Outside, the storm was still raging. The rain was pelting down, and the wind was howling around the building. Cameron put more wood on the fire while I made us a snack and a cup of hot Milo each. As soon as we were settled again Cameron picked up where he had left off.
'On the first day of term, I walked in the front gate at school and saw the guy of my dreams. He was blond and suntanned, and...beautiful.' Cameron's eyes misted over, and I thought he was going to cry. He blinked and took a deep breath.
'He walked up to me and asked me how to get to the office. He was new and had an appointment with the principal.
'I had to go in that direction anyway, so I took him there.
'His name was Daniel Turpin, and he had only arrived in Melbourne the previous day. His father had been transferred from Queensland at short notice, and they hadn't found time to get Daniel enrolled; hence, the appointment. I left him at the office and headed off to my homeroom.
'Daniel was placed in my year, and in my homeroom. When we compared timetables, we found we had several classes together. He also had classes with the rest of our gang, and by lunch time he had met everyone. We invited him to sit with us, and found a table out in the courtyard.
'Becky, Aaron's girlfriend, is a real sweetie, but she's one of those people who just comes right out and says what she's thinking. We'd hardly sat down when she gave Daniel one of her killer smiles and said, "So, Daniel, are you available? Cameron needs a boyfriend."
'Daniel looked a bit surprised. I was horrified. My jaw dropped, and I felt myself going a vivid shade of red. The others all looked at me and cracked up.
'I was flabbergasted, but I managed to splutter, "Becky! What are you doing?"
'I felt so embarrassed for Daniel. I turned to him to apologise, and realised he'd started laughing with the others.
'It turned out that there had been an incident in one of the classes I hadn't shared with Daniel. My ex-friend, Trent, happened to walk past Daniel on his way into the classroom. Thinking he was doing him a favour, Trent suggested that Daniel might want to think twice about hanging around with me. "He's a fag." Jesse was about to thump Trent when Daniel calmly said, "Cool. Some of my best friends are gay."
'My friends, and most of the rest of the class, broke up laughing at the look of disgust on Trent's face as he went to his seat, muttering something about queers taking over the school.
'Daniel was, indeed, available. He made no secret of the fact that he was gay, and Becky and Rachael, Jesse's girlfriend, were forever trying to get Daniel and me together. We did become firm friends, and he fitted into our group well. I think Daniel and I both wanted a relationship, but we were kind of cautious, and at first we resisted the girls' attempts to get us together.
'Over time, though, we grew closer and closer.
'About six months after we met, I stayed at Daniel's place one weekend. We had a serious talk, and we found that we did both want a relationship. We had deep feelings for each other that went beyond what we felt for any of our other friends. That Saturday, we decided to go into Melbourne for dinner and a movie. We had a wonderful time. There was something special about that night that I still remember now, even though it was more than two years ago.
'The following day, we told Allan—Daniel's dad—and my mum and sister that we were a couple. Allan had known for a year or so that Daniel was gay, so there was no drama with either parent. In fact, they were both happy for us, and both of them approved. My sister was really excited; she liked Daniel, and I think she was just happy that I had someone special after the problems of the previous year.
'At school on the following Monday, Becky and Rachael took one look at Daniel and me, yelled "Yes!" and high fived each other. Then they made us kiss, right in the corridor with heaps of other kids around. It was embarrassing, and we would have been in big trouble if a teacher had caught us, but we were so happy I don't think we would have cared if they'd made an announcement over the school's public address system.
'After what had happened the year before, I was amazed when people at school started to accept us as a couple; I guess they'd had time to get used to having a couple of gay guys around.
'In fact, it turned out that there were others. Most of them had seen how I had been treated and, fearful of being harassed too, had remained firmly in the closet. When they saw how readily Daniel and I were accepted, though, they were encouraged, and a few guys and several girls came out. With help and encouragement from a new teacher who had been involved with a similar group at her previous school, we all got together and formed a Gay-Straight Alliance. That provided support for the gay kids, but it was also good for the straight kids, because it helped them to understand and accept that we were kids just like them. The school even revised its policies so that harassment like I had experienced would be dealt with properly.
'That was an awesome time. Our love for each other grew deeper and we spent as much time together as we could.'
Cameron paused to have a sip of his drink and I got up to put a couple of logs on the fire. When I was settled again, he continued.
'Then, I, I...' Cameron stopped and took a deep breath. I could see that he was fighting back tears. 'Then, I lost Daniel.'
He looked like he was going to break down, so I moved closer and put my arms around him. When he had recovered, I handed him a handful of tissues and he dried his eyes and face.
'Sorry,' he said, 'it's still painful to remember.'
'It's okay. You want to stop? Don't go on if it's too much.'
'No, it's fine. If I don't go on, you won't get to hear what I wanted to tell you.'
'All right. As long as you're sure,' I replied. I guessed that Cameron and Daniel had broken up and that it had been messy, which would explain why it could still upset Cameron, so I was completely unprepared for what he told me next.
'We had about fifteen months together. We were so happy. A few weeks before Christmas last year, the company Daniel's dad worked for held a conference at Mount Hotham. It was scheduled to run for several days, but he only needed to be there for one day to run some workshops, so the company chartered a light plane to fly him up. The company CEO was supposed to go as well, but at the last minute he was called to another meeting. That left an empty seat on the plane. Daniel had finished his exams, so he went along to keep his dad company. There wasn't any snow at that time of the year, so he couldn't go skiing or tobogganing, but Daniel figured he'd find something to do while his dad was at the conference.' Cameron paused, then took a deep breath.
'Allan's workshops went well, and he and Cameron left the resort as soon as they could to fly back home. It was about four o'clock. They were supposed to land at Lilydale, which is not far from Montrose, so they should have been home well in time for dinner. They never arrived. Not long after they took off, they got caught up in a severe thunderstorm, and crashed. Daniel, his dad and the pilot all died.' Cameron was fighting back tears again.
'Oh, man.' I had tears in my eyes, too. I hugged Cameron.
'The pilot had been warned there was a storm approaching Mount Hotham, and had been advised to wait until it blew over. For reasons no one was able to fathom, he ignored the warning. I don't reckon Daniel's dad would have got on the plane—let alone allowed Daniel to—if he'd known about the storm. I don't have any proof, but I don't think the pilot told them about the warning. Certainly, none of the resort staff knew about the approaching storm, nor did anyone at the conference. In fact, a group of people went for a hike after the workshops, and they got caught in the storm as well.
'I was devastated. I'd lost my dream guy. I'd also lost his dad, who had been like a dad to me, too. I couldn't get over the grief I felt, and I was so angry. Boy, was I angry. I was so mad at that pilot! I went through a period when I wanted to strangle him. I couldn't, of course, because he was dead.
'I think losing Daniel and his dad affected me as badly as it did because it happened only a few years after Dad died. It felt like I was losing everyone who was important to me, and I couldn't help wondering if Mum and my sister would be next. I ended up depressed, and had to start taking medication for that.
'The anger started to eat away at me like a cancer. Fortunately, my friends stuck with me—like yours did, I guess—and it was Aaron who ended up helping me deal with it.'
Cameron stopped and picked up his glass. 'Man, I need a break. My voice is starting to conk out.'
I looked at the clock. 'Whoa! It's nearly time for tea. We can finish after that—or leave it till tomorrow, if you'd like.'
Cameron nodded. 'Let's try for after tea.'
While I prepared our meal, Cameron took a nap on the couch. He looked worn out; I guess reliving Daniel's death had drained him. After we had eaten and cleaned up, Cameron took a bath. The wounds from his fall were healing nicely and his muscles were much less painful, so he only needed a little help. His ankle was still tender to the touch, but the swelling was almost gone and the pain was no longer severe.
While he was busy, I phoned home to let everyone know I was okay. Mum was pleased that I had company, and she found it highly amusing that my lone retreat had turned into something else. Zoë was at my place, which saved me making another call, and we talked until Cameron called to me from the bathroom. Zoë was looking forward to joining me the following weekend. She tried to tell me she was bored without me, but Noriko grabbed the phone and told me everything they'd been doing. I laughed. Zoë couldn't possibly have had time to be bored, but I knew how she was feeling, because I was missing her, too.
The bath revived Cameron, and after I showered, replenished our wood supply, and rebuilt the fire, he was ready to continue his story.
'A few weeks after Daniel...died...Aaron and I had to work on an assignment together, so I went around to his place. I was feeling really sorry for myself that day. I was missing Daniel and his dad, and I was still angry about their deaths. Anyway, he was playing a CD of his mum's, and this song came on. It was 1980s-style stuff that I don't usually like, but it got my attention and I started listening to the lyrics. I was like, Whoa! This guy understands! Someone knows how I feel. The song had a really weird name, "Seventy Times Seven", so I asked Aaron what it meant.
He said it was a quote from the Bible. When someone asked Jesus how many times we should forgive a person when they hurt us—"Seven times?" Jesus answered, "No, not seven times, but seventy times seven." The point was that we should go on forgiving people over and over, no matter what they did to us. I thought it sounded crazy, but Aaron reckoned it worked.
'Anyway, it made me think, so I borrowed the CD.' Cameron laughed. 'I listened to the song so many times that my sister was ready to kill me; she hated it. It started like this:
'Those words really got to me. Boy, did I ever feel like I was in a prison, and I would have given anything to go back in time and have Daniel back. Somehow, the song gave me a glimmer of hope that I might—just might—be able to get through the grief and anger and get used to life without Daniel. There was another song on the CD, "Forgiven", that had a line that kept running around in my head; it just wouldn't go away:
'I went to bed in a turmoil. I was excited that the first song described so well how I was feeling, but the forgiveness stuff had me puzzled—I couldn't understand that at all. I was too keyed up to sleep much, and I could hardly wait till morning. I was anxious to try and find out more.
'The next day I went back to talk to Aaron.'
'Wow!' I interrupted. 'You were keen.'
'Heh,' Cameron snorted, 'it was more like desperate than keen. I just had to get some answers...I needed to understand what was eating away at me, and how to stop it. Anyway, when I got there, Aaron had an older guy with him. Well, he was probably twenty-five.'
'Old,' I agreed.
Cameron chuckled, then continued, 'He turned out to be one of the pastors at Aaron's church. We got talking, and Aaron asked if the CD had helped me. I explained that it had, but that it raised more questions than it answered, and that I'd returned to see if he could help me find answers. He thought Ben, the pastor guy, would be better able to do that, so I explained how hearing the song had got my attention and started me thinking. Ben was really easy to talk to, and I ended up telling him the whole story of losing Daniel, and how I'd become depressed and angry. I guess I was still feeling some resentment over losing friends when they found out I'm gay, because I even told him about that.
'The three of us talked for a long while. I described how much the two songs had affected me, but explained that I couldn't understand why, or what I was supposed to do about it.
'You know what Ben did? He sat down with me at Aaron's kitchen table, and explained what he thought my feelings were, and why. I must have ruined whatever plans he had that day, but he didn't seem to care. He was so patient, answering all my questions and going over something again when I didn't get it. Aaron was with us all the time, too. He didn't say much, but did add a bit here and there.
'What it all boiled down to was that forgiveness was the key. You know the old saying about treating others as you would have them treat you?'
'Well, Ben explained how that worked in all sorts of ways. It was like a boomerang—if you treated a person badly, they (or someone else) would treat you badly. It was kind of like a law in physics, where an action results in a reaction.
'I was depressed because of the emotions that were affecting my thinking. First, I was feeling cheated—because I was unfairly outed at school and people I'd known for years were no longer friends because of that, and also because Daniel and Allan had been taken from me just when everything was going so well. Second, I was angry—with the two girls who had outed me, with my friends for deserting me, and with the pilot of the plane for killing my boyfriend. The end result was that I was feeling like crap.
'Ben showed me that I needed to get all that stuff out of my system. He reckoned the way to do that was to forgive the two girls, forgive my friends, and forgive the pilot.
'"But they were wrong!" I protested to Ben.
'"Yes, they were," he said.
'"And they hurt me!"
'He just nodded. "Why should I forgive them?" I asked. "And they need to apologise first, anyway."
'I was ready to argue. I was getting mad with Ben, but he just sat there and waited till I calmed down. Then he began to explain that I was feeling bad because I was holding on to the hurt and anger, and the only way to get rid of them was to forgive the people who had caused them. I could simply decide to forgive the people, and my forgiveness wasn't dependent on anything they did or said.
'The idea of forgiving—without expecting the other person to do anything—just seemed too hard, not to mention stupid. That's not the way the world works. We look out for number one; we give because it makes us feel good, and because we think we'll get something in return. People like to bear grudges, and I was no different from anyone else. The idea of there being a kind of equation, where my well-being depended on my forgiving first, just seemed crazy. How could I forgive these people who had hurt me so much and caused so much upheaval for me and my family? I couldn't get my mind around it; I just didn't get it.
'I was nearly ready to get up and walk out, but Aaron kind of threw a circuit-breaker. He saw I was getting upset, so he went out to the kitchen and came back with chocolate cake and cans of soft drink.' Cameron laughed. 'He knew I loved his mother's chocolate cake! And Pub Squash! We talked about other stuff while we ate, and that was enough to calm me down. When we started on forgiveness again, Ben very patiently showed me how all these ideas were related.
'I began to understand. If I waited for those who had hurt me to come and apologise, I might be waiting forever, and the hurt and pain would still be there. They might not even realise that they had hurt me—or they might know, but not care. Either way, they weren't about to come and get down on their knees and ask for my forgiveness. In the case of the pilot, he obviously couldn't do that, anyway, because he was dead. Instead, what I had to do was show mercy and forgive them; not because they asked me to, but because I wanted and needed to. The benefit to me was that in the act of forgiving, I would let go of the hatred and anger, and the pain and hurt, and I would be free again. I just had to decide to forgive. It didn't matter how I felt about it; first I had to make the commitment to do it, and then I had to make it happen.
'Ben explained that by holding onto the anger and hurt I was judging those people—in effect, I was acting as their judge and jury. If I forgave them I would release them from my judgement. That didn't mean that I agreed with what they had said or done; it simply meant that I would not pronounce them guilty. (3)
'It was a bit scary, but then I realised he was right. I was judging that pilot—and the others—and because I was still angry, I was still feeling the effects of the anger.'
'So, what happened next?' I asked.
Cameron chuckled. 'Somebody was trying to tell me something. I kept reading or hearing things that talked about forgiveness. Man! If I had a dollar for every time that word came up in the following weeks, I'd be rich. I found quotes on forgiveness in books and newspapers, online, on the desk calendar in my mum's study and in various other odd places. One quote made me laugh. It impressed me so much I can still remember it: "Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life."
'I watched a documentary on TV about a Jewish lady who, as a child, had been in Auschwitz concentration camp. She and her sister had been forced to take part in "research" on twins. Many years later, she went back to Auschwitz, and forgave the Nazis for what they did to her there. She copped a lot of flak for that, but she said she had to; the hatred was killing her. (4)
'A DVD that someone loaned me also helped a lot. It looked at forgiveness from a scientific point of view. It talked about scientific research that proves that forgiving people is good for our health, and it covered religious and secular teachings about forgiveness, as well. It was fascinating stuff.' (5)
'Okay, so what did you do?' I asked.
'Oh, then came the hard part. I knew I had to forgive the two girls, my ex-friends and the pilot, but forgiving them was the last thing in the world I felt like doing. I argued with myself about it. I talked to Ben to see if there was a way out of it, and I told God he was wrong.' He chuckled. 'Fat lot of good that did me! I was still depressed, the anger was still eating away at me, I still wanted revenge—and on top of all that, I began to feel guilty because I knew what I had to do but I couldn't do it.
'Then one day I got so angry with someone at school that I got detention. I had to stay back and "volunteer" to help cover a heap of new library books. And—wouldn't you know it—as I walked into the library, my old friend Dean followed me in. He had detention, too!
'I looked at him and scowled; he looked at me and kind of cringed. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then must have thought better of it. He actually looked upset, and he just turned and started to walk away. I surprised both of us by calling him back. It hurt to even look at him, and I was wondering why I'd stopped him leaving. I didn't have any idea what to say, and he just stood there. After imitating a goldfish for a few seconds, I finally blurted out, "You really hurt me, you know?"
'He said, "I know," and he burst into tears. Man, I wasn't expecting that! Then he started apologising, and that made me cry. Dean said, "Can we talk before we go home? There's so much I need to tell you." I didn't answer straight away and he must have thought I didn't want to talk to him, because he added a very plaintive, "Please?"
'I agreed, and he gave a smile of relief.
'We finished covering the books before the hour was up, and the librarian let us have the remainder of the time to ourselves. Dean was really grateful that we were able to talk. Our bust-up had been eating away at him, too, and he'd really wanted to fix things between us, but he hadn't known how. He had really missed me and the friendship we'd enjoyed since primary school, and as we talked I realised I had missed him, too. I'd been too angry to notice before. He said, "I can't speak for Trent, but I've had enough of this 'fag' crap. I realise now that you haven't changed, and I want to be friends again." He asked me to forgive him. Much to my surprise I found I was able to, and we sealed the deal with a hug.
'I remember feeling excited as I walked home that day, because I finally understood what forgiveness was all about. I felt like I'd discovered a continent that had never been seen before. That night, because Dean's apology and request had broken the ice, I was able to extend my forgiveness to the girls who had outed me, and to the other friends who had left me. It took a long while, but I also managed to forgive the pilot whose negligence had killed Daniel and his dad. For the first time in months I went to bed and didn't cry myself to sleep.
'I couldn't wait to tell Ben and Aaron what had happened, because they were the ones who had set me on the right track. They were almost as excited as I was. I'll never forget how Aaron stuck with me when other friends had gone. He saw through my anger to the hurt and pain underneath and he understood what I needed to do. Ben has become a good friend, too, and I'll always remember how he took the time to explain everything to me.
'Getting rid of the garbage between Dean and me kind of started an avalanche. After forgiving him, the other kids and the pilot, everything else was pretty easy. The anger evaporated, and then I realised I'd never properly dealt with my grief over losing Daniel. Ben was a big help with that, and with the anger and grief gone, the depression cleared up as well. I was able to stop taking the anti-depressants, and I've been fine ever since. It was like getting to start life all over again.
'Dean became a firm friend again, and he actually joined the GSA. Because he's a jock, he helped to spread understanding and tolerance among the sporty crowd. Trent has never changed his attitude to me. That was the one issue I couldn't resolve, but eventually I decided it was his problem, not mine, and I've been able to let him go.'
'Wow! What a story,' I said.
After Cameron finished his narrative, we both wanted to talk. We stayed up until the early hours of the morning, and we must have told each other our entire life histories. We talked about our families and our childhoods, our schools and our friends. We shared our interests and passions. We discussed the future—our ambitions and what we hoped to achieve—our hopes and our fears...and we solved the world's problems.
Cameron told me all about Daniel, and I told him all about Zoë. We talked about our relationships with them, and how they had enriched our lives.
For Cameron, the conversation seemed therapeutic. Although it had been ten months since Daniel had died, and he'd dealt with his grief and anger, his love for his boyfriend was still very strong, and he still missed him. 'I know I'll have to move on eventually,' he said, 'but I can't just close a door and forget Daniel. It's too soon, I think.'
I agreed. 'I don't think you should even think about forgetting him. He was a big part of your life. You'll always have a special place in your heart for him. It might be different if your relationship had ended because you split up...people do that all the time, and they get over it and move on. That didn't happen, though. You lost Daniel when you were still very much in love with each other, so you'll always remember him as he was at that moment. I hope you will find someone else in time, but Daniel will still be there, too, and I don't think you should try to change that. Your heart's big enough to have room for both of them.'
Cameron looked at me intently for a few moments, before he broke into a grin. 'You know, I think you're right...you're not just a pretty face, are you?'
I threw a cushion at him, and then had to apologise because, in ducking suddenly to miss the cushion, he hurt his ankle. I hastily got out the cold packs and placed them around his foot. 'Oh, man, I'm sorry, Cam. I shouldn't have done that.'
'Nah, it's all right. It's my own fault for giving you cheek, and it's only an ankle. It'll heal.'
I laughed and sat back down. I leaned back and closed my eyes, thinking back over our long conversation. It had helped me a lot, too, especially when Cameron explained how forgiving Dean, the kids at school, and then the pilot, had given him a new beginning.
I knew what he meant when he had said it was like starting life all over again. I'd already had that experience—twice. As I pondered Cameron's story, I wondered if it was about to happen again. Is forgiveness the key to my own problem?
(1) "Seventy Times Seven", Lyrics by David Meece, Gino Vannelli and Roy Freeland. Copyright 1986, Meece Music (admin by) Word Music, Black Keys Music/Screen Gems-EMI Music
(2) "Forgiven", Words by David Meece. Copyright 1985 Meece Music (admin by) WORD Music
(3) Catherine Marshall: Something More. Quoted in Jerry Cook with Stanley C Baldwin, 1979: Love, acceptance and forgiveness. Regal Books, Ventura, CA., pages 20-21