IT WAS a joyous occasion in the Anderson household on the night of July 10, 1953. A baby boy had been born into the family. He was named Clayton, after his grandfather, and both mother and son were doing fine. There were already a total of three sons and a daughter, and later, Margaret Anderson remembered thinking that with their new son, five was enough.
It was time to concentrate now on raising her children, and for her husband, Darren, to work hard for a better future for the kids than their parents had. Seventeen days later, the Korean War ended, or rather, hostilities ceased. People had a more positive attitude about what the future would bring. A shimmer of hope hung thick in the air, and Merrimack, New Jersey was a good town to grow up in.
Happiness was the order of the day on September 8, 1954, when a son was born to grateful parents in Belford, New Jersey. As the mother held her newborn, Jennifer and Harry Winston beamed with pride at their one and only child. They were getting to the age that they weren’t sure they would ever have one, so when Jennifer became pregnant, she practically lived cushioned by cotton balls for the next nine months.
After serious debate, Mr. and Mrs. Winston finally decided to name their son Alexander, or Alex, and they were determined that he would have the best life had to offer. Money was not an issue in the Winston family, and the baby boy was in danger of growing up spoiled, as often happens with an only child.
As it happened, the Anderson and Winston families lived only five miles apart in New Jersey. Belford and Merrimack were small suburban towns that were just two of many bedroom communities. They were typical middle- to upper-class enclaves where the schools were usually located in the same community in which the people lived, making busing unnecessary in that part of the state. However, the people of Merrimack had chosen to use the Belford school system, which had a fine reputation, instead of building their own. The school was large enough and by utilizing the student population from both towns, was almost filled to capacity.
As Clay and Alex grew up one grade apart without ever meeting, they did all the things that kids in the fifties and sixties did. On Friday or Saturday nights, everyone went to the high school for the weekly dance, or sock hops as they were called. Here, the first real interactions on a social level began to occur between girls and boys of all ages, and social skills were learned and refined over time.
Unfortunately, the problem of bullies was common at these dances, though it was not in day-to-day school. A boy had to learn how to fight or how to run very fast if he didn’t want to get beat up.
Both Clay and Alex chose to run when they could and fight like hell when they were cornered. Neither boy enjoyed violence. It was against their nature and the teachings of their parents. But both eventually got tired of running, and slowly they learned to stand up for themselves. This was a lesson that would serve them the rest of their lives. Another thing these two boys who didn’t know each other had in common was a feeling that they were somehow different.
The two boys grew up along parallel paths that diverged here and there. Alex went into the Cub Scouts and then into the Boy Scouts when he was old enough. While Alex was learning the art of tying knots, camping, and socializing with the other boys, Clayton kept his nose in books. He didn’t play sports, and in spite of the incessant ranting by his least favorite uncle about how all boys should play sports, he was quite content with the adventures to be found in his books.
One of the things Alex discovered was boys. By high school, he had already figured out that he had no interest in girls beyond friendship, but he knew he had to act like he did. He even forced himself to make out with a girl on a school trip so that the other boys would see it and think that he was like them. But that play came to a screeching halt when the girl put her hand between Alex’s legs and he jerked away in revulsion.
From that point forward, he stopped trying to make himself or others believe that he liked girls. He had his friends who were girls, and they would dance together at the dances, but they knew what Alex had already discovered about himself: Alex was gay.
Alex found he could have sex on camping trips with a surprising number of other boys. It seemed that sex among guys on their own was quite common, and Alex found himself sought after for his oral skills. One boy named Paul used to invite Alex to stay the night at his house all the time. Paul knew that Alex would blow him as soon as the lights went out, and he took advantage of it. And who could blame a horny sixteen-year-old?
Clayton ignored sex altogether. He always maintained that he was straight and saving himself for marriage, but he got bullied anyway. Clay took a lot of hell from the other boys, especially in gym class. The locker room and shower time were particularly frightening for him. He knew he would be picked on, called a fag, and ass-snapped with towels. Fortunately for Clay, only a couple of the guys were serious bullies while the others just went along with the pack. Neither the gym teacher nor any other teacher in school seemed to notice when it came to the guys picking on Clay. If someone in authority did witness an incident, it was dismissed as “boys will be boys.” This unwillingness on the part of the adults to acknowledge the problem made school a living hell for Clay at times.
