A Fourth Alternate Reality
With editorial assistance from Dix and John
I didn't have to wait for Tim's letter to find out how he did with his diving. All I had to do was watch the TV and read the sports section-his success, and his picture, was spread all over the front page. He was the youngest national champion in both 3m. platform and 1m. springboard in history. The fact that he was cute, personable, a relative unknown, lacked a big name coach, and did not come out of an established diving program simply made his story all that more delectable for the sports writers. His parents were interviewed, as were Carl and Tina. Everyone assumed the obvious about Tim and Tina, and both just smiled and let it pass. Neither seemed to find any reason to suggest that the assumptions weren't correct!
Priscy and I read the stories together. She was amazed that I could be so calm about Tim and Tina's press. I told her, "Look, Priscy. There are two possibilities: First that Tim is absolutely in love with me, in which case all of this is good fun, and Tina is good cover for a gay boy who isn't ready to come out. Second, is that Tim and Tina will fall in love. I told Tim right from the beginning, that he should find someone his own age. If he does, I'll be glad for him. That's part of what these forty months are for. But, before you think I am very generous, I know Tim. He isn't going to waver. It's not his style. He'll be there in January, 1965. You wait and see."
The Olympics questions weren't as easy for Tim to deal with. He had a stock answer, "For personal reasons, I have chosen to try to qualify for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Tokyo is not under consideration." Press speculation never even came close to the "personal reasons."
Tim's September letter opened, "Charlie, the hardest thing I ever did was dive in the Nationals without you there. And I have to do it next year too! Damn, that's harder than going to sleep alone."
A note came from Norman and Betsy as well. They had decided, with Tim's permission, to tell his coach about me. Coach Nelson had no experience with homosexuality. While he knew that almost certainly some of the boys he had worked with over the years were gay, none had ever acknowledged it to him. He had caught a couple of boys "playing around" a few times, but had simply told them to stop-he had never seen any reason to make a big deal of it. He had assumed that it was just play, and hadn't thought further. As for Tim, it certainly wasn't going to change his relationship to Tim. But he did think that knowing would be helpful for him in relating to Tim, especially as Tim dealt with the pressures of being a national champion.
Coach Nelson also expressed his appreciation to Norman and Betsy for not taking Tim to a high-powered private coach. They had replied that they had nothing to do with any such decision, Tim was his own person as far as his diving was concerned. He got support from his parents, and advice when asked. Period. They also told him that they didn't think that Tim had even considered any other coach; the idea hadn't even come onto the table.
Tim had joined the conversation, and the four of them talked about the coming year, and the pressure that would be on Tim regarding the Olympic trials. Tim simply said, "I'm going to avoid all national competition until the June regionals and the August Nationals. I'll compete for Southwest High and that's that."
Coach Nelson had smiled at the thought of what his team was going to do this year, and shared those pleasant thoughts out loud. But he also said, "I think you may not realize the pressure that can build up."
Tim said, "I think that this year may be the year for me to work harder on my gymnastics. I think that I may shift my before school work to the gym three days a week. OK?"
Coach Nelson replied, "Tim, if I have learned anything working with you it is that you make your own decisions, and that they're the right ones nearly all of the time. You plan your own time. You're going to be the star of Twin Cities diving this year whether you practice or not. But I have no fear that you won't practice-more than anybody else."
"I'm not sure how comfortable I am in my present gymnastics program. They have pressured me away from diving. They haven't supported my balance beam work, even though it's my greatest pleasure. While the coaching is good, and everybody's nice to me and all that, I just have the sense that they're more out for themselves than for me. I've never felt that way about you or this school."
"Thank you, Tim. That means a lot to me."
"My question is, can you help me find a gymnastic program that's run by someone like you?"
"Let me ask some of my coaching friends."
"Thanks, Coach Nelson."
Norman continued his letter. Coach Nelson had made inquiries. Gymnastics in the area was all centered in local clubs, for two reasons: Kids had to start very early to be any good-and thus couldn't depend on high school programs, and there weren't any high school programs because all the kids were organized into clubs. The clubs organized meets, and competed in state and regional competitions. The main goal of most of the kids was to get into a good college program, hopefully with an athletic scholarship. As with the ambitions of most high school athletes, the dream of free college tuition was beyond the reach of almost all of the competitors.
Coach Nelson had found a little club in St. Paul that hadn't been spectacular in its competition success, but the head coach had the reputation of caring for his kids. Coach Nelson and Tim had gone to visit; Norman and Betsy had gone along.
First off, the coach introduced himself as John, asked everyone to call him that, and then asked Tim to tell a little about himself. Norman said that Tim's autobiography would have suggested that he was a second string diver who was trying to find time to work in a little gymnastics. Luckily John knew who Tim was, and Coach Nelson set everyone straight right away. "Look, Tim, let's get it all on the table. You want to go to the Mexico City Olympics as a diver and a gymnast, and are trying to work out a program to let that happen. Right?"
