As I lie here in my darkness, I can hear your footsteps. Soft in the night.
You stop at my door . . . looking in. Your footsteps grow louder. I hear the soft sound of your clothing brushing together, and I can feel your presence.
I cannot see you, though I can hear your gentle breathing, above my own. And there’s that perfume you’re wearing, like roses in a garden. That’s how I know that it’s you . . . the person who has been watching over me and tending to my needs almost every night.
I feel your hand on my forehead, gently brushing back my hair.
‘However did you get yourself in this mess?’ you ask me.
You actually want to know? Well, I suppose I’m not going anywhere, am I? But are you sure you’ve got the time to hear it all?
Okay then. I’ll take that as a yes.
I guess it would have been about three weeks ago, give or take a day or two. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little hazy about exactly when it was, but I do know that I can tell you exactly how it started. Of that much I can be sure.
What a day it had been. You know, one of those days in the store when absolutely nothing went right! I’m sure that you’ve probably had one like that!
Let’s see now, as I recall there was a lot happening on that day. Firstly there was the office romance that ended in disaster. The glamour couple from our store found out about each other’s infidelities . . . not that they were a secret from everyone else in the place anyhow. There was this huge fight in the staff lunch room. Oh… and there were tears! There were lots of tears! I almost forgot about those!
What else? Oh yes, the stationary supplies didn’t arrive on time, which meant that we couldn’t do this big marketing mail-out that we had been planning. And that was after we had even brought in some of the casual staff especially for it.
Then to top it all off, we get a surprise visit from our District Supervisor in the afternoon! And he was in one of those kind of moods, which meant that there wasn’t much that he was happy with!
So yeah, it was all happening that day! I can tell you, I don’t think I have ever been so pleased to lock that front door and head for my car at the end of a day! Little did I know however, that that was when my real troubles would start.
I made it to my car alright. I got in and started it up. I even made it out onto the main road and managed to point it in the general direction of home.
I could almost taste that first beer.
At the first set of traffic lights (they were red – of course) I sat in the long line of traffic. Everyone always seems to be heading home at the same time these days. Eventually the lights changed from red to green and I got to drive another two blocks, which of course, was where the next set of lights were.
And waddaya know? They are red too.
I remember sitting there, impatiently drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, while listening to some unknown band sing some unknown tune that I really didn’t like all that much anyway.
At that moment all I had really wanted was to be at home. To have walked in the front door and felt those strong and familiar arms around me. To have tasted those familiar lips on mine, and then enjoyed a cold drink out on the verandah, while the two of us sat there and watched boats cruise up and down the river below us.
It was nice, being able to do that. It was something that I cherished on these hot summer afternoons, although it has been a little while now since I have been able to do that, hasn’t it? As I said, at least a few weeks, give or take a day or two.
Three weeks since the accident happened. Three weeks since my world turned upside. I can barely believe it now.
It was like a nightmare . . . and still is, I suppose.
That was when the driver of a cement truck, a bright red one from a company called Hudsons Concrete, lost control as he came around the corner in front of me (at least he had a green light!), then careered into the one car in front of me and then my car as well.
Apparently I was the lucky one. At least I lived. But I heard the nurses talking in quiet whispers and overheard them saying that the woman in the other car wasn’t so lucky.
I know I cried when I heard that. But nobody else knew. Nobody seemed to worry too much about the patient in bed three, except to come and check that I was still breathing every now and then, or to see what was wrong if one of the machines that were attached to some part of my anatomy started beeping a little too loudly, or a little too fast.
I am under no illusions as to where I am, or even what my current condition is. I’m up shit creek, and without a paddle.
* * * * *
On the day it happened, Chris and I were supposed to be going out to dinner, and after the day that I’d had, I was really looking forward to it. The restaurant down by the waters edge served the best seafood for miles around, on their boardwalk which jutted straight out over the river, but instead of enjoying the dinner I had been looking forward to, I wound up being pulled, apparently unconscious, from the wreck of my car, and that was scary!
It was the strangest of feelings, I can tell you.
You expect that when you’re unconscious it’s just that. You’re supposed to be totally out to it, right? The weird thing is, that’s not what it was like for me. I could hear the sirens and the machinery, and everything being said. I could feel it whenever anyone touched me. But I couldn’t see a thing. And I couldn’t move.
