As a kid—soon after moving to a new house, in a new town—I became obsessed with Fuzzy, the dog next door. He wasn’t much to look at, scrawny little thing with tufts of piss-colored hair and angry, red bald patches. In fact, I was kind of repulsed by him and apparently so was our neighbor because he lived outdoors 24/7 in their backyard. But it wasn’t the dog itself that caught my attention; it was what he loved to do all day.
Summer in full swing, as my siblings roamed the new neighborhood and my parents went about whatever it was parents did, I hoisted myself up on a fence slat to watch Fuzzy in his fifteen-pound glory mount a slightly deflated soccer ball over and over again, yip-howling as he struggled to maintain position. His distraught determination rarely brought relief but when it did, when he managed to get the ball in just the right spot so it wouldn’t roll out from under him, he’d push his hips up and down, up and down, up and down until…something happened. What that was I couldn’t quite tell, but afterwards he would pause, dismount, and run around in circles. Stubby tail wagging, tongue out, a jaunt to his step.
Whatever Fuzzy did on that ball, it made him proud and satisfied in a way I’d never experienced. Certainly not when it came to that part of my body. A year before my family moved, a boy who lived behind us brought me up to his bedroom and stuck the handle of a big, bristly hairbrush inside me. I went home and told no one. Afterwards, it hurt when I peed. I would take a blanket and wedge it between my legs at night, like a child’s version of a chastity belt. And I decided that no one was ever going to touch me down there again. Not even me.
Summer soon passed and the school year started. Mr. Graves, the gym teacher in my new elementary school was unhappy with his lot in life and took it out on us with a mix of apathy and demented torture. Mostly he’d turn on the boom box and make us dance while he read the newspaper. But one day, forced to administer The Presidential Fitness Test, he decided to add on some perverse stations in protest: juggling with solid wooden bowling pins; “mushball” in which one kid stood still while the class pummeled him or her with hard, rubber balls; and the rope climb, in which we were supposed to scale a long, braided blonde rope to the top of the two-story-high gymnasium ceiling.
When my group came to the rope, I was nervous. The very act of opening my legs and wrapping them around its taught fibers was unnerving. I grasped it in hand, placed my KangaRoos on either side of the large knot at the bottom and hugged the rope close for a few seconds. A flash of pleasure between my legs. I clenched my knees tighter. A spark. One of the boys was annoyed that I was just hanging there but I didn’t want to get off, not yet, so I tried pulling up. One hand. Then the other. My polyester shorts slid up with me. More sparks. The more I pulled, the higher I climbed, the more intense the feeling.
Cheers from my classmates below.
The fire moved from between my legs and spread from thighs to knees to toes, up my belly, through my chest, over my shoulders, down my arms—bliss all over.
I didn’t make to the top but I came damn close.
Sliding down the rope, I was confused and embarrassed by what happened, certain my classmates would call me a weirdo. I thought about Fuzzy. Dismounting the ball, panting, his little teeth showing. How I’d spied on him all summer with pity, sometimes disgust.
But if anything, the other kids seemed only impressed by how high the new girl climbed. Even Mr. Graves slapped me on the back and smiled, in spite of himself. I looked up at the rope, the wooden slats of the ceiling, the buzzing lights. The space up there wondrous and special and all my own.
After that, I stopped spying on Fuzzy when I heard his frenzied yips. Instead, I peeked over now and then when he was quiet, lying on his side, sleeping. Occupying the new place I’d discovered for myself: a state somewhere between shame and grace.
Lisa Mecham writes a little bit of everything and her work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Juked and BOAAT, among other publications. She serves on the Advisory Board for Origins literary journal and as a Senior Editor for The Scofield. A Midwesterner at heart, Lisa lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters.