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Boys Like You

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When you were six, you scaled trees at your grandmother’s house, hooking your knees around the highest branch you could reach so you could free fall backwards and feel the delicious whoosh in your stomach as the blood rushed to your head. Grandma always gasped where she stood watching, but you knew you wouldn’t fall because your body was your friend and you trusted it to always catch you.

Sometimes, at dinner parties, you danced around the room full of adults, who sat inertly in armchairs and on couches with their cigarettes and wine glasses, and you imagined you were an enchanted creature who tossed fairy dust in the air with each spin, and maybe if you danced long enough and scattered enough magic into the smoky air someone would eventually dance with you.

When you were eight, you loved to swim. The blue lanes of the pool were sometimes still and glassy, and other times churned with the limbs of a dozen children. You could be a shark or a mermaid in the water, floating above it or gliding underneath in the muffled depths. Mom wrapped you in a towel when you got out and called you her little slippery fish.

For one summer, you played soccer, and inevitably within minutes, sweat would plaster your hair to your forehead and paste your jersey to your back. But you were grateful for the sweat when a stray breeze would blow through, lifting your curls and your shirt away from you wet skin and sending a cooling, goose-pimply shiver over you. Coming home, you brought the smell of grass indoors and sometimes didn’t shower for hours because the stink of yourself made you feel as potent and alive as a vanquishing knight.

But then one day you looked in the mirror and just saw fatness, and you kept seeing fatness even after you stretched out so tall that your grandad gave you a birthday card one year addressed to “Beanpole” and he laughed so hard that he almost fell out of his chair.

And then you showed up for school one year and it seemed like there had been a secret ballot you weren’t invited to and everyone knew something about you that you weren’t sure you knew yourself. They called you names and shoved you and while you didn’t know what it meant to be a man yet you figured there was no point in trying to be one because you already felt like a punched-out lightweight in a rigged boxing match.

So you decided what boys like you can do. And boys like you don’t dance or sweat or run. Boys like you make jokes. Boys like you use words as weapons. Boys like you hurt themselves first before anyone else can.

Years pass. You change a little, and then you change a lot. You find people who like you. A lover who wrestles with you and watches you with his eyes all the time. Friends who laugh at all your jokes, but who don’t laugh as hard at the self-deprecatory ones, so you learn to make those less and less. Family who have been like strangers, but now you gather tentatively together, willing to meet once again, though you are as shy and skittish as newborn animals.

You wake up one morning and a wave of energy surges into your body. That day you go out and run. Your lungs burn, and your calves seize, and your intestines twist up inside you in protest.

The next day you run again. And the next. You don’t know why, because it is hard and you are bad at it and most of the time you feel like a lumbering, laboring blob. But on each run there is a moment of ease that appears, a moment where your arms and legs and hips and breath all sync up and then you are once again that child who was friends with his body, once again the charmed dancer, the shark, the mermaid, the knight. You slice through the air and chase the feeling, chase the person you were and the person you want to be.

You’ve decided that boys like you run. So you do.