Paul, London 1987
The chance and maybe the motivation to look into Dad’s past came about because I met Solomon Weinstein, the father of Ben, a Jewish boy at school.
I was fascinated by Ben. He had the most beautiful eyes. After I found Dad’s things I was also curious because Ben was the son of a Holocaust survivor. Whatever the real motivation… his beauty or his Jewishness, it was my attraction to Ben that started my real search for my father… not the man who died, but… the German boy who belonged to the Hitler Youth and carried an SS passbook.
Everything seems inter-connected now, with connections that go sideways and backwards to places and times that are perhaps best forgotten, or perhaps are better not.
Ben and I were in the same year at school. I was almost the oldest in my year and he was the youngest. So he was almost a year younger than I and looked young for his age even then. He was lightly built with an olive tan skin tone and the most beautiful eyes… deep brown, almost black, with long girl-like lashes. I had been told that it’s rude to stare but that it’s also polite to look people in the eye. It was difficult to get all that right in his case. Once I had looked him in the eye it was impossible not to stare. What’s worse, I found that just being close to him gave me the most embarrassing and obvious erection.
I had never had any great problem at school, maybe I was too used to my friends to find them attractive, but when Ben joined us… the erections started!
I promptly arranged matters so that the peg I used for changing was well away from both Ben and the showers. That way I could time it so that I got to the showers before he did. If I was quick I could be part dressed and shielded by a towel in my lap when he finished stripping and went into the shower-room. It never lasted long but the sight of him totally naked and glistening with water was irresistible. His olive-skin and dark pubic curls, muscled stomach and beautifully round bottom… were overwhelming.
We had a small men’s-room attached to the changing area, next to where I had my peg. I would slip in there, and solve my problem… in my minds-eye a picture of the beauty that I had been watching a moment before!
No-one ever commented… maybe no-one even noticed… or maybe those that did were still being nice because of Dad.
I was too scared to even speak to him. The disaster with Jeremy had put me off approaching boys at school. Yes, I dated boys from the boys-club… that was safe… by definition they were gay. School was different. I had decided to assume that all the boys at school were straight… until they proved otherwise, and by then they would be too risky to be seen with. So I kept it for the club!
What saved me from embarrassment with Ben was the fact that I didn’t really know him. We were in the same class, but we were different ages, had different friends and he was arts and I was science so that now that we were studying for our GCSE’s there was very little… except changing for games… to bring us together…
That was … until his mother died.
It was a Wednesday morning when our form-teacher held us back after morning register.
“Benjamin Weinstein isn’t with us today. He’ll be off-school for about a week. I’m sorry to have to tell you that his mother died suddenly last night.”
She paused as a shocked murmur ran round the room. Then, she looked at me and smiled conspiratorially… I guessed what she meant, and nodded.
She went on…
“You were all wonderfully supportive of Paul earlier this year… Can I ask you to be equally kind to Ben?”
I knew then that this time it was my turn.
I waited until the following Sunday… I knew enough about his religion to avoid the Saturday. Then I walked round to his house. I had thought about it and consulted Mum. I wore a dark sweater and trousers and… I had my black and white Arsenal baseball cap (yes I know Arsenal play football, but it’s still a baseball cap… don’t interrupt!).
I knew that if the occasion was considered at all religious then I needed to be able to keep my head covered… a baseball cap would just have to do!
I knocked at his door, and waited. The man who answered my knock was a tall blond-grey man with a sad look about him. The blondness startled me. I was expecting a darker man, like Ben.
“I’m sorry… I was looking for Ben Weinstein!” I said with some embarrassment.
“That’s alright then… it was his mother that was the brunette!”… He managed a weak smile at his joke. I was obviously not the first to think that all Jews were dark skinned.
“Come in… are you a friend from school? Have you brought him homework? Never-mind you are still welcome… even if you have!” again the rather wan smile… I instinctively liked him.
Benjamin was in his room. His father took me up, and knocked gently.
He was sitting on his bed. His eyes were swollen and there was a mostly uneaten meal on the bedside table. His father gently guided me into the room and quietly shut the door. It was already too late to wonder if this had been a good idea.
I stepped forward and stretched out my hand…
“I’m so sorry about your Mum… We all are Ben.”
He started to cry gently… not hysterically or anything silly, just steadily as if he had established a pace that worked.
I sat on the bed beside him and put an arm round his shoulders. I pulled him to me and he buried his face in my shoulder, his sobs muffled by the wool.
