High school is part wonderful, part wrenching for most everyone.
Along the way, for the lucky ones, personal growth occurs.
Back at school, I had a decision to make, and it was an easy one for me. I was done with denial. No more. Simply no more.
I spoke to my head football coach, the guy who had recruited me so strongly—a guy who’d been a great support for me since I’d been at the school—and after a long talk, at his suggestion, I spoke to the rest of the team out in the stadium. I couldn’t help but remember Coach Tolliver’s talk to our team back when I was a freshman at Madison. It was the same setting, the guys all sitting out in the lower bleachers, but this time I was the one in front of them.
“Guys,” I said, “I’ve been an idiot. It’s taken me forever to admit to myself that I’m gay. Well, I am, and I’m not denying it to myself any longer. I’ve told Coach, and I offered to resign from the team. He told me I was crazy but to talk to you guys. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m gay, and you may not want to play next to a gay quarterback. If you guys don’t want me here, I’ll go. It’s that simple.”
The guys were looking at me, and then each other when I stopped. Then, not to my surprise but to my extreme gratitude, one of them stood up. It was Bucky, one of the wide receivers. He was no Jake, but he’d become a friend. He stepped down from the bleachers and came out to stand next to me. “If you quit because anyone here is uncomfortable with someone who’s not only gay, but gay and honest, gay and a standup guy, gay and the best quarterback in the country, I’ve got your back.” He turned to look at the rest of the team. He was a freshman; they were mostly upperclassmen. Just like back in high school. “What about it? Any of you assholes object?”
What happened next was entirely unexpected. Jim Condor, our All-American left offensive tackle, started laughing. Laughing! He stood up, looked at Bucky, and asked, “What, you’re going to kick our ass?”
That was funny because he was 6’ 8” and weighed just shy of 300 pounds, and Bucky might have weighed 190 if he’d been wearing lead shoes. Bucky was slim and fast. Heavy he wasn’t.
Then Jim turned to the rest of the guys and said, “I love playing on a winning team with winning players, and I have a brother who’s gay and my best friend. So I’ll help Bucky when it comes to ass kicking. Anyone object to Whit playing with us? Raise your hand.”
No hands went up. I went over and shook Jim’s hand, came back and shook Bucky’s, and then everyone was crowding around me. It amazed me how many had gay family members or friends or knew gay people in their own lives. If there were any haters on our team, they sure kept that ugly fact to themselves. I felt we were even closer after that.
I came out nationally to a TV interviewer after a game, one of those on-the-field brief encounters where they stick a mike in your face while you’re shaking hands with the opponents.
“How did it feel to throw four touchdown passes?”
What a dumb question. This girl got the job by being pretty, I figured, if that was the best she could come up with. So, thinking that, and wondering how she’d react to something totally unexpected, I answered, “About as exciting as it was coming out to my teammates.” Then I jogged off the field.
I think it said something about us as a society that the next day, it didn’t even make the headlines in the local paper. It was mentioned in passing in the sports pages. I felt very good about that.
It is time. I leave the dressing room area and head down the corridor in the other direction. The smell of chlorine is now noticeable and getting heavier in the air. I check my watch. Thoughts of those emails come flooding back.
knew how that world worked. It was relaxing and fun to hear all about it.
All during this time I was meeting with the counselor and doing a lot of soul searching. Things were making sense to me now. I got to the point of doing a lot of analyzing myself. My email friend noticed and told me to stop it. He said you can only psychoanalyze yourself so far; it gets boring and icky after that. He said he’d done the same when he’d first understood he was gay, that maybe every gay boy does it when dealing with his differentness. He said I should live my life, not analyze it.
So I stopped doing that so much and got outside my head, more in tune to what was going around me. I began focusing my writing to him on what it was like being a football hero of a student body that was almost entirely older than I was, and being interviewed on TV and by newspaper and magazine journalists. What it was like being stared at wherever I went, whatever I did by a much larger audience than I’d had at Madison. At least the experience I’d had back then make me better able to cope with than I’d been able to when I was a high school freshman.
Our exchanges got to be funny and full of our lives. I’d learned, with his help, to look inside my feelings, something I hadn’t done in high school. This wasn’t self-analysis, looking for reasons for my feelings. This was just me becoming aware of what I was feeling. Perhaps I’d been afraid of what I’d find there had I done that in high school, but I really didn’t know then why I’d been so careful not to explore my feelings. Now, I knew how to do so. And so I did, and there was no doubt about what I found. That was clear: I was falling in love with my penpal.
He’d already told me he loved me. Well, to be honest, which I was trying so hard to be now, he’d said he thought he’d always be a little bit in love with me. I had to wonder: could he love me more than a little bit? Could he develop feelings for me as strong as I now had for him?
I wrote him about what I was feeling, and told him I wanted to meet him. That emails were wonderful, but I wanted to meet him. Could we do that?
He wrote back. Turned out he was as excited about meeting as I was. We agreed on a time and place.
I push through the double doors leading into the pool. They should be locked. For safety purposes, all entrances to the pool are locked by the last PE teacher to leave. But they’re unlocked tonight.
I walk out onto the cement deck that surrounds the pool. It’s dim in here, and the chlorine smell is stronger. The water is moving slightly. I’d thought it would be still, but there are small ripples moving. Then I see why. Someone has just gotten out.
He’s at the far end of the pool from where I’m standing. I start to move toward him, my eyes focused on him as I do. He’s tall and slender, like swimmers mostly are. In the dim lighting his hair stands out, picking up what light there is, which highlights its bright blond color. He stands still, watching me approach.
He is wearing a pair of Speedos, the very brief ones swim teams use. His are dark on the sides which run down his hips where the suit is the narrowest. It’s white in the middle where it needs to be covering stuff. I’m not close enough yet to see, but I imagine how maybe the lighter color could make it easier to better see the size and shape that’s inside. Madison’s colors are navy and white. I’m surprised they didn’t put the navy in the middle, white on the hips, but pleased they didn’t, too. I grin. I’m already thinking like a gay boy.
I’m closer now, but it’s just too dim to see much definition in the suit. I can see him, though, really see him, see how he’s grown in the past year, how he’s changed. His arms are muscled. His bare chest is wide, hairless, and appears to be toned and strong. It tapers to a tight lower torso, and then widens again at the Speedos. Beneath that are long, well-built legs. He appears to me to be 6’, maybe even a bit taller. He’s smiling, but looking nervous. There are water drops from the pool decorating his body.
I stop walking a few feet away from him. “Noah,” I say, my voice breathy.
He doesn’t reply. He merely rushes forward and into a hug. I hold him tight, and he’s trembling. “I, I . . .” He suddenly seems tongue tied.
I giggle, a little self-consciously, a little giddily. I hug him tighter. His skin on his back is cool from the pool. I slide my hands up and down over his skin, feeling the muscles underneath, the softness of the skin itself. He responds, wrapping his arms around me tighter, too, pulling us even closer. I feel myself hardening. I feel him doing the same.
I drop my arms and take a step back. He watches me, and I can see he’s flushed.
“You’ve grown,” I say. “You look fabulous.”
His voice is soft, his eyes lustful, something I’ve seen before. Duncan’s had the same look. I knew what it meant then. I know what it means now. “Second growth spurt,” he says. “Lost a lot of baby fat. Took up swimming to try to get into shape, and found I was a natural. I swim on the team. The coach gave me a key tonight and told me not to drown, it would be his ass. He likes me. I’d told him why I needed it. Not your name, but I’ve talked about you so much, he probably guessed.”
I nod. “Dr. Sanders gave me a key, too. Didn’t want to, I could tell, but I talked him into it.”
“You look great.” Noah runs his eyes over me. “I got that Sports Illustrated cover of you framed. It’s on my bedroom wall.”
“They gave me a copy of the picture without all the writing all over it. I can get it enlarged and give you a copy if you want it.”
“Want it? Whit, you probably don’t believe it, but I’ve been in love with you since my sophomore year. I had a crush on you when I was a freshman. By my sophomore year, I knew who you were, being with you every day at lunch, seeing how special you were. One of the reasons I got like this—” he gestures at his body with his hands “—was to maybe get you to notice me when you came home. I guess I didn’t need to, though.”
Seeming unable not to, he steps forward and then is in my arms again. His skin is still soft; his body feels so right in my arms, up against me. I’m still hard. Just looking at him has that effect. I press into him. He presses into me, too.
“No, you didn’t need to,” I whisper in his ear. “I fell in love with you getting to know you through your emails. Hey, we should get out of here. Go somewhere we can sit down at least.” I say it but continue pressing into him. It feels so, so good.
“Well, not yet,” he says, whispering in my ear as well. Well, toward my ear. I’m still at least a third of a foot taller than he is. “We have to do something else first.”
“What?” I frown, confused.
He steps back from me. “Go swimming.”
“Swimming? I’m not that great in the water, and anyway, I don’t have a suit.”
He smiles, then slowly reaches down and lowers his Speedos. When it’s halfway down his thighs, he’s aroused, definitely aroused. He isn’t embarrassed, not at all. He has nothing to be embarrassed about! His smile turns into an impish grin. “You don’t need one,” he says.
I’m naked in about five seconds, and I’m in the same state he is. He reaches for my hand and leads me to the steps leading down into the shallower end of the pool. It’s not really shallow; it’s four and a half feet deep so competitive swimmers can make their turns at the end of the pools without scraping the bottom. The water is warm enough to be comfortable.
When we’re in and standing away from the wall, he comes back into my arms again. We kiss this time. I can feel him below the water poking me. His kiss is passionate, and I get into it with the same enthusiasm he has. He knows how to kiss. Maybe from the boys he dated. The boys I never did.
I’ve kissed before, but only Beth. Not a boy, and so not a boy I had feelings for. A boy I am sure now that I love totally. I’d thought I loved him, but I hadn’t seen him in about a year, and hadn’t been sure. I mean, I loved what I got from his emails, the person behind them, writing them, pouring himself out in them. But what about physically? I’d wondered, would I love him physically? There is more than just the philosophical, intellectual side of a person.
The guy I am kissing is real, is flesh and blood, and I have no doubts now. The kissing is leading somewhere, even if we are in a pool of water up over our waists.
I pull my lips off of his. “Wait. Do we want to do this here?”
He has a very good answer. “Shut up.”
Having a boyfriend, yeah, I know what everyone thinks, hearing that. Sex. Boyfriend equals sex. Well, it does. But I now know it’s so much more than that. So much. It’s talking freely, not holding anything back, and there’s an intimacy that that involves. It’s incredible. You have fears; everyone has fears. But most boys and young men can’t talk about them. With a boyfriend, you can! You know how incredible that is? You can do things you’ve never liked before because now you’re looking for ways to make him happy, and if he likes doing something that you don’t, you still suggest doing it. And you often find you don’t hate it after all. He respects your moods, and you his. If you want to be silent and reflective, he seems to know and gives you your space. He knows intuitively. He knows because he knows you. There’s mutual trust and love. That’s what having a boyfriend is.
I have a boyfriend now. He’s everything I could want. He’s as into me as I am into him. He’s going to join me when I begin my second year at college. He’s already applied for early admission and been accepted. I’m still young, a kid at heart. In many ways, he’s the mature one, though a year younger than I am. He’ll help me keep my feet on the ground.
I’m looking forward to finding out for myself if Jake had been right. He’d said when the right souls meet and intertwine, love gets stronger the more time you spend together. Sex is great, but love is more than good sex. Love makes good sex better, not the other way around. You don’t know how strong love can be right away. It takes time for those like souls to wrap themselves around each other. I loved Noah totally and without reservations from that first night at the pool, but then, I’d known him rather intimately for much of a year of each of us revealing our souls to each other. When we met in person, we already knew who each other was. We already were in love. But it was a beginning love. It was nascent, without the depth it would reach with growth. But according to Jake, each day it would get stronger. Deeper. Fuller. The process would mature and enrich us.
For us, it’ll start in just a few months. I’ll be home for the summer, and Noah will be here. Then, when I return to school, he’ll come, too. It kind of feels like next year is when my life will begin, the adult part of it.
I’m back at college now, and everything seems different. I feel different. I realize Noah was right: I feel a happiness that’s filling me up, something that I never felt during high school.
My coach keeps talking about a national championship, about how it’s in reach. I guess he expects that to be everyone’s main focus. I let him think that it’s mine, too, so he’ll be reassured. I actually do need to get my mind back on that.
But football will never again be the main thing in my life. That spot is reserved for Noah.
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My thanks as usual for the work my editors put in pinching and punching this story into shape. A special word of thanks to Colin for supplying the artwork and supplementary material.