The Human Condition Ch. 08


to cling to. She even smelled liked safety; an ld-fashioned scent of roses that stayed with you, long after you'd left her presence.

Kevin told me once she had a reputation as being a ball-buster, but you couldn't prove it by me. She'd been the perfect granny when I'd seen her last, and so far, it was just more of the same. Even though I thought being here was a waste of time, I had to admit, I was glad to see her again.

We went into her office and sat down. The first time I'd been here, I'd had to use the couch because of my injuries. This time, I picked a comfortably shabby wingbacked chair across from her scratched wooden desk. Alice was in charge of a rape crisis center that was perpetually in need of funding, and there was never enough in the budget for such
luxuries as good office furniture. She'd told me on my first and only other visit that these were discarded relics from a gastro-intestinal man at the U who'd redecorated three more times since he'd give her this stuff.

It didn't matter to me; I liked it. There was an ease to her office. It had no pretenses that you felt you had to live up to.

Alice asked me how things were going and when I said fine, she raised and eyebrow and looked at me. "That isn't the story I hear from Kevin."

"Kevin is an alarmist," I said mildly, hoping that sounded like the truth. "Maybe I have a few issues, but there's nothing really that serious."

"Well, that's good," she said, then paused to look down at a file and read for a minute. "So, why don't you tell me what these issues are?"

What the hell, I thought to myself. I said I'd give it a shot. I explained briefly about my physical therapy and how exhausting it had been. I told her about going back to school. I did say, I was a little concerned at how low my energy levels were lately.

I wavered about telling her anything about what had happened with Joe and Betsy. I finally compromised and told her that my best friend and his fiancé had broken up and he'd left, and that I missed him. The whole litany only took about five minutes, but at least I'd attempted to let her know my state of mind.

"Hmmm" she said, idly tapping the side of her cheek. "And what about the rape?" She watched as I flinched at her use of the word. "Do you feel you still have any problems associated with that?"

"Not really," I shook my head. "I hate all the bullshit with the copsand the District Attorney's office, and I'm not exactly looking forward to testifying, but other than that, I have nothing to complain about."

"No dreams?"

I shook my head.

"No fears about going out at night or being alone?"

I grinned, a guy my size doesn't worry about that kind of shit. True, I'd been fooled by Elliot, but I knew better now and I'd never put myself in that situation again.

"How's your sex life?" she asked.

"Now, you sound like Kevin," I said. We both laughed and then she waited for a real answer.

"Okay," I said finally. "I admit, I'm not really interested in any intimacy right now. But remember, I broke up with my boyfriend that same night, and I think that's more the reason." That, plus Joe, I thought, but I wasn't going to discuss that with her if I could help it.

"Do you still masturbate... have any sexual fantasies? That kind of thing?"

God, had she and Kevin discussed this beforehand? I definitely didn't want to talk about this right now.

"No, not really," I reluctantly agreed. "When I get sick or hurt or something, my libido seems to be one of the casualties."

I didn't look at her when I said this. I was too busy remembering all the times my actions made this statement a lie. Like when I was in the hospital and burned. I'd still managed to find a way to get some relief. This time was different. I had absolutely no desire for sex whatsoever. In a way, I was even grateful about that. It meant at
least my fantasies about Joe were clean.

"Okey dokey," Alice leaned back in her chair. "Then why don't you tell me why you think you need to be here?"

"I don't," I said bluntly.

"Really?" She raised her eyebrows and scribbled something on a pad.

"I know I have some problems," I continued, "but I think I can handle them myself."

Alice nodded sympathetically, "I'm sure that's true, but isn't it nice you don't have to?"

We went on like that for the rest of the session. She poked and prodded and I dodged and evaded. It was more like a duel than it was a conversation, and by the end of it, I wasn't sure who'd won.

She stood and we shook hands. She led me out to where Kevin was waiting, looking at Vogue.

"You are such a fag," I teased him.

"And that's a bad thing?" He threw the magazine back on the table. "Besides, it was either this or American Baby. So, how did it go?"

I sighed. "Fine. She wants to see me tomorrow at the same time."

"Great," he grinned. "At least that means she doesn't think you need to be locked up."

I decided to believe he was only kidding and grinned back. But in the back of my brain, I wondered just exactly who the joke was on.

For the next month my routine was pretty much the same. I went to see Alice every day the first week, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays from then on. At first, Kevin or one of the other guys would come by every night to make sure I made it to my appointment. After awhile though, they realized that I could be trusted to show up on my own and left me to it.

The sessions were pretty awkward in the beginning. I really couldn't think of anything to say. As we got to know each other better, I started to open up more and things got a little easier between us. I even broke down and told her most of my history with Joe - including that last, awful night.

I thought that would please her because it had to be some kind of a breakthrough. If it did, she didn't let on. All she did was make a few sympathetic noises and scribble notes, then she asked the same damn question she did every night.

"Tell me about the rape again."

I don't know why she did that. I'd told her all about it the first time we met. But she kept insisting on going over and over it until I just wanted to scream or bolt to the door. I didn't, though, and she kept on asking.

Well, at least I felt I'd made some progress. For one thing, I was able to go back to classes. I had some catching up to do, and that occupied a lot of my time.

I also got in touch with all those people who'd been
leaving messages on my machine. Slowly, I was making plans with most of them to go to dinner or a movie, or to anything that didn't include the possibility of sex.

I still had no desire for that. Secretly, it no longer pleased me either. I'd look at my limp cock and wonder if the only thing it was ever going to be good for again was taking a piss. Even if I didn't want a man at this point, the possibility of never being able to have one wasn't exactly the happiest thought I'd ever had.

It wasn't physical, I knew that. The doctor assured me there'd been no permanent injury to the equipment - first, when I was in the hospital and later, when I finally got the nerve up to ask him again when I went in for a checkup. Another reason I knew was because I was the kind of
guy who almost always woke up in the morning with a piss hard-on, and that hadn't changed. The only problem was that as soon as I relieved myself, it went away for another 24 hours.

At some point, I realized I should probably mention this to Alice, but I kept putting it off, hoping the whole thing was just temporary and would eventually fix itself. She'd never actually asked specifically about my erections, so I told myself I wasn't really keeping anything from her that was important.

Things went along and time slipped by and it was early May. I was graduating soon and my folks were coming out, even though I told them I'd just as soon have the diploma mailed to me and forget about it.

Some of it was still the exhaustion that still seemed to haunt me. It was even worse now that I'd finally returned to work. Alice had only given me one extension of a couple of extra weeks before she'd decided it was time I go back there. But if I was honest with myself, a lot of the reason for my apathy was because I knew that this wasn't exactly
the graduation ceremony I'd always anticipated.

There would be no pictures of Joe and me with our arms around each other wearing our caps and gowns. There would be no late night celebrations that went on into the early morning, leaving us groggy and sick, but happy as hell. Joe wasn't coming back to pick up his diploma.

After that first call he hadn't phoned again, but there were a series of letters, each more distant than the last. He was having a great time, he had lots of stories to tell, Josh said hi...

The letter that said he was staying on for the summer had arrived the week before. He wished me luck and said he'd think of me on the big day. I cursed him and cracked a pane of glass in the door when I stormed out to a class I was late for.

I regretted that. Not the glass, I replaced that the next day with a new sheet from the hardware store and some putty. But I was sorry I got angry. I knew what Joe was going through. Sometimes, it seemed like I was the only one who

Kevin could barely mention his name without spitting. He seemed to think that Joe's leaving was a sign of weakness. Saul, who'd finally made it back from the Dark Continent, heard his version of events and agreed with him. I argued that Joe's concern had saved me when I needed it most. If later events had made it impossible for him to stay, then maybe they should cut him some slack.

Kevin's standard response was: 'Why should I even bother when you're giving him more than enough rope to hang yourself!' The last pronoun was not a mistake on his part.

It wasn't just the gay side of the group that took this stance either. Beau wouldn't talk about him at all and Ab and Ronnie were almost as bad. If they thought I'd appreciate their support, though, they were wrong. It only made me feel worse, especially since I figured they'd
probably said the same thing to Joe in letters or phone calls, and would no doubt continue with the cold shoulder once he returned.

I didn't think that was fair, and I figured they should know that for themselves. They knew what had gone on between Joe and me. Beau had made sure of that, along with Lucy, a deed for which I wasn't completely able to forgive either of them. It was my business, and Joe's - and of course, Betsy's.

Betsy. I still hadn't talked to her since the night she walked in on us. I wanted to. I'd tried to call off and on for the first couple of days. She didn't pick up and my messages went unanswered.

In a way, this hurt me more than anything else I'd been through. No matter how much I suffered over what had happened between Joe and me, I knew that it was my own actions that had brought it on - not Betsy's. Her anger over that fact had been justified. I had no bigger regrets than the one I felt about betraying her.

But there was something else, too: I plain old missed her. We had become so close those last few months. The thought of never recapturing that feeling depressed me more than I would have believed. I deserved it though and if that's the way Betsy wanted to handle it, I'd just have to accept it. I'd told that to Alice, and sadly, she'd agreed.

So you can understand my reaction when I finally saw Betsy standing at my door again. I couldn't believe it was her at first. I stood there stunned, letting in the cold rain - a requirement in Michigan in May.

"Mike," she finally said, "it's a little wet out here. Can I come in?"

"Oh, God - I'm sorry!" I stood back and let her pass.

For a few minutes, it felt like nothing was different. I took her coat and got her a towel for her hair. I made us both some coffee and we sat down at the table across from each other. Then Betsy took my hand and looked at me and it all came back. I felt my cheeks flame and for the first time since the night Joe left, I could feel tears in my eyes.

"I wanted to see you before I left," she said softly.

"You're leaving?"

She nodded. "I'm going back to California. You know, I always liked it there. But I couldn't just leave and not say goodbye and see how you're doing."

"I'm fine," I managed to get out.

Betsy smiled sadly. "I know it doesn't seem that way, but I've been hoping that was true."

"Oh, God, Betsy..."

She squeezed my hand hard. "Don't, Mike."

"But I need to tell you how sorry I am!"

"No, you don't." Her gaze was steady. "If anybody needs to apologize, it's me."

I was stunned. "What?"

"I said some terrible things to you," she continued, her eyes filled with tears. "Awful, hurtful things. I knew they weren't true, even when... I knew."

"It just happened," I said. "I swear to you that we'd never done anything like that before."

"It was just a shock, you know? Walking in on you two, seeing you together, just... I don't know - looking so right together." She sniffed and then smiled. "You want the truth? I wasn't so much pissed as I was jealous."

I stared at her. "You don't mean that."

"Yes I do. And it wasn't the first time."

That totally threw me. Betsy had never been one of those girls who pitched a fit when their boyfriends had a life that didn't always revolve around them.

She must have seen the doubt in my face because she laughed softly. "Poor Mike. You don't get it do you? How could you? You never saw yourself and Joe the way the rest of us did. Hell, the way we still do. The way you really are."

I shook my head. "There's nothing to see."

"Mike! Stop it! Jesus, for once, can't you be honest with me... with yourself? You love Joe - you always have."

I stood up abruptly. Hearing Betsy use those words was too much. "Betsy, shut up, okay? I don't think I can do this now."

"Why not? You'll have to sometime."

Suddenly I was furious. Maybe Alice had let me down easy on this, but it looked like Betsy wanted to shove my face in it.

"Why?" I barked. "What the fuck good will it do? Okay, you're right. Satisfied? Cause I sure as shit don't feel any better. Christ, what the hell am I supposed to do now?" I ran my hand through my hair, tried to regain my composure. "He's gone, Betsy. He doesn't want me to love him. I think he's made that perfectly clear. So what the fuck do I do about that?"

I glared at her, but she just shrugged. "Well, you could try fighting for him."

I rolled my eyes and began to nervously pace back and forth. "And never mind the little matter that he's straight? Oh, yeah, that'll work."

I began to shake and turned around, just wishing I could go back to bed and sleep again. Betsy walked over to me, grabbed my arms, and spun me around to face her.

"Tell me something," she said. "When was the last time a straight guy looked at you the way Joe does? When was the last time you saw a straight guy get a hard-on just because he got too close to you?"

She stepped back and released her grip. I had marks on my arms from her fingers. But when she spoke again, she was as calm as if she were reciting a poem she didn't particularly care for.

"Take a look at things from my point of view. The guy I was engaged to couldn't go a day without seeing you. We'd be getting ready for bed, for sex, and he'd sneak away to call you, getting a fix of your voice. Half the time, I don't think he even knew it was me he was making love too."

My eyes widened. "You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do. Oh, I didn't realize it at the time, but I knew something was wrong. I told you about it, remember? My God, I was afraid it was another woman. But it wasn't. It was you, Mike. I think it was always you."

This was getting ridiculous. "Betsy," I said gently, "I'm not saying you two didn't have your problems. But honey, guys don't just wake up one day and 'decide' they're gay. It's a slow process, and one that starts a lot earlier than this. Even when you hide in the closet, you know. You always know."

"And who says Joe doesn't know?" She countered. "What makes you think he hasn't been 'in the closet' about you for years? Did you ever ask him about it? Did you ever say, 'Hey, Joe, how do you feel about guys? Do they ever turn you on?'"

She watched for my reaction, but she'd already guessed the answer. "Of course you didn't. Jesus, Mike, when are you going to get over this ideal you have in your head and see Joe the way he really is? He's not a saint. He's a human being. He gets things wrong, and sometimes, he lies to protect himself just like the rest of us mere mortals. You
need to face that, for your own happiness, and for his."

"You know, Joe and I rented a video one night, a porno flick," she grinned an unhappy smile. "It was my bright idea. I was hoping it would inspire him. Well, it worked."

" But the thing was, it wasn't the girls that turned him on. Oh, he watched and he liked it, but it was this one guy who really rocked his world. From the minute that guy came on screen, Joe was hot. He was a big guy - dark with curly black hair. I kidded Joe about it. He said it was the hair and then he made a joke about mine and told me it was
'cause the guy kind of looked like me." She sighed and shook her head. "And because I wanted that to be the truth, I decided to believe him. But even then, I think I realized it was really the other way around."

She took my hand and led me over to the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. She made me stand next to her and pointed.

"We could be brother and sister," she said softly.

I stared, shocked. She was right. My own sister looked so much unlike me that it had never hit me before. But Betsy and I could be twins - we looked that much alike.

"And I don't think I have to go find that picture of Cam you used to have out to show you the other half of this equation."

I shook my head in agreement.

"I want to tell you something else," she continued. "When Joe and I first met, he was a pretty good lover, even for an eighteen year-old boy," she laughed. "I mean, what he lacked in experience, he more than made up for in enthusiasm. But when I came back, it was different. I
blamed myself - I thought it was just me, because of Ben and all. But it wasn't. Eventually I realized that. Joe just wasn't as into it like he'd been before. Oh, he tried, but somehow, it wasn't the same. And Mike, half the time he couldn't even..." She closed her eyes. "Well, you get the picture."

I did. And the whole time she was speaking, all I could think of was that hard bulge I'd felt when he'd rubbed up against me while rinsing my hair. But Betsy couldn't be right, I thought. If they'd had problems with their sex life it had to be because of something else.

"Oh, there's that look," Betsy was still staring at my face in the mirror, a half-smile on her face. "You still don't believe me. But tell me something, Mike: is it really that you don't think I'm right, or maybe it's that you don't want to think I'm right?"

My mouth dropped open as I searched for something to say. Before I could she continued.

"Because if I'm right, then you know, you just might have to do something about it."

The phone rang. I'd never been so glad to hear that sound in my life. I practically ran to answer it. The problem was, Betsy had thrown such a curve at me, I didn't catch the first half of the conversation. The person on the line spoke for about a whole minute before what he was saying started to sink in.

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