Alone in this room...
Hand pressed to the cold dark screen
What did I do wrong?
Chapter 6 - The Concluding Chapter
It was October. Indian Summer lingered endlessly, the way it sometimes does in Western New York. The weather was briskly cool: never very cold while it was light, and some days almost warm. The leaves had changed color but they stayed suspended on the trees, with surprisingly few falling to the ground each day. The sun shone brightly through the dense atmosphere, full with color from the leaves.
Every morning, Jerry would look out his bedroom window and then hurry to have his breakfast and go outside, happy to be alive. Each day it seemed impossible that he would be given another day like this. It seemed that this new day would certainly end his run of luck with the weather. But then the next day would, after all, be beautiful again. This went on for weeks.
The time required for driving between Castile and Buffalo continued to keep Jerry and Luca apart more than they wanted. It was especially difficult when Luca was the one to drive. He couldn't get to Castile from work until dinner time. After dinner, Luca corrected his students' papers and completed his lesson plans before he would let himself settle into being with Jerry. When he finished, it was often too late to do anything together except tumble tired into bed and make love. Luca needed to get up early in the morning to arrive at school by 7:30. Still, he insisted on coming to Jerry's at least some days rather than making Jerry always be the one to travel.
Luca liked the old picnic table outside Jerry's back porch. Earlier in the year, when it was still light out after dinner, Luca corrected his papers at it instead of the kitchen table. When the days became too short for that, Luca wanted to have dinner, at least, at the picnic table. He and Jerry would bang in and out through the screen door rapidly, carrying things from the kitchen so they could eat early enough and enjoy the twilight. The table was old, and part of the top had rotted away. The bench on that side was so weakened that Luca and Jerry had to sit on the other bench, huddled together as the darkness fell and the cold came.
Jerry argued that it was better for him to drive to Luca's apartment instead. Jerry's office in Batavia was already almost half way to Buffalo, and the route from Batavia to Buffalo was the faster part, on the Thruway. Jerry could leave his office at 5:00 and when he arrived Luca would be home, doing his schoolwork. Luca would finish up while Jerry cooked dinner. They would eat and then have the whole evening together, perhaps going out. In the mornings, Luca had only a short walk to school, and he could leave much later than he would from Jerry's house.
Jerry didn't have to be at work until 10:00, and his drive to Batavia was not much longer than it was from Castile. So he would laze around Luca's apartment, fix breakfast, read, make the bed, and straighten up. He liked hanging out alone there during the quiet mornings, looking at Luca's family photographs and his things, thinking about Luca. The apartment was pleasant, white, and square. It had large, bright windows and was densely overgrown with green plants that Luca cared for with fanatical devotion. Small, vivid color accents were provided by the dozen or more African violets that Luca was able to keep regularly in bloom. "My grandmother loved African violets," he told Jerry.
Although, in his own apartment, Luca was able to leave later for work, he still wound up rushing. He and Jerry would linger too long in bed, or in the shower together. One morning, Luca was especially late after he and Jerry delayed at the last minute just inside the front door. A simple good-bye kiss developed into an eager 69 on the floor with Luca fully dressed and Jerry wearing only a t-shirt, sliding around on a pile of Luca's school books and papers that had been dropped in the turmoil.
When they came back to reality, Luca looked at his watch.
"Jerry," he said, scooping together his papers. "It's hopeless. I have three minutes to get to school, and it would take me five if I ran all the way."
"So, get going."
"No," he said, zipping up. "I just remembered. I also need to water the plants."
"They'll live until tonight."
"The leaves'll get brown on the edges. Could you do it for me? Please?"
"Do this. You have to make three passes through the entire apartment. On the first pass, you just put a moderate amount of water in each plant--not quite as much as you think will make it leak out the bottom into its saucer. On the second pass, you--"
"Luca, this is crazy. Get to school. I'll handle it. I grew up on a farm." Jerry kissed him goodbye and pushed him out the door. "Don't worry."
Still wearing only the t-shirt, Jerry started watering carefully.
After five minutes, the phone rang. Luca's voice came on. "Jerry, it's me. I forgot to mention about the African violets. If cold water touches a leaf while it's in direct sunlight, it'll turn brown and die. So--"
"Luca," Jerry interrupted.
