The second camp session came to an end. Jim and Andy would be leaving. Still best of friends they were traveling together; this time with Andy's folks. I think they were going straight home, not on more vacation. But seeing more of each other in the winter was definitely in the cards for them.
Hal was coming, and Franklin was staying. The four had some time together and I joined them when I could get away from my counseling duties. But it was a busy day, so I only had a short while with them. After Jim and Andy had left, Hal winked at me and said, "Right on, Charlie, trust me too." I knew what they had been talking about.
Hal spent two weeks running. No one in camp could keep up with him, except for the deer. He got up and ran before breakfast, swam most of the morning, ran miles in the afternoon, and didn't really join the other campers until after dinner. It was a completely unheard of schedule for a camper, and running alone through the woods made Stanley very nervous. But Hazel and John had talked to Stanley in the spring and told him that Hal wanted to swim and run. Stanley had asked why he didn't just run and swim at home. John had said, "Hal loves Camp White Elk. In fact, he owes his whole life to Camp White Elk, and Charlie and Tom, and others. He loves the boys, he loves the woods. He wants to be there. But he wants to run and swim." They had had their attorney draw up a release giving the camp permission to allow Hal to run alone in the woods. Stanley went along, but insisted-quite correctly-that Hal always tell his counselor where he was going to be running, and to stay on the course he had set out.
He knew every trail, and ran them repeatedly. He never had a problem. From time to time someone would run with him, but they couldn't keep up. Franklin liked to run with him, but learned to join him on his third or fourth loop through the woods, so that Hal would be tiring when Franklin was fresh!
I worried that Hal was becoming a different kind of loner. We talked about it, but he wasn't worried, and I decided that he needn't be. Gone was the shy misfit. This Hal had good friends among the other boys; they admired his running. A few swam with him. He was a strong swimmer but not really fast. He would do laps with friends and it didn't matter whether they stayed together or not, they were always fairly close in the swimming area.
Evenings he entered into whatever game or program was planned. He did pass up his camper group's three-day canoe trip. Left alone he was put in my group for those three days. I have a suspicion that that may have had more to do with his staying behind than his eagerness to run.
Franklin was just a huge big bundle of love and joy. His program for the moment was what ever you wanted to do. Baseball? Great. Swim? Certainly. Archery? Let's go. Who couldn't like this kid? All the campers and staff did. I worried, however, that he was so selfless that he didn't have any personal goals. When asked, he very firmly said, "I want to be happy, and I want the people around me to be happy. I think that that's a very reasonable life goal. It's enough. And I'm very happy."
I think he was. I have known him for many years now, and he hasn't changed. He towers over everyone, pleases everyone, loves everyone, hugs everyone, will do anything for anyone, and goes through life like a well-loved Teddy bear. Tim and I love him to death. And he has found his true love-but I'm getting ahead of my story.
Hal confided in me that he wanted to run marathons. His first goal was the Boston Marathon, not just running in it-though he had to qualify before he could-but winning it, and running the Olympic marathon. It was clear that he could taste an Olympic medal. I couldn't believe that this was the boy that had entered camp just a year ago. Nor could anybody else. New counselors that had met Hal only this summer, simply didn't believe our descriptions of him upon arrival the prevous summer.
In the middle of the two week camp session Tim's August letter, number 11, arrived. As usual, it contained another of Tim's bombshells. Tim was talking about the "new Tim." He said, "By God, if there can be a new Hal and a new Charlie, then damned if there can't be a new Tim." I was thinking that there really wasn't much need for improvement, as I thought Tim was the living embodiment of perfection. But Tim had decided that he had set too low goals for himself. He was going to keep up both his diving and his gymnastics this fall. His parents thought he was crazy. Both of his coaches thought he was crazy, but of course each wanted him to give up the other sport. He assured me that he knew that I would think he was crazy. He agreed. But he was going to do it. And, no, he was not going to "try," and he was not going to keep going until he had to drop out of one or the other, he was going to do both, period. And he was going to keep his grades up.
The boy was out of his fucking mind.
Just as I thought that, I read, "No, Charlie, I am not out of my fucking mind. I am coming to terms with myself. I want to do exceptional things in my life, and the new Tim is-starting now. I have worked it out. I can do both-all three if you count studies-and I will. And I will find time, once a month, to write to you. And the secondary benefit is that if I keep busy enough I may be able to stand another year not being with you."
Just thinking about his daily schedule tired me out; it even tired out the new Charlie. He would get to school every morning between six and six-thirty. Carl would come with him so he wasn't alone in the pool. He would swim and dive for and hour and a half to two hours. Three days a week he went to gymnastics after school. The other two days to diving practice. Evenings were for homework and early to bed. Saturday morning diving. Saturday afternoon gymnastics. Saturday evening a date with Tina. Sunday, studying, running to keep in shape (!), and time with Tina.
I could belabor the idiocy of such a schedule. I could rail at his parents for allowing him to attempt such a schedule. His coaches were obviously out of their minds, and allowing it only for selfish motives. But later in the school year when I had a chance to talk to his father, he assured me that he had shared all of my same concerns, but that Tim did not easily take "No" for an answer. Norman had said, "OK, Tim, try it and see if it works for you." Tim would have none of that. He had made up his mind, and it would not be truthful to talk about trying it. He had made a commitment. Norman gave up, and he and Betsy gave their permission. Carl agreed to go to school early and do homework in the pool area while Tim swam. Some mornings his diving coach came in and worked with him.
The result was unbelievable: Norman said that he had only seen Tim happier once before in his life-the weekend he spent with me last fall. Tim thrived on his regimen. Nobody could believe that he could or would keep it up. He did, without ever a gripe or a backward glance. And he was a state champion diver. He turned out to be an exceptional gymnast as well. And this phenomenal kid was in love with me. I couldn't believe it!
I thought long and hard about how to answer Tim's letter. Should I encourage his plans or discourage them? I guessed that I was the only person on earth that could stop him, unless someone did it by fiat without getting Tim to agree-the school could have refused to open the pool mornings, for example. I truly believe that if he had thought our love was at risk he would have changed course in an instant. But I couldn't do that to Tim. Nor did I want to. While I knew that the plan was nutty, I had faith that he could pull it off. So my reply was very brief. It was almost the shortest letter I ever wrote to him. "Dear Tim, Go for it. All my love, Charlie." That was letter 11, out of 40.
The camping season was drawing to a close. There was less than a week left. One day Franklin and I were talking and out of the blue he said, "Charlie, I need sex."
"Whoa, Franklin, I hope you don't mean with me."
"No, not you. Though sex with a little guy like you would be fun."
I looked over and saw that he was kidding. At just under six feet I didn't qualify as a "little guy," except that I had lost 26 pounds from the previous summer, and I stood about four inches shorter than Franklin. Franklin's problem would not be finding a "little guy" to have sex with!
"I'm horny and I don't know where or how to find a partner. I guess there are other gays in Chippewa Falls"-his hometown in Wisconsin-"but I sure as Hell don't know who they are. What am I going to do?"
My heart went out to Franklin, but I didn't know what to tell him. He really wasn't interested in platitudes that love would eventually find him. He wanted sex now. And jacking off wasn't cutting it. I could only say, "I'm sorry Franklin. I don't know how to help you. You're the most wonderful boy I know. Somewhere there's a partner, long term or short term for you. Hopefully in Chippewa Falls. Finding him will take time, patience, and luck. I can wish you luck, but I can't assure it."
"I know, Charlie. Do wish me luck. But don't worry. I'm happy; I really work at it. My friends're happy with me. I relieve my sexual tensions in the usual way. I know I'll find a partner. I just wish it could be soon."
"Good luck, Franklin. I truly hope your happiness can be complete."
"Thanks, Charlie. I love you. Maybe someday we can have sex. I'd like that. But I know that a camper and counselor can't. Period. I'm not asking. But keep that future door open, OK?"
"Don't forget Tim."
"I'm not. Just keep the door open, please."
"I'd never shut a door on you Franklin. Thanks for not pushing now."
Three days later Franklin was gone. Hal was gone. Camp was closed. When Peter and Norma picked up Franklin they were eager to meet Hal. Hal was the charming young man that we now expected him to be, but the extraordinary thing about Hal was how he had changed-and you couldn't perceive that unless you had known him before. But Franklin had told them enough about the way Hal was on arrival the year before, that they got most of the message. They also had a chance to meet Hal's parents, and were again assured that the change was nearly miraculous. I enjoyed watching Franklin interact with Peter and Norma, and was again affirmed in my belief that boys of the caliber of Franklin and the others only grew in loving homes-well, I'll admit to a rare exception, but I hadn't seen any exceptions among the parents of the gang.
I spent a week with my folks at the cabin and then headed for Rockford. I would be a senior. My last year, and I didn't really know where I was headed in life. I thought about law school, but three years was a lot of time to invest-besides right in the middle Tim would turn 18. Then what?
There wasn't much news over the next few months. Tim was so involved in diving and gymnastics that not much new could happen in his life. My life was painfully dull, and not much new happened. I did keep my grades up, and my exercise, and my weight down. But the new Charlie didn't compare with the old Tim, and now there was this new Tim!
Tim's September letter, number 12, did bring the news that he had come out to Tina. Her response: "We can still date can't we?"
How does Tim manage to attract the most wonderful people to him? He went on to say that he was worried that Tina shouldn't be spending time with him when she should be looking for real romance. She had replied that she wasn't ready, and was truly comfortable with Tim. She didn't need to seek "real romance" in high school, and was glad to have Tim. Tim was incredibly happy.
I responded with joy for Tim, and news of my dull life in Rockford. And there went letter 12, of 40, a year gone by.
Letter 13 brought the news that Tim was doing very well in both of his sports, was keeping his grades up, and was experimenting sexually with Tina. That hit me pretty hard. The letter when on, as expected, telling me that he would be completely honest with me. Tina had wanted to play around. He didn't object. It was fun. No, it wasn't love. He loved me. Couldn't wait to do the same things to me-well almost the same things. I realized that if I could play with Tom, he could play with Tina. I wrote and told him that. And so ended letter 13, of 40.
Letter 14 brought more explicit details of sex with Tina. I wasn't sure I really wanted all this honesty, but he was determined not to have secrets.
It had started one Saturday night-their only date night-at the movies. She had, seemingly accidently, dropped her hand right in the middle of his lap. She hadn't withdrawn it or moved it. It just lay there about ten minutes. When he didn't react, she began to massage theappratus that lay under her hand. It was then that Tim realized that Tina was being deliberate. He thought about this for a while and decided to put his hand on top of hers. After a while she used her other hand to bring his over onto her lap. They both massaged each other a little, but that was it during the movie. It led to conversation afterward when then had gone for a late night snack. He had decided on a drive-in so they could talk privately in the car.
After their order was taken they sat silently in the car for a while. Each knew that the activity in the movie was going to be the subject of discussion. Finally Tim started it, "Tina, I'm gay. What was going on in the movie?"
"Knowing you're gay makes me feel safe."
"I think I know what you mean. But how does it make me feel?"
"Tim, only you can answer that. You've told me a lot about yourself, and I treasure the trust in me that that shows. I know you're gay. I know you love someone else. I know that he knows about me, and has wished you well. So you have some more questions to think about. Are you exclusively gay? Would you like to explore a girl? Would you feel you were betraying a lover if you did?"
That made Tim think. Slowly he asked, "Do you want to have sex? How far do you want to go?"
"Yes, and I'm not sure. But that leaves a lot of questions about you still unanswered. What would your lover say?"
"His name's Charlie. I really do love him. We're going to spend the rest of our lives together. But I have to reach my eighteenth birthday and I'm only fifteen."
"You ducked the question. What would Charlie say? You two write to each other, and evidently you tell all, why not ask him?"
"Charlie would say, 'Go for it.' I don't need to ask. He has made it very clear that he'll make no demands of me. But I'm not sure that I don't want to make demands of myself."
"I understand, Tim. But let me make my case. I'm totally inexperienced sexually. I think you are too, but you're clearly much more of a sexual animal than I am-you just radiate a sexual presence. Girls at school talk about you all the time. They're jealous of me. But little do they know that I'm dating a gay boy. What a trip."
"It is kind of funny."
"If we experimented a little, we would both learn things. Who knows, you may never get another shot at a girl. And we both know there's no commitment, except to respect each other and have fun. And it would be fun. Sex is fun, you know."
"One thing tends to lead to another."
"We won't make babies, and short of that is there anything that would be evil or harmful?"
"Let's use the word. When you say, 'We won't make babies,' do you mean we won't fuck, or do you mean we'll use birth control?"
"Whichever seems to be appropriate."
"Most girls draw a line at fucking...."
"Most girls fuck."
"Let me go on. The line is often crossed, but you cease to be a virgin when you cross the line."
"Some people would say I was no longer a virgin because of what I let you do in the movie."
"That's stupid. I didn't even have my hand under your clothes."
"This whole business of virginity is stupid. I am me. I have a history. You, and all future friends, take me as I am. I'll prefer to be referred to as experienced rather than as no longer a virgin."
"I need to think about this. And I'm not real big on the back seat of an automobile. Location, location, location is a big deal."
"My folks are never home after school. They both work. I have the house to myself."
"I'm diving or practicing gymnastics every day after school."
"I know. I know. Could you skip a day? Probably not."
"Yes, I could. I make my own schedule. I just made up my mind. Can I come over on Wednesday afternoon? I have no idea where this is going to lead, but I want to try. But remember, I simply don't have time for this to be a regular thing, even if we wanted it to be."
"I understand. Can I kiss you?"
He kissed her and received a wonderful kiss back-just as their food arrived. They were a little embarrassed-but not much.
Wednesday proved to be quite an adventure. As his letter continued I wasn't sure whether I wanted to read it or not. One side of me felt seriously threatened. The other side was interested and a little aroused!
Carl normally drove Tim to school in the morning. He ran (never walked) home or to gymnastics club. On Wednesday he and Tina walked to her house. They went to the kitchen and had Cokes. They were hesitant and a little embarrassed. (This was the kid that stripped so easily at camp!) She kissed him and rubbed his groin. He rubbed at her breasts a little, but said, "Let's talk a little."
She sat down and said, "So, talk."
"We could mess around, feel each other, put our hands under each other's clothing, and so forth. That could take several different afternoons. Do we want that?"
"It's up to you."
"It's up to you too."
"I want what you want."
"Let's go upstairs and take our clothes off. I'm not sure where I would like to go from there, but messing around with clothes on simply seems useless-though tantalizing, I'll admit."
"Right. Let's go. Follow me."
They went up to her room. Tina closed the door and started taking her clothes off without hesitation.
Tim said, "I can't believe you can be so casual about undressing in front of me. You said you had never had sex with a boy. Aren't you going to be embarrassed being naked in front of me?"
"Yes. But I thought about it last night and decided that if you were willing to go forward with this, then so was I. Embarrassment I can't control. Hesitation I can. And right now you're hesitating. Do you want to change your mind?"
No, Tim didn't want to change his mind. He decided that Tina was right and threw off his clothes as fast as he had at camp. He stood in front of her, hard as a rock. Soon she was naked in front of him. They stood there and looked at each other for a while, neither knowing where this would all lead.
Tina came forward and put her hand on his outstretched penis. "Does that feel good?" she asked.
