By Thomas Christopher
I agonized for weeks over how to ask my mom to take me to the doctor. When I finally approached her, she was in the kitchen making supper.
“I think something is wrong with my stuff,” I blurted out.
“Stuff? What stuff?” she said.
“You know, my stuff.” I nodded toward my crotch.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh. Is it a rash? Do you have a rash? I have ointment.”
“No, it’s not a rash. I’m fine, really. It’s just, well, you know...Can we please go see the doctor?”
Two days later, I stood naked in front of Dr. Nelson as he examined my genitals. “Uh-huh,” he said. “Uh-huh.” That didn’t sound good. He told me I should be a lot further along at fifteen, but despite the absence of any pubic hair, there was nothing horribly wrong with me. “You just haven’t reached puberty yet,” he said.
He looked at my pudgy stomach and my pointy man-boobs and added, “The enlarged breasts should go away as you get older. You could lose a few pounds, though. Are you playing any sports? Maybe you can play tennis. You like tennis?”
“No,” I said. “I hate tennis.”
~ ~ ~
“It’s nothing to be worried about,” my mom said on the ride home. We lived in the small town of Willawood, Iowa. “You’re just a little late, that’s all.”
“Freakishly late,” I corrected.
I reminded my mom not to say anything to my dad, in case she forgot. Then I consoled myself with the fact that I was going to see my first ever girlfriend the next day. I should’ve been excited about Tanya.
I was in the envied position of having a girlfriend. But instead it made me even more insecure. The last thing I wanted was for Tanya to find out about my body, that my bottom half was a hairless nine-year-old boy and my top half was a budding teenage girl.
Tanya Harris was cute. She had a small face, a flat chin, and puffy chipmunk cheeks, particularly when she smiled. Her upper lip was wavy and her long hair flared out above her ears like little wings. What I noticed most of all was how well she filled out her shirt in only the eighth grade. Most of the boys at middle school, seventh to ninth grade back then, already knew who Tanya was. As my friend Oliver said, “Her cup runneth over.”
The first time Tanya called, my mom answered the phone. I was downstairs in the basement, helping my dad build a foosball table, even though I told him I didn’t like foosball.
“What are you talking about?” he said. “Everybody likes foosball.”
That was his answer to everything we disagreed on. When I told him I didn’t want to play tackle football anymore, he said. “What are you talking about?” He had been a defensive end in college and he taught me how to get in a three-point stance, charge off the line of scrimmage, and swing my arms in a swimming motion to avoid blockers. I was afraid I was going to have to explain how I didn’t take any pleasure in knocking people down. I’ll never forget the expression on my friend Oliver’s face as he lay on the ground looking up at me.
Thankfully, the only thing my dad said was, “Will you still watch the Bears games with me?”
“Of course,” I said. “You think I want to miss Ditka and McMahon fighting on the sidelines?”
My dad was a burly guy, blocky and solid. He had the hairiest arms I had ever seen. They were like gorilla arms. In college, his nickname was Sasquatch, not only because he was hairy, but because when he played football he had a lumbering gait and he would fling his arms in the air like some sort of wild ape-man. I had seen him play in some old film reels he had.
In the wood shop, sawdust stuck to his hairy arms so much that after a while he had to brush them off. He was great at building stuff: bookcases, tables, treehouses, decorative benches. His ability made sense. He was an engineer who spent his days figuring out how best to design tub grinders and manure spreaders.
I was afraid of the saws, however, all those spinning, pumping, jagged-toothed blades that whined and screamed as they tore through a hunk of wood. Nevertheless, I stacked the pieces he sawed and I held the plywood as he cut it down to the right size.
When my mom appeared suddenly in the wood shop, my dad and I stopped and lifted our safety glasses. Whatever it was, it had to be important. My mom hardly ever came into the wood shop.
“What’s wrong?” my dad said.
My mom didn’t say anything right away. She was a short woman, barely five feet, and shaped like two balloons squished together. She looked straight at me and said, “A girl named Tanya is on the phone for you.”
“A girl?” my dad said. “I’ll be damned.”
“Girls shouldn’t be calling boys,” my mom said.
“What’s the big deal?” my dad said. “It’s 1984, not 54.”
Tanya and I met in detention. I was there because I was daydreaming in Mr. Snyder’s algebra class. When he asked me a question, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I said, “That’s mind-boggling.” The class laughed and I guess he thought I was being a smart-ass.
In detention, I found a seat behind Tanya. I could’ve sworn she giggled when I sat down. The fabric of her shirt dipped in along the lines of her bra straps and pushed out ridges of flesh that made little furrows against her shirt. I had a tremendous urge to run my finger along the furrows and feel the fabric of her shirt against my fingertip. Then I got the feeling she knew what I was thinking, and she probably thought I was creepy, so I quickly looked at my book.
