The moon watching rock was a very large flat rock atop the hill behind the cabin. The hill was deceiving in height because it's slope was so long. In spite of baseball camp, I was breathing a bit hard as were Joe and Trey by the time we reached the top, but Keith, having been cooped up in a Detroit apartment, was puffing.
When we reached the top, Joe and Trey spread out their blankets and suggested we spread ours on top of theirs since we didn't need more room and the two blankets cushioned the rock better than one. When they dropped their blankets, I saw that Trey and Joe were each carrying a six pack cooler under their blanket.
The blankets spread, we all lay back on the blankets, resting our heads on our hands, looking up at the night sky. After several minutes of silence, Joe said, "Keith, I hope you will remember the beauty of this place and this night when you think about what I need to tell you."
Keith was silent for a long minute, then said, in a tentative voice, "It's about LaTasha. Right?"
"Yes, it's about LaTasha." When Joe answered, he and Trey sat up and scooted around until they were facing Keith. I knew what was coming and moved around behind Keith, who had sat up. I placed my legs beside him, my arms around him.
"I knew something was wrong. I have known something was wrong ever since I got shipped to Detroit in a such hurry. I figured from the start it involved LaTasha. Is she pregnant?"
"No, she's not pregnant," Joe responded.
"Would to God the big problem was she is," I thought to myself. "I mean pregnant by Keith, not, God forbid, from being raped."
"Keith, it's kinda a long and involved tale, so please bear with me," Joe said. He then asked, "How much do you know about gangs, I mean real gangs and not those wannabe bad eggs at school?"
"A lot more than I did at the beginning of the summer," Keith replied. "I thought most gang talk was just hot air and authorities' trying to frighten people. But after Detroit...my cousins in Detroit are big into their gang. Their gang is more their family than their own mother. Auntie Octavia denies it, but it's all right there."
"Ace, the older one, told me the reason I was in Detroit was to hide me from a Chicago gang's 'chapter' in East Point. I couldn't believe him. When I asked why they even knew I existed, much less be in hiding from them. He said, 'You really got them pissed off and if one of them don't get you, your woman LaTasha's stepbrothers will. You really got their asses whooped. They blood enemies of us and we found out what they be planning and told Auntie LaLisa. That's why you here.' Ace said he didn't know what I did or didn't do that got them pissed off; I certainly didn't know. And I don't know why Ace and Fat Boy's gang wanted to protect me while the other wants my hide. I have nothing to do with shit like gangs."
Trey had reached into a cooler, took out two beers, opened them and handed one to Joe. "Guys, I want you to know I don't think people your age should get into alcohol. Understand that. At the same time, I think sometimes people your age can have a beer and, sometimes, it may even be needed," Trey said as he handed Keith the second opened beer. He then opened two more and handed one to me. It wasn't the first beer I had ever had and--I was sure--it would not be the last, and it sure was good.
Joe took a long drink and then started telling Keith about LaTasha, sparing none of the details. I was sitting behind Keith, my arms around him. He was soon crying as was I as Joe told about LaTasha's condition when she was found on the highway. Joe paused, opened a beer and handed it to Keith. Trey handed me one. I wondered what Dad would think, but I guess he trusted all four of us and I was, to be honest, needing something as Joe continued. I began to feel like an emotional punching bag as Joe continued and couldn't imagine what it was like for Keith.
"Keith, after I talked with Tom and learned LaTasha was your girl, I went to the hospital and talked to a friend who could and would tell me something. She said LaTasha was still very much in need of medical-physical and mental-care when her mother insisted that she leave the hospital. 'That woman didn't even give any reason she wanted to take LaTasha from the hospital and took her after signing a statement that she was doing so against medical advice. As I said, she took her out for reasons she refused to give to the staff,' my friend said."
"Both when she was brought in and when she left the hospital, LaTasha was in a classic and severe post traumatic shock state and heaven only knows what other emotional/mental disorder, my friend told me. Even if she had not been full of drugs, she still would not know who she was, where she was or why she was as she was. On the drugs, she was a zombie. One of the doctors told my friend, 'LaTasha is just not with us. She is so regressed she is like a very young child when she is at all conscious, and that is seldom.'"
"When I asked what her prospects were, I was told they were not very hopeful. My friend said her primary care physician had a conference with her other care givers before she left the hospital, 'Bleak would be too optimist a word to apply to what I see in her future. I suspect, at the very best, she will have moments of clarity, as she does now, but will probably spend the rest of her life as a young child, unaware of her surroundings. Far more likely, she'll continue to sink deeper and deeper into withdrawal, eventually reaching a permanent vegetative state.'"
"Another of her doctors said, 'The care she gets now could influence the outcome positively."
"Her primary care giver shrugged and said, 'And her mother insisted she be released to go back in to a home where, we all know, the best they could do for her is little or nothing in the way of treatment.'"
"Under threat of a court order, her mother took her into the hospital for a follow-up visit. I hate to say this, but when the doctor saw her last week, he was furious. He felt there were indications she had been physically abused. An officer and a social worker investigated as best they could, but learned nothing. The officer said he was positive the two stepbrothers were involved, but her mother isn't talking, so who knows?" Joe said.
Joe then told Keith how LaTasha had tried to commit suicide. "I gather from the report, she had taken such a massive overdose of very powerful painkillers-and the doctors found evidence of other, illegal, drugs in her blood stream, that permanent damage was done. No doubt, the illegal drugs were a 'gift' from those asshole stepbrothers."
Joe continued, "Keith, LaTasha was pronounced brain dead when she arrived at the hospital, but put on life support. That's what's keeping her alive, if you can call her state living. There is no possibility of significant recovery and even if she did make some kind of miraculous recovery, I understand it would mean she was in a vegetative state. Her brain stem would simply keep her breathing and her blood circulating, but otherwise...."
"I only hope she succeeds in the end," Keith said through his tears. "LaTasha was too alive, too full of energy and love to live as a vegetable. But, Joe, I can't understand how someone as wonderful as LaTasha was...she was really a great person, wasn't she Tom?" I nodded. "How she could come out of that hell hole she called home. Maybe if she had told me how bad home was, I could have done something. How could she be so human and her family be such animals? I don't understand it."
"Keith, one thing I have learned in my job is that it may be rare, but from time to time you find a beautiful flower growing out of a shit pile, so to speak," Joe said.
"Keith, I'll grant you that LaTasha's situation was pure manure. Her family did live and behave more like wild animals than humans-I'll take that back. Animals do not treat each other as rotten as LaTasha's family treated her. But she overcame her situation somehow and you gave her some beautiful moments. Treasure that gift of yours to her," Trey said.
"And the last time you heard she was on life support?" Keith asked Joe.
"Yes, and Keith, I can tell you the LaTasha you knew and loved died, not when the life support was removed, if it was, not when she attempted taking her life. The LaTasha you knew and loved died the moment that first son of a bitch stepbrother raped her," Trey said through clinched teeth.
All four of us were crying softly, all too choked up to speak for awhile. When Joe was finally able to talk again, he said "Keith, if you were in College Park, you'd not be allowed to see LaTasha. I know her mother would never permit that. And until the gangs are at least under control, I believe your best bet is to stay here where it's safe. Keep the good memories of LaTasha and let go the bad. The bad belongs to a battered body, not LaTasha."
Everyone was silent for several minutes then Keith started talking. He told how he and LaTasha had both asked me to play matchmaker and the laugh they had when they found that out. He talked about things the two had done-swinging on the kiddie swings in the park, sneaking kisses behind the gym, riding their bicycles to the river, then walking along the trails there. He laughed about LaTasha having a hard time with "a sweet black brother" playing redneck music, and especially in "redneck joints."
Finally he talked about the week they had together at the beginning of the summer. "We had sex so powerful I thought at times our passion would just take us out of this world. It is impossible to describe the sheer joy in expressing our love through sex," Keith said. "It's just impossible. Sex was more, much more than sex for us. We were joined together physically, but in that joining, we were also united in spirit. Just resting inside LaTasha meant I was also resting in her love as she was resting in mine. The fullest possible expression of our love for the other was in our joining." Keith was obviously struggling for words and finally said, "If I can explain it in words, that's not it. It can only be experienced. And now it's gone, forever."
We all fell silent again, but then Keith and I started telling Joe and Trey about fun things the three of us had done. Occasionally Keith would be overcome by tears, but then he'd tell another story about LaTasha, or ask me to, "Tell about the time that...," sometimes a funny story and we'd all have a good laugh, other times one of love and tenderness. Finally we were quiet and all four of us just lay back on the blankets, looking at the stars above us, listening to the night.
Finally Keith asked Trey how he and Joe got together and the two of them talked about their relationship. They mentioned being put on the street, the struggle to stay alive while working and going to school full time, but mostly they talked about fun things they had done, about being loved and loving and about making love.
Keith listened and finally said, "I guess, the difference between a gay couple and a straight couple making love is all in the mechanics."
Trey collapsed in gales of laughter at Keith's remark and Joe said, "Damn, Trey, I don't see anything funny about that. It's the truth. I mean if it's love making and not just sex."
