Rick and I continued our relationship from the ending months of 1967 into the spring of 1968.  We left “my” apartment on Maxwell Street and moved to an apartment far off-campus–”our” place.  It was the first time either of us had tried to create one life out of two, and of course, being children, and at very different places in our lives, we discovered the road was rocky.  In 1968, Rick still had two more years to enjoy the womb of university life, while I was staring at my impending “birth.”  I was scared.  There was talk of winding down the war in Viet Nam, but the draft was still hungry and I knew I would be immediate cannon fodder without my student deferment. Only 19, Rick thought he was ready to settle into a permanent relationship.  He was an artist whose mental atmospherics were starkly different from my own, neither knowing nor caring very much about the world of politics and war.  On top of that, he had chronic asthma, so he knew compulsory  military service would always be out of the question for him, his future was his alone to plan and pursue.  As time passed, my attention to our relationship diminished as my fear of impending personal doom increased; the differences in our immediate expectations of life became too great to sustain the relationship, and we parted, very badly, I fear.  (It was only many years later, when we found each other after a long silence, that we were able to understand those differences and forgive each other for them.  We were literally at cross-purposes and too young and stupid to realize it at the time.  It was healing for us both to learn that.)

In the meantime, Jim Knowles’s riveting descriptions of his life and work in Morocco convinced me that the Peace Corps, an idea I’d found intriguing since its introduction when I was 15, was worth a serious pursuit.  It would fulfill two purposes which I thought complemented each other:  Peace Corps service would allow me to serve the country in a positive and honorable way at a time when America needed friends badly, and it would be another draft deferment.  I knew it was highly selective–it could afford to be, since the draft was chasing many other young men besides me towards deferrable alternative service.  Getting into the Peace Corps, then, became two things for me:  a matter possibly of life and death, but also the achievement I would view as the pinnacle of my life thus far.  I called the Peace Corps 800 number (it’s still the same) and asked for an application.  (Recruiter?  Never saw one.)

Since I had lolled away the minutes so effectively as a college student, giving myself plenty of time to explore my precious personhood by carrying only 12 hours per semester–the minimum to retain official student status–but skating along mostly on French conversation classes and choirs academically, (that’s one way to make the Dean’s List!)  I found myself several credit hours short of graduation when that time, June, 1968, rolled around.  The classes I needed were not offered during the summer session, so I would have to return to Kentucky for one more semester in order to complete my hours, thus graduating in December of 1968.  After Rick and I broke up, I stayed in the apartment we had shared and contemplated the prospect of free-agenthood for the remainder of the year.  Jim Knowles was back in Atlanta, having completed his Peace Corps service, and I saw the opportunity to deepen that relationship with actual face-to-face conversation instead of letters, for the first time since we had met.  It was something we both  looked forward to.   The mutual admiration society we had formed years earlier was intact and I anticipated long hours of non-stop, fascinating talk.

And that was all I anticipated.  For all of the intensity we had shared in our long correspondence, the idea of a relationship with Jim Knowles that was anything but cerebral never entered my mind and he had given me no reason to believe that he felt differently.  When I finally took the plane  to Atlanta, things started out just as I had expected.  We had a great dinner and then went to the theater–comedy–the hilarious review “Beyond the Fringe.”

And then things got more complicated. We went back to Jim’s apartment and he poured a couple of nightcaps.  The conversation was as fluent as ever, until he stopped me short and said he had something important to tell me.  In an uncharacteristically halting, tentative manner, he got it out that his feelings for me went past the merely cerebral.  On top of that, he was 27 years old and I was the first man about whom he had ever felt this way.  Are you surprised?  I was, and immediately of two minds about this sudden turn in the relationship. I was immensely flattered, yes, but I had never felt what Jim and I had between us needed physical expression.  There was no way, though, that I could dismiss this otherwise articulate man’s stammering, tender admission.  This was a huge step for him, and it required honoring.  So I let it happen.  If this was what Jim needed from me, it was the least I could give, after all I had received from him.  To him it was a logical extension of our closeness and I was able to see it that way, if never very passionately.  At the same time, we both sensed that our lives would never lead us to the same geographical places for very long, so the idea of setting up house together on some permanent basis was out of the question.  We would always be free to pursue other relationships, so while this was a surprising and complicating development, the implications were limited and therefore comfortable.  Jim Knowles and I were now–what?–long-distance lovers?  Whatever you want to call it, we remained intensely involved in each others’ lives for many years to come, especially where the Peace Corps was concerned.