Kyle is a handsome, fit teen who acknowledges his attraction to both sexes but refuses to label his sexuality. He even rejects the bi-sexual label. He also recognizes that anything that smacks of `gay' has great potential to attract scorn and ridicule from peer groups. He is therefore protective of the image he projects. Kyle is a keen sportsman; swimming and surfing among his favorite activities. He fights his battles with courage and honor, and learns much about himself (as well as his friends) in the process.
His friend Brett, on the other hand, was once a school bully and homophobe. A cruel and violent father tormented the first seven years of Brett's life, the remainder by his mother's boyfriend, the man who accedes to the role of "dungeon master".
At first meeting, Kyle and Brett are bitter enemies; a situation destined for truly remarkable change over the following few years.
One of the key players in this life-changing series of experiences is G (myself) who becomes Kyle's `soul buddy' and mentor via email. G begins by indirectly saving Kyle and his best friend Rick from a suicide attempt, then continues to assist Kyle in dealing with a series personal challenges in relation to his young friends and lovers over the next four years. Based on actuality (with names and locations changed), this tale will greatly influence the attitudes and lives of its readers just as those same events affected the original, real-life players.
Location: Byron Bay, the most easterly point of Australia, and a mecca for serious surfers. A short drive to the west is Wollumbin, an extinct volcano sacred to the local Aborigines, the Bundjalung Nation.
The author: I met Kyle on the Internet in late 1997 when he was 15. I visited his fledgling website and found it impressive. Out of my fascination for his life and those of his friends, grew my appetite for writing stories based on his adventures as well as recollections of my own. Kyle loved the stories and looked forward to a new chapter each day. He used them to relate to his own experiences. Kyle and I were a mutual admiration society and became, as he put it, Soul Buddies.
Writer, editor, San Francisco
I'm acquainted with Gary Kelly, the author, through his unique and fascinating web site, mrbstories. Over the past several years he has posted there a number of stories growing out of his extraordinary e-mail conversations with a teen-age surfer who shared with Gary the most intimate details of his life, his friendships, his angst, his doubts, his joys, his fears, his coming of age, his triumphs and his disappointments. Kyle (his name in Green Room) reveals in these conversations things about himself he could not share with his parents, his closest friends, or anyone else.
The two never met, except on the internet, and the story ends with Kyle's tragic death in an auto accident. The conversations nevertheless transformed both of them. Kyle was tempted by drugs, suicide, and self-doubt. The e-mail conversations sustained him. Gary was given a friend closer and more intimate than any whose physical presence he has known. It's a love story, a real one, and like much of life is more improbable than fiction.
There's a deal of sex in this story. It will be viewed by some as pornography. I make a distinction between pornography and art. Porn is about body parts and sexual acts isolated from any context or personal relationships. Its goal is sexual arousal. Porn takes one to a fantasy world of erotic indulgence. Art is about reality, about life, about people in all their complexity, about relationships. Sexuality is a part of real life. In recent years sexuality has been treated in literature with much greater frankness and candor than it was even a generation ago. Some pornography exists in the imagination of the reader, and such readers may find it in Green Room. I find much more depth in the story than that. This is about people -- real people, actually. This is not simplistic eroticism but extraordinary self-revelation by a truly amazing young man who, in struggling with the realities of his own life, is inspiring to others.
The intense sexuality of Kyle's life is not simplistic, not stereotypically gay or straight. Kyle loves and hates, sometimes both, his various friends, each in a different way because they're different people. At the same time he's very involved with the world around him: the sea, the mountains, the beauty and wonder of all creation, and he feels himself part of it.
Green Room is the work of an author who is gifted in writing dialogue. The characters come to life in the words they use. Because it is a true story and the characters are real, the plot twists and turns as improbably as real life. This is not neatly contrived fiction. Those who want a conventional novel with conventional drama and a conventional ending will be disappointed. But I think that is the strength of this work. Its characters are not conventional, though any of us could recognize similarities with people we know. Its situations and resolutions proceed with the drama and intensity of teen-age awareness, full of both achievements and disappointments. I think it's real. I think it has potential for a much wider audience.