Trey was sitting beside Joe and reached over, pulled Joe to himself and gave him a wild kiss. When he finally broke the kiss, Keith said, "Well, not all the mechanics are different," at which we all three had a good laugh.
Joe held up a beer, looked into it and said, "This is definitely a dead soldier and I have no intention of killing another one tonight. "I think I'm going in."
We all stood up, even though Keith's and my legs were kinda wobbly, Joe and Trey hugged both of us, holding us tight in their strong arms. Trey picked up the empty coolers and said, "Remember we love you two guys," turned and Joe took his hand and they started down the hill.
I watched them for a few moments, then turned back to Keith. As I did I said, "I see they left the blankets and a couple more beers," I said.
"Tom, my brother, I have never been as drunk as I am right now, but I'm not sure I don't want to be drunker," Keith said, twisting the caps off the last two beers. He handed me one and while we drank those, Keith talked about his anger at what had happened to LaTasha, what her stepbrothers had done and caused. "Even her motherfuckin' mother didn't help her." Keith-all four of us--had been crying off and on from the time Joe started telling us about what had happened to LaTasha, but nothing like the crying Keith started when he said that.
We were lying side by side-by this time I'm not sure we could have stood up-as Keith's body was wracked by sobs coming from the very depths of his soul. I did the only thing I could do, I wrapped my arms around him and held my brother close and tight as his sobbing went on and on until, at last, he simply could weep no more.
When Keith stopped crying we lay close together, his head resting on my arm. The two of us looked into the night sky, maybe searching for answers among the cold stars in the emptiness of space. Suddenly a shooting star, the brightest I had ever seen, blazed across the heavens. As it did, Keith whispered, "Goodbye, LaTasha, I love you, Babe." He then wrapped his arms around me tightly and said, "Tom, you're all I got now. Promise you will never desert me."
"Keith, I may be separated from you, but I will never desert you, never."
Keith raised up on an elbow, gazed in to my eyes and said, "I love you, Tom." He then kissed me, passionately on the mouth.
I didn't want to pull away, giving Keith the impression I was deserting him. Hell, I couldn't pull away, period. "Keith, I don't think you want to be doing this," I said in a throaty whisper as he kissed me again, his tongue invading my mouth, his kiss became more and more passionate.
I guess both our somewhat drunken haze and what we had just gone through washed away inhibitions. I do know that Keith's kisses became more and more passionate and he started undressing me. Fearing what may be the result of what was happening, I nonetheless started undressing Keith, kissing his body as he was kissing mine. Then there, among the stars, we made love, beautiful, wonderful, passionate love. Finally, aglow from our love making, I lay back and Keith kissed my eyes, pulled a blanket over our nude bodies and we wrapped ourselves in each others arms and went to sleep in the silence of the night.
Sometime before morning, Trey and Joe came back up the hill. From beer, love making and sleep, I was pretty much out of it, but I did realize Joe had picked me up, wrapped a blanket around me and carried me back to the house. I guess Trey carried Keith. I didn't know.
When we got to the house, Joe carried me to the bathroom and held me up while I got rid of a lot of beer. I got it out of my bladder, but my head was still swimming as he tucked me in bed. I had only been semi-conscious through the whole deal.
Next morning, I awoke with a start and a pounding head. Joe had startled me when he shook me awake. "Think you might benefit from this," Joe said, handing me a couple of pills and a glass of water. He had set a tray with two cups of coffee on the bedside table; and after I finished the water, he handed me one and took one himself. "I suspect you are not feeling on top of the world this morning and I hope you remember the feeling only when you are thinking about getting drunk. I'm not at all sure what Trey and I did last night was a good thing, but there are no regrets on my part and I hope there are none on yours."
"There are none," I answered. I had been listening to Joe, but my mind was really fixed on the fact that Keith was not in my room. "Where's Keith?" I asked.
"After we went up the hill to see about you two and found you as we did, Trey and I decided it would be best if we split you two up so Keith is downstairs in our bed. Do you feel up to talking? Some serious talk?" Joe asked.
"I guess so," I answered. I really wasn't at all sure I was ready for anything, especially when I remembered last night. No, at least for now, there were no regrets.
"After another cup of coffee maybe?" I nodded and Joe went downstairs and brought two more cups. "I can report that Keith is alive-probably in spite of his head," Joe smiled.
The big policeman sat in a chair pulled up to my bed, looking very serious. "Tom, when Trey and I reached the hilltop last night, we found you and Keith nude, wrapped in each others arms. I am sure we were, at least at first, both very surprised, especially when I told Trey how you and Keith had to work at restoring your friendship after you revealed to him you were gay and in love with him. I suppose someone, someone very naive or unwilling to see what they didn't want to see, might be convinced that you two had not made love, but we can't be."
I felt a hollow in the pit of my stomach on top of a hangover. I had very mixed feelings at that moment. On the one hand, I had no regrets for having make love to Keith last night and, on the other hand, I felt it was a fragile thing which needed protecting from what I was sure was going to be a lecture entitled, "How Could You Take Advantage of Your Friend When He was in Pain," a lecture which would turn a beautiful and precious memory into something-yeah, that word again--tawdry. I started to protest, but Joe held up his hand. "Tom, let me talk and see if what I have to say doesn't make sense."
"First of all, as I said, you and Keith could deny that you made love and maybe convince just about anybody except the two of you, so let's not waste time over that. That you and Keith love each other is obvious to all who know you. I don't mean the way Trey and I love each other or even the way you loved Keith earlier. I'm talking about the love between friends. I think friends and friendship are words that have been tossed around and abused almost as much as the word love. But what I'm talking about is the love between friends. It's a love so deep, so true, so powerful that one friend will-cannot do otherwise--lay down his life for his friend. Am I making sense?"
In spite of the pounding in my head, Joe was making sense, a lot of sense. "Yes, you are. It's just that the pounding in my head makes it hard to hear."
"Want to go back to sleep and talk later?" Joe asked.
I started to say no, figuring Joe would think I was a coward, unwilling to face what had happened last night, but then I thought about the Joe I had come to know and knew better. I also knew what Joe was saying was important, so important that it COULD wait. "Might not be a bad idea," I smiled weakly. I got up, went to the bathroom again and came back and climbed into bed. Joe tucked me in and I was soon asleep.
If I dreamed I did not remember it when I woke up a couple hours later. When I raised up in bed, I saw Keith lying beside me and Trey sitting where Joe had been, watching us sleep. "Feel better?" he asked with a smile.
"I couldn't feel worse, that's for sure, and in fact I do feel better, almost human and starved."
"How about a picnic? Joe thought you two might like that and is downstairs fixing sandwiches and getting stuff together."
"Sounds good, but NO beer," I laughed.
"Understood. Get dressed and I'll see if I can get my black brother on his feet."
I went to the bathroom and when I came out, passed Keith on his way in. I was afraid to meet his eyes, but knew I could not do otherwise. We paused ever so briefly, our eyes met and in Keith's I saw what? Pain, surely, but something more.
I got dressed in shorts and T shirt, pulled on socks and sneakers and was ready to go when Keith came out of the bathroom. "See you downstairs," I said as Keith started getting dressed.
There was a quiet spot on the river where it becomes very wide and shallow, its banks only a few inches above the waterline. Over the years the river has been sent out over its banks by the rushing waters from spring rains. Slowed in its dash down the mountain, the river has left behind a sandy beach under the trees. When we reached the spot, Joe spread blankets at the river's edge and added a tablecloth and we put out the food and drinks.
From time to time while we ate, Keith's and my eyes met. I still was not able to read the message in them. For four who were not shy about talking, there was very little said as we ate and what little talking done was about nothing of importance. Mostly we ate in silence except for the sounds of the slow moving river.
When we finished eating and had packed away the picnic, Trey said, "Tom, I know Joe started talking to you this morning and I was talking with Keith as well. About last night. Tom, you as Keith, were definitely suffering from a hangover so Joe and I put the two of you back to bed. Tom, I took Keith up to your room and your bed after both of you were asleep so Joe and I could swap off looking after you. We wanted to be sure we were there when you woke up."
"Joe and I talked a very long time after we brought you back last night. We were concerned that we had caused something to happen which should not have happened and maybe destroyed a beautiful friendship. In spite of our questioning our actions--the beer and leaving you two alone and vulnerable--we could, neither of us, find any regrets."
"After it was pretty clear you needed a bit more sleep before any serious talk, Joe and I talked again while you two slept. We are very concerned that you two let last night be what it was and not make it into something different. I know that makes absolutely no sense at all, but maybe if the two of us just talked, you two can see our take on the night and go from there. Agreed?"
I looked at Keith and we both nodded.
Trey said, "First off, I think the two of you need to be very clear about a couple of things. First, deny as you will, there is no getting around the fact that you are two men who made love last night." Trey looked both of us in the eye as he spoke. When he finished, Keith's and my eyes met and we both nodded.
