A Special Place--Part Thirty-seven--Mary Kathryn
As soon as I saw the look on Millie's face, I knew the worst had happened. I supposed I would have burst into tears, but I guess I had already cried myself out. I stood, stunned, waiting for the words which would end my life.
Millie hung up the phone, turned to all of us who were waiting for the bad news. "I guess our news today comes as good news, bad news. The good news--the very good news--is that Michael has stabilized and the bleeding has been stopped. The plastic surgeon has started working on his face. Dr. Walker came out and told David and Margaret that he was very confident that Michael would live. He told them without the blood students and parents had given, he would not have. Now the bad news. Michael will carry a scar on his face for the rest of his life according to the plastic surgeon. He thinks it might not be too bad and, if it is, additional reconstructive surgery can be done when he is well. But, and this is the bad news. He is certain the slash to Michael's face caused nerve damage. Nerve damage cannot be repaired. This means there will be facial paralysis. He is not sure how much--it may be very bad or not so bad. Exactly how much damage has been done and how much paralysis there will be will not be evident for sometime. Michael is, of course, still under anesthesia and won't be conscious for some time. Even then he will be heavily sedated."
"But he is out of danger?" I asked. "He will live?"
"Well, he's still in a very critical condition, but there is real hope that he will make it. Dr. Walker is not one for undue optimism and he is very optimistic at this point. Every time I think about how a jackass damaged Michael's beautiful face I get so angry I am ready to strangle the son of a bitch with my bare hands. I keep thinking we will never see that famous Michael smile again," Millie said.
"Well, at least he will be with us," Luke said. "I didn't think he would make it when I saw him lying there on the floor. But I am so angry, so very, very angry."
We were all very silent for a time, then Eugene asked, "Millie, what will happen to those who did this to Michael? Surely they won't get away with it."
"I'm not sure exactly what will happen. But I can assure you that they will not get away with it as long as I have money and lawyers--if that's what it takes to make sure they don't. My poor Michael's beautiful face and smile..."
"But he'll still be Michael--and my man. So long as I have him, I don't care how he looks. I mean, I wish his face hadn't been cut. I wish he hadn't been cut. I wish he didn't have to suffer as I know he is, but he was cut and it looks as if he may live. That's all I ask, 'Let him live! Let him live!'"
"Holy shit," Luke said, then everyone became very quiet since we all--I'm sure--thought of Michael. I felt tears welling up. "There is hope--real hope--that Michael will live. That's all I want. Sure, I wish his face won't be scarred--he had such a handsome face--and if I never see that special Michael smile again, I'll miss it big time, but at least I'll see Michael. I'd be lying to say that I don't appreciate Michael's physical beauty--I sure do--and that very special Michael smile, but what really counts is Michael and that is inside". My tears stopped. "I just want Michael and he is gaining ground."
There was all around agreement from the Fellowship and Bill said, "From what I heard, you and Matt had something to do with that."
"Maybe so," Matt said. "I don't know what we did or how we did whatever we did. But, whatever it takes, I'm ready to do to have Michael back."
Finally it was 11:00 and time for the news. Every eye was fixed on the TV as the anchor, Stu Howard, opened the evening's report. "This weekend Concord's Independence High School celebrated the arts when it presented a concert and art exhibition for the community, but more on that later. Today the town's pride in its high school suffered a serious blow as the result of actions by eight Independence students." He then described the events of the day. "Now we go to LaTasha Jackson who is standing by at the hospital in Concord for the latest... LaTasha."
"Stu, Michael Andrews, who viewers may recall was responsible for a special service following the suicide of a gay former student at Independence broadcast by WLEX a few weeks ago, was attacked today as he served as docent--guide--for the art exhibition of Luke Larsen, a senior at Independence. He was with four Independence seniors in the last gallery of the exhibition when he was slashed across the face, chest and abdomen by Shawn McKay after he had slashed the only picture in the gallery, a painting of Matthew Sarang Hanun Pomul Greywolf. Michael remains in very critical condition here after having almost died from loss of blood. I am told that, had Independence students and parents not given blood, he could not have been saved."
"As soon as he was sufficiently stabilized, a plastic surgeon flown in from Lexington began work on his face. Doctors report that the scar he will always bear is not their major worry. The slash damaged facial nerves and Michael will suffer some facial paralysis. How much is unknown at this time."
"LaTasha, what happened to the slasher?"
"He was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to commit murder. Also arrested were the other three males with him and the girlfriends of the four. The sheriff reports that there is evidence that the eight planned the attack after someone told them about the painting. It is reported that McKay made some very obscene remarks about the subject of the painting, inferring that he was gay. One of the girls made similar remarks when Ms. Jones, the principal of Independence, announced what had happened to the juniors and seniors who had been sent into the church where the exhibition was held. The other seven are charged aiding and abetting attempted murder. Later today there was another interesting development in this case. The eight students, it seems, are members of a youth group from the Temple of Praise. According to Elder Eugene Joyce of the Temple of Praise..." We all looked at Eugene who turned red with anger but said nothing. "They are 'the elite of the fag fighters.' Rev. Jonathan McBride, who is presently in jail on state child sexual abuse charges and federal child pornography charges, formed the youth group, and here I am quoting Elder Joyce, 'to fight the ever-growing number of homosexual perverts in Concord who are seducing young men into their perverted lifestyle.'"
"Do we know Michael's condition at this time?"
"Dr. Walker says he is, and I quote, 'cautiously optimistic.' Michael is still in a critical condition, but stabilized. All we can do now is wait--and pray."
"Thank you, LaTasha. Before we move on to other news, my director has asked me to take a most unusual step and announce programming on another TV station. WABD will broadcast the tape of the exhibition tomorrow evening at 8:00. Michael and Mary Kathryn Larsen, the sister of the artist and, according to a good number of Independence students LaTasha talked with, Michael's girlfriend, are docents for the televised tour and there is an interview with Luke Larsen, the artist. The concert by Matthew Sarang Hanun Pomul Greywolf--the subject of the slashed painting--and the Independence High School Percussion and Brass Ensemble and the Mixed Chorus will be broadcast in two parts, at 8:00 Wednesday and Thursday evening. More news after this commercial announcement... One moment, I have just been advised that National Public Radio's 'Performance Today', heard on WABD, will broadcast two original compositions by Greywolf next week. Now this message..."
A Special Place--Part Thirty-seven--Larry
Millie switched off the TV and we all sat, silent, for awhile. Gene was sitting between my legs and I could feel the tenseness in his body. Suddenly he started shaking. I wasn't sure what was going on until he spoke--quietly, calmly, but between clinched teeth. "That dirty bastard! He raped me and heaven knows how many others, then starts a youth group he calls fag fighters! The dirty, rotten son of a bitch! He didn't seduce kids; he raped them and then preached against gays and... and worst of all, his fag fighters tried to kill Michael! Even if being gay was wicked and evil and deserved punishment, they got Michael." Gene started crying hysterically, completely out of control. All I could think to do was to hold him tightly and rub his back. Everyone just looked on with great love and concern for my babe.
Gradually Gene got control of himself and, when he did, he put his arms around me and kissed me passionately, his lips crushing mine in his passion. "It's ok, Babe," I said. "There's nothing we can do right now."
"But there is something I can do Wednesday. I am going to tell the whole rotten story of what McBride did to me and how my father defended him when I was still sore and torn apart from having been raped. Let them just try to disprove my testimony!" Gene was ready to fight and that was good, because his anger would sustain him in the ordeal he had ahead.
"It's 1:00," Millie said. "I know it might be hard, but I think you all need to get some rest."
"Millie, before we do, we need to go to the vigil for a while," Luke said. "Everyone else has participated except Matt and me and we should have been there long ago."
"Best I recall, you two were doing something--no-one seems to know what--far more important."
"I still want to go," Luke replied.
"I need to go, Millie. Unless I go, I know I won't get any rest--not that I expect to anyway."
"We'll all go," Bill said as he stood and extended his hand to Linda.
I don't know exactly what I expected to see when we got to the hospital--maybe five or ten students--but there were about fifty. I went over to a fellow I knew slightly from a class a couple years ago--Albert Mills--and asked how things were going.
"There have been between fifty and a hundred students here all evening--some going and others coming. We've been posted on Michael's condition as I'm sure you have." I nodded. "Someone said Ms. Jones was coming back later. She was here until about an hour ago. I think she's trying to decide what to do about school tomorrow. She mentioned seeing if she could get approval to call it off, but we told her we thought we needed to be there. It's kinda like having a support group."
"I hadn't thought about it, but I think you are right. Have you had anything to eat?" I asked.
"Yea. Mr. Sanders brought some food and we are kinda staying in shifts. Some leave and go to his place to grab a few winks and something to eat and drink, then come back so others can go. He's really a great guy. Mr. Stephenson is working overtime as well, helping see that there is food and drinks and helping people find a place to rest. They're living together, you know." I nodded. While we were talking, I saw Mary Kathryn, Luke and Matt go into the hospital. The rest of the Fellowship joined the quiet vigil--I, maybe for the first time in my life, got some really serious praying done--for Michael and for Gene and for all who suffer because of the hatred in the world.
