We all walked into our Advanced Algebra class and found out Mr. Bingely was giving us a surprise test.
“OK guys, listen up, I’ve got to make this quick. We’ve got 45 minutes, and I’m giving you a test with 50 questions on it. I want to see how well you can do working under time pressure. The questions are all straightforward; no tricks. I just want to see how quickly you can think and do the operations you know how to do. I’m sure some of you won’t finish. Just do the best you can.”
Then he handed out the papers, told us to turn them over and begin.
Man! 50 questions, and now I had about 41 minutes to do them.
I was going to get done, I decided. I started racing. He was right: they were all pretty simple. It was just doing the algebraic operations we’d all learned how to do, following the rules we knew, but we had to do all the work quickly, much quicker than we were used to. I had to go faster than I wanted to if I wanted to finish, and I was going to finish!
When I’d completed number 25, I looked at the clock and saw I had 20 minutes left. Damn!
I rushed ahead. It was going to be close. I got to problem 50 and knew the bell was going to ring any second. I read the problem, grinned, wrote down the answer, and the bell rang! Just like that.
I waited for Chad at the door. He was looking flustered, just like everyone else. “How’d you think you did?” I asked him.
“Whew! That was tough. I didn’t think I’d get finished. I just barely made it!”
“Me too! I wonder who else finished?” I was surprised he’d finished. I might be a little conceited when it comes to schoolwork. I tried to be best in every class, and frequently it turned out that way. Since I’d had a problem finishing, I didn’t think anyone else would have been able to get done at all.
“I know Gary Franks did. I saw him going back and checking earlier answers. He must be really good at that stuff.”
“Whatever,” I said, a little miffed. Gary Franks! I didn’t mind Chad so much, but Gary Franks? He was a basketball player!
The next day, I was eager to get to math. Mr. Bingely didn’t leave us hanging. He handed back the papers first thing. I looked at mine, and was pissed. 98%. I’d missed one. I hadn’t thought I had! It was number 17. When I’d moved a factor in parenthesis to the other side of the equation, I’d changed the sign on part of what was inside the parentheses, but not all of it! Dumbass stupid mistake because I was rushing!
Mr. Bingely told us we’d done really well, as a class. “In fact, we had one perfect score, one with a single mistake, and one 90%. All told, the entire class was better than I’d expected. You guys are great! Give yourself a hand.”
Everyone clapped. I did too, but without much enthusiasm. Someone got them all right, and I should have too. Stupid mistake. I knew better. I should have got them all right!
I was still brooding about it walking to my locker after class. Chad caught up with me. He could see my foul mood. He could see it when he put his hand on my shoulder to slow me down and I shook it off.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“What’d you get?”
“98!” Except I said it like it was a 60, not a 98.
“Really! That’s great! That’s really great! Why is it pissing you off?”
“Because it should have been 100! I was rushing, and made a stupid mistake.”
I grabbed my jacket out of my locker. And the books I needed for homework, then slammed the door. We went to his locker and got his stuff, and started home. Math was our last class of the day.
We walked home together every day now. Somehow or other, we had sort of become best friends. At least he was certainly mine. He spent enough time with me that I thought maybe I was his, too, and hoped so, but we didn’t talk about it. I never brought it up. I didn’t want to jinx anything.
Today I grumbled all the way home. About my stupid 98.
We went up to my room. No one would be home for a couple of hours. I liked it when he came in with me. I didn’t much care for the empty house.
I always changed out of my school clothes first thing. As usual, I grabbed my casual clothes while he sprawled out on my bed. I started off for the bathroom.
I stopped in the doorway. “Yeah?”
He was looking at me intently. He did that now and then. I wasn’t sure what to think when he did. He was, like, studying me. Usually, after doing that, he said something that made me uncomfortable. He had a way of making me think about things that I usually tried not to think about.
“Why are you doing that?”
“Going into the bathroom to change? You always do that. Why don’t you just change here?”
I opened my mouth to answer, then just stood there.
“Come over here and sit down. I want to say something.”
I closed my mouth and tentatively walked over to the bed. He swung his legs over onto the floor so he was sitting on the edge, and I sat down next to him.
“Look,” he began, “please don’t get angry when I say this, or hurt or anything else. Just listen. OK?”
“Uh, I guess.” Now I was worried.
”And don’t worry. You do too much of that.” He grinned. I couldn’t help it. I had to grin back.
“OK. Here goes.” He paused, then said, “You’re scared all the time, scared of most everything. You’ve got to stop that. The stuff you worry about, that you’re afraid of, it’s not stuff you need to feel that way about.”
I didn’t say anything, but felt really nervous deep in my stomach. My head drooped a little.
He was still looking at me, and put his hand on mine. His voice was a little softer, a little nervous when he continued. “Marc, we’re really good friends. I wouldn’t say this to anyone else. It hurts me to see you so, well, afraid of things is the only way I know how to put it. I’m only 13. I wish I had the right words to say what I’m feeling, but I think you’re afraid of things, and it gets in the way of you being as happy as you should be, some of the time. Do you understand?”
I knew I had to say something. I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t thought I was afraid of things. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. Maybe I should just tell him that.
“Not really. You think I’m a coward? Like with Marv at the museum?”
“NO! That isn’t what I mean at all. It’s other things. You’re afraid to undress in front of me. You were afraid to look at the statues in the museum, to look at them like you really wanted to. You were afraid to look at me in the locker room when I first talked to you.”
I wanted to defend myself. But I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid of all those things! I was afraid people would see me looking and think I was gay. And I thought I probably was. I didn’t want anyone to know that.
“I think I know why you’re afraid, Marc. And I think I can help. I think I can fix it.”
OH MY GOD!
He knew I was gay! He thought he could fix me!
I’d been dreading that he’d learn I was gay, and that when he did he wouldn’t want to be my friend any longer. This was a little different than I’d thought would happen. I thought he’d just dump me. Now, instead, I saw what he was thinking. He liked me, and didn’t want to lose me as a friend, and so what he wanted to do was change the fact I was gay.
I sat there, my head hanging, and tears came into my eyes. I didn’t want to lose him as my friend, my best friend. But, I didn’t want to be fixed. I didn’t think I could be, I thought I probably was gay and there wasn’t anything that could be done about that. I wasn’t even sure I wanted anything to be done about it. I kind of liked who I was. I was used to me being me. Just the way I was. I couldn’t imagine being any different.
Yeah, I was afraid of a lot of things. I was afraid of Marv Turner. I was afraid of people learning I was gay. I was afraid of not being the best in school. I sort of thought I had to be. Being best in school was sort of who I was. The thought of not being best would mean I was just another kid, and I didn’t want to be just another kid, I wanted, I needed, to be special in some way, and the only thing I knew how to be best at was school. I wasn’t handsome or cute, I wasn’t an athlete, the only thing I could be was smart. It seemed to be the only thing left. Today, I found out I wasn’t even the best at school, or in math, and I’d always thought I was.
It was all too much. My tears came harder.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and then his arm was around me, and his voice was very concerned and worried.
“Marc? What’s wrong? I don’t understand. I wanted to help you, not make you cry? Why are you crying?”
I didn’t know what to tell him. But as I sat there, and he was attempting to comfort me with his arm around me, I began feeling confused again, just like I so often was. Looking at it logically, it didn’t make any sense. He thought I was gay; he wanted to fix me. But, that had to mean he didn’t want me to be gay, he didn’t like gay people, yet he was sitting here, on my bed, with his arm around me. Something was wrong with all that.
Why was I always so confused?
“Marc? Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on. Why’re you crying?”
I wasn’t going to tell him I thought I was gay, even if he already thought it too. I just wasn’t going to confirm that for him. I’d never told anyone and wasn’t planning to. No matter what. So how could I answer his question? Maybe I could just not admit anything and talk about what he’d said.
“You want to fix me!” And then I sobbed again.
“So? I want to help you! I don’t understand why that upsets you so much!”
“You think something’s wrong with me!”
“Well, yeah. So what? Big deal. There’s a lot wrong with me, too. I don’t cry about it. I try to fix it. You’re crying because I don’t think you’re perfect?”
“No! I’m crying because of what you think is wrong with me!”
“Huh? I think you’re a little shy about your body. That makes you cry? Me thinking that?”
“What?” This wasn’t helping my confusion any. But the confusion was at least making me stop crying.
“Your body. You won’t shower in gym, and you won’t look at my body, or those statues, without blushing. I think you’re probably not as developed as the statues, or me, and it embarrasses you. That’s what I want to fix. Why, what did you think I was thinking needed fixing?”
Before I could stop myself, maybe because I was feeling such relief, I blurted out, “I thought you thought I was gay.”
He pulled back from me and frowned. “Why would that need fixing?” he asked. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay. I thought we had this conversation in the museum?”
It was like a big pressure that had been on my chest, restricting my breathing, was suddenly gone. I started smiling. But he was frowning, and frowned even more when he saw my smile. I figured I’d better start talking before he really got the wrong idea.
“I wasn’t sure what you meant in the museum. It wasn’t clear. I thought…well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. I always seem to assume the worst.”
“I thought you knew me better than that, Marc.” I could hear the disappointment in his voice.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m scared of things that aren’t real. And I worry.”
He didn’t speak for a while, thinking, I guessed. So while he was thinking, I asked him another question.
“You don’t care if guys are gay or not, do you? Or if they thought you were gay. It wouldn’t bother you. I’m sort of nerdy and small, and I worry all the time that on top of that, someone will start saying I’m gay. Why doesn’t it worry you, having someone at school think you’re gay? Or that they’d tell everyone that?”
He didn’t have to stop to think about that at all. “Nope,” he said. “I know what I am and what I’m not, and it’s nobody’s business but mine. I’d just ignore it.”
“But other kids pick on kids about being gay. It wouldn’t bother you to be teased about it?”
“Teasing only hurts if you let it. You have to be above that, and if you handle yourself right, show that it doesn’t bother you, laugh with the person laughing at you, it’ll stop real fast, because the person doing it starts to look bad if he continues when it isn’t having any effect at all on you. It begins to look really mean, and most kids don’t want to come across like that. So, I’d ignore it and it would stop.”
“Well, it seems to matter to a lot of kids.”
“Yeah. They aren’t able to ignore it. They think they have to defend themselves against what’s being said, and that never works very well. It’s too bad they can’t just let it go. Make a joke at themselves, laugh with everyone else, and then just forget about it.”
We both sat there for a moment, just thinking. A lot had been said. Then I thought of something.
“Chad? How were you going to fix me? I mean about not being so shy about my body, or looking at other, uh, dicks?”
He got a big grin on his face. “Have you heard about desensitizing?”
“Well, that was my plan. I was going to have you start changing in front of me. Changing all the way. Underpants and all. And I was going to look at you. It would embarrass you the first couple times, and then it wouldn’t bother you any more.”
“That was your plan?”
“You’re a perv!”
“Maybe.” He was grinning at me, his eyes sparkling.
I felt so good. I looked at him and he looked back. I wanted to kiss him. The feeling came over me so strong, I almost did it. Instead, I stood up and started taking my clothes off. Whether I’d include my underpants or not I hadn’t decided yet.
But then I had another thought. A really good one.
I stopped and asked, “How is me undressing and you perving on me going to keep me from being embarrassed or shy about looking at other guys’ dicks?”
He looked at me, and a grin started growing on his face. Then he stood up and started undressing, too.