Nonfiction: Pubescent Still by A. Patrick


Ted sat on my left in music class in seventh grade. Our folding chairs were perched on risers so precariously that I worried pushing back might tumble me to the ground. Ted was shorter than me and we’d only just met that year. He didn’t make fun of me. He said he’d name his kid Ubon whenever he had a kid. I was so immersed in total teen-dom, I’d internalized the idea that my mom’s name, Ubon, was weird and embarrassing, and assumed Ted, who was cool, who skateboarded, was making fun. He was not. He did not. Unlike near everybody else in our small Indiana hometowns, it didn’t matter to him that I wasn’t white, that I wasn’t Christian. He really did think Ubon was a cool name for a kid, though he mispronounced Ubonwon as ooh-bono-vaughn.

Our middle school bussed anyone who wanted to go to his funeral. Belinda Carlisle’s Wind Beneath My Wings was played. I didn’t know Ted very well but sensed that as a skater he wouldn’t have liked Belinda Carlisle too much.

I didn’t go to Ted’s funeral but I went to his viewing, where we all cried, disbelieving. Ted’s friend Jeff had already left town, moved to live down with his mom in one of the states starting with the letter A. A few weeks later, during Christmastime, rumor had it Jeff’s mom was hit by a semi. We debated whether Ted’s mom or Jeff himself had it worse. It was hard not to cry at Ted’s viewing. Because of his death, but also because the popular boys, the ones for whom my whole body was pierced with fierce yet blurry pining, here they were all crying too. Sean Skinner, for example.

“If he,” Sean Skinner said through snot, “if Ted sits up right now and says ‘Just kidding’ I’ll kill him, I’m not kidding, I don’t even care.”

We laughed, grateful for Sean’s joke, its puncture through our tears. Maybe I still hadn’t gotten my period or anything, but surely this was proof: things were real and we were getting older. If our smelly armpits or Tom Neidlinger’s rolling over during gym class because of a boner or Teresa Garcia confiding at a slumber party that during the Blueberry Festival, she’d gone on a walk with some boy and they kissed and then he fingered her (I asked another girl at the sleepover what that meant, and her description included “Like, where a tampon goes;” not very helpful) and when they came back to the Festival Teresa’s dad gave her a look as if he knew (“Like, I guess he could smell it on us.” Again, not helpful.) If these things weren’t proof we weren’t kids anymore, not really, then this news was, this news made it so if not post-pubescent, then at least we were post-prepubescent, this news being: Ted had been at Jeff’s dad’s and Ted and Jeff were playing with a gun and Ted said “Give it here,” or “Let me see,” and grabbed the barrel but Jeff’s finger had been on the trigger so when Ted pulled the barrel the gun fired a bullet into his stomach. Jeff asked “Are you okay?” Ted said “No” in a gasp, the hair on his upper lip downy still, the air in his lungs settling down to still, pre-nothing, post-everything, final.

A. Patrick’s essays have been noted in Best American and published in The Chattahoochee Review and Bellingham Review. She lives in South Philadelphia.

3 responses to “Nonfiction: Pubescent Still by A. Patrick

  1. i love this piece, really great writing! ‘pre-nothing, post-everything, final’. great ending.
    (fyi this stopped me early though, i can’t find where belinda carlisle ever sang “wind beneath your wings”, it was bette midler.)


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