Smashed World and the Gaúcho
It had never occurred to Josh that he'd need workout clothes, but it had to Mr. VanWinkle. "There are workout togs in the chest in your bedroom," he said as he picked up a gym bag he had brought. "We'll shower and get dressed downstairs. Would you like to go out, eat in the restaurant here or have room service?"
"We've been here all afternoon. How about we go out?"
When they went down, Mr. VanWinkle stopped by the concierge's desk to arrange dinner reservations.
While Mr. VanWinkle didn't do as strenuous a workout as he did, Josh thought, "I know a lot of guys in their twenties who could not have kept up with Mr. VanWinkle." It felt good to both to work out the kinks after sitting all afternoon. As Josh worked out, he thought back on all he had told Mr. Van Winkle so far and really wondered what this was all about. Here he was, suddenly, half a millionaire and he had no idea how or why. "I guess I am telling a pretty expensive story, but what I really want to hear is the other story, the story of the Joshua Elijah Taylor who came before me," he thought to himself.
When they completed their workout and had showered and dressed, Mr. VanWinkle left their gym bags at the desk to be taken up to the suite and asked that his car be brought around. When it arrived, they went out to eat. The restaurant Mr. VanWinkle had chosen was, of course, excellent. The two had a leisurely dinner and decided to have coffee and dessert in the hotel. Mr. VanWinkle called ahead and when they arrived, room service was just delivering coffee and an excellent cheesecake with luscious strawberries.
When they had finished coffee and dessert, Mr. VanWinkle said, "Are you up to more?"
"I think a more important question is are you up for more."
"Bring it on," he responded.
"I arrived in Boulder filled with excitement and anticipation. When I got to Mavis's place, she was very evasive about Alex and Princess. I was so excited I only realized that later. I got Prince settled -- which took very little as he knew where he was, parked the trailer and headed for Vic House. I was greeted with hugs and kisses by Gertrude who kept saying how glad she was to see me.
"'Do we have our old room?' I asked her.
"Tears came in her eyes and she said, 'Baby, it's just you. Alex hasn't been located. There is some question, since he is sixteen, whether or not the law is involved in trying to locate him. Seems impossible two people can just disappear this day and age, but it seems that bitch has made it happen.'
"My world came crashing in on me and I had finally had more than I could take. I completely fell apart. Gertrude called someone on campus and got permission for Jean Jean and Michelle to come to Vic House. Mavis rode up as Gertrude hung up and Jerry, a grad student who lived at Vic House, picked up the two girls and brought them over. He had also picked up a prescription Gertrude's doctor had called in for me. After it kicked in, I was somewhat out of it, but surrounded by friends, who also missed and were worried about Alex, I gradually got myself somewhat under control. There was a big debate about whether or not I should stay in our room. I was adamant that I would stay nowhere else.
"I drove myself that summer. I started working out five days a week, did my two courses, took trick riding lessons and practiced with Michelle and Jean Jean, and still had time to weep over the loss of Alex. During the first week of the session, Jean Jean found a college professor, Sra. Medina who wanted to work with a small group -- half a dozen -- in Spanish. We all three read for her and she took us on. We met at her place for an hour and a half each evening unless hindered by a late field trip or other event. Once we stepped inside her door, only Spanish was spoken. We had forty-five minutes of conversation -- just ordinary conversation in Spanish -- and read aloud Spanish literature for forty-five minutes. It was amazing how quickly our Spanish improved.
"By the end of the first four weeks, I was back on a fairly even keel, but was dreading the week without something to do. Gertrude and Mavis came to the rescue. They suggested Jean Jean, Michelle and I take the horses and ride and camp for the week. The two of them got the equipment we needed together and we set out Saturday after the four weeks were over. The two had wisely decided, I learned later, that none of us needed to be riding in the Fourth of July parade this year. It was a remarkably healing week for me and a good week for all three of us. We returned to Boulder late Saturday worn out and definitely looking for a hot shower.
"Alex's whereabouts and condition hung over us all and the second four weeks just wasn't 'Boulder in the Summer.' We did complete our courses with As and all were told we were automatically accepted at UC-Boulder with full tuition scholarships should we choose to apply. The three of us did on the spot and Gertrude assured me that my room would be waiting.
"When I got back to Wellsburg, I looked up Winston and found him working at the garage. He had a girlfriend who understood that he was only slow in some areas. She had an excellent head for figures and they were working toward buying the garage when Mr. Stevens, the present owner, retired in two years. As soon as they accomplished that, they planned to be married. When he asked about Alex, I couldn't hold back the tears. I was finally able to tell him that he had disappeared. 'You love him, don't you?' he asked and I nodded. 'I mean the way I love Susan.' I wasn't going to lie to Winston, so I nodded again. 'That's ok, Josh, I don't care what people say and it's our secret.'
"Grandma wouldn't speak to me. I found the bills unpaid and the accounts in a mess. I got that straightened out, then took the account books and check book to the bishop and said, 'Mrs. Williamson won't speak to me and cannot do her household accounts. You can do them or get someone to do them for her. I won't.' That resulted in an informal probation for 'deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities,' which seemed a bit odd since I was only sixteen, but it happened.
"School was pure hell. For one thing, it was boring beyond belief. Boulder had shown me education was exciting, and exploration and discovery life-giving. What we were fed was boring and life-stealing. Winston was gone and the word of my probation was well circulated, so I was already shunned. Again, Prince kept me sane.
"Just before my birthday, I got hauled into the presence of the disciplinary committee and a letter read which accused me of homosexual activity. I was not told who had sent the letter or what evidence it offered, so I simply remained silent. I was offered counseling and treatment at a clinic which would cause me to rethink my choice. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I didn't. 'I am not admitting to anything,' I said, 'but all research shows homosexuality is not a choice.' The venom that poured out of the mouths of those righteous men was unbelievable and since I was only sixteen and not out of high school, I was disfellowshipped which meant I couldn't do what I hated doing anyway. Since everyone at school was shunning me already -- well, all the students -- school didn't matter. I did have to contact a non-Mormon lawyer when the Mormon teachers started shunning me, acting as if I simply didn't exist.
"I suspect it was to enable my excommunication but, for whatever reason, Mr. Watkins asked if I wouldn't like to take my finals early since I could graduate in mid-term. I did and as soon as I had finished, the exams had been graded and my diploma secured, I was excommunicated. I left the hearing, packed everything I owned, loaded Prince in the trailer and left Wellsburg without looking back. Winston emailed me when grandma died just before Thanksgiving -- what was it about Thanksgiving that made it so fatal? -- but she meant nothing to me. I was, in fact, without family the day I headed for Boulder. That was not true. I was headed home to my family, Mavis and Gertrude.
"Since I was out of high school and had been accepted at UC-Boulder, I had nothing to do until the following September. I needed to pay Gertrude room and board, but she would have none of that, so I became her maintenance man and general gofer. I worked at the riding school three afternoons a week, teaching or shoveling horseshit, whatever was needed. Mavis insisted I also keep up trick riding lessons.
"Mr. Bledsoe spent Christmas in Boulder. It was good to see him again. He still had not located his now ex-wife or Alex, but he had found where they had been in Salt Lake before disappearing again. He still held out hopes of locating them. I did as well, but the hopes were fading. He told us he had met a woman and fallen in love. He was a bit gun-shy after his first marriage and while he was trying to make up his mind, he was transferred to Seattle. While in Boulder, he had called her, proposed and she had accepted. They were married at Vic House on New Year's Day.
"Once the excitement of Christmas and the wedding were over, I realized just how empty my life was going to be. I went to the admissions office and asked about enrolling a semester early. It took some doing, but it was finally agreed I could enroll, but would have to pay in-state tuition. I don't know how they worked that out, but they did. I was enrolled in three classes I would have had next fall and looked forward to them. Of course they turned out to be the typical freshmen classes -- large and with grad students doing most of the teaching -- but they passed the time.
"I also went to see Sra. Medina and asked about taking lessons from her. She suggested she try to get another group like the summer one which she had so enjoyed. Since she lived alone -- her partner of twenty years had died two years ago -- she liked having young people around. She invited a number of students to tea to discuss such a gathering and we ended up with seven who were interested and knew enough Spanish. She called the Registrar and got us college credit for advanced Spanish.
"To keep in shape, I swam and worked out. Mavis insisted that I ski again and I did, but never learned to enjoy it as I did riding. Prince and I spent a lot of time together.
"When spring arrived, Prince and I did a three-day camp over spring break. I realized while we were alone, riding in the mountains, that I would likely never see Alex again. He was my first love, but he was gone. I spent a couple hours in tears, but decided I had to get on with my life. I didn't believe it when I thought it.
