STRICKER 500Some girls wrap a jump rope around my neck and drag me across the asphalt of the St. Bruno’s School parking lot. Jackie has been pinning me to the ground with the stones of her knees so she could kiss me… and now this. “They were trying to kiss me!” I tell the nun, as she rubs salve on the red ring around my neck.

On the school bus, I sit next to some older boys. They push me out of my seat. I think it is funny. My mother tells me I should not sit with them. I have made a mistake. They are not my friends. Quentin is also older, but in my grade because he was held back. He invites me to his house for Halloween. His father tells us a story about a woman who rises from the dead, and another about a man with a golden arm. Years later, Quentin hangs himself with a pair of jeans in a temporary holding cell.

One day our teacher tells me that I am now a “peer counselor.” Instead of going out for recess, I have to stay inside and talk to kids who are having problems, as though I have answers. “My brother hates me,” says Nicole. My entire knowledge of sibling relationships is gleaned from watching Family Ties. I tell her that Zach is probably just jealous of her. The Challenger explodes.

We are singing O Little Town of Bethlehem when one of the twins faints, his mouth still rounding “O” in the back row of students. His brother stands as if he’d sloughed off a skin of himself. We’ve learned this somewhere—a brother standing above his brother. For a long moment no one moves. Then someone kneels to pick him up, a crumpled boy lost in deep, dreamless sleep.

If the kickball goes over the fence into the woods, someone must get it. Rumors emerge from the trees: people having sex, a satanic cult sacrificing blonde girls. Tree roots jut from the dirt like femurs. I pick up the largest rocks I can find and throw them at Marc’s head. I’m not a good aim. I’m not sure what will happen if I hit him. All I know is that I want it to hurt. Marc is a liar. Valerie, the quietest girl in class, kicks the ball. It hits Doug in the face. Blood explodes from his nose.

When I turn twelve, I receive a lot of horrible misinformation about sex from the usual source: Catechism class. The important thing, as always, is that we feel ashamed and afraid. Our instructor warns us that premarital sex will make us yell out other women’s names when we tried to make love to the one we will eventually marry. “You know how it feels good when you poop?” he asks us. We don’t. Well, anal sex could lead to a ruptured something-or-other, and the girl could bleed to death. “How would you like to explain that to her parents?” he asks.

During mass, I scan the pews for Melissa’s golden hair. One day in art class, she talks to me. Something like hope grows inside. But then I hear the rumors: She let Kevin touch her breasts. Years later, Kevin pleads guilty to robbing an 81-year-old woman of her life savings and is sentenced to five to ten years in prison. “These kids,” the woman tells a reporter, “they want money or whatever they can get to sell for money, and they’re too lazy to work for it.” Though that doesn’t explain why he’d smashed her statue of the Virgin Mary.

I’m a faggot on the bus ride home from school. I eavesdrop on girls in Algebra as they complain about their boyfriends. Mostly I wear headphones, spend time silent, daydream violence. It could be worse. I could be the girl whose face one guy smacked with his dick in the back seat of the bus. He can dunk, is great on the baseline, plucks rebounds deftly from the backboard.


Mark Stricker lives in Bethany, CT. His writing has been published in journals including Otoliths, Wag’s Review, Word/For Word, Web Del Sol, and Tell Us a Story.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore