(originally published in Boy Crazy, Cellis Press, 2009)
Larry and His Father
Larry Chambers, 15, lumpish and clumsy, masturbating to thoughts of a high school classmate, Roger Dudoff, lithe and athletic. He hardly knows Roger. They move in different circles and Roger has a girlfriend but still, it is Roger that Larry dreams of.
Larry’s parents usually get along with little discord. Lately, though, they’ve been arguing. They argue with the door closed, so Larry wonders if it is about him. It is. Larry’s father is worried, accuses his wife of having spoiled the boy, making him soft and selfish. He never says that he thinks his son is gay, but both of them know this is what they are really talking about. Larry’s mother is unhappy about the possibility and it is much worse for Larry’s father. Several times in his life he has felt a powerful attraction to another man. He has always been strong, has always resisted and feels that he has been rewarded with a family, a contented life, but he fears that the tendency runs in his blood.
Roger Dudoff, the boy Larry fantasizes about, appears at the public library where Larry works part tine shelving books. He asks Larry for help. They have both finished their sophomore year but Roger is carrying an Incomplete in an English class and must submit three book reports at summer’s end. Can Larry suggest some books, nothing too long or complicated? He’s friendly, sweet, really. His smile is dazzling. Larry’s heart is pounding.
Larry thinks of suggesting Alone in the Trenches, by Joe Tupelo, a professional football player who came out of the closet. He loses his nerve and instead walks Roger over to a biography of Shaquille O’Neal.
As he’s about to leave with the book, Roger decides Larry can help him with another problem. He’s been taking judo, has made it to brown belt, is working hard toward his black belt. The Instructor has announced that they need more students or he will close the day classes, which are the only ones Roger can go to because of his summer job. Everyone has been asked to try to recruit new students.
“You’re a big guy,” he says to Larry. “Have you ever thought of taking judo?”
Larry would jump in front of a bus if Roger asked him to, but judo? “I’m not very athletic, you know,” he says.
“Come on,” says Roger. “It’s fun.” That big grin. “I promise I won’t hurt you.”
Oh shit” thinks Larry, physical contact with Roger Dudoff!
Larry standing on the sidewalk outside the dojo, peering through the window at the guys throwing and wrestling on the mats. Does he have the nerve to try to enter this world? A tall, powerfully built man who seems to be supervising and instructing, spots Larry, comes to the door, opens it. “Would you like to come in?” he asks.
As Larry enters, Roger breaks off from practice, comes over and introduces him to the Instructor, whose name is Kubata. Always to be addressed as Sensei. Sensei Kubata.
Sensei explains that the first lesson is free. From then on it’s seventy five dollars a month, for three lessons a week. Larry thinks about his allowance and what he makes at the library. He can manage it.
For the first lesson, the dojo will lend him a gi, the heavy cotton judo uniform. If he continues, he has to buy his own for fifty dollars. Well, that’s okay. And then Sensei hands him a waiver, a promise not to sue if he is injured. One of his parents must sign it.
At home, Larry says noting to his parents. He knows his father wants him to be more physical. Learning that his son is undertaking something as vigorous as judo would please him but suppose it doesn’t work out? Also on Larry’s mind is his real reason for joining the class. He doesn’t want to be questioned. He forges his father’s signature on the liability waiver.
When Larry returns to the dojo for his first lesson, Roger gives him a big wave hello, but Larry doesn’t get to lay hands on him or anyone else. The first lesson consists of some limbering-up exercises and then learning to fall. I have to learn how to fall? he thinks to himself. Of course, the point is to learn to fall without getting hurt. Near the end of the first hour, Sensei Kubata feels it is safe to show Larry a throw. Setting him up for the move, he grabs hold of Larry and draws him against his body. Larry has never felt a body so solid. Like iron. But then, Larry hasn’t touched many bodies.
