WARNING! This post contains some adult language and themes!
The world is a tumbling, fumbling mess. I’m walking through the playground on the first day of seventh-grade and thinking of you as I duck my way through the huddled masses of kids; lonely islands adrift on an asphalt sea, none of which belong to you. These islands are unruly. Seething masses of kids, grouped together by such frivolous bonds as grade level or gender or homeroom or neighborhood. Your island is different. It’s small and well-guarded but I know it with an instinctual awareness. I know the beaches and reefs, the docks and bays, I hovered around its coast all last year, waiting for an invitation to come ashore.
On the island, there’s your brother, a natural-born soccer player trapped in a country who still calls it “soccer.” Crushed beneath the thumb of an established hierarchy of sports that doesn’t value his skills. If he were a football player, he’d be fingering girls on buses on class trips to Niagara Falls, or attending high school parties where he’d be offered Ecstasy for the first time, but instead he’s just some snaggly-toothed kid who eats weird lunches and sports six-pack abs that nobody will notice until college.
Then there’s your church friends. Those words are still foreign to me and I have the feeling that in a few years they will be anathema. It appears a foregone conclusion that in a few years I’ll follow in the footsteps of my older brother who hordes philosophy books and lives in a haze of alcohol and marijuana, a notion I find simultaneously comforting and disquieting. They’re nice girls though, your church friends. With their old-fashioned names like Viv and Bonnie. Like you, and everyone on your island, their confidence far outweighs their social standing and that, more than anything, was the lighthouse that drew me to your strange little island in the first place.
I see you from a distance. You’re laughing at something and in a moment of self-deprecating narcissism, I know that it’s me.
Suddenly, I’m just a golem. A monster made of jizz and love and desperation and self-loathing that wants to run the other way and cry and punch my bedroom wall until my knuckles bleed. But inside my chest is a little mouse turning a wheel that keeps hope alive. A little mouse that remembers what it felt like when I asked you to be my girlfriend on the last day of sixth-grade. You said, “Yes.”
Or maybe it was, “Sure.” It didn’t seem like a big difference at the time but now it feels like everything. Now that we’d gone an entire summer without speaking and I didn’t know where we stood, now, I wished that I could remember your exact words more than anything.
You look over as I approach but don’t say anything.
You push your hair behind your ears. It’s shorter than it was last year and brown like the color of discontinued M&Ms. You’re taller than I remember. Taller than me. Taller than most boys in our class. In fact, you look a lot like your brother, too much perhaps—same build, same short stubby nose, same puffy, tired eyes. The realization of this fact was wielded against me more than once at a sleepover last summer to call my sexuality into question, as we all watched stolen pornography together and tried our best to hide our erections beneath our sleeping bags.
I feel the mouse spinning the wheel faster and faster in my chest, desperate for you to acknowledge my presence but you let your friends finish their thoughts before you step closer to me and say, with complete honesty and sincerity, “I made a mistake. I can’t be your girlfriend.”
Then you’re saying something else, possibly an apology or an explanation but I’ve made the best decision I could in the moment and walked away from you without saying a word. I don’t think I even said hello. Years from now, I’ll be glad with how quickly the moment was over, the band-aid simply ripped off, but for now it feels impossibly cold.
This, I think, is what I get for keeping an impossible hope alive. This is the punishment for not realizing that I am, in fact, only a monster. A golem. I turn my anger inward as I wade back into the blackening sea of students, sinking slowly beneath a protective tide of obscurity and wondering how I’m ever going to survive the year.