Dr. Keith Hoyer has lost patients before but never like this, not at sixteen and not by intent. Certain that he could have prevented the tragedy with some word or deed that he left unsaid or undone, Keith is desperate for a way to redeem his failure.
If Keith’s going to practice medicine in a Third World country, his lover, veterinarian Dante James, needs time to sell the practice and brush up on diseases of goats. “Whither thou goest, I go,” Dante tells Keith, but where will those words take them?
Excerpt: On Call: Crossroads
My lover, Dante, sat next to me in the pew, holding my hand so tightly it hurt. The pain anchored me; it was the only thing keeping me from weeping openly. A tear slid down my cheek now and then as it was.
Today we were burying one of my patients.
I knew what killed him. I’d tried to prevent it. There was nothing surgical to be done, and damned little that was pharmacological, either, although an antidepressant might have gotten him through the worst of it. What would have saved him involved treating his parents as well, perhaps his extended family. Attitude adjustments, chiropractic for the soul.
Because I didn’t think there was anything accidental about his little Ford meeting a bridge abutment.
Sixteen years old, male, well developed, no present complaints. John Samuel Carstens sat on the edge of the exam table, waiting to get stabbed with the tetanus vaccine that was the prerequisite for the summer camp where he was to be a junior counselor. John was in good shape from running track and playing basketball for his high school, and so far he’d given me no reason to think he was anything but healthy.
“Anything you’d like to discuss?” I listened for the er-ing and um-ing that meant something important would come out in a moment. “ Girls?” An assumption, but a good default for his age bracket. I’d tried saying, “Boys?” as well a few times in the past and met stone walls.
“Mmm, no. Got them figured out as much as I need to.”
So did I. Keep them as friends, treat them like people, and call bullshit as needed. I wondered what his method was, and if it matched mine, and for the same reasons. I waited.
“Dr. Hoyer—what if, what if… girls aren’t who I think about when…” He couldn’t bring himself to use the words, but the little pantomime over his lap was eloquent.
“When you masturbate?” I spoke calmly and matter-of-factly.
“Yeah.” His agreement was barely audible.
“First off, masturbating is natural and normal, especially for guys your age.” I sat down on the little rolling stool, figuring that he could see how sincere I was if I was low enough to be in his field of vision. “It’s nearly universal.”
“It’s a sin,” he whispered. I stifled a groan. That one comment said that the ‘not girls’ part was going to be harder than usual for him to accept.
“It’s a way of getting happy and feeling good that doesn’t bring other people into it before they, and you, are ready for that.” Once again I mentally cursed Onan, his legal dispute over his brother’s widow, and every Bible-thumper who forgot what the real problem was. It wasn’t what he did, it was why he did it. Not an issue that I could really debate with the young man on the table.
“You really think that?”
“I really do. It’s your body and a private matter.” I wished someone had said that to me about twenty years ago.
His face changed as he thought that one over, brightening a bit and then collapsing again. “But thinking about… while I… That’s wrong.”
“A lot of men do. It isn’t necessarily an easy thing to accept about yourself, but it isn’t rare, either.” This kid needed a lot more help than I could provide in the course of a camp physical. “Or wrong.”
A tap at the door signaled my nurse with a tray and a syringe. Normally she would stay and do the inoculation, leaving me free to see the next patient, but I took the tray and shut the door.
“My parents are never going to understand. They’ll hate me. They think every gay is a promiscuous ‘ho’ who’s going to get AIDS and die a gruesome death and then go straight to Hell. Or should.”
I stuck his deltoid with the needle, as much to get his attention as to administer the tetanus shot. “They’re still your parents; they may have more flexibility than you think. Look, is there any way you can get some counseling? Think we can get your folks to agree that you need to talk to someone, without being specific about why?”
“They’d send me to the pastor, and I know what he’d say.” No flicker of hope existed in that statement. “I’m already damned.” I couldn’t tell if he was predicting the pastor’s reaction or assessing himself, so despairing were his words.
“No, you’re not.” I guess I was going to have to argue theology with the kid. “Do you do yard work?”
That got his attention. “Yeah, why?”
“Then when you get back from camp, you can come over to the vet clinic at 92nd and Wickham and mow the lawn. That gives you a legitimate reason to be there, something you can explain to your parents, and we’ll have some iced tea and talk afterwards. You shouldn’t have to bear this alone. Okay?”
“I’ll… think about it.”
“I’ll see you after camp.” I’d probably broken every rule about separation of professional and private life, but this kid needed an outside voice in the worst way. He’d already opened up to me and found me non-judgmental; maybe I could help him find what he needed to get to a place where he wasn’t condemning himself. And it wouldn’t hurt one bit for him to see a committed, monogamous gay couple living a recognizably suburban life.