To me, the coolest thing about Yale wasn't the pseudo-gothic brick of Old Campus or its enormous stone wall. It wasn't the fact I was attending the second-oldest university in the country. It wasn't Harkness Tower, or the Yale Whale (Ingall's Rink), or even partaking in philosophical debates about Kant and Kierkegaard over hamburgers at the Yankee Doodle.
No, the coolest thing about Yale was the library, and specifically, the Beinecke Rare Books Room. Among other things, it has a complete Gutenberg Bible behind glass. There are only five of them in the U.S., and even today on the rare occasions I return to New Haven, I have to say "Hi" to the Gutenberg. It's a ritual. Jean and Warren think it's funny. Hank understands.
I arrived in New Haven as much at the last minute as a freshman was allowed to arrive, and that only after a pep talk from both Xavier and Jon Bennett. Warren accompanied me through the Sunday-afternoon circus called Freshman Bazaar on Beinecke Plaza -- a dizzying array of extracurricular choices that my frosh self found more intimidating than exciting: "Excuse me, do you like to sing?" "Are you interested in politics?" "Do you play a sport?" "Just put your name and number down on this list right here . . ." I put up with it for all of half an hour before fleeing back to my dorm, which turned out to be the gothic-esque Durfee Hall on Old Campus right by Battell Chapel. Durfee had enormous double-rooms with fireplaces, for God's sake. My quad was on the top floor, giving me a two-foot wide ledge above Elm as an unofficial 'balcony,' which I climbed out on from time to time to smoke. (In my defense, I wasn't the only one to use these ledges; it seemed something of a rite of passage for the freshmen there, but I did it more often than most, or more than common sense would approve.)
Living in Durfee meant I'd be in Morse College later -- and Morse's modernist architecture looked like peanut brittle with tumors, but that didn't trouble me much as I planned to move off campus with Warren the next year. I was still astonished at the sleight-of-hand he'd engaged in as a freshman in order to conceal his mutation. Freshmen had to live in dorms, and there's only so much one can do to hide sixteen-foot wings. Thus, he'd kept an off-campus townhouse from the outset, where he'd gone for privacy, showers, and to get the damn wing rack off. He'd even slept there more often than not, though he'd gotten mail at his Yale post box. That had satisfied the administration, and money had plugged any private protests when his father contributed generously to upcoming Durfee renovations. There was talk that he had a girl -- or a boy -- in town, and his sophomore year, he'd thumbed his nose at the residential college system for which Yale was famous to move full-time into his townhouse. It had two bedrooms -- evidence of his occasional cocky moments. From the beginning, he'd planned for me to occupy the other one, and later, we laughingly referred to ourselves as Xavier College. Warren even bought a big bronze X to hang on the door.
In any case, it's hard to escape the fact one's attending the Ivy League when living in an ivy tower. And indeed, the stone brick outside my window sported clinging ivy fingers, which I found terribly funny -- and terribly disconcerting, still wondering what I was doing there, and when (not if) the other shoe would drop.
But it didn't drop. Days passed at an uneventful if madcap pace as I learned my way around Old Campus and signed up for classes. At Bennett's suggestion, I took a lighter load of twelve credits, and my advisor didn't argue, let me choose a basic intro to biology, and The European Literary Tradition sequence to fulfill my freshman English requirement. I also signed up for Abnormal Psych and Religion, Ethics and Modern Moral Issues. I'd spent the past year in therapy unraveling my gut feelings about what had happened to me, and now wanted a more intellectual approach. But like any college psych student, I suffered from the tendency to diagnose myself with each new personality disorder we studied. This amused the professor and Bennett both. "Leave the diagnoses to me, Scott," Jon warned.
We'd decided I would drive back to New York to see him once every other week. I could probably have stood to see him more, but despite the fact New Haven was only a few hours away, it was still a few hours. Jon did give me the number of a colleague to call in case of an emergency, but that was all I'd accept or allow. If seeing Jon every other week was less therapy than I probably needed, it was also less stress than starting over with a new therapist would have been, on top of starting college. When I needed to talk between sessions, I had Jon's cell number, and sometimes, I used it.
Yet the most significant event of my first week occurred -- of all places -- in my suite's shower. Our quad shared one bathroom and I happen to sing when I shower. Yeah, it's a cliche; so what? I can't even recall what song I was belting out that morning four days after arriving, but all of a sudden, the shower curtain was yanked aside and a guy I'd never seen before (certainly not a suitemate) stuck his head in. It made me jump half out of my skin. "Son of a bitch! Who are you?"
"Ian Murphy," he said, grinning. "You've got a terrific voice!"
"Get the hell out of my shower!"
"You thought of doing a capella rush?" he asked. "I'm in Mixed Company."
At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about, or that 'Mixed Company' was a group and not some college coed reference. Glaring over my shoulder (having turned my back), I yelled, "Would you fuck off!"
"No problem. Remember rush. See you around."
"I fucking hope not!" I called as the shower curtain was pulled to again and I was left in peace, still a little weak in the knees. I have peculiar reactions to physical privacy, and if nudity itself rarely bothers me, it has to be on my terms. Having a complete stranger invade my shower had freaked me out.
I told Warren about it later over an early lunch in Commons, and his eyebrows hiked. "You got pounced on in the shower? Man, the singing groups do get aggressive, but recruiting in the shower is a new height -- or new nadir." Taking a bite of sandwich, he asked around it, "You interested in auditioning, though?"
"I don't even know what these groups are." Of course I had -- like every other freshman on campus -- been asked several times at Freshmen Bazaar if I could sing, but unfamiliar with the a capella tradition, I'd lied and said, 'no.' It had seemed safer, at the time.
Now, Warren explained, "They're an old campus tradition. We'll go to the Woolsey Hall Jam on Sunday. It's worth attending anyway, and you can hear the groups for yourself and decide."
That's how I found myself in Woolsey Hall on a hot night in early September, listening to a capella group after group strut their musical stuff, then at Dwight half a week later on a Friday evening. After the concert, Warren steered me out of the auditorium to the lobby where recruiters called out to freshmen (or sang to them). I was as put off by the intense attention as I was charmed, but when pretty girls from two different groups each approached with sign up sheets in hand, I found myself writing down my name. Then -- bullet bitten -- I signed three other lists, as well. "I can't believe I'm doing this," I said to Warren as we left, me juggling five audition folders.
"College is all about new experiences."
"Maybe. So why didn't you audition, back when?"
"You're kidding, right? You've heard me sing."
"You're not terrible."
"That's not saying much. I can carry a tune -- but you can sing, Gamma Gaze. You can really sing. You've got this great voice. They're going to be fighting over you."
I was dubious, but also enticed, and we didn't say much else as we returned to Durfee, where I headed up to my dorm and Warren left for his own townhouse. When I talked to Jon Bennett later that same week, however, he was less encouraging. "Something like rush is an emotionally intense process, Scott. You're put on the block and looked at from all angles. It can feel like a judgment on your self-worth, right at a time when you're climbing back out of a hole."
"So you don't think I should do it?" (I was unexpectedly disappointed at his reservations.)
"That's not my choice to make. I just want to be sure you want to do it -- and don't put too much stock in it."
"I won't. I'm not really a 'joiner.' If I don't get picked, it won't be a disaster."
But he threw my own disclaimer back at me. "If you're not a joiner, then why are you trying to join?"
I had no ready answer to that. But I did keep my auditions, even if I didn't have anything prepared. I wound up singing "The Star Spangled Banner," which amused the listeners. After, I was walked through tests of my range, pitch, and blending ability. Yet beyond auditions (and callbacks), the rush experience was mostly social, and rivaled that of any fraternity or sorority in the U.S. New freshmen were courted in a semi-mysterious process that included concerts, bowling shirts, endless lunches, tap punch, and 'singing desserts.' It was the craziest thing I'd ever heard of, and there was no way in hell I'd normally have agreed to participate -- especially with my ego so fragile that fall -- but from that first bizarre shower encounter, I found myself seduced into the process.
I met with various group members over numerous meals, and answered -- or sidestepped -- a lot of questions. Some groups were nosey when it came to family or personal life, while others seemed more interested in my interests -- favorite music, subjects, books . . . Needless to say, I got on better with the latter, and discovered one soprano in Redhot and Blue who liked the same music I did, read the same books, and was in my 'Religion, Ethics and Modern Moral Issues' class -- Colleen Wing. It was a bit like meeting a new Jean, and it didn't hurt that she'd been one of those two pretty girls who'd accosted me after the Dwight Hall jam, begging me to audition. Even if disinclined to flirt, I could still be flattered, and I had cheerful strangers seeking me out for something that didn't owe to Xavier, Warren, my father, or my pretty face. They wanted my voice. That was heady.
Not long after auditions, a dreary Friday afternoon found me sprawled on the Giamatti Bench, a granite semi-circular bit of modern art tucked away between High Street Gate and Lanman-Wright dorm. I liked it for its panoramic view of Old Campus lawn, without being in the way of gratuitous flying objects (e.g., frisbees). The hour was late, nearing sunset, which was why I had it to myself. Normally, one didn't get so lucky. I'd come out here for some quiet as I laboriously made my way through Paul Tillich's THE SHAKING OF THE FOUNDATIONS:It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed for perfection of life does not appear ... when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying, 'You are accepted.' If that happens to us, we experience grace.
The unexpected male voice made me start and pull the book down so I could see whoever was leaning over me -- a fellow named Ike Gilardi from the all-male group, The Baker's Dozen. He had an Italian name, a black face, and an amazing baritone. Sitting up a little, I eyed him and replied, "What?"
"Just saw you out here and thought I'd come say 'hi.' You aren't eating, and this isn't a scheduled meeting, right?" He grinned, referring to the rush rules. "Whatcha reading?"
"Paul Tillich. It's for my religion and ethics class."
I offered the book and he took it, flipping through a few pages and comically crossing his eyes. "Man, is this in English?"
Grinning, I took the book back. "It's not light reading, but he wrote these sermons after World War II in response to the nuclear threat. It's kind of interesting, how he talks about the future. He says you either wind up sunk in this continual despair, or you find a reason to hope. But hope takes something to ignite it, some reason to hope, some experience of grace."
I could tell he had no idea why Tillich's contrast of despair and faith meant something poignant to me, and I found myself wishing for Hank. He just said, "Heavy stuff, Summers. Philosophy's not my bag. But I was wondering . . . you given much thought to what singing group you want to be in? Once you've auditioned and had a few lunches, it's smart to start putting your eggs in a couple baskets. The BDs are one of the older groups on campus. If you're interested in eventually making the Whiffenpoofs" -- the oldest and the most prestigious group of all, limited to seniors -- "we'd be a good choice. We got a long tradition, and could use a good, solid tenor like you."
That little speech might have verged into an 'indirect violation' of rush rules, but I wasn't going to report him. I was too astonished that I might be considered worth the risk. I'd never put much stock in my singing voice, but over the next couple weeks, overtures like that 'accidental' meeting with Gilardi made me slowly realize that I was among the especially courted.
Even so, I was far from sanguine on Tap Night -- the eve on which new group members were selected, or 'tapped' -- and I retired to Durfee at the proper time to wait, suffering from the very anxiety about which Bennett had been so concerned.. Selection involves more than raw singing talent. So much time is spent at rehearsals or on tours, that if one doesn't fit in, it's miserable, and fitting in wasn't something I'd ever been good at. Thus, the social aspects of rush had left me uncomfortable, particularly with the other all-male group I'd auditioned for, The Duke's Men. Too many of them were openly gay, and despite my friendship with Warren, I wasn't comfortable with gay men, no matter how I tried. I'm sure they felt it. Of my original five auditions, and despite my voice, only they didn't bother to call me back. It had forced me to come to terms with an aspect of myself that I didn't like. "I'm a homophobe," I told Jon at one of our biweekly sessions. "It's not religious, but yeah, by the definition of 'phobia,' I have a phobia about gay men."
"Do you have a phobia about lesbians?"
"Then you're not really a homophobe."
Annoyed that he'd dismissed so cavalierly something it had take me two weeks to face about myself, I snapped, "Well, what the fuck would you call it?"
"Issues. You have issues, Scott, and for good reasons. You may never be entirely comfortable around gay men, but that doesn't mean you can't work at becoming more comfortable -- just as you have with Warren."
"Yes. And if you'd taken more of a chance to get to know the guys in that group, you might've found a couple you liked well enough to stop thinking of them as 'gay' and start thinking of them by their names -- just like you do with Warren. We're individuals, not labels. You're Scott, not an ex-hustler."
Stung a bit, but also challenged, I filed that away to ponder later. But I still wasn't entirely convinced.
Tonight, however, was the eve of reckoning, and as the various groups' runners stormed through High Street Gate onto Old Campus, I listened to the noise in the quadrangle below as each raced to be first to the dorms of their plum rushees. And I wondered (again) about the wisdom of bothering with this process. My suitemates -- none of whom were rushing -- went about their homework with studied indifference, though Warren had come over for moral support. "You know," my roommate Don said without turning to look up from his spot on the common-room sofa, "it's not a disaster if you don't get tapped. The singing groups are kinda cultish, actually."
"Sour grapes," Warren shot back, also without looking up from his economics text. He'd been into this whole process even more than I was. Vicarious participation, perhaps. He might have been jealous of my voice but -- as always -- opted for the less predictable response, supporting me through the entire ordeal, enthused by the various groups' enthusiasm over me. That was another reason I'd stuck it out -- Warren was proud of my talent and I didn't want to let him down.
In any case, I ignored them both, attempting to read but not getting far. Every now and then, a burst of laughter came from outside our open window, or the thunder of feet sounded somewhere in the building. Twice, I thought they were coming to my floor, but they stopped short. It hadn't been that long -- fifteen, maybe twenty minutes -- yet my nerves were frayed at the end of a long day of anticipation. Right now, I just wanted it to be over.
Then came another set of pounding feet and the burst of an opening stairwell door, and Don muttered, "Sound like goddamn elephants." I couldn't resist looking up, stomach clenching, and Warren was on his feet even as a mad pounding rattled the suite door. Startled, I fumbled my psych textbook and it crashed to the floor. "Coming!" Behind me, Don snorted.
Warren stood back to let me answer the knock and I swung the door wide even as four voices in the hall beyond chorused "Tap!" My shoulder was roughly slapped (definitely not a 'tap'), then I was pushed back inside the common room as members of Redhot and Blue invaded, thrusting a big silver urn into my hands and standing about clapping.
"You want me?" Surprise made me stupid.
"Yes!" they chorused, "Drink!"
"Wow," I replied, articulation failing in the face of their enthusiasm. "I mean, um, wow. I got tapped." Warren was laughing, and I laughed, too, because I sounded utterly ridiculous. It won me a hug from Colleen Wing, and the anxiety of just a few minutes ago had been replaced by such a euphoria that my usual aversion to touch was dulled.
"Drink!" they ordered again. I was still gripping the urn.
So I drank Tap punch. And that was how I wound up singing tenor for two years in Redhot and Blue.
In fact, I got tapped again twice that night, but there wasn't much question as to which group I'd join, and it wasn't entirely about Colleen Wing's pretty dark eyes or shared interests. In fact, it wasn't about her at all; I'd needed to be on someone's short list -- wanted specifically, not settled for. I'd have adopted whichever group had reached me first. And if I would, in the end, spend only two of my four years at Yale involved in a capella before the time commitment drove me to defect and begin my interest in journalism with THE YALE HERALD, being part of Redhot was formative for me. I learned how to function in a group where my past remained unknown -- and didn't matter. Some friendships are all about self-revelation, while others are about being taken at face value, unencumbered by previous baggage. Colleen became my best buddy at Yale, second only to Warren, and we remained cross-gender Siamese twins until she graduated three years later. I owe my affinity for good nikujaga and wasabi horseradish to Colleen.
The truth about my mutation came out rather quickly -- probably because (to me) it wasn't the Big Secret. After some initial dubiousness, the group took it in stride. These were the days before 'mutant hysteria,' and another group member, Henry Ash, eventually became a U.S. Congressman -- a conservative Republican, in fact -- but when Mutant Registration went before the House in 2005, he stuck out his neck and his chances at re-election because he'd been my friend. He wasn't afraid of mutants, and his nonchalance carried four more representatives with him. These were the kinds of friends I made in those two years, and if they weren't Warren or Jean, or even Hank, they still ranked high in my affection. Bennett told me it was important to have more friends than just the handful I'd found at Xavier's, and if trust was never an easy thing for me, I did learn to open up a bit more.
So I had class and rehearsals, while Warren had his own circles (and Jean), with the end result that I saw less of him that fall -- even though I was living in New Haven -- than I'd seen in Westchester. That wasn't what he'd hoped for, and when he found out that my Christmas vacation was going to be cut short because of Winter Tour, he was moody for days. Given all the time I had to invest in rehearsals, his enthusiasm for my joining a singing group had waned rapidly, and he went from proud to resentful. No doubt, it didn't help that Jean was in her second year of med school and seemed to have very little time for him, either.
But she had time for me. We wrote a lot of email, and talked by phone, and when she flunked an exam for the first time, I was the one she called, in tears. "I missed four questions!"
"And you flunked?" I was astonished.
"Scott, I just killed four people!"
"Oh." Put that way, it made more sense. "Did you call War?"
"No, no." Her voice was rushed, and embarrassed. "I . . . I don't want him to know. That I failed, I mean. I can tell you."
I started to ask why, but I knew why. With Warren, she felt compelled to try too hard; she could never be real with him. But after our long-ago fight in the den, Jean and I had gotten past that. Jean could bring her failures to me and not fear judgment. In that alone, I should have foreseen the end of Jean and Warren.
"So you flunked a test," I told her now. "It's not the end of your medical career. Suck it up and go back in swinging, 'kay?" It sounded less sympathetic than I meant it, but that's what she needed from me sometimes, why she called me. I didn't coddle her. We talked a minute more, than I hung up and went back into group rehearsal. "Sorry," I told them. "Minor crisis. All better now." And I picked up with the other tenors.
After rehearsal, Colleen pulled me aside to ask, "What happened? Anything big?"
"Jean flunked an exam. First time. It required a pep talk."
"And she called you instead of Warren . . . why exactly?" Colleen knew Warren, and also knew who Jean was by default.
I wasn't sure how much of Jean's privacies it was my place to reveal, but I said, "We're just friends. She's not trying to impress me, so she can tell me." And it was true. Even if I should have seen that her insecurity with Warren didn't bode well for their future -- and whatever my grandmother had seen, or thought she'd seen -- Jean's attachment to me was still purely platonic. And if mine to her had more layers of complication, it was largely platonic as well. We loved each other, but we weren't yet in love.
Nonetheless, Colleen's lips pursed into a moue of mild disbelief. "Scott, you spend a hell of a lot of time talking to your best friend's girl."
And her phrasing stopped me cold. We'd been walking to Mory's -- a local hangout for the singing groups -- and now I halted dead outside High Street Gate. She stopped, too, hands on hips, head tilted. Her dark hair was up under a stocking cap, and the day was unusually cold for early November, more like January. The gray clouds overhead promised snow, making the pseudo-gothic wall around Old Campus seem even drearier.
"She's not just my best friend's girl, Col. She's --" I didn't want to say, 'She is my best friend' and hurt Colleen's feelings. "The three of us have been really close for a long time. I'm Jean's friend as much as I'm Warren's friend. There's not . . . there's no hierarchy that way. We're all equally close; they just happen to be dating, too."
She still appeared skeptical. "And you don't feel on the outside of that?"
"No," I lied, as I didn't want to discuss with Colleen the full complexities of our triangle. "I don't feel attracted to Jean romantically, if that's what you think."
"What about Warren?"
That question caught me entirely off guard and my jaw dropped. "What? No way -- you thought --? No way, Colleen."
"The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks."
And I was protesting, if not for the reasons she assumed. Frustrated, I shook my head almost violently. "I'm not interested in Warren -- not that way. I'm not gay. I'm not interested in Jean, either."
"But you're straight?"
Shaking her head, she spun on a heel and headed off, arms folded against the cold, or perhaps against the intricacies of my relationship with Warren and Jean. As much as I enjoyed her company, she could never be either of them, and I think she knew it, and resented it. It's never an easy thing to feel closer to someone than he feels to you, and for the rest of the evening, I was especially kind to her, but she sensed that was pity-driven, and grew mildly vicious on Yuengling Cream Ale. Much later, I escorted her back to her college. She stumbled a bit from too much beer that she was too young to have bought. Before going inside, she paused to look up at me. "You know, Summers, I can't figure you out sometimes. You say you're not gay, and you're not interested in pretty boys -- and okay, you don't seem to respond, even when they chase you. But you're not interested in pretty girls, either. You say you're straight, but I wonder if you're anything."
Saying that, she yanked the door open and stalked inside, leaving me standing in the dark, damp cold of a November night. For the first time, it hit me that Colleen might have sought more from our friendship than a mere discussion of books and ethics and music.
Warren seemed amused by my belated recognition. "You only now figured that out?" We were eating ham-and-pineapple pizza at Warren's apartment, watching "Mission Impossible," which had just come out on video. This was War's idea of a good evening. Action-film entertainment with eye-candy (although for Warren, 'eye-candy' meant Tom Cruise as much as Emmanuelle Beart), no wing harness, cheap pizza, cold beer, and no pressure to be anything but a twenty-one-year-old college student.
"Fuck you," I replied now, pleasantly. "Why would I assume she was interested in me romantically?"
"Um, maybe because she spends a god-awful amount of time with you?"
"So does Jean -- well, did back home -- and we're just friends."
Warren didn't reply to that and I turned my head to look at him; his expression was . . . odd, and his wings flinched unconsciously. I was reminded all over again of the previous year and my questions about Jean and Warren and just what they felt for each other, and for me. "What is it?" I asked now.
But he shook his head and rolled to his feet, wings lifting to avoid overbalancing or knocking our beer bottles into my lap. "What's what?"
"Something's bugging you." In truth, something had been bugging him all evening.
"Nothing's bugging me," he said now. "I just need to take a piss, is all." Warren was generally adept at nonchalance, but I knew him too well. There was something wrong, and the real question was whether or not I wanted to know what it was. I didn't think I did, so I let him go hit the john.
Yet sitting there with the film on pause, staring at the screen and listening to the snap of the fire behind its grate, I changed my mind. I'd come over this evening because we'd had no chance for two weeks to spend time together outside occasional meals, and Warren had been my first real friend. I wasn't about to lose him because I suddenly had a social life, or because I feared whatever had crawled under his skin tonight.
Shutting off the tape, I rose to wait outside the bathroom door, arms crossed, eyes on my feet, until he emerged. I startled him, and his wings snapped out a little. "What's bugging you?" I demanded bluntly.
"Scott, I don't think you want --"
"Bullshit. I do want to know."
"Jean and I broke up."
I just blinked. "You did? What happened?"
"It's complicated." He moved past me, over to the bar. I followed, watching him get another beer.
"So it's complicated. What happened?'"
Stopping, he set down the bottle-opener, then just leaned into the counter with both hands. Overhead track-lighting brought out the spotless-but-for-pizza-crumbs nature of the black marble counter and the wide variety of drink glasses hanging from racks above. He had a maid to keep it spotless, of course. "I told you, you don't want to know."
My stomach twisted and I had a pretty good idea of what he didn't think I wanted to know. "You don't want to tell me because it's about me, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's about you -- and it's not. It's really about us. You're just . . . stuck in the middle. Literally." He started laughing, but not with humor.
"It's the same old thing, isn't it?" I paced, upset, frustrated and confused. "Was it ever really Jean you wanted?" The question sounded harsh but my voice wasn't.
"I convinced myself it was Jean. I'm sorry -- I know how you feel about . . . the whole thing, but I had to stop kidding myself." Standing up straight and pulling his wings in tightly against his back, he said, "I did the breaking up, though I think we both knew it was coming, and it was mutual. We talked for a while, cried for a while. I guess it's a good sign when you can cry with your ex-girlfriend."
"So you're still speaking?"
His smile was wry and a took a long swig of beer. "More now than before we broke up. We got confused about what we were feeling for each other, that's all. We tried to make friendship into something else. In a way, I'm relieved to have my friend back. Things may be awkward for a bit, but we'll get over it. At least we didn't sleep together." His eyebrows hopped. "That was pretty much the Big Clue."
I felt my whole body tense. This was more than I wanted to know, but I wasn't going to stop him. Now that the truth was out, he seemed to need to discuss it, so I made myself walk over and take a seat on one of the stools at the wet bar.
"I took my time even trying, at first," he said. "Jean's never --" Abruptly he shut his mouth then shook his head. "Oh, hell -- she's never had sex, Scott. That's probably her business, but just don't tell her I told you, okay?"
I nodded. The news didn't surprise me.
"Anyway, this summer was . . . really intense. For you and for us. We danced around the sex thing, got a little hot and heavy, but never went further than shirts off. Then this fall, when I'd go see her, she started putting me off and I let her because, well, I'd stopped being interested. But you ought to want to make love to your girlfriend. That's when I realized the 'it' wasn't there and wasn't ever going to be there. And she feels the same way about me."
Elbows on the bar top, I'd listened to all this with reluctant curiosity, and now said, "I don't get why she'd put you off. She's been in love with you almost from the start."
He took another long swig of beer. "Maybe she had a crush on me once, but since we've become real friends -- no. This is a mutual thing, Scott. We're not in love with each other; we just thought we were."
I opened my mouth to reply, then shut it. They weren't in love with each other. Warren was in love with me. Still. And Jean?
Not ready to face those questions, I climbed down off the stool and went back to my spot in front of the TV near the fireplace. Some news show was playing now that the VCR had switched off and I stared at it, trying to clear my head. I sat for some minutes, but Warren didn't come join me, and he wasn't still at the bar. Rising, I went to look for him, found him in his bedroom with one wide window of his glass wall open to the night air, his wings half-spread. He didn't turn at my footstep. "War?"
"I think I'm going flying, Scott. You can finish watching the movie, if you want. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"Okay, you did, but it doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does matter. It'll always fucking matter."
And something strange happened -- for the first time, I wasn't upset for myself. I was upset at how much he was hurting, and how I was the cause, even if it wasn't my fault. I felt larger, as if my chest had expanded. I could face this. Walking over, I stood so I could see his profile. It was stark, tense, and I ran a hand down the top of his wing. He whispered, "Scott --"
So he let me massage his wings. It soothed him and I liked doing it -- a bit like petting a cat, really. I was okay with this; it sure as hell wasn't anything I'd ever performed for anyone else and his feathers were amazingly soft. Using his body's natural secretions at the wing root, I oiled the feathers with my bare hands. His wings were jointed like a bat's, which allowed them to be folded up in his wing rack without breaking the bones, and I suppose it made sense that if a human were to grow wings, they'd be mammal-like rather than bird-like, even if they had feathers. His head was back as he let himself be vulnerable to me. After a while, I turned him around and we faced each other. "I wish I could," I told him.
His smile was thin and a bit watery, but real. "Why? Part of what I've always loved about you is that you have very little pretense. I won't lie and say it doesn't hurt, but I'd rather have you honest. I guess I just figured I'd get over you. Didn't happen." He laughed, and there was genuine humor in it. "And I think I'm glad it didn't."
"War, you'll find --"
"-- someone else? Probably. I'm not that much of a hopeless romantic. I don't believe there's just one person for us. I thought Jean might be that someone else, but it was just another way of getting you by proxy. Still, I'm sure I'll find somebody someday."
Two years ago, I might have just accepted all that at face value. Now, I said, "Who are you trying to convince -- me, or you?"
For a moment his good nature snapped, and I saw honest anger behind the gray-green eyes. "Don't," he warned.
"Why not?" I was strong enough to do this. A year ago -- no. But now, I was strong enough -- and loved him enough -- to push. "You're way too sweetly reasonable about this."
"What do you want from me, then?"
"The truth. You say you value me because I tell you the truth, so give me the same. Just say it. You want me. You can't have me, not that way. And it pisses you off."
"You think it's so simple, don't you?" And there was an edge to that of blue-blood hauteur.
"It is, at one level. That's what I want you to admit." I moved in closer, so we were almost face to face, even though it made me look up through my glasses. "You want to be this unpretentious, kindhearted, poor little rich boy, so that's what you do your damn best to seem. But that's not the whole story. You're still a Worthington, still used to getting your way, and when you can't, it really, really pisses you off."
"Why are you doing this?" he hissed back, torn between hurt and fury. "I don't want to be like that! I don't want to be selfish like that!"
