Chapter 21

My personal life settled into a warm and comfortable routine, for the most part.  Jonah was a kind and loving man, and he and Chris got along great; I could tell they genuinely loved each other. It was nice to have someone to walk through life with, and it was good for Chris to have two adults in the house to love. About a year after our commitment ceremony, Jonah decided to go to graduate school to pursue a Master's degree in astronomy. I was happy to support his goals; I'd done plenty of the school thing myself, and if he wanted it, I wanted to be there cheering him on.

Things weren't perfect, though, and as is so often the case, this got manifested in our physical relationship.

I had largely dealt with most of my crap from Neal, but I hadn't been in a relationship with a man since then. Beyond that, I was already wounded before I'd ever met Neal. Between the sexual abuse I'd experienced in my youth and the twisted sexual domination, and finally battering, I'd experienced from Neal, I had a lot to deal with that I didn't deal with.

Even before Neal, having been raped by my cousins as a child left me prone to flashbacks. Things had apparently intensified in that arena from my experiences with Neal. I had no way of knowing this in advance of my relationship with Jonah, because I hadn't had a physical relationship with anyone between Neal and Jonah. Before we began living together, there had been a few occasions where I felt anxiety when we were making love, but I had been reasonably successful in forcing that stuff away from my head. 

That turned out to be an unreliable technique, though. And I began to discover that there were all kinds of triggers, all kinds of situations and experiences that would throw me into flashback mode; having been unaware of this before, I hadn't dealt with it.  The worst was associated with "bottoming." The vulnerability inherent in that "role" never failed to cause me massive problems with intense flashbacks. I bottomed with him a handful of times, none of them terribly pleasant. I had massive flashbacks twice, which he completely missed, and the other times I was so tense, bracing for a flashback, that I couldn't relax enough for it to be anything but painful and unpleasant. Fortunately, Jonah was by very strong preference almost exclusively a bottom. This was perfect for me; he wasn't interested in being on top that often, so it wasn't much of an issue.

Still, there were a number of other triggers centered around touch and physical intimacy. There were times when Jonah's touch would trigger a flashback and I'd become absolutely rigid and unresponsive, and he would miss it entirely.  I should have told him what was going on with me, but I didn't. Instead, we limped along.  Far too often, Jonah was completely unaware of the panic going on inside my head during physical intimacy. Sometimes he wasn't even aware that there was a problem.  Other times, it was obvious, but I never talked about it and he didn't know what to make of it.

The problems here were illustrative of a larger pattern that we should have identified and worked on, but didn't. Jonah was a kind, loving man, but wasn't particularly perceptive. If I didn't tell him what I was feeling, he didn't pick up on it. That meant I could hide a lot more from him than was healthy.  Beyond that, he was, emotionally, very dependent on me. Jonah was broken in his own ways, ways that he didn't talk about until it was far too late either. Most of the time, we motored along okay; on most levels, we were pretty complementary in our abilities and weaknesses. We made a good pair as parents. Our sex life was a little awkward, but not bad, and I loved him, and I knew he loved me. The relationship was in many respects was very good, so where there were problems, it was easy to avoid things. Where there were rough spots, instead of talking them out, we stumbled and made clumsy adjustments, usually without talking about things. All things considered, though, in spite of the difficulties, it was one of the most stable, most supportive, most loving, most peaceful times of my life.

I had been happy to have Brian at the commitment ceremony. We'd never lost touch entirely with each other over the years, though I'd totally mangled the friendship. Among the many other reasons I had to feel guilty about Brian was the fact that I'd taken the teaching job in the adjacent state at least in part to get away from Brian, to get away from having to see his face regularly, hear his voice. The look in his eyes whenever we met was agony. It was the look of a man who'd been shut out by his best friend. He brought this demeanor to the ceremony. He tried to hide it, but it had been clear that things weren't okay with him. That made me sad, and I knew it was all my fault, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. I never wanted to lose touch with Brian, but more and more it seemed that what we had together lay in the past--a past that was painful and damaging to both of us. For this reason, I had a sense that Brian didn't need his life complicated by my friendship. It was probably time to leave well enough alone.

He'd managed to pull his party-boy act together enough to get a decent education. He had finished his schooling at home and had gotten a B.S and an M.S. in math, with a certification to teach sciences and math at the high school level. It would have been easy for him to get a teaching job locally, but he'd told his family he had to get away, and had moved in with his uncle Don and his wife.

Don and Betty lived in a city about an hour away; he ran a fairly large landscaping business, and he and his wife had offered to let Brian move in with him and begin working in the business when Brian graduated from college.  They didn't have any kids of their own, and had apparently taken Brian in, and Don had begun teaching Brian the ropes of the business. Brian had also gotten a job teaching math at at the city's high school. It looked as though his life was settling down and working out.

A person might argue that now that we'd made it past the trauma and drama of previous years, it should have been easy for us to re-connect again. But I had too much shame. Although I'd wanted him at my ceremony with Jonah, I couldn't go the next step and try to repair the friendship. I wasn't sure he'd ever be able to forgive me for what I'd done to him by shutting him out. He never seemed to understand how bad it hurt me to have him around, knowing that I couldn't have him the way I needed him; he always wanted us to go back to the way things were, and I simply couldn't do that anymore; it hurt too much. So I took full responsibility for pushing him away; and I felt too guilty to try to fix things. I reasoned that although he still liked me, and valued the years we'd been friends together, I'd caused him too much grief for him to let me in as a friend again. And in any case, I'm not sure I could have handled that.  He and I had continued to touch base once in a while over the years, but the contacts were hesitant, tentative, and painful.

After Jonah and I had our commitment ceremony, what little contact I had with Brian dried up altogether. I simply never heard from him. One day several months after the ceremony I decided I just had to suck it up and call. I was surprised to find that his number wasn't in service any more.

A little worried, I called his older brother Mike. He didn't answer the phone until the sixth or seventh ring, and I was glad to hear the sound of his voice:

"Yeah, this is Mike."

"Mike, it's Sam."

"Well, hey, Sam, how're you and your man doing?

"We're good, Mike. Hey, listen, I tried to call Brian but the number doesn't work."

Mike was silent for a minute, then said quietly, "Sam, he's not here anymore."

Not here anymore? What did that mean? I started to panic.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Sam. Didn't he tell you? I just meant that he's out of the country."

The fear in my gut began to ease, but I was perplexed. "Out of the country? Why isn't he teaching? What's he doing?"

"Oh, he stopped teaching a long time ago," he said. "In fact, he never came on for the fall semester. He came by and told me he wasn't going back to that job, oh, I don't know, some time in early August."

I didn't understand. From what I'd heard, Brian liked teaching. He was great with high school kids and they liked him. And he'd never said a word to me about quitting when he was down for the cermony in July.

"Where did he go?" I asked. "What's he doing?"

"I don't know, exactly, Sam," he said. "He's somewhere in Latin America."

"Since August?"

"No," Mike replied. "At first he quit the teaching gig and just ran the business for Uncle Don; he was doing a lot of outdoors work; he'd tell me the sweat did him good. Then one day, about a month ago, he came up to visit the folks. I was there, and we had dinner and talked a little. After a while, he told us he was leaving the country and going to Mexico."

"Why Mexico?" I asked.

"I don't know, Sam; that's what I asked him. All he did was look out the window. Finally he said he just couldn't be here anymore, he had to get away--far away; someplace with no memories."

A wave of dizziness washed over me. I was glad Mike couldn't see me. But I couldn't speak.

Mike said, "We asked him what he meant, but he just sort of clammed up. He laughed and said he just needed a change of pace."

"S-so he...he moved to Mexico?"

"No, he didn't move," Mike said. "At least not permanently. He told us he'd be back when he got his head on straight; he just didn't know when that would be."

I hesitated; part of me didn't even want to ask the question. But I had to. "Is he okay, Mike?"

Mike was quiet for a while. Finally he said, "I don't know, Sam. I thought he was, although he was still doing some drinking. But at least he had some routine to his life. It seemed like it was working pretty well."

I didn't understand. "Did something happen?"

"Nothing I know of, Sam," he said. "He was all upbeat about going to your wedding. I mean, not your wedding, but you know what I mean."

"Right," I said.  "So what changed?"

"Beats me," he said. "Don says he wasn't the same after he got back from your ceremony. After a couple of weeks, he told Don he just had to get away. Don told him he was welcome to come back any time and he said that Brian told him he'd probably take him up on that, but right now he had some work to do with himself."

I didn't know what to say. And I didn't get it. "Is there any way to get in touch with him?"

"Well, he has Internet access sometimes," Mike said. "Here, take down his email address."

My stomach hurt; I had a bad feeling about all this. But I wrote down the address on a card in my Rolodex.

Just to make sure, I pressed him one more time. "That's all you know, Mike?"

"I swear, Sammy, that's all I know." He paused for a moment, and added, "I'm not trying to guilt you or anything, but he's always talked a lot about you. Maybe seeing you make a life with your man caused him to feel like his own life is passing him by."

I felt as though I'd been sucker-punched. Mike was on the right track; he just didn't have it quite nailed down. Brian had run away to escape from painful memories of our past. He was too close to places and things that had reminded him of how his best friend had bailed on him. It cut like a knife to know that he felt so alone that even his memories of me were a torment. Brian had always been the life of the party, and had so many friends. How is it that he'd come to be so lonely? I wasn't sure, but I was convinced it was my fault.

I kept it together enough to say to Mike, "Thanks for the heads-up, Mike. I'll probably email him."

"He'd like that, I bet, " he said. "He's pretty good about staying in touch that way."

"Talk to you again soon, Mike," I said.

"Yep. See ya."

"Bye." I hung up the phone, heartsick.

As the year went by, I sent Brian a couple of emails. They were perfunctory--there was no way I could share all my thoughts and feelings with him--but I wanted to keep the contact minimally alive, if for no other reason than old time's sake. Until the day he rejects me, tells me to go away, I reasoned, I'm going to let him know that I'm still around, even if I'd shut him out before.

He replied to both emails, telling me where he was, but little more. He never emailed of his own accord. Finally I just gave up. It was clear he didn't want to hear from me.

A pattern began to set in; Brian would travel in Mexico, or Guatemala, or Brazil, or Chile. I'd contact him a few times a year and he'd contact me back. Little got said.  Then he'd come home, work the landscaping business with his uncle for a while, then leave for Latin America again, and repeat the whole cycle.

One thing didn't just repeat, though. One thing got worse: His drinking.

Brian had clearly crossed the line ito "problem drinking," at the very least. More fuel for my guilt, though I wasn't exactly sure why I thought so. But I had all on my plate I could handle with my own life. And I was really, really happy.  As much as Brian's troubles felt like my fault, I could only live my life. And there was plenty on my plate already. So I put all of myself into my love for Jonah and my son Chris, my work, and my church.

Another year of my life went by.  Things were good. Two years after I'd started the doctoral study in biology I ended up defending a Master's thesis in Statistics and a Ph.D dissertation in biology in the same semester. Chris was seven; Jonah and I had been together for just over two years; everything seemed good.

I was offered a teaching post-doctorate in the department for a year. I had originally planned on looking for a teaching position at a university somewhere else, but this worked out perfectly because Jonah was still finishing up his Master's in astronomy. I liked teaching better than being in the lab anyway, so I took the position.

My life settled into a warm predictability. There were occasionally flashbacks, but nothing too terrible. Jonah and I had clear areas we were avoiding, but things seemed good enough. If we'd talked to each other about the demons we each were harboring, we might have made it.

* * * * * * * * *

One day, I was leaving work for home. I walked toward the parking lot, and when I got up close to my car, I gasped.

Someone had scratched up both sides with a key. And they'd taken spray-paint to both sides and painted a word:


I started shaking. My mind snapped back to dozens of simultaneous scenes of different pains, different hurts, spanning the course of my life and threatening my survival.

And most strongly of all, on top of all the other black memories that came flooding back, I found myself lying on my kitchen floor in agony, having been raped and beaten within an inch of my life.

Neal was back. With a vengeance.

That takes us to the end of another chapter. There are eight chapters to go after this one; I've already finished three of those. I'll post them soon. If you'd like to talk to me about Dan's story, you can e-mail me at