Ghosts of Relationships Past and Present
When I went to the Capshaw home on that Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, the last people I wanted or expected to see were Michael and his lover, Isaac. What the hell! Since they weren’t supposed to arrive home until the next day, it took me a split second to even believe what was standing in front of me. I was so shocked all I could do was stare at them in confusion.
I didn’t mind Michael much- he looked good but a little tense. It was the haughty way Isaac was glaring at me from behind him that made me angry, as if I was filth on his shoes. Arrogant, condescending Isaac who takes what he wants without regard to anyone else’s feelings or prior claim. I wasn’t going to stick around all night to be insulted by him. Hurt and angry, deaf to Michael’s cries, Connor and I left immediately and our plans for the night went out the window.
That was part-one of the drama. Part-two, handling my new boyfriend’s wrath, was also epic failure.
Connor began yelling at me even before we pulled away from the Robert and Donna’s. I needed silence to think about what had just happened so I didn’t want to talk about it, and I signaled him to please give me a chance to calm down before explaining. Tonight was supposed to be special, just for us, where I introduced my new boyfriend to my guardians and spent a peaceful, relaxing evening over a good meal. Michael and Isaac had intruded and ruined it for us just like they ruin everything else.
Once I parked in front of Connor’s house, he picked up the discussion where we left off. “What was that, Dax?” Bewilderment blazed in his face. He wasn’t the only one confused, but I was so bent on my anger I didn’t recognize the risk in the subtle question.
“That was my ex and his asshole boyfriend home early from college,” I stated, slamming the truck door harder than I needed to. “I’ve told you about Michael… you know, the one you said I endlessly obsessed over, or at least that was your perspective. Donna assured me that he would not be there, but that’s Michael and Isaac for you. They always fuck things up. Literally.”
He found no solace in my explanation. “Was Michael the boy with the auburn hair or the one glaring at you from behind him?” he asked frostily.
“Michael was the one in front.”
The one with the beautiful flame-colored hair glowing in the backlight from inside the house. The one who still made my breath hitch every time I saw him even though we couldn’t be together. He made me ache all over with the perfect memories of wanting him and making love.
Connor waited for me to join him on the sidewalk. “So, Michael was the one who was staring at you like you were some kind of delicacy he couldn’t wait to devour.”
I stared at him, mystified that he had picked up on my ex’s emotions so quickly but not at all surprised by the description he gave. However, while I guess Michael was somewhat obvious in his fixation on me, it sounded as if Connor blamed me for it.
“Connor,” I began helplessly, walking into his arms. But he stepped away on to the lawn and refused to let me touch him. My eyes implored him to accept the fact that I had no control over his feelings.
“I thought… remember… I told you,” I said contritely, hanging my head and dropping my hands to my side. “About last spring and summer. Even when he came to see me in October. I’ve done what I can to discourage him, so it isn’t intentional on my part. I’m sorry.”
We had reached his porch and he was opening the door into the darkened house. I was supposed to spend the night but I had no idea of our dinner plans now that the original ones were ruined. We would probably order take-out or fix something here at the house. Connor liked to cook.
“Maybe you want to forget him,” he admitted, trying to be fair. “But I saw the look on your face when he answered the door. You still have feelings for him. You both still love each other.”
“That’s not true,” I whispered. “Love him? After what he did to me?”
“After the way you over-reacted to his being there,” Connor said in a voice that was firm but understanding. “I’d have to say ‘yes’. You couldn’t wait to drag me away. You were behaving like a spoiled little boy.”
My expression went stony at his criticism, and I crossed my arms over my chest. “Well, maybe that’s the difference between being eighteen and being you. I won’t apologize for how he feels. I don’t love Michael. He fucked up and then lied to me. He left me for that other asshole.”
Connor grabbed my chin and pulled my face up so he could look in my eyes. “Listen to yourself, will you?” he insisted. “You are in such denial, you can’t even admit that he still matters to you.”
“I told you he fuckin’ cheated on me,” I reminded him. “Why would I still love someone who treated me like that? I’m not masochistic.”
His eyes piercing mine, Connor snorted his contempt. We were still standing by the front door, intent on settling things before we went on with our night. “Are you that naïve? Getting hurt doesn’t automatically change how you feel about someone. Lots of people stay with cheaters and continue to love them.”
“Lots of people aren’t me,” I shouted. “My past relationship with Michael is just that, my past. I have told him that. There’s no hope of rekindling anything with him which is why I’m attempting to move on. He’s with Isaac, and I’m with you.”
“But you aren’t moving on, Dax,” he insisted. “You’re letting him control you, like tonight. Instead of running away, you should have waited to see what the Capshaws did. Even insisted on staying. Your guardians invited us over for dinner, and from what you’ve told me about them, I don’t think they would purposely set this up. When you behave like that, it’s the same as going backwards.”
“Forwards, backwards, sideways, does it matter if I’m doing everything I can to forget him?”
I could tell Connor was barely holding back his temper. He stripped his leather jacket off and threw it in the hall closet. “That’s it; I don’t think you’re trying to forget him. Maybe it isn’t even deliberately, but you give Michael far too much power. Learn from your mistakes and bad choices, don’t repeat them.”
But I couldn’t stop venting, especially because my nerves were on edge from the stress of seeing Michael and Isaac and I needed… something. Connor was placing me under additional pressure with his lack of compassion. I could feel a headache coming on and a tingling in my spine that told me it was time to get high so I could forget Michael, forget Isaac and pretend I wasn’t being lectured by my boyfriend.
Connor listened impatiently for a few minutes before demanding, “You are beginning to sound selfish and pathetic, you know that, don’t you?”
I glared at him, not needing the mighty Connor to point out my faults to me. I knew I sucked at being a human being, and this was proven by the scars I carried around, the substances I used to keep the pain at bay and the awareness that I had never been destined for anything worthwhile to come of my life. Everything I touched, every person I came in contact with was left less whole by my neediness.
I tried to backtrack and explain again that I wasn’t hung up on a cheater. The proof that I had moved on was in building a relationship with Connor over reconciling with Michael. It was no longer true that retaliation was one of my motivating factors so I didn’t mention it. I liked him; maybe it was too early to talk about love, but I wanted that happy ever after with him.
Connor barely let me get a word in edgewise. “Enough already,” he exploded, shaking his head in defeat. “You have an excuse for everything. Is he responsible for you using drugs too? Stop being so whiny, self-indulgent and immature. It’s embarrassing to listen to.”
I know my mouth must have dropped open in astonishment at his harsh words. Connor was supposed to be my boyfriend, the person who cared about me and knew me well enough to empathize with what I’d been going through over the last six months. Instead, all I heard was condemnation. I had tried to forewarn him that I was an emotional mess when we got involved. Did he really think this was all my fault?
He was calming down with visible effort. He sighed and grabbed my arms carefully, not to hurt, and planted a kiss on my forehead. “Dax, I don’t think you’re even aware of what you’re doing, but maybe we need a break. Take a step back and think carefully before we can’t retreat and cause irreparable harm to what we have between us. Just for a few days.”
Shocked, I pulled away from his grip and ran down the sidewalk. Peeling out from his house in a spray of water from the gutter, I almost hit a passing car. Were we really fighting over something as lame as why I’d left the Capshaws? My mind was torn in so many painful directions I could barely see to drive. Despite the fact that Connor and I had only dated a month, it hurt that we were arguing. I was half-convinced that he’d broken up with me. Why couldn’t I do this? What was so difficult? I was tired of my stumbling routine that pitted me against my trust issues.
And how could I still love Michael? Yes, I missed him and I would find myself still fantasizing over him when I jacked off. I wasn’t trying to replace one with the other on purpose. But Connor’s accusations hurt me to the core. And I did not have a problem with drugs. No fucking way!
I went home with a plan to clean myself up which evaporated once I reached my apartment. Too hard, too pointless, and I was so weak. It was far easier to withdraw by giving into the pain and losing myself in oblivion. I had ample fuel to fill that void. I walked in, not even turning on the lights. Sitting in silence, a bottle of Jack Daniels by my side, I felt a hundred years old.
It was around 9:30 that same night when Donna and Robert called me from two extensions of their house phone to speak jointly about the disastrous dinner invitation. By that time I was, to be honest, flat out drunk off my ass and feeling even sorrier for myself. The conversation would probably have been better put off for a later time.
They apologized for Michael and Isaac. They wanted to make up dinner and asked if I would be available on Friday night. They would make sure Michael wasn’t there. And they told me that due to Isaac’s bad behavior, he’d been banned from their house. He must have crossed some serious lines because Michael’s parents are very tolerant. Thankfully, he wasn’t my problem.
“Bring your date on Friday,” Donna urged. My gut clenched. I was ashamed to admit Connor wanted to break up because of Michael, but the Jack in my system took over. I didn’t recall most of the conversation later, but I must have confessed to being dumped. Well, sort of. How thick was I to drag my present boyfriend into all the past drama with their son. By the time I finished I could hear myself rambling incoherently. The Capshaws let me talk and bullshit. They commiserated with me but didn’t offer useless clichés.
On Thanksgiving I called Donna to wish the family a joyful day. We talked about my plans, and she asked again about Connor. I began to cry because I hadn’t heard from him in two days, and I was sure he’d written me off. He wouldn’t answer my texts or calls. Normally I might be too proud to be him to take me back, but if an apology helped…
She drew a frank and sober explanation of my intense relationship that looked to be fairly short-lived. I told her everything I had liked about Connor besides his looks; he was sweet, funny and self-confident. He put up with my mood swings and depression and encouraged me. I needed an older man to keep me in line. I unknowingly gave up way more information than I meant to. She reminded me that I was still invited for dinner on Friday and promised me that Michael would be nowhere around.
I spent my day of thanks working a one-shift at the Mexican restaurant that used to employ me because they always had a crowd on that night and needed extra kitchen help to handle the rush. Interesting that south-of-the-border food on Thanksgiving was traditional for some, but this was southern California. I earned a hot meal out of it and the grudging respect from some of my former co-workers. They tried to better my Spanish and we laughed good-naturedly at my mistakes in pronunciation. Hell, they probably had me swearing en Espanol, but what would I know?
Getting home at eleven p.m., I had to arise by four o’clock the next morning for my regular job at the retail store in the mall where I usually unloaded the trucks. Only it was Black Friday, and my normal job was nothing like this. I worked my ass off unpacking box after box of merchandise and running clothing up to the Teen Girls Department. I ended up working an eleven-hour shift because we were so busy but I got overtime pay.
I ran across all sorts of college students I knew from Seaview, and we chatted as much as my job would allow without getting me in trouble. I was in the company of two straight guys from music class and some cute girls walked by and gave us flirty looks. Not that I cared, but I smiled back and admired. It helped me nail down my non-gay status at school. Yeah, still in the closet much!
I was exhausted when I showed up at the Capshaws’ at six. Dinner was good, and I regaled Michael’s family about my day at work. Both of Michael’s sisters had worked retail, and we swapped Black Friday horror stories. Linnie let it slip that Isaac had been deliberately offensive about my dinner invitation three days before, and I got the drift right away. I picked up some specific concerns about her brother in the unspoken dialogue, and the family suspected Isaac was abusing him. I wasn’t surprised. The idea of him being terrorized by the older boy scared me. Michael was a cheating snake and we didn’t get along, but I didn’t want him physically harmed.
It was a week later when Connor called me, and I could tell from his voice that he hoped I was sufficiently chastened by his absence. To be honest, my ardor for him had cooled somewhat once I took time to soberly consider the way he’d treated me. He said he wanted to get back together and I agreed, but it wasn’t the same. We had sex which was still fantastic, but I knew that Connor wasn’t giving me what I needed. I didn’t even know what that was.
So yeah, we kept going out together. We planned inexpensive dates around our jobs and classes, and we danced at Cobbles on weekends. Meeting up with his old friends like Chris, Perry and Tomas was always fun; Tomas made me laugh because he was so out there and didn’t care if people stared at him for wearing loud, feminine clothing or made fun of him. There were also new companions, some as young as I was supposed to be- twenty-one. I noticed that when the young ones were around Connor often didn’t treat me in quite the same way. Less affectionate, keeping some distance. I wondered if on the nights I didn’t go home with him someone else was warming his bed.
I wasn’t going to break down like some teenage girl and demand we be exclusive, especially when it didn’t matter. If Connor was bored, I was not going to change my personality to suit him. Maybe he was trying to make me jealous, but after what went down with Michael, that kind of behavior didn’t turn me on at all. So when he explained in bed one morning that he was going home for a two-week Christmas visit, I didn’t bat an eyelash and told him to have fun. We didn’t even plan to exchange gifts.
I kept myself busy so I didn’t have to think about my life. The college concert choir, of which I was part, put on the second recital of the semester in mid-December, Christmas-themed, of course. I ended up my first term by getting straight A’s better than I expected, better than I deserved, considering the strong pull I was starting to feel from the drugs to just coast. Aside from going out with Connor I stayed away from the clubs and bars and tried to limit myself but I didn’t need to go out to party. I brought it home to me.
Work at the store was going well, and I had all the hours I needed. I enjoyed the lights and decorations at the mall and watching the children in line waiting for Santa. I even bought a small tree and decorated it. I definitely needed some holiday spirit to keep me going. Without Connor, solitude was crashing down around me.
I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas Day at all. This time last year I had been a happy high school senior, firmly ensconced at the Capshaws’, appreciating the first enjoyable yuletide in my life. I was surrounded by my adopted family, and Michael and I, not yet lovers, had been as close as brothers. This season meant that I would be on my own with no relatives around and, basically, no life either. The spike in the suicide rate in December made a lot of sense on the other side of the equation, not that I had any intention of hurting myself.
But alone was not what I was destined to be. Robert called me two weeks after Thanksgiving, concerned about me spending the day without family, and invited me over. Of course Michael would be there, but Robert said we should try to act like adults and not kill each other for the few hours it would take to open gifts and eat a meal. I could see how much it meant to him and Donna, so I agreed to be polite and not bicker with their son.
I had been seeing Zeke Carter for counseling for thirteen months since my mother died, and progress was in stops and starts, depending on what I was willing to share. We talked about my dating Connor and the near break-up, and he didn’t seem surprised at all. My drug use became a big issue, and Zeke was relentless in reminding me how much damage it could cause even if I didn’t get addicted. I was taking three or four different kinds of pills, popping ecstasy and using designer psychedelics without any thought to the long-term effects. Connor was right- the early stages of addiction were drawing me in. However, it wasn’t like my functioning at school or work was suffering. Management at the store never even demanded a drug test, and I rationalized that I could control it.
My sexuality was a constant topic of discussion that I was getting tired of talking about. My relationship with Connor and that other guy certainly killed any confusion over what was going on in head… and dick. I now knew I was definitely gay, but trying to manage who knew what and keeping myself closeted was emotionally fatiguing. Zeke didn’t want me dealing in labels and said it was up to me to figure myself out. Opening up to people was way scary and coming out to my real sexual orientation with strangers was out of the question.
My mother’s abuse of me, Michael’s betrayal, living on my own- there were so many things to discuss that I would probably be in counseling the rest of my life, and I wasn’t even nineteen yet. My sessions took a lot of zigs and zags, but as Zeke felt I was making progress, we could talk about anything. I wish I knew all the answers and how to punch through my issues and why my shitty past wouldn’t let go of me. I just wanted to learn how to trust someone enough to be honest and let him in.
It took over a week and a lot of lies to my friends for me to heal, but I coped with the beating Isaac gave me after Thanksgiving and went on with my life. As before, he made excuses and apologized for abusing me, falling all over himself to prove it was an accident. I had to pretend it was okay when he said it wouldn’t happen again, knowing it would. I closed off my mind to that part of my life, but there were some days I had to force myself to get out of bed and go to class.
I didn’t understand why he wanted me. We shared so little in common anymore. Even our infrequent fucking was dull and formulaic, that is, when he wasn’t so violent I could barely sit down for the next four days. I thought it was just pride and he wasn’t willing to part with something- me- that he’d stolen from Dax. At a time when I wished that Isaac would get tired of me and seek out another boyfriend to dump me for, he decided to be clingy and prove he loved me. I didn’t love him, didn’t want to be with him, and it was difficult to hide my distaste. But for my own self-preservation, I put on a good show.
I used to have a sense of humor and like myself. I used to be confident and in control. I wanted that old self-assurance to grow a pair and tell Isaac he was an abusive asshole, his insane jealousy of Dax had no basis in reality and I wanted to break up with him. I prayed that he would cheat on me with one of his secret lovers and give me a public reason to dump him or he would find someone else he liked better. I wished I could tell the rest of my college friends about the abuse or go to administration and file a report. I did nothing because I was too afraid of what would happen if nobody listened.
The Christmas holidays and end of term were approaching. Winter break meant almost four weeks off from school and going home to Santa Bella, and I had a problem on my hands. Since I was a freshman, I didn’t have my own transportation at school, but Isaac did. He volunteered to drive me home. I didn’t want the ride but it seemed I didn’t have a choice. The prospect of spending fourteen whole hours cooped up in Isaac’s car didn’t excite me, especially on the return trip back to college. All that time, alone with his imagination and his fists as he contemplated turning me into his punching bag. No thanks.
A couple days before I had to leave my parents sent me airline reservations by email. Call it parental intuition or just plain luck, but I was thankful they took the decision out of my hands. My last day of school was December 12, and I could barely disguise my glee. I counted every minute until I boarded the plane. I caught a ride to the airport with another student, and five hours later I was relaxing at home, safe and sound. It was only then that my mother calmly informed me that Dax had been invited over for Christmas and I was expected to suck it up and behave myself without driving him out of the house.
One part of me was delighted that I was going to see Dax again and happy for the enforced hours we would be together, even if he didn’t say a word to me. The other half was scared to death because of Isaac. I almost felt like I was under a death sentence.
I asked my parents if he was bringing anyone, and they said no. Mom seemed a little sad and said his new boyfriend was going home for Christmas, but I picked up on the unspoken clues that all was not hunky dory between them. Part of me was sad for him; I mean, I wasn’t such a dick that I wished him evil, but his having a boyfriend hurt me.
How crazy was it that he’d gone after someone with the same haircolor! In retrospect, it was kind of a turn-on that this boyfriend looked like me from a distance. That had to mean something significant about him still loving me, didn’t it? And what was up about him dating someone so much older? It spoke of a lot of insecurity in his present life that was never there before. But I was so embroiled with my own Isaac-based troubles that I refused to look into it deeper.
Isaac arrived in town five days after I did, late by way of his Redding relatives who insisted he stay a few days. I was thankful for the respite because I didn’t have to worry over him wanting to see me constantly and monopolizing my free time. I used my family and our holiday traditions as excuses to ignore him as much as I dared, hoping he wouldn’t get too suspicious over my absences. The time we did spend was in shopping for Christmas gifts, eating out and seeing films at the cinema. When we were together, I emptied my head of all thoughts about my family and Dax, any downbeat notion he could turn into an excuse to fly into a rage. Isaac said nothing but had this wolfish grin that made me quake all over and my mouth go dry. I knew the violence could be right behind.
After one afternoon of holiday shopping at the mall, I returned home. Isaac dropped me off on the curb, making his usual churlish remark about my ‘lame’ family not allowing him inside. My mother asked where I’d been, I mentioned the store and she laughed. “You do know Dax works there, don’t you?” I nearly died, thanking a thousand gods that we hadn’t run into him on his shift. That would’ve earned me accusations of ‘planning to meet Dax on purpose’ and probably a few punches.
As Christmas approached, I was an emotional wreck. I caught cold and told germophobic Isaac it was the flu, and he stayed away for three days. I could not afford to be near him and let him witness my growing excitement over spending the 25th with Dax. Not only was I determined to be nice and get along with him, I felt lucky over how he wouldn't be able to push me away without disappointing my parents. I wanted the chance to prove we could be friends without putting pressure on him. I felt like a crushing schoolgirl.
Christmas Day was wet and blustery. It was early afternoon, and I had been peering out into the gloom for Dax when I noticed him pulling up to the curb. I dashed out to greet him, dodging raindrops and puddles, as he was alighting from his truck.
My heart melted at the sight of him. He was so hot in tan Dickies and the long-sleeved t-shirt that clung to him. But my second glance made me want to cry at the difference in him in just two months; his hollow cheeks, shaking hands and gaunt frame showed he was still on drugs, and it was getting worse. I couldn’t even beg him to stop using without risking an argument and disobeying my parents. I wanted to wrap him in my arms and kiss the pain away, to provide him a reason and the strength to stay sober. I had to give myself a little shake to focus and stop staring at him with my mouth open.
Dax tensed slightly as I walked up to him, almost as if he expected me to cause trouble. I casually indicated my Nissan Altima in the street. “Do you think you could pull your pickup truck into the garage?”
“Why?” Dax looked at me, searching for a challenge or some kind of hidden meaning.
“Please, just do it,” I all but whined, not wanting to start a fight. I needed his Toyota safely hidden off the street, away from Isaac’s snooping eyes should he drive by to check on me. Yes, my boyfriend was that insecure and I was a total coward!
Dax sent me a sharp glance but shrugged to indicate compliance. His suspicions made me sadly realize that just because we were going to be around each other all day didn’t mean he wanted to be friends again. The hard part was going to be controlling my body so he wouldn’t see how turned on he made me. For the thousandth time, I kicked myself over deceiving him out of my life.
His reserve was only for me. He entered the house like a happy kid, giving and receiving hugs from Mom and Dad, and it was apparent that they thought the world of him. I felt a throbbing jealousy that was uncomfortable, and it was instantly replaced by guilt. How could I begrudge my bro, who had nobody, the love of my family?
The day went great, in fact, much better than I think anyone expected. It was like last year before all the drama began, and Dax was relaxed and pleasant. He teased my sisters, assisted my mother with the dinner and made after-Christmas plans with Dad to help him re-grout the pavers on the patio. He looked like he was having fun. I watched him under lowered lashes as he joked and laughed, wishing we were still a couple and I could kiss and hold him. That would’ve been my best Christmas gift.
We had a nice Christmas dinner and spent the late afternoon opening presents. Dax gave me a book I’d been requesting for over a year, and I was pleased he remembered. I wanted to get him a gift, I really did, but the only shopping I’d been able to do was with Isaac, and there was no way I’d risk him asking who I was buying for. But Mom came through with two CDs Dax liked by Apocalyptica and HIM, and I signed my name to the card. He thanked me with a smile on his face, but even in this he looked wary.
Jana made her departure a couple of hours later, and we suddenly found ourselves alone in the family room while Dad was snoring off his food coma and Mom had Linnie back to the bedroom to show her something girlish. The silence was awkward.
“How is school?” I asked, hoping he would at least speak to me civilly.
He shrugged. “You do know it’s winter break, right?”
I rolled my eyes, testing the waters a little. “I’m not that clueless, Dax. I know it’s winter break. I have three more weeks until second term begins. I meant, how did you do first semester?”
“Oh!” He smiled. “I got straight A’s, but they were all easy classes.”
I had to doubt that. Well, on second thought, maybe they were easy for him. He’s just a couple marks shy of genius status as far as I’m concerned. “Have you decided a major yet?”
Dax shook his head, picking at a scrap of giftwrap that was stuck to his knee. “Have you?”
“I’m thinking of business geared towards internet tech,” I answered, grinning because I managed to pull some sincere interest out of him.
Dax cocked his head to the side. “Yeah, I guess I can see you as a businessman, sitting behind a big desk and giving people orders.” He stared at me, severe all of a sudden. “How’s the personal life treating you?”
“Fine,” I lied, knowing he meant how was Isaac treating me? “I noticed you have a new boyfriend too.”
“His name is Connor.” Dax shrugged and his expression was inscrutable. “He lives back East and had to go home for Christmas.”
“How old is he?” I wanted to bite my tongue as soon as the question was out.
Dax stared at me, his brown eyes going dark. “He’s older than us, Michael, by several years. He was in the military for a while and now he’s attending law school. I like my boyfriends mature.”
Unspoken was that he liked his boyfriends mature enough that they wouldn’t fall for asinine tricks like I had where I let some guy fuck me and force me to break up with the love of my life. Fortunately, Mom and Linnie returned just then or one of us might have said something to be regretted later.
Dax ignored me after that and left half an hour later, saying he needed a good night’s sleep because he had an early shift at the store in the morning. I opened the garage door for him and watched him drive away with a heavy heart because nothing had been rectified between us. In fact, it seemed as if our estrangement was even more entrenched.
Even though I was home for an additional three weeks on break, I didn’t see Dax at all. The Saturday he helped Dad in the back yard I just happened to be out with Isaac and didn’t learn of work until after the fact. Believe me, I would have rather helped to repave the patio than gone to the theater and see some inane film, but maybe it was safer that Dax and I had no contact with each other. Isaac was angry enough that we spent part of the holiday together.
How angry, I didn’t learn until we returned to Humboldt in mid-January. His raging and my denials followed a very familiar pattern where he made wild accusations about me engineering time to spend with my bro. Being together over Christmas Day was bad enough. In this case, he alleged that Dax was the reason I flew home ahead of him and I had requested the plane ticket from my folks. There was no reasoning with him, but I was getting all too accustomed to the results of our arguments. Isaac beat me up again.
I thought the worst Christmas was the one you spent alone. How wrong that assumption turned out to be! No, the worst Christmas is being with an ex-lover and sitting there making polite small-talk, feeling as if you’re being judged. No matter how amiable we could be in public, give us some private time, and Michael’s claws came out. He had questioned why Connor and I were together, and it was none of his damned business. We wouldn’t even be together if Michael was an honest, honorable guy.
Christmas with the Capshaws was surprisingly nice, and the look on Michael’s face when he opened my gift and saw the book I bought gave me a warm glow inside. He was so easy to please. But I was worried about the reasons behind parking my truck in the garage. Like who does that? I didn’t make a big deal out of it on Christmas Day because I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s holiday. Besides, it wasn’t my business and I wasn’t entirely sure what to do.
Connor returned to Santa Bella after New Years, but he had a restlessness about him that made me nervous. He rarely had occasion to see me anymore and claimed school was taking up more of his time and his law courses second term were harder. I could scarcely complain about it since I was up to my eyeballs in term papers and tests too, and I was just an undergrad.
Why did my holiday disasters always come in pairs?
The first week of January, Connor invited me to a rave arranged by a group of fairly-respected organizers in a ratty, closed-down retail building. It was out in the BFE edge of the county about forty miles away from the college so I probably didn’t have to worry about running into any current classmates who might recognize me. I knew better than to whine about being out to Connor who had not shown an ounce of patience since Thanksgiving over my closeted self.
I was dressed in a pair of tight jeans that fit like a glove and a short t-shirt that showed off my abs, and I smoked a joint before leaving my apartment. I drove to Connor’s house so I could ride with him, and we took a couple of hits off the bong. Connor surprised me by asking if I wanted to drop a tab of sparkle and gave me another to tuck in my pocket. I checked that I had condoms, and we left for the site.
The event had been well-advertised so ravers were lined up outside, but Connor had met a person at Cobbles who knew someone in the valley who was a friend of an organizer. We managed to bypass the crowd, and total strangers, seeing us as something of VIPs, were trying to get us to claim them as friends. All my life people have told me I have a pretty face, and I’ve learned it sometimes serves me well and gives me a pass, and tonight was no exception. I used my trusted fake ID to easily get through the door, even though liquor would flow freely, and the idea was that nobody under the age of twenty-one was allowed in. I was magic.
Connor and I went to dance. He seemed to appreciate my moves tonight and I was tripping, so I was flirty and enjoying his company. It didn’t take long for him to be sidling up next to me just like the night we met. His groin was tight up against my ass and I was grinding into him.
We had danced for maybe fifteen minutes when two men approached us, and Connor introduced them as friends. At least the older one, Ray was, the one he claimed had served one of his tours with him in Iraq. He was a really big man- probably around six-foot-four, and the same age as Connor. He had a very muscular build like a gym rat on his way to a body-builder. I got the impression they were fuck buddies.
The younger man was Ray’s twenty-one year old boyfriend, Andy, a student at a university from the Riverside area north of us. He was a willowy boy with very dark brown hair, pale skin and hazel eyes in skin-tight leather. He didn’t talk at all once he said hi to us, and I wondered why he was with a man as loud and outgoing as Ray.
Even though my drink of choice is Jack Daniels, I find it’s safer at these events to stick with beer and keep a close eye. But somebody drugged me that night. Except for hazy shadows, the only thing I recalled from the rest of the rave was dancing with Connor and his friends and getting very turned on by someone whom I assumed was my boyfriend feeling me up. Maybe it wasn’t. Even less clear was leaving an hour later in their company. I didn’t remember at all how I ended up in a house in the Sweet Ridge Valley area. But around midnight I woke up in bed with all of them, being passed between Ray and Connor like a sexual party favor. They were very excited by my conscious state because now I could be a participant.
Long story short: these two military pals fucked Andy and me for hours, which was, at best, quasi-consensual, at worst, a loosely defined rape. Andy didn’t particularly seem to understand any better than I did what was going on, but then Ray and Connor were so much bigger than we were, we didn’t have much of a choice. Some fairly heavy-duty drugs had to be involved because I had energy I couldn’t believe making me hyper-aroused with an erection that would not quit.
