Guys I Wanted To Fuck in High School is a series of short essays about growing up frustrated in small-town Pennsylvania.
The only thing the boy thinks about as much as sex is escape.
The boy is me and is fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and he feels consumed by a sort of cloud. Whenever something is not about sex or escape, it evades his thinking. Often, at school, his teachers will give him assignments and he won’t hear it. He’ll show up clueless the next day and the teachers will disapprove – Why didn’t you do the work? Now you have a zero for the day.
The boy is on this threshold of becoming something other than a boy, but he advances at a confused pace.
His room has bunk beds in it, and should have a regular bed. There’s a stuffed animal on the top bunk, an artifact from a different life. He sleeps on the bottom because he feels encased and sheltered there, as if in the bottom of a boat. It’s dark and shielding and he starts to sleep naked.
The door is always closed, sometimes because he’s masturbating, but often only because he’s forgotten and he’s lying on his stomach on the floor, drawing pictures of comic book characters.
He stares out the window of his bedroom and masturbates, thinking of an older boy, Lee, down the street, who should show up and rub his dick all over the boy’s face – If the boy just concentrates hard enough, Lee will show up. He believes this with all his might: Just concentrate and things will happen.
This isn’t just about desire. At the end of every day of school – after the bullies, the boring classes, the terrible food, the dull conversations, the racists, the dead florescent lights, the cruel teachers – the boy has to concentrate on sex and on escape; they’re the only things that save him.
Life is made up of sheer will. If he wavers from this way of living he will tip off the edge and die.
When the boy thinks about escape, it’s not escape from his little town. He’s too tired to dream of anything that real. All he can do is think of something bigger. He concentrates on being out of his body, on being someone else who has never lived in his town or even in Pennsylvania. Like most people in the world, he will be someone for whom Pennsylvania barely exists. He stands in front of the mirror and turns the music up and sings. He’s not just watching himself sing, he’s pretending he’s in the mirror, facing himself. His room is the audience and the boy he’s staring out at – him – is someone alien. A spectator looking on. He asks his mom to buy him a microphone and an amplifier. Instead of starting a band, which he tries once and fails, he uses the microphone as a prop to complete being someone else.
Like a magical tool, that microphone. A wand. Hold it, stare into the mirror, and concentrate.
It’s true, this trick about concentrating, though not as he imagined. Instead of one neighbor, the boy begins to have sex with another.
Next door there’s a duplex that looks run-down compared to the boy’s house. The neighbors aren’t poor, but they don’t take care of their lawn. Their porch is drab and the colors are depressed. The boy’s mom has remarried and though he himself once used to live in a tiny duplex, now he has a backyard with flowers and a little pond and a green stretch of grass big enough for a badminton net in the summer. The neighbors have half a yard, separated from the boy’s by a forbidding hedge.
At night, the sounds of the neighbors fighting and yelling ricochet in the small strip of space between the houses. The father is a drunk, the mother is mild, and the two sons are effeminate. The younger son, Jeffrey, is the same age as the boy. Jeffrey is overweight and has a funny walk. He spends most of his time playing RPG-style Nintendo and reading comic books. In school, he’s made fun of or ignored. At home, he’s trapped. Every day, Jeffrey and the boy have sex.
It starts with them daring each other to take their clothes off, just for a second. Jeffrey’s dick is fat and short and the boy feels overwhelmed just looking at it.
They try everything.
Almost everything: They never, ever kiss, but each day there is a knock on the boy’s door and each day they get closer until they’re inside each other.
The boy’s sister has left for college, and his parents don’t get home until an hour after he does. There is a knock at the door, a secret which no one else hears, and the boy goes to it reluctantly. He knows what will happen and he can’t stop it and doesn’t understand why.
The first time Jeffrey touches the boy, reaching down to his testicles, it’s so intense that the boy jumps. Are you all right Jeffrey asks.
The first time Jeffrey fucks the boy, he eases in slowly. It’s painful, but they’ve worked their way up to it, little by little, pushing fingers into each other. The boy has fucked Jeffrey many times by now, sliding into his large round ass and pulling out only to cum or when he discovers his penis smeared in shit because they haven’t learned to clean out. They don’t know anything except what they’re feeling. There’s no example to guide them, and no one to tell them how this is done.
Yet somehow they still unveil everything.
I think it’s all the way in, Jeffrey says to the boy. When Jeffrey is still, the boy feels okay. But when Jeffrey starts to move, to thrust in and out of the boy eagerly, to pound his thick body up against the boy’s ass, it is so painful that the boy has to keep telling Jeffrey to stop. Stop. Slower. Stop. Jeffrey is pushing the boy open, and it hurts. So why does he tell him to keep going?
At every threshold, there are mysteries, and this one is no different.
Along with being a time of will, it is a time of secrets – ones that the boy who is no longer a boy tries to keep from everyone as well as secrets that the world tries to keep from him.
The boy’s mother, for example, is always confiscating things and watching him for signs of too much sex or too much violence. His mother has a study where the boy spends hours every day, writing novels. One day he shows a chapter to his mother – the story is about a girl who is saved from being raped. The boy’s mother tears the black disk out of the computer in anger. Similarly, she takes his books away – Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison, and others. Once, the boy draws a superhero with fire coming from his head. Too violent, too much.
Why is it all so dark? How do you know about all of this? his mother demands.
She rips up a comic book and listens when he’s watching TV. If there are screams or gunshots, she comes in and turns it off.
One day he’s reading a Stephen King novel in their sun porch. The light comes through and it’s hot and sticky. There is a hornet touching one of the windows, and though the boy is used to saving them – catching them in a glass and then releasing them into the yard – he ignores it because he’s absorbed in the book. There is a short passage about a gay bar in the book, and it’s a world he doesn’t understand but wants to. He’s afraid of it. He is so enthralled that he doesn’t think to hide the book when his mother enters. Stephen King is an author she knows. She barely has to look through the pages, she simply picks it up and takes it away. Not in my house, she says.
Not that it matters. He goes to his father’s house and watches all the violence and sex he wants. His father doesn’t care. His father is from a little Syrian village where all that mattered was reputation and respect, and from where – his father reports fondly – if you were a criminal, they would cut your hand off or hang you in the village’s center. It doesn’t matter if his son watches sex and violence, so long as the boy is polite, so long as he shows that he adores his father.
The boy closes the door to his room and masturbates. He wonders if people can hear him masturbating through the walls, or if, when he cums, people can hear the semen hit the blanket or the paper or the tissue he cums on. He masturbates in school in the bathroom and into his notebooks under the desk. He makes a list of everyone he has ever thought about masturbating, and there are hundreds of names on it. Each time he pictures someone new, he adds a name. His stepbrothers, their friends, his sister’s boyfriends, his teachers. Sometimes he doesn’t know the names – someone he sees at the mall, or the construction workers that work for his father who all take turns fucking him. He is obsessed with this list. He does not write anything on it but the names, so that even if it’s found, its meaning will remain a secret.
He doesn’t include Jeffrey on this list, because he never thinks of him when he masturbates. He tries not to think of Jeffrey at all, because every time they have sex, the boy hates himself.
Jeffrey has a certain smell. It’s not unpleasant, it’s just a trace of him, an echo, and he leaves it on all the boy’s sheets and the boy’s hands and on the boy’s face. So the boy washes his sheets and changes his clothes. He takes showers. But still, the smell will creep up. How did it get into everything? He’ll open a book and a brief flash, a ghost of the smell, will brush his face. When they’re not having sex, this smell nauseates him.
He tries to locate where it’s coming from – in the space between Jeffrey’s balls and his leg? In Jeffrey’s hair? In his armpits? But it’s not coming from anywhere. It’s like an aura, an outline, and a repeating loop of history.
The boy doesn’t say goodbye to Jeffrey when they finish. He doesn’t say I’ll see you tomorrow. He knows they’ll see each other tomorrow. He knows that he’ll ignore Jeffrey in school and then see him the next day and suck his dick and rub Jeffrey’s cum into his chest and the new trail of soft hair that has grown on his belly.
When Jeffrey leaves, when the boy hears the sound of the front door closing, he walks into the bathroom and looks in the mirror. This mirror isn’t like the one in his bedroom. He looks into his own brown eyes and slaps himself in the face, hard. Never again, he says to the mirror. He slaps himself over and over until his cheeks are red and he fears a bruise may develop and then he stops. More than wanting to punish himself, he does not want to get caught. People will ask where the bruise came from and the boy cannot allow that to happen.
There is never a question of why he should hate Jeffrey, nor why he should hate himself or what they do together. And there is no name for it yet. The boy isn’t gay or queer. He just feels some deep wrongness in his guts. It’s a despair, because the boy has not yet learned to connect his feelings with his thinking, his thinking with his will. Everything is separate, like planets circling each other unseen.
He decides to be obsessed with a girl – Nicki. He talks and talks about her as if he’s in love. He tells his friends that she’s the best looking girl in school. She has blonde hair and is pretty, but average. She’s not a girl that other boys would have chosen except as an afterthought. He never talks to Nicki except once, to tell her he loves her. The boy doesn’t even pay attention to her response, because what he’s said is a lie. Who cares.
There are other girls. Lots of them. Most he doesn’t do anything with. He spends time with them, but never touches them. They’re perplexed – or in some cases, his aloofness, his way of not caring, makes them like him more. There is a girl he dates for months, never once kissing her. She corners him in a dark bedroom and he shrugs her off. She asks him to kiss her and the boy laughs and hugs her. What is he up to? When she calls him to tell him she’s dating someone else, he yells at her. He isn’t angry, it’s just that he’s learned that this is what you’re supposed to do. When your girlfriend leaves you for another man, you show anger. The girl cries. She sends him a letter full of apologies and regret. At the end, she says she loves him and wants him back.
The boy is somehow touched by the letter and the betrayal, so he calls the girl. But instead of taking her back, instead of explaining himself, he cruelly reads the letter aloud to her and laughs. The girl, understandably, never speaks to him again. He is always being hurt, somewhere inside of himself, but doesn’t understand how.
And he doesn’t yet understand that others could be hurt. Everything seems like a great show to him. The world is dismembered; what you show is never how you feel. What you see in others in never what is true.
For the boy, crying, laughing, affection are all just behaviors separated from the heart by the thick, impenetrable line of his body.
It doesn’t occur to him, but the rest of the world is feeling its feelings and showing them.
He dates another girl that he does kiss. This girl wears black and listens to industrial music. They have some things in common. The girl also seems to be walking through life in haze, and they prick each other’s fingers with a needle and drink each other’s blood. Even this rouses nothing in the boy.
One of the girls he dates has a jealous ex-boyfriend. He gets a knock on the door and it’s her. A surprise visit. Come outside, she says. I want to show you something. He follows her down the street to the park, and there is Joel, the ex-boyfriend. He wants to fight you, she says. Come on bitch, Joel says to the boy. The boy doesn’t say anything. He looks at Joel and feels some sort of stirring – of what? He looks at the girl and feels nothing. Joel has blonde hair and blue eyes. The girl seems ugly to the boy now.
He turns around in silence and walks away. Come back the girl shouts. Where are you going, you pussy, Joel shouts. The boy walks back to his house and goes up to his room and shuts the door.
He carries out all these motions as if he is someone else. There are people that do this their entire lives.
At his school, there are rumors about the boy and about Jeffrey, but these rumors haven’t found their way to each other yet.
No one talks about Jeffrey, except to spread this rumor. And Jeffrey doesn’t seem to have any friends to defend him. The rumor is that Jeffrey masturbates by sticking a carrot up his ass. How do things like this get started, and how do people intuit the truth?
No one says this directly to Jeffrey, because talking to Jeffrey doesn’t occur to anyone. Everyone’s got lives to live and tests to take and games to compete in – Jeffrey is outside of all that, and beneath it, the other students think. The thing with the carrot is just known. It’s something people say to each other.
