The one great fact of his life. It’s 9 P.M. on a weekend night, and the most exciting thing he’s done so far is wash his hands. He let the cold run so long over each hand it fit him like a glove, he could almost have worn it away from the faucet. For the lack of anything better to do he scrubbed his face, too, then let the washcloth’s dark fall over his eyes, his nose, his mouth, then another washcloth, then another, their heavy animal sadness pressing against him till their need felt as great as his. Another day of shooting hoops in the rain, of walking a creek, of keeping water company, of envying even it, for being preoccupied, as always, with the rocks it wears grooves in, the trail it keeps widening in the earth. Water never tires of following the same path, of doing the same damn thing, day in and day out. It never gets bored rubbing a stone over and over.
HOW FAR DID YOU GET?
Often the first question other boys would hit a boy with, as if the kid hadn’t gone out on a date but tried to swim the English Channel, and they knew he couldn’t cross such a distance without their help, and this was their way of helping him. Go on, tell us exactly how far, not knowing yet how to understand what a boy did with a girl, except by measurements: how long, how often, the precise calculations of sex. What was a kid to say to his buddies? It was like grabbing hold of a boat and being pulled aboard after treading water for days. I lay there like someone who’d been rescued, looking up at the stars as if they’d been part of the search party, too, the breeze on my neck, the whole dark sky. Imagine a boy telling that to his friends. It is more than they wish to know.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Lose the glasses, your goofy smile, your habit of talking to your bicycle, and pulling on your earlobe when you meet someone new. Stop biting your nails. Get your hair cut so drastically no one suspects it’s you in the torn jeans. Carry a comb, black and menacing as a gun. Whip it out on the bus, at church, in the middle of class. Curse as if you’ve always made sounds that could slice a person open. Want what your classmates want. Teach your lungs to love smoke, your heart not to beat so loud, so the girl in your arms won’t guess you’ve never slipped a hand inside a blouse before. Get tattooed, every body part pierced that can be. Pretend you’ve always smoked pot, had so much pussy you’ve tired of it, are bored with the petty crimes junior-high boys think up to pass an afternoon. Hang with the very kids your parents warned you about. Be a legend. So evil no one will ever remember you being good.
DRESSING FOR THE DANCE
Maybe if I put on the right shirt, that one the color of the ocean just before a storm, wear its rough waters to the dance, a girl will be tempted, afterward, to unbutton it, slip its turbulence off my shoulders. Maybe if I strap on the belt with a star for a buckle, wedge into my tightest pegged chinos, the black of caves on the other side of the moon, she’ll have no power to resist the night fast against my groin. What if there’s nothing between me and her but a thin layer of dark fabric, a troubled sea that rubs against us both. Maybe I’ll let her see what no one else has, my face stripped of everything but hunger, what I really look like walking home in the shadows made by the trees, from her house to mine, my own honed body a blade ground to such sharpness she can’t help but test its edge.