BY IRA SUKRUNGRUANG
In those days, the seventh grade boys of Oak Lawn, Illinois, were expected to get at least to second base if not farther, and if they didn’t then they were marked as the biggest pansy-asses in Simmons Middle School. All such conquests were recorded in the bathroom stalls—who did what with whom and the dates. The Stall was our sports section, a catalog of scores. Even I had etched my name on to The Stall when Jill Livicky allowed me to slide my hand down her shirt on Tuesday October 12, 1991 at 7:13 pm at her house while her parents were at her little sister’s T-ball game, while Bon Jovi sang I’ll Be There For You on MTV. It was a bad song; it was always a bad song when I got some back then: Hanging Tough by New Kids on the Block, Cherry Pie by Warrant. Jon Bon’s voice was nasal and whiny and melodramatic. But Jill Livicky, she adored him. More than adored him. It seemed her heartbeat was this song. It sustained her the way air sustained us, the way fish need water, the way a bird values flight. His posters hung over every inch of her walls—Jon Bon’s face, his long, stringy hair—looking at us from all angles. At night, I wondered if Jill Livicky went down there, to her spot, to the many eyes of Jon. Him giving the peace sign. Him winking. Him shouting in a mic. Him smiling while Richie Sambora humped his guitar. Most boys in Oak Lawn kept their hair trimmed and combed with the perfect over-gelled wave. Boys in Oak Lawn didn’t wear leather pants or sport cross earrings. Boys in Oak Lawn beat up boys who looked like Jon Bon Jovi. But Jill Livicky—she loved him, and by the look of her you wouldn’t have guessed it. She was a Puritan—blouse buttoned all the way to the top, flowery long skirt that floated above the ankles, short curly hair that domed like a helmet, and butterfly glasses. She looked like an old Blue Eyes fan. Rat Pack follower. Jill Livicky, she wasn’t a girl who lived in 1990 or 91. She was a girl out of place, out of time. Not an Oak Lawn girl. Not a high hair girl, not a French roller. She was a nice girl, a smart girl, and that drove me mad, her niceness, her Puritan look. So when her parents were out watching her little sister play T-ball, as we watched Bon Jovi on TV in her Bon Jovi room, I unbuttoned her shirt and slid my hand down her front, her skin bumpy and soft, perfect and imperfect at the same time. She didn’t blink, didn’t stop me. It was as if I wasn’t doing anything. As if I wasn’t cupping her breast and squeezing. As if I wasn’t there at all, but a ghost hand on a ghost boob. She stared at the TV, at Jon Bon. She sang softly, in a trance. And this I remember, this I could never forget—she was crying. Crying and singing with my hand down her shirt, thinking not about Jon Bon Jovi staring at me at all angles, not about her tears, but about my entry on The Stall, my addition to a world of silly Oak Lawn boys. I was thinking about getting beyond second base, thinking maybe she’ll let me round third. But when the song ended, the moment was over. I told Jill Livicky thank you. It was the only thing I could say. Thank you, I said, and she smiled, a Puritan smile, bright with too many teeth. She buttoned her shirt like an afterthought, like it had accidentally come undone. He’s dreamy, isn’t he? Jill Livicky said. Thank you, I said again because I wanted to go home now, because there was no reason for me to stay anymore. But part of me wanted Jill Livicky to say, No. Don’t go. Stay. For a little longer. Part of me wanted Jill Livicky to proclaim her love for me, to say I was on her mind night and day, that I was the boy of her dreams, and maybe we could get married and have a bunch of Puritan kids in Oak Lawn, playing within a white picket fence, living in a wonderfully suburban bi-level with a golden retriever named Ralph, and what a life this would be, what a perfect Oak Lawn life. Instead, Jill Livicky rose from her bed and opened the door. Bye, she said. Your company was appreciated, she said. Thank you, I said again. She put her hand on my shoulder like a distant friend, and I walked out of her room, her house, and immediately heard Bad Medicine streaming out of her window, and saw the shadow of Jill Livicky swaying behind her blinds. The sun was almost down, just a red light along the horizon. Everything seemed red. My face. My heart. My voice caught in my throat. Night was coming, and the cicadas were buzzing something fierce. I sang Bon Jovi under my breath. I sang I’ll Be There For You, though I knew only the chorus. I sang it like a mantra that would lead me towards some sort of enlightenment, some sort of long-haired ecstasy. I sang it because I, too, was in love with Jon Bon. I loved him the way we love the last leaf of autumn, right before the descent. I loved him the way we love the monumental markers of our lives, like how I would come to love other songs and other memories attached to those songs. I loved him because there was no way of getting him out of my head—his hair, his voice, his tight pants—tonight or the nights that followed.
Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoirs Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, and the poetry collection In Thailand It Is Night. He is the coeditor of two anthologies on the topic of obesity: What Are You Looking At?
The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. He is the recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction Literature, an Arts and Letters Fellowship, and the Emerging Writer Fellowship. His
work has appeared in many literary journals, including Post Road, The Sun, and Creative Nonfiction. He is one of the founding editors of Sweet: A Literary Confection (sweetlit.com), and teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida and the low-residency MFA program at City University in Hong Kong. For more information about him, please visit: www.buddhistboy.com.