Episode 207 - Space
Chet here, planning to fill the Space that Charlie has graciously provided to tell some more of my story.
The next year I easily fell into the very comfortable routine of being both a college student and a high school student. At Red River I took only two courses, Advanced Placement Chemistry and Advanced Placement Calculus. My advisor at Red River strongly recommended against Advanced Placement Physics or English, telling me that because college English and physics courses vary so widely, Advanced Placement credits weren't always accepted as replacements for required college courses. On the other hand, beginning calculus and chemistry courses were so standardized, that acceptance of the credits was virtually automatic. My college advisor concurred, telling me that physics would be accepted at UND, but not English.
My high school schedule included first period physical education, which I satisfied with my diving at the UND pool, second period calculus and third period chemistry, with a chemistry lab two days a week–Monday and Wednesday–during fourth period. This meant that I didn't need to show up at school until nine in the morning and I was finished by noon. I could eat lunch in the cafeteria if I wanted, but it was optional. Since it was cheap, convenient, and fairly good (surprise), I did that most days when I had a chem lab. Other days I was gone by eleven.
The main line of this story involves my before school practice time. But I should explain the rest of my day. Since I couldn't take morning classes, and I wanted to be back at Red River to dive with the aquatics team as soon after three as possible, I was very limited in the available courses that I could take at UND. At one o'clock on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I took the only really important course I needed to take: freshman English. At two I took an introduction of philosophy class. At one on Tuesdays and Thursdays I took a two-hour sociology class.
This schedule meant that I had a long practice window at the UND pool in the morning, and I took advantage of it every day. My story begins one morning when I arrived at the pool a few minutes early. Several men were standing around a small fork lift that had been driven near the diving boards. I recognized two of the men as Al and Alex, who I had met at The Roundhouse–they ran the university's access program, which clearly was behind bringing the fork lift into the pool area. It appeared that it had been modified so that it had a little platform with a chair on it that could lift a person safely. Soon President Tim came in with a young man I didn't recognize. He seemed to walk with a limp. They went over the to the lap pool and Tim watched the young man dive in a few times. Once you saw him dive, you realized that he was significantly disabled in some way, evidently on his left side; he seemed to have little control over his left leg. He dove a few more times while Tim watched, and then they got into a lengthy conversation. Meanwhile I began to dive from the ten-meter platform.
Soon I noticed Billy, Bess, and another man I didn't recognize come in and join the conversation with Tim. Soon the young man was lifted up to the low diving board by the fork lift. He stood for a few minutes while Tim coached him, and then he took a dive off the board. It was a messy dive, but he got himself in head first, which appeared to be his goal. Conversation continued among the five persons, and every now and then, the young man would dive again off the low board. Each dive got a little better. But it was painful to watch him climb the ladder to get out of the pool after each dive. I wondered why nobody made a move to help him.
I didn't think much of the incident and continued my diving until it was time to head to Red River for my first class. The next morning the young man and the older man I didn't recognize came into the pool at about 6:30, after I had been diving for a while. They talked a short while and then he made his first dive. I walked over and introduced myself to his coach and learned that he was Larry Knudsen, the aquatics director who had preceded Billy. He had been both Tim and Billy's college coach. As soon as that introduction was completed the young man had dragged himself up the ladder and come over to us. Larry introduced us and I learned the young man was Jimmy Lawson, a freshman from Fargo. Nothing was mentioned about any disability. We shook hands, and from his firm handshake I was certain that he had no handicap in his right hand or arm.
He said, "I'm glad to meet you, Chet. I saw you diving from the ten-meter platform yesterday. You're good, but I'm just learning what really makes a dive perfect. I hope to be able to go off the high platform some day."
Larry put in, "Some day soon."
Jimmy said, "I love optimists."
I asked, "How long have you been diving?"
"If you mean from the side of the pool, for years. If you mean from a diving board, I started yesterday. You saw my first effort. I still have a hard time believing I got my head in first on my first try."
Larry said, "We're trying to decide where Jimmy should go next. He could try a simple front dive from the high board, or a one and a half from the low board, or we could work on various front dives from the low board."
I asked about a simple front flip, and got the explanation that Jimmy had to avoid feet first entrances to the water. Thus when he started flips, he had to begin with a one and a half.
Jimmy said, "I need to do all those things, but what should be first?"
I didn't know anything about diving for the handicapped, but that didn't keep me from blurting out, "I'd go for the high board."
"Why?" asked Jimmy.
"Because I think there are more bragging rights to going off the high board."
"That's just what I think." He turned to Larry and said, "What do I need to know or do to go off the high board?"
"You need to start by using the spring in the low diving board to get height. You can do that gradually, and when you handle good height from the low board, we move you to the high board. That's not the normal progression, but I think I understand both of you and your talk of bragging rights. Not many kids with a bum leg and arm dive from the three-meter board."
I said, "I don't know of any that do." I went back to my diving and watched Larry show Jimmy how to use the spring in the board to gain height. As he gained height, the timing changed to get his head to go in first, and he seemed to manage those changes very well. But Larry judged that Jimmy needed more practice before he tried it from three meters, so it would be at least another day before he tried that. I couldn't help but feel that whatever had happened to Jimmy's arm and leg, it was a serious loss to the diving world. Without a handicap the man would've been an Olympian.
Because of my later morning schedule Jimmy left ahead of me and was gone from the locker room when I went in. Dressed and ready to leave for Red River, I met Larry at the door to the natatorium. I think he might've been waiting for me, because he came up to speak as I walked by.
I spoke before he did, saying, "Mr. Knudsen...."
"Larry, I'm really pleased to meet you. And Jimmy. I haven't seen you at the pool before. What brings you here? Are you going to be working with Jimmy?"
