Then and Now

Chapter Seven



The Life and Thoughts of Jeffrey Tenbrook
Volume Three

Friday 12 January 1973 


            It was announced yesterday that auditions for the Ninth Grade Play will be held in two weeks. The play is a dreadful abortion of writing called Up on Top, in which a high school is facing closure unless they can raise money to keep it open. So, in the glorious tradition of Judy Garland and Michey Rooney, when faced with disaster and ultimate destruction, the kids decide to put on a show. I read a copy of the play last night as I was babysitting my siblings, (I'm still not entirely certain I was not switched at birth). There are some roles which may be challenging. The lead, (which Mickey Rooney certainly would have played if this had been a movie in 1946), sings and dances and, though I have no true singing and dancing experience, I see no reason why I cannot try out for it. I could also be the principal of the school, a snobby and generally unpleasant person, which might not be much of a stretch for me.

            As we must prepare our own audition material, I have decided to do the speech from Act Two of Cyrano de Bergerac. The movie was one of my father's favorites and the book was the last thing he gave me before he died. I treasure it and the speech is the one where he declares to Le Bret after he, Cyrano, has insulted the Comte de Guiche, that he cannot be a vine climbing the tree of someone else, that he cannot grovel before mediocrities, that he cannot eat a toad to amuse the ignorant, that he must be himself, free to wear his hat as he chooses! It is a magnificent speech and I only wish I had the courage and the confidence to live my life so.

            It is dramatic and I believe that Mrs. Hampshire, Mrs. Finchly, and Mr. Link will see my talent and ability immediately. I have loved this play since I first read it the day before my father died. Because I love this play and this speech, I believe I can truly astound them with the emotion and depth I can show. I MUST do this. I MUST do something to show people my worth, my talent, my ability. People MUST know that I exist. People MUST respect me. This will be my chance.


Sunday 14 January  1973


                I was watching Channel 11 tonight and there is a magnificent program on called Masterpiece Theatre which shows English dramatizations of classic novels. Tonight, they started a five part dramatization of Tom Brown's Schooldays, which is set in Rugby School in the early Victorian era. I have fallen in love with the cast. I have never been so obsessed, so overwhelmed with the beauty of any young male actors before. Not even Mark Lester in Oliver! or the boy who played Charlie in Willy Wonka, both of whom were beautiful! The boys on the show are stunning. They have the most beautiful hair. Their voices are cracking as if they are going through puberty, and their English accents make my heart, (and something else), swell. Oh, to be in such a school, with such friends, in such a world, with no simpering, emotional, attention-seeking girls, only beautiful, exciting boys. Anthony Murphy plays Tom Brown and he does so with such skill. I didn't catch who plays his friend, Ned East. Oh, to run my fingers through Ned East's long blond hair, to kiss his lips, to love such boys. I shall watch every night. They repeat the Sunday show on Wednesday night. Five shows repeated. I have ten opportunities to gaze with love on these spectacular boys.


Wednesday 17 January  1973


            My bastard stepfather is such a cretin. He came back to my bedroom after Danny complained that I was watching something stupid on the television. I was watching Masterpiece Theatre. Fred says it is not natural that a boy should watch PBS and that I need to do my homework. I advised him as civilly as was possible for me under the circumstances, that I had completed my homework before dinner, to which he said I should have been outside before dinner doing active, boy things. I was forced to sacrifice Tom Brown's Schooldays halfway through the episode. Danny simply wanted to make my life miserable. He could not have cared less what was on the television. Fred simply enjoys thwarting my every hope and dream. My loathing for this man knows no bounds. I shall rehearse my audition.


Friday 19 January 1973


            Disaster! Two humiliations in one day. What do I do to deserve this?

            Mrs. Finchly handed back my review of The Great Gatsby. I received an A-minus. A-MINUS?!?! It was brilliant! I dissected the plot, I discussed the symbolism, I described Fitzgerald's style, I placed it in the context of the Twenties. She said that I had bitten off more than I could chew and should have chosen a book more suitable for a ninth grader. She suggested My Name is Asher Lev, which I have read and enjoyed. Yes, it is a good book, but Gatsby is a great book and the other was written specifically for adolescents. I chose Gatsby because I thought it would give me a chance to show her my understanding of American literature. She said that if I could have done that kind of analysis on My Name is Asher Lev, I could have gotten an A-Plus.

            Perhaps, the next time I should choose a Judy Bloom book, maybe Then Again, Maybe I Won't and I can discuss the symbolic allusions the author makes to erections and masturbation! If she wants adolescent material, I can give her adolescent material!

            The icing on my excrement cake, however, came as the day ended and Robin Pendleton, he of the golden curls, the golden smile, the golden soul, came up to me in the hall after English as I was opening my locker and asked, in a loud voice in front of a dozen kids of both sexes, so that talk of my humiliation could get through the female gossip network ever so much faster, that he couldn't believe that I was auditioning for the lead in Up on Top and that I would be lucky to be an understudy to one of the walk-ons!

            How could Robin Pendleton, who has never spoken to me, never even taken notice of me, Robin, whom I have done nothing to other than worship and venerate, how could he walk up to me out of the clear blue and say such a thing? And, to do so in the most humiliating way possible?

            Dear God in Heaven, what have I done to deserve this life? I go to church every Sunday. I ride my bike in the rain and sleet to get there. I endure the insults of my Baptist mother and stepfather that I choose to worship you in my father's church, the Episcopal Church. I serve you as an acolyte every Sunday. I pray. I beg you for your grace and forgiveness. Is it because I am a sodomite? Is my perversion so hateful in your eyes that I must endure this Hell? Is this the appetizer to my eternal dinner of damnation?


Saturday 20 January 1973


            President Nixon was sworn in for his second term today. I did not celebrate. Instead, I rode the bus to a costume shop to rent a sword and a hat similar to that worn by Cyrano for the audition Monday. I want to make as good an impression as possible. If Robin Pendleton thinks it is a joke that I am competing against him, then I shall show him. I will stun them all.

            I have the speech down perfectly. I have the dramatic flourishes, the emphasis, the quiet moments, the climax all perfect. There is no way they cannot see my ability.


Sunday 21 January 1973


            I have been a nervous wreck all day worrying about the audition tomorrow. My stomach aches and I have a stiffness in my chest that will not go away. My only relief came tonight at 8:00 when Episode Two of Tom Brown's Schooldays came on. Danny was in the living room, so I was able to watch it and lust in peace. The bullying that was rampant in the English public schools, (what they call the private schools- I wonder what they call public schools?), at that time reminds me of what I endure daily at Taft. Perhaps, such an environment would not have been good for me. Yet, I see the romance and beauty of a school of hundreds of boys and my heart sings. (Am I too dramatic?)

            Six classes to be endured tomorrow before the auditions. Then, how long will they all take? How can I survive?


Monday 22 January 1973


            The decisions will be posted Wednesday, yet I know the results.

            I was magnificent. I was poised and professional. I emoted. I became dramatic when necessary and I became quiet and still when required. I was Cyrano. Mrs. Finchly complimented me on my choice of material, which surprised me. Mr. Link complimented me on my diction and elocution, (I was reciting some else's lines- is the man drunk?). And, Mrs. Hampshire said I showed great professionalism in ignoring the laughter.

            Yes. Laughter.

            They laughed at me.

            The dozens of kids sitting in the auditorium to watch the auditions laughed at me.

            It was not until I had escaped from the back stage and found an empty restroom that I could sit in a stall and cry.

            Even now, tears flow down my checks.

            But, the judges will decide. Perhaps, they will decide that if I could endure such humiliation and show such professionalism in the face of such derision, then perhaps I could handle the lead. But, I know the truth. I know.


Wednesday 24 January 1973


            I was chosen for the cast. The list was posted on the bulletin board outside Speech class after Second Hour.

            Boy Number Three.

            My character doesn't even have a name; merely a designation: Boy Number Three.

            I have two lines:

            "Gosh, Jack! Do you really think a show can save the school?"


"Well, I think it's a cracker jack idea! Let's do it!"

            And, they laughed at Cyrano. I poured my heart, my life, my soul into that speech. I gave it everything. I was Cyrano. And, I get, "It's a cracker jack idea!" My God, the author didn't even realize he made a pun with those two lines.

            I have no emotions left. I don't remember the rest of the day. I don't remember walking home after school. I do remember Robin Pendleton and a gaggle of girls outside fourth hour Science giggling as I passed. Robin made a parady of my audition: “Shall I eat a toad for breakfast? Shall I tickle the horns of mammon? Shall I leap into ladies’ laps and lick their fingers?”

            I am so blind, so stupid. So very, very stupid.


Saturday 27 January 1973


            The Vietnam War officially ended at 6:00 PM tonight. I watched John Chancellor on NBC this evening as Big Ben rang in London to mark the moment at midnight Greenwich time that the Paris Peace Treaty officially went into effect. It is a momentous day, but this seems anti-climactic. I do not quite understand. When the two World Wars ended, there was dancing in the streets and joyous celebrations. There seems to be nothing joyous about the end of this war. It is as if the country is simply grateful for it all to be over and does not want to think of it any longer. I also think that most people see this as a surrender to the Communists, instead of an absolute victory, as those two wars were. My evil-stepfather still thinks the United States should have nuked the North Vietnamese. What Neanderthal thinking. It is that type of attitude that kept us in such a dreadfully mistaken nightmare for so many years. I am fifteen years-old and in three years, if this had not ended, I might have been faced with some unpleasant choices.

            My step-father made a hateful comment to me at dinner this evening, a not unusual occurrence. He blames people such as me who supported Senator McGovern for the United States not winning the war. I pointed out, that President Nixon had said that he had a secret plan for ending the war in 1968. Fred comes from the rural southern tradition that young people are not to have opinions and, if they do, they should not contradict an adult's, and, if the they do, they should not do so openly. How I loathe my stepfather. Daddy encouraged me to think and speak. Fred feels insecure and challenged by boys thinking and speaking. He is a coward. And, a fool.


Sunday 28 January 1973


            Rehearsals begin tomorrow afternoon for the play. I am such a vital part of the production that if my presence is missed, the entire rehearsal will be a shambles. At least I had one hour of beautiful boys tonight on what I now call Masturbate Theatre, for the material it provides for my nightly fantasies in the shower. I wonder what Alistair Cooke would think? I am so wicked.


Friday 2 February 1973


            The Lord has given me a gift. After all the suffering and testing I have endured, he has chosen to show mercy and grace. As the Groundhog on this auspicious day did not see the sun and, thus winter will soon end, I have seen the sun, but the spring of my life has begun.

I have a friend.

It snowed four inches overnight and they closed school today. Praise the Lord! Oops. That didn’t sound very Episcopalian!

            Rather than sit in the house all day with the simian siblings, I put on my snow boots and took a walk this afternoon to the Peace Garden outside the Art Museum. It is about a mile away and the walk was glorious. Snow began falling again in huge, fluffy flakes. The sounds of the city were so muffled and the whole world was silent and pure white. The trees looked ethereal with the snow laying on the naked branches. And, there was no one at the garden. The snow was perfectly unmolested and the garden was an image of what I dream Heaven must be like. I so love winter, snow, cold. Some say fire purifies. I deny it. It is the cold, the purity of ice and snow, the delicate beauty of a winter afternoon, solitude in the Garden of Peace.

            And, then, the Lord smiled upon me.

            I was seated on a bench near the conservatory, with a perfect view of the snow-covered fountain to my left and the arboretum to my right. The silence was profound and voluptuous, as was the cold wind against my cheeks and the flakes of snow as they fell upon my nose. I would look up and see them dark against the white sky descending upon me. I could see the trees disappearing in the distant white. And, then, I saw him.