Death is a Green Room, albeit one of a spiritual nature--and not as daunting as I imagined when I existed as flesh and blood.
My life affected the lives of my folks and friends in a more profound way than I could have possibly anticipated. I know that now because my celestial manifestation witnessed the memorial service held in my honor. I heard the speeches, saw the tears, sensed the hearts heavy with intense sadness and loss.
Fate snatched away my earthly presence without warning at age nineteen. After a few late-night beers with my workmates at the Gold Coast, I hitched a lift home to Byron Bay with a stranger. The car crashed at 160 kilometers per hour. A short time later, after frantic emergency surgery, I called it a day. I never regained consciousness.
A few hours beforehand, my life was a bud ready to blossom; my application to enter university to study marine biology accepted. The final countdown to a promising future. That was the most bitter of pills for my family and friends to swallow: cut off in the glorious prime of youth.
This story, however, is not about my death, it's about my life, in particular the last four years during which time I formed wonderful and inspiring relationships with new friends including "the old man far across the sea". He's the one whose fingers are busily tapping the keyboard right now. We became email buddies when I was just fifteen and he was fifty something. He called me "One Awesome Dude" (OAD) and I called him "Awesome Old Dude" (AOD). We were true soul buddies.
G, as I also referred to him, was intrigued by the stories I told about my life. Nevertheless, he was aware of his inadequacy in terms of age to relate directly to me as a teen. So, he created one, Daniel, a fictional character whose life and times, and problems, bore striking similarities to my own. Daniel became a brother; I identified with him as closely as any real person I knew. And it was Daniel, as it turned out, who saved the life of my best friend Rick, as well as my own.
From kindergarten days, Rick and I were inseparable. Together, we surfed, hiked Wollumbin, attended the same classes at school, were active members of the swim team, slept over at each other's houses and shared the most intimate of secrets.
Rick and I were 15 when his folks decided to emigrate to Canada. Although overwhelmed by impossible grief, we kept our aching hearts to ourselves and formed a suicide pact.
One night, we attached a hose to the exhaust of my friend's family car and led it inside. We sat side by side in the front seats, with Rick behind the wheel. A final check ensured all windows and doors were shut. Then, a turn of the ignition key gave life to our executioner. We embraced for the final time and sobbed our tearful good-byes, promising to meet again in the hereafter.
As the rich smell of carbon monoxide intensified, I recalled something G wrote in a story. It told of a teen who dealt successfully with the gut-wrenching misery of separation from his best mate. "Rick!" I cried. "We can't do this!"
The unexpected recollection was a godsend. We immediately aborted our suicide attempt and flung open both front doors. Only at that point did the reality and sheer gravity of the situation dawn on our young minds. Fresh air never smelled so deliciously sweet.
Several months elapsed before I trusted G enough to tell him about that event; how close Rick and I came to "offing" ourselves. I told no one else. Neither did Rick.
"... well, unless you've come close to doing something like that you'll never know just how desperately down you are at the time, and just how close you are to doing the most drastic thing ever. Hell, you just don't think! As soon as you feel like that, call a friend, your folks, anyone. You need to know there's always something to live for, and that there's always someone out there for you."
Anyway, G appreciated my confession, thankful I was still alive, and pleased to have played a major role (unknowingly at the time he wrote the story) in saving two young lives.
The new and stronger bond between G and me meant that I could tell him anything, and I did. He sure came in handy when I was miserable after Rick departed for Canada. G was my dumping ground for excess emotional baggage. Sorry to be always dumping my shit on you G. But at least I feel better! Hehehe.
Why did G spend so much time and effort helping me with my problems? That recurring question puzzled me in the early days. Meanwhile, you can figure out the answer yourself as my story progresses.
Death is a change, and it scares me shitless. I was close once, but you changed that, G; made me believe in myself. I don't agree with John Lennon's remark about like getting out of one car and into another. I haven't convinced myself about life after death. I hear all the sayings like "Life is a journey, not a destination". Once I know the destination, I'll let you know how I feel about it.
Rick and I made the most of every precious moment together during the final week leading to his departure for Canada. This totally surreal situation confounded my comprehension. My best mate gone? Half a world away? I could only imagine it as existing inside some sort of morbid vacuum.
With surfboards tucked under our arms, floral board shorts precariously clinging to narrow hips in the way surfers like to reveal their obliques, we jogged home from the beach one afternoon.
"I got a surprise for you, Kyle."
"You mean...?" I asked tentatively. "You're not leaving?"
"I wish," he lamented. "No, mate. I organized a kind of going away party. Just you and me and a couple of girls."
"Girls? What girls?"
"You don't know them." He paused to smile. "Yet."
What was this all about? Spending every possible second with Rick was all that mattered. A party with girls I didn't even know seemed absurdly inappropriate; even blasphemous.
The appointed hour arrived. We stood at the front door of a house just a few blocks from our own. I reeked of my dad's after-shave, despite blushing cheeks yet to sprout even a single whisker. I was out to impress.
Rick was generally the more impressive one, though. Contrary to our sharing the same age and similar builds, he was emotionally the more mature. He even had a girlfriend. And yes, they had "done it".
A few seconds following Rick's knock, the door creaked open revealing a dimly-lit interior and the sweet smell of incense. One of the girls invited us inside. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the low light, and then, whoa! I got the shock of my life.
Girls? Yeah, right. They were women! There I was, a naive and virginal fifteen, and they were least twenty or thereabouts. They appeared... well, not so innocent, if you get my meaning.
Following introductions, the taller woman asked if I wanted cola. Cola? Hello? Obviously, the after-shave failed to create the desired effect, or maybe it was overpowered by the incense. "Beer," I said, lowering my voice.
Our stay lasted just one hour, not a minute more. How odd, I thought. But during the walk home Rick explained an hour was all he could afford.
His comment momentarily stunned me. "Afford? You mean... you actually paid for that?"
His open hand slapped my back, then roughed up my spiky black hair. "You did it, man!" he declared enthusiastically. "You actually did it! I'm so proud of you, bro. I was kinda worried about leaving you here in Byron all alone--a virgin. How do you feel? Stoked?"
"Not sure." I stooped to collect a small stone, then bowled it over-arm at a tree. "She said I was doing it like a ferret."
Rick burst into hysterics, then stumbled around in circles, clutching his stomach.
"What's so damn funny?" I demanded, puzzled. "Anyway, I don't even know what a ferret is. Is that like a weasel or something?"
My embarrassing introduction to the world of sexual relations was nothing like I expected. For starters, a cheering audience was never a consideration. Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite the disaster to end all disasters, but it felt uncomfortably close. I wasn't sure whether Rick deserved my thanks or a firing squad. I always imagined I'd go the traditional route of eventually meeting a girl, falling in love and... well, you know. But my first time was with a common slut! A pro! She probably already had hundreds of... Jeez! It didn't bear thinking about. No way would or could I tell my folks about that experience. No way.
G's response to my revelation surprised as well as angered me. I wish it hadn't happened under those circumstances, mate. Your first time deserves to be special; something you never forget. Yeah, I'm disappointed, but not just because of what happened. It's also a sign that you're growing up. I don't think it will be long before this old fossil is of no further use as far as you're concerned.
I couldn't wait to send a message from my dad's computer, and give that dumb-ass fossil a piece of my mind. I was so mad that I sent him a bunch of my photos as well. What the hell makes you think my first time is gonna make any difference to our friendship? You want proof of how I feel about you? Okay. Here's a bunch of pics. One's a nudie. It was taken at a swim team initiation ceremony. I had to stand naked on a table and skull a beer without stopping. Would I send you pics of me if I didn't trust you as a close friend? You know how I feel about my anonymity on the `net, G. Now, write back and chill out for Christ sake.
A week later, the worst day of my life loomed like storm cloud above Gold Coast airport as my dad drove us toward the inevitable. Would I ever see Rick again? That was the question I repeatedly asked myself. Sure, I might see him sometime in years to come, but what about now? What about tomorrow? What about next week or next month? Hardly a word was uttered during the somber trip. Even my folks were unusually quiet.
The return trip was worse. I kept thinking about those final, heart-wrenching seconds before Rick vanished from view. They would haunt my memory forever. He paused at the boarding gate briefly to wave goodbye, wearing an expression of sad bewilderment. I guess we both did. Then, nothing--only a bunch of faceless strangers going about their business as though life remained fine and dandy. My throat jammed, and it took every ounce of mustered will to restrain the tears. I decided then and there that I detested airplanes and airports with a passion.
Rick wasn't an Internet person, and couldn't understand my obsession with it. He preferred the company of "real" people. I was lucky to get an email from him maybe once every two or three weeks. If it weren't for G, I don't know how I would have coped with my gloom. I ear bashed him every chance I got. It was good therapy for me, and he gladly obliged.
The experiences Rick and I shared during our years of growing up together took on a sharper clarity in his absence. The special places in Wollumbin and Nightcap National Parks we called our own. Devil's Chimney, a deep, meandering cave where childhood secrets were swapped, and where we vowed to be brothers forever. We swore we'd never tell anyone about our special places; the very same places I visited often to commune with his spirit following his departure. I knew it was there, just like the spirit of Wollumbin itself was always there, ever since the dawn of Aboriginal Dreamtime.
I also needed to occasionally remind G during my depression that I wasn't going to do anything "stupid". He understood what I meant.
A month or two after Rick's departure, I arrived home from the surf wearing a grin even a Cheshire cat couldn't match, and itching to share my new experience. Dad was making coffee in the kitchen. Roo, my chocolate-brown kelpie, climbed all over me as if I'd been away for a month.
"I made a cool new friend," I explained, while trying to calm Roo. "His name is Stuart. We arranged to surf together again tomorrow. He's a wicked surfer, dad. Totally wicked! He's blond and a year younger than me. A grommet. He was doing airs and floaters like there was no tomorrow! Awesome!"
"Slow down, son. Slow down. I haven't seen a smile on your face that wide since... Is Stuart a local?"
"Yeah. Lives not far from here. His parents are loaded, but Stuart's cool. Not stuck up or anything. Goes to a private school. You'll like him a lot."
I took my board to my room, hung it on the wall next to the Endless Summer poster, changed into fresh shorts, and returned to the kitchen. However, the joyful spring in my step soon abated.
"Your mother and I have been worried about you lately," my dad admitted solemnly as he stirred his coffee. "Seriously worried. You want to talk about your depression?"
"What's there to talk about?" I shrugged. "I miss Rick. Simple. Wouldn't you miss me if I disappeared?"
"That's different. You're my son. I love you."
"I love Rick."
Dad's face assumed an oddly curious expression. "How do you mean?"
"I'm not sure, dad. I love you, I love mom, and I love Rick. Hey, I love Roo too. Is there another word for `love' I don't know of? I can't say I like Rick, that wouldn't be altogether correct. There are lots of people I like but don't love."
My dad seemed satisfied with my answer, or at least unwilling to comment further. "Tell me about this Stuart fellow," he asked.
"He's kind of like Rick in some ways. You know, he's a great surfer, wicked bod, wets all the girls' panties..."
Oops! What an inconvenient moment for my mother to enter the kitchen. She was always doing that; appearing out of thin air at precisely the wrong time. "What did I just hear you say, son?"
"It's true, mom. Stuart's a hottie. A surfer god. All the girls go crazy. Didn't you go crazy when dad was a teen surfer?"
