Falling Off a Log
Copyright © 2003, 2015
I woke up Monday morning feeling well rested, fresh, and happy. Sunday had been what my Dad always called a red-letter-day. Something important had happened - I kinda had a girlfriend. Nothing bad had happened all day, and I ended up having a ton of fun with my friends. I couldn't have felt better. I had my shower, got dressed for school and went downstairs for a breakfast of Wheaties and OJ. Nick came down when I was already on my second bowl of cereal. He didn't look too well.
"What's wrong? Couldn't sleep?"
"I'm OK - just tired. Frank came over last night after you went to bed. Him and me and your Dad talked till midnight."
"He came here?"
"Yeah, he kinda wanted to make up with me. I think everything finally got to him. Anyhow, he was trying to be nice and saying he was sorry and all that. I didn't want to hear it, but your Dad thought we shouldn't be enemies if we didn't have to, so we went round and round about me and him and all the crap he's pulled. I mean, what's the point? He's made me feel like shit for almost two years now. And he knew he was doing it. He even said he was trying to make me feel bad. Bad about how I am - about who I am. He said he was doing it because he wanted me to change."
Nick went on while he fixed a bowl of cereal, "Your Dad was great. He said how we're all born with certain traits. Some people will be smart, others won't. Some people will be good looking, others won't. That there's tall people, short people, smart people, dumb people- all stuff like that. There's black and white people, Asians, Indians. He said how these are the things we're born with and there's nothing to be done about it. You can't change what you are.
"Then he talked about how most people deal with what they've got. Like if you're short, fat and ugly, but also smart, how you use the smart part to make your way in life. How even somebody who's short, fat, ugly and dumb will usually at least be nice, or funny or something. Like, if you've got everything else against you being nice is that's all that's left. You can still make friends and have a good life. He had Frank agreeing with him all the way.”
I smiled, “That's my father. Even if he doesn't like someone, he keeps his mouth shut and smiles.”
Nick nodded, "For sure. He started talking about how people react to other people, how they can be mean even if they don't think they are. How we react to somebody who's fat or something like that, even if you just avoid looking. He talked about how kids are especially rotten that way. The good lookin' kids make fun of the ugly ones. The ugly ones make fun of the fat ones. That's how so many people miss out on the connections they could make in life if they just took people for who they are. He said it causes a lot of trouble in the world when they don't do that. He told us about Hitler and the Holocaust in Europe. How many people were murdered just because of their religion, including most of his family. He told us how his father and mother escaped and how they were lucky. Most of them didn't.
"He went on about hate. He said how, if someone has done something bad to you personally, he could see how you could hate them. But if you just hated them because they're what they are it's really stupid. He said how so many people have their prejudices, and that most of them are learned from family and friends - not from anybody actually doin' something to somebody else. How he always tried to find the best, or at least something good in everybody. Like you just get one chance at life and if you go around hating something about everybody you're gonna end up not even liking yourself, cause some of those things must come close to home. He said you should try to like everyone until they give you a reason not to. If somebody's not bothering you personally, then what's the problem? Frank agreed and said there was no advantage in being a prick, like where would it get you?
I watched Nick closely, thinking I knew what came next.
"This is where it gets good. Your dad looked right at Frank - right in the eye, and started circling questions around him. Then he zeroed in and asked him what exactly his problem was with me, and how it got to be a problem. How could you hate somebody for what or who they love? It was pretty interesting. It didn't look like Frank had an answer. He just looked at your father, then at me, then back again. He didn't have an answer! He just started to cry. Not bawling, just tears. He said he just didn't know - he'd heard stuff about queers all his life and just thought it was wrong. Nothing had ever made it OK in his mind - it was just wrong. Your Dad asked him how it affected him personally, and he didn't know. He asked if made him feel better to be rotten to me and Frank said it made him feel awful too, but he thought he had to be like that to make me change, like he'd always heard that queers didn't deserve anything 'cept other queers. He said how he'd never seen the other side of things, and when he was just gettin' to know me and like me he caught me like that.”
I was enjoying Nick's marathon, but he paused to fix more cereal. "Frank said how it wrecked everything, and how he couldn't look at me right ever since, how bad he felt. Joey, he said he wanted to love me, be a proper father, but just couldn't. He couldn't deal with what I am."
"Your Dad said he was goin' to bed, but we could talk as long as we wanted, as long as it took. I mean, I didn't want to even know this guy anymore! But I listened to your father, too. I've done mean things to other people before, too, just because of who they were and how they looked. There's truth in it, Joe. Your Dad is so good about sayin' this stuff."
Nick finally started eating again. "Anyhow, we didn't say anything for a long time. We took turns lookin' at each other. I looked at him 'til he looked back, then I looked away, and he was doin' the same thing. We did that for a while, until I said I had to go to bed. He didn't want to leave, Joey! He said he couldn't go until we resolved something. Said he knew he'd been an asshole for such a long time he didn't think that part could be fixed. But he wants to try to be friends again. He knows my real Dad is coming. He said how much he likes him, and that I'll probably stay with him forever anyhow."
"So, whatcha gonna do, Nick?"
"The way we left it is, the next time we see each other we make like we just met for the first time, see if we ever would'a liked each other anyhow. At least he doesn't hate me. Not personally. I think I'll like him again. At least he's trying. Anyhow, he asked me to come back, not for him but for my mom, and I guess I will. Not right now, but maybe this weekend."
I listened to all this and wondered again about my Dad. He could always seem to make bad things good, to help people see things the way they should be seen - without prejudice and with a sense of wonder about everything.
We had to hurry up to get to school, and it was really pouring out. I had a poncho and found one of my brother's for Nick. It was way too big and he looked like The Blob out of the science fiction movie. We ran all the way to school, even missing Scott's bus. I saw Mandy in the gym at recess and mostly talked to her. When we went back to class we held hands until we had to split up. I asked her to go for ice cream after school, and she said yes!
Mandy and I were on different waves for lunch, but we were already an item. Guys who had never said a word to me were obviously impressed, and I was pretty much relishing the attention I was getting from everyone. Scott asked me and Nick to come over after school to work out some new songs, and Nick said he'd go. I told them what I was doing with Mandy.
That got me some ribbing, but Scott was happy when Nick decided to go without me.
Mandy and I had a really nice time, feeling silly for eating ice cream as freezing rain blew against the other side of the window.
We just talked. First about Nick and her Dad, then she wanted to know about my father, because everyone seemed to be so taken with him. We talked about the band a little, but mostly kidded around while we got more comfortable together. She talked more about her parents. I told her stuff about Scott and some of the dumb things we'd done. It was a real nice afternoon.
I walked her home. It was down to a drizzle then, and we took it really slow trying to stretch the time. When we got there, she asked me in. We got sodas and sat in the living room … close, holding hands. We kissed, quickly at first, then a little more seriously. Before you knew it, we were making out. Just kissing and hugging, but it felt pretty serious. I tried some of Nick's tongue stuff, trying desperately not to think of where I'd learned it. I was seriously in heat, but the sound of the garage door opening got us separated in a rush. When her father came in we were still holding hands, but about a foot apart.
He was a genuinely good looking man, like somebody you'd see in a toothpaste commercial. He smiled brightly, "You must be Joey. I've been hearing about you for two days now, so it's a pleasure to meet you!" He held out his hand and I stood to shake it.
"Joey, I know you're Nick's friend and you probably hate me, but please let me start.”
I looked at him and nodded, so he continued.
“I've been a jerk, Joey, and I'm ready to tell the world I'm a jerk. I'll change, is all I can say. I don't like to be wrong, but I was so wrong about all this. I don't know how much you know, but I shot my mouth off about you and Nick's other friends, and I want to apologize to you right now, and the others when I see them. I've been acting the moron about all this for a long time.”
He grimaced and took a breath, “None of you have ever done anything to me, and I had no right to say what I did. You can think what you want about me, but I hope you don't think I'm really creepy … no matter how true it seems. I know I've hurt Nick and can never make it up to him, and I wish to heaven I'd tried to understand, but I didn't. I can't believe I was so unfeeling toward Nick. It took your father and you to set me straight, and I thank you both. Your Dad's a great guy!"
"My Dad's good with people, but why thank me?"
"Amanda told me how you helped Nick out the other day after I got him all messed up. I'm just really grateful that you were there for him. I don't know what I'd do if he hurt himself. It's all my fault, anyhow. I have that to live with, but I am just so happy that he knew he had someone he could go to, where he could find understanding and love. He should have found is right here, except for me. Just knowing that he didn't have to go it alone is some comfort to me. That's why I'm thanking you, and I'll always thank you for it."
"It's okay. He's my friend."
"I hope we can be friends, Joey. Don't be afraid to tell me what you think."
He really was a good guy, just like everybody said. We made small talk for a while, and when I had to get home he gave me a ride. He looked the other way when I kissed Mandy goodbye, and I wished him good luck with Nick when he dropped me off.
It wasn't time for supper, so I went upstairs and knocked off my homework. After awhile, my mother asked me where Nick was, and I told her he went to Scott's after school. She figured, like I did, that he'd probably eat there. You didn't get away from Scott's mother very easily. She liked to feed people.
He still hadn't shown up at nine o'clock, so my mother called over there. He was on the way home, and Dave was bringing him. She'd barely hung up the phone when he came in and apologized for not calling. We went up to my room so I could hear about their song writing. I heard about Scott, instead.
"Man. Scott is ''so'' cool! I can see why you like him so much! We worked on music for a while and he's got great ideas. We sat up in the loft where you guys always go. He was hummin' tunes he had in his head, and they're great! He's like holdin' my hand all the time just like he does with you. I think we came up with some good stuff. He was gonna try to make up some words tonight. He kept kissin' me on the cheek! I love the way he does that - like it's just the natural thing to do. Then I started telling' him what's goin' on with Frank, and he was really happy we were gonna try to make things right. He kissed me, Joe. Right on the mouth! Not sexy or anything, just he seemed so happy for me. Then I kissed him, 'cause he made me feel so good. Then ... I - I hope you don't get mad, Joe, but we started kinda ... makin' out. We both got bones, and he was sorta humping me on the leg. I felt him with my hand, then he felt me. Joey, we both got turned on so bad we had our pants down in about two seconds. We had our hands all over each other! We … we …then we ..."
Nick looked down, "We did other stuff, Joey, lots."
He chanced a glance at me and looked away again. "I don't know if I should say, but you can guess."
I was so surprised I thought I felt my hair twitch by itself. "Y ... you and Scott?"
Nick hung his head, "Yeah. I hope you're not mad."
"Jeez, Nick. I'm lost here. Let me think about this for a minute."
"Please tell me you're not mad again!"
"I'm not mad at you, Nick. I mean, you blurt out all this stuff and it takes a while to sink in. I don't own Scott. You guys can do what you want. It's just - just I can only think about what Dad said. You know, about friendship coming first and bein' the most important thing. I been Scott's friend for a long time, his best friend. I can't stand the idea of him getting hurt somehow. You gotta promise me you'll never hurt him, Nick. You gotta promise!"
"I do promise. Oh, Joey, I'm kinda scared of this, too. About my feelings. And I can never seem to control them. It's not just my head, Joey. It's all of me - my whole body, my whole person seems to shift into something else, something that just does what it wants. I need to take charge, somehow. I gotta get smart, and fast."
"Just take care of Scott, Nick. I love him more than anything. You guys should have a long talk about what you did tonight and decide if it's where you wanna go. I know how it plays with your mind - I've been there. Scott's the nicest kid in the world. He's never hurt anything or anybody in his life. He's got a heart, Nick, and a soul. If I ever find out you're hurting him, so help me, I'll shove that bass so far up your ass it'll knock your teeth out.” I grinned at the thought of a violent me, “Got that?"
Nick sighed, "I got it, and believe me, I couldn't stand the thought of hurtin' any of you guys. And I'm gonna talk to Scott. Like, if he still wants to do stuff we've gotta decide to do it. Not just let it happen. If you see something happening you don't like, you gotta tell us, too. Hit us upside the head if we don't listen."
He finally looked right at me, "And Joey ... I hope you don't think I'm tryin' to move in on your territory."
"Come on, Nick. Scott's not my territory, or my property. I'll always love him, and I hope everybody does. I don't have to share him, he shares himself. He can love us both, even if it's in different ways. He'll be my best friend no matter who else he loves."
"You got a big heart, Joey."
"Shit. I thought you were gonna say I had a big hardon."
"No, but I'll probably get one if I think about you guys in the loft. I'm going to bed."
"G'night, Joe. And thanks."
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