My mother, at five feet and two inches, would constantly complain about how hot Phoenix, Arizona, is because she’s from the north Jersey suburbs. Phoenix is not as hot as people always complain it is, but was always hot enough for my mother to tell me she had been “schvitzing from the supermarket all the way back home. Do you see my clothes?! Ruined!” I’m surprised that she managed to stay in Phoenix for so long. She hated the sun. She often called herself “a little vampire with no teeth but who could still take Maura Schlenk around town and give her a good shakedown. That’s for sure!” She really did hate the heat, and she really did hate Phoenix.
I moved away from Phoenix to attend college here in Ithaca, New York. When I was younger I was definitely uncomfortable with the heat. And now, though I regularly find myself embracing the cool New York winters because my clothes aren’t ruined by my sweat and I get to drink hot chocolate while staring out the window, as I’ve grown up and into myself, I find I appreciate and miss the Arizona heat.
I remember asking my mother as a child why she had moved to Phoenix. I knew that she met my father in college when she was studying nursing, like a practical woman. He was studying something that didn’t interest her, but she fell in love with him. She moved in with my father because he got a job right after graduation. She said she hadn’t planned on moving to Arizona. Just like she said she hadn’t planned on being pregnant with me, even though she was thirty-five, married, ovulating and already had a nursery, nanny, and names prepared. She adapted.
I’ve lived in Phoenix most of my life, except for a brief six-month time period when my mother dragged me to Montana with her because she was convinced my father was the Zodiac Killer. She saw those drawings people made of the Zodiac Killer on some Dateline-style TV show and was fervently convinced that my father was the Zodiac Killer, even though it was the nineties and my father looks nothing like the Zodiac Killer except for the fact he has glasses. I think she was just scared she was going to die bitter and in Phoenix, which she did, but not with my father. My mother got divorced during the Y2K craze. We kept living in Arizona though because, according to her, she “was compassionate enough to put my best interests at heart and let me live near my father who may or may not be the Zodiac Killer,” but definitely isn’t.
Because we ended up staying in Phoenix, my mother kept complaining about the heat. She and I both have a problem regulating our temperature. She would sweat like a monster and say she was glowing, and I always vaguely looked like I had just stepped out of a smelly, saltwater shower. My mother was also convinced that the sun was out to get her, which in her defense, it probably was. She would buy SunX sunscreen towelettes in bulk from Costco and apply them liberally every day. When I was in junior high school, but especially in high school, she insisted that I use them too. She was so worried that I was going to start getting “early onset skin cancer,” which isn’t a thing. She would put them in my lunchbox every day. It was always a tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread, an apple, a bottle of water, and a SunX sunscreen towelette. She insisted on it. Whenever I would try to tell my mother that the towelettes were unbelievably potent and that I didn’t like them, she would tell me that I was being ridiculous and to put my head back on my shoulders like a real person. I told my mother that I don’t like using them because they smell so strong and I didn’t really understand why they were always so incredibly wet. Often the sunscreen on the towelette would mix with my seemingly ever constant sweat and create odd white beads that made me uncomfortable. She told me that it is useless to dwell on such stupid things, because would I “rather be smelly and wet, or dead?”
By the time I was in high school, my mother had turned me into an almost as nervous and suspicious a person as herself. Every morning when she dropped me off she handed me ten dollars and said, “If a man over 20 and under 65 tries to talk to you and they are not your teacher, they are a criminal and make sure you let everyone know it.” We lived up the street, not even a mile, from my school. Yet she insisted on driving me because she was paranoid that a tree would fall down or that a pipe would explode. She said that I attracted that kind of attention.
I think the towelettes made me so self-conscious because I went to school with Josh Dukenhauser. And the Spring semester of my junior year, he was in five of my six classes. I didn’t want sunscreen to be my scent because I was paranoid I smelled sterile. All the other girls were allowed to wear perfume. But my mother saw on the TV that a woman went blind because she wore too much perfume and forbade me to wear it.
Josh Dukenhauser wasn’t the hottest boy at our school but he would hang out with the hottest boys at the school. He was still very attractive. He had this boyish charm and vague bad boy persona that reminded me of James Franco playing James Dean in that 2001 made-for-TV biopic, but not the actual James Dean. He was essentially the boy of my dreams. I was always so frightened that he would walk by me and get a good whiff of me that I constantly wore sweaters which made me sweat more. I figured if nothing else, my pheromones would be extra available. It didn’t really work. So to compensate, I was consistently applying hand sanitizer because at least then I smelled natural and also antibacterial.
One of the five classes I had with Josh Dukenhauser was Biology. My Phoenix high school thought it would be good to really dial up the sex education that year because the graduating class the previous year had 35 pregnancies out of a class of 300, which—from what I now understand—is a lot of babies. My mother never really talked to me about sex. In fact, she would do all she could to avoid the subject. Anytime I asked about it as a kid, she would give me some vague, half-answer along the lines of angels rubbing my tummy. Then she would promptly stick me in front of the TV and have me watch The Notebook. I thought for a long time that my mother was using The Notebook as a positive example of a healthy sex life. I was so confused because I felt like I was seeing conflicting images with my textbook. The characters were all wet from kissing in the rain and then just went inside to have sex. I always thought that it would be cold and sloshy to do it after having just been in the rain. Plus, it all ends with her getting Alzheimer’s and so I didn’t really know what to do with that. I just put it out of my mind and ignored the thought of sex altogether.
That same semester, my mother had also started a brief but fairly loud fling with my third grade teacher that she reacquainted herself with at the grocery store one day, Mr. Geribaldi. He was very nice and had grown plumper since last I had seen him. But my mother had an affinity for Danny DeVito-esque people in positions of vague authority. And he really was sweet. He would bring my mother tuna and would bring me a CD of a Disney Channel star every time he would come over. My only real complaint was that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when he was over. They would go “talk business” in my mother’s room for hours and I would just sit and wait. The last man I saw my mother talk to was my father, but that seemed like eons ago.
It was getting harder and harder to put sex out of my mind. It really stressed me out to have sex education in the same room as Josh Dukenhauser. When we watched the thermal-image video of an erection rising to attention, I was shocked by the phallus on the screen transforming from a green flaccid thing to a bright, red beam of reproduction, just radiating heat. It made me sweat. I couldn’t help but be shocked! That’s what might be what happening to Josh Dukenhauser’s body! His loins fill with hot, lovely fluid! And then I would think about how Mr. Geribaldi’s plump Danny DeVito-esque body has to do the same thing. All of the jumbling thoughts in my head were a lot to think about. I once overheard two girls in the bathroom when I was wiping myself down with toilet paper to get rid of my sweat talking about how one of them got a vibrator. When I asked my mother if she had a vibrator, she told me it was her phone and “to stop prying so much otherwise people will think you’re a thief. And if I wanted a thief as a daughter, I would have gotten a raccoon!” I put hand sanitizer on my hands to hopefully wash away the curdling sunscreen from the SunX sunscreen towelette and to clear my mind of all of these thoughts.
One weekend, my mother left town reluctantly. She told me it was because she needed a “long weekend cruise getaway with the girls from the club who work too hard for their own good and don’t love their children enough” when in reality Mr. Geribaldi wanted to go away for the weekend. He had been working himself up to asking her for weeks, constantly pacing around the house to which my mother would tell him to stop because he’ll ruin the floor. Anyway, my mother left me for a secret romantic weekend. However, my mother didn’t trust me enough to stay home unsupervised at 16 years old. She had our racist 89-year-old neighbor, Gladys, check in on me every day. Gladys fell asleep at 5:30 PM and woke up at 3:30 AM pretty much every day. So nights were fairly undisturbed. I decided to try and have my own secret romantic weekend and re-watch the 2001 made-for-TV biopic James Dean because Josh Dukenhauser had been on my mind. I had heard he was throwing a party which I didn’t get invited to. I watched the movie and found myself on this odd Friday night with a funny feeling I hadn’t really had before. I got nervous because the moon was bright and shining on my khaki shorts my mother bought me from ROSS: Dress for Less. I was worried I would get a sunburn from the moon, which my mother told me could happen. I took the SunX sunscreen towelette my mother left me and started rubbing my legs with it. James Franco was so attractive and I was imagining Josh Dukenhauser next to a pool with his green Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned just enough so that if a breeze were to come along you could see one of his perfectly round and adorable nipples. I found myself rubbing the sunscreen deep and hard into my legs, making them smelly and wet. The next thing I knew, I was masturbating for the very first time to the image of Josh Dukenhauser in his green Hawaiian shirt making out with James Franco as James Dean. I could see their penises filling with heat and turning beet, beet red. I got so turned on and nervous. I didn’t know what I was doing! I couldn’t take it anymore! I picked up the discarded towelette off the floor and shoved it in my mouth and I ate it.
The towelette did not taste as strongly as it smelled and it was strangely comforting. I was relieved to not have the image of Josh Dukenhauser’s nipple and his penis filling with heat in my head anymore. After I had taken a breath to calm down, I immediately opened my Biology textbook. I had never masturbated before. I’m not even entirely sure that I had actually masturbated. I was just feeling around. I remember the voice of my Biology teacher telling me that it was perfectly ok and natural, but I didn’t understand what I was doing or why I was doing it or why it was so intense! I knew my feelings for Josh Dukenhauser were strong, but I had no idea that they were that intense and visceral. I read my entire Biology textbook in one sitting, and it did not give me any indication as to what my unprecedented tryst with myself meant.
That night, I stared at the ceiling just feeling my sweaty body in my hot Arizona bed.
The next day, after a not-so-good night’s sleep, I thought I would go on Josh Dukenhauser’s Facebook page. I wanted to see if the literal image of Josh Dukenhauser would get the image of his naked body on top of James Franco as James Dean’s body out of my mind. I saw his face, his beautiful, mildly chiseled face, and was immediately struck with the same sensation that I had had earlier. I saw his mildly chiseled face licking James Franco as James Dean and I couldn’t control how much I was sweating. I walked from my bedroom straight for the kitchen cupboard where my mother stores the sunscreen towelettes. I opened the little packet and took the sunscreen towelette out of its packet and wiped it all over my arms and legs. It didn’t help at all. I was still sweating and panting. I needed this to stop. I looked up to the ceiling and tried to calm down, but I just saw Josh Dukenhauser getting on a motorcycle. Naked. I looked at the sunscreen towelette in my hand. I took a breath and ate it. When I swallowed it, it was like I pushed all of these feelings down and out. I felt so much better. I knew that it would be ok.
I have never been so wrong in my life.
My mother came home on that Sunday night. She told me that she had the best tuna she has ever had in her life and that this household would only eat tuna and albacore from now on. It’s good for you! When I tried to inform her that albacore is a type of tuna, she told me not to talk back to her.
While my mother started cooking some fish, I sat down at the table and asked her when she first felt like she was in love with someone. She said, “It was probably Jimmy Krasinski in the 12th grade, because he could do that dance move where you moved your hips and he didn’t seem like a murderer at the time. But who knows now? Last I heard, he has the clap.” I asked her what she did about Jimmy back then. How did she feel about him? Did she feel it in her body? Did she ask him out? “Who? Me? No no no no no. You don’t ask a boy out! What am I? A harlot? Do you think your mother is a harlot? I should let you starve for calling your mother a harlot! No albacore or tuna for you!” I asked my mother if she loved Mr. Geribaldi. If she loved being with him. She responded, “Alright, I go away for one weekend and I come back and you’re a delinquent, vigilante PI? What is wrong with you?” I decided not to tell my mother what I had done that weekend, that I thought that I might be in love with someone. I asked my mother if she wouldn’t mind giving me some more SunX sunscreen towelette packages in my lunchbox. Overjoyed, she handed me the entire box and told me that this was the proudest she had ever been of me.
When my mother dropped me off at school, I was reluctant to go that day at all. I tried my hardest to feign sickness, but my mother told me that our family doesn’t get sick. What we do get is perfect attendance records and that if I even tried to put a blip on that perfect record, I would surely regret it.
As I was walking across the campus to get to my class, I avoided eye contact with as many people as possible. I knew that if I made eye contact with my peers that they would all know that I had partially explored areas of my body I hadn’t before, and I wasn’t ready to be a proud, responsible masturbator. But then, from across the quad, I saw Josh Dukenhauser entering our first period Biology class.
I stopped in my tracks. My knees buckled. I didn’t know what to do!
I was haunted by the faint sound of James Franco as James Dean moaning in my mind. Where do I go? Do I go to class and pretend like nothing happened? I was shaking in my clogs. I was already sweating through the shirt my mother got me from her cruise that said, “I like big boats and I cannot lie,” and I wasn’t even wearing my sweater. I was paralyzed by the idea of his nipple. I reached into my lunchbox and found one of the SunX sunscreen towelettes my mother had given me. She left a little note that read, “Use it graciously.” I gripped it tight and rushed to the bathroom.
I darted immediately into the handicapped stall and ripped open the tiny package and swallowed the towelette. It went down so easy. I even burped. The taste of the sunscreen eased my sweats and shakes. I took a moment and realized what time it was. I hurried to class because I didn’t want to ruin my perfect attendance. It was, after all, one of, if not the only, reason my mother drove me to school every day, to make sure that I was there on time.
I got to class right on time, thankfully. However, my Biology teacher, Mrs. Quackenbush, had decided to switch things up this fateful Monday morning. She decided to assign a new seating arrangement for the class. Formerly, I had been in the back, left-hand corner of the room, on the opposite side of the classroom from Josh Dukenhauser. But now, I was sitting right behind Josh Dukenhauser, in the center aisle seats of the classroom. I was utterly disoriented. I was dizzy. Mrs. Quackenbush showed me to my brand spanking new seat. I did my best not to have a complete meltdown.
I couldn’t concentrate the entire class period. I just looked lustfully at Josh Dukenhauser’s neck hairs and thought about what a dreamboat he was. I thought about how lovely it would be to brush his little hairs with a little brush. And then it happened.
Oh, god. The sensation in my body. It was still the sex education portion of Biology. I saw Mrs. Quackenbush pull out a diagram of a vagina. I reached cool and casually into my bag and into my lunchbox and pulled out my other towelette, with a note from my mother that read, “Remember to use protection.” I crumpled up the note. I tried to just put the smooth package of the SunX sunscreen towelette to my face to try and cool myself off. But it did nothing. I could feel my face getting flushed. I closed my eyes and tried to take a breath. Nipple. Nipple. Nipple! I opened my eyes and all of a sudden Mrs. Quackenbush was looking right at me and yelling, “Eugenia!” She had asked me a question. It caught me so off guard! I was so overwhelmed! I was usually so attentive and ready, but my mind was all over the place. I was so flustered that when I tried to answer her question I dropped the towelette package on the floor of the classroom. As I went to reach for the towelette, I saw Josh Dukenhauser’s beautiful, hairless, tan arm pick it up. He turned around, looked me straight in the eyes, handed it to me, and said, “Here.”
I had never spoken to Josh Dukenhauser before. I don’t even know if he had ever even looked at me before that moment. But all of a sudden, he was handing me this towelette like it was our destiny. It was like a sweet, sweet dream. I couldn’t control myself. I was so overtaken with all of these words Josh Dukenhauser was saying to me. And his touch. And his neck hairs. And the idea of James Franco as James Dean biting his nipple. I took the package gingerly from Josh Dukenhauser. And without skipping a beat, I opened the package and shoved the towelette deep in my mouth and swallowed it whole, maintaining eye contact with Josh Dukenhauser the whole time. My breath calmed and I smiled the happiest I have ever smiled. But then the reality of what I had done hit me. I realized that I had just eaten a sunscreen towelette in front of the only boy, no, man, I have ever fantasized about and Mrs. Quackenbush’s entire first period Biology class was there to witness it.
I sprinted out of the classroom in shame. I darted the 3/4 mile back to my house where my mother was eating an entire plate full of tuna in her bra and underwear. She asked me what I was doing home so early. I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I opened my mouth and vomited the two SunX sunscreen towelettes up on the floor.
“Eugenia, sweetie. This is concerning and I do want to know what’s going on. But you’re also gonna have to clean this up because god knows I have enough on my plate! Just look at all this tuna!”
I told my mother the whole weekend story. I told her that I touched myself for the first time. And I told her that only three days later, I had completely sweated through the shirt she bought me and I can’t stop thinking about Josh Dukenhauser because I don’t know what these feelings are. I told her that the sunscreen towelettes helped me with my nervousness and my sweating.
My mother patted me on the back and told me that I should just stay home for the day. She said that come morning time we would talk about how to make up the absence I was gonna take for that day. She didn’t really know how to handle the idea that I had masturbated but she told me that it was ok. That I was going to be ok. And she insisted that if I was going to keep masturbating that I only did it on weeknights between the hours of 8 and 9 PM so she could go on the treadmill with her headphones on loud and wouldn’t walk in on me. She also insisted that Sex and the City was the appropriate and valid sex education that I was missing and that I was definitely the Charlotte to her Samantha.
