Robbie said I should write down my side of his story, which he called Jake’s Hand, as you probably know already. He said my side shouldn’t be a prequel or a sequel, but sort of an e-quel. He said I could correct all the lies and exaggerations he managed to put into his tale. He said he probably had made me look worse in his story than I really was. But he hadn’t. My side of the story is far blacker than he let on, and I was really more of a shithead than he knew about. And I almost made the wrong decision…but more about that later.
I got off the bus in Mississippi with a chip still on my shoulder. When I had boarded the bus I was really pissed at the world—and at my dad. Really, just at my dad. He hadn’t argued with me about my decision to spend the summer in Mississippi tutoring black kids. He hadn’t shouted. He never did shout or even raise his voice much. Unlike me. I had argued loudly. I had shouted at him, and I had slammed the door to my room, cutting him off, leaving me feeling as if I was 14 years old instead of 20. You see, Dad never become emotional about what he wanted. But he somehow communicated how strongly he felt about things. He did not say that I should be spending my time in Boston “furthering my career this summer” between my junior and senior years, rather than going to Mississippi on a “do-gooder” mission. But it was as if he had.
The trouble was, what he wanted and thought always had a huge impact on me. You know how you look up to your dad, how you want for yourself what he wants for you—how he wants you to go into business with him or be a lawyer or a doctor and how you want so much to do so. At some time, though, you realize that maybe you need to test other options for yourself, but by wanting to test them you feel you are betraying your father. I opted to go to Mississippi, my test, but the second thoughts about my decision nearly drove me crazy.
The bigger problem is that I didn’t know exactly why I was going to Mississippi. Several of my friends had volunteered to go to the South for summer projects. Maybe I did it because they were doing it; maybe I chose tutoring in the South because I wanted to get away from home for a summer and be on my own. Maybe I did it because the beautiful student with the tight, burnt-orange sweater, who was signing up people at the summer-job “faire,” conned me into it at the same time as I thought I was conning her into a dinner date and, maybe, something more. Well, I signed up before our date took place, and my charms weren’t enough to get much past the dinner check and me giving her a ride back to the dormitory.
I did it also because the project was there and available. I did it because it was something different. I did it because there was some deep need in me to do something outside of the world I expected to live in for the rest of my life. Sorry, Dad.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I went South with a gut feeling of a need to do something, but without a deep conviction. I was confident that my charm, élan and modesty would get me through anything that I might face. Well, skip the modesty part.
In the end, I had signed up to go to Mississippi on a tutoring program. Deep down, I realize now, maybe it was something I needed to try—something perhaps I needed to get out of my system, something that didn’t require me to always act as the charmer—which I was, of course, or which I could fake. I needed this break before my life became more narrow—with a freshly minted BA and then an MBA, followed by a job at my dad’s company or some company where he got me in the door. No, I really didn’t mean to say my life would become more “narrow”; I meant more “focused.” But maybe I didn’t know what I meant.
“Dad, I’m 20 years old. I have my whole life ahead of me to ‘further my career.’ I need to do this now,” I had said in a pleading voice many hours earlier, before I got on the bus to Mississippi.
“I’m not going to stop you, even if I could.” He said that, but I could feel disappointment settling on his shoulders. I could hear him saying: ‘This is so damned foolish.’ The problem was that the less he said, the more pressure I felt. Dad wanted me to do my duties: to my country, to our family, to myself. He wanted me to finish my last year of college and get my degree, serve in the military, go to graduate school, get a good job, get married and raise a family. I think he felt he could guide me onto the path I should take, as any father should do for any son.
But I wanted a summer off—to do something different for the last time, to do something, I told myself, that I thought was good for my country. “Dad, stop pushing me.” The pitch of my voice rose. “Stop trying to guide my life in every detail.” He said nothing, but I knew what he was thinking; it started with ‘f’ and ended with ‘oolishness.’
So I stomped out of the house and ultimately onto a Trailways bus aimed towards Mississippi. I had put my belongings and books into two suitcases and the overflow into large heavy-duty plastic bags. Mom drove me by the bank, where I emptied out what I had in my bank account, except for the minimum five dollars. She had handed me all the cash she had in her purse as she kissed my cheeks on my way onto the bus. “Call if you need more,” she said. “I love you. I appreciate what you’re doing.” Of course, the last comment made me feel even worse because I didn’t really have a clear idea why I was doing what I was doing except for some vague good intention. The bus ride left me a lot of time to stew over, alternately, my courage and my rashness.
I had to change buses in New York City before heading farther south. As passengers left and got on the bus, their skin tone turned darker and darker the farther south I went, and it wasn’t suntan. I changed buses again in Jackson before the last leg of my journey—me feeling exhausted, apprehensive and excited all at the same time.
The bus finally pulled off the freeway and into the city where I was going to spend my next three months. I gathered all my things together, except what I had checked, and bumbled off the bus, balancing what I realized were too many carry-on bags and boxes, cursing the hastiness of my departure from Boston and the lack of economy in my packing. I had no idea what or whom to expect as I gathered my checked bags that the driver had pulled out of the baggage compartment and set on the asphalt ramp. I looked around. By a process of elimination and careful deduction, of course, I decided that the last person left on the boarding ramp—a young man about my age, holding a sheaf of papers—was there for me. I did not realize at the time how true that statement was going to be.
“John Cantwell?” he asked, as he came towards me.
“Yes. My friends call me Jake. Maybe I’ll let you call me Jake someday,” I said. Where the hell did that come from? What was I thinking? Was I thinking? I saw the disappointed expression flash across this person’s face and realized how obnoxious I must have sounded. And for some reason, I realized I didn’t want this person to think badly of me. What I had just done was really crappy. I continued saying some things that I don’t remember anymore, and then I decided to start over.
I put on a more humble face, which reflected what I really did feel. “Hi, I’m Jake. I have a very pretentious name otherwise. Not a hell of a lot I can do about it.” I needed to do something more, so I gave him a point on his side of an air ledger that I decided to start.
So that’s how I met Rob, then almost lost any chance of friendship and finally regained that chance. All within a minute or two. Or so I reasoned.
That didn’t stop me, of course, from saddling him with the heaviest bag that I had brought, and it didn’t keep me from being amused by Robbie’s I-don’t-feel-a-thing show of manliness as he hefted the bag down the street. I’m really terrible at times.
We arrived on the cracked, uneven and overgrown sidewalk outside of what I learned was Grannah’s house, where I was to stay for the summer. Robbie dumped the bag on the walk and couldn’t hold back an expression of relief. There were sweat marks dampening his underarms and down the center of his back. I laughed to myself. God, I really was terrible—but I loved it.
“Thanks. Tomorrow I know you’ll be dying to whitewash my Aunt Sally’s fence for me—that is, if I had an Aunt Sally or, for that matter, a fence.” I tried to keep a straight face, but I couldn’t. “Getting you to carry that bag without saying what you really wanted to say is one point for me, by the way. The score is now tied.” I marked the air ledger with my finger. Robbie’s score was going to be on the left and mine on the right of this ledger.
Grannah lived in a bungalow with a large screened-in front porch. The house was surrounded by leafy trees—magnolias, I later learned—that shaded the yard and helped lift the concrete front walk into uneven slabs and cracks. The screen door screeched open as we walked up toward the porch and to a waiting, greeting Grannah. She stood on the top step, we on her walkway, but her wrinkled brown face, rimmed with short, white hair, was level with ours. I could tell from the cast of her body and the look on her face that she was a dynamo, despite her size. My kind of woman.
She became even more my kind of woman when she reached for my bag and started to carry it into the house. Alarmed, Robbie and I both hurried over to take the bag away from her, but I arrived first. I picked it out of her hand, wrapped my other hand around her waist and started toward the door. I laughed to myself, because I left Robbie wrestling with all of my other bags, and I turned, licked my finger and marked another notch in the ledger. He licked his middle finger and stuck it up, and I really started to laugh. A bit more cheek in him than I thought in my first impression.
After leaving us with my bags in the living room next to some glass-paned French doors that I later learned opened into our bedroom, Grannah rushed to the kitchen to get us something to eat and drink while Robbie gave me a tour of the house. The bedroom lay through these doors—privacy being made possible by curtains that were tightly held by rods at the top and bottom of the glass panes. The bedroom contained a double bed, a dresser topped with a lace doily under an oscillating electric fan, some side tables and an overhead light with a flower-decorated shade. Robbie had left some empty drawers in the dresser to put my things in. He then showed me the facilities, the kitchen, the living room and the porch, where we ended up. He didn’t show me the upstairs, where Grannah stayed, but I later learned there was a small bedroom there and a sewing room.
Grannah set the food out on the kitchen table and called us in from the porch. We ate well—really well, it turns out—and the three of us got acquainted, laughed, told stories and otherwise warmed to one another. But eventually the long bus ride and day got to me, and I started to yawn and droop. Grannah and Robbie looked at each other and decided to call it a night as well.
Going to bed was interesting. The bedroom seemed much smaller with two adult males trying to maneuver between it and the furniture—and me to unpack my bags. The double bed consumed almost all the space; the passages alongside of it were barely a foot wide. The bed was held up by a brown-painted tubular metal frame that showed glimpses of earlier paint jobs in different colors and different layers. Looking at the bed, I realized that the sleeping arrangement was going to be a bit more intimate than I was used to. I hadn’t slept with a male in close quarters since I was about 11 years old at a friend’s house. And I always slept on the right side, but Robbie had already appropriated that side. And I liked to sleep nude, but the bed wasn’t exactly very large to, well, maintain a proper distance.
If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have tried to exercise my “Sawyer” charms to get Robbie to the other side of the bed, which would have put my butt toward him in my normal sleeping position and would have provided a bit more privacy for any protrusions that might happen. I was too tired, though. I gave up my initial pretense of modesty and climbed into bed with my boxers on; I slipped them off under the sheets and tossed them on the floor under the bed before I finally put my head to the pillow. And I fell into a deep sleep.
As I was slipping into sleep, I realized that I liked that name that Robbie had assigned to me: Sawyer. It appealed to the con artist that I knew was in me.
In his account, Robbie told you about most of the events of that summer, so I won’t repeat them here. I’ll just tell you what still remains in my memories after a decade and a half: my two major impressions from the summer. The first was the rainbow of colors that pervaded everything that summer. The second was: How I started the summer heterosexual and ended the summer completely in love with Robbie. I didn’t know it at the time but that summer was the first step in a journey to recognizing our sexuality and ending with, as Robbie has written, our “shotgun” marriage.
This is what I remember about the kaleidoscope of rainbow colors.
I remember the range of browns of the people we worked with—from the light-Mexican-color matte to the near-black-chromatic sheen of children’s skin, the clear-white in the eyes balancing the browns of the irises, the intensely white teeth, all contrasting with the rose of the lips and the pale colors of the palms. I remember the tan-red color of the dust in the streets and the dullness of the institutional pale greens on the church walls. I remember the dark greens of vegetation accented with splashes of red and orange of the few summer flowers.
I remember the colors that people wore: the burnt oranges, the purples, the roses, the warm tans—never primary colors, always muted with shades that accented the natural colors of the skin.
I remember the dark blue of the boys’ baseball uniforms and the pewter sheen of their cleats on their scuffed black shoes as they clacked on the sidewalks near the ball field.
I remember the dull manila yellow of the light glowing through the shades of Grannah’s house—shades pulled down during the day as she tried to keep the heat out. The light gave a yellow tinge to everything inside the house, and the cast of light did not change much at night when the few light bulbs went on in her house. The light was the same soft yellow tinge of my childhood, when I used to go to my grandmother’s house to spend a month while my parents took their vacation.
I remember intensely the colors of the night we took Grannah to eat at Dinner at 18: her peach-colored dress and her white hair beneath her small and stylish hat, the rich cherry-wood sheen of the wood on the walls, lighter where the sconces directed light to the ceiling; the intense white of the linens contrasting with the equally intense green of the golf course in the waning sun; the bright shine of glass and the dull shine of silver; the black and white of the maitre d’s tuxedo and the constant color of his face, until Mr. Stuart confronted him at the side of the room.
I remember the dark, gloominess of the bars and taverns we used to go to in the evening, a gloom broken only by the bright neon reds and greens of the beer signs and the plastic reds of the jukeboxes across the dance floor.
I remember the white of the sheets on the bed in Grannah’s house and the flesh-pink of Robbie’s skin and the near coal-black color of his hair that curled softly over his ears and forehead and painted his chest.
Those are the colors that still turn in my mind as I recall that summer.
The other thing I remember from the summer was Robbie and my emerging sexuality.
I went to bed that first night in Mississippi as a normal male, having no thought of anything but a heterosexual life—normal marriage, wife and children. I woke up the next morning to the sight of Robbie’s rear end and strong sinewy legs, all covered with black hair, as he stood beside the bed and pulled his white boxers on. When he turned around, I noticed the diamond-shaped patch of hair in the center of his chest, dusting the area between his nipples. I can still see the trail of hair from his navel to the top of the underpants, and I can see the shadow of black pubic hair through his white boxers. I felt something that I had never felt before: I wanted to continue to stare at him. I didn’t understand what was happening. It had to be some anomaly resulting from the fact that I was somewhat horny—unrelieved from the abstinence of the long bus ride.
“Grannah will have breakfast ready in 10 minutes,” he said, breaking my stare.
My attention turned to his face—his bright, brown eyes; thin, dark, straight eyebrows; almost-black straight hair parted just off the middle; a sharp nose and thin lips—all with a fair skin, as if the contrast button had been turned up between his hair and his skin. He almost had model good looks, including a body to match. I had never seen anyone that good-looking up close. Magazine ads were two-dimensional; here were three dimensions to observe—and I could feel the heat coming from his body as he stood next to me. I could detect both the freshness and muskiness of the human body. I was taken aback—and maybe a bit frightened.
I jumped out of bed, pulled on my boxers and my jeans, grabbed my shaving kit and hurried off to the bathroom to get cleaned up.
I quickly learned there was much more to Robbie than his body. It was his personality—the warmth of his smile, the considerate attitude that he had towards everyone—and the finely honed and organized brain. Robbie was the first person, apart from my parents, that, deep down, made me feel humble. Me, the master of the universe? Me, humbled? Something was awry.
In truth, though, the depth of my cockiness and bravado was never ever very great, but few persons could break through to see what was real and what was not. My dad had done that when he called me on my decision to go to Mississippi, and it was only my stubbornness that took me out the door. My mother, I think, understood the brave face I was putting up as she loaded me on the bus going south.
Robbie was the other one to look past the veneer. And in doing so, his presence over that summer made me look more deeply at myself—at what I truly was as a person—at what was on the other side of that thin shield that I had made sure always surrounded me. The breach in that shield would come later—when I was in Vietnam. But for that summer, I could see Robbie looking at the outside of me and enjoying it, but also looking deeper into me where no one had gone before and truly forcing me to examine who and what I was.
And I realize now that the deeper examination of myself that began that summer was the first realization of my sexuality. The realization was slow. I went through changes that I didn’t really understand but were to gradually alter my life forever, as puberty had almost a decade earlier.
* * * * *
For two weeks, we worked at the kitchen table on the play that I was writing for the kids until I was satisfied with it. I sat with my fingers on the keys of the ancient black Underwood typewriter that Grannah had somehow drummed up from the church. Robbie, the perfect critic, would read parts and tell me that he was or wasn’t comfortable with them, and usually for good reasons. He made suggestions as to where characters could be made deeper. Robbie made suggestions about introducing humor.
Robbie’s critiques made my play much better, and I was thankful for that—and I told him so. But his suggestions always made the script more and more unrecognizable as I would type up changes and tape them into the script and then retype the whole thing—sometimes late into the night after Robbie had gone to bed. Maybe his suggestions were revenge for making him carry the heaviest bags from the bus to Grannah’s
Toward the end of the writing effort one night, we were lying on the bed at Grannah’s in just our boxers. It was too hot for any other clothing, and it was really too hot for boxers. I had written close to the last draft of my play, and we were reading it aloud—me taking the main part that I could recite from memory and Robbie taking all the others. Our backs were propped against the headboard of the bed, and he held the single typewritten copy of the play, turning it from time to time to let me read it. I didn’t really need to at this point. I had most of the other parts memorized as well. I took the script out of his hand only when I had to make corrections with the pencil that I kept on the side table.
In these readings, I wanted Robbie to take most of the lines, because I wanted to hear the dialogue spoken aloud by another person besides myself. I could write dialogue; I could read what I had written aloud as I wrote it, but that wasn’t enough. I needed an outside person, a new voice—a voice that changed emphasis and inflection from what was in my mind.
Actually, Robbie wasn’t that bad of an actor to be test-reading for me. He put his heart into the parts—female and male—with the accents that we had picked up over the summer. I found myself listening to him, his words soft and Southern on my ears.
I also found myself staring at his near-naked body. I stared at his strong legs as he moved his feet up towards his buttocks and as he let them stretch out again. I could see the stubble on his cheek and the same color reflected in the patch of hair on his chest. And, I looked at the trail of hair from his navel to the elastic of his boxers. I looked at the sharp lines of his face and the leanness of his arms, lined with long dark hair.
“Jake?” I popped out of my reverie. “This doesn’t read too smoothly,” Robbie said, looking at me a bit peculiarly. I didn’t know how long it had been that I hadn’t been paying attention.
“Read it again,” I tried to cover for my inattention. Robbie read it again, and I realized what he was saying. I took the script from his hands, looked at the offending dialogue and edited it down to be simpler. I handed the script back to him. “Now, try it.” He read the new section, and it sounded much better to me—and he agreed.
“What do you really think of the play?” I asked. He set the script down between us.
“I think it is wonderful. To write a play to fit the actors has got to be one of the most creative things I can think of—especially those actors: kids with very little training. It’s really wonderful.” Robbie was staring at the ceiling.
I looked at his profile, and then my eyes drifted down his body again. I had never felt this way before. I couldn’t take my eyes off a splendid male body lying one foot away from me, barely dressed. Robbie yawned, handed me the script and indicated it was time to go to sleep, so I flipped off the light, pulled my pillow to me and turned on my side.
As I look back on it, though, that one night we were working together etched in my mind yet another picture of Robbie. Over the years, that memory would come back to me, especially when I was horny, but I never realized how much it affected me until my last days in the Far East.
* * * * *
The sexual uncertainty continued through the summer. I almost lost it at the swimming hole. It was another hot day. We were free from the scraping and painting of Grannah’s house—our going-away gift to her—and there was no more baseball. Hot and sweaty from painting, Robbie and I had decided to go swimming, and we drove out of town and down a dusty, rutted road to a bend in the river. We had stopped and gotten a six-pack of beer, but without a cooler the beer was warming fast, so when we got to the swimming hole, we drank a couple down quickly.
Maybe the beer removed my inhibitions; maybe it was something else. In any case, I stood, grinned at myself, stripped naked, ran and jumped into the river. I had never done any skinny dipping in my life, but it seemed the thing to do that day, giving me an erotic rise. Robbie followed suit—or no suit, depending on how you look at it.
We played around in the slow-flowing river for about an hour, naked buttocks flashing above the surface from time to time and more rarely a flash of pubic hair and penis. I think I lost a point or two in our contests because Robbie was a better swimmer than I was a cheater.
It was just after we had been wrestling and dunking each other that I popped my head out of the water and saw Robbie a few feet away from me, out of breath. We both were tired from all the horseplay, and we just treaded water, panting from the exertion. We looked at each other for the longest time. I looked into his face and there was something very different in how he was looking at me; I saw what I thought was love. We both treaded water, and he drifted closer and closer to me. I realized I had become hard as a rock, and I feared something was going to happen—something to take us to a place that I might not be ready to go. My mind whirled with fear mixed with lust, and we kept drifting toward each other. I was close to the point of no return, but love and lust were clearly winning out.
I was rescued from what was about to happen with the impending arrival of another car that fortunately made a lot of noise as it came down the dusty road to the swimming hole. The fear of discovery deflated my erection and sent both of us quickly to shore to put on our swimming suits. I was glad that Robbie hadn’t seen me sexually excited because I didn’t know how he really would have taken it, and I didn’t want to lose the friendship that we had if he took it wrong.
We swam some more in our swimming suits, got out, drank our beers and headed back to Grannah’s.
* * * * *
The next step in the course of the recognition of my sexuality was the night I spent with Mary Lynn.
