Maplewood Center …

They’d driven past the school several times since moving into the neighborhood. First to figure out the distance from home, and secondly to plot a route to travel because Jerome would be biking to school now. No more early morning wake up calls, no school bus. He would now be responsible for getting himself into school on time.

Maplewood Center for the Arts. It was a new school, only been open a year and tomorrow would be the first day of school. That morning he rose from bed and readied himself for the fifteen minute bike ride to campus. He locked his bike in the yard and approached the front doors.

Welcome signs were all over the place. Direction arrows and special color coded lockers were on the first floor, along with administrations, shop, the locker room and the cafeteria and assembly hall. This was the big time. The sensation of being in a new school with a new system of six class sessions was new to him. How would he manage, who would be his friends?

Making their way to home room, the cacophony of sounds was like the buzzing of flies in his ears. up the broad staircases to the second floor, home room was in the English department. He would find that the school was sectioned in study subjects. English, Mathematics, Sciences, Library Services, Music and Band and finally Social Studies.

It would be a fine dance of movement and time, getting from class to class and get down to his locker to change out books and get to class on time. It’s a good thing that Jerome had several days of orientation in Maplewood so that he could get accustomed to the new schedule.

As the day progressed he felt better and better about where he was. He wasn’t the only one trying to find their way through the maze of middle school. Science would be first period, followed by English, Mathematics and Home Economics. Ah the best time of day, “lunch.” Jerome was fixated on where he would sit and who would talk to him, it was a big room with fold out tables and stools. Some kids were just plain mean.

After lunch the back court was open so he could stretch his legs and get some air from outside, since the building was a closed system. There were no windows in the building save for small staircase windows on each of the four corners of the building. P.E. was next for him. Jerome new of phys ed. from his elementary school days, playing in street clothes getting dirty and washing up in the restroom. P.E. today would mean uniforms, and cleats and “changing” in front of other boys.

Walking into the boys locker room, the first thing that hit him was the smell of sweat, grass and dirt. Varsity and mainline P.E. classes shared the same locker room. They were all introduced to the gym teachers and were given numbers to the lockers assigned randomly. Jerome would find that his locker mates would become fast friends. Struggling with the lock in his hands he had to figure out the combination and get up to his locker which was on the top most level of a six level locker grid. “You have a locker for your gym clothes and shoes, and a large locker next door for your change out.” They were all listening attentively. “You’ve got ten minutes to change out and get outside to the basketball courts.”

PE. was an experience from hell for Jerome. And it was going to get worse as the end of class drew near. Sweaty and dirty from playing on the courts kids were showering after class, “Showering” he thought to himself. Did I have to shower in that big room as well? He wrestled with this though for many days as it would happen. The only persons who had ever seen him naked were his parents. Now he would have to shower with other kids like him, probably thinking the same thing. Alas, for the most part those who were in the showers were not so transfixed with each others bodies as they were with getting in and out of the shower with time to spare before the next bell rang.

The first week passed by and Jerome was settled into a system of alarms, bells and whistles. Eventually the day came when he would take his first step into a gym shower with the other boys. Fighting against fear and ridicule, gym would become a feast for the eyes, a smörgåsbord of smells and a dance with male sexuality.

“Sexuality” what was that? Jerome knew the first day he set foot in the locker room that he was different. Something inside was just not right for him. He just knew it. But at that time, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what “it” was. He was drawn to certain boys, he hunted the locker room for like minded, or so he thought, like minded boys like him. He was a young sportsman, soccer, wrestling and swimming were his chosen intra murals.

These sports would unite a team spirit in gym for many of his team mates just happen to be in the same scheduled period. This would soften the anxiety he was feeling about himself and his body. It would be years before he figured out what set him apart from the others.

After P.E. was keyboard. His favorite period of the day. Music was his first passion. Jerome, like his aunt Marge played piano by ear, no less. It was a gift that he would take all the way it would go in the educational system. Sitting in the back of the piano lab, sat another young boy named Gordy. Gordy would eventually become Jerome’s best friend as the years would pass by.

At the last bell, the great rush downstairs would occur every day, as the majority of classes were upstairs in the building. Jerome would make his way to his locker and stuff it with everything that he did not need and make his way home on his bike. It was the best time in Jerome’s young life.