I wasn’t ready for two-a-days. That’s a practice in the morning and another practice in the afternoon with a break in the middle to eat lunch and avoid the sun. Two-a-days started two weeks before and lasted until the school year started. The go-getters on the team trained over the summer, lifted weights and ran. I ate mint chocolate chip ice cream and jerked off. I was not a go-getter. The world was gradually teaching me a cumulative argument of what I was not, moving me into a place called “not knowing,” where I would disappear and things would be noticed.
I can’t go any further without telling you about instant messenger.
I’d found Aoudad’s screen name listed on his social media account back during my junior year and began what I understand now as harassing him innocently enough in superficial pursuit of a friendship with him. Friendship wasn’t quite the business I pictured, but it was the language I knew, the method by which I tried to access a language I didn’t know. What I wanted was a mystery. It was a mystery to me that I wanted what I wanted, and what I wanted was mysterious and unfamiliar to me, but I also wanted mystery itself. Mystery was what I was after. It’s what you’re after, too, at this moment, both gone and here with me at the same time. Me, gone and here with you, gone and here with me. There was the world and there was the world. There was the world subject to the world, working to make the world to which it was subject, subject to it.
I was 100% the initiator of all correspondence. It wasn’t that I didn’t have shame, but shame can be displaced and hidden by desperation’s swill. The contents of our conversations were general––just my light badgering of him that only ever extracted small talk designed to end fast––not memorable, except for one time, that was memorable.
I remember it well.
It started like any other conversation: I started it. Wutangsword88 messaged ABallast32, and ABallast32 messaged Wutangsword88 back.
The normal vacuous banter. But then, after things strayed into a different kind of territory, perhaps from my nudging, he asked me.
“do you wanna jack off with me?”
What led up to this, whether the transition was abrupt or smooth, I cannot recall with conviction. The gods of wasted youth, or maybe just waste, have it in their custody now. I might have asked him, straight-up and without preamble, if he was gay. He would’ve said no. But––he asked me.
“what? are you serious?” I said.
“yeah, it’s not a big deal”
“but you said you weren’t gay”
“i’m not, it’s just a fun thing to do”
“I’m not gay”
“i know, me neither. it’s just fun. you just jack off in front of each other and seeing the other person makes you excited”
“we can do it in the back of my car. i have an [SUV]”
“just park somewhere?”
“yeah after school”
He was a ginger, a redhead. A cup of white yogurt with flakes of dried blood in it. He’d sunburn easily so he had to wear a certain shirt to protect his sensitive skin during practice, on top of all the sunscreen. I was shocked and going insane it felt like. What a proposition. What a . . . trap? Was he setting me up for some public humiliation? I’d seen enough teen movies to have my suspicions.
“I don’t want to do that”
I knew he knew I was lying. I lied anyway. The risk leveraged the mystery. I spooked myself. He abandoned the idea and it wasn’t brought up again, except for when I brought it up.
Our rapport did change, though. I’d gotten frustrated with him growing a bit cagey after that and one night I ended up copying, pasting, and posting the entire text of his collaborative “rooting each other on” self-pleasuring pitch in the claustrophobic quarters on social media. I messaged him and let him know I did it.
“oh my god please delete it”
“please just delete it”
“you asked me to do it though”
I toyed with him awhile, then deleted it. I don’t think anyone saw it. I held the power, and then I let go of the power. It felt too cruel. But that power. It felt like a threat on my life.
Trouble came in ways of which I couldn’t be blamed for being unaware.
I’d done two-a-days before the start of my freshman, sophomore, and junior years and each time got easier because: I got used to how bad it sucked a little more each time; the younger the players, the more the coaches tortured them with up-downs and wind sprints; I went through puberty and became more athletic. So this time around, with my place on the varsity roster secured by default, earned through my years of commitment and dedication to the team, I did nothing to prepare for two-a-days. Any senior could sign up for football––even if he’d never played for the team before, or ever before in his life––and he’d have a guaranteed spot on varsity. After three years of tolerating my voluntary disciplining for social reasons beyond me, my position in this red and blue world of supplemental fathers and birds that ran as fast as cars was the same as someone with none. Freshman, JV-B, JV-A, and Varsity. Pull down the stairs to the attic, retrieve the toys long in storage, play with the toys all night in wonder, and watch your best friend’s dad whip him on his bare ass with a belt. You have earned your place.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t start this year. The offensive lineman who played my position in front of me had started last year as a junior after the guy in front of him’s heart stopped during the second game of the year, a road game, just keeled over off the bench, the biggest player on the roster with a full-ride scholarship to a Division I school. He was resuscitated with an AED by a dad who happened to be a cardiologist, coming down from the stands to administer the automated current, clearing the body so nobody else would get shocked. But everybody in the stadium got shocked. Both teams agreed to discontinue play. The guy ended up getting a pacemaker installed for a chronic arrhythmia and wouldn’t play again. T-shirts were made proclaiming that now, it was for him. They were doing it for him now! Before, there were a disparate multitude of reasons why they had been doing it, but now, there was but one. The guy in front of me this year rose to fill the team’s urgent need and started the rest of the year. Roused by their fallen comrade’s spirit in tow, the team went all the way to the state championship game on a miraculous playoff run in which the entire community seemed to have invested their souls. Then they lost. Salvation was avoided.
I showed up to two-a-days out of shape. I wouldn’t be starting so I didn’t see much to be in shape for. Water breaks were mandatory so nobody got too dehydrated. We were told what hue our pee should be: apple juice, keep chugging, lemonade, better, clear, best. Late summer afternoon heat was the enemy. I’d witnessed minor versions of heatstroke in other players through the years but never in myself except for precursory symptoms. It wasn’t like it used to be, players whose dads had played said. They said when players in their dads’ day got dehydrated or heat exhausted, the coaches would put them in a room without light and have them eat salt tablets and drink water until the cramping, shivering, and dizziness subsided. Our training staff had tanks of water with several spigot hoses running from them. The water break whistles would blow and you’d shamble to the tank, your head cooking murkily inside your helmet, which you’d pull off by prying the ear pads apart and tilting it back so the pads would slide up the sides of your face, drink as much as you could without getting sick, douse your head to cool it off, spray the inner pads of your helmet to get the sweat and grease out. When you put your helmet back on, a nasty chill would wash over you.
The first practice wasn’t in full pads––just helmets, shirts, shorts, and turf shoes. The field was artificial turf with a visible ridge halving the field end zone to end zone and gray metal grates surrounding for drainage. The field reminded me of the top of my skull, the crown itself also ridged end zone to end zone due to a narrow birth passage. But my head would flood. There was nowhere for it to drain. I waited for my face to leak and founder. The texture of the field was like rubber sandpaper––coarse and grippy, springy yet stiff with not a lot of give. If you slid and your skin made contact, it got ripped off and left enduring scabs. The field was a thriving Petri dish of staph bacteria. Skid wounds would frequently get infected, skin gnarled with red nodes pregnant with seeping pus. Maybe my brain had a staph infection, flooding its white knots from inside, out of nowhere, out of the hole that was me.