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THAT American Pie


The first thing that parents are supposed to tell their children when they’re getting a divorce is that it isn’t the kid’s fault. Because it’s not, generally speaking. 

This way, the child doesn’t think that they were responsible for the breakup. Yeah, but, well, in this story, that’s not exactly the case.


This time, it was. Kind of. But Kyle’s parents didn’t know that it was his fault. And they never will, because he’s taking this secret to the grave.

It was the summer of 1999, the time when Britney Spears graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a polka-dot satin bikini and a pink phone and everyone freaked out. It was the summer that the Blair Witch Project had every conspiracy theorist everywhere in an absolute frenzy and marketing companies wringing their hands in pure jealousy. And everyone freaked out. It was the summer that Apple released their futuristic-looking iBook and Christina Aguilera debuted her Genie In A Bottle single and Lit’s My Own Worst Enemy dominated the FM radio waves. It was the summer that Napster debuted and taught us all how to steal IP from the comfort of our family rooms on a desktop computer over dial-up internet. It was also the summer that American Pie was released into theaters, making a certain dessert a constant joke amongst the general population. And, again, everyone freaked out.

Kyle was immune to none of this pop culture.

He lived in the suburbs of New Jersey, surrounded by extended family, summers at the beach, and committed to his school work just enough to keep the teachers and his parents mostly off of his back. What Kyle lacked in sheer academic determination, he made up for being a problem solver. He was the one that his friends called to help them figure their way out of sticky situations. And Kyle had the time.  His dad, Nick,  wasn’t around too much.

Nick drove a truck for a local shipping and logistics company and spent much of his week on the road traversing the tri-state area. Kyle’s mom, Katie,  was a paralegal at a firm downtown. She also worked a lot. Even though she hated her office. Her dream was to open up her own bakery. But there was never the time or the extra funds to take on such an uncertain endeavor. So everyone in the household kept their heads down, and did their thing, not complaining but obviously not particularly fulfilled or happy. This meant that Kyle was free to spend the majority of his after-school afternoons running around the neighborhood with the other latch-key kids.

Now, his parents were good people. Kyle always felt taken care of and loved, but there was something about the energy in the house that he didn’t really want to be around. His parents didn’t fight like some of his friends or cousins, but they also didn’t seem particularly enamored with each other. But Kyle didn’t know any differently. So, when he got his driver's license the week before school got out, he poured every cent of his savings into a ‘93 Ford Explorer and felt like the coolest kid on the block.

He piled his friends in and drove everyone to the beach. They went for burgers and shakes and tried their fake IDs at every liquor store on the shore. They honked at girls in bathing suits in the parking lot and blasted the latest Chili Peppers album on repeat from a Discman plugged into the car via an auxiliary cable purchased from the local Radio Shack. Those were the days. Kyle felt on top of the world. He had everything going for him that summer: nice friends, a cool car, and a job at Wildwood Golf Course as a well-liked caddy, there was just one glaring hole in his life: he didn't have a girlfriend. 

It wasn’t that Kyle was totally awkward. He just didn’t have an awesome example at home of how guys and girls were supposed to relate to each other romantically and he found himself friend-zoned as a rule, well before that phrase existed. Kyle was the classic case of the ‘nice guy.’ When his buds would couple up with sunburned girls in Rainbow flip-flops on the beach as the sun sunk below the ocean, Kyle was the one left stoking the bonfire. He would watch Lisa, with her crimped red hair and freckles, giggle with her other girlfriends and wonder what it would be like to put his arm around her at the movie theater. But Kyle just didn’t have the cajones to make a move. And he doesn’t grow them during this story.

It was maybe the second Saturday in August and it was a torrential downpour. The boardwalk shops boarded up as if they were expecting the apocalypse, the lights dark on the amusement park, and the only sign of life was the neon emanating from the 50s dinner that was now full of soggy and whiny tourists grumbling over their giant pancakes and shitty coffee.

Every group of golfers on Kyle’s roster had canceled long before the course officially shut down for the day due to the thunder clapping across the opaque New Jersey sky. 

This Saturday was the first day of the entire summer that Kyle found himself with absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to be, and nowhere exciting to go.

He was mulling over his open calendar to himself over a bowl of Kellog’s Corn Pops at the kitchen table when his father came in looking the worse for wear. Sometimes there were unexpected road closures or truck troubles or workers showing up late to the unloading dock. He felt for his dad. Nick seemed bored. Like he was just craving something else. He was a literary aficionado and vocal about his regret of having never gone to college which was the reason he was tough on Kyle to work a little harder in school. Nick raised one eyebrow at the rain, poured himself a cup of steaming black coffee, said an awkward hello to Katie who was mixing up God knows what over the stove,  and tossed down an audiobook of The Great Gatsby onto the kitchen table.

“A classic,” he exhaled as he sat next to his son.

“We read that Freshman year, it was ok.” Kyle crunched down on his mouthful of cereal.

“Ok?” Nick winced as the hot liquid burned the middle of his tongue, “Just ok? I don't know, maybe try the audiobook, it’s really well done. It just transports you to another world.”

“Oh Nick, give him a break,” Katie called from her sugar-pouring, “it’s his summer break. These kids work too hard all year anyway.”

Nick clearly wasn’t thrilled with this particular response. He pushed the plastic disk case across the Formica table, closer to his only son’s cereal bowl,

“Just try it,”

“Ok, Dad.” Kyle shoveled the last of his breakfast into his mouth, anxious to throw his bowl into the dishwasher and escape the tense kitchen, no matter how good it smelled. Seeing his mom bake always threw Kyle into an emotional conundrum. Katie always looked so happy in her gingham apron, sprinkled with flour, but he could practically taste her sadness in every bite. She hated working in an office. She hated the endless documents that forced thicker and thicker glasses on her face every single year. She hated the uncomfortable shoes and the recirculated frigid air conditioning that she swore gave her a constant sore throat. It was the opposite of how she felt in her kitchen. Katie always looked so comfortable, so relaxed, so in her element frosting neighbor’s cakes or perfecting the giant cookie recipe.

“Gotta go,” Kyle gave his mom a quick peck on the cheek,

“Where are you off to?” Katie asked, looking up from her measuring spoon. Kyle glanced out the window. Where could he go? He certainly wasn’t going to stay home. The only place to hang out and get out of the rain was the mall. Oh, right, the mall.

“Going to see a movie,” and before anyone could ask any questions, Kyle was out the door, in his red Explorer, and pulling up at his buddy Simon’s house. He ran through the downpour, up the porch steps, and rang the bell because his parents agreed on one thing: manners, and Kyle would have rather shoved a safety pin through his eyeball than be caught honking in someone’s driveway.  

Simon was always game for anything. He was the one who set the firecrackers off under the boardwalk in middle school, who made fake IDS for his friends in high school, and who got caught in what he thought was a brilliant scam of selling one hotel’s bicycles to another hotel. Nick and Katie had often voiced their concerns that Simon was a bad influence, but, as so often is the case in childhood friendships, Kyle didn’t see it. Simon was just always looking for an opportunity to have some fun. And he was totally down for a mall trip and a flick. They dialed the 1-800 number for Movie Fone to get the showtimes. There was something new playing for the matinee. A film that they’d heard a bunch about but hadn’t had a chance to see. A high school movie that was supposed to be hilarious with a hot young blonde actress named Tara Reid. Yep, it was American Pie, and the boys arrived early to buy tickets and popcorn after unceremoniously blowing twenty bucks on the new Golden Tee game at the neighboring arcade. 

The movie did not disappoint. The boys laughed so hard that blue Icees shot painfully out of their noses in the same consistency that it went down. And that was before the famous scene with Jason Biggs. Afterwards, Kyle and Simon wandered the mall afterward, kind of half-assing the looking for girls. Simon was single too. He might have had big dreams and ambitions and was practically an apprentice member of the mob, but his ears stuck out three inches from his head and he bore an uncanny resemblance to the mascot of the Big Boy restaurants with his freckles and giant teeth. Eventually, he would grow into these features but, at this point in time, they were simply a teenage curse. So the two virgins lapped the mall with its polished brick floors, past PacSun and Borders, and sat in the massage chairs at The Sharper Image until the manager suggested that they leave. Neither wanted to go home but the rain was still emptying from the sky like the deluge shower in science class and there really wasn’t much to do. Kyle dropped Simon off and headed back to his place. And that's when the Teenage Gods Of Coincidence seemed to be watching our dear protagonist.

Because, what was sitting on the stove to cool when he got home? We shit you not, it was an apple pie.

Now, Kyle wishes that he took at least as much time as Jason Biggs did contemplating his next move but, well, he didn’t. He didn’t think of the aftermath or the consequences or consider any important details when he took that warm pie with his two hands and ran it right up to his bedroom. With his Levis around his ankles, he felt a literal surge of excitement and then had to cover his own mouth from screaming in pain. Because, one of the details he forgot to consider was the temperature. If the pie had felt comfortingly warm on the outside, it was much, MUCH warmer on the inside.

So yes, listeners, he burned the shit out of his cock. There were four places where the skin turned a frightening shade of purple and that would take well into the new school year to heal. It was the most pain poor Kyle had ever known. And Kyle hadn’t considered the fallout. There was the pie, not quite as mangled as the prop in the movie, but it was inedible nonetheless. So, he went into survival mode, much like he saw Sean Penn do the last time he went to the movies to see The Thin Red Line.

