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  1. Rosicky

    First Surge 3

    Uhm ... I'm wondering ... to which ethical system are you referring to? Utilitarianism? Under this system, "right" or "wrong" depends on the outcomes ... the correct ethical choice is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. Let's see ... smoting vampires that seek to do harm to many would be the correct choice as it saves many more lives. Ethical egoism? This system holds that the greatest good is that which achieves the best benefits for yourself. Smoting vampires who are trying to kill you would be a pretty great good. Deontology? This is a rules-based ethical system founded in normative ethics. I don't know enough about vampire normative ethics, but from what I've read in this story, vampires follow rules set by, primarily, the Vampire High Council. One of those rules is abiding by the various pacts with humans, and the underlying principle is that vampires ought to live peaceably with humans. Smoting vampires in rebellion against vampire normative ethics could be seen as good. From the standpoint of Elvish normative ethics, the fact that King ZoHal thought it was "impressive" that Chris was able to smote seven vampires can give a clue as to what elves consider good. From a human standpoint, the normative ethic that life is sacred is outweighed by the normative ethic that preserving one's own life and the life of loved ones may excuse a breach of a comprehensive application of the life is sacred ethic. A Kantian view of deontology is that an act is morally right not based on the consequences of the act but on the intentions of the actor. Was Chris acting out of anger? Was he acting out of a fear of his own safety, that of his friends and of his father? Was he aware that he had the ability to smote? Gabz2000 doesn't give us an indication that he was worried about them escaping, recuperating, and returning with a vengeance. But, then again, Gabz sometimes leaves some details out. The question of Chris' intentions is one for Gabz ... but, can we rightly impose normative ethics of humans on non-human beings? Normative ethics are based on the prevailing thoughts based on information and experiences. It very well could be that human normative ethics, if they knew of the Blood Army threat, could very well be that it is a rule that all Blood Army vampires should be killed before they do harm to humans. This analysis is also a discussion under Ethical Relativism, which is the moral system that considers rightness or wrongness based on the norms of the individual's society. Natural law? Natural law is based on human reason ... right or wrong isn't established by courts or the crafting of laws, but is innate to human beings. So I wonder whether natural law applies since Chris is only half-human? Can natural law apply to non-humans? Can natural law apply to demons? And then again, we peer down the rabbit hole of the rightness or wrongness of self-defense, and the extent that use of force may be employed. Virtue ethics? Virtue ethics comes from the Aristotelian school that right action stems from acting virtuously ... acting based on honor, honesty, bravery, etc. One could consider Chris' actions to be consistent with those virtues, whereas the Blood Army vampires were acting contrary to those virtues. Care ethics? One of the newer systems of ethics is that of care ... good is seen in actions that are intended to preserve relationships. Thus, Chris' smoting of the vampires to ensure the safety of his father and of his friends could be seen as an act to preserve his loving relationships. These are just the basic systems. Philosophers come up with new ones every week it seems. Which system of ethics are you imposing on Chris that makes his act of smoting disturbing to you? Hehehe! 😁
  2. I'm convinced that Etalos' love interest is Kalron. Remember in the Fragments of Darkness 1 chapter he remarked, "Kalron seemed nice." Aside from the stiffies he'd get in Chris and/or Victor's presence, he's never said anyone was "nice." How fortuitous for him that Kalron moves in .... Hmmm! 🤔 Hehehe! If Yonthar is one of the stronger Generals, and if the chains seem to be adapting to him, then I don't think there'll be any problem with Chris absorbing more Demon Generals. Of course, just as Chris is able to let demon energy seep out into one of Sarad & Zenfar's glass orbs, I'm sure they can figure out some snow globe or something that Chris can deposit a Demon General into. King Ethnar might enjoy having a Demon General in a snow globe on his desk that he can shake up every now and then, I'm sure. It also seems that Chris can dispatch demons faster than Generals can make them. So there shouldn't be any problems eliminating them as long as the chains cooperate. I'm still convinced that Chris can let some of Yonthar's energy out and manipulate the demons loyal to Yonthar ... or he can let Yonthar's energy leak out and set a trap for the demons! I hope Chris adds volumes to the literature in the Tower. Each encounter could be its own book. Many thanks, Gabz2000! Time for a new chapter! LOL!
  3. Remember the Will & Grace episode where Karen was addicted to Jack's romance novel writing? I think I'm Karen and gabz2000 is Jack. And substitute Rocco with Gabz' job. 🤣😂🤣 SCENE VI: Jack's Apartment KAREN: [ENTERING] Honey, your words are rockin' my world and my pants. Why aren't you typing, you big, merry sissy? JACK: I don't need to write anymore. Rocco and I are back together. KAREN: No, Jack, I need these pages. I'm gettin' so many images from this stuff, sex with Stan has gone from "I've got a headache" to "I've got to have it!" JACK: Sorry, Kar, no can do. KAREN: But, honey, I've got to know what happens next. I'm addicted to these stories, which is odd, because I don't have an addictive personality. JACK: Hey, even if I wanted to write something, I couldn't, 'cause I'm happy now. Pain was the coal that fueled the choo-choo of my art. KAREN: If you weren't with him, I'd have my stories? JACK: Probably, but I am with him. KAREN: But if you weren't... JACK: But I am. KAREN: But if you weren't... JACK: But I am. KAREN: But if you weren't... JACK: But I am. VIII: Jack's Apartment (JACK finds ROCCO alone in his apartment.) JACK: There you are. Penny for your thoughts. ROCCO: I'm dumping you. JACK: What?! ROCCO: It's just not working. JACK: Why? ROCCO: I don't know. Karen didn't tell me why, but it's not. Good night, Jack. [ROCCO LEAVES AS KAREN POPS IN.] KAREN: Honey, what's going on? What's happening? Are you ok? JACK: Karen, Rocco just dumped me. KAREN: Oh, honey, that's terrible. My heart is cleft in twain. You must be devastated. [KAREN ENTERS WITH A NOTEBOOK COMPUTER.] KAREN: Here. Why don't you try writing through your pain. When last we left him, Giovanni was staring at the stable boy and feeling a familiar tightening in his pants. Go. JACK: I know you made him dump me. What'd you do, pay him 50 bucks? KAREN: Did he say that? Who are you gonna believe? Me or some street trash I paid 50 bucks to to dump ya? JACK: I will never forgive you for this, and as for more writing-- Well, you just forget it. KAREN: How about if I pay you 100 bucks? [KAREN HOLDS OUT A $100 DOLLAR BILL.] JACK: You know, that is so low. It hurts that you would try to bribe me. It causes me a lot of pain. [KAREN MOVES HER HAND AND SHOWS TWO $100 DOLLAR BILLS. JACK SNATCHES THEM.] JACK: I have no choice but to write through that pain. [JACK SITS AT THE COMPUTER.]
  4. Another excellent Chapter!!! Very gripping!!! So Chris smotes the 5 demons much in the same way Yonthar the 2 demons he considered weaklings. I think Chris showed a bit more panache by using the flick of his hand. He also left ash whereas Yonthar made the demons disappear into thin air. We learn from the book on demons that, "a demon is only loyal to its creator and no one else." We also know that a General is known to have created up to 1,000 demons at a time. So far, we know that at least 11 of Yonthar's demons have been destroyed ... that leaves up to 989 loyal to whom? What does the book on demons tell us about the loyalty of those demons whose general has been killed? I wonder ... if Chris has absorbed Yonthar and is leaking Yonthar's energy, can he reveal enough of Yonthar's energy to command the loyalty of Yonthar's remaining demons? That could be quite a useful resource! I also wonder what level of trust Chris will have among the Werewolves and the Vampires if they know a general lurks within. Will he have a new scent diminishing his usual lavendar and roses? Will Luca and Reza be able to smell the demon in him? He had Rehanmir to the point of "fight or flight" and elves were already cowering before his power. How effective will a PR campaign be if he scares all the elves? And will security in the realm be attuned to Yonthar's energy signature so the alarm doesn't go off each time? I'm sure Yal will think of something. We have yet to see if Chris has been able to tap into Yonthar's wealth of knowledge ... and we have to find out what he learned from the female demon he probed. Will the power he gained from incorporating Yonthar be independent of the power residing in him controlled by the chains? It was interesting how Chris "willed my chains to loosen themselves, the chains resisted for a moment but gave in anyway." And I'm assuming based on the purple flames that the demon power he used was independent of the chains ... the chains may have resisted but maybe they didn't give in ... maybe the chains continued to rein in his innate power but it was Yonthar's energy that pulverized the 5 demons? Hmmmmm. Will Chris have a dark energy kumhakta? Finally ... I wonder how sex with Victor will change now that he's got some demon in him. Will Chris flip Victor over and top him and give him some devil-loving? LOL! Many thanks, Gabz2000! Fantastic keeps building on fantastic! Looking forward to more!
  5. First Chris beats Zenfar's record in the Hall of Maktar, and now he bests the General who almost killed his great-grandfather ... I wonder if he'll go to King Ethnar and say, "Hey, great-grandfather ... I have a surprise for you!" LOL! So many questions ... so we go back to "The Ascension" chapter ... before it ends, Chris kneels and says, “I intend to be the light of hope in times of darkness.” He attributed his earlier utterances binding himself to the people as, and this last statement, to "follow[ing] the magic." Is the magic "the flow"? Is there a good flow and a dark flow? Chris, on a subconscious level, knew about the flow ... what else does he know about it? And I wonder, does the power Chris possess truly his? Or is he a medium through which Elven magic flows? Yonthar asked him two questions: "Who are you! What are you?!" When he responded, he said, "You do not deserve to know what I am!" I thought this was a curious phrase ... not you do not deserve to know WHO I am, but he said WHAT I am. Then Chris thought to himself, "I did not know where that came from". Was he speaking from what he knew about himself subconsciously, or was it the magic speaking through him? The chains ... our friend the chains ... the chains that prevented Chris from smoting King Ethnar with that 22-layer Magnus Spell, the chains that allow him to give him the power as needed to battle a foe. The magic controls the chains and the chains control Chris' use of power. It's a seemingly bifurcated system within him ... he gains knowledge by reading and learning from the books and scrolls in the Tower, they're embedded into him at a subconscious level, but then it is the magic that allows him to apply the knowledge. And then there's Yonthar ... the General he absorbed into his body, trapped by the swirling ocean of magic within Chris. Does Yonthar retain his autonomous being within Chris, or has Chris truly absorbed him? Has Chris tapped into Yonthar's mind and does he now possess Yonthar's collective knowledge? How awesome would that be if he did? He could spend years in the Tower after this is all over adding volumes to what is known about demons. Truly an epic 100th Chapter! Many thanks, gabz2000! Here's to the next 100! 🙂
  6. Rosicky

    The First General 2

    Thank you for an amazing story and 99 well-written chapters! I know the 100th chapter will be epic!
  7. Boy. Who can look at what's happening in Minneapolis and elsewhere and not think "demons!" Even if Chris were strong enough to conjure the Astra Spell there's no way the chains would allow unbridled power to be used that way ... look at the chains reined him in before he could complete the 22-layer Magnus Spell that could have ended King Ethnar. And how did Prince Havar know about what was in the book about demons? Was that knowledge spread around? He does seem to have his ear to the ground ... perhaps he is Retasa's source? Interesting! Many thanks, gabz2000! I'm enjoying this story immensely!
  8. Rosicky

    The Millennium King

    I thought it was a funny line when Rehanmir said it looked like they were going to kill each other and King Ethnar responded that "it would take more than a Magnus Spell to kill Chris." The arrogance of a king! LOL! I think Chris' 22-layered Magnus Spell could very well have ended the Millenium King but for the chains. So it is the chains releasing that allows Chris to tap into his energy ... and further loosening permits him to draw more and more from his endless pool. But the chains seems to dictate that ability so while he's been blessed by the gods and houses, he is not an omnipotent power ... perhaps there is some ethos akin to a just war theory that permits the use of force -- he can only employ a proportionate use of force. Fourteen layers of a Magnus Spell against 14 layers of a Magnus Spell is ok during a sparring session ... but an obliterative massing of energy is too much and he literally is reined in. Excellent chapter. Looking forward to more! Many thanks!
  9. Rosicky

    Chapter 28

    I enjoyed the story. Thanks! Did I miss what happened to Roger?
  10. Rosicky


    “Hey, Neil.” “What’s up, Teddy?” We were riding the gondola up Aspen Mountain. One of the off-and-on times I was living in Chicagoland, I stayed with my cousin up in the north burbs for a while. She and her husband had three sons who were like the little brothers I never had – Greg, John & Teddy. Officially, they are my first cousins, once-removed. Over 20 years later, we’re still close. Greg stayed in the Chicago burbs and has his family there. John and Teddy live in Aspen with their wives and kids. I head out to Aspen once a year to visit. It’s kinda cool to have quiet time with Teddy like this. With the kids demanding attention from their Uncle Neil, it’s sometimes hard to hang out like before. Teddy married a wonderful girl, Crystal. I’m the godfather to their daughter and their third kid has my name. When they asked me if they could name their second son after me, I hesitated. “Man! You’re putting a lot of pressure on me, ya know! Also kinda restrictive. I mean, I can’t ever be arrested, go to jail, die under suspicious circumstances … I mean, then the kid will be scarred for life having my name.” Teddy and his wife Crystal laughed. What could I ever do wrong? Well, Teddy knew. But what he knew was locked in “the vault.” Crystal really didn’t. I mean she knew I was gay and all. But what if one of my BDSM sessions went awry and a sub I was using ended up dead? That would make the news! In any case, I assented. How is this important? Well, I’m close to their family. It’s funny. The family members I’m closest to are officially “once-removed.” Ironic. As I said, Teddy and I are close. We talk about a lot of things. “The vault” is our term for something akin to the seal of confession or attorney-client privilege. It’s our thing. Teddy is actually named as executor in my will. He knows all my secrets. In addition, he’s an accountant and he’s good at following instructions. Winning combination. He also worries about providing well enough for his family so he’s always open to interesting investment ideas. So here we are, in the fiberglass bubble gondola. If there’s a time for private talk, the 15-minute trip is pretty much all we have. I noticed that he gave one of those silent cues married people develop to Crystal to take the kids in another gondola. I’m perceptive like that. I speak body language fluently. So I knew something was up. “Crystal and I were talking to her Dad.” Crystal’s Dad was a very successful insurance broker back in Indiana. “He was saying a really good investment would be to find someone who we can take out a life insurance policy on.” “What’re you talking about?” “Like your company … doesn’t your company have a life insurance policy out on you?” “Yeah ….” “Crystal’s Dad thinks it would be a good investment if we could do that with someone we know.” “That’s weird.” So he went on to explain how they needed someone basically middle-aged, established, a non-smoker and in good health to get the best rates possible. Would I let them insure me naming their kids – my goddaughter, my namesake and their oldest – as the beneficiaries? They would pay all the premiums. So weird. “What would be involved?” “Well, talk to Crystal’s Dad. He can tell you. But it’s just some paperwork and a medical exam.” I’m good with paperwork and I’m a fit, healthy guy. No worries. So I spoke with Crystal’s Dad, he laid everything out. I said fine. When I got back home to San Francisco, some insurance company’s medic-for-hire stopped by the house to weigh me, measure me, do the standard tests and draw some blood. Simple enough. Now, some of you are thinking, since the title of this story is, “Planning My Funeral,” that the medical tests revealed something sinister. Nope. Everything came out excellent. I was fit and healthy. When I die, Alan, Christine and Neil will be well provided for. At the time, no one could foresee that in just under two years from that gondola ride, Crystal’s Dad’s prediction would prove correct – it would be an excellent investment. But we don’t find out there’s something sinister growing in me until about a year from now. + + + Ten months later … “So I had this dream.” “Yeah?” Nat had a way about sounding disinterested about anything. He was a Millennial and an Ivy League grad who migrated to San Francisco to work in the tech industry. He was a cute twink whose Grindr profile linked to Instagram. I checked out his IG and he had a cheeky byline: “Software Engineer by day and organist by night.” Among his pics was one of a church taken from the organ loft. I knew the church. It was close by. I’m Catholic. Yeah, a gay Catholic. They exist. Among the seven degrees I have is one in Moral Theology. So don’t go all Leviticus on me because I’d dance circles around you making you feel like an idiot for not knowing anything about your faith. In any case, I’m pretty well off, contribute to worthwhile charities and what not, including my church. I sit on the Finance Council of my parish and I’m kind of influential … mainly because if the parish wants to do something special, they always hit me up. So, they have to stay on my good side. I’m a traditional sorta guy … I like organ music. When I was at Notre Dame I sang with the Liturgical Choir. The 10AM Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica used to be called, “Yells, Bells & Smells.” I was a 2nd Bass … a rich, bourbon whiskey sorta deep voice. I just have a generally nice speaking voice. People who don’t know me, when hearing me, say, “You have a radio voice!” Funny. They probably didn’t even know that they’ve heard my voice on the airwaves before during campaign seasons. It’s a voice that served me well during BDSM sessions, too … where I would test a sub’s limits and when it was close to breaking, I would tell it, “Listen to the sound of my voice … I will talk you through this.” So they would listen, and, as if in some sort of hypnotic state, they would transcend whatever pain or discomfort they were feeling, and go farther than they thought they could go. I learned this when taking one of my theology classes. When martyrs were facing death at the stake or about to be chewed up by lions, they could project themselves from their bodies and feel no pain. I was teaching subs how to do this. I have the ability to put people at ease. I’m a reassuring presence. People, even strangers, trust me quickly. The way I make eye contact, express empathy, manage my body language and the comforting sound of my voice all project an endearing presence. So when I say that I think we should bring on an organist (rather than just the pianist and guitar players we have), people readily agree. One night, I come across Nat. I message him on IG asking if he plays the organ. He says that he does. I ask him if he’s open to playing at other churches. He is. I go and check him out. Talented. So I invited him to play with us and he accepted. We became friends. “So I had this dream.” “Yeah?” “Freaky actually. I was in the choir loft looking down at the church and you were playing Faure’s Requiem … the first piece … the Requiem Aeternam. The church was filled, and all the old priests I knew at the church – a few of them now dead – were around the altar as a coffin was carried up the aisle. And it had on it the traditional black pall with a silver brocade – not the white one they use now. And I thought, it’s nice they’re going back to the traditional way. And I saw a lot of people I knew and wondered why they were here ... did someone I know die? Then you looked at me and you said, ‘It’s your funeral.’ Freaky.” “Oh wow.” “I better leave a song list for you for my funeral. Might be sooner than we think!” We laughed. “I hope not!” Then we proceeded on to an inane discussion about how Prince didn’t even leave a will. I know that dreams aren’t literal. Well, for most people. Pedantic psycho-babblers would say that dreaming about your funeral has some other subconscious meaning – like that you’re deeply burying emotions you have rather than dealing with them. On one level, that could be true. I do compartmentalize things I’m feeling that I don’t think would be productive to my task at hand. Sometimes, those things get parking-lotted for quite some time. But I also know that my dreams process actual things that are going on. I have the ability to engage in directed dreaming. When I was in high school, I could say to myself, “Dream about fucking Danny in the bathroom.” And I’d dream about going into the restroom at school, seeing Danny taking a leak, going over to him, pulling down his pants and fucking him. So real. Or I could dream that I’m falling and say to myself in the dream, “It’s a dream. Fly.” And I would fly. Or I could think about a problem that I was having and, in a process-oriented fashion, work through the problem and have a solution in the morning. I remember one time when I was down in Australia, I lost my ATM card. Until I got a replacement, I pulled out another ATM card to an account I rarely used. I couldn’t remember the PIN. So I said to myself, “Figure out what the PIN is.” I went to sleep, watched myself inserting the card into the machine and punching in the PIN. I woke up … it couldn’t be that simple. I take the card, put it into the ATM, punch in the number, and sure enough! Yeah. So my dreams are special. Thus it was … before I even knew that something was wrong with me, my subconscious was telling me that I should start planning my funeral.
  11. Thanks for sharing your story, droughtquake. I don't know what it is within us that thinks that ignoring an issue and passively-aggressively pushing someone we might care about away is the best way to handle things. It could have very well turned out that if we opened up and were honest, the person we turned away could have helped carry the burden. But life unfolds as a cumulative result of the decisions we make. I don't know if you're familiar with Harry Chapin's song "Taxi" but sometimes when I look back at things I could have probably done differently, I think to the end of the song: "And she said, we must get together But I knew it'd never be arranged And she handed me twenty dollars For a two fifty fare She said, Harry, keep the change Well, another man might have been angry And another man might have been hurt But another man never would've let her go I stashed the bill in my shirt" It's sad that Neil found closure with Mark through his suicide note. After their last encounter at the Melrose, I can't help but wonder whether or not Neil would look around Roscoe's before going in, or warily looked across the bar or over his shoulder to see if Mark was there. And I wonder if he was disappointed when, perhaps like you experienced, he wasn't there. Would things have been different if Mark were more assertive? Would things have been different if your Brit boy told you to stop and listen? "Another man never would've let her go." I hope this are good with you now, droughtquake -- notwithstanding your profile name! ;-) Thanks for reading and commenting. Look forward to chatting with you in the future!
