Lingua Franca by Matthew Mastricova

I asked the first boy, “How do you hook up with someone?” and he said, “You just do. It just happens,” and I asked, “Do you think I’ll ever hook up with someone?” and he said he thought so. And if he thought so I had to believe him. Even if he would never want me. Even if he has a girlfriend. Even if I dreamed about him at night, but probably shouldn’t have because that’s pretty gay. But I went to small-town public school and was a dork and pretty ugly, so there weren’t words for these kinds of thoughts. One night, jokingly, he showed me his “abs” and my body seized. The air had shifted by the time he pulled his shirt back down, and I felt he had caught me doing something cruel.

 

*

 

My first three years of college:

A long list of women I thought I wanted to fuck. Three years of binging on shitty takeout and ice cream. Getting blackout drunk again and again and again. Telling a good friend I was upset he started dating because I was still single and a virgin and didn’t want to be the only one of our friends to still be single and a virgin. A second, longer list of women I thought I wanted to fuck. Dreaming of the first boy. Dreaming again and again. The creeping realization that I was meant to be something other than straight.

The quiver of a mouth with no tongue, trying to speak a language in which it has no fluency. It’s nasality, upspeak, frication—it’s language, and the way we voice. Yes, there are the words. Yes, there are the icons. But there is also the body, the eyes, the hands. There is the desire and the empty vessel clamoring to be filled.

 

*

 

All of my friends said it would happen when I stopped caring. I’d meet a girl who’d be into me, but desperate isn’t a great look on anyone so just stop trying so hard. They were right, if only because once it happened I had already realized I was gay. Like, really gay. Like, damn how could I have not put the words to the feeling before gay. Like, why did it make me so nauseated to say the word for so many years gay. Like, feel his skin against mine and feel the world make sense gay. The kinda gay that makes you go in the bathroom on the second date with a boy you met online and text your best friend to say “Omg we’re actually hooking up!!!” because you’ve always fantasized about being able to say the words, but never believed you’d actually be able to. The kind that makes you call him your boyfriend after the third date, and gets you dumped less than a week later.

The long-romanticized first hetero-hook-up was drunk, and with a friend who knew I was gay. We touched and felt only the fuzz of white noise between us, and we laughed.

 

*

 

We are at a bar, and I am sipping a Harvey Wallbanger that tastes like a foot, hoping that the alcohol hits before I lose my high. It is three days after he dumped me via phone call from a state away with the promise of an explanation in person; there is no room in my life for sobriety. We’re talking about gays, and I don’t know why but we definitely are because the girl who isn’t my friend looks at me and asks, “Are you a bear, Matt?” and we both giggle because of course I am but nobody else at the table knows what we’re talking about. I spend the rest of the night watching my phone while my friends get drunker, waiting for my ex to call and say he’s back in town. He too, is a bear, or bear-ish, or something like it.

 

*

 

“So were you the top or the bottom?” my friend asks when I tell her about my date with the boy. I tell her we didn’t do that, and she laughs. “It wasn’t really sex then, was it?”

“But, like in general, are you a top or a bottom?” I tell her I don’t know, and she looks vaguely disappointed.

In my last fiction seminar, I write about my ex and the first boy. My professor says I contradict myself when I write that the narrator has sex with one boy and then tries anal for the first time with another. I say nothing, but imagine writing my friend in and writing a scathing monologue about how sex can’t be reduced to “fill or be filled.” Carving out my palms and telling her to read the heart lines.

For my next draft, I change “had sex” to “hooked up with.”

 

*

 

To be gay is to inherit a lexicon of shadows, of double entendres and euphemisms. Tongues spoken without tongues. A boy dreaming of his first straight crush, of seeing the tender flesh of want. Going out and aping the bodies he sees. Hoping he walks so, he leans so. Praying to have a feel copped, his shirt lifted. Seeing himself, wanting, split open like a cheap sneaker.

 

 

 

 

Matthew Mastricova lives in New Jersey. His work has been published in WhiskeyPaper and Tincture Journal.



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