Date: September 18, 2015
It was one of the follies of my fifteenth year that I decided I had to read every bit of Kafka that I could get my hands on.
I’d already gone through Sherlock Holmes and was looking for something weirder, something to really twist my brain out of shape. That’s undoubtedly why, on the morning of my sixteenth birthday, I drowsed out of sleep vibrating in a dream where I was a giant insect, a cockroach, with clicking mouthparts and waving antennas. I looked around at my glistening shell through an explosion of eyes. Bright light! I blinked. Huh? Suddenly I realized I was in my bed. I was human. Oh.
“Thank God!” I thought. I shook my head, glad there was only unruly hair up there, nothing that wanted to wave its joints around. How creepy to dream that you’re a bug. The Metamorphosis, I thought: that bizarre book. It just shows you how sweet reality can be. And in real life, I had a few long-treasured plans for the day. Time to get moving!
Breakfast was wonderful. My parents weren’t up yet; it was Saturday and they needed their rest. But the mountain bike I’d been dreaming of was right there in the kitchen, with a card on it, tied with a ribbon. Wow! Silver, sturdy, gears like a math text written in steel and oil. This was going to be great.
Vermont isn’t the most mountainous place in the world, but parts of it get pretty steep. I was up early because I had a plan to meet with my boyfriend and celebrate my 16th in a special way. He was a mountain biker already; he’d been doing it for years. We were all set to try out my new bike together – and something else.
I guess I’d gone out on a limb getting myself a bf who was so ancient – 22 years old, for heaven’s sakes. But he looked like Niall from One Direction, so what could I do? We chatted about geckoes in the pet shop one time and we just kept looking at each other. I’m sure you know the sensation. It wasn’t all about reptiles. Finally I invited him home to look at an infection my male crested had. My mom was there the whole time, a bit nonplussed, but I’d been out to her since I was 13, and she bit her lip. After he was gone, she said, “I can see what’s going on there, but I want you to promise me you won’t break the law. And if you like him, you won’t let him break the law, if it comes to that.”
“Mawwm,” I protested, “there’s nothing going on like that!” But there was, of course. In fact, the next time I saw him, I broke the ice with him by telling him about the promise I’d made to my concerned parent. He grinned sheepishly. “You have a smart mom,” he said.
So this was going to be our day to obey the law – from the other side. And luck was with us – it was radiant out there, sunny, warm, without a trace of thunderstorm. Somewhere, a bed of grass was waiting for us, or some crispy maple leaves from last year.
We met up. He was in Spandex, black and red, like the handsomest gecko you’ve ever seen. I just had my jeans and T-shirt on. We admired my bike, we slapped each other’s shoulders, and then we took off to the west, across the river, up the hill. He had a sketchy map of the trails, photocopied to the 20th generation, and we headed out for the summits, just following whatever looked interesting and scenic. He’d brought energy bars and other snacks; we had water with us; everything we needed was there. But the thing we had the most of was need itself. I’d never felt so much anticipation. It was like I was full of being empty. Someone hug me, please.
After lots of legwork and gearshifting, and a few wild high-speed sprees down the other sides of slopes, we came to a gorgeous spot that was so isolated that we knew it was reserved just for us. Jason, looking hyped with exercise and healthy thoughts, pulled a thin, nylon cloth out of his backpack and unfolded it across the grassy, leafy ground, in a small glade amongst maples.
“I don’t even want lunch first,” I said. “Me neither,” he breathed. We grabbed each other in a hug.
“Thank you for waiting for me,” I said.
“It was a stretch,” he smiled, and then stood back to stretch the spandex off, undoing the zips as needed. I removed my own cottons in seconds. It was warm out here.
“I knew I was going to be impressed, but I’m impressed,” he said, looking at my swaying branch. “You could hang a swing from that.”
“We’re a good match,” I said. It happened that we were around the same height, so I stepped in and tucked mine up against his, along the corduroy of our flat bellies. “I’ll go tip to tip with you any time.” I wasn’t scientific enough to look closely to see who was bigger. Didn’t matter. We were there, that’s what mattered.
“Incredible,” he said, without explaining. And then – I guess I can spare you the details of lips and saliva and admiring glances that would make my friends blush and say ‘you guys are too much.’ I’m glad they weren’t there. It wasn’t too much. It was just enough. Finally. Like a baby getting its first milk, I drank the attention and came to life; I drank for my health.
