Two Boys

Rocco Paperiello


This story is about relationships between and among teenagers. This includes intimate relationships between young males. If you don't approve or are offended, then how come you're reading this? Go to some other Internet Site. (Of course some people actually cultivate being offended; if that's the case, read right on). As far as detailed descriptive sex acts, I think you may find some good ones in other stories right here on Nifty, but as of now I do not envision a lot of explicit detail in this one.

If, for some legal reason, you are not allowed to read this in your area of the world because of illogical laws, again I will not condone (publicly) anyone breaking the law, so either move or read sentence four. I definitely don't want the thought police after either of our nates.

Please, this story is sort of my property, so if you ever want to quote some of it (whatever for I wouldn't know), please e-mail me and also give proper attribution. As of now no one has permission to put this story on another Internet Site.

This story is almost entirely fictional, and autobiographical ONLY in the sense that many of the incidents in the story really happened, but in some cases to different people and under different circumstances. In other words I've simply adapted things that happened in my life to a fictional story. In fact, some aspects of both main characters are in part modeled from my own experiences. Some of my family members are also in this story, and perhaps (definitely) distorted a bit (a lot) at times and sometimes approaching caricature, but since I really don't expect them to sue, I'm taking the chance. All other characters are fictional, except as noted).

I welcome any feedback. Constructive criticism appreciated.

Rocco Paperiello


PART II -- Discoveries

Chapter 47 -- When Did I Become a Shrink?

After missing Rocco at the hospital yesterday, I took the bus home and fretted. I walked all through the house and couldn't seem to find what exactly I wanted to do. Today was almost a rerun except I didn't go to the hospital and at least had an inkling of what happened. Well I knew what I wanted to do but that was find out from Rocco exactly what was going on. All I knew he was taken to the hospital yesterday because he had a bad reaction to peanuts. He called very late last night and said a few words about it and said he'd see me after dinner the next day. I then remembered his up coming meeting with that priest.

I couldn't figure how he got a hold of peanuts since he told me a number of times he couldn't even get close to either them or, even worse, peanut butter. Once when we were in his back yard, he ran into the kitchen to get fruit for Critter. He broke the Olympic record for reversing direction.

"That was close," he said. "They were eating peanut butter sandwiches."

I looked at him puzzled. Rocco explained. I never realized food allergies could be that bad. I knew he had some allergies; I mean it was pretty obvious seeing those rashes he gets mostly on his arms and legs in the summer. And he even talked about being allergic to a lot of different foods, but 'til now I hadn't realized just how serious it could get. He then told me just how sensitive he was to some nuts especially peanuts or cashews. But this was the first time he mentioned about going into shock after nibbling on a cashew nut. And just from breathing in the air in a room where people are eating peanut butter sandwiches, he would almost immediately throw up.

Rocco then said: "I've talked about going to the allergy clinic, and how come I have those rashes all summer long. But I never explained about my worst allergy -- I'm terribly allergic to work." He smiled.

I guess, even after he talked about the seriousness of his allergies, it never really sunk in that it could really kill him. I was very anxious not knowing the details, and what was now going on. Finally, I saw him coming up the walk.

"Come in. What happened yesterday?" I was very worried.

Rocco went into detail. I could see how very upset he still was about it all. He went on for almost 20 minutes non-stop explaining. He ended saying: "So we finally agreed to go home and my parents convinced the police that it would be handled as a family matter. Amazingly, my parents even listened to me for once. Even my father."

"I hope you're feeling better. And how about the meeting with the priest?" I asked.

But Rocco seemed too preoccupied with what happened the day before. "How come I finally beat my brother and still feel like shit?"

"OK, White-boy, I don't know. Am I a shrink? But I do know one thing. I felt like crap too when I was trying to hate everybody. I'm sure glad my Mama helped me out of that." And I thought to myself: "And you helped me even more."

"But I didn't do anything wrong. I was the victim. I was the one almost died."

"But that's not what you told me happened."

"What do you mean?"

"You kept saying how you finally beat your brother. That's all you are focused on. Maybe that's why."

"But what's that supposed to mean?"

"Damned if I know. You're supposed to figure that part out. I'm just saying beating your brother has made you feel like shit . . . to quote somebody." I wished I could help him. But how the hell am I supposed to figure this one out? "Look, White-boy, I don't know why you're feeling this way, but I do know you sure got so emotional that you kept repeating yourself especially about your brother and your Dad. I think how you feel about them is a big part of it. My Mama kept telling me the harder it gets the harder you have to love. I think you need to start loving them no matter how hard it is."

I could not have figured Rocco's reaction. He stood there with this looking-into-the-distance look, for a couple minutes. Then a couple more minutes. I tried to say something a couple times, but I was blocked out. Everything was blocked out. And then he just started crying. We held each other for quite a while. Finally we started quietly talking, not about his current misadventure, but just small things. Eventually we got back to yesterday.

I remarked: "You know, I actually saw your brother escorted out of your school yesterday and knew something strange was going on. I had just arrived. When Carl was put into the police car, all I could think about was finding you. It was that Father Brand, at the school office, told me where you were. He even remembered me. I called a cab to get to the hospital."

