We woke facing each other. Jackson now had no problem sleeping past 5:30, and I often woke before him, reveling in being able to lay there and watch him sleep. Totally relaxed, breathing gently, occasionally making little snoring sounds. His hair was down over his eyebrows, and even though he was breathing through his nose, his lips were positioned in a kind of little pout that made me want to lean over and kiss him, to push my tongue against his lips and make him open then and let me in.
It was Sunday morning, and Christmas in 1977 came on a Monday, so this was the day before the holiday, and the Gospel reading was John 1: 1-18, the passage about “The Word Became Flesh.” It’s a strongly theological statement that was used to open John’s Gospel” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Each of the gospels begins with an origin story. Mark introduces Jesus as an adult, Matthew and Luke begin with the conception and birth stories, and John in stark contrast tells a highly theological story. I kept getting stuck on the word “story,” and resonating in my mind was Campbell’s assertion that it didn’t matter if Jesus had been a real person or not—that’s not how belief, in mythological terms, works. So, I settled for the counter play between last week’s Gospel of the birth narrative and this week’s theological message to provide “the full context” for the Nativity celebration that would frame Christmas Eve and would be upon us the next day.
The church was decorated with poinsettias at the front, with evergreen boughs on the windowsills along the sides, and looked quite beautiful. The choir sang Christmas hymns, and the feeling was festive, and I hoped, focused on the Christmas spirit rather than the message in the sermon.
On the way home Jackson said, “You didn’t seem comfortable with your sermon today. Is something up?”
I had an immediate innate response to deny and defend, but this was my lover and best friend. He was thoughtfully patient, waiting for me to reply.
“Yes, you’re right. If you’re seeing it, I hope everyone else isn’t too.”
Now I was silent. Jackson reached over and put his left hand on my thigh and squeezed.
“I’m struggling with interpreting these passages in light of what I’m going through and the changes that are happening with my belief system. I’m beginning to wonder how long I can keep up the gung-ho, conservative Protestant-type sermon program!”
“I know you’re working through all the mythology material from your study group. Is that what’s causing the problem?”
“I don’t really know yet, Jackson.” I reached down and took his hand with mine, lifted it up and kissed it. “I don’t know where this will go. Right now, I’m struggling with the tension between the belief system I’ve always had and the new understandings that have occurred of late. They’re not fully compatible. Hell, they’re not really compatible at all if you want to be a ‘card carrying’ conservative Protestant. You remember me telling you that one of Campbell’s statements is that it doesn’t matter if Jesus or the Buddha lived, if they were real people?”
He nodded and squeezed my hand. “Well, if it doesn’t matter if they lived, then by extension you can say, they very well might not have lived, or the person that did live isn’t very much like, or perhaps isn’t at all like, what is presented in the texts. Are you with me so far?”
I felt another squeeze on my hand.
“So, if they aren’t at all like what is presented in the texts, then the texts were written or re-written to deliver a message that is probably very different from the historical fact. That’s what mythology does, no problem so far. But for those of us who grew up believing that Jesus was real, like the New Testament describes him, and did the stuff the New Testament describes, and all the rest of it, then the first thing that understanding mythology strips away is literalism, and when you remove that cover, then how do you stand up there with a straight face and talk about the conception narrative, like last week in Matthew? How do you even talk about the theological story in John, like today, with a straight face?”
I paused, and Jackson wisely said nothing. He just pulled my hand to him and kissed the back of it.
“Do you see my problem? This church, these people, this audience, aren’t ready for or willing to accept sermons about mythological models. They don’t even know what that means, and probably have no interest in learning. So that means having to keep up a preaching model consistent with my past and what they expect, that no longer represents my belief system. That’s living another kind of a lie!”
We were both silent now. “I’m sorry for dumping all this on you, Lover Boy.”
“Hey, Rev, I asked the question, remember. I asked because I love you and I care about you and I am beginning to feel what you’re dealing with. We’re in this together, remember? You don’t have to do this alone. You better not try to do this alone, or I’ll be both disappointed and pissed.”
He had my attention now. “You care that much,” I asked, looking at him and trying to tamp down the emotion I felt rising in my chest. “You’re not even into all this stuff, but you care that much that you can feel what I’m going through and want to share it?”
“Yep, Rev. Just like you did for me. Remember?”
I nodded, just barely containing the emotion.
“Can I just tell you what I’m feeling?”
I nodded again.
“I think you’ve got a ton of shit to go through, and that’s fine. I’m learning, that’s the way life is. But we’re together now, and you better not think you can somehow do this on your own. You may not think I can help much on the theology and mythology side, and you’re right. But you know what? At the end of the day, that’s not what it’s about. At the end of the day isn’t it about emotions and feelings?”
I was silent. He kissed the back of my hand again.
“Ask your friend Paul. I don’t need to know everything about theology and mythology. I’m your lover and your boyfriend. I’m the closest person to you in the world. I can help you like you helped me, and I expect to.”
We’d pulled in the driveway, and I shifted into Park and turned off the ignition and turned to look at him. I couldn’t hold it anymore. I started sobbing. I don’t know if they were tears of anguish for what I was going through, or tears of joy for having such a wonderful lover. But they were tears none the less.
He leaned over the console, wrapped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me over in a tight embrace. “I love you David,” he whispered in my ear, “you’ll work through this, and I’ll help however I can. We’re in this together. You’re not doing it alone.”
Then he kissed me, and we just sat there till I’d gotten my emotions back together.
We had lunch, and then started getting organized. We were visiting Susan and Ellen this evening. Gary was having dinner with Lois’ parent’s, and tomorrow they had invited all of us to their home for Christmas dinner in the early afternoon.
We didn’t know what to expect when we got to Susan and Ellen’s, but we’re pleasantly surprised to find that there were ten or twelve other people there, most of whom we didn’t know. They had set up a buffet in the dining room, with a bar alongside it, and people were coming and going, mingling and having a good time, with festive music playing in the background.
Ellen met us at the door, and thanked us profusely for the bottle of Champagne, then after hanging up our coats, led us around and introduced us to all their guests. Some were friends from Portland, a couple were locals from Newberg. More importantly, some were musicians, some in healthcare, some teachers, and that meant interesting and animated conversation with all of them. It was just what I needed, and Jackson seemed to enjoy it as well. Susan wisely spirited him away from me early on, introducing him to her musician friends as one of her “stellar choir students who also sings in a rock band,” and often that led to the happy conversation that Susan was coaching him as a rock singer.
It made for a very pleasant evening, and on the drive home I took Jackson’s hand and apologized for the downer session after church.
“David, will you pull over for a minute?” I had a sudden flash of memory from when we’d pulled over while driving home from Susan and Ellen’s when they confronted us a few months ago. I pulled over on a wide shoulder and shifted into Park. He reached over and stroked my cheek, then grasped my chin and turned my face toward him.
“This is about earlier, what you’re now calling ‘the downer session.’ Do you remember when you were in my room a long time ago and you asked me to play those two Nazareth songs and we talked about what it meant and I told you how down I was back then and that I’d thought about offing myself a couple of times and all that?”
“Okay. It’s the same thing, except it’s me and you instead of you and me. You’re starting to go through something, and I’ll help. You don’t need to apologize for hell’s sake. If you need to unload, then unload. Like you told me and Gary, if you need to cry, then cry. See this?”
He tapped his shoulder. “That’s what it’s here for. Okay. If you need to cry, then cry on this.”
Then he leaned over and grabbed me in an embrace that pulled me over the console, and somehow managed to kiss me passionately without crushing a kidney on the shifter.
I felt pretty stupid, and when we broke for air and I said, “Thanks for all of that. You’ll probably have to tell me a few more times. I guess I’m not that good at accepting help. But I’ll try, because I know you’re right. This isn’t just about me. This is about us. I love you even more for knowing that and helping me.”
He smiled and let me go. When we got home, the emotional mini-storm had passed, and we sat in the living room and listened to The Messiah, and then went to bed early. It took us a while to get going, but then it was slow and sensuous, both of us caring about bringing the other as much joy and pleasure as possible.
I heard Gary come in late, and in the morning got up early to start breakfast so it would be ready with the boys came down. I purposefully didn’t want to make a big deal out of Christmas, it being so soon after their mother had died, but also wanted to try and make it enjoyable for them.
Eventually I heard them coming down the stairs, in jeans and still looking a little rumpled from sleep, and after a brief, “Morning, you guys, Merry Christmas,” pointed them at the coffee and started the French toast.
A few sips later Jackson said, “Thanks for getting breakfast going for us, David. We appreciate it.”
“Hey, no problem. You know, that’s what I do now. Feed hungry boys.” I turned and grinned at them, and then smiled back, with no hint of embarrassment.
“Three Musketeers, right!”
“Except the Three Musketeers never ate this well,” I said, as I slipped a plate of sausage patties onto the kitchen table, followed by two plates of French toast.”
“Whoa! This looks great. Sausage patties for Christmas?”
“Yes indeed, Gary. Very high class, don’t you think.”
He grinned and stuck a fork into two to three to load his plate.
As we chatted away, I asked him how dinner had gone, and he said it had been really cool. “Lois’ Mom is a really nice person and we get along. Her Dad is cool too, but a little more, what do you call it.., reserved. But I guess that goes along with being in business. You know he owns the Ford dealership and was driving that cool Mustang Cobra at the funeral. He’s got a different car every month! How cool is that?”
“When you own the dealership, I guess you can do that. When you have your landscaping company, you can have all the free plants you want too!”
Everyone chuckled at my dumb joke and I asked if should be bringing anything for dinner?
He said, “I don‘ think so. Lois’ Mom didn’t say anything.”
“Well, a good hostess never would. That would be considered gauche. Do you know what that means?”
They both shook their head.
“It means unsophisticated or lacking grace, and when you invite people to dinner and then expect them to bring something, it’s gauche. It’s a French word, by the way. So, the classy way to respond is to bring something apart from the meal, even though you weren’t asked to. Most often that’s bringing a bottle of wine. Or like last night, Jackson and I brought Susan and Ellen a bottle of Champagne.”
They both nodded like they’d just learned something important in the realm of high society and entertaining.
“And, as it happens, I have another bottle of good Champagne I bought for the occasion, so we’ll take that. Gary: is there any red ribbon left from when Lois decorated the mantle. It would be nice to have a ribbon bow on the bottle.”
Gary smiled knowingly, walked out to the pantry, and reappeared with a roll of red ribbon. “Not a lot left, but this should to the trick.”
“Good work, Gary,” Jackson piped up, “we’re turning into a bunch of high-class Musketeers.”
“Just so we don’t turn into the Mouseketeer! I hate that show!”
“No worry, bro. We’re too high class for that. None of us are wearing those stupid beanies with mouse ears!”
We all giggled at that, and then set to washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. It was about 10:00 when I suggest we go into the living room. I didn’t own a record of Christmas songs, so I cued up The Messiah again, looking at Gary and saying, “Are you cool with this?”
He nodded and grinned.
“You missed this on Friday. Your brother and the other choir singers did a good job on The Hallelujah Chorus.”
Gary bumped his brother and said, “Sorry I missed it, bro. Lois said you guys did really well.”
“Not bad for a small high school choir in a farm town,” Jackson said.
“Okay, you guys, how are we going to do this? There aren’t lots of presents and stuff, but I want this to be meaningful You know what I mean?”
Gary was quiet, and Jackson said, “Christmas was no big deal at our house, so this is already way better. You know why? We’re having fun, we’re enjoying being with each other. How radical is that!”
Gary grinned at that. “You’re right. Instead of itching to get the hell out of there, I’m actually enjoying hanging out with you guys. Go figure!”
“Hey, hey! Don’t get carried away,” I said, handing Gary a small present.
“This is for you from me. Though to be honest, I wouldn’t have figured out what was a good gift to get you if it wasn’t for the other Musketeer over there.”
Gary smiled, but still acted a little intimidated.
“Gary, can I say something?”
“Exchanging gifts is something you do with people you care about. There are no strings attached, Okay? I know Christmas has turned into this big commercial thing, but that’s not what we’re doing here. I’m giving you this gift because I like you and care about you. He does too, last time I checked,” I said, pointing at Jackson.
“Okay, okay, I get it. I’ll lighten up.” Gary took my gift and sat down next to Jackson. He slowly unwrapped it, and when he saw the red handles you could see his eyes light up, and he glanced up at me, the pleasure apparent on his face. He pulled the rest of the wrapping paper off and exposed the leather holster and then slipped the Swiss steel shears out to hold them in his hand.
“Wow! These are the best. These are outrageous. These will be so great next quarter in the nursery!”
He looked at Jackson and then at me with a mix to total surprise and something approaching incomprehension.
Jackson jumped right in. “Pretty cool, huh Bro? You could probably cut sheets of tin with those babies. And you’ll look so like a stud wearing that holster on your belt, with those cool red handles. You’ll be the big man on campus, don’t you think?”
Even Gary was cracking up now. “I don’t know about all that shit, but I do know how good these are, and how great they’re going to be for school and for landscaping. Thanks, David. This is maybe the best gift I’ve ever had.”
Jackson had gotten up and gone over to the bookshelves and come back with an envelope that he handed Gary. “This is for you, Bro.”
After the shears, Gary looked a little nonplussed, then smiled and slowly opened the envelope. It was a gift certificate for dinner at a really good restaurant in McMinnville.
“Whoa!” Gary was impressed but seemed a little confused.