We rolled in each other’s arms across the blanket, one side to the other. Then we did it – a real sex act. Some people don’t think it’s sex, I guess – it’s something young gay guys can do that people used to name after the university in the next valley – the Yale rub, the Princeton rub – just sliding the distending members pleasantly along one another, sandwiched between two bellies – no penetration, no lube, safe as hell, easy to kiss-and-do, and sooo sooo …
I don’t want to hit him with ‘I love you,’ I thought. “Part of me feels like – we’re flying together,” I said, between kisses. “I hear you,” he said, “it’s like that.” I giggled. “Part of me feels like you’ve tied me to the sawmill track and you’re sawing me in half,” I laughed again, as the sawing motion of his cock across my belly reminded me of some old Merrie Melodies cartoon I’d seen, where the villain threatened to saw the beautiful maiden in half. “You’re weird,” he chuckled, and kissed me to shut me up. And then we couldn’t talk anymore … woah…. woah… oh no, that’s it … ah!… splashdown! other splashdown! …. omigosh.
I will not say ‘I love you.’ Sure wish I could.
“Incredible,” I said. “Incredible,” he agreed, “I guess that’s our word, isn’t it?” I nodded. We had a few napkins that were good for cleanup, and then it was time to eat something, say a few more nice things to one another, and move on. Having come so far, no pun intended, we had to go all the way back. I marked the spot of our forest glade on my phone’s GPS so we could find the same place again next time we came biking this way.
“I think my left foot’s asleep,” I said as we got up to get on our bikes. I shook it. It felt strangely tingly. Even after I got on my bike and started pedalling, it bothered me. But I put it out of mind and carried on. Biking got progressively more difficult, though, and I began to feel distinctly odd.
“Let’s take a short break,” I panted as we came down into one valley about half way home.
“You OK, Nick?” Jason asked me. “Want some Gatorade?”
“Sure,” I said. “I feel weird. My left leg is kind of acting up. I think I’m OK, though.”
“Wow, I hope nothing’s going on,” Jason said. “Maybe you’re just not used to this much cycling.”
“That’s probably it,” I said. Just then some sort of a small fly flew into my right eye. I rubbed at the eye to get the intruder out. As I did so, I caught a glimpse of Jason out of my other eye and suddenly he looked – it was very strange – he looked ugly. “Sick fuck,” I muttered under my breath. Huh?
I shook my head and looked at him out of both eyes. He was as beautiful as ever, and just as friendly. “What did you say?” he asked me. “Oh nothing,” I said, “‘trick leg’ or something like that.”
What the hell was that all about? I was glad he hadn’t heard me. What sort of crazy impulse…?
He came over and gave me a back rub for encouragement. He kneaded my left thigh for a moment, which made my leg jump.
“Something’s going on there,” I said, “but the best thing we can do is just get home and then I can have a hot bath. I hope that’ll sort it out.”
“Me too,” he said, looking concerned. We hoisted ourselves on our bikes and made the long pedal back to town.
At my front yard, I said my goodbyes to him. Didn’t want to kiss him in front of the neighbors, but I said, “well, in spite of my leg, that was amazing. We have to do that again as soon as possible.”
“I’m glad you’re as happy as I am,” he said. “I … I think so much of you. Well, happy sixteenth, have a good cake and all that. Say hi to your parents for me.”
Then he was off home and I was off to a family birthday dinner. I was a touch late because the cycle back had been such a slog, but they overlooked it. They were just glad I liked the bike and had used it so well. I didn’t give details of the events of our trip, but my mom caught my eye and I think my smile gave me away.
By the end of the night, my left leg and arm were both feeling very, very unusual. I couldn’t figure it out. As I went to bed, I thought back on the day and my thoughts immediately turned to those blissful moments, Jason and I, hurtling through the heavens of horny friendship together. Boy, that was so good, that was so good! Then, unexpectedly, I was crying. But why? And I noticed: tears were only coming out of my left eye. The right was fine. But the right was the one that had had the bug in it. Why should the other one get irritated? But was it just irritation? Something didn’t feel right.
Over the next few days, the pain in my left side didn’t go away. It was more a feeling of compression or oppression than pain, really, just a feeling that something wasn’t right. One of the vaguest, most indescribable sensations I’ve ever experienced. Jason told me to go to the doctor and I did, but old Doc Chang was as baffled as I was. He referred me to the sports medicine clinic, and they suggested some exercises, but nothing helped. A couple of weeks went by. Jason and I started meeting at my place, but my body was too out of sorts for me to continue our legal adventures, even though I think my mom would have turned a blind eye when needed. I went back to Dr. Chang and something about the crying left eye made him shake his head. He made me an appointment to a neurologist and a psychologist. “Might be psychosomatic, some sort of stress,” he said. “Have you done anything recently that you have mixed emotions about, or that troubled you?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
When I went to the psychologist, she gave me a long questionnaire to start off with. There were several questions in it about sex life, and I was obliged to check off that I was attracted to my own sex, and that I was sexually active. Then she talked to me. When she found out that the strange symptoms had begun just after I’d had sex for the first time ever, her eyes lit up.
“I don’t know what it means,” she said, “but there’s definitely a connection there.” I was rather embarrassed, but we talked over all the details. She shook her head. “It all sounds so normal,” she said. But then, clearly, a thought struck her.
