Mix two parts general ignorance with three parts garage-sale barbecue. Blend with a ladyfriend who doesn’t share my aversion to reading, researching, and remembering. Garnish with an ill-timed voice crack and serve publicly in front of friends and the free world.
In retrospect, I don’t know how my charade had continued this far. Here I was, well into my twenties yet still treating acne, collecting Pogs, and chasing shots. Adulthood, and I’m using that term loosely, had been perpetually spent on the business end of derision from the bearded, cut, unquestionably hetero.
I hadn’t done much to help my case. I’d once asked for ketchup at a steakhouse. I’d sobbed during someone’s wedding vows when they’d mentioned a specific moment in Air Bud. Once when asked what type of engine my car had I’d confidently replied, “Metal.” My manliness track record was, and still is, overwhelmingly meek.
Last summer we’d bought a secondhand barbecue. Caked with decades of congealed flavors and memories, it had been filthy. I’d taken the manly route, though, shooting first and asking questions about the now-stained carpet in my trunk much, much later.
Upon returning, we’d settled into our respective gender stereotypes. She’d buzzed about the kitchen, nagging no one in particular while stewing in a mild panic over her appearance and hosting. I’d said I was going to work on the barbecue, though really just hosed it down for thirty seconds before drinking two beers in the garage.
I’d migrated with the grill to the back deck as our friends began arriving. I’d watched my uncle light these things dozens of times. It couldn’t be that tough or dangerous—he’d been an unemployed idiot who was usually soaked in some sort of high-proof grain alcohol and he was always fine. I dumped my briquettes in and threw in a lit match before covering the lid, not wanting any wind to extinguish my fire.
Ten minutes later my girlfriend had brought out her platter of homemade burger patties infused with garlic, fennel, onions, and American ingenuity. The other men, sensing it was time, had habitually gravitated towards the grill, each eager to chime in with unsolicited barbecuing advice. I’d lifted the lid. I’d expected to see an inferno of glowing embers, but there was nothing.
“Oh, fuck, unbelievable,” she’d said. “You’ve never done this before, had you?” The snickers had started. I’d felt my ears start to burn as she effortlessly opened the bottom vent, arranged the charcoal into a pyramid, and lit the corners. Flustered, I had set my beer down and, in the commotion, blindly picked up a wine cooler off the table. “What are you doing with that now, Fancy Boy?” she let in, feeding on the now-un-stifled giggles. Her charcoal pile burned with ease. My frantic rationalization had caught in my throat. I forced out a word, though my voice cracked halfway through it and, now, the party’s laughter truly could not be contained
Chants had begun. She had thrown back a beer, relishing it as I silently gazed at her in submission. Asserting herself as manlier than me had been simple and hadn’t taken her longer than two minutes. Come to think, the last time I’d felt that emasculated it’d also taken just about two minutes.
I really don’t know if this is something I’ll ever be able to overcome. The memory haunts me. Fighting off the anxiety has become a full-time job. What I’m trying to say, Doctor, is, how about we call the hour now and you just write me that script for Lexapro?