Life with Tim would never be routine, but we settled into something as close to routine as possible in the Tim household. But exceptional events insisted on being part of our life. One of the first surprises came from Betsy.
We were at dinner early in the second week after THE weekend. It was just the four of us, and we had finished a nice dinner, prepared by me for a change. I insisted that since I was neither in school nor working, I could carry my share of the load around the house. Betsy gave up rights to the kitchen reluctantly, but this morning she had agreed to shop a little after work and come home just at dinner time and be a guest in her own home. I fixed meat loaf, which pushed my culinary skills close to their limits, but it was good. Tim and Norman cleared the table and brought my dessert-real creative: ice cream and store cookies. As we sat down to eat Betsy said, "Boys there is something we need to discuss, and I'm the only one who can bring it up."
"What's that?" asked Tim.
"Ever since you and Carl were little boys we've been comfortable being nude around the house. When I rush to the telephone from our bedroom; or go to the bathroom at night, or have to come into your room, we've all been very casual about clothes. Charlie's presence has changed that dynamic. I find I'm putting on a bathrobe to go to the toilet, and I see Charlie wrapping towels around himself while you move around nude, Tim. We said we were going to welcome Charlie as a son. Well, we have to act that way. But the question is, Charlie, will you be comfortable if we do that?"
What a question! And I immediately realized that it was a two-edged question. Would I be comfortable with Betsy nude, and would I be comfortable being nude in front of Betsy. And, I was gay; Norman was inevitably part of the equation. I couldn't think that I had ever seen either Betsy or Norman naked.
Tim spoke before I got my thoughts all together. "Charlie, I know that you're hesitating. But don't. This isn't a sexual invitation, it's an invitation to really be part of the family. You can't turn it down."
I said, "It never occurred to me to turn it down. But the question was 'Would I be comfortable?' The answer to that is, 'It'll take a little time.'"
Betsy replied, "For both of us, Charlie. But if we let patterns develop now they'll be very difficult to change in the future."
I said, "OK, Tim's right, there isn't any question here. But it'll take easing into."
"Yes, it will," said Betsy.
Norman said, "Charlie, I've said it many times, but welcome to the family. You're going to fit in well."
Nothing more was said until Saturday morning. Tim and I were scheduled to go over to St. Paul for gymnastics at the late hour of 7:30 a.m. It was later because Frank had phoned on Friday and asked for a reprieve from having to get up so early. Tim had agreed, and I had cheered! The alarm was duly set for 6:00 so that we could have time for a decent breakfast.
At 5:45 there was a loud knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer Betsy and Norman marched in. They were both naked as jaybirds. Without hesitating in the least Betsy grabbed the covers on our bed and pulled them off. We were both groggy and not thinking too clearly. We had separated as we slept. As the covers came off we were both fully exposed-and both fairly hard. I started to cover myself with my hands, but Tim, coming awake, said, "No fair," and pulled my hands away.
Betsy said, "I've heard Tim talk about the way you two spoon together as you sleep. I want to see you. I pulled Tim to me, only too happy to get myself covered up. Tim wiggled with glee. My right hand was up at his chest, just sort of hugging him. He reached up and pulled it down to his genitals, saying, "That's where it goes, don't pretend otherwise." I softly squeezed his balls but did nothing that might inspire an orgasm!
Clearly that wasn't anybody's intention, because Betsy simply said, "Thanks. Now it's time for breakfast."
Tim got up, leaving me exposed again. Betsy wasn't shy about looking at me! Tim started to pull on his Jockeys, but Norman said, "No. Breakfast in the buff." With that, he and Betsy left.
Tim rolled back on the bed and laughed. "They got you. Well, they got us both. Who would've thought that Charlie and Tim, the sexiest boys in the Twin Cities, would be outsexed by their parents? What a story, but who're we going to tell it to."
I said, "Carl and Carol."
"No. We can't tell them. Mom and Dad will certainly do the same thing to them this summer, and we can't spoil the fun. Let's go to breakfast."
"Tim, I'm not sure I can."
"Of course you can." With that he pulled me out of bed and down the stairs. As we hit the bottom of the stairs, I was just thinking that I might be able to walk into the kitchen soft, when he grabbed my dick and squeezed. He grabbed himself with his other hand. "Only hard dicks allowed, Charlie." I don't know what was allowed, but I can assure you that neither Tim nor I was soft as we walked into the kitchen.
Betsy was standing at the stove, cooking eggs. She turned and looked at us, exposing herself at the same time. She smiled and said, "Charlie, you can sit down. I think you'll feel more comfortable."
I did sit, and I did feel more comfortable, or perhaps I should say less uncomfortable. Soon breakfast was on the table and we were all eating. Betsy continued, "Norman and I figured that we could've danced around this situation for months. You'd wear a towel from the bath. I'd send Norman for the telephone at night. Eventually, we'd reach the point where one or the other was going to be nude in front of the other, but it would be awkward. This was awkward, but it's behind us. And Norman and I are really proud of ourselves for being a step ahead of two of our sons. Usually it's us that has to do the catching up. Today it's you two. We think that is kind of neat."
It was a delicious breakfast.
Betsy was right. I did feel comfortable walking to the john at night naked, and running into Betsy didn't bother me. She was the same. We didn't have these confrontations often, but they seemed natural when they happened-and they were. I've often wondered how many families are able to treat their sons-in-law, or daughters-in-law, in the same way. I think very few.
