The last weeks of my first semester at Oberlin didn't exactly go as I had hoped. School work overwhelmed me, and people seemed to push me away. By the time finals were over, I was more than ready to head home to Detroit.
Tom ignored me after we talked at the coffee shop. He had left in a fit of anger when I asked if he had feelings for Peter. I suspected that his animosity toward me was a reflection of his internal struggles regarding his relationship with Peter. Still, when Tom wouldn't even speak to me the next day, it really hurt my feelings. And then, Peter seemed upset with me, too.
"What the hell did you say to Tom?" Peter asked me after classes the following day. "He said he met you at the coffee shop yesterday, and you acted like a jerk. He's been in a foul mood ever since then."
I had promised Tom I wouldn't discuss our conversation with anyone, and I had to keep my word. "I'm really sorry if Tom's upset with me," I said. "I didn't mean to make him mad."
"Well, maybe you didn't mean to, but you did!" Peter said. "You said something to insult him, didn't you?"
"I would never intentionally insult Tom. He's one of my best friends!" I answered.
Peter was growing angrier as we talked. "Just leave us alone, Joel!" he said. "We don't need you around causing problems. And if you have any more questions about Chemistry, figure them out for yourself!"
I was very upset at how mad Peter was at me. I really believed I had done nothing wrong. Apparently, however, I could have handled things better. Maybe I had crossed a line when I asked Tom if he had feelings for Peter.
I decided to take a run on the Oberlin indoor track, so I headed to my dorm to get my running gear. I was surprised to see Adam coming out of Pilgrim Hall. We had planned to meet up later and have dinner together.
"Joel!" Adam said as he walked toward me. "I've been trying to find you. Look, I'm sorry, but I can't meet for dinner tonight. I'm so excited! I've got a great new idea for my final art project – much better – I mean a thousand times better - than that crappy drawing I've been working on. It's due in two days, so I've got to get to work on it. Dr. Wyeth is going to love it! I'm sure he'll help me get it into a real gallery! I can't wait! Okay, see you later."
I felt like I had just been side-swiped. Adam seemed more than excited. He was talking a mile-a-minute, and he hadn't even let me say one word. I couldn't believe he was going to start a new project so soon before finals. Adam had told me that Dr. Wyeth had to approve the concept for all final projects, and I suspected that Adam had not consulted him. But, what did I know? Adam was a gifted artist, and I knew nothing about the artistic process.
I went back to my room and packed my running gear into my gym bag before walking across campus to the Phys. Ed. Building. I changed clothes in the locker room and went up to the running track. There were more people there than I expected. With finals just around the corner, I guess lots of students needed to take a break from studying and get some exercise.
I enjoyed my run, but I got tired much more quickly than I usual did. I had thought that losing weight would help increase my stamina. "I just need to run more often," I told myself.
After about twenty minutes on the track, I showered and went back to Pilgrim Hall. It seemed much colder outside than I remembered.
Mitch, Peter, and Tom were coming out of the dorm just as I was about to enter the building. "We're on our way to dinner," Mitch said. "Go throw your stuff in the room. We'll wait for you."
Both Peter and Tom gave me the evil eye. I knew I wasn't welcome to join them, so I begged off and went back to my room.
I tried to study, but I had difficulty concentrating on my school work. I was really upset that Peter and Tom thought that I had been a jerk. I closed my Chemistry book in frustration after reading for only a few minutes. Then, I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door and saw Adam standing in the hall. He looked agitated.
"Sorry I don't have time for dinner with you," he said as he came into the room and closed the door. "I need to get to work on my new project. I'll have to stay up all night to get it done on time. But, I can't seem to draw right now. I'm too horny! Is your roommate around?"
"No," I said. "Mitch just left for dinner with Tom and Peter."
"Good," Adam said. "Then, we have time for a quickie. All I need is to cum, so you can just jack me off."
Adam's approach to initiating sex made me uncomfortable. I loved having sex with Adam - as an expression of our love and commitment to each other. Tonight, I felt like he was looking for a booty call. Still, I thought that if Adam needed me, I should be there for him. After all, he had given me a much-needed hand-job after I had watched porn with the guys in the dorm. And, I truly loved Adam. A little physical pleasure and release might make it easier for both of us to concentrate on our work.
We sat down on my bed, and I kissed him. He kissed me back as he undid his jeans. He broke our kiss and pushed his pants and underwear down to the floor. He left his shirt on. Adam leaned back and reached for my hand, placing it on his mostly erect cock. "I really need this, Joel," he said. "Go on. Enjoy yourself. I know you love to play with my dick!"
Adam had never talked to me like that before, and I didn't like it. I did, however, start stroking him. I used my saliva as a lubricant, and I began to enjoy the feeling of his cock getting hard in my hand. I wanted Adam to touch me, too.
"Oh, yeah!" Adam moaned. "Good boy! Yeah, you like that dick, don't you, Joel? "Yeah, that's it! Stroke it! Stroke it harder! Get a tight grip on that big dick!"
I wasn't used to Adam being so demanding, and, well ... crass. He was normally gentle and loving, and he usually avoided graphic language.
"Play with my balls!" Adam said as if it were an order.
I loved touching Adam, and I was happy to increase his pleasure by fondling his testicles. I did not, however, like being ordered around. But, I had already committed to satisfying his sexual needs that night, so I complied.
Adam started moving his hips up and down on the bed, in rhythm with my strokes. "Jesus Christ!" he said. "That feels so good! You're better than all the guys at St. Andrew's!"
That comment made me angry. I didn't like being compared to a bunch of jack-off buddies from his boarding school days. I quashed my feelings, however. Now did not seem like the right time to tell him that he was disrespecting me.
I continued stroking him for another five minutes or so before I sensed he was getting close to orgasm. I stopped stroking and started to open his shirt so that he didn't cum on it. "No, don't stop!" he said.
"Don't worry, Adam," I said. "I won't leave you with 'blue balls,' I promise."
I finished opening his shirt, and I went back to working on what felt like my assignment.
"More lube," he said, sounding almost desperate. I licked my hand again and applied more saliva to his cock. I started stroking again. "Oh yeah!" he said. "Faster!" Usually, Adam liked me to stroke him slowly. That night, however, he wanted it fast. Soon, I felt his whole body tighten. He shot a huge load, nearly a foot into the air.
Adam lay on the bed for a while not speaking. Then, he took a deep breath and sat up. He smiled at me. "Not bad," he said in a teasing manner. "For a freshman." He took some tissues out of the box on my desk and cleaned himself up.
"I owe you one," he said as he gave me a peck on the cheek. "See you tomorrow?" he asked.
I wasn't sure if his question meant he really wanted to spend time with me the next day, or if he just wanted to schedule another quickie. I took the high road and gave him the benefit of the doubt. "I'd like that," I said.
"Adam gave me another kiss, on the lips this time. "Later, Love," he said as he opened the door and left.
I felt like I'd been left dangling off a cliff. Adam's behavior stunned me. I had seen him get moody before, but never like this. And until today, he had always satisfied my sexual needs when we were intimate with each other.
Then, it dawned on me. Adam was on medication for manic-depression. I had seen him become very depressed, very quickly. I had not, however, seen him have a manic episode. I suspected that was what was going on with Adam now. Had he gone off his medication again? Was the stress of finals week triggering some kind of gigantic mood swing? I had no idea. I was very worried about him.
But, I had to put that aside – as much as possible – so that I could study. Finals would not wait for me to solve my problems with Adam. I jacked-off to relieve my pent-up frustrations and went back to studying.
Later, Mitch came back to the room. I was concerned that Peter and Tom might have talked about me over dinner, but Mitch said nothing about that. We both knuckled down and focused on our school work for the rest of the evening. I finished my History term paper about 1:00 a.m. Mitch was still studying when I got into bed and fell asleep.
I turned in my paper the next day. Then, I went over to Ms. Sanborn's office to take my last quiz for Religion 101. Sandy, her Administrative Assistant, had it waiting for me. The quiz on the Book of Revelation was easy. I had read the last chapter of the New Testament several times over the years, and I had studied Reverend McAlister's assigned essays on its meaning.
I decided to skip dinner that night. I needed to finish the oratory that I had to present at the campus chapel on Sunday. Fortunately, I only had one more section to write. Then, I could start practicing the delivery.
The last section of my speech didn't fall together easily. My major point was that, as I grew older, my views on church doctrine had changed. Rather than just following the views and beliefs of others, I began to question things for myself. I found that some commonly held Christian beliefs didn't make sense to me. And, many of those traditional teachings seemed to be extremely harsh and judgmental, as well as inconsistent with other sections of the scriptures. Why don't more Christians respect the concept of God from other cultures and religions around the world? How could fundamentalists really believe that Old Testament rituals, such as killing animals as a sacrifice, were performed at the direction of God to demonstrate loyalty to him? How can any religious group feel justified in administering their own forms of discrimination and punishment on people who are gay? Aren't Christians taught in Matthew 7:1 to "Judge not, that you may not be judged?" Maybe I had a naïve, teenage view of these issues, but questioning things was part of my ongoing faith journey.
I wasn't sure how my current skepticism about some Christian beliefs would be accepted by Reverend Stuart, or by the congregation. So, I made sure to use very respectful language. That's why the last section of the oratory didn't come together easily. I had to express my own liberal views, while at the same time, not alienating members of the congregation who held more conservative and traditional Christian beliefs. That was a challenge for me.
I didn't see Adam again for the rest of that week. I was hoping he would read my oratory and give me some feedback, but that didn't happen.
I got to the chapel early on Sunday, and Reverend Stuart greeted me. "Your oratory will be first," he said. "And then there will be one more."
"There's more than one oratory?" I asked.
"Yes," Reverend Stuart said. "I am so pleased! Sean Owens has agreed to compete, too. Oberlin will have two students participating when we host the competition next spring!"
I felt my stomach sink. Sean was the other student delivering an oratory today - and competing against me next spring. Sean hated me. He had pledged to get even with me over the results of our last debate competition almost two years ago. Now, Sean would be battling me again - not only for scholarship money - but for revenge.
As I waited to deliver my speech, I noticed that the pews were practically empty. Adam was not there. Students were probably choosing to get some extra sleep before finals, or maybe they were still cramming. It was fine with me that the Chapel wasn't full. All I wanted to do was deliver the oratory and get the whole thing over with. Well, I also wanted to impress Reverend Stuart enough for him to give me an "A."
My speech went well. There was some laughter when I talked about learning to structure my own prayers as a young child. I also saw some heads nodding as I confessed to questioning church doctrine as I got older. I looked at Reverend Stuart several times, but I couldn't get a read on his reaction. He was stone-faced.
I listened critically to Sean's oratory. He told of a faith journey much different from mine. He described growing more and more inspired by the Bible and the teachings of the Wesleyan Church as he grew older. He talked about his confirmation ceremony as being the highlight of his young life. He spoke of the joy of being accepted at Oberlin, and how he pledged to use the outstanding education he was receiving to help him devote his life to the will of God.
Okay, I admit it. I didn't like Sean's oratory – at all! I don't object to anyone professing his or her devotion to God. But knowing what I did about Sean, I didn't find his story sincere. I had seen him cheat in a debate tournament. I had heard him try to explain away his falsification of evidence as 'some ridiculous technicality.' He was still holding a grudge against me, and he had insulted me publicly. He had even threatened to 'get even' with me. Those didn't sound like the actions of a person who was dedicating his life to God. I thought Sean was only trying to say things that would please his audience.
The rest of finals week was awful! Four nights in a row, I studied until almost 2:00 a.m. All of my exams were tough, and things with Adam got worse.
After my last exam, I was exhausted. I thought I had done well on all of my tests, but I wouldn't find out for sure until grades were mailed to my home the next week.
Despite wanting to throw myself on my bed and sleep, I chose to look for Adam. I hadn't seen him since his 'booty call' earlier in the week. I was worried about him, and I wanted to be with him.
I found Adam in his room packing up for the break. "Hey, Joel," he said. "I was just about to come looking you."
I walked over to him and put my arms around his waist, pulling him in for a hug. "I've missed you!" I said.
"I've missed you, too. Sit down; I have some news," Adam said.
I sat down. "Is it about your art project?" I asked.
"No," Adam answered. "I wasn't able to finish that. Those art supplies that cost me a fortune turned out to be pure crap. Dr. Wyeth agreed to give me an incomplete for the semester. I'll finish my project over the break if I decide…" He stopped and didn't finish his sentence. He just looked at me with a serious expression on his face. I was very confused.
"Look, Joel," he said. "You know I'm going to Paris to see my parents for Christmas. Paris is one of the major art capitals in the world! There's so much there for me! I think I should stay there for a while – maybe even finish my senior year there. After I graduate, maybe I can get an internship at one of the great art museums – like the Louvre!"
"The Louvre?!?" I asked.
"Joel," Adam said. "I had a premonition yesterday. I'm going to be discovered there, in Paris! All I have to do is take the risk. I'm going to become a 'who's who' of the Paris arts community. I'll probably make enough money to have you join me in a few years! You can be my cute boy-date when I open my first gallery!"
The implications of what Adam was telling me began to sink in. He was having delusions of grandeur. He saw himself becoming an instant star in the art world. His artwork was going to make him rich enough to open his own galleries. And then, he would summon me to join him so that I could be his arm-candy around Paris.
I stared at Adam in disbelief. I suspected that his manic episode was becoming worse.
Still, I found the prospect of Adam leaving me to be heartbreaking! I started tearing up, but I refused to break down and cry.
"Joel," Adam said. "I know you'll miss me until I can afford to bring you over. I'm really sorry about that."
"I will miss you, Adam," I said. "Will you miss me?"
"Of course I will," Adam tried to assure me. "It'll take a while, but we can make this work. And, who knows? I might not even stay in Paris. I might come back here. So, don't give up hope."
I wiped my eyes and hung my head down. I wanted Adam to come over and comfort me. But, he didn't move.
"So, this might be goodbye?" I asked.
"Not this very moment," Adam said. "You could stay for a while. I think I owe you one."
Adam's cavalier attitude toward our relationship was beginning to make me angry. To me, we were talking about the possible end of our relationship, and maybe even the end of the love we had for each other. I was devastated by the thought of losing him.
At the same time, however, I was tempted to tell him what I thought about his plans and how he was treating me. But, I realized his manic-depressive disorder was controlling him at that moment. Lashing out at Adam wouldn't help either one of us. And, I didn't want to say something I would regret.
Adam came over and sat down next to me. "Come on," he said. "Let's get in bed! We can both have fun while I pay up my debt." He put his arm around me.
"Don't touch me!" I said. "I'm not in the mood."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Adam snapped. "I can get you in the mood!" He tried to kiss me.
I pushed him away. "Adam, I'm too upset. Stop!"
Adam moved back and glared at me. I could tell he was getting angry.
"Adam, what's going on here?" I asked. "This is all so unlike you. I love you, and I'm worried about you!"
"There's nothing 'going on here,' Joel!" Adam said. "Nothing except me trying to make love to my boyfriend one last time before we both go away for Christmas break - and he's "not in the mood!"
I hesitated before saying anything. I knew Adam was not going to like what I was about to ask. But, I had to know. "Are you taking your medication like you're supposed to?"
Adam's temper blew up. "What the fuck business is that of yours?" he yelled as he stood up and waved his arms in the air. "If I don't want to swallow a bunch of poison pills, I sure as hell won't let anyone make me do it! You're just jealous, Joel! You and everyone else around here; you're all jealous! That's why I've got to get out of here. I'm going places, Joel. I'm going to be a huge success and travel the world! You can't handle that, can you? You're the one with the problem! There's nothing wrong with me, so get that through your head!"
Adam and I stared at each other without saying anything. I thought that if I waited a while, Adam would calm down, and we could talk. But, Adam did not want to talk. He sat down next to me again, and he grabbed my crotch.
I jumped up and turned to face him. "What the hell, Adam?" I said. "You're pushing me away and coming on to me at the same time! No more booty calls! Either we're together, or we can say goodbye – right now. That's up to you."
Surprisingly, Adam didn't react with anger. Instead, he appeared to be considering what I had said.
"Let's not say goodbye," Adam said. "Let's just say 'Arrivederci!' That means 'until we meet again.' That sounds better, doesn't it?"
"Adam," I said. "I don't care how it sounds! I want to know where we stand. Are we together? Are we broken up? I need to know what's happening with us."
"I think we should call it a break," he said. "If I come back to Oberlin, maybe we can get back together. If I stay in Paris, well, I guess we'll have to break up – hopefully, with no hard feelings. We might even hook up again in a few years."
He had answered my question. He wanted a break from me, and our future together was up in the air – with a poor prognosis.
I felt the pain of losing Adam creeping through my body.
"Since you want clarity about where we stand," Adam said. "Being on a break … it doesn't mean that we can't see other people."
It was at that moment – that very moment when I heard him say those last words - that I felt my love for Adam change. I realized that I couldn't trust him with my love. He truly did have a manic-depressive disorder. When he got depressed – he pushed me away. When he was manic – he pushed me away. "His moods change," I thought to myself. "But the reaction is always the same – push me away."
I had to leave. "Okay, Adam," I said. "You and I are on a break. Let me know what you decide about staying in Paris. Have a great holiday."
"Yeah, you too," he said.
Mitch was packing up to go home when I got back to our room. He gave me a questioning look when he saw my puffy red eyes and the look on my face. Then, he guessed what was going on. "It's Adam; isn't it?"
I pursed my lips tightly to help me avoid breaking down. I nodded.
Mitch let out a big sigh. "He broke up with you again, didn't he?"
As calmly as I could, I told Mitch what was going on. "Adam's calling it a break, not a breakup. He says we're free to see other people until we decide to get back together or end our relationship."
"And what did you say," Mitch asked.
I took a deep breath. "What could I say? I wished him a good holiday with his parents, and I left."
"What could you say?!?" Mitch asked. "How about, 'No!' You don't have to put up with being treated like that, Joel. You don't have to agree to 'taking a break.' Tell him you're done with him!"
"But, I love him!" I protested. "I don't want to cut things off if there's still a chance we can be together."
Mitch stared at me with exasperation.
"Okay, okay," I said. "I'll think about it over Christmas."
"Come here," Mitch said. I went over to him. He put his arms around me and hugged me. "Adam doesn't deserve you, and Tom and Peter are totally blowing things out of proportion."
I cringed when I realized that Tom and Peter had told Mitch about our misunderstanding. But then, I decided I should try to take it all in stride. "Well," I said. "At least I've got one friend."
"Oh, yeah?" Mitch teased. "Who's that?"
My Dad picked me up late in the day on the Saturday after finals week. We had a long, quiet drive home to Detroit. I pretended to nap in the car so that I didn't have to engage in conversation. My Dad seemed to understand that I needed downtime, and he turned on the radio and found some soft, instrumental holiday music.
My Mom had the whole house decorated beautifully for Christmas. She wanted to show me everything, minutes after I came through the door. Dad came to my rescue, as he always did. "Joanna," he said. "Joel's exhausted. He tried to sleep in the car all the way home. I think he needs to go to bed. We can talk in the morning."
I hugged both of my parents, and I went up to my room. I got ready for bed as quickly as I could, and I set the alarm so that I'd be up in time for church the next morning. I crawled between the sheets and cried until I finally fell asleep.
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