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I am thirty-three. To say that being told that I have cancer is a bit of a shock is an understatement. Well, Susanna doesn’t actually say that it’s cancer, she just tells me I have a lump on my right testicle. I’ve gone to my regular doctor, rather than the clinic, because my check-up was long overdue anyway. With all my allergies, I’m used to having regular blood tests even more frequently than ordinary gay men.

Susanna is a friend of Daphne’s. They met in medical school and shared an apartment for a while. She’s been my doctor for years, which is the only reason I got an appointment on the same day. I was a little embarrassed when I had to tell her about the syphilis. It’s such a cliché. But as it turns out, the syphilis is not the problem.

“You have a lump here. How long have you had that?”

“I never noticed it.” I put my hand on my scrotum and after a bit of prodding, I can feel it. It’s small, but unmistakably there.

After that I don’t hear anything for a while. I get dressed on autopilot. All I can think of is that I have cancer and that I might die. Eventually I become aware that Susanna has stopped talking. She’s just sitting behind her desk, waiting for me to catch up. When she can be sure that I’m paying attention again, she starts telling me everything all over again. That they have to do a biopsy, that it may well turn out to be benign, that my chances are good – 95% – and that they'll have to remove my testicle.

“Are you planning on telling Daphne?”

“Huh?” I haven’t thought about it yet. Oh fuck, I’ll have to tell people. Daphne – yes. Mom – oh God, she’s going to freak. Brian – doesn’t even bear thinking about. “Yes, I’ll definitely tell Daphne.”

“Good. If you could do that as soon as possible, maybe she can help you. Gordon Cooper is the best local surgeon in this field. I can probably get you in with him within a fortnight, but he’s a good friend of Steve’s and maybe Steve can do better than a fortnight. Unless you want to go to John Hopkins in Baltimore.”

No, I definitely want to have the surgery in Pittsburgh. I don’t want to have to do this alone. I want someone there to hold my hand all the way through – and I want it to be Brian. And somewhere in there, I'm silently thanking my mother for insisting that I’ve had health insurance all my life. She even paid for it for the longest time.

When I get to Daphne’s office, she's just about to have lunch. So, we end up sitting on her couch, where her patients usually sit, and she spends about ten minutes hugging me and reassuring me that this is probably nothing and will all turn out alright, before she springs into action. While she’s calling Steve, I sit there, thinking that even if it all turns out to be harmless, I'll still end up with a ball missing. I shouldn’t feel so embarrassed about that. They can put in a prosthesis, but still, I'll be damaged goods from now on.

Daphne has to work in the afternoon and I have classes at PIFA, which I attend to pass the time, rather than sit at home and brood. But I can’t switch off my thoughts. I may die. I may be one of the five percent who don’t make it. How could I have been so careless and not examined myself regularly? I just never think about it. And now I may die and there’s so much I still want to do. At my age it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that I’d have more time.

Susanna calls me on my cell during the afternoon and tells me that my blood tests came back negative. Well, that’s something at least. My histamine levels are fine, too. There’s just that little problem with the cancer, pardon me, with the undiagnosed lump.

In the evening – Daphne and I are just having pizza – I get a call from Dr Cooper’s office to tell me that I’m scheduled for surgery first thing on Wednesday morning and that I should report to the clinic on Tuesday afternoon for the preparations. The guy assures me that it’s just a ‘minor procedure’ and shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to decide my fate and to change my life forever either way. Minor indeed.

Daphne has come straight from work to spend the evening with me. We talk about the procedure, about my chances, about practical matters, like who’s going to drive me to the hospital on Tuesday, for which, naturally, she volunteers. Then she asks me if I’ve told Brian yet.

“I’m not going to.”

“What? Why not? You can hardly hide it from him, Justin. There’ll be a scar. He sees you naked enough times. I think he’ll notice.”

“I’m going to break up with him.”

“This isn't because of the syphilis, is it?”


“Justin. I think Brian can handle a little scar.”

“It’s more than that. It’s having a ball missing. You have no idea how important cocks and balls are to a gay man. It’s never going to be the same again. I can’t ask that of him.”

“Why don’t you let him decide that? Give him some credit?”

That’s the point when I finally burst into tears. All that has happened and all that is going to happen comes crashing down on me and I can’t stop. Daphne scoots closer and hugs me tight, promising, “Everything’s gonna be fine,” over and over again. And as much as I’m grateful for that and need it, I'd much rather it was Brian, not making any promises at all.

The thing is that life goes on. When I drive to my mother’s condo the next day, I see people in the street and envy them their carefree lives. It seems inconceivable to me that only yesterday my biggest problem was that I may have a venereal disease. What a difference a day makes.

I tell Mom mainly because she has a right to know. I wish I didn’t have to but I feel I must. She starts crying almost immediately but pulls herself together when I try to comfort her. Then she wants to do all sorts of things for me from being my chauffeur to cooking my meals after surgery. I tell her that I'd prefer Daphne to do that, pretending that it’s because Daphne is in the medical profession. But she and I know that it’s more about having someone around who doesn’t fuss.

Over the last few years my relationship with my mother has become a little difficult. Her low opinion of Brian puts a constant strain on all my dealings with her, only neither one of us wants to admit that there’s something amiss. I can’t shake the feeling that her disapproval of him is also a disapproval of me, of my choices and my lifestyle as a whole.

Afterwards, I sit at home for three hours, wondering what to tell Brian. I could tell him the truth. I know that Daphne is right. Brian isn’t with me just for the sex. It may feel like that sometimes, but he can get that anywhere. There’s more to us than that. And I have a high enough opinion of him to believe that he wouldn’t just abandon me.

But Brian is only twenty-one. I don’t want him to be tied to me because of this. If I’m unlucky and get sick and die, then I don’t want him to have to witness that. He’s so fragile emotionally that I’d hate to think what it would do to him. And if I’m lucky and recover, it’s still uncertain whether my sex life will be the same afterwards. I mean, I’m going to lose a testicle, it’s bound to have some kind of impact. Sex may not be all there is between us, but it does play a big part in our relationship. It’s important to both of us. I don’t want Brian to have to tell me that he can’t do this anymore. I don’t want him to feel guilty.

These are all true and valid reasons, but what it really comes down to is that I've simply run out of time. I’ve always been very patient, but this is my second brush with death and even if I’m lucky again, maybe I should take this as a warning that my time is not unlimited.

I’ve been waiting for Brian for four years, waiting for him to grow up, to slow down, to give me some sign that he wants to be with me as much as I want to be with him. I thought I had the time to wait for him but maybe I don’t. He gives no indication that he'll be ready any time soon. And he has as good as said that he'll be going to New York next year if he gets the chance. Then what? I'll wait for him to return? How much longer? I simply can’t do it anymore. It’s too painful to be with someone who doesn’t naturally allocate me a place in his future. That at least is a must. Otherwise, what would be the point? After four years I have to face the fact that he may never be ready. And I have no more time to wait.

Brian can take me to incredible heights and I don’t mean sex, or not just sex. Just being with him makes me happy, even if we’re doing really mundane stuff like cooking or watching TV. And he has started to show more consideration. He has stopped tricking in front of me completely, although he makes no secret of the fact that he tricks all the time. He no longer dodges my gestures of affection although he still ridicules anything verbal. He spends long stretches of time practically living with me although I can’t work out why he's moved away from that since college started up again after the summer.

But he can also throw me into deepest despair. What it comes down to is that the uncertainty is killing me. I never know what mood he’s going to be in. Is he going to be sweet or belligerent? I never even know where he is and whether he’s planning on turning up at any given time and I can’t ask him for fear of making him feel cornered. I can’t even go to his dorm room without feeling that I’m invading his privacy. After all this time I still don’t know how he feels about us. And despite loving him completely and utterly, I live in fear of getting hurt all the time. Or maybe it’s because I love him so much.

Four years ago when I nearly died, I changed my life around because I realized that life’s too short to spend it in worry and fear and wasting it on things that aren’t right for me. Today my life has completely changed and yet it hasn’t. I’m still worried and a little scared half the time. This life is no longer right for me. I can pretend as much as I like that I’m doing this for him, to spare him, but when the chips are down, I’m doing this for me. I no longer have the luxury to put his needs before my own.

But making a decision and carrying it through are two completely different things. I worry about him, I always have. I know how brittle he really is under that tough shell and I can’t help wondering what this will do to him. He'll just think that he was right all along, that everybody leaves, that love doesn’t exist or that he simply isn’t lovable. He’s wrong but nothing will ever convince him of that. I’m aware that I probably had the best chance of getting through to him out of anybody and I wish I could be stronger. He'll never know how sad that makes me.

When he turns up at night, he just saunters into the loft as if nothing ever happened. As if there's no baby, no syphilis from fucking around all the time, no plans to leave next year. It should make me angry, but it just fills me with sadness. And I’m kind of relieved because I know, he'll go on and maybe even be happy doing it. I'll be just a momentary blip on his radar. But I'll no longer have a part in his life, one way or another. That thought gives me such a crushing pain in my chest that I need to hug myself tight and take deep breaths to steady myself.

For once he seems to sense that there’s something wrong. No, that’s unfair. He often knows me better than anyone. It’s just that he tends to deliberately ignore it. Of course, he jumps to the obvious conclusion and he looks so incredibly relieved that he hasn’t infected me that for one insane moment I think that having syphilis might have been worse than the reality. I have to step back when he comes forward so that he won’t touch me. I couldn’t bear that right now. My resolve would just crumble.

“Brian… I… I can’t do this anymore.” After all the time we’ve been together, it sounds so trite and clichéd, putting it like that. Really, Taylor, this is the best you can do? Next you’re gonna spew out the old ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line. He deserves better. He willfully misunderstands at first. What did I expect? To be honest, I have no idea. Probably that he'd just say ‘okay’ and walk away. He’s the one to insist that there are no locks on our door, that we’re just passing time and just having fun for as long as we both enjoy it.

But I’m wrong. He really doesn’t seem to understand what I mean. I have to be clearer. “I’m asking you to leave, Brian.” Please, just go. Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.

He looks stunned and then he turns angry, not shouting angry or sarcastic angry – hurt angry. And he asks me if this is about Jon. Typical. As if I couldn’t possibly make a decision like this without someone in the background. As if this couldn’t possibly be about him and the way he treats me. No, to him the only possible explanation is that I want to fuck someone else instead. That just about sums us up, doesn’t it?

I suppose I should be thankful that he seems to be a little jealous after all. At least, he doesn’t care so little that my fling with Jon didn’t affect him. But his next question just makes me angry. He thinks this is punishment for getting an STD? Does he really think that I would throw out four years of being together to make a point? How little he must care if he thinks that it all doesn’t mean that much to me.

It’s kind of satisfying to throw his own words back at him. When he introduced me to some trick months ago as ‘the guy I fuck more than once’, I thought it was kind of romantic in some weird, twisted Brian sort of way. I knew what he really meant. Or I thought I did. But over time, the words have lost their shine and have turned into something altogether different. Now they seem like the epitome of our relationship.

He just stares at me. I want to see hurt and pain because that would mean that I haven’t wasted four years of my life, that I was right all along, that he does love me, but I really can’t tell what he’s thinking. And it’s killing me. The whole situation is killing me. I love him, plain and simple. I'll probably always love him. And the thought that he doesn’t love me back is ripping me apart.

I concentrate on the practicalities, telling him when to get his stuff. I couldn’t bear to watch him do that. But, hey, luckily I'll be in hospital for a few days, having my ball removed, so I won’t have to.

Brian just stands there. What is he waiting for? Why doesn’t he just go already? I’m going to cry, I know I will, and I don’t want him to see it. That would be too mortifying and he would just mock me for it. I’m not Michael, I’m not allowed to be weak. I have to close my eyes for a moment to stop the tears and finally I can hear him move.

But then I can’t not look at him. Who knows when and if I'll ever see him again. I just want to look at him and memorize everything about him as if it wasn’t already seared into my brain and my heart and probably my very soul. And then he tells me that he hopes I get what I want, like he’s saying ‘good luck’ or ‘have a nice life’. He has this magnanimous smile on his face that tells me how little he cares. He can be generous and gracious because he doesn’t care. I sink down onto my knees, hugging myself tightly and despite what I thought just a minute ago, the tears won’t come. Some emotions are just too monumental for that.

The trick is to keep busy, to not think about it. I have to get leave from PIFA and the gallery. Luckily cancer excuses just about anything and Sidney and the dean’s secretary are incredibly nice and sympathetic about it all.

I tell Jon as well and he looks so stricken, I just want to comfort him. For a long while he just hugs me silently. Then he pulls back and pushes my hair out of my face, while looking into my eyes. “Let me be there for you,” he says pleadingly – and I wish it was Brian.

I know it’s wrong when I let him kiss me, but it’s comforting of sorts. When he goes to lock the studio door, I don’t object. I don’t exactly feel like having sex but the arousal comes eventually and while I’m doing this, I don’t need to think. Sometimes I can see the attraction this has for Brian.

But that’s wrong on so many level. This is nothing like what Brian does. For starters, I like Jon, so there’s nothing anonymous about this. I wouldn’t be doing this if there was, because I’m mainly looking for comfort at the moment. And I know that Jon's in love with me to some degree and this is so not fair on him. I can’t be like Brian who thinks that saying ‘I’m going to be a shit’ is enough to make it all right. Honesty doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever you like. And last but not least I’m thinking about Brian. I’m always thinking about Brian.

Jon wants to really ‘be there’ for me, to come to the hospital and the loft after. I don’t think I've ever seen him string so many words together in one go. My news must have really rattled him and I’m already feeling sorry that I let him fuck me. What’s the poor guy to think, especially after I let it slip that I broke up with Brian? I’m really such a shit, but I’m too preoccupied to deal with it right now, so he'll just have to live with the fact that Daphne has all the bases covered and I can’t make any plans for how things will go. Then I go shopping for new pajamas to take to the hospital. Just keeping busy.

But it doesn’t really work. As I go about my preparations, Brian is all I can think about. I miss him fiercely and veer helplessly between wanting him to be here to support me and being glad that I don’t have to worry about how he'd feel about it if he did. If he was here, I would think constantly about how he is coping. And thinking about Brian helps me not to focus on my fear so much. Pain of that magnitude seems to trump fear easily.

But there’s one thing I have to do before I go to the hospital. I should probably have done it a long time ago and I have to ask myself if I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to interfere or because it suited my own selfish purposes.

“Ben’s not in.”

Michael looks as if he’d like to shut the door in my face. Since he had a falling out with Brian, he's become a little hostile towards me as well. I have nothing against Michael and I’m pretty sure he has nothing against me personally, but Brian colors all our dealings with each other and rarely in a good way.

“I’ve come to see you, actually.”

“Really? Why?”

“To talk. Can I come in?”

He opens the door to let me pass and when I’m inside their living room, he even offers me a drink. I accept a beer. Ben and Michael bought this house together about a year ago. I helped them move in and paint the rooms. We all did, except Brian, who professed himself to be horrified at the happy homo heaven and refused to help. Personally, I always thought it had more to do with his fear of losing Michael than actual disapproval. Looking around their home, I can’t make up my mind whether I envy them their cozy life together or whether I find it a little too hetero-normative. My main problem is that I can’t imagine what they do together or even talk about.

“It’s about Brian.”

“I don’t want to talk about Brian.”

“Then just hear me out, okay?”

He glares at me, then looks stubbornly at his beer bottle and refuses to meet my eyes. We’re sitting in armchairs almost opposite each other and he seems more like a child than he ever did. Maybe it’s the sulking that makes him appear so very young – and so very hurt. I do feel sorry for him, but at the moment I feel a lot more sorry for myself.

“Brian and I split up yesterday.”

His head shoots up and he stares at me. “For real?”

“Yeah, for real. I asked him to remove his stuff from the loft.”


“I had my reasons. Here’s the thing, Michael. Brian could really use a friend right now. And I know that you love him and that this whole situation’s hard for you for whatever reason, but deep down you’re still his friend. You always were and you always will be. I’m asking you to help him. Could you maybe just forget this thing and talk to him?”

“Why do I have to do it? He never tried to talk to me either. Why am I always the one to run after him? If he needs me, why doesn’t he just come out and say it? Never mind that he’ll just up and leave next year. I bet he won’t even think about any of us. So what would be the point?”

I’m not sure if that’s even true. At my showing it looked to me like Brian was making an effort and Michael shot him down. Of course, you never know what Brian may have said. Sometimes he phrases requests like an order and apologies like an insult. Not that he really has anything to apologize for in this instance.

“The point is that he can’t say those things, Michael. You know that. You know him better than anyone.” Stroking Michael's best-friend ego always works wonders. He’s still not convinced, but he seems a lot less hostile now.

“What did he do?”

“He didn’t do anything. I broke up with him for reasons that had nothing to do with him.”

“Wow. That doesn’t seem fair. What happened? Found someone better?”

“No. I didn’t find someone better. I don’t think I ever will. But this is not about me. This is about you and Brian. He didn’t sleep with Ben to hurt you and neither did Ben. It happened before any of us ever met Ben. Why can’t you get over that?”

“It’s easy for you to say,” he says quietly. “Your boyfriend fucks anything that moves and that’s normal for you. Ben doesn’t and it feels like betrayal.”

“Then why are you only blaming Brian? If anybody betrayed you, it would be Ben. And you don’t seem to have a problem with him.”

He picks at the label of his bottle for a while and doesn’t say anything. I’m already regretting getting into this discussion. It’s really none of my business.

Then he says without looking up, “You don’t understand. You have Brian.” As if that explains everything and maybe it does. I feel incredibly sorry for him. He loves Ben. I know he does. But nothing will ever compare with Brian. I can certainly relate to that. “You’re the only one who ever had Brian. You have no idea.” That may be true, but it’s a matter of careful what you wish for. Having Brian proved more than I could handle in the end. I’m torn between pity for him and pity for myself.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… this is none of my business. I’ll go.” I put the bottle on the table and make my way to the door. When I get there, he has followed me. Much as I sympathize with his dilemma, I can’t forget Brian in all of this, so I have one more try. “The thing is, Michael, if you’re worried about him going to New York, then you should fix this now, while there’s still time. You know he would never just abandon you. He could be halfway around the world and he'd still always be there for you. He loves you and he misses you terribly. You know that.”

He nods a few times and just when I decide that I won’t get any more out of him and turn to leave, he says, “I’ll think about it.”

“Thank you.” I want to give him a hug because he looks so young and so forlorn, but he wouldn’t like it. He just about summed up our relationship when he said, ‘you have Brian’. We'll never be close because of that. Well, that and the fact that we have nothing in common. But essentially Michael is very much like his mother, his heart's in the right place, he just gets a little lost sometimes. So I just put my hand on his shoulder for a moment and leave, hoping that it was enough.

Daphne takes me to the hospital on Tuesday and sits around waiting with me. It has advantages when you’re with somebody who knows the surgeon quite well and it’s obvious that I’m getting preferential treatment from the nurses. As hospitals go, it’s as pleasant as it can be.

The next morning Daphne is there before the surgery, which is scheduled for eight o’clock. Mom’s there, too. I couldn’t dissuade her and I don’t mind in this instance. Mom always makes me feel better when I’m not well. Although there’s something really pathetic about a man in his thirties wanting his mother to comfort him. Brian would mock me mercilessly.

But then again, Brian isn’t here. I shouldn’t think about what he'd say. I should think about the operation and what will come after. I should be worried about the outcome of the biopsy. I am. Very much so. But still, the last thing I think about before I go under and the first thing when I wake up is Brian. Always Brian.

It really turns out to be a minor procedure and I’m allowed to get out of bed by the evening. I feel tired and my balls feel the size of footballs, and just about as solid, too. Painful doesn’t even begin to describe it. But there are always the industrial-strength drugs that they dish out in hospitals, and in a sense I welcome the distraction. I would take physical pain over how much I miss Brian any day.

I’m back home on Friday, still in pain and still a little tired all the time. But Daphne stays with me for the weekend and it’s not so bad. Mom turns up every day and Debbie and even Jon. Luckily, I have an excuse not to talk much and when it’s just Daph and me it's almost enjoyable. I’ve told her that I don’t want to talk about Brian, so we don’t.

I've told my mother that we broke up, so I’m assuming that Debbie knows – and of course Michael does, too, and therefore the whole family – but everybody is heeding my request to be left alone. I get the odd phone call to see how I’m doing, but otherwise the weekend passes quietly and I feel a little recovered by Monday morning.

They told me that it was cancer and that they think they got it all. They also told me that the tough times are still ahead. I have a month of radiotherapy to look forward to, at three treatments a week. But I’m thinking how bad can it be, after they cut me open, took out my ball and stuck a piece of plastic inside me? How bad can it be compared to feeling raw and torn inside from missing Brian?

Bad. Very bad. My first treatment is on Monday. I don’t feel anything straight away and actually go into my studio to distract myself. By the early afternoon I’m back at the loft, shaking, sweating and vomiting without any sign of easing even after two hours. There’s nothing left in my stomach. There hasn’t been since the first bout, but the retching and the shakes just won’t quit.

Jon drove me home and he says he’s staying until Daphne will get here after work. But he’s so awkward around me that I wish he'd just leave. I don’t want anyone to see me like this and I can’t stop feeling that I should make this easier for him somehow, since he’s nice enough to look after me. But I don’t know how. And there’s really nothing I can do about the vomiting.

I just want to crawl into bed and pass out. Everything hurts inside and out. I don’t even want Daphne when she turns up. And then my mom gets here after work as well. I’m in bed by then. She keeps coming up and offering me things, a drink, something to eat, a warm water bottle. I just want to be left alone and if Mom puts her hand on my forehead to check if I have a temperature one more time, I'll bite her hand off, I swear. Of course, that would probably make me barf again.

Over the course of the afternoon, I can hear the loft door open and close several times. It seems that everyone I ever knew feels the need to come and watch me puke. I can’t even tell who’s here anymore. There are murmured voices for a long time, way too many of them for my liking, and then they get louder for a bit, before it all dies down eventually. Good. I don’t really care any longer if they all left. In fact, I’m kind of hoping they did. As far as I’m concerned, they can all get lost, but it’s probably too much to hope that they got the message. Seems like I’m not so pathetic after all, because I really don’t even want my mom trying to comfort me. I’m tired now and if I wasn’t so cold, I think could maybe sleep for a bit. If I still have guests, I hope they stay in the living area and leave me the fuck alone. How come I feel so lost and lonely when there’s a house full of people who care about me and want to help? I don’t want any of them. I just want Brian. And isn’t that the most pathetic wish of them all?

PART TEN here: http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/24313.html
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