In a lot of ways, I actually felt more like the Carrie Bradshaw of Phoenix. I was discovering a whole new world and whole new part to myself that I had never known existed. Sex was still an overwhelming thought for a very confused and horny girl who had never even been kissed, but it felt weirdly on the horizon. It didn’t feel like Alzheimer’s anymore. I watched the entirety of Sex and the City in one semester and touched myself during every episode. It helped to have other images in my head besides Josh Dukenhauser, who still made me cripplingly nervous. Mrs. Quackenbush put me in my former place in the backmost corner of the classroom to avoid further disruption.
Because I was only 16 at the time and couldn’t go to bars, I started going to coffee shops and writing my own journal entries like Carrie. I thought that I should perhaps embrace the uncertainty that comes with public spaces. Who knows who I would meet? And as summer was growing closer, I felt the city get hotter. I had a newfound appreciation for Phoenix. I would sit in the windows of coffee shops trying not to sweat through all of my clothes and watch the shirtless men ride their skateboards, go on runs, or flex. I saw their skin in the sun, saw them soaking up warmth like reptiles and would wonder if they had erections because they were filling with heat. I even wore tube tops and secretly bought perfume, because I asked myself, “What would Carrie Bradshaw do?” I still hadn’t totally figured out how to deal with these corporeal feelings I was having, but Sex and the City was a really good outlet and so was my journaling. I felt like a big city gal. I was writing erotic notes to myself from the perspective of men who I was interested in. I was also just writing down the thoughts and feelings that I was having. I was really trying to learn what it was supposed to be like to be a sexual person. Carrie Bradshaw was so free and so willing to explore that I got really jealous. I asked my mother if I could get a perm and a big poofy skirt like Carrie has in the opening sequence of Sex and the City but she said, “No.”
My mother had a hard time adjusting to my new reality and maturity and was not totally equipped to deal with it. She told me that if I had crude and uncomfortable questions to write them down and ask Mrs. Quackenbush, which I did regularly. My mother, however, did stop insisting that I use SunX sunscreen towelettes so often. She told me that I should “learn how to deal with your feelings in an appropriate way that doesn’t have you vomiting up stinky vomit on the floor while I’m trying to eat.”
I watched Carrie and Mr. Big and my mother and Mr. Geribaldi and wondered if romance was in my future. I wondered if sex meant romance and not just biology. I wondered if Mrs. Quackenbush was really the resource that I should be turning to. I obviously still had so much to discover. I was just at the beginning of everything that was to come. I had no idea what kissing someone felt like, what touching someone felt like, what being in love felt like, with the exception of the deep love I had for Josh Dukenhauser. I wondered if Carrie ever felt like everything was too much. That the only thing she could do to ease herself was to swallow a potentially toxic piece of cloth with sunscreen on it. I wondered if Carrie and I were alike at all. Maybe I was Charlotte. But I wondered if it really mattered in the end. All of those women were just living their lives with perms and tube tops in a big city that they loved.
I was never able to look Josh Dukenhauser in the eyes again after that fateful day. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to look a man in the eyes ever again ever, but I was no longer swallowing sunscreen towelettes to calm myself down. I still had no idea what everything meant or who I was supposed to be. While all that was scary, I knew I could just go to a coffee shop and breathe in my city and feel better. New York winters and hot cocoa are something special, but nothing really beats the feeling of a warm Arizona night, a beautiful city, and a good hour of masturbating while your mother is on the treadmill.
by Noah Lashly
Noah Lashly is a writer/performer from Ojai, California. He graduated from Hendrix College with a degree in English. His story “D.D.S.” has been published in the Aonian Literary Magazine where it won the third place prize in Fiction. He has also been featured at Kim Maxwell Studio, at Speaking of Stories in Santa Barbara, and on The Townies Podcast. He was the Creator and Co-host of The Comedy/Party Thing, Hendrix College’s only opportunity for performing stand-up comedy. His short films won awards for “Most Affective” and “Stylistic Brilliance” at the Red Brick Film Festival.
About the Artwork
The accompanying artwork is by contributor Stefan Hengst.
Cagibi Issue 3
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