by Edward Fabian Kennedy
Sandra Morgan stood across from me; with slow motion horror we simultaneously shifted our eyes, our gazes moving gradually down my body, as if following the descent of a long string of drool. Past the chin. Down past the chest. Past the stomach. Stopping right above the waistline of my pants. But jutting out a bit. And pointing upward. Reaching for the stars.
I harbored an enormous crush on Sandra Morgan. Her large, steel-rimmed glasses and shiny braces were just what the doctor ordered for my thirteen-year-old libido. We shared four classes that year, developing (what I was sure was) a mutual crush in the process. My bulging crotch promptly and clearly signaled the end of any “mutuality.”
Biological drives made middle school an extremely difficult period of time for me. Painfully common case in point:
“Jim, can you write the answer on the board?”
“Jennifer, can you write the answer on the board?”
“Edward, can you write the answer on the board?”
Sweating. “Umm.” Twitching, wiggling, cross-legged. “I can’t.”
“Edward,Why are you always so difficult?”
“I, uh…I just can’t.”
“What is wrong with you?”
You don’t yell at someone if he has sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis or hemophilia. Why? Because they’re genetic disorders. They’re not his fault. Common decency prohibits criticizing something beyond a person’s control. Especially when what’s beyond control is a horrifically uncontrollable congenital issue.
While erections may not quite be on par with sickle cell anemia, they did stain my adolescent life. Before you criticize or jump to unsavory conclusions, take a second and mentally number all the places and situations in which erections don’t fit into the context or, worse yet, in which they’re downright (upright?) offensive. Still numbering? The answer is: pretty much everywhere. We spend most of our lives in places where erections just don’t fit. In fact, mother nature can get you into a boatload of trouble with this. Just imagine a guy strolling by a busy playground and you get the idea.
Unlike many congenital issues, this one usually gets better with time. Perhaps it is a matter of getting older, in that the urge fades with age, or one learns to deal with it by thinking about their grandmother or work or final exams. Perhaps some people just lose the impulse altogetherand don’t even have to worry about it. But this doesn’t apply to everyone, especially those who have just finished puberty.
Just seeing the back of Sandra’s scrunchy-wrapped ponytail was enough to prohibit me from being blackboard-ready. I always had to give myself a minute or two following the ending bell to sit with my eyes closed and meditate on my grandmother knitting. Usually this caused the plane to land, but sometimes that didn’t even work. Luckily, the blood wasn’t out of my brain all the time, and I learned coping techniques for my condition. I wore loose pants with large pockets for the old Twist and Tuck. Or, if it was stuck at a really obvious angle, there was the more direct Grab and Shift, but this necessitated a level of manhandling inappropriate for public consumption. Basically, I found ways to deal.
Or, at least, I tried. For those facing a similar fate, hopefully you don’t fail. Because, despite my very best efforts, I did fail. Very, very publicly and oh so miserably, on a spring day in my Home Economics class in 8th grade.
Ms. Thompson, an impatient, stocky lady who spit when she spoke, was teaching us how to sew. My mother had taught me to sew as a young child, like all very masculine children, so I thought myself something of an expert already, and masterfully prepared to sew circles around my less-skilled brethren.
The project we had in our hands was what might be called an “organizer,” though it was basically just a series of pockets that hung from a wall. Where, in a normal house this would go, I have no idea. I had never seen felt wall-hangings with pockets before.
Over a few periods, the class cut large rectangles to serve as the main part of the felt tapestry and smaller quadrilaterals that would serve as pockets. After affixing the pockets to the tapestry, we then were directed to decorate it.
By the end of the third class period dedicated to this, most of us had finished, so we compared and contrasted and basically mocked each other’s shitty creations. One in particular, that of my friend Derrick Gaross, had cutouts of trees where the upper part—shaped like broccoli but supposedly the branches—didn’t extend as far outward as you would expect.
Without a hint of self-consciousness, he pointed these out to us with the clandestine pride only a fourteen-year-old boy could demonstrate for such a monstrosity.
“They’re cocks,” he giggled.
And he was absolutely right: They looked exactly like a forest of green penises.
But while Derrick was showing off his abstract genitalia, I glanced over my shoulder to see what Sandra had created. While pretending I was really focused on what I had done (I put moons and suns on it because circles were easier to design and cut—much easier than abstract cocks), I wandered in her direction. Her back was turned as she focused on her construction.
She wore these little plaid shorts, hiked up just a bit too high. Glancing from the back of her scrunchied hair to her shorts, something downstairs moved. I halted, frozen; it was time to abort mission. I had just begun my about-face as she twisted around.
I was facing away from her towards the wall, downstairs projecting outward like a weather vane, when she called to me. “Hey, so how’s yours?”
Looking over my shoulder, I smiled nervously as she held up her immaculately decorated wall hanging. We’re talking unicorns, rainbows, flowers. As if Picasso had made one of these pointless wall-hanging organizers.
I glanced at my intergalactic piece of shit, then at my expanding lacrosse shorts, then back over my shoulder, and shrugged, hoping to show nonchalance. “Oh nothing.”
She squinted towards my monstrosity, her eyebrows clenched in confusion. “Oh, it’s not that bad. Let me see.”
If I could take the next moment back I would. It would’ve changed the course of my year. Maybe even my life. But she broke out the smile, shiny braces peeking through like headlights. She was very convincing. There was no room for retreat.
I turned slowly, thinking my wall-hanging would cover my unrelenting wood. I made sure to keep eye contact with her, breaking it only while pointing and explaining my art with the focus of an art critic, trying desperately to keep her focus up, above the belt.
I then felt a shift in my shorts, as if blood was leaving the basement and taking the elevator back up to the attic. Relief washed over me. Fairly confident that things had subsided, but needing to make sure, my eyes slowly wandered downstairs. Of course, her gaze followed mine.
Our eyes met after we simultaneously viewed my full-on erection poking out and northward, pushing forth my lacrosse shorts as if it was trying to escape and jump into her pants, which it probably was.
Her mouth flew open. She mouthed a silent “Oh my god,” then turned and fled over to her friends.
A few seconds later, whispering was followed by laughter.
I returned to my group, not saying anything, my mind racing through thought, alternating between pretending to be paying attention to my friends while simultaneously pretending to not be glancing over at Sandra’s giddy, laughing circle.
After that incident, she never spoke to me again. All through the rest of middle and high school and up until our graduation. We went from being friends to my not even being acknowledged in the hallways. I had gone from flirtatiously pulling and snapping the straps on her bra to trying with all my male teenage Jedi mind tricks to coerce eye contact. But all to no avail.
She went on to sitting at the popular table during lunchtime. I fell a few rungs down on the cool hierarchy, as judged by my lunch table: A few fat kids with huge glasses and others wearing trench coats. Not exactly high school royalty.
I know that, in many ways, I have been fated by my biology, by my congenital issues. Some memories, as proof of this, stick out more than others.