THE FIRST TIME I smoked weed I was in my friend’s bedroom during my freshman year of high school. We had grown up together and had become practically inseparable as she excelled beyond the rest of our peers in all things that, at the time, seemed adult and mature: boozing and boobs. She had developed early on in puberty while I was still waiting for armpit hair to grow in. She was sporting crop tops and bending older men to her will, while I was constantly being mistaken for a twelve-year-old. At restaurants, waitresses still asked if I would like to see a kids’ menu. And cashiers at the movie ticket booth always seemed skeptical when I requested a ticket to a PG-13 movie.
Fast forwarding into adulthood was an intoxicating idea, and I was determined to spend as much time with her as I could in the hopes that her maturity would rub off on me. She carried herself with an air of “I really don’t give a fuck what you think because I listen to Bob Marley and skip school.” She exuded a confidence that I could only dream of possessing.
After an unremarkable school day, I told my mom we would be going to my friend’s house to do “homework.” This usually was code for buying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and binge watching horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes or House Of Wax as we sipped cranberry vodkas, which were the only mixed drinks we knew how to make. My friend’s house was always the best place to get into youthful trouble because while my parents would not allow me to bring a glass of water into the living room. She had a mother who seemed to have no problem giving free reign to a couple of fourteen-year-olds.
As we walked up to my friend’s aging two-story house, a boy was leaning up against an old beige Honda Civic, smoking a Camel and biting his thumbnail. Now would probably be a good time to tell you all that I used the word “boy” loosely. In retrospect, this was a 20-year-old man. If I were a smarter 14-year-old, I would have realized just how creepy it was that a 20-year-old would hang out with 14-year-olds rather than spend his time masturbating or drinking PBR.
Recently, I looked him up on Facebook through some sleuthing and the only pictures he has available for public viewing are ones of him shirtless at some promotional event for a club. He looks surprisingly different than how he did back when I met him, but I imagine that’s what aging and a ton of cocaine will do to one’s body.
I’m not sure how my friend wound up meeting Erik. He was of medium height and had cropped light brown hair. He accentuated his sizable muscles and tattoos with a ribbed white tank top, which I thought was ridiculous even at the time. If life experience has taught me anything, it’s that if you electively choose to wear a Hanes wife-beater and you’re not a mechanic, you’re not to be trusted. My instant sexual attraction to him was based purely off the fact that he had a penis and I had a penis — along with hidden desires to touch one that wasn’t my own.
He finished smoking his cigarette and smiled a crooked smile. “How was school, kids?” Saying this with a wink. “It was good, real good!” I replied, my voice cracking slightly. Part of my fourteen-year-old self found being talked down to extremely sexy. It’s one of those turn-ons that in retrospect I find confusing
My friend suggested we hang out in her room, and Erik nodded and threw his cigarette butt to the ground. We all walked into my friend’s house and extracted a bottle of tequila from the booze cabinet. After closing the door to my friend’s room, we began to gluttonously down shot after shot with no chaser, which made me feel like I had just sat through Oldboy entirely without flinching. After three shots apiece, Erik pulled out a small, rainbow-colored pipe from the book-bag he had slung over his shoulders.
Humming to himself, he began to pack something into it. When he was finished, he pulled out a lighter and handed the pipe to my friend. Taking a rip, she exhaled and let out a half-giggle, half-cough.
Erik motioned me over to where he sat with his index finger, and when I obliged, he pulled me toward himself. Whispering into my ear, he said, “You could be a model, you know that?” When you’re 14 and in the closet and covered in bulbous pimples, kind words about your appearance can really cloud your sense of judgment. Mixed with the tequila, and flattered by a creep, I felt bold and sexual. “Hand me that pipe,” I told my friend.
“Are you sure you can handle it?” she questioned.
“Yes, absolutely,” I said, taking the pipe from Erik. He then held the lighter for me and instructed me on how to take all the smoke into my lungs. “Suck in hard, allow it to fill you up,” he said.
“So I just put it to my mouth…and suck?” I asked him, trying to be seductive.
I put the pipe to my lips and nodded to him to light it. As instructed, I sucked in and took a deep breath. Immediately I began to violently cough and sputter. My throat felt like it had been lit on fire and no amount of deep breaths could quell the burn. At first I didn’t feel anything besides the sharp stinging in my throat, but after a few minutes, my legs began to feel loose and my friend’s tie-dye poster began to slowly swirl clockwise. I steadied myself against her desk proclaiming, “I need to eat, or I need to use the bathroom, I need…” The words seemed to stick in my throat.
“Here, I can show you where the bathroom is,” Erik said. His eyes were glazed over but at the time I felt an electric shock pass between us. In retrospect, I was just stoned out of my mind. I had been to my friend’s house on numerous occasions and knew exactly where her bathroom was, but I wasn’t convinced in my ability to walk at the moment. I also wanted an excuse to get Erik alone. “Sure, yeah, can you show me?” I said.
He took my hand and led me down the hall, softly whispering into my ear, “You’re going to be okay. It can be intense the first time. Don’t panic.” I thought his words were soothing and they kept my heart from feeling like it was about to burst out of my chest. As we reached the bathroom door, I stepped forward only to have him pull me back and hold me against his body. He began to rub my back, my butt, and my chest. “Um, I’ll be right back,” I said, pushing away from him and closing the bathroom door behind me.
Standing over the sink, I began splashing cold water on my face trying to sober up. What was going on? What was I doing? This was so uncharacteristic of me. I spent most of my time in school fighting off accusations about my sexuality, not getting high and letting boys rub me up and down. I need to pull it together, I told myself. I promised I would step out of the bathroom and tell him that I was straight and ask him not to touch me anymore because it made me uncomfortable. I had been slowly building up a facade of heterosexuality I projected to all my peers, and I would be damned if some man with a barbed wire arm tattoo was going to ruin that.
When I got out of the bathroom, he wasn’t standing there like I had expected him to be. Instead I walked back into my friend’s room to see the two of them sprawled on her bed, whispering and giggling to each other, as if trying to come to a consensus on something.
My friend looked up at me with a smirk that felt like she had been just let in on a dirty secret. “Well, I think I need to use the bathroom! Be right back!” she winked at me as she left, closing the door behind her with a slam. To this day, I don’t think my friend was trying to set up a hook up between the two of us. I’d prefer to think that she left to get Pop- Tarts or something like that. My sexuality was never discussed during our friendship. However, I think she had her suspicions; anytime when we would hang out together, I would suggest we take the Cosmo sex surveys and ask her what it was like kissing men.
“C’mere,” Erik said, rubbing the empty space next to him. He held up a shot glass, one in the shaped like a woman’s rack, filled with tequila. “I poured it just for you.” I took it from his hand and downed it, placing the glass down on the nightstand and slide next to him.
“You want to kiss me, don’t you?” he said, pulling my boyish body towards his muscular, toned one. Without waiting for my answer, he shoved his mouth onto mine and began rubbing inside my thigh. At first I went along with it. I felt so mature, drinking liquor and making out with college-aged boys before I was even able to grow facial hair.
After a minute or so of being drowned by his tongue, I began to grow nervous. His hand kept lingering on my belt, playing with the skin between my belly button and the top of my jeans. This was all happening so fast. I was not ready for more than a peck and we had already escalated to the point where his tongue was practically punching my uvula. In a moment of clarity, I pushed him off of me seconds before my friend came back into the room. I like to think that even at that age, I had a level of self-preservation that has only come in handy once or twice in my life. Pushing a grown man off of me was probably one of these times.
“Did you two just kiss?” my friend asked us, smiling a smug little grin. “You look flustered.” I immediately got up from the bed and announced that I needed to get home before dinner. Although my friend’s house was a few miles from my own, I refused to call my mom and have her come to pick me up.
That night I cried myself to sleep. I felt so careless and stupid and stunted. Hours were spent rolling around in my bed, scenarios running through my head in which my classmates who taunted me day-in and day- out found about my alleged sexuality due about my brief moment with pot and penis.
The next day I signed onto AIM to a message from an acquaintance: “Heard what you did! ;)” I began to panic and profusely sweat immediately.
Fuck! Fuck! The jig is up. I’m caught, I’m fried, and I’m done. What will mom and dad think? What will my friends think? Ugh, what the fuck am I going to do? Think fast, you can back track, you can salvage this.
“I was just really drunk please don’t tell anyone else I kissed him, I didn’t want to it just of happened. Please promise me you won’t tell anyone else.” I sent back, hoping to inspire some sympathy from her. Instead I received the message, “Uh, I was talking about the pot…” before she signed off.
I spent the rest of the weekend pacing my room, biting my nails and wondering how quickly my AIM faux pas had traveled around the school. Growing up in Chester, New York, I went to a school that consisted of 90 students per grade. Our school’s mascot was Hambletonian, which I guess was the name of a “famous” racehorse from back in the day. From my extensive literary research, I found out that Hambletonian actually only won a single race in the entirety of his career. He did, however, father over 1000 other racehorses. If a daddy horse that peaked too early in life isn’t the most perfect mascot for students who have little to do besides fornicate and smoke weed before class, then I don’t know what is.
The thing about Chester was that the moment students decided to stick a label on you, it stuck for the rest of your time there. You were put with the same 90 students, and you would be with them for the next 13 years. I had been branded the “gay guy” long before I was even slightly sexually aware. I think it was because I preferred to spend my time with girls, passing our time putting milky pen makeup on beanie babies and playing elaborate games on the playground that strangely mirrored the plot of Anaconda. The way my classmates treated me, though, you would think I rolled through the halls on skates while wearing a crop top, throwing glitter into the air to the blaring soundtrack of Hairspray. This meant that they preferred to keep me at a safe distance at all times unless they were mocking me.
That Monday at school, as I walked through the hallway, heads slowly turned to snicker at me. “Faggot” bounced off the lockers between classes and one brazen boy even confronted me: “What’s it like kissing another dude? You homo!” I quickly discovered that my admittance hadn’t just been over instant message to one person; the entire school had been informed. I had spent years getting angry and denying rumors about my sexuality because I was afraid to let them all know they might have been right in sensing there was something different about me. However, through one afternoon of debauchery and a single AIM conversation, I had outed myself to the entire school.
My close friends did not react in any negative way to the rumors circulating that day, and instead chose to fill our conversations with more pressing matters: television and online video games. Although my other friends were wonderful, I avoided the particular friend with whom I had partied. When she came to sit with us at the lunch table, I remember excusing myself from the cafeteria and heading out of school through the back door. There was a wooded area that ran along the edge of the building where I always imagined horny teenagers would give each other hand jobs after class. It was here that I cut through the trees, determined to walk the three miles home. I remember being angry, the kind of angry that makes you want to throw up just so you can get the rage out. I remember screaming into the deep woods as I trekked back to my house.
Eventually I had to stop faking head colds to miss school. My parents unknowingly sent me back to school so that I had to face all my peers for whole days at a time. At first, people continued their whispers, but then, in typical high school fashion, everyone moved on. I spent those two weeks denying what had happened to anyone brazen enough to ask me. People grew bored with my refusal to acknowledge their insults and went back to sniffing glue sticks. On occasion I would be taunted on the bus or told to turn around in the locker room because boys were worried about undressing in front of me. But after those two weeks, the taunting seemed to hurt me significantly less.
I would out myself online again when accidentally copying and pasting a MySpace survey and forgetting to change the answer to the question “What are your interests?” from the previous girl’s answer of “pink, shopping, and boys!”
At the time, I thought these incidents would ruin my life. I thought they would completely destroy my relationships with friends and family and that I would be cast out. When you’re in high school the mistake of divulging information to the wrong person can seem disastrous. I spent countless hours in my bed, my stomach aching with worry because I was afraid of someone finding out about my sexuality.
Back then being a homosexual was something that I had not even begun to fully understand. Now that I’m older, I’m not afraid of sharing those things anymore because I’m slowly learning to be comfortable with every part of my identity, even the most revealing parts. I used to be afraid of holding a boy’s hand in public, the jeers of my past coming back to me in waves. But I’m not afraid anymore, and that lack of fear feels like a satisfying middle finger in the air.