Spring break was a contradiction. Break? Apart from surfing with my buds, chores around the neighborhood took up much of the time. Then the guys on the swim team were asked to volunteer to clean the school pool, change-rooms and gym. Graham, despite being in junior school, offered to help. It was the first time he and Brett spent more than a few minutes together, and I was pleased to see them getting along well--considering the grommet's incessant teasing and practical joking and Brett's vigorous and regular attempts to drown him.
One night about midnight, my dad woke me. "There's something I want you to see."
I staggered sleepily to the backyard wondering what the hell my dad was on about when I saw a magnificent apparition. I immediately hopped the fence and knocked on Graham's bedroom window. "Graham! Wake up! There's something you gotta see!"
The kid was half asleep and mumbling something or other as he followed me in his PJs to my backyard. "A flower?"
It wasn't just any flower. It was G's flower. Some months ago my mom and I shopped at the Mall when I saw a potted cactus. It reminded me of G; tough, determined, resilient, able to handle anything that came his way. I asked my mom if she would buy it for me.
That night, my dad decided to enjoy a glass of wine in the backyard before going to bed, and that's when he spotted the cactus beginning to bloom. According to my dad, this particular species of cactus flowered only at night, and only once a year.
As the petals slowly unraveled, it revealed the bluest blue I ever saw. It was truly spectacular. Eventually, it became as big as my fist. I couldn't wait to email G and tell him. I named it after you, G, and painted a big `G' on the side of the pot. Both the rose and cactus have thorns, but also beautiful flowers. The rose needs friends--other roses--but the cactus? He's a loner, kinda like a rebellious teen who does his own thing, and produces a single flower. It's an event and makes a statement. That's why it reminds me of you. The fossil was totally chuffed.
After spring break, swim training resumed in earnest. Brett excelled in most of the strokes but not the butterfly. That was my specialty.
Normally, Brett waited until all the guys had showered before he entered the change rooms. "Haven't you showered already?" he asked.
"So why are you showering again?"
"It's hot, and my armpits are smelly."
"So I noticed," he laughed. "And you creamed me in the heats for the butterfly, asshole."
"You beat me in the freestyle, though. Hey, can I ask you something personal?"
"Again? Depends on how personal."
"It's just that I noticed you wait for the guys to leave before you shower."
"I don't like guys gawking at me."
"Does that mean you're shy?"
"Fair dinkum, Brett, you got nothing to be shy about. You got a killer bod with a good dick and good hangers."
"Graham told me you think I'm some kinda god or whatever. But he neglected to mention your interest in my dick or hangers."
"All I'm saying is that you look better than most of the dudes on the team, and you look so damn strong."
"Maybe that's the problem."
"You mean they stare at you `cause you're better looking?"
"But it's more than that, right?"
"What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?"
"I've noticed how you wrap a towel around your waist when you finish showering. The other guys just hang their towels on the locker door."
"And when you're wearing Speedos you tuck your dick under so nobody can see its size or anything. There's just a bulge that looks like you stuck a sock down there."
"What are you? My manager or something?"
"I just notice things."
"It's the things you notice that worry me, mate."
"Listen up, Kyle. You're you and I'm me. You parade yourself around... sorry, I didn't mean that. It's just that you don't seem to have any hangups. But not everybody's like you. Okay? Haven't you heard of modesty? Sorry, I didn't mean that either. It's just that I don't like being stared at."
"Well, that's too bad `cause you're the kinda guy that a lotta people can't help staring at."
Brett surprised me that evening by calling at my house unannounced. I was so pleased to see him at the front door I had to wish away my impulse to hug him. "Hey, bro," I gushed, "this is neat you coming around."
"I had to get out of there. That cunt is driving me up the fucking wall."
"Your mom's boyfriend?"
"He's a prick, and my mom's always taking his side when we argue. That sucks!"
I invited him inside where he spent a while chatting with my dad. In no time Brett's sour mood had abated and he was enjoying a few laughs. Later, Brett and I chilled in my room, listening to a few tapes of CDs Stuart loaned me. "You and my dad get along really well," I said as I changed tapes. "He really likes you."
"And you know something else? When you laugh you must be one of the most handsome dudes on the planet."
"Are you hitting on me, Kyle?"
"I'm just telling you something I thought you ought to know."
"Hey, I appreciate it. Okay? But there's a lot you don't understand about me, so drop it."
"I like what I do understand. So does my dad."
"Just drop it."
At swim training next day, a couple of juniors goofing off snuck up behind Frank, Maurice and Brett and pulled their Speedos down. In 100 degree heat, Brett snapped. He spun around and fisted the kid's face. Before any further damage was done, I intervened. "Quit it, man," I demanded. "It was just a joke. They're only kids. Did you have to over-react like that?"
"If it was you who did that to me in front of everyone, I would've fucked you up too."
"You went way over the top, Brett."
"Hey," he snarled, pushing me away, "whose side are you on anyway?"
"I'm your friend. I'm allowed to tell you when you're getting out of hand. Remember?"
Everyone ignored Brett for the rest of the swim session except me. The little guy's swollen lip, punctured by his teeth, was stitched by a medic. When Brett spoke again, he said: "Why aren't you giving me the silent treatment like the rest of the team?"
"'Cause I like your bod," I grinned.
"Don't make me laugh, Kyle. I'm not in the mood."
"Listen up. Everyone thinks you over-reacted this morning. But they'll get over it. It was just a joke. The juniors always get up to shit like that, especially at the start of the season."
"Maybe it's just me--Weirdo Bretto--the mutant from Hell."
"Maybe you should lighten up a bit, smile more. Remember what I said about your smile last night? A lotta guys are shit scared of you `cause you always look like you're mad at something." Brett couldn't resist giving me a smile. "There you go!" I cried joyfully. "Hold that pose!"
"My face hurts."
"'Cause it's out of damn practice!"
"Aren't you worried guys won't talk to you `cause you hang with me?"
"You've got a serious complex, bro. A lotta guys would hang with you if you gave them half a chance. Maybe you should start by telling that little dude you didn't mean to hit him so hard."
"He's lucky you stopped me."
"I'm lucky you didn't belt me when I did."
One October morning at school we were told that a sexologist would give a talk in the auditorium before first recess. It reminded me of the old joke about a father telling his son it was time for a chat about the birds and the bees. "Okay, dad, what do you want to know?"
"Good morning, boys. My name is Henry Fotheringham. I'm a professor and sexologist. I'm married with three children; two boys, one of whom is in the same grade as yourselves, but attending another school, and he's as hunky as they come."
What? A murmur rippled through the assembled students, wondering what the hell this dude was on about. Hunky?
"My elder son attends university, and my daughter is married and living overseas. There's something else I think you should know about me before I go any further. I'm a born-again Christian."
Mine were not the only pair of eyeballs to roll around in their sockets. Here we were about to be earbashed by a Bible freak. The bloke continued to talk about sex outside of marriage and how it went against acceptable Christian standards. Was this guy for real? There wasn't a kid in that hall who hadn't bonked a girl, or at least jacked off thinking about it. He carried on, referring to sex between teens and what was required for two people to engage in sex.
"The main requisite is that you love each other. It's not just a sex act to get your cocks wet. Your cock is not just a dip-stick to measure the depth of a girl's sex organ."
Suddenly, at the mention of "cock", the assemblage sat up and took notice. This guy spoke our language. Then he spoke about the use of condoms and venereal disease.
"Okay, now let me ask you a question: Who amongst you has a best friend at school?" Almost all the guys raised their hands. "Oh," he said, scanning the room, "so we have a school full of homosexuals here?"
You could hear a pin drop. Nobody knew where to look. We were all stunned.
The professor smiled and asked: "How many boys here hate gays?" He waited for a response but the crowd remained silent. "Okay, that's cool but I don't believe you. At least, not all of you. My guess is that most of you hate homosexuals. I figure all of you have heard the word "homophobia". He waited until we all nodded. "But what about this word--"homophilia"? Is anyone here familiar with that word?" We shook our heads. "Okay, let me explain. Any guy who hasn't loved another guy, or is in love with another guy, must be a very strange and unique person."
Once again, you could hear a pin drop. No one dared look sideways. All eyes focused on the professor.
"Let me explain. It's very common as well as normal for best friends to want to be together as often as possible. Best friends hug each other. Best friends sleep over at each other's houses, often in the same bed. Best friends phone each other because one misses the other's company. In all of those cases, what we call "friendship" is actually a very deep, romantic love. Yes, you heard me right. It's a very deep, romantic love that best friends feel for each other. But!" He paused a moment to study our faces. "There's nothing sexual about it. It's called homophilia and it's quite different to homosexuality."
The prof's speech knocked everyone's socks off. For me, he took all the pieces of the puzzle that never made sense and assembled them in a logical and credible order.
"Often we see two boys who always hang out, to use your generation's expression. And because of what we've been told or led to believe we conclude they must be gay. That's a huge problem among teens because they often associate homophilia with homosexuality. In some cases, a boy who has a deep, romantic love for another boy can become confused about his sexuality. He may consider himself gay because of the pressure brought about by his peers, when, in fact, he's not gay at all."
The sigh of relief amongst the audience was not audible, but you could sense it.
"When I was in varsity, I was madly in love with a male professor. We would hang out at every opportunity. We loved each other's company and we even got down to some hugging and massaging. But we weren't gay. Our relationship never became sexual. All we wanted was to be close to each other. At the time, I had many girlfriends, one of whom eventually became my wife."
"So, basically, what I'm saying is this: It's perfectly okay to be close to another guy. It's perfectly okay to love another guy. When God told us to love our neighbor, he didn't specify which sex." The audience cracked up. "And it's important to remember this: if you love another boy as a best friend, you're quite normal. Not only that, you're quite lucky. And so is he."
At second recess, Brett demanded to know where I disappeared to. "I was in the comp room writing some stuff."
"An email to that cactus dude or fossil or whatever the hell you call him?"
"Yeah. I wanted to tell him about the prof while it was still fresh in my mind."
"Well, you pissed me off big time. I searched everywhere for you. I wanted to talk to you about what the prof said. What did you think of it?"
"I thought it was pretty cool."
"Yeah, but I mean like what he said... You know... about how guys can be in love with guys and not be gay."
"First time I ever heard anyone say that, but it kinda makes sense."
"If you heard a guy was in love with another guy, what would you have thought?"
"That he's gay, I guess."
"I'm confused," I answered. "I guess after what the prof said, then no--not if they're not having sex."
"I used to think the same thing; if a guy loved another guy then he must be gay."
"So if I tell you that I love you, would you think I'm gay?"
"Only if your cock was jammed up my butt at the time," Brett laughed.
"So that dude's talk really got to you, huh?"
"You got no idea how much it got to me."
"Just the things he explained."
"Really hassled you, huh?"
"No! That's the thing! Just the opposite! It gave me a really good feeling."
"So all the guys in school had better watch out now, huh?"
"Nope," he cracked, "not all."