The Turkish Loser

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My first semi-romantic encounter with a girl was with, hmmm, I think her name was Irem (Pronounced Eee-ram, like a computer that has gag reflex). She was kinda cute, I guess, with green eyes, olive skin and full lips, yet not the kind that I would have noticed before that fateful day. She was not necessarily the hot commodity you’d imagine dating seniors down the line, the way some of the other girls did.

I don’t remember what made her smitten with me in the first place, but I think it had something to do with shooting hoops at the schoolyard. It must have been during P.E., since I’d hardly play ball on my own time being the fat-ass that I was. It was I, Irem and someone else from my class, possibly a male. Let’s call him Buttplug.

I remember randomly hurling the ball from different spots on the field towards the hoop by myself. The spots I picked were not too close to make it look like I was cheating, yet not far enough to suffer the ridicule of not even reaching the rim.

Not that it mattered anyway, everyone else were too busy pretending their P.E. soccer game was the FIFA final or something. I don’t know if there actually is something called a FIFA final. I hate soccer so much that I’m probably the only European in the world who doesn’t get pissed off when Americans call a sport known worldwide as football after a word that sounds like it should be attributed to a person who sucks a lot of dick.

So there I was, playing by myself and whom do I see but Buttplug approaching. “Hey Ergen, do you mind if I join in?”, he probably said.

“No you can’t asshole! Every time any of you pricks cuts into my game of random-ball-hauling and tries to actually make it look like some form of basketball, I’m the one who’s always exposed as incapable of even performing the most basic physical requirements of the game! My flabby belly, which becomes fully exposed every time I attempt to jump, makes even my basic free shooting awkward at best and I don’t need you or anyone else witness that gruesome display of grotesquery!”

“I would love nothing more than sitting on the sidelines aimlessly, watching you morons run from one side of the dusty field to the other after a checkered ball until one of you alpha-male wannabe dick shiners overdosing on testosterone falls face first onto a deliciously spiky pebble knocking his eye out of his empty skull, but that loser you call a P.E. teacher told me that ‘The least I could do was shoot hoops’, so here I am. So in short, no, you can’t join the fuck in!!”

I would have loved to say all of that, I’m sure. But all I could afford at the time with a 15-year-old brain that didn’t really fancy getting its vessel beaten to a pulp during recess was to hang my head low and quietly mutter, “Yeah, sure.”

So Buttplug butted in and of course started shooting free throws right away. Great, now I had to actually pretend to know how to shoot. Not only that, I had to look like I was any good, which meant standing on one of those white lines, holding the ball at a seventy-degree angle and pretend for five seconds that I was contemplating the outcome of my free throw all the while hoping that my posture does not make me look like Margaret Hamilton in mid-melt.

After a couple of free throws where nearly all of Buttplug’s shots went in and none of mine even came close (Granted, my memory’s not exact and I’m probably making up most of this, but from what you know about me so far, do you really think I scored any points?), Buttplug brought up the dreaded one-on-one game that’s used as a horror story by parents of fat kids in order to get them to eat their broccoli. “Eat your vegetables Donny, or I’ll make you play one-on-one with the fit kids down the street”.

Just this sentence alone was enough to make you wanna punch someone or throw up: “I’m kinda tired of free throws, you wanna play a quick one-on-one?”

“What about the body that’s standing off-balance before you, with a belly that wiggles for half a minute at the slightest contact, makes you think I’d remotely consider ever playing one-on-one with a kid who’s clearly my physical superior? Does it say ‘Social Suicide Addict’ on my forehead, asshole? I’m not self-conscious enough about my body and my lack of social skills enough that I’m out to prove I suck at sports too?”

Again, I wish I said that. But the only thing I could do was to shrug and mutter, “I dunno.” Hey, at least I attempted to decline.

“Come on man”, Buttplug whined, “It’ll be quick”, as if he wasn’t talking about a quick game of basketball but a good old-fashioned 16th century beheading. “I’m not even breaking a sweat shooting free throws.”

What is it about kids who are into sports that make them so unbelievably unfulfilled with simple forms of exercise that they then have to turn everything into a competition? Couldn’t they be happy for once simply shooting the ball or kicking it around for a couple of hours and just going home? Does everything have to devolve into trying to prove how much bigger your dick is than any other male presence in the immediate area?

“I don’t know man, I’m not really good at actually playing”, I said.

“That’s alright, neither am I”, said Buttplug (Yeah, right).

He threw the ball at me. I felt lucky that I was able to catch it. “I’ll even let you start. What do you say to single points only, stop at five?”

“Sure”, I thought, “Why not make it five billion? It’s not like I’m gonna reach either number.”

I was about to give in when my savior came out of nowhere and saved my ass simply by possessing a vagina. “What are you guys doing?”, Irem asked.

“We’re about to play a game of one-on-one”, Buttplug huffed in a dismissive tone. Irem was not the cream of the “cutest girls in class” crop and therefore did not register to Buttplug as worthy of his adolescent ass kissing. I though she was cute enough. Why not? She was a female human who was breathing. That was good enough for me.

“Can I join in?”, Irem asked with the excitement of a girl who had no idea what one-on-one means.

“It’s one-on-one Irem, not two-on-one. Duh. That would be retarded”, Buttplug responded. To his credit, Buttplug made this judgment regarding the retardation factor of doing something with three people at least a couple of years before he probably discovered his dad’s porno collection and salivated upon the endless wonders of the sexual act known as a threesome.

“Oh come on. How about we play together? Me and Ergen versus you?” Irem asked. It wasn’t enough to contemplate losing zero to five but now I had to imagine losing with a girl on my team who probably played better than I did.

“Why don’t we keep doing free throws? That way Irem can join in”, I blurted out with the most amount of enthusiasm I could have mustered, which was still around the level of a depressed chipmunk. This was it, my last line of defense.

“Fuck no!” Buttblug retorted, “I’m tired of free throws!” He turned to Irem, “Why don’t you just go away and jump rope or some shit with the other girls?”

“I think she has just as much right to play with us”, I whispered under my breath. I could see Irem was flattered by the way I stood up for her. But in all honesty, I just wanted to avoid getting my ass handed to me at one-on-one. “Let’s just keep shooting free throws”, I repeated.

Buttplug looked around, realizing that the only other game he could join in at that point was actually jumping rope with the girls across the field. “Alright, whatever”, he relented. The beast was finally slain. It was time to feast upon the spoils of our kill by spending the final twenty minutes of P.E. randomly throwing a prickly brown ball in the air.

During our “game”, while I realized that a momentary flash of confidence does not miraculously improve physical agility or hand-eye coordination, I noticed that Buttplug did not let Irem shoot as much.

Did I dare take another stand against P.E. oppression and demand that Buttplug give the ball to Irem every now and then? Was this the new me, raging with confidence and ready to stand up for myself and for anyone who was clearly and openly dismissed and persecuted?

I’m sad to admit that this was not the case. In fact, my previous flicker of self-esteem was already fading by my inability to even reach the rim after attempting five throws in a row. I wasn’t going to stand my ground against anyone again for probably another ten years or so.

But that didn’t stop me from occasionally relinquishing my turn with the ball to Irem. I could already tell that she was feeling annoyed and maybe a little bit hurt by Buttplug’s dismissal of her presence. So, in order to make her feel better, and honestly have a little less time with the ball as an attempt at not digging myself deeper and deeper into b-ball loserland, I began giving the ball to Irem so she could shoot.

I remember her smile as she took the ball from me. It was a different smile; devoid of the awkward politeness of the grimaces female children of my mom’s friends would throw at my face after we’ve met, just so they wouldn’t be considered rude by their parents. I knew that none of the girls who came in contact with me before that moment actually cared about me or acknowledged my presence as a carbon-based life form.

My mom’s friends’ daughters occasionally smiled and nodded as I told them my dreams of becoming the next Spielberg (What did you expect? I was 15, it’s not like I would have dreamed of becoming the next Godard. Not that I would ever dream of becoming the next Godard ever in my life, unless I fall into a coma), but this reaction was due to the common politeness that was hammered into them by their parents at an early age and probably a little bit because they wanted to avoid being yelled at later on for being rude to their poor best friends’ fat and retarded son.

