Mrs. Snyder was being stern, which was to say, she was being normal. That’s the way she was. Some teachers were relaxed when they were around us, or had us in their classes teaching us, and we responded accordingly. Mrs. Snyder thought we were all cretins and psychopaths whose only thoughts were to make trouble and screw around. Because she thought of us this way, we tried our best not to disappoint her.
“Children,” she said–she always called us that, even though some of us were shaving already. I wasn’t, but some were–“if you don’t have your permission slips in by tomorrow, you won’t be coming. You’ll be assigned to study halls all day. So bring your slips if you want to go.”
I sighed. I’d had my slip in a week ago. One thing I hated about school was the repetition, the slow pace, everything being dumbed down for guys like Marv Turner, the cavekid with the pea-sized brain who’d promised to annihilate me just because he’d failed in his attempt to dislocate my shoulder on the mats in gym class. It always seemed to me that the school took much more care to dumb down the lessons to guys like him, kids at his level. It pissed me off because he wasn’t interested in learning anything anyway. The kids I ate lunch with were interested, and like me, bored out of their skulls much of the time.
OK, sorry about that. But it was true. I didn’t need to hear every day for two weeks that I needed to turn in my permission slip so I could go on a field trip to the museum. Jeeze.
Our museum was a combo deal. In big cities, I guess they have an art museum, a natural history museum, a science museum, a kid’s museum, whatever. In our town, everything was lumped together. We just had one.
“All right, children. You’ve been paired up. Always stay with your partner. No running or horseplay or you’ll be put back on the bus and will sit there till it’s time to go back to the school. Try to see what’s in every room. There are docents that you can ask any questions you have. We won’t be going all together in one group because the ones in the back never get to see anything up close. You can roam around and spend as much time as you need looking at what interests you. But I’ll be watching, and the other chaperones will too, and any troublemakers will be sent to the bus. Do you understand? This isn’t a place for laughing and teasing and running and making fools of yourselves. Try to behave like gentlemen and gentlewomen.”
Mrs. Snyder gave us all a discouraging, distrusting stare from the front of the bus, silencing the murmuring that had started as we recognized our soon to be freedom approaching and looked at her watch.
“It’s 9:30. Meet in the museum cafeteria at 11:45. We have a section of tables set aside just for us, and you’ll be given a lunch ticket for your food.
“You are excused.”
We all started moving off the bus and into the museum. I looked for my partner and he was right behind me. Chad.
We’d been told to choose our own partners, then submit the choices to her for approval. I’d chosen him. I couldn’t believe it when he chose me. He had lots of friends to pick from, and why should he pick me? But he did. We were going to spend the day together, walking through the museum. I’d been so looking forward to it ever since Mrs. Snyder had announced who she’d approved as partners.
We started off with everyone else in the main room of the museum right off the lobby, but soon people were drifting off, two by two. Some I saw ditched their partners right away and were by themselves. I’d seen where Marv Turner was paired with Mary Alice Kohlner. That lasted just long enough for Mrs. Snyder to turn her back. Then Marv took off by himself. Mary Alice hooked herself up with a couple of other girls. So much for Mrs. Snyder’s carefully planned assignments.
Chad and I enjoyed moving slowly through the museum, looking at the exhibits. I was able to answer a lot of questions he had about various things. I didn’t want to seem geeky, but I could tell, he liked it that I could answer what he asked. He really did!
Eventually, we were in a room that had Egyptian artifacts and statuary and pictures and stuff. Chad said, “Hey, that’s great!” I asked him what had got his attention, and he pointed at the Men’s room sign, and I grinned and went with him.
He went into one of the stalls, so I got done a lot faster than he did. After washing my hands, I spoke through the door to him, telling him I’d be in the room outside.
When I came out of the Men’s room, the room of Egyptian treasures was now deserted. I wandered around, looking at some of the exhibits, waiting for Chad and seeing what there was to see.
I heard footsteps and turned around with a smile on my face, expecting it to be Chad.
Marv Turner was walking towards me.
There was no place for me to go. I was in one corner of the room, looking in the display cases. The Men’s room was off along the wall to my left, but Marv was closer to it than I was. The other way, there was just a long wall with more display cases on it.
Marv had a look of triumph on his face, and his threat to get me when he could seemed about to be realized. There was nowhere for me to run that he couldn’t catch me easily. As much as his face was showing his delight, I’m sure mine was showing fear.
He was only a few steps away now. I’d backed up, instinctively, so I was pressed up against a display case I’d just been looking at. It was a diorama showing the tomb where King Tut had been interred. How appropriate.
I saw Marv form his hands into fists. And then the door of the Men’s room opened and Chad stepped out.
He saw me, and Marv, and said, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Marv stopped. Chad walked over to me, passing Marv, then turned so we were both looking at him, only a few steps away.
Disappointment and hostility were pouring from him. Marv turned and simply stomped away, saying nothing.
I was shaking. Chad put his arm around me.
“How do you do that?” I asked him.
“You know. You just show up, and he walks away. He’s bigger than you are, and he knows I wouldn’t be much help. Why didn’t he cream both of us? He sees you and that’s enough to stop him. I don’t get it.”
Chad smiled. “You don’t know the first thing about bullies, do you?”
“I don’t know anything about them, other than they scare me.”
“The thing to know is, they want you to be afraid. It makes them feel powerful. Also, if they know you’re going to fight back, they’re usually much less interested. They don’t mind beating up a kid who’ll just cower and take it, but if they know there’s a good chance they’ll get hit, too, a lot of them won’t start. You just saw how Marv reacted. Yeah, he could probably beat both of us up. But he knew I’d defend myself, and knew I’d get in a few good knocks. So he backed off.”
“Weren’t you afraid?”
He thought about that for a moment. “That’s not exactly the right word. I didn’t want to fight him. I’m glad I didn’t have to. But I was ready. And I knew I could hurt him at least some. He might have won, but it wouldn’t have been easy for him, it would have lasted a while and made a lot of noise, people might have heard and come in, and no, I wasn’t really scared.”
“I was scared.”
“I know. But you’re a lot smaller than he is, smaller than I am, and you’ve probably never been in a fight. I have, so know what it feels like to get hit. It’s scarier when you don’t know. You shouldn’t feel bad about being scared, Marc. If you ever do get in a fight, or more than one, you won’t be so scared after that. The worrying about it is worse than the actual fight.”
I thought he was nuts, but I was tired of talking about it. I wanted to forget all about it. I started walking again, looking at more exhibits. He walked with me, and kept his arm around my shoulders. I liked it there whenever he did that, but right now, I liked how it made me feel much more than usual.
We left the Egyptian room and entered one that had a sign saying Ancient Greece. There were a few other kids in this room. No sign of Marv. I figured he’d probably gone to see if he could find some bananas.
In the middle of the room, there were some marble statues. I glanced at them, and then seemed to be drawn closer.
They were mostly all nudes, and many of them seemed to be boys rather than men. There were several that were called Kouros. The description that went with the exhibit said they were idealized representations of youth itself, rather than statues of specific boys.
There were other statues too. Depictions of Dionysus and Eros. One of Antinous, a Greek boy who was said to be especially beautiful and who’d been the lover of the Hadrian, the Roman emperor, and been deified by Hadrian after he’d died while still young.
I was looking at all the statues when I noticed Chad had come to join me. He was staring at them too.
Several other kids walked through the room and observed the statues. None of them stayed too long.
Standing there, looking at the nude statues, Chad standing at my side and looking at them too, the feelings I’d been having recently swept over me stronger than ever. I’d been wanting something more than to be just his friend almost since I’d first spoken with him on the phone, and the want, the longing, for that had been growing. I’d never known how to even begin to approach the subject to him of my thinking I was probably gay, or wondering if he might be too, of finding out if he hated gay boys or didn’t have a problem with them, or, gulp, whether he could still accept me as a friend if he knew I might be gay, or even if he could like me the same way I liked him.
This was all scary stuff. The need to know the answers to some or all of these questions was building, and right here, right now, I wondered if maybe I had the guts to begin asking them. As much as I was enjoying being close to him as my friend, the wanting to know if anything more was possible was eating at me. I wanted him to know the truth. And I was afraid of what might happen if he did.
I didn’t know how to talk about any of this stuff with him. We never talked about sex. The subject of being gay had never been mentioned. He didn’t allow kids to make fun of other kids around him. Kids were just kids to him. I really didn’t know if he had any feelings against gay kids. Maybe he did.
I stood there, looking at the statues of nude boys, admiring them. He stood next to me doing the same thing. I felt a special closeness to him. I so wanted to talk about my feelings. But I couldn’t.
“How come you’re looking at their dicks?”
Well, that certainly broke my mood!
“What?! I’m not!”
“Sure you are. I’ve been watching you. You’re looking at their dicks.”
“No I’m not!”
“You are too.”
He was still smiling, and his voice wasn’t showing anything but joyful teasing, so this wasn’t as scary as it might have been. He didn’t seem serious at all. He was being playful rather than accusatory.
He grinned at me.
I had to say something. “Well, you are too.”
“Me? Me?! I’m not interested in their dicks. You are.”
Aha! I’d turned the tables, put him on the defensive. This was much safer. I went ahead with my attack. “You’ve been staring at them as much as I have. When you first walked over here, you started staring up at Antonius’s dick. Is that the one you like best?”
“Hey, I don’t like any of them best!”
“You like them all, then. Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
He laughed. He was enjoying this. Then, looking around and seeing some new groups come into the room, he took me by the arm and sort of tugged me to some benches over against one wall. We sat down next to each other, and, with his eyes flashing, he told me,
“This is kind of neat. I watched other kids looking at those statues while we’ve been there. I’ll tell you just what’s going to happen. See Tim? Watch. He’ll look at the dicks more than any other part of the statues. He’ll try to hide it, but it’s the first thing he’ll look at. He’ll stare, then quickly eyeball the rest of the statue, then stare at the dick again real quick and walk away.”
I watched, and Tim walked up, saw all the nude boys in front of him, and sort of blushed and looked around. I turned my head so he wouldn’t see me looking at him, then turned back. He did just what Chad had predicted!
“Everyone has been doing that, Marc. So, if everyone does it, what that means is if either of us didn’t do it too, we’d be the odd ones, not them. So staring at the dicks is normal.”
Man, this was cool! This was the sort of thing I wanted to talk to him about! And he’d got the ball rolling!
I needed to keep it rolling. Without giving too much away. Since he’d started this, I thought I could do that.
I’d just thought of what to say when he jumped in ahead of me.
“If you’ll notice, the girls are much less worried about looking. They look at the dicks and it doesn’t bother them at all. They spend more time looking at the entire statue. They’re interested in the dicks, but not overly so. The boys are the ones who have a problem. I’ll bet the boys all want to look more at them, but are afraid either it’ll mean they’re gay if they like looking at them, or that someone will think they’re gay if they’re seen looking too long. So they look, then give the statue an overall glance, but can’t help looking again, which embarrasses them and they leave. Every boy who’s come through has done the same thing.”
My chance! Somewhat nervously, I jumped in. “So, you don’t think wanting to look at the dicks means any of them are gay? Even if they really want to look?”
“I think it makes them normal. Just like in the showers. You don’t shower in gym, but a few guys do, and they all look. We look without staring. We want to know what other guys look like and if we’re normal. Everyone does it.”
OK, this was my chance, and I wasn’t about to blow it.
“Well, what if a guy was gay? And was in the showers with you. What then?”
“What do you mean?”
More nervous now. “So would it be a problem if a gay kid was in the showers and looking at you?”
“No. Why should it? It wouldn’t be any different from any other kid looking, and how would I know he was gay anyway?”
“Well, if you did know, and he was looking, then what?”
He didn’t answer right away. Instead, he moved his eyes from looking out over the room, watching the other kids look at the statues and other stuff in the room, and turned to look at me.
His not answering made my nervousness increase tenfold.
And then he answered.
“Why would it make a difference? Gay kids and straight kids are all the same, really. They’re all curious. You are too, aren’t you? Curious? You were looking at those statues just like everyone else was. So whether you’re gay or straight, you’re just like everyone else. That’s what I mean. It doesn’t make any difference.”
Wow! He’d said I might be gay, but he’d said I might be straight, too. Neither had seemed to bother him, but that hadn’t been his point, so I wasn’t sure what that meant. He’d answered my question, but he hadn’t answered what I wanted to know! But now I had something else to think about. Was he trying to tell me something, something even more than what the words meant?
How come even when he was telling me exactly what he meant, I was still confused? And didn’t know anything more than when I asked the question?