School

The Beast

Writer’s note: This is a piece I wrote a handful of years ago and re-visited recently. Names have been changed for privacy.

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I know it is a cliché, but I’ve always had a thing for older men. Not just any older man strikes my fancy of course. He has to be rugged and charming and able to carry me down a mountainside while we’re chased by angry tribesmen armed with poison-tipped arrows. Preferably while we’re making our descent this older man will get a rip in the sleeve of his shirt that conveniently highlights his remarkably toned arms. I’m not picky though.

I first discovered my propensity for silver foxes when I was eight years-old.

I awoke early one morning to find that though I was freezing cold, I had perspired through my nightgown and created a child-sized sweat outline in the cotton bed sheets. My bangs were glued to my forehead, and I felt dizzy when I got out of bed. Mystified by the symptoms, I staggered out into the living room to find my mom.

When she saw me appear in the doorway, her face paled. Immediately her hands were on me. Forehead, cheeks, temples, throat – she touched them all repeatedly with the fronts and backs of her hands.

“You’re sick,” she said, not asking.

“I-I’m-,” I tried to speak but stopped when I felt a foreign rumble in my stomach.

As an adult who has experienced intoxication and its consequent aftermath, I know this to be the unmistakable precursor to vomiting, but back then I was just scared and confused. My eyes widened and I made a groaning sound that was all vowels. Instinctively my mom thrust out cupped hands, and seconds later I expulsed a pint of not-so-liquid liquid into her palms.

To my mom’s credit, she didn’t even flinch. Though it was the first time I had ever had the stomach flu, and I was horrified by my projectile spewing onto the woman who bore me, she simply pursed her lips and excused herself from the room saying, “Well, looks like I should clean up.” She said it as if she had made the mess herself. As if it was flour or potting soil she had on her hands.

I flopped down onto the couch in a fever-induced stupor and listened to the bathroom faucet turn on and off and on and off once more. My eyes glazed over while staring into the aquarium we kept bubbling away on top of an antique trunk given to us by our Great Aunt Sissy. The turtles I had convinced my mom to buy me the year prior because I would take extra good care of them – “Cross my heart and hope to die!” – were swimming in water clouded by their own filth, the glass walls of the tank opaque with green and red algae. I suddenly knew exactly how they felt.

While I’ve always loved school, even I didn’t protest when my mom said I wouldn’t be going in that day. Given the choice between vomiting until my insides burned in the comfort and privacy of my own home and doing it in front of a classroom of my peers, I opted to remain camped on the couch next to a lined waste basket. After all, even if I didn’t puke anymore that day, my sallow appearance made me look like some sort of miniature Boris Karloff and children were indisputably cruel when it came to those kinds of things. I had been hearing harsh whispers and laughs behind my back ever since I confessed to a particularly malicious sixth-grader that no, I didn’t know what a period was.

With no siblings and all of my friends in school, I was sure the day would be awful. My mother had already called out of work and spoken to the school so there was no going back. She felt so bad for me, lying there shrunken on the couch, that she disappeared for the better part of the morning trying to find something to cheer me. All of our games required at least one playmate and my Jibber Jabber dolls that made turkey-like noises failed to amuse me anymore.   After what seemed like forever, she produced a handful of VHS tapes from the closet that I had never seen before, presumably because of the content. I don’t remember what the other tapes were, but the movie that would mark a milestone in my childhood was unsheathed from the case and revealed to be the 1981 hit Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“This will do the trick,” she said, popping the video tape in to the VCR. She left the room and I pulled the blanket to my chin ready to watch.

As the camera closed in on our hero weighing the golden idol inside the dark, spider-infested cave, I was instantly hooked. I had to look away when the Nazis’ faces were melted by the Ark of the Covenant, but it was the unquestionably the best film I had ever seen. By the end of the day I had watched the movie two more times and ignored the other tapes completely.

The next morning, I felt loads better; invigorated even. I confessed something to my mother as we ate our breakfast.

“I like a boy,” I said.