A Special Place--Part Thirty-six--Matt
After we had talked with some of the students holding the vigil, Luke, Mary Kathryn and I decided to go inside and see what we could learn. We found Jens, Dad and David sitting quietly in the waiting room. When we went in, there were hugs and tears all around. "Any further news about Michael?" I asked.
"None since we called Millie's. The plastic surgeon finished about an hour ago and--well that was after you had been called. Anyway, he is confident Michael's face can be repaired if what he did wasn't enough, but he still couldn't tell us anything further about the nerve damage. I suspect they will be moving Michael shortly. Since he has Chelsea and Gladys, he can go into a private room as soon as everyone is sure he'll remain stable."
"Did you get Margaret to go home?" I asked. "I am concerned about her. I noticed how swollen her legs were when she was at Millie's."
"Yea, that's a problem pregnant women have. Usually not this early, but she had been on her feet all day and rushing around working in the lab. But, no, she didn't go home. Yong Jin and Gabrielle kept trying to get her to go, but she is more stubborn than those two and you know that is saying a lot," David half smiled. "Your mom and Gabrielle went home, but Margaret is asleep in her office. She wasn't tired she said, but finally agreed to lie down for a few minutes. That was over an hour ago. When I checked on her she was sound asleep."
While we were talking, Dr. Walker came down the hall. "David, since Michael will have the best two intensive care nurses in the business, he is being moved to a private room. He should be there in ten or fifteen minutes. He's doing well. You can see him when he's settled, but..."
"I know. Five minutes."
"Right. Right now our only worry is infection. He is getting IV antibiotics, but you can never tell about the bugs which live in the intestines. And I couldn't fool you if I tried; there may have been a nick in the intestines we missed. I don't think so. We went ahead and did a section to make sure we got the known nick. I'm going home now. The plastic surgeon is still here--he's sleeping in a vacant bed--and Dr. Sterling, who did most of the surgery, is also here. Michael will be well taken care of."
"Thanks, Dr. Walker. I appreciate what you have done and are doing."
"By the way, I keep intending to tell you how excited I am that Margaret's pregnant. I always knew she would be a good mother, but Elizabeth couldn't have been a better mother for Michael today than Margaret."
"I know. They both have said again and again that Margaret is not Michael's mother, but I didn't miss it when she referred to him as 'our son'," David said with a huge smile.
"I think only you and Margaret should be allowed to see Michael tonight and tomorrow. That is unless Matt and Luke are needed again. I tell you, I have never seen anything like what happened in the operating room before and I never expect to see it again. Well, and I guess Mary Kathryn is almost immediate family so, young lady, you can see your man, but don't be surprised at how he looks. I'm gone. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Dr. Walker, and thanks," David said.
Luke and I said goodnight as well and went back outside. The weekend had been beautiful, a typical sunny May weekend. The moon was waning and was just past the beginning of its last quarter so the nights had been fairly bright, but tonight even the moon hid her face at what had happened to Michael. The night was dark, completely overcast. My spirit was equally dark.
Ms. Jones had just arrived and was walking toward the students when we got outside. "Students, I have talked with Millie--Mrs. Willingham--and she conferred with several board members and we decided to delay school until 11:30 tomorrow. That way we will get full credit for a school day and you can all be together. We'll actually start with lunch and immediately after will have an assembly. No roll will be taken so if you need to stay home and rest do so."
Albert Mills spoke up and said, "Ms. Jones, I suspect we need that assembly more than we need rest." The students standing around him all agreed.
"I see the Fellowship is here, but I think I'll play mom and send you all home or wherever you'll get some rest. I know this has been an impossible day for you."
"We promised Millie we'd be back soon, so I guess when your mom and your principal tells you to do something you'd better do it," Eugene said.
When we got back to Millie's, she had food and drinks again and, in spite of the fact we had been eating all night, we dived in. Uncle Michael had gone home, but came back just after we arrived.
"Luke, I have a restoration expert flying in from New York Wednesday morning to see how the painting can be restored."
"Uncle Michael, that's not necessary. A painting is just a painting, but Michael is a human being--a great human being. I can paint another painting, but no-one can make a new Michael."
"Yes and no," Uncle Michael responded. "True, there can never be another Michael, but he had a team of experts working to restore the original. And you know full well, you can never paint another painting to replace the one that was slashed. Sure, it may look the same, but you know that your heart was in that one and anything else would not do. We'll definitely have it restored. The very slashing now becomes a part of its history and even more reason it is so special--not that it wasn't very special already."
