Chapter Eleven

Sin and Absolution


It was August, 1982 when they arrived in Chicago.

Brandt and I had talked about it and we decided to make a trial at having them live with us.

I was apprehensive, but the location was good for Matteus, whose school was in the heart of Chicago, near Grant Park. Will had a lengthy commute to school by train, near where his parents were living.

Matteus had scholarship money and some from his parents, Will had student loans, and was trying to hold down some part time work to help out, and I just figured I had to make a contribution too. I knew the Colonel had offered, because Eleanor called me to see if I could persuade Will to accept, but he wasn’t hearing it. He’d take money with reluctance from me, but not from them.

Brandt got the worst of the deal, but he did his best to be supportive. He worked long hours and traveled a bit so it wasn’t as bad as might have been, and he genuinely liked the boys, especially Matteus. I was lucky to have Brandt.

One day he dragged me outside for a walk along the shoreline, it was a blustery fall day, and I’d rather have been inside but he had something on his mind.

He wanted them to go. Will had been making passes at him.



Thing is, I wanted to be good. I really did.

And when I said Matteus was better than a thousand dicks, he was. Really.

But even that day in Paul’s bed in Amsterdam, where I found something I was looking for, as I always knew I would – though I expected it to be something else – didn’t change the fact that old habits die hard.

My ass itched for cock sometimes, almost all the time.

I had resisted for a long time, in A-dam it hadn’t been such a problem, but here Mats and I didn’t even see each other what with his schedule and my school and work and commuting.

But even when we had time for sex, even when I knew it was wrong and sick, I couldn’t always resist. I loved Mats, but this wasn’t about love. I knew, Paul had told me, that there was a hole in my soul, it was because of that I was doing all those guys. And Mats was the one to fill it for me, I knew that. But it wasn’t really filled all the time.

Sometimes I’d just find myself cruising the bathrooms on campus, not really meaning to but there I was. Usually I’d walk away, usually. I didn’t want to be there, I just couldn’t seem to not be there.

One evening Mats was at a late rehearsal and Brandt went out and Paul and I were sitting in the living room, I was ready for a rare evening where I could relax, watch some TV. Paul turned it off and looked at me and I knew there was trouble.


It was my initiative and I’d had some time to think about how to have this conversation. He wasn’t a child anymore, and yelling had never worked anyway.

“Will, the tough thing about life is, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another tough thing about life is, we keep having to learn the same lessons over and over again. Will, do you know what I want to talk to you about?”

“No, not for sure,” he said with some poise; this wasn’t a child anymore, “I’m thinking I’m in some trouble, though.”

“You tell me.”

I waited. The silence stretched. His countenance slowly sank into sadness, he looked at me with those black, sad eyes and I saw that puppy dog I’d first seen seven years earlier.

He was not avoiding my gaze, he was looking into my eyes. Pleading.

“I don’t know what to do, Father.”  He said it very softly, almost to himself. “I don’t know how to control myself. I don’t know how to be full without looking for dicks to do it.”  Tears began to inch their way down his cheeks. “I know the hole is there, but I can’t seem to do anything about it.”

That was more insight than I’d ever expected. But insight doesn’t mean solutions.

“I’ll try to find a way to help you, son.”

We talked late into the evening, trying to understand the issues, to see a solution. It seemed that more therapy would be the place to the start.

First he tried the counseling center at his college.


You know it made me feel like shit, going to the counseling center. They gave me a straight man to talk to, a guy about thirty-five. A jock. Well, I hadn’t told them what the problem was.

A straight man couldn’t even conceive of a five-cock-a-day habit much less figure out what to do about it. After thirty minutes he just said “I can’t help you.”  I bet he went off and threw up.

In fact it turned out to be really hard. I figured out as time went on that no one knew anything about this problem. They couldn’t even find a concept to work with. I tried half a dozen places, spent hours filling out forms and telling the same sick story over and over again.

Some didn’t figure there was a problem, They were all politically correct, they knew “Gay is OK.” they thought I was lucky. They thought I was just good at it.

Or they thought I was just like every other faggot. They all get laid a lot, right? 

Anyway, those tried to get me to accept myself as I was, which didn’t solve a fucking thing.

A brilliant few figured since I wasn’t happy with my homo self, the solution was to make me straight!

I wouldn’t sit in a room with them once they suggested it. Those people were too stupid to breathe – five cocks isn’t enough so substitute pussy?? You’re the ones need a shrink!

I finally found someone.

Mary Beth was about Mom’s age but more gray, and she would wear these long, loose, beaded dresses with arms that flowed down like drapery, knitted loose shawls, scarves, shit mom wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. But she had that same kind of stiff upper lip Mom had, and the same way of making you feel warm and toasty all over when she talked. And she had big sad eyes, Paul said eyes like mine, that you could kind of just sink into. I did like them, those eyes said “I accept you,” I thought they were eyes full of wisdom. Eyes that never missed anything.

Mary Beth kind of reminded me of mom to be honest, and yet I could still talk to her without being ashamed too much. She said “I don’t know much about this problem, but let’s just talk and see what we come up with.”

It helped. Everything helped.

At first I just talked about what I was doing. She zeroed me in on what I was feeling when I was doing it.

That helped, because thinking about the feelings, about that big hole in me, did help me to understand things. We decided to keep a record of my feelings, and then after a while I could sort of predict the times that I was likeliest to get in trouble. The feelings that led my asshole to itch, so to speak. And then we had some ideas about how to avoid getting there.

I wrote them down on a poster board in her office. The list was scary.





Fucked up.

We did something about that. Started to get into what it was that made me feel empty, lonely, worthless, abandoned, fucked-up and man that was a can of worms.

And we talked about things I could do, things to help me to feel filled, loved, supported, cherished, worthwhile, appropriate.

Things to do, of course, that didn’t take somebody’s cock.

One day we were talking about the day in Amsterdam after I threw Mats out. And I talked about how it felt when I found that guy to fuck me. That it was Mats’ cock I wanted instead. So I focused for a long time on how that had felt, on recreating that feeling when I was tempted.

Then she went back to what I was actually doing, and we did some behavior modification stuff to help. Avoiding places that were problems, times, situations, walking away, not wearing clothes that made me think about getting boned. Reminding myself of it when I went to get another dick, that it wasn’t Mats’ dick, and it was his dick that felt the best of them all. Lots of things.

Every little bit helps.

But you can’t avoid bathrooms, and hell I could get laid just walking across the quad. So it helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

And then Mats left me and it all fell to shit.




I knew this was going to be bad. Matteus finally caught on to what was happening, and I came home from work one afternoon and he was gone. No message, no forwarding address, nothing at all. Will was devastated.

For the next week Will searched for him, found him at school but he wouldn’t see him, finally he was asked by security to leave the campus. Warned against returning.

I asked Will to stay away for a bit, to let me see what I could do. I also told him that he could react to this badly or well; it was his decision. I pointed out that in the past he’d have run away, drugged up, or acted out sexually when things went bad.

“If you want him back, Will, those would be the worst possible steps you could take.”  But I wasn’t sure if it got through to him.

I went to find Matteus, it took several tries, but I found him on his way out of a practice room late one evening about ten days after he had moved out.

“Matteus, can we talk a moment?”

“Yes, of course, Paul, I am expecting you for some time now.”

“Matteus, are you all right?  I’m concerned about you.”

I think he assumed I’d launch into something about Will first. Of course I was concerned about Will, but in some ways I was even more worried about Matteus. Here he was, not quite eighteen, all alone in a foreign country, cut adrift in a big city, and no doubt his heart broken as well. And he seemed such a delicate creature.

He looked at me, his eyes limpid. Then down a moment and up and he fixed me with a resolute gaze, then spoke with an even strength.

“I am not so very well, thank you for asking. I am not so happy. But I am not to need anything if that is what you mean.”

This little guy amazed me with his strengths. I knew what a mess Will was, and if I’d been in this situation I’m sure I’d be shaken to the core. Maybe he was but he didn’t show it.

“You have a place to stay, you are safe?  I’ve been worried.”

“Yes, Paul, thank you again, you have not to worry. I have moved into a place with some other students, it is not so bad, much nicer I think than our apartment in Amsterdam was. I apologize, I am somewhat to hurry, Paul, I am expected there soon.”

“Okay, Matteus, I don’t want to hold you up, but . . .”  I didn’t quite know what to say, then it came to me.

“I miss you. So does Brandt. And I know you know Will does.”

Before he could say anything I continued, “I know you need time to think this out, and I want to help both of you in any way I can.”

“But I’m not here to pressure you, I want you to understand that I care about you very much. You have become part of my family, and I am sure you are hurt. I hope you will let me stay in contact, no matter what. Of course I want to see if there’s a way to repair what’s broken too. But my concern is just as much for you as it is for Will.”

He set down his music case, and walked up to me, reached up and touched his delicate fingertips to my lips, sealing them. I began to understand the way he handled Will. He was so direct. This kid had balls.

“Thank you Paul, I am loving you too. I will call later so you can have my number. For Will I am not so sure I will want to hear from him again.” Then he paused a moment. “But I will not be stupid and say it unless I am sure. I may change my mind on this. I must go now, you are very sweet, Paul, to come to see that I am well.” And he gave me a peck on the cheek, stretching up to reach.

And with no further ado, he was off.


I understood what Paul was saying to me, but I hurt inside so badly. I wanted to get some drugs, some cock, anything, I wanted to pick up and run away, he was so right about it all.

Talk about feeling empty, lonely, worthless, abandoned, fucked-up.

And so I called Mary Beth, asked her if I could possibly see her right away. Before I went crazy. I started seeing her three, four times a week, buried myself in my studies, anything to keep from what everyone called ‘acting out’.

It was very hard.

In school we heard that the CDC announced a new name to cover a puzzling set of medical conditions then known by a number of different names: lymphadenopathy, GRID, gay cancer. The new name was Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.


As weeks passed, it didn’t get all that much easier, but some of the pain went away and I started, with Paul and Mary Beth’s help, to work out some ways to handle the impulses, the temptations. I wasn’t always successful.

Part of it was just talking to myself, reminding myself of why I wanted to do these things. Part of it was talking to someone else, having someone else to distract me, reassure me, hold me.

Even the teddy bear got some of that.

Part of it was keeping busy. Part of it came from the Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Mary Beth suggested I go to.

At first I thought it was a dumb idea.

“Mary Beth, I’m a lot of things, and I know I’ve drunk a lot of booze and been wasted to kill my pain a lot of times, too. But whatever I am I’m no alcoholic. I could never drink again, it wouldn’t matter to me. I have abused it, but alcohol is not my problem.”

“I accept that Will. But I think you may learn some very useful things there.”

“Think about this, there is a similarity here, isn’t there?  Alcoholics are compelled to seek out a particular item, a particular experience, no matter what harm it does to them. No matter what pain it brings to those around them. They must do it, they need it to dull pain they cannot tolerate. Does that sound familiar?”

“OK, I see that, but . . .”

“They are very practical, Will, in finding ways to deal with compulsions. With addictions.”

So I went. And then I started to listen to what people were saying there and I thought it wasn’t so different. She was right.

That really was turning a corner for me. They were using alcohol to fill up the holes, I was using dicks. Many of their stories were worse than mine. All of them sounded familiar.

I couldn’t get up and talk, not even once I found a Gay AA meeting, I didn’t think they’d understand, and it wasn’t about alcohol. But listening helped a lot. Then I decided to go back to the straight AA meeting. They might not understand, but they didn’t hit on me and make it harder.

Well, most of them didn’t anyway.

And from them I learned about one day at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time. I just won’t go look for a cock right this minute, just not now for this next one minute. Just for the next ten minutes, I’ll not go cock hunting. Whatever works.

So the weeks passed, and then months passed. I knew Paul was talking to Mats, went to meet with him now and then, told me he was OK.

Paul asked me to work on myself, just be patient about Mats, try to make myself ready if there was an opportunity.

I ached for him so badly. I wept. I screamed sometimes.

Paul was so good to me. He forgave me for tempting Brandt. Brandt put up with having me there, and I wasn’t so tempted with him.

And once or twice, when Brandt was travelling, I found myself crawling into Paul’s bed again. I felt very small then, like a little boy. But he just kissed me and said “Welcome back, son.”

It was safe there, and I didn’t want to have sex with him any more. Probably the only man on earth I knew I didn’t want to do. Sleeping with a boy he never wanted to do. Well, not a boy anymore.

But still, late one night I asked him about that.

“Paul,” I whispered in the dark, “I understand why you never had sex with me. And I thank you for it, you were so right about that. But I wonder. Weren’t you ever tempted?”

He was drowsy, but he turned over and squeezed me.


“You mean that?”

“Son, it helped that you weren’t quite my type, that, like you, I prefer my men to be a bit older than a teenager, but when I was alone, after Dennis left me, I was so lonely and often very horny.”

“It would not have been so much temptation to have had you around but in your own bed. But lying there next to me, warm and soft, and I knew you would be enthusiastic, all it would take was a little hint. Just letting down my guard for a moment. There were a lot of nights that it was a close call.”

“I never knew.”

“You weren’t supposed to.”

I thought for a few moments.

“So how did you resist, how did you make it?  I need to know how to do that.”

“I just kept reminding myself why you were in my bed in the first place. What it was that you really needed, what it was that you didn’t need.”  He paused. “And how much I had come to love you. How important it was that I not do anything that would hurt you.”

“And it would have hurt you, Will; and I knew it even if you didn’t.”

“What about now, Paul? Is it a problem for me to be here?”  I didn’t want that from him, I wanted to know if he did, though.

“Why,” he said puzzled, “you’re my son, Will. You have been for a long time. It wouldn’t even occur to me now.”

Then one night when Brandt was home I crawled in between the two of them and they both held me, and then I really felt like a little boy. That night I cried myself to sleep in their arms.


All in all, I think Mats leaving was a good thing, painful as it was. It was the first thing that had ever really gotten inside him about his behaviors. I think he understood this would always be difficult for him, but I’d never seen him not act out before, never seen him handle pain positively.

I worked on Matteus, he was a tough little bugger. Not hostile or defensive, strong. But he was feeling the betrayal and the pain. His way of handling it was to retreat into his music, burying himself in it. Will didn’t know, but I set up a regular Wednesday night meeting with Matteus, when Will had a late class.

We went out for dinner, a treat for us both. I took my cues from him, sometimes he just wanted to enjoy a break, a nice meal, a nice restaurant, idle talk. But often he wanted to be serious, and he was such a forthright speaker.

Will better get him back or he’s on my list as a backup for Brandt. Nah, I couldn’t get past that little elfin body of his, really, no attraction at that level. But he would make quite a catch for someone. This young man had a heart of gold, he’d sweep someone off their feet.

Finally, as Thanksgiving approached we were sitting in an Italian restaurant that was one of my favorites, a table next to an open fire, it was warm and mellow and we were eating tirimisu. He put down his spoon, looked sad, then back up at me.

“Paul, I am still so hurt because of him, but also I am missing him very much,” he told me. “I am very lonely.”

“Well, Matteus, I can understand those feelings. What do you think, is it possible for you to take him back?  Can you give him another chance?  He  did forgive you when you let him down. I’m not saying it was the same, though maybe in his eyes it was pretty serious.”

He was quiet for a long time.

“It is not for what he did, but for the future I am so concerned. I can forgive him perhaps, I can forgive a man here or there if he still is loving me, but I cannot think he will not have another hundred lovers this year, so for what does he need me?”

He could always cut to the heart of the matter.

“OK, I understand that perfectly.”

“But I’m going to give you a shove now. I’ve been watching him for these past two months, and he has made enormous strides. I’m not telling you he’s perfect, I’d have to be honest and say you might have to be ready for a slip up at some point, it could happen.”

I took a breath.

“But Matteus, you know you both love each other so much, you have to give him a chance; it doesn’t all come together perfectly for him. But he’s doing it, has been doing it, without you, for months. Compared to what he was the first day I met him, it’s been a miracle.” 

I took a sip of my coffee.

“Talk to him, son, tell him your pain, let him tell you his.”

Two weeks later Matteus moved back in. Just in time for Thanksgiving. He thought it a thoroughly excessive experience, “very American,” he said, diplomatically.

The Colonel and Eleanor stopped by for dessert.


We were both overjoyed at the reunion. I had spent many sleepless nights worrying when they separated. I thought losing Matteus would throw Will into a spin, push him back over the edge. Matteus’ love was the one thing that I thought had saved him, and I was truly petrified.

In fact, the Colonel and I had met with Matteus three times, though no one else was aware of it, I think.

It was my husband’s idea.

“We can’t lose both of them, Eleanor. We have to do something.”

Well, I said he was ever a man of action. We asked Matteus to come to our place for dinner.

When we were together with Matteus I was amazed further to see how Thomas doted on that boy. For once he did most of the talking.

“Matteus, we are sorry that Will has hurt you. We don’t want to lose you from our lives, not from his either.”

It was enough to make me take a deep breath.

“We think of you, both of us do, as another son. And we hate to see our family split apart like this.”

It seemed that wonders would never cease.


I had my life back.

It was so painful to face him, but there was no pain I wouldn’t take to get him to come back. I told him all about Mary Beth and the things I was doing to be good. And he told me about how much I hurt him, and instead of getting crazy, I stored it all away to remind myself when I needed it.

Like Paul reminding himself why I was in his bed.

So a bitter cold winter settled down around us yet I was warm, and spring came and we thawed and still I was warm, and our first year of college was done.

And Mary Beth got me started talking about my father.