by Brian Paul Mendoza
The letter was simple enough.
I am a fifteen-year old male who thinks he might be homosexual. I was looking through the classifieds of the Washington Blade when I saw your ad. It seemed very nice and I thought I would write to you because I have a few a questions.
It was the “fifteen-year old” part that confused me.
Could the author of this letter really be a fifteen-year old boy? I found it highly unlikely. First of all, it was the early ‘80’s. So this was before Will and Grace. Before Ellen. Before Matthew Shepard. Before My So-Called Life. Before Pedro Zamora. Before Madonna.
These are the touchstones of contemporary gay culture in America. I mean, sure there was Liza Minnelli and Studio 54. And before that, Judy Garland and the Stonewall Riots. And even before that – wait. I think I just proved that homosexuality is genetic.
No. This was 1984. And unless this kid was way ahead of his genetic make-up, my first response was the author of this letter wasn’t really born in 1969. Although quite a year for the gays it was, my figuring was that this letter stemmed from the pen of someone who liked to pretend he was born in 1969. A twistedly creative sexual deviant looking for someone to help him fulfill his role play destiny. My dirty little mind set to a wandering as I searched frantically for some stationary and a pen to respond post haste.
Hmm. Did he imagine himself a varsity football player going one-on-one with his high school coach? The wayward pupil kept after school to face his punishment in detention with the hot chemistry teacher? Perhaps he fancied himself a lone altar boy in search of the gentle guidance of a neighborhood priest. Okay. That one’s a little creepy. Especially in light of all the sexual havoc the Catholic Church has wreaked in the past twenty-five years or so. But it was the early ‘80’s.
Anatomy of a letter:
“Dear Matt,” (I figured if that’s how he signed his name, that’s how I should address the letter. As opposed to “Yo, kid!”, “Hello, sweet bird of youth” or “Oh, you who will soon be taking your SAT’s”.)
“Thanks for responding to my classified.” (I had placed a personals ad in an underground gay newspaper. This is how I figured the author was anything but fifteen. The fifteen year olds I knew were learning how to drive not seek out the advice of a lecherous older – wait. Is it considered libel or slander if I write that about myself myself? Nah. Just low self-esteem. No wonder I was placing an ad in the gay lonely hearts section).
“I think it would be great to meet you. Although I can’t read it very well, your postmark seems to indicate that we live in the same zip code.” (Practically neighbors.)
“Are you familiar with Crossroads Shopping Mall? I’m just down from there, near the dam. We could meet here, then go for dinner or grab a drink. You must have a fake id, right?” (Even if he wasn’t fifteen, I was hoping to play into his fantasy. I was kind of getting into the whole role play thing.)
“Why don’t you write me back and we can go from there?
John.” (It wasn’t my real name, but did anyone give their real name in the ‘80’s?)
I put it in the mailbox and somewhat expected never to hear from him. I mean, it was a personals ad. If he really was a sexual adventurist, surely, he must write tons of guys in the greater DC area, right? Imagine my surprise when I heard from him within the week.
Thank you for writing back to me. I’m actually in the 22044 while you’re in the 22043 but I am familiar with the area. I see you live near the lake, which is right by my old school, which means, we live pretty close to one another. I would like to meet you as well. Saturdays are best for me, but Sundays are okay, too. When would be a good time?
Nothing really stood out about this letter other than… “right by my school”!?!?
Okay. This didn’t make me nervous but, admittedly, the closest school to me was a middle school. You know, the school between elementary and high school? But something told me this was not the work of a fifteen year old. This guy, this Matty Meehan, had to mean the community college. Although nowhere near where I lived, this is the justification I fooled myself into believing. I mean, what if he was fifteen years old? But, no, that’s crazy. A fifteen year old responding to an anonymous personals ad? In the ‘80’s? That just didn’t happen.
So I wrote him back and we decided on a Saturday afternoon. This is where the story takes an unexpected turn into the realm of surrealism, so bear with me as try to parlay the afternoon’s events into something less than traumatic.
He really was fifteen.
I quickly closed the door on him because, well…he really was fifteen! And I was wearing a pair of flimsy nylon jogging shorts, and nothing else, mind you, made popular by Bruce Jenner when he gold medaled at the 1976 Olympics and graced the box of America’s breakfast of champions… Wheaties. I’m dating myself. Intentionally. For I need you to grasp how shocked I was that he was actually fifteen and I was, well… old enough that my gay fashion sense was inspired by the 1976 Olympics. In other words, I was born way before 1969. But this kid was determined. He was now ringing the doorbell. Incessantly. I couldn’t just turn him away. Not on a Saturday afternoon no matter what I was wearing. I had to invite him in.
“Do you want to come in?”
“Uh… sure. Should I tell my mom how long I’m going be first? She’s parked downstairs.”
And the clock keeps melting.
I quickly ushered him in, then volunteered to put on some clothes after offering to get him a glass of milk. I was a mess. And still am. Clearly. This is more than twenty years ago and it still makes me nervous. Finally, not quite sure what to do, I found myself staring out the sliding glass window. I could hear him kicking his feet on the base of my sofa. I had to do something.
“Do you read?”
“Well, I did write that letter.”
“Sorry. What I meant was, have you ever read anything… gay?”
“I read those gay classifieds. What does submissive pre-op trannie mean?”
“Do you want some cookies? I think I have some Mrs. Fields in the kitchen.”
“Uh. No, thanks. They might spoil my dinner.”
Spoil his dinner?! Was this kid serious? Wait — yeah. He probably was. Because that’s the kind of thing fifteen-year olds say! I suddenly realized that I was sweating. Profusely. Maybe it was the fact that I could possibly go to prison with the potential of what might happen in this room. Where the hell was this kid’s mother? Oh, that’s right. Waiting in the car. Out front!
“I have an idea. Why don’t you… finish your milk and I’ll be right back.”
I quickly made my way into the bedroom. I had to get this kid out of my apartment. And fast. Who knows what the neighbors might have seen? Now if I were fifteen and thought I was gay what the hell would I want to get my hands on besides, well… a penis? Probably reading about getting my hands on… a penis. And pictures of getting my hands, or… someone’s hands, on a penis.
There. On the nightstand. A penis. Well, not really. But there were books. About penises. Kinda’. A collection of gay short stories. A biography of Oscar Wilde. Some cheap porn. I bundled them up quickly and rushed back into the living room. Such a good boy. He’d finished his milk evidenced by the foamy substance forming on his top lip. Either that or he had rabies. Regardless, I had to get him out of my apartment because the foaminess that made up his milk moustache was most likely clinging to the peach fuzz that made him every ounce of his fifteen-year old self. This would not look good and I would not do well in prison.
I tossed the books in his general direction, grabbed the empty glass and headed straight for the kitchen. “Do you want something to uh… conceal those with? A bag or something. Matty? Matt? Matt, did you-?”
And I’ll never forget this. It’s one of those images that haunt you for the rest of your life because it was one of those images where you know you’ve changed someone’s life but you don’t know how you’ve changed their life and chances are you never will.
Sunlight streamed in from the sliding glass window. It danced on his bare legs. Get your mind out of the gutter, he was wearing shorts. But the light caught the hair on his legs as it flitted about. Yes, flitted about, like that loose mossy shit that lives on coral. Underwater coral? The kind you only learn about when you’re watching some special on the Discovery Channel? Sea Coral: The Abandoned Tenement of the Deep Blue Sea. Because, you know, everyone squats on sea coral.
Tangent aside, the kid was shaking his right leg back and forth, almost as if he were wagging something. If humans had tails to wag as opposed to asses to shake, it would have been something akin to that. He was excited. Engrossed. Energized, if you can imagine that. It was as if his whole world had suddenly become something he never imagined it ever could be. And when he looked up from the porn magazine — he hadn’t even opened it, just staring at the cover — there was so much… possibility in his eyes.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” he asked.
How do you answer a question like that? To someone on the verge of discovering who they are. To someone about to understand what it is to be a man. To someone who you’ve just given the key to a multitude of countless broken hearts and numerous gifts of inconceivable beauty. To someone who might very well expose his soul to you and rip your heart out at the same time. To someone who, god love him, didn’t even know what to do with pornography. How do you answer a question like that?
“Uh… you’ll figure it out?”
And as quickly as possibility appeared it was replaced by unmitigated terror.
“Uh. You’ll figure it out.”
And the possibility was back. Like that. Crazy that much…muchness could hinge on nothing more than the inflection of my voice.
“You should go. Here. Put those, especially this, in this non-descript, brown paper bag. It isn’t suspicious at all.”
That was funny. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t laugh despite the irony-laden humor of putting pornography into a non-descript, brown paper bag because the boy had no idea what the fuck even pornography was! I could just feel prison peering into my apartment through the peephole. This kid had to go before my guilt got the better of me and called the police. On me.
“And then you should put that in your book bag.”
“I didn’t bring my book bag.”
“Of course, you didn’t bring your book bag why would you bring your book bag when your mother is parked in the 15-minute zone or did she find something in the garage?”
“She’s in the handicap spot. I told her she shouldn’t park there on account she isn’t handicapped but that didn’t deter her none.”
Prison was literally planning a surprise party to welcome me to the cell block.
“Then whatever you do, do not open this until you can get into the privacy of your own room, can lock the door and… figure out what to do with it. And can this please, please, please stay our little secret? You can have the books. Their yours. Do what you want with them, just… do not reveal where you got these from.”
“Okay. Thanks, mister.”
“Actually, my real — you know what? Mister is just fine.”
We were at the front door and I knew I’d never see this kid again. I couldn’t have been more relieved.
“Here let me get that for you.”
I closed the door, threw the bolt, then crumpled to the floor. Dramatically. I imagined myself some fierce ‘80s actress with a severe Nagel-esque blush application doing the doorframe meltdown. You know the scene I’m talking about. It’s when Meryl or Jane or Karen Black, although nowhere nearly as celebrated as Streep or Fonda, Karen Black had her moments, gets such terribly devastating news she collapses and literally melts down leaning against the door? Yeah. That scene.
Well. The knock from the police never came. The call from his mother was never placed. And the state penitentiary will never know the gifts I had to offer. So many gifts. I suppose the statute of limitations on guilt have finally – oh, wait. No. Had they lifted, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story. But I wonder. I wonder what ever happened to little Matt Meehan.
Matty. The fifteen-year old with a penchant for milk.
Brian Paul Mendoza
Brian Paul Mendoza received an Honorable Mention in a National Contest for an original radio play written for Children’s Radio Theatre produced on NPR — he was in the 7th grade. After a slight detour into the world of musical theatre performance, Brian Paul wrote his first stage play, *change at Babylon, produced by and starring Chad Allen (CBS’ “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”).
His collection of short fiction, The Gay Cycle, for which “Matty” is the first story, is a veritable gay La Ronde. Following the intersecting lives of gay men over a 25 year period, the collection opens when Matty is fifteen and questioning his own burgeoning sexuality and closes with the adult Matty, now an adult with a lifetime of love and experience and once again the Narrator of his own story.