the boys of my youth

The Blond Boy

Figure 1: The Baby Reedus. Who isn't really blond.

Figure 1: The Baby Reedus. Who isn’t really blond. BUT THE HANDS


Once there was a girl who went to Colombia to study during college. Not Columbia, the college in NYC. Colombia, the country where all the cocaine comes from.

Anyway. She went there to study Spanish, or something, but she couldn’t concentrate. Colombia, being tropical, has no seasons. So the leaves never turned and the sun never left and the cues that sent her inside to study every autumn were not there.

She had also just ended a long relationship with her college boyfriend. She was kind of a wreck.

Anyway, a month into the experience, she was better. Happier. One week, she found herself just outside the city of Paipa, with several other guys. They were doing a field study of the town. They were supposed to interview local people about the economy. Or something.

Mostly, the girl just smoked cigarettes and ate hamburgers and avoided work. She was sharing a room with a boy. A blond boy. He was attractive. A little weird. He told these really long meandering stories that she was never sure about. Sure if he’d get to the point. After a while she learned that he never got to the point she expected him to get at, so she came to really enjoy listening to him talk.

There were hot springs in the town of Paipa. A lot of tourists came there for that reason. Though the girl and her group of classmates were supposed to be trekking through the town, getting to the bottom of the town’s urban/rural issues, mostly they just went to the hot springs during the day and got drunk at night.

One day, after sitting in the hot springs all afternoon, they were all too lazy to locate the city library or municipal building. So they took a cab back to their hotel, all through the countryside, where they saw two giant double rainbows, spanning the fields. The girl was sitting on the blond boy’s lap, and his hand was slipping under her shirt, up her back. Just moving up and down where no one could see. It made her so happy. She was so relaxed, she almost fell asleep, but of course she didn’t. Hard to fall asleep while you’re teetering over the skinny thighs of a boy.

She was the last to get back to their room, because she had a message at the hotel desk to read. When she opened the door to her room, the blond boy was there and he took her hand and pulled her into the room and turned off the light and he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her. Said, “Welcome home, honey.”

Then they spent the rest of the afternoon, naked. Until evening, when the other guys got hungry and wanted to go out to eat. When they all ate, she worked hard not to smile at the blond boy too much, or look at him too long. Everyone knew what was going on, but she didn’t want to admit to it.

One morning, while she showered, there was only cold water. Shortages of power made such things commonplace. She came out of the shower in her towel, gasping. He was lying on the bed, in his own towel, smiling.

“Could hear you moaning,” he said. “It was cold, wasn’t it?”

She lay on her own bed. Far from him. Too worn out from the freezing experience to speak. And it was day, so they didn’t get naked. Except for that first day, they always did it at night, after drinking. She was shy about leaving her bed to go to his, otherwise.

The blond boy did things like lay on the bed with his shoes on. Watching Sports Center. He liked taking pictures. He had curly hair. He let the girl wear his jeans and didn’t care that her ass stretched them out. He was slow and gentle and just one inch shy of awkward when he made his sex moves. He was very serious when he was naked.

The girl liked all of this well enough, but the fact remained that what people are like when they take off their clothes is usually a big indicator of what they are like in life. If they are not syncing with you unclothed, even if it might feel good at times, then things might be trouble later.

Trouble. Or just a whole lot of rubbing for a little warmth.

She remembers his hands that day in the cab, with the rainbow. He did the same thing again, weeks later, on a night bus to the Ecuadorian coast. Soft, up and down, slipping between her shirt and the top of her jeans. Shy and slow.

There are people that you meet, that are good and nice and mean well. They might look pretty or handsome. They might feel good to touch. But they are just not the right size for you. Not the key that clicks into place. Not bad people. Good people. Though not quite right.

But still. They can be like a balm to sore places, tender parts of you that need love and soothing. A portent of what good might come. A hint. A whisper.

His hands were so kind. She sometimes remembers them, whenever she’s taking a shower, now, in her normal adult life, and the hot water runs out.


The Excellent Kissing Boy

Figure 1: Little Baby Reedus. This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1: Little Baby Reedus. This has nothing to do with anything.


The Excellent Kissing Boy was like all of the boyfriends of my youth. Kind of unloved and from a shitty family life and always smoking, always with a lighter in his pocket. Didn’t talk too much. Even after we started being together, he didn’t talk. He was very slow. Deliberate. I thought this was on purpose, back then. Like he had a plan. Or he was just stoic and unspeakably cool. Now I’m thinking he was scared shitless. I was a year older than him.

He played the guitar. Very well. He had the entire basement as his bedroom and I’d go over there and he’d play the guitar for like, 2 hours straight, while I sat on his bed. Upstairs, there was either nobody home or his drunk mother was passed out in front of the TV. Clearly there was a lot going on here.

You might think my boyfriend’s drunk mother upstairs was one of the main things on my mind. But she never came downstairs, even when she was ambulatory. She even let us smoke in the house, because she smoked herself. Kind of depressing, but I didn’t question it.

What was always on my mind was that I wanted to make out with him, but I was too shy. I couldn’t figure out a smooth way of doing that. I mean, it probably didn’t matter, how I inserted myself into his face – he always kissed me back and stuff. But at the time, the whole ballet of how you came to intersect with another person’s body really mattered. Would it be an accident or intentional? Did I seem too aloof or too eager? I couldn’t get it right.

All I know is that I listened to him play so much guitar my head nearly exploded in frustration.

But one weekend, I was brave, because he was playing his guitar on his bed and I sat beside him while he played chords along with Deep Purple (or Led Zeppelin? Who the fuck knows. Some old-ass 70’s band.) And then, I did whatever move it was, I can’t remember. Like, I put my hand on his thigh or head on his shoulder – those were my moves back then; pretty suave, I know – and we ended up making out.

Two things you need to know.

One: he always had MTV on when I came over. Back when MTV actually showed videos. He sometimes had the sound on (so he could play along with the music) but sometimes he just left the TV on mute and it was the only light in the room. Which was convenient make-out mood lighting, I guess.

Two: As you might surmise from his moniker, The Excellent Kissing Boy was a champion maker-outer. Like, it was just pure enjoyment for me to kiss him. Once either of us got up the nerve to make a move, we could kiss for HOURS. And he was the last boy I’d ever be with that wasn’t hustling us through the paces, trying to move the ball, if you will, gain yardage toward a proverbial touchdown. He never prodded or pushed or shoved. It was all super chaste and above-the-waist. He was, now that I think about it, like the perfect YA boyfriend. He was broken and talented but at the end of the day, he just wanted to take off my shirt and kiss me forever and ever. After being a guitar genius for several hours.

Of course, I couldn’t see that at the time as okay. As maybe something to do with his own internal struggle or lack of confidence or part of all the gross shit happening in his house with his fucked-up family. Of course I took it to mean he didn’t like me or didn’t want to do ‘it’ or that my hair was bad or something dumb like that. I was used to having to deflect and defend against sex stuff I didn’t want and once I found a guy who lacked such ambitions, of course I couldn’t just be, you know, happy about it.

Okay, back to the story. We’re making out. My shirt’s off, his flannel’s off, but he’s still wearing his t-shirt. And at one point, the videos on MTV stop and there’s this special on. It’s about Satanic references and heavy metal music. And we hear these preachers talking about how the music is making kids have sex and go to hell, and we both look up from each other and stare at the TV. Seriously, we were a perfect example of what those religious freaks wanted to happen; it was like they’d hoped they’d intercept young kids like us from immoral premarital sex or whatever. Obviously, this was kind of a buzzkill. After a while, we both sat up, disentangled from each other, leaned back against the wall, our legs in Levi’s hanging over the edge of the bed, his flannel in a ball between us. Him, lighting a cigarette, raking his long hair out of his eyes. Me, hypnotized by the television, grabbing the smoke from him for a drag and crossing my arms over myself in bra. The TV shouting damnation at us one minute and blasting Alice Cooper the next. I think I went home soon after the show ended. No more making out.

I ended up dumping the Excellent Kissing Boy not longer after.  Two days after he got suspended from school for smoking, in fact. Because I liked Another Boy. I was kind of fickle like that, in those days.

I don’t know if there’s a point to all of this. But I liked remembering it.





It took me a long time to get over the first boy I loved. Longer than I’d like to admit.

I remember thinking, Why can’t his life just implode? Splatter into a pathetic disaster? That would make it easier to not want him anymore.

But it didn’t. And even when he did dumb things, I still thought he was cool. I still thought he was brave and funny and different than anyone else I’d ever been with. If only he’d do something terrible and mundane. If only he’d become ugly and fat. If only he’d flat-out disappoint me and fail all my standards and rules.

This boy is now a man. And now it appears that his life is splattering and shitty and broken and imploding. But I don’t feel better. I don’t feel like I can hate him or make fun of him or even feel like he’s finally being punished for leaving me. I just feel very sad.

There is a memory in all this, which never leaves me. I am young and so is he. We are at the house I grew up in and nobody is home. We’re wearing jeans. He wears a flannel shirt, blue. Boxer shorts, striped. We are in my bedroom. The cover on my bed is dark green and the carpet is white but I’ve turned off the bedside lamp and there is only the light from the hallway on. Half dark. I can still see it.

A rare intersection of space and time and privacy. When we found out we had this lucky window, he said, let’s go get naked. He always called it that –  getting naked – which I thought was funny, because it was so honest. So I called that it, too. Still do.

I remember my hand on his thigh, touching all the blond hairs that were almost pretty, feeling how flat and strong the muscles were. How there was nothing on my body like that, how I was always so soft and smooshy despite my efforts to be fit and pretty. How hard he worked to be strong and fit and athletic. How he thought nothing of it. It was almost jealousy that I felt for his body, that it could be so tough and unforgiving in this way, so unlike mine. But not quite jealousy, because I was touching him, his body, as if it were mine and now I could have it whenever I wanted, like it belonged to me, too, like my own soft thighs belonged to me, like my own long hair falling everywhere around us, like all the parts of me that he touched back in the same way.

I remember, too, afterward, how he scooped me up to him and held me tighter than anyone ever had before and said, “God, you’re so great. I just love you so much.”

How happy I’d made him. I had never made anyone happy before like that.

That moment: the hallway light, the turned-off lamp, the dark bed beneath us, his thighs so strong, holding me on him, holding us both while we pressed together and didn’t talk. I didn’t declare love back. I knew I didn’t need to; it could come later. He said it only to thank me. Spontaneous. The most genuine and vulnerable I’d ever known a boy to be.

I can’t stand that he’s imploding, this boy, now a man. I can’t stand to think of it. I want to shake him and say, “Wait. This cannot happen. You were the one who taught me. Who started it all.” That moment in the half-dark of my girlhood bedroom when I first began to slowly realize that sex didn’t have to be a sin, that maybe god didn’t mean it that way, that maybe god himself didn’t even exist. I didn’t know this at the time, of course. But now, remembering that shadowed room from this far away, I know that’s exactly when everything began to change. Exactly.

That was what he gave to me. Is still giving to me. So he can’t be broken and shitty. He can’t be. But he is and there is nothing I can do except write about it.


Image: watercolor by Eugene Delacroix via Gurney Journey

On Sex and Shame

Delacroix Unmade Bed

Sexual shame is the gift that keeps on giving. Take your pick of things you can feel shameful about when it comes to sex: liking it, talking about it, doing it too much, doing it too little, preferring this or that. It’s all mostly unwarranted, of course. But this doesn’t mean it’s going away.

However, the one time when I think having sexual shame is warranted is in the instance when sex happens between people who once had great feelings for each other and no longer do.

This kind of sexual shame tends to be experienced repetitively. At least it was for me. I didn’t learn for a long time how to stop falling into it. It happened with someone whom I’d felt love for when I was very young and dumb. I didn’t know what I was doing. Neither did he.

What we did know was how all the dials and gears worked on each other’s bodies. So we kept working them in these sporadic, random sessions. Times when there was no reason for us to be in the same room, but we machinated to make the stars align in order to flip the
dials and grind the gears and see if that skin-bound magic would make what had been lost reappear.

This is different than hooking-up or casual sex. In casual hook-ups, there’s an expectation of loss. Or loss isn’t the point; you haven’t gained or earned anything, anyway. With a one-night thing or a hook-up, there’s been scant investment.

But with someone you’ve once loved, it’s like the engine keeps running until every bit of fuel is used up. Used up to the vapors. You make some weak-tea reason to get together, you take off your clothes, you turn the dials and wrench the gears and feel all the machinery of the past start to work again. Until it’s over.

Then the gears stop turning, the dials are still, and you look at this person next to you, or above you, or beneath you, this person who used to be everything possible you wanted. But now there is no next step. No next anything. You have nothing else to say or do because the one thing that you can say or do has been said and done.

It’s been said that you don’t pay a prostitute to have sex with you. You pay him to leave after he has sex with you. Too bad you can’t make the same agreement with this old flame. It might be easier.

It might be less painful, too, in the empty afterward, when you’ve dressed and are leaving. When you feel the direct hit of shame.

I can still feel it, after all the breathing slowed and the heartbeat returned to normal and it was just bodies and sweat and finding your shirt and “see you later, maybe.” That great canyon of shame into which you dropped yourself, willingly.

Night Prowler by AC/DC

There’s this boy and girl. He’s a year younger than her. He has brown hair, long, and it curls around the collar of his flannel shirt. He wears a lot of flannel shirts. The girl likes to tickle his ribs under them.

The girl likes this boy. He doesn’t know why; they met at a shitty house party and she never stopped dogging him since. She’s cute enough. She talks a lot. She’s got a big rack. She picks him up and they go behind the elementary school and after they smoke a bunch of cigarettes, they make out in the grass.

It’s dark. October cold out and so it’s little uncomfortable. Shivery. They kiss for a really long time. It’s the main activity, nothing else seems to ever happen, and neither of them care. It’s a school night and neither of them are drunk for once. But they don’t stop, there’s no point or goal. Just them together, alternately on their backs, dead grass in their hair, touching until it’s time to go home.