Alone in this room...
Hand pressed to the cold dark screen
What did I do wrong?
After that, Jerry and Matt began to spend some of their nights together. Matt never wanted those nights to be at Jerry's house, feeling that Jerry's moving there was a surrender to their parents, to the farming community they'd grown up in. Matt's own place, being an apartment, seemed more city-like to him, a step in the right direction.
Matt never went to Thursdays, which he regarded as stifling and geriatric. But he did go to bars in Buffalo, as close as he could get to the bright lights. Now he dragged Jerry along with him, more than an hour's drive. Late afternoons, he'd stop by Jerry's office, enthusiastically pack Jerry into his car, and surprise him with some new restaurant, followed by a night of clubbing.
One night, at one of these clubs, a number ended and there was a pause as the DJ made an announcement. Jerry was sweaty, something he hated when he had clothes on. He looked around and noticed a guy who'd caught his eye earlier. The guy, standing alone out of the flow of traffic, by a wall, watched Jerry and his partner with a smile. Not necessarily a flirtatious smile. Nor precisely an amused smile. Just a smile.
Jerry was too impatient at that moment to play eye games with a stranger, and anyway he was with Matt. He was tired after a day working and an evening having fun, and didn't look forward to over an hour of driving back on country roads in the dark with the windows closed against the winter air. He wished he were already home--his own home, not Matt's apartment--expending his remaining energy vigorously having sex, then collapsing, sweaty but naked, into Matt's arms.
Still, he knew how much these evenings in the city meant to Matt. He wanted to make Matt happy. He was determined to do what was expected, gracefully, cheerfully.
A little later, Jerry again saw the guy with the smile. The guy looked about Jerry's age. He was as tall as Matt, but slender. His beautifully sculpted face and trim body made him look elegant, though he dressed plainly in Levi 501s, a dark, solid-colored T-shirt, and a black cord around his neck with an HRC equal-sign pendant. He was talking to a very hot guy with an open shirt. He seemed to politely express disinterest, smiling but shaking his head negatively.
Finally, Matt stopped dancing and asked Jerry if he wanted to take a break and have another drink.
"You go ahead and have a drink, Matt. I'm okay."
As Matt asked Jerry if he was sure, the guy came over to them. "Matt!"
Matt turned to him. "Luca!"
"Jerry, this is my friend Luca. He teaches high school here in the city."
Jerry gave a little yelp, "High school?" Then he laughed.
Luca said. "Don't you approve of high school?"
"Teachers didn't approve of me. I was a real screw-up." Then, embarrassed, suddenly feeling insecure, he continued, "In fact, I left school early and never finished."
Luca replied gently, "Maybe it was their fault. Teachers tend to just act morally superior all the while they're bludgeoning their subject into you. Teaching requires imagination."
Jerry looked at Luca, grateful for his apparently genuine supportiveness. Jerry opened up and gave Luca his shy-but-warm smile.
Matt interrupted. "Just to answer your next question, Jerry, Luca is indeed an ex. But, whatever he may think, you've got nothing to worry about. I'm with you."
Luca was surprised Matt thought Luca might want to get back together with him. In fact, now, looking at the two, Luca knew which he'd be interested in. Perhaps if it were a simple matter of attracting a guy across the noise and distance of a dance club floor, then Matt, with his lean muscles and his All-America looks, was a better catch than Jerry. But Luca had seen something in Jerry's smile, a look in his eyes, that meant Jerry could be better than just a catch.
Luca spoke to Jerry sincerely, "I won't come between you two."
Matt was proud of having Jerry again after losing him for so many years. "Jerry was my boyfriend in high school. Nothing is going to separate us."
Luca could see that Jerry didn't like Matt's assertion of ownership. He told Jerry, "What Matt and I had together was great, but it's over."
Matt said, "Jerry and I will be moving to the city. We're just waiting until he sells his house. I rent an apartment so I'm free to leave whenever I want. Probably not just Buffalo. We'll go to New York or maybe San Francisco or Oregon."
The three talked while Matt had another drink.
On the drive back to Castile, Matt was quiet. Usually, while the more sober Jerry drove, Matt would chatter, recalling details of what they'd seen that evening, storing it all carefully in his knowledge of clothing, of music, of gay and partially gay guys, of who was seeing whom. But having run into Luca made Matt stare out the darkened car window and think. It reminded him that he'd never had trouble attracting seriously good-looking men, even exceptional ones like Luca whom everyone was after. He'd had several relationships that made people notice him. Why then was someone like Jerry, more average, so hard for Matt to get? Even that was a funny thing to say. Matt shouldn't need to "get" Jerry; he supposedly already had him. They were in an ongoing relationship.
