The Garden







Graduation was another boring affair in McAllister Auditorium, a building with a huge tit for a roof.  I used to stare down at it every day while I dried myself after my shower when I lived in Sharp Hall my freshman year.  Dan and I cheered wildly when Bill, Steve and the rest of my friends arose en masse to receive their confirmation of graduation.  Their diplomas were mailed later.  I told Dan that they did that to make sure everyone was up to date on their tuition.


That night and for the next week we went to party after party, saying good-byes constantly.  It was all getting a bit too much.  I hadn’t realized how many people had become friends or good acquaintances and how much I was going to miss them.  After four years of creating a base of companionship it all crumbled in less than two weeks.  I saw most of my architecture crew and we all said our good-byes for the summer.  We tried to psych ourselves up to come back one last time for Thesis.  I don’t know if it worked for any of us, but we had to try.   Dan did not yet understand what this “Thesis” was all about, but he would learn.


Steve was staying the summer to work in a law firm.  He had gotten accepted to Tulane Law School and was diving headlong into the whole deal.  With equal parts sarcasm and seriousness, I told him how disappointed I was in him.  In general, I am not a fan of lawyers.  I told him I respected his decision but only because I would enjoy having him continue as my roommate.  He gave me the finger in response.  I smiled because he was my best friend and I wasn’t ready to lose him.  I paid Steve some of my share of the rent for the summer and left him my car to use. He had always had access to it anyway, but this time he just had to pay something for it!   He also was very accepting of Dan moving in.  Life was pretty damn good.


It was the last week of May when we again packed the Rabbit, this time not so full, just clothes for the summer for the two of us and a stack of books that Dan wanted to read.   We left in time to beat the afternoon rush hour traffic.  Twenty hours later, after driving straight through the night, we drove up the driveway to the old Victorian home of my childhood.  My mom came out the back door. 

I turned to Dan as I turned off the car and said, “ Ready for the Langer Adventure?” 

“I thought I already signed up for that one two and a half months ago!” 

“Cheeky bastard, let’s go.” 

 We got out and I looked at Mom.  She looked confused.  

“I thought you weren’t coming till tomorrow?” 

“Oh Mom!  You still haven’t caught on.  How many times have I done this, arriving sooner than I say so that you don’t worry about me driving this far.” 

She tossed her eyes in thought and said, “Every time,” then came up and gave me her standard hug and kiss.  “Where did you get those sunglasses?  They make you look like you’re hiding something.” 

“Yeah, my eyes from the sun and glare of the road so that I can see better and drive safer.”

 Dan glared at me for taking such an obnoxious tone toward my mom. He was right and I couldn’t let being a little testy from the long drive make life difficult.   Mom let the whole comment slide because she knew me too well. 

“Mom, this is your new son, Dan Elliot.  Dan this is your other Mom.”  

“Hi Dan, glad to meet you.”

 She got on her tiptoes and pulled down on his shoulders so she could give him a kiss on the cheek.  Dan obliged.  At that point the rest of the clan began to pour out of the house.  First the two dogs came bounding out after pushing the screen door open on their own.  Joker and Sociable scrambled and jumped around in search of their due attention.   Then my two sisters arrived.  My next older brother and Dad appeared soon after that.  Introductions went all the way around.   My oldest brother was off “somewhere” with his girlfriend and would appear “later” as Dad put it.


The entourage moved into the house making quick work of carrying the luggage in. Dan and I brought up the rear.  As we got to the back steps, he began to “hum,” like a muted trombone, “The Story of Love” from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”  I chuckled as we walked into our home.  I took Dan up to my room, our room for the summer, hauling the bulk of our stuff up with us.  We shuffled into the room followed by the two dogs who were still not content with the amount of sniffing they had done to us or our bags. 

Dan turned to me after putting his bags down and said, “Oh...My…God! I always wondered what life in a big family was like, but…Geez, I’m a bit overwhelmed.” 

I had to think about it for a second till I realized the culture shock he was going through.  I took it for granted. 

“And the dogs too!” he continued, “I had fish!” 

