WHAT LIES WITHIN: Chapter 4
A picture is worth a thousand words.
-- Fred R. Barnard, 1921
I still can't believe he talked me into this.
At my counseling session last week, Jack said he thinks I need to `come out of my shell,' now that I'm in High School and all. He thinks that if I put myself in situations to interact socially more often, it will help with my depression. And, he knows I'm a total photography nut. I've been into it since, like, forever; and I plan on going to art school (and I have my inheritance money to pay for it now!) to become a professional photographer after High School. So, he's the main reason I'm about to poop in my pants...standing here in the hallway, trying to find the courage to open this stupid door in front of me and apply for the yearbook/school newspaper as a photographer. Honest. I even have my `portfolio' of my own photography work in my backpack. God, I hope this works. I'm really not good at rejection.
Man, I just can't figure out how he does it. Get me to do stuff like this, I mean. Jack just seems to have this magic power of persuasion over me. Sometimes I feel like he can get me to do just about anything he wants, and make it sound like it's totally my own idea at the time. But, I know he means well. Actually, at times I think he's more like a real father to me than my adopted `dad.' I've been seeing Jack since I was 8 years old, when they finally decided they had to do something to deal with my ADD. We're more like family than a doctor/patient kinda relationship. Maybe it's because Jack has ADD too. That's why he went into the field of counseling ADD kids. He never had someone like that he could turn to when he was young. Mostly, we just talk about the many ways that ADD fucks up your life, and how to deal with it.
All right, enough procrastinating already! If I keep standing here in this hallway, looking like I'm afraid to go through this door (which, of course, I totally am...Shhhhh!), people will start looking at me that way again. Man, I really hate that.
Ok. Be calm. Take a deep breath. Turn the handle...Open the door. Here we go...you can do this...
Wow! I totally can't believe it. They actually want me. They actually want me! As strange as it sounds, I guess I'm the new school photographer (and, as it turns out, the other guy who was supposed to do it quit last week...just my luck, huh?). The graphic arts teacher loved my portfolio. God, and it sure wasn't easy to bring myself to show it to him, either. I really don't let very many people see it; it's just feels way too personal. When I look at my real `serious' shots, I see so much of myself, my own emotions in them that it totally freaks me out. I feel like anyone who looks at them will be able to, like, see right into my soul or something. It just feels way too exposed. But, he loved them. He said my photos really `communicate.'
Like I said, that's what I'm afraid of.
At the same time, I guess that's what people have always liked about my photography. I just seem to see things in a different way than other (normal?) people do, and my really good shots always bring that out. They make people see things in a new light...feel things in a new way. I love that part. As scary as it is, it also makes it totally worth the effort. I feel like that's one of the few times when other people can even come close to really feeling what it's like to be me.
So, he hands me a brand new $1500 Nikon digital camera (with instruction manual), tells me to practice with it over the weekend, and sends me on my merry way. Fill the entire 1-gigabyte microdrive. Anything I want to shoot. Hmmmm. Okay...Well, it's Friday afternoon, so I guess I better get started.
By the time I finished walking home, I had already read through the manual. Twice. Boy, this digital stuff is gonna be a little different. I can already see my own little B&W film processing set-up and darkroom in our basement is gonna get dusty real fast, and it made me a little sad. I checked the batteries, and everything was set to go. I made sure the camera was set how I wanted it based on my mood at the moment (highest resolution, soften contrast, and black & white mode), grabbed a couple of Mom's freshly baked `June Cleaver' oatmeal raisin cookies, and stumbled out the door into the afternoon light.
I wandered around the neighborhood, getting used to the zoom lens's different settings. It had a nice wide angle on the bottom end. With the macro mode, the camera would do some cool wide landscape shots with incredible depth-of-field (that means that basically everything is in focus from like 3 feet away all the way to infinity). Cool. I shot this 100-year-old derelict, spooky-looking mansion on the end of our street just for a warm up. It was getting a little towards sunset, and the clouds were coming in from the ocean. I knew just what I needed. I set the camera bag down, and dug through the pockets. I hope they have one in here...Yes! I found a brand-new, never used, circular polarizer in one of the pockets. I slapped that baby on the lens, and got some more cool shots in the dramatic afternoon light.
I walked a few more blocks, just wandering around, looking for something interesting to shoot. Eventually, I found myself at the local neighborhood park. Ugh. As I walked across the street, I realized I was coming into the park at the opposite end from where I usually entered. This was the corner of the park I tried to avoid...because it was where the skaters hang out. Last year, the City had spent a ton of money to build a huge, stupid, ugly skate park here in this corner.
Skaters always kinda make me nervous. They just look at me, and give me this strange smirk. Like, they should really just come over and kick my nerdy ass, but it wasn't quite worth their effort. On the other hand, I also felt a little uncomfortable because more than one time earlier this summer I had left that corner of the park sportin' some serious wood, after watching all those lean, tan, bad boys on their boards or blades. I felt the butterflies in my stomach begin to take flight, as they occasionally do at times like this. The strange mixture of nervousness, anxiety, and sexual tension these guys made me feel was starting to make me my heart beat a little faster.
Without realizing it, I slowly sat down on a bench under a tree, not far away from the action. I couldn't really help it. I just seem to have this weakness lately for slim, lean, smooth guys with deep tans and flat, hard stomachs. God help me if they have that little trail of dark hairs running down into their shorts from their belly button. Man, I love that. But, it's like totally instant boner time. Gotta be careful here...
By now the light was too far gone for any real good shots. So, I just practiced framing some motion shots, getting used to the auto-focus and the feel of the zoom lens. Hmmm, I thought to myself, as I sat there following the action through the camera...this thing is almost as smooth as my regular camera. And, if all the cool effects you can get editing the digital media are what they say they are, I could really have a blast with this thing. I'm still not sure if it can do everything my regular camera can do, artistically speaking. I mean, there's just this way that a conventional film camera can capture the mood of a certain place...the quality of light, etc. But, for the school paper and yearbook stuff, I'm sure this thing will be plenty good. It still blows my mind to think that all I have to do on Monday is plug the microdrive into the reader and download 1 gigabyte worth of images into the graphics lab computer. I can't wait to see what these shots will look like printed out. Then, I'll really know what I'm dealing with here.
One guy in particular seemed to get my attention as I watched the action from a safe distance. For some reason, I have always had this uncontrollable attraction to guys exactly like him: slim, wiry, dark hair, dark features, and well...just really tight bodies. With his shirt off, he looked like a Greek sculpture in motion. His long, flowing hair billowed out behind him as he aggressively attacked all the different elements of the park. Up ramps, down jumps, grinding edges, diving into the bowl, flying high over the lip on the other side...I could feel the intensity in him, just sitting there watching. He had this classic `don't fuck with me' kinda angry, kinda rebel...totally free...attitude that just exuded from him as he skated. And, most all of the other skaters gave him plenty of room. Clearly, he was one of the elites here...one of the skater's ruling class.
I sighed sadly to myself. I could never have a really cool guy like that, I told myself. It was almost impossible to believe that a guy that cool and awesome looking could be gay or even bi; and even if he was, I'm sure he'd never have anything to do with someone like me. I'm afraid I am terminally uncool...but it's ok, I accepted my fate a long time ago. Besides, types like him scared me to death as much as they turned me on; but man was he fun to look at! I sighed again to myself, as I pondered just how something that frightened me that much also held such fascination for me. I mean, why wasn't I just running away from this place as fast as my feet would carry me? I just knew it was only a matter of time before I managed to get myself in trouble here. I always do in situations like this. It's just a matter of time, I was sure.
Never the less, I continued scoping the action for a while longer. But, I had gotten so absorbed in my thoughts that I had apparently failed to notice that I was suddenly not alone. I must have detected some motion in the corner of my eye, because I reflexively brought the camera down, and looked sharply to my left.