Well, yes it did. It was blowing his mind. It made him question whether he was gay. It made him grab Tina and kiss her hard. They embraced quite a while, with his hard penis rubbing her front. Tim said, "Tina, I don't want to break the mood, but I need to think, and to talk. OK?"
"Yes, Tim. It's OK. Talk would do me some good right now too."
They sat side by side on her bed. Tim said, "My heart's pounding. I'm excited. You can see my penis is very hard. I'm totally aroused. But I'm supposed to be gay. I'm not sure what's happening."
"Sex is happening. You may be gay, but you seem to be straight too. That's OK. Tim, don't mistake sex for love. Is your love for Charlie any less? Do you love me, or are you just aroused by me?
"I love Charlie. I'm aroused by you. But I love you too, in some way."
"Wonderful. Enjoy me. Let me enjoy you. But never leave Charlie. I understand that. And you know it in your heart."
"Oh, Tina. How did I ever get so lucky to find both you and Charlie?"
"Hug me Tim. Kiss me. Then kiss every part of me. May I do the same to you?"
"Yes. Yes." They kissed, and this was followed by using their tongues and mouths to explore their entire bodies. He sucked her breasts, stuck his tongue in her belly button, licked her all over, and kissed her pubic area, not trying to enter her."
She returned the favor ending with his dick in her mouth, licking madly. He warned, "You know what's going to happen, don't you?"
"I think so. It's OK."
He came quickly. She wasn't up to swallowing, so she spit it out on his belly. She got tissues from the bathroom and cleaned him up. "God, Tim, that was wonderful."
"If it was wonderful for you, how do you think it was for me?"
"Tim, was that the first time you have had an orgasm with another person?"
"Not another boy? Charlie?"
"Never. Charlie and I have never had sex. He won't have sex with me until I'm eighteen."
"How can he resist?"
"He's adamant. And it's very clear that he would seduce me in a minute if I were his age."
"How old is Charlie?"
"He just turned twenty-two."
"And you two are madly in love? And you're fifteen?"
"That's quite an age difference."
"I don't think so, but he does. In particular he says the line between child and adult lies right between our ages, and he won't cross it."
"Sounds to me like you have someone worth waiting for."
"I think so. And I think he thinks I'm worth waiting for. I hope so."
"And you're going to tell him about this afternoon?"
"Because we always tell each other the truth."
"I have. I'm pretty sure he treats me the same. No, I'm certain he treats me the same."
"And you treat me the same way, don't you?"
"Yes, Tina I do. And I trust you to tell me the truth, too. I believe you do, and that's why I like being with you. I almost said, 'That's why I love you.' I think I do love you, but not in the same way I love Charlie. That's special."
"You're special, Tim."
"So are you, Tina."
"Will you explore my body, please?"
"I'd love to. But I'm totally ignorant of a girl's body except for the silly pictures in biology class."
"Where you stick out, I stick in. I won't damage. Take your fingers and explore." She lay back on the bed, lifted her legs and spread them.
"Won't I hurt you? You're a virgin, won't I make you bleed if I stick my finger in?"
"Tampax ended that issue about three years ago."
"Yeah, tampons. Girls stick them in during their period. They absorb the blood."
"I get the idea, but does that mean that a girl who has used Tampax isn't a virgin?"
"We have already discussed that virginity is a matter of one's definition. But a girl that has used Tampax is likely to have a hard time convincing her husband on her wedding night that she's a virgin. Don't be shy with me."
Tim was shy, but with encouragement he explored Tina, and got a better biology lesson than he had ever had in school. And Tina had a lot more fun teaching it than the teachers in school did!"
Tina finally said, "Tim, that little thing there is my clitoris. It's the most sensitive part of me. Take your tongue and lick, tickle and rub it. It'll give me a mighty orgasm." And it did. Just as Tina had her orgasm, she took hold of Tim's penis and stroked it, and he came again.
They both fell back on the bed and hugged and kissed. Slowly they got up, and Tina led him to her tub/shower. They showered together, and slowly got dressed. Tina said, "I hate to see those clothes go on. You're so beautiful naked."
"So are you, but all good things must come to an end."
"Tina, I would love to do this again. But you know my schedule. It may be a long time before we can do this again."
"Tim, can I write to Charlie?"
"You want to write to Charlie?"
"Not if you don't want me to."
"I guess you can. What're you going to tell him?"
"What a wonderul boy you are, and that you're worth waiting for."
"And about today?"
"You're going to tell him that; you said so."
"I write once a month. I'll be writing in about two weeks. Then I'll give you his address and you can write. Do you want me to tell him you're going to write?"
"Once a month! Love letters are supposed to be daily, Tim. Your schedule isn't that tight."
"Once a month. It's Charlie's rule. He wanted us both to get on with our lives. I made a commitment to write only once a month, and he made a commitment to answer every letter. We have both stuck to the deal."
"Everything about Charlie is incredible."
"And you, Tina." But then he added, "Tina, what're you going to tell your parents about this afternoon? I'm not sure I'm comfortable about doing this in their house behind their backs?"
"They know. They're cool with it. I have told them we won't have intercourse and they trust me. A couple of kids at school have gotten pregnant, and they are concerned. But they trust you, and they trust me. It takes worry out of being parents. I can be open with them like you can with your parents."
"Do they know I'm gay?"
"Dad says it isn't catching."
"He meant it to be; it was his way of saying you were OK."
"I guess that I should expect that a special girl like you would come from a special family."
His letter ended, "Well, Charlie, that's the story. It was really quite a story, wasn't it? I think I got most of the words right, or just about. You can expect a letter from Tina soon. If she says she's going to write, count on it."
I decided not to reply to Tim until I had heard from Tina. Her letter came two days later.
"I think you must be the luckiest man in the world to have Tim loving you and waiting for you. You can't believe how jealous I am of you. Tim is the most wonderful boy I have ever met. If he weren't gay I would go after him with all the wiles a girls could muster. But he is, and he is in love, and I wouldn't try to change that for anything. It hurts me not to, but it would hurt Tim much more if anybody did anything to change your love for each other. I feel it every time he talks about you. You lucky s.o.b.
"I know that he will give you all the details of our relationship, right down to some specifics that I might prefer weren't shared-but he warned me that he would tell all, and I am sure he meant all. Charlie, Tim was convinced that if he had asked you, you would have said 'Go for it.' He seemed so sure of that, I have to accept it as gospel. But I want to say to you, and this is the real point of this letter, that I won't push Tim any farther than you are comfortable with. And I don't mean what you would tell Tim you are comfortable with, but what you truly, in your heart of hearts, would prefer him not to be doing with me. Is that clear? Please give me the comfort of knowing, for sure, that I am not undermining you and Tim.
"I guess that says it all. Tim is a wonderful boy, and you are the luckiest guy alive to have him so devoted to you. Please, don't ever mistreat him. But from what Tim has told me about you, I don't think you will.
"I'll give Tim a kiss for you. And I am looking forward to the time when I can get a kiss from you myself.
She was certainly correct that I was the luckiest guy alive. I was glad to know that I wasn't the only person to think that. And, quite clearly, Tim had established a wonderful relationship with a wonderful girl. I truly was glad that he had found her, and had let the relationship go as far as it had.
I replied to Tina as follows:
"What a wonderful letter! And how wonderful that you are writing to me. You must be an extraordinary girl-a young woman clearly. I know that from your letter, from what Tim has already told me about you, and simply from the fact that Tim's in love with you. Yes, love is the word. If he weren't gay, he would pursue you with all the wiles that a young man could muster. But it's my good fortune that he's more gay than straight, and I got him!
"You asked a specific question about sex. Tim is exactly right about how I would answer his letter. And I will answer you the same way. Go for it! But, please, and this is to both of you, don't push the other past their comfort zone. I don't know where the line is that defines those comfort zones, but you will both be sorry if you push the other past the line.
"My comfort zone is Tim's happiness. I truly am not jealous of what he does with you-I am, of course, jealous that you are with him and I am not, but that's what life has given to the three of us. Take advantage of your time with him. Enjoy him. Let him enjoy you. Tim and I will have a lifetime together.
"And a final thought. I look forward to meeting you, and to your becoming a life-long friend of both Tim and me.
"P.S. I hope that you don't mind that I am sending Tim a copy of your letter and my answer. He is correct when he says that we always tell the truth, and the whole truth."
I sent my November letter, number 14, the next day. I did enclose the exchange of letters with Tina, telling him to read it carefully, and take the same advice that I had given Tina.
I didn't think I needed to dwell on sex. Rather, I asked for some details about his grades, diving, and gymnastics. Diving season was just getting underway, though he had been practicing since the beginning of school-really since the beginning of school about six years ago. How did he expect to do this year?
I brought him up to date on my life, but it wasn't much. My senior thesis would be on Isocrates, and my guess was that he would be the only high schooler in Minneapolis who knew who Isocrates was (Greek Orator and rhetorician-look it up) and that only because I had mentioned Isocrates in previous letters talking about school.
I also shared a story of a conversation that I had just had with my academic advisor.
His name was Eugene, but universally called Gene. I had used his title in prior years, but early in my senior year, as I was his assistant in the student work program, he has asked me to call him Gene.
"Charlie," he asked, "you have become a dramatically changed person in the last year. Something happened about a year ago. Obviously for the good. Can it be transplanted to other students?"
"Gene," I'm not sure that I'm ready to talk about it. It's a happy story, but very personal."
"I didn't mean to intrude. It's such a success story, I thought you might enjoy sharing it."
"I would, but only in complete confidence."
"You would have that with me, but I don't say that to encourage you to talk about yourself. Only to let you know that it would be safe."
"Well, it's very simple, and not so simple at the same time. I'm in love."
"There are a lot of students at Rockford College who are in love and haven't had the behavorial change that you have had."
"I guess I would have to go back to my counseling job at summer camp after my sophomore year. The last group of campers was a truly exceptional group. One was kind of a loser, and the other boys, especially three of them, decided to remake him. He was willing and they succeeded. I mean a truly amazing transformation. Shy to outgoing. Clumsy to pretty good at baseball and the trampoline of all things. And to top it off, the kid is now a high school long distance track star."
"In a month?"
"No, two weeks. That was all the time they were together."
"Sounds unlikely. I won't accuse you of lying, but perhaps a little exaggeration?"
"None. It seemed equally unlikely to me. But as we got started he changed, amazingly rapidly, and the success seemed more and more improbable each day. He blossomed under the leadership and support of the other boys."
"And they had set out to change him?"
"And he agreed?"
"Yes, and worked his butt off. And they were pretty tough on him, especially at the beginning. They changed all his clothes, cut his hair, exercised him ragged, got him out in the sun, played catch with him till his arm was sore, bounced him on the trampoline till he was dizzy, and ran him till he dropped. But he really took to running, and soon could outrun the lot of them. That was the key to his success."
"Well that example, his name was Hal, certainly got me thinking."
"But you indicated a love interest. I don't see you dating much here; am I missing something?"
"Nothing. My love interest is in Minneapolis."
"Where did you meet her?"
"That's where this becomes sensitive, for two reasons."
"It's not a her."
"Oh, I see. Two issues?"
"He's fifteen years old."
"That is unusual." He thought for a moment. "At this point I have to warn you of something. I can promise you confidence as long as you don't tell me something that would require me to report under Illinois child abuse laws. The age 15 makes that an issue. I don't say that to condemn anything, but I must put you on notice."
"Thanks, Gene. Nothing has happened that I wouldn't be willing to report myself. That's the problem!"
"So is 'he' in love with you, or is this a one-way romance?"
"It's definitely two-way, and entirely his idea. I tried to discourage him right from the beginning."
"Where did you meet him?"
"He was one of the campers responsible for the changes in Hal."
"A camper in your charge?"
"Problematic, isn't it?"
"He came on to me the second day. I said no, firmly, to anything physical, but I did let him talk. We had many long talks. We walked to the opposite side of the game field, where we were always in sight of other people but our conversation was private. He was madly in love with me, and I with him. He's an amazing young man. He was fourteen at the time, and I was twenty. What a trip."
"He was gay?"
"Yes, and I got a letter from his father encouraging me to talk with him about being gay-Tim had told his father that he was going to come out to me."
"Yikes, this gets complicated. His name is Tim?"
"Yes, Tim. To make a long story short, we ended the summer with Tim agreeing to write to me no more than once a month, and me agreeing to answer. We had, and have, no other commitment to each other except to tell the other if the love cools. And to meet on his eighteenth birthday."
"You haven't seen him since camp a year ago?"
"Yes, I have."
"Not good, Charlie."
"This is the more extraordinary part of the story. Right after camp I got a phone call from his father, saying that Tim had told him everything, and he and his wife wanted me to come to Minneapolis to visit. They told me right off that they were not upset with the story."
"Exceptional children are likely to come from exceptional parents, but that is almost beyond belief."
"That's what I thought. But I went. I had quite a weekend. We were encouraged to talk, be alone together, and get to know each other better. And they wanted to get to know me and for me to know them-we had only met when they brought Tim to camp and picked him up. They bought into the write once a month formula."
"And the changes in you?"
"Tim wrote and simply told me that grades less than A were not acceptable."
"And that was that?"
"Honestly, yes. My study habits changed overnight. You didn't notice because I have always studied in your classes. I do in all classes now. But there's more."
"You haven't noticed my weight, exercise, and personal discipline?"
"Yes, of course. But you've always been a good guy, great to have around. That's why you got the job with me."
"I'm quite different. Down 35 pounds. I run and exercise, which I never did before. I'm up for breakfast and in bed at a decent hour. Dramatic change."
"And this all came from Tim?"
"No, Tim only mentioned the studying. The rest came from me. I took an honest look at the new Hal and decided that there had to be a new Charlie, for Tim. And by God there is a new Charlie. And it's all for Tim."
"What about Tim?"
"Tim was handsome, athletic, got straight A's, was highly disciplined, got along with his parents like they were contemporaries, and was one of the most popular kids at camp and school. But he remade himself this fall as well. Over the summer he had to choose between his love of diving and gymnastics. He knew he didn't have time for both. In August he decided that he did-he simply refused to accept the conventional wisdom that there wasn't time to do both. Both of his coaches were upset, but they had to take him or leave him. He remains a champion diver and an excellent gymnast, and doesn't have any additional time in the week to pause to read a comic strip. Up early, swim, school, swim or gymnastics, dinner, study, bed. Weekends just drop the school out of the list."
"Did his parents approve?"
"I think they tried to discourage him, but they never would have forbidden it."
"Charlie, that's an amazing story; and you're an amazing young man. Please keep me posted. I want to know the final chapter."
"I will. And it has really been great to be able to tell the story. Keeping things bottled up is hard. Tim talks to his parents and brother."
"What about your parents?"
"They don't have a clue."
"When will they?"
"I think they need a living reality. If it works out for Tim and me, we'll visit them soon after he's eighteen."
"Thanks, I may need it."
I had really felt better for having the conversation with Gene, and I had shared it with Tim as close to word for word as I could remember.
I had one additional bit of news for Tim. I had contacted Ronnie's parents about visiting. They were delighted and knew that Ronnie would be ecstatic. They asked about my Thanksgiving plans. I had decided that a trip to Indiana at Thanksgiving and another at Christmas didn't make sense, so I was going to be free at Thanksgiving. I was invited, ordered might be the better word, to come to Madison after my last class on Wednesday and stay through Sunday noon. I joyfully agreed, and details were planned.
And so ended letter 14, of 40. Thanksgiving would soon be upon me.