"You need to be in class." Jerry laughed and hung up the phone.
November came, and the streak of warm, bright days finally ended. It was cold, even in the daytime. The trees lost their last leaves, so that the countryside, under the dull white clouds, predominantly showed the brown of their bark--a dark, deep red that almost glowed. The scenery was no less beautiful than it had been a month earlier, but in a somber, dreary mode. There was no longer any chance to eat at the half-rotted picnic table behind Jerry's back porch.
Luca didn't know what to think. His relationship with Jerry seemed great--as good as he'd ever thought any relationship could be--as far as its substance was concerned: the way Jerry and he treated each other, the way they cared, the happiness they gave each other. But, as far as the formalities, it was going nowhere. They never mentioned the future, even by implication.
Winter was coming and the snow could make driving in the country undependable. Luca wanted to be with Jerry more, not less.
He knew how he himself felt: he wanted to live together with Jerry. But, frankly, he was afraid to bring the subject up--and it bothered him deeply that he should feel that kind of fear with someone he loved. Still, he simply didn't know, couldn't guess, how Jerry would react.
It was more difficult because he wasn't sure what to suggest. If they were going to live together, then where? Luca knew that a fight about selling Jerry's house had been the immediate reason why Jerry broke up with Matt. On the other hand, although Luca liked Jerry's house, he knew it was impossible to commute from there to his job in Buffalo every day.
Luca saw an advertisement. The high school that Jerry had attended had an opening and needed to hire somebody for January. Luca liked his current job a lot. He didn't want to leave the city, and he didn't want to be so far from his friends and, especially, his family. Still it seemed the only answer. He sent in an application.
He didn't mention it to Jerry. He thought that it was the solution Jerry would doubtless prefer; and Luca wanted to be generous. But he thought the topic itself--making their relationship more permanent--was one that Jerry wouldn't want to address and that it was dangerous to make him face.
After only a week, a letter came from the principal, asking Luca to call and make an appointment for an interview. So Luca arranged at his old school to take a personal day so that he could go.
It felt strange to be driving those now-familiar roads without going to Jerry's house. Luca might have made it easier on himself by setting up the interview on a day when he would be visiting Jerry in the evening. However, he didn't want to tell Jerry about the job possibility until it was clearer in his own mind, and it would seem too much like a lie to just show up afterwards at Jerry's house as if he had come from his own job, as usual. Luca guessed he was implicitly deceiving Jerry anyway by interviewing without telling him, even on a separate day. But he was becoming confused and frustrated by the whole issue and thought he was choosing the best option available.
The principal spent an hour with him, courteously asking Luca's ideas about education and listening carefully to his answers. After that, he was to be taken to lunch by a faculty committee consisting of a language teacher, a physics teacher, and a basketball coach who also taught history.
The principal brought Luca back to the outer office, saying, "The chairman of our hiring committee will be expecting you when her class ends at 12:30."
"Good. Thank you, sir, for the time you've taken with me."
"You're very welcome, Mr. Fallon. Thank you for coming all the way out here in the country to interview." Then he spoke to a student, "Dylan, could you please bring Mr. Fallon to Mrs. Fitzsimmons's classroom?"
Noticing Luca's reaction to the name, the principal asked, "Do you know Mrs. Fitzsimmons?"
"I've heard of her from a former student who speaks highly of her."
The principal smiled warmly. "She does inspire devotion. It doesn't surprise me that you would know a student who is grateful to her. That's why she's chairman of our hiring committee. We want more teachers like her."
"I hope that I can do my best."
Mrs. Fitzsimmons and the other two teachers who took him to lunch continued to probe him about his teaching, somewhat less directly than the principal had. They seemed interested in his personal qualities as well.
After an hour and a half, Mrs. Fitzsimmons glanced at her colleagues and then turned back to Luca. "Mr. Fallon, it must be said that you have excellent credentials--and your recommendations are very strong. We have a favorable impression of your potential as a teacher."
"Thank you, Mrs. Fitzsimmons."
"Aside from generally trying to hire people we think will be good teachers and good colleagues, we have certain specific needs. As far as subject matter is concerned, we're particularly eager to find someone in economics, in Spanish, or else in mathematics. So you fit one of those possibilities well."
"We also would prefer someone who will enrich the life of the school. For example, we need someone who can coach the debate club. Another possibility is that we've had an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian students, whose presence has provoked a certain amount of opposition. It would be good if someone could be a positive role model and could organize some sort of club for them. These are only two of many possibilities. Do you have any ideas how you could help us outside the classroom?"
"Yes, Ma'am. In fact, I'm gay and open about it to my family and friends. I'm known to be gay at my present school." Luca pointed to the gold-and-blue HRC equal sign pinned to his jacket. "This is a symbol that I belong to the Human Rights Campaign for gay equality. I wear it as a quiet way of standing up for myself without shoving my sexuality down people's throats."
"Good," she said thoughtfully. "Please forgive me if I ask some personal questions that would normally be inexcusably personal and rude. I hope you will understand, in view of the role you're offering to take with our students."
"I understand the need for some questions. . . . I am a little nervous, though, about your use of the term 'role model.' I'm no more perfect than anyone else. And I'm not necessarily 'representative' of every gay male--we're as diverse as heterosexuals. What I do think I could do is be an adult who's not ashamed to be himself and whom someone could respect."
"Are you currently in a stable relationship?"
"I've been dating a man--someone my age, who's also openly gay--for the last several months. He happens to live in Castile. One of my reasons for applying for this position is the hope that it would allow me to move in with him and make our relationship permanent."
Mrs. Fitzsimmons and her colleagues looked at each other.
The basketball coach asked, "And monogamous?"
"Yes, sir. Almost all my relationships have been monogamous. I haven't--until my present boyfriend--thought that I'd found the one I wanted to stay with always. But I've been faithful to whoever I've been with. I've never cheated on my current boyfriend, and I intend to never do so in the future."
Mrs. Fitzsimmons resumed, "And you'd be comfortable being the faculty advisor for some sort of Gay Straight Alliance--for both sexes?"
"You realize that our objective is not to increase the level of confrontation here. Your job would be to find ways to help our gay students become more secure and to do it constructively--to increase our school's sense of community as a whole?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I understand that."
She looked again at her colleagues and then turned back to Luca. "Well, Mr. Fallon, thank you very much. I must say that you're an impressive candidate. But, as you know, we're interviewing others. We'll let you know soon."
Luca looked around and replied, "Thanks to all of you, as well."
The other two teachers left and Mrs. Fitzsimmons said, "I have a few minutes before my next class. Would you like to talk more?"
"Perhaps you could walk with me." They turned out the lights and went down the corridor. "It happens that I have a former student who lives in Castile, like your boyfriend. He's gay, and I tried to help him, although it was too early then for anyone to take the kind of open role we were just discussing for you--and anyway I'm not gay myself. His name is Jerry. Do you happen to know him."
Luca smiled. "Yes, Ma'am, I do. He's the boyfriend that I was telling you about."
"The last few times he's been in, he told me there was someone special. And, since 'Luca' is unusual, I guessed it might be you."
"He's said so much about you, Mrs. Fitzsimmons. But I didn't think I'd see you here today."
"Was he also complimentary about the other teachers at our school?"
Luca tried hard to come up with a diplomatic, not-too-dishonest way to phrase his answer, but there just wasn't one. "No, Ma'am, I must tell the truth--but he was distinctly not complimentary."
They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
She continued, "Jerry cares for you a lot, Luca. . . . May I call you 'Luca,' since he does?"
"I'd be pleased if you did."
"Anyone who can get through to Jerry must have the makings to be a great teacher."
"Did people really hate Jerry that much for being gay?"
"They didn't know he's gay. They accused him of it, but it was only a symptom for why they hated him."
They had arrived at her classroom. She consulted her watch, and they stood outside her door. Luca looked into her calm, kind, intelligent eyes. She said, "No reason, really. . . . Jerry didn't give people any maneuvering room. He had zero tolerance for people being cruel to him."
"You're saying he should have?"
"No, nobody should let people be cruel to them--or to others. That's why I'm trying to hire someone to help the gay boys and girls here avoid that. . . . But sometimes people don't intend to be cruel. Or perhaps they do intend it, but they wouldn't do it if they thought about it--or if they thought about something else to do instead. Jerry didn't leave anybody any margin for error. Jerry had a long series of incidents--about his personal style and about his studies. Those incidents were like automobile accidents in which Jerry himself was rarely at fault. It was someone else who was at fault or sometimes no one was at fault. Even though he wasn't the one in the wrong, Jerry did have opportunities to avoid many of those accidents. But he refused to, on principle, and so the accidents happened anyway. And anger built up--on both sides--and so there were more accidents."
Luca stammered, "B-b-but he hasn't been like that with me. Really."
"It's sweet that you're so loyal to him. Luca. There's no need to defend him from me. Jerry has been my friend for almost 10 years--since he began studying French. I believe in him and I believe in his future. He's growing up. When he was the way I was just describing, he was only a boy."
"He and I are still almost boys."
"Almost, but not quite."
"I believe in him too."
"I know you do." She smiled to Luca gently. "You'd have to believe in him. There's no other way you could have gotten through to him."
"Thank you for saying these things."
"You're welcome, Luca. Believe in yourself, too, not just in Jerry. Believe that Jerry would love you--that he does love you."
A week and a half went by before Luca came home from school one night and found the letter that he dreaded. He'd been successful. He'd gotten the job. It wasn't the contents of the letter that worried him; it was the fact that now he'd have to tell Jerry. He'd have to risk a blow-up--about wanting to move in with Jerry and formalize their relationship--or about the fact that he'd hidden his plans and gone behind Jerry's back.
He called Jerry and said he would like to drive out to Castile after school the next day and spend the evening.
At first Jerry was surprised and touched. "That's sweet, Luca. You miss me that much?"
Luca did miss Jerry--exceptionally so at that minute--but that wasn't honestly the reason for the trip. He didn't know how to reply. "I . . ."
"Luca, is something wrong?"
"No, I just wanted to talk."
"About what? What's wrong?"
"Jerry, could we please just talk tomorrow?"
Jerry swallowed hard. "Sure. Is there anything I can do?"
"No. Thanks. See you tomorrow."
They hung up.
Jerry was in a panic. He'd known all along that he loved Luca deeply. But, in his craziness, he'd never said it to Luca out loud, never fought to win Luca's love. He'd acted like it was the world's job to bring love to him--and his job to refuse until and unless the world offered what he wanted and was nice about it. The world had done exactly that, magnificently; but Jerry hadn't reacted, and now it was probably too late. Luca, in his polite, gentle way, was doubtless coming for the last time tomorrow to tell him he was dumping him. Luca, the beautiful guy everybody wanted, had found someone new, someone hot, someone better attuned to the gay scene. In his more rational moments, Jerry recognized that it wouldn't be like that--that Luca never showed the slightest interest in hot guys or in the gay scene. But Jerry had few rational moments that evening or that night.
The next day, it was hard for Luca to stay in his classroom. He wanted to call down to the office and ask for a substitute so he could leave early; but he didn't.
When he left school to drive to Castile, it was not too chilly--warm for December. Probably the last warm day. By the time Luca arrived, on a short day so close to the winter solstice, it was already dark.
Overnight, Jerry had forced himself to calm down. Experience said that the danger for him--the possibility that he would do something out of control, something he didn't want--had always been in letting himself get too upset. He told himself he didn't know what Luca wanted to talk about but, in any case, Jerry wouldn't let the evening end without telling Luca he loved him.
Luca entered the front door, took off his jacket, and hung it on one of the hooks in the front hall. Jerry came from the back to greet him there with a kiss. Jerry lingered, running his hand, feather light, along the side of Luca's face. This movement brought Luca's momentum to a stop, and he looked into Jerry's eyes, enjoying the touch on his cheek, feeling Jerry's love.
Luca sensed the worry behind Jerry's gentleness. He had intended to eat dinner with Jerry first, to chat with him while they ate until they were both happy and receptive--and only then to bring up his news. But now he couldn't wait, letting Jerry be upset.
"Jerry, I've been making some plans."
Jerry froze and moved back, away from Luca. He said nothing.
Luca searched for some hint of Jerry's feelings. He didn't see any, so he was forced to continue. "I mean, if you like--if you agree, of course. This commuting--back and forth between Castile and Buffalo--is too much. I don't want it. I know you'd hate leaving your house. I mean, I know that--and you don't have to worry. But, if I could move here to Castile--I mean, if I could live with you--if you wanted that . . . Anyway, I've found a job--teaching in your old high school. So we could. . . . Jerry?"
