LONDON, Part 1: a Catholic Youth
It was like belonging to a sect. There were rules, there was doctrine, there were obligations. There were more things not to be done than to be done. Sin hung over us like English weather. It burrowed into us like a slow death. We were mauled inwardly and outwardly. We didn’t have a chance.
It does not surprise me that my tastes and procedures have been touched and distorted by all this. A measure of how effective was the indoctrination is that now, late on, I retain a great respect for the Church and priests. I like them. I have often wished that I had a priest as a friend, especially a Jesuit priest, the very Order which suppressed me and so readily beat me as a boy. I am possessed by them still, to verify the alleged Jesuit dictum, “Give me a child till he is seven and he is mine for life.” Actually they didn’t have me till I was eleven: but it applies, self-evidently.
Eleven: innocent boy. Altar server. Believer. Serious. But nothing compared to the seriousness of twelve-and-a-half, the time of my first orgasm. Not to be forgotten, the visitation of ecstacy, bliss, transformation, and more than a sliver of terror. I feared that I must have done deep harm to my body that it should produce the gushes of fluid and the sensations that lie at the base of the world and its continuation. As for my soul: bewilderment, dark foreboding, lasting dread. My conscience lay on the rack. I would never do it again.
Until the next day. This miracle of my body was confirmed daily, sometimes several times a day.
The changes in my mind were not so clear as it trawled amongst fellow humans and the things we might do together. The imaginary acts were rudimentary, unaided by teaching, conversation or pornography. I and my right hand had to improvise.
I occupied a male world – the monastic life of school; the priests my teachers; my sporting activities; the scouts. I seldom saw a girl. Spruce uniformed girls with what always looked like substantial breasts waited at bus stops, but never mine. There were girls’ schools nearby, I am sure, but I didn’t know where. I reason that most of us adapt to what is around us, adaptation being the deepest of human characteristics. No girls on a daily basis to share lessons and double desks meant no nourishment of my perceptions and desires. Instead there were any number of boys: it was inevitable.
I have seen old photos from that period from my school, and people then just looked better, if I dare say that. I have also seen old photos of football fans, for example, hooligans included, and even they looked slender, healthy, bonny, clean and stylishly (surely not!) dressed, so I feel confident that when I say that my schoolmates looked lovely and desirable it is not self-deception.
I was soon on to them. I wished to sin. I wanted their hands and buttocks and penises and to gaze on their faces and to learn how to kiss their succulent mouths. It was not easy. I had neither the subtlety of a politician nor the reasoning powers of a Jesuit. I was only a boy carrying (it felt like labour) desire and not knowing how to express it other than through what the dictionary in its definition of masturbation called self-abuse, to this day a mysterious account of what I did to myself. Today (2019) I see that Webster’s Unabridged definition of masturbation outdoes the OED in its clarity and helpfulness, with no need for self-abuse, and with several good masturbatory methods embedded in its definition. No such assistance in my day.
As it happened, the boy I set my eyes upon was not one of the most handsome. It is how it often comes about to baffle us. Maxim’s attraction was an elusive “sexiness” though he bore it unself-consciously, no swagger, nothing other than his refined ordinariness – plain, well-formed, immaculate. His father was a doctor. They lived a gracious life in cleanliness and order, or so I imagined, out in a celebrated suburb.
We sometime sat together in a double desk specially designed for boys to touch each other in exciting ways. I consumed his aura. I wanted to smell his suburban mansion with its windows ajar onto gardens in perpetual English summer as if he was the carrier of such aroma. Because we sat so close, sharing the sloping desklid, I was privy to his hands. To this day I am a connoisseur of hands, mainly female, but Maxim’s were something to write poems about, and I have done this till my brain lost its moorings.
Under any pretext I touched his hands. They were smoother and finer than any mortal skin. I once, under the urging of my erect penis, sitting beside him with his hands exposed to my scrutiny, asked him the foolish question, ‘Do you cut your nails every day?’ to which he answered ‘Yes,’ and that word since has become the favourite of my whole life.
My own affirmative was strongest when at our desk our thighs within our grey flannels met. I absorbed his warmth. I sensed his stillness. I knew his consent. I dared to press my thigh more firmly against him. Through my whole body, not just my leg, through my whole mind too I could feel him as if he had entered me.
But nothing more. Nothing said. No invitations. No suggestive words. No lewd approaches. I was not even sure I had sinned. We were thirteen. We were not even close friends, just classmates.
It was much later that something happened. We were both excused cricket with an injury but still were obliged to hang about the pavilion or follow the custom and do something useful. We were told to clear out the litter underneath the pavilion. We discovered a cavity, like a cellar, to which we were given access, and we burrowed down into the near darkness. The sun shone, the shouts and pocks of cricket floated around, and we disappeared with a bucket or two to do our duty. Down below we couldn’t even stand up and crouched and crawled our way around. We were hidden from the forces of rectitude, removed from the world in this zone of the unconscious, as it now seems.
After some desultory talk, the silence. In the silence a kind of unity. In our inaccessibility, freedom. I reached out and started to feel for his penis through his trousers and found it and felt it enlarging and stiffening under my fingers. The marvel of the process was a transformation of matter like alchemy except that my wonder exceeded science. I grasped its rigidity, its thickness, its entirety.
Lives are changed by such moments though afterwards he and I carried on as before.
Some time later Maxim and I were together in school during a holiday for some volunteer work we had been roped into. I was pleased to see him there, my fellow victim, and we were paired up to do something menial. Alone, in daylight, no one around, my mind started wandering. After a wander it became concentrated on him, his autonomous being, his form, his clothes, his visible flesh. I watched him labour more than I laboured myself and we passed the time in easy conversation. I suffered desire for him, diffused as I think women feel it, not thinking about his penis, which I had fondled, or his quattrocento hands, or his throat, as if he was composed of parts, but about his entire being, extant and solely with me. It was then that I realised that I wished him to penetrate me and at this thought I felt a contraction or spasm in my anus with an unforgettable force and clarity during the moments of this desire.
I have never subsequently had any taste for such an act. My anus has never been invaded. Yet then, on that day, I wanted it and it was the programme afterwards for countless fantasies and overwhelming delight.