Sep 23, 2014

The Arab Boy at Music Camp

Guy on the right looks like Todd
Although Dan and I would not be escaping to Arabia after all, my interest in the Middle East remained strong when I started at Rocky High in the fall of 1975, so I was delighted to meet a real Arab!  A sophomore violinist named Todd.

He was actually half Arab – his mother’s parents were from Lebanon – and Christian, not Muslim.  He didn’t know any Arabic except salaam (“hello”) and tayta (“grandma”). But still, he had roots in the "good place" where same-sex loves were free and open!  And he was beautiful, small and compact in a green turtleneck with flawless olive skin and dark shining eyes.  Unfortunately, he had been engaged since the fifth grade to a girl named Faith, and now they were attached whenever possible by hand or hip or mouth. You couldn’t address a question to one without both answering.

Maybe I was just rebounding from Dan, but I couldn't take my eyes off Todd. Even the air around him and his tan desk etched with graffiti seemed vivid and alive.  One lunch hour I lost twelve consecutive games of chess, unable to strategize or think of defense because Todd was sitting next to me. I wanted. . .I wasn’t sure what, but the desire burned hot and raw and panting. I churned the covers off my bed at night, restless, unable to sleep.

If you asked God to do anything in Jesus' name, He was honor-bound to do it.  My friend Rita used God's Infallible Promise to "get" Donny Osmond as a husband.  So one cool Sunday in November 1975, after the evening service, I walked out into the alley behind the church, looked up at the stars,  and asked God in Jesus' name to give me Todd.

 It took months, but eventually God kept His Infallible Promise and delivered Todd.  Or at least we were both selected, alone out of the entire orchestra, to go to the prestigious Dorian Music Festival. An entire week with Todd all to myself!

Luther College
The festival was held in June 1976, a few weeks before our Nazarene church camp,  at Luther College, on the bluffs of the Mississippi. Though Todd was only cautiously cordial at Rocky High, at the Festival he clung to me as a familiar face. On Thursday  we skipped afternoon rehearsal to explore the town.  We visited a rock cavern and then bought blueberry muffins at a bakery festooned with red and green streamers.

We even went to a movie, my first since I started becoming a "Johnny Nazarene."  I put my arm against the center arm rest, as Dan used to do.  I moved closer and closer to the hard curve of Todd’s body until I could feel the fibers of cotton in his shirt and smell Dial soap and, very faintly, his own scent of vineyards and bleached stone, but I dared not move that tantalizing quarter inch that defined the difference between a casual and a willful touch.

On Saturday night, after the Grand Concert, it was hot in our room, so Todd took off his undershirt, and I noticed a thin gold chain around his neck. When Todd climbed into bed and pulled the covers up to his chest, it stood out against his brown skin, gleaming like a fiery ring. On the front, against his collarbone, lay a small plate with what looked like a portrait of a man.

“Is that a surfing symbol?” I asked, stupidly.

“No,” Todd said in a dim lazy voice. “It’s a scapular. . .like a medal.”

“Oh. . .what did you win?”

Boy with scapular

“No, it’s a religious symbol.” He carefully pulled the plate up from his chest. “See, the Sacred Heart on one side, Mary Mother of God on the other.”

With a shudder I realized that Todd was talking about being a Catholic. “I thought you were a Christian!”

“I am,” Todd said defensively. “Maronite Catholic.  But I go to St. Pius."

Nazarene preachers told us to never go near a Catholic church, or we would be dragged inside to an unspeakable fate, and never talk to a Catholic, or we would be brainwashed into worshipping idols and drinking blood.

I chided himself for my irrational fear.  I had been friends with Frank, a Catholic boy, for two years!  Catholics weren't monsters and demons. Sometimes they were perfectly nice.

And what else had I heard about Catholics: "They have no morals, they're up for anything. If you want a good time, call a Catholic."

I stared at the scapular, and at Todd’s neck, golden in the brash light of our dorm lamp, with two moles close together on the left side like a vampire bite.

Finally I said, “I’ve never. . .seen a scapular before.  Can I touch it?”

“Sure.” But instead of taking it off, Todd motioned for me to come closer.

St. Pius Church, Rock Island
I got up, wearing only cotton briefs, and sat on Todd’s  bed.  Todd’s body was hot, and soft yet firm. I touched the scapular. Then slowly I moved my hand down and stroked Todd's chest.  He moaned and closed his eyes.

After some other things happened, Todd refused to kiss or cuddle, so I returned to my own bed.

When I awoke, Todd was already gone.  I dressed quickly and wandered around the campus for a long time, looking for him, but I didn't see him again.  After breakfast Dad arrived to drive me home.

Back at school, Todd returned to being cautiously polite, nodding hello as we passed in the hallway but refusing all attempts to talk. Sometimes I saw him across the cafeteria, laughing with his Crowd, cozying up to Faith. Sometimes the sunlight glinted off his scapular, which he was now wearing on the outside of his shirt.

It seemed that some boys liked boys only at night.  You could see them, and touch them, but in the morning they would become cool and aloof, brushing past you as they searched for girls.

But I had a plan.

The story continues here, when I try to win Todd by dating his girlfriend!

See also: Mohammed's Christmas Gift.