Sunday, January 25, 2015

Because they're Men

An excerpt from Just Another Number 
Number 6

Higgins gossip functioned like an email chain letter. Its rapid pace grazed the ears of nearly everyone within days. Every crewmember had their own juicy, gossip-worthy background. When a man and woman boarded the ship together, the crew instantly assumed that they were boning. Whether they were married or single did not alter the likelihood of its truth. Enlisted members told stories about officers hooking up with seamen or each other in their Ward Room spaces on deployment and duty days. Nearly every married member aboard had cheated on their spouse or had been cheated on. The typical sob story was of the married man taking off on deployment, while his wife stayed at home, got fat, and nourished her sorrow from her absent husband by nailing his best friend who had promised to take care of her. The man deployed would also cheat, but believed that his philandering had moral justification. Deployment was considered a different dimension, where the rules on American soil didn’t apply. A common understanding was “what happens on deployment stays on deployment.”
           “After all,” one of my shipmates explained to me while we were discussing his experiences overseas, “Hookers aren’t real people.”
           When the man got home, he dropped his underway affairs and she dropped hers. Within a few months she’d be pregnant. They’d have their baby and they would be happily divorced by the time their child reached kindergarten. This story is simply a generalization. Not every person cheated on deployment – only the majority.
The stories that bothered me the most were of the very occasional guys who actually stayed faithful to their wives, but still got cheated on mid-deployment. These were the men who spent a hefty chunk of their sea pay on phone calls to their significant other and stayed aboard the ship when it was docked in some of the most snatch-infested stops, like Thailand or Australia. They were determined to prove their commitment, even if it meant losing their first chance in months to stand on a surface that didn’t roll with the ocean’s waves. Until my own deployment the following year, those stories were merely rumors.
           “Don’t listen to ‘em, Young,” one of my superiors said while trying to comfort me after catching the gossip of my threesome. “There will always be rumors. You just have to brush them off your shoulders.”
           I’d later discover how often people lie when defending themselves, but speak the truth in the whispers that pollinate gossip. Rumors were almost always true. Mine certainly were.
           “Young, you really need to start keeping your private life private!” one my female shipmates advised me in a sharp tone.
           Her name was Bambi. One could not stifle a giggle at the discovery of this woman having a bubbly stripper name on her birth certificate. Bambi was not overweight, but had a strong, sturdy figure. She wore no makeup and had ash blonde hair that was always pulled back. She seemed unnoticeable at first glance, but the second she opened her mouth, her dominant personality overwhelmed whatever area she infiltrated.
Bambi was one of deck’s leading overachievers and seemed to sweat work ethic. She came from white trash beginnings in a small town in Texas and enlisted to escape a psychotic ex-boyfriend. While most of the deck girls entered the Navy as teenagers, Bambi enlisted at twenty-two. She carried herself like a lioness through the African Sub-Sahara with her claws protracted. The world was both her hunting ground and an area where she was vulnerable to attack.
Bambi wasn’t eager to make friends with everyone. She had matured beyond an adolescent’s dire need to be accepted and she considered most acquaintances a waste of her time. She kept a small handful of friends and warded off any negative words uttered about them. One had to be initiated into a friendship with Bambi. Respect and trust had to be earned. Bambi saw me as a nice girl with a good heart, but as a wild, short sighted teenager on a fixed path for self-destruction. She did not consider me her friend, but was kind enough to ration warnings of my behavior, like a reprimanding big sister.
           Upon overhearing about boarding the quarterdeck hung-over and with gashed knees, my threesome, my Mexico extravaganza, and my Number 5 encounter, Bambi pulled me aside.
           “You need to watch the fuck out,” she said in a low tone.
           We were sitting at the small and very uncomfortable plastic tables and spinning chairs that were our little lounge area in berthing. Bambi spoke barely above a whisper so that any other females in the room were out of earshot. Her eyes narrowed at mine in a glare that was more of concern than anger.
           “Look, if you want to get laid, fine get laid. You’re nineteen and single. You have every right go to get fucked whenever the hell you feel like it. But quit making it obvious. Don’t enter the ship barefoot or with scraped knees still drunk from the night before. Don’t brag about the guys you fuck to Sally, Devi, or any of your other so-called friends. Do you know what people think of those girls?”
           She had a point. Devi was considered barely above mentally retarded and the fact that she constantly held her mouth open like a kid on the short bus did her no justice. Sally had been known as the Jenna Jameson of the USS Higgins until she’d lured Jamie into a relationship. Everyone laughed at this because Jamie notoriously fell in love with every moist orifice in reach. He’d sworn on deployment that a few Fijian hookers had been his soul mates and was now on the verge of proposing to Sally three months into dating her. Girls like Devi, Sally, and I were predigested punch lines to anyone with a trace of wit.
           “The more you hang around those bitches, the more you’re placed into their category,” Bambi continued. “Those girls will never be taken seriously on a professional level. They’ll never get a decent evaluation and I doubt their rank will ever advance. The higher ups think they’re stupid hoes and if you keep acting like them, they’ll think of you in the same light.”
           I stared at her intently and focused on her cautionary words. Bambi knew what she was talking about and it amazed me how she obtained such a level-headed grasp on the USS Higgins society. The Navy world felt like a complicated mess to me. Ship social life was full of so many rules that seemed like they were written in a language that I’d never been taught to speak.
           “Just remember, the Navy is just one big game,” Recruiter Randal warned me a year before. “Just play their little game and life in the Navy will be easy.”
           My entire enlistment would’ve been significantly less painful if I’d followed Bambi’s lead. Instead, I caved to my natural drive to rebel against every structure that dared to cage me.
           “How come we have to be so discreet about the things we do?” I asked Bambi. “I mean, how many stories have we heard about the deck guys running trains on hookers and banging the new chicks on the ship? Most of them even cheat on their wives and they don’t get shit for it!”
           “Because they’re men,” she said flatly.
           She rolled her eyes at her statement. I could tell that she resented this double standard even more than I did.
           “I know,” she said, reading my irritation. “It’s complete bull shit. It’s hypocritical and unfair. I don’t like it anymore than you do. But, honey, that’s the way the world works. Hopefully that will change some day, but you are not going to change the world by yourself. You can’t just switch everyone’s mindset.”

           She was probably right, but I was too stubborn to care.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


An excerpt from Just Another Number
Number 1

             I knew Marshall from what I called “the Nightfall crowd.” Nightfall was weekly Friday evening concert in downtown Chattanooga every summer. A busy road separated two sides of the park. The bands played on one side of the street, crowded with parent-aged patrons toting lawn chairs and coolers packed with boxed wine and locally brewed beer. On the other side of the street, teens sprawled out over small grass hills and clustered tightly in attempts to form discreet weed smoking burrows.
Nightfall kids were the youth who had slipped through the cracks of southern convention. Some scurried to the group as a fortress from the social ostracism chucked at them throughout childhood because of their poor families, oddball personalities, intimidating intellect, closeted homo or bisexuality, inept athletic abilities, or nerdy fetishism in video games, theatre, poetry, anime, or Internet hacking. Others willingly committed social suicide. They flaunted their rebellion with electric blue Mohawks, charcoal-smeared eyelids, baggy JNCO Jeans with marijuana leaf patches flimsily stitched on the back pockets, and jingling metal chains connecting wallets to belt loops like a dog to a leash.
Occasionally, I could spot a private school trust fund baby in Birkenstock flip-flops, a pastel Polo, and a khaki visor that sat as a crown atop thick mop of ash brown curls. They didn’t linger long though. They were shoppers while the Nightfall kids were their vendors. However, most Nightfallers were the type of kids Bible Belt parents prayed their children didn’t bring home.

The irony was that, with their forced diversity, they created their own cliché. Whether they donned rainbow pajamas, shredded tank tops, or bubble wrap skirts, they made great efforts to appear predictably unpredictable. It was my long blonde mane, baby pink cheeks, and fitted Gap denim that made me look like a foreigner. However, beneath my flesh, I was just like them. We were all animals trapped in a cage of Mega Churches, Tennessee Vols, and the Republican Party. Without understanding how sheltered our southern micro city bubble was or exactly why so few of us could relate to our parents, our frustrations festered into angst. We craved any substance to escape our reality. We smoked, snorted, drank, and pill popped. We hid in our rooms, locked our doors, blared songs of strung out or deceased musicians and searched for gloomy lyrics we could identify with. We scribbled them on our bodies, walls, and notebooks to accompany our own poetry of demented fantasies and chronic despair. Without understanding why, we were aimlessly broken.


An excerpt from Just Another Number 
Number 3 

I was used to surrounding myself with drug addicts. They were usually slightly older than me. Most of them looked like they’d been gnawed at by a household pet and tossed in the corner of the garage for a few years. But Number 3 introduced me to a whole new level of bad crowds. As a house painter, he associated with men in construction. Many of them were middle-aged, poverty-stricken rednecks with snuff leaking out of their toothless traps. Marijuana and painkillers were their crackers and juice boxes.