Life continued, but bliss couldn't continue forever. One evening Tim asked me how many hours of archery practice I was getting in daily. I said about four and a half. He frowned and said, "Not enough."
I said, "Tim, I know that we agreed that we were going to be each other's slave drivers, but you're pushing a little."
"Charlie, your dedication level is too low. When you practice, are you able to push everything out of your mind?"
"I never put you out of my mind, Tim."
"You're ducking the question."
"What is the question?"
"How intense is your concentration?"
"I don't think so."
"How do you know?"
"Your scores aren't improving as fast as they should."
"How would you know, you haven't shot a bow in years, and never at this level."
"I'm just projecting the curve you need to get to the Olympics, and you're behind."
"You've got it all figured out."
That damned simple, honest answer to a direct question. In the past I had always admired it. This time I was infuriated. " And I suppose you have the solution all worked out."
"No, but I think we need to work it out together."
"I'll take care of my own archery practice, thank you."
"Charlie, we don't work separately. We're a pair, a team."
"We aren't an archery team. I'm a solo act, remember?"
"Oh, Charlie, I'm sorry. I'm pushing too hard, aren't I?"
"God, Tim, I'm sorry, too. We need to step back, I guess."
"I think you're right."
"Where do we go from here?"
"Yes. This weekend. To International Falls. In the snow."
"Yes. You'll see."
"Are you out of your mind?"
"I always have been, right?"
"Tim, let's sleep on this."
"Nothing doing. Tomorrow take the time to call the Chamber of Commerce, or whomever, and make plans. Buy us the equipment we need, including a double sleeping bag that'll be warm enough in the snow."
"No arguments. Please say you'll do it."
"I have to be crazy, but OK."
"To bed." He was instantly naked and pulling off my clothes. I let him. Soon, bladders emptied and teeth brushed, we were spooning in bed. "Charlie, did we just have our first fight?"
"Almost. But I think we stopped short. I was ready to strangle you for a while."
"I wanted to kick you in the balls, but I thought I might be cutting off my nose to spite my face."
"You really want to go camping?"
"Yes, Charlie. And I won't tell you why until we're going to sleep the first night."
"The first night?"
"Yes, we go up Saturday, camp that night, stay out all day Sunday, sleep out Sunday night, and come home Monday. I'll clear it with Dr. Olafsen."
"He must be getting tired of your cutting school."
"I don't think he minds. I don't do it casually."
"Camping in the snow isn't being casual about cutting school?"
"No. It's essential for us both."
"Not till we're settled in our sleeping bag the first night. Oh, yes. We need snowshoes. I have a pair, but you'll need them. And mine need varnishing, can you do that?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Then I'll do it."
I think that was all said before we cuddled. His wiggle was a little slower than usual, and my interest in his genitalia was sporadic. But sleep found us anyway. As did the alarm clock the next morning. "Up, up, Charlie. You've got a lot of planning to do for our camping trip. Including telling Mom at your breakfast together."
I shared the whole thing with Mom. She wasn't the least surprised-neither at the little argument nor at the winter camping. She simply said, "Be prepared to be very cold."
"Am I to be worried about the weather or about Tim."
"I think there are some things I haven't figured out."
"Right. But Tim won't let you miss out on anything."
"Mom, are you going to help me here?"
"No. This is for you and Tim. Just be prepared for anything."
Tim had briefed me on sources of camping supplies, and suggested that I call the Chamber of Commerce at International Falls to see about where we might snowshoe and camp. He had given me details of the trail near Rainy Lake that he, Tina, Hal and Sue had followed. It wasn't difficult to outline a trip that would be much the same as the previous one, except that we would be in a tent for two nights instead of a motel. I wasn't sure I was ready for that, but Tim wasn't giving me any choice.
We decided to drive the five hours up after school on Friday and sleep in a motel. That way we could get started early on Saturday instead of having to drive on Saturday morning. We decided to follow the same trail along Rainy Lake, but take a different loop that would take us a total of about twelve miles. We were advised that we could camp anywhere along the route, as long as we were back from the trail about a quarter mile.
Saturday morning greeted us with beautiful sun, temperature just below freezing, and snow about 15 inches deep. The season was ending, but it was still consistently below freezing so the snow was pretty dry-though the sun affected it on sunny days like today. Tim got us up early, of course, and we headed to a diner for a big breakfast. Back to the room to dress for the trail-our packs had been packed back in Minneapolis. Tim got out shorts that came just to his knees, a short-sleeve shirt, good boots, a knit hat, and gloves. I had warm pants, shirt, jacket, boots, hat, and gloves. I was quickly relieved of the pants, shirt and jacket and supplied with ones similar to Tim's. He simply said, "We have warm clothes in our pack if we need them, but we won't."
"Just follow the leader, Charlie. It's going to be a great trip."
I followed, but with great trepidation. He started by refusing to allow me to run the heater in the car as we drove to the trail. The shorts and short-sleeves were remarked upon at the border crossing. I was surprised they let us in; I presumed that they had restrictions against lunatics entering Canada, but evidently not.
We got to the trailhead, parked the car, unloaded our packs, put on our snowshoes, packs, hats, and gloves, and were ready to head out. Tim said, "Charlie, let's hike about ten minutes, so we're out of sight of the car. Then we'll talk a little." He started moving, at a pretty brisk pace, considering that snowshoes aren't built for speed, and the snow was over a foot deep.
True to his word, we stopped in about ten minutes. He stood there casually, looking like he might almost be warm. I was freezing to death. My arms felt like they were ice cubes. As far as I could tell my legs were totally numb. Tim said, "First, frostbite is a serious danger for feet and hands, so they are well covered. Your face can be a problem, but having long pants and sleeves wouldn't help. But it isn't really cold enough to give you frostbite on your face. But we'll watch each other. As for the rest of it, it's in your mind. Of course, the hat stops a huge amount of the loss of body heat. So, you can choose to freeze your butt off, or you can choose to enjoy the day. And, yes, Charlie, the same concentration that works for diving works for this. And it works for gymnastics and it works for archery."
"Tim, this is insane."
"No, Charlie. I'm not insane, and this isn't insane. You won't hurt yourself and neither will I. We have to watch each other carefully, but we'll be fine. As to how we feel, it's in our minds."
"My mind is supposed to convince me that I'm warm?"
"No, your mind is supposed to do two things: keep you focused on something else-me perhaps-and tell you that cold is irrelevant."
"No. But you have to try."
"Are you giving me a choice?"
"Yes, Charlie. You always have a choice. And I wouldn't love you any less if you went back. But you would love yourself less."
I looked at him. He was shivering a little now-probably because we had stopped exercising and were standing to talk-but was relaxed and looked like he actually felt fine. "OK, but let's get going. I'm colder than shit."
He set off, and I followed. The exercise did help, but it was clear that more was going to be required than exercise. OK, his game was two-fold: Concentrate on something. His ass; and what I was going to do to it tonight or whenever we were in a comfortable bed. Convince myself that the cold was irrelevant. Fat chance. But I did will myself to not feel the cold, and it seemed to help. Contemplating his ass also helped! After about fifteen minutes I was feeling better. Tim stopped and looked me over carefully. He had me do the same for him. Was our speech slurred? Were there any white spots on our exposed skin? Was our breathing normal? We both passed the tests, and we started off again. We covered about three miles, when Tim said, "How about camping here?" He pointed to a level spot a ways to the side of the trail. "That looks level."
We stopped. Tim opened his pack and pulled out a jacket and put it on. I gladly did the same. "Stopped we need warm arms to put up the tent, cook lunch, and prepare the camp."
Pitching a tent in snow should've been a nightmare, but Tim actually knew what he was doing and it went up fairly easily. There was plenty of dead wood, and a fire on top of packed snow started easily. We kept it going, and it soon had melted its way down to the bare ground, and burned in a slowly widening hole. I was amazed that the melted water didn't put out the fire, but it either steamed or drained away. The tent was uphill from the fire.
Lunch eaten, campsite neat, fire fueled, Tim announced the afternoon activity by hitting me with a snowball. The afternoon consisted of snowball fights, wrestling in the snow, snow in each other's pants (it falls out of shorts fairly easily) and finally inside the Jockeys. Ow. Tim only did that to me once; I asserted my size, and shoveled enough into his underpants that he finally cried uncle.
We dried out and found that it was time for dinner. We ate well, since the food for this meal only had to be carried on the first leg of the trip. Again we got the campsite in shape and were sitting by the fire. Sitting by a fire in freezing weather is problematic. Roast on one side, freeze on the other. We sat in our short sleeves, with jackets draped over our shoulders. As we talked, I had to admit that my mind had made progress dealing with the cold. Tim said, "I treat all of the distractions while I dive the same way I treat the cold. They simply aren't there. You can do the same."
Then he stood up and said, "Bedtime. We sleep nude. Get your clothes off!"
"Tim. In the tent."
"No. Out here. Right now. Everything." With that he was nude except for his boots, and pulling my clothes off. Shorts, unlike long pants, will slip off over boots. Soon we were both standing there with just boots on.
I looked at Tim with a sort of quizzical look, which he correctly interpreted to mean, "What now?"
Snowball. Romping through the woods. Grabbing at each other. Moving toward pushing each other into the snow. Leading to nude wrestling in the snow. Then Tim said, "Boots off. We can't sleep in our boots."
Feet in snow get cold really fast. So do genitals, fingers, noses, you name it. Tim saw to it that every part of me got completely snowed. I did the same to him. This whole process didn't take more than a few minutes. With the sun gone the temperature was down in the teens, and we couldn't last long, regardless of our minds. Tim then led me for a merry chase around the campsite, stopping once to pee. "Cold enough, Charlie?"
"To bed." We ran to the tent, climbed into our double sleeping bag and hugged each other so tight I wasn't sure either of us could breathe. As I held Tim I wasn't sure that he deserved to breathe. "I love you Charlie. Hug me tight."
I did. "I love you too, Tim. Do you think we'll ever warm up?"
"Two boys nude in a sleeping bag will do the job. The less clothes between us the faster we warm up."
He was right. Our fronts got warm and he spooned up to me, warming his back. We reversed, but he didn't warm my back quite as well as my body warmed his, however it felt good. Then we put our fronts together again and hugged tight. Before long his hand roamed and mine did as well. Tim said, "That feels great, but no orgasm tonight. We don't want the mess in the bag, and no way I'm climbing out. That whole exercise was to lead up to this love-in. Thanks, Charlie."
"Thank you, Tim."
"Do I have to explain the camping trip any further?"
"No, Tim, I get the idea."
We slept quite warmly in the good sleeping bag with our bodies as sufficient heaters. And there was no alarm!
Sunday morning brought a repeat of the day before, except the cold started earlier. The snow romp at night was longer, involved more snow, and the temperature had dipped to 13. I felt like I was hugging an icicle as I hugged Tim. But we warmed, and loved, and warmed, and loved some more.
Monday morning was the same, but the temperature was up just above freezing. Tim announced, "No shirts today." I had given up fighting. We went shirtless back to the car. I was glad that I was allowed to keep my shorts and Jockeys on!
At the car I announced, "I'm not riding shirtless in the car, and we don't have to adjust to the cold, so I'm turning on the heater. If you don't want a shirt or the heater running, you can walk behind the car." Tim rode.
Arriving home we were greeted by Mom and Dad, who were grinning from ear to ear. "Well, we see you made it. How did he do, Tim?"
"Unbelievable. He kept even with me every step. We were so cold last night as we crawled into our sleeping bag I wasn't sure we would thaw out. But thawing with Charlie was wonderful."
Norman said, "He took Carl along the first time he did that. Carl agreed to watch him, but kept all his clothes on. Of course, with Carl warm, Tim warmed up in the sleeping bag much faster."
"Yeah, Dad, that's right. But with Charlie I had to hug longer and tighter. It was wonderful."
It truly was.
The alarm went off at 5:42 Tuesday morning, and we were off to the pool. Then I was off to six hours of archery practice. And Tim was right, if you could ignore cold in the teens, and get on with life, you could ignore almost anything, including sore arms from holding a bow, distracting noises, and a growling stomach. By the end of the week I had broken 1200, 1213 to be exact. Tim announced that my scoring curve was now back to where it needed to be. He never showed me his statistics!
Tim's next diving meet was at a school in St. Paul. As I sat in the bleachers around the pool I noticed a young man near me, sitting alone. I moved over to him and asked his name.
"Where do you go to school?"
"What brings you here today, all alone?"
"I'm on the team, but I'm medically grounded-a fairly serious ear infection. It's going to take about a week on antibiotics before they let me swim again. Hey, aren't you Tim's friend? Is it Charlie?"
"Yeah. Tim's my partner."
"Do you guys ever use last names?
"Don't know. Tim likes just being Tim and that works for me."
"Tim is one impressive kid. I've only seen him dive, but I guess he is a pretty good gymnast, too."
"He is, but he is a better diver. He's really beautiful to watch."
"I look at him dive and I'm glad that I race and don't dive. At least I have a chance. The divers around here are simply competing for second place."
"Have you ever met a kid named Hal Broder? He is the only person I know at Como Park. In fact, I think he may be the only person I know in St. Paul."
"Hal. The runner?"
"You move in pretty elite circles. Tim, Hal, who else?"
"I know a kid named Merle."
"Thanks, but it isn't really what I meant."
"That's about it. Do you know Hal?"
"No. He travels in his own special group. Runners mostly. They talk to each other and to God. Not to little peons on the swim team who don't win races."
"Do you really think Hal is that snooty?"
"I don't know. They all sit together at lunch and talk to each other."
"Have you ever tried to join them?"
"Nah. They don't welcome strangers."
"Or maybe strangers are afraid to try. I can tell you that Hal used to be the shyest kid around. He'd never turn away another kid who talked to him."
"How long has it been since you were in high school, Charlie?"
"Either you moved in strange circles, or kids are very different now."
"Try Hal. Monday walk up to his table and ask if you can join them. And if Hal says, 'Yes,' tell him that you talked to me today and I said 'Hello'."
"I'm not so sure."
"Want to meet Tim?"
"Of course. Who wouldn't?"
"Can you join us for dinner? We're going out somewhere, I think with his parents-they should be here, but I haven't seen them yet."
"I wouldn't want to butt in."
"You wouldn't be. I wouldn't have invited you if I thought you'd be butting in. Please join us."
Merle hesitated, but finally said, "OK. I'd love too. I'll have to call my parents, but I'm sure they'll say it's OK. Of course, they won't believe me that I've been invited to have dinner with you and Tim."
We agreed on where to meet. Merle wanted to watch the swim races he should've been in, and I went off to watch Tim.
Betsy and Norman joined me, and we watched Tim win two more first place trophies. Betsy said, "The only thing to do with all that stuff is melt it down."
"Don't worry," said Norman, "You won't find any gold in them when you do melt them down."
I said, "We could engrave a 2 in front of the 1st and give them to some surprised kid in 21st place who has never won a trophy.
"By the way, I invited a kid I met poolside to join us for dinner. His name is Merle and he goes to Hal's high school. Doesn't know Hal, though."
"That's nice. Tim is so busy he never meets new friends."
"Merle seems nice. We'll see."
Mike and Tina turned up as well. When Merle saw the size of the group he was reluctant to join. Mike, bless him, recognized Merle. "Hi, I'm Mike, and this is Tina. Your name's Merle, isn't it? I've seen you race. You're a junior, aren't you? You're going to be getting some blue ribbons next year as a senior." Where Mike pulled that information from I never knew. But he took a lot of pictures and had to have names for the captions; I guess that was his source.
Merle was flabbergasted: a boy from another school knew his name and racing record? What an ego boost! He responded by explaining why he hadn't raced that day.
I introduced Mom and Dad, and soon Tim joined us. I introduced him to Merle, and Tim greeted him warmly. If any group could make a stranger feel at home this was it. We went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Dad treated everyone, embarrassing Merle. Norman simply said, "It's my job. I'm the Dad, that means I'm the moneybags and pay the bill."
Merle turned out to be quite entertaining. In addition to swimming he was an artist. He worked in charcoal and water color, and was beginning to work with oils. Some of his watercolors had been exhibited in a local gallery. A few had sold.
As the dinner ended I reminded Merle to have lunch with Hal, and to bring greetings from both me and Tim. He hesitated, but agreed.
Monday evening brought two phone calls. The first was from Merle, who had indeed approached the "runners' table" at school and asked if he could join them. Hal had been the first to speak up and welcome him!
Hal's phone call was to say that a kid named Merle had joined them for lunch, bringing greetings from Tim and me. "He seems to be a nice kid; how did you meet him."
I told Hal the story, including my bet that he would be welcomed at Hal's table. Hal said, "Do we really scare people away that much?"
I said, "Think back four years. How easy would it have been for you to ask to sit at any table, let alone the table occupied by the star senior runner."
"I guess you're right, but I don't know what to do about it. At least we passed the test and made Merle feel welcome after he made the first move."
"I knew you would, Hal."
"Merle is going to come and watch me run at the meet tomorrow."
"Ask him about his art. You may be surprised."
"He didn't talk much about himself today. He was in awe of you and Tim, and when he said anything it was about one of you."
Mike got a wonderful idea: It had two parts: First, Merle would stage another gallery show, and the opening reception would be hosted by Tim and Charlie, whose images would be featured among Merle's art. This would support an article, with photographs, that Tina and Mike would write/photograph for the Sunday Tribune Magazine. Susan would give them guidance on what the Magazine would publish, and help them submit their work.
Merle was flabbergasted. But he went right to work sketching Tim and me, and turning them into watercolors and a lovely oil painting of the two of us. That was featured in the show-which was a huge success for everyone-but wasn't for sale. It was our gift from Merle, and it hangs in a prominent spot in our home today. And it's quite good-especially of Tim. Tim thinks it's especially good of me. Merle didn't have time before the show to do two oils, but Mike and Tina got theirs in due course.
But I'm way ahead of my story. Tim needed to visit Grand Forks, North Dakota and find out for sure that the University of North Dakota was where he wanted to go. He decided not to make advance arrangements with the school for his visit; he was afraid that he would be unable to get a true picture of the place. So we headed north on a Thursday morning in early April. This was much too late to be making a college visit, but that didn't seem to bother Tim in the least. "Look, Charlie, be honest. Do you know of a school that, if I called the swim coach on August 15th and asked about admission, wouldn't fall over backwards to invite me to attend? Not bragging, just fact. I can go where I please, and decide when I please. I wanted to wait till you could join me on this trip, and this if the first time we have had since I turned 18. So here we go."
The trip was about 300 miles and would take about 5½ hours. Leaving at six in the morning was easy for Tim, and now me, and we were there well before noon. The campus was small, at least compared to the state universities we were used to: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana. It was quite attractive, and Tim seemed pleased, but not surprised. He had done his homework, getting and reading the catalog and other literature from the Admissions Office. Our visit started with a walk around campus, a visit to the library, and lunch at a little coffee shop in the union. Wanting this to be Tim's show, I asked him "Where next?"
"Admissions Office. Let's see if we can get a campus tour. Then let's visit the athletic department."
The tour was easy to arrange, and we joined four other prospective students in a one-hour walking tour of the campus. The others were all high school juniors with their families, looking for admission a year from now. Tim and I were delighted that he wasn't recognized.
Back at the Admissions Office Tim asked if he could meet with the swimming or diving coach. The conversation was a little strange. The admission counselor wasn't sure the Coach was available; who wanted to see him?
"Yes. I think he may want to see me."
"Are you a swimmer?"
The call was placed. We couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, but the abrupt end of the call, and the quick arrival of the coach at the Admission Office quickly told the story!
"You're Tim? The Tim? Yes, of course. I'm Larry Knudsen, swim and dive coach here. I don't want to be rude, but what're you doing here? You belong at Indiana, Illinois or Minnesota, not UND." Well, the speech was a little longer than that, but the meaning is there.
Tim smiled. "Coach Knudsen, I'm very pleased to meet you. And I'm quite seriously interested in UND. I'd very much like to learn more about your program. Could we visit the pool and other facilities?"
In the background there was a hushed commotion among the Admissions Office staff. I assumed that they had just figured out who Tim was, but I learned later that there was more to it.
We could and did visit the pool, locker and training facilities, and ended in Knudsen's office. The coach asked, "Tell me about your training schedule."
Tim replied, "I can't dive as much as I should. I dive either two hours before school or three hours with the team after school. I get in two or three sessions over each weekend. My time is limited because I spend an equal amount of time at gymnastics."
"My God. Do you study? What kind of grades do you get?"
"I study every evening, and I get straight A's."
"I'm sorry, that was a rude question. I'm just not used to that kind of dedication. You handle two sports? All year round? And keep your grades up?"
"Yes. I tried to decide between the two and decided that I wanted to pursue both."
"We don't have gymnastics at UND."
"I know. I want to talk to the Director of Athletics about that. There are a number of things about UND that'll be important to me. If my research to this point is confirmed by personal experience this trip, then I intend to come here."
"I'm stunned. But I'll have to admit it would make my day, my year, probably four years, if we could keep you that long."
"If I decide to come, it'll be a four year commitment, unless something quite unexpected happens. And I'll be diving all four years. And quite honestly I expect to remain national champion in platform all those years, and quite possibly also from the springboard."
I decided that it was time for me to get into the conversation. I had been introduced as "My partner, Charlie," but otherwise hadn't been involved in the conversation.
"Please understand, Tim isn't bragging. He simply believes that you need to have a clear understanding of his own expectations. He is never dishonestly modest."
Coach Knudsen didn't seem phased. "One doesn't make the cover of Sports Illustrated by being modest. I respect your directness, and I'll return it. We have adequate facilities; we can make the pool available for whatever your schedule is; we can get you to whatever individual meets you need. As a team we don't compete in the league you would be expected to compete in. You'll run away with every event you enter in our team meets. Maybe with you on the team we can move up a notch or two in your second year; but that might not be a good plan for us-we'll have to see. As for coaching, I'll give you all the support I can, but I'm not in your league and can't teach you anything you don't know. Nobody in North Dakota or northern Minnesota can. And the same is true for your gymnastics."
"Very honest answers. Only one on the list was important to me."
"And that was?"
"Pool hours. I'm totally unfamiliar with college schedules, but I assume that I'll want to be in the pool at unusual hours."
"We have enough work-study students with Life Saving certification to keep the pool open 24 hours, 7 days a week, if there is a demand."
"That answers my key concern about diving."
"What else can I tell you?"
"Is Charlie, just the fact of Charlie, going to be a problem here?"
"That puts it right on the line, doesn't it?"
"Yes. It's the key question we have to answer on this visit. I hope we get honest answers."
"Well, I have no problem with it. But we've had very few openly gay students, and no openly gay athletes that I can think of. So giving you an honest answer means saying that I really don't know. Others may be better able to give you an answer than me. But I'll say this: There'll be no issue whatsoever in any situation in which I have authority, and that means the entire aquatics program. Period. And I don't say that because I'm trying to recruit the hottest gay athlete in the country. I say it because I don't tolerate prejudice. Again, period."
I said, "That's a good start."
Tim said, "I'd like to know more about diving here."
Aquatics, as they called it, was a winter sport at UND. Only a few members of the team practiced in the off season. However, a few-generally the top swimmers-would be in the pool that afternoon. Would Tim like to meet them?
He would, and could he swim and dive with them? He hated to miss his daily practice. It was quickly arranged, and Tim changed and headed to the pool. There were a half dozen swimmers at the pool, all boys, including two divers. They were all introduced as were Tim and I. Only one recognized Tim as anyone out of the ordinary-that was their top diver, Harry Jensen. Harry was a junior, so he would be Tim's teammate next year. He could barely get out, "Tim. You're Tim? You're going to be diving at UND next year? Maybe?"
Tim said, "I'm pleased to meet you Harry. I'd like to introduce my partner, Charlie." This was said to the entire group of six, not just Harry. There were handshakes all around.
One of the others said, "Partner? What kind of partner?"
Harry jumped in before either Tim or I could answer. "They're gay. They're partners, like married. Right?"
Tim and I both said, "Right." I was thinking, and I was sure that Tim was as well, "This is the moment of truth."
Nothing more was said.
I was sure that in that instant Tim made up his mind about UND. Talking later I found, to no surprise, that I was right.
Tim was invited to dive. He asked if he could do a few laps first, and all seven were quickly in the water swimming. They all got out after about 8 laps, and Harry said, "Look, Tim. We would all like to see you dive. Your best. We aren't in your league, don't have any delusions that we are, and you won't embarrass us by making us look bad. We're going to have to deal with that for four years if you come here. We'll deal."
Tim took his cue and did a series of eight dives that would've taken a medal in Tokyo if he had gone. I never tired of watching him dive!
Coach Knudsen said, "OK, I'm impressed. I've simply never seen diving like that except in newsreels and television." He walked over and put his arm around Tim, squeezed him hard, and said, "Welcome to North Dakota." Nothing, absolutely nothing, he could've said or done would've meant more to Tim than that squeeze. If the "Cool" hadn't done the job, the squeeze had.
Tim swam and dove for about an hour with the group. The other diver, Sven, was a senior, so wouldn't be diving with Tim. But the three got along very well, and enjoyed diving together. Tim praised and tried to make constructive suggestions. He never said anything negative about a dive, only a single tip on how to improve some small facet of it. You wouldn't have heard any difference in his reaction to a 7 dive and a 9.9. There was always something that could be a little better. And, if on the next dive that little thing was better, his praise was overflowing. "You got it! You got it! Do it again."
If Tim fell in love with coach and team in an instant, they picked their next year's captain in the same instant. But that would have to wait six months or so.
The three divers, me, and Coach Knudsen and his wife went to dinner. He said, "I'll take you to the best in Grand Forks. The athletic budget can stand it. If you like steaks, it'll be Dakota Steak House."
We did. The steaks were great. So was the conversation. It finally rolled around to our relationship. Harry didn't seem to be afraid of the subject-bless him-and asked, "Where will you two be living? I assume that Tim won't be in the dorm."
I said, "We'll be looking at housing this trip, but won't be able to really look until this summer. Near campus, we hope."
Harry continued, "Where do you live now?"
"With Tim's parents."
"They're cool with that? I presume you share a room, bed."
"They're cool. Tim has exceptional parents."
Sven finally entered in, "How about your parents, Charlie?"
"It took them a little longer, but they're OK."
Coach said, "You had a big commitment ceremony didn't you? That's the gist of the Sports Illustrated story. Who took the picture?"
That opened the floodgates of a lot of story, and the four of them were fascinated. We talked for a hour before Tim asked, "How is all of this going to go down in North Dakota? Are you guys typical?"
Coach Knudsen cut in, "No, they aren't typical. I have the best of the best in aquatics. But I think, perhaps it's hope, that on this subject they may be fairly typical."
Sven said, "You're more optimistic than I am. There is going to be prejudice here, guys. But you won't find a campus where there isn't. I don't think we'll be any worse than other campuses, and I really think it's likely that we'll be better. North Dakota is a pretty tolerant place. But you guys aren't fools. You knew there were risks when you came out, especially the way you did. There were pickets on the lawn. Special School Board meeting. We can't promise that North Dakota is immune. But I think you'll do fine."
Tim said, "We're looking for honesty, and I think we're finding it. Thanks. I really mean it."
Harry ended the meal by sort of musing aloud, "I can't believe what my friends from high school-all divers-are going to think when I tell them I had this dinner with Tim. And you too, Charlie. And they won't believe you might study here until they read it in the newspaper."
Tim said, "I would like to ask a favor. Please be a little circumspect about who you tell that I was here. The press doesn't know. Your high school friends are fine, unless one works for the Fargo newspaper. I have to apply, be admitted, and then control the press release. Dealing with the press is simply part of our lives. We have to take that into consideration with everything we do."
Coach Knudsen said, "I understand. Boys, mum's the word until you read it in the paper. Then you can say, 'I knew him when.'"
All agreed. Coach Knudsen insisted that we stay the night at his home, and his wife backed him up. We couldn't refuse, and didn't want to. On arrival Mrs. Knudsen dealt with the possibly awkward moment with a simple, "The guest room has a double bed. Is that OK?" Of course it was.
The next day started with the Director of Athletics, Dr. Stevens. He was charming, and delighted to meet us. Then he surprised us with, "You were expected. President Edison got a phone call from your coach, Nelson Waters. He called to make sure that your visit here would really accomplish what you needed to accomplish. He felt that you probably wouldn't get an interview with the President of the University unless he did a little politicking for you. However, he particularly asked that the diving coach not be warned you were coming. So you met Larry Knudsen on your own terms, cold turkey. Evidently you all hit it off well."
"The Admissions Office was alerted to call President Edison, personally, when someone named Tim-just Tim, Mr. Waters was sure that was how you would introduce yourself-checked in. The girl that set up your tour wasn't alerted, but when you asked for the diving coach and said you were 'Tim' it triggered. I wasn't told anything until then."
"Just what did Coach Nelson tell you all?"
"I didn't talk to him. You'll have to ask President Edison."
"When do I meet him?"
"Whenever you're done with me. What can I tell you about UND athletics?"
Tim was completely direct. "I need a good gymnastics facility for practice. To support that you're going to have to have some level of a gymnastics program. If I raise the money for the equipment, can the athletic department find the space for it, make it available for use most hours, and provide supervision? We don't need a coach to start, and if we're going to get one, we'll raise the money. Until then, I can provide the technical coaching, but not the supervision. That must come from the athletic department. And solid support."
"President Edison did warn me that Mr. Waters had thought that we would get some kind of a suggestion like this-he knew that gymnastics would be an essential issue for you."
"You're proposing to raise a lot of money."
"What makes you think you can?"
"If I can't then I give up my dream of going to the Olympics in two sports. But that is my problem; I'm not making it yours. I clearly laid out the support I would need from the University. If you provide it, and I fail, then it's on me. Oh, yes. I wouldn't leave the University over my failure in this. I would if the University didn't keep whatever commitment it's willing to make."
"I feel that I'm negotiating with a union bargaining agent. You're a tough negotiator."
"No. I just lay it out straight. I need that kind of commitment, or I have to go to a school that has both a diving and gymnastics program. But I want to come here, for many reasons; not the least of which is the wonderful reception I received from Coach Knudsen and his aquatics team."
"OK. You need support. That is a generalized statement, not a money commitment, right?"
"You got it. You need space. Not a problem. You need supervision. Exactly what do you mean?"
"You can't have a group of students starting a fledgling gymnastics program, intermural, intercollegiate or anything, without some responsible person."
"I'll be that person, or I'll assign someone from my staff. You don't expect that person to be present at every practice?"
"No. But someone has to be."
"Work-study students with First Air training. We have plenty. We have a hard time figuring out what to do with all of them. What else?"
"Before I arrive in September I'll think of a lot. But we've covered the deal breakers. Dr. Stevens, you just added a new, coed sport at UND."
"I'm not exactly sure what just hit me."
I spoke up, "I was warned by Tim's brother, and I'll pass it along to you: life with Tim is like a roller coaster: you get to the top of the long climb and you head down. But the uphill sections that're supposed to slow you down are all missing, just straight down with twists and turns. The roller coaster breaks loose from the uphill chain on the first day of school. Hold on."
"How do you hold on, Charlie."
"I'll bet. Well, are we off to see the President?"
President Edison was delightful; both Tim and I were attracted to him immediately. He started the conversation by saying that he didn't usually get involved in the admissions process for freshmen, but he understood that this was sort of a special case. "In fact, Dr. Stevens has told me that if I fail to hold onto you, Tim, that I'm in serious trouble with the entire athletics program. Are you really as good as all that?"
Tim rose to the occasion, "Of course. It sounds to me like I'm in a position to drive a hard bargain." What balls!
President Edison didn't rise to the bait, and turned to me, "Charlie, what're your plans for next year? What're you going to be doing in Grand Forks?"
"Next year isn't clear," I replied, "but the following year I want to enter your law school."
Tim added, "Then we graduate together in four years."
President Edison said, "I think that I should get you an appointment with our Dean of Law, Dr. Fry."
"I'd appreciate that."
"Tim. Why the University of North Dakota? Honest."
"Honest? OK. Charlie asked if I planned to be a big duck in a small pond. I told him, 'No, Charlie, we're going to be two elephants in a puddle'."
"I really would like to be at a school where I can make a difference. My influence at Indiana University-which made me an offer I had to be a fool to turn down-would be limited to diving and gymnastics, and would last exactly four years. Frankly, I'm more interested in academics, and other aspects of school life. My involvement with athletics is going to run its course in four years. I expect to be a scholar and administrator all my life. University level administration is my career interest. I'd like to talk to the Education Department while I'm here about how to pursue that goal at the undergraduate level."
"I'll have to say, you seem to be one well-put-together young man. I hope we can live up to your expectations."
"My time with the aquatics people has already exceeded my expectations. I have high hopes for UND."
"Tim. You're gay. As far as I and the administration of this school goes, that makes no difference at all. But I can't guarantee that is the attitude of the entire school community. I can only promise appropriate support. Are you OK with that?"
"What more could any school offer or promise? I'm OK with it. I've talked about the issue with others I've met, and neither Charlie nor I see a problem-or at least no more of a problem than we might encounter anywhere."
"Good. Have you submitted an application?"
"Not yet. Right away after this trip."
He handed Tim a small envelope, addressed "Director of Admissions." It had his name and title in the return address slot. "Just enclose this in the envelope when you submit your application. I'll see to it that it gets proper handling."
"I'll be making an announcement in about a month at the last diving meet at my high school. The press will pick it up very quickly. Your athletics department can expect reporters to be asking a lot of questions. In particular, what kind of a scholarship package did you offer?"
"Tim, as a Minnesotan you get in-state tuition. I can waive that. That is all we can do."
"That is more than I expected or needed. But the press isn't going to believe you. Be prepared."
"Thanks for the warning. Share it with Dr. Stevens as well, please.
"Tim, we're looking forward to having you here. Clearly you have plans and ideas forming in your head as to what you want to do with your life, including the next four years. My door is always open to all students-though most don't take advantage of it. Please do."
"I will. And thank you for the invitation."
"Charlie, you have a year before you start law school. I know that you're working on plans for that year. Consider this: enroll in a course or two. Aside from the fact that I hope you would get something out of the courses, it would make you a student; officially part of the UND community. We'd like that, and I think it would be good for you."
"Thank you for the suggestion. It makes sense. If I want to register for just a course or two, what is the procedure?"
"Talk to the Admissions Office before you leave. Tell them Prexy sent you! They'll take care of you."
"Are you really called 'Prexy'?"
"Usually much worse, but you'll have to find out the others for yourself. Yes, I'm called Prexy, and you can use that term with Admissions."
We chatted a little longer. He asked his secretary to make appointments for Tim with the Dean of Education and for me with the Dean of Law. We went our separate ways to meet at the Admissions Office around lunchtime.
My interview with the Dean of Law was interesting. Dr. Fry was very pleasant. He offered, "I don't usually interview prospective students at the personal request of the President. So, let me be blunt, 'Who the Hell are you?'"
I laughed; I could tell I would like Dr. Fry. "The University wants my partner and I come with the package."
"And your partner is?"
"Tim the national diving champion three years running. The fourth coming up this summer."
"I guess I'm impressed, but I still draw a blank."
"Cover of Sports Illustrated when we came out as a gay pair."
"It rings a bell. Why would Tim want to come to UND? We have a third string aquatics program."
"I would be glad to introduce you to Tim and let you ask him."
"Where did you graduate?"
"Grades?" I handed him a transcript. "What happened in your Sophomore year?"
"I met Tim."
"Good grief. All A's since then. All kinds of honors. I guess I should ask you why you want to come to the University of North Dakota. But the answer is obvious; Tim does."
"Has that been much of a problem?"
"I've been in the closet till a short while ago when Tim and I came out. The reception since then has been phenomenal. However, we have the advantage that Tim's a sports icon in the Twin Cities. College diving and gymnastics teams are drooling over him."
"Gymnastics? I don't think we have gymnastics here at UND."
"Right, but that'll change. Watch Tim change it."
"While I watch you change my law school?"
"Maybe. Never behind your back."
"Is that a deal?"
We shook hands and Dr. Fry said, "Welcome to the University of North Dakota Law School. Submit your application immediately, marked for a year from now. List me as a reference, that'll get their attention."
His phone rang. It was his secretary saying that the Dean of Education had just called; could the two of us join Tim and him, along with Dr. Stevens for lunch at the faculty club; about 12:30. We could and we did.
It was a pleasant lunch. Tim's interview had gone as well as mine. There wasn't any doubt left about where we would be for the next four years. Grand Forks here we come!
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