These events occurred somewhere in a place I've been.
A place where time passes dreamily. A place where our heart's desires are
fulfilled. Where every yearning heart is held and kept and lifted up in
loving embrace. Please play safe and be kind to yourselves and to one-another.
Our community always felt like a small town. In truth, it is a semi-rural enclave on the outskirts of a large northern city. But it is one of those places that people don't seem to move away from. Or they do, but only for a while, and then they're back again. Our parents and grandparents came here and put down roots -- and boy, what roots! Most of the people in this story still live in the same houses, these grand old cozy big homes that once rang out with the shouts of their parents' voices as children. Grandma's cooking smells are still there, in the walls somewhere, if your nose is keen enough.
Anyway, a few years have passed -- not a lot -- and some of us have moved away. But the place just keeps drawing us back. Some to raise a family, some to heal. And I still see these people in the course of a day and often we have a moment to stop, perhaps to touch, and to look each other in the face and smile, remembering how we were.
"HEADS Down!" John shouted sing-song, as we came about. The silver boom swung across with authority and the sail filled with a crack. Nadine leapt forward eagerly, heeling as the power of the stiff southwesterly breeze came upon her. Positioning the 38-footer to surf upon the swell, he played her effortlessly, like an old familiar instrument. God! I'd nearly capsized us when he was just showing me the basics -- in half this wind.
We were out today for some spinnaker play, but it had turned out to be too rough and weird, so John -- Derek's daddy -- was... the closest I can describe it, was like he was skateboarding. Man, he was good!
As it turns out, Derek had never sailed with his dad before. I think he wasn't very surprised that John was so competent at this. Just thrilled, as I was, at moving before the power of the wind, at this effortless execution of the ancient dance of wind and wave and canvas and line. Astonished that anyone could finesse the complexity of the sport to this extent. Not so much that the someone happened to be John. This was a wind and water dance: John Bardwell's version of Derek's own talent.
Derek's body was a light brown already, having tanned with amazing rapidity. I was in the second day of having to wear my shirt while my instant first-day burn healed. He stood in the bow, stowing the still-folded Genoa jib back in the forward sail locker. What a cute, cute human being! It was almost impossible to look away from his smoothly muscular form, from his exquisite legs and toothsome torso, disappearing into those wide-cut canvas shorts. >From the mystery of their intersection beneath the stiff and non-conforming fabric. From the tiny nipples, crimped into insignificant points by the chill of the spray. From the familiar beauty of his fine, open face. From his aggressive masculine display of grace in purposeful movement.
You know, I really did enjoy sex with Marisa. More than that, I enjoyed having had sex with a girl. It lifted some sort of a burden from me, allowing me the freedom to knowingly commit: I do love boys. I exult in them, in the things that are peculiarly boyish, mannish. In their bodies. In their souls. In the way they move. The way they smell and emote. In the way they give pleasure and accept it. In their grace, their affection, their tenderness, their sweetness, their perfection. In their very imperfection.
What the heck am I talking about? The only boy I had ever been with is Derek. It was his soul, his smell, the thrill of his orgasm. It was being held by him. It was gazing into his face, his eyes. It was laying the burdens of my soul before him. Talking it through with him. Risking his judgment and accepting his absolution. Waking up next to him.
Not boys, Boy!
Derek... Derek! Everything that boyhood is about -- that's Derek. I won't even talk about the place Dare has in my heart. He has the whole thing.
There he stood, in the Caribbean sunshine, in the sea spray, in the bow, as John handed me the tiller and stood to tend the lines. Suddenly, it was my job to anticipate, to warn, to see to eveyone's safety. Almost, I called him back. Almost, I said "I'm not ready for this." If I felt that I couldn't properly protect these... men... boys... this precious cargo of beings, I would have called him back. But he had spent the time to show me the ropes -- literally -- and this was the payoff.
"Prepare to come about!" I cried out, setting up for the tack. John flashed me a grin, as Derek grabbed quickly for the edge of the locker. I eased her through the tack. She righted, the boom came over, and the sail filled gently, heeling her opposite. John shot me a snappy salute and went below.
He did that before I had a chance to react: my body was covered in goose bumps. The skipper had gone below, leaving me at the tiller, sailing upon the deep. What a thrilling vote of trust and confidence for a... for a young man... a young man of 14!
Man. Man! The sound of that! Could he possibly know what it meant to me? Yes. Later I was to find that he knew just exactly what he was doing.
It's weird, but my mind was filled with Dusti, suddenly. I wished he could be here, but I realized that for all his precocious intellectual brilliance, he would have been physically unsafe here. We would have had to curtail our sporting pursuits to ensure his well being. It wasn't IQ, it was just age and size and strength and maturity. It made me think. Think about my life, about Dad. About the desolation that his... leaving us... must have meant to Mom. About how it must have been for both of them to look into each other's eyes and feel their union, their world being torn to pieces by his rapidly-declining health. About the pain he must have felt, as we slipped away from him. As he slipped away from us.
I thought about Dusti, as the tears filled my eyes, only to be swept away by the wind, to run sideways into my hair. I realized that I had already become a father, in a sense. That I had a little boy that I had nurtured and cherished, whose emotional and intellectual and physical progress I held in my own hands. Phhht! This sailboat was nothing.
Derek? This was a partnership. He could hold up his end of the deal, no sweat. But where would it go? Could he take on a situation that... Could he? Was it fair? I had a little boy!
Derek? But he was just a boy, himself. But he was my soul. But without him, I would wither and die. How did this work? I needed Dad.
I was sobbing and sailing, and the tears were blowing aft, and I felt a warm presence enfold me. A quiet little voice inside said "Brand! Brand. Talk to John. Talk to John. Talk to him. I have given it over to him." And I felt this warmth and caring and protection and truth. And I knew that it was Dad. And I showed him my joy and my love and I showed him Derek.
And I received his benediction.
And my heart leapt for joy.
And I straightened my back. And as John came back up, I called out, "Prepare to come about!" And I met Derek's eyes and I grinned at him through the stiffening breeze with crazy exultation as I brought Nadine about.
Back aboard the trimaran, John asked for some time alone with Derek. I hung out in the salon -- that's the living room -- while they went to John's stateroom in the right hull. Oh... uh, "starboard." You can tell I'm a serious landlubber.
Access down into the left hull was locked and off limits. Barbra Ann was moored fore and aft, so she always presented her right hull to shore. I also noticed that there was a good three and a half feet of false ceiling throughout the superstructure where the wheel house was.
John looked at me funny, when I mentioned it, like he was embarrassed for my lapse of manners. I think I shut up faster and harder than I would have if he'd actually rebuked me openly. Funny thing about Derek's dad: he says a lot without words. But it's not a bunch of weird paranoid tension and silent looks, either. It's very alive and active and quite natural, in its own way. I'd just hate to try to lie to that guy. I'm not at all sure that you could pull it off.
He treats it as if it is entirely ordinary to be linked to each other like that. No wonder Derek and I don't seem to chatter all that much. It's not like we aren't communicating. We just don't seem to need that many words with each other. I guess it's largely our bond with one another, but it's also something else that, I now realize, comes from John: a certain expectation of being understood. A certain openness -- a complete willingness to be looked at and seen and understood entirely and exactly. A certainty that that will occur.
Dare's dad is somehow... I don't know: like, naked? Like most people have this wall around them that he doesn't seem to have. One thing it sure does is to make him a hell of a good observer. Maybe having been raised by him is one of the reasons why Dare always seems to tell the truth. It's like what Dare says is what he means and he tells the truth and he tells it accurately. Not that he can't lie or misdirect people. I mean, come on: how else could he and I have made it through the world, together, this far? But he is absolutely clear on when he is doing it, and the funny part is that he usually manages to say something completely true and let the other person draw the wrong conclusion. I guess every family has their weirdness: that's the Bardwell one.
So, anyway, all the staterooms and the head and the galley and some storage were on the starboard side. I was waiting in the large room that occupied most of the bottom deck of the center hull. It was here that the genius of the boat's designer was evident. The game seemed to have been to make the space look huge and architectural, rather than small and nautical. So there were carved wooden dividers in a Neptune theme, actual steps up to the bathroom (Excuse me: the "head"), a ceiling with these cool looking light fixtures and all this other stuff that said "Building, not boat!"
I was lying on the salon couch, thinking about my little brother. Funny, I could almost smell his hair, right then. Feel its softness on my face. Something about Dusti always made me want to enfold him, to curl up with him and shut out the world. Take a nap or something. Sounds kind of nice, doesn't it? But, of course, that would have lasted about 20 seconds, before he was off doing something. Even as a 4-year-old, Dustin had a certain dignity and grace. When you can see that in a child, it is so hard to fathom some parents yelling and screaming and jerking their kids around. One look from Dusti and you just could never do that.
There is a story I read to Dusti about a guy whose guru handed him a chicken and told him to go kill it "where nobody could see." The guy comes back after about 3 weeks, and he still has the chicken under his arm, cackling away. The guru asks him what happened. The guy says "Well, Master -- you know I kiss your lotus feet and all that -- but wherever I go, the chicken still sees."
When Dusti looks into your eyes... The chicken DEFINITELY sees!
You just couldn't help but have a certain kind of appreciation for how Dustin "wears" his world. You can't envy him all the money he's made, since. People see him in the papers and they just have no clue. If you'd seen one glimpse of that little boy's soul, you'd know that that is money in the very best of hands. And that most of it would go to help others. Unfortunate others. Gifted and promising others. But, with Dustin, always there has been something for others.
I must have dozed off while I was thinking of Dusti, cuz I was awakened by the cool, delicious presence of Derek's body. Sliding up to embrace me and press against me. He kissed me once, tenderly, on the lips.
"Hi, baby," he said, softly, brushing back my hair, "Want some tea or something?" His voice was pure candy to me.
"Umm, you smell good. Sounds wonderful. Thank you, Dare. I love you. I want you." I started to drift off again.
"Want it sweet?"
"Um, humm!" eyes closed and smiling.
"Brand!" My eyes eased open.
"Dad wants to talk to us, together. But I need to talk to you first."
"'Kay," stretching, "Let me take a piss and I'll meet you upstairs in the -- whatever -- morning room thing."
"Brand," said Derek, after he had handed me my tea and sat down close beside me to drink his own, "I told Dad about us."
He looked at me, steadily. I had a wave of anxiety, just for a second. But after all, that's pretty much why we came down, wasn't it? Besides, Dare looked extremely relaxed. Tranquil, in fact.
"Unh huh -- cool! -- so?"
"Well, he was very okay about it. Going in there, I kinda felt like I needed to cry, kinda? And that feeling just," he shrugged, "went away. I almost feel a little cheated," he smiled a little seriously.
"I love you," I said, stroking the back of his neck. Looking into his eyes. I almost said "Be with me forever," but for some reason, what came out was "What do you suppose he wants to see us about?"
"Well, nothing bad. Something serious. But nothing bad. Anyway, he went ashore for some shit from the store... "
"Hey, that rhymes, Dare! 'I'm going ashore for some shit from the store' said Barnacle Bill the Sailor... "
"They'll pick my pocket, but what the 'ell -- fock-it... "
"Ssssssssssssssss! Stick with da skatin', Mon."
"Brand... That's one of the things we need to talk to Dad about... "
"Yeah, I know." Suddenly, there was this huge lump in my throat. I couldn't look up at him. He knew it, too, instantly.
"Baby? I'm never leaving you." He stopped. Then he said it again: "I'm not leaving you. This is about how to make that work."
Suddenly, this long wail just came out of me, and these wracking sobs. The pain of this worry had been with me for months. All through Christmas. He was so wonderful and warm and comforting and tender and I...
It was like hearing the cold wind blowing by outside: what was going to happen? What if he became an Olympic contender? Or just a pro? Would this all -- would we -- just become a tender, wonderful, painful memory? I don't think I could live through that.
Dare's pledge to me meant so much! I had no pride -- none-- I just clung to him and sobbed my heart out.
And a lot of snot: "Sorry about that," I said, wiping at it.
"S' Okay. It's 'Friendly Snot.' I guess if I can swallow your... " Just then, we heard the dinghy bump against the hull. "I can, can't I?" he said into my neck.
"Wha? Oh. O' yeah. Me too." And I looked up at him and felt the adoration. It just poured up out of my heart and spilled out of my eyes and it felt like my eyes were sooo long, with the tears flowing together with the adoration and this feeling was so... ancient? eternal? Anyway, not just mine, like anger or boredom or something. This adoration was there forever and we had just come to kneel at the foot of it. Derek's eyes were full, too, as John entered.
"Hi, Dad. Can I get you some tea?"
"Naah! You'll just get it fulla tears. I love you boys. I hope you know that, Brand."
That started me off, again. Derek took me in his arms, right in front of his dad, and held me, stroking my hair. I calmed.
"Anyway, I got some... " fishing around in the canvas bag...
"Fresh French bread... " putting it on the metal counter of the upstairs mini-galley...
"And stinky cheese... " He wiggled his eyebrows.
"And -- Ta Taa! -- some champagne. Well, kinda. Sparkling white wine Methode Champagnois!"
"Mon Dieu! I think thees tastes bet-tair... "
"And," with a flourish, " 'Naughty' Danishes!" He put them on the counter.
"Hey, ya only turn into a fat slob once in life." He turned and headed toward the head. "Once or twice... " Geez, he was sure being merry. "Okay, three times," he said over his shoulder, farting. "That's what I say!"
"Dad," Derek moaned, "That's what you always say."
"Well! You need to be reminded."
"Brand does a pretty good job of making sure I don't forget."
"Fuck! Look who's talking!" I said, wiping my nose, "Mister tuna-in-oil-and-dried-onion-casserole!"
"Yeah, those were pretty bad!" Derek smirked.
"Christ, Derek, how can you even mention 'em without retching?"
"Someone had to do it!"
"I'm proud of you, son," John joined in. "This tradition has been in the family since Christ was a corpuscle."
"Now I know for sure where Dare gets his sick sense of humor," I smirked, rubbing my hand up and down Dare's smooth thigh.
John made a show of putting both hands over his heart, then waved one behind his ass, smirked and ran off.
"I wanted to share this with the two of you together. I'll ask your forgiveness in advance, if this wasn't the right choice, but I'm pretty sure it is." John paused to take a deep breath and a sip of his tea.
"When Jacob and I were about your same ages -- starting maybe 6 or 8 months younger -- we had a relationship... very much like your own. I love Jacob with all my heart, Brand! We swore never to turn away from one another." His eyes were full. "And we never did. Through everything. Even though we both married. Even though we had children and raised families. Even though we were both completely faithful to our wives from the day we married." He had tears steaming down his face, now.
"And both Peg and Lilly knew about the bond between us -- and about the nature of our relationship -- and both girls somehow knew that it didn't make us any less of a man, that we had given our hearts to another boy at your age. And that we had... " John pressed his lips together and drew the corners apart and down, stifling a sob, "... shared everything. Shared our bodies, too. And it was a beautiful, beautiful thing, and I think it saved my life, having Jacob when my daddy was killed right at the end of the war.
"He was on his way home from Burma. I was so proud of him! And I was so excited that I was going to see him and I dreamed of him picking me up and whirling me around and telling me how big I had gotten and smelling his after shave and we were going to go do stuff and play ball together. And then the man came and I heard Mom scream and she was down on her knees and I knew it then. His plane had exploded while landing for fuel in the Belgian Congo.
"And Jacob stayed with me every possible moment for the next few months, and when we started first grade in '45, he sat next to me and we helped each other through the fear of leaving home.
"And you know, we never -- ever -- had to discuss it in so many words: we just always shared and told each other the truth and stood up for each other." John's voice cracked and he was wracked with sobs for a few seconds and stopped, rigid, with his fists balled, for a moment, before continuing.
"So I know what you two are risking, and what you stand to gain. And I wouldn't trade Jacob for anything." He paused again and then looked up, clear-eyed and resolute, nodding: "Except my own life. I would give that to bring him back, in a heartbeat.
"I'm sorry. I didn't intend to go there, boys." John gave a huge sigh, then a little choke, and began speaking again.
"Let me tell you what he was like. He was beautiful!" John had his hand over his heart, and he looked down to see that he had balled his shirt up. He looked up: "He was... beautiful," he rasped, tears streaming. "He always stood so straight... " John drifted off, for a second. Tenderly: "His hair was flaxen. Rosy cheeked. And freckles and... these elfin ears," he finished, softly. "And he was always so fair. He would point those blue eyes at you and look into you and you knew you were safe and that he cared.
"A-and this one time... this bigger boy shoved me. And Jacob just marched right up to him and told him to stop cuz I was 'special' and the bigger kid said 'Oh yeah, so why's he so special?' and Jacob said 'Cuz he has a good heart!' and the kid went away. To this day, I'm not sure whether Jacob just got through to him or whether he misunderstood and thought I had a heart problem." John smiled sadly. At the irony of it, I guess.
"And I was there for him when his mommy got sick. But she got better. And how I knew I loved him is, I was so happy for him. That he didn't have to lose a parent. That we weren't even. I was just happy for Jacob...
"And -- you know? -- he never really changed. Under the surface was always this sweet, sweet boy, just with added layers of maturity and confidence. And he was so proud of you, Brand. I know he told you that. But he cried about it to me. We cried together about our boys. About our love for you, our exultation in having you! But we never forced you guys together. Which is why your own... bond... is such a miracle to us... to me."
With that, he glanced up at me and it sort of jolted me. I heard myself saying, "That's okay. He came to me this morning while we were sailing." Derek stared at me with dawning understanding, as I told John what had happened aboard Nadine.
"Well, I have a message for you, Brand. But it's on tape. Jacob recorded it 5 weeks before he... " John struggled for control, then said levelly, "... left us."
"What's on the tape will distract you -- both of you -- so I wanted to say this before I played it. When Jacob died, it really turned my own life upside down. Happens to survivors a lot. Was I Gay? Am I Bi? Should I still be married to Lilly? It plunged me right into the old 'midlife crisis' thing and I accepted this assignment to get away and think for a few months. I met my... partner... Jake down here -- you'll meet him -- and his caring and affection have helped me to sort some stuff out. I guess I'm not 100% gay. Just needed some strong arms to hold me and a deep voice to tell me that I was going to be okay. Jacob gave his blessing and told me that the names 'are not a coincidence,' whatever he meant by that.
