I met her on a Friday night just a few weeks ago, and fell for her instantly. Fell hard. A traveling carnival was in town for the week, and had set up the sad-looking rides and rigged games in the parking lot of a large hospital that’s named after a dead president. It was one of those no-frills sort of carnivals, with cheap stuffed animal prizes and rides held together with rusty bolts and spit. I wandered around aimlessly with Vito, checking out the girls. We were a little drunk. A lot drunk. All smiles and stumbling cheerfulness. We rode a few of the smaller rides, the ones intended for little children, and then I threw up behind the freakshow tent. After vomiting, I felt better and more lucid, but still had a nice buzz going.
My older brother was there that night. Dave had just returned home from another stint of incarceration, and was in good spirits. He was not drunk, not high, had inhaled no illegal substances. Dave was just happy to be alive and free, and had vowed to change his ways. For once, he actually gave me money. He handed me a twenty and said, "Here, Erv, have fun." It was nice seeing him this way. Happy, funny, relaxed. That night, I had fun with my brother. I wasn’t at all ashamed to be related to him, which was a nice change of pace. "If you need anything, just let me know," he said, just before I wandered away with Vito.
"Your brother is acting weird, almost like a normal human being," Vito said.
"I know. It’s freaky, right? It’d be nice if he was that way all the time. I’m really liking Dave right now. When he's not being an asshole, he's actually kind of awesome."
The carnival started to shut down at eleven o'clock. Most of the employees were missing teeth and had huge, ugly tattoos of naked women and flaming skulls covering their arms. As they packed up for the last time, as they prepared to move on to a new city, I noticed that Dave was helping take apart the rides. They’d recruited him. My brother fit right it. Dave looked like he’d been a carny all his life. With his missing tooth and his black cross prison tattoo, he was one of the guys. I waved to him and he waved back, and I’d never seen him as happy. Dave suddenly had a purpose. Had real work to do. Had a place where he belonged. Dave was Carny Folk now.
After I lost my last dollar trying to knock over a stack of plastic bottles with a rubber ball, Vito and I walked away from the carnival. The flashing lights had stopped flashing. The cotton candy had been put away. The smell of dirty, underfed animals began to fade. The show was over. Another year, another carnival. Vito was in the middle of telling me how many girls he could have banged if he wasn’t such a good friend ("Dude, there were, like, ten girls all over my shit tonight, but I wanted to hang with you, ‘cause you’re my boy. If I was by myself, I’d have gotten at least four blow jobs."), when suddenly a big-eyed, tall girl stepped in front of me and smiled. She wore tight, carefully-torn jeans and a Metallica T-shirt, and had long brown hair, parted in the middle. messily feathered. I was immediately taken by her impossibly large green eyes. So big they almost ruined her face. Almost. There’s a fine line between lovely and hideous, and her eyes were just the right kind of big. I couldn’t look away from the sparkling green.
"Hey," she said, her grinning face close to mine. She stood directly in front of me, blocking my way. She reeked of cheap mall perfume and pot, but I didn’t mind. "You’re really cute, you know that?"
I turned and looked at Vito, then back at her, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made a mistake. She must be talking about Vito I thought. But she was looking right at me. Her eyes were bloodshot, bright green streaked with uneven lines of red, and she was definitely stoned, but there was no doubt she was talking to me. Talking to the skinny, pale guy in the Wolverine T-Shirt.
"You’re cute, too," I said. "I like your eyes. They’re really green and big, like big green balls of, um, I don’t know, green." Real smooth, Erv. I was quickly damp and hot, hands trembling, heart racing.
Vito stood nearby, quiet, possibly in shock, watching the scene unfold.
"I’m Lacy," she said. Then she stepped forward and put her arms around me, pulled me closer, and, as if in a dream, shoved her tongue in my mouth. Within seconds, we were full-on making out. We were all tongues and sweat and heat. Her mouth tasted like schnapps and cigarettes. I grabbed her ass. I was bold as hell and wondering what had gotten into me. I was groping a girl I’d never met before, in public, with a small crowd looking on.
"Damn!" Vito said, jealously watching. "I’m next!"
"I’m Ervin," I said to Lacy, at the first opportunity to speak, as I gasped for air.
"I’m glad you did," I said. "I’ve been wanting to get kissed, so it all worked out."
We kissed again. I grew dizzy. Couldn’t believe this was happening. I didn’t know this girl. Our tongues were connected. Most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. Didn’t know where she came from. Didn’t care. The world was out of focus around us. There was just us. Everything else a blur.
"Do you like Bon Jovi?" she asked, between soft kisses.
"No, I like the Beastie Boys. They’re my favorite. I saw them with Public Enemy at the Spectrum. It was awesome."
"That’s a shame," she said. "How about Poison or Winger?"
My heavy metal girl then said, "You need better taste in music, dude."
