It wasn’t for the sex, either, those grandmotherly fumblings beneath the covers that left me feeling dirtier and a lot less satisfied than when they began. It wasn’t for the company, which mostly was stiff and formal and slightly uncomfortable.
It wasn’t exactly because he was a professor and I was a student and we were each other’s forbidden fruit. I’d slept with a lot of faculty at that point (and would continue to do so all through college and graduate school), so our relationship wasn’t exactly a novelty.
No, mostly I kept going back because I’d never had anyone before who took me on actual dates. The men I saw tended to skip the dinner and the wooing and skip straight to taking me home and fucking the daylights out of me. Though instead of ‘home’ we’d usually use a toilet stall or a dark space behind a park tree.
Although the sex M. J. and I had wasn’t good, or even really competent, I liked being able to think of myself as dating someone. I liked being able to say, without divulging many details, that I was in a relationship. M. J. and I had never professed any affection for each other beyond “I like you in that sweater” (him) or “Thanks for dinner. I’ve never had Beef Wellington before” (me, and I never would again), but technically we were dating. I clung to that for a little while in my youth as a badge of honor.
I also liked the fact that I was whoring around with one of my dad’s old classmates. I had nothing against my dad, but at eighteen I was still adolescent enough that putting out for someone he’d once known—and who didn’t like him for some mysterious reason—tickled my rebellious underbelly a little. It was a private defiance, and not the kind of thing he’d ever find out about. But in a juvenile way, I thought I was Sticking It To the Old Man, and it gave me a little thrill.
By and large, though, M. J. and I stuck for a good three months to a repetitive cycle of Friday night gifts, dinners, and then a night at his apartment. And then one warmer day, he asked if I wanted to go on an outing with him.
It was cold enough that I remember wearing one of his gift sweaters—a white cotton turtleneck with a neck hole so small that pulling it over my face exfoliated more cells than a strong acid peel, and left me red and raw for the rest of the day. But it was also warm enough that the sweater was all I really needed in the weak sunshine of the late winter. I would guess that it was about March. And M. J. suggested we visit a plantation that was only a couple of dozen miles from Williamsburg.
That sounds lovely and romantic!, a good number of you are thinking. I was definitely not. I spent most of my childhood years visiting every damned plantation and Civil War battlefield within a five-state radius of home, and when you consider that I grew up in the former capital of the Confederate States of America, that’s a lot of damned plantations and battlefields. Nor did I trespass on these sacred grounds with an awestruck face and a sense of wonder at the scope of history I was privileged to relive thanks to the preservation efforts of historians like my parents. No, I had stomped around with a constipated look on my face and many long sighs of suffering. So when M. J. suggested we have a jolly afternoon’s outing to a plantation, my reaction was more like, Oh, fuck.
But I knew how to swallow my dislike of American historical sites by then. I told him that sounded dandy, and together we drove off in his car on a sunny Saturday afternoon to our destination.
If you’ve never seen a Virginia plantation, you’ve probably a picture in mind. A bucolic vision of a genteel country mansion with Palladian columns and classical revival proportions, facade whitewashed and gleaming, set back in a verdant paradise of greenery, where in times past gentleman farmers sipped mint juleps with their hoop-skirted wives on the verandah beneath the bougainvillea. Let me disabuse you of the notion. This place was no fucking Tara.
It was a two-room shanty on a rolling bank of weeds and dead waist-high grass, located along a particularly smelly turn of the James River, where raw sewage from the Hopewell wastewater plant seemed to be collecting and stagnating. There was no bougainvillea. There were snarled black cherry trees and wild sumacs, both of which I’d always been taught were weeds. And there was a dispirited woman handing out a slip of paper with the plantation’s history printed on it (free) and selling souvenirs (overpriced) on the front porch.
Touring the place didn’t take that long, but we gave our level best to make it last. With low spirits we peered into the plantation house, which had been furnished with chairs that had weathered for decades in someone’s barn and an old spinning wheel. We looked at the gift shop’s collection of corn husk doll kits and homemade lardy soaps and invisible ink books for kids. And finally we decided to walk by the James, where M. J. managed to get burrs all over his pants legs and cursed and threw a child’s tantrum about it. They were his good pants, he kept saying, though how he could tell the difference between them and any other of the countless pairs of ironed khakis he owned, I had no idea.
Still, for late winter, the weather was nice. I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors. And burrs or no, it was still a welcome change from the usual routine into which we’d fallen.
Then came the fateful trip home.
I knew something was wrong when M. J. started the car and pulled down the dirt country road that led from the plantation back to civilization. His wheels made a terrible grinding noise, somewhere halfway between an amplified root canal drilling and a banshee’s curse. “What is that?” M. J. asked me.
Like I knew? I didn’t drive then. I didn’t learn to drive until I was twenty-one. My parents were too cheap to let me. (It occurs to me now that M. J. had made some vague noises about teaching me to drive, too—which might have been another reason I kept seeing him until that point. And yes, if you were to call up my father right now and ask him why I wasn’t allowed to drive until I was twenty-one, he will happily admit, “I was too cheap.”) “I think you should stop,” I told him.
He ignored me, and kept driving down the road. Every time he accelerated, the noise would get worse. When he slowed down, its intensity lessened a little, but it still sounded like the kind of thing Ellen Ripley might’ve heard right before the alien queen sawed through the hull of her spaceship. “I think you should stop,” I said.
When M. J. turned onto the two-lane road, the mere act of steering around a corner made the sound triple in intensity. “STOP THE CAR!” I yelled at him, bracing myself against the dashboard as if the whole thing might explode at any second.
