To Thine Own Self


A Story in The Human Calculus






The police station was not as clean as he thought it would be.


He expected freshly polished, waxed linoleum tiles that gleamed like the halls of the University first thing in the morning, when he got up for an early class and walked in the morning mists, under the shelter of the big, drooping shade trees, before the sun rose and the heat of the day took over.  The air outside would be soft and damp and cool and with only a promise of the humid heat to come.  He would pull open the big glass door of the Math Building, and there they would be, pristine, gleaming, stretching out before him until they began to converge in perspective, reminding him of a convergent series, though he couldn’t fathom the calculus of linoleum tiles, but a convergent series, that was always shiny and clean and fresh in the crisp air conditioned silence of the early morning. 


Later in the day they would be scuffed but he didn’t seem to notice it, and even when scuffed and worn at the end of the day they didn’t seem wrong.  Like math itself, the buildings could get messy without losing essential order.


But this place was not air-conditioned.  The fluorescent lights flickered overhead; some of the tubes were out. It was dirty and dingy and the walls gray; the chairs were plastic and cracked, the linoleum grimy and there was dirt and wax caked in the corners and edges of the place, and little streaks of dirt and paper bits and the smell of pine-sol antiseptic and puke and body odor, the stink of junkies, their sweat, especially the meth freaks, smelled so sharply and he could tell they were there, had been there, the odor lingered.  Maybe he was part bloodhound, he thought, part dog anyway. It was disorderly, there was no mathematical value to it, it was chaos.


It fit his mood.


The police officer was not as mean as Barry had feared; he took the cuffs off as soon as he got him into the building, telling him he would leave them off if he could trust Barry not to run or make trouble.


Barry had neither energy nor intention to run, he was buried in a deep pit within himself, facing a place as black as a the depths of a coal mine, an endless, airless, hopeless hell.


Barry Holmes had nowhere to go.  He was in hell, and you can’t run away from hell.


* * * *


Barry wasn’t sure why, but he had a new friend; not a friend like Dave had been, more like an acquaintance. Actually Barry had so little experience with relationships that he didn’t know exactly what friends were other than Dave and maybe Bonnie, Dave’s girlfriend.


Michael kept paying attention to Barry and Barry could not figure out why.


Barry was sure it wasn’t a sexual interest. That alone tells you how much Barry had changed; when in his life had he analyzed people’s sexual interests?


Well, actually Barry was never sure about sexual interests, being sixteen and without any experience he tended to feel a sexual interest an awful lot of the time and was never sure if it meant anything real or just reflected being horny. But he didn’t think Michael was interested that way.


Michael was like Barry, small and full of youthful beauty, his clear gray-blue eyes were particularly notable, and if you put him into a gay bar or club the flies would buzz around quickly. He was a sexy, sexual, eighteen, and he too was a bright boy, though his brainpower didn’t approach Barry’s, was of a different quality; he had little of Barry’s ability to channel it, and he was, sad to say, quite a bit less stable.


Michael wasn’t really a regular at the table, not in the sense that The Table and its people drew him, not the way others like Barry were. The previous year, after he met Abe at one of the two gay bars in town, he started coming, but he didn’t like being there, he didn’t need the table. He wasn’t even a student. He needed Abe and once he had Abe he didn’t want to go. He came only rarely and when he knew Abe would be there, and Abe found it difficult when Michael was there because he made it so difficult for Abe to do his important work, fulfill his duties at The Table. Michael really didn’t want Abe at the table, to be honest.


Suddenly Michael started to come when Abe wasn’t there, and he would sit next to Barry, too close for comfort, really.


Barry was not an astute observer, or he would have known that Michael was mated with Abe, not merely sharing his bed. Michael was in love with Abe and he was not at all the sort to share.


Barry was no threat to Michael, but Michael assumed every boy would be after his man. Michael didn’t run on logic, Michael ran on intuition and a frenetic energy and a rootless, vacant sense of self. And he was not going to share Abe with anyone. Michael had decided to take matters into his own hands.


Sometimes the problem with calculus is the mistakes the humans make. You get a quite different set of solutions when you start from the wrong premises.


