When my husband gets home from work, he shakes. It’s usually from the four-mile bike ride and the trek up three flights of stairs—he’s a tiny thing, takes weight gainer shakes in the morning and at night to try to bulk up.
Tonight it was different. Tonight, he says, they taped me up to the wall.
It’s for a charity event. Last week, they paid to pie the managers. My husband chose the one who we joke has a crush on him. I saw the picture: cream pie all over, a crowd of people in green smocks and farmer’s tans laughing into the lens. This week, customers got in on it: one buck for one strip of tape. The more money, the more an employee gets stuck to the wall. All in good fun.
I’d heard this being done before. In high school, my physics teacher bet us that he could fly. He was one of those whiz-bang kinds of teachers, wearing safety goggles twice the size of his eyes, and always with the sneaky half-grin that meant he knew something elemental that we didn’t, but would. True to form, at the pep rally that Friday, there he was, duct taped just above eye level onto the gymnasium wall. When a cheerleader put the mike in his face, he said this was for his AP Physics class who’d said he couldn’t do it. That you could do anything if you just knew what the rules were. The cheerleader took away the mike as we cheered. And then they pied him.
My husband explained it like a business exchange: he’d pied the manager last week, so this week his manager was looking for any opportunity to get back at him. They needed to put someone up there and my husband was the lightest one. Blink twice and he’s a girl. The unspoken rule: if the manager asks if you want to volunteer, there’s no choice but to say yes.
The rules were simple: my husband got up on a stool and stood against the wall. They had made signs on poster board like cheerleaders advertising a car wash: $1, 1 STRIP OF TAPE—HELP US NAIL CANCER TO THE WALL! Once they had enough tape to keep him suspended, they’d take away the stool and leave him hanging. It was only a few feet off the ground. Nothing big. All in good fun.
There was supposed to be someone there at all times, making sure the customers played by the rule they couldn’t fit on the signs: no taping down his skin. I would think this would go without saying. If a band-aid hurts to take off, imagine how duct tape feels.
I had seen this before: I had seen him shaking, his eyes shiny. Some critter hearing a predator. He went out for country night at the only gay club in town. After an hour, he got bored and called me to pick him up and take him to the bar all my writer friends swore by. Some even d-jayed dance parties. I’d seen the pictures: bearded boys in plaid and skirted girls in polka dots, all seeming to sway together to some fine song.
I waited around the block with a book, but he was back in five minutes. He couldn’t get the car door open. I had to come around to him. They took my ID, he said. They took it and said this can’t be real. It’s too bendy, they said. They came right up to him and put their hands down his crotch and they said maybe if you ask real nice we’ll let you in. Maybe if you come behind the bar for a few and give us some cream pie. You know what that is, right boy? Take off that cowboy hat and blue jeans and maybe we’ll let you in. Those are the rules when there’s nobody looking.
Tonight, one lady tried to put the tape on his mouth. He told her no. She tried again. He yelled it. She tried again. Nobody else tried to stop her. Nobody was looking in that way that everybody was looking. He wriggled a barely free foot. That threat of violence made her put it on his sleeve instead.
When I told my writer friends what had happened, they said we must have been mistaken. Who was working at the door that night? What did he look like? That couldn’t have been our bouncer, they said. That must’ve been just some guy. He probably didn’t mean it. All in good fun.
Another guy ran his hand over my husband’s crotch three times before finally putting the tape over his stomach. My husband said the guy was trying to look enticing.
When we discussed rape culture in class a week after, they said women shouldn’t be treated like it’s an inquisition. They swore up and down about how terrible that was. I couldn’t say anything to them. The unspoken rule: when it’s a man, it’s not as important. Rape is always man on woman. It’s never any other way, and if it is, nobody’s looking.
I could’ve said something. I could’ve seen in his eyes that night the same look he had when the priest took him into the bedroom, when the stepfather leered over him; the same look he had tonight. I could’ve marched in there and screamed bloody murder. I could’ve done anything. I could’ve I could’ve I could’ve. But this isn’t about me.
When we go to bed tonight, exhausted with ourselves, his rule is always that I hold him. Tonight, I will reach for his hand first. He will find it and draw it over his skin and hold it there like a salve and I will let him do whatever he wants with me. Whatever he wants.