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Personals - Memoirs

I’d Like to Have a Lover Like Yours
October 1, 2005

Sometimes Brett would cry, which made me angry

by Marie Lyn Bernard

I am sleeping with my gay best friend. He is an inch shorter than I am and when he smiles his face brightens like a kid on a Jell-O commercial. Sometimes he asks me to shave the back of his neck with his electric razor and I try not to worry when his olive skin flares red from the blades; I try not to stop and set the razor onto the white sink edge and say there is nothing I can do to him that is so close to hurt.

I lost my virginity to him two years ago; I was sixteen. At seventeen I met another boy, a boy with serious eyebrows and tightly cropped dark hair, with long arms and fingers that curled and swung like an orangutan’s. When Brett got angry he would throw things and pound his fists against surfaces, he’d kick the pavement until he'd stubbed every toe. He would lunge at me with his arms in the air but always turn away, vexed, before touching me.

Sometimes Brett would cry, which made me angry because I wanted him to be straighter than my best friend in every way. I wanted his ripped stomach to stand Text Bitefor something beyond the push-ups he did in the morning; I wanted his unyielding chest to mean that he was man, that when he curled his body against me in bed, sweaty and peaceful, that I was safe, that I was embraced by a man who might turn to stone by morning. I wanted a hardened body to outlast the clumsy wiring of the human heart—those threads of veins that can knot and then stubbornly fail a man like my father, who was running, actually, when his heart stopped.

On the Greyhound bus Brett was reading Mamet and I bit his shoulder to get his attention. He said, “Ow,” and rubbed the spot I had bit and scowled at me. “That was so unnecessary,” he said. But of course, he didn’t hold a grudge. Then I remembered you can’t bite just anyone. I remembered that he was not a stone. I remembered that it was my best friend who had the fetish about biting, who once pulled the collar of his shirt down to show me the tooth marks above his nipple, told me about the boy who bit him there and told me that he liked it.

Timmy is his name, the best friend. Everyone except me calls him Tim. Brett is thin and almost entirely muscle but his legs are small and only as thick around as the legs of a dining room table. In Cape Cod, Brett wears shorts to the Fourth of July parade and then says he wishes he hadn’t. “I have chicken legs,” he says. “I thought I was over being self-conscious about them, but I’m not. I really do have chicken legs.” I look at his legs and remember my father chasing chickens on my Grandparents’ farm. I remember how he ran with his shoes slapping against the hay and his arms outstretched, reaching to grab the squawking beast by its middle. He raised the seized animal into the clear sky for a moment of triumph before it slipped from his hands. I think of my father’s long and spindly limbs, the ones that carried him as he climbed mountains and ran marathons. My father wore shorts. He wore those small running shorts, the ones with only enough fabric to cover the jock strap. We called those “buttless underwear.” I think of how some men can make the most of what they have and how others just squawk.

Timmy is more stocky. There’s a glimmer of gut on him, but nothing you could really grab. He tries to work out because he wants to look like a Calvin Klein model, but the two of us love food too much to ever diet. We order Fettuccine Alfredo and baby back ribs; we order layered deserts named after European monarchs Text Biteand we are embarrassed by our attempts to pronounce these words to our waiter. We go to the Tote-a-Poke at 3 A.M. to buy donuts and potato chips and frozen pies. Brett calls me over the summer vacation and says he only has yogurt for breakfast and soup for lunch because he’s dieting so he won’t have a pot belly when he is forty. Timmy and I share a pitcher of banana margarita to celebrate his new apartment in New York. Brett drives me home, worried, after I have one shot of vodka at our high school graduation party. I wonder if a beer belly can do more for a man than his taut muscles, than the skin wrapped tight around him like a plastic doll’s.

I am too young to know what a man is. I read Cowboys Are My Weakness and imagine Pam Houston sliding under bearskin blankets with men who ride horses and kill animals. I think of riding horses with Timmy on his family’s ranch in Oklahoma, of our bare feet slipping along the wet rock that lined the river near his home. I remember him warning me about the water snake against the mossy ledge on his side of the river. I remember that he wasn’t scared, not at all. I visited Brett at his home in Dallas and he drove me around at night in his Neon and pointed out all of the expensive homes and told me who owned them. I think of my father, who died when I was fourteen, who grew up on a farm and wore bellbottoms and played drums in a garage band called Spaghetti à la Mode. At one point he had long hair. He was never very good at sports. He wore black rimmed glasses when he was a kid. He was the smartest man I ever knew.

I think of him wrapping duct tape around his wide feet before squeezing them into ski boots and leading my brother and me down the bunny hills at our local slope. I remember how, when he removed the tape before bed, his feet would be covered in blisters, cracked skin, dried blood.

"What is worse?" I ask my friend: "Brett never joined a sports team and Timmy played football but only warmed the bench.

"He got called once," I tell her. "They confused his number with someone else's."

She says she still doesn’t understand why Timmy wants to sleep with me, a girl. These are the circumstances that confuse everyone who doesn’t know us. These are the things they get hung up on. I am not hard like the sex he fell in love with, like the crash of football pads, the slap of those gigantic bodies against wet Astroturf.

Perhaps Timmy spent too much time trying to be a man and Brett always accepted that he would never be Davy Crockett and I just want to be fourteen again. I want to go camping and dream of ranches filled with men who make sense to themselves, men who dress for the weather and eat for the climb. I want to lie with my father on the couch in his apartment with our feet dangling over the edge. I want us to watch college basketball. I want to watch those athletes, the meat and sweat of them, aiming and shooting and passing with refined brilliance—and then collapsing into each other when the win is sealed, their magical arms transferring all that fervor into the final, beautiful embrace.

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