Up ahead, a two-ton radial of hay burns in the road with no explanation. No big deal, just a semi truck-sized wall of hot orange flames, churning with black smoke in the dead-center of Highway 35. My bus comes to a harsh stop a few dozen yards short of the inferno, crushing my dreams of being in a real-life action movie.
I’m on my way to Austin, Texas, nervous, and pestering myself with questions like, Why did I do this? Why am I on this bus? It’s Titanic-engine hot and I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for two years with my girlfriend Eron.
Eron’s still in college. I’m not, I’m older and more intense, and I’m constantly projecting sexual anxiety onto her. I like her, clearly. Maybe more than that. The last time I saw her, we’d had awkward sex in the kitchen while I was cooking tomato sauce. Still inside her, I slipped on spilled olive oil and smacked my elbow on the counter. I remember feeling like I was watching myself from outside my body, holding up a low score like an Olympic judge. I couldn’t stop apologizing.
This is why long-distance relationships are poetic nightmares. You spend days and nights away from each other, slow-cooking your sexual anxiety into a nervous pot roast. I feel disconnected from my body. Like I used to — when my penis felt like an alien controlling my every move.
My entire lower half is a Rocky montage: Everything down there training for the big fight. “Eye of the Tiger,” you know what I mean? Sure, you can shadowbox, but it’s not a real knockout.
Four hours away from seeing Eron, and my stomach is a twisty knot, and I find myself tumbling backwards to when I was a kid.
At age 10, I crusted my underwear for the first time with ejaculation. I woke up, shrouded in inexplicable weirdness, and touched gingerly around in my tighty-whities. What happened down there, and why are my underpants now the same molecular structure as cardstock?
They were nocturnal emissions, of course — wet dreams — but I didn’t know it at the time. No one told me I’d be turning my underwear into papier-mâché. I must have sand-blasted a week’s worth of briefs without a shred of knowledge as to why it was happening.
Weeks later, I gained some critical knowledge as a growing human boy: in my parents’ room, on the small TV above the bed, there was HBO. H-B-fucking-O. That glowing cable feed, those pixels that gathered like fireworks on the monitor, illuminated the shapes of Real Sex.
What’s Real Sex? Real Sex is a real-life documentary series about real people DOING IT, featuring real dicks and real vaginas and real boobies! I found out about this, coveted the information for weeks, waited for when my parents were going to be out of town and we’d have a babysitter, and hatched a plan:
1) Pretend I wanted to go to bed early.
2) Go to bed early.
3) Sneak into my parents’ room and watch Real Sex.
One night, our babysitter, Susan, my brother, and I were watching TV in the living room. I commenced Operation Blast Off by shouting “OK, WELL I’M GOING TO HIT THE SACK.” Susan glanced at her watch, pleasantly surprised. She nodded. Go for launch.
She tucked us in and said goodnight. Then, I, secret captain of stiff underpants, sprung into action and snuck to my bedroom door. I could see all the way down the hallway to the TV in my parents’ room.
The bale of hay continues to burn. The bus hasn’t budged in 40 minutes. And I have to piss. Not “pee” or “urinate” — pee is a light and airy thing humans do while whistling a jaunty tune. No, I need to piss a stream that’ll blast through a concrete wall. Can’t wait. Can’t wait.
I head back to the bathroom. It’s locked. I grit my teeth. My gut tightens. The air conditioning shuts off. Fuck.
Finally, a lean guy in a Texas Rangers cap exits. I zip in behind him and latch the door. That’s when the smell hits me. The man has decimated the bathroom with a bowel movement. It looks like someone threw a shit grenade in here.
I refuse to touch anything. I face the toilet in the tiny bathroom, unzip, and let loose a Incredible Hulk-level stream. Relief-metaphor images flash through my mind: crows exploding from trees; a flower blooming; the Nestea Plunge.
Suddenly, the bus blasts off like a rocket.
Not holding on to anything but my wiener, I blow backwards through the bathroom door, piss flying out of me like a Super Soaker. The bathroom door bangs open, lock busted, hanging akimbo. I tumble and hit the bus floor in a scramble of extremities. A woman sitting next to me lets out a terrified, “HEYWHOA!”
Real Sex played quietly on the TV. I gazed deeply into its pixels, entranced by a woman stroking a penis. I laughed at the sex swing. Then, there was a segment about three women who enjoyed sex. Together. The women writhed against each other on a bed. Okay… Okay… I was like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, staring into the painting.
Cut to the women, naked and writhing, and back to me.
The women, naked and writhing, back to me.
It was at this time that I felt the head-to-toe sneeze. A tidal wave of relaxation. Something pulsed inside, and a tablespoon of Elmer’s glue appeared on my thigh below my boxers.
I had no idea what had happened. Real sex was a foggy Greek myth; a superhuman act that wasn’t a part of my real world. No one had told me what would happen, and I was fascinated and scared of what was between my legs. I didn’t know if I was okay. If something was wrong with me.
The next day, I rode my bike to the library to read about it. To connect my head, in whatever way I could, to my physical self.
I apologize again to the woman sitting near the bathroom. For a brief moment, she turns into my old babysitter Susan. My face is firetruck red.
Walking back to my seat, I zip myself back in my pants, feeling like the kid who rode his bike to the library — confused and scared and pumping my pedals with no idea what’s to come next.
And that’s when my phone buzzes in my pocket. It’s Eron.
“Where you at?” she asks.
“Somewhere past Carl’s Corner.” The air conditioning finally clicks back on. Hearing her voice brings me some relief. “Hey, remember the kitchen?”
And that’s when Eron starts laughing — a warm, embarrassed laugh that makes me understand what the fuck I’m doing on this bus.
“I’m sitting in the library right now,” she whispers. I apologize again for that night. She tells me I don’t need to, and it sinks in. Because the truth is, there’s no perfect sex. There’s only Real Sex. The good, the bad, and the messy.
“See you in a while?” I say, and hang up just as the bus starts moving again. We pass the burning hay, leaving it in the rear view mirror. The road hums underneath.