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2004-07-16 - 1:21 p.m.

One morning, I stumbled out of sleep in my girlfriend’s bed. I wasn’t jolted awake, just fluttered my eyes open for a moment, drifting back, usually just to return a yawn later. I’ve spent entire Sunday mornings in this ritual, waking up languidly every hour, and then passing back out in the span of a minute or so.

The light coming in through the slats on her window shade shot at my eyes, my lids slamming closed to stop the dilation. I curled the pillow closer to me, and prepared to leap back into my dream, one where I was dueling a ballet company intent on auditing my various holdings in the Caiman Islands.

My girlfriend was sitting at the edge of the bed, talking to a friend on her cell phone. My rules when it came to cell phone use dictated no one call me on weekend mornings before at least two in the afternoon. She did not live by these rules, planning lunches, dinners, drinking festivals, shopping trips, and excursions to political protests, at the earliest of hours.

I don’t know if she knew I was asleep. She was usually pretty keen, and any attempts at faking after a fight were interrupted by a quick shin kick.

“I know you’re not asleep, babe.”

Still, she held to the theory that when I was out, I was OUT, and nothing would disturb me. (I once slept through a marching band practice going on outside her window.)

I had no intention of eaves dropping, as I assumed this was a private conversation. I just wanted to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t help but hear her words drift in as I tightened into a fetal position.

On the phone was her friend, waking beside her beau, who I assume was equally in the throws of sloth. They discussed lunch plans and someone’s birthday, before turning the conversation to the interlopers under their duvets.

“Have you ever watched him sleep?”

“Murmur, murmur, murmur.”

“It’s so strange.”

“Murmur, murmur, murmur.”

“He looks like a little boy.”

“Excited Murmur, murmur, murmur.”

“They’re the men who support us during the day, but they put their head down on a pillow, and they look like little boys.”

In my state, midway between consciousness and a one-handed push-up battle with the prima ballerina, I couldn’t process any of that, but I remembered it.

I remember feeling disconcerted. Not because I apparently looked like a little boy. Between hugging the pillow, curling into a ball, or nuzzling myself into the dip between the bed and the wall, I may as well have been wearing footie pajamas.

What struck me was “men.” Man. I couldn’t say if I’d ever looked in the mirror and seen a man. Mostly because I don’t know what one is. I’m sure having a little salt and pepper in the hair, or a good discount at a movie house is pretty solid grounds that you’ve graduated from the boy scouts, but where the line fell…no clue.

I didn’t feel any more a man when I gained the right to buy pornography, nor when I could stroll up to a bar and order whiskey without sweating. Sex, my first real job, my first real apartment, none of these events seemed to welcome me in either.

I’m not sure how it works. Being Catholic you could point to confirmation, but it doesn’t have the same kind of, “Welp. Yer all growns up now, kid…” feel to it that a Barmitzfa does. Anyway, I refused to get confirmed. I guess you could point to that as a corner turned, but a decision that feels like equal parts defense of values, and random rebellion, doesn’t seem like my proudest moment.

I envy women in this respect. Declaring yourself a woman seems to feel as if you are taking your rightful place beside your sisters in a self-assured generation destined to wrench the respect they so richly deserve from a formerly corrupt world. Being a woman seems to entail some level of togetherness. Being a man seems to demand the added phrase, a man apart.

A man isn’t ordinary. He isn’t common. The title has to be earned.

Lying on my couch, curled into the crease between the cushions feeling scared, it doesn’t feel like I’ve made the grade quite yet. In fact, I’m certain the woman who formerly handed me that title would insist I hadn’t.

What makes a man?

One theory is the willingness to honestly ask that question.

Another is the attempt to answer it.

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