Today was my first day of work – Mum says I've become a man. I don't get paid until the end of the week but I'm feeling like a breadwinner, although if I come down to earth I have to admit my Dad pays for my bread – my pay will go straight in my pocket. And I don't have a real job, it's not even a proper apprenticeship, they call it 'work experience' and the employer doesn't have to pay me at all. But my Dad's a kitchen fitter and he let me do my work experience as his labourer and he's promised me a man's pay if I do a man's work. I love my Dad. Sometimes.
I'm wiped out, I never realised my Dad works so hard, but he drove us both hard all day and he's still energetic this evening but I'm flaked out here in my room. I'll have to stop calling him 'old man'.
He's doing a new kitchen for a couple who live in this amazing pretty cottage. They've built an extension on the back of the house and so the kitchen is now about three times as big as the room used to be. We didn't have to take out the old units, the builders did that, but they're still in the garden waiting to be taken away and you can see what they were. They really needed a new kitchen, I'm thinking.
Dad had got the carcasses – that's the frames of the cupboards - in place already. He started last week, and today we had to fix the worktops and plumb the sink and start on the wall cupboards. Most of the day I was just a labourer, fetching and carrying things, and helping him position the very heavy worktops before fixing them in place. But when it came to plumbing the sink Dad announced that I'm better at plumbing than he is and gave me the job to do while he got on with the wall cupboards. That was so cool. I cut the copper piping and married the cut lengths to corner pieces and tap fittings to make as neat an installation as I could manage. I had to cut a second piece for one of the lengths because I'd measured it wrong, but there was plenty of pipe spare, and other than that I was pleased with my work. I took all the pipe and fitments outdoors and soldered them up, and then brought them back in to make the final two solder joints, and I used a biscuit tin lid to protect the woodwork from the heat of the blowtorch and burned my fingers when I tried to move it while it was still hot, which was stupid. It wasn't a bad burn, though, and Dad made me run it under the tap in the garden for five whole minutes.
I did it all again (without burning my fingers) for the hot supply, and then sorted out all the plastic fittings for the waste. I was really pleased with the finished job and so was my Dad.
It felt really weird being in someone else's house. Well, not exactly that, of course I go in other people's houses all the time and it's not weird. It was like we were guests and yet not guests. The lady had a makeshift kitchen rigged up in the conservatory and she made us a cup of tea quite soon after we arrived, so I thought she was really nice, but after that she ignored us for the whole day. The tea tasted awful, I think she used skimmed milk. Yuk.
She was home the whole day except when she went shopping and was out for an hour. While she was out Dad made me go out to the van for some more tools and I had to go through the living room and out of the front door and it felt really wrong. I set the door lock so it wouldn't catch, so when I came back in I could just push the door to open it.
The man came home from work just as we were leaving at the end of the day and I noticed how he looked beaten, like he'd just lost an argument. I guess he was middle-aged, like thirty or something, but he looked really old because of that defeated look about him.
Mum did mac and cheese when we got home because it's my favourite, and I told her all this stuff at the table while we ate. Now I'm going to bed early because we've got to finish the job tomorrow.
- (no entry for Tuesday) -
Well, we did go back and finish the job. I built the drawers, and hung the cupboard doors while Dad did a lot of finishing up, squirting protective sealant into gaps, coating revealed wood, lots of stuff like that. When we finished it looked great, although other people have to come in and do some more work before the whole job is complete. A man is coming to put tiles on the walls, and another one is coming to install a new cooker and finish off the new electrical wiring. There's some other stuff still to do as well, but our job is finished.
I got home last night so tired I didn't write my journal.
Today we went to a new job, a house not far from here. They'd got a new kitchen package from the big do-it-yourself store where they're advertising free fitting if you buy before the end of this month. How weird is that? It shouldn't be called do-it-yourself if they get a professional in to do it.
Anyway, Dad doesn't much like this kind of work because the store pays a set price, and he says there are often problems like uneven floors, or damp, or loose plaster on the walls, which take extra work and time. But he can't charge extra for it without a big argument because the store has given the fitting away free and there's a fixed amount they've allowed for in the budget and if they pay him extra it means their bosses get onto them because they haven't made the profit they're supposed to. He does the work because if he turned it down it would be difficult to get enough other work to keep going.
So Dad wasn't in a great mood this morning, but the man was very nice and let us in, briefly showed us around and then left to go to work, trusting us with the house. It's a funny layout, with three levels. The kitchen and living room and one bedroom and a bathroom are on the main level, where you come in through the front door, and then underneath there's a garage and a laundry room and the boiler room where the central heating is, and upstairs there are two more bedrooms with little en-suite bathrooms. The man called them guest rooms.
The first thing we did was to get ready to rip the old units out and Dad again had me doing the plumbing. The man had warned us that the main stopcock was in a cupboard in the bathroom, so I had to go in there to turn it off. You can learn a lot about a family from their bathroom. This one was all black and white tiling, very clinical, very clean, not very decorative. There were a lot of bottles, like in any bathroom, but all male stuff, after shave and deodorant and stuff. Anyway I found the cupboard under the sink, and the stopcock inside, and turned it off, careful to close it fully but not over-tighten, which would distort the washer.
We worked hard and by the end of the day we had the old units out, we'd repaired some uneven bits on the floor and we'd built and positioned the carcasses of the new units. Tomorrow we have to do the worktops, and they'll be complicated because it's a u-shaped working area. We have to cut and join worktops. I've seen ones Dad has done before and it's almost like magic that he makes such a precise joint you can hardly see the line of it, but I have no idea how he does it. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
Dad says the customer's name is Gordon Er-cart. Well, he says you spell it Urquhart but it sounds Er-cart. Funny name, it sounds foreign but it's Scottish, which explains Mr Urquhart's accent, I suppose. He was there to open the house for us like yesterday, and like yesterday once we'd arrived he disappeared and left us to it. I was all excited about learning to join the worktops, but Dad was in a bit of a mood. Apparently the last customer was supposed to pay the rest of the money today, but the couple are splitting up and neither of them wants to pay the bill. How does that happen? One minute they're a couple and the next it's all over?
I've been thinking about stuff like that a big lot this last year. My Mum and Dad have been married for ever and they still like each other and I can't imagine they will ever split up. When I'm older and left home they'll still have each other. They won't be lonely. I'm afraid of being lonely.
When Dad's dribbling down his front and Mum has to be pushed around in a wheelchair they'll still be together, and it makes me happy to think that. That's how it should be. But it hardly ever works like that. We had to discuss it in citizenship at school last term. The teacher asked how many had parents who were still together, and in the whole class there were only four hands went up, including me. That seems just sad and it frightens me because I want to marry for life. I want what Mum and Dad have. I really do. I get very down sometimes when I think what the future holds for me.
Today was the day we did the worktops and Dad let me cut the hole for the sink unit and I blew it. It was awful. You have to cut an enormous square hole out of the worktop and you use a jigsaw, but you have to cut through from the top side, and normal jigsaw blades tend to snatch at the laminate surface and can tear it. So Dad gets special laminate blades which have the teeth angled the opposite way – so they cut on the downstroke instead of the upstroke. That way you can cut laminated wood cleanly, but you have to push down hard and steadily on the saw because otherwise it will jump. I'd never used one of these blades before, and I knew about holding the saw down, and Dad reminded me, but I still lost concentration at one point, and the saw jumped, and cracked a little disc of laminate off the surface and I looked at it and realised that I had ruined the whole worktop.
Well, I called Dad and I thought he would lay into me but he just looked at it, and then got me to help him position the sink unit in place and showed me that the flange around the sink covered the damage to the laminate, so as long as we fixed the sink with a bead of sealant that covered my mistake, it wouldn't matter. I was so relieved, I got a bit shaky and Dad told me to take a break and have a drink. I made us both tea, Mr Urquhart had left us tea and coffee stuff and a kettle.
