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Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.

9/20/2005

DIARY OF INDIGNITIES
My Butterfly-Knife Romance
Jennifer Testa was the first girl I ever really loved.

She looked a little like Jane Wiedlin, bassist for popular, crappy new-wave band the Go Go’s, and had transferred to Tarpon High shortly into my freshman school year. She sat in the back of my science class, catching my attention with her short, curly, black hair and stylish, offbeat clothing.

I adored her at first sight, and spent weeks watching for an opportunity to talk to her. I found it the day we were slated to dissect crayfish.

She seemed a little reluctant to chop into her specimen, and who could blame her? The crayfish were preserved with formaldehyde, and gave off an unappealing chemical funk. Crack their little chewy shells and icky guts came out. This is not a task suited to a delicate flower such as young miss Jennifer, even if she was Italian, and thus slightly less evolved than your average Tarpon student.

I guess I should point out Tarpon Springs, Florida is home to a large Greek population, and kids boasting this Mediterranean heritage comprised more than half the student body. A large portion of the faculty were Greek. They even offered Greek for the language requirements. If there’s anything I learned during my studies at Tarpon High, besides “ask what the pill does before you eat it,” it’s that everyone on the planet is less evolved than the Greeks.

In fact, I once had a teacher just come out and tell me, “Patrick, we had advanced mathematics and philosophy while your people were painting themselves blue, living in caves and poking each other in the ass with spears.”

I pretended to be impressed, but, honestly, the whole blue thing with the spears didn’t sound too bad. Especially compared to math. Shit, come to think of it, I’d probably still go with the cave, given the choice. I mean, I can barely stand to put on pants.

Anyway, when I saw Jennifer balk at the dissection, I seized the moment. I walked over, pulled out my giant butterfly knife, whirled it around a few times like you do and stuck the blade right through the crayfish’s head.

Jennifer looked me in the eyes and smiled. I stood there, held her gaze and smiled back. Our science teacher, Mr. Lelakis, smiled. He knew some heavy-duty ninth-grade butterfly-knife courtship when he saw it. Plus, the Greek kids were always stabbing the shit out of each other and setting off nail bombs on Halloween, so he was probably used to that kind of stuff.

Sadly, I think Mr. Lelakis died relatively young a few years ago. He was a great guy, even to students belonging to subhuman mud races, such as myself. For example, he didn’t care that I was waving around a giant butterfly knife in his class like some sort of maniac. Like Jennifer, he thought it was cute.

These days they wouldn't see such a thing as innocent flirtation. They’d fucking call in a SWAT team to hang me from a gibbet in the town square.

Man, I just remembered... I got that knife from a Filipino kid named Gabe Sanchez. Once Gabe was hiding in the trunk of my buddy Scott Millard’s car, shooting fireworks at traffic as Scott drove around. A cop came up behind them, and Gabe, not able to see it was ol' 99 with the trunk pulled down low, fired off a volley from a Roman candle right at it. A fireball stuck to the hood of the cop car and ignited the paint, instigating a chase. Gabe, assuming it was just some angry dudes behind them, continued his assault while Scott careened through the streets, trying to lose The Man.

Eventually Scott wrecked the car into a telephone pole. After it was all said and done they ended up with a million hours of community service mopping floors at some Elk’s Lodge or something, where they somehow managed to boost several hundred dollars worth of booze from a closet, a caper that keept us all happily puking through weekends for almost two years.

Great guys, Gabe and Scott. And you know what? There’s a lesson here. Parents and schools and shit overreact to everything kids do these days. Despite our hijinx, nobody brought out the gibbet for us, and we all turned out to be responsible members of society.

...Well, I guess. I don’t really have any idea what happened to those two. They could be out there driving around right now, looking to fuck up a cop car or two with some big-ass bottle rockets. I suppose the jury’s still out on me, too, even if I spend hours and hours each day sitting quietly in an office, staring at a computer screen and feeling my brain turn to mush, and very little time stabbing crayfish in the head with butterfly knives.

Which is a shame, because carving up that crayfish was certainly my in as far as Jennifer Testa went. We started spending a lot of time together, and it was great. She was smart and funny and just the damn prettiest thing I ever saw. Plus, she lived in the same subdivision as me, had cable with MTV and her mom didn’t care if we smoked cigarettes.

I spent a few perfect weeks sitting next to Jennifer on the couch, bumming smokes from her mom, cracking jokes to make her smile, maybe dancing together when a Prince video came on — Jennifer had a ballet background and loved to dance. I loved watching her. After it was time to head home we’d call each other, talking about nothing for hours.

This short period was honestly the last time in my life I can remember feeling anything, anything at all, that could be described with a word like contentment. Pretty much everything — everything, not just relationships or whatever — before and since has basically been an endless string of disappointments and annoyances, or, at best, a way to mark time until something better came along.

But I could have sat on the couch next to Jennifer forever.

I worked up the nerve to kiss Jennifer the night before I left to visit my mom, two hours away in Gainesville. It was just getting dark, and we were out in the street in front of Jennifer's house, saying goodbye. As I kissed her, she cradled the back of my head, pulling me into her, then started stroking the back of my neck.

I had kissed plenty of girls by this point (surprisingly), but never like this. It was deep and slow, with none of the awkwardness or frantic tongue-spinning I usually associate with Frenching ninth-graders I remember from my teenage years. She kissed the side of my neck, and a warmth I had never before in my life felt spread through my entire body, totally giving me a boner.

Running up the phone bill in Gainesville was a no-no, but I managed to call her a few times. The last time, she seemed a little sad, a little distant. When I got back to my dad’s a few weeks later, I found out why.

Somehow while I was gone Jennifer had started dating a dude named Philip. He was a rich kid from another school with a Trans Am and a fondness for showing off his skills with the nunchucks.

I couldn’t figure out this situation at all. I was still spending a lot of time with Jennifer — hell, I spent more time with her than that creep Philip did. And Jennifer seemed more sad about the whole situation than anything, like she'd rather be dating me. When I’d ask her why she was with him and not me, something I did frequently, she’d just look upset and say, “He asked me first.”

The irrational nature of this response drives me nuts to this day. I swear, I don't think it was a line. I think she really did like me more than him, and it made me insane. Teenage girls, pay close attention to this — "he asked me first" is a totally stupid reason to date someone.

...Hey, maybe nunchucks just rate higher than butterfly knives? Nah, that can't be the case. I took those stupid things away from him once. I stopped by Jennifer’s house and he was out in the yard, flipping them around like a retarded ninja. He knew how I felt about his girlfriend, and kind of waved them around at me.

“Go ahead, you dildo,” I said. “I dare you. Come at me.”

He raised his eyebrows, and did, while Jennifer yelled for him to stop. I grabbed a chuck mid-swing, yanked ‘em out of his hands and casually tossed them through the open passenger window of his Trans Am. So fucking smooth.

There's no way I could pull that off today. Teenage butterfly-knife romance gives you magical powers.

I could hear Jennifer giggling as I walked away. But still she stayed with that guy. It was breaking my heart.

Out of my mind with jealousy and confusion, I wrote her a letter, telling her how I felt about her, and how much she was hurting me with this he-asked-me-first crap. I appealed to her sense of reason, her clear affection for me. That kiss we shared. For no good reason at all, I also described, in detail, how I shaved for the first time that day. Even though I totally didn’t need it.

She called me and told me she loved the letter. She told me she'd keep it forever. But she wouldn’t break it off with Philip. He asked her first.

I stopped talking to her. But I still loved her.

A week or two of ignoring Jennifer and I was in bed, pining away while contemplating a photograph of her. It was taken when was a bridesmaid or something at a wedding. She was all done up and smiling and looked so beautiful. I decided to jack off.

Now, in a lifetime of frequent and varied masturbation habits, this was the first time I ever whacked it to a picture of someone I knew instead of dirty porno pictures, or even dirtier imagination pictures. It took a long time and was kind of weird. When I was done, I wiped myself off on the photo.

Now, that sounds terrible, I know, but this honestly wasn’t done out of any kind of psycho-sexual hostility. I had decided to beat off on the spur of the moment, and without time to prepare and get a tissue or something it was just the only thing handy. Plus, at the time I thought I would never want to look at that photo ever again.

I was wrong. I regretted it instantly, and felt wholly disgusted. Despite the pain she caused me, I loved her with all my heart, and treasured that photo. Wiping myself off on it seemed like a cheap shot, at least after the fact. So crudely demeaning, even if it wasn't intended that way. Also, glossy photographs aren’t really absorbent enough for efficient post-ejaculation clean up, so it just kind of smeared all the jizz around. Ugh.

As far as I was concerned, this unpleasant little coda meant it was all over. Somehow, I managed to soldier on with life and all that shit. My duties as magistrate helped distract me.

At the beginning of tenth grade, Jennifer was dating David Burke. He was older, a senior, and enjoyed a rep as the school's most promising artist. David rocked a cool new-wave style, with vintage clothes and long, swoopy bangs. He smoked clove cigarettes, drove a ’67 Mustang convertible and liked some of the same bands I did, Black Flag and Dead Kennedys and Echo & the Bunnymen. It wasn’t me, but it was an improvement over that douche Philip.

I started chatting with the two of them in the halls between class, asking David to swap cassettes of hard-to-find bands and shit like that. I never once let on that anything had ever happened between me and Jennifer, that we had ever kissed or that I had spooged all over a classy photograph of her or anything. I could feel her watching me intently during these exchanges, but I played it real, real cool.

Now, at the time I was sporting a variation of the much-maligned haircut that’s today known as the mullet. Near the beginning of the ‘80s, however, a version of this style, developed by David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust years and locally known as "the spike," was really considered very controversial and avant garde. Forward-thinking soccer players and homosexual men in bands such as Kajagoogoo wore their hair in a spike, and so did I.

