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Thursday, February 11, 2010

RICHARD’S CHOICE

When I was twenty three in 1978 I was selling Cadillac’s, Oldsmobile’s and GMC trucks in Midland, Texas. The sales manager hired a twenty eight year old man named Richard and I was a more than little threatened by him. He was so handsome, impeccably dressed, and had a beautiful smile that lit up his entire face. Confident men like him always made me feel inferior like a worthless “ugly duckling”. I couldn’t find enough excuses to walk past his office that day to get a closer look at him and he spent his first day calling everyone he knew telling them about his fantastic new job selling Cadillac’s. His excitement was infectious, like a man who’d just won the lottery and his conversations were punctuated by an exuberant laugh that came out as, “Huh, Huh, Huh, Huh!” while showing his sparkling teeth. With a head full of thick black hair and green eyes, I had an immediate crush on him.

In the days and weeks, that followed he revealed that he was now married to his second wife and they had a three year old son. He also had a son and daughter from a previous marriage, but he’d lost touch with them and that we’d both been born in the same hospital five years apart in Kermit, Texas delivered probably by the same obstetrician. His father had recently died from a heart attack at fifty one and Richard was so depressed he’d been out of work for over a year, but having received a small inheritance he was OK financially during that time.

At first I was afraid he’d surpass me in my position as the top new car salesman he seemed so much more talented than I, but I soon realized he lacked the focus to stay in there for the long haul. My boss asked me to show him the ropes and do a complete “walk around” on a new Sedan De Ville. After the first seven minutes I could see his eyes glaze over and that bored totally uninterested look come over his face. He kept looking at his watch and made an excuse that he had to meet someone for lunch. That was my last effort in training him. If he didn’t care about product knowledge, then I couldn’t make him care.

Surprisingly in the few short months we worked together we actually became good friends and bonded in a way I’ve never bonded with anyone. I of course never told him I was gay in those days. Once after an early morning sales meeting he told me he’d taken a woman he’d met in a bar the previous evening upstairs to the office we’d just been in and fucked her on the sofa. Not ever knowing we were having a meeting the very next day. He laughed and said, “All through the meeting I kept waiting for some to ask, what is that funky smell? Huh, Huh, Huh, Huh!” Oh God, how I secretly wished I’d been the woman he’d fucked on the sofa.

Once, three of us had to go to an Oldsmobile training class in Abilene. It was Richard, old Mr. Hill, and me. We took Richard’s silver Delta 88 Royale demonstrator and I sat in the back on the pale blue velour seat and listened to the “Eagles” album he was playing on the eight track. To this day whenever I hear “Hotel California” I always think of Richard. He and I kept the conversation going most of the way and I drank in every word mesmerized by the sound of his voice and his fascinating way of telling a story. He was so full of life, excited, not boring and depressed like me. When reached the town of Big Spring he insisted we stop at the “Brass Nail” for a few drinks. “I don’t think that’s a good idea because we have to go back to the dealership.” I said. But Richard kept on until I gave in. I just couldn’t pass up a chance to spend more time with him. Mr. Hill gave in too and I adored watching Richard drink, talk, laugh, and smile.

In less than six months Richard quit because he thought sales were too slow and he was bored. Once he left for lunch and when he returned an hour later, I was sitting in the same chair in the showroom I’d been in when he left. He mimed bashing his head against the wall and spinning around while jerking off. I howled with laughter and got a full mental picture of him with his pants down around his ankles spinning around masturbating, it gave me a semi hard on.

Later he told me in secret that he’d applied and been accepted for a job selling Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages and within six months he came back and bought a new platinum silver 1978 Coupe De Ville from me. He begged me to go to work for the company and told me he was making twenty five thousand dollars a year. I reminded him I’d made twenty eight thousand dollars that year and got a free Oldsmobile demonstrator, so it didn’t seem like such a good deal to me.

Over the next few years Richard bounced from job to job and always whatever he was doing was the best thing that had ever happened to him. I couldn’t help think about all those excited phone calls he’d made his first day on the job selling cars. He always wanted me to come to work with him or for him and he began referring to me as “My Friend”, he once even suggested we go in together and open up our own used car lot. I told him, “We’d make a good team because you’re always way too enthusiastic and you take too many risk, since I’m a little more conservative, I might be able to keep you from bankrupting us.” The truth was I just didn’t feel comfortable going to a bank and asking for the kind of loan we’d need to open a dealership, also I’d begun to see a pattern in his behavior. He’d be so excited about his current job, but then a few months later I’d find out he’d quit for some reason, boredom, lack of business, or he’d supposedly been lied to. Yet still he begged and pleaded with me many times to give up my job and follow him. God knows Richard could play my heart strings and I wanted to follow him, but I just never had the courage to leave the security of working for a company and going out on a limb with his latest venture.

As the years passed we enjoyed sharing our success with one another and we were both always very supportive and excited about one another’s accomplishments. In 1982 Richard was managing a used car lot in Odessa. He told me he made over sixty five thousand dollars that year and wanted me to come and sell cars for him. I was green with envy, I’d never made more than thirty thousand dollars a year in my life. I’d changed jobs and was working for the Buick dealership. I was unhappy, but I decided to stick with it for a while and give it a chance. One Saturday in 1982 I drove to Odessa after work to show Richard my new Coupe De Ville. When I got to his dealership his assistant was all by him self and told me Richard was out running an errand. “He should be back within the hour.” He said. I told him, “I’ll come back in a few minutes, if he shows up before then ask him to wait for me.” He said, “OK.” And I left.
I decided I’d kill some time by going to the one of the adult book stores on 42nd street. We all know what men do in those dark peep shows, gay, or not. After checking out several video booths I spotted a really good looking man with a beard through a peephole in the thick plywood wall. I locked the door, dropped in a couple of quarters and tried to get his attention by sticking my index finger through the hole hoping to get him to let me suck his dick through the “glory hole” between the booths. He kept looking down at my finger signaling to him, but kept his pants zipped and although he kept dropping quarters into the slot he wouldn’t do anything more than stroke the bulge in his jeans suggestively and fiddle with his Western belt buckle. I grew tired of his “Prima Donna” attitude and moved on. After giving a couple of guys quick blow jobs I was anxious to get back to Richard’s dealership before it closed, so I smoothed my hair, wiped my mouth, popped in a piece of sugar free peppermint gum and walked outside to my car. I’d parked outside the privacy fence where no one else parked. I had no wife to hide from, so I didn’t give a shit if someone saw my car in front of the book store, but I was worried about getting door dings. As I was maneuvering the huge Cadillac out of the drive a gold Honda came barreling out from behind the fence and almost hit me head on .We both stomped our brakes and missed hitting each other by mere inches. I was pissed and I gave the driver a dirty “How dare you, I’m driving a Cadillac!” look. Then I saw it was the good looking guy with the beard and at almost the same second I realized it was Richard. I was so shocked I just sat there and let him go ahead of me. I didn’t know what to do and I was so afraid he’d be embarrassed, there was no mistaking my car and it was so flashy that I didn’t go back to his dealership, I just drove back to Midland. I never did show Richard that car.

About a year after that he stopped by the Buick dealership unexpectedly and when I asked him how things were he said, “My friend, if I could take a trip around the world by rubbing two nickels together I couldn’t afford it.” He then asked, “Can you loan me fifteen hundred dollars?” I said, “Richard I don’t believe in loaning, or borrowing money. I’ve been burned in the past and things aren’t going that well for me right now either.” I finally said, “I’ll think about it and let you know this afternoon.” All day long I struggled with the idea, he sounded so sad and I loved him so much and wanted to help. I finally called him and said, “David I’ll have to borrow the money from my bank, but if you really need it that badly I’ll get it for you.” He said, “Thanks buddy, but I can get by without it. It just makes me feel better knowing you would do it for me. Thank you for being a true friend.”

Four years later in 1987, Richard called me at work while he was staying at a hotel in San Angelo, Texas. For some reason he seemed vulnerable and wanted to talk. It was then that I told him I was gay and related the 1982 book store incident to him, he totally denied it. He didn’t get mad, or upset, he just said it wasn’t him. I said, “Richard I’ve known you since for almost ten years, how could I not know it was you? Besides I’ve seen you with a beard since then and I know it was you.” He again denied it for the third time and I dropped it. It was during that same conversation that he told me his father was gay and that his parent’s had gone through a nasty divorce. His mother had never gotten over the fact that his dad had moved in with another man and she hated all gays because of it. He said, “Promise me you’ll practice safe sex and take care of yourself my friend, I don’t want to loose you.” I could feel the genuine love and concern in his voice, and I promised him I would. He made me feel special.

It wasn’t until years over ten years later that I would find out from his third wife that Richard had moved in with his father and his lover after his parent’s divorce and that he’d lived with a man twenty years his senior for almost two years after high school in Hobbs, New Mexico.

During the years that followed Richard and I kept in touch mostly by telephone, sometimes while I was at work, other times while I was at home. Once, after I’d gone to bed he called while I was lying there in the dark under the covers, it was cold that night and we talked for over an hour. I wanted so much to believe his voice was coming from the pillow beside me instead of through that Goddamn phone.

Richard began to change jobs so often that sometimes I’d loose track of him, but I had his in-laws phone number and his father-in-law knew me, so he’d always give me a new number for reaching Richard, even after he and Valerie had divorced. It seemed people always had a soft spot in their heart for Richard no matter what.

By September 1988, he and his second wife had divorced. I’d just moved to Dallas and had a very tiny apartment. I got a call from Richard one evening. He said, “I’m between jobs and flat broke, do you think I could get one in Dallas and can you loan me some money?” I reminded him of my feelings about loaning money and I told him to get himself to Dallas even though my place was tiny he could sleep on my sofa. I said, “I’m having a tough time myself right now. I can’t offer you much more than a roof over your head and three square meals a day, but you know I’ll help you anyway I can, get your ass up here right now I need the company.” He was so appreciative I just knew it was a done deal and I was ecstatic at the thought of him living with me. It didn’t matter that he was “straight” I just needed a friend so badly at that moment I didn’t care. I needed someone to share my life with. He called back a two days later to tell me how much he appreciated my offer and what a terrific friend I was, but he’d decided to move to Salt Lake City and live with his mother until he got back on his feet, I was devastated.
Over the next few years I heard from Richard sporadically. I always cherished our conversations, he always made me feel good about myself, and reminded me what a true friend I’d been to him. He could always bring a smile to my face and fill my heart with joy.

In the early nineties he’d gotten another job selling yellow pages in Salt Lake City and remarried for the third time. Then next thing I knew he was living in Enid, Oklahoma and he was selling some kind of stuffed animals to discount stores. I somehow got the idea he was filling those machines where you dropped in a few quarters and used one of those robotic “claw things” to try and snag a silly looking green frog with a heart around its neck that said, “I Love You.”

Richard was never satisfied and was always looking for something better. Soon after that he informed me that he and his wife were moving back to Salt Lake City to start up their own business selling some kind of restaurant discount cards. As always I wished him luck, gave him encouragement and then shook my head in wonder as to how such an intelligent man could never seem to get a handle on life.

In July of 1996, I’d actually been selling yellow pages myself for over four years myself. I got a phone call one day and it was Richard saying he would be flying through Dallas on Southwest Airlines, he had a layover on his flight and he’d let me give him a blow job if I’d let him spend the night at my place. Had I heard him right? I was stunned by what he said, not only by the comment itself, but that the fact that some of our telephone conversations were monitored by managers and having worked for the same company he knew it. I said, “What?” and he only repeated the part about spending the night. I told him it was fine with me, but he needed to be aware that the air conditioning was out in my condo. I had a temporary window unit in the bedroom and we would have to sleep in the same bed the couch wasn’t an option since it was a hundred and ten degrees in the rest of the place. He gave me his arrival time at Love Field. When I picked him up at the airport he offered to take me to Pappadeaux’s on Oak Lawn, which I found strange because he said he couldn’t afford a motel room. We had a nice dinner he had three beers and I had iced tea. We caught up on all that was going on in both our lives and he was proud of the fact that I’d just lost twenty five pounds, stopped drinking in February, and had just had liposuction on my stomach, my neck, and had my eyes done. He as always was optimistic about the future and said his wife was a “great gal”, and that they got along so well, “Because the sex was great.” The only thing that seemed to upset him recently was that they’d gone to his son’s graduation from Marine training and his son had said, “Dad, you’re getting fat.” He insisted on paying for dinner and then we drove to my place. Richard was so complimentary about my condo, my car, my furniture, etc. He said all he and his wife had was junk and second hand stuff. He complimented me on all my recent achievements and my new look. We sat in the bedroom, I on the bed, he in a chair, and talked for two more hours. He told me he had re-connected with his son and daughter from his first marriage and they were great kids and his daughter who reminded him of Jennifer Beal was about to make him a grandfather. He seemed happier and more content than I’d ever seen him in all the years I’d known him. Finally we decided we’d better “hit the sack”. I changed into a pair of sleeping shorts and he put on his own pair and a T-shirt. I got into bed first and before he got in he said,” I don’t want to be rude, but am I going to be safe in this bed?” I patted his side of the bed, grinned and chuckled, “As safe as you wanna be big boy!” He smiled and crawled into bed beside me. I’m positive neither one of us got much sleep that night. The electric current between us filled the darkness and the spaces between us. We lay in bed side by side and talked for over an hour. I told him so many things I’d wanted to tell him over the years, such as how much I’d always loved him, and that I always thought we’d have made such a dynamic couple, but he kept getting married on me. I wanted so badly to reach out to him, pull him to me and kiss him, long and hard. I felt certain in my heart he’d respond to my touch, but what if he didn’t? Or what if he did and he was filled with guilt the next morning? I’d seen a lot of “straight” men react in that way and I didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our friendship. All through the night we slept like spoons without touching, I’d turn, he’d turn, or we’d lie back to back. I looked at him in the semi darkness and marvel that after eighteen years, I finally had the man of my dreams in bed next to me. A couple of times our legs touched he didn’t jerk away, but carefully moved his leg, or turned over, and once when we’d actually gone to sleep, or at least I had, I threw my arm over him, but quickly moved it when I remembered it wasn’t just another one night stand in bed with me. The next morning as we were about to leave for the airport we were at the front door and I said, “I want a hug and I know you’ll be too embarrassed to give me one at the airport, so how about now?” He assured me he had no problem hugging me at the airport. I thought it was just his way of skirting an intimacy issue, but his issues were more about affection in private than in public. Sure enough, when we had his bag out of the trunk he reached for me and gave me a great big full body hug. I kissed him on the cheek and whispered “I love you” in his right ear. He squeezed me tighter and said out loud, “I love you too, buddy.”

A month later I received a letter from him thanking me and giving me his new address in Salt Lake City to mail him some sales tapes I’d offered to loan him. It was around May of 1997, when he called me and asked me for the number of a supervisor we both knew who worked for the phone company. I asked, “Why do you want his number?” and he said, “I’m going to tell him you give the best blow jobs in the world.” and then he cracked up laughing. He told me he was thinking about going back to work for the phone company and his business wasn’t doing as well as he thought it should. I told him, “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. I’d love to see you come back to Texas and let me know what you decide.” I never imagined it would be our last conversation.

On December 26th, 1997, I’d just spent Christmas with my parents in San Angelo and I was getting ready to get in the shower and head for home. I called my home phone to check my messages. A lady who sounded very upset and on the verge of tears said, “Hi Sam, this is Louise, Richard’s wife, I’m calling about Richard, something’s happened, would you please call me?” I panicked, everything in the world went through my mind, was he sick, had he been in an accident, did he leave her? I was hoping he’d left her and was at this very moment on his way back to Texas. I ran to get my address book because I hadn’t written down the phone number. I called her and she answered. I said, “Louise, this is Sam, I’m returning your call about Richard.” She said, “I’m afraid I have some bad news.” Again I thought car wreck, hospital? She went on, “Richard’s dead, I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner, but with the funeral arrangements and all I just forgot until Valerie reminded me that I needed to call you.” I was numb, “Oh God no! What had happened to him?” She then told me he’d shot himself in the head in his office at their house during the night of December 14th. He’d been cremated and there’d been a memorial service for him in Lubbock the week before. I felt weak and nauseated. I told her I had to go, but I’d call her when I got back home. She said, “Good Sam, there are some things I’d like to talk to you about and I know how much you meant to Richard.” I sobbed in the shower where no one could hear me, finished getting ready, and cried most of the drive home maneuvering my beige metallic 1997 Buick Century through the traffic on interstate 20.

In the past year and a half I’d felt that after that night in my bed there’d been a turning point for Richard and me and that it was only a matter of time until we’d wind up together as a couple, just as I’d always wanted.
Now with Richard’s death that dream was gone forever along with so many others. Why hadn’t he called me? I could have cheered him up, I could have talked him out of it. Then I realized I’d had a fire in my condo the day after Thanksgiving and I’d been sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of a friend’s apartment until I got some insurance money to rent another place. Although my telephone still rang when you dialed the number I didn’t have a real phone or an answering machine until after he’d killed himself. The thought that he might have called and gotten no answer will haunt me the rest of my life.

When I called her later that day it was apparent she was looking for answers just as anyone would who’s had a loved one kill themselves. She told me that they’d argued about money and she had stopped speaking to him. He spent that night on the couch and the whole next day they’d ignored one another. That night she said she heard the garage open and Richard drive off in his Jeep. He was back within twenty minutes and she said she could hear beer bottled clinking together. She thought, “Great Richard, that’s the way to handle things get drunk.”

Around 3:00 AM she woke up and he still wasn’t in bed. She thought it was time to stop the silliness and went down to the living room to see if he was still sleeping on the couch. He wasn’t there she figured he’d fallen asleep in his office, so she went to the basement and from the light next to his computer she saw him in his chair, back to her, she thought he’d fallen asleep and then she saw all twelve beer bottles had the labels peeled off them and were neatly lined up on the desk along with envelopes addressed to each of his family members, she made a point of telling me there wasn’t one for me, then she saw the gun lying on the floor. She flipped the overhead light on and saw the small bullet hole in his right temple she said there wasn’t much blood at all it was a twenty caliper. Oh God, that was almost the same spot where I’d kissed him and whispered, “I love you.”

Over the next two months we spoke on the phone often and she seemed very anxious to meet me and insisted that I fly to Salt Lake City so she could. Why did she want to meet me so much? She said, “Richard didn’t believe in insurance, so I don’t have much money, but you can have my daughter’s bedroom when you get here.” I offered to buy some of Richard’s clothes and told her she could just mail them to me, but she was relentless in her idea that I come for a visit, so in March I flew to Salt Lake City. She picked me up at the airport. I’d expected a tall red head with a two hundred dollar hair cut, instead she was a short, slightly plump, bleached blond. I soon found out the reason she so badly wanted to meet me and the questioning began almost the minute we got in her car. She had a lot of questions regarding our relationship over the years and told me she’d read all the saved documents on Richard’s computer including letters to me and that Richard had told her about spending the night and sleeping in the same bed with me that July. “Now why was it exactly that Richard had to sleep in your bed?” and, “Richard told me you said the two of you would make a great couple and that you kissed him at the airport.” I couldn’t imagine Richard telling her all these things. Why for God’s sake would a married man tell his wife shared whispers while lying in bed with another man? I wondered if there really had been a letter for me after all. “Did you and Richard ever have sex?” She asked, ever so sweetly. “No we didn’t.” I answered. The questions went on and on, until I felt like an animal trapped in a cage. Richard’s ashes were in a box on top of the TV and I just wanted to grab them and make a run for it. He belonged to me she didn’t deserve him and she gave me the creeps. She told me that Richard’s father had repeatedly raped his older brother Gary when he was a child and would come home late at night drunk. Telling Gary if he didn’t give in to him he’d just go fuck Richard. Gary said he’d given in to his father to protect Richard. I spoke to Gary later, who is a physiologist in Lubbock, Texas and he told me it was true. Before leaving I bought all of Richard’s suits, shirts, and ties for fifteen hundred dollars, way too much money for them, but I felt sorry for her, she was almost destitute. I had my own selfish reason for buying the clothes, they’d belonged Richard and by wearing them I could feel close to him again. I packed them into the huge empty suitcase I’d brought with me.

Louise and I shared a few more calls, but honestly I was glad to be through with her. Then one day she called me and asked to borrow two hundred dollars to help her pay her rent. I felt resentful since I knew her rent was twelve hundred dollars and mine was only five hundred ninety five and I could barely afford that. I explained to her as I’d explained to Richard years earlier that I didn’t make loans, but I’d send her a check on one of my credit cards if she’d send me Richard’s leather jacket. For some reason she said she couldn’t bear to part with it when I was there in March. She agreed, I sent the check, she never sent the jacket and we had words over it and have never spoken again.

The only photo I have of Richard is the one she used on the memorial cards for his service and that came from his driver’s license. I had all the suit pants taken in Richard had put on a little weight and I wear one of them occasionally. I feel Richard’s arms around me when I do. He favored double breasted suits and I’ve never cared for them. There’s one suit coat with a Halls cough drop in the right pocket, I’ll never take it out.

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