June 6, 10:28 am
It’s been four days. And other than a few lines I jotted when I got out of the shower this morning, this is the first time I’ve picked up this journal since the night it happened.
And it’s now been ten minutes since I wrote that.
I’ve been staring at the blank page, trying to decide whether I’m ready to write anything at all. Maybe it’s too soon to try.
I know for sure I’m not ready to write about the night it happened.
For years I’ve always run to these pages to pour out my heart about any little thing, big or small. If Richard and I had a fight, I came here. If something cool happened at work, I wrote it down here. This journal has been both friend and confessor for so long that it feels weird that now, after the biggest horror of my life, I can barely bring myself to write the words. But I know I have to.
Richard is dead.
Richard is dead.
Richard is dead.
It’s been another half hour.
I feel strangely detached, looking at those words. It’s like my mind has checked out and has decided to just pretend that I don’t know the meaning of the word “dead.” The black ink on the white page might as well be in Richard’s beloved Sanskrit.
Talking isn’t any better than writing.
Michelle and I have hardly been out of each other’s sight for the last three and a half days. I finally got her to let me stay here alone last night, but she’s back this morning, and we’ve been talking for the last few hours. I love Michelle, but at this point, we’re just caught in some kind of sick feedback loop. And I’m kind of talked out. I told her I needed some time for myself, so she’s watching TV downstairs.
Anyway, Pil will be here this afternoon, and I’m looking forward to seeing him. Right now, he’s the only anchor either of us has.
And the truth is, I’m not sure I can talk about all this to Michelle anymore. At least, not for a while. She loves me, but she never warmed up to Richard, and only tolerated him for my sake. She never understood him, or why being with him made me so happy. So how can she possibly understand what losing him means?
Every relationship is a mystery. Even to the people in it. And if it is a black box to those in it, then it’s no wonder that outsiders really have no clue.
Our friend Andre once told me he thought Richard and I were the happiest couple on Earth. He said that we had a reputation among our friends of being a perfect match. Which made me laugh. He and Max have been together since before I was born, and for him to say that really made me think how little people know.
It’s true that Richard and I seldom fought, and never in public. We never indulged in any of the petty digs that couples often make at each other at parties. So I’m sure we looked perfect. But even the best of relationships have some rocky patches, and Richard and I had our share. Especially in those early years.
It wasn’t that passion or love was ever lacking between us. In fact, just the opposite. Our connection was deep and powerful, right from the start, and that never dimmed. But there was a quarter-century of age difference between us, and anybody that thinks intergenerational relationships are easy has never been in one. As much as I’ve always been attracted to older guys, and as much as Richard loved his cubs, the difference in our ages… caused us problems.
And no, it wasn’t something as simple as the lack of cultural references. Eventually I learned to appreciate the old musicals that Richard loved, and in his turn, Richard learned to tolerate my obsession with RuPaul and Steven Universe. And in some ways, I think the gaps in our cultural backgrounds were stimulating for us both. We were constantly learning from each other.
The stereotype, of course, is that intergenerational couples implode because of sex—that the older partner wants monogamy, and the younger one wants freedom. But sex wasn’t our challenge. Neither of us wanted monogamy, and neither of us saw our “extracurricular activities” as a danger to our relationship. Like most bears, sex to us was many things. Sometimes it was serious and profound, and sometimes it was just playful. A way to connect, bond, and have fun with men we cared about. We were both fond of the occasional play date with other guys in our bear circle. Often, those dates were together as threesomes or foursomes (or more, on one particularly memorable occasion), but usually we’d play on our own, especially at some of the big parties. Neither of us ever begrudged the other their sexual freedom.
That’s something that Michelle never understood, and considering her strict Mormon upbringing, it’s surprising that she never scolded me about it. I think she at least recognized that whatever we were doing, it worked well for us.
Our early struggles weren’t about sex. No, our problem was that Richard had already lived a long life when I met him. I was newly out and had lived my entire life in Utah and Nevada. He’d been all over the world, knew a dozen languages, and had a PhD. I was naïve, and he was worldly, and we both knew that from the start. But what I didn’t realize at first was that he had also collected a world traveler’s worth of baggage.
Richard had come to see himself as the caretaker in his relationships. That, combined with his attraction to younger men, made him the almost stereotypical Daddy Bear. And I found it charming. Most of the time.
But often Richard fell too far into Daddy Bear Mode, which could make him overly possessive and controlling. He assumed he would make every decision around the house. He would put on a show of asking me where I wanted to go on vacation, but we always ended up going where he wanted. And if I wanted to do anything that was even the slightest bit risky, like climb Angel’s Landing in Zion, Richard put his foot down and said no.
When I felt like I could afford it, I allowed Richard to take on that daddy role. But I also bristled if he carried it too far, or when it felt obsessive.
