We woke with the morning light. I had slept that wonderful post-coital sleep and felt refreshed and alive...and horny. I was almost embarrassed by my morning erection, until my lover rolled into my arms and practically broke one of my ribs.
"Jesus," I said, "do these ever go away?"
He smiled dreamily and started kissing me. "Not if we can help it."
That morning we started what was to become our routine for the rest of our time together: we awoke in each other's arms, made love, made coffee, and took a shower together. Not since I was a toddler and shared a tub with my brother had I bathed with anyone; now, my second favorite part of the morning was our mutual ablutions. Rich was introducing me to so many new aspects of pleasure that I thought at times my head would explode. He was generous and giving, while at the same time making it clear that his pleasure was reciprocated by his generosity; he taught me that giving pleasure can easily be a form of receiving it. It was an amazing time of awakening for me.
Life in a college dorm forced some compromises on us. Neither of us was ready to be openly gay, but at the same time we were ambivalent about hiding how we felt.
In some ways, I felt I already had more support than Rich did; shortly after our initial revelation I had talked to both my brother and Stacy, and both were nothing short of ecstatic in their reactions. Rich, for all his self-confidence and self-acceptance, didn't seem to have much of a support group outside of me. Added to the fact that we weren't exactly in a hotbed of social liberalism, and that I was still going through a disorienting period of self-examination, initially we felt inclined to maintain our façade. In the end, as the year wore on, we became so comfortable in our feelings that we reached an unspoken limit to our hidden lives. The change was as prosaic as it was sudden.
It was early in spring term. Rich and I were just back from spring break down in Florida, where we had enjoyed an immensely satisfying ten days at his parent's condo while they were in Europe. We were both tan, fit and a little impatient with the thought of re-entering a world where we had to think twice about lounging on a couch together with the door unlocked.
We were having lunch in the caf with the guys from the floor, everyone talking about what they did on their break. A few of the guys had gone to Mexico, and were boasting about their alcohol-intake and sexual conquests. I was barely paying attention.
"Thank God you two were in Florida," one of the guys said. "Can you imagine having to compete with those guys for a piece of ass?"
"No shit. Tell me you guys didn't get laid every night. Let's hear some," said another.
Rich and I, sitting across from each other at one end of the long table, looked at one another and smiled. "Oh, we got laid every night, all right," he said, never taking his eyes or his smile from me.
"Yep," I said, "it was truly a fuck-fest."
"All right! Tell us about some of the women!"
I looked away from Rich and stared quizzically at the interlocutor. "Women?" I asked. I waved my index finger back and forth between me and Rich. "You think were gonna waste this on chicks?"
Everyone broke up at that, but Rich and I continued to smile at one another. I sensed the unspoken agreement in his face.
"Seriously," one of the guys said when the laughter died down, "did you guys get laid every single night, or what?"
"Like I said," Rich repeated, "we got laid every night." Then he reached across the table and put his hand on mine. And left it there.
Over the course of the year our closeness had been remarked on from the initial `Frick'n'Frich' label, to the occasional snide remark about our rather exclusive friendship. It had reached the point where whispered rumors were commonplace anyway, though Rich and I never discussed the best way to handle them. We must have just reached the point where we decided the hell with it.
We both turned to face everyone else at the table. "Anyone have a problem with that?" I asked.
A couple of guys thought it was a put-on and laughed; the stunned, agitated silence of the others quickly silenced the laughter. We were probably confirming what most of them already suspected; maybe they just weren't expecting ever to have to actually confront this particular truth.
Eddie Hinds, a slight, bandana-wearing perpetual stoner with the laid-back manner of so many of those partial to herb, was the first to speak. He nodded his head and said with lidded eyes, "Cool."
Tort, the moron who had given Rich a ride to the airport at Christmas, glared at Eddie and snarled, "Cool? They just announced that they're fucking fags. What's so fucking cool about that?"
"If those two are out of the game," Eddie reasoned, still nodding his head, "that just means more pussy for me."
I couldn't have come up with a better tension-breaker if I had scripted it. Everyone burst into laughter, including Rich and me. `Right on, Eddie,' I thought, `right on.'
"You guys are serious, aren't you?" That came from a red-faced Tom Bergman. He was a college anomaly: a non-drinker who went to bible study twice a week and church every Sunday morning. He was a senior still living in the dorms, which was odd enough, but he also had a girlfriend who was still in high school. I had mostly civil exchanges with him, which unfortunately encouraged him to take an occasional proselytizing tone with me, but Rich liked to nettle him by questioning his particular beliefs and the hypocrisy of religion in general. "I always knew you were sick." He sounded triumphant.
I thought Rich would get pissed at that, but he remained cool. "I don't know, Tom. Which do you think is more sick: two consenting adults having sex, or a grown man violating a 12-year-old girl and telling her it's love?"
That had the table howling. Tom stood up, practically shaking with anger. The poor idiot tried to defend himself.
"She's 16...and we don't have sex!" he sputtered, which prompted a few of the guys to start pounding the table, doubling over with laughter.
"Try dressing it up like one of the Muppets," I offered, over the top of my coffee cup. "Maybe then she'll want to play with it." The table roared; even Tort laughed at that.
Tom stormed off, nearly in tears, while the rest of the caf looked over to our table, wondering what the hell was so funny. Rich and I exchanged glances. It seemed like an opportune time to make an exit.
I stood up. The table got quiet and looked at me expectantly. "What?" I said. "I've got class."
Rich stood. "Me, too. No talking about us while we're gone."
We made our way from the table, and I felt the stares on our backs. Eddie came through one more time.
"Whatever else you want to say," I heard his deadpan delivery, "you know they're gonna have some great-looking kids."
* * *
Back in our suite, Rich and I looked at each other for a few wordless seconds before we slammed together, hugging each other tight. I was frightened and exhilarated at the same time; I couldn't tell where my pounding heart stopped and his started.
"I guess that would qualify as our crossing the Rubicon," I said.
"Yeah, except we're not doing it with an army at our back," Rich observed.
We broke our embrace and sat down facing one another.
"Now what?" I wondered aloud.
"Now nothing. We keep living our lives the way we have. We're going to take some heat, but that's to be expected. When you live outside of conventions, you pay a price for being different. But the more people like you and me force others to accept us, the lower that price gets over time."
"Wow, you sound a lot different than the guy who warned me about reality crashing down on us a few months back."
"I am different," he said, smiling at me. "And most of the difference has to do with you. Before, my sexuality was just a game to me. I wanted to fit into normal society and I did. Now it's different. I'm proud to be with you. I'm proud of our love. I'm not hiding anymore because I'm not letting anyone tell me how I should lead my life. We're too cool to be marginalized; we've got too much to offer. It's people like that exclusionary fuck Bergman who should be forced to live in a cave, not us."
I was so moved by what he said that I wanted to leap back into his arms, but I decided to play devil's advocate first. "Bergman's entitled to his beliefs," I said.
"Yes, he is. But the difference between a guy like Bergman and us is that he thinks the world would be a better place if everyone thought the way he does. We already tried that experiment in this century. Death camps and gulags for every square peg. Fuck that. It's up to people like us to force the issue and demonstrate the value of the individual. Matter of fact, I just came up with our new slogan: Diversity Is Divine. We'll argue to the Bergmans of the world that since God created all of us in his image, He must be about ten percent gay."
"Perfect," I said, joining his mood. "Then I'll make my biological fail-safe argument."
"The way I see it, men are the ones responsible for all the genocidal atrocities that have occurred throughout history. Left to their own devices, those raging testosterone vessels would wipe out the entire male half of the species, leaving only women behind. Women, of course, would eventually die out, ending the human line. So Nature, in Her infinite wisdom, created a ten percent fail-safe of human males who were enough in touch with their female sides that they wouldn't be part of the destructive rampage of all those alpha males. After all those violent bastards are dead, guys like us are still around to offer the occasional sperm donation and keep the species going. We're actually heroes."
"That's perfect," he said, laughing, "but how do you account for lesbians?"
I thought for a moment. "I think that just comes down to some women having better taste than others," I suggested.
He laughed again and slapped me a high five. "That reminds me of the one about the two gay guys walking down the street. A drop dead gorgeous woman walks by in the opposite direction. The one guy elbows his friend and says, `Man, sometimes I really wish I was a lesbian.'"
Now we were both laughing and embraced one another again. I was so happy and in love that I could barely contain myself. It sounds a little strange, but I was actually glad that I had to go to class, just so I could miss him for a little while. To this day, that day remains with me as one of the (many) high points in our relationship. We would grow closer still, in the short time allotted to us, but when I think back to defining moments, that one stands out. Given the magnitude of the events that would soon follow, I suppose it makes perfect sense.
* * *
From that day forward, Rich and I had a new sense of empowerment. Not only would we not lock the door when we sat lounging on the couch together, but often we left the door wide open. In the caf, while we most often left together, if Rich was leaving before me he would kiss me with a breezy, "See ya later." The shocked stares gave way to some open looks of hostility which eventually gave way to indifference.
Most of the guys on the floor came around to everything from grudging to total acceptance. Of all of our friends and former friends on the floor, Tort remained the most intransigent. Whenever Rich and I were openly affectionate, his disgust was palpable.
"Christ," he said one day in the caf, making a face after Rich had kissed me goodbye. "Fine, you guys are gay. Do you have to rub our faces in it? Has it ever occurred to either of you that maybe people don't want to see your affection?"
He had directed this comment at me, as he did with all his negative insights. He was either intimidated by Rich and not by me, or had liked Rich and had never liked me; in any case, he maintained a cool distance with Rich, but would be openly hostile with me. This day he had not paused long enough until Rich was out of earshot.
Hearing Tort's comment, Rich whirled around and set his tray back down at the head of the table. Tort immediately pretended to be fascinated by his food.
"You've got a point, Tort," he said very calmly, nodding his head.
Tort glanced up, wary. Rich couldn't possibly be serious. "I...do?" he asked, timorously, wearing a small, slightly embarrassed smile.
"Yeah, you do. And you should wear hats more frequently to cover it up."
Whatever had been interesting on his plate was interesting again. He stirred his food with his fork.
"Listen, you fucking troglodyte," Rich continued, in a low, menacing tone, "if you ever find some heinous flounder of a woman whose lack of binocular vision, or decency, or both, allows her to be affectionate with you publicly, I promise not to make any faces or comments. Do you want to return me the courtesy, or should we take this somewhere else and discuss it?"
Tort never looked up, never said a word; he continued to push his food around his plate, while redness rose from his neck to his cheeks.
Rich remained staring at him for a moment, leaning forward intently, hands on either side of the tray he had set down. The table had grown quiet, enough so that Rich's voice could be heard clearly, though he spoke softly as he straightened back up and lifted his tray once more. "That's what I thought," he said, his eyes throwing an unspoken challenge around the table, before he turned and left.
I was in somewhat of an awkward position. I had to decide whether to follow up with my added indignity and make a righteous departure of my own, or play it down and lessen Tort's humiliation. Since I have always erred on the side of sugar over vinegar, I went with my gentler instincts.
"Hey, Bobby," I said, on top of the silence which still hung over the table, directing my question to Tort's immediate left, "did you end up getting tickets for the U2 concert?"
Bobby lit up, as I knew he would. "Oh, yeah, dude, we got fifth row center. My ass is still sore from sleeping on the sidewalk, but it was worth it."
That initiated a general conversation about the quotidian occurrences of college life: who was doing what for the weekend, what plans studying would interfere with, and so on. Tort could now make an unobtrusive exit if he wanted to, after joining the conversation on who was throwing the party that weekend.
Instead, he did something different. It was a gesture that I thought him incapable of, which gave it that much more significance. As he stood up, he looked directly at me.
"I'm going for coffee. Anyone else want a cup?"
"Yeah, I'll take one," I said nonchalantly, as if he wasn't asking me specifically. "Black," I added.
"Two black," someone called out.
"Make it three."
"And a cream and sugar."
Tort rolled his eyes. "Hey, fuck you, how many hands does it look like I have? Drew, you come with me."
A few minutes later Tort set a cup of coffee down in front of me. I nodded thanks and sat thinking about what it could possibly mean. It was obviously a gesture of reconciliation, or a feint to lull me into a false sense of security. I figured Tort didn't have that kind of duplicity in him, but I had already learned not to let my guard down too easily
In contrast to our initial discussions on what our lives would be like once we were out, I was the one who was wary and constantly on the lookout for perceived slights, and Rich was the one who took a more sanguine attitude based primarily on the strength of our relationship. The reality that Rich had warned me about would come crashing down on us, but not a manner that either one of us could have ever conceived, nor imagined to be so literal. And in the end Tort would reveal a sensitivity that went far beyond his java gesture, but that was still many weeks away.
That day, Tort sat back down across from me and raised his cup to his lips. I swear he winked at me, but it could have just been steam curling to his eye. If there wasn't necessarily a marked change in his behavior from then on, there was certainly at least a lessening of overt hostility. I would wonder about the sincerity of his seeming conversion right up until the point where his true colors shined through.
