These events occurred somewhere in a place I've been. A place where time passes dreamily. A place where our heart's desires are fulfilled. Where every yearning heart is held and kept and lifted up in loving embrace. Please play safe and be kind to yourselves and to one-another.
Our community always felt like a small town. In truth, it is a semi-rural enclave on the outskirts of a large northern city. But it is one of those places that people don't seem to move away from. Or they do, but only for a while, and then they're back again. Our parents and grandparents came here and put down roots -- and boy, what roots! Most of the people in this story still live in the same houses, these grand old cozy big homes that once rang out with the shouts of their parents' voices as children. Grandma's cooking smells are still there, in the walls somewhere, if your nose is keen enough.
Anyway, a few years have passed -- not a lot -- and some of us have moved away. But the place just keeps drawing us back. Some to raise a family, some to heal. And I still see these people in the course of a day and often we have a moment to stop, perhaps to touch, and to look each other in the face and smile, remembering how we were.
How could I hurt so badly? Me? The luckiest guy in the world. Having Derek. In love with the most wonderful, electric, beautiful, loving guy ever to walk the earth. A wonderful, loving family, accepting me for me. Didn't compute.
Something broken in me? First the dream where Derek and I never met. Chalk that one up to the flu. Still leaves the incident with Mrs. Devereaux. Even that was pretty cool, in its way. Just left me feeling chewed up inside.
Where to start?
Derek was 13 months younger than me, and though he had been offered the opportunity to skip to my grade, he had turned it down for two reasons. First of all, he didn't have the time to really study, what with his skating. It just worked out better to stay in his grade & coast, while really pouring himself into the skating, and into... Us.
Secondly, he didn't need the aggravation of being younger and smaller than his grade-mates. As it was, he was taller than average, a hell of a lot more muscular, and, if the truth be known, hung a whole lot nicer. Not necessarily huge -- certainly big enough -- but right out there in front and really cute. Embarrassing to say, but I just loved the way his cock sort of stuck out, even when it was soft, sorta perked out all beautiful and perfect. And the way his nuts hung. Little tiny folds in the skin at the top and all plump and... perfect! Well, anyway, why put himself in the position of having to take shit for being a skater and... having his so-passionate emotional wiring? This way, he was as burly as the next kid & nobody was gonna take him on.
So anyway, the "So What?" of it is that we were not in the same school, despite the two schools sharing a campus. Derek was in his last year at the junior high, the year I was a freshman, since our high school was on a four-year system.
This probably saved us a lot of trouble. There was none of the stuff about having to try not to stare at each other at school, or giving ourselves away by gazing at each other. That was actually a real gift, now that I think about it. I might have told my Mom about us, but I don't know how much Derek and I had really decided, at that point. I mean, we were in love, that part was certainly true. Is certainly true. I will always love Derek. Always. Love him at 13, love him at 30. Love him through eternity. Love him long after these bodies are dust. That is just one of the certainties of my world, my life.
But we didn't need to be thinking through the issue of gayness and labels and dealing with the other kids' parochial attitudes and all the latent fuck-heads' attempts to convince themselves how macho they were. It was enough to carry the burden of being so much in love. Of Course it was a joyous burden, nor would I -- could I -- have conceived of it as a burden. But, basically when you are in love you are certifiably insane, so why add more to that?
Anyway, Mr. Ambrosini had gotten down and serious with Derek's training. Derek still needed the money from the assistant coach/partner gig and so they had to add Derek's increased ice hours on top of that. He was able to get exempt from gym class. I mean, just look at that kid! His physical conditioning was undeniable. But also there was the time and the risk of injury. You don't throw away a skating career by blowing a knee in a game of soccer in gym class. You just don't.
So they scheduled him for first-period gym, waived it, and he got to start at 9:30 every day. If things got too heavy, he was going to have to do the tutor thing, and that was really expensive.
I was in eighth-period English class and Mrs. Devereaux had assigned us to read Kahlil Gibran. Well, she was actually Dr. Devereaux. Our school system required all teachers to be on a Master's degree program within 2 years of starting. The pay scale had (large) built-in raises at Bachelors + 40 hours, Master's, Master's + 40 and Ph.D, so we had a several "Doctors" around, though only the Principal actually used his title, sort of by an unspoken agreement among the faculty. Guess they thought just "happening" to have a doctorate was cool. I guess it was, in terms of academic standards of "coolth." Anyway, she taught all the advanced placement classes and just this one freshman literature survey class I was in. Guess she wanted to get her talons into us while we were young.
So I read the part of The Prophet about love and the pain of love and about the joy of the pain of love and about the pain of the joy of the pain and about a prayer for the beloved. Read it at home. And I couldn't stop crying. I mean, I did. But I didn't dare to think about that passage anywhere in public. I wrote a report for class and turned it in. By then we were studying Edwin Arlington Robinson. You know, "Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn." That guy. No big deal. But I guess it was the cardiac damage from Gibran. I got to something about gratitude. I think it goes "Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give."
I don't know what it was. Maybe, like I said, the prophet just picked his moment to kick my butt again. But thank God! Mrs. Devereaux had finished up her remarks, gone over the homework assignment and let people get ready to go home for the weekend. I was in no real hurry. Derek was gonna be tied up for a while longer. So, as the thundering herd departed, I was sorta leafing throught the section on Edwin Arlington Robinson. Mostly thinking about how his initials spell "ear," and how I probably wouldn't use the middle initial if I were him. And I read that gratitude thing. And it combined with the pain, of the joy, of the song of praise, of the prayer for the beloved and my mind flashed to Derek and how I couldn't think of a higher calling than to love him, hold him and serve him as his beloved, him as my beloved, and I got so tiny and the terrible sadness of my gratitude just speared me through the heart. The blood loss was instantaneous.
I don't think the first two tear trails even made it past my mouth before the first sob sorta shot out and Mrs. Devereaux' head spun around and all the kids had left and she jerked toward me and someone was at the door and she got between me and the door and turned and put on her teacher's voice and nailed 'em with. "I'll have to ask you to close the door and wait outside for a moment." Loud: Authority, Compliance.
And she came to me and took my arm and tugged me, half-carried me to her office, sat me down and closed the frosted glass door.
"Brand? Honey? Are you okay?" She has kids, so it was all right to call me "honey."
At first, all I could do was nod and sob. She handed me a Kleenex and I cried it out for just a few seconds. It suddenly moved away. I blew my nose and wiped my eyes.
"Whew! Geez! Sorry! Whew! Man! I didn't expect that!"
"Can you tell me about it?" She saw my hesitancy.
"Will you do me the honor of trusting me?"
Well, that set me off again. I was starting to feel like Derek, the day he got hysterical. Something big and hot was in my chest and rose to lodge in my throat. I was strangely charmed and comforted by the request. Would I do her the honor of trusting her? Wow! She said it like she might say it to a grown man. One of her grown-up sons, maybe. It had dislodged my stopper for a second. I ended up suddenly serene.
" I just dunno, Mrs. Dev..."
"Jeanne. For now. Here. Just Jeanne. I'm Mrs. in class."
"Okay. I guess I never connected with poetry all that much. You know, I liked that 'Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky' thing... "
"McCarthy. Eugene McCarthy. Senator."
"Yeah. Well, then I did that paper on Khalil Gibran... "
"I know. I read it last night. It was really something special, Brand. I was hoping that you might be willing to present it to the class."
"No fu... I... sorry. There's no way. I think that's what did this to me. There is no way I could stand up there and even think about The Prophet, say nothing of talk in front of people."
"It sounds as if you really connected with it. Powerfully." I gaped for a second. Played back what she'd just said, and nodded.
"So, today, I was leafing through the Lit book and saw this one Robinson quote about gratitude." I choked something back, started to tear up again, ended up clenched, trying not to further embarass myself.
Jeanne looked at me oddly for a second. Then she got a funny, crooked, sympathetic smile.
"Isn't love a wonderful, terrifying thing?" I broke down and lost it again for about half the box of Kleenex. Jeanne finally stood up, squeezed my shoulder and left, closing her office door. She went and answered the knock on the door and handled whoever had been waiting in the hall outside the empty classroom.
She was back by about the 40-tissue point. I was stable again, and even managed a self-deprecating smirk and chuckle. My outburst had been more than enough of a response to her question. It was a flat out confession. It formed a sort of bond of understanding between us. Now I somehow belonged calling her "Jeanne." Part of the deal.
"Yeah." I chuckled. She had gotten the strong dose of irony. Bright, perceptive lady. "Grand!" We were both laughing, now.
"I guess you see why people were driven to invent poetry?"
"Oh, yeah! I have absolutely no doubt. The... Regular speech -- prose -- just can't carry the... freight."
"Oh, Brand! I just love the way you put that! May I use it?"
"Sure." A little startled, but pleased. Feeling better the whole time.
"Brand. Is there... are things going OK for you? I mean, does your... love interest know how you feel?" I nodded.
"Does... are you loved back?" Nodding, smiling hugely through a fresh crop of tears. Running joyously out of the corners.
"Yes," I croaked, "That's why... " I didn't want to get to sobbing again.
"Ohh! The gratitude quote! Ohh... " I noticed she was wiping off her make-up now, to keep it from running onto her dark suit.
"That's so... you know, I have to admit, I envy you a little. I didn't find love 'till I was out of college. And he was -- is -- an engineer. I love Jim with all my heart, but he's no poet. It took a long time before he could even begin to tell me what he really feels. Some gir... somebody's very lucky, indeed."
Her cutting off the word "girl" was not missed on me at all. I froze for a moment, and then slowly looked up at her. Our eyes connected and she saw the truth, saw my fear. A deeper bond, now. She was Jeanne for sure, from there.
"It's OK, Brand. My oldest son. My Firstborn, Jay. He's gay. I love him immensely, absolutely. And I respect him deeply. His life is an enormous -- a resounding -- success. He is a world-class musician and he's witty and charming and his partner is another son to me. Have no fear: you're safe with me. And you must feel free to come to me anytime you need to." I must have looked a little shell-shocked, cuz that's definitely how I was feeling, about then.
"If you have a love... of the kind... of the intensity that Gibran celebrates... a love that fills you with... prayerful gratitude... just to be allowed to give... " Her tears flowed freely now, unashamed, "You are so fortunate. You must hold that love and cherish it, Brand." I felt goose bumps and a chill, sudddenly. At the same time, I felt... somehow disconnected.
"Do your folks know?" Gentle concern, real curiosity.
"Well, Dad died 2 years ago, and yes, Mom knows. She already knew. And she's cool with it. With us."
"Is it... is he another student, here?"
"No." I hesitated. Was it my place to say this? My pride just swept over me. "He's the... You'll see him skate at the exhibition on Thursday." She could see my pride, my tenderness, my fear of inadequacy. How helpless I felt before the power of this Love. The tears streaming onto my sweatshirt.
"Oh, how fortunate you are not to share a school at this stage! My son and his lover went through Hell, the last two years of school. Trying to keep it under wraps. Fielding all the hostility and alienation when it got out. Almost immediately." Shaking her head in remembered chagrin. "You are so helpless, at first."
"He's quite a bit older than you are, Brand. Things are a little better these days. But you two have enough to deal with. Thank God, you don't have that!" She smiled at me, relaxed, accepting.
Turning serious: " I would think more than twice before coming out in this school, Brand." I rolled my eyes. She rolled hers.
"Does this mean you won't make me present my paper to the class, Jea... Mrs. Devereaux?" She caught the shift, smoothly.
"I think that I can let you off the hook... Mr. Coulter," she ribbed me, positively merry. Somehow the "Mister" was just what I needed, right then. Guess she knew that.
"Are we... are you able to face the world, now, Brand? I'd love to stay and talk some more, but my husband is having a root canal done under general anaesthesia and I have to drive him home in about... " looking at her watch, " Twenty minutes ago."
"Ohh! I'm sorry. No, I'm fine. Just... Thanks, Jeanne."
"This has meant a lot to me, too. I saw what Jay and Scott went through. It isn't often that I get to help other... young men. Please. Brand. Come to me whenever you need to."
"Okay. Thanks. That means more to me than I think I can say right now."
"Maybe you need to write your feelings out in verse, Brand."
I just smiled and shrugged. Visualizing: "An Ode to Dare's Penis. This is a poem I wrote over Christmas break... "
It wasn't long before Derek got home, it just seemed that way.