When I was seven years old, I fell in love with Swedish tennis star, Björn Borg.
Being so young, I was not exactly sure why I had a wonderful warm sensation that tickled deep in my belly when I looked at him… but I do know that I really loved watching Borg play tennis.
My perplexed parents would wonder why their Canadian son, who was raised on hockey, but showed no interest in it, would sit for hours alone on the floor of our paneled rec room watching the French Open, US Open and, that Academy Awards of the tennis world, Wimbledon. No one had any idea that I was completely enthralled by Borg and how happy I was to simply stare at him in his white tennis shorts and watch his long blonde hair flow down to his shoulders from under a red, white and blue headband that looked like a terrycloth halo encircling his head.
Borg looked like Thor on the court and played just the way you would expect the Valhalla god to play if one took his hammer and gave him a racquet in exchange. Borg had powerful groundstrokes and a merciless doubled-fisted backhand so powerful that I thought I could feel the breeze from the racket on my face as I watched his golden Scandinavian body move against the green grass of Wimbledon. From the back of the court, Borg would hit the ball hard and high and bring it down with an overwhelming top-spin,making it difficult for opponents to attack him and his great endurance and calm court demeanor earned him the nickname of the “Ice Man.” And I could not take my eyes off him.
After the 1980 Wimbledon men’s singles finals when a calm and composed Borg won his fifth consecutive championship by beating the obnoxious John McEnroe, I asked my mother for a tennis lessons. I thought that if I could became a good enough tennis player, maybe it would be possible to meet Borg. I even fantasized that one day in the future, in matching ADIDAS tennis wear, I would be his doubles partner on that Wimbledon court. I would grow my hair long like his and, together, we would be invincible. However, the dream was dashed quickly and completely as my mother thought that tennis lessons were ridiculous.
“There isn’t even a tennis court in this part of town,” she had said.
But to make up for my shattered dreams, one Saturday after shopping with my aunt, my mother came home with one of the best gifts I ever received – a Björn Borg poster.
I taped that poster right over my bed where it would stay long after Borg had retired from tennis. In fact, that poster was still hanging on my bedroom wall a few years later when I found myself having that same feeling deep my belly – but this time I had the feeling when I looked at Mark, another boy in my eighth-grade class, who also had a head of long flowing blond hair. On that day I finally realized that this wonderful warm feeling that I had in my belly was love. Under that poster of Borg, I sat terrified while my mind filled with black horrific images of what the ramifications would be for a boy who liked other boys.
Last Thanksgiving, I returned to my hometown. My parents had long since converted my old bedroom into a dining room and, with my partner (and soon to be husband) beside me, we ate under where my Borg poster used to hang surrounded by family that love us. Over dinner, I pointed to the wall behind me and told them the story about Björn Borg, the poster, and my first secret crush. We all laughed and then my mother told me that they had recently built tennis courts at a new city park a few streets over. And then she began telling us about the crush she had on Tab Hunter when she was a girl.
Jeffrey, The Gay Groom