And I was struck powerfully by an echo of something I'd said last spring to Jon -- that I didn't want to be so selfish I couldn't be happy for my friends. And I remembered Jon's reply, too. So now, gripping Warren's face between my hands, I said, "It's okay to be selfish sometimes -- it's honest. I had to learn that, and so do you. It's okay to be angry, pissed off, and Christ, I --" I stopped. I'd meant to say, 'I wish I could give you what you want' -- but did I? A part of me did, but another part was terrified of it. If I could give him what he wanted, if I could want it, too, wouldn't that mean I'd deserved everything that had happened to me on the street? Wouldn't it mean I'd asked for it all along? If I wanted that, I really was a whore, wasn't I?
Abruptly, I let his face go and took two steps back, staring like the proverbial deer in the headlights. "Scott --?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Nothing. Sorry. I just . . . it's okay if you're selfish sometimes." Swallowing, I turned away. "Maybe if I wasn't so fucked up, I could return the feelings -- yours, Colleen's. But Colleen was right. I'm not gay, I'm not straight, I'm not anything except broken."
"You're not broken."
"Oh, come on, War" -- I spoke with heat -- "I may not be as bad as I was, but I'm still screwed and always will be. I'm just learning to be marginally functional in my screwed-up-ness."
I could tell he didn't know how to reply to that, so I went back out to the TV, where I finished watching the movie. Warren must have gone flying after all. When the movie was over, I let myself out, and later, back in my quad's sitting room, I called Jean. "Warren told me," I said as soon as she answered. "About the break-up -- he told me."
She didn't answer for almost a minute, then said, "We're not mad at each other."
"It didn't have anything to do with you."
"Yes, it did. He told me that, too. We talked about what he feels, and it's okay. I'm not freaked out by it like I used to be."
More silence. "Oh. Okay. That's good."
"How are you?"
"Fine. It really was mutual, Scott. He just brought it up first. I'm fine."
We spoke a little longer, then she hung up -- yet that conversation had been no easier than the one with Warren, and suddenly, my short time home for the holidays seemed like a good thing. Neither would be in Westchester for Thanksgiving, and Jean would spend all of Christmas in Annandale-on-Hudson. Warren, as it turned out, stayed on Long Island with his parents for the first time in three years. It seemed that our delicate trio of voices had fallen into dis-chord.
That year's winter tour was in Chicago -- not my first choice of place to spend the week after Christmas, given the temperatures, but it did mean I got to see Hank again for the first time in almost a year. Tour over, I headed up to Deerfield to stay with his family for a couple of days before flying back directly to New Haven. Deerfield, Illinois was really just a suburb of Chicago, and he'd grown up on a small organic farm outside the town. Among other things, they sold Christmas trees, so with the season just over, the family was busy securing the farm for the rest of the winter. They had three enthusiastic collies, a smokehouse for curing meats, a canning shop -- shut down now -- and a workshop where Hank's mother made candles and soap to sell in the quaint and rustic shop adjoining the house. In order to compete with the big farming corps, the McCoys had resorted to opening a small business that catered to yuppies and others who could pay $3 for a bar of special soap or buy scented candles, homemade pumpkin-butter, cherry cider, and organic vegetables. Edna McCoy was a former hippie who'd finally found her niche, a little wacky maybe with her crinkle-cloth skirts and crystal jewelry, but I'd liked her from the first time I'd met her when she'd visited Westchester a couple years back. She made good pumpkin-butter, too, and was fierce in her convictions. Among the things one could find in the little shop off Highway 22 were bumper stickers that read, "Mutants are people, too."
"What is this?" I asked her, holding it up and laughing. It was snowing outside the shop windows and she had a fire going in the old stove. Since it was a Saturday, Hank was home, but he and his father were working on the motor for one of the tractors; it probably had a specific name, but I was clueless when it came to farming equipment.
Now, she grinned at me. "We had them made up to sell."
Shaking my head, I put the sticker ('mutant' in rainbow lettering) back down and returned to unpacking a box of newly made candles. They smelled nice, like cinnamon and apples. "I was glad to get to hear your singing group the other night," she said to me. "I love old show tunes. Will you sing if Hank plays later tonight?"
I turned to look at her. "Me?"
"Well, I don't see anyone else in the shop, do you?" She was laughing at me, but in that way she had that made a body smile back. She was such a strange mix of '50s Illinois farm-girl turned '60s radical turned '70s Deadhead turned '90s Wiccan, and delightful for that. She never made me feel judged, and seemed to think that everyone ought to have a few eccentricities. "It keeps a person interesting," she'd said once with a firm nod of her head, and I began to understand how Hank could be a fan of Shakespeare and Star Wars, a former football player and a science geek. To his parents, those weren't contradictions. Instead of asking, "Why?" Edna was the kind of mother who asked, "Why not?" So later that evening after the sun went down, Hank played the piano in the family room and I sang. Then the McCoys went to bed and I went to smoke on the front porch. Hank came out, too, wrapped in a down jacket and cradling a mug of steaming cider. With Chicago on the southern horizon, I couldn't see as many stars as I might have liked, but Hank pointed out constellations. Finally, he sat down in one of the rocking chairs there. "I heard about Jean and Warren," he said.
I took a drag from my cigarette and didn't reply for a while. Finally, I said, "It's my fault," as I crushed out the burning end under my heel and put the butt in my pocket to throw away later. Edna didn't want her lawn littered.
He snorted. "How do you figure that?"
"Warren's still in love with me. He used Jean as a proxy. They say they're not mad at me, but . . ." I shrugged. "Neither of them came to Westchester for Thanksgiving or Christmas." And if I'd been relieved by that, another part of me had been disappointed, and worried.
"Did it occur to you they might be trying to avoid each other?"
"I'm sure they are. But I think they're trying to avoid each other around me, in particular." I shook my head and lit a second cigarette. "I didn't mean to break them up."
"Yes, I did. Even if just indirectly." I inhaled smoke and held it a moment, then blew out strongly. "Hank, do you think a person can be gay and not know it?"
Turning his head, he peered at me in the dark. "What makes you think you're gay?" He didn't even bother with third person, and the question was more curious than dismissive.
