By Rachel Helie | Associate Editor Published: 06/12/2013 11:00 am EST
I was a late bloomer. And by late I mean I didn’t have the slightest interest in blooming. My mother passed away before I hit puberty and I was left in the company of my father and three younger brothers. My buddies were their buddies. I ran wild, collected bugs, explored the woods and neighborhoods of my youth with the other young ruffians and got my fair share of scrapes and bruises from it. I was surrounded by boys. Why on earth would I want another one in my life? That would be one more person I’d have to fight and beat at street ball!
My dad had other ideas. I was well into fifteen when he started to have his doubts about my sexual orientation. It was a consuming thought for him, imagining that I might not be “normal” (as if somehow our family subscribed to any semblance of normal!). With that idea in mind, he proceeded to make my first date for me. It was all arranged beforehand, without my knowledge. The boy was chosen, phone numbers exchanged. I continued my immersion in bookish things. The times of happily playing ball with boys in the neighborhood had gone by the wayside when the breasts showed up so I retreated into worlds of fiction.
My favorite television world was the one created by Chris Carter, The X-Files. Dana Scully (played by the understated beauty, Gillian Anderson), FBI agent, consummate skeptic, medical scientist, pitted against Fox Mulder (played by my teen television crush, David Duchovny),her partner, true believer in every kind of paranormal phenomenon imaginable and a scholar to boot. The unlikely pair formed an intimate bond that I watched with fascination over many years. There was a poster, prominently displayed on the wall behind Mulder’s desk that featured a flying saucer drifting over green trees with the caption, “I Want to Believe”. The show coined the phrase. I wanted to believe in a great many things, maybe not aliens, but still. “There are more things in heaven and earth”, as the Bard once wrote. No boy was going to fulfill the lofty ideals laid out for me in my fictions. Maybe the poor kid was doomed before we had begun.
Knowing of my father’s preoccupation with my gender identity, I decided to avoid the fight and go on the date. One night. I could do that. I didn’t place a lot of sentimentality on the idea of romance or relationships or “firsts” so I didn’t get too upset by all of the obsession with making me act “like a girl”. Whatever that meant.
We started out bad and went to worse fairly quickly. The boy, we’ll call him Will, started by greeting me with awkward mumbling combined with obvious discomfort and nerves. He couldn’t even talk to me, his ears were red-tipped. My dad was obviously happier to see him than I was. We left the house at around 7. He asked me if I was hungry.
“Not really. We can eat if you want to though.”
“Only if you want to. What do you want.”
Let’s just go somewhere so we can get to know each other if that’s even on the agenda and then let’s go see the movie was what I thought to myself.
“Okay, fine. Let’s go there.”
The first place I saw I pointed at. Wendy’s. Classy.
“You wanna eat inside?”, I asked.
“Okay, maybe the drive thru is better.”
I got a Frosty and we were on our way to the theater. He didn’t order anything and drove in silence. I was beginning to think that this was a really bad idea but there were ways to lighten the mood.
I had this thing that I did. It was really just a rite of passage, a way to test the metal of a bro. I would challenge my buddies to Mortal Kombat, arcade style. In a battle to the death, to the victor the spoils. Usually it involved candy. It should have broken the ice adequately but he couldn’t let me win. No man (young or old) worth his salt would let me win. It’s disrespectful to the game.
I beat Will soundly that night. The thing is, he didn’t even know how to play. Ripping him limb from limb was a hollow victory as he watched the carnage unfold, appalled. Not every guy is a gamer so no biggie. I laughed it off.
I suggested we watch the latest medical disaster flick. Worldwide contagion killing massive portions of the human population was always a win (who am I kidding, it’s still a win). His answer (and it was about the only decisive move he made that night) was, “My mom doesn’t let me watch rated R films.”
Now, I grew up watching horror films. I cut my milk teeth on dog-eared copies of Fangoria magazine. I had just slaughtered him in the arcade. So when a guy says he’s squeamish about horror, I tend to be flummoxed by the idea. Who doesn’t like scary movies anyway? But, whatever. It was one night and it would be over. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
We saw The Brady Bunch. First off, I was never a fan of that show. Secondly, that movie was horrible. So here I am, in the dark with a boy who can’t watch R movies, can’t play video games, can’t talk to me, and can’t decide anything for himself, excepting what his mom had already decided for him. What happens? I kid you not, he did a reach around and tried to grab a handful of my boob. So, R movies were a deal breaker but feelsies in the dark cinema were on the docket. Right. I spent the rest of the evening hunched over my knees, cursing Marsha and the rest of the Bradys.
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!
I asked Will to take me home immediately after the film. It was 8:30. The drive there was silent. When we got to the house, my dad and brothers and some kid from the neighborhood were all watching television and eating our standby fried chicken take-away. I grabbed a plate, sat down, tuned into Fox and hunkered down into my mashed potatoes. Poor Will, with his unlucky hands dangling by his sides, just stood against the wall in the dining room, mute except when he refused to join us for dinner. I mumbled bye through a mouthful of chicken and biscuit when he left and my dad didn’t me ask how it went. Nor did he make any future attempts to hook me up with boys from his church.
That night The X-Files aired the human fluke episode entitled “Host”. I made it home in time to catch the intro, Mark Snow’s creepy synth music putting my weary head at ease. That episode was about a tanker carrying radioactive waste that manages to create, in it’s toxic soup, a human/tapeworm hybrid. It was one of the show’s most original monster of the week episodes. The human fluke attached itself to a human host and implanted giant worms inside their bodies, worms which eventually killed them.
My date with the human fluke made my first date with a human memorable. Even if it didn’t set my father’s mind at ease.
I love stories,science, gadgets and gizmos. If I had early ambition, I would have aimed myself at the stars but I chose to write about them instead. I've been making stories since I was a kid and, more importantly, I've been listening to other people's stories. Best job ever.