David Burke, however, had over the summer converted his spike into bangs. Clearly, this was the direction to go. So when he suggested I skip school with him and Jennifer one day so we could all get high give me a new haircut, I was into it. I looked over at Jennifer to see if she minded, and got a little smile that told me there would be no awkwardness, that it would all be OK.

The next morning I headed to her house instead of the bus stop. Jennifer and David were under the covers of her parents bed, fully clothed. She invited me to join them, and I jumped in. Jennifer passed me a joint, and we spent hours nestled in there, watching MTV and cracking jokes. Laughing and snuggled up next to her, I felt something that wasn’t entirely dissimilar from the contentment I experienced at her house pre-Philip. Later, David cut my hair, giving me bangs and a long rat tail. He totally fucked up the sides, though, and acted like it was supposed to be like that. I just went along with it.

The next few months were alright. I wasn't playing so much D&D, and was running with what my parents would call a fast crowd. David drove me and Jennifer to school each morning in that bad-ass baby-blue Mustang, and he always had decent weed. Jennifer started calling herself Jenne. I’d crash at David’s house and we’d drive into Ybor City for hardcore punk shows at the Star Club, or to go to gay bars like El Goya and dance to New Order. He knew an older crowd; high-school grads and artists and homos. It was very exciting. Once, someone shot at us in a parking lot.

I got a little disillusioned with this scene after discovering how much David’s art ripped off a friend who had graduated a few years before. Plus, David had some weird thing going with his ex-best-friend where I was pretty sure the two of them were, like, gay. It was no big deal, but I could tell he wasn’t being honest about it. And when Jennifer wasn't around he always wanted to discuss masturbation technique with me, in detail. It got to be a little much. Eventually, I declined the offer of a live demonstration.

Even so, I still hung out with the two of them a lot. We smoked a lot of pot.

Around this time I was driving along Alternate 19 with Jennifer (or Jenne, whatever) and her mom, sitting in the back seat as we made our way to some school function. Out of nowhere, Jennifer’s mom blurted out that she knew who Jennifer was going to marry, and that it was me. I sat there, stunned. It was a weird thing to just come out and say, considering Jennifer was with David. But Jennifer turned around from the front seat, looked me in the eye and smiled.

I smiled right back, not saying a word. I was still in love with her, of course.

Not long after this, I was out partying with a small group: David, Jennifer, the artist whose style David ripped off and my girlfriend at the time. We were all really, really high. Somehow we ended up drinking in a random patch of woods, I think because we didn't want to share our booze or drugs with the common folk at any of the weekend parties.

Staring at Jennifer, I dared everybody to start making out with each other. They went for it — with a crowd as self-consciously unconventional as us, I knew they would. So when my turn came I kissed Jennifer for the second time, and it was pretty good, just like I remembered. I could feel real love in that kiss, true love. The world spun and my whole body turn liquid.

Of course, 10 minutes later I started vomiting forth long streams of clear, pure grain alcohol, so the spinny feelings and stuff might have been from that. That shit steamed in the cold and burned my throat on the way out, but I could see the headlights from our car refracted through it, making rainbow patterns. I laughed, both from the elation of once again kissing the girl I loved as well as at what seemed like just a shitload of grandly asburd cosmic juxtapositions.

Oh — no, I didn’t kiss either of the dudes. As far as I know.

When I was done barfing and laughing, we piled back into the car and hit a party. Our little make-out session gave us a secret, something that bonded us, and we stuck to ourselves, separated from the crowd. Someone mentioned how they just didn’t feel like talking to anyone else, how they only felt connected to our little group. I said, “It’s like we’re the Breakfast Club.”

Self-loathing instantly poured over me. I couldn't believe I said something so trite, so stupid. But everyone thought it was great, nodding and agreeing. “Yeah, yeah, that's it, it’s like we’re the Breakfast Club!”

I should point out that at this time I hadn’t yet actually even seen the damn movie.

Monday came, and after school I was at Jennifer's, getting high with her and David. This was the routine.

As David rolled a joint, I watched Jennifer go into a ballet routine, kicking her legs and twirling. And she started singing, “We’re going to get high, we’re going to get high.”

I realized I hadn’t seen her dance like that in more than a year. She used to dance like that all the time, just out of happiness. Horror and sadness began to expand in the pit of my stomach, and I couldn't bear to watch her. I went into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror, trying to recognize my reflection for what seemed like a very long time.

When I opened the door, Jennifer was standing there. She kissed me. She told me that kissing her in the woods that night reawakened her feelings. She wanted me. She loved me.

I kissed her back, briefly, but the horror just grew. I broke away and walked into the living room, where David was watching TV, and stood around awkwardly for a minute or two, then just left.

In the following weeks, I quit smoking pot. (Well, for a month or two, anyway.) I started riding the bus again and rang up my old D&D buddies. Jennifer would call me, but I never called her back. I was polite but distant to her at school. Eventually, I stopped talking to her. She would stare at me, and I would pretend not to notice.

I moved back to Gainesville just before the start of my junior year, and never saw her again.

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