Alex was in a different gym class than Clayton and knew very little of what happened to him three times a week. While some kids teased Alex and snapped his jock strap, the guys who were getting oral sex from Alex made sure the situation didn’t get out of hand. It wasn’t so much that they were protecting him because he was a source of sexual relief, but more from the fear that Alex would reveal the names of his partners. No one really wanted to be seen as soft on the fags, but Alex remained somewhat protected.
With all the trouble in their lives, somehow Clay and Alex survived. Finally, in 1971 and 1972, graduation day arrived, and Alex and Clay received the piece of paper that stated they had done what they needed to do in their classes. They were free of public school with its many dangers for the kid who is different. Not incidentally, they had also successfully run the gauntlet of teenage male hormones.
At this new crossroads in life, both young men had to decide in which direction they would go. Clayton opted for college as his parents wished, while Alex enlisted in the Marines, even though it meant almost certain deployment to Vietnam.
In the Marines, Alex excelled in making his body and mind harder and tougher. They taught him how to rely on himself, how to fight, and how to cooperate with others to accomplish a common mission. In many ways, the Boy Scouts had prepared him for basic training. And once again, Alex found himself in a barracks-style living situation where the other men all talked about sex, girlfriends, and what they would do on their first leave. Alex had to tread carefully in conversation, playing the pronoun game and hoping he didn’t slip up.
One of the principles taught in Marine basic, along with a myriad of other things, is that you don’t lie to or steal from a fellow Marine. In essence, Alex modified the truth but didn’t outright lie. Paul, his most favored friend and sexual partner, became Paula. When it fell upon him to tell of his sexual exploits, he told the story of how his girlfriend Paula convinced her parents to allow Alex to spend overnight visits with her.
He changed the facts to suit the situation, and it worked. His only real concern was going on leave together because he knew the first thing the guys wanted to do was get laid. He decided it was pointless to worry about it, and that he’d deal with it when it came up.
Aside from that one sticky situation, the Marines taught Alex to be proud and self-confident, both areas where he needed improvement. These lessons would serve him well the rest of his life.
After two tours in Vietnam, where he earned the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat and a Bronze Star for that same action, he returned home, and after another year, left the Corps. It was a most difficult decision since not only did he love the Marine Corps, but he had loved a couple of Marines along the way. One he found in Vietnam, but Max was killed in a mortar attack. The loss of his friend Max tore his heart to shreds and was the main reason he refused to re-enlist for another tour of combat.
A decorated veteran at twenty-two, he found himself back on the streets of his New Jersey hometown.
While Alex learned the hard lessons of love and war, Clay enrolled in college, got a deferment, and worked his ass off to maintain top percentile grades. When he graduated, he had a bachelor’s degree in library science, and he took a month off before looking for a job. His father had died and so it was only him and his mother, Margaret. He didn’t feel right moving out on her now that she was all alone, so he decided he would live at home.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Clay asked.
“What? Mind that you’re gonna live here with me? Of course not, darling! If you moved out, I’d be so lonely. Sure I have friends, but it’s not the same without your father here. No, this house is just too big for one person,” Margaret replied.
“Good. The house is paid for, so I’ll pay the taxes and insurance along with the utilities. Is that fair, Mother?”
“None of that’s necessary, Clayton. Your father left me well off, thanks to insurance. You live here for free, and I’ll hear no more about it. It’s settled. In fact, you can have the entire second floor since I’ve moved to the bedroom in the back of the house on the first floor.”
“I won’t live here for free. I’m a grown man now and can afford to support myself… well, I can when I find a job. Let me pay the taxes and insurance. I have to contribute!”
Margaret sighed. “You’re just like your father: pig-headed! Fine, if that gives you some silly sense of being a man, then pay the taxes and insurance. But that’s it! Now, while you’re taking a month to yourself, you’ll have time to arrange the second-floor rooms the way you want. Make a living room out of one of the larger bedrooms. After all, you might want to entertain a girl some evening. That part of your life is none of my business, so you do as you see fit. I just don’t want to run into some naked woman roaming around down here late at night.”
“I seriously doubt that’s going to happen, but agreed. You wanna go out somewhere inexpensive for dinner tonight?”
“Yes, on the condition that I pay, and I choose the restaurant. You can drive.”
“As you wish, Mother.”
Over the next few weeks, as his mother had suggested, Clayton converted the second floor into his own private haven. He made a living room out of one of the larger bedrooms, stocked the second-floor library room with books, and set up his bedroom exactly the way he wanted. When it was finished, he was quite happy to have five rooms and a full bathroom all to himself. At one end of the hallway, a window looked out over a portico that was buttressed by two huge Greek columns. A long sidewalk ran down to the wrought-iron fence, with two lions on either side of the entranceway, guarding the house.
Margaret was also happy—happy that her youngest son was staying home while his brothers and sister were spread across the country, living their own lives. If she was lucky, she got two sons and a daughter at Christmas time and was thankful to have that many present.
Clay began a serious job search after five weeks spent setting up his part of the house. For over a week, he searched the only newspaper, the Courier Post. Finally, on a Monday morning, he saw a want ad for help at the local library. As he read the notice, he shouted in glee!
Wanted, assistant librarian to support the head librarian with the operation of the Merrimack Library. Working hours are from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and noon to five on Fridays. Weekends off with benefits. Contact the head librarian for an interview.
Clay read the ad three times to make sure he wasn’t missing anything and that it really said what he hoped it did. He ran to the phone and called the library. Miss Clark, the head librarian, was at a county council budget meeting, and he left a message for her.
“I promise Miss Clark will call you back when she gets in,” the woman who took the call assured Clay.
“Okay, thank you!”
Clay hung up the phone and went down to the kitchen for coffee. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table and noticed something different about him.
“You look all excited. Has something happened, Clayton?” Margaret asked.
“Oh, just an ad in the paper this morning for a job at the local library! I had to leave a message, but I’m trying to get an appointment for an interview.”
“That’s wonderful. Wouldn’t that be something… getting work in your degree field. Well, I’ll say a prayer for you, honey.”
“Thanks, Mother,” Clay said as he took his coffee and headed back up to his living room to wait for his phone to ring. When he set up the apartment, he had a separate phone number installed. Forty-five minutes after he sat down, the phone rang.
“Hello, Clayton Anderson speaking.”
“Is this the Clayton Anderson who left a message for Miss Clark?” The female voice was brisk and businesslike.
“Yes, this is he.”
“This is Miss Clark at the Merrimack Public Library. I understand you were calling for an appointment to interview for the job. Is that right?”
“Yes, the job sounds perfect for me.”
“Can you tell me why you think so?” she asked.
“Well, I just graduated from Columbia University with a degree in library science and was hoping to find work in a public library.”
“Oh, I see. In that case, can you come in this afternoon around three o’clock?”
“Today? Yes, of course. I’ll arrange my schedule so I can do that. Should I just ask for you at the front desk?”
“Yes, that’s right. I look forward to meeting you. Please bring a resume, if you have one.”
“Thank you, see you at three!”
Clay hung up and practically squealed. He ran to his little office that was set up in the library and pulled out a file. He opened the folder and found the ten copies of his resume that he had written and copied at Columbia on his last day. He took out one copy, read it over once more, and pleased, set it aside, and then put away the folder. He checked his watch and saw that he had five hours until his appointment. He had already showered and shaved, so the only thing he had to do was dress and drive to the library, which was only about ten blocks from where he lived. He took all this as a good omen, and three days later he was proved right.
Three days after his interview with Miss Clark, Clayton got a phone call telling him that he had the job and was to start the following Monday. This time he did let out a war cry! He ran downstairs and found his mother gardening in the backyard. He dashed out the back door and knelt down beside her.
“I got the job at the library!”
