The First Time I Said No



Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

NO ONE WARNED ME that being young, thin, and decent looking could be very intoxicating. No one warned that without some kind of control, some kind of grounding, you can go down a very dark path, and end up in a bad place. That’s exactly what happened to me: I ended up lost and have been trying to find my way back since.

By the end of my senior year of high school in Jeannette, PA, I was young, thin and cute. Growing up, I was the token chubby kid. I wore husky size pants, panicking when it came time for shirts and skins in gym glass. I was never seen without a shirt on.

Jump ahead to college, the year I turned 20, when I was heavily into alcohol. Vodka, easy. Drink it until you get sick, then move onto the next. Can you drink enough Slo Gin to get sick? Yes. You can. Then you get to throw up a nice red color and wonder if you are bleeding until you remember, through your drunken haze, that you are drunk. No need to panic yet. Whiskey, beer, gin, anything you could think of. If it had alcohol, it was my friend.

I was going through sexual partners the same as alcohol. Well, “partners” isn’t exactly the appropriate word. Can they be partners if you don’t remember their names, or even knew their names in the first place? There were one or two longer term guys and the occasional woman, but they always seemed to leave.

Some of them were drunken hook ups in the college dorms, some took place on the edge of the river in the small college town where I was spectacularly failing at getting a college degree. Some were conquests. It didn’t matter. I didn’t know how to say no to anyone, nor did I want to. They wanted me. I wanted them.

After my sophomore year, the year I was put on academic probation, and ended up in Greenville, South Carolina for the summer. I found a job at the local mall, the Haywood Mall, as a shoe repair person, a wannabe cobbler. It was a skill that I never put on a resume. We were the fast food of shoe repair. The title of the store even had minute in it. Shoes repaired while you wait. The sole comes loose? No problem, we could fix it. But no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t fix my soul. I wasn’t sure I had one.

During this time, I also found out that Greenville had a very active gay crowd. There were two bars in town. One was for the public. The one I found my way into was private. When I found out about it, I called them on the phone, told them I was from out of town and asked if I could come by. They said they were exclusive. They said they would have a guest pass at the front door for me. I joined that night. I guess exclusive meant you like dick.

Over the summer, I found a group of friends. None of them seemed to like each other much, but they were united in sleeping with me. I was a sure thing. If they asked me to sleep with them, the word no would not leave my mouth.

This was my summer life: days as a cobbler, nights as a clubber.

I was hired at the same time as a young man named Scott. Scott was very southern. He had the accent, the charm, and the large belt buckle. He graduated high school and was proud of it. He was good looking, and vaguely looked like Oats from Hall and Oats. Our shifts overlapped. He would show up, I would smile and ask him questions about how his life was going, how his day was, getting to know him.

We would eventually have to pass a test to get our certification as cobblers. There was only room for one full-time employee, so by the end of summer, only one would be left with a job. That didn’t bother me much in that I intended to go back home and complete what would be my last semester before being asked to leave for good by the college.

Scott eventually found out about my evening activities. I’m not sure how; I never told him. He never asked. But he didn’t care. He had a few questions, but that was the end of it.

We studied together for the test in our free time, usually in my weekly rate motel room. During one of these study sessions, Scott said that he was curious about sex with a man and wanted me to help him satisfy his curiosity. My sex addicted, alcohol-soaked mind listened to him talk. I thought about our talks and how he shared his hope for marriage and children. He had a girlfriend.

I put a hand on his cheek. He leaned into it. I leaned in to him and kissed him gently on the cheek. He didn’t pull away.

I told him no. I told him I was flattered that he would choose me as his experiment. I told him if we fooled around, I would fall in love with him and not be able to stop myself. I also told him that it could get messy with his girlfriend if she found out. I kissed him a second time, this time on the lips and asked him if he felt anything. He said not really. I was okay with it.

We pulled back. Promises were made. Words were passed. Nothing happened—just a kiss between a couple of friends. Maybe his questions were answered.

The summer ended, I quit, and Scott passed the test. The day I left, Scott and I hugged for longer than I expected.

Eventually, I told someone about that summer and he dubbed me “The Sex Demon Shoe Cobbler of South Carolina.” I smiled when I heard the title. I wasn’t quite the demon. I did say no once.


Jon King is a part time writer and full time lab manager from Pittsburgh, PA.  He has been writing “Life on the Limb” for The Citizen for far longer than he wants to think about. A proud bisexual man, when he isn’t working, he spends his time volunteering for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and watching way too many super hero movies.


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