Norman said Tim almost turned white.
"Charlie's only half the reason you want to wait for Mexico City, right?"
Tim said, after much thought, "No, Coach Nelson, Charlie is the only reason. Believe that. But, yes, I would like to be a two-sport athlete in Mexico City."
John said, "Who is Charlie?"
Tim replied, "A good friend."
John continued, "Tim, I don't run a program that's aimed at creating Olympic gymnasts. The program you are in is much more competitive. Why are you here?"
Coach Nelson stepped in, "I don't run a program that creates national diving champions, but there he is. Totally self-created. If he becomes an Olympic gymnast, it will be the same way. But he needs support and guidance. John, I've asked around about you and your program. It's what Tim needs."
"Tim, you're certainly welcome here. I'd be honored. Frank, my assistant coach, and I will teach you all we know. Beyond that we'll support you and guide you. But it's up to you. However, you're going to need a top quality coach before you're Olympic material. But Mexico City is nearly five years away. I think you'll be happy here during high school, but you're going to have to go to a university with a top ranked program."
Tim said, "I think I'll be comfortable here. I'll cross the college bridge in two years when I come to it."
Norman said that both he and Betsy, and Coach Nelson, offered to go with Tim when he resigned from his old gymnastics club. Tim refused. He said that this was something that he had to do alone. He didn't want any implication that anybody else had influenced his decision. He had been yelled at a little, but it simply confirmed for him that the old club didn't have his interests above their own. He believed that Coach John did.
Tim told me the story in his own letter, but vastly shorter. I really appreciated hearing the more detailed account from Norman. Tim's schedule was as impossible this year as in the previous year. But since Tim was now 16 and had his license, he could drive and Carl didn't have to get up so early in the morning on the three days a week that Tim drove over to St. Paul to work with Coach John before breakfast-eaten in the car going to school. Two days a week Carl had to go to school early with Tim, because Tim couldn't be alone in the pool.
My relaxed schedule in Des Moines actually made me feel guilty!
Phil was in graduate school in Kansas. He drove up to Des Moines one weekend to visit. I couldn't wait to introduce him to Priscy. It took Phil a little while to get used to the fact that his gay partner from college now seemed to have a lesbian girl friend-all the while being in love with a teenager in Minnesota-who had a straight boyfriend! But Phil and Priscy had so much in common-particularly shared values-that they hit it off and became good friends.
Priscy sensed that Phil and I wanted to sleep together, and that Phil wasn't ready for a lesbian lover. She left early and Phil and I had a reunion in my bed that Saturday night that we both would remember for a while.
Phil had not found a lover in Manhattan where he was studying at Kansas State. He had met a few gay men, and had "experimented" a little, but had not found it satisfying. "Charlie, sex isn't worth much unless it's with someone you love. I loved you Charlie, still do. Love doesn't have to mean 'true love' or 'I love you and no one else'. But it has to mean more than, 'Gee, wouldn't a little sex be fun tonight?"
"Phil, I know what you mean. I have loved a lot of people. Some people would call them close friendships, but it's a kind of love. And I love you too, Phil. I always will. I would've liked to be your life partner. But it wasn't in the cards. But you'll find your Tim. I know you will."
I wouldn't see Phil again for quite a while. He wrote shortly after he got back to Kansas and said that visiting me was simply too difficult. He had to move forward, not live in the past. We promised to keep in touch, and we did from time to time. I told Priscy the story, and she agreed with Phil. He needed to get on with his life and I couldn't help him right then. I couldn't help but tell Priscy of the thoughts that kept banging around in my head-that I knew two gentle giants that were perfect for each other: Phil and Franklin. But I would not do to them what fate had done to Tim and me. Franklin would have to be eighteen years old before either of them would know of the other's existence. Then, if.... Well, we would just have to see.
Letter 24, of 40, and September ended. I was comfortable with Priscy. Tim was going at his usual impossible pace. All was normal.
Tim's October letter arrived early in the month. He was full of excitement about his new gymnastics club and John and Frank, his new coaches. Tim fell in love quickly, but wisely. The first practice was all that he needed to decide that he loved John-at least as a coach. "Charlie, I just feel in my bones that he's concerned for me, not for any glory or benefit that he or the club will gain from any success I might have. And he hugs people! I need hugs, especially without you around to give them to me."
Overall, the competition wasn't quite as stiff at the new club. But there were about four top competitors that were as good as any in the Twin Cities-and now Tim was added to those four. The other four were two boys and two girls, all from St. Paul high schools. One of the girls was a senior and one of the boys was a sophomore-the others were juniors like Tim. They were friendly and made him feel welcome at the club-The St. Paul Gymnastics Club. Tim was glad when he looked at the meet schedule and saw that there would be no meets with his old club, except the area-wide meets.
On his second visit John asked about his balance beam work. He had heard of Tim's demonstrations, but had never seen them. He asked Tim to demonstrate. John had asked this in private, for which Tim was grateful. He replied that he wasn't in good enough practice for a demonstration. But more importantly, he didn't think that doing a demonstration like that, even if just for the club, would be a good way to get started with new teammates. John agreed, but asked if Tim would stay late and show off a little just for the coaches. Tim agreed, but soon found that all four of the "group" had learned and were each asking if they could watch. Tim realized that he couldn't do it for an elite group, so he said to John, "Look this has gotten out of hand. I need two weeks to practice with just you or Frank. Then I'll do my stuff for everyone."
He worked with Frank, very intensely, for two weeks. He was back to his old form. On "the day" he showed up after school and everyone was waiting for him-since he came the farthest, he was usually the last to arrive after school. The beam was set up, and when he arrived, everybody moved over toward it to watch. He took a big risk, by deciding to forego on-the-beam warmups, and just did bits of his routine on the floor on the other side of the gym. Then he raced to the beam, somersaulted onto it, and took everyone's breath away with his antics. He and Frank had changed the routine a little to add a little levity, and that made it more enjoyable for the group, and less competitive as well. Tim was very anxious that he not set in motion a wave of unfriendly competition in his new setting.
He needn't have worried. Everyone was thrilled, and seemed to be thrilled to have his talent in the club. He wasn't-yet-the best gymnast in the club; and his balance beam routine-though spectacular-wasn't within the prescribed guidelines for beam competition, so he wasn't outshining the girls in their event. For the rest of the gymnastics events he didn't do any special shows-people just saw him as he practiced. It soon became clear that if he really worked, he was going to be a major competitive force in the Twin Cities. Beyond? Who knew?
Tina often came with Tim after school to St. Paul. Everyone assumed-correctly I would say-that she was his girlfriend. Of course, I was not mentioned. Tina was popular at the club, and she watched them practice, or studied, as the mood suited her. She had never been welcome at his old club, and being able to spend practice time with Tim delighted her. She wrote me, "Charlie, when I see him fly around the parallel bars or the pommel horse I get all tingly. Sometimes I fear he's going to hurt himself-he goes at it was such wild abandon. But I trust him. I can't wait for you to be able to share this joy. He's really sexy, especially on the rings, where he doesn't move so fast that you can't really watch him."
I envied her. My letter to Tim told him that. I also told him that I was getting bored in Des Moines, with only a 40 hour per week job and no Tim. Letter 25, of 40, ended, as did October.
Tim's letter came right back. It arrived on November 1, so he must have cheated a day or two on the mailing date. I decided to forgive him.
"Charlie. Being bored isn't acceptable. Rot's the brain. Breeds bad habits. It's not you. Write a book. I don't give a damn what about. Pick a topic, do the work, write a book. Be an author."
Where does this guy get these ideas? Books grow out of ideas, not the other way around. You don't just decide to write a book and then go looking for a book to write. Or do you? I didn't have any idea. Neither did Priscy. But she did have a suggestion for a book. The Red Cross had been active in Iowa forever, it seemed. No one had ever written any kind of history of its work there. It was needed. I should do it. Maybe the office would give me some time to work on it, but it would mostly be my personal project.
When I told him my idea-actually I gave Priscy credit for it-Randy, office manager and my supervisor, was very enthusiastic. He said, "But you only have a little over a year. Can you do a good job in that time?"
"I don't know. If not, I'll either leave the research in as good a shape as I can; or I'll take it with me and finish it."
"Let me talk to the Director, but I'm sure that she'll like the idea."
Two days later I got the go ahead. I wasn't given any specific number of hours a week to work on it, but was told that I could and should work on the history whenever I had free time from other duties. In fact, that worked out to about a day a week. They also agreed to give me time and mileage to visit other Red Cross sites in the state for research and interviews.
The book became an obsession. I think my book work schedule soon matched Tim's athletic schedule. And I am sure that is what he expected to happen when he made the suggestion.
I have to jump forward a bit here to finish the story of the book. It took about nine months to complete. The Red Cross had begun work in Iowa in the Nineteenth Century, beginning with disaster relief from tornadoes and floods. They played a significant role in the war effort in both World Wars, and got into the blood business shortly after World War II. In all of that they matched pretty much what went on in 49 other states. The fascinating stuff was the rivalry between different state offices, competition with other blood bank operations, a unique relationship between the Red Cross and the State Health Department, and a very close involvement with the schools. In addition to telling the story, I collected and organized a vast amount of archival material, which I arranged to have microfilmed and stored in the state headquarters, state archives, and the National Office of the Red Cross. The book was published privately by the Iowa Red Cross, but sold surprisingly well in bookstores. It got a large library purchase run as well. For a book of that nature it was an outstanding success. And it became Volume One of a state history series sponsored by the National Red Cross. I was an author.
In my November letter, 26 of 40, I told Tim of the Red Cross history project, and thanked him for prodding me. There wasn't much else to tell.
One afternoon in late November I got a call out of the blue from Tom's mother, Beverly. Tom had stayed in touch with the group, and we exchanged letters about every other month, but I had had no contact with his parents since my last summer at camp. Beverly seemed distraught. Tom had been in a very serious automobile accident. He had been hit by a drunk running a red light. The impact had hit the driver's side where Tom's girlfriend was riding. She was killed instantly. Somehow he had come out of the accident only damaged slightly, physically. But he was shattered. He had seen a psychiatrist and his school counselor, but neither had helped. He was just going through the motions of life. Beverly and Sam, his father, were at their wit's end.
"Beverly, why are you calling me?" I asked.
"Charlie, last night as we were talking to Tom he mumbled, 'I wish Charlie was here.' It took us a minute to figure out who Charlie was, but not more than a minute. Charlie, Tom really took to you those two summers at camp. I think you might be able to help him. Could you come? We'll be glad to pay your air fare to Detroit."
Could I come? Tom had done so much for the other boys, it would never have occurred to me to say no if I could be of any help. But I had no idea that I could, and I told Beverly that.
She said, "I know. It's a long shot. But in the two weeks since the accident he has made no progress at all. He schoolwork's slipping. He won't talk. Hardly eats. You may be a long shot, but we think it's worth a try. Both his psychiatrist and his counselor agree. Please come."
"I'll get the first available flight out in the morning."
I called Randy and got his approval (I would have gone without it, but I didn't see any value in pushing that point). I got reservations, and headed to the airport for the flights to Chicago and on to Detroit. I was there by two in the afternoon. Sam met me at the airport. He said, "Tom knows you're coming, but everyone seemed to agree that it would be better for you to greet him in his home than in the airport. Dr. Johnson, his psychiatrist says we should bring you home, let you and Tom greet each other, and then we should leave you alone. Is that OK with you."
"Of course. But I really don't know what to expect."
We arrived at their home in the northeastern suburb of Harper Woods. Sam opened the door and there was Tom sitting on the sofa, next to his mother. He looked unhappy, and perhaps as if he had been crying. He looked up and saw me, slowly got up and walked over to me and hugged me in a bear hug. He was only slightly larger than Tim, and just barely came up to my chin. But he wrapped his arms around my chest and just held on. He was motionless, just standing there with his head against my chest. He started to cry. There was nothing I could do but hug him back, and so I did. Sam and Beverly went out and left us alone.
I don't know how long we stood there. I really think it was half an hour, but time was totally lost on both of us. Finally, his sobbing slowed, and we walked over to the sofa and sat down. "Thank you for coming, Charlie."
"Tom, I would have come from China if you needed me."
"I know. Thank you."
"Do you want to tell me the story?"
"Didn't Mom tell you? Or Dad?"
"Yes, but wouldn't you like to tell it?"
"I guess." And so he did. He filled in details, but it was substantially the story that Beverly had told. He did supply the girl's name, Julie. She was the girl who had come with his parents to pick him up at camp.
"Have you talked to Julie's parents? Did you go to her funeral?"
"I went to the funeral and we spoke a little. I said I was sorry, and they assured me that they didn't think it was my fault. But it was, Charlie. I was driving. I should have seen him." The crying started all over again.
And the hugging. Again, time is lost. It seemed he hugged me forever. Beverly looked in, but I motioned her away. We just sat on the couch, leaning against each other, hugging. Tom sobbing.
Finally, I said, "Tom, I'm hungry. Are you?"
"Yes. Will you take me to a restaurant for dinner?"
"Are you up to it?"
"What about your parents?"
"I want to go just with you."
"OK. I'm sure they'll agree." And I was right.
He wanted to go to a favorite hamburger joint. We both had huge hamburgers and malts. With the food a smile began to return to his face. When he finished the malt and made a huge slurping sound with the straw on the bottom of the glass, he looked at me and said, "I'm OK now. Let's go home."
I drove him home, but on the way he said, "Please drive me to Julie's house. I need to talk to her parents, and I would like them to meet you."
"Shouldn't you talk to your parents first?"
"They didn't lose a daughter. Please take me to Julie's. Turn left at the next street."
I followed his directions and we soon arrived.
"Come in with me Charlie, please."
He rang the doorbell. A woman came to the door who looked like she had been through a wringer. "Tom, come in. We have been hoping you would come." She looked at me as if to ask, "And who is this?"
Tom was quick with the introduction. "This is Charlie, my camp counselor. Julie knew all about him, and I think that I mentioned him to you as well."
"Yes, Tom you did. Welcome, Charlie. Tom's stories of Charlie were quite something. I always wanted to meet Tom's hero."
Tom said, "I'd like to stay, and we need to talk a lot more. But I just came here tonight to thank you for the kind words you said to me, and about me, at the funeral. I'm not sure I deserve them. But I wasn't functioning then, and never said thanks. I don't think I said anything. That wasn't right."
Julie's mother looked at me and said, "Did you work some kind of magic? Just yesterday Beverly and Sam were in total despair for Tom. He's come to life."
"I think he has cried it out. He'll get better now. I truly wish that I had known Julie. If Tom liked her, perhaps loved her, she had to have been one terrific young woman. I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, Charlie. Julie was quite a girl. She'll be missed." Then she turned to Tom. "Tom, don't forget us. You remind us of Julie, and that's a good thing not bad. We want to remember her, and remember her when she was at her best-and that was when she was with you."
There wasn't much more to say, and we said goodbye and left, but not before Tom got a huge hug from Julie's mother. He looked content as he was being squeezed.
We headed home to his parents, who were waiting anxiously. However, they had had a telephone call from Julie's mom the moment we had left. Beverly rushed out to the front yard as we drove up and hugged Tom, who returned it with enthusiasm and joy. The tears were gone. He was OK. Sam was right behind and they hugged as well. While Sam was hugging Tom, Beverly was hugging me and asked, "What did you do?"
"Nothing. I just held him and let him cry. He needed it. I honestly don't know how long he cried on your sofa. But he cried it out. Dinner was an afterthought. But we need to talk about something, right away. Can we go in your kitchen and leave Tom in the living room?"
I said to Tom, "Tom, I need to talk to your parents. Will you wait for us in the living room?"
When we got to the kitchen, I said, "You need to know what Tom's next question is going to be, and you need some background before you answer it. Tom talked in the car on the way home. He wants me to sleep with him in his room tonight."
"There's only one bed. Is he going to sleep on the floor?"
"That isn't what he has in mind. He wants me to sleep with him and hold him."
"Am I missing something here" Sam asked.
"Yes. I'm gay, and Tom knows I'm gay. He knows I have a boyfriend. But that isn't why he wants me to hold him tonight. The group from camp became very close. Hugging and holding was a big part of their ethos. It was never sexual, but it was very physical. He's trying to recover some of those good memories."
"Would you be offended if I talked to Dr. Johnson?" asked Beverly.
"Certainly not," I replied. "You may tell him everything I just told you. But, you should know that I'm not public about being a gay man. Tom knows because the boys figured it out the second summer. They're a smart lot. I have never acknowledged that they were right, but they weren't fooled."
Beverly came back from talking on the phone to Dr. Johnson. "I hated to call him at home, but I thought this was important. He agreed. He would like to meet both of you tomorrow morning. He thinks you're right that Tom needed to cry it out, and has succeeded. You were the catalyst. He had two comments on the sleeping arrangement: First, Tom still needs all the support he can get, and this would be important support. Second, he asked if we had any reason to distrust you. I told him that, quite the contrary, we had every reason to trust you. He said, 'Let them sleep wherever they like.'"
I said, "Let Tom bring up the subject."
He did. As soon as we walked into the room, Tom said, "Mom, Dad, I'm sorry for the way I have been for two weeks. I just couldn't help it. I think I'm better now. I need to sleep. May Charlie sleep with me?"
"Yes, dear. We have been talking about that, and he may. We'll see you in the morning."
Tom and I went upstairs. As soon as we got inside his room he hugged me again. Then he got a big grin on his face and said, "Boy, am I going to have fun teasing Tim and telling him that I got to sleep with you before he did."
"Sorry, Tom, but that's not true. Tim and I slept together at his house in Minneapolis, back in September of 1961. That was just over two years ago. And we had exactly the same amount of sex that you and I are going to have tonight."
We both used the bathroom, and when I came back Tom was in bed, under the covers. He had his pajamas on. I took off my clothes, but didn't make any move to put on pajamas-though I had them. I said, "Hugging is much better when there aren't two layers of clothing between two people. Why don't you lose those pajamas?"
Tom looked startled, and then delighted. He hopped out of bed and stripped. I'll have to admit that I admired his equipment. It had grown substantially in the two years since I had first viewed it. He looked me over too. He said, "We're just looking, aren't we?"
"Yes, Tom, just looking. And if we don't stop looking and get under the covers I'm going to get hard and embarrassed."
He hopped under the covers and held them for me. We lay on our sides face to face and held each other. Sleep came quickly.
So did morning. We got up, showered-separately-and dressed-watching each other-and went down for breakfast. Beverly and Sam were there with lots of questions. What had I said? What had I done? How had Tom come around so quickly? How had we slept? (Was there an unspoken question there?)
I said that we might as well wait till we all met with Dr. Johnson, as I would have to say everything twice if we didn't. The meeting with Dr. Johnson followed soon after breakfast. He was cordial, but businesslike. He asked me to tell him everything that had happened from the time I met Tom the day before until that moment. This was followed with questions to both Tom and me about Camp White Elk.
His conclusion? "Sam and Beverly, Tom, Charlie, this is the most remarkable case of bonding that I have ever seen. Tom bonded to you at camp, and that bond has sustained him in many ways since. Sometimes these sorts of bond can be very destructive, but this one doesn't seem to be so. It all seems positive. Tom has not become dependent on the bond, or on Charlie, but seems to thrive on it. I don't think that his depression following the accident had anything to do with the bond with Charlie, but clearly it was the key to getting him over it. And he does seem to be over it.
"Regarding the sleeping last night. I assume nothing went on that either of you would be unwilling to share with the three of us."
"That's right," I said. Tom nodded his head.
"I have to ask. How sexual is the relationship?"
Sam and Beverly looked startled. Tom didn't seem phased by the question.
"Who would you like to answer that?" I asked.
"How about Tom first, and then you?"
Tom said, "We slept nude." A gasp from Beverly. "He looked at me and I looked at him. I think we both thought of more, but there wasn't anything more."
"Tom's right. I don't know what he thought, but I certainly could have enjoyed a sexual relationship with him. But the reasons for there not being a sexual relationship are legion. There was none. Nothing happened."
"Tell us the reasons," said Dr. Johnson.
"First, I have a boyfriend. Second, he's underage. Third, and in this case most important, I had told his parents nothing would happen. They trusted me. I wouldn't have considered breaking that trust."
"Why did you allow yourself into that risky situation?" asked Dr. Johnson.
"Because I thought Tom wanted, and needed, it. And because I enjoyed it immensely. To every extent that my holding and hugging Tom supported him last night, I was supported by him. I have needs like every other human. Tom is wonderful. He met my emotional needs like I met his."
Dr. Johnson said, "Charlie, I knew before you came in here that you were extraordinary. Everything you and Tom have told me confirms that. Sam and Beverly, I think Charlie has given you back a son. It was beyond my power. Charlie didn't work his magic yesterday; he worked it during two weeks of camp two years ago. Those camping fees for those two weeks were the best investment you ever made."
Beverly and Sam just sat there, a little non-plussed. The nudity when we slept clearly bothered them, but here was Dr. Johnson praising me.
Beverly spoke for both of them, "You and Tom have a relationship that I simply don't understand. I don't think I'll ever understand. You live on an edge of sexuality that I'm not used to. But clearly it works for you. And I mean for both of you. Charlie, I think my phone call to you was the best single move of my life. Thank you for coming. When..."
Tom interrupted. "I would like him to stay another night. I don't want to pretend that I need that night to recover from the accident. I need that night to recharge myself. I don't think you yet understand what last night meant to me."
Sam spoke this time, "Charlie, if we can get you on a flight early tomorrow morning, will you stay tonight? And, is it fair to you, a gay man, to ask you to sleep another night with Tom?"
Beverly spoke before either I or Tom could speak. "I'm going to lay my cards right on the table. We either trust you or we don't. And clearly we should, and we do. So here are the ground rules for tonight. There are no rules. You and Tom are free to make any decisions you wish, and we'll neither ask, nor be upset if you tell us. That's the only way to play this game. Anything else would be unfair to you, Charlie. And this was deliberately said in front of Dr. Johnson."
Dr. Johnson said, "I'll be a witness, but I don't believe it'll ever be necessary. Tom, I support your mother. Any decision about tonight remains with you and Charlie."
Tom simply got up and hugged both his parents, in turn, and then me. "Charlie and I will do tonight exactly what we did last night. I would never betray Tim."
"Who's Tim?" asked Beverly.
"Tim's the boy I'm waiting for. He isn't an adult yet, and our love cannot mature until he his. Tom knows him from Camp White Elk. You met him, I think. And Tom has just been talking out of school. Our relationship, while completely non-sexual, is private. As for Tom and me tonight, if I was going to violate a boy sexually, with his parents permission or not, it would be Tim, not Tom. And it hasn't and won't be Tim. But Tom and I'll have a wonderful night. And I'll miss him greatly back in Des Moines. Just as he'll miss both me and Julie. But life will move forward, and Tom's ready for it."
"Amen," said Dr. Johnson.
That night Tom and I held each other and talked through the night. I am sure we slept, but it seemed as if we talked nonstop. I learned about Julie, and he learned about me and Tim. About Priscy, and Phil. And my book. And Tim's diving. And gymnastics. In the morning, we ended the night with a kiss on the lips. It was Tom's idea, and I let him. It felt good to me, and I am sure to Tom as well.
He came with me to the airport, along with both his parents. His older brother Terry joined us as well. Terry was at school at Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, about an hour and half's drive west. He was the older brother that Tim had mentioned when he talked about making the new Hal. I asked Terry to tell the story. It turns out that the only problem that Terry had had was shyness with girls. Several of his friends, girls and boys, and gotten together and tried to help him. Actually their pep talks, talking dirty, physical advances by some of the girls, had really turned him off. He had decided that the only way to stop the well-meaning lunatics was to ask a girl out on a date. Whether it had been planned that way or not, it worked. He had been a successful man with the girls ever since. I just laughed, and asked if he had heard the story of Hal. He had, but had been convinced that Tom was exaggerating the same way he had exaggerated in telling of the new Terry. "Exaggerating about how bad off he was when he arrived, or about how good he was when he left?" I asked.
