To have an idyllic childhood in a small Texas town, all you have to is love God, love guns, and hate gays. Loving God was easy. I was raised in the Church, I didn’t know any other way.
Loving guns was hard. I didn’t like loud noises. And, I couldn’t kill anything. If I had given it any thought, I’d have been a vegetarian. But, I bit the bullet, so to speak, and became a crack shot. I massacred clay pigeons.
Hating gays was hardest. My mother’s only brother was gay, although my parents refused to acknowledge it. Kurt was my Uncle’s “friend,” and my parents pretended Kurt and my Uncle were simply bachelors who had not yet found the right woman. That they had lived together since before I was born was explained as economy. They were both doctors in Chicago, and the fact they didn’t need to economize was unsaid.
I love my Uncle David with all my heart. He’s the most interesting person I’ve ever met. He reads everything. He taught himself to paint. And to play the cello.
Unlike everyone I knew, he didn’t think Texas was the be all and end all. In fact, he hated visiting “the backwater” where we lived, but that was the only way to see us; there was no way my parents would leave Texas, much less go to Chicago. We even vacationed in Texas.
Kurt and Uncle David vacationed every where. They trekked in Nepal. They went to concerts in London. They volunteered at orphanages in Cameroon.
I lived vicariously through them, their postcards and their stories. I wanted them to visit more than they did. My parents wanted them to stay away.
I am Evangel Michael Tyler. “Evangel Michael” to my parents, Earl and Miss Lily. “Evan” to my friends. E.T. to my sisters, Chastity and Prudence, who delight in telling me to “phone home” in the croakiest voices they can muster.
Our names are not ironic. My parents are conservative Christians, dragging us to worship every Wednesday and Sunday, and praying with us at every opportunity that presents itself. They love the Lord almost as much as they love talking about how much they love the Lord. They aren’t hypocrites, but they also aren’t humble. They want everyone to know how pious they are, so they advertise it on our cars and with a “Jesus Saves” sign over our garage door.
They are certain the new President is godless (and not an American), and they would almost certainly vote for Texas to secede if it got on the ballot. Until then, they back the most patently religious conservative in any election and rail against the impending loss of our identity as a Christian nation, against liberals, and, of course, against gays, who they dismissively call Sodomites. Their world is small, and they have no interest in it getting any bigger. They’d actually prefer it smaller. They are comfortable in their willful ignorance.
They have no idea their only son is a Sodomite. They believe the fact I’ve never had a girlfriend is somehow related to my inherited Christianity and self-imposed chastity. I have no idea how they reconcile my ambivalence about sports with the fact that my bedroom walls are covered with posters of David Beckham, Tom Brady, Grady Sizemore, and other hot, male athletes. The fact I have no idea what sport any of those idols play seems lost on them.
I am an 18 year old math geek. Innately, I see math problems and solutions in three dimensions. I can turn them upside down and inside out in my head. For me, solving math problems is like breathing; it’s natural, and it brings me life. I would rather work through algebraic groups or play with the Goldbach conjecture than read a great book or watch a better movie.
I do not look like a math geek. I look like Alex McKensie. My dad was a famous Texas high school quarterback. He went to Baylor on a scholarship, met a beautiful heiress, married her, and now lives off her trust fund. As sharp as the crack of a whip, he has turned the fund into a fortune. When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, he moved out of the market and into cash. He bought a bunch of gold in October and held it for six months, increasing the fund 25%. In March, he sold the gold and moved back into the market, believing it had bottomed out. It had, and the fund has more than doubled since the market has climbed from its nadir.
I got my father’s build, but not his athletic talent. I am 6’4″ tall and have hair that I wear long and is more orange than red, eyes that are more green than blue, a crooked smile that comes easily to my face, and a runner’s/swimmer’s build. I prefer being alone, so I have been running and swimming since I can remember. I can drown out the world when I run, and water fills my ears when I swim. I contentedly think through math problems with each stride or stroke.
I had acquaintances but no real friends in high school. I didn’t mind. I liked spending Friday and Saturday nights in my room, listening to music and trying to solve the unsolvable. The only wall in my room that was not covered by beautiful men was a corner to corner white board that was covered in my favorite thing in the world — numbers.
I drive my sisters batty. One and two years younger than me, they were social butterflies, brainlessly embracing almost every stereotype associated with the blond hair they and my mother purchased at a salon. They constantly complained that my reclusiveness “embarrassed” them. I never saw how. I think they just used it as an excuse to complain about me.
They often accused me of being gay. My parents shushed them when they did, explaining they “know better than that” and not to “talk nonsense.”
A pleaser, I pretended to share my parents’ religiosity. My sisters engaged in no such pretense. They had already been caught with alcohol and pot. While neither had been caught with a boy, I doubt either would have survived a virginity check. They were misnamed, as they were neither chaste nor prudent.
I benefitted from their wildness. Since my sisters shamed my parents, they poured all their love and pride into me. I lied to them every day so I could bask in it.
I was thrilled to be headed to Rice for college. We were Texans, and my parents insisted that I continue my studies in Texas. So, MIT, Princeton, and Harvard were out, even if I could go for free.
With only Texas options, my choices were Rice or UT. While UT had a slightly better mathematics program, I didn’t want to be in a school as big as UT. And, much of my high school was there or headed there. I wanted a different experience. I didn’t want to relive my high school.
I was also thrilled Rice was in Houston. My parents thought cities were dens of iniquity, so we stayed in small-towns. We never visited Dallas or Houston. We didn’t even talk about Austin. If my parents wanted a cosmopolitan experience, they drove into Waco. But, they rarely wanted one.
I did not share their suspicions. I looked forward to exploring Houston and all it had to offer, including — I hoped beyond hope — people like me. I didn’t know any in our town. I experienced life only though my computer, but not much of it. I had to submit it to my parents for inspection upon demand. I was pretty sure I was more technological than they were, but the risk of them finding any Sodomite history on my computer intimidated me into inaction. I barely masturbated, having been taught from the age I first knew what a penis was that masturbation was a selfish, sinful act.
Rice did not disappoint me. It was open and accepting. I came out, at least to my friends, to an aggressive shrug. Being a gay Rice student was the functional equivalent of being a Rice student.
I even dated a little bit. Nothing serious, as the idea of what would follow — kissing, touching, whatever — terrified me. I may have moved away from my parents’ house, but I was having trouble moving away from their judgments. I never would have if I hadn’t had to. As a teenager, I begged God to change me, to convert the female body from an object of distaste to one of taste. When it didn’t work, I prayed harder. It was that period of perceived piety that helped entrench me as the object of my parents’ love and pride. If they had known why I was praying so fiercely, they wouldn’t have embraced me; they’d have sent me away.
Praying harder didn’t work. So, I was left to confront a cruel reality: Either God didn’t love me enough to answer me, or I was ignoring His answer. Since I couldn’t bear the notion of the former, I embraced the latter. I stopped praying for change and accepted I was created in His image, as He intended me to be. I had not chosen this. I was this. At Rice, I read works that reconciled Christianity and homosexuality, especially The Children Are Free. I may have been deluding myself, but my Christ did not judge me for me for being gay.
I knew I may be on the wrong side of Occam’s razor. But, I also believed that chaste was not man’s natural state, and that the absence of intimacy in a relationship diminished the relationship. I did not believe my orientation should consign me to a life of celibacy. If you choose celibacy, it may be a gift. But, if it’s forced on you, it seems like punishment.
I was not ready at 18 to live a lifetime of lies. But, I also was not ready at 18 to untether sex from love. I couldn’t get married, but I could at least honor the notion of marriage by limiting sex to a committed, loving relationship.
Upon enrolling, I learned Rice had an elite baseball team. It had been to the NCAA tournament every year of Coach Grantham’s tenure, and it had won the 2003 College World Series. I was so disconnected from the sports world, I had never heard of Reckling Park, much less been to it.
Even with Rice’s track record, it was tough for Rice to recruit against traditional powers, so it had to be innovative. One innovation was the Owl Program. In that Program, every recruit met a Freshman who would “Owl” him through their time together at Rice, mostly from an academic standpoint. Those who owled the athletes were called Sammies, after Rice’s mascot, Sammy the Owl.
I got recruited to be a Sammy my first weekend on campus. I was still in the throes of “all things Rice,” so I readily agreed. By the time my recruit showed up on campus, my enthusiasm had evanesced. I didn’t have the desire or the inclination to meet Luke Black, much less pledge to spend three years owling him.
From what I gathered during my debrief, Luke Black was one of the best pitchers in the nation and one of the most sought-after recruits. He had been drafted as a high school Senior, but he had decided to go to college instead. Every powerhouse wanted him, and he was visiting Rice only because his father was a graduate. My job was to sell the Owl Program to him and, more importantly, to his parents.
The coaching staff passed the Blacks to the academic staff just before noon on the first Saturday of October. We were to take them to lunch. I made sure to sit right next to Mother Black.
Like her son, Mother Black had jet black hair. I asked whether that was why her son was called “Jet,” and she laughed. “It could have been,” she answered, “but it’s not. He’s called ‘Jet’ because of his arm and how hard he throws. The ball flies out of his hand as if propelled by a jet engine.”
“I don’t know much about baseball,” I admitted.
“That’s good. It means you’ll treat Luke like a student, not a star.” By the end of lunch, I had hooked her. She loved the idea of him having me as his Sammy.
My flagging commitment to the Owl Program was renewed when I met Jet. He was about two inches taller than me and, like I said, he had jet black hair. His eyes were just as black. It was impossible to decoct where his pupil ended and his iris started. And, his skin was flawless and creamy white. He wore a bright white shirt, a rep tie, and plain fronted khaki trousers. His hair was parted on the side and slicked down. He reminded me of Keanu Reeves from that horrible movie, Devil’s Advocate.
He was built like a pitcher. He was broad shouldered, thick chested, and thick thighed. He captured my imagination from the moment he said, “Hi, I’m Jet.”
He was also remarkably polite. Even when talking to me, it was “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” and “Yes, please” and “No, thank you.” If he displayed even a hint of gracelessness, his mother shot him a glare that reminded me of Heart’s “If Looks Could Kill.”
His parents were already famous helicopter parents. They were like the parents of Todd Marinovich and Michelle Wie. Jet was their world. They quit work and took loans against his future income to fund their lives. They went to all of his games. They monitored his diet, his pitch counts, and his sleep. They opined on in game strategies, on who should start behind him, and on how he should pitch certain hitters. They were ubiquitous.
When our visit with the Blacks was ending, it seemed clear to me that Mother Black was going to be more influential in his college choice than Mr. Black would be. I thought she may even have a louder voice than Luke himself.
I emailed her as soon as the academic staff turned the Blacks back to the coaching staff:
It was a pleasure meeting you today. Thank you again for your attention and time. If you or your son have any questions about Rice going forward, then please do not hesitate to contact me. I will answer honestly and truthfully and without regard to how the answer my affect your son’s decision-making.
I know Luke would love Rice as I do. It truly is an extraordinary place.
I also know he would get the education you want for him. As Luke’s Sammy, I promise to make sure he graduates on time and is educated. I will inspire and protect him.
Be safe. And with Christ.
I was pleased with my effort as I reviewed it before I hit send. I had thanked her “again.” I had used “your son” twice before moving to Luke. I had appealed to her interest in his education. I had subtly recognized her religiosity. And, I had used my full Christian name.
Still, I didn’t expect Rice to land Luke. During his visit, Luke talked a lot about a former Major Leaguer he called the “Rocket,” who was his hero and who had gone to UT. Since “Rocket” was taken, he had lobbied for the nickname “Jet.” It was as close as he could get. He wanted to be the next Rocket. I assumed hero worship would lead him to UT.
When Mother Black answered my email, I decided to subtly take a few shots at Austin. I wanted her to wonder what would happen to her son if he chose to live there for four years.
Thank you for your email. I am sorry, but I cannot call you “Linda.” My parents would be terribly disappointed if I were impolite or informal with you.
I, too, looked at UT. But, I was disappointed in the liberalism and secularism of Austin. I was raised conservative and religious, and I feared Austin would try to change both. Your son is more confident and sure than I was at his age, so I’m sure he’d be safer there than I feared I’d be. I’m weak enough that I’d rather remove temptation than try to resist it.
Have a great Thanksgiving. Please tell Mr. Black and Luke I wish them a Happy Thanksgiving as well. I am spending mine with my family, which — as you know — is very important to me. Christ and family are two cornerstones of a happy life. And, I have a happy life.
Be safe and with Christ.
Again, I was pleased with my effort. I felt bad that I was being at least a little insincere. I didn’t care about the baseball team. But, I wanted to be Jet’s Sammy.
Rice — and every major college program — was stunned when Jet plucked an Owl hat and put it on his head during his college announcement. I was not. Linda had sworn me to secrecy, but she had told me via email the prior day that Luke was headed to Rice:
I want to thank you for your candor throughout our selection process. We have prayed and prayed on this decision, and we have decided that Rice is the best place for Luke. Our decision was based in no small part on our confidence and trust in you to protect and inspire him. If we cannot be there to watch over Luke, we are happy that you will be. Any of the schools competing for him would have prepared him for the next step in his baseball life. But, you showed you care more about his academic and spiritual life than his baseball life. We look forward to you being part of our family.
Yours in Christ, Linda
P.S. Please do not share this news with anyone. Luke does not want it leaked before he places Rice’s hat on his head tomorrow. Thank you in advance for your discretion.
I felt a little bad about how I had manipulated Mother Black, but I was thrilled with the news. I looked forward to three years with Luke.
My relationship with Luke got off to a cold start. He had wanted to go to UT and so was not happy to be going to Rice, a choice his parents had forced on him. And, he blamed me for it, accusing me of convincing his mother to force Rice on him. Apparently, she had referred to “Evangel” so much during the recruiting and selection process that it became a toxic reference to him. He was curt and direct in his emails with me, and he was only responsive; he never initiated contact.
Sammies and their subjects had to arrive on campus before everyone else. Luke and his parents showed up for orientation as a threesome. The Blacks were the only parents participating in the process. The rest of the parents moved their children in, helped them get settled, and said good-bye. The Blacks were not going to say good-bye until they absolutely had to.
Luke and I had worked on his schedule via email, and he was happy with it. As a scholarship athlete, he’d be taking a lighter load by one, giving him time for practice and for the mandatory study sessions we were to share. I was pensive about those. I was not sure how to repair the rupture my role in recruiting him had caused. Each Sammy had a private meeting with his or her subject during orientation. Fortunately, Luke was too polite to let his pique show. He shook my hand and smiled broadly. I still see that smile in my mind’s eye. It was a conversion smile. If you weren’t sure about Luke before, you were after.
Our meeting was very businesslike. Luke made it clear his primary focus was on baseball, aiming to help Rice win the CWS and to position himself to be taken number one overall in the MLB draft. But, he’d be a student also, as his parents had already decided he’d be staying at Rice all four years, regardless of if and when he was drafted. Their public pronouncements on the subject were well-covered and would have the intended effect. No MLB team would waste a high draft choice on a player it knew it couldn’t sign, and the Blacks were adamant they would not be persuaded into an early departure.
As we spent time together, Luke warmed up and filled in his backstory for me. He was an only child. He had almost killed his mother during birth, and his father was convinced she had been saved through the power of his prayers in the hospital chapel. His conviction led them to God, but quietly so. They were humble people, so they eschewed any outward sign of their religiosity, other than to refer to Luke’s arm as a “gift from God.” Still waters run deep, and their religious conviction was deep.
While I had rejected — at least internally — my parents’ religiosity, Luke embraced his. He was as devout as they were, and he immediately joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the campus Christian Students Association. He was surprised I was not a member of the CSA. He raised it with me during one of our mandatory sessions.
“Luke,” I warned, “the CSA is the only hotbed of intolerance on campus. They picket and protest constantly, whether it’s a speaker who happens to be pro-choice or anything else they deem un-Biblical. They are judgmental and intolerant, and it’s tough to tolerate their intolerance. I went to a couple of meetings, but they weren’t for me.”
“Do you recommend I avoid the CSA?”
“No, not at all. I think you should find out for yourself whether they’re for you or not. They just weren’t for me.”
“What is for you?”
“That’s a loaded question.”
“I’ve heard rumors about you.”
“They’re probably true.”
“My mother would be so disappointed.”
“Are you going to tell her?”
“No. She adores and trusts you. She’d feel like she got suckered into forcing me to Rice.”
“She didn’t. Everything I told her was true. And, there are gay people at UT, too.”
“I know. I’m not a rube.”
“I didn’t say you were.”
“You implied it. It may have been subtle, but there was definite implication.”
“I hope you don’t feel like you got suckered.” “I don’t. I feel like I got forced, but not suckered.”
“You’ll have a great career here. And, you’ll get a great education in the process.”
Luke took my hands in his and asked me to pray with him. We kneeled, still holding hands. While he prayed, I noticed that his nails were perfectly manicured. I have no idea what prayer he offered. For all I know, he prayed that I turn from the devil, marry a woman, and have children. I heard Charlie Brown’s teacher as I inspected his hands. Wah wah wah wah wah.
I answered his “Amen” with one of my own. I then asked if he got manicures. “Sure,” he said. “My parents don’t trust them to me. An ingrown nail is as dangerous as a pulled muscle.”
Wow, I thought to myself. This boy had been coddled.
We left after the prayer. All seemed good.
So, I was surprised — to say the least — when Coach Grantham called me to his office the next day.
“What’s going on with Jet?” he asked.
“He asked for a new Sammy.”
“Seriously?” I asked, angry and hurt.
“Yes, seriously. I don’t know what you did, but you have to undo it. We need that boy to be happy here. If he is, others’ll follow him here.”
“I can’t undo it,” I said, explaining that I thought the issue was that Luke had figured out I’m gay.
“Did you hit on him?” Coach Grantham asked.
“No, I didn’t hit on him,” I responded, incredulous. “He heard rumors. He asked about them. I confirmed them. That’s it.”
“Well, if that’s all it is, I’ll take care of it. Stay on him.”
“I will, Sir.”
***** Luke was not surprised when I showed up for our daily meeting. Apparently, Coach Grantham had told him he could not have a new Sammy.
I tried not to let on that I knew he had asked for a different one. Luke raised it.
“Look, I know Coach talked to you about my request. I’m sorry, but I didn’t think I should be fraternizing with a known homosexual. I thought people might get the wrong idea.”
“Like what, that you’re not an intolerant bigot.”
“No, like there was something going on between us.”
“Are you serious? It’s 2009. People understand gay people and straight people can be friends without ‘something going on’.”
“I’ve never been friends with a gay person.”
“Well, I’ve never been friends with a pitcher. I guess there’s a first time for everything. God forbid you’d open your closed mind just a little.”
“It wasn’t personal, you know. I like you, Evangel. A lot. You seem like a great guy.”
“I am a great guy.”
“I just don’t want innuendo and rumors to tarnish my reputation. I have a lot to protect.”
“No one wants innuendo and rumors to tarnish their reputation. You’re not unique in that. Everyone has a lot to protect.”
“You know what I mean,” he answered, defensively. I decided to press.
“I don’t. You think you’re singular, but you’re not. You can throw a ball. Big deal. I can solve quadratic equations. We all have talent. We all have fears. None of us are singular. And, we can’t control what people say about us. We can only control what we say about others. And what we think about ourselves.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Are we good?”
“Sure, we’re good. So, let’s get to work.”
After we studied for awhile, Luke asked “Does it worry you, being gay?”
“No, why would it worry me?”
“You’re a Christian, and the Bible’s clear that homosexuality is sinful. Christians can’t lead sinful lives.”
I had been carrying a copy of The Children Are Free for just this moment. I pulled it out, and handed it to Luke. “It’s not as clear as you think. Read this. Then we can talk about it.”
I didn’t expect Luke to read the book. But, I wanted the onus to be on him.
The next time we got together, Luke announced “I read your book.”
“It’s not my book. It’s Reverend Miner’s book. But, what did you think?”
“I don’t know. It was pretty compelling, but I wondered whether it was manipulated. It seemed like it was trying to muddy some pretty clear water.”
We did no work that night. We talked about the Bible, including my questions about the selection of books to be included, the rejection of other books, and the agenda behind those who wrote the books that were included. I challenged Luke to tell me what Jesus preached about homosexuality. I knew he couldn’t, because Jesus never once mentioned it. This issue that modern Christians treated as the most salient issue of the day and the biggest threat to their piety didn’t even register for Jesus, even though there were clearly homosexuals during His time.
We talked about Occam’s razor and my concern that I was on the wrong side of it. But, I also explained why I couldn’t be on the other side of it, and what it would mean for me if I was.
We talked about my personal struggle, and how it left me choosing between God not loving me and me accepting that I was created in His image. I explained how easy that had made my choice.
We talked about whether being gay was a choice. He said he had always assumed it was, and I challenged him to explain why someone would choose to be different than everyone else, especially when that choice had the potential to tear a family apart. Or, in his world, consign them to a life of celibacy.
We talked long past our session was supposed to end. We talked as we walked to his dorm. We talked as we stood in front of his dorm.
“I should go,” I finally said.
“Yeah, me too. I have work to do.”
“Good night, Luke.”
“Good night, Evangel,” Luke said, giving me a bro hug. “I enjoyed the discussion. Thank you for being so honest and open with me.”
“It’s who I am.”
We went on like that, working together and talking. Luke was no convert. He read a lot, and he brought arguments to our conversations that I had never considered before. He wasn’t going to convince me, and I wasn’t going to convince him. But, the discussions were good for our souls. It’s valuable to question what you think you know to be true. It’s even more valuable to understand you may be completely wrong about what you think you know to be true.
Luke did not last in the CSA. He agreed with me. They were too judgmental. They wanted Rice to be Liberty. If they wanted to go to Liberty, they should have gone to Liberty. Most of the students at Rice wouldn’t want to go to Liberty, and they certainly didn’t want Rice to become Liberty. The CSA walled itself off from the rest of the student body, an island of judgment unto themselves.
By Thanksgiving break, I had given in and had started using “Jet.” In return, he called me “Ev.” I hated Evangel, he said Evan was “too gay.”
Jet had also started to intrude on my solitude. For my Sophomore year, I had insisted on a single room. I had missed being alone as a Freshman, and I didn’t want to share a room with anyone as a Sophomore, even if he was a friend.
Jet now routinely stopped by, unannounced. If I was out, he waited against my door or left a note. If I was in, he plopped down on my bed or in my chair and started talking, no matter what I was doing.
I asked that he at least text first. He refused.
During one of his visits, he asked when I had first realized I was gay.
“I don’t really know, actually. It’s such a different story when you grow up in a house like mine. Gay was so out of the question, there was no way I was. And, it was nothing anyone talked about. Everything went unsaid. So, I didn’t know every other boy wasn’t feeling exactly what I was feeling. I assumed they all were. I was stunned and troubled when I found out in high school they weren’t. So, I guess I was in high school when I first realized what my feelings meant. But, I’d had them all my life.”
“Did you date girls?”
“No. I have never been attracted to girls. But, I was enough of a recluse no one noticed.”
“I’ve never dated anyone,” Jet admitted. “It wasn’t allowed. My mother’s motto was that ‘temptation leads to trouble.’ So, it’s better not to put yourself in the position to be tempted.”
It’s no wonder she had forced him to Rice. My email to her about Austin had hit a sweet spot, echoing her motto.
“How is she controlling you while you’re here?”
“I think she thinks you are.”
When it was time for Jet to leave, he gave me another bro hug. “I’m glad we’re friends.”
“Me, too. But, Jet, you need to start texting before you stop by. You can’t just show up announced.”
“Sure I can. It’s worked so far. And, I like surprising you.”
****** When we got back from Christmas break, baseball began in earnest. It was all Jet talked about. He tried to interest me in it, but he failed. I couldn’t have cared less about how he was strengthening his arm or about any of the other baseball things he was so excited about.
When the season started, Jet insisted I go to Reckling Park for the home games. When I demurred, he reminded me I was his Sammy and I was supposed to owl him. He also pandered, suggesting there was a lot of math in baseball. He had researched it, so he was armed with facts about angles of incident and refraction, force and velocity, and the calculations required to hit a first baseman in the chest with a throw or to track a fly ball and be camped under it when it fell.
Jet had wanted to be a starter, but Rice was stacked, and Jet was a Freshman. He became the Owls’ closer.
As asked, I was at Reckling Park for every home game, rain or shine. Baseball cemented our friendship. Jet taught me to keep score, so I would learn the game and understand his fascination with the game.
By the time the NCAA tournament started, I understood the basics of the game. I also got a little chill every time Jet entered a game. He walked in to the sound of a jet engine revving. Rice always had the lead when he did, and he generally overwhelmed the other team. I was thrilled for him.
Rice played its way to the championship of the CWS, and it seemed like the entire university was in Omaha with them. I certainly was, sitting with Jet’s parents in Rosenblatt, which was hosting its penultimate series.
In the deciding game, Rice led by one as the teams headed to the bottom of the ninth. A jet engine roared over the loudspeaker as Jet took the mound. He threw six consecutive fastballs, none of which the LSU hitters touched. After two more fastballs, Rice was one strike away from a National Championship. Jet’s ninth pitch sailed, hitting the LSU batter in the wrist. The tying run was on, but no one fretted. Jet had been almost perfect all year. The HBP appeared harmless.
Jet’s tenth pitch was a 100 mph fastball. Unfortunately, it was down and in, and LSU’s hitter — a stocky lefty — dropped the bat on it. The sound the ball made hitting the bat was terrible, and the trajectory of the ball was worse. It landed well into the right field stands, just fair and breaking every Owl heart. To my surprise, I cried as I watched LSU celebrate its miracle win.
Jet’s post-game interview went viral. In it, he seemed nonplussed by the failure. He spoke of his relationship with his Lord and Savior and his family. He explained that the rest was just noise, that the winning home run could have curled foul and been nothing more than a long strike, and that the next two pitches could have resulted in a third strikeout. The outcome would have been different, but he would not have been. His faith and his family defined him, not what happened on the field.
The questions then turned personal, as reporters wondered whether Jet had “someone special” to console him. No, he said. He had never dated. He was waiting until he was out of college to marry, and he saw no reason to tempt himself before he was ready to take that final step. He’d date then, not now.
The Religious Right ate it up. Luke Black followed that Florida quarterback into the pantheon. Pat Robertson lauded him. Mike Huckabee cited him. He was an overnight sensation. He was the stunningly handsome star in waiting, chaste and grounded and proving that, with discipline and faith, you could live the life of Christ, even in the modern world.
He was also a liar. When he saw me after the game, he burst into tears and buried his face in my shoulder. He cried all the way back to Houston, riding with me and his parents to avoid being seen. He had been dominating hitters since he could remember. He had never failed. He couldn’t believe he had failed when it mattered most. His aura of invincibility was shattered.
The media was not around to see that. It had its story, and it was not going to let the truth get in the way. They didn’t see him break. They weren’t there to comfort the broken boy. I was. Jet basically moved into my room. He told me I was the only person who could see him like this. He cried himself to sleep in my bed (I slept on the floor). He ate little. He listened when I talked, but he didn’t hear anything I said. I stopped talking. He’d lie on my bed, and I’d sit next to him, holding his hand or stroking his hair.
After about a week, I’d had enough. It was, after all, just a game. I understood it was an important game, to the extent there was such a thing, but it was still just a game.
I tried to convince Jet to buck up, but he was wallowing. I couldn’t pull him free, and I was worried the CWS failure had unleashed things that had been bottled up and that I was ill-equipped to handle. I wanted to know what, but I was afraid to inquire. I wouldn’t have to.
Jet was in my bed, and I was again trying to sleep on my floor. I knew from Jet’s breath he was not asleep. I had learned the rhythms of his breathing and what they meant.
“Ev. You asleep?”
“Will you come up here?”
“I need you to.”
I stood up and sat on the edge of my lost bed. I was wearing an undershirt and shorts.
“Will you hold me?”
“Sure,” I answered. Jet rolled toward the wall, and I curled up behind him. I put my left arm around him.
“Jet,” I whispered. “You really need to let this go. You have great successes ahead of you. But, you also have great failures. You need to learn to deal with both.”
“This isn’t about the game, Ev. It’s about me. I’ve been holding a lot in, and it all seems to be flooding out. I feel like I’m drowning.”
“I want to tell you something.”
“I’ve never told anyone this.”
“You can tell me anything, Luke,” I said, reverting back to the name I preferred. “You’re my best friend. Nothing you say can or will change that.”
“I think maybe I’m gay.”
I had wondered if that was coming. There were so many signs, and I noticed most of them. Questions to me. No girlfriend. No apparent interest in girls. Unannounced visits to me.
“It doesn’t matter to me if you are.”
“I know that.”
“But, what makes you think so?”
“Your story resonated with me. It was like I was listening to you talk about me. I’ve never dated a girl, and I don’t really care that I haven’t. I’m not really even attracted to them. I notice pretty girls. But, that’s all I do, notice. I’m not sure I’m attracted to guys, but I may be oppressing myself to appease my God or my parents.”
“Let’s talk about this tomorrow. The sun burns the mist off. Light provides clarity. All may be different in the light of day.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I know. But, let’s sleep and see.”
“Can we pray first?”
Luke rolled over, took my hands in his, and pressed his forehead to mine. When he didn’t say anything, I prayed. “Lord, we love You with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. Please reveal Your will for our lives to us. Open our eyes that we may see it, open our minds that we may understand it, and open our hearts that we may accept it. Please especially reveal Your will to Luke. Help him, guide him, and love him. We pray in the name of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You, forever and ever. Amen.”
I tried to let go of Luke and move back to the floor, but he wouldn’t release me. We were hand in hand and forehead to forehead. Almost 13 feet of human, we were too big for a twin bed. It was all arms, elbows, legs, and knees trying to find sleep.
I waited for his breathing to change. I wanted him to sleep. I wanted him to find peace. I wanted the thoughts that were troubling him to recede. As I held his hands and pressed my forehead to his, I realized I was rooting for him to be straight, for him to wake up and dismiss his confusion as delusion, for him to know he was what I knew I was not. I was thinking selfless thoughts.
***** The light of the morning woke me first. Luke was on his back, his face untroubled as he slept. He breathed through his nose, his mouth closed and his lips pursed. They were full and red and I wanted to kiss them. I knew I couldn’t.
Luke had grown up loving the Chicago Cubs, which was odd for a Texas boy. When he was young, they had a flame throwing right hander named Kerry Wood, and Luke pretended to be him as he fired tennis balls at a strike zone his father had taped to the basement wall. As Luke slept, he was wearing a faded and tattered Cubs T-shirt. It was twisted up, and I could see the black trail of hair that led from his navel into his gym shorts. It was the most erotic thing I had ever seen.
I was taking him in when he woke up. “Good morning, Ev.”
“Good morning, Luke.”
“Can we pray?”
“Sure,” I answered, again taking his hands in mine. “But, you should do it.”
“I can’t. You have to.”
I started. “God, thank You for this day. Thank You for what You will give us today, thank You for what You will take from us today, and thank You for what You will leave us today. Please give us clarity of thought. Please do not let self-interest cloud our minds or impair Your will. Please give us the courage to act on Your will and to stand with You in all things. Please love us and guide us. We pray this in the name of Your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You, and who saved the world from sin. Amen.”
I let go of Luke’s hands and laid back on the bed, next to him. We stared at the ceiling. Neither of us spoke.
Finally, Luke broke the silence. “Ev, thank you for staying with me last night.”
“You’re welcome, Luke. That’s what friendship is for. Stability in the storm.”
“The light of day has not brought clarity.”
“Time will. Don’t be rash. Go slow. Think and pray.”
“I’ve spent a lifetime thinking and praying. It’s what has led me to this place.”
“Still, His answers are often elusive. You need to be patient.”
“I have been patient. You got your answer. How do you know I haven’t gotten mine?”
“I don’t, Luke. I don’t know anything. I don’t even know that I’ve gotten my answer.”
“You act like you know.”
“Look, Luke. I’d like to help you through this. I really would. But, I don’t think I can. I’m want you to be straight, so you don’t have to go through the turmoil I’ve gone through, so you don’t have to hide from and lie to your family, so you don’t have to fear that one misstep may break your family. So, I think I have a conflict on this.”
“I don’t have anyone else.”
“You could find someone.”
“Won’t everyone have an agenda?”
“I don’t think so. I have an idea. Let’s get up and get dressed and go find a church that is at least open to the possibility that gay people can be good, God-loving Christians. We can make it about me. I can be the one vexed. We can talk to the Pastor. I think we’ll get an open mind that may help you divine His will, but not try to influence you one way or the other.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Luke agreed, getting up and preparing to head back to the athletic dorm. While he was gone, I quickly showered and searched for churches on my laptop. I decided we’d look at Bering, Ecclesia, and Resurrection. It was going to be a long day.
In the end, the choice was easy. Luke and I liked Pastor Seaver very much, we exchanged numbers with him, and we planned to attend Ecclesia the following Sunday. As we headed back to campus, I encouraged Luke to let Paster Seaver guide his discernment, and he encouraged me to do the same. I agreed. While I thought I had found my answer on my own, it couldn’t hurt to repeat the process guided by the hand and wisdom of another.
Luke and I were both spending the summer on campus. I was the star of the mathematics department, so I was spending the summer researching and writing. In my spare time, I continued to try to solve the unsolvable, including the Goldbach conjecture and the Riemann hypothesis.
Luke was working on conditioning and strength under the eye of the coaching staff. He’s be starting for the Owls the next season, and they wanted to ensure he had the arm strength and the stamina to pitch deep into games.
With few others on campus, Luke and I spent a lot of time together. We worked jointly and separately with Pastor Seaver, and we talked endlessly about the process we were going through. In the end, it was not much of a process. If you are raised as we had been raised and still thinking at 19 or 20 that you might be gay, you almost certainly were. You may let the censure, judgment, and ridicule of Sodomites push you into the dark recesses of your deepest closet, but that didn’t change what and who you were; it only disguised it.
Luke and I did not want to wear a disguise, especially after working with Pastor Seaver. He explained, and we knew, that pretending to be what we were not would be unfair to whomever we decided to pretend with. I thought it would be unfair to myself and to my God, too, pretending to be other than how He had made me.
As I said, I also rejected the view that gay Christians are called to celibacy. Whether out of revelation or self-interest, I rejected the Traditional View and embraced the Reformed View. I wanted to be in a Christ-centered marriage. And, I wanted sex to be part of that marriage.
Luke was not so sure. He was torn between the two Views, and working with Pastor Seaver on the theological underpinnings of both. With gay marriage likey headed to the United States within the decade, it was meaningful work.
Little cements a friendship like a joint journey to the brink of Hell and back. During the 2010-11 school year, Luke and I were together unless I was in a math lab or he was baseballing. We were so joined, Luke started calling me “Bennie,” from Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” He was, of course, the Jet(s). When I’d show up, he’d start the song. I liked the name a lot. It stuck. I didn’t like Luke’s singing. It stunk.
With our attachment and my open status on campus, I was surprised that rumors were not swirling around us. But, they weren’t, a fact I confirmed with friends. Apparently, Jet’s BMOC status — coupled with the fact he was now, like Tim Tebow, a poster boy for the Religious Right and the efficacy of its abstinence fixation — insulated him. On campus, my presence in his life was a confirmation of the Owl Program and of Jet’s Christ-like goodness. Christ fraternized with whores. Jet fraternized with a gay.
I suspect some element of the campus viewed me as mission work. They hoped Jet was preaching the Gospel to me, trying to save me from the sinful path I had “chosen.”
As a Junior, I was living “Beyond the Hedges” (i.e., off-campus). I had a one bedroom apartment that I basically shared with Jet. He was over all the time. We studied together. We prayed together. We researched and debated theologic points together. We tried to sway each other. He wanted me to listen to more Christian rock. I wanted him to listen to more Classic rock. He wanted me to stop solving math problems and be more social. I wanted him to stop watching Cub games.
As often as not, he slept over. Usually, he slept on the couch. But, sometimes, he slept in my bed. When he did, we almost always slept hand in hand, forehead to forehead, having fallen asleep while we prayed.
As the semester break approached, we made plans to visit each other over the holiday. I was driving to his house the day after Christmas. He was driving to mine the day after New Year’s Day.
As I drove north on December 26, I wondered if Luke and I were a couple. Aside from sex, we were doing all the things couples do together. When he was not around, I missed him. When he was around, I delighted in him.
Luke’s parents greeted me warmly and welcomed me into their home, especially Mother Black. When I mistakenly called her Mother Black instead of Mrs. Black, she broke into a broad smile. “I like that,” she said. She was Mother Black to me thereafter.
Over dinner, she thanked God for bringing me into Luke’s life and described me as the brother he always wanted but never had. If only it had been that simple.
That night, Luke and I were in the basement talking long after the Blacks had gone to bed. I didn’t want to scare him, but I wanted to share question with him, to see what he thought.
“A funny question occurred to me as I drove up here.”
“Are we dating?”
Luke laughed. “Good grief, Bennie, we’ve been dating a long time.”
“Yes. You didn’t know?”
“No. I can’t believe I’ve had a boyfriend and didn’t know it.”
“Well, you have. We’re together all the time. What else could it be?”
“I thought we were just best friends,” I admitted, laughing at my obtuseness.
“We are best friends. But, not ‘just’ best friends.”
“I think it’s time we kissed,” I said.
“I think it’s past time. I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve never kissed anyone. I don’t know what to do.”
“I haven’t really kissed anyone either. I kiss my parents, but I don’t think that counts.”
“How should we do this?”
“We should stand up.”
We did. We were face to face. But, we were helpless. We were like two foals trying to stand for the first time.
Sublimated and suppressed desire finally overwhelmed me, and I grabbed Luke’s face in my hands, pressed my lips to his, and shared my first real kiss. Luke’s lips were soft but firm, and touching them with mine sent a jolt of electricity throughout my body. My stomach tingled, like I had just crested the hill of a roller coaster and started the free fall.
We parted to catch our breath. I looked at the clock. It was 12:17 a.m. on December 27. I had been 21 years old for 17 minutes, and I had just shared my first real kiss. I had not told Luke it was my birthday, but he had just given me the greatest gift I had ever received.
“Wow,” Luke said, taking a deep breath.
“Yes, wow,” I confirmed, moving my mouth back to his and kissing him again. Slowly, our mouths opened, and our tongues touched. I was back on the roller coaster, again in free fall.
We kissed the night away. I kept checking the clock when we broke. At 1:31, we were still standing. By 2:57, we were seated on the couch. By 4:15, we were side by side on the floor. Most of the night, we held hands as we kissed. If we were not holding hands, any touching was above the waist, usually at the shoulders or around the neck.
By the time the sun came up, my lips were raw, and my stomach ached. I generally tried not to masturbate, but I needed to relieve the ache.
We also needed to make our way upstairs. We were already going to have to explain why we had slept in the basement, even though neither of us had slept.
When we got upstairs, no one else was up, so we continued up to our bedrooms. Once in my room, I went into the bathroom and relieved the ache in my stomach. It had to be done. I then showered and headed back downstairs for breakfast. I should have been exhausted, but I felt electrified.
At breakfast, I felt like we had scarlet letters on our foreheads and Mother and Mr. Black could see on our faces what we had done the entire night before. But, they went about breakfast like it was a normal day, and didn’t pray during grace for the Lord to rescue us from abomination.
Still, breakfast was fraught. I tried not to look at Luke, as I knew I’d crack my face with a smile if I did. And, I feared the love I had for him would be apparent, betrayed by my eyes.
Yet, I had to look. I was in a dream, and I didn’t want it to end. I also worried that Luke was not where I was, that the kissing from the night before had him reconsidering, and I wanted to know if it was. I thought I’d be able to read his face.
I looked at Luke out of the corner of my eye. He was looking at me when I did, and he smiled broadly at me. I raised my head and smiled just as broadly at him. I couldn’t help myself. What I feared I would read on his face was not there. Instead, saw in his face what I felt in mine.
When breakfast was over, we headed upstairs to prepare to face the day. As soon as I was in my room, Luke was, too, closing the door behind him. He immediately pressed his lips to mine, and we kissed again, like we had the night before. He tasted of bacon and eggs and syrup. He was delicious.
As we kissed, our bodies were against each other. I could feel him hard against me. I wanted to touch him, but I couldn’t.
That night, we were in the basement making out again long after Mother and Mr. Black went to bed. We kissed standing, kneeling, and then side by side on the floor. Luke rolled on top of me. Our tongues fought as Luke rubbed his body and his crotch against me and mine.
“You have to stop,” I said. “I’m getting close.”
“Me, too,” he whispered. “But, I don’t want to stop. Don’t make me.”
“You have to.”
“Alright,” he said, rolling off me.
We continued to make out. I could not get enough of Luke, and he could not get enough of me. It was almost midnight when Luke announced he had a birthday gift for me. I was surprised, as I had not even hinted that it was my birthday.
Luke handed me a box. In it, there was a Simon Pearce frame with a 5’x5′ picture of him and me at the CWS. He had just saved the first of the three final games. The date was etched into the frame. In the snap, Luke had just pitched, and he was dark, hot, and sweaty. I had only watched, and I was just hot. His arm was around my shoulder, and my arm was around his waist. He smiled into the lens. My head was turned toward his. It was a beautiful picture of two boys in love, even if they didn’t know it at the time.
The next morning, I was exhausted. I had gotten little sleep while visiting the Blacks. I said my good-byes and headed home. Luke would follow in three days. It was going to be a long three days.
We’d have less privacy in my house. Chass and Prude would almost certainly not leave us alone for hours to make out while our parents watched television above, oblivious.
We had a sprawling house with two separate sets of bedrooms. Mine and an empty room were at one end, and mine opened out to the pool. The master, the girls’, and the formal guest room were at the other end.
When I arrived back home, Miss Lily wanted to prepare the house for Luke. “Preparing the house” involved a thorough cleaning. In addition to normal vacuuming and dusting, we cleaned baseboards and door frames, washed windows and window frames, and Swiffered walls. We also changed all the beds, rotated all the mattresses, and cleaned under all the furniture. Luke was a 20 year old boy who didn’t or wouldn’t pick up after himself, but we prepared the house as if girding for a military inspection.
Miss Lily originally planned to put Luke in the formal guest room, across the hall from Chastity and next door to Prudence. Seeing an opportunity, I seized on it, suggesting it might not look right to put a young man so close to two beautiful, blonde TCU sorority girls. Miss Lily barely acknowledged me as she picked up the guest basket she had prepared and marched to the other end of the house. The ploy had worked; Luke would be in the room next to mine, just through the Jack and Jill bathroom.
By New Year’s Day, I was bouncing off the walls. For the first time in my life, I was starting a new year in love. And, I couldn’t wait to tell Luke.
He arrived just before noon. A gracious host, Miss Lily insisted on escorting him to his room. I followed along, but there was no time for us to be alone. Luke dropped his stuff and was escorted by Miss Lily to lunch on the patio. The girls dominated lunch. They were clearly flirting with Luke. My parents ignored it, but it peeved me. Luke just soaked it in.
After lunch, we went to our rooms to change for a swim. As we turned to go into our separate rooms, I told Luke to meet me in the bathroom.
He did, and we finally kissed. It was a slow, gentle kiss. When we parted, I told him I needed to tell him something. I was nervous. My mouth was dry. My face was flushed.
“Whatever it is,” Luke encouraged me, putting his arms around my waist, “it’s okay. Just tell me.”
I looked him in the eyes. I could muster only a whisper. “I love you, Luke Caleb Black.”
Luke smiled and kissed my nose. “Look at you, Bennie, all flushed and nervous. You’re just adorable. And, for the record, I love you, too, Evangel Michael Tyler. A lot.”
We kissed again, greedily. I slid my hands under the back of Luke’s shirt, touching his bare body for the first time. He did the same to me. My whole body tingled as I kissed his neck and moved my hands to his sides and then to his chest.
“Take your shirt off,” I did
He did. Somehow, I had never seen Luke shirtless. He was ripped. He had a muscled chest with small, oval nipples and a mat of black hair right in the middle. The hair gathered and trailed over his visible abs, through his small but deep navel, and into the dress slacks he had worn to meet my family.
“Your turn,” he said.
I pulled my shirt over my head. I was not built like Luke. Unlike him, I had no hair on my chest, only a small red trail from my navel into my jeans.
“Do you shave your chest?”
“No. I’m naturally bare.”
“I like it,” he said, kissing my neck, my nipples, and my chest.
“Luke, you have to stop. We have to get out to the pool. We’ll be missed soon.”
“It’s getting harder and harder to stop.”
We parted and changed into our trunks. Luke followed me out to the pool. The girls were in two piece swimming suits, which shocked me. Miss Lily was not going to be pleased.
She wasn’t. As soon as she arrived with a tray of lemonade, she sent both girls in “to put some clothes on.”
The double standard always surprised me. Luke and I were far more in a state of undress then either girl, but our state was not immodest. Theirs was.
Luke and I stayed in the heated water, mostly to hide our erections. The girls stayed in their chairs, a portable heater adding just enough warmth. Miss Lily read under an umbrella. Father napped in his room.
I whispered “I love you” to Luke every chance I got as we horsed around in the water. Now that I had told him, I couldn’t stop telling him.
Our horsing around mostly consisted of one of us shoving our crotch into the other. It was high school skin hunger at its finest.
We slipped shirts on and joined Miss Lily under the umbrella. She removed her sunglasses and questioned Luke about his faith, his family, and his celebrity status on the Right. He answered her with grace and humility. He assured her his story was not a story at all, that he was committed to abstinence, and that he didn’t plan to have intercourse until he was married.
“How about you, Evangel?” she asked, putting me on the spot.
I wanted to answer “I can’t have sex until Luke does.” But, I didn’t. Instead, I decided to play with her a little.
“I respect Luke and his views. I’m not sure I share them. I think two people should be committed to each other and in love before they engage in intercourse. But, I’m not sure they need to be married. So many important things factor into the decision to marry. I don’t think lust or the desire finally to have intercourse should be one of them.”
Luke looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I think he realized I was talking to him, not to Miss Lily.
It was no surprise when Miss Lily dismissed me as wrong. “Intercourse within a traditional marriage is a gift from God. Intercourse at any other time is a sinful, hedonistic act.”
Her world was black and white. There were no blurred lines.
We dressed that night for dinner, a five course affair in the formal dining room. Luke sat directly across from me in a black cashmere jacket and a black and red striped tie. He looked like a Brooks Brothers model.
Dinner ran long. Luke and I offered to clean up, but Miss Lily delegated that task to Chastity and Prudence. We could hear them angrily slamming dishes as we headed to our rooms. I entered mine, closed and locked the door behind me, and headed through the bathroom and into Luke’s. I put my arms around him, kissed him softly, and whispered “I want to watch you undress.”
“Do you want me to do a striptease?”
“No. I just want you to undress.”
I sat back in the chair. Luke stared at me as he removed his jacket, pulled his tie off, and unbuttoned his shirt.
“You can help, if you want.”
I moved to him. I unbuckled his belt and pulled it off. I reached for the button on his slacks, but stopped. I could see him through his pants. There was no way I could unbutton and unzip his pants without touching him. I worried that, if I touched him, I wouldn’t stop.
I sat back down. Luke kneeled between my legs and kissed me.
“Why’d you stop?” he asked.
“Because, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to.”
“Who says I want you to?”
“We’re not married.”
“But, we are committed to each other and in love, aren’t we?”
We were arguing each other’s ethos. I was in if he was, but I didn’t want him to do anything he’d regret. One thing I knew: We couldn’t undo what was done once it was done.
“And,” he added, nibbling my ear and whispering, “there’s a lot to do other than intercourse.”
As Luke unbuttoned my shirt, I suggested we slow down and talk.
“I’m tired of talking,” Luke said, kissing my bare chest and unbuckling my belt.
“Is the door locked?”
While he did, I buckled my belt and buttoned my shirt back up.
“You’re heading the wrong direction,” Luke said, moving his hands back to my buttons.
“I want to talk,” I said, grabbing his hands and stopping him.
“Okay,” he said, kissing my nose and sighing, “let’s talk.”
“Put a shirt on first. I won’t be able to concentrate if you don’t.”
He did, and we sat cross-legged on the bed and talked about what abstinence meant, whether “no premarital sex” meant “no premarital sexual activity,” and what qualified as “sexual activity.” Did kissing throughout the night qualify? Did grinding against each other? A hand-job? A blow job?
We also talked about marriage, traditional and same-sex. It was January 1, 2011, and same-sex marriage was recognized in a handful of states, all through court decisions. I predicted it would be recognized nationwide before the decade was over. Luke wasn’t so sure.
Our talk only muddied our thoughts. We decided we needed guidance. We needed to talk to Pastor Chris.
In the meantime, we decided we needed to stay well within the lines. We could kiss, but that was all. We changed into shorts and shirts and kissed the night away in his bed. At one point, I thought I heard someone try the door. But, I wasn’t sure.
When we had kissed all we could without going farther, we let sleep quell us. We held hands and slept forehead to forehead.
Before Miss Lily and Father joined us the next morning, Chastity asked us why our doors were locked the night before. Luke blanched. I pounced.
“Protection from you and your sister.”
“You don’t need protection,” she answered, looking at me.
“You’re not sneaking into his room through mine. I’m not stupid.” I was surprised she didn’t answer that Luke could have locked his bathroom door, but she didn’t. Instead, she just smiled at me. It was a sinister smile.
Once our doors were locked that night, I told Luke I wanted to see all of him. I promised only to look.
Luke pulled his socks off, unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, and stepped out of them. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. He was in front of me in only his boxers. He was stunning.
“These, too?” he asked.
He turned his back to me, slipped his boxers over his rear end, and stopped. He was either having second-thoughts or teasing me.
“Ready for the showstopper?” he asked.
Luke pulled his boxers off and stood with his back to me. He looked like he had been chiseled from stone. He flexed his biceps for me while bowing his right leg and then his left leg. He lowered his arms, covered his genitals, and turned around.
“Stop teasing me,” I begged.
He dropped his hands. His penis hung against his scrotum. His treasure trail led to a full, black bush. His penis was thick. His scrotum was round and full.
“How are you not hard?” I asked.
“I’m too nervous. I’m pretty terrified right now.”
Luke reached down, pulled his boxers back on, and announced it was my turn. I didn’t like the turnabout. It didn’t seem like fair play to me.
“I’m too self conscious,” I said.
“I’ll walk you through it. Simon says, ‘take your shirt off.'” I did, pulling it over my head.
“Simon says ‘take your socks off.'” I did, sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling them off.
“Simon says ‘unbutton your jeans.'” I did.
“Now, unzip them.” I did.
“You lose!” Luke bellowed, laughing. “I didn’t say ‘Simon says.'”
“I know. But, you suck at Simon says. Let’s try again. Simon says ‘slip your jeans off.'” I did. I now stood before Luke in only my Under Armour boxer briefs. I was nervous, but my nerves did not soften me like Luke’s softened him. I was visibly aroused.
“Simon says, ‘remove your underwear.'”
“I can’t. I’m hard. I’m embarrassed.”
“You have to. You have to do what Simon says.”
“Cover your eyes.” He did, and I slipped my underwear off, pinned my penis to my abdomen, and covered it with my hands.
“Okay,” I said.
“Wow,” Luke said. “You are stunning. Move your hands. I want to see your penis.”
I closed my eyes, moved my hands away, and then covered my eyes with them. I was mortified.
“You have a nice penis,” he said. “Big, but not too big. I’m going to have a lot of fun with it.”
I uncovered my eyes, opened them, and raised my eyebrows.
“Maybe not today. But, someday. Hopefully, someday soon.”
“Are you hard?”
“Let me see it.”
“Come over here.” I did, and he pulled his boxers out, showing me his thick, bullet headed erection. I could only stare.
Luke broke the silence. “I think yours is longer. But, mine is thicker.”
“It’s really thick,” I agreed. When I looked up, Luke pressed his lips to mine and pressed his tongue into my mouth. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him against me, chest to chest. When we finally parted, Luke whispered, “I love you, Bennie Boy. A lot.”
“Oh my goodness, Luke, I love you, too. So so much.”
As we kissed again, I felt Luke slide his boxers down to his thighs. We were hard against each other, and Luke took us both in his hands and held us together. I felt like lightning was just about to strike; the hairs on my arms and legs stood straight out.
He moved his hands back and forth, pleasuring us both at the same time. In only a couple of strokes, we both finished on the other. I apologized. “There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Luke assured me.
“That’s the first time someone else has made me come.”
“I know. Me, too.”
After we cleaned up, we settled into my bed, still naked. I spoke first. “I thought we were going to wait until we talked to Pastor Chris.”
“You know what they say, ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.'”
“I don’t think we should be talking about the road to Hell at this point. I’m worried we’re on it.”
“We’re not. What we just did was beautiful. Too beautiful to be sinful. If Pastor Chris disagrees, we’ll just beg for forgiveness. After all, it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”
“Well,” I said, taking him in my hand for the first time. “If we have to beg for forgiveness anyway, we may as well make it worth our while.”
I was surprised by how he felt. He was hard and pulsating, but the skin and head was soft and supple. I buried my tongue in his mouth as I felt his orgasm build in my hand. He came as I kissed him.
I was so close, it took nothing for him to finished me off. As soon as his strong right hand gripped me, I spilled on him again. We slept naked together. We prayed before we went to sleep. Luke led it, and it was very simple. “Thank you, God, for blessing us with love to give each other, with the patience and wisdom it took to find each other, and for the courage to stand together. We pray this in the name of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Once we were back in Houston, we met with Pastor Chris. He was not impressed with our distinction between sexual activity and sex. He was right. It was a self-interested distinction. But, it was one by which we had to abide. We couldn’t go back to holding hands. We just couldn’t. It was too late for that.
As the seasons changed, so did our trajectories. I heard that I had been selected for an internship with the National Security Agency, while Luke pitched for a depleted Owl team. Graduation had hit the team hard in 2010, and the wave of recruits following Luke wasn’t quite ready. The Owls foundered, and they were in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time under Coach Grantham.
The season was tough on Luke. He was supposed to be a savior, but he couldn’t pitch every day. Rice was invincible when he pitched, and average when he didn’t. In the end, the combination was enough. Rice slipped into the tournament, only to be bounced out in a game Luke couldn’t pitch.
We were going to spend the summer apart. I was going to be in D.C., and Luke would be in Houston.
As we settled into bed the night before I was to leave, Luke suggested that we have an atavistic summer. “Rather than email and text, let’s write each other letters.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’ll be fun. And it’ll soak up a lot of our free time. It’ll keep us out of trouble.”
“I didn’t know you need to be kept out of trouble.”
“I don’t. Except when you’re around.”
With that, he rolled on top of me, kissed me, and started writhing against me. We had recently added this move as within our increasingly dull line between what we could and could not do together. He was almost always on top and controlling the rhythm of our movements. We had gotten good at finishing together while we kissed. It was extremely erotic, as his thickness worked against my hardness. Sometimes, I opened my legs and trapped him between my thighs. Other times, I didn’t, and we coated my stomach.
Luke sweated a lot. When he writhed against me, he usually dripped sweat onto me. I loved being covered in his sweat.
I wrote him my first letter while in the air the next day.
I’m not gone two hours, and I wonder how I’ll make it two days, much less two months. I already ache for your smile and long for your touch.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I can’t imagine that’s true. I can’t imagine being fonder of you than I already am.
I’ll write again soon.
The government worked its interns to nubs. I got access to a lot of information and programs that no one should even know exist, much less work on. Each day terrified me. The world was more dangerous than I could ever have imagined.
I wrote to Luke almost every day. While he had suggested we write each other love letters, mine were typically more mundane. I didn’t have the energy to be clever every day. And, I feared being sappy would eventual become cloying.
I received my first letter on my third day in D.C.
I feel like a big piece of me has gone missing.
Oh, I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece Hi-dee-ho, here I go lookin’ for my missin’ piece.
I can’t wait to find it again.
“The Giving Tree” was one of my favorite childhood books. “The Missing Piece” was one of my least favorite. I wrote back immediately.
You need to re-read the book. The circle starts out singing, loving the adventure as it searches for the perfect piece to complete itself. But after it finally finds the wedge, it decides it preferred being incomplete. So, it gives the piece up, and pretends to keep searching, singing its days away.
I am your missing piece, and you are mine. I complete you, and you complete me. I will never give you up. You can’t give me up, either. I’d never sing again.
I received Luke’s response quickly. It was on a torn piece of paper. It said simply
Fret not. I’ll never give you up.
We went on like that throughout the Summer. Some of our letters were whimsical. Some were serious. Most were simple updates on life in D.C. or Houston.
We still have every letter we sent each other. We keep them in shoe boxes, one marked “Mine” and one marked “His.” I usually have to read a few to remind myself whose letters are in which box.
We talked only on Sunday evenings. We usually talked until one of us fell asleep.
Luke visited twice, each time for a weekend. The visits were furtive. We kissed and jerked and writhed. I hated when it was time for him to leave.
As I readied to head back to Houston, I wrote Luke a final letter. I knew I’d end up beating it home.
I was wrong. Absence has made the heart grow fonder. I can’t wait to return to you. I don’t ever want to be apart from you again.
When you’re finished reading this, I want you to make love to me.
Your Bennie Luke raised his eyes from the page and looked me into mine. I smiled, and he raised his eyebrows, silently asking “Are you sure?”
“I am. I thought all Summer ‘what if something happens to him or me and we’ve never made love’? I don’t want to die not knowing what it’s like to make love with you.”
“You’re not going to die,” Luke assured me.
“Of course I will. We all will.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Still, I think I’m ready.”
“I’m not sure I am. I really think we should be married first.”
He had taken the bait. “Funny you should mention that,” I said, taking a knee, taking Luke’s left hand in mine, and asking, “Luke Caleb Black, will you do me the honor of being my husband?”
Luke kneeled down, took my face in his hands, and asked, “Are you serious, Bennie?”
“I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life. This Summer confirmed what I already knew to be true. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to marry you. Right now. I don’t want to live another moment not being your husband, and you not being mine.”
“I want to marry you, too, Bennie Boy,” he said, taking his face in mine and kissing me. We both cried as we kneeled, kissing and holding and kissing and holding.
We told no one of our plan. The New York legislature had passed marriage equality that Summer, and we decided we wanted to do it there, not in a state where a court had decided the issue. Pastor Chris agreed to go with us and to perform the ceremony. We decided to do it over Columbus Day weekend, the two year anniversary of our first in depth discussion and the real beginning of “Bennie and the Jet.”
The ceremony was simple and sweet. We wore jeans and Cub sweatshirts. We had a stranger take pictures on my iPhone. We stood in front of the Pond. We exchanged brief vows. We hung crosses around each other’s necks. Mine was solid. His was hollow. Mine fit perfectly into his to make one. Pastor Chris pronounced us married.
When it was over, Pastor Chris hugged us both and thanked us for including him. He left, and we were officially married and on our own. I looked at Luke.
“I feel totally different.”
“I didn’t think I would.” “Me, either. But, I do.”
We walked back to our hotel to change for dinner at Il Cantinori. While we were changing, I asked Luke if he wanted to consummate our marriage. He said yes, but suggested we wait until after dinner, so our first time wouldn’t be rushed. I suggested we skip dinner.
“Patience is a virtue, Bennie Boy.”
“I’m kind of fixated on vice at this point.”
Luke walked to me, put his arms around me, and whispered “me too” while kissing my forehead. “But, I want this day to be perfect. Let’s go to dinner. We’ll have a great meal. We’ll drink a bottle of wine. We’ll walk hand in hand back here. We’ll slowly undress each other. We’ll make love for the first time. And, then we’ll fall asleep in each other’s arms, for the first time as husbands.” He made it sound perfect.
We did exactly what Luke wanted. Dinner was fantastic, but we ate lightly. Neither of us wanted to feel bloated after. The wine was interesting. It was the first time either of us had tried alcohol. Both of our houses were dry. We were both drunk.
We sauntered back to the hotel. Luke thought we should let the anticipation build as high as we could.
Once in the room, Luke undressed me first. He kissed every piece of my body that he bared. He took me in his mouth for the first time.
