Chapter 20

We got serious pretty quickly after that.  My lease was coming up at the end of May, and at the end of April, Jonah asked me to move in with him. 

I didn't have a lot of experience with intimacy, to say nothing of success at it. So by ordinary standards I suppose things progressed quickly. Some people might say things were progressing tooquickly.

I wasn't the casual-dating type, though.  I'm just wasn't wired that way. I'd always felt that if I were involved with someone, I was involved and committed. And I didn't know how to do that halfway. I understood "involved and committed" and I understood "single." I couldn't manage some in-between state.

Jonah was the same way. That was one of the first things that made me believe we actually had a future together.

It was clear that we were both serious about this and that we both really wanted it to work. He seemed to see loving me and being with me as a chance to have a family and a man. He understood that anyone who was involved with me would have to make a commitment to Christopher as well; I couldn't be with someone who wasn't committed to him as a parent would be. Early on in the relationship I made it understood that I wouldn't hold it against him if he wanted to date me more casually and see how it went; but I also made sure he knew that if he wanted things to be serious between us, there would have to be a commitment to me and a commitment to my four-year-old son. Jonah made it clear that this wasn't a burden. I knew it was true; he and Christopher were crazy about each other. So it was easy to trust him when he promised me that if he and I became involved, he would be there for Chris no matter what happened.

With that understanding in place, I began to relax and to enjoy loving him and being loved by him. Life began to take on color for me again, whereas before, except for my love for Chris, it was mainly washed-out grays. I was still haunted by my failure with Erica, and wracked with guilt for not being able to keep my lifelong commitment to her; but being with Jonah gave me the hope that life was going to offer me a second chance to live happily ever after with someone. Once in a while, I'd be plagued with a nagging sense that I was settling--that the deepest needs of my heart were still crying out unfulfilled--but on the other hand, I realized that, given my odd wiring and my own personal demons, an opportunity to make a good life with someone wasn't likely to come again.

Through the grapevine, I found out that my psychopath ex-boyfriend Nathan had gotten involved with a woman, and that they appeared to be serious about each other. That was why I wasn't hearing from him, wasn't being harassed by him. The relief that came from being left alone by him added to my sense of well-being.

It would be a mistake to say that everything was smooth sailing, though. At the rate I was making progress in Walt's lab, I was never going to finish. I worried about that. The more I got into it, the more I realized I wouldn't be able to sustain this project all the way through to the doctoral level. I knew I'd have to come up with something new for doctoral research. I was frustrated because I'd thought initially that the general area of research I'd focused in on for the Master's would sustain me all the way through the Ph.D. Gradually I began to realize, though, that I was going to need to work in a different area, and that would mean a change in labs.

That made me feel terrible; I'd be bailing on Walt.

I was in the lab one day, brooding over this, when Walt walked in.

"Samuel," he said, as he walked over to where I was sitting. "You don't appear to be fully here."

I looked at him, my face a study in low-grade misery.

He sat down next to me and leaned into my space."What's wrong?"

"This project," I said.

"It's all but done, Sam, and you've done a good job. Your Master's defense is coming right up and it's going to be fine."

"I know," I said, "but this is as far as I'm going to be able to take it."

He was silent for a moment; thoughtful.

I took a deep breath and said, "I need to go in a different direction for the Ph.D., Walt, and to work down the hall, maybe."

He looked me in the eye, nodded, and gave me a half-smile, saying, "Then down the hall you shall go."

"It feels so disloyal to you, though," I said, hanging my head.

"Samuel, I expect you to be a scientist about this. What does disloyalty have to do with anything?"

I squirmed in my chair. "It's just that I...well, you've been so..."

He grinned. "And I'll continue to be so..." Mimicking my words and delivery, he paused, using the same befuddled tone of voice I was using.

I had to laugh.

He patted me on the shoulder and said, "I could see you were bogging down, and I think your inclinations here are legitimate. So tell me what you have in mind for further research."

We talked for a long time, and as we talked I began to feel better. He had more to say about the project I was thinking about than I'd thought he would, including who should supervise me on the project instead of him. He helped me begin to see clearly how it could shape into a first-rate Ph.D. project.

At the end of our discussion, he said, "You'll want me on your committee, I expect."

I looked at him with apprehension. "Would you? Even after I bail on you like this?"

