When I say I, I hope you see the you in it.
I started smoking cigarettes and I don’t know why. I decided to try out being a thing that smokes; just to break character I guess. I’m sure that’s often how it starts. I’ve always wondered at what point does one stop being a thing that smokes cigarettes and start being a cigarette smoker? At what point does one transition from being a thing that does to a thing that is? There is a difference.
She told me to choke her. She was the quintessential San Franciscan girl as far as my experience had gathered. There’s a certain sweetness to the city. This sweetness is coupled with a grunginess and a line between the two that’s so blurred it’s hard to tell where the former ends and the latter begins. It can shift in a flash. There’s something to be said of the people we encounter here and how a lot of them mirror this quality.
[green light] She told me to grip her hair back while I fucked her from behind.
I don’t know if I’m a thing that does these things or a thing that is these things. I don’t know if I’m the sweet kid in my baby pictures anymore. I don’t know if I’m my mother’s child. I don’t know if all of these qualities are able to coexist. I’ve grown to love the snips and snails and puppy-dog tails of guy talk. I’ve grown to find art in talking that shit with my boys. I was raised by a single mother; a superwoman at that. I learned a handful of first lessons in life, one of which was to be a good man. These days, words that come from my mouth aren’t often words that come from my mom’s mouth. I’m not the thing I used to be. Maybe we’re meant to learn these lessons early only to have them tested and dissected later down the road. Maybe we’re meant to travel and eventually come back to where we started. I’ve been traveling.
[yellow light] Who she was shouldn’t matter to you. There was an abundance of sugar and spice in her tone of voice and an excess of everything nice in her choice of words. If one were to read between the lines of some of said word choices, they’d find I wasn’t the only boy she was fucking. And she wasn’t the only girl I was fucking. We differ in that I’m in the right for doing so and she’s in the wrong. She’s in the wrong because her parents, twenty-some-odd years ago, were given a bunch of “It’s a Girl!” Hallmark cards with pink on them. They stocked up on pink clothing, plush pink dolls, and all around cute pink things. She was handed this color pink at birth and with it a set of rules and instructions not to step out of bounds of. I was given the color blue. With that color came the phrase “boys will be boys”, action figures with bulging muscles, toy guns, and all around death and destruction. I was told things like I’d be a heartbreaker when I grew up and the male figures in my life alluded to the fact that I needed to fuck a lot. But she got the color pink and because of this she’s not supposed to fuck at all. It’s all very simple math that adds up perfectly.
I’ve been offered more cigarettes at parties than I’ve seen blades of grass on the planet earth. A cute girl was more than likely involved in all of the times I took one. I recently found myself at a party where I didn’t know anyone particularly well. If life’s taught me anything, it’s that this thing that I am isn’t the thing that I think. Growing up, people told me I was a quiet kid and I accepted it without challenge. I grew to realize it wasn’t that simple. I just didn’t know how to articulate my thoughts as a child; a quality that didn’t necessarily define me. It took quite a few years for my ability to speak to catch up to what my mind was trying to say, so these days I love being loud just because I can. It is so the opposite of what they said I was. I love meeting and talking to people because now I know how; though I can’t knock the younger me for being so quiet. The world is a very strange place full of contradiction. Through the eyes of someone brand new to it, it can be hard to find the right words to explain it all. I’m a 90’s baby, for example. Teachers bombarded us kids with slogans and jingles telling us that smokers were jokers or to just-say-no. So why was I on the outside of this party smoking with a bunch of 90’s babies? I’m not a smoker. I’m still just a thing that smokes. Just the same, I’m not that snipped, snailed, puppy-dog tailed boy-that-boys-will-be. I’ve been him before though.
I’ve boys-will-be-boys’d my way into pink sheets once or twice.
[red light] She told me she liked having me over.
Pillow talk with 20-somethings and you’ll start to notice patterns. We all have those hovering question marks, that same indecision, things we say that we don’t mean, and things we do that aren’t us. We all think about forever too much and are afraid we’re not who we’re supposed to be or doing what we’re supposed to do. Kids in their 20’s tend not to know themselves. A lot of us are in transit. A lot of us have barely departed. Very few of us have arrived. No one’s exempt from the journey and all of us travel. Who she was shouldn’t matter to you because she won’t be the same person tomorrow. I am very much in flux myself. I don’t know what I am yet. I don’t know what my role is as a man yet. I don’t know what I want out of a woman yet. I doubt I know how to treat a woman yet. I was once told that our 20’s are a period when we’re on our own for the first time and, as a result, are forced to face ourselves without distraction. I ran my fingers across her bare skin. Renting her first room in SF, I wondered what she’d been forced to face. I wondered what her distraction of choice was. She told me she didn’t want to get to know herself out of fear of what she’d find. I, on the other hand, can’t wake up in the morning without indulging in a crisp, refreshing over-thought. I can’t help but wonder these things. What is she? What am I?
[green light] What were we?
Her skin was the softest I’ve ever felt. I mean that. Out with a group of mutual friends one night, she and I came to the conclusion that this whole wearing clothes thing wasn’t our jam. We dipped out and she locked my arm as we walked. Me being a boy, there are some things about the female experience I just flat out don’t know; walking the streets at night as a woman in the presence of men being one of those things. Some of them stopped what they were doing to stare, some muttered things under their breath, and I remember one guy even licking his lips. I’d never seen it from this perspective. I can imagine if she were alone just how intimidating the whole experience could have been or how under-their-breath those things they muttered would have been. She locked my arm tighter. That pink clothing, those plush pink dolls, and those all around cute pink things came in a package complete with creepy guys doing and saying creepy things. It is what it is. We were given the color blue, the phrase “boys will be boys”, action figures with bulging muscles, toy guns, and all around death and destruction; a package that came complete with the expectation that we’ll be gross sometimes. Again, it is what it is. And why is that? At what point does one transition from doing gross things, to being a gross person? I have homegirls that are afraid to walk home at night. I have homegirls that carry weapons. I have homegirls that are victims of sexual assault. When it comes to how us boys act, there’s this crazy pattern I’ve noticed from all of these stories they tell me. She found herself in a world that genuinely condones, perpetuates, and normalizes rape culture, as it’s called. This Twilight Zone we travel in has our elders and authority figures tell these girls how they should avoid being assaulted as opposed to telling us boys how we shouldn’t assault. It is silently expected and accepted that boys will do these things and I can’t help but wonder why. I have less answers than I have observations. One observation being that with both the colors pink and blue comes a bridge between one’s sex life and one’s self-worth. This bridge can go one of two ways. With the color blue, my self-worth comes from how high my number of sexual partners is. With the color pink, her self-worth comes from how low her number is. That simple math. Why is that?
What were we?
[yellow light] That question didn’t come up for a while. What are we? She asked me that when we stumbled into her apartment one night. That’s one question I never bothered to think about. It caught me completely off guard.
I wonder what separates me from the men on that sidewalk. I don’t lick my lips at girls on the street nor do I catcall but I feel most of us guys are coming from the same flawed school of thought; even the good ones. I am deep in the process of unlearning a lot of what I picked up, but I know I’m not all the way there yet. I’m in transit but I haven’t arrived. I’m only just now realizing that my worth as a man has no correlation with my sex life. How much sex I have does nothing to change who I am and it took a lot of sex for me to realize that. I’m not the boy that boys will be, but I’ve been him before. I never really thought too hard about what her and I were nor did I think too hard about the fact that I was having sex with other girls too. I was just having fun doing what boys are supposed to do. I was just doing what all of my boys have done and all of us boys are competing to be the man.
I’m trying to figure out what a good man looks like.
[red light] My favorite spot to smoke is by the traffic light down the block from my crib. Watching the cloud get swept into the air, illuminated by the changing green, yellow, and red light is crazy picturesque. I imagine I look very cool doing it.
I’m trying to figure out what a life well-lived looks like. I’m trying to figure out what a healthy sexual relationship looks like. I don’t think any of these things were advertised to me the right way. As a boy, I definitely had a specific outlook on what a good man was. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I’m a thing that is or a thing that does. I don’t know what kind of a thing I’m becoming. I don’t know what kind of thing our thing was becoming. She asked me what we were. I think we’re just twenty-somethings who don’t know what we are or what we want. We’re indecisive by nature and I don’t think we can help it. So we play the field because we can’t pick one thing. We overthink because what if? We start smoking cigarettes without knowing why. I bought my first pack a couple of weeks ago.
[green light] Outside of my boyness, I genuinely enjoyed spending time with her. Of course there’s still that side of me that beats his chest and wants woman, but there was something kind of badass about her. There wasn’t that bashfulness or delicateness that’s supposed to come with the color pink. She enjoyed it all just like I did and wasn’t shy about it. It didn’t feel like I was winning a prize. If there was a prize, it felt mutual. Whatever we were, it was what it was, and what it was was effortless. There’s something pretty cool about that. The sex was amazing and void of the complications that can come from blueness or pinkness. It didn’t feel pressured. It didn’t feel like a reward for all of my hard work. It didn’t feel like an expectation, a validation, a milestone, or the end-all-be-all. I’m trying to figure out what a healthy sexual relationship looks like and this felt close. Plus that pillow talk is what I live for. We all have this presentation of ourselves we put at the forefront and I love those moments when I get to peel through it. Everyone has layers to them. It’s a trip talking to someone about any and everything without filter or simply sitting in silence. I’ve found that layers of ourselves tend to peel away as our layers of clothing do. I ran my fingers across her bare skin.
[yellow light] These are all thoughts that hit me while soaking up that first pack and those streetlights. Drag number one sent a rush through my mind and body. I immediately took note of all of the things that must have been going on inside of me chemically; this foreign substance being introduced and my insides reacting accordingly. If they could talk they would’ve screamed bloody murder, so says science. However, if I did this a handful more times, those same insides would start to rely on this feeling. My body would start to associate itself with that rush. At a certain point, without this feeling, I wouldn’t feel like me. I wonder if that’s all I am; a thing that does things enough times until they become him. Drag number two had me thinking about my boys and the silent competition among us. We all know our numbers. Though we all know better, those numbers are still important to us. One of my boys has fucked a number of women you wouldn’t believe and I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t admire him for it. Though I know better, I’m still a slave to that blue and that girl who I was sleeping with is a specific number on my list that I am completely cognizant of. What does that make me?
I haven’t been feeling like myself lately.
A teacher offered me coke at that party. This wasn’t the first time a teacher offered me coke at a party. I didn’t just-say-no but I politely declined, opting to instead smoke with the jokers outside. In this strange world of contradiction, I’m only just now able to find the right words to explain it. As a boy I definitely had a specific outlook on what a good man was; that textbook, chivalrous good man. Then this girl, among a couple of others, fucked the door-opening, chair-pulling, chocolate, roses, and wining-dining out of me. Or rather, they helped me realize that a good man is defined by something deeper than these potentially empty gestures. A man that does these good things with the same intentions as say, the men on that sidewalk, is still the same as the men on that sidewalk. What does that make me? What are my intentions? Am I doing these things because they’re me or because I’ve been told they’re what I’m supposed to do? Was I having a lot of sex to validate my blueness or because that’s just how I felt? Where does the line blur?
I wound up on a date with another girl. It was that door-opening, chair-pulling, chocolate, roses, and wining-dining kind of date. It ended with us going our separate ways and a text from her saying she had a good time. But for whatever reason I left frustrated that I hadn’t fucked her. It almost felt like my identity as a man was at stake. Why? That’s not me. That’s never been me. There is a point when someone who smokes becomes a smoker and there was a point when that boyness I’d been indulging in became me. I had to stop and evaluate myself. Is my manhood in jeopardy if I’m not fucking a lot? Is my self-worth dependent on this? There’s something problematic about that reaction. She had every right to end the date the way she did, not because she’s a good woman and that’s what good women do, but rather because that’s what she wanted. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with having sex on the first date. She can be whatever she wants at any given moment. Her legs, closed or open, shouldn’t dictate anything about her nor should they dictate anything about me. I think my expectations were the only issue here.
[red light] I haven’t been feeling like myself lately.
Smoking back to back for a couple of days has my body not feeling the way it usually does. I just feel different. I don’t think I’m going to smoke anymore. It’s not me. It’s never been me. I’m not the sweet boy in my baby pictures and I’m just now realizing maybe I’m not supposed to be. I’ve had to stop and evaluate myself. Maybe I was never supposed to remain that quiet kid. Maybe it’s not that simple. Maybe I’m supposed to travel and return home with things I didn’t have before. Maybe that’s a life well lived. While I’ve grown to love guy talk and being the boy that boys will be, I enjoy revisiting the old me. I enjoy silence at times. I enjoy doing or saying sweet things for girls. I enjoy being good and I’m starting to see the forest for the trees, in that being a good man doesn’t mean I can’t grip her hair back while I fuck her from behind when the time comes. I think it’s all about timing. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been in this city long enough that I don’t just live in it, maybe I’m becoming it. There’s a sweetness in me coupled with a grunginess and a line between the two that’s so blurred it’s hard to tell where the former ends and the latter begins. I’m still unlearning. I’m not any of those men on that sidewalk, but I’m trying to be as self aware as possible and check myself in moments where I could be.
I’m not a smoker either. Though that pack sits inside my dresser at all times, in the apartment where I have to face myself everyday.
The Boy Scout