The four days with Ronnie and his family were wonderful. He was eager to see me, talk, and show me around Madison. For a kid who didn't talk a whole lot, Ronnie was almost nonstop conversation. We talked about summers at camp, about the other members of the gang and what they were doing, about his life at school, and about me. He wanted to know everything about me: my life history, my schooling, my college courses, how I had gotten to Camp White Elk. He was superb at getting information out of me. He quickly zeroed in on the disconnect between my college year and my age, where had the year gone? I told him of my misadventure my first semester of college at Columbia University. He wanted to know all about New York, and how it had distracted me from studying. I explained that I believed that the real reason I didn't study was that I didn't have a Tim in my life.
I am not sure that Ronnie really could understand that. His motivation was entirely internal. He did things for himself. I think in that way he differed from most of the other boys in the gang. Hal and Tim were the only possible exceptions. Hal clearly was still very much a loner. It was now by his own choice-like Ronnie-but his running, and other activities, were more important to him than other people. Tim clearly was a social animal, and his love for me was certainly a motivator, but he was a highly disciplined machine before he met me. There was no question that I and others were important to him, but the discipline was certainly internal. Jim and Andy lived for social intercourse; so did Tom. Franklin would simply have withered and died if he could not be loving and supporting other people. It was interesting how these two personality types fit together in the gang.
Ronnie was interested in my trip to Europe. I had headed to Scotland on Icelandic Airlines, with a day spent in Iceland. From Scotland I had flown to Sweden, and taken trains and ships to Norway, Denmark, and Germany. I had gone to Berlin, before the wall, and walked all over the divided city. Then Holland, Belgium, France and England. I had traveled alone, in springtime, in an era when Europe was cheap and Americans were few. Many Europeans had been eager to talk to me, learn about America, practice their English, and just be friendly. Without these contacts I would have been lonely, and so I encouraged them, and altered plans to fit their schedules. It was a wonderfully broadening experience, and I matured and learned more than I ever would have in a semester of college. I think maybe the first "new Charlie" came back from the trip to Europe.
Ronnie was fascinated, and asked endless questions. He wanted to know about each person that I had met, from the girl in London that I went to the symphony with at the Royal Festival Hall, to the young English boy in Amsterdam who complimented my on my English, and especially my wonderful American accent-thinking I was Dutch! It was clear that the idea of traveling alone on a major trip like that appealed to Ronnie no end. His pleasure at being alone and watching-other people, places, events-made such a trip seem wonderful. I, on the other hand, had been somewhat lonely-even though I considered the trip a huge success.
Ronnie's parents joined us for most of the conversation, and seemed genuinely interested. Even more, they were fascinated with the way Ronnie seemed to come alive when he talked to me. His curiosity about my life matched only his scientific curiosity. Frank said, "I'm beginning to understand Ronnie's love of Camp White Elk-it's really a love of you."
Ronnie added, "Dad, I told you Charlie was amazing. He really is."
"What is amazing is how you, and it seems all the rest of your gang, seemed to have taken to him. Sorry, Charlie, we shouldn't be talking about you like this in your presence."
"Better while I'm present than absent," I noted.
Adele asked, "Charlie, you have had many other campers at Camp White Elk, are they this much in love with you? Wait, I'm not sure that the word love is quite right."
Ronnie cut in, "Love is exactly the right word."
I answered, "No, I don't think so. I have kept in touch with a number of them by mail, but no special attachment. Everyone gives me so much credit for that summer, but I think the credit is misplaced. The sun, moon, stars, and even the planets came together in some unexplained way and brought together seven boys that individually were great kids, but collectively were simply a smash hit. Stanley, the camp director, says he has never seen a group like that, before or since. He gives me the credit, but I still say that my job was to let it happen, to get out of the way. I did that. Tom and Tim virtually ran the show, with Franklin as the enforcer."
Ronnie said, "Don't you believe it. Charlie made it happen. But I agree, he was working with really special raw material, especially Tim and Tom."
I said, "Don't forget yourself."
"Nuts. You guys just let me alone-for which I am eternally grateful-but I didn't contribute to the group. I was just there."
"Don't you believe it. Your brains, ideas, and quiet support were as much a part of the success as anyone else's. You all get credit."
"I'll accept that, if you will agree it was a special group of eight, not seven. Without you-nothing."
The conversation continued, off and on, right through the weekend. At one point Adele said, "Ronnie says that Tim, Franklin and you are all gay. Isn't it improbable that three of eight were gay?"
"Well, when you consider that at least two more are at least bi-sexual, yes, it is statistically improbable. I don't think that's as improbable as some of the other aspects of the group. You don't seem bothered by the fact that the group had that many gays."
"Why should we be?" asked Frank. It's certainly not going to rub off onto Ronnie. Who knows, he may be gay; he doesn't have any girlfriends. But I'll be quick to add, he doesn't have any boyfriends either."
"Did it ever occur to any of you to ask me, if you want to know?"
Adele said, "It did. But it isn't important. And when it's important to you, we assume you will tell us. But you can answer one thing, is our relationship good enough that you'll tell us about your sexuality when it is important?"
"That's tough to answer. You both just said a lot about your attitude toward homosexuality. Given that, I certainly won't have any hesitation talking to you about it-if that ever is needed. But before today? I think I would have felt free to talk, but we'll never know now."
