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Published by Joe Bonomo
River Teeth (V6 N2 2005). Cited as a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 2006 (Lauren Slater, ed.)
River Teeth (V6 N2 2005). Cited as a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 2006 (Lauren Slater, ed.)

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Published by: Joe Bonomo on Jul 12, 2010
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84river teeth.spring 2005. vol. 6 no. 2
 Joe Bonomo
 A tame, mild afternoon; a high and welcome sun. Birds lift and dive inbright blurs around me. Near St. Mary’s Cemetery my car idles at a redlight. Bored by the radio, I turn to stare out the window. A 
urry of move-ment in the car next to mine catches my eye: two college-age young womensit in the front seat, and I can tell by their convulsive shoulders and themusic blaring from the stereo that they’re having a good time. Nothingabout their appearance is remarkable—they look like denim-clad studentsI might have taught in class that morning. The girl in the passenger seat waves quickly for my attention, and as I stare she holds something up toher window. It looks like a gift card? I’m betrayed into thinking that there’snothing strange about this gesture, but as my eyes focus, I stare at a photoof a naked, spread-eagled woman, forcing two
ngers into herself in harsh,pornographic delight. The girls in the car shriek with laughter and bouncein their seats, and the card winks in the sunlight. The cardholding girlturns back to me and
xes her gaze on mine, barely containing wickeddelight. The mutually exclusive zones of our cars a
ord her boldness, andshe locks eyes with me and waits for my reaction with the card pressedluridly up against the window. I look away for a moment in warm embar-rassment and then, possessed by a kind of absurd machismo, look back andgive her a half-smile and an unsteady 
sign, as if to say,
Whatever. How doI respond to this? To vulva at high noon
In a second the light will change andthe girls will roar o
—I’ll hear their laughter over the engine and tires.Before I drive through the light I’ll look around involuntarily, feeling as if I’ve been caught at something rank. There, a few feet away on the curb, ayoung mother in cloddish, pink and white striped shorts pushes herstroller in front of her, another young child trudging by her feet. Theirbacks are to me and their heads are downcast. They are walking in the
Bonomo: Caught
general direction of the local public library, where a young boy can sit nextto a young girl and, beneath the eyes of parents and friends and strangers,log in to Yahoo or Google and stare at photos and read stories and lettersmore sexually explicit than anything I could have ever hoped to encounterat the same age. As I drive away I will wonder on the girls in the car, on theyoung family walking the other way. What an absurd tableau.Like all sinewy properties of memory, surging hormones are tied to a messof images and stirring thoughts, a dank, dripping
stful. My carnal past:early, erotic longing for my sister blends with bewildering crushes andglimpses of panties on grade school classmates, learning masturbation afterswimming in the neighbors’ pool, coaxing my cold penis into the light of . . . well something that certainly felt like wisdom in the shivering bath-room o
the hall from my parents’ bedroom. The quietly loud transforma-tion of the
Washington Post 
Sunday magazine ads: sudden erotic artifacts onthe kitchen table next to the bacon, eggs, and Montgomery Donuts pur-chased after mass. As with any kind of body knowledge, nascent sexuality coursed through me with little regard for reason or rationality, as compel-ling a part of our physical relationship with the world as bone marrow, as
uttering, tired eyes at midnight, as hunger pangs at the end of a long,chilly afternoon playing in the woods. Do you remember the
rst time youfelt hungry? The
rst time you felt lust? Whatever shady memories I have of reckoning with sex, the one explicitfeeling I can remember is fear—of the unknown, of getting caught, of notbeing allowed to look. For years the sexual urge for me nearly always beganand
nished in heart-pounding alarm. This had little to do with my Catholic upbringing,
rst at Saint Andrew the Apostle School and then atOur Lady of Good Counsel High School, because even as a young boy Iunderstood the line between instinct and manners, and grew quickly totrust bodily yearning as a natural, not an evil or sinful, synonym for spiri-tual yearning. In heavy, musty art books, under the watchful eye of themild, white-haired nun who tended the school library at Saint Andrew’s, I
rst glanced at reproductions of Renaissance paintings depicting variousChristian mysteries. Watching Christ writhe on the cross, arms and sinewsstraining, always spoke to me about the body’s messy role in our future of agony. Maybe I stared
xedly, blanching at Titian’s
Christ Crowned withThorns,
studying the painful abnegation on Christ’s face, the geometric
86river teeth.spring 2005. vol. 6 no. 2
glee with which His tormentors attacked His physique with civic policy.Sitting in that small library room I knew that the body and its desires (forpleasure, for surcease) were voices crying as surely to the heavens as any psychological supplications from the cross. And as a kid, I listened. I wasre
ecting on the sex lives of our priests and nuns when my friends werere
ecting on wheelies and the Fonz. After all, Sister Irene had legs, andknees, and the dark. . . . Years later, when the rumor went around my highschool that our school priest had confessed to a sympathetic student histwin addictions to Pepsi and masturbation, it came as no shock to me. What was surprising was that we didn’t hear about this kind of thing moreoften.Perhaps the fear that I associated with sex had something to do with my parents. Not prudes, they nonetheless bore their obligation to create intheir son a manifest respect for the sex act. Fine. Once, in the bright kitchen,I overheard my mother say to my younger brother, Paul, in a dubious e
ortto sound hip and subvert his annoyingly adolescent brooding, “Of coursesex is great, your father and I have it all the time!” I was less surprised thandiscom
ted, wishing achingly that my parents would keep to themselves what they obviously enjoyed behind their bedroom door. Sex was not to befeared in my house, but the bringing of one’s erotic desires out into thedomestic realm was. When Paul announced to our family that he was gay,not long after my mother con
ded to him in the kitchen, what was hardestfor my brothers and sister—and certainly for my parents—was not hishomosexuality, per se, but his
sexuality. He demanded that we allturn to each other, recognizing,
Yes, we do all have sex lives.
Getting caught, having the door thrown open onto your body’s pri-vacy—fear was bred there. I vividly recall the afternoon my father discov-ered the
magazines under my bed. I was eleven ortwelve, reckless in stashing the magazines on the
oor knowing that my mother swept beneath my bed each Saturday morning. I was in the base-ment when my father called me into my room.
. . . I remember largehands and clean
ngernails. I stood with my head hanging as he toweredover me, the vivid and
eshy evidence thankfully returned to the dark 
oorunder my bed. Lemon Pledge hung in the expectant air.
I understand . . . a young boy . . . it’s only natural . . . just try not to let your mother 
nd it . . . it’s o
ensive to her.
My fear of getting caught (but why had I tossed the magazines so cava-

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