A diversion was called for. "There's fresh coffee in the pot, Wendy," dad said quickly. "How was work today?"
Mom sat at the table, and dropped her handbag to the floor as if it weighed a ton. "Same old, same old," she sighed. "Can you pour me a coffee, Michael? I'm pooped." Then she returned her attention to me. "And no, I didn't go crazy. I wasn't a beach groupie. I had better things to do than gawk at silly egotistical boys."
"You married him."
"He married me."
"What's the difference?"
"Your mother's a lady," dad smiled as he placed mom's coffee on the table, and then sat down. "Make no mistake, son. I had my share of groupie gawkers when I was your age. It boosted my ego, of course, but..."
"Did you do stuff? You know, birds and bees...?"
Not surprisingly, dad ignored my attempt to probe the darker side of his secret past. "Those kinds of girls are not the type you marry, Kyle."
"I'm not that type of someone." Dad glanced at my mom and gave her a sheepish grin.
"So, who is this Stuart you're talking about," mom asked. "Do I know him?"
"I met him surfing. We chatted for a while afterwards. I'd seen him around. He's a regular. But we never spoke till today. His last name is Shaffer."
"Doesn't ring a bell."
"They're rich folks. They live on the hill."
"Nob hill? I thought you didn't care for the nobs. Are you sure you want to make a friend of this boy?"
Mom was right. I didn't much care for rich folks. Their kids were often spoiled rotten, and didn't need to do neighborhood chores like I did to earn some spending cash. My folks weren't poor, but money was something not to be wasted on extravagances. "Stuart is cool," I argued. "He's not like the other nobs."
My friendship with Stuart flourished for a month or two. I still missed Rick, of course, but at least my new mate provided an enjoyable diversion. Stuart was the quintessential blond himbo, with more girls clamoring for his tanned, solidly-built bod and handsome face than I could count. Or he for that matter. It was a miracle he remembered all their names. And he was an ace surfer, one of the coolest around. At a surfer's mecca like Byron Bay, that said a lot.
To the great satisfaction of my ego, Stuart looked up to me, probably because I was older. One year is a big deal in your early teens.
One day, after surfing, we dumped our boards at my house. Mom and dad were still at work.
"Hey, Kyle! Totally cool room, man." Stuart checked my Endless Summer poster, and commented on the signature. "Is that really Kelly Slater?"
"The man himself."
After showering, Stuart followed me to the kitchen, where I made cheese and Vegemite sandwiches and poured two juices. Our conversation centered on normal teen stuff: surfing, girls, music, movies. But I sensed a lot more to Stuart than he seemed inclined to expose. Many of the regulars at the beach, mainly guys, found him shallow. I didn't agree. At least, not then.
While wrestling on my bed, I made a grab at his crotch. My motive was to overpower him. He reacted violently by using his fists. Instinctively, I did likewise. Then he stormed out of the house, shouting profanities which smoldered like hot coals in his outraged brain.
I wrote G about it.
He's not so mad at you, Captain. He's mad at himself. Guys his age get all bent out of shape if they think there's something sexual going on, even if it's totally innocent. Sounds to me like some kind of identity crisis. Give it time. I'm sure the problem will sort itself out.
So what am I supposed to do in the meantime? I wondered. Stuart ignored me at the beach every day, aggravating my downer. The companionship of my other surfing buddies eased the distress somewhat, but they weren't the same. I'd grown to like Stuart a great deal, and I missed him big time. To exacerbate matters, the whole mess was clouded by a sense of being destined to have friends continually walk out of my life. First Rick, now Stuart. Who would be next?
The resumption of school for the new year was a blessing. At least the swim team and study kept me occupied. Outside of surfing, swimming was my favorite sport. And I was bloody good at it.
After showering with the team, I noticed something attached to the side of my locker: an envelope with my name handwritten on the front, and marked "personal".
I tossed it unopened into my tog bag, fearing too much curiosity and sticky-beaking from the team guys nearby. I headed home.