He was built for football, and he enjoyed it. Football let him hit people, a much more comfortable means of communication than speaking. It was the locker room that made football hard. He never knew where to put his eyes. And the talktits and pussy and wet dreamskept his burning face turned into his open locker.
"Faggot" was another word that got thrown around the locker room a lot. He had a pretty good idea what it meant, between the locker room talk, paragraph 2357 of the catechism with its talk of homosexuality being "contrary to natural law," and Leviticus 18:22 calling it an "abomination." If he was a faggot, he was going to hell. But as he walked up Elysian Fields Avenue toward his father's store after school, John wondered if it was really true. No matter how many times he ran all the pieces over in his headwhich was constantlyhe couldn't make them fit. Sometimes he wondered if he wasn't some third thing, something neither the catechism nor Leviticus knew about, something maybe even unknown to God. A memory forced itself up: one of the wicked nuns from St. Louis King of France Elementary School gliding among the desks like an iceberg, tapping a wooden yardstick on her open palm. She'd caught a couple of the boys fighting at recess and as punishment had dressed them in the plaid skirts and hair bows of their female classmates. The other children had laughed and taunted as the boys sobbed in shame, but John had felt an unexpected rush of envy. He'd slammed the door on the monstrous feeling, and had brayed like a donkey along with everyone else.
Excerpted from Nine Lives by Dan Baum Copyright © 2009 by Dan Baum. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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