Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The finale of Curt...
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.