The next day at morning workout, everything went as usual, except Scott wasn’t there. I was relieved. When I walked onto the deck in the afternoon, everyone stopped talking. I saw Scott, sitting in a stretching group. I thought, “Let him do the apologizing.”
I sat next to Lydia. Everyone was watching us.
“Am I the new celebrity around here?”
“I don’t think celebrity is the right word,” she mumbled.
“Are you going to take Scott’s side in this?”
“I need you to tell me something, so I don’t feel weird.”
“Look. I hurt Scott’s feelings by beating him yesterday. I used a tactic that took advantage of our training together so much last summer. But he has no right telling a bunch of lies about me. If you believe him, then I was wrong thinking we’re friends.”
“But that’s it, Tim. We’re friends, just friends. You know I like you. Why haven’t you wanted to be my boyfriend?”
Her unanswered questions were glaring me in the face.
I stood up. “Come on. I need to talk with you without everyone staring.”
We left the pool area, sitting on the grass. I took her hand which was our thing.
“I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong, Lydia. I really like you as a friend and I want you as a girlfriend. I haven’t pushed because it’s what feels right. Now tell me what’s being said.”
“Scott said you showed him your log and told him you had sex with your cousin. He was worried about Stu, so he told his mom. They confronted you last night, and you denied everything. You’re banned from their family.”
“They accused me of having sex with boys which I’ve never done. Nothing was said about my cousin, who’s twenty. Last summer we had sex when I visited in New England. It wasn’t a bad thing. I was confused and told Scott. I trusted him. Now because of a stupid race, he’s mad at me. He is getting even by telling everyone. I’m telling you everything because I trust you.”
“Oh, Tim. Do you think you’re gay?”
“It wasn’t a bad thing, just something that got out of control. You know me now. I wouldn’t start anything with you if I thought I was misleading you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? We could have talked about it.”
“We’ve never even talked about sex. You’re pretty. I know you like me. I just was letting it develop naturally. Should I have pressured you?”
“I don’t know Tim. I feel you misled me.”
“Was I supposed to introduce myself as Tim the victim of incest? I’m not like you guys. I’m the outsider. I had to make a good impression to be accepted. Everything you think about fags is bad. It wasn’t a big deal. It happened. I‘m finding out about myself. I won’t be the object of your pity.”
And I walked away, hoping she’d call me back. She didn’t.
Coach Earl called me that night. He said that no matter what happened, I had the potential to be a great swimmer. I shouldn’t quit.
“Have you ever seen me quit, Coach?”
“No, but you shouldn’t walk away.”
“I’m not the one with the problem. They have the problem. If they want to tell me it’s okay, I’ll be back.”
”It doesn’t work that way, son. Just come back tomorrow. It’ll be over.”
“Thanks, Coach. I’ve just got to figure it out. You know I hate skipping practice.”
I hung up and sat in my window sill, looking toward the Bay. The first lightning flashes I’d seen since last summer were playing across the sky, past Miami Beach and Key Biscayne. I’d been here almost a year. I still liked my friends but felt abandoned. I thought I could call Joey, but he’d just say “Fuck ‘em.” Swimming was its own reward. It wasn’t making me grow up. I had as much fun with the ten-year olds as I did with those my age, while the older ones seemed to expect me to prove myself to them. Like mini-adults they wanted me to conform to their standards and ostracized me for refusing. And what was their greatest talent, the ability to swim quickly up and down a pool?
The rain from the storm started falling, the first rain in months. I started singing, “listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, falling pitter patter pitter pat.. the only girl I care about has gone away, looking for a brand new start. I never knew I’d feel this way…along with it she broke my heart.”
GUMMOE, JOHN C.
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
What a bunch of romantic crap. The rain passed. My problems were not Lydia. I got the phone Dad had put it in my room and dialed Stu and Scott’s number. Scott answered.
I didn’t hesitate, “Is this the way you want to work it out.”
“Tim. Oh man, I didn’t expect you to call.”
“Well, I did. Get your bike. I’ll meet you at the pool.”
“It’s late and been raining.”
“It’s not going to rain. Come on, man. This is the only way to settle this.”
“You wanna fight?”
“Grow up, Scott. That won’t settle anything. See you in a half an hour.” I hung up.
I was glad to have started it, but I really didn’t have a plan. I just wanted to settle it between just the two of us.
I rode down Riviera toward Ponce. Again, as I went by the library, I heard whispering and giggling. No one was to be seen. I turned left for the University.
Scott was already there, looking tense and ready for anything.
“Have you ever ridden around at night?” I asked.
“No. It’s kinda cool.”
“Just be careful. Cars don’t see you. I usually ride on the sidewalk. Let’s go to the Grove.”
We rode without speaking, finally stopping at Peacock Park, right on the Bay. Leaving the bikes, we sat on the seawall.
“Boy, I could use a cigarette now.”
“Another bad habit from cousin Joey, just for two weeks. It calms me down. I stopped when I joined the team. I guess you think I’m pretty much a waste case.”
“Just ‘cause you smoked. No way, man. You still beat me at the meet yesterday.”
“My big mistake.”
He looked at me seriously. “Listen, Tim. I just popped my mouth off. We can be friends still.”
“We can’t change what everybody thinks about me. Today I felt it wasn’t worth being friends with you or anyone on the team. Even Lydia.”
“She was under pressure. All the girls were quizzing her about all the personal stuff between you two.”
“Great.” We were quiet for a while. Then I said, “I want to settle it between you and me.”
“You mean fight?” He really looked scared.
“No, you idiot. We’re going to race to see who’s really better. See that little key in the bay,” I pointed at a spit of sand about half a mile from shore. “We’ll race to there. Open water, no tactics, just the faster, stronger swimmer wins.”
A smile spread across his face. “Cool.”
We stripped to our Speedo’s and stood on the seawall over the Bay.
We dove in together and came up stroking. Scott tried to get an early lead, but I stayed right on his shoulder, just like two days before. Every time he tried to sprint ahead, I kept up. About halfway, he changed his pace, slowing down. I tried to pass him but he kept ahead. With fifty yards to go, I made my move, slowly moving up on him. We hit shallow water together and ran ashore. With longer legs, I easily beat him to the water’s edge.
“No fair,” he protested. “You beat me running, not swimming.”
We flopped down on the sand, laying on our backs, gasping deep breaths and laughing.
“I beat you again, asshole,” I crowed.
“It wasn’t fair. You beat me running, because of your goony legs. We’re racing back. To the wall this time.”
He jumped up pulling me with him to the water’s edge.
We both dove into the dark water. This time Scott was determined not to be denied victory. He sprinted out ahead, like a madman. With the lights ahead of us, I couldn’t get my bearings. I couldn’t keep up and my only hope was he’d burn out. I was forming the words I would say about how I let him win, when I noticed a dull noise. Looking up from the water, I saw a power boat coming right at us, a hundred yards away and closing. I yelled at Scott. He was too intent on the race and was oblivious. I knew the boat was on an intercept course. Fear for Scott gave me an adrenaline rush. I sprinted as fast as possible, not even breathing, keeping my head down, and thrashing my arms like a banshee. The motor’s dull noise increased steadily, but Scott didn’t waver. Just as it reached a fever pitch, I caught his arm and pulled him sharply back.
“Hey, that’s cheat..,” he started to say, lifting his head. I grabbed him and pulled him under water, diving down myself. I thought I felt the propeller slide over my back. We missed disaster by inches. Scott and I surfaced, looking into each other’s eyes, with both shock and thrill. We swam easily to shore and pulled ourselves up onto the seawall.
“I didn’t even know a boat was coming.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t hear it.”
“You saved my life, Tim,” he said slowly.
He grabbed me with both arms. I rolled over backwards on the grass. We wrestled for several minutes.
“Whoa-ii,” he yelled like a cowboy, the thrill overcoming him.
We finally calmed down and sat with our legs dangling over the seawall.
“That was crazy to swim out into the Bay in the dark,” I said.
“You’re crazy, Tim. I always knew it.” His grin split his face from ear to ear.
“Life’s never dull,” I admitted. “So, who’s the best swimmer? The way you were going I would never catch you.”
“This is so stupid. You saved my life! You’re the best. That’s what counts.”
I was afraid he’d hug me again, so we started hitting each other on the arms and chest. Finally, we got up and went over to our bikes.
“I’ll ride you all the way to Kendall,” I offered.
“No,” he firmly said and looked at me. “Can I spend the night at your house?”
“Sure, but what’ll your folks say.”
“I’ll tell Stu at morning workout about what happened, just not the speedboat part.”
We rode through the Grove and Gables, with Scott talking all the way, babbling and going on about nothing – just like Stu. When we got upstairs, he threw off his clothes and jumped into my bed. He was asleep instantly. I stayed up, sitting in the window, watching the flashes that still played over the Bay. I remembered sleeping with Pete and having to jerk off in order to not have sex with him. I didn’t think it was necessary now, as I was in much better control of my feelings. Scott knew I was gay, and there he was lying in my bed with only his Speedo on. Was it that he trusted me or was he offering himself to me? What did I want to do? Hell, I had saved his butt from that boat. Sex was cool, but it always confused me if I just did it, regardless of the consequences. I jumped into bed, which woke him up. He looked at me with sleepy surprise. I pushed him away. We went to sleep butt to butt.
In the morning we woke up so late we missed morning workout. We rode to the pool just in time to catch Stu. He was surprised we were together and confused about why Scott spent the night with me but didn’t say anything. It was hard for Scott to leave me, finally saying we’d see each other at practice. I was afraid he’d hug me again. I rode to school and caught up with my coach before class. I told him I didn’t want to swim the 500 at the State Championships. He agreed I’d enter the breaststroke and IM events, as well as a relay. I knew I was doing this for Scott, which seemed odd but right.
At practice, Scott almost ran to meet me. He had picked up Stu’s habit of endless chatter, which I was used to ignoring. I could see everyone’s amazement that we were friends again. The start of workout cut off the soap opera gossip. I promised to keep Lydia in the loop this time.
That night, Scott came home with me again. He kept up the endless chatter, until I wanted to shut him up. I figured he was coming out of a lifelong shell. He needed to verbalize all his feelings. We rode bikes again at night, but not to the Grove. Coral Gables was full of little parks and fountains. We just explored. We bought soft-serve ice cream cones at a little shop on 8th Street and sat eating them at the fountain at the top of Country Club Prado. Scott kept talking about his feelings while I half-listened. Then he moved closer so he could lean against my back.
“Acting a bit gay, Scott.”
He didn’t move away, but answered, “Why would that bother you?”
“You really think I’m gay, huh?”
Then he did move back, “No, I just knew you wouldn’t push me away.”
I reached over and drew him back next to me. We relaxed.
“Now you’ve got me talking about my feelings,” I smiled at him. “I just want to be myself. I need a friend more than a boyfriend at this stage.”
“What’s it like? I mean having sex?”
He was being way too seductive. Maybe he was naïve enough that he was unaware about where this conversation was going.
“I’m not that much of an expert, you know. I did it with a couple of girls as well as my cousin last summer.”
“Then you’re not gay?”
“I liked doing it with each one of them. I guess my score was girls 2 guys 1. I got hung up on my feelings about my cousin. I missed him a lot. The girls were both a one time thing.”
I paused to make sure he wanted to continue these thoughts. “I never told you how I got over Joey. He came here last fall and we did it so many times, I got sick of it. Now we’re just friends, just cousins again.
“So, you’re over being gay?”
“I just got over my feelings for Joey. I think it is more dangerous than we’re told. Free Love may not cost money, but your emotions pay the price. I don’t think being gay is as unnatural as everyone says. When I’m with you guys, sex doesn’t come up much. I enjoy the parties we have, but it seems like no one gets serious.”
“Girls like me but I’ve never felt sex was possible.”
“Being on the team keeps us from growing up too fast.”
“But, what did you do with your cousin?”
I laughed. “I never kiss and tell. You’re asking too much.”
His curiosity disturbed me, but it also awoke old feelings. At that moment, I realized I was gay. Accepting it helped me realize Scott, innocently, was making a pass at me. His feelings were a jumble; by my saving his life; by his exposing me to everyone; and. by his being able to talk about deep feelings for the first time. He needed to talk. His life was limited to being a swim jock. He was ripe for new experiences. Not being shy, I turned and looked him in the face.
“Scott, I know how we feel about each other right now. We both almost died last night, but we survived. I like having you sleep over. I even like you talking non-stop. But if you keep talking about sex, we’ll end up doing something about it that may ruin our friendship, which I really need. I’m not ready to risk it.”
Then I hugged him, not letting go until he hugged back. We looked at each other and laughed.
“Now that’s what being a fag is,” I joshed.
“You’re strange, Tim. You’re so confident. Do you want me to stay over still?”
“You can stay over any or every night.”
He hugged me.
Scott was a permanent house guest from that night on. I should’ve gotten another bed for him, but I didn’t. My mom was permanently oblivious. Scott’s mom got concerned after a couple of days that he hadn’t come home. We went to his house together. He explained to his mom and dad that he had made up the gay part of my log to get even for me beating him at the City Championships; I offered to bring the log for them to read, but luckily they believed Scott (Why!) I was no longer banned. It was agreed I’d stay over there an equal number of nights, but except for some weekends, Scott stayed with me for rest of the school year. Scott’s mom came to visit my mom, who had not been part of the parent support group for the team. She knew my mom was getting divorced and wanted to offer support. Mom seemed better with the two of us there for meals and normal family life. Everyone was happy.
The next practice we walked in together. The group stretching looked at us in amazement. The tension dropped several levels. Lydia came over and punched Scott, then me, in the chest. We all laughed. I started singing, “Lollypop, lollypop, oh, lolly, lolly, lolly, lollypop, POP, bah, dum, bum,bum, my girl Lollypop, she never ever stops, Oh, Lollypop.”
PENNIMAN, MICHAEL HOLBROOK
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, CARLIN AMERICA INC
Scott joined me, then everyone did the ‘Pop’ with their finger in their mouths. Coach Diaz looked over, which made us laugh even more. His scowl didn’t change.
“Okay, this isn’t choir practice. If you must celebrate, then I want you doing it in the water. Everybody gets behind Scott. We’re doing ‘Follow the Leader.’
This was our favorite practice beater. One person set a path around the deck, off the diving boards and platform, down a pool lane, under the lanes, all over the pool area. You had to follow the leader, but not necessarily stay in line. I got right behind Scott, who set a slow pace, as everyone behind him jostled for position, then sprinting down a lane, stretching the line out. Coach let this go on for ten minutes, yelling at everyone to not run on the deck. It was a semi-hazardous game that was usually done at the end of practice. Doing it before workout was Coach’s way of acknowledging we were back to normal. When we stopped, he gave us the toughest practice I can remember, fifty 100s on a minute 10 seconds.
The State Championship Meet was coming up. My school coach was only marginally interested in this meet, as there was no chance we could win, too many better teams from Gainesville and Jacksonville. He had already agreed to let me swim different events. Scott was discouraged about his chances in the 500. He needed to drop his time to 4:42 after already dropping ten seconds to 4:50 in the City meet against me. I set out to help his confidence. I told him he had nothing to lose in this race, as he was not a favorite. In distance races, the strategy is in the pace you set. We practiced endlessly learning how to swim at a set pace and how to quicken that pace as we got into better shape. When we had gone 4:50, we averaged 58 seconds per hundred. In order to beat 4:42, he would have to set a 56 second hundred pace with a 55 second first hundred and a 55 second last 100. I knew he’d be unable to bring home a faster last hundred. Knowing he liked to go out hard but found it hard to ‘kick’ it home, I suggested he totally throw out the pace strategy for this one race.
