Such A Price That We Pay, We Gotta Be So Strong
The holidays were as nice as I had hoped they’d be. We had an early Thanksgiving dinner with the Capshaws the Tuesday night before Michael returned home from Humboldt, and this time there was no uncomfortable interruptions by his abusive ex. Mom and Dad thought the world of Brendan, and I loved watching him charm them, feeling proud that he was with me.
We ate with his roommates, cousin Lauren and her best friend, on the actual turkey day, and she regaled me with funny stories of Brendan as a child. Throughout all of them, I picked up on a curious slice of rural life in Missouri and the difficulties of growing up gay in the middle of the Bible Belt. He had known since he was fifteen but his family was so closed-minded there was absolutely no chance of coming out to them.
Derrington, his hometown, was a little three-stoplight highway exit with churches on every corner, a single-screen movie theater, the elementary and middle school in one building and no fast food. It sounded like the major source of entertainment there was watching paint dry, and Brendan acknowledged that life was fairly routine. The only big events were births, weddings and funerals, and fundamentalism held sway in each case. While I had no hatred of organized religion, the idea of letting the deeply conservative views of a few bigoted people rule my life made me shudder.
We finished out our fall semesters at our respective schools. Brendan only had another five months before he was scheduled to finish up his required units in May and graduate. He would be getting his Bachelors in math and a teaching degree. We talked back and forth about his future; he wanted to teach math in a middle school, but most of the schools in California were struggling financially and had a hiring freeze in place. He also needed to complete a year-long student teaching job before he could sit for his exams, and he toyed with whether to stay in Santa Bella or return to Missouri. From what he and Lauren had described, I hoped it was the former.
Christmas was tranquil. Brendan remained in California with me instead of going home to Derrington. He was now more or less living at my place most of the time even though he still paid rent to Lauren. He helped to decorate a small tree with me using tinsel, lights and cheap ornaments I purchased at Walmart. We didn’t have a lot of extra money lying around, but we managed to purchase inexpensive gifts for each other which we wrapped and put underneath it.
I also bought gifts for the family, and we paid Mom and Dad a Christmas visit two days before so we could celebrate the holidays. Jana’s husband, David, couldn’t make it because he was on rotation in the hospital where he worked, and Michael was busy elsewhere with friends. One of my gifts from the folks was a framed casual photograph taken at Jana’s reception of me and Brendan with our arms around each other and a small album of posed family wedding photos, everyone all dressed up. Brendan received a smaller version of the same photo.
On Christmas Eve Brendan convinced me to go to church with him because that’s what his family always did, and I humored him. We ate dinner at the Mexican restaurant I’d worked in the year before and spent an hour afterwards driving around looking at the unique ways people decorated their homes for the season.
Obviously, I didn’t go home for Christmas Day. Brendan and I stayed in bed from our return after dinner and sightseeing on Christmas Eve until early evening of the next day. Santa gave us an incredible twenty hours of sex with each other before we finally decided to get up, shower and make ourselves presentable. We used online recipes to cook a modified holiday dinner, followed by opening our Christmas gifts to each other.
Besides the usual music CDs, DVDs and video games, Brendan gave me a beautiful woven bracelet in a design that he himself created of braided multicolor leather laces with wooden beads interspersed evenly. I found a set of antique math books for him and the kind of long wooden pointer that teachers in olden days used to hit against chalkboards and maps to get their students’ attention. He giggled when he tore it out of the giftwrap and then proceeded to goose me with it. When he insisted on me stripping down so he could rub it up and down my dick and get me aroused, we ran back to bed and fucked all night long again.
Back to school, and I was tightening my plans on what I hoped to accomplish with my life. With all the help I’d received from Zeke in counseling, I considered becoming a therapist myself. It’s a tricky career, requiring inner strength and the ability to be open-minded and objective. In order to achieve any kind of success, I would probably have to continue my education past my four years of college and go after a higher degree. In the meantime would come an internship after my university graduation. I planned to transfer as a junior to San Diego State in August.
Don’t ask me why, but I had continued to take the Chamber Choir class for all four semesters of my time at Seaview. It was my first Wednesday afternoon of the spring term and time to take a good look at the new freshmen. Was I ever that young and naïve? They were a sloppy bunch lacking in self-discipline, and I realized our teacher, Mr. Braeton, would have a difficult time whipping them into shape before the mid-term concert. The newest group of girls wasn’t bad; there were five or six who were very pretty, and they’d become this semester’s crop of ‘babes’.
Why would a gay guy be classifying girls according to looks? I’m not sure I can explain this and make sense. Believe it or not, after two full years at Seaview, I was still firmly in the closet at school. What had begun as a way to make me look straight had turned into a safety net for me. If other men treated girls like sex objects, who would question me when I did the same? I wasn’t proud of my behavior because it made me look like an asshole, but it kept my secret.
Zeke and I had previously discussed my tedious refusal to burn that sucker of a closet down and how it was affecting the freedom in my life when I was always looking over my shoulder. It was easier to hide behind sarcasm than to explore who I was. Certainly, if I wouldn’t admit to being gay in front of strangers who probably didn’t care, it threw up walls I still needed to feel safe. Fake it ‘til you make it maybe?
This semester’s babes’ group was small. The choir was smaller overall, maybe because chamber music isn’t the top-20 pop tunes, and maybe because college fees had recently gone up. In any case, I started flirting with the girls that very first afternoon, but my reputation preceded me. Some of them just rolled their eyes and ignored me. In fact, all of them did except for one.
“Hi, I’m Emily,” the pretty auburn-haired girl said, turning around to look at me with an innocent smile. If she was in college she had to be at least seventeen, but she looked two years younger.
I grinned back at her, thinking she must be very naïve. A lamb walking into a wolf’s lair. “I’m…”
“Darrell Stephenson,” she interrupted. She blushed. “I heard the professor call your name during roll.”
I cleared my throat, amused. “To tell the truth, I go by Dax, not Darrell.” I pretended to shiver. “Darrell, uh!”
Emily laughed, a musical sound. “Okay, Dax it is.”
Her full name was Emily Bayard, age eighteen, and she sang soprano. She could’ve been a female version of Connor with her strawberry hair straight down her back and green eyes, but that didn’t put me off. She was much more feminine, of course. Her coloring was actually closer to Michael’s. Maybe it was time to admit, aside from Brendan, that I was partial to redheads. Her eyes were very round and framed with reddish-brown lashes and tweezed brows, and she had a wide mouth with red lips and a pert, upturned nose. At five-foot-four, she came up to my chin, and her frame was slender but lithe with small features. She made me think of a wood nymph.