"Second, Tom, you need to know and accept the fact that while you and Keith made love last night, it changes nothing so far as your sexual relationship is concerned. What I mean is, Keith was straight before, was straight during and is still straight. Oh, I suspect if pushed for a definitive definition of your love making, it could not be called straight, but our concern is Keith and Tom, not some sociological case study. So, Keith's straight, right?" Keith looked at me and nodded, then hung his head.
"Now, Keith, you need to know and accept the fact that you were pretty drunk last night, but not so drunk you didn't know what you were doing."
Keith looked up, started to nod, then said, "I knew what I was doing, yes, absolutely."
"The two of you made love, not because you were 'too drunk to know what you were doing,' but because Keith was hurting," Trey said and then looked at Joe.
"Keith," Joe said, "I started talking with Tom about the love between friends, but he wasn't much with me. Now I can talk with the two of you. If nothing else we say about last night sinks in, please make sure this does. I think it was Jesus-or one of those Bible guys-who said no man has greater love than to lay down his life for a friend. That's the kind of friendship I'm talking about, friendship that places the friend and his needs before your own. A man I like says that's loving wastefully, loving without concern for anything other than the beloved. Loving without counting the cost, loving regardless of the risk, and there is always risk. Both of you know that from experience."
Joe looked at me and said, "Tom, Keith talked beautifully about the difference between having sex and making love. He has known that first hand. You, on the other hand, were devastated when you discovered that you had just had sex, been a sex object, with Shawn. I told you that one day you would experience the difference. Never would I have guessed it would happen as it did, but nevertheless, I suspect you now know the difference between having sex and making love."
Somewhere in my half dazed state after Joe had put me back to bed, I had similar thoughts. Maybe Joe and Trey were in my room talking, I don't know. I did know I certainly knew what Joe was saying.
"But Keith, Tom, I believe men are different from women...."
"Well, duh...," Trey said and we all laughed.
"Ok, we know they are different. I don't know a lot about women, I'll admit," Joe continued, "but I THINK women can find expressions of love in gifts, words, things. I don't think that's as true of men-gay or straight. For us, the expression of our love to another and of another to us, needs to be physical. Expressions of love between men-between friends or lovers-finds expression in touch, in physical contact-an embrace, a bear hug. The ultimate expression of love by a man-gay or straight-is in the ultimate contact, in sex. It's not just the sex when I am in bed with Trey...."
"Don't let him pull your leg," Trey said. "It may not all be the sex, but...."
"We get your point," Joe grinned at Trey.
"Keith, I know you enjoyed-loved the sex with LaTasha, but wasn't it more? Wasn't sex the ONLY way you could express the ultimate extent, depth, whatever of your love?" Trey asked. Keith nodded.
"Maybe we are beating about the bush here, but last night, Keith needed to know the depth of his friend's love, your love Tom, and that ended up being expressed through sex. That's sorta the sum of it, but you two have had a problem before and this can become another," Trey said.
"Again, just so we are clear, Tom, you made love to Keith, another man because he needed--you needed--to express the depth of your love for him and you did so at great risk, whether you realized it or not..."
"Oh, I may have been drunk, but not THAT drunk. I knew..." I got choked up just thinking the risk in making love to Keith and I wasn't convinced the risk to our friendship might be too much.
Joe asked, "And you, Keith, made love to Tom, knowing what you wanted and what you were doing. What you so desperately needed, to know that though deprived of LaTasha's love, you were still loved without question, without limit, without reservations. "
"Absolutely," Keith replied, emphatically.
"Tom, you made love to Keith as an expression of the depth of your love for him, knowing this was not about sex, gay or straight, but an expression of your love, right?" Trey asked.
"Absolutely," I responded as had Keith.
"Guys, don't destroy the beauty of that night, Keith, by denying it happened or that you were too drunk to know what you were doing."
"Never," Keith said. "Never," with tears in his eyes.
"Tom, don't destroy what you had-no, gave--last night by deciding Keith is gay and there is some way you can just make him your lover for always," advised Trey.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah."
"I have to tell you two," Joe said, "I have heard that a gay guy sometimes is with a straight friend and they have sex because of the depth of love they have for each other and long to express it fully and decide to have sex, but it usually destroys the friendship because the straight guy has been seduced...."
"Hold up right there," Keith said. "Tom did NOT seduce me. I needed something to call me back from wanting to die and I reached out to Tom and he pulled me back. Let's all understand that."
In the days, weeks, months and years ahead, there was always special bond between Keith and me, a bond as deep as life itself, but it never had to be cemented again as it had been that night on a hilltop in North Carolina.
Fr. S.P., gay priest and colleague, has written several essays on the gay/straight love making as between Tom and Keith in this chapter. I am indebted to him for his insight into to the dynamics of that relationship.