They eventually let us fuck each other too, and it was the only time I felt any emotional connection all night because we were both victims here. Andy and I stared in each other’s eyes the whole time, and he was probably one of the sweetest, most responsive partners I’d ever had. Cumming in his ass felt like a gift. Ray and Connor were a lot rougher and more demanding. I had dicks in my mouth, up my ass and I was covered in cum, and I couldn’t stop.
I must have passed out again at some point because the next thing I knew it was dawn on a Sunday morning and I woke up in bed with Ray. I was naked and my ass hurt. In the process of locating my clothes, I came across Andy crying and throwing up in the bathroom. We redressed, and nothing seemed to be missing except our dignity and emotional well-being and one of his socks.
Ray and Connor were still out cold, and I took ten dollars from Connor’s wallet, and we got the hell out of there. We hitched a ride to the bus station with this old man in an ancient Rambler who kept asking if Andy needed to go to the ER because he was white as a sheet, and I said we’d be okay.
In reality, I was terrified, not even having my faulty recollections to rely on. Andy had been drugged too, but he was conscious for an even shorter time than me. What was sad was that Ray and Connor didn’t care, they just kept fucking us anyway, and I couldn’t say for sure that most of the time any of us were using condoms.
Andy said he had known Ray for less than four weeks. They met the same way I met Connor, at a club, and they hit it off immediately. He had no idea this kind of thing happened; I had to wonder if this was a set-up between the two military friends to prey on us. As far as I was concerned, I was done with the asshole.
We collected my car from Connor’s house, and I drove Andy home to Riverside because he was still weak and spacey. I wondered if he could get there on his own and thought he was going to collapse. He assured me that he’d be alright once he got his car back and said Ray didn’t know where he lived.
He was lucky. I went home and slept the rest of Sunday. Connor didn’t try to contact me at all and that was just as well because I wasn’t sure what I would’ve done otherwise. I went to the clinic first thing Monday morning and every three months thereafter for a year.
I think what made me the angriest was that Connor didn’t even ask me. I can be an adventurous guy sexually, although I’d never fucked more than one partner at a time, but don’t just assume you know what I’ll do either way. It was flat out wrong to get me so high I couldn’t say ‘no’, and the same for Andy who was even more freaked out than me. I never heard from him again, so I hope he handled the aftermath okay. I wanted to put my experience behind me and I told nobody about it for a very long time. I stayed out of the clubs for a couple of weeks, afraid of meeting up with Connor.
My spring semester at Seaview College began mid-month and I was pleased with my schedule. I lined up my classes to take two online, psychology and the second half of Euro-History, meaning I only had to drive to the campus on Wednesdays for choir and Statistics. Choir class had been kind of fun with the flirty girls, my group of babes, first term so I re-enrolled. I said nothing about being gay, let them think what they pleased and teased them unmercifully. I was starting to get into the whole straight act.
Work had slowed down after the holidays. The hours were enough for me to both take care of my bills and indulge my… um… social life. I slowly went back to clubbing but kept away from Cobbles to be on the safe side. I tried to give off happy vibes with everyone I met. But as the rave proved, the drugs were starting to wend their way into more of my life than I wanted. My off-kilter relationship with Connor was a casualty, almost my undoing. I didn’t want to live off shallow, surface emotions and fake happiness.
I know this makes me sound really pathetic, but I was getting used to being abused. Several years later when I looked back on it, I wondered why I never told anybody what was happening, and I can say without a doubt it was because I was afraid nobody would take me seriously. I was a big guy. So was Isaac, but I was heavier, so who would believe that I was letting someone smaller than me break bones and leave me covered in cuts and bruises. And I’d gotten so good at pretending. The only evidence of my Christmas thrashing was a thin two-inch scar on my chin that I easily lied about to friends.
My mother’s birthday was the third week of February, and I was going to fly down to Santa Bella for a long weekend to help her celebrate. Of course, Isaac thought the whole visit was planned so I could see Dax so he said he wanted to see his parents too. If it hadn’t been such a quickie trip down and back he would have insisted on driving us, but flying with him was bad enough. I shut down when the subject of Dax came up, pretty much accepting the fact that there was nothing I could say that would make a difference. What I wanted to do was accuse him of being stupid since he refused to accept the relationship Dax had within the family that was not my fault. But once five days passed and we returned to the university Isaac was going to punch me for something I didn’t even do.
Mom’s party was Thursday night, and Dax was invited, of course. He looked even skinnier than over Christmas, and the drugs were really starting to take a toll on him. I could tell Mom and Dad were frantically worried about how out of control he was, but he’s an adult, and nobody could coerce him into changing. He claimed he was still getting good grades in school and working full-time at the store, and I had to wonder about his supervisors and how blind they were. Didn’t anyone see that he was a walking skeleton?
At seven o’clock, Dax announced his departure and I decided to walk out with him. We were heading towards the kitchen to open the garage door, but as I followed him through the dimly lit family room, he tripped. He started to go down, and I reached out to grab his elbow to prevent the fall and lost my balance from the momentum. We fell to the carpet side by side, our breath knocked out of us. Gazing at each other, we began to laugh about our clumsiness. Then his eyes focused on my jawline, and he startled. Coming up in a reclined position next to me, he grabbed my face and roughly turned it, staring at my scar.
“What happened to your chin?” he demanded. Unable to look at him, I quickly pushed away and stood up.
I casually tried to pass it off. “It’s from a skateboarding accident I had when I was a kid.”
Dax’s eyes flashed as he righted himself, stretching out the kinks from the fall. “Don’t treat me like I’m stupid, Michael. I know every inch of your body, and that scar was not there last May.”
I tensed over the possibility of trouble leading back to Isaac. “It’s nothing, just a cut, no big deal,” Leave it to Dax to know I was lying. Leave it him to remind me how close we had been.
Dax gave me a skeptical glance but gratefully didn’t press with more questions. The moment evaporated as my anxiety receded for another day. He left soon after, and the house felt empty.
The next day I guess Mom called Dax about leaving his hoody here after the party. I didn’t know until later because I was still asleep, but he assured her he’d stop by right after work. I awoke to answer Isaac’s noon text that we were going to the cinema and he’d pick me up. It was no big deal as I walked downstairs and the doorbell pealed. I had no idea of the shit-storm I would be walking into when I answered it.
Dax was on the porch, his face etched in exhaustion after a difficult day at work. Or maybe it was the drugs. My eyes went kind of huge with dread for a moment, knowing Isaac was on his way over. Just like clockwork or bad timing, or some kind of plodding nightmare you can’t help but re-dream, I suddenly saw Isaac’s mother’s car pulling up to the curb. My panic level hit the roof, and I almost started to hyperventilate.
Dax was, you know, watching me this whole time, but he turned around when I stared out into the street. Isaac slowed down as if to park and saw Dax’s truck in the driveway. His cold blue eyes immediately sought and found him at the door but then he looked directly at me. I swallowed audibly, knowing the damage was done. Isaac took off in a squeal of tires, loudly announcing that he was not pleased. I was so screwed.
“Oh shit!” I didn’t know I said it out loud, but Dax turned to stare at the dismay in my face. I felt sick.
“What the hell is going on, Michael?” he asked severely.
“Nothing,” I said darkly, my voice shaking. My hands were shaking too.
I wasn’t fooling Dax. “Does this have anything to do with that cut… or me parking in the garage over Christmas?”
“I… uh… I…” I couldn’t tell him, not without bringing the wrath of hell down on myself.
I could almost see the wheels turning in his head, but I was taken by surprise when Dax grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into the house to locate my parents. They stared at us in shock.
“Tell them,” Dax insisted. He didn’t seem angry, just concerned, and I flinched.
“Tell us what?” Mom asked, plainly worried that we were fighting again.
I gulped in alarm, my unnerved gaze going from one person to the other.
“You have to tell them, Michael,” Dax said, and his eyes stared into mine. “Or I will.”
“Tell us what,” my father asked again.
When I made no attempt to speak up, Dax answered. “Isaac’s abusing Michael.”
My parents reacted as I knew they would. They demanded to know why I hadn’t said anything.
Time seemed to slow down. In detail Dax gave up my secrets about how cruel Isaac had been during our former relationship, the new scar on my face, hiding his truck on Christmas Day- everything. By the time he was done, there was no logical way I could lie about the violence, and I was crying in humiliation and terror.
Mom and Dad tried to be comforting and reassuring, but I’d never seen them so mad. Dad swore that he would get to the bottom of my mistreatment and put a stop to it immediately, even if it meant my switching colleges to get me away from Isaac. Mom gently asked why I didn’t trust them enough to confide in them about the abuse. I could feel the love and concern, even from Dax, and knew how worried they were for me.
I was beside myself over the uncovering of my secret. The more they talked, the angrier I became- at him. I knew Dax meant well, knew I should be happy that he cared, but all I saw was interference that was going to get me hurt. My parents had no idea how slow the powers that be would or wouldn’t work, and Humboldt was a long distance away. Short of standing guard over me, there were no guarantees.
Dax left, and Dad called the sheriff which was only the first step in proving how difficult it would be to keep Isaac away. Since he had never truly hurt me in Santa Bella, there was nothing the Department could do. We were advised to file a restraining order against him here in town and up in Eureka. Dad said he would call the college administration on Monday to file a complaint with the school. It was a long afternoon.
At some point I sneaked away to contact Isaac, defend myself and account for Dax’s presence. I was already feeling pushed into a corner, and when he unleashed his rage on me, I lost it. I told him about my scar, Dax forcing me to tell my parents about the abuse and what was going to happen next. It didn’t seem to bother him at all.
In a show of face-saving he declared that he’d already planned to end it with me once we were back at school. I was a useless misfit with no backbone, and I was boring in bed. Well, that hurt. I let him rant and rave and listened to all the vile names he bestowed on me for my weakness and submitting to my parents. The only protest I raised was when he accused me of fucking Dax behind his back.
“In case you’ve forgotten,” I reminded him sarcastically, “Dax mistrusts me completely.”
“Fucking liar,” he accused.
I sighed, thinking that Isaac must be the most conceited person on the planet. Also one of the stupidest. “Isaac, do you remember me cheating on him nine months ago? Why in god’s name would you believe that Dax and I have any kind of relationship when he doesn’t feel anything towards me except revulsion? He hates me and can barely stand to be around me. When my parents invited him over yesterday for my mother’s birthday… my parents, Isaac, not me… he barely spoke to me all day.”
“So what about today?” he challenged icily. “You two seemed cozy at the door.”
“I honestly don’t know why he was here. I answered thinking it was you because we were going to the show. I told you earlier I was in bed all morning- you woke me up.”
“That’s pretty lame-ass…”
I didn’t give him a chance to finish his whining and let loose with all the anger I’d been saving up. “Stop acting like a goddamn spoiled brat, Isaac. I’m tired of telling you how much my parents and sisters consider him part of the family. Mom and Dad are his guardians. Get it through your head that I don’t control what goes on here.”
“You’re lying,” he sneered in a nasty tone that left me feeling punched. “I’ve seen the way you look at him, like you can’t wait to fuck him. You went home five days early for Christmas. Five days of being around that asshole, and I’m supposed to trust either of you?”
So we were back to that again. What in the hell had I ever seen in this jacked up crazy jerk? Isaac was absolutely insane with his insinuations, so trying to control me and make me admit to something I hadn’t done… “Just the same as two days before Thanksgiving when he showed up at your house,” he stuttered.
“That means nothing,” I said. “I don’t want to hear all your wild innuendoes. You insisted we come home early from school. All I wanted was to go out with you and let Dax and his new boyfriend eat dinner with my family by themselves. No big secret, no making plans to see Dax behind your back.”
“Well Michael,” he announced in deadly whisper. “You’d know all about your secrets and cheating. You did it to him, so why shouldn’t I expect you to do the same with me?”
“You know, I’m not going to argue with you,” I told him, wanting to scream but keeping my voice level. In a sick way, he had a point, however he wanted to rationalize his own complicity. I wondered why I had stayed silent so long, why I hadn’t spilled all the defenses for myself I should have made these past months. “You haven’t heard a single thing I said. You don’t want to listen to me because you have this whole betrayal thing going on in your head, when you’re the one who should be offering explanations.”
Isaac shouted at me some more, and by the time he hung up on me, I didn’t care what he did as long as he left me alone. I was just happy that he felt breaking up with me was his own idea... if he meant it.
But then, like the day wasn’t already a total loss, my next step made it all the worse. Much worse. Finished with Isaac, I needed a scapegoat to take my fear and anger out on. Who was more perfect than the one I blamed for my dilemma? I stormed out of the house and drove off with grinding gears to Dax’s apartment to hammer on his door until he answered.
“Michael,” he greeted me warily, hanging heavily against his doorframe. “What are you doing here?” In the chill of a damp February late afternoon, Dax wasn’t even wearing a shirt. A thin layer of sweat shone from his lean torso, and I could differentiate each rib. I was feasting appreciatively on the wicked things he was doing to his pair of low-hung jeans, but I averted my gaze because I didn’t want to desire him. His dilated eyes were heavy-lidded, body twitching, voice drowsy and slurred. He looked terrible but my anger wouldn’t let me show pity. I jostled past him and marched inside.
“You just had to push it, didn’t you?” I demanded hotly as he followed and shut the door behind us. “You couldn’t leave well enough alone.”
“What… what the hell,” he stammered tiredly, wiping his perspiring face with a hand that trembled. “I put up with you yesterday for your parents’ sake, but I don’t need this now.”
I couldn’t tell if Dax’s indifference was because he was high on drugs or he simply didn’t care. He didn’t even seem to notice my tension and anger. It was important to make him understand, and I wasn’t leaving without an explanation.
“Why did you force me to tell Mom and Dad about Isaac? Damn it, don’t you see how much worse you made it for me?”
“Isaac is an abusive asshole,” Dax replied, swaying. At least he was catching up to the conversation. “So I was supposed to what, keep my worries to myself and let him beat you?”
“I know he’s abusive,” I shouted. “But I’m in northern California, not here. I had it out with him tonight, and I hope it’s settled but I don’t know for sure. Are you going to protect me from him? If he flies into a rage and starts hitting me again, you all won’t be there to stop it. He hates Mom and Dad. He especially hates you and thinks that every time I’m in Santa Bella we’re finding ways to secretly hook up.”
Dax had the temerity to snicker. “Us? He thinks I would fuck you after what the two of you did last spring?”
I didn’t see the humor but Dax apparently did. He started to laugh and couldn’t stop. “This is unbelievable,” he choked out. “I knew he was arrogant, but…”
His sarcasm hit me wrong and only made me more enraged. I turned on him and shoved, slamming him back against the wall. That shut him up.
Toe to toe, hands on his shoulders and chest nearly pressing into his, I glared down at Dax. Never before had I felt my extra four inches of height so forcefully. He trembled and was breathing hard, and his skinny, mostly hairless upper body made him look no older than fifteen or so. But his face was adult, masculine and… frightened. I forced myself to feel no empathy and ignore his paranoia because he did it to himself. I hated the drugs that were slowly robbing him of all that made him the Dax I had loved. I despised him for using them.
Dax relied so much on false bravado, it had been a long time since I’d seen him scared. Last May. The terrible day I cheated on him, we were in our bedroom and he figured out what I’d done to us. He begged me to say he was wrong. It had changed everything between us. Isaac had tricked me into stealing something precious- Dax’s implicit trust in me. Every day I regretted my betrayal more and more, and he had the nerve to laugh?
I silently glared at him. Suddenly there was a shift in Dax as he seemed to notice the proximity of our bodies and melted into the wall. I could smell the fear on him and, combined with his musky sweat, it was… tantalizing. His brown eyes relaxed to register such pain, loneliness and confusion that I lost myself in them. My anger left me in one deep breath, and the hands that kept his shoulders pinned to the wall slid up to rest forearms on either side of his head. His pupils went dark with lust, and we were so close we could almost kiss. I wanted him and wanted the dream I saw in my head- Dax’s lips made red and swollen by my own.
Oh god. I shut my eyes and stepped into him. Close, so very close. I felt his hot breath fanning my face, the way the dim light reflected off his sweaty sheen and he leaned in. His soft, warm lips were abruptly on mine, open and inviting, achingly familiar. They felt like heaven after so long without. I responded to his kiss passionately and let his demanding tongue in to search my mouth and take it. I took his bottom lip between my teeth and nibbled gently. His arms came around my back to hold me as he relaxed into me, just where he belonged. Our tongues dueled and slid together in tandem, and I heard him softly groan.
Our bodies pressing eagerly into each other, I felt his erection stiffen against my thigh. I dropped my hand behind his head and massaged his tense neck muscles, holding him in place. My other hand cupped his jaw, fingers moving lightly across the blonde stubble in a caress. Dancing with mine, Dax’s lips were hungry with a need long denied and my own mouth reveled in an intimacy without fear of physical pain. I was shivering all over, loving the fluid awareness of him beneath me. Dax was trembling in my arms, making the little sighing noises I loved. My own rigid cock was throbbing and I moaned, going warm all over.
I couldn’t believe it possible, but the kiss heated up even more. Sucking desperately at each other’s tongues and brutally mashing our lips together, our breathing came in deep gasps. Feeling Dax’s arms tighten around me, I tangled my fingers into his long blonde hair and whimpered into his mouth. Dax began to roll his pelvis against me, thrusting into my steel-hard dick. I rocked back, savoring the hot relief that zinged through my groin.
Oh fuck, so long it had been for Dax and me, and I was swamped with how wonderful it felt. The urgent need for release was developing fast, and we drove harder, my thigh muscles growing taut. Pleasure building behind my navel, I felt it zipping down my legs, knees weakening, thankful for the support of the wall. Dax's forehead went down on my chest, and I could hear his tortured struggle to breathe. My hand descended to cup his gorgeous ass and pull him harder into me. It wouldn’t be long now. This was it; Dax was mine again and I didn’t want to ever let him go.
And then I had to. I was flying backwards, windmilling my arms fruitlessly to keep my balance. Dax’s hands were outstretched in a rough shove that made me sit down hard on his couch, and he glared at me in disgust. Rubbing his bruised lips with the back of his hand, I heard the panic and fury in his deep, husky voice. “What the fuck are you doing, Michael!”
“Me?”I squeaked. My engorged cock ached in disappointment, and I groaned. As I saw it, the issue wasn’t just me craving contact with Dax. I was sorry it ended so soon, but he wanted that kiss as much as I did. I locked eyes with him and knew he would see my longing but I didn’t care. “I should be asking you the same question, bro. You kissed me.”
Dax launched himself across the room at me with a roar. I stumbled off the couch, sliding and rolling to come to my feet. I saw his raised fist, and I went totally still, holding my ground, arms up to defend myself.
“Are you going to hit me too, Dax?” I whispered, dropping my hands and staring at him without fear. “Shit, I deserve it. You know you want to. Just do it and make us both feel better.”
I closed my eyes and waited for the pain. For a shuddering second there was no movement. Suddenly, Dax grabbed me by the front of my shirt, breathing heavy and struggling for control.
“Get the fuck away from me and stay away,” he rasped through clenched teeth. “We aren’t friends. You’re not my goddamed ‘bro’. I can’t stand the sight of you and want you out of my life for good.”
I glared back, relief slashed with pain, feeling my own anger build and making me reckless. “That’s fine with me. I just came over to tell you to mind your own fucking business. You are nothing to me, just some stupid kid off the street who uses other people until there’s nothing left to exploit. You have ruined my life, and I wish I’d never met you.” I pulled out of his grasp and strode purposely towards the front door.
Of course, the kiss made a lie of our words, and we both knew it. But our resentment had taken us too far to retreat, and Dax’s voice dripped with menace. “If you ever show up here again, I will...”
