Notice: The following account depicts homosexual acts between consenting persons and is intended for mature readers only. Exercise your own judgment‚ in consultation with the appropriate laws and moral standards of your community‚ in deciding whether or not to read this work. While this story depicts significant events in the lives of certain individuals‚ readers are cautioned not to assume that their experiences are in any way representative of those of most homosexuals. Any connection between persons named herein and real persons‚ living or dead‚ is vigorously denied. Comments may be sent to This story may not be copied or distributed without the express written consent of the author. Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved.

Chapter Nine. Confessions
Visions of a perfect world.

Matt’s words rang in my ears for weeks. I guess they still do‚ in fact. In this part of the story‚ my memory is clear and unclouded. My grasp of meaning is the same: what Matt had done was put me in my place‚ tell me exactly what my position in the world was. “You’re a goddamn faggot‚ Elliot‚” spoken as if to say‚ “Don’t you ever‚ ever forget it.” At the time‚ it seemed I would never forget it‚ and it took meeting someone very‚ very special during my first year in college to begin to do so.

Despite what you may want‚ though‚ you can’t help being who you are. I guess Matt‚ Paul‚ and I had all shown ourselves that. And the thing that really stuck out was how much a combination of my own desire‚ yearning‚ and lack of self-respect seemed to blind one eye and focus the other. So much I’d assumed about Paul was totally wrong‚ yet as much as I had misjudged certain things about him‚ I had accurately assessed Matt. So it seemed that afternoon‚ anyway. As they say‚ though‚ hindsight is twenty-twenty‚ and I understand things now that I didn’t then. And yet‚ I can still imagine something different‚ a world in which we were not our flawed‚ fucked-up selves‚ prone to make mistakes‚ to hurt ourselves and others‚ but were instead more harmonious creatures‚ living so as to love ourselves and one another. But it is a world I have imagined‚ and not yet anywhere seen.

Now that “The Forbidden Fruit” has closed‚ maybe we should step back into the theatre we were in just a moment ago. That’s the only place I can think of where this imaginary world might be. I mean‚ what if I’d been able to write the kind of life story that begins with Matt and me just hanging out‚ maybe watching a video or something‚ but shortly after it begins‚ Paul comes in and starts to watch it with us. Instead of paying attention to the movie‚ though‚ I’m watching Paul. He doesn’t notice‚ but Matt does‚ and after the movie ends‚ we go up to his room and he asks me what I think of a particular scene‚ one he knows I didn’t really see. I try to give some fake answer‚ afraid I’ll get caught for having not paid attention to the movie‚ but Matt calls me on it‚ and says he noticed I have a thing for Paul. Embarrassed‚ I try to deny it‚ but Matt tells me he’s cool with it and that he thinks Paul and I could really hit it off. I’m so surprised by what he says‚ but he explains that Paul’s gay and that he’s suspected for a long time that I’m gay. Then he drops a real shocker: Paul’s kind of been asking Matt about me‚ and Matt’s been doing what he can to encourage him! Who would have thought it? Matt’s had it in his head all along to set us up and has been patiently waiting for the right moment to guide me and Paul to the same idea. Then it all makes sense to me‚ why he’s been dropping “casual” comments about Paul over the past couple of months and why recently we will “happen” to run into Paul at our usual hangouts around town. Matt is such a great friend‚ I don’t know what I’d do without his love and support. Life can be so hard sometimes‚ but it’s the devotion of really great friends that carries you through it. In fact‚ Matt tells me‚ “I love you and Paul more than anyone else in the world‚ and I couldn’t imagine anything better than seeing my best friend and my little brother make each other happy.” So after talking it over with Paul‚ Matt sets us up on our first date‚ and we’re both so taken with a mix of excitement and schoolgirl embarrassment that when Matt sends us out the door together‚ he has to make us hold hands. Then he gets an idea and runs inside to get a camera. Now we’re really embarrassed‚ but he snaps a photo anyway‚ of two guys feeling very awkward but looking incredibly cute together and obviously happy. We go on our date‚ which is pretty plain vanilla‚ dinner and a movie‚ and we’re both kind of nervous because neither of us really knows what he’s doing. But we have a good conversation‚ and I find out how smart and funny Paul is and hope he thinks the same about me. We avoid talking about Matt and the whole reason we’re on this date together‚ because everything is still so new and awkward. But when we get home‚ we sit on the porch in the dark‚ warm air of this midsummer night. It seems like magic to me‚ and something about the mood‚ the place‚ the moonlight‚ or the soft shadows draws Paul and me together. When we kiss‚ it’s like a shower of meteors raining down overhead‚ and for a long time we sit together‚ arms around one another‚ enjoying the togetherness and the silence. Then the door opens and Matt steps out with this big‚ goofy grin and says‚ “All right‚ you guys‚ I’ve given you forty-five minutes out here‚ but I’m just dying inside‚ and I can’t take it anymore! So how’d it go?” Matt’s so giddy that Paul and I burst out laughing‚ which is all the answer Matt needs. He comes over and sits with us‚ and the three of us hang out together over the next few hours‚ so free‚ easy‚ and comfortable‚ enjoying the mysterious variety of human love. Before I go home‚ I thank Matt‚ for everything‚ and Paul‚ for such a wonderful evening. Matt takes his cue and goes back inside‚ and after kissing Paul one more time‚ I tell him how great I think he is and that I’d like to do this again‚ soon. He takes my hands and‚ squeezing them‚ tells me‚ “You’re everything Matt said you were‚ Elliot‚ and even a little more—but that can be our secret!” I get lost in the deep blue pools of his eyes and think‚ Oh Paul‚ I’m yours‚ forever and ever. End of scene. Fade to black.

