The standard approach when one of Mark's parents got angry with him was to sit him down and explain Why It Was Wrong and Why A Smart and Good Little Boy Would Never Do It Again. In detail. For hours. Looking back on it, Mark was a little surprised they didn't use flip charts or overhead projectors, shining statistical proof based on data gathered in their own household. Perhaps they did, and he was just blocking out The Horror.
Of course, they didn't shout, or vent, they Explained. When Mark, being a child, would scream or stamp his foot, they would Explain why that Was Unacceptable Behavior. He didn't have a chance given these rules, and so his only resort was sullen silence.
He never did learn the appropriate way to express anger. He'd lie in his bed and read for days at a time. He'd sleep. He'd vandalize construction sites, and shoplift. Anything to release this horrible, unacceptable emotion inside him. Then, he'd feel guilty about his resentment of his parents, and of his petty crimes or laziness. That would make him still angrier. And so it went, in a vicious cycle.
When he discovered booze, it was a godsend. A mixed drink of vanilla extract and water made him feel cozy and warm inside, as if he were wrapped in wool. It made him smell good, too, which was a major boon for a twelve-year old male of indifferent hygiene.
Once the vanilla extract was gone, and what small amount of scotch he could find in the cupboard had mysteriously vanished down his gullet, he gave up on alcohol for a while. It's a good thing he discovered masturbation around that time, or he would have gone crazy.
He fantasized, at first with grey cloudy visions, half remembered glimpses of breasts, and no clear idea at all about what went where in the business of sex. He did research, in a stack of old magazines (well, some fairly new, actually) he found under his father's bed. He especially enjoyed the letters which started "Dear Forum, I never thought it would happen to me, but I was wrong. I'm a freshman in a small southern university. I never thought I'd fit in, until one Saturday night, while I was sitting in my dorm room studying, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find two blondes from Pi Phi, their perky breasts bobbing in excitement as they jumped up and down and squealed..." Mark learned a lot from those magazines. (for instance, he never before knew that breasts jumped up and down and squealed). Of course, a real live girl was a different story.
He lived a dual existence for a while, by day a shy retiring dweeb, by night a suave and sophisticated swinging bachelor, object of adoration by models and stewardesses. He whispered endearments into her imaginary ear, and tried to make sure his rhythmic self-abuse didn't make the old bunk bed squeak. After a while, he found that grafting the face and voice of someone he actually knew onto the mental image of the perfect body he gleaned from Pentboy or Playhouse magazine made things much spicier. The experience went from pure fantasy to the status of "it could happen!" In his dreams, of course, in his dreams.
Beyond sticky bedclothes and an overdeveloped right arm, nothing much happened until his junior year of high school. Sixteen years old, and part of the party scene, he and a group of friends went to a Boston concert, opened by a relatively unknown artist called Sammy Hagar. It was the whole gang, including his best friend Harold, who had just lost his virginity in a Luthern church sanctuary choir loft. Another partier was Susan, who was a neighbor of Mark's. They smoked a lot of pot, and drank a lot of beer, and went to the concert. They stood on chairs in the fourth row, stage right, in front of the PA speakers. As they danced to the music, Susan1 seemed to fall off her chair, but Mark caught her with an arm around her waist. She smiled at him, and squeezed his arm around her tighter. He was in heaven.
After the show, they returned to Harold's apartment for some more beer, and more smoke. Susan and Mark finally went back to their neighborhood... and Susan invited him in. She lit a candle in the living room and stripped. Mark was amazed! He had never seen a real live naked woman (or girl, Susan was no older than Mark) before. He had no idea what to do.
She did, though, kissed him deep and long, her tongue gently exploring his. She leaned back onto the carpet, and pulled him down on top of her. Her hand undid his belt, and the button of his jeans.
He leaned back, and then shuffled the pants off, greedily devouring the sight of her body with his eyes. She was nothing like the large breasted, hairless women of his magazine dreams. Her breasts were quite small, almost boyish, but definitely rounded, and with large dark nipples. The nipples were stiff, now, and he stared, hypnotized. She noticed him staring, and said "Yes, they get that way when I'm turned on. I like to have them licked, too." That was enough to mometarily break the magnetic lock her breasts were exerting on his eyes, and he looked at her face. She nodded. "Go ahead".