* * *
That night, as Rich and I held each other as we drifted off to sleep, I wondered aloud about his newly displayed penchant for confrontational behavior. At the same time I was proud of him, I wasn't sure I was ready to become one half of the gay-pride poster couple.
He laughed his easy laugh and held me tight to his chest. "Don't worry," he said, "I don't have an agenda mapped out. But I'm not gonna sit back and be bullied into silence, either. What gives a mongoloid like Tort the right to be arbiter of public decency? Why should only straight couples be allowed to give each other a kiss goodbye? Like I've told you before, the more we force other people to accept us on our terms, the easier the road gets down the line. Or some kind of mixed metaphor like that," he added with a chuckle as he kissed my forehead.
"I hope you don't get too tired of hearing this," I said, "but it's so cool to be a part of your world. I didn't think it was possible to feel this kind of pride in someone else. It's like my feelings keep getting stronger, going past what I thought was possible even the day before."
I felt his smile as he started to sing softly, "'I-I-I love you twice as much as yes-ter-day...'"
And I joined him, singing, "'...but only half as much as to-mor-row.' Trite, but true."
"And I'm glad that you're proud of me, because most of my behavior is motivated by my love for you."
With that we drifted off to sleep. I remember having the ominous foreboding that often accompanies that preternatural state just between consciousness and sleep. My brother Dave half-jokingly referred to that state as the `turtles jumping on rocks' phase for the lucid imaginings he had in regard to our rock-(and turtle-)free backyard as he lay in bed conscious of the fact that he was not quite yet asleep and no longer fully awake.
That night, so securely nestled in my lover's arms, I saw the goddess Fortuna smiling at me, a wistful smile. "Too happy," she seemed to be saying. "Too happy."
"Why not?" I replied dreamily. "I deserve this."
She said nothing in return, but her smile saddened and broadened at the same time. She faded away and I tried to erase her dark countenance from my mind. Later that night I started awake into that bizarre and fascinating moment of utter unrecognition of time or place. Rich's steady breathing and warm presence reassured me; I nestled closer to him and fell back asleep.
I should have paid closer heed to Fortuna's portentous visit.
* * *
Rich and I were outrageously happy together. Except for our differing class schedule, we were never apart, and except for an occasional meaningless squabble over some trifle forced on any couple sharing a space, we spent all of our time amused and enchanted by one another.
There were balancing moments of insults and compliments regarding our lifestyle. On the negative side, we came home from a bar one night to find "Fags live here" scrawled on our door in lipstick.
Rich was indignant at first, but I laughed it off. He initially wanted to go the Housing Director and threaten (emptily) to file a sexual harassment suit against the Housing Authority and the University, just for the ruckus it would cause. When I suggested he was overreacting, he asked what the response would be if someone had written "Niggers live here" on some black residents' door.
"First of all," I told him, "the word `fag' does not have the same emotional resonance as the word `nigger.' Second of all, though there are some similarities between the struggle for acceptance by the gay man in America and the black man in America, there are some stark differences, too. Our ancestors weren't dragged here in chains, unwillingly anyway, and considered sub-human for generations. Also, you and I can go anywhere and not announce our sexuality if we choose not to; a black man doesn't have that option with regard to the color of his skin.
"And as much as I'm starting to believe in your confrontational approach, that doesn't include telling my parents about me through a newspaper article detailing two gay students' lawsuit against the university."
"So you're suggesting we do nothing?" he demanded.
"Maybe not nothing," I suggested. "Just something a little less provocative than a lawsuit."
I went over to my desk and got out a red marker. I walked over to my door and opened it, staring at the letters to get a feel for the writing. After a moment I printed the word "Proud" above the initial message, in a pretty good facsimile of the anonymous writer's hand.
"There," I said, satisfied, "now it's not such a neutral message."
Rich came over and stood next to me, throwing his arm around my shoulder. "'Proud Fags live here,'" he read. "Well, all right, that I like." His arm curled around my shoulder became a little more insistent, and I turned into him to press my lips against his. He pulled me back into the room, pushing the door shut with his foot, and flicking the light off with his free hand.
We tumbled into bed, this time doing the semi-frantic clothes-pull instead of our usual more leisurely undress. Then we intently demonstrated to one another just how proud we were.