John sat at his desk, taking a welcome breather from all the hustle and bustle of the Shelter. He could look out through the glass walls and see everyone – some sitting at tables just drinking coffee quietly; others engaged in lively discussion; yet others hunched over tables playing chess with that intense concentration of true chess aficionados; and Jeremy, weaving his way back and forth through the tables, popping in and out of the kitchen, spreading his particular brand of simple joy wherever he went. Often, he found himself just sitting and watching Jeremy, captivated by his laughter, his smile, caught by the simple elegance of a hand gesture, maybe just caught … he shook his head, “back to work” he told himself.
He looked at the file open before him. It was Jeremy’s. The past couple of weeks had been very busy. They had reregistered Jeremy for Social Security, got his card back, registered him for Medicare and begun looking at GED programs. They had also been able to get him in to see a doctor; John had used his contacts with his own physician to smooth the way. Jeremy had been x-rayed, scrutinized, examined, poked and probed. He was in astonishingly good health. Despite the past few years of poverty, his body was in good shape (of course, John knew that, he had scrutinized it often himself). His mind was in pretty good shape, too. There had been the referral to a good psychiatrist who had gotten Jeremy’s file from the mental hospital. They had met several times and Jeremy had passed with flying colors. John had wondered if there might be some residual effects from Jeremy’s past, but whatever had been the problem back then, it seemed to be resolved now. The psychiatrist had probed quite deeply, and had decided to not put Jeremy on any meds for the moment. He, John and Jeremy had talked about what signs to watch for, and all three had agreed to come back in a month for another check, and to have regular check-ups for the next year or so. Jeremy had a clean bill of health. With a little fattening up, he would be in great condition.
John sighed as he read over his file. He was very happy for Jeremy, but he couldn’t help wondering what would happen now. Would Jeremy move out, become independent, move on? Would John go back to his lonely existence again? The past few weeks had been eye-opening for John. He realized that he didn’t want to live alone, that he really wanted a companion. He’d known that he was attracted to men, but it had become very clear that he was very attracted to Jeremy. He felt caught. He was working so hard to be ethical, to not take advantage of Jeremy, and yet he so wanted to take full advantage of Jeremy. He dreamed of Jeremy, he found himself looking at Jeremy during the day and having a very strong physical reaction to him. He daydreamed of what he and Jeremy could do during the night, back in their apartment. He smiled wryly to himself, “their apartment,” sometime in the past few weeks it had morphed from “his apartment” to “their apartment.” It was now “their” home, and he still didn’t know how Jeremy really felt, or even if Jeremy was free to figure out how he really felt. He knew that he had to keep on. His job was to help Jeremy become independent. It was not his job to entangle Jeremy in yet another web. He sighed gently, unaware that his inner struggle had escaped his careful control.
Jeremy loved working at the Shelter. He knew that he was blossoming here, that he felt useful and needed. He knew that he felt safe with John. He stopped at one table, leaning over and whispering into a young man’s ear. They smiled at each other as Jeremy patted his shoulder, and then moved on. As he moved around the room, chatting with one person after another, his thoughts circled around John. John was the first person who had not taken advantage of him. He didn’t really know what to make of it all. Everyone in his past had used him -- the orderlies at the hospital who had groped him; his roommates who had forced him to pay for his room by servicing them; the clients who had paid him for quick, furtive sex in the alleyways of downtown Montreal. Everyone had taken advantage of him. His body was all that he had. Sex was all that he was good for. Yet John hadn’t had sex with him. In fact, he realized that he was sleeping with John, not the other way around. He loved cuddling with John, and he knew that John reacted to him. Maybe John wasn’t really gay? Maybe John wasn’t attracted to him for anything other than his body? Why else had John never made a pass at him? In fact, why else had he gently turned down all the passes that Jeremy had made at him?
