“I was much further out than you thought, and not waving, but drowning.”-Stevie Smith
At least once a day, when he is occupied with his music and oblivious to anything that is going on around him, I stare long and hard. My eyes scan over him in a loose and lazy fashion.
I notice the Chia Pet-like hair that is at just the right length to annoy him; he buzzes it every winter break even though girls constantly tell him to grow it out. He likes it short and so do I.
He can easily pull off the pseudo-intellectual, artsy look with his modern, black-framed glasses that separate him from his frat boy, khaki-pants wearing friends. I see robin’s egg blue irises set off against thick and dark giraffe-like eyelashes.
I have always envied his perfect skin. He has a hint of a farmer’s tan on both arms, even though he loathes the outdoors. He doesn’t know that he’s a fine specimen, but I do.
Damn, I thought to myself. I am one lucky bitch.
Between periods of producing rap mash-ups using Ableton Live, tapping away at his MicroKorg keyboard, and fiddling with the failing headphone jack, he somehow manages to stroke his coarse beard by reaching his left arm up and over his head, cupping his chin.
Such a habitual gesture is a sure sign that he is Facebooking.
“What in the world are you lookin’ at?” asked my boyfriend with a flirty smile.
“I’ve been caught. Yikes.”
“Oh, I was just staring at you,” I stated with conviction.
He motioned towards me and gave me a sweet but brief peck on the lips and returned to his Macbook Pro.
“A Mister Joe Mcknown just friend requested me. Mmm hmm . . . yes he did, m’am.”
“It’s pronounced Mckown. Oh, lawdy lawd.”
Sometimes, My boyfriend and I spontaneously switch between various accents to counteract boredom.
Kirby, who humbly shares his name with the vacuum brand and Nintendo video game character, calls it a kind of Tourette’s syndrome. He and I can handle the Southern belle twang pretty well.
“Well Miss, looks like this Joe person wants a good ole’ chat with me.”
“Joe person? Don’t you remember? Joe is the ex-boyfriend I told you about.”
“Oh, I see. Your brother’s best friend, right?”
“So this is the same chap who didn’t know what a boner was?”
“What the fuck, Brit. How the hell could you date someone who didn’t even know about his own dick, seriously? He must be inept or something.”
“Yes, I realize that was a mistake, but I just wanted to take care of him and teach him things. I dunno . . . I really liked the idea of corrupting him.”
“What the fuck. That kind of pisses me off. I still can’t believe it. That also doesn’t make any fucking sense. Corrupting and taking care of are two different things, Brit.”
I was concerned with Kirby’s change of tone and the fact that the silly accents had died off. I gingerly bit the right corner of my lower lip while my chin quivered.
“Oh, babe. It’s O.K. I ain’t mad at you.”
“I’m sorry. Yea, It was kind of stupid of me to have been with him, but I just wanted to help. He has an undiagnosed disability, but he isn’t dumb.”
“What are you apologizing for? Why don’t you just give me one good reason for why you were with him.”
“Alright, let me think about it.”
Kirby put his headphones back on. I lingered on the subject and wondered why I ever dated a guy people labeled as “retarded”.
* * *
Joe did not look mentally disabled. At the time, He was a rather handsome fifteen-year-old, teen-idol look-a-like.
I was initially attracted to Joe because of his delicious looks.
He is tall, has the broad shoulders of an athlete, a lean torso, wide and icy blue eyes of a Ken doll, a freckled button nose tanner than the rest of his face due to the habitual wearing of Oakley sunglasses, and a symmetrical smile complete with dimples.
He has a ridiculously Southern accent, the kind that would confuse and impress you at the same time. He possesses more energy than can be harnessed (this is why he runs six miles a day), and the most amiable demeanor I’ve ever witnessed.
But I soon learned that there was definitely something off about him. Sometimes he would involuntarily jumble words up in his head. He would blurt out incorrect phrases.
He would exclaim: “Brittany is my boyfriend.”
“No, Joe. I am your girlfriend, not boyfriend.”
“Oh, oh. I know that. You are my boyfriend.”
”Mmmm k. Sure.”
I was constantly correcting him and it appeared the sentences only came out correct by accident, not because he knew what he was articulating. I praised him anyways, like a good Boy Scout who earned a new patch.
Joe was not easy to help because of his unknown mental condition. For the first month of our relationship, I was grounded due to the failure to clean my room, to schedule a DMV appointment, and to improve my history grade.
My cell phone was taken away and I was forced to sneak onto the home phone late at night.
As soon as my parents closed their bedroom door and turned off the floodlights, I ventured into my pitch black closet filled with layers of clothing and misplaced items to talk. Our conversations were dull, and he always confused me.
“Joe, you look like you would play Basketball.”
“Brittany. Where the heck did you see me playing basketball. Where? Huh? I wanna know.”
“No. I am just saying you look like a basketball player.”
“What do you mean? I play baseball.”
“Um. Never mind.”