“I lost my Dad earlier this year, so I thought…”
He made a sound I couldn’t make out, so I went on…
“It won’t get any better, but it will get to be bearable… I promise.”
“Thanks… it’s not as awful as it was, but…”
“But it’s still pretty dreadful!” I finished for him.
“Yes, pretty dreadful… it’s the shock… she hadn’t been… we knew we would lose her… but like that!”
“I’m so sorry… I remember…”
I hugged him, and stroked his hair gently while he sobbed.
We were in an awkward position, so I moved to sit beside him. That way I could put my arms round him and hold him while he cried. We lay back against his bed-head and his sobs grew quieter… then I realised that he was snoring gently.
An hour later, his father quietly stuck his head around the door, and held up a cup of coffee. I gestured with just my eyes at the bedside table. His father put the cup down, and smiled gently…
“That’s the first proper sleep he has had in days.” He said very quietly.
I smiled with my eyes, and gestured for him to leave with my free hand. Then I put it back around Ben again. His father smiled gratefully and crept out.
It was two hours later that he finally woke. He was stiff. No! I mean lying in one position in my arms had left him stiff. I had been the one who was that sort of stiff. This was the boy whose beauty had so struck me. Whose presence had caused me to have erections that I couldn’t ignore. But I knew that there was no way that such a handsome classmate could be gay as well. My luck so far that year had not run in my favour… first Jeremy and then the two hunks in the art club. No! If I was going to find friends and bed-partners it was in the much more certain social mix of the gay club.
There was no way I could have let him know of my obsession while he lay sobbing in my arms, perhaps even less so now when he was getting the first decent sleep in days.
Of course, good intentions are one thing. The object of those intentions is another. When Ben surfaced at last he too was erection-mortified Not mine I hasten to add, I had managed to get that more or less under control. No, he woke with a raging dose of misplaced hormones… the erection of all time!
“Oh gee, sorry! Sorry! Sorry!… I didn’t…”
“Shh… I’m flattered that you feel that way… No seriously, don’t worry it happens all the time, it’s just that normally you don’t have a witness… but me… I’ve seen nothing!!”
“Anyway, I know how you feel… no I didn’t mean that either!”
“Shall we both start again… just admit it’s not the moment to even notice each other’s problem.” I giggled.
He said… “But what must you think?”
“I think…” I said choosing my words carefully…
“I think you are a really nice guy, who woke just a little too late to see me coping with exactly the same problem!”
He smiled, and settled into my shoulder again, with a hand laid gently on my chest. He seemed very relaxed for someone lying on a bed with a classmate!
I waited… He said, very quietly…
“After you lost your dad, I watched you cope and wanted to talk, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have any words that made sense… I understand now why you came round to see me… It wasn’t words you needed, it was quiet… sleep and a cuddle.”
There was a long pause and then he said, even more quietly…
“This isn’t the moment to say… but I know… I know you are gay too.”
I sat there stunned…
“How… how do you know? I haven’t told anybody… no one… only Mum and Dad!”
“But… how did you know? You haven’t told anyone?” I asked.
“No… I haven’t told anyone… I found out by accident.”
“When I told Dad I was gay, I said how lonely it made me… how I daren’t make close friends in case I made a fool of myself.”
I flinched at that insight.
“When I said I was lonely, he said he could fix that. He arranged for me to join the gay boys club in town. But… when I went in… at the door, I looked round at the crowd of boys… and there you were, talking to the prop-forward from St. Joseph’s rugby team. I ran…”
“I never went back… I wish I had, but I didn’t and it’s too late now!”
I hugged him and kissed his neck.
“No it isn’t too late… It’s now that you need their company… more than ever. You need kids that understand that you are gay… and don’t care!”
“When you are feeling down, it’s much easier to be hugged by someone when it doesn’t matter if things… I mean with a gay boy it won’t get so embarrassing if you become… There’s a lot more safe comfort to be had there than there is at school.”
“The other thing is… it’s a distraction. I knew when I was getting better… it was when I started to find the hugs exciting instead of calming. Mum was so chuffed the first time I brought a boy home… she knew I was getting better. She understood that losing Dad still hurt, but it wasn’t crippling anymore.”
He pulled away from me, and looked me in the eyes, very seriously…
“You mean you took boys home to…?”
“Yes… to sleep with… she was happy for me. I asked her if she minded and she said no, that she enjoyed the company and she approved of my choices. She said I had good taste in boys!”
