Instructions for Suburban Boy Love, First Place in Nonfiction

Instructions for Suburban Boy Love

By Aidan Forster

Wax. Never use Nair. Pull blackheads from your pores with a metal extractor. Ask the nice lady at Great Clips to give you a hard part, a deep white line of skin. Find men suspicious with too much or too little hair. Don’t get a tattoo for love. Ink a moon onto your left hipbone, the symbol for Mars onto your right. Don’t text twice in a row unless he hasn’t responded in more than a day. Don’t send nudes with your face in them. If you can’t fit into your crop top, eat cotton swabs to slim down. Eat tofu scrambles and protein shakes. Purchase a Planet Fitness membership and promise to run an hour on the elliptical each day. Break your promise. Listen to Whitney Houston on repeat and imagine running your body away. If you meet someone from the Internet, meet in a public place. If your mother asks where you went, say you saw the new M. Night Shyamalan film. Don’t make out behind the water tower. Don’t make out in your brother’s bed. Don’t make out in a barn. Don’t make out in the park beneath your school. Don’t make out in truck beds or mega-church parking lots or the copse of winterberry bushes across the street from the Barnes & Noble. Tell yourself you won’t until you do, the topography of your desire ever-expanding. Resign yourself to the fact that you won’t have a boy-next-door romance with the dark-haired skateboarder three houses down or the older man with the thin, dark lips who watches your greyhound when your family vacations in the Outer Banks, even though he walks with you beneath the neighborhood’s elm trees the night before you leave, a tuft of black hair rioting over the lip of his shirt collar, his wedding band an unbearably heavy presence you try to ignore. Try not to think that love, beauty, and intimacy are distant and unknowable, like remote countries on a map. Resign yourself to the fact that nobody wants a lawn boy anymore. Before you and your brother wade into the river that bisects your subdivision, trying to break the Carolina heat, think of the water’s source: Herdklotz Children’s Park ten minutes down the road. How men find each other in its dark eaves, a senseless kind of touch you rebuke and covet. A deep double-shame. Promise yourself you will never cruise, but know all the best spots: the park, the first-floor bathroom in the local Macy’s, the crumbling lot ruck with weeds flanking the mill village. Understand that your driver’s license is critical to the success of a variety of interactions, that your father’s car is mythic because it can take you anywhere. Understand that men are everywhere: behind the cart selling sprigs of snakeroot and Eastern bluestar at the mill market or the dinky roller rink five minutes from your house or the QuikTrip across the street from your old high school. If a man honks his horn at you, asks you to get into his car, act like you’re deliberating. Put your hand on your hip and furrow your brow and look at the objects in his backseat: a baby’s pink teething ring or a cracked leather jacket or an aqua box of Camels. Say no, but know that you could’ve said yes. Feel powerful. But when the right man asks—and when the right man asks, you’ll know, you’ll want to walk into his body like a wind-drunk field and your stomach will clench and you might start to sweat—get into the car. If your friends ask who took you home the other day, say a family friend. If he buys a motel room, consider your options: waste his money or play his game. You know how it works. You won’t want to say no, so you’ll say yes or nothing. Split like wood. Don’t panic. He’ll touch you or he won’t touch you. He’ll take you home in his dented car, thick hand drawing circles on your thigh the whole ride, and drop you off before your mother gets home from Walgreens. If sores crop up in your mouth, a fleet of white dots, don’t panic. Suck on ice. Don’t have sex until next month (next moon you tell yourself because it sounds magical and less real). Google sexually transmitted infections. Study your body for symptoms—each flush of heat a telling fever, each pimple a cold sore. As much as you resist, you’ll come to think your blood is toxic. You’ll walk and your body will feel dangerous. Language will spoil under your tongue. In crowds, you’ll wish you could rip open the air and fold yourself into it, a quiet disappearance, and leave your ailments in the saccharine place behind the air. Know that you aren’t sick, but you could be. Think of your body as a collection of fine points. Sometimes you’ll close your eyes. Sometimes you’ll look in the mirror, searching for any skin left untouched. Don’t panic—you’ll start to refer to yourself in second person, but that’s natural. Eventually, you won’t even notice what you’ve become.