Chapter Ten – The Virginia Mountains

It had been two months since David came home from his disastrous trip to Los Angeles. He had resumed his teaching schedule after spring break with resignation but little enthusiasm. His heart simply wasn’t in it. He went through the motions, and because his long years of teaching experience had given him a firm foundation, his students noticed nothing unusual. At home he tended his garden and kept to himself. He had seldom attended the social events that were part of the university’s yearly calendar though he would occasionally make an appearance at some of the more important gatherings. But now even those rare appearances were more than he could handle.

Nate had called and sent messages nearly constantly after he had returned to Virginia, but David had deleted them unread and unheard. Hearing Nate’s voice would have destroyed what little was left of his inner balance. Eventually he put Nate’s number on a ‘restricted’ list simply to avoid the pain of having to see and remove his messages. He knew Nate wanted him to reconsider. He knew he was choosing to turn his back. But he had come to believe that their romance could never survive Nate’s chosen career goals or his own inner demons.

It was possible that Nate might have declined the offer if David had continued to insist. But David refused to stand in the way of Nate’s success. He saw no resolution to their problems other than to accept the painful reality and go their separate ways.

In addition to his heartbreak over their shattered romance, David was also struggling to cope with the lightning bolt of self-awareness that had struck him on that awful day in Los Angeles. He couldn’t forget his devastating reaction to Nate or the emotional breakdown that followed it. The experience haunted him day and night. He see-sawed between nights of crippling insomnia and days when he slept nearly all the time. He tried to pull himself out of his despair, to convince himself that he would be fine. But nothing seemed to help. Even being with his daughters was difficult and he found himself looking for excuses to cancel their weekend visits.

Aware that he was in a downward spiral of depression, he began seeing a psychologist, Doctor Deena Mallory, a friend from the university who agreed to counsel him privately. They had only met a few times, but it was clear even from these early sessions that David had been suppressing almost all of the pain he had suffered as a child.

Darkness had always been a part of David’s psyche. He’d spent years trying, unsuccessfully, to combat his inner shadow without really understanding why it was there. “I’ve felt as though I were living in a black hole,” he told his counselor. “Especially since that day with Nate.”

Slowly Dr. Mallory was helped him peel away layer after layer of defenses which kept him from true awareness of how his relationship with his father had affected him. Long held-in anger and hatred toward his father surfaced, sometimes provoking bitter outbursts. And though he knew it was irrational, he even found himself blaming his long-dead father for his breakup with Nate. Sorting out these conflicting feelings was the main focus of his therapy sessions.

Today was Saturday, so there was no session. But David had set himself an even more difficult task, one which both he and Dr. Mallory had agreed was necessary. He was going to talk to his daughters about his homosexuality and about his relationship with Nate. For days, he had been mulling over the best way to present the situation and had finally concluded that simple honesty was the only correct approach.

He took them out to lunch and for a brief walk in the park, then they returned to David’s home. He prepared lunch for both he and the girls and then he sat them down in the living room for a chat. “I have something I’d like to discuss with both of you,” he told them, sitting in a chair facing the couch where both his daughters were waiting, watching him curiously. He drew in a deep breath. “Do you know what it means to be homosexual?” he queried tentatively.

“Dad!” Deborah, his thirteen-year-old said with some irritation. “It’s being gay! Everyone knows that.”

“Do you understand what that means, Sarah?”

“Sure, Daddy. We have a gay teacher.”

David’s mouth fell open. “I didn’t know that,” he said, in some surprise.

“It’s Mr. Jenkins,” Sarah added in a bright, chipper voice. “He’s nice.”

“Well then, since both of you know so much about this it’ll be easier for me to tell you what I need to tell you.” He swallowed nervously and drew in a deep breath.

“Are you gay, Dad?” Deborah asked curiously.

David was somewhat stunned, but recovered quickly. “What would you think if I were?”

“I don’t care,” Deborah said with a small shrug. “Is that why you don’t have a girlfriend?”

“I am gay, yes,” David said, barely managing to get the words out.

To his surprise, both his daughters looked more bored than shocked. They both stared at him as if waiting to discover the real reason he wanted to talk to them and for a moment he couldn’t think of what to say next.

“Is that why you had that book?” Deborah asked at last. “To learn about being gay?”

“Well, sort of,” David said. “But there’s another reason too. There was someone I liked. A man. I wanted to learn about being gay so I’d know how to treat him in ways that  he’d like.” He hesitated feeling discomfort and embarrassment wash over him in waves. “And I apologize for not telling you this at the time, Deborah. I wasn’t sure if you were old enough to understand and I wanted to protect you. I see now that I was wrong. You’re very mature young lady.”

“So do you have a boyfriend, Daddy?” Sarah asked, seeming to find this topic moderately interesting.

“No,” David said, trying not to let his pain reflect in his face. “Things didn’t work out. But he was a very, very nice man nonetheless.”

“What’s his name? Will we ever meet him?” Deborah asked. “What’s he look like? Is he cute?”

David drew in a deep breath. Jesus, he thought, amazed at the turn this conversation was taking “His name is Nate. And no, I don’t think you’ll ever meet him.” He hesitated then added with a small smile. “And, yes. He’s very handsome.”

“Is that all you wanted to tell us?” Deborah asked, inching toward the PlayStation 4.

“Only this,” he added. “I want you to know that it’s perfectly alright to tell your mother about this conversation and that she should call me if she has any questions. Can you do that?”

They both said that they could, and began to play their favorite game, ignoring him entirely.

David walked into his bedroom and closed the door. He sat on his bed, trembling from the effort of remaining composed throughout the conversation, astounded by how blasé his daughters were to his revelation. He had no doubt that his ex-wife would be less so, but he was fully prepared to deal with her honestly.

“Well,” he muttered to himself, “one hurdle down. Only ten thousand more to go.”

***

Three thousand miles away, Nate was absorbed in completing the requirements for his PhD. Once the prospectus had been accepted, he spend most of his time building toward the 60,000 words necessary to complete his dissertation. It was a huge challenge but once it was finished there was only the approval process to go through and he had his PhD. “Dr. Nate Reese,” he said scornfully. “Means about as much to me as any of my other titles.”

He drew in a deep breath and leaned back from his computer. Two months, he thought. It’s only been two months. There was never a moment in Nate’s day, not even when he was completely buried in his PhD preparations, that the thought of David was far from his mind. He’d given up trying to call or text him. It was clear that David was not going to respond and at this point Nate didn’t know what more he could do.

He had told Lance the day after David left that he would not be taking on the feature film. Lance had been disappointed and a little angry. But like the good guy he was, he didn’t make Nate pay for it by taking away any of his projects or reducing his influence on the Paramount lot. Nate appreciated this, but was also very aware that no one else in Lance’s stable of production staff had either his skills or his complete dedication to whatever work to which he was assigned.

As far as Nate was concerned that dedication had slipped more than a little after his upsetting conflict with David. He just didn’t have that ‘fire in the belly’ anymore. He felt ambitious enough to finish his doctorate, but mainly because it would offer him a way to leave the Hollywood career path behind and open up other opportunities. He had even begun to explore various teaching positions at several Los Angeles universities and colleges.

“David would love that,” he mused, reaching to pick up his half-empty wine glass. David. The thought of David burned like a brand. It had been a long time since the word ‘love’ had been part of Nate’s vocabulary. And the one thing he regretted most about his short-lived affair with David is that he hadn’t said those words directly to him, but had kept them hidden in the recesses of his heart. I should have told him, he reproached himself bitterly. Why didn’t I tell him when I had the chance? Now it’s too late.

He didn’t really think it would have made a difference in the long run. He believed the forces that drove David away came more from his own internal conflict than from anything Nate had done or said. It would be nice if knowing that made it easier, but it didn’t. The pain was as sharp and as bitterly real as it had been the day David ran out his door. Their relationship hadn’t been a game or a passing fancy. It has been that once-in-a-lifetime chance and the pain of its loss was a constant companion.

***

In Virginia, David was fielding the expected phone call from Rachel. He had been unsure as to what her attitude might be when he talked to his daughters. But whatever it was he had to face it. He was sick to death of the lies and long-buried secrets that had created so much pain for him.

“Hi, Rach,” he greeted her, seeing her name on his caller ID.

“Hi yourself,” she replied. “I gather you had a chat with the girls today.”

“Yeah,” David said slowly. “I apologize if it was a shock to you, Rach. There are a lot of things you don’t know.”

“David, if you’re referring to your homosexual tendencies, I’ve always known.”

