Male king cobras will flare a hood when in the presence of other animals, regardless of whether they are considered predator or prey. There are specialized muscles in the snakes’ necks that allow them to flare the excess tissue, used to assert their dominance over another. This accentuation of power is present throughout the entirety of nature.
I was a sensitive kid. Before the age of nine, I cried about pretty much anything that even remotely slighted me. When my second grade teacher was out sick for the day, I cried because I missed her so much. When I got my first (and only) punishment of the year for passing notes with the girl to my right, I didn’t let up until seven o’clock that night. When they didn’t play “Grenade” by Bruno Mars at the Labor Day Weekend Camp DJ, I wept into my pillow until I fell asleep from exhaustion.
My first official summer job was at Farma Family Campground, a trailer park in Greenville, PA that I’ve been going to my entire life. Since before I was able to formulate comprehensive sentences, I’d idolized the people behind the counter at the camp store. I knew when I was old enough, I wanted to wear the red-collared shirt.
The summer after I turned fifteen, I handed in my application along with a valid worker’s permit, and was given the job almost immediately. I learned the computer software by heart and memorized daily rates, seasonal site availability, and pricing of firewood as though I were being tested. I was a good worker.
It didn’t take long, however, to realize that I was clearly the odd one out.
At Farma Family Campground, men did not work in the store, they worked maintenance. This consisted of mowing fields, stacking firewood, fixing electrical issues, cleaning the pool, and any other miscellaneous work that needed to be done. They were based in the garage, a storage area that held the tractors and power tools. Every man who worked at Farma did maintenance, and every girl who worked at Farma was put in the store.
At the end of my first week, Isaac, the most tenured of the maintenance boys at nineteen, came into the store to purchase a Hot Pocket on his lunch break. He threw it down on the counter and waited for me to scan it.
“Put it on my account—you can do that at least, can’t you, Pretty Boy?”
The male great-horned owl puffs out his feathers when he feels threatened. When eagles or other birds of prey fly overhead, the male great-horned owl will expand himself to appear intimidating and discourage attackers from targeting him, his family, or his nest.
In Health class, we had a guest speaker from the D.A.R.E. program come in to talk to us about drugs and relationships, and how the two coincide.
One point she mentioned in reference to dating was how many couples often shared similar issues that can be present in every traditional relationship.
“It’s like how women complain all the time about how men don’t listen. But they just can’t! They try, I really think they do. But all they wanna do is watch the football game on their T.V. when their woman is being all sensitive and emotional.”
My friend Olivia and I stopped at a convenience shop on the corner of Ninth and Penn one day after school because she wanted a bag of Hot Cheetos and an iced tea. At the checkout, she stood closest to the door and I was to her immediate left. The cashier took her bag and my five.
Two men bustled through the door. The first man held his hands up, the second spouted verbal threats. He cornered the first man and stood over him. He raised his fist, before hesitating. The first man held his breath and closed his eyes.
When he opened them, the second man was gone. He got up, brushed off his pant legs, and went in the opposite direction.
Olivia and I had switched positions. I was to her right, closest to the door. I stood tall. I had raised my shoulders and stuck out my chest, which completely covered Olivia’s smaller frame. The cashier handed us the change before we left. We have not talked about it since.
My entire life, I’d seen the storyline in movies and television on repeat: the man would sacrifice himself for the woman. He would protect her, and he became a hero in the end because of his strength, bravery, and courage.
I remain unsure if I positioned myself in front of her because of my affection or because of my internalized instinct to protect her.
I would like to believe that it was entirely out of love. Though the act was subconscious, I would make the conscious decision if put in a similar scenario without question.
However, I will never rid myself of the thought that there may have been more to it. Was it an act of selflessness? Or did the primitive ego I established from the movies get the best of me?
Expansion is not confined to protection. The male peacock will spread the array of colored feathers plastered onto his tail into a fan-like shape in an attempt to attract a mate. The female is often times drawn to the impressive size of his tail and the extensive palette he displays so boldly. The male peacock has achieved his goal of allurement.