            A figure in a blue coat with a red ski cap, identical to mine, trudging through the snow along the unshoveled walkway. Slowly walking through the perfect snow, leaving a trail behind him. At first, I was resentful of his intrusion into my perfect world of purity and peace, marring the perfect smoothness of the snow and vandalizing the perfect white with the insult of his blue and red.

            Then I became curious. He was shorter than me, but not by much, and he was looking about him as if he were as enchanted by the scene as I. Was it possible that someone else could feel the same as me?

            The walkway curved through a grove of trees to the side and then lead directly in front of my bench to the conservatory. If he continued on, he would pass directly in front of me; and, it appeared he was.

            He seemed to notice me once he passed the hackberry. I think I startled him because he seemed to freeze for a split second before he kept walking. He was no longer looking about him in the wondrous way he had been. Instead, as if embarrassed, he looked down toward the snow-covered ground until he approached me. Then he looked up and we recognized each other.

            His name is Timothy Lawrence and goes to Taft. In fact, he is in the cast of Up on Top as, ironically, Boy Number Two. He gets three lines. I had never even noticed him in school before, but that’s because I’m a 9-B because my elective is Orchestra and he’s a 9-C because his elective is Art, so we don’t have the same schedules.

            He seemed as surprised as I that we were both there. He sat down next to me and we started talking and it was then we realized how similar we are. He loves the Peace Garden as much as I do. He lives a block away, so his family must be pretty well-off. He loves winter and snow and the glow in his eyes as I described how much I enjoy walking in the snow and how beautiful I think it is made me want to shout with joy that there is a God.

            I am certain, though we never discussed it, but I am absolutely certain that he is like me. We both love Tom Brown’s Schooldays and when he said he liked Ned East, the long-haired blond boy, the most attractive of the characters, he almost let slip the word “cute.” We both grinned at each other.

            He took me to his house and I met his mother. The house is not large, but it’s very nice and expensively furnished. And, his room is wonderful, filled with almost as many books as mine! Gloriously, he sleeps alone. We have the same taste in books. We both love the Carpenters! He doesn’t laugh at me for “We’ve Only Just Begun” being my favorite song, or for liking Bread’s “Guitar Man” or Climax’s “Precious and Few” or the Association’s “Never My Love.”

            I think I am in love.

            My love for the vile and treacherous Robin Pendleton was inspired by the devil, a creation of a demon intent on destroying my self-esteem and tranquility. My love for Timothy Lawrence was designed by an Angel of God. He was sent to me at the lowest point of my life, when I was the most depressed, when my self-respect was almost non-existent, when the only attention I ever get from my family is hateful and insulting. Timothy Lawrence has saved my life.

            And, here is the greatest gift of all. I have been invited to sleep over tomorrow night! The Lawrences are Episcopalian, too! Tim’s not an acolyte and that might be why I’ve never noticed him there, but then I never noticed him at school until we were cast as the glorious Boys Number Two and Three. They say I can ride to church with them Sunday morning and Mother said YES!!!!!!!!!!!!

            I shall spend Saturday night and Sunday with Timothy Lawrence.

            I can’t go to sleep yet. Danny is irritated that the light at my desk is still on. I have taken my spiral to the bathroom and I continue. I cannot stop writing about Timothy Lawrence! I have one more page left in this spiral and I shall fill it with words about the sublime Timothy Lawrence.

            He has the whitest and silkiest blond hair, an indescribably angelic face, pink- almost girlish lips, and the bluest eyes ever created, a heavenly, exquisite, ethereal (I use that word too much) blue. If Michelangelo were to paint an angel on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he could use Timothy Lawrence.

            He has an older sister who seems very nice, Angela, who is nothing like my sister. She and Timothy actually get along and their entire family seems happy.

            My stepfather has ordered me out of the bathroom and to bed. I shall begin my new journal, Volume Four, with what I am certain will be a rapturous description of Saturday night! I am so wickedly erect. No. An erection for such a perfect, pure, beautiful boy as Timothy can never be wicked, (another word I over use). No. I am sublimely erect. I am transcendently erect. And, I shall quietly, slowly touch myself and dream of my innocent, exquisite Timothy Lawrence.


Email FreeThinker