I was an unextraordinary child: quiet, average, unmotivated. I was inspired by very little outside my own mind. There were many report cards scribed with phrases like “not living up to potential” and “doesn’t apply himself”—back when people had to handwrite report cards.
Both my parents were educators. My father was the principal of the Catholic school I attended. Mother was a part-time art teacher. Having both parents work at my school had consequences I had not foreseen. First, the general rules of protocol in an educational institution don’t apply when Dad runs the place. Other kids would get a stern talking to when they misbehaved; I got smacked in the back of the head.
The routine smack-arounds weren’t reserved for the principal’s office either. If someone got in trouble and needed an outlet for their anger, they could just take it out on me. I became the retribution punching bag for the entire student body. It started slowly. One day I was in line for lunch at the cafeteria, only thinking about tater tots, when I was approached by another student. And, bam! Punched in the arm.
“What was that for?” I exclaimed.
“Your dad gave me detention.”
The beatings became routine over the next eight years—none particularly harsh or brutal. They were consistent enough for me to have developed the habit of flinching whenever anyone walked by. The prospect of being punched by a total stranger had created a subconscious tick. My teachers started thinking I had some kind of undiagnosed neurological condition. So the two things I was known for in school were being the target for anti-establishment aggression and uncontrollable flinching. Which is probably why I don’t exactly pine for “the good old days.”
As a writer I learned early on that to fit people into a story, you have to get to know the hero of the piece. While I’m no hero, there are things you need to know about me going forward. There are two stories that define my formative years. Both involve my penis.
I have an average penis. Perfectly average in every way. I have the Honda Accord of penises. It isn’t flashy, but it’s super reliable. It’s going to get me where I need to go again and again. It doesn’t get many people excited upon seeing it, but it’s always reliable—from point A to point B. Sure, it’s not the car people dream about. No one dreams of driving a Honda Accord, but everyone is smart to recognize what a great value it is.
To know me is to know my penis—not in that way. Metaphorically speaking. I could bore you with stories of awkward sexual misadventures or embarrassing tales of nudity gone horribly wrong. The truth is: You’re never going to know me until you know the most awful thing that ever happened to me and my penis.
I was 18 years old and still living at home. Half my time was spent at a part-time job. The other half was spent trying to stay awake through community college. What little free time I had was spent doing what most teenagers do—and that took place in the shower.
In a large family, the bathroom is the only place to find isolation. I shared a bedroom with my younger brother for 10 years, which provided precious few moments of privacy. That meant any attempts at self-gratification happened in the 5 x 5 confines of the upstairs bathroom.
One day, just after class and right before work, I decided to have some “alone time.” I ventured into the bathroom for a mid-afternoon shower (a dead giveaway) and proceeded to get to work. That’s when I noticed something … different. Something abnormal. A bump where there had never been a bump before. It was subtle, but it was there. Suddenly, all my thoughts turned terrible as I tried to silence the panicked voices in my head.
Cancer. It is cancer. It has to be cancer!
There were only two outcomes. One, they’d diagnose me with cancer and I would die. Or they’d diagnose me with cancer and inform me the only way to treat it would be to amputate. My choices were: A. die young; or B. live a ripe, old, penis-less existence.
I needed to see a doctor.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how that worked. Every doctor’s appointment I’d ever had was arranged by my mother.
“Mom, I need to go to the doctor.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I haven’t been in awhile—I thought about getting a check-up.”
“What’s wrong?” she said, sensing I was hiding something.
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.”
“What is it?” she said, trying to force the issue. “I’m going to find out eventually.”
There was no use in delaying the inevitable. I just blurted it out.
“I felt a lump.”
“Oh my God, where?”
“It’s not important.”
“Show it to me,” she said.
“Then, show it to your father.”
This back and forth continued for at least 20 minutes before an appointment was scheduled. Eight days later, I was in the lobby of a specialist, unable to think about anything other than castration techniques. Then I walked back into an examination room.
“Take off your pants,” the doctor said while flipping through the chart. “It says here you’re not currently sexually active?”
It was nice to know my sexual history, or lack thereof, had been committed to a formal chart. I was a virgin, and it had been made official by the American Medical Association.
“No, I’m not,” I replied while dropping trou.
“Go ahead and lay on the table,” he said, motioning to the back of the room.
I’m sure any woman reading this knows what stirrups are and has had the displeasure of propping her legs up for a pelvic exam. Men are normally not privileged enough to experience this apparatus. So, there I am in a doctor’s office, my legs in stirrups, no pants, having my penis examined. I’m not sure how long this took. In my mind, it was just a minute longer than an eternity.
“I’m going to have someone else take a look at this,” he said, and before I knew it, two more doctors were poking and prodding an area, which, up to that point, had only been poked and prodded by me.
“You can put your pants on.”
On the other side of the room, the doctors conferred. They kept motioning to the chart and scribbling notes. Finally, one approached with a prognosis.
“You’re going to be fine,” he said. Relief.
At this point, I should have just thanked the man and walked out the door, but I was curious.
“So what was it?”
“Do you masturbate?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Often?” he said.
I didn’t have an answer.
What exactly constitutes often?
“You ruptured a blood vessel. Try using more lubricant.”
With that, he closed my chart and walked away. I had never been more embarrassed or more relieved in my entire life.
“So what was it?” my mother asked as I walked through the door.
I didn’t have the heart or the nerve to tell her.