Emily was a quiet girl with the biggest smile I’d ever seen. She was kind to everyone around her and never said anything mean. She was also very serious, and I took advantage of it, cracking jokes to get her to laugh and gently teasing her. Instead of getting angry or answering with a quick comeback, she turned pink and looked at me with her big eyes that said she knew she was being messed with. Normally this kind of girl would annoy me, but Emily didn’t. She was smart but she didn’t draw attention to herself. I sensed she was very shy.
The only class we shared was singing, but for some reason she made an impression on me, and we became friends. I found out that after choir ended on Wednesday evenings she had a gap of hour and a half before her Spanish class, and she always spent it getting dinner at the Student Union. On Wednesday nights Brendan was at the university in a ‘Technologies for Teaching’ course but I was free. Staying on campus, even while eating dinner with someone, might motivate me to finish the homework I had a habit of putting off.
“So Emily, why don’t we get something to eat at the Student Union building after class,” I suggested easily our third week of class. “Since you only have a short break, and I don’t have anywhere pressing I need to be.”
At first she looked at me uncertainly, as if she expected my invitation to be some sort of joke. Then she relaxed. “That sounds like fun.”
So that’s how I came to share a quick dinner with Emily on Wednesday nights
As it got closer to Brendan’s graduation, he began talking about what he would do after college. It was becoming more and more obvious that he would not be able to teach in southern California. The areas around his hometown were losing young people at a rapid rate, so there was a huge need for teachers there, and his own middle school had already offered him a student teaching job if he wanted it. His concern was in returning to such a narrow-minded locale.
For some reason, as smart as Brendan was, he couldn’t see that he had a third option which was to move somewhere completely new. There were many places throughout the country where his degree would be welcomed, and I didn’t appreciate why it had to be Derrington or southern Cali. He couldn’t even tell me what bothered him about the idea.
If he went home, he wanted me to go with him. I was in my second semester of my sophomore year and by May I would be a free agent. I had planned to head for San Diego for college but my attendance there wasn’t carved in stone. I just as easily could transfer to any university willing to accept me which was a long list due to my excellent grades. Not that I would choose a second-rate education, but degrees in the mental health field were fairly universal.
I wanted to say I was prepared to follow him anywhere, but the idea of leaving Santa Bella filled me with trepidation. It was a commitment I didn’t think I could make. At not even twenty, I felt I was too young and immature to look at a future with a forever partner in it. It was nothing personal towards Brendan because he and I loved each other deeply, but were we really ready to entrust we’d always feel the same bond? It was like all of a sudden my lifelong issues came roaring back into my life to cause havoc.
There was another problem too. The move back to Missouri screamed disaster at me. Everything I’d heard about Derrington made me want to avoid moving there, mostly because I knew we would encounter a lot of gay bias. Brendan had been raised in a staunchly fundamentalist Christian family who were a bunch of Bible-thumping rednecks preaching hellfire and damnation and believed being gay was a mortal sin. His cousin, Lauren, did nothing to change my mind, calling his hometown prehistoric and evil. The state hadn’t even legalized homosexuality until 2006.
Knowing the danger, I didn’t see how he could possibly want to go back to the challenges we would be pitting ourselves against. There was no way he could come out to his parents, and he wanted to take me home? As what? It would look damn strange that a friend just happened to agree to move in with him, thinking we could live quietly, pretend to just be platonic friends and hoped the world around us would overlook the obvious. He couldn’t introduce me as his boyfriend. Inquiries into our lifestyle were not going to be through persuasive talks in the garden. I pictured dead animals on our doorstep, ‘faggot’ spray-painted on our cars and physical violence. Yeah, disaster for sure.
But how could I give up Brendan? I cared about him deeply and he lit up my life in small ways every day. I tried to convince myself that maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as my imagination painted but who was I kidding? He only had to get through the program- one year of student teaching- and I could probably convince him to take a teaching position elsewhere, somewhere we’d be accepted. Our love might survive long-term separation if he chose to go home and I stayed here. I was desperate not to have to make a difficult choice that was going to hurt, no matter what.
Brendan, however, was thrusting his head into the clouds, firmly fixated on a ‘love conquers all’ silver lining. I wanted to trust that he knew what he was doing, and I didn’t want to fight with him, but this was one time where deferring to his judgment filled me with anxiety. I didn’t know who else to talk to either. The issue hung in the air between us over the rest of the semester. We decided not to ruin our last two months by agonizing over our future.
We were happy together. I woke up cuddled into his side every morning, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms at night. We had the same views on saving money and not making impulse decisions. We liked the same foods and shared cooking chores. I met his friends from school who accepted me eagerly as Brendan’s boyfriend, and nobody looked down on me because I wasn’t out of my teens yet. We worked and went to class, danced and loved. Oh, how we loved!
I knew by late April I would lose Brendan, at least physically. Nobody was making any snap decisions but despite my misgivings, he was going to return to Missouri. I couldn’t influence him to stay in the Santa Bella area but knew it was going to fall down around his ears if he went home even though I tried to be optimistic. He was hurt that I wouldn’t go with him, but I think he understood my fears. I hoped our love would pass the test and stay alive until he was done with his program.
Brendan planned to leave California right after graduation. Naturally, his parents were flying out to the ceremony and he had to move back in with Lauren the day before so they wouldn’t find out about me. The unspoken plan was that the Appleby parents would help him box up his room and he would immediately leave for Derrington in his truck. We spent the weekend before hunting down the odds and ends that had found their way into my apartment which would make it easier for him later. He was holding himself in good spirits which helped me. Part of him was eager to get back and acclimate himself before he started his placement in late August, but part of him didn’t want to leave at all.
We cried a lot during our last week together, and I couldn’t shake my sense of doom. I did just as good a job as he did hiding my apprehension. I was already upset because I wasn’t allowed to attend his graduation ceremony; there was no possible way he could justify my attendance as a platonic friend without his parents catching on. I couldn't pretend and stop myself from wildly cheering for him out of pride when his name was called or kissing him afterwards.
Even so, it was hard not to let on how much I cared about him but I tried. The flight instructions his parents sent him must have been mixed up because they showed up at Lauren’s house in their rental car two hours earlier than planned. I had arranged to be gone by then, but here came Mom and Dad Appleby looking like they had sticks shoved up their butts, commenting with distaste about the flight, the May Gray weather and our insanely crowded and confusing airport. Well, I couldn't disagree about the airport.
“Mom and Dad,” Brendan said, struggling not to giggle. “This is my best friend, Dax.”
I smiled and welcomed them, watching Lauren out of the corner of my eye as she mimicked his parents bitching and moaning from in back of them. They shook my hand in a dismissive way and asked how I knew their son.
“We have mutual friends that attend school with Dax,” Lauren lied.
“Is Dax your real name?” Mr. Appleby looked at me with an ‘only in California’ roll of his eyes.
“I told you about him, Dad,” Brendan said smoothly. “It’s a nickname.”
I had heard about this. Brendan had accidentally let my name slip out on conversations home and had to explain himself to them, including the origin of my nickname.
