A Conversation With Carlton

by Rick Beck

Part 10

Sometimes it's best not to tell adults that you nearly drowned.

I didn't know how close to exhaustion I was, until I collapsed in the bottom of our rescuer's boat By the time the marina came into view, I had recovered from the sailboat excursion. By the time we walked back to the house, I was fine.

"I bet you boys are hungry," Granny said, taking a platter of hamburgers and hot dogs out of the fridge. She began cooking. Avery sat down and watched. He loved Granny's cooking, and soon we were digging into a late lunch.

It's surprising how hungry you get after a day on the water.

Avery was my appointed summertime friend. He didn't need to take me fishing, water skiing, or anything else, but he did. The following morning, after the day I didn't drown, Avery came charging into the house, banging the screen door behind him.

"Avery, are you hungry. I'm just fixing Dick breakfast," Granny said, cracking two more eggs, and adding bacon to the frying pan.

"I could eat," Avery said with a smile.

After breakfast, we found out what was on Avery's mind.

"Granny, I'm going to teach Dick how to swim. We'll be down at the end of Hollywood. We'll be back by lunchtime," Avery said, hoping Granny caught the hint.

Avery was something.

We didn't talk about the goings on the day before. We broke through the brush, and we moved across the beach and into the water.

"If you're going to come back next summer, you need to know how to swim. We aren't going to get ourselves into trouble again, because you can't swim. It's Florida. Everyone knows how to swim."

"I believe you, Avery. I'm ready to learn," I said.

It wasn't difficult. Avery took it step by step, the same way he taught me how to water ski. In no more than a half hour, I was able to do the breaststroke. He taught me to float on my back, and he showed me how buoyant our bodies were, if you didn't struggle. I hadn't struggled yesterday, and after today, I'd never need to tread water for an hour or two again.

I wasn't one to struggle much, against the things in life I encountered. There was always a way to lessen unpleasantness.

The following week, two weeks before school started, my father arrived, alone this time. I wasn't happy to see him. The prospect of returning to the craziness at our house, didn't thrill me.

After my father slept for a few hours, and ate some of Granny's food, we were in the car, heading north. I didn't look back. I didn't want to leave. I knew there was no choice, as we drove, and drove.

I sat in the backseat, having lost all contact with the summer of fun I'd enjoyed. Save my fear of being eaten by that tiger shark, and almost drowning, there had been no time in my life like it.

Granny and Pop both said, "You're coming back next summer."

"Being mesmerized by the land between Florida and Maryland, I loved traveling. We couldn't get back to Florida soon enough for me. Why couldn't I stay there and go to school with Avery and Joe, but then they'd find out how stupid I was," I said.

"You weren't stupid. I wish you'd quit saying that," Carlton said.

"From my view, I was stupid. Until that summer, I had never done anything. I lived inside myself, until I turned 12, and then all hell broke loose. It was difficult to put into perspective. There was nothing, and then I was bombarded with stuff."

"You weren't stupid," he said again.

"Suit yourself. Do you want me to tell this story, or do you want to tell it?" I asked.

"Sorry, I can't help it. Quit saying you were stupid," he said.

"Don't mention my parents, and forget how stupid I was. Anything else I should do?"

"No," he said sheepishly. "Go ahead. I won't interrupt you."

"We saw just enough of each other to like each other. Anymore, and they might discover things about me that they wouldn't like. Although we'd been so busy having fun, I rarely gave a thought to being intellectually challenged."

Passing the kitchen, while Granny was feeding my father, shortly after he arrived, I heard Granny saying, "No, neither of them wet the bed. Not even one time. You don't know how nice it was having them here. We want them to come back next summer."

"I don't know, Mom. We'll see," my father said.

"It's the only way I knew what was going on. My father couldn't say we could come back, until he ran it by my mother. I was sure my mother loved being rid of us for a couple of months each summer."

As we drove into the parking lot behind our apartment, all thoughts of Florida were gone.

My mother met us at the door. She hugged my brother first, and then me. What was that all about, I wondered to myself. My mother was not an affectionate person. Maybe she saw it in a movie.

