IN HIGH school I was such a geek. I was the egghead type, always reading or studying, and I maintained a perfect GPA. It really wasn’t so much that I was nerdy, per se, but I had a reputation for being smart. I honestly don’t think I was (or am) all that much smarter than my peers; I simply applied myself, always doing exactly what I was supposed to do. Perhaps it was simply that my area of success was focused in academia rather than sports, and perhaps that was why I was so attracted to, jealous of, and in total awe of the athletic “jock” types.
One such jock, Brett Willson, was in two of my classes—freshman English and phys ed. Brett was actually a junior, but he hadn’t fared well in English grammar his first two times around, and he was making one more attempt to get a passing grade. If he didn’t at least achieve a D minus, he would be forced to give up his position as quarterback of the varsity football team. We ended up in the same gym class because Brett had chosen to take phys ed as an elective all four years of high school. The football coach, Mr. McDonald, was also the phys ed teacher. Had he had his way, Brett would’ve been automatically granted his passing grade simply to ensure his spot on the team; however, there was a bitter rivalry between the freshman English teacher and the athletic department. The English teacher, Mr. Litzenfowler, had virtually no affinity for sports and no sympathy for the jocks who struggled in his class.
I, on the other hand, was the apple of Litzenfowler’s eye. Not only was I acing his class, but I could have virtually stepped in to take his place teaching it. I wish I’d fared that well in all my classes, being that math, English, and science weren’t the only prerequisites for graduation. I also had to not only pass in phys ed, but maintain an above-average grade in order to keep my perfect GPA. I knew from the buzz around school that McDonald would give any student who showed up and got dressed for class at least a B grade, so that part was no problem (other than the embarrassment of changing in the locker room in front of the buff jocks), but I really, really wanted to achieve a higher grade than just a B.
Even though I considered McDonald to be a big oafish moron, I was still intimidated by him because he was so boisterous and so often said humiliating things to me in front of the entire class. He did nothing to discourage the jocks from ridiculing me. In fact, he almost seemed to enjoy it, so when he called me into his office one day during open gym time, I about crapped myself. We were only into the third week of my freshmen year. For the most part, I felt insignificant in his presence. He acted like I didn’t even exist. The only time he did notice me was when I did some stupid maneuver during an activity in his class, like, say, try to throw a ball or something.
When I walked into his office, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I felt my guts getting all tied up and my knees started to feel wobbly. He just stared at me and motioned toward a chair. I gratefully accepted his offer of a seat because I was sure that by this time I was visibly trembling. I just sat there nervously looking down, too intimidated to make eye contact with him.
“You probably are wonderin’ what I called you in here for,” he said.
All I could think was that you should never end a sentence with a preposition, but I simply answered, “Yes, sir.”
“Well, I want to talk to you about Brett Willson.”
I gulped and finally looked up at him. Brett must have accused me of something. Maybe it was another practical joke he and the other jocks were playing on me. Sometimes they would steal my book bag and it would end up on the roof, or they would put signs on my back, but now I suspected a more elaborate scheme. I was probably going to be blamed for something I didn’t even do.
I just stared at the coach, and he continued. “Brett is my star quarterback, you know…. Well, actually you probably don’t know. Do you even know what a quarterback is, son?”
I laughed nervously. “Yes, sir. He’s the one who calls the shots during the games and decides which plays to run.”
“Well, actually, I’m the one who calls the shots, but you’ve got the basics. Anyways, he’s very good in his position. Actually, he’s the best quarterback this school has seen in the past fifteen years, and we have a damned good shot at taking the regional championship this year… if we have Brett, that is.”
I grinned at him. I was starting to understand my fears of being in trouble were probably baseless, and I said to him, “Well, sir, then I’m very glad that you do have Brett on the team. I really hope you win the championship.”
He stared blankly at me, seeming annoyed that I had interrupted him, and then continued as if I’d said nothing. “Well, Brett is gonna be the one to take us to victory this year… finally, but if he loses his position on the team, that won’t be possible. Then we’ll be left with only Franklin and Williams, who are good… but not good enough.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but if he’s so valuable to you, why would you even consider removing him from his position as quarterback?”
“It’s not me that would cut Brett from the team, kid. It’s Mr. Litzenfowler in the English department! Brett has crashed and burned in that class twice already. If he doesn’t get a passing grade this time, Brett will be removed from athletics altogether.”
“Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry to hear that, sir, but maybe you could persuade Mr. Litzenfowler to cut him some slack and at least give him a passing grade this time around. He’s a reasonable man. I’m sure he’d understand.”
“Pfft! Reasonable, my ass! I tried that route already. Got me nowhere. Litzenfowler has always hated me and doesn’t give two shits about the athletic department. He’d fail Brett out of pure spite. Brett and I had a heart to heart the other day, and he’s ready to deck that faggot. As much as I’d like to see Litzenflower laid flat, I can’t afford to have Brett do that and throw away his chance at a full athletic scholarship, not to mention our championship!”
“Oh geez,” I said, again looking down at the ground. “Well, I can see that’s quite a predicament, sir, but what do I have to do with it? I mean, I get along with Mr. Litzenfowler all right, but I doubt I could persuade him to adjust Brett’s grade. I don’t have that much influence.”
“Nah, boy, I know you don’t have any influence.” The coach laughed. “But you’re gonna help me with this, and I’m gonna tell you how. Then, when it’s all said and done and Brett has passed his English class and we’ve won the championship, you’ll get your reward: I’ll give you an A for your semester in my freshman gym class—which, by the way, you will definitely not deserve. All you gotta do is get my boy to pass that English class.”
My eyes got real wide as I started to catch the drift of what he was saying. He somehow wanted me to get Brett Willson, star quarterback yet completely brain-dead jock, a passing grade in his English class, and in exchange, the coach would ace me in my phys ed class. But this would be a nearly impossible endeavor. I had seen Brett in class. He didn’t know the difference between a conjunction and a verb. How the hell was I going to be able to get him a passing grade?
“I want to help you, sir. God, I want that A real bad, but I’m not sure what you want me to do. You want me to try to tutor Brett?”
“I don’t care what you do, kid, so long as my boy stays on the team. Tutor him, do his homework for him, talk to Litzenfucker… whatever… just so Brett passes the class. And if you don’t come through for me, I can guarantee that you will regret it, boy. ’Cause I’m in a position to mess up your life just as bad as Litzenfucker is doin’ to my boy. You understand?!”
My mouth dropped open. “You mean you’d fail me if I can’t help Brett, sir?”
He laughed. “Not only do I have the power to fail you, but I could also make sure that the other guys in the class knew it was open season for whatever they wanted to dish out to you. And believe me, they would have a field day. You understand what I’m sayin’, boy?”
I looked down at my sneakers, gulped, and then I squeaked out a terrified, “Yes, sir.”
He laughed again. “So here’s the deal. I’m gonna tell Willson to meet you here in my office after school tomorrow, and you two are gonna work out a schedule for his tutoring. You’re gonna do it at times that are convenient for my boy where it doesn’t interfere with his practices, and you’re gonna talk to your ‘reasonable’ English teacher and try to get him to cut Willson some slack. When you get here tomorrow, bring homework for Brett for his first two weeks’ assignments. He has until the end of the week to get caught up, and there’s no way he’s gonna be able to get them done on his own. But you better make it look believable, so that Litzenfowler doesn’t catch on to the plan, so make sure you don’t give all the right answers. Got it?”
“Now get back to gym class, and be here tomorrow at three thirty sharp.”
“Yes, sir,” I said as I headed for the door. My heart was pounding in my chest. I didn’t know what to do. How could I possibly come up with homework for all of the past two weeks’ assignments and make it appear that Brett had completed it himself? And how was I going to be able to tutor that dumb jock? Oh God, what a nightmare!
I USED to get out of the shower in the morning and just stare at myself in the mirror. I was amazed, actually, by what I saw. It seemed impossible that the geeky four-eyed nerd staring back at me was actually me. I would look at myself and say, “You are Jeff Irwin,” and I’d truly be amazed by it. It didn’t seem possible that was me! I wondered what it was like for Brett Willson when he looked in the mirror. I’m sure he felt amazement as well, but in a much different sense—the total opposite of how I felt. I’m sure he said to himself, “I am the shit!” What was it like for him to see that reflection when he stared himself down in the mirror? His perfect face, chiseled chin, broad shoulders, dark wavy hair, tight abdomen, lean waist… knowing he was idolized by so many. He was the star quarterback, had a beautiful girlfriend, drove a nice sports car, and always knew just exactly the right thing to say.
In my pathetic little circle of friends, we would call him a “dumb jock.” I might label him stupid because he couldn’t figure out how to diagram a frickin’ sentence or solve an algebraic equation, yet I would have traded places with him in a millisecond.
Honestly, though, he wasn’t that dumb. I mean, he carried on very intelligent conversation, just not with me. I obviously wasn’t worth his time. Really, I doubt he would ever give me a second thought. When we passed in the hallway, it was I who was totally aware of his presence, not vice versa. It was I who would go home at night and think about him. I was the one who would look up quickly in the locker room from my secluded place in the corner and try to catch a glimpse of him with his shirt off. I’d think about him when I lay in bed at night—think about him prancing around the locker room wearing only his jock strap. He was so cocky and confident.
In contrast, I was always the last one in the shower, keeping my thin, puny body covered by a towel until the very last second. To think that the breadth of my shoulders was half the span of Brett’s massive build, his deltoids and biceps constantly flexing, even without trying… it made me feel so small. I felt like a very miniscule person when I saw him. I felt like I was merely a boy and he was a man, yet he was less than two years older than me.
The notion of tutoring him wasn’t as harrowing, in some ways, as I had first thought. The scariest part of it for me was going to be figuring out how to talk to him without tripping over my own tongue. Would I be able to be in a room alone with him and look him in the eye? What would it be like to sit across a table from him and finally have his full attention? How would I react when he actually came to a realization that I did exist?
That night I lay there in bed thinking of all of these things, and I started to feel so strange. I began to become aroused as I thought about the intimacy of our future meetings. He would be alone with me, and we would be eye to eye. I thought about what it would be like to lean over his shoulder as I helped him with a particular sentence, showing him how to diagram it, taking in his scent, feeling the heat from his body. I thought about him sitting there in his letter jacket. He would start to get warm and take off the jacket. He would lean back, stretching. I could see the muscles in his abdomen tighten as he reclined in the chair. He’d spread his legs apart, making himself more comfortable.
I wondered if I would become as aroused when I was with him as I was right then lying in that bed. I reached down under the covers and squeezed myself. Closing my eyes I continued to think of him, of his shoulders, his pectoral muscles on that smooth chest, his six-pack abs, his V-shaped torso. I followed the mental image down further and thought about that bulge, wanting to look inside. I wanted to unwrap that package and just feel it. Touch it…. Taste it?
Oh my God!
I was stroking myself now, as images of Brett replayed in my mind. I went from fantasizing about being with him to fantasizing about being him. The fantasies conjoined; I couldn’t separate them. I was worshipping this godlike jock, knowing I could never be the man he already was, and I was also dreaming of becoming like him. I was pretending I was him, yet I knew that I could never be even close.
As I envisioned him in my mind’s eye, I stroked myself faster and harder, not even thinking of the potential mess I might make for myself. As I edged toward climax, I clearly saw his face. He was standing over me, looking down. And right as I reached that incomparable point of no return, he hissed at me, “Faggot,” and I shot all over myself, soaking my bedsheets with my sticky semen.
I was also soaking with sweat, so I threw back the covers, sopped up the icky mess on my belly and chest using one of my own socks, then got out of bed. I put on some clean underwear and went to the linen closet for new sheets, making sure I was quiet enough not to disturb my parents. I went back to the bedroom to change the sheets, muttering to myself, “Fuckin’ dumb jock, anyways!”
IN THE infantile world of grammar school, we heard a constant barrage of name-calling and petty, meaningless epithets on a daily basis: “Fag,” “Geek,” “Hoser,” “Nerd,” “Butthead.” They really all meant the same thing: “You are an outsider. You don’t fit in.” They were meant to exclude, to denote negativity and disapproval. Yet these kids didn’t really understand the words they were using. A fourth grader didn’t know the difference between a queer and a loser.
High school, however, was another story entirely. In high school, certain words that were formerly used as generic insults took on specific meanings. When a high schooler was labeled a “fag,” it no longer merely meant he was weird or annoying. It means he was a little light in his loafers, a little bit less of a man than he should be, a little more effeminate than was acceptable… a cocksucker! Being labeled a faggot was the death knell for a high school student. It was the ultimate put-down, a form of ostracization that compared to no other.
I was terrified of that label. I didn’t want to grow up to be like Mr. Litzenfowler, ridiculed by his colleagues, always put upon by the more masculine men in the world. Mr. McDonald actually called him a fag to my face without even cringing. He stated it as if it were a matter of fact. I wondered if Mr. Litzenfowler knew he was referred to in this manner. I wondered if he was aware other teachers talked about him that way to his students.
I thought it was pathetic that Mr. Litzenfowler was so weak and spineless compared to Mr. McDonald. Even though McDonald was a blithering idiot most of the time, at least nobody doubted his masculinity. Even the other students mimicked and ridiculed Litzenfowler. They didn’t call him “Litzenfucker” the way McDonald had; instead they called him “Litzenblower.”
And the scary thing was that I was his pathetic little clone. I was his carbon copy, fifteen years his junior. I wondered if one day I would be the brunt of the jokes for a staff of coworkers or faculty the way Mr. Litzenfowler was now. I wondered if he felt as ostracized by his peers as I did, and I wondered if he’d worshipped a big dumb jock when he was in high school.
But this was the cross I bore. I didn’t know how to escape the ridicule and bullying I so frequently endured. Usually I tried to brush it off. I stayed focused on my studies, and I had a few friends who were cast-offs in their own right. This was the crowd I hung with. I usually ate my lunch with my friend Joey. He was another one of the egghead types. I had to admit he was emotionally immature. He had, like, a 160 IQ and was in all of the advanced classes, doing college-level trigonometry in ninth grade, yet if his mom forgot to put his dessert cup in his lunch bag, he’d be reduced to tears.
I first became friends with Joey by default. I was the outsider in my class, and he was the only other one that was in a similar predicament. This was back in third grade. In some ways it made me feel good about myself to be around him. He was so extremely nerdy I actually felt mainstream when in his presence.
A couple of girls were good friends of mine as well. They weren’t the cheerleader type, by any means, far from ever winning a beauty or popularity contest. Elaine was on the plump side. Who was I kidding? She was downright enormous! Elaine weighed around two hundred pounds and half the time spouted off with a strange pseudo-British accent. Nobody knew where this came from, as she was a born-and-bred full-blooded American. Perhaps it was her alter ego, or, more likely, a psychosis of some sort, but oddly she was the friend I most frequently confided in. She was the very first person I ever told of my “feelings” toward other guys.
Carly was my other close female friend. Carly was by anyone’s definition a rebel. She was antiestablishment to the core. Whether she was in her gothic mood, or punk stage, or simply just a good old-fashioned freak, she made no attempt whatsoever to fit in. Carly was the only person I knew and socialized with who smoked pot on a regular basis. I didn’t think she did it so much to get stoned as she did to say, “Fuck the world.”
It was bizarre that the four of us were friends with each other, all so vastly different, yet we shared one common bond, and that was that we were, in fact, different. There was the nerdy, smart, childish one; the fat, boisterous, psychotic one; the shocking, rebellious, freakish one; and me—the fag. Nobody within our group knew for sure I was a homo, at least not at first. I was just shy and quiet and studious. I was preppy but in a geeky sort of way. I was respectful and focused and unassuming. I didn’t bother anyone or ever speak up. I was just sort of invisible, actually. And so somehow the four of us fit together. These three other outsiders were my only real friends in high school.
I DID the things that Coach McDonald instructed. I completed homework assignments for Brett. I went through the exercises in our workbook and wrote out all of the answers neatly on a plain white sheet of typing paper. I would have to make him copy them over in his own handwriting on our first session because I couldn’t think of any way to accurately forge his handwriting. Maybe down the road, if this continued, I’d be able to pick it up.
And I was at the coach’s office at exactly three thirty that day after school, standing outside the door with my knees trembling, waiting for Brett. At about three forty-five, he finally arrived, not even appearing to be aware of his tardiness. He reached in his pocket without speaking to me and pulled out a key. McDonald had entrusted him with a key to his office. He let us in. Then finally he turned to greet me, and when I saw his smile, I started to melt.
I couldn’t even form words in my mouth to respond to him, and he repeated himself, again saying hello. Then finally he said to me, “Hey, are you all right?” I shook off the feeling and nodded to him, finally saying hi back to him. We sat down.
“I know what you must think of me,” he said. “You think I’m just a dumb jock who wants a free ride.”
I looked at him, wondering how he was able to read my mind, but instead corrected him. “No, not at all. Don’t be silly. Every person is good at different things. Yours doesn’t happen to be English grammar. That’s cool, ’cause I’m not much good at sports.” I laughed nervously.
He smiled, buying what I’d said. And he then said to me, “Hey, I hate to ask this, but did Coach say anything to you about homework assignments? I mean, I don’t really want you to do my work for me, but there’s no way I can get caught up at this point.”
“It’s cool,” I said. “I understand. I have all the assignments completed, but I think you should copy over the answers in your own handwriting so that Litzenfowler buys it. He knows my handwriting very well, and plus, that way we can go over the assignments together when you do it, and I’ll try to help you understand the answers.”
“Dude, that’s cool. Thanks. How come you’re willing to help me like this? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been the nicest to you, you know?”
“Well,” I responded, “just think of this as a mutually beneficial arrangement. Coach McDonald is going to take care of my grade in his class if I can help you with your grade in English.”
“Oh, well, that makes sense. But I don’t see why you should be worried about your grade in gym. Everyone passes gym. All you gotta do is show up.” He laughed.
“Well, not everyone,” I corrected.
“Okay, guy, but I want you to understand this, no matter what Coach says. After this time, I don’t want you cheating for me. I want to learn this stuff. I want you to teach me how to do it myself.”
I was shocked by his statement. Maybe what he said about the “free ride” wasn’t bullshit. Maybe he did want to do things the right way. Perhaps the coach was the sinister one. Regardless, I’d seen Brett in class, and he was nothing but a goof-off. His performance today as a devoted pupil would have to be backed up by more than just flattery.
I pulled out the English grammar workbook from my backpack. “Okay, well, I guess we should just get started, then, Brett.”
He grinned. “Okay, Jeff.”