Shit, where to begin, where to begin…
My sophomore year in high school. I think that’s pretty much were this story started. I was somewhat shy and nerdy. I didn’t wear glasses; they were so damned big and heavy that I considered them goggles. I always enjoyed school, even though I was kinda shy, in a scholastic and nerdy sort of way. I was always up on my homework, was friendly with the teachers; such a good little nebekh (that's Yiddish for "nerd", pronounced 'nebbish')!
But at the same time I was miserable. Or sad. Or something. Hell, I don’t know anymore, it’s been so damned long. I never really hung out with people outside of school, but a hell of a lot of people were having more fun than I was.
I’m trying to remember when I first became conscious of being attracted to guys. I’d have to say it was in the eight grade. There was this really hot football player (surprise) who was a senior when I was a “worm,” as we were so affectionately called by the upper classmen. Back then in the 80’s, guys wore really great tight-fitting jeans that showed off all of their equipment. Hey, God gave it to us, right. Well, he didn’t really give me a whole lot but then I wasn’t checking myself out. Anyway, this guy's name was Rob Bently and like I said he played football. Today he’s what we’d call a “bear” because I remember him having hairy arms and chest. The chest I knew about because you could see it in his open-collared shirts. He had a mustache and light brown hair. I knew that I was attracted to him although I had absolutely no clue what thoughts lied beyond that observation.
In my sophomore year I took an architectural drafting course. It started out with more crackers (the people kind) than a box of Ritz, but once they all realized that you actually had to do work in class, most of the trashiest rednecks dropped the class. There were probably twenty or so of us and only one girl. Several guys in there were nice on the eyes. One dude sat in front of me and was a swimmer. Kenny was his name. He was a really nice guy and funny too. Great swimmer’s build and and sweet lookin’ ass.
Then there was a guy who sat next to me named Steve. Steve was a bit more redneck than country. I don’t think that he dipped (back in the early 80’s lots of guys I knew or went to school with dipped tobacco) but he may have smoked. He wasn’t your average, good-looking guy, but there was something attractive about him.
And then there was Don Keller. God’s honest truth I never really paid that much attention to him, then. I knew that he was a junior, just from hearing conversations. There were four rows of drafting tables in the class; I sat in the second row, and he was back in the last one. I found out that he was a baseball player because he and I had a mutual friend. Actually, this guy named Carlton who was a neighbor of mine had a friend named Mike, and Mike and Don were both on the baseball team. You know, the “I know your brother’s sister’s cousin’s uncle’s mother-in-law” sort of thing.
Anyway, Don and Mike sat in the last row. By the end of my sophomore year most of us were pretty good acquaintances because we’d been together in the same class for nine months. Still, Don came off as really quiet if Mike wasn’t around. He and I never really talked like Steve, Kenny and I did, simply because he sat a couple of rows back. Then one day we came to school, it was in April I think, and the air conditioning in our part of the building wasn’t working. At one point I turned around and Don and Mike were standing there talking, but Don’s shirt was completely unbuttoned. Ok, you gotta remember, in the 80’s there was peer pressure to look nice, not slovenly and sloppy like kids do today, so lots of us guys wore button-downs.
I noticed that his shirt was down and you could see his chest. Nothing remarkable, no hair at all, but it was then that I started paying attention to Don more. At first I just started hanging out a little bit more with his friend Mike, who was again a friend of my friend Carlton. Just by association I started talking with Don more. Nothing more than normal school bullshit. He seemed like a really nice guy. Okay, description time. He was (and is) just shy of six feet tall, has dark brown hair and brown eyes. He’s got this great smile and has dimples, to boot. Just a nice looking, clean cut guy. By the end of the year he and I would chat a bit more than we had in the past.
* * * *
The last week of the school year is when the yearbooks get passed out and I always looked forward to this. It was always on a Thursday night that the school would open up and the students who had purchased an annual could come by and pick theirs up. The seniors had their names printed on the front cover, I guess to be different. Tables were set up in the cafeteria and hundreds of people would stop and flip through their yearbook, mostly looking for pictures of themselves. Hey, I did it too. It was cool, though, because it was always at this time when things were so damned relaxed in what was normally a somewhat rigid learning environment. People would be sitting on the floor in the hallways and always there’d be people in the gym sitting on the bleachers reading and signing the yearbooks. We all know that the book signing was bullshit. All of those “I Love You,” “Keep In Touch,” blah blah blah. Whatever. It is fun to look back after, shit almost twenty years, and see the people that you hung out with.
Most of that last week you’d get people to sign your annual during class if you'd missed them the previous Thursday night. I guess people would start to get nostalgic and sign crap that they normally wouldn’t say, figuring that they wouldn’t see you for three months. Whatever. I passed mine to a few of the guys in my drafting class, including Don.
Out of the several dozen people who’d sign my yearbook very few of them included a telephone number. Surprisingly, Don was one of the few.
Yep, Don put some sort of message in there and ended it by saying "let’s get together sometime over the summer", and he added his number. I must have read it three times to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. Nope, it was there, all three times I read it. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, at least to him. Hell, I was just happy that someone wanted to hang out over the summer with me.
I should explain something to you here. My high school was located in the corner of the district that it served and at the end of ninth grade my family moved just across the boundary into another school district. Literally, the road next to my house was the boundary line and I lived on the other side. Because I did have a few friends my folks decided to use the address of my piano teacher who lived across the street from our old house, thus keeping me in the same high school. Needless to say there was nobody in my neighborhood who attended the same high school that I did. There were lots of apartments around us; we were sort of in a pocket by ourselves. At my old house I had plenty of friends that went to my school, or at least we’d hang out. Once I moved that all ended, so I was sort of a loner at the new house.
Okay so Don wanted me to call him sometime. That was a new one. I say that, but for some reason I suddenly became drawn to him. I could handle that, right?
A couple of weeks after school was out for the summer I picked up the phone to call him.
“I’m sorry, Don’s not here, can I take a message?” It was his mom.
“Yes ma’am, this is Paul Lyons and I was just calling to see what he’s up to,” I said.
“Oh, he’s at work right now. I don’t think I’ve met you, Paul.”
“No ma’am, he and I were in drafting class together.”
“Oh, okay. Well, he gets off work at 8:00. He’s working at Kroger, you know.”
“Ah. Actually, I didn’t, but if you’ll just tell him I called I’d appreciate it.”
But he didn’t call.
Oh well. I knew he had other friends and probably was hanging out with them after work. But hey, he gave me his number, right? And why wouldn’t he want me to call him if he gave me his number? I mean, I didn’t ask for it, so he must have wanted to do something, hang out, whatever.
I called again the next day.
And a couple of days later.
And the day after that.
And you’re correct in assuming that I didn’t have a life. Well, I sort of did. I was fifteen and the only job I could take was working at the local library. How fitting. A bookworm shelving books, ten hours a week. God, there’s no telling how many times I wanted to jump out the friggin’ window, or throw myself on the train tracks that ran about one hundred feet from the building. I also got a job working at Stone Mountain Park. I think that everyone who lived in Stone Mountain worked at the park at one time or another, but I actually ended up getting fired from there. They said it was because I was only fifteen and you had to be sixteen to work there. I knew different, though. There was a girl that worked there, a friend of mine, that the boss was always telling her to wear her shorts shorter and to wear more make up, or he’d put her running some sort of vending cart outside in the heat. I was very vocal in standing up to him about shit like that. Guess he didn’t like it. So I was back to working only ten hours a week at the library.
I didn’t completely stalk Don, but I’m sure I got on his parents’ nerves. Looking back I realize how immature I was in handling friendships. Finally after a few weeks I gave up. Bitch wanted to talk to me he could damn well pick up the phone himself. It’s not like he didn’t have my number by now, right?
In July my parents had planned for us all to go (I have two older brothers) up to New York and visit our family there. We had moved away when I was a kid and hadn’t been back since, so I was looking forward to this. Also in the plans were to make a detour so the three of us could see Niagara Falls for the first time. The night before we left for our trip my dad took me up to Kroger (at that time there were only two or three grocery stores on the strip in our city) to pick up a book or magazine or whatever.
As I walked up to the store, standing near the doorway...okay, I need to explain something else here.
What Kroger did at that time was that they had little placards on all of their buggies with numbers on them. The cashier would write down the number of your buggy on your receipt and you’d walk out of the store, leaving the buggy with the bag clerk, who would then push it through a set of short doors to a guy waiting outside the front of the store. You’d pull your car up and hand your receipt to the guy waiting outside and he’d load your car with the groceries.
So I walked up to the store and Don was standing near those doors with another guy and they were just talking and laughing about something. It was dark out so at first I didn’t recognize him until the last second.
“Hey Paul, how’s it goin’?” he asked. Seemed friendly enough, just like in school. I decided not to bring up all of the goddamned phone calls he never returned.
“Don, what’s up, man.”
“Oh, just fixin’ to get off work.”
“What’cha doin’ tonight?” he asked.
“Well, we’re all goin’ up to New York in the mornin’ and I thought I’d grab a book or a magazine. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to work. We’ll see y’all.” I turned and headed towards the main entrance of the store.
“Hey man, I’m sorry I haven’t been callin’ you back. I’ve been so busy with work, and all,” Don said.
“Dude, don’t worry about it. We’ll see ya later.”
“Later,” he said.
I bought my magazine and some batteries for my walkman cassette player. Hey young guys! Do y’all know what a cassette player is? I liked listening to my own tunes and our car only had an 8-track player. Hey young guys! Do y’all know what an 8-track player is? Anyway I had just bought another Andrews Sisters tape and I had a bag of some other cassettes that I’d be bringing up with me as well.
I should also explain some of my musical tastes. My favorite singing group is The Andrews Sisters. I know that’s a bit bizarre considering I’m only 35, but I’ve been listening to them since I was 5, when my parents joined the Columbia House 8-Track club. I’ll bet there are more than a few readers who had also joined that club in the 70’s. Remember back then you could get reel to reel tapes also? And good old 78 rpm records? Well, I was always into the more easy listening music as a kid growing up, but I think what stood out to me was the harmonies in the Sisters’ songs. Just before tenth grade I was in K-mart and I saw an A.S. cassette in the “Must Go” $1.99 bin and bought it. The tape turned out to be some of their original recordings re-released as opposed to the new orchestrations that they performed in the 50’s, which was the 8-track that I first hear of them. Once I realized that you could get their original recordings I went out and bought all of the albums of theirs that I could find and made cassettes.
On the way up to New York (we drove, by the way) this one song kept sticking in my head called “How Lucky You Are.” It was basically saying when the one that you love is in love with you, blah blah blah, how lucky you are. I was far from in love with Don. Hell, I only knew him from drafting class, really. But there was something about him that drew me to him. Maybe it’s because he was the first jock who was friendly to me, I have no idea.
My family spent a week visiting our relatives and friends. I got to stay with my grandparents, which was really cool. Growing up I'd lived on the same street as they did and so by sleeping at their house I got to see all of my childhood friends for most of the time that I was there. Everyone seemed infatuated with the fact that I was living in Georgia and had an accent. I didn’t think that I did, but okay. I hadn’t seen my friends in five or six years but it felt like a lifetime.
And I thought about Don. A lot.
Every time I heard that one song I’d think about him. There was another one on that cassette called “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You Like I Do)” that also made me think of him. A lot. Oh well, I must be just really looking forward to a new friend, right?
The whole drive from New York to Georgia was a long one and I was really glad to get home. However, I had decided while I was gone that if he wanted to call me he would. No more stalking on my part. When we got home my grandmother was so happy to see us. You see, we had visited my dad’s parents in New York, and my mom’s mother lived with us. A friend of my oldest brother would spend the nights at our house so she wouldn’t be alone. Not long after I unpacked I came downstairs to just relax and hang out and talk to Grandma.
“Paul, someone named Don called you while you were gone,” she said.
“Oh yeah?” I about wanted to rocket over to the phone to call him back.
“I told him you were out of town but he must have forgotten because he called back a few days later. His number’s on the counter.”
“Thank you,” I said. Damn! Don called me. I decided to wait before I called him back.
Screw that! I waited, like, ten seconds before I grabbed the phone.
“Hello?” It was his mother again.
“Is Don there?” I asked.
“Paul?” By now she recognized my voice. Poor woman.
“Honey, you just missed him, he went to work.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I was just returning his call. You know,” I laughed, “I actually ran into him at Kroger about a week ago, so we finally hooked up.”
“Well good. He comes back kind of late tonight…do you want me to have him call you when he get’s home?”
“Nawww. Just let him know I’m playing phone tag.”
“Okay,” she chuckled. “Goodbye.”
Oh my! Don called me, finally. (He touched me. He put his hand near mine and then, he touched me…) At that point I felt okay about where this was going. Where what was going? That’s a good question. I just felt better once he finally made the effort to actually try and get in touch with me. In the beginning I’d thought that he only gave me his number because he was being polite, then I realized that he didn’t need to be polite. He was just signing an annual for cryin’ out loud. Oy! I should remind you, the reader, that that was my mindset then.
Once we finally were able to talk on the phone the conversations flowed pretty easy. We didn’t talk a whole hell of a lot, maybe once and sometimes twice a week. I’d always think of excuses to go to Kroger. Heh heh heh.
Sadly, the summer came and went and it was time to register for school, or pick up our class schedules. Normally you’d pick up the schedule and then school would start the next week. You could also pick up your parking sticker for your car. Since I was going to be a junior and I have a late birthday I wasn’t going to be even turning sixteen until after school started.
I ran into Don in the cafeteria; he was going out as I was walking in.
“Hey Paul,” he said, “how’s it goin’?”
“Alright, just about to pick up my schedule,” I said.
“I’ll walk with you.”
“K” and he and I headed over to my class table. Damn, in one more year I was going to be a senior. I couldn’t wait for that day.
I got my schedule and looked at it. First period, computer science (which back in 1985 meant how to calculate interest on a 30 year mortgage. Nothing fancy); second period, American Lit; third period, Algebra; fourth period, chemistry; fifth period, beginning Spanish; sixth period, U.S. History. Looked good.
“So you got Miss Cannon first, huh?” he asked. Actually Mrs. Cannon, but southerners pronounce "Missus" as "Miss".
“I guess so,” I shrugged. “Whadda you have?”
“P.E.’s first, then just some other bullshit.”
I laughed at that.
“P.E.’s the only one that matters, huh?”
He gave me one of his dimpled grins. Whew! Okay, calm down Paul.
School started the following Monday and I was somewhat looking forward to it. Everyone was in the cafeteria sitting at “their own” tables with their friends. My table was luckily near the football players’ tables. That was really nice because I got to check out all of that hot jock ass. Thank God for tight-fitting denim, I always say. God never answers me when I say that, though. Go figure.
First bell rings and a collective groan rises from the whole school. I went to head towards my computer class with the dreaded Mrs. Cannon. Why she was dreaded, I had no clue. I didn’t even know her. I went in and sat down and lucked out because a couple of girls that I sat with in the cafeteria were also in there. As the minutes went by more people streamed in. The hallway outside was humming with people going to their classes, and rushing as the second bell would soon be approaching.
I turned to talk to Paige and Reilly, the two girls, to yenter it up a bit. When I turned back I had the biggest surprise.
Our eyes met and he gave absolutely no sign of “hello” or greeting. I decided to play it cool and just nodded to him. He crossed the room and took the empty desk beside me.
“Hey man, how’s it goin’.”
“Fine,” I said. “I thought you had P.E.”
“Nahh,” Don said. “That was a mistake. I already took my P.E.’s”
I raised my eyebrows and nodded. “Cool,” was all I said.