In retrospect, my parents probably knew why I was heading out to the woods in a black sweatshirt.
"Hey, you," the other boy said. "Hey, kid. I can see you." He was kneeling behind a tree to protect himself from the lights of the house. He pointed his binoculars at me, as if to prove my position. "I see you right there."
I was lying on my stomach, growing uncomfortable as the wet leaves soaked through my flannel. "Um, hi." I didn't know what to say. What do you say when you've been caught peeping into someone's house? I kneeled and looked at him, an entire series of explanations lining up in my head from most to least believable.
He was wearing a black Tilley hat and a black sweatshirt. His jeans were dark. When a screen door tapped against its frame on the house a few yards out of the forest, we both dropped on our stomachs like practiced infantrymen.
My God, I thought, he's another Peeping Tom.
For some reason, I would forever refer to him as Peeping Bob.
Peeping Bob was older than me and kept his head on a swivel during our conversation. "Any action?" he asked.
"Nothing much," I said. I was relieved that we had both somehow ended up on the same page. There was no need for discussion about our motives for being in the woods at night, dressed like snipers. "I thought there was something going on over at the Golinski house, but it turned out to be the TV."
He began scanning the perimeter of the woods and I rose into a crouch to depart. As I made a move to go, he nodded without turning his head. "Hey, watch out on your way home. The Carminos are out on their deck drinking."
"Thanks," I said, and left the woods.
My research into the sexual proclivities of my neighbors had ended — for the night, anyway.
I spent a great deal of my youth describing my penis to people who had not inquired about it. I spoke of its girth and length, and when that began failing to get the attention I desired, I shifted to its use. According to me, it was rampantly busy satisfying various members of the opposite sex. It was a wonder I could walk with all the action it got. No female was safe from my libido: neighbors, friends, and once, a veterinarian who was caring from my poodle.
Not only were these tales absolutely false, but after a while I began lacking the pragmatic experience to continue entertaining my classmates with my tall tales. It was okay to talk about the basics — most boys know about first and second base, with a rudimentary understanding of what happens at third base and home plate. I was twelve years old and my imagination was dangerously active, its attention to detail both magnificent and disturbing. But in reality, my experience was theoretical, and my appetite for actual sexual experience remained unquenched. I craved to see these things for myself, to gain some understanding of the lies I was spinning. At the very least, it'd make my stories more entertaining and more real. That's why I'd taken to the woods.
There were issues. First of all, I found that my neighbors were as boring at night as they were during the day. This meant that my carnal education wasn't advancing as rapidly as my education on local evening wear and TV viewing habits. There were, on occasion, a few moments of playfulness between husband and wife, but those did little to serve my descriptive needs.
Secondly, discretion wasn't something I really understood at that time. Leaving the house at night wearing black sweatshirts and jeans and coming back covered in leaves and dirt was not the best way to fly under my parents' radar.
In retrospect, asking for a balaclava for my birthday was probably a mistake. Nevertheless, the problem remained that I needed more in-depth research to keep up with my public persona as a smutty folklorist, and the life of a peeping Tom wasn't doing that for me.
I took to pornography with lubricated glee. Teens merely masturbate; I was doing research. I studied the movements, the changes that positioning demanded on one's anatomy, and the "dialogue." I reported to my classmates with well-researched detail, each week expanding the plots and scenarios as my education advanced with debauched fervor. I was the Garrison Keillor of spoken erotica.
Though I was usually the only one who told stories, I was probably the only person in the room not in consistent physical or, at the very least, conversational contact with girls. While my classmates were sticking their necks out with girls (sometimes successful, more often rejected), I resigned myself to the role of observer in the world of sex — a role I augmented with an almost obsessive imagination, but still, my fictions couldn't keep up with the other guys' real, physical experiences.
One lunch period in the spring, I came into the student-council office with a great story to tell. It involved me and a fictional neighborhood girl I'd been dating. This was safe, since none of the other guys lived in my neighborhood. That afternoon I told a fantastic story about our acrobatic sex, based on a steamy scene from the film Oral Addiction.
After I'd finished, two of the other boys talked about a Spin the Bottle game that occurred at a party the previous weekend, and though they did far less in that story than I'd done in mine, their story was factual. And we all knew it. In that moment, I lost my audience. I soon became the Betamax of sexual experience, unable to keep up with the VHS of real life and doomed to nostalgic anonymity.
My career as a Peeping Tom had lasted exactly four days. I ran into Peeping Bob a few times that summer at neighborhood social functions. We never talked, but we nodded to each other in recognition. We never knew each others' names, but we shared an understanding.
The first time I stared down the business end of a recently spun bottle was on Christmas Day the next year. It was at a party at my cousin's house, and the kids of family friends gathered in the finished side of the basement and passed around a pilfered half quart of eggnog. With the assistance of spiced rum and bourbon, I found the courage to dive into a Spin the Bottle game for the first time.
The spinner, a teenage anomaly named Jackie, stood well over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. When the bottle landed on me, she stood and pointed to the shower stall in the corner. "Let's go."
My hesitation existed on two levels. For one, this was my debut first-person sexual experience, and a number of terrifying scenarios were gripping my imagination. (These ranged from simply being a bad kisser to actually peeing in my brand new khakis during the experience.) Second, at barely five-feet tall, I was afraid of being crushed by this massive girl. I stared around the room at the others, begging for an out, but was offered only mute eyes and smiles.
I stood, and she put her arm around my shoulder, as if to implant romance into our brief relationship. The others all watched us go.
We squeezed into the stall together and I picked up the aroma of eggplant parmesan and root beer that flavored her breath. I gave her a long look; her blue eyes and Christmas tree earrings, her prematurely developed breasts flanking a snowman with fluffy balls for eyes and buttons. I could hear the giggles of the others in the outside room, and the observer part of me longed to leave the stall and get back to the safety of the group. Yet some other part wanted to stay.
Jackie picked me up and placed me on the built-in seat amid bottles of shampoo and conditioner since it was clear that our height difference was going to cause a logistical problem. A lump in my throat bulged outwards and for the first time I felt the excitement and sense of imminent doom that I would forever associate with barreling down a runway in an airplane.
I stared at her neck and the tight brown curls that hung around it. She took out her gum, reached out, and pulled the door of the shower closed. The next three minutes were a blur of clicking teeth and mouth breathing. I remember grasping her fleshy hip and pawing the fluffy eyes on her chest. I remember sensing when it was over, and that we stopped kissing simultaneously, as if we were both fitted with timers.
"You taste like candy canes and rum," she said and patted me on the head. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and we left the shower.
My short rendezvous had rendered me giddy and glass-eyed. My heart worked in wild thumps and my hands were shaking with adrenaline. I'd never been able to capture these sensations from watching Oral Addiction or any other porn. Nor had I been able to capture them in my stolen moments in the forest, yards away from tapping screen doors.
We rejoined the group and sat down. As the next guy spun the bottle, my cousin nudged me. "How was it?" he asked.
I didn't reply; my look said it all. And, until now, that was all I would ever say about it.
Damien Galeone is a writer living in Prague. He teaches university students who pretend to understand him, and lives with a cat who’s plotting his murder and around neighbors who force him into hard labor. His first novel, Senseless, was published in August 2011.