"You're right, of course, but somehow or other it's not too important when I think about Michael."
"Of course it's not as important as Michael, but that doesn't mean it is not important. It'll be restored."
"Ok, children," Millie announced, "it's time for bed--long past. Son, I'll leave the sleeping arrangements up to you. I'm headed for bed."
Before Eugene could say anything, Luke spoke up, "Look, people, in times of crisis the Gang of Four have always slept together. Maybe strange, and I don't know where, but Matt and I are sleeping with Mary Kathryn."
"Simple," Eugene said. "Linda and Paula can have the guest room and Jacob and Bill the futon in my room. You three can have my bed and Larry and I will find a place downstairs. There's a second guest room."
Larry laughed and said, "Gene, that's kinda foolish. It has twin beds and I am sure Bill and Jacob would be more comfortable there than sharing a bed."
"And you wouldn't mind at all sharing a bed with Eugene," Jacob laughed. "Sure makes sense to me."
After assuring each other that we knew we wouldn't get any sleep, all of us were in bed and sound asleep in a few minutes.
Millie didn't have to call anyone; we were all awake and dressed by 8:00. As soon as we could finish breakfast, Luke, Mary Kathryn and I went to the hospital. The others went home for showers and clean clothes. Of course, Larry stayed at Millie's since he was practically living there these days.
When we got to the hospital, we saw none of the family until we went to Margaret's office. They were all there. "Kids, Michael seems to be doing ok," she said. "Today is important because if there is to be infection, it will probably show up before the day is over. You know it's unusual, but Dr. Walker is in charge and he says the three of you are immediate family and can go in for five minutes."
When we reached Michael's room, we hesitated--I guess getting up courage for what we would see. When we entered the room, Chelsea was checking Michael's vital signs in spite of the fact that he had all sorts of monitors just as he would have had in the ICU. There was another bed in the room and Gladys was in it, fast asleep. In a very low voice Chelsea said, "Gladys took the night shift although, to tell the truth, neither of us got much sleep out of worry for our boy."
"How's he doing?" Mary Kathryn asked.
"It looks pretty good. His temperature is a bit high and I am hoping that's from all the surgery. I sure hope he doesn't develop an infection. He shouldn't, since he is getting IV antibiotics, but you never can tell."
Michael's face was bandaged and he, of course, had tubes and wires coming and going. Mary Kathryn was reduced to kissing him on the forehead as I had done to Luke. I was sick of hospitals and even sicker of the hatred that put Michael and Luke in one.
Luke and I walked over to Michael's bed after Mary Kathryn had kissed him. We both placed our hands on his forehead and stood silent for a few minutes, then it was time to go.
We dropped Mary Kathryn off at her place then Luke and I went to mine. Mom and Dad were in the kitchen drinking coffee when we walked in. As soon as I saw them, I burst into tears again and Luke did as well. "I still feel responsible for Michael's being in the hospital," I said through my tears.
"And so do I," Luke said.
"I don't know what more I can say than what I have said," Greywolf responded. "You two are no more responsible for Michael's being hurt than I am. Sure, your actions gave an excuse for some hate-filled semi-humans to attack him, but it could just as well have happened to someone else because of something they did--or didn't do--or were--or were not. Look, you both believe you were born gay. Because you are gay, you are in love with a man. But that gives no-one an excuse to hurt you, much less an innocent bystander. One of the girlfriends of the skinheads called Tanishia "nigger." Don't you think they might well have hurt her because she is black? Think about that. Michael is suffering on your behalf--not because you chose for him to do so. I won't say that he wouldn't have had he been asked because I believe he would, but none of you had a choice in the matter. I hope you will come to understand and accept that and stop blaming yourselves for something about which you have no choice--being gay and falling in love. Now you two better get ready for school. I think it is important that you be there--to show appreciation for the support students have given Michael and to show you are not afraid or ashamed of your love--which by now is surely well-known at Independence."
I guess it's strange, but love and lust gets quickly separated sometimes and this morning was one of them. Luke and I did a lot of hugging and soft, gentle kissing as we showered and I kept kissing his back and neck as he shaved, but there was nothing lustful about it. I guess we just had to assure ourselves that our love made us strong in the face of what had happened to Michael--our beloved brother. When we were dressed, we skipped breakfast--I guess all we had eaten in the past twenty-four hours would have kept us going for days--picked up Mary Kathryn and headed for school.
Lunch was an interesting affair. There were, of course, a few students who tried to pretend they weren't pointing us out or standing and staring, but who were really giving the whole Fellowship a once-over and especially me and Luke. Most, however, came by our table, asked about Michael and gave all of us a hug or a pat on the back.
As soon as lunch was over, we all went to the assembly. There was one good thing which came out of the weekend. If everyone knew Luke and I were a couple, there was no reason we shouldn't act like any other couple. We walked into the auditorium holding hands. I was surprised when Larry and Eugene did not--at least as a couple. Of course, I suppose if anyone wanted to pretend nothing was going on, the fact that all the Fellowship--in one combination or another--was holding hands would be as good a cover as any.
When we had all gotten seated, I leaned over to Larry, who was sitting beside me, and asked, "Why were you and Eugene not holding hands--I mean just the two of you--as Luke and I were doing?"
"I wanted to--started to--but Eugene said we needed to wait until he testified. Otherwise, that smart lawyer will say he was gay anyway and went along with McBride because he wanted to get fucked. He's sharp, my man is," Larry said, smiling at Eugene.
When Ms. Jones stood up, there was immediate silence. She had certainly established herself as principal--and a very respected one.
(Author's Note: Ok, some of you dislike didactic so you can skip the next part if you like, but something needs to be said about situations such as the one in which those Independence High School students find themselves. Skip at your own risk!)
"Students, as you all know, we of Independence High School have had great moments of glory in the past few days. We have also had moments of shame. I want us to acknowledge our moments of glory first. For those of you who were fortunate enough to attend the concert and tour the exhibition, you know without a doubt that your fellow students did us all proud with their talent, discipline and hard work. Nothing can take that away from us. I am happy to be able to tell you that both the concert and exhibition will be featured on WABD, the PBS station in Lexington, this week. That is an honor no other high school in this state has ever received. Additionally, excerpts from the concert--specifically from Matt Greywolf's compositions--will be broadcast nationally on PBS." The applause was thunderous and soon practically every student was standing and applauding. Many were whistling and then the Lakota war whoops started. As soon as the noise died down, Ms. Jones said, "Paula, Eugene, Matt and Luke, please come up on stage. You too, Larry. I don't know whether you students are aware of it or not, but without Larry there would have been nothing to broadcast. He was responsible for seeing that all the taping was done."
When we got on stage, the applause and war whoops started again. Once the students grew somewhat quiet, Eugene took Paula by the hand and walked to the mike. "The conductor of an ensemble is pretty worthless without an ensemble, the members of the ensemble deserve your applause more than I. Please stand." More applause and more war whoops.
"The same can be said of the director of a chorus," Paula said into the mike. "Ladies and gentlemen of the chorus--artists and musicians all--stand." More applause and war whoops.
Ms. Jones finally held up her hand and again got instant silence. "Yes, Independence High School had moments of glory this weekend. And while I must talk about our moments of shame, before I do, I want to talk about other moments of glory we shared the last few days. When Bill Lance announced that there would be a continual vigil until Michael Andrews was out of danger, I expected it to be held by a handful of students. I am told on good authority that there were never less than fifty students and at times close to a hundred until it was time for you to come to school. And, lest you think the vigil is not going on, as the last student left this morning, the school board took over and will be there until students return. For those of you who might not have heard, it appears Michael is out of danger thanks to all of you who, literally, gave your blood for him as did many of your parents and friends. Today is crucial for Michael. He is still in danger so keep him in your thoughts. Yes, you Independence High School students demonstrated with your presence and your very life's blood that you care--and that is truly a moment of glory."
"But great shame was heaped upon us as well. I need not tell you what happened; you all know. Hatred and prejudice once again caused some of your classmates to almost kill a very promising young man, a man so respected you elected him your president--the first sophomore ever to be elected--and he will, because he must live, be the first junior to hold that office next year. Had so many not done so much, he would not be alive today. As it is, he will go through life disfigured because hatred took a knife to his face. 'Why? Why?' I keep asking myself."
"I want you to listen to me very carefully. Michael was attacked because a hate-filled person decided that a painting was done out of the love of a man for a man. And you know I am not talking about the love of one brother for another--although that is certainly true in this case. Now whether there is more than brotherly love between--and yes, I dare say it--Matt and Luke, I ask you: what has that to do with you and your life? Oh, I know that some, perhaps most, of you have been told--again and again--by your parents or your church that a man being in love with a man is a sin. I don't believe that but, even if I did, what right does that give me to intrude into another's life? What harm does a man loving a man do you? Can you see how illogical that is? Can you understand that we all have different definitions of sin--which I might add we always apply to others, seldom to ourselves--but even if it is a sin, what difference does a man loving another man make to you and your life? What cause do you have to damn? Are you the judge of who and how another loves? What right do you have to condemn love--any love in any form? Hatred you can condemn, yes, because it does hurt and harm as you all have seen so clearly.
