Fiction. Originally Published in Rocks, Philip's Chapbook from The Alley Cat Books Residency

I keep the circumstances of my scar to myself. They can have my mouth, my dick. Sometimes I’ll fuck them if I’m feeling vulnerable. They can know where I live, my eye color, how tall I am, my HIV-status. But my scar—that swath of hashtagged flesh that traces a line from my eye socket to my right ear—that’s mine.

This is sort of the story of a pickle. Not a pickle one finds in a hamburger or in a green jar. Nor is pickle a sexual inuendo. I mean the sort of pickle I discovered watching my older brother play baseball. The sort of pickle in which you become stuck between two options, both relieving you of your place in the game. Making you out, not safe. If you could run around your dangers, you might be able to make it to base, you might be able to keep playing, but no. One will catch up with you, and you’ll have to walk across that strange desert, back to the bench. Back to the line where you must wait, maybe, for your next turn.

I went to all of my older brother’s baseball games. He wasn’t a star by any means, but he was well-liked and was a valuable member of his little-league, and then high school, teams. He played first base. I went because we did everything as a family. I went because his teammates were beautiful. As a child, I wondered if their bulges were actually that big, only to be disappointed in my adolescence to learn protective cups were the reasons for all those strained zippers. My dreams dashed by hard plastic. I still went to the games, because in all the public restrooms of all those parks, I could see dicks first hand—those of the players’ fathers’ and older brothers’. The dicks of strangers and men jogging down the paths.

There was one season in high school when my brother couldn’t play. We’d gone snowboarding and coming down a modest hill, my brother hit a snow-buried tree stump, breaking his femur clean in half. He needed multiple screws and pins and was in a cast the rest of the winter and some of spring. Friends and family came from all over California to shower him with affection. Our aunts brought plates of food. His buddies snuck in beers, and there were a few times, when our parents were out wine tasting, when a girl (or two) would come over.

“Do you play sports?” my geometry teacher asked me when I was a sophomore.

I shook my head no.

“But, your older brother. Everyone knows he’s a sports guy. Guess you’re not, huh?”

I remained silent.

“Fag,” someone whispered behind me. Everyone laughed, including the teacher.

The best time to get sex at the adult book store is late in the afternoon, just before sunset. That’s when guys like me—jobless, young stoners—are awake enough to be horny but still haven’t figured out what they’re going to do with their day (or life) yet. The adult book store is called Rocket, and it’s down on San Fernando Road across the street from a K-Mart my mom used to take my brother and I to when we were kids. The K-Mart is gone, but the building is still there. Chain-link surrounds the empty parking lot where weeds have broken through the pavement.

There’s nothing like one of those golden, California afternoons when the sun is hot and the day feels endless. The sky is bright instead of blue; everyone is moving, and getting a nut is the only thing that matters.

That’s also the best time to go to Griffith Park. Less hot guys cruise Mineral Wells for whatever reason. You get older guys at the park, guys who might be homeless. Doesn’t matter to me. The crackle of the leaves on the ground as someone is on their knees blowing me is intoxicating. The breeze is gentle, the sun quiet. There are stories of a Mineral Wells heyday, when it was a veritable orgy every afternoon, like it used to be up in San Francisco. I don’t know about that, though; I’ve never been to San Francisco.

Rocket is cleaner than the parks. Safer, in a way. It’s air-conditioned, dark. Everyone sort of knows what to expect. The staff don’t care.

Each booth has a glory hole. I’ve gotten some other younger guys in there—some high school seniors who told their mom they were going for a bike ride, community college students on their way to their part-time jobs, those young dudes who work at mobile phone companies taking a break before they have to go back to their kiosk at the mall.

My faggot status was my only visibility. If I was seen, it was only because I was gay. I talk to therapists about it now that my parents believe me and pay for it all. They now know what it did to me, that it made me a sex addict. Now they know.

There was logic behind my scar. There was a reason. I’ve written about it in short story classes. These are not like official classes, mind you. These are just writing groups I find online or whatever.

“But, why didn’t you tell your parents you were being bullied?” is what I’m always asked.

For the longest time I didn’t have an answer.

On Facebook, I follow the life of one of my bullies. When we were in junior high, he told his friends that if they didn’t spit on me during lunch, he’d beat them up. I had to dodge phlegm and saliva for two weeks. We had English class together. He read everything quicker than everyone else. He was in the gifted math class. He used to punch my arm every time he walked past me. I hid the bruises from my parents and my older brother. That bully now has three kids and a wife and a job. They live in a small condo a few cities away. I’ve seen their furniture at Target. I’ve seen their lives, similar to all those straight people who leave us behind—the stained clothes, the comfortable sofas, the televisions from Costco and the refrigerators filled with deli meat and oat milk and baby carrots. I’ve seen the messy, micro-fibre blankets strewn on beds with too many pillows and the pile of toys in the corner, and the waffles, and the parental controls on the iPads. The streaming video accounts, the shelves full of trinkets rather than books, and the heterosexual held hands that don’t get shouted at in the street. The commiserate camaraderie of friends whose bodies have also been changed by reproduction, who are also tired and need a nap, but wine will do, and have you heard about so-and-so? Her kid bit so-and-so’s son at the park last week. Ah well, probably serves the kid right. He’s a little effeminate, you know. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Did you get that coupon in the Target ad this week? I know, I’m going to go pick some stuff up for the kids’ lunches. But I don’t really love their produce. Oh, I love that picture frame. I saw one just like it at the dollar store. Oh, that’s where you got it? I love that place for party supplies. By the way, I had such a good time at so-and-so’s birthday party. A circus theme but with no clowns. Genius! The photos looked great on Facebook. And did it even happen if it’s not on Facebook? That’s where we live now, Facebook and by piles of dirty laundry. Ah well, that’s the life of a working parent these days. Are you signing so-and-so up for baseball this year? Remember when so-and-so broke his leg snow-boarding and couldn’t play that season? That was so sad. But we all rallied around him and took care of him. But, yeah, you have to be careful with Facebook. You never know who’s watching. I mean, I’ve almost forgotten all those people we knew from middle school and high school. If they didn’t become parents like us, I sort of let them fade away, you know? What are you doing with your life if you don’t become a parent? Like, join the rest of us and be miserable. Of course, some can’t, but then again, were we ever friends with them anyway?

Look at that last paragraph. Where is the bullied kid? He’s drowning in the middle of all that straightness. No one sees him. He’s barely registered by the vacuous narrators.

Some become calloused. Some harden. They grow tough shells to deal with the razors of the world’s blinding, beckoning light. Some are raised by parents who did their best. Some are raised by parents who tried to kill them. Some make it. Others die.

And then some of us aren’t tough. We are still afraid. We still go to the parks, and Rocket, and the spas. To the porn theaters, the public restrooms. The grassy hills behind the beach, the mall parking lots, and the saunas at the gym. And some of us went to the backyard to find the sharpest rock we could and held it up to our faces thinking that we might possibly be seen if we did something drastic.

One day when my older brother’s leg was healing, he was playing video games in the den. I walked by to get something from the kitchen.

“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Come here.”

He paused the game, and I sat down next to him.

“You know you walk like a girl, right?” he asked.

I stared at him. I hadn’t considered my walk. I wasn’t aware there were “boy” or “girl” ways to walk.

I shrugged.

He continued: “I just—look, I know what they say about you at school. Mom and Dad are totally worried that you might be a queer. I just don’t want anyone to think you’re a fag, okay? You’re not a fag, right? I, of all people, can’t have a fag little brother.”

I shook my head.

“Good,” he said. “All right. That’s settled. We gotta toughen you up, rough you up a bit, you know? I’ll think of something. You’re a big kid. Maybe football when you get to high school. But, look. I break my leg and they practically wanna make me freakin’ mayor around here. We’ll figure it out. All right, lemme get back to my game here. Love you, dude.”

Logic: If I’m roughed up, I’ll be a man. Seen, respected. Not a fag.

Earlier I wrote I didn’t used to have an answer to the question “Why didn’t you tell your parents you were being bullied?”

I have an answer now: If I told them, I would have had to come out.

How can you tell someone you’re in danger when it will put you in danger?

You don’t. So, you let them tag you out. You choose how to exit the pickle.

I go to the spa. When I was eighteen, they’d let me have a locker for free. Now, I pay for a room. The rooms are barely rooms. Everything is dark, so I don’t exactly know how it all works, but the walls don’t meet the ceiling, which is exposed, just like the patrons. Wires hang down, whilst fans and vents whir above the “rooms.”

I disrobe, tossing my clothes on the small bed (a cot, really). I turn the TV off, and wrap the towel around my waist.

For twenty minutes I sit in the jacuzzi. A few others join, and we fondle each other under the rolling water.

I go to the sauna, where I watch two guys older than me blow each other. I jerk off for a bit. I try to join, but they brush my hand away.

In another dark room, I get my dick sucked for about ten minutes.

On the roof, I wait in line to bareback a dude in a swing. I almost cum in him, but I decide to wait. I’ve been here less than an hour.

I shower off and go back to my room where I turn on the TV and watch some porn. I’m jerking off pretty steadily when there comes a knock upon my door.

“Hey,” a cute blond says, walking in. He is younger than me but not by much. “I saw you on the roof. You haven’t cum yet, have you?”

I shake my head no.

“Let’s take care of that, but you have to promise to cum inside me.”

I nod yes.

We are both already covered in lube. I cum fast.

When I think he is about to leave, he wraps his towel around his waist and plops on the bed.

“Come on,” he says. “Sit with me. Let’s snuggle.”

I have no interest, and he can tell.

“Come on!” he says, laughing.

I sit beside him. We quickly fell asleep.

I wake up after what feels like an hour. He is still beside me. It must be nearly four AM. He is staring at me.

“You did that to yourself, didn’t you?” he asks.

“Huh?” My mouth is dry.

“This,” he traces my scar with his right index finger. “It looks like mine.” He then traces his own trauma across his chest. A thick, deep gash, dark with scar tissue. “I did it when the bullying became too much.” He pauses and then says, “You gave yourself that scar, huh?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I nearly lost my eye.”