enough put aside to finish the full year. We each had enough for the fall term, but beyond that, well, there just wasn't the money available. The lawn care business was down due to a dry summer and the price for fish was extraordinarily low.
By mid-July I'd made up my mind and offered a solution to Cameron.
"I'm going to enlist in the army or somewhere; I'll take one of their short enlistment options with the obligation to serve in the ready reserve longer. The bonus money I get and the benefits once I'm out will help both of us complete our degrees. In the meantime, I'll give my half of the summer earnings to you so you can complete the year. We'll use my bonus money to help you until I get out, then we can both go to the university."
Cameron was determined to sign up also, more to be with me than for any other reason, but I talked him out of it. As he stated, "It's not fair you give it up for me and I don't do anything in return. It's your money too, you know."
After a great deal of talking, he reluctantly agreed, as long as I made certain to agree to finish university with him. I thought it was great since he was so sensitive, relying on me to protect him ever since we became friends and lovers. Cameron was definitely more of a lover than a fighter and that suited me just fine. I just couldn't let him submit himself to what would be in store in the service. Besides, it was just going to be a short enlistment. How short I never realized at the time!
My papers were all signed, the induction date set and then the other shoe dropped; Iraq invaded Kuwait.
For some reason, the war, this conflict began by old men and fought by young men, became a very real part of our lives and a focus of more mine than Cameron's concern. Perhaps it was a father I never knew dying in a land far away which prompted me or some crazy, innate sense of duty to serve my country, I really don't know. Cameron was beside himself with worry over my safety. I did my best to reassure him that all would be well.
"Besides," I reasoned confidently, "any conflict over there'll be short and if, just if I get sent, the possibilities of anything happening to me are remote. I'll be home before you know it."
The night before I was to leave for Boot Camp, Cameron and I lay together in my bed at home, with me still hard and pulsing my seed inside Cam's tunnel, I hugged him closer to me, nuzzled the back of his neck ever so gently, saying softly, "Cameron, you need to stay here, keep going to school; I'll be just fine. You have to be my rock, the one who gives me a reason to come home, the one who'll forever hold my love. I need you now more than life itself, for life isn't life without you; it's only an existence- an existence which has no meaning for me. Your letters will be my road map home, telling of the love I need to sustain me, and bringing me thoughts of your smile to act as the shining beacon through the fog of war."
Boot Camp was hell and it was only the occasional letter and phone call to Cameron that made me persevere and carry on. I really had no choice, except to wash out, and to me that wasn't an option. I was here and made the best of it. Once through and home on leave, we spent as much time together as possible. It was at night, while we were together at my house, when we became one. I plugged into Cameron, thrusting, pulsing, savoring the deep love I had for him while he pushed back, twitching, and reaching his passionate heights at the same time as I did.
The separation we experienced while I was in basic training made us realize how much we missed each other and how we missed the physical contact; not just the sex, although we gave ourselves to each other with gusto, but the intimacy of lovers, the gentle touches and meeting of our eyes, seeing into the soul of the other. We missed the unexpected laugh of the other, the loving, warm glances, and the whispered terms of endearment during the early mornings upon waking. It was the enveloping, encompassing sharing of not only body, but of spirit; one of us not complete without the other.
All too soon, it was time for me to leave and go on deployment. Our last night was intimate, close, lovingly taking each other and giving to each other the very essence of ourselves. I claimed Cameron as my own, spilling my seed into his very depths, anchoring him to me for eternity. As night began to wane and dawn began its mysterious march into the darkness, I slowly, softly wandered my hands all over Cameron, exploring, touching, loving, and committing to memory every curve, muscle, hair, and texture of him until I fisted his hard cock while fondling his soft sack hanging pendulously in the relaxation of recent sleep and, turning him on his side, slowly inserted myself deeply into his precious place for one last time before the day would take me away.
After breakfast, he stood next to Momma, tears flowing freely as I caught a cab to take me to the airport for the flight back to base and deployment. Momma knew the love we had for each other and accepted us as a couple, even if others wouldn't. Neither Cameron nor I knew if we'd see each other again, but our love was our hope, our reassurance.
"Enough," I said aloud, shaking myself loose from my reverie, "it's time to get busy, even if it is fucking hot."
I washed up my breakfast dishes, went to the chicken yard, watered and fed them, gathered up the fresh eggs, and took them to the house. I'd take them to Momma, along with fresh catfish when I went to town later on. I returned to the yard, watered and fed the two pigs in the pen, and readied the big flat boat ready for the trip to town. It was the same boat Uncle John built many years before and was sturdy, holding a big load. I'd need it today because I needed more bottle gas for the kitchen stove, refrigerator, and freezer, and gasoline for the garden tiller, little Ford tractor and ATV in the shed, and the generator I used for electric hand tools. In addition I needed chicken feed and hog feed. I was short of salt, sugar, coffee, and flour, toilet paper for the outhouse, canning jars and lids, and beer for me. I'd also go the butcher shop, pick up some steaks, roasts, and hamburger and toss in the big freezer at Momma's. The frozen meats would be there for her use it as she needed. I'd pack an ice chest full whenever I came home to visit to bring back to the Island.
I kept my pickup truck at home and used it whenever I came to the mainland. I'd need it today to haul everything to the boat. If my check was in the mail, and I thought it should be, I'd go to the bank, cash it, put some aside, and visit with my financial advisor. Uncle John not only left me the farm on the Island but his stock portfolio as well. He was much more financially astute than any of us ever realized. I made it a special point to keep that all to myself, however, no sense creating problems for myself with the rest of the family. The dividend checks I received every month supplemented my pension check and used to help Momma out as well. However, that might be changing since she was being courted by a widowed sixth grade teacher and she wasn't chasing him away.
It was mid-morning when I walked up the drive to Momma's. Sure enough, her suitor was sitting drinking coffee with her when I knocked on the door and walked in. She looked radiant, in fact, better than she has looked in years. I guess being courted was doing wonders for her and she deserved it. I drank a cup of coffee with her and Jim, explained what I my errands would be and accepted an invitation to lunch with them at home. Returning home, pickup truck loaded, I parked in the drive, brought the meat in and put in the freezer while picking up an ice chest full for myself, and sat down to lunch. We had a great visit and I could see Momma loved Jim as much as he loved her.
After lunch, Jim volunteered to help me load the boat and drive the truck back to the house. While he waited for me in the truck, when I gave Momma a hug and a kiss, promising to come back home in the next two or three weeks, she said slowly and softly, "It's time, John Thomas, for both you and me to move on with our lives. Jim and I'd like to marry in the fall. It's been a long time since your Daddy was killed and I'm finally through my grief. It's time for you to move on also. It's been over ten years and a lot of water has gone under the bridge. Cameron would understand if you found someone to share your life with – please?"
Momma was right, but I didn't know if I was ready to take that step yet. I was lonely, but content on the Island and it wasn't the best place to meet someone. I smiled at her, gave her my approval of her choice in a husband, and kissed her goodbye. On the drive to the dock, Jim asked me if I'd mind if he married my mother and I just laughed, slapped him on the back, and told him to "go for it." He was a happy man as he helped me load the boat.
It was mid-afternoon by the time I arrived back at the Island. I unloaded the gas cans and bottle gas tank, storing them in the shed with the tractor and tiller, unloaded the grain and stored it in the grain bins in the chicken house. The bins were in a hardware cloth enclosure to keep the critters from it. The food was taken to the house, canned goods placed in the pantry on shelves; the flour, sugar, and other dry products in tight containers. The canning jars and beer went on the floor of the pantry and frozen foods in my freezer. I can the garden vegetables, fruit from my small orchard, pork, and fish for use during the winter and times when fresh is not available. When Uncle John built this cabin, he located it on one of the highest points of the Island so there was little danger of flooding in the spring so I remained high and dry. The garden, however, was another matter and there were times I had to wait for the water to go down to plant. Behind the cabin, dug into the hillside, was a storm or fruit cellar. I stored additional canned foods there, along with potatoes, onions, turnips, cabbage, and other veggies where they would keep without freezing during the winter. Uncle John was one smart cookie, but it was still a hike up the hill carrying everything.
It was four o'clock by the time I got everything put away so I grabbed a cold beer from the fridge, put a couple more in to make certain I had plenty cold, retrieved a steak from the freezer to grill for supper, and retired to the porch to enjoy the cold long-neck. The sun still burned hot, even in the late afternoon, with little easing of the humidity. I slipped off my wet t-shirt and pants, sitting on the porch in my boxers, trying to cool off while sipping my beer.
The Arabian Peninsula had been hot also, much worse than here on the Island, but less humid; a beastly place for a young man to be, fighting for his life for God knows what, and the country was full of nasty, biting creatures which could burrow under your skin, permeate your flesh with their barbed and pointed stingers, inflicting harm on your body, but it was the other nasty, killing critters carrying guns I dreaded the most; all of that and the fucking wind, sand, and sun. My years of hunting and fishing on the Great River made me wary, concerned over the slightest abnormality, but it was not an abnormality, not a seen enemy, not a vicious, biting beasty, but a loud "thump" that brought me to this moment in my life.
Finishing my beer, I rose, went to the fridge, got another, and returned to the porch. My left leg, healed but not healed, ached, tormenting me, from the walk carrying the large bags and tanks, and needed a massage of soothing, moisturizing lotion on the tight scar tissue to ease the discomfort. The old wounds in my arm and stomach were healed, scars marking the places where surgeons removed chunks of metal and the steel plate in my head gave me an occasional headache, but aspirin or a prescription pain killer took care of it. Generally, it could be tolerated, unless, in really, really cold weather if I failed to cover my head properly, then it hurt like the dickens. The physical pain I could tolerate; it was the other pain, the ache in my heart, my sense of loss, my longing for my best friend and lover in sharing the small farm and house on Gifford's Island.