When I eventually did get ungrounded and my cell phone was returned to me, Joe left a chain of identical messages. He always branded his voicemails with his signature, unnecessary tagline.
“Hey, its your girlfriend . . . boyfriend. Just calling to see how my boyfriend’s doin’. This is your boyfriend, Joe.”
Not only was he difficult to converse with at times, but he reverted back to childlike behavior in certain instances.
When I would try to make any sexual advancement, he would drop his shoulders and sob like a naughty puppy that had just been scolded with a rolled-up newspaper. I just wanted him to play the excited recipient of a first kiss, not morph into an infant in my arms.
Better luck next time, I thought to my worried self.
My friends repeatedly told me to dump the fellow, but I persisted with the relationship, only to wade deeper in bafflement.
Once, I had gone to watch Joe play on the Varsity Baseball team. I greeted him with a friendly chest poke in between the metal of the netted fence. He was peppy as ever. Outlined by a billowing jersey, the Under Armor form-fitting shirt displayed his muscular upper-body perfectly.
“Hey, Joe. When are you going on the field?”
“When are you playing?”
“Brittany, this is Varsity. I am the bat-boy.”
“What the heck, Joe. I came to watch you be bat-boy?” I was borderline furious.
“Gotta go.” He feverishly jutted off into the parking lot to retrieve a pop-fly ball. For the remaining disappointing two hours, I walked around the school grounds with my brother, Branden.
As Joe’s best friend, my brother often became inflamed with jealousy. When the three of us vacationed in Florida, I strolled the beach holding the hands of both my brother and Joe.
When I attempted to pull my arm away from either Joe or my brother, a pathetically immature swatting of hands resulted in a loss of handholding privileges.
Throughout most of that spring break, I felt like the babysitter who invited her lover over for a rendezvous while the child was in the other room napping; I had to tiptoe around for the most part.
When our intimacy finally surpassed a mere kiss on the cheek, my brother was in the same room, fast asleep. Joe and I held our breath over the white noise of the television.
We glanced over at Branden who was on the same couch as us. The remote control slipped from Branden’s grip and bounced momentarily, then rested on the sandy cushion.
My brother didn’t stir. Joe nodded a gesture of consent; I scooted to the left, situated my body in his lap and faced him. He grabbed my waist and we began to make-out, but I pushed him back after about thirty seconds.
I whispered in his ear, “Wait, we should stop. What if Branden wakes up?”
He whined “so.”
He enthusiastically pulled me closer and began to sweat and moan.
I held my finger up to his moist, freshly de-virginized lips. “Ssshhhh . . .”
“I can’t help it, Brittany.”
I was nervous as hell, but I was in mid-corruption and couldn’t stop.
I motioned him to touch my breasts, to which he proceeded to robotically squeeze.
He didn’t really know what he was doing and didn’t want to venture any lower on me, so I hesitantly rubbed his dick through his running shorts.
For someone who didn’t know what a boner was, I was pleasantly surprised by the outlined bulge I witnessed. Joe relished the sensations, but I just could not enjoy the moment; I felt dirty and like I was treating Joe as a sexual conquest.
Suddenly I heard a yawn. I quickly shuffled the blanket over our bodies.
“Oh man. What time is it?” asked Branden.
“Late,” I steadfastly responded.
My brother was clueless about the five-minute session he had so heavily slept through. We called it a night and each of us headed off to our separate beds.
I lay atop the covers for half an hour, staring at the ceiling fan and it’s oscillating appendages, while thoughts loitered in my cranium. All of a sudden, a trapezoid of light flooded the room, and I popped up when a shadowy figure appeared at door. It was Joe.
“Brit . . . Brit . . .”
“Joe, you can’t be in here. Your mom might come down here.”
In a surprisingly solemn voice, he said “But what do I do about this?” He motioned his hands, palms-out like he was displaying a magic trick, towards his erect member.
“I don’t know. You know how to wack-off don’t you?”
“I don’t know what that means . . . how do I make it go away?”
“I . . . I can’t help you. Just go to bed, please.”
He started to whimper as usual. “O.K. Good night, Brit.”
As I watched him leave the room, an immense rush of guilt filled my head. He wasn’t exactly retarded, but something was fucked up, and I didn’t think it was fixable.
It’s primal nature for a teenage boy to touch himself, and Joe hadn’t figured this out yet. I thought I could corrupt him. I thought I could teach him. I thought I could help him. “Shit.”
* * *
Kirby took his headphones off. “Well, do you have a reason for me yet?”
“Well, let’s hear it, girl.”
“Ugh . . . did I mention he was good-looking? Is that good enough?”
“Well, then . . .“
“ . . . So really you don’t have a reason?”
“Yep. You got me on that one. You’re right. It was a dumb move on my part. You win. Do you still want to chat it up with Joe Mcknown?”
Kirby chuckled. “Oh, hell no.”
Smith, Stevie. “Not Waving But Drowning.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 4th compact ed. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 843. [POEM]