There are rumors about the boy, too. That he’s queer, though this rumor comes and goes in the spaces between his girlfriends. In these lapses he suffers taunting and bullying, and then it dries up for awhile.
There are rumors, also, that the boy still plays with toys. No secret how this was started: a girl came overto his house and saw the stuffed animal on the boy’s top bunk. It’s not true, though in a way the boy wishes it were. He’s tried to play with his action figures but they no longer hold his interest. Once he could activate them with life and meaning, but they don’t do anything anymore. They’re in boxes in the basement. There’s no going back to them ever; their lives are done and now they’re just things.
The year goes on, and every day, the boy and Jeffrey fuck.
They’re in the same biology class, and the boy is waiting for a moment. He hopes that it will be a moment that severs him from Jeffrey and their intimacy and the punishment afterward.
He buys a pen, rubber and orange and shaped like a carrot, and carries it with him.
Each day, he hopes that Jeffrey will announce that he’s forgotten to bring a pen to class.
The boy wills it; concentrates. Ask, he thinks. Ask.
The biology classroom feels like someone stunted its growth, too dark and claustrophobic, like everything at the school. The thirty students sit at large black tables, three students to a table, in two rows, and Jeffrey sits behind the boy in the aisle over.
The teacher is unthinking and strange, and many of the students claim he used to be a cocaine addict. He flirts with the female students and makes them all dissect things.
The boy, who is a vegetarian, resists at first but then experiences a sort of resignation to what is real. These animals were raised to be dissected, he reasons. They were always dead. All that’s left is to look inside them and hope we learn something.
In the pan is a crayfish, and next to the pan is a worksheet with a drawing of the crayfish splayed open. Cut the crayfish open with the scalpel and as you pull it apart, write down what you see.
Sternal Artery. Pyloric Stomach. Dorsal Abdominal Artery.
On the sheet these organs are different colors, but when the boy cuts open the crayfish, he sees it’s all the same shade, a sickly dull gray-green.
From behind him, a voice.
A pen, Jeffrey asks. Does anyone have a pen?
The boy’s heart jumps. His hands smell like formaldehyde and are covered in a film of dead animal, but he reaches for his backpack. Where is the carrot-shaped pen?
A girls turns to Jeffrey and gives him a regular blue pen. The boy has taken too long, the moment has passed. But here, in the front pouch of his backpack on the floor of the dead biology room, the boy’s fingers touch the rubbery surface of the carrot pen. He pulls it out and cannot stop or slow down. He announces it.
“Here’s a pen Jeffrey,” he says and stretches his arm out, far out into the empty aisle, so that everyone can see.
And they all see, and the class erupts in laughter. One girl cries out, shocked by this joke, and then laughs. The boys laugh. Some of these students are enemies of the boy who is no longer a boy. But there is this moment. If he is cruel enough, he can weld himself to them. They may pick on the boy and bully him, but here is a defining line – he is above Jeffrey, he is above being ignored.
The teacher cluelessly tells them all Settle down. He doesn’t know what has just happened. He doesn’t care. Just no laughing.
Innocently or knowingly, Jeffrey says: I already have a pen.
And there is a knot in the boy’s stomach and everyone starts to laugh again.
That day, after school, the boy is sure he’s done it. He’s ended their get-togethers. He goes up to his room and throws his backpack on the top bunk. But strangely, he doesn’t feel victorious. He feels like he’s lost something and made a mistake. He goes into his backpack and finds the carrot-shaped pen and throws it in his wastebasket and turns his music on.
Through the noise, there is a knock at the door. Leave me alone, he thinks. He turns the music up and then goes to the wastebasket and pulls the pen out and hides it under the bottom bunk. A secret.
And the knock goes on, and then the doorbell.
He tries to ignore it. Please, please leave me alone.
He starts to sing into the mirror, but the mirror has changed. He’s not anyone else now, he sees.
He can’t stop thinking: I am just myself.
So the boy turns his music off. Then he goes downstairs to answer the door.