Wouldn’t that make for a happy little drama? A nice romance to make us all feel good? I’d like it just as much as you‚ believe me‚ but the thing is‚ life happens out in the street‚ not up on the stage. Later the same night Matt yelled at me—maybe “cursed” would be a better word—I remember waking up with this incredible pain that seems to be coursing through my whole body. It’s worse in my head‚ almost like there’s something stuck through it. I try to reach up to see what’s the matter‚ but my arms don’t respond. I can’t even open my eyes‚ really‚ though it seems I can see a sliver of red light in my left eye. There’s something warm and salty clogging up my mouth‚ and I try to spit it out. But with each breath‚ the pain increases‚ sharp and stabbing on my right side. The effort is too much‚ and I slip back into a comfortable unconsciousness.

I see myself‚ from the outside‚ as if in a dream‚ and the more I look‚ the more I realize I am in a dream. Then there are two of me‚ the watcher and the watched‚ a mind that is aware and a body that seems unaware. And though the perspicuity of the experience is almost palpable for the mind-self‚ all it can do is watch the body-self‚ and at first it begins to doubt that it’s really me it’s seeing‚ but then it decides it is me. It’s my body. My shape. My arms‚ my legs‚ my head‚ my face. But I’m not in my body. I can’t feel it‚ can’t get back into it‚ and I don’t know why. The body-self is lying there in the grass‚ at night‚ in an open space between the trees. There’s darkness all around‚ stars and moonlight and a gentle breeze. I can’t tell if it’s asleep or just lying there‚ and I wish I could call to it‚ get it to come over to me if I can’t go over to it. But I’m just the mind-self. I don’t have a mouth‚ and I can’t speak. I can’t say where I am‚ or if I really exist‚ but only that I have a center of consciousness and a point of view. But if that is the case‚ why am I seeing myself lying there? Why am I not in the body-self‚ looking out from there. But then I remember I’m not seeing‚ I’m only dreaming. It’s not real‚ none of it is real. I’m only dreaming‚ and I wish I could wake up. It seems urgent‚ suddenly‚ that I wake up. I don’t want to be this way‚ I don’t want to be there‚ away from my body-self. I want to be in it‚ at home‚ and I think that only if it were awake‚ then I would be awake. And I’d be in it. At home‚ together and whole. Mind and body with one another‚ awake‚ alive‚ and whole. Bound together so they can’t come apart. I begin to realize that’s what I want‚ to be together and whole‚ but I’m not together and whole and I don’t know why. I understand that I am broken. Then I begin to feel something else there‚ something approaching through the shadows.

When I wake up again‚ I can see this blazing light that hurts my eyes even though they’re not open‚ so I decide to keep them shut. Something‚ someone seems busy about my body‚ like I’m being pulled or jostled about. Slowly‚ the pain starts to disappear‚ so pretty soon I can’t feel anything‚ and like the volume on a stereo being turned up‚ my ears come online‚ and I start to hear things‚ voices and noises I don’t recognize. I sense the words as indicating something serious‚ though I don’t know what exactly is being said‚ and even today they are just on the edge of my memory of this moment. Then I’m aware that I’m also hearing a siren‚ and I seem to be in motion. I don’t know how long the moment lasts‚ but eventually‚ the effort is again too much‚ and I let myself gently slide away into the darkness.

The body-self is still there in the grass‚ and at first I don’t quite realize it‚ but I’m in it now. Mind-self and body-self are together. I can feel the bulk of the earth under my back and the grass under my fingers. When I look out there are stars and trees and the cool night air. I try to sit up‚ but find that I can’t. I’m stuck on my back and can’t move. As much as the mind-self tries to lead‚ tries to get the body to stand‚ it won’t follow. Get up! I think. We’ve got to go. It’s not safe here! It doesn’t listen‚ doesn’t hear‚ doesn’t obey‚ I don’t know which. The frustration I feel is about as much as I can tolerate‚ and then I’m outside again‚ the same position I was in before‚ two of me‚ watcher and watched‚ dreaming. The body is naked now‚ unlike before‚ and I see it with new eyes. There’s a hole in it‚ then two holes‚ like two mouths‚ one where it should be and one where it shouldn’t. Something or someone is getting close‚ I can feel it. I’m afraid and don’t know what to do. Get up. Get up! My body has two holes in it‚ both of them open and gaping and empty. I’m hungry‚ I think. I want food‚ something to eat. I am so hungry I have two mouths‚ one where it should be and one somewhere else‚ lower down. The awareness of my hunger draws me back‚ and I’m in my body again‚ aware only of the two empty holes and the approach of something or someone through the trees. Get up! Please! We can’t stay here!

There is someone there‚ a figure with arms and legs and face. It’s over me now‚ a presence that is simply there‚ covering me‚ and I feel hungry‚ painfully so. I look up to see who it is‚ hoping only that he’s brought food. I’m so hungry. It’s Matt. The face is Matt. There is no food‚ and he’s telling me I’m not hungry‚ that I don’t need to eat. But I know that’s not true. He’s lying. I am hungry‚ and there is food. There’s plenty of food. But again he insists that I’m not hungry and there is no food. Why do I have two mouths‚ then‚ if I’m not hungry? If I have two mouths‚ I must be hungry. I am hungry and I can feel it. There’s food‚ too‚ and I’m hungry enough to take it. Please‚ I think. I’m hungry. I want something to eat. Then it’s Paul. The face is Paul. I feel better now‚ content in the promise of something to eat. He will feed me. He always feeds me. Paul will give me food. But when I look again‚ it’s not Paul‚ but someone else. The face has changed into someone that looks familiar‚ but I don’t know for sure. I’ve seen him before‚ but when‚ where? I’m hungry‚ I say‚ two mouths speaking for me. Please. But he laughs. He only laughs at me. Wicked‚ sinister‚ hissing laughter. Mocking me. Then why don’t you eat? he says. Eat if you’re hungry! He’s standing on top of me now‚ laughing. I can feel him‚ the weight of him pressing me into the earth‚ holding me down. I can’t eat‚ I say‚ there’s no food and I can’t move! But he laughs and laughs and laughs‚ and then I’m laughing‚ too‚ even though I don’t want to. I’m laughing with him‚ and then I’m laughing by myself. I look up. He’s gone. I’m still empty and broken‚ and I’m not laughing anymore‚ but screaming.

I wake up‚ and there’s a cool wipe on my face and a woman’s voice that says‚ “Shhh‚ honey‚ it’s only a nightmare. Go back to sleep. You’re going to be all right‚ you just need to rest‚” and then I’m asleep again‚ and‚ mercifully‚ I don’t dream.

I don’t remember what happened after Matt hit me. So what exactly happened afterward‚ I don’t know for sure. But from what evidence was available‚ I am able to piece together this account: After my confrontation with Matt‚ apparently I went back to my house‚ but decided not to stick around there. I wanted to be alone somewhere‚ so I got in my car and drove around for a while‚ eventually ending up in a park near my house. That’s not unusual‚ as I sometimes went there when I wanted to be alone‚ preferring to sit in the grass between the trees when I needed to clear my head and think things out. I was probably there for quite a while‚ watching the sun go down. And—big surprise—I had been drinking‚ so maybe I fell asleep. Anyway‚ a few hours later‚ this girl who lives near the park was walking with her boyfriend‚ and they found me unconscious and bloody‚ and called an ambulance. Someone attacked me and left me there in pretty bad shape. Initially‚ I was able to face whoever it was standing up‚ but my ability to defend myself didn’t go very far. My left arm was broken as I fell on it. Once I was down‚ then my face and right side were kicked in‚ leaving a broken nose‚ a cracked cheekbone‚ some bad cuts‚ a few chipped teeth‚ bruised ribs. Some of the bones in my right hand were crushed‚ as though with the heel of a shoe. It’s kind of a good thing‚ too‚ that I had no memory of the event‚ because the police ended up being satisfied that it was a random attack and thus let the matter drop‚ but more importantly because my mom thought the same thing and never found out the real motivation behind it. That was really something to be thankful for. Only a handful of people ever knew the truth‚ and I never talked about it again with her after I moved away for college. Even while in college‚ I only told two other people about these events.

I was in the hospital a few days‚ mostly just for observation‚ but I did have to have surgery on my right hand and my face‚ which needed some minor reconstruction. Amazingly‚ I didn’t suffer any nerve damage‚ and the only really permanent physical effect‚ aside from a few scars‚ was that I lost one tooth‚ but a falsie took care of that. Needless to say‚ I missed the graduation ceremony‚ for which I was kind of relieved‚ actually‚ because after what happened with Matt‚ I pretty much just wanted to disappear.

My second-to-last day in the hospital turned out to be on my birthday. So much for a party that year. In fact‚ since that day‚ I’ve never really celebrated my birthday much at all‚ partly because once I was in college‚ few people were around for summer break‚ and partly because there’s no reason to hash through the memories of that particular day every year. What I mean is that they’re with me all the time anyway‚ so I don’t really feel the need to mark the occasion. I’d really prefer to forget about it all‚ yet here I am writing it out‚ if only to try to assign my memories the proper meaning in the events narrated so far. I guess there’s a certain kind of irony in that‚ in wanting to forget but needing to remember. If you’ve ever tried to think about your life‚ to write things down and get them accurate‚ you know how hard this can be. And if you’ve read this account up to here‚ I guess you might be curious enough to see how it ends‚ so I’ll continue to do my best to be consistent‚ honest‚ and true. I’ve discovered so far that by writing about my experiences‚ I can in fact forget about them‚ though. That is to say‚ I can leave them behind‚ consign them to the past‚ and‚ hopefully‚ step into the future without the burden of always and everywhere feeling the weight of what I’ve been through falling down on top of me.

When I woke up that morning‚ I was eighteen years old. Technically an adult‚ but in many respects still a kid‚ my experience more advanced than what it should have been‚ and my ability to cope not always up to the task. My mom was the first to see me that day‚ and had been the only person to see me‚ in fact‚ so far. I do have fond memories of our being together then. It was the last time she ever really took care of me‚ the last time I admitted that I needed it and let her do it. At the hospital‚ she had pretty much been living in the same room with me‚ and it was only the day before that I finally convinced her that she should go home‚ that I would be all right‚ that the nurses were also taking good care of me. She took a lot of convincing‚ but finally left after promising me that she’d be back later on to keep me company. I really love my mom‚ and I knew what a sacrifice she was making for all of this. How she got the time off work‚ I’ll never know. If there’s anything I wish I could change about what happened‚ it would be to save her from all the anguish and suffering she went through. You’d have thought I was dying the way she worried about me. I don’t mean to say that she overreacted‚ but I would have been just fine without her dropping everything to be with me. When she visited me that morning‚ she brought me some flowers‚ which were really nice‚ in fact. No one ever gave me flowers‚ before or since. What was really cool‚ though‚ was that she brought a cupcake with a candle on it‚ which was totally not allowed‚ but she snuck it in anyway. She lit the candle‚ sang happy birthday to me‚ and then fed it to me in small bits since I couldn’t use either of my arms. We talked for a while‚ and she told me all the latest news. She hadn’t seen Matt‚ but talked to his mom the day before. Apparently‚ the graduation was “beautiful” and they were “sorry” that I wasn’t able to attend. I got the feeling from the way she told it that there was more to the story than she realized‚ but I wasn’t going to ask. She also told me the latest news about her friends at the church‚ and passed along their well wishes as well as those of some of my teachers at school.

My room had a TV and VCR in it‚ so just before mom left‚ she pulled out the Star Wars trilogy for me to watch. I knew all three backwards and forwards‚ but I didn’t own them on tape‚ so it was a great present for her to give me. I was ready for a midmorning nap‚ but she put the first one in so I could watch it as I fell asleep. I think I got as far as the destruction of Alderaan.

The rest of the morning was uneventful‚ and in the afternoon I got one of the nurses to start Empire. This one I stayed awake for‚ mainly because it’s the best one and my favorite. I’d just gotten past the part where Han Solo is put in the carbon freeze (Leia: “I love you!” Han: “I know!”) and into the fighting sequences between Luke and Vader as the rest of the group makes their escape‚ when I heard a knock at the door. In walked Paul.

I don’t know who was more surprised‚ me or Paul‚ but since I couldn’t see myself‚ I’d have to say that he was. It’s hard to describe the look on his face. It was kind of like fear but also like horror‚ as though he were staring into the face of something monstrous. It’s kind of funny thinking about it now‚ because I have this picture in my mind of Paul’s shocked face and just over his head to the right‚ there’s Luke dangling by one arm from the catwalk and Vader is reaching out‚ saying‚ “Search your feelings. You know it to be true...”

“Is it really that bad?” I said‚ finally breaking the trance he was in.

“What? No‚ not at all.”

“Don’t bother‚ Paul. It’s obvious you’re lying‚ and I’m not in the mood.”

“I’m sorry‚” he said‚ looking down. Then he looked at me again‚ long and hard. I could see him steeling himself against the churning in his gut‚ the mix of shock and surprise. Slowly he was able to compose himself‚ and wipe the emotion from his face. “I just... I just wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t know what to expect.” I felt wretched. Stared at. Now Luke Skywalker was dangling like a twit from the antenna beneath the Cloud City station. “Look‚ do you mind if I turn that off?”

“No. Go ahead.”

Paul shut off the TV and pulled a chair over beside my bed. “I’m sorry‚ Elliot. I didn’t mean to be an ass.”

“It’s all right. I haven’t seen myself yet‚ but I know it must look pretty bad. Nobody will give me a mirror.” My mom had flat refused‚ in fact‚ even though I asked her repeatedly. I didn’t believe that it could be so bad. I was on my back the whole time‚ but propped up‚ so I could see that most of my upper body was covered in casts‚ bandages‚ or straps of some kind. My left arm was completely encased‚ leaving my fingers sticking out the end. My right forearm and hand were in another cast‚ and my torso was wrapped up in this strange girdle kind of thing‚ to help the ribs. But my head probably looked the worst. The right side was pretty much still covered in bandages. They had reset my nose and put tiny metal staples into my right cheekbone and eye socket‚ and my jaw was immobile‚ wired almost shut‚ open enough that I could speak quietly and slowly. My left eye and the left side of my face were free‚ and the top of my head was free. And my legs were free. But then there were all the tubes and hoses of various sorts‚ all going into one orifice or another‚ or barring that‚ a hole they punch in you. One thing I learned is that they had a special tube for more places than I realized they could stick them. It seems like everything’s liquid in a hospital‚ what goes in and what goes out. I was hungry all the time‚ but they claimed they were feeding me through one of the tubes‚ which was partly true‚ I guess‚ because I was pissing all the time. They had a tube for that‚ too‚ of course.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“What‚ the tubes?”

“No. What happened. The attack.”

“I don’t know what happened. They tell me it was an attack. I guess they’re right. I couldn’t have done this all by myself. I think I would have been much faster and cleaner about it.”

“Don’t say that‚ please‚” he said. His response only made me angry.

“Fuck off‚ Paul.” My words cut him‚ and he started to lose his stoic mold. He was quiet for several seconds.

“Do you want me to leave?”

“No.” We were both quiet then‚ for a minute or two.

“Do you remember any of it?”

“No.” There was another long pause. The moment was awkward for both of us‚ and each of us was thinking‚ What the fuck do you say at a time like this? Paul decided to be persistent in his questions about what had happened.

“Do you know who did it?”


“So you remember.”

“No. I just know who did it.” Paul said nothing‚ so I continued. “I’ve had a long time to sit here and think‚ so I figured it out. I know.”

“I do‚ too.” Otherwise‚ Paul was quiet.

“Matt told you?”

“Well‚ Matt knows‚ anyway.”

“Of course he does.”

“But I found out. That’s all that matters.”

“I trust you didn’t do anything heroic and go out and return him the favor.” Man‚ I was being such an asshole.

“No‚” Paul said‚ either not understanding my intent‚ or else being incredibly patient with me. He looked down at his feet. “No‚ I didn’t. I’d like to‚ though. I might even do it‚ if you asked me to.”

I let his words sink in‚ wondering where he thought all this—me and him‚ I mean—was going. “I guess I should want you to‚ but truthfully‚ I don’t really see the point. As soon as I’m out of here‚ I’m leaving this place and never coming back again. He can just go to hell for all I care‚ and this whole shit hole with him.” That‚ too‚ was meant to score. And it did.

I looked down at Paul with my good eye. He was still looking at his feet‚ but now he was visibly shaking. He buried his face in his hands‚ refusing to look at me or let me see him. As terrible as it is to admit‚ I took pleasure at seeing him in pain. I felt entitled to it‚ as though he owed me for some of the burden of what had happened‚ as if‚ I guess‚ I thought he was responsible for it. I am ashamed for having felt so‚ but something in me wanted to hurt him.

And then Paul looked at me. Just lifted up his face and looked at me‚ tears streaming down his face‚ his eyes swollen and red. Then I realized what anguish he was in. I could see it written in his face. A dreadful pain‚ a kind of vacancy in his eyes that signified—what‚ I didn’t know. A hollowness inside. A suffering soul. Maybe a broken heart.

“I’m sorry! Oh god‚ I am so sorry! I’ve hurt you so much‚ and then this! It never would have happened if not for me. I’ve failed you‚ terribly‚ and if there’s anything in this world I hope for‚ it’s that you’ll some day forgive me‚ Elliot. Please‚ please say you’ll forgive me. I’ll do anything you want‚ anything at all to make this better. Just say you’ll forgive me. Oh god‚ I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

Paul’s outburst surprised me‚ shocked me‚ even‚ and I didn’t know what to say. More out of surprise than anything‚ I blurted out‚ “All right‚ I forgive you!” but for what I didn’t know‚ and why I didn’t understand. No matter‚ though. Paul immediately jumped up and threw his arms around my trunk‚ as my own arms were kind of braced up and outward on either side of me. He buried his face into my chest.

“Thank you! Thank you!”

“Paul‚ it hurts!” I gasped.

