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"Powering Through," short story excerpt

Saturday 10/8/22

My roommate Troy in college was adamant that in high school he'd been able to suck himself off and casually brought up the subject often, though always in private with me, as if this is what roommates were for. He was very specific in detailing these undertakings, which he talked about like we were two mature people, and sex—even self-sucking—was a health concern that two aforesaid mature people discussed without expectation of giggles or chiding, the way a kidney stone would be or a high-ankle sprain or backed-up digestive plumbing. From the first, he was as precise as an engineer.


"I didn't just get the tip in," he'd say.


Super, I’d think. Just super. They stuck me with the eighteen-year-old embodiment of that fellow from the Nantucket limerick whose wish had come true, perhaps with the aid of a yoga course conducted on a Cape Cod beach.


But he wasn’t close to done. If ever a person was invented for the justification of the phrase, “Wait for it,” it was this kid.


"And I powered through that pre-cum,” he added with a flourish that was nonetheless as stolid as a matter-of-fact remark delivered by a valued straight man. “I got the full load."


Had I suggested to him then and there that we put "Power Through the Pre-cum" on a T-shit, I bet he would have suggested we drop out and become entrepreneurs. The way he spoke it was like everyone out there had their heads in their laps and a cramp in their necks, and he’d just been a little bit better at getting to the promised land.


He was similarly forthright and exacting with his masturbation stats.


"My one day record is twelve cums," he told me one time when I asked if he had always been this way, by which I meant odd and twisted, and he took to mean fecund and libidinous, but again, in a healthy way. He said "cums" as a commodity, like he measured the quality of a day by the quantity of its cums, or day-traded the stuff. Tonally, "cums" could have been "dollars,” but also “an increment of a life well lived.”


"Or wait,” he continued. "Do you mean in one sitting? Then my record is nine. Those were actually different days."


It was like having a conversation with a grid of stats on the back of a very weird baseball card.

After the Christmas break, he started calling it practicing, these efforts to pleasure himself with his own mouth. Might as well have been talking about free throws. We didn't get any girls and maybe that would have put a stop to it if we had. I’d have to find another place to stay when I came back home because he’d be at it again, with yet another hook up, but at least I wouldn’t have to look at him wondering what the hell he’d been doing before I knocked on the door to my own room.


This one girl I had been working up—hat's how I thought back the--whom I'd met the first week told me at the end of that first semester freshman year that it never was going to happen. I'd made what I thought was a veiled reference to future romance, but I was probably as obvious as a nor’easter to a girl who already knew better about boys and what the charitable and delusional too often term young men. After that we weren't friends. If there had been a point—that is, if I stood to gain in the ways I wanted to at the time—I would have been too embarrassed anyway.


She had a lot of threesomes, and, alas, trains were run, too, which became something she was known for. We had a class together the next year and I made some crack that conflated group study and group sex. When word play goes wrong, it's not like you can bang a U-turn and head back in the right direction. You’re committed. Or exposed. Or, in my case, revealed as jealous. That was me, as naked in the middle of love’s lost road as my roommate on his bed when he’d blithely, even instinctually, play with his ass as he read his chemistry textbook, but only after a shower, thank Christ.


"We're not here to be old," she told me, with a finality and disdain in her voice worthy of the scary neighbor across the street who mows his lawn like he wants it to die and is thinking hard about snuffing out his wife at the end of his chore, so no, he doesn’t care to buy a candy bar to raise money for your hockey team. But in reality he probably just lost some money on the football game, or the crab grass is back again, and his wife is a lovely woman. A blessed life.


Troy would go so far as to suggest that we practice our cocksucking, as if he was trying to turn me on to weightlifting or pot. Our self-sucking. You can get there, he advised, if you put the work in. I was pretty sure he meant for me to be on my bed and him on his, doing this at the same time, at least for the first few times, as he gave me direction. I didn’t tell anyone about this guy because I figured I would have been incriminated simply because I hadn’t moved out or filed an official complaint with the university. He was actually a good guy the rest of the time. He was the first person I ever knew who liked jazz. Previously, I thought those people were a sort of human rumor. They weren’t really out there. He encouraged me to listen to Coltrane and I came to love every note that beautiful man ever played. But I declined the offer to practice self-sucking, so Troy strove on alone, on his back, legs over his head, which he advised was the only way, and you needed a hard surface, but not too hard, or else your spine would let you know. He drank a lot of green tea. Very holistic.


Once he informed me that Suzanne Somers had cured two types of cancer she had with homeopathic remedies alone, in record time, when modern medicine likely would have failed her. He told me the Mayans incorporated semen into what was an early form of cocoa. He knew a lot about Mayans. They were the healthiest people in history up until that time, he maintained. You wouldn’t want to fuck with them, and his implication, it seemed, was not because of their savagery, but because they drank their own hot seed in their hot cocoa. Eventually the entire situation became more about etiquette and personal space than anything, and as though ours was a classroom I’d mistakenly entered into when the class I signed up for was down the hall. This kid was so damn free with the nudity, which was the portion of his beliefs that I had to witness visually. He'd sit on his bed and read a book naked. I'd ask him what he was doing and he'd say "air drying," but it's not like he had just showered and I wondered if this was a subtle reference to drying cum or like he was always leaking at least a little. Like he was always on. Do you know what I mean? Perpetually primed for battle. Patton used to tell the troops to live your life on the balls of your feet. Always ready to go. Always, in fact, going. One year at hockey camp, on the threshold of interests I didn’t have quite yet in full, but was developing, I asked this older kid if when you had sex with a girl you were cumming the entire time you were inside of her, like a tap had been turned on. “Sure,” he said, able to stop himself from laughing, or else maybe he thought I was telling him something.


There was this kid who bullied me in high school. He wrote poems as well, which is an odd manner of bully. It was an all-boys school. They have different dynamics. He sat in front of me in English class and played with his long, greasy hair. Wasn't supposed to be over the collar, but he was that sort of kid who gave the man the finger by putting the word "fuck" in poems he wrote as part of our composition homework and read them, bad words and all, in front of the class, and knew where to find unreleased Velvet Underground shows. He was the first person I heard say the word “torrent,” which seemed like an important word. I didn’t even know you could apply it to a river.


Also: We had this beautiful music teacher. One of those beautiful souls in a beautiful body. Entirely too good for us, in my view. I wondered what had happened to her that she had to take this job. She wanted to share music because she believed it could transform your soul, and if she could connect you with that music, that's all she wanted in life. That's what I mean by a beautiful soul. But God she was gorgeous, too. A slip of a human meant to pass between the cracks of doors just when you thought all of the goodness in life was locked out.

She was so excited to play us Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and the kid who bullied me said, calm as you please, "You mean Dildo and Anus."


The beautiful soul didn't say anything. No rebuke. I could tell she was hurt. Not that she wasn't being taken seriously. It wasn’t personal for her. That’s why she was better than us. But what she wanted more than anything wasn't going to work to the full degree that she hoped. She was unsure how to power through, as it were, unless one was to count to keep trying as a method. But you always want an alternative, though, don’t you?


Our desks in English class were really close together and the dandruff from his scalp would cover my book. That was worse than any of the intentional bullying. More demeaning. And that was when he wasn't even trying. People will say to you, "I didn't mean to hurt you," as a way of absolving themselves. But that hurts more, because it wasn't a choice; it was how they naturally regarded you. Or didn’t.