C

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault*

You are my earliest memory.

Those nights, all I wanted to do was to
play with your G.I. Joes and Power Rangers

as our mothers gossiped in your living
room. Your room was a sock-strewn
clubhouse for broken home boys like me,

a place where you taught me
to quietly giggle words like shit
and damn into my hand so my mother
couldn’t hear. You were an older

brother I never had, a model
of miniature masculinity, so when
you told me that your father taught
you how to be a man, I wanted
to learn—what boy at age four

could resist this knowledge? You led
me to your closet and pulled the door
shut behind us, swaddling my eyes
in darkness until you found the cord
and clicked light into existence. Standing
under your striped t-shirts and passing

dusty recycled air between our lungs,
I was lost in my own head, wondering
who had showed your dad how to be
a man and why my father hadn’t shared
this mandate with me himself, so when
you pulled down your pants, and showed
me your shriveled manhood, all I could do

was stare; I was too young to know
that I should be embarrassed by your naked
body. I didn’t understand how being cramped
in the closet with you was going to make me
a man, I had never heard any other boys
whispering about such a rite of passage,
but you told me to trust you and I did.
You spit into your hand and tugged,

as if you wanted to rid yourself
of yourself, and all the while I watched,
afraid I would miss something if I looked
away. Later, you reached out and took
me in your hand, showing me our body’s
awful machinations, telling me that I was
being a girl when I started to cry. You told me

to nurse you like a lollipop, like something
sweet I’d get from the doctor for enduring
a shot. I hoped you were telling the truth,
that when the closet door swung open
I would be a man and the whole world
would be different, but when the light rushed

in and the eddies of dust stopped swirling
your dirty socks were still on the floor,
our mothers were still laughing in the
living room. It’s said that when we die our lives
will flicker in front of our eyes in slow-motion

technicolor, the tapes of our lives rewinding,
constantly rewinding, the sights growing brighter
frame by frame, the smells and tastes sharpening
in our mouths and noses until we’ve looked

back and it all finally makes sense. This is why
I’m afraid of dying—I don’t want the last image
that will ever burn in my eyes to be you,

panting, hand outstretched, as if you
were the answer to all life’s questions,

as if even in death you were coming for me.

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