One afternoon when I was eight years old, tears began to well in my eyes because of a trailer for a horror movie that came on in the set of commercials preceding my mother’s TV show. My mother started to approach me, but my father stopped her and sat down next to me.
“You need to stop being so sensitive about every little thing, Jacob. Mom won’t be there to care for you forever. You need to start acting like a man. Toughen up a little bit.”
I can count the number of times I remember letting myself cry since then on my right hand. I taught myself how to keep my feelings inside, where they belonged. I have pounded the idea into my head that emotion is bad, and constantly reinforced the negative connotation that accompanies crying in a man’s life.
Eric Forman loses a one-on-one basketball game to his girlfriend, Donna Pinciotti, in one of the first episodes of the Fox television series That 70’s Show. This puts him at extreme unease, and forces him to attempt proving to Donna (and himself, really) that he is masculine. He later challenges her to a game of air hockey at the Hub, the local hangout. Again, he loses, and is depicted wearing a dress in the next shot. This divide causes a rift in their relationship, as Donna refuses to accept that Eric feels obligated to have dominance over her. Throughout the entirety of the series, the juxtaposition of Eric’s femininity and Donna’s masculinity leads to deep-rooted issues about the abnormality of their dynamic.
Later in the same episode, Red Forman, Eric’s father, is laid off from work at the plant. His wife Kitty has taken shifts at the hospital, and Red is no longer the breadwinner of the family. To counteract this, he scans the house and fixes countless items of fully functioning housewares. He is stuck in his own head.
Each time, my mother let me nestle in her arms and rocked me until I caught my breath and calmed down. Each time, my father would tell me to get up, brush it off, and wipe the tears.
The first time I let myself cry since seventh grade was after I hurt my back while rock climbing. It was a recurring injury I’d just recently gotten over, and I knew instantly it would be months before I could do anything more than a brisk walk. I held my tears until my friend dropped me off at my house, but once the front door shut I collapsed onto the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably.
I was still sobbing ten minutes later when my father got home from the gym. He told me to take deep breaths, and I started to. He told me that it would be okay, and I believed him. He told me to stop crying because it solved nothing, and I stopped.
Each morning, I dip my fingers into a jar of product and apply it to my hair. I run the product through the entirety of my head and style it to give shape and volume. It makes me feel confident when I fix my hair like this. It makes me feel attractive. I am obsessed with my hair, vanity intended and required. The subconscious correlation between the style of one’s hair and the ego one possesses is far greater than I’d ever imagined growing up. But back then, I didn’t know it mattered so much.
The name stuck. Ask any of the maintenance boys who I was the entire summer, and they would tell you that I was Pretty Boy, the runt that hid from hard work behind the counter who could flirt with all the girls, but didn’t know how to operate a lawn mower. None of them knew I cut grass for money on my free time, or that my entire life I’d work on projects with my father until I could taste the salt from sweat dripping from my nose to my lips. Frankly, I don’t think any of them cared.
Next summer, I asked to be switched to maintenance. I told the manager about my experience in outdoor working, and told him that I was willing to work to learn anything he needed me to.
“I appreciate it, Jacob,” he said. “But you’ve got some competition. Makenna Fritz has asked to mow some lawns, so we’ll see.”
I nodded my head. He nudged my shoulder and chuckled. “You’ve got the job kid. We’ll try and fit you into the schedule when we can.”
I see myself in Ben, my little brother. Ben’s a sensitive kid, and he just turned eight last February. He cries about what the kids at his church youth group say to him. He cries about his incessant fear of clowns, and he cries when he doesn’t understand how to do a question in his homework packet.
My father has begun to teach Ben what has become instinctual to me.
A student at Capa’s seven-year literary arts program, Jacob is an avid writer. He has one the Young Playwrights Festival in 2016, and had his one-act play “Running from Grief” produced by City Theatre. Jacob enjoys playing soccer and rock climbing.