David made no reply. He felt as though he’d been struck by lightning. “You…you,” he stammered finally. “You…”

“I knew,” she said flatly. “There never was a right time to discuss it, or even a real reason to after a whiles. But I suspected it might be becoming an issue when Deb found the book.”

“I apologized to her for not being truthful about it, Rach, and I apologize to you. And believe me when I tell you that my homosexuality was never a…,” he hesitated. “It was never a problem in our marriage.”

“I know you were always faithful, David,” she said quietly. “I know the difference between a faithful man and one who isn’t. I know it all too well.” Her voice was heavy with sadness.

“Rach, is there a problem with…” he hesitated, momentarily forgetting her boyfriend’s name. “With Tom?” he asked at last.

“The engagement is off,” she said shortly. “I caught him cheating not long ago. I’m surprised the girls didn’t tell you.

“I’m sorry, Rach. Sincerely sorry.”

She sighed. “It’s ok, David. I’m fine. I’m better now than I’ve been for a long time, truth to tell. But what about you? Were the girls right? Is there a man in your life? This…Nate that the girls spoke of?”

“No,” David said quickly. “There might have been but…” He hesitated. “It didn’t work out,” he finished haltingly.

“Boy, we can sure pick ‘um,” she teased.

“No,” he told her. “Nate is a great guy. It was just…it just didn’t work out.”

They said a few more words, then hung up. He was relieved that she understood his revelation and surprised to learn that she had long suspected he might be homosexual. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” he mused to himself, “She’s a pretty sharp lady.” He was glad that he’d talked both with his daughters and with Rachel. It fulfilled two of the promises he’d made to himself when this whole thing began.

With those burdens removed he felt better able to move forward with his life and over the next month he was confident that he was making real progress in his therapy sessions. Through the rigorous self-honesty that Deena demanded he was coming to see that he had picked up where his father had left off. Refusing to believe in his own worthiness, he had engaged in behavior that could only be called self-destructive.

Again and again Deena reminded him that he would never be able to sustain real love until he believed himself to be worth loving. His father had taught him that he wasn’t. But his father had been wrong, and had probably suffered from his own feelings of inadequacy.

After awhile he could even talk about Nate with relative calm, although the pain of missing him remained intense. He felt that he was facing his issues and becoming more self-aware but at the same time a shadow of sadness haunted his every step. The loss of Nate was a wound from which he would never recover. He blamed himself for their breakup and, against his analyst’s advice, refused to contact him and attempt any kind of reconciliation.

“But David, why not reach out to him?” Dr. Mallory asked. “If he’s as good a guy as you say, surely he’ll forgive you and take you back. Why go on punishing yourself when you know that very behavior is at the heart of your problems?”

He knew she was right, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to contact Nate. A part of him believed that if he truly loved this wonderful man he could best show it by releasing him to follow his own path.

Dr. Mallory scoffed in frustration. “You’re isolating yourself,” she said sadly. “Setting yourself up as a human sacrifice isn’t a demonstration of love, David. Besides, Nate deserves to make his own decisions. Do you really have the right to decide for him that he’s better off without you?”

And while David saw the wisdom in her words, he still felt a deep reluctance to reach out to the man he loved. Not yet. He didn’t feel he was emotionally healthy enough yet to be the kind of person Nate deserved. David saw it as a gesture of love. Deena simply called it ‘stubborn’.

Now that the university’s spring term was over he steeled himself to face yet another challenge. His family had long owned land in the Southwest Mountains of Virginia not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. When he was a boy his father had built a comfortable cabin there, and the family had often visited during the summer months. It was a comfortable home built of knotty pine, with two bedrooms and a wonderful porch that spanned the width of the house and faced a stunning view of the forested mountains beyond.

David remembered the location as being the scene of many painful confrontations between himself and his father. For that reason, he had seldom gone there, though he had occasionally taken Rachel and the girls to the cabin for brief vacations during the years of their marriage. He paid a local couple to keep the place clean and in good repair.

As part of his therapy, Dr. Mallory suggested that he go there alone and spend time thinking about his father. “Spend some time with the memories,” she suggested. “Look at those painful encounters from the perspective of a grown man rather than as a frightened child. It could help facilitate your healing.”

David had his doubts. Memories of his father’s cruelty often led to panic attacks that came on with little warning and left him shaken to his core. But he had called the caretakers and asked them to prepare the cabin for his visit. At this point he was resigned to going. They had promised to stock the fridge for him and get everything ready.

The cabin held bad memories for him, but there were also good memories associated with it and he packed his car with an awakening sense of anticipation for the trip ahead. The location was lovely, and there were many winding trails to walk along. It would be a peaceful interlude if he could keep unpleasant recollections under control. Dr. Mallory had taught him many new techniques for coping with his panic attacks over the preceding month.

He remembered her counsel during their last session: “David, you haven’t cried in a very long time, not even when your father died. There’s a dark place inside you, a place you’ve feared for years. There’s a hurt little boy hidden there in that dark place who needs to be freed. He needs to step into the light. But understand that when that happens, you’re going to experience a lot of the feelings that have been hidden there in the dark with him for many years. Let them emerge! Let that little boy cry! Don’t be afraid of him. Embracing him will free him. And it will free you.

David believed and trusted her, and he also knew that the fearful resistance he felt at the thought of reconnecting with those feelings was preventing him from becoming a fully healed human being. He was still frightened by the thought of what he might meet at his father’s cabin but he recognized that this was a critical step in his recovery, and he was determined to see it through.

The drive took only an hour and a half, and David enjoyed every minute. The scenery along the way was lovely and being in this environment gave him a feeling of well-being. As his garden did, the sight of these mountains so filled with growing things left him feeling much more optimistic about his trip.

***

In Los Angeles, Nate was preparing for the approval process which was the last step before receiving his PhD. He would be part of what they called a ‘final defense’ during which he would be questioned in detail about his research, his analysis, and his ultimate conclusions. He was pacing and nervous as he waited in the outer office at UCLA for the committee to call him. He had poured himself into achieving this goal with almost ruthless dedication, depriving himself of sleep and food, obsessively sitting at his computer for long hours on end. He had lost weight and was pale from both fatigue and the stress of his undertaking.

Worried, Lance had finally cornered him a few days prior and demanded to know what was wrong. “You look like crap, kid,” he accused in his booming voice. “What’s going on?”

Nate had brushed it off, saying only that school was a bit intense at this point, and Lance had let it go. But even as he spoke, Nate knew he wasn’t telling the big producer the whole story. The aching sense of loss that crushed his chest every time he thought of David dominated his thoughts anytime he wasn’t focused on school. Compulsively pursuing his PhD was his only defense against the open wound that David’s loss had created in his heart.

He told himself he had to get past it. But even as he did, he knew he was kidding himself. He might eventually get used to it. Might come to see it as a wounded part of himself that he had to live with. It might get a bit easier as time wore on. But getting over it was not in the cards. This wasn’t one you got over. This was the one that stuck with you to your dying day, and Nate knew it. He pulled himself together as the committee chairman invited him into the room and steeled his mind to give his ‘final defense’.

To his overwhelming relief, he passed. He had won his doctorate. And later in his apartment he stared at the preliminary certificate curiously. This was it. He was a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in Cinema and Media Studies. He felt his chest expand with sadness as his eyes fixed on the paper that awarded him the PhD he had worked so hard to achieve. What could he focus on now that would take his mind off the broken heart he had carried ever since David left? His sole defense against his pain was gone. What would he do now? He had hoped that this moment would be one of triumph, but it wasn’t. It was his deepest moment of despair since that awful day when David ran out of his apartment. He threw the certificate to the floor.

***

High in the Virginian mountains, David awoke feeling a dawning sense of peace. His time at the cabin had been renewing, much more so than he had believed was possible. Every day he awoke early, drank his coffee, and went outside to wander the various paths that wound here and there throughout the entire vicinity, oftentimes not returning until midafternoon.

He wrote in a journal daily, another recommendation from his therapist, and was slowly coming to terms with some of the more abusive incidents that had occurred here when he was a child. He had been afraid at first that these awakening memories might overwhelm him. He was here alone and the thought of facing those reminiscences without his therapist’s support had been daunting. But he found that his surroundings cultivated a sense of well-being that made facing those realities an easier experience. He was glad that he had come.

Again and again he thought about how much he would have loved to have brought Nate to this place. The beauty that surrounded him while wandering the well-worn trails would have been enhanced ten thousand times if he could have seen it all with Nate by his side. At such times sadness overwhelmed him, and he allowed himself to experience the feelings without restraint or self-criticism. He had suffered a terrible loss. He couldn’t heal until he had faced his grief.

He said Nate’s name again and again, something he had strenuously avoided ever since he returned from Los Angeles, and the very sound of that name on his lips was enough break his heart all over again. He remembered the joy they had shared the one time they had made love; the sense of final completion that had been his when he held Nate in his arms. Loneliness was a constant ache. Not because he was alone at the cabin, but because he was without the one person who had completed him. And because he felt sure that this emptiness and pain would always be with him.

***

On the other side of the continent Nate was being hauled into Lance Barret’s office nearly by the scruff of his neck. “Sit the hell down!” the producer barked at him, shoving him roughly toward a chair.

Nate took a seat but glared at Lance in indignation. “What the hell, Lance?”

The producer leaned toward Nate and jabbed a pointing index finger at him to emphasize every word. “I want to know what’s going on with you and I want to know right fucking now. And you can believe me when I tell you that you’re not leaving this office until you tell me unless you quit or I fire you. Now what’s it gonna be?”

Nate sighed and lowered his head. Most people were completely intimidated by Lance, but Nate had always sensed the soft heart that beat under the gruff exterior. He had, in many ways, treated Nate as a favorite son and Nate had many reasons to be grateful to him.

“Lance, it’s hard to talk about,” he said quietly.

“I don’t give a fuck,” Lance said with a congenial smile. “You’re going to tell me anyway.”

Slowly, and with many stops along the way to gain control of himself, Nate told him the full story of his relationship with David. He felt tears sting his eyes when he spoke of that last day, and finally he sat in silence, able to say no more.

Lance drew in a deep breath. “Kid, I’m sorry,” he said in a kindly voice. “And you say that you’re sure his reaction was because of something in himself that your confrontation made him remember or feel?”

“I’m absolutely convinced of it,” Nate said sadly. “I didn’t know him for long. But, Lance, I know him. I know the kind of man he is. He left because something I said or did triggered some kind of terrible memory. Some kind of terrible pain.” He sat silently for a long moment trying to control the trembling of his hands. Finally he spoke again in a soft voice: “I love him. And I believe he loves me.”

“Well then, what the hell are you doing here?” Lance asked suddenly.

“What?

“Why the fuck aren’t you in Virginia shaking the truth out of him?”

“I tried to call him, but he…”

“Call him!” Lance roared in scornful indignation. “Hell, Nate if he’s as fucked up as you say he is, calling him isn’t going to do jackshit! You have to go there and confront him! Don’t you see that?”

“But I have so much to do here…” Nate began.

“Oh, screw that,” Lance said, waving dismissively. “You’ve got your degree. And as far as these documentary projects go, they’ll do just fine without you for a while. And if it came to it, they’d do just fine without you period. There’s always another associate producer sucking around for work.” He smiled at Nate and walked around his desk to stand by his chair. He laid his hand on Nate’s shoulder. “I like you, kid. I always have. I want to see you happy. And I don’t think that’s going to happen for you here. Go find him. Make him see you. Do it now.”

Nate stared up at Lance, his heart in his eyes. “God, Lance,” he choked. “I’m–I’m just…”

“Send me a card or something,” Lance said gently. “Let me know how you are. I’ll miss you, you little shit.” He grabbed Nate’s arm and lifted him to his feet. “Now go. Get to Virginia!” And he pushed Nate gently toward the door.

Nate wheeled and wrapped his arms around the Lance, hugging him tight, feeling Lance hug him equally tight in return. “Thanks, boss,” Nate said in a halting voice. “I’ll be back.” And he turned quickly and left the office.

As he walked to his car he felt a tiny glint of hope touch his spirit. He’d walked in darkness for so long, but what Lance had said to him just now had awakened the tiny part of him that was capable of believing he might just be happy again. Lance was right. He had to go to Virginia. That was the only way things would ever be right again. He had to do for David exactly what David had done for him. He had to go to him. He had to show him that he loved him and was never going to let him go.

I’ve been laying around here feeling sorry for myself, he thought. It’s time to get off my ass and fight for the man I love.

He made flight arrangements the moment he arrived at his apartment, feeling a sense of excitement and renewal begin to fill the space within him that had known only darkness for weeks on end. You better take it easy, he cautioned himself. Don’t get over-confident. He might not want to see you.

“Fuck that,” Nate said suddenly. “He WILL see me! I won’t leave until he does even if I have stand outside his house and yell his name all night long. He’ll see me, if only to shut me up or to bail me out of jail after I’ve been arrested for disturbing the peace. He WILL see me!”


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