Long before, before everything happened, Marco had been my Patrol Leader in the Scouts. And I was almost in love with him.
He called me one lunchtime. That time during the day for the unhappy reunion of my family, or what was left of it. Three months had passed, only three months, and an eternity of silence.
At that time of the day, my mother and I, punctual without any reason, spent a long moment together. The time necessary to swallow the food with acceptable calm. We simply acknowledged the other’s presence, but rarely looked into each other's eyes. It was far easier to concentrate on listening carefully to the noise the cutlery made against the plates, while the chewed food went down, where it would be digested.
A sentence, a few words, would have broken that vow of silence which we had never made, and the deafening noise would no longer have stunned us. But neither I, nor she, both still intensely upset, intimidated by what had happened, said anything other than the words strictly necessary to avert any rudeness.
That day, it was the phone that made a noise, a loud clangor.
I whispered something and got up. Trying to tiptoe, afraid of making a noise, touching the walls, the furniture, anything.
Then I listened to Marco, the sound of his voice, serene, cheerful, comforting.
"Come and see me," he said, "I need to talk to you. Come to the Section, tonight..."
The Section was how everyone, since forever, had called the Scout Troop’s place.
"Are you still in the Scouts?" I asked him, smiling, as if he could see me.
I liked listening to him. Usually his voice calmed me down and helped me detach myself from my thoughts. I knew only too well that he still wore the Scout uniform, the shorts, badges, the foulard. He would never leave the Association, but I asked him anyway. Because I liked the sound of his voice.
"Don't be silly, you know very well I'm still in the Scouts. And you also know that this year I'm Scoutmaster. I told you. Remember? Don't get smart with me!" his voice told me he too was smiling.
"I wouldn't!" I said, knowing he was joking and struggling to grin.
He was teasing, and I was trying to maintain a composed tone to my voice. My face, on the other hand, remained frozen for a long time, unable to contract the muscles that had just made me smile. A lost habit. I had almost forgotten how to smile.
"Listen...I am calling you because tonight I would like to..." he hesitated. Then he corrected himself, "that is...I would like you to come to the Troop meeting. Tonight! At seven o'clock, as always. Tonight! Remember? Can you do this for me? We're always there. Will you come? Please!" He was suddenly agitated, which for Marco was not normal.
"Marco, why do you want me to come... and tonight? Why should I, Marco? Try telling me, please!"
"Because I need to talk to you!"
I was suspicious. Perhaps he wanted to ask a favor. Whatever it was, it was definitely something I couldn't do. I could not go back there. I hoped he would explain himself, then and there, over the phone. I waited, desperate, because what he was asking me was too difficult for me to do.
"I need to talk to you… in person!" he insisted. "I have something to propose. Will you come? Please?"
Was he begging me?
"Marco, you haven't called me in ages." I was trying to defend myself, more alarmed than annoyed. "I haven't heard from you for months. And you want me to meet you. At the Section. Where I haven't set foot, in three years. In fact, it's been three years since I've been anywhere near there! Perhaps you also remember why I don't go there anymore? You know why, Marco. You should know! And tonight, you want me to come there just because you have to talk to me? What have you got to tell me? Tell me now! Come on!"
It was the tension that made me rude. I was in trouble. The emotion, the idea of going back to those places, it took my breath away.
"I need your help," he finally said. "And if I ask you, it's because you're the only one who can do me this favor. Will you come?"
His voice, far from being tense, had become even sweeter. Evoking in me other times and another happiness. That tone brought me back to my adolescence, which was not so far away and yet it was over, completely over, buried under piles of life and bad experiences.
"Maybe!" I said. I hung up nervously, without adding anything else, or listening to the quiet thanks. Polite, as he was, Marco had certainly murmured that word, even into the mute handset.
Quiet and polite, that was his way of imposing himself. I had that thought for the thousandth time in my life. And I did not say goodbye to him, nor did I tell him how much I missed them all, how happy and excited and scared I was to go back there.
Why didn't I refuse? Why go? Why not stay away? Perhaps, because for one evening I had the chance to think about something other than books and exams, or the silences. The melancholy with which my mother and I populated our days. It wouldn't hurt me. There was little time left until school finished. When my teachers would ask me to show the fruit of my work. My attention was focused exclusively on my examinations, on what I would write and say on those occasions, to be evaluated and judged. Written and oral exams. I had to show something of myself that was not my real thoughts if I wanted to get top marks. And I was obliged to do so.
Then, after that moment, beyond the finish line, there would be nothing left.
In those months of my life, there had been nothing but damned exams. When I didn't fantasize about the tests that awaited me, a sort of fatal appointment, it was the image of my mother which occupied my mind. Her slow fading grief worried me. Or I thought about my father, how he was before, and then at the end, when I had looked at him for the last time, when he was alive. Because as a dead man, he was no longer here. He was only a bag of skin stretched over bones. His bones were the only part of his body that the disease had not ravaged or wilted.
That evening I decided to go to Marco's, because maybe, I thought, it wouldn't hurt me to get distracted. As long as I didn't regret it because I hadn't forgotten everything that had happened. It was one of the things I could not afford to ignore, along with many more serious things. First, it meant meeting certain people, a different sort of person, the companions of some of my many trips.