“I could never do that with my dad…”
“Don’t be daft… you already have! He brought me a coffee while you were asleep in my arms… you and I both had obvious hard-ons… he just smiled and said you looked happy… He kissed me on the forehead. So I don’t think you have much to worry about there.”
Ben looked in my eyes again…
“Seriously… he approved?”
“He seriously absolutely approved! Short of pulling your pants down for me he couldn’t have been more encouraging!”
“Well, fuck me!” He whispered, and then blushed.
I giggled… “Not yet, it’s too soon… I never fuck a boy the first time I sleep with him!”
“You mean you have…”
“Actually… But I don’t sleep around, and… most boys have huge hang-ups about doing it.”
“Anyway, this is the first time we slept together, well you did anyway. So it’s next time that you’ll have to watch out!”
It felt strange to be cradling a boy whose mother had just died while making jokes about the sexual habits of gay boys. But I could sense that the serious weirdness of the conversation had distracted him from his grief. For the last ten minutes or so he hadn’t even thought about grieving… so I let things roll on.
“Did your mum know the first time you…?”
“That was hysterical! When he had gone, she brought me a glass of beer and a glass of wine for herself. She clinked glasses, winked and said “Congratulations, that’s one less thing to be afraid of”… then she giggled. Seriously, she said… “He really was gorgeous, I quite envied you… if I hadn’t been spoiled rotten by your dad, I could have been quite jealous!” ”
“So she approved?”
“Approved? She was ecstatic. The gay club had been to distract me… The grin on my face told her that it had worked. I can’t wait to introduce you to her!”
Then I realised I had gone too far too fast… I thought of Jeremy, and started to panic!
“Sorry, I didn’t…”
“I know you didn’t! I would love to meet your mum. But, it’s a bit too soon to leave Dad alone, and that sort of thing would seem… I don’t know… adopting yours would seem disrespectful of Mum. But I would love to meet her sometime.”
“Well let’s work on it… maybe we could have tea, all four of us. We ought to get your dad out too. He must be getting stir-crazy.”
“Anyway, I have an idea… leave it with me.”
I looked at the clock. It was well past lunchtime, nearer teatime.
“It’s time I was off… Mum didn’t know I’d be away this long. Why don’t you roll over and have a snooze. It’ll please your dad, and I guess he will want a little chat on the way out… just to check that I’ll marry you if I get you pregnant… it’s what dads do.”
He grinned. It was wonderful to see what a change a couple of hours had made.
“OK. Treat him gently… finding his son has a boyfriend must be quite… challenging!”
I kissed him gently, a brotherly kiss… our first on the lips.
He kissed me back… I let him take the lead. When he came to think more clearly later I wanted him to be certain that I hadn’t taken advantage.
I got up gently, blew him a kiss and quietly left his room.
His father must have heard me on the stairs… he came out of the kitchen and said that he had put some real coffee on, he asked me to join him. I said, “Of course!” and followed him into the family room.
“How is he?”
“Quieter, the sleep did him a lot of good.”
“It was having you hold him did that I think.”
“Yes, it was a good thing he knew I was gay. It was one less thing for him to worry about. You know he saw me at the gay club? It was when he nearly joined!”
“Oh, that was you? He said there was someone from school.”
“When he woke up just now… at least he didn’t have to worry about having outed himself.”
His father smiled gently, and said…
“Yes, I think you were the only one who could have done what you just did, I’m so grateful… Maybe you could come again?”
I ignored his unintentional joke.
“I would love to… tomorrow, but I also have another idea.”
“Well I invited him round to my place, just to get him out, but…”
I wasn’t sure how to phrase this…
“Go on… whatever it is.”
“Well, he refused because he wouldn’t consider leaving you on your own. I know how he feels, it was months before I was happy to see Mum just knitting… I kept interrupting… just in case”
“So, I thought… and I don’t know how it works for your religion, but…”
Then I hurried on before I could chicken out…
“How would it be if I brought a bag on Friday after school and stayed till Monday morning and leave for school from here. No-one at school need know and my Mum would be OK with it, I think.”
He looked seriously shocked for just a moment… I thought I had blown it, then his face cleared and he said.
“That may be the bravest thing a boy your age has ever said… I would be delighted and honoured to have you as our Shabbat guest. Bring a hat and you can come to synagogue with us on Saturday!”
I held up my Arsenal baseball cap. “I didn’t know the rules, so I came prepared”
He smiled. “My boy, we shall find you a fine yarmulke for the occasion… so as not to frighten the old ladies.”
Then he handed me my coffee and said…
“You really are a remarkable young man!”
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