The worst of it is, as I lay in this hospital bed, that’s how things still are.
Why is it that? Can you tell me?
On the night that the accident happened, I can vividly remember the Doctors talking to Chris. He was crying, which was unlike him as he is usually the tough one out of the two of us, and the Doctors were trying to explain something to him about major trauma, and swelling of the brain (my brain, I assume), and that he shouldn’t expect miracles.
‘No shit!’ I remember him saying. I wanted to laugh. But I just couldn’t. Then I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t do that either.
Eventually the Doctors went away and we were left alone, with Chris sitting beside me, holding my hand, while machines beeped and whirred and carried on around us.
‘It’s going to be okay, Nate. You’re going to get better,’ he whispered.
That much I can remember well.
I wanted to tell him not to worry, that of course, I knew everything was going to be alright. But I couldn’t. All I could do was listen to his quiet sobs and the not so quiet ‘beep… beep… beep…’ of the machines I was hooked up to.
* * * * *
In the immediate days that passed, nothing much seemed to have changed.
I have been lying here day after day, listening to the things that are going on around me, hearing the doctors and nurses talking about me as if I wasn’t even there, and feeling their poking and prodding, yet I am unable to move.
I want to scream. I want to call out to them and tell them that I’m alright, really, and that I can hear and feel and smell. But inside my head there is this constant buzz and pounding, as if a battle is being fought on some distant, sodden, blood covered field.
If only I could open my eyes and my mouth and tell them that I can smell their disinfected hospital wards, and the strong fragrance of the flowers that I have received.
If only I could tell Chris that each time he walks into the room to visit me I can smell the distinctive after-shave that he always wears. Aramis, it is. And oh, how I would love to tell Chris how comforting it is when I can smell him near me, or when he picks up my hand and holds me.
I know it is him, even though I can’t see him, sitting there beside me for hours on end, holding my hands, talking to me, telling me that everything will be alright. And I know it must be hard for him, saying things like that when I know that he isn’t even sure of that himself. I can hear it in his voice, you know. I can hear the doubts and the fear and the pain. I wish that I could tell him that everything will be alright, but after hearing everything that the doctors and nurses have been saying, how can I be certain of that myself?
How long has it been now? It’s all so very tiring you know. It feels like forever, but I know it hasn’t been that long.
Maybe that will do for one day, eh? I think I’d like to sleep now, just for a little while, if you don’t mind. Maybe I can tell you some more later?
Yeah, later sounds good.
Just let me have a little rest, will you? I’ll let the darkness take over for a while now, and we can talk again later.
* * * *
I seem to be drifting. In and out of sleep, I guess, although no one around me would be able to tell the difference anyhow.
I still can’t open my eyes, or move, or do anything, but I can still smell, at least that function still works.
As I come to, I pick up a scent that seems familiar, yet I can’t quite place it. It’s like . . . it’s like it is coming from a place far, far away. I try to go back through my memories as I try to recognize the fragrance, but there’s nothing there.
Then I hear footsteps. Familiar ones. They belong to Chris; I can recognize them in an instant.
They stop at the doorway.
‘Oh,’ I hear him say. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know Nate had visitors.’
I hear movement next to me, on my left. Someone clears their throat. A man.
Then I sense that someone is on my right. There are two people in the room, with Chris still at the door.
‘We’re Nathan’s parents. Jean and Allan Price,’ a woman said. My mother. And my father was here too?
‘Oh shit!’ I suddenly thought.
‘I’m Chris. Nate’s . . .’
‘Please, please don’t say boyfriend,’ I willed him.
‘Nate’s housemate,’ he said.
Phewww . . . that was a close one.
Chris took a few steps into the room and stopped. I hear my father get to his feet.
‘Nice to meet you,’ the old man says. I guessed they must have been shaking hands.
‘Errr . . . yes. You too,’ I hear Chris say, his voice clearly filled with uncertainty. ‘I’m sorry, but he never really spoke about family, otherwise I would have made sure you’d have known sooner.’
An awkward silence follows, during which time my brain seemed to be racing.
Fuck. My boyfriend is in the room with me. My parents are in the room with me. I just know that this is going to get sticky.
* * * *
So . . . now that we’ve got to this point, I guess I should fill you in on the rest of it. I mean, how I got to here.
