This is very rapidly turning into the COGs' story or stories. Our parents are settling into the dull drab lives of late middle age and the young kids are doing the exciting stuff. This is Shel, the third COG that Charlie's allowed to author an episode, and I'm very proud of that invitation. And don't you believe that our parents were engaging in the dull drabness of middle age! Just putting up with, and trying to stay current with, their children kept them out of the doldrums.
I've read the first 144 episodes and find that several people have told parts of my story. So, you know who I am, or at least you think you do. I'm glad you do, because I really haven't got a clue who I am, and I'm almost thirty years old. I think a lot of Olympians, well any kind of top athletes, face this problem: sports are a young man's or a young woman's occupation, and eventually you have to face the question of, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" If you happen to be one of the elite few that make millions during your athletic career, at least the question of what you're going to do with the rest of your life isn't a matter of financial life and death. But figure skaters don't make that kind of money, so the question did have serious financial consequences for me.
OK, I'll admit that being part of the Gang insured that I was at zero risk of becoming homeless, poverty-stricken, or a pauper. But that didn't lessen the need to make career decisions that would lead to a decent income. But that's for later in my story. Let's begin with learning to read.
Oops, that's a bad starting point. I haven't got the slightest idea how or when I learned to read. The earliest book I can remember reading was one of the Hardy Boys series, and I was in kindergarten. As far as my memory goes, I always could read. There never was a time when I couldn't read. I guess there was, but it precedes my memory banks. There were always books in the house; my parents read at lot; my siblings read a lot; it was natural that I would. I think that it was Cam that was reading the Hardy Boys when I got started on them.
I do remember a day early in my kindergarten year. It was playtime (isn't it always playtime in kindergarten?) and I was sitting in a chair reading the Hardy Boys. My teacher thought I was pretending to read, and suggested that I might try a book that I might actually be able to read. I don't know what the book was, probably something from the infamous Dr. Seuss. Being the little snot that only a precocious kindergartner could be, I told her that was for little kids, I preferred the Hardy Boys. She asked me to read a little to her and I did, but she didn't believe that I understood what I was reading. She took me to the school library and we got some book that she knew the story of. I think it was one of the Encyclopedia Brown series. She told me to try to read it and tell her the story when I'd finished. She thought that would put an end to my pretending to read big kid books.
I read the book that night and told her all about it the next day-at least I tried to. After I had about a third of the story told, she got tired of listening to all of the details that I was providing and said I'd done fine. Later in the day she called me up to her desk and asked, "Shel, when did you learn to read? Did your parents teach you?"
I honestly had to say that I didn't have any idea. Reading was just what you did with books. She responded by apologizing for not believing that I was actually reading a Hardy Boys book. That conversation began a year long relationship in which she guided me on a reading odyssey that would've challenged most junior high school kids and a lot of high school kids. By Christmas she had me reading adult novels. She had to call in my parents and discuss the fact that so many adult novels had sex scenes that weren't appropriate for kindergartners. You can guess Amy and Andy's reaction to that. The teacher had responded, "Well, at least none of the other kids in the class are able to read the books Shel is reading, so I don't have to worry about what other parents'll think about the content, and you seem to have no concerns at all."
"Shel has older siblings that talk about sex; you don't have to worry about scenes in the books he reads. We're just so delighted that you're willing to guide him in his reading. It's much better when it comes from you."
You may ask why they didn't push me ahead in school. The reason was simple, I was reading at a high school level. By the end of first grade I was doing 8th grade algebra. I was reading adult science texts in third grade. What grade do you put a kid like that in? One can't really go to high school at age 7. My parents (all four of them) felt that I needed to learn to get along with my contemporaries. I would do that by staying in the correct grade for my age, and reading what I damn well pleased. It worked. I spent most of my time in school, from kindergarten through college, tutoring other students. I learned more that way than the kids I was tutoring did. It worked for me.
It was the summer before first grade that I started reading Dungeons and Dragons books and learning to play the game with Gary, Louise, and Cam. I became the dungeonmaster simply because I'd read all of the books and the others refused to spend the time reading them. They just wanted to pick a character and get on with the game. So my two claims to fame in my early school years were that I could read adult novels, even dirty ones, and I was the best dungenmaster in the area.
Then they built the Fred. Like all kids in the area, I could ice skate. But the Fred opened new vistas for skating, and I fell in love with figure skating. And with Brian, the resident, gay figure skater at the Fred. The building was built in 1991 when I was eight years old, and Brian and the other Olympic skaters arrived in 1992, not long after the Winter Olympics of that year. I was nine, and I latched onto Brian immediately. He was my idol; he could skate like a dream, he was gorgeous, friendly, nice to me, and it soon became very clear that he was gay. I wasn't sure that I was gay, it's a little early at age nine (almost ten) to be sure of your sexuality. But I knew of the Gang's belief that there was a little gay in everyone, and that included me. More importantly, if Brian was gay it meant that he could fall in love with me! Me! Well, I was in love with him, why couldn't he be in love with me?
Then there was the kiss. It was the first time I did a double axel. Charlie's already told that story, and told you that it led to conversations between Brian and me about love, sex, and a possible relationship between us. I knew right then and there that Brian and I were fated to be life partners. But I had the good sense not to scare Brian off by telling him that. I let him figure it out for himself.
So we found ourselves in the summer of 1993 skating together every day, showering together after every practice-ogling but not touching, going to figure skating events, with Brian competing as a senior and me as a junior, and both of us burning up the competition. I realized that summer that I needed to be free to go to figure skating events with Brian through the fall and winter leading up to the Trials and the Olympics, if he was going to medal in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
OK, it's reasonable to ask how much of that was my ego, and how much I really would contribute to Brian's skating by being with him at competitions before going to Lillehammer. If you'd asked me then I would've insisted that my being with Brian was very important. Would you have expected me to say anything else? After all, I was trying to get my parents' OK to skip a lot of school. And what ten year old kid is going to admit to being driven by his ego rather than a realistic appraisal of a situation? I'll just ask you to reserve judgement until you hear the story of Lillehammer.
OK, why me and not his coach? Coach Spivey was a great technical coach, and Brian and I got along very well with him. But he never really understood what Tim and the others meant by love and support. He understood hard work and good technical coaching. He never seemed to resent or be bothered by the fact that Brian went to Tim, me, and others for love and support. It was an unusual relationship, but it worked. And when I wanted to learn to do a triple axel, no one could teach me better than Coach Spivey. It was he who got me doing the quad. But I got my love and support elsewhere. You know where!
By the summer of 1993 Brian and I had been together more than a year. I really understood what made him tick. When I told him that he needed me with him when he went to skating competitions, he didn't argue. I remember he said, "Shel, do what you're going to do. You will anyway."
My first step was to talk to my parents. I asked if I could skip school from fall through the winter Olympics. which would end at the end of February. Everybody knew that my missing that much school would make no difference at all, but there were legal issues involved. Eleven year old kids can't simply drop out of school no matter how smart or advanced they are. But they can be home schooled, and the only measure of the success of home schooling is grade level testing! So as long as my mom-Amy-was officially my teacher all was well, as long as I could pass a grade level test at the end of the year. Big whoop! That was no threat at all, and my ego isn't even slightly responsible for that answer.
Nationals were at the end of the summer, and Brian and I were there along with a huge contingent from the Gang. Brian's parents were there as well, and I met them for the first time. They were delightful people and were comfortable with the fact that they had a gay son. They were more than a little puzzled by the fact that Brian seemed to have a contingent of about 50 supporters, and was rooming with an eleven year old kid, who was almost as good a skater as Brian. I certainly understood their confusion and probably added to it by insisting on hosting a dinner for the four of us the evening before the Nationals began. Brian told me in the afternoon that he'd warned his parents that I was nothing like any eleven year old they'd ever met, and just think of me as his contemporary. At dinner, after I'd made it clear that, in fact, Fred was the invisible host for the dinner, I said, "Look, you two are getting hit with a lot this week. First, I'm not sure that you realize that Brian is very likely to be the national men's figure skating champion when this event's over. It's virtually certain that he'll be in the top three. Second, this bunch of supporters are a group from Grand Forks that have been very close for years and provide love and support for all the Grand Forks Olympians, of which there are many. The group in Lillehammer will be more than twice this big. Third, Brian is an absolutely wonderful guy, and I've completely fallen in love with him. He's still trying to straighten that out in his mind."
Brian said, "Shel! That's a little more information than anybody needs tonight." But, as I had intended, the cat was out of the bag, and his mother was immediately asking him what I meant by that.
"Mom, you'll have to get used to Shel. He, and this whole Gang of supporters that you're experiencing for the first time, always tell it like it is. They don't have secrets. And, yes, Shel has told me that he's in love with me and would like to be my life partner if I can see my way to waiting a little over six years till he gets to be eighteen."
His mom, Elizabeth, called Liz, looked a little shaken by that, but said, "Brian, I thought your father and I did pretty well when you told us in your senior year of high school that you were gay. Are you now telling us that you're in love with an eleven year old boy?"
I broke in, "No, what was said is that the eleven year old boy is in love with him. And he hasn't led me on at all; I've been the aggressor."
His father, Brian Sr., said, "If you were a girl you'd be called jail bait. I suspect in the gay world that term applies to you as well."
"It would except for two things: first, love isn't a criminal activity, sex is. You haven't heard the word sex in this conversation. Second, Brian and I, as two male competitors here, can room together with no raised eyebrows. If I were a girl that couldn't happen. It's one of the few advantages to being gay. As for what happens in the room, the police could install a camera and we'd come away clean. And that isn't going to change until I'm legally of age. You have both of our words on that."
Liz said, "Shel, it's easy to forget your age. I'm beginning to understand what Brian means when he says that I'll think of you as his contemporary."
Brian said, "When Shel invited us to this dinner, I had no idea what he intended. If he'd told me, this dinner would not have happened. But there's no stopping Shel; he's irrepressible. He's pushed me in my skating the same way."
His dad asked, "Is Shel talking reality when he talks about you possibly being the national champion? You've never talked in those terms to us."
"I've never thought in those terms. After Albertville I had dreams that I might have some chance at a medal in Lillehammer, but it was mostly dreaming, and I knew it. Shel's pushed me so hard that the dream just might become a reality."
"You certainly seem to be giving Shel a lot of credit. You know, you have an excellent coach. By the way, I'm not sure that I really understand why we're no longer expected to pay for your coaching."
"Coach Spivey is great, and he'll be working with me tomorrow morning in the practice session. He's on the staff of the Fred, and he was part of the package when I was invited to Grand Forks."
"I'm not sure that I really understand the deal at the Fred, or even what the Fred is."
I said, "The Fred is a corporation that owns the rink and runs the top level programs at the rink. When it opened they decided that they wanted Olympians at the head of their skaters and went out to find them. Brian got offered a pretty sweet deal to come to Grand Forks. Believe me, he's worth it. And he'll get an Olympic medal, mark my words. And just for the record, in the group here it's not considered couth to talk about the color of a medal. And it's not acceptable to cry over silver or bronze."
"Cry over bronze? If Brian gets onto any of those podia his father and I will just bounce off the walls of our living room, fearful of breaking the television set."
I said, "Oh, you won't be watching it on TV. You'll be part of the Olympic contingent from Grand Forks. I'm sure that Fred already has hotel rooms booked for at least 200-the group seems to grow for every Olympics."
"We can't accept that kind of hospitality."
"Oh, yes, you can, and you will. Fred doesn't take, 'No,' for an answer. If you tried to turn him down, he'd probably arrange for your kidnapping."
"I assume this Fred is here. I'm eager to meet him. Just who, exactly, is Fred?"
"The Fred of Fred's Sports. I call him Uncle Fred, but he isn't really my uncle. All of my contemporaries here call him Uncle Fred."
Liz said, "I'm not sure I'm really able to absorb all of this. Maybe it'll begin to sink in as the week goes by. Now, Sheldon...."
"Please call me Shel. I can't say I hate Sheldon, but I certainly prefer Shel."
"Shel, how well are you going to do in the junior championships?"
Brian said, "I'll save him having to answer that. He's debating whether he wants to compete as a junior or senior. To move from junior to senior he has to pass qualifying tests, but they wouldn't be an obstacle. The obstacle is the vastly tougher senior competition, and the fact that he'd have to move up again through regional and sectional competition to complete nationally. So he's pretty much limited to being a junior until after the Olympics. Then he has another problem: age. US competition doesn't have a minimum age, but for international junior competition he must be 13. So he has a while to wait before he moves onto the senior or international stages. Until then, he's going to have to be satisfied with being the youngest US junior champion in history-and he'll achieve that at this meet. He's the only junior with a triple axel, and he has a better shot at first place than I do in the open. If he were a senior, he just might be my toughest competition; he's that good."
Brian's dad asked, "How did you get that good so young, Shel"
"By copying Brian's every move."
"And he keeps pushing me to do more and more, harder and harder, better and better."
"You know, Brian, we haven't really seen you skate in competition since we watched you in the Olympics on television."
"No, we saw him in the regionals in Des Moines a year ago," his mother said.
"You're right. I'd forgotten. We couldn't afford the trip to nationals last year. It was so nice of you to send us tickets to New York this year, Brian."
"It wasn't me. It was the Fred. Or just plain Fred."
"This's going to take some getting used to; just like we're getting used to you, Shel."
Brian had a couple of minor slips in his short program, but it was quite good. The night before his long program we slept cuddled tightly in each others arms. When Brian woke in the morning I said to him, "Today is the day, lover. You're going to show the world. I love you."
Boy, did he show the world. He landed his quad, his two triple combinations, and had nary a slip. His spins were magnificent. It was artistry and athleticism combined. To my eyes it was perfect. The judges agreed and my Brian was the new USA champion!
My junior championship was unprecedented for an eleven year old. That night as Brian and I showered and got ready for bed-we never let pajamas come between us-he said to me, "Shel, our relationship is completely off base. You spend all of your time supporting me, and I forget that you're a major player in this competition as well. I've just gotten in the habit of letting you be my support system and forgotten that I need to be yours."
I told him, "You are, Brian, you are. Believe me. Without you, I wouldn't be junior champion, much less being the youngest boy ever to have achieved that. And I did the first junior triple axel. Oh, wow. I love you, Brian."
Of course, I wasn't a part of the Olympic Trials. I wouldn't be eligible for these Olympics or the next. I was screwed. To compete in the 1998 Winter Olympics I'd have to be 15 by the previous July. I wouldn't be 15 until December of 1997-five months too late. Bummer.
Brian and I did almost nothing but skate, in practice or competition, until it came time for the Olympics. The Trials were just a blip in our schedule and Brian easily qualified for the Olympics, coming in first in the Trials.
I need to step back and catch you up on the other skaters. Janie and Jack were our ice dancing pair, and they'd been skating up a storm ever since their arrival in Grand Forks. They're convinced, and all the rest of us agree, that they've experienced serious growth and improvement since they came to Grand Forks, and they credit it to two things: our environment of love and support and their being comfortable with each other sexually. That's their wording, not mine. I don't think they were actually having much sex with each other, certainly almost no fucking. They talked about being comfortable: being naked together, kissing, being open with their partners.
I say partners, not spouses, because when they arrived in Grand Forks Jack and Naomi were engaged. In about six months they got married-which didn't much change the relationship between them!
They were more likely to be sexually involved with their spouses the nights before big competitions, rather than with each other. On the other hand, it wasn't unusual for that involvement to take place with the four of them in one king size bed! They weren't becoming a foursome, at least not like our foursome, but they were becoming a very close couple of pairs! They weren't taking the world completely by storm, but at the Olympic Trials they again qualified for the Olympics and would be off to Lillehammer with the rest of us. Getting a medal would be difficult for any US ice dancing pair.
Jersey and Merry had led a speed skating program that was slowly attracting some of the better speed skaters in the country. The Fred had seven speed skaters at the Olympic Trials, and three won places on the US Olympic team: Jersey, Merry, and a young woman named Olivia Farben. Jersey and Merry were now living together, and we all presumed that meant they were involved sexually. However, their public face was that it was to save money, and they didn't confide in anybody what went on at night in their apartment. Whatever was going on at night, they were improving their skating and both promised to be serious threats at Lillehammer. Olivia had a boyfriend, and from the outside, at least, she appeared to be getting an appropriate level of love and support!
I should mention one more Olympian, Carle Shenks. He was a senior on the UND ice hockey team the previous year and was selected to be on the USA Olympic hockey team for 1994. The 1994 team was a mix of amateur and pro players, and the period of time leading up to the Olympics was a time of tension between the USA team and the pro teams who didn't want to release their pro players to play with the USA team in the tour that served to get them ready to play as an integrated team. An interesting sidelight that the team coach mentioned: this would be the last USA Hockey team that had any memory of the USA Miracle on Ice of 1980 in which the USA team beat the favored Russians and won the gold medal. The crew of kids coming on in 1998 would be too young to remember, or be inspired by, that great event!
January, 1994. We were off to Norway, accompanied as always by nearly all of the Gang and a solid group of other supporters, including parents, friends, coaches, and assorted hangers on-Fred was a major believer in "the more the merrier" and since he was paying the freight, more came. Fred took me out to dinner at Jerry's just before we left-he picked the restaurant. He told me, "Shel, your job in Lillehammer is to keep track of our athletes, support them completely, and tell Tim or me of any problems. You know them all well, and they trust you." You tell me, how did an eleven year old kid get that job? I asked Fred and he said, "Shel, everyone forgets how old you are. If you want to be treated as an eleven year old kid, you're going to have to start acting like one. As it is, we tend to treat you like the adult you seem to be." I think that was a compliment.
Nobody needed my babysitting in Norway. They all behaved themselves, practiced hard, avoided the bars, got to bed early, had appropriate levels of sex (I asked), and were as ready as they could be for their competitions.
Brian and I were roommates until time to move to the Olympic Village. Then he roomed with Jack, and Janie roomed with Merry. Both Jersey and Olivia had good friends from previous competitions and were able to find compatible roommates.
The afternoon before Brian's short program, in my hotel room, he and I were sorely tempted to cross our "line." We didn't, but we pushed it as far as we thought we could. We lay on the bed together and Brian jacked himself off while I watched. I cleaned him up-that was fun. We hugged and went to dinner together before he went back to the Village with Jack. I watched him in a warm up practice in the morning, and then napped with him in the afternoon. Then it was off to the rink for the first of the two performances of his life.
At lunch Brian had confided in me that the pressure was twice as great on him this time as opposed to two years before. Then it was universally recognized that he wasn't a medal contender, and whether he got fourth or tenth didn't make a lot of difference. This time he was a serious medal contender and the USA team was counting on him. He knew they were hoping for gold, even if he, at least, gave lip service to the idea that he'd be happy with any color of medal. I secretly hoped that he wouldn't be tested in the crucibles of the bronze or silver podia, but I thought I could stand up and heartily and honestly cheer for a bronze medal.
His short program came off without any major goofs or falls, but it wasn't perfect. Well, in figure skating there's no such thing as perfect, but he did very well. He was a very close second going into the final, long program, scheduled for two days later.
The day of his long program we pushed our line just as far as we had before as we napped together in my hotel room. OK, I'll admit to taking longer than necessary to clean him up. But I used a wash cloth not my tongue, or even my bare hands. Heh, heh, heh. Actually, "Heh, heh, heh," is what he said!
Oh, my God, was my lover a sensation that evening! Hey, I'm not talking about being hot in bed, I'm talking about being cool on ice. He landed the first clean quad in the history of the Olympic Games. Two years before two skaters had come very close to landing the first quad in Olympic competition, but one touched with his hand and the other with his free foot. Brian's quad toe loop was clean as a whistle. My heart skipped several beats as he approached the quad and took off into the unknown space between take off and landing. And then he'd landed; it was all over so quickly you wondered if it'd been real. Then there he was, in his transitional moves heading toward one of his spectacular spins. Ice skating isn't like diving in which everything comes to a halt after a dive and everybody can contemplate what they just saw. The skater speeds on to other things, and it isn't really until the television replay afterwards, especially that wonderful slow motion, that you're really able to appreciate what just happened in front of you. His performance ended, and he headed to the box with Coach Spivey. Fred had a lot of pull, and I could be as persistent as Hell, but nothing was going to get me into that box before the scores were announced. And then there they were. Technical: all 5.8 and 5.9. Artistic impression: almost all 5.9. There was one more Russian skater to go, Alexei Urmanov. His program was beautiful and technically difficult. No quad but a triple axel and a triple triple combination which is almost as difficult. His technical scores were as good as Brian's, but on artistic impression he fell short, but he'd been ahead after the short program. We all just hung with our hearts stopped as the computer worked, and the announcer said that Urmanov was in second place!
Author's Note: In the real world, the quad in 1994 was landed by Min Zhang of China. Despite that feat, he ended up 20th in the event. Keep that in mind as you contemplate the controversy in 2010 about whether it was unfair that the skater that landed the quad ended up in second place!
Brian had gold! Now absolutely nothing could keep him and me apart as he came to the front of the audience, and we hugged-so fiercely that we might have broken ribs. (We didn't.) There were tears in his eyes as he whispered in my ear, "I'll wait."
Oh, my God, what a day; what a night! I couldn't believe what was happening to me. Older brother Gary came up behind me and put his arm around my shoulder as we watched Brian mount the podium, along with Urmanov and Elvis Stojko from Canada. We both stood with our hands on our hearts while "The Star Spangled Banner" played. I felt more like my heart was in my hand, or maybe his. Gary sensed that something was afoot. He asked, "What's up, kid brother?"
I looked up at Gary and said, "Brian just said he'd wait for me."
"That's what you've been dreaming of, isn't it, Shel?"
"It sure is."
"Congratulations, little brother. When are you and Brian going to tell the world, or at least the Gang and your family?"
"I don't have any idea. But keep it to yourself until we do, will you, big brother?"
"Of course, Shel."
I guess there was more to the Olympics than that, but I almost have to look up the results in the record books to remember it. My mind was a blur from that evening on. Brian's was too. We did watch our friends' events, but the rest of the time we found little private corners of Lillehammer to hide away in. Cute little coffee shops, a little smorgasbord café downtown, a hiking trail not far out of town. We were in love, and Lillehammer was the perfect backdrop.
But there was more to the Olympics, and I know you want to know how the rest of the North Dakotans fared. Our speed skaters collected two bronze and a silver medal after competing in a total of 7 races. Merry got the silver and Olivia and Jersey each got a bronze medal. I really can't get too worked up over skating races, but Merry, Jersey and Olivia can-and did. We all got worked up over their getting medals.
Janie and Jack were up against tough competition in ice dancing. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were returning to the Olympics for the first time since they won the gold medal in 1984. After those Olympics they'd turned professional, which had excluded them from Olympic competition. However, the changing Olympic rules in 1994 allowed them to return to Olympic ice. In addition there were two Russian teams that were expected to rival Torvill and Dean in the race for the gold. Janie and Jack, even though they'd competed in 1992, were relative newcomers and weren't among the expected competition for gold, though the US was hoping for a medal from them.
In 1994 ice dancing required four different programs: two compulsory dances, an original dance, and the free dance, which is what is usually called the long program and is weighted to equal half of the score. The top five-add a Finnish pair to the four mentioned before-were so close after the first three dances that it was anybody's gold medal. The two Russian pairs were leading, Torrvill and Deane were third, Janie and Jack were a close fourth, and the Finnish pair were fifth, but not mathematically out of contention for gold. Except for the Finnish pair, who could only win gold if they were first in the long program and the top of the Russian pairs was third or lower, it was so close that the winner of the long program would get the gold.
By the luck of the draw Janie and Jack would dance last, following the lead Russian pair, who would follow Torrvill and Deane. In the final group the Russian pair that stood in second place went first and turned in a stunning performance. Torrvill and Deane were superb, but didn't match their performance of ten years before. The Russians that had come into the evening in first place didn't do as well as expected and moved behind their fellow countrymen. Janie and Jack came onto the ice with everyone knowing that they had a shot at the gold, but they would have to dance the performance of their lives.
Janie and Jack would dance to an original composition by Stephen Sondheim. Fred had brokered that deal. He'd convinced Sondheim that accepting this commission would earn him an audience of millions as Janie and Jack's performance was watched on television. The music was a smash. Moving from quiet and grace it captured a wide range of emotions and athleticism as well as incorporating a variety of recognizable dance steps. Costumed simply, he in a jacket that mimicked a powder blue tuxedo, she in a darker blue top and skirt, they began in an embrace that flowed to a romantic waltz and then to a mighty swing. Their footwork was unbelievably complicated, and they moved as if controlled by a single mind. Their lifts were breathtaking, even though lifts in ice dancing are limited in order to stress the artistic over the athletic. The whole thing moved to a mighty, and surprising, climax as Janie lifted Jack and virtually threw him across the ice to a graceful finish for him accompanied by an athletic finish for her! I've seen a lot of performances on ice, but nothing has touched that. I had, of course, seen it in practice. But their practices were often stopped to go over some minor flaw or to correct a bit of footwork; or to revise a bit of the program. They were, in fact, still making minor revisions in Lillehammer. This performance, however, from beginning to end was confident and flawless-I'm quite sure it was better than they'd ever done in practice.
The audience sensed it had seen something special. As Jack lay on the ice and Janie stood about 15 feet away there was a stunned silence. Then a roar as the audience stood, virtually as one, and gave a huge standing ovation that would hardly stop. Janie and Jack came together, gave each other a wonderful hug and kiss, and then began their bows to the audience, skating-as is the custom-to face each of the four directions. Then they were off the ice awaiting the inevitable announcement that they were in first place; no other finish could even be contemplated after that performance.
They stood together on the podium, Russians on one side accepting the silver, Torrvill and Deane on the other accepting the bronze. As "The Star Spangled Banner" concluded, Christopher Deane gave Jack the greatest compliment of the day, "That would've won in 1984."
The only sad story was that the US ice hockey team had a very disappointing time in Norway. The US made it into the quarterfinals, but was beaten by Finland 6 to 1, ending up in 8th place. No miracle on ice this time around. No medal for fellow North Dakotan, Carle Shenks.
As soon as the Closing Ceremony concluded Brian and I headed for a ski lodge we'd heard about in the mountains not too far from Lillehammer. We needed to get away and think about the implication of his, "I'll wait." We took the train north from Lillehammar to Otta, where we were met by the courtesy car from the ski lodge. We had a little chalet part way up the mountain, overlooking Rondane National Park. It was perfect: warm, comfy, a beautiful view, and completely private. We could cook breakfast and lunch in the chalet and hike down to the main lodge for dinner.
Taking a lesson from Tim, the first night I pulled Brian out into the snow, naked, and we wrestled-about two or three minutes. Tim's right, you know: That's the prelude for the most magnificent hugs you can imagine. We did, finally, get down to talking about the future. What were the implications of an eleven year old-I wouldn't be twelve until December and this was January-planning a life partnership with a 21 year old? Ten years may not make much of a difference to thirty-somethings, but it sure does to teenagers, and in fact neither one of us were teenagers, I hadn't become one yet, and Brian was in his second post-teen year.
As we sat in front of a fire in the chalet the second night, Brian said, "You know, Shel, you're worth waiting for."
"You are, too, Brian."
"So how do we get through these next seven years? Do we say, 'Screw you,' to the world and just get on with our lives, or do we honor the rule that says that if I have sex with you I'm abusing you?"
"We know Tim and Charlie's answer to that."
"But is it our answer?"
I said, "I guess I have just always assumed that we were going to have to play by that rule."
"Well, it seems to me that there are two pretty good reasons to follow the rule. First is the fact that if a hostile somebody figured out what we were doing, it could become a serious police matter. And the reality is that there are a lot of people jealous of Olympic gold medal winners. However, I think the second reason is more important."
"That you may really be too young to consent-too young to make up your mind about your life."
"I'm supposed to resent that."
"I know. I wasn't sure that I should even have said it."
"No, you should. Maybe it's true. I'm quite certain that I'm in love with you, Brian, and that you wouldn't be abusing me if we had a sexual relationship. And, yes, I think of myself as an adult. I know that I act like it a lot of the time. But at other times my dads like to tell me that I'm still a little kid. Sometimes I am. So, while I don't like to admit it, I will admit that your second reason may, just may, be valid."
"So we wait."
"Let's think about what that means. It has no meaning as far as our skating is concerned. You live at the rink, and I'll be there as much as my school will allow. We aren't going to live together, but we're going to be roommates when we travel, I'm going to sleep over at your apartment often, and you can visit at our house as well. That's all within the acceptable norms of the society. We'd better make sure that the rooms we stay in have two beds, in case anyone asks or checks. But we sure as Hell aren't going to use the second bed, except to mess up the sheets in a motel. What we do in bed is none of the world's business, but we'll be able to swear, in court if necessary, that we didn't have a sexual relationship. There was no touching of the genitals. No oral sex. No anal sex. No nothing. Hugging, watching, washing with a wash cloth so we can honestly deny touching, is OK. Those are going to be the rules for the next six plus years. Can we make it?"
"I hope so."
"Well, we need to think a little more about this. The teen years are when a young man has his maximum sexuality. The twenties are right behind. We aren't going to go through that period celibate. At least I'm not, and I don't think you are either. So, we agree right now that we're both going to find sexual partners our own age to help us get through these years. Nothing secret or clandestine. We can invite each other to watch. Who knows how this'll play out? But we need to agree, right now, that that is what we're going to do for the next seven years, and maybe all our lives. Can you deal with that?"
"Do you have a partner in mind?"
"Of course. The COGs are good fun, and sex certainly isn't outside their experience."
"Do you have particular COGs in mind?"
"Sure. Max is just a few days older than me, and Auggie's about a half year older."
"Have you played around with them already?"
"Is my saying, 'Yes,' going to surprise, shock, or disappoint you?"
"Surprise, yes. Shock or disappoint, no."
"The answer is, 'Of course, silly'."
"I should've known. Isn't eleven a little young for that?"
"Hey, kindergartners play doctor. We've gotten beyond that."
"Just what do you do?"
"We find a variety of ways to get each other's clothes off. Then it's touch, tickle, tease, bend, squeeze, hug, suck. Auggie and I like 69."
"But you don't have orgasms?"
"I think we have little orgasms, but we don't squirt cum."
"What do you mean you find a variety of ways to get each other's clothes off?"
"Strip poker. Spin the bottle. Two kids hold the third down and depants him. Race to see who can get naked the first."
"You kids have quite a repertoire. Where do you do this?"
"We sleepover a lot, and we use The Hideout."
"I suppose you're going to tell me that your parents are aware of all of this and approve."
"Of course. Dad, that's Andy, and I have been working on the rules for strip Monopoly."
"Yeah. You start with no money, and trade your clothes to the bank for money. As you amass money you first buy your own clothes back from the bank, then the other players'. We're working on the details, including deciding when somebody has won or lost. You know, Brian, games like that aren't outside of our rules until you get to the touch, tease, and so forth, stage."
"I can just see getting sucked into a game of strip Monopoly with you, Max, and Auggie."
"Sure, and when you're the loser we can watch you jack off."
"When you get all of the boys' parents to agree to that, I'll play."
OK, readers, you know what's coming, don't you? I repeated the conversation to my parents-all four of them, and they quickly got Sid, Cathy, Merle and Tina involved in the conversation. Andy told me that Merle's reaction to the idea was enthusiastic support. He said, "I've been stewing about how to deal with the masturbation part of sex education. Boys need to know how to masturbate, and I don't think it's a good idea for it to be put off. Masturbation relieves sexual tension that can otherwise lead to trouble. Playing strip Monopoly with Brian would solve the problem."
And so it came to pass, that spring, 1992, when I was still eleven years old, that Max, Auggie, Brian and I played strip Monopoly in the master bedroom of The Hideout. The games often took several days of playing in the evening. When it was time to go home we noted which clothes were on our bodies and which were in the bank or in the possession of another player, and then we got dressed. The next time we played, we returned to the same state.
We finally settled on rules. Each piece of clothing had a cash value, but underpants were only worth a dollar. You lost when you had no money, a debt to pay, and the only clothing available to trade for money was your underpants. Off they came; you lost. The winner was the person with the most total wealth, including the value of the clothes he had. The first game Auggie was the loser and Max was the winner. Auggie was a good sport. He lay down on the bed and let Max play with him till he got bored. Then Max said, "OK, Auggie, I want you to suck my dick."
Auggie did, but Max wasn't yet able to cum, so that didn't last too long. All in all, for eleven year olds, the game and the stripping were more fun than the playing afterwards.
Brian lost the second game. That changed the dynamic. He'd made it very clear that if, or really when, he lost nobody was going to touch him or play with him. He'd lay on the bed and jack off. He'd done that in front of me, but I know that he was hugely embarrassed to do it in front of Max and Auggie. But he did. I'm pretty sure that it was the first time that either Max or Auggie had seen a boy-or man-ejaculate. Dad called it sex education at its best. After he'd finished, Brian led the four of us to the shower and cleaned himself off. We'd agreed in advance that I wouldn't get involved in cleaning him with a wash cloth-that would remain private between us.
Since we only played one, or at most two, nights a week, and a game often took four or five nights, this wasn't a real big deal in our lives. We weren't living to get from one game to the next. But it was fun, and it continued off and on over the course of more than a year. Brian will never forget the first time he lost when I was a winner. He lay down on the bed and jacked himself off. When he finished I said, "OK, Brian, eat it."
"I'm the winner here; I can't touch you, but I'm telling you to eat your cum."
"What do you know about eating cum?"
"Brian, you're gay. I know you've given other guys blow jobs. Having cum in your mouth isn't new. Eat it."
He did. He was a good sport. And the three of us little kids got a real education. At that point Brian decided to bow out of sex games with the three of us. He told me that he thought we were pushing it too far. Besides soon one of the three of us was going to start ejaculating, and that would push the boundaries further than he wanted to push them.
He was right, of course. Auggie and I played around a lot. We showered together, crawled into bed and hugged and kissed each other, including genitals, nipples, anuses, as well as lips. And we played with each other. Auggie came in my hand one evening, and not long after that I came in his. Max was a few months behind, but he first came in his bed at home as he was playing with his dick. He couldn't wait to tell us, and that afternoon we three gathered at The Hideout and he proved to us that he could produce cum. As I look back on it, it was an important rite of passage, and one that I think was better accomplished as a shared experience of three boys than in the secrecy of a boy's bedroom in the middle of the night. For many boys it's a scary experience, with no one available to turn to for help or information.
In fact, I talked to Brian about the first time he'd ejaculated, other than a wet dream. He'd been playing with himself in bed when he first came. It scared him shitless. And then he was scared that his mother would find the mess on the sheets. From that day to this he's never talked to his mother or father about masturbating. What he did learn as a young teen he learned from his friends at school. He was lucky, there were several boys in his class that were a few months older and beat him to the first squirt-as they called it. Other than a silly name, their information was pretty accurate, and they were very good at assuring Brian that he was normal, and that masturbating was normal. "Shit, we all do it. And no, it won't make you sterile, insane, sick, or a sex maniac." Think how many kids are subjected to that kind of silly information.
I need to get back to Brian's and my stay in the Otta chalet. We talked about more than sex. I told him as much as I knew about the Gang, and assured him that he and I'd be invited to join as soon as I was eighteen. He was enthusiastic about the idea. We talked about where we'd live, and pretty much decided that we could see no reason to leave Grand Forks. We talked about careers. For now Brian was going to be a skater. I had no idea of where I was headed, but we both agreed that no decision about that had to be made for years. I was, after all, eleven, and didn't need to make a career choice. Then came the big question: who were we going to tell, and when?
Brian hadn't kept his homosexuality a secret, but neither had he broadcast it. It hadn't been a factor in the publicity about him connected with the Olympics, even as he won a gold medal. That was a pretty good indicator that not many people knew, and those that did didn't see any reason to be talking about it. We decided that we'd limit the news to the Gang, the other Olympic skaters from the Fred, and Brian's parents. That was touchy. They'd been pretty accepting of his being gay, but having a partner half his age was likely to push their limits. We finally decided not to try to hide any facts from them. After our previous discussion, they weren't really surprised, and in the end they were quite accepting. What a miracle that both of our parents were able to accept us!
However, that left us with more than five years to get through before we could become a publicly acknowledged partnership. I knew we'd make it. You know we did.
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