It was Sunday evening, and I had the drive across the southern part of Wisconsin ahead of me. Today, I would be sailing down the interstate. Not then. It was two-lane roads all the way, but not the level of traffic we see today. Because of the need to pass slow cars, I had to pay a lot more attention to my driving than I would today, and it left me less time to think about the events of the past weekend. But as I left Minnesota and the urban area of the Twin Cities traffic lightened, and I began to think.
Saturday night, as Tim and I had slept together and talked of the day, especially the dinner with Hal, I knew, absolutely, that I would wait for Tim. I was head over heels in love. My dream, my life. I didn't think about it in words, but in feelings. There was a physical ache in my chest as I thought of him, pictured him sitting at the dinner table, felt him beside me in bed. But I hadn't told him all of this. Perhaps I should have, perhaps I would in a letter. But I thought it was unfair to Tim to lay that kind of a burden on him. He was young, he shouldn't spend his high school years tied to a man beyond his reach. I wanted him to spread his wings, find himself. If, in four years, he still wanted me the way that he had at camp, I would be there. I knew that.
Tim had promised that if his heart drifted away from me, he would tell me. I trusted him to do that. For four years-well, three and a third, thank God-I would fear the mail, especially fear a letter from Tim that was off the monthly schedule. Such an envelope could only bring bad tidings. Would it come? In my heart of hearts I knew I never wanted to see such a letter. But my mind told me that it might be better for Tim. If I loved him, wouldn't I want to see him fall in love with a contemporary, have a wonderful time in college dating a future partner, and then plan a life with that person? Wouldn't that be better for Tim? Tim didn't think so, at least not now. He was determined to wait. So was I.
But how would I get through the next forty months? How would he? Well, that was a problem that each of us would have to deal with in our own way. Memories are wonderful, and I would milk all I could out of the memory of two weeks and one weekend. That and forty letters were all that I was going to have. And pictures in the letters. My god, I didn't even have a picture of Tim now! I hadn't even thought of it. I didn't own a camera, so I hadn't taken any pictures at camp. And I hadn't asked for one over the weekend. I must ask for one in our first letter exchange. But if I answered Tim's October letter and asked for a picture, it would be November before I got one. Shit. Well, I had made the rules, I would have to live with them.
What had Tim fallen in love with? A 20-year old college student at a small second or third tier college, getting just better than average grades, little interest in athletics, slightly overweight. Just what had he fallen in love with? When I asked him that, he always responded, "You." It was hard for me to look at myself objectively. But I believe that Tim felt my capacity to love and to care for people. As a camper in my cabin he felt cared for, listened to, appreciated. I think of that as natural, but Tim had not found it among his contemporaries-though he certainly had from his parents and brother. And finally, he found someone who could and would love him back the way he loved. In the end, my love was really all that I had to offer. Evidently, for now at least, that was enough. With those thoughts in mind, I reached Rockford-well after dark.
College was not sufficiently distracting to keep my mind off Tim. I doubted that there was anything that would keep my mind off Tim for very long. If I thought of him just once a day, and repeated some or most of the thoughts that had gone through my mind on the way home from Minneapolis, it would mean turning those over in my mind more that a thousand times! Was I capable of that? I was sure that I was, but only time would tell.
Monday brought mail, and in the little pile was a letter from Franklin. It was a short note: "Charlie. I had a wonderful two weeks. Thank you. I don't have time to write much now, but I promise that I will. The main purpose of this letter is to send you three photos I took this summer. I sent the same three to Tim. I hope you two lovebirds enjoy them! Franklin."
The letter contained a picture of me, one of Tim (really cute), and one of the two of us together with our arms around each other's shoulders-I remember his taking that one. To this day it is my favorite picture. I wrote and begged Franklin for the negative, and had a large print made which I put on the wall of my room. Visitors to the room-and my roommate-all wanted to know who he was. I simply said, "My favorite camper at camp last summer." Well, that was true! With the age difference no one ever suspected a sexual or romantic relationship!
On October 3, Tim's first letter arrived. If it weren't so long, I would quote it in full, but it would be too much. Tim had started writing it Sunday evening after I left. He added to it almost every day-though I was glad to see he missed a few days toward the end of the month. The letter was, first of all a love letter. Written by a smitten teenager, it could have been addressed to whomever was the object of his-or her-current love. However stated, "I love you," and "I miss you," and "I can't live without you," all make the reader feel good, but one can only find so many ways to say that in a letter. And, whether either he or I liked it or not, Tim was fourteen years old and his experience with romance was almost nil, so his own romantic writing was lacking in elegance or variety. None of that occurred to me as I read the words, for the first, or even the 21st, time. I drank it in.
