A sign that a boy is becoming a man is commemorated by his family.
Just before I turned 13, something happened to me, something I was afraid to tell anyone so I hid it. I didn’t know what to do and I was embarrassed to ask questions of my parents. I was the oldest child in our family, but I shared a bedroom with my eight-year-old younger brother, Joe.
I know you are wondering what happened to me, but to this day it’s still hard to share the humiliation at having my secret discovered. And because my brother is like all younger brothers, he simply made the moment even worse, smiling at my pain. Joe enjoyed watching me squirm, and I relished getting him back. But lately I’d been angrier, more willing to hurt my brother or anyone that got in my way. I didn’t know why I was angry, but I was and it bothered me. That didn’t stop me though. I became reactionary and primal.
Like the time I bruised his kneecap with my Louisville Slugger baseball bat. He had the top bunk and I had the bottom. As the oldest, I set the rules of the room, essentially saying: “This is my room and you are lucky to share it with me. Anything I say goes.” When it was time for bed he was to be quiet and let me fall asleep to my beloved music of the 1990s, but he never did. He laid up there above me, squawking, singing, doing whatever he could to disrupt my time, even getting down to turn the lights on. So one night I literally laid in wait, hiding the bat by my side out of sight. Once Joe began his disruption I flew from the bottom bunk with such fluid motion that he never had a chance. The bat landed squarely on his kneecap with a thwack and crunch. He fell from bed, gripping his knee, squealing like a wounded dog. I just grinned until our father came in, surveyed the situation, took the bat from me, smacked my knee and left. Both Joe and I howled on the floor together—two injured dogs yelping at our pain.
So it was because of moments like this that I was now guarded against my brother knowing the secret which now crept upon me. But a young man, not yet a teenager, can prepare well enough for someone as shifty as my brother.
Because of the change that had taken place on my body, I began showering early to make sure my brother was in the shower while I was getting dressed in our bedroom. Joe noticed this and was curious because I was notoriously lazy, sleeping to the very last minute each day. What was I doing? Could he disrupt it? Could he embarrass me? So he schemed to catch me in the act, sneaking up behind me one day. He jabbed at me; I spun around frightened, revealing the … HAIR … down there!
The shock on my brother’s face was a mixture of shock, humility, dread, and “gotcha.” This was his chance to do something so humiliating to me that he would gain such leverage that I would have to change the rules of the room. A smile stole across his face, knowing our sister had friends stay over the night before. Our sister, who called me “pizza face” because of the many pimples that started covering my face, was only two years younger than me and had friends the right age for me to like, pretty friends that I could like in that girlfriend sort of way. I began to beg: “Joe, don’t say anything. Maybe it happens to all boys. I’ll do anything you want. PLEASE, don’t tell anyone!!”
At this, he shot through the open bedroom door and dashed down the hallway toward the living room where all the girls were—and he was singing.
“Josh has hair on his balls. Josh has hair on his balls. Hair down there, hair down there.”
I had lost. It was him moment. I simply closed the bedroom door, got dressed and waited until my sister and her friends went into her bedroom, then I slinked out of the house and stayed away until they were gone. I was quiet for a long time, but the next week at school I began noticing other boys starting to grow whiskers on their face, especially one boy named David. He was like a gorilla or Sasquatch, with thick, dark hair covering his arms, legs, chest, armpits, and—thanks to gym class, we knew—his balls. He acted as if he didn’t care about the onslaught of hair blanketing him, not shaving, but letting the hair grow out on his face. Other boys stopped using David’s name, simply calling him “Hairy.”
“Hairy” continued to grow, not only the hair, but in his physique. He was athletic, especially as a wrestler, and he owned the nickname he had been given by the others of us insecure about the bodily changes we were suffering. He showed us how to embrace our coming sexual maturity, with all its increased stink, pesky acne, and hair in unusual places. “Hairy”—David—helped us take puberty better than we ever could have and I’m glad he was there to show us boys how to handle difficult times in our lives.
Joe, my brother, grew hair a few years later, too. I understood what he was going through, but I couldn’t help myself when I found out. I sang him a little song to commemorate the moment.
“Joe has hair on his balls. Joe has hair on his balls. Hair down there, hair down there.”
Read more: My Hairy David
Image courtesy of the author