In Skater's Time

by Rick Beck

Chapter 16

Better Days

I held my surfboard in front of my shorts, because tents were out of fashion, and I was sporting one. I headed for the stairs, only to be caught by my father, before I could get to my room.

"Was that someone new?" he asked, knowing it was. Did you finally get to use your new surfboard."

"Yeah, Dad. On both counts. Skip took me surfing. He's cool. He has a car. "Hey, Dad! What's for dinner?" I asked, wanting to change the subject fast, as I disappeared up the stairs..

I'd let my bulging relax, before I went back down to dinner. Mexican food stayed hot, whether it was heated up or not. I leaned my surfboard against the wall inside my closet, and I got a shirt that covered my crotch. Problem solved, and I was on my way back down the stairs.

"Your friend wasn't hungry, Z?" Dad asked.

"No, he had to get home," I said, not knowing how much he'd seen, or what he thought about what he'd seen.

I kissed mother on the cheek, and I sat down and began stuffing a taco into my mouth. One should not talk with his mouth full, which was one of those rules I rarely remembered, except when not talking kept me from being pinned down about something I didn't want to be pinned down about. Skippy being one.

My shorts were sticky, because of Skippy. That had me smiling, while I ate. I'd had a really good day. Not only did I meet Skippy, but I saw the Pacific Ocean in all its glory. I sat in it for several hours, waiting for a wave. I had a lot of beautiful company, which might have been the best part. California surfers were long, lean, and tan. Being there with them, was unreal, because I'd seen myself with them for years, with a Beach Boys' beat, pounding inside my head, whether or not I was near a radio or anything that allowed them to reach their audience.

I was sure everyone was a Beach Boys' fan. The definition of the California sound, head a picture of the Beach Boys, under those words in the dictionary. Would it be nice, if could get around? God only knows, but I did get around, and for the first time, I felt like I was a California boy.

I'd been surfing with my new best friend. I did stand up on my board one time. I felt it under me. I felt the hardly adequate wave push my board. It wasn't much, but it was a start. I would become a surfer. I was a skater. I could be a skater anywhere. I finally belonged to the California culture. I was part of the scene. I was part of what was happening.

"What?" I asked, hearing my father's distant voice.

"Do you work tomorrow? You said Mr. Hitch cock gave you the day off," he said.

"Oh yeah. We had two big deliveries early in the week, and I stayed to get everything on the shelves. He wants to keep me around 40 hours," I said.

"He mentioned that. I hope he's OK financially. He's a good boss, Zane. He thinks the world of you," Dad said.

"He's OK. If I got to work, I'd rather work for him," I said.

"While you are considering your future, I hope," Mom said.

"Always, Mom," I said.

I was having trouble considering tomorrow. I knew what the answers were to the standard questions. I'm sure my parents knew the proper answers to their questions by heart, but they didn't know if I had plans beyond Hitchcock's Market.

"Why didn't your friend come in, so we could meet him?" Mom asked, before I could grab my next taco. .

"He had to get home, Mom," I said.

"You enjoyed yourself surfing," Dad asked, knowing it was the first time I made it to the ocean.

"It was a good experience. It'll take time to learn to do it properly, but I think I want to spent some more time surfing, now that I've met someone who can get me to the surf. He said he'd take me again?" I said.

"You spoiled us, when you took up with Free. He was a fine boy, Z. None of your friends back home were that friendly around us, and he was smart, Free is a bright kid," Dad said.

"Dad, he went into the navy. Free's not a kid," I said.

"I know, but when you get to forty, anyone under thirty is a kid, and Free was a likeable sort."

"Your father is just a big kid, who objected to the idea of growing up," my mother said.

"Don't tell our son that, Gwen. I liked having fun. I had good friends, and we partied. You don't just suddenly fall in love one day and forget what your life is all about," Dad said.

"You partied, Dad?" I asked, turning the interrogation onto my father.

"Some. We didn't get obliterated the way kids do these days," Dad said.

"Roy, your nose is going to growing, if you don't look out. You've forgotten about Lee Carroll. I don't think I ever saw him sober," Mom said.

"Lee had his problems. He had it pretty bad at home. Like a lot of people, he self medicated," Dad said, his fork suspended halfway to his mouth.

My parents never argued in front of me, but I'd heard them arguing out of site in our apartment back home. I found their memories, and the idyllic things they told me, were suspect. I hadn't heard about my father being a party boy, and I wanted to hear more..

"He drank too much, and he was a drunk," Mother said.

"Have it your way, Gwen. I'd hate to carry around the weight that kid carried. I was surprised he survived to grow up. We often talked about him drinking himself to death," Dad said.

"I don't know how anyone can drink enough of that nasty stuff to get drunk," I said.

I left out, 'Give me a joint every time, but I didn't like grass that much. It made me feel out of control, and every time I thought about being out of control, I saw Gordo. If anything could convince me to never drink or do drugs, it was Gordo. He was a mess.

Free came from a harsh upbringing, but he was polite, friendly, and he adapted to whatever environment that he found himself in.

My parents didn't know that I was gay, and the subject hadn't come up. I had girlfriends, girl friends, back home, and that was enough to make my parents think that I was traveling a straight and narrow path, but I wasn't being sexual with anyone back home.

The risk outweighed the reward, because I had no idea what the reward was, until I met Free, and Free gave me what I knew would excite me beyond anything I'd known, up until Free came along, and he took me with him.

Nobody took me with him before, and now, Skip had come along, looking like the boy with auburn hair. Skip was shorter with redder hair, and I'd follow him anywhere. My engines had been running at idle, since Free left, but today, my engines were firing on all cylinders, and the possibilities were endless.

Skip too me with him to show me something about surfing, and he had, and I knew, all I needed to do is put together what he showed me, with some surf, and my surfboard, and I'd be in business. By the time I was thirty, I might even be a surfer other surfers would talk about, but I'd yet to catch my first wave.

Skip had done something else for me, and as reluctant as I was to take another lover, I was not opposed to being loved. Skip knew where to take me to get me primed and ready, before satisfying the need I had, and refused to satisfy.

Not only was I reluctant to get involved, but I'd never have done it in public, had Skip not taken the decision out of my hands. I could have stopped him. No, I couldn't have stopped him. It was too entirely wonderful to stop. No one had seen us, and I doubt I'd cared if someone did. Skip was very very good.

I think the first time my eyes fell on Skip, I knew we were on a one way trip to one of the most passionate encounters I'd ever have. It took longer for Skip and I to engage in a sex act than it did for me and Free. The result was similar.

Skip was ready to take me anywhere I wanted to go, while we stood in front of my house, in front of God and our neighbors, and I almost fainted, which had nothing to do with God and my neighbors. Only my father saved me from releasing the ultimate flood, which I'd have had a hell of a time explaining.

Since Free left, no one I saw was able to get me aroused. My heart wasn't in it, and my sex drive had driven off for parts unknown. Sex didn't interest me, but that was a phase, and that phase passed. I was in love, and writing the words make me wonder, How was I in love, and yet I did not know love. As mysteries go, this one has no solution. How can you be in love without knowing love?

I was young. When it came to love, I was a novice, but that didn't make love any less powerful. It had the power to carry away my body and my mind. I would have lived for Free. I would have died for Free.

He became the center of my life. No one did that before. I was alone a lot, before Free, and I was alone again. What was the point? What was love, and Where did our love go?

On the outside, I appeared to be calm and reserved. On the inside, I was a jumble of contradictions and confusion. Each time I was sure I'd figured it all out, two and two added up to five. Everyone knows that's wrong. Why do I keep coming up with five? How do you ever figure out what's going on?

"Zane," Mom said.


"I asked you if you've heard from Free lately?" she asked.

"Oh, no. He sent a card on my birthday. It's the last time he wrote," I said.

"I'm sure the navy keeps him jumping," Dad said.

"Yeah, I'm sure," I said.

"He was pleasant to have around. I kind of miss him," Mom said.

"Me, too," I said. "He was a nice kid."

I heard my father's words coming out of my mouth. I cringed. He wasn't a kid. He was my lover, and that was that.

Once I admitted that I was gay, it became more clear, why I kept to myself. I'd hung with the same skaters all through middle school and high school. They'd given me some cheap and unexpected thrills, but nothing more. While two in the group I ran with were labeled, queer bait, I wasn't about to touch one.

Meeting guys like Gordo, and his harem, and then, Free, with his equally easy going style, opened my eyes to the possibilities. I was holding out for Free to return and to only have eyes for me, but he'd sent a couple of pictures taken in the barracks, with the guys in their skivvies and nothing else. Maybe I should reconsider the military as a career. I wouldn't have any trouble finding good men.

In one picture, a tall gangly boy with buckwheat colored hair, had his arm over Free's shoulder. There bodies were pressed together. Free said his name was Garner. He was from Wyoming. I'd heard the only things that came from Wyoming were steers and queers. Garner did not look like a steer to me.

The thought that Free could hold out, and come home, only having eyes for me, was foolish. I'd heard stories about basic training, and the guys you became tight with. Seeing the boys he was with shirtless and all but naked, didn't reenforce my hope that Free would return. In fact, I didn't see him coming back. His future was as a navy man, and the only thing in El Cajon he had was me.

Responding to Skip the way I did, well Free had been gone for months by the time he sent pictures of his buds. It was about time for boot camp to end. If Free was coming back to me, he'd come back after boot camp. He said that he'd get leave after boot camp was over.

I wouldn't go head over heals for someone else, until after he finished boot camp. I wouldn't kick Skip to the curb, even if Free came home. A bird in the hand, was worth more than all those birds in the bushes. We'd see.

I'd gone without for too long, to cross anything off as a lost cause. I was able to attract other boys, and I was grateful for that. I wasn't sure other boys would like me enough to want to go to bed with me, and now I was sure. I didn't have a vast education, but I'd seen enough of Gordo, Free, and now Skip, to know which side my bread was buttered on. I'd be cautious and available.

I'd stay cool, because I wasn't sure what might happen.

It was the following week, and a week before Free finished boot camp, he called. I was delighted to hear his voice, but my happiness was short lived.

"Hey, Z. It's me. How are you?"

"Fine, I'm fine, Z. I'm going to be an officer. They're sending me to officers school as soon as I'm done with boot. I'm going to be an 0-1. That's a lieutenant, or what they used to call an ensign. Can you believe it?"

"No, Free, I can't. I'm happy for you," I said.

"You don't sound all that happy," Free said.

"I was looking forward to seeing you, but I guess this means I won't be seeing you anytime soon," I said.

"I'll be home after I become an officer. I've got to go to school. They're holding a spot for me in their computer weapons systems section. They think I'm smart. Can you believe that. I sure have them fooled," he said.

"You are smart, Free. Just because you had a shitty life, and didn't finish school, never had anything to do with your intelligence. It had to do with bad parents, Free. You're one of the smartest people I know, and I'm not the only one who says that you're smart. Brenda Hitchcock told me that she thought you were a very bright guy. Now you go to that school, and you become the best officer they've ever laid eyes on, you hear."

"I will, Z. I will," he said, and I could hear guys talking in the background. "We're heading off base to a joint that caters to navy recruits. I got go, Z. Nice talking to you."

'Yeah, nice," I said, hanging up the phone.

It was no surprise. I had figured all along, Free coming home after basic training was a dream we shared, but the navy didn't necessarily condone such free thinking or any freedom at all that didn't put the navy first.

Even realizing that Skip had shown an interest in me, didn't perk me up that evening. Once again, I'd throw myself into my work, and pretend I didn't love Free, and I'd miss him. Free was becoming a man, and it looked like he would become a real big success.

I thought of Free a lot. I thought of how well we went together. I thought of how handsome he was. Looking at the pictures he sent from boot camp, I could see the way the other guys looked at him. He was a popular guy, and what wasn't to like about him. They couldn't find a better friend, and he was hot in bed, although I didn't think he'd be giving any demonstrations in boot camp, but he'd given me dozens of demonstrations that I'd never forget.

Brenda asked me what was wrong, one night when I stayed late to put up the stock. Mr. Hitchcock put me on salary. He couldn't afford to pay me to be there ten and twelve hour days. A raise went with it, but I didn't care about the money. It kept my mind off Free.

Each time I was sure I was over him, something pulled me back into the realization that we'd loved each other, and now love was gone. Even the idea that Skip might come by for me one day, didn't lift my spirits. Low was here, and now it's gone. Love! Love! Love!

I wasn't working because I loved to work, I was there to keep my mind occupied. Work was where I found peace. I could put up stock, unload trucks, and sweep and mop the floors without thinking of Free more than a hundred or two hundred times a day.

I got two more letters from Lieutenant Anthony Wentworth, before the letters stopped. He was being shipped to Japan the last time I heard from him. He'd be there for two years, and he'd learn the weapons systems on every ship that came into port.

Free had turned out to be a real big success, but he'd been a real big success for me, before the navy got a hold of him. I wondered where Garner was going to be stationed.

Skip was another matter. If Skip returned to El Cajon, I didn't see him, and he didn't stop at my house, while I was home. After two months, I had once again gotten Free behind me. It was plain to see, he'd never leave that special place in my heart, where first love resided, but I knew Free was gone for good.

I wasn't sorry he stopped writing. He described his insane schedule to me in his first letter, after going to officer's candidate school. They had him pegged for a new type of sailor, who could work on every kind of computer. With Free on board a ship, they'd never have a systems failure that could disabled the ship. Free was able to track down and find a fix for almost any problem. It was the new navy with every system being computerized, and few fail safe, beyond the computer weapons officer, the most important man on a war ship, after the captain..

I got a formal invitation to attend Lt. Wentworth's graduation from OCS. I got another note, saying his first duty station, as an officer, was Japan. There he'd learn all about every weapons system computer, on every ship that arrived at the port where Free was stationed.

I saw him with a cute Japanese boy, riding high. Free knew what he was doing. I'm sure it hurt him as much as it hurt me. Free was the real deal, and he'd come and gone from my life at a time when I needed him most. I could never become cynical about love, after Free.

Just like I had to give up Free, I gave up on Skip, after a few months, when I didn't cross his path. I thought we connected in a special way, but a guy who looked like Skip, probably made connections with vulnerable guys every day. I was a guy who crossed his path, and whom he soon forgot. I didn't forget him.

Skip wasn't a guy, a guy like me forgot. I'd attracted Gordo, and I didn't regret it at the time, but Gordo was so fucked up, no one could get close to him. Gordo was desperate to make a connection with anyone, but he was too crazy to attract anyone. Gordo was a train, running full speed, toward the end of the line.

Free and I fit together like a hand in a glove. Free was comfortable. He was fun to be with, and no one ever took me further, or higher, than Free took me, although Skip came close to having the same kind of impact on me.

Perhaps I was just vulnerable enough to fall victim to his warm friendly charm. Perhaps I was just horny, and Skip touched me in a way it was hard to forget, but he'd forgotten, and I was back where I started.

I had a surfboard and no way to get to the surf. My father said he'd co-sign for me to get a used car we both agreed on, but my mother and father had been signing for me for my entire life. I had a job, and if I couldn't get a car on my own, I wouldn't get a car, and that was before I found out how much insurance cost for a boy my age. I didn't want to buy the insurance company, I needed insurance to own a car, and that idea was short lived.

There were guys with cars, but Skip was the first guy I met with a car. Most of the skaters I knew, were lucky to be able to afford a skateboard. Only because skateboarders belonged to a culture, were they able to keep a skateboard under them. If you broke your board, and it couldn't be fix, the board fixer would find a suitable board, and give it to you. We were all skaters, and it was unthinkable to leave a skater without a board.

It's why I was a skater. There was community involved. I was part of something, when I wasn't part of anything else. I knew I lived in the greatest country to ever exist on earth, even if it was misguided, and too violent for people who weren't violent, and would never go to fight another useless war.

America was a dream men had, when it was dangerous to dream anything that went beyond what you were told you could dream. The men who created America, were traitors to the crown. Had they been taken prisoner, they'd have been hung, side by each. Adams hung beside Jefferson, beside Washington, beside Madison and Monroe. These men dreamed a dream that could have ended up with them being executed. I dreamed I was no longer alone.

With all the history that was written, why didn't someone write about how not to be alone. I'd read books that old me that kingdom's fell, because of love. Maybe there'd be less dramatics if I wanted a good friend. A good friend worked.

I could give up on love for a while.

I had planned to skate to the patch of lawn beyond the mall on Broadway, but by the time I got off from work, I didn't feel like watching skaters skate by. I went home instead, and parked in front of my house was an old, but in good condition, 1970s Chevrolet. On top was a surfboard. Leaning against the passenger door, staring at my house, was Skip.

I felt a rush and then a letdown. Where'd he been for so long. If he was going to come back to take me out, what took him so long to get around to it. Had he worked his way through all the boys in California, and now it was my turn again?

By the time I skated up to him, I was mad as a hornet. He had a lot of nerve. Coming around when he was hard up, thinking I was easy. Well, I wasn't that easy. He could go to hell for all I cared.

"Hey," he said. "I've been thinking about you."

"I'm surprised you had time. Run out of boys to seduce?" I asked.

"Boys? Seduce?" he asked, and then he understood what I was getting to. "Oh, I was up to my butt in tests, papers to write, and finals to take. For the month after we met, I hardly left my dorm, but the hard work paid off, and I graduated with honors. Then, believe it or don't, my parents gave me a ticket to Australia. Dude, have you ever seen the surf in Australia? Of course you haven't. It's awesome, dude. One perfect wave after another. One perfect surfer after another. That place was hot, and I don't mean the weather. It was winter down under," Skip said.

"Australia," I said, having no idea about it. "You were in Australia? It's like halfway around the world. That sounds expensive."

"Not really. You find guys who are going from beach to beach. I met two French dudes, and a guy from Taiwan. They were traveling together. They'd all just graduated from college. They had room for one more, and we tooled around Australia, surfing every beach we could fine, for the past six weeks."

"Sounds awesome," I said.

"Man, it was awesome. I thought I was a fair surfer before. After surfer every day for over a month, I can ride my board through the head of a needle."

I laughed.

"I guess I can forgive you for not getting in touch. I bet phones were in short supply on some of those beaches,"

"They were, and you didn't give me your phone number," Skip said.

"Yeah, I'm new at the dating game. I never thought it was a good idea to give you my phone number. I'm glad you had a good time. I'm glad you were able to graduate," I said, leaning on the car beside him, letting my arm and shoulder touch his arm and shoulder.

Skip gave me a big smile. I smiled back. Skip was back in town.

Got anything to do tomorrow. It's too late to go surfing today, but we could go tomorrow. I have thought about you, Z. I like you, and as boys go, I don't like that many. We should see more of each other, now that I'm back.

Maybe we should play it by ear. We'll see how it goes. I've already got a lot of hours in this week, and a day off to surf sounds like a good plan. Maybe there will even be some surf this time.

"There is surf. I spent the day at San Onofre. The surf was good, and that coming from a guy who has just been surfing the best surf in thew world."

"Sounds like a date," I said.

Tomorrow's a long time away. What about tonight. It's too early for dinner.

"Yes, it is. I was going to hang out, but I decided to come home."

"Glad you did," he said.

"Me, too," I said.

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