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Bill's Challenge: Learning the Truth at 17

I’ve enjoyed writing for many years. I'm dedicating more time to the craft in my retirement days.

Learning the Truth at 17

1978

He had pimples and wet dreams, both territories that came with being 17. He didn’t know that one day he’d look back and consider all that to be normal. They both seemed anything but at the time. Like it was something embarrassing on the one hand, something to be ashamed of on the other. But still he had both and he walked through the high school hallways each day wondering if people were staring at the one and if there was any way they could possibly know about the other.

High school sucked that way, didn’t it? Pock marks on the face and stained underwear the banes of the average day. Too, it didn’t make the latter situation any better when his mom would remind him she was the one who did all the laundry in the house—including his underwear—and she was never shy about telling him that she “knew what was going on.”

Ugh.

Sometimes, though, when he was talking to his mom at home or in the car, letting his insecurity flow out of him in a way he’d never do at school or in front of his friends, he’d complain about being ugly because of all the acne on his chin and forehead. His mom would lie to him—he always thought she was lying, anyway—and tell him he was handsome. "Further," she’d always said, "nobody really cares if you have a couple zits."

Really, Mom?

Still, somehow, even if it was just for a moment, he'd always felt better when his mom had comforted him that way.

He was kind of feeling that way today, really. He could use some motherly ego-inflating about right now. It was picture day at school and he had woken up with a huge, angry whitehead front and center on his already prominent, Jay Leno-like chin.

Unbelievable.

He popped it summarily, sending a ball of pus flying onto and then streaming down the bathroom mirror. Progress, perhaps, but this left a raw red spot in the very center of his ginormous chin so he moved quickly on to Plan B: he tried to feign illness. Unfortunately, though, the old “I just don’t feel well” routine didn’t work. He hadn’t thought it through well enough or he’d have put a thermometer on a lightbulb before he talked to his mom with his dad standing right there.

As soon as he’d finished saying he “just didn’t feel well,” dad reached down and felt of his forehead. After only a couple seconds: “Well, you don’t have a fever, so maybe you’re just hungry. Eat up your breakfast and get on the move. It’s picture day, today, too, remember? You can’t miss that.”

“Yes, Dad, I remember.” How could he forget?

Ugh.

Sometimes he wondered if his dad had ever been a real teenager. It sure seemed like the old man never could remember any of the awkwardness that came with the age.

One of the few good things about acne is that it hardly discriminates: With some variation, it afflicts people of all races and income levels, from all regions and countries. Acne is the eighth-most-common disease globally, affecting roughly two out of three people ages 15 to 19.

— "Pimples Could Be Good for Your Grades," The Atlantic, 3 October 2018

By now, he was almost done with second period Math class and he was scheduled for pictures during third period. As he scooped up his books and headed toward his locker after the bell rang, one of his classmates walked down the hall with a boom box swinging from his left hand. He could hear the unmistakable voice of Paul singing “I’ve Got a Feeling” from the Let It Be album. As he spun the dial on his combination lock, he heard John break in:

Everybody had a hard year
Everybody had a good time
Everybody had a wet dream
Everybody saw the sunshine
Oh yeah, oh yeah

I've Got a Feeling

2022

He found an old picture album buried in the bottom of a box in a basement closet. While leafing through it, he came across his class picture from junior year in high school. It made him smile, remembering that day and how he’d started feeling for the very first time as if all his ‘maladies’ might be more normal than he thought.

Everybody had a wet dream…

And he remembered like it was yesterday what Mom said when she saw the picture the day he brought it home.

“Oh, look at that huge smile. This just might be your best picture yet! So handsome!” She’d tousled his hair, snapped the cardboard triangle stand into place and put the 5 x 7 up on the china cabinet hutch next to his sisters' class photos.

Looking more closely now at the picture—even with his 1.50 readers on—he still didn't think he was handsome, but he also couldn’t really tell if that was just another freckle or maybe something else right there in the middle of his chin.

© 2022 greg cain

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