Whenever I return to my small New England hometown, I go for a run that takes me past my old high school. I run up past the track, past the school, and through a series of nearby streets that comprised our cross-country course. I could say that because I’m a Pisces I’m naturally nostalgic, but there’s something about that run, that building, that brings back memories in a visceral rush.
Over ten years to the day of my graduation, I find myself thinking back to those four years.
Everything was fine.
I had good friends. I ran cross-country, I did theater, I went to parties — or rather, bonfires in the woods, as was the case in rural New England — but there were also things I didn’t do.
I didn’t kiss anyone under the bleachers at a football game. I didn’t have a moment at a party that brought butterflies to my stomach, or at least not a moment I felt I could act upon at the time. I didn’t lose my virginity on Prom Night.
Instead, I forced myself into sexual encounters with girls that were awkward and ultimately dissatisfying, for both parties. I found myself engaging in bizarre mental exercises, trying to force myself to feel attracted to the girls around me. At the same time, I was developing intimate relationships with my male friends, whether they liked it or not. My best friend Sam and I would get high after school sophomore year, and cuddle in my TV room while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, springing apart when we heard my mother’s key in the door.
We never talked about it.
I began drinking and smoking weed at the age of fourteen, and quickly learned that these substances could become tools at my disposal. If I plied my friend Julian with bootleg vodka, the odds were high that we would get too drunk to operate the blow-up mattress, and he would have to sleep in my bed. If I brought whiskey over to my friend David’s house, he would end up showing me videos on his computer of him and his girlfriend having sex. At drunken basement rounds of Spin the Bottle, I would watch my male friends kiss girls, and I would sear those images into my mind, so I could picture them later, and superimpose myself over them.
I began to cautiously search for things on my mother’s desktop computer, confident in both her technological ineptitude, and my ability to remember to hit ‘clear history’ after every online excursion. I would sneak downstairs after my mother was asleep and search things like “two boys kissing” on YouTube. My Internet searches remained relatively chaste and soft-core throughout high school, in terms of gay pornography, at least.
On my eighteenth birthday, I went with three of my close friends to the local punk comic store, where they had an illicit collection of pornographic DVDs. I remember poking through the selection with increasing reluctance, as my friends crowed and exclaimed around me. We ultimately chose what can only be described as ‘a series of erotic vignettes.’ It wasn’t porn, but secretly I was relieved.
We also bought cigarettes and lottery tickets, so the day wasn’t a complete waste.
I finish my run at my mother’s house, the house in which I grew up, chest heaving.
I feel a strange rush of gratitude, for the boys who gave me those intimacies, those experiences. I look at those moments on the couch, in my bed, as bright flashes of light in an otherwise grim and unrelenting landscape. For the boys who shared my bed, I just want to say, thank you.
Jack Cape is a night-owl MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans, where he writes fiction and creative nonfiction. His work is forthcoming in The Peauxdunque Review, Del Sol Review, and in the “Love Like Mine” column of Xtra Magazine.