Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Dead Poets Society... I am just inspired by it.
Epilogue... December 1986, a small house near Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
I'm filled with hope for the first time in several years... hope that soon Todd and I will go more than a couple of months without losing another friend, without attending another funeral. And while my personal contribution might be relatively small, I can hold my head up proudly and say that I helped make it possible.
I think back in time, back to that awful day when Todd and I nearly got expelled from Welton for being queer, or gay as they're calling it nowadays. My parents took it so much better than I'd feared, making sure that I'd be able to support myself no matter what, and Todd as well. Even to the point of sending us both checks on Christmas and our birthdays throughout our undergraduate years at UC Berkeley. Mother seemed to come up with an excuse to fly out to visit us at least once a year, and sometimes Father would come also. As to the rest of the Dead Poets Society, Knox Overstreet stayed in regular contact with us, while Meeks and Pitts limited themselves to sending annual Christmas cards. Occasionally Knox's letters would mention Nuwanda, but we never did hear from him directly after that night.
And of course, our Captain, John Keating, along with his family, stood by us staunchly from the moment we arrived in California. He and Mrs. Keating welcomed us as extra sons, made us a part of their family. Little Jill called us as Uncle Richard and Uncle Todd (as would her future siblings) from the time she learned to talk. The Captain was always ready with advice if needed, or just a friendly shoulder to lean on when the going got tough, which it often did.
Our undergraduate years passed relatively uneventfully. Todd and I were there to toast the arrival of John Keating Junior in 1963, and stood as godfathers to Jason Keating in 1965. That same year, we received our undergraduate degrees. Todd went to work as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle while I went on to medical school. His work caused quite a bit of our personal tough times, as he became somewhat known for his articles calling for the fair treatment of the area's queer population. As a result, we became a target for area queer-bashers. Periodic assaults aside, those were good years.
Our worst personal time was in the early 1970s. Once I'd completed my residency, I went looking for a position in a research laboratory. Unfortunately, nearly all of them were located in the east. Understandably, Todd didn't want to leave his position with the paper to move to an area that might or might not be as receptive to our personal lives as San Francisco was. We spent at least a year arguing about it. On the one hand, I couldn't blame him. On the other, I couldn't fulfill my ambitions while staying there. In 1972, I accepted a position in the labs of Duke University and told Todd I was sorry, but I had to do it, that he could come with me or not as he chose.
And he remained behind. I threw myself into whatever projects came my way at the lab for the next year, slowly but surely giving up hope that he'd join me. After fourteen months, I ventured out to a gay bar in Raleigh on occasion, and even went on a few dates. But I never felt comfortable, and quickly turned back into a homebody, preferring to read or watch television over drinking and dodging pickup attempts.
I was glad of that, when Todd turned up at my apartment early in the spring of 1974. He apologized for not coming sooner, I apologized for having been so stupid as to issue an ultimatum in the first place, and then we were back where we belonged, in each others' arms. He got himself a position with the Durham Morning Herald, and eventually took some evening classes for his teaching certificate and started teaching part time in the English department at Duke. He also got a poem published in The American Poetry Review for the first time. I was doing some teaching as well as my research by then as well, mostly on lab techniques and safety.
Eventually we bought our house together, jumping through all the necessary legal hoops to make sure that if anything happened to either of us, the other would remain in possession of it. In the summer of 1982, we headed west to visit the Keatings. While there, our godson Jason enlisted our support in coming out as gay to his parents. The Captain lived up to our expectations and accepted Jason's news with the same love and compassion he gave us so many years ago. While there, we also attended three funerals, of men we'd met during the late 1960s, all three of whom were diagnosed with a collection of illnesses including Kaposi's sarcoma. I'd heard some rumblings about this in the research community over the previous year or two, something being called GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. But by the time of the second of the three funerals, the CDC in Atlanta had given it a new name... Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
Horrified by the increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances being diagnosed with AIDS, and with Todd's blessing, I volunteered for Dr. Bolognesi's research group in 1984, when he first arranged the meetings between Dr. Broder of the National Cancer Institute and some of the top scientists at Burroughs Wellcome with the idea of developing a cure for this terrible disease. By the middle of 1985, we'd been able to confirm that "Compound S" was indeed effective against the virus causing AIDS. Approval for human trials came in with unprecedented speed, and the trials themselves called successful by September of 1986.
I'm home alone right now, getting ready for the research team's celebratory dinner tonight. Our team, working with a group from the NCI and one from Burroughs Wellcome, sent off the final paperwork needed to the FDA this morning, to get the final approval for this drug to be made generally available. Given the life-or-death situation of its application, AZT is sure to be approved. It's not a cure, not yet. But it's the first effective shot fired in humankind's battle with AIDS.