“Clayton! That’s wonderful! Congratulations! I never had any doubt that you’d get it, but I’m so happy for you. You’ve not only got the education, you’re young and very handsome. The librarian is a single woman, right?”
“Why, yes, I guess she is, but what has that to do with anything?”
“You have a lot to learn about the world yet, my love. You’re nice to look at, and she being a single lady is sure to enjoy seeing you each day. Women use their looks all the time, so why shouldn’t you? Flirting is the way of nature, and among most other species, it’s the male who does all the showing off.”
“Mother, Miss Clark will be my boss, not a love interest! I hope I wasn’t hired because I’m nice to look at, but because I’m the best person for the job!”
Margaret turned her head for the first time and looked at her son. “Yes, dear, of course,” she said as she rested her palm against his cheek and gazed at his handsome face.
Clayton leaned in, gave his mother a kiss, and stood up to go back into the house. As he walked, he thought over what his mother had said to him. Could he really have been hired because he was considered good-looking? If that was the case, Clayton was determined to prove his worth to the library.
MONDAY morning came, and Clayton walked into the library at precisely eight o’clock.
“Hello, I’m Clayton Anderson. I’m starting today,” he said to the receptionist on duty at the front desk.
“Good morning, Mr. Anderson. Your office is through that door over there and down the hallway. There’ll be a sign on the wall next to your door that reads ‘Assistant Librarian’. Welcome to the library, sir.”
“Thank you… Cindy,” he said, after looking closely at her nametag. He followed Cindy’s directions and found his office with no problem. It was a very small office, with a desk, telephone, and two chairs—one for him and one for a visitor. There was a file cabinet that held only one thing, a manual titled “Operation Procedures for Merrimack Public Library.”
He pulled that out and began to read. He felt it necessary to get familiar with operations as quickly as possible. When his phone rang, he just looked at it for a moment. Who would even know that I’m here? he wondered.
“This is Clayton.”
“Clayton, Miss Clark. Can you come see me, please?”
“Of course, Miss Clark, I’m on my way,” he said as he stood up from his desk. There was a small mirror on the back of his door, and he checked his face and hair and the tightness of the knot on his tie before leaving.
Calming the butterflies in his stomach, he went up the stairs and entered the head librarian’s office after knocking. Miss Clark was a woman of about forty-five, who wore her hair in a tight bun at the back of her head. She wore flower print dresses and black shoes, and she looked like she might be just ten pounds overweight for her height. Clayton snapped himself out of this appraisal of his boss and greeted her.
“Good morning, Miss Clark,” he said with a smile.
“Good morning, Clayton, please sit,” she said, indicating the chair in front of her desk with a wave of her hand.
“First of all, welcome to the library officially, now that you’ve started your first day. We touched briefly on your duties during the interview, but now I’d like to give you the broad picture. I expect you to learn everything there is to know about this library. How it’s run, as far as personnel goes, how we order and receive new books, and the cataloging process. When I go on vacation, I want to be able to leave this library without worrying the entire time if something has gone wrong. You certainly have the education. Now the practical training begins.
“In your filing cabinet, you’ll find a manual. Consider that your bible. Learn it cover to cover, and ask if you have any questions along the way. One day, you might even take over as the librarian here, and I want you to be ready. Now today, we have a shipment of various books coming in, and I’d like you to spend your time with Cindy and watch how and what she does with the books. Remember, every book that comes into this library that is ours gets stamped as our property.
“We have a theft problem, although it’s small. I hate spending our limited resources on books that we’ve previously paid for only to have them stolen again, and I think I’ll turn that problem over to you. See if you can come up with a way to cut down on our theft problem. Do you have any initial questions?”
“Not at the moment, but I’m sure I will once I get into the practices of the library,” he replied.
“Excellent. Well, just ask Cindy to call you in your office when the shipment of books arrive and get started learning that process. That’s all I have, unless you have anything more?”
“No, I’m looking forward to learning this place inside out, and the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.”
The meeting ended, and Clay headed back to his office, stopping off at the front desk to tell Cindy to make sure to call him when the books arrived. Once seated in his office again, he resumed reading where he had left off.
Just before lunch, Cindy called Clayton.
“Mr. Anderson, the book shipment just arrived, but I’m getting ready for lunch and Carol is out sick today, so there’s no one to relieve me,” she said.
“Oh, I see. Well then, I’ll be down to let you go to lunch.”
Clay wasn’t really all that hungry, so he could wait for lunch. When he got to the front desk, Cindy smiled and said, “There’s really nothing much to do. If someone checks out a book, they have to have their membership card, and you write the number on the card in the back of the book and keep the card and drop it into this slot. Make sure you get the number right because it’s the only way for us to know who has the book.”
“Okay, that’s easy enough,” he said with a smile. “How long do you get for lunch?”
“I’ll be back in one hour,” she said as she grabbed her purse from under the counter and went out the door.
There were only about a dozen people in the library at the moment, so Clay really wasn’t that concerned about getting too busy. He was looking around under the counter when Miss Clark walked up to the desk and smiled.
“I forgot that we have one employee out sick today. Sorry, the assistant fills in for lunch and other breaks when that happens. I’ll be back in an hour also,” she said and left.
Now I guess for the next hour, this is my library, Clayton thought with a smile.
Clayton did fine the rest of the day and for the rest of his time at the Merrimack Public Library. He got a chance to put his education into practice and quickly learned how to manage a library. He received top performance reviews, and when Miss Clark was transferred ten years later to another library within the system, Clayton Anderson was appointed head librarian. He had reached his first career goal, and he had never been more satisfied in his life.
His work life was happy, but now in his thirties, Clay still hadn’t dealt with the fact that he was gay. He repressed his sexual feelings for a couple of men that he had met through his job. Though he thought about acting on those feelings, Clay’s religious upbringing and society kept his urges in check. He refused to walk through that door knowing the pain and humiliation that were sure to follow.
His life consisted of working—sometimes ten hours a day—and living at home with his mother. He had a few professional friends but almost no personal friends who really knew Clay inside and out. He had a couple of female acquaintances he could count on to accompany him to weddings and other events where he’d be expected to show up with a date. The women eventually figured out that Clay was gay since he was a perfect gentleman who never made a move to kiss them, much less get them into bed. Finally one night, he was confronted on the issue by one of his “dates.”
“I want to ask you something. It’s personal, and I hope you’ll be honest with me,” Veronica said.
“What? Go ahead,” Clay responded.
“All the times we’ve been out to social events, you’ve never once tried to kiss me, let alone make love to me. You’re a very handsome man, and I don’t understand. What’s wrong with me? Don’t you find me attractive?” she asked.
Clayton was taken aback at being pinned down. He had a hard time getting used to women who spoke frankly about their sexual needs.
“Well, no, I can truly say there’s not one thing wrong with you, Veronica. You’re quite attractive, you’ve had a great upbringing, and you’re classy. I like you very much, as a friend.”
“And? The rest of my question, please, why haven’t you ever tried to even kiss me?”
This was it, there was no way out but to do what he had so often refused to do, admit it.
“It’s not you. It’s me. So stop worrying about it. Don’t we have a good time when we go out?”
“Yes, we do! That’s why I want to know if I’m wasting time with you. Do you like women at all?”
“Of course I like women, Veronica. As long as you’ve known me, surely you know I like your company,” he replied, in a last ditch try at not having to say the words.
“Clayton! That’s not what I mean. Are you gay? That’s what I want to know. Have you not made a move on me because you prefer men to women?” she asked with a look that told Clayton it was time to own up.
“Yes, I’m gay. But I don’t like to talk about it.”
“Finally! I’ve thought so for a couple of years, and I’m not getting any younger, and it’s time for me to find a husband and get married. Why haven’t you told me long before now?”
“Because it’s something that I’m ashamed of, and I’m not comfortable talking about it. I’m sorry if you wasted your time with me,” he said as he looked down at the floor.
“I date other men, but I was hoping that you might be the ‘one’ for me. I’ll always be your friend, and I don’t think you should hide in the closet. Be who you are!”