Mike and Danny: Forever
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
OK, Craig and I didn't have seats together on the flight back home. He was behind me several rows, and when I got up to go to the lavatory, I found him next to a window, eyes closed and apparently asleep. From the look of fatigue on his face, I wondered if he'd slept at all the night before.
I kept going over what he'd said to me before we got on the plane. If it sounded to you a little like a threat, I was having the same thought. I was surprised, not to say a little hurt and even insulted, that my discovery about him didn'tif nothing elsedraw us closer together. Yes, the cat was out of the bag, but for the two of us you could say it was the same cat.
Still, I've since learned this about queer guys, they can be really unpredictable. Never mind there are so few of us in a world that wants nothing to do with us. There's no us-against-them instant bond just because two men discover they've got this secret thing in common.
I realized sadly as I studied the terrain on the ground under us, the little shadow of our plane darting over drifting clouds, that as far as Craig was concerned, I knew too much about him. He'd probably nod and say hello when we passed in the hallways, but he'd be careful to keep his distance.
And to be honest with you, whenever I stopped remembering the tone of his voice as he basically told me to keep my mouth shut if I knew what was good for me, I was faced with the disappointment of losing him as a friend.
If what he'd ever felt for me was friendship, it was worth so little to him it could be thrown away in a moment like old leftovers. All this time, I realized, his interest in me had been little more than an act, just another part of the nice-guy face he showed to the world. And I'd been totally fooled, suckered in.
And then there was the matter of his beingwell, whatever word is there for itunfaithful to Molly. Now, I don't exactly have a perfect track record in that regard. We all know how easily I can get led into temptation. But I've never taken any vows in front of God and everybody else to love, honor, and obey. And I'm not setting myself up as any kind of example either.
Make whatever sense of this you can, I kind of felt he'd been unfaithful to me, too. And it was pretty unlikely I was ever going to be able to do anything about it.
We were the only passengers to get off the plane in Kearney, so there was no way he could avoid me as we walked to our cars in the parking lot. The sky above was bright, and there was a lingering bit of Indian summer in the air.
"Halloween's coming. You get trick or treaters?" he said walking beside me, like nothing had changed while we were away.
"A few," I said.
If my answer mattered to him, it didn't show. He got to talking about his kids and how he'd be shopping for pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns with his daughter. "My boys are getting too old for that stuff. It's a shame they grow up so fast."
It was mindless small talk. About what you'd expect from two tired men returning from a trip out of town and thinking ahead to what was waiting for them at home. But given what we might have been talking about, it was almost spooky.
As it happened, our cars were parked next to each other, and as we were getting in, it would have been natural to anyone else for him to say, "See you Monday." But instead he fixed me with a look and said, "Remember what I told you."
There it was, that threatening tone again. And I knew, if I hadn't realized it already, that there were two Craigs. Not Jekyll and Hyde, but something less obvious. They were more like identical twins, one of them cheerful and upstanding, the other a shadow.
"You make it sound like an order," I said, wanting him to know that I wasn't going to forget what happened.
"It is an order," he said.
"Yes, sir," I said before I could stop myself. He was getting into his car, and I didn't expect him to hear me anyway.
But he straightened up and shot a look at me. "What?" he said.
I saw him then not as a friend or a colleague, but the man who would be on my promotions committee, my tenure committee, my performance review committee, and every other damn college committee affecting my future on the faculty, and I knew I couldn't afford to make an enemy of him.
"You can trust me," I said, hating myself for the cheap liar I was and hoping he couldn't tell.
Of course, I didn't intend to keep my mouth completely shut. Back at the farm the next weekend, I heaved a sigh and told Mike everything that had happened.
The weather had turned cold and blustery, and I was out in his new machine shed, helping him put up some peg board for hanging his tools over the workbench he'd just built. He was so proud of that thing. I wish sometimes my own work was as clear cut and the results as plain to see as a solid piece of carpentry. Every time he uses that bench, for years, he'll see what a fine job he did. Teaching is something else. You never know, in spite of your best efforts, if you ever really make a difference.
Anyway, I tell Mike the whole story, including the part about promising not to tell anyone.
He listens to it all and doesn't say much. "Must be tough for him," he says when I'm done. I'd wanted Mike to sympathize with me and my feelings, but leave it to him to look right away at Craig's side of it.
"He's got a family. He's got responsibilities," he said. "He made his choices and he can't go back and do it all different now."
He told me stories then I'd never heard him tell before about men he'd known of in the service who'd do tours overseas and keep re-upping so they could put off going back to their wives. They'd spend enough time at home to keep adding kids to the family, but what they wanted was the sex they could get with any other willing man in uniform.
"Why do they wanna live like that?" I said.
"Pretend to be what they're not maybe. Every man's got his own reasons. Some say they like it both ways."
As usual, when Mike talks like this I feel like such a babe in the woods. I realize how little I know of the world.
"Could be your friend is like that," he said.
"Well, he's hardly my friend anymore, if he ever was."
"You might be surprised. I'm guessin' his story ain't over."
And it wasn't. A month later, there was a knock on my office door very late one afternoon. My door's always open when I'm there, and I didn't turn to look when I said "Come in," just finished whatever I was doing, probably putting a last comment on an essay I was reading.
"You busy?" I heard a voice say, and I knew without looking it was Craig.
He closed the door behind him before I could answer and sat down on a chair beside my desk. To say I felt more than a little uneasy would be putting it mildly. The two of us had hardly exchanged a half dozen words since that day in the airport parking lot.
When I looked up at him, he said, "I owe you an apology."
No you don't, I could have said, but it would have been another lie. So I said something dumb instead like "What do you mean?"
"That whole thing in Denver. I," he started to say and then quickly looked away from me, his eyes suddenly welling with tears. And I knew I was in for it. He needed to talk to someone, and whether he liked it or not, the only one he knew to talk to was me.
Looking back, I would say that Mike was right. Every man has his reasons, and I heard several of them. He and his friend Brad, he told me, had known each other for years. They'd met at a conference once and they'd been meeting again like that ever since.
"It worked out," Craig said, "because I could pretend to myself it wasn't really realjust a couple nights every four or five months. Well, not just the nights. Whole days of having each other's company."
In other words, it was something more like love, though I'm wondering given his choice of words whether he'd ever admit to that.
"We're both married," Craig said. "We both have kids. If we'd met when we were younger, who knows. It's hard to say."
Maybe it's not so hard, I'm thinking. You just can't imagine living your life with another man. And this in a weird way is easier. You got a wife and family to keep you from really knowing the man you are. This way you can't let him out of the box you've put him in to find out what it's like to spend all your days with the one person you really love.
OK, that's sounding too much like soap opera, but you get what's going through my mind as I'm listening to this guy trying to explain himself to me. I'm nodding and letting him tell me his whole version of his life story, while I'm not buying a word of it.
You have to realize how angry I still was with him for what he'd done to meallowing me to feel we were friends and then just giving me the old heave-ho because it suited him. And something else, I was angry that if he disliked me, it was for something he disliked about himselfthat he was queer.
Things might have gone on like this indefinitely, he's telling me, but he'd begun to feel that maybe he was getting in a little too deep. This had gone on long enough, and it was time the two of them took their responsibilities to their families more seriously.
He'd made up his mind, if you can believe this, to end it that weekend in Denver. That's why he agreed to share a room with me, so he wouldn't be tempted to get all cozy with Brad and back out of the deal he'd made with himself.
Problem was, Brad had made a decision of his ownto get a divorce. While he still had some of his best years ahead of him, he wanted to spend as much of them with Craig as circumstances would allow. And right away, though I don't even know this guy, I'm giving Brad credit for understanding his own heart. He was willing to do what it took to right a wrong he'd once done to himself, and in Denver he meant to persuade Craig to do the same.
This, I gather, had caught Craig off-guard. We already know the first morning we were there that he had done the opposite of what he'd intended. Unless having one long extended and furious fuckwith time out for a public lecture on Sioux folklorewas his idea of calling things off.
So here he is all confused and forlorn and from the looks of it more than a little scared. And I'm listening to it all and not saying a word. What could I say anyway? He obviously hadn't come to my office to hear me talk.
So here he was in a state of torment because each of them had been unable to change the other's mind. Brad still wanted them both to leave their wives and find a way to be together. Craig wanted no such thing. Apparently, there'd been more than one phone call between them on the subject in the weeks since the conference, and Craig was beginning to crack under the pressure.
He hadn't come to me for advice, which was perceptive on his part, because I would have told him exactly what I thought. I think he just needed someone to listen, and he'd used an apology to me as an excuse to unburden himself. I don't think he was sorry at all.
If he was done talking, he didn't seem ready to get up and leave. He just stared at the top of my desk with a stunned look on his face, kind of frozen in place.
As Augie March said in Bellow's novel about Augie's many adventures, the problem with other people is they want you to share their fate. Well, this was one fate I didn't care to share.
All the same, I couldn't help saying, "So what are you going to do?"
He sighed and said, "I don't know. I'm beginning to wonder if he's right." Then as if the one thought led logically to another, he said, "If things get so I need a place to stay some night, can I sleep on your couch?"
Then I realized he'd let himself think the unthinkable. He was considering a course of action that would change his life forever, without any promise that it would be for the better. The stunned expression, I understood now, was the look of shock that he would let himself even consider such a thing.
"Yes, you can sleep on my couch," I said. What else could I say? "On weekends I'm not even there. You can have the place to yourself."
"Thanks, Danny," he said. Then he got up to go. "Everything I just told you," he said, when he got to the door, "it's just between us."
"I understand," I said, and once againthough at the end there my heart was beginning to soften just a little toward the manI felt like I was being used.
Now Mike would be saying to me, don't judge a man until you've walked in his shoes. And, yes, maybe I'm coming down a little too hard on this guy. I'm passing judgments here left, right, and center, while I have no idea what it's really like to be in his situationexcept to wonder how he let himself get in the situation in the first place.
Seriously. I know there's a lot of pressure out there for a man to marry and raise a family, but I could no sooner actually do that than jump over the moon. It's just not in me. Put in cruder terms, my brain and my dick just don't work that way.
What kind of tricks does a man have to play on himself to go through all thatand keep doing it, day after daywhen everything in him is pulling in the opposite direction? What determination it must take. Defying gravity. Walking on water. And at what cost?
When I start thinking like that, I can maybe get past a little of my anger. But it still leaves me bewildered. Screwed up as it looks from the outside, I have to admit it takes a better man than mewell, correct that, let's say more of a man than meto just face each day in those shoes and get through it.
And not only get through it but come across for all the world like a paragon of manhoodperfect husband, perfect father, perfect everythingand let's not forget that perfect body, which by the way I did get to see naked in the showers at the gym. And all I can say is it would inspire the Greeks to haul out marble for more statues.
The guy had me fooled totally. He'd cast himself in the leading role of a movie about a handsome world-class hero, headed straight for an Oscar.
Stepping out of that role in the middle of the movie and saying, "I'm not up for this anymore," would bring that all crashing down. It would be like Atlas dropping the Earth and saying, "Take this job and shove it."
Looked at that way, I can see how a man would experience some reluctance. You wouldn't just be blowing the chance for an Oscaror having every book of maps named after you. (Sorry about the feeble attempt at humor there.)
For me, the choice would be easy. I wouldn't be able to wait to be free at last. But for someone like Craig, I can't begin to imagine having to give up so much. Throwing the baby out with the bath water surely doesn't even come close to describing it.
The night finally came, yesand it wasn't too longthat the phone rang at my apartment, and it was Craig. I don't know where he was calling from. I could hear traffic in the background, so maybe it was a pay phone.
"Can I come over?" he said simply.
And I had to tell him where I lived. He didn't know.
When he came through the door, he was carrying a suitcase and a sleeping bag that smelled a little of wood smoke.
"You won't be needing that," I said. "I can make up a bed for you."
Maybe you get a little confused when you walk out of your house for what may be the last time. You take what you take when you go camping.
He put everything down once he'd got through the door and just looked at me for a moment, like everything between us was about to change into something else. Then, overcoming what must have been a lifetime of self-discipline, he put his arms around me and held meno, held onto me, like the sole survivor of some terrible disaster.
I won't say I wasn't aware of that perfect body inside his clotheseven under the ski jacket he was wearing. But it was a fleeting awareness. What I sensed was thatlike it or nothe needed me. And he needed me to be more of a man than I was used to being.
That first night we didn't talk all that much. But he told me enough so that I knew things had begun coming unglued at home. I'd pictured maybe a big scene of melodrama between him and his wife, weeping, shouting, things thrown, doors slammedwhat you see in movies about domestic disputesbut in reality, as he described it to me, there had been this calm, sad, gradual accepting of something they'd both known for a long time.
Turns out, his secret life was no big secret to Molly. This had happened before, when they were still in their first years of marriage. Craig had let himself get involved with somebody he met one summer doing his folklore research on the reservation, a guy from Germany working on a book about the Sioux. Germans, I find out, have this big interest in American Indians.
Anyway, Wolf was apparently not easy to ignore. A big strapping guy, blond and blue-eyed, who had this Euro lack of modesty about going around naked when the mood struck him. And as they roomed next door to each other in a school dormitory, he got to be hard to resist. Late at night as Craig was writing up the day's field notes, Wolf had a habit of coming into his room with a bottle of schnapps and a hard-on.
One thing led to another.
As a teenager, Craig had known that he enjoyed the company of other boys, and he knew he probably had more than the average curiosity about other boys' penises. Since he went out for all the sports in his little high school, he had a chance to see plenty of them, and while he might day dream of a circle jerk with the some of the guys, he'd left it at just thatdaydreams.
There was the yearning that came over him sometimes when he was alone, which he mistook for simple loneliness. For all his popularityhe'd been class president three out of four yearshe'd never had a really close friend. Friends, yes, but not close.
The closest friend had been Molly, and he came to the understanding that this girlthe prettiest one in his classwas his true heart's desire. He'd heard a lot of love songs and seen romantic movies, and all the signs seemed to indicate they were meant for each other.
Though her parents objected, they started going steady when they were sophomores, and everyone in school agreed, even before she began wearing his class ring on a chain around her neck, that they were the perfect couple. The other kids had heard all the same songs and seen the same movies.
Need I say again, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. What an irony that life decisions can be so easily guided by how a few words happen to rhyme.
Molly was a church-goer and religious, and they'd promised each other to stay virgins until they were married, which was not difficult for Craig, since he felt no compelling urge to have sex. It was no big deal. The first real test came on their wedding night. He'd felt a little timid about finally doing the deed, but with a little coaxing he'd got over what he took to be his shyness, and his first time was not a disappointment.
Neither were any of the times after that. It felt nice, it seemed to satisfy Molly, and he could really sleep deeply afterwards. Soon the babies started coming, and before he knew it, his married life was on a roll.
Until Wolf. And I'm getting the picture that Wolf was exactly thathis habit of going naked just a way of stepping out of his sheep's clothing. He'd seduced Craig without much effort, andfrom my point of view anywayCraig discovered what he'd been missing all along. Sex with another guy was something elsethe real thing. Way beyond the pleasant pastime it always was with Molly.
There were nights he and Wolf never stopped fucking. They'd take turns on top while they were still breathing heavy from the last time. He got through the days somehow, almost unable to wait for the night. He had explored every square inchcentimeter, I guess you'd sayof Wolf's body and still had a vivid image of it, though he'd tried mightily to forget it.
His heart had quickly followed his hard-on, and as the summer days and nights in South Dakota rolled by, he fell helplessly in love for the first time in his life. He couldn't keep his mind or his hands off Wolf, who apparently relished every last minute of it.
Until the last minute finally came. When the summer ended, Craig went back to the university, and Wolf went back to Germany. Never to be heard from again.
Needless to say, Craig crashed like a jetliner. He kept up an act of being happy to be home with Molly, but it lasted for all of three days. She'd awakened one night to find him weeping inconsolably in the kitchen, trying not to wake her or the baby. And he'd told her everythingwell, probably not everything, but as much as he needed to, for her to understand what had happened.
Molly, being Molly, knew what she knew, that for better or worse they were meant to be together. So maybe they weren't the perfect couple. She'd figured that out already when Craig never seemed to remember to pick up after himself around the apartment and got impatient with her sometimes when she spent money on things he felt they couldn't afford.
This was just another one of those things she had to get used to, and she had resolved to do just that. He had to promise, of course, that it wouldn't happen again. Which he did. And they picked up the pieces and soldiered on. For everyone who still expected them to be the perfect couple, it wouldn't be all that easy. But as long as they kept up appearances, it could be done.
And they'd done it.
Until now, and it was happening all over again. And while Molly was willing to do anything to put even this one behind themat least for the children, if not for each otherCraig was not so sure.
"The trouble is, when you get to be my age," he said to me that first night, as we made a bed for him on my couch, "you can't pretend anymore. Your spirit may be willing, but your dick just gives up."
I couldn't help thinking at that moment of his dick hanging full over his balls as he stood in the shower at the gym. Like I said, Greek statue material.
"You're still young," he said. "You probably get hard and don't even think about it."
I'm not so sure I cared to be talking about my erections, but I let him go on.
"Comes a dayor nightwhen it just won't get up for you anymore. Just lays down on the job." He laughed a little at that, like it was a practical joke somebody had played on him. "Then, my friend, no amount of will power makes a hill of beans worth of difference. The show is over."
I understood what he meant about not pretending. And I didn't want to think about not being able to depend on my dick. Instead, I guess, I let myself be touched that he called me his friend at that moment and seemed to mean it.
Continued . . .
© 2009 Rock Lane Cooper