He’s suddenly in the air and then on the mat, but he’s fallen as instructed. He’s fine. It was fun, a thrill. Sensei throws him again, and again he is unhurt. There’s another reason now that he wants to take judo, although he’s only vaguely aware of it. There’s power here, a power he might be able to tap into.
When Roger sees that Larry is joining up, he comes over, slaps him on the shoulder, grinning. They’re buddies now.
At his next lesson, Larry is paired with another beginner, one who is only a few weeks ahead of him. Roger is there, working out with guys at his level. He says hi to Larry and flashes that smile.
Sensei instructs Larry on a simple hip toss, then leaves Larry and his partner to find their way. Larry gets thrown a number of times, can’t manage to execute any throws himself. Sensei returns, checks his technique, explains a few points, has the boys resume. Suddenly the other boy is whirling over Larry’s hip, landing hard on the mat. It happens so fast and naturally that Larry wonders if the boy deliberately propelled himself, to be nice to him.
The boy gets back on his feet and they grab hold of each other, working back and forth, each trying to get the other off balance. Larry almost loses his footing, but blocks the other boy’s movement, converts his momentum against him, and again the other boy flies over him, onto the mat. It works, it really works! Larry is learning judo. The other boy’s body is nice. Not as hard as Sensei’s, but still, very nice.
Like most of the guys, Larry doesn’t wash his gi. Over the weeks, it grows acrid with stale sweat, a badge of his effort. One afternoon, Sensei lectures them on the virtues of cleanliness, says he’s disgusted with them, orders the whole roomful of them off to a nearby laundromat. The other customers, Larry realizes, are slightly intimated by all these boys tossing their martial arts uniforms into the washers and dryers and horsing around and laughing. Nice boys, really, but a lot of them. Larry hangs with Roger and a few of his friends. He can’t remember ever being this happy.
Larry moves on from throws to groundwork -- grappling, twisting and locks. One night he finally finds himself in the situation he has fantasized about so much: wrestling Roger. The one he adores quickly has him in a painful situation, his arm bent backwards across Roger’s leg. Larry taps the mat, the signal of submission. Roger lets go and they begin again. A few moves later, Larry feels himself being choked into numbness. “Better give,” says Roger and again Larry taps out. A few moves into their third match, Larry manages to get behind Roger, is trying to get a hold on him when -- and he has had nothing consciously in mind other than trying to get the hold -- his body betrays him. His cock suddenly swells and hardens and presses against Roger’s butt.
Deeply embarrassed, Larry falters and in that moment, Roger breaks loose, spins around, pins Larry, sits astride him. The erection has disappeared. Roger smiles at Larry and wags his finger at him but says nothing. At the end of the evening, as they going their separate ways, Roger is just as friendly as always, the smile and a “See ya.”
At the nest session, Roger brings Jalene, his girl friend, to watch him work out. She’s friendly to Larry, acknowledges him as a friend of Roger’s, gives no sign of knowing what happened.
Liberated from his fantasies about Roger, Larry is now open to genuine prospects. Several times, in the library and elsewhere, he is sure he is being looked over. None of these possibilities excite him. He doesn’t return the smile, turns away from the glance. He is sure, however, that sooner or later there will be someone.
Still, Larry says nothing to his parents about his judo and for weeks they don’t see that he is changing. As so often happens, perception is blinkered by habit. They look at the evolving Larry and see their son as he was. And then suddenly, as he moves across a room, Larry’s parents realize, both at the same moment, that a quickness and grace have appeared, confidence, a better sense of his body. And his shoulders are broadening.
His father asks, “What are you doing with yourself, Larry? You working out?”
Larry shrugs the teenage shrug and mumbles, slips away to his room. Fear of failure is no longer an issue and he realizes now that it is unlikely that his parents would suspect his original reason for taking the class, but he cherishes the secrecy of his secret life. It is his, his accomplishment, not something for his parents to ask about, comment on, makes judgements about.
After about two and half months, Sensei announces that he’s taking everyone across town for a tournament against another dojo. This will be Larry’s first real competition and he is surprised to realize that he is looking forward to the challenge. His outlook is changing. His ideas about himself are changing.
Almost at the very moment he enters the cross-town dojo, Larry spots a guy whose name, he quickly makes it his business to learn, is Ralph. Slim and wiry, he’s in a lower weight class than Larry, they won’t be confronting each other on the mat. Larry hopes there will be some socializing after the contest.
Larry acquits himself well in the tournament, losing one of his matches but winning another. Waiting his turn between matches, he looks across the mat at Ralph, who smiles at him.
Larry’s dojo wins the tournament, which pleases Larry but far more importantly, just as he is looking for Ralph, Ralph comes up to him to say hello. Neither of them has much experience with small talk so within a minute they’re grappling, practicing holds.
It’s time to go. The boys exchange phone numbers.
Over the next few days, they phone and text, then meet up at a mall, go to a movie. In the darkness, after several minutes of silent should I, shouldn’t I , Larry dares an arm across the back of Ralph’s seat, half resting on his friend’s shoulders.
Ralph leans into him.
As often as they can, the boys meet up, at malls and movies, once at a public swimming pool. Soon, they discover a remote area in a large park, and this becomes their private, favorite place. As on the judo mat, Larry finds his way with a partner slightly ahead of him. Ralph’s cock is the first he has ever touched other than his own. A little on-line searching fills him on safe sex but nothing the boys actually do is very risky.
Summer is ending and the boys have to confront the fact they the go to different schools. They swear their mutual love and their determination to see each other as often as possible.
In the second week of the new school year, Larry interferes with a bully harassing a skinny little freshman. When the bully turns on Larry and shoves him in the chest, Larry easily deflects him into a nearby wall.
A teacher sees the scuffle, reports it. Both boys are sent home with letters to their parents. If the letters aren’t delivered there will be further, more serious punishment.
Larry’s parents have never had this kind of news about their son. His mother has to read the letter twice, its contents so strange, so unexpected.
“Larry, you were in a fight?”
“It says you hurt the other boy.”
“I didn’t mean to. He bruised his arm when he hit the wall.”
“He hit a wall? asks his father. “How? Tell me what happened. Who started it?”
Larry explains very briefly, very modestly. His father says, “Don’t get into fights.” But he is very pleased. Later, he comes to his son’s room, tells him that he knows something’s been going on, and this fight just makes him all the more certain.
Larry tells him about the judo classes.
“Why such a secret?”
Larry shrugs. “It’s not that big a deal.”
To Larry’s father, it is a very, very big deal. He’s so pleased, so relieved about his son.
Not long after, on a Saturday afternoon, after a movie near Larry’s house, the boys go to Larry’s to hang out. Larry mother is delighted. It’s the first time in a long time that her son has brought a friend home. When Larry’s father gets home, she suggests that they ask Ralph to stay to dinner. They’ll have a special treat. They’ll order pizza, whatever the boys want.
Larry’s father goes to Larry’s room to tell the boys the plan. Briskly, he raps at the door and pushes it open. His son and his son’s friend, clothes off, are entwined on the bed. All three freeze. Then Larry’s father retreats, closes the door.
Shocked, not entirely sure what exactly what he has seen, he says nothing to his wife, but she knows something has happened and she has a good idea what, in general terms, it must be.
Larry and Ralph slip quickly out of the house. Over burgers and shakes, they talk about running away to some other city. By ten o’clock, both are home, Larry going directly to his room.
It will be weeks before Larry and his father can look each other in the eye. They will never talk about what happened.
Soon, within months, the heat between Larry and Ralph will cool. They will find other guys to tussle with, fall in love with.
Over the next two or three years, as Larry’s father watches him grow to manhood, he will come to understand that the world really has changed and that his son, brave and strong, will make his way in it free of the burden that he himself has carried all his life.