Monday, December 31, 2007

At 21, Part 7


I don’t like myself right now. The tense, angry person I’ve become. I’m a jealous beast as I sit in the dark outside Elisa’s house, on her front step, in the middle of the night, her family soundly asleep inside. Elisa’s whereabouts are currently unknown. It’s a stifling summer night. Humid as hell here in Jersey. I’m sweating, although I’d probably be sweating even if it were a cool night because my insides are like a blazing furnace. I don’t want to be this person. The person who waits for his girlfriend to come home, his girlfriend whom he’s sure is out cheating on him. I’ve had other girlfriends, but none like Elisa. I love her so much I almost hate her. And that doesn’t even make sense, except that I know it’s true. I want to be the cool guy who trusts his girlfriend completely and doesn’t sweat it when she’s out without him. The guy who knows that his girlfriend loves him and would never sacrifice that life by cheating. That guy is awesome and I want to be him. But, sadly, I’m the sweaty guy who’s convinced that his girlfriend is at this very moment probably jerking some guy off in the back of a seedy van on a sticky patch of shag carpet while incense and candles burn nearby. Oddly enough, when I think of cool guys, I keep getting this image of Greg Brady from "The Brady Bunch" in my head, but it’s the hip version of Greg, the Johnny Bravo version, with his sunglasses and tight pants and marginal singing talent. But then reality will take hold, and I know that if Elisa’s cheating on me, it’s probably with some guy who’s the complete opposite of me, a guy with muscles, a tan, thick dark hair, lots of money, a cool car, and a huge dick. That’s my nightmare. The antithesis of me. Because once Elisa meets that guy, my days are numbered.

I feel like a boy in a world of men.

We had a major fight earlier today. I said some things, she said some things. Hateful things I’m sure neither of us truly meant. I’m not even sure why we were fighting. Most likely because I’m an irrational asshole. I live my life in constant fear that Elisa will cheat on me. Because she’s beautiful. Because she’s done it before. With me. My downward spiral began last week when she went to visit her ex-boyfriend in Philadelphia. She took the train to the city, spent the day with him, came home to me, swore that nothing happened. Didn’t even tell me she was going until after she returned. "Relax, Ervin," she said, "I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d make a big deal about it. We just sat around and watched a movie. I swear. Dirk is still my friend. Just because I broke up with him it doesn’t mean I can never talk to him again. Sheesh." I wanted to believe her. I always want to believe her, but she’s a terrible liar. She blushes slightly when she lies, her color rises, a delicate pink creeping up her neck. That’s why she likes to talk outside at night. The creeping pink. I can’t see her lies in the night.

I see headlights. Her car. She’s home, finally. I feel like I’ve been waiting for hours. Because I have. She pulls up in front of the house and stumbles out of her car. She’s moderately drunk and clearly feeling good. She’s all giggles and wobble. By the time she notices me, she’s practically tripping over my feet.

"Shit! You scared me. What the fuck are you doing here?" She asks, standing over me as she bends down and removes her high heels.

"I didn’t want to go to bed tonight with us mad at each other. Where have you been all night?"

"I was at a club with some of the girls from work."

No eye-contact. Bad sign.

"It’s almost three in the morning, and it’s a weeknight. Wouldn’t the club have closed already? Like, long ago."

"What is this, a fucking interrogation? Damn it. Leave me alone."

"Why are we always fighting?" I ask.

"Because you’re a jerk. You’re always up my ass."

She smells of cigarettes, pot, perfume, and cologne. She carries the aroma of sweaty, musky men. Of rich Italian guys who drive fancy cars and buy their girlfriends new breasts. I wonder how the scent of other men has found its way onto my girlfriend’s clothes and skin. It had to be an accident. Those dance clubs can get pretty packed. No room to walk. Have to fight your way through the crowd. Yeah, that sounds like a good explanation.

Elisa steps over me and unlocks the door, as if I were a trash bag. She’s wearing a tight, short black dress and dark stocking. She looks gorgeous. Stunning. I know every guy at the club was looking her way. How many of them asked her to dance? How many asked for her phone number? How many tried to kiss her?

"Can I come in? I’m sorry. Let’s make nice." I smile, the biggest, phoniest smile I can muster. I need to inspect her. Need to get her into the light.

"I don’t know, Erv. It’s late. I’m buzzed, and you’re a killer of buzzes right now. I just want to go to bed."

"Please let me come inside. I’ve missed you. I’ve been waiting here for hours to see you."

She sighs. "God forbid I have a couple of hours without you. Fuck. Okay, Fine."

I follow her inside. Into the light. The telling illumination. I see the red around her mouth. Like she’s been drinking juice. A closer look reveals the truth. Little red bumps. The kind a girl gets when she’s been making out with a guy who hasn’t shaved that day. Oh no. Oh shit no. Her breath is different as well. Sour, but not her kind of sour. Someone else’s kind of sour. A guy’s bad breath. A guy’s saliva. I know all of Elisa’s various odors, and these are not here odors. She’s doused in the scent of another.

"You fucking cheated on me," I say.

"Shh," she says. "Everyone’s sleeping."

We’re in her kitchen. Flies are buzzing over a pizza box on the table. A slice of pepperoni pizza that looks to be about three days old sits in box. The trash can is overflowing onto the floor. The kitchen smells like the Dumpster behind Pizza Tent. I feel like I’m going to vomit, but it’s not the dirty kitchen that’s making me nauseated. It’s what I now know. Elisa has not been faithful.

I grab her shoulders and push her against the refrigerator. Our mouths close. Our noses touching. "I can’t believe it. You hooked up with someone. You’ve just ruined us."

Her actions can never be undone. There’s no fixing this. She cheated. On me.

She starts to cry.

" was nothing. I don’t even like the guy. He was just...random, just there. I mean, I’ll never see him again."

Confirmation hits me like a sledgehammer to the gut. Like I’m leaking acid on the inside and it’s working its way to the outside.

"So it’s fucking true? This is really happening?"

I let go of her. Turn away. Walk into the living room. She follows.

"We just kissed. We made out for awhile in the back of the club. We danced, you know, dirty dancing, like in the movie. Then we kissed for a long time. He had stubble and hurt my face."

I collapse onto the couch and bury my head in my hands. "I hate you," I whisper. She doesn’t hear me.

"Ervin, you were such a jerk today. All that fighting we did. It made me angry. I was fucking pissed."

"So you cheat on me? What kind of bullshit is that? Couples fight all the time. It’s common. But then they don’t go out and cheat on each other. That’s, like, sickening. Like you were just looking for any excuse to mess around with some other guy."

She sits down next to me and says, "We just kissed. I swear. I wouldn’t let him have sex with me. He wanted to, but I wouldn’t. He wasn’t even good-looking. I was drunk and he was sweet, but then later on he wasn’t so sweet." She touches my damp hair. My chin. Lifts my head until we’re eye-to-eye. "It won’t happen again. I realized when I was doing it just how much I love you. That’s why I stopped. It started out as, like, revenge on you for being mean to me, but then it got out of hand. I drank too much. I love you, honey, more than anything."

I stare at her face, at the red, pimply outline around her mouth. Clown lips. Another man did that to her. Stuck his tongue in her mouth. Tasted her saliva. Mixed it with his. Her soft face was damaged by his the roughness of him, the faceless brute who will forever taunt me.

The bad thoughts hit me rapidly. I can’t fight them off. It’s a losing battle. What if she’s lying? What if they went further than she’s willing to admit? What if he touched her in places deep and dark and mine? What if his erection thrilled her? What if he took her somewhere private? His car? Behind the club? The men’s room? What if she lifted her dress for him? What if she eased her panties down below her knees and allowed him entrance?

Oh, man, I’m going to be sick. Have to know for sure. Have to check her out. Give her a physical. Inspect the merchandise. I’m a horrible, jealous, angry person. I am not myself. Still, I need to know the truth. And the truth is right there in front of me. If I can get her panties off, I will know right away if another man has been there. It’s awful, I know. But right now I see no other options. I can’t leave without knowing. Can’t breathe without the truth. I need to know if my girlfriend has been tainted. I can smell him on her mouth, and I’m sure I’d be able to smell him between her legs.

"C’mon," I say, taking her hand and leading her upstairs. I will get her into her bedroom and lock the door. I will undress her. I will inspect her body as if it’s a crime scene. And she will let me. Because all the while I’ll pretend everything is fine. I’ll touch her tenderly. Rub and stroke. Whisper loving words. Until I get the information I need. I don’t want to know. I have to know.

"It’s okay, baby," I say, pushing her back on the bed, spreading her legs apart.

"Stop," she says. "I don’t want to do this right now."

"Because you’ve already had sex tonight?"

"Fuck you."

I’m grinding against her. She moans against her will. Elisa does not want me to make her feel good, but I do it anyway. I kiss her neck. Nibble on her ear. Pinch her nipples. She tries to kiss my lips but I quickly turn away.

"What?" she asks.

"I’m not kissing you after some other guy had his tongue in your mouth. That’s gross. I’ll have sex with you, but I won’t kiss you."

My fingers slip under her panties. She’s soaking wet.

"You’re a jerk," she moans, her nails digging into my back.

"And you’re a cheater."

"If I wasn’t, we wouldn’t be together."

I hate it when she makes sense.

Again she tries to kiss me. Again I’m too quick for her.

"You wanna play games, Ervin? Fine," she says, laughing without a trace of humor.

She wraps her arms around me and we roll over. I’m on my back. She’s on top. Her dress comes off. My pants follow. She pulls my underwear down, sees my excitement, takes hold of it. Doesn’t take her panties off. Pulls them to one side. With her fingers, she shares her wetness. Then takes what she wants. Has her way. I don’t think I’ve ever been this hard. This excited. Elisa’s never been as wet. Our excitement will be the end of us. We revel in pain and jealously, transform anger into excitement. We’ll have an amazing ten minutes. But we will be forever tainted. Will we be able to look each other in the eye when we’re done? Will there be any respect? How much love will be lost?

She takes hold of her breasts and licks her own nipples. Her hips rise and fall. Elisa looks down and smiles slyly. She loves seeing me disappear inside of her. Her filthy magic trick. We’re quickly soaked all over. Sweat, tears, sex. Elisa pounds against me with a violent fury and I fear she may break me. She scratches me. Add blood to the wetness. This isn’t love. This is something else. Only one more fluid has yet to be added to the nasty mixture, and she’s working like an animal to get it out of me. Get it inside of her. She’s moving so fast she’s like a strobe light, a shadow, a runaway train. She slows down when I tell her I’m close. Slows to a near-halt. We’re both panting. She rises up just enough so that I slip out of her. Fucking torture. My manhood throbs and bounces about my stomach like a fish pulled from a pond and thrown to the grass.

