Where You’ll Put Your Next Tattoo

Ages 14-15

These years may have been formative, or maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were a template that I’ve tried to abandon. Maybe I’ve failed. Me, hidden away in my bedroom, watching movies.  School did not exist when I wasn’t there. I rarely saw anyone outside of the designated time I was forced to spend there. My life was alone in the off-hours.

When I was at school, my comments were sparse and sarcastic enough to merit me some form of respect from classmates, and I was left alone and mostly liked. Art class was a minor solace.

As templates go, this one worked for two solid years. I met no one.

Ages 16-17

Of course we all have our theme songs. During the first part of high school, mine was David Bowie’s “Five Years,” because of its operatic desperation, its bellows and strings. Also the world was ending, which had a romantic appeal to me. Next, it was Nine Inch Nails’ “Every Day Is Exactly the Same,” because I think by the time I crawled into junior year I had lost most of my subtlety and decided to dwell purely in the realm of cliché.

Most of the time, it was crushes that I failed to do anything about. Art class girls, with a cheerleader thrown in for good measure. Until very recently, I was built from my crushes, a statue of blinking, pulverized rock, a place of halted motion.

No, that’s wrong. It’s not like anybody was stopping me, impeding some magnificent bird from escaping its cage and spreading its wings. No. It was just me. I wouldn’t leave.

My theme songs gathered themselves into mixes. The people to whom I sent my mix CDs I mostly never heard from again; these were my most tentative of false starts. In their construction, I weighed heavily on my favorites. A little too much weirdness and acidity; the recipients mostly got the wrong impression. Or, perhaps it was the correct impression. The message seemed always: “Yes, I secretly love you and would like to pummel you sexually. But look I am also sensitive and vulnerable and clever.”

Tell ‘em Trent, you delicate pop hook flower.

My minor failures, my false starts and insecurities, a series of tiny cataclysms by which I jettisoned myself forward, quarter after quarter.

For one, I was terrified of driving. It felt like too much responsibility, to be placed in control of this unfathomable, hulking machine and be expected to maneuver it into small spaces. Sex: the same. My body, parked into someone else’s. At times I was convinced I would die a virgin.

______

I think I’ve written about all of my habits: my writing, especially my penchant for smut; my tendency to lurk in public spaces for inappropriate amounts of time without doing anything except watching; every fantasy I’ve ever had.

What else would you expect from a boy who spent all of his time alone in his bedroom watching movies?

A crush in my art class asked me if I’d ever been in love. I wanted to say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” one for every time, for every year I’d spent waiting, but I said something noncommittal instead. Something nothing. This was a week before prom.

Turning 18 meant nothing to me.

Ages 18-19

When I went to college, all that really happened was I changed bedrooms and stopped watching movies. It didn’t take long for me to start folding in on myself again, once I realized that the people there were exactly the same as they were in high school. Now, I hid in the library, staring out the windows, or on benches, doing the same, headphones in.

What else was there to do but keep watching?

I made passivity a major part of myself, a twisted and extremely self-centered version of the waiting game, which I justified with the example of emotionally-restrained British dramas and characters from Haruki Murakami novels. I plotted that serendipity was just around the bend. If I had to wait years, then I had to wait years.

My theme song changed to Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” because everything about that song is wasted space, because I could not figure out how it sounded the way it did, and because it was great to listen to while staring up at the ceiling. It alternated places in my brain with angry Elvis Costello. I blame Elvis for all of my spite.

Meanwhile, the crushes continued. I watched and watched. I made stupid, elaborate plans to fabricate meetings. When things went as planned, I panicked and couldn’t follow through. I’ve been a consistently late bloomer.

I’ve always masturbated like a girl, facedown.

Ages 20 to present

Here is a tip for someone: if you’re trying to prove to someone that you’re not romantically screwed, do not share with them an unfavorable comparison between the amount that you texted them and the amount you texted the last one.

I met two of these high school crushes a year ago, for the first time since graduation, together. Our reunion lasted less than an hour. I left the donut place where we’d met — one of these horrible little dives of nostalgia; everyone met there in high school except me, though it stands alongside the route I took to school every day—amazed at how little they’d changed. In the preceding two years I’d gotten used to hugging people; in the parking lot, they flinched. I wondered if I was better off for feeling so different. I decided probably yes.

When I returned to college my junior year after a semester abroad, very few people recognized me. Some even insisted that I had never been there before, like I was some imposter trying to fake his way through. I did look different, but not so different.

I could point to different benches around campus and say, “I’ve haunted there.”

_____

It hit me a few days ago: I am now a twenty-something. Twenty and one.

From here. From here. From here, I shudder.

And I’ve been thinking: how does a confessional pop song differ from an essay like this?

But I’m getting better. I realized how scared and angry I’ve been, and have attempted corrections.

I am interested in trying new things. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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