My Freshman Experience

by Joel Young

Chapter 3

To and Fro

I didn't go to church on the second Sunday of the semester. After attending the talent show on Saturday night, Darlene and I went to the campus coffee shop with some members of the Marching Band. We stayed until the place closed at 1:00 a.m. So, I was too tired to get up in time for church the next morning.

At the coffeehouse, Darlene had been very attentive to me – especially when Peter was around. She smiled at him a lot while she held my hand. I enjoyed the attention from Darlene, and it was interesting to talk with Peter. He told us about his interest in Wargames and battle strategy. I was impressed with how smart he was, and his stories were fascinating.

Part of me was suspicious of Darlene's interest in me. I sort of got the impression that she was holding my hand and being attentive – just to make Peter jealous. But, Darlene and I shared a very nice 'good-night kiss' at the end of the evening. And since Peter wasn't around when Darlene and I kissed, I thought she might actually like me. Still, I wasn't sure about our relationship.

And then, there was Adam. I had felt a definite attraction to him at church last weekend. And the powerful, electrically charged connection we shared when he was singing on stage at the talent show had shocked me. I was blown away when he acknowledged our connection by asking if I had noticed his eyes 'when he sang to me.' And, as I was being pulled away from him by Darlene, he had hollered out that he would find me.

Was I starting a relationship with Adam? If I were, I had a strong sense that it wasn't platonic. Looking at him gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach. When we talked, I felt drawn to him. And, from our discussion after the talent show, I think he felt something, too.

But, I had promised myself that I would pursue girls, not guys. Darlene was a nice girl, and I really did like her. And, her soft lips kissing mine had stirred me up. If she did like me, and not Peter, I thought that she and I might develop a romantic relationship. So, I tried to put Adam out of my mind.

During the next week, however, I couldn't stop myself from thinking about Adam. Was he serious about 'finding me?' Would he just knock on my door some evening? What would I say to him? What would we talk about?

I didn't see Adam that week. Some days, I had dinner with Mitch and guys from the dorm. Other nights, I ate with Darlene and her Marching Band friends. She and I also took walks together while holding hands. I enjoyed her company, and I liked the kisses we were sharing on a fairly regular basis.

Two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, I needed to go to the bookstore for some supplies. I was walking through the square when I saw Adam. He was sitting down, leaning against an oak tree. He was playing his guitar quietly. I felt my pulse rate increase. I couldn't stop myself from going over to talk to him.

"Hey, Adam," I said. "You're sounding pretty good on that guitar."

Adam looked up at me, and he seemed surprised. "Hey, Joel," he said. "I thought you went home."

I wondered why Adam would think I had gone home for the weekend. "No," I said. "I'm not going home until Thanksgiving. What made you think I went home?"

"I've been looking around for you, like I said I would. I went back to church, but you weren't there. I went to Admissions, and they said you were in Pilgrim Hall 241. But, some guy said you had packed up and moved home. I'm really glad you didn't leave Oberlin," Adam said. "Come, sit with me."

Earlier, I had started to believe that Adam would never actually try to find me. But now, I was pleased to learn that he had made the effort. I sat down next to Adam and leaned against the oak tree. "I'm curious," I said. "Who told you I quit school?"

"Some scruffy guy who answered the door to room 241 in Pilgrim Hall," he said. "At first, he said he didn't know anybody named Joel Young. So, I tried to describe you – you know - medium height, trim, dark brown hair, hazel eyes and big dimples."

I had a strong reaction to Adam's description of me. I was really surprised that he had noticed so much about my appearance. I was flattered - and a little embarrassed. It almost sounded like he thought I was cute.

"After I described you," Adam continued. "Another guy in the room hollered out, 'He's looking for 'To and Fro.' That seemed to trigger scruffy guy's memory. He said you had lived there, but he came back to the room one day, and all your things were gone. Later that week, he heard that some freshman guy in the dorm had up and quit college. He figured it was you."

"That was my first roommate who answered the door," I said. "He's a real tool, so I moved downstairs with a friend. It was my friend's roommate that quit school. I'm in 141 now. I guess Admissions didn't know about my room change."

Then, my ego kicked in, and I became defensive. "Some guy called me 'To and Fro?' What the hell does that mean?!?"

Adam looked at me with an admonishing smile. "Calm down, Grasshopper," he said. "You need to take control of your emotions. Unnecessary stress takes its toll on your health and your peace of mind."

When I first met Adam, I had sensed that he was wise. So, I tried to take his advice and calm down. But, my tendency toward the dramatic slipped out. "Let me try again," I said. "I've never heard of anyone being called 'To and Fro.' Do you have any insight as to its meaning, oh wise one?"

"Well, that's much better! You learn quickly," Adam said. "I do know the meaning of the nickname. But if I tell you the story, you have to promise not to get upset."

"That sounds ominous. But, I promise to do the best I can," I said.

"Okay," Adam said. "I didn't really understand why those guys were calling you 'To and Fro,' so I asked. Scruffy guy said that on the day you moved in, he and his friends were hanging around the room after smoking a few joints out behind the dorm. He said you walked in and announced that you were going to go running. He said that you stripped naked and walked around the room like that – right in front of them."

I was starting to feel anxious. "That's not how I would have told that story," I said. "But, go on."

"Scruffy guy said that you're a total nerd, but you've got really big balls. So after you left, the guys were joking around and decided to call you 'To and Fro.' Now do you get it?" Adam asked.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said. "What does 'To and Fro' have to do with anything?"

"It's from an old camping song. Didn't you ever go to summer camp?" Adam asked me.

"Only debate camp," I said. "And we didn't sing songs there."

"Okay,' Adam said. "I'll sing the song for you, but don't get upset. Promise?"

I told him again that I'd do my best, and Adam picked up his guitar. He started laughing, but quickly stopped himself. "Okay," he said. "Here we go."

"Dooooooo Yourrrrrrrr," he sang very slowly, drawing out the words. Then, accompanying himself on the guitar, he picked up the pace and sang:

"Balls hang low? Can you swing 'em to and fro?Can you tie 'em in a knot? Can you tie 'em in a bow?Do they have a hollow sound when you drag 'em on the ground?Is your life just one big wedgie when your balls hang low?"

My jaw fell open. 'To and Fro' was a reference to the size of my balls! And, now it was my nick name!

"There are more verses," Adam said as he barely controlled his laughter. "Would you like to hear them?"

"No!" I shouted. "I'm humiliated enough already!"

"You promised you wouldn't get upset," Adam said. It sounded like he was scolding me.

I tried to defend myself. "I said that I'd do my best. This is my best. Good Lord! I'm so embarrassed!"

Adam gave me time to calm down a bit before he said, "You could take it as a compliment. And besides, you moved out of your room with Scruffy Guy. Just stay clear of him and his pot head buddies. They'll forget all about you, and no one will ever hear your nickname again."

"Adam, that's the kind of thing people like to joke about behind your back. I don't want people staring at me trying to figure out if the rumor is true! Oh my God! This is a nightmare," I complained.

"Well, is the rumor true?" Adam asked.

I think my face turned bright red. "Sort of, I guess," I said.

"You don't need to worry about me teasing you," Adam said. "Anatomy is pretty much meaningless to me. I care about other things – intelligence, personality, how someone treats other people. Those are the important things."

"You may be right," I said. "But this is still really bad. Adam, you seem like a really nice guy, and you and I are able to talk with each other pretty easily. But, what do you really know about me? Almost nothing! You don't know where I'm from, what things I enjoy, or even if I'm a serious student. But there are two things you do know. You know my name and that I've got big balls. That's not the first impression I want people to have about me."

"You know only two things about me," Adam said. "You know my name and that I'm a singer. So, let's get to know each other better. Tell me two other things about you."

'You're just trying to change the subject so that I'll calm down," I told him.

"I really do want to know more about you, Joel," Adam said. "Calming you down is just a side benefit."

"Okay," I said. "Two things about me - let's see. I'm from Detroit, and I think I want to be an actuary. Now it's your turn. What two things do you want me to know about you?"

"Okay," Adam said. "I'm gay, and I'm bipolar."

I really hadn't expected Adam to share such personal information. I had sort of thought that he might be gay, but the bipolar thing threw me for a loop. I wasn't even sure what that meant.

When I didn't say anything in response to Adam, he asked, "Which one bothers you the most?"

"Adam, neither one 'bothers' me," I said. "Being gay is not a big deal to me. I try to accept people as they are, and I've had gay friends before. And bipolar, I just don't know that much about it. I know people struggle with it, and it can make your life difficult."

"You can say the same things about being gay – people struggle with it. And, it can make life difficult. Is that something you're struggling with, Joel?" Adam asked.

I was unnerved when Adam asked me if I was struggling with being gay. I was somewhat irritated as well. He was getting too personal, much too quickly. And, he was putting me on the spot and making me uncomfortable. I really didn't know what to say.

"Have you ever kissed a guy?" Adam asked before I had responded to his first question.

There were several students walking across the square. Before I could think of how to answer Adam's question, I heard someone holler, "Hey, Adam. Keep an eye on your guitar. That guy's a thief."

I turned around to see Sean staring at me. I knew Sean was arrogant, but that day, I saw evil in his eyes that I hadn't noticed before.

"Shut up, Sean," Adam said.

Sean gave us both a disgusted look and continued walking across the square.

"Do you know him?" I asked Adam.

"We both have single rooms on the third floor of Wesley Hall," Adam answered. "He can be a jerk sometimes, but he's really not a bad guy. Why did he call you a thief?"

"He's got a grudge against me. I really don't want to talk about it," I said.

"Grasshopper, a lot of people around here seem to dislike you," Adam said. "Do you know why that is?"

"Hey!" I said. I was really angry at Adam for asking such an inconsiderate and judgmental question. And, just because Andy, his friends and Sean didn't like me, that didn't mean that I was some sort of social pariah!

"Don't answer that question," Adam said. "I'll answer it for you. You're different, Joel. You stand out. Anyone who looks at you can tell that you're special – smart, confident, and your good looks can't be ignored. Some people, like me, are drawn to you. You have a kind face, and I like being around you. Other people are intimidated by you, Joel; maybe even afraid of you. They try to protect and distance themselves by insulting you, talking trash about you, and pushing you away. The only way you win at their games is by not playing. Don't engage with them. Just be the person you really are. Be around the people who make you feel good about yourself."

My head was spinning with all the things Adam had just said. I felt like a young protégé being counseled by a Zen Master. I had never considered that people might be mean to me because they were intimidated. It became hard to think about anything else, however, when Adam said that he thought I was good looking, and that he was drawn to me. I felt my stomach sink, and I stared into his eyes.

"Let's get out of here," Adam said. He picked up his guitar and motioned for me to follow him. We were near the Music Building. We went in, and Adam led me into a small practice room. He closed the door and set down his guitar.

"When I asked you if you've ever kissed a guy," Adam said. "You didn't say anything, but I think I read the answer in your eyes. Unless you stop me, Joel, I'm going to kiss you."

A small part of me said I should stop him. But, my heart screamed, "Let him do it!"

He stepped toward me and put his hands on my shoulders. He looked deep into my eyes. He leaned toward my face in a slow, tentative manner. He was asking me if it were okay for him to go further. I couldn't bring myself to stop him. Adam put his lips on mine and pulled me into a close embrace. I felt butterflies in my stomach. After several kisses, he put his face beside mine and started to kiss my neck. I closed my eyes and lifted my head up, encouraging him to continue. Our lips touching had been magical. His kisses on my neck created a direct connection to my genitals. I took hold of the top his head and tried to pull him closer.

Then, I felt myself start to shake, and I tried to step back from Adam.

Adam stopped kissing me, and he looked at me with concern. "You're trembling," he said. He tried to pull me into a hug, but I resisted. "What's wrong?"

I forced myself not to start crying as I answered his question. "I…I promised," I said as my voice cracked. "I promised myself I wouldn't do this anymore."

Adam looked at me, and I could tell he was trying to assess the situation. He pulled a metal folding chair near me. He got another one for himself, and we sat down. He held both of my hands.

"There's nothing wrong with caring for another guy and being attracted to him, Joel," Adam said. "You told me you're okay if your friends are gay. Are you okay with yourself for having attractions to other guys?"

I lowered my head trying to avoid looking directly at Adam. I was still trembling. "I don't know." I mumbled.

"You're trying to be straight, aren't you?" Adam asked.

I began to tear up. I didn't need to answer his question. He had already figured out the truth.

"I need some time, Adam," I said.

"Take the time you need," he said. He kissed the top of my head. "Some things are worth waiting for. Think about it, Joel. Let me know what you decide about us. Come on. Let's go."

Adam and I left the Music Building. He said he was heading back to Wesley Hall. I continued on my way to the campus book store. But, I had lost track of time, and the book store had closed at noon. I had spent more time with Adam than I realized. The voice in my head – the one that wanted me to resist Adam's kisses – spoke again. "See, guys are not good for you. They'll just distract you from doing what you should and getting what you need."

I went back to my room, and Mitch was there, studying. "Hey," he said. "I'm glad you're back. I need a break. Do you want to go play some tennis?"

I loved playing tennis, and I had brought my racquet from home. I knew that some exercise would help me calm down. "Great," I said. "Let's go."

I was glad the subject of tennis had come up so quickly, before Mitch noticed that I was upset. Had he asked me what was going on, I would have had to make up a lie.

I had played tennis almost every summer since I was 8 years old. I was pretty good at it. My father supported my interest in tennis by taking me to lessons and tournaments. But, I knew he thought I should play team sports – like football or baseball - instead. That's why I had played football in my senior year of high school, even though I wasn't very good at it, and I really didn't enjoy it.

Mitch and I had a great time playing tennis. He had played all four years of high school, and he was really good. He was surprised that I could keep up with him. He won two out of the three sets we played that afternoon. Even though I hate to lose, I felt much better by the time we went back to Pilgrim Hall. My head was clearer, and I was too tired to worry about Adam.

Mitch and I went to the showers before dinner. I had become comfortable showering with Mitch, but we still teased each other.

"Time to work on trimming those pubes again," Mitch said.

"Don't forget to wash under that hood," I replied.

Darlene had gone to an away game. So, Mitch and I ate dinner together. I was so comfortable with him, and he with me. We had become buddies, and we both knew that we had each other's back.

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