The first time I saw a condom, I was digging for fake dinosaur bones. We were at a museum, and I guess someone wanted to play a sick joke—I’m still not sure why it was there, but these are the things you remember. Like the first time I heard the bomb called fuck—I thought it was a silly word that sounded like duck. I mean, I was in first grade, and I heard it while woodchips cut into my knees under a plastic pirate ship, so I couldn’t understand how it could be so bad. But then I heard it ten years later from my ex, and that bomb paired with a nice loud you? Well, it plummeted right through my ear canal and exploded somewhere near the amygdala. But all I could do was bite my bottom lip and let that freshly salted organ remind me I’m supposed to be a man.
Sometime around second grade, I stole a Dum Dum sucker by accident. It was sticking out of one of those lollipop trees at the grocery store, “cotton candy” written across it, and that uncontrollable reach of mine pocketed my favorite-ever flavor. The white stem peeked out of my cargo shorts, and my mom spotted it when she took my hand to leave. She made me go back and apologize to the cashier. I could tell that the teenaged, pizza-faced kid didn’t care, but he just shook his head and pursed his lips. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to take it in the first place, even though I hadn’t known at all. But I couldn’t logically make sense of it since the lollipop was so easy to snatch. I said my sorry and put it back, but I saw the cashier take it out of the tree and throw it in the trash. I felt guilty that day, but mostly sad it had gone to waste.
Three months later, that wasted one-night- stand hid in one of those children’s museums beneath piles of bleached, soft sand. I was in the middle of rediscovering the T-Rex. My mission, I now realize, was somewhere near Cairo, though I’m not sure that’s historically accurate, but who really knows. The kid next to me was one of those sticky hands kind of toddlers who screams and throws things too much, but I tightened my sweaty bandana, ignored that little cretin, and dug my dusty, calloused hands into the desert wasteland. If only my mother could see me now, I muttered to myself. I decided I was forty-five and hadn’t seen her since I left the States to find the truth Paleontology was missing without me, part-time agent, part-time PhD in archaeology. I tried not to spy her drinking out of the fountain in my peripherals. Full steam ahead. I found the wrapper. How did a lollipop end up in the desert? Wow, I haven’t had one of these since I was a kid in my prime. And grape! But where’s the stem? I’m sure glad no one else got to this first, and it’s gone, snatched out of my hand, and my mother was shrieking. She shook the wrapper in front of the skinny guy wearing a blue polo and nametag. His face was red, and even though I had never seen a condom before, I knew somewhere, and I saw that it wasn’t a lollipop. My heart flittered with guilt and shame that wasn’t mine, and I never made it back to Cairo.
Walking out of the museum, trailing behind my mother’s steam, I remembered the lollipop from just months before. This remembering was what I thought of the first time I bought condoms. I took them off the shelf, timid and hyper-aware, and the deepest part of me only wished to search for more T-Rex bones through artificial sand.
Celina McManus lives in St. Paul, Minnesota