6 minute read

Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.


“The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.”

— Alfred Kinsey

A few days before my encounter with Sis, our family dog, a black, snaggle-toothed Scottie Dad had named Duffy, ran away, again. He had darted out the front door in late May, Dad laughing. I asked him why he was laughing, concerned about Duffy’s safety and whether he would return. 

Dad responded, “He’s going to get some, you know…” 

His vagueness puzzled me. Some food? We fed him well, even table scraps. What else could he need? He must have seen a perplexed look on my face. 

“You know, get some pussy.”

An image of Duffy chasing a cat crossed my mind, but I knew that was not what Dad meant. “You mean sex?” 

Dad stared at me, a quizzical expression on his face. “You sure are…” he paused for a long moment, “Weird.”

“Weird, how?”

“How old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

“And you don’t know what pussy is?”

Feeling heat on my cheeks, I looked down and away from Dad. “I know what it is.”   

“What?”

“Well, it’s about sex…?”

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

I had heard Dad talking about “pussy” before, and I had heard guys in the neighborhood calling other guys “pussies.” At times, they had called me that name, and it seemed to be interchangeable with the word “queer” in some way. However, the word “pussy” had some positive connotations while the word “queer” was always negative. The positive meaning had something to do with having sex or pursuing sex, but I was not entirely sure how someone did it. Sure, I knew about sexual intercourse, but it was a mystery to me, more about how to get a girl to do… sex… with me. 

“Yes, it’s about sex.” 

Dad inhaled through his cigarette, letting smoke trail from his mouth and nose, not like a puff but like a natural course of breathing. I noticed that between drags on his cigarette, smoke still emanated from his mouth like he had manifested smoke inside his body. He smoldered in that smoke, failing to contain his disgust, disapproval, or frustration.

Dogs like Duffy seemed to know how to copulate without being taught, without watching pornography, or without having to have classes. Other animals were no different, so why were people so clueless? 

Or, I thought, a rising sense of dread, it was I who was clueless. So, maybe Dad was right; I was weird… or queer… or something. 

  Although I had been called queer before, Sis telling me I was queer was a deeper blow. Why did I just lay there? Should I have been overwhelmed by a natural impulse, instantly knowing what to do and how to do it? Added to that, the pornographic movies Dad showed me were not interesting to me. Judging by Dad’s response to them, I was all wrong.

Why wasn’t I like him? 

Thank God, I wasn’t like him.

This left me wondering how to be a man. Figuring out how to be a boy was bad enough, but being a boy was fairly easy: learning how to fight, learning how to play baseball and basketball, learning how to talk like boys, preadolescent boys. With sex and the way guys talked about sex becoming part of the calculus of masculinity, I felt clueless, ashamed, and fearful. I did not think I could ever respond to a woman the way I was supposed to, and at the age of thirteen, I was too terrified to imagine what it would be like to have sex with another guy. 

I could not imagine myself having sex with anyone. I was not interested in girls the way other guys were, and I was not attracted to guys except to study them, learn from them, and emulate them so I could survive my life. I felt unnatural and isolated, determined to never reveal the real me, whoever that might be. 

Since I was getting older, my geography had expanded. Riding around the block had turned into riding down to the Cuyahoga River just off Front Street, exploring the old power plants, the hydroelectric dams down in the river gorge, climbing the cliffs, wet with mist and covered in moss, and the observation bridge suspended high above the rapids, the water shallow and fast. 

I climbed beneath the deck of the bridge to the cable stays held in place by steel beams situated in giant V-shaped links. The cables were as thick as tree trunks, and suspended between them was a big, black pipe, probably a sewer pipe from the smell. I walked out on the cables, leaning against the pipe, focusing on maintaining balance, the placement of my hands on the pipe. I side-stepped bit by bit, using my feet to negotiate the curl of wire comprising the cables, grabbing steel bars attached to the cables and tightened with huge turnbuckles. 

I did not look down until I was in the middle space between the cliffs, precariously balanced high above the river. A sudden, brief gust of wind shot into the gorge and swirled beneath the bridge, causing the whole structure to sway, a relatively small movement exaggerated by my anxiety. I froze for a while, very aware that my entire life felt like this moment, and I thought about letting go, wondering if I would die, head smashed against the rocks, back broken, legs shattered. I imagined being swept into the current, buried beneath the rapids, disappearing forever.  

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Last Updated February 26, 2022, 7:51 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor