School was going okay for me, at least on the surface. My grades were good. As a swimmer, I was considered a jock, even though high school swimming didn’t start until the Spring. Everyone belonged to one clique or another. I didn’t have time for a social life, other than swim team. The truth was I was lonely but didn’t want to admit it. I needed a close friend to be part of the group. Nobody was outgoing. School activities were de-emphasized; no one went to formals or sports events. The school was an armed camp, with security everywhere, worried about integration. The Blacks arrived at 8 am by bus and left at 2 pm. Contact was restricted. They even had separate classes, so they could ‘catch up.’ I guess the administration thought it was enough that they came to our school, not that they should consider it their school – de facto segregation.
I had been writing Tina regularly. She sent me her magic book, ‘The Occult’ by Colin Wilson. It seemed pretty scientific and logical, as long as you believe in magic. It called magic our ‘sixth sense.’ explaining how to do all types of magical routines, like astrology, numerology, Tarot, and the paranormal. We wrote mostly about astrology since we both loved looking at the stars. It was a system describing personality differences, twelve signs that in total encompassed all human traits, an ancient psychology. My moodiness fit my Cancer sign. I would be a home body and always have money. I didn’t care for that future. Tina wrote that I shouldn’t feel imprisoned by my sign; if another seemed better, I should embrace it. Use the knowledge to understand yourself and others. This heresy fit my belief that I had to be myself. With this new point of view, astrology seemed logical and sensible. It was belief that made it work, which sounded like what the priest used to say in Catholic CCD. Suspending skepticism opened up these other senses that saw the world as other than pure cause and effect – the human factor that befuddled scientists. I guess we were pretty arrogant. Tina wanted to experience the full range of human characteristics by trying to embrace the traits of each sign as the moon waxed and waned; I wanted to understand myself better. I suggested she give each sign a year to broaden her experience at each. We enjoyed this type of communication. My hope was to visit New York at Christmas vacation, if I could get my folks to visit Aunt Helen’s in New England.
My friendship/relationship with Lydia continued to blossom. We swam with each other every morning and evening. When she tried to ride her bike with all the boys, the mud puddle jumping wasn’t her style. We went to the movies – Tom Sawyer – which wasn’t very romantic. We kept it as buddies who held hands. My sex drive had completely disappeared, after my weekend with Joey. Was I really gay and not interested in girls? Was what I had done too much. causing me to be traumatized about sex? Had I retreated back to pre-puberty, kind of like Tom Sawyer? Without raging hormones I felt relieved. I liked girls naturally and felt I shouldn’t be concerned that I seemed to like everyone. I tried putting these thoughts into my swim log in relation to individuals. I wrote about Joey and the wild experiences we had shared in contrast to the even texture of life as a jock. One rainy evening, Scott and I were waiting for our rides home. He asked to swap logs, which I felt was cool. I had been careful not to put anything about gay sex in mine. He still seemed hung up on himself. Even though I hadn’t been bothered lately by that problem myself, I could identified with it. He called me up after reading my log. He asked a bunch about the partying I had done with Joey, especially having sex with Sweet Jane. He was incredulous that I could have sex with someone I just met and not see her again.
“Don’t you want to see her?”
“Just to have sex?
“Not just that. What happened to her?”
“Joey said she’s living with a businessman.”
“At sixteen? Wow.”
“Living in the City makes you grow up fast.”
“It’s hard enough growing up slowly.”
“Maybe you’re a social retard.”
“Don’t you care about her?”
“I don’t worry about her. It was something that happened, and I wasn’t a virgin anymore. It wasn’t meant to be a relationship. In some ways, she used me as much as I used her.”
“Used your big one, you mean.”
“Glad you’ve noticed,” and he laughed. “No. She needed someone young, like she was. Sex isn’t just the goal. She needed to instantly connect. Maybe I wouldn’t do it again.”
We laughed. He wanted to talk about my crying after talking with Joey on my birthday, but when I hesitated, he quickly backed off, as he felt similar ambivalence on talking about strong feelings.
“Listen, Scott, my cousin was the first person I really missed. When I joined the team, things became normal again, but in the City and at Joey’s I was doing things I knew weren’t normal for my age. Sex and everything are great, but they leave you confused. Joey’s nineteen and knows what’s up. He was there for me when it was over. When he came to visit, we worked out our feelings, so I didn’t think and worry about them so much. The need and missing him were no longer so strong.”
