‘The Part Where I Tell a Story That Used to be a Secret’ … Wind & Water Writing Contest Entry … and now a quilt
The summer before I started Grade Six my mother finally agreed to let me take bagpipe lessons. I’d wanted to do that for a long time, but my father said that I’d just lose interest and it would be yet another thing that I started and didn’t stick with. I was sure that he was wrong.
I loved the sound of bagpipes, and I had a fascination with men wearing kilts. I imagined that wearing a kilt felt much like it did to wear my sister’s skirts when we played dress up; all elegant and swishing around my legs as I walked. And, I could wear a kilt for real; not just for dress up.
So, on Tuesday nights, my mother drove me to the Pipe Band Hall. When we arrived, the Pipers would all be sitting around tables practising on their chanters. My teacher, Robin, would take me to a separate table and we’d work there. My mother would sit nearby, knitting, and smiling. She liked Robin.
I liked Robin, too. A lot. He was fresh out of high school and saving money to move to the city. He spoke with the same Scottish lilt that my Nana had, and I loved listening to him talk.
His hair was a dirty blonde colour and he had a full untrimmed beard. His hair was too long and always tousled. Most days, he looked like he just got out of bed. He ran his hand through his hair a lot and he played with his beard when he listened to me play. His dark brown eyes sparkled when he laughed. And his smile made me smile.
I heard my mother tell my father that Robin was handsome, but rough around the edges. She also said that he was charming and polite. I think that she liked him a lot.
I was glad that I’d started my music lessons in the summer. It gave me something positive to think about as I returned to school.
Up until Grade Six, school had been pretty discouraging. Every day was the same. “Sit still.” “Be quiet.” “Try harder.” “Boys don’t do that.”
I hoped that things would be different in Grade Six. I’d have my first male teacher. Mr. Griffith, the Principal, said that I could turn over a new leaf if I wanted to because Mr. Fyfe, my teacher, was new to the school and would know nothing about me.
I quickly discovered that a new teacher was not going to make any difference. The other teachers must have told him all about me, because by the fourth day, my desk was in the farthest corner of the room, and I was back to hating pretty much everything about school.
But the part that I hated most was recess. Recess was torture. I was always the last one picked for games, and I was constantly poked at and called names. In the lineup at the end of recess the favourite game to play was ‘Monkey-in-the-Middle’ with me being the Monkey trying to get my hat back. Even the teachers laughed.
Since there was nothing about recess that I liked, I avoided it. I’d dawdle so that I was the last one to leave the classroom. Instead of going outside, I’d hide in a washroom cubicle until the bell rang. Then I’d hurry up the stairs and be the first one back in my desk.
One Monday, someone came into the washroom where I was hiding and walked straight to my cubicle. His hand, appeared on the top of the door, and he tried to tug it open. I heard a man’s voice say, “Sorry mate,” as he entered the next cubicle.
He did his business quickly. “Got caught short on my way home, so I snuck in. Glad it was a school day. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’d have done,” he said.
As the bell rang, he kept talking. “You don’t need to worry about me. I used to hide in here at recess too.”
I recognized the lilt in that voice. It was unmistakably Robin. I didn’t know what to say, as I scurried out for class, so I blurted out, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I’d meant that I’d see him at the Pipe Band Hall tomorrow, but the next day, Robin was there waiting for me at recess, as he was most days after that.
Robin said that we couldn’t tell anyone about our meetings because he wasn’t supposed to be in the school. He was neither staff nor student, and he said that we’d both be in trouble if anyone found out that he was there. We also agreed that we’d never talk about these private times, especially at music lessons, because someone might overhear us. And no-one was ever to know.
I looked forward to seeing Robin every day. Some days it wasn’t safe for him to sneak into the school. Those days, I always felt disappointed.
We talked a lot. Robin seemed kind and gentle, and he made me feel safe and comfortable. We talked about being teased and called names, and feeling like we didn’t fit in. We talked about being different. We talked about changes that happen as a boy grows into a man. We talked about my fears. He seemed to understand. About me.
One day, I asked him if it was true what my Nana said about Scotsmen not wearing anything under their kilts. He smiled and said that I’d have to find that one out on my own.
The next day, Robin was waiting for me. Wearing a kilt.
He told me that before I could see what he had on under his kilt, he was going to check me over first. I wasn’t sure about this, but I didn’t say anything. He often touched me, and I just closed my eyes and imagined that he was Fess Parker from ‘Old Yeller’ and I was his little boy and it felt good.
This was different. When I closed my eyes, I didn’t see Fess Parker. Usually when Robin touched me it was a hug or a pat or a rub, and on top of my clothes. This time, he reached up under my shirt and rubbed all over my tummy and my chest. He said that he was looking for the start of my hairy chest. He took his time. He reached around and rubbed my bum all over and squeezed it, but not hard. Then he undid my fly and played with my penis for a bit. He assured me that I was progressing nicely.
When he was done, he stood up slowly and lifted his kilt. With a smile, he announced, “See! Nothing on”.
My eyes went wide. I’d never seen a man’s penis before and something about this whole scene terrified me.
His penis was big and hard, and it had skin that he was moving back and forth as he stroked it. He wanted me to touch it. Fortunately, the bell rang just in time, and I hurried back to class.
I started going outside for recess after that.
A few weeks later, Robin appeared at the playground fence, and we talked again. I’d missed him. He was so easy to talk to and he reminded me that we’d been friends for a while. Our talks at the fence were short though. As soon a teacher turned the corner, we had to stop, and Robin had to move on.
One day Robin invited me over to his house. He lived beside my favourite Saturday hiking trail. I knew that because I’d seen him standing in an upstairs window and we’d waved.
The next Saturday morning I headed out for my hike as usual. As I neared Robin’s house, I saw him at the window motioning for me to come over. He met me at his door, wearing a heavy wool Greatcoat. He said that it was his dad’s from the war. I followed him upstairs to his room and he shut the door behind us. I was shaking. Maybe it was the cold.
In one sweeping motion, Robin opened his coat, wrapped it around me, and pulled me into him. He said that he’d warm me up.
My face was buried in his chest hair, and I realized that he was naked under that coat. I tried to pull away, but his arms held me tight. He told me to be quiet or I’d be in trouble.
He undid my pants and pulled them down. He pushed me onto his bed with my bum bare to the cold.
I felt his weight on me; his hand on the back of my head, forcing my face deeper into his pillow. I heard him spit a few times, and then I felt him rub my bum wet with that spit. He told me that if I needed to cry, to do it into the pillow.
And then I felt his full weight on me. He was still wearing his coat.
I didn’t cry.
When he was done, he cleaned me up with Kleenex and left a wad in my bum crack to catch anything that he might have missed.
I pulled up my pants and left quietly to finish my hike.
It would be 15 years before I would let a man touch my body again.
It would be 60 years before I would cry, and tell this secret as a story.
And I still can’t play the bagpipes.