My English teacher once warned that starting a story with your protagonist waking up in the morning is the hallmark of a novice and/or lazy writer, and that any student doing so would automatically earn themselves a severe grade point deduction. I guess whoever’s writing the story of my life just got bumped from a possible B to a definite C, because that’s exactly the kind of cliché I’m currently enacting, roused from sleep by the incessant beeping of my alarm clock, reaching for the snooze button, fumbling for my contacts, for my phone. I roll haphazardly out of bed and onto the floor, where I remain curled in a fetal position as I squint at my phone’s cracked touchscreen, trying to make out the time. I could just as easily have glanced at the alarm clock on the way down, but for reasons of sleep deprivation, my brain’s currently in safe mode, with only a bare minimum of drivers loaded.
That’s why, on opening the case to my contacts, I freak out when I find it’s empty—and then immediately realize (duh) the very fact that I can see it’s empty means I’m already wearing my contacts. I’d inadvertently left them in overnight. But as I’m not showing any symptoms of eye rot, I push any related worry to the back of my mind and force myself to get ready for school.
After this morning’s chaos, my room is conversely serene as I wrangle clean clothes, deodorant, textbooks, my backpack. Morning sun tousles the curtained window; Ernie’s absence has freed up half a dozen cubic feet of floor space; Beta’s server quietly hums away on the floor. I’m assuming that’s where Mini, Beta, and Jan are at the moment, hopefully looking into how to fix the missing bytes issue. Unless they never left the taco stand.
Downstairs, Mom and Dad are almost finished with breakfast by the time I stumble into the dining room. Mom makes eye contact with me briefly, awkwardly—
—oh, that’s right.
I wanked in front of her last night.
Sitting and staring fixedly at the tabletop, I wonder if she’s told Dad. Oh, God, what if she’s phoned Chandelier already and asked that we explore my budding sexuality during my next head session?
“Good morning, Rip Van Winkle,” Dad says to me, looking oblivious enough. He’s watching the morning news on his smartphone while he finishes off a cup of green tea. “We were just about to send a recovery team up to your room.”
“I didn’t sleep well last night,” I say quietly.
Dad nods. “Did you feel the earthquake?”
Feel it? I caused it! “No.”
“Just before dawn. It was a real shaker. Nothing on the news about it, though. They never cover San Angelico.”
Mom disappears into the kitchen, returns with my breakfast: oatmeal, yogurt—and a big yellow banana. “Eat up, sweetie. We leave in five.” She sets the oatmeal and yogurt in front of me, fiddles with the banana in a vain attempt to make it look as non-phallic as possible, finally just lets it go and returns to her seat.
I stir my oatmeal, poke at my yogurt…glare at the banana.
“Wow. Listen to this.” Dad turns up the volume on his phone:
“Local authorities are looking for a police officer who went missing early this morning during an apparent traffic collision. Eyewitnesses say the officer was driving erratically after someone threw a mechanized puppet at his squad car…”
I choke on my food, sputtering oatmeal across the table.
Mom frowns at me. “Are you okay, honey?”
I wave her away, clutching at my throat, my eyes now transfixed on Dad’s phone.
“…the puppet, resembling a naked twelve-year-old boy with a disproportionately large penis, was reportedly seen holding a smartphone while clinging to the hood of the officer’s car, leading police to believe the officer may have been the victim of a drone-controlled snapgrabbing attack using the popular SuperMegaNet social networking software…”
“What’s ‘snapgrabbing?’” Mom asks.
The newscaster, as if in reply: “Snapgrabbing, the act of uploading someone to a random phone or SuperMegaNet server without their prior consent, has been making headlines recently as the prank of choice among young SuperMegaNet users. However, this morning’s altercation underscores growing concerns about the possibility for malicious use of the technology. How and why a preadolescent puppet was used has yet to be determined at this time. Take a look at this cell phone video shot by an early-bird commuter who witnessed this morning’s snapgrab attack first-hand…”
Mini’s made the morning news.