“Where exactly was this?” she asked.
“I happen to have the exact location on my GPS,” I said. I pulled out my phone and got the number. “Let’s see on the map where that was. So, is there, like, some place that has poisonous plants or something?”
“That’s not what I’m thinking,” she muttered. Meanwhile, the map composed itself on my phone. I showed it to her. It was just someplace in the middle of a forest, as you’d expect.
“I bet these hatch marks here are the border,” she said. I looked. Yes, there were some faint mapping marks there that passed right through our GPS point.
“Here’s the problem,” she said. “Your sexual act took place exactly along the border of New York State. Do you know which way was north and which direction you were lying in?”
“I guess I was lying to the north,” I said.
“Your right side was in New York,” she said, “but that’s your healthy side. But wait a moment, your right brain governs the left side of your body. Bicameral mind, basic neurology. A bit oversimplified but it still holds to a large extent. But this is unbelievable!!!”
“What is it?” I asked, very confused.
“Here’s what I think,” she said. “Your whole right side, including the right half of your head, was across the border in New York. Your left side was in Vermont. The age of consent in New York State is 17, not 16 like it is here. Your right side has been horribly abused!!”
“But it’s fine,” I exclaimed.
“Yes, but your left side is governed mostly by the right hemisphere of your brain! Your right side wasn’t able to give consent to the act you committed! You’ve been grievously psychically injured in your right brain, but it’s only been able to make its trauma known through the left!”
“Holy shit – sorry to swear,” I blurted. I’d remembered what I’d almost said to Jason when I saw him out of my left eye, when the fly flew into my right. “Does the right brain also connect with the left eye?”
“It does,” she told me.
If I’d known the effect it was going to have, I would never have told her the story of what happened during my fly-in-the-eye incident, but I was so naïve. I told her the whole thing.
“I’m sorry, Nick,” the psychologist told me. “Even though we’re in Vermont, this is an act of child abuse, and I’m professionally obligated to report it. I have no choice. I could be arrested if I don’t.”
“I wasn’t child-abused!!” I said in great annoyance.
“Legally,” she said, “half of you was, and though I’ve never heard of a case like this before, that’s clearly too much. The left side of your brain may have been able to give consent, but the right side was an innocent child and had no ability whatever to do that. And so, on that side, you were horribly, horribly taken advantage of by a vicious predator. We need to do emergency counselling to try to heal your trauma, and I’m afraid the police are going to have to have a chat with your friend.”
I refused to tell her Jason’s name, but that night, a big policeman and an even bigger policewoman came around to my door. They gathered me with my parents and told us that if they didn’t get the name and address of the man who’d abused the right half of me, they’d arrest all of me for obstructing the course of justice. I told them what they wanted to know. I thought I’d phone Jason and warn him, but it turned out the officers had a warrant along with them. They seized my phone, and ordered my parents not to let me use the land line. They went right out and radioed their units, and it turned out Jason was raided within fifteen minutes of my giving up his name. They had warrants all ready, just fill in the blank. His computer equipment was all seized, and agents spent, in total, five hours opening everything in his small apartment, even flipping through the pages of every book looking for hidden porn pictures or whatever. He was taken down to the police station, spent a night in jail, and was bailed by his parents the next day. After putting up his bail, they refused to speak to him. He managed to get a legal aid lawyer signed up and got ready to consider his options.
He was charged with sexual abuse against a minor – I don’t know the exact legalese they used – and possession of child pornography. I didn’t know at the time, but the other charge was based on a National Geographic magazine that had a photo with some naked Thai boys swimming in a river. I eventually saw that detail in an affidavit online, but our local newspaper on Friday, under the headline “No half measures in fighting child abuse, say our cops” only mentioned ‘possession of child pornography.’ I’d have thought they’d be interested in the kind of magazine it was, but apparently, the crime was too awful for that to be relevant. He had a whole shelf of National Geographics his parents had handed down to him, that much I knew. It must have taken the authorities a lot of work to find that picture.
Before long, I was called to testify in court. They wanted me to make a ‘victim impact statement,’ but I refused. Even though everyone tried to prevent me being traumatized by seeing my abuser, I insisted on sitting in the courtroom and watching the proceedings. Jason, it turned out, had been charged at first with offenses that would have given him 25 years in prison. His clever lawyer argued that down to 12 ½ based on only half of me having been abused, the rest being a gay consensual adult who was entitled to respect from the law. Then the prosecutor offered him a plea deal of only 10 years if he’d plead guilty, but in the end, he couldn’t do it. He was convinced that a person couldn’t be split in half for purposes of consent.
Common sense like that is not a major contender in law. The prosecution called an expert witness, a Professor Julia Timbaman, who stated that in almost all right handed people and also the majority of left-handers, the left side of the brain is the one making most of the executive decisions. Since, as we lay facing north so that I could catch the sun’s warmth, his rational, executive left half had been above me in New York, with my artistic, impressionable, illegally young right half below him, he was clearly taking advantage. The power was all on his side. In fact, the kind of sexual deviancy he possessed derived its pleasure entirely from taking power and control over a helpless innocent below. There was no question, the expert said, that Jason was my right side’s rapist. If he were released into society without prolonged treatment under the auspices of the prison system, he would undoubtedly rape again. In fact, he must certainly have other victims, probably over 150 of them, according to published studies, even though none had come forward in response to the newspaper stories. It should be looked into, how he may have intimidated them.
At the end of this testimony, the audience in the courtroom erupted as dozens of people shouted “degenerate fuck!” “Immoral rapist!” “Go kill yourself now!” “Your kind should all die!” and other such phrases at my boyfriend. The judge had to scream and hammer the gavel to get the room back under control.
The defense side, at the cost of every penny Jason had ever saved, introduced a local expert witness who testified that the latest neurology showed a lot of crossover among the functions of the left and right brain, and pointed out, in addition, that my brain had not been studied intensively with MRI scanners to show that its decision-making executive abilities lay entirely in the left. My right brain may have been able to coordinate with my left, giving a unified consent rooted in the legally recognized executive powers of the left brain hemisphere situated in Vermont.
In the legal summations, the prosecution lawyer pointed out that even if all my executive functions were in my right brain, and they consented fully, they were still in New York State, and therefore whatever they decided in terms of consent was of no legal relevance. The contribution of the right brain to the consent formed in the left was immaterial.
“That right brain,” he shouted, just below the top of his voice, “was the right brain of a child, a helpless child. Its innocence was violated. The half-victim’s childhood was thereby wiped out prematurely, and, in the opinion of many, its soul was gutted from his body, leaving him – albeit asymmetrically in this case – prone to every form of despair, devastation and drug addiction, unless hundreds of hours of psychological treatment are able to help his injured half. The arguments of our esteemed local junior professor, the defense expert, are merely duplicates of the cognitive distortions that pedophiles invent for themselves to justify their abusive behaviors. I’ve seen this over and over. The predatory monster who took foul advantage of this victim’s childish hemi-innocence must never walk the streets unmonitored, and must serve a long prison sentence. Even though he will incur the hatred of every other sort of prisoner, including his moral superiors like mere fleshly murderers, he may be fortunate to survive and learn the error of his incurable ways, even though he can never be rehabilitated.”
It only took the jury 30 minutes to find Jason guilty. The crowd was very pleased; they roared their approval. Fists were shaken in the air. Reporters crowded around the courthouse door. They were allowed to talk to me, since I was, in this jurisdiction, a consenting adult.
“Did your right half get some closure from today’s proceedings?” one of them asked me. I had no idea how to answer that. “Are the parts of you that need it getting help?” another reporter shouted at me. I ducked into my parents’ car and we drove away.
I didn’t think I needed help. By this time, I’d cured my left side. One night, I’d read a lot of websites online that I usually wouldn’t dare to surf to, and somewhere in the midst of a blog post about a kid being put on the sex offender registry for having a naked photo of himself on his phone, I got really mad. Obviously my right brain got just as mad as my left brain. I could feel that hemisphere, in its intuitive right-brain way, claiming ownership of its consent and retroactively hugging Jason with all its force. I heard its emotion-laden thought process forming just enough words to say, as a ringing inner shout that reverberated right through me, “New York State and everyone else involved in this travesty, fuck the hell off!” I could feel my body re-integrating completely in that moment, back in perfect health – though my thoughts were more turbulent than ever.
Jason was sentenced to 15 years, plus life on the register of sex offenders. He was enjoined never to communicate with me again.
The night after I heard that news, I could hardly sleep. When I did, I woke up. Over and over, I drifted in and out, trapped between shallow sleep and torment. I can’t begin to tell you how upset I was. I was almost nauseous, and I sweated like a pig, even though by this time, the weather was cold. I was in terrible depression and pain. I couldn’t stand it. I thought of Jason. Mentally, I gave him a kiss, I hugged him, and I finally said, “I love you.” “I love you too,” he said back, with huge tears in his eyes. Sleep almost came after that; I craved it vacantly, but it kept holding off.
Then finally, I felt a moment of confusion, saw some strange shadows, and I looked down and saw that my hands had turned into claws. I tried to talk and I could hear mouth sections gnashing, like polystyrene model parts clicking into place, and I could lift my head on a joint and swivel my eyes, while antennas probed the air for news. A sense of horror I’d been feeling for months swept off me and I was suddenly completely calm. I was a bug again. A cockroach. Not a human.
“Thank God!” I whispered.
This story was written by Kamil Beylant: @Securityconcern on Twitter