Discovering Love

Written by Rick Beck

Chapter 56

Long Road Home

The colonel was the last to arrive and his hat with the gold braid was shoved up deep into his armpit and his uniform was sharply creased and he looked like he had just walked off a war movie set. His hair was salt and pepper gray and his face was etched with lines that ran deeper than the ones I could see when we were up in the mountains.

He went immediately to Greg's mother without speaking and kissed her on the cheek before he went to the far side of the room and sat ramrod straight, leaning his head back against the window frame and closing his eyes as he waited.

She sat knitting. Her fingers moved adroitly at an impossible speed as her steel blue eyes peered through the lenses of her silver framed glasses. She chewed gum with the same focus with which she wielded her knitting needles.

I would have paced but Doug had already taken that on as he went from one wall to the other, strolling as you might do if you were on a casual walk in the woods. There wasn't room for two of us to pace and so I sat with a magazine on my lap, starring at the door that rarely opened. I don't know which magazine. I never looked at the cover or read a word. It was strictly for show.

I don't know why we didn't talk or interact but I've got to figure that this was a private vigil no matter how many people waited. I'd considered all the outcomes and liked none of them. I saw Greg the way I saw him the first day I ever saw him. He was beautiful, walked proudly, more strutted arrogantly, and had the world by the tail. That was four years ago and my world was completely different and so was his.

I knew most of what I knew and felt about life and loving was a direct result of loving Greg. There had never been any doubt that I would love him. I knew that without ever having loved anyone before and I certainly never had been loved by anyone that I knew about even then. How does a kid know something like that, when he looks upon another boy for the first time? Was it truly written in the stars? Was this some play that was acted out over and over again and we all knew our roles and took the stage, waiting to relive it yet again?

Why was there so much tragedy in the world? Why did people hate when loving was so much more rewarding? Even though it was the most painful thing I'd ever done, I'd take that pain every day of my life to reach the love I felt for Greg. I had been made angry, jealous, dizzy with delight, warm and fuzzy, alienated, desperate, content, devoid of all feelings, crushed, alarmed, sympathetic, nurturing, liking, loving, and hopelessly intertwined in his life.

I would do it all over again to reach his love if we then only shared that love for a minute. It was that love that made my life worth the living and nothing had ever done that before.

Now I sat listening to my heartbeat, trying to keep all negative images out of my brain, praying for all the positive energy in the universe to bombard the hospital and Greg. I could hear the gum and the fingers next to me without looking. I could hear Doug each time he turned to pace back to the other wall, not really seeing him. The colonel sat without motion as we waited for the unknown to become known.

It was something short of noon when the man with the white coat came into the room. The colonel stood, Doug turned, Greg's mother stopped in mid-stitch, and I stared. My heart stopped and I did not dare breath.

"He's in recovery. He's resting comfortably. We made a small incision so we didn't disturb too much tissue. We removed the growth, sent samples to the lab, and checked the condition of the break. It all looks good. All the hardware is holding fine and there is remarkable amounts of calcium that have cemented the bone together as well as we could have hoped."

"The growth!" The colonel ordered.

"I don't see a problem. Looks good. Preliminary tests show no sign of cancer. Of course we'll have to wait for a final analysis, but I'd say we're fine on that front. I wouldn't worry."

Suddenly we were all breathing at the same time. Massive amounts of air were expelled into the room as the doctor seemed oblivious to our anguish.

"We're going to try a soft cast so he can go home tomorrow if everything checks out. We think he'll do better in a home environment. He can remove the cast at night to make sleeping easier and it will give him some good mobility, but he must take things slowly. No steps. No uneven ground. He stays in the house unless he's in a wheelchair or being carried. Other than that he should be okay at home. We'll eliminate the drugs and see if he can't do it on his own from here on out. It looks good. He's got a long rehabilitation ahead of him but he's a remarkable young man. The night they brought him in, we weren't sure he'd ever walk again but he should do fine. A limp but otherwise fine."

"Can we see him," The colonel asked.