After detention, I was startled when she swiveled in her seat. I was afraid of what she might say, but then she smiled and said, “Hi. I’ve seen you around.” She also said I was cute, and she liked my hair, which was all news to me. I had recently parted my hair down the middle and feathered it back in a desperate attempt to look like Tom Cruise in his recent movie Risky Business.
On the phone that first time, Tanya and I didn’t talk about anything monumental. We talked about school mostly and then a lot about our favorite things. Tanya thought that was important. On the show The Newlywed Game, couples never seemed to know what the other person’s favorite things were. I wondered if that meant we were a couple already.
~ ~ ~
A week after I went to see Dr. Nelson about my body, Tanya invited me on a double date of sorts. The two of us, along with her friend Larisa, would all get together at Dave Dorseman’s house, who Larisa was dating. Dave Dorseman was the starting middle linebacker on the ninth grade football team. He was a good guy, unlike Clive Luntz who asked me if I needed a training bra for my “tits,” or Kyle Steponik who said I had a “baby dick.”
That Saturday in May, my dad dropped me off at Dave’s house. Of course, I didn’t tell my dad anything about Tanya and Larisa being there. When I arrived in the dimly-lit basement, Tanya bounced off the couch where she and Dave and Larisa were sitting. She ran over to me and tossed her arms around my neck like she hadn’t seen me in weeks.
Over Tanya’s shoulder, Dave gave me the thumbs up and then grabbed a bottle of Mountain Dew and took a swig. He had his arm around Larisa. He wore thin nylon jogging shorts and a red mesh tee-shirt, which made me feel over-dressed in my slacks and dress shirt. I also couldn’t help but notice Dave’s package stuffed in his tight jogging shorts. I knew what he had crammed in there. I had seen it dangling from a thick crown of hair in the locker room plenty of times.
All four of us settled in to watch a slasher movie on HBO. Less than fifteen minutes into the movie, Dave and Larisa were making out. That put the pressure on me to make a move on Tanya. The problem was, I’d never made a move in my life, and the more I worried about what to do, the less I wanted to do anything. Besides, watching teenage girls get maimed and killed in Slumber Party Massacre wasn’t really putting me in the mood.
That didn’t seem to bother Dave and Larisa. They stood up from the couch with their mouths still mashed together. They tipped their heads from side to side to get better angles to ram their tongues in each other’s mouths. When they turned slightly, their mouths glistened from the light of the TV. Larisa’s hand was squirming around in Dave’s jogging shorts until the head of his erection popped out like a jack-in-the-box. I glanced at Tanya who was staring wide-eyed at the top of Dave’s rocket.
I was relieved when Dave and Larisa shuffled over to a bed in the back corner of the basement. But when I looked at Tanya again, her eyes were both dreamy and full of hungry desire. I was definitely not feeling the same way. The next thing I knew she lunged over and kissed me. Only she didn’t stop there. She grabbed me by the shoulders and yanked me towards her as she fell back on the couch.
I crashed on top of her and I suddenly realized I was making out. The thrill of it soon faded. I kept wondering if she could feel my pointy man-boobs against her own boobs and if that was weirding her out and she only kept kissing me because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Plus my erection was bent at a weird angle, so while all this making out was going on, I was actually in pain.
~ ~ ~
When summer break came and driver’s education started, I rode my bike to Tanya’s house after each class. Both of her parents worked. Her dad was a long-haul trucker who I never met, and her mom was a desk clerk at the Motel 6 near the interstate. Her older sister was always gone, so Tanya was home alone every day. But that’s not what I told my mom.We would start out on the couch watching music videos on MTV—Van Halen, Huey Lewis, The Cars, Cyndi Lauper—and talking about how great it was going to be when I got my driver’s license at the end of July.
“I really want to go to the old cemetery on Crandon’s Point,” she would say. “Did you know it’s the highest point in the county? I guess the stars are awesome up there. That’s what my sister Tina says. She said you can see like gobs of constellations. She’s really into that. I bet she’ll even get us some schnapps if I do a favor for her. God, won’t that be cool?” After about fifteen or twenty minutes, Tanya would ask if I wanted to go to her room.
Her room was always tidy and her double bed neatly made. Hanging from the ceiling next to her dresser was a huge mobile of brightly colored shapes. “I just like shapes,” she said one time.
“You mean shape shapes,” I said, “or particular shapes?”
“You know, shapes.”
“Not geometry. I don’t really think of it in a mathy-sciencey way. I don’t really like math or science. It’s boring most of the time. I just wonder sometimes why a cone is shaped like a cone, or why clothes have certain shapes and patterns on them. Where’d they come from? How did those shapes get that way? It’s stupid, I know. Let’s stop talking about it.”
I didn’t think it was stupid at all, even though I didn’t entirely understand her.