“Where’s Zach and Jordie?” he asked his mother, changing the subject by mentioning his two younger brothers, six and ten years younger respectively. His parents believed in putting space between their kids.
“We didn’t have the money to fly them out here, Bren,” his father answered in a petulant voice. “Besides, they still have a week of school.”
I made my excuses to leave as soon as I politely could, and Brendan sneaked out with me to say goodbye. Knowing that my truck wasn’t visible from Lauren’s house he gave me a soft kiss. I probably wouldn’t see him again until the party after his commencement.
“I love you,” I told him, cuddling into his chest.
“I love you too.” He gave me a final kiss on my forehead. “I hate that we have to do this.”
“I know, Brendan, but…”
He put his fingers over my lips, stopping me from my oft-mentioned reminder that by next June he would be a credentialed teacher, ready to make secure plans for his future. He gave me another kiss and said he’d see me in two days.
His graduation party at Lauren’s on Saturday was fun but uncomfortable. The whole time I thought I was going to screw up and grab his hand or touch his ass or somehow give away our feelings for each other. It was so difficult to pretend we were just friends. And was it my imagination or did his parents watch me like a hawk?
On the night before his departure, his parents in the air on their way back to Missouri and his car in my parking lot with all his worldly possessions packed in it, he spent the final night with me. Knowing this would have to last us, we stayed up as long as his safety would allow, holding each other close in bed, staring and kissing, as if to firmly memorize faces and bodies.
We needed to make love. I normally bottomed, but Brendan was desperate for me to top him, raw with no protection. “Please, Dax,” he groaned, breathless. I had already given him a fantastic blowjob, and he came with his usual quiet intensity while I had watched, transfixed, at the emotions flitting over his angelic face. “I want you deep inside me just this once.”
He was on his stomach with his hips in the air as I lay beside him, kissing him softly and getting him ready. I was sort of nervous; I had only topped a few times, and they weren’t good experiences for me because the others were in too much of a hurry or they wanted it so rough it hurt. With Brendan I took my time and used a lot of lube, staring into his eyes the color of blue sky as my fingers opened him up with loving strokes. “Hurry, Dax,” he begged me, trembling. “I need you now.”
I massaged the smooth globes of his ass as I lined up behind him. Brendan pushed back against my hard tool, and I leaned forward as the head entered him just past the first few inches to rest beyond the constriction. “You feel so good, Dax,” Brendan groaned after the pain passed. “More, I can take more.”
Oh, the conflict in feelings of being inside my Brendan! Loving him so immensely but grieving his departure, I knelt there with my eyes shut, holding on to Brendan’s hips as we slowly narrowed the gap between us. Sweat was streaming down my body to mingle with his and drip off our thighs. Within seconds I was seated and our balls made gentle contact. I had to stop to control my rising excitement, my senses close to overwhelmed. “God, Brendan,” I moaned.
“Move in me,” he begged once I calmed. Slowly I pulled out of him almost to the head before driving deep back inside in a smooth slide. I tagged his prostate , and his hips rocked into me hard as he whimpered helplessly. Again and again I lunged; he urged me on faster and harder, and I felt the first upsweep of my orgasm. Brendan’s ass was so tight, a channel of heated velvet that gripped and tugged on me, and I groaned.
“Harder,” he pleaded. I grabbed him around the middle, and my hand took his rigid dick and began jacking him off as my hips powered hard and fast into him. His mouth dropped open into a continuous moan, and I could feel him tense up to cum. His back arched, and he cried out as he began to spurt in my hand. “Oh, Dax, oh,” was all he said, quiet and low as always, pumping ropes of pearly cum on the sheets. I held him up with my arms, protecting him, feeling his love surrounding me.
His ass tightened around my cock in spasms, and I felt every moan rumbling in his chest. I was trying to hold back on my release, wanting to stay forever right here inside Brendan, but strong waves of pleasure were building in my groin and rippling outwards. I felt every tendon in my body cording tautly, and I threw my head back as my passion overtook me.
“I love you, Brendan,” I screamed, losing control as I jerked with the first blast of hot semen to fill his bowels. “Oh please… need you…” Every word forced from my throat punctuated a hard thrust into Brendan, and I unloaded deeply inside him. I moaned. It had ended much too soon, and part of my vocalization was in disappointment.
I fell against his back, my lips feathering across his shoulder blades. We slid sideways onto the bed, heedless of the wet spot and my sperm dripping down Brendan’s thighs. I wrapped my arms around him and nuzzled into his neck. “You are fantastic,” I told him breathlessly. He rolled in my arms to kiss me like there was no tomorrow. For us, there wasn’t.
It was some of the most intimate sex we’d ever had with each other. We fell asleep, exhausted, and then awoke to make love again. In the morning before dawn we held on to each other and cried. He left with a care package of food and drink in a cooler I fixed for him to take so he wouldn’t have to stop so often and buy junk. I worried about him on the road alone, and he promised to text at every stop and call me every night from the hotel. I could tell he was scared to go back home alone, and I almost changed my mind.
Brendan kept his word to call and text, and he arrived in Derrington four days later. With no prior living arrangements made, he moved temporarily into his parents’ home where he was warmly greeted back into the bosom of his family. His friends were ecstatic to see him, of course, and made him comfortable, but he was bored with the lack of entertainment. The old swimming hole and teen pranks just didn’t hold the same appeal as they once had. He had nobody to talk to back there. He told me how hard it was to get used to attending church again, seeing as how he’d fallen out of the practice here and no longer believed in God the same way.
As for me, I settled sadly into a life without Brendan. Work at the store was convenient, familiar and mind-numbingly methodical. Even though I was due to begin the state university in San Diego in the fall and I worked full-time, I enrolled in an extra sociology class that summer on the advice of my friend, Emily, who was also in it. We were still buddies, and I still played straight with her. We enjoyed each other’s company.
I had not seen Michael, with the exception of Jana and David’s wedding, for fifteen months. To save myself pain, I schooled my mind to jump off that topic whenever I got near a thought of him because the first vision that popped into my head every single time was of that stupid kiss in my old apartment. I had to honestly admit that a piece of me still loved him, but that had to be because he was my first, right? You always hold on to a special memory of your first.
I still went over to Mom and Dad’s house for occasional meals and to help out any way I could. Dad wasn’t ancient by any means, but he was getting up there in age, and I worried about his back when he lugged sacks of fertilizer and compost into the back yard. Mom would have me answer questions during her Open Houses if an agent was out ill. She always warned me when Michael was home visiting from Humboldt, and Dad told me he was having minor problems with his ex, Isaac, hassling him but he wasn’t in any danger. Michael missed both of their birthdays because he was too busy at school, and he spent spring break with friends.
