One time, when I was 17, I broke my boyfriend’s penis.
We had been cooped up for days in his mother’s basement which had a kitchenette and a bathroom and a TV, so we saw no reason to leave. This was summer in East LA, so the sounds that floated in our window were of chickens and barking dogs and car alarms. One time, there was a foot chase that we watched cautiously out his bedroom window, the tottering, overweight policeman tripping down the ravine with his flashlight, the person he was chasing already lost in the dark.
In the midst of this, we were two quasi-intellectual weirdos, content to read poetry, eat peanut butter sandwiches, and screw each other’s brains out. Which is what we had been doing for a full 72 hours before I broke his penis.
As to how it actually happened, I am still unclear. My experience was this: It was the middle of the night. I had taken my contacts out, so I was almost entirely blind. The room was dark. We had tried to sleep, but we simply couldn’t and had started touching each other again. He pushed inside me and faster than I could register he leapt off of me and was screaming horrible piglet-y bleats. I scrambled to get to the lamp. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?”
“It’s my dick!” he cried. “Oh no,” he said, “Oh no!”
I turned on the lamp but this didn’t help much since my contacts were out. I kept asking to see it, to see what was wrong, but in my blurry vision it just looked kind of red — I couldn’t diagnose what had actually happened.
“It has turned inside out,” he said. “Parts that should be on the inside are now on the outside. Oh god!”
It was four in the morning. “Do you want me to get your mother?” I asked.
In general, my boyfriend avoided his mother. She was an Irish Catholic nurse with a heavy commitment to socialism. Her new husband was actually the head of the LA communist party. She was an insanely, even dementedly practical woman. She also told horrific stories about the nursing home where she worked. I did not expect that he would want to involve his mother in this, but it was the only idea I had. But he surprised me. “Yes,” he said. “Go get her.”
I stumbled out of his bedroom and into the basement living room, only to realize I was nude. Surely I could not go wake his mother up nude? I grabbed an afghan from the couch, the kind that is full of holes, and wrapped it around myself and climbed the dark stairs to try to find her. First I looked in the bedroom she shared with her new husband, but all I saw was his huge blanketed body hooked up to a sleep apnea machine. I didn’t know what a sleep apnea machine was, so this was pretty terrifying. Frantic, I started just opening doors, and finally I found her in a spare bedroom, sleeping in a narrow single bed.
“Your son is hurt,” I said. “You need to come downstairs.”
She was a pro. “Alright,” she said, having already woken from a full sleep and gathered that this was an emergency. “How is he hurt?”
“I can’t say,” I said. “You have to just come and look.”
I led her down stairs. We opened the bedroom door. There was my boyfriend, naked, pacing around the room, just sobbing as his wounded penis bobbed up and down. I still couldn’t see exactly what was wrong with it.
“You stay out here,” his mother said, and shut me out of the bedroom. I waited in the dark in my afghan. I heard her muffled voice, “Let me see it. Let me see it.” I heard him whimpering. Then she cracked the door. “Baby oil,” she said to me. “Hurry.”
I bolted back upstairs and began going through their bathroom in a frenzy, baffled by so many boxes and tubes and containers whose labels I couldn’t read without my glasses. Finally, I found a bottle of what was definitely baby oil and I raced it downstairs to them. I knocked and his mother came out. She took the bottle from me, then said, “I need you to show me how his penis normally is.”
I looked at her blankly. She held up her hand and pulled the sleeve of her nightgown over her fist. “Is it normally like this?” she asked.
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I nodded anyway.
“Does it ever go like this?” she asked, and pulled the sleeve down around her wrist.
“No!” I said.
“Well, he’s uncircumcised,” she said. “It should go down like that all the time.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“Christ,” she said, and headed back into the room. I waited in the dark. I knew what an uncircumcised penis was. I had even seen one before. But I had not been able to detect that my boyfriend wasn’t circumcised precisely because, well, his nightgown sleeve never went down over his wrist. It stayed up, tight and clinging to the fist. It just looked like he had kind of a big urethra. That’s what I had thought, that he just had a kind of weird, gaping pee hole.
I listened to his mother begging for him to hold still and then I heard a horrible howl of agony. I clutched my afghan around myself in the dark, twisting the old, scratchy yarn in my fingers. She opened the door. “All done,” she said, and swept off and up the stairs to bed.
I entered the room. My boyfriend was still pacing around in the yellow lamplight. I climbed under the bedspread, leaving the afghan on the floor, relieved to be warm again. He wouldn’t sit down or come to bed, but kept pacing, afraid that if he sat, his foreskin would slip down again. He was just calming down when his mother barged back into the room.
“I just have to see it again,” she said.
“No,” he said, and began backing away from her, covering his penis with his hands.
“I just have to see how it is normally,” she said.
“No,” he said, and actually started to run from her. Her instinct, and I have to believe that this had something to do with her being a nurse or a Catholic or a communist, or maybe it was the bizarre alchemy of all three, was to chase him, reaching out and trying to catch hold of his penis with her hand. My boyfriend leaped on top of the bed and jumped over me and down to the other side, and his mother followed, tumbling over me. They were running circles around the room. A mother chasing her son is usually a scene of innocence and childhood play, but in this case it was four in the morning, he was naked and she was in a long, white, almost Victorian nightgown, and both of them were screaming. I wasn’t about to enter the fray, in part because I was naked and blind, but also because they were lunatics. It was silly and scary at the same time.
“Hey, hey!” I shouted. “Enough! He doesn’t want you to touch it! Stop! Stop running!”
They stopped, both of them panting.
“You can look at it in the morning,” I told her. “We should all go to bed.”
In the morning, we all ate breakfast together tensely, chewing our Corn Flakes as loud as cows. “So,” his mother began.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” my boyfriend said.
I couldn’t help it, I just started laughing. They both glared at me.
“You’re going to have to get circumcised,” she said.
My boyfriend sighed.
“This is a serious medical problem,” his mother said.
In the end, he didn’t have to get circumcised, and was given instructions to simply loosen his foreskin by massaging it with oil, instructions he then promptly ignored. His penis was allowed to remain the way it was. I do not know if it has ever broken again, as I am no longer the one who puts his penis through its paces. But I remember and cherish that scene: him running, naked thighs flashing, penis bobbing, her gasping and chasing after him in her old-fashioned white nightgown, the dogs barking outside. I am sentimental about that whole era in all its tragi-comic greatness, that liminal place between childhood and adulthood: lounging around having nothing to do, eating peanut butter sandwiches and then kissing, our breath childish and hot.
His was the first penis that I loved, and the only one that I have ever broken.