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A. J. Wyatt

My very first great romance in life was with the wonderful, the handsome, sexy, highly intelligent, eccentric, and creative, A. J. Wyatt, who went on to become a successful artist, photographer and teacher. In the public schools of Rogers, quarter examinations were mandatory. Elementary, intermediate, and high school students had to take those one-day examinations unless they were "exempt" because they had received straight "A's" on every test and paper during the quarter. Accordingly, an "Exemption List" was published the ninth, eighteenth, twenty-seventh, and thirty-sixth weeks of the school year, and those students on the list had a day off and didn't have to take the examinations. Invariably, four names from my grade appeared on the list, A.J. Wyatt, Russel Windes, Jr., George Tow, and Nancy Gaines. A.J. and I became close friends to begin with, in part, because we had these days off together with nothing else to do except be together, talk and become friends. We found so many things in common, and things we liked about each other, that we became for several years inseparable.

A.J.'s father, Bert Tomkins Wyatt, ("B.T.") owned the Pontiac Automobile Agency, and his mother, Elizabeth Ann or "Liz," was in charge of the finances there. A.J.'s brother, Bob Bert or Bobbert, eight, and sister, Jozelle, sixteen, were in school. Sister Jozelle, like A.J. and Bobbert, had great intelligence and was always "exempt" from the examinations, but she took them anyway. A high school junior, she was an ardent Socialist or Communist, depending on the day, and had read Marx and Lenin and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and so forth, and loved to talk ceaselessly about politics and social issues, science fiction, and baseball.

She adored Ted Williams and the Red Sox, for instance, and could recite batting averages for each of the players on the Sox, and could tell you Williams' batting statistics, average, home runs, runs batted in, and so forth, for each of his playing years.

At any rate, A.J. and I became about as close as ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds can be. We hiked together, swam together, played together, talked together, dreamed together, gardened together, listened to music together, listened to baseball games together, went to movies together, did our homework together, and slept together whenever we could.

The Wyatts lived just three doors from us, and A.J. had an attic room all to himself. He put a lock on the door to the upstairs steps and locked it when he went to his room.

Mother Liz, a l920s graduate of the Women's College at Tulane University, was sharp as a tack, very libertarian and permissive, almost post-Spockian in raising her children. A.J., Jozelle, and Bobbert did pretty much as they pleased, and Liz saw to it that they had plenty to read, plenty to listen to, interesting and varied role models, lots of love and support, and plenty of breathing room and privacy, with a minimum of institutional values inflicted on them.

She and my Mother Bess became good friends, and enjoyed getting together to smoke, have a beer, talk about how awful the Baptists were, and discuss the relationship between their sons and their daughters (Jozelle was one of Peggy's close friends.) Liz and Bess would drive one afternoon a week together fifteen miles north to the State Line, to a little area called Gateway, fill up Liz's Pontiac with cheaper Missouri gasoline (seventeen cents per gallon), have a beer and a cigarette at the State Line Cafe, and then, like Thelma and Louise, inch their way back home for a late afternoon appointment with the same hair dresser, Peggy, whose shop was off the lobby on the first floor of the Rogers Hotel. Peggy was another early feminist and iconoclast, who served illegal booze and legal cigarettes to Bess and Liz during appointments, and the three of them would hatch up some new plots against the culture of the dominating male. (Peggy had been thrice divorced.)

A.J. and I started "staying all night" with each other when we were both nearly eleven. We would tell ghost stories and get frightened and hold each other close. After I became a member of Edwin's Secret Room, the A.J./Russ routine began changing. We would sleep together, usually at his place in his attic room and on his big fluffy feather bed, on Friday or Saturday nights after we went to our parties and Scavenger Hunts, or to the movies, together. Liz Wyatt would hear us come in and direct us to the kitchen where she always had something for us to take upstairs for a late night snack. We would close the door to the steps and lock it, and make our way up to his room with our cake or pie. Eventually we would take off all our clothes except our underwear and crawl into that huge feather bed of his, and I would tell him all about what had happened at Edwin's Secret Room the past week, who were there, and what we had done.

A.J. refused to go to the Jackson Secret Club, not that he wasn't excited about what happened there, but he didn't want to get involved with a group. A loner, he didn't want several guys to see and play with his hard penis. In bed, talking about my experiences at Edwin's, both A.J. and I became very aroused. A.J. would pick up his flashlight from the table, bring it underneath the covers, and the two of us would take turns pulling off the other's shorts, pretending to have to struggle to do it. We would then shine the light on our penises and balls and see how much pubic hair each one had, and then start playing with each other's dicks. At first we just giggled when we got our erections, but soon the operation became to have a purpose, to make the other one come.

The two of us had reached puberty at about the same time, and that had quite an impact on what happened in the feather bed. During the last year and a half in Rogers, A.J. and I did it all. Then we cuddled until the next morning.

The first heartbreak of my life came when a doggy I had in Cassville, named Cicero, was shot by Guy Latham, the town constable, in front of my very eyes. My second heartbreak was when my sister Peggy locked me in a closet one afternoon while Bess was gone and wouldn't let me out. Having to give up A.J. was my third heartbreak, but, in fact, my first serious one. When in December of l94l my father told me the family would move in February or March from Rogers to Neosho, Missouri, fifty miles away, the thought of losing A.J. depressed me unbelievably, and I'm sure he felt much the same way that I did. At the time, I simply couldn't find the heart to tell A.J. I was leaving, and so I left a letter someone in Neosho had sent my father welcoming him to the Neosho business community, on A.J.'s study table upstairs. When he read the letter the next afternoon, he came running to my house with tears in his eyes, and we both vowed we would never leave each other, no matter what our families did.

We slept together for several nights straight, and each night realizing that our very young love affair was going to end forever.  We both cried ourselves to sleep in each other's arms.

In fact, even though the family did move to Neosho on March l, l942, I pled with my parents to let me finish the school year in Rogers, and the Wyatts offered to "board and love" me from March l until the term was over in May. And so we had nearly twelve weeks of living together, a lifetime when you're young.

Our love affair continued for a year or more even after I moved to Neosho. Whenever I could, I would take the hour's bus ride from Neosho to Rogers, and whenever he could, A.J. would take the bus to Neosho for a weekend. And then, horrors of horrors, the Wyatt family moved from Rogers to New Orleans. The war had driven Tomkins Bert Wyatt out of the automobile business, no new cars to sell, and he and Liz bought another kind of business in New Orleans and moved the family there.

Our last meeting was during the spring of l943 in Rogers. A.J. and I hiked out east of Rogers to those little green hills and valleys where I found my miniature railroad. And at the terminal point of that little railroad, the two of us sat underneath beautiful lilac bushes Coin Harvey had probably planted in the l890s, which were in spring bloom and emitted a poignant and romantic smell. And a gentle, warm, spring rain began to fall. We talked caringly and lovingly about our years together, and A.J. recalled a verse from Robert Frost, his favorite poet: "Nature's first green is gold/ Her hardest huge to hold/ Her early leaf's a flower/ But only so an hour/ Then leaf subsides to leaf/ So Eden sank to grief/ So dawn goes down to day/ Nothing gold can stay."

I tried to recall "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed," but I was too upset to remember much of it, even though I had memorized it in Florence Robinson's English class. I spoke to him the last lines, "I mourned and yet shall mourn with ever returning spring...and thoughts of him I love." We two hugged each other and held hands walking down the hill one last time.

Any love is hard to give up, but, as I learned, first loves are very hard to give up. When last I heard from A.J., he was still single. The Art Museum in Philadelphia was staging a show of his photographs, and he wanted me to come. We spent one beautiful night together. Thirty-five years after we loved, we still cherished the memories of our youth together. I gave him a verse: "April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with Spring rain." Next day we hugged, kissed and again parted.







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