My Freshman Experience

by Joel Young

Chapter 17

Man Up; Man Down

I woke up to the loud beeping of the alarm clock on Sunday, my first full day at home on Christmas break from Oberlin University. I wanted to sleep some more, but I was expected to go to church with my parents. Our family never missed services during the Christmas season.

After my shower, I weighed myself on the bathroom scale. I had been 147 pounds at Thanksgiving when my mother criticized me for gaining weight at college. Since then, I had drastically cut back on how much I ate. Today, I saw that I weighed 138. I had lost nine pounds in about a month. I hoped for some kind of acknowledgment from my mother.

On the drive to church, I told my parents about the oratory I had delivered at Oberlin's campus chapel. I should have known better than to share that information. My mother suggested that she talk to our minister about having me deliver the oratory during services at our church before I went back to school.

"Mom," I said. "I didn't bring it home with me. It's still in my dorm room."

"Oh, I'm sure you can remember enough of it to make a quick outline. You can speak from your notes," Mom said. "Just like you did when you were on the debate team at Joliet."

"I really don't want to do that. I need a break from all the pressures of school and finals week. It's been very stressful!" I complained.

"I can't see how giving a speech that you've already written could be that stressful," Mom argued. "Especially at your home church."

I needed help. "Daaaad," I said, imploring him to come to my aid.

"We'll talk about this later," he said.

I loved my dad. I never heard another word about Mom's terrible idea.

After services, our family went out to eat with a group of my parents' friends. I was the only college student at the table, and everyone seemed interested in hearing about my experiences at Oberlin, the only college our congregation supported financially. I shared just enough information to satisfy the curiosity of those at the table - without saying anything that might prompt questions that I did not want to answer. Sometimes, I hated having to dance around topics of conversation to keep people from finding out that I'm bisexual.

Mom looked over the lunch menu. "Oh! They have a roasted half chicken breast with fresh, seasonal vegetables on their 'Light Meals' menu," she said. "Joel, since you've been so tired, you probably need a low-fat protein and vegetables with lots of vitamins and antioxidants."

I was an eighteen-year-old college student, but I couldn't be trusted to pick out a meal for myself in a restaurant. Mom hadn't even commented on my weight loss. Apparently, she thought I still needed to lose a few more pounds. Part of me wanted to object to my mother micro-managing my life. But, I just wasn't up to having any more disagreements with the people close to me. Tom, Peter, and Adam had all pushed me away in the last weeks of school. I didn't want any more drama, so I decided to pretend to be the perfect son that my mother expected me to be.

"Oh," I said. "I didn't see that. It does sound good. That's what I'll have."

I ate less than half of my meal - just to protest being treated like a child. Yeah, I knew that I could be passive aggressive toward my mother. But, I did enjoy the look on her face when she noticed my dissatisfaction with what she had picked out for me.

I perked up considerably that afternoon. Komiko called and asked if I wanted to go Christmas shopping with her. I hadn't even bought one gift yet, and I really wanted to see Komiko. "Of course!" I told her. "That'd be great!"

I left home to pick up Komiko around three in the afternoon. I truly enjoyed driving my car again. It was not just convenient transportation; it was a symbol of my independence. I looked forward to having it on campus with me for my sophomore year.

I walked up the sidewalk toward Komiko's lakefront home. She came running out before I had even made it halfway from my car. We both had huge smiles as we came together and shared a tight hug.

"I missed you, G-Boy!" she said. G-Boy was her pet name for me back in high school. It was short for 'Gorgeous Boy.' I knew I was far from gorgeous, and I found the nickname embarrassing when we were around other people. At the same time, I really liked it when she called me that in private.

It seemed completely natural when we shared an intimate kiss standing outside of her home while a cold wind blew in from Lake St. Clare.

Hudson's Department Store stayed open late that Sunday. The store was beautifully decorated, and there were Christmas shoppers everywhere. Music of the season filled the aisles. Santa was in the Children's Department, dutifully listening to the wish lists of all the boys and girls who had endured the long line to see him. I started to feel the Christmas spirit as I walked the store and held hands with Komiko.

Komiko had great ideas about things I could buy for my family. I especially appreciated her help in picking out a gift for my mother; I had no idea what to get her. Komiko steered me to the Fine Jewelry department. "Your mother is very traditional," she said. "I think a cameo pendant would be perfect. But, it has to have a gold chain. Your mother never wears silver."

We bought the pendant, and we noticed some silver unisex bracelets near the cash register. I asked Komiko if I could buy one for her as a Christmas gift. She seemed very pleased. "That would be wonderful, but only if I can buy one for you, too." We paid for the bracelets and put them on our wrists while wishing each other a Merry Christmas.

After what seemed like hours of shopping, Komiko and I took a break. We got cold drinks in the cafeteria. Neither one of us was hungry.

Komiko brought up the subject of our relationship. "I take it you're not seeing that girl at Oberlin anymore?"

"What makes you say that?" I asked.

"Well, at Thanksgiving, you were reluctant to hold my hand or kiss me because you were seeing a girl at Oberlin," she said. "You don't seem to be concerned with her today."

At Thanksgiving, I had purposely been evasive about the gender of the person I was seeing at college. At the time, Adam had been in the same room with us, but Komiko assumed I was dating a girl.

"No. We decided to see other people," I said.

"Would I sound too selfish if I said that I'm glad that you broke up with her?" Komiko asked.

"Well, maybe," I answered. "But as far as I'm concerned, you can be as selfish as you want."

Komiko had never been shy with me. "Then, why don't you take me home so I can show you what I want. I promise not to be entirely selfish," she said.

"Hey," I responded. "It's Christmas! I like giving people what they want."

When we got back to Komiko's house, her parents weren't home. "They're visiting friends," Komiko said. "We have an hour or so before they'll be home. You do have protection, right?"

"You know I always protect you," I said.

"So, you still keep a condom in your wallet?" Komiko asked. "Like you did in high school?"

"Well, I was only a Boy Scout for a year, but I took their motto to heart," I said. "Always be prepared!"

"Do you know what the Girl Scout's response to that advice is?" Komiko teased. "If your Boy Scout is not prepared, keep him out of your cookies!"

We went up to Komiko's bedroom. It was huge, and it had window seats that looked out over the lake. I remembered the room well. In high school, we had made love in her bedroom many times.

We lay down on her canopy bed and smiled at each other. It was so nice, and so exciting, to be together again. We had never wanted to break up. We only did so because we were going away to different colleges. But, the love was still there.

I wrapped my arms around Komiko and pulled her close. I liked how she felt in my arms – soft, petite and sensual. We kissed and pressed our bodies together – seeking the excitement of being physically close again.

As our kisses became more passionate, I heard the familiar clicking sound that Komiko's throat makes when she becomes sexually aroused. I had never heard of this sign of female sexual excitement, but I liked hearing it. It always let me know when she was ready for more. I picked up on my cue and started to undress her.

As soon as I tossed her blouse and bra onto the floor, I stopped and admired her breasts. They were beautiful – small, but perfectly shaped. I loved the way her hard, erect nipples stood out with an upward slant. At first, I caressed her breasts softly, enjoying the feel of the delicate mounds as they respond to my touch. Then, like a magnet, they drew my lips closer, and I kissed her nipples tenderly. She moaned as soon as my mouth surrounded her areola and my tongue circled her nipple.

Komiko wrapped her arms around me, holding me in place so that I would continue what I was doing. Her breasts were one of her most sensitive erogenous zones. I liked that she knew what she wanted and needed me to satisfy her desires. When she released me from her arms, she pulled away from me and slipped out of the rest of her clothes. I followed her lead. Soon we were both completely naked. We took the time to gaze at each other's nude body, and I was mesmerized by Komiko's incredible beauty. Her oval face; her sleek, jet-black, shoulder-length hair; her perfect breasts; and her petite, slender build were so stunning that I couldn't look away. When she smiled at me, I felt her inner beauty as well.

"What a beautiful, beautiful boy," she said as she slid next to me. I reached out to feel her soft, cream-colored breasts again, but she stopped me. She guided me down onto my back. "At school," she said. "I thought about us a lot, and I missed touching you - all of you."

Komiko leaned over and kissed me. It was a soft, loving kiss that sent thrilling sensations throughout my body. My arousal snowballed as she massaged my chest with one hand and ran her delicate fingers down my body.

She sat up and placed both of her hands on my legs. "You have a runner's legs," Komiko said. "I've always liked that about you." She moved higher and brushed her hands over my testicles – and then she chuckled.

"What are you laughing about?" I asked, partially amused but mostly self-conscience.

"You were my first," Komiko said. "I assumed that all guys are – well, as large as you are."

"And now you know differently?" I questioned.

"I broke up with the guy I was seeing at Princeton. Let's just say that if he were eggs, you're more like oranges," Komiko teased. "And, the girls in the dorm talk. They didn't believe me when I told them about you."

"I do get a few stares in the dorm showers," I admitted.

"Did you ever tell your friends in the dorm about me?" she asked.

"I never kiss and tell," I assured Komiko. "And besides, my friends would never believe that a girl as beautiful as you would ever be with a guy like me."

"It's okay with me if you tell them - about this," she said.

Komiko leaned over and took my erect cock directly into her mouth. Her moist, feminine lips circled the head of my hard cock. Then, she slid halfway down my shaft before slowly coming up again. I sat up just a little so that I could enjoy the view. The feeling of her lips and tongue on me was incredible! I let her continue for several minutes before I moved us into a 69 position so that I could return the favor.

I explored her with my hands, and I felt her responding to my touch. The lips of her vagina were warm and inviting. I applied pressure to the hood of her clitoris with the palm of my hand as my fingers caressed her completely shaved pubic area. Komiko pushed harder against my hand and held my cock tightly in her mouth. Our sexual excitement was growing to an almost uncontrollable level. When she spread her legs wider, I knew what she wanted. I ran my hand over her. Soon, I replaced my hand with my mouth, and I licked her clitoris. My lips locked around her, and my tongue flickered over the most sensitive part of her body.

We savored the intoxicating sensations of mutual oral stimulation until I felt myself starting to build toward climax. I moved away from Komiko and repositioned her on the bed. I kissed my way down from her lips, lingering at her breasts and abdomen before returning to her genitals. I buried my face in her, seeking to find her clitoris again. Komiko lifted her hips up from the bed, and I slipped my arms under and around her legs, holding her in place.

I loved pleasing Komiko like this, and I knew that it was the most stimulating position for her. She put her hands on my head. I heard her soft moans becoming stronger. I felt her body tensing up, and I knew her orgasm was imminent. I nuzzled my head against her, alternating between sucking and licking. Then, her legs pull away from my grip and came together tightly as she let out a little gasp. I felt a joyful satisfaction knowing that I had been able to excite Komiko to the point of a climax.

I only lingered for a moment before reaching for my pants and locating the condom in my wallet. I worked quickly to open the foil packet and cover myself with its contents. As soon as I was ready, Komiko pulled me on top of her. Neither one of us was interested in any more foreplay. We positioned ourselves so that I could enter her. Her vagina welcomed me, and it felt warm, tight and slippery around my rigid cock. I desperately wanted to ride the tidal wave of my sexual desires to full orgasmic bliss. But I controlled myself, knowing that slowing things down could bring Komiko to a second pinnacle of physical pleasure.

As I thrust in and out, I purposely angled my body so that my cock would apply pressure onto Komiko's clitoris. Sometimes, I would stop and lean forward, pushing harder against her pleasure spot. Then, I resumed my movements, stimulating both of us toward fulfilling the demands of sexual arousal.

I heard more clicking sounds coming from Komiko's throat. I leaned back, allowing me to stimulate her manually while continuing the inward and outward movements of my pulsating shaft inside of her. Her hips started moving in rhythm with me before she tensed up and reached her second orgasm. Knowing that I could now let go and concentrate on my own physical needs and desires, I lay down on her, chest to chest. We held each other tightly as I lost focus of everything except for the intense and growing sensations of impending climax. Komiko seemed to sense that I was at the point of no return, and she squeezed her vaginal muscles around me, sending me over the edge. I leaned in and kissed her, seeking to prolong the fleeting moments of pure sexual enjoyment.

Komiko and I lay on her bed quietly. I was on my back with Komiko on her side, resting her head on my chest. We listened to the December winds picking up strength outside. "Let's get under the covers," I said. "It's cold in here."

"So sad," she said. "My parents could be home any minute. I think we should get dressed and go back downstairs."

"Would your parents be shocked if they knew what we were doing?" I asked.

"I doubt it. But, they prefer not to know about things like that," Komiko said. "What about your parents?"

"Well," I said. "Since they'd both like nothing more than for you to be the mother of their grandchildren, I think they'd be okay with it."

"Your mother is always so sweet," Komiko said.

I dropped my jaw! I couldn't believe what Komiko had just said. Thankfully, she explained herself. "To me, I mean. She's always sweet to me. With you, she's only sweet when you're doing exactly what she wants you to do. It's the opposite with your father. He loves you unconditionally."

"Yeah, that's kind of how it's always been," I agreed. Komiko gave me a quick kiss, and we got off the bed, dressed, straightened up the room, and we went downstairs.

Komiko offered to make some sandwiches for us. I was getting hungry, and I accepted. I took a seat in the breakfast nook in her kitchen as I watched her work.

"My parents and I are leaving for Colorado tomorrow," she said.

Her announcement both surprised and upset me. I was hoping we could spend lots of time together over the Christmas holidays. I had missed Komiko, and I felt like we had just reconnected. I didn't want to be away from her again.

"How long will you be gone?" I asked.

"I won't be back here before school starts," she said. "I'm flying from Denver back to Princeton."

My natural instinct toward sarcasm tried to rear its ugly head. But, I stopped myself from speaking sharply and saying, "Well, how nice of you to tell me!" Instead, I swallowed my irritation at being kept in the dark until the last minute, and I used one of Komiko's favorite expressions. "Oh, so sad!" I said. "I was hoping we could spend the holidays together."

"I know," she said. "I wanted that too. But, Mother and Father made reservations at the Steamboat Resort. We were there once before – in the summer. It's beautiful, and there are lots of things to do all year long. I guess we'll be skiing on Christmas day this year."

Kimiko brought two glasses of ice water and our food to the table in the breakfast nook. She sat down, and we ate our chicken sandwiches in silence. I knew that the closeness we had just shared would probably never happen again. She'd go back to Princeton, and I'd go back to Oberlin. We'd meet other people and grow apart.

Before we finished our snack, Komiko's parents arrived home. They greeted me warmly, but they reminded Komiko that they had to catch an early flight the next morning. Unfortunately, that was my cue to leave. Komiko walked me to my car. We embraced, and I felt very sad. We said an emotional goodbye. "I'll always love you," I said.

"Me too, G-Boy," she told me. I kissed her one last time. Then, I got into my car and drove home.

Breaking up with Komiko last summer had been difficult. Tonight, leaving her again was just awful, especially after Adam had been a jerk and called for a break in our relationship. "Why do the people I love always leave me?" I asked out loud.

As I was trying to go to sleep that night, I had a lot on my mind. I had a great time with Komiko, and having sex with her again was wonderful! I certainly was going to miss her. Then, my mind turned to Adam. I missed him, too. I realized that I had no idea if I'd ever see either one of them again.

For some ridiculous reason, I started wondering whom I would choose if I were able to have just one of them back. I never made that decision before going to sleep. There was no need to think about the person I would always want. The love of my life was David – and no one could ever take his place in my heart. I fell asleep wondering if he ever thought about me in the same way.

I spent the next few days getting ready for Christmas and visiting relatives. It was nice to see everyone, but I truly enjoyed seeing my cousin Mike again. My parents and I ate dinner at his house on Christmas Eve. After dinner, he and I escaped from our parents and went up to his room.

"So, what's up, Slugger?" Mike asked. "You seem a little down in the dumps."

"Just a little disappointed," I said. "I was hoping to spend time with my high school girlfriend – the one who goes to Princeton with you. But, she's on a ski vacation in Colorado with her parents."

"Ah," Mike said. "She's the one who broke up with you when Princeton turned you down."

"It was a mutual breakup," I corrected. "I saw Komiko last Sunday before she left. It was great; almost as if we were back together."

"And then, she left you again. I'm sorry, Joel," Mike said. "I hope there's someone at Oberlin you're looking forward to seeing when you get back."

I had decided to put Adam out of my mind, but Mike's question brought back all of the pain I felt when Adam and I broke up – or whatever he called it. I had always felt a special connection with Mike, and we seemed to be able to read each other's emotions. I said nothing, but I felt my face getting hot as I fought to hide my feelings.

'Uh oh," Mike said. "I've hit on another sensitive subject." He motioned for me to come over to sit beside him on the bed. When I sat down, he put an arm around my shoulder. "Girls can hurt sensitive guys like you, Joel. You have to protect yourself by going slow before opening up your heart."

I liked being close to Mike. I had a huge crush on him in my early teens. He had always been kind to me, and he frequently called me his favorite cousin. I trusted him completely, and I needed to talk to someone.

"It's not a girl," I said quietly. "At Oberlin, I mean."

Mike said nothing for a few moments. "But, there is someone?" he asked.

I couldn't find my voice, but I was able to whisper. "His name is Adam."

I was afraid to look up at Mike. If he were disgusted, or if he pushed me away, I knew I would be devastated. I sat there, waiting for Mike's reaction, but dreading what that reaction might be.

Mike still had his arm around me, and I felt him pull me closer. He kissed the side of my head. "Adam's a lucky guy, Joel."

I felt a tremendous sense of relief when I realized that Mike wasn't shocked or disgusted by what I had admitted to him. But with the feeling of relief came tears. I tried not to, but I started to cry.

"It's okay, Cuz," Mike said. He kissed the side of my head again. "I understand." He paused again before saying, "I think it might run in the family."

I looked up at Mike, wondering if I had understood him correctly. "My guy's name is Cameron," he said. "So, tell me about Adam."

As I regained my composure, I told Mike the condensed version of my relationship with Adam. When I told Mike about Adam's manic-depressive disorder, Mike seemed very concerned. "Being with a guy who can't control his own behavior is very risky, Joel," he said. "It can be dangerous, too. Maybe it's a good thing you guys are on a break."

"But, I love him," I said. "He's an amazing guy, and his problems aren't his fault. I want to be there for him. I want to help him. He needs someone to care about him, and I want to be that person."

"Well, as I said, Adam's a lucky guy. How does Komiko figure into all of this?" Mike asked.

"I love Komiko, too," I said. "If we could be together, I think we would. It's just not possible right now."

"And, if you had to choose?" Mike asked. "Would you be with Komiko or Adam?"

"That's sort of an academic question, don't you think? I mean, neither one of them is choosing to be with me," I said.

"Just for the sake of self-awareness," Mike said. "Who would make you the happiest? Komiko or Adam?"

I wasn't about to bring David into this discussion, so I simply answered Mike's specific question as truthfully as I could. "I'd be with Adam," I said. "I feel like I can always be myself around him." I paused momentarily. "May I ask you a personal question?"

"Okay," Mike said. "If you must know, I'm not put off by the idea of 'kissing cousins,' but I don't cheat on Cameron." Mike could barely suppress his urge to laugh at his attempt to shock me.

But, wordplay is my strong suit. "Your loss," I said, trying to sound indifferent to Mike's ribald teasing. "You know what they say; East or west – incest is best."

Wit must run in the family, too. "Perhaps," Mike said. "But, you may have heard the last two lines of that saying: But gay with kin; it's a double sin!" Mike looked at me and smiled. He shoved my shoulder in a teasing manner. "I was just - well mainly - joking around, Joel. What did you really want to ask me?"

"Do your parents know about you and Cameron?" I asked.

"Absolutely not!" Mike said emphatically. "They'd completely freak out! And, I'm not ready for that."

"Don't you think they'll find out someday?" I asked.

"Maybe. Well, probably," Mike said. "But, timing is everything. Now is definitely not the right time. I hope your parents don't know about you and Adam."

"They don't," I said. "You think they'd disown me if they knew?"

"I doubt they'd go that far," Mike said. "But from what I've seen, your parents are even worse than mine - super conservative and judgmental. If you ever come out to them, be prepared for a rough ride."

Mike and I talked until my parents called to let me know it was time to go home. Mike hugged me. "Luv ya, Cuz," he said.

"Right back at you," I said.

Bedtime is when I usually think about all the things that have been going on in my life. I settled in for the night that Christmas Eve, and I thought about Mike telling me that he had a boyfriend. Although I had been surprised when he told me that he was gay, I started remembering things that I should have recognized as clues. I had never heard anything about him having a girlfriend - or even dating. He always had a few male friends around him, and some of them had set off my gaydar. And most importantly, I had noticed him 'checking out' guys from time to time.

I was disturbed as I reflected on my discussion with Mike about whether I would be happier with Komiko or Adam. I wasn't upset that Mike asked me whom I would choose; I was rattled by my answer. I had said I would prefer to be with Adam because I could be myself around him.

"It would make much more sense for me to be with Komiko," I thought to myself. "I love her; my parents love her; and my life would be much easier if I were partnered with a girl, rather than with a guy."

And then, there was sex to consider. Komiko excited and satisfied me. She was much more confident in her sexuality than Adam was in his. And, Komiko enjoyed giving me oral pleasure; Adam couldn't bring himself to put his mouth around me. With all that being true, why did I feel that I could be myself more easily with Adam than with Komiko?

A little voice in my head – the one that I usually try to silence – rudely answered my question. "Because you're mostly gay, dumbbell!"

When I woke up the next morning and realized it was Christmas Day, I couldn't help but smile! Christmas at our house was always special. My mother made sure of that.

I put on my robe and slippers, and I went downstairs. Mom had the living room looking like a holiday fairyland. The real Christmas tree – with all white lights – was lit up and twinkling. Perfectly wrapped presents were stacked underneath. Garlands with red berries and pine cones, along with a few glowing candles, decorated the mantelpiece. Christmas stockings hung down in front of the fireplace. The scent of pine and bayberries filled the room, and very soft holiday music was playing in the background. I smelled fresh coffee brewing and cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. It was Christmas as I had known it from early childhood. The only thing missing was my long-lost belief that Santa had visited in the night and brought his magic to our home.

As was our tradition, Mom served coffee and hot cinnamon rolls in the living room before we opened presents. Then, Dad gave out all of his gifts – one by one. Mom would go next, followed by me. We saved any remaining gifts from friends or extended family for last. I was never allowed to rip into a present. Rather, I had been taught to admire each one, read the note, carefully unwrap the package, and to thank the giver of the gift.

I had no trouble sincerely thanking my parents for their gifts to me that Christmas. Dad gave me all new running gear, including a popular and expensive pair of running shoes. Mom gave me a bunch of new clothes, all of which I really liked. Together, my parents gave me a very generous check that would easily provide pocket money for my entire second semester of college. And, as a wonderful and totally unexpected treat, they rented me an off-campus garage space in Oberlin so that I could take my car back to school!

Dad liked the illuminated globe on a cherry wood stand that I picked out for his den. And Mom seemed delighted with her 24-carat gold chain necklace with a cultured-pearl cameo pendant. When I told Mom that Komiko had helped me pick it out, she said that made it even more special.

When we finished opening presents, my dad suggested that he and I go for a run. "The streets are pretty clear," he said. "Want to try out your new running gear?"

I took my stuff upstairs and changed into my new running shorts and shirt. My new shoes looked great and fit perfectly. Before leaving for my run with Dad, my mother made me put on a light-weight jacket – and ear muffs.

As Dad and I started off, I took notice of our neighborhood. Houses were decorated with wreaths on their front doors; garlands were wrapped around pillars, and large red bows were tied to lamp posts. All of the sidewalks and driveways were shoveled, and some houses had smoke billowing up from their chimneys. I felt as if I were in a Norman Rockwell painting. I knew that I was a fortunate young man to have been given so many blessings.

I enjoyed the run with my father – well, for the first few miles at least. It was cold outside, and I could see my breath as I exhaled. But being outside, following Dad as he led the way, was great.

We had almost reached the three-quarter mark of our usual course when I started to feel light-headed. I ignored it at first, thinking that I'd be okay when I got home and rested. But then, I began to feel woozy, and my right foot twisted as it landed on the pavement. I felt a sharp pain in my ankle, and I lost my balance. Instinctively, I put my hands out in front of me to break my fall. But, my forehead hit the pavement anyway. I remember feeling like my skull had collided with the swing of a baseball bat. I have a vague recollection of my dad carrying me into a house, and I think I had a ride in an ambulance. Other than that, I remembered nothing until I woke up in a strange place with a splitting headache!

"Don't move, young man," a guy in a white lab coat said to me.

I was very fuzzy-headed. My forehead was throbbing with pain, and my right ankle and both wrists hurt. I felt nauseous. "What happened?" I asked.

"You fell," the guy said. "Your dad is here, and your mom's on her way."

"Where am I?" I asked, turning my head so I could see the person talking to me.

"Try not to move your head," the guy said. "You're in the emergency room. Now, just relax. I'm giving you something for the pain."

The next thing I remember was hearing my parents arguing. I recognized the tone of voice my mother was using. She sounded angry and critical. I was still in a fog, but I could tell she was upset with my dad.

I opened my eyes. There was a curtain drawn around my bed. "Mom?" I called.

I saw the curtain being pulled open, and both my mom and dad rushed over to my bed. "Oh my God, Joel!" Mom said. "I'm so glad you're awake!" She leaned over and hugged me. My dad went around to the other side of the bed and took hold of my hand. I looked up at him, and I saw that his eyes were red and swollen.

"Don't cry, Daddy," I said. "I'm okay."

I hadn't called my father 'Daddy' in years. I think it was the wrong thing to say. Dad squeezed my hand, and a tear rolled down his face. That scared me. "Maybe I'm not okay," I thought to myself. "Maybe, I split my head open!" It sort of felt like that.

Without thinking, I turned to my mother. "Am I going to die?"

My mother looked horrified. Before she said anything, an older man in a white jacket came over to my bed. "Not today, young man," he said, obviously responding to my question about the likelihood of my imminent death. "But, I wouldn't recommend that you go around using your skull to absorb the impact of any more nasty falls."

The man introduced himself as Dr. Ahmed. He explained that I had a concussion, a severe wound on my forehead, a badly sprained ankle and minor injuries to both wrists. "I want to keep him in the hospital for a few days," he said to my parents. "Mainly for observation, but I'm ordering more testing. I'm concerned about the results of his bloodwork. Did you know he's anemic?"

My mother looked shocked. "What?!?" she exclaimed. "How could that be? I'm a Clinical Nutritionist; I make sure he eats a healthy diet. And if Joel were anemic, I'd know it!"

Dr. Ahmed gave my mother an admonishing look. "Well," he said. "The blood work definitely shows a problem. But, there can be many causes of anemia other than diet alone. Let's not go looking for blame. We'll check it out and make sure your son will be fine."

"What does anemic mean?" I asked, looking directly at Dr. Ahmed.

My mother answered. "It means your red blood cell count is low. But don't worry. It can be treated."

"Like with shots?" I asked.

"Possibly," Dr. Ahmed answered. "It depends on what is causing the problem. But, your mother is right. It is treatable, and I think you're going to be fine. I'm going to start with more bloodwork and a consult with one of our staff Nutritionists."

My mother looked like she'd just been insulted, and she began to object. But Dr. Ahmed stopped her. "I understand your father is a Physical Therapist," he said directly to me. "But hospital policy requires that you see one of our Therapists to look at your sprained ankle. It's the same with assessing your nutritional needs. I'll check back with you in the morning."

When Dr. Ahmed left, I noticed a vase of flowers on a table near my bed. My thinking was becoming more focused. "Do people send flowers to the Emergency Room?" I asked.

Mom and Dad looked at each other with concern. "They moved you to a private room – yesterday," Dad said. "Jim and Sara sent the flowers this morning."

"What day is it?" I asked.

"It's Saturday, Joey," my mom said. "It's the day after Christmas."

I looked at the clock on the wall. It was almost 10:00. I looked out of the window, and I saw that it was dark outside. It was nighttime, and somehow, I had missed more than an entire day!

Mom and Dad stayed for another hour. They seemed relieved that I was talking normally and that the medications were successfully controlling my pain. They left, promising to be back the next morning.

Soon, a Nursing Assistant came in and took my vital signs. As she left, she said, "Someone will empty your catheter bag shortly." I had no idea what she meant.

A male nurse, who looked to be in his early 20's, came into my room and checked my wristband. "Mr. Young?" he asked. I nodded. "My name is Ameen. I'm one of the Nurses on the floor. I'll be taking care of you for the next 12 hours." Then, he asked me a bunch of questions and wrote my answers down in the chart.

"Looks like you banged yourself up pretty good," he said. "But, congratulations! I hear you're going to live."

"Well, that does beat the alternative, doesn't it?" I quipped.

Ameen changed the dressing on my head. I was quite upset by the amount of blood on the bandage he removed. "How bad is it?" I asked.

"You've got a big cut on your forehead, and it's quite swollen. But, I've seen worse," Ameen said. "No need for you to worry. We're experts at wound care. We'll have you ready for the runway again in a jiffy."

I was confused. "You mean I'll be able to go running again?" I asked.

Ameen laughed. "No, Silly!" he said. "I mean we'll get you ready to go back to your modeling work, you know – walking down the runway with all the cameras flashing."

Maybe my mind was going fuzzy again; I really didn't understand what he meant. Ameen must have seen the puzzled look on my face.

"I'm teasing you!" he said. "Because you're so cute, you know, you should be a model."

I was totally embarrassed! I felt like crap, and this guy was flirting with me! "Are you supposed to tease with your patients like that?" I challenged. I meant it as a rhetorical question and as a clue that I wanted him to stop. I was surprised when he answered me back.

"No, I'm not," he said with an impish smile. "It's totally against hospital policy. But, I'm very good at figuring out who might object – and who won't."

I quickly changed the subject.

"The last lady in here said you were going to empty a bag. What does that mean?" I asked.

"Well. I'm sure you know what a catheter is," Ameen said. "The bag is where the urine collects. When it gets full, we empty it. We're required to measure how much fluid you've passed, and we record it in the chart – so we know if everything is working normally."

I wasn't sure what Ameen was telling me, but it sounded pretty bad. "I don't know what a catheter is," I said.

Ameen looked surprised. Then, his facial expression changed. He seemed amused. "Oh," he said. "Well, it's a tube that we insert to drain your urine – so that you can pee without having to get up and go to the bathroom."

"Insert – where?" I asked hesitantly.

Ameen tried to cover his mouth so that I wouldn't see him stifling a laugh. Finally, he said, "It's inserted into the urethra, up to the bladder."

"You mean I've got a tube up my dick?!?" I was appalled - and humiliated. I could feel my face getting hot, and I'm sure I was flushed.

"I'd better show you - in case you have any questions," Ameen said. He lifted the covers off the bed and folded them to the side. I saw a tube coming out from the bottom of my hospital gown. Ameen pulled up the gown, and sure enough, the tube went straight into the slit on the head of my penis!