He stood up and began walking toward the door. "I'll be offended if you exclude me," he said over his shoulder.

* * * * * * * * *

I successfully defended the master's project, and that fall I moved into a different lab, down the hall from Walt--just as we'd discussed--and under a different supervisor, for the rest of my graduate work.

As I got into the doctoral project, I began to discover that to do the analysis required, I was going to need a much better background in statistics than I had. So in addition to my doctoral research, I began taking statistics classes by the handful. 

The weeks and months rolled by. Life was good. Jonah, for the most part, kept me balanced. Home life was stable. Not ecstatic-in-love blissful, but stable. I found out that Nathan, my psychopath former-lover-turned-assailant, married the woman he'd been involved with, and I breathed a sigh of relief. At last I was done with him forever.

One evening in late winter, I came home from a long day at school to find our place dark except for a table, with lit candles, set for three in the front room. I grinned to myself:  What was my crazy guy up to tonight? He'd said he was going to cook dinner, and I was hungry. And here appeared to be the the basic structural elements for quite the dinner.

But Jonah was nowhere to be seen, and I didn't see Chris either.

I flipped on a light switch, and at that point Jonah came out of the kitchen with Chris in tow, holding his hand. He pointed up at the light and said, grinning, "Turn that back off."

I frowned for effect, snapped off the light, and feigned stumbling in the dark. Chris giggled.

Jonah pulled a chair out for Chris and said, "Sit down, buddy." Once Chris was seated, he went back to the kitchen, then came out pushing a cart that held what looked to be the beginnings of a great multi-course meal. I was still standing; he pulled out my chair, gestured for me to sit down, and said, "Gentlemen, dinner is served."

We started eating. Everything was great. But the conversation was all about my day. I didn't get it. I was impressed with the dinner; but more than that, I wondered what the hell he was up to. Finally I couldn't stand it anymore. "What's the occasion?" I asked.

"He wants to marry you, Dad," Chris piped up.

Jonah nearly coughed up a mouthful of food. "Chris!" he said sharply. Even in the low light, I could see Jonah was turning a little pale.

"Sorry," Chris mumbled, embarrassed when he realized that he'd said something he shouldn't have.

I didn't know what to say; I was astounded; momentarily speechless, in fact. But between Jonah's sheepish expression and my son's hang-dog pout, I couldn't help but burst out laughing.

"Clearly you never taught this boy anything about timing," Jonah grinned, blushing.

"Clearly I also didn't teach him that men can't get married to men," I said, looking seriously at Jonah.

"I know, Sammy; of course," he replied. "What this is all about is...well...we always said we...and you...I...that is, when you wanted me to commit to Chris, and then..."

Chris, all of five years old, rolled his eyes, exasperated, and interrupted Jonah's spazz-fest, saying, "He loves you, he wants to stand up like they do on a wedding cake, but not like a bride wedding."

I couldn't help it: Between the weird tension of the moment and my son's out-of-the-mouth-of-babes eloquence, I couldn't keep myself from laughing again. In fact, the absurdity of the way this had all come off had me just about rolling on the floor. Once I recovered, I said to Chris, "Not like a bride wedding? Well, that's good, because I don't think either of us would look good in a dress."

Jonah clearly didn't see the humor in any of this. Poor guy; none of this was going the way he'd envisioned. I felt mean, but the goofiness of the whole experience entertained me; it was hilarious.

At the same time, I began to understand what Jonah was wanting to do, and the part of me that wasn't rolling on the floor laughing was moved almost to the point of tears.

I realized I had let Jonah twist in the wind long enough. I got up, walked over to him, draped my arms over his shoulders and kissed him. "I love you, Jonah. I'm sorry Chris messed with your timing. Tell me what you're thinking."

He stood up and embraced me. Chris, in the meantime, had taken a serious interest in his meal, glancing up to look at us only after every fifth mouthful.

"I know we can't get married, Sammy," he said. "But you know I'm crazy about you, and you know I'm committed to both of you. And I want to make it something family and friends can celebrate with us. I want us to have a kind of commitment ceremony with vows and everything, and I want to have people there with us to see it."

 A tear rolled down my cheek as I hugged him. I put my head on his shoulder, then pulled back a little, looked him in the eye, and said, "Of course. Absolutely. It would mean so much to me."

