"Toga! Toga!" I cried, hoping for a road trip to the gay bars in Indianapolis.
"I gotta go to Terre Haute to pick up some stuff, then drop it off at my parents' house in Broad Ripple [a suburb of Indianapolis]."
"How much stuff?" I asked suspiciously. I didn't want to be conned into helping him move.
"Not a lot, just a few keepsakes. My parents are selling my great-aunt Rose's house, and they want me to go get what I want before everything gets packed up and sold."
"Are other guys coming, too?"
"There aren't a lot of guys around Bloomington during the summer, so it will be just you and me." He paused. It's a pretty long trip, so we'll probably have to spend the night in Broad Ripple before heading back."
Spend the night! I know what that meant!
Joseph was one of the first gay guys I met in Bloomington: an undergraduate history major, very cute, with black curly hair, a baby face, and a lean tan physique. Definitely my type! But he was also very popular, dating Rick the philosophy major, then Mark the optometrist, then a medical student named Manfred (really!), so I never managed to squeeze in.
Obviously I wasn't his first choice, but who cared? This was my chance to get intimate!
Saturday after lunch we set out for Terre Haute, about 1 1/2 hours away. Joseph said that he grew up in Broad Ripple, but they drove out to visit his mother's aunt Rose almost every weekend. He had fond memories of fishing in the Wabash River, drive-in movies, dinner at the Pizza King, and drinking hot chocolate while watching tv.
"When did she die?" I asked.
"Oh, she's not dead. She's in a nursing home with dementia. She fades in and out. Some days she's almost normal, and others she thinks it's 1941, and I'm her brother Oscar. But she can still name all of the U.S. presidents, in order, up to Richard Nixon."
"Did she know about you [being gay] before her dementia?"
"That was three years ago, when I had only just admitted it to myself. She was always worried that I wasn't dating enough. One of the last things she said to me before her dementia began was 'You shouldn't be so picky, or you'll never find a girl.' I was too scared to tell her I was gay."
As we walked up to the house, I saw what looked like a face in the attic window!
I stopped and grabbed Joseph's arm. "Does anyone still live here?"
"No. But about a dozen members of the family have keys. We drop by to do housework, pay Aunt Rose's bills, and such. We still hold family gatherings here. Why?"
"Oh, um...it's just well kept up." I didn't want to turn Joseph off by being leery of an old house.
The living room was mostly packed up and ready to go, all of the pictures taken from the walls and the furniture all carefully marked with the name of whoever had claimed it. Joseph took a candy dish and a ceramic figure of a dog.
The kitchen was cluttered with pots, pans, dishes, and various obscure implements in piles on the counters and tabletops. Joseph took a fondue set and the cup his Aunt Rose used to serve his juice in.
It was very warm. He turned on the air conditioner, but we still had to take our shirts off.
Next came the study, heavy laden with books from a career as a college professor: a three-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Bruce Caxton's Civil War trilogy, plus mystery novels, literature, folklore, music, and about a hundred books on gardening. Joseph and I filled five boxes with books to argue over later.
He left Aunt Rose's bedroom alone.
Upstairs was a storage room that was pack rat heaven. 50 years of Christmas and birthday cards. Stacks of report cards and school papers. Old magazines, carefully bundled. Old wrapping paper. Slide carousels. Souvenirs of long-ago trips. Joseph took a nativity set, some Christmas tree ornaments, and a painting of the house.
He left the first bedroom alone and zeroed in on the second, where he stayed whenever he slept over. There were two twin beds with flowered comforters, a night stand between them, an old-fashioned dresser, and a little card table with framed pictures of Aunt Rose's family.
"Help me get this comforter. And I think I want the lamp, too. I used to fall asleep with the light on, and Aunt Rose would come in and turn it off...." he stopped short. He was trembling.
"Are you ok?"
"She joked that I liked this room so much, I should spend my honeymoon here. I just... wish Aunt Rose could know about who I really am. I'm sure she'd be ok with it...I'm so much happier now then when I was trying to be straight, with all the friends I've made...and .." He started to cry. I rushed to put my arms around him. Then somehow we were kissing.
Joseph pushed me down onto the bed.
A few moments later, I saw a shadow.
There was a woman standing next to the bed!
Not a ghost, completely corporeal. Elderly, white haired, wearing a fluffy terrycloth bathrobe. I couldn't make out a face. She was standing parallel to us, facing the night stand. As if she was about to turn out the light.
I screamed. She vanished.
"What's wrong?" Joseph asked.
"Is anybody else in the house?" I asked, panting.
"I think I just saw your Aunt Rose!"
"You're spooked." Joseph lay his head on my chest. "This house isn't haunted, and besides, Aunt Rose isn't dead. We can go visit her tomorrow, if you want."
"Let's just...let's just finish up and get out of here. I don't want to be here after dark!"
We grabbed the comforter and the lamp, locked up the house, and drove up to Broad Ripple for dinner with Joseph's parents. He wasn't out to them, but they still put us up for the night in his old room, where we finished what we had started earlier.
She was a frail, elderly woman sitting by herself in the tv lounge.
Joseph said "Hi, Aunt Rose" and hugged her.
She looked at him blankly, without recognition.
"This is my friend Boomer, from school."
Suddenly she perked up. "Oh, Boomer, nice to finally meet you in person!"
"But this is the first...."
"Are you treating our Joseph right? Oh, of course you are! Forgive my big mouth! We were just so worried about him. It seemed like he would never find a fellow...."
Joseph blushed. "Aunt Rose, Boomer is my school friend."
Then she was gone again: she had to get ready for her class, but she couldn't find her notes, and were we her new teaching assistants?
Joseph figured that someone in the family must have known he was gay, and outed him to Aunt Rose during one of her lucid moments.
But I think she saw me the day before, at her house: she came into the bedroom to turn off the light.
The uncensored story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood