You know how recovering alcoholics can get that look in their eyes? That one that affirms, “I don’t need mind-altering substances to have a good time!” They’ve been able to rediscover that child-like ability to find happiness in simple things…things that don’t make you throw up or have sex with short people. I can only dream of this fountain of youth. How refreshing it must be to be unafraid of conversation. How glorious it must feel to be in touch with one’s feelings. Then I look at my gin in tonic and say, “but you’re so magnificent.”
I already went through that sober phase. Hell, I went through that shit before I even tasted my first drink. In high school I was a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions (also know as S.A.D.D.). I initially joined because it acted as drama club II. Everyone from drama was in S.A.D.D. because the events and assemblies sponsored by the club had a dramatic flair. They were natural partners. My favorite was the Mock Crash, in which two totaled cars were brought onto the football field to simulate a post-prom drunk driving accident. Before the student body arrived for the show, we were splattered with fake blood and stuffed inside, around and between the cars. Some played dead, some injured and some drunk. Once everybody was seated in the bleachers, the macabre tableau came to life. The injured actors were put inside ambulances, the drunks were taken away in cop cars and the dead ones zipped into body bags. Sometimes real-life parents were in on the act, weeping for their dead children as the vice principal consoled them in her arms. This little touch made it all more real, just in case the hearse and stretcher weren’t enough. The display left the student body both disturbed and confused.
I can proudly say that nobody got killed by a drunk driver after prom that year. I’ll just take a moment to pat myself on the back…
Besides the fun (and morbid) reenactments, being in S.A.D.D. gave me an instant superiority complex. My peers were drunken retards and my membership in that club exalted me above them. In addition to being more attractive and exceedingly intelligent than most of the people in my school, I had better morals. “Did you just call me a fag? Well at least I won’t give birth to a deformed child and miss graduation, you beer whore!
As the football team drank beer and fucked cheerleaders in the woods, my drama nerd friends watched scary movies in my basement with orange sodas in hand. Hours were spent in the park behind my house playing capture the flag. Adrenaline rushes were found in rowing an inflatable boat across the bay at two in the morning. High school was a time of endless creativity and unsurpassed fun. Like puppies, we could entertain ourselves with obscure and ridiculous objects. Many nights were devoted to testing the patience of the staff at the local diner. How many waitresses would allow us to order a cup of coffee for a candle in the shape of a Precious Moments figurine? Would people look at us in horror as we spoke to it like a child? How about when we light the wick after it threw an imaginary temper tantrum? (“That’ll teach you to talk back to your parents, you wide-eyed little ingrate!”) A rare breed of teenager we were.
There were a few peripheral friends from other schools who got tanked every weekend off moms’ malt beverages and their unavailable dads’ beers. We only mildly associated with them and were timid about fully integrating them into our group. Especially the kids from Southern High. They were trouble…they smoked pot! Garsh! I already looked at cigarette smokers like they were wearing KKK regalia. To see someone smoke something ILLEGAL would have caused me to wet myself in fear. Thankfully, I never witnessed such an act and my underwear was left dry.
To me, the label “straightedge” was taken literally. Emphasis on the straight. My budding affections for people with penises caused me worry. Semen could be just as detrimental as vodka so I steered clear of both. Alcoholics drink mega-gallons of diet coke instead of booze; I would date a girl instead of a boy. Same principal, right?
Upper classmanship was finally mine. I needed to at date at least ONE girl during my high school career or I’d be painted as the old, gay maid of Central Regional High School. It was a very stressful time in my life. I easily confused my fascination with someone’s ability to project a joke all the way to the back of an auditorium with love. ENTER: JESS BENCH, an active member in Southern High School’s drama club. She was loud, funny and ginger haired, just like the most influential women in my life: Ariel (the mermaid) and Rose (from Titanic). So when she expressed interest in me, of course I liked her back.
A plan was hatched. I needed to show Jess that I was her Prince Eric (not Jack because he dies). My friends were the little sea creatures, luring us into a blue lagoon for our first kiss. I would plant one on a very specific area of her face, a place that would let her know that I was into her, but not rape-her into her. This location danced the line between neutral kissing territory and the boyfriends-only zone. The side of her upper left lip would receive my saliva stamp. If she reacted well, the gay spell placed over me would be broken and we could sail off into the sunset as a chorus sang the final reprise of “Part of Your World.” If she grimaced, I could claim to be a European with bad aim.
Nerves got the best of me and I missed the target completely. My lips landed somewhere on her temple, maybe even grazing an ear. Fortunately the incident tickled my victim, fortifying my persona as a court jester. “Oh, that Jeremy.” As she giggled and pulled her hair behind her ears, all I could think about was my bad aim. It had to have been the universe’s attempt at rescuing me from the talons of heterosexuality. I resisted its help and let those sharp claws dig into my pristine gay body, forever scarring me with the memories of life on the other side. Like the survivor of a motorcycle crash I would look back at those scars and vow never to hop on a that bike again.
Deep down I knew it was wrong. At school I preached about good judgment. Then I walked out the door and went on dates with her. A bad decision. Oh, the hypocrisy. My downward spiral began with that botched kiss. Then it moved on to a date to see Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Soon we were making out in her ’89 Ford Something-or-other. At least if I were doing drugs, I’d receive some kind of enjoyment as my body went to shit. But swapping spit with Jess was a joyless assault on my being. As we kissed, I kept thinking, “When will I start liking this?”
I should clarify that Jess wasn’t the reason I didn’t like Jess. She was a lovely person. I was just confused. I thought I wanted to date her but what I really wanted to do was braid her hair and call her “honey.” I liked Jess. I just didn’t like Jess’s vagina or large breasts. I didn’t like them so much that I never even let them come near me. I’d kept our relationship in G-rated territory and would go no further. I had successfully found a princess to kiss, just like my favorite movies! The plot of our direct to video sequel involved me scratching my head and wondering, “Now what?”
]I wanted to call the whole thing off but I had no reason to. I couldn’t blame it on faggotry because I wasn’t ready to come out. We got a long swell so no giant fight could take place. So I fooled myself into believing that she was bad for me. I’d break up with her because I feared for my safety. With the Southern Regional kids’ reputation for drinking and drug abuse, I convinced myself that Jess was a user.
“I think I smelled pot in her car,” I announced to my lunch table.
“All her friends are stoners. I’m not surprised,” someone said.
“Yeah, it’s bad. Her car reeks of it.”
In reality, I’d never even been around pot. I had no clue what it smelled like. I knew that hippies smoked grass so I assumed the scent was similar to that of a thrift store in upstate New York. Poor Jess. If she had worn Curve like everyone else she’d be in the clear, but her affection for patchouli body oil triggered by delusions. Her tree hugging perfume became residual marijuana smoke and her giant, patchwork purse a transport for blocks of crack (Does crack come in blocks?).
“I can’t believe she smokes. She’s a singer,” my friend said with a look of repulsion, like Jess had been running a puppy mill.
“I know. What a waste,” I lamented. Then I let out a sigh and took a swig of chocolate milk for dramatic effect.
“So are you going to break up with her?”
"I’m going to have to. I just can’t be with a drug user. I’m in S.A.D.D.”
Jess Bench’s name was literal for me. She was a place of waiting, of contemplation before making the first major steps into my new life. Shortly after likening Jess to the villain in a Scruff McGroff comic, I began rehearsals for a community theatre atrocity. The lead in that mess of a musical was Chris. The show was so bad, most people with a single ounce of self-respect would have dropped out. But I couldn’t leave him. We were each other’s saving grace. Yes, we could have left together but then we wouldn’t be able to hang out every night after rehearsal. The more I saw Chris, the more I believed Jess was smoking crystal out of light bulbs. I ignored her calls and let the one almost-heterosexual relationship I’d ever had fizzle to nothing.
Free of her grasp, I held my breath and took the first step over the threshold of Chris’ dazzling world…