As told by Geno Benedetti
My friend, Father Tomas McTavish, was eighty-seven years old when he passed away. There was nothing of note about him or his passing. He was a good man who fulfilled his responsibilities as a Catholic Priest. He was greatly loved by his parishioners and will be missed, for a while, then forgotten as so many others have been forgotten before him.
The story you are about to read came about from my determination that his incredible journey among us would not be forgotten. Of course, my presence is included but only in a minor supportive role. If Tomas heard that, he would laugh out loud and heartily disagree.
Tomas rallied the day before he passed away. One of his nurses called me and explained what was happening. His body was giving out and concentrating all its energy, giving the illusion of a rally. I took her advice and came to the hospital immediately.
We spent a greater part of my visit laughing and talking about everything under the sun. At one point, Tomas looked at me and smiled, “Heaven won’t be the same without you, Geno.” He knew what was happening and let me know in his usual selfless manner that it was ok, he was ready.
“Not to worry my friend. I’ll be along one of these days myself.” I kissed Tomas’s hand goodbye, looked into those tired eyes smiling up at me and walked away. The terrible ache within no words can describe.
Tomas wished to spend his final hours in meditation and prayer to the God to whom he had dedicated his life. How could I possibly refuse? I hoped and prayed he found the atonement he was seeking.
His remains were cremated and given to me in a plain metal container which Tomas would have appreciated. I would have preferred one of solid gold surrounded by figures of angels lifting the urn heavenward. A bit dramatic but, that was how I felt about this man.
Tomas often spoke of the spiritual qualities of large bodies of water to which he was attracted. He said the power of Deity was collected in the oceans and distributed to all other portions of the planet. So, I knew he would be pleased with my plan. I kept his ashes until the Santa Ana winds began blowing in from the desert.
A friend drove me to The Golden Gate Bridge plaza. We walked to the center of this magnificent structure where I paused at the rail and gazed out into the Pacific Ocean. This was a perfect final resting place for my friend.
I could feel the bridge swaying gently in the breeze as I opened the urn and slowly spilled the ashes, watching the warm winds carry Tomas’ remains, along with my tears, out to sea.
In looking back, it became clear to me I had benefited most from our relationship. Tomas’ insight and devotion gave me direction without being directed. It taught me the benefits of selflessness, a trait Tomas gave forth with abandon.
I discovered the difference between physical love and spiritual love from Tomas’s example. He never wavered in his love which flowed from him in all directions. Tomas was like a beacon of light to the rest of humanity. When he complained about his lack of union with God, I would chastise him. The little self of Father Tomas McTavish had disappeared long ago, but he did not agree. He was the epitome of deity itself. He could not see that either and would argue the point. Perhaps the search for God will never end for any of us. Tomas had at least reached a plateau not attained by many, a goal only dreamed of by most mortals.
I took a last look out into the Pacific Ocean, then my friend and I journeyed back to the bridge plaza. As we passed through a group of sight-seers, a wave of sadness passed over me when I heard someone shout, “Hey you.” A personal phrase Tomas often used in addressing me; one I would never hear from him again.
I looked around and saw a young woman dash into the arms of her young man. My sadness passed as quickly as it had come when I saw the joy they were experiencing with one another. God bless them, as God had so richly blessed Papa Tomas and me.
As we drove away, my thoughts lingered on the Bridge, I chuckled when I envisioned Tomas standing there with me. He would have made the sign of the cross and uttered, “Dominus vobiscum.” I, the consummate smart-ass, would have added, “Illegitimi non carborundum.” And we would have had a good laugh. It was the laughter we had together which bound our unorthodox relationship for all those years. I wondered wistfully if it would ever be over. I would find out one day, and soon I hoped.
And so our journey together on this plane of existence came to an end … peaceful, calm, and forever. However, that was not how it began sixty years earlier, at least not for me.
— Geno Benedetti
A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
The first time I laid eyes on Father Tomas McTavish, it was as if a thunderbolt struck me right between the eyes. He could not have been more than twenty-six years old, tall, slender, and too good-looking for his own good. His Irish white skin, rosy cheeks, and short cropped brunette hair topped his well-shaped head. I needed to get closer to observe the color of his eyes. A friend suggested I take a photograph of this man and send it along to the North Pole with my Christmas wish list. I would have done so if I thought Santa performed miracles.
At age twenty-two, I was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard design and quite certain I knew everything that needed to be known. My loving parents were somewhat skeptical but tolerant. I was so full of piss and vinegar there was no doubt in my mind I could fly if I put my mind to it. Instead, I decided to set the world on fire with my engineering bravado which was easy. The difficulty arose when I came face to face with adult life. Meeting Father McTavish made it even more difficult.
Father McTavish was fresh from the Notre Dame Seminary and rarin’ to fulfill his duties at St Dominick’s Catholic Church on Bush St. in San Francisco. In a short time, he established a reputation of dedication to his parishioners. Young and old loved this young priest, especially the young girls of the congregation. But, he was after all a priest, so their hopes and dreams would come to naught.
He did not care to be called Father McTavish because of his lack of experience as a priest. He preferred Brother Tomas. Most everyone was happy to accommodate him including the children who took to him like bees to honey. They called him Papa Tomas. Folks found him a joy to be around. And so did I, but for all the wrong reasons.
As a gay man, I had a few fantasies of my own about this good-looking man of God. Unfortunately, he never noticed me or so I thought. Nevertheless, I admired his love for everyone he encountered. It was genuine and from the heart. I often wondered how he got that way. No one I knew, young or old, including myself, especially myself, exhibited such selflessness. It was one of the few personal flaws I acknowledged – privately and to myself, of course.
Brother Tomas was athletic, he played baseball and basketball. He loved children, adults, and old folks. He held informal gatherings on Sunday afternoons for the young folks of the congregation, endeavoring to instill the disciplines young people required to make a success of their adult lives.
I assumed he loved animals and often mused he may be the living incarnation of Saint Francis himself. Probably not, but he seemed to be running a close second. And he could run. Any marathon that came along, he was in it.
I liked to hike but did not care much for running. I would go to the running events just the same to see his half-naked body in action. It was at these running meets I became aware of how tall he was. He stood head and shoulders above most everyone else. I decided he was six feet, three or four inches in height.
My fantasies about Brother Tomas grew and flowered beyond all proportions. Never, of course, were they to bear fruit. A perfect waste of my time. I was single with no prospects of a life-partner in view, so I clung to my hopes of a miracle. Not desperately mind you. I kind of danced around the possibility. How often I thought of writing that letter to Santa Claus just to see what would happen.
I was not the least bit interested in the Sunday afternoon gatherings he conducted or what he was expounding. What went on between his ears was of no concern to me. It was what he looked like that mattered. But curiosity about his gatherings did get the better of me. That’s not completely true. In fact, it’s not true at all. It was an excuse to observe him up close. It would give me an opportunity to try and figure out who he was and why I was so attracted to this unavailable man of God? I intended to do this without being obvious, an art form I imagined I had mastered. As it turned out, and much to my chagrin, just the opposite was true.
So, one Sunday afternoon I dropped by to watch this beautiful man perform. I brought my camera along just in case I could sneak a snapshot and send if off to Santa. As the meeting unfolded I was in for a big surprise. Brother Tomas knew how to talk with young people at their level and they loved him for it. It wasn’t an adult trying to browbeat them into a particular model for living. He was ‘one of the guys’ so to speak. There was a good deal of laughter and joking. Beneath it all, Brother Tomas skillfully engendered principles they understood, along with the consequences they would encounter if they chose not to follow them.
It was during the intimacy of this encounter with so many young people that his goodness became apparent. He seemed to radiate it without any effort on his part. I found myself envious of this quality which I lacked in so many ways. Another flaw I was unable to ignore in his presence.
What was going on between his ears was now quite evident. I decided he must be an angel sent from heaven, watching over us. My selfish hope – that he did not sprout wings and fly away.
I was curious about him before, now I was intrigued. Where I expected intrigue to go was beyond me at the moment. Oh yeah – let’s not forget dancing around Santa Claus and a miracle, the possibilities of which seemed to dim as I got to know more about Brother Tomas.
As the gathering drew to a close he called for questions. Raising my hand quickly must have been instinctive because I did not have a question. Naturally, he called on me first. I stammered as my bravado withered then totally collapsed when he told me I could put my hand down which brought a round of laughter. My face must have turned beet red – it certainly felt hot enough.
“So, my friend, what is your question?”
My mind was a total blank, Then out of nowhere came, “What about celibacy?”
Quiet giggles rose from the audience. Brother Tomas was cool, he laughed along with the others, then turned his attention to his answer.
I can’t for the life of me remember a word of what he said. All I knew – he was talking to me. We had eye contact and I was mesmerized. His eyes were green or hazel. I wasn’t close enough to be sure. The whites of his eyes were clear and brilliant. The lashes, long ones below thick brows which were on the verge of being bushy. The forehead high and clear, not a wrinkle. There was the hint of 5 o’clock shadow against his brilliant skin, and a jaw strong enough to accent his masculinity. Of course, he was perfect, just the type of guy who would fall all over themselves for someone like me – a dumb, gay dago. I think it useful to mention I was adorable once upon a long time ago or so my mother keeps telling me. I think I was three when that happened.
The meeting ended and the audience began to leave. I knew I had to get out of there as fast as possible before I did something really stupid like taking that photograph for Santa. It was the guilt I felt for wanting this man that kept me from simply asking him if I could take a photo. I wanted to sneak one to hide my true motivation.
I made it to the front hall and was headed for the door when I heard, “Excuse me,” coming up behind me. Oh, Christ, it’s him. Please God, make him go after someone else. God was not listening. The voice was after me.
“Who me?” I pathetically lied.
“Yes, I was wondering what prompted your question on celibacy. I thought you might be interested in joining the priesthood.”
He was less than three feet away. Jesus, what do I do, what do I say? I was sure my knees were shaking so badly I would soon collapse and fall at his feet.
“Oh no, nothing like that, I was just curious. Your answer was perfect,” I lied again. I hadn’t heard a word he said. If I had to lie to a priest once more I was certain the earth would open up and I would go straight to hell. His eyes were green with little brown specks and they sparkled in the hallway lighting.
“Well, if you change your mind let me know,” he smiled. I had not noticed it before but he had a most becoming dimple on his left cheek when he smiled.
“I will I will. Thank you. I promise I will.” I lied again, Nothing happened. The ground did not open up. However, my composure was sloshing around on the hallway floor like a beached whale.
“By the way, what’s your name?”
“My name?” Why did he want to know my name? “Ah, it’s Geno. But, ‘hey you’ will get my attention.” At least my sense of humor had not failed me. The look on Brother Tomas’ face did not agree.
“Yes, Geno, Geno Benedetti, you can call me Geno.” God, could I have been more pathetic? It was obvious I only had one oar in the water at the moment and was quite incapable of handling it.
“Or, hey you.”
“Yeah, well, ya know.” Please God, get me out of here.
Several children ran to him, “Papa Tomas, come.” They took his hands and began to pull him away from me. Thankfully, he turned and let them have their way. I resumed my voyage to the exit door with added vigor. Breathing had become difficult. My heart was pounding like an excited serving girl. Thank God he did not stretch out his hand. I’m not sure if I would have shaken it or kissed it.
And then the voice came again. “Hey, you.” Oh God, I stopped and turned around.
“Just wanted to see if it worked,” he laughed and waved. “Hope to see you next Sunday.” He disappeared as more children surrounded him and led him away.
He hoped to see me next Sunday. Yeah right, like that was never gonna happen. Could I have been more of a pathetic jerk? Probably not. I could only imagine what he thought of me. I continued to beat myself up the rest of the way to my apartment.
Papa Tomas – how I envied these kids to have him all to themselves this afternoon. I had the annoying feeling I was becoming besotted with this man.
I placed The Sound of Music DVD in the changer, hoping it would take my mind off of my afternoon blunders. It did not. I kept visualizing Brother Tomas and me twirling around on that stupid hillside with whatshername trying to upstage us. Jeez, what is wrong with me?
I turned the TV off, put leashes on Max and Mable, my faithful and adorable Schnauzers, and went for a long puppy walk. I met friends on the way and began to regain the composure I had so deftly left sloshing around on the hallway floor in front of Prince Charming.
I told my friends what I had done which opened a whole Pandora’s Box of one-liners. The best one came from Hank, “Papa Tomas. That’s cute. Hey, maybe you can corner him in the confessional and make a man outta him.”
Make a man out of him? Hank’s imagination was more perverted than mine. I laughed at the remark but my vivid imagination took me immediately to the confessional where a whole scenario unfolded of what might happen. I was certain the Devil himself was waiting around the next corner, quivering with anticipation to harvest my wayward soul.
I did not see Brother Tomas for several weeks. I hoped the entire event had been forgotten and I could go on with my life such as it was. A few days later I found out it was not over and once again, I was wrong.
I was working out at the local gym with a pair of dumbbells when I heard, “Hey you.” coming up behind me.
Oh, jeez, it’s him. I turned around, “Hey, Brother Tomas.” Oh my God, there he was, half naked and sweating. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on that man’s body, and his sweat glistened in the gym lights. I hated that, and I hated being in front of him. His sweat soaked tank top clung to his pectoral muscles and abs like a second skin. I could see the outline of his nipples, I really hated that. And I was about to hate what he was going to ask me even more. Please God, make him go away forever. I promise I’ll be good, at least better. He was still standing there, sweating. Now I could smell him. I never thought sweat could smell so good. I would have given anything for a drop of it on the tip of my tongue. There was no hope left for me. I was besotted up to my eyeballs and beyond.
“I’ve seen you here a couple of times and was wondering if you would be interested in being my workout partner? I need a spotter on some of the routines I like to do. Interested?”
So, what was I supposed to say, No, I do not wish to be around your sweaty, beautiful, smelly, fat-free body any more than I have to?
“Hey, yeah, sounds like a great idea.” Another lie. Is there a door to hell around here so I can get it over with?
“That’s great. I’m finished for the day. How about next Tuesday?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Do me a favor and call me Tomas while we’re here.”
“Hey, I can do that.”
“Well, I’m headed for the shower. You coming?”
“Oh, no,,ya.” He walked away, sweat dripping off of his sculptured body, soaking his tank top and his shorts, running down his beautiful legs into his socks. I would have given anything to have those socks. Jesus H. Christ, where are you Satan. Get me the fuck out of here. My knees gave out as the thought of holding his warm, sweaty jock strap presented itself. I had to sit down and compose myself. I made sure he was out of the building before I left. I could not take another encounter with him naked or clothed.
The connection between my brain and my mouth was obviously not working. I distinctly remember thinking NO NO, NO I don’t want to be your workout partner. Yet my mouth went right ahead and said the opposite. Now, what do I do?
Oh yeah, like the heavens were going to open up and give me that answer. God, his angels and anyone else up there had obviously abandoned me. They were watching and having a great laugh at my expense. I guess I was on my own.
I calmed myself and decided I would man-up, be his spotter, and ignore him. Or, I could kill myself and then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I decided against killing myself because deep down in my hopelessly lonely self I wanted to see him again. Oh blessed Jesus, please forgive me. I know this is a big sin, it’s just that . . . I cannot help myself.
Tuesday arrived faster than anticipated; way faster. There I was – working out over him, under him, next to him, and once again smelling him. I decided this is what hell must be like – everything within licking distance but not close enough to get in a good lick.
The workout session mercifully ended. Then, there was the shower that had to be dealt with. I managed to get through the experience by keeping my back to him. I was in and out and dry and clothed and ready to disappear when I heard it again, “Hey you. How about let’s get some coffee somewhere?”
I wasn’t sure I liked how he said hey you all the time. Was he mocking me? “Sounds great. Just what I need,” to spend more time with Papa Tomas, face to face. At least he would have his clothes on. If I could only throw an overcoat over my imagination. I would be fine. Everything would be jake, peachy keen. This definitely was not working out according to my fantasies.
I kept hoping I would get hit by a bus and run over several times before we arrived at the café. That did not happen. I decided to ask him a lot of silly questions about himself and avoid talking about me. That worked for about sixty seconds, then he took over the conversation. I had to invent more lies, but I was getting good at it.
We met twice a week for several months. I got used to him, sort of, and the routine. I no longer felt intimidated. I looked forward to smelling his sweat. Pathetic, I know. But when your DNA is as twisted as mine, exceptions must be made. He was friendly, not personal, which suited me. And I liked the idea of working with someone in the gym. I was beginning to look a little more buff, which was good. Well, maybe not that good. I was getting interesting stares from a couple of guys in the gym. They definitely were not putting clothes on me. I began to understand why women complain about men who undress them with their eyes.
Acting straight with Tomas was beginning to wear on me. I’m not a flamer, but I do like to wise-crack a lot. Couldn’t do that with Tomas. Had to watch everything I said. I wasn’t having any fun. How to get out of this situation without making a fool of myself was the problem. And worse, without hurting his feelings. That would be an eternity or two in hell for sure.
Several more weeks passed uneventfully, thank God. Then his conversation began to change. It was no longer totally friendly; personal was sneaking in and I didn’t like it.
Was he looking at me differently than before? I couldn’t tell for sure because I avoided eye contact with him. I didn’t want him to see me as I really was or what I was thinking or feeling toward him. Yeah right, like he was too obtuse to notice. God, why is this happening to me? I know I’m not a good person, but what I’m going through should be reserved for Jack the Ripper, not me.
Then one morning while we were having coffee after our workout he was unusually quiet. Too quiet. Something was about to happen and I did not think I was going to like it. And, I was right for a change.
He began with, “Hey, Geno. I was thinking of taking some time off and going up to Yosemite for some hike…”
“No, no.” I made a fateful decision. “I can’t do this anymore, Tomas. I’m sorry, I have to go.” I got up and almost ran from the restaurant.
Jesus, what the fuck have I done? I couldn’t help it. I had let myself fall in love with this man, this beautiful, fat-free, smelly, unavailable man of God. I had to get away from him once and for all. No more pretending. It was over and it was going to stay that way, goddammit. I’m in control of this situation. And that’s the way it’s gonna be – period! Yes, of course, my bozo mentality had almost convinced me I was in control.
Weeks passed, I didn’t see or hear from Brother Tomas. I screened my phone calls, avoided his classes and church services. I did not want it to happen anymore. I was miserable. Jesus was I miserable. I must have been nuts to get into it this far. He probably figured it out by now – I was a magna cum laude graduate of the sociopathic school for idiots, and I needed to be avoided at all costs. Where the hell was my guardian angel? I kept listening for the death watch beetles under my floorboards. Even they were avoiding me. And once again, as usual, I was wrong.
When the knock at my front door came one afternoon I knew who it was and my heart sank down through my shorts into my shoes. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Perhaps, I hopefully thought, it was a neighbor wanting to borrow a cup of sugar.
Then the voice came from the other side of the door. “Geno, are you there?” It wasn’t a neighbor after all. It was Tomas. “We need to talk.”
No, we do not need to talk. If I don’t make a sound perhaps he will think I’m not home and go away. Wrong again.
“Geno, I know you’re in there. I saw your car outside.” He was not going to go away, so I might as well answer the door before the whole apartment house came out into the hallway to watch and listen and laugh.
I cracked the door open, “Please go away, I can’t talk to you.” I was at the peak of pathetic. Turns out I was wrong again.
He pushed the door open, walked in and slammed it shut. I stood there, his face less than two feet away from mine. He was six inches taller which made me feel and look even more pathetic. He looked angry, very angry which frightened me. I said nothing. I stared at him and waited. Tears began to well in my eyes.
Maybe he was going to beat me up. That would be okay. No subterfuge then. I would pay for my sins and that would be the end of it. My wounds would heal and life would get back to normal again.
I closed my eyes and began to sob. Jesus, I had not cried since I was a child and I could not control it. I managed to get an “I’m so sorry.” out between the sobs before he violently grabbed me.
My knees gave out and we fell to the floor. I unraveled. All the longing I had stored inside for him exploded.
What the hell was going on? Was he beating me up or making love to me. I could not tell the difference at first. He was bigger and stronger so there was no way to escape even if I had wanted to.
Max and Mable heard the commotion and came dashing in from the other room, jumping on us, barking and licking. I was certain the gates of hell would swing open and swallow all of us for what we were doing. They didn’t. That, I decided, would come later.
It was getting dark when our passion cooled. Tomas and I lay on the foyer floor. I looked over at him. He was looking rather silly with both dogs sitting on his chest staring at him. He didn’t seem to mind, I guess he did love animals. I wondered if there was anything he did not like or love.
I sat up and looked away from him, “I’m so ashamed of myself. Please forgive me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re a man of God and I have been lusting after you from the beginning. I just couldn’t help myself.”
He reached over, took hold of my arm and pulled me over, wrapped his arms around and held me so tight I almost gasped. “You’re wrong, Geno. I need to love and be loved just like everyone else.”
I pulled away, “But you’re a priest for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, it’s the celibacy thing. I questioned it from the beginning. I hoped I could manage it. But when I saw you and you told me your name it began to unravel. I knew I could never keep that vow.”