“Remember how you burned me on our Bay race from the key to the shore? Instead of setting a reasonable pace, go out like a mad man, bringing it home as best you can. You’re in incredible shape. I bet you’ll be able to hold them off. They’re nothing but human automatons, anyway.”
“Luckily I wasn’t able to hold you off.”
“Otherwise we were shark bait. You gotta believe you can pull this off.”
Thinking about the Bay swim gave me an idea for some additional race strategy.
“Since you’re my new coach, will you count laps for me?” For distance races, a counter sits at the end of your lane, holding numbered cards underwater to show the swimmer what lap they are on.
“Sure, let’s have a signal at every fifty. If you’re 28 seconds for that fifty, I’ll hold the card steady, behind 28 I’ll move it sideways, and ahead of 28, up and down.
It was a good idea, slightly cheating, but not prohibited.
The State meet was at the Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale. I swam my prelims, making the breaststroke finals. Scott was seeded by time in the night finals. He was in the outside lane, with six swimmers seeded ahead of him. We sensed an advantage being on the outside as the other swimmers wouldn’t take his rabbit start seriously. He could build a lead without being pushed. My job was to convince him he had the heart to bring it home. My races went fine, but I was more into Scott’s race. I didn’t do my best times. I watched him concentrating on the lower seeded heats where the rabbits couldn’t finish strongly. I felt his doubts.
“I’m gonna die on the last laps.”
“Not unless some fishing boat comes along.”
“Seriously, Tim, I think this is a bad idea.”
“But you haven’t a chance if you swim your regular race.”
“But Coach Cavanagh is counting on me for the points. What if I die and don’t do my time?”
“Stop. This is about a chance to be better than you are. Grab it.”
“All I can think about is how badly I’m going to die.”
I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Stop the negative thoughts. Visualize how you’ll feel to be way ahead of those crackers and rednecks.”
Laughing, I gave him a quick shoulder massage.
I unleashed my secret strategy. “When you hit the wall at nineteen laps, remember that boat, except now it’s me ahead that you have to save. Forget your pain, just let your adrenaline do it.”
I squeezed his shoulders, and then we took our places. Scott was in lane one, me at the end of the pool with his lap cards.
At the start, lane three false-started, a sign of inexperience in distance races. Scott smiled and waved at me from the block, making me grin back. At the gun, he took off like a shot. His fifty time was 23 and he had a two body length lead. He was 50 plus at the first hundred, which was his regular sprint time, and he was way ahead. The next hundred was 54, for a 1:44, his best 200 time ever. He was so far ahead that everyone in the Miami section of the stands started yelling and cheering. Coach Diaz ran over to me, as I kept moving his cards vigorously. “What’s he doing? He’ll die.”
“It’s a strategy, Coach. He’s going to win.”
The noise had confused the other swimmers battling for second place. They didn’t know where Scott was. His arms were turning over at twice their regular rate. Then he went 28 and 29 seconds for a 57 third hundred. I moved the cards slowly side to side. The next hundred was 1:00 and I moved the cards sideways like crazy. I could see the desperation in his eyes with five laps to go. His next to last fifty was 30 seconds, and I started to give up. The other swimmers had closed the gap. Their better pacing would mean Scott would lose. I almost hit him with the cards. Just as he turned, I yelled “Boat!” as loudly as I could. He dug his arms in and his rate of turnover increased. The other swimmers had almost caught him, but for the first time in his life, Scott ‘kicked in’ the last lap. He won by over a body length; his time was under 4:39, an automatic All-American. I ran to the other end screaming and jumped into the water on top of him.
Between gasps and gulps, he yelled, “I did it, Tim. I saved you. All I could see was that boat and you ahead of me. I caught you.”
He had me by the neck. Lydia jumped in with her sweats on. Four or five others were in the lane. Then in came Stu in his street clothes. Everyone was hugging Scott. The meet officials had to order us out of the water, so Scott could get his medal on the victory stand. When his name was announced, we all yelled and jumped up with him on the victory stand.
It was the lead photo in the Miami Herald Sports section, needing an arrow to point out which one of us was Scott.
Coach grabbed me after the celebration. “That was your idea, wasn’t it?”
“I just told Scott he could do it. He was ready to give up before even racing them.”
“That pace is not the way to swim distance events. Now I’m going to really crack down on you distance swimmers. And, how come you weren’t in that race? You got a lot to learn about the IM before you’ll be any good.”
I evaded the truth, “The high school coach did the entries.”
“I know better, Tim. Just remember, you’ve got a lot of years of swimming before you become a coach.”
“I’m glad, Coach,” giving him my biggest grin. “I’ll savor this victory for a while.”
Scott’s dad came up to me, talking idiotically about how wrong he had been to banish me from their house. Scott’s victory really shook him up. I told him to enjoy it with Scott. We all went out for hamburgers. I was nervous that Scott couldn’t keep his hands off of me, so I hooked my leg on his under the table. Lydia sat with us, so I ended up with an arm around her and a leg around him. When dropping me at my house, Scott just came with me. His mom said he should come home. Then Stu wanted to stay, too. They finally let only Scott stay.
“It’s like we’re brothers now,” I said.
“Yeah, but I don’t have to live at home.”
That night Scott wrapped his legs around me after we got into bed. At first I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and sat in the window. No lightning, but a breeze cooled the warm night. Scott’s success made me feel complete. We were so much better as a team than as competitors. He laid in bed with no sheet covering him, in his orange Speedo. He was now the hero. Everything was simple for him. I wondered if everyone would have been as excited if I had won, but that was dead-end thinking. He lay there, so young, no hint of a beard, flushed cheeks, curly brown hair. He was almost my height, weighing 130 or so, long legs, chiseled stomach and shoulders, but not muscular. He had the classic swimmer’s body. And he loved me, not a doubt of that in my mind. I made him win that race. The control I had over him was more important than the victory. Did wanting to protect his innocence mean I really loved him back. If I made him my butt-lust plaything, it would shatter my delusion that I was still a kid wanting to enjoy the moment. Sex had become a dark cloud for me. It wasn’t fair. I was fifteen and felt old. Feeling like Joey made me regret for the first time what we had done. I sighed when I thought of him. He was the older one and shouldered the responsibilities I felt for Scott. I laughed and whistled a nameless tune. A far away whistle came back to me. I whistled sharply and again a different echo came back. After several times, I realized Scott was up, standing beside me.
“What’s up?” he asked, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“I was sitting here whistling and someone whistled back. I whistled again but this time there was no echo. I wondered if it was my siren song.
“How come you can’t sleep?” he asked.
“You know, sitting here in my window, thinking about life, love, death, all the normal teen issues.”
“You’re so heavy, Tim.”
“Yeah. I wish I was more normal sometimes.”
“There’s nothing wrong with thinking.”
“Yeah, but it’s more fun to wrestle,” as I grabbed him, taking him to the floor. I got on top and found out he was hyper-ticklish.
“Stop. Stop,” he gasped.
“Can’t take it, huh. Set a new state record, become an automatic All-American, moved out from your family, take over my bed, but he can’t be tickled.”
I kept going until he finally threw me off and jumped into bed.
“You can’t attack me here,” he declared, as I circled the bed, darting at him, then finally jumping in with him. He was right. The bed was our safe zone. As I lay back, he slid next to me, putting his feet underneath my soles. He kept shuddering from the tickling.
“Good night, Tim.”
“Good night, butt-head.”