FINISHED WITH high school. Finally. Thank God.
It was time to get my year of conscription in the military over with, before I could begin my studies to become an electronics engineer and start building my own life—not my parents’ life, not the school’s life, not the military’s life, but my own life.
I had not yet had an affair of the heart.
Affairs of the mind, yes.
Affairs of the body, yes.
But it was not until I met Jens at the garrison and we fell head over heels in love that I had an affair of the heart.
Not until then did I fully admit to myself, and to others, who and what I really am.
WHEN I’M drafted to serve king and country for a year, like every other young and able-bodied male in the country, there’s not a lot of military personnel openly out and gay. If any.
So no gays in the military in the seventies… fat chance.
No women either.
Equality of the sexes in the workplace, not to speak of the home, is on its way up the stairs, but only a trickle has yet arrived. I’m certain it’ll happen, though. When I listen to the girls of my generation, to their plans and aspirations, I cannot see how they can possibly be held back from joining society on more equal terms.
The full consequences of the sixties, of free love, of the sexual revolution, of the young suddenly turning the order of their elders on its head, has in no way been fully comprehended yet. But it’s coming. It’ll be like a flood sweeping away all the petrified norms and values of our parents and grandparents. We’re all certain of that, my friends and I, and the rest of the young people moving in our circles. Most of our generation is certain of that, or hoping for it.
I’m by no means out of the closet myself. I’m in hiding. Fully cloaked and invisible. I have a hard time with my sexual identity, with my identity in general, as a consequence.
By chance, by a lottery draw, I’m sent to the army. I had hoped for the Air Force. I had ticked the box next to Air Force as my preference in the forms I had filled out at the draft session. Nevertheless, the army it is. Oh well.
I really had wanted to get my hands on fighter jets, maybe train as a jet mechanic, since it was frontline top-notch technology that I would love to fiddle with. I wasn’t really interested in the flying itself, to be a pilot. But to tinker with the advanced control systems of a fighter jet… that would really be something.
I have a lucky draw with my assignment, though. I’m sent to the garrison close to my home—a little outside Rønne, the main town on a large island in the Baltic Sea, east of Copenhagen—unlike others not so lucky, who are posted far away from home and friends.
Militarily it’s a period of low tension, at least as far as Denmark is concerned. The Cold War is at a standstill, the US and the USSR in a mutual balance of nuclear deterrent. The possibility of our small nation being involved in war—or being able to do much about it, should war come—is regarded as zero.
Politically, there are even mumblings in the corridors of Parliament about abolishing the military altogether. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though.
So being in the army doesn’t have very patriotic associations, nor is it connected to the possibilities or fears of going to war. Most conscripts therefore regard the year of service as either something to be endured, a career opportunity or a period of camaraderie and being supported by the state.
I consider it an unwelcome interruption of my life, a whole long year in which I could have done so much else, some of the many things I’m passionate about. A year feels like an immense length of precious time to me.
DAILY LIFE in the garrison and on the training fields and tracks is hell on wheels, at least for the first three months: the period of rookie-hood, where my status is nil, a notch below garbage, and my physical shape isn’t so great yet either. Most of these initial months go by in a haze of sore muscles, blistered feet and hands, sleep deprivation, and constant hunger.
And being shouted at.
Endlessly being shouted at and verbally abused in every imaginable way.
And doing pushups.
Pushups in grass. Pushups on gravel. Pushups in mud. Pushups in… yeah, I think you get the drift.
Really nice and gentle officers we have here as well. They have incredibly foul mouths and a great affection for pushups, as long as it’s not them doing the pushing.
All that shouting and verbal abuse brings my blood to the boil, and at times it’s very difficult not to explode in temper, or downright anger. But that’s about the worst thing you can do. We learn that pretty quick, after a few hundred kilometers on the tracks and a few thousand pushups in mud and briar thickets. After that the best solution to temper is: “Yes, sir!” and just clamp down on whatever’s about to erupt out of your mouth. “Yes, sir!” And shut the fuck up. That’s definitely the best way to go about it.
Then, as soon as basic training is over, it gets a little better.
