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Down By The Schoolyard

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Down By The Schoolyard

 

In the beginning, it was me and Rosie, just like it always was—Rosie and me been tight since we were in diapers, practically.  That spring, though, somehow it turned into me and Rosie and Julio, and then...well, it wasn’t like Rosie disappeared from the equation or anything, just that me and Julio became something separate, all on our own.

 

I knew I liked boys before I met Julio—known it for a long time.  But Julio’s the first one seemed worth the trouble and the possible risk.  Not to mention, you know.  First one to like me back.

 

Funny thing is, if my mom didn’t have some idea I was into boys, she never would’ve been on me to go to that church youth group.  And if it weren’t for the youth group, me and Julio never would’ve even met.

 

Wouldn’t have met Father Tom, either.  Always heard that a priest’s job is to help people out, make a difference in their lives, but I never really saw it happen before now.  Not that it was my top concern, but when all this happened I did kind of worry about what Father Tom was gonna think.  Whether he’d be disappointed in me.  And maybe the best thing to come out of all this—other than, you know, me and Julio being in love together—is the way Father Tom stood by us.  Weren’t for him, I don’t know how I would’ve been.  Might’ve come out of this feeling a whole different way about myself.

 

Anyway, the schoolyard.  It was kind of our place.  Lots of make-out places around, but not so many if you’re not a guy and a girl.  We’d go to the yard out in back of the elementary school, which some people made a big deal about later, like we were corrupting all the fourth-graders by kissing each other in the vicinity of their jungle gym, when they were all home in bed anyway.

 

We spent a lot of nights out there, all through May and part of June.  Getting to know each other, trying new things.  The papers made it sound like we were holding nightly orgies out there, but it wasn’t just sexual.  There were whole nights when we didn’t do anything but sit on the swings, swaying slowly back and forth, talking about stuff.  That’s one thing that really bothers me: that now people hear my name and Julio’s, and they talk about the schoolyard like it’s the punch line of a joke.  The schoolyard is where we fell in love.

 

Even invited Rosie to come along one night, and we had our own fake prom.  Me and Julio couldn’t go to the real one, obviously—not together, anyways—and Rosie’s asshole boyfriend had dumped her like a week before.  So the three of us got her older brother to buy us some beer, and we dressed up fancy and played the radio and danced, all together.  I don’t think I ever laughed so hard.  Only prom I know of where there were two kings and a queen.  Or where the crowns were made out of the empty boxes the Corona bottles came in.

 

We would’ve been okay if...well, no use thinking about it.  So many ways we would’ve been okay, but that’s not the way it happened, is it?  I was this close to graduating, this close to finding a job and moving out of my parents’ house.  I’d just had my eighteenth birthday; I was a grown-up man.  And I still didn’t know there was any way that could be anything but a good thing.

 

It was a Saturday night when it happened.  Rosie was covering for us—we were supposed to be at a party at her cousin’s house, and neither one of us had to be home before two.  We were kind of crazy with the freedom; we had hours ahead of us, and no way to spend it but with each other.  So we were…otherwise occupied when Julio’s mom came looking for him, having heard some twisted version of things from her junkie nephew, who had apparently come behind the school earlier that night, looking for a place to shoot up.

 

A couple things you have to understand about Julio’s mom, Mrs. Pamajo—one, she’s a force of nature who can make just about anything happen (except for getting the neighborhood kids to stop calling her “Mama Pajama”), and two, she could never have any more kids after Julio, so she was gonna make damn sure that her boy had the kind of life she wanted him to have.  The minute she got that phone call, her mind was churning, trying to figure out how she could twist this information so that it looked bad for me, but Julio came out of it okay.  Couldn’t be just public indecency or you know, sodomy or one of those words, because then me and Julio would both be equally to blame. 

 

What she came up with…you gotta give her credit for quick thinking.  How many people would figure out in the time it took to get from the school to the police station that I was eighteen, and Julio was still seventeen, and that that made it statutory rape?  When the cops pulled into the school parking lot, we both froze in the glare of the flashing lights, but I was the only one they put in handcuffs and muscled into the back of the car.

 

For the two months I was in the county jail, waiting for my court date, I was pretty sure that one way or another, my life was over.  I was a lost cause; there was no way anyone was going to spend any more energy on me.  And it wasn’t my mom or my dad who came to my rescue.  It was Father Tom.  He was on the phone to the newspapers and the ACLU the minute he heard what had happened, digging through old police reports and looking up cases where other high school kids had been caught in flagrante whatever.  And he found out—not exactly a surprise to me, and it took me a while to understand why it even mattered—that in cases where there was an 18-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl, or vice versa, no one got arrested at all.

 

The Newsweek thing…well, I guess I have mixed feelings about it.  I never wanted to be any kind of activist or political figure.  I was just a boy who liked another boy.  But it’s kind of nice that Julio and I have that, this thing we can hold in our hands and look back on when we have our fiftieth anniversary or whatever.  And the things Father Tom said about us—well, I kind of choke up every time I read it.  He said we were good kids.  He said we didn’t deserve to be treated differently from anybody else.

 

So now I’m a free man, without any record, even.  I’ve got my own place, and Julio comes over when he can.  I’ve got a job down at the Stop and Shop, and I’m working on my GED.  I don’t know what happens next, but I have this feeling like I’m on some kind of path, and it’s a good one.  Like somehow, in spite of everything, I’m on my way somewhere.