Authors: Flynn Meaney
Or maybe the need for transformation started fifteen years and nine months ago, with the fertilization of two very different eggs by two very different sperm. Sorry to bring up my parents’ sex life, but that’s how Luke and I started. My mother released one egg with her enthusiasm and energy, and another with her social anxieties and cheesy sentimentality. My dad released one sperm with his sports skills and his mild likability, and one with his tendency to hole up in his room for an entire weekend. The cool sperm found the cool egg and they hung out together in the cool part of the uterus. The wallflowers got together by default and made me.
The doctors told my mother she was expecting dizygotic twins, more commonly called fraternal twins. Two different sets of genes. Two different kids. One absorbed all of the nutrition and grew round and healthy. The other was malnourished but too sleepy to put up a fight. To this day, the first still has twenty-five pounds on the second.
One of us was named Luke, and one of us was named Finbar. It’s hard to think that my lifelong bad luck wasn’t confirmed by that name choice.
Luke was born into a world full of praise and admiration. And girls. My brother was exiled from the YMCA day camp playground eight times in one summer for being kissed by girls. It was actually unfair. My brother shouldn’t have gotten in trouble; he was the victim. He was the one attacked by girls. He still is, to this day. He was the only sophomore guy at our school who was invited to a prom. This hot Asian girl from All Saints’ Girls School asked him. And believe me, despite the school name, those girls were
all saints. My brother came home with his rented pants on backward.
The differences between us really kicked into gear when we were twelve. Luke came home from a boy-girl party with kids from our parish and announced to our parents that three girls had
him that night. Like,
him. On the mouth. My mother, who’s a die-hard romantic but also a germaphobe, was torn between horror and curiosity. She solved this dilemma by asking my brother for all the gossipy details while driving him to the doctor for a mononucleosis test.
I also wanted to know more about these kisses (had one been from that girl with the rosary beads and halter top?), but by the time I asked, Luke was distracted by a fervent hunt for Fruit Roll-Ups. Where, you may ask, had I been when all this kissing was going on in the basement of little Mary’s house? I was there. At the same party. But Luke had been in the basement, and I had been upstairs, watching Henry Kim play solitaire. P.S., the only thing more pathetic than playing solitaire at a party, even a seventh-grade party, is watching someone
play solitaire. Plus, I hadn’t even known there was kissing going on in the basement. I always missed all the kissing.
Because telling my parents that I was hanging out alone with another guy while everyone else was kissing girls might have given them the wrong impression, I just shrugged when they asked, “What about you, Finbar?”
It’s not that I’m not interested in girls. Just ask the priest who hears my confession every month. I’m
interested in girls. In fact, I’m interested in girls every morning for about six minutes in the shower. I have the sex drive of Bill Clinton. Even my obsessive love of books may stretch from my overstimulated libido. Specifically, from the children’s librarian at the Alexandria Library. This librarian had really big breasts. Actually, not big.
. Each one was the size of an adult bowling ball. I swear. As a result, from my
Once Upon a Potty
days onward, I associated reading with all the things the female body represents: comfort, softness, sensuality, motherly bonding, nutrition, a sense of well-being… and
Because I don’t get out much, in my mind, love and sex are all tangled up in books and movies. I’ve lived vicariously through Heathcliff, Romeo, Rhett Butler, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, and James Bond. From the safety of my bedroom, it’s easy to believe I could be as gallant and brave as any of these old dudes. My mother, too, finds these things in books. Well, not sex. She’s a stringent Catholic. But she loves love stories. Like a bloodhound, she sniffed out that romantic streak I tried to hide. I became her companion, her romantic-comedy buddy, her personal Oprah’s Book Club. Let’s just say I know more about the evolution of Katherine Heigl’s hair color than any man should.
In many ways, the woman ruined me.