“Stop,” I whispered, “or I won’t be able to.” He didn’t stop, and neither did I. I finished in his mouth. My first blow job was way more than advertised or expected.
It was my turn. I tried to mimick him. I kissed every part of his body that I bared. I took him in my mouth. It was easier than I had expected. He was hard but soft and warm. He moved in rhythm with me, warned me that he was about there, and then filled my mouth.
We moved to the bed. Luke was flat on his back, and my head was on his shoulder. I tickled his chest and stomach.
“What did you think?” I asked.
“It was better and easier than I expected.”
“I thought so, too.”
“We’re going to do that a lot.”
We groped and kissed each other until we were ready again. We had done a lot of research online, so we had the right stuff for the next step. And, we had a plan for him to ready me for penetration.
Still, it was much more difficult than we had expected. No matter what we did, penetration seemed impossible. I wondered if Luke was just too thick. He was sure based on our research that he wasn’t, but we just couldn’t make it work. We gave up, laughing, and decided to try again the next day. We finished each other again with our mouths. We fell asleep wrapped up together, married men.
It took time and work, but we made love for the first time the following morning. Luke took me first. I was on my stomach and physically uncomfortable, but mentally thrilled by the idea of what was happening. Luke didn’t last long, collapsing onto my back when he finished. He buried his face in my hair and then kissed my neck and shoulders.
“Oh my God, Ev. That was awesome. You’re not going to believe how good it feels.”
I didn’t. I finished as soon as I got all the way in, while Luke was trying to adjust to me. I apologized to Luke, and he assured me there was no apology necessary and that we’d get better at it. We did.
We told no one. But, rumors were swirling around us at Rice. Many people knew I was gay, and we were inseparable and, for the first time, living together. Even Luke’s reputation and poster boy status could not insulate him against innuendo under those circumstances.
Plus, we were rarely out and about. We were married and, both now 21, we had years and years of oppression and suppression to overcome and release. We were well on our way to making up for lost time.
I loved every inch of Luke’s body. As I explored it, I discovered new things each time. He had very small ears. He had milky skin, but a lot of moles. He had a birthmark on his right shoulder blade, which made perfect sense, in a way. His right hand was a size larger than his left, which also made perfect sense, in a way. The same was true of his right foot. And his right testicle.
I loved pleasuring him, especially with my mouth. I was constantly at him. I took him whenever I could, even when he wasn’t ready. I liked him soft, but I loved him hard, his thickness filling my mouth. I learned to use my hand and mouth together, and he learned match my rhythm. Whether he was on his back, standing before me, or hovering over me, I could always feel his orgasm coming. I sped up when I did, craving his finish.
As my Senior and his Junior year wore on, we were an island. We couldn’t and wouldn’t let anyone else in or on.
We split up for Christmas, me to my family and he to his. The girls were keenly interested in whether Luke would be visiting. They were surprised when I said no. Chastity asked if we had broken up, which question I dismissed as “ignorant.” She was keener than I had thought.
Spring semester was busy. I was preparing to graduate, and trying to decide my next step. I could go to work full-time for the NSA, but that would mean a year in D.C. away from Luke, and we had vowed after the prior summer “never again.” It would also mean more visibility to a world that petrified me. I wasn’t sure I had the constitution for daily terror alerts.
The Owls were better than the year before, but everyone was looking to 2013. They were a projected juggernaut, as the talent that he followed Luke would be fully developed.
In an attempt to staunch the rumor mill, I did not go to the Owls’ home games, much less the road games. I followed Luke’s season only through him.
I continued to Ecclesia, but Luke did not. He joined a very conservative Christian church, again in an attempt to disassociate himself from the rumor mill.
We had watched his now almost two year old interview over and over. He had never mentioned a girl. He had said “marry” and “date.” The press had assumed it was a girl. When we finally stepped into the light, Luke could honestly say he had not been dishonest. He had been honest, and the press had made false assumptions that he saw no need to correct.
We knew we were going to step into the light at some point. But, we didn’t plan to do so until after Luke had been drafted and signed. We were watching what was going on with Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and we thought it was shameful. We wanted to avoid all the pre-draft drama and innuendo swirling around him.
Our relationship was like a dream. We were a balloon, and we just went higher and higher. I kept waiting for a little air to leak out, but it never did. We loved each other very much. We loved Christ more. We remained deeply Christian, imperfect but devout. We prayed together every morning, over every meal, and every night. We continued our personal search for truth, reading and listening to podcasts and sermons from those who agreed with us, but much more from those who did not. We did not believe we had all the right answers, and we were skeptical of those who claimed they did.
Our sex life was awesome. In the six months since our wedding, we had more than made up for lost time. For the first time in our lives, we felt free to explore our sexual sides. We bought books and used the internet to guide our explorations.
We made love almost every morning, almost every night, and often in the middle of the night. Typically, I was under Luke. I liked when he was in and over me, rocking gently back and forth, dripping sweat on me, and finishing just when I was certain I couldn’t take any more.
He sometimes begged to be under me, which was fine. I liked staring into Luke’s eyes as I delivered myself to him.
But, he preferred being over me, and I preferred being under him. I loved how full and loved I felt when he was inside me. I also loved watching his face as he finished, his eyebrows arched and eyelids fluttering.
As we grew more comfortable with the idea of sex, we got more adventurous. We sheepishly bought aids. We timidly tried different positions and different acts. We liked the things and the ones that felt more intimate. We eschewed the things and the ones that felt more base.
About halfway through the season, Luke wanted to tell Coach Grantham about our marriage. I was opposed. I had an NSA background, and I understood the importance of keeping secrets (the NSA even keeps secrets from the President and his team). Luke thought Coach Grantham would keep our confidence, would be supportive, and might be able to help us navigate the path through the rumor mill and out into the light.
I gave in to Luke. I always did.
We told Coach Grantham together. We showed him our pictures and our necklaces. He was stunned, to say the least. The rumors had not penetrated his office.
He thanked us for our candor and pledged his discretion to us. Then, he stood up, walked from behind his desk, and wrapped me and Luke in a big, warm embrace. He pressed his cheek to Luke’s and said “Congratulations, Son. I’m very happy for you.” He then pressed his cheek to mine and said “Congratulations, Evan. I’m very happy for you, too.” It was one of the most affirming moments of my life.
As we were getting ready to leave, Coach stopped me. “Evan, you take care of your husband. He’s very important to me.”
“Don’t worry, Coach,” I said, reveling in his use of of the word “husband.” “He’s more important to me.”
Coach smiled at me and answered “I guess that’s right.”
Telling Coach was one of the smartest things we did. To our knowledge, he didn’t tell a soul. But, he became very interested in us, and he helped arrange a meeting for me with George Leonard, the General Manager of the Astros. Leonard had guided the Cardinals into the 21st century and was now trying to do the same for the Astros. He liked my mathematical mind and familiarity with baseball, we hit it off, and I left with a year-long internship in the Astros’ analytics department. I’d be staying in Houston after all.
***** Rice made the NCAA tournament, but — for the second year in a row — did not make it to Omaha. The media was circumspect, as everyone thought Luke would be enough to drag the Owls home. He wasn’t.
Once Rice was eliminated, we spent the summer devouring each other. My tongue found its way into every nook and cranny of Luke’s chiseled, hot body, and his tongue found its way into every nook and cranny of mine.
I learned that I liked rimming more than I liked being rimmed. In the yin and yang that was us, Luke learned he liked being rimmed more than he liked rimming.
I preferred to bottom. Luke preferred to top.
I liked when Luke was in my mouth. Luke loved when I was in his mouth. As soon as he finished inside me, he’d finish me with his mouth.
I liked to be left alone after I came. Luke liked be wrapped up.
I liked the smell of Luke at the end of the day, especially after practice. I’d bury my face in his crotch and his pits.
He liked me to be clean.
We complemented each other perfectly. When I was up, he was down. When he was down, I was up. We were a teeter-totter.
Luke’s Senior year was a whirlwind. I was working with the Astros, and he was the darling of amateur baseball. He desperately wanted to wind up a Cub, and, if they wanted him, they might get him. The Cubs’ 2012 was a catastrophe, so they were drafting early. Luke might be there when they picked fifth, but only if the first four drafters lost their minds.
They did. So did the Cubs. And the next 13 teams.
The Cardinals picked Luke 19th. They were thrilled. They celebrated like they had just won the World Series. They had rated Luke as the top overall pick in the draft, and they had gotten him with the 19th pick. Everything worked out for them.
Luke was upset. The team he hated most — with their Cardinal Way and Best Fans In Baseball arrogance — had claimed him. With the claim, his singular purpose would be to help the team he hated to the core of his soul continue to oppress the team he loved the most.
When Luke met with the Cardinals, his mind changed They told him they had rated him one overall and were going to bonus him based on that rating, regardless of his 19th overall selection. They told him other teams had passed on him because there were rumors about his sexual orientation. They assured him they didn’t care if he was gay or straight. When he acknowledged he was gay and married, they promised they would help him come out if and when he chose and they would be standing next to him when he did and behind him after that. They explained the essence of the Cardinal Way, including the culture it imbued throughout the organization, especially in the clubhouse. They assured him there was no room in that culture for homophobia or intolerance. No Cardinal would betray him. They’d embrace him. ****** We had an elaborate coming out plan drafted. We worked with Luke’s agent, Sean Cora. We also worked with Rice’s coaches and the Cardinals’ front office.
Once the CWS was over, Luke would sit for an interview. If the subject of love came up, he’d out himself. If they pressed him on prior statements, he’d defer to the transcript and insist he had not deceived.
Our plan was good, but fraught. We had to thread a lot of needles to get home.
We didn’t thread any of them. *****
Rice marched into the finals of the CWS to face Florida. Luke started the first game. As Mother Black, Mr. Black, and I watched from the first row, Luke dominated the Gators. Florida had only five baserunners (three hits and two walks), and none of them reached second based. Luke struck out 11. Rice scored three, two more than it needed.
Florida turned the tables in game two, scoring four in the first inning and four more in the second. With a rout on, Rice saved its powder for the decisive final game.
Game three seesawed back and forth. When one team punched, the other counterpunched. Rice scored in the top of the ninth to take a 7-6 lead. Florida countered with a one-out home run in the bottom ninth as Luke warmed up. He should have been in to save the game. Rice had surrendered the win with its best weapon still in the bullpen.
Rice’s second baseman led off the tenth with a double. A sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly later, Rice was again 3 outs away from its first CWS Championship in a decade.
The Jet sauntered in from the bullpen. He erased the memory of 2010 in nine pitches. Florida hitters fouled two of them. They flailed at the other seven, all strikes. The game was over. Rice had won the CWS.
After the Owls celebrated on the field, Luke made his way to the stands. He hugged and kissed his mother, two seats to my right. He hugged his father, one seat to my right.
He hugged me. I hugged him back. The hug lasted too long. I pulled back, and Luke pulled me to him. He kissed me hard, and I kissed him back. The kiss was captured on the Jumbotron and broadcast on ESPN. Our secret was out, and so were we.
Susan Colbert, ESPN’s roving reporter, was right next to Luke as he kissed me. She was waiting to interview him, and a scoop was thrown into her lap. She pounced.
“Luke, congratulations on pitching Rice to the championship.”
“Thank you, Susan. It’s good to be back here and come through for my team. I failed the last time, and it’s good to purge that demon.”
“Will you introduce me to the fans in the stands?”
“Sure,” Luke said, turning to his stunned parents. “This is my mother, this is my father, and this is my husband.”
“Yes. We got married last Fall.”
The interview was over. It was very matter of fact. Luke mouthed “I love you” to me and headed to the locker room with his team.
Luke’s parents marched out of TD Ameritrade Park without a word.
My telephone blew up. Texts poured in. My mother called over and over. So did my sisters. I suspected they were reacting differently to what they had seen. I turned my telephone off. I needed to digest what was going on.
***** I got accosted as I made my way toward the Owls’ locker room. I wanted to wait for Luke, but a handful of reporters swarmed me. I pleaded for privacy. When Rice’s SID finally opened the door to the locker room to welcome reporters, he spied me and my plight. He pulled me in and closed the door behind us.
“My gosh,” I said.
“I think you’re in for a lot of that.”
“I think so.”
When Luke spotted me, he beelined over and wrapped me up. We don’t know who started it, but the Owls’ raucous celebration turned into an ovation for Luke and me. The locker room swarmed us.
Coach Grantham refused to allow anyone in. The team surrounded Luke and me as it made its way to the waiting bus. No one could get to us, much less talk to us.
It did the same when we got to the hotel. Once there, Coach Grantham ushered Luke and me into a room to meet with him, Luke’s agent, and the Cardinals’ Assistant GM. Luke’s very public display of affection meant we needed a new plan.
We flew to Atlanta the next morning. We were going to sit down together with Anderson Cooper. The Cardinals insisted we wear Cardinal ties and belts with our blazers and slacks. We did. They also insisted Luke wear a Cardinal hat. He did, but he pulled it off before the interview started.
The Cardinals’ owner flew in for the interview. He was going to join us halfway through.
I was as nervous as a whore in church. I needn’t have been. Anderson was awesome. And, the world had changed.
To our surprise, Anderson started the interview with questions about the CWS, especially what Luke was thinking when he wasn’t brought in to save the game in the ninth. Luke, of course, backed up Coach Grantham, supporting the use of the regular closer in that situation, and reminding Anderson he had pitched 9 innings only two days before.
Anderson next asked whether the kiss was planned. Luke assured him it was not. He knew he wanted to share the moment with his parents and me, but he had no intent on kissing me. He thought he’d just embrace me, but he got caught up in the moment.
I got my first question. “Were you surprised by the kiss, Evangel.”
“Please call me Ev.”
“What does Luke call you?”
Luke interjected, laughed, and told Anderson the story of Bennie and the Jet.
“That’s supposed to be between us, Luke,” I insisted.
“Well, now America knows,” Anderson said. “But, were you surprised?”
“Of course,” I said. “We had never talked about coming out to our parents on national television.”
“Your parents didn’t know?”
“No. No one did, except Coach Grantham and the Cardinals’ brass.”
“How have they been?”
“Awesome. Just awesome. Coach Grantham has been like a father to us, and the Cardinals have been incredibly supportive.”
“How did your parents not know?”
Luke took over. “We both come from very conservative, Christian families. We love them very much. We weren’t sure how they would react, and neither of us could bear the idea that our families might reject us. So, we decided we would wait to tell them. I’m very sorry they found out the way they did.”
“Speaking of Christianity, Luke, you’ve been kind of a poster boy for the religious right, especially in its support of abstinence and your avowed commitment to it in your interview after the 2010 CWS heartbreak. Can you comment on that and whether you feel like you’ve been dishonest.”
“Sure, and I don’t. Ev and I waited until we were married. When I was asked about it three years ago, I said I wasn’t dating because I wanted to wait until I got married. I was truthful. I wasn’t dating. And, I wanted to wait until I got married. The media assumed I was talking about a girl. Their assumption is on them, not me or us.”
“Well, it’s true. We waited until we were married. Luke’s the only person I’ve ever even kissed.”
Anderson next asked about the marriage, and we told him about our simple ceremony. He had asked us to bring a picture, and he held it up for the camera, pointing out that Cardinal Nation likely was going to be unhappy about our shirts.
Luke jumped in. “Anderson, I loved the team from Chicago with all my heart growing up. I wanted them to draft me. They didn’t. You can ask them why, but I think it has something to do with what we’re talking about here today. The Cardinals weren’t scared away. They drafted me, bonused me like I was the first pick I should’ve been, and then embraced me and Ev. I will love the Cardinals forever, especially because the way they’ve treated Ev. And,” he added. “I can’t wait to no hit that team from Chicago.”
At that point, the Cardinals’ owner joined us and assured Anderson the no-hitter would happen sooner than anyone expected. He also assured Luke that Cardinal Nation would love him forever, that St. Louis really had the Best Fans In Baseball, and he was certain they’d prove it the first time Luke took the mound in Busch Stadium and every time thereafter.
When Anderson asked the owner about the Cardinals’ manager, who was very publicly and very devoutly Christian, the Manager surprised us by joining us onstage. He, too, assured Luke there was no room for intolerance in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, that he would be embraced by his team and its city, and that the way of Christ was one of love and acceptance, not intolerance and judgment. He smiled at Luke. “Your Cardinal brothers will not only accept you, they’ll embrace you.”
The interview was a huge hit nationally, but not with our parents. I talked to mine first, and they were cold. They understandably felt like they had been broadsided and lied to, because they had been. Miss Lily, in particular, was wounded. She didn’t understand why I had assumed the worst about her, and she assured me she loved me no matter what, and she made a point of saying she was disappointed to have missed my wedding. She asked me to bring Luke back for a visit as soon as I could. I asked my father if that would be okay, and he said “he guessed so.” It was an olive branch or, at least, an olive twig.
Luke talked to his parents second. To clarify, he talked to his mother. His father would not come to the telephone, which crushed Luke. He had been far closer to his father than to his mother growing up, and his father’s cold shoulder crushed him. I could see it on his face as he asked his mother to put his father on, but it didn’t happen.
It never got better. Luke’s mother took the “he’s our son” view. His father took the “it’s a sin” view. When Luke’s mother would not relent, his father told her she had to choose between him and her son. She chose her son, and they divorced. He and Luke were and are estranged.
My parents are not okay with us. But, they deal with it the best they can. For the most part, they pretend it’s not there. They wont’ leave Texas, so we see them only when we visit them. We stay in a hotel when we do.
To our surprise, Luke’s mother is much more okay with us than my parents are. She even stays with us when she visits.
“I knew it” was all Chastity said. When I challenged her, she reminded me of the sinister smile she had given me over our locked doors during Luke’s first visit.
I went with Luke to Springfield, home to the Cardinals’ AAA club. We were not there long. The Cardinals called him up when rosters expanded in September. He would work from the bullpen.
He pitched in a half-dozen games, including the division clincher over Pittsburgh on September 30. He entered the game in the top of the 7th, the score tied, the bases loaded, and only one out. He needed eight pitches to get out of the inning. Four of them were over 100 m.p.h. He got a standing ovation and a curtain call as he bounded off the mound. While Luke got some grief from some phobic fans on the road, he got nothing but red love in St. Louis.
The Cardinals waltzed into the NLCS, sweeping the Phillies in the first round. The wild card Cubs battled in, taking out the Dodgers in five one-run games. With the Dodgers’ loss, the Cardinals would be hosting the Cubs for the right to play in the World Series. If they won, Luke would be one of a select group of players to pitch in both the CWS and the World Series in the same year.
The home team held serve through the first six games, none of which were particularly close or entertaining. Game seven occurred on an electric October night. In the bottom of the first, the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter tripled and scored on a grounder. If the Cubs’ manager had known how the game would go, he may have had his infield in to try to prevent the run.
Neither team scored after that. Until the ninth, neither team mounted much of a threat. In the ninth, the Cardinals’ closer got two quick outs, then walked the bases loaded. None of his last six pitches sniffed the strike zone. He was off. The Cardinals’ catcher strolled to the mound, buying time as Luke quickly warmed up. When the umpire broke up the party on the mound, the manager strolled out and signaled to the bullpen. Luke sauntered in to the roar of a jet engine. As he warmed up, the Cardinals played “Bennie and the Jets,” and the camera found me. The crowd roared. I wanted to die.
The crowd roared with every one of Luke six pitches. The first three left the bases loaded with two outs. The last was a chest high fastball. The Cub meekly swung, and the Cardinals leaped in the air. The game was over. The crowd was wild. The Cardinals’ carried Luke off the field.
For the fourth time in ten years, the Cardinals were headed to the World Series. For the 68th consecutive year, the Cubs were not.
A lot had changed in those 68 years, not the least of which was the nation’s attitude toward homosexuals. In 1945, homosexuality was illegal in most states. In 2013, Luke and I were married and on the cover of Sports Illustrated, under the headline “Bennie and the Jet.” In the photo, Luke smiled into the camera. My head was turned, looking at Luke. We were two boys in love.
The article was about baseball, our search for truth within our faith, and our marriage. It ended, “In the end, this story is about two people who met in college, fell in love, and got married. It’s a tale as old as time. The fact they’re both male does not change the story. It, too, is a tale as old as time.”