I looked away from him, “I’ve been so classically pathetic. I don’t see how you could possibly care for me.”
“No, you’re wrong. You were beautiful, Geno. You are beautiful. When you ran out of the restaurant, I felt like the floor had been ripped out from under me. I realized then I was in love with you and had been in love with you for a long time. After you fled like a wounded animal I wasn’t sure how you felt. When I saw you in front of me just now, falling apart, I knew I was home at last and I crash landed.”
“On top of me.”
“Yeah, I know, sorry about that.”
“But you were right.”
“We do need to talk.”
He laughed, “Not anymore we don’t.” He pulled me to him again. We were nose to nose. His eyes were inches away from mine. They were more green and brilliant than I remembered. They blinked, I blinked, I pushed him away and stood up.
“Yes, we do. This cannot be happening. We cannot do this.” Then I realized we were fully clothed. That certainly had never happened to me before.
Tomas stood up, “You’re right. I am sorry. I should not have done this to you.”
“Oh, really. Now you’re sorry. You pushed your way into my home, scared me half to death, swept me off my feet, stuck your tongue halfway down my throat, and now you say you’re sorry. Well, isn’t that just peachy? And that tongue of yours, where did you learn how to do that? Not in seminary, I’ll bet.” I turned away so he wouldn’t see me smiling, and walked toward the kitchen. Tomas followed with Max and Mable trailing behind, their tails wagging.
He sat down at the table. Max and Mable settled next to his feet. They liked him. I fiddled with the coffee maker, “What in the world made you think you could do this to me? I never said or did anything to lead you on.”
“Of course you did.”
I turned and stared at him.
“You weren’t obvious, but I knew from the first time I talked to you. Celibacy, call me Geno, and ‘Hey you.’ Come on, Geno.”
“Oh, Jeez.” I turned away, completely embarrassed. How could I have not known? That’s what irked me. Mr. Obvious at work indeed. Still looking at the coffee maker, “Why didn’t you discourage me? It would have been so easy for you.”
“I didn’t want to,” came his soft, humble reply. “You have no idea how lonely I’ve been. When I saw you and heard your name. You do know what your name means, don’t you?”
I did but said nothing.
“Geno means God is glorious, and Benedetti means blessed. I almost kissed you right there.”
“So, how did you know the meaning of my name?”
“Hey, I’m a priest. I studied Latin and Italian in seminary.”
“Oh,” I said for lack of anything more intelligent to say. “Lonely? I don’t understand how you can be lonely. You are so involved with everyone and everything at church?”
“True. But at the end of the day, I have no one of my own to play with, to be with alone. When I met you, I hoped we might possibly have something together. The more time I spent with you, my confidence grew. I guess I was wrong,” he paused. “Was I wrong?”
“After the display, I put on in the hallway, how can you even ask a question like that?” I wanted to tell him he wasn’t wrong, I fiddled with the coffee pot instead.
“Was I wrong?”
I moved my head a little to let him know he wasn’t wrong. “What about your career. What if people find out what you’ve done? What we’ve done. Holy Crap, you could be jeopardizing everything.”
“I know, I know, I know. I was jeopardizing it anyway. I couldn’t think of anything else but you. I cursed and prayed it would go away. It didn’t. My parishioners began to ask me if I was okay.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. It looked as if Heaven had abandoned him also. “You never let on in all the time we worked together.”
“I know. It was so difficult. Sometimes almost impossible. In seminary, we are ruthlessly taught to keep our personal feelings inside. After years of training, you begin to believe it. You have no idea how difficult this is for me.”
I could see how difficult it was, he was distressed and in pain just talking to me. I knelt down next to him and embraced him in a sitting position. It would have been easier if he had been standing up or laying down.
He slipped off the chair and embraced me as we knelt facing one another. He held me so tight I could hardly breathe. He certainly needed training in the art of hugging or he was going to kill me. But he was warm and willing, something I never imagined would ever happen. I thought of Santa and smiled as I let myself melt into his embrace.
“During our workouts, I could smell you, your sweat. I was inhaling you into my lungs. It was beautiful and unbearable at the same time.”
I started to giggle and then erupted into laughter. He released me, “What are you laughing about?”
“Sweat. I could smell yours too. It was driving me nuts.”
“O my God, I never thought of that.”
My laughter subsided into a giggled, “I was tempted so many times to steal something soaked with your sweat – your socks, your jockstrap. I know that’s sick but I was on the verge of desperation.”
The expression on his face dropped. “What?”
“I have a confession to make.”
Oh boy, here we go. This priest, this man of God, kneeling in front of me with an erection beneath his shorts and he was about to confess to me? Holy Mother of God, what will it be – Door Number 1, Door Number 2, or the third one marked THIS WAY TO HELL YOU JERK. I looked into his eyes and waited.
“I did steal from you – one of your tank tops when you were still in the shower.”
“What? Yes, of course.” I got up and moved to the counter. Tomas slipped back into his chair. “I remember when it disappeared. It never dawned on me you had taken it, never in a million years. You’re a thief,” I glared at him. Poor Tomas looked down. His confusion, shyness, and lack of experience in love making were obvious. I regretted saying that and went to him. I held his head between my hands and moved in slowly. I never realized how beautiful he was until that moment when I touched his lips with mine. I lingered with my eyes open, looking deep into his eyes. The shyness faded into an eagerness to please. I pulled back a few inches, “Do you still have it?”
“The tank top,” I grinned and moved back to the counter.
“Yes.” he laughed.
“Well, I want it back, with or without my sweat. Preferably without.”
“Ok.” He got up and came over to where I was standing. “I will give it back and I will keep on giving as long as you are accepting.”
Oh jeez, my knees started to go again. I backed into the counter and held on. It sounded like a proposal. I wondered if that’s what he meant.
I interrupted his advance, “But first, I have a confession.” His face was almost upon me.
“Which is?” he squinted.
“I’m having unclean thoughts.”
He drew back an inch or two. “Oh, really. Anyone I know?”
“No, you don’t.” He wants to play, that’s great. “It’s the grocery clerk at Safeway.”
“Oh, is that right. What’s his name?”
“What makes you think it’s a him?”
“Just a wild guess,” he pulled me into one of those kisses I wasn’t used to yet.
As I came up for air, “His name is…”
“I’m also having those kinds of thoughts.”
“Yes, I know,” I smiled, “is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
He backed away, bent over in laughter. He could not stop laughing.
I didn’t have to hold back any longer, I could wisecrack all I wanted. Poor Tomas did not know what he was getting himself into.
“Hey, are you still going to spot me?”
I paused, then conceded, “Yeeees.”
He moved in again, “Wanna take your pants off?”
He DID have a sense of humor. Thank you, God.
“No. Here – coffee – sit – talk.”
The coffee had brewed. We drank cup after cup until the dawn of a new day appeared.
The Passing of Max and Mabel
A Touch of Celibacy
Somewhere in the thousands of words we uttered that night our hearts became one, and I asked Tomas, “Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Does what bother me?” The look on his face told me he knew what I was going to say.
“Your attraction to another man instead of a woman?”
He answered with a single nod and looked down.
“Have you ever wondered why?”
Again he answered with a single nod and continued examining his coffee cup. After a pause, he looked up, “Do you understand?”
I smiled, “Finding the answer has been the bane of my existence.” I sighed and gazed at Tomas’ confused expression. With all of his spiritual acumen, he was childlike in his innocence and confusion on the one subject which confronted us. There was a pleading in his eyes for understanding to comprehend that by which he was unwillingly possessed.
“I know how opposed the Catholic religion is to homosexuality. So, I can only imagine the pain you have endured when your own orientation became evident to you. I’m guessing when I came along, it only ignited embers you would have preferred left untouched. Am I right?”
Tomas lowered his gaze and said nothing. He didn’t nod his head one way or there other.
“I’ve spent a lot of time over the years searching for the answer. I’ve begun to put the pieces together which make a lot of sense to me – enough to where I finally was able to accept my own orientation and move on with my life.”
Tomas looked up. Something I said got his attention. He was listening.
“The subject of being gay is so well researched and documented, I find it difficult to understand those who continue to find it objectionable whether from a religious standpoint or from a personal idiosyncrasy.
“I discovered through my studies, there’s a mystical path over which each of us must travel during many, many lifetimes in order to reach spiritual perfection, Nirvana, the immersion into the source from which we came.”
I paused when I saw the look of astonishment coming over Tomas’ face. “What?”
“I’m just amazed at the depth of what you’re saying. I had no idea. You come across as such a happy go lucky individual. I’m just beginning to see the depth of who you really are.”
“I hope you’re not disappointed?”
I watched his expression go to deadpan and then he burst out laughing, “Of course I’m not disappointed.”
I sipped my coffee, “My search for answers began when I learned how often we travel between the two genders, gathering vital experiences in spiritual development. I think you’ll agree on the importance of assuming different roles in each life experience. But, and here is the most important discovery I came across, just as daylight flows into nighttime, and nighttime gives way to a new day, there is the inevitable twilight experience. You find yourself neither here nor there.
“Likewise, between the yin and yang, the male and female, there is also an area of twilight. One does not simply go from being a male in one lifetime to being a female in the next. There are a number of lifetimes that must be experienced during that transition. The male complexity gives way to and moves toward the female and likewise, the female complexity moves toward the male. And within those transitional periods, souls moving in opposite directions find each other and the homosexual relationship experience occurs. Though simply said, that hardly covers the intricacies of the process.
“You and I have found ourselves in that twilight zone, like it or not. As for me, I got tired of living a life that was expected of me and decided to live mine true to myself whether anyone liked it or not.”
I stopped speaking and drank my coffee while watching the wonderment on Tomas’ face. He obviously was looking at me differently, but I wasn’t certain how differently. All I could think of were the problems facing us. I was grateful I no longer had to pretend.
I don’t know how long we sat in silence before I decided to give up my explanation as a lost cause. I concluded Tomas didn’t get it until his hand reached slowly across the table and touched mine.
“Geno, will you kneel with me in prayer?”
“If you’re willing to start this journey with me, let’s begin the right way.” He got up from his chair and knelt down in the middle of my kitchen floor and reached out for my hand.
Oh, my God in Heaven, was this happening? Apparently, he did get it, and the elusive miracle I had been dancing around was happening.
“Geno?” He asked again in a voice so filled with love I thought I would faint.
I don’t remember getting up from my chair or kneeling down in front of him. Suddenly I was there with his arms around me. He kissed me on the cheek, took my hands into his and began to pray in a whisper, “Father, bless us on this journey…”
”I didn’t hear another word, my heart was beating so fast I thought it would burst. What flowed between us in those few moments was electric, beyond words. I never felt so close and drawn in by another human being in my life.
“Amen.” Tomas finished his prayer and looked into my eyes.
“Amen,” I whispered. I don’t know if it was physical or spiritual love, but it was flowing from Tomas like a rushing river and it almost knocked me out.
I remember looking down at Max and Mabel, resting quietly alongside us. “You two are witnesses.” I raised my eyes to Tomas’ eyes.
“Yes, they are,” he agreed, “they certainly are.” He kissed my hands and helped me to my feet.
I know it sounds absurd, but I married Tomas into my soul that night. Of course, I didn’t tell him about it. I did it and there was no question as to its rightness. No one would ever find out about my personal vows or the fact I was one with this man of God. He didn’t say a word, though I suspected he felt the same as I did.
And yes, we did consummate our relationship with no clothes. You will have to use your imagination for that scenario. There are certain personal things I intend to keep private thank you very much.
I will tell you the rooms were filled with the scent of roses. Tomas used to tell me when you make contact with God and step out of the way, the imprisoned splendor escapes and leaves a trail of perfume behind. There was a lot of perfume floating around that night. I’m sure I heard the flutter of angel wings – could have been demon wings, but I prefer to think of them as the good kind.
I had finally gotten over the fear of roasting in hell on an Ikea stainless steel spit for several or more eternities. Though the pathway we were about to follow was not going to be strewn with rose petals, we were going to be together. We were no longer alone.
With the first rays of the morning came the reality of what we had done. He had his duties to perform with his congregation and I had to continue on with my life as if nothing unusual had happened. We agreed it would not be easy, nothing worthwhile is. Max and Mable knew what had happened, they weren’t about to tell anyone. Max was sitting on Tomas’s foot licking his leg.
I wondered if I had a choice in this matter. It appears I did not. I realized Heaven had not abandoned either one of us. I for one had been too damned stupid and resistant to the calling from within. It was over – all behind me, behind us. I had to get used to using ‘us.’ I chuckled to myself when I realized I no longer needed a photograph of Tomas. I decided Santa must be clairvoyant, bless his heart.
The ensuing years were like a physical, mental, and spiritual roller coaster. One horizon after another challenged Tomas and me in his duty to God and the Church and to our relationship.
The worst one was the day we were outed. The battle with the Church and its Canon laws shook us to our cores. In the end, we were vindicated. It set a new standard never seen in the Catholic Church or any other church for that matter. More about that later.
We survived and grew closer. When I say we, I mean God, Tomas, and me, with Max and Mable trailing behind, wagging their tails.
Our everyday life was different. It was the early 60’s. The abuses within the Church had not come to the forefront yet, but we knew about them. So, we had to be careful. I’m not sure if anyone knew or guessed about us. If they did, they never let on. However, when physical or spiritual love envelopes you, there is an undeniable glow – you can’t help it or cover it up. And I was glowing. Oh boy, was I glowing.
My mother noticed and remarked how happy I looked during one of her visits. Was I in love? And then the standard question followed. “When are you going to get married, son? You’re not getting any younger you know?”
“Yeah Ma, I’ll send you a telegram when that happens.” She would laugh. Fortunately, she lived in New Jersey so I was relatively safe from her prying eyes except during her visits.
I was not a particularly devout Catholic and often thought Tomas should have chosen someone more attuned to the principles of the Church. He disagreed with me each time I brought the subject up, telling me I was a ray of light for him, giving the proper perspective to Truth. I realized I had been apologizing for being there. So, I stopped and tried to become the support he needed for his journey.
I soon became attuned to his needs physically and spiritually, remaining close when needed and at a distance during those other times. He returned my attendance with a devotion which oft times staggered me and encouraged me to become more than I thought possible.
THE PASSING OF MAX AND MABEL
The happiness and contentment we experienced together were interrupted several years later when Max and Mabel began to show their age. Max was pushing 16 and Mabel was a year behind him. It became obvious a decision had to be made. I put it off again and again until one day Max looked at me and I knew it was time. I made up my mind a long time ago I would release them together. I knew one left behind would be cruel. They had grown up and old together. It was the right thing to do.
Tomas and I gathered our friends and took them to our Vet. Tomas called ahead so I didn’t have to say anything when we arrived. Doris, our vet, was so kind and understanding. She took control of the situation and made it easy for all of us. It was a beautiful day as we sat on the clinic’s patio. Doris made the injections quickly and then left us alone. I don’t know how long it was before I knew Max was gone. I think he knew and was grateful. He licked my hand and relaxed.
Doris returned and checked with her stethoscope. When she nodded, I broke down and cried like a baby. Tomas and I remained for a short time then placed them into carrying bags for the trip to the mortuary and cremation.
I kept their ashes for a time. Just a silly reluctance to let them go. Finally, Tomas convinced me to take them to the Golden Gate Bridge and release them there. The Santa Ana winds were coming in from the desert so the timing was perfect. We went to the center of the bridge one beautiful afternoon and released their ashes into the warm winds which carried them out to the Pacific Ocean. We stood there for a while and then slowly left the bridge.
On the way back to the parking lot, Tomas touched my arm, “You know, now would be a good time to look for another couple.”
I was reluctant but agreed. We contacted the Humane Shelter and scanned the newspaper puppy ads. Within a few weeks, we found an owner in Colma just outside of Daly City who had a brood of six eight-week-old pups of mixed parentage which is exactly what we wanted. We spent a delightful afternoon choosing two from the litter, a girl, and a boy. We named them Buddha and Isis and happily brought them into our family.
The old saying ‘gone but not forgotten’ is so true. The loyal and ever affectionate Max and Mabel will always be alive within us. I’m told that in their slumbering state before they are reborn, they are aware of the love we still feel for them. That may or may not be true but it is comforting to believe it.
A TOUCH OF CELIBACY
Tomas gave a great deal of his time in mentoring young priests. One, in particular, Josh Pendleton, stands out in my memory for two reasons, celibacy and the humor it brought about.
Tomas and I were about to jump on a cable car and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for some sourdough bread at Boudin’s Bakery when the doorbell rang. Isis and Buddha raced ahead of me to the door. “Josh, I didn’t realize you were coming over. Did we miss your call?”
“I’m sorry, Geno, I should have called. I wasn’t sure if I should bother Tomas or not.”
“Did you ever know him to be bothered by anything or anyone?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Josh!” Tomas entered the room, “I thought I heard your voice.”
“Josh has a problem and wasn’t sure if he should bother you.”
“Geno, I never said I had a problem.”
“Josh, it’s written all over your face.”
“Geno and I are headed for the Wharf. Why don’t you come along and we can talk? I always feel more energized near the water.”
We boarded the Powell Street cable car and traveled in silence, enjoying the ringing of the cable car bell by the talented conductor.
As we stepped off of the cable car at the Aquatic Park turnaround, Tomas announced, “Let’s go to Boudin’s first, I need some sourdough bread, the aphrodisiac of the San Francisco Bay. So, Josh, what’s the problem?”
“I’ve taken a leave of absence.”
“Why for heaven’s sake? Mrs. Clausing again?”
“No, nothing like that. It’s worse, much worse.”
Mrs. Clausing is Josh’s nemesis as I call her. She dogs every word he utters during his homilies. She thought him too young and inexperienced to be a priest.
“How much worse?” Tomas asked as we walked toward the bakery. Josh was silent, contemplating how to broach the subject. We made our bread purchase and walked along Bay Shore Park, settling on a bench facing the water, Tomas handed Josh a piece of sourdough bread. “Soul food,” he smiled. “Are you going to tell me or not?”
“There’s a parishioner …”
“It’s the celibacy thing.” Tomas groaned then mused aloud, “Of all the bloody nonsense.”
I had to laugh to myself. I remember all too well how he struggled with the same thing in years passed until enlightenment as to the insanity of such a religious law dawned on him.
“Josh, is that it?”
“I haven’t done anything.”
“Have you thought about it?” Tomas gave Josh a sideways glance. “Well, have you thought about it?”
Josh’s head went down, “Yes.”
“Then you’ve broken your vows.”
“It’s not that simple, Tomas.”
“Of course it is.”
“Now what do I do?”
“The first thing you have to do is stop beating yourself up over this man-made law of celibacy. Yes, I said man-made. It amazes me the Church has gotten away with this type of nonsense for so long. The pain and suffering it has inflicted are criminal.
“Deep down, your common sense is telling you there is something wrong with this vow business, otherwise, you wouldn’t be talking to me. Right?”
“Only a very small percentage of priests are qualified for celibacy and even that percentage is questionable.
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said, no priest is a qualified celibate just because the Pope and those fuddy-duddy hypocrites in the Holy See say so. To force people into that corner is tantamount to criminal abuse. Now we’re seeing the results from such abuse.
“If Canon Law were challenged in a court of law it would fail miserably.”
Josh was slack-jawed, “I don’t understand how you can say that. These laws have been with us for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.”
“That’s precisely the point. They’ve been outdated for hundreds of years and no one has done anything about it. The laws were proclaimed on the premise they were acknowledged by and consecrated by Almighty God. A prosecutor would have clear sailing since no defense lawyer would be able to call the Almighty to the witness stand to substantiate the claims of the Catholic Church.
“And don’t get me started on this sainthood business they bandy about. I find it amusing they always wait until the poor fellow is dead before they bestow that privilege on him. Given the opportunity, I’m sure most of them would reject the whole premise of sainthood.”
I could tell Josh was thunderstruck by Tomas’ radical stance on the bedrock of Catholicism. To quell the argument Tomas was bent on, I intervened. “You feel warmly on the subject, don’t you?” I smiled and winked at Josh.
“I do indeed.” Tomas realized his passion was a little over the top. He took a deep breath and smiled. “What’s her name?”
Tomas looked at him.
“Oh,” Josh smiled as if he had just won a prized turkey. “Laura, her name is Laura Pritchard. Isn’t that a beautiful name? I looked it up. It means clever, clear-sighted, and intelligent. That’s her in every way.”
“You’re beginning to sound like you’re besotted.”
“I know, and I’m ashamed.”
“Ashamed of what? Having feelings for another human being?” Tomas looked at me and smiled.
Josh was silent.
“Does she know how you feel about her?”
“I’m not sure. She volunteers at church. We’ve worked fairly close in the last year and a half.”
Tomas chuckled, “Trust me, she knows. Has she given you any indication she would like to reciprocate?”
“There have been looks. Nothing more.”
“What kind of looks?”
“The worst is when she takes communion.”
“Well, not the worst, but the most intense.”
“Most people keep their eyes closed in prayer when they receive the sacrament. Laura looks up at me in such a way . . . it melts my heart. She moves her head forward a little to receive the wafer, her lips touch my fingertips.”
“Josh, for heaven’s sake, the woman is making love to you in front of the altar.”
“No, she’s not.”
“Then why are we having this conversation?”
“I know, I know, I know. But I don’t know what to do about it?”
I had all I could do to keep from laughing as my imagination tuned in on that scenario.
“Are you reciprocating when she does that?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Do you pull your hand away immediately when she takes the wafer?”
“Well, yes, kind of.”
“Oh my God, how long has this been going on?”
“Not very long.”
“About a year. Maybe a little less.”
“Maybe a little more?”
“You’re not made out of asbestos, my friend.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, unless you do something about this, you’re going to explode, and probably do something incredibly stupid.”
I touched Tomas’s arm. “Did you know we’re being observed?”
“What?” Tomas and Josh replied at the same time.
“I spotted her when we got off of the cable car. She was getting out of a cab.”
“Her? What her?” Josh looked around. “What did she look like?”
“Above average height, good figure, shoulder length sandy colored hair. I only caught a glimpse.”
“Oh my God, that sounds like Laura.” Josh twisted around, looking in all directions. “I don’t see her.”
“She’s still there, I can feel her watching us.”
Josh got up and walked around the bench we were sitting on, looking in all directions. Suddenly, “There she is. I’ll be right back.” Tomas and I turned and watched Josh running toward the Alcatraz ticket kiosk. He called her name. She stopped but did not turn around. Josh caught up with her. She turned and faced him. We could not hear what they were saying. She kept shaking her head. Finally, Josh took her hand and walked toward us. Laura followed, reluctantly. Josh was on the verge of dragging her.
“Laura, these are my friends Tomas and Geno.”
“How do you do.”
“You are Laura …?”
“A lovely French name.”
“You told me your name was Prichard.”
“That’s my married name.”
“You’re married?” Josh could not have been more astonished.
“Well, that’s a nice kettle of fish,” Tomas invited her to sit next to him. “Josh, you sit on the other side so she can’t get away. So, Laura, can you tell us why you were following us?”
“I wasn’t following…”
“Geno spotted you getting out of a cab when we got off of the cable car. Own up, Laura.” Tomas could not keep from smiling.
“I’m so embarrassed, I’m sorry, Father. . .”
“I’m sorry, Josh. I don’t know why I did that. I saw you get on the cable car with your friends near the Fairmont.”
“How long were you following me?”
“Since you left your residence this afternoon. I planned on talking to you but couldn’t do it.”
“I thought we were friends. You can talk to me about anything.”
Laura looked down and was silent.
“How well do you know Josh?”
“Well, we work together at church.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Laura shook her head and would not speak.
“I’ll answer for her.” Josh paused. “I know Laura very well, and I care a great deal for her.”
“Oh Josh, you shouldn’t say that.”
“Why not, it’s the truth.” Josh was relieved.
Tomas took advantage of a pause, “Laura, your turn.” Laura shook her head and began to cry, “I can’t say it. I just can’t say it. I have to go.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” Tomas pulled her back. “Does the word love have anything to do with it?”
Laura nodded slightly.
“Well, then say it.”
“But he’s a priest, and I’m divorced.”
“He’s a man, for God’s sake, and he cares for you. So, what if you’re divorced. It amazes me how you people get caught up in all these barriers that don’t mean anything. Here, have a slice of sourdough bread.”
Laura took the slice of bread, looked at it, looked at Tomas and me and began to laugh at the absurdity of the gesture. Josh began to laugh, Tomas did not understand what was so funny.
When the laughter subsided, Josh took Laura’s hand, and spoke softly, “Laura, I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with you. I’ve been denying it, hiding it, afraid of giving myself away each time I was with you.”
“Oh, Josh.” Laura took Josh’s hand in both of hers.
“According to Tomas, I’ve broken my vow of celibacy.”
Laura straightened up, “But you’ve never touched me, until now.” She looked at Tomas to confirm her statement.
Tomas laughed, “Josh has spilled the beans about your little communion game.”
Josh may not have touched you but you, evidently, have been playing that lips on his fingertips during communion.”
Tomas raised his hand, “Thou shalt not lie.”
I could not help from smiling as this charming scene unfolded.
Laura looked to Josh, pleading for help.
“It’s no use, Laura,” Josh whispered, “In my mind, I’ve touched you many times. I’m sorry if that offends you.”
Laura reached up and touched Josh’s cheek, “No, Josh, it doesn’t offend me at all.”
Tomas gave a great sigh, “Well, thank God we got that out of the way. The two you have a lot to talk about. Come on, Geno, we’re going home. You’ll probably want to talk to me again, so call me and we’ll meet at my place. And don’t do anything stupid. Does anyone want some more bread? No, I guess not.”
As we walked away, “Will you stop giving it away?” I grabbed the bag away from Tomas and nudged him with my elbow. Tomas pushed back as we continued walking toward Aquatic Park and the Cable Car turnaround.
I heard Josh say, “You stay put,” then called out, “Tomas!”
We turned around, Josh ran up and embraced Tomas. “Thank you, my friend,” and kissed his cheek.
“Save that for Laura. And you’re welcome. Now get back to her before she runs off. We’ve still got a lot to discuss on this celibacy thing. It’s important you understand its true purpose.”
Three days later our phone rang. “This is Tomas. Josh! How are you? Oh? Well, come on over. We’ll put the kettle on.”
Half an hour later, Laura and Josh sat down at our kitchen table. I set cups of tea on the table and joined them. “You two don’t look very happy,”
“I’m going to leave the priesthood,” Josh announced.
“That’s one of the stupid things I told you not to do.”
Laura took Josh’s hand, “I told him that’s not the answer,”
Tomas smiled, “Are you two having your first fight?”
“No.” Josh smiled.
“It’s our second one. And I’m right.” Laura laughed.
“Yes, she’s right.” Josh looked lovingly at Laura, “I’ve asked Laura to marry me.”
Tomas looked at Laura, “And you said …” Laura nodded but was silent.
“What about your parishioners, Josh?”
“I know. The proverbial rock and a hard place. What are we to do?”
Laura intertwined her fingers with Josh’s. The hopeless look on both of their faces prompted Tomas, “The parishioners are important, but so are the two of you, to each other. I’m thinking you should go to your Bishop and request a transfer to a permanent deaconship. You can still attend to your flock, and you can marry Laura.”
Josh and Laura looked at each other, then turned to Tomas, “Can they do that?”
“Probably not. But, anticipating what you just told me, I did a little research on your Bishop Cordova. What I found is nothing earthshaking, but I don’t believe he would want a San Francisco Chronicle reporter to get ahold of it.”
“Tomas, that’s blackmail,” Josh whispered.
“I know,” Tomas whispered back, with a grin, “but I think it will work.”
“I could never do it.”
“You don’t have to. I will.” Tomas grinned.
“It’s my little way of getting back at the church for their ridiculous Canon laws. Okay?”
Josh and Laura looked at one another. “Laura, what do you think?”
“It certainly would solve the problem.” She looked to Josh. “It’s your decision. You have the most to lose.”
“I won’t lose you.” Josh turned to Tomas. “Okay.”
All the while I sat there slightly slack-jawed. I was learning something about Tomas I had not realized until that moment. After Josh and Laura left, I put my arms around Tomas’ neck, “I am so proud of you.”
“You know, for what.” I hugged him and pushed him away as we both laughed.
I found Tomas to be a truly humble man. He refused to take credit for any of the goodness he accomplished. It was just who he was and he could not understand the praise he received.
After several months, the paperwork came through. Josh became a permanent deacon and married his Laura before the ink was dry.
On a subsequent occasion, after we had met with Josh and Laura, I mentioned to Tomas, “Is it my imagination or does Laura look like she is with child?”
“I thought the same thing but figured I was wrong.” A mischievous look came over his face.
“Tomas,” I laughed, “What are you up to?”
“Nothing,” he lied and smiled.
We meet with Josh and Laura soon after and I observed one of Tomas’ rare ‘gotcha’ moments when he pointed out the obvious, much to the chagrin of the happy couple.
“You’re supposed to wait until after you’re married,” Tomas playfully chastised them.
“I know,” agreed Josh. “But look at her, Tomas.”
It was the only time I ever saw Laura blush. It was so beautiful. I secretly envied them the child they were about to have.
When they announced they intended to name the child ‘Tomas,’ Tomas countered with, “What if it’s a girl?”
Laura laughed, “We’ll name it Tomas anyway.”
A few weeks later Tomas and I were in the tabernacle of the Cathedral. It was quite empty and peaceful, as usual. I was sitting in one of the front pews waiting for him. As he approached I asked, “Tell me about celibacy?”
He laughed, “You mean the one we broke?” He sat next to me and took my hand. He had big, warm hands which matched his six foot, three-inch height. Mine always looked small and insignificant in his.
“No, the meaning of a true celibate that you say rarely exists.”
He sighed, settled back in the pew and folded his hands together with mine sandwiched in-between. It was one of those moments when I felt so at one with Tomas. I could feel his Christ consciousness take over before he spoke. It was the same feeling I got each time he stepped up before the congregation and began his homily. Tomas faded away and the other part of him stepped forward. It’s difficult to explain unless you’ve witnessed and experienced it first-hand.
“Celibacy becomes a possibility when the individual has died to who they thought they were. It takes thousands of realizations of truth before the dark night of the soul happens and we are released”
“Dark night of the soul?” I had to ask.
“It’s that moment when we finally let go of every human need we have clung to so tenaciously. The most painful is releasing the need for companionship of another human being.”
Tomas tightened his grip on my hand.
“When that final moment comes the last vestiges of who we thought we were are released and we dissolve into the Divine spark that has sustained us. We realize we are no longer a wave but we are the ocean. We truly are in the world but no longer a part of it. At that moment we become a true celibate. We are the conduit between God and man. Nothing of worldliness gets in the way. The interesting part is we still have our personality available to us which we use to communicate with our brothers and sisters.”
“Is that where Nirvana comes in?”
“No, that phenomenon takes place when the celibate releases his physical body. They then have a choice of returning to the physical plane or not.”
Tomas became silent. He had finished his explanation. I knew at that moment who he really was and what his goal was. For a moment I felt like the proverbial ball and chain, holding him back from his goal.
Then I remembered something my mother told me when I was still in college. A moment of wisdom I cherish. She told me, be it a friend or a lover, give everything you have and expect nothing in return. If you find someone living the same philosophy you will experience a little bit of heaven here on earth.
