Prelude to Eggs
It would be a nice thing to do to make the eggs. Fry them and then tap drops of hot sauce onto the yolk and laugh because it makes me think of nipple pimples. It would be nice to make nipple pimple eggs and whole-wheat toast and coffee for two. I made my mother scrambled pancakes on her birthday and mother’s day and sometimes the fourth of July. Scrambled because I couldn’t flip. Scrambled as in all over the stove and the floor and the ceiling somehow, as I ignored the mess and plated my creation. “Scrambled pancakes,” my mother said, in bed still, her eyes crusty but smiling. “This is better than food. It’s an invention. You’re an inventor.” When she finished, she cleaned my mess. It would be nice not to need pats on the head. It would be nice not to cry for no reason. It would be nice if I made the nipple pimple eggs now and brought them into bed and she woke up and smiled and said, “Wow.” If she took my head and lay it on her breasts and ate with one hand and stroked my scalp with the other and said, “You are so good.”
Prelude to Google
Where are things that I like? What are things that I like? What can I see that will make my jaw slacken and my mind quiet? Who is worth mocking? Who ruined their lives? Who brought their life back from the brink of something awful and returned inspirational? What does it look like when an Orangutan rips the flesh off a well-meaning human’s face? How can I be sure that eighteen is really eighteen? Do I care? Am I a bad person? What are my symptoms? What are symptoms that could be mine? How many pages come up when I search for my dead brother’s name?
Prelude to Turning off a Real Housewives of New Jersey (Season One) Rerun
I want to fuck these tacky bitches on a waterbed, pouring pink, four-dollar champagne on their symmetrical, silicone tits. I want to be the kind of man that says shave everything or bend over or leave your Uggs on when we do it and have women listen. There is a ketchup stain on my sweatpants that I never noticed before. When I was eleven years old, I almost landed a Monster.com Super Bowl commercial. I got through the last round of callbacks. I repeated the same line over and over. I want to be a brown-noser. Then again, with more feeling, I want to be a broooown-noser. Nope, rein it in a little. I want to be a brown-noser. There were three people behind a table and they turned to each other and said, Can you believe this kid? Fantastic. The main woman squeezed my cheeks and said, This is too much, this is too cute, but it wasn’t enough. I want to tell strangers that I was runner-up for the role of brown-nosing fat kid in the Monster.com Super Bowl commercial of 1997. I want people to say, “Hey, are you…?” and respond by raising one eyebrow and saying, “Maybe.” I want to not want anything, to be given things. I want to hear jealous whispers. Once, after I went down on her and she finished, she told me that her friend had totally called that one, had said, “I bet he’s great at giving head.” Which I knew was a condescending thing to say, like I have to try so hard and over compensate, even though she yelled after me, “No, it’s a compliment,” as I stomped out of the room. I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t remember that moment five years later, watching a Real Housewives of New Jersey (season one) rerun, balling his fists on the couch.
Prelude to Lunch
The salad and the turkey and the English muffins in the fridge — they are not enough. Give me French fries. Peanut butter and fudge. Torn off hunks of mozzarella cheese, dripping. I am that little boy in the grainy home movies, ignoring silverware, shoving all things edible into his mouth, hearing the laughs of all the people that he loves as they watch him from behind the camera.
Prelude to Therapist
Maybe she will think it’s funny if I ask for whiskey when she offers me coffee. Maybe she will think it’s funny if I tell her about the way I used to channel my anger and aim for people’s heads in gym class dodgeball because I was a big, blunt boy. There are so many innocuous things to tell. There are only innocuous things to tell. Maybe she will think it’s brave if I tell innocuous things quietly, eyes on the carpet, hinting at something deeper that I do not want to reveal. Maybe she will think it’s less awkward when I start crying at words like and and cookie if I make a joke like, “Allergy season” or “Is someone chopping onions in here?” Something funnier than that. Obviously. Maybe I can tell her that I used to want to be a therapist because of all the things I heard talked about at the dinner table. How I used to be the guy that pretty girls called and told things like I’m just so hurt or nothing will get better. How I thought it was so sexy, the idea of them crying. How I announced, at dinner, after one of those heavy conversations about my brother, that I was going to be a therapist when I grew up and my mother said, “No, honey, therapists are selfless people.” Maybe she will think it’s funny or maybe even true if I say I’m not here for mommy issues or daddy issues or to placate my inner child that cannot find his binky.
Prelude to Leaving a Tanning Bed
I am Anderson Cooper and people will want to listen to me. I am warm and permeable like microwaved cheese. I am a grizzly bear with honey dribbled into my chest tufts. I am a chopstick, rigid. I am alone. I am vain. I am one of those girls in the other rooms down the hall – taut and tan and nineteen, and you will watch my ass muscles pump when I walk. I am stretched long and I am thinking that word, long. And, elegant. I am thinking elegant, too. I am the way that I was on a beach that I cannot really remember when she leaned in close and blew the grains of sticky sand off my belly hair. I am regenerating. I am eight minutes until a whole new me. I am sweating down the crack of my ass and I can’t scratch it. I am itchy on the backs of my knees, like when I was little and my mother said, “It’s always the places you don’t think about that burn.” I am breathing and it is bouncing back at me, off the lights that run in vertical stripes. I am steak on the grill, I am molten rock, I am a teapot left on too long, howling in an empty room. I am shitty metaphors. I am silent or maybe the machine is just louder than me. I will hum in harmony with the machine hum and try to test how long I’m willing to burn, but already I am too hot.
Prelude to an Ejaculation
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t breathe. When you breathe, you wheeze. Is it the left arm or the right arm that goes numb before a heart attack? Is it fair to measure yourself from the bottom because that way the shaft is longer? Don’t measure. Don’t you like the smell? Don’t the Knicks play tonight? Don’t open your eyes; you have creepy, stoned eyes. Don’t cry. It’s going to sting when you pee later because you forgot to pee before. Don’t pee. Don’t. Your mother always said you could have cranberry juice if it stung when you peed until you said that it stung when you peed every day for nine days and she pointed down at your zipper and said, “Don’t use that thing as an excuse to have 200 calories of empty sugar.” Don’t look at yourself. Once, your friend’s tacky mom with acrylic nails tried to wipe the sand off you at the beach. She cut your dick along the side and it looked like the gills of a fish. “Aw, little guy,” your mother said and wiped the blood off with a tissue. But it was a Eucalyptus-infused tissue made for severe colds, not bloody dicks. You went, “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” and cried. She went, “Goddamn Eucalyptus.” Don’t think about your mother. Don’t need her. Don’t talk about her right after you’re done. Wait eight minutes, at least. Put on pants first. “Don’t keep going after your done, it’s obvious,” you’ve been told. “Don’t stop,” you’ve been told, which you much prefer. Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop. Like that. Don’t you want to hear another voice say that, at least once? Don’t think. “Don’t think you won’t cum right away, because you will,” your father said when he thought you were going to lose your virginity. “I’m just saying. Don’t think you’ll be able to pull out and blow anywhere you please.” “Don’t cum during blowjob scenes because that might mean you’re gay,” your friend said when he thought you were going to cum before the movie got good. Don’t scratch your right leg with the too-long toenails of your left foot. It’s noticeable and you know that it makes her think of eczema, which isn’t sexy. You don’t have eczema. You don’t. A constant rash is not necessarily Eczema. “Don’t mind me,” Michael Sun said on the high school ski trip, scraping his Eczema into the sink with a knife while you rubbed up on Jessica Cauley’s scrawny thigh under the covers until she yelled, “Ew! It’s sticky!” and ran out the door with that little penguin waddle she had because of the scoliosis, past Michael Sun and his knife and his eczema, while he yelled, “Mark of shame! Mark of shame!” Don’t think about the worst of things. Don’t forget to suck in. Don’t forget to keep rocking. Don’t rock too fast. Don’t look over at the other men standing at urinals in public restrooms. That habit will get you in trouble. Don’t wish ill towards moose-dicked strangers; that must be bad, karmically. Don’t compare. “Don’t think that everything is a competition,” people tell you whenever you fail. Don’t fail.
Prelude to an Apology
I shouldn’t get so upset when the internet goes out. That’s such a little thing. You’re right, I’m angry. I shouldn’t call myself things like angry or lazy or sad because that makes it like I cannot change. I shouldn’t believe in peoples’ ability to change. I shouldn’t say with certainty that I believe in things that I’m unsure of. I shouldn’t let my mother do the laundry when I visit. I shouldn’t let her buy me socks. I shouldn’t masturbate with her expensive moisturizers because she needs that for her sensitive skin. I shouldn’t talk about masturbation so much. It’s just a go-to theme. I shouldn’t say fag when I’m with my friends just because we say it in an exaggerated, joking way, like we get it when homophobes don’t. I shouldn’t admit things so freely and think it’s charming. I shouldn’t have beaten that man in front of that bar on that crowded street on that Saturday. Maybe he deserved it, but he looked so sad and bloody and overmatched. I shouldn’t believe so hard in my violent fantasies that will never happen. I shouldn’t have not gotten a bar mitzvah. It would have made Grandma happy before she passed. And the money would be great right now. I shouldn’t think about money so much. I shouldn’t make you feel guilty about your privilege because it makes me feel like I earned something in comparison. I shouldn’t get so into Bruce Springsteen, like how I think I understand who he is and can defend him as a human being. I shouldn’t have stopped playing guitar. I shouldn’t speak of playing guitar with nostalgia. Or the band. We played one show. It was a talent show. I shouldn’t have cheated with that girl who had nerd glasses but really strong thighs in that hot tub in Denver. I shouldn’t try to imagine what it would be like to confess to things that I would never do. I shouldn’t have lied about my experiences. I shouldn’t lie at all. I shouldn’t set unachievable goals. I shouldn’t automatically side with black people in televised controversies just for some strange rush of inclusion. I shouldn’t say things like “I’m a grown ass man,” which I know I say a lot, just because it sounds black. I shouldn’t make declarative statements that black people don’t sound like white people. I shouldn’t have said those awful things to Zach Thomas in high school. Those were the worst things I ever said. I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself when I say awful things. I shouldn’t have stopped doing the phone banks. I shouldn’t have stopped voting. I shouldn’t pontificate about politics if I don’t vote. I shouldn’t have stopped playing pick up basketball; it makes me feel graceful. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, like you didn’t matter. Like I didn’t respect you. Or like I was tired of you. I can love somebody as much as I love myself. I promise. I shouldn’t lie.
Prelude to Sleep
She’s running her hands along my back, up my shoulder blades. She’s stopping at the reddest, most bulging of my pimples and squeezing them between the nails of her thumb and index finger. I’m saying, “Don’t, don’t, don’t” and wriggling. She’s saying, “How come there are so many?” I’m remembering things and I don’t know if they’re true. Falling, biting. Hiding in doorways, watching. It isn’t interesting. She is pinching around the edges of the biggest pimple, on my shoulder blade. She is pinching until it makes a sound like wet feet on tile and I can feel my eyes tearing and my legs kicking. My back is bleeding and she is wiping it off me with a tissue so that I don’t stain the sheets. I say, “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” again, and she calls me a baby and she’s right. I cough like I’m choking and she beats on my back for a while to fix me. Then it’s quiet. I try to listen to her breathing but I can only hear mine. I am almost sleeping. I always fall asleep first because I wear myself out.
About the author:
Lucas Mann is finishing his MFA in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. His essays and stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from Wag’s Review, Wigleaf and The Collagist. His first book, tentatively titled, Class A, is forthcoming from Knopf in early 2013.