he red and purple lights that seep into the windows from the car-wash infuses the atmosphere with a tantalizing tone, one that I am all too familiar with at this point in my life.
Like any other 17-year-old high school junior, I am wired. I am antsy. I am using this opportunity as a mission to break free.
Actually, today is the start of the last week of school, but I’ll be tardy. I’m too busy studying something else entirely.
My black socks are knee-length and cover my feet that are planted firmly against the dashboard. My neck bends forward as my head grazes the roof, so I lean it back against the shoulders of the man sitting behind me, abandoning aesthetic, in a surrender. In a subjugation to the debilitation of my senses.
I skipped school today to be with an older man, a man my father’s age, and it isn’t because he pays me to have sex. That won’t happen for another two years. But that’s another story.
I am with him because he’s one of the few gay men who I’ve been able to connect with in this sleepy, Redneck town. Creedmoor, North Carolina, a place where Bojangles’ is the highest delicacy, where all the gay men are closeted, and the nearest shopping mall is 15-point-five miles away, in Durham.
Durham’s famous for two things: Duke University and a crime rate that exceeds the national average.
Everyone at my high school thinks I have a secret fling with the quarterback. As if anyone’s life could be so perfectly cliche. It is a rumor that I refute, even though I may have started it; I can’t remember.
My existence as the black gay kid warranted a token of visibility beyond my feminine mannerisms or awkward gravitation toward performance. Sex felt like the most natural justification of my belonging, although it wasn’t, not at first.
At first I was ostracized for losing my virginity to another boy at 13. That was the lie I told my cousin in an effort to gain cool points that won me nothing in the long run. I became trapped in a promiscuous reputation for three whole years before gravity allowed me to catch up with it. There were times I thought to confess, to reclaim my innocence, but I figured I’d be difficult to believe by that point.
While I sought to forge fiction into fact — to transform my erotic life into more than a fallacious autobiography — the illusory fibers of my web were hard to break. I was swallowed and defeated by my own shadow.
There were many nights before meeting the older man where I’d stare at my empty inbox on Grindr, questioning why no one found me desirable enough to fuck. No one in a 20-mile radius, at least. I practically begged God to send me a remedy for the broken heart that had long been forsaken, not just by parents, fake friends or rude teachers in a host of different moments, but by my lack of self-sufficiency and self-care. Sad Boy.
At 17, I still care very little of what I feel for myself; I’m unexamined, unhappy and searching, but currently distracted from my grief. There is a body to bury the sorrow inside of.
But perhaps I’m the one who’s become a depot of dissatisfaction. Never mind that. The older man that I’m screwing is as miserable as me; misery binds us like hungry bacteria attaching itself to compromised organs; we are mutually infected with a spell of craving.
Pain looks like pleasure beneath rose-colored lights. Or, I’m too blinded by the curse — loneliness, invisibility, the wicked silence of a small town — to tell the difference.
Before losing my virginity, I spent an alarming amount of time pining over boys who were unavailable to me, boys that were jocks, boys that were straight, boys like Kenny, who I met during the ninth grade. I didn’t recognize at the time that the people I tried so hard to make myself seen by were not the people who belonged on my path.
“Make sure none of those guys are in my house while I’m gone,” my mom once said, only to come home and find a beautiful older boy — a head full of dark curls — napping on the floor of my bedroom.
Kenny was my first high-school crush. When I was 15, I revealed my affectionate feelings to the curly-haired boy; he was ambiguous in his response, unable to look me directly in the face. I’d never in my life felt so vulnerable, so exposed. Despite my efforts to reveal my deepest self, very little was revealed to me in return.
The cycle of unrequited love had begun.
While I’d go on to make similar confessions to similar guys over the years, none of them were as generous in their responses as Kenny was. Some ignored me, some let me down gently, some downright threatened to punch me in the face. The guys my own age, it seemed, were not interested in anything I had to offer, and it was silly of me to think they would be.
So by the time I meet Derek, I am desperate for connection, eager for touch, even if I know I’m jeopardizing myself in order to have it.
No matter how dangerous it is to creep off into the night with an older man without any form of protection, at 17 I am determined to meet this version of myself that has tortured me ever since puberty’s arrival.
I’m not just seeking, I’m being compelled to express the woes of the heart, to make meaning of these conflicted feelings I hold towards my same-sex attraction. Aside from Derek, I’ve never been presented with the proper opportunity to act them out.
For all I know, my homosexual inclinations are fairy tales, speculations of distant mythology, bearing no basis in reality. I want to change that; I want to be more than the rumors created by family members or unkind classmates. I want to live out loud for once, to be true to the voice of my calling.
Homosexuality feels like a key contribution to my life’s purpose.
So, whenever I listen for my parents to fall asleep on the opposite side of the house at night, scraping my arms while escaping from the window, breaking my skin against the brick of my home, all the while anticipating being broken in by another man, it isn’t an act of defiance or rebellion. I’m simply doing what needs to be done.
The bristles of an automated brush strike the car, reflecting the mechanical way in which I handle my assignment. My narrow hips are vitalized by a confidence I’ve learned over the course of the last year.
I throw them back and forth in powerful, bullish motions, which stroke the tool of the man inside of me, the man whose lap I have, over time, made a home out of, the man with the heavily calloused hands, who was the first to see me for who I wanted to be — for who I always claimed I was .
Through much practice, I’ve become the greatest vision of myself, which is to say, I am now convincing as a sexual creature.
The purple lights, the contrast of shadows with the soapsuds that lather against the windows of a Ford Focus hatchback, provide me with a thin layer of stealth. It is not impervious, visually, to the vehicles behind us, but it heightens my security enough for me to throw my inhibitions by the wayside, abandoning remnants of shame with every buck and sway.
Any trace of vacillation that I may have had about being an exhibitionist has been discarded on the side of Highway 56, somewhere between the McDonald’s and the CVS that my dad and stepmother often frequent.
Considering this is the only car wash in town, I wouldn’t be shocked if one of them pulled in right behind us in dad’s steel blue, Chevrolet pickup. Granted, I am on the opposite side of town from where my family resides, or shops, but the opposite side of town in this small hick bubble doesn’t even span a ten-minute distance.
If it weren’t for my work in newspaper and AP English, or the fact that I am writing my second young adult novel, I would be hella bored out of my mind and often am, but then Derek shows up with seven inches of hard steel for me to play with; he enables me to distract myself from the loneliness that characterizes my teen experience.
As he pets my skin — the color of golden honey — I vaguely observe the alarming girth of the older man’s cuticles, which look like rubber bands that have been sealed to form diameters across his nails. I use the pleasure of being deeply penetrated to distract myself from the lack of attraction I feel for this person. Surrender to the body and avoid mental disgust.
By now, Derek’s loins are hot and sweaty, saturating my smooth skin with a visceral stench that taints me in all the right ways.
Losing my virginity to him last year completely changed my life. Once I was used to the feeling of acclimation that came along with the fragmentation caused by premature sexual experience — the duality of the psyche, the lower animal and the higher conscience making a battlefield of the war in my mind — I became stronger, harder in the sense of a soldier in preparation to serve the will of his country.
What I came to understand, was that the thrill I gained from these pornographic joyrides was actually an act of aggression against myself and, perhaps, the world.
Author and spiritual teacher Thomas Moore defines duende as “the ability to put your life on the line for what you do,” without needing society’s approval. It refers to desire’s possession and an individual’s willingness to defy logic in the face of inspiration.
Frederico Garcia Lorca, a poet famous for the term, describes duende as “secret and shuddering.” Synonymous with the daemon of Socrates or the melancholic demon of Descartes, the guiding spirit uses the human as host — often despite his or her will.
It is an essential ingredient of discovering one’s vocation and living with a passionate fire.
When I review the trajectory of my failed intimacies, I see my heartbreaks as a result of a duende left unnourished and forsaken; I had a premature tendency to give of myself without giving to myself in return.
The softness of self-love is a necessary foundation in the development of intimacy. Sex without self-love is a form of abasement and abuse.
Derek will not be the only man to unknowingly mistake my softness for weakness; there will be others I attract after his departure that will expect to drain me of my vitality. They will expect that because of my energetic femininity, because of my tendency to give, that I will be a victim of hysterical emotionality, but I am done being a victim of the circumstances that — through my consciousness — I create.
I will be deliberate in my expression of this loving power, I will take it back, and I must start with the realm I inhabited when I first impulsively handed it away in the first place.
Derek’s pale hand strokes my center thigh, the swollen walls of my anal passage embracing him with ease, while his hips pound away at all the limitations that he and others have — in the youth of my adolescence — attempted to place upon me, to box me in.
The clapping noises that reverberate against the sound of the windows, squeaking underneath the bristles of automated brushes — they are articulations of transmuted aggression . The soft skin slapping against thicker skin — both bodies bruising with the crimson colors of repressed rage that, deep within the viscera, I have forgotten to resolve.
I may be passive in my physicality, more aligned with femininity in the way I express my energy, but I will never be one to simply roll over and submit to the will of the external, not without a battle. I will always fight, I will roar and clap back because my yin is not a demonstration of subjugation; instead, it is a platform that — in the darkness of its mystery and fluctuation — can be used and will be used as a source of concupiscent domination.
I am in control, I say to myself, my hips grooving to the unsteady pace of Derek’s breath. I lead the way. As I slowly detach his joystick from fueling the vessel of my vehicle, his evidence trickles down in ripples of warmth and bliss.
Nothing left for him to give, maxed out in his capacity, I am full. I am in charge of this realm of existence, if nowhere else; that is enough for me at 17, an age in which freedom is the goal, not harmony.
I gaze back over my shoulder, collapsing in a cradle of Derek’s lean arms, before climbing over into the passenger seat, where Derek’s pleasure precedes me.
It is duende, a sense of fury and calling, that leads me towards sex with men as an outlet for survival. I make the deliberate decision to be a conduit of the daimon’s possession; I am no longer a victim, powerless to the rumbling of its waves unable to contain the force for myself. That fire belongs to me, it is me. I have a responsibility to put it to good use.
The car wash becomes distant in the rearview mirror. I see a woman pulling into the space that Derek’s vehicle previously occupied, her face contorted in a cross between awe and disgust — eyes widened, mouth gaping slightly, forming a tunnel. I revel in the glory of my performance, worthy of a standing ovation. A loving audience sings adoration inside of my head. I’ve got the power.