"Please," I say, with pathetic, voice-cracking desperation. "You’re not playing fair."

"You won’t kiss me after some other guy has, huh? That’s a joke. But you’ll fuck me after someone else has, is that it? You’ll take sloppy seconds? You’re so fucking noble, right? That’s a laugh."

"Stop it!" I say.

"Stop what?"

"Talking," I say.

"Don’t worry, Ervin. I wore a rubber with him. I always wear a rubber with guys I don’t love. That’s how you know I love you."

She’s drunk and angry. Maybe mostly angry with herself. Saying things she’ll regret. Things she needn’t have revealed. I’d have rather not known. Not been given the details. Because tomorrow I am going to hate her. The love will still be there, but it’ll be wrapped in a putrid ball of hate.

I think about what she said. Her cheating. The other guy. I think that there will always be an "other guy." I know it. I start to lose my erection. Elisa notices, and quickly wraps her fingers around me.

"Do you love me right now, or do you hate me?" she asks.

"Right now I don’t see a difference. Ask me again tomorrow."

I close my eyes as she eases me back in. We’re both crying. Elisa is sobbing. I’m quiet but my eyes are no less damp. We don’t speak. We’ve run out of words. Out of words and out of respect. We have sex. Reckless sex. Because that’s all we really know how to do together. We do it until I’m done. Until I can no longer stay inside her. We do it until my limpness severs the connection, then I roll off of her and stare at the ceiling. Elisa sits up and lights a cigarette.

Tears begin to stream down her face, drip from her chin.

"I’m so sorry, Ervin."

"Me, too," I say.

"Do you still love me?" she asks.

"I do."

"Can we just pretend tonight never happened? The bad parts of tonight? I promise I won’t hurt you like this again."

"We can try," I say, nuzzling up against her.

Elisa smells bad. Has the rank odor of a sweaty girl who has spread herself around. Still, I kiss the dark skin of her belly. Pull her close. Squeeze.

We cry together for awhile. Then I dress and leave.

I feel dirty and despicable. I’m not even sure what just happened. All I want to do is go home and shower. Cleanse myself. Redden my skin with scalding water until I’m clean, if that’s even possible anymore. I’m sad because I know that cozy future I had planned out for us is never going to happen. I know our relationship is over. I’m just not ready to admit it yet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

At 11, Part 2


I think I’ve finally adjusted to life in Cherry Hill. I still miss my old friends in Pennsauken, but I’m starting to make new friends here. I’m more comfortable now, I don’t feel horribly alone, and I’ve even stopped wetting the bed; I haven’t pissed my pants in months, not since that last night at Mt. Misery. I never thought I would like it here, but I do. Mom’s right about Cherry Hill. It is better than Pennsauken. Much better school system; it’s taken me a year to catch up with the smarter Cherry Hill kids, who were way ahead of me when I arrived; I’ve noticed that when you move from a poor town to a rich town, you’re kind of fucked for awhile at school. But I’m learning more now. The things I’m learning in sixth grade in Cherry Hill wouldn’t have been taught to me until seventh or eight grade in Pennsauken. I feel like my brain is much bigger these days, and maybe one day it’ll be large enough to fill my entire unnaturally huge head.

Another benefit of living in Cherry Hill: there’s much less of a chance that I will acquire head lice. I’m sure I’ve got scars from the many times Mom’s had to run that metal comb over my scalp until the very last nit was excised. (I picture head lice like Sea Monkeys. Cartoon Sea Monkeys like in those ads inside comic books. Happy and restful. In their little kingdom, my scalp.) The low-income kids in Pennsauken might have been friendlier and less snooty than the rich Cherry Hill kids, but they were also generally unclean and more likely to be compromised by lice, worms, bacteria, and fungi. So, yeah, I miss my old friends. I just don’t miss the bugs they transferred onto me.

We’re here in Cherry Hill thanks to Rental Assistance. Thanks to food stamps. Thanks to the Free Lunch Program. When you’re poor and have no daddy, the government gives you stuff. When your mother is a waitress and has five kids to support on her own, you learn to like Government Cheese, even if its color reminds you of something that might have leaked out of a nuclear reactor and congealed in a nearby lake. Not all of the fathers are deadbeats like my old man. William’s father gives Mom a few bucks, I’m sure. Ron, Dave, and Sheri’s father, Big Ron, is safely tucked away in Trenton State Prison. If you have a job in prison, they pay you about 10 cents an hour. Not enough for child support. And as for my father, there are probably more sightings of Big Foot than glimpses of good ol’ Big Erv. So the Government has been helping out lately. They’re good like that. With the fake money and the near-fake food. But it would be nice for once in my life to eat some cheese that didn’t glow in the dark. A boy can dream.

We live in an apartment building in Cherry Hill, which is a well-respected town, but you wouldn’t know it from the dump we’re now occupying. It’s not dangerous. Not that kind of slum. Not like Camden, which is one of the most dangerous cities in America. I see no murders taking place in the stairwell, no drug deals, no bloodstains, no yellow police tape, but the building is falling apart and is infested with cockroaches. The bugs are in charge. You just can’t get rid of them. A man comes and sprays once a month, but it’s a little bit like trying to clean the carpet with a defective vacuum cleaner—maybe it initially looks like it’s working, but all it’s really doing is spreading the filth around. I sleep with the lights on, because, except for a few bold little fuckers, the cockroaches only come out in the dark. I fear bugs in the darkness more than I fear ghosts and ghouls and serial killers. Because the bugs are real. A boy can’t have a cockroach climb out of his bowl of Quisp and not be scarred for life.

Cherry Hill is only dangerously emotionally. When you shop at K-mart and wear ugly clothes to school. When the rich kids make fun of your tight, torn jeans and your five-dollar sneakers that were last in style about two decades earlier. When they look at you and know immediately that you do not fit it. When they determine your entire social future with a dismissive eye roll and a wave of the hand. When a kid whose father in the Head of Pediatric Medicine at a large Philadelphia hospital asks you what your father does for a living (Answer: "He’s a runner. He’s constantly running from child-support payments."). When they determine that you’re not worthy of their time on the first day of school. When "you" is me.

Mom works long hours at her white little box of a burger joint, while William, Sheri, and myself try to keep it together at home. Dave is in juvie, doing time for the theft of chocolate bunnies, many of which ended up in my belly. Ron has joined the military. So I’m the one who gets stuck watching William almost every day, because Sheri’s out being a teenager and rebelling against the Man. She’s busy stealing wallets and smoking cigarettes and having long, suspicious, smiling conversations with older men who look like they haven’t changed their Grateful Dead T-shirts or washed their ponytailed, thinning hair since Woodstock. Sheri is a pretty girl, in a Switchblade Sisters, don’t-fuck-with-me kind of way. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that she carries a small knife in her back pocket. She’s sweet to me, a good sister, but I pity any teenage girl or boy who tries to mess with her, because they will get smashed in the face by her powerful fist.

The apartment building, Chapel Manor, is not all bad. For the first time in my life, I’m living somewhere with a swimming pool, and there are several kids my own age. And some of them are even girls. Many sexy pre- and post-pubescent girls. With or without boobs. There’s a pool and the girls walk around nearly naked all summer long, their bodies glistening from suntan lotion, water, and sweat—it’s glorious—and during the course of a typical day I get many, many erections, which I hide under the water in the deep end. I’ve become a great swimmer because of those erections, keeping afloat for long periods of time until those boners go away.

I’ve already found a new best friend. His name’s Todd and he has a hand that’s nearly as fucked up as my slightly-deformed left hand; his right hand accidentally got caught in a defective mall escalator. Ripped the skin right off the top of his hand. They had to graft skin from his ass onto his hand, which is kind of funny and makes for some real comedy gold when we’re busting on each other. Ass skin attached to any part of the body other than the ass is pretty damned hysterical. Todd is a complete smart-ass as well, totally full of shit, and a bit of a troublemaker. Good for me. I need to come out of my shell. Stop being so shy. Maybe kiss a girl or two. Touch a boob. Todd said he could get me laid. I’m hoping he meant with a girl. Hoping Todd was joking when he offered to show me how to masturbate properly. ("Come on, Erv, whip it out and we’ll do it together, so you can compare how I do it with the way you do it. Guys do that kind of stuff all the time. It’s called a sword fight. It’s not gay or anything. It’s just, you know, guy fun.") I’m probably not ready to put my penis anywhere other than my own palm at this point in my life. I don’t think I want to have actual sex. I’m too young. A kiss would be nice, though. A kiss smack on the bee-stung lips of a pretty girl. Maybe some hot tongue action. I wouldn’t mind finding a girlfriend. I’d like to have a girl hold my hand (the good hand, not the scarred one). That would be nice.

Tonight, I am falling in line as Todd’s devious, compliant sidekick. His parents are out of town for the weekend, so we hatched a brilliant scheme. His parents think he’s staying at my second-floor apartment. My mother doesn’t know his parents are away, so she agreed to let me spend the night at Todd’s sixth-floor apartment. It’s easy to get over on your parent (parents) when she (they) trust you. Here we are. Sitting together on his balcony. Chain-smoking Marlboros (the cigarette of choice for the image-conscious elementary school student) and drinking wine coolers. I’ve never smoked or drank before tonight. It’s after midnight and I’m feeling nice. A not entirely unpleasant combination of euphoric, dizzy, and nauseated. Todd says I’m buzzed. Says he can tell by my dopey smile. My skin tingles from scalp to toes. My throat is sore. But that constant burning in my belly has finally stopped. That uneasiness has subsided. As if I’ve never been relaxed in my entire life until this very moment.

In a few minutes, the second phase of our plan will begin. Sneak out in the moonlit night and walk to the local 24-hour convenience store, where we will play Donkey Kong until dawn. Maybe some Ms. Pac-Man as well. Video games, ridiculously-large sugary beverages, juicy hot dogs. Kid heaven. Pocketful of quarters. Another addiction to feed the demon. Keep my buzz going. Some kids rebel by stealing, cheating, breaking, screwing, fighting, etc. I rebel by staying up all night with my hand on a joystick.

I feel something hot and acidic rising up my throat. My stomach spasms. I think Uh oh. "I’m gonna puke," I say. I quickly cover my mouth with both hands. My throat burns. I try to fight it. Can’t. The cigarettes and sugary wine coolers have made me sick to my stomach.

"Just let it go, dude," Todd says. "Puke right off the balcony. Who cares?"