No, this was a different smile. It came from a genuine place, an innocent place, a “just-got-my-period”, adolescent place. It was even a little bit, gasp, sensual. It intimidated me, simply because I had never seen it before. If I had seen that smile anywhere years later, I would have of course immediately asked for a date and recited marriage proposals in my head, but at fifteen years of age and without any similar experience or a base level of sexual intuition to kick my ass into gear, I was frozen in place.

We kept shooting until the end of the class and went to our separate dressing rooms. Assuming this book is somehow found and is being read in the year 2335, let me explain that we didn’t have unisex dressing rooms in junior high school in the early 1990s. Oh, and extreme curling was not the universal sport yet.

As for Buttplug, this is probably the last time you’ll see him mentioned. Since I can’t remember who he actually was, I can’t look into what happened to him. Even if he somehow re-appears later on, he’ll have his real name attached to him, as opposed to the one I made up on the spot.

I didn’t think much about that P.E. class for the following couple of days. But one day in class, while we were waiting for the French Grammar teacher with the mole hair so long it actually curled into an ampersand, the following happened, I shit you not:

You see, for some reason I was sitting at the desk in front of Irem’s. I don’t think anyone was sitting next to me, which I think had something to do with no one in French class being anorexic enough to fit into the 10-inch space left open on the desk otherwise occupied by my bulbous ass.

In Turkey, school desks seat two students as opposed to the luxurious single-student desks you Americans take for granted instead of thanking your chosen deity every day for not having to feel some other dude’s thigh for six hours a day.

Although there were some advantages to the dual-seating setup, which came in the form of unisex seating. If you were lucky, your one accidental leg brush with another girl during biology class could provide you with a hundred and twenty five separate fantasies for your fervent adolescent masturbatory sessions and before you know it, your mother’s losing her mind because she can’t figure out why she has to replace the mega box of Kleenex every two days.

Anyway, back to my first public choking after a moment no one in the known universe could see coming. I think a girl was sitting next to Irem when this historic event took place. I wish I had something akin to the Zapruder film to fully examine every frame of this equally tragic incident so I could know where everyone was sitting in what positions at the exact moment of impact.

I know it sounds distasteful and colossally disproportionate to associate my first real sexually-charged encounter with a member of the opposite sex and my subsequent disappointment and self-loathing to that one time in 1963 when a much-beloved American president permanently misplaced his brain matter by forceful means.

But the way I see it, Kennedy fucked Marilyn Monroe while he was married to Jackie O. If I had even a tiny bit of that action, I wouldn’t feel so bitter about my skull taking an unscheduled vacation from the rest of my noggin.

I don’t remember the name of the girl who was sitting next to Irem at the time. For the sake of the story’s continuity, let’s say her name was Cherry and she looked like Jodie Foster with a broken nose.

Wait a second, I remember now, it wasn’t a girl. It was a pretty boy named Hakan (Pronounced “Hai-khan”, like a sound a five-year-old makes while playing karate). He was a nice kid with short blonde hair and at least a couple of girls had massive crushes on him. Anyway, replace Hakan in your minds with the random girl I made up a second ago. I’m too lazy to go back and edit.

I remember Hakan and Irem were gossiping about who likes who. “I think Shitface likes Blubberbutt”, Hakan whispered in Irem’s ear. This one’s for the idiot reader: The names are not real. They’re not changed to protect the innocent either. I would love nothing more than exposing the junior-high crushes of people I haven’t seen in decades, I just can’t remember who they were talking about.

“Really?”, Irem replied with wide eyes, “Sure, why not?”, Hakan nodded enthusiastically.

“I never thought Shitface would go for Blubberbutt!” Irem said. Meanwhile, I was obviously listening in on the conversation with my body turned to Irem and Hakan. I wasn’t contributing much since I had no idea who else liked who.

Irem checked to make sure that no one else was around to hear and whispered in Hakan’s ear, “Don’t tell her I told you this because she’ll kill me but, Carbontaint totally has a crush on you.”

“Oh yeah, I know”, Hakan replied with confidence.

“You do!?”, Irem said, “How!?”

Hakan showcased his face, “Isn’t it obvious?”, he gloated. Dick.

Irem mock-slapped Hakan, “You asshole!”

Then, there was a moment of silence. And just like that, Irem said, “I don’t know about all that, but I’m totally smitten with Ergen.”

“Smitten” is the closest translation I can think of that sufficiently articulates the word she actually used in Turkish. The literal translation is something akin to “I’m finished for him”, which sounds like a girl munching on the rest of her boyfriend’s half-eaten sandwich, or the way a beginning ESL student would probably describe what it’s like to give a hand job.

I can remember the moment as if it happened in slow motion, as if Irem carefully choreographed it for days beforehand. Irem turned to face me directly mid-sentence and stared deep into my eyes as if she was trying to see into my doomed soul. Between “totally” and “Ergen”, she managed to turn her body language from a casual conversation to embodying the supreme junior-high seductress of Turkish-French high schools.

Half a second after Irem finished her bold declaration, Hakan did a double take to make sure he heard Irem right. Granted, she was near the bottom of the female barrel as far as outer beauty was concerned, which was all boys cared about back then, but she was “smitten” with me?

The fat movie nerd who no one, male or female, was friends with? Who, up until a couple of years ago used to wet his pants, who was so below the bottom of the barrel in the class’ male cuteness scale that it was a sacrilege punishable by guillotine to even utter the word “barrel” in his presence? That fucking guy?

“That fucking guy?”, I’m sure Hakan was thinking as he turned to also stare deep into my eyes to find a clue, any clue, as to why any female being would find me remotely attractive. I wasn’t even part of the conversation a minute ago and now I found myself suddenly stared at like those paranoid moments from the original Twilight Zone when our hapless protagonist finally realizes he really is being watched by an army of mysterious aliens.

Mind you, all of this happened within the course of a couple of seconds. But the soul-crushingly awkward silence that followed felt like it took forever and a half. In reality, it was probably around thirty seconds.

There they were, staring at me. Irem, with that sincere smile on her face, waiting for some kind of reciprocation for her affection and Hakan, still trying to decode the mystery of the sometimes-attractive nerd.

For the entirety of the thirty seconds, Irem kept staring into my eyes without breaking her smile. She didn’t say a single word, as if she was an actress who just delivered her line perfectly and was now awkwardly waiting for her scene partner, yours truly, to go on with the show. The trouble was, I was stuck, and I didn’t have a stage whisperer to remind me what my next line was supposed to be.

The show unceremoniously halted, the audience disappointed, the payoff non-existent. A heckler from decades into the future yelled, “You choked! You choker! You fucking, cock sucking, useless choker! One moment of cowardly silence and you will remember this failure for the rest of your life!” The curtain fell down with a thud. The audience jeered. The show was over, whether we liked it or not.

So I just stared back at her, terrified of what to say or what to do, while Hakan’s look of disdain turned into abject pity as he tried desperately to use all of his facial muscles to coax me into saying something, anything: “Say something, you asshole. She just said she likes you. Tell her you like her too. Ask her out on a date. Fuck it, say ‘Gaga gugu.’ Just open your mouth and let any sound escape!”

Yet I couldn’t move, let alone speak. So the moment, which I though at the time was endless, came to pass, and the French grammar teacher with the extra facial hair, who was an evil woman in her early thirties, entered the class as if depressing the pause button on my life. Things turned back to normal speed and life continued the way it did before.

I turned back around to face the white board but I could see at the corner of my eye that Irem was dumbfounded and disappointed. There she was, taking a huge chance to open up to someone who didn’t frankly deserve her mild interest in front of one of the most popular and loud-mouthed kids in our class. I can’t even begin to describe the size of balls it must have taken to say what she said.

And what did I do in response? Absolutely nothing. I just sat there, choking like an prize-winning idiot.

So what the hell happened there? Why didn’t I say nor do anything? It certainly was a sign from nature for me to kick-start my young adult romance phase. You know, the first infatuation, the first romantic connection with another human being, the first date. It certainly would have saved on tons of therapy bills if my first ever date happened when I was fifteen, instead of the god I don’t believe in knows when?

What, she wasn’t my type? I was fat, socially awkward, wore thick glasses and spent my free time analyzing Star Wars and Raiders of The Lost Ark. Any breathing humanoid female was my type. It’s not like I was beating thousands of other offers with a stick.

