During that night, at the tender age of 16 years, two weeks and four days, I was positive that I had been presented with the answer to who I was. A physical, as well as emotional, human being who responded to a particular type of love and affection. Fortunately it had been coupled with the most incredible tenderness imaginable. It might not have been the prototype of sexual love adopted by most people but it was exactly what I had always wanted and seemed to need, even if I hadn't been able to express that need verbally or even mentally. It was a night of growth and maturing.
I woke up sometime in the middle of the night. George had returned to his own bed and was gently snoring. I realized that I had been dreaming about Kobuko, whom I had not seen in years, but though I tried, I couldn't remember the details of the dream.
The next day I actually looked forward to helping George work on his car. He gratefully accepted my renewed offer of assistance. As we began, he explained that his mom and dad would be going into Flagstaff, the nearest large city some 150 miles away, that coming weekend and his dad could pick up any auto parts that he needed. Most would have been available in Winslow, but Uncle Ivan could get them at a reduced price at the auto parts store of a friend in Flagstaff. Hence George wouldn't have to spend as much of his hard earned savings. Nothing had been said about what happened last night, other than when I was showering in the morning George reached in, gently pinched me on the arm, then stuck his head around the shower curtain and smiled. Nothing more was necessary. I knew that this had already been, and would continue to be, the most incredible vacation of my life.
Suddenly I was dealing with eternities again. The passage of time, especially the elusive concept of 'eternity', had been a preoccupation since early childhood. Now the day was only a prelude to the night. A time when I could bask in the magnificence of being truly alive. A time for whispers and secrets, of sharing and intimacy. But the day never seemed to end. As early as noon I began praying for sunset, "Oh God, let it get dark right now, couldn't You arrange for a nonscheduled eclipse or something? Maybe You could find a nice dense plague of locusts and they could blacken the sky". During the day he was 'George The Mechanic', 'George the Jock', 'George the Dutiful Son', but in the darkness and closeness of those wonderful nighttime hours he miraculously changed into another person, one I had quickly come to adore and worship. Actually it seemed to be sort of mutual and he appeared to be impressed with the things I was able to share with him. George mentioned that even before I arrived he had decided I'd probably be a real nerd.
He also confessed that when his mother had told him that I was coming to visit he'd protested vehemently. He didn't want to interrupt his life by having to play baby sitter to some unknown creepy cousin from California. He even admitted that on my first day there he had purposely enlisted my aid to work on his car hoping that I would become bored or discouraged and go back to California as soon as possible. But then when I had been so helpful, attentive and had evidenced real interest in learning something that I didn't know, he had begun to change his mind.
Of course the real clincher in changing his opinion was when I had unpacked my science fiction magazines. In his mind anyone who had read as much science fiction as I had, and was able to get so enthused about Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and other authors that I almost slobbered, well they had to be a worthwhile person. I reached over, pinched him on his arm and denied that I slobbered; drooled a bit perhaps, but definitely didn't slobber. Those conversations and late night confessions were some of the most important of my life. I had thought that he was little more than a dumb jock and he had labeled me a nerd. It became evident that everyone, at some time, can be guilty of prejudices, preconceived ideas and erroneous opinions. Generalities based on inadequate information. Unfortunately it was sort of a human weakness.
Then, as we began to discuss other things, besides how this or that automotive part functioned, even the days were something to be savored. I discovered that in addition to sports George was interested in history, literature, art, mythology and a million other things. With the exception of sports, our interests were nearly mirror images of each other. George told me that he had decided he would like to become an architect and was planning to go the University of Arizona after graduation from high school. I explained that I too had once sort of considered architecture as a career, but like my father, I would probably become a teacher. Maybe a teacher of English literature in a University since I loved to read. But then again I was also very interested in botany and plants.
George asked if I knew anything about desert plants and I immediately launched into one of my mini-lectures about the ecological features of desert flora and fauna. He commented that he had lived here all his life and didn't know half as much as I did. I explained that much of the information came from books, but recently I'd spent a week in the Mojave Desert, close to Los Angeles, with my high school's Science Club. Then added that, as president of the club, I had to go on all their outings. He seemed suitably impressed, as I had hoped he would. I began talking about another trip the club had made to the tide pools on the coast and jabbered about sea anemones, starfish, hermit crabs and all the other sea creatures the group had seen. George was completely entranced and it was the first time I had seen him with his mouth sort of hanging open. He confessed that he'd never seen the ocean, but it was one of his dreams to do so. At that point I enthusiastically invited him to come to California as soon as possible. I'd only been with him for a few days, but suddenly it seemed that we'd known each other all our lives.