My biceps, lower arms, chest, bum, thighs, and calves are nicely rounded and defined on my lanky body from months of running and pushups and pull-ups and whatever. My abdomen is tight and ribbed as a washboard. Nice. I’m deemed fit for cannon-fodder. So I join the garrison’s daily routine of exercise and soldiering, my status gone up a few notches.
I slowly return to my senses and again begin to notice the larger world around me. I catch up to things.
I share a dorm and all manner of intimacies with a bunch of other boys: some are pretty nice, some are pretty hot, some are pretty obnoxious. That’s the way of life everywhere, in the army as well. Right.
I also notice a cute fellow private in the barrack next to mine. I feel that something is going on with him. He catches my attention, and now that I’ve noticed him, I can’t keep my eyes off him. And his eyes also stray in my direction—I’m nearly 100 percent positive on that. We are not in the same building and don’t really have opportunities to meet and talk casually. I guess I could figure out an excuse to talk to him, in the canteen maybe. But we have never been face to face, and I’m not at all sure of myself. I know that, if I contact him, it would not just be for a casual friendship. I’m well aware that my hopes are for something more.
A lot more.
And will I be able to break my self-imposed and chafing restraints, be able to act on the longing in my heart?
I know it’s high time that if I don’t act on my pent-up emotions and desires, I’ll soon go nuts. But what will I do and say? Will it not just be an embarrassment to both of us? Maybe he doesn’t want to be my friend, my boyfriend? Maybe he just looks at me because I look at him, and he thinks I’m odd. The mere thought makes me shudder and sweat with apprehension.
We eye each other discreetly, hesitantly, for ages. But by now I’m nearly certain the attraction is mutual. It seems to me he’s as shy and insecure about the situation as I am. What to do? And being in the army and all… not easy.
ON LEAVE we meet by chance—if there is such a thing as chance—near the bandstand in Rønne’s small park on a Sunday afternoon in May.
The air is a bit chilly but sweetened by spring and the fragrance of many lilacs in bloom. The trees and shrubs wear their best spring coats of freshly green or budding leaves. On the ground underneath, darker leaves—remnants of the Eranthis, their flowers now gone—spread their dense carpet, competing for space with the grass at the edges of the irregular lawns. Numerous free-form beds, bordered by miniature fences, are brimming with red, yellow, and white tulips.
This is my favorite time of year, definitely my favorite time, spring and early summer. May and June, the whole land awakening and renewing itself. I just love it.
A small string orchestra makes modest but sweet music in the bandstand. The crisp notes of The Blue Danube waft gently past my ears while I watch a young couple—a cute boy and a sweet-looking girl—doing tricks on monocycles, swaying and pedaling to the rhythm of the waltz. The sun warms my back, my neck, and casts the acrobats’ drifting shadows sharply on the gravel.
I look around, the way you do when in a crowd, to see who’s near. And I see him. He’s standing a few steps away to my right, watching the cycle act too.
My heart skips a beat, and I’m gripped by nervous excitement.
My gaze is fixed on him when he turns his head and sees me. I notice the flash of recognition in his eyes and see the expression on his face change to one of pleasant surprise at finding me there. I smile shyly and nod. He does the same. I take a step in his direction, involuntarily, as if pulled by a magnet. I don’t think the step he takes toward me is conscious either. We stand like that for a moment. The moment expands into a small eternity. The tentative smile on his face turns into a sheepish grin. I’m grinning foolishly, full blast, as well. We shake hands, awkwardly, not really knowing what else to do, and I feel a spark jump between us. Electrifying. The sheepish grins fade. Instead I see a blush creep up his neck and spread across his face. I feel my own face growing hot, knowing I’m blushing as well. I blush easily, but in this case I have good reason—blood is rushing to my groin as well as to my face.
“Kris!” I blurt out.
He looks at me quizzically, puzzled.
“It’s what I’m called, Krister—but mostly Kris,” I say, my face growing even hotter, flustered by my clumsiness.
He’s still holding my hand. His hand is warm and feels good in mine. I hope he’ll never let go, hope that the heat and energy streaming between us like a gentle fire will never cease.
Then the blush also fades and his face lights up in a wide smile. “Kris… that’s nice—I’m Jens.”
Jens… I have of course heard the name before, it’s not uncommon. But at that moment I find it the most beautiful name in the living world. And I think it fits him perfectly. It’s the first time I hear his voice too. He speaks quietly, in a light tenor with a faint burr. I, of course, find his voice the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. Had he croaked like a crow… well, that would have been perfect too. I’m smitten. No doubt about it. My heart is struggling to get out of my chest and into Jens’s hands.
His hair is unruly and shinily black as midnight, locks sticking out around the rim of his uniform cap. His eyes are beautifully golden caramel brown. His skin is pale, but I think it tans easily, he’s that type. His mouth is finely shaped, the upper lip a perfect cupid’s bow to die for. I reluctantly withdraw my attention from those perfect lips—that mouth is so beautiful—and look into his eyes. Our gazes lock. We stand like that, holding hands, each looking deep into the other, and an invisible curtain falls around us. All we sense is one another.
His mere presence, and the faint warmth glowing from his face, makes me delightfully dizzy.
We stand, our hands in a sweaty clasp, attraction blazing between us, looking into each other, lost in one another. His mouth is slightly open, and he looks so unbelievably cute that I want to take him in my arms and kiss him, right then and there.
Then everything changes.
I become somebody new. My slate is wiped clean and readied for the imprint of a life with this young soldier, with Jens. I can really feel it… and it’s very strange! I’ve never experienced anything like it before.
An overwhelming desire takes shape between us. I feel it throb in my chest and rush through my entire body, like a song. I see it in his eyes and feel it through the clasp of our hands. It’s the same for him. It’s as important to him as it is to me. In these few moments the direction of my life, my focus, changes completely. And it’s the same for Jens… I know that as clearly as the sun shines.
With a will of their own, our heads drift closer. And closer.
We have to kiss.
We must unite, body and soul, and immerse ourselves in one another. It’s an imperative dictated by what just happened between us, and there’s no way around it. We can only obey the call. That’s all we can do. We sense this as one being… and we’re more than willing to melt into one.
Jens says one word, his voice husky, cracking at the end of it: “Come!”
We walk ’round behind the bandstand, next to the back wall, and hastily check that nobody is close or watching. We embrace and kiss greedily. My heart thumps like a freight train, kachunk kachunk, and blood roars in my ears and rushes to my groin. We breathe fast and noisily through flared nostrils as the kiss deepens, as we share the heat of our entwined bodies, radiating through the cloth of our uniforms. Jens leans his back against the wall, puts his arms around my neck, and pulls me into an even tighter embrace. I feel his mounting excitement in the way his tongue parts my teeth and seeks my tongue, in the way his hand cups my ear and slides down my neck, in the way his groin and hardness press and grind against mine.
Eventually, and with difficulty, we break off the kiss. Kissing is no longer enough. The fires of our life forces flare into bright incandescence. The demand that we unite is now overwhelming. We must merge and be one, or as close to one as humanly possible.
I take Jens’s hand, and we hurry from the bandstand to an opening in the shrubs, green with freshly budded leaves. Holding hands we scuttle in and, once hidden from the outside, we go at each other like starved animals—which in fact we are.
We cling to one another, kissing desperately, hands groping and exploring, unbuttoning uniform jackets and trousers, lifting up shirts and moving inside underwear, roaming over naked and warm aroused bodies, over silky skin, over velvety skin, reveling in each other for yet another a small eternity.
Then we crawl farther into the bushes—no regard for the uniforms, everything mundane forgotten—until we are sure nobody can see us. There we make love for ages, on a patch of bare soil under a flowering jasmine, dripping white petals on our bodies, its fragrance weaving around our lovemaking like a blessing.
Jens and Kris. Two boys who have dreamt about a moment like this for the longest time.
We go on and on, like each of us can never let the other go. We lose all sense of time and place. Wild horses cannot tear us apart.
LATER, WHEN we slowly return to the world again, it’s evening.
We are half-naked, our walking out uniforms rumpled and soiled. We lay on a bed of crushed petals, twigs, and damp cold earth. Our bodies are scratched and muddy, smeared with dirt and sweat and semen from repeated orgasms.
We get off the ground, wipe down our bodies as well as we can with our undershirts, and straighten out our clothes in the deepening dusk. We brush at the muddy dirt and leaf mold on our jackets and trousers, getting some off, spreading and smudging the rest further over our uniforms. We kiss and embrace once more, rocking back and forth, tightly clasped together, sighing and moaning, each still not wanting this to end, to let the other go.
Finally we begin to make our way out of the shrubs and bushes, hand in hand, but we have to let go to ward off whipping twigs and clear a path.
Back on the lawn, behind the bandstand, we look around, look at each other and kiss again, lingering.
We are the last in the park; everybody else has left. The only signs of life are a stray cat and three gulls fighting over picnic leftovers in the worn and patchy grass on the other side of the gravel path running past the bandstand.
We haven’t talked at all during these intense hours, not a single word. Only the other’s name, moaned or yelped incoherently in passion—everything else has been said by our hearts and actions.
I grab hold of Jens’s hand, and we head for the street. I let out a loud whoop and Jens follows with a yippee of his own. Running hand in hand, arms swinging high, shouting and laughing like crazy, we set off along the road, hoping we’re not too late for an evening meal in the canteen. We’re incredibly hungry, our entire beings having burned at peak intensity for hours.
We don’t talk all the way back to the garrison either. We are too sated and overwhelmed and filled with joy. We just hold hands. We let go if somebody approaches, then continue once they’ve passed. Anyways, darkness is falling, so I doubt anybody would have noticed.
We get back about ten minutes before the bell. It’s now completely dark and quite nippy, a light drizzle falling. We stand outside for a few moments, a short distance from the imposing stone arch of the gate, topped by its clock and belfry. All is quiet. No traffic.
“Good night”—low voice, a squeeze of his hand in mine—“next Sunday?”
“Good night—yes, next Sunday.” A squeeze back.
“You go first.”
“Night… see you.” A discreet wave of the hand and Jens is swallowed by the dark tunnel-mouth of the arch. My lover! Gods… my lover my lover my lover, my boy lover. And we’ll meet again, we’ll meet again. Next Sunday.
We get inside, a few minutes apart, without the sorry condition of our uniforms being noticed. I guess the pitch darkness in the short curved tunnel—leading from the outer gate to the inner—and the poor lighting over the check-in help. Perhaps the duty officer is mollified by our radiant faces or perhaps fate protects the vessels of so profound a passion.
BACK IN the barracks, I’m already in torment after a few minutes of separation from Jens.
The next hours, then the next days, go by in a haze of abject longing. In a haze of memories of sights and touches. Golden-caramel eyes, the curve of his lips. The feel of his muscled body against mine, his slim naked waist between my hands, his perfectly curved silky cock, and the sensitive balls in their downy pouch.
My heart and my mind are filled with Jens, and I realize that I desire him with a force and a passion I had never thought possible. Sensations, visions, and remembered smells overwhelm me. I’m transported and beside myself with longing for this new marvel and mystery, a boy, a lover. My first boy lover.
I feel incomplete without him. I feel as if I’m a magnet held apart from another nearby—that’s not an easy thing to do for any length of time.
I want to shout his name to the heavens and sing his praise to the stars. I’m such a sap. I’m such a sucker for romance, an incurable romantic… oh, well.
The things I have heard of and read about are happening to me at last. I can barely believe it. Love has finally come to my door, and my heart is now swollen with it.
All that I have suppressed and turned my back on over the previous years—all the emotions, yearnings and desires—rupture their shell and rise above me like a sapling unfolding its leaves in spring.
HOW I get through the following week I don’t know.
I guess the rock-solid habits and routines of army life propel me through. If somebody notices that I’m not really there, maybe they reason the boy is in love. Only too true.
Sunday finally arrives and with it the next leave.
I’m in a fever.
I half walk, half run to the park early in the morning and to the bandstand. I’m impatient and just have to be there. I know I’m too early, but it’s better to be waiting in the park than trying to kill time at the garrison.
I didn’t have much of a breakfast, didn’t really feel like eating, too excited.
The park is even greener and lusher than last Sunday. The fragrance of lilacs is overpowering in the dewy morning air. There are loads of lilacs, both inside the park and along its borders: purple, pale blue, dark red, and white. Normally you don’t notice them, they are just greenery, but now, when in bloom, you see that lilacs are everywhere. They smell absolutely wonderful, intoxicating.
Jens is not there, at least not yet. I have no doubt he’ll come if he can. There is a bond between us stretching through time and space, a magic cord connecting us. I have no doubt he’ll come to me, or that I’ll find him.
I pace around in the park, impatiently, back and forth, looking at the flowerbeds with their riot of tulips. They are planted in unusual ways: reds, whites and yellows in stripes, zigzags, bull’s-eyes, and other fancy patterns. I circle the bandstand, repeatedly, nervous he might have arrived and that he’s waiting for me at the other side. But no, no Jens.
I’m way too early.
I walk to the café on East Street. Down the cobbled narrow road with its old townhouses. One-, two-, or three-story houses, haphazardly slotted in alongside one another, all in different pastel colors. The front doors are painted brightly in reds, blues, or greens. All the houses are topped with red-tile roofs. The windows each have six or eight panes and several are equipped with gossip mirrors—to make it possible for people inside to see what’s going on in the street—and I must be careful not to bang my head on the lower hanging ones—it’s not always an advantage to be tall. Sometimes I’ll see the face of a woman, or an old man, reflected in a mirror, watching me as I pass. There are stone steps up to the front doors, solid slabs of granite. Most houses have one step, but a number—the more opulent ones—have two, even three steps and handsome wrought-iron handrails as well.
I like walking down East Street. It’s the oldest part of town, and it was once the main road, but that’s a long time ago.
The café is on the ground floor of a fine two-story house. The front door has a beveled pane with the word Café etched into it in an old-fashioned script surrounded by curlicues.
I see through the windows that an old woman is moving about inside, limping slightly, setting up and getting ready to open.
It’s still early.
I wait patiently outside until she walks over and unlocks the door. She smiles and nods, her face wrinkled and friendly. “Welcome. How may I help you?”
“Hello.” I smile back.
She’s very old and small and sweet-looking. I think she must be at least two hundred years old. Well, probably not, but she looks it. I go inside, into a cozy room with five small tables and a glass-fronted display counter with a modest selection of bread and pastry—and a layer cake… with whipped-cream piping around the edge. It’s freshly baked, judging from the still wet and shiny chocolate topping.
“How much is it?” I point to the cake.
“One krone a slice.”
“I’ll have a slice, then, and a cup of coffee.”
“Good choice!” Her face lights up with enthusiasm. “It’s good, I promise, and I just made it.” She cuts a generous slice and lifts it onto a plate. “Baked the layers myself too.”
“Yummy!” I rotate a hand over my belly and grin.
She nods and grins back, nearly splitting her tiny face.
I take out my wallet and pay her. It’s not very expensive, which is good. The allowance I get from the army doesn’t go far.
I’m a sucker for layer cake. Yum.
I want a beer very much, to help calm my nerves, but I don’t want beer on my breath when I meet Jens, so I just get the coffee and cake. Anyway, beer and cake don’t go well together. I watch while she grinds the beans and pours water in the percolator on the counter. It gurgles and splutters merrily as the wonderful smell of good coffee spreads in the room and tickles my nose.
She brings over the coffee and cake on a small oval tray and places it in front of me. “There you are. Enjoy.”
“Thank you. It looks and smells really great.”
She smiles hugely with her winter-apple face and nods.
The coffee is very good and the cake heavenly. Money well spent.
I finish in a hurry. I’m too impatient and nervous that I’ll miss Jens to take my time.
I get up from the table and turn to the old lady. “Good-bye.”
“Good-bye, and you are welcome to call in again whenever you like, young man.”
I hurry back to the park. To the spot where Jens and I met last week, anxious that I might have missed him. And… there he is! Striding toward the bandstand, toward me, cheeks flushed, haste and impatience in every move.
Gods, he’s a sight for sore eyes. I swear he’s the most beautiful creature I have so far seen in my entire life.
There are some men who are so well put together that no matter what clothes they wear, even if they are rolled in a rug, you can still tell they are perfection. In my eyes this young soldier, my lover, walking toward me, is one of those men. It is registered on some deep level in my being, and my body pays homage with a gallop of the heart and a rush of blood, by a ringing in my ears and a swelling in my trousers.
I should have liked nothing better than to embrace him and make love, right there on the spot. To sink to the turf with him in a tight embrace, isolated from the rest of the world in a bubble of our own making. But we are, of course, too bashful to do any such wild thing, there in the park with respectable housewives and children playing all around us.
Instead we just stand and stare at one another, a little apart, grinning like idiots, each basking in the presence of the other.
For long, long moments there is only us, looking, reconnecting, reestablishing the bond. And it’s still there… all still there. It really happened. It’s true. Our hearts sing and unite in harmony, our gazes lock.
The chill morning wind, the voices, the yelling and babbling of children, a dog barking nearby, eventually bring us back to the now and our presence on a lawn in the park.
I want to hug and kiss him in welcome. I’m sure he wants to do the same to me, but we are too timid and instead we shake hands, smiling, now shyly, looking at each other.
“Do you want to?”
We laugh, relieved. Our laughter breaks the tension that often follows such intense moments back into reality.
“What were you saying?” Jens asks.
“Should we go to the hotdog stand and see what they got?”
“Good idea. There’s an ice-cream kiosk too.”
“Great! Let’s go, then.”
We set out for the far side of the park.
“How old are you?” Jens asks.
“I’m twenty… just had my birthday—you?”
“I’m nineteen, twenty in the autumn, in October,” he says. “Where do you live?”
As we talk we’re slowly moving toward the hotdog stand and the ice-cream kiosk.
“I live here, in Rønne, a little outside town not far from the garrison.”
“Wowow, lucky you! I live all the way over in Jutland, in Thisted.”
“Wow… that’s nearly as far away as you can get,” I say while looking at him, drinking him in. He’s not as tall as me. About four inches shorter, at a guess. Maybe a little less.
“Have you seen The Camel Heads?” asks Jens.
“You mean the rock formations in the sea by The Hammer?”
“Yes those! Have you seen them?” he asks eagerly, his beautiful brown eyes searching mine.
“No I haven’t. I’ve heard about them and seen pictures, why?”
“I want to see them now that I’m on the island.”
“Oh right! We could go sometime.”
“Yes let’s!” He smiles widely and briefly takes my hand and squeezes.
We continue talking as we walk. Jens asks more questions about the Camel Heads and the Hammer Castle ruins and other places on the island that he’s heard about. Then we talk about ourselves, asking questions, answering, telling. We have all the times of our lives to tell about, and it’s all very important to us. Important to tell, important to listen. Important to share our lives: opinions, music, books, interests, school days, what we think of the army and our officers, what our futures will be like.
Ceaselessly talking, we reach the hotdog stand. Soldiers are always hungry. I’ve heard that’s a universal truth.
In between words we stuff our faces with bread rolls and red sausages with mustard, ketchup, fried onions, and cucumber salad. And we touch. Seemingly at random we touch. Discretely and lingering, yet each touch conscious and calculated, choreographed like a dance. Having had two hotdogs each, the big ones with everything on them, we drink Choco Milks and continue talking, each watching the other, absorbed in his presence. I watch Jens’s face, his eyes, his mouth, ears, neck, hair—everything. I watch expressions flit across his handsome face as he tells me things, or reflects on what I just told him. Our hands, the ones not occupied holding Choco Milks, move like birds: to rest for a moment on the other’s arm, on his shoulder, on the back of his hand.
Eventually we’re all talked out.
The gushing turns into a trickle, then dries up. The essentials are shared. We know each other a good deal better, and the attraction has just kept mounting and mounting as we talked and grew closer. Now we need a good deal more than the fleeting touches of hands, all we have so far allowed ourselves, since we are in public.
We are desperate for somewhere to go. Desperate to be private. Desperate to have some place where we can hold one another and make love, and it is not going to be the bare patch of soil in the shrubs behind the bandstand, not again. Not ever again, hopefully. Only as a last resort and in desperate need.
I know of a place just outside town, a few kilometers from the garrison. An old, abandoned smokehouse near my home.
As we have nowhere else to go—I can’t very well take Jens to my parents’ house for what we have in mind—we agree to check out the old smokehouse.
On that chilly Sunday afternoon in spring, we walk there, the walking and our passion keeping us warm. We walk fast, eager to get to our destination, close to each other and not talking, a wordless language passin