“No problem there,” I spat, my eyes blazing the hurt of his words into loathing for him. “I certainly won’t be back. You’re such a fucked up druggie freak, the next time I see you, it’ll probably be in a coffin. Not that I’d bother to show up at your funeral. But as hard as you’re trying to kill yourself, it won’t take long.”
I turned on my heel to slam through the doorway. “Fucking asshole,” I shouted, giving him one last fleeting look. He narrowed his eyes and flipped me the finger. I didn’t even bother to shut the door behind me as I stormed into the dark. A young couple with two children was climbing the stairs to their upstairs apartment and jumped at my loud and heated departure. I hated Dax, hated everything about him and didn’t feel at all sorry for what I’d said.
Once reaching home, I had to contend with my parents again who were angry with me going out and not telling them first. They had their reasons to be extra vigilant, but it just stoked the fires of my rage at Dax. They could tell I was very agitated and had questions about my mussed hair and bruised lips that I was not about to answer. I ended up getting in a round-about argument with Dad that escalated into a huge fight over my irresponsibility.
The memory of that sweet, heartbreaking kiss invaded my dreams that night and I awoke with my shorts wet with semen. I groaned in frustration. Hard to believe over a year had passed since Dax and I fell in love. And now? What should’ve evolved into Dax and me sharing sex dwindled into a disagreement over who started a kiss. Did it really matter? I knew what embarrassed Dax the most was thinking his response to me was wrong. Maybe fucking would have brought us back together and healed the wounds of our separation. We still loved each other; of that I had no doubt, but every step I’d taken to make things right between us was driving us farther apart.
I was depressed for the rest of my short break. I didn’t see Dax at all. He had no reason to come by the house. My stomach roiled with regret for my harsh words, and my disgust at myself dropped on top of me like a smothering blanket, but there was no going back or even the opportunity to apologize. It was even worse than in May because sometimes words are worse than sticks and stones. We used our anger and his drugs to throw taunts at each other. Cruelty simply intended to draw first blood, and I bitterly realized my impulsiveness had ruined everything. My parents thought my moods were because of Isaac, but until I had to face him, he was the last thing on my mind. The step-by-step destruction of all Dax and I held important haunted me.
I flew back to school on Tuesday with my father. Five days later I had a temporary restraining order against Isaac in hand, and the administration was handling disciplinary action involving his three assaults on me. Dad set me up for counseling through the university, but I missed one appointment, rescheduled and canceled, then never thought about it again.
For the most part, Isaac left me alone and I thought I was doing very well, thank you. Why did I need to agonize over it when he was out of my life? I lost a lot of friends who were his first, but it wasn’t a big deal. Just being able to attend class without fear was a blessing.
Even without Isaac’s abuse I was a mess I didn’t want to admit. Guilt over Dax and the horrible things I said drove me to beg my parents to keep better tabs on him. I lived in terror of answering my phone and listening to one of them tell me he was dead of an overdose or from some preventable accident. But there was also a part of me who, in a typical but illogical shoot-the-messenger fashion, stayed angry with him. Dax, Isaac and I, all of us were intertwined in a stupid dance where I wanted to blame someone who wasn’t me. I couldn’t face my own failings, I had to focus my anger on someone, and Dax was it.
Oh, but that kiss!
Here it was only two months into the new year, and I felt as if I had opposition coming from all directions. I was trying to be a good surrogate son because Donna and Robert had been so good to me, and it was Donna’s birthday. Everything was going fine. And then came the stumble where we ended up tangled up on the carpet and the light hit Michael just right and that ugly line on his chin seemed to jump out at me. It had Isaac’s name written all over it. Did he really think he could fool me with a lame story about a childhood accident? With as much time as we spent in bed together last year, I could map that boy’s face in my sleep.
But standing on the porch when Isaac passed the house and seeing the horror rise up in Michael, it all came together. He was petrified of Isaac, and suddenly I was dead certain he was being physically abused. I dragged him in front of his semi-suspecting parents and made him confess. His eyes begged me to be quiet and leave it alone, but I would never forgive myself if I did nothing and Isaac really injured him. Michael was in hysterics, his parents were worried and angry. They didn’t need me there and it was too painful to watch Michael crying so I left.
I had the next day off from work and went home to chill. With Michael and his drama sliding around my brain I really needed something chemical to work the stress out. I settled for beer, weed and Valium from my stash. The next thing I knew someone was pounding on my door. I felt like shit and probably looked just as bad but I answered it anyway.
It was Michael, practically rippling in anger as he barged his way into my home, spouting some unintelligible garbage about pushing him. “I don’t need this,” I told him. He was staring at me in judgment and oh, so sorry I can’t be as perfect as he is.
Then he spoke about Isaac and asked why I told his parents about the abuse. What did he expect me to do, pretend that Isaac wasn’t hitting him so he could keep doing it? If he wasn’t going to protect himself, his parents had to take care of it.
He claimed that nothing would make a difference. Isaac was going after him because he thought Michael and I were sleeping together. Was Isaac fucking insane? But the vision was so funny I couldn’t help but laugh, and that made Michael all the more irritated. “I knew he was arrogant, but…”
The next thing I knew Michael had me pinned against the wall. I didn’t know what he intended at that point, but I didn’t like the nearness of him. He was in my personal space, and it made me a little claustrophobic. I started to get scared, the drugs in my system not helping, and it felt as if my body was shutting down.
Michael was staring at me and I felt so strange. It was like a déjà vu moment from a year ago when he had me pushed up against his bedroom door the night he first sucked my cock, and I let the pleasant memories wash over me. Michael moved in even closer, so near now I could smell him, golden eyes watching me curiously and showing me how much he wanted to kiss me. I wanted that too. No, I didn’t. Wait!
Our lips touched, and time stood still, then raced backwards. Back to when Michael and I were happy and every night brought new joy in the exploration of our bodies. The way Michael’s touch could lift me into an orgasm so intense it was almost holy. How delightful it was to return from a day at school and race to our room and strip down, our cocks stiff and desperate for each other. Hard and fast when he’d pound me deep into the mattress or slow and luxuriously, we reached bliss in a hundred ways. We adored each other, promised to stay together forever, and then…
I came back to the present to find myself in Michael’s embrace, kissing him in a frenzy of lips and tongues and grinding my throbbing erection hard into his groin. Oh, fuck! Just… fuck!
It felt wonderful to hold and be held. I saw sparks, groaning as our cocks collided, burning to let go and accept what Michael wanted to share. Just minutes from ecstasy, what could be wrong with this single time of casual sex between us? It wasn’t commitment. Not forever. But deep inside I felt that Michael was taking advantage of me when I was too wasted to fight him off. It was his fault as usual- maybe, somehow, I guess- and I panicked. I shoved him away, frantic to prove I didn’t start it, and I didn’t want him or what he had to offer. He landed in the middle of the room. “What the fuck are you doing, Michael?”
He sounded surprised when he denied instigating the kiss and blamed me. Yeah, like I would so start this. He was the one who stripped me naked with his eyes every time we were together. His accusation infuriated me, and I just wanted to knock that smug look off his face. I was tired of his shit, and I sprung at him with every intention of punching him into submission. But then he had to stand there like a whipped puppy, challenging me and making the comparison of me to Isaac. His words shamed me and I stood still until I got my control back.
I wouldn’t use my fists, but I could still wound with words. I was seething, and I growled that Michael meant nothing to me, I couldn’t stand him and I wanted him out of my life, for good this time.
Almost as soon as I said the words I wanted to take them back. I didn’t want to hurt him. It was just a kiss, and maybe I had started it. Maybe I wanted more. But like anyone who has been attacked, Michael went on the offensive, and he was so mean and hurtful. I was using people for my own selfish ends, just to throw them away when I was done, a stupid orphan with no family who was ruining his life. He hated me. But the worst was when he called me a druggie freak and gleefully predicted a swift death for me from a drug overdose. He called me an asshole and walked out.
He walked out! Just like that he was gone.
I wanted to run after him and tell him I was sorry, but it was like I was rooted to the floor. Michael didn’t really feel that way about me, did he? How could he claim I was nothing to him? I remembered the rainy day at Santa Bella High when he picked me up out of that mud puddle. He fucking made me fall in love with him, and now he wished he’d never met me. That wasn’t possible.
I sagged against the wall and felt the strength leave my legs. I must have sat there for a long time feeling numb. Then I noticed two things- the freezing air blowing in from the still-open door and the familiar throbbing under my skin that always made me want to check out and kill the pain. The atmosphere in my apartment was oppressive despite the outside chill, and I started to shake. I couldn’t be alone, not tonight. I needed warm bodies and noise and my own personal prescription to make the pain go away. I didn’t care if I had to pick up some trick in a bar, I wanted to let someone fuck me until he had me screaming so loudly it emptied my head.
I looked at my microwave clock and was shocked to see it was only 7:30. I dressed, knocked back a dexie and went to Cobbles, the place I’d avoided for the past two months. Maybe I’d be safe because Connor normally didn’t go out to the clubs on Fridays. It occurred to me that I’d missed Valentine’s Day, and last year I was with Michael so that made me even sadder.
I sat at a table by myself and ordered a beer. Despite my need for sex, no one appealed to me. No one approached me either, and I was too drained to go somewhere else. By nine, I had washed down another pill with a third shot of straight Jack, letting myself float, trying to forget Michael and the desolation I felt over his abandonment. I heard the door open across the room bringing in the rain and a familiar voice along with a few of his friends- Gil, Tomas, Perry.
The last person I wanted to see was Connor, and I tensed up expecting trouble. I convinced myself that nobody could force me to talk to him. I didn’t want him hitting on me. I really didn’t want his pity or scorn. I planned to leave but I was more intoxicated than I thought. The club lights were swaying in front of my eyes and making me dizzy. I just groaned, cupping my fingers over a half-empty shot glass, and leaned back against the wall in fatigue.
I heard a disjointed whisper nearby. “Connor, isn’t that your ex-boyfriend?”
