While still a young man, my uncle was mistaken for a husband by my mother’s sister, whom he married in order to have the experience of being tied down. He moved to California not long after and reappeared in midsummer in a purple VW van. My aunt kissed him and introduced him to his son. My uncle’s white blond hair was tangled and his arms and legs were too long, like a teenager’s. He brought us Rubik’s cubes and T-shirts from Japan with strange slogans in English that made us laugh. My aunt tried to get him to stay but he wasn’t cut out for anything more than visits twice a year. He liked to tell dirty jokes. He liked to go into the back of his van with other men and inhale laughing gas from some tanks a dentist had given him. I loved him and my sister loved him but my mother narrowed her eyes and turned away when he told her she was pretty. It’s not accurate to say he didn’t notice me. He took me to a movie and held my hand the whole time, played with my fingers and pushed his thumb against my palm. He must still be around somewhere, because he called my aunt the other night and said he was getting married to a girl he’d loved since she was fourteen.
While still a child, my cousin Wendy was mistaken for a girl by the women in our family, who kidnapped her from the next door neighbour’s shed where the kids were dissecting a dead cat. They scrubbed the dirt from her knees and she reappeared in the back alley wearing a short plaid dress. Her own brother hardly recognized her. She was clean, sat with her legs together and had ballet lessons once a week. She wore plastic barrettes shaped like kittens, white knee socks and shiny Mary Janes. There were red welts on her upper arms from the elastic on her puffed sleeves. My sister tried to interest her in books but Wendy wasn’t cut out for sitting down. She liked to play games where you got dirty and there was a good chance of getting hurt. She liked me and my brother Josh. She had cut the tip off her pinky finger and been chased by our Doberman, but it was her mother and my mother that scared her most. She liked to sit in the top branches of the maple tree and watch them looking for her up and down the block. It’s not accurate to say she came to her senses later since she sent me a picture of herself on a motorcycle in Vancouver. I lost it before I knew how far away Vancouver was. My mother calls her sometimes on her birthday and she must still be around because it’s her voice on the answering machine.
(After Wright Morris) THE FIRST GIRL
The first girl I ever kissed had long snarled hair and a gritty voice and a row of twenty-seven beaded bracelets on her left arm. She passed tests by peeking at crib notes she’d written underneath the bracelets. None of her teachers ever noticed. One afternoon she showed me her father’s Penthouse magazines; I had looked at Penthouse before so I knew there would be lesbian pictures. The models had long fingernails, which kept them from touching each other very firmly. I touched her hand and she turned to me and kissed me. After a while she took off her shirt. Her breasts were pointy with small pale nipples. She said I could come over all the time and we could make out and our parents would never suspect because we were both girls. But the next day when I said hi, she acted like she couldn’t hear me and her friend gave me a weird look. I tried not to think about her or any other girls or the women in the magazines with long fingernails. One morning I found the word "Lesy" scrawled across my locker. We both ended up at a party where everyone was drinking gin and pink grapefruit juice and watching x-rated movies. Something was wrong with the TV and all the actors looked green. I was standing in the kitchen feeling sick when she came in with the host of the party, a musician who was older than the rest of us. He dared her to kiss me, and she laughed and said okay. As she pulled away, a string of saliva stretched between our lips. I didn’t speak to her for the rest of high school. Some years after graduation when I was home from university for spring break, she called and asked me to visit. We sat on her couch and talked about people we’d gone to high school with. She asked me to come back later and have sex with her and her boyfriend, but it turned out he was a guy who used to draw swastikas on my notebooks and whisper "Heil Hitler" when I walked by, so I said no.