I had never lived anywhere before. Well, I had, but it didn't matter. That was before what hadn't happened had happened.
Now I lived in a nice house, in a rich neighborhood, in with mansions and estates. I could start over. Now I would go to a top-rated high school, and there I could start all over, too.
There I wouldn't be the geeky, nerdy, dorky guy with red hair, freckles, and glasses, who used to stutter and lisp and had skipped fifth grade. Or been found out.
Now I was thirteen, and puberty was being good to me, and I was taller and broader than many of my former classmates, and had been on par with others last year in eighth grade. Now I was going to high school, and having moved, one that none of my former friends or classmates would attend. And a respectable and impressive one, too. I had already found out it boasted a Nobel Laureate in Physics.
Now I could be normal. Almost.
I still had the red hair and freckles, and the glasses, but at least now I had decent wire-framed ones. The lisp and stutter were long gone, and only showed up at times of the most extreme stress. Even then, I could still control them before they got out of hand.
I was almost normal. Except for what I was afraid I was turning into.
I'd never been all that turned on by girls. When friends had gotten Playboys or other magazines from somewhere, it was interesting, for sure, and erotic. But now at thirteen, I was changing, a lot, and I was finding boys much more interesting than girls; in all ways.
That had led to what hadn't happened. I had let myself feel things for my best friend, and I had let it get out of hand. Only by the graces of it being summer break and days before I was to move was I saved from him and his friends.
But that hadn't happened. I had never had a best friend. I had never liked a boy. I had never kissed a boy.
I could be normal now.
It could be a phase, I knew. But it didn't feel like any phase. And it didn't feel like just casual interest. Girls seemed like a casual interest. Boys, well, they were interesting. And getting more and more interesting. Maybe still just a phase?
I could put it behind me. Get rid of it. If I acted normal enough, maybe it would just go away? Ignore it?
I'm just a normal kid.
I sighed. I knew that was a lie.
What hadn't happened wasn't something normal kids ever did, let alone got tricked into doing. But no one here would ever know.
The new house was awesome. The first floor was larger than our entire old house. Upstairs were two mirror-image bedrooms, a huge bathroom in the hall between them, and another huge bedroom with its own bathroom. The basement was tiny, though. But the third floor was the best; it seemed to want me to be there. It was one large space, from end to end and front to back, with a dozen windows, finished but unpainted walls, and a bare floor.
Almost from the first day, I took stuff up there, and things to do, like my desk and the portable radio and 8-track player. I had scratched the walls in the stairs while taking some big things like my desk up there, but not too badly. I would end up staying up there every day after helping Mom and Dad get things set up around the house all day. I even had that third floor fitted-out with things before my bedroom was even unpacked. When the sleeping bags came out of boxes in the garage at the end of the first week, they went up there, and I hardly came down.
I had two bedrooms.
The one downstairs, on the second floor, just had my bed, dresser, most of my clothes, most of the models, and most of my books - mostly all still in boxes. And the posters, though they were still rolled up - I wasn't even sure if I was going to hang them there or not. And boxes of other stuff. And the bathroom down the hall. I sometimes slept down there, especially if I got up to go to the bathroom at night; I would just crawl into the bed around the corner afterward.
The one upstairs had the sleeping bags, the radio and eight-track player and tapes, the books I was reading or had just read, the models I was working on or had just finished, all the paints and tools for the models, and the other stuff I used every day. I surely didn't "play" with "toys" anymore. I just had a few things I spent time doing things with. Or using them for a while. That's all. And upstairs had the views. The quiet, streetlight-lit one out front, and the busy, blinking, twinkling, outline of Chicago across the orange glow above the darkness out back.
There were only the four outer walls, drywall with finished joints and corners; this made the room enormous, even though its walls ended well before the front or back of the house, accommodating the slope of the roof. This also made the many, large, wide windows in front and back very recessed, and alcoves all to themselves. The ceiling was over ten feet high down the center, only two feet or so of flat ceiling between where the slanted front and back came together. At both ends, white, plastic tubes ran from floor to ceiling between two smaller windows. There were few electrical outlets, and no overhead lights. The floor was bare, rough wood, ready for carpet.
Sunrise behind the Chicago skyline shone in early, pink and rosy, and more than ample light came in those easterly windows until noon, then later, the westerly windows until crimson, violet hues followed the sun down. The windows could all open, and with the summer in full heat, the air conditioning didn't affect the upstairs without any vents. But there was always a breeze up there, as only the tallest trees and a few houses reached so high, and none were close by, front or rear. Sides were a different story, but those smaller windows weren't blocked by any means.
The stairs leading up were semi-finished, ready to be as nice as the rest of the stairs in the upper-middle-class house. There was a door at the bottom of them, and a reverse landing as wide as both sets of stairs half way up. The small, six-sided window there seemed to be near the ceiling from the bottom, but near the floor as you looked down from above. There was a wide landing at the top, too, also the full width of both stairs.
The railing uprights on the stairs and balcony were small and narrow, and it was easy to see through them. They would allow someone on the mid-way landing to see the ceiling of the room. When I was laying on the floor, like usual, I couldn't see if it was Mom or Dad coming upstairs until they were almost on the last few steps.
That next weekend in the new house, Gran and Gramps came to visit. They now lived a couple of hours away, instead of the former few minutes. Mom's parents made great grandparents. They knew they could give me things my parents would hate, and get away with it. They didn't have to deal with the problems the gift might bring, like noises and messes. And in the case of the infamous, and precedent-setting, Christmas Chemistry Set Disaster, the near total destruction of several model cars, the heavy singeing of several books to various degrees, and the loss of several of my favorite posters. The neighbor's missing cat was, as I maintain to this day, entirely unrelated and none of my doing. Honestly.
I used to sit on Grandma's lap and sing old country songs with her. For hours we sat and sang to the radio when I spent the summers at their farmhouse before they retired. And Gramps was a serious fisher and hunter. He had me shooting game with his rifles and pistols before Mom or Dad knew. By the time Mom figured it out over dinner at their house after one summer, she started to freak until I had pointed out that I had been shooting since my first summer there, years ago. Gramps patted her hand and chuckled, and that was all she said about it.
I had missed doing those things last summer, as my parents had agreed to leave me home alone all day over summer for the first time. Beside Mom thinking that I was safer alone at home (without a chemistry set) instead of shooting guns all summer, my grands had moved. They had sold the farmland, and then the house separately, and moved closer to where I used to live, in a smaller, newer house with less land and less work. Though Gran seemed to always have a reason to call or stop by during the day at least once or twice a week almost all summer long.
Grandma, Mom, and I made potstickers in the kitchen of the new house, sort of as a breaking-in ceremony. Grandma said she had grown up on them in Germany, and had learned to make them from her mother and her grandmother. They had all lived in the same house, with her father and grandfather, and her sisters and brothers. Potstickers were the Sunday meal, and sometimes hard to get. Sometimes the meat, vegetables, flour, or the wood for the extensive cooking time needed, were scarce or too expensive for the near-decadence.
I was asked if I wouldn't rather watch football with my dad and grampa. I wouldn't.
They stayed through the Sunday night movies. Mom and Gran watched the love show on CBS, Dad and Gramps watched another game. I went upstairs and ended up playing the keyboard. I spent a lot of time playing it. It had presets for several drumbeats as well as a few melodies. And the keys could be set to sound like anything from several kinds of pianos to several stringed instruments, several common brass instruments, some woodwinds, as well as pipe and air organs.
I liked playing it, and my high voice, now a bit more powerful since puberty, and not quite as high as before, sounded almost good to some songs as I tried to emulate the singers. Styx and Foreigner were favorites to play and sing to, as they had real synthesizers I could play along with, and I could almost imitate the singers in some of the songs. I had played to a lot of country as I first learned to play a keyboard on my own on an old air organ.
My new J.C. Penny synthesizer was small enough that I had taken it to the third floor very early. It was as far from my parents' room as it could be and still be in the house, and much further than if it were in my bedroom. I didn't mind that they might hear it, and I knew they could while it was in my downstairs bedroom. They knew I played it, and had heard me playing it, and even singing some, in the old house. But this far from where they were sleeping, I was sure I could sing along to it, even if it weren't turned way down, even late at night, and they wouldn't hear me.
When I wasn't playing the keyboard, or listening to music, or reading science, science-fiction, or fantasy books, or watching old science-fiction or horror movies, I was asleep. If I wasn't eating, or, well, doing what teen-aged boys did with themselves.
Things were going smoothly. I was worried about starting high school, but then, I knew I would be, and anyone would be. I had two months, yet, so I tried not to worry too much. I was sure that I could mix in with the rest of the students, and no one would even know that I hadn't gone to any of the junior high schools that any of them had. I could start over and stay in the background while I dealt with being more normal and less faggy.
I was upstairs playing the synthesizer one night, a little over two weeks after moving, when Mom walked up the stairs to my room. She and Dad had started calling from downstairs, and we kept the door open, but with the synthesizer playing and me singing over the radio, I probably couldn't have heard her.
She grinned a little, then said, "I want you to come down to the living room for a minute. Your dad and I have something to talk to you about."
I knew something was up. The last time they had used those words had been the day they told me about moving. It had changed my entire world. In a way, it had also led to what hadn't happened.
My stomach sank as I replied with an, "Okay."
I was sure that I was about to get the, "Get out and get some sun, exercise, and make some friends," speech. I had liked riding my bike, but not since what hadn't happened, and they had noticed. And since moving, they had asked why I hadn't gone out exploring yet. Though I was warned that now dense highways would cut me off quite often, and not to cross them.
Downstairs, they were obviously in conspiracy mode. I could tell. I didn't know how I could tell, but I could.
"Your father and I have been talking,"
When you're young, those are possibly some of the most dreaded words you will ever hear your parents say to you.
"We thought it would be a good idea," and those were some of the others, "for you to go to this camp this summer." Definitely some of them there.
She handed me a colorful pamphlet. It had boys and girls running and smiling, and images of them swimming in a lake and a pool, walking in the woods, camping by a fire, boating, and fishing.
That was actually my first thought, my first reaction.
Next was, they have to be kidding.
"What did I do wrong?" I asked without thinking.
Obviously I had done something wrong to be sent away. But I hadn't. I'd been especially good lately. The only thing I'd done wrong was-
But they can't know! I thought - hoped. How can they? Did someone tell them? What if they talked to his parents before we moved? What if my parents know?
Do they know?
"Wrong? You haven't done anything wrong. Why would you think you had? Just because we want you to meet some of your classmates before school starts?"
Classmates? What would they have to do with some summer camp?
I guess my confusion showed, as they began explaining.
"This camp is for local kids who all live around here. Many of them go to your high school, or a high school around here that yours will be up against in sports and academics."
"It's a way for you to make friends before school starts, and to get a head start on the other kids."
"Why do I need a head start?"
Mom looked confused, now. Dad seemed on the edge of laughing.
"You'll get to know some of the kids at your school," she argued. "When school starts, you'll know more of what to expect than the other students, and you'll already have friends."
She seemed to think that was all that needed said, as if that alone was more than enough reason for me to abandon what was becoming my new home for some strange place filled with strangers away from everything I now knew.
"It's not far away. Only an hour or so. They focus on study habits and other things that will help with your schoolwork. And you can get out in the woods, fresh air, other kids to play with, fun stuff to do..."
What's the real reason she wants me to go away? Is it this camp place? Or just to get me away? For what? If I didn't do anything wrong, why do I have to go away to some strange place, when I was just getting comfortable in our new house?
Did she and Dad want some time alone in the new house? I know they do it. Ugh. But, I'm way up there. If that's not far enough, I can go somewhere for the night. Where? Not like I can go stay over at a friend's house.
Do I have to go away, though?
But it could be another step away from... from what hadn't happened. Help put it farther into the past. Maybe.
But go away?
I could use it to work on not being a fag. Maybe I could get more used to changing and showering, so it won't be like it was starting to be like last year in eighth grade.
I can practice being normal, before I get to high school.
But away? I just got here.
I don't want to!
"If you'll go, we'll have that upstairs fixed up for you by the time you get back. Deal?"
What? Did I hear that right? Would it be worth it?
"Are you serious?"
They looked at each other for some reason, just for a second, then back at me. Dad nodded.
"Fixed up how?" I asked, suspicious.
"We can talk about it," Mom said, sternly.
We did talk about it. I knew to be realistic, if I wanted anything, so I drew plans out while laying on the floor up there. I measured and figured, and added and subtracted, and divided.
Over dinner, I showed them the plans. Mostly I wanted to hide the pipes, add carpet, lights, and outlets. I drew walls from front to back, half way between the windows on the end and next ones. I put a door in the middle of each wall so the smaller rooms could be used for storage.
Dad asked about cost. I had no idea, but I told him I could find out. They agreed to consider it, if I agreed to attend the camp, starting in two weeks. Overnight, I worked on new plans and scoured the newspapers. I researched ads for hours.
Before the Sunday Night Movie Of The Week started, and the ball game really started, I sat down with my parents and ironed out the deal.
I'd do two weeks, plus two days, at this local summer camp for local kids going to local high schools in the fall, and when I came back, the upstairs would be livable and I could move my room up there. The cost of doing up the room would be almost two thousand dollars, but Dad reassured Mom that he knew ways to cut it down considerably.
I drew up more detailed plans. I used mechanical pencils and 5/1 graph paper left over from when I had friends to play Dungeons and Dragons with. I scaled the room accurately and used architectural drafting styles and notations.
I had a good look around, and discovered that the heating and cooling for the second floor came up behind a wall in the pantry on the first floor to another utility cubby hole in the linen closet on the second, along with the electrical and plumbing. I figured there had to be some way to tie into it, so I drew the ducting on the third floor plan, at where the venting would run if it continued upward from the second floor.
Knowing now that the water and drains ran up to the second floor in that linen closet, and knowing it was feasible, if not realistic, I divided the room on that side into two and made one a bathroom. Like I said, I made fantasy plans that I didn't share. I was a realist, even that young. Especially after what hadn't happened.
I finalized the plans and handed them over to my parents who looked them over and thought them reasonable. They weren't sure they would drag a bunch of things up to the third floor to store them there, not when the huge garage had more than enough room and was on the first floor, but they agreed that splitting up the huge space made sense.
I spent the next two weeks dreading the day the camp started. Final registration was Saturday, and I didn't have to stay there that night. I had spotted that fact in the pamphlet, and pointed it out. I talked them into taking me home that night and then back to the camp on Sunday evening.
So, on that Saturday morning, we drove down Interstate Fifty-Five with Chicago in the rear window. It was only an hour or so away. An hour on the interstate to the exit from the interstate, then another fifteen minutes off into corn and bean fields, then a wall of woods. There was a sign, but I missed it, goggling at the sheer numbers of buses all in the same place. I was dumbstruck by the walls and passageways of buses that my dad somehow piloted through to the car parking lot. As I got out of the car, the buses and most of the people were on the other side of the only building I saw. It didn't look anything like an academy or a summer camp, more like a really big, brick, highway rest stop.
We walked toward the building, following the signs for new enrollment.
Multitudes of kids and their parents were milling about the building in the warm sun. Most were staring at papers, a few others moving in or out of the building and the buses.
Inside, it was barely air-conditioned. We suffered through an hour-long movie, telling us about the camp and the activities. Camp Howit was directed at helping kids make the awkward transition from their current school social atmospheres, to the confusion, bustle, and activities of high school and preparatory schools before going on to universities.
The activities were aimed at having a healthy, active body as well as an active, healthy mind. That was the slogan.
I groaned. Really. Dad nudged me, but I didn't bother looking away from the show.
After the show, we got on one of the buses and rode a while into the woods. The road was black, new, flat, and even, though it wandered a lot beneath and between the trees. The bus stopped in front of a massive building on a wide, flat, manicured plain of green. It must have once been some kind of massive private club, or a millionaire's public party house. It was old, massive, and ornate. If it had been built to be a school, it must have been some kind of school!
We were herded into the front doors and to the left, where that corner of the building was a long, wide, cafeteria. Tables sat ten to a row, and in four rows. They were almost full. The long wall was more glass than solid, and on the other side of a hundred feet of perfect green was a wide strip of perfect, orderly beach, and then the shining blue lake.
The two dozen teachers of various topics were introduced, and the group leaders as a group of almost fifty. Mister Dearing, the camp's lead administrator, told us some more about the camp, aimed at the parents. The kids would be in groups of ten to twelve, and each group would have an experienced group leader of at least eighteen. They would stay together in the same cabin on the lake with another group of about the same size, age, and sex, as well as their group leader. The campers would attend classes, some events, and perform other activities here in the main building during the weekdays, and would spend most of their afternoons, evenings, and weekends down at the cabins by the lake - our next destination.
For now, we were free to tour the first floor, the grounds, and the second floor. We were told that the second and upper floors were identical, but the students on the second floor dormitory and classroom areas were prepared for visitors.
Outside the cafeteria, after lunch was served, which wasn't bad at all, the wide hallway led to a massive library, then to several huge classrooms, obviously set up for visitors with topical displays and things the students had worked on in the past. More classrooms and administration offices rounded out the first floor. Upstairs, rows of halls and doors formed a maze of classrooms. The dormitory area was almost as confusing and we didn't wander far. The dormitory rooms were small and held only two small dressers, two small shelves, and two small beds. There were a lot of those rooms, though, and I wondered how many people could stay there.
Back downstairs, and onto the buses, and we were taken a mile further down the road, into more trees, and to a log building. It was huge, too, but nothing like the place we had just left. Around it were several smaller, identical log cabins, not much larger than any hunting or fishing cabin. There were more such cabins on both sides of a narrow, dirt road that angled downward into the trees.
There were kids and their parents everywhere. We got a tour of the main building. A smaller cafeteria, a smaller library, a television room, a game room with mostly board games, puzzles, and crafty things, some smaller classrooms, and some offices. Then the nurse's offices, with a couple of beds and some lady in white saying she was a licensed pediatrician and well-versed in adolescent psychology.
The little cabin we toured was said to be just like the one I would stay in. It housed two rows of a dozen beds on each side of the room, each separated by a small dresser. There were two small rooms at the very front, one the counselors' room with two small beds and dressers, the other a bathroom with two exposed toilets and two sinks. No stalls or even a short half-wall between the toilets. We followed the tour guide back to the main building.
Behind the large log building was a pool. On either end of the pool were small buildings, the boys' and girls' changing rooms and showers, which we were told were also used as the regular, daily showers. They were connected by, and the pool was enclosed by, a wall of green, glass panes with horizontal metal bars on the inside.
Back at the cafeteria, we met some of the kitchen and maintenance crews, and the people who worked in some of the offices. We were told the buses ran every hour, and would take us back to the main building, and the parking lot for those who drove, and the buses for those who arrived on them.
My parents asked me if I was sure. I nodded, unsure. But a deal was a deal, and this one should be worth it. Just two weeks and I would have the coolest, neatest, most awesome bedroom ever.
I saw what I expected a summer camp to be. More or less. And I could use it to distance myself from what hadn't happened. And work on not being gay. And work on how to get along at the new school without being seen.
They signed papers, and handed over a check. I was assigned a cabin, and a counselor. We found him just outside, and he showed us to the cabin I would stay in. I nodded a lot as he listed the things I could do, and how he could help me find out what I wanted to do with my future. We walked down the narrow, dirt road under the trees, between identical cabins on both sides, until we came to number seven. Only the number made it any different from any of the other cabins.
Greg went on about lessons, classes, games, sports, and other activities. I liked him, sort of, he seemed to be a nice guy. He smiled great, and he talked nicely. His blond hair was almost curly, and not short or long. His blue eyes were almost gray, and heavy blond lashes made them look even brighter. A few freckles were hard to mistake for acne, as he didn't seem to have any. I guessed he was eighteen or nineteen. When he swung his arms, I could get glimpses of the hair in his pits, and that seemed to turn me on. The pale jeans he wore weren't tight at all, but they did prove there was something in front, and that his butt wasn't flat or lacking.
When I realized that I had just checked out a guy, and right in front of my parents, I was mortified. I pledged that when I left the camp in two weeks, I would no longer have such thoughts.
We left soon after, and I watched the place vanish in the rear window, wondering if it really wouldn't be all that bad. I was nervous, and worried, and even scared. I didn't really want to go, but I wanted the upstairs room, and the chance to get the gay out before I went to high school.
I spent the last day at home mostly playing the synthesizer to and singing to Styx's album, Pieces of Eight, and wondering what things would be like when I got back. Knowing it was a camp, and I would be with a lot of other boys in a small cabin, I worried that I couldn't put the gay away and would be found out and ruined all over again. There would be guys at the camp that would go to my high school in the fall, and I was sure I was going to end up being discovered as a faggot, and then school in the fall would be a disaster.
Knowing I was going to be around a lot of boys for two weeks with probably no chance to do so, I exhausted myself sexually Saturday night. I tried to think of girls, and it worked for the most part, but my mind kept wanting another boy to be with the girl while I watched. That was more fun, and worked better. Especially when I held his part and helped him get it where it belonged in the girl. When my mind dropped the girl, as almost always happened, and it was just the boy and me, it was even better.
How could I ever be normal?
Later that night, I noticed that the window nearest the garage would let me climb out onto the overhang over the driveway. With minimal effort, I was soon out there, sitting on the very edge of the roof, looking down on the concrete drive some thirty feet below. It was more than far enough, I was sure.
I didn't like heights, and sitting there caused a constant squirming of my guts, mostly in fear. Yet I sat there with my legs over the edge of the roof, nearly ready to do it.
I was a faggot, and everyone at my old school knew it. I was sure it was only a matter of time before everyone at my new school figured me out. The desire to simply lean forward and let gravity do what it did best was very powerful. I was surprisingly calm. I had always thought that someone thinking of suicide would be scared, confused, worked up, but I was cool, calm, and collected.
I was ready to really do it. One thing stopped me. I knew we all had a voice inside of us, and I had talked with mine plenty enough, but this voice was different, new. I wondered briefly if I was going insane. The voice had a soft, familiar, southern accent to it, though I was sure I didn't recognize it at all. It told me that it would be a waste. It said I would never know what I would miss out on if I ended it now. It told me that bad things were ahead, but it convinced me that it wasn't all bad, no matter how bad it seemed, that there were such wonderful things ahead, too. When it asked me what it would mean to me if someone I was to fall in love with and be happy with in the future had, instead, killed himself, and that left me alone in my future, I recoiled from the edge. But when it pointed out what it would do to my parents if I dashed my brains out on the driveway, I scrambled back inside, shaking and sweating.
For those interested in learning about "what hadn't happened," see What Hadn't Happened