Originally Published: August 26th, 2013; Updated: June 24th, 2014
I probably shouldn’t have told Nina not to wear her skintight plaid pants with zippers all over the legs. It wasn’t my finest hour. But I guess that’s the beauty of hindsight; it’s only good after the fact. Now I’m left alone, with only my thoughts, and those aren’t even enough to distract me anymore. The whispers are getting stronger, berating me, taunting me, begging me to give in to their pleas. I think about what life would be like if I didn’t exist, It’s a Wonderful Life-style, only for this George Bailey there’s no Donna Reed waiting on the other side of my thoughts. There’s just me, and the fact that I’m somehow defective.
is was my best friend. We were twin souls, all four of the Monkees wrapped up in two plump dumplings, arm-in-arm, getting the funniest looks from everyone we meet. I was there when Nina decided to be a bear pilot when she grew up. She was there when I tried on Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and walked around her playroom practicing the heel click, repeating “there’s no place like home.” She was the Cowardly Lion to my Scarecrow.
And now she’s gone.
Not physically, but emotionally.
She immersed herself in rock n’ roll in the 5thgrade; it gave her something concrete to idolize, instead of Teddy, her vomit-stained, dog-chewed teddy bear with the misshapen eyes and stuffing escaping the seams. And after awhile, she threw herself into it, moving from U2, The Goo Goo Dolls, and the cello to The Misfits, The Exploding Hearts, and bass guitar. She was punk before it was cool to be punk. And with that came the damn skintight plaid jeans with the zippers haphazardly strewn about the legs. While she discovered music, I discovered increasing jean sizes and new, more inventive ways to hate myself.
Let me clarify: I didn’t mean to be an asshole. I didn’t. It just sort of came across that way.
Nina is was my best friend. In fact, her and her twin sister Melanie are were my only friends. And they don’t even go to the same high school as me. We grew up together, but I moved a half hour away in the 5th grade.
I haven’t made very many friends I have no friends.
Zero. Zip. Zilch. None. Especially now.
Today, after school, I waited for the bus next to the mute who lives down the street from me. I got on and sat alone in the very front seat. I read a book, and then played snake on my cell. I got off at the bottom of my hill and watched Scott, someone I thought was once a friend, get off with a group of guys to play flag football and wrestle. The crunch-crunch-crunch of dried leaves and howling laughter later echoed through the cold, empty hallways of my house.
Ok, you want the truth? The ugly, hideous, throw-my-head-in-the-oven, stupid truth is that I didn’t want anybody from school seeing me with Nina in the mall or out on Main Street because nobody else I know dresses like Nina. It’s just not cool. And I’m already uncool enough. I instantly regretted telling her not to wear those God-awful pants, but if my seventeen thousand E-cards and digital tear-stained e-mails and messages with her parents say anything, she should know how sorry I am because, now, I’m truly alone.
Today, like every day, I came home and poured myself a super-sized bowl of Fruity Pebbles and plopped myself in front of the big screen TV in the living and played a snow mobile racing game on Playstation. One controller. One player. One bowl of puke-colored milk and leftover soggy flakes. One cordless phone next to me, waiting for a call that will never come.
* * *
Three bags of Doritos, two gallons of Girl Scout cookie ice cream, endless cans of soda, King Size packages of Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids, and three DVDs from Blockbuster later and we had ourselves the making of an epic sleepover. Dorito’s were the fuel of the proud, the oblivious fat kids. Tubs of ice cream were just the hors d’oeuvres. Nina, her twin sister Melanie, and I would prepare our nests of blankets and pillows and flutter our jiggley asses down to nuzzle in tight for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. And like Winnie the Pooh dipping his paw into a vat of creamy honey, we voraciously ate and laughed and ate and laughed and pledged our eternal best friendships through the art of binge eating.
Once one movie was finished, we struggled to our feet and used the karaoke machine I got for Christmas the previous year. The only cassette tape I had was Madonna’s Ray of Light. Nina set the tape in the player. Melanie, the athlete in our band of misfits, readied herself on my bed to jump and flounce, and I hopped along to other side of my room, where I kept my $20 Target strobe light and the lava lamp I won from playing arcade games at Dave & Buster’s. Electronic pop bubbled through the speakers and sparkled around us. It pulsed through the walls and we danced in the 3am moonlight and collapsed on the bed, together.
* * *
Alone on the pink satin living room couches, I spooned melted Velveeta and cheddar cheese in my mouth from a Styrofoam cup that had melted into Pop Art in the microwave. Usually, around this time, I’d be on the phone with Nina, telling her how in computer class I talked to one of the most popular girls in school, and she talked back, and how it had the potential to turn into this magical interaction where she’d invite me to hang out with her and the rest of the burn-out jocks on Friday night and we’d chill and I’d have my first beer and grimy cigarette puff and be instantly accepted. Of course, Nina wouldn’t really care because she never cared about popularity.
I wish I could have explained to her how much popularity meant to me. Maybe then she wouldn’t ignore my calls.
I wish she knew about the voices, telling me I’m too fat, too pimply, too ugly. Those same voices taunt me at the bus stop when I stare at my neighbor Scott. Their strained, coarse whispers leak into my ear canals and convince me that I’ll never be accepted by Scott and his friends. If he knew how many times I jerked off to him at night he’d break me in two with one strike of his fist.
Nina doesn’t know about those voices. She doesn’t know that I have conversations with them; we fight, going back and forth. They tell me I should just end it all now, because what exactly do I have to live for?
MTV’s TRL is on, but the TV might as well be off. I feel like I’m staring at a blank screen. The melted cheese goop is making my stomach do cartwheels. A bit of it dribbles down my chin, and I bet I look like one of those obese guys from True Life: I’m in Fat Camp, or the whales featured on Oprah that have to get fork-lifted out of their beds on national television. I look at the silver frames on the brick mantled fireplace. It wasn’t always like this.
I wasn’t always like this.
* * *
“Excuse me miss, but if you don’t mind me saying, he is just perfect!” Women would compliment me to my mother as we strolled down grocery store aisles. This is what I was always told. Everyone adorned my Gerber baby looks: golden blonde hair, sapphire blue eyes, fair skin and delicate features; I could have been a baby model.
I had my opportunity. When I was seven, I was hired by my aunt, a casting director, to be in a commercial for German sausage. All I had to do was submit a makeshift headshot, and my ideal Aryan looks had me clad in all the latest Boy Scout gear, including a thermos, whistle, knee-high socks, and a beret in no time flat. It filmed at the summit of Bear Mountain, in upstate New York, and when I was cued, I jumped up from behind a rock and shouted “YA!” It was my shining moment. I tried out for a Skippy commercial after that, but when I couldn’t stomach the goopy peanut butter they decided to go another way. It’s not my fault the camera captured me walking in on a rotting corpse. I couldn’t act. Plain and simple. But I was still the child with the model-looks.
Puberty hit me hard; my hair ashed into an unsightly dirty blonde. To fix that, I had it professionally lightened, and when we couldn’t afford to keep that up, my mom ripped my hair through a tiny plastic cap and bleached it, which resulted in orange cheetah spots.
During a hip-hop white-boy phase, I begged for baggy Sean John jeans – black with gold stitching – and puffy black jackets with backwards hats. That style went out faster than Tamagotchi’s and when it didn’t make me popular or distract other from my fat (or me from my overwhelmingly horrifying attraction to boys like Scott), I took to button down shirts and sweaters for a more preppy style, but the spare tire around my waist that I lugged to school everyday was only enhanced. I never went to school in sweatpants or a sweatshirt; I dressed to impress, yet nobody noticed.
When middle school ended, I expanded over the waist of my jeans into high school. I realized my hopes of becoming Zack Morris were fading faster than my last set of headshots.
* * *
Nina would probably be laughing and snorting heartily at the idea of me spooning melted cheese and a supersized pasta bowl of Fruity Pebbles in my mouth. But she won’t come to the phone. Her mom claims that she’s not home. Even Melanie vouches for her.
“Mel, please, Nina knows how sorry I am,” I begged.
“I know, but you know how Nina can be.”
Stubborn. Pig-headed. Mean. My best friend. I loved her. I needed her.
I thought quick on my feet, “I mean, look at what’s happening right now. The terrorist attacks and stuff…” [Yeah, I used the 9/11 Twin Tower attack as a personal defense] “We could die at any minute. It just seems so trivial.” Trivial. Good word, I thought. Bravo. I rubbed my Santa Claus belly and hoped Melanie would agree.
“I know, we’ve been best friends our whole lives and I keep trying to remind her of that, but you know … that’s how she is.” Then she said she had to go to basketball practice.