"Aaaagh!" I squeaked, as I jumped to my right slightly, and took a subtly defensive posture.
At first he seemed a little shocked himself by my reaction.
"Whoa, dude...sorry to sneak up on you like that. You just seemed so totally into what you were doing, I didn't want to ruin your little moment."
Since my brain wasn't detecting any immediate physical threat from him, it went straight into information gathering mode. My eyes quickly surveyed the guy standing in front of me. Oh no! It was him...the guy I had been watching! I could already feel myself starting to respond down there... He was sooo incredible looking up close. I could practically taste him, just standing there in front of me. He was a little shorter than me, probably about 5-8 at most. Since he was shirtless, his lean wiry build and deep summer's tan (it was late September now...) were painfully obvious. My eyes moved up to his face, just as he was pulling off his helmet, and shaking out his long (and I mean long!) straight hair...a dark brown with some very obvious sun-bleached highlights. He tucked his long bangs behind his ears to keep them out of his eyes, as I assumed was his usual style.
His eyes finally met my blank, awe-struck stare (I just hope I wasn't, like, drooling on my shirt or anything...), and I was helpless. It felt like his deep, blue-green eyes just bored right inside me, looking for the answer to a question I wasn't even aware existed at that moment. After a while, I guess he found whatever information he was looking for inside me. His eyes narrowed a bit, and he arched one eyebrow.
"So, you get any good shots, dude?" he asked.
Unfortunately, my brain had finally managed to get instructions to my eyes, ordering them to avoid his painfully intense gaze...those ocean-blue eyes were just to much for me in more than small doses. As my eyes wandered down across his amazing torso, my body shuddered in what I can only describe as a kind of `pre-orgasm,' as they traced the delicate line of fine dark hairs that descended down from his navel into his shorts. Oh. My. God.
"Hello? Anybody home in there dude?" he asked, with a slightly annoyed tone.
"Huh?" I barely managed to choke out, as I met his gaze one more time.
"I said, did ya get any good ones?"
"What? Uh, no. Too dark. The speed would be way too slow, and the higher ISO would totally kill the image quality, and..." I half mumbled to the ground.
"No?" he asked again. "Bum deal, dude. You should try tomorrow. Saturday is always the best day here...a lot of guys will be totally tearin' it up tomorrow. You could get tons of shots if you came back then."
I continued to just stare at him, wide-eyed in amazement. Why was he talking to me? Like a normal human being, even. Wasn't he a skater? I was just a nobody. A nerd. A geek. A glaringly uncool presence on any `cool' person's radar.
Suddenly, I realized he was looking at me expectantly again, apparently waiting for a response to his last statement. He took a long drink out of his water bottle, and put his helmet back on.
"Uh...ok...tom...morrow. R...right," I stuttered slowly, and just barely nodded, staring at the ground in front of me. I felt like I had to do anything I could to fight the impulse to look back up into those amazing eyes again. But, of course I lost that battle. I didn't even last 10 seconds. He gave me a strange look, as our eyes met again. Then he dropped his board on the ground, and turned to take off.
"W...Wait!" I choked out. "Uh...you? Tomorrow? I mean, will you...uh...be here tomorrow?" I asked hesitantly. "Can I shoot you...I mean, would you mind if I...?"
He looked back at me over his shoulder, and gave me a brief little tight-lipped smirk, and his eyes seemed to sparkle for a moment. Then, he was gone.
As I lay in my bed, trying to fall asleep that night, I was debating with myself whether I should return to the park tomorrow and try to photograph the hot skater-boys, or not. On one hand, I was definitely a little bit afraid. Afraid of myself, and afraid of them. I know how I can get around those types, especially after today. Especially around him. God, what if he's actually there tomorrow? Or worse, what if he isn't?
I'm totally convinced that more than one of them was capable of kicking my ass for no real reason, let alone if they thought I was actually looking at them. You know, uh...that way. But, for some reason, I wasn't afraid of him, really. Well, he made me plenty nervous, but not for that reason. It was those eyes. I felt like I could have absolutely no secrets from those damn eyes of his. I felt totally transparent in front of him. That scared the heck out of me. A lot.
But, the horny gay boy trapped inside of me was chomping at the bit to get back to the park. It was a hard-on just waiting to happen. Besides, I justified to myself, I needed to get used to shooting action with this set-up; something I wasn't very experienced with anyway. And, I'm sure on Monday the yearbook teacher actually expects to see shots with people in them. Shit. I've never been very good at shooting people. They make me nervous. And, that in turn, makes them nervous. So, my shots always seem to look like pictures of nervous people. Imagine that.
Man. I'm just not sure exactly what I'm gonna do tomorrow!
As I stood there, looking across the street at the park, I could already feel my palms getting sweaty, and my mouth going dry. Just as I lifted my foot to take that agonizingly difficult first step across the street, my body turned abruptly and I headed quickly back down the sidewalk leading away from the park. Again. For the third time. Shit.
My head just wasn't working too well today. Every little dialogue I tried to have in my mind about this whole difficult subject ended up being a confused, circular, unending, jumbled mess. After a while, I had absolutely no idea exactly what I was actually thinking about. At that point, my more basic instincts tend to take over. That's how I keep finding myself at that damn curb, trying to will myself across the street. No luck yet, though.
Somehow, I managed to convince myself that things would be easier if I tried going back to the other end of the park where I usually entered. Maybe I could make it across the street there without panicking yet again. I also figured the two-block detour through the neighborhood adjacent to the park would help to provide me with a much-needed distraction for a while, and I was right. There was a woman out walking a very cute Labrador puppy, who absolutely wouldn't budge until she got a chance to lick me a few times. The puppy, I mean. And then, of course, there was the very nice old man who was determined to have a meaningful conversation with everyone who passed him by on the sidewalk while he was out watering his roses on this lovely Saturday afternoon.
I took a deep breath, and relaxed a little bit when my feet finally landed on the sidewalk. I had successfully crossed the street. Wow! I know it doesn't sound like much, but sometimes you just gotta celebrate those little personal victories when you get the chance, ya know?
To mentally ease myself into the task at hand, I wandered around shooting a few candid shots of everyday people enjoying the park. Just boring, bland stuff. But, before I knew it, I found myself slowly circling the skate park, hanging safely back at the edge of the tree line, mentally absorbing all the sounds and images before me. After a couple of careful orbits around the edge of the activity, I found myself creeping a little closer to the action. To someone watching all this from the outside, I probably looked like some stealthy predator; slowly stalking it's nervous prey. As for me, I felt a lot more like the moth, circling the flame.
Well, he certainly was right. This place was really happening today. There were guys (and even a couple of girls) flying all over the place on boards and blades, as well as the occasional gruesome face-plant/wipeout. From my spot here standing behind a bench in the shade of a large Oak tree, I was close enough to see pretty well now. But, I hadn't seen him yet. I put my camera up to my eye, and stretched the zoom out to its fullest for a little better look. As I was panning through the crowd, I heard the sound of a skateboard coming rapidly in my direction down the sidewalk, and then a sharp skidding/scraping sound. I pulled my camera down quickly, and jumped back slightly as he came to a quick stop directly in front of me, and did some strange maneuver with his foot that caused his board to hop straight up into his arms like a trained poodle.
"Hey dude. I see you came back today. I wasn't sure if you'd really come," he said, giving me a little smirk.
"Uh...ya...well, I need to...uh...I mean my teacher told me to...uh..." I stuttered, as he ignored my awkward response and kept right on talking.
"Well, come on over here, then. These idiots love to get it on for anyone with a camera," he said, pointing to the edge of the concrete skating area.
He gazed at me thoughtfully for a moment, and I'm sure he could see the fear etched on my face.
