As part of a week-long vacation I recently took from work, I decided to finally actually go through my writing archive and sieve out the parts I thought would ever be useful for public consumption. As I writer I now carry around a pretty hefty literal box of things I’ve written over about the last 20 years, telling myself that one day it would all get sorted.
Saturday, July 8, 2017 turned out to be that one day. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had projected for so long it would be, especially since I had at some earlier point gone through and helpfully created folders of documents labeled things like “cantos difuntos” (defunct songs) and “Aborti.”
I did not expect to find much, and my projections were about right, maybe even a little liberal. I found about 25 poems I had written as a teen that I was still proud to let my my name stand by (which is really no mean feat!), forming the nucleus of my new poetry archive.
There was even less prose left to choose from that would be appropriate to publish in an online text format that I hadn’t already pilfered for other publications. “Le corps du coureur” (“The runner’s body”) is the oldest story I have decided to let see the light of day, hailing all the way from late 2004 and handed in as a writing assignment for my high school English class on 1/10/05.
I have edited a wee little bit, but less then you would probably imagine for a control-freak writer publishing a 12-year-old story he completed as an actual adolescent. Primarily I have excised 2-3 pointless, rambling neoclassical tangents, the likes of which seem to characterize my work from this time. For context, my best friend’s mom was a classicist, and as a teenager I believed this was pretty much the only kind of smart to be. I don’t seem to have had very diverse tastes in classical texts, though, as pretty much everything that happened to me from 16-18 ended up somehow being a Penelope simile.
Edits consist primarily of cuts out of my desire to protect 18-year-old me, but also to let him speak for himself. If I couldn’t cut it without making it better, I mostly let it stand. I have a lot of feeling for the version of me who wrote this story. And he wasn’t a complete dunce. I am exceptionally proud of having written:
Can you be defined by someone else’ sexual orientation? You can when you’re a teenage boy.
when I was still an actual teenage boy.
I’m publishing this story because I still like it. I’m publishing it because it is gay-youth-specific, and because I am proud of the fiction that I made of fact. The drama has passed away, but it left a near-perfect imprint of my exciting and growing world, age 18. And so without further ado, part 1 of “Le corps du coureur.”
Le corps du coureur
“I feel guilt…I feel guilt…though I know I’ve done no wrong, I feel guilt.”
-Marianne Faithfull, “Guilt”
He told his boyfriend we were in my car. This is the most outlandish part of the lie. That is not to say that other parts of his story were not so beyond the realm of possibility as to be unbelievable; it is simply that this was the proverbial weakest link in the suit of mail of someone else’ serf in rusting armor.
Because we were in Mrs. Monroe’s car, occupying her swank grey-leather backseat. Backseat, mind you. Backseat. My head on his shoulder because I was very sad. Sad in an epic sort of way, and impotent, too, because I was to blame. I had perceived feelings of a friendship escalating and done what only felt right: I cried, tearlessly, on my tall friend’s shoulder.
And I got a terrible cramp in my neck, and the pain traveled down my back. I readjusted myself a couple times, and even sat up once. But the comfort proffered was overwhelming. So that is where my head stayed.
I knew I wasn’t getting lucky when he said: “When I look at you, I’m not disgusted.”
The hopeful, self-punishing side of me said out loud, “Well, that’s good.”
Unless you look less favorably on this comment than I do, he never said anything directly insulting about me. There was no “but” in the statement, just a period and then a new thought. Perhaps if I had fallen asleep on his floor, as would have been appropriate, things would have gone better. He had offered me a pillow, after all, and that’s not half bad.
While not sleeping, I tried to figure out exactly at what point I had done whatever I did to create the scenario of him sprawled somnolent on the couch and me sprawled alert on the floor. I thought of other things, too, like him waking to me kissing his stomach, and then I thought perhaps this had something to do with the aforementioned undesirable (to me) scenario.
His cat was hanging around, and I found myself wishing she would unfold forthwith as some variety of Virgilian guide, revealing to me whatever coded knowledge meant that she could be stroked to euphoria by him, and that she could rest her weight on his runner’s frame, but I was merely not disgusting.
“You can leave if you have something better to do,” he said.
“No,” I said. “I don’t have anything better to do.”
And I was telling the truth.
Another part of his lie was that he had fallen asleep on the journey home. This would make him a talented person, a very talented person indeed, because he talked every moment of our way from Detroit back home.
The significance of this lie lays in hand-taking and hand-holding, the who and whom and timeline all called into question, drilled by fed-up film noir types. Gay commandment #1: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s lover. And I have always done what I am told.
Great, I thought to myself. Another pretty straight boy I have to pretend I’m not looking at.
It never occurred to me that this long-winded sonumabitch was queer. This lanky runner-swimmer-boy who could hurdle me whenever he liked. This dramatically gesturing, wrist-flapping, trip-hop-listening redhead had to be on stee-raight and narrow, because that was the plot of my life. (Can you be defined by someone else’ sexual orientation? You can when you’re a teenage boy.)
The truth, the one that would not be revealed until many, many lies had been told, was that he had taken my hand. Yes, my hand was absentmindedly scratching the peaks of his corduroy slacks, but this meant less than nothing. I just like the way corduroy feels. Sometimes it makes me feel better. Like Ed Wood and angora.
He took my hand, lacing my fingers in his like a whalebone corset of horrible inevitability. These sordid details are important, though they shouldn’t be. And the things friends shouldn’t have to tell other people slowly become public tragicomedy.
Everything tends toward chaos.
Inertia is a property of matter.
What I truly resented was that he had taken over as resident favorite homosexual. The crowds of swirling teenage girls were mine, dammit. I’d won them through years of when did you realize you were ya know what kind of guy do you like do you have a crush on anyone at this school don’t you think you might like girls just a little I mean how do you know you’re…
And there he was, the new kid and already everyone’s favorite faggot. He was taller, leaner, more outgoing, the sort of fag straight girls sometimes want to seduce. I had never met one of these models in real life, this hope against hopes, this tortured and pale teenage dream. I had certainly never expected to be ousted by one of these creatures, with their mysterious sense-dulling magnetism. Hebetude in sneakers. Nice sneakers. Seeing is not believing, is not merely believing.
It is neatly packaged anguish.
It was open mic night at The Common Spoon. It was my first night there, and I was keyed through the roof. I was going to read my poetry. I was going to make that roomful of people fall in love with me. I would make them laugh, cry, and wish they had never fallen in love with anyone, including me.
I met an out-of-towner, John, a queer poet from somewhere over by Detroit. He seemed to be wearing a sweater I had bought and returned at the same thrift store a year earlier, tight cable-knit beige wool. It made me look like a hogtied fertility goddess. It made him look like a queer poet from somewhere over by Detroit.
So what do you read, man? Like, who are you favorite poets?
– Oh, I like mostly stuff from the mid-20th century. Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton…
I dig, You read any contemporary stuff?
– No. I think contemporary poetry is sort of a wasteland.
There’s a lot of really great contemporary gay stuff. Have you read any Howe?
Actually, she’s not gay, but her first book is about her brother who died from AIDS.
Really great stuff. Here, let me just…get some paper. I’ll give you some names.
I’d brought with me some of the stuff I’d labeled “spoken word,” which in my nomenclature meant stuff I was too embarrassed to try and print but liked too much to throw away. I glanced over the things I thought I might read as another poet did his spiel.
He was awful and didn’t try to hide it. He was one of those types that try to get people to like him by constantly apologizing for himself. The audience collectively winced at these times, chic sign for insert hug here.
The poems before me were ripped in a rush from a neatly labeled notebook entitled The Incomplete Pre-Alcӕan Poetry (I’m not shitting you). They were boiling egg noodles, youthful poetical indiscretions. Records of fits of emotion you learn to control. Verbal ejaculations that make you blush if someone you respect reads them. They are cheap, they are easy, and they really help an audience get its rocks off.
One more, he said, launching into an explanation of a philosophy paper about fate or some similarly absurd and boring topic that he chose to write in verse. He was told never to do it again. He also got an A. My brain slid out from under my scalp as he began to read. Maybe if I detach myself from these ears this won’t be so painful. It was fortunately a very brief paper, and having finished, he smiled weakly, waved, and left the stage, beleaguered.
No one did anything for a moment, leaving the gap I needed. “Well, I guess it’s my turn,” I said. And they clapped the open mic I’m obligated to clap clap that doesn’t make anyone feel better about anything.
I read a poem, one of two involving my character Boy. I read a poem about being an angry young gay man, which was also about how I hated my seventh-grade English teacher. i read a poem about G-Dub and Reaganites and neo-cons. I read a poem about Stonewall and Judy Garland and being an angry young gay man.
And I killed compared to the other guy. I watched John’s ever-dilating smile, as his was the only face in the audience that registered true resonance. But those straight people were cool enough to see that this gay dude was at least better than that last guy.
But I wanted more. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew how I was going to get it. I was going to stop reading. I was going to talk to them. Like lovers do. I was going to get so hideously intimate that their only option would be to think of what I was saying as fiction.
So I said: “I knew I wasn’t getting laid when he said: When I look at you, I’m not disgusted.” And the words came sliding out like alien parasites waiting to be delivered from their host. “But instead of falling asleep, I kept reading the titles of the books on his boyfriend’s bookcase. Yes, boyfriend’s bookcase, ‘cos that’s where we’re hanging out – his boyfriend’s place.” And I was genuinely ignorant of why this was horrifying.
Oh yes, I had observed small children in the aft area of The Common Spoon, but they were so quiet and well behaved that I had truly and innocently forgotten they were there. And so this, and not my poetry, was responsible for no one laughing when I said:
“I was just thinking what a pain it was that my dick flopped down the left side of my shorts.”
I wanted to tap the microphone and ask: “Is this thing on?”
But embarrassing myself in front of the children of the good customers of The Common Spoon was not really what was mortifying, what should have initiated the launch-sequence of my self-editing mechanism.
No, the fact was that there was someone in the audience who knew exactly what (and whom) I was talking about.