1992: our central yawn is opening
- friday i’m in love, the cure
- baby got back, sir mix a lot
- walking on broken glass, annie lennox
- free your mind, en vogue
- ain’t 2 proud 2 beg, tlc
- tennessee, arrested development
- november rain, guns-n-roses
- please don’t go, kws
- i’m too sexy, right said fred
- end of the road, boyz ii men
it’s already late afternoon and the shadows droop like weary blankets over the pavement when kelly’s mom drops us off in the theater parking lot, says she’ll be back at six when the matinee is over. we buy popcorn and milk duds, red vines and hot dogs, obscenely oversized cherry cokes—the spoils we think will fill the widening chasm in each of us. we haven’t quite reached the double digits, but our central yawn is opening. we all know who we would rather be sitting next to in the dark, but let’s just say escape takes many shapes these days.
mike myers and dana carvey are wayne’s world and we laugh and laugh, spitting half-eaten kernels onto the seats in front of us, pretending we get every lewd crack and sexy innuendo, we learn to headbang but don’t know why it’s all so funny. we know all the words to bohemian rhapsody and no related adults are nearby to chastise us for singing or giggling. we aren’t afraid of strangers in the pulsing playfulness of the big screen; we don’t know anyone here but ourselves and each other tonight.
then we’re plugging our giggle-holes slurping soda that will keep us up too late and garth explains: she makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class and my heart studder-steps a few beats to the left. in the screen-flashing movie light, i glance at my friends to see if they notice or maybe they even have their own organ palpitations, but no one is looking back at me and their cheeks keep pulsing with lop-teethed grins and film smears and i have to believe maybe i’m safe.
but now, i can’t focus.
the movie keeps playing but i am burrowing; i am shelving my good time of being a kid with her friends unsupervised in a theater watching a slightly racy adult movie in the south in the early 90s and all of that context means nothing until today when i decide to google the line from the movie and suddenly find
coregasm: an exercise-induced orgasm (EIO)
until today, until march 5, 2021, i was tragically oblivious that the tightknit thigh-bound ecstasy i secretly discovered in my third grade gym class and subsequently pined for not only has a name, it has community: page upon page of others and others confessing their childhood treasures to a communal of faceless strangers in the virtual space of lies and secrets but also what ifs and maybes and i told you sos.
until today, a warm day in march in colorado, when the miles splitting me away from my youth are longer than they ever were before, i swallowed hard but never fully digested the way my longing became a part of my daily life. i was feral: i was interminable: i sought reproduction of the warm thrust of self sans rope class, sans gym coach, sans the smell of other kids’ sweat and bean bags, floor polish, and my own terror of someone noticing.
an even more grinding thought:
what if they did notice but let me go right ahead? what if the jocular balding p.e. coach suspected my secret and just made a pinky promise to himself in the bathroom that as long as he never did anything about it in the gym, he’d keep right on letting me climb the rope? my senses twitch electrical fear tactics—i’m reminding myself to breathe, to usher my mind into a quieter space, to do a cat face yoga stretch of mediation. i’m an ancient contortionist bending sideways to blossom in a corner beyond the warmth of the stove. i was a little girl with too many questions and a headful of fun, of imagination, of riding horses in my daydream until the lights came back on again
and it’s time to meet kelly’s mom so she can drive us all home but like a plate glass moth body beating itself into dank submission, like rain without clouds in the sky coating my face with slick evening, i’m washing extra long in the bath tonight.
1993: messy like periods would be
- i will always love you, whitney houston
- cryin’, aerosmith
- break it down again, tears for fears
- can’t help falling in love, ub40
- whoop! (there it is), tag team
- dreamlover, mariah carey
- informer, snow
- runaway train, soul asylum
- mr. wendal, arrested development
- how do you talk to an angel, the heights
we are perpetually on the move, which means nothing ever feels right when you’re the new kid in class every couple of years. you up and leave the people you just called friends only to have to start again and again and again until every classroom is a facsimile of the one you just saw in your dream the night before the first day of school and thankfully, this time, you didn’t show up naked.
by fifth grade jillian has a boyfriend and chelsea has a boyfriend and mirabelle and vanessa and tonya all have boyfriends. i do not have a boyfriend. by fifth grade we had lived in more than ten houses and by my tenth birthday i still don’t have a boyfriend and i don’t know what to do with myself.
so i run for student council.
my only real friend doesn’t believe in god, like me; instead, she teaches me what jehovah’s witness means in the bible belt full of aching marys and wannabe ezekials but all of this is to say that my only real friend can’t be my campaign manager because politics is against her religion. i’ll never know why chelsea volunteers for the job but suddenly her bouncy chocolate curls are everywhere i am and everyone in class starts looking at me like maybe they do want to be my friend and even mama gets excited and helps me make campaign posters to line the suntanned walls of the wooden halls in banner elk elementary school.
i win the election.
and that’s how i get my first boyfriend.
my strongest opponent, charlie, sits next to me whispering yesssss to himself every time he gets a good grade on a math worksheet, smudged small marks littering the margins messy like periods would be, and even at ten annoys my sense of propriety and humility so born of insolence and verve i decide he will not be the school president.
of course, it’s chelsea who knows first: chelsea’s boyfriend nick is best friends with charlie also with streeter who is jillian’s boyfriend and jillian and chelsea are best friends so really the whole arrangement makes sense. we are the top three—we rap a d.a.r.e. pledge to the tune of fresh prince, eat lunchables and pudding cups from soft neon sacks in the green cafeteria, push and challenge each other to be better than the other. younger kids know us by name and the other fifth grade class cringes back hairbows quivering bib overalls and dungaree linens apple juice and fireworks sex education in february we all know is coming and fear and love at once.
then charlie’s wooly worm brows stand ovation on his freckled forehead and ask me to be his girlfriend. was it shock, was it delight? i don’t say no nor put up a fight like sandy in grease but when charlie’s fingers weasel into mine the sweat a potion of nauseous magic during story time on the patchwork carpet my guts snatch back into my colon and stay there trembling until i line up for the bus ride home.
within a week, charlie becomes my first ex-boyfriend.
- i’ll make love to you, boyz ii men
- i swear, all-4-one
- can you feel the love tonight, elton john
- the sign, ace of base
- stay (i missed you), lisa loeb
- again, janet jackson
- whatta man, salt-n-pepa & en vogue
- fantastic voyage, coolio
- linger, the cranberries
- crazy, aerosmith
mirabelle is the first girl we know who has sex. dezzy when we were all just eight or nine did too but she didn’t count the same because she was tonya’s cousin and already a teenager then so we just thought she was madonna-cool and ready for much more—rosaries, black candles, and lacy nothings. but mirabelle is in my t.a.g. which is a fancy way of saying homeroom and her boyfriend lance is a cigarette bent over a trash can in shag carpet bangs and a yellow holey shirt he wears more than one day a week since his mama left the family but now he has mirabelle—and they have sex.
mirabelle and lance have sex while i have to lie to the girls in t.a.g. that i have a boyfriend from my old school who french kisses me all the time, every weekend in fact, because that’s the only moment we can be together one county apart; i tell them we meet at the boone mall in the arcade chiming pinball, mortal kombat, and brandon and me french kissing on the weekends.
by this time everyone in my own school has already done two or three rounds of french kissing each other but somehow i can’t get in on the schedule even though i’ve been practicing puckering my mouth at myself and mama still tells you’re the most beautiful girl in the world still, even still, i read thick novels on the bus to and from school, play the flute in the concert band, and outgrow my jeans before we can go back to the thrift store in boone. whitney makes the kids stare and giggle: hey devon, you waitin’ for a flood and i don’t even get the joke in the moment but even twenty years later won’t forget the singe of burning, throat choked of unshed tears in the science lab where i got extra credit for eating a fried earthworm after we do dissections.
i’m not a good liar. i never have been.
brandon isn’t my boyfriend and no one kisses me with or without their tongue in my mouth and things are getting worse now that whitney passed chelsea the note in mr. puckett’s social studies class saying isn’t devon weird? let’s all ignore her so when all the poplar kids get invited to treasure’s co-ed sleepover where everyone knows there will be kissing and more they don’t want me there i try to pretend the pain in my stomach came from eating something i didn’t like at lunch.
1995: sleepy pre-teen erections
- i’ll make love to you, boyz ii men
- boombastic, shaggy
- you are not alone, michael jackson
- candy rain, soul for real
- here comes the hotstepper, ini kamoze
- run away, real mccoy
- kiss from a rose, seal
- this is how we do it, montell jordan
- creep, tlc
- run around, blues traveler
although the word is not part of my middle school vernacular, i start writing erotica. mama doesn’t know—not that she’d ask though if she does, i will lie—but meryl streep’s boy toy’s apartment in death becomes her inspires the setting of my work. in our high pine-lined appalachian mountain house, there are no palm trees, no sand to playfully roll, no warm california light of orange and evening that hurls bodies together and awash in the perfect hue for melding into one.
and shawn, of course, the high school boy whose gums are silk sheets, shawn told angel on the bus he can’t wait to catch me off guard in a prism of shadows and the back of the schoolyard but he’s not even my crush. no, my eighth-grade heart is still penning initials in pinkish markers on my notebooks, praying in nonreligion for the blonde soccer captain to kick the ball at my face in gym class again tomorrow: it shows he knows i’m there and is dying to make contact.
because i’m too green with innocence i don’t know it, but i’m conquering the art of flirtation. i know this because at one point during the year there are thirteen—thirteen—boys who have confirmed crushes on me and that’s only counting the ones who are cute or don’t make me sick. even the popular girls take notice: whitney makes jenny invite herself over to my house for a sleepover so she can report back anything weird to whitney who then has ammunition to knock me down once more. since the doors of sixth grade swung wide whitney has had all the power, all the boy-attention, all the aplomb tongue-wagging, knuckle-dragging, posturing sleepy pre-teen erections kissy-faces through school bus windows thrown down her way—and she doesn’t like sharing the limelight, no matter the hue: she’s not worried about her complexion.
diligent, dutiful jenny is a sometimes friend: we have t.a.g. and advanced english and math classes together where whitney—not known for her big brain—cannot scowl either of us into submission. i’m cautiously delighted jenny wants to spend the night and we have fun like teenage girls do but of course she reports back to whitney who shares with the popular kids that mama sleeps in the living room so my brothers and i can have our own bedrooms and the food mama makes for dinner is weird and our dog barks too much and other things that whintey wads up and pitches at my face to crumble me into pieces for a little while.
but it’s like a miracle happens—my very own atheist miracle smack in the guts of the bible belt—and the blonde soccer captain hears whitney making jokes about me and tells her to shut up.
it’s almost too much. there is story potential scribbled all over the day.
every singing naughty page i write makes me squirm as the marker scratches across the paper but i’ve been doing it all year and my snooping brothers haven’t caught me because i set flame to the page—no, literally—and flush the wicked ashes into the sewer, which is clearly where my mind is these days since i know better and i’m not about to stop.
1996: what they want me to be
- breakfast at tiffany’s, deep blue something
- no diggity, blackstreet
- wonderwall, oasis
- just a girl, no doubt
- tha crossroads, bone thugs-n-harmony
- ironic, alanis morrisette
- pony, ginuwine
- who will save your soul, jewel
- hey lover, ll cool j
- follow you down, gin blossoms
they’re positively everywhere.
the boys, that is.
the wilting, chortling, winking, clinging boys; the older boys in letter jackets and drama class, telling me to come sneak a smoke in the stockroom, the boys we see in the mall and the tourist boys on vacation in our small mountain town; the cousins or friends of friends who live in neighboring cities; the boys who meet me at the end of the driveway in carriage hills so we all go joyriding in the school’s suburban after hours; the senior who buys me oreo blizzards and somehow sneaks them into my locker during sixth period is the same boy who later lies to me about having cancer to steal my close-mouthed kiss in the cabin by the frozen river as his last wish; the 21-year old boy with the red crx who thinks his marine cut and armband tattoo scare people; the californian, the iowan, the boys back home in north carolina on summer vacation.
and now they’re here and i’m here, here in colorado where i’ve been replanted against all will and better judgment—and if hormones were clouds, our atmospheric forecast would call for everyone to get corrective lenses to see just where to grab one another in the right place amidst the damp and degenerate, the prowl of panting, willingly displayed confectionary case of cupcakery swirled and ready, pick me, oh please pick me.
it really is a bit like strolling shop aisles agape and wondering how every taste may gush fresh and i’ll awaken unhinged but maybe a little bit happier than i’ve ever pretended to be before. coupling possibilities now don’t even have to weigh in on s.e.x. when there are myriad other means of dancing the fancy cadence of someone new, someone inclined to follow me down since out of nowhere i’m not the pariah now, i’m not the weirdo here and even if i am, the boys seem to like it.
they like the surgery scars on my left forearm; they like the distance my legs reach buried in thrift shop vintage adidas or mama’s dr. scholl’s sandals. they like my butt chin, my side part and cowlick that will never be appropriate for betty-bangs, tresses sun-in shiny, my proclivity for floral swirled 60s babydoll dresses and black eyeliner. they stare so hard in the hallways i can only fathom the imprint of me in their minds later, in small beds facing away from the room, alone and imagining what they want me to be.
what i actually am, though, is a southern girl in a rocky mountain town who has never been kissed and only held hands that one repulsive time with charlie in fifth grade so my lack of experience and knowledge—despite the copious cinders of my burned up, self-penned erotica library and hours of eio—renders me skittish: a fawn in spring flirting with the mountain lions not knowing how sharp and ready their mouths are.
d. e. fulford is a writer and English instructor at Colorado State University. She holds master’s degrees in both creative writing and education, and is presently in her second year of her Doctor of Education. Her chapbook, Southern Atheist: Oh, Honey, is forthcoming from Cathexis Northwest Press. Other poems can be found in Blood Pudding Press, Indolent Books, Dreamers Magazine, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Sunspot Literary Journal, and more. She resides on the front range of the Rocky Mountains with her partner Levi and their chocolate Labrador, The Walrus. In her spare time, she can be found riding her Triumph Street Twin motorbike.