            “Try this,” Number 3 urged me.
           We were visiting Cody, one of his work buddies. Cody was a tall, fair-haired and skinned guy. His shoulders and face were sunburnt from working outside and his hands were callused. Cody claimed to be twenty-eight, but his worn, sunken face looked at least thirty-five. His body looked like a flesh-toned skeleton.
           “What is it?” I asked.
            I was introduced to new drugs on a regular basis. I’d long tossed caution aside.
           “This is how ya smoke an orgasm,” Cody chimed.
          I looked where his thick, southern drawl came from and noticed that he had a few teeth missing. Cody held a piece of tin foil folded down the middle. He poked a few holes at the bottom of it with a pen and dumped some white, powder on top. Lighter in hand, he set flames to the bottom of the foil. I saw a small amount of vapor rise. With a straw between his teeth, Cody greedily sucked every trace. He didn’t hold the smoke in like marijuana. He quickly blew it out with a satisfied, euphoric grin like he’d just received a blowjob from Angelina Jolie.
           “Yer turn babygurl,” Cody said.
           I had no reason to reject him. I felt like it was just as rude to turn down Cody’s drugs as it was to turn down a neighbor’s home-cooked meal.
Number 3 held the foil in front of my face while Cody lit the bottom. As soon as the vapor rose, I heard Cody say, “Suck it all in.”
           With the straw in my mouth, I took the deepest breath that my lungs could hold. It was the smoothest hit I’d ever taken, much more pleasant than heavier, scalding marijuana smoke.
           “Don’t hold it,” Cody ordered.
           As soon as I exhaled, I truly understood Cody’s term, “smoking an orgasm.”
           There are no words to pinpoint the feeling of one’s first methamphetamine hit. Those who have used understand. The world suddenly seems more beautiful than it’s ever been. You have nothing but immense love and compassion for everyone. You are infected with an overwhelming sense of hope and optimism. You suddenly transform into this beautiful, immaculate soul. You love yourself with every inch of you. With no rhyme, reason, or requirement for that sort of logic, you are suddenly powerful, strong, and brilliant.
           Meth gives you a rush that you can practically feel pumping in your heart and tingling in your skin. Without movement, your adrenaline seems to furiously race through your soul. That one hit makes you believe in your strength to climb a mountain or win a war.  
            One hit was never enough. When I smoked, I bathed in every bit of happiness my body could produce. In my body’s attempt to balance itself, I had to come down.  My nirvana faded. That broke my heart every time. I was willing to do anything to get it back. We bolted across town in the middle of the night and emptied our wallets. But just as with all poisons, there always came a point where we had to either stop or die. Luckily we were too poor to die.  
           My comedowns from meth were as devastating as the highs were pleasant. Even warmly nuzzled against my boyfriend, I felt utterly alone with the weight of sorrow heavy on my heart. My beautiful world was crumbling. I was suddenly overcome by an unexplainable urge to scratch filth out from underneath my skin. My bones ached. My body became my prison.
            I clutched onto Number 3 for as long as I could. Knowing that he was experiencing this horrible feeling with me was a bit comforting. But I was seventeen and had to face my family and school. I drove home feeling uncontrollably depressed. In hopes of lifting my spirits, I turned to another addiction. I stopped by a local grocery store.
           “I’ve already damaged my body today,” I rationalized. “I might as well fuck it up some more.”
           I strolled in, still aching and a bit dazed from my earlier adrenaline rush. I grabbed several bags of candy, stuffed them in my purse, and walked out.
I became quite the kleptomaniac the summer before and had been hooked on shoplifting ever since. The trick was to carry a large purse, watch out for sensors, and keep an eye on security cameras. Most security systems had several blind spots. Some stores didn’t even have cameras. This particular grocery store had few, if any, so it was a routine place for me to pick up food that I intended to vomit right back up.
It was my bulimia that prevented my full on meth addiction. The high I got from binging on forbidden food outweighed the meth euphoria. I was too focused on my former addiction to develop another. So I only smoked meth with Number 3.
            Of all the bad habits I partook in, Number 3 was my most destructive. As I constantly struggled to curb my personality and tip toe around his ego, I lost sight of my friendships and any ambitions I may have had. When Number 3 graced me with his presence, I remained at his heels like a well-trained puppy.
Our dates were random late night house parties. My dinner was the toxic substances he graciously paid for. Those nights were a complete blur. Number 3 and I would take a pill, smoke some weed, drink some beer, and snort some random type of speed all in one night. I couldn’t recall whom I’d met or what we talked about. There were times that I drove home so cracked out that I would suddenly wake up in my shower, not remembering how I got there.

Sexuality at 16

An excerpt from Just Another Number
Number 2

Number 2 was dense, but attractive. People doted on him like an adorable, golden-eyed puppy that fumbled into walls when he played fetch.
            But he didn’t embarrass me. I didn’t desire anything more. Declaring him mine was all it took to fill my voids.   
           I actually enjoyed being intellectually superior to my boyfriend. It made me feel like I had control over him. He was sweet. He doted on me. He never challenged me.
But, when it came to the physical stuff, I fell right through my safety net.
            Our lack of mental compatibility was replaced with fooling around. And Number 2 and I fooled around a lot. I’d barely been kissed before him. Even that was horrifying enough. The initial touch of his hands on my B-cup knockers nearly set me in a panic attack. The harsher our denim rashes, the greater the pressure intensified to remove that clothing barrier.
            I had no clue how to jerk a guy off.
            “How hard do I hold onto his dick?” I wondered. “What kind of rhythm do I move my hand in?”
            I certainly didn’t know how to give a blowjob. Just thinking about it made me want to guzzle a gallon of Listerine.
            “So, I’m supposed to just put my mouth right where a guy pees?” I wondered. “And then suck it? What if he pisses in my mouth?”
            Oral sex sounded gruesome. Sperm couldn’t have had a tasty flavor.
            I knew Number 2 had a bit more experience than me, but his stories were vague.
            “Uh. I can’t remember if I had sex before,” he told me. “I know I had a sixty-nine with this chick when I was fourteen. Maybe.”
That was enough to intimidate me.
           Although he didn’t push it, I knew that the excitement of boob fondling would eventually expire. Though I could navigate the Bermuda Triangle better than a penis, my own lady parts were their own issue.
            How the hell would I make my vagina presentable?
            Sure, it was youthfully uncharted, but was it attractive? What qualities defined a visually pleasing twat? Was it the size of the clitoris or the shade of its flesh? Was it the difference between a full bush, landing strip, and baby smooth? Did different men prefer certain variations?
            I never dealt with excessive body fur. But having barely made love to a tampon, my privates were truly untainted.
            Inspired by a Sex in the City episode, I decided that the safest route was to exterminate the entire light brown bush that had been blooming since age nine.
            In the privacy of my room, armed with a mirror, shaving cream, razor, and bowl of water, I sat on my floor with a towel propped under my bare ass. Leaning back against my bed with my legs wide open as if I were about to give birth, I shaved everything off. My lady parts looked like a barren desert after a massive forest fire. I saw parts of myself that had long vanished beneath pubescent growth.
           Suddenly, I felt sexy. There was something about going bare that made me feel sensual and touchable. But that was short lived. I was ill prepared for my skin’s reaction to the change. I completely broke out. My pussy flushed as razor bumps shot across my flesh as if I’d had an allergic reaction to my underwear.  It took weeks of applying antibiotic ointment to calm my skin.
After enough shaving and treating, the inflammation faded. I finally let Number 2 finger-bang me for the first time. We were in an empty park late at night in downtown Chattanooga. It had just rained and we rolled through the grass behind a thick, cropped garden. In the heat of the moment, I pushed myself on top of him. When he slipped his hand up my leg for probably the millionth time, he was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t swat it away.
I felt his hand go down my shorts and through my underwear. The whole experience wasn’t the hype I’d expected. I had no orgasm, nor any intense feelings of pleasure. It felt like the same thing I’d done to myself for years except that I did it better. As he aimlessly fumbled his hands inside of me, I realized that we were equally clueless. That made me brave. I unzipped his pants and pulled out his erected dick.
           It wasn’t as scary as I’d expected. Instead of monstrous and intimidating, it was fairly small and silly looking.         
            I’d only seen one grown male penis before. I was six and my mom was dating Carl. The three of us went camping. We all shared a tent, but Carl had been discreet when he changed his clothes. The morning after we all spent the night in the tent together, we were lying around. I made up my mind that if I was ever going to see a penis, that was the time. Feeling like a pioneer about to embark on an uninhibited jungle, I crawled under the covers. Carl, who is fat with a body suit of man fur, slept in only his underwear, so reaching his penis would be easy. Under the blanket, I grabbed his briefs and yanked them down.
            There it was!
            The only thing I remembered about his penis was that it was small, red, and ugly.
           “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Carl shouted.
            Number 2's penis was not as red. It was erect, so I could give its size more credit than Carl’s.  

           I gripped my hand around it, and began stroking it up a down like I’d observed in porn. Although I heard a few groans from Number 2, I still had no clue as to what I was doing. We were exploring our sexuality together. I dropped a great deal of my insecurity that night. I figured that until he rocked my world, there was no pressure to rock his.