I felt my hand inside of Tomas’ grip and realized for the first time he gave and gave with no thought of a return. He was free and I think he knew it which was probably why he stayed and gave so much of himself.
I was about to suggest we go home when I noticed a shadow in a nearby exit doorway withdraw. “Did you know someone was eavesdropping?”
“Really. Who?” We got up and began to exit.
“I don’t know. I noticed a shadow in this doorway and then it was gone.”
“Well, I hope they learned something. Did my explanation answer your question?”
“Yes, of course. Thank you.”
We exited the Cathedral and I never did find out who had been listening. It may have been one of the men who wanted Tomas’ advice on a variety of spiritual problems confronting them. They weren’t mostly the young just beginning their spiritual journey. Some were well on their way when they encountered a crossroad. Tomas likened himself to a traffic directory. He merely pointed the way.
Tomas was in his element when presented with situations such as this. He would relax and the treasure chest of his spiritual knowledge and understanding would open up and flow unabated. Those who came to him for counseling always departed with a sense of enlightenment they had not come in with.
I saw the same thing happen when Tomas stepped up to the pulpit and gave his homilies and when he conducted his unofficial classes on Sunday afternoons.
He wasn’t aware of the transition that happened until he began listening to some of the tapes I was making. At first, he was troubled I had made them, but after he listened to a few of them he realized he was tapping into a higher part of himself of which he was not aware. Most of the time he could not remember having even said some of the things on the tapes. Thereafter he insisted I make the recordings and would spend hours listening to them and making notes. He was learning from himself.
The Laicization of Father Tomas McTavish
THE LAICIZATION OF FATHER TOMAS McTAVISH
Tomas and I had been together for almost ten years when we were outed to the world. I’m sure the world already knew, but it came as a shock anyone would go to Church officials and lodge a complaint – a canonical criminal complaint. It was 1975 and most folks didn’t care about stuff like that anymore, or so we thought.
Tomas came home one afternoon while I was grooming Buddha. He looked haggard. I greeted him with my usual “Hi you.” He looked at me and walked through. Uh-oh. I laid the scissors down and placed grateful Buddha on the floor. He hated grooming. Isis scampered over and sniffed all over him. The oil from the freshly shorn fur interested her.
I leaned on the doorjamb, watching Tomas disrobe, waiting for whatever it was to hit the fan. Tomas and I had grown so close I could read him like a book. He was always up and cheerful, this was not up and nowhere near cheerful.
He glanced at me thoughtfully, then walked into the bathroom to shower. He definitely had something on his mind. I guessed I would have to wait. Ordinarily, I would have asked him if he wanted company in the shower. No, that’s not completely true. Usually, he invited me to shower with him. You would be surprised how clean I am these days.
Inviting myself at this moment did not seem like a good idea. So, I kept quiet and went into the kitchen and brewed his favorite coffee blend. Instinct told me we were going to need it. And I was right.
He came into the kitchen all scrubbed, slippered, and wrapped in his favorite robe. He shuffled over, kissed the back of my neck and moved away.
“Is that the best you can do?”
It didn’t get the rise I had hoped for, but he came back, put his arms around me from behind and rested his chin on my shoulder. Spooning while I was busy in the kitchen was a favorite position of ours. I waited, then quietly said, “Well? Let’s have it.”
He let go and sat down at the kitchen table, “I’m going to lose my job. They’re going to kick me out.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” I placed two cups on the table and poured the coffee.
“Dear sweet adorable Bishop O’Leary called me in today and told me four complaints had been lodged against me – against us. Criminal complaints. Can you believe that?”
“What criminal complaints?”
“Celibacy, breaking the vow of celibacy.”
“And that’s criminal?”
“According to Canon Law, yes.”
“That’s not entirely true. You may have broken the physical part, not the spiritual part. You’re stronger spiritually now than ever before.”
“Why did I know you were going to say that?” he smiled gratefully.
“Because, my Irish beauty, after ten years of having you ravage my poor helpless body and loving me beyond all human comprehension, we have become opposite ends of the same stick.”
“Is that stick or shtick?” he asked playfully.
“Well, I couldn’t think of a better word. Hey, being a smart-ass is my job, not yours. From what you’re telling me, I believe the word we are looking for is shtook which means trouble – big trouble.”
He laughed and beckoned me to come to him which I was anxious to do. I sat down on his lap. “Do I really ravage you?” he smiled impishly.
“Yes you do, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Hey, wait a minute, I know who made this complaint.”
“Who?” he knew I wanted to play. “My mother.”
“My Dad said she turned fourteen shades of green and purple when she read the telegram.”
“You sent your mother a telegram about us?”
“Yeah, well it was kind of an inside joke between us.
“Guess she didn’t think it was so funny.”
“I guess not.”
Tomas put his arms around me and laid his head on my chest. “You do the strangest things sometimes.”
“Yeah, I know, like falling helplessly in love with you.”
“That’s what I mean,” he laughed and pulled me even closer. Thank God he was coming out of his blue funk. I hated seeing him like that.
“O’Leary told me there will be a preliminary investigation. The results of which will be reported to the Cardinal, then a trial, and then you’re out.”
“I can’t believe this,” and I couldn’t.
“Oh, yeah, believe it. The process is called laicization.”
“Lieah. . . what?”
“Leye-ah-ce-zation. I’ve seen it happen before. It takes months. In the end, you’re out. Geno, I don’t care. I have you and I can always get work outside. Then, we don’t have to pretend any longer.”
“The hell you don’t care.” He had more degrees than Carter has liver pills, so getting work would never be a problem except for one thing, he would absolutely hate it. God, Church, and the people in it were his life. Pulling the plug like that . . . he would go right down the drain and me along with him. I did not like this one little bit.
“I’ll survive, Geno. We’ll survive.”
“No, we won’t, Father McTavish.” I never called him Father McTavish unless I was serious about something, and he knew it. “Right now you’re hurt. I don‘t blame you for that, but the Church is your life. You’d wither and die out there. Is there nothing we can do to fight this?”
“I don’t think so. The least I can do is go gracefully.” His resignation to this idiocy shocked me. This was not the Tomas I knew, who would give his life for the Truth he believed in. He took my hand and kissed it, “We can go gracefully, together.”
We sat there clinging to one another, the only comfort we could manage at a moment like this.
My pea-sized brain seized upon an idea. “Are we going to need a lawyer?”
“Not unless I fight it.” He slipped back into thoughtfulness, “If I did fight it, I guess I would need a lawyer. I don’t know where we would find one for something like this, let alone be able to pay for it. They will provide a canon lawyer. A stranger who wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn.”
“Well, I give a tinker’s damn, a big one. No one is going to upset our apple cart without a fight.” Tomas looked at me. He was astonished at my determination. I had always let him take the lead, not this time.
“And, my fine feathered friend, I have an idea.” It was an epiphany. It had to be to get us out of this mess. It may only have been a light bulb going off in my head but it would have to do for the moment. “Oh yes, indeed, a very good idea. I’ll be right back.”
I disengaged myself from Tomas’s lap, “We are not going gracefully,” and raced into the study, got my address book out and made a phone call to a dear old friend, Aaron Baumgarten. He was a New York Jew and a brilliant attorney. The combination was awesome, he was awesome. And with that baritone voice of his – jeez-louise.
“Ciao, Aaron? C’è Geno. Sì, è mio amico. Come stai cara? I’m going to need your help, big time.”
It took me half an hour to explain what was going on. In a flash, his magnificent brain got in step with our dilemma and my fears were assuaged.
Now to tell Tomas. “Grazie, Aaron, non avete idea che cosa ciò significhi, Tomas e me. Vista su martedì. Ti amo mio amico. Salute.”
I almost danced into the kitchen with my news. Tomas was looking at me in the strangest way. He was squinting.
“You were speaking Italian. You told me you couldn’t speak Italian.”
“No, I didn’t.” He was referring to our first encounter when he asked if I know the meaning of my Italian name. “I just didn’t answer you.”
“Why, for heaven’s sake?”
“I didn’t want to say it out loud, so I pretended I didn’t know.”
“You rascal. What else are you telling me you don’t know, that you do know?” he wanted to play.
“Not much,” I smiled sheepishly.
“And who was that on the phone you were telling our life story to?”
“That was Aaron, Tomas, we have a lawyer. He’ll be here on Tuesday. When you meet him you’ll understand our worries are over. Oh boy, I can hardly wait for him to get here. Bishop O‘Leary and his investigators have no idea who they will be dealing with.” I sat down in Tomas’s lap again. “There is nothing to worry about my friend. And . . . he will do it pro bono.”
“Oh really?” he looked at me suspiciously.
“He owes me.”
“Just a little something I did for him a long time ago.”
“Tomas! It was nothing.”
I was beginning to think he was jealous and I liked the idea. “Are you jealous?”
“No. Well, a little. I know you had more experience in… you know, then I did.”
“Not to worry. I was a virgin then. Yeah, I know, hard to believe. I told his wife he was with me on a particular evening, playing pool. When in reality he wasn’t with me.” He was looking at me more quizzically. “Hey, that bitch would have killed him and me if she found out what he was up to.”
“You wouldn’t be here if she had killed you.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Funny you should think of that.” I smiled and kissed the end of his nose. “And I have every intention of staying, just in case you wondered.”
“What else did you tell him?”
I sensed the jealousy thing again. “Well, let’s see. I told him I was having an unbelievably hot, erotic love affair with a gorgeous Catholic Priest.”
“What do you mean and?”
He was focused. Ok, I’ll play. “And, when I got off the phone we were going to have hot, sweaty, noisy sex to celebrate.”
I milked the moment, pausing long enough to watch the astonishment wash over his face. “No my pet, I didn’t. But it’s a good idea, don’t you think?”
Tomas laughed, a sign of relief, and then stopped cold and protested, “We’re not noisy.”
“A good thing too. Poor Mrs. Smithson, downstairs, would have a heart attack if she knew what was going on up here.” I looked into his eyes – our noses touched. “It certainly gets my heart rate going just thinking about it.”
Tomas drew me into one of those kisses I had gotten used to. I felt his body relax, thank God. I had learned to take a breath before we sucked face.
He had never heard that expression and got a chuckle out of it, using it whenever I least expected it, mostly in Church. He’d whisper, ‘Hey you, voglio succhiare affrontare il mio amore? Along with a shameless grin. Music to my ears nonetheless. He’d say it in Italian in case someone was listening.
I often thought, thankfully, now he had someone with whom he could suck face. I remember how lonely he had been before we crash landed on my foyer floor all those years ago.
Aaron arrived the following Tuesday. Tomas and I met with him at his hotel where he explained what he was going to do. He had talked with the Bishop and received permission to work with the investigators the Bishop had appointed to do the preliminary investigation which was to begin the following week.
“The Bishop is bound by Canon Law to permit our observation of the investigation. He was surprised we knew,” Aaron smiled, “and he didn’t like it. What he does not know is we will have other investigators investigating them. This is only a local matter right now. We’ll try and nip it in the bud.”
Once the preliminary investigation began, Tomas would no longer be able to give homilies in the Cathedral. He had to work fast. The word had gotten out and spread like wildfire throughout the congregation.
Tomas decided he would announce his departure to the congregation during the next homily, the following Sunday-four days away. He disappeared into the study and did not come up for air until Saturday evening.
He smiled, “Yes, I am.” His old confidence was back.
Sunday morning dawned a beautiful spring morning, perfect for what was about to transpire.
Tomas, dressed in his formal clerical attire which he rarely used, stepped up to the pulpit and greeted his parishioners in his usual cheerful warm welcoming manner. The cathedral was packed, standing room only. They knew and they were waiting. You could cut the anticipation with a buzz saw.
He read a verse from Scripture then gave his homily. I doubt anyone heard a word of it. They were waiting for the ax to fall, and then it did.
With his usual confident voice, “This is the last time I will officially be able to stand before you and speak to you from the depths of my heart about the principles we need to embrace every moment of our lives in order to experience the presence of God,” the audience gasped.
Tomas paused a few seconds, “You undoubtedly know about the charges leveled against me, against us,” he looked over to me.
“I have been charged with breaking my vows of celibacy. This is true, but only partially true. I have broken the physical aspect of this vow, the burden was too great for me to bear any longer. It was undermining my spiritual intent. I have not, however, nor will I ever break my vow spiritually. I am and will remain faithful to Christ, in mind, heart, and will.
“My intent to fully embody Christ, the way I am supposed to, is not complete. My partner says I have. I’m not certain.” He looked intently at the audience. “Yes, my partner – right over there – Geno Benedetti,” he pointed at me. “You all know him.” And then he proclaimed to the world, “He’s the man I fell in love with 10 years ago.” You could hear the breath intakes throughout the congregation. “And he has never left my side since we prayed together that first night we were together – for God’s blessings and guidance. His love and support have strengthened my spiritual resolve beyond my expectations. The relationship has illuminated and forced me to grow closer to God and those of you I love and serve. If that’s a sin, then you have a sinner living among you. So, be careful because I have every intention of continuing to love each one of you as I have always done, whether I remain or if I have to go.”
As his words trailed off, the cry of a child came from somewhere in the audience. Little Brenda Benson came running down the aisle toward Tomas, her curls bouncing in the air with each jump she took. “Papa Tomas!” she screamed through her tears, “Papa Tomas!” She had never heard Tomas talk like that. The tone of his voice was foreign to her and she became frightened. After her mother had been widowed, Brenda took to Tomas as her new father. She probably feared she would lose this father also. She was old enough to know something terrible was happening to her beloved Papa Tomas. She did not understand what it was. Her mother attempted to hold her back. She stood silently in the middle of the aisle and shrugged her shoulders at Tomas as she watched her daughter fly into the arms of her Papa Tomas. He picked Brenda up and comforted her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and nestled her head at his neck as her sobs quieted. She felt safe again.
Then Tomas stepped off the cliff, holding little Brenda in his arms. It was a perfect symbol of who he was, and I could not have been more proud of him at that moment.
“I am not and never have been objectively disordered, as the Vatican would have you believe. I am just me, the way I have always been, day in day out, month in month out, year in and year out.”
I saw some of the audience from my vantage point. They were shaken to the core. If anyone was not convinced, little Brenda’s cries settled it for them. There was no big sin to forgive. My own tears blurred my vision.
“And Geno argues with me when I fudge about not having fulfilled the embodiment of Jesus Christ. He grinned at me from ear to ear and shook his head.
Someone stood up in the back and shouted, “Geno is right, Father, you have embodied the Christ. God bless both of you.” There was that classical moment of total silence as it sank in throughout the congregation. Then, one by one they began to stand and shout their agreement. The outpouring was breathtaking. Tomas certainly looked like it took his breath away. He was hanging on to Brenda and the pulpit for dear life. No one expected this.
Tomas raised his hand, beckoning for quiet. “Thank you. Thank you so much. What a gift.”
He walked slowly down the aisle talking to Brenda in his usual gentle tones – cheering her. Her mother met him and took Brenda into her arms. Tomas kissed Brenda’s cheek and returned to the front of the Cathedral.
Then my friend, Aaron, got up and addressed the congregation in his usual loud and commanding baritone voice. “Brother Tomas is not going anywhere if I have anything to do with it.” Aaron scanned the audience. No one moved. Everyone held their breath for the miracle that was about to unfold. “I’m a lawyer. And a damned good one.” He paused, daring anyone to refute him. “My law firm and I are going to fight this nonsense tooth and nail. We may not win. However, we will create headlines across this beautiful land of ours and we will out the hypocrisy that binds this church to the dead past.
“But I’m going to need moral support and it’s going to have to come from you folks. Am I going to get it?”
A woman in the back stood up and shouted, “You got it from me, mister. Tell me what you want me to do.”
The silence was deafening again as people processed what was going on. Then, one by one they stood. Soon the whole congregation was on its feet, standing in utter silence, giving their combined support and approval. The love pouring out of that lot was shocking to me. The air in the chamber was filled with Divine perfume from the Imprisoned Splendor escaping everywhere.
Aaron raised his hands and lowered them slowly. Everyone found their seat again. “I’m going to need your names and contact information. You may be called to court to testify as to the value of this man they wish to shove under the carpet.” The applause began slowly and grew until the whole building seemed to shake.
Aaron went up to Tomas and embraced him, and then he did something neither one of us expected. He came over to me and practically dragged me over to Tomas’ side.
“Now stay there, Geno. That’s where you belong,” he walked back to his pew and sat down. The audience roared.
When I glanced at Aaron through the tears welling up in my eyes I could tell he was feeling good about himself. His debt to me was being paid off very nicely. Very nicely indeed.
The congregation broke loose and came forward, crowding around Tomas and me and Aaron. It was dazzling. I could have floated out of the cathedral with no trouble at all.
As we moved out of the Cathedral, Tomas spotted the woman who had initially risen in his defense. He went to her, “Hi.”
She smiled up at him.
“May I know your name, please?”
“Yes, of course. It’s Marge Clayborne. And I think you are the cat’s meow.”
They broke into laughter and hugged one another. The day would not have been complete without such an encounter.
The preliminary investigation went into effect and Tomas was no longer able to give services in the Cathedral. His presumption of innocence was in effect. He was on what some would call administrative leave.
Interestingly enough nothing had been said about his impromptu Sunday afternoon meetings in the auditorium. They weren’t official. We weren’t sure if they forgot to prohibit those meetings or not. So, Tomas went ahead and prepared for the next Sunday afternoon.
The auditorium was packed to the rafters. I felt sorry for the priest who was assigned Sunday homilies – that church would probably be as empty as my grave. And so it was. The parishioners were sending a simple but strong message.
Tomas reveled in the support. He grew strong again and gave forth from that heart of his, lessons on Truth which I had never heard before.
Aaron’s young colleagues arrived less than a week after his announcement in the Cathedral. These four young men were his own investigating team of young lawyers. Their charge was to watch everyone involved and document everything.
Aaron met with Tomas and me and explained the process. “I’m sure we can kill this whole thing in the preliminary investigation stage. I’ve studied the laicization process. It’s riddled with assumptions God has approved their actions and their laws. I’d like to see them try and prove it in court.
“We don’t want to get to the point of filing charges in court. We want to stay away from dealing with Canon Law. It could get messy, and long. Our aim is to publicly out them for their hypocrisy. So, there it is, boys. I’ll get back to you as soon as we have something solid to move ahead with.”
I got up and threw my arms around Aaron, “Grazie Aaron. Non avete idea.”
“Hey, after seeing you two together I have a good idea what’s at stake. I gotta go – ciao.” He embraced Tomas and was gone.
I looked at Tomas, “Well . . ?”
“As I have said so many times before, you do the strangest things sometimes. I wasn’t sure you would be able to pull this off.”
“Well, it’s not a done deal. But I know Aaron. He won’t miss anything. If there are any dirty linens hiding in a closet anywhere, he and his cohorts will find them.”
The news media got wind of what was happening and ran with it. The first thing they did was corner a few of the parishioners. ‘He’s the most deeply spiritual person I’ve ever met.’ said one, ‘He finds a way to make you feel God’s presence. As my pastor, as my friend, isn’t that what a relationship should be?’
But one parishioner confronted Tomas with, “Well, I guess you’ll be pushing the gay agenda in both schools now.” When asked, she could not tell Tomas what gay agenda she was referring to. Tomas told this unenlightened soul the only agenda he ever pushed in his life was the gospel of Christ.
At one of the meetings in the auditorium, Tomas stressed, “There’s a passage in Scripture in which God said to Jesus, You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. I believe God says that to everyone. You are all God’s beloved children,” and then he skillfully added, “and don’t let a priest or a bishop or a pope dare tell you otherwise.”
He grabbed his Bible and held it aloft. “This is either the good news for everyone – or no one.” The audience sat transfixed.
“Okay folks, that’s it for this afternoon. Thank you so much for being here. Good afternoon.”
No one moved. They just sat there. Then, I remembered the first time I attended one of his meetings and how mesmerized I had been by this man of God. If I had not made such a fool out of myself I would probably still be sitting there. He had not lost the touch which endeared him to so many.
There wasn’t a person in the room who did not realize how blessed they were to have Brother Tomas in their lives. I realized it every day and gave more thanks than I can remember for the privilege of living with, and loving this man – this true man of God.
That night, after we had prayed together and climbed into bed, I confessed to him. “I felt so insignificant this afternoon while you were talking to the crowd. You were so in the Spirit of God as you spoke. I can’t help but think you deserve better than me.” There I went again, apologizing for being there. I have such a knack for lameness.
Tomas grabbed me violently and turned me around. He was angry this time. “Don’t ever say a thing like that again. Do you hear me?” I nodded, then he enfolded me in his arms. “Geno, Geno, without you I would not be who I am today. Don’t you know that by now? I can’t imagine breathing without you. Even when you’re so silly.” He pushed me away and turned over.
Well, I certainly got a rise out of him, though it wasn’t intended. I moved closer until our backs touched and drifted off to sleep, chastised by this godly man, and happy as a clam.
Aaron called and scheduled a meeting with us for that afternoon. He said he had accomplished his goal. When the agreed upon time arrived, the door flew open, Aaron and his boys sauntered in. Tomas and I held our collective breaths.
Aaron sat down and looked at us grimly. Then, a shit-eaten’ grin spread over his face, “We got ‘em,” he glowed.
“We’re meeting with the Bishop and his advisors tomorrow morning. We’ve investigated the four complainants and our conclusion is, they lied. If necessary we’ll haul the complainants in and have them give depositions under oath. That should scare the bejesus out of them for starters.
Our guys are prepared to play good cop bad cop with them which should utterly confuse them. We needn’t go that far but we will if necessary. If all else fails we have an Ace up our sleeves which should do the trick. We don’t plan on using it unless forced to.”
“The Ace, Aaron?”
“Oh yeah, the Ace. Well, my friends, it appears your Bishop has been a very naughty boy, and it’s on tape. His playmates were smart enough to tape his visits without him knowing it, of course. They’re for sale. No problem.” He winked at me. I knew what he meant – the debt.
“It turns out your Bishop is gayer than a Mexican wedding. And it’s not pretty. I saw him doing things that surprised even me.” His eyebrows went up as he smiled. “He’s a dirty old fart and if necessary I’ll nail his Irish ass. I’m hoping a few gentle hints will open his eyes to the wisdom of dismissing all allegations against you.”
“When you say dismiss. Will there be written documents to that effect?” Tomas was concerned about the validity of the dismissal.
“You bet your ass. There will be signed documents. Oh gosh, sorry, Father.”
“No no, that’s okay. Geno says worse than that when he gets into one of his New York states of mind.”
“Hey!” I objected, but acquiesced, “He’s right, Aaron. I revert sometimes.” We had a good laugh which we needed badly.
“So, when will we know?” Tomas moved to the edge of his chair.
“It should be in the bag by tomorrow afternoon.” Aaron and his companions got up. We said our farewels and they were gone.
The next morning went by painfully slow. Noon came and neither of us thought about food. The clock was ticking but not fast enough. It was four-thirty when the phone rang. We jumped up. I told Tomas to answer it.
“No no, you do it, I’m too nervous.”
I picked up the phone and listened.
I gave the appropriate ‘yas’ and ‘oks’ and the final, “You’re kidding? Jesus! Are we going to see you? Ok, I’ll be in touch.” I hung up and quickly turned to Tomas, “We’re off the hook!”
Tomas rushed at me, grabbed me and lifted me off the ground.
When he set me down, “But there is one thing.” I said as solemnly as I could.
“What?” Tomas looked stressed, which is the reaction I wanted.
“The Bishop, bless his heart, has agreed to get a dispensation from celibacy for you from the Pope.”
“Holy shit,” came out of Tomas’ mouth. I had never heard him say that word before. My bad influence. “But can he do that?”
“Evidently he can. Knowing Aaron, he probably put the thumb screws to Saint O’Leary before he agreed. You know what that means don’t you?”
Tomas gently put his arms around, “Yes, I do. We can be legally married.”
“But can we do it in the Cathedral?”
“Humm, that could be a problem.”
“I would imagine there will be no problem. Aaron said the paperwork would be in our hands this evening with all questions answered. I’ll be in touch with him in case there are more questions. He will take further action if necessary. He’s not going to drop the ball on this.”
Tomas released me and sank down into the sofa. He literally collapsed out of relief. This burden was lifted. He looked at me and smiled his beautiful smile.
“You know my friend,” I began in my most seductive tone. “you need to learn to relax more.”
Are you by any chance thinking of seducing me?”
I smiled. “Hey, it’s the Italian in me.” I giggled, “That’s what we do. And by the way, since I am not able to have your children, now we can legally adopt some. What do you think?” I wanted to know since we had never talked about it.
The revelation of such an idea washed over his face. I don’t believe he ever thought about the possibility. The joy of the idea looked like it was going to levitate him. He beamed and reached out for me to come to him. Which, of course, I was always happy to do.
“You know, and I know it sounds pathetic but I’m good at that, I often think how amazing it would be to have children in our lives. It would bind us together.”
He was back into his usual good mood, “Are you kidding me? After ravaging your poor helpless body for a decade, you still aren’t convinced about our union?”
“And don’t forget loving me beyond human comprehension.” I could not have been more serious.
“No, I won’t forget – ever.”
We made love on the living room floor that wonderful afternoon but it was different this time. Besides the passion and love we shared with one another, there was a sense of freedom we had never experienced before. Buddha and Isis joined us as usual and nestled between us as our passion cooled and the oncoming evening darkened the room.
I tightened my grip on Tomas’ hand, “Max and Mabel.”
“Yes, I was thinking of them also. Do you think they are still with us?”
“It certainly feels like it sometimes. I’d like to think the six of us are right here on the living room floor, enjoying this blessed contentment.”
The paperwork arrived and all of our questions were answered just as Aaron predicted. Elation is hardly the emotion we experienced. It was finally over.
Tomas returned to his work as Parish priest as if nothing had happened. Papa Tomas was back. I resumed my life as before.
One evening we reflected on what had happened and thanked our lucky stars for the outcome. Then, we got on our knees and thanked God for our lives together and in sparing us the tragedy of laicization.
Now we could plan for the next event.
The news of our vindication spread like a tsunami. We could not go anywhere without folks coming up to us with congratulations. The one thing we did notice, no one seemed to know about our wedding plans. So, we decided to keep it to ourselves, until one of our more astute friends came up to us one day with, “So, when are you two going to exchange vows?”
The date was set, plans were made, the marriage license was purchased including the purchase of wedding bands.
The ceremony was to be held at 1 PM on Thursday the Twenty-Third of December. We wanted to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, our honeymoon, and the beginning of a new year at the same time.
The cathedral was packed. We decided there would be no attendants or music. It would just be God and the two of us going down the aisle, and Brenda Benson our flower girl. An altar boy entered the chamber carrying the single flame lantern attached to the crucifix, representing the Spirit of God.
When the moment came I asked Tomas, “What do we do, hold hands?”
“I guess we can do anything we want.”
“How about if I walk four paces behind you?”
“Come here you silly thing. Let’s walk slowly down the aisle with our arms touching. We can hold hands on the way out. Ready?”
“I have been, for a very long time.”
Tomas was dressed in his clerical collar and black suit. I was in a white tie black tuxedo suit. We each wore three small red carnations, representing God and the two of us, joined together by a pink ribbon.
And so we began another journey, one that would publicly and legally join us together for the rest of our lives on this earth and possibly beyond. I thought of the miracle I had danced around the first time I ever laid eyes on Tomas, the miracle which I thought would never happen. So, once again, I was wrong but joyfully so. I also decided there most assuredly was a Santa Claus who was not only clairvoyant but also a miracle worker.
As we stepped forward, someone rang a small bell. The audience quietly got up and turned to us. Little Brenda bounced along ahead of us, throwing flower peddles everywhere and on everyone. She was having such a good time – her Papa Tomas was getting married.
I could have danced with her up the aisle without touching the floor. Instead, I decided prim and proper was the way to go. Half way down the aisle I changed my mind. I turned around and began blowing kisses in every direction.
Tomas wasn’t sure what to do. Finally, he grabbed my arm, put it through his and we proceed to the altar. The audience was whispering with glee. They were delighted and charmed with both of us. I smiled and nodded. This was going to be my family also.
We arrived at the altar, paused and then knelt while the priest offered a prayer. Tomas’ hand and mind were intertwined. At one point I looked down and could not tell his fingers from mine. A good sign I decided. The priest finished his prayer and turned to us. We got up and faced each other, speaking the vows we had carefully prepared.
The altar boy came quietly to the side of the priest with a small red pillow bearing our golden wedding bands which glittered in the Cathedral lights. When we finished our vows to one another, the priest gave the rings to us and we placed them on our appropriate fingers, then we looked to him.
“By the power invested in me, I am delighted to pronounce you husbands. May God’s blessings be with you forever,” he was grinning from ear to ear.
Tomas turned to me, took my face in his big hands and kissed me on the lips. The audience went nuts. We joined hands and slowly walked down the aisle and into our new life. My sardonicus muscles were stretched to their limit by the end of the day. I could not stop smiling.
The reception was held in the School Auditorium. We stayed for two hours, performing the traditional things newly married couples perform including – the first ones to dance.
The recording of ‘I Finally Found Someone’ by Adams and Streisand was begun. Tomas and I went out onto the dance floor and did a slow dance. The lyrics were so perfect for the moment, I finally found someone, who knocks me off my feet; I finally found the one who makes me feel complete…It started over coffee, we started out as friends; It’s funny how from simple things; the best things begin…’ and then something none of us expected began to happen, the children began breaking away from their parents and running out to Tomas and me. They wanted to dance with us. We joined in the fun and picked up the kids one at a time and danced with them. Then, more kids and grownups came out of the belchers joining us as the music came to an end. It turned into a hugging love fest. Folks poured down from the bleachers and surrounded us.
The wedding cake was rolled out, we cut it together with our left hands and fed each other a small piece. Then, we toasted each other and the congregation with apple cider – no alcohol at this reception. I barely had a chance to taste the strawberries and cold salmon.
We bid a fond farewell to our loving friends and left for our honeymoon in Yosemite National Park, for several days of hiking. We slept out of doors next to some of those big trees Tomas loved. I behaved myself and we had a wonderful rest viewing the stars and the Universal creation bestowed upon us by the Divine.
The years have passed quickly, and yet the struggle of lonely straight and gay priests and gay people everywhere continues. Why? is always the question that comes to mind in light of the truth which is available to everyone.
Changes are coming but too slowly. Understanding the phenomenon of homosexuality continues to remain in the closet which is mystifying while at the same time it is totally unacceptable. It is so simple, and a natural occurrence in the evolution of everyone’s souls. Incredibly, no one may circumvent this phenomenon on their path to spiritual perfection.
There is so little difference between a man and a woman loving one another and two men or two women loving each other.
Since our vindication from the harsh and antiquated man-made Canon Laws of the Catholic Church, Tomas and I have played a small but important role in those changes which have come about. But there remains more to be accomplished – much more.
Tomas is now gone from among us, but his journey of discovery is far from over; of that I am certain. As my own days grow short, I look forward to continuing by his side, somehow, somewhere, and soon I hope.
Father Tomas Lonn Whitcomb McTavish, the Priest, the man of God with whom I had the most amazing and remarkable love affair.
Farewell, my friend, until we meet again.
Ego vobis valedico, Geno Benedetti