“So, Bro,” Jackson said, “You need to do something really cool for your lady every once in a while. She’s taking good care of you, and her parents invite you over a lot, right?”
“Okay, you need to reciprocate, and adding in a little romance isn’t a bad idea either. So, this is for a great Italian restaurant in McMinnville. You take Lois there for a romantic date. Get it?”
“Whoa? Are you serious? I’d have never thought of that.”
“Gary,” Jackson quipped, “that’s the point. Don’t be bashful, you’re learning about love too, just like I am. But you need to be romantic every once in a while. Isn’t that right, Rev?”
He looked at me and beamed. I grinned back.
“So, Gary, you’re getting the message here, right? This is your gay brother who’s encouraging you to be more romantic with your girlfriend!”
Gary blushed. “Oh yeah. Ha, ha. Sorry, stupid me.”
Jackson sat down beside him and put his arm around his shoulder. “No, not stupid you. Lucky you, just like lucky me. That old man over there, he’s the one who started making me realize about romance.”
“Old man! What kind of insult is that? Gary, you can’t take half of what he says seriously. He’s seriously warped, you know! But, he’s right about the romance. Next time you take Lois on a date, think about giving her a single stemmed rose when you pick her up. And the Italian restaurant idea is a super one. There’ll be candles in wine bottles on the tables, red and white checked tablecloths, it’ll be really romantic, so she’ll love it and think you’re a real Romeo!”
Now he was really blushing. “Come on you guys, I get it. Now lighten up, Okay? It’s Christmas. Aren’t you supposed to be nice on Christmas?”
“Not to other Musketeers! Other Musketeers are fair game at any time,” Jackson said, diving in to jab him in the ribs and they started wrestling on the couch.
I watched, just smiling and enjoying the give and take. They were acting like brothers, just the way it was supposed to be. When they finally stopped, I looked a Gary and flicked my eyebrows a couple of times.
He stood up and said, “I’ve got to take a piss.”
“Thanks for sharing,” Jackson said, resuming his position on the couch and grinning mischievously.
Gary headed for the downstairs bathroom, which I’d thought was the safest place in the house.
“So, Jackson, we really had a hard time figuring out what to get you for Christmas. And we decided that you’ve been doing so well in school and in choir and with your love life and with your relationship with your brother and with your friends and all, that in the true Christmas spirit of selflessness, that you really don’t need another present. You know, you don’t need a material gift, given how much love and affection you have in your life now.”
Jackson had started out smiling, appreciating the compliments, then had paused as he started to figure out where it was going and the implications, and then his face went blank as I got to the “you don’t need a material gift.”
He was silent for a few seconds, then hesitantly said, “That’s cool, David, if you think so. I’m good. I’m happy.”
He wasn’t looking crestfallen, but he couldn’t keep the emotion off his face. He was feeling a loss, feeling like he was left out. He was right where we wanted him.
Just then, Gary rolled into the room pushing a BMX bike the way they do in a bike store, upright on the rear wheel, manhandled and pushed forward by the handlebars.
“What the fuck?”
Gary rolled it right up in front of him on the couch and acted like he was going to drop the front wheel in his lap. Jackson kind of winced, then saw Gary pulling it back and setting the front wheel down between his feet. “Merry Christmas!”
“Are you shitting me? It’s a Mongoose. Don’t tell me it’s a Supergoose?” He was totally losing it now, jumping up off the couch and grabbing the handlebars.
“Oh wow! It’s a custom build.” He looked suspiciously at me and Gary.
“Did you guys do this? They don’t come this way off the rack. This has got a killer crank and awesome brakes. Where did this come from?”
“Jackson, who don’t you quit asking so many dumb questions and just get on it,” I said. He was so excited that he swung over the top tube only to realize that the bike had no seat.
Now it was our turn to laugh. “Careful there, Lover Boy, you sit down now, and you could do some serious damage to your ass. Wouldn’t want to do that.
He’d been caught out and was grinning like a crazy boy. “This is so outrageous. But why doesn’t it have a seat? Where’s the seat?”
Gary looked at him, “Like, duh, Bro. You have the seat. I gave it to you for your birthday.”
Jackson looked dumbfounded. “That was two months ago. I don’t know where it is. Is it at home? I’ve got to go find it.”
He dismounted the bike and handed it to Gary and was actually going to run out the front door when I said, “Hey, chill out. You won’t find the seat at home. You don’t think we’d do something like that to you, do you really?”
He stopped in the doorway, it suddenly dawning on him that he looked just a little foolish.
“Well, you know, the seat is kind of important, and a lot has gone on in the last two months, and I need to go find the seat, and , uh…Gary, do you know where that Brooks seat is? Come on, man. Help me out here?”
Gary was cracking up, and I was too, it was so funny to see Jackson so flatfooted, caught up in the excitement and totally flustered.
“What’ll you give me for the seat?”
“What’a ya mean? It’s my seat. You gave it to me!”
“Yeah, but you’re the guy who doesn’t know where it is!”
“Come on now, give a guy a break!”
Gary relented and reached under the couch and pulled out the box with the Brooks leather seat and handed it to him.
“The frame had a quick release on the seat post, but you need a wrench to adjust the seat rails on the seat post. And guess what? I just happen to have an Allen wrench handy.”
Gary was working him hard now, but Jackson was relieved. Within a couple of minutes, they had the seat mounted on the seat post, and had it slipped in place in the frame.
“We’ll need to do the final adjustments outside tomorrow, when we can adjust the height and how far forward the seat needs to be on the post. For now, though, you can take it out and buzz around for a few minutes.”
Gary led the way and opened the front door, and Jackson walked the bike out and was gone. Gary came back in and plopped on the couch laughing. “For such a grown-up kid, he sure turned into an emotional bowl of jelly over that. Wait till I tell Lois, she’ll be on him for months with no mercy!”
We sat there reveling in the humor for the few minutes will we heard Jackson come up on the back porch from the driveway. The kitchen door opened, and he kicked off his Keds and was coming inside with the bike.
I walked back to the kitchen. “What’s that doing in here?”
He looked up like a deer in the headlights. “It’s brand new. It can’t stay outside. It, it,uhhm,…it needs to be by the Christmas tree!”
I couldn’t keep a straight face any longer.
“How does it feel? Is it responsive?” Gary was standing behind me now.
“It is so rad. It’s tight, no flex in the frame. It handles like a dream, stand on the pedals and it takes off. It is totally amazing! Thanks, you guys. This is just the best. Totally the best.”
He leaned the bike up against the wall by the kitchen door and virtually ran across the room to us, sweeping us up in a giant hug. “Totally the best. Thanks.”
He stood it up on the back wheel and walked it into the living room, leaning it against the wall by the Christmas tree. “I want to be able to look at it for a while. Can’t really ride in this weather and all.”
Gary and I grinned at each other and rolled our eyes, knowing we’d hit a home run with the bike for Christmas. We sat on the couch, and Jackson plopped down between us, and grabbed a hand from each of us. “Thanks, you guys. You don’t know how much I appreciate this. If I’ve figured it out, the Rev over here (he nodded my way) paid the bill, and the Bro over here (he nodded Gary’s way) built up the frame with the components, and it is so cool. I feel like I should be as good as Will or something. Maybe now I can keep up with him, though I’ll never be able to ride as good as him.”
Gary grinned, happy as a clam, and I just said, “You never know what’s possible if you practice enough.” What happened next was wonderful, just simply wonderful. Jackson swung around so he was leaning up against me, and I had my arm over his shoulder with my hand on his chest, and he put his feet in Gary’s lap, and Gary reached out and stroked his feet.
We were chatted away about bicycles and BMX courses and all kind of stuff for a while, and then I looked at the clock and said, “Do you guys remember that we’re going to Lois’ parents for Christmas dinner?”
They both casually looked up and said, “Yeah.” To which I responded, well, that’s an hour and a half away, and I’m guessing there’s three showers to be taken and related activity, so we better get moving pretty soon. No pressure, just a reminder.”
“Yeah, Rev,” Jackson said, reaching up and stroking my chin, “no worry. We’ve got lots of time.”
We were there on time, and Lois met us at the door. “No, El Camino?”
“No, it’s got bucket seats, and funny thing these days, Gary doesn’t want to sit on Jackson’s lap or vice versa, so we’ve got the Buick and Gary gets to drive!”
She showed us into the house, and her parents were extremely welcoming. Her Dad met us in the hall, and insisted that I call him Pat, and her Mom, whose name was Jane was in the kitchen cooking away. We all ended up in a family room off the kitchen, chatted away until dinner was ready, and then set into a complete Christmas dinner: Turkey, dressing and all the trimmings. We all helped get dishes to the table, I was called on for grace, and then everyone settled in for a great meal.
During dinner I made a comment about the Mustang Pat had been driving the day I met him, and he smiled. “One of the perks of owning a dealership is that you get access to cool new cars. The tradeoff is that they’re not yours and they can be sold out from under you. That’s what happened to the Mustang Cobra. Right now, I’m driving an LTD II Brougham, a tricked out 2-door with a 351 V-8 and automatic shifter on the console. That part’s kind of like your El Camino.”
He laughed, not taking himself too seriously. “I’ll show you after dinner if you’d like.” I nodded.
Jane served mincemeat pie for desert and everyone dove in, and where all the food went was beyond me, as is often the case for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. We all helped clear and then Jane and Lois waved us out of the kitchen and Pat said, “Come on,” and hauled all the guys into the garage to see the car. It was big, but a pretty cool looking.
“It sure doesn’t handle like the Cobra, but I can get into less trouble with this baby.” Gary and Jackson took turns sitting in the driver’s seat, and then Gary said he was going to check and see if he could help in the kitchen with the cleanup.
Pat raised his eyebrows. I grinned and said, “He’s becoming quite domestic, on top of being responsible and caring.”
He smiled knowingly, and then nodded. “He seems like a very serious and caring and committed person. Lois sure is taken with him.”
Jackson and I just nodded and smiled at him. “I can only assure you that the feeling is mutual!”
We talked about the car for another minute or two, then I said, “Pat, can I ask you a car question?”
He nodded. “You know Gary and Jackson have a lawn mowing business, and that includes a riding mower, and he’s taking a year-long certificate program at the community college so they can turn it into a full-on landscaping business. It seems to me that the Buick sedan that was his parent’s car is the wrong vehicle. If they’re going to grow the business, shouldn’t they have a pickup truck and a trailer?”
“That would make sense and be a much better vehicle for most of the time. What are you thinking?”
I hadn’t mentioned this to Jackson, but I caught his eye and wiggled my eyebrows. “I’m just thinking ahead at this point. I’m guessing till it gets to be spring and everyone starts thinking about yard work and mowing and landscaping, no one will be seriously thinking about this, do you think it’s feasible to trade the Buick sedan in for a pickup? Jackson, what do you think, you’re in this business?”
Jackson nodded, “We did really well with the riding mower last year because before we were pushing the regular mower from job to job. With the rider we got there faster and mowed faster, so that was great. But, riding mowers drive slowly, so if we’re going to expand, we need a better set up. I hadn’t thought about the details, but a pickup with a trailer would be a big improvement.”
Pat was listening closely and smiled. “Let me think about it, and I may be able to do something. What is the car?”
I said, “It’s a 1974 Buick Electra. If we can do something, this has to be on the up and up. These guys got financing on the riding mower and have made double and triple payments and will probably have it paid off by next summer. Could the value of the Buick make this happen?”
“Lois told me about the mowing business and the riding mower and the financing that Spencer did and the accelerated payoff. That’s all pretty impressive.”
He paused, thinking, then said, “Give me a few days to see what I can do. I know we just took a great 1964 International C-1000 Pickup in on trade for a larger truck. It’s got a 241 cubic inch straight six engine with a three-speed manual transmission. I’m a Ford dealer and we sell pickups, but I know quality, and International makes trucks, if you know what I mean. They’re stout, have great sheet metal. I mean, they zinc coat their sheet metal before they paint. And, they have really strong engines, and run forever. Let me find out what the value is and check around on a trailer option and see what I can do. How does that sound?”
I smiled and said it would be great, Jackson volunteered that it would be really cool, and that he’d talk to Gary about it. We were home by 5:00 PM, and I spent some time finishing off my sermon for Sunday, Jackson said he wanted to finish Last of the Wine, and Gary disappeared upstairs.
Jackson left about 10:00 AM for band practice since he’d be gone to Seattle for the rest of the week. I put lunch on the table and Gary saw the mailman close the mailbox and went out to get the mail. He came back with a look of trepidation on his face and held up an envelope from the community college.
“Is that what I think it is? Your grades?
He nodded and grimaced just a little. “I’m pretty sure it is, and I’m real nervous about opening it.”
“Why? You told me you studied hard and felt really good about how you were doing through the quarter. What’s to be afraid of?”
He was quiet and looked a little flustered. “I’ve never gotten good grades before.”
“There’s always a first time, and I’m betting this is it. Come on, open them up. Get it over with.”
He slowly and carefully opened the envelope, like he thought he was going to get stung or something. I watched him slowly eye the grade slip, and then his eyes widened like he couldn’t believe it. Then he whooped with pleasure!
“So, you did Okay?”
“I did better than Okay, I got two A’s and a B+.” I’ve never gotten better than C’s and a B or two in my life. This is amazing.”
I let him sit quietly looking at the grades. Finally, he looked up and said, “This is all thanks to you and Jackson and Lois.”
“No,” I said back to him, “this is all thanks to you. We’ve helped along the way, but you did the studying, you took the quizzes and tests, you pulled it off. Don’t shortchange yourself.”