My mother’s romantic comedies made me believe girls want guys who are thoughtful, dependable, and romantic. Sure, when the movie starts, the girl’s dating the self-absorbed guy in the Maserati. But slowly she’s drawn to the guy who remembers her favorite flower, picks her up from the costume party where she’s the only one in a costume, and reassures her that her interesting mind makes her far more sexy than her sister, the
model. The whole audience melts when this guy delivers the heartfelt speech of genuine reasons he loves her. His occasional awkwardness and fumbling only make him more dreamy. This is the guy I could be. This is the guy I
And yet? High school girls hate me.
Guys who get girls in high school honk their car horns and yell at girls with short skirts; they down tiny hotel bottles of vodka at school dances and work up their nerve as they work their hands up girls’ dresses; they make fun of girls at football games for tucking their jeans into their boots and put girls’ numbers into their phones as “Blonde” because they never asked their names and never cared. Or because they genuinely forgot. That’s how Luke is with girls. That’s why he gets them—and actually, now that we’re talking about girls, it started with one.
So that’s where it started.
But hold on. Before I launch into my tale of humiliation (the first of many), I’ll tell you more about the move to New York.
In August, we moved from Indiana to Pelham, New York. Pelham was bordered by the beach and the Bronx, both of which Luke and I thought were awesome. Within a week, my mother had located all Catholic churches and emergency rooms within a fifteen-mile radius of our new house. Having grown up in Boston, my mother was glad to live near New York City and reacquaint herself with all her urban neuroses—about falling in that crack between the platform and the train, getting robbed in a back alley, being tempted to join a gang with a cool handshake, contracting diseases carried by homeless men and pigeons (my mother hadn’t quite reached the level of sympathy that her oft-referenced role model, Jesus Christ, had for the poor). She equipped Luke and me with medical masks and silver whistles. After deciding we looked like SARS patients heading for a gay club, we promptly “lost” both—in a very unfortunate incident involving the Long Island Sound and a receding tide.
My dad got a raise at his new job, so we got a new car for Luke and me. A silver Volvo. Luke and I spent July learning how to drive, and we both passed our driver’s tests. I was actually a good driver. Luke was such a dangerous one that I think our evaluator passed him out of relief for having survived the test. One car for two eager teenage drivers—and for once, things worked out in my favor. I got the Volvo, sexy airbags and all, to drive to school. Luke would be taking the train to a Catholic school in the Bronx called Fordham Prep. Fordham had recruited him for the football team, and he would be taking the train every day. Fordham was a lot like St. Luke’s—a small community, uniforms, heavy focus on sports, and all boys.
In a rare moment of true empathy, my mother had realized that I needed a change from St. Luke’s School, or, perhaps, a change from Luke. She enrolled me in Pelham Public High School.
“You’ll get to meet more people!” my mother said. “It made me sad that you didn’t have more friends at St. Luke’s.”
“Mom,” I groaned. “I had friends.”
“Oh, yes, Henry Kim! I forgot about Henry Kim,” she said. “What a nice boy. He was so good at math. And the violin.”
(The worst part about my mom’s shameless stereotyping of Henry Kim, who was Korean American, was the fact that he
very good at math and the violin. Of course, he was also a star player on the varsity soccer team. But I didn’t tell my mother that, because I didn’t want her to know that Henry was better at sports than I was.)
This was my first time going to public school. This was my first time going to a different school than Luke. Most importantly, this was my first time at school with girls. But I had already met a girl in New York. Celine.
We had been talking online for four months. We’d met on an Internet message board called College Confidential. It isn’t a dating site. Usually it’s a place for high school students to post a list of extracurriculars the length of
War and Peace
and then ask, “Will I get into Duke?!?!?!?!?” Sometimes it’s a place for parents to advise one another on which is a more admissions-friendly extracurricular, fencing or playing the oboe.
For Celine and me, it was a place to chat about colleges with comparative lit majors. Then our relationship got more intimate, moving over to Facebook and AOL Instant Messenger. We began talking weekly, and then every other day, discussing our favorite books and degrading their crappy movie adaptations. Once she went to a reading by Jeffrey McDaniel (a performance poet we both liked) and messaged me immediately when she got home. She wrote, “I was hoping you’d be on!!!” That was a spectacular moment. I could see my own doofy grin in the reflection on the screen.
Luckily I could play it very cool through a wireless connection. Celine had actually never seen my face, because my Facebook profile had a picture of Tolstoy instead of a picture of me.
Celine was born in France but lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She went to this snooty all-girls’ school with the daughters of hotel magnates and faded rock stars and their second wives. Celine told me all these things about her life that she didn’t tell anyone else, like how her classmates threw parties at their lofts when their parents were on Martha’s Vineyard and got their malti-poo dogs drunk on Smirnoff Ice. Celine—like me—didn’t drink, which probably made us the only two teenagers in the world who weren’t chugging beer every Friday night. Celine smoked, but only clove cigarettes. Besides, it didn’t really count because she was European. And she had tried pot twice, but the first time was only to see what it was like and the second time someone had tricked her into it with brownies, which she couldn’t turn down because she had PMS (I didn’t ask more questions about that story).
As a European, Celine surely appreciated someone with sophistication, intelligence, good manners, and a broad knowledge of literature and culture. These are the exact traits I’ve developed during my years reading in the Alexandria Library, smushed between the ginormous breasts of the children’s librarian and Live Bait, the bar/strip club/fishing supply store next to the library.
Celine and I had upgraded to the intimacy of the text message after I moved to New York. We agreed to meet up in late August to hang out and get to know each other. We planned on a coffee date. But then I switched it up: instead of coffee shops, I searched online for French restaurants on the Upper West Side. I texted Celine: “Change of plans,” and I sent her the address of the restaurant. She would think I’d found a great coffee shop halfway between my train station and her apartment, but
, I would wow her with a fancy dinner from her native land at a place called
, which had good reviews of its food but also a review that declared, “The waiters were unforgivably rude.” These two comments combined led me to believe it was an authentic French restaurant.
Yes, I know, I am a suave and romantic gentleman. In fact, this move showed me to have the elegance of Richard Gere in
, the spontaneity of George from
A Room with a View
, the boldness of Harrison Ford in
, and the technological skill of Tom Hanks in
You’ve Got Mail
But even when you’ve got a romantic plan in place and you’re wearing a collared shirt, there’s nothing more stressful than waiting for your Internet date to show up. First I started to question myself. From “Is there too much gel in my hair?” down to “Loafers? What was I thinking?”
Then, when she was sixteen minutes late, I began to worry about her. Was she still as cute as her pictures? Maybe she’d looked like that once, but she had gained three hundred pounds. Or had gotten her entire face pierced. She was now ninety percent metal and could never return to her home country because of the airport metal detectors. Or she could be an alien. Or she could be a murderer. Or she could be a man!
Seventeen minutes into my wait, anxiety switched to primal fear. I looked rapidly around the restaurant. Who was in this restaurant to protect me if Celine burst in with a chain saw and metal face? There were two tables of older couples, and by older, I mean old enough to order alcohol legally. Then there was a table of scientists in lab coats who were toasting to some discovery. Wow, that stereotype of the mad scientist wasn’t so far off….
Oh. My. God. There she was.
I’d never understood what science classes taught you about matter, about the very physical stuff of existence, but there she was existing in real life, taking up a solid outline of space between the fancy glass doors. She wasn’t text on my computer or a snapshot taken from above by her own hand. Celine was
And she was perfect, in a little pink dress that showed the golden-brown skin on her thighs and all up and down her arms, her chest. What a tan! This girl was a melanin goddess!
Improbably, she walked toward me.
The men in the restaurant turned to watch her. The
in the restaurant turned to watch her. The scientists turned to watch her. Then they all watched her walk over and hug… me. Yes, me, the slumped-over boy with the sweat under his arms and his legs jiggling. I could see the scientists furiously developing hypotheses to explain: