Late, late August. I'd just turned sixteen. School started again in four days. I'd already left my summer job behind.
Friday night. I was at home. I didn't have a party to go to, didn't have a date, no friends had dropped by. And my mom and my brothers were gone somewhere, taking the car; my brand-new driver's license was valueless. I was alone.
"Alone" was something alien to me, then. I didn't much like being alone. I filled the hours with people and activity and light and color and noise. This evening, the people were elsewhere. So was the activity. The light was gone with the onset of darkness. So was the color. All that was left to me was the noise. My invisible companion was noise.
It was raining, raining hard, this night - the merciless kind of rain that hammers the ground and anything in its way. The landscape danced and shimmered under the dim blue streetlight across the road, the glow reflected on a thousand tree leaves, barely visible here or there through rain-streaked glass.
My upstairs bedroom was one of those architectural afterthoughts, tucked into a corner of the house that otherwise would've been attic space. It was all slanted ceilings and odd angles. The dormer window overlooking the back yard made it livable, gave me space for my bunk beds when I was nine. The other window faced west. My windows gave me the world outside.
This night, as I sat on the end of my single bed, my window gave me only my reflection. This night, dark and so dead to my sight, was alive with sound. The hard rain hammered nonstop on the slanted roof above my head, wouldn't let up, wouldn't let go.
What's it all about, anyway? I was sixteen. Turning point, so they say. What does that mean? What's supposed to be turning? Is it like when you're on the roller coaster? I wasn't introspective. I never knew I'd bought a ticket, gotten on a carnival ride. I just zoomed. I'd been flying, dipping, weaving for so long, I'd forgotten the time I boarded, if I ever knew. I'd been whirled through the depths and heights in a dizzying spiral. Does this ride stop? Does my ticket run out? Or is it a lifetime pass?
Boys. Boys, and girls. I was a sexual boy. "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower", as some poet said in my 9th-grade English book (Dylan Thomas, though I'd forgotten his name). Sweet sixteen, never been kissed, not by another boy. Girls, yeah. Kissing was for girls. Boys don't kiss. Boys suck. I was the boy with the perpetual erection. My penis pointed outward, forward, not down. I thought it was to share, not waste on the ground. I thought it was a blessing, a gift to my friends. Pubescent Prometheus, who came from out of the sky and brought the gift of fire to boys. I showed my friends that boyfire, shared my fireseed. And fireseed was infinite. So I thought.
Now, this night, it was raining, raining hard. Water from out of the sky. And fire's no match for water.
Turning point. Turn the page.
I went downstairs, moving through the interior of the house, a small molecule going about its insignificant business while the elements raged above. I found myself, for no particular reason, in the kitchen.
For no particular reason, I looked out the back kitchen window, the one overlooking our patio. For many years, we'd had a picnic table out there, and an ancient charcoal grill stood nearby under the eaves. The patio meant summer, hot after dark, heat lightning, fireflies. Sparkle and fade.
Seven years and two seasons ago, a small boy with dark brown bangs over his eyes, shivering in his tank top and basketball shorts, stood on that patio in the bitter winter-night cold, and prayed, face upturned, to the snow gods to shroud his world in white. They'd answered my prayer, then. The snow gods were gone now. The patio was made for summer, the season of heat and drowsiness.
But this night, the night of chill rain, there was no heat, although it was August; and I was wide awake.
Rain pounded the window. No one would go out there on a night like this, I thought. I looked out the window. I couldn't see the patio. Couldn't see a thing. All I could see, out there, was the rainwater, pouring down the window in sheets. You'd have to be desperate to go out there on a night like this, I thought. Like looking for your lost puppy, out there.
I looked again in the blackened wet glass, and I saw my reflection, out there, gazing back at me. I turned, crossed the room to the door, turned the handle, went outside.
I stepped out the door and went blind instantly, the night and the rain taking my sight, apocalyptic, into the dark. My other four senses were set on fire.
I thought I knew water. I had been in water, underwater, half my life it seemed. I'd crouched, dripping, and waited for the starter's pistol; I had whipped down the lane and back; I had heard the congratulations; I had seen my name in the newspaper. My hair was always wet; my Speedo was my second skin; my smell was always bromine or chlorine. I thought I'd conquered the water. Now, two seconds after stepping out the door, I knew I'd been deluding myself, like a boy who strikes a match and thinks he's seen the sun. Within seconds, I was as wet as I'd ever been in the pool. And this wasn't the soft, yielding water of the natatorium, where nature is enclosed in a box and marked off with ropes, and boys rule. This water was hard water. I was smaller than a boy- speck, out here. Waterstruck.
Writers speak of "the fury of the storm". Some storms are like that. This one wasn't. No lightning, no thunder, not even much wind. Just a hundred billion invisible touches every second. "Fury" is hot, intimate. This rain was cold, impersonal, directed at no one in particular, and least of all (least of all) me.
I slogged across the patio to the iron-framed lawn chairs grouped in the center, kicking liquid furrows that closed behind me as I went. Down under the sheetflow of rainwater, the cement was cold to my bare feet. The metal chair chilled me as I sat. It was August. I shivered.
I sat for a time, open to the sky, and let the cold impersonal rain hammer me.
My T-shirt and shorts were plastered onto me, my new second skin. My bare arms rested on the arms of the metal chair, my bare legs were spread apart as I sat, open to the rain. I was aware of my spread legs and my soaking-wet lap; I knew that my shorts and my boxers were stuck to me, that my penis and my testicles were plainly visible inside the thin fabric, even though I didn't look down. For boys, it's all on the outside, and when it rains, it shows.
All my life, it seemed, I'd been showing off. The boy with the perpetual smile, always looking outward, forward, not down. It was to share, not waste on the ground. Now what? Turn the page.
I was tired. Tired of feeling like half of me was doing something wrong, liking boys.
I could see the faint blue glow of the streetlight across the road, shimmering on the tree leaves in our backyard. The same streetlight that had shown me Jeff's face, that time we got drunk in the garage at eight years old, only eight. Same streetlight that had faintly illuminated the back seat of my mom's Cadillac, parked in the garage, where Kenny and I sucked each other off, two boys 69ing, in a car both of us were too young to drive. Same streetlight that had led me home, guided me to my door, after so many post-midnight visits to friends. Shining on my back as I carefully, silently opened the front door. Shining on my back, but never illuminating the darkness inside my head.
I grew up going to church. Was this the highway to hell? That's what they said. I didn't believe it. But did I miss a turn on some highway, somewhere? How did I get here?
My voice of reason speaks: Hey, it's not my fault. It's just that we
don't have girls around at school. Boys were just a substitute. Temporary.
(And the back corner of my mind whispers: Is that all? You sure, Danny? Six years. That's a lot of "temporary". And how many "substitutions" have you made, anyway?)
Shut up. We aren't going there.
(You've lost count, haven't you? Lost count around 30-something boys, 40-something? And how many BJs? Triple digits, right?)
(What about Brandon? Lots of girls around at that party. But you got hot for him. So hot you almost fainted. You were so proud of how you got him to come, how you swallowed. What about all those nights with Paul? And what about D.J., and Tim? and Grant down in Florida? and that kid from the Y, you don't even remember his name -- )
Tired. Tired of feelings. Feelings, like the aftermath of that argument
with Kenny. You weren't supposed to feel like that when you argued with
your best friend. That feeling was supposed to happen when you broke up
with your girlfriend. Best friends don't break up. And "best friend",
or just plain "friend" - that's the only way to combine the concepts of
"boy" and "friend".
Boys don't have boyfriends.
(Really? Then why do you miss Kenny, so bad? Why does it hurt?)
Just shut up. Won't go there.
And Alex. Back at the beginning. He moved away, and you went crazy.
Hormones, you know. Just hormones.
(No. Not hormones. That was before puberty - remember?
It wasn't hormones. It was him. You missed him so bad, so bad. And it wasn't just his weenie and his mouth you missed. It was his heart.)
But we won't go there.
So shut up already,
So tired, so tired of feeling like this. Liking boys.
I shut up. I sat silent in the rain.
And I turned my face up to the invisible sky, and let the cold impersonal rain hammer me. A hundred billion invisible touches every second. I turned my face up to the sky. And I prayed.
There was no art to my prayer, this night. It was direct - straight. "I don't wanna like boys. Not like that. I wanna just like girls from now on. Can you change me? I mean, I know you can... but will you?"
I prayed, face upturned, an older, bigger boy now, with dark brown hair brushed back from my forehead, shivering in my T-shirt and soccer shorts. Seven years and two seasons back, the snow gods had answered my prayer. It was a gentle answer. But back then, back at eight-and-a-half years old, I was still mostly innocent.
I shut up. I sat silent in the rain.
No burning bush. No answer except the ceaseless, remorseless, hammering rain out of the sky.
I was looking up, eyes closed, sightless, blind. No answer. Not that I could tell. The rain was revealing my body. What about my soul?
I sat for an unknown time, letting the rain beat me down. A hundred billion.
I'd brought the gift of fire to boys (some gift), and that fire was underwater now, drowned from above, hard rain hammering me nonstop, not letting up, not letting go.
Maybe God doesn't do burning bushes, these days.
Maybe it's up to me.
No answer. Not that I could tell. But I went out here, didn't I? Looking for a lost puppy. I got only the answer I'd asked for. And it was running off my upturned face. My puppy's not coming back home, ever.
So, it's over, then? It's up to me?
Ceaseless, remorseless, hammering rain out of the sky.
Okay, then. It's over.
It's over, it's settled. The page is turned, it's a new leaf. The coaster's at the station. I just like girls, now. Not boys. Not like that. We won't go there, ever again.
Boys, it's been real. Catch ya on the flip side. So long.
It was an awesome party.
But you're too much like me.
Sweet sixteen, never been kissed, not by another boy, boys suck, but girls, yeah, and that's where it's at, and my face is upturned and the rain is gonna wash away my past, and the half-formed dream is gonna slide off my face, like the wet saliva I'd spit into the wind when I was little, even though my mom told me it was a bad idea.
Goodbye, 69. It's 96 from now on. I'm turning my back on you.
(Ninety six? Like 96 Tears, you mean? You're gonna cry.)
But we won't go there, ever again.
You're too much like me.
I sat for an unknown time, letting the rain wash me clean. A hundred billion invisible prayers answered every second. Cold. Personal.
Then I stood up, crossed the patio, opened the door, went inside, the rain stopped hammering me, and the light hurt my eyes. I walked through the kitchen and out through the entrance hall and up the stairs, leaving a trail of water all the way. Later, I'd come back down and get the mop and obliterate my footsteps.