Turn Around, Bright Eyes
Sitting here, on the roof of my barn, like I do whenever I need to think, I'm just trying to put all the pieces together. In the early morning fog, the cows in the pasture sound far away; my life seems distant and I just close my eyes and try to remember. The fault is mine. I don't know when it shifted or even why, but the fault is mine.
We'd been friends forever, Spence and me. I had handed him my heart when we were only six years old and he always handled it with care. We'd managed to do most everything together; first bikes, first dives, first cigarettes, first drinks........first crushes, first kisses, first small jerk-off circle of two.
There was nothing we didn't know about each other. Nothing we didn't share; laughing, crying, happily, sadly. My Grandpa dying that sunny November day, his hand in my left, Spence's in my right. Spence getting his braces caught in MaryAnn's ponytail as he went in for a kiss. The day Spence turned sixteen and got his old Chevy. That cold rainy day I found Boomer in the middle of the road and carried him home in my arms. We'd seen the good and the bad; the joy and the pain. We were friends.
Friends promise things like 'I'll never hurt you' and 'I'll be there for you'. We never know when those promises are gonna break. They just do and the sound is deafening.
Have you ever wanted to turn time back? Just rewind until you hit the exact moment when everything went wrong. Have you ever been able to name that exact moment? Looking back, it was like a Mack truck barreling down on us but from where we stood right then, it was nothing unusual; just another day.
Spence never seemed to have any trouble with me being gay. He joked and said it left more girls for him. I'd been through my first heartbreak; he'd been through bunches more, mostly the girls. Spence had a 'fuck em and leave em' attitude that always made me wonder if he'd ever settle down with just one girl.
Now, Spencer Morrison was a feast for the eyes, believe me. Tall, burly with a linebacker's build. Add that to curly brown hair, laughing green eyes and a spray of freckles across the bridge of his nose and you had Spence. Or rather, Spence had you. He captivated anyone who came near him with his handsome face and his gentle ways. He was my friend and I loved him. And there lies the problem.
Yeah, you're nodding your head......here it comes, the sad plight of the gay boy in love with his best friend. But, it wasn't like that, not really. I had been in a 'thing' with Brody Klein for like three months. We had done all the stuff two guys can do short of the Big Step. I don't think I was ready for that step and when Brody started pushing me, I shoved back. I shoved myself right out of the whole relationship.
"Spence, you ever been in love?"
"Yeah, millions of times....every time a girl spreads her legs, I fall in love."
"God, Spence. That's gross."
"You asked, my friend."
"But what about love?"
"I haven't had the pleasure yet. One day I'll find a girl with great boobs who treats me as good as you do and I'll marry her." He shoved me off the fence rail and jumped down to head for the barn.
Catching up with his long strides, I asked, "What do you want, Spence? I mean really?"
I should have known right that minute. I should have seen it in his eyes but I missed it. I missed the flicker and settled for the half joke answer.
"Nothing better than I've got right now."
We rode the horses hard and long, way back into the swamp. By the time we got to Lossman's Creek, they were puffing. Leaning over Jolene's neck, his chest resting on her mane, Spence rubbed her face.
"Good girl. Want some water now?" He slid off and dropped the reins as she ambled over toward the edge, lowering her head to drink.
I climbed down off Tinker and let her follow Jolene's lead. The day had gotten hot and the wind was slightly ruffling the treetops. We grabbed the water bottles and sank into the cool shade under the canopy of oaks and palms.
"And what do you want, old friend?" he asked me, his eyes staring straight ahead.
"Huh?" Then I remembered my question. Thinking hard, trying to form the right answer but knowing anything I said was a lie, I finally said, "Just to finish school, find someone and live happily ever after."
He made a soft snorting sound low in his throat, "That is so gay."
"To want to be happy is gay?" I asked, puzzled, "I thought that was the straight man's dream."
He didn't answer me.
"We've never really talked about it, have we? You've never said much about me being gay."
"What's to say? My best friend is gay. That's all there is."
"Spence? Do I act gay? Do I look gay?" I spread my arms wide and cocked my head. Spence glanced in my direction and then away.
"No," he answered.
"Then why is that all there is?"
He made a frustrated sound, swigged down some more water and said, "Let's don't do this. You know the labels don't matter to me."
Suddenly, I had to ask. It wouldn't make a bit of difference when he said "No" because I already knew it, but I had to ask.....just once.
"Spence...have you ever.......?"
He didn't say anything. He was gonna make me say it.
"Do you.....have you.........?"
"What?" he said sharply, almost angrily. "Have I ever looked at you and wondered what it would be like with another boy? Have I ever wanted to touch you? Is that what you're asking?"
The air had gotten heavy and Spence's loud voice had quieted the birds. I was almost afraid to break the silence. We were still okay. If I didn't push it any further, we'd be okay. But you know what? Sometimes the pure sadness of knowing that what you want you can never have is just too much. All these years of watching him, sharing with him, wanting him, just kinda took over. Very quietly, almost as though I had no breath, I said, "Yes."
"Can we avoid this conversation?" he asked.
He stood up and walked to water's edge. His back to me, he spoke softly, "I have.....but not cause you're gay......I'm sure not."
"Because you're you. There's something about you that pulls me."
Shyly, I asked, "Could you be with me like you are with..............," my voice trailed off. I was too open. I knew it. He knew it.
"Shhhh, now. We're not going there. Let's just say that if you were a girl, I'd grab hold and never let go." His breath coming in long draws, he grabbed Jolene's reins and shoved his boot in the stirrup, wheeling her head toward home.
I sat for a couple of minutes, just quiet. I hated myself right that minute. I hated what I was, who I was. No labels, my ass. Boy + boy = nothing, even if he is the dearest person in your life. You know, there are even degrees of labels. There's nerd and jock and stoner and freak. Those you can work with. But, the other ones, race and sexual orientation, not much leeway there and then there's just plain being a boy wanting another boy. That label "boy" will stop you every time. Spence said he doesn't care about labels but we all know he does.
I rode back slowly, almost hoping Spence would be gone when I got there. I'd had enough for one day. I thought about girls and how, one day, he'd introduce me to the special one and I'd pretend to be glad and happy and then, in no time, I'd be holding his kids. I love kids........I would love his kids like they were my own.
I thought about why God had made me this way, craving the feel of a boy's skin on my skin, wanting nothing but to lay quietly beside him, whispering and sharing our day and our secrets, finally twisting into soft cries and little whimpers as his hands touched me.
Why couldn't I want a girl that way? Why couldn't Spence want me that way? We've been together all our lives but he'll go on to share the rest of his life with someone else.
I know I think too much. I overthink until my head hurts. I wish I was like all those people who walk around like they don't have a care in the world. Is this a gay thing? Do we overthink because we try to compensate in some way for being different? Are we just waiting for the next disaster? Is life this huge rollercoaster ride? Well, I want off.
Of course he's not gone. Why go away and let me fret in peace? He's my best friend after all. "Where the hell have you been?" he asked, the worry evident in his voice. See, one of the things about Spence was that he worried. He took care of me and protected me. It was just an unspoken thing. I could take care of myself but he always had. I let him. It was his way of showing me he cared about me. I just let him.
"I was just thinking," I answered.
"You do too much of that."
"So sue me."
"Wouldn't get much," he responded, whacked me on the top of my head and the moment was lost. We were back on track. Two buds coolin' down the horses, laughin', jokin' around.
"Ya wanna go with to Daisy's party?"
"Nah, Spence. You go do your thing with the girls. I'm gonna listen to some music and maybe write a little tonight."
"You do too much of that."
"So sue me."
"When you're a famous writer, maybe I will. See ya, Bright Eyes."
I watched his tail lights as they blinked in the twilight and heard the sound of his pickmeup as it hit the asphalt out on the highway. He hit the horn three times...his way of saying bye. Have you ever stood and listened to a car drive away, knowing it's taking something dear away from you?
I turned and headed into the house, to my computer and my headphones and my words. Sometimes that's what makes life easy...the music and the words.
In all the overthinking that gay people seem to do, have you ever thought that today's song lyrics are today's street poetry? I listen to music just like people listen to poetry being read. Someone out there, tired in soul and spirit, sat down and wrote a song...heartbreak, puppy love, desires, passions...it's all there if you listen.
Are you ever driving down the street, a song comes on the radio and you just cry, big heaving sobs because it was the song that was playing when that girl or that boy did that thing that crushed your heart or smiled that smile that mended it?
One night, Spence and I had made a tape of all our favorite songs. He was a little drunk and let himself pick a couple that were not exactly macho friendly. He denied picking it the next day, but his favorite that night was that Bonnie Tyler song, you know the one where she sings ' Once upon a time there was light in my life.......' I played my tape over and over. I know he played his too even if he never said it.
Headphones blasting, Word on the screen, I lost myself inside my own head. They say that a gay teenage boy's development is stunted by the fact that they can't well.......develop at a normal pace since they mostly have to be quiet and watch, usually peeking through keyholes in their closet doors. My keyhole is my computer. My key is my words.
I didn't even know when he came in my room. I was working and bouncing along to the music when he settled down on my bed to watch me. I didn't know till I pulled off the headphones to take a Dr Pepper break.
Jerking my head around, "God, Spence, how long have you been there?"
"Long enough," he laughed.
"Yeah. Girls there were dogs."
I plopped on the bed and sat crosslegged with my chin resting on my fist. "Spence, what's it like with a girl?"
"Warm, wet and cozy," he said, raising one eyebrow.
"When you do it, do you like lose yourself? Does it feel like when you jack off?"
"It's better, no...... different. It's like jackin off plus another 10%."
"What the hell does that mean?"
He laughed, "How the hell do I know? I just know it feels damn good."
"So, when you do it, you feel love and warmth and stuff?"
"Here you go again with the sex = love."
"But," I asked, "Shouldn't it?"
"Maybe," he admitted, "But what I feel is this feeling like I won the game. I got off and she was smiling and not complainin'."
"And you don't wanna feel more than that?"
"Damn, you're pushing tonight."
I knew I was. It was like there was this question flying around in the air and if I could just get him to say the answer, I'd be okay. I didn't know what the question was but I knew the answer had to come from Spence.
"You havin' a bad night, huh, Bright Eyes?"
Spence knew. He knew and he knew I knew. It just hung in the air.
"What do you want me to say?" he asked softly.
"I don't know." And I didn't. I wasn't going to ask. I wasn't going to be like those boys in the stories. I just wasn't. I needed him to come to me or not at all. I needed him to admit, just admit that, for one moment in time, he might want me. Me..........just me..........not every girl on the planet or even another boy.....Me.
"We could do this," he said, looking at me, his best friend for a thousand years, "But what if it changes everything?"
I wanted to scream. You have to be gay to know that feeling when the one boy you want is right there, just right there and all you needed to do was nod your head but you couldn't. It was his call.
"I love you," he sighed. "You know that. We've been best friends forever. I don't know why I feel like I do. I don't want to feel this."
I reached out with one fingertip and touched his lips. That one touch, that's what it took. "We can't do this," he sighed as he leaned in and brushed my mouth with his. "We can't," he whispered as our jeans slid to the floor and our mouths tasted each other. "We just can't," he moaned as our naked bodies pressed and rubbed, our hands stroked and clung.
Then, "I can't do this," he said as he stood beside the bed, looking down at me. He picked up his jeans and became a stranger. "I'll see you tomorrow." And he was gone.
"We can't" changed to "I can't". Two people who wanted to be close changed to two boys, one gay, one straight. 'I'll never hurt you' and 'I'll always be there for you' changed to 'I can't do this'. I had the answer to my question....and the answer hurt.
So, here I sit on the roof of my barn in the early morning damp knowing I should have kept quiet. I'm gay, I have no right to ask for what I want. I should have just left it alone.
The song runs through my head over and over:
Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
Turn around, bright eyes
Every now and then I fall apart........
Who do you talk to when the person you always talk to is the one you need to talk about? I needed Spence but this was all my fault. I made him see something he didn't want to see in himself. I maybe made him hate himself as well as me. I should never have said 'what do you want?' Cause he didn't know and it scared him.
I watched the sun tip over the horizon and the world wake up.
"Hey, Bright Eyes."
I looked down and saw Spence peering up into the mist.
"Want some company?"
I nodded my head and he climbed up, settling down beside me like he'd done for two thousand years.
"I can't do what you're asking," he said quietly.
"It's funny though. After I left? I realized that I love you in some weird way and I can't act like I don't care. I couldn't get angry or mean because all you were doing was asking if I loved you. I do."
"You tell anyone what happened last night and I'll have to kill you."
"What?" A long breath escaped me as I began to relax, knowing we hadn't lost after all and a slow grin spread across my face. "The girls won't understand?"
"Ya think?" He smiled a half smile, watching me carefully. I knew then that I had done the right thing. I had asked. He had answered. We'd be all right. Maybe I'd hold his kids one day and be a proud uncle. Maybe he'd stand up for me if I got married.......in San Francisco or Canada or wherever.
Spence learned that he did have parts of him that he needed to look at closely. It wasn't any boy. It was just me but maybe out there somewhere, there was a special boy that he could love. Maybe, just maybe what he felt was not so small, not so ridiculous. Maybe I just wasn't the right person. Who knew? He had time to find out.
I guess I learned that you have to try.....you have to ask. You may not get what you want, but you end up with what you need. I'll keep trying. I'll keep asking. Maybe one day, I'll find that someone who won't break his promises; who'll never hurt me and never leave. Right now, I've got my best friend Spence and he won't let me down. He saved me from a total eclipse of the heart.
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