Up to that time of my life, I had done many trips, but those were all ‘induced’ trips. Only two had been important to me. True, physical. The first, in the summer two years before, when I had visited Amsterdam. The other, the following summer, when I went to London.
All those other trips were nothing but an escape from reality. The product of drugs of various kinds capable of altering my psychophysical balance, as my father would have said, pushing me to uncontrolled reactions.
My father was a heart surgeon.
For the last year and a half, I was absolutely forbidden to meet those persons who had passed me my first joints and then introduced me to LSD and other substances. I was also prevented from seeing the person who had held my arm, while someone, whose name I had tried to forget, injected my first and last dose of heroin.
That was a particular prohibition because it was irrevocable and absolute. Stated by my father. And he was dead.
That veto could never be set aside as might have happened, but not now that my father was dead. It had instead a value which fixed it as irrevocable for me and would have been sacred, if I believed in something that could make it so. But I didn’t believe in anything, not anymore.
However, in those very days, looking at the commitment with which I was studying, at my fury, at my anger, I understood how those efforts were the childish attempt to deceive an already predefined destiny.
With my high school graduation (#1), my nightmares, the real ones, would have reached me and I would have not been able to escape them. On that summer morning, which I hoped would arrive as soon as possible, I would have said goodbye to my examiners. I would have been free from the thought of exams. And the diversion granted by the study would have been over and I would have returned prisoner of my obsessions.
Marco and I had continued to see each other, even after I left the Scouts three years ago. We would meet up, although it would be more accurate to say it was he who was always the one looking for me, and I let him find me. Occasionally, it was the other way around, and I was the one who wanted to see him. Mostly, I agreed to see him, because when we met, Marco did not ask me any questions, nor did I have to talk to him about myself. It was as though our meetings took place in a faraway place and to get there I had to deprive myself of those other experiences, the ones I would not tell him about. Everything was so sad. At those times I felt more sad than usual, but also happy in a melancholic way, because Marco was there and talking to me.
In the places we chose for our appointments, the noise of the world outside arrived filtered through the discretion with which that boy knew how to conceal his every action. I think it was me who wanted us not to talk about us, because if I had allowed him to, he would certainly have told me about himself. I thought I didn't care to know about him, or I was afraid he might tell me things I wouldn't want to know. What was important, however, was not having to tell him about me. He sensed those things, he knew, reading them in my face. We always talked of other things.
Anyway, we were still close enough for him to contact me and ask me to visit him. Whatever was going on in his head it would be good for me at least to hear what it was.
That day, the odd thing which frightened me and made me nervous, being almost rude to him, was that he wanted to meet at the Section. And he knew I wouldn't like that. Not that we had ever talked about it, but it was one of those things two friends don't need to tell each other, in order that one would know about the other.
Despite everything I would still go there.
I would probably see some friendly faces again, but certainly also someone I didn't really want to see again. It was dangerous for my balance, but I decided, for that evening I would risk it. It was crazy, but the decision was induced by the emptiness my life held in those months, and in the last few years.
When you have nothing at all in your heart, I thought, you don't risk losing it.
I was wrong and what was worse, having decided to go, I knew exactly how wrong I was.
I arrived at the Section at seven o'clock, the time every night the boys met up. The Scouts' headquarters was in a wide, side street, which was quiet enough for them to play football without having to worry about cars.
Inside was a long, spacious room, the tall, vaulted walls forming large arches, each painted a different color. The colors matched the different Patrols, and on the walls hung various objects, real trophies to inspire the imagination of the kids. When I too was a boy.
I stopped at the door, inside there was the usual animation. I trembled with emotion, closed my eyes, and breathed in the unmistakable smell of that room. A mixture of paint, dampness, leather, waterproofing liquid for the tents, grease for the boots, and the odor of the boys. A perfume that I once had, then inevitably lost, along with many other things.
Marco came to meet me at the door. He was genuinely happy.
"You really came. I didn't think I would convince you so easily. But that's good, because otherwise I would have continued haunting you with my phone calls!"
What could I say to him? That, that night, I was going to rehearse my suicide.
"Do you have plans for the summer?" he asked me immediately, without preamble, smiling, as always. "I mean for after your exams. Before you go to your grandparents, you know?"
He never talked a lot, but always with the same warm and flat, comfortable voice. For me it had always been reassuring. I had almost forgotten his tone and listening to it once more made me inexplicably happy. He had also remembered my grandparents, in Vienna. He thought my mother and I would return there. My mother and I, a vacation, as if nothing had happened.
Then it struck me, that my life didn't have to end that evening, or that month, but I had a chance to continue. Maybe? So, I set my intentions aside and decided to contemplate my possible suicide another time. Maybe later in the summer. First, I would listen to what Marco wanted to ask me.
"I haven't thought about it yet," I answered, while distractedly watching the boys move and jump the same way I had done three years earlier. "I don't know yet the date of the oral exam. Who knows how it's going to turn out?”
"Coming from you, it doesn't make sense," he said, laughing. Not even considering that kind of excuse. "I'm sure you'll get top marks. Listen…" he took my hands and squeezed them, as if to give more strength to his proposal. "I just wanted to ask you if you would like to come with us to camp!”
So, this was his request. And it was a challenge. I should have expected such a demand. Actually, there were a few things he could have asked me to do, but this was the riskiest one for me and, in a way, also for him, because he was in charge of the Scout Troop.
“No way…” I began turning away, trying to leave the place.
“Wait, I need help…please!” he said, and I stopped in my tracks. “We need help…there will certainly be only two of us, instead of three and we are looking for someone who can take care of the practical things. Only what Tonio and I will not be able to deal with. Do you remember Tonio? Now he is the Assistant Scoutmaster."
"Yes!" I said at once, “I remember him…”
Tonio was one of those people I had almost forgotten, and without regret. I had no good or bad reason to remember him. I needed to try hard to recall what he looked like, but once I caught a glimpse of him at the back of the large room, I recognized him.
So, this is what Marco wanted.
His request surprised me. I found it difficult to agree to. In our sporadic encounters he never talked about anything like this. Now, I was reading in his eyes and in his heart that he wanted, hoped, it was time for me to come back from my protracted journey without end.
He wanted me with him in the Scouts. If it was a dream for him, and it certainly was, that desire was just as unreachable as it was inviting. He had always hoped to persuade me to return to normality, to his idea of balance. And therefore, the Scouts indeed represented normality. Now that I was, in a sense, more presentable, respectable again, no longer looking after my father who had died, Marco could conclude the difficult task he had attributed to himself.
But it wasn't only that, it would have been unfair to think so. He genuinely cared about me. I had suffered and still suffered, he knew it and wanted to help me, but this wasn't the medicine I needed. Not at all. And Marco did not imagine what that was, that I was sure of. If he had known, he certainly would never have called me.
To avoid paying attention to all the thoughts that were bouncing around in my brain, I imagined myself at the camp. It would be a terrible mess, tiring and dirty. It would also be risky, because I would have a lot of guys around me and that was another one of the topics I didn't want to think about.
It wasn't difficult to realize that camping was not for me. The person I was, who I had become, was no longer appropriate for a Scout Camp. Not at all.
I was painstakingly trying to figure out how to reject Marco's proposal without offending him. Then, just as I was about to tell him, I saw this boy through the door. I recognized him immediately, he was not someone you would forget.
It was for him that I was there.
Had he not appeared at that moment, I would have gone back to my sadness and let myself be overwhelmed by it.
Paoletto was standing in the doorway.
So, instead of thanking Marco for considering me and begging him to excuse me because I could not accept his proposal, I replied in the opposite way to how I had intended. I spoke with an enthusiasm that was absolutely unknown to me. My brain stopped working and my heart expressed itself. It screamed, with all the strength it had, for fear that its voice would not be heard.
"Do you really want me to come to the camp?” My poor heart said, “Do you honestly think I can come back with you again?" I heard myself say. While my brain felt horrified and was helpless.
Marco looked at me intrigued because I was repeating his own words.
"That's just what I'm asking you!" he said, still looking at me rather oddly.
"I will come wherever you want, do whatever you want.” My heart was speaking for me, leaving my brain in shock.
“Ok!” Now Marco was speechless.
"But there are some things…" I told him. "I no longer think like all of you. You know what I mean," I was regaining a little control of my words, trying to make my head start thinking.
"It's not a problem," he concluded. "I'm just asking for your practical help. You'll have to be a sort of Quartermaster and if you don't want to do certain things, no one will care. In short, if you don't come to Mass, no one will worry about your soul. Anyway, I think a camp would do you good!"
He said this and left, before I could think it over, leaving me in the middle of the room, a bit dazed. Then I felt myself grasped from behind, hugged, squeezed, held with warmth and true affection.
It was Paoletto.
"What are you doing here?” he cried. “Have you come to sign up again?"
We hadn't spoken for so long, since he was still a child and I was pretending to be a man. Now he was a grown boy, as tall as me, and I knew that I loved him. I had always loved him. I had never stopped loving him, not for a moment.
I ran these thoughts through my head and wondered if I shouldn't run away. But I couldn't. He was there, holding me tight, and I loved him. The emotion made me catch my breath. But I couldn't do anything about it. That was just how it was. The way it was meant to be.
"He can be the new Assistant Scoutmaster," Marco shouted from afar, seeing us together, "and maybe he will come to camp with us. He hasn't decided yet. Try to convince him, please, Paoletto!"
"Really?" asked Paoletto, with the same sweet voice. That voice I had forgotten. Then he hugged me again, more tightly, if that was possible. He murmured in my ear "I'm happy! You, asshole… I'm happy. You will come? Won't you? Please…"
He didn't wait for me to reply but slipped away to the corner owned by the Panthers' Patrol. I didn't know, not for sure, but he was their leader. Before he let me go he squeezed me tight and shook his head.
I had said nothing, not even daring a breath. Suddenly I gulped in air. I should have left. I wish I could have. If I had disappeared, they probably wouldn't have bothered looking for me. Marco would simply have thought the Scout camp was not for me anymore. And Paoletto, once again, he would have wondered what had happened and then he would have forgotten me, maybe never giving me another thought.
Instead, I stayed rooted to the spot, listening as Marco was trying to explain more about my job at the camp. All the time I was thinking about Paoletto. Who he had become now, after three years.
Although in the past I was particularly good at denying reality to myself, that evening I had no difficulty in admitting the truth. My conscience and me. We knew perfectly well I had gone to the Section to see Paoletto again, knowing I would find him there.
And when he noticed my presence, he ran to greet me. He had held me, and his embrace was full of affection. No resentment, nor the contempt that I should have deserved.
I stayed at the Section and attended the meeting, at once and somewhat courageously ignoring all the reasons why I had abandoned the Scouts only three years earlier. My so called ideological problems had evidently never been important, they disappeared. As did my incompatibility with religion, which was the best garment I had dressed myself up in.
That evening I was almost able to forget the real reasons behind my escape. When the boys gathered for prayers at the end of the meeting I did not burst out laughing or crying, as I had feared. I mechanically made the sign of the cross and almost prayed. A thing which came to remind me of my father, the way he was before everything that had happened to us. And then all the words of the prayers came back to me, all of them. The words that I had been trying to forget for three years came to mind, like I only recited them yesterday.
While gathered there in a circle, as was the Scouts’ custom, first talking, then praying, Paoletto looked at me and I looked at him. We smiled and then laughed openly, one to the other, and that was bliss for me. I felt that my soul was healing, or at least it was the beginning of the process.
When the meeting drew to an end, all my courage deserted me. I ran off, to avoid having to give answers I wasn't prepared to explain. But, I would go to the camp, I was happy to go, even if it meant doing things contrary to my way of thinking, if I still thought that was true.
As I arrived home, rather than being disturbed and worried about what I had done, I felt soothed by the events. Something which my mother became aware of, which prompted her to ask why I was so happy. She would not often speak, it was a rare occasion when she would emerge from her self-imposed isolation, where she had shut herself away, cut off from everyone. I tried communicating to her a part of the serenity which I thought I had found that evening. Reassured that I had not renewed any old and dangerous past friendships, she did what she always did, and recoiled, withdrawing back to her hiding place.
The following night I went to the Scouts again, so as to be with Paoletto. It was as if those three years had not passed by it was like it was only yesterday, and I buried my head in the hard work of preparations. I was happy to have my thoughts occupied with different matters. These new tasks appeased me, and I could see Paoletto every evening, enjoy his affection and sincerity. I never thought about being the one who betrayed him.
For years I had tried to get to grips with the inherent dangers which might be hidden within any new friendship. Reuniting with Paoletto and the others was like a miracle medicine, it's effects spilt over into my studies releasing the hitherto need to be buried within books.
My exams went very well, and I received top marks, as everyone expected. The day the results were known, we left for camp. It was in the Alps somewhere, a place with a French sounding name.
I was fifteen years and three months old when I left the Scouts, it was in August, after my fifth camp. At seven I had joined the Cubs and stayed until I was ten, when I moved up to the Scouts, and found Marco. He was two years older than me, and I liked him straight off. Partly because we were in the same Patrol, we lived in the same area, and our families knew each other. Years before, it was his mother who convinced mine that I should join the Cubs.
Marco was a quiet boy. As children we had often played together. I was an only child, as was he. I was always looking for a playmate, and although older, he had always been available and happy to share his time and his toys with me.
When I was much younger, I had this big teddy bear. It was made of an extraordinarily soft material and its eyes, and the expression on its face, just begged to be hugged. Which I did all the time. For a while, we were inseparable. I understand now how that teddy was a substitute for the little dog that my parents never wanted to give me, or even a kitten to pet, from fear of catching some disease, or perhaps the trouble of looking after it.
That sort of infatuation lasted only a few months, until my mother decreed that Pilù was too dirty for me to take him to bed with me. One day she made him disappear, trying to replace him with another teddy bear that, of course, only heightened the loss, and my nostalgia for him.
After a while I forgot Pilù, but I think I remembered him when I met Marco. For me he was like Pilù, smooth and soft. Not that as a six or seven year old I could understand those things, but his hair, the way he dressed, his voice, his behavior, were absolutely free of roughness and everything about him conveyed serenity and softness to me.
When we found ourselves in the Scout Troop together, Marco was immediately very affectionate, confirming in the Scouts, in an environment with lots of older boys, the friendship that already existed between us. And I repaid him with my devotion, proud that an older boy, he was already thirteen years old, was interested in an annoying little squirt such as me.
Every evening, at a quarter to seven he would pass in front of my gate. I would already be outside waiting for him. Together we would walk and run, chatting, and joking, until we reached the Section. We did this for three years, and during this time our friendship deepened. I was also growing up and became less exasperating.
It was only natural that Marco became my confidant. I had other friends who were my peers, usually schoolmates and playmates, or those who were the same age as me in the Scouts. But Marco was the person I used to turn to when I wanted someone to explain something to me. I had no older brothers or sisters, so it was quite natural that I confided in him, sharing all my doubts.
Joining the Scouts, much more than with the Cubs, I learned to live in a world that was no longer the secluded reality of my family. It was a different world even to life at school, which had never involved me enough for me to consider it important. Instead, the Section became my cosmos, my universe, and my school of life. Marco was my master in that world, my guide through an unknown country which I had to explore and know in order to survive and grow.
Every night in that hall there was one especially important game we played, which was learning life. A game which often continued on Sundays, with excursions out of town, in some woodlands, where we had other activities and goals. And then there was summer camp, which almost took the role of a final exam. At that time none of us imagined playing a role so close to real life.
Although, after studying social studies for the first time, I imagined that we were like a small state, the Section, divided into regions or provinces, which were the Patrols. That state had a government, with leaders, the adults, the wisest. And each province, each Patrol, was ruled by the oldest of the group, or in his absence by the one that was closest to him in age. After studying medieval history, it occurred to me, that perhaps the Patrols were like fiefdoms. Small states that were constantly at war, with battles, conflicts, and confrontations, with each other. Whether a soccer match or a contest to determine who had best painted their own corner of the Section. We played that game, happy to be part of it, yet equally unaware that we were.
After two years and two camps, Marco became my Patrol Leader, something which increased, if it were possible, my devotion to him.
One evening in October, a few months before my thirteenth birthday, on the way home, I found the courage to ask him something. It was an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for too long and had upset the peaceful flow of my days.
School had recently resumed, as had the activities of the Scout Troop. This kept us very busy, yet not enough to completely forget some little things that were happening, which although I explained the changes to myself, I could not ignore them. Then two comrades of mine told me a story which highlighted all this.
They had found themselves alone in the house of one of them and had started to do things together. I had an idea about what they were going to say, and I didn't even want to listen to it. Yet, I couldn't run away, once I understood what it was about, I was captured, stuck in the chair listening to their story, it was too interesting to pass over.
That summer, my body had changed. Something more than the whisper of hairs which graced my face, my balls were sprouting faint curly hair. My dick took on a mind of its own, which I could neither understand nor control. All of this both intrigued and embarrassed me.
It was what those two were talking about, ignoring all the other changes, their attention was focused on conspiratorially whispering the word 'cock', which caused me to blush and I wanted to stop listening. To listen to them talking was more than I could cope with, that's what I told myself, but it wasn't true, because I didn't move, instead captivated by their bragging.
I knew something about my physical development, but I had no practical knowledge of the matter. As my father was a doctor, the library at home was very well stocked on such a subject and I had done my research in secret from my parents. I understood and recognized what was happening to me, but the idea that I could take pleasure in these changes had not yet touched me. If I had come across any such explanation, it must have escaped me.
Those two schoolmates, on the other hand, even though they lacked my scientific knowledge, were endowed with an impudence that did not belong to me, nor would ever be mine. They had had an experience in which the existence of pleasure had been revealed to them and obviously they were boasting about it with me. Perhaps they were making up a good part of the story. I knew it, but it was all so compelling that I listened to what they were saying and convinced myself it was true.
Their words enraptured me, while they laughed roughly and described what they had done the previous afternoon at home. First, they were excited to tell each other stories about non-existent girls and conquests they had never made, then they pulled out their already hard dicks, or cocks. Then they got the idea to have a competition. They wanted to measure them to determine who had the longest. When with the ruler in hand they had established which of the two was the most gifted, the winner had demanded payment of a pledge that consisted in being able to freely touch the other.
The groping had caused such excitement that together they had 'jizzed', and here my understanding had faltered. Even though they had explained to me that the practical effect had been getting wet and dirty with semen.
I had listened with my mouth open and had also naively asked who had won the race. Those two were much smarter than me and invited me that very afternoon to their house of to find out for myself. Horrified, I ran off, hearing the laughter of my two uninhibited companions behind me.
I was upset, even though I knew that most of the story had been made up for my benefit, to brag about their physical maturity. And because those two just wanted me to participate in their fun. In any case, the episode had made me terribly curious to know more.
So, after a few days spent wondering if I could do it too. If it wasn't a serious sin towards that God who, at the time, I thought was intent on spying on everyone to be able to judge them in due time. Or if it wasn't dangerous for my health, as we kids whispered among ourselves. After nights spent in confusion, assaulted by all sorts of doubts, not least the terrifying idea of having to tell my confessor about my sinful actions. Unable to reach a solution, I decided to ask the advice of my Patrol Leader who was also my advisor and my confidant, and although I had not yet understood it, the master of my heart.
"Marco, can I ask you something?"
We were walking home, like every night, on our way back from the Section. Surely the right moment to ask him my question.
I didn't wait for his assent but continued with the question I had meticulously prepared. But as I started, my courage faltered, though somehow I found extra strength, because by now I had to know, and Marco was the only one whom I trusted.
"Two of my schoolmates told me that... some things can be done... that… they do certain things...” I said hastily and gasping. Then I took a deep breath and finally said the word I was so scared of, “I am talking about, masturbation. What do you think? Do you think it is a bad thing? Is it a sin?" I inquired, fearfully.
He didn't answer immediately, he kept quiet and kept walking, so much so that I was afraid I had offended him with my words. His silence bewildered me, and I was about to apologize for having annoyed him when he finally spoke. Not with his usual calm voice.
"What exactly do you know?" he asked, with a kind of trembling in those few words.
Although I was terribly embarrassed, I found the courage to speak up, and pitched in with my scientific knowledge on the subject. I called everything by its name, even though many issues were not clear to me from a practical point of view, having not yet tried anything myself, for fear of who knows what consequences.
Listening to me, I think he was blushing. I am not sure, but perhaps the frankness of my words had embarrassed him.
"It's not a bad thing and it's not a sin," he said decisively, "but one shouldn't exaggerate.”
"In doing what we are talking about… I mean, you ought not to do it too often." Before I could ask him again what on earth you had to do so sparingly, Marco must have read my mind, and helped me avoid dying of shame. "You've never done it, have you?”
I shook my head, almost sorry to be a problem.
"Then you don't know how to... masturbate!"
"No! Yes! My classmates told me at school...I know a little bit!"
"And you want me to explain it better to you?"
I would like you to show me, I thought, without being able to say it. It would have been inconceivable, even though it was the thing I most desired in the world at that moment.
"Yes... only if you wish," I murmured, at the height of embarrassment and excitement.
"Try to find yourself a quiet place," he began. "You have to be alone, because it is better that way,” he added, disappointing my expectations. “Then make yourself comfortable."
Despite everything, I listened, captured by his words. This was a life lesson. Not the one I would have liked, but always a precious lesson, and I don't know how many people have received it from someone like Marco. He managed his response with balance and prudence. I would certainly have preferred direct practice, but perhaps it would have been too much to expect.
He spoke with a trembling voice. Now I know, excitement choked him, but at that moment I thought he was just embarrassed.
"Take your thing in your hand and if it isn't hard, it will get hard right away. It gets hard, doesn't it?"
My heart skipped a beat. I thought that was a secret. Not a deformity, as some of my schoolmates believed, but I was convinced that that aspect of my body should be hidden. It was out of bounds to anyone but me. Now I believe that singular idea was the culmination of my naivety and was the best proof of it. I blushed and nodded in discomfort. I also stopped while he kept walking.
"There's nothing wrong with it," he encouraged me. "It's normal that it happens if you see something you like. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Yes! I think so..." My throat was dry, and my tongue stuck to my palate.
What was he talking about? Something I liked? What was it I liked? Most of all, I liked him. And also, some of my schoolmates, some of the boys in the Scouts, but most of all I liked him.
"Then move your hand as you are touching yourself. You will see that you will immediately understand how to do it! Then a beautiful thing will happen to you. You will feel strange. This strong and unfortunately short feeling is called orgasm! But don't be frightened! You'll see, it's beautiful!" he concluded with a cracked voice.
"I think I get it... perhaps!"
When he left me, as usual in front of my house, neither of us had the courage to look at each other. However, that evening he had said something which had granted me salvation, allowing me to grow up knowing this particular aspect of my development was nothing to be ashamed of. At least not right away, because I wasn't ashamed of it until other things happened later.
"I do it too!" he reassured me. "And... another thing that perhaps you would like to know. I said so in confession. Only once, but that priest… turned very red."
We laughed together.
"Then I thought, this matter was something personal, strictly personal, and I probably shouldn't talk about it anymore with a priest. After all, they say it's a sin. I don't think it is, because if God has given us hands and that thing… you know… then... in short..."
And that's where he stopped. Maybe he was telling me too much and preferred to say no more.
"So, anyway. Listen… If you want to talk about it with me, you can. Whenever you want. With you I don't feel ashamed! And you don't have to be ashamed either! Never! Do you understand?"
That is what he told me, and knowing someone like him, who was older than me, had the same problems and was willing to help me, consoled me greatly.
When I went inside, I tried to be alone as soon as possible. Hastily, I put into practice all Marco’s suggestions. The result amazed me. Pushing me to try again immediately to obtain the same feelings. The idea of trying a third time, I ignored, because I remembered my friend's recommendations about moderation.
That day Marco had given me something more, in addition to our strong friendship. He had created a new complicity in our relationship, something almost physical. I started to experience a strange feeling whenever I was close to him. I began to touch him. I didn't miss any chance I had. He too was attracted by me, but in a different and certainly more conscious way. However, we never found the courage to speak about this new dimension to our friendship. We lived it, and we were happy in our own way.
Sometimes I looked for him, only to discover that he was already staring at me. He would often caress me, touching me with his soft hands. It was a touch so different from that of my mother. The only touch I had known before. When he touched me, I felt a similar affection.
When those caresses, their nature masked to us, revealed themselves for what they were, everything ended. Marco never mentioned what had happened, and I placed those moments, which I had not completely understood, in the limbo of things lived or seen like a dream. They were real, only sometimes you think to yourself you only dreamed it. When finally, I understood, it was too late for me, for Marco, for everyone.
It happened the following summer during a night at camp filled with heavy rain, lightning, and thunder. We had been asleep for a couple of hours, tucked into our sleeping bags, when the thunderstorm hit. It reached a force we had never seen before, although there had been rainy days. Wind and water swept the campsite, where we had raised our pole for the flag. It was the creaking of that pole swaying in the wind, that woke me.
When you are accustomed to sleeping in a tent and have experienced an intense day of camp, you certainly do not wake up with the sound of rain beating on the rainfly, thunder rumbling, or the flash of lightning. I was there, deeply asleep like everyone else, when a sort of insistent crunching tore me from the deep sleep of tiredness. As I slowly woke up, I distinguished that sound from all the other noises. The wind driven rain, the rustling of the leaves of the birch trees that surrounded the meadow, the thunder that echoed in the valley. Finally, I isolated the noise, that even in my sleep, had attracted my attention. The creaking of the flagpole.
It was not normal, I reasoned, that it made so much noise. It had to be very windy for it to tilt so much that it had to moan like that. The insistence of the noise and the idea that it was strange and unusual woke me up completely. I decided to look outside. With some effort I pulled one arm out from my sleeping bag, knowing it would be cold to get up, a thought I dismissed. I put my hand on the floor and felt it was wet (#2). The tent was completely flooded, the water almost reaching the level of the cots we were sleeping on.
"Marco, there's water in the tent. Marco, we're flooded!" I shouted.
They all woke up, someone lit a flashlight, and we could see that we were easily palm deep in water.
"We can't stay here,” Marco said, as always calm and quiet. “Come on boys, we have to leave. Get your shoes and windbreakers and sleeping bags. Don't let them get wet. Let’s go. We have to reach the haystack."
This was the order of our Patrol Leader. Someone was already crying, frightened. I was shivering from the cold and fear. The storm had not lessened at all and thunder was rumbling nearby.
My knowledge of natural sciences suggested something to me at the wrong time. When it would have scared me the most. And that was that if the thunder is very strong, the lightning fell very close.
This was what terrified me. Marco shook me, reminding me of my duties, amongst which was to look after those younger than me. The little ones of course were much more frightened than me and could not find their boots or windbreakers in the panic.
All things considered, we were able to get ready quite quickly. Marco was already out and even our leaders had woken up hearing our shouting. The Panther Patrol tent was the only one to have flooded. We noticed it only then, we had planted the tent in the middle of a sort of drainage channel for the water that was coming down the slope.
It was still raining hard, and the sky was lit up by lightning so frequent that the torchlight was useless. Even the thunder was almost continuous, which combined with the sound of the water, made it almost impossible to hear what we were trying to say to each other. And so, we all screamed together. Some to tell us what to do. Some trying to explain why it was taking so long to do it.
We moved towards the haystack that was in the middle of a clearing and not far from where we were camped. We had to pass underneath a group of tall, leafy trees, so dense that they were impenetrable to rain and the flashes of lightning. After a few steps, I suddenly found myself in the dark. I felt two of the little ones moving next to me, but I no longer felt the presence of Marco or the others.
There were six of us in the Patrol. Besides Marco and me, there was Tonio, the Assistant Patrol Leader, another boy of my age and then the two younger ones, one of whom was at his first camp. If, as it seemed, we were left alone, I being the oldest had the responsibility for the other two. In short, I was not allowed to cry, which I felt like doing.
I was only thirteen years old, and in a forest, in the dark, at night. There was a storm raging all around and I was deafened by the sound of thunder. I thought I had every right to cry. Terror could have overwhelmed me had I not remembered that I was a Scout. If you are a Scout and someone needs your help, you can't cry until later. This I had been told so many times, that at that moment it seemed natural to regain my calm. I got closer to the two little ones who were trembling with fear and tried to help them.
"Guys, the haystack is in that direction." I heard myself say with a voice that could not be mine, as calm as it was. It seemed that Marco was speaking through me. "Now, let's try to go there quickly! Marco and the others are coming! I can hear them behind us..." That was not true, but there was no need for them to know.
And I hoped I wasn't wrong, both on the direction we were taking and on the fact that soon I could get rid of my responsibility and vent my fear, which was taking on proportions I had never experienced before.
We had the sleeping bags with us that we were trying to keep dry. When we reached the edge of the wood and were about to leave the protection of the trees, I breathed a sigh of relief. Our shelter was no more than a hundred meters from us, in the middle of the clearing. And it had just been illuminated by the sudden flash of lightning.
"Let's make a run for it!" I proposed, hoping that no one would fall or twist an ankle.
We ran, as if we were being chased by a pack of wolves. And those must have been our thoughts because we stopped only after climbing to the second floor of the haystack. None of us had the courage to look outside to see if the others had followed us. We sat against the back wall, bundled up as we were in our windbreakers, still clutching our sleeping bags as if they were a lifesaver.
Fortunately, Marco arrived immediately afterwards, together with the others.
"Spend the night here," the Scoutmaster told us. He had come to make sure we were all safe. "Your tent is full of water. We can move it tomorrow.”
So, we started looking around to decide how to settle down. We had to sleep on the ground because we had not brought our cots with us. At the moment of laying out my sleeping bag, I had the unwelcome surprise of finding it soaking wet. It must have happened when I got up, unaware that our tent was flooded. It was unusable, even as a blanket.
That was when Marco said I could sleep with him, in his sleeping bag. I immediately accepted and after a few comments and jokes from the others about it being a small double bed, we slipped in together. We tried to coordinate our movements so as not to suffocate, since Marco was already big enough at fifteen and I was not small for my age.
The excitement of the adventure calmed down as soon as Marco turned off his flashlight. Almost everyone plunged into the sleep of tiredness and relief from the fear we had experienced. Marco and I, on the other hand, did not fall asleep.
We had lived our friendship a little bit exclusively in an always open way within the Scout Troop. There had been jokes about the fact that we always arrived together and that every night we went home at the same time. Sometimes the others would say we were engaged, but no one had ever gone beyond a few jokes, nor would there be any reason to. No one could have thought otherwise, not in those years, not among us at our age.
This was the first and only time that something different happened. Something beautiful, scary, and extraordinary occurred, but none of the others noticed it.
Maybe I would have been more comfortable if I had slept with one of the youngsters. Marco though, had wanted me with him. I was thinking about that while trying to fall asleep and that definitely stopped me sleeping.
"Pass an arm under me. As if you're hugging me," he whispered in my ear.
Instead of following his instruction, even if that would have been a good position to fit together inside that sack which was damn tight. I asked him, "Do you want me to hug you?”
"Yes!" was his immediate, whispered answer.
And he held me tight. He did it in a way that seemed strange to me. Not as if he were trying to settle in, but more to adhere to me. This didn't frighten me, rather I felt a sense of happiness when I found myself in this position. My heart felt like it had accelerated its beating. I also felt Marco's emotion.
Our cheeks touched each other, then he moved his head back to look at me. We couldn't talk or see each other. We had only the simple language of our bodies and tactile perception. Perhaps, if we could have explained ourselves in words, or seen each other's faces, nothing would have happened. Instead, the darkness was total and the only noise we heard, other than the rain and thunder, now further away, was our breathing. It was cold, and being so close, was not unpleasant.
I lay my head in the hollow of his neck and grazed him with my lips. It wasn't a kiss. I wouldn't know how to do that. I was seeking more intimacy. The smell of his skin was intoxicating. And Marco responded. He caressed my shoulder and slid his trembling hands along my body. We were wearing the tracksuits we used at the camp as pajamas. My curiosity was stronger than my shyness or modesty. We were pressed tightly together, and I felt him hard against my belly, it seemed too big to be what I knew.
Gathering my boldness, I sought for it with my hand. Marco moved a little. I didn’t know if it was to move away or to leave me space. I can't say, I never understood it. I never asked him. But we were both excited. I caressed him. Encouraged by my movements, he also touched me.
He took the initiative. He managed to slide down my tracksuit bottom and briefs. He slipped out of his own clothes and we were skin to skin, the heat I felt against me was fatal. I could no longer control myself, I was enjoying it so much. A moan escaped me, and Marco kissed me on the lips to shut me up. As he continued squeezing and kissing me, I felt him moving against me. Then I felt him jerk and a wetness on my belly and he calmed down. We were kissing, and it was a real kiss, the first one of my life.
A flash of lightning momentarily lit the sky, another storm was approaching.
A few years later, I studied a poet who described a night of storms and love. Something similar had happened to us and it was all cloaked in innocence. In me embracing him and in Marco touching me there was affection, friendship, and an infinite sweetness, until sleep overtook us.
We were the first to wake up, because even if we loved each other, two in that sleeping bag was still a tight fit. Marco shook me gently.
"Hey… sleepyhead, it's morning already. We have to get up," he murmured.
We got dressed, without saying anything to each other. If I had not found on me and noticed on Marco the unmistakable signs of our excitement, I would have thought it a dream. But it was real.
Marco didn't talk about that night again, he went back to being the affectionate friend he had always been. In the days that followed I regarded him with doting glances that served to remind him of that night and those emotions, which maybe we might live again. But I realized his eyes escaped those same expressions, and he certainly regretted what we had done.
He never caressed me again and he never touched me again in the same way, but what had happened had not been a dream.
When sometime later, thinking back to that night, I decided to do what I did and become what I became, it happened because I did not have Marco’s strength or the hypocrisy to avoid reality and convince myself I had dreamed it all.
(1) Italian High School Final Exams are called Maturity Exams. The school the main character attends is called Liceo Classico (literally Classical Lyceum). Its educational curriculum spans over five years, when students are generally about 14 to 19 years of age. The study of ancient languages (Latin and Ancient Greek) and their literature are compulsory.
(2) At the time, the seventies, tents may have not built-in groundsheets. That was sadly the case.
Translated from the original Italian by Lenny Bruce, revised by Talo Segura.
Thanks to Talo Segura for showing me how little I knew about English.