"You never mentioned that."

"And after spending a whole dollar on just a ride, I never even caught up to you."

"Yeah, the cops took us to the station to make out a report. I thought Carl was going to puke when I said he should be charged with attempted manslaughter. But my parents still refused to take me seriously, so I insisted on filing a report."

"My Mama always said to do the thing that your heart tells you is right, not your mind. I know you don't want to hear this but you should spend your energy in doing other things than trying to beat your brother."

"But my parents never believe me, always Carl. And my Dad still won't believe me. Just for hitting Sean at that scout meeting I was grounded longer than my brother was for this."

"I want you to answer this. I know you won't lie to me. Do you really truly believe that your brother thought you would be seriously hurt when he pulled that prank? I know what you said, but before you answer, remember that you are giving ME the answer."

My White-boy started answering a couple times, but then started pacing around. Finally he came back, looked at my feet and simply whispered. "Maybe. Well, probably not."

"What I think you need to do is tell him that." We eventually just mellowed out and watched Candid Camera on TV. There was this confused mechanic looking into this woman's car to see what was wrong. The car had rolled to a stop right before his station and the woman had asked for his help. He opened the hood and there was no motor! Rocco said it was a rerun from last October but I rarely watched the show. I enjoyed it. (I asked Rocco if they ever had a black person on the show and he didn't know). I finally asked Rocco again about his talk with Father Hearn today.

This time he answered. "Sorry, Jade. I was so distracted by the events of yesterday; I didn't even look at the stuff he gave me today. And I almost laughed at the way he talked about how I still can't be sure I couldn't have sex with a girl -- to function as a heterosexual. As if all we were talking about was sex. He couldn't seem to understand that being a homosexual was so much more complicated than that. I told him that even if there was no such thing as sex, I would still need to be with a guy. That it would be a boy I'd be able to fall in love with. He didn't have a clue! He also gave me a couple new things to read. I'll bring them over tomorrow."

And then we talked about what he and Father Hearn discussed. I was getting worried again. Rocco seemed really disturbed by some of what Father Hearn had told him. I told Rocco he HAD to bring the stuff over and we would go through it together. His last question about people understanding other people had me wondering too. He was just as bad as Consuelo.

Then we talked about my problems earlier with Consuelo.

"She was really strange today. She would say something that made totally no sense, and then when I asked her about it, she would be so vague as to not answer at all. We were in the cafeteria where it's not the easiest place for a conversation anyway. She started talking in quotes. I thought she must have done a hell of a lot more reading than me. I didn't even recognize one or two of the people she was quoting. And they were all about loyalty, and family and stuff like that. I finally gave up and just listened. I think that's all she wanted anyway. But it was the last question she asked me that had me intrigued.

Of course I decided to see how long Rocco could hold out. I deliberately stopped right there. He lasted less than 30 seconds.

"Funny Jade. You know I can't stand that. What was the question?"

I will take even minor victories. "She asked me how anyone could choose between members of one's family. I asked the obvious. Who was she choosing between? As far as I knew she is an only child and her father took off quite a while back. I asked if she was talking about Carlotta. Then she said something even more enigmatic than I'm used to hearing from you. She said that she had a decision to make. I thought she was talking about choosing one family member over another.

And she said: "Of course not, that answer is simple. You don't choose."

And then she just left without explaining what the decision was all about.

That night, right after I took care of urgent business, and tossed the old pillow case back under the bed, I was just relaxing and thinking about everything that's happened lately. I was also wondering if I could start charging consulting fees.

Chapter 48 -- More Sex Talk (or "I've Already Given Up Too Many Dreams")

I finally got to talk to Father Hearn again. This time the small conference room was available. We talked mostly about three things. The first was about what the Church said about having sex. (Or what I always though described it better, what the Church taught about NOT having sex).

Father Hearn was saying: "Just by the anguish I can see you experiencing trying to understand both yourself and what God expects of you indicate that basically you are a good person. Here is a small pamphlet not only giving the church's position on human sexuality, but its reasons for it. It goes into great detail and also discusses it in an historical context."

I took the pamphlet and glanced at it briefly. "Natural Law and Sexual Ethics" by Paul Harvey, OSFS. This brought to mind all those dreary lessons from the traditional Baltimore Catechism. But this time it was more exigent. I found out that this guy was someone who taught Theology at their own seminary. That was the same person who wrote the thing Father Hearn gave me last October.

Then Father Hearn started in on the Churches position on homosexuality, trying to make the distinction between a person who was a homosexual and one who commits homosexual acts. And then he handed me a number of pages stapled together.

"This is something I put together. This material I have taken from a very recent book by Dr. John Cavanaugh, which goes into great detail on the Church's position and the reasons for it."

Now this I was interested in. I took the pages -- about 20 or so. The title of the book they had been taken from was typed across the top. I felt somehow disturbed by its title, which I read aloud: "Counseling the Invert." There was that same word again. Like we were folded in on ourselves. "What the heck does `invert' mean, Father? It almost sounds like a mental condition." He didn't immediately answer. "It looks like it will take me a while to get through all this."