"He's out of it right now. I'll get the nurse to come for you when he wakes up. I wouldn't tire him out too much today. He's going to want to sleep but by tomorrow morning I suspect he'll be ready to go home."

"Does he know he's coming home?" Greg's mother asked.

"No, we didn't want to risk upsetting him if we didn't like what we saw in there. You can tell him he's finally going home when he wakes up."

There is disbelief and then again there is disbelief. It was difficult to take it all in at that instant. Dealing with matters of life and death are life-altering experiences, to say the least. I couldn't see it in anyone's terms but my own. Thinking that Greg was going home hadn't entered my mind but that was most certainly a life altering experience. I knew the complication that was going to create in my life but for the moment, hearing the doctor's prognosis, was good medicine for a lot of people that had been on tenterhooks.

Doug finally sat down and immediately began to weep gigantic tears of relief. He shook and the tears cascaded out of his gentle blue eyes as his mother dropped her knitting and sat beside him, pulling his head into her lap as he sobbed. The colonel stood at attention long after the doctor departed from our midst. I could see the relief come to his tired face.

He wiped his eyes with his hand, turning toward the door, and said, "I've got to get to work. Tell him I love him."

I watched him stride up the hallway and make the turn toward the entrance, disappearing from my view.

Greg was in less than good humor, after we were finally allowed to see him. He didn't mention my disobedience as he stared blankly at us. We were jovial and lighthearted and he hated it, wanting to sleep and be left alone by this annoying group of admirers. After his mother and brother got out the door, he stopped me. I figured I was in for it for one reason or another.

"Come back here," he ordered, and I was sure it wasn't for a goodbye kiss by the way he said it.

"What?" I asked, still giddy with delight over his prospects.

"Pull the sheet off my legs."


"You heard me. Pull the sheet off. I want to see."

His words were not friendly and the order was hostile at best, as if he thought we were hiding something from him. I raised the sheet and turned it up to reveal all of both legs.

He closed his eyes tight and let out a sob, "It's still there."

"Yeah, it's doing fine. Nothing to worry about. No cancer. You're going home, Greg. You're going home."


"Yeah, as soon as you straighten your ass out. They'll send you back if you act like a jerk, Greg."

"I thought... I was sure... I dreamed they took it off. I was afraid to look. I've been laying here thinking you all were keeping it from me."

"It's fine. They aren't putting that big Dumbo cast back on either. You'll be able to sleep without anything."

"Home!" He repeated, closing his eyes and starting to fall asleep before I bent to kiss him.

I didn't know what he had gone through. I only knew what I went through and I suspected what his family was going through, but there was no way for me to know what Greg had gone through while there was some concern that he would lose the leg. What must that have been like to live inside his head, knowing that half of you might be missing soon, and that all the pain and suffering you'd endured was just a preliminary round for the real deal that was ahead.

Life, like love, is always fleeting. Even if it lasts one hundred years, one day you had to face the reality that one way or another everything ends. That means we've got to get the most out of life and most especially love while we have it. That means that a little love is better than no love because whose to say that a little love isn't all we're going to get.

How close had I come to losing Greg? How close had he come to losing his leg? How does it all alter you? Me? Him?

I know that loving Greg had been the most painful thing I had ever done. The thought of losing him had been the most painful thought I'd ever endured. Finding love was certainly a life-altering experience, and it did create the possibility for pain. It also created the most incredible feelings I'd ever felt.

My life had been about being alone before Greg. It was never more clear to me how alone I was than after I met Greg. Meeting Greg was falling in love with him for me. There was no lead up to it or developing some great wisdom about one another. I flat-out loved him the first time I saw him. I hated it and at times I hated him and I'm not sure if I really hated myself or just my life, but it pissed me off enough that I wasn't going to let him have the satisfaction of knowing how I felt, but how could he not know?

Everything I did and every thought I had was about Greg. I didn't do anything without first considering him. I loved Doug and I loved Kent but I never considered my love for either of them without first considering my love for Greg. He came first, last, and always in my life, and I suspected he always would. Before Greg there was no love of any kind, only a hostile world that you more had to avoid than tame. There was nothing that told me that happiness existed or that my life mattered in the least, and then there was Greg, and he consumed every fiber in my life, no matter if he hated me, got angry with me, avoided me, or loved me back.

Now, it was all about to change again. My captive audience was captive no more. Everything we had said and done and experienced together had now been reset. It was a whole new ballgame. My life at home was going to get even more complicated than when I refused to obey and never came home even for the vaunted evening meal that somehow made my chaotic family healthy in my parent's distorted minds.

In reality, nothing could make my family healthy. We were by nature alienated from one another, or at least they had always been alienated from me, and perhaps that's unfair. Maybe I was the one who was flawed, deficient, unable to close the gap between us, but I was their kid and it wasn't up to me to find a way to get my parents to like me. How would I know how it's done or even what they expected of me? They never once told me the answer, only speaking of my flaws, my shortcomings, and their disappointment in me.

So, perhaps loving Greg was inevitable, because I had to love someone, sooner or later. But there was Doug, a boy anyone could love, and Kent, a boy that would gladly love anyone. There were all the boys that flowed through Greg's house during endless weekend orgies that no one acknowledged ever took place. There were countless numbers and countless boys with wide smiles and willing genitalia, but I had never felt anything minutely similar for anyone of them compared to what it was I felt for Greg.

Love can have degrees and most certainly is different each time you love, depending on who it is you practice it with, I suppose, and in loving Greg, I was loving the best, not so much because of his experience, or willingness, or his cocky self-confidence, but because when I was with him, my entire life belonged to him. I would do anything for him. Well, almost anything, because I wasn't a big enough fool to always let him know what a sucker I was for him, but again how could he not know?

But how could he not know his leg was still attached? He'd later say he asked but he didn't believe the answer, and only when I was there with him, alone, did he know I would let him know the truth no matter what that truth was. How could he have not known that his leg was there? I never understood that. What was going on inside of his head during the time he believed it might not be there? What would have happened to him if it hadn't been there? How would all of our lives have been altered?

Everything is fleeting and if you don't make the best of it while you can, you will regret it, but I never regretted loving Greg.

"Gather ye rosebuds while you may."

There was a new world before us. As Doug sat crying and his mother rocked him like a little boy, I knew the world was changing and I didn't have a clue what it meant.

Change is always difficult for me. For one thing I didn't want to go back to feeling what I felt before Greg and so any time there was change that was my biggest fear, not feeling too much but being devoid of feelings altogether.

What if I didn't have him? What if he leaves me? What if he finds someone else to love? What if....?

You've got to live no matter how scared you are of life. There is no point to living if you don't live completely, reach out, go for the gold, the gusto. If not love... nothing.

I wouldn't know how not to love Greg, so loving him was the only thing I could do and it was easy now. It was still scary to know it was all about to change and I was resigned to the change but now that it was upon us, it also represented the unknown.

Greg was a captive audience no longer.

The distance from school to Greg's was a lot shorter than the distance to the hospital. The next day I took some exams and turned in a late paper before exiting. Graduation was almost upon us and I couldn't hurt myself all that badly in my mind. Most of the seniors already knew if they were in trouble and I wasn't; not that I had done anything to assure that I might pass. I was just passing in spite of myself and I would graduate if I showed up for the exams and turned in the papers that were due.

Greg was alone in the house when I got there and he was lying on the foldout bed in the television room. I had some fond memories that centered on that bed and seeing him there just added another, because he was home now, and not just visiting.

"Where have you been? I'm thirsty and I'm hungry."

"Nice to see you too," I said, going over to kiss him.

"Why didn't you come earlier?"

"School," I said. "What do you want to eat?"

"I don't know. Anything but hospital food. Be creative."

I fixed him a ham sandwich on rye bread along with some Coke and potato chips. I found some root beer and fixed the same meal for me after I served him his.

He laughed at the afternoon reruns as he stuffed his mouth full of "real" food. Doug came in and sat down in the chair and stared at Greg. He was all smiles and offered to go get Greg his favorite ice cream. I gave him the keys to the car after Greg approved.

"What's his problem?" Greg asked, after Doug jumped up and headed for the car.

"He's relieved," I said. "We're all relieved."

"Think about how relieved I am," he said, setting down his last half of sandwich. "I'm full. It was good though. You relieved."


"That's a lot," he said.

"How do you feel?"

"Bummed. I've got this headache. It's killing me. I wondered if you would come up. Where were you all day?"

"School," I said.

"Oh yeah. You told me that, didn't you?"

"You feeling alright?"

"Not really. I'm really tired. I've got pain pills and they're really potent. I don't like taking them but I don't like hurting even more."

"The leg?"

"Yeah, where they cut into it. Fucker's a bitch. The pills help but then I feel like a dope. I only pick up about ½ of what's going on."

"It'll be okay," I said.

"I start rehab next week once it is starting to heal."

"The hospital?" I asked.

"Yeah, Three days a week. If you move in and are here, then I don't have to worry about how I'm going to get to the hospital."

"You could walk," I said,

"Yeah, I can't bend my knee. My right leg is pretty good. I don't trust it but I think it'll hold me up okay. I'm a real gimp when it comes to the left leg."

"It'll take time, Greg. You've had that cast on it forever."

"Yeah, this soft cast is cool," he said, picking up the new cast that he had thrown on the bed beside him.

"When do you use it," I asked.

"When I get up," he said. "I haven't gotten up yet. I don't know how I'll take a dump. Lucky it hasn't come up. When did you say you were moving in?"

"Greg! You just got home."

"So, when are you moving in anyway?"

"I'll talk to my parents. I really didn't expect you to be home this fast," I said.

"Oh, you figured I'd be stuck up there for the rest of my life. That would have been great, huh?"

"No, I went from worrying about... you to you coming home. No time to adjust. I haven't mentioned it to my parents."

"You want my mom to talk to them?"

"No, I think I'll need to tell them."

"When do you graduate?"


"That soon? Good! You can move in Friday night. What can they say?"

"You know, it isn't about what they can say. It's about keeping peace and not making matters worse than they already are. I've pretty much pushed it as far as it goes. I need to go slow."

"Oh, fine time to start going slow. You should have thought about that before you fell in love with me."

"Yeah, well that didn't come up back then."

"I missed you."

"Missed me?"

"Yeah, I was here all alone all day. I told the old man you'd be over and he figured it was okay leaving me."

"It wasn't?"

"What if I had an emergency? What if I had to take a crap?"

"Greg, how long were you here alone?"

"Three or four hours at least. He doesn't know how to take care of me," Greg complained.

"No, he won't put up with your shit, you mean," I said.

Greg turned his head and looked at me like a curious little boy. He smiled a shy embarrassed smile and shook his head.

"It's not good when someone knows you too well. No, Pop isn't about to put up with as much shit from me as you do. I do appreciate it, Martin. I doubt if I would have made it through this without you. I can't imagine being lucky enough to have a friend like you."

"Yeah, well, you remember that in a year, so you know who loves you."

"I've known that as long as I've known you," he said, in a more serious tone. "You don't hide anything, you know."

"Yeah, well, I didn't think I had to. Loving someone is never having to say you're sorry."

"I am sorry, you know."


"For being such an asshole. I wasn't very fair to you. Of course I had it all back then. I was a total dick about it. I'm sorry and I wish I had made it easier on you."

"Yeah, well, if you hadn't been so hard on me, I wouldn't have been so happy when we finally got together."

"Yeah. I never thought of it like that. I was kind of doing you a favor, being mean to you all that time, huh? I guess that means you owe me," Greg said, smiling again, but not being serious.

"Yeah, I do. Big time. I owe you everything I feel and most of what I know about love."

"Just most?"

"Yeah, well, I did figure a little out on my own."

"Well, maybe you should just come over here and show me just how appreciative you are for me putting up with you all this time," he said, patting the bed beside him where he wanted me to sit. "We can suck face until my brother gets back with my Rocky Road if you want."

"I want," I said, sitting where he indicated he wanted me and being showered with his kisses before I had time to get ready.

I did love him so.

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