We’ve all had one. Just one. The One. Not the one that got away. And not the one that married your best friend. And please. . .certainly not your first one. This One is The One.
You know which one is The One. The One’s the one that heard your protestations yet felt your searing stare, your eyes glued to the sight, intent as though you were watching the final inning of a no-hitter, your mind recording in high-definition inch by baring inch of torso; the molting of cotton and denim; your appetite overflows the banks of friendship as The One, the object and the consort silently affirms your theft of privacy. That’s The One: A compatriot in what would become your benchmark of shame and crowning expression of tortuous affection. The One was the only one to encourage betrayal of character as bond to be free of moral constraints and fuel your burgeoning obsession.
The One for me was Steve.
We opened the door to the room in the Super 8 Motel in Davenport, Iowa where tomorrow Steve and I would compete for first place in the National Forensic’s Tournament. Both of us were nervous of course, but unlike Steve who was nervous about the tournament I was as nervous as a newlywed when I spotted the king size bed hovering in the middle of the room like the Hindenburg.
“Well, here we are,” Steve said as he put his duffel bag on the floor and flopped on the bed. I stood there aghast and slowly placed my coveted Tod’s Weekender on the stainless steel motel valet and stiffly sat on the edge of the bed.
” … at last …” I added, slowly turning to see him stretched out like a newly caught salmon, his bright colored belly slightly exposed under his polo.
“At last?”, he asked.
Realizing my blunder I quickly stood up and attempted to turn the conversation. “You nervous?”
“Nervous? What’s there to be nervous about? We’re the best in the state and tomorrow we’re going to be best in the nation.”
“You’re right,” I added weakly, fighting my desire to look at him on the bed.
“Are you?” he asked.
“Am I what?” I asked retreating into the small, secure confines of the bathroom.
“Nervous,” he called from the bed.
“Why would I be nervous when I’ve got a partner like you?” I asked.
Steve appeared in the doorway looking at me in the mirror, “Because you’re acting nervous,” he said walking up behind me, looking at me in the mirror, both my hands white knuckled on the faux marble vanity, the inches of warm air between us igniting and scalding my flanks. He looked directly into my eyes and I prayed that he couldn’t see either my knees that had begun to buckle or the erection that had risen in my jeans.
“So I’m a little nervous,” I snapped “and you standing this close to me doesn’t help.” I wanted to be able to easily assault his closeness as some latent homosexual thing, some calling his hand when it came to his masculinity, some assertion that he was coming on to me. But I had already played that trump card on some ranger look-out station on a wooded rise called Belmont Mound. I blubbered my homosexuality between shared swallows of apple schnapps, my conviction growing with the depletin liqueur. He too, was drinking, but he kept his composure, acknowledging my confessions with tart, little babbles; all the while I wished he too, would expose his wrist and in some tribal custom, bind our lives. But instead I slept in the cool comfort of the toilet.
Then I made the mistake of looking back at the bed. “The bed bothers you, doesn’t it?” he asked, almost sounding interested.
“No, you idiot, it isn’t the bed that bothers me” I said moving quickly away from him back into the room, “It’s not the bed …” I paused, wondering if I should be the bleeding heart (and what good would it do me) again, would he tire of the whining, “but it’s me,” not that it really was me. It was more him. I had no trouble with me. It was him. Him and his damned morals, not even morals but tastes, not even tastes but attractions, not even attractions but fickleness! “It’s me, Steve. Me! Me and you. Here. Tonight. The bed … the tub.”
“The tub?” he asked.
“I’ll sleep in the tub.”
“You’re fucking crazy! What do you think you’ll do? Rape me in my sleep? Christ, you’re a guy that’s able to control himself, aren’t you? If you think you’ll have a problem, take care of it before you get into bed!”
Was I an idiot or what? What did he know? What did he care? Christ, it wasn’t my lust that I was worried about. It was my heart! What did he think? It was then, at that moment when a little divine intervention would’ve helped; an angel to come down and tell me that my reality was not reality. That what I really thought was going on wasn’t really going on, except as a private screening for my own enjoyment. That what WAS true was that there were two best friends vying for national recognition that needed to share a bed in a motel room. So what was the big deal?
After dinner we wandered through the halls of the motel to our room. Upon opening the door Steve threw his jacket on the bed and went into the bathroom. I walked to my bag, opened it and pulled out my sweatshirt and gym shorts. As I was beginning to undress I heard the toilet flush, the faucet run and finally the door open. Steve stood in the doorway, backlit by the ceiling light, his silver buckle dangling like a fishing lure, his shirt open, untucked, hanging off his shoulders like draperies. I of course, should’ve already been in bed, chiffon negligee spread out before me like a tablecloth, a dozen pillows plumped and puffed surrounding me in satined down. But instead I stood before him in my white Hanes underwear and Dago T.
