By Will Thames
I was eight or nine at the time. I lived in a secluded cul-de-sac in the middle of a neighborhood-wide oak grove. At night, herds of whitetail deer returned from their grazing to the patch of forest across the street from my house. If you were patient enough and didn’t make a sound, you could see tall shadows moving in the trees at night. Mighty bucks and newborn fawns bedding down together as the sound of hooves on earth filled the evening air. In the summer, fireflies would dot the night sky, forming a net of pulsating light overhead. This is what comes to mind when I think back on that night- innocence and simplicity.
However old I was, I was still small enough that I needed my mother’s permission to go over to Jake’s house that night. He was watching a movie with some friends and had invited me hurriedly as he got off the school bus. It was a Friday night- that I remember well, as it greatly helped me make my case to my mother.
“I’ve done my homework.”
“I cleaned my room.”
“And it’s a friday night so-”
“William, what do you want?”
When she said yes, I ran upstairs to gather the necessary supplies. A movie night! With other boys! This was new territory for me- most of my after school activity consisted of riding my bike around the cul-de-sac alone, reading alone, or… well really anything alone. So, with a backpack full of twizzlers and skittles, I set out with an apprehensious heart, unaware how changed I’d be within the hour.
For how gradual growing old can feel, I’m a firm believer that certain events can make us grow suddenly. With great speed and weight, we become… new. I was headed for one such awakening when I plopped down onto Jake’s basement couch that Friday night. I never budgeted time for a life-altering epiphany. A discovery of biblical proportions. I was different. Not just different, I was… what was the word… not strange, not weird, but queer. That had a decent enough ring to it. At the time, of course, I couldn’t tell a homosexual from a hole in the wall, though sometimes those two have been known to mix. Yup- in one movie, I would happen upon a side of myself I’d only just recently become aware of. I felt it in the way my eyes lingered on the fifth grade boys playing tetherball in the Texas heat. In the way I found myself the center of nearly every group of girls at school. In the way this movie was about to make me feel.
The movie Jake had picked was unfamiliar to me. Even now, I can see him procure the VHS box with a mocking ceremony, holding it aloft like he was taking communion. On the box, a young boy astride a massive… dragon? No- this was too fuzzy and easy on the eyes to be the proper dragon I spent most of my days sketching in school notebooks. No jagged teeth, no green scales, no fire spouts. The boy and his fluffy knock-off Smaug were surrounded by a middling cast of various fantastic creatures. A giant made of stone, a tiny man riding a giant snail, a child-like empress, and… the boy. Not the one front and center on the dragon, the one to the side riding a white horse. Him.
From the first second I saw Atreyu (the horse boy) I was overcome with a feeling I know now to be insatiable horniness which- at the time- felt somewhere between total nirvana and transcending reality. I had, quite literally, never felt this way before. I had, quite literally, never seen a boy like this before. The warm eyes, the SHOULDER LENGTH HAIR, the gentle nature. I was in love.
And so, within the first five minutes of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, I was presented with a strange conundrum. How to conceal my very first erection? My initial thought was to run from the room and seek treatment from the nearest adult (an idea I’m now thankful I didn’t act on). It turns out several bulky pillows and a winning smile do the trick just as well. I nervously grinned like an absolute psycho through the entire first act of the film until my mouth began to twitch (extra psycho points) and I dropped the mask. It didn’t matter anymore, I decided. Let them see how enraptured I was. All I cared about was… him.
I remained inconsolably turned on throughout the entire movie. Atreyu begging Artax not to succumb to a literal depression swamp? I’d drown in his sadness swamp any day. Atreyu boldly crossing the Sphinx Gate? I’d Sphinx his Gate right then and there. Atreyu knifing Gmork in his evil wolf face? Nut.
This pre-adolescent crush would later pave the way for a number of equally important, though not as potent, fantasy boyfriends. Legolas will always make me feel some kind of way- but will ultimately never hold a candle to the original.
I looked to my friends out of the corner of my eye, waiting for some kind of sign that they were going through the same earth-shattering revelation I was going through. I… liked… boys? None of the other guys seemed to be going through anything especially remarkable. They jeered and clapped along with the movie, making jokes about dead horses and which girl in the 3rd grade looked the most like the childhood empress. Surely one of them felt their stomach turn to a pot of wriggling eels when Atreyu washes up on shore, buckskin vest *gasp* open, and hair matted to his face from the journey at sea.
This idea struck me as highly absurd at the time, a pacing fancy of… of I didn’t even know. All I knew was that the world seemed suddenly much wider than my little cul-de-sac existence.
The movie ended- Bastion gets back at his school yard tormentors with the help of Falkor the luckdragon (in what will likely force each of his bullies into years of therapy) and the realm Fantasia is saved!
“How was the movie?” My mother asked me as I returned home.
“Fine,” I lie, shuffling upstairs. What I want to say is:
“The Neverending Story is the greatest work of art ever put to celluloid. Now if you’ll excuse me, Carol, I have an erection, a lot to think about, and a depression-swamp-themed wedding to plan.”