My parents tried to make me more popular

A D Jameson

My parents tried to make me a more popular boy. "You're handsome," they whispered. "Take pride in your appearance and others will like you." By this they meant girls. "They'll invite you home to eat pretzels and watch a movie." By this they meant sex: They'd had it, it wasn't tough, why couldn't I?

They injected me with insect repellent. For several Sundays we traipsed the back alleys that hid insect-proofing clinics. Their needle pinches and chemical stings hurt worse than spider bites, but deliver eternal insect repellence. "It's like the polio vaccine," my dad said. Many of their peers went down in their prime to polio. "But lurking after polio, like cancer, are the insects." "In this life," my mom said, "lots of insects get to bite you." Both showed me where insects had bitten them, mostly
near or on their genitals. Then they took me for ice cream, nervous and watching. "Please, son—" they said this a lot, and they wept whenever they said it "—live long enough to reproduce."

Back at school, everyone swapped combs and hats. I swapped hats with Jeffrey; his neat Scooby Doo hat really looked like Scooby Doo, and I swapped my Voltron baseball cap for the chance to model that bugger. I looked right dandy. The school nurse, always spying, saw us, and called for a gray hairs check. With her pencil she roamed and rubbed our scalps, looking for pesky gray hairs, or maybe silver lice eggs—I don't remember. She sent half the class home and made the remaining kids play eraser tag. Ms. Kennedy put her head down on her desk and cried and cried. Our missing classmates returned the next day, their shaved heads reeking of kerosene. Some looked good like that; Margaret looked good like that. Wendy didn't. Natalie did.

By college I was hooking up regularly, because by then most girls had lost their illusions. Who enjoys loneliness? Lying there touching her stomach is like touching a telephone post while wearing woolen mittens; her sucking the inside of my thigh alerts me only to the cotton comforter itching my back. What a lark! Both my parents had come down with inoperable polio by then—that vaccine turned out to be worth shit. They called daily, asking whether I'd knocked up that nice Irish girl yet.

That nice Irish girl can't get knocked up worth shit. She pisses me off because she pisses my parents off, and screw her in any case—I really like this other girl who moves like a silverfish, and I can't have her, can't ever ever have her. This is only a little of my agony; there's a lot more but I won't tell you.

A D Jameson received his Master's from Illinois State University in 2004, where he worked for Dalkey Archive Press and American Book Review, and co-founded the zine formerly known as "l'bourgeoizine." After graduating, he taught ESL in Bangkok, then moved to Chicago to teach ESL at DePaul. His writing has appeared in the Mississippi Review, elimae, and Field & Stream, and he's directed music videos for Xiu Xiu and Mecca Normal.