When I was 15 a man called me at home and said he wanted to have sex with me. Well, not in exactly those words, but I knew what he wanted.
I was alone in the house doing homework in the kitchen when the phone rang. I answered and heard only labored breathing and a rhythmic low-pitched moan.
“Hello? Who is this?” I asked.
“I’ve seen you around,” he said, his words tapering off, unhurried, back into the deep, slow purr with which he had begun the call.
“Who is this?” I said. I tried to sound tough and firm, the way my track coach did when we were slacking off, but it came out wrong, too shrill and too loud, a terrier in a fenced yard yapping at a passerby.
“And I like what I see.” And again, this droning sound, more growl than purr this time.
“Who is this? Where did you get this number?” And again, that sense of trying too hard, the wavering in my voice that revealed the trembling in my body.
I could have hung up but I didn’t. He must have known. He must have discerned the flaw in my indignation, a betrayal which, like a crack in a shield, would shatter if stressed the right way.
I knew I should hang up and I didn’t. Though as much as I wanted to stay on the line I felt threatened. Not by him, but by what he knew. He had seen me, he said.
“I want to make you feel good,” he said. “You want that, too. I know you do.”
I raced through the possibilities. Somebody from school who was out to play a practical joke, or worse, someone determined to trap me into revealing myself.
But the voice was a man’s voice, not a boy’s. Nor was it an old man’s voice. There was too much bass and resonance to the voice, too much confidence. His voice was untamed, raw.
He said he had seen me. A neighbor perhaps? The guy up the block at the corner? If he knew me, then anything I said or did could come back to me. He could tell me my parents or the guys at school.
I moved away from the kitchen window.
“Who are you? What do you want” I asked, but I knew I sounded unconvincing. I was pinned between flight and pleasure. It was reckless to stay on the line, but I was too aroused to hang up. But the longer I stayed on the line, the greater the chance I would be discovered. It was like surfing in the wake of an approaching storm.
He had seen me and he knew. Even better than I did. But how could he? How could he have known I was the kind of boy who just an hour earlier had been in the basement, jerking off on the sofa bed to pictures of Jimi Hendrix and men in muscle magazines? No one at school knew. Not even Simon. How could he?
I tried to calculate how long I could stay on the line before I no longer could be seen an unwilling participant to the call. How many times could I ask who was on the line before my staged annoyance was revealed to be the collusion that it really was?
“Touch yourself and tell me how it feels. You know where,” he said.
How could he tell? Was there some way of reading me and people like me? The quiet ones. I wasn’t effeminate or flamboyant like the men my father. more in a what’s-the-world-coming-to sadness than in disgust, would point out. I wasn’t like the men who hung out at the men’s room in the bus terminal at the Port Authority. But he had seen something, I was sure.
Perhaps we weren’t so quiet after all. What did he see that I couldn’t?
Was it like working out the meaning of a poem, as we did in Mr. Ford’s English Lit class? (Now, he was someone I could read). To see through the words and gestures, through carriage and the cadence of speech , to uncover who the other really was? Was there a set of references and techniques that one could learn, some cuneiform of desire that would begin to fall into place and become comprehensible if you knew a handful of the most important symbols? Or was it something you just knew, a Gestalt of sexuality that let you say, yes, he’s one of us, just as you know that someone is speaking Italian even if you don’t know a single word of the language? Whatever it was, I sensed it didn’t have it. Not yet.
Of all the faces I conjured up during that all too brief conversation none was the “pervert” my father had warned me of. There was no lonely sad man sitting naked on a stool calling strangers from his empty, depressing apartment. No, this was a man who had found me and who wanted me. Or was it a man who was out to entrap me? Deceit and desire commingled like liquors in a glass. In the end I was left with only a voice, caressing and insistent.
My first encounter with a man was a phone call from someone who didn’t know me but wanted to make love to me. It didn’t matter it was on the phone. He was the first man to say he wanted to touch me, to please me. He wanted us to have sex. It would have taken just a grunt of acquiescence and I knew he could take it from there. He’d know what to do. But I didn’t dare.
“Who is this?” I asked. “Who is this?”
I wanted to know his name. I wanted to know it wasn’t someone from school or a neighbor. Then I could let myself go.
And then I realized. It didn’t matter who it was. He had my phone number. Whoever it was could identify me.
I understood then, fifteen years old, alone in a small kitchen looking out the window at the house on the corner and wondering if there was a man there talking on his phone — I understood then, I could not sever my desire from my identity. I could hide it, yes, like the men in the toilets of the bus station. But that was ugly and dirty in a way this call wasn’t.
I hung up. I wasn’t ready yet to claim my desire. But I sensed at some point that I might, in the vague but optimistic way a young man might imagine a future for himself. A trip to Rome, a good job, friends in the city. And a man you make love to in a bed.
Image: Peter Bloch, Blue Words