Michael will go through life scarred--physically if not emotionally as well. Four young men will probably spend the best years of their life behind bars--not only making no contribution to the welfare of the world, but also costing tax dollars which could be spent on schools and roads and countless other things we all need. Four young women may well be too old to bear children when they are out of jail. And just how will they adjust to a world that has passed them by? And for what? Because they were enraged over the supposed love of one man for another? Is there ever enough love in the world, so much that we don't need more? And when hatred rears its ugly and life-condemning head, there is less. And if I must speak of sex, any condemnation of two men having sex you might want to advance applies equally to sex between a man and woman outside of wedlock. The number of pregnancies at Independence each year testifies to the fact that a lot of sex is going on among you and none of you, to my knowledge, are married. And, let's be honest, a rather large number of you are having sex without getting pregnant. So please think about the words you use, the remarks you make; while they mean little or nothing to you and maybe even to those to whom you are speaking, words meant as a joke often encourage those who are filled with hatred. They are, in fact, enraged at themselves, but take it out on others."
As Ms. Jones stood silently, Luke leaned over and said, "Matt, will you hate me if I make it official?"
To answer, I reached out and took his hand and we walked to the mike together. I could feel my heart pounding and could feel Luke's as well where he clutched my hand.
"Ms. Jones, I would like to speak, if I may." Ms. Jones merely pointed to the mike. Luke took a deep breath, and stood silently. I wondered if his knees were shaking like mine. "Fellow students, you all know me. Most of you have known me since first grade. All of you know that the Larsens, Greywolfs and Andrews are very close. We are a family. Michael and Matt are my brothers. They would be no more so if we had the same parents. Michael almost died yesterday and, without you, he would have. There is absolutely no question about that. I wish there was some way I could repay you for what you did and are doing for my brother. The truth of the matter is that he is not out of danger yet. In fact, there is a possibility Michael will develop an infection as a result of leakage from his intestines which were cut by McKay's knife. Michael lay at death's door yesterday and may yet pass through it. Why? Because society has decided that those of us who are gay are less than human." With Luke's speaking the unthinkable, there was an audible intake of breath among the students. "According to all reliable research, ten percent of the boys born in the world--everywhere and all the time--are born gay. I am among that ten percent." I squeezed Luke's hand hard and he squeezed back. "This year a young man, Gregory Burnette, died. He was gay and because he was gay, he was hounded to death. Is it any wonder that those of us who are gay hide the fact, even from ourselves?"
"Only a couple months ago, I attempted to take my own life because I was gay. I was gay and I was in love with Matt Greywolf. I couldn't tell him for fear of losing his friendship which would have killed me as surely as a knife to my gut would have. When Gregory was raped and beaten, all I could think about, day and night--every waking moment--was that someone would find out I was in love with Matt Greywolf and do to him what had been done to Gregory. Honestly, I was concerned about him, not myself, because he meant more to me than I did to myself. Finally I could take it no longer and the only way I saw out was death. I attempted to kill myself, without thinking how many people I was hurting. Fortunately, Matt saved my life and--through my desperate act--miracles of miracles, I found that Matt loved me as I loved him."
"We have worked hard to keep our love more or less a secret out of fear. But I guess when you are an artist, your heart has a way of expressing itself. Greywolf--Patanka St. Michael Greywolf--pointed out that it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the painting of Matt, displayed alone in the exhibition, spoke of more than brotherly love. Obviously he was right. But now I want you to ask yourselves, 'Is the Luke Larsen standing before you not the same Luke Larsen you have known for years? Is he somehow or other evil, wicked, a seducer of boys now that you know he is gay?' Or is he simply a more honest Luke Larsen who is being all of who he is and not hiding a part of what makes him who he is? Thank you."
The students were all very quiet and I didn't know what it meant, but I knew I had to speak as well. "My name is Matthew Sarang Hanun Pomul Greywolf and one of my compositions played this weekend was 'Yonghon Tongmu: A Fantasia on "More",' a love song that means much to the three families we call the family. I was not courageous enough to dedicate it to Luke, but so all of you will know, Luke is my Yonghon Tongmu, my soulmate. Unlike Luke, I gave no thought to what might happen because I was gay--I would have denied it, I guess. I just didn't think gay or straight. All I thought about was how much I loved Yonghon Tongmu. I, too, feared letting him know of my love for fear of losing my brother and my best friend. I had resigned myself to a lonely life because my love, my only love, for as long as I can remember was and is Luke Hans Yonghon Tongmu Larsen. But I couldn't, I thought, let that be known."
"I am the impulsive one--Luke can attest to that--and this weekend, on impulse, I kissed Luke in front of members of the chorus and ensemble--not a brotherly kiss as those who saw had to realize. We both blame ourselves for what happened to Michael. Michael--of which there is none straighter--is suffering and almost died--and yet may die--because his brothers are gay. But I'll repeat the question Luke asked you: 'Are we different because you know we are gay? Are you going to treat us differently because we are different from ninety percent of the men you know? Where's the threat? Why the hatred? Are we wicked sinners?' I don't believe so. When you start thinking that way, you might want to start including everyone else who is different--those of us who are from different races, who have more or less money, who are smarter or not as smart. There are those who can't do English very well, but who can make a car out of junkyard parts. Where do you draw the line? When is different anything other than different? Only when it hurts and harms others or yourself. Otherwise, different is just different, not wrong. And Ms. Jones raised the question of sex being sinful and evil. It can be. It was when Gregory was raped. It was when Eugene was raped and sexually abused. It is when it brings an unwanted child into the world. But when it is an expression of love, real love, caring love, love that thinks of the other more than of the self and--you know, guys, more than the need to get your rocks off--is it evil? And while, frankly, it is none of your business, Luke and I are both virgins. Ms. Jones says she is proud of Independence and we have had moments of glory this weekend. Let's not allow a few to give us any more moments of shame."
Again there was silence, absolute silence until Luke hugged me to himself and someone shouted, "If you love him, why don't you kiss him?" The students started shouting and applauding as I turned bright red, but before I could say or do anything, Luke kissed me--a pretty tame kiss I might add--in front of the students of Independence High School. There was great laughter and some boos at Luke's action. That was to be expected. I looked over at Larry and Eugene who gave Luke and me a shy smile and Eugene mouthed, "Later."
Ms. Jones quickly pointed out the difference between intolerance and disagreement. "Some of you applauded, some of you laughed and some of you booed when Luke kissed Matt. There's nothing wrong with your expressing your personal feeling and opinion about such a public display of affection between two men. You have that right, but again, what you DO NOT have is the right to intrude into their life in anyway that says because they are different, they are less. Nor, I would be quick to add, do they have a right to intrude into your life. Luke and Matt, I expect you to maintain the same rules about showing affection as are applied to any other couple in this school. And you, students, I expect to respond to any show of affection on the part of Matt and Luke the same way you would any other couple. That's tolerance--acceptance of people as people even when we disagree with their actions. Treating each other as we want to be treated. Respecting as we want and expect to be respected. I have lived long enough to know that honor, respect and acceptance is what its about. None of us have a corner on truth or on righteousness, but we can have a world in which we can accept and respect all sorts and kinds of people who work to make this a better world. Sure, applaud if you are comfortable with a man kissing a man or boo if you disagree, but you cannot, must not put down those who accept or those who reject the action and never, ever do you have the right to show disrespect to those who disagree or those who, as Luke and Matt, are different. Remember, each of you is different in one way or another."
There was silence after Ms. Jones finished speaking. I guess students were thinking about what had just happened and what had been said and what it all meant. Me? I felt as though I had just been broken out of a shell where I had been a prisoner for so long.
The students gradually started talking among themselves and the noise got louder before Ms. Jones stepped to the mike, cleared her throat several times and, when the students got quiet said, "Matt, Luke, I hope you two will confine such behavior to places other than school." But, she laughed, "if I remember my math, there are about thirty-two or so more young men at Independence who are gay. And, of course, there are gay women as well. They are your friends, your leaders, your artists, your ballplayers, yes there are even gay football players. They are your fellow students. Michael Andrews lies in hospital because some do not like that and forget the contribution made by the gay students of this high school. I would have had to say unknown gay students, but we know two of them of them because they are brave men, who help make Independence great. Let us never forget that. You have shown your greatness in this year. We must not let a few take that from us--now or at any time." There was, again, long and sustained applause and Lakota war whoops.
"I know that some of you are planning on continuing the vigil at the hospital. Others of you may well need some rest since you have had little since yesterday. It is, therefore, with great pleasure I announce the school board has declared the rest of the day a human resources field trip. That means you are free to go out and be a human resource to those in need--your parents who need to know you love and respect them, to Michael as you keep a vigil--whatever--and express your appreciation for the human resources around you--for your teachers and parents and friends. In plain English, school is over for the day." More shouting and cheering.
"Well, we don't have to worry about being outted," Luke said as we started walking off the stage. "How do you feel about what we did?"
"I believe the term is scared shitless," I said, then added, "but, Luke, I feel as though I have broken out of a jail we put ourselves in. I expect a lot of joking and name-calling and all that, but I'm glad. I am Matt and I am gay and I love Luke and that's been said out loud for the world to hear. If people have a problem with it, they have a problem. I just hope they don't decide we need a problem as well. Know what I mean?"
I guess both Luke and I were naive. We kinda expected thirty or so men to come walking up to us and say, 'I'm gay too,' but no-one did. That didn't mean we weren't surrounded by students as soon as we were off the stage. Larry, Eugene, Bill and Jacob all gave us hugs and surrounded us like bodyguards, but it wasn't necessary. A goodly number of students--men and women--did come up and shake our hand or hug us and tell us how brave we were and how our being gay made no difference to them. One of the football players laughed as he said, "I won't have to worry about you hitting on my woman and maybe she'll stop drooling over you two guys, but I'm not even counting on that!"
When we got outside, the day had turned grayer and there was a cold mist falling. It immediately made me think about Michael. I could sense Luke doing the same and soon we were both crying. "Michael, Michael, Michael. Why does Michael have to suffer because we love each other?" Luke expressed my feelings exactly.
We went straight to the hospital. When we arrived, arrangements had been made by the hospital staff for the vigil to be held in the chapel, out of the rain, but since it was small, only twenty students at a time could be there. Others were holding their vigil in the parking deck. When Luke, Mary Kathryn and I got inside, we went to Margaret's office. The receptionist told us to go to Michael's room at once.
When we entered the room, Margaret grabbed us and hugged the three of us tightly and started crying. "Michael has taken a turn for the worse. The doctors are not sure whether the raging infection he developed is from leakage yesterday or if there was a place cut they missed. That is easy to do. To complicate matters, he has a severe reaction to one of the antibiotics. We almost lost him from that and he's not recovered from it yet. His throat closed and he was unable to breath so it had to be forced open. He was given drugs to counteract the reaction, but his response to them has been slow, if there's been any at all. Now he has a raging fever from the infection as well. The doctors are trying to decide whether to risk an operation to see if there is additional leakage or take a risk with different antibiotics and trust there has been no new leakage. I wanted the joys of motherhood--kids-- but I should have known they come with pain. My poor boy, my son." Mary Kathryn held Margaret in her arms and let her cry.
Suddenly all the alarms on the monitors went off. Gladys and Chelsea sprang into action. Margaret rushed to Michael, screaming "Michael, Michael, you can't do this! You can't die. Gladys, Chelsea, send a code. Michael is dying!"
Once again I felt that strange sensation I had felt before. I looked up and met Luke's eyes.
A Special Place--Part Thirty-seven--Michael
I was not conscious, but I remembered what had happened. Again and again I saw the light flash off of a long knife as it came toward me and then felt unbearable pain. Each time I wanted to cry out, screaming "No! Stop!" but each time no sound came and the knife brought its searing pain into my body again. Each time the pain got worse. Then, a new pain. I was on fire. I was sure I was dead and had been cast into hell. I was being consumed by fire. It did not replace the pain of the knife, which kept coming, but added to it. Finally the fire was so intense, the other pain seemed like it would be a relief.
Just when I thought I could stand no more, I couldn't breathe. My throat was closed and I felt as though my body was being consumed by insects--stinging and eating my flesh. If I wasn't dead and in hell, I longed for death if it would take away the pain, the unbearable pain. I struggled for breath. I was ready to give up when, faintly, I saw a shadow standing just out of my line of vision. I turned my head as much as I could and saw Mary Kathryn. Was I never to hold her in my arms again? Was my life with her over after it had just begun? Was this the end? I struggled to pull air into my lungs. I had to live. I had a whole life ahead of me with my wild woman, my Mary Kathryn.
I struggled so hard and then I felt a new pain, a pain in my throat as if it was being forced open. Then, gradually I could breathe, but the insects were still stinging and biting and I was still being consumed by fire. I wanted to live so much and struggled so hard, but could I bear the pain? I was torn between loving life so much I was willing to endure anything and wanting it all to be over. Then, as a miracle, I felt nothing. It was as though I was above my bed, looking down on a body people were working on and calling Michael, but I wasn't there. I saw Margaret and Mary Kathryn, Matt and Luke and Chelsea and Gladys, looking at my body. I tried to shout, to have them look up and see me, the real me, but they did not. I was no longer in their world.