“Going to bed so soon?”, he asked.
“I like to read a little before I fall asleep,” I replied, as I pulled off the Dago T and pulled on my sweatshirt.
“You go there?” he asked. “Go where?”
“To Colorado,” he finished, standing across from me, tugging his heavy socked feet out of his still tied, dirty Nike sneakers. He stood there, determined to shed his sneakers, tongue sticking out of the comer of his mouth, body slightly contorted, peeling the tightened shoe off his foot.
“It might help if you untied them,” I said as I folded my clothes and placed them on the valet next to my Weekender.
“I’m too lazy,” he shot back over his now naked shoulder.
I looked up from my bag and saw him standing across the blue polyester comforter, his tanned back separated by a deep crevice which opened like a well-read hardcover, rising to parallel muscles which flowed into his ribs; his shoulders ascended by cords of muscle to his throat; his upper arms taut like a bow; and rising from the waistband of his jeans was a banded collar of cream followed by a blood red cotton stripe. I stood transfixed.
“Mind if I watch a little TV?” he asked over his shoulder. “Not at all, as long as you keep the volume low,” I answered quietly.
I turned my back on him and with one swift, practiced motion pulled my Hanes off and sat down on the bed, pinning my erection firmly between my thighs. I reached for my gym shorts and in a moment threw my legs in the air, levitated myself, pulled the gym shorts on, yanked back the covers, thrust my legs in, and pulled the crisp cotton sheets to my waist. After arranging myself, the pillows, and the book I was reading I heard the television snap on.
What I noticed first were his feet pointed towards my head. They were solid, heavy feet; thick, cracked, blemished soles; wide, weathered toes. These feet obviously walked many miles free. They were clearly the feet of the naturalist, someone that enjoyed the pain I often associated with running around barefoot. These were the feet which may have traversed hot coals. These feet had taken him somewhere.
The television rumbled in the background like some kind of geographical expose as I continued the panorama of his lower body. Just above his feet were ankles which supported dense calves. If his feet were tundra when it came to hair, his calves and thighs were tropical rain forests. Calves, now in repose, lay like sandbags. The backs of his knees, the spring loaded cantilevers, the source of his power sit quietly. His hamstring, a long, drawn, weighty mound of muscle sleeps like an eel amidst the concave back of the quadriceps. I turned my attention to the television.
“Anything on?” I asked. “Nothing. How’s the book?”
“Can’t seem to keep my mind on it.”
“Well, I think I’m going to turn in. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow. Better get as much sleep as I can,” he said as he swung himself around on the bed and I stole a lingering look at him.
“Mind if I yank the blankets out from the end of the bed? I can’t sleep when there’s something holding my feet down.” He tore the sheets from the end of the bed. “Oh yeah,” he said struggling, “I toss and turn a lot. If I end up on you, just push me back to my side.”
“Won’t you wake up,” I asked.
“Naw, nothing wakes me up. Once I’m out, I’m out. Once when I was a kid and one of the old silos blew up right outside my window. Woke up the whole town. Mom had to come in and get me when the fire department got there. I can sleep through anything!”
When he was finished he sank back into his pillows. I attempted to concentrate on my Anne Sexton anthology. I was about to dive headfirst into the story when I quickly turned my head to see him laying on his side looking at me. “May I help you?” I asked.
“Nothing. Just watching you,” he quietly replied.
“Is there something wrong?”
“No,” he said defensively, “can’t someone just watch you?” he finished as he turned his back to me.
I attempted to read, then closed the book and placed it on my lap. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m a little tense, that’s all. Don’t pay any attention to me.” I put the book on the nightstand, reached over and turned out the light casting the room in complete darkness and sank back into the bed. As slowly as dawn, slivers of light grew in the room where we couldn’t shut out the world.
Nothing happened that night of any monumental occasion. All the ingredients were present; one bed, a hotel room, he and I, his body, my body, his sexuality, my sexuality but something was missing. I don’t know now if it was his lack of participation, or if I was waiting for him to make the first move, or if I was so certain that my attraction for him was wrong and his distraction of me was correct. But something, some idea, some moral uprightness prohibited me from breaching the boundaries of our relationship.
Steve certainly gave me all the clues and hints that he wanted something to happen, that he wanted me to press him farther, beyond his words of denial, pushing him to make a decision when his body was screaming for attention. Had it been any different, had my subconscious been alerted to the remote possibility that he encouraged my affections, it would have triggered an internal alarm clock and roused me from my sleep at a most opportune moment when Steve was between hither and nigh; when he wasn’t certain what, if any of the stimulus and response was dream or reality, that in that deep and calm pool of slumber, his body could react one way while his mind kept itself tucked warmly away. l guess all this conversation occurred in my sleep between my desire and my morality, and on this particular occasion, morality (ahem) rose victorious.