That first day, things were calm. It was a good sign. We'd been home for half a day, and I wasn't in trouble yet. I did go outside as soon as I could make a break for it. I didn't go back until dinner time.

The kids were all a buzz about the new kid, Bobby, who moved in next door to me. His apartment faced Iverson Street, and ours faced 25th Avenue. Bobby's back porch sat where his steps were very close to our back steps. I would see Bobby watching me from his kitchen window, when I came and went.

Bobby was older. He had the darkest eyes, and they were on me anytime I came or went from our backdoor. I had a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, each time I saw him. There was something about Bobby.

The other kids told me all about Bobby, before we met the first time. I asked questions about him, but I avoided the meeting for as long as I could. When I caught Bobby watching me from his kitchen window, he had the same look in his eyes that the older boy Skippy and I met in the woods had. I knew exactly what it meant.

When I came and went, I dashed out of the back door, and down the sidewalk. When I came home, I started running two apartments up from Bobby's, and I dashed up the steps and through the backdoor.

I knew who Bobby was. I knew it was through him that I was going to find out what the word homosexual meant. Even before I saw him watching me, I knew Bobby and I were destined to be linked together in an unusual way.

"I wasn't afraid of him, and I wasn't afraid of what he was going to show me about myself. I simply wasn't in a hurry, the week after I returned from my summer in Florida," I said.

"I'd learned a lot about Florida. I'd learned some things about myself, and life in general. In the company of two boys, my life took on a different feel. I could come and go as I pleased, especially if I was in the company of Avery and Joe."

"Bobby would have lessons to teach me, but I wanted the glow from my time in Florida to stay fresh for a little longer. Once I met Bobby, I'd know more about my own identity," I said.

"You are telling me, you knew Bobby was homosexual, and he was going to have sex with you," Carlton asked.

"Something like that. It's not that simple. Bobby kept watching me. He wasn't dangerous. All the kids my age talked about how nice he was to them. Bobby was fifteen, and about to turn sixteen, and he would get his driver's license, shortly after school began," I said, trying to put it together in a way that would make sense.

"I find that incredible," Carlton said. "Want more soda?"

"Sure," I said, and Carlton disappeared into the kitchen.

I suppose that having the feeling that Bobby was like me, seemed as logical as anything else in my life. I'd lived most of twelve years inside myself. I knew what went on inside me. Now, it appeared I knew what went on inside of others, certain others.

After a week, as Labor Day was closing in, and school was about to start, I came down the sidewalk to go into my backdoor. Bobby was sitting on the steps outside of his kitchen door. He was waiting for me.

"You're Dick," he said, standing up to reach for my hand.

"You're Bobby," I said, and I looked into his face.

"Want to see my fort?" He asked.

"Sure," I said.

When I walked through the laundry room behind him, I was impressed that he had a key for the storage room. He waited for me to go inside, and he shut and locked the door.

He'd piled all kinds of junk up on one side of the storage area, and by letting a carpet roll down over top of the space between the junk, he'd created a fort. If someone opened the door, they couldn't see if anyone who was in that space. So you had time to stop doing whatever it was you were doing, if you were doing something.

"You want to play strip poker?" He asked, once we were seated inside his fort.

"Sure," I said, knowing why we were there.

It didn't take a brain surgeon that Bobby recognized me, just like I recognized him. Before I'd left his fort, I'd performed oral sex on him several times, and I found all the parts of concern in such a situation. Bobby was cool. He wanted to give as good as he got, and I suppose it was the most exciting hour of my life.

One time was going to be enough. I did whatever it was he wanted to do. It was fairly predictable, except for the intensity of the acts we performed. Bobby definitely wanted to know me better.

I was 12 by a few months. When I was eight or nine, I'd gotten out the dictionary, which was about eight inches thick, to find the word homosexual. I couldn't spell. I was stupid, according to most opinions, but I knew that word had something to do with me.

"At that age, you knew you were homosexual?" Carlton asked.

"I don't know what I was. I felt that word would tell me what I was. When I was nine, after I found the word homosexual, which was no easy feet, because I couldn't spell. My life was about being in my bedroom, and playing with my two Teddy bears. One I'd had as far back as I could remember. One I got when I was six. The two of them were my only companions. I played alone in my room, and my imagination allowed me and my Teddy bears, to soar off into the sky, and we traveled to places unknown. It was my only comfort. My room was my refuge," I said.

"When I did something so bad, my parents said, 'I needed to be punished severely.'"

I came home one day, after school, and my Teddy bears were gone. They'd been removed from my room. There had been talk of extra punishment, but I couldn't imagine my parents being that cruel. The only comfort I got over the years, was the comfort those two companions gave me. They took that comfort away from me because I'd been so bad I wasn't allowed comfort."

"Oh, my God. Your parents weren't bad parents, they were criminal," Carlton said loudly.

"I suppose," I said, thinking back to what came next. "It wasn't for me to say what was right or wrong. It was up to them. They weren't bad people, they simply had bad ideas about raising kids."

"I cried every day, when I came in from school. I refused to ask for my Teddy bears back. I wouldn't give them the satisfaction, but my life was forever altered, the day they took my companions."

"I really didn't want to hear anymore about your parents. They should have been horsewhipped," Carlton said.

Having revealed to Carlton the lowest point in my life, brought on by my absolute refusal to obey my parents order to stop wetting the bed, the punishment was swift, harsh, and it precluded any natural life sustaining force. Life became a struggle for survival, and now I moved the struggle outdoors.

"I never told anyone my story. It was a reminder of how bad and incapable I was. I peed on myself rather than get up to go to the bathroom. If that isn't a humiliating confession, nothing was. I was so bad, my parents finally removed the only comfort I'd been allowed, two aging Teddy bears," I said.

It forced me out of the house, and into a new world.

At nine, I discovered what I was genuinely good at, roaming, with no destination in mind.

"You didn't ask them to give back your Teddy bears?"

"Not once, and without them, there was nothing to keep me in the house any longer. I stopped coming home after school. How would my parents know if I came home after school or not? They didn't come home until dinner time, and I knew to be home for dinner."

"Avoiding any more talk of your parents, what happened?" Carlton asked.

"I'd feared my parents getting rid of me. I had no knowledge that told me they couldn't. They were in charge and their hostility and anger toward me was obvious. In my mind, I had nothing to offer to anyone. Once I began roaming, it altered the way I felt. The people I met, every bit as outside the acceptable as I was, but happy to include me in the games they played."

"You found friends," Carlton said.

"I don't think they were friends," I said. "I would meet them in the woods. It was mostly after school, and before dinner time. We moved again at about this time. I had to be nine, because we moved right after I turned ten. This was just before that. While I was around other kids in school, I'd never been around kids after school."

It was surprising how memories churned up, as I thought back. I tried to remember the order in which things took place.

I hadn't been roaming long. I remember the second or third day I did, I met a teenage girl in the woods. I liked the woods. I guess there were fewer people in the woods.

I was still making up my mind to stay away from the house until dinner. I knew better than to be late for dinner. I ran into the teenage girl, and she wants to get naked with me. I didn't have anything else to do, and getting naked sounded OK with me.

It felt like something I shouldn't do, so I wanted to try it. I'd gotten an early biology lesson on the female anatomy. It was no big whoops. It was interesting. Because she didn't have a penis, there was nothing to see down there, but hair. I wasn't big on hair.

What happened next was down right freaky, because I wish it was a boy asking me to get naked. It was a short time before my roaming started, that I looked up the word homosexual. When you can't read, or spell, that was a job and a half. It took me several days of going through the H segment of the dictionary, that was eight inches thick, before I found that word.

I knew that word had something to do with me. Where I'd heard the word, or why I believed it would tell me about myself, I don't know. I became curious about it, and I looked it up.

Starting out getting naked with a girl, told me a lot. As biology went, it had been interesting. As attraction went, not so much. It was what it was, but a few days later, I met a neighbor boy in the woods. Right away, I told Skippy about getting naked with the girl. I asked him if he wanted to get naked with us the next time we did it.

Skippy thought it over for a second and a half before saying, "No, but if you don't get naked with me, I'll tell on you."

That worked out way better than I could have imagined. I used the girl as bait to be able to get naked with Skippy. He tossed the bait aside and made his desires clear, and right away, we got naked.

I wondered if everyone went to the woods to get naked. It seemed like fun to me. I was two for two on the get naked deal.

Skippy was more interesting than the girl. We began scheduling meetings after school to 'fool around.' Leaving my bedroom turned out to be a good move on my part Discoveries I made were an exciting addition to a life I'd spent in isolation.

Confirming my suspicions, that everyone got naked in the woods, one Saturday morning, Skippy was waiting for me, once I left the house. It wasn't a scheduled meeting, but he came to ask me if I wanted to meet another boy he fooled around with in the woods.

He told me his friend was older. Seeing another naked boy appealed to me. I was game, and Skippy figured I would be. We went to the spot in the woods where we usually fooled around. We met a teenage boy. He suggested we get naked. He has hair and he brings a lot more to the table than Skippy or me. The boy is really interesting, and before we get finished in the woods, he wants to get together again one day next week.

Roaming had paid off in a way I never suspected it would. Now that I realized that guys went to the woods to get naked, I was sure that I'd be roaming a lot more, but as with anything in my life that I liked, it was short lived.

A few months after meeting Skippy's friend, we moved. Once again, it came out of the blue.

"Don't go anywhere Saturday. We're moving," I was told.

"Moving this time was more disappointing than the last two or three moves we'd made. Up until then, I didn't care where we lived," I said. "I would be starting over, and going into the 5th grade."

"So why was once enough with Bobby?" Carlton asked. "You seemed to be on your way to having more than one guy to fool around with."

"There's a big difference between being nine and being twelve. At twelve, I was going through puberty, when I met Bobby. When I did things with boys before we moved, it was interesting and fun. With Bobby, the feelings were way more intense. My hormones were raging, and being with Bobby was like walking into a tornado. There was an excitement I hadn't experienced when I was nine. That meant it could get out of control fast. I could see me doing it every day with Bobby, twice a day. I was twelve. I was in enough trouble with my parents. Becoming sexually active with the boy next door would sooner or later end up with me in even more trouble. It did scare me. I wasn't traumatized forever and ever, but I was worried that I might be too young to be sexually involved with Bobby," I said. "But I knew, when I did get sexually active, it would be with a boy."

"You were twelve. How could you figure that out? I didn't know which way was up at twelve. Even when Chase and I started getting each other off, it was ill-defined at best. It took until I was in high school before my serious feelings for him intensified."

"I can only tell you about me, Carlton. I was keenly aware of what went on inside myself. I considered the things I did, because every thing I did had a direct effect on how much punishment I would receive," I said. "I knew Bobby was a homosexual the same way I knew that being sexually active at twelve was a lot more intense than the fooling around I did at nine."

Bobby and I did run around together, because I went with him, when he got his father's car. We didn't fool around again. He liked spending time together. I suppose he felt alone too. He was in a new place. All the kids were younger, and I was the only one who could go with him. Once I went out the back door, my parents had no interest in where I was or what I was doing. I knew certain things would get my parent's attention, and I did my best to avoid doing such things. If one of the neighbors complained about me, I'd get it. Going out in the car kept me far away from prying eyes.

"Your parents needed some parenting classes," Carlton said.

"It was what it was, Carlton," I said.

"I'd discovered masturbation by then, and fooling around required other boys. Masturbation was a solitary activity. I was satisfied with doing in alone. As I grew older, the repercussions for being sexual, made such things forbidden fruit. I could do it myself and get the same result. It was a low risk activity."

"I couldn't, once Chase showed me what I was missing," Carlton said. "The fireworks went off that night. I couldn't stay away from him after that, but as you supposed, being caught was disastrous for my life and my future."

"As I began discovering things I could do, and I'd never been able to do anything before, my mind didn't visit the sexual side of things as often. When I was nine, and with Skippy guiding me, I wanted to fool around every day with anyone who was interested. After feeling bad for so long, this made me feel good," I said.

"Amazing," Carlton said. "You amaze me. When I was with Chase, and he had his hand on my dick, I couldn't add two and two. My entire being flowed through his hand, and he knew how to do it. I never thought to ask him how many other boys he was involved with."

"Did you have a need to add two and two at the time?" I asked.

Carlton laughed.

But Carlton was right. When I was with Bobby, and he was asking me to do things to him, I was immediately inside what we did. Nothing existed but Bobby and what I was learning about his body.

Even though Bobby and I only got together that way once, Bobby was waiting for me to come out of my kitchen door, all the time. Once he got his driver's license, he could get his father's car, mostly on weekends.

I liked that he didn't try to talk me into having sex with him again. He accepted that I knew what I was doing, when I did it, and I knew what I was doing, when I didn't want to do it again. I didn't have any friends, and a sixteen-year-old was good as any. Besides, Bobby knew everything about everyone. He was like a private eye, or maybe he was more like a snoop. I figured most of what he told me was bullshit, but he told a lot of stories about our neighbors.

"Bobby knew my secret, and I knew his," I said. "He seemed fine with me knowing about him. He knew about me, too. We were even."

"I get that. It was like that with Chase, but he had calculated that he had the upper hand. As long as he used his hand on me, I really didn't care that he knew about me."

"It was a few days after I visited Bobby's fort, that junior high school began. Things were coming at me pretty fast at that time. I'd spent all that time away from home, and then it was time for school."

I once again ran the images through my head. My life was about to take a major right turn. I'd been warned about junior high by boys who had brothers who were already in junior high. My brother didn't tell me anything, because we mostly had nothing to say to each other.

I did learn a lesson the day I got on my first school bus. I hated it. Being locked into a tin can with sixty screaming, mad, 12, 13, and 14 year old kids was no picnic. I had to take the bus to school in the morning, but I'd walk home from school, weather permitting.

Once at school, and once they finally unlocked the front doors, I went about locating each classroom. The classes and the room numbers appeared on a card that had come in the mail.

I was about to learn my first lesson in junior high school, after learning the lesson about the bus. When the bell rang, dismissing one class, you got five minutes, before the late bell rang, to be in your seat in the next class.

My first period was at the end of the last hall in the school. Second period was all the way at the end of the next hall over, which could only be accessed by going back to the entrance to the building, and then going over to that hall. Of course, when the bell rang to dismiss a class, hundreds of kids streamed into the halls, all trying to make it to the next period, without being late.

The not being late part was stressed on the card with the classes and the room numbers. It would take an Olympic sprinter to get from the end of one hall, to the end of the next hall over, unless you ran down everyone who got in your way.

Teachers became drill sergeants.

"Get a move on it. You'll be late if you don't hurry."

I wondered if that was an unspoken lesson we needed to learn.

I wasn't sure what fate would befall me, if I wasn't in my seat on time, but I'm sure it was terrible. What would it hurt to give us enough time to get to the next class without rushing? We were there all day. Why not create a leisurely pace that encouraged learning?

Locating each of my classrooms, before school started, got me into my seat with time to spare in most classes. The gym was all the way at the far side of the school from the entrance, and I was late on the first day, but it was gym, and I wasn't really worried.

My only break came after 2nd period, when I went to the gym, which was a good distance from where my second period class was. I passed the office, the cafeteria, making it to the gym a minute after the late bell rang.

As I came through the entrance, I joined sixty other boys already standing with their toes on the red line that ran around the basketball court size room that was a basketball court. Before I realized I'd already missed out on the beginning of class, I was handed two sheets of paper. It was the rules you needed to know if you intended to get a passing grade in gym class.


I was immediately intent on listening to Mr. Romeo, the name of the gym teacher who was reading the rules.

"Rule 3," he said.

What happened to rules one and two?

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