For days afterwards, Logan considered the question, evaluated the risks, spent time reflecting on how he might approach his daughter before deciding on the same frank, calm manner he'd used when she was thirteen--the time when she'd gotten her first period while her mother was in Phoenix on a business trip.

"For a guy, you do pretty good--you know, explaining girl stuff," Jessie had said to him then, "It doesn't seem so scary now." He hoped that it would be the same this time, that somehow he could reach her again, albeit five years after-the-fact. By the first week of April, after another session with his therapist, Logan was almost ready to make the attempt with Jessie. And then a setback.

On a Sunday afternoon his neighbor, the retired school teacher with whom Logan had carried on innocuous, over the fence conversations for years, surprised him with a pop-quiz. Sidling up to fence which had forever been between them, his breath carrying the unmistakable smell of bourbon, the man had accosted him, leaning in close when he spoke: "No offense, neighbor, but now that you're leaving, I just gotta ask," he'd said, slurring the words. "Wha' s'it like? How's it feel t'get it that way--the way you guys do?"

For days, over and over again, Logan replayed the scene in his mind, returning again and again to its most frightening aspect: the man's pose of familiar confidentiality. It had caught him off guard, taken him to the ends of the earth, a place where the atmosphere was too thin to risk words--even on a stranger. How could he ever, he thought, hope to find breath enough to articulate his life for Jessie. Enough to tell her the truth of what it was like to be stricken by the presence of another human being, how it was to struggle against the impulse to move closer. Yes, just like approaching the edge of a cliff; the constant almost unbearable necessity of being careful, the fear of slipping so strong that it sucked the life out of your lungs. How would he be able to explain that walking the precipice had become a kind of torture for him, a never ending, solitary struggle to draw breath.

Could he be brave enough to explain the rest of it? How he'd been saved; what it was like to lie in the right arms; how he'd discovered that he could be holy for a single sustained moment; that sunlight could spin amber halos around his arms, his legs; what it was like to track a single bead of sweat down another human body, fascinated by its route--from temple to throat, down through the shallow ravine of the chest, rolling lower still until, finally, finally, it hung for an instant in the hollow of the navel, barely long enough to be caught on the tip of the tongue.

Would Jessie understand the salty taste of life? Even hear him if he said, When I held him, I could feel myself opening, expanding, feel the panic flowing away. And in its place, something else. Wonderful. No need to think about breathing in the aftermath. No sense of isolation. Like holding hands with God. Can you understand?



How could he summon the stuff to make it happen with Jessie, Logan asked his therapist. "I expired on the spot with that asshole next door. How am I ever going to chance explaining the intimacies of my life to my children?"

"Are you willing to talk candidly with them about your sexual orientation?" the therapist asked.

"These days, I wouldn't have anything to tell them that's enlightening," Logan said. "Not even anything that's particularly titillating."

"I wasn't thinking about explicit mechanics, or titillation," the doctor said, never even cracking a smile.

"I know what you meant, Doctor. It's just that I wonder if either of my children cares to know about the feelings behind the behavior."

 

Just the same, the next day, Logan called his daughter in New Mexico.

"I'm not sure what you expect of me," Jessie said when he told her about Tommy. "Here I am, just days from defending my thesis and you want some sort of empathy from me?"

"I thought, maybe . . . " Logan tried to say.

"Well, don't think. And don't hold your breath," she snapped the words just like her mother--the same finely-honed edge in her voice. "Five years ago you taught me there was nothing more important than a piece of ass. And now you want to move closer, want me to trust you again?"
He let the silence she left stretch out until he could break past the constriction gripping his throat.

"It wasn't just for . . . that. Never that--"

But her voice cut him off, quick, dismissive--impatient to move on. "Let's forget about it! I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not ready. For the time being, why don't you try to engage with me on a more superficial level . . . maybe tell me about the trials and tribulations of finding a suitable position in life . . . something I can identify with."

It had been difficult to go on, difficult to catch his breath and form words again. "I'll take another look at the MLA listings--send you anything that looks promising. Could you ask your brother to call me," Logan said, before hanging up.


 

A week later, Logan accepted the teaching position in New Mexico. "We're so pleased you've decided in our favor," his new department Chair offered over the phone. And then, negotiating a neat segue, he'd volunteered, "You know, we've quite an involved gay community of our own down here--men and women whom I'm sure will welcome you with open arms . . ."

Afterwards, Logan wondered if he'd made the right decision, wondered if he would ever again encounter real openness--if it was ever wise to respond.

 

Oh, absolutely. This is a great offer," the Realtor gushed when the contract on the house came in at the end of May. "You're very wise to accept it!" The sale, she assured him, would net him enough for a respectable grub stake. Two days later he called his therapist and withdrew from treatment.

Out of the blue, Tommy phoned in early June. "We're going out of town next week, Jerry and I," he said early in the conversation, "and I just wanted to know if there was anything, anything more than my power of attorney you need for the house?" Then, later on, after the important business, he turned more personal. "Don't think I don't miss you," he said, moving into territory that Logan had wondered about for months. "I do. It's just that a thing, something I never expected would happen, overtook me--just destroyed all my commitments. Does that make sense?"

Sitting on the floor of the living room, surrounded by boxes intended for Good Will, Logan thought about how tiring it all was: having the words out in the open; having it over, knowing, finally, that nothing the man could say to him would make a breath snag on a barb of recognition, make the muscles tighten again across his chest. It was such an effort to answer, to fight the urge to just hang up. "Yes," he said, striving to be dispassionate, professionally calm. "I understand. Who can predict the timing of these things or know why they happen?"

The kids called him on his last day in Colorado. For half an hour, he sat in the empty house, listening to his daughter rattle on about her thesis defense, her plans for Doctoral work. The incredible expense that would be involved.

"So, you've got everything squared away there?" Travis asked once Jessie got off the line.

"Yes, everything crucial's been packed and shipped," Logan heard himself saying. "I'll take the rest and be on the road later this afternoon." His voice, reverberating in the empty room, sounded metallic, like one of those cheap walkie-talkies, so much louder for the lack of anything to absorb it. Just for a second, he wondered if it was noticeable on Travis's end, if his son could hear the difference.

"Well, you should have good traveling weather, " Travis said. "It's been wonderfully mild." And then, after a pause, "Let us know when you get settled. Maybe the three of us could head up to Bandelier, take a few days and go camping, play catch-up. Mom's in town now. But next month--or sometime in early August?"

"I'll give you a call in a few weeks," was all Logan could manage. Even as he drew breath to speak, he could hear the words echoing off the empty walls, coming back again and again. "Maybe, we'll work something out before the summer's over."

Afterwards, he put the phone in its cradle and turned off the ringer. For a moment, he lay on the floor, too tired to move; and then he let himself remember his family, his children as they had been: what it had been like to watch their mother nurse them, how it had felt to hold them as infants in his arms, the humidity of their baby's breath against his bare skin, the sound of their breathing, laughter, crying. And then, for just the briefest moment, he let himself remember Tommy, how it had been to lie next to him, so close, the feeling of breathlessness, so intense--so real--that he could only think, Dear God.

 
     

 

 

 "The Feeling of Breathlessness" © 1995 by Jack A. Urquhart
 
     
 

 Original graphics © 1995 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal and Canéla A. Jaramillo
 

 

 

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