“And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.”
A picture of Mount Hood hung in the dining room overlooking the table. It was three pictures, really – a panorama of a snow covered peak swathed in the soft orange of sunset, fragmented across three frames. You could see the mountain, start to finish; the foothills, awkward bulges dense with trees rising into the base, a uniform mass of lush green reaching for the summit in uneven tendrils until the tree line, where the impenetrable hue was suddenly replaced by gray crags abruptly rising from the white-orange snow. The three photos cut the mountain into perfect thirds, the peak poised between two gentle, tree-lined slopes – mirror images of each other but for the streaks of color across the right hand frame. “What’s the point of this? Why are there three?” I asked my mother. She slumped the bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter and glanced at the photos. She shrugged, and through a puzzled smirk said, “Art?”
We shared a look before she turned walked out the front door, calling back as soon as she was out of sight, “Mical, come out here and help Adam with the rest of the groceries!” I pulled my gaze from the mountain and took in the rest of the place. The Sun River brochure had modestly referred to it as a “cabin” but it was about as far from the rustic connotations of that word as you could get. A row of soundless fans hung from the high ceilings, presiding over a crimson, L-shaped sofa in the living room. Dark, polished wood lined the floors and trimmed the stucco walls, and the kitchen’s center island (an entirely novel concept to me) contained a built in gas stove. The vastness of the space allowed the living room, dining room, and kitchen to open into one another, sharing an eastern wall made almost entirely of glass, offering a constant view of that picturesque line of pines and the glimmering water beyond. It was by far, the most modern, opulent looking structure my ten-year-old eyes had ever seen, and even then, I knew my family could not afford a vacation like this. It had been explained to me that the place was what was called a “time-share,” though what that meant I was never quite sure. The important thing was that it belonged to my mothers’ boss, who had given us a discount since he couldn’t use it himself.
“Mical!” my mother’s voice was less congenial now. I temporarily suspended my awe and stepped out the front door into the fading July light. As on most family trips, I had been allowed to bring a friend along. This year’s lucky candidate was Adam Krakauer. I’d gone to school with him since kindergarten, but we had only really started hanging out in the last year or so. He was a stout boy, chubby but strong, with a perpetually scrunched face and round glasses that made him look like far more of a nerd than he really was. I found him standing beside our maroon ’88 voyager, my mother handing him a brown bag of groceries through the sliding door of the minivan. My father was rummaging around somewhere in the trunk, grumbling to no one in particular about how we had forgotten this Very Important Item.
I smiled slightly at the sight of my mother’s interaction with Adam – her warmth toward him was surely genuine, but the idea of our situations reversed – of myself on a trip with his family, would have undoubtedly produced tension. Adam was not a “good influence.” He was not a troublemaker, exactly, but rather one of those boys who I thought best that my parents knew only out of context. I hesitated to think what my mother would do if she observed our time together at his house – drinking as much Coca-Cola as our newly expanded, soon-to-be-pubescent bodies could hold, watching R rated movies and playing SEGA for hours –hell, just being in a house without an adult in it would have been enough to warrant a speedy ride home. Had my parents known of our unsupervised playdates – a product of Adam’s parents’ recent divorce – I doubt our friendship would have progressed to this vacation invitation.
I arrived at the van in time to see my mother climbing out with the last bag of groceries. “Sweetie, grab yours and Adam’s bags – don’t forget your backpack,” she said, walking past me into the house with Adam in tow. I followed a moment later, weighed down by two duffels and a book bag full of car ride entertainment. There were three rooms in the house –one for my parents, one for my brother and his friend (who would arrive a day later), and one for Adam and me. The two of us were staying in a room just off of the kitchen, in a small, carpeted square with a single, queen size bed. I tossed our bags onto the floral pattern comforter and walked back outside to watch my father struggle with the grill.
After dinner, my parents insisted we go to bed early, assuring us we would need the energy for our exciting first day. Reluctantly – or more accurately, without any other choice – we agreed, and by nine o’clock, with the light of the summer sun still visible on the horizon, peeled back the comforter on the bed and stripped to T-shirts and boxers. We lay there, perfectly parallel, talking as the last of the evening light left the window.
“Tressa Russell,” he said without hesitation. “Your turn.” Since I was old enough to start having friends spend the night – probably since around kindergarten – sleepovers with other boys had followed a similar pattern, and almost always seemed to boil down to the disclosure of two secrets: one’s crush, and one’s dick. It was as though each sleepover was a chance to enact these most masculine of ritual disclosures, first the praising of the female object of desire, and then that examination of the familiar and the mysterious. While the first part was commonplace, the second act of sharing was something that, even as very young children, we knew was only to be explored long after the lights were off for the night, and never discussed afterward. As I grew older, it became apparent that not only was this a passing phase, but was quite possibly a highly localized phenomenon. By ten, I had “grown out” of the second stage of this pattern – now feeling only awkwardness at the site another boy’s genitals and embarrassed at the thought of revealing my own. Nonetheless, long after this pattern had faded a familiar sense of expectation took hold of me every time a friend and I had finished revealing our love interests to the dark.
“Well?” Adam demands, “What’s it gonna be?” I considered my options. I had picked Truth three turns running and already revealed my crushes for the past two years. I could tell he was growing bored – and for that matter, so was I. Stage One was over. But what did the Second Stage look like anymore?
“Dare,” I said finally, and took a few shallow breaths. I dreaded what was coming. Adam, always more outgoing than myself, had taken the first Dare, in which I forced him to run outside of the bedroom for ten seconds without being caught by my parents. He did, of course, succeed, and I could tell he considered it a weak demand.
“Okay.” His grin was illuminated by the yellow light seeping through the space underneath the door to the kitchen. “I Dare you, to get on top of me and pretend to have sex with me like I was a girl.” I was puzzled as to how this would work, though somehow, not the least bit perturbed by the challenge. I sat up. He grabbed the overstuffed pillow from behind his head and tossed it onto his lap. “There,” he said, looking up at me. “There needs to be something between us, ya know? Now it’ll work.”
I swung my leg over his waist and straddled him with my knees, sitting back the pillow. What, exactly, did this Dare entail? I sat there lamely, staring down at Adam’s face as it broke into laughter. He pushed me off. “No, stupid! Don’t you know what sex looks like?” No, not really. Should I?
He slapped the pillow down on top of my lap and was immediately sitting on top of me, my body immobile between his knees. “You’re supposed to move back and forth, like this.” Adam began rocking to and fro on top of the pillow, and I could feel the pressure move with his body from my thighs up to my stomach, and back down again. He wasn’t laughing anymore. I noticed the beginnings of my ten-year-old version of an erection, and I looked away from him. My eyes found the door, and I watched as the thin beam of light was briefly interrupted first by one, and then two pairs of feet. Immediately, I became acutely aware of the bed’s squeaking, of Adam’s certainly audible whispers. The energy that I had barely noticed building in my groin froze, and for a moment I was struck with horror and panic. What would happen if a pair of those feet decided to open the door? At the sight of those passing shadows, I knew this act was governed by the same rules as the old Second Stage. This was a lights-out only act, and those feet were dangerously close.
I said nothing, and the footsteps didn’t stop us from continuing to take turns straddling one another. “Man, I’m so horny,” Adam said, looking down at me on his third or forth turn.
“Yeah, I know” I replied, without the slightest clue as to the word’s definition.
“I wish you were a girl,” he said with a thrust. “I’d have sex with you so hard.”
“Yeah, me too.” I said, still not entirely sure as to the meaning of my words. Adam grew still for a moment before letting out a frustrated sigh. He rolled off and slumped over onto his back. The Game was over.
A decade later, the majority of the Sun River trip is a blur, a montage of barbeque, swimming, and sunburns seen through the haze of rising heat. Everything about that trip seems unreal, like it should have never been allowed – a vacation in every sense of the word. The overly luxurious setting, Truth or Dare, and considering my parents divorce less than a year later, even the familial community implied by this trip now seem like a ruse. I have only just begun to make sense of it. For many years, I didn’t have the distance to contemplate my own arousal at the Game, let alone its potential implications. What if I had known that two years after Sun River – deep in the throes of puberty – I would stand in the shower and stare down at myself, recalling every detail of the trip and simultaneously wishing I couldn’t? If I had known then, that all my musing, shame, and refusal to even question my own desires would be so wrapped up in my disavowal of the trip, would I have been so nonchalant at the time?
The vacation now stands in my mind as a watershed moment, a dividing line between different periods of my life. To say it’s a line is too simple, though. A line is something visible, something understood. In the artsy snapshot of my life, Sun River is not the line separating frames, but rather the blank wall between two frames: the foothills, and the peak. It’s that rejected, uncounted dead space between childhood and puberty – invisible but no less consequential – the space that makes the transition from foothill to peak possible, or at least in retrospect, comprehensible. I think that’s why we separate things, sometimes; maybe they become easier to recognize, their details more apparent.
Eight years after our Sun River vacation, I saw Adam from the window of a public bus. We had lost touch at least five years prior, and still my first thought – before he had even faded from view – was does he remember? What does it mean to him? In my mind, due to the passage of time or irreparable repression, or perhaps both, the majority of that trip is unintelligible. The only things that are really clear anymore are the first day, and that first night. Adam and I never spoke of the Game, nor did we play it again during the trip. I still remember that creeping feeling of expectation which came when lying in bed with him on the following nights, though. Each time I wondered – if only to myself – if he would suggest playing the Game. I knew I never would.