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SUMMARY: The year is 1973 and Lane Bailey is a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University. A homosexual with ambivalent but often negative feelings about his sexuality, he also has a strong attraction to his brightest student, a Harvard junior named Paul. As graduation approaches, his conflicted feelings and despair grow and he tries to recall a time when he was not homosexual. That arouses powerful boyhood memories. What follows is a journey of self-discovery, one in which Lane eventually comes to a better understanding of himself and ends up learning much about life, love and sex in the process. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise indicated, all of the characters in the story are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While certain places described or mentioned in the story are real, liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. This story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you don’t like or approve of such discussions or it’s illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so.
FIRST LOVE, FIRST TIME
Having finished our conversation, Paul stood up.
“Do you want to walk out to the courtyard with me?” he asked.
“Uh, well, ordinarily I would, Paul, but I have some papers to finish grading,” I responded. “I should probably do that since I’m already here.”
“At this hour on a Friday evening?” he said. “Surely you must have something better to do?”
“Don’t make me feel worse than I already do, Paul,” I said, grinning at him.
“Oh, sorry,” he responded. “I didn’t mean it to sound that way.”
“It’s okay” I replied. “You’re right; all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy indeed. I understand I’m in a rut, but perhaps things will change once the semester is over.”
“For me, too, I hope,” Paul said. “That’s why I decided to spend the summer here; because I want things to change. In any event, I guess I should be going.”
With that he turned and departed, leaving me alone.
Leaning back in my chair, I shook my head.
What was that all about, Lane?
Delighted as I was to know I might be seeing Paul again during the summer, I was surprised by our conversation.
Why would he want your opinion on something like that; on whether it was appropriate for an undergraduate and a Teaching Fellow to engage in a romantic relationship?
It seemed to me everyone on campus must know such relationships were inappropriate. Which is not to say they didn’t happen, of course; they did.
Indeed, just a couple of months earlier the campus had been scandalized when an older professor in the Government Department had dumped his wife of many years and then promptly turned around and married one of his much younger graduate students with whom he had been having an affair.
Knowing how widely discussed the incident had been at the time, I was surprised Paul had raised the question with me.
Suddenly a thought crossed my mind.
You don’t suppose . . .
Don’t be absurd, Lane. Paul is too, uh . . . too wholesome to do something like that; much too wholesome.
Shame on you!
That’s the difference between the two of you; only someone obsessed with sex like you would think something like that.
And yet try as hard as I did, the idea refused to be put to rest so easily.
Although I was attracted to Paul, I had never had the slightest doubt he was heterosexual; at least up until now.
Could I be wrong about that?
Don’t be ridiculous, Lane. You’re twisting this. You’re imputing your own feelings for Paul to him; trying to fool yourself into believing he feels the same way.
You want him so bad you’ll convince yourself of anything. That’s the only thing that’s wrong, Lane; that active imagination of yours!
Keep it up and you’ll make a fool of yourself. You might even end up making Paul hate you by doing something foolish. Worse still, you could end up in serious trouble like Allen.
Is that what you want?
“No,” I said, the word escaping my lips into the empty room.
I wanted Paul to respect me; to have fond memories of me after I was gone.
But that’s not all you want, is it, Lane? You want something more, don’t you?
For a moment I tried to deny it, but quickly abandoned the effort. I did want more.
There, you see; you’re not fooling anyone, Lane. You know what you want. It isn’t about being respected or fond memories. It’s about something else entirely.
Fortunately for you it’s too late now. He’s gone.
You need to get a grip on reality. Yes; Paul likes you. Yes; he admires and respects you. It’d be a shame if he ended up hating you because of that overactive imagination of yours.
Picking up one of the papers that remained to be graded, I started reading it but quickly abandoned the task. I wasn’t able to concentrate; my mind was elsewhere, on Paul.
Looking down at my pants, I was surprised to see I had an erection.
Oh, God, Lane; stop for crying out loud!
Paul’s right. Why the hell are you here in your office grading papers on a Friday evening?
Realizing I needed to be up early the next morning, I gathered my things, turned off the lights, and retreated to the courtyard.
Retracing my earlier steps, I headed north, crossed Massachusetts Avenue and entered the Yard. For some reason I found myself drawn to the steps of Memorial Church, now abandoned. Sitting down, I went over my conversation with Paul yet again.
You need to stop, Lane. Paul isn’t like you. Why you would wish that on anyone, let alone someone decent like Paul, is beyond me.
Being a homosexual means being despised by most people. Anderson’s right about that.
It means being alone and having no one to talk to and spending your weekends trying to keep yourself busy to avoid having to think about the pain eating away inside you.
It can even mean getting arrested like Allen and ruining your life.
That’s not something you should be wishing on Paul; on anyone for that matter.
Looking across the way to the steps of Widener Library, I remember shaking my head.
How many weekends had I spent there alone working on my dissertation? Unlike Ken, I was determined to finish it come hell or high water before leaving Harvard. And now I had done so. I would be getting my degree soon enough.
And yet I was jealous of Ken.
Unlike me, he had spent most of his weekends this past year doing fun things with Amelia; going to movies, visiting museums, having dinner with her in Boston. In a few hours they would be celebrating their commitment to one another; their decision to share their lives together.
I would be part of the ceremony. I would be happy for them, genuinely happy; or at least as happy as I could be realizing I would never be able to experience something similar. I wasn’t jealous of them; I didn’t begrudge them the happiness they had found.
But I remember thinking what a bittersweet moment it would be when they exchanged their vows.
Unlike Ken and Amelia, that was something I would never be able to do. There was no special person for me. There never would be. I would spend my life alone and in hiding because I was too ashamed to admit my sin to anyone.
Now there’s an interesting concept, Lane. You haven’t thought about sin in a long time, have you? So why are you thinking about it now? You know perfectly well the Church doesn’t consider being homosexual a sin. It’s only a sin if you act on your urges.
“Yeah, right; thanks for nothing,” I muttered. “A lot of comfort that is.”
Why me, God?
What did I do wrong?
Why am I homosexual?
Closing my eyes I tried to think back to a time when I had no idea there was any such thing as sex; a time when I was just an ordinary boy like all the rest of the boys I knew.
Suddenly I could see myself back home in our Church. I was wearing a suit and a white robe and I was young, very young, just seven years old.
I was making my First Communion.
If you were Catholic, making your First Communion was important back then; it still was even now. But there were a lot of expectations that came with the thing and living up to all of them was hard.
You had to learn a lot of new things before your First Communion; things like the words to be used when you went to confession.
You couldn’t make your First Communion without going to confession first.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been . . .” and here you had to insert how many days or weeks it had been since your last confession. The nuns had been helping us learn all the ritual associated with confession and First Communion, including the right words.
They kept emphasizing we needed to go to confession quite often, at least every week, because we were boys after all and everyone knew boys were sinful creatures.
I hadn’t realized that up until then. I hadn’t even realized there was such a thing as sin. Sin was a new concept for me back then.
I mean, sure, you could be bad. I understood that. When I was bad my mother would tell me and then punish me somehow. If I had done something especially bad, she would bring out the ruler and spank me.
I didn’t like being spanked. It hurt.
Sometimes it hurt a lot because my mother was angry at me for doing something especially bad; at least that’s what I thought at the time although later I realized that perhaps the spanking had less to do with me and what I had done wrong and more to do with her and all the frustrations she was experiencing.
But that was later, of course; at the time all I recall was the pain that came with being spanked. So I tried not to be bad because I didn’t like being punished.
I didn’t realize it wasn’t just my mother keeping an eye on me, however; that God was keeping an eye on me as well and would punish me if I committed too many sins. Even send me to Hell where I would burn forever if I did something really bad.
I remember being scared when I learned about Hell. Knowing how much it hurt when my mother spanked me, the notion of going to Hell was even scarier. Burning forever for my sins? I couldn’t think of anything worse than that.
So, yeah, I had gotten the message. Sin was a lot worse than just being bad; I understood that. You could burn forever in Hell for your sins. But sin was also confusing because there were just so many things that were sins.
Lying was a sin, of course, disobeying your mother and father; stealing and fighting were sins too.
But there were many others as well and you had to know all of them because God wouldn’t forgive you unless you told all of your sins to the priest and you were sorry for them; not pretend sorry like you were sometimes when you stole a cookie and your mother caught you doing it.
You pretended to be sorry, but you weren’t really sorry; unless your mother hit you a lot with the ruler and the pain was especially bad. Then you were really sorry.
But sin was different. You had to be truly sorry for all of your sins to be forgiven and God knew what was in your heart. Unlike your mother, there was no fooling God; no pretending to be sorry when you weren’t because He would know and not forgive your sins no matter what you told the priest.
Not only did you have to know all the sins and be truly sorry for them, you had to know exactly how many times you had committed them too.
You couldn’t just tell the priest you had lied to your mother about taking that cookie she had discovered missing. You had to tell him exactly how many times you had stolen a cookie even if she hadn’t noticed; how many times you had lied to her and to everyone else as well.
That was the thing that worried me the most.
One time I tried to write down a list of all the sins. I thought it’d be handy to have that kind of list so you could check it before you went to confession. But it wasn’t long before I abandoned the idea. There were just too many sins to write down; worse still, there were a bunch of sins I didn’t understand at all, things like fornication and sodomy.
When you asked the nuns what they were, they never told you or explained why they were wrong. They would just assure us we would understand better when we got older.
That wasn’t much comfort to me to be honest. I mean, for all I knew, I could be doing some of those things without really knowing and God could be up in Heaven getting madder and madder at me. Maybe He had already decided I was going to Hell; that I was going to burn forever.
To be honest, the whole First Communion thing seemed strange the more I thought about it. I would be eating the body of God, at least according to the nuns. That seemed kind of gruesome to me. I had even bitten myself to see what eating a body would taste like, but I never got very far because it hurt too much to bite yourself like that.
Why God wanted you to eat his body was beyond me. If I had been God, I wouldn’t want anyone eating me.
But since it was God’s body I would be eating, confession was kind of understandable. Just like you had to wash your hands before dinner, you wanted to be clean when you ate God’s body; clean on the outside, of course. That was why you knew your mother would make you take a bath the night before you made your First Communion.
But you had to be clean inside as well. Your soul had to be clean.
I didn’t really know what a soul was or even what it looked like, but I guess the nuns did because they said going to confession was the way you cleansed your soul.
So to me confession was kind of like taking a bath, but it was a lot more nerve-wracking than a bath because I worried a lot I might overlook some sin I had committed or not be truly sorry for it; or, more likely still, overlook how many times I had committed it.
I mean, sometimes it was hard to remember whether I had stolen two cookies or three. All I really remembered was that they tasted so good!
I guess that’s when the idea occurred to me.
I remember thinking it was fool-proof and I was proud of myself for thinking it up; not too proud, mind you, because being prideful was a sin. Still, I was kind of proud of my plan because I was sure it meant there was no way I was ever going to Hell and burning forever just because I had overlooked some sin or forgotten how many times I had committed it.
Finally the big day arrived. They held a special confession late on Saturday for all the boys and girls who were going to be making their First Communion the next day. That made sense. If you did it late in the day, there was less chance you would commit a sin before the next morning.
I remember standing in the long line with the rest of the children as the different boys and girls entered the confessional. At some point the single line diverged, with the boys forming a line on the right and the girls doing the same on the left.
Ordinarily I would have been eager to go first and get the whole thing over with. But this being our first confession, the real thing as opposed to all the practicing we had done, I wanted to see how long the other boys and girls were spending in the confessional.
I figured that way you would have a better idea who the biggest sinners were. The longer someone was inside the confessional, the bigger the sinner he or she must be; and if you knew that, you could stay away from them and avoid being tempted into sin by someone bad.
But now, standing there in the line, I was worried. It seemed to me the ones spending the longest time in the confessional were the boys, especially some of my friends. The priest seemed to be grilling them pretty hard as best I could tell.
I mean, I wasn’t absolutely positive about that; it was hard to tell for sure because they made us stand pretty far back from the confessional. But it just seemed like the line for the girls was moving a lot faster than the line for the boys. The boys seemed to be in there forever and that worried me.
Still, I thought it would be okay; I had confidence in my plan.
Eventually my turn to enter the confessional came. Since we had practiced on numerous occasions, I knew exactly what to do. I waited for the priest to finish up with the girl on the other side of the confessional. I was glad to discover I couldn’t actually hear what they were saying because I didn’t want some stupid girl to know just how sinful I was.
Eventually the little slot opened and the priest was ready for me.
“Bless me father for I have sinned. This is the first time I’ve been to confession. I’ve been trying to remember all the sins I’ve committed the last seven years and how many times, but that’s kind of hard. Plus I know you’re busy today so I figured I’d make it easy for you.”
“The thing is, I’ve committed all the sins there are in the world a million times each. I realize that’s pretty bad, Father, but I’m sorry for that, truly sorry; and now that I know how disappointed God is with me, I’m going to try harder. I’m going to do my best not to offend God.”
The nuns were right; getting all of that off my shoulders did make me feel better although I can’t recall exactly what the priest said to me or how long I was in there. It seemed like forever to me at the time. But I got through it and went to bed early that evening so I wouldn’t commit any sins before Mass and communion the next day.
The next morning we made our First Communion. The girls wore dresses, the boys suits; and we had to wear white robes as well. The suit was uncomfortable; much too itchy. I didn’t like wearing it and then I got to worrying whether it was a sin not liking the suit my parents had spent good money buying for me.
I recall thinking I was probably being ungrateful. But if being ungrateful was a sin, I figured it was probably a venial sin. That wasn’t something good, mind you, but you could just say an act of contrition before communion and that would make things right with God.
It was only mortal sins that meant you couldn’t take communion, which would have been embarrassing since everyone including your parents and all the nuns were there because they wanted to see you eat the body of God.
Fortunately, I was pretty certain I hadn’t committed any mortal sins overnight.
So I made my First Communion and I was relieved about that because the taste of the little wafer that was somehow part of God’s body was okay. Honestly, it didn’t really have much of a taste at all. It didn’t taste like someone’s flesh and blood or anything like that. It was fine.
Opening my eyes, I remember smiling.
That was incredible, Lane. It was almost like you were actually back in the confessional.
But why that memory; why now?
It must have something to do with sin. You’ve been thinking a lot about what a sinful creature you are tonight.
And then I found myself laughing.
Looking back on it, I could see how amusing the whole thing must have been to the priest at the time; although for me it had been an ordeal, a terrifying ordeal, because I really didn’t want to burn forever in Hell.
But that was a long time ago, Lane. You weren’t really a sinner back then, were you?
Staring across the Yard again, I noticed a solitary figure seated on the stairs of Widener across the way from me.
I wonder if he’s as depressed as I am, I said to myself.
Not likely, Lane. Unlike you, he isn’t a pervert. He isn’t a sexual deviant. You are; at least that’s what Anderson and Ken believe.
Sitting there, I tried to recall still other memories from the time before I realized I was a homosexual.
I remembered being nine years old and playing in the surf at Cape Cod with Jimmy. He was my next door neighbor and best friend at the time. His family was even poorer than mine, but I had begged my parents to bring him along with us to the Cape and they had agreed.
As a nine year old, I liked Jimmy in a simple way; a non-sexual way. Sex didn’t exist for either of us. I was certain of that so I was also certain our friendship wasn’t tainted by any secret desires or hidden agendas like my friendship with Paul.
Like me Jimmy played Little League baseball, but we were on different teams. I played for the one sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, Jimmy for the team supported by the Police Department. I remember feeling sorry for him at the time because he had such a mean coach.
Jimmy had told me about one time when his coach had gathered the boys around him after they lost a game and told them to go dig a hole and bury themselves because they were a bunch of losers. The coach of my Little League team wasn’t like that. He just wanted us to have fun and that was good because it made playing the game more enjoyable.
We weren’t as good as the team Jimmy played for, of course. Less pressured to win, we lost more often and that could be annoying, at least until our coach took us to the Dairy Queen and bought us ice cream cones. An ice cream cone pretty much made everything better when you were nine.
Though I also recall thinking life could be confusing that way. Was it better to play for a winning team with a mean coach or a team that didn’t win very much but had a nice coach? Whatever the case might be, I loved playing baseball and I was pretty good at it; probably not as good as Jimmy or some of the other boys my age, but better than most.
Recalling now just how much fun it had been, I closed my eyes again and was astonished to see myself in my Little League uniform.
I played second base back then and people said I had good hands. Hardly anything got by me in the field; although there had been that painful time when the ball took an odd bounce and hit me in the forehead, knocking me out briefly in the process. That had caused quite a headache.
But it didn’t deter me. I liked playing the game.
I wasn’t as good a hitter as a fielder and I was way too small to hit for power, but no one on the team was a better bunter than me; except for Billy perhaps. He was small like me and an excellent bunter too, at least when he was actually playing. But Billy had died when we were nine.
I was sad when my parents told me he had died. I didn’t understand why. My parents said something about leukemia, but that was just a strange word. I didn’t know what it meant.
I didn’t like going to Billy’s wake either. It was the first wake I had ever been to and my parents said it was important to say good-bye to Billy.
I remember standing quietly in front of the casket at the funeral home staring at him when my turn came. He was wearing his Little League uniform because he loved that more than any of the rest of his clothes. But the body didn’t look like the Billy I knew.
He wasn’t smiling. You couldn’t see the sparkle in his eyes or the impish grin on his face. I didn’t like seeing Billy that way. It made me queasy.
Looking away from his face, so pale and unreal, my eyes were drawn to the sunglasses on the cap they had placed on his chest. Billy loved those sunglasses and that brought back a better memory of him.
A couple months earlier our coach had actually let Billy play the last two innings of one of our games. He loved baseball as much as me, but they wouldn’t let him actually play in the games that last year because of the leukemia. I guess he got tired out pretty easily.
But there had been this one game our coach had let him play. He put him in right field late in the game because he didn’t think anyone would hit the ball out there. But he was wrong. I remember the ball sailing over my head into right field and then turning around and racing as fast as I could toward the spot where Billy had planted himself, eager to catch it.
Our coach had taken me aside before the inning started and told me I needed to help Billy out if any fly balls were hit to right field; that I should try to catch them if possible or help run them down because it was too tiring for Billy to run very much.
So I had done what our coach said and raced toward Billy as fast as I could.
“It’s mine; it’s mine,” he shouted, waving me off.
He was smiling and for some reason I didn’t feel like I should go for the ball; he had called for it after all and was in a better position to catch it than me.
And he did catch it; at least it fell into his glove momentarily.
“Ouch,” Billy screamed and the ball slipped out of his glove toward me.
Grabbing it, I tossed it back into Davey, our shortstop, who turned around and relayed it to our third baseman, Sam, who slapped on the tag. The runner was out.
Turning around I could see Billy crying, not from the pain so much but from dropping the ball. I put my arm around his shoulder and tried to console him.
“That’s okay, Billy,” I said, trying to reassure him. “We got him. We wouldn’t have gotten him except for you catching the ball and tossing it to me to throw in. I know you can’t throw as hard as you used to.”
He looked at me quizzically for a moment, trying to square my interpretation of what had happened with his.
“That was so smart, Billy,” I continued. “Thanks. I was surprised you were even able to get to the ball.”
Suddenly his face broke into a grin and he hugged me.
“I knew you had the stronger arm,” he said. “That’s why I did that.”
Then the two of us raced toward the dugout, just much slower than usual because running was hard for him.
As we approached, Sandy Alderson, the assistant coach’s son, stood up and screamed at Billy.
“You idiot; you almost cost us a run there, Billy.”
I remember being stunned.
No one liked Sandy very much. He was fat and wasn’t much of a ballplayer. He had only made the team because his father had agreed to be the assistant coach. Everyone knew that. I wanted to slug him for saying something like that; to tell him how Billy and me had planned it that way all along.
But even as the idea formed in my head, Bruce walked over toward the three of us.
Bruce was our team captain; the best pitcher, the best hitter, the best player on our team. Everyone on the team admired him; looked up to him. That included me.
I was in awe of Bruce when I was nine years old; so was Billy.
“Hey,” he said, grabbing Sandy by the shoulders and turning him around so they were facing one another.
“Who died and made you the best player all of a sudden?” he continued. “We’re a team, Sandy. We support one another even when one of us makes a mistake because all of us make mistakes every game.”
He was lying, of course. Bruce never made any mistakes. Unlike the rest of us, he was the best player in the whole Little League. None of us were surprised years later when the Red Sox drafted him out of high school for their minor league system.
Turning to Billy, Bruce smiled.
“How are you doing, Billy?” he asked.
“We had it all planned out that way, Bruce,” I interrupted; “for Billy to catch the ball and toss it to me cuz I have the stronger arm right now.”
“That was smart of you, Billy,” Bruce said, smiling at him.
“Actually I kind of lost it in the sun, Bruce,” Billy confessed, “and then it fell into my glove and I dropped it because it hurt. I’m sorry, Bruce.”
“Oh, gosh, don’t apologize for something like that, Billy,” Bruce replied. “I’ve done that a million times myself, lost it in the sun and then dropped it. Join the club. It happens to all of us, Billy, even the best players like you. It’s part of the game.”
“Here,” he added, handing his sunglasses to Billy. “These will do the trick next inning.”
And that was the end of it. Nothing more was said; although I couldn’t resist sticking my tongue out at Sandy.
Joining Billy on the bench, we started talking about something else, something I couldn’t even recall all these years later.
Billy wore those sunglasses for the rest of the game and even later when we went to the Dairy Queen to get our ice cream cones; the ones that made everything better. They were Bruce’s sunglasses after all and everyone wanted to be just like Bruce.
As we were leaving the place Billy ran over to him and tried to return his sunglasses.
“Keep them, Billy,” Bruce said. “They look cool on you and I have another pair.”
Then, looking over, Bruce smiled and winked at me.
“You’re a good player, Lane,” he said, “but an even better person. Thanks for being Billy’s teammate; and for being mine too. You’re the best.”
To hear something like that from the best player in Little League baseball?
You’d have to be nine years old to understand just how much something like that can mean.
I was nine and to me they meant everything.