Footsteps cautiously approached me, and Connor took the seat across from me, holding a beer. He smiled, but his wide mouth reminded me of a wavery crocodile. “Hi, Dax.”
“Hey, Connor.” I didn’t know why I was being so polite. I felt the presence of the other guys near the edge of the table. They all were drinking beers too.
“What’s cooking, honey?” The voice belonged to Tomas and was sexy. It made me feel warm… too warm. To the best that I could make out, he was wearing a red frilly shirt, tight black dance pants and rainbow-striped suspenders. He always wore heavy make-up that transformed his handsome face into something more feminine, and he loved jewelry.
Gil and Perry echoed their greetings too but with less enthusiasm. I guess they hadn’t planned on spending the evening with Connor’s ex. I raised a hand in a weary greeting and tried to focus on their swirling faces.
“What do you need, Dax?” Connor asked cagily.
“Nothing,” I slurred. “Not a damn thing, especially from you.”
Although the others gasped at my rudeness, Connor didn’t even look upset. I could tell he had something in mind, and I tried not to panic even though I could feel my self-control slipping.
“Dax, don’t you think you should go home? Why don’t you let me get you out of here?”
I shook my head. “No, leave me alone.” I didn’t want to go anywhere with him. I tried to stand up and failed. I thought I was going to be sick.
But Connor was standing and acting like he wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. I wanted to cry, feeling the same terror as that morning after the rave with Andy.
“What’s wrong with him?” Gil asked, staring at me. I was usually so laid-back when I was around the guys, and tonight I was acting like a scared rabbit.
“He’s drunk and high, as usual,” Connor sneered. “I’m going to take him home.”
“No, no, no.” I was shaking my head which was making me even dizzier. If I went with him, anything could happen.
I felt his hands on my shoulder, and I twisted away. I started to cry.
“No Connor. You and Ray…”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Perry going white. “What about Ray?”
Tomas looked at Connor anxiously, making the connections, I guess.
“Connor, why does Dax know Ray?” When he didn’t answer, he looked at me. “Do you know Ray?” I nodded.
“Holy shit, Connor,” Gil swore. “Dax is just a kid.”
“Look, it’s no big deal,” Connor said in a reasonable tone, shaking his auburn hair out of his face. “Dax is right here. We treated him gently.”
“Yeah, and that’s why he doesn’t want to go with you, asshole,” Perry growled.
Tomas looked angry. “When did this happen?”
“Last month.” I hiccupped. “Me and Andy after the rave.”
“Who is Andy?” Gil looked confused.
“Connor and Andy and Connor and me,” I answered counting on my fingers. “Ray and Andy and Ray and me.” It reminded me of a nursery rhyme. “Then Andy and me fucking like bunnies.” For some inexplicable reason I found this funny and started to laugh while I was still crying.
“There were two there?” Tomas’ eyebrows disappeared into his hairline.
Gil glared at Connor. “That’s bullshit, Connor. Did you ask if they wanted to?” He turned to me. “Did he ask you?”
I shook my head, glad for these guys who were putting Connor in his place. He was beginning to look sorry, whether for me or himself, I didn’t know. At least they had wiped the cheerful smirk off his face.
“Shit, Connor,” Tomas groaned. “We’ve all played with you and your friend, but it was an option. Ray’s a big guy. No wonder you have Dax freaked out.”
“Don’t want Ray, want Andy.” I giggled, laying my head down on the table. No, I wanted Michael. I think I wanted Michael.
“Fuck, he’s wasted,” Perry said, putting his hand on my back.
It was clear I had no place being in the club in my condition but I couldn’t drive myself. They wanted to call a cab, but then it wasn’t safe to leave my truck in the lot either, and I had nobody to bring me back. In the end Tomas took me home with Gil and Perry following us, and they picked him up.
Tomas tried to make conversation. He was really a very sweet guy even if he put too much ‘out’ in the outrageous for my tastes. He asked about school and work. I was calming down now that I didn’t have to deal with Connor. He asked about my weekend.
I grimaced “Yesterday was good.” It was an answer leading to another question.
“What about the today?
“No,” I replied. “Not really. Actually it was pretty fucked up. I tried to help someone out and it bit me in the ass. That’s why I was at Cobbles.”
“Getting drunk.” It was a statement, not a question and I laughed mirthlessly.
“You’re fried, Dax,” he said with concern.
“It’s what I do best,” I said, heavy on the self-pity. “He called me a manipulative street kid and told I was going to suffer an early death.”
Tomas flinched. “So what about other friends?”
I scoffed at myself. “No friends. Connor told me at Thanksgiving that I’m pathetic and selfish.” I saw him wince over that statement too.
“What about Michael? Isn’t that his name? Your ex-boyfriend?”
I shuddered at the mention of his name. “Not a friend. He hates me.” I’d told Connor about Michael but maybe he hadn’t passed on the gossip. My eyes began to water, but I refused to admit I was crying. I didn’t want to look weak.
We arrived at my apartment, and Tomas turned to face me. “You’re in a bad way with the drugs, Dax.” He smoothed some hair out of my face, tracing my cheek with his warm fingers. “You need to get yourself clean before you kill yourself. Things are getting out of hand.”
I was unwilling to admit how much he was probably right, so I opened the passenger door. He came around to help me, but the cold air had a sobering effect. Walking me to the door, he handed me my keys after making sure I’d be okay. With a kiss on the cheek, he was gone. I collapsed in bed and didn’t wake up again until the following afternoon.
I had the day off which didn’t help because it provided too much time to think. My life was in limbo, and I was saying goodbye all over again to Connor. I knew my drug use put a lot of stress on people I cared about. But quitting would be a long haul because I was trapped in denial that convinced me I would be okay.
I was glad that it was only a short weekend that had brought Michael down to Santa Bella. I didn’t want to see him for any reason. Even though I had never known him to be purposely cruel, he’d crossed a line that, even as bad as our brotherhood had become, was a new low and felt like the last stop for us. His accusations popped up constantly in my head, and I teetered back and forth between self-pity, dejection, anger and revenge. My conscious thoughts were poaching memories to prove how worthless and empty my life was.
“Should've known how hard it is to stop tearing each other apart,” sang Ville Valo, leader of the Finnish rock band, HIM. “Separating souls entwined in all these labyrinthine lies.”
Several years ago they recorded a song called Cyanide Sun. I liked the band and took to listening to their sorrowful tunes over and over on bad days, letting myself get depressed over my past. The song was a metaphor about breaking up and the loss of love, with which I was very familiar.
I am dead to you, a shadow doomed, my love
Forever in the dark.
And of all untruths, the truest is you
Too close to my heart.
It forced me to dwell on Michael’s words and fully appreciate what I had lost. It made me wonder how I would ever heal from the mess I was making of my life, seeing as how I managed to fuck everything up so badly: love, friendship and my self-respect the primary examples.
Words floated around my head, constantly reminding me of what Michael had accused me of. I didn’t want to be that pathetic person. It hurt because up until nine months before, I would never have believed he’d be purposely spiteful. I knew better now. But the worst kind of betrayal is having a friend who doesn’t appreciate your help and will do anything to take advantage of you. It’s listening to the person who swore he would always love you saying he regrets your life and being part of it. Hearing him calling you manipulative, stupid and a fucked up drug addict and predicting your early death. The worst was knowing he was right.
I went to a bar alone on the following weekend, picked up a stranger who didn't even look legal and let him take me home and fuck me all night long. His name was Milo. I woke up the next morning in his squalid apartment with cracks in two windows. I bought a baggie of weed from a friend of his, and we got high. We stayed at Milo’s place all the next day and worked our way through a large pepperoni pizza. That night he invited the friend back over, and he fucked me too while Milo watched.
I needed someone to love and care about me, not just fuck me. Picking up anonymous sex with strangers was definitely losing its appeal. Subconsciously, I knew I wanted Michael, but I couldn’t admit it. Someone… anybody to care. I was beginning to think I had a death wish.
I ran into Tomas at a club the beginning of March. I was wasted again, and he sat down at my table and asked me what I was doing to myself. I didn’t have an answer.
“What do you say I drive you home, Dax?”
I shook my head morosely, eyes glistening. “No. Don’t want to be alone. Need to get laid.”
Tomas sighed. “I don’t think that’s going to happen tonight,” he said gently. “Let me get you out of here before you crash or someone hurts you.”
I studied him warily, wondering why he was being so kind. He was probably the nicest of all Connor’s friends. Actually, Connor didn’t deserve most of his friends. I finally agreed to go with him and fished my truck keys out of my pocket.
We went to a twenty-four hour coffee shop to sober me up. “So what’s with this fucked up, acting like you’re Superman mood?” he asked over an espresso. “Somebody up in your shit?”
“Hmm, except for my ex hoping I OD, it’s been good.” Trying not to talk in gibberish I told him about my obsession- Isaac’s abuse of Michael and the kiss that haunted my every waking hour. I felt my self-restraint slipping away. It had to be the drug cocktail pumping through my system, but I had this awful sensation of my life falling apart and breaking into small pieces of sensory overload.
“So he speaks a few cruel words out of haste and anger, and you’re going to prove him right,” Tomas stated sarcastically. “Damn, that’ll show him.”
I had to smile when he said it like that.
We finished our coffees, and I felt good enough to drive. We were on our way back to the club so I could drop Tomas off. He turned and looked at me.
“I hate to bring up his name,” he continued. “But Michael’s right. I suggested this last month, but now I’m telling you. Get off the drugs, Dax.”
I stopped my truck to let him out, and he kissed my mouth softly. I wouldn’t admit my weakness. He sighed and squeezed my arm.
“You would be a great guy to have around if you weren’t high all the time.”
I smiled. “Don’t give up on me,” I begged. “Except for my guardians, everyone else has.”
“Okay,” he agreed, stepping out onto the asphalt. “Then take care of it before you kill yourself.”
