Sunday, May 18, 2003

”…look for the ways to get from one to the other of those glorious moments when all the emotional stops are pulled, when you’re just so goddam glad to be breathing air… .”
- Chris Crutcher, Stotan! (Greenwillow Books, 1986)

Every so often I read “young adult” books, directed toward pre- and teenage readers. The quality of the writing is often just as good, if not better, than that of adult fiction, and I love a finely written coming-of-age story. It’s often a fine line; Gary Reed‘s Pryor Rendering is considered by most libraries an adult book, but Crutcher’s Stotan! isn’t. I’ve no idea why, apart from the fact that Crutcher’s known more as a writer for youth.

Stotan! is a splendid novel, one I fall upon and devour greedily every couple of years. It’s the tale of a quartet of high school swimmers: Walker, Lion(el), Nortie, and Jeff, along with their comrade Elaine and coach Max. In the midst of their senior season, the boys are beset with a myriad of hurdles to get over, including an abusive father (and many other twists I don’t want to reveal, lest I ruin the novel’s surprises), but stick together as four boys-becoming-men who are clearly much further along that path than they think. Even more than coming of age, this is a story about brotherhood, a bond that far too few people ever feel; no matter what twists and turns the lives of these four guys may take, they’ll always be there for each other.

I can’t read, nor think about, this novel without thinking of my own brotherhood. My sophomore year of college, ’93-’94, was my first year as an RA (Resident Assistant). Now, I attended a college of only about 1,000 students, and we only had five dorms – three coed, one women’s, and one men’s. I lived in the men’s dorm, Schwalm, which also had a bit of a rep as the “jock dorm.” The staff we had in Schwalm that year was nothing short of amazing, considering where we can from and where we ended the year. There were eight RA’s and an RD (Resident Director), and we were the most disaparate mix you could imagine. There was Rusty, the slightly odd runner (all bones and no fat). Joel was the soccer stud everyone envied, with a brilliant mind and perfect body (including a beautiful cock) and girlfriend (now his wife) who was gorgeous, athletic, and could drink anyone under the table (what’s not to like, really?). Wolfie was our self-proclaimed redneck – but also an art major. Our token hippie was Dean, the one we named “Treehugger” – all tie-dye and Lennon specs, now a Church of the Brethren minister. Morg played football and baseball, and acted like it. Fetrow was just a bit off-kilter while still being a classic football-and-beer kinda guy’s guy – for a staff photo, he had me help him pick out one of his fiancé’s dresses to wear. Dave, the head RA, was quiet, a thinker, a little bland. But he provided thought and balance. And then, of course, there was me, the back-out-of-the-closet Big Fag on Campus, literature- and music-obsessed, perhaps a bit too sensitive for my own good.

It’s quite a tribute to this group of guys that after I came out to them, at the tail end of the previous school year (by design, so they’d have the summer to process it), one of them (who’ll remain nameless, lest I embarrass any of them who might fall upon this blog) told a fellow RA something to the effect of “I ain’t workin’ with no fag, man.” By Christmas break, we were pulling break duty together, playing Nintendo and watching bad movies, not to mention keeping each other company when a nasty snowstorm knocked out our power for about 4 hours one deep December night.

From such a motley nontet we forged an unbreakable bond. At year’s end, we had an unsanctioned camp-out of campus, just the nine of us. There was a bonfire around which we were all seated, and lots of beer and bourbon – and lots of tears.

I was commissioned to put together a mixtape for our staff that year. I asked everyone to provide to songs: one which was just a favorite, and one which they felt summed up our year together. The choices, suffice it to say, were more than a bit varied; Wolfie offered Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” while Mr. Bad Self Esteem (a/k/a me, at the time) gave up “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” from Morrissey. But the most prescient choice – don’t laugh, please – was from Dave, who submitted “Blood on Blood,” from Jon Bon Jovi’s Young Guns II soundtrack. I was, of course, instantly predisposed to loathe the song, but to my surprise, when I listen to the tape now, it’s the one track I keep returning to. It’s a story of a group of brothers made from bonding, not from blood, in which the narrator admits at song’s end that it’s been years since he saw his comrades, but then points out

”If Jimmy called me up today, I’d be right by his side”

- the subtext of course being that Jimmy would need him for something, anything, and it wouldn’t matter what. That boils down the essence of how I feel about this group of men perfectly, something I was reminded of again recently by The Tin Man’s incredible entry last month on brotherhood. And you know what? As great as my friends are, as much as I love my life now, as fulfilled as I am in many ways, I do miss it, crave it, want it again. But I don’t even know if it’s possible again. Maybe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Thank God I had it that once.

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