This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive comments are welcome on my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce, Chapter 30 - Conversations
By the time Bryce got to the Newman Center on that Monday, he was late for his appointment with Father Miller. The student receptionist seemed annoyed with him, but the priest was understanding, having encountered Bryce in the hospital the previous morning. Once in the priest's office, the first item of conversation was Damon and his condition. Bryce explained what had happened to his partner since Saturday night, including the latest news of the arrest of the culprits. Father Miller looked uneasy when Bryce mentioned Ken Carlyle and his knife collection, but said nothing. Bryce wondered whether the priest had learned something in confession, which, of course, he was prohibited from mentioning to anyone. He had heard of a French priest who was convicted of a murder which the actual culprit had confessed to him, but who spent twenty years on Devil's Island rather than break the seal of the confessional. That was certainly a comforting thought for penitents, so he did not pursue the issue with Father Miller.
Putting aside the scheduled topic, they spoke of Damon, with Bryce telling what he knew of his background and his determination to make something of himself. He also spoke movingly of his feelings for his boyfriend, stating it was this, more than any other single thing, which had pushed him to recognize his homosexuality. Then, hesitantly, Bryce began to explain his experiences which convinced him that gay sex was not something abhorrent to God. Father Miller got very quiet, and allowed Bryce to explain himself. When Bryce had faltered to a halt, the priest sat silently for a few moments. Then, he sounded very much like Damon when he asked in a voice laced with skepticism, "Can you go over that bit about talking to Jesus again?"
Bryce sighed. He pondered how to go about this without sounding like a total freak. He decided on the historical approach.
"I remember, when I was in the second grade, and we were preparing for First Communion, Miss Clemens told us that we would be receiving the actual body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament. She told us that we ought to make ourselves aware of the presence of Jesus, and talk to him just like we talk to our parents or our best friend. So, I did. I remember, it was a Sunday in May when we made our First Communion. We were all dressed up for it. White shirts, ties, black pants, polished dress shoes. All the girls wore white dresses and veils. It was a very special occasion. When I went up to the priest, my mom snapped a picture. Then, I received, and went back to the pew. Jimmy Stallard was laughing and making a joke, and I thought that was very wrong of him. I knelt and prayed, and tried to do what Miss Clemens told us. As I did, I felt Jesus in me. It was a good feeling, like I was floating without a thing to worry about, and I could not hear Jimmy at all. I just felt good all over. After a while, we had to get up and do some other things, and the feeling went away, but I never forgot it.
"Over the next few years, whenever I received communion, I tried to recapture that feeling. It did not come all the time, but whenever I was really worried about something, I would pray especially hard, and I could feel Jesus there after I received him in communion. Sometimes I kind of knew what he was trying to tell me, like when my dog was missing for three days back when I was in fifth grade. I knew he would come back, and he did. Other times, it was just a feeling that I was loved, and everything would be okay.
"Then when I was in seventh grade, the hormones began to kick in. I discovered masturbation. I had begun to pleasure myself before anyone said anything about it. Like a lot of kids, I guess, I kind of thought I had discovered this all on my own. But, one day towards the end of the school year, Miss Pritchard talked to us about what she called 'self-abuse.' She scared the shit out of me. She said those who 'abuse' themselves were going to hell. Well, somehow that made me mad at Jesus. Why hadn't he told me about this? We had been going along, having a grand old time, and here I was going to hell, and he didn't even warn me. So, I wouldn't talk to him for a while. Just like when I got mad at my friends. The old silent treatment.
"Then, in the eighth grade, in February, my grandfather had a stroke. This is my mother's father. I wasn't entirely sure what a stroke was, but I knew it was bad, and serious. Mom told us about it one Saturday evening, and I worried all night about him. Then, at Mass the next morning, after receiving communion, I found myself praying to Jesus for my grandfather. I promised I'd never jerk off again, if only my grandfather got well. And I had that feeling again, for the first time in months. It was not very explicit. I was not certain my 'deal' had been accepted, but somehow I just knew my grandfather would get better. And he did. I think I lasted maybe two months before I gave in and jerked off again. By then, I was drifting away again, sort of taking things for granted, not really paying attention at Mass. So, it did not seem like a big deal. Besides, from what I could tell from what my buddies were saying, they were all doing it as well.
"So, I kind of drifted into high school. From time to time, I would sort of feel Jesus when I received communion, but it was never as strong or as definite as when I was younger. There are a lot of temptations teenagers have to face. I was not immune. I smoked my first joint in my freshman year, and thought I was very grown up. I didn't notice it at the time, but the more I became 'cool' and 'one of the guys,' the less I felt the presence of Jesus. I remember from somewhere that temptations come from 'the world, the flesh, and the devil.' I can't say I've ever been tempted directly by the devil, but I sure enjoyed the world and the flesh. Sort of. I thought I was enjoying myself, anyway. From being Mr. Cool, with money to spend, I went on in my sophomore year to enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. It was easy, really. I never had the least trouble picking up girls, and getting them to have sex with me, from my sophomore year onwards. It seemed like I was well on the path to being a normal member of the 'me' generation, or whatever it's called. You know, being concerned about nothing except how I look, what I want to do next, what I have, especially if I have more than the next guy. And sex. No teenager ever escapes being obsessed with sex. I'm convinced of it. I truly believe even Jesus, in his human form, was tempted by sex when he was a teen.
"The problem was, by the time I turned sixteen, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I was beginning to feel sexual temptations I did not know how to handle. I suppose they had always been there. Thinking back, I can remember being 'interested' in other guys, stealing looks in the locker room, that sort of thing. I told myself it was just normal curiosity. But by junior year, I was beginning to think it was not normal at all. Not long after the school year started, Father Flannigan, the pastor at my home parish, preached a sermon on what he called 'sexual perversions' and the 'gay agenda.' It scared me again, just like Miss Pritchard did. Once again, I was told that what I felt would send me to hell. Not only that, but to hear him, every gay person was involved in some kind of massive conspiracy to make every person in the world take part in gay sex. It was like some kind of giant diabolical ritual, devil worship, with fumes of sulfur overlaying the images.
"I went off the deep end. I tried to cover up my feelings. I began using hard drugs for the first time, and I set out to prove that I was not gay by having sex with every female I could entice into my clutches. I very nearly ruined my life during my junior year. My grades slipped. My usual friends began to avoid me. I began hanging out with some very sleazy characters. Mind you, some of those sleazy characters came from very well-to-do families. I thought I was real popular because I would buy drugs for everyone in the group, and they flocked around. I fucked and fucked and fucked, trying to convince myself that this was what I really wanted. All this time, I went through the motions on Sunday morning, but I felt nothing. I zoned out. I was not there. It wasn't so much rejecting Jesus and the Church, as simply ignoring him, it.
"One day, during the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I woke up in a place I did not recognize, with people I only dimly recognized scattered around me. I had no idea where I was, or how I got there, or what I had been doing. I was naked. I had cum stuck to me. I also had vomit dried on me. I had a horrendous headache. My vision was blurred. I was not sure what day it was. I was scared. More scared than when Miss Pritchard lectured us about masturbation. More scared than when Father Finnegan sermonized about the gay agenda. I wasn't sure what I was scared of, but I was shaking and cold all over. One of the guys there noticed that I was awake, and tried to get me to buy some more drugs, but I was in no mood for that. I dressed, even though my clothes were almost as disgusting as I was. I went outside, and found myself in a rundown area where I had never been before, at least as far as I could remember. If it had not been for a street sign, I would have had no idea where I was. I found my car, and made my way back home. I was able to get in, and clean myself up, without meeting anyone. I just sat for a long time. I knew something had to change, or else I just might hasten that journey to hell. I figured I had seen what it would be like.
"Two days later, after being totally emotionally numb since getting home, I went to Mass with my family. Something clicked. After receiving communion, which I had been doing automatically, unthinkingly ... I guess you would say unworthily ... for well over a year, I found myself taking to Jesus again. I don't remember any words, exactly. Just the idea that I needed help. And you know what he said to me? I heard it plain as day. 'It's about time.' I didn't hear it with my ears, but I heard it inside my head, and it was as plain as any speech I've ever heard.
"From that day on, I've been trying to figure out who I am, and what God wants of me. I was really messed up for a while. It took me quite a while to wean myself off the drugs, and then I seemed to have no friends. All my previous 'respectable' friends had abandoned me, or I had abandoned them, when I got into the drug scene so heavily, and I did not want to continue with the people I had been hanging with lately. I tried talking to them, but I got nowhere. Then, there were the 'temptations' again. When I was no longer strung out, and no longer fucking every girl in sight, all I could think about was the hot guys I saw. I was back to jerking off, but the images in my mind were guys in the locker room, in class, on the soccer field, at the swimming pool. I thought I would go crazy. I kept telling myself that I could not be gay. I had no agenda. I did not want to lead others down the path to hell. But ... it would not go away."
"I knew I had to get away from home. As long as I was there, with my family acting like I was some kind of social invalid, and the kids at school avoiding me whenever I tried to talk about something serious, and Father Flannigan repeating mindless invective every Sunday, I knew I could never find a solution to what was bothering me unless I could get away. So, I went back to Jesus. I prayed. After communion, I asked him what to do. Again, I got an answer. The answer was that I already knew what to do. Get away. That same day, I sent off my application to six colleges, all of them a long distance from home. I really am interested in Early Modern British History, and I really do admire Professor Dickinson, so when I was accepted here at Clifton, I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
"Things seemed to happen fast once I got here. The very first day, I met Damon, who has the room next to mine in the dorm. Other people I met, things I learned from my classes, they all seemed to be pointing me in one direction. I tried to fight it. I didn't want to admit it. But in the end, when Damon put it directly to me, I had to admit, to him, and to myself, that I am gay. Then, I had to figure out how this fit into the rest of my life - my family, the Church. As I believe I told you when Nan was here, I read the official statements about homosexuality on line. It's pretty definite. Those statements make a grudging acknowledgment that sexual orientation is not a choice, then they go on to insult every homosexual person, and say all gay sex is sinful. It was at that point that I decided the Vatican and the bishops didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. Sorry, Father, but that's just the way it is. They make no sense at all. Where the hell were they getting this stuff, I asked myself. Then, you gave me the Salzman and Lawler book, and I began to get a glimpse of where they were coming from, but I still haven't figured out how I can remain in the Church, and still be a sexually active gay person.
"I am really worried about all this. I don't want to abandon my Church. It's mine! It's part of me! It's part of my heritage. It's part of who I am. I really, really like being Catholic, being a part of the communion of saints mentioned in the Apostles Creed, being a part of an unbroken history of two thousand years, right back to when Jesus walked the earth. But I'm gay, and there is no way I can lead a celibate life. I just can't. I've thought about it. I've even tried it for short spaces of time. I can't do it. And I absolutely will not pretend to be straight, and marry some poor unsuspecting woman in order to find sexual release. That's what the bishops seem to be recommending, but I think that's abominable. It's dishonest. It's totally unfair to the woman. It's incompatible with the dignity of the human person as I understand it.
"So, I prayed. Several times, I thought I was getting signals when I prayed after receiving Our Lord in communion, but they were mixed signals, or else I was trying to impose my own solution on what Jesus wanted. But finally, on the Tuesday during fall break, something happened. It was the day after Nan and I talked with you, so maybe you're responsible," Bryce said with an evil grin. "I was totally relaxed in the sauna after a good workout. I wasn't trying to force anything. I wasn't even thinking about sex to begin with. Somehow, the phrase "come into me" passed through my mind, and I was confused. Was this Jesus inviting himself into me in Holy Communion, or was this Damon, whose sperm I had swallowed, and who obviously wanted to enter my body in another way as well? Then, it hit me that it could be both. Jesus comes into me physically in communion. Damon wants to come into me physically while having sex. Jesus loves me. Damon loves me. Sharing ourselves intimately, entirely, is an act of love. Merging with the other person, at least for a time, having that other person actually become a part of me, was as loving an act as I could imagine. This fits into what we were talking about last week, I think. God is love, and sometimes that love is eros.
"Now, I had to decide whether this insight was from Jesus, or was a temptation from the devil. I said I had never been tempted directly by the devil. I'm not sure what such a temptation would be like. So I needed verification, some kind of proof. I went to Mass at St. Boniface at noon. I received Our Lord in communion, and I asked him whether he had put that idea in my head earlier. I prayed very earnestly, then I waited for an answer. It came. I felt a strong affirmative. I say I felt it. Heard it? I don't know. How does Jesus communicate these days? Anyway, I knew, as certainly, as definitely, as I know anything, that Jesus was telling me that gay sex is not wrong when it is an expression of love, like his coming to me in communion is an expression of his love. And I knew that Damon was the one person who was right for me. Somehow, he would help me attain salvation. I still don't know how. I still don't know how all this fits together. I still don't know how it fits into the teachings of the Church. But I know it's true."
Bryce wound down, and slumped in his chair, exhausted by his narrative. Father Miller sat opposite him, lost in thought. This was not a typical student problem. There was something about Bryce's narrative, an honesty, which excluded any thought of subterfuge or dissimulation. He was not being put on. Here was someone who was serious, and who was hurting. How best to handle him?
"All this time, you never thought about leaving the Church?" the priest asked.
"Well, I thought about it. Yeah. After reading those documents on line, I thought about it real hard. I can't do it. You're going to have to throw me out. I won't leave."
Bryce looked at him. "Are you trying to tell me that it's hopeless? Are you telling me to leave?"
"No. Absolutely not. I have seen very few students with faith like yours. The Church would be the loser if you left. But I am wondering what keeps you attached," Father Miller stated.
"Well, there are those things I mentioned before, but you're right in guessing that they alone would be insufficient. Jesus keeps me here. I have re-established my contact with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It is the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced, and I do not want to lose it again. When I was thinking about leaving, I looked at the beliefs of some other churches. Most of the Protestant churches do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, so they cannot give me this experience of oneness and love. I think attending one of them would be kind of like attending a fraternity meeting, or a scout meeting back when I was active. It might be nice, but Jesus is not physically there. It would be a purely human experience in a purely human organization. The Episcopal Church looked attractive for a time. From what I understand, they have excellent taste in liturgy, which I appreciate. And they are much more gay-friendly than we are. But, it's almost impossible to determine exactly what they believe in, and good taste is no compensation for the sordid and bloody histories of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. The only real alternative I found was the Orthodox, but they are simply not part of our Western tradition. What I found left me feeling ... strange, left out. They're too foreign. The only real difference I see between Orthodox and Catholic teachings has to do with the pope, and I'm not real fond of this pope, who seems to be carrying on a vendetta against gays. If I'm tossed out of my Church, I'll go to the Orthodox, but I'd rather stay at home."
"Bryce, you are the most challenging person to seek my advice since I began working as a university chaplain. This is my second assignment, and all together I have been advising students for nearly fifteen years. As I told you before, I admire your courage in tackling these difficult issues. I must admit, I have never come across anything quite like your theology of the body. I use that term advisedly, as a reference to the approach of the late John Paul II. I cannot comment on your ideas, much less on your experiences, without first giving the matter much thought. But I also told you this would not be a quick fix. Will you come back next week?"
Bryce grinned. He felt both guilty and proud to have given the priest so much trouble. "Yes, Father. Next week. Now, I have to get back to check on Damon, and fix his supper."
After stopping by the food court in the University Center to pick up some things, Bryce returned to his room in Clay Hall, where he found Damon watching a movie on the computer. They ate, and while they ate, they talked. Bryce laughed as Damon nearly choked on the burger he was consuming while talking at the same time. That reminded him that his mother was very persnickety about table manners. He had been admonished dozens of times about talking with his mouth full.
"When we go home for Thanksgiving, you'll have to watch your manners. Mom is a real table police about that," Bryce teased his boyfriend.
"I've been thinking about that," Damon responded. "I sure don't look like visiting anyone. Maybe I should stay here."
"No!" Bryce almost shouted. Backing off some, he added, "Damon, I love you so much. I don't want to spend the holidays without you. It will look like I'm ashamed of you if I don't bring you back with me, especially after Nan told Mom you have nowhere to go, and she invited you."
"I'd be a bigger embarrassment for you if I were there. Like just now. I don't know how to eat with fancy manners and stuff. And I scare myself when I look in a mirror," Damon insisted.
Bryce got down on his knees so he could look Damon right in the face. He started to take his face into his hands, then pulled back, realizing Damon had cuts and bruises on every part of his face.
"Damon, there is no face I would rather see than yours, although I must admit I liked it a little bit better before you went and got beat up. I want to see this face around me for the rest of my life. Over the past two and a half months, I have come to realize that I love you, and you mean more to me than anything else. Nan met you. Nan likes you. We had several meals together. She's not running away screaming because of your manners, and she won't because of the way you look either. We still have four weeks before the Thanksgiving break. If you're self-conscious about table manners, I'll teach you. I want you to come home with me, boyfriend."
Damon looked at Bryce in awe. "You mean that, don't you?"
"You're damn right I mean it. You're my man."
"You'll teach me?"
"Absolutely. I will be as much of a pain in the ass as my mom was when I was a kid," Bryce giggled. He could not help it. Damon joined in. Very, very carefully, Bryce kissed Damon on the lips.
"You've been teaching me," Damon said. "You remember, I said I was not sure what love is. I didn't have much love in my life before you. You said you would teach me. I think I just had a powerful lesson."
This resulted in some very careful cuddling. The two could not resist touching each other, but Damon was covered with the reminders of his attack. Bryce certainly did not want to cause him additional discomfort. To an outsider, it might have looked like two crabs carefully circling each other. After a while, they gave up, and just held hands while they talked. The time fled. As it approached seven, a new source of dispute arose. Damon knew Bryce had his special history study group meeting that evening, but Bryce did not want to leave Damon alone again. Finally, at ten minutes before seven, Damon insisted.
"I loved missing my Math exam this afternoon," he explained, "but you'll be real ticked off if you don't do well on your History exam. Besides, you set that thing up. I called DuBois while you were talking to your priest, and he's coming over to watch a movie with me. I'll be just fine. Just lock the door when you leave."
Reluctantly, Bryce agreed. He really did want to meet his study group, as he needed the extra stimulation if he were going to do well on the exam on Wednesday. So much had been happening that he had little time to prepare over the weekend. As he was preparing to leave, there was a knock on the door. DuBois had arrived.