Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Curt and I told the boys about what happened that night, but they didn't believe us. They laughed in the right places and acted politely scared, but I could tell they thought we had made the entire evening up. When we got back to camp, Curt and I never discussed that night again.
Curt didn't ignore me as most boys would have done back home. He did something worse. He treated me as if nothing had happened between us. I wanted him to treat me differently. I felt different. I saw differently.
A month had passed since that night on the beach. The end of camp came and with it, the final campfire. Lee told us we would privately discuss with him what we had learned during our four week stay. The boys whose stories demonstrated maturity would receive a scarf of a new color signifying emotional progress.
We all gathered around a roaring campfire near the waters' edge. Lee sat twenty feet or so off to the side talking to boys. I could hear snips of Lee's voice but not enough to know what was being discussed.
To my surprise, Curt sat next to me at the campfire. He struck up a conversation as he had every other day since that night. A conversation about everything but our time together.
As he talked, I looked down at our feet. I hadn't noticed but they were touching. The blond hairs on his deeply tan skin reminded me of a mixture of dandelions and endless thread wound again and again and placed an inch above his skin, a translucent covering. My desire to run my fingers along his legs and feel him under me made me physically ache.
Lee called me over. He patted a worn patch of grass near him. "Sit," he said. I did and when I did I could feel my body tense. I wanted more than anything to ask an adult about what happened with Curt. But I wasn't foolish. If I had been with a girl, Lee would have showered me with male wisdom and told me what I needed to hear. I knew not to discuss it. But an irrational, dark side of me was petrified I wouldn't be able to stop the words from coming out of my mouth if he asked me about Curt.
My emotions had always been squiggly, wild and unnameable things. They possessed me and I was helpless against them. I would buckle and I would tell him my horrible things and be charged with a sin worse than murder.
So I did what I did well then and what I do when I am at my worst. I acted. I lied. I embellished in such specific and imaginative ways Lee felt as if I was telling him my darkest secrets, and of course, I wasn't. He heard what I knew he needed to hear and when that happened, when his sweet, loving face belayed his genuine sense of connection with me, I knew I was doomed for all of eternity.
As Lee wrapped the new scarf around my neck and wished me great things (with his calloused palms pressed against my cheeks), I looked beyond his shoulder at the water silently gliding between two islands in the far distance and asked God to make me happy. Just once, please God, make me feel what happy is. I don't want this widening thread of exhaustion pulling me away from everyone and everything. Please, God. Change me.
The next morning everyone scrambled up a dusty, worn path leading to the parking lot created for the camp. Seven yellow school buses lined up, one after the other. Curt's bus was in the first bus bound for downtown Seattle; I was relegated to the third bus for the outlining smaller towns.
My duffel bag was slung over my shoulder. Curt handed his large green suitcase to the bus driver who threw it into the luggage holder with the other bags. I watched as Curt walked up the steps to the bus and patted his top shirt pocket. I patted mine in return.
The night before, after Lee had presented everyone with the new colored scarfs, Curt asked me if I wanted to go for a walk on the beach. It was a cool night. I could feel the end of summer rippling off of the water. We sat together on an old, worn log on the beach, a log clearly battered by the sea that had now come to rest on the shore, waiting to swept away by a future storm.
Side by side, we took off our shoes and socks and walked toward a secluded part of the beach where the moonlight was diffused and thin. The jagged beach looked like a wavy highway in middle of the desert. It was difficult to avoid the rocks. Curt pulled me next to him and we walked together in the shallow water. The water was a rush of cold against my skin. The soft sand underneath a disturbingly pliable wet blanket of grit and foreign sea creatures.
When we reached the bend in the beach, Curt reached out and took my hand into his. He didn't say anything and neither did I. Together, we walked down the beach, the shadows on the beach from the overhead trees dancing in front of us, leading the way.
Occasionally Curt would bump into me or I'd bump into him. The water splashed on our pants but we didn't care. The sand dipped and turned. We both stopped. We knew what was ahead of us. Open sea. The water was pitch black forty yards ahead. If it was daylight, we would be able to see the gradual graduation of the earth as it cleared into a cliff and opened up into the giant maw of the unknown ahead.
"We should stop," Curt said, gently removing his hand from mine and holding me back by pressing his right forearm across my chest. I nodded.
I watched as he walked to the edge of the water, bent over and methodically folded his pants up, one perfect ring of fabric at a time. I had noticed on our first day his clothes were neat and pressed and laid out in a very logical style according to design and color. It was not uncommon for the other boys to throw their underwear on the floor of the bathroom or leave shirts dangling above the open doorway of the cabin. Whenever Curt would see such flagrant displays of disarray, he would remove the offending article, his face stoic and nonjudgmental and politely put it aside, as if it were nothing more than a piece of flint on his pants.
He finished rolling up his pants and motioned to me. "Come here," he said, looking up at me. The whites of his eyes were as bright as a trio of alabaster rocks nestled in the sand by his feet. I waded through the water and stopped when I was in front of him. He reached out and methodically wrapped one pant leg up, then the other. He leaned back to admire his work, then stood up, took my hand in his and said, "Follow me."
I did, down to the safer, shallow end of the beach until we came to a bank of corkscrew trees which jutted out of the nearby forest and covered us, like a tattered canopy, affording us a view of the stars and the faint clouds overhead.
Curt reached into his pocket with his free hand and took out a small, white piece of folded paper. "This is my phone number in San Diego. If you want, you know, sometime...call me. If you want." He handed it to me. I took it and held it in my hand for a moment before opening it. I read the numbers four times. I was trying to commit it to memory. I folded it and put it back into my pocket, making sure it didn't get wet and was securely at the base of my pocket.
Curt kneeled down and reached up to me to takes his hand. I did, kneeling next to him. He slowly placed our clasped hands into the frigid water. I watched as thin shards of silver and muddy yellow light danced between our fingers, wrapped around our wrists and then darted away, only to return again and again, like underwater fireflies. We were seeing phosphorescence. It was legendary in our waters but only a few people had seen them. The moon had to be in the right place in the sky and the water had to be the right temperature for them to appear.
I watched as Curt slowly unwrapped his fingers from mine and moved them through the waters. He motioned me to do the same. We were giddy, spirals of yellow and white floating over our skin and between us. The light was everywhere we looked, as if the water was alive and moving in an upside down daylight.
Curt kissed me. It was a gentle kiss, fragile. We stood up and walked back towards camp, side by side, our hands gracing one another as our arms swung through the late-summer air.
Back home, summer turned into dreary, overcast fall and then wet and chilly winter. I didn't hear from Curt again. Many years passed and a few more illicit, secretive romances took place in my life with other boys. One boy in particular, Brian, became my everything in high school, but none of them held the same idealized and mythical, uncompleted romance of Curt.
I moved out of my parents house when I was seventeen and lived a decidedly torrid two years in downtown Seattle committing various acts which can best be described as morally ambiguous. But I survived. My surviving is proof the Universe or God or whatever is ruling and benevolent.
The loneliness which would dominate my life had begun to give birth to irrational actions. On my eighteenth birthday, I needed to see Curt. I'm not sure why, but the need was so great I stole money from certain gentlemen callers and boarded the first flight to San Diego.
I had kept the phone number he had given me years prior at camp. I called and his Grandmother picked up. She was charming and spoke in a languid and passive tone like everyone else I had known from Southern California. Everyone in California struck me as pleasant and a bit dumb, as if they had swallowed four cups of chamomile tea and were having a hard time finding the next word to say. She gave me Curt's new number and I called.
I didn't tell him I was coming to visit. I simply said I was coming to San Diego for a trip to see family and that it would be nice to maybe stop by. He gave me his address and said to give him a ring if I was going to stop by.
I didn't call him again. I didn't write to him. No, I did what any rational teenager would do. I showed up on his front steps. Surprise.
He opened the door and stared at me in utter bewilderment. "Mike?" He stepped out of his apartment and into the golden Southern California haze. His apartment was on the bottom floor of a two-story complex near the water in Cosa Mesa, not far from Newport Beach. I marveled at the sand all over the ground. People actually lived here?
His hair was much longer. To his shoulders. And if it was possible, it was lighter than when we met. I quickly glanced over his shoulder and saw the inside of his dark apartment. A kitchen table in the corner with one leg missing. A torn box held up the offending corner. A green and yellow couch with a bit of stuffing poking out of the far corner. A nice red rug in the center of the room, sand all over it. A clean and well-loved surfboard in the corner. A pot pipe. A bag of weed. The TV was playing a frantic cartoon.
"What are you doing here, Mike?" He stepped out of the apartment and closed the door behind him. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me. He had been working out. His body was taunt and adult. Lines of muscle coursed through his forearms. His face was flushed from being in the sun. He was in his element. I felt my cock stir. I had had many men since our time at Camp Orkila but most often I was too drunk or high to care much about the men or the sex.
He looked over my shoulder and then back at me. "Why did you come here?" He squinted in the merciless sun. His eyelashes were stark white.
I cleared my throat. "I wanted to say hi, that's all."
Curt nodded and looked at the ground. "That's all? You flew all the way from Seattle to say hi?"
"Well, yea, but --"
"You did come to see other people, right?" he said, interrupting me. His tone was sharp and high. "Right? You didn't just come to see me, did you?"
"No. Of course not. I have...others I'm seeing." It was a lie. The only reason I had come was to see him.
He nodded his head. I could tell he knew I was lying. "Mike," he said, then halted. He exhaled sharply. "I like girls. Women. That summer...". He trailed off and shook his head. I was embarrassing him. I could tell. I had seen this look countless times. He grimaced. "Mike, it was five years ago. Have you really been thinking of me since then?"
"No. Of course not. I just thought it would be nice to catch up. See how you are doing. And I like your place. It's nice. Do you want to get a burger or something? I saw an In and Out down the road," I said, gesturing to the simple two lane road by the dilapidated sign for the apartment complex - "Costa Mesa Shoreline Apartments - A good place to be."
Curt shook his head. A look of confusion and sadness swept over his face. He seemed surprised by the rush of emotion. I was tormenting him. I could see it. Why had I come? What was wrong with me?
"I should go," I said. I had again bared myself in a way which made another boy uncomfortable and terrified him. "I don't suppose I could use the bathroom," I asked.
"Probably not a good idea," he said, his eyes thin slits.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Right. Inappropriate. Sorta my middle name now. I'm just gonna go eat a burger next to those surfers and talk sand. They look like they really get sand. Should be a stimulating conversation. I'm sorry I bugged you. Bye, now. Curt."
I walked away and didn't turn around. I'd like to think Curt stood in the doorway of his white trash apartment with the dying palm tree overhead with a tear rolling down his cheek like the Indian from the famous trash commercial in the 1970's, but I suspect he ran inside, smoked a bowl and started to look in the paper for a new apartment. Pronto.
Before I boarded the plane later that day at the San Diego apartment, I made a quick run into the men's restroom near the gate. I stepped into the farthest stall from the revolving front door and sat down on the toilet. I opened up my backpack and took out the framed photo of Curt and myself I had been carrying since leaving Seattle.
It was a photo of he and I after we had returned from our adventure with Bigfoot. We stood, arm in arm, in front of our canoes. Jenny Pyles, the counselor who I had first met on the bus the first day, had been passing by when we pulled up in our battered canoes. She looked at Curt and I and said we looked so happy she had to take a picture of us.
As she scrambled to pull her camera out of her Tye-dyed bag, Curt turned to me and whispered "Put your arm around me."
I frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yea," he replied, staring into my eyes. "Over my shoulder. Go ahead."
I did and Curt leaned into me and wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me into him until our hips touched. I can still feel the way his hand palm graced the low of my back, how he lifted the end of my T-shirt and played with the lip of my shorts, how his hair graced the slope of my neck and how I knew with absolute certainty I was going to be alright.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
The tent was small. Much smaller than I had anticipated.
My sleeping bag and Curt's barely fit into the space. I had brought along a bag of snacks my Mother had mailed to me. I spilled the contents onto the floor of the tent.
Curt lifted up the first item. It was a slipper. A single slipper. I shook my head and took it from him. "I don't know why she does that. It's like she forgets I have two feet," I said, throwing it aside. I glanced at what was remaining.
Two bags of salt water taffy; an umbrella; four packs of fiber tablets; a Richie Rich and Archie comic book as well as the newest edition of the New York Times Arts and Entertainment section; one piece of bubble gum; a copy of Rona Barrett's Hollywood (with photos cut out - my Mother liked to cut out the photos of actors she didn't like); toothpaste but no toothbrush; a crumbling, homemade muffin, poorly wrapped in thin Saran Wrap; a handmade towel made of my favorite colors, red and blue, with the tag 'Made With Love By Your Mama' sewn into the corner and a piece of purple paper folder over many times.
Curt grabbed the tiny piece of purple paper and slowly opened it up. He had to lean into the light coming from a lone flashlight in the corner to read it.
"Dearest Sonny Boy," he read. He looked up at me and laughed.
I sighed. "Weird, I know," I said.
"No, no. Not at all. It's nice," he said, staring at the paper a moment longer than necessary. I knew what he was thinking. It was written across this face.
I had learned some time ago one of the advantages of having a bipolar Mother was that I was able to tell what people where feeling before they knew what they were feeling. Came with the territory when you're always on guard to be attacked. It's the primary reason I've been able to hold jobs my entire life keeping strong personalities happy. I understand their needs. Of course, the dark side is I used to spend years being what other people wanted me to be to keep them happy.
Curt's eyes brimmed with sadness. He had told me on our walk back from Chapel Rock his Mother had left he and his Father when he was five years old. His Father had died three years later and Curt was relegated for numerous foster homes until he moved in with this Grandmother when he was twelve. He told me he missed his Mother even though he had no clear memory of her. Images of soft hands touching his face, a high, fluid voice, long flowing black hair - snips of memories was all he had.
Curt continued reading the note. "Dear Sonny Boy...hope you're keeping your nose clean and staying out of trouble. Here are some good things to keep you busy. Sorry about Rona's mag. That damn Ryan O'Neal was in the whole thing and you know he can't act. I snipped him out. Snip, snip! Ha. Lord, your Mother is losing her mind. Days are hot and long here. Your Father won't stop complaining. I swear he acts like an old man. He's gonna be loads of fun in our old age. Well, gotta go. Making a pie tonight. Will be thinking of you when I slurp it down. Don't miss your Mama too much. Watch your back. Love, Joyce and your Mom."
He looked up at me with an amused expression on his face. I felt my defenses rise. He was going to do what my Mother did. He was going to make me like him and feel good and then he would reach into me and grab my heart and squash it. I started to sweat and my felt my body shake.
"It's nice she does this for you. Sure, she's kinda loopy, but it's nice." He gently folded the paper in his hand, leaned towards me and put the paper into the pocket of my country western style cowboy shirt.
We didn't say anything else as we gathered my Mother's Box of Curiosities and put them aside. It came time for what I dreaded most -- getting ready for bed. I quickly glanced over at Curt. We both lay on our backs and swiftly took off our pants and jumped into our sleeping bags.
It was cold. We both laughed as we shook our legs to warm up. I could feel the tiny rocks under my body. Curt said it felt like he was sleeping in one of the beds he used to have at a foster home in Texas. "I swear to God, those people live to sweat. Nice family, though. They tried to act like I was their son, but...". He trailed off, his eyes downcast as the pulled the zipper up and down on his sleeping bag.
Curt told me he loved the dark. He said when he was moving from foster family to foster family, nighttime was the only time he could sneak out and be alone with the night sky. He said it didn't matter if it was snowing, raining or clear as a bell.
No one had ever asked me where I wanted to go. I wasn't sure how to answer. It seemed such a simple question but I couldn't get the answer out. "California," I said, my voice cracking. "Los Angeles. I like Los Angeles. I went there once with my Mom and Dad."
"I live in San Diego," Curt said. He looked down and picked up a small rock off from the edge of his sleeping bag. "You could come see me. If you wanted."
He didn't look up as he rolled the rock between his fingers. "I've got a girlfriend in San Diego."
My stomach pitched. I nodded and muttered, "Uh-hu."
"So what I'm saying is I'm not sure I like boys. Like...like, like."
"Me too," I said. My tone was so high I knew if there was a pane of glass in front of me it would have neatly cracked in two. "I mean, I'm not gay or anything. I have a girlfriend too. Her name is Erika. She's really nice. And sexy. Very sexy."
Curt half-smiled. He still hadn't looked up at me. His eyes were trained on the ground. "The thing is, I wanna do what we did on Chapel Rock again. If that's okay with you. But it's wrong, right?"
"It's wrong, that's true," I said. "But if you want try again I wouldn't mind."
Curt nodded his head and looked up at me. He leaned forward. He hesitated and held my gaze. Then our lips touched.
When Curt pressed his lips on mine, an image immediately flashed in my mind. It was from the most boring movie I have ever seen, Dr. Zhivago.
My Mother and Father took me to it when it was re-released at a giant movie theater near our house called Northgate. It was a movie, so of course, I wanted to go. But little did I know having to endure three hours of people yelling and screaming in the snow and in concentration camps and on trains about God knows what -- the movie bored me to such an extreme it was the only movie where fell asleep thirty minutes in.
I woke up to the terrifying image of a watery-eyed Omar leaning in for a big kiss with Julie Christie, an English woman my Mother said had lips "...bigger than a Pacific Northwest trout. You could rent out space in those lips."
The music was boring and sad and, of course, nothing interesting was happening except that Omar was leaning in for a kiss with Trout Mouth Julie. My Mother was crying madly, tears streaming down her cheeks, staring at Omar with an expression that made me more than a little uncomfortable. My Father looked at her and laughed but I could tell he had no idea what to do with my Mother when she became this hysterical.
I watched as Omar and his purple lips leaned into kiss The Trout and that's when I saw it. Julie's tongue. I leaned in closer. She pushed her tongue into Omar's mouth. What? Her tongue? That can't be right. Why would she push he tongue into his mouth? Was she a spy and Omar the dumb lug who was about to be double-crossed? Did I miss something when I fell asleep?
After the movie ended (thank God for small miracles) I couldn't get over Julie and her tongue. Why did she do that? It didn't seem terribly hygienic, and frankly, really dumb. But then I started to see it everywhere. On TV, in magazines, in the movies, even in Rona's magazine! Tongues everywhere!
Erika, the girl I was dating in high school, had only kissed me four times. And each time we never, ever used tongues. But clearly, this trend was sweeping the nation. So when Curt leaned into me, I did what Julie would have done. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes. And then, with great force, I shoved my tongue into his mouth.
Of course, I missed and instead of landing inside of his mouth, my tongue landed on top lip. But that wasn't all.
I had also shoved my tongue straight up his right nostril.
I wanted to die. Die right there. Cut me open and let me die. Please.
"You put...you...you put your tongue...in my NOSE."
After twenty minutes of non-stop laughter, we calmed down. Somehow, we found ourselves lying side-by-side holding hands. The air was hot inside of the tent. We were sweating. Curt turned his side, facing me. I did the same. He leaned forward. "No..." he said, smiling, pointing at my mouth.
I laughed. This time, despite the flutter of excitement and fear rising in my stomach, I leaned in, and holding his gaze, pursed my lips and very carefully pressed my lips against his. He sighed. I did it again. His fingers roamed between my fingers. Our feet touched each other. A jolt of fear raced through me. I couldn't catch my breath. Curt stopped breathing as well.
We stared at each other for some time then when it became too difficult to stay away, fell asleep. The last thing I remembered was how Curt's blond eyelashes reminded me of the dandelions which sprouted in our back yard in the summer. Everyone said dandelions were weeds and nothing but a nuisance. But I always liked how the wind would pick them up and lift them into the sky, floating, free, like tiny people on their way to a better place.
It was late when it happened.
I jolted up out of my sleeping bag. My heart thumped in my chest. I couldn't breath. My heart was beating so fast I was sure if I lifted up my shirt I would see it pushing against my skin.
I had heard something moving behind the tent. Something in the woods.
Over the past few months I'd been having a terrible time sleeping. My nightmares were vivid and horribly intense. They all stemmed from a movie I had seen on TV my parents made the huge mistake of allowing me to see. My Mother told my Father, "Mike shouldn't be seeing this. It's a disgusting subject matter." She was right.
It was the original TV movie, Helter Skelter. Now, you have to understand, on the West coast, Charles Manson was Lucifer incarnate. We were terrified of him. Despite the fact we lived in Washington state, Charles Manson was still on the West coast. It wouldn't be hard to get to Seattle. And Manson wasn't a fictional character. He was a real man with real followers.
Ads had been blasted for weeks about the movie. There were disclaimers everywhere saying "For mature audiences only". Same principal when marketing guru Spielberg slapped Jaws with the tag line "May Be Too Intense For Young Children." He said it was to protect kids from the movie. Yea, Steve. If that helps you sleep at night...
The first part of Helter Skelter was all procedural. Sure, Steve Railsback was disturbing. Yes, he looked and acted exactly like Manson. I hated him but he didn't infest my dreams. Not yet.
It was the second part where all hell broke lose. There is a key scene where the prosecuting attorney is talking to one of the women who was involved in the Sharon Tate murders. As she talked about what took place, an image filtered onto the screen. It was diffused and meant to illustrate what the woman on the witness stand was describing.
The image was vague and hard to see, but I could see it plain and clear. It was shot in a very grainy, documentary-style way so it appeared as if it was a home movie. Absent was the gloss and lighting I'd come to expect from big movies. It was the exact right choice for the movie but the exact wrong choice for me.
I watched as Manson's people chased their victims in the dark, tripping them and then plunging giant knives into their backs as they screamed in pain. This was real, I thought. This happened and this was real. Someone did this to someone else.
I was horrified. I felt cold and sick to my stomach. My Mother looked at me as I watched the movie. She looked at my Father. "Nice, Lynn. Real nice. The kid's traumatized. Happy now?" she yelled as she scooped me up and took me into the kitchen. "Let's have some pie, how is that? Pie always makes everything better."
That night I didn't sleep a wink. I remembered in the movie how Manson said it was "...so easy to kill people. They sleep with their windows open. They're so trusting. So I'd cut open their screen with my pocket knife and go into their rooms and butcher them. Summer time is the best time to kill."
I knew Manson would come into my room. I knew he would cut through my screen and kill me and my family. I heard noises, I saw shapes -- I had to go to a child psychologist. No kidding. I was a wreck.
So when I woke up in the tent after hearing a sound not a hundred feet from my head, you can bet your bottom dollar I was ready to shit and pee my pants, all at the same time.
I sat perfectly still and listened. The sound had come from behind the tent. Not in the woods but outside of them.
I looked over at Curt. He was fast asleep. He snored lightly. I wanted to wake him up but I was afraid to. I tucked myself back into my sleeping bag, closed my eyes and started to drift off to sleep.
That's when I heard the sound again. It was close. Very, very close. This wasn't in my imagination. I was hearing this. I was really hearing this. Something was walking towards our tent. Pebbles scattered. It was something big, I could feel it. And it stank. Like old shoes and body odor and something rotting.
That was all I needed.
I reached over to Curt, grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled as hard as I could. Curt's eyes flew open. He started to scream 'ouch' when I slapped my hand over his mouth and pointed outside of the tent.
More angry than concerned, Curt glared at me and then followed my finger to the mysterious thing I was pointed to outside of our tent. He frowned and pulled my hand from his mouth.
"What?" he said in a rushed, deep whisper. He was pissed. Clearly, my hysteria got the best of me. Pulling a handful of his hair probably wasn't the most effective way to wake him up.
"There's something out there," I said, leaning into him, my voice barely above a whisper.
He looked at me with the same look everyone gave me when they were about to humor me. Like I was a cute little baby who couldn't figure out which end of the pacifier to put into my mouth. That look always made me want to shove my fist into people's faces.
"Mike," Curt said in his normal, melodic voice. "There's nothing --"
A huge shadow fell across our tent. Curt looked up at it and then, the smell hit him. A look of astonishment crossed his face and then fear. Utter fear.
We both froze as we watched the shadow slowly pass our tent. We could hear it. It was huge, moving with purpose but in no hurry. Whatever it was was big. Very big. Curt reached out and grabbed my hand. His palm was sweating.
It stopped. Right next to the tent. Curt crunched my hand in his. The smell was overwhelming. Rotting flesh, old and putrid. Curt gagged.
It made as sound. Sharp air, the sound of sharp air exhaled. Was it sniffing us?!
It resumed it's trek past our tent. We sat a still as humanly possible. We listened, craning out necks.
I knew why I had survived Orca. I knew what my reality would be in a matter of seconds. I wasn't meant to die like Bo at the mercy of a vicious killer killer whale.
My reality was as plain as the palatable fear on Curt's face:
We waited, our body's rigid as stone. I tried to pull my hand from Curt's but he wouldn't let go. We waited...and waited...and waited.
It was in the water. It was in the water! I knew why it was in the water. "It's bathing itself before it kills us. It's a blood ritual," I whispered to Curt.
Curt didn't hear me. He was shaking like a leaf.
Curt swiftly unzipped his sleeping back and in one fast, fluid motion jumped into mine. He was cold and sweaty at the same time. It was like sitting next to a Popsicle on a hot summer day.
He snuggled into me. We wrapped our arms around each other and didn't move a muscle.
We listened at Bigfoot splashed in the water, the Flesh Eating Ritual going on for a very long time. I'm not sure how much time passed until it was done. That moment is still extremely vivid in my mind but hazy as well. I remember how Curt burrowed his face next to him and how my body hurt from holding so still.
The splashing stopped. We both knew what was coming next. This was it. This was the end. I would love to say I knew this would be my only chance for true happiness in life and that I took advantage of this awareness and kissed Curt square on the mouth, but alas, the only thing we wanted at that moment to live to see a new day.
We heard it walk out of the water and methodically stomp up the shore towards us. By now we were ready to scream. I was finding it hard to focus.I felt like I was going to pass out.
Our arms intertwined. We were one person. One very terrified person.
Slowly, it worked it's way past us and to the woods. We heard it as it stomped across the pebbles to the forest...and then it was gone.
Curt and I waited a solid hour before we started to relax. The adrenaline was slowly leaving and in it's place a deep relaxation. Curt and I laid down on my pillow, our faces facing each other. He kissed me gently on my lips and this time, I had no problem returning the kiss. He ran his hands over my back and I did the same to him. For hours we lay in the sleeping bag, kissing and then falling asleep and waking to kiss again.
When we awoke in the morning, we were both deeply intertwined, our hands tightly together, arms and feet intertwined. Morning light filtered into the tent, casting a bright, deep orange on Curt's face, bathing his hair in a softly growing glow.
"I guess we should get ready for breakfast," he said, kissing me once, then twice.
I didn't want to leave. I had never felt so warm and relaxed. I had never felt so right and wanted. As long as I could remember I had wanted someone to love me and want me. Not the Mike who could make people laugh or who could compliment them so they felt good, but someone who wanted me, to be with me and hold me. It was the most complete I had ever felt and I never wanted the feeling to go away.
Please don't leave me Curt. Please stay with me forever.
"Yea, that sounds great. I'm starving," I said. Curt nodded and gently eased out of my sleeping bag and opened up the front of the tent. A blast of bright, cold summer sunlight filled the tent. Curt looked out at the water beyond, at the sun gently stroking the sea, a blend of water and bright light. He closed the flap of the tent and turned around and looked at me.
"One more can't hurt," he said as he leaned forward and pressed his lips very slowly on mine. I kissed him in return, felt his hands on my neck, over my body, on my arms, tasted this breath, tasted him as he pulled me into him and sighed a low sigh, feeling the vibration the sigh made in his body, how warm his body was against mine and how right it was.
We dressed, stepped out of the tent and prepared to to tell everyone about out encounter with Bigfoot.
Friday, August 5, 2011
(Warning: Everything you are about to read in Part Four and Part Five is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth during that odd, jarring and terrifying night on the remote, deserted island. Seriously.)
Curt and I walked together to the center of the beach. Lee has said it was okay for us to have our own tent. I was thrilled and Curt seemed very happy, slapping me on the back as we walked along the shore, looking for clear shells and white rocks.
Curt and I assembled the tent together in record time. When I worked with my Father or his brothers on cars at home or when I was asked to repair the fence or chicken coop, I fumbled and felt awkward. I could never hit the head of a nail or figure out how mechanical systems worked. But with Curt I understood exactly where things went. I understood why we put the stakes in the ground where we did, how to brace them and why the tent had to be put where it had to be put.
The rest of the day was spent following Lee around various parts of the forest on the island and discussing the regional wildlife. Trees soared in front of us and the air was sharp with the smell of seawater and raw earth.
As the day burned off and the sky darkened, we gathered on the beach for the most tried and true ritual in camps across America: the campfire.
It was dark by the time we finished eating our freeze dried dinner and were roasting marshmallows on a roaring fire. I loved the smell of burning wood and how the smoke would make my eyes sting. My favorite way to fall asleep was to the sound of the moaning and crackling burning logs. I used to smell my clothes the next day, basking in the smell of the campfire.
Lee sat at the corner of the circle around the campfire. He rubbed hands together and cleared his throat. He looked across the roaring fire, his eyes staring intently at each of us. Richard was angry with me. He sat next to Lee and glared. Curt had taken a seat a few boys down from me. We all sat on old, knotted logs.
We were very excited to hear Lee's campfire story.
"Okay, now, I know you all think you know the true story about Bigfoot, but I'm telling you, you really don't know," he said, staring into the fire.
It's true. You grow up in the Pacific Northwest, you hear Bigfoot stories. Some are clearly made up, some sound real. But one thing is for sure - deep down we believed Bigfoot existed. No question.
Lee stared into the fire as he talked. I could see the flames flickering in the center of his green eyes.
"I grew up in Billings, Montana as you guys know. I've told you this," Lee said in a low whisper. It was true. He had told us. My Father was from Montana and I had spent countless summers there over the years. I loved Montana almost more than Washington. The sky was truly endless and the people were some of the kindest and nicest I'd ever met. They also had terrifying summer storms to make your hair stand up on end.
Lee continued. "My Father used to bring me to these islands to see my Aunt in the summer. Her home was in Yakima but she also had a cottage here, in the San Juan's. Matter of fact, it was on Lopez Island, just across the water."
He pointed across the water to the dark mass on the far side, looming Lopez Island. It was pure wilderness darkness. Darker than the blackest night.
"See the small cliff, the one facing our island? Can you see that tiny speck? That was my Aunt's house. It's deserted now," he said, his eyes still trained on Lopez Island. "One summer, my Father had to work in Seattle so he brought me out here, alone, to stay with my Aunt. It was a Friday. Hot. Just like today. My Aunt wasn't home, she was on Orcas Island getting groceries for dinner."
Lee turned back to us, his eyes meeting ours, staring us down. I felt a shiver run along my spine. It was pitch black out. Beyond the dull glow of the fire I couldn't see anything but darkness.
"There's a porch at the front of the house," he said, picking up a pine cone in front of him and throwing it into the fire. "My Aunt liked to sit in her rocking chair at night and watch the sun go down. She called me to say she was going to stay the night in Eastsound, the town on Orcas. I said fine. I was your age, thirteen, maybe fourteen. I was thrilled to have a house all to myself."
Lee inhaled and then very slowly exhaled. "It was late and I was sleeping. Now, you guys know how weird it is that sound travels over water, right?"
We nodded in unison.
"And that you can hear something from really far away as if it were next to you, right?"
We nodded in unison.
"I heard this sound. So I got out of bed." Lee stood up. His shadow fell over the fire. "And I walked to the porch and I looked out and I looked right here, on this beach."
Like bobble heads in the back of a Chevy pickup, we all looked at his Aunt's house. "That's why I wanted to bring you guys here tonight. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to witness this beach up close. See, when I stood on that porch over twenty years ago I saw something here. Something..."
"It came out of the woods. Carefully, tentatively." Lee walked away from the fire and slowly towards the edge of the trees. "I couldn't tell what it was. It looked like a man, a tall man, in shadow. But something was wrong. I could feel it."
Lee slowly walked closer to the edge of the forest. His face was covered in a mass of moving shadows. My anxiety was rising inside of me, like a hot splash of scalding water thrown at my chest. "It was right here I saw...something big. Large. It stood right here and seemed to be looking out, towards the water. Towards me."
Lee swallowed. He looked nervous and hesitant. "I shouldn't tell you what happened next," he said.
"I think that's a wise and mature idea," Richard said, solemnly nodding his head.
Curt held up his hand. "Lee, we wanna hear."
"Really?" Lee asked. He didn't sound convinced.
Curt looked over at Richard. "As long as it's okay with Richard."
Richard stared at Curt. He didn't know what to say. Curt seriously wanted to know it it was okay with him. Richard was startled. "Of course, of course. I just thought it might be fun to tell jokes, you know, but this is much better. Of course. Please, Lee, continue," he finished, shaking his head as if this was all rather absurd and silly. "Dying to hear more."
"Okay," Lee said with a shrug. "It came out of the woods and in the moonlight, a moonlight like tonight, in a way -- I could see it was huge. Maybe seven feet tall. I knew it wasn't a man then. And it's eyes, they weren't a man's eyes. Even in the dark so far away, they were like flashlights, red flashlights framed in yellow, piercing and bright. It was right...here."
Lee walked over to edge of the woods, hesitating before the entrance. "Right here...yea. I saw it standing right here. And it had to be my imagination but I could have sworn it was looking right at me."
He pointed to the house on Lopez Island. None of us moved. My stomach turned twice. I knew Lee had to be making this up.
Suddenly, Lee swiftly turned around and faced the woods. He stared into the dark for a very, very long time. He didn't turn around.
"What?" One of the smaller kids in the cabin. I didn't know his name. He had gripped the edge of his sweater so tightly I thought it might start to unravel. "What is it?" His voice was thin and terrified.
Lee didn't turn around. "I thought I heard...hold on."
And with that he walked into the dark woods.
Nobody moved. Our camp counselor, our fearless leader, had abandoned us on the shores of a deserted island in the middle of nowhere after telling us about his sighting of Sasquatch.
That's when we heard it. A bloodcurdling scream. The scream of a man being torn apart.
Everyone stopped breathing. We stared into the woods. There was a crunching sound, the sound of something moving in the forest. Something big. Something big and running straight for us.
Then as soon as it started, it stopped. Not a sound. No crickets, no birds. Dead silence.
That's when Lee bolted out of the woods, his face covered in blood, his mouth open in terror as he screamed the most inhumane scream we had ever heard.
Two of the smallest boys in the cabin screamed bloody murder, "Into the water! Into the water!" and proceeded to run full tilt into the water, head first.
Richard screamed so loud I had to clap my hands over my ears. I ran after Curt who was laughing hysterically as three more boys ran into the water as well to escape.
Lee fell over on his side and cackled, tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks, smudging the ketchup he had haphazardly slathered on this cheeks.
Richard stared at him, slack jawed. I looked down and saw that Richard had literally peed his pants. He was mortified. He ran down the beach to his tent and darted inside, furiously zipping it behind him.
(...to be continued...Part Five -- The True Encounter with Bigfoot...)
I was scared shitless.
I hid inside a bank of trees near the water's edge. I could see Curt and our entire cabin standing by four long, wooden canoes. Everyone was putting on their bulky orange life-preservers.
I can't go down there, I can't go down there...
I watched as Curt helped Richard with his vest.
Richard stared straight at Curt and said something to him in a silent whisper, his right hand on the low of his back and his left hand on Curt's shoulder.
I didn't know what to do. On the one hand I knew Curt was only being nice at breakfast yesterday. But he kissed me. We kissed.
It was the first time I had kissed another boy.
And all I could think about was Curt.
Curt in my cereal. Curt in the ceramic house where I made a bowl, Curt 1.
To the dining hall where I see Curt in the Salisbury steak.
Back to ceramics to make Curt 2, Curt 3, Curt 3.5 and the finale: a green vase that looks like a cucumber on a hot road after it's been run over by a semi and left for dead. It did have a nice color to it, though. And it had stars. Little gold stars in a circular pattern all over.
I called this: Curt 10.0. All desperately true.
His hair, his small, upturned nose, his green eyes and the way his mouth sloped down and defined his face, down to his tapered chin, his dark, tan skin, his hands, tufts of dark brown hair growing on his arms, down his legs, he has a sheen, a perfect white cocoon around him.
Oh, dear. Oh, dear, Oh, dear, Oh, dear do I know where this is going if this is what I'm thinking.
I walked across the pebbled beach. It was a hot. The morning clouds had burned off and the sun was bright and high in the sky. It was a beautiful and I felt like throwing up.
We were warned trips to neighboring islands were part of the camping 'experience.' We were told it built our sense of accomplishment and self-awareness.
We would to make our own food, sleep outside in a tent and hike and examine the local wildlife.
Lee told me it would build my self-confidence; I told him I had my bed the night before. He asked why? Why wouldn't he?
He looked at me for a solid thirty seconds. Then he gently took my wrist in his hand, took me aside, gave me a fresh pair of jeans and told me it's nothing to be ashamed about.
I thought he was a lesbian trapped in a straight man's body, but I loved him for this. I loved him more than I could find words for. No one had ever been so gentle teaching me about life. Looks, glares, silence and avoidance...that I understood, that I got.
Richard saw me walking down the beach. "Mike!" he yelled, maniacally waving his hand in the air. I scowled. He howled, throwing his head back, planting his hands on his hip and exaggerating his enormous, bulging eyes.
"What's wrong?' he asked, a mischievous look on his face. Even after two days, Richard knew me better than anyone else. There was an unspoken understanding between us that were the only gay boys in the cabin.
I found Richard a curious and delightful friend. Despite his outrageous laugh and gregarious behavior, he was extremely proper and conservative. He wore bow ties to dinner. He ironed his socks. He admonished behavior which didn't conform to his ideal and had a scathing view of other people he deemed lower class.
I met Richard, years later, in New York City and found out he was in politics. The man he had become shocked me. But I'll save that story for another time.
"You can't tell me those are safe," I said, pointing at the center canoe. It had two dents on the side and the middle wooden seat was cracked. "We're gonna die. Plain and simple."
Richard's eyebrows knitted together and swooped down over his eyes. He stared at me. "You're being ridiculous," he replied.
"No, I"m not. You're just think you're always right."
"You need to think before you open you mouth."
"You need to not open your mouth so much!"
Richard was visibly moved by my cutting sarcasm. He reached out and pulled me into a giant bear hug. "We'll make it through this, I promise."
I shook my head, my feet numb with fear, my palms sweating. I held up the life preserver Richard had given me. "And this isn't my color. White Irish boys should never wear orange. You're black. You wear it."
Richard's launched into a free-flowing riot of endless laughter. "I'm gonna slap you across those flapping gums of yours." He slapped my back with his hand. "You'll be fine."
We walked over to Lee who stood in the center of the four canoes. He was beaming. Clearly, Lee was in his element. He smiled and spoke in his slow, methodical Midwestern drawl.
"This is very exciting, boys," he said, rubbing his palms together. Richard and I rolled our eyes in unison.
"This is our first overnight," Lee continued. "Now, for some of you, I know this is the first time you've ever done something like this. It's nothing to be nervous about it. We're all going to row past Chapel Rock, around the bend of Orcas and past Lopez Island. Beyond that is a small, unpopulated island where we'll spend the night. It's large enough for day hikes but secluded enough so we'll feel like we have the place to ourselves."
Lee finished and beamed. I looked around at all of the other boys. They looked excited and ready for the trip. I was ready for the first bus back to civilization.
Curt caught my eye and grinned. He could tell I was nervous. He smiled maniacally and gave me an overly eager 'thumbs up.' I rolled my eyes and loudly exhaled.
Four boys were assigned to each canoe. Lee positioned us next to the part of the canoe where we would be sitting.
Curt stood at the rear of my canoe. I stood in front of him and two smaller boys were getting ready to sit in front of me. "Now, the boys in the back, you are the ones who are going to steer the canoe. The boys in front paddle and the center boy is the Captain. You are going to call out and set the rhythm for the others boys to paddle by."
I couldn't help but smile. I was the Captain of the boat. Curt reached forward and touched my shoulder. "Hey there, Captain. No pressure, but our lives are in your hands." I knew what I wanted in my hands from Curt and it wasn't his fate.
Lee told us to take our positions. Take our positions? Jesus Christ. I was told there would be sun and fun and here I was taking my position.
"On the count of three, we're going to push our canoes into the water, run and jump into them. The last person to get into the canoe will be the one steering." Lee grinned in a sly, maniacal way. I knew why he was grinning. He knew there was no way we would be able to get into the canoe and not get wet.
He was a sadist, plain and simple.
"On the count of three, everyone push their canoes into the water," Lee said as he pulled a whistle from deep inside his shirt pocket. A whistle attached to a fluorescent piece of thick string. Dear God. We were like cattle to him. Where did they find this man? Alkatraz?
Lee raised the whistle to his mouth. "One."
I felt my knees go weak. I turned to look at Richard standing nervously next to me. "I'm not having fun. This is not fun to me," he said, his face deadpan, his eyes brimming with rage.
We were too far from the water. There was no way in hell we were going to be able to push our canoes into the water, jump in, grab our enormous oars and push off. The water may only be four feet deep at the edge but was very, very cold. And we had seen Jaws way too many times.
"Two and a half," Lee whispered.
"Oh, come on!" Curt yelled.
"Two and three quarters."
Richard's hands shot to his hips. His massive stomach bulged out from beneath this ultra-tiny "I Love Camp Orkila" T-shirt. "This is child abuse!"
Lee blew the whistle Everyone grabbed their canoes and raced towards the water. The air was filled with the sound of pebbles ricocheting off of the bottom of the boats.
Everyone's canoes splashed into the water, sending water shooting into the air, drenching everybody from head to toe.
I scrambled to get my feet up and over the side of the canoe. In a matter of seconds I would be in the water.
Richard screamed,"This is not enjoyable!"
I looked at the tiny wooden seat in the canoe. If I could get there, I'd be set. But I couldn't...get...my...feet...
I was in the air, flying, my head rolling back, the blue, blue, blue sky in front of me. I felt something hard underneath me and realized...I'm in the boat..
I'm in the boat!
I turned quickly and looked at Curt. He had lifted me into the boat! He was laughing hysterically, his blond/brown hair a flurry of light. "Paddle, man, paddle!" he screamed.
An uncontrollable giggle rose in my throat as I snatched the paddle from the bottom of the soaking wet boat and yelled to the other boys in the front two seats.
"One! Two! Three! Go! Go! Go!"
We locked into the rhythm of my voice as we lifted our paddles into the air and pushed them with all of our might at an angle into the water. I could feel the water resist my paddle, how it fought me, refused to give in, then in a glorious instant, gave way, wrapped around my paddle then spun into a tiny whirlpool and disappeared.
After a moment we stopped. We looked around. The other three canoes were far behind us. We had pulled ahead of everyone. Somehow, someway, we had made it out into open sea.
Curt raised his fist in the air. "Yea!" he screamed. We raised our fists and joined him. We sang our war cry. "Yea! Yea!"
From behind us, Richard's voice, high-pitched and frantic, rose into the air and slid across the surface of the water and landed smack dab in the center of our canoe. "This is not fun! My Mother didn't pay for me to do this! Slavery is over!"
A half hour into rowing and we had all succumbed to the quiet of being in open water. I was still having a difficult time accepting I was in a canoe in the middle of the ocean. The lip of the canoe dipped precariously close to the water. One wrong move and we'd all be capsized and left bobbing along like fresh fish food for unseen predators.
I stared ahead and as we rounded the corner of Lopez Island, a massive land mass with numerous vacation houses. I saw our island in the distance. It was impossibly small. And very far away.
My mind wandered as we coasting along Lopez. I felt relaxed. Feeling relaxed wasn't something I was accustomed to. The absence of anxiety felt odd to me. When I didn't feel anxiety I didn't know what to feel. And right now, paddling in the water, I felt nothing but..nothing. It was wonderful and terrifying.
I dipped my paddle in and out of the water. Sun rays caught tiny drops on the paddle, making them look like busy, scurrying diamonds. I became lost in the sound of the water and the feeling of the paddle in my hand.
Paddle into the water, paddle out of the water, paddle into the water, paddle out of the water. Oh, look. A big white rock. That's nice. Paddle into the water, paddle out of the --
Why is there a rock in the water?
It moved. The rock moved. Why is that rock moving?
A rock can't move this far out in the water so if a rock can't move this far out in the water that rock must be...
"Mike, why did you stop paddling?"
Curt's voice. I knew I should respond but what I really wanted to do was pee my pants.
"Lee," I whispered.
Lee was two canoe lengths away from me. He was staring into the water like a hypnotized robot.
"Lee," I whispered. Fucking hippie was bonding with the fucking water. Lee kept staring, his mane of bright hair bobbing back and forth. For some reason, his hair really infuriated me. I wanted to throw my paddle at him.
"LEE," I said in a half-yell, half-whisper. Lee looked up at me. His eyes were tiny and relaxed. I thought he looked retarded and I wanted to smack him. My anxiety was reaching a feverish pitch and when it reached a feverish pitch I wanted everyone within a four foot radius to die.
I pointed to the water. "Is that...", and trailed off.
Lee slowly turned his head to the water. Suddenly, his eyes opened very, very wide.
"Oh, now you see it," I hissed. "We're gonna die. I told you. This is it. We're about to die,right?"
Lee leaned over the side of the canoe. It tipped, almost dipping into the water. I was two seconds away from a full-blown panic attack. "Look everyone," he said, his voice full of wonder and awe. I wanted to give him wonder and awe all right. My oar shoved up his butt.
Everyone looked into the water and saw what I saw.
A whale. An enormous Killer Whale.
It was slowly circling our canoes.
Killer Whales, or 'Orca's' as they are called, are part of Pacific Northwest lore. All of us had seen them as children, but from safe distances. To me, this was not a safe distance. To me, this was way too close for comfort and I, for one, was two seconds away exposing my fellow campers to a little thing my Mother had passed onto me known as IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
We all knew the name was misleading, since Killer Whales are anything but. We were taught they are the 'gentle giants' of the sea. Their bodies are mostly black but on the back of their heads and underside they have looming white spots of skin, hence, the white 'rock' I had seen moving in the water.
All of the boys were in awe. They were seeing nature up close and person. Lesbian Lee was rhapsodic. This was his nature nirvana.
