1 A popular quiz for masculinity in those days asked three questions, all of which I flunked: (1) Look at your nails (a girl extends her fingers, a boy cups his in his upturned palm); (2) Look up (a girl lifts just her eyes, a boy throws back his whole head); (3) Light a match (a girl strikes away from her body, a boy toward - or perhaps the reverse, I can't recall). 2 Kevin hated music. When he was horsing around with his little brother, he'd fall back into siliness of boyhood. Like all boys, they loved cracking stupid jokes that became funnier and funnier to them the more they were repeated. 3 Kevin was restless; he belly-flopped into the water, spraying me, stood, turned and scudded more water at me with the heel of his hand. 4 I went into the store with him, though I made him ask for the Vaseline. I was blushing and couldn't raise my eyes. He pulled it off without a trace of guilt, even asked to see the medium-size jar before settling for the small one. 5 The dinner had left me bleak with rage. Something (books, perhaps) had given me a quite different idea of how people should talk and feed. I entertained fancy ideas about elegant behavior and cuisine and friendship. When I grew up I would always be frank, loving and generous. We'd feast on iced grapes and wine; we'd talk till dawn about the heart and listen to music. I don't belong here, I shouted at them silently. I wanted to run through surf or speed off with a brilliant blond in a convertible or rhapsodize on a grand piano somewhere in Europe. Or I wanted the white and gold doors to open as my loving, true but no-yet-found friends came toward me, their gently smiling faces lit from below by candles on the cake. This longing for lovers and friends was so full within me that it could spill over at any provocation - from listening to my own piano rendition of a waltz, from looking at a reproduction of two lovers in kimonos and tall clogs under an umbrella shielding them from slanted lines of snow or from sensing a change of seasons (the first smell of spring in winter, say). 6 Kevin took my hand. He was sitting next to me in the dark. I had scooted forward on the cushion to give the others more room. Now our linked hands were concealed between his leg and mine. Just as I'd almost given up on him with his Vaseline, he placed that hot hand in mine. I could feel the callouse pads on his palm where he'd gripped the bat. 7 Kevin had made me very happy - a gleeful, spiteful happiness. Here we were, right under the noses of these boring old grown-ups, and we were two guys holding hands. Maybe I wouldn't have to run away. Maybe I could live here among them, go through the paces - all the while holding the hand of this wonderful kid. 8 Back in the basement, we three undressed under the glaring Ping-Pong light. Peter stumbled out of his clothes, which he left in a puddle on the floor. His shoulders were boney, his waist tiny, his penis a pale blue snail peeping up out of its rounded shell. He mumbled something about the cold sheets and turned his face to the wall. Kevin and I, at either end of the long, narrow room, undressed more deliberately, said nothing and scarcely looked at each other. Lights out. Then the long wait for Peter's breathing to slow and thicken. The silence was thoughtful, like a pulse heard in an ear pressed to the mattress. Peter said, "Because I don't want to... squirrel... yeah, but you..." and was gone. Still Kevin waited, floating toward me, the ghost T-shirt on his torso browner from today's sun. With Vaseline jar in hand. The cold jelly with its light medicinal odor, which warms quickly to body temperature. As I went in him, he said straight out, as clear as a bell, "That feels really great." It had never occurred to me before that sex between to men can please both of them at the same time. 9 At that moment I really believed I, too, was exuberant and merry by nature, had I the chance to show it. In the silence that ebbed in behind the departing car, the air was filled with the one-note chant of crickets. Their song seemed like the heartbeat of loneliness, a beat that sang up and down the wires of my veins. I was desolate. I toyed again with the idea of becoming a general. I wanted power so badly thath I had convinced myself I already had too much of it, that I was an evil schemer who might destroy everyone around me through the poison seeping out of my pores. I was appalled by my own majesty. I wanted someone to betray. 10 I hypothesized a lover who'd take me away. He'd climb the fir tree outside my window, step into my room and gather me in to his arms. What he said or looked like remained indistinct, just a cherishing wraith enveloping me, whose face glowed more and more brightly. His delay in coming went on so long that soon I'd passed from anticipation to nostalgia. One night I sat at my window and stared at the moon, toasting it with a champagne glass filled with grape juice. I knew the moon's cold, immense light was falling on him as well, far away and just as lonely in a distant room. I expected him to be able to divine my existence and my need, to intuit that in this darkend room in this country house a fourteen-year-old was waiting for him. Sometimes now when I pass dozing suburban houses I wonder behind which window a boy waits for me. After a while I realized I wouldn't meet him till years later; I wrote him a sonnet that began, "Because I loved you before I knew you..." The idea, I think, was that I'd never quarrel with him, nor ever rate his devotion cheap; I had had to wait too long. I'd waited so long I was almost angry, certainly vengeful. 11 My sister, my mother and I - three unhappy people, and yet my mother's ceaseless optimism didn't even grant us the dignity of suffering. "Kids," she said, driving us away from school on a weekday, "we're going on vacation. Isn't that wonderful! We're off to Florida! Isn't that exciting?" In every way we had more fun than other people and were superior to them. At Christmastime Mother would count up her cards as though they were a precise numerical rendering of her worth; if someone neglected to send her a card, she'd worry about it, question herself, seem wounded - and then she'd dismiss the offender from her thoughts, ever her life ("He wasn't much of a friend. I don't know why I hang around such crummy people") 12 I was so happy alone and in the woods, away from the dangers posed by other people. At first I wanted to tell someone else how happy I was; I needed a witness. But as the great day revolved slowly abouve me, as the scarlet tanager flew overhead on his black wings to the distant high trees, as an owl, hidden and remote, sounded a hoot as melancholy as winter, as the leaves, ruffled by the wind, tossed the sun about as though they were princesses at play with a golden ball, as th smell of sweet clover, of bruised sassasfras leaves, of the mulch of last year's duff flowed over me, as I crushed the hot, sweet bluberries between my teenth and then chewed on an astringent needle from a balsam, as I sensed the descent of the sun and the slow decline of summer - oh, I was free and whole, safe from everyone, as happy as with my books. 13 When my sister taught me ways to be popular she was teaching me something I hadn't known about. She filled a need the instant she created it. Or perhaps I should say she taught me that the loneliness I felt like a bad burn could be soothed. I most certainly had been lonely. I had ached and writhed with loneliness, twisting around and smearing it on me as though it were a tissue of shame pouring out of my body: shameful, familiar, the fell of shame. And yet the company I longed for, the radiant face smiling down into mine, the arm around my shoulders (an arm so lean every vein could be read through it, as light can be seen between marks on vellum) - in my daydreams this company came to me unbidden. The notion that I might have been able to court friends, win attention, conjure it, would have spoiled it for me. Unbidden love was what I wanted. Under my sister's tutelage I learned that love or at least friendship must be coaxed, that there are skills (listening, smiling, remembering, flattering) that lure ir closer. Sometimes , as I learned, a friend is no more than someone to kill time with, a voice chattering into the receiver a litany of questions, all those lumpy sandbags - individually light but cumulatively heavy - that hang from the girdle around the ballon's suspended car to slow its ascent into cold, unbreathable solitude. But the very act of enticing friendship, of managing and conducting it, the whole politics of sentiment - well, I didn't despise it, for how could I despise what I needed so much? 14 And we talked of friendship, of our friendship, of how it was as intense as love, better than love, a kind of love. I told Tom my father had said friendships don't last, they wear out and must be replaced every decade as we grow older - but I reported this heresay (which I'd invented; my poor father had no friends to discard) only so that Tom and I might denounce it and pledge to each other our eternal fidelity. "Jesus," Tom said, "those guys are so damn cynical! Jeez..." He was lying on his stomach staring into the pillow; his voice was muffled. Now he propped himself up on one elbow. His forehead was red where he'd been leaning on it. His face was loose from sleepiness. His smile, too, was loose, rubbery, his gaze genial, bleary. "I mean, God! How can they go on if they think that way?" He laughed a laugh on a high brass note, a toot of amazement at the sheer gall of grown-up cynicism.