THE DEEP END
I have brown eyes and brown hair. When I’m alone on Friday nights, I comb my hair like Jimmy used to and smoke sugar cigarettes. I look at myself in the mirror until my vision goes blurry. It’s not because I like what I see, but because I’m trying to see what everyone else does. They all tell me that I’m special and beautiful, and it’s flattering of course, but I just want to see it for myself.
This world is beautiful. Really, it is. I love all things, but my favorites are rusted bubblegum machines and the scent of your hair on my pillowcase. People admire my confidence, but they never see me when I’m alone. That’s when I’m the most raw because I’m not trying to sell myself to anybody.
I’m just a boy. Nothing more and nothing less. People like to think that I’m special, but you can’t see the moments that make me just like you because I don’t let you in that far.
I’m in love with what the American dream used to be. I’m in love with girls who wear ribbons in their curls and boys who bleed in black and white. I can’t stop watching J.F.K. lose his brains and I’m fascinated with plane crashes and dead pin-ups. I’m just obsessed with finding out why the nights are darker in America.
I want you to question everything that you see. Question what I’m selling you because you bought into my world and there is a reason. Something about me is resonating somewhere inside of you because you wouldn’t be reading this right now if you didn’t believe in it. If you aren’t here because of a pretty face or overly-edited photograph, then you’re exactly where I want you to be. We’re both lonely in the head, but we’ve made it.
We’ve made it, kid.
I taste sweet, like American candy bars. When you get me going, I taste salty too. Sweet and salty like chocolate-covered pretzels.
You said that you fell in love with me the moment that you saw me. Maybe it’s because I look like hope and you haven’t really seen that in a while. I promise that you will never meet another boy like me. I embrace the darkness that you’ve fought so strongly to blind with your camera flashes. I am broken down in such an artistic, artificial way.
But I wasn’t always that way.
Before I got in deep, my skin wasn’t clear and my eyes were lighter. My cheek bones were less prominent and my nose didn’t fit my face as well as it does now. The sun didn’t shine across my skin, it just ruined it. My hair was curly on the ends and cropped all wrong.
All of that changed when I met him. He made me feel strange in such a remarkable way that I couldn’t even begin to explain. I gave him everything that I had and he gave me everything that I’ve ever wanted. He listened to me. Nobody ever listens to me the way he did.
There will come a day when you meet the person who offers you the world. It’ll be such a beautiful day, and you’ll think that things are finally going to be okay because he’ll take away your tears and you’ll be happy for the first time since you swung on the swings back in grade school and got mulch in your shoes.
Don’t you remember those days? Don’t you miss them?
“I want to be a star,” I cried, wiping tears from my eyes.
He brought a hand to my face and stroked my cheek. A shiver crawled down my spine like spiders along the wall when nobody is awake to see them.
Some people just sparkle. They glitter like gold, but my head was never heavy with the crown and it wasn’t fair. It was my turn. It was about time that I got everything that I ever wanted because I deserved something.
I needed to do it. Don’t leave me. Don’t hate me. It’s just… big dreams don’t mix well with small towns. They never have and never will. I just want to run this world, but that doesn’t mean, even for a moment, that I’m a drugged-up failure with syringes full of attention and fished-up compliments. No, I don’t get high off attention. That’s not what this is about. I just judge my self-worth with how many people know my name.
And now he knows it too.
When I first met him, I wasn’t in a good place. I spent my summer nights swimming laps in my pool and drinking Coca Cola during sunset. For weeks, all I could taste was chlorine and it burned my eyes, but I kept swimming because I wanted the body of the boys who have gold medals on the television.
Back and forth I went. My lungs felt like grocery bags that get caught in tree branches during storms. I was crying while I swam, but nobody noticed because it was dark outside and nobody was there to notice even if it were light. I kept swimming until night fell and I was alone beneath millions of taunting stars.
I hoisted myself from the water before drying myself and walking upstairs to my room. I brushed my teeth and spit out blood from my gums and then turned on the light and television and went to bed.
That wasn’t a typo.
And when I finally fell asleep, I had an awful dream that I was somebody’s dream. And when I woke up and realized that it wasn’t real, I started crying. I pulled the Jimmy posters from my wall and ripped them apart. I scratched away Ricky’s eyes and broke Marilyn’s frame.
I screamed and dragged it all outside, where I tossed it into the pool because I wanted to bury it all ten feet under. The broken frames floated to the top like a ship wreck, but the poster boys and pin-ups started to disintegrate and fall apart like sandcastles on an empty beach during high-tide.
The pool light wasn’t on anymore and the water looked like ink. It looked threatening and terrifying. I kept crying because I was so sick of being insignificant. Just when I was about to smoke a cigarette, I heard such an awful sound bubbling up from the deep end.
I’ll never know where he came from. He rose up so eerily and slowly from the black water that my breath left my lungs. When I first saw his eyes dancing above the water’s surface, I thought that he was so beautiful that he couldn’t be real. I always thought I knew what he looked like, but the moment that I saw him, I knew that I was wrong.
He was very hard to see in the darkness. I knew that I should have been afraid that he had been swimming in my pool in the dead of night, but I was so happy to see him that I couldn’t possibly be upset.
His smooth voice drifted throughout the summer air. I could barely hear it over the humming of the pool filter and the crickets. “Why are you crying?”
“I want to be a star.”
“A star? What kind of star?”
“The kind that people put on their walls and dream about at night.”
“It must be wonderful,” he told me, “to be a dream.”
“Oh, yes!” I said. “It must be wonderful.”
My voice drifted across the open air like perfume. He walked closer to me until he was inches away from my bare chest. I could’ve sworn that the stars lost their shine because his eyes were stealing their twinkle.
He and I could’ve written such a beautiful story together. There would have been laughter and that melancholy chill that only means that the heart is finally beating for two.
We could’ve been perfect.
But I’m not interested in writing the next big romance. I’m not interested in writing novels about nerds meeting popular kids, or teenage vampires who conceive children on fantastical islands.
I’m interested in telling the story exactly the way it is intended, and unfortunately for me, my romance isn’t between me and somebody beautiful and captivating.
My romance is between me and the devil.
And it’s awfully sad how I talked to him that one night while he was swimming in that murky, pool water. It’s terribly unsettling how he promised me everything when I stood on the edge of the concrete, staring into the black water with such a fake glint of naivety in my eyes.
And I find it funny how I gave him my heart and he laughed and vanished forever in the water thinking that he fooled me.
“I can give you the world,” he whispered in my ear.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” I cried. “I want to be a fantasy. I want to be a pin-up. I want boys to admire me and girls to dream about me and I want to have it all because I’m so terrified of dying and superstars never die, they just stop living.”
“We all want infinity.”
I nodded. “Oh, I’d just love that.”
He took a few steps forward. He began feeling around my chest. His hands felt like October winds. His touch was refreshing and cold.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
A few final tears glided down my reddened, worn-out cheeks. “Do you promise?”
“Of course,” he breathed. His stale breath made the hairs on my arms rise and fall like cornstalks in the wind. He grabbed hold of my hand and led me into the shallow end of the swimming pool. The water licked at my arms in such an uncomfortable way, but I followed him as he pulled me further and further into the deep end.
“Do you trust me?” he asked, his voice a hush.
And he smiled and put his hands on me again. He told me to take off my clothes and I listened.
I’m not sure if I screamed that night. I’ll never know what really happened when I was fumbling around in the deep end, gasping for breath in the water that was forcing its way into my throat. I couldn’t see or feel anymore and I was bleeding in places where I was never meant to bleeding. And, despite all of this happening, I’ll never tell you what he did to me that night.
Nobody will ever know what the devil did to me in the deep end.
When I crawled out of the pool again, naked and crying, I hurried back inside my house and collapsed into my bed. I cried for hours and watched old cartoons because they felt like home in a world that felt so black.
The devil laughed and vanished forever in the black water, leaving nothing behind but markings on my body, but when I awoke the next morning, my cuts and scrapes had healed over. When I looked in the mirror, my eyes were darker and my eyebrows were less crooked. My teeth were the perfect size for my mouth and my hair was slicked up in the front like all the poster boys.
I was finally beautiful.
And when I logged onto my computer, I laughed because I was finally selling.
My eyes swam over to my reflection. I ran a finger across my smooth face and started laughing again until my rib cage felt misplaced and my stomach felt popped. I tossed on a black tank top, propped up a twenty dollar webcam and started recording a shitty video that he promised would hit over 100 thousand views in less than a year. Those video views aren’t an accident. They’re a deal.
He gave me everything that night, but I was going to play him for such a fool. The man in black can always be fooled.
And it’s hysterical how the devil was so wrong in believing that everyone who wants fame is egotistical and self-absorbed. He preys on the weak, but he never stops to wonder if you and I have had a plan from the very beginning.
As my laugh echoed throughout the empty bedroom, I knew that the man in black was going to regret giving me the world. I wasn’t going to use the fame for television spots or red carpets.
No, I was going to use my fame to make sure nobody soaks their living room carpet with blood ever again. Because those are the red carpets that I’m obsessed with- the ones that you hear about on the news after the football games on Friday nights, all those stories of the boys and girls who are just going to be vintage film someday in archived news reports under the headline, “TEENAGE TRAGEDY.”
We’ll do it together. You and I. You’ll lose those dark thoughts about who you are, and you’ll leave behind those ideas that the man in black owns your love.
Because God owns me and He always will, and the devil could never change that no matter how wide he spreads my name. Not even when my words travel oceans and climb over borders.
I am the American dream. When I bleed, it’s awfully red, and when I bruise, it’s bluer than the heavens, and I promise that you’ll get lost somewhere in the whiteness of my smile.