I didn't go hunting for Alex's replacement. He sort of found me; I guess we found each other. It was my debate partner, Phil. We had been partners since our sophomore year, and had done quite well. We were undefeated since about half way through our junior year. But we refused to participate in the big college debate tournaments, because they insisted that we be prepared to debate both sides of an issue. We staunchly refused to debate against our true feelings. We believed that was why we had the winning record that we did, and besides we were simply uncomfortable debating against our beliefs.
That was not the style of most college debating, so we were less involved in debating than we might have been-to our coach's distress, although I think he understood our reasoning. We entered small tournaments where we could field a four person team, with each pair speaking for their true selves. We also did a lot of one on one debating with schools nearby.
Phil was wonderful. We had developed a non-traditional debate pattern which our coach didn't like, mainly because it was non-traditional, but which worked well for us. Instead of one of us presenting the first affirmative speech, and then the first affirmative rebuttal, we changed the order. I gave the first speech, Phil gave the second affirmative speech, and then he gave the first affirmative rebuttal. Then I gave the second affirmative rebuttal. Thus I spoke first and last in the debate. It was my job to use the opening speech, which was a set speech, to frame the debate. Then I would sit and listen to the rest of the debate, feeding Phil ideas, but crafting a final speech that brought the whole thing together, and sealed the doom of our opponents. In the middle Phil enjoyed the rough and tumble of quickly crafted speeches, fast thinking, and more of a shotgun approach to the arguments. It worked for us, and our winning record proved it.
It didn't hurt that Phil had a commanding presence, standing 6 foot 5, at 250 pounds-with a flat stomach. He didn't play football, though the coach almost got down on his knees and begged, but did run and keep himself in shape. He was delighted when the "new Charlie" appeared in our junior year, and we often ran together.
One day we had taken a long run and we were exhausted. Well, I was. With his longer legs, Phil did not get exhausted as quickly as I did. We were about two miles from campus, when I needed to stop for a break on a bench. I could hardly walk, and Phil picked me up and carried me. Something happened as he picked me up-with incredible ease-and carried me over to the bench. I looked at him, felt his arms under me, and I got hard as a rock. He couldn't help but notice, and there was no way to hide it. He set me down at the bench, and I sat, leaning forward, hiding the erection.
"Don't hide it."
I struggled with my breath to say, "What?"
"Don't hide it." And he put his hand right on the front of the tent.
"Why are you aroused?"
"I don't know."
"Do I turn you on?"
"Good. You have turned me on for almost three years."
"Phil, what are you saying?"
"You can't figure it out?"
"Are you gay? Have I known you for three years and not known you were gay?"
"I'm gay," I said.
"A couple of times I suspected it, but I wasn't sure until I picked you up."
I gripped his hand, and we held each other tightly. We didn't say anything for a long time.
"Phil, I'm in love with a boy in Minneapolis. You have to know that before either one of us says anything more."
"Damn. I think I could fall in love with you, Charlie."
"I'm in love with you, Phil. Have been for years. Just a different kind of love."
"If I were a girl, I would say that I want the kind of love that leads to marriage. Somehow, 'the kind of love that leads to a partnership' doesn't quite cut it."
"I can't give you that kind of love."
I asked, "Have you had any partners here at Rockford?"
"No. Who's gay at Rockford? Now I know you. Anyone else?"
"I knew one, but it didn't go anywhere. I can't out him. Have you had other partners?"
"In high school. I carried on with one for a couple of vacations, but he's in love and has found a wonderful guy. He won't cheat on him, and I wouldn't ask him."
"So you're celibate, at least at Rockford?"
"Yes. I'm not happy about it."
"You jack off?"
"Does your roommate know? Does he hear you? Do you hear him jack off."
"I don't have a roommate. He left at semester break, and they haven't filled the room."
"There is only a month of school left. Why didn't we figure this out months, or years, ago."
"But you have a lover. What's to figure out?"
"Long story. Want me to tell it?"
I knew that I could trust Phil. We had known each other a long time-for college students-and I knew his attitude toward truthfulness. I decided that I could share the story of Tim. And I told him all the details. It really helped to be able to tell someone the story.
"Charlie, that's beautiful."
"I think so."
"Tell me more about Tina."
"She's absolutely wonderful. So kind and gentle to Tim. She's never tried to take him away. She just loves him on his terms. Tim feels bad that she's wasting her time on him, but she says that in high school she isn't interested in boys that only want to fuck her."
"Well, I guess Tim doesn't want to fuck her."
"Yes, he does. They have sex, but haven't fucked-yet."
"Tim is gay, is in love with you, and is having sex with a girl back in Minneapolis, while you are out here by yourself. What kind of a deal is that?"
"I made the rules, as I said. I have to live with them."
"How come he gets sex and you don't?"
"I haven't found the right person. Or have I?"
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Oh, God, Charlie. I don't believe it."
"Believe it. But, please, Phil, you have to understand that I'm in love with Tim. I'll tell him everything that goes on. No secrets. And you have to respect him. Are you sure you want an affair that can't lead to love and partnership."
"If you were available, I'd pick you up and elope. I'm big enough. But you aren't available. Dating you isn't going to cut me out of any opportunities-I haven't found any here in four years."
"Would you like me to spend the night with you tonight?"
"God, yes. Hell, yes. Yes, yes, yes!
Very quietly, "OK."
By this time I had my breath back and we jogged back to campus. We avoided the campus mess hall, and went to Ernie's for steaks. Then we went to Phil's room.
Phil said, "Charlie, I'm embarrassed and shy."
"My experiences were in high school-and a couple since with those same kids. We weren't in love. It was all physical sex. Jacking off, and jacking each other off. It felt good, but that was about it."
"Did you ever kiss each other?"
"God, no. I don't think we would have been caught dead kissing."
"Were your friends gay, or simply teenagers experimenting?"
"John was gay. I just couldn't say about the others."
"He's the guy I messed around with on vacations-till he found a partner."
"But you never kissed him?"
"I hope he is more loving with his new partner."
"We never thought of each other as partners. More like playmates."
"How are you going think of me?"
"Let me kiss you before I answer that. I have never kissed a man. I think there is a lot of self-understanding that I need to come by before I can answer your question of how I'm going to think of you."
I walked over to Phil; he reached down from his amazing height; and we kissed. He didn't push his tongue at me, but held me for a long time. Then he squeezed me tight, and let go. I grabbed him back, kissed him just as hard, but my tongue insisted that he let it in. When he did, the flood gates opened. We kissed passionately; his bear hug lifted me off the ground; he carried me to the bed and we lay down, still in a tight embrace, tongues locked together. And he cried. Softly at first, but then with great force. I think I must have held him for almost twenty minutes. Our grips slowly relaxed, and we lay back, side by side, just relaxing on the bed.
"Phil, I think you discovered something about yourself just then."
"I know I'm gay, but I have always known that. But that left no doubts. But I just experienced something beautiful that I never had with boys before. I love you Charlie."
"Careful, Phil. Remember Tim."
"The lucky S.O.B. But I don't mean it that way. I wouldn't even have to have sex with you to know that I love you. Just for being you. It's a love that could flourish along with an erotic love for someone else. I just love everything about you, who you are, how kind you have been to me. I love how faithful you are to Tim. That is part of what makes you beautiful, Charlie."