Early on Saturday morning Uncle Ivan, Aunt Meta and Elizabeth left for Flagstaff. They explained that they probably wouldn't be back until late on Tuesday since Ivan had to attend several meetings connected with his Indian Bureau job. Elizabeth had an appointment to see the Orthodontist about her teeth. 'Now at last I knew the secret of those straight pearly whites — braces.' They were going to be staying with friends there and on the previous evening had asked me to come along, extolling the virtues of Flagstaff. High in the mountains, covered with pines and always somewhat cooler. George had come to my rescue and explained that we'd been asked to a party on Saturday night and he wanted to introduce me to all his friends. As we entered the house, after waving good-by, George put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I lied about the party, and I hope you don't mind, but it didn't seem like you really wanted to go." Mind? Did I mind? It was exactly what I had been hoping and praying for. At last I knew that there was a God, and not only that, but he did indeed have time to listen to adolescent prayers.
Since there was nothing more to be done on George's car until Uncle Ivan returned, it seemed like a perfect time to do what we both loved most, read. We curled up on our separate beds with science fiction books. Between the beds, on a TV tray was a large platter of fruit and cookies, even a pitcher of lemonade which George had made. This was the beginning of a most magical period. Gradually it became evident that the sky was becoming overcast. Yesterday it had become unbearably hot, bright squinting hot, and remained that way through the night. I asked George if it might rain and he explained that it hardly ever rained at this time of the year. It remained overcast and the temperature dropped a few degrees. We had been reading for perhaps a couple of hours with nothing more than an occasion comment or question when George raised up, looked at the darkening sky and silently left the room.
Then I heard the most exquisite sound coming from the living room. George was playing the piano. No, he wasn't just playing the piano, that was performing. It was one of the Chopin Nocturnes. On my first day here I'd seen the closed piano and wondered if anyone actually played it, but felt it would be impolite to ask. George had decided to play the Nocturne in F minor, technically not a particularly difficult piece, but its brilliance and beauty lay in the timing and pauses between the notes. In fact much of the music was in the silent intervals between the notes. Bozhena had played it upon occasion but I'd never completely experienced its exquisite, melancholy beauty until that moment. I waited until he had finished and then walked over and put my hand on his bare shoulder. It could easily have been a concert performance except that he was, as usual, clad in only his Levi cut-offs. I realized that George was much like this Nocturne; simple, unaffected, not pretentious and yet infinitely complex, soft, and melancholy. I'd seen that pensiveness and deep melancholy in his eyes on the first day. His ever present and abundant smile helped to hide the somber expression in his eyes, but I knew it was there, could feel as much as see it.
He turned his head, smiled slightly, and said, "That was especially for my favorite cousin.". I asked him if he would play it again. The handsome bronze hulk sat up straight, took a breath, gently lifted his hand over the keyboard and entered into another world. With that first note, which magically wavered in the air, I knew that I wanted this very minute, this experience, to last forever. If I'd ever wished for an eternity it was at this moment. I also realized that he wasn't just playing the music, he was the music. There was no separation and I too entered into that special world. When he finished, the diminishing reverberations, and then the silence that followed, were a part of the totality. It had become a part of my being, my very internal structure and I knew that it would remain with me forever.
He then asked if I played and that began yet another part of our afternoon. I attempted to play the andante from Mozart's F major Sonata, but couldn't remember it in its entirety, in fact I really screwed it up. Then changed to the adagio from Mozart's C minor Sonata, which I'd practiced at least a zillion times, and actually got all the way through it. Beethoven's sonata, Claire de Lune, was George's next choice but he had to get out the sheet music since he didn't know it by heart. I marveled at the way his long, bronze fingers magically traveled over and sought out the keys with no seeming effort. How was it that until today I hadn't noticed his elegant hands? Graceful fingers, strong yet lean, nimble and with a reach that any concert pianist would love to have. I also noticed that there wasn't even the slightest speck of grease under his shiny, well-trimmed fingernails. I wanted to say, "Okay, George, fastidiously clean as well as fastidiously neat, now that's really a compulsive combination," but respecting this special moment I remained quiet.
We took turns playing, everything from Bach to current rock and roll, with lots of music from Broadway in the middle. There were tons of musical scores and sheet music in a nearby cabinet. It turned out that everyone in the family played the piano, even Uncle Ivan liked to play, his favorite being Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers. My playing with George wasn't playing with perfection as the ultimate goal; like my piano lessons with Bozhena, but just for the sheer joy of the moment. It was more than magical. Meanwhile, the sky had gotten even darker and there was rumbling and lightning far off in the distance, but George still contended that it probably wouldn't rain. The normally dry air had become slightly humid and soft.
It was at this point that George finally confided that there had been a specific reason that he hoped I wouldn't go with the family to Flagstaff. There was going to be something very special on TV, and it was being broadcast especially for the two of us at nine o'clock that evening. It was now about seven thirty and he said we had to hurry with dinner so we wouldn't miss any of the program, but he still refused to say exactly what it was. I was expecting a couple of quick sandwiches, but instead George was suddenly in the kitchen and rapidly chopping a clove of garlic to be mixed with some butter, rosemary and mushrooms, which he then began to sauté. I asked to help and was put to work peeling potatoes. He mentioned that he'd noted that all like Slovaks we had a mutual fondness for mashed potatoes.
In the meantime George had rapidly put together a magnificent green salad and had taken two large steaks out of the refrigerator, explaining that the steaks were to be broiled with the sautéed mixture when everything else was ready. There was no way for me to verbalize the feeling of contentment which enveloped me as I watched my new found idol very efficiently prepare an entire meal. He neither looked or acted the least bit effeminate and he was just himself. As we shared a cold beer the rumbling outside became more intense. It was the first time I'd ever drunk a beer and not been afraid that Bozhena would smell it on my breath or somehow just sniff my clothes and know that I'd been drinking.
The steaks were impeccably broiled and the garlic/rosemary addition was perfection, as was the entire meal. It was at this point, right in the middle of our second beer, when George smilingly revealed was going to be on TV. It was the first part of a four-hour dramatization of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles; two hours on Saturday and second two hours on Sunday. I got so excited that I thought I was going to pee in my pants or maybe even cry. The Martian Chronicles had to be the most incredible, most fantastic, most sensitively beautiful novel I'd ever read. In fact I had mentioned it to George just day before yesterday and although he had agreed that it was also one of his favorites, he hadn't said a thing about the TV program. When questioned he remarked that he had wanted it to be a surprise. At that moment there was a tremendous thunderclap and the first drops of rain were heard pattering on the roof. George rushed out babbling something about his car and we rapidly got a large tarp out of the garage to put on his partially dismantled auto. By that time it was pouring, a drenching thunderstorm and we stood there soaking wet, he clad only in his cut-offs and I was in Bermudas, laughing and enjoying the warm rain. More enchantment for this magical night.
It was almost nine o'clock. George went in a got a large bath towel and some shorts for each of us. We stood there at the back door of the house in the gathering darkness, clad momentarily only in our birthday suits in order to dry off. There was no shame or embarrassment; it was as natural as the moment in which it occurred. After putting on our BVDs we both sat down on the sofa just as the program began. The first dramatization was about a Martian couple, Ylla and her husband who lived in a house of crystal pillars on the edge of the dead Martian sea. It seemed that both of us had read this book so many times that we could anticipate the lines before the actors spoke them. But they weren't actors; for the fantasy had become reality. We sat there spellbound, hardly breathing for fear that it would break the spell. The Martian windships sailed across the silent dead seas and we could feel the wind on our faces, smell the rare fragrance of unique Martian scents. George and I were actually in those vessels and traveling with the inhabitants of Mars. As the first commercial began George asked what I was doing over there on the other side of the universe and pulled me over closer to him. I was beginning to believe that he always knew exactly what to do at the proper moment. I stretched out and put my head down on his firm, bronzed leg. The second segment, about the first expedition of Earthmen to Mars, began. Once again we were transported to another space and another time.
Later that night as I was contentedly lying next to George I finally asked him something that I'd wanted to ask for several days now, but had been reluctant. Did he, had he, was he, doing 'this' with anyone else. I prefaced my question by saying that I knew it really wasn't any of my business, but was just curious. Without hesitation be began talking about Mark. He and Mark had evidently gone to the same schools for many years but had never been close friends. When Mark entered high school, George was already a sophomore. One day in the cafeteria Mark was at the same table and complained to a friend that he was having trouble with an algebra problem. George helped Mark solve that particular problem and then offered to help him whenever he needed assistance. During the following weeks they discovered that they had a number of mutual interests. They started spending a lot of time together and became inseparable friends. Not only friends, but as George disclosed to me, eventually young lovers.
Mark and his mother were presently spending the summer on the east coast and they wouldn't be back for a couple of weeks. It was the first time they had been apart in two years. George explained that at the beginning it had been very difficult for both of them to accept their sexual inclinations, but their deep friendship and emotional involvement had begun long before the time they discovered that they were also physically attracted to each other. He also mentioned that it was difficult living in a small community where gossip was rampant and in order for everything to appear normal they both had girl friends. In fact they usually went out on double dates, but then after taking their 'girl friends' home then they would have the time to drive out to Three Rocks or some other secluded spot to be together. Evidently this was also part of the reason that George had become a member of the football team. It was a good cover, and furthermore he really liked it as a sport.
Mark's mother, who was a widow, often went to Phoenix for the weekends to visit with friends. George had been accepted as a member of the family and would often spend the weekend with Mark while his mother was away. I discovered, as George continued to talk, he and Mark had planned their entire future lives together. Both had decided to go to the University of Arizona where George would major in Architecture and Mark planned to major in Psychology. Later they planned to get jobs in some large city so that they could live together in the comfortable anonymity that all large cities offer.
I momentarily felt a bit strange, as if my hero had toppled from his pedestal. Then I asked, "And will you tell Mark about me, I mean what has happened?" Once again George replied without hesitation and with complete candor, "Of course. You know how much affection I have for you. That will never change. I know that you and I have a bond that will never be broken, but Mark is my lover and I could never keep a secret from him. I couldn't and retain my own self respect." And with that last statement my hero immediately regained his stature. I loved him even more not because of what he had said, but because I knew it to be true. I loved him because he was George.
All too soon the vacation was over and I waved goodbye to my now cherished aunt, uncle and cousins as the bus began its journey in the direction of California. Then it was in early June of the following year when George had called and asked if he could come out to Southern California and spend a couple of weeks. Since he was graduating from high school his dad had offered to pay all his expenses as a graduation gift. I was ecstatic and immediately said yes, at the same time thinking, 'oh shit, that means I have to clean up my room.' I was no longer going to mass or confession and now felt that I could use obscenities whenever I pleased. Well mentally, but certainly not verbally or Bozhena would have bopped me on the head. Then George asked if it would be okay for Mark to come along with him. I hesitated, but for less than a second. If Mark was very special to George, and George was certainly one of the most special people in my life, it had to be okay. "Sure George, bring him along." He insisted that he talk to my mother first. I knew that it was a good idea since everything had to be cleared with the 'chief', or as I had recently begun to call her, 'the Dragon'. She too agreed and plans were made for them to arrive the second week in July.
Then it was the last week in June, a rare night since there was no smog and I had been outside looking at the stars. I was wishing that George were there right then to share the experience with me, and also to point out Cassiopeia since I couldn't find it. But then I saw that special cluster of stars, and I could almost feel George's hand on my shoulder and his face next to mine as he pointed it out. As I walked inside the house, the phone rang. I answered and it was Aunt Meta calling from Arizona. I recognized her voice even though it was a bit different, but instead of chatting with me she immediately asked to speak to my mother. Mom began to talk, fell silent and then suddenly began to cry. A few more words and then she hung up. She slumped down in the chair and sobbed. I was perplexed and then finally she hesitatingly said, "Your cousin George is dead. He committed suicide."
I stood there trying to comprehend what she had said. Then I ran upstairs to my room. I knew that it wasn't true. It couldn't be true. He'd been with me just a few moments ago outside in the yard. Gods, heroes, and special people whom we love with all our being just can't die. It wasn’t possible. I kept up with my denial for as long as possible and then when the pain became unbearable I began to cry. I cried until there were no tears left.
Had I been crying for George whom I would never see again, or for myself because I knew that a vital part of my being had suddenly been removed, and could never be replaced. I realized that now George would never get to see the ocean, never become a famous architect or do all the things that he had planned on accomplishing. I began to sob, again, quietly. And then I heard it. Soft, almost inaudible. That first wavering, resonant note of the Chopin Nocturne in F minor which was George's favorite. The music continued and I knew that it wasn't only in my head; it permeated the very air around me. Yes, George had been with me all evening, first sharing the stars and now sharing his music. I loved him for that special gift, unfortunately I also knew he had come to say good-bye.
No one in his family knew why George had taken a length of garden hose and inserting it in the tail pipe of his car, decided to take his own life only two days after his high school graduation. There was no message, only silence.
Some weeks later I called Aunt Meta and got Mark's telephone number. Mark and his mother had left Winslow and were now living in Phoenix. The conversation with Mark was difficult but I finally gained his confidence and discovered exactly what had happened. It was not something he had been able to share with anyone else. He and George had been parked one evening out at Three Rock, the same place where George had given me my astronomy lesson. They were in George's car, talking about the future and just 'cuddling' when suddenly everything was illuminated by bright lights. Bill, one of the town policemen, and a fanatical Bible-thumping Christian, was at the window of the car and recognizing them both began ranting and raving that there was no place in their town for fucking queers and fags and that he was going to make sure that their families and everyone else in town knew exactly what they were, 'homos' and perverts. Then in order to further convince them of his self-righteous indignation, he said that he ought to shoot them on the spot in order to rid the earth of such scum so that they could start burning in hell.
Even though George seemed to be exceedingly strong, evidently the one thing he couldn't permit was the possible humiliation of his family. Apparently he felt that he had to protect them with the only device at his disposal, which was his life.
I admired and loved him because he was a very special person. And I love him still, because more than any label which people or society may have attempted to place on him, the most important thing is that he was a magnificent human being. I loved him because he was George.