Is that an excuse? That’s how she is? How come that doesn’t work for me? That’s just how I am. I’m fat, pimply, stupid, unpopular, without any friends, who jerks off at night to the boy down the street.
My own thoughts betray me and I think about the tape in my VCR. My mom won’t be home for another few hours, so I set the TV to channel 3 and push play. The scratchy snow at the start bounces back and forth between what I taped over — an episode of FRIENDS – and what I taped over it with — a sex scene from Queer as Folk before Mom blocked Showtime.
What else do I have to do with my time? Homework? That’s barely worth my time. What’s the point anyway? I won’t get into college. And if I do, who would I share the news with? Nina? Melanie? They’re too busy for me now.
I lower the elastic band of my sweats and start the only exercise worth it’s salt. It’s the only way I can get off now. I can’t exactly be trusted on the internet…
* * *
My mom barged into my room holding an old crumpled piece of printer paper. Her words were inaudible screeches. Her face was a splotchy red and stark white from that familiar mixture of pain and confusion. I knew that look. I had it every day.
She asked what this paper was. She demanded an answer.
My throat was dry and chalky, like an old sponge. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think of an answer quick enough. I knew I shouldn’t have gone online. My grandma called the internet the tool of the devil.
Standing there in my doorway with her hand on her hip, she held a printed out 8×11 picture of a naked Brad Pitt. Her hand trembled. She couldn’t bear to look at me.
“It’s not mine,” were the only words I could muster.
I felt like I was in gym class, having just run a mile in under eight minutes. Hyperventilating. I didn’t know what to do. She bolted out of my room and started down the hallway toward the bathroom we shared. She dropped the paper along the way. I picked up it and glanced at it quickly before balling it up in my sweaty palms. What would I say?
Then she asked me a question that would have rocked the hell out of both of our universes. “Just tell me. Are you…are you gay?” The word ‘gay’ was never a part of my mother’s vocabulary. I think it was the first time she’d used the word her entire life. Like a toddler being coerced into saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ when she’d rather say ‘no.’
“No, mom, I’m not. It’s really not mine,” I lied. “It was a joke, a prank I was pulling on my friend. It’s not mine. Believe me. I’m not…” The truth was, I wasn’t quite sure. Did the thought of a paparazzi picture of Brad Pitt walking around completely naked in his backyard excite the hell out of me? Yes. Was I willing to destroy the universe, the fragile bubble my mother had created? No. I hated myself for having impure thoughts. I hated myself that I wasn’t like every other boy I knew. I hated myself so much that I couldn’t look into a mirror without tearing up or getting so angry I wanted to shatter the glass. I couldn’t hurt my mom. I never wanted to see that horror-struck look on her face again.
* * *
When I get off and the good feelings pass, that’s when the demons come alive. That’s when the tears start to flow, when whispers turn into ear-piercing screams, and the only options are to clean myself up, destroy the tape evidence, and retreat into my room to plan my escape. I look out the window. I can see the Tappan Zee Bridge toll booths. I think about taking a walk, but I’d probably be stopped before I reached the edge. There’s no walkways. I look every time I drive to that way to the mall.
I wonder if news of a suicide will bring me the popularity I crave. My name will be on the tips of every tongue in town. My story will be settled in everyone’s brains. I will be the topic of gossip. I will be remembered for something I wasn’t. Something false, like a “great spirit” or “kind soul” or “full of vim and vigor” whatever the crap that means. Maybe Nina will forgive me. Maybe Scott will realize that he too beats off to me.
I’d remember myself as the fat kid, with cheese on his chin and Fruity Pebble mush in his stomach. As the guy so convinced he was 100% straight that he proclaimed his love for every female with a pulse. I’d remember Nina and that, through better or worse, she was my best friend. And when we were friends, I forgot that I was too fat, or too pimply or too possibly-maybe-I-don’t-wanna-think-about-this-anymore-I-just-wanna-scream g-a-y.
The voices coax me to sleep. They taunt me with Velveeta and failed friendships and wastepaper baskets filled with guilt-ridden jizz-tissues.
Would Nina remember me as the boy she once called her best friend? Or would she just remember that I asked her not to wear those damn plaid pants with the zippers?
It was never about the plaid pants with the zippers, though, was it? It was always me.
If I took my life, would I be remembered as the kid too chicken to live?
Maybe I am.
Maybe I’m just a hypocrite.
Either way, I guess I have to live in order to figure it all out.