(This is the last of the Earl series—I know, finally!)
One of the reasons it took me so long—and that it was so difficult for me—to write out the vast arc of the Earl story is that it’s complicated, through and through. There were times (like at the end) when everything happened at once. There were long months when I wouldn’t run into Jim at all, or even have to think about my rival/brother of war, Topher.
Even figuring out what was important to the story was difficult for me. If I’d been writing this the way it happened, with every detail, I’d have had to devote a lot of space to Jim’s illegal betting habit that left him constantly in need of money when he was on a losing streak, and flush with cash for booze, weed, and porn when he occasionally hit the money. I decided that for these entries, it wasn’t important. Earl’s own shady activities had to do with his dick, but I left out all the details of the underground newsletters to which he subscribed to find people into the same things as he, the porn, the occasional Super 8 movie, or later, videocassette porn that would find its way into the bedroom.
I left out the other drugs the adults would do when I was around, the stories I’d hear from them about the places they’d stuck their dicks. I didn’t talk about the emotions I felt for Earl at the time I knew him, because for years I’ve just forbidden myself from thinking about that part of my life at all. It’s achey, like a bad bruise.
Even figuring out what happened when is a little tricky, almost thirty-odd years on; I always think of myself as fifteen when I met Jim, but I had to have been fourteen and probably lying that I was a year older, because somehow fifteen sounded more legitimate an age for whoring around.
For years I’ve shied away of any examination of that part of my teenaged life because it ended so messily, and so abruptly, that it’s tough not to blame myself for letting it all go wrong. These days, I don’t think I really had a major hand in any of it—Topher’s disappearance, Jim’s idiocy, Earl’s letting me go. My lapses were minor ones. At the time, though, it felt as if I’d failed, somehow.
So yes—all it took was for Earl to tell me he didn’t think I should return to his home again, to break off our relationship. At the time, I was relieved not to have to put up with Jim’s bullying. I threw myself into the last weeks of school. I graduated, made my speech. I’d been made offers by two universities and had accepted both; I waffled between them for much of the summer until I finally made a decision. And then there were clothes to buy, and dorm supplies to collect, and course catalogs to look over . . . until in the late summer, my parents drove me to Williamsburg and left me there for the next four years.
I always felt a little cold-hearted about not missing Earl more than I did, that summer. But I realize now, in this series of entries, that I’d perhaps been weaning myself off of him for some time. Ever since the afternoon he betrayed me, I felt, over the Topher affair, I’d been distancing myself. Seeing a life for myself that didn’t involve sticking my ass in the air for Earl and his buddies. When Earl offered me a chance to take a break, I went for it. I had sex in the park daily, but didn’t encounter him there. I didn’t call. I didn’t want to call. I’d loved Earl in a fashion, but I hadn’t been in love with him. I’d had enough.
It was the week before I went to college that I got an envelope addressed to me through the mail, though. It was plain on the outside, with a neat handwriting that seemed vaguely familiar. I opened it up, and found inside the bankbook for the savings account that Earl had made me open at Southern Bank, in the first months of our acquaintance. Even though it was my account, in my name, he’d held onto that bankbook for me so that my parents would never find it; he’d made me put into that account all the money I’d collected at parties, or all the money I’d earned from selling sexual favors to his friends. For a seventeen-year-old, it was not an inconsiderable sum. There was no note in the envelope, no card wishing me well. Just the bankbook that had lain in his top bureau drawer for years, waiting for the time I was enough of an adult to claim it.
I took that bankbook and tucked it away, never touching the account until I was in my mid-twenties; I used it as the down-payment on my first home. So that was that—full circle.
I admit, I became curious about Earl after I graduated college, when I was for a summer aimless and uncertain about what to do with my life. My parents gave me good advice—my father in particular—but somehow it struck me that Earl would have a good insight, even after four years, into who I was, and what I should be doing.
When I went to his house, someone else was living there. A large family with multiple kids had taken over the tall old residence, littering the front yard with chunky plastic vehicles and the detritus of toddlerhood. When I’d run into guys at the park who’d known Earl, I’d ask what happened to him. Eventually one of them said that he and Jim had packed up and moved away the year before. He thought it was for job reasons.
So that was that, too.
Another of the reasons I’ve disliked thinking about Earl over the years is that the story trails away into so many question marks. I don’t know what happened to Topher. I don’t know where Earl and Jim are today, if they’re still alive. If they’re still together. I never got to tell Earl that—
And here I’ve paused for a good few minutes, trying to figure out what to say. Tell him what? That I turned out all right, in spite of him? That the years under his tutelage left me with a moral compass of my own? That I’m merely alive, and okay—which is something of an accomplishment itself, for guys my age who fucked their way through the nineteen-seventies and -eighties?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to finish that sentence.
I never got to tell him that it was fun, I suppose. That I loved all the times with him when we’d screw and lie around and laugh, and that I loved how he talked to me like a peer, and not as a child. That I still get a kick out of the giddy fun we had when we’d roleplay a scene for some hapless trick who thought he was getting a kidnap victim to fuck, or Earl’s son, or some stupid street whore, and how we’d giggle over it afterward, like conspirators. That I loved the education he gave me, that I loved being the Galatea to his Pygmalion, the Artful Dodger to his twisted sexual Fagin.
I suppose I never got to tell Earl thank you. Such a complicated story in my life, and such a simple thing I never got a chance to say.