The last memory I had that day in Al Khobar was a loud "thump" and a push or compression against my body, thrusting me to the ground, and blackness. I faded in and out of that blackness, with no clear recollection of what happened or where I was. How long that blackness remained with me, I didn't know until I finally woke one day finding Momma at my side, smiling, with tears in her eyes. I couldn't understand how she got here, in this far away land, or why I couldn't move or speak and my head hurt, Goddam, it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch! At that point, I was convinced I was dead, my soul looking at my Momma staring at me in the casket. If this is what death was going to be, I wanted no part of it, but I had no choice.
Momma continued looking at me, smiled some more, and said, "Try not to speak, John Thomas, they have a tube in your throat to help you breathe. You're in a hospital in the U.S. You're badly wounded, but recovering. I've called for the doctor now you're awake."
That relieved my mind, somewhat; I wasn't dead, but wounded. How did I suffer my wounds; how did I end up back in the States; how long have I been here? I had so many questions, my mind flooded with them.
A door opened somewhere and I was suddenly surrounded by doctors, nurses, all doing various things to my aching body. Their numbers relegated Momma to the background, out of my sight, and I didn't find pleasure in that. An older, kindly looking, white-gowned man, leaned over my face, smiled at me, touched my forehead to gain my attention and take it away from those other painful things people were doing to me, and said, "Good morning, Corporal Gifford; I'm Major Andrews, your physician. You're in a military hospital in Illinois. I know you have many questions and I'll try to answer them when you grow a little stronger and we can remove your breathing tube and other attachments. Once done, you'll be able to visit with us with some difficulty at first, but eventually it'll improve. In the meantime, you'll have to communicate with us through eye blinks or hand squeezes. Remember, one means `yes' and two means `no'. Understand me?"
I blinked once indicating I understood fully. Most of the questions concerned how I felt or if I felt whatever they were doing and after a short time I became quite tired and fell back to sleep. It was a full two weeks before the doctors felt comfortable enough with my progress to risk removing the breathing tube. They watched hesitantly, checking to see if I was able to breathe on my own. Breathing was painful, because of a very sore stomach and side, but I managed just fine. A monitor attached to me allowed the medical staff to check my respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and who knows what else. The pain in my dick was from the catheter inserted for urine to drain from my bladder. My output was monitored, measured, and recorded.
The first question I croaked out to the doctor was, "How long?"
He thought a moment before responding, "You were wounded February 25 when a mortar or bomb hit your barracks and you ended up here two weeks later. It's now April 15, so give or take a month and a half."
I was flabbergasted, not quite believing I'd been unconscious or semi-conscious, unaware of my surroundings for that length of time. The next question I hated to ask, fearing the answer, knowing my wounds were severe, but I pushed ahead, "How bad?"
The doctor again pondered for a moment, shrugged, and replied, "Shrapnel to the head, left leg and arm, and some in the abdomen, but all of your pieces parts are still there if you're concerned about that. I'll be honest with you, Corporal, you have a rough road of physical therapy ahead of you before you're on your feet and ready to go home. You'll have some disability, have to make some adjustments in life, but if you work hard at it, recovery can be very satisfactory. Your armed services days are over; injured badly, but a very lucky young man."
Recovery was slow, painful, and wearisome; physical therapy wasn't in the least bit fun. Momma left shortly after I regained consciousness, to return to work at school. The administration was gracious enough to give her leave to attend to me while I was in the coma, but her leave was expiring. I didn't have a chance to ask her about Cameron and how he was doing in school. Her letters to me and weekly phone calls didn't mention him and whenever I brought it up, she changed the subject.
Momma came to visit over a long weekend the first of May and I vowed before she left I was going to find out why I'd heard nothing from Cameron. I was convinced he'd found another lover, one who wasn't crippled or disfigured by war, and had abandoned me. Why he'd do such a thing was beyond me. I'd even written to him in care of his parents, but received no reply. I was angry and wanted him to respond, one way or the other!
When Momma sat down to visit in my room at the hospital, I outright asked her, "Why haven't I heard from Cameron?"
Momma grew silent, tears formed in her eyes, and, taking a deep breath, she said quietly, "John Thomas, there's no way to say it; no way to lessen the pain you're going to feel, but you'll not hear from Cameron again."
"I knew it," I responded angrily, "He's found someone else, hasn't he? What in hell is wrong with him? Wait until I see him; I'll straighten his tie for him, right tight around his neck!"
Momma sobbed, shaking her head slowly, leaned over and hugged me closely, "No J.T., he's not found someone else. He always loved you and only you, but Cameron is dead."
To be continued.
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