Boy on the Towpath
by Andrew Foote
Tom was over the moon with what I'd told him. I wanted to reiterate just how proud I was of him but it might just make him a bit cocky so I left it alone.
By eleven we were both yawning so I sent him off for a shower. Again, once he was done. We changed places and I luxuriated under the warm water.
I came out to find him sitting on the made-up bed from the previous evening and I have to admit to feeling sad that maybe he wanted to sleep alone.
"Hey Tom? You sleeping there tonight then?"
"I just thought that maybe you wanted me to. After all you did say you'd overstepped the mark and I just thought..."
"I don't want to sleep alone. Yep I overstepped the mark but it has to be your choice. I want you with me but if you..."
"I want! I want to be with you all the time! I was going to say you were so cool but that's not the right word. All I can think of is the way it feels when you cuddle me. – How safe I feel in your arms and how wanted I feel. I understand what you said earlier about wearing underpants and stuff and that's okay."
I bundled him up in my arms and took him to my bed. Things always seem worse at night and obviously something was upsetting Tom as I could feel him crying gently.
"What's the problem Tom?"
"I'm sorry. I don't know where that came from. I'm just so scared that I'll lose you."
"You have nothing to be sorry about. It's me who is scared about losing you! I had wondered if you just wanted to be with me as someone to experiment with and I was bothered that after I made it clear that was not going to happen, you might just cut and run."
"I had thought it might be fun. I will admit that but I want to be with you for better reasons than that. You're kind and gentle. You explain things to me rather than shouting at me. My Dad died but you're like a second Dad to me and maybe I shouldn't say this but I do love you for all those reasons."
'From the mouths of babes and children' so goes the expression. When emotions are running high they cannot help themselves but to speak from the heart and I had to work hard at keeping myself from crying.
"And you are like the son I've never had and I love you too. That's not a throw-away comment either. I really mean it."
We lay in silence for some little time but instinctively I knew there was something else on his mind and remembering how I was at his age, I correctly guessed it was sex. At almost thirteen years old he was teetering on the edge of puberty – neither a man nor a boy with his hormones taking his body and emotions into a whole different and confusing world.
Janet – obviously a good and caring Mum, was probably not the ideal person to explain things or help guide him through the maze that is adolescence. Perhaps I was. After all my experience of puberty hadn't been the easiest because aside from all the normal confusions, I also had to battle with the fact that I was almost sure I was homosexual.
I use the term 'homosexual' as the rather polite word 'gay' wasn't used in that context back then and being labelled 'homosexual' or just plain 'homo' was like putting a sign around your neck saying 'I'm a social leper. Do not approach!'
I decided to break the ice.
"What's on your mind mate?"
"Come on Tom. I know you well enough to know something is eating at you! Let me guess. Is it sex perhaps?"
"I err... I mean... How did you know?"
"Hey I was your age once remember? I know how it is at your age. It's sort of exciting but also a little confusing. It's also very personal and you don't feel able to talk to anyone about it even though that's what you want and dare I say it, need to do. No pressure but I'm here. I've been there. You know I'll always tell you how it is and nothing you can say will embarrass me. Let me help you but only if that's what you want."
"Yeah I guess so. It is a bit embarrassing though!" He giggled.
My turn to giggle. "Well yes I suppose but there's no good reason why it should be if you think about it. You get sex-education at school?"
"For what it's worth, yes."
"I understand! They teach you about the mechanics of it, reproduction and so forth and that's about it. Right?"
"Yeah and diseases and stuff, safe sex and the like."
"All very good stuff in its own way but what they don't teach you is the emotional side of things. Sex and sexual relationships are perhaps the single biggest thing in a young person's life both for boys and girls.
They both have strong sexual instincts and desires. Boys tend to be rather more inclined towards experimentation whereas girls generally are more passive and are prepared to wait it out. Okay so far?"
"Yes. All good."
"Boys urges are very powerful. They have little or no control over their dicks during puberty and for some while after in some cases. I know 'cos I used to pop one at the most embarrassing times! Why do you think that should be?"
"I don't know but that happens to me too!"
"It is all very normal and nothing to be bothered about. Basically it's your body's way of telling you that it needs sexual gratification. Your body is demanding sex or its equivalent. You don't have to answer this but if it helps, I do this. Do you masturbate? Some call it wanking or jacking off if you will."
"Oh God! Umm... Yes... Yes I do."
"Great stuff. Again nothing to get upset about – it's all perfectly normal. Anything you hear like it's a sin or you'll go blind or your dick will fall off is the biggest load of old bollocks ever! The worst that can happen is it'll get a bit sore if you either do it like every five minutes or if you're too rough with yourself and if that happens, use something as a lubricant. Baby oil is great for that and the experience will be far and away better than without it. Trust me on that one!"
"Wow! Really? I never knew that! You can't show me though can you."
"Absolutely not! That isn't because I don't want to or that I'm not willing to. Just the law remember?"
"I know. Stupid law!"
"The fact that it's illegal for another man to tinker with you, it's okay pretty much if you do it with another boy and again believe me on this, most boys at some point in growing up do experiment with each other. It doesn't mean you're gay or anything like that and it won't make you gay.
Orientation is decided before you are born. It's genetic and there's nothing you or anyone else can do about it. Gay, straight, bi-sexual, lesbian or whatever. That's the way God made you and that is fucking it!"
"I know what gay is but what are the others?"
"Okay. Gay is when a guy feels sexually attracted to other guys and not girls. Bi-sexual people and these can be either guys or girls, are people who feel sexually attracted to both their own gender and also those of the opposite sex. I guess they're the lucky ones! Lesbians are girls who, like gay men, are sexually attracted to their own gender rather than men.
"Hey! Sounds good to be bi-sexual! I could get it all the time!"
I broke into a fit of hysterics!
"Horny little toad! I know what you mean though!"
"Can I ask you something kind of personal?"
"Yes of course you can!"
"You're gay, right? Have you ever fancied a girl?"
"Yes. Actually I have. I guess I'm bi but my gay side is stronger. I've had girl friends in the past and loved the sexual side of it but never felt as if I could settle down and get married to any of them."
"Yeah but you've never settled down with another guy either, have you!"
"Fuck!! Good point! Do you know I've never looked at it that way before!"
"When will I know how I'll be?
"Soon enough my lovely friend. Soon enough! First puberty will take you on a sexual roller-coaster and you won't know what the fuck you are! That'll settle down and you will find that either you want to date and hopefully get into the knickers of that cute girl in your class or... you want to date and hopefully get into the pants of that cute guy in you class! Even better. You want to do both but can't make up your bloody mind which to have a go at first!"
Tom shrieked with laughter!
"You are so funny! I deffo want to be bi!"
I smiled. "That decision was made on your behalf the day your Mum fell pregnant with you Tom. Still it's nice to dream!!"
The conversation petered out as we both drifted off to sleep. I felt good with myself being able to help him understand things better and also very happy that he was able to open up to me. After all it was a difficult subject for a kid to deal with no matter what the circumstances.
God certainly works in mysterious ways and I wondered if our chance meeting was pre-ordained.
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