I glance worriedly at Mom and Dad, fully expecting them to turn to me and ask, “Why in the world is there a snapgrabbing puppet on the news who looks just like you?”
Instead, Dad just shakes his head and says, “Wow, that is a pretty big dick for a puppet.”
Mom doesn’t say anything, but I’m certain a flashback image of me sitting splayed on the toilet last night has just popped into her head, and she’ll now be forgoing the rest of her breakfast as a precautionary means of dealing with her sudden nausea.
Indeed, she gets to her feet, steps beside Dad, gives him a kiss on the cheek, and, with a preoccupied look in her eyes, says to me, “Time to go, Theo.”
I take one last mouthful of oatmeal—mostly for show—and wave goodbye to Dad, follow Mom out into the hall, grabbing my backpack and putting on my shoes as we go.
During the car ride to school, the two of us sit in silence. My junk is tucked inconspicuously away in my jeans, but paranoia has me obsessing over every crease, every bulge—every indicator that there’s a burgeoning young erectile organ just waiting for any old excuse to show itself off in the grandest fashion possible. I can get bigger! Want me to get bigger? I can go from zero to sixty in under six seconds! I slump a little further into the passenger seat and stare out the window. This is silly. I’m silly. Mini’s snapgrabbing escapades should be first and foremost on my mind, but instead I’m obsessing over my dick. How ridiculous is that? And how ridiculous is it that my mom should be obsessing over it as well? I’m totally overreacting as usual. Mom’s not thinking about my wang, she’s paying attention to traffic, going over her day’s schedule in her head, remembering something funny she saw on Netflix the other night—
“I’m just going to say this one thing,” she says, clearing her throat, “and be done with it.”
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with masturbation. As long as it doesn’t interfere with school or work, family or friends, masturbation is a healthy, perfectly natural way of exploring your sexuality.”
Please, please, God, make her stop saying “masturbation!”
“Now, you’re obviously an early bloomer—”
Obviously? How obviously?!?
“—sometimes certain parts of a person’s body will get a growth spurt before certain other parts. Maybe it’s the nose or the ears. Hands or feet. Arms or legs. Breasts. The penis.”
“But the rest of you will catch up, don’t you worry. Whatever stage of development you’re at, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The human body is beautiful—”
Put a gun to my head and blow my brains out.
“—and I want you to know your father and I are here for you if you have any questions at all about your body, masturbation, sex—”
That’s it. I can’t take anymore of this—I’m literally hemorrhaging. Boca Linda is just down the block, but I absolutely can not spend the last thirty seconds of this car ride listening to my mom talk about puberty. It’s wholly unnatural. A mother helping her preteen daughter deal with her first period or an abruptly pubescent rack = wholesome bonding experience. That same mother telling her son that he has a big penis = creepy incestuous porn story. I yank off my seat belt, open the passenger door, grab my backpack, and hurl myself out, yelling, “Bye-Mom-love-you!” My intent is to land gracefully on my feet and to take off running purposefully toward campus, but instead I flop out onto the ground with exactly zero poise and roll onto my face on the grass flanking the curb.
Mom stops the car. “Theo! Are you all right?”
I lift my head, spitting grass and dirt. “Just fine. I’ll walk the rest of the way.”
“Are you sure?”
I get to my feet and close the car door. I wave cheerfully.
Still, Mom looks worried. For a split-second there’s a very real chance she’s going to get out and coddle me for good measure, but I make darned sure to keep smiling and waving until she’s placated enough to be on her way.
Once her car is out of sight, I immediately crumple back onto the grass and stare blankly at the sky, waiting for the warning bell to ring.
Momentarily, Eva—properly ponytailed, track-suited, and sneakered, her backpack slung over one shoulder—comes to stand over me. “Are you okay?” she asks, looking concerned. “I saw you fall out of your mom’s car.”
I wave my hand dismissively. “Oh, that? Naw. I was just doing a new, uh…yoga move.”
Eva narrows her eyes. “What’s it called?”
Wang shui, I think to myself.