The next morning, I drag myself through practice. Mornings are no longer long course, which means I no longer swim with David. Now I’m swimming with the ‘A’ team. Coach Earl says I’m ready to move up. I’m not ready this morning. I suffer the physical abuse, only throwing up once. I still finish the session. Coach Diaz doesn’t really run the workout. He supervises the college swimmers, who ride us all practice. They have a lot to learn about coaching. I learn a lot about pain. At the end, Wilkie comes over to laugh at me. I’d snap at him but have no snap left.
“Thanks for covering for me about the partying. Coach doesn’t really have rules for me. I just have to perform.”
“You seem to do that well, unlike me today.”
“Now I understand why you worried about your cousin’s visit. He’s bloody radical.”
“I think I’ll retire from the party scene.”
“Jill thinks you’re cute. We won’t reveal you’re gay. I trust that evens the score.”
I’m not surprised he knows. I would deny the stereotype, but David still likes me regardless. It is just another burden on a tough day. I make it to school. They send me home for sleeping in English class. I sleep away the day, then make it to evening practice. I’m officially on the ‘A” team. Stu’s brother tells me to swim with him in the ‘killer’ lane. It means you’re supposed to swim over anyone in your way, not around them. Coach Eli has us doing repeat 100s on 1 minute 10 seconds. I finish each one hundred on 1:09, just enough time for an extra breath. Everyone has already swum over me, so I’m last in the lane. I finish the set, but Coach moves me into the next lane, which is all girls. Lydia asks me about Alaska, my infamous calling card. All I can do is babble. They all laugh. I get several hugs, which instantly gets the full attention of the all-guy killer-lane. The next day, half the killers want to be in my lane, but Coach Sean just ignores them. By Tuesday I’m pretty much recovered from the weekend, Soon I’m fast enough to be in a guy lane, just not the killer one. At least I’m not the slowest.
All my swimming behind Wilkie helps my breaststroke. In my first meet, I make the “AA” standard in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:03 for 100 yards. My 200 time was 2:15. I’ve put on another 10 pounds to 150. I’m friendly to everyone, but my only real friends are Stu and the other younger kids who all ride bikes around South Dade with us, ages 10 to 14. Stu’s brother Scott continues to be an asshole to him. One day after practice, he yells at him, “Hey, Stupid. Get over here.”
I tell him, “Stop it.”
He looks at me sideways, “What’s it to you?”
“He’s not stupid.”
“He’s my brother, so bug out.”
“I didn’t say anything at your house that time, but when we’re here you’re going to stop it.”
“Why will I do that?”
“’Cause you give him a complex. He thinks he’s retarded. He’s your brother. You should care.”
Scott gets in my face. “Mind your own business.”
“Stu’s my friend. That makes it my business.”
He takes a swing at me, which I easily duck. Swimmers are generally lame fighters. Before I can retaliate, Coach Diaz grabs us both by the neck. He is burly and has us by 70 pounds.
“Stop this right now. I don’t care who’s to blame. You fight. You’re out.”
No arguing there. We both step back.
Scott yells, “Stupid, get over here now.”
Coach slaps him hard on the back of his head. “You get over that name calling now.”
Scott is crushed. Stu is standing there and pushes him toward the exit, then gives me a quick smile before leaving. Coach Earl observed it all but just looks concerned. Scott is one of the best swimmers on the team. I’m new. Coach knows I’m right to stand up for Stu, even if it is to his brother. I just feel Scott is one of those assholes who thinks he is so good he can get away with anything. I hope that’s the end of it. Stu will tell me later. Scott better not take out his anger on him.
The next meet is a good one for me as I continue to be the team’s best breaststroker. I finally get a chance to check with Stu about any improvement from Scott. He is sitting with his family. As he walks toward me, I can see something was going on between Scott and his mother.
“What up, Stu?”
“Hey, your time was even better today.”
“How about you? What did you swim?”
“Coach made me swim the 500. I have trouble counting the laps and stopped 50 yards short.”
“Your time must’ve been good then.”
“Yeah, until they made me do the other 50. It sucks.”
“How come nobody counts laps for you?”
“I hate that race. I never ask anyone.”
“Next time get me. I’ll do it.”
“I hope there’s never a next time.”
“Maybe not if you stop in the middle of the race.”
“I thought I was done.”
“You hoped you were done.”
“Yeah,” as he looks at the floor but then gives me a devilish smile.
“I knew it. Hey, is Scott being cool about the Stupid name?”
“Not really. It’s just a habit. I don’t care.” Again he looks down.
“What’s going on with him and your mom?” I nod toward Scott.
“Oh, he missed his goal in his 500, which always makes him upset.”
“Why’s your mom holding him so tight.”
“When he loses, he always cries. He says he cares too much.”
“He’s crying? Every time he loses?”
“He doesn’t lose much.”
“Sure, but what about over other things?”
“I don’t know. Swimming’s all he cares about.”
“Listen, next time he calls you Stupid, call him CB. Okay?”
Yeah, Cry Baby. Get it? CB.”