"Look, if I tell `em you're cool, they won't bother ya, I promise. They might look a little scary, but they're all pretty decent guys," he said with a softer tone, clearly to make me feel a little more at ease. "Just stay here for a minute. Wait `till I give ya the sign, then you can come over to where I'll be, ok?"
I just nodded, swallowed carefully, and tried to appear halfway calm.
As he approached the obviously `elite' group of skaters gathered at the edge of what looked like part of an old swimming pool, his whole body language transformed in front of my eyes back into to the cocky, swaggering, rebel skater boy I had seen yesterday. My mind was still nagging at me...demanding to know why he was being almost `nice' to me. Surely, something had to be wrong with this whole picture. I just can't figure out what it is...yet.
As he reached the others and finished the typical round of greetings, I could see him talking and gesturing over at me. The guys gathered around him all looked in my direction, gave me a cursory glance, and shrugged their shoulders. They didn't seem too impressed with me, but they didn't really seem to care, either.
He waved me over to where he was standing, after the group dissolved and went back to their routine. I approached him cautiously.
"Ok, you're all set. Just be careful not to get run over, ok?" he asked.
I nodded again.
"Give me a second to get warmed up, and I'll give ya something to start with..." he said, as he stepped on his board, and shot off across the concrete.
I watched him zoom effortlessly down a ramp, over a short jump, and up another ramp. He somehow hopped himself and his board up on top of a metal rail, and slid down it to the bottom, landing again on the ground in perfect balance. He shot up another ramp, back to the top of the bowl-shaped area where I was still standing. He came almost to a complete stop at the edge of the bowl, gave me a brief (but confident) look, and then plunged straight down into the bottom. He shot up the other side and flew straight into the air, at least 5 feet above the edge, right in front of me.
Shit! That shocked me right out of my little daydream, and my camera was immediately in front of my eye, ready for action. I was instantly on autopilot, as the artist inside me was totally captivated by him. The need to capture the essence of this totally incredible thing that was happening in front of me was now driving my every move. It was like a physical hunger. If someone had tried to pull me away from there at that moment, I think they would have really regretted it.
He continued for a while, going back and forth across and above the bowl, doing all kinds of amazing moves. I'm sure they all have names, but don't ask me what they were. Others took his place at times. I was so entranced by the speed, grace, and athleticism of these guys, my brain didn't have time to do anything else but just get the shots. That was fortunate for me, `cause that's when I get in the most trouble...when my mind has time to wander off from the immediate task at hand. As I relaxed a little bit, the more I totally immersed myself into it. At one point, I even found myself lying on the concrete near the bottom of the bowl, shooting upwards as these guys soared high over the edge above me. Unconsciously, I guess I totally trusted their skill to avoid wiping out, and probably maiming me, and trashing the expensive digital camera in the process.
After a half hour or more of pretty intense action, everyone stopped for a water break. I sat down a respectful distance away from them, and reviewed my shots on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. My heart was still beating fast, like I had just run a marathon. As I paged through all the images, deleting the few I didn't like, I heard a raspy teenage voice surprisingly close behind my ear. I looked up to see one of the skaters looking over my shoulder.
"Fuckin' A dude!" he said. "That shit's awesome! Hey Rusty!" he yelled, "Come take a look at this shit, man!"
I looked over, and I saw him get up and look at me with detached curiosity. He ambled across the short distance between us to look at the screen over my other shoulder. Hmmm. I hadn't realized I didn't actually know his name. Rusty huh? Probably a nickname. At least it's a start.
"Petersen, you are totally fuckin' right...you dudes have got to see this stuff," he said to the other skaters, who were now looking at us with more interest.
He put his hand on my shoulder briefly, as he leaned even closer to get a better look. I shivered slightly as I felt his hot breath on my neck, while he was commenting on the images he was seeing on the screen. Uh oh. God, not now! I could feel my dick beginning to swell in my shorts, as I furiously willed it to go down.
I turned my head briefly to study his face in profile, as he continued to stand right beside me looking at the images on the camera hanging from my neck. God, he had such a perfect nose. Not too big, not too small...just the right size. Graceful might be the best word. My eyes continued to study his face, and I noticed the little bit of stubble above his lip and on his chin. Oh man, that was sooo sexy and cute. He had a little hoop earring in his left ear. Personally, I'm not much for piercing (man, it hurts me just to look at that shit!), but on him it looked pretty cool.
I ended up going through every skater's shots frame by frame, so they could see themselves in all their glory. They were totally eating it up. I was instantly given much more respect in how they spoke to me, even looked at me. Perhaps they respected the fact that I was almost as good at what I did as they were on their boards and blades.
As they began another session, I got a little bolder and played around with some different camera effects. The horny gay boy in my head also got a little bolder, and started throwing in some candid portrait type shots of the guys as they watched each other in the bowl...you know, the occasional shirtless shot of a hot guy with awesome abs, or a healthy bulge protruding from the front of his board shorts, etc. Most of that attention centered on Rusty, to be honest. He was just so fascinating to me. Physically, he had everything nature ever put on a boy to turn me on. I loved his long dark hair. I drooled over his slim, tight body. I almost came in my pants every time my eyes traced the little line of hairs descending from his navel into his board shorts (which definitely looked like they held something of sizeable interest...). His deeply tanned back was like a bronze sculpture, or perhaps just a lesson in muscle anatomy. His firm, round, muscular butt made me weak in the knees. God, and his eyes. His eyes held some strange power over me. They were incredibly sexy, and totally unnerving at the same time. Whew. By the time my drive was full, I had almost 75 images.
When I got home, I immediately retreated to the privacy of my room once again. After reviewing the images of Rusty over and over again on the camera's LCD panel, I suddenly needed a shower real bad. I sighed with relief as the hot water ran over me, and I watched several days' worth of sexual frustration slowly circle the drain and disappear.
As soon as I got to school Monday morning, I headed straight into the graphics lab.
The yearbook teacher, Mr. Brill, was in there by himself drinking coffee and looking through some proofs and layout pages. He seemed like a pretty cool guy. Kinda hippie'd out, and not real uptight and strict like some teachers. It felt like he treated me as an equal. He was clearly the boss, but that was just his `role' to play, I guess.
I figured if I were early enough, there wouldn't be anyone else in here. I just hope he likes my shots. I was tempted to delete all of the shots I had taken of Rusty at the end. I mean, I hope they don't seem...I dunno, too gay? But, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. He was so handsome, and the pictures were really good (I still can't look at them without getting completely hard...). I can't bring myself destroy something that beautiful. I just know I'll regret it as soon as I walk out the door.
Mr. Brill looked genuinely happy to see me when I walked in, and asked me how everything had gone.
"Well, the camera seems to do ok. It took a little getting used to the digital thing, but after I see the prints I think I'll know where I'm at. It's just hard to tell how good a shot is on that little LCD screen, you know?" I replied.
"Spoken like a true artist," he laughed. "I'll have Russell get them all downloaded and have some printed this afternoon in fifth period. That's when the graphics crew for the paper and the yearbook have class in here. But, you're being assigned to me during sixth, when the writing crew is in here. You can see the prints then. It's mostly because you can't easily change your fifth period class, and you have PE in sixth, so it's an easy switch. Also, being here last period makes it easier for you to get out and shoot sports events, pep rallies, or whatever. A lot of what you shoot will be assigned by the person doing the writing for it, anyway. Kinda like a real newspaper or magazine."
Cool. This is gonna be better than I thought! I get to blow off PE...no more paranoid days trying to make it through the locker rooms and showers without gettin' a dreaded boner. Man, it's hard enough just trying to make it through one day in there without even being caught looking. I smiled to myself.
"Ok...Thanks. Uh...I guess I'll see you at sixth then," I replied, as I was backing out the door.