“You act like you loved him.”
“Yeah, I did. I still do, but differently.”
I almost told him everything but wisely held that feeling at bay. After we hung up, I congratulated myself for keeping control of the situation. I had become a bit more mature. Scott was needier than I realized, like Stu, just not on the surface. Maybe I should give him more credit. I came close to blowing my cover. I resolved to talk with David Wilkie, at least he knew about me. It didn’t matter to him or Jill. I got on my bike and soon was knocking on their door.
“Hey, Tim. Long time no see. Have any more exploits about your crazy cousin?”
I looked at him and my eyes watered up. Oh, no.
He grabbed me and pulled me into their apartment. Jill took one look at me and opened her arms.
“What’s wrong little fish boy?”
I smiled, then related how I had been about to out myself to someone on the team.
“You mean the boy you were always fighting?” David knew.
“Yeah, but that was over him being mean to his little brother.”
“That brings back mixed feelings from when I started swimming in Aberdeen,” David smiled.
“We’re friends now and share our logs. Joey was in mine, how I cried once from talking to him on the phone. I said I loved him but it was because I was lonely. We worked it out.” It came out all in a rush.
“You cried? Isn’t the reason you fought was because you called him a cry baby?”
“That was to get him to stop calling his brother Stupid.”
“Okay, but why tell him you’re gay? That might not help your popularity on the team.”
“I didn’t but afterward I felt like I need to tell someone.”
“So that’s why you’re here, but we already knew.”
“I know but I can’t keep my feelings bottled up. You two are the only ones I can just talk to. My popularity is based on being open to everyone. Nobody knows the truth.”
David started to go on. Jill stopped him. She held me until the tears went away. I started to laugh.
“Everything at the right time, my dear,” she said. “Timing is everything. It’s hard to be closeted, but you’ll know when it’s right to tell your friends.”
I smiled. They pushed me out the door.
“Come whenever you want, but you know we’re going to laugh about this once you’ve left.”
As I went out the door, I turned around and said, “You know I’m not really gay.”
“Right,” they both said.
When Thanksgiving came, Coach announced we would work extra hard since there was no school. We might get off for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t worry since my family wasn’t the type to spend all day over a meal. Dad said we would go out to eat which seemed cool. While we waited for dessert, I asked them if we might go to Aunt Helen’s for Christmas, laying it on about missing snow and everything. Mom and Dad looked at each other.
“Listen, Timmy,” Dad started, making me wince at my old name, “there are some things we have to talk about, things that make planning to visit Helen impossible.”
“What are you saying?” I instantly thought it was some trouble with Joey.
“Your mother and I have a life that you’re too young to be aware of. There are problems you don’t know about.” Dad got right to the point. “We may separate for a while, just to sort out these problems.”
It was like a bomb that lay there for years, suddenly going off into a zillion pieces. I just sat there. Mom said nothing.
“I’m moving out next week. Nothing’s going to change in your life,” Dad rationalized.
“Like I’ve never handled changes, like growing up a military brat was stable.”
Mom spoke, “This is not your fault, Timmy. Don’t blame yourself.”
What? Blame myself for their loveless, boring lives? My head was spinning. All I felt was how mad I was they kept calling me Timmy.
“What do you want from me? What can I do?”
“We want you to go on being happy and making us proud. Nothing will change.”
No. I didn’t believe that.”
Life was much the same at first. I made all my workouts. I never spent much time with Dad before, so I didn’t really miss him after he moved out. He got an apartment in the Grove. He called during Christmas vacation. I told him about an up-coming swim meet at Dade-South, which he actually attended. I won some medals. He said he was glad he came. Something unspoken was up, but I thought he deserved his own life. Remembering their embarrassment last summer when I asked why I had no siblings, I had a clue where their problems lay. It just didn’t affect me.
My Christmas was spent at everyone else’s house. I told Stu what was happening with my folks while we were riding bikes. Naturally, he gossiped. All the team parents found out. I became a regular dinner guest at Stu and Scott’s and Lydia’s houses, much like when I was a military brat. The parents asked if I needed to talk. There was not much to say. Helen called on Christmas, asking how I was holding up. Actually, dad came through with cool gifts that year, maybe to assuage his guilt. I knew he had a girlfriend now. I didn’t need to confront it. I still hadn’t seen his new apartment. Helen told me Joey had moved out and was living in New York. He didn’t have a telephone, but she would get him to call me. Good old Helen. It seemed strange that he was living in the City after all he had said. The worries were piling up.
