Chapter 6 - Who's Grooming Who?

I awoke early to get ready for the day I had planned, for David. Eventually, after yelling for him to get up a few times, he sleepily stumbled into the kitchen.

“What do you want for breakfast, buddy? Pancakes? French toast? Waffles? Eggs and bacon? Biscuits and gravy? The sky is the limit! Your wish is my command, birthday boy!” I teased him.

He had turned eleven, and even though I woke him up at midnight to scream "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" and let him open his presents, I had made up my mind to spoil him irrefutably rotten; more so than the average day, which was merely kinda rotten.

“Can I just have some cereal?” He asked. I should have guessed that! If I had put down cereal, he would have wanted eggs!

“Okay, you’re the boss! Cereal it is!” I proclaimed, while putting an arm behind him and scooting him towards the chair I had already pulled out for him to sit down on.

I poured us both some cereal and we began to eat. I was grinning at him in anticipation; relishing having a valid reason to treat him like a little prince. He broke the mood into pieces though, when he said,

“My grandmother asked me yesterday if you ‘ever touched me,’” David told me; speaking as calmly as if he was telling me he needed new socks.

I remember feeling terrified; remember him noticing it and putting his spoon down and coming over to hug me.

“It’s okay, don’t worry, I told you I’ll protect you.”He reassured me.

“So what did you say? I asked.

Still holding onto me, he answered, “I told her that was disgusting and if you ever did anything like that I was going to call the police.”

“Perfect buddy, I love that!”I replied.

Of course, the truth was, I had touched him, often. I must come clean about it…

A few days after meeting David, I caught him without his shoes and socks on and noticed that his feet were almost black. I had to touch those feet for over an hour, just to get clean what his mother and grandmother were too preoccupied to notice were filthy. How boys’ feet get black with grime, years of dirt layers, living in a home with running water and supposedly caring people, I just don’t know. So I touched him and his neglected feet.

On another occasion, I touched his whole body, while he stood crying.

“BLues.!” I heard David scream, from the bathroom.

David had been sick and his mother refused to take him to the doctor, instead just telling him to ‘drink ginger ale’. I had him over and was doing my best to nurse him back to health, but he was still running a fever and vomiting. He couldn’t even keep water down.

I ran into the bathroom to find him sitting on the toilet, sobbing and naked (he was still in that stage that many boys go through of taking everything off when they sit on the toilet), and he had vomited all over himself, the wall, floor, and shower curtain.

“Oh god buddy, “I exclaimed, “Just hang on, let me get some towels.”

I started the bath, stood him up as he gently cried and I did my best to clean him up.

“Its okay buddy, just get into the bath and wash up. I’m taking you to see a doctor, afterwards.”

Yeah, I touched him then, too.

That cliché question, “Has he touched you,” is as silly as it is ineffective. Parents and children would be better served by suspending their prudishness and asking, “Has he ever put his penis in your ass?” And so on. Hell, maybe the question itself has helped to convince folks that ANY touch is a “bad touch”.

But before I completely digress, let me get back to our birthday breakfast.

“So I did good?” He asked, regarding his answer to his grandma.

“No bud, you did well.”I jokingly replied.

“Oh you know what I mean!” He groaned, balling up and shaking a little fist at me.

“It was funny how she acted after I said that. She said, ‘Good and tell me too because I’ll cut it off’”, he explained.

“Why are people so against our friendship?” He asked, getting serious.

Never one to miss an opportunity to explain it to him, I replied, best I could,

“Buddy, the thing is, they’re actually not against us being friends, they only think that they are.” I told him and watched a look of confusion come over his face.

“If they knew more clearly who the people they hate are, I mean, really are, they would be tripping over each other to be the first one to have their son be befriended by one of us.” I asserted to him, though probably didn’t need to. It’s just a matter of giving him the words.

I continued, “Most people, well, let’s just say all people, think that those of us who are sexually attracted to kids, want to rape them or do things to hurt them. Their minds can’t accept or even consider that it’s the same for us that it is for anyone; that it is for them. Like them, we love the people we want to have sex with.” I finished, just part of one of the many open conversations of this kind we had, and continue to have, to this day.

“Well, their head would explode if they knew how much some boys want to be liked by people like you.” He joked, mouth full of cereal. Some of it fell out of his mouth and onto the table.

“Buddy!” I cried out, laughing.

“Ah ha, but it is my birthday! And I say that talking with a mouth full of cereal is WELL!” He joked, causing me to erupt into laughter too and almost lose my mouthful of cereal!

Our discussions would be labeled “coaching” by my most people, even the intelligent ones. Coaching…

I guess I have coached him before, honestly; I confess, it’s true.

He used to have problems with a bully on the school bus. I knew the kid and he was the typical, Napoleon-complex type bully. He was shorter than his peers, so seemed to be trying to prove that even though he was short, he was tough. David, fed up with being pushed around, popped him in the mouth one day, after both got off the school bus.

“David!” I yelled over to him, “Go inside, now!”

“He started it! He always starts it!” He protested, as he ran towards my house.

I tended to his bully - his humbled and bleeding bully.

“You guys go home now; I want to talk to Jacob.” I instructed the curious kids who had gathered.

“Jacob listen, you need to stop,” I tried telling the little squirt, but he ran off, hollering at me.

“Fuck you!”

Ah, the sweetness of children... Jacobs’s father hit his kids; especially the oldest boy and it seemed typical that he acted the way he did. Even though he picked on my boy, and cursed at my effort to help him, it was impossible for me to be mad at him; sad for him, yes, but never mad.

I returned to my house to coach David on how to handle his little nemesis, Jacob.

“Don’t worry buddy, I know he starts the fights.” I assured him.

“He always does and I’m tired of it!” He angrily declared.

“I know, but I want you to understand that Jacob has been taught to hit people. He’s only following an example and perhaps he feels insecure, so he makes up for it by picking on others.” I tried to wrestle with an explanation he could understand.

“I know his dad hits him.” He told me.

“Tomorrow, when only you and Jacob are together, you tell him you’re sorry.” I advised him.

“What! No!” He angrily replied.

“You tell him you’re sorry and you stick your hand out for him to shake. Do it.” I told him.

“Why? Jacob hates me.” He replied.

“Just try it, for me, okay? Tell him that you’re tired of fighting and you want to be friends. He already knows you can beat his ass if you get angry, so trust me, he’s going to be willing to put an end to this, without looking like he is afraid of you.” I explained to him.

“I’ll try it, but if he starts anything with me again, I’m never trying again to be his friend.” He said.

Fair enough, I thought.

David and Jacob are friends, to this day. David has been a wonderful influence on Jacob and has many times “coached” him in life skills that no one else was willing to step up and teach. I was completely “hands-off”, allowing David the chance to pass on and thereby strengthen the qualities that were instilled in him. He summed it up once; saying what I had felt, but never wanted to express, because I enjoyed him feeling like the catalyst for Jacob’s improvement originated with him, by telling me,

“If it wasn’t for you, I bet Jacob would have quit school and would be in jail, because if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have become his friend.”

To which I disagreed, “Buddy, that’s your project, don’t you credit me for any of it.”

This is doubly awful, because not only did I coach David, but David, bearing the awful emotional scars from it, went and continued the cycle by coaching Jacob! It’s true; David was coached, by me. I’m guilty.

When his mother finally found someone to marry her, of course it was a guy that hates children and refused to practice baseball with David, even though he demanded that he play. It was another moment that I used to practice my wicked coaching craft, with David – guilty as charged.

But, back to breakfast --

“You’re right buddy, their head may just explode if they knew how much a boy could love a man.” I told him, as we finished up our second bowl of cereal and put our dishes into the sink.

“If there are ‘boylovers’ than it’s not fair that there isn’t a ‘manlovers’ group of boys somewhere.” He insightfully said.

I was taken aback by the utter brilliance of it. A group of man-attracted boys… A too young to persecute group, showing that there’s a yin to our yang. It’s sure hard to argue about something not being part of the natural order when it can be displayed that those wanted, also want the ones who want them!

“David, you’re amazing, really.” I told him.

“Go take a shower, get dressed, then I’m taking you to your favorite place.” I instructed.

“I’m already at my favorite place!” He said playfully, while walking away towards the shower.

I was really getting good at this whole “grooming” business!

He was showering more, brushing his teeth, and even clipping his nails.

When I first met David, he wore rags. Now I’m not picky about what I wear, all that much. If it fits and it doesn’t make me look like I’m trying to project a certain image, then I’ll wear it. David was in school though, where it’s more important, even if it shouldn’t be, to look like you have someone at home who spends a fair amount of cash, providing you with a nice wardrobe.

Haircuts and nice ones, not “mom specials” were a requirement, too. We’d drive a half hour away to make sure that he always got a good one. None of this was to give him a complex about appearance, in fact, it was so that he wouldn’t have one.

I have groomed David. And it was for my benefit, as it is for anyone else who does things for the person they love – because it makes you feel so damn good to do it.

Guilty again, of “grooming”, I am.

“All clean!” He loudly declared, walking through the kitchen with nothing on.

My other housemates were on vacation so David took advantage of it. I remember being that age and really enjoying being naked, too. I even got caught a few times.

“Put some of the new clothes you got for your birthday on, bud.” I requested.

“Well duh!” He stated, deciding what to wear as he looked through his birthday loot.

Speaking to himself out loud, while scheming and tossing me a mischievous look, he said,

“Hmm…I think…I…will…wear…this!”

He held up a pair of khaki shorts and a t-shirt; exactly what I had on!

I laughed and told him, “That’s fine by me, bud! We’ll look silly, but if you don’t mind, I’m all for it!”

“Fine with me,” he said. “I’ll wear my hat too and we’ll really look the same.”