On the wall above the headboard was a poster of rock star Adam Ant. He wore thick black eye-liner and a black leather jacket that was unzipped with no shirt underneath. His lips were curled into either a sneer or a come-on. It was hard to tell. But despite his presence hovering above us, we never got much further than making out.
I’d start to worry about my erection trapped uncomfortably in my jeans, wondering if it was going to end up permanently crooked if I didn’t finally let it out. On top of that was the fact I didn’t want to get naked for fear of Tanya being disgusted by what she saw. Hairless Boob Boy came to mind. So I did the only thing I could. I waggled my tongue around in her mouth for what seemed like hours.
One time, she suggested we go to her sister’s room in the basement and use her waterbed. Tanya took my hand and led me downstairs. Inside her sister’s wood-paneled, shag-carpeted room, Tanya said, “Let’s put some music on.” She did a skippety-hop over to the stereo and rummaged through a stack of records before she found one.
Thank God it was John Cougar and not Boy George or Madonna. When she stood back up, she twirled to face me. She smiled and twisted from side to side, staring at me with that hungry look again, no doubt waiting for me to make the first move. Instead, I acted like nothing was going on and there wasn’t a huge waterbed in the room that we had explicitly come down to use.
“Well?” she said.
“Yeah?” I said.
“Why don’t you get in?”
I had never been on a waterbed before. I sat on the edge first and slid my hand over the surface, surprised when it rippled. After I scooted on, the water started bouncing me around like a trampoline. John Cougar was singing, “Sometimes love doesn’t feel like it should.”
Somehow I made it to the headboard and laid back against the pillows. I looked at Tanya, who reached behind her back and untucked her shirt. I thought she was going to take it off, and I really wanted her to, but she didn’t. Suddenly, as if embarrassed, she scrambled onto the bed, right between my legs, which started the water rolling again.
She pressed herself against me and gave me a kiss that made our teeth click. Our bodies surfed on the waves for a moment before Tanya flipped over on her back and pulled me on top of her. I don’t know if it was the waterbed or what, but I was getting incredibly excited.
After a while, Tanya interrupted my darting tongue. “Can we please try something different?” she said. She nodded toward her breasts. “You can actually touch them,” she said.
I grabbed her left breast and squeezed it as if it was a Nerf ball I was about to heave across the room. Tanya peeled off my hand.
“Not so hard,” she said. “Here, maybe this will help.”
She unbuttoned the first few buttons of her shirt and then stopped. I didn’t realize that was a cue for me to finish the unbuttoning, so in my ignorance I latched onto her breast again.
“Stop,” she said. She sounded annoyed.
She undid the rest of her shirt, pulled open one side, and guided my hand inside the cup of her bra. The feeling of my hand on her bare breast was overwhelming, and without even thinking, I started to rub my pelvis against her. She must’ve gotten over her irritation because I felt her hands fidgeting against my waist.
I heard her jeans snap open and the muffled zip of her zipper. She grabbed my wrist, and a second later, my fingers rested on the cusp of her panties. They slid slowly underneath until they touched a tuft of soft pubic hair, which instantly thrilled me and then filled me with dread. What would she do if she felt I had nothing down there? I withdrew my hand quickly and shoved it inside her bra again.
“Oh,” Tanya said.
She gripped me tighter and made a humming sound deep in her throat as she kissed me harder. Soon I was lost in the dizzying roll of the waterbed, the feel of Tanya’s warm breast, and the pressure of her legs squeezing and squeezing me. Then everything went fuzzy-blurry-buzz.
At first, I didn’t realize what had happened. When reality finally set in, I couldn’t believe what had happened. I was mortified. I rolled off Tanya, glanced at my crotch, and saw a massive wet spot. I got out of the waterbed as fast as I could and stared at it again as if it wasn’t real. Then I turned away so Tanya couldn’t see me, but obviously, she already had.
“What’s wrong?” she said. “Jason?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I need to go.”
“What happened? Wait. Don’t go.”
I ran up the basement stairs, through the kitchen and living room, and out the front door to my bike parked in the driveway. In the sunlight, the wet spot on my jeans looked like a black oil stain.
I leapt on my bike and pedaled away from Tanya’s house, hoping that none of the cars that passed me noticed the spot. Before long, I heard someone behind me honk. Then my dad pulled up alongside me. I forgot he was going to pick me up at Tanya’s that day; he wanted help getting some lumber to make my mom a curio cabinet. I didn’t stop, though. I kept pedaling, even faster now. He leaned over and peered out the open window at me.
“Hey, slow down,” he said.
I didn’t slow down.
My dad said, “I went by that girl’s house, but I didn’t see your bike.” I kept going, pedaling and pedaling.
“Hey, slow down,” he said. “Stop!”
I ignored him.
“What’s your problem? Stop, I said.”
“That’s okay,” I shouted back.
“What do you mean ‘okay’? What’s gotten into you?
“I’m fine,” I shouted.
“Stop, for Christ’s sake!”
My dad sped ahead and turned in front of me. I had plenty of time to brake, but I just kept going. I slammed into the side of the car and fell off my bike. My shoulder hit the asphalt and I rolled against the curb. When I looked up, my dad stood above me with a scowl on his face.
“Are you crazy? What did you run into me for? You bent your wheel and dented the car.” He leaned down and looked at me more closely. “You okay?”
“I think so.”
I sat up and glanced at my shoulder where my shirt had torn. A few red scraps marked my skin. My dad hoisted me to my feet, inspected the wounds, and shook his head.
“It doesn’t look too bad,” he said. “A few Band-Aids should do it.”
Then he noticed the wet spot on my jeans.
“Are you bleeding?” he said.
When he reached out to touch it, I quickly turned away.
“What happened?” he said.
“Nothing,” I said. “Can we go?”
He grabbed my fallen bike with one hand and ran his other hand over the dent in the car door.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
He wheeled my wobbling bike to the trunk and put it inside.
After we got home and parked in the garage, he said to leave the bike, he would get it repaired tomorrow. I followed him inside to the kitchen, trying to stay behind his bulky body in case my mom was in there, which of course she was.
My dad said in a loud voice, “You aren’t going believe what Ben Gould did today at work.”
He put his hand on my mom’s shoulders, preventing her from turning from the sink.
“Jason?” she said. “You picked up Jason, right, honey?”
“I’m here, Mom,” I said as I hurried past her.
I ran upstairs to my room to change my jeans and to bandage my shoulder.
~ ~ ~
Tanya called me the next day. Even though I told her I’d have my driver’s license soon and we could finally go to Crandon’s Point, she dumped me. I don’t know if she saw my little “accident” or not. What likely made up her mind was how quickly I bolted from the scene and just left her there. I could still hear her saying, “Don’t go.”
It was kind of a jerk-thing to do. She probably thought I didn’t like her. But how could I have stayed and endured the added humiliation of talking about it? Maybe she would have understood. Then what? I was too embarrassed about my man-boobs and hairless-wonder to actually get naked with her and do what I knew she wanted to do. So it was probably for the best that I ran and that she dumped me.
The day after Tanya called, my dad said we needed to spend the afternoon looking for a car, which came as a big surprise. He had been telling me for months that I needed my license in hand before I could even think about getting a car. We went to Buckaroo Bob’s Used Cars near the interstate and looked at a Chevette and a Vega. My dad had made it abundantly clear that I was getting a cheap economical car. He didn’t want to pay for a lot of gas or pay very much for a car I was going to wreck anyway. I knew my dad meant well, but after a while, I just wanted to stop.
“I don’t want to do this,” I said. “And I don’t want a stupid little car that looks like shit, either.”
The only other time I had talked to my dad like that he had grabbed me by the back of the neck and sat me down. He said one word to me, “Respect.” The look in his eyes had frightened me. I think he felt bad about it afterwards because he built new bookshelves for my room. At the used car lot, though, when he put his hand on my shoulder, he only gave it a gentle squeeze.
He said to the chubby sales guy in the tight-fitting cowboy shirt, “What do you have with a little more oomph to it.”
The sales guy liked how my dad thought. He showed us a Cordoba and a Monte Carlo before I spotted a blue 1971 Ford Galaxie 500, the kind of car a gear-head might turn into a muscle car. I liked it just the way it was. The body had a several rust spots. The chrome on the front fender was scuffed up, and there were some scratches on the driver’s side door. A hubcap was missing, but the sales guy said a new one would be easy to find at a salvage yard. It wasn’t in perfect shape, and that’s what I liked about it.
The sales guy popped the hood so I could inspect the engine, although I had no idea what I was looking at. It was the car’s original 351 Cleveland. “What do you say we take it for a spin?” my dad said to me.
I already had a driver’s permit, so with my dad along I could test-drive the Galaxie myself. I drove under the interstate overpass and past the Motel 6 where Tanya’s mom worked. My dad wanted to get outside of town. I loved how smooth the Galaxie drove and how the speedometer went to a 120 and how the seats were as big as couches. We cranked open the windows and the wind burst in and swept around us. I felt my hair flatten against my scalp and my shirtsleeve ripple against my arm.
When we finally reached a stretch of flat highway along some corn and soybean fields, my dad shouted, “Open this baby up and see what she can do!”
I looked over at him. His head was tipped back and a big smile on his face, as if he was sixteen all over again and he was out on his first joyride with his best friend. His elbow was sticking out the open window and the thick hair on his arm waved around in the wind.
Then I turned and stared at the open road ahead. I gripped the steering wheel tight and pushed on the accelerator. The Galaxie seemed to awaken suddenly, as if ready, at any moment, to take off and really go.