I said, "You know, one of the most extraordinary things about Tim is his communication with his parents. He tells them everything, absolutely everything. Without blushing, hesitation, and-most important-without fear of consequences. He knows they'll support him, no matter what. It sounds to me like you all are on a pretty good footing as well."
Ronnie and I drove around the town; I saw the University, Capitol, his school, the lakes, and so forth. I insisted that he show me the places important to him: where he got a hamburger or a Coke; his elementary school, junior high school, and high school; where his friends lived, etc. Saturday night he invited his close friends for dinner, and I got to met them and vice versa. A rather odd lot, I would have to say, but according to Frank they were all geniuses and were both entitled and expected to be a little odd.
Saturday morning we met Ronnie's physics teacher at the school laboratory. They told me about a research project they were doing together. I almost understood what they were talking about. It was interesting to compare our relationship with Ronnie. His teacher treated Ronnie as an intellectual equal, but virtually ignored other aspects of him. Ronnie accepted that, but in all other ways seemed to relate to me. While the three of us talked Ronnie stood near me, actually touching some of the time. Clearly Ronnie needed both of us in his life to be a complete person.
Oh, yes, everyone wants to know about sleeping arrangements. Well, Ronnie had a single bed in his room, and their guest room had a double bed. Each night we got ready for bed separately. We both wore pajamas. As soon as I was in bed, Ronnie would come in and lie on the bed, on top of the covers, and we would talk. There never was anything sexual-except in my dreams! After a little conversation, Ronnie would hug me, and then go to his own room. He woke me up each morning as he came in and repeated the process. He needed love in his life, and I think he knew it. But he realized that I could not give him the kind of relationship he sought, and he didn't try to push me at all.
All wonderful times must end. Sunday noon rolled around. We had a wonderful farewell dinner, and I had to leave. I found time to spend several more weekends in Madison with Ronnie that year. But then I was off to Iowa and the visits had to end.
Tim's next letter was about his sports. It started:
"This letter is going to sound like bragging, but I really have to tell you about my diving and gymnastics. And they are going so well that I can't tell you much of anything without it seeming to be bragging.
"The diving is great. Coach has gotten over my missing practice three afternoons a week. Winning the all county meet in 3 meter platform and taking second in springboard settled the matter. My points were so much higher than second place on the platform that it wasn't even a contest. After my last dive I got a standing ovation from the crowd. God, Charlie, it would have been absolutely perfect if you had been there! Coach says that my platform point score was so high that not winning state is virtually impossible, and later in the year there will be the Midwest regionals in Chicago. I work 2/3 on springboard where I need to get better, and 1/3 on platform where I have to sustain my form.
"Gymnastics is going great. I have the same conflict as always with my coach. He doesn't want me wasting time on the balance beam, but I love it too much to give it up just because it's for girls. Even so, on the men's team I am the second highest point contributor to our winning streak, so coach takes me as I am-I have told him (very nicely, but also firmly) that he takes me like I am or I walk. He believed me, even though it isn't true. I made a commitment to do both sports, and I will. But I'm certainly not going to give up my leverage!
"You should see me on the balance beam. Girls treat it like a ballet dance, with music, and delicate balance. I treat it like trick skiing on water skis. Fast and hard, with lots of flips and tumbles. It makes a spectacular show. Coach arranged a premeet exhibition last week, at the meet in our club's gym. I brought down the house! Again, Charlie, I couldn't stand that you weren't there.
"Tina was there. She's great. Her support is wonderful, and I don't think I could have done so well without her. But she isn't you. With you at my side I could take Olympic medals-AND I INTEND TO. The first Olympics after I turn 18 is 1968 in Mexico City. We'll be there!
"All my love, Tim."
How does one respond to that letter? Especially after I got one from Norman,
"Tim let me read his last letter to you. He wanted to know if I thought he was bragging too much. He was, but he so wanted to share his successes with you that I encouraged him to send it.
"But this letter is just to add a touch of reality to his note. His descriptions were exceptionally modest. He is a school hero for his diving. And I am enclosing a photo from the paper of him on the balance beam. It was the show of shows. Since it is a club program, not many of his school classmates were there, but in the club set he is a hero as well. Nobody can believe what he does on that beam. He also didn't mention that his floor exercises set club point records, and he makes the pommel horse look like a kindergarten toy he has mastered it so well. His Olympic ambitions are quite realistic. He could go in 1964, but he won't even consider it. Flat out, without you, there will be no Olympics in his life. I support that, but it wouldn't matter if I didn't.
"I have heard from Tim that there is a new Charlie just like the new Hal. Congratulations! And, we do see Hal from time to time. He is doing almost as well with his running as Tim is with his sports. Amazing.
I started to write and tell him to go for the 1964 Olympics. But I realized that there was no way to change his mind on that. I simply let that go by me. And I didn't dwell on how much I would like to be watching his successes. I told him of my Thanksgiving visit to Ronnie's. But most of the letter was a rather mushy combination of love and congratulations, of which, as an author, I wasn't in the least proud, and I certainly am not going to repeat it here! Letter 15, of 40, had come to pass. 1962 had come to an end. Tim would soon be 16. Time was moving very slowly.
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead