The following story is fiction. It is based on what might have happened if certain key elements of my own life had been dramatically different. I wish to offer my deepest and most sincere appreciation to Peter A. for his guidance, encouragement, and suggestions as this story took shape. Some parts of Everything But Love would never have been written without his invaluable input. I will appreciate any feedback you wish to offer. Please send your thoughts and comments email@example.com.
As early as I can remember, I never felt that I was good enough. All I ever wanted from my parents was love and affection. But Mom and Dad gave me everything any child could want – except what I needed the most.
I grew up in a small suburb of Bridgeport, Connecticut. My family lived in a large house on an estate named 'The Covington Preserve.' My name is James Covington, and my great grandfather built our home in the 1870s. I was born in 1952.
When I was a young child, I didn't understand that my parents were wealthy. I never knew that other kids didn't have their own suite instead of just a bedroom. I thought that having a swimming pool and tennis court in your backyard wasn't anything special. And I assumed that it was perfectly normal to have servants.
My first memory of feeling that I wasn't good enough was when my Aunt Gretchen visited from Arkansas. It was the first time I had met her. I was probably about four years old at the time. I don't remember what the circumstances were, but I can't forget my aunt looking at me in a mean way and saying, "You're a filthy rich little sissy, aren't you?" I wasn't sure what my aunt meant, but I could tell she didn't like me. I remember wondering what I had done wrong to make her so mad.
My parents spent a great deal of time away from home. They had a plumbing manufacturing business that demanded most of their attention. I was their only child, and I always had nannies who took care of me. For some reason, however, none of the nannies stayed very long, and I never really grew attached to any of them. And just as importantly, I never got the feeling that any of the nannies liked me.
One day when I was about five years old, my nanny at the time had a lady friend over to the house. They were talking and drinking tea at the kitchen table. "You're right about that one," the guest said while looking directly at me. "He's a good-looking boy."
"Yeah," my nanny said. "And he's even prettier than most girls." The two ladies looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Later that same day, I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered why my nanny and her friend had said what they did about my appearance. I didn't see anything special about myself. I mean, I looked the same way as I always did. Then, I made a disturbing observation. For just a moment, I could see my mother's face looking back at me in the mirror. I didn't have the words for it back then, but what I saw could have been described as an oval face, high cheekbones, doe eyes, and pouty lips. My light brown hair was thick and silky, forming long bangs on my forehead.
I was distraught at what I saw! I didn't like my mother, and I didn't want to be anything like her. I resented that she ignored me most of the time – except when she wanted to show me off.
My parents held several large parties each year. I had to make an appearance at each one. I had to wear formal clothes and wait for the party to be well underway. Then, the "Nanny of the Month" would bring me downstairs. "Please, everyone," Mom would say to the room. "My son James wants to say goodnight to all of you before he heads off to bed."
I always remembered my lines. "Thanks for coming, everybody! I hope you enjoy the party." Then, I was supposed to wave and say, "Goodnight!"
There were frequently several ladies who would come over to my mother and me before the nanny would take me upstairs. And most of the ladies would compliment me to my mother. "He's such a charming young man," many of them would say. "And he's so good-looking!" One time, a lady said to my mother, "Better keep a close eye on him when he gets a little older. The girls will be all over him!"
That comment brought back the memory of a picture I had seen in a magazine. As I remembered, a young boy was playing outside on the grass, and puppy dogs were jumping all over him. The boy was laughing and appeared to be having fun. But now, I pictured a bunch of girls doing the same thing to me. That was a disturbing image!
I started kindergarten that same year. I didn't know it at the time, but my new school was an expensive, private academy that only accepted 'gifted' children. Mom seemed pleased when the school admitted me. "You did very well on your assessment tests," she told me. "And I expect no less of you in your schoolwork!" I knew what my mother was telling me. She expected me to do my absolute best; anything less would result in punishment.
I was a little uncomfortable on my first day of school. Most of the other kids came with their mothers; my nanny brought me. That wouldn't have been so bad, except she wore her uniform. That made it obvious that she wasn't my mother.
My classmates seemed to be much taller and older than I was. I was short for my age, and I was skinny. I felt out of place and scared. My teacher said to me, "Put a smile on your face, James! You look like a turtle trying to hide its head!"
As it turned out, however, I loved my elementary school education. Reading became my passion. My favorite books were the Bible and World War II stories. Mathematics made perfect sense to me, and I took great satisfaction in knowing that there was always a correct solution to any problem.
I looked forward to my gym class every day. I found that I could run just as fast as any other kid in my grade, and I could catch and throw a ball reasonably well. My favorite activity in school was gymnastics. I could maneuver the pommel horse with ease. Doing the rings was hard at first, but as soon as I built up a little strength in my arms, I could hold myself in any position asked of me. The coaches frequently told me I was doing a good job, and that made me happy. After all, I got almost no positive attention at home from my parents or nannies.
In fourth grade, students at my school had to start showering after gym class. I was a little shy when I had to take off my clothes in front of all the other boys. I became highly embarrassed when the boys began commenting on each other's dicks. I almost died when one kid said, "Hey! Look at the pipsqueak! He's got a big ole mule tool between his legs." From then on, I tried to cover myself with my hands whenever I showered in school.
Although I excelled in my classes, I did not do well socially. It seemed to me that everyone had a group of friends. I was never part of any of the groups, and that bothered me. So, I decided I should try to make a friend.
One student in my fifth-grade class was named Robert. He was smart, and he seemed to have a lot of friends. I decided to see if he and I could hang out together sometime. So, one autumn day at recess, I spoke to him. "Hey, Robbie," I said. "You wanna go bike riding after school?"
"Get lost, Sissy!" he responded. "Go play with the other girls!"
I was mortified, and I stopped going outside at recess. Instead, I hid in the library until it was time to go back to class. Even though I was supposed to be outside, the Librarian, Miss DuPont, didn't kick me out. Occasionally, she'd sit down and talk with me. She knew my family from the Unitarian church, and she was always kind to me.
One day, Miss DuPont sat down next to me at a small table. "Why don't you want to go outside at recess and play with the other kids?" she asked.
"They don't like me," I answered. Miss DuPont put her arm around my shoulder. That surprised me; no one had touched me in a long time. It felt nice.
"Why do you think that is?" Miss DuPont asked. Her voice sounded sympathetic, and I sensed that she wanted to help me.
I didn't say anything for a while. Then, I felt my lower lip start to quiver. "Everybody thinks I'm a sissy!" I said as tears began rolling down my face. Miss DuPont put her other arm around my chest and hugged me. She didn't say anything. She just held me and let me cry.
"James," she finally said. "You're not a sissy. I think some of the other students are probably jealous. Everyone knows that your family is - well, very wealthy. You have excellent grades, and you are a good-looking boy. Some of the other students probably wish they had everything that you do."
I composed myself just a little. "But why do they think I'm a sissy?" I asked. "Why do they say I'm pretty - like a girl?"
Miss DuPont looked hesitant. She pursed her lips as if she wanted to say something but didn't know if she should.
"Please tell me the truth," I said.
"James," she responded. "Did you know that your mother was once 'Miss Connecticut' and that she competed in the Miss America Pageant?"
"Yeah," I answered. "Mom has some pictures from the pageants in the library."
"Well," Miss DuPont continued. "You take after your mother."
"You mean I look more like a girl than a boy?!?" I asked, horrified by the possibility.
"I don't think so," Miss DuPont said. "But I can give you a few ideas about how you might change what the other kids think. If you don't want me to do that, then don't worry about the other kids. Just ignore them. You always need to feel comfortable with yourself."
"I don't want to be different!" I asserted loudly. "I want to look like all the other boys. I'm not a girl!"
"Okay then," Miss DuPont said. "Do you know how you carry your books? You hold them out at an angle in front of you, resting the bottoms of the books on your rib cage, with your right arm supporting them. Try holding your books next to your side. Just look at how the other boys carry their books. You might try doing the same."
That idea sounded quite silly to me, but I knew I should take Miss DuPont's advice seriously. So, I told her that I would try to do as she suggested.
"Who cuts your hair?" she asked.
"My nanny," I answered. "Mom tells all the nanny's how she wants it cut."
"Does your father have a regular barber?" Miss DuPont asked. I told her that my dad's barber came to our house once a week when Dad wasn't traveling.
"Ask your mom if the barber can cut your hair, too – and have him style it like your father's," she suggested. "A shorter style with the hair off your ears might be a good look for you. And James, you might want to have the barber cut your bangs. You have beautiful hair, but your bangs are so long that you frequently brush them off your face just to keep them out of your eyes. When you do that, sometimes you flick your wrists. Some people might think that looks – well, a little overly dramatic."
"Anything else?" I asked pointedly. I was starting to get a little defensive.
"No, not really," Miss DuPont said. "But you might try keeping your hips a little straighter when you walk."
That same night as I lay in bed, I thought about what Miss DuPont had said. Her feedback was unsettling, but I realized she was only trying to help me. "Give her ideas a try," I thought to myself. "It can't hurt."
I did what Miss DuPont suggested, but it didn't seem to change how the other kids treated me. But when a new student came to our school and joined my fifth-grade class, he and I became friends. And, for the next few years, I found that it was easier to make friends with the new kids than it was to be friends with the kids I had known since kindergarten. I was much happier when I finally had a few kids to hang out with at school.
When I was in the 7 th grade, my mother made me get braces on my teeth. And I had to start wearing glasses. I hated the way I looked. I felt like the nerdiest kid in school. "Good grief!" I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror. "I might as well put masking tape on the bridge of my glasses and buy a pocket protector!"
When I was thirteen and finished the eighth grade, my parents planned a summer trip through Europe. I was highly disappointed when I learned that I was not invited to go with them. Mom and Dad said that they would be spending most of their time on business and that I would be bored. But rather than leave me with just a nanny all summer, Dad said he had hired a college student to be my mentor during the weekdays. Nanny, of course, would still be in the house at all other times. My parents said they had hired a guy named Peter who, among other things, would teach me how to play golf. Dad said golf was a necessary social skill if I ever wanted to be a successful businessman. My mom said that Peter was also an accomplished pianist, and he could work with me to improve my playing. I had started piano lessons when I was eight. I loved music, but my mother criticized my playing whenever she was home long enough to hear me practice. Still, I had taken lessons for almost six years, and I was reasonably competent.
I wasn't pleased with my parents' summer plans for me – until I met Peter. He was friendly and kind to me. I found that I loved getting up early on summer mornings and going to the golf course with him. Peter took me shopping for my own set of clubs, and he made sure they were just right for me. He was an excellent golf instructor, and I looked forward to every lesson.
There was, however, one scary incident on the golf course that summer. I had hit my golf ball into a stand of trees. When I went to retrieve the ball, I saw a snake right next to my foot. I had almost stepped on it! I have always been deathly afraid of snakes. I freaked out and screamed! Peter came running to see what was wrong, and the snake crawled away into some ground cover near the trees. When Peter saw how upset I was, he put his arms around me. I told him about the snake. I thought he might laugh at me or make fun of how scared I was. But he quietly said that I would be fine, and he explained that some harmless garter snakes build nests near the golf course.
Every afternoon, Peter worked with me on my piano playing. He complimented me whenever I mastered a new skill, and I became passionate about music. Just for fun, Peter also taught me to play the harmonica. After golf and piano each day, Peter would let me pick a final activity for us before he finished his day and went home. We went to the movies, swam and played tennis in the backyard, and we rode bikes. A few times, Peter even took me to an empty church parking lot and gave me driving lessons in his car. That was fun! I felt as if Peter and I were becoming friends, even though I knew my parents were paying him to spend time with me.
As the summer progressed, I became obsessed with Peter. He was a handsome guy, and I admired his curly, black hair that was cut short. His eyes were brown with flecks of green in them. He wasn't very tall - maybe two inches taller than I was. Peter was both muscular and tanned. For some reason, I liked the way hair grew on his forearms. Besides being good-looking, Peter seemed to like me. He frequently said nice things to me, and he'd put an arm around one of my shoulders from time to time. I don't think I had ever felt as happy as I did that summer with Peter. I thought about him all the time, especially before going to sleep each night.
At that point in my life, I knew practically nothing about sex. I knew the basics of reproduction, of course. But I didn't understand anything about sexual attraction or feelings. I was a late bloomer. At 13, I was just starting puberty, and I had not yet discovered masturbation. My dick would get hard when I thought about Peter each night, but I was incredibly naïve. It never crossed my mind that I might have a crush on him. All I knew was that I was having a great summer and that finally, someone seemed to enjoy spending time with me.
My parents got home from their European trip in late August. That's when my whole life changed - for the worse.
Although Peter was supposed to stay one more week, my father fired him. I didn't learn about that until Peter was already gone, so I never got a chance to say goodbye to him. I was angry, and I wanted to know why my father had done such a terrible thing! It felt as if an arrow went through my heart when Dad said, "The nanny told me that Peter was behaving more like your friend than your mentor. And she said that he was letting you get away with not following the house rules."
I couldn't think of one rule I had broken. I was furious! And I lost control of my emotions.
"What rules did I break?" I hollered back defiantly. "Have a friend?!? Be happy for once?!? I hate it here! I hate you! I wish you'd never come home!" I ran upstairs to my room and slammed the door shut.
Before that day, I had never really backtalked my father. I hadn't dared. And I had no idea how he was going to respond. Not surprisingly, he didn't react well.
Dad stormed up the stairs and burst into my room. I was already crying on my bed. "Stand up!" he yelled at me. I was terrified, but I knew I had to do as he said. I got up slowly, cowering as I stood. Using both of his hands, Dad grabbed me by my shirt collar. He pulled my face close to his while glaring at me with venom in his eyes. Then, he spat in my face!
"I should never have agreed to raise your mother's bastard child!" he screamed. Then, he pushed me violently back down on the bed. "Don't you ever speak to me like that again!" He slammed the door shut as he left my room.
I was in utter shock as I tried to wipe the spit off my face. I was devastated that Peter was gone. I was shaken to the core by my father's anger and physical aggression toward me. And I was reeling from what he said about my mother's 'bastard child.' Was he talking about me? Did he mean he wasn't my real father? I curled up on my bed, trembling until I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, no one came to my room. Nanny would usually knock on my door if I slept past 7:30. But when I woke up about 9:00, the house was deadly quiet. I was still very much shaken by what had happened the previous evening, and I was afraid to get up and see my father again. But I got out of bed anyway. I used the bathroom and went downstairs in the same clothes I had worn the day before.
"James," my mother said when she saw me on the stairs. "Come into the drawing-room and sit down." Mom had a glass of wine in her hand. There was a freshly opened bottle on the table next to her.
"Where's Nanny?" I asked as I took a seat. "She didn't come to wake me up this morning."
"Your father and I have decided that you're too old for a nanny. 'What's-her-name' left early this morning," Mom said.
I was taken aback when I realized that all summer long, Mom had left me in the care of someone whose name she couldn't remember. "Her name is Miss Rosa," I reminded her.
"There have been so many nannies!" Mom said as she took a sip of wine. "Who can remember all of their names?"
"Why were there so many?" I asked.
"That's the way we set it up, James," Mom said as she stared out of the window. "Your father didn't want anybody coddling you, and I didn't want you thinking that any of them were your mother. I'm your mother! We made that clear to the agency. And just to be sure, we hired all the nannies as temporary members of the staff. As soon as they found permanent assignments, they left - and the agency sent the next one."
"Wow," I said. "I thought the nannies quit because they didn't like me."
"They were servants, James!" Mom snapped back at me. "You shouldn't care if they liked you or not."
I sat quietly for a while, thinking about what Mom had said. I felt sick to my stomach.
"You were very disrespectful to your father last night," she said. "I can't allow that to happen again." Mom's voice grew louder as she spoke. "That man has given us everything! You should be kissing the ground he walks on!"
I hung my head for a moment. Then, I looked up and asked, "Is 'that man' really my father?"
I saw my mother's body jolt. She looked stunned. "Why would you ask me that?" she said as she turned and looked directly at me.
"Well, after he spat in my face last night," I said as calmly as I could. "Dad said he regretted agreeing to raise your bastard child. It sounded like he was talking about me."
Mom turned away, and her face froze. I noticed her hands shaking as she reached for a cigarette and lit it. She smoked it slowly without saying a word. I waited for her to say something. Never would I have guessed what she said to me next.
"I think it would be best if you went away for a while," Mom said. "Last night, I arranged for you to go live with your aunt Gretchen and her husband Nathan - on their farm in Arkansas."
I was shocked. I had only met Aunt Gretchen once, and she had been mean to me. All I knew about Arkansas was that it was sweltering hot there in the summer. I had listened to a comedian on television joke about people from Arkansas being hillbillies. I didn't know what that meant, but it didn't sound like someplace I wanted to live. But then, the full impact of what my mother had just said hit me like a ton of bricks.
I stood up and looked at my mother. "You're sending me away?!? Why? Why would you do that?" I felt tears forming in my eyes. "I'll apologize to Dad. I promise I will. Please, Mom! Please don't send me away!"
I hadn't heard my dad come into the room. "We've made our decision," he announced. "And it's final! You'll learn a lot on a farm. It might even make a man out of you!"
I sat down, leaned over, and covered my face with my hands, and I started to cry. I knew Dad hated it when I cried. But I felt as if the rug had just been pulled out from under my feet, and I couldn't stop the tears from flowing.
"Dad, I know I was wrong last night. I should never have disrespected you like that. It was all my fault. I'm sorry for what I said. It won't happen again; I promise! Please let me stay," I begged. "Please!"
"Quit your damn sniveling!" Dad yelled. "No one likes a cry-baby!"
"Ted!" Mom said firmly. "You promised me you would never tell James about Darren! Now, you've broken your word to me and made this mess even more difficult than it was. For God's sake, let me handle this from here!"
Dad turned to my mother. "Well then, go ahead and handle it, Angela! Just see that's he's out of this house before I get back tomorrow night!" Dad picked up a suitcase in the hallway, and he left out of the front door.
Mom and I sat in silence in the drawing-room. I wanted to try again to get her to change her mind. But I knew I would never be able to do that. She and Dad had already decided I had to go, and there was nothing for me to do but let the reality of the situation sink in. But I don't give up easily.
"Is Darren my real dad," I asked Mom. "Is he still alive? Can I go and live with him?"
Mom looked horrified! "Oh my God, James! You have no idea what you're asking. Put that crazy idea out of your head. That's never, ever going to happen."
"But is he still alive?" I asked again. "Does he know about me?"
"Yes, he's very much alive." Mom said. "He knew that I was pregnant. But he was married and wanted nothing more to do with me – or you! He left, and I married your father before you were born. Ted Covington is your 'real' father."
"What's Darren's last name?" I asked.
Mom answered in an aggressively firm tone of voice. "That's something I hope you never find out!"
I had had enough. I got up to leave the room. But then, I stopped. There was one more thing I had to know. I turned to Mom. "Why do you hate me so much?" I asked.
"I don't hate you, James," she said. "I'm just not capable of loving anyone anymore."
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