"Yes. Tim and Billy thought I might enjoy working with him. He's a really nice kid with a really bad break in life. Tim's hoping that he can be an exceptional diver. I think he can."
"If he goes off the ten-meter platform like he's talking about, there's no question of his being exceptional."
"I think he will. I want to thank you for being nice to him, and invite you to get to know him. I think you'll find him interesting and possibly a good friend."
"I think I'd like that. I have one question. He really struggles coming up the ladder out of the pool. Shouldn't someone give him a hand?"
"He'd refuse, and it embarrasses him to have to refuse help. I'm glad you didn't extend an offer this morning. He insists that he won't accept help on things that he can do for himself. But you'll notice we have a lift for him to the boards and platforms. He says he could get up those ladders, but it would take him so long that it would spoil diving practice for him and everyone else trying to use the board. They're going to work out a permanent fix, but the fork lift's available right now."
"I saw Al and Alex here this morning with the fork lift."
"Do you know them?"
"When I first visited UND, I stayed at The Lighthouse, and I've visited quite often since I moved to Grand Rapids. They introduced me to the folks at The Roundhouse, and that included Al and Alex. They're very friendly people."
"How long have you been in Grand Forks?"
"I came about a year ago, in my junior year of high school. I'm now both a senior at Red River and a freshman at UND."
"And you're a top diver?"
"I guess so."
"I don't want to put a burden on you, but if you have the time, I think that Jimmy would like a friend. He's kind of in between: he's not part of the diving team, but he's going to be spending a lot of time in the pool. When he's around in the afternoon when the team's here, introduce him."
"I'd like that, except that I dive in the afternoons at the Red River pool with the divers at Red River and Central. I'm on the high school team, not the college team."
"But you do know the college divers?"
"When you get a chance, introduce Jimmy. No rush, no big deal. And if you were friendly to him in the morning, I'd be very grateful."
It was an easy assignment. The next day Larry and Jimmy were working on his diving, and I watched between my own dives. Jimmy didn't try the three-meter board that day, but he worked on doing several versions of a front dive from the low board. As practice drew to a close I suggested that we quit a little early and go for coffee. He accepted, and this became sort of a daily ritual. With my not having to be at Red River until second period, and Jimmy having his first class at nine, we had time for a half-hour coffee. I got my locker moved to be near Jimmy's, so that we could talk as we got ready to swim and showered and dressed afterwards.
Jimmy was an interesting fellow. I learned about his disability, his doctor and physical therapist in St. Louis, his meeting Charlie and Tim, and then Larry, and his remarkable decision that he'd like to learn to dive. Not just dive into the water, but learn to be a high performance diver, even if his disability would keep him out of competition.
And he learned about me: my diving, my family and especially my brother Chuck, my decision to come to Grand Forks and study at Red River High School and UND, my living with Auggie and Lynn, and my relationship to the denizens of The Lighthouse and The Roundhouse. He was surprised to learn that my older brother had been an Olympic diver in Sydney on the team with Tim, Billy, and Willie.
The evening after our first coffee break, I had a remarkably coincidental conversation at dinner with Auggie and Lynn. I mentioned Jimmy and his diving and that triggered memories for both Lynn and Auggie of watching the various divers in the Gang. Auggie just happened to ask a random question, "Have you ever seen Tim and Billy do a cannonball?"
I hadn't, and Auggie proceeded to tell me how they liked to surprise people, especially at the end of a show of some sort, by doing a joint cannonball, where they grabbed each other in midair and made a single ball of themselves, resulting in a huge splash. I thought the idea was rather funny, and thought I'd like to see it sometime. Then it hit me: A cannonball was the way for Jimmy to experiment from the high board and platforms.
The next morning I was ready. I was on the ten-meter platform and waited until Jimmy and Larry were talking near the side of the pool. Jimmy was gesturing toward the high board, and clearly he was ready to give it a try. I made my move: I sailed off the platform, moving slightly in their direction. I grabbed my legs into a tight cannonball and hit the water pretty near to both Jimmy and Larry. I got them pretty wet, as well as the student who was standing by to operate the forklift for Jimmy.
I popped my head out of the water near Larry and Jimmy, and Larry immediately showed that he had the temperament of a good coach. If someone had done that to me, I think I would've exploded, and Larry looked like that was what he had in mind. However, with a forced calm he said, "I'd like to think there's some explanation for the fact that I'm now soaking wet."
I grinned and said, "There is. You will note that my legs and arms are uninjured."
Larry puzzled only a minute over that comment, and then he exclaimed, "You're right!" He turned to Jimmy and asked, "Have you ever done a cannonball?"
Jimmy was catching on and said, "No, but I think I need to learn."
I hopped out of the pool and showed him how to clasp his hands around his shins, thus holding both his legs and arms tight in a ball. Duck your head toward your knees and you're ready to hit the water.
Jimmy couldn't wait for the forklift, and crawled up the short ladder to the low diving board, and hurled himself off in a very good cannonball. Since his arms and legs were held, they couldn't flop around, neither endangering him nor making him look awkward. He grinned as he started up the ladder, and I decided it was a good time to break his rule. He let me help him out of the pool and he immediately asked for the forklift to take him up to the high board. After several cannonballs from the high board he had the timing and any fear of the height had passed. His first dive from three-meters was remarkably good. However, the point was not how good it was, but that it wasn't a belly flop, and it was far from it.
I was a hero and quickly forgiven for giving them a bath. Larry said, "That was a brilliant idea. He can cannonball without endangering his legs and learn as much about the height as he could by jumping. Thank you."
From Jimmy I got a genuine hug.
Our coffee meetings expanded to lunches on campus on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays when I didn't have lab at Red River, dinners (usually at restaurants away from campus) and movies. I realized that there was something important that I had not yet shared with Jimmy–my sexual orientation. I wasn't sure just how to raise the subject. I didn't want it to be a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT, but I wasn't sure just how to do it casually. I finally decided that the direct approach was the best.
One day at lunch in the campus cafeteria, when we were well away from others, I simply said, "There's something about me that you need to know."
"I'm gay." He was silent, as if trying to absorb the idea and figure out how to respond. I continued, "Does that bother you?"
"Of course not. Is that what you interpreted by my silence?"
"I was afraid that might be it."
"No, I was trying to figure out how to respond. You see, I've been having an internal debate with myself, trying to figure out if I'm gay. I think I am, but I'm honestly not sure."
"What makes you think you're gay?"
"Two very specific things. First, I'm more likely to be sexually interested in good looking boys than in beautiful girls."
"And the other?"
"It's a little harder to talk about."
"Go ahead, I'm safe."
"I know you are. When I masturbate, I'm very likely to fantasize about naked boys. But neither of those things are exclusive. I can be aroused by beautiful girls, and I do fantasize about naked girls."
"Both of those things describe me. I think we both might be bisexual. However, in American society, I think there's a tendency to brand someone as homosexual if he has any homosexual inclinations. I guess we're moving away from that, but it certainly used to be the case."
"I've never really thought in terms of bisexuality. I've always thought in terms of being gay or straight."
I responded, "I think I'm the same, and I decided that I was gay a few years back. Maybe I'm bi."
"Can I ask a very personal question?"
"I think we're certainly at that stage. Ask away."
So Jimmy asked, "Have you had any sexual experiences, gay or straight?"
"Well, I left the door open for that one, didn't I? The answer is, very little. There were a couple of boys at South Hinsdale High School who were openly gay. I let them know that I was, and I was soon invited to join them after school. They made it clear that the invitation was for some kind of sex, but promised that they wouldn't push."
"Did they keep their promise?"
"It turned out that they were very nice boys; they hadn't gone very far in their own sexual experimentation; and they didn't push me at all."
"If I can ask, just what did you do?"
"They got a charge out of undressing each other, and they let me help. I'll admit that pulling a boys underwear down for the first time is somewhat of a thrill. They asked if they could undress me, and I let them. And you can be sure that having the two of them pull off my pants and underwear was even more of a thrill."
"So now we have the three of you standing around naked. What next?"
"Before I go on, Jimmy, let me ask you the same question."
"You'll get a really simple answer. No. Nothing. Nada. I jack off. By myself. That's it. Just hearing you talk about your experiences, limited as they may be, is giving me a hard-on."
"You can hide it in here, but you can't relieve it in here."
"I know. I think I'm enjoying it. Let me go back to my question. You're standing there nude; what next?"
"I wondered the same thing. I asked, 'OK, if I weren't here, where would things go from here? Can I watch?'"
"'Sure.' Jess climbed on the bed, lay on his back, and spread his legs. Rich got between his legs and tickled his dick and balls. He moved his hands all over Jess' body, but emphasized his balls and dick. After a while they traded places. Jess said, 'If you weren't here, I'd keep going until he climaxed. But if you want to join in, we'll wait on that.'
"I joined Jess at the bed and together we worked on Rich's body. I'd never touched another penis, and it was a real thrill. All of a sudden Rich exploded with semen going all over him, me, and Jess. I was startled and upset at first, but then I realized that was the idea. Jess informed me of their rule: no cleaning up until both had climaxed. The rule now was no cleaning up until all three had climaxed. They got off the bed and sort of pushed me on it, and I got the same treatment from both of them. By this time I was really hot, and it didn't take long for me to climax, and my semen actually hit me in the face. The no-clean-up rule was interesting. Once a boy climaxes it's sort of all over. Cleaning up is the natural thing to do. But if you're not allowed to, it creates a sort of tension, and I guess that was the idea, because now Rich and I had to pleasure Jess. We did; he climaxed; and we all cleaned up with a towel that was under the bed.
"I asked, 'Aren't you afraid your mother will find that towel?'
"His answer surprised me. 'My mom knows what goes on here. She and Dad know I'm gay. They'd rather have me playing here than in a park or men's room. So we're safe here.'"
Jimmy thought about that answer and said, "My parents are pretty liberal, but I'm not sure they'd go that far."
"Well, you don't need to test them. You're off at college, and you make your own decisions."
"So, if you and I decided that we wanted to do all of that, where would we do it?"
"I don't know. Do we?"
"And I don't know that. So did you and Jess and Rich ever do more than that?"
"We repeated a couple of times, but I soon transferred to Red River and that ended it."
"What about last summer?"
"They weren't around."
"Any experiences here in Grand Forks?"
"Just one. Zak Granger, one of the university swimmers invited me to go to a basketball game with him. Afterwards he invited me back to his dorm room. He roommate was spending the night with his girlfriend and the room would be empty."
"Did you go?"
"Yes. When we got into his room and I'd shut the door behind me, he got naked so fast I hardly knew what was happening."
"Clearly Zak was long past the stage where undressing was sexy."
"Indeed. He looked at me and said, 'Well?' I really wanted to talk a little first, so I sat down on the bed beside him and asked, 'I'm really new at this. What do you want to do?'
"That slowed him down, and he turned out to be a very nice lover. We moved slowly, and he sucked me. I told him that I really wasn't ready to do that, and he didn't push. I started to give him a hand job, but he stopped me and asked, 'Can I fuck you? I'll use a condom.'
"I decided that he'd been nice to me, and that really wasn't asking too much, especially since he'd asked gently and not pushed. So I told him he could. He put me on my back, lifted my legs, and used his fingers and lube to get my ass ready. Then he put on his condom and very gently shoved in and fucked me. It hurt a little, but not a lot. And, God, Jimmy, it's really sexy, even after I'd had an orgasm."
"Have you done anything with him since?"
"A couple of times. But I think he's moved on to a more 'with it' partner. Neither of us have any hard feelings."
Jimmy asked, "Chet, is that why you brought the subject up today?"
"I started to say that it wasn't, but I'm not sure. Certainly the main reason was simply that I thought if we were going to be seen together very publically it was only fair for you to know I was gay and that most of the swimmers and divers knew it. But I'll have to admit that the thought that you might possibly be gay had crossed my mind. So where do we go from here?"
"I don't know. I really have to think about it a lot."
"Take your time; you're thinking about a very important life decision. Don't be rushed or pushed into something."
The next conversation that related to this subject came completely out of left field. One night at dinner with Auggie and Lynn, Auggie brought up the subject of sex. In his usual straightforward–blunt would probably be a better word–way he asked, "Chet, how old are you? By my calculation you must be eighteen; is that right?"
"Yes, I turned eighteen last October."
"Both the law and most of the people around you have some very strict rules about sex: never with anyone younger than eighteen. That opens doors for you this year. I know you're gay, and I have no idea whether you're moving toward some kind of romantic or simply sexual relationship. But it's time that you understand the ground rules of this house."
I had no idea what was coming, but I can assure you that what actually came next hadn't even be dreamed of.
"I'll keep this fairly short. Tim's daddy, Norman, had a simple rule about sex and children. That was that parents needed to understand that the kids would decide about sex, and any rules made by their parents were unlikely to affect the decisions their kids made. The responsibility of the parents was to set a good example, provide advice and counsel when appropriate and when asked, and to make sure that the kids were safe. Safety means good sexual practices and a safe place."
"Those are the rules that Tim grew up with?"
"Yes. As a gay man in a world of AIDS that means talking about the HIV status with all partners, religiously using a condom unless you're absolutely certain about the HIV status of both yourself and your partner, and–to be very conservative–if there's any chance that either you or your partner are HIV positive, avoid anal intercourse. As for a safe place, there aren't many available for a young man your age, especially if your partner is a student living in the dorms. However, by Norman's rule, it's my responsibility, since my father and I are acting as your parents, to make sure that you have a safe place. You do. You should consider your bedroom upstairs as your castle. It is yours. You won't be disturbed as you entertain guests there. You don't need to sneak in and out. Your comings and goings in this house are your business. You may keep them private from Lynn and me, or you may introduce your guests as you see fit. We'll keep all of our observations to ourselves; your privacy is assured. Is all of that clear?"
"My God, that's a lot to absorb. I've been chastened several times by you and your friends when I've said something like, 'Do you really mean that?' I understand that you always mean what you say. So there's really nothing for me to say but thank you and to assure you that I will neither abuse the privilege nor fail to follow your advice about safe sex."
Lynn said, "Auggie takes a little getting used to. Believe me, my family and I found that out very quickly. But being able to have simple frank conversations is so much better than a lot of beating around the bush."
I said, "When you first invited me to live with you, I had no idea just how magnificent an invitation it would turn out to be."
I was tempted to spill out the whole conversation to Jimmy at our next lunch. But I thought it would be pushing. He'd said that he wanted to think about things, and I decided that I should let him bring up the subject of sex the next time.
In the meantime, his diving was improving spectacularly. Jimmy was eager to go from a higher height, so it wasn't long before he had the forklift lift him up to the five-meter platform. Larry, Billy, and I were watching from the side of the pool. Most people, of any age and ability, the first time they jump or dive from a new, higher height take their time, and spend a while looking down and conquering their fears. Not Jimmy. He got up from the seat on the forklift, walked straight to the edge of the platform, leaped into the air, grabbed his legs in the now familiar cannonball position, and made the inevitable huge splash. Even though he'd done it like it was routine stuff, we knew it was special for him because he was so anxious to get out of the pool and be congratulated that he let Billy give him a hand and virtually lift him out of the pool over the ladder. He got the congratulations he deserved, and headed to the forklift for a repeat. By the next day he'd made his first five-meter dive. Nothing special, but not a belly flop! I wasn't sure that my first dive from five meters had been as good as Jimmy's.
The pressure was on Al and Alex to get Jimmy access to the ten-meter platform. In early December it was announced that the pool would be closed throughout the Christmas vacation for renovations. Everybody was mum about what those renovations would be, but we were pretty sure that they would include access for Jimmy to everything.
A reopening ceremony was planned for the third day of school in January. Tim and Charlie; Al and Alex; Carl and one of his young architects who'd been responsible for the plans; Larry, Billy, Bess, and all the swimmers and divers; Fred and a bunch of trustees and other dignitaries; and a smattering of other students, faculty, and community members were all on hand. The ceremony started outside the pool area, and the window coverings that had blocked the windows during construction were still in place. There were the usual required speeches about how important athletic facilities are to a university and how important it was that those facilities be fully accessible to all students. Then Carl unlocked the door and we all filed in. The change took your breath away. The old five-meter and ten-meter platforms were gone. In their place was a single modernist construction, almost a sculpture. At its center was a circular staircase that swept up five meters with each circle placing you first at the right of the five-meter platform and then the left of the ten-meter. The platforms were sweeping arcs that gave the whole thing the appearance of a sculpture, or perhaps a modern building on the order of the Sydney Opera House or the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport. They presented the necessary straight edge to the water that was required by the divers, but otherwise had no straight lines. In the middle of the circular stairs was a solid glass tube, and in it ran a little one person elevator. It had stops at both platforms and also at the point on the stairs where they passed the three-meter high diving board. When the elevator stopped at that point, a gangplank (that's the only thing you could call it) rose and provided a walkway to the diving board–with security handrails. The whole thing was painted green and white, the colors of the university's athletic teams, with just enough pink trim to acknowledge that it was, after all, one of the official colors of the university, and had been since the university's first commencement.
To completely furnish access, a short back and forth ramp had been installed next to the low board. It was perfectly designed and looked like it belonged there, rather than added to accommodate someone who couldn't climb a ladder.
Jimmy couldn't contain himself. As fast as his legs could carry him he ran up to Tim, hugged him, hugged Alex and Al, and asked, "Can I try the elevator?"
Alex grinned and said, "You're the guy it was built for. Have at it." Then they walked over to the elevator door, and Alex showed him the code he needed for access. (There was no way we wanted everybody to be riding up in the elevator.) Jimmy got into the elevator, rode to the top, virtually ran across the new platform, and hurled himself into the air, clothes and all. It was a spectacular cannonball, and was followed by loud cheers from everyone present. Carl introduced his young architect who'd designed the whole thing, and he got loud cheers as well, and a very wet hug from Jimmy.
Tim came to the microphone and said, "As we can all see, this has been a complete success, a new facility that this university can be proud of. And I want to stress one other thing: this was paid for by private donations, not from either the academic or the athletic budgets of the university. It was paid for by people who believe that all aspects of life should be open to everyone that can possibly benefit from them."
Jimmy was in tears.
A week later Jimmy made his first dive from ten-meters. As far as we know, the first dive anywhere, anytime from that height by someone as seriously disabled as Jimmy. Tim was there, and he was in tears, as were a lot of other people, including his parents and Dr. Wilson and John Harper who'd come from St. Louis to see their star patient show the world how to defeat a handicap.
That night Jimmy took me to dinner at Jerry's, a little restaurant that Larry had told him about and that he wanted to try. He told me, "Today was a pretty special day for me. Thank you for being a part of it."
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
"I've been doing a lot of thinking."
"I'm in love with you."
"I've been in love with you for some time."
"I want to make love with you."
"And I want to make love with you."
"When we last talked about this we had two questions: when and where. We just answered the when, but not the where."
"I have the answer to the where. Come back to my house tonight, spend the night, and on the way there I'll tell you a remarkable story. But right now, lets enjoy this good meal and the wonderful afterglow of your success today. You know, I still get a little nervous when I dive from ten meters. You didn't seem to have any fear at all."
"I hide it well."
"I don't think you hide it. I don't think you really understand the concept of fear."
"I'll let you believe that, if you want. I know better."
The conversation on the way to Auggie's house was, for Jimmy, as unexpected as I, and you dear reader, knew it would be. Jimmy's response, after innumerable questions, was, "So you're telling me that you can invite me in, have me greet Auggie and Lynn, and then the two of us go up to your bedroom to spend the night, with Auggie and Lynn fully aware of everything that implies?"
"More. You can have a conversation with Auggie and Lynn about how this is your first time and how much you're looking forward to it."
"I'd die first."
"Well, I guess that ends any thought that you're completely fearless; it's just a matter of what you fear. I fear heights. You fear, what? embarrassment?"
I'd pushed my luck with Jimmy, but it worked out well. It wasn't particularly late as we got to the house, and when I let us in the front door Auggie and Lynn were sitting together in the living room, just talking. Jimmy had met Auggie, but I didn't think he'd met Lynn, so I introduced him. He and Lynn shook hands, and Lynn said, "So you're the young man that Chet's been pining for these last few weeks. Welcome."
I hadn't really ever said that much to either Lynn or Auggie about Jimmy, but I guess what I had said, along with their knowledge that I was gay, led them to believe, quite correctly, that I'd been pining for him.
Jimmy was a little flustered, and I continued the conversational line with, "He certainly is, and he's well worth pining over, isn't he?"
Auggie realized that Jimmy was completely flustered, and decided to add to it by saying, "I'll bet you have plans to do more than pine tonight."
"We certainly do," I chimed in.
Lynn decided that Jimmy'd had enough. She said, "Jimmy, relax. These folks are teasing you, although everything they've said is accurate. Auggie and I knew Chet was gay when we invited him to live with us. We both have had our share of gay experiences, and we don't see anything odd or offensive in Chet's being gay. If he invited a friend, a boy, (I avoided putting those two words together to make the single word boyfriend) here to spend the night, we'd reach some logical conclusions about his intentions, and as long as they're the same intentions as the guest, we're fine with that. In this case, you're both adults, seem to know what you're getting into, and have every right to make your own decisions. We have no intention of trying to impose our rules on you–though I don't think our rules would differ from yours very much, except that we're probably more liberal than you two are. This is Chet's home; his home is his castle; and he's welcome to invite you into it."
When Jimmy finally spoke, he said, "I can't help but wonder if my parents would be capable of saying that. They're good people, buy I'm not sure."
Auggie asked, "Do your folks know you're gay, or are at least at the experimenting stage?"
"No. This has been pretty sudden. I've questioned my own sexuality, but it wasn't until I began to get very close to Chet that I realized I was either gay or bi. I guess I'd better take Chet to visit my parents in Fargo and have the guess-who's-coming-to-dinner conversation with them."
"Do you think it'll go well?" That was me, though both Auggie and Lynn were equally interested in the answer.
"I think so. My parents are pretty open-minded. Everything that's ever been said in my home about gays has been positive. However, those conversations were always in the abstract. There isn't anything abstract about Chet."
Auggie said, "Well, good luck. And I would certainly affirm the idea that you should have that conversation soon."
The conversation wound down, and Auggie and Lynn said they were going to their bedroom. Lynn ended with, "You boys will be alone here in the living room the same as your bedroom, Chet. Good night, Jimmy." And we were alone.
I said, "That was quite an invitation. I still find their attitude almost unbelievable."
Jimmy said, "Unusual, certainly; perhaps unbelievable. But also correct. If we're going to have sex, then we'll find a place. But it likely wouldn't be as comfortable, nor as safe as this house. And in the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere here, we're much more likely to practice safe sex."
"Safe sex is largely knowing our HIV status, and if positive or unknown, taking appropriate precautions. It's pretty clear that you're HIV negative, since you aren't into drugs and have no sexual experience."
"What about you?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm safe. Zak used a condom, and I doubt very much that he could be HIV positive. But it's better to be safe than sorry. I think we both should be tested. In the meantime, I don't see a lot of fucking in our near future, and when there is, we should use condoms. Before we think about fucking without condoms, we need to talk again. Now, may I undress you?"
"That's the idea."
I took off his shoes and socks, and unbuttoned his shirt. That didn't offer much because he had a tee shirt on underneath. So I removed his shirts, and started on his pants. He was clearly aroused, and his hard dick got in the way of easily removing his pants, but they came off, as did his underpants. I kissed him, and slowly kissed and licked all over his body. I got to his balls and kissing them really excited him. I took him in my mouth, expecting just to advance his arousal, and then let him work on me. But the instant my tongue hit the bottom of his dick he came. Whoosh. It was unexpected–for both of us–but I was able to swallow it all. Jimmy started to apologize, but I wouldn't let him. I said, "This was your first experience; no wonder you shot so quickly. I should've expected it. Don't worry about it. It isn't the first time someone's come in my mouth."
"You sucked Zak?"
"Yes. Does it bother you that you weren't the first?"
"No. I was just curious. Can I suck you?"
"Sure, but let's go up to my bedroom. The bed is more comfortable for both of us."
And thus started what would prove to be a lifetime adventure and love affair.
We decided that we should move fairly quickly in telling our friends and families about our relationship; otherwise rumor would precede information. It was pretty clear that we didn't need to say anything more to Auggie and Lynn, but we did anyway–the next morning. A few days later a dinner at The Lighthouse gave us an opportunity to tell that group, and from there the word passed very quickly throughout the Gang. The important names on our list, however, were our parents. At least mine knew I was gay. Jimmy's did not.
I decided that I should introduce Jimmy to my parents as soon as possible, and a three-way telephone conversation was the quickest way. My parents were delighted that I'd found a partner, and told us that they would fly up to Grand Forks very soon to meet Jimmy in person and start to get to know him.
Jimmy was a little nervous about coming out to his folks, but didn't really think it would be a problem. He told me, "They're loving people, and they love me. I'm sure that they'll love you as well."
Jimmy called them and told them he'd like to bring a good friend down to dinner on the coming Saturday evening, "Would that be OK?" Of course it was, and the trip was on. Jimmy's parents weren't dummies, and didn't have too much trouble figuring out why Jimmy wanted to bring a friend to dinner all the way down in Fargo. They greeted us at the door, and Jimmy introduced me to his parents, Jamie and Shirley Lawson.
Nothing was said about why we might be in Fargo for dinner, until, at dinner, Jimmy raised the subject. "Mom, Dad. I have something pretty important to tell you."
"What's that?" asked his father.
"I've been struggling to understand my sexuality for some time, and it's pretty clear to me that I'm gay, or at least more gay than straight."
His mom said, "And may we assume that Chet here is part of the picture?"
"Yes. Chet and I are in love."
His dad said, "You know, we've wondered if you were gay. There have never been any serious girls in your life. However, until now there weren't any serious boys either. But it's much easier for a straight boy to find girls than for a gay boy to find other gay boys. So your never having a girlfriend was a little clue for us. We decided that you'd find your own way and tell us when the time was right. Evidently Chet's made the time right." He turned to me and said, "Welcome to the family, Chet!"
It was that easy. Jimmy was in tears. I was laughing, and hugging all three of them in turn.
We spent the rest of dinner telling about how we met, got to know each other, and fell in love. Then we got to the hard part, telling about Auggie and Lynn's invitation to treat my room as my private space. We did tell all of that, but kept the discussion of what actually happened in the room to "we had a sexual relationship." Details were not, thankfully, asked for.
We talked for a while after dinner, but we had an hour's drive to get back to Grand Forks, so we didn't stay late. As we began to wind down the conversation in anticipation of leaving, Mom–she insisted right away that I call her that–said, "You know, Chet, Jimmy's always had a hard life. He's done amazingly well with the body he was given, but he gets reminded that it isn't the body he would've liked many times each day. Sometimes it's just in the course of going about his business. Sometimes things are said in meanness, though I hope that he's finding that was kid stuff and is behind him. But kindnesses remind him as well–not that he doesn't appreciate them, but they are reminders. You, Chet, are that most wonderful thing that's happened to Jimmy–ever. The fact that you're a boy and not a girl doesn't mean a thing. What does mean something is that you love Jimmy for who he is. For that we will always love you, Chet."
She continued, "What about your parents, Chet. Do they know you're gay and in love?"
"Jimmy and I called them on the telephone, with both of us on the line. Mom's response was very simple, 'We want to meet you, Jimmy. We'll be on the first plane we can get.' That was a few days ago, and I suggested that they wait until I had met you both. Then they could fly to Fargo, and meet Jimmy and his parents."
And that's what they did. They arrived in the afternoon two days later, and we all met at the airport, and then went to Jimmy's house for a grand dinner. Then we all headed to Grand Forks where we'd arranged for Jimmy's parents to stay at The Lighthouse and my parents to stay at The Roundhouse. We couldn't think of a better way for all four of them to become acquainted with the unusual, but wonderful, group of friends that we'd made in Grand Forks.
My parents' reaction to the Circle in The Roundhouse was simply wonderful. Al and Alex had made their room available, disappearing into the other rooms of the house with no effort. The gay couples, the trio, the obviously flexible sleeping arrangements all rolled like water off a duck's back. Dad noted, "Look, we came of age in the sixties. You guys aren't doing anything that's out of the ordinary for us. A lot of our contemporaries have forgotten what things were like back then, but we haven't. We haven't turned our backs on our beliefs of that era. Refined them a little, maybe. Especially in the area of acceptance of homosexuality. Many of the radicals of the sixties missed that boat. Now that we have a gay son, we can look back and see that we made some mistakes. But just to make it clear, if either your mother or I had been sexually up tight, we wouldn't have met. We met at a fraternity party at which clothing was required on the first floor, optional upstairs, and forbidden in the basement. We met in the basement."
I said, "Wow, why am I just learning this?"
"Because we're just finding out that you're able to deal with it."
"Does Chuck know all this?"
"No, but I'm sure that he will soon. I'd appreciate it if you'd let us do the telling."
Jimmy's parents were a little more naive than mine. They spent the night in The Lighthouse, specifically in Nick and Evan's room. It never occurred to them to speculate about where Nick and Evan spent the night (with Brian and Shel, I learned later) in order to make room for them. They were aware of the gay pairing in the house, and found it comforting that Jimmy and I would have multiple gay couples among our friends.
With all of that behind us, we were ready to tackle our diving seriously again. Jimmy had his wonderful new elevator which only he could use. Tim had insisted that he didn't want every diver riding up to the platforms. They could jolly well climb. So there was a keypad instead of a simple call button. If you didn't know the code, you climbed. And only Jimmy, Al, and Alex knew the code. If fact a few others knew the code. Alex was concerned that if Jimmy (or anyone for that matter) had some kind of emergency on the platform, being able to get up on the elevator might be important. So I was told the code, along with Billy, Bess, Larry, and Willie and Hardie. We never had occasion to use it, but if you go down to the pool, I'm sure that you'll find that 6824 will get you an elevator ride.
The next thing I knew Jimmy was doing a front two and one half with a half twist. Not only that, he was beginning to learn to control his leg and arm, so that his dives looked more normal. In particular, he figured out how to hook his hand together so that he could enter the water with his hands together and sliding into the water first. It was amazing progress.
By April he had virtually abandoned his room in the dorm and was living with me in Auggie and Lynn's house. Auggie assured us that he wanted us to live there for the next three years, and he went on to point out that he never issued an invitation that he didn't mean. And as far as the next three years were concerned he considered the matter settled. We were delighted and didn't try to argue.
Auggie assured us that we were welcome in the summer as well, and we decided to take him up on his offer. Summer of 2006 would enable us to get in some serious diving practice, and we each wanted to take one summer course. We decided that we'd have one week (with two weekends) in Hinsdale with my family, and a similar time with Jimmy's parents. Jimmy dropped his bomb the day after we finished final exams. We were eating lunch in the university cafeteria when he said, "My goal for this summer is to learn to do a hand stand. I think it'll probably have to be one handed, because I can't depend on my left arm."
"Why on earth do you want to learn to do a hand stand?" Before Jimmy could answer I knew what the answer would be. "Oh, my God. You want to dive from the hand stand position, don't you?"
"I'm not sure I do. But that's the goal that Tim set for me. It was first to be a two and a half somersault with a full twist from the handstand position, but that would put me in the water feet first. So when Tim realized that entering the water feet first was dangerous for me, the goal became a triple somersault with a full twist, from a handstand position."
"I can't do that dive. It's one of the hardest there is. Did Tim really set that as your goal?"
"Tim made it very clear from the beginning that if I didn't want to go for the top I shouldn't even start. That's who Tim is, and it's people in that mold that he puts time and effort into encouraging. I'm sure that Tim would neither speak nor think disparagingly of people who set lesser goals for themselves, but he wouldn't put his personal energy into supporting them. He obviously thought well enough of you to want to put some serious energy into your coming here. I'm sure that none of what has happened for you from Auggie, Billie, Hardie and others would've happened if Tim hadn't started the ball rolling."
"You're certainly right about that."
"So, about that handstand."
"We begin by talking to Tim."
"Why Tim? He's already set the goal."
"Tim is a gymnast. Getting you to a handstand is essentially a gymnastics problem. He is the gymnastics problem solver."
We arranged to meet Tim in the gym. Tim didn't seem to think it was any big deal to teach a kid with one good arm and one good leg to do a one-arm handstand. As far as I knew, Tim was likely the only person on earth about whom that statement could be made. That didn't seem to deter Jimmy, and if Jimmy wasn't to be deterred, I certainly wasn't going to be a wet blanket. Tim started by saying there were two prerequisites: Plenty of arm strength, as well as overall strength. Second, a sufficiently flexible wrist. Jimmy had anticipated both of these, and easily demonstrated to Tim that he met those prerequisites.
Tim looked at me and said, "Then let's turn him upside down and stand him on that one good hand and arm. When he can balance up there comfortably, we'll teach him how to get there. Ready, Jimmy?"
He was, and we easily took his legs and held him upside down, and let him work on balancing on one hand. For most people doing it on two hands is tough, one hand is absurd. But Jimmy had, for most functional purposes, been one handed all his life. I'm not going to pretend that it was easy for him to stand on one hand, but two weeks of twice daily exercises with me and Larry had him quite comfortable in a one-arm handstand. From time to time he'd use his left arm to get a quick balance, and every now and then the left arm would fail him when he needed it, and he'd fall over onto the mat. It never fazed him; he's simply say, "Pick me up again, please." And we would.
After about three weeks Tim joined us again and watched Jimmy balance. He could move around a little by either wiggling his hand or taking tiny hops. Tim said, "Ok, it's easy to get up there. There are a lot of techniques. Ultimately, you spread your legs, bend over, put your hand or hands down between your legs, shift your weight to you hand, and gradually swing up. But against a wall is the way to start. Wall walking from a push-up position with your feet against the wall is best, but it involves walking up the wall with your feel while walking toward the wall with your hands. You could handle that one footed, but not one handed. So we start with your back against the wall. You face the wall and roll like you were going to do a front flip from foot to hand and on over. Except you set your hand about two feet from the wall, and the wall will stop your feet as you go over. Now your weight is on your hand and your feet are in the air, leaning against the wall. Once you can do that, it isn't very hard to push your feet off the wall and stand on your hand. Ready."
I said, "You have to be kidding. He isn't ready for that."
Tim said, "Sure he is. But we stand on each side and help him the first few times, and then provide safety backup from then on."
Jimmy said, "I'm ready."
The first attempt was a mess, and we all ended up in a heap, but no one was hurt, and Jimmy was up and ready to go again almost instantly. We got the hang of helping him, and soon he could do it my himself. It was a week of practice before he could successfully push his feet off the wall and end up standing on his hand.
Before we could move to the next stage Tim had a consultation with Jimmy's doctor in St. Louis, whom Tim had talked to several times before. The normal next stage would be for Jimmy to sort of roll and jump from his foot to his hand, like he was going to use the wall to hold him, but without the wall. Tim was afraid that might put too much pressure on a single wrist, and Dr. Wilson agreed with Tim. So Tim came back to Jimmy and said, "OK, this is a tough transition, but it's time to put your hand on the ground between your legs, shift your weight, and move your legs up. Dr. Wilson and I think that the intermediate step of sort of somersaulting to the handstand could strain your wrist."
Never in my life have I seen a kid so completely unfazed by such a challenge. This was like taking a kid up to the five-meter platform, having him learn a front dive, and then move directly to a triple.
We did a lot of holding, nudging, standing close to be a support, and lifting, but by the end of the summer, Jimmy could bend over and hoist himself into a one-arm handstand with ease. And once up there, he could move along in six inch hops for short distances. Every now and then his bad leg would jerk and he'd fall over, but he learned to roll with it and get right up again. He was absolutely amazing.
And then it was time to try it on a platform. We started on the five-meter platform, and we all held our breaths as Jimmy rode the elevator up, walked to the edge of the platform, put his hand down, and very carefully eased into a handstand. No slips, no hesitation. And then he simply hopped forward and dove straight into the water. And it was a pretty good dive!
He climbed up the ladder, refusing an offered hand from me, and announced. "Ten meters here I come." He headed to the elevator while we all watched, absolutely dumbfounded. Jimmy got out of the elevator and repeated at ten meters exactly what he'd done at five meters.
This time he let Tim give him a hand coming up the ladder, and Tim said, "OK, you know how to do somersaults and twists. By next week I'd like to see my triple with a full twist. You know, it can be done frontwards and backwards. Next week, ether way. The following week, both ways."
I turned to Larry and said, "I'll bet he does it."
Larry shook his head and said, "Six months ago, I'd have taken that bet and given you odds. Today, I'd be a fool to take that bet. Jimmy is simply beyond belief."
Well, getting into a handstand position at the end of a platform, either facing away, or facing backwards, is tough for anybody. While he hated to admit it, it was tougher for Jimmy. And he took his share of falls. Sometimes he'd end up on the platform, but more than likely his fall would head him into the water. But he was ready. He always had plenty of time to grab his legs into a cannonball position and hit the water with a big, safe splash. In fact, he found that he preferred working at ten meters, because when he tumbled into the water he had more time to get into the cannonball position.
And, yes, he made Tim's deadline, beat it in fact. When Tim joined us again a week later Jimmy could do the full twist triple both frontwards and backwards. In less than a year he could do two dives that most of the diving team couldn't do. I almost wrote that he'd mastered the dives, but that simply wouldn't be true. He couldn't make up his mind what to do with his left arm, hold it out in front, held by his right hand, or pin it against his body. And his left leg couldn't make up it's mind what to do when he somersaulted and twisted: sometimes it cooperated and sometimes it didn't. On those occasions it got very messy, and sometimes Jimmy had to turn the dive into a cannonball.
Tim announced: "Look, there has to be some purpose to all of this. Jimmy can't compete in NCAA diving, and there's no paraolympic diving. So we improvise. Next January the University of South Dakota will be here for a dual swimming and diving meet. I think it'd be a great idea to pause in the middle of the diving meet and have an exhibition of Jimmy's diving. Would you be willing to do that, Jimmy?"
"You're kidding me. No, I guess you aren't. Do you really think I'll be ready for a public performance by then?"
"I think you're ready now. You can be an inspiration for many, many kids with disabilities that think they can't accomplish anything. Or, you would be an inspiration for those kids if they knew about you and could watch you. I think we need to make sure there is good television coverage of your performance. If it's a slow news day, you'll get good coverage, and Saturday football will be behind us. Will you do it?"
"I'd love to."
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