I lean forward, on all-fours, my big head just barely fitting between the balcony’s metal bars. I let go. Happily release a chunky torrent. I vomit in an unreal-looking dark, thick stream. It hurts while it’s happening. My ears pop. Then comes instant relief. Once it’s gone, out of me, I’m better. Left with just the buzz and none of the sickness. I breathe in a heavy dose of cool night air and wipe my mouth with my hand.

Todd watches excitedly. "Fuck yeah!" he says. "You’re a fucking maniac. Man, you really blew some chunks!"

I don’t see the old man sitting on the bench below until my vomit is halfway to the ground. My mess lands right in front of him. Mostly right in front of him. Some of it doesn’t quite reach "in front of." A few drops land on his shoes. Big drops. He pops up like someone who’s just sat down on a thumb tack and looks up. I jump back. Todd laughs like a madman.

"Who’s up there?" the old man screams. "Who did this? I’ll call the police! This is assault!" Then he gives us the classic: "I’ll get you lousy goddam kids!"

Todd pulls me inside the apartment and slams the glass door closed. He’s laughing so hard he’s crying.

"Good one, Erv. You showed that old guy’s shoes who’s boss."

I feel bad about vomiting on the old guy, but I want to look cool in front of Todd, so I force out a laugh. Actually, I don’t feel that bad about it. I’ve recently taken over as our building’s paperboy, and the old guy is one of my customers. He’s a rude, non-tipping bastard who deserves a little puke on his loafers. His wife is timid and shaky, so I’m sure he beats her. He probably has her tied to the bed right this very minute. I would slander him if I knew his first name.

Ten minutes later, I’m cautiously stepping down the stairwell, right behind Todd, who is leading this particular stealth mission. We’re tiptoing. Taking soft steps. Exiting the building and quickly moving out of sight. Traveling through dark streets and back alleys. Staying off the main roads. We’re pretending that the zombies have finally taken over, that we’re the last two boys on earth, that we must sneak around quietly in the dark or else have our intestines eaten by the living dead.

I say, "We have to be careful. I don’t want to get arrested. My older brother just got locked up recently, and I can’t put my mother through that again."

"You can’t get arrested for playing video games," Todd says. "This isn’t Nazi Germany. They can’t lock kids up just for walking down the street in the middle of the night. That’s, like, facist or something. America’s a free country, dude."

We see headlights coming our way. Todd ducks behind a truck. I follow. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder. Breathing heavy. Sweating. It’s the beginning of June, a few days before my birthday.
"If what we’re doing is okay, why are we hiding?" I ask.

He shrugs. "Because there are people out there who always want to ruin our good time. Like, your brothers in jail, but I’ll bet he didn’t do anything that bad, right?"

"Well, he did rob a candy store. A couple of times. And probably there were about a million crimes he committed that he they didn’t catch him for. Dave told me about this one time he beat some guy up outside of an arcade. He said he put the guy’s mouth on curb. Teeth on cement. Then slammed his foot down on the back of the guy’s head. Dave said teeth flew everywhere, and the sidewalk was dripping blood. Dave ran home and thought for sure they were going to arrest him for that, but they never did."

"No way! He couldn’t have done that. He would’ve killed the guy."

"Well, he did it. He wouldn’t lie about something like that. Dave doesn’t lie. He always tells the truth."

"Wow, your brother is a badass!" Todd says, impressed.

I smile, with more than a little pride. "Yeah, Dave’s cool, and he’s my brother."

"Then how’d you turn out to be such a nerd?" Todd says, grinning in his natural smart-ass way.

"Bite me,"

"Whip it out."

We step out from behind the car and continue our journey. We’re a good pair. Two pals on a quest. A journey for pleasure. We walk until we see the shining, wonderful sign. OPEN 24 HRS. I put both hands in my pockets and feel the quarters. Jiggle them around. Squeeze. Shift. Rub. Todd tells me we’re the coolest kids around, because we’re the only ones with the balls to sneak out in the middle of the night to pursue our passion.

"If we keep this up, we’ll be the best Donkey Kong players in the world and probably become famous. We’ll be so famous, we’ll get laid like rock stars."

"Yeah!" I say, not exactly sure how playing video games can make a guy famous, but still loving the fantasy.

We enter the store, fill up our large cups with ice and cola, cover our brown, shriveled hot dogs with mustard, pay the bored-looking bald guy behind the counter, then settle in front of our favorite machine. We drop the quarters. Shared a smile. Start the game. I’m trembling with anticipation. It feels good to be here. Feels good to be bad. The familiar music begins. We play. Reality fades. A whole new world opens up for us. Life is good. We’re jumping barrels and saving the girl. We’re no longer Todd and Ervin. We’re Mario. And no obstacle can stop us.

"This is awesome," I say.

Todd lays an arm over my shoulder and says, "See, I told you this would be a good idea."

When the two police officers enter the store, we haven’t even finished our first game. My hands start to sweat. I lose grip of the joystick. I die. The smaller version of me dies. The video game version. My death music plays. Wah wah waaaaah.

Todd whispers, "Just be cool, Erv. Let me handle this."

A muscular black policeman taps me on the shoulder and says, "Do your parents know where you kids are? It’s two in the morning, and you two shouldn’t be here."

I stutter. Try to speak. Nothing. I feel the vomit creeping up the back of my throat.

Todd boldly states, "Our parents are dead. Plane crash. We jumped out at the last second and survived. We take care of ourselves now. I’m eighteen."

The cops look at each other and shake their heads, clearly doubting Todd’s story.

The muscular cop squeezes my shoulder. His death grip weakens me. He asks me if my mother knows I’m here. I surrender. "No, sir," I say. "We snuck out. Our parents don’t know that we’re here."

"Let’s go, delinquents," he says, leading us out to his patrol car.

His skinny, pale partner giggles and mutters, "Kids these days. Full of stories."

Sitting in the back of the police car next to Todd, I start to cry. I don’t want to go to juvenile detention. My only hope is that they’ll send me to the same place as Dave. He’ll protect me from the anal rape and the shanking and the boy gangs.

Todd, looking like someone who’s spent a little time in the back of a police car, shakes his head and gives me a look of total disgust. "Pussy," he says.

I lower my head and fight back tears. I wish I wasn't a pussy. I want to be strong, like Dave. He'd never cry in the back of a police car. My brother never cries, not even on the day they locked him up. He just smiled and said, "It's not so bad. I'm gonna rule that place." I think When Dave gets out of juvenile detention, I'm going to ask him to teach me how to fight. I'm going to ask him to make me tough, like him. I'm gonna ask Dave to teach me everything he knows about being tough. I smile. When Dave comes home, he'll show me how to be just like him, and I'll never be a pussy again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

At 25, Part 5


Dave downs the last few drops from the twelve-ounce can as he and his best friend, Phil, continue to work their way through a case of cheap beer. They’re having a party for two in the living room of my mother’s house. Listening to some tunes as they blow smoke rings and chug cans of warm Old Milwaukee. Dave has a story for each new classic rock song that plays on the radio—he fucked so and so while listening to "Sweet Home Alabama," smoked his first joint while listening to Led Zeppelin, stole his first record when Frampton Comes Alive came out. Dave’s drunk and clearly trying to impress Phil with his wild stories of youthful rebellion. Fucked this girl here. Beat that guy up there. Stole this kid’s bike back when. Ate all of Erv’s Halloween candy that one time. Dave tells funny stories, but they’re the same stories he always tells when he’s drunk. And he’s always drunk.

I’m trying to ignore them, trying to walk past and make my way into the kitchen, trying to be the Invisible Man. They’re in good spirits. It’s pre-game for them. Getting drunk is the warm-up for the harder stuff. My only consolation is that I know they’ll soon be gone. Once the beer runs out, once all the little red cans are crushed and littering the floor, Dave and Phil will head out to score the harder stuff. Some crack, some heroin, a rock of some sort, whatever it is that they’ll be snorting or inhaling tonight. The beer is an appetizer for them. Something to wet the palate. Soon they will leave, and I just need to wait them out. I will make a quick snack. I will walk back to my bedroom and lock the door. They will leave. Maybe not return for days. Life will be good. When Dave’s around, life is horrible, so I cherish each moment I have without him. Mom won’t throw him out onto the street, even though that’s what he probably needs. She’ll let him stay and torture all of us.

I make a break for the kitchen. I’m tense, holding my breath, trying not to make a sound, to be a ghost. Almost there, almost there, almost there. Walking, walking, walking. I don’t make eye-contact with them. Maybe they don’t see me.

"What’s up, Erv? What’cha doin’, brother?" Dave shouts. He always talks a little louder when he’s drunk.

"Just grabbing a bite to eat."

Phil lifts up a can of Old Milwaukee. "You want a beer?"

"No, I’m good. Thanks."

"Erv don’t drink, Phil," Dave says, big smile on his face. "Erv’s the good son. He don’t cause Mom no trouble. He don’t do nothing but sit in his room and read comic books. Sometimes he’s in there all day reading books. It’s fucking weird. I mean, who sits around and reads all day when there’s so much good pussy out there?"

Phil rubs his dark goatee and offers a sincere nod. "No, that’s cool. People should read books. I should get some books."

"Yeah, Erv’s a real brain. Super smart. Been to college and everything."

Dave has the false notion that I am some sort of intellectual, but that’s just not the truth. I performed horribly in high school, especially during Senior Year, when I missed more than thirty days because I started dating a twenty-two-year-old woman (not realizing that, if I wanted to graduate, I’d have to make up most of those missed days in Saturday school, which was not nearly as much fun as The Breakfast Club made it appear), started getting laid on a regular basis. And as for my great college education, a few years at Camden County College is not exactly a great accomplishment; I simply had nothing better to do at the time, and it was nice to be able to say that I was "going to college." Dave can barely read, so my having a large collection of books might intimidate him somewhat. Although he doesn’t take into consideration that most of my books have pictures in them, are about Batman, and are only twenty-two pages long.

I shouldn’t say a word to Dave. Shouldn’t even open my mouth. Should just make my snack and wait patiently for he and Phil to leave, but I can’t. "Dave, seriously, you shouldn’t be sitting here getting drunk in Mom’s house. It’s disrespectful."

"Go fuck yourself, bitch!" he says. "You gonna start this shit again tonight. Give me a fucking break. We’re just chillin’, man. Relax."

Phil politely says, "We’ll be out of here soon. Don’t worry. I don’t mean to disrespect your mother’s home. We’re just having a few beers, and then we’ll head out. No harm intended." Even drunk, Phil has manners. He’s not a bad guy from what I know of him. He just likes his booze and his drugs. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone; he just wants to party. I can respect that. Phil is more cerebral than Dave. Phil likes to drink his beer and quietly chill, while Dave just won’t shut up. I guess opposites attract.