In August I transferred to SDSU to begin work on my major. I had decided to seek a co-degree in marriage and family therapy and mental health counseling. Cal-State was rather liberating since the school was on the outskirts of San Diego and forty-five minutes from Santa Bella. It was huge, worlds different from Seaview. With my grades, I easily persuaded the administration that I could handle a top-heavy course load, and they let me take the extra units I needed to stay up with my peers. Classes were stimulating and I enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself.
Against all odds, Emily became one of my closest friends. From the choir class during the spring term to the sociology course over the summer, we had managed to keep in touch regularly. She didn’t know I was gay because I didn’t want to rock the boat, but in all other subjects I shared my life with her. I made sure to schedule a few hours once a week to meet up with her for a meal or a walk somewhere. Once Brendan left I had a lot of free time, not all of it appreciated.
Brendan and I shared text messages and phone calls, and we even had great phone sex. Okay, are your clothes completely off? Are you getting hard for me? I’m teasing your nipples with my teeth, and you are begging for more. I’m sucking your cock; feel it go down my throat and me massaging it. It’s so hot when you rim me. Brendan’s low hoarse moans of ‘oh, Dax, oh… oh damn’ as he came swept me away into bliss every time.
We made all sorts of mutual promises, pledged our love constantly and talked about everything, including the fact that I was right about moving to Derrington. Brendan had seen, indirectly, how his town treated gay people and was afraid to confide in his family or friends about me. I tried to encourage him and say we were just marking time until we could be together and he needed to hold on to our love to give him strength. We counted each week as it passed. He was scared and unhappy, and we discussed the idea of him moving to a larger city like St. Louis or Kansas City to finish the internship. I was frantic because it felt as if I was losing him, and I even offered to fly him back to California for a week before the start of school, but he refused.
We made it work for four months.
By late summer his communication had slowed down, and I had a terrible feeling that he was being unduly influenced by family or friends or his own flailing emotions were beating him up. I wondered if he’d found someone else but that seemed unlikely. I celebrated our fourteen month anniversary without him, and he didn’t even call. By the end of the month it was up to me to get in touch with him, and even then Brendan didn’t always answer his phone or return my texts. Three weeks later on a Friday evening I received the telephone call that broke my heart.
Brendan sounded very puzzled and rambled through a long list of nonsense subjects; I was fairly sure he had been drinking for hours. He finally broke down and said he was staying in Derrington. He’d been offered a teaching position in the middle school as soon as his student teaching gig was finished. It was the same school he’d attended as a child, and it was a good job with decent pay.
The worst news was that he felt so alone over the struggle to admit his sexuality, the only way he could handle it was to shift into deep denial. Brendan wanted to end our relationship. He started talking in terms of how our love for each other was just some great sexual experiment, rationalizing that he didn’t really care about me ‘in that way’. He’d met a girl who was the daughter of family friends, and it was just assumed they would marry. In fact, they had talked about their future, and a tentative wedding date was already set for the late fall.
I could not believe what Brendan was telling me. Brendan was gay, not even bi, full-on gay. I knew he was. As much as I loved him, I reasoned that if he’d fallen in love with another man, I could accept it, but a girl? It was a load of bullshit. There had been no uncertainty whatsoever here in Santa Bella that he enjoyed sex with me and loved me with all his heart. But there was no talking him out of it. He was marrying because it was expected, and he couldn’t let his family down.
As hurt as I was, I also felt very angry. “Is she going to take it up the ass like me?” I raged. “Fucking a girl is nothing like being with a man. And what are you going to do when you have the urge to suck someone off?”
“Please don’t say those things, Dax,” he tried to placate me. “It’s not like that. I will always treasure what we had. It’s just… different here. My family expects grandchildren.”
“There are ways to deal with kids later! Are you trying to tell me you didn’t already know this while you were here in California? All the time you were trying to convince me to go to Missouri with you, it sounds like your duties were clear. You just parked your ass in fucking Lala Land, and if you say you didn’t, you’re lying.”
“I don’t know what I expected.” He sounded so lost. “I should’ve brought you back with me. Maybe I could be stronger with you by my side, but when I’m with my family, it doesn’t matter what I want.”
“So do you need me to come to Missouri?” I asked, near begging. “I’ll do it if you want; I’ll be on the next plane.”
He was crying now; we both were. “No, Dax. It’s too late. They would never understand, and if you came here and they found out about us, I’d be an outcast. That would be the end of my job… of everything.”
“Derrington is not the goddamned Holy Grail,” I cried, desperate. “There are other places you can intern. We can find another position. You have been trained to be an excellent math teacher.”
But no matter what alternatives I suggested, he refused to listen to any that would save our relationship. Leaving his home and coming back with me to California was out of the question, although I offered to support both of us while he found a school district to restart his student teaching gig. I couldn’t believe he was so weak. He had always been the positive, confident one, the one who didn’t let anything get him down. Now, he was the train wreck I hadn’t seen coming, like talking to a stranger. But one thing was perfectly clear. My life with him was over.
“So I guess this is fucking goodbye,” I cried, tears dripping down my face.
“It doesn’t have to be,” he said fiercely. “I’ll always need you as a friend.”
“I don’t think I can do that, at least not now. I don’t do the friends thing. After what we shared together, after loving you the way I do, staying in touch would hurt too much.”
Brendan responded with a round of apologies begging me not to abandon him. I hung up on him, and when he called back I refused to answer. I sat staring at my cell phone listening to it ring over and over in calls and texts, feeling my life crumble around me. Now what? Run, my numbing brain answered. Run until you lose yourself.
How did one deal with three failed supposedly-committed relationships in two years? It was as if I’d been through several lifetimes, cheated on by Michael, lied to by Connor and thrown over for a heterosexual lifestyle by Brendan. It felt as if my soul was bleeding anguish and fear. I tried to be a man and detach from my emotions. I tried to look at it philosophically. I figured I couldn’t be that unlucky unless God hated me.
It being Friday, I had the weekend off with no pressing duties and nowhere to go. I grabbed the half-full bottle of Cuervo tequila out of a cabinet and locked my apartment door, seeking delirium. I got completely wasted and drifted in and out of consciousness. I revived once to find myself sprawled on the floor outside the bathroom, lying in vomit. I think I had crawled there.
Empty liquor bottles surrounded me. I crashed again. Every time I came up for air, I went back down into the pit. When I wasn’t too drunk to see I stared at the photo taken of Brendan and me the summer before at Jana’s wedding until I began dreaming about it in my oblivion. I let the darkness take me to places I never wanted to go again, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t count to the person who meant the world to me.
On Sunday afternoon I returned to full alertness feeling the all-too familiar tightness around my eyes and shakiness in my hands. My mouth tasted nasty and I smelled worse. As my misery wrapped around me like cotton wool, I realized the alcohol wasn’t strong enough. I wanted drugs, needing them in the old desperation because I couldn’t stand feeling… anything. I checked my cell phone to find twenty missed phone calls and fifty text messages from Brendan, each one more distressed. I also found several from his cousin, Lauren Appleby, so I called her instead.
“Oh good, you’re still breathing,” she said as soon as she answered the phone. “Brendan was worried about you.”
“Big fucking deal,” I yelled, slamming my fist down on the table. The pain resonated all the way up my arm. “I’ve said all I’m going to say to that ass. Nothing will make a difference.”
Lauren tried to appeal to me and explained about their family- information I already knew that, in hindsight, made me wonder why Brendan had ever thought returning home would work out for us. Oh yeah, family expectations, with their blind hatred of what they didn’t understand. And what was I left with? It would have been better for Brendan to have broken up with me before his departure, better yet if we had never met in the first place.
“He doesn’t care about me,” I moaned. “He doesn’t love me.”
“You know he does,” she reassured me soothingly. “He’s just so confused right now.”
“He’s confused?” I screeched. “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word.” I took several deep breaths to calm down, knowing I was venting all over Brendan’s cousin who played no part in this disaster. It wasn’t her fault he was a prick. My next words were hollow.
“Just call Brendan and tell him to leave me alone. We’re finished.”
“Are you okay, Dax,” I could tell she worried over the flat finality in my voice.
“No, I’m not, Lauren,” I replied. “Tell him goodbye for me.”
I faintly heard her tell me not to do anything stupid, but I didn’t want to listen and hung up. Brendan was gone, lost to some faceless female and backwoods homophobia. I suddenly recalled meeting him at the bar that first time, and the pain invaded me again. When I also remembered every single person who had ever betrayed me, I surrendered to the noise in my head. I’d reached a dead end where I decided that it didn’t matter what happened to me.
‘Cause I can't feel my face, I won't struggle long
In a world so cold, in a world so wrong
I'm not running away, been fighting this so long
Such a price that we pay, we gotta be so strong
And I take my life tonight,
’Cause I have the right
To die how I wanna
And leave how I arrived
It was how I felt. It was how I wanted it to end. There was nothing worthwhile left in my life. I was going to call one of my dealers and make a final buy. I knew exactly what I was doing, and it was going to be quick and painless. It was almost scary how much I wished to overdose.
Brendan had been the longest relationship of my life. I had done everything to show how much I loved him, and I still couldn’t hold onto him. My heart was in pieces, each one like a shard of glass, slicing through me and making me scream in agony. All these negative impulses were pounding inside to lose myself in a drug-induced stupor and forget until it was over. But the tiny shred of self-preservation I had left held me up.
I dragged myself up and went out… somewhere, it didn’t matter. I drove around for four hours only to come to in a dazed fashion and find myself parked in front of the Capshaws’ house. It was the only place I felt safe.
Michael answered the door- as usual. What was he, the fucking greetings fairy? I had expected him to be up at school. “Uh, Dax,” he gulped, stepping back in uncertainty. I saw him take in the way I swayed on my feet, my wild, sweaty appearance and my stained and rumpled clothing.
“Mom and Dad…” I croaked, seeing it in his eyes, the sorrow and disappointment that I wasn’t sober.
“They’re in the family room,” he acknowledged. I desperately pushed past him to get to them.
“Dax, what is it?” The Capshaws were watching a television program on the wide screen, and Mom rose up from the couch in panic. Dad also stood up, and I threw myself in his arms.
“I c-c-can’t d-d-do this anymore,” I sobbed. I felt Mom join into the hug, shushing me in comfort. Vaguely I felt Michael hovering nearby, hesitant and embarrassed. I didn’t care whether he sympathized or laughed in my face, he was the last thing on my mind. “A girl, he left me for a girl,” I said over and over.
My brain was in overdrive, and I was vocalizing random thoughts about my year with Brendan and the gruesome outcome. I told them all about hick town gay bashing, my conflict in staying put and his describing our love as an experiment. In the mix, my wanting to use drugs and die popped up several times. Gradually, Mom and Dad calmed me down, and the next thing I knew Zeke Carter was there. So the guy made house calls.
Zeke advised that I should go to the ER and be checked for alcohol poisoning but I refused. He then wanted to admit me to a psych ward and put me on a 72-hour suicide watch. I argued that if I’d been serious about killing myself, I would have stayed home and called my dealer instead of running home to the Capshaws. He knew I had a point; I was reaching out for help, not actually seeking to hurt myself. Mom and Dad volunteered to let me stay with them for a few days, and Zeke finally agreed. I had accrued sick leave coming from the store. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment because there were too many hurtful memories and I wasn’t allowed to be alone.
I was starting to freak out again, and Zeke had a light tranquilizer prescribed for me. Dad went to the pharmacy to pick it up and gathered some clothes from my apartment. I took a shower, Mom settled me in my old bedroom, and I fell asleep. I woke up every few hours, sometimes from nightmares, sometimes sick to my stomach and needing to purge my body of the alcohol toxins. Every time either Mom or Dad was sitting beside me with comfort and guidance, and I realized Zeke had probably instructed them to keep an eye on me. I was grateful.
It was about four in the morning and I awoke to a quiet house and a pale glow coming from the nightlight in the semi-private bathroom I’d once shared with Michael. The sedative tablet was alongside a glass of water on the nightstand next to the bed, and I took it. I heard a noise over my shoulder and looked up to find Michael sitting in the armchair in the corner, his head lolling as he unsuccessfully tried to stay awake. I laid there in the near-dark staring at him until he startled in his sleep, jerking himself conscious. His eyes flew open, and he could see I was awake.
“Hey Dax,” he whispered. “How are you doing?”
“Okay,” I said, scrubbing my hand over my face. “You should be in bed.”
“No, I’m alright.” He stretched full length in the chair, and well-toned muscles that I hadn’t seen in two years rippled under his t-shirt. I dropped my gaze. “Mom and Dad are exhausted, so I told them I’d sit up with you.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. Why did my neediness have to spill over on to the people I cared about?
“Dax, it’s okay,” Michael said severely, reading my mind. “They’re glad you came home to them. We want you to trust us. You’re family.”
I noticed the ‘we’ immediately and was touched because this was an awkward subject between us. Over a year ago he had been intensely jealous of me and my rapport with his father and mother. For all I knew, he might still be. “Thanks, Michael.”
“Not a problem, we’re always solid,” he avowed with quiet resolve. He paused for a few seconds and then shrugged. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a prick.”
I could tell he meant it, that it encompassed a lot of things and nodded. “I’m sorry too.”
“Do you want to talk about it… about him?” he asked awkwardly.
I shrugged. “Might as well. I’m awake enough.”
“So about Brendan,” he prompted hesitantly. “You were what- together a year?”
“Over fourteen months,” I answered dully. I felt detached, like my feelings weren’t part of me anymore. “It was so good between us. Then he decided to go back to Missouri to student teach for his credential. He wanted me to go with him, but I was too afraid of this— I knew it would happen eventually. His town is prejudice a hundred times worse than Santa Bella High, and his parents didn’t even know he was gay. I just don’t understand the girl part.”
I could tell Michael was struggling with my disclosure, probably over the fact that I’d fallen in love with someone else, but he’s the one who asked. Yet, I had no doubt Michael loved me, and that earned points if he was willing to listen to me talk about putting another in his place. The boy had strength I’d never realized not to break down into tears. So I edited the info on the romance and told him all about the past year ending with the telephone call.
“Dax, what happened with Brendan isn’t all that unusual,” he said. “Believe me, at Humboldt, I saw it all the time in the dorms. You have guys away from home for the first time living with someone they most likely don’t know in rooms the size of closets. Whether they’ve known all their lives that they’re gay or they don’t have a clue what’s going on until they fell in love with another man for the first time, for some it’s the first time they’ve experienced the freedom to be themselves. It’s all about the exploration, especially with the last group. Some don’t last past college. Maybe that’s what Brendan was into. It just sucks that you got caught up in it.”
What he described made our love sound shallow, but what if he was right? I was more surprised at the concern in Michael’s voice. “I don’t know what to do. It's like the bottom has dropped out of my life… again.”
“It probably doesn’t feel like it will get better soon, Dax, but you know what they say about time and healing.”
I scowled. “Uh-huh. And what has it been for us- two years. Neither of us is fully over…” I stopped, shocked that I’d brought it up. “I’m sorry, Michael. I had no right.” My apology, like his own, was covering a lot of ground.
Michael hung his head. “It’s alright. We both needed to clear the air. I don’t like it when you get hurt, especially since it’s me who hurts you the most. I have no idea where the bullshit comes from when I’m angry and lash out at you. It’s like I can’t help myself.”
I smiled in spite of myself. “Yeah, we both seem to do that. I think we know each other too well.”
Michael swallowed audibly, looking as if he wanted to say something and was afraid of my reaction. After a slight pause he sat completely upright and seemed to make up his mind, but his voice was shaky. “I wish we could go back two and a half years, Dax, and I could relive that whole day. Believe me, I’d do anything to change what I did.”
I’d heard this before, and I had regrets about it too. Maybe it didn’t hurt as bad as it used to, but that didn’t take away the sting of my mistrust. “We can’t go back. We can only forge ahead, and work with what’s left.”
“Isn’t there any way we could do this together instead of apart?” He was almost pleading.
“I don’t think so, Michael. It’s over and done with, and what happened is in the past, no matter how we feel. Please don’t talk about it. I can’t deal with it right now anyway.”
“I know,” he answered, and I saw tears glimmering in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I will always regret driving you away, but I can’t blame you for your lack of faith in me. I fuck up everything.”
The kindest thing would’ve been to disagree but I was too wiped out. “Let it rest and maybe in time,” I advised, more to change the subject than a promise.
“Okay,” he swallowed, looking morose.
The pill was beginning to take effect, and I was getting tired again. I settled back down in bed. “It’s alright, Michael,” I whispered. “You’re the lucky one, I think. At least you’re smart enough not to keep falling in love with people who hurt you. Well, I guess that’s not really true…” I was thinking about Isaac and, to a certain extent, myself. I wondered if there was anyone else in his life now. It had been a long time since he broke up with him. Surely, a man as good-looking as Michael must have a lot of boyfriends. But then he wouldn’t be wanting me back…
It was too taxing to speak and I lay there quietly with my eyes closed. In a voice he must have meant for himself that he thought was too low to hear he said, “Please, Dax, all I need is one more chance.” My shoulders twitched at the sad finality in his voice, but then I decided not to give away that I’d heard. Too tired.
A few minutes later, just as I was drifting off I heard Michael get up and walk towards me. I’m sure he thought I was asleep. He bent over and kissed my forehead. “Love you, Dax. Together forever, even if you don’t love me back.” Strangely, it was comforting and didn’t make me angry.
By Wednesday I was better. Michael was still here but when I asked about college he just smiled and said not to worry. Mom had called both of our universities and asked for our professors to be informed that there had been a family emergency.
At first, Brendan wouldn’t leave me alone and kept texting me until I wanted to scream in frustration. I supposed I could’ve erased his telephone number and blocked his calls, but I kept hoping he’d come to his senses. Then the texts just stopped, and that was it. He was out of my life for good. At that point I decided it was time to get on with it.
I made plans to move, and thankfully my year was almost up so I didn’t have to break my lease. I couldn’t stand to live in the apartment where we’d shared so much happiness. I also went back into weekly therapy with Zeke. I had to find out why these crises kept happening to me. But I was done with love. Sex, if I wanted it, could be left to strangers who didn’t have feelings for me and I could give up anytime. Love was for fools.
The night that Dax came home, I was shocked by his appearance, and he looked for all the world like he’d had a relapse. Then he went rushing into Dad’s arms, crying over some drama about his lover, Brendan. I edged into the family room to listen and eventually got the entire explanation. Brendan had returned to his hometown and decided he wasn’t gay and planned on marrying some local girl. He’d broken up with Dax who was so distraught he’d almost committed suicide over losing him. Something about buying drugs from a dealer and overdosing on purpose. My blood chilled in my veins.
I had never seen Dax so broken, not even when I cheated on him. How much he had truly loved Brendan came out in his rambling anguish, and even though I pitied him with all my heart, my envy extended its claws. I wanted to be that man. If given the chance, I’d never cause Dax pain again, would never give him a reason to leave me. I hated Brendan for making Dax so desperate, and I wanted to hunt him down and hurt him.
Suddenly I saw Dax clearer than ever before. I’d always known he was what I term an innocent, a person who was a little naïve and thought each day brought fresh possibilities to life, whose love was purposeful and sweet. Now I viewed Dax as someone who loved with his whole heart and put everything into a relationship. He was a person who offered up his trust and would always be hurt because he felt it too much. And suddenly I realized Dax was a man who needed protection. Maybe from myself because I had been the one to hurt him first, but certainly from the rest of the world.
Dax’s therapist showed up and wanted to institutionalize him. I’m glad Dax and my parents talked Zeke out of it; because that meant he got to stay with us. He went to bed in his old room- right next to mine, and when Mom and Dad looked like they were going to fall asleep standing up, I volunteered to keep watch.
My conversation with Dax when he woke up was surprisingly civil. He told me about his relationship with Brendan and, I'll admit it, the realization over how much he loved him hurt like hell. They'd had a strong bond until Brendan left him, and this led to sharing what I knew about gay college life. Then it seemed as if we were apologizing about every nasty thing we’ve ever said to each other for the past two years, and I got up the courage to ask him to take me back. The timing was wrong, I know, but at least he didn’t seem offended or get angry. Then he went to sleep, and I got to do something I had dreamed of for months- kiss him. It wasn’t on the lips, but I still love him, okay? A kiss is a kiss.
