Years ago, a friend brought me to her 10-year high school reunion. We had slept together a number of times during the months leading up to the reunion—but we never got serious. Although I can’t claim to have been amazing in the sack, I was one hell of a date the night members of the graduating class of ’90-something got together in a small catering hall on the east side of Manhattan. I was social, entertaining, the type of wingman you’d want riding alongside you on any mission into your past.
Even though it wasn’t my alma mater, by the end of the night I felt like one of the popular kids in school—except I was “returning” with a full head of hair and a little more youth than my “classmates” (my 10-year was still some years away).
Eventually, my friend wrote a story about that night. It was one of those memoirs-masquerading-as-fiction thingamajigs. I was a character in it. She named me Otto.
In the same story she also wrote about another guy—with whom things had been more serious than they had been with me. And he had these eyes. Although I don’t remember the exact words she used to describe them—something about an aquarium—I do remember being envious of her description of his eyes. Both as a writer and a lover.
She let me read the story, and I gave her notes. I was able to distance myself a good amount from “Otto”—maybe because she had chosen to leave out a lot of details. I’m not sure if it was because she didn’t want to hurt me—I had been such a great date after all—or she felt that those specifics didn’t serve the purpose of the story. Or maybe it was just that I saw a different story.
I met the guy with the beautiful eyes in real life a couple of times and didn’t see in him what she saw. And I tried to, I did—but who gives a fuck? Those eyes she described were all that mattered. What she saw in them. What they made her feel. What she learned from them. Lessons about herself, about love, about always kinda being in high school.
Maybe a part of me, in spite of the distance I gave to the story, wanted to understand why she preferred The Eyes over Otto. Damn, I really wish she wouldn’t have been so careful with Otto. Otto should have suffered some more in the story. He did in real life. But I guess I have the opportunity to tell Otto’s story, if I want to.
We are material, ladies and gentlemen. The storytellers in our lives have us in their outlines. Most of the time they’re going to draw us either uglier than we truly are or more beautiful than we can ever imagine ourselves being. Sometimes they’ll get us dead-on.
I’ve been mining my past relationships for material for a while now. This shit basically writes itself. I approach the subject matter with humor and a confessional spirit I attribute to my exhibitionist tendencies (“Look at me, everybody! Why ain’t cha lookin’?”) and to the Catholicism of my youth.
My first Confession was huge. Corpus Christi Church. CCD. Sometime before my first Communion. It’s bad enough to lie to a child about the nature of the universe; it’s downright disgusting to make that same child confess his “sins” to some stranger in a box. The Church gave us a choice—ha!—to sit behind a partition and confess, or to sit facing the priest, with no barrier between us and just enough room for the Holy Ghost.
I chose to face the priest. It was funny—only now, looking back—how God’s bureaucrat and the neophyte sat facing one another on identical chairs. I don’t remember if my feet could touch the floor, but I do remember how tears were boiling on my cheeks before I even told him how sorry I was for disrespecting my mother, cursing, and whatever wrongs a second grader commits. In the end I was forgiven. I can’t say the same for the priest.
Now, through comedy and writing, I confess my sins. But I do it without looking for forgiveness—at least not from the Big Voyeur upstairs. I’m looking for something else. I’m looking for the Eyes.
And should you find yourself in one of my stories, or scenes, or jokes, please understand that I mean you no harm. I’m not your confessor. And it’s not your story.