Because the joys of intimacy with other men still enthrall me, I agreed to pick him up. Never mind that the thought of consorting with a man who’s engaged, however far away his fiancé resided, at first stood in stark contrast to the aphrodisiac of his body, hewn and handsome following years of playing varsity volleyball. This friend of mine was biracial, his face stubbled, chest shaved, curly hair cropped close to his ears with a legitimate six-pack to boot.
Quite the catch for a two-hundred-and-forty-pound, disabled, unathletic academic.
It would be nice to say that he was the one who contacted me first. Or that I didn’t notice his relationship status read “engaged.” It would have been nice had I not gone out of my way to accommodate his carnal cupensities. But I did. In fact, I drove a total of fifty-five minutes, to and from my apartment twice, traversing the desolate six miles of highway between my small, liberal-arts college in rural Virginia and his even smaller, more dilapidated, religiously-affiliated one.
All this after one particularly devastating night of trying to work my way through Spenser’s tedious Faerie Queene. By eleven o’clock, I messaged him on Grindr: “Horny?” And then to mollify the harsh vertices of my vice, “oh sorry, just saw that you’re engaged.”
“Those aren’t necessarily exclusive.” Did he have a point?
“Are you engaged to a guy?”
“Will she care at all?” At least I asked.
“She’s in Salt Lake City.” And for some reason this settled it. “Can you host?”
“Yeah.” Short, to the point.
“Could you pick me up?”
“Sure.” And then for good measure, “What do you study?”
“I’m pre-med. U?”
“English and Classics.”
“It’d be good to get a bj.”
“I’m heading to my car,” because by this time I was already up and walking around, hovering from corner to corner of an apartment with only two rooms.
He’s wearing a hoodie with his head practically covered when I pick him up; he stares straight ahead. We’re sitting exactly one foot away from each other in the car—and a small one at that. My grandpa’s Honda Civic. Do I shake his hand? What does one do in a situation like this? But even something so seemingly innocuous as a handshake spurs discomfort, I realize, as he stares down, glances back up with incredulity, and grasps my hand flaccidly before reorienting his glare towards the dashboard.
“How was your day?”
And then, “Good.”
“Did you have class?
We were sitting fourteen inches away from one another.
My breathing becomes more labored. My palms are sweating. I can feel the self-imposed onus to be gregarious, cheery, ebullient descend upon me. I’m losing control of the situation. I’m losing hold on whatever sense of self-confidence steered me towards believing it was a good idea to pick this buddy of mine up, now that my parents’ alternatingly impassioned, angry, grieving, indignant pleas that I can’t yet be sure of my sexual orientation, that being gay is going to turn my friends against me, that if I just find the right woman things will make sense, these crushing reprimands seep into my ear canals drop by drop in the grueling fashion so popular with certain sadists of bygone eras.
“Do you get much action?” Because, hell, I figured I might get some good tips.
“I hooked up with a professor from your school a while back.”
“Was he young?
“No. Fifties, maybe?”
“You dog.” But the rib falls flat like a note in a blues scale.
He stares ahead. The pristine parallelism of his slender lips would alarm even the most sangfroid of doctors if they were transcribed onto a vitals monitor.
“Honestly, I like the sex.”
Is this my virtue then: working to liberate him from a heterosexual snare?
“You didn’t tell me you use a cane,” he points out, wading through the gravel quagmire of a parking lot behind a nineteenth-century hotel-turned-housing for us college students who overrun the town. Momentarily, I fear the whole charade is up. But then, “You give a lot of head?”
“Not really. It’s tough here.”
He’s only nineteen and engaged and a full three years younger than me.
Later that evening I talk to my parents on the phone and contemplate the eternal damnation of my soul.
Franklin DiSalvio just graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Four years ago, he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed below the waist, though with physical and occupational therapy he slowly relearned to walk. The experience inspired him to start writing more seriously. Last year, he was awarded the Beinecke Scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in English with a focus on disability studies, which will follow two years of graduate school at the University of Oxford as part of the Rhodes Scholarship program. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Breath & Shadow, and the Deaf Poets Society.