Dax slept much of the next two days. One thing that seemed to be a huge interruption was his cell phone. I was pretty sure it was Brendan texting because Dax, if he was awake, would get this irritated look on his face, quickly read the text and delete it without a reply. Brendan was sending at least a hundred texts a day, probably begging for understanding and forgiveness, and it was nothing short of hounding Dax. He was draining his energy, constantly reminding him of their love, and it wasn’t fair to my bro.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, I heard Dax’s cell phone squawk announcing an incoming message, and I’d had enough. I peeked into Dax’s room, and he was sound asleep. Sneaking in, I grabbed up the cell and flipped it open to display the message. Yes, again from Brendan: ‘Are you okay, Dax? Talk to me.’
I copied the number to my own cell, not feeling a bit of guilt, and deleted his message before leaving the room. Then I composed one of my own, an answer to Brendan to hopefully end all communication between them.
‘Michael Capshaw here,’ I sent by way of message. ‘Leave Dax alone.’
I received one back immediately, demanding to know why I was answering on Dax’s behalf, and I turned my full rage on him. ‘He loved you and you dumped him. He almost killed himself.’
At that point the texting ended, and Brendan called me on my cell. “Is Dax okay?” His rich southern voice sounded panicky, which he fully deserved, and I felt he had a lot of nerve asking. But I did the decent thing and replied.
“Yes, he is now. But on Sunday night he really scared me. He was talking about overdosing on purpose, and it was bad for awhile. He still isn’t very strong.”
“I was afraid of that,” he admitted softly. “My cousin said he sounded awful on Sunday.”
“You’re an ass, Brendan,” I huffed. “Dax is a sweet, sensitive guy. You hurt him because you wanted the easy way out. If you keep texting him, it’s going to push him over the edge.”
“But I need to make him understand how sorry I am.”
“He knows you’re sorry, but you were cruel. Get out of his life before you really fuck him up. If you need comfort, get it from your girlfriend.”
He paused as if he wasn’t sure how much I knew. “It’s not like that.”
“It isn’t? You used him, Brendan. You know exactly what you felt for him. I saw the two of you together last summer. Don’t you dare deny that you’re gay, because if you do, I’ll come through this phone and mess you up. It’s an insult to Dax and how much he loves you.”
“Okay, yes, I love him, but it’s different here. Derrington isn’t Santa Bella.”
“No shit! Why do you think Dax was afraid to move with you? He knew he wasn’t strong enough to be a part of some homophobic witch-hunt, but you insisted. He knew you going to Missouri would probably break you up, but he let you leave anyway because that’s what you wanted. The guilt is ripping him to pieces.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” Brendan said contritely in a low voice.
“But you did,” I raged. “You made your choice and it isn’t for him. Dax gave you his love and trust. He handed you his heart, and you broke it.”
There was another pause. “Is Dax with you?” Well duh. But I understood the nuance and decided not to correct the false impression he had of me alone versus me as part of my family.
“Yes, he came to me, scared and hurting. He didn’t know where else to go.”
Several seconds went by in which I waited for him to respond. At last: “Do you still love him, Michael?”
No hesitation on my part. “Always have, always will. Together forever.”
“Take care of him for me, then.” He sounded so forlorn, but my concern wasn’t for him.
“No, I’ll take care of him for me.”
“I’m sorry. He meant so much to me, and then… it’s just…”
Okay, maybe his feelings were solid before all the shit fell in, but whatever love he had left for Dax had turned selfish and manipulative once the trouble started, something I was familiar with.
“If you truly loved him, you would’ve left Derrington and come back here.”
I don’t know why I was having to explain this to him but he acted like he didn’t understand how much he’d hurt Dax.
“But you refused to fight for him. Be kind to Dax and leave him alone.”
“But…” He was sputtering in protest, but it was all for his own benefit.
“Brendan, he tried to kill himself. If you really love him, let him go. Let him forget you.”
There was another silence, as if he was struggling with his conscience. I could hear his tears through the phone and knew what he was feeling. “Okay.”
“Have a good life, Brendan. I hope you find peace.” And I did wish him that, but I doubted he would. Until he was honest with himself, Brendan was doomed to a life of unhappy pretending. At least Dax was out of it.
I stood there kind of zoning out, feeling… happy. It was a strange emotion for me. As badly as the situation had gone for Brendan and Dax, and I truly felt awful for both of them, I knew it was going to work out for the best. If Brendan wouldn’t fight to keep him, he wasn’t worthy and they were better off breaking up now. Dax and I were somewhat friends again. Okay, nothing had really changed for us, but at least we could be comfortable together in the same house.
I let my mind float back to the last time I’d seen Dax. It was at Jana’s wedding, eleven months before. He and Brendan had been so happy together, flirting across the banquet room because Dax, being part of the wedding party, had to sit with the bridesmaids and groomsmen. I had been in an ugly mood, insanely jealous over how well Dax fit into my family and over the way he and Brendan fawned over each other. But we got through the day.
Getting back to Humboldt, determined to figure out why I was still so hung up on Dax and couldn’t let go of him emotionally but realizing at the same time that I honestly didn’t want to. He was part of me, and I was still as in love with him as I’d been that day he walked through the door of my US History class nearly three years before. No, more in love, because he fell for me too, and I got to experience having him to myself for awhile until I made the mistake of cheating on him.
I had gotten so good at dissemblance and telling my therapist, Regent, what he wanted to hear. He had observed how much my former commitment influenced me even a year and a half later and made some excellent suggestions on working through my feelings, but I had no intention of following up on them. Then came the wedding and having an actual discussion with Dax and his new boyfriend, Brendan, and my mind tried to flash back on some of the help that Regent had offered. Maybe I should have listened. Anyway, being around the two of them showed me how much I was floundering, and when I returned to school, I put more effort into my sessions.
Except for a passage of time and a step towards a degree, being a little cog in the big wheel of academia made the rest of my sophomore year fairly uneventful- but for one thing. Isaac reentered my life in an indirect way.
It started out so quietly I wasn’t sure there was anything behind it at first. I would meet a likable student in class or in the dorm and gradually become friends with him or her. Maybe not life-long buddy status, but enough for us to grab a Starbucks or go to the library together to look up research for one of our numerous term papers. We’d be getting along famously and all of a sudden, he or she would start refusing my invites to hang out and stop talking to me. It was happening way too often to be mere coincidence, and by Christmas I had my answer.
It was two of my small core group of loyal friends who alerted me with the facts. Isaac and his cronies had decided on some fucked-up passive-aggressive intimidation to get back at me. For some reason known only to them, they were stalking me to watch who I was interacting with so they could come in behind and make up some bullshit and cause the new friend to scurry off.
