Sometimes a shared secret can generate a feeling of warm intimacy between two people. Roy and I talked frankly about his pain of being so small for his age. As we shared our feelings with each other, I began to fall in love with him, wanting to ease his hurt and share my own secret with him-that I liked other boys and not girls. No fairy-tale endings here, just real life teenage angst.
I'll link to one of my earlier stories below, one that I reference again here in this new tale.
Roy was one of the most amazing drummers I had ever seen. He could sit down at the drum kit and play the most complex, tight and reliable rhythms of anyone I knew. When he was seated on the stool with the drums and cymbals all around him you knew he was in charge. Everything fell to hand as he started with a steady beat on the hi-hat cymbals and the kick pedal bass drum. Before you knew it he'd have all the drums going, his hands and feet a blur. I thought he was so cool, and often told him so. Roy didn't think he was so cool, though. Seated back there he was almost lost amidst all the equipment, and when he stood up from his drum kit he showed he was barely over four feet tall, even though he was already in the ninth grade.
Roy had older brothers who were my age and even older, and they were all perfectly normal sized. Roy was very, very late to puberty, and with his skinny spindly legs, thin delicate forearms, tiny feet and hands and sweetly clear high voice, Roy at 14 looked for all the world like he was eleven-and then even if you had a good imagination.
But he really was 14, and I immediately carved out a special place in my heart for him. I didn't know why exactly at the time, but I felt his loneliness, felt his pain in being so different from all the other boys. I know now that I suppose in a big way I had the same pain inside, because I knew I was different from the other boys too. I may have looked the same as the other seventeen-year-olds, but inside I knew I was turning out all wrong, a freak. The other guys my age had graduated from idle horseplay with one another and lost interest in spending all their time with other boys as they all became interested in girls. Girls were usually the topic of conversation, the subject of arguments, the source of their interest when Friday and Saturday nights rolled around. When we'd go to the mall they'd meet girls they knew there, elbow each other when fresh prime specimens walked by, browse the record store racks looking at life size posters of bikini clad models. My special buddy Ryan (see 'Falling Hard for my Straight Friend Ryan') even had a poster in his bedroom, taped to the underside of the top bunk of the bed above his. He bragged that he loved to look at the woman 'on top of him' while he lay in his bed, and the other boys whistled low with respect. Most other of their moms would never have permitted such a thing, but Ryan's mom did.
I, on the other hand was becoming far too finely aware of the other teenaged boys all around me, tall and muscled and lean. I knew this wasn't normal, and I wanted it to stop. I had hoped my preteen fascination with older boys would go away, but it had turned into early-teenaged romantic fantasies about being with older boys, and now as an older teen, I furtively tried to make eye contact with every other teenaged boy I saw, hoping that just one of them would look back and I would find him to be as interested in romance with me as I was in him. This was a seemingly endless futile pursuit, and I felt defective, ugly and alone.
When I had first met Roy I had assumed, probably like 99% of everyone else that he was several years younger than he actually was. Glumly and robotically, looking at the floor he had informed me of my error, and told me that he was indeed fourteen, and not ten. I hadn't known what to say, and again like probably 99% of everyone else, I registered my surprise to him, digging myself deeper, telling him how small he was and that I was surprised he was so much older than he looked. He just looked away, at the floor, this having been probably the ten-thousandth time he had heard this dialogue.
I was immediately sorry for my mistake, and I told him so. 'That's OK' he said glumly. 'It happens all the time.' My heart hurt for him, and the rest of that day I couldn't get him out of my mind. When it was time to go, I sought him out and said goodbye, placing my hand on his shoulder, turning him to look me in the eye, and said, 'I really think I like you, and I'd like to get to know you better, if that's OK.' He looked up at me and smiled a little. 'OK,' he agreed.
I'd see him in school band practice all the time. It was the start of football season and the practices were frequent. He always had a set of tri-toms strapped to him, which was a set of three drums that were among the most difficult to play well and among the most important in the marching band. But they were big and clumsy, heavily hung onto a harness that went over his shoulders and back. Whenever we would pause he'd sink to the ground to rest, and if I could I'd go over and sit beside him. He was really too small to carry the heavy drums he played, but his skill (and his dogged insistence) made his a logical choice to play them. I'd examine him closely and lovingly as we sat wordlessly near each other, his thin bony chest covered by the thinnest white t-shirt, soaked with his sweat. He wore small gym shorts, his thin hairless legs folded underneath him, bent at his bony knees as we sat on the field.
'Don't you wish you played a smaller instrument, Roy?' I asked kindly.
'No,' he replied. 'It's not the instrument that's too big. It's me that's too small.'
He clearly hated his size. Talking to him often as I did, as I respectfully asked he told me more and more about his life, sometimes edging on the verge of tears. He had always been small for his age, so this was something he had learned to live with a long time ago; something he was born with; something he couldn't change. Something everyone could see and something everyone commented on and reminded him of at every opportunity. I noticed that he often chose to stay alone, staring blankly off into space while the others around him laughed and horsed around.
Then twelve and thirteen and fourteen had hit, and the situation became far worse. As the other boys started puberty and began to experience growth spurts, Roy watched in dismay as Mother Nature left him cruelly behind. Boys who had been an inch or two bigger than him before became a head or more taller, towering over him displaying their deep voices and hairy legs. Roy stayed small and childlike in these critical years, and I felt his sense of desperateness too, for more reasons than one.
I had been a slightly late bloomer too, but maybe only by nine months or so; only one school year in time. While most of the other boys had begun to sprout hair and their bodies had begun to noticeably grow around seventh grade, I stayed with the smaller group who stubbornly refused to bloom. I recall the desperateness with which I would frequently examine myself in the mirror, looking for signs of my adolescence to begin. In every library and every bookstore I'd go right to the section on 'Human Development', grabbing books from the shelves and turning to the pages that described the stages of puberty. I read in every one of them that puberty stared at different times for different boys, and when I looked at the charts and graphs I could see that I was still squarely within the 'normal' scale, but I remember the anguish I felt. I feared I would never grow, that something was terribly wrong inside of me, that somehow I was being punished, that somehow I would be different and freakish my whole life.
My mother pointed to my size ten sneakers and told me 'Brad, your feet have grown already. It's just a matter of time before the rest of you catches up.' She turned out to be right, but for one awful, endless school year I remember that this topic weighed so heavily on my mind that I often could not think about anything else.
But Roy's hands and feet hadn't grown at all. They were tiny and childlike, just like the rest of him. His voice was high and clear, and his smooth face showed no signs at all of anything more than the lightest dusting of peach fuzz. 'Look at it this way, Roy,' I tried to console him. 'At least you don't have a pizza-face like Richard or Thomas or those other boys'. I gestured towards some of the early-bloomers in his age group, their faces ravaged with acne. Roy didn't respond. I know he would have traded a truckload of pimples for four inches in height.
We had the same-time lunch period scheduled, and I'd see him sitting sometimes alone on the bleachers after eating. 'Roy-Boy!' I'd call in his direction, and I'd go over and sit with him. When he'd see me his face would always light up. 'Brad-Boy!' He'd always say in return. We'd sit next to each other and I'd talk about subjects that would interest most other boys, but Roy would often become suddenly silently, apparently lost in thought.
I told him about my own puberty experience, just as I told it to you here. I tried to express my empathy for what he must be going through. I put my hand behind him on the bench and moved closer to him, and then impulsively I put my arm around him for just a moment and squeezed him tight to me. 'It'll be all right,' I said. 'I don't care how big or small you are, Roy. I really like you. I mean it'
That seemed to open the floodgates for him. His lip trembled a little and his eyes filled up, and he began to speak. He told me how much he hated being so little, how he hated the mean teasing, and even the friendly, well-intentioned comments that reminded him about his diminutive size. He hated being patted on the head by girls, and being excluded from games by boys who thought he was just a baby.
Fighting back tears he told me how he had been given the bass drum to play at the first summer band rehearsal and how heavy it was, and then how the older boys had tipped him over with delight so he couldn't get up, then rolled him along the field like a toy, still strapped to the giant drum. My fists clenched with rage at the thought of this. I hadn't been there when this happened, but if I had, the boys who did that would have paid for it. I told him that as long as I was around I'd never allow such a thing to ever happen again. He and I then sat closely and quietly, shoulder to shoulder till we heard the bell ring, signaling that lunch was over and classes were going to start again.
Roy was a good tennis player, and one of the things we could do at lunch was play tennis on the high school courts, and he'd often beat me. I'd mess up his hair afterwards, and drape my arm over his small shoulders, and for the first time I began to see him look truly happy, with a wide smile and a sparkle in his eyes. 'I beat you, Brad-Boy', he'd say. 'I know. You are too good for me, Roy-Boy.' I'd answer.
Our conversations grew more and more specific, as our trust for each other grew. One day he told me that he had seen the doctor and that his parents were told to just give it time and things would happen. The doctor had run some tests and told Roy that his puberty had actually begun, albeit very late and very slowly, and that he would eventually catch up, though he'd never be tall.
I asked him boldly if he had any pubic hair, and he shook his head 'no'. I asked him if he masturbated, and he said that he did sometimes, but 'not successfully', as he put it. When I questioned him on that answer, he told me sadly that he got the 'feeling' but that nothing came out. His orgasms were still dry.
As the year went on he seemed to come out of his shell a little bit more. Once in band I had sternly yelled at several boys who were giving him a hard time, and though he said nothing at the time, I could tell he was grateful. We had gym at the same class period as him, and in the winter when we'd all be stuck inside and paired up into teams for volleyball we were both delighted to be able to participate in some more physical activity together.
One day late that year he excitedly came over to me in gym and said 'Success!' I asked him what he meant, and he said, 'You know, I did 'it' and this time I was successful!' I understood what he meant... he was telling me that he had ejaculated semen for the first time. I was so proud for him and I told him so. I shook his small shoulders and congratulated him-and I really meant it! We talked a little about the 'important event' and he told me he had paused during homework like he often did to rub his stiff penis (just like I often did, to release tension) and this time the feeling was more powerful and felt like he was going to pee and as he watched as a little liquid squirted out for the first time! He proudly admitted that he had finally grown some fuzz down there, and though it had been just a tiny bit of clear liquid, he considered it major progress nonetheless. 'I'm a stud now, Brad-boy,' he said grinning, thumping his skinny chest with a closed fist. I just wanted to hug him, but of course I didn't, right there among all the other guys as we were.
I really felt an uncommon kinship with him. I believe the feelings of attraction weren't as related to the fact that we had shared a late-puberty experience, as much as, I think that I identified with is sense of his feeling of being different, freakish and all alone. While his shame was tied to his small size, mine was tightly bound to my confused sexuality, of which I was so humiliated and felt isolated by, unwilling to discuss it with anyone else. I imagined I felt platonically like a big brother towards him, but I must admit that the attraction I was beginning to feel for him had become sexual as well. I connected with him as a person and I felt happily like I was in the early stages of actually falling in love with him. I really wanted to dismiss this as just a passing fancy, but I found myself dreaming of him sometimes at night, waking the next morning with a powerful longing to be with him.
That next Fall we were in the orchestra for the High School musical together. He sat behind me playing the drum set like a pro, and as I'd turn to look at him and smile in his direction, he'd glow right back at me, smiling and winking in my direction. I already knew his secret, of course, that thing that made him feel so sad, alone and different. I really wanted to tell him about my secret too; about the thing that I held inside of me that made me feel so defective and damaged as he did, but I had conditioned myself that I must never, never do this with anyone, that my defect was a freakish and unforgivable failing that I knew I must keep hidden for the rest of my life; one that no one must ever find out about. When I had hinted to my best friend Mario recently about how I felt for our friend Ryan (see 'Best Friends With Mario', linked above, for that story) I had my resolve confirmed by Mario's angry, negative reaction. I knew that admitting my freakish sexual urges was tantamount to signing my death warrant and banishment from normal teenage society. But somehow I dreamed that Roy might understand....
I had just bought an old hot rod car which needed a lot of work to make it run, and I proudly showed it to Roy, asking him to come sit in it. I smiled to myself that when in the drivers' seat his feet didn't yet reach the pedals though he was fifteen. He was so happy as he twisted the buttons and yanked the steering wheel. 'This is so cool, Brad-Boy,' he said. 'Take me for a ride?'
I did, that night, as the show orchestra got together for a cast party after our last performance. Everyone was happy and the mood was very festive. I drove the hot rod while Roy sat next to me in the passenger seat, strapped in wearing his seat belt, watching reverently as I shifted the gears with its four-speed transmission. 'Wow!' he mused. 'How did you learn to do that?' he asked. I was proud that I had learned to drive a stick shift car in my father's Subaru, a skill that many boys never had acquired in this age of automatic transmissions. 'I'll teach you if you want to learn.' I said. There was so much more I wanted to teach him as well. I really wanted to show him that one guy could really love another, and that I might be the one to first love him. Carrying that thought further, I had to admit to myself that I wanted to be the first other person to undress him and make him 'come' by my own hand. I didn't know if he liked guys or girls, and frankly I didn't really want to know for sure. I was afraid that if I asked, I'd find out that he was straight like the other 99.99% of the world seemed to be. So, if I didn't know for sure, I could always dream. At least Roy never talked about girls. To me, that alone was a positive sign. I guess I didn't want to know any more, so sure was I that the news would be bad for me.
We were at the cast party together and Roy and I sat with others at a round table and laughed and talked. Because we shared the same sense of humor and laughed at the same things, he and I would make eye contact often, enjoying the same jokes. Eventually I made my way beside him, edging closer to him at the table till we were nearly touching. Close enough so I could see the fuzz on his cheeks, close enough so I could feel his body heat, close enough so I could smell him, I casually reached under the table and placing my hand up near his lap, caressed high up on the inside of his thigh, stroking only once or twice gently, deliberately, lovingly.
I still have a freeze-frame in my brain of how he looked at me in the next instant. It's burned there and it won't go away, un-faded even after thirty-five years' time. His look was one of surprise, then of shock, then I perceived of nothing but sadness. My blood froze inside.
'Brad...' he said to me, not loudly because I was so close to him. 'I'm not 'that way', you know...' I dropped my hand quickly from his soft warm thigh, my neck suddenly burning with embarrassment, then my stomach twisting with angst. He wasn't interested in me like I wanted him. I had made an overt pass at him; there was no questioning my motives as no boy touched another like that and in that spot by accident. I still can see the look I read as sad, confused disappointment on his face... a look of betrayal. He didn't need to say the words that were going through his mind. I knew what they were. I might as well have sliced my own throat open.
I felt like a pervert. He had looked up to me, adored me, and trusted me. And then I had gone and made a blatant pass at him. I knew he certainly now thought I was a deviate, trying to take advantage of him, a younger kid. Inside, I didn't feel that way at all and I wanted him to know, I really did want to love him. But I suddenly felt so bad, so cheap and freakish, so worthless.
'I'm sorry, Roy...' I had said.
'Forget it,' he had answered, that old sad faraway gaze returning to his face, no longer looking in my eyes. I slunk away, wishing I were dead. I had wanted him to accept my offer of affection so much, to share in my terrible, shameful secret, that I had doubtlessly ignored all the facts that must have been plain as day. I hated myself profusely, so obsessed with sex, and so focused on my own needs. Once again, I had received a bold underscore to that important rule of life I already formulated and knew well, deep inside: 'If anyone learns you are gay you'll lose his friendship forever...' I cursed myself again and again for my hateful defect.
Things didn't feel the same between Roy and me after that. He still said 'hi', but I just couldn't look him in the eye anymore. I was so ashamed that I had read him wrong and that I had been so anxious to share my forbidden affection with him that I had rushed the situation and caused him to hate me, at least that's how I viewed it. In reality I hated myself more at that point in my life than he could ever have.
Looking back, with thirty years of perspective, I probably attached far more significance to this event than was necessary or even reasonable, but for a teenaged boy so confused about his sexuality as was I, taking a risk with someone I hoped to love and then falling on my sword of shame as had I, nothing in those years was clear or in perspective to me. In truth, if I had been accepting of myself, and thinking more clearly, our relationship probably could have continued just as before. After all, Roy was an open-minded, sensitive kind of guy, and our situation was probably not unlike the boy who makes an ill-timed pass at a girl and is rebuffed because she's just not interested in him. That situation, if handled well didn't need to make one person hate the other. It simply meant that the girl wasn't interested in 'that kind' of a relationship. So, likely, it would have been with Roy and me, but I was so blinded by my own shame that I couldn't see the horizon.