Because let's not forget, if Kyle was anything, he was a problem solver.

He needed an ice pack. And a pie. And some burn cream...maybe not in that order. Luckily for Kyle, he had a car and knew how to get to the grocery store. Limping through the bakery section, Kyle ducked and dodged and shielded his eyes from two of his mother’s friends and put a similarly-sized pie in his basket. With two tubes of hydrocortisone cream and a Snickers bar to cheer him up, Kyle walked into the 12 Items or Less checkout line only to bump directly into cute Lisa with her crumpled red hair and adorable nose. She was wearing a Champion hoodie and cutoff shorts that showed a whole new population of sun-browned freckles that sprouted up over the summer. Her baseball hat was worn on the edges, the way that Kyle loved for his own Mets cap, and she held a basketful of s’mores ingredients.

“Hey Kyle, not much to do, so we thought we’d make these in the fireplace. How’s your summer been?”

Kyle didn’t know what to say. The pain shooting up from his nether regions certainly showed in his own blushing face, he was sure of it. Could she see the cream in his basket? And had she seen the Jason Biggs movie and the apple pie on his person was a dead giveaway to his entire ordeal? If there had been a rocketship in aisle six with no guaranteed return to Earth, poor Kyle would have jumped on it right then and there with no questions asked. But there was no such ship. Luckily, there was an annoyed checkout girl who was clearly called into work on her day off and was not happy about it.

“Will that be check or charge?” called Little Miss Irritation from behind the conveyor belt.

Saved, thought Kyle. 

“Oh, just grabbing some stuff for my mom,” he managed to utter as Lisa pulled a nylon wallet out of her purse, “she’s super particular. Like, I have to get exactly what she wants or she gets super mad.”

“Well, that’s nice of you,” Lisa shrugged, putting her hand out for her change. She grabbed her paper bag and looked over her shoulder. Even her shoulder was adorable to Kyle.

“So, see ya around.”

Somehow, Kyle made it home. He pulled out the apple pie, placed it on the stove, threw away the box, hid up in his room with a Ziploc bag full of ice cubes, and slathered himself with the cream. He was just beginning to feel the right amount of numbness in the right places, when he heard both of his parents arrive back home from wherever they’d gone, and start to argue.

“I thought that’s what you were doing this morning,” Kyle could hear his dad’s voice echoing up the stairs, 

“I was. You were here. You saw it. I was making a pie.”

“This is from ShopRite. The box is right here in the rubbish.”

Oh shit. Thought Kyle,  Shit shit shit shit fuck a duck.

In his pain, he hadn’t thought to properly discard the evidence. Like a real Bozo. Dammit dammit dammit. He felt a knot form in his stomach which was a brief respite from the discomfort a few inches below.

“Why are you trying to start something? You know that baking is the only thing that makes me happy.”

“Oh, that’s the only thing?” Kyle could hear the irritation saturating both of their voices. And the argument continued. It escalated. It was angry and sad and long, long overdue.

Now, Kyle could probably have come clean. It would have been embarrassing, humiliating even, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He hid up in his room for the rest of the night, not even coming down for dinner which he was sure wasn’t happening anyway. 

It wasn’t long before his dad moved out and got an apartment closer to the city. But things didn’t go downhill. They got better.

His dad immediately enrolled at night school and got the degree, and a new girlfriend who wrote an advice column for the local newspaper. Nick’s furrowed brow relaxed for the first time in almost two decades. One would have thought that he got a bunch of Botox, but, no, he was just kinda happy.  

Kyle's mom began working on the weekends in the bakery across from the library and eventually had a busy enough side gig making celebration cakes that she scaled back her work at the law office to part-time. It was the right move. And the ex-couple remained cordial. They stood by each other at graduations, weddings, and funerals. There wasn’t much that was off-limits conversation-wise. Except for one thing, pie. Whenever the story of the baked dessert came of topic, both Katie and Nick would press their lips in a hard line, roll their eyes, but, if you knew them well, you would know that they each wanted to break the other’s toe. It was and is a serious point of contention. 

Does Kyle feel guilty? Is the secret weighing on him like an anchor holding down a fishing boat in the local marina? Honestly, sometimes. But he’s taking the story to his grave. After sharing with us, totally anonymously, now in his 40s, Kyle says that the only other person that he would dream of telling, under the most perfect circumstances, would be the one human on Earth who could possibly understand. Lisa? No. His parents? No. He's never met this person, who, of course, would be the one and only Jason Biggs from American Pie.

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