Someone is slapping a tennis ball into your penis. You’re running lines on the court, trees hiding everything but the parking lot and the little kids on the playground near the court and the jet on stilts and the baseball fields and the sky and okay the trees hide nothing but the fucking balls you hit over the fence because you are a freshman with no skill or control, confidence, and that’s why the older boys aim for your crotch.
The tennis meet comes and you are not even playing JV and there are cheerleaders sitting at the picnic table because they have to represent school pride at every sporting event but they probably won’t talk to you. This all happens after school, which is not as hard as your middle school teachers said it would be, and exactly like your brother told you it would be, which is pud. Welcome to Pud City, your brother said, population: skinny little wieners like you. This is why you love your brother.
Fall means football means wandering the student bleachers with your two best friends, looking for a spot in the back, away from the conspicuously drunk senior boys and contemptuous junior girls and polite sophomore girls and desperate sophomore boys and really away from every other kid, as far to the back and side as possible, adrenaline bouncing between excitement and fear until all you have left is a desire for it all to end. Not just this game, but this feeling, this sense that everyone is insane but you and how can the rest of them not tell.
One of those rare Sundays arrives and you must dress and listen to those interminable speeches about the Christ child that your sister helps you mock when she comes home from college for winter break. She again helps your mom with the dishes and again your brother picks fights with her and again your dad doesn’t want to talk while Law & Order is on and your life is now back on repeat to how it was before your sister left the house, just like your mother’s Diana Ross record stuck in that same damn groove because she cannot find a newer pressing.
Break is over and you are back in school where Jill sits down next to you so that
you can read her sign that says “I like you alot” which will eventually leave you with no choice but to write [sic] after it so that she will stop bothering you. Thankfully, Karen will flirt with you, and that’s nice even if she says her parents won’t let her go to a movie with boys yet.
At home, you are taking a dump for the second time that day because you are actually quietly masturbating in the one room that has a functioning lock and hoping no one will hear you coming into a carefully folded scroll of toilet paper that is dunked into toilet water and flushed like it’s nothing more than a wasted prayer.
You put down The Amazing Spider-Man #408 and its spidey-clones long enough to look through your brother’s underground comics and you are turned on and revolted by R. Crumb’s drooling, big breasted women, baffled by American Splendor, and eventually take Matt Groening and his bunnies back into your room to read about how School is Hell and Love is Hell and Work is Hell.
This is the end of class and the beginning of summer and you are in the car with your family, swimming in the Ozarks, reading on the beach, going out to dinner, and everything else that you are told to feel is lame to do with your family.
Back at home you are mowing lawns for money, getting a tan, getting bored without school.
Let’s be honest, you masturbate a lot.
When school starts again you are learning circles can be spirals and the tennis team is not so bad this year. It’s the first meet of the season and you are finally playing a JV match, the new freshmen picking up all the frantic yellow balls while a cheerleader sits at the picnic table, near the snacks your mom brought, carefully ripping a brownie in half. And now, between matches, you begin to awkwardly talk with her, because you realize she is also in Hell and looking for a way out, even if it’s with you.
Chris lives in Colorado. His work has appeared in The Hopper, LandLocked, West Trade Review, The Bellevue Literary Review, and others.