Dusk settled beautifully onto the land and even though the mood surrounding us had turned somber and painful, there was still no other place on Earth I wanted to be more than right there in that moment with Freckles.
No matter how short he was, his physical presence was still demanding and intimidating, but there he was vulnerable and in need of consoling. He had been bottling up so many things, burying them so deeply that they had become a heavy burden he could no longer carry.
Everything that he had been keeping out-of-sight in an attempt to uphold his tough guy persona was pouring forth and he was completely incapable of holding it in any longer. So much pain, so much hate, so much regret, all these emotions collected over a period of years just came flooding out.
I felt so incredibly honored that I was the one to be receiving all of it. Honored that he trusted me so much and appreciated our friendship so much that he allowed me to take on the emotional burdens he had been carrying by himself for so long.
Though our embrace didn’t last for too long, we did remain there along the lake’s shore until the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. Once he stopped crying and we separated he didn’t say a word. We just stood there, side by side and honestly I didn’t feel like anything more needed to be said.
He knew how I felt and I knew how he felt. That experience solidified our connection and there were no words that either of us knew that would have aided in making that experience more meaningful. Sometimes silence is everything that’s needed.
We gathered our fishing gear and made our way back to the campsite. Neither of us had thought of grabbing a flashlight for the walk back, I suppose we hadn’t expected to remain at the lake for so long. As we made our way up the hill between the cottonwood trees, I seemed to stumble over every rock and stick on the ground in front of me.
Damien looked over at me and laughed aloud at my attempts to navigate the path as though I had been drinking. I couldn’t resist joining in with his contagious laughter and like a couple of fools we walked beneath the dim glow of the moon, exhausted by a day full of good fun and heartfelt experience.
Back at the tent, I thought once again about telling Damien that his sleeping bag was in the toolbox in the bed of his truck. I weighed the pros and cons and decided once again that it was just too late to mention it at that point.
I made a stop at the coolers to check on the ice, worried that it would be melting too much to be useful.
“What’s the status on the ice?” Freckles asked, noticing me looking in the coolers.
“It’ll be alright tonight, but I’m not sure about tomorrow, what time were you thinking of packing up and leaving?” I asked.
“I wish never, but man I don’t know, what time do you need to be back home?” Freckles asked with a tone of disappointment.
I could tell Damien was having a good time being away from town and in a place that held so much meaning to him, it didn’t surprise me at all that he didn’t want to leave or even think about leaving. However, as they say, all good things must come to an end and we both had jobs and I didn’t want to be pulling into my apartment parking lot late on a Sunday night.
“We should probably pull out by noon tomorrow, if that’s okay with you?” I asked, somewhat hesitantly.
“Yeah bud that’s alright, that leaves us with tonight and tomorrow morning to take in as much of this place as we can. I’m really gonna miss it when we leave. It’s been too long since I’ve been here.” Damien reflected.
We took a seat around the campfire and as he poked at the embers glowing beneath the logs, we discussed our dinner options while munching on trail mix. Who knew that dried fruit and nuts could taste so good?
As had become customary for me, I looked up into the night sky and saw the stars twinkling in the vast distance of space. Distracted from the wonder of their existence only by the random passing of floating embers above me, erupting from Damien’s attempts to re-coax the fire.
“So you gonna be in my sleeping bag again tonight?” I asked boldly with a laugh, but curious of what his answer was going to be.
Freckles stopped poking at the fire and looked up at me. He glared at me while the fire washed his face with shadows and light. Though he was trying to look grumpy and aggravated in response to my question, I could see a slight smirk at the corner of his lips and I knew he was trying to hold back a laugh or at least a smile.
“Shut up.” He replied, as he looked back down at the fire and proceeded at what had become him just playing with the flames.
We sat there a few moments and I decided to break the silence, “You know, to some extent flames are alive.”
“How so?” Damien asked.