Jeremy had reluctantly stopped sleeping in John’s bed. Oh, he missed that. He loved the feeling of John’s arms curled around him, of nestling up to John and feeling him breathing. He loved the sense of safety when John curled around him like a spoon and he felt wrapped up in his safe cocoon. It was reassuring to hear someone’s soft sounds at night, to know that he wasn’t alone anymore. To tell the truth, it was pretty frustrating to be there and not to make love with him. It was pretty frustrating not to have sex, though a short visit to the bathroom could take care of that urgency. No, there was something different here, he didn’t just want to have sex, he wanted to make love. He had never done that before. Sometimes he had played “make believe” with his clients, had tried to convince himself that they were making love, especially if he had repeat client. Yet he knew it wasn’t true. He knew that the client would move on, and he would have an empty ache inside, again. He knew that he would be alone.
It seemed that John didn’t want to make love with him. He had been so clear about the no sex rule, and had kept on “inviting” Jeremy to use his own bed in the guestroom. Eventually, he had gone to the guestroom and slept alone. It had been hard. He had slipped back into John’s bed in the middle of the night when he couldn’t take the tossing and turning anymore, but he knew that John wanted him to sleep in his own bed so he did. Eventually, he became used to it, as lonely as it was. Even now he would sometimes make his way back into John’s bed, just to feel those arms around him, just to feel safe again. He sighed, almost inaudibly, as he moved around the room, wanting his daydream to become reality. Here he was, living with the only guy who hadn’t taken advantage of him and who was the only guy he really wanted to have take advantage of him – what irony.
Jeremy went back into the kitchen and stirred the stew. They’d had a good week with donations – lots of meat and vegetables this week. John came up behind him, reached in over an arm and tasted the stew. His other arm was draped over Jeremy’s shoulder. Jeremy moved into him slightly, savoring the touch.
“Good, just needs a little bit more salt. You taste it; does it have enough pepper for you?”
Jeremy took a plastic spoon and tasted, too. “I think that’s OK. You don’t want it too peppery for the guys.”
“OK.” John moved back, giving himself a little more space from Jeremy. He enjoyed the closeness. Truth be told, he yearned for more of it. Yet he kept himself tightly controlled, not wanting to start something he couldn’t, shouldn’t, finish. His feelings roiled inside, back and forth, back and forth. He turned away, putting more space between them.
“Let’s get things set up for lunch. Will you and Hal take care of it?”
“Sure. Hal lets me help, and he knows what to do.”
John moved out of the kitchen, waving Hal over to come and help Jeremy. He went back to his office and sat down. Having Jeremy with him full-time had really helped with the work of the Shelter. He knew his way around the Shelter; he had an easy manner with the other clients and he had his own lived experience on the streets. The only down side was that it gave John too much time to think. He could bury himself in his work with the clients and in all the administrative trivia of running the Shelter, but that wasn’t what he enjoyed. He liked having more time with the clients. So that was good. He still had too much time to think. Maybe he should begin encouraging Jeremy to get his own apartment. Was it too soon for Jeremy? Or, to be more honest, was it too soon for John? Was he ready to go back to his solitary existence? He shook his head, yep, definitely too much time to think.
That’s how the day went – John was caught between his own inner needs for a companion, for someone to love and share his life with, and his ethics, his very real feelings of wanting Jeremy to grow up and become independent. He realized that he wanted what was best for Jeremy – and he also wanted what was best for John. Right now, he just wasn’t sure how those two things could coexist. It was a tough place to be in.
In the evenings, they went home and made themselves a quiet dinner, then sat down by the fire with a glass of good wine and chatted. They would spend an hour or two practicing reading; John was intent on bringing Jeremy’s literacy up to par. Every other night they would do math and science work, too. John had found out what Jeremy would need to pass his GED examination. If they could get that done, then Jeremy would be able to think about junior college or even university. Without it, he would simply be another high school dropout who never finished, and there were already too many people like that on the streets of the big city. There just weren’t a lot of jobs for dropouts. John’s goal of independence for Jeremy pushed them both on.
The day dragged on, the week dragged on, two weeks, and he was no closer to a resolution. He was well and truly caught. This winter, this whole Lent, was a desert of longing and confusion. Holy Week loomed ahead. He always looked forward to it, to the services that marked each step along the way to the cross. He tried each year to make sure that the clients were invited and welcomed to the services at the church upstairs. This year, he looked forward to taking Jeremy with him to the services. He wanted to introduce Jeremy to the great drama of Holy Week and Easter, and he hoped that Jeremy might find some peace there. Of course, he hoped that he would find peace for himself, too.