Our first disagreement. How cute. I wondered how long it would be before she ended up backstage at a Bon Jovi concert, flashing her tits to the drummer.
Vito slipped away while I was jamming my tongue down Lacy’s throat. Guess he’d seen enough.
Soon, too soon, it was over. Lacy and I exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye, kissed again quickly. Lacy waved goodbye and walked off with her friends. They were all giggles as they disappeared from sight. I looked at the small piece of paper in my hand. Next to her phone number she had written, "I want your body!"
I began to walk home alone, my lips tingling, a wet spot in my underwear, the pre-cum a result of some more than mild excitement on my part. I must not have been paying attention, because I bumped into a drunk, dirty, large angry teenager whom I recognized from school. He was a few years older and his name was Eddie. He took a quick disliking to me.
"Watch where you’re fucking going, faggot!" he said.
"Sorry, man, I was, just, um."
"You want me to kick your fucking ass?" He stepped close, bumped my chest with his. The monster on his Iron Maiden T-shirt looked right at me with its cartoon devil eyes.
"No, I, um, really don’t. I was just trying to cross the street. I live right over there." I pointed, showing Eddie where I lived.
"What do I care where you live? What, do you want me send you a fucking Valentine’s Day card or something, queer?" Eddie asked, then shoved me to the ground. He kicked my leg, then bent down and grabbed my shirt. "I will kill you!" He spit a little with each word spoken, and I was getting soaked.
I knew that Eddie had been in at least three or four fights at school; he rode the short yellow bus, affectionately referred to by the student body as the "Tart Cart," and a couple of boys had teased him about it, so he kicked their asses. He balled his fist. Cocked his arm. I closed my eyes. Eddie was going to punch me in the face. I had never been punched in the face before. At least part of my face was numb from all the kissing. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt too badly when he clocked me. I put my hands in front of my face and prepared for the worst.
Then I heard my brother’s voice.
"Let him go, asshole," Dave said.
I opened my eyes and saw Dave and Eddie standing face-to-face. Dave had a small grin on his face. Eddie looked scared. Even though Dave was over eighteen and Eddie was under eighteen, I knew Dave would still kick Eddie’s ass if he felt like it. Age was only a number to Dave. In fact, earlier that night I’d spotted him making out with a sixteen-year-old girl from my Geometry class.
Dave helped me up and said to Eddie. "This is my brother. Nobody messes with him. You got that? You tell everyone that Ervin is not to be fucked with, or I’ll come after them. You spread the word, okay?"
"Sure, Dave." Eddie slowly backed up. "I didn’t know that he was your brother. My mistake. I’ll see ya." Eddie walked off in a hurry.
"Thanks, Dave," I said.
"No big thing. That’s what brothers are for. That kid’s a punk anyway." He laid a hand on my head and messed up my hair. "Who’s your favorite brother?"
"You are, Dave."
He shook my hand, said goodbye, then left town with carnival. He said he’d be back in about a year, when the carnival returned to New Jersey. Dave finally seemed like he had his life together. I thought I’m really gonna miss that guy.
Lacy and I talked on the phone for the next few nights, and our conversations were short but nice. She told me that she’d recently broken up with her boyfriend, and if he found out she was messing around with someone else, he’d surely kick my ass. "He knows how to fight," she said. "His last name is Fish, so, you know, that should give you all the warning you need."
"Of course, but I think I can handle myself," I said, acting as if Dave was a witch who’d cast a protection spell over me. Even though he had left town, I still felt safe. My brother had laid down the law: no one messes with Ervin. Who would dare defy his word?
"I don’t usually just go up to random guys and start sucking their face, but you're just so fucking adorable," she said. "And you’re so, like, straight-laced. You’re the perfect boy-next-door. And those dimples. Sexy."
I took a deep, calming breath and said, "Listen, I have this Junior Prom coming up, and I need a date. Will you go with me?" I felt sick. Asking a girl out always made me nauseated.
"Sure, sweetie. Hey, and if you play your cards right, you might just get lucky. You ever get lucky before?"
"Sure," I said. I made a mental note to myself: Junior Prom, lose virginity.
Everything was going perfectly until this morning. Until Lacy called me and somberly said, "Look, Erv, I have to tell you, I got back together with my boyfriend last night. We had a long talk and decided to try one more time."
"The Fish guy?" I asked.
"So, what are you saying? That you don’t want to go to Prom with me?"
"No, no, I’ll still go if you really want me to. I said I would."
"Don’t sound so excited."
I knew that Prom was ruined. I was taking someone else’s girlfriend. I no longer had a date, I had a friend.
She sighed. "It’s just a tough spot for me, you know. I’m in a bind here. But I won’t go back on my word. I’m no cunt. But don’t worry, my boyfriend said I could still go with you. He won’t beat you up or anything, as long as you don’t try anything."
"Well, thanks," I said.
Right now, I am in a limousine with Lacy, and Manny and his date. It is very apparent that Lacy does not want to be going to Prom with me. I know this because five minutes ago she looked at me and said, "I should never have agreed to this. I should be with my boyfriend."
After several minutes of complete silence, Manny leans over to me and whispers, "Don’t worry, man, I’ve got a surprise that’s gonna make it all okay. Just try and enjoy yourself. Screw her if she doesn’t want to be here. Fuck that bitch."
Manny hands me a bottle of cheap peach schnapps and I quickly guzzle half the bottle.
I want to get drunk, high, wasted.
Lacy looks wonderful in her lime green dress. Goes with her eyes. And I would tell her that if I didn’t want to strangle her instead.
Manny asks me to move in close, and he opens his jacket and shows me what he’s packing. His special surprise.
Turns out, Manny has an eightball of cocaine. A very large bag of coke. Enough for many, many lines. I vowed never to do coke again, but now I just don't care. I am not going to lose my virginity, so instead I will snort copious amounts of cocaine. Makes sense to me. This will definitely be the last time. I believe that a broken heart and a fucked up experience at Prom gives me special dispensation to be an asshole.
"What time’s this thing gonna be over?" Lacy asks me.
"Soon, I hope," I say.
We arrive at Prom and immediate have our picture taken. Lacy gives a fairly believable smile, then asks me to dance, and I begin to think that maybe this evening won’t be so bad after all. We dance for three minutes, a slow dance, to Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away," and Lacy seems distracted through the entire song. Manny and his girlfriend are dancing and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. Must be nice.
After my dance, Manny and I sneak off to the bathroom, lock ourselves in a stall, then snort a few lines of white powder. In my fancy clothes, I don’t just feel like a drug user, I feel like a well-dressed drug user, like a Mafia kingpin. I exit the bathroom, wiping my nose, body afire with pleasure, and discover that my date is no longer in the building. Apparently, her boyfriend, Fish Dude, arrived at the ballroom and took my date away. They made out in front of everyone, then took off. People feel sorry for me. I hate when people feel fucking sorry for me. But I like to feel sorry for myself. "Dude, that’s fucked up," Manny says. "I can’t believe that bitch." The news spreads quickly, and I am suddenly Prom’s big loser. I’m the guy whose date took off with another guy. Everyone stares at me, pointing, whispering, giggling.
I am now at Prom without a date, unless you count Manny, who is pretty like a girl but in a very manly way. Manny and his date have rented a room so they can fuck all night long, and they invite me along because they feel sorry for me, but I say that I’d rather just go home and fall on a knife. Manny gives me what’s left of the coke and I go home, to my small matchbox of a house, and I cry only a little, just enough to let myself know that I’m not a robot. I snort more coke and watch Animal House on HBO. My mind is in a million places at once, and my body feels like a hundred women have their mouths on my flesh. I think I am going to die because of the tremendous amount of coke that I’ve ingested this evening, but I don’t die. I don’t sleep, either. I look in the mirror and decide that I don’t like myself very much. I have lost my identity. I used to be good. Now I’m not. I am some kind of defective person. Just another white kid in suburbia numbing his pain.
The sun is up and I haven’t been to sleep. My skin is tingling and hot, and I need more drugs, but I’m out of coke. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, eating pizza for breakfast. All I ever seem to eat is pizza. I’m still wearing my wrinkled Prom suit. My mother enters the kitchen, wearing her waitress outfit. She’s just come home from the overnight shift at the grease-pit diner.
"Did you just get home?" she asks.
"Nah, I’ve been home for awhile."
"How’d it go?"
"It was okay. Nothing special."
I am such an asshole.
Mom sits down next to me. I try not to look her directly in the eyes, for fear that she will instantly know that I am on drugs. Moms know these sort of things. Moms can just tell. I try not to sniffle. There’s cocaine inside me. In my bloodstream. In my hair, my skin, my saliva. I want it out.
"Have you been drinking?" Mom asks. She’s smiling a little, as if she’s almost proud of me. There was a time when everyone in my family thought I was gay, so for Mom to know I was out with a girl makes her very happy, and to know that I’ve been drinking, well, maybe she’s proud of me for not being a complete and total nerd.
"Oh, yeah, I had a couple of drinks."
"That’s okay, Ervin. I’m not mad. You’re a good kid. You’ve never caused me any trouble. Good things are going to happen to you, because God sees how good you are."
I want my mother to stop talking. She’s making me feel like complete and utter garbage. I’ve stolen, lied, cheated, indulged. I am a fraud. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. My mother sees none of my flaws, because I’m her angel. I could fuck a goat in the living room, shout, "Hey, Mom, I’m fucking this goat in the living room," then kill the goat and eat it, and my mother wouldn’t even notice, or she’d blame it on Dave. I could say, "Mom, it was me. I fucked and killed that goat," and Mom would reply, "No, you wouldn’t do something like that. You’re the good one."
But that’s all I want.
To be good.