The letter was also almost a diary of what he had been doing. He had seen Hal twice, attending Hal's first cross-country meet: fourth overall, and first freshman, in a three school meet. A wonderful start! I wrote a congratulatory letter to Hal immediately. He said that he had gotten the pictures from Franklin and had asked for the negatives. Franklin had said that I had them. I was to hand them over immediately!
Then he got down to what was clearly his agenda for the letter:
"Charlie. You are as smart as anybody I have ever met. But your grades are mediocre. Why? I think it is because you have never had anybody that really cared what your grades were. I don't know your parents, but it is clear that you never sought to perform for them. No one else ever cared, or never let you know that they cared. Well, I care. I really care about you, and I know that inside you is a straight A student. Please, please, Charlie, know that I care. I truly care. Not because I want a partner with straight As'; I care because I want a partner that feels good about himself. Study for me. Please, please, please."
Mediocre? I had a B average, that wasn't mediocre. Well, I guess it was for Tim. And when I thought about it, it was for me too. Did I have the self-discipline to change my study habits? To actually read the materials assigned? Hell, I got C's and B's, and a good sprinkling of A's without doing much work at all. I hardly ever read the text. Never took notes. Was I going to change all that?
A couple of paragraphs on Tim wrote:
"Charlie, if you are like me you spend a lot of time thinking of your future partner. Wondering what he is doing. Hoping against hope that his love will last for four years, and then for a lifetime. If you don't find something to occupy your mind, your whole mind, those thoughts will drive you crazy. They are driving me crazy, and I am working on it. In your case, put those thoughts aside and study! Do it. Dammit. And don't give me any Bullshit."
Damn, he could read me like a book. Well, I could read him pretty well too. I guess that comes with love. But when I read that paragraph I knew, completely, that my life had changed. Never again would I accept a B, because I knew that Tim wouldn't. And, for the record, I never got a B in any class since that letter.
My reply to Tim, the first of forty that I would write, and I numbered each one, was my best attempt at a love letter. I fear that I was no more successful than Tim. I needed a Cyrano, but didn't have one. I almost cried as I thanked him for holding my feet to the fire over grades, and I promised, and I really meant it, that I would work hard-for him. I told him that was a tangible way for me to show my love.
Then I wrote:
"Tim, there is a difficult subject that we need to think about. We don't need to make a decision right away, but we need to think. We both feel attached to each other, and are hoping that it is a lifelong relationship. We have made a commitment to tell the other if that ceases to be the case. We have made no promises beyond that. We are going to be apart for more than three years. What does that say about sex? I know that you masturbate. So do I. We need a clear understanding that jacking off is expected and is OK. But what about other kinds of sex? Is it OK for you to try out a girl-I hope with integrity and honesty? A boy? If we survive these years of separation and are living together, are we going to limit sex to just the two of us? For at least these years, we need rules. And whatever the rules are, they need to be the same for both of us. Think about it."
I filled several pages, but those are the important things. Letter exchange number 1, of 40, was complete.
I tried my best to substitute studying for Tim's sake for pining for him and worrying about whether his love would survive our separation. And it seemed to work, at least some of the time. It was more productive to read my texts than to make doodles out of the letters I, M, and T. It was more productive, if less interesting, to think about Plato's cave than to think about what I could do in a cave with Tim.
My roommate, new for this year, was a very gentle, large boy named Pete. In the spring I had been slightly sexually attracted to him-though I never made any advances and never got a hint from him that he was gay. We liked each other and decided to room together. There was no deep friendship, but it was a convenient relationship. When in October I suddenly started "hitting the books" Pete was bewildered. "You used to read, at most, the summaries at the end of chapters. Now you have become a homework demon. I don't understand. What gives?"
How could I answer that? The best I could do was, "Well, I decided that my B average just wasn't good enough. I am turning over a new leaf."
I am not sure that Pete bought that, and I have no idea what he might have speculated was the real reason for the change in me. He did accept it. I think that a little of the discipline rubbed off on Pete, but not a lot. He was quite content with B's.
I couldn't help but reflect on the new Charlie and compare him to the new Hal. Charlie had done it for love. What had been Hal's motivation? Hal did it for Hal. I think that he gets a whole lot more credit than I do. Doing something for someone as loveable as Tim is vastly easier than making the decision to do it for yourself. It made me realize just how extraordinary a young man Hal was.
Tim's November letter arrived. He got right to the point. "Sex: Masturbate all you want, I sure do. Others: I am not so sure. I know that you have no experience with this in your family, but I decided to share your question with Dad and Mom. Their first reaction was to tell me to thank you for being so frank and honest in raising the issue. They then said that it was solely a decision for Tim and Charlie. But they went on, as I knew they would. They ticked off the arguments for a monogamous relationship. Not much on the list to surprise you. Then they talked about the reasons for an open relationship-their term: (1) Sex is fun. (2) Who would we be hurting? (3) The people who made the rule that I shouldn't love a man, especially an older man, also made the two-by-two rule. I certainly didn't expect that from Mom or Dad! They did say, very strongly, that if I did things behind your back it would kill the whole relationship. I agree. I won't. Bottom line: I am still thinking about your question, which is what you asked me to do. Until we agree otherwise, I will not have any sexual relationship with anyone-except me!"
My response to that paragraph was a simple, "Neither will I." That, and other news of the day ended letter 2, of 40.
Before Tim's December letter arrived I did a lot more thinking. I couldn't get Hal out of my mind. I couldn't get Tim out of my mind either, but for different reasons. When I first met Hal it seemed clear to me that he looked like a loser. I never thought of myself that way, however. Tom and Tim decided to help Hal change. I had thought that was likely to be difficult to impossible, but I wished them well, agreed to help, and certainly thought that if it worked they would be doing Hal a favor. The rest is history. And I think they did do Hal a favor, and I am pretty sure that Hal would agree with that. It never occurred to me then that I needed changing as much as Hal. Perhaps in different ways; I'd like to think to a different degree. But there was an "old Charlie" that needed changing. And I came to realize that study habits were not the only change needed.
I was overweight-about thirty pounds. Exercise was almost as unfamiliar as dating girls. I had a poor relationship with my parents. I drove too fast. I could have gone on, but I didn't really think that I needed to beat myself up too much.
OK, that described the old Charlie. If I actually was able to create a new Charlie, would Tim still love him? More or less? Should I ask Tim? Tim had already expressed his opinion about my study habits, it didn't take any brains to figure out that he would like other aspects of the new Charlie-if there was going to be a new Charlie. Would the new Charlie still feature the love and whatever else that Tim saw in me? I decided that this all needed some thought.
To use Tim's favorite word, "Bullshit." I realized that in the shower the next morning. It was 8:30 in the morning; I was just waking up for a 9:00 o'clock class, wouldn't have time for breakfast, and would walk into class just as the bell rang. Thanks to a decision I had made a month ago, I would have my work done and I would be ready for the class. But I realized that a lot more had to change than my study habits. The idea that, somehow, Tim might love me less was: Bullshit. I got out of the shower, dressed for class, and never looked back.
As I think about the changes that started that morning I can hardly believe it. If you had asked me before that summer at camp about weight, sleep habits, study habits, the whole nine yards, I would have said I was happy with myself. Bullshit. But it was a very pleasant self-delusion. Looking back on my life, "happily ever after" began in two stages: The first was when Tim arrived at Camp White Elk. The second was during that shower.
Now I had the question of what I was going to tell Tim. Would all of this be a surprise in three years? Again, I decided that was a no brainer. The only way our relationship could survive was on truth-the whole truth. So in letter 3 I poured out my heart and my confession of what I truly thought of the old Charlie. I told him about how my thinking about the old Hal had started it all. And I promised him that there truly would be a new Charlie, and I prayed that he would love the new Charlie as much as the old.
There was more, but it isn't important. We had made it past letter 3, of 40.
Tim's letter 4 began, "The end of Bullshit! Right on!" He didn't say another word about the old or new Charlie. He didn't have to.
He did return to the question of sex:
"Charlie, I have been thinking long about sex. First, I believe that we need to separate the question of sex with other people after we are committed and living together from the question of sex over the next three years. When we commit to each other at my 18th birthday, we need to decide then what that means. I am not sure. But the question of the next three years is a different one. We have only committed to write and be honest about where our relationship is. I would not want to tie you to anything tighter. So, I promise that if I have any kind of sexual relationship with anyone, I will tell you. Promise me that, Charlie. And promise also that if you have sex, and you tell me about it, that you will also tell me how that affects our future relationship. I'll promise you that as well."
There was a lot in that paragraph, but the key phrase, for me, didn't have anything to do with sex, it was "When we commit to each other at my 18th birthday." Not "if" but "when." As for the sex, he was giving me permission. I had raised the question because I wanted to give him permission. With my return letter the promises were made, the permission given, but I wasn't sure that either of us would partake. But I was wrong!
In any case, the fifth round of letters had come and gone. Out of 40.
Pete wasn't sure what to make of me. I was getting to bed at a reasonable hour-for a college student-never later than 1:00 a.m. I was up by 7:30, and always made breakfast. I was eating less. I was walking at least a mile a day, and swimming at the gym at least two or three times a week. Pete didn't make breakfast, but he did try to walk with me. Forget the swimming and eating less for him. I never said a word to him about the changes, my reasons for them, and certainly never urged them upon him in any way. I knew from personal experience that change comes from within. Hal's changes had come from within-Tom and Tim were mere catalysts. My changes came from within, born of my love. Any changes that Pete might make had to be his.
Pete floored me one night, however. But not by talking about change. As we were going to bed he asked, "You jack off don't you?"
I wasn't ready for the question, but anything but a truthful answer seemed pretty stupid.
"Of course. I assume you do, too."
"Of course. Have you ever done it with anybody?"
Wow, we were getting close to home-though, of course, I had not done that with Tim. But in high school I had "messed around" some with a couple of boys. How do I answer? The new Charlie decided for honesty. "In high school."
"Want to play a little tonight?"
I was horny as a toad and hard as a rock. Of course I wanted to. And hadn't I just gotten permission from Tim? Of course, I would have to provide Tim the full details in my next letter. Was I ready to do that? I responded, "I'm headed to the shower. Let me think on it there."
"OK. No pressure, just an offer. I think sex is fun. It feels good. No commitment."
I did think, hard. Certainly Pete would never displace Tim in my heart. Would this relieve some of the sexual tension that was only relieved now by jacking off? Was there really any difference between my hand or Pete's hand on my dick? Was this more of Tim's Bullshit? Oh, Hell. I simply wasn't sure. I headed back down the hall with my towel around me, still thinking. I opened the door and there was Pete, laying naked on his back on his bed, just beginning to stroke his huge hard-on. I simply fell on the bed next to him, pushed his hand aside and did the job for him. I would stroke for a while, tickle his balls for a while, then move my hand around his chest tickling his nipples, poking his belly button gently, moving through his pubic hair, and returning to stroking. After a couple of rounds of this, he came all over his chest and my hand. He handed me his underwear shorts and said, "Will you clean it up?"
I did. Then he said, "Lie on your back." I did. He did the same thing for me. He had had more experience than I. He was very good with his hand, and included my anus in the list of sensitive parts he worked with, though he did not try to get inside. When I came he kept stroking me until I had to beg him to stop, and he stopped very slowly. When it was over, I just lay there. It felt so good.
Then the guilt set in. I had betrayed Tim. Well, no I hadn't. He had been very specific in saying that this was not a betrayal of any commitment we had made. The only betrayal would be not telling him. While I still felt guilty, I was determined to keep my promise and tell all.
And that was my sixth letter. It responded to his of the same number, in which he had poured out his love and passed on his daily diary, but said nothing more about sex. Letter 6, of 40, done.
His next letter began,
I could hardly hold this letter till the first of the month. I had to say that I was sooooo glad to hear about you and Pete! This idea of you being a monk for three years was killing me. Pete sounds nice, but I don't see him as a threat! Right? I'd better be! But I can't believe that a night with Pete wasn't better than a night with only your hand. Go for it. I really mean it."
Did he really mean it? Well, yes, I think he did. While I guess I really wanted to believe that he really meant it, the fact was that this was a kid who told the truth. If he said he meant it, he meant it. Years later, with the benefit of hindsight, and a much deeper knowledge of Tim, I know that I was right. He really did mean it.
My reply was simple. "You do the same." That, a personal activity update, numerous "I love yous" and letter 7, of 40, was dispatched.
Pete and I had a very short relationship. Our conversation led us to conclude that we could be open about sex with each other, asking for it without demanding. A few nights I initiated things. A few nights he did. One afternoon he came into the room while I was studying. He peeled off his clothes and said, "Want some fun?"
I looked at him on the bed, dick pointing straight up, and I simply wasn't turned on. I was deep into some math problem, and simply wasn't aroused. I replied, "Not now Pete, maybe this evening."
He lay there and jacked off, which was perfectly OK with me. Then he got dressed and left. He never again asked for any kind of sex. Nor did I. It was now May. We drifted apart, and decided that we would get new roommates the next year. We remained friends, but that was all. Starting that afternoon, and continuing for years, I felt guilty. I should have gone to him and given him the sexual release he sought. Refusing him while he was lying there on the bed, hard-on sticking up, was not fair. It was one of the lessons I learned on the way to becoming the new Charlie: you don't refuse your partner's reasonable requests for sex. Period. Pete wasn't my lover, we had never kissed, never been into oral or anal sex, but were, at least, jack-off partners. And I had failed him. Lesson learned, never again.
I shared that story and lesson with Tim in letter 8.
Tim's June letter, number 9, shocked me. He had a girlfriend, Tina. He wrote: "Charlie, I decided that I needed to learn something about myself. Tina is nice, pretty, but not the object of pursuit by the hotshot lover boys-mainly because she won't give them what they want. She enjoys being with me because I don't ask for it. We are having a good time together, making no commitments, having no sex, and learning about each other and ourselves. I remain madly in love with you. Honest."
I had to assume he was. His summer plans were to work hard on his diving and gymnastics, while he had lots of time. During the school year he simply didn't have enough time for both diving and gymnastics, while keeping ahead in school. Since the school had a pool, with a diving and swim team, that is what he choose. His gymnastics had been at a local club, and during previous years he had been going three school days each week and a good part of Saturday and Sunday. This year he had gone only on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The club wasn't too happy, and he didn't participate in meets. He did keep his form up fairly well, but didn't improve on it like he should have.
In the summer he planned to work hard on both gymnastics and diving, and make a decision about them before the fall. Neither coach was real happy, as both wanted a commitment. But Tim worked on his own terms, and they could take him or leave him. Neither was prepared to leave him.
My summer would be back at Camp White Elk. All of the boys but Tim would be back, but not all at the same time. Tom was coming early in the summer, so that he could take a driving trip west with his family in the second half of the summer. Ronnie would be there at the same time. Neither was in my camper group. Both were eager to see me, and we talked often. Sometimes all three of us, sometimes separately. Ronnie had just finished 9th grade. When pressed he admitted that he had taken Chemistry-usually an 11th grade course-the previous year, and would be taking Physics-a senior course-in the fall. He was going to take calculus at the local college in the fall as well Learning all this made me realize how little he had revealed about himself the previous summer. I told him that and apologized that I had not tried to get to know him better. He replied, "I was too introverted last summer to talk about myself. I determined this summer to be a little more open. I hope I can be."
"Ronnie, if you do, you will have more fun here at camp."
"I still get my biggest thrill watching the others. But I did get a new baseball glove to replace the one I gave to Hal." He never used it much, however. I believed then, and still do, that Ronnie was truly happy with who he was.
Without Tim, Tom was the solo leader of his cabin. He didn't have a Hal to work on this summer; instead he simply worked on motivating the whole cabin. Tom's counselor was a nice young man, but a little lazy. He never knew what hit him when he got Tom. Those of us who knew Tom from the previous year watched with great glee as Tom demanded, and organized, games, trips, activities, hikes, camping and sailing for his camper group and often the whole cabin. Keeping up with Tom was no small feat!
Both Tom and Ronnie had exchanged letters with all of the others from the previous summer. They brought news and kind words. Both said incredibly kind things to me about my being their counselor the previous year, and insisted that all seven of the group thought the same. I thanked them for their praise, but honestly believed that many other counselors were just as good or better. My response was to assure them that I thought that the group was one of the finest groups of boys I had ever seen assembled. Unlike me, they accepted that compliment and agreed quite readily that they thought the group was indeed quite extraordinary. As one bit of proof, they noted that all seven, eight if you include me, had kept in touch over the winter-a rare if not unique achievement for a camper group.
My June letter, number 9, of 40, was written during this session. It sent lots of news of Ronnie and Tom, and of me, but the main thing was to talk of Tina. Tim had been so enthusiastic about me and Pete, I had no choice but to be the same with him. I guess deep in my heart, I was disappointed that he had found a girl, and certainly fearful. I knew I should be happy for him; If he fell in love with her, that would be best for him. If it was just an experience on the road of life, it would be good for him. If it went nowhere, that would be OK too. I wrote and told him as much. I continued, "Tim, enjoy Tina. Let it go wherever it goes. You have no commitment to me other than honesty. Don't hold back with Tina. Enjoy her. See where it goes. If it goes nowhere, then our love will be stronger. If it goes somewhere, then our love was not meant to be, and it is good we found out sooner not later. Fly high, Tim."
With a somewhat heavy heart, my letter 9, of 40, went into the mail.
The three week period drew to a close very quickly, at least it seemed that way amidst all the fun. Toward the end of the period Ronnie took me aside for a little talk. "Charlie, thank you for being Charlie, and thank you for letting me be Ronnie. Too many people think that I shouldn't be different, that I should play games, join in all the horsing around, be one of the gang. But it just isn't me. Last year, how did you decide to try to change Hal and not me?"
"All that business with Hal was Tom's doing. Tim helped, of course, as did we all when we could, but it was Tom's show. You were mentioned, but I said that I thought Hal was unhappy with who he was, but that you seemed to be happy. I think I was right. But tell me, why come to camp, and get all the pressure to be different than you are?"
"Simple. I knew you would be here. And Tom."
"OK, that may explain this year, but how about last year?"
"I was pushed pretty hard by my mom. But I didn't resist. Camp is relaxing; it gets me away from reading and studying."
"But you read all the time here. It doesn't get you away from reading."
"Have you paid attention to what I read.? Mysteries, science fiction. At home it is science and textbooks."
"Whose idea is that? Parents? Teachers?"
"Oh, no. Mine. I really enjoy my life, my reading, my studies. But a break is nice too. And this year, the thought of being back with you for three weeks.... Well, it was an easy decision."
"Ronnie, last year I thought that I sort of ignored you. I spent so much time with Tim and Hal."
"You may have thought that, but you were there whenever I needed you. And you were always kind-loving in fact. And you let me be me. Charlie, there aren't many like you. And then the whole group. All wonderful. I missed my books at times, but I was never so happy in my life. A whole group of people that were kind, and let me be me. You just can't know how wonderful it was."
"Thank you, Ronnie. You made my day. You really are an unusual kid. I do love you."
He hugged me very briefly and then was off.
The last day of the season, Saturday, came. Tom and Ronnie had conspired with Franklin, Andy and Jim to have time for all five to be together for a while. Franklin arrived with his folks shortly after breakfast, and Andy and Jim arrived together with Jim's parents shortly thereafter. They found Tom and Ronnie and the five of them disappeared. Franklin would be my camper again this summer-for this middle, four-week session. But Jim and Andy who were a year younger would be in a different group. In the last session of the season there were fewer boys and a larger age range for each cabin and camper group. This middle session was the largest, and ages were pretty much kept together.
Franklin's parents, Peter and Norma, were eager to talk with me, after Franklin set off with the other boys. Norma began, "Charlie, Franklin has talked about you constantly for a year. It started in the car going home last summer. He talks about the campers from last summer as well, especially Tim-who he says is in love with you-and Hal, who evidently was virtually remade by the group last summer. It is all so far fetched we didn't know what to make of it. We talked to Stan on the phone last fall, and he basically said that, 'Yes, it is far fetched, but it is all true.' He said that he had never seen a camper group function so well, or have a better relationship with their counselor. He more or less thinks you walk on water, or that maybe the water isn't even necessary."
How does one respond to something like that? I have never been sure. But I thanked them for the compliments, and assured them that Franklin was a very essential part of the group-something that was absolutely true. I could honestly say that I had never met a more selfless young man than Franklin. Then I took a chance. "I assume that Franklin has told you that he is gay?"
"Oh, yes. And he told us that he dropped that bomb on you just as he left camp last summer. He seems quite certain that you are gay as well."
"He's right, but I have never made such a statement to anyone here at camp."
"Franklin is convinced that you and Tim have something going."
"Tim does. I guess I do. But nothing will happen before Tim turns eighteen."
"Franklin was convinced that nothing happened last summer. He said that you two talked a lot, but always stayed in sight. He is convinced that that was deliberate so that rumors couldn't start."
"Franklin is no dummy."
"Well, we appreciate your being so open with us. In our phone call to Stan nothing was said about Tim. If we ever did anything to hurt you or Tim, Franklin would have a difficult time determining whether to crush us or simply disown us! By the way, I think that Franklin would appreciate the opportunity to talk to a gay man. Don't hesitate to talk to him."
"I will be glad to. I am sure that Franklin and I are going to be talking a lot this summer."
"We want to meet the famous Hal."
"He isn't here, but you should cross paths when you pick Franklin up."
"We're looking forward to it. Charlie you have a good summer with Franklin."
"I will; I'm quite certain."
About 11:00 a.m. I had said good-bye to the last of my campers and had begun to wonder where the gang had gotten to. Just about then they walked out of the woods and invited me to take a walk with them over to the far side of the field, in sight but out of hearing-the same place that Tim and I had most of our talks last summer. We all sat down, and then Ronnie spoke. I was certainly surprised to see him the spokesman, especially with Tom and Franklin there. But it was Ronnie who spoke. "We were trying to figure out why Tim didn't come to camp this summer. It didn't take us long to figure it out."
"I am glad you did. He hasn't told me," I said.
"Oh, don't kid us. He didn't come this summer because of you."
"I am not sure that it much of a compliment," I said.
"Sure it is," Ronnie said. "You two are in love, and you can't stand being near each other and not being able to touch each other. Right?"
How was I supposed to field that question? These kids were too damn smart for their own good.
Tom continued for Ronnie, "Ronnie was our spokesman, because it was he that figured it out. Tim's letters that said his sports kept him away didn't make any sense. He was just as involved with sports last year, perhaps more so. But he got to camp. Why not this year?"
Ronne continued, "You two were thick as flies last year, we knew you had visited him in Minneapolis last September-Hal told all in his letters. Any good scientist could put 356 and 356 together and get 712. Bingo. Tim isn't at camp this summer. Then Franklin said that he had figured it out last summer, and let you know it as he left last year. He noted that you didn't deny it."
Franklin chimed in, "Look Charlie. I told you your secret was safe with me. I didn't tell these guys anything. They figured it out."
I said, "You are all just speculating."
Jim said, "Tim would say, 'Bullshit', right about now."
"Damn right," Andy said.
Tom interjected, "Are you going to deny it? If so, you're lying."
"No, I'm not going to deny it. But I am not going to affirm it either. I can't stop you from speculating."
Ronnie continued, "Charlie, we all want you to know that we think it is wonderful. We wish you and Tim the best of luck, but we know you have some difficult times ahead. Our message is, 'Right on, Charlie. Trust us.'"
"Right on, Charlie, trust me," said Tom.
"Right on, Charlie, trust me," said Jim.
"Right on, Charlie, trust me," said Andy.
"Right on, Charlie, trust me," said Ronnie.
"Right on, Charlie, trust me," said Franklin. "I said it last year and I still mean it."
I was in tears. Then Franklin said, "Let's walk in the woods." We walked a ways, till we were out of sight of anyone. Then each boy, in turn, came up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss, right on the lips. Afterwards, Franklin said, "Those are for Tim, too."
I hugged each one back in turn, and kissed them all on the cheek.
Tom's parents arrived shortly after that. I wasn't Tom's counselor, so there was no reason for them to talk to me, but they sought me out. Sam, Tom's father, said, "Tom has again had a wonderful summer. I wouldn't say anything negative about his counselor, because I got nothing but good reports about him from Tom. But Tom's letters were all about you. He simply worships the ground you walk on. I don't know what magic was in the air here last summer, but it has ballooned over the winter. Last winter every letter from you was eagerly awaited-and they never seemed to disappoint him. I told him that he should take his time in replying-that you have other things to do but write letters to seven campers-and I knew you had other campers from other sessions. He was almost as excited about letters from the other boys. And we have a new Tom: better grades, easier to get along with in the family; he is a teenager, but after last summer acts much more like an adult."
Beverly, his wife, chimed in, "We really find last summer to be a mystery, but certainly a very exciting one. We can never thank you enough."
With that Tom came up, gave me a huge hug, and whispered in my ear, "Can I kiss you?"
I slowly shook my head, "No."
He said, out loud, "I thought not. Well, be aware that I wanted to." Another hug, a handshake with him and his parents, and he was gone. Who knew when we would meet again?
Ronnie's parents arrived, sought me out, and were almost as effusive with their praise. His mother, Adele, spoke for them. "I don't think that Ron has ever related to another adult as well as you. He has some really wonderful teachers, and they are wonderful with him. But they relate to his intellect. You have somehow penetrated his emotions. The most common word he uses to describe you is kind. His teachers are smart, but you are kind. Ronnie is so different, he doesn't often receive true kindness. He has here at camp. Frank and I cannot thank you enough for giving him that experience. And he has been kinder to other people as a result of receiving such kindness himself. Thank you, Charlie."
"Adele, Frank. I am not the only person here that has been kind to Ronnie. You need to thank the whole camp."
"No, Charlie. He counselor this year meant well, but was always pushing Ronnie into things he didn't want to do. You didn't do that, and it meant more to him than you can understand. The others that were truly kind to Ronnie last year were his cabin mates, especially Tom, Tim and Franklin-but he loved them all. And I am convinced that they took their cue from you."
Frank added, "You know, Charlie, Rockford is just down the road from Madison. Why don't you come visit sometime? Ronnie would love to see you, and Adele and I would like to get to know you better. If you are half of what Ronnie describes, and I am convinced you are, I'd really enjoy spending some time with you. I know you're busy, but if you want a good dinner, or a place to get away for the weekend, give us a call. We'd love to see you. And Ronnie would be ecstatic."
Jim, Andy and Franklin were busy renewing their friendship. Franklin was my camper, but there were six others that I had to meet and greet, get settled in, and acquainted with each other and the camp. Franklin was the instant leader of the group, of not particularly exciting teenagers. To this day I don't know whether the campers that I had that summer were a less interesting group than the average, or whether it was my inability to deal with them separately from my memories of last year's gang.
Tim's letter 10, July, arrived about this time. It brought news in three areas: diving, gymnastics, and Tina. Things were progressing with all three. He really liked (emphasis on the word like) Tina, but wasn't sure where the relationship was going to go. He was seriously considering coming out to her, but wasn't sure how she would react. He planned to steer their discussions to the question of homosexuality in the abstract and see how she reacted. In diving, so he reported, he was a killer. In gymnastics, particularly floor exercises he was doing well. He was OK on rings, but his height hurt him on the parallel bars and pommel horse. He liked working on the balance beam, but it was only a girl's event-which really pissed him off, because he was better than all of the girls! He was really bothered by the decision that he was going to be forced to make at the end of the summer. Oh, yes, he continued working on the trampoline for his diving, and said that he was eager to jump with me again. This time he wanted to end on my shoulders following a flip! I wasn't sure I was ready for that, but I knew that if that is what Tim wanted to do, we would probably do it someday. God, I wished that "someday" was here!
The four weeks passed with little excitement, no crises, and no serious problems. Jim and Andy found time to visit with me often, and their stories were interesting.
They had gone together with Jim's family when then left camp the previous summer. Jim had a sister, and she also had a friend visiting her. Their home was in Flint, but they had a summer home on Saginaw Bay. The six of them spent about a week on "the Bay." Jim and Andy explored the area, the water, Jim's sailboat, and each other. I never knew the details of how it started, or who started it, but they got into jacking each other off on a secluded area of beach every morning-when the seclusion was guaranteed. They skinny dipped at night, sometimes with the two girls. It was dark, so no one saw anything, but it was erotic just to do it. They girls were a year older and had kind of led the boys on-and they were both quite willing to be led. The last night, as they were coming out of the water, the two girls grabbed the boys-Jim's sister got Andy-and hugged and kissed them. The girls let their hands roam down to the boys' very hard dicks, and massaged them well. They boys weren't sure whether they were more aroused or embarrassed! The girls withdrew, laughing, having not let the boys reciprocate at all.
Back at the cabin, after they were sure everyone was asleep, Jim and Andy plotted revenge. They took off their pajamas and very quietly slipped down the hall to the girls' room-their parents were asleep in the master bedroom at the other end of the cabin. The doors had no locks, so they slipped right in and over to the girls' beds. They very quietly eased into bed with their girl. Then they woke the girls by gently rubbing their breasts. After a few gasps they got the girls quiet and said they were just there to finish what had been started in the water. Even though the girls had started it by their grabbing in the water, they were very reluctant participants in bed. Completely rejected, they boys went back to their own bedroom and jacked each other off. They decided that they must be gay.
I was told the story three times, first by Andy, then Jim, then the two of them together. They weren't looking for advice from me, and I certainly wasn't in the mood to give them any. They were beginning to put their adventure into perspective. Andy lived in Alma, Michigan, just about an hour and a half north and west of Flint. They visited back and forth, and exchanged a few letters. They jacked each other off when they saw each other, but neither expressed, to me or to the other, any hint of love or romance. They gave and received pure physical pleasure. Jim's sister avoided Andy, at least she avoided being alone with him-or the two boys together. Nothing was said of the adventure at "the Bay."
Now both boys were expressing their doubts about their gay relationship. Both confided in me that they wanted to end it, but were afraid that ending it would hurt the other. They both wanted to stay friends. Both were beginning to be interested in girls.
I wish that all of my counseling problems had been that easy. I told both of them, in no uncertain terms, that honesty was not only the best policy, it was the only policy. And, since I knew how the other was thinking, I was quite certain that it would work out for the best. I am not sure who spoke to whom first, but they came running to me one afternoon on the archery range, eager to pull me aside and tell me that all was well. I could tell from their grins what the message was. I couldn't leave the range at the moment, but I simply said, "I get the message from the smiles on your faces. Words aren't needed. Go have fun."
That whole story was my July letter to Tim. His response was, "I think that everybody in the camper group has tried sex with somebody else. Is their anyone who hasn't?" Well, yes, there was. Tim, Franklin and I were gay. Andy and Jim had had their fling. At this point we didn't know about Franklin and Hal's little adventure. Ronnie and Tom were straight as far as we knew, though both had gleefully kissed me the afternoon they outed me! That July letter was number 10, of 40. It was going to be a long time, but a fourth of it was over.
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