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Innocence Lost


The guy tried to force his tongue in my mouth.

“No,” I said, jerking my head away from his. “You can do that other stuff, but I ain’t gonna let you do that.”

“Come on,” he insisted in strange irregular breaths, as he tried to strong-arm my slight fifty-six inch frame back towards him. “It’ll feel good. You’ll like it.” Sure–if I wanted to kiss a Brillo pad. The guy had a full beard and mustache. They were neatly trimmed, as was his dark, almost black, hair. He reminded me of the G-I Joe action figure I had been playing with—except for his square black glasses and lack of muscles. He had actually been in the army and recently returned from Viet Nam–discharged. I was dying to know what it was like to be in a war, but he avoided the subject.

“No fuckin’ way,” I countered, breaking free of his embrace. I backed off a couple of paces to our RCA stereo console and sat on it, facing the front door where the guy had just come in. He was never very patient after he arrived.

The house was a small three bedroom ranch in Vienna, Virginia, filled with clutter. After my mom’s departure to New England, the year before, it stayed that way. Scattered yellowing newspapers hid the tired beige carpet that had been rarely vacuumed since she left. A couple of days’ worth of dishes lived in the sink, with more on the dining room table. The place smelled of greasy dishwater. It lingered with the odor of dirty laundry, leaking from an overfilled hamper and bedroom floors. Living in the disgusting mess was humiliating, but the guy never paid it any mind. He was too intent on me.

After I escaped the embrace, he took the three steps needed to get to the console. I decided to stand in front of it, when he approached, thinking I could get away. Instead, I froze and the guy got on his knees. He undid the things that held up my pants and helped them drop to my ankles.

Dreading what I knew he was about to do, I asked, “Can’t you find someone your own age?”

I was a seventh grader–too embarrassed to shower in front of the guys after gym class because I had no hair. The contrast of his bristly mouth, exploring that smooth part of me, only my mother had seen before, highlighted the absurdity of what he was doing. I felt dirty.

He did what he was doing as if he was working for something. It felt good. I didn’t want it to feel good. I bit my lip, so it wouldn’t. I couldn’t let him be rewarded for this work. And I never wanted him to believe I enjoyed it. I bit my lip harder. My eyes stared at the ceiling, looking back to the previous year before I met this guy. Back then, I saw things different—clearer—especially in my dreams.

In the sixth grade I dreamed of kissing girls. In reality, I had never kissed a girl. I didn’t even know people kissed with tongues.

My best friend that year was Richard “Ricky” White. We were awkward, shy, and annoying–in need of friends. I was shy. Ricky was annoying. And we both were awkward—outcasts from the select set of our class—destined to be best friends.

Ricky was openly obsessed with belonging to the cool clique, as I was in secret. He decided to throw himself a birthday party and invite girls. This move was daring enough to attract some very popular girls—girls who had never given either of us a moment of attention. They agreed to come, as well as some of the popular boys.

The clique, which included Ferris Donald and Libby Beach—Peter Sanders and Missy Bush—Sandy Pyle and Martha Burns—all arrived in confident style. Ricky and I, who made the boy to girl ratio even, greeted them with nervous excitement.

My new album, Runt, was displayed to make an impression. I felt it was important to promote it to the possibly critical guests for approval. Sandy Pyle said she liked my taste in music. I became encouraged and wondered if she liked me.

The girl I really had a crush on though, was Martha Burns. She was wearing a white V-neck sweater. It defined the shape of her breasts—quite voluptuous for a girl of 12. Her faded blue jeans were enticingly tight, until the calves, where they flared to the rawhide moccasins that protected her feet. She wore scarlet lipstick and smelled of “Charlie Girl” perfume and cigarettes.

Smoking was the initial highlight of the evening. No one smoked, but Martha, who offered to teach the rest of us with her full pack of Marlboros. At first, I was too timid to join in, as the others learned how important it was to inhale when one smoked. Ricky, trying hard to be a good student, took a bold drag and embarked on a coughing trip that would last ten minutes. Having nothing to lose, I asked Martha for a private smoking lesson on the dark chilly patio, while the others were inside laughing at Ricky.

He recovered and Martha, back indoors, began to share some of her exploits. Accompanied by the aggressive chords of the Eagles’ Witchy Woman, she revealed she had learned to give a high school guy something called a blow job. I wondered what kind of work that was and why it was her duty to give it to him. What did she have to learn—why did the high school guy want her to? By the time the album reached the title track of Take it Easy, I was left in gawkish awe by the revelations uttered by some of my more sophisticated peers.

Such talk aroused appetites. We enjoyed some food and music—pizza, burgers, ice cream, the Eagles, Chicago, and the Doors—Sandy requested that my Todd Rundgren album be played. The third track, We Gotta Get You a Woman, moved someone to suggest a game of spin the bottle. This was a game I never heard of. I hoped my natural athleticism would carry me through—regardless of the game’s difficulty.

The first rule however, called for everyone to sit in a circle. This revealed to me that it was not a sporting game. We sat boy-girl, on an orange shag carpet, around a pale white candle mounted on a small crate. Ricky, in an oversized Redskin’s jersey, got up to kill the lights. Martha drew her Zippo lighter to torch the candle. An air of vanilla sweetened the mustiness of the basement room. Emboldened by the dim glow, flickering amid youthful tensions, Ferris Donald offered to be the first to go. This was good because I still did not know how to play.

“Where’s the bottle, Dick?” Even at his own party, Ricky got razzed for being named Richard.

“Down your coke, Ferry, and use that,” he snapped over the chuckles. Everyone heard what he said, but didn’t acknowledge the attempted comeback. Ferris took a final swig.

He laid the seven and a half ounce bottle on its side and gave it a vigorous spin. The bottle’s last rotation pointed the mouth of it in the general direction of Libby Beach. Donald crawled on his hands and knees to her place in the circle. He leaned his head to hers and gave her a quick peck on the lips. Most of the circle laughed—I blushed inside.

It was Libby’s turn to spin and she had to kiss Peter—Peter then kissed Sandy—Sandy’s spin chose Ricky. Ricky spun and the bottle stopped, pointing directly at Ferris Donald.

“Faggot,” Donald teased. “I ain’t kissing you. Spin again.” This time the bottle found the vicinity of Martha. I envied him as his lumbering lips met hers.

“Don’t you guys know how to French?” Martha asked. Her question encouraged everyone’s agreement to French kiss. Martha spun the bottle and it ruthlessly chose me. A peck would have been easy—it might have been blissful—instead, I could only envision disappointing her.

Martha sensed my panic. The others couldn’t hear her tell me to open my mouth. “Not too wide,” she cautioned. Her eyes glistened like azure pools inviting a swim. Closing them, she whispered, “Shut your eyes.” And I dove into my first kiss. Nothing ever felt so good.

My eyes opened to cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling. I released my bottom lip from my teeth. “We goin’ to 7-Eleven?” I asked the guy, who was still working to pleasure me.

He took a break to reply, “When you get off,” he answered, going back to work with increased effort. I bit my lip again.

The guy finally grew weary of his fruitless labor after a quarter of an hour more. Keeping his pants on, he used my body in a peculiar fashion to do what he was trying to get me to do. He shuddered. I was relieved because I knew I could pull my pants up. I refastened everything and quickly ran out the door to his van.

The van was a sleazy vehicle. He let me drive it one night when he took me and some other boys around selling newspaper subscriptions. The others were dropped off first so he could bait me behind the wheel. Before what happened next was even conceivable to me, I was sucked in. Afterward, the stink from the smutty business done in that van became too familiar.

“Can I drive?” I asked, knowing the answer already.

“It’s too light out.”

“Take me to 7-Eleven?”

“You have any money?”

“You do.”

“I have to make twenty dollars last until Friday.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “Alls I want is a Big Buddy, a pack of smokes, and a root beer.” The gum, cigarettes, and soda cost less than two dollars. Still, the guy shook his head and sighed. “And a cheeseburger and fries from Burger Chef,” I added with a sly smile.

I enjoyed my burger and fries in the van while it was cruising down a side street back toward my house. We were both satisfied. Neither of us wanted to talk, but I forced it.

“What made you a faggot?” I asked, lighting up an after-meal smoke.

“I don’t want you smoking in the van,” he shot back, glaring at me.

“Look at the fucking road,” I replied, laughing. But I presently saw something to interrupt the laughter—Ferris Donald, riding in his older brother’s gold ‘67 Camaro, coming right at us.

It was Donald who, when we were playing football in the field by the water tower, one day told us the guy was a pervert. The guy had been stupid enough to come to the field with some unfortunate young kids he was babysitting. I remember those kids climbing all over him as he watched us playing ball from a distance. I was heartsick when he warned us of this guy’s intentions—it was too late for me–and those poor kids.

The Camaro and van met at a stop sign. Ferris Donald’s eyes expanded with amazement at the sight of me in the van with the infamous guy. I closed mine in despair.

Ricky White leered, “Martha Burns is a slut.”

Squinting, I questioned, “A slut?”

“Yea. A whore gets paid for it and a slut just does it because she likes to.”

“Does what?”