I talked to my parents who discussed it with the lawyer who had handled my restraining order, and there wasn’t anything I could do other than suggest I let the administration know. Isaac wasn’t violating the stay-away in the true sense of the word, but he was messing with me. Yeah, it pissed me off that he was acting so juvenile, but the seven to nine friends who mattered to me the most didn’t care what he said and stayed true. They told me he’d get bored if I didn’t react to it, so I tried not to worry and ignored him.
I didn’t travel to Santa Bella as often during my second year and stayed with a friend for Thanksgiving. At Christmas I flew home, and it was good seeing the family. Dax didn’t spend Christmas with us, which was a disappointment. Mom and Dad said he and Brendan were still together, and I was surprised, but part of me was happy for them. I guess, maybe I was learning something out of my counseling sessions after all and could think of Dax in positive ways instead of hoping Brendan would get run over by a truck.
One of the Christmas gifts I received from my parents was something I will always treasure. It was one of those hasp-connected 5x7 picture frames that held three photos, and inside were pictures from Jana’s wedding. The first was a photograph of Dax and me in our tuxes, and we had managed to look as if we were carefree and best friends. The second was a casual shot of the two of us sitting at the attendants’ table during the reception, and even though we weren’t smiling, we weren’t glowering either. I remembered being irritated at the photographer who had tried to get me to throw my arm over Dax’s shoulder, and Dax looking at me like ‘don’t you dare’. The third was one of just Dax, so handsome in his black and gray finery, blonde hair glowing around his beautiful face and so healthy post-drugs. That gift went back to college with me and took a place of honor on my dresser.
It served a second purpose too, even if it was a bit of a stretch. When I brought boys back to my dorm room for sex, I would point at the picture and say Dax was my boyfriend from Santa Bella and we had an open relationship, so don’t expect me to be more than short-term and casual. It was a lie, but it worked.
By the time I started spring term I was over the problems with Isaac. It just wasn’t worth it; staying at Humboldt wasn’t fun anymore, and I developed a delayed case of homesickness. With my parents help, I made plans to quietly transfer to a private college at the end of the semester. It would be much closer to home where I could visit my family over weekends. I was not going to spend my junior year being tormented by my former abusive boyfriend. If I had been truthful with myself, I would have admitted that I just wanted to be closer to Dax.
Regent, my college therapist, was enthusiastic about the progress I was making at last. We talked extensively about a variety of subjects, and he taught me to ask for what I needed, not expect people to read my mind. I could probe into feelings and back away gently, with an apology, if I went too far. As for the way Isaac had abused me, my self-esteem was improving. I knew that what he had done to me was his fault, and I could call myself his victim … if I was weak. But I was the survivor. I had endured, and I was well on my way to a full recovery of every bad thing I’d repressed. Isaac, the way I treated Dax and even my jealousy of him.
I went home in May after finals, my Humboldt friends all sad because I wouldn’t be returning in the fall, and we promised to keep in touch. I didn’t generally hear the gossip from Mom and Dad about Dax, but I learned he and Brendan were still together. Dax’s boyfriend had just graduated from San Diego State and was getting ready to return to his home in Missouri to complete some internship for his degree. I was a little surprised that Dax didn’t go with him, but I guess where he comes from is the kind of town that hates gay people. I actually felt kind of sorry for Brendan, and I was glad Dax was smart enough to steer clear.
We were both busy earning money over the vacation. My mom offered me a job in her real estate office, and Dax worked his typical fifty-six hours a week. He had these kitchen shifts in a seafood restaurant during the tourist season and his usual full-time job. All this on top of a summer class at the college. He never gives himself enough time off, just running from one busy season to the next. He was like Superman, all earnest hard work that put me to shame with his focus and dedication.
What I wanted to do was get in touch with him to see if he wanted to hang out, but knowing him, he would have refused. His life was very vague, but that’s the way Dax apparently wanted it. I was used to him passing in and out of mine like a phantom and didn’t press.
In fact, I thought that two could play at this game, and when I made my transfer to Chapman College in Orange County two months later I begged Mom and Dad not to tell Dax. No longer studying at Humboldt meant I was only an hour away from Santa Bella instead of living at the other end of the state. I’d be able to spend many more weekends at home, and I hoped I’d see him more often too.
It was one of those weekends that I decided to come down and see my parents when I found Dax desperately knocking on the front door, looking like shit and devastated over the loss of his lover. I guess in his emotion-frazzled and sedated state, holding on to his anger at me just didn’t make sense, and we were able to get past the ugliness of the last couple of years. I felt a modicum of comfort having Dax living in the next bedroom, just like during high school, and I felt a flood of loving, tranquil memories coming back. Boyfriends, lovers and how we meant the world to each other. I vowed that I’d somehow find a way to bring Dax back into my life, to prove I’d changed and could be trusted, to make him fall back in love with me. Dax was going to be mine again… someday.
Losing Brendan changed something in me. As I’d told Dad, I just didn’t want to do this anymore. Maybe it was me and the way I used people, or maybe I just had rotten luck in the lovers I chose, but I refused to be hurt again. If that meant I would never fall in love with another man, that was fine by me.
By the time I physically recovered from my alcoholic daze, fear, mistrust and anger were deeply lodged in my heart. I could see it in the eyes of people around me, my coworkers and especially my family. My personality was changing. I guess I used to be a sweet, open guy, but there was nothing open about me now. I kept my feelings locked inside, and Zeke was counseling me over how I had taken a giant step backwards. I was doing the same thing as when Michael cheated on me. I didn’t care. This was me and how I was going to present myself to people, and if they didn’t like me, too bad. My heart was too fragile to risk another broken relationship.
Work-wise, there were a lot of changes in my life. I had gotten tired of unloading trucks at the store and quit after almost two years. My touristy restaurant job was going to end in early September, and someone in my new apartment building mentioned that a brand new gas station was getting ready to open and was hiring. I applied and got a job behind the counter in the evenings.
That kept me out of the dance clubs for the most part, making me less inclined to go looking for a replacement for Brendan. Still, I’d stray out every so often to find an occasional stranger and hook up for sex. I made sure he got it that I wasn’t into a relationship. We used protection, I didn’t stay the night and it was just physical satiation. Yeah, I had definitely taken a huge step backwards, but at least I was sober.
I had already begun school in San Diego, and I was lucky I only needed a few days to clear out of my funk. Being in a four-year state school, especially one as large as San Diego State, is a lot different than a community college. I was still toying with what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’. Definitely, I was going into some type of people-related field, either counseling or social work. There was just something about hurting teenagers, of which I had recently been one, that called to me. This might have seemed like a strange choice, given my own issues, but hey, nobody ever said you had to be perfect to help other people.
*Bromptom Cocktail by Avenged Sevenfold / Avenged Sevenfold 2007
(To be continued...)