--FEELING DRIED UP AND TONGUE-TIED
You Kiss Just Like a Girl
After all the carnage he’d left in the school parking lot, my brother, Denny, still had enough nerve to ask if he could go to the party. Mom sat at the kitchen table, her hair stacked up lopsided like the dishes in our sink, smoking Tareyton’s down to the bud, tapping her nails on the Formica table and staring at Denny as if he was some kind of baby killer.
“You figure out how to pay for all those windshields yet? Huh?” she asked. She threw a fork but Denny ducked in time and the tines clattered off the window, hitting, Gilligan, our big blind cat. “I don’t want to hear another word from you,” Mother said, testing out her tough guy suit, unaccustomed to all this recent madness. “Do you understand me? Not a peep.”
In all, fronts and backs included, Denny popped nineteen windshields. Used the very bat Dad had taught us how to hit with. Denny was already popular enough, but because these were all faculty cars, he became a hero to fellow students. The teachers would have pressed charges if Dad hadn’t served a seven year stint as principal before taking off on a fling with the anorexic lady who taught first year Spanish.
The party was at Vickie Hewitt’s house. Vickie had a full figure, not fat, just a lot of woman for a junior. And she dyed her hair Marilyn Monroe white. Plus she always had a lot of black friends over, which meant the music jammed and the party would be better because in the seventies black people were the only ones who knew how to dance.
I’m not sure what compelled me to show up. I was Denny’s look-alike brother, but shy and younger by a year. He had a motorcycle and a pierced ear. I had my paperbacks. About the only thing we had in common was a blood line and the shared hatred of our father.
When Vickie answered the door, my hair puffed back from so much blasting bass. Her older sister, Christy slid around the hinge and gave me gave me a squishy hug, smothering me in her waterbed breasts. At first it felt like one of Grandma’s hugs but then Vickie pressed in from behind me and then it wasn’t anything like Grand. I pulled away too hard, staggered off balance and slipped into a puddle of beer or urine, or both.
“Take it easy, Peach Fuzz,” Christy said, “That’s just us loving on you.”
“But I couldn’t breathe,” I said, realizing at once how idiotic those words sounded.
The music was Soul Train splendid, loud, thumping through the floorboards and walls and furniture, everything moving whether it wanted to or not. Couples were bumping on the couch and kitchen table, grinding against appliances or the Hewitt’s incandescent fish tank which was so large it consumed an entire wall.
I knew every person at the party, but not one was a friend. Now they beamed when they saw me. They gave me skin and arm bumps and back slaps and offers of free, under-the-counter, stimulants. Mostly people wanted to know why Denny didn’t come and every time I declined drugs or drink, they asked if I was sick.
“Nah, he’s not sick,” Vickie said, curling her lip in a snicker. “He’s the good one. Gonna be a pastor. Aren’t you?”
In that moment of mimicry, I saw Vickie’s fear as clearly as the monster pimple thrumming on my cheek. Strange as it was, Vickie and I had a lot in common. We were both younger siblings, both blonde (me a real one) and we were both terrified not so much of the future, but of what was happening in our worlds today, and what would happen tomorrow after the party ended, when it was just another flat weekend with nothing to do.
I don’t know why, but I took her hand and did not let go. I led her through the crowd and then up the stairs and said, “Which one?” and she pointed at the farthest down the hall, so I turned into the room and shut the door and kissed her at once.
She made a little electrical noise and then I realized it was just Vickie’s leather pants squawking from the pressure of my knee on them.
We ended up on the bed. Sitting on the edge of it. The dresser top had doilies all over it, along with perfume bottles and different framed photographs. “You’re a little old-fashioned,” I said. “That’s okay. I am, too.”
Vickie slapped my thigh. “You retard. This is my folk’s room. You picked the wrong one.”
“Folks? But I thought your Mom left you guys.”
It came out as blunt as that--a chainsaw to the throat. It came out the same way I pictured my own situation--raw and serrated.
Vickie’s eyes watered. “Hey,” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
She didn’t leave or slap me or curse. Instead she leaned into my chest, her whole body warm and damp now, shuddering, sobbing.
When she came up for air, Vickie’s makeup was so tragically smeared that it looked like she’d been beaten with a black licorice whip.
I gave her tissues but she shredded them. She told me how miserable she was, that she thought about killing herself as often as boys thought about sex.
“I’m a bad person,” she told me.
I told her she wasn’t. People loved her. She was popular. “Look at that crowd downstairs.”
“Those are my sister’s friends.”
“But still, you know some of them.
She blew her nose on the corner of a pillow case and asked, “Are you really going to be a pastor when you grow up?”
I kissed her again. It was easier now, which helped, because anytime a person brought up me being a pastor, it forced momentum down a certain direction.
When she pulled back, she said, “You know I’m Denny’s girl, right?”
She must have really thought I was stupid. “Of course,” I said. “No duh.”
As I got up, I half-expected her to stop me, but she didn’t. Instead she only asked, “You are gay, aren’t you? Denny says you are.”
I bit my lip, feeling my face flood with blood. “Why is it if you’re shy, people always think you’re gay?”
“Hey, relax. I don’t care if you are.”
“But, so you know,” she said, her eyes narrowing in seriousness, “you do kiss just like a girl.”
I closed the door behind me and stepped out into the hall where a fire engine alarm was coming up from a stereo as The Ohio Players took on, “Fire.”
Downstairs I found the utilities closet. I broke a broom in half, and then a mop. I took the sticks into the kitchen. They felt light yet prodigious enough for the job. They made a windy whistle whenever I whirlwinded them, which I did.
The windows exploded easily, almost self-combusting, as if they’d been waiting for this moment all along. Pearls and husks of glass showered the air as I smashed the liquor bottles. Ash trays. Dishes and water glasses. The huge television set. Lamps. Wall clock. Chandelier. And then the finale, the fish tank.
A small ocean poured forth and I thought of sailors, The Titanic, Noah. Several slug-gray salamander-looking guppies squiggled near my toes, making it seem as if the entire shag rug were moving, scratching itself. I apologized to the fish, but did not otherwise move save a solitary one. I took out two lava lamps and a family portrait.
By the time the cops arrived, I had stopped swinging. My arms felt strapped with sand bags and my shoulders burned.
They used a blow horn, threatening tear gas. For just a moment, I thought how easy it would be to provoke one or more of the officers into shooting me, but instead I stood where I was, hands at my sides.
“We’re coming in!” they screamed.
Which was fine. I’d done what I’d come to do. I’d made my own mark.