Legs are my favorite part. I never snap them off with a single bite. I nibble on them slowly as I work my way up. I crunch bony ankles, gnaw on slender calves. Knees are a delicacy; canine teeth are ideal for chipping cartilage. Thighs—oh sweet, sweet thighs—must be savored, eaten like a sacred drumstick. Thick and long and often hairy, a torso is best swallowed whole. The neck is delicious, but fragile: one bite and all I have left is a tiny head resting on my fingertips.
Animal crackers. They’re a great snack, but they aren’t great company.
Real animals make better pets. Dogs are a man’s best friend, but I am allergic to dogs. I am allergic to cats, guinea pigs, ferrets, gerbils, parrots, sheep, horses, and goats. So I chose bugs.
This summer, the last one before high school, I kidnapped fireflies on weekends and caterpillars on weekdays. I kept the fireflies in a jar until they went to sleep—permanently. I placed the caterpillars in the bathtub, where I tucked them in at night by covering their bodies with tissues.
Finding a bathtub full of caterpillars was a red flag for my mom.
“I’ve made an appointment for you to see the school psychologist,” she said. “Several appointments.”
If I don’t like talking to people I know, why would I talk to strangers?
I have a Batman cape that I wear when I’m anxious. My mom says I shouldn’t wear it to those meetings.
She thinks I’m nuts. She’s had her suspicions ever since I was a kid, when I washed my hands until they were red and raw, talked to myself in public, ran away from anything numbered thirteen, smelled my hands more than forty times per day, ate my animal crackers in a specific order, and made creepy smiley faces out of napkins—even when I didn’t want to.
I still do all those things—they are still part of my daily missions—because if I don’t, I might die of AIDS, or someone close to me might die of a heart attack, or some stranger outside of my small town in Southern New Jersey might get blown up in a bus—and it’d be all my fault and I’d never live it down and I’d bury myself in my room for years and years and years until my Batman cape worked its magic or I became a superhero who didn’t have to worry away death and cleanliness and guilt that never goes away, no matter how hard you scrub.
I don’t tell my mom these things because I don’t want to upset her. It’s not like she has the time to deal with me anyway. She works two jobs: one as a hotel receptionist, the other as a part-time nurse. She doesn’t get home till around 10:00 p.m. Sometimes, she doesn’t come home at all.
“Follow my example and work hard, Rene,” she always tells me. That’s my name. Rene. It’s a boy’s name and a girl’s name, which is great if you’re getting a sex change. (I’m not.)
“Time is money,” my mom says. “Work hard for what you want.”
I know what I want. I’ve worked and worked for it my entire life, but it still hasn’t happened. Not even for a day.
I want everyone and everything to leave me the hell alone.