He thought he had felt a nipple before, once, when he was trying to get in Janice's bra at a band picnic. He touched Susan's right nipple just to see if he had really "reached second base" that time. The stories talked about pencil erasers, but this felt nothing like an Eberhard Faber. It felt like heaven. He bent his head down to her bosom, took her nipple into his mouth, and sucked. It *was* heaven. "Gently, gently" she murmured, and arched her back slightly. "That's better." She eased her left hand down past Mark's belly, lightly stroking him. After a few teasing touches, she moved on, and started stroking herself gently. Her right hand played with Mark's hair. After a while, she pushed his head away from her chest, and put her hand over his mouth. He could smell her now, on her fingers, intoxicating and alluring.
She reached down and freed Mark from his overly restrictive briefs. She admired him in the candle light, not so much for size, but for its shape. He trembled a little, his mind a pinball game of random electric excitement. Then she did the impossible. She took him into her mouth. It was the most amazing sensation he had ever experienced, far better than his imagination and his hand. Even as a sixteen year old boy, though, he had smoked and drank too much to finish, and they gave up after a while. She then said "It's my turn," and laid back on the carpet. He wasn't sure... her finger had smelled good, but a little funky, too. This wasn't right, though, he was supposed to put his... This other thing, it was dirty, right? But she had done it to him, so it was only polite. Mark considered himself a very polite young man.
He approached her like a cat with a saucer of cream. She liked that, squealing softly (so not to wake her parents or her nosy little brother) but she did give him a lot of suggestions for improvement. She had one of his ears in each hand, and would gently rub the one in the direction she wanted him to move. He was an avid student, and learned to savor her nature before the morning dawn light started breaking through the curtains. "You've got to go, they'll be up soon," she warned him, and kissed him full on his perfumed lips. "Thank you, you were wonderful."
"I was too, I mean, you were, thanks, wow!" He stumbled back across the street, with a smile on his face that returned every time he thought of that night. Unfortunately, he was now obsessed, and wouldn't talk to or hang out with Susan, except to pester her for more sex. A week later, she dropped him like a stone, telling him that he might be pretty cool in a few years, but not until he started paying attention to women. He was confused, as he thought he had been paying a great deal of attention to her over the last week, He thought of nothing else, but her tongue, and her breasts, and her taste. Evidently, however, she had pretty good taste in men, too, and sufficient self-esteem to act on it.
Mark shook off his reverie, and realized he was hungry. He decided to stop at an old style diner just east of Kansas City, Missouri. He took a seat in a booth, and ordered a hamburger and a soda.
The waitress, whose name tag read Doreen, asked, "where you from, stranger? We call it 'pop' here."
Mark, thirsting for human company after living in the somewhat less human (or humane) dungeons of his mind all day, replied, "Virginia, but I can't call that home any more. My family's gone and my house is up for sale."
"So whatcha doin' way out here in Missouri?"
"I decided to drive US40 and see what I could see. I've been on US40 all the way from South Jersey, and came from the other side of Saint Louis this morning."
"Not on 40, you didn't."
"I'm pretty sure I would have noticed if I didn't."
"I'm pretty sure that you would have noticed that the road and some of the bridges are gone in Boonesville. Floods back in 1995 took them out."
Mark stared up at Doreen, looking her in the eye for the first time. His mind was a blank. He gaped, shocked into silence. The waitress took that as a sign she'd caught him in a big fat lie, and smirked.
"No big deal, hon, your money's still good here. Daddy always said, doesn't matter where we're from, just what we are and where we're going. I'll get you that burger and sody-pop."
She walked over to the counter, and started whispering in her coworker's ear. The coworker turned and looked straight at Mark, then back at Doreen, then broke out in laughter. Mark ducked his head down into one of his magazines. He always had a nervous twitch when it came to driving. Sometimes he would wake up from deep thought and find himself miles past his exit, or somewhere he didn't recognize. He would get a chill, thinking about how many times he could have died in between, when his mind was disengaged from his eyes and his hands.
He ate his meal and paid in silence. As he was leaving, Doreen shouted out in a teasing manner, "Keep your eyes on the road, and make sure your bridges ain't out!". Then she laughed uproariously.
Mark peeled out of the parking lot, face hot with embarrassment. After a few short miles, he calmed a bit, as his mind returned to the women of his younger days. Today was a good day. He was remembering more of the good times, and not so much the paralyzing self-consciousness which had made them the minority of his early adulthood.