The Gulf Between Us
by Rick Beck
Boy to Man
I knew Mama. She gave signals when I least expected them. When she said things that weren't complimentary to her government, it wasn't wise to chime in to agree. Mama was moving on uncertain turf. When emotion became involved with loyalty to her country, it wasn't always going to make sense. It was best for me not to assume anything.
Nakedness was small potatoes when compared to being unAmerican. Her family came first. Which was no surprise. While her children were no longer on the same page with her, she didn't hesitate to overlook the discrepancy.
While my heathen ways were long ago dismissed as child's play, Teddy's absence wasn't as easy to explain. We all knew why Teddy was gone, but Mama preferred to remember what a dependable hard working son he was and always would be.
Brian would never get such a ringing endorsement, but talking about Teddy in those terms was common, especially once contact was reestablished and we knew he was alive and safe and still free.
John-Henry's defense of Teddy's position was as American as apple pie, Mama, and all her kids. John-Henry was going to defend his country, even if we didn't know from what. He said it was his duty.
We weren't going to sit around the table discussing war protests, because we were all on different sides of the war. I'd never upset Mama by questioning the wisdom of the masters of war. I wasn't the smartest kid at the table and I didn't pretend I was.
Lucy was always the smartest one at our table. She sided with Mama on almost everything. She was in complete support of Teddy. She would defend me in love and war and did, being the only one to figure out that Ivan and I were lovers.
At thirteen Lucy was all in for love. She was unhappy that one of her brothers couldn't come to dinner because of her government's need to control the people and keep them silent. Lucy intended to change this and restore freedom and liberty to her country, and she'd never so much as ruffle one of Mama's feathers.
The FBI didn't know about Lucy yet, but they would. Before she graduated from high school in four years, she'd shut down her school in May of 1970. A lot of people would know her then. Lucy would say things at school she'd never say at our table.
Pop was in the midst of a conspiracy to keep his family as close as he could. Mama wasn't easy to read. She knew what went on in her family at all times. She said nothing while we were in defiance of the government that would put Teddy in the pokey for being Teddy if they got their way. They wouldn't. As they'd never convince the Olson family that the war was for their own good.
This didn't mean I didn't need to tiptoe around Mama when it came to my role in the rebellion. Most of what Ivan said made sense. Pure Ivan would be a bit much for Mama. While he made sense, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I needed to think about the things he said when he voiced his rebellious attitude.
While I'd follow Ivan anywhere then and now, he'd taught me that I had a brain and should use it from time to time.
I was in a holding pattern waiting for the answer to come. I didn't like uncertainty, but nothing anyone said made me certain. I didn't like it when I couldn't make up my mind what to do.
My family kept me off balance because all of them had opinions I wanted to respect. I wasn't sure how to do that and not lose their respect for me. Whoever said war was hell, knew what they were talking about.
The people I separated from and was happy to be rid of were back at the center of my life. More disturbingly, we were closer than we'd ever been before. We were all heading in different directions but we were doing it together. Our differences united us, because none of us were crazy or went off half-cocked; well maybe Brian.
I was seventeen and felt like I was going on twelve. When John-Henry left a couple of weeks after our visit with Teddy, I openly hugged him in front of everyone. I'd hugged him when he'd showed up at Ivan's the day he came home, but that was a private hug.
Hugging him in front of my family wasn't typical Olson behavior. I did not cry. I would not cry, but I felt like crying. John-Henry knew why I wouldn't cry in front of him. My brother had put his trust in me and I'd have to be a man if that day ever came.
I approached Pop once the dust settled after our visit with Teddy. "Pop, can you get a message to Teddy for me?"
"I can. There's someone I leave a message with and they see to it that it's delivered. It's the best I can do, Clay."
"That's fine. I'll give you a note for him. It's private," I said.
"As you wish. I trust you aren't planning to do anything foolish?"
"No, I don't plan to do that. I do plan to do what I think is necessary," I said. "I'm not sure what that is yet."
"Good enough for me, son. You've made me proud and I trust your judgment. I want you and Ivan to be careful. Don't forget, we're being watched. Our government doesn't approve of us."
"I don't much care about them. I don't think they know I'm alive. I'm not old enough to draft. I think the FBI only has eyes for you, Pop."
"Yes they do. I didn't know you knew that much. I give them a big target. I have nothing to hide as far as they know, but I want you to be careful, Clay. The FBI has power to do things we can't imagine."
"You be careful, Pop. How is it safe to contact Teddy?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. There's a network around the anti-war movement. Teddy made contact with me through them. I have a contact who gets messages to Teddy for me. I don't know his name. I go to a prescribed drop off point and leave the message. A week later I return for the reply. It's not express mail but it works."
"Cool," I said. "I'll have something soon."
Life had become complicated around the Olsons. I wasn't a kid on a beach any more. There was intrigue danger, and drop off points for us to stay in touch. Powerful people had decided to hurt us.
I waited for another week before giving Pop the note for Teddy. He put it in his shirt pocket and said he'd get it to where it needed to go today.
I asked Teddy for the date of the march on Washington and if we could go with him if we decided to go.
The following Monday Pop gave me a note at dinner. Ivan was at home reading. He wanted me to bring him something hot. He wanted me to have time with John-Henry on his final few days at home. He knew he'd be a distraction because I only had eyes for him.
Pop passed me the note and I kept it to myself until I went to the bathroom to read it. The march was in mid-October. There would be transportation for anyone interested in going. He was excited that I was thinking about going. He'd send details once he had them.
"You and Ivan going?" Pop asked, as I was preparing to leave.
"I'm not sure, Pop. Ivan's gung ho. I haven't made up my mind."
"Good! In spite of how close you are, you aren't joined at the hip, Clay. Being separated for periods won't hurt a strong friendship. Don't do something as radical as this if your heart isn't in it. I'll be proud of you no matter what you decide," he said, putting his arm over my shoulder in an uncharacteristic display of affection.
"Thanks, Pop. You read the note? I do want to see Teddy again."
"Not your note. I eliminated the possibilities. John-Henry mentioning a march. I read Teddy's reply. Follow your instincts on this. Don't follow Ivan because he's going."
"OK, Pop. I'm just not sure yet," I said, as he walked with me to the kitchen door.
I turned and hugged him. My father was no longer intimidating, but touching each other was. I'd learned how good I felt when I was hugged. It was time I shared that with my family. I wasn't sure why my emotions were so close to the surface now, but they were.
"Teddy gave me something to give you," Pop said, as we separated and he needed to transition.
He handed me a document that was folded over three times. It had an official looking seal on it.
"It's the title to Teddy's car. You'll need to sign it and I'll get the tags for you. I don't want the FBI getting a fix on you. They're certain to be keeping an eye on Teddy's car. I'll make it safe before you can use it. Then you've got yourself a car."
"I don't want his car. I've got no where to go," I said. "I don't want to go anywhere. I'm fine right here."
My first reaction was to reject taking Teddy's car. It was his. Somehow taking it was a sign that Teddy wasn't ever coming home. His refusal to be part of the killing meant he'd always be on the run.
"It's no good to him. It's paid for. It's in fine shape. He left it at Wynn Dixie. His boss is keeping an eye on it. Once I get Teddy's name off the title, I'll tag it and bring it home."
"I don't have my license," I said.
"You don't know how to drive?" Pop asked.
"That's not what I said. Sure I know how to drive. I'm not a dufus, Pop. Ivan taught me after he got his license. In case of trouble. Remember Mr. Aleksa's accident? He wanted me to know how to drive."
"I should have thought of that," Pop said. "Teddy doesn't want the car going to rust. You boys can do your own shopping and let Nick take a break. Bring Kenny to dinner one time. Nick says he never leaves the boat except to go with the other fisherman sometimes."
"I asked him to come to my birthday party last year. I told him we'd take him back when he wanted. He told me he belongs on the boat. It's where he's comfortable. He feels safe there. Something pretty bad must have happened to him, Pop."
"And something good happened when Nick took him in. Kenny's as much a son as Boris and Ivan," Pop said. "I'll need you to sign the title. We'll get tags for it and drive it from time to time. Maintain it. Maybe Teddy won't be in hiding for that long."
"You might want to consider Canada," I said. "It's not safe here. Teddy's the enemy and your government has declared war on your son, Pop. Ivan read there are draft resisters going to Canada so they are out of reach of our government there."
My father stared at me like he didn't know me. I watched the recognition appear on his face. He realized the truth in what I was saying.
I had a brother going to war. I didn't want one going to prison. I wanted Teddy out of the reach of the masters of war.
I'm not sure men like my father understood what boys coming of age in America felt like. The men of my father's generation went to war to save the world from murdering Fascists. It was a noble cause no one questioned. They never wavered until the deed was done.
Kids my age saw nothing noble about killing peasants in their own country. We'd been taught right from wrong.
Ivan was ready to march. He was sure of himself. He was smarter than me because he wanted to know everything. I didn't need to know that much. I wasn't as sure of myself as he was.
What I wanted was to live a peaceful life and be left alone. It was becoming more and more obvious, that wasn't happening. I'd have to make a stand somewhere. The march would be a place to start.
Nothing had changed. I wanted to stay on my beach. I didn't particularly want to march. I wanted to spend more time with Teddy. I wanted nothing to do with the assholes who ran things.
The problem with that, the assholes weren't going to leave me or the people I loved alone. I needed to do something. I wasn't killing anyone but would I be part of making trouble for the masters of war?
We had most of the summer ahead of us. It was almost time to forget about the trouble. Then there was school, which brought Mama into play. Washington was a thousand miles away. I'd checked. It would take a whole day to get there and a whole day to get home. I'd miss one or two days of school if I marched.
Crossing Mama wasn't a good idea. Missing school was a good way to get her attention. I'd figure out what to do when it was time.
The night the message came from Teddy, I spent a long time thinking about my apprehension over what was coming. Ivan often went to bed before I did, which usually got me to bed pretty quick.
On this night the amount of information I had kept going around and around inside my head.
"You coming to bed tonight? I'm lonely," Ivan said, as I pondered what was ahead of me.
"You're horny. It feels a lot like being lonely. Tie a knot in it and I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Ouch! What's eating you? You've become difficult, Clay. You didn't use to be difficult when I mentioned bed."
"Teddy gave me his car," I said.
"Cool," he said.
"I don't want his car. I'm not going anywhere. I intend to stay right here."
"You're like Kenny," Ivan said. "If you pretend the world doesn't exist, it might leave you alone."
"I suppose I am. I'm not exactly afraid but I don't like what's out there. Hell, I don't know a half dozen kids at school I'd give the time of day to elsewhere. I go along to get along. It's all about getting back here."
"That's because I'm here," Ivan said confidently.
"It's because I hate assholes."
"You're a tough one. You give me the time of day," Ivan bragged.
"I love you. It's required when you love someone."
"Oh," he said, accepting his loses. "If you love me you'll come to bed."
"It seems so hopeless," I said. "Most people buy into this war, you know. America right or wrong! Love it or leave it! It's easy for the old farts to say it's a good idea to send the kids over there."
"I agree with you, Clay. What do we do about nitwits? We can't stop the war if we don't leave the beach. We can stay here and hope when the war comes to Florida they'll miss our beach. Or we can stop it now by speaking up now," Ivan said, being fired up by the war.
"You really think that by marching around Washington the war will stop?"
"If we march around Washington the people who think like we do might get off their asses and join us. Most people agree with us, and we fight the wars. There should be a damn good reason to fight one. We're still waiting to hear why we're fighting this one."
He was right. To have the peace and freedom I wanted, I had to leave where the peace and freedom were most obvious to me. If I stayed on the beach, sooner or later they'd come for me as they had come for Teddy.
"Now will you come to bed? We'll be on the boat tomorrow. I don't mind performing for Kenny, I'm pretty good at it if you don't mind me saying so. I'd like to preform just for you tonight."
"Cool your tool, dude. I'll be there in a minute and you can show me what you can do."
With a six day workweek one week, followed by a three day workweek the next week, we were on the boat a lot that summer. This made it feast or famine for love. We didn't pass up a chance to make love if we got one, but opportunities were limited on a forty foot boat.
It was surprising how inventive you could be in a pinch on a boat with little privacy. It didn't matter how creative we were, once in a while we became aware that Kenny was smiling at us. This didn't happen often enough to be called a habit, but when you are in the middle of one of your most passionate moments with the man you love, someone watching tends to distract you.
Kenny would be blushing, but he wasn't so embarrassed he looked away before backing away saying, "Oops! Excuse me. Sorry."
At times like these we might find it difficult to finish what we started while laughing our asses off. Luckily we were quick to recover our libido. We were believers in finishing what we started. No telling when we'd get another chance. A quick recovery was beneficial.
We were always on the Vilnius Two that summer, or so it seemed. July stayed relatively mild without persistent intense heat. We hit 90 a few days but it stayed in the middle to upper 80s on most days. The sea breeze made it comfortable.
Fishing had been good and the work was steady.
As pleasant as the summer was, time was sailing along. School was starting soon. I'd been waiting for this year since I started school. It was almost here. Ivan and I were seniors. The pressure was off. There was no danger of failure if something unforeseen didn't occur.
Before meeting Ivan I didn't know I had a thought process. With life directly ahead of me, I had too many thoughts to know what to do. Ivan called this worrying. I wanted to do what I liked. I wanted to do some good. It wasn't clear how I'd accomplish this.
"If you wait for opportunities to come knocking, you won't need to worry so much, Clay."
"Ivan, if I don't think about what I'm going to do, how will I know what to do?"
"You aren't thinking about anything. You're worried about what is going to happen when nothing is happening. You're still in school. You have a job, a home... two homes, and you're worried about what to do. You're doing it, dude. Wait a minute and you'll see that."
"I've been waiting. No one is knocking on anything," I complained.
"Geez! Worry then. I'd hate to interrupt that."
I wanted to be with Ivan. I wanted to fish with his father. I wanted to be outdoors to make more discoveries about the beautiful world in which I lived. I couldn't figure out how anything I did could be confused with work. That worried me big time.
Some days Ivan and I talked about our future, school, fishing, and how much love was too much love.
'Did two men who loved each other have more rights than two boys who loved each other?'
As individuals we had all the rights as anyone else. As a couple, we had no right to be together. We had no protection from outside forces who would like to hurt us because we did love each other.
Our culture made a point of excluding Ivan and me because we loved each other. It wasn't personal. They hated any two men who love each other. Somehow the idea it wasn't us made it less palatable. We were growing up and gaining rights, until we fell in love, and then people were out to get us.
With the state the world was in, a little more love and a little less hatred couldn't hurt anything. It didn't look like our society was in the mood for love. There was quite a market for hatred through.
While I didn't give a hoot about my culture's disappointment in the person I fell in love with, they insisted my love for Ivan made me eligible to be hated. In the larger scheme of things, while pondering love and hatred, I'd hang onto my love for Ivan every time.
I was positive that people who hated didn't need a reason. It didn't matter how nice Ivan and I were.
Hatred was a lot like war. You picked a group to go after. People who hated weren't likely to love anyone but themselves. Those two forces couldn't exist in the same heart. Not if you knew how to love.
"I don't think you can be loved too much," Ivan said, after agreeing that people in our area wouldn't like us being in love. "I know when I've had enough. The difficulty with that is, it's a lot like potato chips. Five minutes after I've had enough, I want more. With you it only takes two minutes."
"But can you make love so much it isn't healthy for you?" I asked. "We make love a lot, Ivan. I mean two or three times a day."
"This is what we're going to worry about now. There's only one way to find out," he said, taking my hand. "We can answer this question with a little experimenting and I'd see you're ready to rock and roll."
I knew what he meant but I looked down anyway.
It wasn't a good idea for us to talk about sex. We were never going to answer the question, because the question led us to thinking about having more sex.
So far, if there were limits, we hadn't found them, but I wasn't really looking. I was having too much fun to think about having too much sex. I'd heard you lose interest in sex when you get old. We'd both be eighteen in the next year. I wondered if that was when we began to lose interest. There was only one way to find out.
As long as I was with Ivan, it was all good. Sometimes it was great.
Shortly after school started, we got a letter from John-Henry telling us about the trip from California to Vietnam. We'd get a letter about once a week. My father continued to read them at the table. All of John-Henry's letters were placed on the table next to the staircase. We could read them if we liked.
There was no mention of war. John-Henry talked about his best friend, Andrew Hastings, Andy. He was from Colorado. They'd gone through boot camp and advanced infantry training together.
They were assigned to the same rifle squad after John-Henry asked his sergeant to see if he couldn't put them together in a squad that needed two men. The rest of the men John-Henry knew and trained with disappeared into the fog of war.
If he was involved in the fighting, he didn't mention that. His letters read like he was off at boy scout camp. While it didn't sound all that bad, I remembered where he was and why he was there.
It kept me from running down to enlist. Although at seventeen, Mama would have chained me to the wall before she'd sign for me to join the military.
The first letter from Boris appeared on the table on Ivan's side of he bed. Until there were five, I didn't pay much attention. Ivan did not read them to me and he didn't invite me to read them. They were addressed to Ivan and while I was tempted to read one, I didn't. I was happy they kept coming.
I knew where Boris was in training by John-Henry's letters. Boris was still safe and still in the States. It's what came to mind when I looked at the growing pile of letters. I worried about John-Henry.
There was nothing to worry about. Boris would be fine. John-Henry would be fine. I still worried. I didn't tell Ivan this.
As good as everything was for me, everyone wasn't so fortunate. Mama took me aside one day to tell me it was time for me to take some of the workload off Pop. As with so much that went on beyond my well ordered life, helping my father hadn't come to mind.
Only once in my life did I see my father as anything but a good man who led our family. I'd always seen Pop as the man who sat at the head of what had become a rather diverse family. He'd only failed me once, when he forced me to give up the only life I'd known to go halfway across the country to the beach where we now lived.
For me that seemed like the end of the world at the time.
I don't think I got over my anger with my father for months, until it was clear Ivan and I were forming what even at the time felt like a once in a lifetime friendship. This got Pop off the hook.
The pain over leaving Tulsa was inside me. It was a bad experience that turned out well. My father led me to the perfect place where I finished growing up and made the perfect friend. I'd never have been this happy in Tulsa. I wasn't happy when I was in Tulsa.
"Clayton, you've had life your way since you got here. I've made few demands on your time. Your father had both John-Henry and Brian working for him the last couple of years and both of them are gone now. No one wants to work at the conservancy, even if it is mostly about being at the beach. Kids just don't want to work today.
"I'm not asking you to leave Mr. Aleksa. Just give some of your days off to your father. He's not getting any younger, you know," Mama said in a way that I couldn't ignore.
"Sure Mama. I'll help Pop out. Pop isn't getting old, Mama."
"None of us is getting any younger, Clay. He needs the kind of help John-Henry gave him. He'd never ask you. He's always giving to you boys. He never asks his sons for anything and he needs help."
I knew it wasn't asking a lot and I enjoyed being with my father. We weren't together that often but before I went home I drove back to the conservancy to see if he needed anything that day.
Pop stressed he didn't want me taking time off from the boat. He considered that my job. The kind of things he needed me to do was mostly driving around. It was routine maintenance and trash collection John-Henry did. When I did it, it shortened Pop's day by a couple of hours.
It was a long way to the end of the island and back. It took an hour to go one way if you drove the speed limit. I didn't. It was still several hours to make a round trip and do all the trash cans. I stayed within sight of the beach the entire time. I didn't mind that.
The new arrangement took up what was left of my free time. It gave me quite a bit of time with Pop. I didn't go to the end of the island everyday. Some days it wouldn't be busy and we could go to lunch or for a cup of coffee.
That's not all there was to it. Within a couple of days I met most of the people at the conservancy. There were other employees, the board, and the man who ran the show. I met him last.
The conservancy was involved with preserving Sanibel Island as a pristine environment. Nothing I did was hard work, but I guess it was work. The pay wasn't much and Pop banked it for me. Mr. Aleksa still paid me in cash. Except for what went into Teddy's gas tank, it mostly went into the jar on top of the fridge.
I was still going to school. I was still fishing for Mr. Aleksa. I was now an official employee of the conservancy.
My worries were reduced if not ended. Maybe this was what it was supposed to be like once you grew up. You couldn't really plan for it. Things happened that led to other things happening.
The first few days kept me busy. I didn't see it leading anywhere, but I didn't know where to look either.
I did come to work for my father with a history. I wasn't without skills or knowledge. I brought experiences with me. I didn't see how any of it applied to picking up trash on the island, but the conservancy was about more than picking up the trash. Any conservancy should be, although I knew nothing about that then.
It was all about the trash those first few days. I was getting my feet wet and Pop was doing what he did. I soon knew his routine.
I could do this for a while and pretend I was at the beach.
Pop seemed pleased to have me around and I liked being around. At day's end we went home to dinner together. Ivan dropped me off after school, driving Teddy's car back home.
I had my first job, part-time.
Life was coming for me whether I liked it or not.
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