"I don't know what Tom said, but it wasn't an exaggeration. Hal was a real loser in just about every way you could guess-except studies. He's now a star athlete. It all happened in two weeks. Your brother did it."
"Don't try to remake me, little brother," said Terry.
"You aren't worthy of my effort, big brother."
It was time to go. Beverly broke down crying as she hugged me. She could barely get out the words, "Thank you."
Sam was equally broken up.
Tom wasn't. He said, "I'm cried out. I'm going to see you again. Thank you for coming. Thank you for both nights. Say 'Hi' to Tim for me when you see him in a year and a half. Bye, Charlie."
And with that, I headed for the plane, and a very difficult trip home, as I sat and realized how much I loved all seven of the boys of that season of camp, and how little I was able to see them. I made an advance New Year's Resolution as my second flight soared west from Chicago toward the cornfields of Iowa: I would make it my business to visit all of the camp "gang" before the end of the school year in June. Of course, I had just visited Tom, and Tim was out of bounds, so that left five: Franklin, Hal, Ronnie, Andy and Jim.
My November letter had already gone. I wrote the story of my visit to Tom and waited for the December letter exchange. When I sent it to Tim, I would also share it with the other five boys. They would all be eager to know about Tom's loss. It was also an acknowledgment that their assumptions about Tim and me were correct. It was time to stop pretending otherwise with them.
Luckily the camp gang all lived in the same region of the country. I realized that I could easily visit the five in two trips. I would travel by car to St. Paul to visit Hal, then on the Chippewa Falls to visit Franklin, and then down to Madison for Ronnie. Andy and Jim would require a plane trip to Flint, and one or the other of them would have to help with my ground transportation. I called them all during Thanksgiving week, and set up the plane trip for January and the car trip for March-I was hoping to avoid serious winter snows. Then it was off by train, via St. Louis, to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Plane would have been a better way to travel, as even in 1963 passenger service was dying, but I liked trains and decided that I would like to try it. Slow, dirty, bad service was the hallmark of the trip, and I decided that in the future it would be planes.
My parents were glad to see me. I hadn't seen them since graduation, as I hadn't been able to get to the Michigan cabin the previous summer, due to the move to Iowa. We were comfortable together, enjoyed conversation, but it never went deep. That had characterized our relationship my entire life, and this was no different. I had never been particularly bothered by this. After all, many teenagers (and I wasn't that far removed from being a teen) had openly hostile relationships with their parents. But after seeing Carl and Tim interact with Norman and Betsy I knew I was missing something. But any attempts that I made to try to move the conversation to serious, personal issues failed. Granted, I could certainly have moved it with the announcement that I was gay, but I could find nothing short of that shock tactic to move the conversation in that direction. I again concluded that having the living, breathing lover present was the only way to bring a reality to the conversation-when it happened.
So back to Iowa. Tim's December letter arrived in due course. Not much was new in his life. He seemed to glide through pressures that would smash the average adult, and he was sixteen. He was delighted with his gymnastics progress. John had asked the gymnastics coach at the "U" to come look at Tim, and he was impressed. He was already talking about athletic scholarships. He also gave Tim some pointers and invited him to come visit with the Minnesota team some time. Tim liked him, but didn't want to get too closely involved with the "U" team. He was adamant that he would not accept an athletic scholarship-he viewed them as professional contracts in which the professional was completely underpaid. "Charlie, if I'm going to be a professional, I can get better pay. I want an education at college." I wasn't sure what his parents' wallets would think of that, but I guessed that they would be supportive.
The Southwest High Diving Team was winning everything. Not only was Tim the outstanding diver in the area (well, the nation), his personality rubbed off on everyone. Norman actually was the one that told me that Coach Nelson had told him that Tim was virtually the coach for the whole team. Everyone loved him, and no one seemed intimidated by his successes. I was sure that Coach Nelson was like me as the camp counselor-we had nothing to do with our charges' success, but we didn't disclaim credit. I also knew that the coach did deserve a lot of credit: for creating the atmosphere in which that kind of support and camaraderie could thrive.
My letter to Tim was almost written, with the story of Tom and Julie. I added reflections on my visit with my parents, and told Tim of my travel plans to see the other boys. I urged him to keep in touch with all of them, and I was pretty sure that he was. And so letter 27, of 40, went winging its way north, across miles and a state border, to an unseen lover, who I knew was waiting, however impatiently.
As the new kid at the Red Cross, I had Christmas on-call duty, so a visit to Indiana at Christmas was no go. Priscy and I had Christmas dinner together at her apartment. In return I promised a New Year's Eve feast-we had decided to spend it together, by ourselves, and in bed. In the very early hours of the New Year, 1964, I lost my virginity, for those who keep score.
January brought an unexpected turn of events. I was in Iowa City, visiting the University of Iowa archives. Unlike most university archives, the University of Iowa archives had good collections from student groups as well as official university organizations. One was the student Red Cross of the 1920's and 30's. Priscy came with me, to help me go through quite a lot of material in as short a period of time as possible. We were helped by a very gracious women who appeared to be in her early thirties. She was not only gracious, but was beautiful, knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. She and Priscy got to talking, and they hit it off very well. On the way home Priscy told me that she had a date for dinner in the Amana Colonies on the coming Sunday noon. The Amanas were about three-fourths of the way to Iowa City from Des Moines, and about the only decent place to eat between the two points.
Priscy came to work on Monday wearing a big smile and dropped a note on my desk. "She's a lesbian!"
A week later the note said, "I'm in love!"
We had communicated by more than notes, but she seemed to enjoy dropping little bombs like that in writing. We had lunch that second Monday, and I told Priscy how happy I was for her. I couldn't criticize her for moving too quickly-I thought how fast Tim had made up his mind about me. I wished her well, but thought to myself that I was sorry that it hadn't happened a year later. I was going to miss my visits with Priscy.
I learned the following Monday just how much I was going to miss Priscy-she asked for a transfer to the Davenport office, which would be only about a forty-five minute drive from where Jane worked. They wanted to get an apartment on the western fringe of the Tri-Cities (Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. It was slowly becoming the Quad-Cities as Bettendorf, Iowa was added). The move would take place in about a month, as soon as a transfer could be arranged.
We promised to keep in touch, and all of the usual stuff. But neither of us had any interest in sex any more; we both knew that Priscy had other fish to fry, and I was an intruder. But we had always known that our relationship was temporary. I couldn't, and didn't, begrudge Priscy her happiness. But that didn't make me less lonely. Thank God for my book. It kept me sane.
In the midst of this, Tim's January letter arrived. It brought news of Hal, in the form of a clipping from the Minneapolis paper. He was between running seasons (cross-country in the fall, and track in the spring) and had decided to take up speed skating. Like all kids who grew up in the Twin Cities he could skate. Well, in Hal's case he had been very clumsy as a kid, and never skated much. In the last two years he had tried again, and like everything else he touched anew, it clicked. Most kids in Minnesota turned their love of skating into hockey playing. Hal liked speed. He was doing very well, and had won his first race-thus the news article. The article also told of his girlfriend, Sue, a fellow runner. Tim went on to tell that Sue didn't skate-in Minnesota that meant that she didn't skate competitively, it was assumed that everyone skated recreationally. However, Sue was at all of Hal's races. And they ran together, even in the coldest weather. Tim was convinced that the only way to Hal's heart was through his running shoes-and if Sue would and could run with him in the winter she was going to get her man. Tim also reported that he didn't think that Hal could do better.
Hal's skating only lasted the one winter. He found that the strains on his leg muscles from serious skating interfered with his running. Once he figured that out, he determined that this would be his last and only year for competitive skating. In Hal's life, there was no second place to running.
Coach Nelson had been right about the pressure that would build up on Tim. Private coaches were approaching him. Colleges want to talk about their programs. Sports writers wanted to know why he wasn't on the national diving circuit. At local swim/diving meets he overshadowed everyone, and found that he needed to stay out off sight to give other competitors-in other events-a chance to shine. Finally, he and Nelson came up with the answer to his problem-at least as far as the writers and photographers were concerned. They arranged for press time at the Southwest High School pool on Saturdays with no meets scheduled. Tim showed off his diving a little, talked to the sports writers, and generally tried to make them all happy. And the trade off was that anyone who made a pest of himself at his meets was uninvited to Tim's Saturday conclaves. It worked. And in his Saturday meetings with the press Tim found that he could have a pretty nice relationship with most of the writers, especially a woman named Susan who wrote for the Minneapolis Tribune. She had been particularly helpful to Tim in helping him deal with the press. She seemed to be honestly concerned for him, as well as interested in getting her stories. Susan was the only reporter that seemed to accept that he wouldn't be at the Olympic trials. He quit trying with the rest. At Susan's suggestion, he and his parents, along with Coach Nelson, convinced his school that he needed to be gone the week before and the week of the trials. They would take a vacation to an undisclosed location, and the press could just ask each other questions about why Tim wasn't there. With that plan in place, he was ready to miss the trials in April! And Susan had an exclusive story about where he had been-after he was back.
I wrote back to Tim late in January. Priscy had not yet announced her plan to move to the Quad Cities, but it was clear that she and Jane were falling in love. I shared that with Tim, the news of my book, my affirmation of his plans for diving and gymnastics, and my continued love and willingness to wait. Letter 28, of 40, went into the mailbox, with the realization that soon we would be three-fourths of the way through our exile.
The history of the Red Cross in Iowa is made up out of whole cloth. When possible I like to set the story against real backdrops. However, I don't know enough about Iowa or the Red Cross to accomplish that for this chapter.
[For those who use webmail: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, etc). Each browser is subtly different or we'd give fuller instructions here. If it pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]