We're launching High School, our 20th issue, on February 13, 2016. Leading up to the launch, we're publishing a series of creative writing and illustrations that celebrate those teenage times for what they were–glorious, hopeless, funny, moving, or just plain embarrassing.
By Matthew Walsh
Brian and I weren’t friends at all. All winter, any time he saw me, Brian would push my head deep into the snowbank, his body pressing against mine, my face buried in the snow, while he whispered, Say you’re a fag. Say it, Lardo. Fat fag.
I wouldn’t. Once, I elbowed him and came up gasping for breath. Snow melted down my cheeks while he ran to the outside metal doors of the school, threw them open, and disappeared inside.
It didn’t matter to me if the stuff he said was true or not. When he pushed my face into the snow the people scattered around us said nothing, or laughed. I didn’t know what to do to make it stop. When I saw him coming, I prepared to take whatever he wanted to give me and part of me thought I wanted his attention, no matter what it was.
At home, Dad said how weird it was for a boy to be so insecure and secretive about his body. I always wore big sweaters and tight jeans. The jeans, two sizes too little, saved me from admitting a 36 waist. They pinched and I couldn’t move in them, but I thought they kept my belly in. I frustrated Dad, who played baseball and besides smoking all the time was in good shape, liked sports, activity. I liked to read, and if I was home and people were skating on the pond I’d say I was doing math homework. But kids never came knocking. Their parents did.
That summer three hairs sprouted from my armpit and a shadow fell over my legs and I stopped wearing shorts. Brian’s mom invited me to their cottage, to keep her Brian company. For swimming too, she added.
I didn’t want to see Brian, didn’t want to swim. I wasn’t a strong swimmer and I hated being naked, showing the hair on my body. My mother insisted. She dropped me off at the cottage with swim shorts, a towel, and clean underwear in a plastic bag. She told me to make friends.
The water has leeches, Brian yelled when he saw me coming down the driveway. I had killed one with a lighter and a stick once. I felt prepared for that, the sucking.
I undressed in a tent. Brian called my name and I peeked out the portal window, watched as he swam out to the dock and pulled himself up out of the water. His trunks slipped down a little bit. He slid them back up with one hand. Through the portal, I saw everyone watching Brian and thought it was a good time to run to the water until the lake covered my legs.
I unzipped the mouth of the tent and ran across the grass to the water, jumping in. When I came back up everyone was clapping. They thought I was doing the jump as a spectacle, the aunts, uncles, and Brian’s mom, nestled at a picnic table under a crabapple tree. Purple, blue, the water was cool with grey-yellow rocks at the bottom. I waded in up to my waist, keeping in the shallows, away from the drop-off.
Brian was kicking his legs in the water, back and forth, watching me from the dock. His nose and ears were covered in SPF 80, and he squinted in the sunlight, shaking his head but interested in me.
I got out of the water, wrapped a towel around my legs, and grabbed a life jacket. I slipped it over my shoulders, buckled it around my belly. If I wanted to go out over my head I wore a life jacket. I couldn’t swim in deep water, panicked when I couldn’t touch bottom. At the edge of the water I dropped the towel and jumped in. The strangers at the picnic table clapped again. I swam out on my back, like a starfish.
I looked at the sky, floating while I figured out my feelings. I felt Brian kick water at me. Swim to the dock!
I did. Brian kicked water at me again. I tried to grab his foot. The second time his toe caught me in the eye. He laughed and I swam to the ladder, blinking, and climbed up. He stood ready for me. I lunged at him and we fell. I got my leg between his legs and I thought our dicks touched. I rolled over him, but he sprang up, grabbed my tits and nudged me over to the edge, near the ladder. He pressed his knees into my back, trying to force me in, my face to the water, purple-black.
He whispered fag before I flipped him over me, his leg scraping against the ladder. He screeched, swam to shore crying.
I sat on the dock, watched him limp towards the house. His mom came out, made him sit, and then turned to yell for me to swim in.
Brian was sitting on a green deck chair when I got to shore, and he was pissed. I looked down at his right leg, all the colours: purple, pink, blue. The bruise swirled like a hair ribbon.
I kept apologizing over barbecue steak, but he wouldn’t talk to me. It got dark and the patio lanterns came on whenever anyone moved. I sat by myself, picking at the leftover food on the picnic table. I felt strong and sad, seeing Brian hurt. I kept telling myself we were even for the snowbank.
Brian’s mom said I had to be more careful about hurting people. I had lifted a whole person over my head.
Matthew Walsh is a queer writer from Nova Scotia. His work has or will appear in Qwerty, Carousel, Johnathan Magazine, The Quotable, Arc, Matrix and HOAX, among others.
SAD Mag is launching our High School edition on February 13 at the Remington Gallery. Join us for an evening of nostalgic school dance fun (minus the crying in the bathroom), magazines, music, drag, drinks, snacks, and more. Event details here.