Boy From the High Country

by Arthur Kent

Chapter 18


June 3, 2008

My dear Kelly,

Why do I still write letters, you ask? Because I want you to be able to touch something that I have touched. Email is ephemeral, and it is best used for messages that are ephemeral. You cannot sleep with a digital message under your pillow. You cannot crumple it up and throw it away if it makes you angry. You cannot fold it up and carry it in your wallet ever after, as I have done with the first letter you sent to me. You cannot possess an email.

I'm afraid this letter is going to be one of those sentimental letters that you profess to hate, but that I think you secretly love. But this is a sentimental time, is it not? A good time to review how we came to be where we are, and to think about what comes next. If the language gets flowery, well, that reflects the mood I'm in.

Some days are marked in memory by great sorrow, like the day Nick and Tran were taken from me in Vietnam. Some are marked by great joy, like the day last week when I held my newborn grandson for the first time. And some are marked by both joy and sorrow, so intertwined that both bring pain. Such was the case the day our eight-day journey together came to an end. The pain of parting was such that it would be far easier if the day were forgotten, but the joy of knowing you would also be forgotten, so that far more would be lost than gained.

I will never forget that last night, the night when you placed your pitifully few belongings in your own room, in your own home, the first true home you had ever known, save the one you found in my heart. I will be forever grateful to Bill and Joyce for accepting you, and then for giving us the time to say our goodbyes. We had said hello for the first time in that little Chinook motorhome, and we had a chance to say farewell in the same place. Never had I loved you so deeply, or held you so closely, or clung to you so desperately, or rejoiced with you so fiercely, as on that night. And then we had to part, and I drove away into the night.

I can not forget. I will not forget. That night when I drove away from Bellevue, you wept as though your heart were breaking. Mine was broken as well. We knew it was for the best, we both knew this, but knowing did not bring comfort. Knowing all that I know now of the pain of that parting, I would do it again. Even if we could have only one day of the eight we shared, I would do it again.

Now it has not been eight days, but eight years since we first met. I treasure the memory of the summers we have spent together, and the weekends when you took the train down to Portland, and the times when you and Freddie could come together. What times we have had! We have had many partings, and God willing, we shall have many more.

Bill and Joyce made their choice quickly, and they have never had occasion to regret it. They chose to love you, and fight for you, and nurture you. Now their choice brings them in their turn to a day of mingled joy and sorrow, and for them there is a double portion, for they are losing both their sons, and gaining them.

In a few days you and Freddie will graduate together from the University of Washington. I promise to be there, once more to rejoice with you and weep with you. And a week later, you and Freddie will pledge your undying commitment to one another and register your domestic partnership. I will be there, too, for another occasion to both weep and rejoice. Who would have thought, when you were only fourteen, that the promise you made to him could last so long, could be so true? I still fail to see how permitting you to actually marry would bring the end of civilization as we know it, but perhaps one day the men and women we elect will see the light and an even better day will come for you.** You are entering upon a new adventure, a life that is wholly your own to make, you and Freddie. Build it well, Kelly. Make it count.

I may still write letters in longhand, Kelly, but I am not a Luddite, as you can see from the existence of the thumb drive that accompanies this letter. It contains a book, a book which is my gift to you. I have titled it the Boy from the High Country. It is the story of our summer, the story of our love. Until now, only Annie has read it. She had to know all about us, otherwise our relationship would have been built on a lie. Now she has come to love you as much as I do.

I have learned so much from you. When I first met you, I had closed my heart to the world. I thought that I had been disappointed too many times, and I was determined never to be hurt again. Then there you were, asleep on that picnic table in the high country of Wyoming, and with your smile and with your love you forced my heart's door open.

This is the main thing I have learned, Kelly, the main thing I want to pass on to you. Do not fear to love. But I must tell you the truth, and warn you of the road that lies ahead. If you love people, sometimes they will break your heart. But if you do not love people, you will have no heart to break. If you ever learned anything from me, learn this, for it will bring you the truest kind of happiness a man can know: it is far better to have a broken heart than to have no heart at all. If you have no heart, you are a dead man. It is the pain of your breaking heart that will remind you that you are alive.

Go with God, Kelly.

With all my love to you and Freddie,

Your Uncle Art

Note: In 1974 and again in 2006 the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against gay marriage. In 2007 and 2008 the legislature passed domestic partnership laws, and in 2009 passed what was called the "Everything but Marriage" law. Gay marriage was finally legalized in Washington in 2012, four years after the date of Art's letter. The 2014 US Supreme Court decision forced gay marriage in Oregon, but there is still a ban in the state's constitution, which will take effect if that decision is overturned.]


This story began as a lark, a two-installment throwaway. Kelly was just a generic boy when I started. He didn't even have a name yet, and I had thought of only a few hazy details to distinguish him. But as I began to write, he began to tell his story, and from then on, he was in control. New characters entered the story because Kelly needed them to be there. The fictional me began to do and say things the real me would never have done or said. I began to learn how much depth there was to Kelly. I fell in love with him somewhere around Chapter 4. I will miss him.

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