"Told you, Jonah," Chris said disinterestedly between bites.

Jonah smirked at him, but the smile he flashed at Jonah when he looked up at him had Jonah grinning right back. "You little shit," he said.

I glared at him, incredulous. "Jonah!"

"Sorry," he said.

Chris just laughed. "Jonah said a swear," he said, going back to his food.

I pulled close to me again and kissed him. "I love you," I told him.

"I love you too, Sam," he whispered.

"Yuck," Chris said.

* * * * * * * * *

We decided on an outdoor ceremony the coming July, in a beautiful wooded area outside of town that was often used for weddings.

There was a lot to do between now and then. One of the tasks, obviously, was to assemble a guest list and get personal invitations out through word of mouth and through the mail.

These days, in spite of how much I cared for Jonah, Brian was never far from my mind. We'd continue having our weird, halting phone conversations at irregular and infrequent intervals. Our difficulty in making a go of our friendship was killing me, but I couldn't figure out how to make it better. Still, with this latest development, I had to talk to him, had to tell him. He had always been there for every major event in my life, good or bad, since we were kids. I wanted him here for this one, regardless of how odd it might make me feel.

I called him one evening. It had been far too long.

"Hey," he said, answering on the third ring.

"Hey yourself," I said.

"Sammy!" The excitement in his voice made me happy. I was scared out of my mind about having this conversation, though.

"Yeah, it's me, big guy. Nothin' much gets past you."

He laughed. "What's up, buddy?"

"Well, I...well, you know about Jonah."

"Course I do," he said. The levity of his tone dropped back a notch. "How's he doin'? I hope you guys are okay."

"We're fine," I said. "Better'n ever. In fact, that's why I'm calling."


"Yeah," I said, pausing as I searched for the words. "He's the guy, Brian. I told you it seemed like I finally had a chance at happiness."

"I wish..." he seemed to catch himself, and stopped talking. After a few seconds, he continued, "I wish you would find happiness, Sam. Nobody deserves it like you."

"I think...well, this is why I'm calling," I said. "In July we're gonna have know, like this commitment ceremony." I mentioned the time and the date. "I...I'd really like it if you could be here."

Dead silence screamed over the line for ten seconds.

"That's great, Sammy," he said finally, with an enthusiasm that was so clearly false it almost took my breath away; a complete contrast from the true joy I wanted to believe I'd heard in his voice when he'd heard it was me on the line.  "You know I'll be there. I wouldn't miss it for anything."

I didn't know what to make of what I heard in his voice. But I could only respond to the content, so that's what I did. "Thanks, man," I said. "It'll be great to see you again."

"You know it," he said, then fell silent.

The conversation was about to degrade into our standard volley of fits and starts, I could tell. Something about that broke a piece of my heart, even given that my life was so good right now; even given the good news I was sharing with him. "Tell me how you've been, man," I said, looking for a way to keep the connection alive for just a couple of minutes.

"You know me, buddy, I'm Mister Goodtimes," he said. "I'm just the guy you want to bring a little cheer to your special occasion."

"You wouldn't be giving me a load of crap, would you?"

"You? Never, Sam," he said, laughing. I wondered if he was able to fool other people with that laugh.

I peppered him with a few questions about what he was doing, and we talked about his life a little. The conversation actually went better than many of the recent ones I'd had with him, and I began to feel a little better. When it was time to wrap things up, I said, "I'll get back with you on the details when this is a little more put together, okay?"

"That would be great, Sammy," he said, "and listen, man, I'm really, really happy for you. There's no way I wouldn't be there for my best friend in the world."

I smiled to myself. It felt like a sad smile, though: I wish we really could make it back to that place again, I thought. But I didn't say that. What I said was, "Great, Brian. I gotta go. Be good, man, and I'll be in touch soon."

"I'm always good, Sam," he said, with an audible leer. "Talk to you later."

* * * * * * * * *

The ceremony could have been pretty--would have been pretty--but true to the form my life always seemed to take, it was something of a comedy of errors.

The surroundings were beautiful. There were lots of aspen trees, and a pond in a little clearing. All the people most important to us were there. We'd even brought my dogs.

But it had been raining a lot. Mud was everywhere. Thankfully, the rain stopped right before the ceremony;  but the frogs in the pond had decided all together to celebrate the rain. So the people attending the ceremony could barely hear our vows over the sound of the frogs.