So why did I choke? Why didn’t a voice in my head scream “SHE LIKES YOU, SHE ACTUALLY LIKES YOU! JUMP ON THIS, RIGHT NOW!!” It’s like someone offered me a glass of water in the middle of the desert and I just, walked away without saying anything.

And no, the conversation never came up again. I didn’t get a second chance with her. Maybe if I was smart enough to approach her after class or sometime soon after her confession and apologized, told her that I liked her too, that maybe we should go see a movie over the weekend, this disaster could have been recovered. But no, that would be the sensible thing to do.

Instead, I cowered back into my cave of distractions that dulled me into never having to face my own low self-worth, which were my vast movie collection and the occasional short stories I would scribble during recess and sometimes during class.

Even fucking emo and goth kids who can’t stand life and want to kill themselves get laid at thirteen now. Imagine how dark and hopeless my worldview was during my early teenage years knowing that I was destined to spend them utterly alone.

Irem didn’t bring the disaster up again either. Why should she have? She did her part, with utmost bravura I might add, and she got a big giant block of nothing in return. If I were in her place, I wouldn’t have even spit on my shadow.

Apparently, Hakan never spoke of that moment to anyone else. He probably thought my reaction to Irem was so unnatural that maybe he thought even saying a word about it to anyone would cause a crack in the space-time continuum.

The only other time it was even remotely referenced was a couple of weeks after the incident. I was forced into a basketball game when the other boys could not find a single other life form within a two-mile radius to even out the teams. The rules of peer pressure, which applied to me tenfold due to my innate desperation to make at least one friend within school grounds, stated that I couldn’t refuse.

Of course I knew I was picked simply as filler. An unspoken agreement was made between my teammates and I that not much athletic prowess was to be expected from me.

I just basically stood near the back of the court when my team was in offense and pretended to defend the basket by randomly flailing my arms in the air five feet away from whoever had the ball at the time when my team was in defense. The game continued along in this fashion. Then, something miraculous happened:

One of the boys from the opposing team tripped and dropped the ball, which bounced a couple of inches away from me. All I had to do was to stretch my palms outward and by some stroke of luck, I had the ball square in my hands. I immediately panicked and looked around me for clues as to what to do next. All of the boys in my team yelled, “Run Ergen, run to the basket!”

I could see the opposing team run up to me in slow motion, like a Spartan army with acne problems. I could see a clear line to the basket and just like that, I ran. I was repeating in my mind, over and over, “You can do this! Just run towards the pole! Keep dribbling the ball, do not get too excited and forget to dribble the ball!”

I got my body as close to the basket as possible to actually make the shot, which in my case was about two feet away from the hoop. I took a quick breath, aligned my body fat to the trajectory of the hoop the best I could and took a shot. The ball went straight over the hoop and landed on the other side.

While I expected someone from the other team to snatch the ball right away, I looked around to notice that everyone was waiting for me to make the next move. “Come on Ergen”, one of the boys said, “You can do this”.

I took my cue, immediately ran over to the other side of the basket and grabbed the ball. I spun around, took a breath and threw the ball in the air. Again, it flew over the hoop and landed on the opposite side. Great, all these years of not even being able to reach the hole and now my newfound enthusiasm was causing me to overshoot.

I looked around to see that the boys were still enthusiastically waiting for me to make that shot. So I ran around again and threw the ball, with a lot less force this time. It barely reached the rim and bounced off. I grabbed it again and took another shot, no luck. I tried again, and again, and finally, I gave up.

Fully exasperated, I handed the ball over to one of the boys on the other team. “I give up”, I exhaled, as if they didn’t get the point from my “forever loser” stance. For a moment, everyone looked at each other with the sadness and pity of witnessing a crippled kitten trying its best to crawl across a table to drink spoiled milk.

Thankfully, the sadness of the moment didn’t last as one of the boys noticed a group of girls strutting by the field. Irem was among them, hidden behind the cute girls as the ugly duckling of their clique. In order to break the tension, one of the boys immediately ran over to harass the girls.

