“One Day Among Many”

By: Scott Petty

There was this day, a long time ago, tucked away in the deep recesses of his mind, recalled quite often to the front of his thought over and over again. In the annals of his personal history, it was one of those pivotal days, or a moment that seemed to germinate many more curious days yet to be lived… Teenagers are curious creatures. They are people caught in a cross-section of life and they walk through it with eyes wide open but with minds that are mostly blank. There are always more questions asked than answers given. It seems that the adolescent years are spent in writing all those questions, in questioning everything outside and inside. After a couple of decades pass people seem to become content to let the questions simply arise. By the time the twenties end people spend almost no time looking for new questions but only to find ways and means. They finally understand how to use their time more wisely. The questions will organically crop up so they only address the significant ones, disregard the insignificant, and rarely draft their own. Sufficient is the evil unto the day thereof. But only the passage of time will bring that calm and unless that ‘teen decade is handled with some measure of care the future arrives in fragments. In that case, people end up spending the rest of their lives in an attempt to assemble the pieces into a somewhat coherent picture. And maybe they can patch is up and pass the cracks off as artistic lines called ‘character.’ He sat on the edge of his bed at the beginning of another tired day after a night of little sleep. He thought about that day again. He wondered (as he often did) if that historic day was not the moment that his life steered away from harmony and plunged into discord. There was no other day like it. It was the head. Or maybe it was just another symptom and not the cause? There he was: almost thirty and asking questions. He had to question it though. It felt like the start. If he figured out where it began, if he questioned it enough, if he prodded and poked at it with doubt and skepticism, then, he thought, all the problems would unravel and he would be able to simply rethread the fabric of his life into a more comfortable existence. Just that one day, he thought to himself as he struggled to shake sleep from his eyes, and I would be living another kind of life. He simply found it impossible to forget. His mind sauntered back to 1996… It was at a time when local record stores were still prolific and offered vinyl and cassettes. Compact Discs had just reached their hay-day. Portable CD players were a status symbol. The internet was still a luxury ergo the protocols that made the digitalization of media standard had not as yet coated the cultural landscape. iTunes, mp3’s: these things were not around during that time. Everyone still had film in their cameras. On that day, in that year, he entered a local bookstore next to an adjoining record store. TOWER BOOKS next to TOWER RECORDS. He had not entered alone though. He had been followed into the store by an older brother—who was about a year and half older—and their father… As he sat on his bed and remembered the scene again he was still unsure about what brought them to that store; why he had walked in with his brother and father. Maybe there was no particular

reason; a chance stop just to see what was being sold? But they were there and that was all that mattered because that was the memory that remained with him untarnished year after year… It so happened that the trio broke company at one point during their visit. They parted and scattered themselves among the cases of books. The store had been laid out thusly: upon entering a patron first laid eyes upon aisles carved out by book cases approximately five or six feet tall; to the right of the entrance a magazine rack was laid out. It was an “L” shape which hugged the wall. It turned the corner of the store and ran for about six more feet until it ran into the book cases which lined the side and back walls of the store; these shelves were taller. There was an aisle about four feet wide between the magazine rack and another “L” shaped book case which housed novelty and joke books. It was about four feet high. Upon the left side of the store the children’s section was placed with various cases, short and scattered before a bank of tall windows which looked outside. There he was wandering about the various sections. Of the three he was the one with the great love affair for books and the written word. He inspected each spine and exposed cover and tried to write the story in his mind based on the titles he saw. He eventually emerged from the forest of books. He came out facing the magazines. A cursory glance made the whole thing appear to be a huge collage. From where he stood the magazines met with the book cases along the wall. The magazine rack was another five feet long past the corner. The magazines stacked there were of various interests and niches: tattoos to dogs; motor-cross to politics. The rack was two-tiered so below eye-level there were even more publications to behold. But the display underwent an abrupt change. This change happened about three feet from the corner of the store. A dark plastic panel leapt up and ran from the top to the bottom of the upper shelves. Other dark, foggy, plastic panels were there. Every shelf in this segregated section had them. They stood just high enough to cover up the magazines, everything except the title. It looked like a prison for all the naughty publications. This adult section took up approximately four feet of wall space. His curious glance rested upon the forbidden material. He made a soft attempt to tear his eyes away. He grew up in a pious home with parents who were devout in their faith. He had a lot of that instilled in him growing up and although it was but a mere candle compared to his parents’ roaring fire, he had some of that faith in his heart. But what his eyes dared to consume his faith determined to be forbidden. He was not a boy merely curious to scrape at the first layer of sin. His desires dove past that. This desire was even more condemned by the faith he practiced. His desire was toward men. His eyes sought for the opportunity to see their naked forms; he sought to enjoy their shapes and worship their bodies. An inexplicable longing to consume images of the male body had slowly sprung up in his mind. It had been an issue that had lingered in the shadow of his thought for a large part of his life, but until that day it was not an issue that had a definite form. He never knew what to call it; he didn’t even really know that it had been there until that day. He let the silent longing roll out on that day though and pursued it further than he had before. But he thought that the pursuit would not be appropriate to begin with his father and brother hanging around in the store. So it was that the father and brother had joined this anxious boy near the front of the store. They had tired of books and indicated that they were going to adjourn to the record store next door to view the music and movies, so by some fortune—or misfortune—they left him to continue browsing alone. Alone: it was a blessing and a curse where he was free to make the choice. He could satiate the

burning curiosity within and possibly enslave himself to the desire which he doubtfully would fully embrace or he could rip himself away and then his faith might ignite and roar into full force. As soon as he was left alone his eyes were restored to those magazines and one publication in particular. Over the dark, foggy plastic—which he assumed had been placed there to protect innocent eyes—he saw it. The top of his head, and just a hint of his eyes, had been left unguarded. Under the words PLAYGIRL were words that were printed in a pale royal blue: “90210” and then immediately below was the fateful name in magenta: “Brian Austin” with his last name in green. That was it. He had become ensnared. He took a glance around his settings; practically alone. The clerk was not immediately present. Other patrons—there were at most two others in the store—were off in another corner of the store. It was an opportune time, so he stole to the rack where his target sat; his eyes never left the ones that stared up back from the cover. He reached a trembling hand out and grasped the magazine from its perch. Furtively, he slipped it under his shirt. He retreated to an empty section near the back of the shop. That part in the story where the hero goes through the great and eternal struggle between his evil nature and the good seemed to be missed on that day. It’s often that in conflicts of ethics or morals good and evil (right and wrong, nice and mean, or whatever other words are used for the opposing forces) will strive as the hero contemplates. He deliberates on the pros and cons and considers on the consequences of a certain course of action. When this boy reached for that magazine there was a total lack of deliberation; there was not even a pause for consideration. The element of theft had not even deterred him nor wrought upon his mind a second of hesitation. Maybe he had already decided before he entered that store, but whatever the reason he grabbed that magazine without a pause. And once its glossy cover had been secured within his anxious grasp, he knew that it would be going home with him. It was an absolute truth. There was no room in his mind for concerns about being discovered; getting caught was not a fear that registered. He only had a mind to satiate his flowering curiosity. He snuck off to the back of the store with the ill-gotten magazine hidden under his shirt. Once he stood in a shadowed corner near the back he adjusted his loot so that it sat securely in the elastic of his underwear. The magazine took to the shape of his body; it wrapped easily around his side and faded away like just another layer of meat. He looked up and saw that he remained alone. There was no one to be seen as he passed through the store with his arm hanging casually by his side. As he maneuvered toward the exit, his eyes were locked upon the door. The store and all the objects and therein became mere streaks of undistinguishable colors. He pushed the doors open and hurriedly trotted back to his father’s car. He never looked back. In his mind there was never a second guess or a doubtful glance. He only had an eye and a mind for his destination. He wondered how the bootie was to be smuggled into the house. The car was locked so all he could do was stand there in heavy contemplation about the feast he would soon engage in. His curiosity burned fervently inside. It ranted and roared to be freed. He kept the anticipation in check as he waited for his father and brother’s return from the record/video store. They soon emerged from TOWER RECORDS. It felt like hours to him, but it was but mere moments from when he fled TOWER BOOKS. They looked pleased. He felt dark. Dad unlocked the doors. He moved into the car. The magazine shifted against his body. He felt its corners poke at his body like an ugly reminder of where he was going with this endeavor. It was not down a floral strewn

road. It would be sharp like the corners of the magazine that scraped back and forth against his skin. It would not even be a path. It was just going to be a mass of space he would attempt to cross. The drive home consisted of dad’s benign questions about his son’s time in the book store: “did you find anything interesting?” “Did you see anything you liked?” The son offered equally vague replies: “Kind of,” and “nah.” The car eventually pulled up along-side the curb outside their house. Anxiety was renewed. The plunder had shifted from its secure position during the ride home; he felt it. He knew it was no longer secured in the band of his underwear. It had ridden up slightly. He would have to move carefully, when it came time to move, in order to prevent the evidence from spilling out into the open. The car stopped. The engine was killed. The doors were opened erratically. They all stepped out. He slid slowly from the back seat with his forearm locked to his side. The publication was pinned in place. He had landed in his room without incident. The magazine had not escaped his clutches. There he stood in the midst of temporary safety. Anxiety was quickly replaced by a beaming sense of anticipation. In all his life his own naked body had been the only one he had ever seen. His own parts were all he had to consider. That was about to change. Up to that point he still had not peeled back the enticing cover. The contents remained a brilliant mystery. He resituated the publication beneath his clothing and took off to a place of more substantial refuge: the bathroom. The door was shut. The door was locked. He turned from the door and switched on the light. The fan over-head roared into life. The sound added an additional layer of security. He relaxed a little more at the sound of rushing air being sucked away by the whirling blades. He sat down upon the toilet and commenced a visual feast. It is enough to say that his adolescent eyes consumed page after glossy page; picture upon picture leaked into his mind. His breath was drawn from his lungs by what he saw. Perfect men with perfect proportions and diving symmetry were all laid out before him without the obstruction of clothes. He had to look twice or three times to be sure he knew what he was seeing. After a successful series of ensuing thefts of various gay publications—featuring a variety of nude men—the boy was discovered. His father found the evidence tucked away in the bottom drawer beneath some folded clothes, but it had been his mother who had been sent in to make the arrest and interrogate the culprit. The circumstances forced her to draft questions and pose them to her baby. Her choice of words and overall brevity with the situation was indicative of how uncomfortable it made her. She obviously did not want to be in that place to begin with and she hurried through it like some kind of ghetto on her way to the suburbs. Her interrogation consisted of one question: “Do you like men?” He sat there, in the chair next to his mother as she shoved the question at him. He knew that the idea repulsed her. He wanted to end this as quickly as possible. They both agreed to end it without any words. “No,” he said in a slightly pleading voice, but a very contrived pleading. His mother sat in silence. They kept their eyes off one another, afraid to see the truth staring back at each other. He knew she would see his true desires. His eyes must have been smoldering with an unashamed curiosity. Conversely his mother sat there and knew that if her son looked into her eyes he would see the pain of ignorance and disappointment. Her youngest child had wandered into paths that she would never follow or be able to watch him walk down to make sure he made it to the other end safely. That

was the curse of certain kinds of faith: it kept the faithful from being able to take certain paths (or no paths at all) and for loved ones who strayed, they would always feel lost. What mother would not see that as a curse? She would stand on her perfectly paved pathway unable to see to it that the fruit of her womb made it safely to the end. It was not much longer after that confrontation that the internet bloomed with all its new protocols. A new medium was born and a new source for the images which that boy had so strangely longed for had. The chain of TOWER stores soon died after that too… …That boy, now a man, stood up and shook off the reverie. He staggered from his bed to the bathroom. That memory played in his mind often. He thought long upon it. He noted that the matter had never really been settled nor had it gone away as his parents so desperately wanted. He never admitted it out-loud but he too wanted it to just go away. Question something long enough and intently enough, jabbing at it with doubt and skepticism then it just might go away. That’s what he thought, anyway, as he looked at his tired eyes in the bathroom mirror. That day in TOWER BOOKS was the day he had had lost his innocence. He tries not to throw too many “What ifs” on his back. Understanding would have been nice, but that was a luxury he was not entitled to. So he resigned himself to his fate, the one he had carved out with the deeds he had executed that day. That memory would forever be alive in his mind, he was sure. He had faith still: faith that maybe one day that experience will serve to help him in some other conflict, to propel him through the questions and find all his answers. i

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