when i knew #39.
by Michael King
“I put the bottle of bourbon down on the corner with a hard thwack. I keep thinking I’m going to burst into flame and emerge as my true self when, in reality, I molt slowly, carrying the old skin around with me a little while longer. So there’s the bourbon.
“When I was a child, I would bounce around and talk loudly and dance to music with such wild spasms I would knock over plates in the kitchen. Once, in a Florida bathroom, I broke into dance to the music – anything to get the energy out – and I saw a man drag his son out by the arm, loudly telling him to stay away from the idiot. I looked around for the idiot as my dad fumed and dragged me out, too. I think I was four.
“The next year, I went to school and I was surrounded by girls who were beautiful and boys who were handsome. The girls caught my eye, no doubt. Everyone told me I was a ladykiller and that I would fetch a pretty girl someday. I thought that sounded nice, but, every now and then, another little ladykiller caught my eye. I was good friends with one of them. He was tall, his skin was smooth, and his lips were like two raspberries. When he would purse them, I wanted to put them on mine and see what would happen.
“We all had a sleepover, and we did what boys do: We climbed on each other, we wrestled, and we began playing truth or dare. My friend picked ‘dare,’ and we dared him to pull his pants down. His pants hit the floor, and we all gathered around him like he was an exhibit at the zoo. We lingered for a few moments, and then we laughed. We always laughed. His turn came around again, and he picked ‘dare’ and we were all relieved, so another of us dared him to pull his pants down and dance. As soon as his hand touched the elastic of his shorts, the door flew open so hard it rattled the plates in the kitchen. His dad pointed a finger in his face, his own face red with rage, and told him we weren’t going to do any of ‘that shit’ in his house. We put a movie on and fell asleep, one by one, next to each other.
“The next year, my friend with the raspberry lips and I stood outside on the sidewalk, waiting for our moms’ cars, and we ran around the tree, chasing each other making puckering noises. I faked him out and ran around the other side, puckering and planting my lips on his cheek for a single second. We froze, his jaw dropped, and we began looking around. No one saw, but he didn’t say a word. He just ran. I did something wrong. Later that night, I told my dad that I thought my friend was gay and he told me to not even say that word. So I didn’t.
“And so it went. In middle school, I chased girls, but I always noticed if a boy had smooth skin, or full lips, or a mark on his cheek like Marilyn Monroe. At night, I would toss and turn until the feelings stopped. During the day, if I caught myself lingering on the way a boy’s jaw curved around the bottom of his face, I would find a freshly blossomed bosom to bury my thoughts in.
“One day, when I was twenty and drunk on mojitos, I loudly gathered all my friends and proclaimed myself bisexual. They shrugged and said ‘no shit.’ I made it a point to tell anyone who asked, no matter how uncomfortable or inopportune, that I was bisexual. It’s not a word I’m comfortable with because it implies a forked road where I prefer a path anyone could trod on.
“Today, I wonder how much I still police my attraction, and I wonder if my mother actually knows and is waiting. Because I haven’t told her. I’m just somewhere in limbo. Me and my bourbon. I set the bottle down after another swig, gently. The glass on the counter didn’t make a sound.”