Our Valentine’s Day issue is themed “Strange Love”. What does love mean to you? To some, it means being with a person who makes you feel normal. To others, it’s about feeling freaky. Put away your chocolate hearts and nibble on the hearty words of Jason McCormick, Joseph Gant, and Len Kuntz as they show you what love can be.
Jason Henry McCormick
I fell in love with a criminal at a bus stop on a summery afternoon in May.
She had long brown hair and even longer legs, and her black-on-black outfit was dull, like gun metal. I watched her as she approached me with a thuggish swagger, and her high-heels click-clacked with ferocious vengeance while her large leather purse swung forward and backward from her shoulder. Her eyes, half closed, stared through me, and I felt as though I’d done something wrong although I’d never seen her before.
She said hello with a voice like a love song and I smelled paradise in her hair. She pulled out a pistol and asked for my wallet, and I looked into her eyes that were filled with the Blues and told her I loved her as I emptied my pockets.
Jason writes from San Diego, where he blogs here and dreams of reaching the stars.
I pretended not to notice the balls until I was done.
“I thought you were Veronica” I said, then asked for my refund as she tucked himself back up inside.
I felt bad for my ten-dollar return on a fuck I did enjoy— balls regardless. The nape of her neck, all stubbled and unwaxed, was just the way I like it. So Bill and I agreed to call it a day well spent.
I’m a regular.
Joseph writes from outside Philadelphia, where he’s editing his first book of poetry for publication.
Kids at my son’s school jumped a boy. Broke two ribs and a jaw. They didn’t like how short the other boy was, his haircut or his name, especially his name—Jamie—because it sounded gay, could be a girl’s.
“Did you know them?”
My son said one kid had a lot of issues—his word, issues—but the older one, Austin, “He’s a nice guy.”
How nice can he be? I wanted to ask, but didn’t. This was the first time my boy had opened up to me since before the divorce.
I took a huge spoonful of cereal and let the milk dribble out of the corners of my mouth, down my chin. He chuckled. I grunted and farted, and my son laughed some more. I threw a wadded-up paper towel and it hit the Cap’n Crunch box so that the pale gold cereal teeth clattered across the counter. Now my son was hyperventilating, he was laughing so hard. Milk leaked out of his nose and he held his gut and said, “Stop. Stop, I can’t breathe.”
The school bus pulled up. I looked at him, he at me, and for a moment we considered the same thing—playing hooky—but I recalled my wife’s description of my parenting skills and so I cannonballed out the door and flagged down the driver just before the bus started to buck away.
At night my son told me to never do that again.
“You humiliated me. The kids harassed me all day, said I was a Mommy’s boy.”
But I’m your father, not your mother, I wanted to say.
I couldn’t be goofy anymore. I tried but my son claimed he was tired or sick or that I was an idiot and not funny at all. He told me to stop, that he meant it this time.
One weekend we were headed to the mall to see a movie, something ultraviolent and not age appropriate because I was still working my angles.
I asked how school was going but shrieking Goth music burped out of his earphones so loud that his headrest shuddered. I reached over and flicked the IPod off.
I said, “You can be yourself, you know. It doesn’t matter what people think.”
He stopped chewing his gum, quit texting. For just an instant, something swam inside him, swelling over his moat of fear. He wore fingerless gloves. His nails were long and painted black, but when he punched the IPod on again I ripped it out of his hand and flung it out the window.
“I’m talking to you.”
“Go to hell.”
I could have hit him. We were doing sixty on I-90 but I could landed one and not killed us. Instead, I said, “I’m your father.”
“That’s your fault, not mine.”
He eyed me, daring me to hate him back so he’d have a reason for staying hidden, but I wouldn’t do that. “Listen,” I said. “I get it. I do. I understand about being different.”
“And you’re different how?”
“I was a loner in high school. I told you that.”
“You had a gurrrlfriend,” he said, twirling a swatch of jagged bangs tinged cobalt.
“Yeah, but I didn’t fit in either.”
It was that last word—either–that made him swallow. “I meant—“
“Just shut up,” he said.
“I don’t need a preacher.”
“How about a dad?”
“Come on,” my son said. “Comedy’s never been your thing.”
Screw it, I thought, and it was only in my imagination that I slammed my fist on the dashboard, cracked the windshield with a baseball bat. I loved him anyway, but if he wanted to play, fine.
We didn’t talk that night or any other nights. Oh, we spoke, but we skimmed and skirted and scuttled from day to day, handoff to handoff. He never dated and I never asked and this was how we moved forward.
Today is my son’s wedding day. His mother is all blushing skin and beaming eyes and love-struck breath when she sees her boy walk down the aisle. Her new husband arches his back and pants, as if it’s his own flesh and blood. All the attendants stand, some already dabbing with tissues.
As he takes his place beside the minister, my boy turns back to me, anxious. I’m not sure what he expects, what he wants. I know his secret. I know his fear of being ridiculed for it. I can’t verbalize it for him. Instead I skim his bride-to-be and look my son dead in the eye. Slowly, so he can read my lips, I mouth the words.
“I’m proud of you,” I say. “I love you, son.”
Only one of those is a lie.
Len writes from Washington, where he’s training for a marathon, does an remarkable Bee Gee impression, and blogs here.