We left the house together, looking a little creepy being dressed in matching outfits, but eager to get to the amusement park we had planned on spending the day at. When we arrived and started walking towards the ticket booth, I felt eyes on me. Then I saw folks looking at us and smiling; or laughing, probably smiling, but my eyes seem to see laughter.

“David…” I whispered, bending down to place the whisper in his ear, “People are laughing at us…”

He looked around and saw no one laughing.

“Nobody is laughing, you’re being silly!” He decided.

“Okay, I’m just saying, they were.” I told him.

We arrived at the ticket booth and the woman at the counter came alive for a moment to say to us,

“Aw you two look so CUTE dressed the same.”

She asked if he was my son, even though he’s half Japanese and half American and not to mention, looks nothing like me, but we learned quickly and agreed that it was just easier if I said yes, than explain that he was just a friend who I care for like a son.

“Yes ma’am, he’s my boy.” I told her. David leaned against me and smiled a big ole smile at her, seeming to exaggerate the obvious fact that our clothing matched.

“See?” David said as we left. “She said we looked cool!”

“No buddy, she said…” I started to point out, and then stopped; leaving it alone and just letting him believe we looked “cool”.

He came close as we walked into the park and admitted,

“I know she said ‘cute’ but I think we look cool.”

“Yeah, ha, I guess we do.” I finally gave in to the feeling and proudly walked next to my little buddy, my tag-a-long, my little wannabe twin.

“Alright, birthday boy, take me to all the places you want to go!” I told him.

He grabbed my hand and led me to the first ride he wanted to hop on.

“The Loch Ness Monster!” he squealed.

We got in the long line.

I didn’t release our hand-holding because David seemed to really enjoy it. We had held hands the whole way to the ride and my initial apprehension concerning it had disappeared, once I realized, that all people were bound to think was that perhaps my “son” was a bit clingy and needy, to be still holding his “dad’s” hand. So, I just kept holding until he let go. It normally wasn’t long before he was reaching for it again. I’d estimate that half of that day was spent holding his hand, surrounded by whoever happened to be near. Dressed alike, we strolled the whole park and had a blast; not hiding a damn thing, confident, showing each other affection carefree.

“Wow, that’s looks delicious! Can I get one?” He asked, pointing towards a funnel cake vendor.

“Of course buddy, you may.” I told him, handing him some money and gesturing that he go off and get in line without me while I sat down for a minute.

I just wanted to watch him interact with folks, without me around. I always loved seeing it. It hadn’t even been a year since we’d met, but the changes in him were so dramatic that if you were around to witness the contrast, you were blown away.

“Thank you, Sir.” David told the vendor as he reached for the treat.

“Wow that smells good.” I told him as he set it on the table and sat down beside me, close enough to be touching. It normally wasn’t enough to sit near each other, in those early days. There almost always had to be some kind of contact, some touching, between us. If I scooted over an inch so that our elbows weren’t knocking together, he would have scooted over an inch, too. It’s just the way it was and back then, when it was commonplace, I took it for granted, but boy I miss it now. That was really special, even if I didn’t understand it, then.

“Do you like it?” David asked.

“Heck yes, this is awesome.” I replied.

He proudly smiled at his choice, saying just above a whisper to himself, “Good.”

After finishing our snack, we continued exploring the park. We checked out some tigers and he huddled into me, acting like he needed protection. We got soaked on the flume rides but soldiered on; drying off as we trudged along to whatever came next.

Before the sun started setting, David seemed like something was wrong. If you have ever had a young friend than you know how little a change in their mood it takes for you to notice it. The slightest deviation from the normal and it’s easily picked up on.

“What’s up, buddy? Is everything alright?” I asked.

“Yeah, this is fun, but I also want us to have some time alone, for my birthday; like watching a movie together at home. Do you mind?” He timidly asked and added, “That’s really the only thing I wanted.”

“That’s fine with me, bud. I don’t mind a bit! C’mon, let’s go.” I told him and we started walking towards the parking lots.

He reached over and grabbed my hand and we swung our newly connected hands back and forth, as we strolled out of the park. Back and forth, back and forth we swung our knotted paws, in matching outfits and equal cadence, we walked on, with matching smiles, greater than our sum; each made whole by the one we so dearly held onto.

“That was fun, thanks.” He told me, after we got into the car.

He fell asleep on the drive home, once the sun went down.

I carried him into the house and put him on my bed and started up a movie. He smiled as I put him down, a silent confession that he wasn’t asleep but wanted a free carry into the house.

“You little creep.” I playfully said to him.

“I may fall asleep during it, but stay and watch the movie the whole way through, okay?” He asked.

“I will buddy, I promise.” I assured him.

Thirty minutes into the movie and he was already breathing deep and dreaming; eyes darting about underneath his closed lids. After being “coached,” “groomed,” and “touched” all day long, he held me tightly while he peaceably slept; I counted my blessings and wept over the birthday boy, thinking to myself,

“Who’s grooming who?”