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He would never forget the day of the seventh grade field trip to the Juan de Fuca Trail. This was the day that was going to change things. The day he would unsheathe himself from the baby fat of his anonymity and reveal the “thing” that made his true persona. The thing that would be a window to his soul, the thing that would make the young girls twiddle their hair and blink all quick like they wanted to catch something with their lashes. 

Jimmy’s thing was his violent ability in soccer. Bismarthalou’s was in his preposterous name and the mystifying way in which he spoke of his potentially fictitious motherland. Eric’s was his enviable height and the bad-boy badge he’d earned from being held back a grade on account of trying to stab Morton with a letter opener over a girl. Obviously, the competition was stacked and if Sherman didn’t establish his “thing” soon, he’d fall through the cracks and never get a girlfriend. Sherman, with his rapidly rising levels of hormones coursing his veins that gave him ambition like never before, knew, just knew, that today was his day. Today was the day he would reveal his fondness for insects. 

Bugs. Yes. Bugs, bugs, bugs. That was the “thing.” It  had to be. Though Sherman had suspected he possessed the superior intellect of a scholar, he’d concluded it would be far easier to empirically prove a fondness for bugs. And so it was that Sherman was going to quietly and mysteriously count every single banana slug on the soil-rich surface of the Juan de Fuca and reveal the number— with an air of nonchalance— to the other children on the bus ride back. He was certain this would bestow a unique air of sophisticated dignity to his otherwise unremarkable character—a fondness for bugs, yes—a “thing” that would finally peg him a lad of inimitable charm. He could hardly wait. Finally, everyone would know he was interesting. Passing the hallway mirror that morning, he whispered “Goodbye young Sherman, for today, you leave your childhood behind. Today, you become a man.” 

As the class hobbled out of the bus into the crisp forest air, Sherman took excitable note of two banana slugs on the trailhead signpost. He took out his notebook and began the day’s tally. As the group of children marched down the path, stalling here and there for nature facts, Sherman kept diligent note of every single slimy, speckled yellow banana slug that made its slow appearance. By lunchtime, his tally had already reached seven and other children were starting to take notice.

Everything was going exactly according to plan, really as according-to-plan as anybody had  ever done anything, but then, it happened. He couldn’t even remember where he’d first heard the word—somebody had said it—his older sister or maybe in a movie—but whatever the circumstances, he thought the word meant “really good” or “fun” or something. God what was the context and why—he’d ask himself again and again through the years to come—why would he repeat a word he did not actually know the definition of? But he did, he said it, and he could never take it back. At the end of lunch on that fateful day, the freshly appointed teacher’s assistant, wanting to learn more about the class and bond with the students, kindly approached Sherman and asked “How are you enjoying your lessons this year with Mr. K?” and Sherman, smiling without thinking, wanting to try out this elegant new word, replied:

“I like Mr. K very much, he’s orgasmic.”

The teacher’s assistant went agape and pale. Mr. K turned around rapt by utter and complete mortification. The longest silence ever ensued, until it was broken by a crack of obnoxious laughter that could only belong to Eric and gained in circulation until every single 7th grader was gasping in fits of hilarity. Sherman attempted to laugh it off, but red-hot embarrassment piped out in puffs from all his pores. It was fifteen minutes later, as the hike resumed and he realized the teacher and his assistant were out of earshot, that Sherman asked his friend Arnold what the word “orgasmic” really meant, and Arnold replied “like sex, dude—like... the feeling of sex.”

Sherman knew there was no coming back from a folly of this magnitude. His “thing” would never be his fondness for bugs like he had planned—it would indelibly be this. It would be calling his seventh-grade, out-of-shape, bald male teacher “orgasmic.” Indeed, it was his “thing” for the rest of the school year and he was avoided like the plague by young girls and adult men alike. He hoped dearly that one day, everyone would forget. He thought to himself “in three years I can say this happened three years ago, and three years is a long time, enough time for everyone to have forgotten.” And it was true: by tenth grade, nobody brought it up anymore but Sherman knew, Sherman hadn’t forgotten. Sherman remembered and knew he would remember forever, and he did.

Many years after the 7th grade hike, Sherman was in his bedroom, packing his things and gearing up for the beginning of his life at college. As Sherman sorted through his things for what to take to his dorm, he came across a small spiral-bound notebook on his bookshelf. An old, tattered thing that displayed on its first pages a tally and a tiny sketch of a banana slug.  Recalling the days he was young enough to believe that man creates his own identity, he dropped the notebook into the trash.


image: Justine-Juliette