June 9, 2007

“Do you ever think about guys? Like…you know…that way?”

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It was two in the morning. We had been “asleep” for an hour. Keith was in a sleeping bag on the floor next to my bed. My bed was, naturally, a mattress on the floor as well: for whatever reason, I had instinctively equated not having a proper bed with being bohemian. My mother was crushed but something in my guts knew having a bed frame put you in bed with The Man. Being on the floor put you right next to the earth, closer to where it all happens. Man. Even if you’re thirteen, in suburbia you look for the Kerouacian wherever you can find it. Seek and ye shall find. Lost but now I am found. Etc. etc.

“…Are you still awake?”

I had been going through the petite révolution. My mind was held hostage by a body on fire. Everything that was me was suddenly not me and all I could do was make awkward decisions that had little relevance anyway, since a certain amount of predestination was pulling the reins. One day is just like the next until suddenly it’s not. This was one such day.

We had been friends since middle school started. Argued endlessly about whether the Beatles or the Grateful Dead had more cultural relevance. Whether Zen was a cop-out. Was Michele or Stephanie hotter? We stayed at each other’s houses several nights a week. Discussions on acne, how much cologne is “too much”, premonitions of divorces.

This particular day had started like the rest. Winter, after school, my house this time because his sister was in town with her husband. We came home and dropped off backpacks, ate microwave pizzas, and called around looking for people. Eventually it was decided that Stephanie’s was best, considering she had a trampoline and a mother who didn’t care what the kids were up to. Let me take a moment to encourage you all to buy trampolines and leave your kids alone from age twelve to fifteen…the world seems limitless, and precious, and benevolent. You know good and well what I mean, and how later it will never seem quite the same again.

The usual gang was there, pubescent refugees sticking together in a pack, hopeful that the sheer number of our tribe compensated for our collective lack of physical strength and prowess. There were more conversations about the Beatles, while the girls in the group tried various antics to monopolize attention. For Stephanie this meant smoking (since her mother wasn’t around). For Tracy this was hugs, thousands of hugs, hugging anyone and everyone, any opportunity to take her giant breasts and press them into someone who either wanted to touch them or was jealous that they would never have them, at least not like hers; Tracy was light-years ahead of the rest of us, God bless her. For Michele this was a complete rejection of our pseudo-intellectualism and a full embrace of pop culture triviality. Ironically this worked because it made her ‘different’ from us and therefore somehow more exotic. She made TRL sexy.

We boys had various attributes of our own. We perfected the one thing we had control over and wielded it like a weapon. For me this was my slowly forming dreadlocks and the air of credibility they carried. For Steve, it was his uncanny ability to impersonate big tent preachers, and for Keith it was his peculiar ability to drive, despite being thirteen and a little too short for the steering wheel.

The gang of us spent the evening as we spent most evenings, making out on the trampoline under a big sky in the Texas winter. My dad would pick Keith and I up around nine and tease us endlessly about the make-out party. Three guys and three girls – it didn’t take a detective.

There was dinner, followed by TV, until my parents went to bed. Keith and I stayed up till one talking about the events of the evening and crafting strategies that would get the girls past making out and into more pressing affairs. Then “sleep”: until that night, I though I was the only one who did this. Sleep was technically the moment when we agreed to stop talking and turn out the lamp. But I never went to sleep immediately. I would lay awake for an hour or so after we went to bed and watch Keith breath. I would doze off to the rhythm of his chest.

So that night I was stunned. Rhetorical questions weren’t Keith’s style. Was I awake? Well, yes. Was I “awake”? I wasn’t sure. What were the implications? Did he know I was watching him? Why did I watch him sleep, anyway? Was he mad? Why would he break the treaty? Value is determined by the scarcity of resources, and friends like Keith were far and few between, so the pressure of the situation was tremendous. I heard him roll onto his side facing me. My eyes were closed as I evaluated decisions. I was left with two options, stay very still or run like hell. I had turned into an insect, or a reptile. I awoke from “sleep” and opened my eyes to find Keith looking at me. We faced each other like two curled S’s. I did my best impression of being woken from light slumber and answered him.

“…Yeah, I’m awake.”

The vacuum of silence that followed began to drink down my house, my neighborhood, Fort Worth, Texas, America, the Earth, and all of history. The absence of any sound turned my ears into radar. Beyond Keith’s short breaths and the settling of the house I heard cars several blocks away, and satellites in orbit broadcasting ABC into the homes of all the good people. Whatever Keith had to say, he was taking the long way around to get there. I don’t believe I have ever been so aware of the present since that day.

I wasn’t sure what came next. I wasn’t sure why I was dizzy and drunk either. I knew that saying even one word wrong would bring our house of cards down. If you want a bird to sit on your hand, you have to be very patient and not make a sound. I looked at Keith and watched him arrange the necessary words in his head. I fought back the urge to provide the scaffolding. After several minutes he cleared his throat and eliminated other possible futures from his head. I was aware of the exact moment he made a decision to move forward. I felt sad for the little deaths we all die.

“Do you ever think about guys? Like…you know…that way?”

Had Judas been half as brave, all of history would have been turned on its side. I weighed the responses carefully and opted for selective honesty, partial disclosure at least, with the precarious absence of any details about our sleep ritual, which I saved for myself. I told him I did, occasionally, and that I didn’t think much of it really. He said he did as well and wasn’t sure what it meant. I wasn’t sure what came next after we reached this point. I felt like Magellan, or Atlas. There was no time for relief, or excitement, or fear – only the placing of one foot in front of the other. I didn’t know what to say really so instead I reached out and touched his hand. Tonight we would not have sex. Tonight we would not kiss. We held hands and talked until we both fell asleep.

contributed by Michael Delacroix

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