Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Like "A Day at the Pool: Remembrances of a Straight Boyhood"

This is my satire on Bernard Cooper's A clack of tiny sparks: Remembrances of a gay boyhood. You need to have read the essay for my piece to make sense. Enjoy?

“Girls are icky,” Ralph Johnson proudly declared. He had just finished throwing handfuls of dirt still wet from last night’s rain at the group of girls across the playground and was now balancing himself on top of the gigantic jungle gym. Sturdy and boisterous and gap-toothed, Ralph was my best buddy and blessed with tremendous athletic prowess. It was even rumored that he had once crossed the monkey bars, going two at a time.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be picking on girls so much,” I apprehensively suggested while timidly watching his balancing act from the safety of the bottommost rung. Unlike Ralph, I was clumsy and lacked the hand-eye coordination to be good at anything worth being good at. Ralph was like a mentor to me; I emulated him in the belief that being seen with him, being like him, would somehow turn me into the coolest kid in the cul-de-sac.

Squinting his eyes and sticking out his tongue in disgust, he yelled, “EWWWW! What are you, a girl lover?” His voice was full of repulsion for the other sex and his tone, accusatory. I was stunned. “No!” I quickly blurted out, with too much defensiveness, too much transparent fear in my response. I knew the truth.

Only days before, I was swimming with a girl. Gracie Peterson sat behind me in Mr. Johnson’s class. She had smooth, hairless legs, a smile that popped under the accentuation of her lip gloss, and a long, flowing curtain of silky orange hair that seemed almost too perfect to be real.

Exactly how we became such good friends was unclear. She was the kind of girl who wore Sailor Moon scrunchies in her hair and I was the type of guy who collected Pokemon cards. I think our first conversation was when she tapped me on my narrow shoulder with her shiny pink nails and asked what “four plus seven” was. “Eleven,” I had replied.

And now we were swimming together on a play date. The instant Gracie shot from the pool, shaking water from her orange hair, freckled shoulders shining, my attraction to members of the other sex became a matter I could no longer suppress or rationalize.

But I knew what happened to girl lovers. They were shunned by boys for their betrayal and unable to find a niche in the unwelcoming female community of Barbie dolls and miniature ovens. They were outcasts of society to be shamed and mocked.

That’s why no one could know about Gracie and me.

Gracie dog-paddled through the deep end, spouting a fountain of chlorinated water. Despite shame and confusion, my longing for her hadn’t diminished; it continued to thrive, locked away in the deepest chambers of my heart. In the name of play, I splashed the clear blue water at her glistening face, and her orange hair shined brightly in the sun, a flame that couldn’t be doused.

I’ve lived with a woman for seven years. Some nights, when I’m half-awake and I can’t fall back asleep, I reach out to touch the expanse of her back, and I feel the pleasure radiating from her every tiny crevasse.
I have few regrets. But one is that I hadn’t said to Ralph, “Maybe I am a girl lover.” Perhaps I would have been able to pursue a more open relationship with Gracie. Imagine how realistic our games of “house” would have been.

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