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Come on out to the Junior High Pool Party

Michael Shaw

          True, I will never see you again. I hardly knew you then anyway, when we were at that place just below acquaintances. Our eighth grade class was big for a private school, the kind of private school where one of our fellow students cheated on the Bible verse quizzes by keeping a piece of paper under his foot that he could peak at while writing. Our few class officers for our small eighth grade class decided, we should have a pool party.

          We had a pool party. I got there on time. Eventually other people started showing, and the guys took their shirts off, because at pools, guys take their shirts off. I took my shirt off, because the only thing worse than being seen without your shirt off is being seen when you’re the only one with it on. My cheeks were red before the sun could make them any redder, just my disposition, and then it wasn’t long before you drew attention to me.

          I don’t remember the weather. Perhaps the sun made everything sticky, evaporating the sweat off our eyebrows. I imagine the concrete would’ve cooked our toes into bacon if we hadn’t worn shoes. Or perhaps the pool was veiled by clouds stretching across the space above the neighborhood. There’s plenty I do not remember.

          One of the guys, who was darker and quieter than me, and one of the other guys, who was paler and louder, had toned six pack abs, but I hadn’t gotten the memo that in middle school, I was already supposed to have that. A group of girls saw.

          You were among them, and you all sang an improvisational song with no consonants, “Oooooooo.” All your eyes angled down forty-five degrees, remained on the space around their belly buttons in a fixated trance, and you could have drooled. You stood next to the deep end. I stood to the side of the group.

          “That’s ab,” you said, pointing to the quiet one’s stomach, then pointing to mine, “and that’s flab,” and you touched it. You touched it.

          True, it was a pretty good rhyme. That is to say, you thought this through, stared at their stomachs and then mine, then probably at theirs for longer, thought of the rhyme, considered it worthy of recitation, and relished the opportunity to point out the difference. Literary excellence. If only our language had a word for elevation by means of cutting down the other.

          True, I do not remember if everyone laughed or not. You did see the need to repeat your pulitzer sentence, I remember that. The party changed from one of the eighth grade class. It became the skinny people and me.

          I did what we had to do before we could drive ourselves away from things, before we were untethered to the rides of our parents and legal guardians. I kept my lips curled upward and did my impression of a kid enjoying himself. I swam around. I jumped off the diving board. I climbed out using the ladder at the side of the deep end. You were talking loudly with your friends, and I looked back.

          “What are you looking at, Hanes?” you said, in reference to the logo on the underwear showing from the waste line of my shorts. Another pithy observation. You should write poetry. For someone so disgusted by my abdomen, you sure loved to look its way.

          True, I don’t remember exactly what I thought then, but perhaps it was that maybe you did not like me personally, or that I could get you back by being kind, a kind of prideful selflessness, to make myself feel better. And so I held out a hand for you as you swam to the edge to get out, both to you and your friend. Of course, you shooed the hand away. Can’t give the fat boy any wrong ideas, not to mention, any of the people watching.

          For me, no one’s eyes were welcome for the rest of the day, no one’s gaze was wanted. For the rest of the party, I waded in the pool to where it was up to my chest, the water level like overalls, one size fits all, so long as I crouched enough to keep the water above the thing that stood out. “Hey,” another girl said, noticing my constant constipation posture, “you’ve gotten pretty tall now, haven’t you?”

          “Yup.” She smiled. “Okay.” I kept crouching. What a shoddy attempt at baiting me to stand. True, you left less than a year after this, but your little rhyme was Elmer’s glue, and not even the kind that the elementary kids at our private school could eat and get sick over. At least that kind you digest or excrete or whatever your body does to glue when you eat it. At least that kind of glue gets to be forgotten. At least that kind of memory gets to be outgrown.

          This was before college, before I ran away from eighty of my pounds, and before I stared at stretch marks in the mirror. I was born nine pounds, a fat baby, who grew into a skinny child, who ate himself into a fat boy, who ran himself into a healthy man. But you never saw the man.

          True, I won’t find you to inquire what you think of me now. I won’t call you up and ask if eighty pounds was enough, if you have a rhyme for someone who’s a third lighter now. It’s true, because if I did, it would say more of what hasn’t changed about me than what has.

Spring, 2017 Issue