So Matt was thoughtful now, riding in the car. He placed his hand on Jerry's leg and then smiled back when Jerry's face turned to him.
Matt hated Jerry's lack of involvement. Jerry was polite and even actively considerate. He wanted sex with Matt and was passionate every time he was pushed beyond a certain invisible point. But he never used the word 'love.' He never acted like he'd be lost if Matt went away. Matt knew how lost he himself had been without Jerry, how he needed to ensure they never separated again.
It was Jerry who broke the silence. "Luca's a nice guy."
"Yeah, he is. We were fine together while it lasted."
"I'm glad we met him tonight."
"A high school teacher." Jerry laughed uncomfortably.
Matt didn't worry that Jerry might not really love him, that they might not be right for each other--the way that, for example, Matt and Luca hadn't been right for each other. Matt saw the problem more as one of getting the stubborn, secretive, unpredictable Jerry to admit what he really wanted, so they both could get on with the happiness of their lives.
Matt's thoughts recurred to the idea of moving away. Jerry's childhood had been so screwed up, and Matt's too. Matt was convinced if they were away from farmland their lives would make sense, they'd know what to do, they'd care for each other. Reassured by this thought of the future, and tired now, Matt quietly smiled to Jerry. "Be great when we finally sell your mom's house, get away. Be in New York City. On our own."
Jerry smiled back gently. But he didn't make any gesture or sound that might be an agreement.
In Batavia they picked up Matt's car at Jerry's office, and then they returned to Castile, following together separately, silently in the night.
More weeks passed without Jerry finding a buyer for his house. The snow left and spring came.
In April, Matt was forced to move to a different apartment. One afternoon, as they drove up to Matt's place, they saw the landlord's car parked in front. It had a bumper plaque showing the symbol of a fish with the word "Jesus" scrunched inside it.
The landlord, Ron, was working in the yard as his young daughters played. He said, "Oh, so there you two are."
"Why? Did you need me for something?"
"You faggots going upstairs to fuck?"
Matt's rage was instant. "Yeah, hetero, maybe we are. Or maybe just suck each other off in the shower."
Jerry, astonished that Ron would use that language in front of his own children, squeezed Matt's wrist tight to warn him to keep quiet. He replied levelly, "What Matt does in privacy is his own business."
"Not in my apartment."
"Matt's apartment. He pays his rent."
"I knew you were a fag, but I never believed a man like Matt would let you turn him. People see you prancing in and out, all kissy together."
"We never kiss in public."
"But you kiss in private. Do you kiss his ass hole? Stick your tongue in it? Disgusting shit! Flaunting your disease. You've got until the end of the month. Get out. Both of you."
Jerry's lawyers could have fought it, and Matt was eager to have them tear Ron apart. But it seemed easier to Jerry to get Matt another apartment, ignore longstanding pain, and move on. So he found Matt a place in a new apartment complex.
All along, Jerry had known that his mother's house would be hard to sell. There wasn't much market for farmhouses even when the farms were working. He might move it faster if he lowered the price, but he didn't care to just give it away for practically nothing.
In June, a buyer did appear, a young guy about to marry who was energetic enough to put the farm back in order. Jerry brought the couple out and showed it to them. They liked it and saw its potential; but each time they remarked that some feature of the house or of the land was nice, Jerry recognized that he too had always thought that feature was nice. And he recalled other nice things that the couple didn't notice.
They made Jerry a fair offer, just a little below his asking price. He figured he had no choice but to take it, and he planned to. As he started to tell them, though, he choked up. Instead of accepting, he turned them down and evaded giving any explanation. He offered to show them other farms, but they were too angry.
After they left his office, Jerry removed the listing from the computer, taking the house off the market. When he got home, he dug up the 'For Sale' sign and tossed it in the trash.
He had been careful not to tell Matt about the couple's interest in the house, and now he was glad. It would be a while before he needed to admit to Matt that the house was no longer for sale.
Still, though, he didn't fix the house up beyond some basic repairs he made to keep it sound. He liked the house the way it was--better than the rehabilitation the couple had planned. And Jerry also still didn't press Matt to spend time there. He continued sleeping in his old room, apart from Matt, a few nights a week.
The blowup with Matt finally came one evening in July, just after eating dinner at Janice and Carl's house.
Matt didn't want to visit them. He found Janice and Carl too domestic, too much like figures in the nightmares he'd lived as a closeted homosexual teenager, surreal waking dreams in which his parents, his minister, his teachers, his friends relentlessly pressured him to want girls, to marry one. Matt couldn't understand how Jerry, whose idea of Hell would be to resemble his parents, could tolerate Janice and Carl.
Jerry did hesitate about his regular dinners with them--but not for the reason that Matt thought. What made it hard for him was accepting that Janice and Carl liked him and cared what happened to him. They enjoyed seeing him. They were happy to take him on his own strange terms, and that made him nervous.
The trigger for the argument between Jerry and Matt was insignificant.
Carl mentioned having seen Ron, the landlord who had evicted Matt, in the hardware store.
Matt blew up instantly. "Damned hetero."
Janice looked worried, and, with Jerry's help, she took the kids to their bedrooms.
Carl looked at Matt across the table and said gently, "Janice and I are heterosexuals. Ron's problem isn't that he's straight; it's that he's an ass hole."
Matt was embarrassed by the hurt feelings he'd caused, too much so to be able to back down. He glared at Carl and stood.
Carl tried again. "Matt, I know it hasn't been easy for you being gay. Or Jerry. But we're on your side. Lots of people are on your side."
By then Jerry had returned. After saying good night to Carl, he took Matt outside.
Matt stopped him just past the door. "What the fuck do you want, Jerry?"
"Those people are my friends."
"They deserve respect."
"What good are they?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't need their fucking heterosexual pity, or condescension, or whatever the fuck it is."
The argument probably would have ended there. It wasn't that serious. Jerry knew Matt was sorry for what he'd said, and he was also aware that Matt had been patient about agreeing to dinner with a married couple. Probably they just needed to return to Matt's, have sex, and tomorrow call Janice and apologize.
Matt stood by the car in front of the house, holding his keys in his hands, wanting to hug Jerry but refusing to budge. "Look," he said, "I only want you to sell your house so we can move away to someplace real. Someplace where we don't have to remember any of this."
"My house isn't for sale."
"I took it off the market. I want to live there."
"You told me you were selling. You promised. So we could get out together."
"It's no longer for sale."
"When? We need to escape."
"I'm not selling."
"Go away together. You always promised me. Belong to each other. You promised."
For months, Jerry had consciously forced himself to accept the role of being a good boyfriend. Coming after that, the claim that he might have made Matt any obligating final promise gave him claustrophobia. "It's none of your fucking business what I do with my own house. I can do what I want."
"You took the house off the market without even telling me? What kind of boyfriend are you?"
Jerry's constriction grew tighter. It was hard to breathe. His panic intensified. "Get off me."
"I've never set foot in your mother's house once since we've been together again."
Irrationally, Jerry growled, "Get your hands off me." This was despite the fact that they weren't physically touching and were separated by four feet of ground.
"Don't touch me."
"Janice and Carl can hear you. We're right under their window."
Jerry stood there.
Matt gave Jerry a look of agony. "You don't really want to move to the city with me, do you? Ever? You're staying home."
"I'm not your boyfriend, your belonging."
"You mean you'll never admit it, never just enjoy what we have together, be happy. You're so fucked up. Always were. That's why you went away. You ran, but only made it as far as Batavia. Instead of really running away from home, you ran away from me. You want sex from me again, so long as it's momentary each time. I keep imagining we're in love; but I'm the only one in love here. You're so fucked."
Jerry stared. He saw something in Matt's face change.
Matt resumed, "Well, I don't need to be fucked too, along with you. I'm out of here." He unlocked the car door on his side, got in, and drove off.
With Matt no longer there to anger him with his demands, Jerry's irrationality drained away. He calmed. He knew that Matt had made a decision, and he felt its impact settle in. But, even though Jerry recognized he'd been irrational in provoking Matt to break up with him, he found he had no real desire to change Matt's mind.
He turned to walk down the road, toward Matt's apartment where Jerry had left his car, four miles away. Soon a car came up from behind and slowed to a stop beside him. Carl called out, "You walking? Or want a ride?"
Jerry got in. He smiled to Carl. "Yeah, I could use a ride. Thank you."
Carl put the car in motion. "No prob."
"You heard it all, huh?"
"You want to go ahead and say Matt's right about me?"
"It's not up to me to make such judgments."
Jerry chuckled. "I do historically seem to have commitment problems, letting myself get close to people."
"That could be said."
"I didn't want to sell the house."
They drove in silence. Jerry knew that the house wasn't really the issue--that, in fact, he wasn't all that sure how long he wanted to continue living in the house.
Jerry spoke up. "Of course, there is the alternative interpretation that I don't commit to Matt because he isn't the right guy for me, not to live a lifetime with. Maybe I would be able to commit--with someone else."
Carl smiled and, keeping one hand on the steering wheel, put his other one on Jerry's shoulder. "There is always that possibility."
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