Sometimes we men do weird and crazy and, sometimes, stupid things. Especially for love.
When I was growing up, the first time I spent any substantial time away from home was a go at soccer camp.
Soccer camp lasted two weeks, and, for much of it, I was strong. I only cried once. A day. For fourteen straight days.
The crying happened at lunch typically. I think the reason I cried at lunch was because the camp was sponsored by a local Catholic college and they made us pray before we ate, and while that might have been a familiar touchstone for other kids coming from households that also pray before lunch, as the child of a lapsed Irish Lutheran and a self-proclaimed Agnostic-turned-Hindu chanter, common prayer prior to any meal was not something familiar to me, and therefore, at camp, nothing was familiar to me.
Also, though, I was a nerd.
Now, because you might be wondering, the reason a nerd like me was at soccer camp for two weeks was because I was the kind of nerd whose lack of athletic prowess was only surpassed by an enthusiasm for sports.
And the thing about nerds at sports camp is that sometimes, at sports camp, a nerd can be lucky enough and meet a very special boy. Who is cool, and not realize that nerd is a nerd and befriend that nerd. AND THEN THAT NERD WILL FALL IN LOVE WITH THAT COOL BOY.
For me, that summer, at soccer camp, that cool boy was Nick.
Nick was so goddamn cool. He was a few years older than I was and played club soccer and had a ponytail. He French-kissed girls and knew how to actually dance at a dance and was recovering from a a real-life in-game injury and so had pins in his leg.
I’d be all, “Man I wanna have pins in my leg.”
But the coolest thing about Nick was that he liked me, just for no reason, and accepted me, and he stood up for me, and, for nerds, THAT IS ALL IT TAKES.
I remember on one of the last days of camp we had to play an expo game for parents, and he met my mom. And Nick, who was all easy breezy charm, waved at my mom from midfield and yelled, “Hey Joe’s Mom. I’m Joe’s Friend.”
Walking back to the locker room later, I remember being awe-struck by that moment, and saying to myself: “Nick says he’s my friend.”
It felt good in a real way.
What made it all even more sweet was at the closing ceremony of camp, he asked me if I wanted to hang out sometime.
I almost passed out.
But we did that. We did hang out sometime, later that summer. He invited me over to his friend J’s parents’ house to swim in their family pool. And I was so nervous, because, you know, I just wanted it all to go so good. I just wanted to make it so good so it wouldn't be a one time thing.
“Should I go dressed in my swim trunks, or change into them?” “Do you think he’s seen Point Break?” “Where can I hide my inhaler in plain sight?” -- these were the questions going through my head.
So I got there, and it was OK. We met up with some of our counselors from camp to have lunch at The Ground Round, and that was cool. We kicked the soccer ball around, and no problems there. They clued me in to subliminal sexual references in Disney movies.
And then we went swimming. And so we were horsing around, and since Nick was a bit of a daredevil, he was doing this thing where he would jump off the side of the pool through an innertube that Jay was holding on its side.
Great. Lots of laughs. Super fun.
Then suddenly it was my turn to hold the innertube.
Looking back on it now, and even then, as well, I don’t know why I did what I did, but when Nick dove for the innertube, I turned it, suddenly, so that he hit it at an awkward angle and then hit the side of the pool, and splashed into the water.
I was paralyzed with instant shame.
Nick was under the water momentarily, and when he resurfaced he was massaging his neck and shoulder. He muttered something about not being able to turn his head. He seemed really hurt.
And then, Nick, after a second or two, after the shock wore off, I'm sure, after he propped himself up at the pool’s edge, looked at me, perplexed, as I was, and asked me, very simply, “Why did you do that?”
Why. Did. You. Do. That.
All I could say was, “I don’t know.” Because, frankly, I didn’t.
And also because “I love you” was not an option for me at that particular moment.