“Hangs out with guys, stupid.”

Why was he telling me this? He knew how I felt about her. We kissed so many times that night, I couldn’t wait to go to bed and think about her. I dreamed that she liked me.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Ferris Donald told me. By the way, you wanna make some money selling subscriptions to the Washington Star?”

It appeared to be a smart idea at the time.

A new life came into view my senior year of high school. I had gained some notoriety in what was popularly being called the fast lane. Ricky White was no longer around. Ferris Donald had become my new best friend. The friendship was an illusion nurtured by cash, weed, and cocaine. Donald never mentioned seeing me with the guy that day.

The older I got, the less the less the guy came around. After three years of periodic encounters, I never saw him again.

Approaching the end of that school year, I got wasted and put on a tuxedo for the prom. I chose to look like a waiter. The jacket was sky blue with black pants. My mom made a special trip from up north, just to take photos. She loved me too much to tell me how ridiculous I looked and dutifully snapped the pictures of me formally dressed. There was disappointment when I told her none could be taken with my date, who had been plucked from my imagination, because she was to meet me later.

I met Ferris Donald at his house–Peter Sanders was there. They had dates, but wanted to catch a buzz before they picked them up. My task was to provide the cocaine and weed. They gave me some camaraderie in return, not knowing I was dateless. Everyone got the same story; that I was meeting someone later.

Donald asked me to follow him to his girlfriend’s house. Debbie Dickerson looked gorgeous in her pea green gown. Her dirty blonde hair was layered exquisitely to the nape of her slender neck, which was adorned with a brilliant string of pearls. I lied to her as well, when she inquired for my date.

In separate cars, we drove to the Wolf Trap Sheraton. I walked Debbie and Ferris to the door. Shuffling back to my little car, I decided to kill time, smoking and listening to tunes.

Two Neil Young tapes and numerous cigarettes later, Debbie startled me with a tap on my back windshield. “Hey—whatchya doin’—where’s your date?”

“Uh—couldn’t make it.”

She smiled in my open window as she sashayed her way around to the passenger door. Once inside, the smile turned seductive and she asked, “You wanna take a ride?”

We listened to Bad Company and Led Zeppelin tapes, while travelling the same country roads I drove with the guy on our perverted excursions. Running out of fuel and conversation, Debbie asked if I wanted to go to a hotel. Minutes later, we pulled into the remote parking lot of Hunter’s Mill Hotel, listening to Jimmy Page’s erie, bluesy guitar from Dazed and Confused.

A sentimental front desk clerk, aware that it was prom night, allowed me to book a room. Ignorant of any clear direction of where things were going, I ambled my way, behind her, to it.

Inside, the darkness of the room added to my anxiety. I found a lamp and clicked it on. Then, fiddling with the television, I asked, “So what happened with you and Ferris?”

“He got drunk—goddamn jerk.”

“Are you drunk?”

“Maybe. Am I being a jerk?”

“No,” I conceded.

“You know what Ferris told me about you?”


“He told me you’re queer.”

“I ain’t that way.” I replied, unwilling to admit that I whored myself.

“It’s OK,” she smiled. “Queers turn me on–thinking about guys together makes me…wet.” Wet?

Struggling to locate words for a response, I looked into her sedated emerald eyes and became lost. The only reply I could find was a passionate kiss–my first, since Ricky’s party.

Debbie was moved to slip out of her elegant chiffon gown with no hint of remorse. “Get the light,” she commanded. I obeyed while she casually doffed her lace panties. In the glow of the mute TV, my eyes feasted on her femininity. Raw angst overwhelmed the carnal thrill. I stumbled through many subtle maneuvers. She yanked me down on the bed and shrouded my face with her chest. I needed to make her feel good, but felt incapable.

Debbie wasn’t concerned with my capabilities. She was comfortable with her lust and knew how to satisfy it. After she helped my pants down to my ankles, Debbie guided me inside her. The intimacy felt slick, easy, and good. I almost started to bite my lip. Instead, I wondered—if she felt good—what I should do to make her feel better. I worked hard to forget about biting my lip. I worked hard, but achieved nothing. I only pretended to when she expressed satisfaction with a series of shudders. The moment this business was completed, my filthy secret twisted into bitter thoughts and held me in sullen self-contempt.

Debbie climbed off and went to the washroom. My eyes followed her—then strained to locate cobwebs on the ceiling.

Robert Lages grew up in Vienna, Va, and currently lives in Allentown, Pa. with his wife Johanne and daughter Emma. He has been exercising thoroughbred race horses the past 32 years in the mid-west and on the east coast. Lages started attending Mercer in 2009.

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