“Well, it’s not really a living organism in the traditional sense, it doesn’t necessarily eat, breathe, reproduce or think, but fire, like many living things, consists of chemical reactions. Except in the case of fire it’s between an oxidizer such as oxygen, a source of heat and a source of fuel. When these things combine there is combustion and they create fire and a flame is the energy being burned from the fire, the part we see with our eyes. This flame can then be considered living, as it is existing based on certain conditions and will continue to exist for as long as there is energy to feed it. So in a way, it is alive and at any moment it could perish.” I explained to Freckles.
“Wow, that was a lot of information right there, haha,” Damien said laughing at me.
“Haha,” I laughed at my own nerdiness, “Sorry, sometimes I spend too much time thinking about things like that.” I confessed to him.
“Dude, don’t worry about it, I mean, I kinda like that about you. You’re interesting and smart, you make me think about things in a way that I’ve never done before, you challenge me intellectually, engage me in conversations that I don’t think I could have with anyone else that I know.” Damien said reassuringly.
“But you’re right man,” He continued, “Fire is very interesting if you just stop and think about it, and really watch the way it behaves, it does almost seem as though it has some form of awareness.”
The night continued and once we ate, we decided to turn in and get some sleep. Following the same routine as the night before, I cleaned myself up from the day’s activities. It was undeniable at that point, we both were starting to collect a smell that was not favorable. Neither of us had showered for more than 24 hours. Between the campfire smoke, sweating in the sun and the smell from having gone fishing, both Freckles and I had gained a less than pleasant bodily scent.
The battery powered lantern illumined the tent once again as I pulled my basketball shorts from my backpack. I still felt self-conscious changing clothes in front of Damien, he was so athletic and muscular, he made me feel scrawny and wimpy, even though I was in great shape myself.
I looked over at him as he dug through his own backpack and realized that he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I proceeded to change, first pulling off my shirt and tossing it over towards the corner of the tent.
Nervously, I glanced back at Freckles to see if he was still not paying attention and he wasn’t. So I unbuttoned, unzipped and slid down my jeans. Much to my horror, my underwear also slid down along with them and I quickly grabbed their waistband and pulled them up.
I fearfully looked at Freckles, worried he had just seen my junk, but his eyes were still facing down. Regardless, I could feel my face flush and I was sure that I turned beet red. I may have had feelings for him, but I was still embarrassed about him seeing me naked.
“Yeah, I just saw that.” Freckles announced without looking up at me, “I’m not impressed.”
“Shut up you dick.” I managed to get out, wanting to kick myself for my stupidity. I no longer had anything to hide from Damien, he saw me in a completely powerless state; a man has nothing more to hide when he’s been seen naked. Which I’m sure is why he didn’t want me to watch him undress the night before.
I continued, “I feel like such an idiot now, like how awkward was that?” Admitting my embarrassment.
“Oh pretty awkward, for you anyway.” He replied.
“Yeah.” I responded.
I went back to undressing, much more carefully the second time around. I slid my basketball shorts on and crawled into my sleeping bag and stared up at the tent ceiling. Within moments I started laughing out loud and covered my face with my hands.
Damien quickly joined in with my laughter, “It wasn’t so bad, I mean, look at it this way, I now know you way more than I did before.”
My laughter settled and I replied, “Yeah, I guess so, but not in the way I had intended.”
“Hey, I didn’t see it for that long, I can barely tell you what it looked like.” He said, trying to reassure me that all was okay.
“Well you’re not gonna get another peek at it.” I said.
“I hope not, you stripper!” Freckles said teasing me.
He got up and reached for the lantern, explaining that I should have done it his way and turned off the light in the tent just in case more clothes came off than intended, saving both of us the awkwardness of male-to-male nudity.
“You pussy,” I razzed him, “gotta hide in the dark when I just revealed all in front of you.”
“Yeah, but you’re into naked dudes and I’m not; it’s different when you see a guy naked than when I do.” He pointed out.
“Whatever you douche, I have the same body parts that you do, I see a dick throughout the day and everyday.” I professed.
“But you’re turned on by other guy’s dicks!” He argued.