  12. Many thanks, spikey582. Neil is the classic tragic character: abused as a kid, no support system at home, left at an early age to fend for himself and, more dangerously, left to his wiles since he didn't play the part of an "at risk" kid. Then he embarked on career paths that celebrated the guile he developed -- politics and the law. So it wasn't until therapy when he discovered how much his childhood abuse profoundly affected him that started him thinking differently. So I don't know if he knew that he had choices if his psyche was set along one path. Mark was ironic -- he was "farm strong" but psychologically weak. Learned, but naive. Betrayed but still trusted easily. But I think when he moved to Chicago, like many boys who fled their small towns in the Midwest, life was going to be different. So screw the past. It was unfortunate that the first person he met was Neil. But there's a question as to whether there was something more tragic that happened over the two years that caused him to take his own life or whether he went through a series of events. Maybe he graduated from grad school and just couldn't see what life had in store for him except more pain? I don't know. But perhaps Neil was a major reason since he had a suicide note addressed to him? The fortnight between the two did reveal quite the connection. In any case, this is a significant chapter in a story I'm writing that was giving me the most trouble. So I thought I'd turn it into a short story. It really is a downer as a standalone. But thanks for reading and for your comments! Greatly appreciate it.
  13. Many thanks, skinnydragon! I love your stuff. I may have a few stories knocking around, but highly doubt I'll ever come close to your prolific talent! :-)
  14. I forced myself to watch the video. He was happy. He said he found the love of his life – me. I had the camera trained on him. “What’s that for?” He was camera shy. “It’s to help you remember your first time and how special it was being with someone you love and someone who loves you just as much.” “I guess … if you think ….” “Now tell the camera that you love me.” He was perfect and innocent. He came from a farming family in downstate Illinois. Straw-like dirty blond hair, inquisitive green eyes, high cheekbones, a ready smile for me, about six-foot two. Farm strong. He was mine. That was about 20 years ago. Today, I’m dying of cancer and forcing myself to watch something I hadn’t seen since the week after I filmed it. There’s no way to make amends for the way I treated him all those years ago. He’s dead. I got a call a few years back from his sister. How the heck did she find me? In any case, he committed suicide and he left a note for me. How could she get it to me? She was so earnest. Farm people are like that, I guess. + + + It was 1997. I moved to Chicago after law school and was enjoying my summer before starting a job at a firm in the Windy City. He had just graduated from the University of Illinois down in Champaign – the first in his family to graduate from college. The first in his family to go to college, if I remember correctly. He grew up on a farm in a town of 10,000 people. His father expected him to study husbandry if he was going to waste his time going to college at all. It came as a shock to the family when he announced that he was majoring in English. I remember him telling me how his father reacted: “What the hell are you gonna do with that? Next thing you’re gonna tell me is you’re a fairy.” The next thing he told his father was that he was gay. The news ended that relationship. He had always had a tough relationship with his father. His mother was the typical farmer’s wife. “Just do what your father says, son. Why do you have to study English if you can read it already?” He had a sister who was a bit older than him who traded one small farm town for another. Part of the deal of getting married. Kids were part of that deal, too. Lots of kids. Yeah … he was an uncle, but he didn’t get to see his nieces or nephews on account of being an English major and a fairy. He managed to get through college with honors. Apart from his full-ride scholarship, he supported himself by working nights at a gas station. It gave him time to read, he told me. He was accepted into a grad program at Northwestern, and through the m4m AOL Chicago chatrooms, he gravitated towards me and fell into my orbit. While I just moved to Chicago, I had actually lived in town on-and-off over the 90s. I mean, I went to Notre Dame, so Chicago was a second home. Chicago was a place where I had relatives close enough in the north burbs if I ever needed the support but a place where I could be myself. And by writing, “be myself,” I mean be gay. I grew up in San Francisco but was never part of the gay lifestyle. I remember hearing stories of kids my age venturing out onto the gay scene in the nascent years of the scourge of AIDS and going through what was called “the gauntlet” – passing naked through a group of gay men in a club or bathhouse being used as a rite of initiation. I was sexually abused as a kid by an uncle. I needed no rite of initiation. I was pretty much independent growing up, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have to be careful. One thing I learned in politics is that information is power. I wanted no one to have power over me. I guess that was one of the side-effects of being an abused kid. So yeah, I was pretty independent growing up. My father was away at sea a lot. My mother worked long hours as a school teacher. My sisters were five years older and younger than me. After my grandmother and grandfather moved out of the house when I was like in the fifth grade to care for younger cousins elsewhere, I was pretty much unsupervised. I spent a lot of time at the library becoming book smart. I traveled alone throughout San Francisco becoming street smart. I was a smart kid so everyone assumed I was a good kid. I mean, like smart kids are good and bad kids are dumb. Since I wasn’t dumb, I wasn’t bad. The times I got in trouble at school were because other kids listened to me. One time, there was a broken bottle on the ground of the school yard. I told another kid to throw it across the way and he did. A teacher saw what happened and came running over. The kid told the teacher that I told him to throw it. I looked at the teacher with all the innocence my eyes could muster and said, “I told him to throw it away.” “He must have misheard you. Is that what happened?” The other kid shrugged his shoulders and looked at me. I was the good kid. He was dumb. He was bad. One thing I learned from that experience was that kids listen to me and they do what I tell them to do. Another thing I learned was that I could manipulate adults. That was first grade. I honed those skills over the decades of my life. My independence developed over the years, as well. I never told my parents what I was doing. Because I was smart, was in student government, was active in church, had the right sorts of friends, etc., no one ever questioned what I did the many hours I was away from home. I hated being home. Home was supposed to be a place of security. For me, home was a constant reminder of my horrors. My independent streak also carried over into my gay side. I never felt the need to be part of a community. Lemmings. I was secure enough in myself to not need the approval of others. Thinking about the gauntlet, I was safer, too. I think when I first started chatting with him online was before he actually made the move to Chicago. I did the same. We were of the same mind … make friends so there’ll be friendly faces in a new town. He was impressed with my background – all the places I lived, the things I did, the people I knew. He was a downstate boy who, he said, never left Illinois. I believed him. As an English major, he was ponderous whereas I was decisive. I think he was drawn to the confidence that I developed over my three decades. I was a bit older than him. Possessing an inquisitive mind, he was drawn to the treasure trove of experiences I could share with him. We were both new residents in Chicagoland, I think he dreamt that we could build experiences together. His experience with me proved to be a nightmare. They say that when you move into a new town, you get a new boyfriend within the first two weeks or after the first two years. We were well on our way to the two-week timeframe. I lived in Lakeview and he lived in Evanston. Not a too terribly inconvenient El ride down. We both had free time so after a bit of going back a forth, we decided that he would come down to Lakeview, have a late breakfast at the Melrose Diner – which I had adopted as “my place” – and check out the gay scene. “You’re real.” What a weird first thing to say to someone. And what did that mean? He was a bit taller than me, so I looked up a bit to read his eyes and cocked my head to study him. He was attractive and his eyes revealed great depth. Most gay guys would be happy with an attractive face. I’m not like most gay guys. I look for something more. His eyes revealed that “more.” He was smart. But he was also vulnerable. His eyes were calculating, and they seemed to be assessing whether I was a threat to him – at the same time engaged but looking for an exit if it were necessary. I must have assuaged any anxieties he had and he followed me as I led the way to my usual booth. I liked him and my intuition informed me that he liked me. We sat locked in conversation over the course of our late breakfast, countless cups of coffee, and a couple of slices of pie. We paid Julie, my regular waitress, when her shift ended. But we didn’t budge from our booth for hours, neither of us wanting to break the spell. I liked his innocence and sense of wonder. He liked my confidence and experience. If I were a romantic, we would have moved-in together in a week. But I’m not a romantic. Not back then. I was a predator. I saw the innocence laid out on the table before me and I wanted it. I needed to exploit it. I sensed that his blood burned with his need to belong. I knew that my blood burned with passion with the need for him to belong to me. I knew that I had a shot at him when we continued our conversation while walking down Halsted Street and I took him into some fun shops selling BDSM gear. At first he was shy, then he was curious, then he was thoughtful as he gently caressed the leather. I saw what I wanted to see in his eyes. We went back to my place to freshen up before dinner. He liked me and trusted me. If it’s one thing about me it’s that people trust me quickly. I hold eye contact. I mist up when they tell me something sad. They think it’s empathy. For me, it’s an exercise in practiced manipulation. Years later, my therapist would tell me I tear up because of the pain I suffered from the abuse. I readily identify with sadness in others. Back then, I didn’t know it was a weakness. I thought it was a strength and it became a party trick where friends would ask me to show people that I can cry on command. But he didn’t know that. He thought I was a nice guy and he trusted me a bit too quickly. Maybe farm people are really like that – naïve and too ready to trust. So we went back to my place. He was like a blind dog in a meat market going through the mementoes I collected – the “me” I chose to present: pictures with President Bush; with former Governor “Big Jim” Thompson; souvenirs from travels abroad; a signed Notre Dame football. He had dreamt of going to Notre Dame but the cost was too prohibitive. I was his link to a reality he only knew through newspapers and television, and I was his bridge to a dream. We were guys, so we sprawled out in the living room watching TV … he on the sofa, me on the recliner. I fell asleep for a quick snooze sometime during his inquisition. So many questions! The boy wore me down! When I came to, he was lightly snoring. So cute. I jostled him. He awakened giving me the goofiest grin. I couldn’t resist the urge to give him a peck on his forehead. He made note that it was our first kiss. We went to my favorite Thai place on Halsted at Addison. Royal Thai. Then I took him to Roscoe’s – his first gay bar. It was a weekday night so it was pretty sedate. We sat and we talked. When we returned there the following weekend, there were no inhibitions to be had after a few drinks and some partaking in the evil weed (his first hit), and we were making out so furiously at the bar that when we broke apart, there was a condom next to our drinks. We laughed. We wouldn’t be needing it. That first night, it was too late for him to head back to Evanston. We weren’t drunk, but we enjoyed each other’s company. I had a one-bedroom apartment with a huge four-post queen-sized bed. There was the couch in the living room, but that wasn’t even considered. Before we even had a full-on make out session, we would be sleeping together. Of course, being the gentleman that I am, I threw him a towel, some shorts and a t-shirt. I told him to shower up because I didn’t want a sweaty guy in my bed. He thought I was going to join him. Nope. “We only met today. I’m not that easy.” I really am, but I wanted more than he was willing to give that night, and I was willing to wait to get him to that point where he wanted me to have what I wanted. At first, he was afraid to make contact under the covers. He had never had a sleepover before. Didn’t farm boys jack off with other farm boys in the hay loft? What about college? He couldn’t risk it. Plus, he was too busy and never meshed with anyone. That’s what he said. The poor guy missed out on the joys of college. Well, he doesn’t think he missed anything. I knew there was something else going on. I let it rest. No need to discover all his dirty secrets that first night. Then realization struck – he was a virgin. So I probed and he told me that he was. I was alone in bed with a virgin. That fact changed my strategy slightly. With his tentative tossing, avoiding contact, purposefully keeping to “his side” of the bed, I knew what he wanted. I’m intuitive like that. I also knew that he didn’t know how to go about getting it. I decided to help. I pulled him to me and put his head on my chest. Then I heard a sniffle. “This is what I dreamed being held would be like.” His innocence made my dick throb. We fell silent and soon I heard the sweet sound of his gentle snoring. It was only the second time I heard it, but I was addicted to the sound. There was a part of me that wanted to protect this angel in my arms. There was another part that knew it was my destiny to ravish him. He really had nothing to do up in Evanston. He moved into a dorm room but didn’t know his suite mates. He came up a month early while summer kids were still there, so there was no use in getting to know the people living there anyway since they’d be gone when summer session ended. There was a reason why he moved up here so early – he admitted that he had nowhere else to go. So we pretty much spent the next couple of weeks inseparable. It was as if we were married … that is, if you look at marriage as stages: the honeymoon; the routine; the rocky road; then the indifference. The honeymoon had its high point on Saturday. We went to a Cubs game. There were some silly shenanigans at the game the day before with fans throwing beer cans and cups on the field after a bad call by one of the umpires and the Cubs were proposing a ban on beer sales after the 7th inning. Andy Shaw, one of the TV reporters from Channel 7 was interviewing people carrying beer. I left the concession stand with beer … a good bit of beer. Shaw stopped me and asked if he could interview me. My farm boy slunk a few steps outside of camera range. He was camera shy. Shaw asked, “What do you think about banning beer sales after the 7th inning?” I gave a short discourse of the duty of responsibility and how it is that when a person does his job poorly, like the umpire, it causes everyone else to shirk their responsibilities, like the fans. Shaw nodded approvingly. “That was great!” “Wow!” That was his reaction. “Do you think you’re going to be on TV? That was awesome! How did you think of what to say so quickly? I could never do that. I’d be spending the whole game thinking, ‘I should have said this,’ or ‘I should have said that.’ … You must be big on responsibility!” He was funny. He was so easy to impress. He was smart. He was good. There was a scene from the movie “Rudy” where Rudy’s father steps into Notre Dame Stadium and says, “This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.” Once we found an acceptable spot in the Bleachers, he took in his surroundings and for the seemingly millionth time that day, he whispered, “Wow!” Then he got sort of melancholy talking about how his father had promised to take him to Wrigley when he was a kid. They never went. He opened up about his father, their relationship, how it ended. But how he’s glad that it happened because he would have never met me. Poor boy. Poor, poor boy. The Cubs won and we headed back to my place after too many beers. He was tipsy. He had never drunk that much. Pabst Blue Ribbon is how you say water in Chicago. We drank a lot of water. We made it back just as the news was about to start. He was eager to see if I made it on. I did. The entirety of what I had to say. He was impressed. When the six o’clock news came on, he begged me to videotape it so he could watch it again when he was sober. After another stein of Chicago water, I broke out the bong. He looked warily at it. “What’s that?” “It’s what you think it is.” “Really?” “Yeah. Ever try it?” “No.” “Wanna try it?” “I’m not sure.” “Let me show you.” I lit the bowl, put my finger over the hole, sucked the air out the bong causing the water to bubble as it drew in the smoke from the lit pot in the bowl. When the chamber was full of smoke, I released my finger and inhaled. I held it. Counted silently, then released. “Wow!” That wasn’t a whisper. He had never seen it done before. I coached him through his first hit. He failed miserably, sputtering frantically. Poor boy. He took a huge drink. I went into the kitchen and came out with some brownies. Yep … special brownies. I made them the day before when he borrowed my car to go grab some stuff in Evanston. I could have driven him, but I wanted some alone time. He had other errands to run that I really wasn’t interested in being a part of. So I made good use of my time. He was a bit drunk so he didn’t even notice the funny taste. Then when it hit him, he thought he was getting high off of that one failed hit. “Wow! What would I be feeling if I had taken a hit as big as you? This is wild.” Little did he know …. He was smart but he didn’t know a lot. He was book smart, but he wasn’t street smart. After that, he was an animal. I suggested we take a nap and he agreed. I laid down on the bed and he jumped on me. Farm strong. We made out like bandits. He really wasn’t that great of a kisser. I tried to teach him in our few days together. He was an eager learner but still needed practice. I was buzzed and a little high so I didn’t mind. He tried taking off my clothes. I grabbed his wrists. “Yo! Dude! What’re you doing?” “Please!!!” “Please what?” “I need to feel you.” “Not yet. It’s too early.” “Please!” “Come here.” I wanted to get him to that point where he wanted me to have what I wanted. I was almost there. I pulled him down to me. He started crying, mumbling that he was sorry for being so stupid. I shushed him and told him that I love him. He stiffened. He looked into my eyes. They were water-logged. He mumbled, “Wh-what did you say?” “I said, ‘I love you.’” I drew up his chin to gaze more deeply into his green eyes. But the green was being eclipsed by the black of his pupils which were dilated with hope. “Do you mean it? Please?!?” “Yes. I love you.” Then his sobs came. I held him and we fell asleep that way. A few hours later, my stomach growled me awake. It woke him, too. I stretched and he clutched onto me for dear life. He was strong. Farm strong. “I love you, too. I never thought I’d be able to say it. I read it a lot. I read how people say it and how it’s done. But I’ve never said it. I didn’t think I would ever be able to write about someone saying it if I didn’t know how to do it myself.” “Sshhhh. I love you.” And then I gave him one of the gentlest, most passionate kisses I could muster. I saved those for special moments. This was one of them. He cried. It was as if all the years of hurt and pain, the abandonment he suffered at the hands of his family, all the grief he endured by the betrayal by his family of the value of love farm people were raised to believe in – it was as if all that were swept away by my three words. I was his anchor. He told me that. I don’t think he knew what it meant. We went out for dinner at Matsuya’s. Great sushi there! He had heard of sushi but never tried it. Raw fish wasn’t really part of a downstate farm boy’s usual diet. But he was a writer. He was adventuresome. He loved it. The day of firsts continued on. After our make-out session at Roscoe’s, we made it an early night and got back to my place. I looked at him and saw the longing in his eyes. I pulled him to me and gave him another one of my tender kisses. In just a few hours, he was getting better, no doubt because I’m such a good teacher. “Please?” “Are you sure?” “I know.” “OK.” I wanted to get him to that point where he wanted me to have what I wanted. I was there. He started to undress. I stopped him. “I like unwrapping my presents. You’re giving me a pretty big gift tonight.” He gave me a goofy grin. I couldn’t help but kiss him again. I heard him moan. “Are you sure?” “I’m ready.” I pushed him back on the bed. He couldn’t take his eyes off of me. I slowly undressed him. Button by button. Shoes, socks. Belt. I put the belt around his neck and pulled him into me. He gasped. I was a bit more forceful with my kiss. He responded in kind. Farm strong. Yet there was a tentativeness about him as if he was wondering, “Am I doing this right?” The previous nights, he had this weird sort of habit of finger tapping on my body. It was irritating because I’m ticklish and because it was weird. I pulled away from him, got a bag out of my closet, attached some rope to the four posts of the bed and took out some leather cuffs. His inquisitive eyes revealed traces of fear while his cock throbbed. “What’s that for?” “You don’t know what to do with your hands. This’ll make it easier for you since it’ll force you to remember that all you have to do is lay back and enjoy the experience.” “I don’t know … I’ve never done anything like this before? It might be too much.” I grabbed his cock. It throbbed. “Do you trust me?” Tears filled is eyes. “Yes.” “I love you. You know that.” “I love you, too.” “I love you more.” And that made him laugh. He laid back, stretched out his arms. I buckled the cuffs on each wrist and attached them to the rope. I looked at him. He was beautiful. He was mine. I took out the video camera. “What’s that for?” As I said, he was camera shy. “It’s to help you remember your first time and how special it was being with someone you love and someone who loves you just as much.” He smiled his goofy grin and nodded. “Now tell the camera that you love me.” “I love you so much you don’t know how much it hurts.” “This has been a day of firsts. Are you ready?” “I think so.” “Tell me that you’re ready.” “I’m ready.” There goes that goofy grin again. It became Pavlovian for me – goofy grin gets a kiss in return. He was ready. I gave him many firsts that night. First time a guy pulled down his pants. First time a guy pulled off his boxers. First time he was naked in front of a guy who touched him. First time he got a hickey. First time someone licked his armpits. First time someone nibbled on his sensitive pink nipples. First time someone licked his balls. First time someone deep-throated him. First time someone rimmed him. First time someone fingered him. First time he was anally penetrated. First time he ejaculated at the hands of another. First time someone shot a load in him. First time he was plugged. “What’s that?!?” “It’s a plug.” “Why?” “To keep my cum inside you.” “Why?” “So your body will absorb my cum and I can be a part of you.” Goofy grin. Kiss. Stupid Pavlov. + + + I made him mine that night. To him, we made love. Thinking back on it now, yeah, we did. Watching the video today, I really felt a sense of loss that nothing came out of it. We did make love. I really did love him. But back then, I probably knew it but was afraid of it. The walls of my fortress went up and in my mind, I got what I wanted from him. I used him. I took his virginity. My seed was planted in him. And now, with all the boxes ticked off, was I done with him? + + + I released him from the cuffs. He clutched me tightly. I felt a tear fall on my chest. “Are you OK?” “I love you.” We kissed and we fell asleep lip to lip, sharing one breath into the night. The morning after is tough for so many people. There’s the hangover from the alcohol, the buzz from the cannabis is gone, the cum is crusty-dried, there’s morning breath, the need to piss, and the general awkwardness of morning. He was up first. He didn’t want to wake me so he waited until I stirred. When my eyes opened, there was that goofy grin. I pulled him into me. He was happy. And erect. But it was probably his piss hard-on. “I need to use the bathroom.” “OK.” Goofy grin. Kiss. “But … uhm … can you take it out?” That was the only bit of morning awkwardness. We went to the bathroom together. I was actually gentle in working to release the seal of the plug. Some of me fell out and into the bowl, but more of me was now a part of him. I prepared a bath. I got in and pulled him in, too. I bathed him. I paid special attention to his tender hole. It was puffy. I made it puffy. When he felt my finger probing him, he tensed. He was still unused to a guy having unfettered access to his most private parts. I told him his hole was my property now. The goofy grin made way to a lustful smile. He relaxed. His hole loosened. The green in his eyes was intense with longing. He needed me. He needed to know that last night was not a one-time thing. He didn’t know that, in my mind, this morning was a continuation of last night. Knowledge is power. So is sex. The partner who wants sex more is in the weaker position. I wanted him to know that I was in control so I asked, “Why are you looking at me like that?” “What? How?” “The way you’re looking at me. I know you want something.” My finger sunk deeper into his hole. “Oh! Please?!?” Farm people are always polite. “Please? Please what?” “Please?” Then he whispered, “Can I feel you again?” “Feel me where?” “In me. Please?” I drew him to me then turned him around as I held him from behind. I lifted him up a bit, then lowered him on to me. Water splashed over the edge of the tub. He was new at this so he really wasn’t that graceful. His sphincter hugged my cock. In my mind, it needed me more than I needed it. That’s when things change – when the realization hits that though he wanted me to have what he thought I wanted, I didn’t really want it anymore. Or so I convinced myself. I pleased him because I was doing my duty. The next couple of days were revelatory. After his family’s dismissal the summer after his Freshman Year, he was depressed. He returned to school and had to go through counseling. He suppressed his feelings and finished his next three years drone-like in life. He lived through an alter-ego in his writing. It was a world where others could lead happy lives, others could get hurt, but he would remain impervious. He controlled the destiny of his characters. I was drawing him out of his pages and he was hopeful for a happy life. The risk of getting hurt didn’t figure in his calculus. He loved me and I ended up controlling his destiny. Over the course of the next week it was becoming a bit suffocating for me. What was I doing? I was out of my comfort zone. I became a bit more distant. Then, I sprung some news on him: I had a long road-trip planned with some of my college buds. I hadn’t mentioned it before because I didn’t think he’d still be around. He was shocked. I asked him, I think out of politeness, if he wanted to come since school wouldn’t start for him for a while. He considered it but he couldn’t feasibly justify it. So he told me to have a good time. But there was this nagging, lingering part of me that didn’t want things to end with him. I offered to let him stay at my place, offered to give him a key. “It would be too much of a temptation. Besides, I need to bond with my new suite mates when they arrive.” Phew! Dodged a bullet there. I think. Or maybe I wanted to get hit? I was confused. This was a first for me. I wasn’t really indifferent. Both our eyes were teary when I left. I’m not sure if it happened because I felt sad or because that’s what’s supposed to happen when people say goodbye. He helped me carry the last of my things for the trip to my car. He gave me that goofy grin. I gave him the expected kiss. Time will reveal that that would be our last tender moment. One of the saddest lines in poetry was written by Robert Frost: “Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” I returned six weeks later. I sent postcards. I dropped e-mail. Those were the responsibilities a lover owed to his beloved. I was Mr. Responsibility, after all. But over those weeks, the allure wore down for me, especially with my college buds reinforcing the memories of my past ways. They lionized my ability to manhunt. I reveled in those memories not because I terribly enjoyed the predator I was, but because it was a secure place for me to exist – a place where I was independent and safe. Those two weeks in Chicago had me very unsettled. + + + Back when I was in college, another one of my party tricks was my ability to bag a guy. Any guy. My buds would point out a guy that they would challenge me to seduce and fuck. I would always win. With one guy it took an hour. With another it took a year and a half. I was willing to put in the time that was necessary to win. There were no time limits. It didn’t matter if the guys they picked out were gay or straight … I had a system down and it always worked. It worked on him. That part of me that informed me that it was my destiny to ravish him wanted me to believe that he was just another kill. When I returned, I didn’t give him a call to let him know that I was back. He phoned a few times and left messages checking up on me. I never returned those calls. I still don’t know what was going through my mind. I had hooked up with a bunch of guys on my road trip, so that blunted my need for him a bit. I started chatting with another guy in Chicago using a different profile name than I used with him. Then I started working the week after I returned and everyone knows the life of a first year associate is pure hell. He was a victim of Frost. But I can’t blame Frost, really. In my mind, I had firmly resolved that I was no longer his lover and he was no longer my beloved. Thus, I bore no further responsibility to him, I had no duty to get back in touch. But, perhaps in his mind, I did continue to bear a responsibility to him, and it’s when we falter in the performance of our duties that things go awry. + + + Saturday morning after my first full week of work, I was having breakfast at the Melrose catching up with a friend. It was still “my place.” I felt an odd sense as I heard the door open – it’s that sense of a strong aura, like when the President walks into the room. And there he was. At first he didn’t notice me, but I think he felt the same thing. He looked around and saw me. Our eyes locked. That goofy grin started, but faded. Then cold steel filled his eyes. I thought about the first thing he said to me that morning we met. “You’re real.” I thought about it. So many guys lie about themselves online. They’re fat, they’re bald, they’re old. They think that if they can make a connection with a guy, then looks won’t matter. I didn’t lie about how I looked. But I was a predator. I camouflaged myself so what was visible to his mind’s eye was the persona I wanted him to see. The cold steel in his eyes signaled to me that he finally saw my true nature. I wasn’t real. I was a projection. He turned around and he left. I didn’t go after him. I never saw him again. + + + In the weeks after, I saw on my caller ID that he would call but leave no messages. He wrote me a couple of letters that felt pretty heavy and had extra postage on it. I used to enjoy laying back, resting my head on his chest as he expectantly watched me reading his stories. They were good. But I couldn’t be bothered reading the letters he sent. They met the paper shredder. I started seeing another guy. He was Dutch, tall, beautiful blue eyes, and broken. That lasted until Christmas when I went away for vacation and didn’t feel it anymore with him. I planted my seed in him. That mission was accomplished. We were supposed to meet up New Year’s Eve, but while I was gone, he moved home to Michigan. After him, there was this native American guy. He tried to psychoanalyze me. He had a great ass, but he talked too much. That lasted until the Super Bowl. Then there was the guy who looked like Ben Seaver from Growing Pains. Then there was a period where I just pulled anyone in off of AOL Chat when I was free. I caught the clap barebacking one guy. Crabs another time. “He” wasn’t even a distant memory anymore. He fell by the wayside like the rest. + + + In 2011, I was living in New Zealand and had lost my flat in the Christchurch earthquake. I moved back home for a while in San Francisco while I figured things out. The phone rings. A woman calling asked for me. “Speaking.” “Hi. You don’t know me but I’m Mark Horton’s sister.” There was something strangely familiar about the voice. Not the sound of the voice but the cadence. I didn’t recognize the area code from caller ID, but there are so many new area codes nowadays. “Who?” “Mark Horton. I think you were a friend of his in Chicago?” Who the heck was Mark Horton? “Uhm, are you sure?” “Uh, yeah. It woulda been in 1997. He went to Northwestern.” Holy shit. Mark. That was his name? I had completely forgotten. I’m usually good with names … people in politics usually are. Mark. I thought it was Mike. Matt? Mark. I remembered him reading me a passage from Faulkner’s novel Light in August. “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” Why could I remember that but not his name? Finally, memory and knowing intersected in my mind and warm feelings overtook me as I remembered that goofy grin. My heart raced a bit faster and I chubbed up a bit. Mark. OK. But why’s his sister calling me? “Oh! Mark! How’s he doing? Yeah! We were friends when we first moved to Chicago back then.” “Uhm ….” Then sobbing started. I recognized that sob. Do people from the same family sound and sob the same way? My mind races in so many directions sometimes. Someone was saying something to her in the background. “Hello? Are you OK?” Sniffles, then, “I’m sorry.” “OK. Is there something wrong?” After a few minutes, she composed herself. “I … I can’t believe I’ve finally found you. It’s been over ten years I’ve been trying.” I was confused. Over ten years trying what? Let’s get her back on track. “I’m sorry. What? How’s Mark? Did something happen?” She took a few deep breaths. “I’ve practiced what I was going to say so many times if I ever found you. But I can’t remember….” In between sobs, she revealed that Mark died soon after his graduation from Northwestern. I felt a rock in my stomach weighing me down. “I’m so sorry … I … I didn’t know …. What happened?” More sobbing ensued. I couldn’t quite figure out what she was saying, nor could I comprehend her words. Then again, whatever she might have said to me would have fallen on deaf ears since my mind was stuck frozen on an image of that goofy grin. “He killed himself the summer after graduation. He was depressed. He was depressed his whole time in Chicago. That’s what people told us….” He killed himself? She went on to blame herself for being a terrible sister, for holding her children back from him, for not returning his calls, for thinking that he’d be an evil influence on her family …. But I was stuck on those three words: he killed himself. Just as my three words swept him away all those years ago, these three words pierced my heart. I thought she was a terrible person back then. Was I worse? He killed himself. The image of that goofy grin at the Melrose morphed into that frown and the last sight of the cold steel in his eyes. It was chilling. It was haunting. It shook me out of my thoughts. Get back on track … why is she calling me? “Uhm … I’m so sorry to hear the news. He was a good guy. But what do you mean you’ve been trying to find me for over ten years?” Silence. Then after a couple of deep breaths, she said, “He left a note for you.” Oh shit. “A note?” “It had your name on the envelope with the request to please hand deliver it.” “Please?” “Yes. It said, “please hand deliver this.” Oh shit. He knew that I didn’t read his letters in the past. What do I do? I retreated to my safe space: the politician well practiced in crisis management. “Uhm … you know, I knew Mark briefly when we first moved to Chicago. But I don’t know why he’d write me. I left for a trip soon after we met and I didn’t talk to him again after that. But if there’s something in there that could give you closure, please open it and read it. I wouldn’t mind.” I expected her to thank me and apologize and engage in further platitudes before hanging up. I was getting ready with my standard, “please accept my condolences ….” That’s what people in polite society would do. I forgot that she comes from farm stock. She was different. They all were. What she did was totally unexpected. I heard the rip of paper and some rustling. Then there was a pause. Then more sobbing. Oh shit. She opened it. What the fuck am I going to do now? There were plaintive wails on the other end. A minute passed. Then another. A man came on the line. “I’m sorry. My wife’s been so torn up about this since her brother died. She thinks that she could make up for everything by delivering this letter to you … by granting her brother’s final request.” Oh man. Now the whole family’s involved. “That’s OK. I hope this gives her closure. I’m really sorry.” I hear more mumbling and sobbing. “Uh … she wants me to read you the letter.” Uh-oh. “It’s short,” he assured me. Uh-oh. “Uhm … OK.” “It’s dated June 1, 1999. Dear Neil, I love you so much you don’t know how much it hurts. You were my anchor. I’m sorry. I love you more, Mark” Holy fuck. Did I just hear that? Holy, holy fuck. “Wow!” What do I do? What do I say? I already told them that he was just some guy I knew for a couple of weeks. How do I explain to them why he wrote what he wrote? How could I explain the reality of life and what a dickweed I was? How do I admit to myself that I was incapable to appreciate what he offered? “Wow!” I took the coward’s way out. “I never knew. I wish I had known. Wow!” The conversation trailed off. There was sobbing. Finally, her husband said that he had to take care of his wife. I offered him my thanks and my condolences. I didn’t know what to do or what else to say. Wow! + + + So I have just a few months left, the doctors tell me. I tried doing the chemo thing because it’s what’s expected nowadays. But I didn’t beat it. So, if you can’t beat death, look upon it as a friend. Cancer really isn’t that painful – at least not at this stage. I wish it were. The effects of chemo, on the other hand, really were torturous. I’m glad that they were. It was like doing penance. I think about that letter, about Mark. It’s funny how for a long time I suppressed that summer and the fun we had. I used words that got me what I wanted. I didn’t realize at the time that Mark was giving me what I wanted. I was his anchor and instead of being a source of stability and hope, I weighed him down and kept him submerged well below the despair he felt after the abandonment of his family. I knew that I still had the video. It’s been sitting in a bag of a bunch of other old tapes. I thought about watching them before but they were in the old Beta format. Not worth the effort for a cheap thrill. It would be cliché for me to write that after my diagnosis I felt the need to confront all the harm I’ve done in my five decades, but much in life is cliché. I mean, cliché has to come from somewhere. Right? So, perhaps as a way to expiate my past transgressions, I made it a point to watch the tape we made. And there on tape that had lain dormant for decades were words that have new meaning today in a way that our lines could be reversed. “What’s that for?” “It’s to help you remember your first time and how special it was being with someone you love and someone who loves you just as much.” “I guess … if you think ….” “Now tell the camera that you love me.” “I love you so much you don’t know how much it hurts.” And there it was memorialized on tape … I watched and I remembered how special it was the first time I was with someone whom I loved and who loved me just as much. I didn’t need to tell the camera I loved him. I knew it in my heart. He was the responsible one. He made sure I knew.
  15. Rosicky

    Chapter 5

    I love this story! I love the innocence of the two on this voyage of discovery! Thanks
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