“I told you that we were embarking on an adventure.”  

“OK, OK, I believe you…I’ll get used to it.  I promise.” 

“Even if you never do, I’ll still love ya,” I said with a broad warm smile. 

He returned the smile and kissed me.


Dan then began to survey the room.  It’s on the corner facing south to the street with three huge double hung windows that open out to the wide flat roof of the wrap around front porch.   A narrow closet that can be used a passageway to my sister’s room, two single beds (my brother used to share the room with me), a large bookcase and a large worn oriental rug furnish the room.  The afternoon light in the room was wonderful to read by, and then as it faded, take a nap.  That’s what the rest of my family has figured out too.  Thus my room became the informal library and snooze room.  I never hung anything on the walls except for a large felt banner from Princeton University, where my dad went, now that’s gone to my sister’s room so my walls were bare.  Hand-me-downs even extend to décor in large families. 

“Which bed is mine?” 

“The one I’m in, but for decorum’s sake until we enlighten my family, the one by the closet.” 

“You think we can both sleep in a single bed?” 

“We’ll learn to,” I replied.


Dinner was another experience for Dan.  Eight people around the table was Thanksgiving to him…and we did this almost every night.  It didn’t take long before he was into the flow of food and conversation.  It also didn’t take long for Dan’s personality and character to charm my family as he had charmed me.   I was struck dumbfounded at one point during dinner about how lucky I was to meet this man before he was attached to someone else and that he had chosen me.   I reached down and curled my fingers into his.  He blinked and smiled at me.  My mind began to race at wondering how I was going to break the news.


“Well, how did you two meet, if you two live so far apart?” Mom queried.

 We told the story of the party in tandem until we got to the point of the La-Z-Boy.  Dan let me decide if it was the right time.  I firmly believed it was and said how we were drunk and sitting in a chair together.  I couldn’t come up with the right words after that and I began to fumble a bit.

“I kissed your son,” Dan stated. 

“And I kissed him back,” I quickly followed, “I’m in love with him too.” 

Well, my brothers fell out laughing.  They had always given me shit my whole life.  So I expected it.  I looked back and forth to the ends of the table where my parents sat for a reaction.  Any reaction.  My mom’s mouth was open with her eyes locked on my father.  My dad’s lips were tight and his forehead a sea of wrinkles.  I could tell his mind was sailing through all sides of the argument. A half a minute later, he put down his fork. 

First, he glared at my brothers who immediately shut up and then calmly said, “Pete, you are always one for surprises, from the time you were born in the car not 25 feet from the hospital door till now, and I expect forever.  I’ve wondered if this was a possibility with you but I gave you the benefit of the doubt.  You’ve removed any doubt now.”

Turning to Dan he continued, “Dan, from getting to know you tonight, you are one hell of a good guy. And I have to trust Pete’s, and your, choice to do this.  I don’t envy you guys, I don’t understand it either, frankly I’m pissed off by it . . . but I will support you on it.  I have to.  Pete, you still are the same son that I have known for twenty . . . two years and I’ve accepted every other aspect of you. So I’ll do the same here.  I can’t answer for the rest of the family, they are individuals too, but I’m sure they’ll come around.  It’ll take me a little while to warm up to the whole idea…OK?” 

I looked to Mom.  She was in shock but her mouth was now closed.  

My sister Emily, who I think always knew said, “Dan, you and Pete make a great pair, I think it’s cool. Hope you just can put up with the rest of us.” 

Julia, the youngest at sixteen, chimed in, “Antoinette’s brother is gay too.”  

That might have meant something if I knew who Antoinette, or her brother, was.


My brothers sat there grumbling under their breaths like the obnoxious 24- and 26-year-old juveniles that they could be. 

Then Mom spoke, “When you said ‘Meet your new son’ you meant it.”  

“Yes, Mom, I really did.  Anything to soften the blow.”

My brothers snickered. 

 “I really didn’t think that it would all come out right now, but c’est la vie.” 

“No pun intended, I guess,” interjected my brother Jack, the next oldest, with a smirk. 

“Oh who cares, you jerk!  I’m being very serious about something that I have known and thought about all my life.  I’m sitting next to someone who I truly love surrounded by those who are supposed to love me.  I’m offering a chance for an honest conversation so that we can all understand.  I don’t want to be involved in a family that is still talking behind everyone’s back about how they feel fifteen years from now!  OK!”  

I took a deep breath to calm down and then continued, “This is very difficult for me.  Do you really understand what I have gone through my entire life knowing I was different from what the rest of the world perceives as ‘Normal,’ that I don’t fit the mold of what is shoved down our throats every time you turn on the TV.  You all know what I am like and who I really am better than anyone else, except for this one HUGE aspect of my life that I have kept crammed down deep inside.  I’ve tried to let it out slowly over time, I think you probably have gotten an inkling or two, but even letting it out a little at a time is not enough.  I took myself to the brink of suicide over this.  I think going to college was all that saved me from carrying it out.  Now, I’m…We,” I looked at Dan he had a frightened look on his face so I took Dan’s hand, “are in a situation that we don’t want to hide.  We’re proud of it.  So here it is laid out.  Talk about it if you need to, we’re not afraid to…OK?”

 I sat back in my chair. Dan cupped the side of my head in his hand, brought my head to his lips, kissed my temple and whispered in my ear, “Thanks, Love.”  There was silence for a minute.


“How do your parents feel about this whole thing Dan?  Do they know?” Mom asked. 

“Yes, they know and said I can’t come home…without Pete.” 

Boy, he always knows how to interject a little drama and humor into a situation, I thought. 

 “Mom, you and Dad will like them, I promise.” 

“Yes, I think so too,” Dan added, “I’ll give you their number and introduce y’all if you’d like.” 

“I’d like that a lot, Dan,” Dad said, “It would be good to talk to them.” 

Dad, I think, was at the point where he felt he was the only parent in the world who has had to deal with this, as I had felt not so long ago that I was the only queer in the world.  I could feel my parent’s disappointment, also their uncertainty with the situation, yet they had always raised us to be who we truly were.  So we all got what we asked for but I think my mom prayed that it was just another phase that I was going through.


The rest of dinner had a few questions about us.  Julia asked the most of them. Basically she wanted to know when the wedding was and who was wearing white and how did it really work.  She was trying to force our relationship into a heterosexual world.  She actually was asking all the stupid questions the rest of my family didn’t have the guts to ask.  We answered as best we could, that we would tell them when, how and if we were going to have a ceremony.  We hadn’t decided yet. I was content being just where we were at that moment.


Finally, dessert came out, a belated birthday cake, homemade with fresh strawberry icing.   It was the same as every year since I was five when I demanded that’s what my birthday cake should be.   Everyone, including myself, burst out laughing when I was presented with this pink cake! 

“My god,” my brother Jamie exclaimed, “he’s been telling us for at least fifteen years!” 

In a strange way I had to agree.  It was the sweetest cake I had ever eaten.


After dinner the family dispersed into their individual worlds and Dan and I went up to our room to unpack and decompress. 

“Well, we survived and we ain’t out on the street,” I said. 

“And it was entertaining to say the least…and I didn’t shit in my pants either.” 

“Now that, would have been entertaining!”

 “Oh, fuck you!” Dan said as he bumped me with his hip as we were putting our socks and his underwear into a drawer.

I bumped him back and smiled, “Anytime, anytime.”  

Upon getting the last of the clothes away, the house had quieted, it wasn’t long after midnight. 

“Time for bed?”  “ I can’t believe I’m still awake after driving all last night.” 

Through all of the emotion and excitement the trip up here had become a distant memory.  We brushed our teeth and walked back into the bedroom.  Dan tried to latch the door. 

“The door knob is just that, it doesn’t latch.  Never has. It just stays closed.  It’s just hell in the morning when the dogs think that it’s time to get up…Sleep with me.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Sure as I’ll ever be.  Let’s see how well we do in a single.”   Shedding the last of our clothes we spooned under the sheets. 

“Night Love.” “Night.”  


About twenty minutes later I heard the door slowly open.  Through the crack of my eye I saw my parents.  They looked at us, looked at each other and smiled.  Dad shook his head and shrugged.  They closed the door.


The next day was Sunday, our last day before we had to get into the work-a-day grind for the summer.  We slept late.  It was eleven by the time we both stumbled down the stairs looking for food and coffee.   Mom, being a mom, was ready and willing to make sure we were fed.  We settled for cereal, juice and conversation with Mom instead of her slaving at the stove.  It was a typically normal conversation about what had been going on in the soap opera of the Langer family and the life of a small New Jersey town. As I caught up on all of the sagas, Dan learned about us.   After an hour, hearing bumps and bangs from the basement, I asked what was Dad up to.  Dad had his office, his workbench, and his own world in the basement. 

“Well, I think you two should go help,” was all she said.  

Dan and I looked at each other slightly bewildered. 

“On our way, come on, Dan.”


Down the narrow stairs to the cold concrete floor of the cellar we went. 

“Keep your head down Dan, keep your head down.” 

My great-grandfather had the house built in 1886.  The cellar had been dug by hand through the hard red shale.  At some point, they tired and that was it for cellar depth.  The bottoms of the joists are at six-foot and the beams at five foot four.  I just make it under the joists, except when a hair gets caught in the rough sawn lumber now and then.  Dan was certainly not made for this cellar; even with his head sideways, his shoulders hit the joists.


Back past the furnace we saw Dad in amongst the storage.  I scanned around and saw the headboard of an old bed that we had taken out of my mom’s great aunt’s house when she died. 

“Hey Dad, what’s up?” 

“Great, give me a hand to get the last of these pieces out from back here.” 

The three of us pulled and pushed, wiggled and forced the sides and footboard free from the boxes and other remnants of previous generations. 

“What gives, Dad?” 

He looked up over his glasses and said sheepishly, “We looked in on you guys last night.”

I glanced at Dan, his eyes as wide as plates. 

“You can’t spend the summer in a single bed.  One of you will end up on the floor and probably break an arm.  And you can’t use a shovel with one arm!” he said with an devious grin. 

Dad could always look at things in relation to work.

 “So I figured we would replace that single with this old double.  Mom’s idea actually, although she tried to stifle herself from saying it.”  

He turned around and bent over to pick up one of the bolts that would hold it together.  Dan and I stared at each other with surprise.  We were the ones being enlightened too.

 “We also need to fish out that mattress up in the attic.  Imagine we could get your brothers to help?” 


Between cleaning the pieces, fixing and setting up the double and stacking the two singles into bunk beds the whole operation took half of the afternoon. 

“Welcome to my family Dan, where even days of relaxation are filled with the something that needs to happen - usually work.” 

“I’m whacked,” he responded, “and we’ve got work tomorrow.” 

While we took a shower before dinner Mom had been in to put sheets on the bed.  

A note was on the pillow that read, “Sorry about the flowered sheets.  They’re the only double sheets that I have. I’ll buy some new tomorrow.  Love, Mom.”   


“I think I’ve driven up to the wrong house.  This is getting to be a bit much.  I don’t know this family like I thought I did.” 

“I think that when confronted outright with honesty they deal with it better.  Your family is cool.  I can understand why you were nervous at first but…”

Dan was cut off by the door flying open and the two dogs bounding in with tongues and tails flailing.  Up onto the bed they jumped and round and round in circles they went. 

“DOGS!….Dinner!” came my mom’s voice from the kitchen.

Whoosh, off they went out the door and down the stairs along with Dan’s towel in Sociable’s mouth.  Dan was speechless, standing there naked.  I quickly flicked the door shut and burst out laughing. 

Dan finally said, “Whoa, what was that!” 

“A sign.”  I dropped my towel and grabbed him around the waist and fell onto the bed.  We wrestled, laughed and nuzzled with each other for ten minutes, then heard, “KIDS!…Dinner!”  Quickly we pulled on some clothes and headed downstairs.


Dan had become one of our family.