I was nervous before the ceremony. We weren't having anybody stand up with us this time, so it would just be Jonah and me and everybody staring at us. That was freaking me out a little. But in spite of the nerves, I was overjoyed. I kept thinking back on what I'd been through over the years, and how that contrasted with the peace I'd begun to find. Jonah was a kind and loving man, and life with him was easy and comfortable. After the initial fireworks, things had calmed down a lot. I don't think either of us were particularly passionate in the relationship, but I'd had more than enough drama for a couple of lifetimes. The peaks and valleys had smoothed out, and if the result was a kind of predictability, a kind of matter-of-fact-ness in life and in love, that was just fine with me.

As we looked into each other's eyes and said words of love, respect, and commitment, everything seemed right with the world. Well, except for the noisy frogs.

We finished the ceremony with an embrace that included Chris. I couldn't think of anything more perfect.

After the formalities, the festivities began. The reception was right there on the grounds. Music played, food was served, and alcohol flowed freely. Chris loved the setting. He ran around with the dogs, tried to catch frogs in the pond, and climbed a couple of trees. By the time it was all over he looked like he'd rolled in the mud.

Jonah was as vibrant and happy as I'd ever seen him. He had me laughing the entire evening with his one-liners. My friends loved him, and his friends and family seemed to accept me without any misgivings.

Brian had been one of the first ones to come up and congratulate us. I was stuffing a forkful of food into Jonah's mouth and laughing, when he came up and said to me, "Now don't be babying him like that, you're gonna make him fat." Jonah eyed Brian warily for a half-second; he knew full well who Brian was and what he'd meant to me. But when Brian broke into a huge grin and extended a hand to Jonah, he couldn't help but smile back. Brian pulled him to a stand, gave him a hug, and said loud enough for me to hear, "Treat him like he's the best guy in the word, 'cause he is."

Then came my turn. Brian grinned hugely, pulled me up, and hugged me so tightly that it almost scared me.

Before the hug, I thought his smile was going to split his face, it was so big...and so genuine.

But when he released me his eyes locked onto mine and I saw in them a flash of emotion so intense, yet so brief, that I was little stunned. What was that?

Before that disorienting moment could totally derail me, though, he'd smiled and backed off, and other guests had crowded in to wish us well.

The hours went by in a flash. I had a great time. It was fulfilling to have all our friends and family there. And I was full of love for Jonah, who had chosen to get us as close to married as two guys could be.

* * * * * * * * *

We celebrated on into the night. From time to time, I'd catch a glimpse of Brian. He was usually alone, and he was usually drinking. If he caught me looking, he'd grin and raise his bottle, tipping it in my direction. Drinking to my happiness, no doubt.

Each time, I'd sigh to myself and smile back.

It worried me a little, but tonight I couldn't keep him at the forefront of my mind. In the background parts of my brain I wondered, though, if he was just tolerating me for old times' sake. I wondered if I should just let him go. I didn't want to force a friendship on him that reminded him of too many painful experiences from the past. God knows I'd given him plenty: Having a best friend that the whole high school knew was a faggot. Having to deal with the fact that this best friend was in love with him. Having to endure that best friend's stupidity at staying in a relationship that almost got him killed. Being rudely shut out by that best friend in the wake of all that, when Brian had only wanted to help. I wouldn't blame him if he felt too beaten up and wary to be more than a friend-from-back-when anymore. And I worried that I'd jerked him around so much over the years--that I'd immersed him in so much guilt and pain and anger and grief--that he couldn't even sort through his feelings for me anymore. And, most of all, I wondered if somehow I hadn't been the guy who'd uncorked the bottle in Brian's life and started pouring its contents down his throat.

But none of that could fully distract me from the joys of the day. I had the most important people in my life here. And I had my man here with me, pledging his life to me. And I had my son to share in the celebration.

And even Brian was here.

So, mud or no mud, frogs or no frogs...

Concerns or no concerns...

It was a great day.


The rest of Dan's story shouldn't take too long to post. I appreciate understanding readers demonstrating patience, lol.

I wish you all could have known Dan. He was an amazing man. If you'd like to discuss his story with me, feel free to contact me at

--Adam Phillips