He smiled, still not sure of himself. “It’s hard cause it’s so new.”
“Gary, it’s the new you! Are you as pleased with yourself as I am?”
He looked up, just a little surprised by the way I’d phrased the question.
“Well, you said I was almost your brother and sometimes acted like your father, and so in either of those roles I’m really impressed and pleased with how you did. You had an opportunity, you decided you wanted it, you worked hard for it and you proved to yourself you can do things you didn’t used to think were possible.”
This time he grinned, and it was innocent and cute.
“You’ve also got yourself a great girlfriend, and I’m betting you didn’t think that would happen either back in September.”
“Yeah, that’s true too. I’m a lucky dude. She’s so great, I can’t believe she loves me. I sure love her. We’re getting so close and all…” He fell silent, and it seemed like a shadow had passed over his face.
I waited a minute, and he was still quiet. “Gary, is everything Okay? We were talking about Lois, your girlfriend. I told you that you can talk to me about anything. No pressure, but something just happened to you. Can you talk about it?”
It took him a while to get going. “Well, we’ve been getting close and hugging and kissing and all of that and I reach a point where I’m scared.”
“Okay. Can you tell me what you mean by scared?”
“Well, it’s fun and it feels good and it’s, I guess you’d call it romantic, and I…I, I don’t know, I start getting this feeling.”
“What kind of feeling? Like a headache? Is it like nausea, like a stomachache? Help me out here.”
He was quiet again. “I don’t know how to describe it. I just feel weird or almost sick or something.”
“Well, that’s just it, it’s like I can’t. Like I can’t go any further.”
“Okay, let’s pause there for a minute, alright?” I reached over and put my hand on top of one of his.
“So, we’re talking about how you’re feeling emotionally, is that right? Or maybe there’s some physical feeling in your body too, is that it?”
“Can you sort out if it’s more physical or emotional?”
He was thinking hard. “It’s just that it gets to a point and I feel like I can’t go any further. My heart starts pounding and my stomach feels weird and I start getting weirded out.”
“I’ve told you before I’m not a therapist, just a minister who took some counseling classes, by it sounds to me like anxiety. I mean anxiety that’s triggered by a specific event.”
He just sat there, processing.
“And if that’s it, what would that event be?”
“Well, we’re making out and hugging and stuff, and it feels like it’s going somewhere and then it stops.”
“Gary.” I waited and he looked up at me. “Where is it going?”
“Well, we’re, we’re…you know, we’re getting closer and stuff.”
“You mean that you and Lois are getting intimate? Is that it? You don’t need to tell me the details like feeling her up or anything like that. Just talk in general terms, Okay?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s it. We’re getting intimate, and I love her and want to go there, but I stop. I guess I choke or something.”
“Have you thought about why? About what it is that’s the next step that you’re so anxious about?”
“Well, no. I mean, yes. I mean, next would be that, you know, feeling her up or whatever comes after that, but I feel like I don’t know what to do or I’m afraid to.”
“Those are two different things. One is something you’re afraid of, the other is something you don’t know or don’t understand. Can you tell which it is?
“Well, it’s supposed to feel good and be great isn’t it? Isn’t it that way with you and Jackson?”
“It is with us, and we’re fortunate. Gary, just as an aside, Jackson and I are fucked up too, Okay? He grew up in this family with most of the same stuff you did. I grew up in a different family with a different kind of fucked up, but I’ve still got my problems.”
I knew from his expression that he was surprised to hear me describe myself as fucked up. He was processing that, and slowly arriving at the point of understanding we all have problems.
“So, you’re saying we can really talk, like be honest, because we’re all fucked up?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. We’re all in the same boat, and the name of the boat is I’ve Got Problems.”
He snickered at that. I went on, “So, it sounds to me like you’re afraid of the feelings, of it feeling good. Is that it somehow?”
He went quiet. I gave him a minute and squeezed the back of his hand again. “Gary, can you tell me if it’s the good feelings you’re afraid of?”
He slowly started nodding, and I could see the sobbing starting. I sat and waited.
Finally, after a minute or two he wiped his eyes with one sleeve and his nose with the other and said, “Yeah, that’s it. I’m afraid of the good feelings even though I love her.”
“Okay, that’s progress. Now we know what the problem is. Can we talk about the cause now?”
He nodded and didn’t say anything.
“What do you think would make you be afraid of feeling good with someone you love? I’m taking a step of faith here, a chance, and I’m going to say it’s because one way or the other it seems like maybe it’s because it’s sexual. Am I close?”
He looked at me with a pained look in his eyes, his whole face strained and almost contorted.
“Gary, how about I talk for you for a minute? I’ll say things or ask questions, and you tell me if I’m close?”
He nodded. “If the fear has to do with sexual stuff with Lois, would it be connected to sexual stuff you experienced before?”
He thought, and then nodded, “Maybe, yeah, that sounds right.”
“Okay, and what was the most recent sexual stuff you’ve experienced, not counting this,” and I made the universal jacking off motion with my hand.
I saw a flicker of a smile then. “Well, there really isn’t anything. I mean I didn’t date. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I wasn’t doing anything with other people.”
I paused, letting his thought processes run. “Okay, I get that. But, was anyone doing anything to you?”
It took about five seconds, then he went white as a sheet. “Oh my God. It’s Bud isn’t it? What he was doing to me. Oh God, I am totally fucked!”
I still had my hand on the back of his and squeezed it again. “No, Gary, you’re not totally fucked. Look at me. You’re got some shit to sort through, that’s all. We can do this if you want to.”
He looked me straight in the eyes, his expression blank and his eyes almost crying for help. He nodded.
“Okay, what about what Bud did to you would have an effect like this. I’m going to talk frankly, Okay, because you’re like my brother. I wouldn’t talk like this to a church member, Okay?”
He nodded again and was still looking me in the eyes. “Does it have anything to do with him making you suck him off, because girls don’t have penises, do they?”
He paused, then shook his head. “Okay, then does it have anything to do with him fucking you, because that’s something that guys can do with girls?”
Now he blushed, and stammered, “I don’t know, I didn’t know you knew, I, I…what does that have to do with anything?”
“Gary, you told me what he did to you. Now I’m asking about the impact it had on you. He sexually abused you, he fucked you. It was rape. That’s the physical act. We’re talking about the emotion now, the feeling. Can you separate the two?”
He was still looking at me, and I could see in his eyes that he was both frightened and processing at the same time.
“Gary,” I said softly, squeezing the back of his hand, “if it’s about the feelings, can you tell me what the problem is?”
He was slow responding, like the answers had to come up from somewhere deep. “It makes me a pervert!”
I squeezed his hand again. “Why would you say that?”
He started sobbing again, and then said, “If it felt good when I was getting it that makes me a pervert.”
Now we were there, at the core of the problem. “Can you tell me why that would make you a pervert?”
“Because if he fucked me in the ass and it felt good, then that has to make me a pervert.”
“I don’t believe that, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Even if it was true, what does that have to do with you and Lois?”
“Because if I was fucked in the ass and it felt good how can I be a good boyfriend or husband.”
I squeezed his hand again and stopped for a bit to let him catch his breath.
“Gary, will you look at me again,” I said, and squeezed the back of his hand again. He looked up.
“Did you ask to get fucked? Did you want to get fucked?”
“Well, no! He made me take it.”
“Okay, we just made a major discovery. You had nothing to do with this. It was done to you, right? You were forced into it, right?”
He nodded again.
“So, is the problem that instead of pain and horror, that some of the time, maybe a lot of the time, it felt good?”
“What do you mean?” He sounded defensive now.
“I’m on your side, I’m just asking, did it feel good sometimes?”
“Yeah, sometimes. I hated it, but it felt good.”
“How much do you know about your sexual anatomy? You know how close you ass is to your balls and your cock, right?”
He looked surprised but nodded.
“Well, they’re close together down there, and they’re all hooked together, and they all have incredibly sensitive nerves. Do you know that a guy can have an orgasm, can cum, just from getting fucked in the ass, without ever touching his cock?”
He looked at me first like I’d told him he was a citizen of Mars, and then like I’d told him he just won the lottery.
“Gary, it’s true. I’m going to tell you something personal now. I only found that out in the last two months. It’s true, and the point is that you don’t have control over your anatomy. I’m betting lots of rape victims have orgasms, whether they’re men or women. They’re getting stimulated in the most sensitive place they’ve got so they climax.”
He was silent, processing, but I could see hope in his eyes.
“The point is simple. What happened to you was forced. You didn’t ask for it, you just got it. It so happened that what came along with it was some good feelings you had no control over, and you ended up having an orgasm because of it. That doesn’t make you a bad person. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel good with Lois. That doesn’t mean you can’t make love to Lois.”
He said nothing. He was looking down at the table. It was almost a stunned silence.
I squeezed his hand again, and he looked up at me, there was almost a pleading look in his eyes.
“Gary, trust me on this. Remember when I told you the story about the dog that peed on the carpet and my seminary friend called him a bad dog instead of a good dog that did a bad thing?”
“Okay, similar deal. Like I said then, you’re the good guy in this story. Bud is the bad guy. What you felt was a byproduct of what he did to you, and it was because of anatomy. You have no control over it any more than I do, or Jackson does, or any other guy does. It certainly isn’t the reason to be feeling all guilty and messing up your relationship with Lois. Are you with me?”
He was nodding, but slowly. “Can I ask you something really personal? I mean really, really personal about you and Jackson, and not because I’m nosy but because I’m trying to figure this out?”
He was almost whispering.
“You can ask me just about anything. Jackson and I have no secrets from each other. There are some things I’ll say no, I can’t tell you that, but most are fair given what we’re talking about.”
“Do, do…I mean, do you and Jackson screw each other? You know, in the ass?”
I paused, for effect. “Gary, I’ll answer that because I think under these circumstances if you asked Jackson, he’d answer it the same way. Also, you should ask him. The term among people who love each other is anal intercourse, and yes, we do, and it is not just incredibly pleasurable, but it joins us together in ways that are beyond comprehension, it makes us one. It’s worth noting that it’s the only fucking option that guys have, right?”
I grinned after the last remark, squeezing his hand again, trying to lighten the conversation up.
“I guess I never thought about that. It is the only option isn’t it? What do you mean about making you one?”
“I mean the kind of connection that can happen between two people when they’re physically joined together. It has to be anal with guys, even though that may be hard for you to understand or accept given what you went through. That said though, with guys and gals it’s normal for the result of intercourse or fucking to be a feeling of union, of being one. You know what I mean, right?”
He started to grin now, like he was getting it and understanding what happened to him and that it didn’t mean he was a pervert and that there was hope for him.
I felt I had to make him acknowledge what I’d said, so I squeezed his hand hard, and said, “You know what I mean about joining together when you fuck the person you love, right?”
His eyes widened, and then he smiled, and it turned into a grin. “Yeah, I think so.”
I smiled back at him. “Listen, I’ve been gross and using tough language on purpose. You’ll never hear me talk like this again, Okay. I’m doing this because it’s us and I know I can talk to you in absolutely honest ways, and because I’m not pulling any punches because you’ve got to sort this out and get through this shit. If you don’t your relationship with Lois is at risk.”
He was still smiling and nodding. “I know.”
“Okay, so you’ve got to get sorted out in your head that what Bud did to you was forced on you, you didn’t’ ask for it, and you were the victim. It didn’t make you a pervert or make you bad. You’re the good guy in the story. You’ve got some stuff to work out, but you can do it. And you know what I think you need to do to help you sort it out?”
He shook his head.
“You need to talk to Jackson about it like you talked to me, because you asked me one of the most deeply personal questions about our relationship that you can possibly ask. And you need to talk to Lois about it. You don’t need to give her all the gory details. Just make sure she understands that you were sexually abused and that means you’ve got some hang ups you’re working through. You know what? She is so smart, and so caring and so in love with you, that I bet she’ll tell you it’s no big deal and then help you work it out.”
“Really? That’s scary shit.”
“Yeah, till you do it, and then you’ll realize it’s not scary at all. It’s honest and transparent, and you and your relationships will be better for it. Think you can do it?”
He nodded and this time he squeezed my hand.
A sincere smile emerged on his face, that went along with the kind of softening of his facial expression, like when someone relaxes into acceptance. His eyes seemed brighter and he squeezed my hand again.
“I can do this.”
Jackson was back after band practice, and I was in the kitchen working on dinner. He came in and hugged me, pulling me into him and grinding softly into my butt.
“Hard to operate a Chef’s knife under these conditions,” I whispered, as I set down the knife and turned to embrace and kiss him.
“How was band practice?”
“It was great. We’ve got our first gig since I joined last month, so that’ll be interesting. Susan couldn’t be there, but she said she’d be there to coach us on Heroes after the holiday, and the other songs are coming together too. Pretty groovy!”
“Pretty groovy? I haven’t heard that for a long time.”
“Well, yeah. If you’re doing older cover tunes you better be able to talk the language of the day, right?”
I grinned. How true.
Gary was home for dinner, and we talked bicycles and BMX courses and, of course, the trip to Seattle the next day. At one point they went upstairs to do some stuff and Jackson wanted to pack, and I settled down to read.
When we went to bed it was a pleasant session of love making. It was the holidays. There was no rush, no pressure, and we both focused on being there for the other and trying to provide the greatest amount of pleasure we could
On Wednesday after Christmas we drove to Seattle. The plan was that I’d stay overnight, come back on Thursday, and then JC would drive Jackson back on Saturday, returning to Seattle on Sunday. It was raining lightly all the drive up, but not really cold, and no threat of snow on the summits. We stopped for lunch in Centralia and then were back on I-5 headed north.
Jackson kicked off his Keds when we got back in the El Camino, locked the door and assumed his favorite position, with his feet on the console. After we’d gotten a few miles up the road and were cruising north, he moved both of his socked feet onto my thigh and kneaded it with his toes.
I reached down and rubbed his feet, then slowly ran my hand up his leg to his left knee and down the other leg. I decided that was far enough to go at 65 miles per hour on the freeway.
“You know what Gary told me last night when we were upstairs, and I was packing?”
I glanced at him. “No idea. Is something up?”
He kneaded my thighs some more. “He told me about the conversation you guys had at lunch yesterday, about how hung up he was because of what Bud had done to him and how it was effecting his relationship with Lois and how you’d helped him sort it out and told him he needed to talk to me and Lois about it.”
“Yeah? Well, you know, that’s called pastoral counseling. You’re not expecting me to tell you all the gory details, are you?”
“You don’t have to. Gary did. He’s never been so honest, like ever. It’s like he finally realized something major, like about this thing that has been fucking him up or blocking his life or whatever. I didn’t know what to think. It was like I suddenly had my brother back the way he was like five or six years ago. And it’s been good this year between us, but this is a whole new place.”
“I’m glad,” I said, as I squeezed his feet.
“He told me he asked you about anal sex.”
“Yeah, and I told him I’d answer that question, as private as it is, because I truly believed that if he’d asked you the same question the same way you’d have told him too.”
“You’re right. I would have. You’re amazing, do you know that?
“Listen, don’t get carried away, Lover Boy. Most of counseling is listening and reframing questions so the person can answer them and help themselves out of the mess they’re in.”
“Yeah, right. Like you had no role in it!”
“Okay, I helped. It was Gary that did the work. He had to open his heart and share what the pain was.”
“And it was so cool he did. We really are like the Three Musketeers now. Closer and closer.”
“Do you think he’ll talk to Lois too? I mean, talking to you was great and important and all, but he needs to do this to make his relationship with her whole and healthy.”
“He said he was going to. He couldn’t believe how honest you were, talking about fucking and anal sex and all. He said if Pastor Dave can be that honest with me about it, then I can be that honest with Lois. Pretty amazing, huh?”
I nodded, squeezed his feet again, and hoped to myself that Gary would carry through. He had no idea how important doing so would be to his future relationship with his girlfriend.
We arrived in mid-afternoon. JC lived in an older Northwest Arts and Crafts home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, south of the Seattle VA and east up the hill from Boeing field.
As we pulled up to the curb he walked out onto the porch. Clearly, he’d been anticipating our arrival. We greeted each other warmly, and I appreciated the hugs. The relationship between Jackson and JC had grown as they’d spoken by phone since the funeral. His invitation to come up and visit had been a pleasant surprise that Jackson had really warmed to.
He showed us the two guest rooms, and we dropped our bags. I had a small duffel since I didn’t need much for an overnight. Jackson had a larger bag for a few days stay. The house was pleasantly furnished, and like the parsonage, was built northwest style with cedar shingles on the roof and cedar siding on the outside walls, and lots of original Douglas fir casework throughout the house. The floors gleamed in the winter light, and they highlighted the Oriental rugs that tastefully set off the living room, hall and dining room.
“Wow! This place is really cool. It’s a lot like the parsonage, isn’t it Rev?”
I saw JC raise an eyebrow at the “Rev” term, but he politely moved right along. “I was lucky when I found it a few years ago. It wasn’t expensive as houses in Seattle go, but this is a neighborhood in high demand, so they sell fast. What turned out to be a lifesaver for me is how close it is to the VA. I spent a lot of time there getting counseling and dealing with my depression. Being five minutes away made a lot of difference. Want to walk around the neighborhood?”
After almost four hours in the car that sounded like a great idea, and JC took us on a forty-minute tour, showing us many beautiful older homes with wonderful lines and construction quality. Living in a small town, I’d already forgotten how the great larger cities still had actual neighborhoods, with their own clusters of local stores, that not only had their own unique look and feel, but also had their own character. I’d come to appreciate that on the Palatine Hill where Lewis and Clark College was located.
It was almost 5:00 when we got back, and JC informed us that he planned on cooking dinner in, and hoped it was as good as he’d been served at our place. “That salmon was to die for, you know!”
I grinned. “Like I told you, it was a simple marinade that our cook created when I was a kid, and it’s like magic.”
“Well, we’re having fish again, and I hope you like halibut because it’s fresh, and I’m going to grill it and serve it with a beurre blanc sauce, along with Brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes. Can you guys handle that?”
We both nodded and Jackson wanted to know what a beurre blanc sauce was. He got the quick rundown that it was a sauce made with white wine, vinegar, butter and cream.
“You cook too, like David. That’s cool. At our house Bud just sat and waited to be served. I’m learning to cook from David. Well, at least I know how to do salad and breakfast stuff now, like pancakes and Gas House Specials. Do you know what they are?”
JC looked quizzical, and Jackson gave him a quick description of the egg-in-the-hole part, especially the little rounds of bread from the cut outs that made great kitchen frisbees. That got a laugh, and JC pulled a couple of beers out of the fridge and asked what Jackson wanted to drink. After stepping out to the back patio to light the briquettes in the grill, he suggested we all settle in the living room for a while and relax. Then he’d start on the fish, and Jackson could do the green salad.
We chatted for a while about living in Seattle versus Portland, the challenges of small towns, the joys and challenges of family, and then Jackson said, “I told David about your twin brother. I hope that was Okay.”
JC smiled. Looked at me, and replied, “Sure, it’s no secret. He was a wonderful brother. We were identical twins, but he was a tougher guy than me. I ended up a Warrant Officer flying a Medevac helicopter, and he was a platoon sergeant in the 173rd Airborne Division. I often kidded him that I may have been flying a bird with a hot seat, but at least I wasn’t always taking fire all the time like he was.”
I stayed silent, this being family and private. Jackson said, “I never thought I’d meet you, and I never dreamed you’d have an identical twin. That’s so cool, even though it’s so sad he died. Do you have a picture of you both?” He was clearly trying to make a connection into this new family he now had. JC was the epitome of class. He smiled and without hesitation said “I do, just a sec.” He came back with a framed picture.
“I keep this in my bedroom to remind me of him every day.” The picture was from Vietnam, two young, handsome and buff soldiers, without shirts and smiling widely. JC handed it to Jackson. “His name was Jonathan and he ended up being called Jon and I got stuck with JC. I guess it was a way for our parents to differentiate us.” The only way to tell them apart in the photo was that JC has his Warrant Officer cap on, and Jon was bareheaded.
Jackson held the photo like it was a priceless treasure. I could tell he was right on the edge of sobbing, somehow a deep emotional connection was forming that he hadn’t know about and had no control over. He looked up at JC and said. “Thanks.” Then he paused, letting the silence sit for a few seconds, and then he asked, “Can I call you Dad?”
I could see the tears in JC’s eyes, and they matched the tears now forming in Jackson’s eyes, and it was like someone had pushed a button. They just stood up and stepped together into a huge embrace, hugging each other desperately, sobbing on one another’s shoulders. I was sobbing too.
Finally, JC looked at me and said, “I’m sorry about this, and embarrassing you, David.”
“You’re not embarrassing me, I’m crying too. This is beautiful to watch.”
They stayed clasped together for a minute or so, clearly trying to make up for lost time. Finally, JC said, “I’m so glad we’re connected again. I can’t tell you how happy I am. But now, I think we need to get dinner organized, Okay?”
Jackson released him and stepped back, wiping his eyes. “Yeah, let’s all go to work. David’s pretty good in the kitchen. I bet he could do the potatoes and Brussels sprouts while you do the fish and I do the salad.”
JC checked the briquettes in the grill and then went to work on the beurre blanc sauce. I cut the potatoes and tossed them in olive oil and some salt and pepper, and they went into the oven to roast, and then I cut the Brussel sprouts in half and set them to steam on the range. Jackson was at work on the salad at the counter across the kitchen, and at one point we all caught each other watching each other, and just broke out in big grins.
“This is too funny, all us guys in here cooking away,” Jackson quipped.
“Just goes to show, doesn’t it,” JC replied. He then made a show of pulling a large filet of halibut out of the refrigerator. “Have you had fresh halibut before?”
Jackson shook his head. “Well, halibut doesn’t have a lot of flavor, but it has amazing texture. So, it’s important that it be prepared with a good marinade or served with a good sauce. If you like Dave’s salmon, I’m betting you’re going to like this too.
The dinner prep came together nicely. JC had brushed the halibut filet with peanut oil, and it seared perfectly on the grill, and he let it cook to the point that it had dark grill marks but was still moist in the center. He slid it on the platter and dressed it with the beurre blanc sauce as I tipped the roasted potatoes into a bowl and topped them with chopped parsley. The Brussels sprouts went in a separate bowl and Jackson had dished up the salad. Voila, just like that dinner was on the table and I heard the cork come out of a bottle of wine.
We chatted about food and life and school, and nothing heavy during dinner, and after clearing the table, JC reappeared with a luscious looking apple pie. It was hard for us older guys finishing it all after the dinner, but Jackson had little problem.
After we’d washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, JC suggested we have another glass of wine and continue the conversation in the living room. Jackson grabbed a soda and we easily resumed our positions in what had turned out to be very comfortable furniture. JC put on Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Aire, with its blend of baroque classical music, light jazz, and rock. I hadn’t become a fan, but it did make nice background music for conversation.
JC and I were sitting in armchairs. Jackson was sitting on the couch, the photo of JC and Jon was in his hands, and he kept looking at it in a kind of wonder. “I can’t believe you two looked exactly the same, without your cap I wouldn’t know who was who. You were that similar. You guys were both good looking, too!”
JC smiled. “Yeah, well, and for the record, I don’t mind talking about Jon. We were close like only identical twins can be, and he died, but I survived. That said, we’re family and you never knew him, so I want you to be able to know something about him. In a perfect world he would have been your uncle. So, don’t be shy or embarrassed, Okay?”
Jackson nodded. JC went on, “We were so alike it drove our parents crazy, because unless they could hold us still, they couldn’t tell who was who. The only real physical difference was that Jon had a birthmark on his belly and I don’t. So, you can imagine, unless we were in swim trunks or shorts and no shirts on a hot day, we could get away with all kinds of stuff. Dad was career Army, so he was kind of a tough character. He was stationed at Fort Lewis for the last part of his career, so that’s how we ended up here in the Puget Sound area. He was all spit and polish, full of piss and vinegar, but he was fair, and he loved his kids. You know our older sister married a guy from McMinnville, so you have an aunt down there. She kept her distance from you because I asked her to. Dad was proud we both enlisted in the Army, but he never made it a requirement, he never even really pressured us. We both just wanted to please him.”
“Do you mind telling us what happened with Jon?”
“No, because like I told you, he was your uncle and you need to know. I got my basic rotary wing training at the Primary Helicopter Center at Fort Wolters in Texas, and then finished advanced rotary wing training at Fort Rucker in Alabama. I was in the 1st Air Cavalry Division and we shipped to Vietnam in late August 1965. When I got in-country I was assigned to medevac instead of regular helicopter transport or a gun ship, and I served there for two years till the end of 1967. Jon was Airborne, and when he got in-country in May of that year, he was assigned to the 173rd Airborne. On the 8th of November they were involved in Operation Hump, which became the battle at Dak To, over rough mountainous terrain with attacks and counter attacks. It ended with an ambush by 1,200 North Vietnamese army regulars. He was killed in that action.”
We said nothing, waiting for JC to continue. “Each Medevac helicopter had an assigned crew chief and medic, while the two pilots—one was the commanding officer—were assigned to helicopters for each mission or evac call. November 8th was a Monday, and on Friday of that week, after I got back from my mission, the CO taking over my Huey for the next mission took me aside and asked if I’d read the week’s Stars and Stripes. I made some comment about having been too busy flying casualties and saving my own ass to read the Army paper. He took my arm and looked at me hard and said, “JC, you’ve got to read it. The back page.” The back page is where the casualties were listed for the week. That’s how I found out Jon was KIA.”
“So, Jon and I were only in-country together for two months, and that picture was taken during one of the two times we got leave together.” He paused, “I kind of went nuts after he was killed. I mean the anger was overwhelming, I was doing crazy things, flying into insane locations to pick up the wounded, trying to make sure our guys didn’t die so they could be back on the battlefield to avenge Jon. Lots of crazy stuff. That’s why I did a second tour. Like I told you, I brought a lot of that home with me, and it took a long time to work it out. That’s part of why you never heard from me. You were seven when I rotated back state-side, and I didn’t leave the Army till 1970. You were ten then. It was three or four more years before I got my life together. By then you were in junior high or starting high school, and it just seemed like it was too late.”
We sat quietly. There are times when silence is the best part of a conversation, and this was one of them, and Jackson seemed to understand it. After two or three minutes, with JC mainly staring off into the distance, re-living what he’d been through, he turned to Jackson.
“Can you understand why it was so hard for me to be part of your life?” Jackson simply nodded.
“Okay, you commented on how alike Jon and I were, and I think I answered your questions and told you a lot about him. Now I have a question for both of you.”
We both looked at him.
“I want to know if you two are gay?”