I decided that it was story time again, and I told Phil about Alex. And I told him how I had written to Tim and mourned that there wasn't going to be anyone that I could love the way he and Tina loved each other. "But you have proved me wrong, Phil. I love you."
Phil rolled onto his side and hugged me, and kissed me, and began to grope my crotch. "Can I do that?" he asked.
"Yes. I want you to."
"I don't think I'm embarrassed any more. I'm no longer shy with you." He stood up, opened his shirt, dropping it on the floor. Off came his jeans.
I said, "Stop. I want to take off the boxers."
I unsnapped them. I was used to Jockeys, with elastic and no snap. Unsnapping boxers was a new experience, and quite erotic. I slowly let them down, exposing a huge dick-it made Franklin's look puny. It was still soft. Phil was right, he had gotten over his embarrassment and shyness. I reached to the back of his scrotum and tickled his balls. That started to get him hard pretty quickly. I got a real thrill out of wrapping my hand around his huge penis, and feeling it harden in my grasp. That was one experience I would never have with Tim!
"Can I undress you?" asked Phil.
"Of course." He did, just as gently as I had him. We stood there naked and hugged. Then he picked me up and dropped me on the bed.
"Where do we go from here?" he asked.
"Phil, I want you to do me a huge favor."
I rolled on my side, with my back to him. "Curl up behind me. Tim is just a little squirt, and I can curl around him so nicely. Just like you can around me. I would like to experience what Tim will experience, every time we lie together. We have only had a chance to do it twice.
"I thought you had never had sex."
"We haven't But we slept together twice. And each time he was spooned inside me."
Phil pulled up behind me and wrapped his huge body and arms around me. Soon his hands found my genitals-something I hadn't done to Tim. I tried a little wiggle-something Tim had done to me and it had gotten me well aroused. It worked now for me, and it set Phil off. He responded with more tickling, and I gave more wiggling. We fell asleep like that. A deep, peaceful contented sleep.
We woke about 4:00 a.m. We were still wrapped up in one another. I said, "Phil, that was wonderful Thank you."
"Thank me? That was the best night of my life."
"I think we might carry the adventure a little further. Shall I turn on a light. It is kind of fun to see the guy you're making love to."
"Are you sure you want to do that? I could be happy with just what we have done already."
"No, Phil. I want you very badly."
"And I want you."
One thing led to another, and that, in turn, led to two manual orgasms, much tickling, kissing, rubbing, hugging, and loving. Sleep found us again, and we woke at about 9:30. We mourned the fact that the shower was down the hall, and we couldn't shower together like we should have. But that is dormitory life. In fact, we had to clean ourselves up a little before we could walk down the hall to the shower! And we had to delay a little till we were both soft enough to be able to drop our towels in the shower room. We solved all those problems, showered, shaved, dressed, and went for breakfast. We had missed the mess hall breakfast, and headed to a diner in town.
After we had ordered, Phil asked, "Are you really going to tell Tim the whole story of last night? Won't it bother him?"
"Down to the last detail. I'll let you read the letter and add anything you think I leave out. Will it bother him? I hope so. If he isn't bothered by our being apart, and having the only sex come from someone else, then he should be. But no, it won't threaten him. He will be happy for me, just as I'm happy for him and Tina."
"You really have something special. I hope that I can have that kind of love someday."
"You will. You're too nice a guy not to." My mind wandered to another gentle giant that loomed large in my world. They had almost the same age difference that Tim and I did. I wonder...
"In the meantime, there is only a month of school left. But how would you like a roommate for that month?"
"You mean it?"
"Yes, I do. I think that it would be good for both of us, in different ways. But we both have to realize that it isn't going to last. We're going to have a wonderful month. Then we head off in different directions. We can't build our lives together. We can stay friends. Whether we have sex again depends on many things. Tim and I have talked about that, but have come to no conclusion. You're going to have a partner to think about. But we won't close the door. Our special love should last. But only if we work at it. That means keeping in touch. That means remembering. That means treasuring what we have for the time we have it. For me it means no secrets from Tim, so I can talk to him about it, and he can share it-just like I share Tina. I hope that you find a partner with whom you can have that kind of sharing."
"After you Charlie, I could never accept anything less."
"Don't. He's out there somewhere. Just not at Rockford. Or, if he's here he's afraid to show himself. Isn't that tragic?"
"Charlie, first thing Monday morning we head to the housing office and get your room moved."
And that's exactly what we did.
Tim's letter arrived about then. It was mostly about Carl. He had a girlfriend. Pretty serious. She was drop dead gorgeous, according to Tim, and he had enough straight hormones in him to know. Her name was Carol. She had been introduced to Mom and Dad and had passed muster. Carl had come into Tim's room one night, in his pajamas, and lay on the bed next to Tim. "I need to talk."
"About Carol. And sex. And fucking. And Mom and Dad. And love. And, and, and."
"Holy shit, kid brother, are you psychic?"
"No, but I've been there."
"This is my kid brother talking to me. Like I was the baby."
"Carl, I'm a year younger than you, but I have found two of the most wonderful lovers you can imagine. I'll love Charlie forever. Nothing will ever come between us. And I love Tina, but differently. She will find a husband, and that will make us more distant. But we will still love each other. I guess I was just real, real lucky. But if Carol is as wonderful as either Charlie or Tina, you're a lucky guy too. Most people go through their whole lives and don't find a Charlie."
"How soon did you know Charlie was the right one?"
"Two minutes after I met him."
"You're not serious."
"I am. And everything since has confirmed the judgement that I made before he even stopped shaking my hand the first time."
"I don't believe it."
"Carl, one thing that really hurts me is when somebody says they don't believe me, even if it is said in jest."
"Sorry, Tim. Let me rephrase, 'I have a hard time believing it.' But because it is you, I do believe it."
"How long for you, with Carol?"
"About a month. It sort of grew on both of us."
"Have you had any kind of sex?"
"You really asking me that?"
"I thought you wanted to talk about sexual issues?"
"I didn't say that, you did."
"That's right, and you said I was psychic."
"OK, you win. Just hands-fooling around, clothes on."
"Are you a virgin?"
"You're getting pretty personal."
"Are you a virgin?"
"What about Carol?"
"I don't know."
"That means you haven't talked much, at least not about sex."
"OK, you came in here for advice. I'll give it. Take it or leave it, but listen: Talk first. Not just little hints. If you can't use the words fuck, dick, and cunt with her then you haven't talked enough-even if you later decide that you prefer different words. If you don't know whether she is a virgin, you haven't talked enough. If she doesn't know you're not a virgin, and who it was that caused that state of affairs, then you haven't talked enough. And if you can't figure out how to have those talks, then Carol isn't the right girl for you."
"God, Tim, you set the bar pretty high."
"Charlie and Tina both taught me. They don't compromise on that. Period. If they were here, they'd say the same thing. In fact, Tina would be glad to sit down with you and say the same thing."
"I don't think I could face Tina for such a discussion."
"Then you aren't ready for one with Carol. Which means, as far as I'm concerned, you aren't ready for sex with Carol. Not even letting your hand 'accidently' rub her breast in the movie."
"OK, I'm not sure I'm with you on all that, but let's say I agree. What about fucking?"
"If you can talk about it, really talk, and you both agree. And you take the right contraceptive measures. Then enjoy yourselves. You don't have to tell Mom and Dad, but never lie to them either."
