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Directions from Birth to Gayhood photo

Route #1 via I-476 South
Time to destination: 25 years, with plenty of stops for gas, food, fear, and shame. 14 if you floor it and stop lying to everyone, including yourself. Hell, you may never get there. You’ll have to be content with not knowing. Take your shoes off, blast that mix CD that one close friend made you. You know, the one she signed with a heart, the one that makes you feel all weird inside. Whatever you have to do. 
Estimated fuel cost: A prescription for Zoloft, a few dozen bottles of Bacardi Razz, your virginity. 
Current traffic: Fucked.


View Route Directions


           Start out going east on Dream Drive toward Waking Up Stirred, Anxious, Excited.

In .73 years you’ll see trees on the side of the road that remind you of your 8-year-old body, swaying in the darkness of your bedroom, your bony arms wrapped around the neck of a freckled girl on your basketball team. The one everyone is always carrying on about—She’s smart and pretty and can make a three-pointer, your teammates fawn—conversations you never join, for fear of giving yourself away.

You two slow dance, and you are amazed at how natural it feels to need her, to need this. Her smile is small, the kind, upon looking back, you fear your imagination may have even imagined. Even in the safety of your subconscious, you are cautious, on edge—that part of you, along with all the other parts, refuses to grant you permission to become.

Anyway, don’t worry; you’ll know the trees when you see them. They’ll have their lips pressed tightly together so your secret can’t climb out.

         Turn left onto the road just past the trees. There is no street sign. You won’t see the road until you’re practically driving by it. The screech of your tires will startle the young girl eating grilled cheese at her kitchen table, but not nearly as much as her mother will when she yells, Close your legs and sit like a lady! The young girl is wearing overalls and a backwards hat that reads Gap. She doesn’t understand why her mother sends her upstairs to change before her brother’s graduation party. This is what she feels most comfortable in.

At the party, she and her friends play Family in the basement, and the other girls don’t object when she asks to play the role of Dad.

 ↱        If you find the turn, make sure to drive slowly for the next 1.2 years to avoid tire damage. This street is more pothole than not, and you’re already down to two hubcaps—although, they only serve as decoration anyway. You know how that goes. You know how it feels to slip into a tight dress, curl your long, never-going-to-cut-it hair, and put yourself on display for the boys. You even learn how to shake your hips when you walk, because that’s what girls-who-like-boys do, and you are most certainly not any other type of girl.

Are you?

          On second thought, speed the fuck up. Roll your hair in a bun. Put some Jordan’s on. Leave the hubcaps where they fall.

↱         Turn right onto Diversion Street / US-111. You’ll see beautiful, beautiful boys sitting on the median, their heels kicking the concrete barrier. Their spiky, gelled hair and strong jaws—strong enough to talk you into believing you can be anything you want, or don’t want, if they were so inclined to. But they are not. They kiss you hard on the mouth, their wet tongues searching. I can’t be a dyke if I like this. You grab the back of their heads and pull them closer, willing yourself to like it. When your friends ask how it was, you smile and say, Amazing.

 ↑         Continue on this road for at least 1.7 years, or until the color finally drains from your cheeks. You’ll be surprised at what you can tolerate. At how well you can pretend.

↰         When you see a stoplight and a sign that says SMILE, YOU’RE ON CAMERA, turn left. You can’t miss it. It might as well be written in blood. Do as the sign says. Tug upward on the corners of your lips. Make sure your eyes smile, too. You look good with Beautiful Boy in the homecoming photos your mom keeps in her purse to show all her friends. It feels good to say My boyfriend, to casually drop it in conversation like an airplane dropping resources for a war-torn city. At the after party, you plug your phone into the wall and try to convince yourself that you aren’t waiting for a text from A Girl Friend, not to be confused with A Girlfriend. You drink Bacardi Razz and Sprite out of a blue cup in your best friend’s basement. You are jealous of the way she looks at her boyfriend; you want to want to look at Beautiful Boy that way. You drink a lot tonight, this year. The alcohol covers your tracks; Beautiful Boy can’t smell the truth on your skin.

         Fuck, a dead end. There’s a fallen basketball hoop at the end of a stranger’s driveway; it makes you feel sad in a big way. You accidentally run over something; in the rearview mirror it looks like a filthy Cabbage Patch Kid. These directions are shit, and there was no warning of a dead end. Some asshole kids must have vandalized the NO THRU TRAFFIC sign. Or maybe they aren’t assholes; maybe they thought if you didn’t know what was coming, that you’d keep on driving, through someone’s house, through the cornfield, over state lines, and into a different life. Maybe they were trying to help you.

Pull a u-ey once you gather yourself.

↰         At the light, turn left to get back onto Diversion Street / US-111. You give Beautiful Boy head in his parents’ basement, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire turned up loud in the background. Your mom hasn’t had The Talk with you yet, but she’d probably be delighted to know you’re doing those things with him, that she had been wrong to worry about you all those years ago, as if the body isn’t capable of lying.

You go home and drink vodka and blue Gatorade in your room. Beautiful Boy calls you because he is supposed to. Maybe he wants to—you don’t know. Girl Friend calls five minutes in. You tell him you have to go, and he doesn’t put up a fight. You can hear Hermione crying in the background. You wonder if he also touches himself thinking about her. Who was that? Girl Friend asks when you pick up. Who was what? you ask, your heart rattling the bars of its cage. You know, I could hear the beeping, she whispers. You tell her and she inhales sharply. Of course, she whispers. Of course what? you ask but it comes out as a puff of smoke. Nothing. If your conversations were letters, they’d be written in invisible ink. You wish she’d tell you what you want to hear, but you know better than that. You fall asleep to the sound of each other's breathing through the line. 

 ↑         Eventually, you reach a tunnel. Make sure to turn off your lights before driving through it—that way you won’t have to acknowledge what’s right in front of you. When you finally reach the end, you feel like crying. No matter where you go, you can’t escape yourself.

You grip the steering wheel and begin to drive faster and faster, your veins popping out of your hands as you try to steady the shaking car. There are other cars on the road but you don’t see them. You’re in her basement, a party. You can’t touch each other the way you want—tenderly, with intention. You tackle each other onto the floor, like Beautiful Boys do at football practice. Like boys. Doing what boys do. You text her when you’re in the same room just to watch her face flush with all her unsaid words. When everyone is asleep, scattered around the room like Dominoes,  you sneak upstairs and crawl into bed with her. You take turns being different spoons. Her skin feels daring, like getting lost and liking it.

You don’t want to fall asleep. You want to savor the rare moments in which you get to be who you are.

You wonder what her lips taste like, if she considers the flavor of yours.

Your phone lights up in the corner of the room. Beautiful Boy wants to know what you’re doing. Or at least he thinks he does. Girl Friend rolls over to face you and puts a warm hand on your cheek.

Your heart has its own idea of rhythm; you swear your blood is pumping backwards.

You could die.

She runs her hand slowly down your body. First your neck, then your collarbone, then your ribs, then she pauses on your hip, digging a thumb into that spot where your thigh meets your pelvis, and you feel your hips move involuntarily.

You are on fire.

You hold your breath and wait to see what she does next. You feel tingles everywhere.

She leans in, and you think This is it. You close your eyes and prepare for the collision.

She waits a moment then gives you a quick kiss on the forehead and rolls over, her back to you. She grabs your arm and pulls it over her body. She’s shaking so much that you feel her tremors inside you.

You miss her even though she’s right here. You know that eventually she’s going to leave, and that it’s going to devastate you.

Months from now she will call you while you’re at a friend’s house. She will say, I can’t do This anymore, and you will choke back tears as you try to make her explain what exactly This is, but she hangs up after she says, It’s just not right. You know it isn’t.

She doesn’t even say, I’m sorry.  

↬         Exit / Take the roundabout on the left, then merge onto I-476 South toward Unknown (toll road).

All of the headlights look like diamonds, and you’re driving head-on into traffic.