As explained earlier, I am not going to give a blow by blow account of my life at Banyard Prep Academy. It was my home for the next five years. I grew from a callow boy to a mature man in those years, quite a transformation for any boy, but especially so for me. I had entered the school afraid of my own shadow and of every boy I met. I left…well, no point in jumping that far ahead. No more than I will give a daily account of myself. But I will hit the high points, the events that I feel were the ones that shaped me and a few that perhaps didn't have that dramatic an effect on me—or perhaps did. Who really knows what in our past resounded in our inner being, in our soul if one likes that term, resonated in the fiber of our character, and what was simply a quotidian occurrence?
The room I moved into was large enough that I was comfortable sharing it with Mike. I'd heard of dormitory rooms that were quite cramped with single beds on each side wall and maybe only three feet or so of space between them. Probably they had a shelf about thirty inches—desk height—off the ground with two chairs so the roommates would be side by side when writing or studying. They'd each have a tiny dresser, and they'd share a closet that was too small for either one of their haberdashery.
But in fact our room was much nicer. I guess with what the parents paid to send their kids to Banyard, they expected better facilities than bottom-rung accommodations. And these were.
We had more than twice as much space between our single beds than I'd expected before seeing the room, and the room was deep as well as wide. We each had ample desks to ourselves and the space to set them up however we preferred, either side by side or back to back. Mike told me a lot of kids put them the latter way and then bought a two-sided bulletin board to put between them so they didn't have the distraction of a mate looking into one's face when one looked up from his work.
We each had our own regular-sized dresser with a mirror and our own closet. But, best of all, we shared our own bathroom. It was small, but held a toilet, sink and shower. That, to me, was luxury. I wouldn't have to be displaying myself in the nude to all and sundry in the house. Maybe P.E. would be different, but maybe not. That was a river to ford another day.
Mike asked how I'd like to set up the two desks. At the moment, they were side by side, and I'd put the refrigerator between them. I thought that convenient, and that was where we set our stereo/radio combination as well.
I thought either way for the desks was acceptable, and Mike was agreeable to trying it side by side at first, with change a future option. So that's how we left them. We both set our laptops on them and were done with out interior decorating.
Rather soon—our first night together, in fact—Mike was bold enough to bring up what had caused me to blush during the time of our first meeting. We were both getting ready for bed. Well, more truthfully, he had said it was time for bed and I'd agreed, and then we'd come to a halt. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we stood like that. Then he laughed.
"See? This is where we need rules. Do we undress here or in the bathroom? Is it OK to be naked together? Or does modesty rule the day? And then there's the other thing."
"What other thing?" I said it very matter of factly and refused to allow myself to blush. But I knew what he was talking about. Of course, I knew. And I also knew that Mike, without a shy bone anywhere about him, would spell it out. And I was all for that. I'd never have been able to bring it up myself, however.
"Jacking off." Mike didn't have a problem mentioning it. It was so much easier this way, as were most things with Mike.
I just looked at him, however, giving no encouragement at all. It was my first day. Mike made me as comfortable as anyone could, but it was still my first day.
I think he took my silence as either stupidity or censure, however, because, after expecting some vocalization from me and getting none, he simply continued. "I jack off every night. I expect you do, too, being of age and all, but I can see talking about it embarrasses you. But here's where the rules come into play again. We need to set some rules on how this is done so neither of us is embarrassed. By that, I mean you, because it doesn't embarrass me."
"Why not?" I asked, genuinely curious how he came to be that way.
"My dad talked to me about it. Says everyone does it. Says he still does it. Says the only way it's embarrassing is if you allow it to be. He didn't show me how or anything like that, but he did give me a book with pictures. Very educational." He was looking straight at me, and I finally did blush, which made him laugh so hard he finally had to sit down.
When he'd recovered, he said, "All the boys here do it. Well, all the boys I've talked to about it, which is about six, but still... Anyway, I do it; I do it at night, at bedtime. Now, I'm all for ecumenical happiness in our living arrangements, and I don't want to offend you at all, so if you say so, I'll confine my activities to the bathroom before bed. However, if you don't mind, I'll avail myself of the comfort of my bed after lights are out. And as for yourself, assuming you are not a stranger to this simple pleasure, you may do it wherever and whenever you like in the room, and I'll certainly not be upset and may in fact choose to join you. Now, what do you have to say?"
What did I have to say? Indeed. I didn't say anything for a moment or two, and then a broad grin grew on my face. "Mike, I appreciate your honesty and lack of delicacy. Without that, I'd never have been able to discuss this, and you're right, it requires discussion. I've never had to think about it before because I've always had private sleeping accommodations. You're not shy. I wouldn't have supposed I was, either, but I guess I am, because the whole idea of stripping off while you watch, and then going after it is, well, off-putting. Exciting, I guess, to be honest, but not something I'd be at all comfortable doing. So, for me, I'll strip and change into my sleeping shorts in the bathroom. While I'm doing that, you can dress or undress however you like, and then, after the lights are out, you can have at yourself. I'll listen. Maybe I'll learn something! And if you listen, maybe you will, too. So. Enough said?"
As previously mentioned, after a few weeks of school, living with Mike, I still hadn't seen him naked. But I became quite knowledgeable about the variety of grunting noises he issued when he achieved satisfaction at the end of an evening.
And let it be said: I wasn't the only one in the room gaining such intimate knowledge of the other. While that was embarrassing at first, I soon found it remarkable how close you can come to a friend when you trustingly bare your soul to him night after night, if only audibly, and he does the same for you. We knew in only a few days and nights how simpatico we were, that we would always be friends, always be loyal and true to each other. What we were able to do without shame or self-consciousness night after night knowing the other was listening cemented our friendship.
One might wonder, as this was a school for young boys growing into young men, why I didn't have occasion to see Mike naked in the showers after physical-education classes. There was a reason for that.
Banyard believed a strong body as well as a strong and educated mind were necessary for success in life. Their idea of how to create that strong body, though, differed from the traditional.
Our first day, when the boys from our house were taking the trek to the physical-education edifice, I was uneasy. This was one of the places I'd had a lot of trouble when I'd been enrolled at a public school. Other kids got to see me at my worst in that environment, one where a quick mind and quicker tongue did me no good at all and, in fact, hastened my demise. When a kid is puny, uncoordinated and unwilling to participate, it's noticed. And not in a good way. So marching to my doom that day, even with Mike cracking wise with a straight face as we marched together didn't help.
Mr. O'Higgins was the master of the P.E. realm at the school. I was expecting an ogre dressed in sweat clothing, arms bulging, a red face noticeable mainly for the anger it betrayed, and the patience of a deerfly.
Mr. O'Higgins gathered me up when I came in and took me to his office, a rather small cubicle but at least private. He had me sit down and asked if I'd like something to drink.
"I have a number of different kinds of sodas, and also healthy drinks." He grinned, then said, "You can have your pick. I'm going to have a Coke. Not diet, not sugar-free, not Zero, not un-caffeinated. Just a Coke. How about you?"
I think I was well into my tremble mode, so just looked at him. He smiled. He was nothing like I expected. He was the age of my grandfather and didn't look all that unlike the man. He was short, balding, a little pudgy, and looked… well, he looked friendly.
"You're Luke, huh? I heard you'd be joining us today. Have your friends told you about me, about our P.E. program here?"
"No," I squeaked and then tried to lower my voice's pitch and timbre. "They've been teasing me. Telling me how hard it'll be. But they smile when they say it and glance at each other knowingly, so I haven't really known what to expect."
"Ah, that's why you look so nervous. Well, let me set you straight right off the bat. I firmly believe in physical exercise and a fit body. But I also know boys. I've dealt with thousands of them over the years. I know they come in all shapes and sizes, all sorts of capabilities and interests. I know some are rugged and like contact sports while others will do anything they can, up to cutting off a toe, to avoid those activities. My job is more than to get you guys to run around, getting sweaty and dirty, maybe bumping into each other in the process, and in the process getting a little healthier. Anyone can do that. I feel what's even more important is to get every boy here doing something physical that's good for his body and is something that he enjoys. That he enjoys so much he'll continue doing it after he's left this school. That will be part of him for many years. That will help keep him healthy. Now, how can I manage that with boys who dislike and avoid anything physical?"
I was listening to him and had succeeded in calming down a bit, but I wasn't expecting a question. I heard it and assumed it was rhetorical and so didn't answer. The silence in the room grew, and I suddenly understood it was indeed a question he wished me to answer. I did so, eventually. "Huh?"
He laughed. "Caught you off guard, didn't I? But they told me you were smart as a Harvard lawyer, so I'll repeat the question, and you can have a second time around the track at it. How can I get boys like you to like sports and want to enjoy them past your prep-school experience?"
Fat chance. That's what I thought. But he was looking at me expectantly, and so I finally did open my mind and think about it. And, being me, I did come up with an answer.
"Well, I suppose you could find a physical activity that was of interest to someone like me. Though I'm not really sure there is one."
Mr. O'Higgins beamed. Then he got up from his chair and came to me. I got up, too, so as not to be towered over, and he extended his hand. We shook, he smiling broadly, me confusedly.
"Well done, Luke! That's exactly how I think, too—that there aren't any you've tried before, and that we'll have to look for something. We simply need to find out what you like. And there should be some element of fitness involved. I think we can do that. We have a huge number of activities here, and for you, I'd guess one that includes a heavy dose of mental activity would be perfect. You want a game or competition or activity where using your head will make it enjoyable. And we have several of those. My plan, then, will be to have you try a passel of those and see what we come up with."
"You mean," I asked, "that I won't be thrown to the wolves, mixed in with boys who want to run over me or crush me or elbow me or thump me?"
"Heavens, no!" He looked aghast. "What would that accomplish, other than fortifying your hatred of all things athletic? My goal is to get you to change your mind about that. No, I want you to see that there are physical activities that are actually fun, that you'd enjoy. Right off the bat, I think we can rule out the more traditional sports like football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, water polo, baseball and that sort of thing. Probably not pole vaulting, either. They're not terribly cerebral and do involve the sort of physicality you probably wish to eschew. I want you to have fun, not get hurt, and I don't want to put you into a game that you'd consider losing a toe to avoid."
He grinned at me, and I couldn't help grinning back. This was my kind of P.E. instructor. I hadn't known such a creature existed.
"OK, to repeat, the program I've chosen for you, Luke, is to try various activities to see what you might take to. All of them have a mental component mixed with the physical. I know we'll find one you can at least tolerate, though I'd rather find one you'll end up putting your heart and soul into. So, if you're willing, over the next week or so we'll try a number of these. Some will have to include an opponent, and for those, I'll select an equally inept partner or perhaps a slightly advanced one who'll understand what we're trying to accomplish."
And that was what we did. I spent a few days weight lifting—not the most cerebral activity, for certain, but one that I could do on my own—trying my hand at squash, racquetball and handball; wearing white gear and hitting the tennis courts; diving off a low board that still seemed way too high for me into a pool below; swimming laps, which usually amounted to the singular because I was the least coordinated, most out of shape swimmer he'd ever seen, he said, and to believe him when he said that as he'd seen all sorts.
It took three full weeks, trying all these games. At the end of that time, he and I were again in his office, sitting in the same chairs we'd been in before. We knew each other much better now. I liked him a whole lot. I think he liked me, too.
"Luke, you look like you could be a fair hand at some of the things you've tried. And I'll say this without reservation: you really did try. So many nonathletic boys go through the motions halfheartedly just to appease me. You did make a genuine effort, and I applaud you for that. It shows me how much character you have. But I don't think we've hit the mark yet for you. What do you think?"
"I agree," I said. "You've opened my eyes with some of these things. I can see where the court sports involve some thought. They're sort of like chess: you have to think ahead, think what your opponent will do with each shot you hit, and plan to make it as difficult as possible for him. You can also think a couple of strokes ahead and set him up for something. That part is really fun. But the coordination and strength and agility I'd need to be really good at any of those…I just don't have them. I could get stronger with training, but I doubt I'd ever have the athleticism to play any of them well."
"I agree with you, though the goal is to enjoy playing them, not to be really good. Would you enjoy any of them enough to spend time improving?"
"I don't know. That's the long and short of it. Maybe if I had the right opponent, but I really can't do the things I'd need to do well to enjoy them. I guess I need to ask you, Mr. O—" he'd asked me to call him that "—have I run out of options?"
"Oh, certainly not. I've actually left till last what I think you might be best at. I did that on purpose so at least you'd get to try these other things first, get the feel of them. No, what comes next I think you'll really like. You get to do what you're really good at—using your intelligence."
And that was how I became engaged in the sport I learned to love.
Sailing didn't come easily to me. Almost anything with a physical element didn't. But the mental aspects—learning what to do, when to do it, how to anticipate what to do next, to read the water and the wind, to learn the capabilities of my craft—well, that was all new and challenging but didn't require the athleticism of the other things I'd tried, and I knew right off I could learn and understand what I had to. Sailing was completely different from other sports, and I quickly found I loved it. It was a challenge that I could not only succeed at, but one I could master.
I won't go into great detail here about sailing. The school had several types of small boats including dinghies and board boats that beginners like me used for learning the ropes, and the school's grounds were located on the shore of a sizable enough lake to allow several boats to be out at the same time. Sailing was one of the electives for P.E. I was a little scared at first because one thing I was not was a great swimmer, but life jackets were mandatory and until Mr. O felt anyone was proficient enough to go out alone, all boats would have both the neophyte and an experienced sailor in them.
Mr. O became my personal sailing instructor. We spent quite a bit of time together out on the lake. I learned how to handle single-sail and sloop-rigged vessels my first year there, learned to use lateen, gaff and Marconi sails, to tack and run in all types of wind and water conditions, and through my years at the school, I worked my way up through larger, more complicated craft. By the time I left, I felt quite able to comfortably handle myself on the water in a sailboat, no matter the situation.
I greatly enjoyed being out on the lake, in the weather, doing something I could do competently and not look foolish doing. It was something that was allowing me to develop some confidence in my abilities. I'd had only academics to give me that feeling in the past.
Becoming an accomplished sailor allowed me to achieve a status unknown to me before. Other boys, not only in our house but in all of them, looked up to me because of this skill. That was an amazing experience for me. The other thing it did was bring Mr. O and me together into a very close-knit pair. Even after I didn't need him showing me the ropes, he would still often accompany me on whatever boat I was using that day, and his calm presence and confidence in me, his friendly support and kindly attitude, resulted in conversations that to me were unique. He encouraged me to talk to him, and talk I did. I no longer had a father, but with Mr. O, I had some of what I'd lost when I'd lost my real father. The two of us would glide along on a glassy lake, no one but us, talking or not talking but giving me something I dearly needed. I was able to tell him all my worries and fears. It gave me the feeling that anything I said could be imparted to Mr. O and then the words would be blown away by the wind, taking any and all embarrassment with it. He knew how to give advice to a teenager without raising hackles. He'd worked with many boys over the years and knew how to appraise them and give them the kind of guidance they needed. I ended up telling him my deepest thoughts, revealing who I was more to him than I ever had to any other human. It was due to his succor that I overcame so much of what had crippled me in the past.
But I was discussing my first year, and much of my growth with Mr. O's support came during my full time at Banyard. I was three weeks into my first term when Mr. O began with me on sailing instruction. Because of that, it was easier to approach him when it next became necessary.
Yes, this is leading somewhere. Somewhere I never imagined I'd go. And not only can I describe what turned into a highlight of my first year at school, it allows me to again mention Sutton.
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