“Okay but what if he kills me.”
“Just don’t tell him what it means.”
Stu looks quizzical. He really trusts me, so he agrees.
When Stu tells me he is now calling Scott CB, I tell all the girls in their lane to start doing it. After practice, Scott marches over to me, “I know you started this CB business. What’s your point?”
“I told you to stop calling your brother Stupid, but you didn’t.”
“So your plan is to give me some lame letter nickname, like BJ?”
I can’t believe he just called himself Blow Job. Maybe letter names are more common in Florida.
“No, man, Cry Baby, CB means Cry Baby. You cry a lot.
He turns as white as his bleached blond hair, like an albino. Some of the girls have been listening. As he whips around, they say, “Hi, CB.” Girls are so mean and so right on.
Catching me off-guard, he throws me to the pool deck and starts whaling on me. I just cover my head. Soon Coach Diaz is pulling us apart.
“I told you two no fighting. What’s this about?”
“He called me a Cry Baby.”
“No. Everyone else is calling you Cry Baby because you won’t stop calling your brother Stupid.” I retort.
“I don’t care what the reason is. For the next week, you two will swim in the same lane, doing distance workouts. No questions asked.”
We look hatefully at each other but nod to Coach.
“And if I hear anyone here being called stupid that’ll be your last stupid mistake,” as he walks away.
Scott glares at me, then realizes everyone is glaring at him. I know we have won.
Coach’s punishment was either stupid itself, as distance is Scott specialty, or inspired, because I did all that distance work with Wilkie in the summer.
For a week, then extended for several more, we go at each other in the lane doing repeat 500s and 1650s. I won’t give him an inch. If I stay with him until the last 50, I can always out-sprint him to the end. I swear he almost cries the first time I beat him. Problem is I can’t stay with him on every repeat. He wins most races. He learns to go out so fast that I never can catch him. Coach Diaz has a subtle smile every time I catch him watching us. Scott never talks to me. I’m too winded to care. I respect that he puts everything into our competition. Also, I remember it was only a few months ago that I cried for thirty minutes after my call to Joey. I even cry during sex. I know I have to grow up. Scott needs this punishment so he can grow up too.
Coach tells us all to keep a personal log, detailing our workouts, the distances, repeats, and times, and how we feel. I’m not sure I’m writing the right stuff and ask Scott what he writes. He shows his log to me. It surprises me to see all the personal thoughts and feelings he writes, about his friends, family, the team, even, me.
“Do you want me to read all this?”
“It’s okay. Do you think I say too much?”
“Well, I can tell your Stu’s brother,” I joke. “There’s nothing you don’t talk about here.”
I read that he never thought good things about Stu until he saw how well I got along with his little brother. He is writing about love and how hard it is to say those things.
“You don’t let your feelings out much, do you?” I note.
“When I do it’s too much. Everyone kids me because I cry at meets sometimes. I can’t help it. It hurts so much when I lose.”
“Maybe if you loosen up your feelings, you won’t get so overwhelmed. You must be real tense before a big race.”
“That’s why I do distance. It’s just you against the clock. If you get too caught up in racing someone, it can knock you off your pace.”
“I feel pretty lonely doing distance repeats. All I think about is what lap I’m on.”
He looks at me with deep blue eyes. “I think about everything, Tim. Sometimes I’m not even aware I’m swimming. I worry, school, girls, college, my folks. I just get overwhelmed.”
“These logs are good, but you’ve got to talk with someone. Can you talk with Coach Diaz?”
“No way. He only talks at you. I can’t get personal. You’re the first person I’ve ever said any of this to.”
“I know you talk to your mom.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot about her. She’s always there for me.”
“Don’t be afraid to talk. I see girls checking you out, but you don’t seem to notice. Take the time to get close to one.”
“How come you don’t have a girlfriend?” he asks.
“I do, just that she’s in New York.”
“I don’t think I would like that.”
“It’s what it is. You should make some moves.”
Scott is a dreamy guy, with short dark hair and bleached tips, blue eyes, and a cute face. Anyone this good-looking should have no problem with girls. But he’s a mama’s boy and shy. He needs to be his own person first.
“You know why I ride my bike around with your brother?”
“That is a major mystery,” we laugh.
“Sure, but your brother was my first friend here. He makes me feel welcome. Sure, he’s a pest but I just like him. It’s simple and requires no thought. I used to think too much myself, wanting to be liked, to do the right thing. It just hung me up. I missed my cousin so much after moving here, I cried after calling him on my birthday. Last time we were together, it was great, but I have stopped being hung up on him.”
“Sure, man. You have to sometimes. It helps to get the feelings out. You only cry when you lose a race?”
“The last few years. When I was Stu’s age, I cried a lot. Maybe that’s why I’m jealous he can talk so easily. I never talked to anyone then. I was so shy.”
“Well, he had a speaking problem until therapy. Maybe they can fix your shyness.”