Dad didn't make any mistakes and by the time we finished, the worktop was in place and joined at the two corners so perfectly you have to look hard to see the line. It turns out you make the cuts with a router with a special straight blade, and the router runs in a special jig so that the cut is absolutely precise. You cut funny keyhole-shaped grooves in the underside and then you glue the joints and clamp them together with metal clamps which fit in the grooves. Dad says the joint is stronger than the wood, but I didn't put it to the test. Anyway the worktop looks fantastic.
I'm really tired but I feel happier than I have felt for some time. Mum's pleased, she's been telling me for ages that she's worried about me, that I'm not so cheerful as I used to be. She's been on my case about it and there's nothing I can tell her to calm her down, because she's right.
Okay, I've got a bit of spare time and I don't want to go to bed just yet so I'll write an extra bit tonight, because it's about what happened a year ago, long before I started this journal.
Before, like, three years ago, me and my mates did everything together and mostly there weren't any girls around. We got on okay with the girls at school, some of us had sisters and that, but the group of us who hung out together didn't include girls and we liked it that way. We were kids. Then gradually some of the lads started talking about girls, like all the time. And others started not being there when we all got together, and later it would turn out they'd been at the cinema with some girl. And then a couple of the boys had girlfriends and the girls started joining us and it wasn't long before our group was a big mixture of boys and girls. Well I suppose that was good, but I knew something was wrong. My friends, that I'd been friends with for years, had changed. They'd become obsessed with girls and girls' bodies. They were mostly comfortable with it, they compared notes, the other lads were just as obsessed. It wasn't happening to me, though. I still liked boys' bodies more, and if anything I got more interested in them, so that I had to watch myself in the changing rooms.
It took me a while to get used to the idea that I was probably gay, and at first it was like exploring, a bit exciting and new. But I started to think of the future and it wasn't good. My mates would be marrying and buying a house and bringing up kids and stuff and it would be nice when they got old, their kids would look after them and that. I think a lot, my Mum says I think too much.
One Saturday I arranged to meet some of the gang at the mall, and I got there first and I went and used the public toilets there, while I waited. I was standing at the urinal and there was an older guy and he was already using a urinal further down the row, but when he saw me he looked across at me, staring, and it made me uncomfortable. I was just looking straight in front of me at the tiled wall but I could see him looking at me out of the corner of my eye and it was creepy. And then he twisted round to look around the room and for a moment he was pointing his willy straight at me. When he saw there was no-one else around, he shuffled across from bowl to bowl until he was standing right next to me, and now he was looking straight down at my cock. I finished what I was doing and ran for it, zipping up as I went. Didn't stay to wash my hands or anything. I was disgusted, and what affected me most was that this was the first gay man I'd seen. Okay that's rubbish, he was the first person I'd seen who I could be sure was gay. That's better.
I went home, didn't wait around for the others to turn up. And in my bedroom I sat on my bed and cried. I didn't want to be gay, not if I was going to end up like that guy.
After that I thought a lot about my future and I got pretty miserable and that's when Mum started worrying about me, I think. I feel bad about that, I should tell her what's on my mind but that would mean telling her I'm gay and that's just not about to happen. I don't know how she'd take it but I do know she'd tell my Dad straight away and I know perfectly well how he'd take it. He makes his views of poofs pretty clear.
Dad's been in a foul temper all day today. When we arrived to work this morning it wasn't Mr Urquhart who opened the door but another man, a younger man who introduced himself as James Taylor, and said Mr Urquhart had to leave for work early today so he'd stayed back to open up for us. He called Mr Urquhart 'my partner', and I thought about the main bedroom with the big double bed, and the bathroom with, I remembered, men's wash and shaving things, and two toothbrushes. I ignored Dad, who'd obviously come to the same conclusion I had, and I watched Mr Taylor closely. There was nothing about him that said 'gay', but neither was there anything about Mr Urquhart. I couldn't imagine either of them sidling up to other men in public toilets.
We finished the job today, Dad worked hard and fast and ran me ragged. He wanted to be out of there as quick as possible and I can guess why, although it's just plain silly – we were there on our own, it wasn't like the customers were even home. We did a pretty good job, I reckon, and I was pleased we got it finished because today was my last day and it was satisfying to complete the job before I went back to school. After we got home Dad went for a shower like he always does, and came down in his dressing gown. He gave me my pay in an envelope and when I opened it, he'd given me two hundred pounds.
I woke up this morning with an idea and the idea stuck with me while I dressed and ate breakfast. Although it made me nervous I decided to follow it up, so I got my bike out and cycled back to the house we finished working on yesterday.
I nearly turned back, but I didn't. I knocked on the door. It wasn't Mr Urquhart who opened it, it was the other man and he was in a dressing gown and he might have had underpants on but he certainly didn't have anything else on underneath. He had a hairy chest and legs.
He clearly didn't know who I was, so I explained that I was working with the kitchen fitter, and he opened the door wider and waved me straight in, and led me through into the kitchen.
It was really embarrassing because he thought I was there to work on his kitchen although it was obviously finished, and I had to explain why I had come and of course that's when it hit me that I might have got the whole thing wrong and what would be the point of asking for advice on gay couples if they weren't a gay couple? I got a bit tongue-tied, but eventually I got it out. I asked him if being a gay couple is like being married.
He sort of gaped at me and I realised that I'd offended him. That was when Mr Urquhart came through. He was wearing blue jeans. I'd only ever seen him in a business suit before and he looked really good in those jeans, especially since he had nothing on above them and I couldn't help but stare at his chest.
He'd overheard my question and since Mr Taylor still hadn't responded, he did.
“Can you tell us why you're interested?”
I thought that was nice of him, and it gave me just the invitation I needed so I told him about me, and about the creepy man in the toilets at the mall, and about wanting to find someone to love, and to make a home with him and live like a married couple. I talked and talked. They were both very good and didn't interrupt except to make encouraging noises whenever I went quiet.
When I finished, Mr Urquhart rather took me by surprise. He turned a big warm smile on and said “Do you think you could come back here this evening?”
I wasn't sure where that was leading, and I didn't get any clues from their faces, they both looked a bit excited. I nodded, hesitantly.
“Good. It's our anniversary, our first, and we're having a party, and inviting a group of our friends round. If you like, you could come, as our guest, and if you do I can promise the guys will make you very welcome. There will be some boys your age there, some of our friends have children who'll be coming, and you'll see a lot of happy gay couples. Will you come?”
I don't really know why, but I started crying. It was weird and it really freaked the two men out. They both stood up, Mr Urquhart moved towards me as though he was going to hug me, but then he didn't and just stood there looking helpless. Mr Taylor went into the bedroom and came back with a box of tissues which he held out to me and I took it and wiped my face and blew my nose and started to giggle.
“Sorry, but you looked so silly standing there.”
“Well, you were crying. I didn't know what to do.”
“I know. It's just you've been so kind.” I tried to explain. “For a year now, I haven't liked being alive. Once I realised I was gay I didn't think I could ever be happy like other people, and I was so worried about ending up like the guy in the toilets and I couldn't bear it and I was beginning to wish I was dead, and now you've shown me that I can hope to be as happy as my Mum and Dad, and that's all I've ever wanted and I'm so relieved.” And I started crying again. More tissues.
They each gave me a really warm hug when I left.
I've remembered this journal was supposed to be coursework and we're supposed to hand it in after our week of work experience, but I'm going to have to cut lots of this out before I let the teacher see it.
I went to the anniversary party, it was great. I lied to my Mum, I said I was going out with the lads. I'm surprised she didn't comment because I've almost stopped hanging out with them, what with them all having girlfriends, and me not. I wish I hadn't lied to her.
Mr Taylor met me at the door and I could see he really was pleased I'd come, which made me feel more comfortable about being there. He took me in and stayed with me for quite a while, introducing me as 'the craftsman who has just remodelled our kitchen' which made me feel great.
I met two men who've just moved in together, and another two who've lived together for thirty years, which is way longer than Mum and Dad. I met a couple who were both married to women before they found out they were gay and one of them says he's still best friends with his ex-wife, but the other said his wife won't speak to him. I saw two men with grey hair and beards kissing each other, on the lips, and I saw a man sitting on another man's lap and what struck me was not how freaky it all was, but how normal. It made me feel so good, it was like my skin fitted better than it had before.
It was a proper grown-up party, not like parties I'd been to before. It wasn't at all noisy, and although there was music it was so quiet that when people were talking you couldn't really hear it. There was drink, but it wasn't just loads of beer, there were all different drinks and most people seemed to be drinking wine. On all the tables there were plates of little intricate things to eat. I tried one that looked very colourful. I thought it was a liquorice allsort but when I bit into it, it was raw fish. I had to go to the new kitchen and throw it in the bin.
There were, I guess, about thirty people there, including four children, and me. There were two boys my age, a girl a bit older than us, and a little guy about ten. The boys were the adopted sons of one of the gay couples, the girl was the daughter of one of the guys who had been married until he worked out he was gay, and the girl divides her time between her dad and his boyfriend, and her mum and her new husband. The little guy was somebody's nephew, staying with his uncle for a couple of weeks. Everyone was just so normal, and it all made me very happy.
I got into a long conversation with Mr Urquhart and some of his friends after someone said it's more acceptable for gay people to be promiscuous than it is for straight people. I think he was just trying to start an argument. No-one agreed with him, but they didn't fight, they had a laugh and joked about it. Mr Urquhart said in the past gay people couldn't live together as a couple, which meant the only way some could have a sex life was to go out looking for sex on the quiet, but he said he's very glad that's no longer true, and everyone agreed with him. After that the conversation moved on to stuff I wasn't so interested in, so I went and found the boys.
It turns out they're Alec and Hank, not brothers, not blood-related, but because they're both adopted into the same family they think of each other as brothers. They're not gay, either of them, but they don't have a problem having two gay Dads. Hank said they've got the best Dads in the world, which is pretty cool – most of my friends reckon they've got rubbish parents. They live quite close, but they go to a different school, which is why I didn't know them. We've swapped e-mail addresses and I'm going to meet them at the mall next Saturday and we're going to see the new Star Trek.
I'm just not sure about them meeting the gang. Perhaps I can get them to promise not to 'out' me.
I was the first to leave, because I'd told Mum I was out with the lads and she would expect me back before eleven. I went to shake hands with Mr Urquhart and Mr Taylor and thank them for having me, but they ignored my hand and gave me a three-way hug, and then as I tried to get to the door everyone else hugged me too. Even Hank and Alec, and boys our age don't hug each other as a rule, maybe they're just more relaxed, perhaps they get that from their Dads.
This morning I got up first and made a jug of coffee, and cooked a bacon and egg breakfast. I left all the doors open because I knew the smells would waft upstairs and Mum would be down. Dad never comes down early on a Sunday, so I was counting on some time alone with Mum. I was scared, really scared, but I knew I had to tell her. She took it okay, she did sit down a bit suddenly when I said the words 'I'm gay', but after she'd had time to take it in she smiled at me and reached out to me with her arms held out, so I walked into them and she wrapped me up in a hug and I cried again. What is it with being gay? Am I going to spend my life crying?
I wiped my eyes on my pyjamas sleeve and sobbed “I'm too scared to tell Dad.”
My Mum came through for me. She said: “You are a very brave boy, my love, and I'm more proud of you than I can say. Leave your father to me. He loves you and he'll be okay, but he may need a little time.”
So I told her the truth about the anniversary party. And life is wonderful, because I know I have just as much chance of having someone to love and go through life with, as my straight friends. And that's the way it should be.
© Bruin Fisher November 2009