I suppose that I’m partially to blame. In Richard’s eyes, I was all innocence and vulnerability, and I got a lot out of him treating me that way. And I have to admit, he wasn’t the first guy I dated who tried to treat me as a child. Maybe it’s my introversion, combined with this baby-face, that makes me seem like a fragile flower, needing protection. And to be honest, when we met that winter in Park City, I wasn’t doing a bang-up job at adulting. I was a senior in college and working at the library as a student assistant. I was living on Top Ramen and 7-11 hot dogs in a studio apartment. My job at the library barely paid for my rent and tuition, and I was too shy to have much in terms of a social life.
The truth is, until I met Richard, I never had much need to actually be an adult.
Richard was drawn to all that like a bear to honey. He wanted to show me art and culture. He showered me with gifts, travel, and luxuries that I would otherwise never have had in my life. At first, I was amused by it. I saw Richard as my big, cuddly, sweet sugar bear. I loved being Richard’s cub and I remember I totally melted when he called me “Baby Bear” for the first time, that night we hooked up in the hot tub. I was calling him “Poppa Bear” long before we moved in together.
But part of Richard wanted to keep me a cub forever. I quickly learned that I had to gently and firmly rebuff Richard’s attempts to carry that daddy/boy dynamic too far. And those moments were among the most tense in our early years together.
I always feared that Richard’s insecurity was a land-mine. And that if anything eventually did us in, that would be it.
How strange that it wasn’t.
I’m sure I wrote about this at the time, but there was a point about six months into our relationship (after one particularly brutal argument), that Richard became convinced we should break up. As we dug into Richard’s angst, I discovered it was my need for independence that was terrifying him. The truth was, he just didn’t trust that I’d stay with him unless he could be someone that I actually needed, rather than just wanted. And in those early months, he was completely prepared to walk away before he became so invested that he couldn’t.
It was after that argument that the full story of Richard’s disastrous relationship with Justin came out. And once I knew that story, I better understood the depth of Richard’s need for control, and his fear of loss.
And I also realized something deeper: It wasn’t that Richard was afraid that I would leave him, but that he would fail me.
Because of Justin, Richard feared that eventually, at some critical juncture in our relationship, he would be tested and found to be unworthy. He was desperately afraid that one day, in some circumstance he couldn’t articulate, he wouldn’t be able to take care of the man that he loved. Richard’s standard for what he expected of himself in a relationship was inhumanly high, and it all started with the tragic way he had treated Justin Kimball.
We eventually got past it. Mostly, but not completely. I don’t think we ever really defused the land mine. We just learned not to walk in the part of the field where it lay.
The only person I ever shared any of this with was Michelle. But she failed to grasp the emotional complexity of what was going on with Richard. She’s overprotective too. And to her, it looked like I was being the most loving and selfless person in the world, and that Richard was too self-centered to trust the love that I had for him. I spent years trying to convince her that there was a depth and a power to Richard’s love that she couldn’t see, and she tried to believe me and be supportive. But I knew that in her heart she never trusted him. And because she didn’t, neither did Pil.
Richard sensed their ambivalence. I always assured him that Michelle and Pil liked him just fine, but he never let himself get close to them. Their distrust only fueled his fear that, deep down, he neither deserved me, nor was he capable of taking care of me.
I always hoped—and believed—that one day, Richard would feel worthy of the love that I had for him. I always planned that we would be together for the rest of our lives, and I often pictured the two of us in thirty years’ time. Richard would be pushing ninety and likely very frail. I’d be in my sixties, and (hopefully) much more vital. But I never doubted, even when it came time for me to become Richard’s caretaker, rather than vice versa, that the love between us would be anything other than the most stable and defining fact of my life.
And I definitely could not imagine a time when touching his body would become less thrilling, or the feel of his hands on me would be anything other than holy.
I had to stop after I wrote that and cry a little. What struck me down was realizing that, less than a week ago, Richard was here with me in this bed. I remember the last time we made love was the morning before he died. We both loved sex in the morning, and I would often wake up to his hands on me, sliding under the band of my pajamas, or even at the hungry insistence of his fingers toying with my ass. Sometimes I’d pretend to be asleep until his cock was in me, and his whispering in my ear told me again how much he loved me. For a man in his fifties, Richard seemed forever hungry for sex, and his lovemaking was always insistent but gentle.
Thinking of sex with Richard was more than I could take. I had thought the tears were gone, at least for a while. But I guess not.
I wonder if anyone will ever make love to me the way that Richard did.
Oh, Poppa Bear, I miss your hands on me. I miss the taste of your mouth. I miss the smell of your balls on my fingers, and the heavy weight of them in my hand. I miss the firm grip you would take on my cock, as you slid into me, making me feel like I was suspended in time and space.
I miss your animal passion, and hearing you groan as you came deep inside me. I miss falling asleep to the smell of my semen in your beard.
You’ll never be there again when I wake up.
Now that you’re gone, I’m not sure I know who I am anymore.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
If you’re interested in listening to the book, rather than reading it, the audiobook is available at the Patreon link above, and also as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Anchor, and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast page for more details.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.