Please Wait for Me


"Thank you, Sir," he said. "But I can manage this myself."

"I have no doubt you can," I said, totally doubting he could. "But, I doubt you should have to. My clubs aren't up yet, so let me do a good deed. I don't do many."

"Thank you, Sir, I sure appreciate it."

I grabbed one of the rucksacks and the smaller bag and followed him. "Are you headed to the curb?" I asked.

"No, Sir. Just over there. I texted my family when I landed. Someone should be on their way. I'm happy to wait."

I was vexed. The kid had enlisted and been gone for a year, but no one was at MCI to greet him. It didn't make sense.

"Where are they coming from?"

"Belton, Sir."

Jesus Christ, Belton was an hour away. "I'm happy to wait with you." I offered. "Just in case."

"No, thank you, Sir. They'll be here directly. I'm happy to wait in the meantime."

I was troubled by the belief that something wasn't right. Still, I reached my hand out and said, "Luke, I saw your name on your boarding pass. I'm James. I do appreciate your service. I hope you have a great visit."

He took my hand. His hand was too big for his body and fit perfectly in mine. Like a big-pawed puppy, he needed to grow into his hands and feet.

"Thank you, Sir," he said. "I appreciate the help."

"My pleasure," I answered, forcing myself to release his hand for fear I never would. "I suspect my clubs are up, so I'm going to go. Fight hard for us," I said as I turned and walked away, embarrassed by my parting words. "Fight hard for us?" For God's sake, I was tongue tied, uttering the most banal, trite things.

After grabbing my clubs, I looked back to Luke. He was sitting with his back to me and his rucksacks piled around him. I don't know why, but I again felt something was amiss. I wanted to go back and wait with him, but I didn't want him to think me the creepy predator I seemed to be. I walked through the terminal to circle parking, trunked my clubs, and headed away from the airport. I was just about to turn onto 29 South when I u-turned and headed back to Terminal C. I didn't decide to, I just did. I feared Luke was about to be crushed, and I wanted to be there to pick up the pieces if he was.

I stopped in front of the window behind which Luke waited. I could see he had turned his hat forward and pulled it down to shield his eyes.

I have long contended that a person's vehicular selection betrays their personality. I put my predictably conservative, reliable, and staid Volvo in park and hustled into the Terminal.

"Luke," I whispered, putting my hand on his muscled shoulder and shaking him awake.

"Uhh. . . . Yes, Sir?" he answered, scrambling to his feet.

"Look, I don't want you stuck here. I'm going to wait outside in my car, just in case no one shows. You can wait there or here. But, I'm not leaving until someone shows to pick you up."

"Sir, that's not necessary. I'm sure they're on their way."

"Have you heard from them?"

"No, Sir, not yet. But, I'm sure they're on their way."

"If so, that's great. If not, I'll be just outside."

I fell asleep at the wheel of my car. I was awakened by Luke's knock on the passenger window. I started the car and powered the window down.

"Sir, I hate to be a bother," he said. "But, it's been awhile, and I still ain't heard nothin'."

"You're not a bother. Get your bags and hop in. I'll take you wherever you need to go."

As we drove south, Luke sat stoically in the passenger seat, chin and head high. If I asked him a question, I got only a "No, Sir" or "Yes, Sir" in response. He was locked up, and I didn't know the combination.

ln the hourlong drive, I learned little. Luke was twenty, which didn't really compute if he was only a year out of high school. I didn't inquire, as I didn't want to embarrass him by forcing him to admit he'd been held back, if he had.

His family had forced him to enlist. He didn't tell me why.

I tried to bring his grin back, but I couldn't. Like me, Luke seemed to be thinking something was amiss.

When we finally stopped in front of the house to which he directed me, I was saddened for the childhood Luke likely had. It may have been a misimpression, but the state of the house strongly suggested neglect. The tiny ranch was dilapidated, the yard was unkempt, and there was trash everywhere. If it qualified as a home, it only just did.

It was also dark. Pitch dark. Either everyone was asleep or no one was home. Whichever, it was not a fitting homecoming for the soldier sleeping in the passenger seat of my car.

"Luke . . . Luke . . . wake up," I said. "You're home." Without a doubt, those were the two most depressing words I had ever uttered.

We grabbed Luke's bags and headed to the door. As I feared, no one answered Luke's knocking, which got louder and louder. He was angry when I stopped his pounding and steered him back to the car. "Look," I said. "I think maybe you just got your signals crossed. You can stay at my house tonight. Tomorrow, we'll track your family down, shame them, and then laugh about this."

"Won't your wife mind?"

"I'm not . . . ." I started, before remembering my ring. "Actually, my wife died. Two years ago."

"Oh, Sir," he blanched. "I'm so sorry. I shoulda minded my own business."

"It's fine, Luke. You saw my ring. It was a natural question."

We drove on in silence until Luke broached the topic again. "Sir, if you don't mind my askin', how did your wife . . . ya' know . . . pass?"

"She was hit by a car while she was out running. She got knocked into a ditch. It took too long to find her. She was gone when they did."

"I'm real sorry to hear that, Sir."

"Thank you, Luke. I'm real sorry it happened."

"I'll bet."

The mood was sullen as we drove. Luke's family had stood him up. My wife had died. The air in the car was thick with both of those facts as we headed west on back roads to the home Jess and I had shared.

Luke was again asleep when I pulled into the garage and shut down the engine. The sound of the garage door descending awakened him.

"Hey, we're here," I softly answered his inquisitive look. "You can leave your bags in here, if you want."

"Okay," he responded, opening the door and kind of falling out of the car. It was almost 1 a.m., and his travel and disappointment seemed to have exhausted him.

I had a suburban home south of Kansas City. The first floor was open but for the master suite, which was on the opposite end from the garage. The second floor had three additional bedrooms, one for each of the three rugrats we had believed we would have.

I settled Luke in the largest of the three, which had its own bathroom. The bed was big and soft and I suspected a far cry from the cots the Army provided its privates.

I was surprised when Luke started undressing as I turned down the bed. I guess living in a barracks with a group of men you barely knew immunizes you against disrobing in front of strangers.

As he pulled his t-shirt over his head, I gawked out of the corner of my eye. When you spend a decade stealing glances in gymnasiums and showers, you become adept at using the periphery of your vision.

I struggled to breathe. There are few sights more titillating than a shirtless man in jeans.

I shook myself to action. I moved to the bathroom and fished a toothbrush and toothpaste from the stash we kept for guests.

When I returned to the room, I again lost my breath. Luke was standing in white briefs, his arms over his head as he stretched, revealing lightly haired armpits. To my surprise, he stuck his nose in his right armpit and inhaled. "Yep," he said. "It's been a long day."

"You're welcome to shower."

"Thank you, Sir, but I'm too tired. It'd just wake me up."

I snapped a mental picture that I could keep. Luke's chest was supple and hairless. The script I had seen through the V of his shirt was unreadable to me. It looked like it may be backward or upside down or both.

His torso was milk white. Only his face, neck, and hands were not, a soldier's tan.

His stomach was lean and hairless. His briefs were tight and more revealing than his jeans. He was down and to the right.

His legs were muscled. His right thigh had a barbed wire tattoo around it.

His feet were big.

All of him was marked with the same moles from the back of his neck.

"I'm beat, Sir" he said, shocking me from my visual rape of him. "I need sleep."

"Okay," I answered. "I'll be downstairs if you need anything. I left a toothbrush and toothpaste on the counter."

"I appreciate it, Sir."

I stopped at the door. "I'll see you in the morning. Hopefully, by then you'll be calling me James or Jammer, not Sir."


"My grandfather was James and my father was Jim. For something different, my James became Jam, and Jam became Jammer. My family and friends all call me Jammer."

"Alrighty, then. Good night . . . Sir."

"Good night, Luke."

Chapter Two

I am a member of the lucky sperm club in more ways than one. Genetically, I was fortunate to be a 6'4" mesomorph, long and languid like my then crush, golfer Dustin Johnson. My auburn hair was curly, and I wore it long and loose. My eyebrows and eyelashes were thick and dark, darker than my hair and much darker than my light green eyes. My nose was long and narrow, and my lips were thin, but a bright red that was redolent of lipstick.

My shoulders were wide, my arms, chest, and legs were naturally muscled and lightly covered with very straight hair that, like my eyebrows, was much darker than the hair on my head. I had to fight to keep weight on, but had to do little to keep my muscles toned. It was a good thing, as I hated working out with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

Smiles do not come easily to my face. Jess told me I tended to look "put out," even when I wasn't. I told her I was a natural counter to her constant sunniness.

Even when I smile, it's not broad. I've always been self-conscious about smiling big. One, it makes me feel like a fool. Two, I have never liked my teeth, as they have always seemed too big for my lips, especially my canines. When I bare them, I feel like a dog or a vampire. When I smile, I tend to keep my mouth closed.

Financially, I was even more fortunate. I had grown up in St. Charles County, west of St. Louis. When St. Louis desegregated its schools, St. Charles County became the fastest-growing county west of the Mississippi. The desegregation plan stopped at the Missouri River, and everyone from St. Louis County who could not afford private schools moved west of the River to St. Charles County.

My grandfather had gone in with two partners to buy the first McDonald's in St. Charles, on Fifth Street. As St. Charles County grew, my grandfather and his business partners had a right of first refusal on any additional McDonald's within a certain radius of the original. They never refused, and he owned all or part of a dozen restaurants at one point, back when McDonald's was thriving and there was no "Fast Food Nation" or judgment associated with eating a burger and fries.

My grandfather believed in working hard and owning land. With his restaurant profits, he bought as much of St. Charles County as he could. An eighth grade dropout, he was prescient. As St. Louisans moved west, he sub-divided holding after holding, using the money he made to buy the next ring of land he could. For twenty years, it was a continuous cycle. By the time he died in 2003, his son -- my father -- was the Administrator of a trust that would provide approximately $5 million each to me and my brothers when it vested. Until then, my brothers and I received equal shares of the nearly $1 million it generated in income.

Jess and I had also over-insured ourselves. When she was younger, her uncle had died very young in a home fire from smoke inhalation, leaving behind her aunt and two toddler cousins. They had been under-insured, so her stay-at-home aunt was fretting about money almost immediately and as she tried to grieve her husband and comfort her children. As soon as she could, she went to work. She had to.They were always behind and without. Their plight had scarred Jess.

When we married, Jess was insistent that neither of us should ever experience that "insult to injury." We purchased $5 million term life insurance policies for each of us. I thought it was a waste of money, as we were 25 years old and extremely unlikely ever to invoke either policy before they expired 20 years later. The insurance company agreed, charging us little annually for the slight risk that tragedy would strike either of a perfectly healthy pair.

But, strike it did. And, the $5 million I received from New York Life -- especially when coupled with the income from my grandfather's trust and the promise of the principal sooner than later -- meant I had not actively worked for the past year or so.

I had tried to work for awhile after Jess died, both for something to do and because I had, for six months or so, totally spaced the existence of the insurance policy. In fact, I had remembered it only when I received a notice that our annual premiums were due, at which point I collected on Jess's policy and cancelled mine.

My heart and mind were not in the work. I could not bring myself to care about that which I no longer cared about. And, I was distracted by my guilt and by the return of my internal strife. A decision or struggle I thought had been resolved now re-presented itself, and I had no idea what to do.

I took a leave of absence and then resigned on my 29th birthday. Since, I had spent my 30th year pretty isolated and in my own thoughts.

In a failed search for peace, I went to a yoga class four mornings per week and to a meditation class two mornings per week. Whether as penance or to feel closer to Jess, I ran her route every day. I prayed the Rosary as I ran, hoping that increased piety would aid me in making sense of her death and in making sense of my life. When I passed the spot at which she had died, I crossed myself and asked Mother Mary to intercede on her behalf.

Not long after Jess died, I had returned to church. For something to do, I drove into Kansas City for mass at Our Lady of Sorrows every weekday at noon. On Sundays, I attended the 8 a.m. mass at my parish. Some Sundays, I left when it was finished and went about my business. Other Sundays, I stayed through the 9:30 a.m. version and, if I was particularly bereft or lost, the 11 a.m. version as well.

My widower status was well-known in the parish and believed by all to be the source of my angst and the reason for my presence. It was, but only in part. The bulk of my angst resulted from trying to reconcile being created in His image and being fixated on his image, regardless of who "he" was at the time. For the past month or so, "he" had been Alex, a un-married man (at least according to the absence of a ring on his left hand) who was at every yoga class I attended.

Alex was shorter than I, but most men were. I suspected he was an accountant or a lawyer or some other professional. He wore his black hair parted on the side and very neat. His face was always clean shaven. Even in his t-shirt and sweats, he looked tidy. And ripped. I suspected Alex put nothing in his body that tasted good. He could not have had more than 5 or so percent of body fat. His muscles were long and sinewy. His waist was narrow. He was as flexible as a gymnast. He seemed to view the class as a competition, always holding the pose long after the instructor released us to move to another.

I stared at the back of him through most classes. I tried daily to bump into him on the way in or out, hoping we'd make eye contact, he'd introduce himself, and we'd engage in small talk. He never did. He barely noticed me or anyone else. I learned his name only from the instructor complimenting his flexibility and focus.

I was disappointed when Alex stopped coming to class. I was also worried. I feared he had noticed my attention and stopped attending out of discomfort.

Even when lusting after Alex, I actively contemplated the priesthood. I was alone, and expected to stay that way. I'd never find another Jess, and I didn't believe it was fair to even try.

I also accepted the Church's position on homosexuality. If I was gay -- or even gayish -- then I had to be celibate. If I had to be celibate, then why not be celibate in the priesthood and try to make something out of it other than self-deprivation.

My parish priest -- Father Tim -- talked me out of it. He told me that, if I was called to the priesthood, then I'd feel a pull toward it, not a push away from something else. He assured me I should not choose it as a palatable alternative to what I either could not or would not accept.

Even if I accepted what I could or would not, he was unwavering in his insistence I remain celibate. Although only slightly older than I, he was a Ratzinger Recruit, joining the seminary and the priesthood after Cardinal Ratzinger's reactionary election to the Papacy. Like almost all Ratzinger Recruits, he was doggedly devoted to traditional Catholic doctrine. He insisted sexual relations were only to be between a man and a woman and only within the confines of a Catholic marriage.

He also insisted the attraction I felt toward men was a psychological feint to lessen the pain of my wife's death. In his words, I was deluding myself to ensure I never again experienced the pain I experienced when I learned they had found Jess's body.

I knew he was wrong, but I didn't argue. Talking to Father Tim was like talking to an aircraft carrier. He was unpersuadable. He was certain in his certitude.

I also believed Father Tim did not believe what he claimed to believe. His attention to me and his effeminate gestures and voice betrayed that he had done what I was contemplating doing. He had chosen the priesthood as a place to hide and then deluded himself into thinking he had not. I always suspected the most ardently anti-gay boys at Denison were the ones giving head in the woods behind the Rec Center. I also suspected the most ardently anti-gay priests were the ones who had gay sexed their way through seminary and into the priesthood.

Advertently or inadvertently, Father Tim did me a solid. He forced me not to make the same mistake he had.

He did not, however, enhance my relationship to God. As a Ratzinger Recruit, he lacked the compassion and empathy I expected in a priest. He was very good at identifying rules and at insisting upon blind adherence to them. But, he was not very good at explaining how that adherence would lead me to a closer relationship with Christ or to being more Christ-like in my relations with others. The rules were the rules, whether they were tethered to grace and mercy or not.

In fact, the Church's insistence on rules pushed me the opposite direction. As I sat through Mass after Mass, I learned much more about what the Church was against than what it was for, I heard far more denunciations than I heard proclamations, and I saw many more pushed from the table than welcomed to it. I slowly became appalled. Where mercy was needed, judgment was delivered.

Two specific experiences completed the rupture. The first occurred over the Winter before my thirtieth birthday. A homeless man had started attending the noon weekday mass at Our Lady of Sorrows, almost certainly as a means to get warm. After about a week, the elderly usher was clearly annoyed by the man's daily return and started hassling him about his appearance and urging him to leave. When the homeless man stopped appearing, the usher was obviously self-satisfied. I felt Christ shudder at the usher's merciless act, and I denounced him for it. I told him the homeless man was not harming anyone by attending mass, but his merciless act of expulsion may have deprived that man from encountering the Holy Spirit through the only means available to him. The usher was nonplussed by my denunciation, responding only that the man could have joined the Church, if he had wanted. The usher seemed to me to be the opposite of what we were called to be.

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