Confucius said, “if you choose a career that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I didn’t become a nurse because I like to help people. I didn’t become a nurse because I have an affinity for keeping cool in hectic situations or because I have a preference for soft-soled shoes with solid instep support. I became a nurse because it seemed like the most obvious transition after practically consuming anatomy books throughout my adolescence. To say that I was fixated would be an understatement. There were times when I wanted to peel the images from the glossy pages, drape them over my forearms like perfectly formed crepes, and carry them daintily to the solace of my bedroom where I could consume them still warm from the pan.
No, I didn’t enjoy anatomy book drawings like every other adolescent boy “enjoys” them—as if that isn’t the euphemism of the year—I mean, their ultimate purpose was by-proxy masturbation material of course, but not in the way you think. You see, I didn’t use the illustrations to view naked bodies. I used them to investigate. To formulate. To plan.
Sure, maybe it all stems from that somewhat traumatic incident when I was about eight and the babysitter was curled up on the couch, watching The Exorcist on HBO. I needed to pee, so I crawled out of my bed and crept down the hall in my Ninja Turtle footie pajamas and did my business. For whatever reason, I chose not to return straight to bed; instead, I padded further down the hall and tip-toed into the shag-rugged living room, pitch dark save for the strobing alien glow of the television. It was just my good fortune that the scene that was playing on the screen was the one where Ellen Burstyn is trapped in her daughter’s bedroom, furniture sliding along the floors and blocking the exits, while Linda Blair hacks away at her hoo-ha with the business end of a crucifix. I froze, completely transfixed by what was going on. And then Linda’s head turned in a way I had never seen a head turn. It was as if all of the joints and cartilage and muscle and bone in her body had melted. In that moment, I realized: there was nothing keeping a human body from becoming a life-sized Stretch Armstrong.
The funny thing is, the creepy back-bending spider walk scene wasn’t reintroduced by William Friedkin until the movie was rereleased in 2000. I can’t fathom what kind of effect that scene would’ve had on my sexual identity.
After that night, I became obsessed. I needed to know every detail of the human skeletal and muscular system. I dumped all of my GI Joes into a big pile on my bedroom floor and spent hours trying to bend them into yoga poses even the Kama Sutra would frown upon. Zarana and Zanzibar were my favorites, and looking back now, I can see why: unlike most of the hero Joes, those villains were half-naked, clothed in what I, a now rational and somewhat worldly adult, can only describe as “daddy bondage wear.” Zanzibar, with his swarthy eye patch, midlife crisis ponytail, and brown and silver codpiece, sported a ripped orange t-shirt like a bizarre fetish club stripper. Zarana, the decidedly more butch of the two, wore ripped jeans, a pink halter, and elbow-length leather gloves. The red knee pads draped over the tops of her boots are a detail crystalized in my memory, one that immediately came to mind when Samantha, my rich, blonde, dumb-as-rocks girlfriend in high school, decided to deliver a special present for my sixteenth birthday but insisted on kneeling on the throw pillows from her parents’ Sunpan Modern Bugatti grain leather sofa while doing it.
I spent hours, more likely months, of my tween years trying to bend Zanzibar and Zarana and their merry band of Tom Savini Sex-Machine-costume inspired action figures into human pretzels. After my father took me kite flying on Wells Beach one summer, I swiped the spool of string and repurposed it as fixing rope, manipulating tiny Joe bodies into contortionist tableaus. After weeks of careful, systematic stretching, I managed to turn Zanzibar’s head completely around until he was a fortune teller in Dante’s Inferno, forever doomed to look only behind himself and tickle his silver skull pendant with the tip of his hair. Unfortunately for Zarana, though, I became too impatient, and frustrated after weeks of trying to make her elbows entwine behind her back, she broke in two, her torso spilling a dried-out black rubber band and her splayed legs held together only by a tiny metal hook.
Twenty-five years later, I still have her legs. Sometimes I think about attaching an ornament hook to them and hanging them somewhere out of sight on the town’s Christmas tree, but that might give the police a clue to my identity, and it’s best not to be reckless after what I’ve done lately.