- T I M -
by Cole Parker
He said he’d call me. I couldn’t understand it. Why did he say that? But he said it, and so what did I do? Well, what I did was, I waited by the phone. Waited for him to call.
I had just finished my shower that Monday and was standing by my locker, drying off. The other kids were talking and laughing and shouting insults to one another. In the locker room the talk was about what girl had done what to what boy, punctuated by lots of, “Suuuuure she dids!” which were said with rolled eyes and spurts of laughter, and then plaintive pleas from other guys to set them up with her. Talk about that, talk about what girls had the best bodies, and who was doing what to whom, who was getting some and who wasn’t, it was the same every day. I watched and listened and never said much, just laughed when everyone else did, staying as much behind the scene as possible.
I always got my boxers on as quickly as possible after my shower. There were a couple reasons for that. One, I was embarrassed standing there in the nude. I didn’t like people being able to see me. I didn’t feel comfortable being around other boys when I was naked. I certainly didn’t mind seeing them naked, I just didn’t like them seeing me naked. And, of course, even though I was almost as likely to get hard with my boxers on as I was standing there naked, with them on it was much less likely anyone would notice. And I really, really didn’t want anyone to notice that. So, I always put my boxers on as quickly as I could, without being obvious about it. But a lot of guys kept a towel around their waist as long as they could, then dried quickly and slipped into their boxers immediately, so I didn’t stand out in any way, getting my shorts on quickly. I always wondered about the guys that didn’t. Some of them stayed naked longer than they needed to, speaking to other guys without covering themselves, sometimes even walking around the steamy locker room that way for whatever reasons. They seemed so comfortable doing that, seemed to think absolutely nothing of it. That was really weird to me because it was something I just wouldn’t do. It made me wonder about them.
The other part of that that surprised me was, it wasn’t just the well-equipped guys that did it. I could almost understand hung guys doing that. I suppose if you were proud of what you had, and you weren’t modest at all, it wouldn’t be strange to walk around, sort of showing it all off. I’d like to ask someone about that some day. That’s just one of the thousands of things I didn’t know. But I’m getting off track, which I tend to do. I was talking about ordinary guys, guys without anything much to brag about, walking around bare assed naked, and how odd that seemed to me. But then, that was looking at things from my perspective. I’d learned that my perspective wasn’t necessarily the majority perspective. In fact, rarely was mine the majority perspective.
But I keep getting distracted. I had started off with a kid saying he’d call me. What happened was:
I’d already put on my boxers. Then I’d finished drying the rest of me, what there was of it, and had laid down the towel. As I’d been reaching into my locker, this kid whose name was Terry had walked up. “Hey Tim. It’s Tim, isn’t it?” he’d asked. He’d stood next to me, already dressed, but with hair still damp and uncombed after his shower.
“Hi, uh, Terry,” I’d said softy, not really meeting his eyes. I’d been a little surprised. Terry had never spoken to me before, and I hadn’t been aware he’d known my name. He might also have been surprised I’d known his, but probably not. Everyone knew his name. He’d probably taken it for granted. The thing was, he’d had no reason to know my name. He, however, was a popular kid, he was attractive and self-assured and he wore the right clothes and had it all going for him the way so many of the popular kids did. I’d had no idea why he’d stop to talk to me. I’d only had my boxers on and had been acutely aware of my skinny, anything-but-muscular frame that was on display in front of him. He hadn’t seemed to notice. He’d been looking into my eyes, not at my body.
“Hey guy, I’d like to talk to you. Can I have your phone number?”
He’d said it in a very friendly, normal, everyday manner. Which was strange because we weren’t friends, we weren’t people who spoke to one another. This had in fact been the first time we’d ever spoken. Yet he hadn’t been demanding or overbearing or rude in any way. He’d spoken to me, asking for my phone number, as though we we’d been talking together for years. Very peculiar.
“Uh, sure, Terry. What’s this about?” I’d felt proud of myself, being nervy enough to actually ask that instead of just meekly complying. Normally, I wouldn’t have––well, really, couldn’t have––said anything. Wouldn’t have because I just didn’t, couldn’t have because I was sort of reserved. I didn’t talk to other kids that much, certainly not ones I didn’t know.
“Oh, nothing much. I just want to talk to you, and it’s too busy in here.” Still friendly, still like we’d been friends for years.
I’d told him my number, and he’d grabbed a ballpoint pen out of his pants pocket and written it on the palm of his hand. Then he’d smiled at me and said, “Thanks, Tim. I’ll call you after school.”
So here I was sitting in my room, waiting for the phone to ring. And wondering, trying to figure out why Terry Kauffman would be calling me. I was coming up blank. I couldn’t think of a single reason for it. But puzzlement wasn’t the only thing in my head. I was also thinking of Terry. To put it in a nutshell, Terry was like the perfect kid. He was tall, about six feet already even though he was only 16. He had soft, light brown hair which was spiked with frosted ends. Having his hair spiked instead of letting it fall over his face allowed a full view of his perfect complexion, fair, lightly tanned skin with slightly reddish cheeks, not a blemish in sight and looking so smooth and desirable you actually wanted to touch it, to feel how soft his cheeks were. Well, I wanted to touch it; I really don’t know about anyone else. His face wasn’t handsome to the point of being pretty, but instead was masculine and strong, with regular features and an individual look that set him apart. Something of the younger boy remained, something of the enthusiasm younger kids often have, and I for one found his look very attractive. Probably it was a combination of his look and his self-confidence, the way he carried himself. I always envied and admired boys who didn’t seem to possess any self-doubt. Doubting myself was one of the things I’d been doing best recently.
His best feature was his smile. It was radiant, it included straight, white teeth and shining eyes and when it exploded suddenly, replacing his serious expression, it brightened any room he was in. The entire room. When Terry smiled, everyone around him began to smile, too. His happiness included and affected everyone.
His body was an athlete’s body, not heavy or bulky but instead long and lanky. He had an athlete’s grace when he moved, and when he ran, as he did for the football team as a wide receiver, he seemed to glide over the ground, hardly disturbing the grass. He didn’t seem to be running hard but no one ever caught him from behind. Besides his wiry body, he also had an innate charm, and he coupled that with an outgoing personality and easy-going nature. He was friends with most of the kids at school, seeming to fit naturally in all groups and with all types of kids. Give a kid confidence, strong looks and a natural charm coupled with an outgoing personality and you’ve just defined the most popular kid at school. And so you’ve defined Terry. He had a presence at school, everyone knew and liked him, and he seemed to know and like everyone in return.
So, if he was that outgoing and spoke to everyone, why hadn’t he ever spoken to me, I hear you asking. Well, that wasn’t his fault. It was mine. I was the problem, not him. I purposely stayed in the shadows. I wasn’t comfortable being around other kids, and so had made it my unacknowledged goal to keep hidden in the crowd, to stay separate. It’s surprising how good you can get at that if you set your mind to it. You learn to not meet people’s eyes, you start to anticipate when you’re getting into a situation where someone will speak to you and you casually look or move away. You stay out of situations where people will be likely to interact with you, and if they do, you sort of mumble, you speak softly when you’re forced to speak at all and answer questions vaguely with words that don’t require or encourage a response. You try to appear uninteresting and uninviting, and always try not to attract attention. You use body language that shows you’re uncomfortable with whomever is about to speak to you. People don’t much like associating with people they’re making uncomfortable, and they move off to speak with someone who enjoys speaking with them or is worth their while.
Terry hadn’t ever spoken to me before because I’d never made eye contact with him, always avoided the groups he was talking to, always moved out of his path as he made his way from friend to friend. In fact, in the past couple days I’d had to do this a little more stubbornly than was common as he seemed to be moving in my direction more often than usual. This avoidance was almost subconscious on my part. I wasn’t just trying to avoid him. I was trying to avoid everyone.
Then why was I waiting with so much anticipation for his phone call? When I thought about that, it surprised me. Why was I? Here I made it a point to stay away from people, trying hard not to get involved. Why had I so readily given my phone number to Terry then? And even more to the point, why was I now sitting here, waiting for, actually hoping for, his call?
I didn’t really need to ponder that. I knew the answer. I just didn’t like to admit it. But I certainly knew. I wanted him to call because from all I’d seen of him, how friendly he was, how he acted and carried himself, I was naturally drawn to him, just like everyone else was, and I had to admit, the fact I found him so attractive played a part, too. So, I liked his attention. But there actually was even more to it than that. Kids our age can be friendly and outgoing, a few can even sometimes combine this with natural charm and athleticism. But he also had a characteristic most kids didn’t have. He was empathetic. Most kids are concerned with one thing more than anything else. Themselves. The world revolves around them, and their main interest is how things affect them. If the city has a gang riot, they don’t think of the damage, the houses burned down, the people ending up in the hospital or morgue, the overall misery. No, they worry about whether they personally may get hurt. If fire engine sirens are heard and everyone is talking about a house that is burning down, they worry if it’s their house and what possessions they’ll lose. If a major teen TV show is going to have episodes shot at their school, they wonder if they can be involved in it, if they can meet the famous kid actors, if they can get noticed and then become famous themselves. If, heaven forbid, one of their parents dies, they worry about whether they’ll still have all the things they’ve had before, if things will change for the worse for them, how their life will change. Kids’ main focus is themselves. Terry seemed different.
I’d watched him, the way I watched most kids, but he had a way of grabbing your attention that other kids didn’t have. I think the word is charisma. Terry had charisma. I’d watched him speaking to people. He had a way of putting people at ease, of making them smile, of making them feel important. And he didn’t confine his actions to his group of friends. He talked to everyone. He actually went out of his way to do so. If he saw a kid who looked sad, he went and spoke to him, and usually left the kid smiling. He’d go put his arm around a girl who was having a bad day, and suddenly that girl’s day would be a great day. The expression on her face when he eventually walked away was always amazing. You couldn’t miss the fact she now felt like a queen. There was a kid at school in a wheelchair. A lot of kids ignored him, a lot avoided him like he was contagious. Every day at lunch Terry would stop and talk to him for a few minutes. The two of them always ended up laughing. If he saw the kid in the hall, it was high-fives, and then Terry took his books out of his lap and walked to class with him. Terry actually seemed to care more about other kids than himself. Very weird.
And, I guess, one of the reasons I was wanting him to call me was, he was so nice, he cared about the kids he knew, and well, maybe I could come out of my self-imposed seclusion with him, and I might be okay doing it. Maybe he’d help me do that. I didn’t think this consciously. But it was in the back of my mind, this hope. This longing.
I wanted to get to know him, to be around him, to be friends with him. Part of me had a deep yearning for that. Actually, it was a deep yearning for any friend, but Terry, well, that wouldn't just be icing on the cake, it would be candles and sprinkles and powdered sugar, too. I had to admit it, even if I didn’t want to. I was lonely. I was almost crushingly lonely. 16 year-olds are social creatures. I was 16. Yet I had divorced myself from others my age. It wasn’t a bit unusual then that I was lonely. And, the fact was, I was.
When the phone rang, I picked it up before the first ring had finished. I didn’t want my father to get it. I had worried about maybe seeming too eager for the call this way, but screw that. I didn’t want my father involved.
“Hi, Tim. Yeah, it’s me.” I couldn’t believe it. He sounded nervous. Friendly, but nervous. I’d never, in all the time I’d silently watched him, seen him acting the slightest bit nervous. About anything. He wasn’t a nervous kid. But he did sound nervous now.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have anything to say. I was nervous, too, and also very much wondering why he called. But it was his call. Let him speak.
The silence only lasted a couple seconds. Then he spoke up. “Uh, Tim. Thanks for giving me your number. And for taking the call. I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m calling.”
