The Human Condition Ch. 06byjfinn©
I yawned and scratched my chest as I shuffled into the bathroom. Joe was standing in front of the double sinks, blow-drying his hair. I leaned across the counter and pulled the plug.
"I thought you were going to wait for me?" I asked him.
"I thought you were going to get you ass out of bed sooner."
"Oh, do not even go there!" I stuck my tongue out him, but he grinned and grabbed for the plug. I held it away from him, but since he had a good grip on the dryer, he just reeled it, and me, in.
"You look tired babe," he whispered into my ear. "Rough night?"
"There was this pest who wouldn't let me alone."
"Can I help it if you're irresistible?"
Joe put his arms on my shoulders and stroked down them gently. I sighed and offered him my mouth. As we kissed, his hands slowly dropped down my arms. He broke away from me and stepped back. It was only then that I saw he had the plug in his hand.
"Hey, no fair," I laughed.
"Jesus, you are easy," he reached around me and plugged in the blow dryer.
His hand rested on my hip and I felt his fingers trace the raised welt that crowned my right cheek; for a moment, his face hardened. I reached around and covered his hand with mine. Joe looked at me and managed an ironic smile.
"Sorry, it still gets to me sometimes."
"You shouldn't let it, I don't."
"I know, it's something I admire about you. I don't think I could have handled it as well."
I shrugged. This was an old conversation. "Everybody has scars, Joe. I'm lucky my worst ones are on the outside."
What I didn't say was why that was so. Joe already knew my theory about that. He had a hard time believing me, but I knew I was right. There had been a night, when I could have ended up with a lot more wrong with me than some damaged skin. Joe had been the reason I'd survived it, and he hadn't even been there...
February 14, 1989
"I can't believe you still haven't gotten rid of that." Joe said as he looked at the back of my head.
"Shit, do we have to have this conversation every time you see me?"
Both of us looked at the wavy mirror that hung on the outside of my bathroom door. I turned my head sideways and swiveled my eyes so I could just catch a glimpse of the short ponytail that sprouted out of the nape of my neck.
"I was just wondering how long you're planning on keeping it, that's all."
"I don't know; I kind of like it."
Joe looked at me like I was nuts. It was obvious he didn't agree with me at all. I didn't understand it, normally he didn't give a shit about how somebody looked, but he'd been ragging at me about my hair ever since I'd showed up after Christmas break with it back in a ponytail.
"And what does Cam think?" Joe was careful to keep any inflection out of his voice as he spoke my boyfriend's name.
"He thinks it's okay," I responded, just as carefully.
The truth was, Cam loved it. He thought it was sexy as hell and had no problem showing me just how turned on it got him. But Joe and Cam had never really warmed up to each other and it was easier to play down our relationship to Joe, than make an issue of it.
But, we definitely did have a relationship. Cam and I spent as much time as possible with each other and it was the most satisfying partnership I'd ever had. He was still controlling, but there were other benefits that more than made up for that. At least, that's what I told myself in the beginning.
The sex was great. Not, that Cam had changed his mind about how that side of things should go you understand. I never did get a chance at his ass. No the change was in me. I found that I really loved being a bottom. All he had to do was look at my butt and my hole would twitch in anticipation of having Cam's cock back where it belonged. Whatever other problems we faced, bed wasn't one of them.
But there were problems and as time passed they seemed to grow. Cam couldn't get past treating me like a kid. I know he tried, but he always ended up pulling rank. Nothing could piss me off faster than the feeling that I was just his gay version of a bimbo girlfriend. I had never thought of myself as a twink even when I was young enough to really deserve that title. It rankled me to think that now I was heading down that road.
Another issue between us was Cam's possessiveness. He really resented the time I spent away from him with my friends. I guess he had a point. Between my job and his, and then my school commitments, we didn't have much time to spend with one another.
But it was my senior year, and I wasn't about to give up everything that entailed for anyone. And it wasn't like Cam was willing to meet me halfway. Except for the occasional game or night at a bar, he was basically uninterested in what went on in my life. He said he'd already gone through college and had no desire to repeat the experience.
We ended up in an uneasy compromise. I hung out with my friends during the week, but found myself mixing with his friends on the weekends.
And that was the other problem. I wasn't that wild about his friends either. Somehow he'd latched onto this group of very wealthy, very successful gay men, who seemed to think they were a cut above everyone else. The only time they stooped to mix with anyone they didn't deem worthy, which was just about everyone, was when they trolled the bars, looking for fresh pretty faces they could show off to each other for a couple of months until the novelty wore off. Then they'd dump the poor kid and move on to their next victim.
I worried at first that this might be Cam's plan too, but whatever else he might be, he wasn't interested in collecting young men. He was satisfied with one, me. He just let it be known to everyone, including his law partners, that we were a couple. As he explained, he wouldn't have done that if he'd been planning on getting his jollies and moving on. It also answered another big question I'd had. Cam did not expect us to sneak around, not in public, not even at the office.
He told me, he was out to everyone that mattered to him except his kids and he said he planned on telling them as soon as they were able to understand. He'd lived in the closet for enough years to know it was not a place he wanted to make his home. He even thought it was funny when I passed on the firm's gossip that he was still in love with his ex-wife.
It seemed, Elise had always known he was bisexual. She'd even been turned on by it and had occasionally participated in a three way when they were first married. But as Cam grew older, his attraction for men kept growing until he wasn't really sexually attracted to women at all.
He and Elise tried to make it work, but they kept growing farther and farther apart. He insisted they still loved each other, but they no longer had much in common except their kids.
Inevitably, Elise came home one day and told Cam she wanted a divorce. She had met someone else. He said the real irony was they'd decided to celebrate with champagne and ended up in bed for some of the greatest sex of their marriage.
That didn't change the facts though and next day Cam had moved out. The following June he'd transferred to Ann Arbor with the firm's whole-hearted approval. He told me that wasn't surprising since the 'someone else' Elise had met, was another partner in the Chicago office. But the upshot of this soap opera for me was, that Cam's preference for men was no secret to the powers that be and, as he was only nominally my boss, there wasn't any big problem with us seeing each other.
So while we didn't exchange kisses in the elevator or meet for a quickie in the copy room, we didn't keep our dating a secret at work. It was less of a scandal than I'd been afraid of. I got a few curious looks from the partners and a couple of the secretaries winked when they saw me, but that was about the extent of it. Pen, of course, had wanted to know all the details, but I kept my mouth shut and bought her a few lunches to make up for it and she stopped bugging me.
For the first couple of months, I was pretty content with how things were going. It wasn't perfect, but then, what was. I'd never really believed in true love anyway. I was fairly certain this was as reasonable a facsimile of that fairy tale as I was ever likely to encounter. I might have stayed believing that too, if circumstances hadn't thrown me a few curves.
"You're not going to turn into Fabio or something?" Joe's question brought me back to the present.
I shot him a dirty look. I really did like my new 'do', though I'd grown it almost by accident. It was lack of time and funds that had led me to skip the first few barber appointments, but then I'd started to think it looked good. It had taken a while, but now I could tie it back or pull part of up into a clip. Most people liked it, even my mother, who'd embarrassed the Hell out of my Dad when she told him, in front of company, that she thought he'd look sexy with a ponytail too.
"Oh for Christ sake's," I muttered as I brushed past him on the way to my closet. "You'd think I was all decked out in Kevin's transvestite whore outfit."
We both automatically swiveled our eyes to the bookshelf where the bitch shoes held a place of honor. They'd been there ever since that first night of the Tuesday Game.
The game was still going strong. Except for holidays, we hadn't missed a week. Sometimes Kevin would bring a buddy along to, as he said, even out the numbers, but the core group was pretty much the same. The only real differences were that Carl had started to show up now that Ashley had a Tuesday night class, and Saul was missing this term because he'd landed a spot on a dig in Africa somewhere and wouldn't be back until April.
What I'd sworn would never work, had turned out to be the basis of some of the closest friendships I'd ever had, and I was pretty sure the rest of the guys felt the same way. In some weird way, we'd all come together inside the walls of my apartment. We'd had to, almost by necessity, drop our preconceived ideas of who somebody had to be because of skin color, or religion, or sexual preference and instead, had concentrated our efforts in finding out who the person who bore those traits really was. And, for us at least, this familiarity had bred not contempt, but acceptance. Joe had been right; things had worked out and all of us were the richer for it.
Though not all of us were happier. Something was bothering Joe and had been for a long time now. It was there in the absence of light in his eyes and the sag of his shoulders; it showed in the smile he rarely used and the silence that had never been his style. Everyone noticed, and although the unspoken code of guys prevented us from sitting around and discussing it; I could tell by the worried looks on everybody's faces, that we wished there was something we could do to help him out of his funk.
But whatever demons Joe was fighting; he had chosen to face them alone. That was his choice; believe me. I tried to find out what was wrong. I'd hinted, I'd guessed, I'd prodded and poked. Then when none of those worked, I just came out and asked him what the hell his problem was. It was no use. He wouldn't talk about it, not to me, not to his roommate, Beau, not to anybody.
Of course, this doesn't mean I couldn't have made a pretty good guess about what was wrong. In fact, I was pretty sure I knew exactly what was causing him grief. And my conclusion depressed me.
It was Betsy, beautiful, charming, sweet, funny Betsy. She and Joe had gotten back together and, on the surface at least, things were just as good as they had been before. But looks can be deceiving.
When they'd first dated, one of things that had been so great about their relationship, had been the real pleasure they taken in each other's company. Now when you saw the two of them together, Betsy was distant and distracted, and Joe always seemed to be on the verge of bolting.
Only occasionally did they seem to recapture their easy intimacy of three years ago. Most of the time, they looked like two strangers who were being forced to spend time in each other's company and were determined to make the best of it. It really wasn't either of their fault. I honestly thought that, under different circumstances, those two could have been very happy together. I knew they loved each other.
But the reason for Betsy's return to Ann Arbor had changed everything. And it was that, more than anything else that had testing their feelings for each other to their limit.
The day I'd come home to find Joe waiting for me, Betsy's brother, Ben, been admitted to the AIDS unit at the U. He never left. The drugs that promised so much, didn't work on Ben. He didn't have a whole lot of time left and Betsy spent every minute she could with him. The rest of the time she needed to work to support herself.
Joe was there for her as much as he could be, but it's hard to carry on a romance across a deathbed. And it was still football season. Joe was the quarterback and co-captain; he had obligations to the team, although it was obvious his heart was no longer in it.
I spent a lot of time with Betsy, and with Ben. Partially, this was to act as a stand-in for Joe, but also, I'd meant it when I'd promised myself to be a friend to Betsy. And we were friends now, very good ones. I think it surprised both of us, how close we'd actually gotten. There were even times when I think Joe felt a little cut out.
But I wasn't the only one though who had fallen under Betsy's spell. Everyone who met her liked her immediately. She had one of those types of personalities. I'd stop up at the hospital room on my way home from work or class and there would be Ronnie or Kevin, or some of the other guys trying to make her smile and helping her with taking care of Ben.
Which really wasn't a hardship; Ben was a good guy. I never heard him complain and he had wicked way of making fun of his situation. It made you laugh, even when your heart was breaking. I'd never seen him when he wasn't sick, but he still retained the same curly black hair and deep gray eyes as his sister. I was willing to bet that he'd been gorgeous before AIDS had reduced him to a skeleton and Karposi's Sarcoma had left huge purple lesions on his chest and neck.
We talked a lot over those last six weeks of his life. Ben had a story tell and I was the one he'd picked to hear it.
He told me that he and Betsy had gotten their looks courtesy of an Italian mother and black Irish dad. I had to take his word for it since it didn't look like I'd get to check that out for myself. His parents had kicked him out when he'd been arrested his senior year in high school for engaging in lewd acts in a public place. That was how the paper had reported it. Actually he'd been picked up in a sting at a public rest stop just off I96 outside Grand Rapids.
Ben had always known he was gay, but he'd never had the guts to do anything about it. He couldn't come out to anybody in school; he'd seen what had happened to a friend of his when the word had gotten out that he liked boys. The kid had been beaten up daily and only the fact that he graduated stopped the abuse.
Ben wasn't willing to put himself through that. But he also was getting desperate to find some kind of outlet for his sexual needs. He heard about this rest stop being the place to go for a blowjob. The night he was picked up was his first time there.
Just his luck, he'd turned 18 the week before. His name had appeared in the Press and his appalled parents had never even tried to get him out of jail. It had been 20 year old; Betsy who'd finally scraped up the money for his bail when a high school friend had called her dorm to let her know her little brother was in trouble. But there was no way she could talk him into facing school; he'd finally taken off for New York City, where the high school friend who'd had all the trouble had moved.
His name was Philip and he was a singer/dancer who'd gotten work as a gypsy on Broadway. He kept at it for a year or so, but then he got an offer at one of the clubs in Tribeca to work as a female impersonator. He'd just started there when Ben showed up. Apparently, he'd always had a thing for the younger boy and he had no problem taking him in, first just into his apartment, and later his bed.
For a while it looked like maybe they'd make a go of it. Philip really did love him, and Ben was grateful. Sometimes he even convinced himself that he felt the same way. But Ben met some people who offered him a lot of money to make some movies. Yeah, those kind of movies. Philip begged him not to do it, but Ben hadn't been able to find any work, and he was increasingly ashamed that he couldn't hold up his end of the rent.
It wasn't too bad, at first. The company he'd hooked up with was considered pretty legit in comparison to some of the sleazebags in the porn industry. The problems started because Ben was almost too successful and he started getting other offers that weren't so stand up, but paid a lot more money. He began to hang out with some of the people he worked with, and he started to do a lot of drugs.
By this time he and Philip were always fighting. Inevitably, after one vicious blowup, Ben packed his bags and moved to San Francisco. It was his being there, that was the reason Betsy had chosen that city to move to after she graduated.
Ben liked the wide-open lifestyle of the Castro district. He moved into a flat with three other guys and proceeded to have as much sex, with as many men, as possible.
He was still doing porn flicks, but he was no longer the fresh young face. In order to get work, he had to agree to raunchier and riskier scenes. By the time Betsy moved to town he was routinely engaging in unprotected sex on and off camera, often with multiple partners. He became known for his ability to take abuse. And, he admitted bluntly to me, for his addiction to cocaine.
He tried to hide his occupation and his drug use from Betsy, but she was a smart girl. It didn't take her long to figure it all out. She went into her big sister mode and insisted he face his problems. First she got him into a treatment program; then she got him a job as a waiter. Once again, it seemed like Ben might be going to be okay. But about a year after Betsy arrived he started to feel tired and listless. He kept saying it was the flu, but nobody has the flu for three months straight. Finally, Betsy talked him into seeing a doctor.
That had been the previous July. Since then there had been a steady round of doctors and treatments. Nothing worked. He was already resigned to his death when Betsy insisted they come back to Michigan where some new research was being done. He'd agreed, but only because it meant so much to her.
It wasn't long after they'd arrived that Betsy left for a couple of days. Ben had known what that meant, even though she offered no explanation for her absence. Betsy still kept in contact with their parents and he knew she still hoped that they'd come around and accept Ben for what he was.
But apparently, not even the inevitability of his death was enough to make them change their mind. When Betsy came back, she had new lines around her mouth and a hardness in her eyes that only disappeared when she looked at Ben. She never told him about her meeting with their folks. But she never mentioned their names to him again either.
It took Ben a long time to tell me all this. Sometimes, this was because it was difficult to admit, and sometimes because he just didn't have the energy to talk. At those times, I would hold his hand and sit there silently with him. I don't know what he was thinking about during those quiet hours, but as for me, I thought about how lucky I was.
I could have been like Ben if my family had turned against me. Hell, I probably would have been. But for whatever reason, the Gods had been kind to me. It wasn't like my parents were perfect; my old man was the stubbornness' S.O.B. that ever walked and my Mom drove all of us up the wall with her constant chatter. But the last time I'd gone home, my dad met me at the door with a big grin on his face and my mom had made pot roast for that night's dinner because she knew how much I loved her gravy.