The next week was spent building the new closets that ran along the entire wall of the bedroom that backed up against the stairs. Besides the needed storage, I had to deaden the sound of clomping feet going up the stairs. I continued the closet the short length of the hall across from the bathroom for the linens. As the weeks folded one into the next my life began its newest rhythm. I began work, showing up earlier than anyone else and leaving when the others did. I found a yoga studio and went three times a week. I worked on the apartment almost every night and most of the weekends.
When I asked Klaus about gaining access to the basement below the apartment he balked. I brought him into the apartment to show him why. He froze in the middle of the living room. He had not been in the place since he had showed it to me three weeks before. His eyes began to dart about. He spun around and whistled.
“Gut God, gut verk, nice verk.”
He ran his hand along the closet.
“I vas nevous vis all da hammerin’ but…gut verk. Vat ever you vant. Let’s go to da zeller.”
The basement provided all of the information that I needed and then some. I found my fuse box and meter and I told him I wanted to drill through the foundation to get electricity out into the yard for my motion sensitive security light and a plug.
I wanted to replumb the old hose bib to a better location.
And I saw that the best dream could also be a reality. I had built one section of the closet in the hall big enough to put in a small stacking washer and dryer. I asked him if I could do it by tapping off the water from the bath and tying back into the drains.
“Zee vife vill approve, ja.”
I told him I would hire an electrician and a plumber, but only to do the final connections to the existing. Both contractors wanted to hire me and but they also got a tad indignant when I told them I was an architect…well soon to be. They hated architects, but maybe I wasn’t so bad.
The only break I took in those first three months began the day of my second anniversary with Dan. I called in sick to work and stayed in bed and cried. I stared at all of the pictures I had of him endlessly flipping through the album he had given me for my birthday. The pictures that Steve had taken of us naked drove me wild. I thought about Jason too. How could I not? I beat off repeatedly and fucked myself with the dildos until I had rubbed myself raw. I wanted to physically feel the pain of my loss. I dove deep into depression. I didn’t eat.
Katie called me late that afternoon. She had been worried about me being all alone on my anniversary. From the tone of my voice her worst fears were confirmed almost instantly. I heard the frantic nature in her voice as her mind reeled thinking of what she could do to help from 1200 miles away. She tried to calm me, cajole me, lift me, or say anything to get some reaction out of me. I hardly said a word.
She finally said, “I’m going to call your Dad to come see you, NOW!” She hung up the phone.
I dialed her back as fast as I could.
“Fitz,” I cried, “It hurts.”
“I know, I cried at work today. They sent me home early because of it. I was crying more than my patients.”
That got me to chuckle.
“I wished I had been there to see that,” I said.
That would have made every second of the therapy she put me through worth that much more. We talked for four hours. She put Steve on a couple of times when she needed a bathroom break and to help with dinner preparations. He made me make something to eat for myself. I told him about what I had done looking at the naked pictures he had taken. He promised me that I would not be alone for any other anniversaries, ever again. He also promised he would tell Katie about New York tonight. Finally, I was calm with myself by the end of the conversation, still depressed but not suicidal anymore. She made me promise I would start seeing a therapist again so that I had someone to talk to on a consistent basis. That phone call only reinforced how much I loved those two.
After I hung up the phone with them I called Tim. He too knew something was wrong by the tone of my voice. When I explained, he was so loving and caring in the things he said. Brad began to get antagonistic because of our phone call. Tim said he should go. I told him I loved him and he said he loved me. I hung up with Tim feeling better about myself, but still lost. I should have asked him to move up here right away, but I stopped myself. Then I shoved the dildo back up my ass and fell asleep.
I walked and sat in pain for three days. I was a zombie of melancholy. My work consisted of doodles of Fred Flintstone and VW Beetles and kept asking myself the meaning of the two. Nothing I could figure made sense; the Beetle, yes, but not Fred. I kept drawing them anyway. My boss noticed my distance and lack of typical production. I told him about Dan, Jason and the anniversary, leaving out the dildo. He listened with patience.
When I was done he told me, “It’s OK. It’s normal. You’re normal. You just need to take care of yourself, OK. Don’t worry about work; you more than make up for it the other 99% of the time. I have names of people you can talk to…if you want…or need to. Take off if you want. It’ll be OK…I know…I know, trust me.”
I couldn’t help the tears that ran down my face.
A had a long talk with Mom and Dad Elliot a few days later, and they promised a visit for my birthday. I kept up a constant regimen of yoga and then, after two and a half hours of constant drilling through the stone foundation wall for the electrical conduit and the hose bib I finally broke through the depression. It had been eight days since our anniversary.
When I climbed out of the cellar I knew it was time to celebrate Dan and Jason. I called the Elliots to set up the memorial and we decided on the third weekend in April. I flew down with my parents and Katie and Steve picked us up at the airport. Tim and Brad came and so did Joe, Daf and Debbie. She showed off her new engagement ring along with her slightly rounded abdomen.
On a long wall in the vestibule of the church we hung pictures of Dan and Jason. We encouraged everyone in the notice we mailed to bring photos to put up. I brought as many of Jason as I could since most people only knew Dan. On my mom’s suggestion, I sent a notice to the Godcheaux. She was right in knowing that Jason would have done it out of politeness to his family. I was dumbfounded as I stood receiving people in the foyer when I was handed an 8 x 10 framed portrait of Jason. I looked beyond the picture to see a man my age and height whose face was rounder and hair blonder but otherwise was a copy of Jason.
“H…H…Hello,” I stuttered.
“Hi, I’m Charlie Godcheaux, Jason’s older brother,” he said firmly. He smiled softly and blinked.
“I’m Pete Langer, Jason’s…”
“I know…I hope it’s OK that I came?”
I spread my arms out. He paused and then did the same and we hugged. I introduced him through my tears to the Elliots. I excused myself from the receiving line and led Charlie aside. I needed to talk to him.
“I’m so glad you came. This service is for Jason too but there aren’t as many who knew him, but those who did loved him very much.”
“I had to come, much to my parents’…dismay at first. But it’s hard losin’ your little brother. He was my buddy my whole life. I knew since he was little that he was…probbly queer but…it didn’t matter to me, ‘cuz he was the best. He caught up with me at school about a week before he died to tell me he was headin’ to New York. Boy, was that ever a shocker. When I told my parents after he died that’s where he was movin’ to they nearly shit in their drawers. He was a lot more than jus’ a boy from the Mississippi Delta…he was somethin’ else.”
“Yes, he was. That’s why Dan and I loved him so much.”
“Yeah, his relationship with y’all was even a bit much for me…but he said it couldn’t be more right. I believed him. And when you gave his car and all his stuff and all that money back to us…well I knew that y’all had to be good people. So, that’s why I came. I want y’all to know that in the end we all want Jason’s life to be celebrated as a good thing…just some of us have a hard time thinkin’ about certain things.”
“Thanks, Charlie…Hey, would you like to get up and say a few things during the service? I would appreciate it and I know a bunch of others would too.”
Charlie looked down at his shoes, then up into the ceiling of the sanctuary and then he stared at the altar. He started to laugh.
“What?” I asked.
“I can hear Jason teasin’ me. Callin’ me a ‘chickenshit.’ Sure, I have to now!”
I started to laugh too.
“He does that to me too…I hope he always will.”
“Scary, ain’t it!”
I nodded with a smile on my face.
Charlie’s storytelling on Jason had us all laughing and crying. He left the tribute for last when he said that because of his organ donations there is a photographer who can see again, a young father with his heart, a man running for the State Senate with his liver and twin brothers able to breathe because of his lungs. This, he said, was typical of Jason because throughout his life he gave unconditionally of himself to help others.
My dad and Dad Elliot went up to speak together. They spoke about learning that their kids were gay and in love and how it made them better people because of it. They told the story of learning about the Three Musketeers. I had never laughed so hard. Those two made a great comedy team. They made me cry when they spoke of their friendship that had been created out of our love.
We all stood to sing one of my mother’s favorite hymns, “In the Garden.” The Moms confessed to me that they could not get up in front of the crowd so they chose the hymn and a passage from one of Dan’s favorite poets, William Wordsworth, which the minister read.
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, or glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
I got up last to speak. I walked up so strong and confident. Then I played the ’78 I had borrowed from Egil of Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues.” I began to cry as the notes filled my mind with memories. After it finished, I said two words before I completely lost my composure. Katie grabbed Steve’s hand and they came up to stand to either side. They smiled and told me it was OK. Steve pinched me on the ass. I bit my lip and started to speak. I spoke of the day I met Dan, New Year’s Eve when the three of us truly became one, and that final weekend. They were each simple gatherings of friends that became so much more by the simple twists of life’s fate. So I asked of this group before me to never take any gathering for granted because life and love is about what you create with those you happen to meet.
I kissed Katie and Steve softly on their cheeks and then said, “I began with Dan’s favorite piece of music and I’ll end with Jason’s. Each of them learned of this music through our friend, Egil.”
I deftly switched the records, adjusted the speed and walked slowly to the pew, hand in hand with Katie and Steve, as Ella Fitzgerald sang “Over the Rainbow.”
At the reception at the Elliots’, Charlie Godcheaux gave me a smaller version of the photo he had brought; it was Jason’s senior high school photo. He also gave me a box with at least a dozen sketchbooks and journals in it.
“My parents’ made me promise that I’d burned these. I couldn’t, I loved Jase too much. These meant so much to him. You keep ‘em safe.”
“I will…I promise.”
We hugged and he bid goodbye to us all. The books were full of poems, short stories, drawings, and self-portraits, some of more than just his face. They were a collection of the life and growth of a kid from the Delta since he was eight years old. They were priceless to me. So was the time I spent with my parents and the Elliots’ over the next week.
The Elliots’ visit in May, Tim’s in July, Steve and Katie’s in August, intertwined with many visits to my family in New Jersey and then Tim’s again for the first day of fall kept me on a solid beam with the past while I created a concrete foundation for my future here. I had finished painting the apartment by the time the Elliots’ arrived. Tim and I had picked a theme of Mardi Gras for the place. The bedroom was a soft pale green, the living room a light purple, but not lavender and the kitchen was a golden yellow-white. The trim throughout was a white, not bright white, but not a cream or off-white either. It was one of those paints that had a number, not a name. I showed them ‘before’ pictures of the place. Dad said, “Reminds me of what Sammy looked liked before Dan started with him.” I thanked him for the compliment.
I had found a private garage less than six blocks away to store Sammy. I took him out for a spin at least once every other week. I loved to drive him through Central Park. On one of my jaunts right before the Elliot’s visit I had stopped at a red light. I was getting glare from the windshield of a Checker cab so I pulled the visor down. Up at the top next to the hinge I saw an open seam of vinyl and I ran my finger along it to see how bad it was. When I caught the edge of a piece of paper, I pulled on it. It was a square Kodak color photo of two skinny kids in shorts and T-shirts about thirteen or fourteen. They had their arms around each other’s waist and were smiling. One was Dan. “Damn, he was cute,” I thought. A car behind me started blasting its horn. “Fuck off,” I yelled at the windshield as I let out the clutch and zoomed to the first place I could pull over. I stared at the photo some more. The other kid was just as good looking as Dan. I flipped it over. On the back in Mom’s handwriting it said, “Danny and Sammy - August 1973 – Best friends.” I was confused and intrigued. Why hadn’t Dan ever said a single thing about this? It wasn’t like him at all. Why weren’t there any other pictures of him in that album his mother had made?
I stuck the photo in the frame of the Warhol so that I made sure I would remember to ask Mom and Dad when they came. When Dad made that comment about Sammy I led them to the photo.
“I found this hidden in the car. Can you please explain?”
Mom looked but a second at the photo and covered her eyes and began to cry. Dad picked up the photo and fingered the dog-eared edge.
He shook his head and began, “Sammy, beautiful, wonderful Sammy. Danny and Sammy. They were inseparable from the time they were about eight. At school, at our house, at his, they did everything together…huh…even slept together.”
He looked me in the eyes and raised his eyebrows, then continued, as he put his arm around Mom’s waist, “Then, about, oh, I guess six months after this photo, Dan was putting on his coat about to leave to go over to Sammy’s house. His parents called. Sam Willits had committed suicide. He was fifteen years old. He left no note. To say the least Dan was beside himself. I literally had to hold him down for more than half an hour after I told him…as gently as I could. We feared Dan was going to kill himself for at least a year. He was always angry or moody for years to come. That’s where Bill became such a help. The two of them had been acquaintances more than friends before Sammy died, but afterwards Bill cared for, and watched out for Dan. He was still a ball of anger at times even in college. That was until he met you, Pete. The rage vanished completely. I didn’t understand until right now why…it all makes sense.”
“He was his first love,” I said softly. “I had asked Dan who his first love was a few times and he always said Sammy. He never mentioned anyone to me but the Bug.”
“About three months after Sammy died I told Dan that he had to rebuild his life and get on with things. He asked me about how to rebuild Sammy’s. I said I didn’t know how to do that one. A few weeks later he came to me with the ad for the Beetle. He said he had seen it and that he would get it up and running for his driver’s test in October. It was the first time I had seen him smile since the funeral. It was the best investment I’ve ever made in my life. He rebuilt his own life and Sammy’s for less than 700 bucks.”
They spent time in New Jersey staying with my parents and were there to celebrate my birthday. We spent some of that time choosing the recipient of the first “Tiger Scholarship” in honor of Dan and Jason; given to a student pursuing creative writing in school. The school sent us their four finalists and we chose one by the application and the essay. It wasn’t easy to do. The three of us laughed at the fact that we really needed Dan to do this right. It came down to me blindly feeling each application and thinking of Dan and Jason. I got a tiny shiver on one of them, a boy from northern Mississippi who wrote an essay about his dog that had made us all laugh. We agreed that was appropriate and mailed our choice back. The three of us got better at choosing the finalist from just the essay as the years went by.
Tim and I spent his week here digging up and sifting the back yard. We also planted the first shrubs. His flooding trick had been all I needed to do until I built the new fence that faced the street. The motion sensor light took the last of the fight out of them in the battle for my back yard. I didn’t have to fight the Punic Wars that Mr. Planner Man had created in his mind.
We walked up to the FDR on the night of the Fourth to watch the Macy’s fireworks display. I leaned back against the concrete barrier and Tim leaned back onto me. As I wrapped my arms around that man and felt the booms vibrate through him and into me I felt as one with him.
I knew his continued visits were causing pain and anguish in his relationship with Brad. I tried to talk to him about it. It was the one subject that we couldn’t communicate on without each of us becoming defensive. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him to just break off the relationship. I wondered why he just didn’t do it anyway. Again I should have asked him to move in with me right then and there. Again, I made a mistake by not doing that.
I did talk to Katie and Steve about Tim when they came for five days in the stifling heat of August. They didn’t mind the heat as much as I did. Katie had used her wonderful gifts of character and become a good friend with Tim. Her understanding of Tim’s relationship was that it had become quite dysfunctional and possessive on Brad’s part and that Tim was going along with it for reasons she couldn’t get him to reveal. She told him he needed to break it off, the sooner the better, even if he had to quit his job and move out of New Orleans, he should do it. He agreed but told her he would have to decide when the time was right. Tim thanked her for her opinions. I told her thank you and that I was ashamed that I didn’t have the balls to tell him that myself. I told her I would ask him to move in with me in September when he came for his birthday.
Their visit was a lot of fun. The least of what I enjoyed was going to see CATS at the Wintergarden Theater, but Katie had gotten tickets from a grateful patient. OK, well it wasn’t horrible, but the giggling, singing ten year old girls who sat next to me were. Katie was beginning to warm to this city. The heat had been turning me off to it. The smell of the hot humid streets, from garbage and dog piss, with no rain began to turn my stomach every time I walked out the door. Still, Katie was actually receptive to the idea of Steve taking a job in New York after their marriage next summer. She wasn’t thrilled but she saw the opportunities too, at least until they had children. I had a nightmare that night, my first one in months, my first one that involved Tim. Steve came in when he heard me thrashing about and asked if I want him to sleep with me. I reached up, pulled him to me and kissed him; smiling I said, “No, thank you.” He rubbed my chest and said, “Cool.”
I took Tim to the Four Seasons restaurant for his birthday driving him there in Sammy. We had a very intimate dinner. My gag gift to him was a list of all the major banks in New York with the names and telephone numbers of all the Human Resource managers. He thanked me with a kiss and said he already had them. He gave me a wry smile.
“Cheeky bastard,” I whispered into his ear and then stuck my tongue in it.
My next present was a set of keys to the apartment. He got weepy over them. I think he expected a ring in the last gift. I made the mistake by not asking him to marry me. Sometimes I am blind to the obvious, although I did ask him to move in with me though when I gave him his final present of a photo of the two of us when we first met. It was a black and white photo of the two of us looking at each other smiling. We were on the quad at Loyola bopping to a live band. We had just told each other of our mutual attraction for one another as we danced to the song “Three Chord City” by a band called The Cold.
“Where did you get this?” Tim exclaimed.
“An architecture buddy had a photography class and was out burning film for an assignment.”
“I had just told you that I wanted to get naked with you. I thought I was going to crap in my pants,” he laughed, “How come I haven’t seen this before?”
“I never knew it existed until after we parted. Russell was going through all of his pictures at the end of the fall semester and asked if I wanted it. He gave me the negative too. I’ve always wanted us to get back together. I love you, Tim.”
Home and in bed I asked him again about moving in. He evaded the question. We talked some more. I asked him again. He dodged again. I climbed on top of him.
With our hips pressed together and with straight arms so I had the distance to focus clearly into his eyes I asked, “Timothy James Welker, will you please come live with me?”
“I can’t,” he said averting his eyes.
“Why not?” He didn’t answer. I couldn’t get him to answer. We wrestled on the bed. It ended in a screaming match. I stormed out the back door and sat in the bright light naked on the stairs. I hung my head between my knees and cried. The automatic light turned off. I began to get cold and shivered but refused to go inside. Tim opened the back door and sat beside me ad the light came on again. I moved away.
“Please, Pete, will you just trust me to tell you that I can’t right now…either move in or tell you why…Please?”
He moved next to me again and put his arm around me. I tried to pull away. He pulled me tight.
I struggled and then sniveled, “Tim, you have to trust me.”
“You gotta trust me,” he replied.
We both sat and shivered for awhile. We finally convinced each other to go inside. I was heartbroken, but I knew it wasn’t my fault either. I just felt stupid.
I hoped he would say something to me over the last four days he was there. He never gave a hint. He did give me all the support, love, energy, activity and sex that I needed to get through the first anniversary of the accident. He even convinced me to develop the pictures I had taken the year before. We cried and laughed together looking through them all. When Katie called and I answered laughing all she could do was cry in happiness. I overnighted the duplicate set of photos to them that afternoon. The four of us laughed and cried on the phone the next day.
When Tim was about to turn to head down the ramp onto the plane, I told him, “Please move in with me as soon as you can…as soon as it’s right. OK?”
He smiled, nodded and kissed me.
“I will, Pete, I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you,” I responded.
I retreated into hibernation through the fall and winter. I went to work and I came home always keeping myself busy with all sorts of projects and ideas, filling sketchbooks and the wall next to my drafting table with drawings. I also continued to read through the boxes of “Boone’s Books;” even rereading Confederacy of Dunces over the weekend of Dan’s birthday. Befriending the people at work and talking to Katie, Steve, Tim and my two sets of parents became the staple of my everyday life. New Jersey was on my plate for Thanksgiving and Texas for Christmas. I began my additions to the Garden in the kitchen from seeds by the end of January and couldn’t wait for my first spring in New York.
I had become expert at “dumpster diving,” looking through the trash on the street to find items to recycle for my use, continually bringing home items for the garden. Sometimes, I would race home to get my hand truck, which I also dug out of the trash and had repaired, to haul things home. A load of fifty old bricks, a couple of dozen “Belgian block” or granite cobble stones, a broken slab of marble, some perforated steel sheets, a six foot length of 8” I-beam, it all got stacked to the side and slowly began to be installed as my palate and imagination began to combine. The only thing I bought was the wood to rebuild the back steps. Klaus was glad I hadn’t paid for the ‘stuff’ for the Garden. He complained his wife was getting tired of all of the receipts. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Gut boy, gut work.” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled too.
Plane reservations were made for early May to New Orleans and graduation and then made my hotel reservations for June in Virginia. I bought a tux. I was too excited about each event. Steve flew up in April so he could interview and accept a job at a law firm high up in that tower with the ugly “Venus de Milos” out front.
He arrived on a Monday night, interviewed on Tuesday and flew home Wednesday morning. The time reminded us both of when we had lived together before we ever became involved with anyone, or each other, but we agreed that everything had ultimately changed. We had long conversations over dinner and as we sat up in bed. We had grown up together. Neither of us believed we were the same people who would wake the other by rubbing a cold beer on his cheek on a Saturday morning, or that we didn’t go to the toy store anymore. Now, just having him sleep on the other half of the bed or for him to eat my cooking was an extremely satisfying experience for our souls. We talked of graduation and the wedding. We spoke of how much we loved Fitz. We cried over missing Dan and Jason, though we both remarked that they still, somehow, affected our lives and made us laugh on a regular basis. We discussed my relationship with Tim and his with Brad. Steve felt that Tim was extremely confused in this situation. Each time he talked to Tim the rationale of it all was different. He knew that Tim was ultimately in love with me and that he was committed to making a life with me. There was also something strange in his relationship with Brad that he was tightlipped about.
“Just give Tim the time to come to you,” Steve said. “He was willing to do that for you.”
“I will…I guess I have finally gotten to the point that it’s time to move on…or at least close enough that I can work things through with Tim. I do love him. I know I can never replace what I had before…I don’t want to. What I have will be different but just as wonderful.”
“Pete, just don’t get impatient with him or this situation and screw it up…OK?”
“Yes, Dad…sorry…yes, my Best Friend.”
I talked to and saw Tim on a regular basis. When we were together, we were a couple. We just didn’t live in the same city. We spent the four days in New Orleans for Steve’s graduation together except when he went home to Brad each night. He was my date for their wedding too. We had a fabulous time. I asked him for us to plan our wedding. He nervously shook his head. I didn’t press him, but I was getting nervous. That behavior wasn’t like Tim.
Steve’s graduation was similar to all the rest that we had attended over the years. This would just be the last one for a while. I still had difficulty accepting the fact that he was becoming a lawyer. During the dinner afterward when they asked me to say something all I could think of was, “If you can accept me and my vocation there’s no reason I can’t accept you and yours.” It wasn’t one of my better moments. There were times when I needed Jason and Dan. Steve still leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, much to the dismay of his parents and other relatives at the table. His parents refused to accept me being gay or their son’s friendship with a gay man. I shudder to think of their thoughts of me being his best man. Yet, they were not going to say a thing though because of Katie’s love for me and for their son, because they absolutely adored her. They did make comments that they were glad he was finally leaving New Orleans because of the attitude shift they had seen in him while he lived there. They hadn’t realized he had just matured.
I struggled with finding a gift for him. I thought of buying him an expensive Rolex watch or an Italian leather briefcase and a half a dozen other items that were just throwing money at the solution. Finally, blindly I walked into an old time toy store called B. Shackman’s on 5th Avenue near Union Square, while killing time on my lunch. I stared and smiled at the paper masks and the flipbooks and gawked at all of the tin wind up toys, playing with each one. Down on the bottom, in the back of a glass case I saw “it,” that exact item that expressed what a lawyer was to me. I knew Steve would get it immediately.
When he opened the box at the table, after comments about it not being basketball size, he stopped, tilted his head and slowly smiled. He gently pulled it from the tissue paper. He set it on the table and stared for a second and then picked it up to wind it. The table was abuzz with chatter. Steve was absolutely quiet. He placed it down on the table again and watched the tin monkey dressed in a blue suit and red tie swing his arms around with a big yellow hoop in its hands and jump through it again and again. Steve could not have had a bigger smile. He turned to me, hugged me, kissed me on the lips, to a couple of gasps from the peanut gallery, and said, “I love you.” That monkey stands on his desk to this day. I have a spare stored in the back of my closet just in case of tragedy.
I drove to the wedding, picking up Tim at the airport on the way. He was in an upbeat mood and relaxed. As I cruised down the highway to the small town where Fitz grew up Tim blurted out his news.
“I got a huge promotion last week.”
“You didn’t call me right away…I’m hurt,” I said with mock chagrin.
“I wanted to tell you in person. They made me an Executive Vice-President at the bank.”
“Wow, congratulations! You didn’t think that would happen for another year or so.”
“I know! I can’t believe it. Huge raise too. This will make getting a good job in New York so much easier…but I got to stay at it for a while…six months, I figure.”
My heart sank at that thought. I felt that I was going to get him to commit to moving soon during this trip; so much for getting my hopes up. Dan had always warned me about that. He knew how easy it was for me to be crushed by them going south.
When we got to the hotel room I hugged him for a long time.
“I love you, Tim. I’m so happy this has happened,” I said sincerely.
He kissed me and then said, “We’ll have Christmas together and then I’ll be up for interviews in January. Do you think you can wait for me that long?” he said with a bit of a smirk.
I picked him up off of his feet and tossed him to the bed. “I can’t wait another second,” I yelled as I began to strip him.
We were fifteen minutes late for the rehearsal at the church.
Katie glowed with enthusiasm when I first caught sight of her standing on the church steps. Her arms shot above her head when see saw the orange Bug roar into the parking lot. I couldn’t even get out of the car before she smothered me with love and attention. What she had dreamed about for more than two years was now less than a day away.
“Geez, Fitz. I just saw you last month.”
She pulled me up out of the car, hugged me some more, and said, “But without you I wouldn’t be having this day.”
“Without Dan you wouldn’t be having this day,” I retorted.
“I know, I prayed for him, to him, whatever…before, as I waited for you. And I got this crazy feeling that told me if it wasn’t for you then Dan wouldn’t have met me or known Steve…See!”
“If you say so, Love. Sorry we’re late. We got caught up in things.”
“Some things never change,” she said with a smirk as she walked over to Tim and gave him a kiss and a hug.
“Hey, darlin’, you look handsome, as always.”
“Thanks, Fitz, how’s the groom holding up?”
My head jerked around with a start. Katie looked at me from under a cocked eyebrow, “See what you’ve started, sweetie!”
I dissolved into laughter as I kissed Tim on the cheek.
“And to you,” she said to Tim, “Steve’s hangin’ in there at the moment…he hasn’t crapped out yet. Ooops, speakin’ of Nervous Nellie, here he comes.”
Steve was bounding across the parking lot.
He grabbed me by the waist, hoisted me up and spun around. He set me down after three or four revolutions and kissed me. He kissed Tim too and patted Sammy’s fender.
“How are y’all? Ready to get this show on the road?”
“I think the question is, How are you? A tad wound up and excited are we,” I asked him.
He kissed me again.
“I’m in love and can’t wait, that’s all.”
“With me or Fitz?”
“Katie, but you come in a close second, you cheeky bastard.”
Katie whacked him hard on the ass.
“That’s from Dan,” I said.
Steve just smiled.
We made our way into the church and laughed through the rehearsal. Katie’s big sister was her maid of honor, although Fitz leaned over to me during the run-though to say that Jason was her first choice. I told Steve that if I forgot the ring I had extras and showed him the three on my left hand. He winked, put his hand on my cheek and mouthed the words “Thank you.” He, like me, wished that the three of us were really there.
At the rehearsal dinner that night I handed out some of my wedding presents.
“More than one. You’re settin’ a dangerous precedent,” Katie said.
“Who cares, it’s the people who are important,” I said and then continued, “This first gift is for the future.”
I handed them the box. Katie unwrapped a leather bound sketchbook similar to the one they had given me years before. Inside the pages had been filled with plans, elevations, details and perspectives from all angles of a house on a slightly sloping site. On the inside of the front cover was a hand drawn gift certificate for “One Home, by Peter Langer ~Architect.” Katie held the book against her chest and sighed. I just smiled and kissed her on the forehead.
I handed the second one to Steve, “This one is for the past.” He opened it up and collapsed into tears. I walked behind him and tried to console him. Fitz looked at me confused. The rest of the relatives wondered what I had done to Steve. He took a deep breath and lifted his head to reveal a framed photo of Steve, Katie, Dan, Jason and me, taken at sunset by Daf with my camera less than eighteen hours before the accident. The last photo of us all together. I had held it back from the set I had sent them back in September. Katie stared almost motionless as tears streamed down her face. She saw in the smiling sunburned faces the happiness and carefree innocence that would soon be shattered, yet the love that flowed between us all and the strength and bond of friendship would not be destroyed by the death that was imminent. This moment was only between the three of us who were left to carry on into the future. She stood, kissed me and hugged me for the longest time. Steve stood to join us as he turned the photo for all to see what we had become so emotional about. I lifted my glass of cranberry juice.
Katie beat me to the toast, “To Dan, who decided Steve and I should marry, and to Jason, who continually showed us how to love one another. We will never forget them and forever cherish our time together.”
I held on to Fitz and Steve with all the strength that I had as I sobbed.
It was a cloudless day in June with a deep blue sky and a warm breeze that rustled the bright green leaves, a perfect day for a wedding. It went off without a mishap. The only missteps were mine as I danced with the bride. Fitz couldn’t stop laughing when I complained that she only taught me to walk, not dance. Tim didn’t mind my inability to dance. Steve’s grandmother minded that we danced at all. I think I was as happy as Steve and Katie about the event and was glad for them to have this event that signified their love to all who knew them. The four of us knew that it wasn’t necessary. Dan, Jason and I proved that, but I think that we would have gotten to that stage to have a ceremony to celebrate the bond that was beyond us as individuals. My only regret was not having the chance. As I danced with Tim I dreamed about the one we would have…if and when we could ever get together.
When I drove Tim to the airport the following afternoon I was grateful for his renewed strength and conviction in our desire to become a couple. I smiled the whole way. He promised that he would end his relationship with Brad before Labor Day when he would next visit. I asked him to come home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving and we would meet in Houston for Christmas. He said yes to it all. I promised myself that I would go wherever he was for New Year’s to ask him to marry me. I wanted to begin 1985 with the hope and promise that 1982 had, but this time I wanted to get the whole year right.
I drove to the Jersey shore on my way home to Manhattan and spent two days with my family. I was glad to be with them. I shared with Mom and Dad all of the events of the wedding. They, like the Elliots’, had been invited but were unable to go. They were grateful for who I was as an individual even if they didn’t quite comprehend the yoga-practicing, vegetarian, homosexual, architect that I was. I spent an afternoon sailing my old M-Scow with a friend. I laughed like a madman when we got that old dog of a boat planing across Barnegat Bay on a broad reach; I was having fun again. I was finally letting go of the sorrow over those things that were beyond my control.
I was at work on Wednesday morning, excited to be back. I had so much energy and so much to do. In three weeks, when the Thomases got back from their honeymoon they would be coming to New York to find their apartment. It would be a high-rise affair so the decision would seem easier to them. I wanted my abode to be at its ideal, so I had a thousand little things to get done. What I had to prove to the two people who had continually accepted me unconditionally I didn’t know. Maybe it was in preparation to welcome my new husband into his home; it really didn’t matter. I just had to get these things done. I felt like I did when I was in school and the assignments were coming due and I needed to be moderated. Boy, did I ever need to be moderated, I thought with a smile.
That was the one thing that I never did learn to deal with very well after the deaths of Dan and Jason. I had become spoiled in the way I could satisfy my expanded sexual appetite. Before I met Dan, if I was horny I would beat off, end of desire. As Dan and I explored our fantasies, expanded our tastes and dared each other to further desires our appetites grew. Once Jason joined in he was willing to run with us and pushed us even further. Suddenly it wasn’t there. There were the times with Steve and Tim, which were fantasies and growth experiences in their own right but still it was not enough to satisfy me on a regular basis. I never had the desire for anonymous or illicit sex. Not since the time with Derek as a freshman in college did I have the urge to just let go and become involved purely for sexual reasons. Even the time when we met Jason it was part of the relationship between Dan and I that was being excited as much as the connection with the red haired boy on the far side of the toilet. Now I had all of these desires and urges and no real outlet. My hand, the dildo, a videotape and a few magazines, they got the job done but did not release the desires. I had the opportunities too. There was the NYU grad student who lived down the block who wouldn’t stop flirting with me. I felt horrible as a tease, although I told him ‘no’ flat out. He was nice enough, sexy enough, intelligent enough and his pants certainly were filled out enough, but there was absolutely no spark of desire for him.
I had gone to different yoga centers and had joined a gym so that I could run on the treadmills. There in the changing rooms and locker areas I would see some handsome men, a few of whom I could imagine having sex with, but I still had this wall around me that I wouldn’t let down. I finally had to quit the gym when I couldn’t even sit in the steam room without somebody insisting that it was an invitation to have sex. “NO” didn’t mean anything to these people. Except for a single yoga session that I went to once a week I practiced at home and began to run in the streets. I hated running in the street, but felt I had no choice.
Then there was the high school senior who on the last day of school was allowed to wear shorts to school. He did Jason’s trick to me on the subway. He had a melting smile and I couldn’t stop smiling at him either. He followed me home. He had the balls to ask me to have sex with him and to go out with him. We did suck each other off that day, but not for a long time would I again want him in that way, despite his honest pleadings. Afterwards, I explained the best way I could about how and why I felt like that. I showed him the pictures of Dan and Jason and explained what happened. He got weepy and hugged me. He had those innocent honest emotions like Jason did. I also told him of Tim. We did become friends though and called each other regularly, and in time more frequently, that summer the Thomases moved to New York. We loved to watch movies together, either on video or at the theater. He turned me on to all of the art film theaters. His name was John Hall, John Vroom Hall. I loved to call him by his middle name, but only when we were alone at first. He loved his middle name too, but he had endured a lot of teasing as a child and would rather just keep it to himself. He became my first true friend that I made in New York. I was glad he came on to me. I, for some reason, didn’t want him to cum with me.
He became my partner to share my drives with Sammy. He also wanted to learn about the hows and whys of gardening. I knew he was serious when he began to show up sometimes at six in the morning when I spent my hour nurturing my Eden before I went to work. I also knew he enjoyed watching me shower and get ready to go to the office. We would ride the train together on our way to our jobs that summer. I always called him whenever I decided a trip to a garden center was on my agenda. He certainly made gardening and life in general fun again. The Garden and I began to get a sense of humor because of him.
I heard a knock at the gate one Sunday morning. I figured it was Klaus needing to get in. I opened the gate. It was John, sweating, with a huge smile on his face.
“Hey, Vroom, what are you doin’ here?”
“I was out walkin’ the dog and I came across this in the trash.”
Between his feet guarded by his dog Norton was the shattered remains of a concrete statue, a woman’s torso from her thighs to a canted slice at the base of her breasts. She had a tremendous behind, voluptuous would be the polite description.
