Kill Yr Idols
“What will your parents say?”
I’m eighteen, writing in a notebook about hackers in a queer love triangle overthrowing an oppressive oligarchy. The story is fiction.
My best friend strokes my thigh with the backs of his fingers to comfort me or himself. We’re supposed to dorm in the fall. I won’t, and our relationship will splinter.
“I need to write,” I say. It seems simple. My life will be fiction.
I write stories about white women, unconvincingly. I’m masking myself, someone who’s queer and polyamorous and recently married to someone who’s not. She is careful never to ask how much a story is about me.
The closest I come is about a boy fascinated by a rock star in drag. The boy buys a wig off the internet. It’s slick and black, very Pulp Fiction. For a week, he takes the wig out of the box for a laugh. He then wears it while Dad is passed out and Mom works nights. He looks homely and lumpy headed in the bathroom mirror. At one point, he paces for twenty minutes outside a FOREVER 21, debating to buy a black dress in the window and lie that it’s for a girlfriend.
A girl enrolls at school with a face out of a dream. Months later, she doesn’t know he exists, though they have mutual friends. She’s goth-y and bold, sent to the Principal for wearing spiked collars and T-shirts with slogans like KILL YR IDOLS. Rumors say her parents do drugs, another suspension and she’s expelled. The boy mentions her to a buddy at lunch. “Mannish-looking weirdo, eh?” the kid says.
Before winter break, the boy decides to hang himself. Or to slip a note into her locker. He can’t remember what he wrote except: You’re just so real and I’m not. Folded on his chemistry book the next morning is a reply: Midnight at the lake.
That evening, hunting beer money, Dad discovers the wig. The man rages in tears. Is his boy a sissy? He slaps his son for an answer. The boy runs without a jacket. He wanders town, a ghost. He’ll freeze. He goes to the lake.
The girl isn’t at the benches. She’s a shadow on the ice. More afraid of never knowing, he steps out to meet her. The wind blows across the lake. He can’t feel his body, his burning face. There’s a long whistle of a passing train before he hears her speak.
I don’t have the guts to share the story but can’t delete it.
I’m 178, up from 125 from weightlifting. I cut my hair short. I shop at Banana Republic. I learn how to shave with a straight razor, how to make craft cocktails, how to respond assertively, how to talk about Infinite Jest without reading it, how to talk dirty.
I take fiction workshop at the community college and write stories about boys becoming monsters:
We’re kids, picking teams. A boy teases, and little brother cries. I run for help. Dad sticks a whiffle bat in my hands. “Never let anyone talk about your brother like that.” I wave my yellow warning on the playground. The bully cries, and little brother is smiling. I’ve helped.
My marriage fails. I regularly consider diving off a parking garage.
Like it happened to someone else, I hear myself saying to a close friend, “I’m not attracted to men anymore. Like at all.”
I workshop my stories. I collapse into me-ness. Repeat.
I meet a working-class Latinx swinger couple at a bar. The conversation is jerky. We go back to my apartment. I don’t have beer or wine but can fix old fashioneds.
“Your place is very clean,” the wife observes. “Such big books.”
“Are you sure you’re not gay?” the husband asks a second time.
Is he fearful or hoping?
“I’m very into women,” I say.
None of us are relieved.
The page is a mirror. There is a kid on the ice. There is the bully and the boy with the bat.
A snake chews its tail, vomits words sometimes.
My essay on Gabriel Conroy as cultural colonizer is rejected again. The editor comments: Your application of identity politics is a reach.
Crying makes following my first YouTube makeup tutorial pretty difficult.
My parents visit, and I mention applying to universities, as if this time writing will save me. They’re proud, relieved. I’m the son they wanted.
We’re out to breakfast on the eastside, and Dad pushes away his plate. He grimaces at a gay couple across the restaurant.
“I can’t eat and watch two men kissing,” he says.
Never let anyone talk about your brother like that.
“I’ve kissed a man like that,” I say. My words knock the wind out of him.
Levis Keltner is the editor-in-chief at Newfound and author of the novel Into That Good Night. His work has appeared in Entropy Magazine and Bull: Men’s Fiction. From Chicago, he lives in St. Louis. Find him on Instagram @leviskeltner.