62 Lessons on How to Grow Up in Alaska
by Josh Medsker
1. Love the way it feels as you put on your girlfriend’s panties.
2. Notice how good the silk feels against your jeans.
3. Get more confident with this idea.
4. Decide that next time you will get your own panties from Fred Meyers (the black ones with the green bow on them).
5. Carefully put the eyeliner above and under your lids, and then examine your face in the mirror.
6. Don’t use too much, lest your mom notice that some is missing.
7. Feel better about your face, more like yourself.
8. Make sure your hair is in a proper Robert Smith mushroom, teased out and artfully arranged.
9. Wish your mom had bright red lipstick you could snag, but that’s not her style, so find purple and run with it.
10. Apply the lipstick to the top… then the bottom… you smack your lips together, again for the artfully smeared look.
11. Know you are ready.
12. Put on your t-shirt that reads RETROACTIVE ABORTION, which you made yesterday with brown and red paint.
13. Pull it on over your striped long-sleeved t-shirt, and sneak back to your room.
14. Put on your leather jacket, lest you give yourself away.
15. Skulk downstairs, heading for the front door.
16. Escape before your dad sees you.
17. See him purse his lips, letting you know he’s displeased with your look.
18. Thank god you zipped up your jacket.
19. Run out the door.
20. On the dirt path that runs next to the school, see your best friend Chris.
21. Tell even from hundreds of feet away that he’s unhappy with your lack of imagination and guts.
22. Unzip your jacket, show him the shirt, and watch him smile a wide, wicked smile.
23. As you approach the school, run into a group from your class.
24. Groan as one of them kicks you in the chest, knocking you back into the brush.
25. Stand up and get pushed back down.
26. Watch Tim grab your green Jansport and dump its contents on the ground.
27. Watch Jeff throw the backpack into the trees where you can’t get it.
28. Don’t try to reach it, because it’s unreachable and it will stay there for the rest of the school year, so you have to walk by it every day on your way to and from school.
29. Look up as Tim and Jeff’s older brother, a senior this year, stands over you.
30. Listen as he says “What are you doing, faggot? I didn’t say you could stand up.”
31. Listen as he says, “Why are you wearing makeup, faggot?”
32. Watch him grab your Walkman from the pile of your stuff—already strewn around the woods—and hurl it into the Chinook Elementary hockey rink across the street.
33. Remember how you hoped that once you got to high school it would get better and admit you were wrong.
34. Remember that Tim was the one who cornered you in the locker room after swimming class today.
35. Remember that Tim said, “What are you looking at, queer?”
36. Remember that you said nothing.
37. Remember that Tim said, “I’m talking to you, faggot.”
38. Watch as Tim whips you with a towel.
39. Desperately grasp at your falling towel, exposing half of your ass.
40. Wonder where the hell the gym teacher is.
41. Watch Jeff stand by his gym locker, laughing his stupid laugh, wearing the same Ratt t-shirt he’s worn since 6th grade.
42. Be glad when the dismissal bell rings. Finally.
43. Ride up to the train track in Spenard, by the airport, and get off your black Ripper bike.
44. Lock your bike to a skinny pine tree.
45. Walk out onto the track, looking for pennies and discarded treasures, like you do every day.
46. Hear a train off in the distance and make one last survey.
47. Lie down in the gravel beside the tracks and wait, like you do every day.
48. Feel the breeze on your face.
49. Feel the train zoom by, smell grease and cut grass and exhaust.
50. Wish you had the guts to go down to the rail yards and climb aboard.
51. Think about taking the train to Fairbanks, where you could get a bus to Tok, and into Canada… and out of your life.
52. Let the train pass and take your fantasy with it.
53. Wonder how much money you would really need…
54. Wonder if your father was ever young; all the advice he gives you sounds so corny.
55. Fiddle with your earphones and put the pillow over your face.
56. Feel how your jaw hurts.
57. Wonder if you can handle another day at that place.
58. Get up from the bed and walk to the window, open it, lean your head against the sill.
59. Notice that the apples have fallen in the field across the street.
60. Watch a seagull swoop down and grab an apple.
61. Imagine the seagull taking his bounty back to his home on the shore.
62. Envy his feathers.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me at 17 with my sister.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I started writing the germ of this poem sometime in 1991 (in one way or another). It took this shape sometime in 2011, and was finally done last year. It took a long time, but it was worth it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josh Medsker‘s work has appeared in many publications, including: The Brooklyn Rail, Red Savina Review, Haiku Journal, The Review Review, and Into the Void (UK).