Until my mid-teens in late 1948 my family had moved around a great deal to the extent I attended twelve schools in the same number of years. Initially, the moves were explained by my dad being in the military, then he wanted to be a farmer and we moved to New England and bought a farm. Unfortunately his health−adult onset asthma−became a problem when he chopped wood in the deep snow wearing a tee-shirt. So it was back south for us where he alternated between being a traveling salesman and forming crews and training others in sales. At least yearly, sometimes twice a year, we would move to another region where he would engage in one or the other pursuit and I would attend a new school.
In the seventh grade an unexpected coincidence occurred, one of the neighborhood kids in my class has been a classmate in the first grade; and I hated him! In those days penmanship was a big deal, especially in a parochial school. Many exercises were practiced.
Hours were spent making perfect spirals−an imperfect circle or off center spiral earning a rap on the knuckles with a wooden ruler. How my poor hands survived was a miracle. Brian, not his real name, remembered me from earlier. I, having attended so many schools, only remembered him except as the boy whom the nun always complimented on his perfect penmanship exercises. Mine were always a scrawled mess.
“Do you know how I always had great circles and spirals?” Brian asked me as we walked around the neighborhood reminiscing about good old Saint Cecilia’s.
“No, I thought you were artistic.”
Brian’s snicker annoyed me. “When the nun’s back was turned, I swirled my pencil around the finger holes on my scissors to make the spirals.”
“Son of a gun!” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me so my knuckles wouldn’t be bruised?”
“You were the new kid in class, nobody helps out the new kid.” The story of my life. At least once or twice a year I was the new kid in class. Brian and I had a hearty laugh and became good friends after his revelation.
Later in the summer, we were hiking through an undeveloped area near or homes when Brian fell down a sand bank and landed on a cactus. Scores of needles pierced his skin, causing great pain. I helped him home. He leaned on my shoulders to lessen the weight on his painful thorn-covered legs. After his return from the hospital, he was ordered to stay off his feet for several days. I visited him daily, sitting with him on the floor playing various board or card games. All the while we talked about our experiences since the first grade and our plans for the future.
When Brian recuperated, his parents, wanting to keep him closer to home, installed an above ground swimming pool−the rage in those days. Together in the water, Brian and I did the usual antics teenaged boys did: dunking each other, jumping off the pool’s deck cannonball style to splash the other, and even half serious attempts to pull the other’s swim suit down. The last activity often resulted in wrestling-type postures which I found exciting. Each time he snuck up from behind and placed me in a headlock the warmth of his crotch on my butt made my insides tingle. Once I pushed back against Brian and felt a hardness between my ass cheeks. We quickly separated and said nothing about the episode.
My mind, however, would not let the matter go. Whenever I thought about it, I wondered how his “thing” looked when it got hard. One night at bedtime, I was restless, squirming around with visions of what it might look like floating around in my head when, miracle of miracles, my Peter got long and stiff as I rubbed it on the mattress. Two months later, my mattress assault was fruitful and I made a sticky mess on the sheet. It was at that point I think I fell in love with Brian.
Why then couldn’t I give him a card on Valentine’s Day? There were no girls in the eighth grade I wanted to “Be Mine”−nor any other boys for that matter. My secret desires were reserved for Brian, and I wanted him to know he was more than a friend to me. None of the packaged cards worked for Brian, they all assumed a boy and girl pairing. I debated making one myself but, as my penmanship fiasco demonstrated, I was no artist. At home I drafted several declarations: “Be My Special Friend on Valentine’s Day.” “Happy Valentine’s Day to a Special Friend.” “Valentine’s Day Is for Us!” “Me and You, You and Me, on Valentine’s day.” None seemed good enough, plus any sticker I found to decorate my declaration were too much like the cards. I couldn’t bring myself to sprinkle hearts all over my declaration.
I finally settled on a brief, verbally delivered “Happy Valentine’s Day” to Brian during the card exchange in the classroom. When I sat back down at my desk, I found one of those candy hearts with a cutesy phrase on them. Mine had a drawing of a bumblebee and said, “Bee My Valentine” with a red heart where the “A” would be. Looking around the room, I saw Brian staring at me so I mouthed “thank you” and saw him blush before turning away. My heart sang for the rest of the day. We were inseparable for the remainder of the school year and the next summer, trying to compensate for the fact we were going to attend different high schools−me to the local public school, Brian to a military academy his father attended in a distant mid-western city.
Whenever we were in public during the summer, we limited ourselves to handshakes, choreographed hugs of the type now called bro hugs, and comradely pats on the shoulder−never the ass! We occasionally exchanged demure kisses in private and sometimes hugged each other close, letting our hands roam over the other’s chest, back, and−once or twice−one of my palms dropped to Brian’s ass cheeks. Although there was no overt sexual endeavors between us−we being too naïve to fully comprehend what was possible−we were emotionally connected. After going to our separate schools, we remained in contact, exchanging letters on a weekly basis, for several months, after which the letters became less frequent as we made new friends and took up different activities. During the winter break, we were unable to spend time together due to my new circle of friends and his desire to travel and spend time with a couple of classmates who lived in New York City.
By the time we both finished high school I’d come out to my family, friends, and classmates. Brian had never discussed sexual matters at the academy, focusing instead on his successful strategy to be admitted to West Point. We never got together again. Brian became an officer and was deployed to several dangerous locations before retiring from the Army and becoming a military consultant. In the process he married and had there children.
Now, I’m an out gay man in a relationship for five years. Each year, as February rolls around, I give my boyfriend an openly gay Valentine Card and regretfully recall how it wasn’t possible for me to do the same for Brian.