“Oh‚ shit‚ I forgot‚ I forgot! I’m sorry‚ I’m so sorry!” He let me go and instead just grabbed on to my waist‚ the only place he could really embrace me without touching bandage‚ cast‚ or tube. But then he just let go‚ as if afraid to cause me further pain. As though all of me might somehow be fragile and he didn’t want to make things any worse. I realized that this was probably the first time I looked at him without any feeling whatsoever of desire. I had tried to conquer it before‚ but now the blank feeling came easily‚ probably in part because of the drugs. What’s more‚ though‚ this was the first time I was in Paul’s presence that I didn’t immediately feel inferior to him‚ subservient to him. I don’t know if it was the situation or the painkillers‚ but as much as I’d felt his strength before‚ I was aware of his lack of strength now. It surprised me more than anything‚ I guess‚ but part of me was a little embarrassed by his hysterical display of weakness‚ as though he wasn’t living up to expectations.

“Paul‚ get a hold of yourself. Everything’s okay. I’ll be all right!” I said‚ but he didn’t seem to hear me. I began to realize that now more than ever‚ I needed to feel his strength. But it didn’t seem to be there. “There’s some Kleenex over there on the shelf.”

He got up to get some‚ then came back over and sat down beside me. “I realize this is the last thing you need to see right now‚ but I feel terrible about what’s happened‚ like it’s my fault in some way.” Paul held on to my left hand‚ gently squeezing the fingers poking out of the end of the cast. “I wish it had been me and not you.”

“I wish it hadn’t been either one of us‚” I said‚ “and in a perfect world it wouldn’t have been. But thinking that way doesn’t really matter because it’s happened and there’s nothing either one of us can do about it now but survive. Just because it’s happened to me doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you‚ too. We’ll have to be careful.” I said “we” in order to test his reaction.

“I’ll be okay‚ don’t worry‚” he said‚ in a way that made me think he knew something. Before I could ask‚ he said‚ “You’re right‚ though. In a perfect world this wouldn’t have happened at all. You wouldn’t be lying here and I wouldn’t be such a wreck feeling so guilty. Neither one of us would be in this mess.”

I almost asked Paul what exactly he meant by that‚ but I didn’t need to. I already knew. We had our moment‚ and our moment was destroyed. Matt had unwittingly seen to that. Mark‚ who beat me up‚ had purposefully seen to it. And Paul‚ by folding under the pressure‚ had seen to it‚ too. There was simply no way something lasting would come out of this if Paul was feeling guilty‚ if he was beginning to wish that neither one of us was in this mess‚ if he was forgetting that it was because of both of us‚ because of the dangerous love we’d shared‚ that we were in this mess to begin with. It seemed to me I had nothing left to do but get out of this place and out of this town.

“Paul‚ I’m feeling tired. Thanks for coming‚ but I’ll talk to you later‚ okay? They say I’m supposed to get out in a few days. I’ll call you if you want.”

“Oh‚ okay‚” he said‚ sounding disappointed. “Look‚ give me just a sec‚ all right. I’ll be right back.” I didn’t know what he was up to‚ but Paul got up and left the room. I’m sitting there maybe thirty seconds when the door opens and he comes back in‚ followed by his dad. Fuck.

Mr. Clements came over and sat in the chair Paul had used. Paul followed and stood at the foot of the bed. I was tense‚ and Paul clearly looked so‚ too.

“Hi‚ Elliot. How you doing?”

“Okay‚ I guess.”

“They treating you all right?”

“Yes‚ sir.”

“You’ll be out soon?”

“Yes‚ sir.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes‚ sir.”

“Look‚ I know this is a little unannounced‚ but I wanted to talk to you.” I didn’t know what to think and looked over at Paul. He tried to be reassuring.

“It’s okay‚” he said. “Dad knows about everything. He knows about us.”

“You do?” I asked with surprise. And then‚ “Oh god...”

“Yes. Paul told me. And Matt told me. Do you know who did this to you?”

“Yes‚ sir.”

“You remember it‚ then?”

“No‚ sir.”

“Paul told you?”

“No‚ sir.”


“I figured it out‚ on my own.” I didn’t know what this was‚ but it felt a little like an interrogation. Paul remained silent and kept his eyes from meeting mine.

“Who was it‚ then?”

“Well‚ Mark of course.”

“You’re sure?”

“Well... yes.”

Mr. Clements looked over at Paul. “Is this true?”

“You mean you don’t know?” I asked.

“No‚” Mr. Clements said. “Paul and Matt won’t tell me.”



“Is this true‚ Paul?”

“Yes‚” Paul said.

“I tried to make them‚ but they were adamant‚” Mr. Clements said. “Apparently it’s part of some deal they made with each other.”

“What? Paul?”

“Yes‚ it was part of our deal‚” he said. “Matt confronted him and convinced him... not to talk about what he saw. In return‚ you and I don’t turn him in... for this...” Paul was embarrassed‚ and he wouldn’t look at me or his father as he spoke. “I’m sorry‚ Elliot. It just happened. When Matt told me what was what‚ I didn’t feel like I had a choice‚ and with you here I couldn’t exactly talk to you about it‚ you know. I’m really sorry. I hope you’re not mad.”

“I don’t know what to think‚” I said. I was quiet for a few moments. There was too much going through my mind‚ too much to take in all at once. I was flooded with questions‚ like “What interest does Matt have in all of this? Why doesn’t he want anyone pointing the finger at Mark?” and “Why would you or I accuse him anyway? That would be the same as publicly admitting... well‚ you know...” The way I understood it‚ Matt had gone to Mark and made sure that he wouldn’t tell people that Paul and I were a couple of fags. In return for Matt’s doing so‚ Paul and I were not to say that Mark had attacked me. But the obvious flaw was that neither Paul nor I would talk about it‚ because that would only confirm Mark’s reason for attacking me in the first place. Besides‚ we had no proof. Something else was going on here. Mark was getting off easy‚ and Matt seemed to be protecting someone or something that he didn’t want anyone else to know about.

“That boy should be behind bars for a very long time for this‚” Mr. Clements said.

“Maybe so‚ but I just think it was him. I don’t have any real proof‚ unless somebody saw it.”

“No. Nobody saw it‚ unfortunately.”

I was quiet again. “Why did he do it‚ Paul?” I asked‚ wondering why Matt would go to such lengths. “I mean‚ Matt hit me himself because of this...” But Paul wouldn’t look at me‚ even though I waited for him to answer. Then I realized the reason why. It was so obvious. “It was for you‚ wasn’t it? He wanted to protect you.”

Paul still wouldn’t look at me. I could see tears slowly lining his cheek. I continued down the path my own thoughts were going. How did Matt know right off that it was Mark? But Mr. Clements had already gotten there.

“Did he know‚ Paul? Did Matt know beforehand that this was going to happen?” he asked. Paul was slowly shaking his head and wiping his face. At his dad’s questions‚ he turned to look directly at him.

“I don’t know‚ Dad! Please! I couldn’t ask him. I didn’t want to ask him! I told you everything I know‚ everything except who did it!” Paul looked like he was about to crack.

“All right‚ son‚ it’s okay! Look‚ why don’t you go down the hall and get something from the Coke machine. I want to talk to Elliot‚ anyway‚” Mr. Clements said.

Paul stood up and looked at me. The torture in his face was evident‚ but try as he might‚ he couldn’t speak to me anymore. Instead‚ his eyes told me everything he wanted to say‚ but couldn’t. Then he turned and walked out of the room‚ the door slowly swinging closed behind him with a metallic click.

Mr. Clements turned to look at me. “I’ve put them both through the ringer many times over this‚ Matt more than Paul. But each day it seems like I’m getting more information.”

I was in a daze. The very idea that Matt would have known beforehand what Mark might do and yet do nothing to stop it made my stomach turn. Surely this was the secret he was trying to hide. I felt like our friendship hadn’t merely ended. It had been obliterated‚ like it was never there at all. Like we were mortal enemies and always had been. And it wasn’t as if he was satisfied with merely stabbing me in the back. He had to twist the dagger once it was in: Matt’s deal protected himself‚ Paul‚ and‚ as a consequence‚ Mark. It left me hanging out to dry.

“Did Matt really hit you?” Mr. Clements asked.

“Yes‚ sir‚ he did. Earlier in the day.” No need to remain loyal‚ I thought‚ so I might as well tell the truth. “He punched me. In fact‚ that’s the last clear thing I remember before waking up here.”

“I guess that’s another talk he and I are going to have...”


“Nothing. Look‚ Elliot‚ this is all very hard. For you‚ obviously‚ but for us as well. I realize now I’ve been too much in the background‚ not checking up on the three of you. Not figuring out what’s going on in your lives‚ and not making myself available to you all.” I had no fucking clue where Mr. Clements was going with all of this‚ let alone why he was saying it. The thing that perplexed me the most was why he was even talking to me‚ why he didn’t seem to automatically hate me for being his son’s lover.

“Mr. Clements?”


“When Paul said you know about `everything‚’ what exactly did he mean?”

“Well‚ yes‚ I guess it’s obvious he didn’t tell me all the details of what happened over the past year‚ but he did tell me enough so that I could get the general picture.”

“About us...”

“Being together? Yes‚” he said. I waited for a moment before asking the really difficult question.

“You’re not angry about it?”

Mr. Clements took a deep breath and exhaled. This was what he’d come to talk about‚ I think. This was the moment of truth‚ and we were treading on dangerous ground. I had almost nothing more to lose‚ but as for him... I wasn’t sure. It seemed like he was trying to figure out what he’d lost‚ what he still had‚ and if he could maybe get anything back.

“Honestly‚ Elliot‚ I can’t say I’m happy about it. It’s not something I ever planned for‚ or thought about. It’s not something I’m really sure how to deal with.”

“I understand‚” I said‚ though I didn’t really. The whole conversation was making me tense. I mean‚ here I was‚ openly talking about being a fag with Paul’s dad. “I hope you can realize‚ though‚ that I never planned for it either. And I didn’t choose to be this way. I am this way.”

Mr. Clements looked at me‚ deep in thought. I expected that at any moment he would jump up and just strangle me right there. I mean‚ both he and his wife were lifelong‚ loyal Catholics. They had seen me‚ Matt‚ and Paul raised in the faith‚ yet what should come of it but that I was corrupt and had dragged their sons down with me‚ turning one into a pervert like me and dragging the other into a plot to destroy me. My own sin‚ or so it could be argued‚ had caused them to sin as well—each one mortally so. On one level‚ it seemed Mr. Clements would only be doing the reasonable thing by preventing any of this from ever happening again.

Instead‚ though‚ Mr. Clements said something astonishing: “Elliot‚ it’s not my place to judge you‚ and I’m not going to. If you want‚ your secret is safe with me‚ and for Paul’s sake‚ since he’s got another year in school‚ I hope you’ll keep it that way‚ too. Understand that I utterly abhor what this boy Mark did and think that his actions can never be justified or ever excused‚ but without proof‚ there’s not much we can do. I know that’s a very hard thing to say‚ but making accusations will only end up hurting you guys more. But my point is that your being gay is all right with me. I’m not saying I approve. I’m just not upset about it. I don’t understand it‚ but I’ve had a lot of time recently to think about things and realize that your struggle must be far more difficult than mine. What I am upset about is that you two are far too young to be doing what you did—too young to appreciate the long-term consequences it might have. And unfortunately you guys found out the hard way the danger you’re confronting.”

“What about Paul’s being gay? You’re not upset about that?”

“Well‚” Mr. Clements said‚ taking a deep breath‚ “he may or may not be. We’ve talked about it‚ and I don’t think he’s as sure as you are. He’s a year and a half younger than you and hasn’t had as long to sort things out. And I understand his relationship with Kelly is important to him and that he intends to continue with her when her family returns from their summer vacation‚ and I will support him in that. I can see that you have reason to think he’s gay‚ of course. I’m sorry to say so‚ but I’d personally prefer that he weren’t. But no matter what‚ he’s my son. It may not be easy‚ but I’ll be there for him and help him in any way I can.” Mr. Clements paused for a bit‚ then continued. “In a perfect world‚ maybe I could have done the same for you.”

