With a hair flip and a sideways smile, he captures all the girls in the seventh grade.
His younger brother rattles off the list of middle-schoolers swooning over the college boy in a twelve-year-old’s body. Hollister hoodie sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Ray-Ban sunglasses shield his eyes inside the living room.
“Five out of six girls respond to the look,” the younger one says. He darts his head dramatically to the side, chin to shoulder, his sixty-pound four-feet-tall body not having quite the same effect.
He says he won’t date any of them. The southern mothers wouldn’t want that. Would rather their daughters wait a few years to find themselves standing in the foyer, some sweet talker’s hand around their waists as the father looks onward from the living room couch.
Weeks later, in the comfort of my own living room, four states away, I learn that he has forgotten the art of loving himself. The boy with too many girls to ask to dance. The boy with the football arm and hot-sauce-lined lips. The middle of the Oreo, the creamy gooey goodness we are first to reach for, has forgotten his place between the Tall and Lanky and the Small and Slim.
He has turned husky into a curse. Swapped strong for weak. Twisted thick into a something he does not want to be.
Instead, he’s taken to skipping out on sandwiches. Pining for afternoon walks around the entire metropolitan area. Fifteen miles of feet padding across foreign sidewalks. Fifteen miles to shed the ounces of him that glue together the Small and Slim boy to the Tall and Lanky.
I do not have an answer for this boy, hovering between sucking in his insides and scarfing down every last morsel of meat on the baby back ribs.
I only know that middle school boys with too many girls to dance with inside dark cafeterias were not meant to feel like Less Than Enough. They were not meant to take solitary laps around the neighborhood until all the damage of yesterday and the day before fall off them in beads of sweat around their necklines.
They were meant to play basketball beneath hanging nets. To finger piano keys in auditoriums. To scribble football predictions on portable white boards.
They were meant to be nothing but themselves, to love with strong hearts, to glue together the wild and crazy older and younger ones.
They were meant for so much more than wishing themselves away.