We've sailed the seas of grief
On a raft built with our tears
Looking for a way to disappear
For a moment from our deepest fears
I'll be drowning you in this river of gloom
Forever in my heart, oh my love
This emptiness I've made my home
Embracing memories of dreams long gone
One last caress from the corpse of love
Is all I want underneath the cyanide sun
Another weekend, another club, and Milo and I found each other. I had been there for over an hour, but I was feeling wretched as the pills made their way through my body, some probably counteracting each other for all I knew. It was such a drug soup in my system that I had thrown together. He came in alone, everything about him dark— brown skin, black hair, black eyes, black leather, all except for the chains he wore everywhere. He recognized me and made a bee-line for my table.
“How’s it hanging’ Dax?” When he asked a question, he really wanted the answer, not idle chit-chat.
“You know me,” I said vaguely, too high to even fake emotion. “Out and about and having fun.”
Milo watched me silently for a short while as I sipped my Jack Daniels to see how far-gone I was. He looked good sitting there in his tight jeans and open shirt over a tight tee. He was short, and his hair was cut short and it curled over his forehead. He was cute and hot, and I wished I had the energy to do something about it. But his face was sad.
Every once in awhile his gaze would flick around us in concern, and I finally followed it to the bartender who was watching me carefully too.
“Dax,” Milo warned, “you’re like one shot away from attracting too much attention. You need to crash somewhere. Do you want me to get you out of here?”
For a few minutes I just sat there, nursing my shot and thinking. If I could be honest, I would have admitted that I didn’t care. If I had my wish, I’d evaporate like a puff of smoke. Make all my problems go away, not feel any pain and be numb.
“Yeah,” I finally said, hoping my legs would work. “Lead on, Milo.”
I was amazed when I walked out under my own power. Once outside, he put his arm around my waist, and I leaned on him. He was warm. Having forgotten a jacket, I was shivering.
We got in my truck. At the street he turned in the direction of his apartment. When I gave him a curious glance, he said, “Let me take care of you tonight. Then you won’t feel so alone.”
I nodded, unsure of what Milo was saying. Was he offering sex or just comfort? Oh, what the hell difference did it make as long as there was a warm body out there that cared?
We drove the rest of the miles in silence and pulled up in front of his tenement building, dark and dirty. Milo led me inside and I fell weakly against the old ripped up couch which was the only furniture in his living room apart from a top of the line video system. It made me wonder if he worried about break-ins.
Milo brought me a Coke and sat at the other end of the couch for nearly five minutes before finding the nerve to ask the big question. “So what is fucking you up so bad?”
“Life,” I answered succinctly. “Just fucking life.”
He said nothing but waited for me, and I figured, hell I already look pathetic to so many people, why not Milo too? Here I was nearly finished with my first year of college, a time when I was expected to spread my wings and discover who I was. That person lived from one binge to another, walking the tightrope of keeping my party mess detached from school and my job, but it was getting harder to separate the two. I was becoming paranoid and isolated.
I opened my mouth and the words tumbled out in a torrent. By the time I finished accounting for the sorry state of my life I was in Milo’s arms, sobbing into his neck as he stroked my hair and kissed my tears away. His lips were light on my eyes and cheek and in my hair, but it was for comfort, not to begin anything between us. “You’re so exhausted, Daxy,” he cooed softly into my ear. “Stop thinking for tonight and let’s go to bed.”
He pulled me to stand and led me to his bedroom. Setting me down on the quilt, he stripped me naked, and I climbed into bed. Milo slipped out of his own clothes and scooted in next to me. There seemed to be an understanding between us that this wasn’t about sex and I lay back against the pillows feeling secure. I was so tired I couldn’t even get an erection at the sight of his perfect near-naked ass. He hugged me to him sweetly and cuddled with me in soft caresses that relaxed me. I finally curled up into him and fell asleep.
The next thing I knew it was morning, and Milo was dressed and sitting on the side of the bed watching me wake up. He looked tired. “How do you feel, Dax?” he asked.
I ran my tongue around my mouth, sticky from beer, whiskey and cigarettes. My head hurt and my eyes felt dried out, but this was all typical for me. “I’m okay,” I answered weakly.
He reached out to grasp my hand. “We need to talk, Dax. Serious stuff.”
I nodded, not liking the sound of this. “What about?”
Milo stared at me, his eyes smoldering with longing, but tinged in melancholy too. “The first weekend we got together I knew you were really sexy, somebody I might want in my life long-term. I like you, Dax. I even think I could love you maybe.”
I smiled at him wondering what it was about me that inspired these feelings in the men I was meeting. First Tomas, now Milo. I stroked his fingers, not understanding the sadness.
“Last night was scary. You probably don’t remember because you never fully woke up, but you talked and cried in your sleep almost all night. You were thrashing everywhere, and I was afraid you were going to hurt yourself.”
“Maybe I was having a nightmare,” I ventured. I remembered small pieces of bad dreams but nothing concrete. “I’m sorry if I woke you up or worried you.”
Milo shook his head and his black eyes were wide with sympathy and regret. “Don’t be. But see, it’s like this. As attractive as you are, what you’re doing to yourself is nasty. Maybe I’m the pot calling the kettle black, but I can’t take on a lover with a drug problem like yours. On top of school and my job, it’s too much, and I would worry constantly about you.”
“I know. I don’t want to be dead weight.” I knew I could give him false promises about giving up drugs to make him stay, but Milo deserved the truth, not a bunch of bullshit. No matter how much I needed someone in my life to ease me away from the loneliness, it wouldn’t be fair to put that burden on him.
I got dressed, and he volunteered to make breakfast.
“You don’t have to,” I protested. “I should leave anyway.”
Milo walked me to my truck. He assured me that when I decided I wanted to stop abusing drugs and get healthy he would be there for me. He said to stay in touch. He kissed me, and I drove away.
In my mind I’d pretty much hit rock bottom. My therapist, Zeke Carter, had a field day with my risky, self -destructive behavior and flatly told me I’d be dead within a year if I didn’t find some way to get help. I figured half a cure was better than none and set out to cut down. I got off the ecstasy and sparkle easy enough, but I’d only used it for raves and my last run-in swore me off it. I simply stopped rolling. The meth was a bitch to quit but I managed it too because it freaked me out so much I rarely did more than sample.
I was drinking and taking so many pills I didn’t know which end was up, and it was fucking with my head. I tried to cut back because I didn’t want to live this way anymore, and it would be only a matter of time before they began interfering with work and college. Thank god, I still had goals and didn’t allow myself to give up. I told Zeke I needed to stop self-medicating and I meant it.
Underneath my success at school and decent performance on the job, I still felt was out of control. Mornings were bad because I usually didn’t get enough rest at night and I had to be up most days by six for work. I’d take care of my shift emptying the truck at the store, and was out of there no later than 3:30. Usually by the time I arrived home I felt so strung out I had to smoke some weed just to calm down. I was drinking more too, had no desire for sex and couldn’t get into anybody. Nightmares were constant and I cried in my sleep. It was like I was falling into a deep hole. And I knew what was causing the problem.
I was in serious trouble with the drugs and what they were doing to my body.
Zeke and I didn’t talk about my mother very much anymore except when a current issue had to do with my past. But it came up with a vengeance at times, and by late March I was beginning to feel desperate. I hated living under her shadow which made me see with new eyes the complications in her sad life. I didn’t want to feel sorry for her, especially because of what she did to me, but it was impossible not to empathize when I was facing the same dilemma. I never realized how hard it would be, midstream, to scour out my insides until I couldn’t do anything but admit I had a drug habit. The very idea of living with no safety net scared the shit out of me.
But I continued to take lots of pills- all kinds- and the use was what truly worried me. However, I was such an arrogant smart-ass I thought I could handle it alone. Little did I know how close to addicted I really was. I kept up this back and forth litany in my head of feeling so depressed or amped up I needed them to chill out and then wishing I hadn’t taken them. I watched money flow out of my hands and into my dealer’s like water. I knew if I didn’t take charge soon, they were going to ruin my life.
Ditching drugs to the extent of my use is damned tricky even in a clinical setting. Zeke suggested that I might want to go into rehab, but I was not about to give up school, my job or apartment for some ten-week crash course in sober living. This was about getting my life back in order and biting the bullet, not ruining it in the process, and I told myself I could do it all by myself. I tried and tried. I finally had to admit I couldn’t.
I reached a breaking point where I knew it wasn’t working, and I was forced to make a decision to trust. I was overwhelmed and humbled by Zeke’s demand that I tell the truth and share what was happening with someone, so I chose the Capshaws. I mean, who else did I have?
During one of our weekly dinners in late-April, right around the time of my nineteenth birthday, I confessed to Donna and Robert that I had a drug problem and how I planned to give up the pills cold-turkey. They weren’t surprised by my admission. Robert works for a pharmaceutical company and is very familiar with the side effects of all kinds of medications, including street drugs, and he blanched when I told him what I was on. He said to my face that there was no way they’d let me quit without their help. Donna flat out demanded that I move home to detox.
I didn’t know how to respond, but they weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. They even called up Zeke, and he frankly said my arguments against involving them were stupid and potentially harmful. If I wouldn’t put myself into a facility, I at least needed someone by my side because the side effects of abruptly coming off drugs could be life-threatening. I finally let them all persuade me, but to be honest I was very relieved. With the arrival of the end of the school year, I arranged for time off work. I moved back into my old bedroom.
I finally allowed myself to give in to being loved by someone. I let the Capshaws take me down a very lonely road where I had to admit that my drugs had power over me and I needed to forge a new path to regain control. Over the course of that long late-spring week, I puked, convulsed and sweated my way back to sobriety. Many times I wanted to throw in the towel. It was incredibly difficult. It hurt like hell. I thought I was going to die.
But I did it and got sober. I freakin’ fell in love with Michael’s parents. That week they became Mom and Dad to me, no longer Donna and Robert. My hard exterior cracked open, and I let the light in and started to heal. For the first time since Michael left me, I knew what it was to be loved, and it felt good.
(To be continued...)