While Mike keeps things going at the farm, Danny goes back to school, then takes a teaching job where he gets involved with a student who takes far more than a casual interest in him.
"Funny how time slips away . . ." -Willie Nelson
OK, it's been a few years since I left Mike's farm and went back to school. Leaving Mike was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do. He really had to twist my arm, practically throw me out. I couldn't for the life of me see how I was going to make it without him. But he kept saying I owed it to myself, I owed it to myself, I owed it to myself.
I wanna tell you. When he took me to Lincoln in his truck, helped me unload my stuff, and then drove away, I felt like I was falling into a pitch-black pit with no bottom. And the feeling lasted for weeks.
What kept me going was that I had a whole new place to get used to-at Mike's urging, I'd transferred to the state university (Go Big Red!), where I could maybe make something of myself. Before Mike, face it, I'd just been screwing around in school. Going back there, I'd have got bored and just fallen into the same old rut.
Anyway, I wasn't the same person anymore. After over a year of living with Mike, I was not so much a new man as finally-and at long last-a man, or the beginnings of one. Without having a new place-a new world-to get used to, I would have given up and headed back to the farm muttering, "Fuck this shit."
Not that Mike was out of my life now, not by a long shot. And not that I found somebody to take-or even begin to take-his place. That's not where this story is headed. I'm not a character in one of those long novels I was now reading (not just buying the Cliff Notes for) who lives and learns and leaves behind everyone he's ever learned from.
I stretched as far as I could in this brave new world, but I always kept one foot planted squarely on that farm. I went back as often as I could and spent summers there-and I know this sounds sickeningly romantic-melting each time into Mike's arms, hugging him fiercely, having some heavy-duty sex, and then going through hell again each time I had to leave him.
I may have surprised Mike. He knew enough of the world to know that I'd meet other guys. The heart is unreliable and the penis has a will of its own. Give them half a chance and they'll fuck up everything.
When I made this discovery for myself-a story I can tell another time-I did something most guys would consider weird. I pulled out my Olympia typewriter and wrote about it, filling up boxes-the kind that reams of paper come in-with stories, most of them unfinished because I didn't know where they were going when I started them.
And many of them went nowhere because they were about some young man like myself, lost and lonely and wanting another man to fill the emptiness.
These stories would peter out, of course, because I knew only one way to end them and they all pointed back to a farmhouse a few miles from Grand Island-and a guy with sun-browned arms, a bristly mustache, and boxer shorts that slid off him without effort because the elastic in the waistband was usually shot.
Sitting at my typewriter, I'd get an erection as my imagination took me back there and eventually to his hard dick, getting harder between us as we wrapped arms and legs around each other-under blankets and quilts in frigid winters or lying damp and warm with the sheets kicked to the foot of the bed on humid summer nights, the sound of thunder rumbling from a storm in the distance.
The writing going slower and my erection more insistent, those stories finally stopped at the point where I pulled out my dick and jerked off. Like if this paragraph stopped now in mid-sentence, you could guess that my imagination ran aground and my hands had drifted south of the keyboard.
The truth of the matter is that there was no one I knew who would read these stories. A man whose heart yearned for another man? Come on. Too queer. And while I could somehow safely camouflage what I was really writing about, what satisfaction was there in being mostly misunderstood by my readers?
So I settled more or less for the real, nonfictional thing. I bought a second-hand car-a '57 Chevy Bel Air-from a guy whose aging father had Parkinson's and was getting shipped off to a nursing home where he wouldn't need this nice car he'd taken such good care of (no, I'm not comfortable with this part of the story).
I remember the details because I later worked them into a story-a fictional one-where I absolved myself of the part I felt I had in benefiting from the old man's misfortune.
I took his middle-aged son in his grease-stained coveralls, with one back pocket half torn off-a flap of worn cloth tapping against his butt as he walked me out to the old shed where he'd been keeping the car, and through the frayed hole where the stitching had pulled out I could see the blue-white skin of his ass.
I took him and turned him into a meat packer at Swift's who learns that his buddy on the night shift at the Union Pacific rail yards has been fucking his wife every day after he leaves for work. Literature it was not, but it got me an A in the short story writing class I was taking.
I'd toyed with it being the guy's nineteen-year-old son was who was getting fucked, but I couldn't work out the implications of that. It was maybe giving too much away to the rest of the class, and god knows I didn't want anybody getting any ideas about me.
There was one guy in particular I had my doubts about. He had a way of walking and carrying his book that had me sitting as far from him as possible. No guilt by association for me, thanks.
Am I proud of this? You gotta realize how much I was protecting Mike and me-mostly me. I was a raw nerve end those days. (Yeah, like I'm not today.)
Anyway, I took what was left of the insurance after Mike's nephew Kirk got my Ford Fairlane totaled-plus a couple hundred from a school loan-and I bought this '57 Chevy. It got me back and forth between Lincoln and Grand Island every weekend-one hundred miles each way-and like I say, I settled for the real thing, letting myself melt in Mike's arms, etc., etc.
Dragging myself back to the university on Monday mornings, I'd get stopped now and then for speeding and stumble into class after it started, the Chevy in some faculty parking lot where like as not I'd get another ticket. My body and my dick still warm from the last minutes in bed with Mike, one eye on the alarm clock as I gave his spent cock a last deep, open-mouthed kiss, wiping his cum from my unshaven chin as I leaped up and reached for my clothes.
That was a year that seemed to go on forever. My memories were chiefly of mile after mile (funny slip, I almost wrote "male after male") of flat, endless corn fields on each side of the road and a succession of big, white grain elevators rising from the plains every ten or fifteen miles as I passed on I-80.
That short story writing class-that's another memory-and the teacher who took me under his wing because he liked my stories (half true as they were, though what writer ever gets more than half way to the truth anyway-they give Nobels for that). He's the one who wanted me to think about applying to graduate school, a conversation I made the mistake of relaying to Mike.
We were lying together on the couch, and it was during a commercial on The Virginian (we both liked Doug McClure) that I told him about it.
"He thinks I can do it," I was saying, thinking that Mike would dismiss the idea as I had.
"That must've made you feel good," Mike said, patting me on the shoulder.
Until that moment, I had not thought about how I felt. Surprise was about all I was aware of. Surprise and disbelief.
"I'm proud of you, bud," Mike said.
At once I was filled with emotions I'd kept at bay.
"Not another couple years in school," I said, probably whining as I said it.
"You gotta go the distance," he said, shaking me now. "That's what a real man does."
"Maybe I don't want to be a real man," I said. "I'm kinda happy being what I am."
But to my surprise, Mike who has never known anything but farming, hauling milk, and a stint in the service, would not let me off the hook. Suddenly, this cock-eyed idea from a teacher who knew next to nothing beyond the four walls of a classroom had become a ticket to the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
"I don't think so," I kept telling Mike.
But he was all excited by the idea. And excitement in him is still usually a half step away from sex. It makes him hard, and before I knew it he was reaching between my legs and sticking his tongue in my ear, growling like a bear. (I don't know, do bears growl?)
So you're no doubt wondering, where is this story going? Is it even a story? I'm not all that sure myself, but if you're reading this, it probably found someplace to go, and I didn't just give up and throw the fucker in the wastebasket . . .
So, story or no story, I went back to the university in Lincoln for a master's degree, and after writing not a bad thesis on some lesser known fiction of Mark Twain, I found myself looking for a teaching job somewhere within driving distance of Mike-no easy task, as Nebraska is not exactly overrun with college campuses.
When a position turned up in Chadron, out in the Panhandle, I felt my heart sink like a cement block pitched overboard into the ice-cold waters of Lake McConaughy. I'd been out to Chadron with Don, Mike's old high school buddy, in the summer of '64-on a wild goose chase in a pickup-and I knew the place for what it was.
"It's the fucking back of beyond," I said to Mike, probably whining again. The prospect of not seeing each other for weeks or months at a time made me want to keel over and curl up like road kill.
"It's 300 miles, give or take a few," Mike would say, shrugging, like it was nothing.
"Yeah, 300 miles of two-lane blacktop and cattle grids," I said, whining some more.
"Sometimes, you just gotta bite the bullet, bud," Mike said, taking me by the shoulders and looking me square in the eye.
I could hear the next thing coming, so I said it for him: "I know, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." And he held me tight against him as we stood together in the kitchen. I felt his cock in his jeans pressing against mine, and when I put my head on his shoulder, the thought of somehow living without him again made me want to cry.
I didn't, of course. I couldn't have cried in front of Mike for money. When it came to that-the firm-set jaw and the determination to never back down-Mike was ever a model of doing the right thing, no matter what. I've called him Mr. Fortitude, and when he asked me what that meant, I told him, "It means you got balls."
That made him grin in spite of himself. He even looked up the word in my Webster's, and every now and then he'd manage to work it into a conversation.
"How's your fortitude these days?" he'd say, feeling for my testicles.
"It's hangin'," I'd report.
I put off the chairman at the English Department in Chadron as long as I could, hoping for some miracle, and I felt lousy about this because he was a nice guy, wanted only the best people for his department, and seemed to count me among that number. (How often had another man put that kind of trust in me-not often.)
And the day I was ready to call the man and yield to my fate, there was a letter in the mailbox from my old short story writing teacher, Ned, the very man whose suggestion had sent me down this long road of higher education that seemed to have exit ramps now only in godforsaken places.
(Apologies to any readers from Chadron. I'm sure it's a lovely town with swell people and-if you go in for them-plenty of handsome Sandhills cowboys.)
Anyway (and any readers of Faulkner may recognize who these long-winded sentences are written under the influence of), it turns out that Ned, my short story writing teacher, had a friend at Kearney State, where someone had just resigned-an easterner, as it happened, desperate to return to civilization (he took a job in Scranton, and I'll leave that for you to figure out)-and I should let them know if I was still available.
Kearney is a few towns west of Grand Island on the interstate, forty-five minutes away on a good day. Was I available.
In brief, I took the job almost sight unseen. The chairman, a motherly woman with a touch of Texas in her voice, interviewed me over the phone, and with Ned's endorsement (which in an embarrassingly self-centered way, I felt he owed me) I was in.
When I called Chadron to turn down their offer, the chairman sounded so disappointed, I felt like cowshit for a good four or five minutes after I hung up. Then I could barely wait until Mike got home from work to share the good news.
And when he did, the firm resolve he'd been demonstrating for me-a vertical wrinkle that had appeared between his eyebrows-dematerialized. After a minute of just grinning he grabbed me and gave me one of his bone-crushing hugs, and I quickly began to feel his excitement. It was pouring into his boxers as he pressed himself to me.
That night we wolfed down supper, skipped TV, and fell into bed, hard and happy. Nights of lovemaking melt together in memory, but that particular night we were like refugees from some desperate planet, long separated by a kind of Berlin Wall (I'm reaching for metaphors here obviously.) The relief for us both came in a pent-up release of what I can only call quarts of cum. We were swimming in it, and after a while the taste and fragrance of it was everywhere.
I know, that's an exaggeration, but of the many nights to remember, that one made it to the top of the charts. We drained ourselves. Long afterward-like right now-the memory of it gives me a hard-on.
We sucked each other till we came, not waiting to take turns. Then we fucked and came (which did require taking turns, of course), and with Mike's hands stroking my butt and the touch of his dick easing inside me, I felt the tears start to flow-the tears I'd held back, just sliding down my cheeks and into my ears, as Mike stopped and bent over to lick them up and then cover my mouth with a long salty kiss.
Sex isn't always about love and loving feelings for me. Often it's just fun, and if it's not that, plain old raw carnality. But that night we were lovers. With Mike pressed naked against me, both of us spent for the last time, I felt his heart beating, and for a delirious moment, it seemed to have taken up residence-found home-in my own chest.
All the weirdness I can sometimes feel when I look at the two of us from someone else's eyes-and the fortitude I summon up to defend both him and me and what we feel for each other-all that was gone like something that never existed. Here I may be getting revoltingly sentimental again, but what can I say?
Our hearts together, beating in time under cum-wet skin, were just right-and so was the rest of the world.
I know that's not true-the part about the world. It's pretty fucked up. But if you ask me how to tell when you're in love (here comes Ann Landers, forgive me), this has to be some sign: you get such good feelings in you that you can forgive the whole fucked-up world.