“Yes I am.” Oh, in case you’re wondering? I’m not the best person in the world on the phone. I didn’t have all that much to say to people when talking to them in person. On the phone I got nervous, couldn’t think what to say, and so sort of froze up and didn’t do my share to carry a conversation. I was doing a good job of not doing my share right now with Terry.
“OK. Uh, sorry, but I haven’t ever really introduced myself to you or anything. I try to talk to most of everyone at school, but somehow, we just don’t seem to meet up at all at school. Come to think of it, that’s weird, but I guess our schedules don’t jibe or something. You know? And I must keep missing you on the quad.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” That’s all I said, and stopped. I wasn’t trying to make this hard for him. I really wasn’t.
There was a short pause again. Then he plowed on. “So anyway, uh, Tim, uh, anyway. Damn, I usually don’t have any trouble speaking to people, and this just feels awkward. Know what I mean?” He gave a sort of self-deprecating chuckle.
Another pause. He was starting to get uncomfortable, I could tell, but then, I was too. Probably feeding off his discomfort. But I wasn’t really able to make the going easier for him. I wasn’t a chitchatty sort of guy any longer. Especially not with someone I didn’t know at all. Which meant, not with anyone.
“Gee, Tim, you don’t talk a lot, do you? Heh heh heh.” I could almost hear him sweating.
“I’m sorry, Terry. I’m not very good at this. Can you just tell me why you called?”
“OK. I’ll just say it. Although I think, now that we’ve tried it this way, I could do it better in person. I thought it would be easier this way, sort of impersonal, sort of, I don’t know. But, now that we’re talking, I’m feeling really uncomfortable and I want to see your face to know what you’re thinking, or at least how you’re reacting. Why don’t we meet tomorrow, talk then? OK?”
This wasn’t going well at all. Did I really yell at Terry? But I didn’t want to wait any longer.
“Can I tell you the truth, Terry? I’ve been wondering all day why you wanted to talk to me. You don’t even know me, and of course I know who you are. Now, if I have to wait till tomorrow, I’ll be wondering all night and probably won’t even get any sleep.” Wow, did I really say that to him? That was awfully bold, and I’m never bold. I’m much more mouse than lion. But, I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting till tomorrow. It was sort of like anticipating torture. The waiting can be worse that the deed. Or so I’ve read.
“I’m sorry, Tim. I didn’t mean to put you through anything like that.” He sounded really sincere, and upset with himself. I’d said enough already, so didn’t comment. The pause lengthened.
“Look, it isn’t any big deal. I just want to talk to you about something, and after trying it this way, I’d rather do it in person. Tell you what. Could we meet now? I don’t know where you live, but if it’s close to me, I could ride my bike and meet you somewhere, or at your house if you’d like. Where do you live? Or maybe I should ask first, is that okay, getting together now?”
It didn’t take me any time to decide how to answer that. I wanted to know what he wanted to talk to me about today, not tomorrow. So, I told him it was fine and where I lived.
“Hey, that’s great! That’s only a few blocks from Huntington Park. I can get there pretty quickly. We could meet there, if that’s all right with you. You know the bridge there over the stream back near the woods? Could we meet there? I think it would be private enough. When could you be there?”
He was sounding excited. I didn’t know why, but actually, his excitement rubbed off on me, even though I had no idea what there was to get excited about. But his mood during the call had changed from nervous to awkward to uncomfortable to really uncomfortable to apologetic and upset to excited. I began to wonder if he always flashed through mood swings so rapidly. Probably not.
“Tim, pleeeeease? I know, I’m screwing this all up. I don’t blame you for thinking this is stupid, for thinking maybe I’m crazy. But you’re the one who doesn’t want to wait till tomorrow. And really, I don’t either. I’ll meet you at the bridge, okay? It’ll take me probably 20 minutes, I’m a little farther away that you are. But I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Is that okay? You’ll be there?”
I suddenly remembered whom I was talking to. Terry Kauffman. The most popular kid in school. A kid I’d been watching surreptitiously all year. A kid I found very attractive. He wanted to talk to me. What in the world was I thinking about?
“Sure. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”