I check the clock, surprised that Todd's not back yet. But there's still plenty of time before we have to leave to make the dinner. I wonder if he's trying to cajole a co-worker or two from the newspaper to come along to the dinner with us. We'd gotten two pairs of tickets, as the Keatings had planned on coming for a visit. Unfortunately, that got canceled at the last moment when Jill, now married and expecting, went into labor and presented them with their first grandchild a month earlier than anticipated. The phone rings and I answer, "Hello?"
"Richard, it's me," Todd says, sounding disgruntled. I can hear street noises in the background. "Go on ahead to the dinner and I'll meet you there. My car decided to die on me and I've got to wait for the tow truck. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Oh, hell," I sigh. "It's always something. Are you sure you don't want me to pick you up? Lord knows what the taxi will cost."
"No, don't be late for the dinner. I'm maybe three blocks from the paper, I'll walk back and get someone to give me a lift."
"All right, Todd, if you're sure. Love you."
"Love you too," he says softly, then hangs up.
I head out to my own car and set off to the dinner. I hope Todd makes it in time for the speeches. I've been asked to give one, although I didn't tell him that, and I plan on reading one of his poems, taken from his first book of poems which is supposed to be printed and out in bookstores next month.
He's not yet there when the cocktail hour ends, though, so I resign myself to the thought that he'll miss his poem. Nevertheless, I approach the dais and take a seat with the other speakers. When it's my turn, I take a deep breath and walk to the podium.
"I'm very glad and proud to have had a hand, however small, in taking this first step towards finding a cure for AIDS," I say, probably sounding like a complete novice at speeches. "But of course, I didn't get here alone. I owe thanks to John Keating, my junior year English teacher at Welton Academy, for teaching me to dream. I'd also like to thank my parents Andrew and Evelyn for supporting me in following my dream. And most of all, I want to thank my partner, Todd Anderson, for being there for me without question or fail, and for being much better with words than I will ever be." I pause to let the chuckles die down at that, then continue. "He's got a book coming out next month, but I think he'll forgive me for reading a bit from it now. This is' Saying Goodbye', and I hope it's something we won't have to do so often in the future." I smooth the page before me, then read.
"Statistics on the news mean very little.
A million strangers dead is just a trend.
A thousand is nothing, when none are known.
One is everything when the loss was a friend.
No dignified farewells have been permitted
Making proper closure hard to find.
Yet rage and tears and sorrow fade away
Replaced with smiles when you are on my mind.
I'll make myself forget the pain and bad times
And think of all the joy you brought to me.
I'll see you living, loving, smiling, happy
And hear you laughing in my memory."
I step away from the podium and off the dais to applause ranging from polite to enthusiastic, heading towards my table. Once I'm out of the spotlights, I see that more chairs are occupied than before I went up for my speech... maybe Todd got here in time after all? I still can't see too well in the relative dimness of the room, but I'm grabbed and hugged by a familiar pair of arms.
"I can't believe you read my poem," Todd whispers in my ear as he guides me towards my chair.
I whisper back, "It's why I joined the team, you know it is." And then I blink as my parents stand up to hug me as well. Todd is grinning smugly at the three of us.
Common courtesy dictates that I stay quiet through the last couple of speakers, but as soon as the room lights come up, I turn to my parents with a smile. "What brings you two here tonight?"
"Todd, of course," Mother replies.
Father chuckles. "It's true. He phoned us when after the Keatings had to cancel, and suggested we surprise you. He was picking us up at the airport when he called you to claim car trouble. After all, this is a special night for you and the rest of the folks who worked on this AIDS drug. I'm proud of you, son. You've done a really wonderful thing with your life. And also..." he looks a little uncomfortable, "I want to ask your forgiveness, for not being more accepting than I was, back when we learned about your relationship."
I share a glance with Todd and smile. "Of course you're forgiven, Father! You were actually a lot more accepting than I'd expected you to be. I honestly was afraid you'd treat us like the Andersons did. I... well, I'd known for a couple of years before Todd and I got together, that I was gay, and I was terrified of anyone finding out because I didn't want to hurt you."
"Well now," Father says. I can hear in his voice that he's trying not to cry. "Now we've settled that, I think we're long overdue a visit from you two. We'd like you to come for Christmas if you can, although I know this is a bit of a late notice. If you can't make it for then, well, come up as soon as you can, please?"
Todd takes my hand with a soft smile as I nod, too choked up to speak. We'd done it. We'd both achieved our dreams, we still had each other, and now we're being accepted fully by my family as well.
That night, after my parents are settled in the guest room and Todd is in bed, I pull out my old stationery and start writing.
Oh Captain, my Captain,
You'll never believe what happened today! It was better than I ever could have imagined...
AN: Well, it's finally done! I thank everyone who's put up with my horrible lag times between updates and is still reading this, and I hope you all enjoyed my take on the boys' relationship. Carpe Diem! ~Catstaff