Jerry's face was so immobile that it was hard to understand how words could come out of it. "You found a job? There?"
"Yes. I interviewed. They really liked me. I got the job."
"At the place I hate most? . . . You interviewed? How many times did you come out here? When were you going to tell me?"
"I didn't mean to hide it from you."
"You didn't mean it? So you drove out here one day, talked to them, they told you what a wacko I am--but then later that night when we were having dinner it slipped your mind and you forgot to mention it?"
"Jerry, I haven't actually done anything yet. I just interviewed to find out whether the opportunity was there--and then, the minute I got the letter offering me the job, I was on the phone to you so I could come out here--so we could talk about it together."
"Together? Us?" Jerry was speaking with so little outward sign of emotion that it unnerved Luca. They were still standing in the front hallway next to Luca's jacket.
"Did it occur to you that--if I were consulted about this--I might make the alternative choice--to live in Buffalo with you?"
"What? You'd give up your house?"
"If you gave me the chance, I might want to sacrifice for you instead of you sacrificing for me. It's more logical anyway. I can commute from Buffalo to my job--no worse than commuting from here."
"But you broke up with Matt because he wanted you to sell this house. I was afraid to ask you."
"I wasn't in love with Matt. I knew that when the house sold, I'd have to confront him--and I wasn't finished with the house, anyway."
"What do you mean, you were 'afraid' to ask me?"
"I was afraid of losing you, dammit!"
"So you planned all this unilaterally without telling me, without sharing it with me?"
"Yes," Luca said miserably.
"Of course. Because I'm a wacko who might unpredictably blow up if somebody trusted me. Well, Luca, you've got a lot of company. To start, everybody at the school where you will now teach knows I'm a wacko--a crazy with a short fuse who can't be trusted. And lots of others think so too. My mother did, of course. And Matt now. To tell the truth, I probably am a wacko. It's completely real. But you know what?"
"The one thing I don't need is a boyfriend who thinks I'm a wacko. I want a boyfriend who believes in me."
Luca looked across the few feet of hallway that separated them. He looked at the man who had loved him warmly these last months and who was now so rigid--so uncaring, unfeeling, even when telling Luca he didn't need him.
It seemed there was no choice. Luca turned, picked his jacket off the hook, and walked out the front door.
Jerry stared after him.
It was what Jerry had feared and predicted; just as he had made Matt go away, now he had made Luca go away. He had done the same thing.
Jerry stood there, in the front hallway, making sure he let himself feel nothing.
After a while, Jerry realized that he hadn't heard Luca's car start.
He knew where Luca would be. Jerry walked to the back of the hallway, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. He had left the door to the back porch open so that the cooking smells from dinner could escape. Now it was later, and as Jerry went to the doorway and pressed his hand on the screen he felt the cold, in the rusted wire of the screen and in the December evening air that flowed through it. He looked out, into the blackness that was slightly illumined by the silver light of the moon through the stratus clouds and the yellow light of the bulb shining through the kitchen window. Near where Jerry knew the picnic table was, he could barely see two lighter shapes: the whiteness of Luca's face and, still hanging from his hand as he stood there, the gray winter jacket he'd worn that night but hadn't put back on.
Luca wasn't like Matt after all. Jerry hadn't done the same thing; he hadn't driven Luca away. Matt had a specific vision, certain things he wanted from Jerry, a particular kind of life he wanted to lead with him. But Luca was there for Jerry himself, whatever that might turn out to involve. Luca did trust Jerry--that, whatever happened, Luca wanted to discover it, create it, together.
As Jerry stood with his hand still on the screen and breathed in the cold air, he knew there was one way to lose Luca. All he had to do was to attack their relationship itself. If Jerry closed the kitchen door now, turned out the light, and went to bed, then something objective would be gone that could not be brought back.
Whatever Luca may have done or not done, Jerry had hurt Luca again though he had sworn he never would. He hated that. It was time to take responsibility for his own real actions rather than reacting from his fears.
Jerry opened the screen, walked across the porch, and called to Luca.
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