"I know you don't, but it is easy to fall into that habit when it's about sex. Don't."
"Thanks, big brother. You're like a rock."
"One other thing. Does Carol know about me?"
"What about you?"
"You can't be serious."
"What about you?"
"I'm gay. And the little matter of Charlie."
"Oh, that. I really thought you were asking if Carol knew I was talking to you about sex with her. But you being gay? We crossed that bridge a while ago. She's cool with it. I think that someday she would like to talk with you about it, but if she hasn't talked with me about sex yet, she isn't ready to talk with you."
"Thanks, Carl. I'd love to talk to her at the right time.
Tim shared the discussion with Tina. The next time the three of them were alone, she walked right up to Carl and asked, "Carl, have you had that little talk with Carol about dicks, and cunts, and fucking?"
Carl almost shit.
"Come on, Carl. Be a big boy. If a boy said that to you, you wouldn't be shocked. Why let me shock you?"
Carl eased out of the room without saying anything.
Tina followed him. "Carl, if you can't talk to me, that means you can't talk to Carol. Think about that. And work on it."
That night Carl walked into Tim's room and said, "OK, you both win. No matter how hard it is, I'm going to talk seriously with Carol about sex. Tomorrow. If she can't handle it, then I guess she isn't the right one."
The next night, he was back. "We talked. She was great. You were right about everything. Talk has to come first. We agreed that we wanted sex, but that fucking had to wait at least till after high school. She wasn't even fazed that I wasn't a virgin. But she is."
"Why are you waiting till after high school?"
"We aren't sure. But we think we should be older. We want to save something. And we don't want to have to mess with birth control."
"All pretty good reasons. They're hard to discover when you're naked in bed, kissing each other, aren't they?"
"Yes. Damn Tim, I said you were right. And.... Thanks."
It took most of his letter to tell that story. Just as it took most of the reply to tell about Phil. Tim knew who Phil was from previous letters; in fact, I think I had mentioned him at camp. So at least he knew the players in the story before I told it. I was confident that his reaction would be positive. And that was letter 21, of 40.
His reaction was strange. When I opened the envelope two letters fell out. One had been torn in half. The other was intact and had a colored note clipped to it that said, "Read me first." I did.
"I read your last letter about Phil, and was overjoyed by your good fortune. Phil sounds perfect for you, and I hope that the month that you have together is as wonderful as the years that we're going to have together will be. I envy you your being able to share a bed with your partner, and sleep together every night.
"Then I read about you and Phil spooning together in his bed, you taking my role. For some reason that hit me like a ton of bricks. Someone was taking my place. I simply couldn't deal with it. I wrote the letter which is enclosed. But I tore it in half before it was finished. It is garbage. I shouldn't send it to you, but I enclose it as sort of a confession.
"Let me go back to the spooning. I understand why you wanted to take my place. It gave you a chance to experience what I experience when you wrap yourself about me. It's wonderful, isn't it? It was the happiest time of my life so far. I just wasn't ready to share it.
"I don't think I'm ready to share it yet. You can do anything you want with Phil, but that. Please save that for me, Charlie.
I picked up the other letter with some trepidation. It read,
"Your letter hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm not sure that I'm ready for a Phil. I thought I was, but when you started to talk about his spooning up behind you I almost lost it. I'm not sure that I can deal with it.
"I have no right to ask you not to have sex with Phil. And certainly no right to ask you not to be roommates. Especially since I have Tina. But I'm not sure I can deal with it, Charlie.
"I wish that you were here so that we could talk this out.
"Oh, shit I don't know what I'm saying.
"Charlie, please don't take this so seriously..........................."
That is when he tore up the letter. Clearly my letter had shaken him. But how should I react? If I paid attention to the torn letter, then I needed to move out of Phil's room at once. If I paid attention to the second letter, then I needed to stay.
At first I decided that it wasn't fair to Phil to share these letters with him. Then I decided that full disclosure was who I was, and Phil would just have to share the problem with me.
He read both letters, starting with the untorn one, as Tim had requested. Then the torn letter.
"Talk about getting hit with a ton of bricks," he said.
"We're all getting hit these days, it seems."
"Charlie, this may be my self-interest speaking, but I don't think you have any choice but to take the second letter at face value. Anything else could severely damage your relationship. If you gave me up, he would be compelled to give up Tina-after all fair is fair. If he had to give up Tina he wouldn't be able to forgive you. It would end it. Not because he can't live without Tina, but because you would-in his mind-be the reason he had to give up Tina. I think you're stuck with me whether you like it or not. But we're going to have to find another way to fall asleep. No spooning. I wouldn't do that again for anything. I think that Tim would smell it at 200 miles distance. And that he would not forgive. Nor should he after making the request."
"Phil, you're right. We are experiencing the hazzards of accepting an open relationship like we have. I don't think that Tim and I realized all of the possibilities when we got into this. But we are learning. I'm sorry that you got wrapped up in all of this."
"Believe me, you're worth it, if only for a month."
I continued, "Tonight we sleep in a 69 position, with your dick in my mouth, or very near it."
"Sounds good to me. Bet it tastes good too."
My letter to Tim would quote Phil's comment as close to verbatim as I could get it-and I asked Phil to help me reconstruct it. I would also describe in detail our sleeping arrangement. With Phil's great length, he had already moved the two beds in his room together, end on end. That way his long legs could spill over onto the second bed. With the beds that way, we could 69 and still stretch out. Getting covers over us so that we could be warm was a trip, but the glow from the sex took care of the parts of us that we couldn't cover properly.
That became our sleep pattern. Once I bit Phil just as I was going to sleep! We decided that maybe kissing, rather than sucking, was the best way to actually go to sleep. Sometimes we just kissed and lay there, falling into heavenly sleep. Sometimes one or the other or both of us needed more than a kiss or two! Mornings was our time to frolic. We both had become early birds-partly because now that we were sleeping with each other we were eager to get into bed. In any case, we always woke up in plenty of time to "stimulate" each other.
What a month it was!
Finishing my June letter to Tim had to wait until after graduation, so that I could share that with Tim without delay-I didn't want to wait for the July letter to describe such an important June event as my graduation.
Soon graduation and the move to Des Moines was upon me. That would be a new adventure in my life. My parents came to Rockford for the big day. Norman, Betsy, Carl, Tim, Hal, Ronnie, and Franklin were also there. But I didn't learn that until much later. They watched the ceremony and got lost in the crowd. But Tim did hear me acknowledge, anonymously, his importance in my life. Graduation was at 2:00 p.m., but in the morning Rockford College had its traditional Senior Awards Assembly. All kinds of awards were given out, and Phil and I got recognized for our debating. Then, to my surprise I was given the "Most Improved Student" award. Frankly, when I had seen that award given in previous years I had had mixed emotions: To get it you had to have an outstanding finish to your college career, but you also had to have a lousy start. Should one really be rewarded for being a lousy student in one's freshman year? Well, here I was, getting the award. And if anything was to recognize "the new Charlie" this was it. When I went to the podium, I asked the Dean if I could say a word or two. He nodded, though it wasn't the custom for award recipients to speak-the assembly would have gone on forever. I guess that deep in my heart I thought, or wished, that Tim might be out there. I said, "There is someone out there who gets all of the credit for this, and he knows who he is. Thank you." It was as close as I came to outing myself at Rockford-and I don't think people picked up on it. But Phil did, and he squeezed my hand tightly as I came back to my seat.
My mother picked up on it, but missed the point. She assumed that the "someone" was Phil. She had just met Phil and liked him. She knew we had been close, and that he had been around at the time my grades suddenly improved. She assumed it was his doing, and I let her think that. She never suspected, not even dreamed, that there was a sexual relationship involved-with anyone!
I arrived in Des Moines in late June, and found an inexpensive apartment that I could rent for a year, and then go month to month after that. I started work at the Red Cross on Monday, July 1, 1963. I reported to the main office in downtown Des Moines, to find that a staff meeting was planned for mid-morning. Until then I was shown my desk in a corner of a large workroom, introduced to the folks I would be working closely with, and then closeted with the office manager, who would be my supervisor. I would be starting by helping in blood bank operations, and would have secondary duties in disaster relief planning.
At staff meeting I was introduced to the staff that worked in the building-there would be others that worked at other locations and others who were mainly vehicle based. After I was introduced the staff went around and introduced themselves very briefly. Except for my supervisor, Randy, only one stood out. A very attractive woman, about five years older than me (I would learn later it was a little more than ten) said, "I'm Priscy, that's short for Priscilla, and I'm the token lesbian around here."
Whoa, that was getting close to home. I realized instantly that my time was now or never. If this woman could be out, then so could I if I was willing to make the leap. But was I? I didn't really know until I found myself saying, "I guess that makes me the token gay."
I don't know what kind of a reaction I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the reaction I got: Nothing. Next around the room was a young black man, who simply said, "I'm Fawn, the token Negro."
By the way, Priscy is pronounced like it was Prissy. I only learned how to spell it later.
It was a week before anybody made any reference to my sexuality. I was eating lunch with two of my co-workers at a local diner. One said, "So you're gay? Do you have a boyfriend?"
I had already decided that if at all possible I would try to provide only minimal information about Tim. I answered, "Yes, his name is Tim, he is still in school in the Twin Cities." All true; if they assumed that meant he was at the "U" and not high school, so much the better. It was accepted at face value.
"Were you out in college?"
"Not really; a few kids knew."
"But Tim was back in St. Paul?"
That was a tough one. He wasn't in St. Paul, but the "U" was. Any answer was likely to produce a "What school?" reply. I was so clever, and responded with, "I wished he could have been in Rockford."
The conversation turned to other subjects. The major hurdle was passed. And it was quite clear that my sexuality was not going to be a problem. Good old Iowa. They may be conservative in many ways, but they knew how to mind their own business.
Priscy didn't let me off so easily. She took me out to dinner, with a "Let's talk" kind of invitation. She wasn't the shy, retiring type at all. In fact, I think Tina could have taken lessons from her.
"Got a boyfriend?"
Same answer I got away with before.
"Tim, huh? What school? The 'U'?"
I hesitated. She picked up on it immediately. "Not the 'U'? If you don't want to talk, let me know. But until you do, I'll keep poking. What school?"
"Southwest High School."
"And you are how old?"
"He's 17, I guess."
"You like them young."
"It's a long story. I've already told you more than perhaps I should have, but having said this much-I'm a terrible liar-I need to say more."
"Come back to my house after dinner, relax, have a beer, and tell Priscy the whole story. A little vicarious sex never hurt anybody."
"There is no vicarious sex to share."
"Not with Tim."
You know how to go straight for the jugular, don't you?"
"That's my reputation. I'm also known as persistent. With who?"
"You're avoiding the question, aren't you?"
"OK. I can take a hint. I'm all ears for the story after dinner. We'll talk about something else now. How do you like the job, thus far?"
The conversation over dinner was pleasant and relaxed. We drove in our separate cars back to her house in a working class suburb north of the city. She offered me a beer, but I took a Coke. She had the beer. "So spill," she said, settling herself in a comfortable chair, having given me the couch.
I told the story with every detail. I would have summarized if I could, but every time I tried, she asked questions. She knew how to get all the details. I decided that keeping anything back was a little silly. Besides, I was finding that I liked her and was sure that I could trust her. She had a good head on her shoulders. Her questions, though pointed, showed a concern for the people she was asking about. I could tell from the slow change in her questions that she was getting over her original disapproval of my "robbing the cradle."
"I'd like to meet this kid, Tim. Sounds like quite a guy."
"He is, but you won't meet him in the next eighteen months. Not before he is eighteen, and then I'll have left Iowa."
"And you had damn well better come visit, and bring Tim with you."
"With that kind of a gracious invitation, I'm sure that we will both hurry down to call."
"Fuck you, Charlie." And she giggled.
I decided that I was tired of her controlling the conversation. "I didn't think that fucking me was your idea of fun."
"A guy as handsome as you? Of course it is. I like girls, always have. But no sensible person limits herself. That's the biggest problem with straights-they limit themselves to half the population. I'd never do that. I consider the whole population fair game."
"I've never fucked a girl."
"Is that bragging or confessing."
"Neither. Just a fact."
"Have you fucked a boy?"
"Tim and I have agreed that we're saving that for each other."
"Good for you. I mean that. But you aren't saving other things?"
"No. I told you about Tina."
"And Phil. Are you ready for Priscy?"
"Not tonight, but are you ready for a gay man?"
"You wouldn't be the first."
"You're pretty open about things, aren't you?"
"You don't believe in secrets. Neither do I. Secrets get you in trouble. I don't go running around the office talking about my sexual conquests, nor my failures. But they aren't secrets either."
"Have you had, uh, relations with others on the staff?"
"No. You would be the first. The women don't want to be considered lesbian, though I think a couple are. It never occurs to the men around there that I might be a safe trick."
"So, who, where, uh, you know what I mean?"
"I keep pretty active. I'm in a couple of musical groups-one is gay and lesbian, the other isn't-I meet people in the neighborhood. I avoid bars and churches."
"I'll admit that there are a lot of nice people in both bars and churches. But the odds aren't good in bars, and I can't deal with the attitudes of nearly all churches about homosexuality. Like, they want to debate it. Shit."
"Do the men that you meet, how did you put it, consider you a safe trick?"
"While I don't hide who I am-though I don't usually announce it in the first sentence like I did with you-I don't carry a sign. I get lots of invitations, and then they have to deal with the fact that I like girls as well as boys."
"How come I got special treatment?"
"The office knows, I thought you should know right up front before you said something stupid; and I thought it should come from me, not a co-worker that you might think was telling stories out of school."
"I wouldn't have said...."
"I know that now, but you were an unknown quantity. And there are, in fact, a lot of people running around saying some pretty stupid, and unkind, things about gays and lesbians. We had one in the office, but she couldn't deal with me, and when it became clear that I wasn't going to be fired for being a lesbian, she quit."
"I think that, without knowing it, I picked a good place to work."
"You did. You're lucky. There are a lot of workplaces where the only way to survive is to be in the closet. But your announcement caught us off guard. You can bet you were the subject of a number of conversations over the next few days. But not unkind ones."
I was getting tired. The conversation was interesting, and certainly helpful to me as I settled into a new job. But bedtime beckoned. I said goodnight, and asked when she would like a return dinner invitation. We were on for two days hence. She asked, "Do you want the subject of our fucking to come up, or would you rather I let that ride for a while?"
"Let it ride."
"You tell me when you want to talk about that again."
"I will, if I decide I want to go that way."
"I'm not pushy, but I would be eager."
"Good night, Priscy."
"Good night, Charlie. I think you're quite a guy."
Tim's July letter arrived about then. Damn the kid, he was going back to Camp White Elk for the last two week session again! Well, I couldn't blame him, I had been there the previous summer; he would have been there if I hadn't-or if we hadn't been "avoiding" each other. That would be in August, but they had just made the decision, and gotten him registered. Hal would be there the same two weeks, and they had told Stanley that they wanted to be together. They were hoping that some of the others might be there the same two weeks, but hadn't heard back from any of them yet.
Carl and Carol had become a couple. They were trying to be realistic about the absurdity of high school kids planning marriage following college, but Tim and I didn't make a very good bad example! And both Carl and Carol were almost in awe of Tim's relationship with me. Tim said that Carl swore that they were sticking to their resolve not to fuck before they finished high school. But Carl had had fun with Tim detailing all of the interesting things that a boy could do to a girl, and vice-versa, short of fucking. Tim stuck to general outlines in his letter, and assured me that someday Carl and/or Carol would provide considerably more details!
Then Tim wrote, "Charlie, there is something about writing the word fuck that doesn't seem right. We say it a lot, in private, both as a swear word-when it doesn't 'mean' anything--and as a term with a specific meaning-intercourse, more specifically sexual intercourse, of course a slightly different meaning with gay guys. But when written it can be jarring. I tried writing intercourse, but it isn't a verb. Heck, there isn't a non-profane verb for fuck. So you are stuck with have intercourse with to replace four letters. Then there is screw and a long list of euphemisms, some of which are clear and some vague, none of which seems better than fuck. Then you can move on to things like have sex with, but that doesn't tell the story. Carl has sex with Carol-at least in my book-but doesn't fuck her. So after all of that, I am going to continue to use the work fuck. I hope you don't mind. Oh, yes, this paragraph is for Mom's benefit. She read one of my letters in which I had used the word, and questioned me about it. That made me think. So, Mom, when you read this, you have your answer. The word is being used with thought. I would be glad to consider suggested alternatives."
How many high school juniors-well almost juniors-would, or could, write that where their mothers could read it? My mother would be very upset (I considered using the phrase shit a brick which I think communicates my meaning better that be very upset, but I am trying-for just a moment-to honor Tim's train of thought.) And how about those casual comments about his brother's sex life? They could only be said if he knew-which he did-that Carl was equally open with his parents. As much as I had gotten to know them, I continued to be amazed by Norman and Betsy and their two boys.
My reply to Tim described my little apartment, one bedroom, little kitchenette, decent living room with a bunch of used furniture; bookshelves everywhere. A decent record player and no TV-and not wanted, but that would change before the year was out.
I told him about my work with the Red Cross which was proving to be interesting, and well within my capability. In fact, I was getting accolades for my handling of some difficult situations at the blood collection centers. I was finding the people I worked with to be very pleasant, and was enjoying time with some of them outside of work.
And that, of course, led to Priscy. I told Tim that I was considering whether I wanted to accept her offer of sex-that I presumed that she was open to a wider variety of sexual options than just fucking. (I was accepting Tim's vocabulary lesson, though it didn't mean a usage change for me.) However, it raised some difficult issues for me: how much straight was there in me? Did fucking Priscy violate our agreement to save fucking for each other? Was there a meaningful difference, for gays in general or Tim and me specifically, between fucking a girl and fucking a boy? What about fucking a girl's ass? I was getting in pretty deep, and not just with the vocabulary. Would Tim like to comment?
I closed letter 22, of 40, with assurances that number 40 would come; that we had made it into the third quarter. I closed with "I will make it! I know you will, too."
Tim's next letter brought a variety of news. It started with his time that summer at Camp White Elk. All of the rest of the gang had decided to come. Several had to make major changes in plans-Franklin had to quit a very lucrative construction job early-but they all made them gladly. They all had a great two weeks. Stanley had asked Paul to be their counselor, and his reaction to Stanley was that he thought he had died and gone to heaven. Like everyone else who was successful with this group, he simply got out of their way and supported them unconditionally. And Stanley supported Paul.
Hal did his usual thing, running like a deer through the woods putting miles behind him every day. He and Tim talked a lot in the evenings, and Hal said that he was never happier than when he ran through the White Elk woods. That was where he had first learned to love running, and the memories were the best of his life. He fully intended to find a way to spend at least a week each summer running those trails.
Jim and Andy had rediscovered each other, and their bodies. Separated from girls and girlfriends, they had decided to enjoy themselves for two weeks-no commitments. Hal had run into them in the woods a couple of times-there was noplace in the woods where you could be sure that Hal wouldn't run past. They were laying nude in the grass the first time Hal approached. He had simply run up and sat down near them. They had started scrambling for their clothes, but Hal stopped them. "Listen, guys. Nobody bothers me when I run; nobody bothers Ronnie when he reads. People let Tim jump on the trampoline until it almost breaks. I'm just as happy to let you do your thing. I'm not bothered in the least. In fact, I'm intrigued."
Jim and Andy had been embarrassed at first, but then decided that Hal meant it. They continued what they had been doing, sucking each other mainly, and soon Hal got up and ran on. The next time Hal ran into them and sat down to talk, and perhaps watch, they jumped him and stripped off his shorts-finding to their surprise that he had nothing on under them-no jock strap, no undershorts. "No spectators," they had cried. Encouraged by the obvious invitation his lack of clothing extended, they had pushed him down on the ground and played with him, four-handed, until he came which was quite quickly. With that he used some grass to clean himself up, pulled on his shorts, and took off running.
They had told Tim the story toward the end of camp, noting that nothing further had happened, and Hal had never spoken about it or referred to the incident in any way! Jim and Andy had thought the whole thing pretty funny.
Tim had spent a lot of time on the trampoline. He also liked to bounce around the camp doing somersaults and cartwheels. He wrote that it was a chance to just be a kid and enjoy himself. And he swam at least two or three hours a day to keep in shape. In fact, he didn't have the time for swimming laps the rest of the year, and was glad to have two weeks to get a different set of muscles sore. Just thinking about his activity level-which he considered relaxation from his regular routine-was enough to tire me out, and everybody else at Camp White Elk.
Ronnie was a fooler that summer. He arrived at camp with a little paunch. Tom and Tim had noticed it, and talked about it. But they decided that Ronnie's joy at camp was based on the fact that he was allowed to be himself. They didn't want to intrude on that. After all, Ronnie was a truly nice guy and had been very plain about not wanting to be "remade." But the first Sunday he had taken Tim and Tom out into the woods. He stripped off his shirt, and they wondered what was going on. He stood there, giving them both a front view and then a profile. He said, "Guys, I'm fat. I guess I read too much. I don't exercise enough-though I do walk a lot. I need help. I don't want to be fat."
Tom had said, "You mean we get to build the 'new Ronnie.'"
"You only get to work on this paunch. The clothes, the hair, the reading, you leave alone."
"We get the idea."
Tim said, "You have two choices: Stop eating or start exercising, and probably both."
"I know. But I need help."
"OK, said Tom. Here goes. Nothing but water in your mouth except at meals. You always sit between Tim and me to eat, and we approve everything that goes on your plate. That takes care of eating. Exercise. Tim, what do you think?"
"He runs with Hal for the first mile of the morning, and then turns around and runs a mile back-slower of course-he'll struggle to keep up with Hal. But Hal'll help him and slow for him as needed. In the afternoon his swims an hour with me. Since we're doing laps he doesn't have to keep up, but he has to swim for the hour. What does that sound like to you, Ronnie?"
"Well, that paunch is up to you. But that regimen for two weeks, followed by a decent controlled diet and only half that exercise after the two weeks will keep you fit and in shape. It won't make you an athlete, but you don't want to be. But it'll keep you with a body you don't have to be ashamed of."
"OK, said Ronnie. Make the new Ronnie. And I hereby authorize you to take whatever action is necessary to keep me to the regimen for the next two weeks. Tie me up if that is the only way to keep me from snacking, drag me to the water to swim. Beat the shit out of me if I don't run the two miles in the morning. I mean it. I might quit. Don't let me."
Tom walked over to him, pulled down his shorts and undershorts, grabbed his balls, squeezed them very tightly and said, "OK, kid. Here's the deal. You fall off the wagon, and I squeeze these dry. No mercy."
Ronnie had turned pale, and wasn't sure how seriously Tom meant it. But he pulled up his pants and never tested Tom. He lost 9 pounds in the two weeks. He almost died running two miles a day; swam for his life for an hour each afternoon; and left, just as Tim had predicted, fit as a fiddle. The rest of each day he sat in the forest and read. But he had the determination he needed, and the changes proved to be life-long. To this day he runs each morning, rain, snow or shine. I see him in T-shirt and shorts at 20 degrees and snow on the ground, running his mile. He allows himself long sleeves below 20 and long pants below 10. He runs indoors below zero. He never misses. His stomach is as flat as a board and hard as a rock. Tom never got to squeeze his balls. Ronnie had fallen completely in love with Camp White Elk. I don't think it was getting rid of the paunch. It wasn't the reading. It was the ethos of the place. He was accepted for who he was. He was allowed to be who he was. By the camp, the staff (Paul was wonderful), and by the gang. He and Hal would find a way back each summer.
The second Monday evening, as they were all sitting around the cabin getting ready for bed, Tim said, "Let's take a canoe trip. All of us. Let's Make The Circle."
Ronnie hadn't been along on the trip two years before. He asked, "What do you mean, 'Make the Circle?'"
"We start our from the camp dock in the morning and loop around through several lakes and portages, and end up back at our dock in the afternoon. It is supposed to take six to seven hours. I think it took us between four to five when we made the trip with Charlie three years ago. But we were being slowed down by other paddlers. With only this group, I think we could fly like the wind."
Tom said, "Let's ask Paul."
Tom and Franklin went to get Paul, and soon Franklin carried him in and dropped him on his bed. Paul was a good sport about being manhandled by Franklin. Franklin was so gentle you could hardly get mad at him. Besides, Paul was being successful at being the counselor for this group by just going with the flow-the same way I had been successful three years before. They told Paul their plan. He responded, "Great. I suppose you have all the paddling assignments made as well?"
Tim said, "Not yet. But here are my suggestions. Jim and Andy go together, they wouldn't accept any other arrangement."
They both said, "Right."
Tim continued, "I want to paddle with Ronnie."
According to Tim, Ronnie visibly brightened. Tim said that he had seemed reluctant to take part in the trip, but became enthusiastic when Tim singled him out. I asked Tim later why he had picked out Ronnie, expecting to be told that Ronnie needed the affirmation. Instead Tim had said, "Two reasons: I thought he'd make a good paddler. Second, I like him."
Tom said, "I want to paddle with Franklin."
Franklin said, "OK with me."
Paul said, "Hal, I think that leaves you stuck with me. OK?'
Hal said, "Sure. But I'm not sure how happy I'm going to be on a day without running."
Tom said, "Hal, you'll manage."
The trip was planned for Wednesday, weather permitting. They all decided that paddling in the rain had its place, but not for this trip. They wanted a sunny day.
On Tuesday word of the trip spread around the camp. Two counselors who had a day off, and two counselors-in-training decided they would like to come along. The were all jocks, and were certain that they would lead the party. Tim said, "You guys're welcome, but we aren't waiting if you can't keep up. Make sure somebody in your group knows the way in case you get left behind."
This was met with laughter and phrases like, "Dream on kid."
Wednesday morning arrived. The sun shone. The lake was calm-a perfect day for a trip. The six canoes started off together. The four he-men set off rapidly and headed for the portage to The Pond. The boys' canoes all set out swiftly, paddling briskly but not out for a race. They were a few minutes behind at the portage, and stayed about that far behind across The Pond and on the portage to Misty Lake. Their steady stroking caught them up to the other four shortly after pushing off onto Misty Lake. As they were passed, the four put on a burst of speed and got ahead of the boys, but not for long. They couldn't keep up their break-neck pace. Slow and steady-well, not really slow and steady, it was more like swift and steady-took the day. The boys had left the others far behind before they hit the stream to High Lake. The two groups never saw each other again on that trip.
Tim paddled stern to Ronnie's bow. He told me that Ronnie had a wonderfully steady stroke, with quite a bit of power. He did stroke after stoke after stroke and never missed a beat, unless Tim said something to him. Then he would sort of shake himself, asked Tim what he wanted, all the while missing his beat on two or three strokes. He would answer Tim's question, then get absorbed in his own thoughts again, and his strong stroke would return. Soon Tim learned not to interrupt his thoughts, whatever they were. Tim thought he was thinking about astrophysics, but wasn't sure.
Tim wrote that he was never bored as he paddled. "Charlie, I looked at Ronnie's bare back, and his muscles rippling with each stroke, and dreamed it was you. I'd watch you for a while and soon your swim suit would dissolve and I would be looking at your bare ass. Then I'd start to get hard. Then you'd disappear and reappear laying on the floor of the canoe, dick sticking up in the air beckoning to me. Then you'd disappear and there would be Ronnie: stroke, stroke, stroke. Then I'd think of you in some other context. I had the most wonderful three hours!"
Tim and Ronnie had led, and nobody quite caught up to them. But they didn't rest or wait for people, driving the whole group at a gallop-if that word is appropriate for a canoe. Jim and Andy were second. They were both good athletes, and did well, trading bow for stern from time to time. Tom and Franklin stayed third, but really struggled to keep up. Franklin was in the stern, and wouldn't give it up despite Tim's recommendations-even pointing out that Charlie was the source of the advice to put the stronger paddler in the bow. Tim thought that Franklin believed that he was being kind to Tom by taking the stern. Hal was in the bow of the fourth canoe, which really wasn't fourth, because Paul insisted that as counselor he needed to be in the rear so that he could see everyone and keep the group together. The guy in the bow was definitely the new Hal, not the old one-he paddled like a star athlete that knew what he was doing.
After three hours they got back to camp, arriving at noon to the absolute amazement of everyone. There had been speculation as to whether they would beat four hours-Stanley having predicted that they would and been scoffed at for his optimism. They pulled up to the dock and had a brief pow-wow. They decided to sit on the dock and eat the lunch they were carrying, rest for an hour, and then Make The Circle again. Paul, and Stanley, were a little startled, but soon agreed. However, Tim went over to Franklin and whispered to him, "Listen you big doofus. Get in the goddam bow and let Tom take the stern. Otherwise you guys aren't going to make this next round." Franklin had reluctantly agreed. The change had breathed new life into the pair.
Stanley told me later that they Made The Circle the second time in three hours and ten minutes. The other group of "very athletic" counselors and CITs had taken four hours and thirty-five minutes to go around once, the gang had gone around twice in six hours and ten minutes! The big difference was the fact that the gang never stopped to rest until noon.
Stanley continued (Tim had left out all of this), "They got back at 4:10. By 4:15 Hal was off running. He didn't come back for three hours. I asked him how far he had run and he guessed twenty miles-on top of six hours of steady canoeing."
Hal had simply shrugged when Stanley had asked him about it, and said, "Different sets of muscles."
Tim had followed up the canoeing by bouncing on the trampoline for an hour, with Paul and Franklin spotting. Whenever he bounced a crowd of spectators would gather around, and this was no exception. He didn't like to be a show-off, but his routine practice-which was important to keep up his diving form when he was away from the board for two weeks-was a dramatic show at Camp White Elk-indeed almost anywhere.
Ronnie had returned immediately to his books. Jim and Andy had set off into the woods laughing and joking, and the rest of the gang knew why they were headed that way-and didn't care. Tom was beat. His morning in the bow had worn him out. He took a nap.
Franklin spent the two weeks making everybody else happy. If you wanted a game, Franklin was there. If Tim needed a spotter, Franklin was willing. If Paul needed help with something, Franklin helped. If another group needed an umpire for a game, Franklin umped. Tim finally got tired of seeing Franklin always being used, and said something to him. Franklin had replied, "Tim. My joy is helping people. You like to jump, dive, and-whatever the verb is for a gymnast. But your greatest joy in life, someday, is going to be doing nice things for Charlie. My greatest joy is doing nice things for everybody. I go to bed at night reliving the pleasure of seeing other people happy. You think I'm being unselfish. But I'm terribly selfish. It is what I like to do. I thrive on it."
"But don't you have ambitions for yourself?"
"Yeah. I do. I just told you. Weren't you listening?"
Tim had simply hugged Franklin and said "I love you."
Franklin had replied, "I love you too kid, but I happen to know you're taken." Then Tim kissed him as well as hugged him. Franklin returned the favor. Tim felt a very hard Franklin pushing into him. He pushed back, and then the moment was over.
Tom's ambitions for the summer were less clear. He was very friendly, a willing participant in activities, but seemed to have no goal. Tim asked him point blank, "What's the problem? You don't seem to be yourself."
Tom had said, simply, "I'm here. Julie's there."
"That bad, huh?"
"Is she as upset about you being here while she's there as you are?"
"I hope so. I think so."
Tom's summer had been made when, on the last day, his parents had arrived to pick him up and a lovesick Julie was riding in the back seat. Tim said that Tom's face lit up like someone had turned on a light switch. He kissed her madly, introduced her to the whole gang, and then they sort of melted into each other. It was the first we had known of Tom's romantic interests.
A little later, I called Stanley on the telephone to get a different perspective on the two weeks. Stanley was all bubbly having the gang back in camp. He let Paul be their counselor because he knew it would be a good fit. But he had encouraged another counselor in the cabin to get to know Ronnie. They had hit it off, and they had talked for hours. Stanley told me, "Talking science or philosophy or whatever isn't really what an outdoor camp experience is supposed to be, but Ronnie does his thing, and loves us because we let him. This worked this summer, even if it was unorthodox."
I replied, "That was the secret of my success with that gang, and I thank you for letting me be so non-directive."
"Charlie, you did a masterful job with that group. When are you going to come back? You have a job whenever you want, you know that, right?"
"I appreciate your confidence, Stanley, but I think my schedule is going to be too busy for summer leisure for quite a while. And camp counseling is a leisure activity."
"We miss you!"
Back home Tim's diving was reaching new heights. He enclosed a number of clippings from the Minneapolis paper about his successes. One was an interview with him in which he was very pointedly asked whether he had Olympic ambitions. His answer, that he was aiming for the 1968 Olympics, was openly scoffed at. His platform diving was outstanding, as everyone in the Twin Cities knew, and as the whole nation was about to know when he hit the Nationals at the end of August. Everyone in Minneapolis just assumed that he would be number one off the platform, why on earth would he not head for the Olympic trials next spring?
I don't know how accurate the quotations were, but the reporting made poor Tim sound inarticulate. The words "personal," "private", and "not ready" simply didn't compute for the sports writer/interviewer. Other articles simply talked about the Olympic trials as if it were so obvious that he would be there that they needn't ask him. I felt sorry for Tim as he tried to deal with all of this. I wondered if it was time for either me, Tim's parents, or Tim, or some combination, to sit down with his coach and clue him in. Or perhaps it was my job to urge him on to Tokyo. But I knew that he had made up his mind. And once Tim made up his mind about something important that he had thought out carefully and clearly, he didn't change it. He would not compete in an Olympics at which I was not publically his partner. And that was impossible in 1964 at age 17.
I hadn't realized just how good a diver he had become. Nationals? Not for under 18, but open Nationals. Winning them? Tim? He had a good coach, but not of the stature that produced national champions. He coached a fairly good, but not outstanding, swim and dive team from a Minneapolis public high school. He could hardly conceptualize the dives Tim was doing routinely. But he was good at two things, and a lot of coaches should take a lesson: He never shouted, always praised, and hugged Tim a lot, long and hard. Tim would have given his arm for the man had he been asked. He loved him. And his coach gave him kind, but always truthful criticism. Nothing was called perfect unless it was. Nothing was awful or terrible unless it was. Particularly in the days before videotaping every dive was routine, that kind of feedback was critical. It never ceased to amaze me that some coaches were incapable of it.
His gymnastics were not going on quite that grand a scale, but he was constantly improving, little by little. However, his coach was not as good. There was always a little edge to the relationship between him and Tim, because he figured that Tim would have been a national champion gymnast if he hadn't spent all that time diving.
I telephoned Norman a day or so later, asking about Tim's diving coach and how he was dealing with the question of the Olympic trials. After all, it would be incredible prestige for him if his student went to the Olympics. Going four years later as a college student would bring little fame or glory to the high school coach. Norman said he would talk to Tim and then Coach Nelson-Tim had not used his name for some reason. I assured him that he had my permission to tell the coach as much about Tim and me as he felt was appropriate, and which Tim agreed to.
Norman called me back two days later-first relaying a "Hello, I love you" from Tim, and then a "How dare you call my father and not me?" message. We laughed and then Norman told me about Coach Nelson. He had admired the coach all along, but had not really gotten to know him. He went in to talk without Tim-not his usual practice, but Tim had said it was OK. "Charlie, this guy competes with you for the selflessness award of the month. He really is only interested in Tim. He said that it wasn't clear to him why Tim was targeting the 1968 Olympics, but that Tim was not some dopey little kid that made stupid decisions. Tim clearly had thought it out, and Coach Nelson would back him to the hilt." There had been no need to tell about me, and Norman had decided not to, for the simple reason that he felt that the information might have been a burden for the coach to deal with. Norman also reported on his conversation with Tim. Tim had said that Coach Nelson was going to remain one of his two coaches of record for the next five years. He would go to Mexico City with Tim and me, if Tim qualified. Tim had said, very firmly, that would be a condition of his going to the Olympics, period, unless Coach Nelson couldn't or didn't wish to go. It was clear that that was going to be another of Tim's unshakeable decisions, but it brought serious risks for Tim as well. I loved him for it. His sense of right, wrong, and justice was overwhelming-and unbending.
His letter ended with brief comments about my possible sexual relationship with Priscy. As I was sure he would, he wrote, "Go for it! But keep your dick out of her ass. The rest we can discuss years from now. I love you, always will. Tim."
I shared both letters with Priscy. She was clearly surprised by his openness with his parents. But instead of commenting directly she simply said, "I would have given anything for that kind of a relationship with my parents. We never talked about sexuality. They never knew I was a lesbian."
I said, "You used past tense. Are they gone?"
"Yes. My father was killed in a factory accident in the fifties. My mother lost the will to live and died not much after that."
"Tell me more about your family and childhood."
Priscy was born in early 1930, making her a little more than ten years older than me-I had guessed five. The depression had been difficult, growing up in Peoria, Illinois. However, her father had kept his job at Caterpillar through the depression. Pay cuts, reduced hours, and cuts in benefits had undermined their standard of living. Her father was in his thirties when war came, but since he was employed at a critical war plant, he did not enter the Army. The war ended while she was in high school, and she graduated in1948. It was an odd time to be in high school. Up until 1945 most of the graduates left immediately for the military, and many left at 17-before they graduated. There was a strong feeling that they might never return. That same feeling translated into a feeling that what they didn't do now they might never do. The sexual implications of that are obvious, and the girls felt a lot of pressure to make the boys happy before they left.
Priscy found she enjoyed "making the boys happy" and got both pretty good at it and very casual about it. Sex was about fun and instant gratification, not love or marriage. At least in her young circle, there was no thought of marrying anybody who was about to set off for war. Just make them happy and be happy as you did it.
She didn't get pregnant, but not because of any modicum of either education or common sense. They knew they should use "rubbers"-Priscy never heard the word condom until she was about half way through college-but were pretty careless about it. She learned years later that she was medically unlikely to ever have a child unless the medical profession positively intervened, a fact for which she was grateful.
The patterns set during the war continued throughout high school and got her started in college. She attended Bradley University in Peoria. The postwar boom was generous to her family and they were able to pay for her to live in the dorms. She got a degree in sociology, but the most important teacher for her was her roommate, Charlotte-always called Charl. Charl was from Lincoln, Illinois, a small town not far from Peoria. I would love to have met her, but she contracted polio not long after graduating and died within days. Priscy was devastated, but seems to have recovered.
Charl befriended Priscy, and they did everything together as freshmen-becoming bosom buddies. Charl saw Priscy's high school sexual patterns creep into college, and she confronted her friend. Priscy said that it was a pretty tough conversation, but Charl insisted that Priscy was worth more than she was valuing herself. Charl had then said, "Look, Priscy, I'd like to have sex with you myself, but I wouldn't think to ask because we don't know each other well enough. And you know me pretty well-certainly better than the fat-ass boys you have been giving yourself up to."
Priscy was thunderstruck. Both with the idea that Charl would like to have sex with her, and with the idea that Charl didn't know her well enough to ask. She literally ran from the room and couldn't face Charl for the rest of the day. She crept back in late that night to find Charl waiting. "Want to talk?"
"Yes. I guess I'm ready."
"You deserve answers to questions. Ask away. I'll tell you everything you want to know. No secrets."
"Do you want to have sex with me?"
"Yes, and no. I do. But not now. Not yet."
"I've never met a homosexual. Boy or girl."
"Yes, you have. They just didn't tell you they were homosexual."
"What would be the difference between my having sex with you and the trick I did in the back seat of Bill's car last night?"
"You mean besides the fact that I'm a girl?"
"Listen, Priscy. Let me tell you my feelings about sex. You might call it my philosophy of sex. I figure there are four kind of sex: dangerous sex; casual sex; emotional sex; and loving sex. Here's what I mean.
"Dangerous sex is with strangers or people you can't be sure won't hurt you or give you disease. That includes some people you know but don't know well enough.
"Casual sex is sex for sex sake, but out of the dangerous category. It can be fun, and is usually meaningless. In my opinion there are better ways of having fun.
"Emotional sex is with people you know well, like a lot, maybe the word love is appropriate. I have a rule that I use to tell casual sex from emotional sex. If most of the pleasure in the encounter comes from kissing, hugging, and lying beside each other, that's emotional sex. If most of the pleasure comes from your genitals, that's casual sex.
"Loving sex is with the person you love. While I'll allow it's possible for someone to have loving sex with more than one person, that's rare. It's more likely that you'll go all your life without loving sex.
"Priscy, I decided long ago that I longed for loving sex, and hoped like Hell I would find it someday. In the meantime, emotional sex with people I care for, and who care for me, is good. Casual sex is shit. I don't touch it. Only lunatics go in for dangerous sex."
Priscy replied, "God, Charl, all the sex that I have ever had in my life was casual, and I think it was often dangerous. I don't think I even understand emotional sex. More pleasure from kissing and hugging than from 'doing it'? That hardly makes sense to me."
"Priscy, you asked about us having sex. I want to have sex with you tonight. But just hugging, kissing, and lying together. No genitals. You need to learn the real meaning of sex."
And that is how they spent the night. Priscy told me later it was the most loving, wonderful experience she had ever had. They began sleeping together every night, and soon their hands were exploring areas of their bodies that had started out as "off limits." They roomed together for all four of their college years. Before they graduated, nothing was off limits. They experimented in every way they could think of, using parts of themselves and other things as well-being very careful not to move into the dangerous area.
When they graduated they considered whether they wanted to make their lives together. They thought they did, but decided that they needed a little time. They went separate ways with their job hunting. Priscy found a job in a Dean's office at Iowa State in Des Moines. Charl was still job hunting, when she contracted polio. Charl's parents called Priscy,and she went immediately to Lincoln to see Charl. At first the authorities told her that Charl was quarantined and that she couldn't see her, but Priscy stood them down. Dressed in all of the protective gear of the day she had her last visit with Charl. They realized that they really were each other's true love, and had the chance to tell each other. Priscy thanked Charl for her "philosophy" and promised to honor her lessons. Charl died that night with Priscy and her parents at her side.
It had taken Priscy several years to get over her loss. But she had managed. She had honored Charl's guideline and never got involved in casual sex again. In her life in Des Moines she had many friends, men and women, and had become sexually active with a few-both men and women. It always started with hugging, kissing, and lying together. If there was no joy there, then nothing more happened.
She had changed jobs a couple of times, and been with the Red Cross about four years when I arrived. We had been friends, dated a few times, and talked long hours, before Priscy told me her story. That night we hugged, kissed, and slept together-nothing more.
My letter to Tim, number 23, of 40, told Priscy's story. I was sure that Tim would find it as interesting and meaningful as I did. And I told him that I was rooting for him at the diving Nationals, which were going on pretty much as I wrote-and were the reason the I broke down and got a TV-just to see the Saturday afternoon feature on the swimming and diving nationals.
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