“And who is this mystery guy?” my mother asked with a smile, poking my ribs with her spoon.

“Indiana Jones,” I said.

A look spread over her face that I can only imagine meant she had envisioned something erotic; maybe her current boyfriend or the new guy in the permit department handling her with a whip.

“You and me both, sweetheart,” she said. “You and me both.”

In the coming years I would adopt crushes on Gary Oldman, Hugh Laurie, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, and maybe most inexplicably of all, Gregory Peck. (What can I say? He was the Atticus Finch of my dreams.) My crushes weren’t limited to handsome, foreign imports and deceased film legends however.

***

When I entered into the eighth grade, I found a new, real-life object of affection. Not long into the first trimester, I became transfixed by my 40 year-old science teacher, Mr. Davidson. If asked why I spent my junior high years staring at him it would be difficult to say. It certainly wasn’t for the pronounced gap between his teeth. When he pronounced a word with the letter S in it he made an annoying whistling sound like a tea kettle left on the burner. The way he kept his hair close cropped to the head only served to put every dip and lump in his skull on display. No, if I really had to sum it up, I’d say that I was enamored with him because of the way he wore his pants.

Every other day Mr. Davidson would don a pair of brown canvas pants that were comically tight in the crotch. On lab days he wore something a little different – moss-colored dungarees – but they were just as constricting. The best and worst part of his brazen exhibitionism in front of a classroom full of teenagers was that he seemed completely oblivious to it. Though one might think that the creeping numbness around his private parts would give him an inkling that something was off, Mr. Davidson went on teaching as if he were wearing roomy sweatpants. He didn’t seem to hear the sniggers or wonder why teens were passing notes and pointing. Or if he did, they only fed his misguided belief that his lectures were actually entertaining.

When I found myself in his classroom on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, I would sit at the large wooden tables and play a secret game in my head. After the period bell rang signaling that class was in session, I would see how long I could go without glancing at his crotch. Fervently copying down notes off the white board, straightening and re-straightening the pencils on my desk until they were parallel to each other and evenly spaced, counting the notches carved in the desk by former students – these tasks all served as a distraction.

Sometimes, if I was particularly desperate, I would even chat with my lab partner Pat. Pat wore a moth-eaten down jacket that made him look like a molting pidgeon. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford better, it was that he was obsessed with it – it was his security blanket. He never took off that jacket, even in Spring, even though he was always perspiring, always slicking back his damp, greasy hair. I shouldn’t have judged his obsession with the thing I guess. If he knew that I was only talking to him to avoid looking at the object some part of me wanted to look at the most, I might have been covered in the same sheen of sweat.

No matter how long I distracted myself, sooner or later it wouldn’t matter. When Mr. Davidson swirled a glass beaker of chunky, green liquid or raised his arms in enthusiasm over the properties of copper, I would find myself looking at the bulge in his pants. The second I gave in and sneaked a peek, it felt like he had hit me with one of his potent, intoxicating compounds. It left me giggly and light-headed and completely incapable of focusing on anything else. He and his wonderfully tight pants were engraved in my brain.

In fact, it wasn’t long before I began having dreams about Mr. Davidson as well. Usually in them he would be holding me in his arms, reciting romantic science-related poetry with lines like “Thou lighteth the Bunsen Burner of mine own heart” to woo me. It was so romantic and so completely unhealthy.

Now, in my defense, it wasn’t just that Mr. Davidson was blissfully unaware of the bulge in his pants and that everyone could clearly see it that made me infatuated with him. It was the shape of the thing.

At the age of f14, I had completed enough awkward health classes to know roughly what male genitalia looked like. From diagrams and slideshows I knew that boys had one penis, two testicles, and some tube-thing called the vas deferens. Naturally, I assumed that if Mr. Davidson’s pants were going to be worn as tight as they were that I would see an outline of something resembling a stick. A thick stick mind you, but a stick nevertheless. That’s not what Mr. Davidson was putting on display. Far from it.

Mr. Davidson was carrying some kind of biomorphic blob in his pants that assumed any and every shape depending on his position. As he pointed to the whiteboard it was a banana, then he’d turn to the desks and it was a bean bag, and the next second it would be a Frisbee or a kazoo or a tube sock filled with marbles. It was insane! I had no choice but to be obsessed!

The same year that I was enduring science classes with Mr. Davidson and what I began to think of as “The Beast,” I became close friends with a girl named Tanya. Her mother was the manager of the student store, a stand located in the common area that opened early so that kids could pick up school supplies or a snack before class. Tanya was known by all of the faculty and staff in the school because she had been working in the store before she was even old enough to attend the school itself. Being her close friend, I soon became a fixture there as well. I helped out where I could, selling snacks and taking down orders for balloons and roses on special occasions. Teachers shopped there as well. Mr. Davidson was one such teacher.

Day after day Mr. Davidson would stop in and pay for two small bags of peanut butter M&Ms on his lunch break. I never saw him eat anything else. Truthfully, I never saw him eat the M&Ms either, but that could be because as I counted his change I tried diverting my eyes from him as much as possible. I didn’t want Mr. Davidson to see me dissolve into a giggly mess, but The Beast couldn’t leave well enough alone and was stalking me outside of class as well! The key was not giving it the satisfaction of locking eyes– or eye rather. At one point I dropped a dollar bill on the floor and leaned down to pick it up for Mr. Davidson, and that was a mistake I would never make again.

One afternoon, I stopped by the biology room to talk to him. He had left two points off of the final score of my quiz and while I didn’t particularly want to see The Beast that day, I was above all else a perfectionist. I needed those points. When I walked in the classroom, I was surprised to find it empty. Mr. Davidson could be in a meeting, I thought, but then why would he leave his door unlocked? He was also an assistant football coach so perhaps some huddle needed his attention momentarily and he would be right back.

I was about to leave when I heard footsteps behind me. I wheeled around just quick enough to see Mr. Davidson appear from the supply closet adjusting his crotch. My eyes went from his pants to his eyes and from his pants to his eyes again, and then we were locked in a stare that seemed to go on forever. I was relieved when he broke the silence.

“What are you doing here, Erica?” he said with an easy, gap-toothed smile.

“You left some points off of my test,” I said, holding out the paper, “right here.”

He approached the tall desk in the middle of the room to grab it from my hand, but as he did, a rustling sound came from his crotch. A rustling sound. He either didn’t hear it, or he ignored it completely as if it was so commonplace that it didn’t warrant noting. I, on the other hand, was paralyzed. The Beast was making some sort of crunching noise. It was calling out to me. I fought with myself not to look down at his pants.

“Good call,” he said, calling me back to reality. “Is that it?”

I wanted to scream No, that’s not it! That’s not it at all! What is wrong with your penis? Why is it making noises? Why is it that shape? Take it out, but oh god, please don’t! But instead I just mumbled, “Yeah, I think that does it,” took my paper back, and scurried out the door.

Days after the encounter with Mr. Davidson and The Beast I began to have a sneaking suspicion that he was keeping his peanut butter M&Ms he bought daily in his pants. It wasn’t a solid theory, but it would explain a lot. To compensate for what? I don’t know. What would this accomplish him? I don’t know that either. I do know that I never saw him eat a single M&M but I did see a lot of oddly-shaped crotch area. Maybe he was feeding The Beast.

I’ll never know exactly what was going on because I never saw Mr. Davidson again after I moved from the ninth grade into the high school down the road. I never visited him like I had some other teachers that first year. I never looked back for fear of who – or what – might be looking.

***

Now I work in a nursing home, and the older men are too old even for me. The stubble on their chins that might have once looked sexy has gone white and grows in pitiable, little patches. They can’t run with me in their arms because they can’t walk. If their pants have bulges in them it is most definitely diapers that haven’t been fastened properly. And if they buy peanut butter M&M’s from the commissary, I don’t ever want to know where they keep them.

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