(1st in this challenge)
They were entangled boyfriends of seven weeks.
“An ear job?” one asked up to the other.
“Not the real name for it but—”
“I like your ears. I like holding on to them when we…”
“You never hold on to them when we…”
“Haha. I could…start,” he said, biting his lip.
“I’m just tired of hearing, ‘Dumbo’, Case.”
“I only called you that once!” Casey pushed up to look eye-to-eye. “Lew, I—”
“I heard that before we met. Not. All. About. You. Haha, monkey.” Lewis tickled to calm.
“Well I’m sorry again,” Casey giggled. He always laughed apologies in this relationship.
“It would be funny if you did start, though.”
“Ha!” Both could call this their longest romantic relationship—of 9th grade, of their lives. Neither was sure if how he behaved or spoke would keep them successful. When in doubt, try to make the other laugh, Lewis thought. Casey urged himself to act more concerned in the moment, though, so he asked, “What do you call them?”
“The people who call you—?”
“Oh. I don’t. I don’t bully.”
“You’re hunky. You could bully.”
“Why don’t you for me?”
“You’re the guy.”
“You’ve been the guy once.”
“Not enough to qualify. Ha. Stop TICKling me.”
They turned into a cuddle. Lewis expected this to be the end of the conversation. He could nap a little before one of his parents came home, before he’d have to keep the bedroom door open as long as Casey stayed. Lewis tried to sneak replying to a text.
“But it’s kind of deceptive, isn’t it?” Casey asked.
“I mean what if I hadn’t met you and I dated you afterwards specifically because you had perfect ears and also because I wanted perfect-earred babies? I’d think our kids were going to come out one way and then all of a sudden…”
“We’re 15. Kids are not in the future.”
“But we only have a year to get onto 16 and Pregnant.”
“I suppose we could find a 16-year-old surrogate. We can be any age. She can still be on the show.”
“You go off in so many directions sometimes.”
“My aunt had her ears lifted before she started dating again. Too many heavy earrings.”
“I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“But you have a black belt. You could totally—”
Lewis distracted Casey with a kiss. And other actions.
“Your ears?” Lewis’ mother had been asking all morning. “Maybe your nose?”
“Yeah. Dad found this non-profit that will pay for it all.”
“But why? It could be dangerous.”
“But you’re growing up. They’ll stop.”
“It just gets worse. And since I came out…”
“Well, I know, sweetie. They’ll stop, though.”
“It’ll be like my braces when I was a kid. That was for aesthetic appeal, right? You told the doctor that I looked like a ‘backwoods poster boy’. I remember that every day.’
“It was a joke.”
“To you. Yeah. It was a joke. Mom—it’s free. They sympathize and help teens out.”
“You’ll grow into your looks, honey.” She cupped her own ears.
“Not soon enough. It’s free, Mom. You had to pay for the braces.”
“I should have paid for a class in table manners for you, too. Have you seen the way that you eat with those perfect teeth?”
“You also get a face peel thingy every year.”
“That’s for sun damage. You don’t know what it’s like to be fair-skinned. Just be the way that you are. I love you. I made you.” She said this looking away.
“But the bullying gets worse and worse.”
“So get surgically altered to look like the bullies want you to look?”
“I think the bullies prefer me to look the way I do.”
“You should just talk to the counselor about all of this. I’m sure you won’t feel so strongly.”
“I did. And she’s fine. My appointment’s tomorrow, Mom.”
“Dad’s picking me up. I want you there. Come. Don’t come.”
“I’m calling your father.”
“Lewis V___?” the nurse called.
“I’m going with you,” his mother said.
“Honey—” his father said.
“Noooo. No. No. I don’t like you right now.”
All three followed the nurse.
“Hello, Lewis,” the surgeon began. “Mr. and Mrs. V____.”
“So are you going to fix him being gay too?” began his mother.
“Well, he’s always been bullied for that, too.”
“Mom, that’s not something to be fixed.”
“He’ll grow into them,” his mother started, pointing at her own head. “Can I speak with you privately, Dr.?” She turned to Lewis and her husband. “Can I speak with him privately?”
Lewis and his father left the room.
“Yes, sit. What’s your concern?” asked the surgeon.
“I just—it’ll all proportion out.”