Of course, this is what was running through my mind:
I looked at Richard. His eyes were so wide I could see their reflection in the water. He looked at me with an expression of such aghast I vigorously nodded my head and said, "It's nature wonderful?!"
"Don't make a move," Lesbian Lee said. "Everyone take your oars out of the water and don't make a move."
"This is your advice?" Richard exclaimed. "Don't move?! You must have whale repellent or something in that nasty looking backpack of yours!"
Lee couldn't respond. It was if he was hypnotized by such blindingly beautiful nature. I heard a small snicker behind me. I turned and glared at Curt. I knew he was making fun of me.
"I'm afraid, too," he said. I could tell he meant it. "I laugh when I'm nervous." He touched my shoulder. "We'll be fine. I promise."
We watched and waited. After twenty minutes of circling, our friendly Killer Whale became bored and swam out to sea, but not before rising into the water, twisting once and then splashing down, creating a wave which gently rocked our boats.
We arrived on the shores of the island shortly after lunchtime. We pulled our canoes high upon upon the sandy beach and unpacked our tents. There were twenty boys in the cabin and ten tents. Lee drew us all together and told us we were free to choose who we'd like to bunk with.
I knew this moment was coming. I wanted to have Curt in my tent, but I knew if I said that it would be blatantly clear to everyone and God I liked boys. Admitting that was akin to living out the worst sin imaginable.
Hiding my attraction to boys was my number one priority in life. Being gay was the worst possible scenario and I had to make sure no one knew what I was really feeling...including myself.
Richard looked over and me. I knew he wanted to bunk with me. His face was so earnest and open I couldn't say no. Richard raised his hand.
"Richard?" Lee said.
Curt stepped forward. "If it's okay with Mike I'd like to bunk with him. If that's cool." Curt didn't look at me. He stared at Lee.
Lee nodded his head once and looked at both of us. "You bet! Start setting it up like I taught ya back at the camp. I'll come look at how good of a job you did."
"Great," Curt said as he grabbed the bunched up tent at Lee's feet and motioned me to follow him down the beach. Richard stared at me, his head tilted to one side, his right eyebrow raised. He folded his arms over his pudgy chest and shot his hip out to one side.
"Sleep well," he said, his eyelids heavy.
(...to be continued...)
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I awoke the next morning to an empty cabin. The sun was bright as I crawled out of my bunk and carefully stepped down the wooden ladder. I looked around. It was deserted. Every bunk was empty. How had I not heard everyone leave?
My hair was a gnarled mess. For as long as I could remember I loathed my hair. It was a wild, untamed thing. I needed to have it cut every two weeks or else I would feel itchy and uncomfortable. My Mother fondly said my hair was 'nastier than a Boar's Nest.'
I pulled on my shorts and my jacket. It was July, but, as my Father liked to say, 'colder than a witch's tit.' I ran to the mess hall at the bottom of the grassy hill. I could hear the screams and clanking silverware of campers having breakfast.
My stomach was in knots. I didn't want to see Curt. That's not the truth. I did want to see Curt but I was afraid to see Curt. I knew what would happen. It would be the same thing that happened to me every time in the past and it was never, ever good.
I had secret sex with countless boys when I was in Junior High and High School. The format was always the same: they would invite me for a sleep over. The night would proceed as all the Normal Rockwell paintings told us it would proceed. We would watch TV, eat ice cream -- the things innocent boys do.
Then it would get late. And then one boy would ask the other boy if he had ever measured his penis. This is where the scene departed from the typical Mr. Rockwell setting. Fumbling and awkward sex would ensue.
The next day at school would always be horrible. I'd see the boy I had done inappropriate things with the night before and he would ignore me for the rest of year except for isolated moments when we would end up alone (situations, of course, the other boy orchestrated) and then I was his everything as he clawed at my clothes and we rolled around like two puppies in a playpen.
I knew what would happen when I'd walk through the double-swinging doors of the camp cafeteria. I'd do my best to avoid Curt but I'd have to look at him,. He would catch my eye, scowl or smirk at me, then turn away and never talk to me again.
I pushed open the doors to the cafeteria and closed my eyes. I walked into the room. It was a huge, wooden construction. The sound of everyone laughing, eating and talking was thunderous, like that of a two-hundred foot waterfall on a bed of flat, sharp rocks.
I glanced in the far corner, to the bank of windows filling the corner of the mess hall, the picture perfect blue Puget Sound beyond. The light was bright, glaring.
I saw our cabin's table. All of the boys were inhaling their food. Chewing was an afterthought. I strolled over casually, feeling the eyes of the entire camp on me, staring at me, ready to throw their food and plates. I had been kicked, punched, scorned and openly hated with a surprising vigor in school. I was accustomed to being abused. I figured if I was going to get the shit kicked of me by Curt at least it would be in a nice, island setting.
I walked over to the table, my eyes firmly on the floor. I knew Curt was sitting at the side and I knew he was looking at me. I couldn't look up. Sweat rolled down my back. My teeth chattered.
I peeked up and saw an empty spot on the corner of the table away from Curt. Thank God. I could sit there and eat my breakfast and not have to endure the prolonged wait of another boy preparing to beat me up. What Curt and I did at Chapel Rock was wrong. It was worse than wrong. It was sinful and I deserved to be punished for it.
I sat down, grabbed an empty plate and started to spoon up some of the scrambled eggs in the large container in the center of the table.
"What are you doing?"
I looked up. Curt was standing over me. I swallowed hard. My throat was dry. "Nothing," I said. "I wanted some eggs."
Curt leaned over me. His arm graced the edge of my mouth. His body pressed against mine. He reached into the bowl of shredded cheddar cheese, took out a scoop and sprinkled them over the eggs on my plate.
"There," he said. "The cheese makes them taste better. You can tell they're powdered. So gross."
He smiled and put the spoon back into the bowl of cheese. "Lee said we're talking a field trip today. We gotta be at the dock in half an hour. We're taking canoes over. Lee wants me to steer. I've never done that before. Have you?"
I shook my head. "No." My voice sounded thin and high.
"Oh, well. You'll go in my boat, right? That way if I steer us all the way back to Seattle you'll beat up anyone who calls me a dork," he said, a grin spreading on his face, his cheeks tan and flush from being outside the day before.
I nodded. I tried to say something but the words stuck in my throat.
He touched my shoulder. "See you in a few," he said as he turned and walked away, waving at me from the open doorway before disappearing from my view.
(..to be continued...)
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I recently returned from a trip to Boise, Idaho. Most of my family lives there. They used to live in the outlining areas of Seattle in small, cheap, quiet towns with one story Ranch Houses. My entire biological family moved to Boise for various reasons. My Mother and Father followed to be near their grand-children.
They bought a trailer home. I've had many trailer homes in my life. My Grandmother lived in a trailer park, as well as my Aunt Ardith and my Aunt Pauline.
My Aunt Pauline was a sweet, soft-spoken Montana born woman with gigantic, fleshy arms and kind, open, brown eyes. Aunt Pauline (and her husband, my father's brother, Uncle Gene) were the envy of our entire family. Their trailer home wasn't just the standard double-wide It was the deluxe standard double-wide and a half'.
"It's that extra half part that makes all the difference," my Aunt Pauline told me one day as we strolled along the bright, airy aisles of the local Piggly Wiggly outside of Seattle. Aunt Pauline was a cook. But not just any cook. She was a true blue country cook. And the reason she had to get that extra 'half' of a trailer was because she had a kitchen custom built into the trailer home. "This sucker could take us to the moon!", she used to me as she waved pot holders over the top of freshly baked peach cobbler.
Aunt Pauline fascinated me. She was a very sad woman and since I was raised by a clinically depressed Mother, I've always been drawn to the abused and torn apart people in life. Like all of the Bryan women, she carried her heart on her sleeve. I'm not sure if it's the depressive gene in our families or the way her body was formed which caused her to look like she need a hug and a long, long nap.
The Piggly Wiggly had over seventeen rows stocked to overflowing with local groceries. Aunt Pauline and I worked our way to the butcher, Barney. Barney was a thick man, a neck wider than my midsection, his eyes a startling green. Barney always came out to shake my Aunt Pauline's hand when she came to pick up her special, pre-cut meats. She didn't hesitate to take his enormous hand into her's despite the fact his apron and fingernails were covered in deep red blood.
On this day we were looking for a fresh cut of rump roast, the name, of course, made my young heart sing. I was almost a legal curse word in my book. "Your Uncle Gene thinks our new kitchen is over the top, but he'll quiet right down after the first week of dinners, I'll tell you that much, Mike," she said to me as she brushed a strand of thick, brown hair from my eyes, waiting for Barney to deliver our roast. I loved the way the butcher paper crinkled in my hands as I carried the nine pound roast to the cashier, my Aunt Pauline smiling down at me, telling me how much of a help I was to her.
On Sunday's for dinner, my Mother, Father and I would undertake the nearly two hour drive from our tiny town in Washington to Aunt Pauline and Uncle Gene's trailer park deluxe home nestled in the the southern most section of Seattle. The town was so small it was as if it was created as a byproduct of local planning.
On the way over, my Mother would sit in the front passenger seat and gnaw at the inside of her cheek and stare out of the window. Every fifteen minutes she would say to my Father, "Lynn, it's time to pull over if you don't mind. I see a sign for a rest stop."
After we pulled over, my mother would push open the car door with a grunt and slam it behind her. She would hesitate outside of the car and with one of her notoriously bright purple purses draped over the crook of her bent arm, trudge towards the nearest public toilet, one pigeon-toed foot in front of the other, her head hung low but her eyes steely and focused. She reminded me of the Old Woman in The Shoe wearily walking up the hill with two pales of milk to feed her annoyingly needy children.
On this day, my Mother was very unhappy. Her face was dark and heavy. Her eyes seemed to recede into her face and her mouth was nothing more than a line of clenched flesh. My Father looked at me briefly in the rear view mirror and smiled. "You okay there, son?" he asked. I nodded. He was checking up on me, making sure I wasn't too affected by my Mother's impending mood. He knew it was too late for that, he always knew, but now, years later, I love him for trying.
One of the big determiners of my Mother's mood was how often she had to shit. I didn't know the term for it back then, but now I know she had intense Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or, IBS. When we would plan trips away from home in any form, my Father and I had to map out our travel in proximity to the nearest toilets.
Of course, my Mother was mortified. One of her many physical ailments linked to her extreme anxiety disorder was having an uncontrollable need to crap her pants, but hey -- we all took it in stride. It didn't occur to me this wasn't how most American families lived.
I've talked to other people about their issues shitting and more often than not I've gotten very disapproving looks or admonishing reactions. They think it's classless to people or inappropriate. I'm sure it has something to do with my filterless way of expressing myself, but more often than not, I've come to realize people who don't find it at least partially humorless are people who have a very hard time finding humor in their own issues.
My Mother knew she had a problem with what she called her 'explosive craps'. And they were explosive. At times, when she would run to the nearest toilet, it sounded like a firecracker being set off inside of a plastic bag. She had to use all sorts of suppositories and creams just to sit down.
I know for a fact one of the reasons I'm not HIV positive is because I have had the same shitting issues as my Mother. If there is a plant in a bathroom it will wilt after I've taken a crap. Like Mother like Son.
I don't like anyone going near my butt hole that I don't know on at least a first and second name basis. If there is one fetish I will never, ever understand it is the eroticism of scat. I don't get it, I never will. To me, a butt hole should smell like Dove and look like a rose pedal, clean and fresh, waving in the breeze on a warm spring day. I want no hint of what comes out of a butt hole. Ever. I am obsessed with smelling very fresh and clean at all times. I'm sure my Mothers angry bowels has something to do with this.
Her IBS was so severe my father arranged to have a second bathroom built into our house, right next to their bedroom. During construction my Father sent myself and my Mother to the local hardware store to pick out a fan for the bathroom. Since it was going to be built into the center of the house it had to have some sort of ventilation.
"Well, isn't that interesting," my Mother said to me. Earlier, she and I had been looking over plans for the new bathroom. Sitting on the couch a few hours later, a cold beer in her hand, she flipped through my Father's newest Scientific American magazine. Her tongue darted out of her mouth and licked a thin line of beer foam from her top lip as she hummed and ran her tiny, slightly gnarled feet along the thick, deep maroon shag carpet in the living room.
Suddenly, she stopped. She stared at an article in the magazine. She laughed to herself, took a giant swig of her beer and turned the open page to myself and my Father and extended her finger to the article in question.
"Well, no shit, Sherlock," she muttered. "I coulda told you that. Expelled. God. That's the best word they could find? And pungent? Who uses the word pungent? Clearly not someone with IBS, that's for goddamn sure." She threw her head back and roared with laughter. I could see beer foam bobbing up and down in the back of her throat like a ship tossing and turning in a stormy sea.
My Father looked at her from underneath this glasses, then glanced over at me. I was laughing so hard I was having a hard time eating my bowl of homemade raspberry ice cream.
"Pungent, Mike! PUNGENT. Say it," she cried out, her hand at the base of her throat.
My Mother and I had a game where we would mock a famous chef then on TV. He was German and had a terrible time pronouncing certain English words. My Mother and I would watch the show and laugh hysterically. To us, it was funnier than the Carol Burnett show.
I grimaced and formed my face into an expression similar to the German chef. "Pungent," I growled, my German accent overly articulate and grotesque.
My Mother's head rolled back and she laughed harder. "Again!" she screamed.
"Oh, Jesus," she howled, slapping her open palm on the magazine, draining the last of her beer in one gulp. "You are one crazy KID, you really are!"
My Father looked on, his pale blue eyes small and confused. "I don't know what you two always find so goddamn funny," he said, shaking his head as he resumed applying glue to the back of a stamp and adding it to this growing collection of European stamps and coins.
My father was very proud of his stamp collection. My Mother said it baffled her. "What the hell does he do all day? Put them in a book and stare at them? What the hell is the point in that?"
Later that afternoon, my Mother and I got into the car and headed to the hardware store. I reached for the radio. I was in the mood from some music. "Don't," my Mother snapped as I reached for the dial. When my Mother drove, the only music she could listen to was Neil Diamond or Engelbert Humperdink. I nodded, opened the glove box and took out the newest Engelbert 8-track and shoved it into the player.
My Mother was always afraid any sudden movements or songs on the radio would jar her from the daunting task of driving. Once she and I were on the freeway headed to the movies and I sneezed. She screamed so loud we had to pull off to the side until she could gather her wits and then resume the drive. All told, on that day, it took us four hours to drive six miles.
I could tell she dreaded this trip to Jerry's Hardware. She was going with her young son to pick out a fan for a toilet she had to have built in her house because she couldn't stop shitting when she was upset.
It was a hot day. Normally, Washington State summers rarely go above seventy-eight degrees and the winters are moderate, hovering around forty degrees. Anything near freezing in the winter was front page news.
My Mother was sweating. Her anxiety was getting the best of her. Her hands opened and closed over the handle of her bright purple butterfly shaped purse. We stepped into Jerry's Hardware and were greeted by, well, Jerry.
Jerry had a giant mustache which rode over the top of his lip and dipped over the sides. He always wore cream polyester pants and polyester, short sleeved shirts in the summer. Around his neck was a gold chain with a medallion hidden beneath the collar of his shirt. I can't say how old he was because at eleven years old all I knew was he was an adult and I wasn't.
I was always nervous around Jerry. I had seen him in the supermarket with this wife and two sons. I noticed how his hands were always tan in the summer and how the back of his neck was always newly shaved. His hair was dark black and his arms were covered in a thick layer.
In the store, I looked up at him and smiled. He reached out and ruffled my hair. He smelled of my Uncle's aftershave lotion. I noticed he was wearing a smaller T-shirt than normal. Tufts of dark chest hair sprouted out from beneath this massive, winged shirt collar. I wanted to touch it, see if it was soft or coarse. I followed the line of the chain around his neck to the medallion hidden beneath the layers of dark, curly hair. I imagined it was a gift from his wife, or perhaps a picture of his sons.
My Mother followed Jerry to the front counter of the store. Her lips narrowed into a thin line. She put her purse on the glass counter top and exhaled sharply. "I need a fan, Jerry," she said. She stared at Jerry. Jerry stared back at her. He waited a second then broke into a huge smile.
I had seen this moment countless times. It happened when my Mother first spoke to a salesperson. People waited. And waited. I could never understand that pause, that hesitation. Years later I realized it was their need to bridge their image of the kind of woman she was with the sudden reality of who she really was.
My Mother loved to wear clothes made of pink, white, deep purple and blue. She was small, five feet two inches tall. She was slender but had a gigantic ass. Her hair was shockingly white, very short and combed neat. She never left the house without lipstick and eyeliner. You imagined her baking pies or holding a Grandchild in her lap. You saw her and immediately wanted to hug her or hold her hand.
Then she would talk. And her face would change into a grimace or scowl or be laced with such panic salespeople looked as if they couldn't decide if they should make her the only old woman in their life they told to take a flying fuck or offer to hold her hand. My Mother was the china shop and life was the bull.
The corner's of Jerry's mouth rose into a wider smile. "What kind of fan you are you looking for there, Joyce?"
My Mother sighed and bit the inside of her mouth. "A fan for my toilet, Jerry."
Jerry coughed a small laugh. My Mother glared at him. Jerry and she had known each other for over twenty years. By now, this was very familiar territory. Jerry always looked at my Mother from beneath narrow eyelids. And he smiled, as if someone had told him a private joke seconds before we walked in.
My Mother barked a bitter laugh. "Yea, I need a fan for my toilet. Hell of a way to spend a summer afternoon, huh?"
"I can think of much worse things, Joyce," he said, patting her hand once and then swiftly turning away. He walked into the backroom where he kept all of the supply books. As he walked away, I glanced at my mother and saw her shudder. She looked down at her hand. She looked as if she were about to cry.
In the end, my Mother and Jerry picked out a cute yet turbo charged fan for the bathroom. It cost a fortune, but in my Mother's eyes, it was money well spent. Anything to hide her IBS. When we left the store and got into the car, she stared ahead for a moment and didn't say anything.
Now, in my childhood, silence was never golden. Silence from my mother meant either Florence Nightingale or Medea were about to make an appearance. I never knew. Of course, I thought when she was silent, she was going to tell me she had finally found out I liked to look at boy penises in magazines I stole from the local pharmacy counter. But that moment came much much later and with the kind of emotional theatrics normally reserved for warfare.
On this day, she bit the inside of her mouth, exhaled sharply and turned to me and said, "What's at the Grand Cinemas??"
The Grand Cinemas were housed next to The Alderwood Mall, the biggest mall in the area. She knew I knew what was playing there. Movies were my obsession as a child. I lived for Friday when new releases would hit the theater. I would get so excited for a movie I'd have gas three to four days before it opened. I would caress the print ads in the Seattle Times and, if my Mom was in her Florence mood, beg her to buy the Arts and Entertainment section of the New York Times from a staggeringly enormous newsstand in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. For me, nothing beat the movie and ads in the New York Times. They were the Holy Grail.
Without hesitation, I said, "Airport 75 opened yesterday."
The right side of her mouth rose into a grin. "Really?"
I nodded. I felt a flutter of excitement in my stomach. And nausea. I was never able to get a firm grasp of either. They both felt the same to me. I cleared my throat and said, "Karen Black might get nominated."
My Mother smiled wider. We knew all about "Airport 75." She subscribed to Rona Barrett's Hollywood magazine. She called it the best 'movie star trash rag' on the market. When my Father would travel for Boeing, a company he worked for for over thirty years, my Mother and I would flip through Rona's magazine.
My Mother had very strong views on celebrities. Often, little gems such as this would fall out of her mouth:
"Oh, that Barbara Streisand is so full of herself. Kris Kristofferson wasn't hardly even in the movie. And like she'd have a romantic relationship with him. He needs a bath is what he needs. And a razor."
"That Omar Sharif. Isn't he something? I could just jump into those goddamn eyes of his. But you can tell he's gonna get old and fat. Probably a womanizer too. Most of those men are."
"I don't know why they have to swear so much in that movie! I wanted to see John Travolta dance. And all they did was swear from beginning to end. Ruined the whole goddamn thing for me"
But on this day, she simply said, "Well, that Karen Black person is sure funny looking. Her eyes are kapooey. What was that movie your Father took you to that was rated R?"
"Yea with her. Who the hell else do you think I'm talking about?"
I had to think. It hit me. "Five Easy Pieces. It was boring. I fell asleep."
My Mother nodded her head over and over. "Yea, yea, that was it. Well, yea, I mean, who gives a shit about a bunch of depressed people. But that Jack Nicholson really has something to him. But he looks like the kind of man who hits women. Jesus. Okay! Let's go. Ready, kiddo?"
I nodded. We were going to the movies. My Mother and I were going to the movies. There were days where my Mother scared the shit out of me, days where she cried and never left her bedroom, days where she yelled at me with such force I felt as if someone had ripped out my guts and hung them on the side of our house for everyone to see, but when she took me to the movies I felt loved and protected.
On the way to the theater, we discussed the similarities between "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Airport 75." We were big fans of disaster movies. My Mother and I had been tracking their growing popularity. According to Rona, coming out at Christmas were two we were very excited about, "The Towering Inferno" and "Earthquake".
My Mother told me "Earthquake" was going to be released in 'sensurround', a technology Rona said would revolutionize movie-going forever. "The only thing that needs be revolutionized is Rona's hair, if you ask me," she said as we poured over pictures of the stars in the movie. "Not that you did, I'm just saying."
We walked towards the box office and stopped to look at the movie poster. It was bright yellow. Dead center was a drawing of a 747 jet screaming straight towards us as a smaller one slammed into the cockpit. My Mother took my hand. She smiled. Above the plane was the line we'd been hearing for weeks on the radio: "Something hit us...the crew is dead...help us, please, help us!"
My Mother and I read the line in unison. "Well, if that doesn't make you want to see a movie I don't know what the hell will," she said, grabbing my hand and leading me toward the the large, circular box office outside of the four sets of doors leading to the five screen movie house.
We settled into our seats. My Mother and I shared a tub of popcorn and milk dud's. "You know," she said, her jaws methodically working the milk duds into a brown pulp, "I remember seeing the original movies they were in before they were in these kinda things. Lord all mighty, I'm getting old." She reached her hand out and grabbed a handful of popcorn. Her hands were shiny with popcorn oil. She licked her lips. "I love how they call it butterfly flavoring. Jesus Christ on a crutch they can't say it's real butter because it isn't real butter. World is falling apart, Mike, it's just plain falling apart."
We waited as patiently as we could for the lights to go down. My Mother was getting antsy. "Oh, come on," she exclaimed for the benefit of everyone in the crowded afternoon movie house. "Let's get this damn thing on the road!"
As if by magic, the lights dimmed. "Now we're cookin' with gas," she said as she settled into her seat. "Here we go," she whispered. She looked over and me and smiled a wide, open smile. She put her hands into her lap, clutching her purse to her body as if she were afraid someone would grab it in the dark.
The movie progressed at a nice clip. As each star appeared, my Mother would comment, poking me with her elbow. The moment Gloria Swanson first appeared on the screen, my mother rolled her eyes and looked right at me. "There's so much Vaseline on the camera I can't even see her face." Someone behind her asked her to please be quiet. My Mother turned away, bit the inside of her mouth, then ribbed me and laughed. I was embarrassed. Why couldn't my Mother watch the movie and not comment?
Linda Blair appeared in her wheelchair. My mother exhaled sharply. "Nice parenting skills, huh? Put your fifteen year old kid in a movie where she throw up and swears and does disgusting things. Tell me she won't have to be in therapy the rest of her life."
Charlton Heston kissed Karen Black in a hotel room before boarding the plane. My Mother hit my leg so hard I nearly fell out of the chair. "Hubba, hubba," she said. My Mother always said if my Father didn't return from Europe from one of his training missions for Boeing, she'd pack up and show up on Charlton's Heston's door step.
The big moment in the movie was coming. The moment all of the ads had been saying made this the motion picture event of the year.
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. clutched his chest in his tiny plane. Beads of sweat rolled down his chest. Karen Black, one eye crossing over the other, roamed the plane handing out coffee and making sure Helen Reddy sang on key to poor Linda Blair.
The music began to build. My Mother reached over and snatched my arm in her grasp. I could feel her fingernails biting down on my flesh. "Oh, Jesus," she said, slowly rocking back and forth in her chair. Poor Efrem lost control of his plane ("...and his career..." she said to me afterwards).
It was headed straight for the 747.
My Mother slapped my arm with her palm. She pushed her feet on the ground of the theater and nearly stood up in her chair. The planes came closer and closer. The music was reaching a thundering crescendo.
She slapped my hand over and over. "Mike! Mike!" she screamed. Then, as if the roof of the theater were about to cave in, she screamed out as the planes collided, "Jesus Mary and Joseph!"
The popcorn in her lap nearly flew into the air. She slapped my arm again and again. People around us stared at my Mother as if she had just been released from the community nut house on a day pass. I was mortified but, at the same time, unable to control my laughter.
My Mother's excitement overcame her twice more.
The first time was when poor, frantic Karen had to maneuver the plane from slamming into a mountain (to which my Mother said, "That was goddamn close. Maybe she isn't so cross-eyed after all...") and when Charlton (my Mother's back-up plan for my dead Father) was lowered into the gaping hole in the side of the plane. Both times, my Mother slapped my hand and yelped out like an over excited Labrador set loose at a busy, country carnival. Despite the glares and patronizing laughter of people around us, I had a great time. The movie was thrilling and unbearably suspenseful.
Later, my Father asked me what we thought of the movie. I told him it was great. It was late in the day and my Mother was in the kitchen cooking. She was making stuffed green bell peppers with canned carrots and a side of cottage cheese. I could hear her frying the hamburger and chopping the onions.
She poked her head out of the kitchen, raw, ground meat on her hands and said, "Oh, it was just fantastic! I loved it! We had such a good time, didn't we?"
I nodded. My Mother smiled. The fading, summer sun filtered into the kitchen through a small window which overlooked our back year and the garden of vegetables and fresh fruit in the distance. When the sun caught my Mother's white hair in such a way, it looked as if she were encased in a glow as bright as any I had ever seen.
She nodded her head towards the kitchen. "You wanna come in and help your crazy Mother make dinner, sonny boy?" I rose from my perch in front of the television and joined her in the kitchen. She showed me how to cut the onions and fold them into the ground meat. With her hands over mine, we pushed the filling into the bright green peppers. We planned what movie we were going to see next Saturday.
"Let's go to something good. Something really, really good," she said as she slid the tray of peppers into the oven and then washed her hands under the stream of steaming hot water from the kitchen faucet.
Later, I sat beside her on the couch, leafing through the new Rona Barrett's Hollywood. She had one arm over my shoulder and had grabbed a handful of my shirt and was slowly patting me. She pointed to a special, deluxe four-page spread in the center of the magazine.
It was for the new movie, "Murder On The Orient Express."
"Now that looks good," she said, running the fingertips of her free hand over her lips. "That Vanessa Redgrave is really something. I don't know how she does it but I believe everything she says. You gonna do that someday? Be a big star and make your old Mama proud?"
I told her I would. I was certain I would. "Well, that's good then," she said as she glanced up at my Father sitting in his chair, sleeping, his big toe poking through a ripped hole in his sock.
My Mother whispered to me, "Do me a favor, sonny boy. Grab that bowl over there with your Father's Bing cherry pits in them. Why can't he throw them out? Can you tell me? Why don't you go blow the stink off and pick some raspberries and wash them up real good. I feel like making a pie tonight. A pie, pie, pie."
After we had eaten the warm pie with ice cream, I went to bed. I was tired and it was late. I couldn't sleep. I looked up at the fluorescent sticker-stars I had put on my ceiling. I liked how they stayed light long after the sun had gone down. I concentrated on the biggest star above me until I felt my eyes grow heavy and I willed myself to fall away.