“It’s not about the dick, but who it’s attached to… it’s about the guy, dumbass. I’m not turned on by your crotch, I’m turned on by y…” My last word slipped slowly out of my mouth as I realized what I was blurting out to Damien. I had just confessed that I was turned on by him and even though we were in the dark and I couldn’t see the reaction on his face, I still felt horrified.
We were silent in the tent for only seconds, but it felt like an hour before Damien responded to what I had just blurted out.
“So you’re turned on by me?” He asked in a monotone voice.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to confirm it, but I couldn’t just ignore his question. At the same time I didn’t want to lie to him. It was true, I did have feelings for him and I did find him physically attractive. I was worried my answer was going to ruin our friendship, so I hesitated to reply.
He must have realized the vulnerability that his question imposed upon me, so he followed up his question with, “It’s okay if you don’t want to answer that, it kinda slipped out before I really thought about the ramifications of that question. I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable, I could tell you didn’t mean to say what you said.”
“The revelations being made during this trip kinda make me think that we should just open up and come clean to each other about the things that might matter to our friendship. So to answer your question, yeah man, I find you physically attractive.” I admitted with utmost honesty and fearfulness.
“I see,” he began, “although I kinda already figured you did.” He explained.
“Fair enough.” I concluded.
“Yep.” He replied.
“Can I ask you something?” I inquired.
“Sure bud.” He confirmed.
“Exactly how naked are you right now?” I joked.
“Completely butt ass naked.” Damien humored.
We both laughed hysterically for a bit and decided we were getting slap happy from exhaustion and needed to get some sleep. I honestly had no idea if he was really naked or if he was just joking as he never turned the lantern back on, but I assumed he at least had on underwear as he crawled into my sleeping bag with me.
Remembering his warning from the night before, I made every effort to not touch or bump him in fear of retaliation. We laid there for a while, neither of us saying a word. The sounds I could hear inside the tent were that of us breathing and the soft sound of the tent walls shaking from the slight breeze blowing outside.
I turned and looked towards the tent closure and through the canvas I could see the waning light of the fire outside. I could hear the popping and crackling of the wood and the bugs committing suicide by flying into the flames. I never understood why they did that, was it the light that confused them, were they drawn to it, were they attracted to the heat? It just didn’t make any sense.
I could hear the crickets playing their lonesome song, trying to find potential mating partners, I could hear an owl somewhere in the distance calling out into the night.
I turned my attention back into the tent and looked back over in Damien’s direction. I could hear him taking every breath. He would breath in slow and deep and exhale just as slowly. I wondered whether he was asleep or awake like I was, taking in all the sounds around us. I wondered if maybe he was listening to me breathe too.
Freckles rustled in the sleeping bag and as he re-situated the material was stretched tighter around me and pulled me in closer to him.
Once settled, Damien proved himself to be awake and broke the silence, “Hey are you awake?” He asked.
“Yeah man, for some reason I am.” I answered.
He scooted in closer to me and I felt one of his feet and a leg brush against mine and he didn’t seem to mind because he left it there, in contact with mine. My consciousness became intensely aware of his touch and I couldn’t put it out of my thoughts as he continued to speak.
“I think I need to tell you something.” He proclaimed, so close to me that I could feel his breath on my skin.
My mind immediately began to race with all kinds of possibilities, most of them involving him somehow developing feelings for me and that he was about to confess it. Or maybe that’s just what I wanted him to tell me. Regardless of the truth, my heart began to race and nervousness overtook me.
“What is it man, what do you need to tell me?” I asked with great curiosity.
Damien opened his mouth and started to say something, but he cut himself off and then just laid there in silence, apparently either unsure of how to say it or unsure if he wanted to say it.
I broke his silence, “It’s okay man, whatever you want to tell me, don’t be afraid, you can tell me anything, it will stay between us. I think we’ve bonded enough that you know I’m here for you through it all.” I affirmed.
Freckles continued to be voiceless, though I couldn’t see him in the darkness I could hear him turn towards me and away from me on his pillow, his leg still touching mine.
Then I realized his lack of words wasn’t necessarily from uncertainty, but from pain. Damien was crying and trying to hold it back. I thought at that point that maybe it was about his grandpa, maybe there was something that he wanted to tell me about him, about some memorable experience or perhaps something profoundly heartbreaking that he needed to get off his chest.
“Is it about your grandpa?” I asked concerned,
“No.” Damien replied in a weak and sobbing voice.
Then I considered that maybe he was having a breakdown over his dad and the anger was turning into feelings of abandonment and feeling unwanted.
“Is it about your dad?” I asked cautiously.
“Nope.” He replied with a still broken voice, struggling to maintain any composure.
“Then what is it, what’s troubling you?” I asked compassionately.
Freckles broke down and began crying audibly, just as he did earlier that night down by the lake. Completely unconsolable, he laid there next to me, I could feel him wiping at his tears, embarrassed and hurting at the same time.
Once again, I felt compelled to cross the line of personal space to try and comfort him with a hug. I slid closer to him and as I did he rolled from his side onto his back and I could feel him cover his face with his arms. I was laying halfway on him, my right arm crossed over his chest and my hand rested up by his head and I could feel his hair against my fingers. Our legs interlocked and I was thankful to feel that he was wearing boxers and no further awkwardness of nudity was going to occur.
My face was resting near his armpit and I became aware of the smell of his perspiration and that his skin smelled of smoke. I couldn’t help myself and I began to laugh.
“What?” He asked, half confused and somewhat annoyed that I was laughing while he was crying.
“We stink so bad dude,” I told him, still laughing and then he joined in the laughter. “For real, maybe I should get off of you.” I concluded when the laughter subsided.
Freckles put his arms down and put one around me saying, “Wait, not yet, give me your hand,” as he reached around in the darkness for my right hand. He took my hand and began sliding it across and down his chest, I had no idea what he was doing, but I started to get aroused by the situation when my finger tips slid passed his nipple.
He put his finger tips directly over top mine, “Do you feel that?” He asked, while sliding my fingers underneath his left pectoral.
“What is that, is that from your tattoo?” I asked, feeling a slight unevenness directly under his pectoral that went around to the side of his chest.
“No, it’s a scar.” He said without explanation.
“A scar, I don’t remember seeing a scar the other night?” I pointed out, puzzled.
“That’s because the feathers from my dreamcatcher on the left hang down below my pec and camouflage it and one of the wings on the phoenix blends in with the scar on the right side.” He explained.
“Wait, you have one on the right side too? I don’t understand, why do you have scars under your pecs on both sides? How did you get them?” I asked, confused as to how or why he had two scars on his chest in those places.
Damien took a moment and a deep breath, then he said, “Because I used to have breasts.”
“Whoa… what? You had man-boobs?” I blurted out.
“Um… no… I had breasts… as in woman boobs.” He said, correcting me.
I got up off of him, dumbfounded as to what he was talking about, my head was spinning, trying to make sense of what he was telling me. He could sense my confusion and sat up next to me in the sleeping bag.
“The thing I wanted to tell you is that I wasn’t born a guy… not physically anyway.” He confessed.
“Whoa, what the fuck!?!?” I exclaimed.
Shocked and completely blown away I didn’t know what else to say. I just sat there in the dark, my mouth hanging open, the wheels of my brain turning a million miles an hour, utterly incapable of rationalizing what he had just told me.
“Say something bud, please say something.” Freckles pleaded.
“I… I… I don’t know what to say.” I barely responded.
“Please don’t think that I lied to you all this time, don’t think of it like that, as if I planned on keeping this from you forever, I just needed time to tell you and to know that I could trust you enough to tell you. Please don’t freak out.” He begged.
“You’re a girl?” I asked, still baffled by what was unfolding.
“No, I’m trans. I’m a transmale, a guy born in a female body. These scars are from when I had my breast tissue removed.” He further explained.
“But… you don’t act or look like a girl, you don’t… I mean… you’re not feminine at all, you have a guy’s voice, your facial hair, your chest hair, your arm pit hair, your leg hair, you’ve got a happy trail going down your stomach, your arms are pumped and you have six pack abs, man you’re muscular as hell, I mean look at your body, you could totally kick my ass.” I said as I stumbled over my rationalizing of the bombshell he dropped on me.