"The week after spring break, Ross, a freshman in my composition class, asked if I'd like to have a coke with him as we were leaving class. He was fairly attractive and seemed to have a great personality, so I said, 'Sure.' After that, a coke after composition class became a regular event. Sometime after the second week, we were having a coke when he said, 'Don't take this the wrong way, but my gaydar tells me you're gay.'
"'Yeah, it does? Not sure I even have gaydar but, yes, I'm gay.'
"'Want to have dinner and catch a movie Friday night?'
"'If that's the way you want it.'
"After our fourth date, all Dutch treat, he asked if I'd like to come up to his room. 'I live in a suite, but all my roommates are away this weekend.'
"'Sure. Why not?' I expected we might make out a bit, but that was all. When we got to his room he asked if I'd like a beer. Having been a Mormon -- a piss poor one, but still a Mormon -- my experience with alcohol was zilch, nada. I guess having a beer was a way to underscore my rejection of and by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was surprised when I tasted the icy beer. I expected to find the taste repulsive, but I didn't. It wasn't one that I liked immediately, but I didn't dislike it that much.
"After we finished our beer, we started making out. We never took off any clothes that night and flies stayed zipped, but we did some heavy kissing, licking, sucking. We both were sporting a hickey when I finally left. Back at Vic House, I was quick to get my cock slicked up with Albolene and shot the largest load I had shot in a long time.
"We had been going out several weeks and had reached the point where we were jerking each other off and having more than one beer when I lost it. I think I was on my sixth beer when Ross started undressing me. His suite mates were out on dates in Boulder, so we were in his room rather than the common room. When he had me down to my trunks, I started undressing him as well. Before I could get his pants off, he made a break for the suite frig and came back with two more beers. We finished undressing each other and were drinking beer and stroking each other. We had finished off the beers when he went down on me and I lost it! That was something Alex and I had agreed to try our next summer in Boulder. I went ape shit. I shoved Ross off my cock, pulled on my pants and ran -- actually staggered -- out of the suite, tears streaming down my face. I arrived back at Vic House, still crying, drunk, and pounded on Gertrude's door. When she came to the door, she knew what had happened, wrapped me in her arms and held me until I passed out -- drunk, exhausted, unhappy.
"Saturday I called Ross, went over to his suite and tried to explain to him what had happened. 'Look,' he replied, 'I am sympathetic, but I'm not taking second place to a vanished lover. Sorry, Josh, but it's not going to work out for us.'
"That was the first of several such relationships. I'd meet a guy and we'd be going great then I'd hit that brick wall. I was also doing a lot of drinking which, at seventeen, is not a very good thing. Finally. Gertrude and Mavis sat me down and gave me a good talking to about the drinking. I didn't stop, but I definitely slowed down.
"It was during that odd semester before I was supposed to start college that I had my one experience with a girl, well, actually a woman. She was twenty-four, seven years older than I was. She took riding lessons and had been for a couple of years when I met her. She was a trophy wife, married to a man well over twice her age. She saw me giving a lesson one day and asked Mavis if she would see if I had time for her to schedule extra lessons. Mavis gave her the green light, I suspect knowing what she was after and how I wasn't interested.
"Anyway, one afternoon Mavis was in town and I was alone at the school when she drove up. To make a long story short, she ended up with me in the hayloft with her. She had my pants off and my boxer briefs around my ankles before I knew it. I guess it was because she was a woman, I don't know why else, but when she went down on me, I didn't go ape shit and actually got hard. She was sucking away, playing with my balls, when she managed to get her pants off. She pulled off my cock and climbed on it, riding me. A blow job is one thing, fucking a pussy was, obviously another, because I went down like a punctured balloon. She tried again with the same results. After the third time she was really pissed off and asked, 'Just what the fuck's wrong with you? I get that seven inch cock of yours hard and when I stick it in my pussy, it's as limp as a wet noodle.'
"'Could it be, Ms. Rayburn, because I'm gay?'
"'Well fuck you!' she said, pulling her clothes on. 'Just fuck you.'
"When I told Mavis, she almost died laughing. 'You can be sure that'll never be mentioned. Serves the bitch right. No doubt about it, boy, you is gay.'
"It was a couple weeks later before I realized the woman had given me a blow job and I hadn't gone ape. Maybe I wasn't gay after all. Then I remembered how quickly and completely I became limp when she tried to ride me. Later when I mentioned this to my therapist, he said he suspected I hadn't looked at a woman sucking my cock as violating my saving myself for Alex. I don't know. What I do know is I was and am gay.
"I guess Gertrude and Mavis knew about the drinking because it's hard to hide beer breath or drunken staggering. The boy after boy thing was another matter. That came to a head in May, a few days before the end of the semester. Gertrude and Mavis were going into Denver for something or other. My latest jerk off buddy was Skip and since Gertrude and Mavis were spending the day and having dinner in Denver, I invited him up to my room. We were making out big time, had undressed each other and brought each other off once. After cleaning up, we started making out again and he, as had the others, started to go down on me when I went crazy, shoved him out of bed and screamed for him to leave. He grabbed his clothes and as he was dressing, gave me a good cussing. When he was dressed and was walking down the stairs, he yelled back, 'You god-damn prick tease. I hope it rots and falls off. Would serve you right.' In my mind I agreed with him, fell back on the bed and started crying. As Skip stormed out of the front door, he almost knocked Mavis and Gertrude down. They, of course, wondered what was going on and rushed upstairs to find me lying across my bed, nude, crying my eyes out.
"There was no escaping the two. I finally told them what had been going on starting with Ross. We talked for about an hour and the two of them made a decision for me. I would start counseling as soon as Gertrude could make an appointment with a counselor she trusted. I started two days later and continued on a weekly basis for a year. Fortunately, Gertrude had insisted I get the top line of the available student health insurance and it only cost me ten dollars a week.
"When the summer program students arrived, Mavis found three interested in trick riding and I was their instructor. I refused to take pay for it since she and Gertrude were watching over me and at seventeen I needed it. I learned later that Mavis gave what would have been my wages to Gertrude toward my upkeep. I also learned later that it really was a matter of bookkeeping since the two were partners and had been for several years. Neither ever mentioned it, nor did I -- their being partners, I mean.
"I had another blow when registration for the fall semester came around. Both Michelle and Jean Jean emailed me that they had been given completely free rides at other universities. 'They'll pay for books, room and board, everything,' Jean Jean said when I called her. 'Much as I'd love being in Boulder with you, I just can't turn that down and expect my parents to pay when I can get everything free.' Michelle said the same thing. I certainly couldn't blame them, but I did feel as though I was totally alone.
"Nothing very remarkable happened the next three years. I had an occasional date, never dated anyone more than a couple times because I knew where it would end even though my counselor thought otherwise. He couldn't see in my heart where there was not room for anyone as Alex had the whole thing. Or so I thought.
"Academically, I did well, mostly As with occasional Bs, Since I had the extra semester and had started when I was seventeen, Gertrude suggested I take a minimum load and enjoy college. We compromised and I took a couple of courses over the minimum, but always made one a fun course, something which had nothing to do with my majors which were computer engineering and business. I also found I had a knack for languages and added Mandarin Chinese and French to my courses. I even found a teacher who approached Chinese as Sra. Medina had Spanish, which was a good thing since Chinese didn't come easy. I could read it fairly well, with help, and carry on a conversation in it, but you can forget about my learning to write it!
"The long and short of it was I could graduate in January four years after I started and after I turned twenty-one in November. Gertrude and Mavis urged me to complete the year rather than graduating mid-term. I guess I was pretty comfortable in Boulder, so I agreed.
"I did start sending out resumes in January, focusing on computer companies with some connection to China, but I didn't neglect Europe where my French might be of value. Imagine my surprise when one of the first positive responses was from a relatively small company which had a division in Brazil and one in Taiwan. There would be a series of telephone interviews over six to eight weeks and and I was told not to expect a face-to-face, if I got that far, for at least a month afterward. I immediately hightailed it to Sra. Medina's home and when she answered the door, asked, 'How different are Portuguese and Spanish?'
"'Depends,' she responded and motioned me inside. I told her why I had asked and she suggested I do a crash course in Brazilian Portuguese. 'I know just the person. You will get along fine.' She picked up the phone, dialed and when someone answered, I first thought she was speaking Spanish, but soon recognized that I was having great difficulty understanding her. When she hung up, she said, 'How much time can you spend seven days a week?'
"I quickly ran over my schedule in my head and said, 'I'm free eight to noon every day and nine to five Wednesday and Friday.'
"'Excellent. Senhor D'Cruz will be delighted to work with you. He's retired, alone as I and loves his language. He'll work you hard; you couldn't do better.' She wrote an address on a slip of paper and handed it to me. 'He's expecting you.'
"I looked at the address and realized it was on the same road as Mavis, in fact, not far beyond her place. I decided I would drive out since Senhor D'Cruz was expecting me, so I biked back to the house, climbed in the truck and headed out. Senhor D'Cruz, and my relationship with him, will always be an important part of my life. In fact, he gave me a whole new outlook on life.
"When I arrived at Senhor D'Cruz's address, I remembered it. A beautiful house, which fit the landscape perfectly, lay at the end of a long, tree-lined drive. Behind it were stables, an exercise paddock and pasture. I saw two magnificent animals in the pasture, both dappled gray, one with a two-color mane, part black and part white, the other with a black tail and mane. Standing on the porch was a very erect, older man. I parked the truck, got out and as I approached the porch, the man waved his cane at me and said, 'Of course, Josh Taylor who rides an American Mustang. Another horse person. Come in, come in. I also love horses, perhaps you saw two of them in the pasture.'
"'I did, but didn't recognize the breed.'
"'Mangalarga Marchador,' he replied, the name sounding very musical. 'Perhaps we can ride together some. I see Prince at Mavis's from time to time when I'm riding, but do come in.'
"Inside I explained to him why I needed to learn Portuguese.
"'Specifically Brazilian Portuguese,' he said. 'I am Brazilian and can understand someone from Portugal just as you can understand someone from England, but as American English, Brazilian Portuguese differs from its mother.' Switching languages, he said, in Spanish, 'First, let's speak Spanish so I can hear how you handle that language. Tell me about your horse.'
"We carried on a half hour's conversation about horses then, in English, he said, 'Before we switch to Portuguese, I'll give you some of the differences so you can get some things out of the way.' He then handed me a small book called Portuguese for Spanish Speakers. It was specifically designed to point out grammatical, phonetic and other differences. We spent the next hour with me struggling to understand and speak Portuguese. I think an entirely new language would have been easier. We worked out a schedule when I would be with Senhor D'Cruz and what I should do when I was on my own. 'Frankly,' he said, 'I find students seldom benefit from using language recordings because they will not focus on them. It's hard to drink beer, watch porn and pay attention to a recording,' he laughed. 'You, however, I think are different, so I'm loaning you a Brazilian language course. When we are not together, spend as much time as possible with it.'
"Over the next month, if I was busy doing something which didn't require my attention -- such as cleaning stables, I had ear buds on listening and responding to recordings using a small digital recorder. Once I understood the general differences between Spanish and Portuguese, I was well on my way.
"By the end of the fifth week, Senhor D'Cruz and I could carry on a fairly normal conversation -- of course there were frequent corrections at first, but fewer and fewer. When Tuesday of the fifth week arrived, he suggested I ride Prince over to his place the next day, 'dressed to ride cowboy.' I assumed he meant for me to dress as a cowboy, which I did. As I grew, I purchased new fancy cowboy outfits which I wore when trick riding, I was a pretty fancy cowboy when I arrived at his place and Prince was in the black and sliver tack someone had purchased for me the first time I rode in the Boulder Fourth of July parade. When I arrived he was definitely a gaúcho, his outfit quite different from mine. We had reached the point where from the time I turned down his drive until I left it going home, we spoke Portuguese. In Portuguese, he said, 'I thought we'd ride and just talk. That's the way you achieve natural conversation.' That became the pattern for our Wednesdays and Fridays. His housekeeper would pack a lunch for us and we would ride all morning, stopping to look at this or that, to rest the horses, or just because we wanted to. Lunch was always a delicious spread. We became great friends.
"I got a call asking for a personal interview the week of finals. Since I only had a couple and they were papers, I turned them in early and drove to Denver for a flight to San Francisco the day I would have had my first final. Senhor D'Cruz assured me he had done a good job and I spoke Portuguese very well, 'better than any fourth-year student I can recall.' High praise from a perfectionist."
of the things
that keeps an author looking good are editors. Two from
sides of the world worked on Sentinel
Jesse from coastal North Carolina (a visit with Jesse inspired the setting for The Saga of the Elizabethton Tarheels) got first crack at Sentinel Mountain and paid special attention to my haphazard use of commas.
Scott from Australia has been editing since second or third chapter of A Special Place. Any polish that Sentinel Mountain has owes much to Scott who managed to edit the manuscript in spite of loss of a job--which he loved, paid the bills and gave him time to work for free--floods and typhoons.
mistakes are mine.
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