Years before I knew them, Deva and Carpenter had had a photography business named “Wholeness Photography”. Over time, this had evolved into simply “Wholeness”. The name had stuck and spread to become more inclusive. It included their adopted kids. It included their space, whether stable such as a house, or mobile such as their bus. It included various friends, participants, counselees, and hangers-on. I’m sure, in the eyes of anyone involved, I was considered part of Wholeness in the early 1980s. I may still be.
There was a small woman who was part of Wholeness about the time I was. She had taken the name “River”, though her real name was Carla. She had a birth defect. Her arms were short, and ended in small, delicate, incomplete hands. She did not have the use of her thumbs, so in effect no opposable thumbs, but handled things between her fingers.
After awhile, I did not notice this much any more. She and I became friends and confidants. Around Wholeness, there were always so many coincidences. River had heard my name in a dream, before we ever met, as someone significant coming into her life. Also, she and I had the same birthday.
So, it was our birthday. River and I were talking, in the warm summer night, on one of the gravel paths between the buildings at the church camp where we were for the Quaker youth conference.
Long after that, River confided in me that that night, she was hoping what was going on between us would lead to sex. Well, it led to sex all right, but not with her. She said, pretty soon she could tell I had eyes for somebody else.
A dark shape approached in the parking lot. He and I got into a little red pickup truck and started talking. I knew I wanted him, but I was so inexperienced I had only the vaguest conception of what you do with another man. Still, I was going to have me some fun.
I admit it was me that initiated intimacy. He was holding back. But after the events of the day, Deva almost dying, all I could think was life’s too short not to get on with it.
It was pretty crowded in the truck cab, two big guys in that little space. He was doing something nice to me as I lay on my back. I had my knees scrunched up because the seat was too short for me to stretch out. The inside of the windshield had long since steamed over. I relaxed, and relaxed. And then there was a loud BEEP. My spreading knee had pressed on the steering wheel, blasting the car horn.
He froze. He was nervous, that someone might come and find us here. I was having none of that. I seduced for all I was worth. I had only heard of one sex thing guys did with each other: Suck dick. So I went down on him. I was probably not very good at it, but I was enthusiastic and committed!
It took a really long time. I had my arm under him, pressed down by his heavy weight. When we were finally finished, my arm was quite asleep. It had been constricted so long the numbness took a long time to go away. I didn’t mind. It was like a trophy. I was glowing in glory over what I had done.
In fact, it took two or three days for the function of my forearm to completely come back. Somehow, I was not alarmed. I knew the nerves would heal. Meanwhile, some subtle muscles that worked my hands were paralyzed. I realized I had exactly the same hand function as River!
I am trying not to guess too much what was going on for Adrian. It would be easy to construct all sorts of speculation, based on what I know of the gay world now, after all these decades. But I am trying to capture what it was like for me then, when it was all so fresh and new, bumbling and innocent, confusing and painful.
I will allow myself a bit of mild speculation, though. Adrian was very reticent to let the conference to know what was going on between him and me. I think maybe it was because a significant thread of what he covered in his workshops was about the ongoing relationship he had with his partner James back in Boston. It would look kind of bad if here he were hooking up with somebody else.
I was oblivious to all that. I knew all these people here. I had lived like brothers and sisters with a good number of them, on peace walks, and the peace bike ride. I had no secrets from them. Whatever this was happening with Adrian (I had no name for it yet) they would accept it.
Well, Adrian convinced me to publicly cool it all the next day. But he agreed to have me come spend the night with him in his tent. It was great! He showed me some things to do, and I was a willing student. Then we dozed off to sleep.
I woke in the night, and my world was shattered. A few hours earlier, I had made love to a luscious hunk of man. Now, beside me was only a repulsively snoring hill of flesh looming in the moonlight. I thought, what have I got myself into? What have I done?
With the morning, my glow returned. That day, the conference was winding down. Adrian was going into Portland for a few days, staying at his brother’s house, before returning to Boston. There was no way he and I were going to part company. I went with him.
Riding into the city, I looked across at him, studying is beautiful face. I just looked and looked. Occasionally, when he could spare attention from the road, he glanced back and smiled.
In between when he had to shift the clutch, he kept his hand cupped on the inside of my thigh. I was later to learn this was a sweet, friendly thing gay men did with each other while driving. Not overtly sexual. The hand was not in the crotch, except maybe intermittently, playfully. Instead, his hand was a little back of my knee, on the furry, meaty part of the muscle. Just the right degree of warm and manly intimacy.
There followed a chain of romantic memories.
Strains of organ music, as someone played unseen in Reed Chapel. We peered in the open door. We walked inside. We stood there, dappled in the rainbow light through the stained glass windows, holding hands. The music swelled and washed around us.
Us on a lawn somewhere. Him riding me on his shoulders for awhile. Then, turnabout, I rode him on my shoulders.
As it got towards evening, Adrian offered to take me out to dinner. “Do you know any gay restaurants?” he asked.
I thought hard, dredging through my memory. “There’s one I’ve heard of I think is gay,” I answered.
“What’s it called?”
“Hamburger Mary’s,” I replied.
“Oh, with a name like that,” he chuckled, “It’s got to be.”
“A name like what?” I was completely innocent.
I didn’t know.
“‘Mary’!” Then he remembered I had zero experience with any of this. He explained, kind of didactically, “It’s what gay men call each other when they’re being campy.”
I digested the “Mary” news, and filed it away. Then I ventured on. “What about ‘hamburger’?!?” I asked wide-eyed. I was sure this part was going to be far more juicy.
“Oh, you know… Food…?”
That night, on the mattress at his brother’s house, Adrian showed me how to fuck him. He just called it “fucking”. I was used to the qualifier “butt fucking”; but I was beginning to put it together that, between men, that was, of course, the available orifice, so there was no need to specify. It was kind of a political thing too. Claiming fucking as just as much a gay thing, just as much a normal thing, as for anybody else.
He had a little flip-top squeeze bottle of mineral oil for lube. He said that’s what his doctor recommended. That was the opinion at the time, before our current understanding of safe sex. We did not use a condom.
Here I go again guessing at Adrian’s mental flow. The year 1983 was still at the budding beginning of the concept of AIDS. He figured I was not a risk to him, since I’d never done anything with anybody. He figured he was not a risk to me, as he was the receiving partner. I’m glad he was even that conscientious. I was in such a state, in that first rush of lusts, that I would have done anything sexual with him at the least suggestion.
Next day, we drove up to Mount Hood. On the way, we stopped to buy gas. He paid with a credit card. Somehow, that tiny detail, the credit card, did something profound to me.
I guess, up till then, the gay men I had known, the artist and the dancers and the theater directors, had seemed so otherworldly. I could not have ever imagined such taut, ethereal entities doing anything so mundane as to pull out the plastic.
Maybe another way to say it is, credit cards are so normal. They are part of what normal people do. Wouldn’t there be some kind of background check before you got one? If your profile didn’t come up normal enough, well no card for you! And surely no gay man could ever be credit-card normal.
The fact that Adrian passed for that normal put a major crack in my stereotypical image of gay.
There followed another chain of extremely romantic memories: The alpine meadows below the towering glacier-clad peak. The green heather, hung with its tiny pink bell-like flowers. Flip-flopping in sandals over the patchy snowfields, which straddled the short trail we took to explore. A giant cracked-open boulder, so huge we followed the fissures in like paths into a labyrinth. And there, in that secret magical place, gazed into each other’s eyes, and touched.
Back in Portland, I had arranged to spend the night at Anne and Petro’s house. The Wholeness folks were coming by the next day to pick me up, on their way back to California.
Adrian dropped me off. We exchanged long, lingering looks. Then he started the engine. The red pickup, actually borrowed from his brother, receded down the street, turned the corner, and then he was gone.
I was literally vibrating. I was like a bell that never knew it could ring, until, by what had come to me in the last few days, I had been lifted and struck.