We Should Hang Out Sometime (Embarrassingly, a True Story)
by Josh Sundquist
When I went to graduate school, I left Earth for Mars. What I actually did was leave Mars for Earth, but that’s not how it seemed at the time. I assumed, as I think most young people do, that everyone in my culture did things in an objectively normal way, so I could leave Brigham Young University wearing my Martian clothes and go on being my 21-year-old celibate, non-drinking Martian self in a Writing Program. (Feel free to laugh hysterically if you’ve been to any writing programs or any colleges where people drink alcohol at parties and sleep together.)
It’s true that I ran into a few tiny problems right off, one of them being that it’s not normal on Planet Graduate School to believe any of the things I believed about mating rituals. During week one of a class in literary theory, the instructor wanted all of us to write down four synonyms for “male.”
SO EASY! I wrote down my four words and waited while everyone else wrote his or her words, and around the room we went, saying them aloud.
Honestly, a lot of those words could not be spoken on the planet where I grew up. A pretty popular choice rhymed with mucker. There were a lot of bastards and sons-of-bitches. Who have these poor women been hanging out with? I thought.
Then it was my turn, so I said, “Um . . . Dude. Fellow. Gentleman. Boy.”
Based on the discussion that followed, none of these women thought, Wow, I would really like to date an alien from your planet! Instead, a good number of them thought, O how deluded Long-haired Martian Woman is from her lifetime of brainwashing by the patriarchy.
I’ve been on Earth a long time now, and it's only possible to detect that I'm a Martian by birth in six or seven ways, such as my impulse to bring baked goods instead of wine to a party, but sometimes I meet a person or read a book that reminds me fondly of the years I spent in high school and college among men like Josh Sundquist--courtly, sweet, self-deprecating, and intensely honorable in their search for the kind of love that could never be called hooking up.
This is Josh's book:
And this is his author photo:
Sundquist begins his memoir with the paragraph, “When I was twenty-five years old, it came to my attention that I had never had a girlfriend. At the time, I was actually under the impression that I was in a relationship, so as you can imagine, this bit of news came as something of a shock.”
Are you noting Sundquist’s age in this statement? Twenty-five? I think we can agree that this is similar to what someone approximately ten years younger than Sundquist would say on Earth, so you may think, as I did, What planet is this person from where he can still talk about girlfriends in this virginal way at 25? Is it perchance in the Christian Galaxy?
Yes, but please stay on the line even if you hate that galaxy. Stay on the line even if you especially hate and cannot imagine being born upon Planet Christian Homeschool. There is one more factor you must know, and it’s large. “Josh Sundquist,” says the jacket flap, “is a Paralympic ski racer and cancer survivor.”
When Josh was nine, he got cancer, which he survived, but his leg was amputated from the hip down. This meant that he did not become the type of amputee who could run and play sports with a prosthesis on. He became a hip disartic, which means the leg doesn’t swing through fast enough to permit running.
“For most types of athletic activities, I would take my leg off and run with my crutches, or set my crutches down and hop. I was faster and more agile without the leg. But I was also more self-conscious, and with the crutches, I didn’t have my hands free to, say, carry a plate of food. Which is why I would wear my leg to the dining hall for dinner, and why I planned to wear it to all nonathletic social activities during the retreat.”
That’s how Josh spent his time at camp and in the public high school he had to beg his conservative parents to let him attend: trying to figure out, in the most recessive way possible, when to wear his leg, how to carry a cafeteria tray, how to talk to girls, how to make new friends, all the while following his personal rules:
It’s no surprise to me that this would make dating, which is one of the hardest things anyone does on any planet, even more complicated, but what's endearing about Josh is that he was surprised. The memoir has a quirky, comic, and somewhat excruciating aim: Josh will find all his old girlfriends and/or crushes and see what they remember about dating him. He'll describe what he thinks went wrong, and ask what they think. Sprinkled throughout these cheerfully painful examinations are a series of droll graphs:
I can’t overstate how much I love the graphs in this book, which takes the reader from Josh’s eighth grade crush, Sarah Stevens, to a Miss America contestant named Sasha.
Funny as it is, the book takes the reader deep into the heart of a question that's relevant on all planets, whether or not you are disabled, whether or not your parents tried to keep you from seeing any movies or drinking or sleeping with someone before you were joined at the altar, and that question never quite goes away:
Can anyone love me the way that I am?
Although Josh makes fun of his predicament from the very beginning, in graph after charming graph, this is a man who lost his leg at the hip when he was nine. He is so doggedly optimistic as he lives through and reports on his years of romantic forays--never be a burden, never be different—that he never admits to himself until the very end the insecurity behind the book's "investigation." His real question is the big one: fate or self-determination? Specifically, in his case, can I be a normal guy, not an object of pity, despite losing a leg to cancer? If I pretend it’s no big deal, will it not be a big deal?
“I would have considered my investigation successful,” he says, “if one or two of the girls had told me they didn’t want to date me because I was an amputee.” He’s 25, and this has been his condition for all of the years when he and everyone else on Mars and Earth were lusting and were lusted after. “I was insecure,” he admits. “It made me feel inferior. I had not wanted to admit that there was an element of my disability I had yet to overcome, so I concocted this investigation to find some other explanation.”
At this point in Josh’s book, the whole larky, madcap aspect to it, the oh, ha ha this is how nerdy and sheltered I was in middle school, so I’m going to hold the microphone up to these girls and ask why didn’t they didn’t like me! vaporizes. Josh’s plight becomes: can anyone just think I'm normal?
I don’t want to ruin the book for you, but would it ruin the book for you if I told you that of course someone could? This is a comic memoir, after all, and I think you should read it right now.
Books by Tom and Laura McNeal