LETTING GO BY MARK THOMAS
The following short story by Mark Thomas was published in the twenty-first issue and last issue, December 1984, pp. 16-18, of Pan, a magazine about boy-love, published by Spartacus in Amsterdam.
The illustrations are all from the same issue of Pan.
Gary was mine a long time before he met Richard. He is still mine in a way; this new relationship cannot negate the past. Those times Gary and I laughed together, his scrapes and bruises I kissed for healing, our camaraderie as coach and player on the soccer field, the magic we shared on star bright Adirondack nights ... those memories and others will stay, though the boy leaves me now for another man he loves. My love for Gary will never cease, as I believe he will always love me. There remains a bond.
It is just that Gary finds in Richard a special warmth and caring. This is what Gary wants, and who am I to stop him? I am confident that this new love is only an extension of what Gary and I began. We could only go so far; now Gary is growing into a new, fuller relationship. He is ready. Richard is a good man.
Richard and I had met in a crowded coffee shop near where I work in Utica. His table was the first I spotted with an empty seat as I searched the room, so I invited myself to share it with him. He was agreeable. Over hot black coffee we entered into the casual conversation of strangers forced to face each other. Then I mentioned that I thought the Cowboys had given Danny White a bum steer by not playing him as a starting quarterback from the opening of last season, and we precipitated a friendship.
Until recently three thousand miles had separated Richard and I. He had been big city bred with the two ‘P’s’: people and pollution. A failed marriage had sent him running after change; he applied for a teaching position at the local high school and got it. I had lived all my life around the mountains and lakes of upstate New York and knew that the placid nature of the country could soothe the torment of any man if he would give it a chance.
We discussed the books of Stephen King; Richard is a math teacher, and I cannot stand the subject; in all his life he had never caught a fish, and I promised to change that; I confessed to crying at movies like The Earthling, he hedged but I think he too sheds tears at sad movies; and we both love handball. I invited him to join us at the local three-wall courts in Clinton.
At first I hadn’t known Richard was a boy-lover. But what was hidden is now obvious, like the first new buds nurtured by spring rains seen bursting forth from winter’s soil. It is wise in today’s climate to be careful about our feelings concerning boys and girls, yet it is sad also that we must hold back the truth for fear of social chastisement. One day Gary told me. Now I see the two of them together in a casual boy-man embrace, and I catch Richard’s eye, he smiles shyly. I smile warmly back and think, “Oh, take care of Gary, Richard. I love the boy. Take care of him.”
What can I say of Gary? I could describe him — willowy body, buttercup hair, large mud pie eyes, scabbed and calloused knees and elbows from constant explorations through our surrounding countryside, ribs that I play like a xylophone as I tickle him into spasms of soprano laughter, a pussycat nature, soft-smooth-surreal buttocks — a delight to look upon, a joy to know. He swears he chases deer in nearby woods; I swear he could catch one, he is so swift on his well-arched feet. Feet I have gently massaged with fingers and lips at day’s end, bringing tears of pleasure dripping down his cheeks. His body is clean, though I suspect he will soon sprout those telltale hairs which signal the flowing of boy-juices.
Gary and Richard are almost always together these days, after school or on weekends. Oh, Gary still returns to me, and we do spend loving moments together. I suppose he feels a bit guilty at times about leaving me alone while he runs off with Richard. Gary knows I love him, that I understand his relationship with Richard. Richard can give Gary what I cannot, or will not allow myself to give.
In the time Gary and I have spent together I have taught him to be free. He is an apt student. At eleven he is able to choose his own paths through the ‘yellow wood.’ I have no doubt that Gary is happy; I can see joy in his countenance. And I am content to let him go.
They are together now, on the grassy knoll just past the handball courts. The courts where I taught Gary to play my favorite sport, where I first introduced Gary to Richard (shades of ‘The Tennessee Waltz’). Richard, who has a habit of dragging his right foot as he makes a killshot on the courts. The guy we kid because he always wears his lucky shirt to play. This Richard who . . . who is now Gary’s special friend. They are lying face-up to the sky, long green grass framing their bodies, unnecessary (by custom) clothes thrown aside so that they might better worship Helios.
I steal glances as I play handball with my friends. The boy’s shaggy blond hair undulates as he sits up and shakes his head with laughter. They laugh a lot together. I wonder at the joke they share as Gary falls back down next to Richard. The boy’s head rests against Richard’s side. I want to be a part of their fun, but I refrain. They need time alone. Later Gary and I will talk. He is open to me.
For now I pound the small blue sphere a little harder against the walls to vent some of my frustration ... and jealousy. Did I say a moment ago that I am content to let go? Yes, I am. And no. My feelings are jumbled. Oh yes, I feel jealousy now as I see them together; I accept that as natural. They lie close like two people comfortable in each other’s space.
Richard must have made some sly remark for Gary slugs him playfully with his small fist. They wrestle. I ache. Gary and I have wrestled. They tumble down the far side of the hill. I wonder at what holds might be tried in that rolling, touching contest.
Within a few minutes Gary comes running up to me — he is short of breath — and announces that he and Richard arc going for a hike. I smile my assent and remind him that he and I have a dinner engagement. His ‘O.K.’ falls behind him as he runs off.
Later that night Gary sits quietly with me, exhausted by the day’s excitement. His fine features are gently illuminated by the one soft light glowing in the far corner of the living room. I reach out and he curls up next to me, resting his head on my chest. Perhaps this is a recompense for leaving me so alone as he goes off with Richard. I don’t know, nor care. Gary is with me now.
As we sit nestled, I kiss his brow. He looks so like his mother. She died when he was but a baby. I ask myself what she might think if she could see her only child and I together at this moment, if she knew of Gary’s relationship with Richard. She and I had known each other intimately before her death and she had approved of me then, I believe she would approve of all of this now ... — knowing her son is happy.
Gary slides into sleep, and I pick him up. He is light, not more that one hundred and five pounds. As I carry him up to bed he wakens briefly and whispers, “I love you.” I repeat his words back to him. Laying him on the bed I pull off his clothes piece by piece, stripping him naked. His flesh is almond colored as it always is this time of the year from many hours in the sun, except for the band of white which encompasses his midsection. But I look closely and the band is now a light pink with a mild sunburn. I smile to think of the fun Gary had on his hike with Richard. His penis is erect. I slip his pajama bottoms over him, just once stroking the length of his erection with my fingertips. He moans softly in his sleep. (Oh, if Lloyd Martin could see us now.) Then I kiss his lips, wet with saliva, and walk to the door.
I look back.
It is indeed difficult to let go as I watch my pretty boy try his wings. He is taken in flight by another. They soar, and it takes all the strength I have to stay here on the ground, not to fly off after them. My eyes follow their course all I am able and my lips mouth a fond farewell. A farewell to the one boy who is all my life.
Just before I close his door I gaze lovingly once more at his shadowed face and say, “I love you. I love you, son.”
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