dontravis.com blog post #512
Photo Courtesy of Depositphotos.com
Photo Courtesy of Depositphotos.com
Thanks to Don Morgan for his guest post last week. We had plenty of hits, but few comments.
THE OLD MAN ACROSS THE STREET
I’d been in my middle forties when Joseph Nelson Armitage was born. Middle forties—the best time of my life. A successful architect, closet gay, good looking, and full of life. The years before that had been spent struggling to find my place, but by the time my forties arrived… so had I. Success, money, and an endless stable of young hunks eager for what I could teach them. I just didn’t always teach them what they thought I would.
Joseph—who immediately became Joey to everyone who knew him—was the first-born son of the stuffed shirt who lived across the street. Louise, Joey’s mom, was class and charm and sincerity all wrapped up in a single blanket, but dad Dorian always seemed to be stepping off on his right foot when everyone else was on his left. He could be charming, but only when he made the effort. Even so, he was a good provider and decent father, even though he treated Louise as an afterthought.
Let’s be clear. I’m not a pederast, but Joey caught my eye early on. I remember him as a wholesome youngster, eager and curious and forthright in his approach to life. He always seemed more handsome and energetic than his playmates. I often cogitated on what he would look like as he developed. And as each stage of his life arrived, he matched or exceeded my expectations.
When he was ten, he came across the street to ask if he could take care of my lawn. As I was often in their home at parties or for dinner, he was comfortable approaching me. But had I been a total stranger, he likely would have been just as open about his intent. Of course, after checking with Louise, I accepted his offer. And something a bit deeper than just being neighbors was born.
This got a nudge when Dorian walked out on his family one day. Louise was heartbroken and clearly taken by surprise. Joey was crushed. Outraged at the sudden abandonment, I stepped into the breech and provided support. Dorian had simply vanished, along with the family’s savings and investments. The first thing I did was hire a private investigator, who promptly uncovered a liaison with a much younger woman that had been going on for a year or more. The investigator uncovered the fact that Dorian had quit his job as a supermarket manager, accepted a similar position in Idaho, and moved on with his doxy. Unwilling to leave it at that, I hired an attorney for Louise who was successful in prying alimony and child support out of the bastard. Louise also recovered a healthy portion of their family savings and investment portfolio.
I remember fondly the day she came across the street, Joey trailing along behind her, to clasp me about the shoulders and kiss my cheek. “Warren Ohlson, I don’t know what Joey and I would have done if you hadn’t been there for us. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
Joey awkwardly put one arm around his mother’s waist and the other around mine. “Me too, Mr. O.”
Satisfied that she and Joey would be all right, at least financially, I ceased to butt into their affairs and tended to my own.
By now, I was into my mid-fifties, which were quite different from the gay forties. I continued to prosper, but the stream of young men had turned into a trickle, and then finally merely the occasional.
That was when I realized Joey had made this transition easier for me. Not sexually, of course, but his need for a male figure in his life, and his obvious liking—nay, I daresay fondness for me—brought a different type of relief. He wanted to learn chess, so I taught him. One of his friends liked to play bridge, so I imparted what I knew of that card game. I taught him to throw a ball, bowl, play tennis, all the things a father should teach his child. But more’s the pity, he was not my son.
I consoled him after he got into his first fist fight and gave him some boxing pointers. His mother embarrassed him by trying to have the “sex talk,” and he came across the street to get some things clearer in his mind. Joey was developing beautifully in mind, body, and spirit, and the attention he demanded of me in pursuit of his emergence had ceased to be a blessing and was now taking a toll…because Joey was not my child. It would have been easier if he had been because nature imbues the male with a natural abhorrence for lusting after his own progeny. I had no such protection. I often literally ached when the boy went home in the evening.
They say that time can be a healer. It can also be an unmitigated bastard. The older Joey got, the slower I became. During his junior year in high school, my partners and I sold our firm to a larger architectural business, and I opted to retire. At sixty-two years of age, I was financially secure and could do almost anything I wanted. Even move to Florida or Hawaii or wherever else the snowbirds retired to. But it was a lost cause. I’d sit on my front porch shuffling through leaflets extolling the virtues of this place or that and look up to see Joey tossing burners with a school friend, and my heart would fill up my chest. Soon, old man. Soon he’d graduate and go away to school, and then you can sell everything and flee to some retirement home to while away your remaining years. I sighed, realizing he would have to walk away from me. I could never do that to him, even though he had other interests now. His friends, and his girlfriends, and his sports, and his approaching manhood demanded more time now, leaving less for “Mr. O.”
Joey’s eighteenth birthday and graduation from high school came almost on the same day, so naturally, he had a party. I considered gifting him with a new car, but he was perfectly happy with the Camero he’d bought with money from his landscaping jobs. I realized that every time he got in that car, he experienced the thrill of having achieved a major acquisition he’d paid for on his own. So instead, I gave him a holiday trip to Jamaica for him and his mother. As I drove home from taking them to the airport, it hit me that the day I’d been dreading was upon me. The beginning of the end. Joey would be back in a week, but soon thereafter, he’d be leaving for college. I’d no longer be able to sit on my porch and vicariously participate in his life by watching his comings and goings. I had never felt so empty in my entire life.
Joey surprised us all. Instead of enrolling in college, he joined the army. “Let them pay for my education,” he declared when both Louise and I braced him on his decision. Hard to argue with, but we tried anyway. His mother went emotional; I turned practical.
“Son,” I declared, hoping I sounded wise to those young ears. “If you get your education before enrolling in the military, you’ll likely end up in Officer’s Candidate School. And if that’s not what you want, you’ll end up as a clerk. Back when I was in the army, clerks ran the military. I know. I was one of them.”
But he spurned my advice. “I don’t want to be a clerk. I want to be in the line. Face the enemy. Defend my country.”
“Joey, without clerks, there wouldn’t be an organized force facing the enemy. And if that’s what you want, become an officer. Be in charge of those men.”
He shrugged. “Maybe in time I’ll earn my way there.”
And with that statement, that tall, handsome youth showed me who he really was, the man he would become.
And then everything happened overnight. It didn’t, of course, but that’s the way it seemed. He enlisted without his mother or me with him, but I drove all of us to the enlistment office on the day he reported for duty. Louise cried on my shoulder as the bus drove away with all the new enlistees, and I leaked a few tears into her hair. It almost seemed surreal as I—or more like it, my body double—drove us home. I was glad when Louise stumbled across the street to cry on her own. The empty shell that was me needed some alone time too.
Do you remember how it feels to see something that’s so precious to you slip away, to have to let go and allow someone you treasure make his or her way through life… without you? Then I guess you understand Mr. O’s emotional state.