"I don't know if I am. But, I mean -- think about it. First, I was a hustler, then Warren fell for me, and at Yale, about half the members in one of the singing groups I tried out for were gay, and if they didn't do a callback for me, they were really interested in me at first. I figure I must be sending out some kind of . . . signal, or something. So I wondered if maybe I am gay, and I just don't know it."
Hank continued to peer, then abruptly shook his head, but didn't answer immediately, as if trying to figure out how to reply. Finally, he asked, "Would it bother you, if you were?"
"Yes." I shifted, unhappy with that answer but compelled to be honest. "And I wonder if maybe I don't think I'm gay because I don't want to be, you know? Gay guys make me uncomfortable. Except War, but he's bi-, and I've read that guys who're really uncomfortable around gay men are suppressing their own homosexuality."
Hank frowned; I could see it by the light from one of the shop windows -- his mother kept a lamp on all night to deter thieves. "I'm probably not the best person to ask about this, Scott, but I'd say your logic doesn't follow. The mere fact you were a hustler, or that Warren has a crush on you -- or that a singing group with a number of gay members sought your participation -- are not 'signs' that you're gay. It's simply evidence that you're an extraordinarily attractive young man -- the kind who makes people want to follow you home to see if you're real." He chuckled at his own joke, but I didn't.
"The problem is that society has socialized us into regarding female attention to men as the norm and thus, not worthy of comment. But you notice when men pay attention to you -- no doubt in part due to your former profession -- but you don't notice when women's heads turn . . . and they do turn, Scott."
I thought about Colleen, and the attention of other girls in the singing groups, and couldn't argue. I shrugged instead.
"As for your discomfort with gay men, yes, it's true that hostility to gays can stem from suppressed homoerotic tendencies in the self, but tagging that as the sole reason for such discomfort is rather simplistic psychology. It seems to me that you have some very good reasons for mixed feelings about gay men, given your previous experiences, but the fact you not only accept Warren but consider him a close friend suggests those feelings aren't unconquerable or absolute.
"Perhaps you need to ask yourself more probing questions rather than rely on surface connections. For instance, what, specifically, about gay men bothers you? Do the same things bother you about gay women? What about straight women, or -- ?"
"It's sex," I interrupted. "It's the whole sex thing. They want to have sex with me. With War, I can accept it because I know there's a lot more to it than that for him. But it's still the sex. I don't want people looking at me and thinking of me as their toy, or fantasizing about me."
"Even if they're women?"
"Women aren't . . . women don't think about it the same. I mean, I'm not a woman, but still -- it's not women who pick up girls and boys on the street. It's men. And I don't want to be what they think of when --" I cut off, unable to actually complete the sentence. I was jiggling my knee almost uncontrollably, and finished my second cigarette only to light a third.
"You don't want to be a masturbation fantasy," Hank finished for me.
"Yeah. I'm not their whore. I'm not their toy."
Hank leaned forward to set down the empty mug of cider, then clasped his hands. I wondered why it was Hank I came to, to discuss sex. Perhaps it was simply because he wasn't interested in me, nor would he crack crass jokes. "First, while there are distinct differences in both the physiology and psychology of men and women, women can and do fantasize, Scott. Second, fantasizing is a normal human behavior, and while I understand that you wouldn't want to be the subject of fantasies, given what you've suffered, perhaps you could think of them as a compliment, and remember that such fantasies aren't you? No one is forcing you to do anything you don't want to do."
I was reminded abruptly of what Jon Bennett had said to me about my own fantasies involving Jean.
"Last, others' attraction to you isn't indicative of your own desires. You're not merely a reflection, Scott. The best way to determine your sexual preference is to think about your feelings. Are you aroused by women, or men, or both?" My face had gone white, and he added quickly, "That's a rhetorical question. I'm not asking you to tell me."
Then he stood and looked down at me. "Continue to ask yourself questions, but be sure the answers to those questions follow logically. And perhaps the best way to deal with your anxiety about gay men is to remember that the same actions or reactions can stem from a variety of motivations. Both Warren and an unknown man on the street may desire you, but the reason for that desire -- or at least the other emotions that might be tied up with it -- are not the same." Walking over, he opened the shop door. "'Night, Scott." And he left me out there, brooding.
By spring semester, the shine of the new had worn off college, leaving me with both a demanding class load and what felt like too many rehearsals for Redhot's Spring Tour. Tempers ran high, and my moody nature didn't make me easy to interpret. There's always a break-in period once the honeymoon is over, and that spring was my breaking-in. I had to learn to get along with people without stalking off -- which had been my method of handling disagreement in the past.
Late one February afternoon, there was yet another blow up between myself and the rest of the group. "Smile when you sing, Scott, and move around. For pete's sake, you're not a mannequin."
I seemed forever to be disappointing the rest in my stage presence -- probably because I didn't have any. I was, quite frankly, "wooden." Now, frustrated and angry, I shouted back, "You knew what you were getting when you goddamn tapped me! I'm a singer, not an actor! Why the hell did you pick me if you didn't want me?" And I stalked out of rehearsal.
Predictably, Colleen showed up at my door about an hour later, arms crossed, head cocked, and lips pursed in annoyance. It hadn't taken us long to revert to a comfortable (if platonic) friendship after our early November spat. "Well, that was very high school," she said.
Slouching against the doorjamb, I lit a cigarette. "Screw you."
Reaching out, she grabbed the cigarette from my mouth and dropped it on the hall floor, grinding it out beneath her heel. "Those things are terrible for your voice, and the insouciance routine gets old. You say you're not an actor, but you give Marlon Brando a run for his money with the brooding rebel thing."
I glared back and didn't reply.
"What's up with you lately?"
"Oh, cut it out!" And she shoved her way into my quad sitting room, even if I hadn't invited her. "You take every suggestion personally of late, like it's a criticism."
"Well, criticism seems to be all I hear anymore. Why the fuck did you guys tap me?"
She threw up her hands and plopped down on the couch. "Because you were the best tenor to audition, hands-down! And we're about to lose our Pitch, too. She graduates in May. Your name has already come up as a possible new Pitch for next year. You're always on."
They were considering me for Pitch? That dropped my jaw. And she really wasn't supposed to tell me about tap choices, but she must have sensed that I needed some real encouragement.
"When you auditioned, everyone realized you probably weren't going to be a front-man soloist. But sometimes what a group really needs is a solid center -- and that's what you are, even if you don't read music very well. Your timing is great, your pitch is almost perfect, and the other singers lean on you, Scott. When we start shaking apart, you, Alfie and Donna are the voices the rest of the group falls back on to center us. You're our engines. That's why you were picked. If a group doesn't have reliable, solid singers like that, it disintegrates. Nobody had any illusions that you were especially charismatic, but you are dependable. We just want you to remember to smile sometimes, like you're actually enjoying yourself instead of finding it all a drag."
"It's not a drag," I said, but my mind was back on the rest of what she'd confessed. They depended on me? But I knew that was true, when I wasn't feeling so defensive. For every time I'd been told, 'Smile, will you?' I'd also heard someone else told, 'Listen to Scott. Get the pitch from Scott.'
Now, I crossed to sit down next to her on the couch, saying, "When I sing, I like hearing how it all fits together. It's about the music. All the grinning and bouncing around kinda . . . detracts. Or distracts, maybe."
Unexpectedly, she nodded. "I understand. But just . . . try to look like you're having fun sometimes, okay?" Then she reached across to pull the pack of Camels out of my breast pocket and shake them under my nose. "And would you cut back on these? You really are going to wreck your wind and voice, which would be a crying shame. Besides, it's just gross."
I took the pack out of her hand and looked at it. She was the first person to really say anything to me about the smoking in a while, but I knew it bothered people -- which was one reason I went out on the ledge to do it, as often as not. Even Warren had started wrinkling his nose at me, and I could no longer claim probable early death as an excuse. It was just a nasty habit, but last summer, I'd been feeling pretty nasty. Now . . .
Getting up, I walked over to toss the half-full pack of cigarettes in the trash by my desk and dig in the bottom of drawer, pulling out my old pipes, stored in oilcloth. Unwrapping them, I stuck one (unlit) between my teeth and grinned at her around it. "Better?"
She broke up laughing. "You look like my dad!"
Going off a two-pack-a-day habit was no cakewalk, but I was nothing if not stubborn, and only cutting back, not quitting. Thus, I wasn't completely unbearable to be around in the countdown days to Spring Tour. Tour itself was a splendid week of cavorting in sunny Atlanta. I ate a lot of pecan pie and was surprised to find myself okay staying with host families this time, instead of dreading it. I still wasn't the life of the party, but the tour manager was good at pairing me with somebody who was, so I got to be the quiet one, and pulled out my old air force manners, dusting them off. One of the women hosting us told me she hadn't been 'ma'am'ed so much since she'd taught at a private Catholic school. Tim Roth, paired with me that night, said later, "You're full of surprises, Summers -- a regular boy scout, when you want to be." I didn't reply because the idea of anyone calling me a 'boy scout' was too ludicrous for a coherent response.
Returning to Yale after the Spring Break Tour, I found a surprise waiting for me. Jean Grey had come to New Haven for a visit.
Ironically, she was staying with Warren, and both of them showed up at my dorm less than an hour after I'd gotten back while I was unpacking in preparation for waging war on dirty laundry. "Hey, Summers!" my roommate Don called. "Company!" And I wandered out, all unsuspecting, only to be ambushed by an enthusiastic Jean in her down jacket and rainbow scarf and mittens. Her throttling hug won laughter and whistles from both Don and one of my other suitemates, Sanjay. "Now we know why he checks his email three times a day!" Sanjay said.
I blushed, branded guilty by red cheeks and ears, even as I shot them both a bird and let Jean yank me out the door after Warren. "What're you doing here on a Wednesday?" I demanded, standing in socked feet on winter-cold tile and dressed in my last pair of (semi-)clean jeans. I wore the old blue pullover Mariana had given me so long ago; it barely fit me now, but I clung to it for nostalgia.
"It's spring break for me," she replied. "And I have news. We're going to Greece!"
Taken completely by surprise, I gaped. "What? When? Who?"
"All four of us, in May, after the semester's over. We'll get a whole month! The professor told my parents it'd be 'educational,' and they agreed, as long as you, Warren and Hank would be along." And she presented me with a Berlitz Greek phrase book. Then they let me go back in to put on shoes, and a jacket and tie, before abducting me to Mory's for Welsh rarebit and catching up at wooden tables with rickety bistro chairs -- my laundry postponed for a few hours. It was awkward at first, but both of them persisted in such relentless cheerfulness that I forgot about it quickly and we ended up doing the Monkees' Walk arm-in-arm down York Street, laughing our heads off.
Notes: The title and summary on this one owe to Libby Edwards, as does musical information. Both Yale and specific singing group info, however, owes to Eve Tushnet and her friend Mike ('peanut brittle with tumors' is Eve's own description of her college); the Red Hot and Blue singing group really does exist, but they obviously never had Scott Summers as a member. The Shaking of the Foundations are a collection of sermons given by Paul Tillich following Hiroshima, and published in 1948. Tillich's philosophical theology is tough going, even at the sermon level, but worth the effort. Warren's wing anatomy is what happens when you throw together an artist, a medical doctor, and a bird expert at Dexcon -- my thanks to Ashlan, Epona and J.B. McDragon -- y'all rock. And yes, of course, if Misty Knight showed up, naturally Colleen Wing had to, as well. ;>
Story XVI is "Climbing Mount Olympus"
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Title: Consonance (Special 15)
Series Name: SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 55k | 10/19/04
Characters: Scott, Warren
Summary: A marriage of tones that brings stability to discord. (Unofficial summary: Scott joins Warren at Yale.)
Notes: This entire series is ADULT.
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