“The deviated septum won’t.”
“I didn’t realize he had that.”
“Neither did he.”
“So a nose job?”
“Yes. He’s being bullied. We help in this way. He has an emotional maturity that I admire.”
“Emotional maturity. He can’t even take a little name calling. Everyone is bullied. Instead he wants a new face like witness protection. Is that emotional maturity?”
“You have an unrealistic narrative, Mrs. V____. Your son is being bullied by nearly his entire class. Dozens of people daily. He doesn’t even know most of the people who come up to him and call him names.”
“I was bullied, too.”
“And you’re a bully now.”
“I…,” she thought about screaming but she deflated instead. “They’re the only facial features of mine that I see in him. My ears and nose were like that. And my face grew into them.”
“Your very pretty, Mrs. V___. This is a conversation you should have with your son if you haven’t already. And I can guess that you haven’t. But I have procedures to prep for, Mrs. V___.”
Through the summer, Lewis healed, wrapped at first, then just less degrees of swollen and red. A bit was scraped from his cheeks and chin as well. Casey joked about the bandages, then kissed him in the ear as if it kept his jokes from being heard. Have your fun, Lewis thought. Once recovered, everyone remarked on his new level of handsomeness. He had his camera in his face all of the time. He got a reprieve when Casey spent whole blocks of the day away at band camp. No texts from him. No questions. No expectations.
On the first day of 10th grade, as everyone arrived to school, Lewis began searching for someone. Casey was off at morning band practice, leaving Lewis independent. He had begun chatting with a guy named Zac on Tumblr and Facebook the year before (before he had met Casey…while he’d dated Casey…). Zac was drool-worthy, everything worthy—the cutest gay guy Lewis had ever met (even if they hadn’t met in person yet). He thought of Zac often while with Casey, compared the two (even more so post surgery) and always favored Zac. He questioned his own attractiveness compared to Zac, who seemed even more attractive for having modeled.
Lewis searched as he approached the school building. He and Zac had planned to meet today. By the bike racks, Zac had replied to Lewis’, I just got here.
“Hey, Dumbo!” a passing friend yelled.
Lewis waved back, even winked. This was the only person who would dare to joke about Lewis’ ears nowadays. In third grade and then in sixth, Lewis had unleashed all of the karate moves he’d learned on a few boys (including this friend) and again for some guys who’d funneled in from other elementary schools who didn’t know exactly how Lewis replied to name-calling. He forgot how he’d finagled from punishment in the third grade, but the teacher who had broken up the sixth-grade fight had seemed to also be gay as far as Lewis could tell, seemed to assume he knew exactly why the fight had started. There was sympathy and camaraderie in his face and actions. The guys in the fight had denied when the principal berated them outside of the nurse’s office. Those guys still remembered and kept their distance (even the friend). Lewis had heard stories in the news of teachers and principals ignoring gay bullying. Not at his middle school. Some of the guys were suspended even though they were the ones with the injuries. But they’d made fun of his ears too much. Lewis detected their carefulness in their eyes whenever he passed them in the parking lot or in the hallways or somewhere out in town now, even if they smiled as if they’d forgotten.
“Hey!” Zac sprang from the bike racks, immediately hugging him. “Finally, right?”
“Wow. You’re like a model.”
“And you’re actually a model.”
“Just one ad. You could be—you look better than your photos. Different.”
“Thanks. Guess I’m just growing into my looks.”
“You have such great skin, too.”
“What are you talking about? You’re fine.”
“No. I’ve got this scar by my eyebrow. See? It’s like a blemish.”
“Oh, you barely notice. Scars are…can be…haha, you know?”
“Easy for you to say.” Zac blushed, looked down to adjust the strap of his messenger bag. “So, do you still want to hang after school?”
“You have Lunch B, right?” Casey would spend Lunch D in the band hall. Lewis would break up with him somehow today. He’d decided weeks ago. Casey was kind of cute but that only gets a guy so far.
“Yep, I do,” Zac said. The bell rang.
“How about we begin hanging out then?”
I was instantly inspired by this story of Nadia Ilse. And you can find the paper Dumbo toy here. (It took forever to find a none-offensive photo for this post. Better suggestions? I was looking for like a Dumbo headband.)