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What Doesn’t Kill You (Makes You Stronger)

by Anthony Paull
Wednesday Apr 4, 2012
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My god Becky! The new ’IT’ boy in the neighborhood is a serial rapist. He’s the hottest thing since those hideous lawn globes. He’s in all the papers. I want him. I HAVE to have him for status - to be a disgusting social climber - but he won’t come to my window. At night, I keep it open waiting for my Peter Pan moment, but I must not shave my ass enough because he never shows. He’s probably holding out for a local celebrity like my neighbor who’s famous for meth teeth and a magnificent yard full of night blooming jasmine. At dusk, the flowery aroma fills my room like sweet perfume.

"Did you hear?" she asks, finding me at the mailbox. Her eyes go wide. "He waits for people to fall asleep. Then he strikes."

"Like Santa?" I ask.

She raises an eyebrow, huffing and puffing. "You have nothing to worry about. He only assaults older women."

"Well let me know when he switches to young men. Baby gets cold."

I know. I know. I shouldn’t be desperate but my boyfriend’s been on a business trip for 16 days. I need attention; it builds my self-esteem. I can look. I just can’t touch. Well I can touch but only if I’m raped by a douche searching for a golden girl. Then I’ll say he made me do it. "He’s a bad man who made me do bad things!" Is that how it works? There has to be a power differential, I hear. Well if so, let me get this right. If the rapist and I share the same age, gender, and height, does that mean I’m not good enough?

FINE. I didn’t want to get raped anyway.

"Oh come on. You’re pissed off because he didn’t pick you?" my friend Ryan asks. He calls on the phone to check on me.

"I get sensitive when I’m alone."

"No. You get psychotic."

He has a point but at least I put myself out there. He’s 34 and a virgin because he hasn’t met the right ’one’ to share his life with. It’s admirable but I wish he had the guts to bang a serial rapist or someone. He’d get street cred, and I wouldn’t have to suffer through listening to him complain that there’s no one out there.

That’s his biggest problem. He refuses to go out.

"How do you expect to meet a guy?" I inquire. "He’s not going to crawl through your window." I catch myself, giggling. "Well, he might."

"Stop it. I’m not losing it to some rapist."

"That’s your issue. You’re too picky."

Ok. Maybe I’m overdoing it, but he is selective. He won’t use an online dating service because he doesn’t want friends to find him pathetic. He won’t go on Grindr because it’s too slutty. He refuses to hit up the gay bar. Then he calls me crying because nobody wants him.

"Nobody wants you because nobody knows you exist," I say.

He sees the point, asking for my advice. "Where should I go to meet a guy?" He wants him to be eloquent and cerebral - a man who can carry an in-depth conversation about the arts. In other words, he wants a theater nerd so I send him to a play about gay men who wish they had vaginas. I thought it would be the perfect place for him to find a match. I didn’t think he’d actually talk to someone.

"I was sitting by this nice man but he kept hushing me when I would try to start a conversation."

"Why?"

"He wanted to hear the actors."

Yes. Ryan’s officially that guy - the one who’s been out of the game for so long that he doesn’t know where the field is. I love him but he’s been sheltered to the point that he’s become borderline autistic. I’m so ugly. Why would anyone date me? I don’t even know why I try. It’s hopeless. Often, he tells me he can’t stand the risk of rejection.

How many people have friends like this? They criticize themselves, only to find failure when they try because they have no clue what to do.

"Did you talk to him during intermission?" I ask.

"No," he says, sheepishly. "I didn’t want to come on too strong so I just stared at him from across the room, near the entrance, hoping he’d make eye contact."

"Did he?"

"Yeah. But he looked away, rushing to the bathroom."

"And?"

"I followed him, pretending to wash my hands."

"Ok. See. That’s called stalking," I advise.

"Yeah, he darted off, changing seats during the second act."

The situation has led Ryan to isolate further. I only hear from him once a week when he calls to remind me he’s alive. He keeps busy, working a job and watching the news. Tonight he calls to say he saw an artist’s sketch of the man crawling through people’s windows. It made him sad - the thought of a rapist taking advantage of the innocent.

"I don’t know how you keep your window open," he says.

"I refuse to hide."

"Why? Aren’t you afraid he’ll hurt you?"

"Not really. I’m more afraid of not smelling the flowers."

Anthony Paull’s debut novel Outtakes of A Walking Mistake was recently chosen as an NPR Finalist for Best Teen Novel Ever.

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