When Mr. Clements said that‚ my heart broke wide open‚ and I felt in a way I never had before the pain of what it means to grow up without a father‚ without someone to guide me through the long‚ difficult process of becoming a man. I saw the source of so much of my pain with a harsh clarity‚ and realized that my depression and lack of self-esteem were symptomatic of this greater problem. For the first time since I’d been in the hospital‚ I cried. Maybe bawled is more accurate. For a good ten or fifteen minutes‚ the agony of so many years came pouring out. I was finally able to express the profound isolation and loneliness that sometimes only boys like me can know. What a blessing it was that here‚ at the low point of my life‚ was someone to listen and understand‚ someone to hold my hand and wipe away my tears.

Eventually‚ Mr. Clements was able to calm me down‚ and I regained some semblance of composure and normality. I felt lousy‚ but good‚ too‚ like the way you feel after throwing up. We talked for several minutes‚ Mr. Clements helping me to work through my feelings of anguish. We talked about Matt‚ too. About how much his friendship had meant to me over the years‚ and how much I was going to miss it now that it was gone.

“Are you going to be all right?” Mr. Clements finally asked.

“Yes‚ I think so‚ in time. Thanks for putting up with me‚” I said.

“Not a problem.”

As I settled down‚ the absurdity of this moment caught up with me. I mean‚ here I was‚ trussed up in this freaking hospital room‚ having a “moment” with my gay lover’s dad. How fucking weird was that! I started to chuckle a bit.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing‚” I said‚ continuing to laugh. “It’s all so strange. I mean‚ is this what you had in mind when you said you wanted to talk to me?” Mr. Clements started to laugh a little‚ too.

“No... not really. But I am glad we talked.”

“Yeah‚ me too‚” I said. We were quiet a few seconds‚ each of us alone with his thoughts. Then Mr. Clements got a serious look on his face.

“Really‚ I only had one question I wanted to be sure to ask you.”

“Yeah?” I said‚ still a little bemused. “What is it?”

“Are you in love with my son?”

Blown away doesn’t even begin to describe the effect his question had on me. It was so unexpected and so direct‚ that I would rather have been anywhere at that moment than in that room. Mr. Clements looked me right in the eyes‚ in a way that demanded an answer‚ but I was in somewhat of a dilemma. I could say no‚ and basically suggest that all of this mess had been the result of an enormously irresponsible lust‚ or I could say yes‚ and basically point out that to my mind Paul and I were not over‚ even if I wasn’t so sure about that. Either way‚ I was going to give an answer he probably wouldn’t like‚ each one for vastly different reasons. What could I do but speak from the heart and hope for the best.

“Yes‚ sir. I am.”

“Okay‚” he said‚ patting me on the leg. “I just wanted to know.”

When I got home from the hospital‚ I stayed there because I wanted to avoid contact with other people as much as possible. I had only a few weeks before I would leave for college‚ and my only real goal was to get myself ready to go. They had removed all but a few bandages from my head and face‚ as well as the wiring on my jaw‚ but I still had the casts on both arms and the rib brace to wear‚ when I wanted it‚ around my torso. And I had to get used to letting my mom help me dress‚ eat‚ bathe‚ and go to the toilet. She also helped me every night with simple exercises that would help me maintain some flexibility and‚ the doctors hoped‚ lessen the time I’d be spending in physical therapy.

There was one exception to my self-imposed cloistering‚ though. When he had come to visit me‚ I mentioned to Mr. Clements how angry I was with God for making me the way I am. He then told me that he had ordered both Paul and Matt—especially Matt—to go to confession. Though he couldn’t order me‚ he suggested I think about going as well. “You don’t think I’m doing penance enough?” I asked him‚ but he only said‚ “Yes‚ you are indeed. But it may help you unburden yourself and come out of this with a clear conscience.” In Catholic-speak‚ this made sense to me‚ so I asked my mom to drive me one afternoon before the Saturday mass.

I hadn’t been to confession for well over a year‚ long before my seventeenth birthday when I first served Paul. I had been attending mass regularly‚ as had Paul and Matt. Both his parents and my mom went every week‚ so skipping out wasn’t really an option unless you wanted to start a big row over it. Confession was another matter‚ though‚ as each of us were old enough to regulate that on our own. We never talked about it‚ though‚ so I don’t even know if Matt made a habit of going‚ or if he did‚ how often. I assumed it wasn’t much‚ since I saw him most every Saturday. And I never knew if Paul went that much‚ either‚ though I suspected not. I didn’t go because for one‚ the big sin on my plate was explicitly condemned‚ so I already knew what the response from the priest would be‚ and two‚ I had no intention of mending my wicked ways. Without that‚ there’s no point in confessing anything.

My mom thought I was virtuous merely for wanting to go to confession‚ and she respected my privacy enough not to ask the reason why. I confessed my anger‚ and after asking me to explain the reasons why I was feeling this way‚ the priest behind the screen—thank God it wasn’t Father John—listened to my arguments and told me I was merely rationalizing my behavior in order to excuse my guilt. “Homosexual acts are a sin‚” he told me‚ “no matter who commits them or what the reason.” I was indeed feeling guilty—guilty for not being normal—and enormously so. But consider what he told me and put that up against the fact that I didn’t choose to be who I am and feel what I did‚ and he seemed to be rationalizing my guilt in order to condemn my behavior. Okay‚ maybe my feelings weren’t always pure‚ weren’t always governed by love‚ sacrifice‚ and compassion. Neither were those of straight people. Yet what they did‚ under the right circumstances‚ was considered okay. What I did‚ no matter what the circumstances‚ was not nor ever would be.

It made me more frustrated. I was after all made this way! I mean‚ I might as well confess that my hair was brown as that I was gay. For me‚ the mystery of why I was gayam gay‚ I guess I should sayis the same as that of why I exist. I like men. It’s who and what I am‚ as much as any other part of me is. Of course‚ being a fag wasn’t really the issue. Being a fag is not technically a sin‚ and in taking this position‚ you understand‚ the Church takes a very forward approach toward modern cognitive and physiological psychology‚ which also discuss homosexuality in terms of biological processes and not lifestyle “choices” or social conditioning. There are certain things about us that are beyond choice. So in a certain sense‚ we fags were created like this as God intended.

On the other hand‚ acting like a fag is a sin. For this reason‚ the Church teaches that homosexuals are called to be single‚ which is the same as saying they are meant to be celibate. To me‚ that seemed simply cruel‚ and still does. Here‚ the Church seems to ignore an insight of modern behavioral psychology‚ that sex is not just a mechanism for responding to a biological imperative. It is also a means of fulfilling certain psychological motivations and needs‚ which‚ because none of us are alike‚ vary somewhat from individual to individual‚ and even culture to culture‚ and which can’t always be addressed by other means. Of course‚ there are certain ways in which we’re all alike. I mean‚ all of us‚ no matter who we are‚ feel compelled to join ourselves to another person in some way. And we feel this as a consequence of our creation. But how can you say Group A is good to go to form sexual relationships with each other‚ and Group B‚ simply by virtue of the fact that they’re in the Bs‚ isn’t?

Well‚ I’m not up to a general defense of homosexuality. Nor was I then‚ either. The priest granted me absolution and assigned me a penance‚ which I willingly did. He also gave me this simple advice: “Pray and rely on God.” Succinct‚ clear‚ and honest. Probably the best advice I ever got. But to me‚ it also had this unavoidable implication: you can’t rely on anyone else‚ even the Church. You have to understand that to my mind‚ there really is no moral difference between the action and the feelings in your heart. After all‚ if the action is wrong‚ then the sin has already been committed within. But I knew that my heart‚ from which sexuality emerges‚ wasn’t like my head or my body: I couldn’t control what it did. Nor was I willing to drive a wedge between it and the rest of my being by embracing celibacy. So if the Church couldn’t accept my heart‚ neither‚ did it seem‚ would it ever accept my head or my body. Yes‚ I would pray and rely on God. That’s all I could do‚ because if somebody didn’t accept part of me‚ they weren’t going to accept any of me‚ a lesson I had already learned much too vividly. I loved the Church and still do‚ despite myself‚ but I couldn’t find a home there. “The way you are‚ we don’t want you‚” the priest seemed to be saying‚ so that was the last day I went to mass.


Look for “Chapter Ten. Loose Ends.”
Comments may be sent to

Author’s Note: In case it may need to be said‚ the episode of criminal violence described in this chapter is presented for purposes of narrative development only and is‚ in its specific details‚ entirely fictional—though this is neither to suggest that such events are uncommon nor to gloss over the fact that they are always and everywhere a horror. I suspect that the vast majority of gay men have been teased‚ spit on‚ intimidated‚ threatened‚ assaulted‚ or worse at least once in their lives‚ and my heart breaks each time I think about things that have happened to me‚ or things I have seen happen to others, as a result of intolerance. Even though I’ve not suffered the worst of what heterosexism‚ at its most virulent‚ can render‚ I feel a deep and abiding sympathy for those who have. The fact is that the recent murders of men like Billy Jack Gaither‚ Matthew Shepard‚ or Barry Winchell are not isolated cases: they provide clear examples of the dangerous conditions that many thousands of gay men in the United States grow up in and live with today. Such incidents are the direct end result of the sort of systemic hatred for gays many of us become accustomed to as boys. When‚ for example‚ one object of my high school affection—a National Honor Society student‚ skilled athlete‚ and minister’s son—warned me off by saying‚ “I’ll kill you‚” I believed him. So as I learned that Billy Jack had been stabbed‚ beaten‚ and set on fire‚ that Matthew had been pistol-whipped‚ tied to a fence‚ and left to freeze‚ that Barry had been dragged from his bed and bludgeoned with a baseball bat—in each case I was horrified‚ but I wish I could say I was surprised. I was not.

Opponents to the sort of hate crime legislation called for by the Human Rights Campaign speciously point out that cases like these are few, especially when compared to figures derived for the total population. They are right, of course, if you consider only murder. Data collected by the FBI, available on its website, suggests that bias crimes against gays nearly doubled from 1990 to 1998 and are still on the rise. According to the Uniform Crime Reports for 1999‚ the most current yearly assessment available‚ hate crime figures remain astonishingly high‚ considering the report covers a period of only 365 days. Of the 9‚301 total hate crime offenses reported‚ 6‚189 (or 66.5%) were attributed to crimes against persons‚ ranging from intimidation to murder. Of the 7‚871 reported single-bias incidents—a figure which includes crimes against property‚ persons‚ and society as a whole—1‚317 (or 16.7%) were the result of sexual orientation bias. Of these, 915 (or 69.5%) resulted from anti-male homosexual bias and involved a total of 1‚025 offenses‚ including 2 murders‚ 128 aggravated assaults‚ 308 simple assaults‚ and 329 intimidations. The sad truth is that these figures represent an extremely conservative estimate. The UCRs for any given year are only as reliable as the state and local police agencies that voluntarily participate in the data collection process‚ and those that do represent only 85% of the total population. In addition‚ underreporting‚ especially of incidents of hate crime‚ is common‚ so the majority of hate crime incidents go unidentified‚ and thus unprosecuted‚ every year. (You can read an American Psychological Association position paper on hate crime‚ which addresses this and other issues‚ at While a federal response to this issue is necessary and welcome‚ it is important to demand and support efforts to identify‚ report‚ and prosecute hate crime in our hometowns or local jurisdictions. Many believe that most anti-gay incidents occur in our schools and workplaces. Many do. But consider another surprising finding: in 1999‚ the highest number (30.6%) of the 1‚317 incidents involving just sexual orientation bias (and 28.7% of the 7‚876 total reported bias-motivated incidents) occurred in or on residential property (though we are also at similarly high risk on highways‚ streets‚ roads‚ and alleys). This tends to confirm something many gay men already know from experience: while hate can happen anywhere‚ it often begins at home.