Ameen covered me up. "It a very common procedure," he said. "Nothing to be embarrassed about. You were asleep when they put it in. Just don't try to remove it yourself. It's held in place by a couple of tiny little things that look like water balloons. Pulling the catheter out yourself could really cause damage. It should only be removed by someone who knows what they're doing."

I heard Ameen fooling around with something on the lower part of the hospital bed. Then, he went into the bathroom. A minute or so later, I heard him flush and then wash his hands. When he came back, he reattached the bag somewhere below the bed, and he wrote in my chart. He checked to make sure I had my call button. "Just let me know if you need anything," Ameen said as he left my room.

I fell asleep pretty quickly after that. I was partially aware that someone came into my room during the night to recheck my vital signs.

I was surprised early the next morning when I woke up to see Dr. Ahmed and a group of young doctors in my room. Dr. Ahmed was explaining to them what had happened to me. "Let's take a look at the head wound. Dr. Preston, remove the bandage, please."

A pretty, blond doctor came over to me. "Hi," she said. "I'm Dr. Preston. May I have a look at your forehead?"

I nodded, and she unwrapped the bandage quickly. As soon as she pulled it free, I felt warm blood rolling down my face.

"He's bleeding!" Dr. Preston exclaimed. She pressed the old bandage over my wound until one of the other doctors brought her a fresh dressing.

Ameen came into the room. He took over wrapping my head and wiping the blood off of my face. All of the doctors left – without even speaking to me.

"Don't worry," Ameen said. "The Resident just pulled off a scab from your forehead. She'll learn to be more careful. You're fine."

"Thanks," I said. "I'm glad you came in when you did."

"That's why I'm here, Mr. Young," Ameen said.

"Please, call me Joel," I told him.

Ameen smiled. "Dietary should be here soon with the breakfast trays. My shift is over, but Jaquisha will take over for me. She'll be in soon to check on you and see if you need anything."

The hospital breakfast food left much to be desired, and I left most of it untouched. All morning long, a stream of technicians and clinicians came and went from my room. They all checked my wristband, and most of them asked the same questions as the previous ones. That was starting to get on my nerves. "Don't these people read my chart – or talk to each other?!?" I thought to myself.

I was very happy when my mother came into the room. I gave her an unusually long hug, and I told her how glad I was to see her. She seemed delighted with how pleased I was that she came to visit. She asked lots of questions about how I was feeling and about how members of the staff were treating me. I assured her that all was good – well, except for the food. She said Dad had been called into work. "He'll be by later," she said. "And, Jim and Sara told me that they'd be stopping by - with a surprise."

We talked for a full two hours, despite constant interruptions by housekeeping, dietary, and the clinical staff. I learned that the lady who came to take my blood was called a Phlebotomist. My mother was surprised at how many vials of blood she collected.

As my mother was getting ready to leave, she said, "Oh, I almost forgot. One of your friends from Oberlin called."

"Mitch?" I asked.

"No, Adam," Mom said.

"What'd he say?" I asked, trying not to show any excitement.

"He just wanted to wish you Happy New Year," Mom said. "He was really upset when I told him you were in the hospital. I gave him the hospital's phone number. I said he could reach you through the operator. I hope that's okay. I asked him to wait until later in the afternoon – to give you time to rest this morning."

"Yeah, that's fine," I said. I asked Mom to roll the night table closer to my bed, just in case I needed to answer the phone.

Jim and Sara arrived a few minutes after someone brought my lunch. I was glad to push aside the cold mashed potatoes covered with thick, yellow gravy. I was more than happy to skip the dry Salisbury steak that was burned on one side. And, passing up on the soggy, canned green beans wasn't a problem, either.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Jim joked as he came in the room. "You're supposed to open the parachute before you hit the ground – not after!"

Jim and I always tried to top each other's jokes. "True," I replied. "But more importantly, never let your best friend pack your chute!"

Sara came over and kissed me on my cheek. "How are you doing?" she asked.

I told Jim and Sara about what had happened and that I was feeling better. We talked for about half an hour, mainly comparing notes about life at Michigan State and Oberlin. It was so nice to visit with long-time friends. We had a great time. And then, their surprise walked into the room.

"Mrs. Weber!" I shouted. "Oh my God! I can't believe you're here!" Mrs. Weber was the coach of my high school debate team the year we won the State of Michigan championship.

Mrs. Weber gave me a big, motherly hug. "I'm so glad you're going to be okay," she said. "You scared the hell out of all the people who love you!"

I felt an immediate sense of comfort from Mrs. Weber's words. I had been feeling sorry for myself. I had let myself believe that everyone I loved would eventually leave me. But with one hug and a few kind words, Mrs. Weber had reassured me that wasn't true. Romantic relationships may come and go, but real friends don't leave each other – regardless of distance or time.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit with Jim, Sara and Mrs. Weber very much longer. A transporter from the hospital staff came in and said that he had to take me for a CAT scan. So, I said a quick goodbye to my friends, and I took a ride on a gurney down to Radiology.

I was back in my room and taking a nap when the phone rang. "Hello?" I said, still half asleep.

I heard Adam's voice, and my heart skipped a beat. "Oh my God, Joel!" he said. "Are you okay? What happened? Why didn't someone call me to let me know that you were hurt?"

"It was just a fall," I told Adam. "I was out running with my dad, and I sprained my ankle. I wound up falling, and I've got a knot on my forehead. But the doctors think I'll live – well, at least through the holidays."

"Don't joke around like that!" Adam chastised me. "Falls can be dangerous, and I was scared to death when your mom told me you were in the hospital!"

I really didn't want Adam to be upset. But I must admit, I was pleased that he still cared enough about me to be so concerned.

"Can I come to see you?" he asked.

"From Paris?!?" I questioned. There was silence on the other end of the phone.

I didn't mean to use a term of endearment. Adam and I were, after all, officially on a break from our relationship. But, I was concerned that something was wrong. "Babe, what's going on? Is everything okay?" I asked.

I heard Adam sigh. "I was only in Paris for one day," Adam said. "My grandfather died. We're back in Kentucky. The funeral was this morning."

"Oh, Adam!" I said. "I'm so sorry!"

"He had pancreatic cancer," Adam said. "I know I didn't tell you about that. I'm sorry."

"Adam, you can always tell me as much or as little as you choose," I said. "There's no need to be sorry just because you weren't ready to talk about something like that. How are you holding up?"

Adam's voice cracked as he spoke. "I had hoped that one day – maybe - he'd be able to accept who I am, and we could be close again. But now, that's never going to happen." By the time he finished his sentence, Adam was fighting back tears.

I felt terrible for him, but I didn't know what to say.

"The last thing he ever said to me, at Thanksgiving," Adam said as he struggled to talk. "He … he called me a faggot and told me to get out of his house …and … never come back."

I tried to console Adam, but it was hard to do that over the phone. I told him how sorry I was. I reminded him that his grandfather had been raised in a different time – when most people were taught that homosexuality was a hateful sin and that gay people should be condemned. I told him he was a gifted artist and a wonderful person – someone who deserved to be respected and loved.

I heard Adam take a deep breath. "Do you still love me, Joel?" he asked. "Even after I treated you so bad?"

"Of course I still love you, Adam. Yeah, you acted like a jerk – and you broke my heart!" I said. "But I still love you."

"I knew I wasn't treating you right, Joel," Adam said. "It was awful. It was like a bad movie that wouldn't end. I saw myself acting crazy – and how I was hurting you. But, I couldn't stop. I wanted to; I really did. But, I couldn't find my way out. It was like I was standing behind a wall – a thick wall of glass. I could see what I was doing. I could hear the mean things I was saying to you, but I was on the other side. I couldn't get through the glass to stop myself."

"It was a manic episode, wasn't it? I asked.

"Yeah, but I'm back on my meds now," he said. "I think it's getting better, but my grandfather dying didn't help. And then when I found out you were in the hospital, I thought I might lose you, too."

"So," I said. "Are we still on a break?"

"Well, I know that I broke your heart," Adam said. "And then, you tried to break your head open on some concrete. I think we've had enough breaks. So, I'd like to get back together – if you'll give me another chance."

"Of course I will," I said. "I love you, Adam. I want us to get back together."

"I love you, too," Adam said. "And, just so you know, I didn't mean it when I said we should see other people. I promise; I stayed completely faithful to you."

I felt adrenaline shoot through my body. I thought Adam had been serious about seeing other people while we were taking a break from one another. Adam hadn't been with anyone else, but I had been with Komiko. I started to feel guilty.

The little voice in my head yelled at me. "Don't you dare feel guilty! You had every right to make love with Komiko. If Adam hadn't said what he did, you wouldn't have done it!"

I considered telling Adam about Komiko and me, but I decided against it. "Change the subject – quickly," I thought to myself.

"Okay, I said. "We'll be back at school in a week, and until then, we can look forward to some – reconciliation intimacy."

"Call it by its name, Joel!" Adam teased. "You want makeup sex, don't you?"

"Yeah!" I answered. "And, lots of it!"

"We don't have to wait a whole week, you know," Adam said. "I can drive up and see you?"

As much as I didn't want to, I told Adam he shouldn't come up to Detroit. "I don't know when I'm getting out of the hospital, and my parents will be hovering all over me when I get home. You should be with your family now. I'm sure they need you, just like you need to be with them. Adam, your parents and your brothers accept you for who you are. And, they love you. Focus on that. You guys need to support each other at a time like this."

Reluctantly, Adam agreed with me. We ended the call, reassuring each other of our love as well as our desperate need to reunite – emotionally and physically.

Later, my parents came back to visit me, and Dr. Ahmed stopped by – with good news. He was releasing me from the hospital the next day. Dr. Ahmed said my anemia was caused by a Vitamin B12 deficiency, and he was starting me on a therapeutic regimen of shots and pills. He said my injuries were healing and that as long as I cared for my head wound, rested my ankle, and took my medications, I should be able to return to school after the holidays.

Later, Ameen removed my catheter, and Physical Therapy set me up with crutches and a big boot for my right foot.

When I got home, my mother oversaw my care – as if I were a child incapable of doing anything for myself. Jim and Sara visited me every day. I got my grades in the mail. I had a 4.0, and my parents were elated. The rest of my Christmas vacation flew by. Since I couldn't put any weight on my ankle, I couldn't drive. My dad had to take me back to Oberlin. He said he'd keep my newly rented parking space so that I could use it after spring break.

As we neared the exit to the Oberlin campus, I felt almost giddy. I couldn't wait to see Adam again!

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