By John Yager
This is the nineteenth chapter of an ongoing series. I want to thank all the readers who have written to me concerning this story. I continue to be surprised and pleased by all the responses this story has prompted. All your comments are read and given serious consideration. Thank you for your encouragement, suggestions and criticism.
My objective in this series is to deal with issues which have impacted and influenced the lives of gay people in the period between the 1960s and the present time, or from pre-Stonewall days to the era of "don't ask, don't tell."
Many readers have asked if this story is, at least in part, autobiographical. I would not be honest if I said it was not. But I want to make it clear to readers that I am not Rob or Rick or any other specific character in the story and none of them, individually, is me. The story is raising many more questions than it is supplying answers and I certainly make no claim to know the answers. It is my hope that by raising the questions I may prompt more consideration of the issues facing gay people in the USA and throughout the world.
Andrew continues to provide much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not post chapters as quickly as I have been doing without his assistance.
This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental. This is a work of gay erotic fiction. If you should not be reading such material, or if such material is not to your liking, please exit now.
This work is copyrighted by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I have posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists.
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Oxford, Mississippi really is a small town. During the years I spent there as student, the resident population was under 10,000, but it swelled to more than double that during the academic year. The University of Mississippi is now technically a separate incorporated township, called University, but everybody knows Ole Miss is in Oxford so, except for the post office, it doesn't make much difference.
To anyone from Mississippi, the University of Mississippi is "Ole Miss." It's an interesting term and it has a lot of history. In the jargon of the South, "Ole Miss" was the term used for the wife of a plantation owner or "Boss Man." During the Civil War, when most of the men were off fighting Yankees, most plantations were run by women, strong willed women, and the term "Ole Miss" took on ever greater importance.
When we refer to the University as "Old Miss," we are referring to it, or her, as the Matriarch, the Great Mother, the Alma Mater. We are also perpetuating a bit of our Southern linguistic heritage, although very few people know that any more.
In the autumn of 1968, Ole Miss was still very "White." The University had technically been integrated since 1962 but when I arrived, there were still so few Black students on campus that it was a rarity to even see one, let alone be in a class with one.
In 1962, Ole Miss had been integrated, but only after what many have called the Battle of Oxford. James Meredith had been accepted as a student but it took the combined efforts of federal marshals, National Guard, and finally, Army troops to make his admission a reality. Two people died in the riots which followed. Meredith's admission to the University and his subsequent graduation marked a significant chapter in the Civil Rights movement. It was a hard fought and dramatic victory and very few people remember how close Oxford came in 1962 to all out war.
Like most wars, both sides claimed the moral high ground. The segregationists felt they had tradition and social order on their side. They saw segregation as a State's Rights issue. One older man whom I eventually got to know, who'd lived in Oxford all his life, said to me many years later, "Son, September 30, 1962, the Battle of Oxford, was the last battle of the Civil War."
Those who championed integration knew they had right on their side, as well as the law. They also knew that they represented the future, the future of the University, the future of Mississippi, and the future of the United States.
By the time I entered the University in 1968, there were still very few African-American students. There was a larger number of Black staff of course, janitors, cooks and kitchen workers, grounds keepers et cetera, but very few actual black students and, so far as I was aware, not one Black member of the faculty. Racially Ole Miss, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was very much like the Spring River of my youth.
I mention the racial issues and the Civil Rights movement because during my years at Ole Miss, it became for me a sort of metaphor. The plight of Gay men and women on the university campus in those days was similar to the situation faced by the few Black students. In both cases I think the basic attitude was one of self protection. They and we were there, like it or not; we were a presence, even if not a very visible presence. Everyone knew there were a few Black students and everyone more or less acknowledged that there "might be" a few Gay and Lesbian students. So far as Gay students were concerned, there was no official admission of our presence.
Most of us were still very secretive about our sexuality. I don't remember ever hearing anyone in those days speak of "Being in the Closet," but whether we knew the term or not, that is where most of us were. We were as inconspicuous as possible. But also, in the case of Black students and Gay students, there was a real sense of mission. Both groups felt as if we had a responsibility to the generations of students who would follow us. We were laying a foundation on which they could continue building.
As a Freshman, I moved into Jackson Hall, the dormitory where most members of the football team were housed. I had a double room with a guy named David Heart from Tupelo. We were congenial enough as roommates but we never became good friends. Tupelo was close enough to Oxford for him to go home almost every weekend he could get away. He was dating a girl who was a year younger, a high school senior, so on weekends when he didn't have to be on campus for academic reasons of for football responsibilities, he tended to leave as soon as classes were over on Friday afternoon. I wouldn't see him again until late Sunday night.
After one semester David moved in with another guy, a high school friend, and I had to good luck to be offered a single room, a rare luxury for a Freshman.
It was a three hour drive from Oxford to Spring River so I didn't try to get home until the Thanksgiving break. My brother Ted was on campus, of course, and I saw him and Betty every two or three weeks. By then Ted was living off campus in an apartment he shared with a fraternity brother and I guess Betty was there as much as she was in her dorm.
I was in the honors program and very busy with my studies. What little time I had free was spent at the gym, working out, or at football practice.
"So, little brother," began Ted the first time he and Betty asked me to his apartment for dinner. It was about three weeks into the fall term and by then I had begun to feel a little more settled in. "The last time we talked, you wiggled out of answering my questions. Now Betty and I have you captive for the evening and we want to know."
"Sure, Ted," I smiled, knowing what was coming, "I know you may think it's a little weird, but I really prefer caramel sauce on butter pecan ice cream. I know chocolate sauce on vanilla is the All American favorite and I certainly don't want to appear unpatriotic, but that's the way it is."
"Sure, wise guy, you think you can joke your way out of it, but it isn't going to work," Ted fired back.
"We do have an ulterior motive, Rob," Betty said, her voice a soft series of sighs. I really did think she took the Southern accent a little too far. "If you and Joyce are really trying to keep your relationship going, we certainly understand, but if you and she have agreed to give each other some freedom while you are so far apart...well, your brother and I really do feel it's our responsibility to...well, you know...well, introduce you to some really stunning young women here at Old Miss."
"What Betty's saying," Ted broke in, "is if you're available, she wants to set you up with some of her sorority sisters."
"Well, not sorority sisters, Rob," Betty purred. "I just thought it would be so wonderful to arrange dates for you with one or two of the very sweet Freshman girls who are probably going to pledge my sorority." She paused to catch her breath and to give me one of her most winning smiles. "Now don't you think that would be just a wonderful idea?"
I was thinking fast and managed to say, with more or less complete honesty, "I really appreciate your interest, Betty. But the truth is, Joyce and I are still trying to come to terms with our relationship. I'm going to see her in a few weeks and until we work things out, I really don't want to date anyone else."
"Oh," Betty said. It was almost a whine.
"Well, let us know, little brother," Ted jumped in again. "Betty is one great match maker and she really does have your best interests at heart."
"Oh, I know," I assured them.
"You are such a good looking boy, Rob. I just don't think you understand how vulnerable a handsome young man is here at the University."
"I really can take care of myself, Betty," I assured her, "but thank you for your concern."
"Well, you know there are all sorts of unscrupulous young women here for no other reason than to find themselves a husband. Your brother and I just don't want you falling prey to one of them."
Actually, I had escaped the interrogation unscathed and without agreeing to anything. I'd known it was coming ever since Ted had grilled me on the Fourth of July. Joyce had seen it coming, too, and had teased me endlessly about it. I called her later that evening.
It was an odd conversation, standing at a not so private pay phone in the lobby of my dorm. I'd seen and heard other guys having conversations with their girlfriends on the same phone and always thought it was comical to hear them making all sorts of pronouncements of undying love while a milling bunch of jocks listened in.
It actually took two calls to reach Joyce. I envisioned her talking under similar circumstances in a dormitory at Trinity in Hartford, were she'd also just begun her first year. The first time I called I ended up speaking with her roommate, who began the conversation by saying, "Oh, so you're Rob. I've heard all about you." That was sort of disconcerting but I went on to learn that Joyce wouldn't be back for another hour. It was arranged that I'd call back at10:30 my time and Stephanie, the roommate, would have her waiting.
"You're sure that won't be too late?" I asked, remembering that 10:30 my time
was 11:30 on the east coast.
"Oh, no. That will be fine," Stephanie assured me. "We never get to bed before midnight."
When I called the second time, promptly at 10:30, Joyce answered the phone on the first ring. A wave of loneliness swept over me when I heard her voice.
"Well, you were right," I told her once we'd exchanged news of classes and our first impressions of college life. "Ted and Betty had me over for dinner tonight and I got the full treatment."
"I'm sure your future sister-in-law wanted to fix you up with some sweet southern belle," Joyce laughed, her voice positively dripping with honey and magnolias.
"Yeah," I admitted, "but you got me out of the pickle."
"Why, sweetheart, that's what I'm here for," she crooned on.
"I told them I would be seeing you in a few weeks and we'd just have to suffer through till then."
"Well, you could make it sooner if you could find a way to get here for our big Autumn Festival. It's the second week in October and I'd love you to be here as my date."
"Not much chance of that, but you are still planning on coming to Athens for our game there?" The last weekend of October Ole Miss was playing the University of Georgia and even though there was no chance of my getting on the field, I was going as a first year member of the team.
"I wouldn't miss it," she assured me. An uncle of hers had offered her a free rail pass and Joyce planned to come down on an overnight sleeper, arriving the day our team would be getting there. We'd have the weekend together.
"And I'll see you over Christmas, right?"
"Yes, I'll be home and I expect you to spend every free minute with me." She paused and then asked, "Rob, where are you right now? I keep hearing voices in the background."
"In the lobby of the dorm. It isn't very private."
"I thought so. Now, here's what I want you to do."
"There are other guys who can hear your end of our conversation?"
"Okay, Mr. Ballinger, this will do your reputation a lot of good. We
need to get off the line and I really must get to bed, but before I go I want
you to tell me how much you love me and how much you miss me and how you can
hardly wait to see me in Athens."
I did just that. It was right out of a cheap romance and I won't make you suffer through it, but the fellows standing around heard it all.
"Very good, Rob," Joyce said when I finished. "I love you, too."
"Not as much as I love you," I assured her.
"You have the photo I gave you?"
"It's on my desk."
"Good. Keep it out in plain sight. Now, good night."
"I love you," I added again and hung up.
As I headed for my room the guys who'd overheard my end of our conversation looked at me with new respect.
I, for the moment, was a man among men!
Among men, especially young men, who are concerned about their image and not too sure about their sexuality, women or the attraction of women is the mark of masculinity. How odd that I, who at eighteen knew I was Gay, I who was certain of my own sexuality in a way they were not, was given a kind of approval because I allowed myself to be heard talking on a public telephone to a young woman a thousand miles a way. They had heard me tell her in vivid terms of my adoration. For the moment, in their eyes, I was approved, I was certified, I was one of them.
Did I love Joyce? Yes, certainly. Could I function on a sexual level with her? Could I make love to her? Probably so, if I felt she wanted it and it would give her pleasure. Would I enjoy it? I really don't know. I admit to some curiosity about heterosexuality but I am not in any way attracted to it.
We live, my friend, in an up-side-down world! It is a world not even Charles Lutwidge Dodgson could have imagined.
To be continued.