Our old friend Clint Banks died in Texas at the age of eighteen in 1993, just a few months after his mother's suicide. She named Clint after a famous television cowboy, I guess because she married a boring professor. A few blocks from Clint's house, where our little group used to skateboard and eat Taco Bell, Clint opened a magazine and showed us the collision of female and male organs, which to me looked like autopsy photos.
Even at sixteen Clint was balding; he also possessed a fine beard of which we were uniformly envious. In 1992, just before Clint moved to Texas, we took some motor-bikes out to Bakersfield and tore up the brown landscape. Clint asked us if we had ever seen a woman's true sex, to which we all said yes. Clint claimed to be the expert on the female sex; he made comparisons to highways and malformed penises. His vocabulary bewildered us: labia majora, hypertrophied clitoris. I wished I had a beard.
Clint's autopsy vindicated the local sheriff, who had insisted that Clint had been drinking. Ironically, the sheriff himself was also dead by the time of the autopsy, so his vindication was posthumous. Later, we heard rumors about that autopsy, whispers about Clint's true sex.
Once, I heard Clint's mom make an odd remark during a Superbowl party. She wore a Dallas Cowboy's jersey and she smelled like a margarita: “My boy's got all the wrong parts. I should have married a cowboy.” Her husband the professor was a nice guy who, like me, did not care about football. He worked on computational mechanics on a computer that seemed advanced at the time, even though its screen rolled out bright green letters and symbols. He dressed well, even when mowing the lawn.
The conditions of the umbra were taught to me by Clint's dad in high school. The umbra is the darkest pinpoint of an eclipse, leaving a space void of sunlight. Many professors dressed in plaid and worn jeans back then, but Clint's dad wore sharp suits and zingy ties. He ate lunch with the sex development teacher, a fashionable, young woman who did not seem much older than the students. Watching them eat was like watching lovers on a date at an art museum.
Clint used to show us newspaper articles about unrest. His interests were the sensationalistic stories that conjured mythic images of nuclear destruction, of the possibility of monsters and freaks. He was particularly interested in Chernobyl, and regaled us with a National Geographic magazine featuring images of children born limbless or blind. Activists often marched against nuclear power plants back then, but not so much now.
“Do you think they have deformed sex? Sex anatomy?” Clint had said.
Clint's language alienated us. His rambling monologues about anatomical maladies and mutations sounded like pseudoscience at the time, or about as verifiable as his mom's palm readings, but we listened. Clint often referred to his “identity.”
In those days we were all conscious of our sexual identity. I worried that my penis would shrivel and become a vagina. One of my friends thought the pubescent growths under his nipples would turn into breasts. I remember staring at recently sprouted hairs in the bathroom, killing time while my father stood in the living room, passing my mom thick envelopes containing one- and five- dollar bills, the alimony I guess. I would steal a few bills, which I later found out my mom knew about. Why didn't she say something?
Clint often rode his bike past our skateboard posse. He would ignore us and we would gossip about him. We liked to say that he was pathological before we knew what pathological meant. Someone said they had seen Clint killing a turtle at the pond near the old Marie Calendar's restaurant. The Marie Calendar's is now a gas station. A hospital sprung up across the street from the gas station, and now, where the turtle pond used to be, is a place where doctors and patients take smoking breaks.
I once saw a woman in glasses, about forty-years-old, come out of the hospital wearing the smock of a patient. Her stomach looked lopsided, like a half of a pregnancy. I regarded myself as tough, but I felt bad looking at her. If I walked on the left side of the sidewalk I would move past her without having to speak. I had dreams of helping people like this, of giving motivational speeches. In fact, I wished I had given such a speech to Clint after we found out his mom had poisoned herself. But I never called. The woman's breasts looked normal, but I spotted a blotch of blood on the cotton fabric near the edge of her left breast.
Clint once told us that he peed blood for a week every month, but none of us believed him. Why would he say something like that in the first place? Maybe he had heard a girl talk about her period, and then had wanted us to pay attention to him again. We were already distancing ourselves from his strange obsession with sex-parts. He had said, “I have observed the spontaneous passage of blood through my urethral meatus.”
Unlike most of us, Clint talked about marriage. “I'll never get married. Ideologies don't suit me.”
We pressed him, asking how he expected to have kids if he never got married. Clint said, “I'll attempt sexual intercourse a few times. I'll go to a brothel.”
Though Clint ditched school all the time, he never seemed to face consequences for his absences. His father, perhaps, protected him. Anyway, we all knew that Clint was reasonably intelligent. He was, like his obsessions, a tad abnormal.
One of the last things I remember Clint asking me was this: “What is your true sex?”
I had no idea what he meant. I may have said, “Stop being gay,” before changing the topic to the best burgers in town. I thought In-N-Out was best, and most people agreed. I knew that Clint preferred Wendy's, so I guess I was trying to start an argument.
Clint persisted, stubborn as always, saying, “In this society can you have a true sex?”
“I'm not gay, I know that,” I said.
“Are you a cowboy?” said Clint.
I felt an intense pleasure when he asked the question. I felt a longing for Clint's mom. Later I jacked off and thought of her.
Kirk Sever is a teaching associate and graduate student at Cal State University Northridge. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The Northridge Review. He was runner up for the Academy of American Poets George M. Dillon Memorial award.