When We Were Boys
When we were boys, we were best friends, but beyond that, we were cousins. His mother’s father shared a crib with my father’s mother. Our own mothers gossiped in kitchens while we sat next to each other in Baltimore’s only Greek school, learning an alien alphabet, how to dance, and how to hate the Turks.
It was a time of never waking up as the same person, but always waking up wanting to see each other. Too old for the playground, too young for cars, we would loiter at stores to kill time. We didn’t have any money so we started stealing for each other.
“Here, I got you this.” Always trying to outdo each other. An X-Men sketchbook, an Ace of Base album, a CD player. But one day I felt bolder than ever.
“What are you doing?” he asked, as I stormed into the pet store. He waited outside. The next time he saw me, I had my hands in my pockets and was telling him to run. We ended up at a Blockbuster where I revealed my bounty: seven slippery firebellied frogs, each the size and color of a Now & Later candy. Four of them got loose among copies of Hocus Pocus and Heathers. I took the remaining frogs home, and we fed them fruit snacks before setting them free two days later.
At Greek school, he was popular. The boys were jealous that the girls thought he was cute and a good dancer, but not jealous enough to not be his friend. I was shy, moody, small for my age, so it was only a matter of time before I found myself cornered against a chain link fence by the class bully, a boy with three rough, older brothers, and no sisters.
“Do you know what happens to faggots?” I didn’t have time to answer. He put me in a chokehold and squeezed. “I’m not letting go till you pass out!” he shouted at me. I flung my limbs into his stomach and shins. That’s when my cousin punched him in the mouth.
When the most adored girl in our class gave out invitations to her 12th birthday party, my cousin and I were the only boys who got one. We weren’t crude like the others. We didn’t type out 8008135 on our calculators. Down in the birthday girl’s basement, we played spin the bottle. He French kissed her. “What was it like?” I asked. “Give me your hand. I’ll show you.” He pressed