“Uh-huh, and you plan on doing what with this?” I asked. His eyebrows raised and a devious smile spread across his face.
“Puttin’ it in the Garden.” He winked at me.
“Keep going,” I said, as I petted Norton and then strained to pick up this chunk of concrete to bring it into the backyard so I could close the gate.
“Well…I felt it would look good in the...middle of the…”
“Get on with it, man.”
“…in the middle of the ‘Johnny jump ups’….with her ass facing forward.”
I groaned in mock disgust at the bad joke as I put my arm around his waist and we stared at the patch of flowers where he thought it should go. He started to laugh and so did I.
“Come on, give me a hand transplanting,” I said, relenting to his humor.
An hour later we were just about done when the phone rang.
“Yes, Mrs. Hall, he and Norton.”
“Hold on. Let me ask.”
I put my hand over the receiver.
“Hey, Vroom, your mom was worried. She says I need to make sure you call when you show up like this and also wants to know if you’re going to church with her, because if so you need to get your butt home.”
He knocked the dirt off of his hands as he sat back on his haunches.
“Tell her sorry I didn’t call and I want to skip church today.”
He then yelled at the phone as I brought it back to my ear, “Love you, Mom.”
I told her what he said and hung up.
“How does she know to call here?” he asked me.
“We had a talk one day when I called and you weren’t home. I gave her my number for reasons just like that.”
“I hope you didn’t tell her anything.”
“No, I wouldn’t violate the trust I have with you, but she did ask me a few things. I felt funny being put in the middle but I let her ask them.”
I paused and then continued, “But I’m going to tell you about them …OK?”
He tilted his head and said, “OK, sure.”
“Well, this was a couple of days after I dropped you off in Sammy and I met your Mom for the first time. She asked if I was gay. I said yes. Then she asked if you were. I said you need to ask your son, not me. I don’t know for sure, I’ve never asked you, right?”
He smiled at me.
“I told her that we were friends, good friends, but nothing more. She told me that you had told her that you looked to me as the big brother you never had. Thanks, I appreciate that. I told her that you were welcome in my home anytime, that anyone would be glad to call you his friend. I told her she had raised a wonderful son. She thanked me.”
I paused again and smiled at him.
“John, it was just a good natured conversation. She needed some reassuring. It’s a tough time for a mom to let go. You’re goin’ off ta college in a couple. You’re still her little boy…all six feet of you. My advice is to talk to her…OK. She’s nervous about having raised a son by herself. I think she knows that you’re gay and it scares her. It ain’t easy bein’ queer, trust me…and she’s worried about you.”
I smiled at him, leaned over, and kissed him on the forehead. He stood up and put his arms around me.
When Steve and Katie arrived over the July 4th weekend to begin their search for an apartment they keeled over with laughter about the “Johnny jump up her ass” display.
Katie said, “I need to meet this one.”
I promised her she would and they did when he came over for dinner before we all went to see the fireworks together. The unit was growing once again and I was hoping that it would soon bloom.
They found an apartment on the fourth day of their search, too sterile for me, but with a great view of the city. Katie felt secure twenty-two floors above the street, not forty-two inches like me, although she felt very much at home in my apartment. I had created a feeling similar to the one we all had on Upperline. She never attained that in apartment 2205.
They left the next day for New Orleans to begin the purge and pack routine. I didn’t envy them. I felt heartache at the ending of the era on Upperline Street. I cried at the thought. I called Tim to talk it through. He was having an argument with Brad. He said he would call me later. It would be a week before he did.
Tim finally admitted that he was having a tough time dealing with Brad and breaking up. He told me that for at least a year they both knew that their relationship was not going to work. Brad had become determined to make the whole thing as difficult as possible. Their argument that I had interrupted was about Brad going to see a therapist for his anger and self-loathing issues. Tim was upset that he didn’t want to help himself get through this and to make it difficult for both of them. I told Tim that I felt horrible as the cause.
He said, “Now don’t you get started on this blame shit. I’ve had enough of that! Actually, Brad doesn’t blame you. He likes you a lot, especially for being honest with him on the roof that New Year’s Eve. He thinks we make a fabulous couple. He’s just jealous of us and upset with himself that he can’t be more like… anybody else. He is unhappy being Brad. I don’t know why. He seems to be getting worse. He was not like this when we met. He was strong and confident. He nurtured me into being comfortable with myself about being gay.”
We spent another two hours on the phone talking through the situation. I tried to give all of the support I could. I still felt helpless. Tim was confident to keep going toward our goal. I was glad of his resolve. I could feel the trepidation he had in the final outcome of his breakup with Brad. I thanked him for finally letting me in on the situation and his trust. He was sorry that he had waited so long. He didn’t think he should have to burden me. I told him that is why I am here and if we loved each other our problems were shared too.
“I love you, Pete,” he said softly as we hung up.
The situation was taking its toll on his energy. We began to talk longer and more often after that day.
The Thomases became residents of New York City on July 26th. Steve started work August 1st. Katie found out she was pregnant on Dan’s Birthday.