Uncle Kyle and Steve arrived around 9:30 that evening. They had flown to Boston and taken a connecting flight to Manchester, New Hampshire, where they rented a car and drove up to Syler Falls.
Since I hadn’t seen Uncle Kyle for eight or nine years, my first impression was that he had grown older, but of course we all had. As Uncle Kyle said, “My goodness, can this be the little boy I knew in Missouri?”
“It is indeed,” said Dad, “and he just keeps growing!”
Uncle Kyle gave me a big hug before introducing his husband, Steve. Steve looked a little younger and little shorter than Uncle Kyle, His hair was dark and cut short. He had a small bald spot on the back of his head. His eyes were sparkling blue. As we learned during their visit, he had a wonderful sense of humor.
Despite his aging, Uncle Kyle was much as I remembered him. He had sandy, rather shaggy hair, dark brown eyes, and a mouth so beautiful I almost wanted to kiss it.
At father’s behest, I carried their suitcases up to the second-floor guestroom and set them on the queen-size bed. I couldn’t help wondering what might go on in that bed while they were visiting, but I figured I’d never know.
I returned to the first floor, where everybody was joined in conversation around the kitchen table. I listened as Uncle Kyle and Steve described their wedding. It was held in a park overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise it sounded pretty much like any other wedding except perhaps that they had written their own vows. They both showed off their gold wedding rings. Mom looked like she didn’t quite approve, but she held her peace and tried to seem interested.
Even though their bodies were still on Pacific Standard Time, the two of them were very tired after their long trip, so they went upstairs, unpacked their suitcases, and got ready for bed. But before Uncle Kyle undressed for bed, he came back downstairs with a gift-wrapped package which he handed to me. Eagerly, I unwrapped it and looked at the title of the book he had given me this time. It was called Fire from Heaven, by Mary Renault, an author I had never heard of.
Uncle Kyle said it was about the childhood of Alexander the Great, and he thought I might enjoy it. If I did, he continued, there were two more books that continued the story of Alexander. The books were difficult to get now, he said, except as used books or in some cases new paperbacks. The one he had given me was new and hardbound, so I knew he had made an effort to find it. I got up, gave him a hug and thanked him for always remembering me. Then he went back upstairs to bed. My parents and I followed soon after.
I sat up for a time reading my new book, which engrossed me immediately. I knew it was historical fiction, and I knew there weren’t a lot of records of the young Alexander, but it was fascinating to read about this young son of a king being raised with all the luxuries that he could possibly have received as a Macedonian prince over 2000 years ago.
Finally closing the book and placing it on my bedside table, I satisfied my adolescent desires and quickly fell asleep.
In the morning, after I showered and dressed, I went downstairs and found Uncle Kyle and Steve at breakfast with my parents. Mom served me hot pancakes with bacon. As I began to dig in, I looked at Steve and asked, “What should I call you?”
Whatever you’d be comfortable with,” he said.
“Can I call you Uncle Steve?” I asked.
I thanked Uncle Kyle again for my book, which I had brought downstairs, planning to read more of it during the day. I asked him, “Do you think Alexander was really that beautiful?”
He laughed and said, “I have no idea, but apparently people found him very attractive.”
I nodded and thought it would be better not to bring up the question of whether or not he was gay. Perhaps nobody knew, but I was pretty sure that, if he was, Mom would not approve of me reading the book. Again, that nagging thought came as I wondered whether or not I was indeed gay, and I resolved to find a way to talk about that with my two uncles.
The day was a cloudy one, so we all stayed indoors, saving sightseeing for a nicer day. My uncles did go with Mom and Dad when they went to Bardwell, so Dad could show them his digs at the University. I had already seen them, and I thought the car might be a little crowded with five of us, so I stayed home and read. As I read, I came across a character named Hephaistion, who was the same age as Alexander and who quickly became his close friend. The story was sounding more and more like the two of them were gay, although sex was never really mentioned. I knew that the Greeks and the Macedonians of that time were fine with homosexuality, so I wasn’t terribly surprised.
My uncles and my parents were going to stay in Bardwell for lunch, so after I made a sandwich for myself, I went up to my garret and played some video games.
After the adults returned, I asked the uncles if they would like to see my garret room, and they quickly agreed, so up we climbed to the third floor. They looked around as I told them about our Haunted House. They enjoyed the view, and then, before we went back downstairs, I asked if I could ask them a question. They sat down on the bed, one on either side of me, and Uncle Kyle said, “Shoot.”
“Well… um… When and how did you first know you were gay?” I looked at them anxiously, wondering if they would think I was being too nosy, but they didn’t bat an eye.
Uncle Steve began. “I think I knew I was different from other boys long before I knew that the difference was being gay. By the time I was five years old, I knew I didn’t have the same interests as the other boys in my kindergarten, who liked to play with trucks and run around the playground. I enjoyed jump rope and the dress-up corner. By first grade, the other boys were teasing me. I guess it wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 that I began to realize I was gay.”
I nodded. “But what changed for you when you were 10 or 11?”
“I began to really notice other boys’ bodies and to want to see what was inside their pants. I never did see until I got to middle school and we had showers after gym. I think from then there was no holding me back.” He looked at Uncle Kyle.
“I don’t think I was aware of the difference until I was probably 12,” Uncle Kyle said. “I’m sure the gym experience was a big one for me too, but as I grew older, I realized I had no interest in girls. Oh, I had friends, close friends who were girls, but I just never was interested in them beyond that. It took me a long time to really acknowledge to myself that I was gay. And then I was a closet gay. I told your father one time and he got really angry, so for a long time after that I didn’t tell anybody else. Later, your father apologized to me. He said he was wrong, that I was who I was, just as he was who he was. From then on, things have been fine between us.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Now I have a question for you. Are you asking these questions because you think you might be gay?”
I knew I was blushing furiously, but I knew too that I had opened up the subject, so I had to be willing to follow through. I thanked them for their honesty. Then hesitatingly I said, “Yeah… Yeah… I am kinda wondering.”
“What makes you think you might be?” asked Uncle Steve softly.
“Well,” I said, trying to figure out just how open I should be. “I certainly have had the same reactions in the gym showers that you had,” I said. “And I pretty much feel the same way about girls as you’ve described. But how can anybody be sure?”
“I wasn’t sure until I was much older,” said Uncle Kyle. “But I think you have to look at your feelings and you probably have to be willing to experiment some. You know, there’s a whole continuum of straight-gay feelings, going from being really straight to being really gay. When you meet a gay person who is far out on that continuum, you’ll recognize him right off. But most of us are someplace closer to the center of the continuum. And it’s further confusing because gay guys have had straight relationships and straight guys have had gay relationships. And then there are the people who are bisexual, which means they’re happy with either sex. So, I would say that you need to play it cool for a while, test out your relationships, and see what happens.”
I nodded, thinking furiously to myself, “How can I test out whether I’m gay when I don’t know any gays here in New Hampshire?”
“What are you thinking?” asked Uncle Steve.
I gave a big sigh and told him what I was wondering.
“Sometimes you can spot someone who is gay, and sometimes it’s very difficult to. You have to look at how they dress, what they say, what their interests are, and ultimately you may have to ask them. I know that’s hard, but unless you have a GSA group at your school, I don’t think there’s any other way. Are you worried about what your parents might feel?”
“Sure. I know they’re fine with you two but being okay with you might be very different than being okay for their one and only son turning out to be gay and maybe depriving them of grandchildren.” I thanked them for being so open with me and said I guessed I needed to think about it for a while.
They nodded and both of them hugged me before they went back downstairs, leaving me in my garret to think about boys at school who might possibly be gay. I knew that, statistically, there had to be a few but I still had no idea how to find them, so I could do nothing but continue to ponder the question, coming no closer to a solution.
The following day, Mom, the uncles, and I rode north up through Franconia Notch, swung east to Gorham and then headed south through Crawford Notch towards home. It was a beautiful day. The sky was dazzlingly blue; the snow sparkled and shone off the mountains. I loved the chain of mountains that culminated in Mount Lafayette, and I was determined I was going to climb it someday. And Mount Washington was spectacular. The uncles said that of course they had pretty dramatic mountains in the west, but they agreed that the White Mountains were special.
On Saturday, the uncles had to leave again for California. They got up very early to drive to the airport, but we were all up to see them off. By then I had finished the book Uncle Kyle had given me and I was pretty sure of the gay relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion. Of course, I didn’t know whether that was historically true, but considering their closeness it certainly seemed very possible.
I gave each of the uncles a big hug, once again thanking Uncle Kyle for the book and giving him a wink. He acknowledged the wink with his own and an extra little squeeze in his hug, whispering, “I’ll send you the next one, called, The Persian Boy. It’s the one I like best.” Then, with another wink and hug, he was gone.
New Year’s Day came and went, and school reopened on Wednesday. On New Year’s Day, the Greenes and I went skiing once again at the farm. I had a blast and didn’t fall once. When we got home, Cole and I gave each other quick hugs before I hugged his parents, thanking them for all they had done.
At dinner that night, Dad asked, “Well, Tyler, how do you feel now about our move to New Hampshire?”
I thought about all that had happened since we had moved here ‒ making friends with Cole, having fun with the Haunted House group, getting to know Cole’s parents and his grandparents, and learning to ski. Smiling, I said, “I think it was the second-best decision you ever made.”
Dad laughed. “And what was the best decision we ever made?” he asked.
I laughed in turn. “Why, having me of course!”