Robbie and I had just finished a last, going-away dinner for her. The other women tutors had already left, and Mary Lynn was leaving in the morning. We had eaten southern-fried chicken with collard greens, hush puppies and squash pie—plus lots and lots of beer at the local bar. Robbie looked tired, so I wasn’t surprised when he excused himself, giving Mary Lynn a warm hug and a kiss good-bye. I said I would be along in a while. Mary Lynn and I finished the beer; then she asked me if I wanted to do some dancing.
The dancing was up close and personal, so to speak, and Mary Lynn pulled me to her during the slow dances—and I responded as any good male would do. We were both drunk and were feeling the emotional impact of a breakup of our group from the summer, and I was feeling her breasts, and her groin was pushing against mine. My senses led me to some insensible results, because I found myself an hour later back at Grannah’s asking if I could borrow Robbie’s car—after waking him, of course, to get the keys.
We drove to a secluded spot and fucked. That’s probably too stark a way to describe it, but it was pure animal instinct at work—or, rather, play. On my side, at least, it was nothing but pure sex—a physical release. It was dark as our naked bodies writhed and mingled in Robbie’s back seat. As I climaxed, the strangest thing happened, however. What came to mind was Robbie and our skinny-dipping afternoon at the river. I must have been too drunk to think straight, I rationalized. Here I was, locked body to body, my penis deep within Mary Lynn, pushing up against her clitoris, moving back and forth within her, her hands and fingernails pulling my butt toward her on my instrokes, and it was the image of Robbie that flashed through my mind. I was doing what a healthy male should do, and my mind drifted to something entirely different: what a healthy male shouldn’t do. Well, that wasn’t really correct, because there was something so right about that erotic aspect of our afternoon at the swimming hole, but it was so wrong at the same time.
After we buttoned, hooked and zipped ourselves up, I dropped Mary Lynn off, kissed her warmly good-bye, and wished her well. I drove Robbie’s car back to Grannah’s, somewhat unsteadily, I’m afraid. I stripped down to my boxers and got into bed. I stared at the ceiling for a while, not understanding why my thoughts were so disturbed. So, I woke Robbie up to talk to him about it. Once started, I couldn’t stop talking about the mixed feelings I felt about what I had done. Robbie seemed to be a bit short about my misgivings, but maybe he was short really about being wakened in the middle of the night.
I couldn’t say anything about my thoughts of Robbie, though, but I could talk about my ambivalence about the loveless sex that we had just had. As Robbie let me know, it wasn’t really loveless sex, because I really liked Mary Lynn, so our session wasn’t entirely a sterile coupling for the purpose of getting my rocks off. Robbie also reminded me of that, pointing out that Mary Lynn and I had to have feelings for one another and that I had the natural hormones of a college student that needed to be satisfied. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with our talk, but I eventually decided it was best to shut up.
The last night of our summer was stiflingly warm. I realized I was emotionally in turmoil from the end of the summer, maybe from falling in love with Robbie, and I was really horny, the heat making my balls hang low, and the sweat making them slide erotically around. Robbie and I were sharing a bed, probably for the last time forever, after finishing a nice evening of our favorite Grannah dishes and a game of cards with her.
There was no way I could make myself comfortable. It was just too hot and sticky. I kicked off the blanket and later, the clinging top sheet, till I could finally feel the faint sweep of the air from the fan moving across my body. I had removed all my clothes except my boxers. But it wasn’t enough. I felt like getting up and going uptown to the Holiday Inn to rent an air-conditioned room, but I didn’t have enough money, and it didn’t seem right to end the summer that way.
Then, there was Robbie lying beside me. He was tossing and turning as well, but he looked like he was asleep at least. Thoughts of love and sex were churning in my mind, and the sex was with Robbie, and, I noticed, Robbie was now naked, having kicked off his boxers. The only thing protecting his modesty was the corner of the top sheet, which covered only his groin area.
I knew anything I did that seemed deliberate or forward would risk our friendship, a risk I was unwilling to take. But I was driven by sexual desire for him—or horniness, or both. I knew that I wanted to see if Robbie felt the same about me as I thought I did about him—to see if that brief moment in the river had had the same meaning for him as it did for me. I also knew what I was feeling was so wrong, and society said that homosexuality was forbidden, and I was entering into areas that would challenge society’s norms. There was a duel between mind and flesh, but the air was steamy hot, and the person I knew I loved and craved was lying naked next to me—well, flesh was winning. Sexual feelings were unstoppable and were driving my actions.
My penis was hard. It had been hard since we’d gone to bed. Every time I moved, every time something touched me, the pressure and feelings grew, wanting release. I could feel the heat in my groin; without touching my cock I could feel the nerve endings singing their primal song, blotting out rationality.
The final temptation came when I watched Robbie lying on his back, the sheet barely covering his midsection. I slid the very short distance across the bed, turned on my side and let my Sawyer hand “accidentally” drift to his upper thigh, just below his testicles, and I let it stay there, resting on the soft hairs between his legs. I was being driven by pure lust. I was unbelievably hard. In my heart I wanted to move more aggressively; in my brain—or what was left working of it—I knew that was probably a mistake. But I had made the move with my hand, and it was up to Robbie, even though I was ready to do more.
Nothing happened for minutes and minutes. I thought and maybe hoped he would react almost instantaneously. The only thing that reacted was Robbie’s growing erection that I could see in the dimness of the bedroom light. Robbie was responding to my touch, though it might have been within the unconscious realm of sleep. It seemed my hand was there forever. I was about to give up and pull it away when Robbie started to shift. My breathing nearly stopped, and I could hear my heart’s rhythm thumping within me. But Robbie turned his body the other way, away from me, got out of bed and trundled off toward the bathroom. There was no indication on his part that anything had happened.
I took his reaction as a sign to me that maybe what I did was all wrong. However, I really needed to relieve myself before Robbie got back or be faced with the same temptations, so I wrapped my palm around my cock, pulled on it for 30 seconds and exploded into a spectacular orgasm while my mind thought of Robbie as if it was his hands on me instead of my own. I wiped myself off quickly with my undershirt that lay beside the bed and turned over before Robbie came back. The opportunity was over. As the feelings of my orgasm retreated into doubt and maybe shame and as my sexual excitement abated, I knew I had to forget about this incident: it was too uncomfortable to contemplate what I had been about to do.
* * * * *
We were at the bus station. I was on my way back to Boston and then to college for my senior year. I was really depressed. The summer had been wonderful, and I wished it could have gone on forever. I had made the first steps on my way to true independence from my parents and their world and had established myself as my own person. I had had an impact for good on the world, I thought—at least on a few young people in Mississippi.
I had also formed a close bond with Robbie—a bond deeper than I could truly understand—but one that I wanted to keep, even though we would be thousands of miles apart.
My bags were in their usual state: two suitcases and some plastic bags. I didn’t have much more than what I had brought, except the baseball that we used for the challenge game. The team had given it to me, signed by every player. I was proud of that baseball and those kids. I was proud of their cool at facing the all-white kids across town when things looked bleak and Robbie and Grannah had had to step in to take control.
Robbie had driven me to the bus station. I didn’t make him carry the heavy bag. I didn’t make it a contest, though I wanted to; somehow, I couldn’t figure out a way and keep my self-respect; I was no more the cocky, irreverent boy who’d arrived a few months earlier. The bus had arrived and was scheduled to stay only 10 minutes. I loaded my bags into the baggage compartment and accepted the claim checks from the driver. I kept one of the plastic sacks with some books with me to keep me occupied on the trip north.
Robbie and I stood awkwardly near each other, talking about things of which I have no recollection at all. It was getting close to departure time. Robbie stood aside as I picked up my last bag. I turned around and there he was, perhaps for the last time. I put my hand out to shake his hand, then brought him to me in a hug. The bus driver was loading the other passengers, and I was the last one still on the platform. I put my hands on Robbie’s shoulders and took one last look at him standing about a foot from me, his eyes glistening. I told myself, “what the hell,” and I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek and told him I loved him. He looked as if he didn’t know how to handle what I had said. I became embarrassed, turned away and quickly climbed on the bus.
I didn’t realize at the time that I would not see him for over a decade. Our paths diverged and might never have come back together again except for an extraordinary series of circumstances.