We laugh. I’m starting to analyze things again. Now that my emotions are in check, I’m more comfortable. Perhaps life is too boring without deep feelings. We both agree to share our logs again (just like girls!). In the water, he almost always beats me, on every repeat. I try staying up with him and am happy my times are improving. I can ‘psyche’ him out; all I need do is vary the pace. He gets rattled and is unable to get back on the proper pace. He gets so mad at me. Long distance swimming is all about pace. I feel we’re getting to be friends. With Scott you can’t tell. He stays pretty closed off. It bugs him that Stu and I are so close. One night after practice, in front of everyone, one of the older ‘A’ swimmers calls Stu Stupid. I tell him to cut it out. He tells me to stay out of his business. Scott backs me up. Stu looks at Scott with big, appreciative eyes. Hey, I am the one who stuck up for him. That is the end of ‘Stupid.’
Halloween is always my favorite holiday. This year it comes in the middle of the week. Stu and his friends look forward to the team costume party, with trick or treating afterward. He makes me promise to attend and be part of their group. I ask Scott and the other high school swimmers if they will go. I’m met with total disdain. Then Lydia says she’ll go if I’ll be her date, so she doesn’t feel ‘out-of-place.’ This signals general approval. The girls all say they’ll go if the high school boys go, too. The parents are amazed that the older kids are coming. Arrangements are made to have more mature entertainment. Lydia is blonde and lanky, blue-eyed with a dark tan. She’s one of the distance swimmers, so we’re on a casual, buddy basis. Now that I know she ‘likes’ me, I’m expected to respond. Since she made the first move, I’m spared the anxiety of rejection. It’s another way of fitting in. Romance is an adventure. In other words, the more I think about it, the more I get worked up.
We meet at her house a couple of hours before the party to work on our costumes. We dress up as Raggedy Ann and Andy. She sews patches on a couple of pairs of her brother’s jeans. We sit around in her room in nothing but our Speedo’s, putting on makeup, rouge and eyeliner. Her sixteen-year-old brother drives us, complaining all the way about getting roped into this ‘kids’ party. By the time it really gets going, it’s the kiddie games that are the hit. We are not into the Barry White records one parent brought – too slow! Everyone is in costume and vamping it up. Lydia and I check out the other records, a pile of ‘50s singles.
“Mrs. Haines, you must’ve been a real rocker back then. These records are cool.”
They are all the hits we hear on oldies radio. The first song we play is “The Monster Mash,’
since it’s Halloween, with everyone doing their version of the Mashed Potato.
Then ‘Sus and his brothers get up and lipsych to ‘La Bamba.’
Everyone breaks up. Three of the girls do a Supremes’ imitation with the hand motions and jumping in unison to “Stop in the Name of Love.’
I get up and lipsych to Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid,” drawing back a bow and aiming an imaginary arrow at Lydia.
Then everyone gets up and does ‘The Stroll.’
When the party starts to break up, Stu pressures us to go trick or treating with his friends. Lydia wants to pass, but I convince her to come. It’s so funny when we go to a door. The mom looks at us and says, “My, but what big boys and girls you are?”
Our answer , “All the more treats for big tricksters,” and grab extra candy.
All Stu’s buddies are speechless about being part of my Halloween ‘date.’ As Raggedy Ann and Andy, we hold hands and run up to ring the door bells, ahead of the youngsters. Lydia lets me know that holding hands is enough, shrugging off my arm on her shoulders. as we’re driving between neighborhoods in Stu’s mom’s station wagon. Mrs. Watt drops us off at Lydia’s house about nine-thirty.
“You always are such fun,” Lydia comments.
“Yeah. I’m a big kid. You enjoy tonight?”
“Everybody enjoys you, Tim. All the girls think you’re a cut-up.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I’m just checking you out. You’re pretty okay, upfront and personal.”
“If you only knew.”
“Knew what? There’s this mystery about you. No one else gets Wilkie to be friendly. He seems so old. Your friends are older and younger.”
“They’re all friends to me. Coach stuck me in David’s lane last summer. It’s no big deal. I met his girlfriend, Jill.”
“Really. Is she cool?”
“The best. She lives in the Grove.”
“Is she a hippie?”
“Maybe. They live together.”
“How did you find this out?”
“We went to the movies and a couple of parties one weekend.”
“And, who’s we?”
“My cousin Joey and me. He’s their age. He flew down here for a weekend.”
“Wow. It seems so, umm, hip.”
“Yeah, it was hip, kind of a New York thing.”
“You’re from New York?”
“No. I’ve just been there. The people are cool, if you don’t let them get to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Whadda ya mean? Whadda ya mean?” and we laugh.
“You’re strange, Tim Castle,” and she kisses me on the cheek.
Her brother drives me to my house. He says that everyone, meaning the high schoolers, went to the University snack bar and hung out. Not much action there, just a taste of college life. I felt I had made the right decision to go trick or treating with the kids, especially since Lydia came too. Next day, Stu bugs me until I admit she kissed me; it makes his day. Of course, he tells everyone. Kissing and telling is okay in this case; when it gets back to Lydia, my bragging shows I care. It’s all so innocent.