We tumbled out of the car when he pulled it over to the side of the road. And there, in the middle of Nowhere, Virginia, we proceeded to have our first fight. “You can’t drive this the way it sounds,” I kept insisting.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said, dubiously. Over ears still ringing by the decibel level of the ‘nothing,’ we argued back and forth for a few more minutes. Finally he said, “What do you want me to do? Call a tow truck? Go to some stranger’s house and call a tow truck? What are they going to say when they see us together?” He was hysterical, almost. It was the most heated I’d ever seen him. He kept pulling at his beard and throwing his hands in the air. “Who am I going to tell them you are?”
He went on and on in this vein for a very long time. I listened to his hysterics in amazement. My mother had a motto that ran a little something like You don’t owe anyone an explanation until you actually owe them an explanation. In other words, some stuff is nobody’s damned business. It’s a stance that’s worked for a lifetime. When he was purple-faced and had worked himself into a tizzy, I turned and stomped off to the closest farm house—a good half-mile away—knocked on the door, and explained that my car had broken down. In return I got the use of their telephone, a good deal of sympathy, and a small bag of sympathy cookies. They’d been baked by Keebler elves, but still.
“Funny, the woman at the house didn’t ask if I was a student fucking my professor,” I announced when I got back to the car much later. “I don’t know how she could’ve missed that.” In a sullen mood, I ate all the cookies and listened to M. J. ’s half-hearted attempts to apologize.
Unsurprisingly, the tow truck driver didn’t grill us on our relationship when he finally arrived, either. He was a hearty, oversized guy who simply tsked at my tale of the strange noise, hooked the car up to his truck, and then agreed to tow us back to Williamsburg. Simple as that. However, I had to do all the talking, down to giving M. J. ’s address. M. J. merely glowered, stood by fretting, and wrung his hands in case I said something accidental like, Did I mention that this elderly homosexual is engaging me for illicit sexual intercourse?
My memory of the driver is of something like Yukon Cornelius. Enormous, red-headed, and bearded. Once the two of us were in his front seat and he was driving us homeward, he kept up a constant stream of chatter. “So you and your dad were out looking at the plantation, huh?” he asked me, fairly quickly on.
I was wedged between Yukon Cornelius and M. J. in the middle of the seat, arms crossed because I was still appalled at M. J. ’s behavior. This question tickled me, though, even though I could hear an appalled sigh from M. J. ’s side of the truck. He could’ve been my dad. They were only a year apart. “We sure were,” I said. “Dad’s not really into old stuff, but I like it.” Well, I thought it was a clever double entendre at the time.
“Well that was real nice of him then,” said the driver. “You know, it’s real nice when a dad and a son do things together. My dad and I weren’t close at all, and time runs out mighty quick. Mighty quick.”
“My dad and I are very, very close,” I said with a straight face.
“That’s real heartwarming,” said the driver. “Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“We do a lot of fun stuff together,” I remarked, ignoring the fact that M. J. was hyperventilating beside me.
While the driver and I kept up a friendly conversation about nothing in particular, I did something daring. With my left fingers, which was crossed over my chest and tucked beneath my other arm, I tweaked M. J. ’s nipple. He jumped about three feet out of his seat. The driver couldn’t see anything. It was just some devilish stubbornness in me determined to make M. J. as uncomfortable as possible.
It was a long drive. When minutes passed and the driver didn’t ask any awkward questions, or attempt to nail us on the validity of our supposed father/son relationship, or notice me rubbing my hand up and down M. J. ’s ribcage, M. J. finally relaxed. He even crossed his arms and let his fingertips rub and bob against my own.
It was the tenderest moment of our relationship, honestly. Definitely the most spontaneous.
The whole bad afternoon had an unexpected effect on M. J. . Once we were back in his parking lot and Yukon Cornelius was waving out of the window of his truck, M. J. had to turn to me. “Thank you,” he said.
“You handled all that by yourself and you shouldn’t have had to,” he said.
I shrugged again.
“It wasn’t even your car. Your were right. I over-thought everything.” At least his apology was hitting all the right notes. I had to give him that.
“It’s all right,” I said, unbending a little.
“Hey,” he said.
“I’ve never wanted to fuck you more than I have right now.”
Now, that part was a little bit of a surprise. “What?” I asked.
“I want to take you inside,” he said, close up, his hand on my wrist, “and I want to fuck you like you’ve never been fucked.”
M. J. had always told me that word was too much of an Anglo-Saxonism, but here he was using it three times in rapid succession. “Well, okay,” I agreed, without having to think about it too much.
We ran into his apartment. He shoved me roughly against the wall. I fell onto his carpeted staircase with one hip. We didn’t retire upstairs to the bedroom and hide under the blankets. We didn’t turn off the lights. He wrestled my pants off me right there in the hallway, pushed me roughly down on the staircase, and fucked my ass so hard that my knees got carpet burn. It wasn’t a long fuck, but it was violent, and animal, and the hottest thing I’d ever done with him. When pulled it out, he allowed me to clean him off for the first time with my mouth.
That would have been hot enough, but then he leaned back against the door and crossed his arms. “Jack yourself off,” he ordered. Then, as he nodded to let me know it was all right, he watched while I spread my legs and whacked away at my dick. I came in my hand—I was afraid what he might do if I dared get it on the carpet, amorous mood or not. Barely had I finished when he grabbed my hand. “Get upstairs,” he said. “Get in bed and take off your clothes.”
I did. He joined me shortly thereafter, and we did it all over again. It might have been the first time I was anxious to have sex with M. J. .
But as time proved, it was also one of the last times.