Summer of Love
Jon was alone, surrounded by family.
Not an unusual feeling for him, at twelve he was rarely physically alone, but always alone to himself. Since his brother’s death five years before, he had had no close friends. His closest relationship shattered, he sought companionship in books and the occasional approving word from a kindly librarian or teacher.
Then there was Gus.
Jon’s family spent long summers camping at a naturist colony. Out of the grime of the city, it was a paradise of nature. Behind the forbidding electronic gates were acres of woodland, a swimming pool, tennis and badminton, a playground for the younger kids, a recreation hall and bar for the adults, and other kids, familiar from past summers. Nothing to do and all day to do it in, an endless summer.
Their allocated campsite was at the intersection of two trails, next to an extensive patch of brambles, just starting to bear blackberries. Trees and rhododendron bushes lined the site, making a cosy refuge.
Day began as it always began. As a teenager-in-training, Jon rose late and alone in the tent, snatching whatever breakfast was to hand. Nothing to do, he would soon find the other kids to do it with. Careless as a teen of the beauty of nature, he was the picture of a naked pagan spirit in a sylvan glade, shaking off the remnants of slumber ready to flit through the woods.
All of a sudden he became aware of Gus, calling out to him as he passed the campsite. Trim and athletic, not tall but a comfortable amount taller than Jon. Perhaps in his fifties, the picture of an intellectual, confidently bald and white haired. Always lithe and comfortable in himself, in manner and in conversation. A kindly figure, known and liked by children and adults alike.
Jon was instantly at ease with him, a calming authority figure. Only teachers filled that role for him in the school year, and only the ones he chose. But for the summer he had no calming hit of academic approval, no respite from his self-imposed social isolation. Gus and his urbane manner were a breath of life to him. They talked of nothing consequential, schools and ages, locations of parents, what Jon was doing in school.
After that Gus would come by the campsite in the mornings, casually passing by on his route from somewhere to somewhere else. Spying Jon, he would nonchalantly call out to him. They would go off to Gus’s preferred habitat, the meadow where he had his caravan, away from the distraction of others. A barn for shade when the weak English sun hit its zenith.
Gus had interests to share. A game called Go, rules fascinatingly simple compared to chess, but enormously complicated to play. He would congratulate Jon on any play claiming territory, but even playing with the strongest of handicaps Gus would always be far ahead in the final scoring phase. And Jon would hardly have it any other way, he was totally in awe of Gus and his expertise. He learned the importance of carefully opening up, grabbing for too much would only end in dramatic failures, but spending all his time forming impenetrable walls led only to greater defeat when the score was reckoned at the end.
Gus had a love of things Japanese, which Jon shared in later life. A continuous stream of tradition, mingled with the West but maintaining its own unique history and journey into modernism. Feudalism and martial arts much closer to the surface than the eroded memories of British society, but a feeling of kindred spirit that Jon would share. Gus told of the dojo in London, where a Japanese sensei held sway during the Second World War, protected by the ruling class certainty that he was to be honoured and not interned. He was perhaps the only spy in London not uncovered by MI5, a loyal Japanese who sent reports to Tokyo throughout the war. Jon was entranced, transported out of his working class existence into a world of status and respect.
The barn had a full size tatami, a mat to practice judo on. They practiced, student and teacher, holding each others arms and struggling back and forth. Jon’s diffident posture always led him into weak positions, only to be swept off his feet by Gus’s practiced sweeps. Gus would guide Jon’s energetic motion to the mat, gently breaking his fall, the inevitable yin meets yang of an unskilled uke initiating movement against a practiced nage.
They bonded over maths. Scribbled notes on the limits of series. Combinatorial mathematics. Principles of computer science (with no computer). Gus would somehow find time to prepare in advance a mini-textbook, and prepare problems to be worked through. The joy of cracking the code and making symbols dance on command, shared with each other comfortably side by side. Gus reaching over Jon’s shoulder to take the pen from his fingers, pushing him towards the delights of a world of eternal truths.
The endless summer drew to a close. No tearful scene of farewell. Gus told him that this was their last session, he was taking up a new job with the start of the academic year. Stoically accepting the loss, like every other inevitable loss in his life, Jon promised to write from his new boarding school. And did once, but the magic of Gus just drifting casually by in the morning was gone.
The next year, at the same campground, Jon and his family were socializing in the bar. In the general course of gossip, someone started to speak of Gus. That he liked his boys, an unmistakable phrase Jon could now recognise, one year more experienced in the ways of the world. Jon grew irate, knowing for a fact that the laughing accusation was untrue, and was as carelessly directed at him as at Gus.
Knowing that Gus was around, Jon sought him out. The familiar face, a smile of recognition. And another boy, geeky and moving in a rhythm following Gus. Learning then that you can never return to the same place again, Jon fled. He had been replaced.
A long time later, he realized how he had been affected so. When he realized how much he admired Gus. For his attention. For his tutoring. For his comfortable physicality, brushing against him as they worked on problems. For the feel of his touch as they practiced judo on the tatami, the sensuous motion of being tossed around in Gus’s arms and thrown beneath him. How he wanted to be taken up again in those arms, to be shown the mysteries of love expressing the joining of their souls. He only had not known how to signal his acceptance, his consent, his enthusiasm.
Or how to seduce the seducer.