Friday, July 22, 2005

Every now and then, I get a little bit terrified.

His name was Mark, and his body wasn't much more defined than a stick figure's. In spite of that, perhaps because my standards for physical attraction remain a bit low, I told myself he was cute. I remember about him, more than anything, his Adam's apple. It protruded out of his neck startlingly, as though it were that group of red feathers below a cartoon turkey's beak. His skin was pale. He was probably 5-foot-6, which was shorter than me. And the thick shock of black hair that came up out of his head, which he'd tried to tame into a part with mousse, looked something like a porcupine's back.

Mark was a history major at UGA who happened to live directly above my stairwell room in Myers Hall for about two months during my sophomore year, around the time that I met Ash while working for dorm security. I think Mark was 23 then. I remember that he was a transfer student. I remember that I met him out at Boneshaker's one night. I remember that he had both a high-pitched nasal voice and a lisp. And I remember how he used to talk down to me in a tone that, I guess, was intended to be flirtatious.

But I wouldn't remember Mark at all if he weren't the worst kisser I've ever known in my entire life. The one time I kissed Mark was a horrifying experience, the sort that you never get over. The time with Mark was even worse than the time I accidentally sneezed mid-kiss with Welsh Guy and worse than the time that guy in Augusta crapped on me. Mark was such a bad kisser that I can no longer hear a Bonnie Tyler song on the radio without laughing uncontrollably.

The negative experience actually all starts with Bonnie Tyler. My association with the singer, prior to my sophomore year in college, hadn't been exactly stellar throughout my childhood. I owned the "Footloose" soundtrack tape when I was 8, and "Holding Out for a Hero" was one of the songs I would rewind on my tapedeck and listen to over and over, though I, of course, listened more often to "Let's Hear It for the Boy."

When I was in the seventh grade in 1988, I had a more vivid experience with Bonnie Tyler's music. I was a founding member and the student leader of the anti-drug organization in my middle school. I was even the one who came up with the ultra-dumb name for it: B.A.D., which stood for Buford Against Drugs. B.A.D. didn't actually do much to curb drug abuse in the middle school, I don't think, but we at least held meetings where we talked about drugs, colored in posters with magic markers and performed useful, educational skits about how to "just say no." Looking back on it, I cringe. But, whatever, it was the Reagan era.

One weekend, we students of B.A.D. learned a particularly elaborate anti-drug skit featuring the music of Bonnie Tyler during an off-campus workshop for schools in the area. It was hosted by a group of attractive, enthusiastic college kids in a group called P.R.I.D.E. (I forget what it stood for, maybe Promoting Reality in Drug Education or Padding Resumes Imitating Drug Educators. I doubt the group still exists, though I often wonder whatever happened to those people.)

The skit, swear to God, started with Mr. and Miss Generic Clean-Cut American Youth dancing together happily in the middle of the stage to "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Their faces gleamed with smiles reflecting the promise of their young love, him wearing brightly colored jams from Body Glove and her wearing jellies on her feet and a Scrunchii in her hair.

As the song reached the end of the first verse, though, trouble appeared from both corners of the stage. Suddenly, the stage was overtaken by a mass of other, somber-looking students, all wearing dark sunglassses and black sweatshirts with words like COCAINE, LSD, MARIJUANA and ALCOHOL in white print on their backs. The "drugs" all danced on the stage, then they formed a circle around the generic, happy couple, stopping them from dancing and ripping them apart. As though narrating, Bonnie's verses reflected the horrifying scene onstage, "I don't know what to do. I'm always in the dark."

Mr. Clean-Cut Generic American Youth was forced to look on helplessly and in horror as the synthesizer wailed in Bonnie Tyler's song. As the girl blissfully continued to dance, the black-sweatshirted "drugs" all linked arms and formed a circle around her.

Suddenly, at one of the cries of "Turn around, bright eyes," the girl was supposed to realize that she was trapped, that she couldn't break away from the circle of "drugs" dancing around her, closing in more and more with each moment. Her lover, despite effort, was unable to do anything. They were both helpless. Or were they?

Then, just as the "powderkeg" gave off sparks, the girl was able to break through the evil circle, flying away from addiction and back into the arms of her man. As the thwarted "drugs" then danced back off the stage, the girl and boy reunited happily and danced together until the spotlight dimmed on them and the sound of Bonnie Tyler's rasps faded away. Wthe skit was done, I remember looking out into the audience and seeing people wipe away tears. Parents were crying. Students were crying. We'd all defeated drugs that day, and we were proud.

Any happy memories I may have held of that day, though, were clouded when I decided to visit Mark's dormroom that night sophomore year.

I'd broken up with Ash for the first time about a month before that night, and it had been horrible. I mean, the time I kissed Mark probably occurred right after I set fire to Ash's coat in that barbecue pit. Word had gotten out around the dorm that I was volatile and someone to avoid, and, in my limited foresight, I thought I was never going to date again. Sure, he was wiry and his voice was a bit high, but Mark looked at me like he was interested. And I really needed an experience with someone new to help me forget Ash.

I'd seen Mark look at me when we met earlier that week at Boneshaker's. (I, frankly, was amazed anyone ever did look at me at Boneshaker's.) One or two times while I was at a shift at the security desk, he'd come by and sit with me. (Whenever I had a crush on someone on security, I would do the same thing, so I suspected Mark might like me.) So I walked up the steps to Mark's room in the third-floor stairwell, and I said hello.

Mark was really happy to see me, and he let me in the room. He then lisped his way through a guided tour of all his knick-knacks and stuff. There were WWII-era model airplanes. There were lots of dusty-spined history books. He talked about transfering to UGA from somewhere, that he wanted to be a history teacher. I listened to him. I asked him questions. Still, something seemed a little off about him, but I couldn't figure out what it was. He sounded uncertain. He was rambling a bit. He asked me no questions at all.

I glanced over his video collection, which was all neatly packaged into plastic, brown containers like at a mom-and-pop video store. Then, I looked at the CD case on top of Mark's stereo.

"Oh, Bonnie Tyler," I said. "I know Bonnie Tyler."

Mark's voice got all excited and suddenly confident.

"You like Bonnie Tyler???" he asked me. "I love her, LOOOOVE HER."

"That's cool," I said. I was going to tell him about the P.R.I.D.E. skit but didn't.

"There's something I've got to show you," he said. "Sit down, there on the bed. The bottom bunk's mine."

"Um, OK," I said, and he suddenly started to speed from box to box around the room, then he pulled out one of the video boxes and handed it to me. He sat down close to me while I tried to figure out what it was.

"You know the video for 'Total Eclipse of the Heart,' the one where Bonnie sings to people with lightbulbs in their eyes," Mark said, his lisp only slightly affected. "This is it!"

I honestly had no idea how to react.

"Oh, that's cool," I said.

"I honestly didn't know how to get it at first," Mark said. "They don't sell it anywhere, and you can't find any collections of videos. I tried Bonnie's fan club, but nobody had anything at all. I tried magazines, thinking maybe that someone would release a video of '80s music. I found nothing. Eventually, I just wrote a letter to MTV, and you'll never believe it ... They checked their archives, found it and sent me a copy of it off the original master tape!"

Oh God, I thought to myself, he's gonna make me watch it.

Mark jumped up from the bunk with a start, opened the video box, turned on the TV and placed the tape in the VCR.

"Wait," he said. "Let me check the surround sound. I tried rigging it earlier."

Then, he started to wander about the room, checking the wiring and other things.

"So, um, I'm a journalism major," I said. "And I'm from Buford. Do you know where that is?"

"Uh-huh," Mark said, looking at the wiring.

"And I'm 19, and I don't go to Boneshaker's a lot, so it's lucky we met when we did," I said.

"Uh-huh," Mark said again, helping himself off the floor and starting the video.

"And I work for The Red & Black as the student affairs reporter," I said. "Do you read it?"

"Uh-huh," Mark said, checking the VCR again.

"And I like movies, and I'm in some drama classes," I said. "Are you listening to me?"

"Uh-huh," he said impassively, still not listening to me.

"And, all of a sudden, I was running through a field completely naked," I said in the same tone to Mark. "And that's when I knew the UFOs had abducted me. But no one else believed my story."

"Uh-huh," he said, starting the music video.

Mark then unzipped a bag on his floor, which was apparently filled with his shower supplies. In his hands was the largest jar of Vaseline I'd ever seen. I think the pupils of my eyes widened from shock.

"And you're not listening to me, and I don't know if I should be here," I mumbled in the same tone.

"Uh-huh," he said. The Bonnie Tyler music began.

Mark pulled the top off the Vaseline, still oblivious to anything that I was saying, and stuck his thumb deep into it. I kept talking, I think, about the time I was attacked by dragons. Intent, he pulled his lubed-up thumb out of the vat o'Vaseline, then smeared the stuff over his lips with one quick motion back and forth. In front of me.

I started shaking, nervous and really grossed out. I mean, what one person needs a giant supply of Vaseline? But, through it all, I kept talking.

Mark, finished with all his errands, sat down next to me on the bed.

" ... And so that was when I saw a unicorn for the first time," I finished.

Mark looked me deeply in the eyes and lingered there.

"Benjie ...," he said, affecting some kind of lustful, nasal tone.

"Yeah?" I asked, trembling and annoyed.

"Th-hut up," Mark said forcefully in full-on lisp. Then, he grabbed me very tightly, stuck his tongue out and then shoved it deep down my throat. As he did this, he tried to lean me back onto the bed.

Bonnie Tyler sang, "Once upon a time, I was falling in love, now I'm only falling apart."

Feeling the goop of Vaseline against my mouth while Mark's foul-tasting tongue tried to choke me to death, I think I audibly gagged. Less than a moment later, I pushed the little son-of-a-bitch off me and rushed toward the door.

Mark was stunned.

"What happened?" he asked me. "What is it?"

"Um, I can't do this," I said to him, opening the door. "I'm sorry, but I have to go."

"Wait, you can't just leave like this, Benjie," he said. "What's going on?"

I tried my best to sound tactful, but, for the record, this was true.

"Mark, I'm sorry," I said. "But if I end up staying here, I'm just going to hurt you."

Mark looked confused.

I said, "Sorry, I gotta go." Then, as the "powderkeg" echoed through the stairwell, I ran down the hall fast as I could toward the girls' side of the building and hid in a friend's room for, like, two hours.

Trying to figure out what happened, Mark actually tried talking to me a couple times after that - in the stairwell or at the security desk, but I told him that it would never work between us and that he'd be better off just leaving me alone.

And I've not been able to listen to Bonnie Tyler with a straight face ever since.

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