"Don't be concerned about one word. This is the latest thought on the Church's pastoral counseling of the homosexual. Please read and re-read it. I'm sure there will be a lot in there that we will need to discuss. Please feel free to see me anytime. I want to help."

The third thing Father Hearn brought up was about my own sexuality.

"So it's been quite sometime since we talked before. Have you thought any more about how you think of yourself? I think that you need to realize for your own sake you should not to be so certain you can't act as a heterosexual in the future."

"This is something I'm not too sure you understand Father. Could I please ask you a personal question?"

"Anything if it can help. I'll answer if I can."

"Thanks. When did you decide that you would function as a heterosexual?"

"Well, I'm not sure that question even makes sense. I never had to make that decision. I was always a heterosexual."

"Your answer explains what I'm trying to say. I've always been a homosexual. There never was a question of choice. It's what I am."

"How can you be so sure that that's what you are?"

"How can YOU be so sure that you're a heterosexual?"

"Let's try not to get argumentative. If that's your certainty then let's move on. However, I wish you'd give it more thought. You should make a try to live as a heterosexual. That would be much preferable."

"Father, I don't want to be rude but can I ask you another question about yourself?"

"Go ahead."

"Thanks. Let's assume you weren't a priest. Could you imagine yourself having sex with another man?"

I was amused to see his facial expression. "The idea is purely revolting. I couldn't possibly." And he took a swallow of his beer.

"That's how I feel about having sex with a girl. To use your own words, the idea is purely revolting. There's no possible way I could live that way. And even if I forced it, how about the poor girl?"

"I find that hard to believe."

"And there is one more thing that I can't seem to explain very well but it's important. Being a homosexual is more than just about sex. It's about emotions and feelings and a lot of other stuff. It's about the person I am able to fall in love with."

Father Hearn seemed to get agitated. "Rocco, let's be real clear here. Being a homosexual can not possibly have anything to do with real love. It's a person's inability to love to begin with that causes things like homosexuality."

I sat looking at him stunned. How could he not understand? I started at that very moment to wonder if I could ever come to some kind of agreement with him on this stuff. "Father, I don't think you understand. Just because I'm a homosexual doesn't mean I can't love someone." I wondered if he could hear the anguish in my voice now.

"Let's not get ourselves too distracted by this right now. I think you need to read the things I've given you, and give them a lot of serious thought. And ask God for his help in this." Father Hearn took another sip of his beer. "Do you have any thing else we need to talk over right now?"

"Thanks Father. I think that I need to read this stuff first."

"Good. There is just one last thing we need to discuss. And I feel that this is very important if you are going to find God's way for you. It concerns your association with your friend. You said his name is Jade?"

I really started to get anxious. This is one thing I definitely did NOT want to get into. "Yes. He's been my best friend for a year and a half. He lost both parents and has needed a lot of help."

Father Hearn was visible concerned by this. "He's an orphan? Who does he live with?"

"Well yes, and he lives with an uncle who doesn't really care for him."

"Very unfortunate, I'm sure. But you need to seriously consider ending your relationship with him. This is very important."

I was now getting very defensive. "Father, he needs me too much. Isn't it Christian charity to help people?"

"But I'm sure it doesn't have to be you."

"You don't understand. There IS no one else. He needs me." And I also thought that I needed him.

"How can you be so certain about this? I'm sure God can provide for him."

"I think God IS providing for him. In fact that is what his Mama told me a few hours before she died. That I was God's help for her son. When he lost his hands he almost gave up. And later he started hating everyone. He needed me to help him."

"Look Rocco, I'm sure . . . He lost his hands?"

"Yes, a train cut off his hands about five years ago. I help him with everything. Even. . ." I stopped short. (Damn, I almost mentioned wiping his butt).

Father Hearn shook his head and took a very deliberate drink. "I will have to give this more thought. I am sure under certain conditions, Christian charity can outweigh some other considerations. But thank you for being frank. I would also ask you not be so sure that you cannot function as a heterosexual."

Several minutes later I was on my way home. I tried to make one last reply emphasizing the fact that "functioning as a heterosexual" is possible only if you already WERE a heterosexual (or at least bi-sexual). And some of what Father Hearn said was so worrisome, and that he couldn't completely understand me, so frustrating. I was also more concerned about him urging me to not associate with Jade anymore, than interested in the books he gave me. And eventually my thoughts went back to what happened the day before.

And then as I was telling all about this to Jade that night, I got even more upset. "Jade, let me ask you a question. I keep feeling that nobody understands me. And worse, nobody seems even ABLE to understand me. Do you understand me?"

"Rocco, how can somebody possibly answer that? All I can say is that I will always try to understand you."

Journal of Rocco P

February 26, 1961
God, am I really blinded that much by my feelings about my brother? And for my Dad? What should I do? Actually I think I know the answer to that.

And God, how can I survive without Jade's friendship? Why should I have to? And what about him? How many dreams are we expected to give up?

I couldn't sleep. So I snuck downstairs, made some chocolate milk with the Ovaltine I liked so much, and started reading the stuff that Father Hearn gave me.

Chapter 49 -- Complications

I think I'm becoming what I said I hated. I keep telling Rocco to be himself. Don't be complicated. But what am I doing? I feel like I am becoming a different person to different people. I'm getting too complicated. And the worst thing is that I have not been up front with Rocco about some of the problems I've been having. He seems to be so taken up and troubled with his own situation I just can't burden him with my small troubles.

This year in school has been difficult. Not the schoolwork but the people. Maybe it's always been like this but perhaps this is the first time I can remember having lots of time and energy left over from the big struggle. I have had such a struggle just to live without hands, that it kept imprisoned so much of my energy and attention. But White-boy has changed much of that. School work is now even interesting instead of being laborious. And it seems much of the time suddenly he is also there unconsciously doing all those little things to make things easier for me. I'm not even sure if he realizes it. I can no longer imagine my life without him.

And that's part of my first big problem. I've seen him having increasing problems with his Church. We are supposed to be working on this plan to get him to make his own moral decisions, but he seems so brainwashed by everything he's heard growing up, he can't seem to really decide. He's too afraid. He used to be this carefree and cheerful person. His problems at home might get him mad or down at times but he always bounded back so easily. But now he's confronted with the realization of his sexuality. I think he never actually gave up the hope that the problem would go away after puberty. Then he wouldn't have to make such hard decisions.

And I realize that I too had never given up the hope that he would eventually be my boyfriend. But I'm starting to think this will never happen. The talk we had the other day was cruel for both of us, but for different reasons.

Mama used to frequently say that we were so busy being Negroes we couldn't enjoy being people. I think I'm starting to understand what she meant. Maybe Rocco is too busy being Catholic. I have never been that close to organized religion, but had never realized before how deeply the thought of sin and guilt so dominated Catholics. I couldn't believe some of the things my White-boy read to me. I'm starting to wish he had never gotten those articles from Father Hearn. I'm sure glad that I was never raised like that.

And that phone call near midnight startled me. I had never seen White-boy, even with all the things he'd recently gone through, in such a desperate state.

I dropped the receiver a couple times since I didn`t have my hooks. When I finally could hear what Rocco was saying it didn`t make him any more understandable. "I can't understand you. Slow down."

He wasn't crying but I could tell by his voice things weren't good. He was also speaking low so I supposed he must be downstairs with everyone else asleep.

"Jade, I need you. I need to talk about this. Please, I have to come over."

Now? Tonight!? I looked up at the clock again. Eleven fifty. Fortunately my uncle, though drinking tonight, at least he wasn't too far drunk tonight; he did help with the straps. Of course I had to practically stand in front of his bedroom door and not let him pass until he helped. I answered: "Of course, my uncle had been drinking enough, he won't wake up. The door will be open. Come right up."

"Now what," I thought. I was sick with the thought that he somehow did get into trouble with his Dad about calling the police. But why two days later?

Ten minutes later he didn't even knock. He came in holding a bunch of papers. He was a bit incoherent but eventually I was surprised to find out it was what he had read that caused his distress.

"I never imagined the Church's stand could be so impossible. So horrible. St. Paul himself couldn't do this!"

"Sit down." I walked over and hugged him tight and he didn't resist. That, in itself, gave me pause. Lately White-boy has not allowed us to touch so freely. "What's the matter?"

This is what this guy Cavanaugh says. Father Hearn said it's the most recent thing written on the Church's pastoral policy for homosexuals. But it uses a word which even implies we are sick. It calls all homosexuals inverts. It calls us inverts. Like somehow . . . Well let me read it." He had a bunch of paper slips marking pages. Here. It says here: "The invert has never matured to the point that his focus can be directed outwards, but focuses all his desires back on himself and can not escape this totally self-centered expression of his sexuality. It is incapable of other centeredness." He slammed the papers down and one would think that what he had read was a knife in his gut. "And from what Father Hearn said to me I think he believes the same thing!"

"Let me see." I asked. Now what? I didn't even understand it very well. Only it seemed to say that all homosexuals can't love anyone but themselves. I read it over a couple times trying to make sense out of it. I had to read it a couple times. "But you don't really BELIEVE this crap, do you?"

"I don't know what to believe. But this is nothing. It gets even worse. It says we must live in prison." He grabbed the pages, and leafed to the next tab. But he stopped crying and seemed to get angry instead. Listen to this: "Just as we expect the heterosexual to be continent outside of marriage, so to, the homosexual."

I tried to read it over his shoulder but he turned suddenly facing me. And continued.

"OK, I wrestled with that for quite some time. That's what the Church's says and OK. But somehow, how is it fair? At least a heterosexual can have hope of finding some special person they can fall in love with, be emotionally intimate with, and love. But for us this isn't allowed -- EVER!"

I didn't really understand. "Here, where at? Let me read it." I did but still couldn't figure it out. "What does `continent' mean here?"

"Celibate, or chaste. No sex, no masturbation, not even thinking about doing it. I just never thought about it much until I suddenly got horny all the time. And I always had some vague idea that if I had to not ever have sex, or get married, or have children, I could at least share my life with someone close, someone who I could really relate to. And I was starting to think I wanted to maybe teach, or work with kids. I consoled myself by doing that, I could at least then I could find a way to have some hope and maybe happiness. I wanted to make a difference. I even thought for a while, since I had to be celibate, maybe God wanted me to be a priest. Well not any more but I . . ." White-boy broke down and started crying. Really sobbing. "Jade, I wanted kids! I wanted kids! I was going to be the best Dad there was. It's not fair. And now I can't even have anyone!"