Their reaction to my pathetic attempt at scoring a point had made them feel like actual human beings with the ability to empathize, and that just couldn’t do. They had to find a way to drag themselves back to assholeland as quickly as possible. The other boys followed the original harasser as if they were all hive-minded.

One of the boys shouted, “Hey girls, you wanna play a quick game?”

“Get lost creep”, the cutest girl in the group and therefore their unofficial spokesperson, huffed to the boy.

The boy held one hand behind his back while still dribbling. “I’ll just use one hand”, he said.

“Yeah, right”, another girl scoffed, “Like you do alone in your bedroom with the lights out?” The other girls snickered.

There was something really endearing about the way girls romanticized male masturbation back then, and in a way some of them still do in adult life. Back then, the fact that they even occasionally made references to boys playing with themselves blew our minds. I mean, how did they know we did that?

Us boys, on the other hand, never talked about or even thought about the remote possibility of girls our age pleasuring themselves in nearly the same grotesque fashion we did. For us, girls were unattainable objects searing the very depths of our raging libidos, tormenting us with full knowledge that we needed them desperately in fear of otherwise turning into either serial rapists or Catholic priests.

Knowing this, I think the mere thought of them not only feeling a smidgen of similar desires but actually acting on those desires by rubbing their nether regions against the Hello Kitty pillow their daddies bought them as a present for their eighth birthday would have caused our heads to literally explode. So no, I didn’t even consciously accept the possibility of girls doing the solitary pink taco tango until way later in my teens and even then, I wish I could forget it even existed.

Making myself believe straight women thinking of sex as nothing more than an icky-yucky act of procreation was the only way I could delude myself into explaining why I failed with them sexually for the first two and a half decades of my life, therefore I was able to simply function as a human being on a day-to-day basis.

As I mentioned before I lost myself in the fantastic world of pillow-humping, the fact that girls in junior high actually thought there was some kind of a semi-respectful tradition and routine to the way we stroked ourselves was really cute to us because we all knew firsthand that any form of dignity and self-respect did not enter the equation when it came time for boys to tame the one-eyed beast.

When she joked about that boy masturbating, in that girl’s mind, boys masturbated by lying in bed, covering the blanket snugly over their bodies, maybe even lighting a candle or two, and calmly proceeding to pleasure themselves.

When in reality we would simply grab onto our dicks anytime and anywhere we could find a couple of minutes to be alone and pull on them hard and fast, as if we were seconds away from dying of starvation and that last bit of semen was our only form of nutrition to live another day.

More than often we did this standing up, lights fully on, usually in front of the toilet, hunched over as if we suffered from a crippling hump and dripping gallons of sweat onto the toilet seat while shaking like a banshee in heat. Not very romantic, is it?

So when the popular girl tried the risqué jacking-off comeback on the boy in order to embarrass him and make him leave her and her friends alone, it didn’t work, since we knew what we really did, and it wasn’t what she so innocently described.

So the boys wouldn’t have it. They kept blocking the girls’ path and kept fucking with them. One of the boys began showing off with the ball, performing the kinds of elementary tricks that everyone else thought was lame, but probably seemed like Harlem Globetrotter material to him.

“What’s the matter girls? Pussy?”, The Globetrotter said. He was probably whistling that iconic tune in his head.

“God, leave us the hell alone”, another cute girl retorted.

Remember what I said about the powers of peer pressure applying ten fold in my case? The same went for joining in with the pack at any opportunity that pushed me to believe they might actually take me in as part of their circle.

So I jumped in there with the pack of wolves, taunting the sheep. I didn’t have the ball, but I joined in with the group of boys who were howling at the girls and laughing. I did my best to fit in as a testosterone-ridden asshole.

Finally, we reached the end of the field and we let the girls go. That was when, while the girls went on their way and we stayed behind, Irem turned her head slightly in order to look at me.

“I don’t like you anymore”, she said.

She turned back around and went on her way. That was the last time I heard anything about what originally transpired between us. I don’t think we even said more than a couple of words to each other after that moment until the end of school.

After I left that school, I don’t know what happened to Irem, but I truly hope she got “smitten” with a nice boy who actually could find the strength in himself to operate his facial muscles in order to say something back.

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