by Tim Swenarton
The two of us were crumbled in leather chairs next to one another. Gatorade had stained our teeth an opaque, community-swimming-pool blue. We’d finished the Austin Powers movie that had Beyoncé in it.
“I’d fuck her,” he said.
“Oh,” I paused. “Me too.”
He picked his Toshiba off the floor with one arm. I knew how heavy it was and acted as if I didn’t notice his difficulty in plopping it on his lap. As he pricked the screen open, the new light illuminated his face. I saw red contours growing across his lower jaw. A few presses on the keyboard and triumphantly he turned the screen toward me. A golden triangle of cloth covered both the pop star’s nipples. The boy next to me ran his finger around the outline of her breasts. I reached over and pressed the screen shut.
“That’s not right,” I said. His laugh was a bullet: loud, fast, and scathing.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never seen tits.” His eyes were widening, like he was on the cusp of some grand discovery.
He laughed again. His caterpillar fingers typed four letters. P-O-R-N. Inside me, this was both a beginning and an end.
Derek slid the laptop in front of me, and finally turned the TV to something besides the Austin Powers title screen, which had shouted GROOVY BABY for the last fifteen minutes.
The video was full screen. It wasn’t playing, but the thumbnail showed an over-muscled man shoving his penis into a screaming woman, her jaw locked into a permanent screech. I couldn’t tell if her expression held pain or pleasure. A squeak escaped my mousey mouth and I covered my eyes. It was my first time seeing any genitals besides my own. After a moment, my fingers parted slightly. My gaze drifted to the man’s hand; how it gripped the woman so tightly you could see the skin around his grasp going white with pressure. Derek tapped me on the shoulder and motioned to the door behind us that led to the playroom.
“I wouldn’t be mad if you took care of your business.”
With no idea what he could be talking about, I carried the laptop through the doors and dutifully pressed play. I heard him change the TV to a cartoon in the other room. We were twelve.
It took me a week to get my own computer.
“I want a laptop,” I said.
My father answered in between bites of a meatball sub. “Why?”
“Derek has one.”
My father nodded and finished his sandwich. I jangled his keys in anticipation.
Then, we were in a painfully tiny RadioShack that seemed more pop-up tech shop than established retailer. My father let me pick the one I wanted. I ran my hands over all the keyboards, feeling the plateaus of each button, imagining the words I would type.
The Toshiba came from the same litter as Derek’s. I slapped a Pokemon sticker on the front so we would know: this was mine.
A nightly ritual began. Lights off. My bedroom’s overhead fan was set to spaceship liftoff speeds. Two tissues slid underneath the edge of the laptop, to keep them from floating away. Derek’s recommended website required a name and password. After typing my info and logging in, a pop up window flashed WELCOME TIM in sparkly letters. Underneath my name, a woman sat naked, her fingers inside her vagina. It reminded me of a video game achievement, a reward. I jammed the red X in the corner of the window, already out of breath.
For two weeks, I watched the same video he’d shown me at the sleepover. It was the story of a cheating wife. After sneaking out of her home, she arrives at the man’s door. He opens it and tears her clothes in half while they still desperately cling to her body. The woman looks unsurprised. He is already inside her by the four-minute mark. Rags of cloth dangle and sway as he penetrates her, over and over. The two don’t share a single word.
Soon, the stories and people changed, but the action stayed the same. Here a woman with darker skin. There a man whose chest was covered in hair. Here a woman with slightly smaller breasts. There a man painted with tattoos. Like some twisted fortuneteller, I knew their fated sex futures before they did.
I consumed and was consumed. Somewhere in between the role of subservient victim and total dominator, I lost myself. This new boy was insatiably hungry. He sported the beginnings of facial hair. Outside his room, he picked a role for every woman he met. Would Suzy be the cheating wife? Would Danielle be the staged rape victim? Would Jessica be the dominatrix? Life outside the frame of his computer screen was fake. He grinned less. He stopped talking at dinner. He wasn’t careful.
The website was divided into categories with corresponding pictures below the links. Click here for Sex! Click here for Group Sex! Click here for Black Sex! Click here for Lesbian Sex! Click here for Gay Sex!
Gay sex? The picture underneath showed two naked men kissing. I shut the laptop and pushed it off the bed, not caring for the clanking sound it made as it connected with my room’s wooden floor. While I stared unblinking at the ceiling, the tissues danced to the hum of the fan.
It’d be weeks before I’d return. My brain had tied the photo of two men to its epicenter. What had I felt inside my chest?
My parents had the basement redone when I was small. The cement floor became a patterned brown rug that all the basement bugs could camouflage themselves against. Bare walls got a spray tan. My parents’ marriage certificate hung from one wall, and on its opposite a painting from my father’s childhood home. In it a snowy town celebrated its day off. Multitudes of children ran through the blanketed streets, their coats each a different shade, their faces all the same. My father and his siblings all found themselves in the photo. I don’t remember which one he was.
I took the stairs down two at a time. At the bottom, my toes gripped into the textured carpet. It stuck up and if I ran fast enough the fabric felt like stiff grass. My laptop lived here most of the day. It emitted a low rumble when it was shut, vocalizing its own longing. We were both waiting for the other to give us a purpose.
As I turned the corner, I saw my father on our cloud-stuffed green couch, scrolling through my Internet history. The Toshiba, with half a Pokemon sticker still stuck on, now a traitor. I tasted metal and gulped.
“Is there something you want to tell me?” he asked, without looking up from the screen.
He let out a labored sigh, as if he were afraid that’s what I’d say. He faced me. The dark circles under his eyes are black half moons. Our eyes don’t meet.
“You know, I can’t even imagine what I would have done at your age. With the Internet you have everything.”
“I found a lot of porn, Tim. And I mean a lot a lot.”
“It’s not mine.” I tried a laugh. “It’s Derek’s. He always wants to borrow it.”
“The gay stuff?”
“I’m not gay. I’m not gay, Dad.”
“Alright, you’re not gay.” He closed the laptop gently.
“I’m not gay.” I repeated myself again and again. After nine or ten times, he left me down there, the laptop now gone with him. My routine, my pleasure, my purpose, all gone. Hanging off the side of the couch, I saw my father’s painting upside down. I’m worried for the children as they run through the streets, looking to grab onto anything to keep from falling into the sky.
A shirtless man sat on his couch as he casually watched TV. His muscles appeared metallic, shiny and activated. The camera panned to outside his home where another man, dressed to look like a typical burglar, attempted to break in. He lifted a window open and shimmied inside feet first. Much to the burglar’s dismay, he climbed inside the window across from the shirtless man. The two began to talk. I skipped ahead.
Their mouths met and my internal battery was charged. After the tissues had been used and disposed, the fan lowered, and the iPod put away, my fingers clicked the window lock out of place. I waited.
The next few months were hazy. Every conversation required me to overthink. If I was asked a question, I had to process my response first. Determine if it could relate me in any fraction to those men in gay porn. Filter it. Respond. A girl at school asked if I’d be her Valentine and I almost smacked her, instead I said yes.
I struck a deal with myself. If I could be straight during the day, then I could allow myself a video’s duration to be gay.
There was a separation though. Their plastic bodies like my sister’s childhood Ken dolls, polished and posing, and my sheen-less skin looking more scale than shine. In the mirror, I grabbed at my pecs and waist and hips and collarbones and hair. Skin stretched white from the pressure. I imagined that if I were a superhero, I would be able to rip the fat off my body and hurl it as pure energy at my foes. What was left behind would be muscle and everyone would see.
I dreamt that I lay suspended inside a cocoon. And through its filmy skin, I could see the silhouette of cocks all bulging, thrusting, cumming, and waiting, always waiting for emergence.
I cried after I came. So much so that I began wondering how much fluid my body could produce before it shriveled into a raisin-like husk. There were times when I thought about adding my blood into the mixture. A stolen kitchen knife waited in my bedside drawer with my iPod. A tired father never noticed its absence. Huddled next to my bed naked, I pressed the blunt edge of the knife against my forearm. Goosebumps ran along my surprised skin. It was an innocent feeling, like a snowflake on an exposed tongue. The ramshackle of nerves that made my body vibrate when men fucked, stopped the pointed edge before it met my skin.
Years pass between my fingertips like water, tangible but impossible to grasp. There are days when I feel older than my father. Days where he turns to me and says from behind his glass of red wine, “You need to work on putting yourself out there.”
Then, there are days I feel as if I’ve never left Derek’s playroom. The rainbow striped wallpaper now like iron bars to a cage. My fingers are glued to the keys. My eyes never look away from the screaming woman again. And Derek sits just outside the door, waiting to hear what I’ve done.