*  *  *  *


Michael was not a clear communicator, but he had this way of making things end up the way he wanted them to.


One afternoon Michael was talking to Barry, and Barry really was trying to be nice and all, and listen to him, but he couldn’t figure out what Michael wanted. Finally he understood that Michael wanted him to go out to a bar that night; and after he explained three times that he was too young to even get into a bar – come to think of it, so was Michael – Barry just gave in, because Michael kept saying it didn’t matter, and Barry figured that they would just get turned away at the door. And he just wanted the conversation to end. He was a little tired of Michael.


Miriam was one of the lesbians, a CCU nurse at University hospital but she showed up an hour or two before her shifts at the table and often came in after she got off; it was only three blocks walk to the hospital, and she liked the table, she liked the gentle atmosphere and the young people and the intelligent conversation she encountered there. After Michael left, Miriam, who Barry thought was the mother of the table because she was older and so very nice, looked at Barry and shook her head.


“Stay away from that one, hon. He’s up to no good. And he’s spoken for.”


Barry didn’t know what to make of that, he didn’t think Michael was trouble, or mean, he thought he was weird. And in Barry’s calculation it took a lot to be weird at least, more so Barry thought himself.


But a part of Barry thought he should have a friend close to his own age. In fact, Michael was exactly Dave’s age and that wasn’t too old for him; though to be honest he was nothing at all like Dave. Well, they both were pretty, but in such a different way. Dave was tall and square jawed, and dark and athletic and solid, though not hulking. Michael was short and sinuous, built like a dancer, with a soft, feminine face, and flighty.


Evening came and Michael showed up at the dorm, and stood aghast at Barry’s clothes. Old jeans, a sweater with holes in that was two or three sizes too big, shoes that looked like they came from a garbage bin. This would not do, he began to rummage through Barry’s closet and was amazed he could not find anything he could work with. Finally he got Barry into the car and took him over to Abe’s – who fortunately was not home – and rummaged through Michael’s party clothes to find something this kid could wear that wouldn’t make him look like a refugee from a war zone.


Barry felt ridiculous wearing such tight pants and the clinging silk shirt, he had never even seen people dressed like this, he felt like it was a Halloween costume. But as he stood before the full length mirror, he felt a shock.


He didn’t look bad; he looked good.


He turned a little and was amazed that his ass looked, well, he didn’t have words for it but he liked the way it looked, with the pastel yellow polished cotton pants, with no back pockets, outlined it and clung tightly, showing its roundness, God, you could even see the line of the crack!


It sort of made his hands itch, he actually thought it would be fun to run his hands across his ass. And then he realized that was the same way Michael’s ass looked. Like a couple of grapefruits in yellow shrink wrap.


Barry thought these pants were what the priests used to call ‘an occasion of sin’ and he had only encountered one of those before, being alone in the Sacristy with Father Roy back at St. Mark’s was an occasion of sin, a thing, a place where sin was likely to be found.


You were supposed to avoid occasions of sin.


And then Michael started rubbing gel in his hair.

*  *  *  *

It was a night unlike any Barry had ever experienced, not that he had that much experience at much of anything other than Math. His head was swimming from everything – well from the alcohol of course, but also from the lights and the smells and the sounds; the way the crowd here in Ando’s surrounded him the bodies of all these people pressed up against him.


When they had arrived at Ando’s Barry knew they couldn’t get in, and he was surprised when Michael didn’t try the front door. They went around back, to the little kitchen entrance; the kitchen staff didn’t even look up as Michael, with Barry in tow walked boldly through, out and up the rickety dim back stairway, cordoned off by a line of black curtains and ragged painted over walls, multiple layers of color showing, to the door marked “Employees only” and into the dingy little office where he met Ando.


Ando reminded Barry a little of Abe, he was kind of big and fat and hairy.


Michael had a strange look on his face; for some reason the image flashed into Barry’s mind of a cat dropping a bird at his master’s feet.


And Ando licked his lips when he looked at Barry.


*  *  *  *


It was more than an occasion of sin, he felt some people actually run their hands across his buns, and it bothered him, he pushed them away and tried to get away, and one guy kept following him through the crowd, touching him again and again even after he pushed the man’s hands away and tried to leave.


When he told Michael the men were touching him, he just giggled and smiled as if it were a good thing.


Ando had not been very happy about having Barry and Michael in the club, but he knew it would be good for business, a little chicken now and then kept the older guys coming in, it would help keep the crowd young and appealing, and it served his interests in other ways.


He pulled a pile of old drivers’ licenses out of his desk drawer and sorted through them and finally handed one to Barry. The picture on it looked a little like Barry and Aldo said “Happy Birthday, Jim, forget where this came from, OK?” And he stuffed it into one of Barry’s front pockets, sliding his hand rather further into the pocket than was strictly necessary.


Then he had told Michael to come back up in an hour, and bring Barry if he wanted.


Barry wasn’t quick on the uptake but as he tried to protect himself from the grasping hands of the crowd some things dawned on him and he knew he wasn’t going to go back upstairs with Michael., though he could not figure out what he was going to do without Michael here in the bar. He’d have left if he had a way home.


Finally, Barry found himself leaning against the cheap paneling of the wall by the pool tables, which was a little better – it was not so crowded, it was much better lighted, and the incessant pounding of the music at the dance floor was much muted. Though if he had been more comfortable Barry would have liked to move with the music.


Until the man who had been following him came into the room and made a beeline for him.


At that point Barry was fairly miserable, and the man was a bit drunk – of course Barry was a bit drunk too – and he stood too close and tried to talk; and Barry was trying to be polite while using his hands to cover all the parts he didn’t want touched, which was impossible because he wanted to cover everything, wanted to melt into these walls, turn a shade of beige here and now and disappear.


Then suddenly someone else was between them, was nudging the man away, staring him down, making him back off from Barry. He protested a bit but took one look at the taught pecs and powerful arms and the sleepy smile and rough jeans and flannel shirt of the intercessor and shrugged and moved off.


“Hope he didn’t bother you too much.”


Barry stared up with gratitude that quickly shifted to – well, he didn’t know, maybe love?


Kevin was tall by Barry’s standards, though five-nine wouldn’t impress most, it was a good four inches taller than the boy, probably outweighed him by sixty pounds; he was blonde, and he had sleepy eyes, half-closed all the time, hazel-brown orbs peeking out below them. And suddenly Barry was relaxed and taught at the same time. The relaxed part was evident in his posture and the taught part just as evident in his pants.


Kevin smiled when Barry asked him if he believed he was really sixteen. He had seen kids who looked younger than their true age, and sixteen was all it took in this state to be legal.


He began reeling in the line.


*  *  *  *



Kevin was like his apartment. His body was hard, tattooed, buffed, shaved, and totally exotic in every way. It was like nothing Barry had ever imagined.


Barry shuddered and heaved and burned and shook and trembled all night in Kevin’s bed, in the throes of feelings he had never felt, pleasures he had never allowed himself to imagine.


This was so much more than an occasion of sin.


It was just sin.


And he could feel the heat of hell upon him. It was deliciously warm.


*  *  *  *


He woke in Kevin’s bed for the first time. Well, woke may not be the most accurate description, since Barry had really not slept – at least he didn’t think he had slept – all night.


But he opened his eyes for the first time.


The apartment was as bare a place as Barry could have imagined, it seemed as if it had nothing in it that was not steel or glass; and every surface seemed smooth and hard and unyielding.  Well, everything but the bed.  The bed was soft.


This room was spare, sparse, Spartan, empty.  It was a single long room, in one corner a bench with weights, old, painted a medium black, the weights a more glossy black – even the lift bar – and yet well used.


Stacked in the other corner like the dirty dishes it barely restrained, was a tiny kitchenette. He noticed the dishes were black, the countertop black, the sink was even black porcelain.


A billowing curtain set off the doorway to what he hoped was the bathroom; he heard street sounds from that direction but there was another door to the street, he was sure this wasn’t the front entry, with a curtain over it, so he guessed he’d find black tub and tile and sink and maybe an open window in there.  And a black toilet too, he figured.


Two windows were tightly draped, the third not quite so well fastened, grudging a little ray of light, a tiny stream in; it was not reflecting from the flat black, painted concrete floor with its single black throw rug but it was enough light to see by.


For furniture he could see a small glass table on a black rock pedestal with two matching steel chairs, a glass topped trestle desk and black filing cabinet; a wardrobe in the corner, as black as the leather couch with cushions not soft and squishy but hard and square.  Nothing else. Well, there was the black blanket on the bed.


About the only thing that was not black and bare was Kevin’s photo, centered along one wall, very professionally done, posed against a white background, and blown up to life size.  It was not black, but it was bare.  He was completely naked.  The photo was the only thing on the flat black walls.


Barry drank in the exotic locale, storing it for later thought, realizing he had been wrong to think it hideous the night before, wondering what marvelous sort of person had a place like this; realized this was the kind of room a real person had, an authentic person, a person true to himself.


Wondered for a moment if he could paint his dorm room black.


Then he rolled over to the warmth next to him. In many ways, Kevin was like his apartment.


He wasn’t black, but there was nothing excess to his body, nothing extra, no embellishments beyond his tattoos –  wonder of wonder they were not black, about the only color in the entire place!  He too was spare; he was reduced to his most simple and basic elements. His body was hard, buffed, shaved clean, and totally exotic to a boy of sixteen, who had never really seen anyone naked outside of the locker room at school.


Like his apartment, like his poster, he was bare, which was all in all too much for a boy who had until a few hours before, figured probably he was gay and that he was also probably a virgin. Probably?  Well, definitions were complicated. And now irrelevant.


After last night he was Gay and not a virgin; he knew himself now.


Then Barry, for the first time he could remember, at least the first time since he made that disastrous mistake when he was thirteen with his fellow paperboy, reached out tentatively, sexually, explicitly, to another person.


Kevin stirred, and shrugged sleepily, slowly half-opened one hazel eye, then brushed the boy’s hands away, mumbled and turned away on his side.


Barry didn’t mind, he would wait.  Love waits.


* * * *


Barry Holmes was a most unusual boy.  He was in college at sixteen for one thing, living in the dorms on a full scholarship for another and taking upper division math major courses for a third.


Life is not all simple linear growth, even on every side. Barry is an example. Some of Barry’s skills lagged his advanced academic placement, his status as a college student. Some of them lagged his actual age. Though wonderfully advanced in Math and no slouch as an intellect, yet his skills in other areas, sometimes the more practical ones of life, lagged.  One might make the mistake of thinking he was too smart for an English composition course, for example.  But it’s in just such a course that he demonstrates both his brilliance and the limited, uneven nature of his development.


On the Meaning of “To Thine Own Self Be True”

Barry Holmes

English 102a

Section 13488             

Dr. Farber




This above all,--to thine own self be true;

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene iii

 by William Shakespeare


In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Polonius, the King’s chief minister tells this advice to his son Laertes, along with a lot of other fatherly advice, as Laertes sales to France.  But the words tell us this above all is the most important part of the monologue.


Shakespeare offeres this maxim as a geometric or mathematical theorem in the form “If A then B.”  “If A” is “To thine own self be true,” “Then” is what “as the night [follows] the day” means, it signifies certain conclusory accuracy in the theorem. And finally “B” is “thou canst not then be false to any man.”


In order to understand this theorem, we have to start with asking what Shakespeare meant or intended with these words, to be “true” to oneself. We have to decide if the theorem is “true” once we have interpreted its meaning.


True can mean different things.  The dictionary says it means: “consistent with fact or reality; not false or erroneous; real, genuine, authentic; unswervingly; exactly: as, ‘The archer aimed true;’ so as to conform to a type, standard, or pattern.”  Which of these did he mean?


It would be a clear fallacy to assume he meant anything except true specifically the same way as in “true to yourself.”


I suppose you could lie to yourself, and be untrue to yourself literally, but how could that work? You’d know you were lying. You can’t be erroneous to yourself. We can reject these interpretations.


That leaves “real, genuine, authentic;” and the “conform to type, standard, or pattern” could also apply in this interpretation. How can we decide?


The clue Shakespeare offeres us is in the third line, his ‘B’ statement, “Thou canst not then be false to any man.”  Obviously he must mean true as in the opposite of this term, “false to any man.” 


So the definition(s) that survive this test are: “real, genuine, authentic;” the others fail the test as it would be meaningless in contects to speak of being erroneous or inaccurate or swerving to another man.


But the evidence suggests that the thing it means is be true to yourself, be authentic, don’t be fake or phony or pretend to be something you aren’t. 


When you think about being true to another man, and what it means to be true to yourself. 


People can tell if we are true to ourself and respect that. And when we aren’t being true to ourself then they can tell that too, if we are being something that we aren’t, something that isn’t real, something that is fake.]


If you are going to be true, not phony, you have to know who you are.


In psychology classes we have learned about knowing yourself, but what people think of ‘knowing’ is too limited.  Knowing extends beyond the obvious tension between levels of actuality and potentiality in self-affirmation and genuineness.


The natural human desire to know, to possess knowledge, even of oneself, is an unlimited desire. We keep on wanting to know more and more. Unlimited desires are dangerous and have to be rained in.  Even in mathematical terms we have to have limits to knowledge pursued or we cannot bound an argument, create a system of equations, or discover a solution.  If not, everything would be one big equation.


Also being true as in being true to type, means to be consistent, to be the same. As linear equations, quadratic equations, differential equations are all consistent to their type and true, people who are true to there own self are the same to everybody all the time. That is another part of the authentic definition of the theorem.


The biggest problem with the theorem is that even if you understand it and it’s logically self-consistent, like so many geometric theorems it doesn’t necessarily apply to any external realities.


So from this standpoint the theorem stands and yet it doesn’t help Laertes much.


In the contects of the play, Polonius’ monologue is actually humerous, though he doesn’t know it, and not to be taken at face value.  Laertes is too old for this kind of advice, and Polonius is a hipocrite to give it.  As it turns out, Polonius is not true to himself and gets killed. He was true to the king, obeying his orders to spy on Hamlet and his Mother. If he was more true to himself that night and less to the king, he might not of died.  He is not even true to himself when he gives his monologue, he is not being consistent!


A friend of mine told me to think about it another way, think about it meaning loyal. And when I cheked another dictionary that was a definition, faithful, loyal.  This is also true to type. Since Shakespeare wasn’t a mathematician, he might have meant more than one thing, he might have played with the words.


So one thing it can mean is be true to yourself no matter what. OK, be loyal to others. Do them a favor. But always put yourself above all the others. This may seem sellfish but really, if we don't trust and respect ourself, what else is there? We lose many people and things in life that are important to us and though it seems hard if not impossible to get over it, eventually we do. However, if we lose ourself we have nothing left.


We can be witty, smart, kind, and loyal but if you're not true to yourself, you have nothing.  That’s the nonmathematical intent of the proposition.


Also, I don’t think the conclusion is inevitable, because I think you can be consistent and authentic to yourself and lie to someone else. I think Polonius was just wishing.


But that doesn’t mean that we should not take Shakespeares advice seriously, especially because this is one of the most often quoted parts of Shakespeare.

*  *  *  *


It’s interesting that Barry talked about fatherly advice, for Barry grew up without a father, never had a father, had a mother who was most difficult but no father to give him advice. He did of course, have his brother Jack, whom Barry adored, eldest against Barry’s youngest, of the eight children in the family, and whose life here in the South, far away from the snow and cold and ice of home, had determined Barry’s choice of schools when Harvard and Princeton were vying for him.


Barry’s mind was growing as a college student, yet his body was still small – he looked fourteen, not sixteen — and his mind in some ways was even younger.  And a sixteen-year-old can be quite new at love and life and sex. 


So one cannot fault him for thinking he was experiencing love.  He was, in fact , quite convinced of it, but then, what sixteen-year-old can really be instructed in love? What boy of this age will take the guidance of his elders?  What teenager is not sure at alternating moments that he knows everything/nothing?  And what is love if it is not what one perceives it to be?


On the other hand, sixteen is an eager student of the practice of love.  And makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in discrimination. And just to be clear, Barry was living in a state where he was above the age of consent. If he understood better what he might consent to he’d have been served better.


So one must say that on the morning that Barry Holmes woke in Kevin’s bed he was in love, for who can  judge the quality of another’s love, or deny its ferocity in the young?


* * * *




Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade.


Barry could not, of course contain himself, no teenage love can keep itself secret.  So in a short time everyone at The Table, the unofficial community center for gay students, a round table in Lonnie’s Lower Level Café and Grill, in the basement of the Student Union, heard of Kevin.


Michael knew Kevin.  Kevin had tried to pick up eighteen-year-old Michael, who was no larger than Barry but much more sophisticated, a number of times.  He had the wrong target entirely – I mean, Kevin had no hair! No fat! What kind of guy is that?


Nothing Michael wanted –  give him a big, fat, hairy, warm man any day, no one under thirty, thank you, and Michael was in heaven.  He couldn’t imagine what anyone would see in Kevin.  He did not like those muscles and smooth body a bit.  Though he did have a cool apartment and a big dick, that part was nice.


He didn’t consult Abe, of course.  Michael knew in his heart of hearts that Barry was a danger to him, that Barry wanted Abe, and Michael had no intention of giving up what he had won.  Michael would do whatever it took to keep Barry away from Abe.


Michael had taken Barry to Ando’s a gay club, sneaked him in the back way, got him a fake ID, and tried to set him up with Ando.  He was being generous, Ando was cute by Michael’s standards, not a prize like Abe, but not to be sneezed at.


That hadn’t worked, but Kevin was just as good for Michael’s purposes.  It kept Barry occupied and away from Michael’s lover.  That is all Michael cared about in the first place so he was well-satisfied with the results. If things had turned out a bit different than expected, no matter, Kevin would do.



Michael’s thirty-something lover was a researcher at the University, and adjunct faculty.  He was also the self-appointed Alcalde of the Table, its spiritual mayor, the man who gives justice and says what is proper.  Abe’s duty was to nurture the young ones; and he wanted to protect this young, vulnerable, deeply bruised boy.  He had had his eye on Barry ever since he first appeared, knew more about him than anyone else imagined.


And Abe was worried.



* * * *




Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.


Beware of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,

Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice



It had been five weeks of delirious love for Barry; he got his math done but was falling behind in every other course, because he could not think of anything but math and Kevin. His feet did not touch the ground when he walked, when he remembered to walk.  And he was outgrowing his shoes anyway; he had finally hit a growth spurt.  Love can do that for you.


Kevin just wanted him to deliver some packages, pick up some cash, though he protested, but Kevin told him he needed Barry’s help; got mad and said if Barry wouldn’t do it for him, then he obviously didn’t love him and he wouldn’t be seeing any more of him, and Barry could not stand that possibility, could not lose his love, he would do anything for Kevin.


Kevin had picked him up after his last class one Friday and took him to the apartment for hours and hours of sex, then off to the club, though Barry didn’t like going to the club with Kevin because Kevin usually didn’t pay attention to him there.


But this Friday was different for some reason.  He walked with Barry through the whole club, holding him under his arm, while Barry preened at the attention his heart beating fast; and he took him to the crowded dance floor, which embarrassed Barry since he could not dance, though he liked to try once he got started.  He did not pay attention to the others once Kevin took off his shirt, and Barry liked it a lot more, he was mesmerized by his lover’s beautiful body, moving to the beat, the play of his muscles under his tawny smooth skin, a sheen of sweat making his ripped manly body so much more erotic. 


Then Kevin had told him to take off his shirt. And he got mad when Barry wouldn’t do it; but Barry was so embarrassed by his scrawny boyish body, so unlike a man’s, his man’s; Kevin kept insisting and finally, confused and shame-faced he did.


Barry had not noticed how much attention the two of them were attracting, and what he did notice he passed off to others paying attention to Kevin’s beauty; he did not know his own, did not recognize that his small, smooth, soft, awkwardly angular adolescence his tight, small rounded ass and big brown eyes and the beaming smile he had when he looked at Kevin – these were attractive to many of the patrons. Barry did not know himself so very well, in this way as in others.


It was a miserably confusing night for Barry, for Kevin invited this man, his name was Ed, to their apartment, well to Kevin’s apartment, and then Barry realized that all three of them were going to have sex together.


Kevin talked to him, reassured him, told him to do it for Kevin, kept smiling at him and looking deeply into his eyes with those hazel-brown, half-closed lazy eyes of his, and Barry put aside his doubts, followed his heart, did what the man he loved wanted him to do.


It wasn’t so bad, afterward; he was sore and tired after but Kevin didn’t let him even sleep over, just took him back to the dorm at five a.m., kissed him and told him he was a good boy.


Well, that was enough for Barry.  It wasn’t so bad.  If it made Kevin happy it was OK.


For a while Barry couldn’t eat, he was so confused, he felt very unhappy except when he was with Kevin, and it seemed as if all Kevin wanted to do was have sex and have Barry courier packages, and he didn’t quite realize it but he wasn’t really very happy when he was with Kevin, either.


The drugs were probably part of his confusion, it’s really not wise for someone who is already quite confused to use drugs, but Kevin was using them, and Barry wanted to keep up, to be adult, heck he was an adult after all, living on his own and all.  And it isn’t as if he hadn’t seen drugs; in the dorm and on campus, and even when he was in high school, after all.


Auntie Abe kept bothering Barry, asking him what was going on, he kept making it so very uncomfortable for Barry that Barry had to stop going to The Table.  He knew now that Abe wouldn’t make him have sex with him, or make passes at him, he wasn’t wary of him that way anymore, he realized Abe was actually very nice and liked to take care of people.  But Abe just didn’t understand how much Kevin loved Barry and he kept trying to tell him that Kevin might not really love him, and Barry couldn’t handle that. 


There were entirely too many people who didn’t know, didn’t realize how wonderful Kevin was; who would say bad things about him and Barry didn’t need to hear that, he was loyal, loyal to the man he loved, the man who loved him.  He wanted to be true to himself and you had to be true to your friends, bind them with hoops of steel as Polonius had said.


And his life seemed a whirl, his classes – many of which he was now cutting, and he didn’t need to work at them so much, he figured, it wasn’t so important now that he was in love – Kevin, Kevin’s friends, sex, going out and getting drunk and partying and drugging at the clubs, and private parties and more drugs with Kevin’s friends on the weekends.  Some of them were surprisingly old, he didn’t know why Kevin, who was twenty-three, would know such old people.  And when he came back from spending some time with them, every time, Kevin would praise him, tell him how good he was, how pretty, how much he loved Barry; told Barry that the way other men desired his boy made Kevin feel so proud to have Barry as his lover, to know that others wanted so badly to have what Kevin had.  Barry thought there was something wrong with that, since sometimes they were actually having him, but he didn’t know what to say so he just shut up.


Of course, Kevin did not mention to Barry the money he was getting from those men. Kevin made a good living as an outcall escort, two hundred an hour. Then the drug money was of course much more. And in time he’d bet he could get money for Barry’s body too.


It might have been clear to Barry had he known about that. Or maybe not, we see what we will see. Intelligence is no certain bulwark against denial.


And then one day the man he was supposed to be delivering to turned out to be a cop.  And suddenly Barry was in handcuffs and so was Kevin.


The cop asked him for his real name and ID, wouldn’t take the fake one Barry had, and then asked how old he really was.  Eventually it all came out and the cop was looking at him skeptically until he got hold of the dean at the University and verified it all. 


They decided to call his brother Jack to pick him up, and left a message for his mother, far away in that cold place Barry never wanted to see again; that cold, sharp, crazy woman.


And Barry felt his world coming apart, coming to an end, spinning wildly out of control.



* * * *



The police would not release him until Jack came to get him in person, because he was a juvenile.  And of course they told him that Barry had to come to court and Jack had to come with him or his mother had to.  And they told him the charges. Possession of altered documents. Underaged entry to a licensed premise. Possession of a controlled substance. Trafficking.


Soliciting prostitution. Well, that one they would probably drop.


The worst thing was the look in his brother’s eye when he saw him.  Barry never wanted to see that look, ever again.


He spent the weekend at Jack’s place, but they didn’t talk to each other, neither of them could even look at the other, and after mother called Barry was pretty frantic.


She was going to pull him out of school on Monday, she said, he was coming home where she could set him straight.  He was going to a good Catholic High School until he was eighteen. 


And Barry figured she would have the strap ready for his arrival.  And he knew that no matter how bad prison was, it could not be as bad as leaving University and returning to his cold, dead life with his cold, crazy mother.


He would die before he would do that.


* * * *

Auntie Abe was a man of substance, of action, and also a man with a lot of contacts.  It did not take long for word to get back to him. 


Michael did not really understand that Abe, though he found Barry very attractive, was committed to Michael, and had no intention of switching.  Though Michael often tried his patience unbelievably, he was as determined to stick with Michael as Michael was to keep Abe.  His interests in Barry were professional, strictly based on his moral obligations to a young gay boy at The Table.  His Table.


Michael was furious.  Oh, he didn’t care about Barry, that kid was too stupid to believe to fall for that crap from Kevin. 


He was mad because now all of a sudden all Abe wanted to do was help Barry, and that was exactly what Michael had tried to prevent. Now he had to figure out how to get Abe out of that mess and away from Barry all over again.


So he had done his best to lose the message about Barry getting arrested, but someone else told Abe about it directly, someone from the dean’s office who knew Abe had made a private call.


Michael kept trying to distract Abe but then Abe got mad and they had a fight and Michael started to cry.


That worked better, Abe spent the rest of that evening paying attention to Michael.


* * * *


There are a lot of deans at a big University. 


There is a dean of students, a dean of every college, a dean of the faculty.  There is a dean of public affairs, a dean of legislative affairs, a dean who handles student activities, a dean who handles fund raising, a dean who handles the Board of Governors. There are assistant deans, associate deans, adjunct deans, academic deans, functional deans.  There are even deans for a day during registration when you need some stupid rule waived. Probably there are more deans than that.


But the thing about deans is, they are powerful, and usually one dean doesn’t mess with another dean once that dean makes a decision in his area.


Barry had a dean, and it was a stroke of luck that this dean, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, had been in the Math department as a professor once.  And yet he was a more earthly person than many mathematicians are; for one thing he had had teenagers once, and knew what it was like to be a freshman and away from home without restraints.


The dean told him on Monday that they had to respect his mother’s wishes, because he was a minor.  But he didn’t want to see Barry go; this dean had worked hard to make it possible for Barry able to come there, and felt personally that the school had failed to understand and take into account the needs of such a young person; was to blame for the problems in some sense.


That’s just what the University was afraid of, that they would be blamed, sued, and nailed in the press if it ever came out that they had a sixteen year old rent boy drug dealer in the math department. 


The university really would have preferred to ship him off out of state as quickly as possible.


The dean stood his ground.  He notified the police that he would take responsibility for Barry at least until his court appearance.  He could stay on campus and attend classes, there was no reason for him to stop immediately and leave since he had to stay in the state anyway and his guardian, Jack, had approved.  The dean talked to Barry’s mother and pointed out that Barry could not return to her until the court made a ruling, so Barry might as well stay in school.


The dean told Barry he was to report to his office every morning at nine a.m., and to call him every Saturday and Sunday morning.  A counselor from the Student Mental Health service set up appointments with Barry twice a week.


Kevin was calling. 


And Barry began to ponder another part of Hamlet.  “To be or not to be.”


* * * *


After three black days in bed, Barry finally got up and got dressed, went to a class, then found his feet taking him to the Table.


And as happenstance went, it was a good choice, for Abe was there at that day and that moment, and Barry began crying and poured out his story.


Abe’s family had taught him how to work a system, how to work the back side of a system, to deal with the real decision makers where you could get what you needed instead of using the formal processes that didn’t mean anything. This was Abe’s forte, really, helping young gay boys in trouble, helping kids make a system work for them instead of against them. 


Well, formal processes often didn’t mean anything, but you had to play the front end too.


Abe, of all people, knew exactly how.



* * * *



Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!



Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.



The time invites you; go, your servants tend.







Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

© 2002, 2013 Philip Marks, aka Fisher Boy