"I want you to hear the tape now." And with that, he pushed the play button.
"My name is Jacob Brand Coulter. Today's date is January 17, 1983. This tape is for my eldest son, Brand. It remains my sole property until my death, at which point it becomes the sole property of my son, Brand Jacob Coulter.
"Hello, son. If you are hearing this, I am deceased and John has decided that it is now time that you knew the contents. I want you to know that it breaks my heart to have left you and Dusti and your mom behind. Believe me that it was not my choice and that everything was done to keep me with you that possibly could be.
"I hope that you are not bitter, Brand. I hope that you have remained your sweet and trusting self. I hope that you have been able to be a source of strength to your mom and to your little brother. But I want you to know that it is okay, even if... even anyway. You know, Brand, there's this myth that we men are made of iron. That we are not tender, inside. That we don't require tenderness and nurturing. That a real man buries his emotions, that he never cries. That he must never touch another man with tenderness or it makes him a freak.
"What scares me is that you might buy into this cruel... fiction. That you might adopt it. That you might take it upon yourself to be like that: a 'real man' who buries his emotions. Who turns them inward to eat at his heart. To turn his soul to sawdust.
"Don't go there, son. I hope that my death has not turned you into one of those toughs, those angry, lonely teenage rebels at war with the world. If you have flirted with that, I beg you to get some help. I beg you, Brand! In the name of the closeness that we have had, son, I beg you to do what it takes not to harden your heart just because I am gone.
"Whether it's a doctor, whether it's John Bardwell, whether it's a friend, whether it is a lover... you have to find yourself somebody you can open yourself to, somebody you can trust enough to let them inside. You have to lay down the burden, Brand! Lay it down, baby! Let it go. Life is hard enough to deal with as it comes. Carrying yesterday's hurt just gets to be too much, and pretty soon it's just not much of a life, anymore. God, I hope I'm right about you. That you haven't taken that route!
"Son, you already know that you are very bright, and that your little brother is, also. Don't sell Mom short, either, kid! But there are different ways to be intelligent. Not just in your head, Brand. It's not just in your head. You must have a wise heart as well. And your heart must remain supple. And you must give your heart to another to be complete. And I just pray that you will find another, as I did. Another to complete you and to give you strength and to draw you out to grow beyond your own self-concerns. I speak from... I speak the truth, Brand, and I speak it from lifelong experience. Love truly is what eternity is about.
"Well, anyway, I just had to lay this sermon on you. And I want you to know that my last thoughts are of you and of the others whom I have had the privilege to love and to be loved by. Please take my love and have a wonderful life.
"You know, son, that is the way of life: from the very first living cell, each link in the chain has had its struggles, has had its day in the sun, but it's all about passing it along, pushing the next generation ahead. And the chain -- It's a miracle, Brand! -- the chain has gone on and on and on and on, never broken even once! Never a break for billions of years! All the way to you.
"And every generation loses their parents. And every generation struggles. And every generation has its day in the sun...
"May you take what I have been able to pass on and make for yourself and your loved ones a life of beauty and love and fulfillment, knowing that that is the highest dream I could ever have had for you.
"Goodbye Baby. Goodbye Son."
There was a loud click, and I looked up through my tears at Derek and our eyes met and I bawled, "Oh, God! Oh GOD, I love you Derek!" And he held me, as I spilled out the pain and the fear and my heart came to be filled with deep, deep peace.
John waited patiently. Waited for the better part of an hour. Just sat there, very, very still.
"I noticed Dad didn't say anything about the two of you," I said to John, eventually, a bit confused.
"There was no way he could know how you would take that news. He wanted to leave you with whatever strength he could. So he left it... generic, and trusted me to decide. Does that make sense?"
I nodded, pulling Derek against my chest and putting my nose and mouth against the back of his hair. "I love you, baby," I murmurred.
"There is another tape," said John, "but it's business stuff. Are you up to hearing it now? How about a cup of tea?"
"'Kay, then maybe let's hear it."
To a boy who is suffering. Who yearns and prays for his parents' hearts to somehow find wisdom. Yes, you do deserve better. Please heed Jacob's words. Please keep your own heart sweet and supple and run laughing to those open arms that long to hold and comfort you. He lives to complete you, you know. You will have your day in the sun. Trust me, you will.
I intend to answer any messages received. Flames... are simply irrelevant.