I rip out a piece of paper and write 'I love you' on it.
I sit nervously for a while, looking around. I notice all the looks in the classroom. They are like telescopes prying into my little world. I crumple it quickly into my pocket and shuffle my books.
The air is thickened by the red smell of sweat and heat. It is after lunch. People run around like crazy sea gulls in the summer. They play touch football on the astro-turf below the grandstand with a tennis ball or an apple and return with lively argument. It makes for a restless couple of periods before the school breaks and spews kids out into swimming pools and cold cordial and ceiling fan comfort.
All the kids in the class aren't paying attention. They hate it. So do I.
I am in year 8. It's first term. That means it is summer time. Valentine's Day. Suffocating love. Lucid and enduring fantasies on long hot Australian nights with someone lying next to you. Dying to get out of school and into the water, and into the passionate arms of that person you love.
I can feel it in the atmosphere, radiating off the stratosphere, punching a fat hole in the ozone layer, and beaming into this classroom. It is the feeling of nervous expectation. It is the feeling of fidgeting and shooting spit balls at the nerd up the front while the teacher writes declensions on the board.
The class ends, and there is a cheer and a race for the door. There is only one more class to go. The whole school is one big parade between classes. Lots of people have their ties loosened and are wiping their foreheads. There were rumors circulating this morning that the headmaster had allowed an unprecedented 'ties-off day' in view of the boiling temperature. Some of the more rebellious seniors took the liberty of setting up a sprinkler down on the oval to wet the heat before being sent to the assistant head master.
We had to wear our ties.
I am one of the last to get out of class. I get out of the door and join the throng going to the other side of the school. I am consumed with thoughts and feelings. There is this feeling of excitement and nervousness that rises from my stomach into my chest and down my arms into the tendons in my wrist. I can't breath, I feel dizzy in the heat.
But I feel alive. I am in love.
I spot the blonde hair in the crowd up ahead.
I surge forward, breathing hard. I don't notice anyone around any more. I just see this image floating over the ground and smiling. I race up to the person and put my arm around them, smiling with our heads together. I say a joke and the person laughs and looks at their feet as we continue to walk. The person looks embarrassed at something, and then looks in my eyes.
'How was Latin?'
I look away for just a moment, seeing for the first time that there is a group of people around us. I take away my arm from the shoulders. 'Boring,' I say, looking back.
There is a smile, 'I can't believe the day is nearly over!' The person sounds excited and amused.
'When does the carnival start tonight?'
'Are you coming?' There is excitement in that voice, but it is quickly muffled.
'Yeah, my brother is swimming in the open relay. I thought I'd go and watch.'
'Cool. You can see me swim the butterfly fifty meters then?'
'Really? I thought you only swam in the backstroke events? Wow, versatile little swimmer you are!' Again the person smiles, and pokes me in the ribs.
The only reason I want to go is to see the butterfly fifty meters. It is one of the only chances I get to perv on that body in those swimmers going through that clear water. And boy could that body swim! It was state rep swimmer and still getting better. I am envious of that.
It is a long walk past the lockers and to the next classroom. I look around at the trees next to the footpath leading into the courtyard. There are still lots of people around. I look back. Our eyes meet, and again there is a fury of emotion inside my head. The feelings ricochet back and forth, and I feel dizzy again. I want to reach out and press my mouth against those lips and hold myself against that body until it envelops me. But I look away and say, 'Did you have training today? We walk up the stairs and into the courtyard.
'Yeah, we got out of first two periods this morning!'' I kick myself mentally for not confronting what I was just feeling.
'Lucky runt! I had to sit through Maths arguing with Mr. Kerigan that quadratic equations really didn't have any relevance to my life.'
We walk past the locker rooms, and we look at each other again and I say, 'You better get your novel. She went psycho last time.'
'Shit! Almost forgot! Thanks.' I watch as the love of my life runs into the locker room.
'I'll save you a seat!' I shout, and walk on to the classroom.
I save that seat next to me in the middle of the room, but I watch the clock on the wall tick half an hour and I realize that it won't be filled. Something must have come up. Another training session? Music lesson? I wonder this and it distracts me. No one is doing what they are supposed to be doing anyway. It is free reading period in English today. But most people are just sleeping up the back in the heat. The ceiling fans are pelting at full speed making a fast whirring sound.
Miss Fletcher doesn't care. She is one of those old and wizened teachers who gives knowing and cynical smiles when you do something wrong. The heat of the day I think has worn her out. So I sit and think about sex and romance and love for the rest of the lesson, listening to the whir of the fans.
It suits me just fine.
It is now after school and I am waiting around the locker rooms. My heart begins to race as I see the blonde hair approaching. I was right. I see a bassoon in one hand and some music manuscript in the other. We look at each other for a moment and then walk to the locker to put the bassoon in.
'Music lesson?' is all I ask, and the person nods. I reach inside my pocket and feel the sweat build up on my hand. My heart is beating faster.
'Well I guess I'll see you tonight,' is all I manage to say. My mouth feels dry, and I feel scared. I bite my lip.
'Yeah, I suppose.'
I smile, pull the piece of paper out of my pocket and put it in the locker face down. I turn and walk away as if I am feeling normal, which I'm not. I go into the bathroom and lock myself in the cubicle and cry for ten minutes.
I think someone hears me, but I don't care.
It is now 5.30 p.m. and we are getting ready to leave home for the carnival. My brother is getting nervous, as he drinks his orange juice. We are in the kitchen. I am only 3 years younger than he is, but we don't get on very well. I get a quick snack before we leave. I decide on a banana.
'C'mon guys, we're going to be late!' my brother says to the air around him. He is getting angry, I can tell. Mum and Dad emerge from the hall with the picnic basket and the esky. Dad has the rug underneath his arm.
'Well I'm ready!' Dad says this joking, and looks to Mum as if she is going to laugh. She rolls her eyes, and says to my brother,
'OK, let's go. Are you feeling good?' She smiles.
'Of course he is, aren't you mate? Now are my two sons ready to go out and stun the world?' Dad again, slapping my brother on the back and laughing. I am angry at this comment. Dad knows that I am not a swimmer. Why does he always go out to prove something?
Mum rolls her eyes again trying to lighten the air. She senses that my brother is getting angry. This kind of interplay in my family really annoys me. I feel like a mess in my mind, but I am fitting into my little place in the family quite well this afternoon.
All afternoon I had listened to music, trying to drift my mind somewhere else. But the words of the songs just reminded me of my vulnerability. What if the person didn't feel the same way? And if they did, would they be able to show it? I tried to write poetry, and then in my journal, but I couldn't. Nothing would come out of my pen as I sat at my desk. So I had locked my door and slumped on my bed, and looked at the ceiling all afternoon, thinking. I remembered the words of a Beatles song: 'All you need is love'. At that point I had hoped that it were true. Now, as we lock up the house and leave for the carnival, I know that it is not. I feel lonely again, like I am waiting for the reaction to my note to fill me. I feel as if I have been distanced, excommunicated, until I can be summoned back. The power is not in my hands any more. It isn't my choice. I feel powerless.
We are driving through the main gates of the recreation park. For most of the trip I had been staring out the window not seeing my surroundings. Everything had been a void outside my own mind, but inside it was turmoil. A mixture of nervousness, regret, love and fear had boiled into an unfriendly concoction that filled my mind. Now I am shocked into reality by the closeness of my destiny. I want to jump out of the car and run home and lock my room and not come out until my note has been forgotten about. I don't want to confront it any more.
But somehow I manage to smile at Dad's jokes and tell my brother he'll do just fine and help Mum with the basket as we park and get out into the parking area. I am a fantastic actor when I need to be. It's a defense mechanism.
Inside I am freaking out. It is completely irrational I know. I try to force my mind to weigh up the circumstances objectively. But these stupid things called feelings keep on blowing a gale in my sails and battering around the boat.
We walk through the gate, and buy our tickets. My brother races off as soon as he's through. My Mum calls out, 'Good luck, sweetie!' but he doesn't look around and she sighs.
The person selling the tickets is really cute. Must be a swimmer from another school about my age. I smile extra hard as I get my ticket, but the person doesn't smile back. I can't help but feel that it is symbolic in some way. It makes me more depressed and I go off to buy a coke from the stand to the left of the pool. I sit down on a wooden bench near the canteen and look across at the pool. The crowd is setting up their rugs and blankets and picnics on the slope opposite me. Sometimes I wonder just how much of this is a swimming event and how much of it is a social event. Mothers are pulling out the champagne and crackers and fathers are leaning against trees or standing with their hands on their hips talking business. It seems so trivial. It is so trivial. I just want to get out of here.
To my right is where the swimmers are. They are all bare legged with thick parachute material tracksuit tops on and bathing caps. They are walking around swinging their arms and being nervous with their feet. There are five schools competing here today. Most of them are selective private schools.
Suddenly I feel a hand on my shoulder from the back and a fringe that sweeps across my neck as the person climbs over the bench and sits next to me. I can feel the proximity.
'Hey Taylor, I didn't think you'd come!' I shuffle around to look in those eyes, but then look away across the pool. My heart is pounding in its cage.
'Steve told me that he thought he heard you crying in the dunnies after school. You OK?'
'Yes. Just my family is getting to me,' I lied.
'Hey, don't worry about it.' There is a hand on my shoulder that moves to my cheek and stays there a while as our eyes meet. Our heads are very close and I feel the heat. We smile, and then there are words: 'Gotta go warm up. See ya!'
And then it is over, just like that, and I feel annoyed that I hadn't said anything. Why wasn't something said? Why? Was I supposed to notice something in those eyes that told me? There was a knowing look when our eyes did meet. I could feel that unmistakable heat and passion. Was I supposed to take that in some way? I feel warm but confused and aggravated. I get up and throw my empty coke can in the bin, and frown as I buy another one.
'Like your coke, do you son?' The guy at the stall grins, but I ignore it and walk over to get something to eat from our picnic.
I sit here gnawing at my chicken leg looking over at my school team warming up. They look like a farm of windmills, and then grasshoppers, and then amputee victims as they do their various exercises. Then they split and break up, and suddenly I find myself walking over there, hands in my pockets, looking nonchalant. I feel unsettled and nervous. The first race is starting, but I don't see them get on the blocks, and I don't even hear the starting gun. The person is filling my mind.
As I approach, I can see Adam sitting down on another row of benches next to the pool amongst the other competitors. That blonde hair. I feel warm and alive. The fact that he is a guy doesn't enter my mind. Love conquers all, they say.
He takes off his shirt; he is only in his swimmers now. I can see his great chest and I stare at his groin, and then his legs. I feel dizzy. But I keep on walking. He hasn't noticed me yet. Then he looks up, and I say, 'Good luck!' But he doesn't respond. I now reach him, and he stands up. There are people around. He hesitates then smirks, and grins and looks around, as if summoning attention. He starts rubbing his chest and groin with his hands leeringly. He is smirking and mocking as he comes closer and dances right next to me, putting his hands around my neck. Then out loud he says, 'I got your note, faggot! Do you like this, huh?' And the people who hear him jeer and laugh. He turns around and rips down his swimmers at the back and pulls his cheeks apart, bearing his arse. 'Or what about this?' And then he turns back and does the same with the front of his swimmers so he is standing there with his swimmers around his thighs, naked and laughing. I feel cross-eyed and faint. More people are laughing. Then some guys come around and start feeling my bum, groaning in my ear, and laughing. They are mocking and leering and scorning and heckling. They are saying 'Poofter!' and 'Faggot!' and pushing me back and forth. Everything is swirling around me. I want to throw up. For a moment, I can't breath, and my eyes meet up with his, and for I split second I know the truth. Then he comes up to me and whispers in my ear, 'Faggot!'
I break away, and run. I cannot believe that nobody had seen the incident on the other side of the pool. There is a big tree just in front of where it happened. I reach Mum and Dad with their champagne and crackers. I don't look back. I keep going, past my parents and through the gate. I can't walk, I can't breath. I start choking as I run, I am sure of it. I feel dizzy and betrayed. I feel volatile and angry. So angry that when I reach the car I beat the windows and hit the door. I slide down the car and feel the ground. I hate life. I hate Adam. I hate myself.
I sit on the gravel in the car park unable to cry, and unable to see. I look back at the pool through the mesh fence that borders the park, and I see Adam standing on the blocks for the butterfly.
And then I start to cry.
My eyes melt and won't stop. I hit the gravel with my fists and look up at the sky. I curse God for making me what I am.
Everyone is cheering inside the gates. Adam just won the race. I lurch into the trees beside the car park and throw up on the grass. I feel like knives are stabbing me in the guts, and my temples are tiny points of furious pain. I stumble and then fall over, half in my spew. I can't move. I feel like I have overdosed. My stomach is contorting and mangled. I throw up again.
Suddenly the carnival is over. My parents are a little suspicious. 'Are you all right, sweetie? Where have you been? You look pale,' my Mum is holding her palm to my forehead. I have cleaned myself up a bit.
'I'm just tired. Didn't sleep last night,' is all I say. Mum sighs again.
Before we get in the car, I hear, 'Taylor, wait up! Did you see the race?'
I look around and there is Adam in his tracksuit, with his blonde hair and marvelous smile.
'Yes, congratulations,' I say. I realize that there is no expression in my voice. I don't smile. I know the truth. I know what he had done and why. But I can't bring myself to confront that. It hurts too much. How could I fall for someone so superficial? How could I fall for another male? And what right does he have to lie to me and flaunt his grotesque fucking lurid bigotry on me? Even if it was put on. Even if he was scared. Even if he hadn't meant it. Even if, as I looked in his eyes, I knew that he loved me as well, there was no excuse for that. No fucking excuse at all. I never want to look at him again.
I turn, get in the car, and we drive away.
Sean is 16 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org