Winter in Miami was warm and dry, no afternoon thunderstorms or flooded streets. The ranchers burned the sugar cane in the Everglades, with the thick brown smoke drifting over the city.
Stu wanted to ride our bikes in Everglades National Park. His dad agreed to drive us, suggesting we camp overnight, as long as he came with us. We needed the car as it was about forty miles to the Park. Surprisingly, Scott wanted to come too. We packed tents, sleeping and cooking gear into their station wagon, with the bikes secured on the roof, and drove to the National Park. The Everglades is a huge area where Lake Okeechobee flows hundreds of miles to the ocean. It was fun riding on the paths and trails, not having to keep an eye out for traffic. It wasn’t that exciting until Stu spotted a baby alligator. His dad grabbed him before he could pick it up, telling us to high-tail it away because a baby is never far from its mother. Thoughts of an alligator attack got our motors running. It was all we talked about that night at camp, better than ghost stories after dinner. Stu got scared that a giant mother alligator would come into our camp and attack him in his sleep. He insisted he sleep in his dad’s tent for protection, even though we assured him alligators only attack when threatened, Stu was not convinced. That left Scott and me sleeping in the other tent. Laying on top of our sleeping bags we started talking about the team. Scott wanted to know how dating Lydia was going, meaning how romantic we were. I disappointed him because there were no juicy details, just dates where we held hands. I asked him whom he liked. He admitted he really hadn’t dated anyone.
“I’ve been writing in my log how I need to be more outgoing if I’m ever going to have a girlfriend.”
He didn’t expect me to give him girlfriend advice as I wasn’t exactly doing better than he was in that department. He asked me what I had been putting in my log.
“Mostly swim stuff. Gables High is doing well and my times.”
“That’s ‘cause we’re in different leagues, so you don’t meet real competition.” Scott went to Gulliver, a private school like Dickie attended. We traded barbs about how much better our own schools were.
Then he asked, “I’ve been trying to understand if I have any feelings for others. You showed me how much you cared about your cousin. Maybe crying isn’t so bad when it’s about someone else, not just because you’re mad you lost a race or something.”
It was the most Scott had ever said to me. “Well, when it’s about someone else and they have feelings for you back, it’s twice as strong. Most kids are just self-centered. It’s a sign we are growing up when we care for someone else more than we care about ourselves.”
“So, feelings get you out of your own head and by expressing them you get feedback about how others feel about you.”
“You’re a heavy dude, Scott.”
“Well, I think about everything but never act on it.”
“Crying’s one way to relieve the frustration, letting out the bad feelings.
“And sex is a way to let out the feelings when your girlfriend likes you back.”
“It’s not your head that gets you into sex but your body reacting to the strong feelings.”
“I thought it was from someone touching or rubbing your dick.”
“Don’t you just get horny sometimes without any physical reasons?”
“You mean, say in class?”
“Anytime, it just pops up, not because of anything or anyone.”
“It’s telling you to have sex?”
“Yeah, your body is telling you. That’s why it’s called feelings, instead of touchings.”
“So, you wanna talk to a girl. Your head says maybe she doesn’t like you. Then your body has to repress it’s need for sex, until it can no longer hold the need in, and guess what pops up?”
We laughed. I was enjoying my mentoring young Scott until he asked about Joey.
“So why were you so upset about missing your cousin? You’ve known him all your life. Why miss him that time?”
I could have just said I was lonely from the move, but I’d moved several times. Or, that I was having raging teenaged hormones, but that was dangerous. Instead I gambled that by my opening up, it might open up Scott and make us better friends.
“Listen, Scott, my cousin was the first person I ever really missed. When I joined the team, everything was normal again. Before that in New York and at Joey’s, I was doing things that I knew were not normal for my age. Sex and everything was great, but they left me confused. Joey knew what was up. He was there for me when it was over. Then he came to visit here. We worked out our feelings. I didn’t think and worry about them so much. The need and missing him were not so strong.”
That was the longest I had ever spoken to Scott.
He thought about it, then asked, “You act like you love him, too.”
“Yes, I did and I still do, but differently. Can I trust you, man?”
“Sure, Tim. I’m not like Stu.”
“The reason I got so worked up about Joey is we had sex. It was my first time, with anyone. When he came down here, it was over. Now I have my life with you guys. In the summer, I was moving. I didn’t know where I belonged. It all happened so fast. Then I was here alone. All my feelings were raw. I couldn’t handle it. I cried in the hall closet for half an hour, which helped get me through my birthday. But we both had to complete all the feelings to finish it.”
“Man, you’re telling me you’re queer?” he said real slowly.
“I did those things, Scott. That’s the way I am. You gonna bust me with everyone now?” I never should have told him.
“But you act like everybody else. Do you think I’m a fag for crying?”
“Everyone cries sometimes, Scott. I told you all this so you’d understand how crying so much helped me. Being gay is wanting your friends for sex. I’m not that way, and neither are you. I did it because I was in a situation way over my head which I couldn’t control. It wasn’t a bad thing, no matter what you think.”
He sat up and looked at me. “I can never talk to anyone like we do. Stu is always grabbing me and making me tickle him and stuff. I know I’m not in love with him. Maybe he’s queer.”
“He’s a little kid. You only worry about these things when you’re our age.”
“This is something I’ve never worried about before. I just worry about losing it when I get upset. I won’t make it if these are the things I have to handle.”
“Maybe you should just lose it when you feel that way. It can’t be as bad as what I’ve done.”
“Maybe you’re right, but that’s you. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I might break if I lost it.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Scott. If you lose control, the world won’t end. I picked up my pieces. You’ve got a solid base. Your life is set. Don’t worry about things you can’t control.”
We lay back to go to sleep, both still thinking about what was said. I wondered if I should have opened up so much, just a nagging thought. I wanted his friendship, but he was so closed down.
On Sunday, Mr. Watt cooked the greatest breakfast, eggs, bacon, pancakes, even coffee. We were so stuffed we had to ride around the Park for hours to work it off. We found the boat landing and talked about how great it would be to explore by boat. I thought Dickie would die before he’d let his boat be used in the Everglades. Too bad for him.
When it was time to leave, Mr. Watt went west on the main highway, the Tamiami Trail, and took us to an authentic Bar-B-Que in the middle of nowhere. It was famous for being run by Indians. He explained that some Seminoles still hid out in the Everglades. President Andrew Jackson had run most of them off their lands in Florida into exile in Oklahoma. He was General Jackson then, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Naturally I had to sing the song which made everyone laugh at me, except for the Indians who did not look happy with my singing.
The mood between Scott and me lightened. All was fine when they left me off at home.
Stu’s birthday was coming up. He was having a party with everyone actually coming. It was on a Monday night after practice. I was glad he had found so many friends after thinking of himself as retarded for so long. I wanted to do something special for him; he was my first team friend. I asked him to ride bikes with just me on the Sunday before his birthday. We rode over the causeway to Miami Beach. It was fun to see all the kids hanging out and enjoying their Spring Break in South Beach. After Nathan’s hot dogs, I led him to the Fontainebleau. He was apprehensive about going into the fancy hotel, but I took him confidently into the lounge. He had never heard about ‘Pong,’ let alone seen the game. He loved it. I spent another ten dollars on the game, my new addiction. He got over-excited and was squealing, yelling and jumping around. The hotel staff ignored us, thinking we were hotel guests. Riding home he talked non-stop about our day. It was the perfect birthday gift.
School went on as usual as the mild winter turned toward spring. Attempts to break out of my small swim team clique were not too successful. I wished that these kids were more like Tina and Pete, with clear flirting and socializing moves. Even making eye contact was difficult at high school. I had let my hair grow out, still bleached but more shaggy than straight. I felt like I should fit in. When I tried being friends with the bus kids from Hialeah, they treated me as a loser who couldn’t have friends with his own group. They always left at 2 pm. The Nerds didn’t know how to be friends. Lydia and I remained close. She was real possessive of me with other girls. High School swimming started in February. Hurricane team unity suffered from school rivalries. The girls were the worst. I figured it was just part of high school. Swim team kids were my only friends.
My swimming had continued to improve. I stopped distance training and returned to specializing in the breaststroke and IM. During the league meets I won most of my races, and Gables went into the City Championships a favorite to win the title. Scott went to Gulliver, the private school. They competed in a different league. The City Championships were the first time we would compete against each other. Gables Coach Mike devised a strategy that meant I would race Scott in the 500 free. Scott was the favorite, but I had an advantage; I knew how to psyche him out, getting him off his pace. I had been sprinting all spring and thought I could beat him to the wall on the last lap. For eighteen lengths of the pool I kept on his shoulder, making him force the pace. At the last turn I did a butterfly kick into the wall, coming up even with him. We raced stroke for stroke to the finish pads, both knowing how close it was. The electronic clocks showed I had won by 2/100ths of a second. Both of us had gone well under five minutes for the first time. I shot my hand into the air and reached over to congratulate him for the great race. His time qualified him for All-American consideration in the private school category. He was not a gracious loser. I could see in his face that he was losing control.
“Hey, Scott, it’s okay. Look at the times. We both dropped five seconds.”
He just ignored me. “Nobody beats me like this. You used all the times we raced in practice to beat me.”
“Come on, Scott.” I reached over to grab his arm. “It was a great race.”
“I hate you, faggot.”
I ignored the taunt. “Scott, I’m your friend and teammate. That’s more important.”
“You’re a fag. You’re gonna pay.”
He left the pool, his chest heaving and head buried in his towel. I didn’t think anything about his taunts, even if he told everybody. I wasn’t ashamed. I knew Lydia would stand up for me.
When I got home, Mom told me Stu and Scott’s mom had called her. She was visibly upset.
“She says you tried to have sex with her eleven year old son
My mouth dropped. “Mom, that’s a lie. Scott made that up because I beat him in our race today.”
“Well, they want to call the police. We have to go to their house and hash this out. Nobody would make such a serious accusation about some race.”
“You don’t know Scott. How can you take his word over mine? You don’t believe me, Mom?”
“I’ve had too many surprises this year. How can you embarrass me like this?”
“I didn’t do anything, Mom. I’m not going over there if you believe their lies.”
“I don’t know what to believe anymore.” So much for my chief defender.
We drove to Kendall in silence. Stu’s whole family looked at me in disbelief. Stu kept his mouth shut for once. Their dad asked Scott to repeat what he had told them. He recounted our conversations about the swim logs, stating I had told him I was gay. He said he kept quiet out of confusion and disbelief, but now he had to protect his little brother. He said it always bothered him why I always hung around so many younger boys. Stu jumped up and said Scott was lying. I was his friend and nothing bad had ever happened. He started to come over to me, but his mother pulled him back. It was incredibly tense. These were the same people who had fed me night after night this past winter.
Their dad asked, “Tim, have you ever had sex with other boys?”
I wouldn’t lie but knew I would end up making excuses that looked as bad as lying. I looked him straight in the eyes and rationalized that Joey was not a kid.
“Scott is mad at me because I was his friend and used it to beat him in a race today. I thought he was mature enough to respect my feelings, but he let his emotions overwhelm him. My friendship with Stu is open and honest. He wouldn’t lie to help me. He doesn’t need to lie. You may believe Scott, but he’s making it up. I’m not trying to do anything with Stu or any other boy.”
“We have to know, Tim, have you had sex with other boys?”
“I’ve never had sex with any other boy. When we all went camping I told Scott some personal things. Now that he’s mad at me, he’s distorting what I said.”
He turned to Stu, “Is what he said true? Has he ever tried to make you do things you didn’t want to do?”
The tears flowed down his cheeks. “Why are you doing this to me, Dad? Tim’s my bestest friend. He got everyone to stop calling me ‘Stupid.’ He was the first person to ever treat me like I wasn’t a pest. He’s going to hate me now. He never did anything wrong to me. Why are you ruining everything?”
His dad turned to my mom and me. “I think he’s telling the truth, Tim, but until this matter is cleared up, I think it best that you not come here anymore.”
“Don’t worry about that. You’ve made me feel lower than dirt. All I did was tried to get Scott to let his feelings out a bit. I now see what his real feelings are like. It was a big mistake.”
I knew I hadn’t spoken all the truth, but what business did they have knowing about Joey and me. I was a fool for trusting Scott. While driving home, Mom was incoherent. I knew she took Valium for her nerves, but this emotional confrontation had pushed her way over the edge.
“How could you? I was so embarrassed. What were they saying about you?”
“Mom, you’re babbling. I’m the one they tried to embarrass. You better take a pill.”
She pulled over, her head struck the steering wheel. “I took my pills. I took too many. You should drive.”
I was thunderstruck. I had never seen her out of control. I drove the station wagon, very carefully. She leaned on my arm to get in the house, as I had seen her do with Dad. This time she really needed my help. I thought about my problems with Scott and saw how little help I had around me.