On Looking for Love in Places Without
Originally published in Clamor
My happiest memory of childhood is staring at the goldfish and carp in the pond at Wheaton Gardens, their shimmering bodies darting just underneath the surface. But I could see the edge of the pond—the fish would never escape. My father was everywhere, I wanted to scream HELP. I wanted to scream HELP. I wanted to scream HELP. I didn’t know how.
At recess, I'd trade stickers with the girls: My favorites were the Hello Kitties and Holly Hobbies that my mother wouldn't let me buy. I wanted to get all of Holly Hobby's purses. I'd talk with the girls about how much we hated boys—they were so immature—while the boys waved sticks at us and called me sissy. Faggot. At home, there were faces in my blankets, monsters under the bed. I couldn't sleep in the dark.
I read Watership Down in third grade, because it was the longest book they had at the school book fair. I can't remember if I'd read all the Hardy Boys before then, and then the Horatio Hornblower series, but in fifth grade, I finished the last of the Agatha Christies. In sixth grade I read War and Peace, Crime and Punishment and Buddenbrooks. My teacher held a meeting with my parents because she was worried I was missing out on my childhood, she wanted them to read to me.
My grandmother Fran had an enlarged photo of me as a baby in a picture frame in her den. In the picture I was so chubby, my father pointed to it and said: most fat babies grow up to be fat adults. I stopped eating. When my mother put a whole chicken on my plate, I said I only want one piece. My mother told me to eat what I wanted. I didn't want to eat. One night I counted to five and then dumped the chicken into the trash. Slammed the door to my room on my father slamming against the door. I was studying.
Sometimes my father looked like he was about to tell the funniest joke. He turned to me and said Is that all you're going to eat? His face got all red and his eyes grew wide and I wanted to grab his wrists until his hands fell off. But I practiced how to look right through his eyes until my face went blank like no one else was in the room; then I'd won.
At 13, I had several revelations. I didn't want to hide in the bathroom at recess anymore. I didn’t respect my parents on any level, and so I would never have a relationship with them again. I needed to become more outgoing, to express myself in a way that allowed me the space to scare people. I wanted to be different.
I wanted to leave, but I thought I needed my parents for money, I still believed that I had to beat my father at his own game: to go to a more prestigious college, make more money, live in a nicer house—I felt, doomed -- I saw no way out.
I remember the first time I threw an empty bottle of gin in the air and listened to it smash. I loved that feeling in my head of moving diagonally upwards and back. I wanted people to think I was crazy.
I was standing at a urinal right next to someone, which made me nervous but my father was always yelling at me to get used to it, what was I so afraid of, any normal kid would just pull it out and piss. He didn’t even know that I jerked off to pictures of guys in onion-skin shorts, that I planned to live in an East Village commune, that at 13 I already searched frantically for the right cream to eliminate the bags under my eyes.
But back to the urinal, I was staring straight-ahead at the wall so I wouldn’t get accused of looking, but I could still see what was next to me, which was this guy's dick sticking straight out after he dropped his right hand. My heart started pounding, I didn't know how to breathe. My dick got hard and I covered it with my hands. I stood there for a while, facing straight ahead with my eyes looking diagonally down to the left. I didn't know what to do. I dropped my left hand.
I reached over to touch this guy’s dick, and he reached for mine. Someone came in, I stuffed my dick into my pants and practically ran. Never again, I promised myself. Never again.
I was back a week later, then several times a week throughout high school, sometimes several times in the same day. Always promising: never again.
On weekends in high school, Erik and Keidy and I would drink pitchers of margaritas at Las Rocas, an El Salvadoran bar where they didn't card. Keidy said that El Salvadorans hated Guatemalans, but they were always trying to get her to go home with them -- she’d point to me or Erik and say that's my boyfriend. The guys at the bar would burst into hysterics, they'd ask: why are you hanging out with these two faggots? We just smiled and smoked cigarettes.
We talked about how much we hated our parents and how stupid everyone was and how we wanted to give up and just drink all the time but we had to get into good colleges. After three pitchers, we couldn't do much else besides sit stupefied and wonder why we drank, it just made us sad. Then we’d take a taxi to our father’s office, my weekend getaway, and smoke bowl after bowl of pot while listening to “Jane Says,” the Jane's Addiction song about an abused girlfriend who stays with her junkie boyfriend – we’d play it over and over again, singing along until we passed out on the carpet.
On weekends when I didn't drink, I'd go dancing with Ellen to Tracks, the gay club on alternative night, and we’d flail our arms and legs to "Tainted Love" on the outdoor dancefloor. Driving home, we'd talk about feeling trapped, feeling like we could never do what we really wanted to wanted to get away. We both liked The Replacements, they had a song called "Sadly Beautiful," and that song was about us.
The US started bombing Iraq during finals week of my senior year in high school, 1991. I remember staring at the TV at the college cafeteria where I was studying. I couldn't study anymore.
I succeeded in going to a more prestigious college than my father. I became vegetarian, identified as queer, reveled in newfound freedom. I wasn't learning what I wanted to end school, everything I learned happened outside of the classroom. Especially doing activism against the universities racist and classist admissions policies. We organized rallies and took over and mean University building, got arrested, held press conferences, road manifestoes. The university didn't care.