The following is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual events, or to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For my part, I do not wish to make peace between my heart and my head, between my faith and my reason -- I wish, rather, that there should be war between them! ~ Miguel de Unamuno
We lay on our backs in the lush, untended grass on the blind side of the house, watching cloud castles erect and demolish themselves. Although it was midwinter, the capricious Georgia climate teased us with a false promise of spring: we’d left for school wearing full winter panoply, only to exchange sweaters for sweat by lunchtime. The unfaded fescue and ornamental vegetation – pine, fir, juniper, and holly -- on the eastern side of the house collaborated in the deception.
I rolled onto my side and regarded her.
She wore a pin-striped button-down shirt (her father’s I surmised) of a semi-coarse weave, and a pair of tight, faded jeans. She’d ornamented the latter by punching parallel rows of holes along either side of the fly and stringing a shoelace between them. The contrast of white on blue focused the eye and the attention upon the gentle swell below her waist, and threatened to weather a similar, but altogether less gentle feature into the topography below my own.
Best to resume cloud-gazing – for now. To be sure, the sky was a glorious sight in and of itself, worthy of lush synthesizers and soaring lead guitar – Rush’s “Countdown” or “Subdivisions.” Titanic cumulus banks, washed and tinted in gold and orange, against an electric turquoise background. White on blue. I laughed and groaned silently: habitual, associative thought seldom afforded me the luxury of distraction, even when I most needed it. All synaptic roads did, in fact lead to Rome – or to Sodom and Gomorrah, depending upon one’s moral orientation.
She rolled onto her side, tweezed the cigarette from between my lips with peace-sign fingers, and helped herself to a drag.
“Penny for your thoughts,” she said.
I yawned and stretched, arching my back completely off the ground.
“You wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth.” I replied.
It was a little, white, defensive lie.
I’m thinking about what it’ll be like to spend the rest of my life with you. I’m thinking about thought itself – about the fact that you’re the first thing I think of when I get up in the morning, and the last thing I think of when I fall asleep at night. I’m thinking about the fact that I’ve never felt this way about anyone or anything before. I’m thinking about the fact that I love you so much, it literally hurts at times – it’s a physical ache that begins around my throat and runs all the way down to my guts. I’m thinking that for the first time in my life, I’m actually afraid of my own feelings. On a good day, I can bite back on the horrible rages. I can go into “machine mode” when I’m depressed. But this? I have no control over it. It’s like trying to saddle-break a horse – without a saddle or even a bridle.
I’m thinking of how wonderful it will be when we can make love anytime we want – even in the daytime -- without tiptoeing around our parents or worrying about my brother or your sister walking in on us. And I mean make love: the real thing, not this “Who wants to go first?” bullshit. I want to see your face while we’re doing it, to watch your expressions and responses, and know that I’m the one making them happen. One thing I’ve figured out is that there’s a difference between making love and fucking. Before I met you, I used to look at other girls and think about what I’d like to do to them. That would be fucking. When I look at you, I want to do the same thing, but it’s a completely different feeling: they’re nothing alike. I wish I could explain it to you, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I don’t have the words yet. It’s too new, too alien.
I’m thinking of what it will be like when we can share the same bed all night, and wake up next to each other, and not care that we have tangled hair, eye-boogers, and breath fit to knock a buzzard off a shitwagon. I’m thinking about a tune in my Da’s record collection: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” by the Beach Boys.
I’m thinking of how beautiful and brilliant our kids will be. Mendel. The fruit flies we bred last year, in Biology. How did it work? I reckon our kids will have auburn or chestnut hair – maybe red, if the recessive genes combine. Eyes? Somewhere between blue and green, I suppose. I can’t remember which is dominant. Maybe they’ll be like mine – a little of both. Or maybe we’ll have a mixed pair, like my brother and me: he got all the Teutonic genes, and I got all the Celtic ones. And I’m sure they’ll be smart. Perhaps even smarter than either of us. I wonder if they’ll be as weird as we are, though. They could be crazy; insane geniuses – Aleister Crowley types, or mad scientists. Arch-villains planning to conquer the world. Wait – wasn’t there something called “regression to the mean”? That would suck. What if they’re dull, or even worse --- nose-pickin’ dipshits with question-mark arms, like the retards on Spaz Hall? That would really suck and give change.
“These are our sons, Mangan – we call him “Mongo” – and Edmund – “Special Ed,” to friends and family.”
That’s funny. People call us “gifted,” while the ‘tards are “special.” I guess it’s better to be special than it is to be gifted, then. What kind of gift is this, anyway? Why do the fuckin’ droolers and feebs seem so much happier than we are? Have you noticed how people fawn on the retards? But look at their faces when they do. That’s the only thing I like about the Spaz Hallers: they frighten people on a deep, gut level. There but for the grace of God and an uncontrollable quirk of DNA… They feel the same way about us, you know, but for different reasons. We’re all abominations. We undermine their myths.
Think about it. We’re told that the future leaders of the country are the best and brightest. But look around you. Look at the rest of the TAG-fags. How many of us do you think will be running things when we’re grown up? Grover? Too nerdy. John? Too fat – and too radical. Joe? Too gay. Me? Don’t even get me started. I hate and despise every one of the motherfucking herd-animals, and I don’t pretend otherwise. I don’t want to rule them or be ruled by them. I just want to be left alone. You? You can’t make up your mind whether to be a whore or a wallflower. Wait. On second thought, you just might have a shot at it. You’d never be the head honcho, but you could probably find a respectable niche somewhere in the structure. You’d be more useful to them than I would. They have something you want, don’t they? Deep inside, part of you wants to be one of them, doesn’t it? You’re not fooling me, you know. It’s in your choice of words. But why do you want that? Why would anyone?
Oh well. It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it. You’re intelligent enough to figure out what a fucking sham this is.
Remember: we’re selected by IQ. How many of the nabobs being groomed to rule are in TAG? None of the fuckers. Not a fucking one of them.
The retards make them nervous because they embody their insecurities. Retards are – well – retards. They’re ugly. They’re uncouth. They’re never cool, and never popular. But they’re safe: they don’t ask questions, and no one is afraid of a retard secretly laughing at him, or of being outsmarted by one. But what a horrible existence that must be – for the “wobblers,” I mean. They’re only happy because they don’t know any better. They can’t know any better. They’ll never understand what pieces of shit the “normal” people are --- and yet they’ll depend upon them for the rest of their lives.
Let’s hope our kids aren’t feebs.
Nah. We’re probably different enough to guarantee what they call “hybrid vigour.” We’re from different parts of the country, and our ancestors were from different countries, after all. And who says they’d both be boys, anyway? We might have one of each, a boy and a girl.
I’m thinking that I’ll be graduating in less than four months, and that you’ll be graduating in two years. Just a little longer, and we’ll be free of this fucking prison. Then we’ll have our whole lives ahead of us – and they’ll really be our lives. I’ll have two years of college under my belt, and I’ll have everything ready when you start, so the transition won’t be so abrupt. Jaysus! I haven’t even been back in-country a year yet, have I? I think I still have what they call “culture shock.” Yeah, I’ll definitely do whatever I can to ease the transition. And if you want to go to a different school? No problem. I can transfer. A degree’s a degree, right? It’s a piece of paper that proves you can play the game. That’s what a few of our teachers told me unter vier Augen, now isn’t it? They want me to play the game? Fine. I'll play it -- up to a point. You're worth it. Hmmm. Maybe we won’t be that free after all, come to think of it. Oh well. Fuck it. We’ll cross that bridge when we reach it.
I’m thinking that once I’m out of here, I can assemble a real band and play real gigs, instead of fucking around in my parents’ basement. I’d love to keep Vortex together, but we can’t even find a regular drummer, and I don’t think the other guys are as serious about it as I am. You’ll get into all of our shows for free, of course – best seats in the house. I’d probably play better for knowing you were out there watching me.
I’m thinking that I’d like to write a book someday, but I don’t know what to write about. It seems as if everything’s been done already. I have a whole box of short stories – stuff I’ve been writing since I was twelve, but it’s mostly fantasy and science fiction, and I’m too embarrassed to show anyone. Maybe I’ll let you read a few of them one of these days, just to see what you think. Well, there are a couple I’ll never show you –or anyone else – because you’re in them. I wrote them over the summer, while I was trying to think of some way to talk to you. That’s why I started taking evening walks, you know. I was hoping I’d “accidentally” run into you, or that you’d be out in your yard, and I’d have an excuse to say “hi.”
I’m thinking that it’s only been a couple of months since we-
We were standing on resurfaced asphalt, a quarter of a mile and three months away. My facial muscles clenched around a real or imagined affront, even as my hand clenched around an empty can of the criminally misnamed “Coca Cola Classic,” crumpled it into a near-hourglass, and side-armed it into a storm-drain. It clattered dully on the concrete, then again with a resounding echo as it came to rest in the pipe, awaiting the next rain to carry it to the fish-pond. For a moment, I wondered if oxidizing soda-cans were as toxic as antifreeze and motor oil – but the girl. The girl was the greatest of mysteries. Her competitors – and there were many; a thousand rude, jockeying thoughts an hour – could wait their turns.
Her shoulders and head drooped, the veil of her hair highlighted in dull orange by the streetlamp.
I huffed vaporized exasperation into the evening chill.
“What’s this about?” It was more demand than inquiry.
“Last night,” she said. Her voice was a newborn kitten’s.
“What about it?” I asked, unable to blunt the edge in my own.
“You were…” each word fainter and more hesitant than the one preceding it, “going too fast for me.”
The anger (Had I really been that angry? And over such a trifle?) punched completely through what little reserve I’d been able to muster, its passage marked by an atomizer exit-wound. My face shifted, in nanoseconds, from a twisted snarl of cinnabar fury to an ivory death-mask as the blood rose and then ebbed, coagulating into indigestible black pudding somewhere between bodhran heart and witch’s knot intestines. (“Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favor’d rage, then lend the eye a terrible aspect.”) What was this about? Another of her damnable three-penny soap operas?
I withheld the ice from my voice somehow, but the quality of boots on snow remained; the crunch was subdued, but audible nonetheless.
I walked her home, and called it an early evening, pleading unfinished homework. And I told the truth in word, if not in spirit. Homework was a task I undertook on the day it was due; never the night before. With a smile I didn’t feel (and I tried my level best to convey my insincerity), I kissed her goodnight and told her I’d see her at the bus stop in the morning. That part I did mean. I was angry, my feelings and my pride wounded, but I’d never have resorted to “put out or get out”: I loved her too much; with an intensity that frightened me at times. But I was in no mood for company – especially hers.
“Mistah Kurtz, he dead.”
I spent the next few hours lying awake in bed, listening to my album collection (including a few platters I’d borrowed from my father) and blowing smoke and frustration at the ceiling. Once again, popular social fiction had proven itself a wrecker, luring the ship of expectation onto the rocks of actuality. The times may have been “fast” at the imaginary Ridgemont High, but at Roswell High, they moved at the pace of a turtle swimming through cold treacle.
I grimaced, stretched, and returned to luxuriating in perceived rejection and very real self-pity.
“Each night I ask the stars up above/ Why must I be a teenager in love?”
You said it, guinea-boy. That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. That’s-a one spicy meatball.
I was little given to introspection, and even less to empathy at the time, but as my anger – which, increasingly, seemed unjustified – cooled, I found myself ever more inclined towards dispassionate analysis; or at least towards analysis weighted more by regret than by rage.
I was seventeen. I had spent the last three years in a foreign city, inhaling postmodern “decadence chic” and European sexual mores along with diesel exhaust and cement dust. She was a year and some months younger, and a product of the American suburbs. These were facts I should have taken into account. I enjoyed the additional and entirely chance advantage of being a boy, blessed by physiology with less to fear from -- and therefore less to consider about -- the consequences of indulging my baser urges.
But how “base” were they,really? Weren’t they natural? And if so, how could they be wrong? Besides: didn’t love cover a multitude of sins?
Then memory intruded upon rumination, threatening it with oblivion. My pulse accelerated as I recalled the sight of her, lustrous and moonstone-pale in the half-light, remembered the feel, yielding yet resilient, of her breast beneath my palm; the sensation of her nipple hardening between my lips; the infrared radiance of her body as it warmed, tensing and relaxing by turns, like a plucked guitar string; the dotted quarter-rest in the 4/4 rhythm of her breathing; the unfamiliar and nearly imperceptible scents that conveyed and confirmed information I had never consciously acquired.
I stubbed out my cigarette, drew another from the concertina pack in my shirt pocket, straightened it as best I could, and fumbled for a light. Soft-shell digits scrabbled left and right across the surface of the nightstand (“I should have been a pair of ragged claws…”), and came to tentative, inquisitive rest upon a folded rectangle of paper. The note she’d slipped into my locker the previous morning. No, not my locker. She’d slipped this one into my pocket. Had I read too much into the contact? But how? Hadn't I given her more than one smirking, only-half-kidding pat on the ass? And hadn't I been feeling her up through her shirt --"two steps forward, one step back" -- for days now, working my way up her side until she finally stopped arresting my wrist with viselike fingers? What was up with the mixed signals?
The matchbook was empty. I stomped to the door, each footfall emphatic enough to make the needle on the turntable skip, robbed my laughing brother of a pack of matches, and returned to my locked and barricaded sanctum sanctorum.
"Going too fast for me"?
I'd thrown away all my nudie magazines for this?
What a crock of shit.
Enough of the record-player. A punch on each of two buttons, and it was 96 Rock – and “Suffragette City.”
I executed half a wrestler's bridge, and looked through the tops of my eyes. It was my brother: speak, or even think of the devil, and he apppears. He snorted and hawked theatrically,leaned over me, and went through the motions of playing "The Pit and the Pendulum" with a mucilaginous, orange juice loogie. Thoughts of impending manhood raised their shields, lowered their spears, and coalesced into a phalanx, set to receive the barbarous charge of teenage reality. I gained my feet with the reflexive speed of a dropped cat.
"Ma said to tell you dinner's gonna be ready in half an hour."
"Thanks. Now fuck off, dicknose."