I just hugged him. I couldn't think what else to do. "You can have me White-boy," I thought.

He stopped again and was angry again. He kept bouncing back and forth from inconsolably sad to frothing angry. "It really gets worse." He had passages marked here and there. "We already can't have any close or intimate relationships with girls because of what we are but listen to this." He found a page. "We must avoid ANY deep, personal relationships with persons of the same sex because they would serve as the occasions of sins. And it gets even worse." A flip of the page. "We must avoid ALL former homosexual companions. That includes you! But they're the ONLY people we can really relate to." Another page. "Here, it says we must live alone, not engage in organized sports, we must avoid military service, not to enter the clergy or any religious life. Gees, at least a priest has his community. A priest at least can have a sense of a fulfilling life. And according to this we can't even have that."

He leafed through and finally came to another passage: "And here. I've found it. Look what it says here, and this I'll read:

One of the principles of conduct that an invert should formulate, because of his special condition, there is no value in allowing himself to form or continue romantic friendships with people of his own sex, no matter how chaste the relation may be. Even if the invert is continent in these friendships, it is nevertheless, a human love which can never be fully realized or satisfied licitly. It will therefore, inevitable lead to anxiety and depression."

"Well, it seems to me that it's us believing it's immoral that causes the anxiety and depression. Not the relationship itself. How can God make us live this way?! According to this I can't see you anymore! What's the point? Maybe I should die right now! I almost feel like I've been sent to hell already. How can God be so cruel?"

He finally wound down. And he started to scare me. Rocco NEVER talked like this before! How can he let some stupid book do this to him? "White-boy, please listen. Do you yourself really believe all this stuff?"

He looked up a little puzzled. Like I suddenly asked to explain the cause of gravity. "What do you mean? This is what our Church teaches. It's says so right here."

"Look. How do you know this is what God wants?"

"But it's written right here, what do you mean?"

"Exactly. It's written here." And I picked up the papers. "But it's written by this guy Cavanaugh. Last time I checked, God hasn't come back to earth and called himself Cavanaugh. And I don`t think this is some new book of the bible." Rocco looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. "Look, how do you know if what you read here is right? What God really wants? Maybe this Cavanaugh is wrong. Maybe even your Church is wrong. How can you just read this and just accept it without figuring it out for yourself with everything else you know and experience?"

Rocco suddenly looked like I just explained the meaning of life. How could he actually believe all this stuff? Mama always said that God loves us. This was telling us that God hated us.

"Thanks Jade. You're maybe right. I finally got to read this today . . ." He looked at the clock. "I guess I mean last night and I suddenly panicked. What you said. I have to think about it."

"I think you're having trouble believing that maybe sometimes what some people in your Church say may be wrong."

"But I've been a very religious person forever. It's hard to even consider what you're saying. The idea that there really isn't a God that cares about us has never really occurred to me."

Now I was puzzled. That's not what I said. "Back up White-boy. I never said there wasn't a God who loved us. Where did you get that?"

"Yes, you at least suggested it. You said the Church could be wrong."

"But how do you go from your Church . . ." I stopped; I finally realized how he thought this. "I just realized. Why can't your Church make some mistakes without you believing then that God don't care? You can't seem to be able to separate God from your Church. Why can't Christianity still be true, but just your Church's view is wrong on some points?"

It seemed that Rocco had never actually thought of this possibility. If his Church was wrong, then everything was wrong. Talk about brainwashing! "You keep telling me that you think differently from other people. Well start thinking. It seems that if things concern your Church you want them to do your thinking for you!"

He got up and started pacing. This was a good sign. That's what he did when he really chomps down on something. I once saw him think on a Geometry problem for almost a half hour without ever coming up for air.

He finally turned and actually smiled: "I just had an idea. Maybe YOU should write a book on this stuff and invent a new religion." I know he was only kidding but it was also a good sign. It meant he was back on the plan. "Sorry Jade, but this got me so upset when I read it, and I was wide awake, I just had to talk about it."

"Changing the subject, I forgot to ask. How did that last geometry test work out?"

He laughed. "There was even one proof from the test than Fr. Gault couldn't do. He finally admitted he just quickly took it from a college text book. But I did pretty well. I got half of them. He gave me an A+; he just made me sweat blood for it. He keeps raking us over the coals and joking, but he is a good teacher and everyone likes him."

I looked up at the clock. "Holy smoke, it after 2 A M."

"Holy smoke, I hope my parents haven't found me gone. Gees, I won't be able to get up in the morning. Well, Chess Meet tomorrow, so I'll be over after supper."

Rocco started to leave then turned around. He seemed to be trying to make up his mind about something. He finally asked: "Also how can you enjoy reading that book? He's constantly angry about everything. I'm having trouble understanding a lot of it. And every other sentence is about how being a Negro has been an unfair challenge his whole life! Only because you asked has kept me at it. But next time I pick the book."

It took me a couple moments to figure he was talking about the book by Baldwin. He switches gears faster than anyone else I knew. But I had to admit Rocco was right. Baldwin was very negative in places. But Rocco wasn't a Negro. How could I explain? "We'll have to talk about it. That's one of the reasons I wanted you to read it."

I didn't tell Rocco yet, but I don't really agree with Baldwin a lot either. And Rocco was right. Baldwin gets a little incoherent here and there. Not like his fiction. I'm wondering what Rocco will say when he reads the chapter on Glide.

Rocco was still hesitating. It was something else that was really on his mind. He finally asked: "How's your problem with those black kids?"

I almost broke my neck swinging around. How did he know? Does he know? "What have you heard, and how'd you find out?" This was something that only happened in school today.

"Well, let's see. Alexander Gram Bell invented the telephone and guess what, most homes have them." Rocco thought that sarcasm was a class of humor. "Consuelo was worried about you." But he then seemed to change his mind. "Actually, let's talk about this tomorrow, I mean tonight. That will give you enough time to make up a good excuse why you didn't tell me about it!"

He was at the front door again and turned around again: "By the way, I don't care what I read, or even if St. Peter came down in person to proclaim it. I will always be your best friend!"

He left. He also left me wondering how he can change his emotional gears so fast.

Those black kids. I don't even know them much. We never really mixed. I found it so ironic that all my life I felt it was white people who were the enemy. And the worst problem I have at school is caused by my own people. These were some of the kids that had caused a lot of the trouble earlier in the year. The entire confrontation today though was so vividly etched in my memory.

"What's a' matter? We too good for you? You becomin' a honky lover?" This guy called himself Marcel, but I wasn't sure that was his real name.

I tried to get away from the confrontation. "I don't want any trouble. Why can't you just live and let live?"

"Look you dumb nigger, we's had a meeting and you got to stop being an Uncle Tom. We found out it was you who told on Mick and Hank. You turned on your own kind."

"We can't start a war here. No matter happens, we lose. That's the way it's always been. Besides, Mick and Hank really hurt those two kids." Mick and Hank were two of the other ringleaders trying to stir up trouble.

"You gotta prove yo one of us. We don't want you doing that white newspaper thing anymore. And you gotta stick up with yo own kind. Yo lucky we don't do yo right now."

I was finally saved by the bell. Consuelo was right across from me and heard everything. She seemed embarrassed by the whole thing.

I went to my next class. Damn. I was used to being ignored. My hooks usually kept me sort of apart, sort of insulated from problems like this. And it really pissed me off. It was really only a few kids. Most people didn't want trouble. I wonder how they found out it was me who told who beat up those two white kids after school yesterday. I guess I should have ignored it. Last year I would have. The two kids that got beat up were real assholes anyway and probably deserved it.

Rocco keeps saying that my black was rubbing off on him. Maybe they were right, and the opposite was true. Maybe I WAS getting a little white inside. A couple years ago I would have been angry even at the insinuation. But now I couldn't figure what was so bad about it. Maybe if everybody became a little black or a little white, would that be so bad?

I was just putting my books in my book bag at the end of the day when Consuelo came up to me. I wonder why she didn't wait five minutes when we'd be both at the newspaper office. "Hi Jade. I wanted to catch you. Those stupid jerks actually have someone spotting for you outside the newspaper office.

"Shit!" WHY now? Do I now have to complicate myself again by pretending to be someone else with these idiots? "Sure?"

"No doubt. I'm wondering when they are going to approach me?"

"A girl! Those macho idiots don't even see you except as something to get into bed."

"Jade! You're human after all. Do you realize that's the first time I ever heard you talk to me about sex?" She smiled.

I was embarrassed. This was one direction this conversation was not going to go. And I just realized that she has never once talked to me about my hooks! And then I realized that she had become a very good friend. "Thanks. You still going?"

"Well I thought we could maybe work on that article at my place. Carlotta said her Dad can give you a ride home after dinner. She'll be there too."

"Dinner? Is this a date?" Was I actually flirting with a girl?

She laughed. "Call it anything you want. And don't worry. My Mom even likes you. You have her faked out so far."

We both smiled at this. "I have to be home by 6 P M. Rocco is meeting somebody at school but will be over to work on our book report after dinner. We're reading Baldwin's Nobody Knows My Name."/P>

"That's just come out. I glanced at it but couldn't get interested. How did you coerce him into reading it?"

I assumed the question was rhetorical. "But I saw you with that book myself. I though that at least you were also reading it."

"Sorry to burst your bubble, but after perusing it I tossed it aside. I decided on Profiles in Courage by John Kennedy. Infinitely more readable and even interesting in places."

We started out the door and there was Carlotta. We all got on the bus. I'm glad I had some student tokens with me. I pulled out my coin purse and got one out. Both girls watched the operation like I was performing magic. I had it well practiced. The purse was a present from Mama a couple years ago. It had two springs along the top edge that was easy to just squeeze from the sides to open.

Consuelo and Carlotta couldn't be more different. Both in looks and in temperament. I found it hard to believe they were cousins. "So Carlotta, how's your new boyfriend?"

"Why is it that guys only think about sex? I ditched him. . . . Before my Dad could kill him."

I thought: "Who's talking about sex?" Then I realized she was talking about her boyfriend. I guess ex-boyfriend. I also started thinking this was a conspiracy. Why was Consuelo looking at me like that? Let's get off this subject. I looked up and asked Consuelo: "How's your part going?" We just started a new piece on the disparity of support of boy's and girl's sports. I wasn't that enthused over it and was more interested in just getting it done.

"Great. I have some quotes from Miss. Thompson." She was the coach of girl's Basketball, and Girl's Volleyball. "She's quite outspoken on just about everything."

"I can imagine." And I added in falsetto: "And mark my words, someday men will finally realize that more than half the world's population are woman. How come we are the last group yet to reach full equality in this country?" I suddenly wondered if homosexuals or even black people would ever be in a position to even hope for some kind of equality.

"Wow. I could have just interviewed you instead!" Consuelo said. We all laughed. Well, they laughed, and I forced out a few chuckles.

Consuelo added: "If it isn't a woman's issue, Thompson hasn't thought on it since she got breast. I bet she doesn't even know that slavery once existed."

I was a bit embarrassed about her speaking so brazenly about breasts. And I was also now sure. There was a conspiracy going on. That was the four hundredth allusion to sex this afternoon.

That afternoon we finished the paper. It was almost all quotes. In spite of that it read well.

"Dinner! You staying Carlotta?" She had comeback with us to Consuelo's house. It was the first time I'd ever been there. There must have been a hundred pictures all about of Consuelo alone or Consuelo with her mother.

"Oh, I thought I said. Yeah, I cleared it with Dad on the phone right before I left school. He said he would be over at 5:45 P M to take Jade home."

Consuelo then looked at me with this I-got-a-secret look. What the hell was going on? Is there really some conspiracy going on? "Oh Jade. I will ride with you. I want to talk about an idea I just got about another article for the next paper."

"OK. Carlotta, you just going home?"

"Dad will drop me off first."

On the way Consuelo eventually mentioned the new article: "I was wondering if you'd want to work with me on something about how different guys and girls think about sex. What do you think?"

Holy smoke, it WAS a conspiracy. I think NO WAY! Mr. Romero looked at us in the mirror. He remarked: "Do all teens have only one thing on their minds these days?"

"Not all of us. And Consuelo, I would be the worst possible person to collaborate with. I don't really know anything much about the dating scene. How about trying Marx? He's with a different girl every other week." Only a slight exaggeration.

"Well, if I can't get you interested." Not just a conspiracy, but an ambush. Help! Maybe Rocco is right. Maybe I need to start THE BIG LIE also. Why must I be forced into more complications?

Rocco was just coming up the walk as we got there.

"Hi Rocco." She greeted him. And turned to me. "You're date is here." And sort of half laughed and half snickered. I got a bit hot. Rocco claims that he can now tell when I blush. I'm not sure how. I wondered if he noticed anything now.

It was that weekend before we eventually started on the book report. We wrote about a few different things about who Baldwin was, about him living in Europe for the past several years and why, and then got into the book.

Rocco was saying: "But instead of talking about being an American, he just keeps referring to the fact he's a pickaninny, or a nigger, or whatever. Not only does he keep disparaging himself, he keeps disparaging Americans, even while trying to say we, as Americans -- both black and white -- are more alike than we, as Americans are to Europeans." Rocco seemed almost annoyed.

"I think you're not catching the most important thing he's really saying. He discovered he wasn't as constrained about his race in Europe and had more freedom to become himself, to find new possibilities for himself."

Rocco didn't seem to be able to understand just how important that was. He said: "To tell you the truth, I find him very difficult to understand. The essays wonder all over the place with little coherency. And how come no matter what topic he starts with, much of the essay is about race problems. Doesn't he find anything else to talk about?"

"Let's say that right now someone asked you to describe your self in one very short sentence, and you can be perfectly honest, how would you answer? Think about it first."

Rocco did. "I'm a homosexual teen who is trying to be Catholic."

"Good. Why did you define yourself as homosexual? Do you think other people would define themselves as heterosexual?"

He thought about it a bit, and then tried to change the subject. "How would I know? I'm not other people."

"You're just refusing to answer. What did you think?"

"OK, no. I doubt it."

"Then why did you define yourself a homosexual?"

"Because that's what I keep thinking about all the time. It's causing me trouble, and will affect how I can, . . . I don't know. Well it will probably be the most important think affecting how I relate to people and people relate to me. That's not quite right. It's just how I seem to think about myself all the time. It seems more important than anything else and will force me to live the way I must. That's still not quite right but the best I can do."

"Actually, I can see what you mean. Now the same happens to us. I mean Negroes. We define ourselves as Negroes, and then we are whatever else. Being a Negro is at the core of how we get along in society, and affects everything that we do or what happens to us."

"I don't completely agree. Your being Negro don't affect EVERYTHING that happens to you. And I never thought of your being a Negro dominated your thoughts so much. But I suspect being a homosexual will always at the front of my mind. It will cause all kinds of problems. And that goes for me too. It will cause trouble not only with other people but also with ourselves."

We kept talking about a number of the essays. But it was clear that Rocco wasn't that interested in them. We'll just have to write the paper as best we could. "Tell you what; you jumped to the last one `The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy.' I haven't got there yet. And you skipped `The Male Prison,' which I've read. Let's just finish with them. That should be enough to get a grade."

He looked relieved. "OK, and I think I'm starting to understand about being a Negro. I just wondered what about those say in Africa who grow up where ALL the people are black. Do they define themselves differently?"

"I don't know. Probably."

When we got through with all our assignments, Rocco looked over and gave out a long sigh. "Please Jade. What's happening? I asked you a couple days ago about those kids Consuelo told me about, and you claimed that it would amount to nothing. But Consuelo called me again last night and she seemed much more worried. She wanted me to talk you into being more careful." Then Rocco got this little smile and added: "She also asked me to talk you into writing that sex article with her."

Wow, that was a switch, but typical for Rocco. At times, he keeps thinking about something else as he is discussing something, then suddenly, the subject pops out. Like now. Sometimes he's oblivious of things happening around him, and other times he shows remarkable intuition. And Consuelo would have to bring up that sex thing again.

I dispatched the latter thing right away: "Tell her to forget about that sex thing; it ain't gonna happen -- for obvious reasons!" Rocco was snickering. "How about you volunteering to help her with it? She can invite Carlotta and Hernan over to help keep you focused." Rocco stopped snickering.

Then I tried to re-explain about the recent trouble with the kids at school. "I'm not sure how I can handle this. I'm just hoping that my disability will keep me safe. It's not very macho to beast up someone with no hands. I decided just to keep away from the newspaper office for a couple weeks and hope for the best. I can do the work elsewhere. I'm hoping the problem will just go away, and they will forget about me soon."

"I'm worried. I hope you're right."

"And before you ask, you had enough of your own problems to contend with. That's why I didn`t tell you some of this last Wednesday."

He took a second to realize I just answered the question he formulated four nights ago. "OK, but isn't there anyone you can pal around with at school to help you out?"

"White-boy, until you came around I had no real friends. I kept by myself mostly. Just Mama. Maybe Joey will help. Maybe even Teague."

"Teague, I thought he was pretty much the black for blacks type. Didn't think he would side with you on this."

"He's not as bad as all that. I'll talk to him. And I thought you got along with him better than I did. I was also thinking that Teague might even be able to convince them to let me alone."

"Good. He's big enough. But he's a strange mixture of a person. But at times he approaches being a nice guy. There's something about him I like. He's a real leader type. But I can't see him doing something that's not about himself, and his ego is almost as big as mine." Rocco smiled at that. That was one thing I liked about my White-boy. There was no artifice, and usually he was quite open about admitting his shortcomings.

Some time later, while we were watching some inane movie called Adam's Rib, but Rocco insisted we had to watch it because two of his favorite actors/actresses were in it. It was mildly funny; I just couldn't relate to it at all. During the middle of the movie Rocco suddenly asked: "And my own paranoia may be showing but what was with Consuelo's remark? It has me scared a little. Do you think she suspects something?"

"What remark are you talking about?"

"When Mr. Romaro drove you home the other day. And how come Consuelo was in the car anyway? Didn`t she then have to go right back to her own house any way?"

"To answer backwards, Yes, but she claimed she wanted to talk to me about that sex article. And I don't really think she could suspect anything. Just her type of humor."

"It bothered you enough to blush."

"I still don't believe you can really tell. I can hardly get any darker."

Rocco smiled. "Actually you do, but only after a full summer. And you're so dark already; I don't think most people would notice the difference. The blushing part is more in the change in your facial expression." Rocco I could tell was thinking and I just waited for him to say somethng else. "And I'm still paranoid about Consuelo. One, she's one of the smartest people I know. Two, from the questions she asks, I know that she is very observant. Three, she kept asking me questions the other day about who I was dating. And no thank you for just laughing instead of sidetracking her. I never did get you for that. And four, she's not above having two or three motives for doing the same thing. My normal paranoia tells me she deliberately came with you to make that remark about us dating. Or at least to see our reactions to it. I will think of five, six, and seven later."

I looked up at the clock. "Uncle Mike will be home soon, best you not meet."

"Why can't people just be nice? Just think how much better the world would be. To tell the truth, it is beyond me how anyone could even want to deliberately hurt someone. Even Carl. I don't really want him hurt. And I only beat on him when he makes me lose my temper. And, by the way, thanks. I told him what you convinced me to do, and I think it's even made a difference."

"I just wish I could take my own advice. With the kids at school. But I don't think they care about honesty, or even anyone besides themselves."

I was in bed when Uncle Mike came home. Good thing Rocco already helped with the hooks. Uncle Mike was pretty drunk -- again. It's getting worse. Wonder where he gets all the money he wastes on alcohol. And what I'm even more concerned about, he seems to be getting more wildly erratic with his mood swings even when not drinking. That's another looming problem. His remarks are getting more vehement. More angry. So far its just words. I hope. . . I don't know what I hope.

Copyright 2006 by Rocco Paperiello