Dave laughs. "Fuck off, Erv. This is my house. My fuckin’ house! You get out. You leave. I want you out of my house. I’m the king. King Dave. I wanna drink beer on a Tuesday night, that’s what I’m gonna do. Why you always trying to ruin my party? Loosen up, man. C’mon, buddy. Sit with me and Phil and have a few beers. Get that stick out of your ass. Be one of the guys for once."

I shake my head. "I don’t want any trouble. I just want to eat something and go to bed. I worked all day and wanted to come home to a little peace and quiet."

Dave puts his hand to his ear. "What’d you say, Erv? You wanna eat some dick? I know you’re a faggot. Don’t think I don’t know. Reading all those comic books. What kind of grown man reads comic books? A faggot, that’s who."

"Yeah, you caught me. I’m gay. You’ve outed me. Call the local papers. Once again, you’ve discovered that I’m gay. This is, like, the twentieth time you’ve discovered I’m gay. Amazing." I’m getting warm. Hot. My skin burns. Itches. I feel like I’ve been sprayed with an industrial-strength insecticide. Like I might spontaneously combust. I take a breath. Close my eyes. Calm myself. Try to, anyway.

I inhale and cough. The air is filled with the odor of two overflowing ashtrays’ worth of cigarette smoke. A thick, gray cloud of pollution.

"Is that how you cough when you’re choking on dick, Erv?" Dave asks, with his usual grin.

"You tell me," I say. "You’re the one who’s been to prison."

Dave loses his grin. A vein begins to throb in his neck.

"Why don’t you leave him alone, Dave?" Phil says. "Your brother’s a cool kid. He ain’t bothering nobody."

Dave nods. "Yeah, he knows I’m just fucking with him. He knows I ain’t serious. Me and Erv are best pals. We go way back. I’m his favorite brother."

Third favorite I think. But it wasn’t always that way.

When I was fourteen, Dave caught me masturbating. I was on my knees in the bathroom, facing the toilet, shorts around my ankles. A magazine opened to a particularly raunchy two-page lesbian spread rested on the floor to my left. Swank. Dave’s magazine that I swiped from his dresser. A filthy spank rag opened to a page where two kind of hairy, kind of out of shape, kind of skanky, unenthusiastic ladies "pleasured" each other for my whacking enjoyment. They were not Playboy material. They hadn’t been groomed properly. Hadn’t been airbrushed at all, when clearly they needed a little photographic trickery. It was hard to keep up my erection, though, because every time my fantasy put me in the picture with the two unkept ladies, put me at the photo shoot, I imagined that these two ladies stunk like pot and dirty pillows. Still, even working with only sixty-percent of a hard-on, I was getting close. In my fantasy, the hairy girls promised to shower next time we got it on in my imagination. My fantasy quickly shifted; it was the same two girls, but now they were clean, freshly showered. This thought helped speed the process along. Jerking fast, the act was almost at completion. I was aiming my mess for the toilet. No muss, no fuss. Shoot, wipe, piss, flush. Then I heard the click behind me, the turning of the knob. I had forgotten to lock the door. The door opened, but only a few inches. It was a small bathroom, and my feet blocked the door from opening all the way. "I’m in here! I’m in here!" I said, in a breathless panic. "Oh, sorry," Dave said, quickly closing the door. I’m sure he knew what I was doing. Must have. He’s a guy and there’s no way he didn’t figure it out. But he never said a word. Never used it against me. Never told my mother. Never brought it up when drunk. I’ve always appreciated that, and in those moments when I want to hate Dave, I try and remember that incident. Try to remind myself that Dave can be cool once in a while. These days, I need a lot of reminding.

I walk away from Dave and head into the kitchen, then run cold water over my face. I grab a can of soda and a bag of chips. When I turn to leave the kitchen, Dave is standing in my way.

"I see how you are," Dave says. He’s grinning, but there’s anger beneath those lips. There’s hatred. "You read all those books and think you’re so smart, and then you try to make me look bad in front of my friends. You’re an asshole."

"I don’t think I’m that smart."

"You think you’re better than me."

"I think I’m different from you."

"Come sit and have a beer with us. We have company. Don’t be rude."

"No thanks."

I bump into him as I try to make it out of the kitchen. It’s like hitting a damp wall. He steps aside. His breath is hot and rank.

"You hate me, don’t you?" he asks.

"Sometimes," I say.

"Me, too," he says.

"Have a good night, Dave."

I walk away. He follows.

"So, Erv, buddy, pal. How about that twenty dollars?"

"Let me think about it."

"Think fast."

I go back to my room, quickly put on jeans and a T-shirt, then I sneak out the side door. That’s what it has come to. I sneak out of my own house. My head throbs, skin still burning. I will walk around the block until Dave and Phil are gone. I will walk until it’s safe to go home again. I walk. There’s no going home. I walk in circles around the neighborhood. I walk for two hours. My stomach burns, as usual. Always burns. I walk until I notice that my mother’s car is parked in front of the house. Then I go home.

Mom is on her knees, crying and picking up crushed beer cans and cigarette butts off of the carpet.

"What did I do to deserve a son like that?" she asks.

"What did I do to deserve a brother like that?" I add.

We both shrug, then I help her clean up Dave’s mess.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

At 21, Part 6


We’re the happy couple. Ervin and Elisa. She dumped her fiancĂ© and made it official with me. Finally, after months of struggle, I’ve gotten what I wanted. Elisa all to myself. No more secrets. No more lies. No more Elisa fucking some other guy on the weekends. Now, I get to fuck her seven days a week, should I so desire. And I don’t have to worry about having sloppy-seconds. I have to admit, though, that there was a certain thrill when our love was clandestine. An electricity in our secret sex. It was hot. Stolen moments. The risk of it all. The exhilaration one gets when making another man’s girlfriend come, repeatedly. The pride I felt in knowing that I made Elisa come more often than he did. Like it was some sick sexual contest. Like someone was keeping score. Okay, Dirk fucked Elisa three times over the weekend and made her come twice. Ervin fucked Elisa four times during the week and made her come six times. Ervin wins!

Elisa will never admit it, but I know she enjoyed making love to two different men, taking turns. I know it wasn’t easy for her to dump Dirk, and I’m sure the day she finally ended their relationship was very painful. But Elisa had many months with two men satisfying her sexual needs. I wanted to prove that I was the right man for her, so I performed every sexual feat I’d ever seen in movies or read in books on her. And Elisa was up for it all, usually after a few beers. Her boyfriend was at a great disadvantage during the competition. Because he didn’t know that there even was a competition. But fuck him. I won and he lost.

I won the prize. Even when it looked bleak, when Elisa accepted Dirk’s marriage proposal, I never gave up on the girl I love. I wanted Elisa. Had to have her. So I won her heart, with a perfect combination of affection, romance, humor, and messy, uninhibited sex. Also, I was just promoted to assistant manager at Pizza Tent, so I’m Elisa’s boss now and she kind of has to do whatever I say.

Now, we’re normal. We’re dating. I’m an assistant manager at Pizza Tent, making a decent wage, with a wonderful chance for future growth with the company. Pizza Tent’s regional manager says he sees great potential in me, says I’m a fine young man, a great asset to the company. Elisa is a cashier, but hopes to one day become a waitress. Neither of us know what we want to do with our lives. We’re just living in the moment. Selling pizza. I’ve always wanted to do something creative, maybe writing, maybe taking pictures, maybe something in the movie industry. But I could just stay with Pizza Tent and someday have the chance to run my very own store. Sure, it might not be the most glamorous career I could envision for myself, but a Pizza Tent head manager makes over thirty thousand dollars a year. That would be enough for Elisa and me to support a few babies, buy a small house and a car. A modest, good life. But a life with Elisa. The girl I love. I could live with that. Who needs college? Who needs glamour? Isn’t love enough?

I have Pizza Tent. I have Elisa. All the pizza I can eat. All the Elisa I can eat.

What more could a guy ask for?


Since the moment our relationship became official, I’ve had an uneasiness in my gut. A gentle, persistent spasm. A shred of doubt? I don’t know. Like I have to now be perfect. The best boyfriend ever. One slip-up and I could lose her. I feel like she will cheat on me if I am not wonderful. Even if I am wonderful, she might cheat on me anyway. Damn it. It’s a lot of work to be the boyfriend of a sexy, sexual girl. Men are always looking as she walks past. The problem with Elisa is, sometimes she looks back. She once laughed and told me that she’s cheated on every boyfriend she’s ever had. Those words haunt me. Mock me. What did I expect? Look at how our relationship began. She didn’t even hesitate to fuck me while she was seeing another guy. Fuck me without a condom. Wasn’t really a problem at the time. Now it feels like it might be a bit of a problem.

Maybe Dave was right when he said, "Erv, I’m telling you...ugly chicks are the way to go. They’re loyal. You date a hot, model-type chick and other guys always want to fuck her. You date a nasty-looking, dirty fucking skank, no one else will ever want her, so she’s all yours. No worries. Plus, ugly chicks swallow, and that’s been proven, like, scientifically."

The philosophy of Dave.

Thanks, brother.

When I first met Elisa, I assumed I had no shot. She had a boyfriend. A surly, unseen boyfriend. She’s a beautiful girl. I’m decent-looking, I guess, nothing extraordinary. Just a regular guy. Not hideous, certainly, but no male model, either. No shot, right? Still, I tried. I flirted just for the hell of it. Elisa flirted back. I pushed, she pulled. All very innocent, I thought. We started hugging each other at hello and goodbye. Her hand would fall on my knee while we sat talking, her fingers then beginning a gentle caress. Soon came the kisses on the cheek. Sexual banter. Longer, stronger hugs. Kisses on the cheek that began grazing the lips. Then quick pecks on the mouth. I thought that was as far as it would go. Until one night when her tongue slid deep into my mouth. On New Year’s Eve. As we said goodbye in the parking lot. As she left to go spend the holiday with her boyfriend. She kissed me, passionately, lovingly, smiled deviously as my eyes went wide with surprise, then Elisa went off to spend a romantic night with her boyfriend, ushering in the new year. I remember, just after the kiss happened, on that wonderful December 31st, I walked back to the make-table in a daze and said to Manny, "Elisa just stuck her tongue down my throat." He laughed and smacked my back hard, said, "Well, if you don’t start fucking her immediately, I’m gonna have to do it. That girl is looking to play." Wanting to score one for pale Caucasians everywhere, I went for it; handsome, dark-skinned, mysterious guys like Manny always get laid, but Elisa had chosen me, unspectacular me, and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip away.

Months later, she’s finally mine. And her kiss feels just as nice as it did on New Year’s Eve. Her touch still makes me shiver. She’s my first true love. Before Elisa, I’d had sex with exactly two girls. Elisa was the third. (Although there was another girl who touched my penis briefly but didn’t finish the job.)

I’m thinking of all this as I make a startling discovery while sitting on the floor of her bedroom. As I read a page of Elisa’s diary that brings me to tears.

Holy fucking shit.

She’s in the shower, cleaning off the mess we made together. The mess she so graciously allowed me to deposit on her breasts. I’m holding her diary in my hands. It’s a thin book. With few entries. Elisa does not document her life in great detail. She’s not a writer of any merit. Just a few random notes and lists. Skimming through the pages, I came across a list that hit me like a punch to the gut. The list. Elisa’s list of sexual partners. Elisa’s long list of sexual partners.

I can’t even look at it. I have to turn away. The diary is open and on my lap. The list of names calling out to me. But I won’t look. I’m staring up at the ceiling. The dirty, cobwebbed ceiling. I take a deep breath and slowly move my head. My eyes. I look. The list could change everything. It could ruin our relationship. But how bad could it be? Maybe it’s not as bad as I think.

I see my name. Number fifty-three. I’m the fifty-third person she’s had sex with. Elisa is twenty years old. Fifty-three is bad enough. The real problem is that the list goes up to fifty-five. Many of the names I recognize from high school. Kids we went to school with. Her ex-boyfriend’s name. Her first boyfriend back in Arkansas. At least ten of the names have no last name attached. Also, Elisa is a big fan of multiple question marks: Jessie ??? Paul ??? And sometimes in lieu of a last name she has a location: Mike (from the bowling alley). Don (from Radio Shack). Daryl (from the gas station). I see the names of a few black guys I knew from school. An Asian guy. Jocks. Band geeks. Theater guys. A guy who later committed suicide. Names. So many fucking names. I think It’s official: my girlfriend is a slut.

"What are you looking at?" Elisa asks as she walks into the room. She has a small towel wrapped around her tits, the thin brown cotton extending only to the bottom of her bellybutton, leaving her trimmed triangle of pubic hair still visible. "What’s wrong? You look pale."

I try to speak, but nothing come out. I inhale and smell the pure scent of Elisa. The scent of freshly-scrubbed, natural flesh.

She glances down, sees her diary in my lap, opened to the incriminating pages, then pulls it violently from me. "How fucking dare you look at my personal stuff? You’re an asshole! You had no right!"

"Fifty-five, Elisa?" I say, looking up at her, as if begging for something I know she can’t give me. "You’ve fucked fifty-five guys?"

She leans down and smacks me hard across the face. Harder than I’ve ever been smacked. My teeth vibrate. My ears hum. My skin burns.

"Look at me!" She grabs my face with her right hand, squeezes, and forces me to look her in the eyes.

"I’m sorry," I say. "I shouldn’t have looked. I was sitting here being bored and I opened the book without even thinking about it."

"Are you happy now? Now that you’ve seen it? Does it make you feel better? Are you fucking happy now?" She’s shouting, spitting. I’m on the floor and she’s standing over me, her naked sex inches from my mouth.

"No, no I’m not happy. Let me ask you a question. The last two guys on the list. The ones you fucked after we started hooking up. Who the fuck are they? Are you cheating on me already?"

She lights a cigarette. Sits down on the bed and crosses her legs. "Those two guys were months ago. Right around the time you and me started messing around. It was before I knew I loved you. I was unhappy with my boyfriend, and I was just looking for something different Those two guys were random, one-time things. Didn’t mean anything."

I sit down next to her on the bed and squeeze her hand. "Swear that you’ll never cheat on me, Elisa. Swear it."

She smiles. Kisses my lips. Caresses my tingling face. "I swear. Once I committed to being your girlfriend, I gave up all other men. That’s it, Ervin. The list is done. I’m with you and that’s all I need. Sure, I cheated on Dirk a few times, with you and some other guys, but I wasn’t happy then. I’m happy now."

I hold her tight against me. Tell her I’m sorry for having peeked. Tell her it’s all okay. But it’s not. Not nearly. Not even close. The number will always be in my head. Fifty-five. We sit in silence for several minutes.

She sucks hard on her cigarette and it glows hot orange. "I used to sleep with a lot of guys. It was my way of feeling wanted. A lot of girls do that. And, I mean, I also like sex. It feels good to come. To have a guy’s body rubbing against me. So what? I’m not a whore anymore, Ervin."

"But you used to be?"

She gives a noncommital click of the tongue. "And what if I was a whore? What if I was the biggest fucking whore in South Jersey? What if I was a dirty slut? Would you hate me?"

"Of course not."

I don’t hate her. I could never hate her. Never. But I sense a change. The first crack in our perfect little love bubble.

I have a new name. I am now Fifty-three of Fifty-five.

I excuse myself to the bathroom. I cry. I’m not even sure why. I just cry. I let it all out. My mind wanders. How many of those men did she make wear rubbers? Is it true what they say about black men having big dicks? Does she even feel my modest pecker? Can I ever hope to please her? Fifty-five lovers and not one sexually transmitted disease? No way. I close my eyes and see my girlfriend in an orgy, fucking ten guys at once. Loving it. I open my eyes. This is bad.

I sit on the toilet and try to figure out how to shut off my brain. How to take out the information I’ve just learned.

Fifty-five. Damn.

I walk back into the bedroom and immediately ask, "How many of those guys you screwed were bigger than me?"

She throws a shoe at me. A high heel. A pointy high heel that takes a small chunk out of my ear. I touch my ear and transfer blood to my fingers. I rub my fingers together. Lick them.

Elisa says, "You are not going to sit here and ask me these questions. The subject is closed. I’m not going to talk about the cocks of all the men I fucked. Just drop it."


We sit in silence, and I’m left to my horrible thoughts. The thought of fifty-five guys having sex with my slut girlfriend. With their huge cocks. All of the men she’s been with other than me giving it to her in one marathon session. Of course it didn’t happen that way. She didn’t do every guy on the list at once. I’m sure the most men she had in one sitting was four or five. Fuck. I hate myself for thinking this way. Why am I like this? Why can’t I just get over it? Can I ever get over it? If I can’t, I might as well break-up with Elisa right now.

"Did you ever do a couple guys at once?" I blurt out. "Like, did you ever go into the boys’ locker room after a football game and say, ‘Have at it, boys!’ Come on, I need to know these things."

"Go home, Ervin. Get the fuck out of my house. You can come back when you’re not such an asshole."

"I’m sorry."

"Leave!" she says, pointing at her door.

"What’s the most guys you did in one day?"

She takes a deep breath. "If you ask me one more question, I swear to God I’m going to add number fifty-six to my list. Tonight. And I’ll make sure it’s someone you hate. If you continue to be a jerk, I will go out tonight and fuck all the guys you don’t like."

I shut my fat, stupid mouth. I’m quiet. I suffer in silence. Elisa takes off her towel and sits naked while painting her toenails. Paints the nails a lovely, glossy pink. After ten minutes, she looks up at me and says, "Oh, you’re still here. Why is that exactly?"

I leave.

Friday, December 7, 2007

At 8


I’m alone in the dark, sitting on the couch watching ‘Salem’s Lot, and I’ve never been more scared. On television, a vampire boy floats in the mist outside of another boy’s window, the vampire begging to be invited in. It’s rare to see kids die or turn evil in a movie. Usually, children are safe from the horrors. The young, evil vampire boy in the movie unsettles me. He’s been turned. Been corrupted. Ruined. Maybe children can be hurt after all. Maybe kids aren’t invincible like I had previously thought. I’d always assumed the only harm that would ever come my way would be self-inflicted, because I’m an uncoordinated klutz, but now I see things differently. I never considered the outside forces. The evil out there. Floating in the mist. Evil that sometimes looks human. Fools you. "Don’t let him in," I whisper, as the human boy stares out at the vampire boy. I can’t look. I know the worst will happen. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve thought about death. My possible, inevitable death. The first time I’ve thought Wow, I could die! A person, or a monster, could kill me.

I wish I hadn’t watched this movie alone. Wish my mother hadn’t been asked at the last minute to work a double shift at The White Tower (her tiny square box of a fast food restaurant, maximum capacity: 10), cooking and serving burgers and fries for meager tips. Wish William wasn’t spending the night with Grandma Shirley, because even though he’s only a year and a half old it’d be nice to have some company. Wish William’s father wasn’t at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Wish Ron and Dave weren’t partying in the woods with the town’s other teenage delinquents. Wish Sheri wasn’t spending the night across the street with her best friend Traci. Hell, I even wish my dad wasn’t off doing whatever the fuck it is that he does nowadays; it’s been more than three years since he last bothered to stop by, call, drop off a Christmas present, write a letter, or just let me know he’s still alive; it sucks having a father who doesn’t care about you (and I know he doesn’t care, because if he did he’d at least send the ten dollars a week a judge told him he had to pay for child support, because of how his sperm made me and all), especially at a time like this, when I’m positive that some form of evil is about to get me. I have no one to protect me from all the wickedness in the world. All the evil in New Jersey. I’m just a kid and someone should be here to protect me.

I wish Mom still treated me like a kid. Wish she didn’t think of me so highly. She tells me how mature I am. How she knows I’ll be fine by myself. Knows I won’t get caught up in any shenanigans. And I usually am fine alone or baby-sitting William. Because I’m responsible. I don’t act like a child. I’m a good kid. I never cause my mother any trouble. I’m "the good one." I’m also, at the moment, a kid who’s heart is pounding so hard it seems ready to burst. A kid who’s scared to death. I’ve got the chills, the hair on my arms standing on end, and a feeling that there’s something outside, or maybe inside, that is going to get me. I have a feeling that I am not alone. It feels like someone is watching, and I know it’s impossible to "feel" a person’s gaze, but I do. I feel it all over me. Feel it more strongly than I feel the bitter chill creeping in from outside, because we can’t afford to use the heat very often. Because we are poor. Not starving poor, but really cold in the winter poor.

I take a moment to breathe, slowly inhale and exhale, to try to relax. Maybe I’m just being silly. What are the odds that there are vampires outside? Pretty slim. And I certainly wouldn’t let any bloodsuckers inside. They need permission to come in and suck your blood, and I’m smarter than that. If it’s zombies, I’m sure I could outrun and outsmart them. Could be ghosts, but maybe they’re friendly. Maybe they just want to say hello. Could be Satan, which would be bad because I don’t want to be possessed by the Devil; also, I don’t know any priests, and my family only goes to church on holidays, so the Catholic Church would probably let Satan go right on possessing me; they’d say something like, "Serves you right, sinner." Odds are, if I’m going to be murdered, it’ll be by a random disturbed killer who peeked in the window and noticed that I’m all alone. Shit, now I’m really scared. I’ve convinced myself that there’s a killer outside, probably holding a bloody axe, probably smiling, salivating at the golden opportunity he’s been afforded: eight-year-old boy, home alone. Oh yeah, I’m a goner. Suspicious noises emanate from all directions. I’ve nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. I am so dead. Softly, almost inaudibly, I whisper, "Please, God, just let me make it through tonight and I’ll be good for now on."

I’ve bitten off my fingernails. Bitten so far down I’ve drawn blood. My blood is a bit salty today. Must be all the fries I ate at lunch. The weird noises intensify. Sounds like footsteps upstairs. A scratching at the window. A loud creaking in the kitchen. Branches cracking in the backyard. I’m curled into a tight ball. Afraid to move. Wide eyes darting in every direction. I want someone to come home. Anyone. Before the unseen evil has its way with me. Before the axe cracks my skull open and the killer watches my liquified brains leak out. Killers like that sort of gross stuff. That’s why they kill. To see people’s brains leak out all over the floor.

Goddam it, Ervin! Stop thinking these bad thoughts. You’ll be okay. Nothing to worry about. No one is outside. Except that guy with the axe. Shut up!

I must turn on the light. In order to do that, I need to stand up and walk to the switch on the wall. I take a deep, quiet breath. Then I stand.

I hear breathing. Someone else’s breathing. In the room. I am not alone.

Then a voice, male, a raspy whisper:

"Ervin...I see you...Ervin..."

I run towards the front door. In a panic. My feet heavy like bricks. Hard to breathe. I’m about to scream when someone (something) jumps out from behind the couch and tackles me. My knees and elbows smack the hardwood floor, and I know that I am bleeding. Whatever is on top of me is twice my size. And damp. And stinky. I open my mouth to cry out for help, to scream bloody murder, but I’m so scared that I can’t even speak. Like that dream I always have where an intruder has broken into my house but I can’t yell or move because I’m paralyzed with fear. Just like that, but real. Instead of a scream, I release only a whimper. A dirty sock is shoved into my open mouth.

I know that dirty sock. I get a few just like it every Christmas.

Dave. Fucking Dave.

"Ha! I scared the shit out of you! That was so funny. Man, you should’ve seen your face." He climbs off of me, helps me up.

"That wasn’t funny," I say. "I was watching a scary movie and I was all, like, nervous. It wasn’t you that scared me. It was the movie. But you still shouldn’t have done it."

"Ah, right, sure. Don’t be such a pussy. It was a joke. And don’t tell Mom, all right? Don’t be a tattletale or else nobody will like you. Ever."

"I’m bleeding," I say, glancing down at my dirty, bloody knees.

"Shit. Sorry," he says. "I didn’t mean for that to happen."

"It’s okay. Doesn’t really hurt."

"Man, you were so scared. It was priceless."

"I wasn’t that scared."

He smiles. Gives my head a friendly pat. "You forgive me, right? I was only playing. Come on, little brother. You know I wasn’t being mean about it. Right?"

"Sure," I say. "Just don’t tell anyone I was scared."

Dave nods, shakes me hand. "Deal. So we’re cool?"

"We’re cool." My heart is still thumping, but I manage a smile. Dave was just playing a joke on me. No big deal. That’s what brothers do. We’re technically only half-brothers, but that doesn’t really matter. I wish Dave would spend more time with me, but he’s always too busy. Mostly, he seems like a stranger. Someday we’ll be close, I think. Someday, we’ll be best friends. When I’m old enough to party with him in the woods and drink beers and score with chicks. Then we’ll be inseparable.

Dave drops to his knees and says, "Climb on my shoulders and I’ll take you up to the bathroom so we can clean you cuts."

I’m hesitant. Traveling up the stairs on Dave’s shoulders does not sound like fun. It seems dangerous. Dave is a little (a lot?) drunk, a little stoned, and the steps that lead upstairs are steep, cracked, and uneven. Like the rest of the house, the stairs are in desperate need of repairs.

"Just get on," he says. "Don’t be so scared all the time. It’s no way to go through life. We gotta toughen you up. Make a man outta you. Unless you want to be a girl or something."

I take a deep breath, then climb onto his shoulders. He stands up, his fingers wrapped tightly around my ankles. I lock my arms together around his neck. Then we rise. Dave takes a wobbly first step, then another.

"Be careful, Dave. This is dangerous."

"Nah, we’re fine."

We’re halfway up the steps when Dave starts to lose his balance, and I can’t tell if he’s honestly about to fall backward and kill us both or if he’s just messing with my head. Dave is sweating, and it’s hard for me to get a good grip on him. I’m holding onto his neck with all my might, and he coughs because I’m cutting off his oxygen. He lifts one foot off the creaky wood, wobbles, sways backwards.

"Oh shit, Erv! We’re gonna fall!"

"No, Dave, stop! Let me down! Let me down! Please let me down!" Now I’m really crying. Tears dripping off my face. My cheeks burning.

"Shit! Shit! We’re not gonna make it!"

My nails dig into his skin. "Dave! Stop!"

I look over my shoulder, the bottom of the stairs far away, enough of a fall to break my neck. I’m holding onto Dave as if my life depends on it. As if we’re dangling from the top of a tall building. As if we’re adventurers holding on for dear life to the side of an active volcano as orange lava bubbles and pops below us. Me and my brother are about to fall down the steps, and we’re probably going to die.

Another voice. My other brother. "Dave, stop fucking around and let him down. You’re making him cry," my oldest brother, Ron, says. "Stop being an asshole."

Dave grabs the railing and regains his balance. "I was just having a little fun with him." He lowers himself and I climb off of Dave and run to the top of the stairs. "We were just having fun, right, Erv?"

I wipe away my tears and, sobbing, say, "No, I wasn’t having any fun."

"Just leave the kid alone," Ron says.

"Fuck you, Ron," Dave says. "Mind your business."

Oh, no. Not this. Not again.

Ron is taller than Dave, but Dave is a little stronger. Ron fights dirty, so that evens things out. What Ron lacks in sheer power, he makes up for with random objects in the room that he turns into weapons—a lamp, a glass, a chair. Ron’s sporting a mustache lately, Dave a white boy Afro. They’re both drunk and high, and in a few seconds will probably try to kill each other.

"What did you fucking say?" Ron says, standing at the bottom of the stairs, shouting up at Dave.

"I said your momma wears combat boots." Dave laughs like a maniac, knowing his laughter will piss Ron off ever further.

"Just shut up, Dave!"

"I said your girlfriend sucks a mean cock."

"Seriously, man, shut up."

"Fuckin’ make me, Smoky. Or are you the Bandit? I always get confused."

Ron shakes his head. "You’re an asshole."

"Hey, Erv, what do you think about Burt Reynolds' mustache over there?"

I shrug. Keep quiet.

Ron is fuming, seeing red. "Say one more word."

"Breaker-one-niner. This is Smoky the Mustache Man."

Dave doesn’t make a lot of sense, but he is a funny bastard. He certainly thinks so.

Ron reaches, grabs a shoe, then throws it at Dave’s head. Dave loses his smile and jumps on Ron. Then they proceed to beat the hell out of each other. I run to the closet in my bedroom. I close the door and hide in the dark. Cover my ears. Still, I hear the screaming, the cursing, the smashing of glass. I start to cry. It sounds like a madman has broken into my house and begun torturing my family. But it’s not a madman. It’s my brothers. And it doesn’t even matter who wins the fight, because the only real loser is my mother. She’ll come home to broken windows and a few more holes in the walls. To two bruised and bloody children.

I just want it to stop. And it does, after about twenty minutes of fighting, Ron and Dave go silent. All I hear is their heavy breathing. I won’t come out of the closet until my mother comes home. Because there are monsters out there. They just happen to be related to me. I’m a child and I used to think that they wouldn’t hurt me. But now I’m scared. Now I know I can be hurt. I can bleed. My youth will not save me.

"You in there, Erv?" Dave asks, tapping on the closet door.

I don’t answer.

"Come on. Just let me in. Everything’s okay out here now. Please let me in."

A voice in my head says Don't let him in. Don't ever let him in.

I listen.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

At 11


I’m away from home on a week-long field trip with my sixth-grade class, and two girls (popular) have just asked me (unpopular) if I want to get high with them. Smoke the pot. Toke the reefer. Of course I said, "Sure." I like Guinevere and Lara, and I’d probably agree to do anything they asked. "Hey, Erv, you wanna come sacrifice seven chickens and drink the blood in the name of Satan?" Sure thing! "Hey, Erv, you wouldn’t mind if we both peed on you, right?" I don’t mind!

I’m a sucker for a pretty girl. An absolute idiot for a couple of pretty girls.

I don’t really want to smoke the pot, but I want to be around Guinevere and Lara when they smoke the pot. I’ve heard that girls get horny when they’re stoned and maybe, once the marijuana kicks in, they’ll both realize that they really want to make-out with me. That they really want to let me fondle their newly-blossomed boobs. Really want to put their hands down my pants. Want to get naked and roll around with me in the woods.

Honestly, of the two of them only Guinevere is pretty. Lara is chunky and rather unfortunate-looking, but when standing next to Guinevere, Lara is instantly more attractive. Guinevere has an aura of gorgeousness that spreads to anything within ten feet of her. Pretty enough for two girls. Has pretty to spare. She’s tall and thin, with long brown hair, huge blue eyes, and a cute little gap between her front teeth. She always wears tight Jordache jeans and concert T-shirts. Tight jeans that show off her perfect little ass. Today, since we’re all staying in the woods for the week, Guinevere is wearing jean shorts and a Fleetwood Mac half-shirt. I can’t stop staring at her bellybutton, which is so devastatingly small and cute and freckled that I think I’m starting to hyperventilate. She’s also wearing tennis shoes and no socks, and even her bare ankles are tempting me. Tonight, Guinevere smells like honeysuckle and soap.

"Have you ever gotten high before?" Guinevere asks me, smiling in her sweetly crooked way.

"All the time," I say. "I get high with my brother a lot, but he’s in prison right now, locked up in solitary confinement because he kept beating up all the guards." I’ve never gotten high with my brother, and he’s in juvenile detention, not prison. "Dave always has pot and we smoke it constantly." Dave does smoke a lot of pot, but I’ve never shared it with him. The only thing Dave ever shares are his dirty socks, which he often wraps and gives out as Christmas presents, thus ruining Christmas and making Mom cry. (I ruined Christmas last year, when I opened all my gifts early and tried to re-wrap them and pretend that I wasn’t a great big sneak. My re-wrapping skills were weak, and it was apparent that my gifts had been tampered with, thus ruining Christmas and making Mom cry. It’s just not Christmas in our house until someone cries.)

"You’re lying!" Lara says, adjusting her large, square-framed glasses. "He’s such a liar, Guin. Look at him, all nervous and making shit up. I think he’s blushing."

Guinevere puts her arm over my shoulder and whispers, "Are you lying to me, Ervin?"

"Maybe a little," I say, cracking under the pressure of sweet breath and a soft touch.

"I’ll be he’s chicken," Lara says.

"I’m not chicken," I say, shaking all over. "Just ‘cause I haven’t done it before, doesn’t mean I won’t. I’ve been wanting to try drugs for awhile now." I’m amazed at the rapid pace in which the lies flow out of my mouth. Pretty girls make me babble.

"Then meet us behind our cabin at midnight," Guinevere says.

"If you’re not too scared," Lara adds. I’m beginning to realize that she’s kind of a bitch. If The Jersey Devil is hungry, he can have Lara.

Guinevere runs a hand through my hair, ruining what took me ten minutes in front of the mirror to create. "My Ervin isn’t scared, are ya, sweetie?"

"I’ll be there," I say, mildly hypnotized, staring into Guinevere’s eyes. "I’ll totally sneak out of my cabin."

"Oohh, mister tough guy!" Lara chirps.

"We’re gonna bring a big fat joint, and you’re gonna share it with us," Guinevere says. "It’s gonna be so much fun!" She’s always happy. Always has a smile. Can brighten anyone’s day. "And then maybe we’ll sneak you into the girls’ cabin and make a man out of you." She giggles.

"Awesome," I say, suddenly aroused.

"You better show up!" Lara says, jabbing a chubby finger in my face.

"Calm down, Lara. Erv’s cool. You’ll see. We’re gonna have a good time tonight. It’s gonna be such a time."

Guinevere and Lara then kiss my hot cheeks and run off. I watch them disappear into their cabin as the sun begins to set.

My stomach fills with a painful fire. I’m trembling all over. Scared to death. I feel nauseated. Am I actually going to try drugs? Is that the kind of person I am? I guess so. Michelle has always been nice to me and I do not want to disappoint her. And I do want to be cool. I want to be liked. Or at least noticed. My family moved from Pennsauken to Cherry Hill less than a year ago, shortly after Dave robbed the candy store (again), and I don’t have a lot of friends. A few from my apartment building, none at school. I’m not close to anyone who’s on this trip. I don’t have a single friend in the boys’ cabin. I don’t fit in with most of the kids in Cherry Hill because I’m a poor and they’re not. Because they’ve never eaten a mayonnaise sandwich out of necessity. My wardrobe is not stylish. I’m the only kid in my class who receives a free lunch. Even if I did make some friends, I’d be too embarrassed to bring them home to my tiny, dirty, cockroach-infested apartment. Most of the time, I feel as if I don’t belong. But now Guinevere and Lara want to get to know me. Hang out with me. Smoke some weed with me. Maybe I’m starting to become cool. Maybe the kids are warming up to me. Maybe I can win them all over. All I have to do to begin my ascension into Coolsville is smoke a little pot. Can’t be that bad, right? Cheech & Chong do it all the time. So what’s the big deal? It’s only pot. I would never try any of the hard stuff, but what damage could a few hits of reefer do? I’m a big boy. I can handle it.

I’m in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, an hour from home, at a place called Mt. Misery. It’s like summer camp, except instead of having fun we’re supposed learn about nature. Our objectives are "to recognize the value of our natural resources and to learn to use them wisely" and "to learn to live democratically with other children and with adults through experiences in outdoor living." We’re all staying in cabins in the middle of the woods. The Pine Barrens cover over one million acres, 30 miles wide and 80 miles long, and that’s a lot of trees. The Jersey Devil lives in these woods, and he’s probably going to eat a few of us. On our first night here, we were shown a film about the Beast, and it scared the shit out of us. I think the teachers just wanted to scare us all so we wouldn’t wander off into the woods alone. But I believe in monsters. And I believe that The Jersey Devil eats children; I mean, what else would he eat? Adults? Cheese?

It’s Thursday night, October 28, 1982, the last night of our trip. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll climb into a bus and head back home. Just one more night. I’ve survived three nights without wetting the bed. I’m eleven years old, and every night when I lay down to sleep I say a prayer and hope that my bed will be dry in the morning. I should’ve stopped pissing my pants long ago, but I haven’t. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I started wetting the bed more and more. My mother began to worry. The night before I left for Mt. Misery, Mom said, "Ervin, you can’t wet the bed on your trip. You’re eleven now. You’re too old for that. The other kids will tease you if they find out that you wet the bed. You’ve got to stop. I’m only telling you this for your own good. Just stop it already."

But here I am on Thursday night, and I think I’m going to make it. I smile to myself as I walk back into the cabin. It’s been a good week. The Jersey Devil hasn’t ripped out my intestines yet. Hasn’t drained my blood. Guinevere has spoken to me more than once. I did well in the Mt. Misery Olympics. I won a few races my teammates gave me high-fives and I felt accepted. Felt almost normal. It’s been a fun week. The other boys in my cabin, Dean and Dave and Paul and the rest, chat and laugh and talk about stuff I know nothing about, while I sit alone on my bed and think about tonight. I don’t mind that the guys don’t really talk to me. They will once I tell them about my night with Guinevere and Lara. Tomorrow, I’ll have stories to tell, and then I’ll be accepted. Then I’ll be cool. Things are looking up for me. Life is somewhat less shitty than usual.

I set my little Superman Alarm Clock for 11:45 and lay down. It’s ten p.m., but I have a secret rendezvous planned at midnight, so I’ve got to sneak out. It’s easy to sneak away from our cabin, because our teacher, Mr. Braddock, the man who’s supposed to chaperone us, leaves every night to go home and check on his ill father. So my cabin is left without a teacher to keep an eye on us. I close my eyes with no real intention of falling asleep. Close my eyes and see Guinevere. We’re holding hands and kissing. She loves me. I love her. She tells me she wants to have my babies. All of them. She’s eleven and has the body of a seventeen-year-old. I’m eleven and have the hairless body of a nine-year-old. I’m thinking of her and feeling good. Relaxed.

Then I fall asleep.

I pop up at eleven-thirty and wonder why I woke before my alarm went off. I quickly realize that I’ve woken up because my bed is soaked. A sticky, warm wetness. A pungent scent in the air. I can’t believe it. I wet the fucking bed. It was only a nap, not even a full night’s sleep, and I pissed myself. My best pair of shorts. I start to cry, but only for a second. I’ve got work to do. I need to get myself out of this mess.

These boys I’m sharing the cabin with would use the knowledge that I wet the bed to torment me for the rest of my days. I do not want to be known as Piss Boy until the end of high school. I quietly remove the damp sheet from the bed and fold it into a ball. Then I turn the mattress over. In the bathroom, I remove my clothes and take a quick shower.

At five of twelve, I’m behind my cabin, wearing fresh, dry clothes, furiously digging the soft dirt with my hands. Once I dig deep enough, I fill the hole with the sheet from my bed and my soiled shorts, then cover it up with dirt. When you’re a bed-wetter, you’ve got to learn how to be a sneaky bastard. Got to know how to make the incriminating evidence disappear. I guess this will be good practice if I ever become a hitman and have to dispose of a few bodies.

I shake my head in disgust. I’m always the kid digging the hole. I’m always the one who’s up when everyone else is sleeping. The kid with something to hide. The one thing that’s not like the others.

At midnight, I’m where I’m supposed to be, behind the girls’ cabin. I wait for Guinevere and Lara. I’m not going to let a little bit of urine ruin my night. Guinevere will make it all better. She’ll make life worth living.

An hour later, I’m still waiting. The girls haven’t shown up. I guess they were just playing a joke on me. I hear strange noises coming from the woods, probably The Jersey Devil’s footsteps as he closes in on me. I’m shivering because I’m cold and scared. I don’t want to go back to my cabin. Don’t want to be anywhere near that stinky, pissed-in bed, but I also don’t want The Jersey Devil to drink all of my blood.

So I run.

I run and whisper, "I just want to go home."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

At 10


I’m dreaming of girls. Young and old. Freckled and sunburnt. Fat and thin. Images of bare body parts flash through my brain like a quickly-shuffled deck of naughty playing cards. I’ve only recently seen my first pair of non-National Geographic breasts, on late-night pay cable. Mom ordered cable last month, and a whole new late-night world has opened up for me. After midnight, hand down my pants, under a blanket on the living room floor, I've watched 1001 Erotic Nights, Laura’s Toys, and more Emanuelle movies than I can count, my small television screen filled with copious amounts of female flesh. I’m ten years old, and I think I now officially like girls, though I certainly won’t admit it to my brothers or my sister, because they will tease me unmercifully. When my mother is not working, she’s sleeping, so I can watch whatever the hell I want, as long as I can stay up later than the rest of my family. And I can. I will stay up for days, weeks, forever, if I know that eventually I will get to see some skin.

I’ve also started masturbating. I like it. A lot. I’ve heard from older kids at school that stuff is supposed to come out when a guy finishes jerking off. Nothing comes out of me. Still, I get a tingle, a funny feeling, a warmth. If I were the last man on earth, I’d play with myself all day long. Jerking off is the best thing ever. Jerking off is better than Star Wars, and I’m not even kidding.

Lately, I can’t sleep without the sex dreams, and tonight is no exception.

In my slumber, I’m imagining what those girls from the dirty movies would feel like if pressed against me. Smell like. Taste like. In some of the movies I’ve seen, the girls appear to enjoy rubbing against each other, or touching each other’s boobs, and based on the weird sensation I get down below when two girls kiss, I seem to enjoy it as well. I guess that’s as good a way as any for me to find out that I’m not homophobic.

The dream takes a sudden turn. It’s no longer just images of random body parts. I’m now involved. Taking part in something I know nothing about. I’m on my back and the girl is on top. She’s in charge. I’m an innocent victim. A blushing pre-pubescent boy serving as a toy to many fully-formed, shape-shifting ladies. I can do nothing but take it. Sex in my dreams is a lot like wrestling. I’m pinned to the ground by the girl of my dreams, and that girl is a shape-shifter, is in constant flux. She’s the Bionic Woman and I’m her Bionic Boy. She’s tomboyish Kristy McNichol from "Family." She’s Shelley Duvall from The Shining—so pale, so sad, so beautiful, so on top of me right now. She’s Marcia Brady with a bruised, swollen nose, trying to kiss me but her huge honker is in the way. She’s sweet, innocent Linda Blair, then she’s possessed, nasty Linda Blair, and for a second the sweet dream becomes a nightmare. She’s busty Pam Grier, as Foxy Brown, naked atop me and holding a big-ass gun between her boobs. She’s Wonder Woman tying me up with her golden lasso. She’s that underdressed woman I saw at the supermarket whose unwieldy boobs kept falling out of her top and into the stack of bananas. She’s Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, the lovely, vacant, glowing, snapping-pussy-having blonde who sang and fucked her heart out as the lead in the musical porno version of Cinderella. I love all the girls. And they are on top of me. All of them. At once. They can’t get enough of me. They sit on me and wiggle, because I don’t know what sex entails, but wiggling is definitely somehow a part of it. I know my penis is involved, but I’m not exactly sure what to do with it. I used to think that my penis was supposed to go inside a girl’s bellybutton, and until recently it probably would have fit. All I know about sex is that the boy and girl are supposed to get naked and move around a lot. And make weird noises. And silly faces.

I’m ten years old and on my way to Pervert Town. I’ve already watched the sexy, nudie, funny version of Cinderella five times, and I can’t get the jaunty, nasty songs out of my head (Do it, do it, do it to me!). I could dream about sex forever and not care. Like a superhero given his greatest desire by a villain, placed into an eternal slumber with no need to ever awaken. Lex Luthor running wild while Superman dreams of a Krypton that never exploded. My dreams offer naked, smiling beauties. The real world offers cockroaches, head lice, hand-me-downs, and government cheese. I don’t want to wake up. But someone is whispering my name. I want the dream to continue.


"Hey, Ervin, wake up!"

"Nnnn. No. Don’t wanna."

I open my eyes and see Dave staring down at me. He’s smiling. It’s not an evil Joker smile. It’s an easy, trustworthy smile. And what’s not to trust? He’s my brother. My blood. One of us. Dave is cool, and when I get older I want to be just like him.

"What’s going on?" I ask. "What happened?"

He sits down next to me on the bed, careful not to crush little William, who’s sleeping soundly next to me.

"I need you to come outside and see what I got. It’s like Christmas."

I sit up. "Like Christmas, with presents you mean?"

"Oh yeah. But it’s a secret. Our secret. And it’s better than Christmas ‘cause it’s right now. Who needs Santa Claus when you got me?"

I’m happy Dave thinks he can share his secrets with me. I’ll never tell. I like having a brother like Dave who always has secrets. Always tells you stuff you’re not supposed to tell anyone about. He’s mysterious and fun, and he’s my brother. I think When I’m older, I want to be just like Dave, cool like Dave, awesome like Dave.

I climb out of bed and follow my older brother. I don’t know him very well. He’s my brother and I should trust him. That much I do know. He’s been gone most of my life. Dave is almost a stranger to me. I’ve heard a lot of stories about him. Fights he’s gotten into. Teachers he’s cursed out. Furniture he’s tossed. Jokes he’s told. But only now am I getting to know him. He spent time in juvenile detention, and then went to live with a foster family. My mother believed they could give Dave a better life. A husband and wife who couldn’t have kids of their own. Who had lots of love to give. They promised Mom that Dave would have everything he’d always wished for. Promised Mom her second child would be happy. They made many promises. Mom agreed and reluctantly let Dave go, and he went to live in a big house in a nice neighborhood. It was like he’d won the lottery. But Dave’s new family quickly tired of him and sent him back home as if he were defective. They could have no children of their own but decided nothing was a better option than Dave. So he was returned to us like a defective watch. The only statement Dave ever made about his foster family was, "They were boring." All I know about Dave is that he smokes cigarettes and likes to make people smell his fingers after he’s had sex with a girl, although I’m not sure why. His fingers smell awful when he forces them in front of my nose. It’s funny, though. We both laugh. He tells me that I’ll understand when I’m older. After I’ve gotten myself some pussy. After I’ve popped my cherry, whatever that means.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time hiding in the closet. Hiding while Ron and Dave beat the hell out of each other. Chased each other with baseball bats. Smashed electronic equipment. Punched each other in the face until they were both a mess of blood and bruises. My two older brothers, just a year apart, were constantly fighting. I hid and covered my ears. Blocked out the screaming. The cries of my mother. It was safe in there. Dark and private. I stayed far away from the shouting. I covered my ears. I hid. But a kid can’t hide forever. I used to think Dave was scary, but he’s not so bad. Dave’s nice to me, and he’s always smiling and giving me things, but sometimes when he talks louder than he should, I want to run and hide in the closet. Sometimes I want to close the door behind me and disappear.

"Get up," he whispers. "C’mon. You won’t regret it."

I trust him. I follow.

"You’re gonna love this," he says. "Hope you’re hungry. You like candy, right? Chocolate bunnies and shit?"

"Yes," I say. "I could eat chocolate forever. Until my belly explodes."

Dave smiles and pats my head. "Good. Then you’re just the man for the job."

"What job?"

He flashes a devious, charming, gigantic smile. "You’ll see." He’s wearing jeans and a damp T-shirt. Sneakers but no socks. His hair is a mess. He smells like fish, because yesterday he took his fishing rod out to a dirty lake and caught a big, hideous catfish, then cooked it in the kitchen and stunk up the house. Now, everything smells like catfish, especially Dave.

Dave leads me out into the backyard shed, and there it is. His bounty. Boxes and boxes and boxes of candy. Mostly chocolate. Chocolate animals. Chocolate bars. Chocolate eggs. Jelly beans. Candy canes. Enough sugar to get me high for weeks. We sit on the floor of the small wooden shed, which before the Great Chocolate Windfall was used mainly by Dave and Ron as a place to bring loose women so they could smoke the pot and drink the beer and have the sex. Dave has exited this shed with smelly fingers on numerous occasions. Once, I heard a girl ask Dave if she could come into the house just after they’d finished makin’ it in the shed, and he shook his head and said, "No, you’re only allowed in the shed. Only girls I really like are allowed in the house. So, sorry." She then ran off crying, but Dave didn’t seem to care. He simply sniffed his fingers, grinned, then came inside and ate a large bowl of Frankenberry cereal.

"Where’d you get all this candy?" I’m amazed. I’ve never seen this much candy outside of a candy store. It’s right there in front of me. I’m practically drooling.

"You know, it’s crazy. I went to the candy store and they were just giving it away? I guess they had, like, too much or something."

I may be ten years old, but I’m not an idiot. I don’t believe him.

"Come on, Dave, really?" I say.

He laughs.

"You ask too many questions. Who are you, Sherlock Holmes? Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions. Questions just get people in trouble."

We sit down together and I watch Dave tear open a box with a brown bunny inside and he quickly starts munching, biting off the milk chocolate ears. He asks me what I’m waiting for. I shrug, then dig in. We tear and eat. Tear and eat. It’s sweet, intoxicating, wonderful, and free.

"We’re not gonna get in trouble for this, are we?"

"No way," he says, with cocky assurance. "There ain’t no laws against eating candy, are there? This is America, right?"

I think about it for a second. "I guess you’re right."

He stares at me, as if we’ve only just met, like he doesn’t know me at all. "Hey, Erv, are you gay?" he asks. "You look a fairy sometimes. It’s okay if you are, just tell me. I’ll hook you up with some slut if you want to test yourself out to make sure you like girls."

"I like girls!" I say, embarrassed.

"Okay, big guy. Relax. Just asking. You want me to find you a nice piece of ass? You don’t mind sloppy seconds, right? Heh." He smacks my back so hard that I fall off of my chair.

"I don’t need any pieces of ass," I say.

I’m sick to my stomach within minutes. Sick in a good way. My stomach tells me that I should run to the bathroom, but my mouth tells me to shove in more sweets until my teeth rot and die from candy poisoning.

We eat enough candy to fill the bellies of a whole classroom full of children, but we hardly make a dent in the stash. I tell Dave I can’t eat any more and he calls me a pussy. He shrugs, licks his fingers, then declares that he is also full. We leave the shed and Dave locks the small door with a padlock.

"Look, Erv, we gotta eat this candy really fast. We can’t have the evidence sitting around in the shed for too long."

"Evidence of what?"

He smacks the back of my head. "Don’t act stupid. Remember, it’s our secret, right?"

"Sure it is," I say.

I’m tired and listless. Eating pounds of candy sure takes a lot out of a kid. I might not even have the energy to jerk off later. The candy gave me an initial jolt of energy, but now it’s wearing off quickly.

"Who’s your favorite brother?" he asks.

"You are," I say, as my stomach begins to make strange noises.

When I wake the next morning, I hear unfamiliar voices. I look through my window and see two tall, indistinguishable, well-dressed men standing out front, talking to Mom. I run downstairs to see what’s going on. I open the door and walk up next to Mom.

"Go back inside, Ervin," she says.

"Wait a second, son," one of the men says.

"How’s the candy?" the other man asks.

"What candy?" I say, playing dumb.

They’re dressed in dark suits, and I’ve seen enough cop shows to know that they’re detectives. The fuzz.

"Look, we know Dave stole the candy. This is the second time he’s robbed the same candy store. He didn’t find any money this time, so he loaded up his van with candy. We know all about it. There’s no reason not to tell the truth. Where’s the candy? I mean, besides the chocolate that’s all over your chin? Did you know the candy was stolen? Were you an accomplice?"

"No!" I blurt out, not wanting to get arrested and sent to the slammer. I wipe my chin. No chocolate. Bastard fooled me.

Mom begins to cry.

I had hoped that this time I’d get to know Dave. That we’d have some good brotherly-bonding time. But that’s not going to happen because he’s going to get arrested. Maybe in a few years we will get to know each other. When Dave is free again. Maybe someday I’ll actually get to know my own brother. Dave is cool and fun, but I’m beginning to think that he’s not all that smart. Who robs the same candy store more than once? Who robs a candy store at all? Who takes candy instead of money? My brother Dave does. My brother who’s going to have to go away for a couple of years. It won’t be all bad. More road trips out to the prison to visit Dave. I like road trips, and hanging out in prison makes me feel like a real badass. None of my friends ever get to go to prison to visit their brother. I guess I’m just lucky that way.