See, I had left home when I was just eighteen, with my sights set on making my fortune, or if not a fortune then at least enough to get me by. I also had my sights set on just being me, with being able to be the person I knew was, without having to hide behind someone who was all together different.
My father and I had, for as long as I can remember, fought like cats and dogs. Nothing I ever did was good enough for him. None of my friends were ever anything more than no-hopers, bludgers or poofters. That’s just the way it was. Just the way he was.
When I was seventeen I found myself a job with a local department store. It wasn’t anything special really, but it gave me an income. It also gave me some independence. It felt great knowing that I finally had the means of setting myself free.
A year later, after I had managed to save myself a little bit of money, I noticed a poster on the notice board in the staff room that said positions were available in other stores. It was time to make my move, I decided, so without telling my family I asked our Personnel Lady about jobs that might be available in the city.
Within a month I was offered what they called a Management Traineeship in a suburban store, which I quickly accepted, then shortly afterwards, despite my mother’s objections . . . and tears . . . I packed my bags and caught a bus.
That was eight years ago now, and even though I have kept in touch with my parents since, and have even been home to visit a few times, I was now leading the life I always knew I would . . . even if the person they still know as their son isn’t the person I really am.
When I was twenty one years old, five years ago now, I met a wonderful guy. He was a few years older than me . . . okay, he was ten years older than me, all right . . . and I had seen him a few times on the dance floor at The Den, my favourite night spot.
He was tall, dark and handsome, with the build of an athlete and the smile of an angel. He was the epitome of the perfect man that I’d imagined ending up with, but thought was far beyond my reach.
One night there I accidentally bumped into him, spilling his drink. When he spun around I could see he was about to let fly at the useless git who had bumped him, but then he saw me and his expression totally changed.
‘Sorry, man,’ I said to him. ‘Here, let me buy you another. What are you drinking?’
He told me, and I ordered his drink, plus one for me, then I carried them both to a table, with him following.
‘I’m Nate,’ I said, as music thumped around us and strobe lights flashed.
‘Chris,’ he offered, while thrusting his hand forward, which I duly shook. ‘Are you always that direct when you want to meet someone?’ he asked, having to yell to be heard above the music.
‘That depends,’ I yelled back.
‘On how badly I want to meet them!’
For a long while he simply held my gaze, then he broke out into a broad grin.
‘Feel like grabbing some fresh air?’ he asked, while nodding toward the exit, through which there was a balcony which overlooked the busy street.
‘Sure,’ I replied.
We picked up our drinks, and this time I followed him, out through the double doors and into the night, where the music was still loud, but at least we could hear ourselves think.
Later that night I left with him. We caught a cab and went back to his place, which was well out of the city.
On the way there we kissed in the back seat, like two school boys discovering each other for that first time, hungry with desire.
Eventually we pulled into a driveway and removed ourselves from each other just long enough to extract ourselves from the cab.
Chris passed the driver a fifty then reached into his pocket for the keys.
For the first time I looked up, toward the house, then let out a low whistle. It was modern and large. And it must have been worth a fortune.
‘You own this?’ I asked.
‘All I own, so far, is about half the driveway,’ he said cheekily. ‘The bank owns the rest, and I’ll be paying it back to them for the next hundred years.’
‘Thanks. Come on, let’s go inside.’
We walked up the driveway hand in hand and he opened the front door, pushing it aside and motioning for me to go inside.
The place was nice, there was no doubt about that.
‘It’s fantastic,’ I said, before cheekily adding, ‘What’s the bedroom like?’
‘All in good time my cherub,’ he whispered, before then taking my hand and leading me across the room, where he slid open a glass door and then, placing one hand in the small of my back, urged me to step outside, which I did.
What I found, when I reached the railing of the balcony was a sight to behold, with the dark shape of a river snaking along below us, twinkling lights from the houses on the far side of it reflecting from its surface and the smell of water drifting up toward us.
I turned back around and faced my companion.
‘You sure know how to impress a guy,’ I said quietly.
He stepped in toward me and placed a hand on the railing on either said of me.
‘Only when I find one who is worth impressing,’ he whispered, before leaning in and kissing me once more.
Without our lips breaking contact, his hands moved to the buttons of my shirt, as mine also went to his, and on that balcony, in that darkness, we undressed each other, before making love to each other on a sun bed, as a breeze washed over our damp, sweating bodies.
As I said, that was five years ago now, and I’m still with him, still going home to his place every night and, on occasion, still making love in the darkness.
It seems we liked each others company.
* * * *
In the five years I’ve been with Chris, I’ve never had my parents visit me, which I guess speaks volumes for the relationship I have with them.
Chris has never once questioned my not having a close relationship with them, or my desire to keep my private life, well, private . . . especially from them.
‘We are who we are, mate,’ he has often said to me. ‘We all deal with things in our own way. If you want to keep things to yourself then no one has a right to demand otherwise.’
‘So, it doesn’t bother you that I’m a closeted basket case who doesn’t want to confront his parents?’
‘Does it bother you that I’m not a militant pro-gay crusader, outing everyone who even looks like they walk with a mince or talk with a lisp?’
‘Then I rest my case.’
‘Fuck I love you!’ I told him.
‘Right back at you, babe.’
So . . . here we all are, and in the same room.
The only sounds that can be heard are those emanating from the machines to which I am attached.
The silence stretched out. Awkward.
* * * *
I can’t remember when the last time was that I had spoken with my parents. Probably around last Christmas, at a guess. As you have probably already figured out from what I’ve told you already, we haven’t been that close in recent years.
‘I feel bad that you didn’t know any sooner,’ I heard Chris say.
‘It’s not your fault,’ my father grumbled, in his usual gruff manner; which always made it hard to work out whether he was in a good mood or otherwise.
‘But still . . .’
‘It’s all right love,’ my mother added. ‘We’ve been trying to call him on his mobile for a couple of weeks now, but we couldn’t get through. Then a friend of ours asked us a few days ago how he was doing after his accident . . . so, you can just imagine how we felt about that!’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Chris mumbled. I could hear the strain in his voice. I wondered if they could as well.
The silence stretched once more.
‘Bugger this. I need some air,’ was the next thing my father said, then I heard him get to his feet.
‘I think I’ll join you,’ my mother said also. ‘We’ll be back in a little while.’
Then I heard the sound of them walking out of the room, their footsteps echoing around the room, and then down the corridor, until finally they were gone.
‘Sorry Nate, I nearly fucked that for you,’ I heard Chris whisper. I then heard him dragging the chair slightly closer to the bed, the sound of its feet scratching along on the linoleum floor unmistakable, then sit down.
He was leaning against the bed, then I felt him take one of my hands in his.
‘Nate, this is so fucked up. Why can’t you wake up? You know I love you, and I’m sure that in their own way your parents love you too . . . they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.’
He took a few deep breaths then I felt his lips touch the back of my hand, before he held my hand to his face, continually kissing me.
I heard him sob, before he pleaded with me; ‘You’ve got to wake up babe. We all need you. We all love you.’
It was then that I heard the gasp . . . and it didn’t come from Chris.
I felt my stomach lurch and, in my mind at least, I held my breath.
Immediately Chris let go of my hand, letting it fall back to my side.
Everything went silent . . . except for that infernal beep of the machines that I was hooked up to.
‘Just what the fuck is this?’ my father eventually asked, in what, for him at least, seemed a controlled manner, yet the underlying rage in his voice was unmistakable. ‘I just knew something like this would happen when we let him come to the city.’
‘He . . . Nate . . . he didn’t want to hurt you,’ Chris said calmly, though in a tone that almost sounded like that of a beaten man. ‘And no matter whether he was in the city or back home with you, he still would have turned out the same.’
‘You’re . . . you’re not just housemates, are you?’ I heard my mother ask, sounding hurt and confused.
‘I don’t understand . . .’ my father started to say.
‘Nate and I have been together for five years,’ Chris said, before then taking my hand in his once more. Once more I felt his lips touch the back of my hand.
Attaboy, I thought.
‘You’re . . . you’re both . . .’ my father tried to say.
‘Yes Mr. Price, we’re both gay, and we’re in love. Nate had his reasons for not wanting you to know, and I’ve always respected that, but now I guess you know, so there’s no longer any point in either of us trying to keep up any charade.’
The monster had finally been let out of the box and as I waited for a reaction . . . any kind of reaction . . . my stomach was in knots and my head felt like it was about to explode.
The next thing I heard was the sound of boots retreating once more down the corridor, with the softer sound of my mother’s shoes following.
‘I’m sorry babe,’ Chris whispered. ‘I know what you wanted, and I didn’t mean for that to happen, especially not like that, but it had to happen one day.’
I know . . . I know, I thought, while wishing somehow I could tell him, and hug him, and let him know it was all right.
As he continued to hold me, and whisper to me, soothing me and reassuring me, I calmed back down. The noises in my head gradually subsided and the knots in my stomach gradually untangled. Then the darkness eventually came once more.
* * * *
Slowly the sounds started creeping back into my brain.
The beep of the machines. The sound of a trolley being wheeled along the corridor. The occasional clatter of something being dropped. The quiet tones of people talking.
I could hear someone breathing. Close by. To my left. Then I heard a grunt, coming from the other side of me.
There was more than one person in the room.
Oh boy. Here we go again, I thought.
Somehow though, things seemed different. I couldn’t quite work out just how, or what it was, but all the same, I felt different.
I rolled my head to my left, as that was where Chris had been sitting last time.
Immediately I felt a hand grasp mine.
‘Nate?’ he said, quite urgently. ‘Nate? Can you hear me?’
‘What’s happened?’ my mother asked, from somewhere on my right.
‘He’s moved his head,’ Chris said urgently. ‘Nate, can you hear me? Please squeeze my hand if you can.’
I could hear him. I could feel him.
I tried closing my hand around his. I tried squeezing his hand.
‘Oh, my god,’ I felt that, he exclaimed. ‘I felt his hand move in mine.’
Suddenly I felt someone pick up my other hand.
‘Oh, darling,’ my mother said. ‘Please come back to us.’
Willing my hand to move I tried to give her hand something of a squeeze as well, then I tried rolling my head in her direction.
‘Did you see that?’ my mother exclaimed. ‘He heard me. And he squeezed my hand.’
I can’t remember the last time my mother had just held my hand like that. It was something I missed.
I rolled my head back toward Chris. This was starting to get easier.
‘I’m here babe,’ he whispered. ‘Please wake up.’
Then I tried to open my eyes. I felt my eyelids move, ever so slightly.
‘Come on. You can do it,’ he urged.
I tried again. Then I saw something . . . the faintest sliver of light.
‘It’s happening,’ my mother said. ‘He’s opening his eyes.’
I tried some more and the light came flooding in . . . though not bright as I didn’t think the lights were on in the room. Ain’t it funny how we recognise things like that at the oddest of times?
Then I heard heavy footsteps. I figured it was my father. But oddly, they were going away from me.
‘Nurse!’ I heard him bellow down the corridor. ‘Nurse!’
Trust my father to do that. Most people would have just used the buzzer. I’m sure there would have been a buzzer around here some place he could have used.
‘Allan!’ my mother scolded. ‘This is a hospital!’
I wanted to smile. I think I tried to smile.
‘Look. He’s smiling,’ Chris enthusiastically said. ‘Yes!’
I imagined him pumping the air as he said that.
Slowly my eyes opened further, fully. I could finally see something. There were shapes moving around me. Three large shapes, then slowly their forms started to become recognisable.
My eyes tried to focus on the one on my left. Eventually the blob morphed into Chris.
He had been here for me the entire time. I smiled at him and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back and mouthed the words, ‘I love you.’
My head rolled back the other way and as I focused on the other two figures I eventually saw my parents standing there, looking concerned, though strangely happy.
‘Hey, son,’ my father said. ‘Welcome back.’
I tried to open my mouth, but my dry lips seemed to be stuck together. I tried again, wanting to lick them, eventually succeeding after a couple of attempts.
‘Hey,’ I somehow managed to croak.
I looked from them, to the smiling face of Chris, and then back again.
The moment I had been dreading for the past ten years had finally arrived. The moment when I would look my parents in the face and we would all acknowledge that I wasn’t the person they had always thought me to be.
‘I . . .,’ I started to say.
‘Ssshhhh!’ my mother said. I wasn’t going to be ssshhh’d though.
‘So, now you know,’ I croaked.
‘It’s all right,’ my father whispered. ‘You’re back, and that’s all that matters.’
Yeah. I guess that’s right, I thought, as Chris leaned in and kissed my forehead.