“Yeah, most of that is because of testosterone. I take injections every week.” Freckles told me.
“What about your hips, you don’t have hips like a girl?” I asked, still stupefied.
“Haha,” Damien laughed, “My hips are genetic, I just don’t have wide hip bones.”
“So wait, down there, are you… do you have…” I staggered with my words.
“Like I said, I was born female, and I still have some female parts, but I’ve had hysterectomy and oophorectomy surgeries, which means that I’ve had my uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries removed. Partially because of the testosterone injections I have to take and partially because of personal choice. I did have my eggs frozen, in case I want to have kids with someone, I can just find a surrogate to carry for me.” Damien informed me.
“Wow, that all sounds painful and probably expensive, does insurance pay for that stuff?” I asked.
“The hysterectomy was paid for by my mom’s insurance because of my medical history, but it’s not always paid by insurance for everyone. I got lucky, I guess you could call it that. The rest came out of an account my grandpa set up for me when I was born, he started one for all us kids. It was supposed to be for college, but I had other needs for it.” Freckles said trying to help me understand everything.
“How long did you live like a girl, I mean have you always known or did you realize at some point you weren’t supposed to be a girl?” I asked, I had so many questions for Damien that I didn’t even know where to start.
Damien replied, “Mom said I always acted differently, she thought I was just the tomboy type of girl, but about the time I hit puberty and went through those teenage years, we both realized that I wasn’t happy or comfortable in my own body.”
Damien continued, “We talked about it all and I started talking to a counselor when I was sixteen and eventually I no longer had any doubts about it, I was certain that I was a guy born in the wrong body. I felt like a guy, I thought like a guy, I behaved like a guy, I was incredibly depressed trying to live like a girl when I knew I wasn’t one on the inside.”
He went on, “My mom has been incredibly understanding about this whole thing, my counselor has been supportive and helped me come to understand the things I needed to know about being female-to-male transgender. That’s not to say it’s been a joy ride, there has been plenty of darkness and you already know about my drug addiction and relationship problems.”
“Man, I don’t really even know what to say about all of this. There’s so much to take in and I have so many questions.” I admitted.
“I hope you don’t see me differently, at least not in a negative way. Do you still feel the same way about me?” Damien asked sincerely.
“I don’t see you negatively, you’re still the same person, but I’m not sure about how I feel about you. If I’m going to be completely honest. I need time to absorb all of this.” I said as gently as I could.
“I understand, Megan wasn’t sure about it all either when I went through the changes. I think she preferred me as physically female.” Freckles confessed.
“I’m going to be completely forward and blunt about this, but I need to ask you outright, so tell me, do you have feelings for me or are you only into girls?” I asked bravely.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve only dated girls before. Then I met you and you don’t act like anyone I’ve ever met. Being friends with you is different than I imagined being with a gay guy would be like. Sometimes I want to be like you as in the sense of being male and sometimes I want to be with you in the sense of a relationship. Does that make sense?” He asked.
“You have a duality of being male and being with a male?” I deciphered.
“Exactly.” He said, relieved I understood him.
“I think we should get some sleep and in the morning we can talk more about this stuff. Get on the same page and get each other figured out, okay?” I reasoned.
“Yes, I agree, dude I am so brain dead right now.” He said in agreement.
“Goodnight man.” I told him.
“Goodnight bud.” He replied.
We laid back down in the sleeping bag, back to our own separate sides, our bodies no longer touching. I had so much information to digest and sort out that I kind of felt like I was no longer laying next to the same person. It’s was ridiculous because obviously I was laying next to the same guy I had been dreaming about for years. The very same guy that made my heart flutter so many times.
He was the same person, same thoughts and feelings, same joys and the same sorrows. I just knew more about him than I did before. He was still physically attractive, I still liked his personality, I still enjoyed his company. The only thing different was that now I knew he didn’t have guy parts below the waist and I had to ask myself if that revelation even really mattered.
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