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Chapter 2: Cogs and Pegs

February 1, 2018

     It's funny, really, the things that most people take for granted.

     There's the obvious things like money, food, shelter, and family, but for a select few it goes much deeper than that. For some, simply being accepted among your peers is the equivalent of winning the million-dollar jackpot or accidentally catching a pop fly from your favorite hitter at a packed game. Unfortunately, for those miserable few who are excluded from enjoying life, every day is a virtual pop quiz based on faltering character and lack of self-confidence. To fail this test often means death.

 

     Death is not a punishment, in this case, but a solution.

 

     When one is denied the basic human rights that come with being an individual, a solitary peg in the numberless cog system that occupies the grand pinwheel of existence, then what is the point of living? If every day is nothing but brooding inner turmoil and mind-numbing loneliness, then why go on? Life is supposed to be a burden that we all share and prop up collectively. Without the multiple legs needed to do so, then you will inevitably fall into nothingness, alone and forgotten. I know mental illness and other tragic factors are usually the culprit of these types of circumstances, but I say that the worst hand you could be dealt in the game of life is genetic defect.

 

     Born broken.

 

     I know that deformities and other handicaps don't necessarily make up a person morally or spiritually, but you could argue that it would most certainly shape him/her intellectually and logically. Not the deformities themselves, who protrude, puss, and pulsate unapologetically without merit, but the people who don't have to endure them. So, basically 99.99999% of the existential human race.

 

     Normal people are normal people simply because there are more of them.

 

     It's really as simple as that. If every single person on the planet suddenly became indistinguishably different, all the way down to the molecular level, then the very definition of ''freak'' would have little to no meaning. The fact that so many people are almost exactly the same is why people like me have to live day-to-day putting on a face, pretending to be what I'm not.

 

     Normal.

 

     The very idea of going out to a bar or coffee shop, walking up to a pretty girl, asking her if she wants a drink, and making light conversation is laughable. Sure, I could pursue romance on a strictly platonic basis, but I always let my insecurities block me from ever making any real connections with other people. It's not like I am too chickenshit to talk to women or anything childish like that. I could go out right now to The Ultra, a club on Cannon Drive where the bottle service and dancers are all dressed in sexy, neon-tinted lingerie, and find at least one girl who would find me attractive enough to share a cab home with. I’m not exactly being humble here, but with steely blue eyes, an athletic build, and curly blonde hair to boot, I wouldn't be the worst guy you could end up being a Tinder match with. Ironically, I could pick up just about any woman I wanted, given that I had the money for drinks. Yet, I would only be setting myself up for disaster.

 

     I could pay a prostitute double and still get rejected.

 

     I assume most people think I am gay, and I kinda get why they would think that. When you're fit, attractive, and not surrounded by women or chasing them, it's commonly assumed that you are either light in the loafers or are a total weirdo. Well, at least I can say that I’m not gay. While I make an impressive $1.15 above minimum wage and live paycheck to paycheck like most people, I wouldn't call myself broke, either. I get by with what I need and try not to let my mental anguish dictate my fiscal spending. How easy would it be to go out and buy a new motorcycle or car, only to feel happy for a day or two? Sure, I've thought about filling that empty void with material goods and other shiny things that would bring me momentary happiness, but in the end, those things are nothing but distractions. Not that I could do any of that without raking up some serious debt, but lucky for me, I take joy in the simpler things in life. Plus, there are things that even money can't obtain. Things that are paid for in emotional and physiological currency only.

 

     Love does not accept credit.

 

     Being only twenty-eight, I have yet to truly find out what it means to know true love. It is weird how you grow up as a kid encased in a glass bubble of narcissism and ignorance, and slowly, through experience, become a bigger and hopefully better person than before. Each mistake, good or bad, chips away at that glass bubble until eventually you are hatched into the real world like a newborn chick, where you acknowledge and accept a reality that exists wholly outside of yourself. It is impossible to crack that shell without knowing the sweet and sour taste of true love. They say that once the taste has reached your palate, a phantom hole is punched in the soft pink tissue of your brain, assuring that you never forget its sugary, yet tart, juices of passion and unchained desire. As much as one could argue that the love a family shares is just as good or as important as sexual love, I personally think that is thinking selfishly and not fully comprehending the psychological impact of growing old with shell all over your face.

 

     I am almost thirty, and yet, I cannot technically call myself a man.

 

   The experience that prematurely shattered my metaphysical shell, for better or worse, happened on a hot August afternoon when I was only eleven years old. The sky was spotted with the occasional wisp of a thin cloud or two but was generally clear and illuminated with blazing sunshine. The distant sound of lawn mowers and wind chimes filled my room as my eyes wearily slid open to gaze the mid-morning sunlight that showered me in white warmth. With a slight breeze blowing in to take the edge off, I woke up that morning immediately knowing that this was a picture-perfect summer day.

     Being an only child, I was accustomed to playing with the other kids who lived in my tight-knit neighborhood of townhouses and decorative mailboxes while my mom was at work. There was Travis up the street; he had a go-cart and a bitchin' tree house. The Michaud twins two blocks over had a plethora of video games and movies at their disposal, but you had to put up with their constant bickering about who gets to do what. There was also Anthony, whose parents had a huge above ground swimming pool that all the other neighborhood kids would flock to when the temperature got anywhere above seventy-five degrees.

     Standing in my muggy, clothing-littered room, I took all of three seconds to make up my mind of how to beat the unrelenting heat waiting for me outside. I kicked through piles of dirty laundry to look for my only pair of swimming trunks, hoping to Christ that they weren't stale and as hard as a board from last week's swim. Once I found them and gave them a quick sniff test, I quickly stuffed myself in, ate a strawberry Poptart that I had left on my book stand from the previous night, brushed my teeth, and headed out the door on my quarter mile walk to Anthony's. In my hurry to leave, I forgot to put on shoes, but quickly decided against going back for them. Bringing them along would only get them wet later.

     With the sun lapping at my shoulders and back and the wind pushing the curly strands of messy morning hair off my sweaty face, I strolled through the quiet suburban streets with a feeling of total freedom and purpose. I stayed to the soft grassy shoulder of the road to keep the pink soles of my feet from sizzling on the freshly paved asphalt. It felt like the day was literally made for me, as if I had willed it in my sleep to be the perfect setting for goofing around all day in my buddy's pool.

 

     That ten-minute walk in the sun was the last time I can remember being truly happy.

 

     When I finally reached Anthony's house, I headed for the front door to see if he was home. After a few unanswered knocks, I heard the familiar sounds of splashing and yelling from the backyard. I jumped off the steps and went around the garage to let myself in through the back gate. There, enjoying the best of their youth, was Anthony, his older sister Brianna, and her friend Christie whom I was acquainted with through summer school after almost failing the fifth grade. She was a squeaky little blonde girl with a flat chest and a shrill voice. All summer I had to hear her squawk and complain about how she shouldn't even be in summer school because of her ADHD. As if having the attention span of a goldfish was an excuse to not to study.

   Brianna, on the other hand, was the polar opposite of Christie.

     Brianna was very smart and incredibly beautiful. Even at fifteen she was well figured and wore make-up only to accentuate her already stunning face instead of just trying to look older like most eager teenaged girls do. With shoulder length chestnut colored hair and long smooth legs, she would undoubtedly break many hearts as she drifted effortlessly through life as most flawlessly stunning women probably do. I had a major crush on her ever since Anthony and I met in third grade and first hung out at his place. In fact, when sleepovers were arranged, I always insisted that we stay at his house. I didn't come right out and tell him that I was obsessed with his sister and was only going to his house for the night to spy on her, but instead I pretended like my place was too lame for a sleepover. With my mom working as a registered nurse and my dad leaving us high and dry just after I was born, you could understand why we didn’t have common luxuries like cable and Internet access.

     I never felt like I was missing out, though. I always had plenty of friends and activities to keep me busy in my spare time. When all the other kids were busy with their own families, I would sometimes call my Mom at work and pester her to come home on her lunch break to give me a ride back to the hospital with her so I could hang out and play doctor when no one was looking. The one advantage to being an only child with a single mom who worked all the time is that you almost always got your way through means of sympathy. Most people can't say no to the idiot’s bastard son.

     Both girls were lounging in plastic lawn chairs in identical zebra-striped two-piece bathing suits, probably trying to tan, while Anthony was jumping around in the pool like he was on fire. Clearly irritated, both girls screeched and cursed as rogue waves of cold water from Anthony's spastic synchronized swimming routine doused them out of their flimsy plastic chairs.

     “Hey, Antonio!” I yelled over as I made my way across the freshly cut lawn. “Keep horsin' around like that and there won't be any water left in that pool by sundown, R-tard.”

    “Oh, suck off, Nick! It's my damn pool, so I does as I please,” Anthony joked back as he did an exaggerated doggy paddle towards the edge to meet me, once again causing a random shower of mist and rainbows to trail him across the water. “Best be nice to me if you want to be partaking in the fine poolery I have here.” He slapped at the water like a happy seal as if to prove that it was in fact his pool and didn’t belong to his parents — the property owners.

    “Hey, Nick!” Brianna called over after running to get a towel from the patio, drying off her hair and face as she and Christie moved their chairs to avoid being further soaked. “Don't mind him, he's being a real goober today. You drop a kid on his head once and this is what you get.”

     “At least I wasn't adopted, turd burglar,” Anthony retorted before I even had time answer back. Feeling he had won the debate, Anthony immediately proceeded to do shaky handstands in the water while his lower half swung around the air above the waterline like a severed pair of legs trying to Charleston.

     After a good laugh at Antonio's expense, I climbed into the pool and finally began to enjoy the sticky, humid heat in the only way God had intended: surrounded by tepid, chlorine enriched water.

     After an hour of slow-motion underwater fighting and fake drowning rescues, I started to get hungry. I told Antonio and the others that I had to run home and grab something to eat. I thanked them for letting me use their pool, and made my way up the ladder to leave.

 

     Then, it happened.

 

     As soon as I got to the top of the ladder, I felt significantly lighter. The warm breeze enveloped me, and for a second I hadn't even noticed that Anthony had pantsed me as I was climbing out of the pool. Blood rushed to my temples as I crouched and tried desperately to shrink into myself while still balancing on the steel ladder above the pool. A shriek and loud, sudden gasping were what snapped me out of my trance, but by then it was too late. The girls scrambled out of their chairs and ran into the house, the whole time screaming and chanting, “OH MY GOD!” while Anthony just stood in the pool slack jawed and silent.

     I quickly skimmed my shorts out of the water without a word and put them on as I rushed towards the gate to leave.

As I crashed through the gate and ran for the open road, I heard Anthony yell to me — probably still standing in the pool. It was the last thing he ever said to me.

 

     “DUDE, WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR DICK?!”

 

    I ran home, bare feet pounding and scraping against hot pavement, all the while wondering what exactly he meant by that. My initial embarrassment was to the fact that my all-time crush and her loudmouthed friend saw my shriveled family jewels after I had been splashing around in the icy waters of the pool. I don’t think I need to explain what happens down there, but there was more to it than shrinkage. What should have been a barrage of teasing and laughter was instead a mad panic of confusion and disgust.

     With the sounds of my tender skin slapping on the loose rock moving under my feet, my eardrums filled with the skull-thumping beat of my ever-quickening heartrate pounding ripples through my body. In a blind daze, I ran until silver specks filled my eyes and I could barely breathe. When I got home, I ran up to my room and locked the door. Later that day when my Mom got off from work, she noticed the trail of bloody footprints leading upstairs, and soon I was reliving the whole gruesome story.

     She calmly sat and listened, but when I got to the part about being pantsed, her face dropped, and her posture grew rigid. I kept asking her feverishly, “Why, Mom? Why did they treat me like a monster?” and for several minutes she sat motionless across from me, staring down at the floor with black tears staining her once soft, rosy cheeks. Eventually, she grabbed a pen and paper off of the bedside mantel and wrote down one word. She slowly handed me the sheet. Through harsh, semi-toneless words, she told me to go to the library before they closed to look it up on their computers if I really wanted to know why. She apologized sobbingly for not being able to tell me more. I took the piece of lined paper and stared at the word printed on it in my mother's tear stained text.

 

     Diphallia.

 

    The word meant nothing to me upon initial viewing, but I had to know its meaning fast.  So, I got dressed and ran the four blocks to the library with only twenty minutes until they closed. Quickly, I got on AskJeeves.com and typed in the word.

     You know the old saying “ignorance is bliss?” Well, had I known that were true, I would have never looked up that word. Not that it would have fixed my problem; eventually I would have found out that most guys don’t have to use both hands when they piss. It just would have been nice to enjoy that glorious innocent bliss for only just a little while longer. The parental block on the library’s Internet wouldn’t let me look at pictures, but I was able to get a definition from a medical website that summed up everything that I needed to know:

 

     Diphallia: A rare congenital condition that causes a male to be born with two sex organs. It statistically occurs once in every 5.5 million births and is widely claimed that no two cases are identical.

 

     In all the eleven years of my existence, I had only ever seen one penis.

 

     Well...make that two.

     My own.

 

     I had never seen porn before and was strictly prohibited in what I could watch for movies by my Mom. The raunchiest movie I had seen up until that point was Batman and Robin, and besides the occasional costumed nipple and awkward chemistry between characters, there was nothing even remotely sexual throughout that entire train wreck of a film. I feel incredibly dumb saying this, but I had no idea that every other person around me had only one penis. I grew up in an area where sex-ed wasn’t taught in public schools and teen pregnancy was the norm. I literally had nothing to reference but myself.

   My immediate reaction to this disillusion was anger towards my mother for not telling me the truth sooner. She had to have known that I would find out that I was a freak once I learned basic anatomy. How dare she keep this a secret and leave me to find out about my physical retardation in the most inconvenient way possible?  In my later years, I realized that she avoided telling me that I was different to keep me from feeling ashamed and also to keep me from assuming that my condition was the reason why Dad left so suddenly after I was born.

     Well, lot of good that did. By the time the new school year started, I would be even more of a social outcast than David Gerry: the smelly kid in homeroom who thought he was a dinosaur and pretended to breathe toxic gas on people when they made eye contact. With only a little over a month left until school started up again, I had no idea how I was going to make it through the year, let alone the rest of my life, knowing that I was nothing but a side-show attraction.

     On my long walk home, I prayed to God that the kids at school didn’t find out about my extra member or would at least be open-minded and understanding about it.

 

      Apparently, God was too busy to listen.

     The next six years of school were pure hell.

 

     From the very first day back from vacation, I was greeted by eager kids with shit-eating grins saying, “Hey! It’s Double Dick Nick!” and “Here comes Nick, the amazing two headed boy!” I quickly learned that nearly everyone in my seventh-grade class had heard all about what happened at Anthony’s pool over the summer. When people weren't laughing and calling me Nicky Pitchfork, I was constantly being asked stupid questions from other kids like, “When you pee, does it come out of both ends?” and “Can you tie them together like a bow?”

     At first I ignored the taunting and tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but when I got into high school two years later, the teasing became unbearable. I would drag myself out of bed every morning and ride the bus for forty minutes alone in a big empty seat by the front with the middle schoolers and alternative ed. kids. I arrived at school only to find crudely drawn portraits of me with elephant tusks between my legs all over my locker, Chinese finger traps stuffed through its vents, and random notes informing me that there was a spot reserved in hell for double dogging freaks like me. Not everyone was this cruel and impersonal, though. I had a few friends who never even so much as brought up my situation, but I always secretly felt they were only friendly with me out of pity.

 

   Those long, desolate days throughout high school were incredibly lonely, but even more so, incredibly confusing.

 

   While the rumor of my double indemnity was rampant throughout the school and probably the entire town, no one could deny that I was gradually blossoming into a real stud muffin. Since the day of my awkward unveiling, I had grown to a whopping 6’2” and had acquired quite the physique from years of extra-curricular activities like basketball, JROTC training, and various classes at the Y. Aside from being tall and muscular, I had thick, curly blonde hair that most girls pestered me to fondle in between classes. If my looks and hair were enough to get me a real girlfriend, I would never be alone, but we all know that no one ever finds true love by having strong shoulders and chiseled abs.

     My good looks got me plenty of girlfriends, but none of them ever really loved me even if they had said they did. The ones who didn’t know about my double angle dangle soon found out once they gossiped to their friends about who they were currently dating, and the ones who did know were a little too into catching a glimpse of the torn snake. I had one girl who bet me a coke while we were at the drive-in that she could fit them both in her mouth at the same time. I don’t know if she was joking or just trying, rather clumsily, to be sexy. I barely entertained the idea before sheepishly changing the subject back to the film.

     All in all, the most important thing I learned in school was to keep my head down and act like the constant ridicule and name-calling didn’t bother me in the slightest. I could have found the kids who wrote those notes or drew those curly French mustache cocks on my locker and easily kicked their teeth in, but I knew that by doing so I would only be backing up the idea that I was indeed a freak. I knew the only way to make it out of high school alive was to stay quiet and take the jabs and corny insults from all the ignorant yokels with a smile on my face. To let anyone see me truly suffer would be an admittance of shame for being defective.

 

     I wouldn’t dream of giving anyone the satisfaction.

 

   Once graduation rolled around, I eagerly made plans to move somewhere far, far away from everyone and everything I had ever known. College was never really an option for me, with my subpar grades and zero school scholarship offers, which was all fine. I never saw the point of going to college to accumulate insane amounts of debt when you’re not even sure of why you are even going in the first place. Plus, I don’t think I could handle sharing a dorm room with someone who would get accepted to the same “prestige” university as I would. The only natural solution I could foresee was packing up my stuff into my beat-up Chevy Lumina; heading five hours southeast to South Harbor, a booming seaside metropolis located near the southern border of the state, and to find a meager job to go with my predictably meager apartment.

    I didn’t care in the slightest about missing out on the college experience because all I ever wanted for years was to just be somewhere where no one knew about my hidden shame. How perfect would it be to be able to walk down a crowded street knowing that nobody had any idea that I had a split pipe in my pants? Having to work a pointless day job while living in a shitty one-bedroom apartment was a small price to pay for total comfort and social ambiguity. I could leave the past behind me and finally start a new life in a place where I was just another blank slate among templates of constant change.

     Within a week of moving out of my Mom’s and signing the lease to my new place on Plymouth Avenue, I managed to land a full-time job at Mona’s Cleaners, a small family owned office cleaning company. Over the years, I worked my way up to shift manager. I never did make any new friends, but I did learn the beautiful layout of the rocky beaches just a mere two-mile walk from my apartment. I spend much of my off time from work walking the ocean line around the city, thinking about how much easier things are now that I have sanctuary in this coastal concrete grid. Yet, after nearly ten years of dusting and scrubbing dirty copiers and booger stained bathroom walls, I still tempt myself with the one burning question that frames my innermost thoughts always.

 

     Will I ever find true love?

 

    Then, just as I was nearly convinced that the answer was a heavy but anti-climactic NO, she came into my life.

 

     Her name is Harper.

 

Like what you've read?

Check out the rest of A. Mangina's The Heart of the Hydra on Amazon and Etsy!

 

 

 

 

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