Your beauty is different than most, as it starts from inside but leaks out through your eyes. It’s like a glimpse of your soul is peeking out through your smile; creating the most beautiful kind of beautiful.
As I make my way into the crowded gymnasium, the loud buzzer rings to initiate the start of the 4th quarter. My body moves slow as I attempt to tuck myself into an open seat. Every step that I take is joined by a new obstacle of a cheering fan or in this case, a nervous one.
Slowly, I make my way deeper into the sea of fans dressed in red. I used to be able to slip in and out of the crowd with ease. I would tuck my body under the railing and jump off the side of the bleachers onto my feet. Oh, but my body doesn’t work like that anymore. I find a seat, just a few uneasy fans in. My eyes press together and the score board turns from fuzzy to clear. The red digital letters read 57-54.
“Alright! The good guys are winnin,” I say while flashing thumbs up to the much younger boy beside me. He is wearing a red t-shirt that says Warriors on the front so I know we are on the same side. The boy raises his eyebrows and returns his attention back to the game.
The next few minutes of the game roll by. Each team is racing back and forth; laying their best efforts in the net at each end. Squeaking of rubber soles against the hardwood floors somehow find a way into my ear through the buzzing crowd. I remain seated the whole time, intensely watching. The spectators rise to their feet with every basket made by the boys in red. I remain seated and it feels like I’m at the floor of a never ending forest. The entire crowd on it’s feet, except me. I smile to myself as I watch the dedicated fans support their team.
At this point, the court is no longer in sight. I follow the game by reading the expressions on the fans faces. Finally I adjust my body and after a few seconds, I am among the crowd that stands on its feet. My weathered hands move together in sync with theirs as we watch the final seconds count down on the scoreboard.
Our boys in red are on defense with just a few seconds to go. We’re up by one. All we have to do is defend; no fouls, no shots. The coaches from each team are on their feet; shouting different sets of instructions. They know what they’re doing, I tell myself.
My eyes zoom in on the opposing team’s point guard. His body effortlessly moves from side to side, the ball in his hand and taking on the same motion. With a quick step, he moves past his defender and approaches the paint. Quickly he is greeted by a second defender in red. Before I can even blink, the ball is dished to an open man on the block. Just before the buzzer sounds, the tall boy on the block tosses the ball into the net. The buzzer sounds and suddenly the only voices in the gym are the ones of the other team.
The swarm of red fans fly out of the gym like a team of hornets fleeing their nest. I remain in the stands until my only neighbors are empty soda cans and half eaten boxes of popcorn.
Both teams line up and shake hands. One team smiling, the other encompassed in silence and defeat. I softly clap my hands together for both team’s tremendous efforts and watch the exchange of sportsmanship. Along with the coaches and referees, the teams disappear from the gym. Parents climb down from the opposite ends of the bleacher and chat amongst. Me? I stay seated and wait for what I like to call the fifth quarter.
Moments later, I hear the familiar sound of a bouncing basketball. The ball is jolted up, skimming the bottom of the net. The boy chases the ball down to retrieve the missed shot and tries again. He heaves the ball, his body twitching in an unknown motion. The ball ricochets against the rim and bounces back to him. Another miss. My eyes are in tune with his every motion. The boy flashes a smile to an elderly woman about my age before he takes his next shot.
I watch as the boys’s legs race after the ball. When he finally catches up with the bouncing ball, his hands struggle to find a grip. I watch as his fingers simultaneously take different directions in attempt to cup his palms around the ball. It is like his hands and arms are heading down a separate path from the rest of his body.
The rest of his body remains calm while his hands continue to experience a wave of electric shock. Again, the ball is rocketed into the sky and trickles off of the rim. He runs after the ball, his hands uncontrollable at his side.
I continue to examine the boy like I always do at the close of these games. He looks to his grandmother on the sideline and jokes with her. Admiration and pride pierce both ends of her smile. Soon I find myself smiling as well.
The boy begins to fall back into his odd, unfamiliar form. This time, he dips his lower body deeper than before. On his way back up, his arms take their course and his shot is up.
“See I was just gettin warmed up,” he shouts to his grandma while the ball falls between the smooth net. The next few minutes continue like usual. The boy struggles to grip the ball with parting fingers, dips his lower body, and sends the ball off into the sky in an unrecognizable manner.
The custodian is just a few feet away but he is busy collecting the hollow boxes of popcorn. I examine the deserted bleachers and cannot help but feel bad for all of the people that have already left. Why, it’s easy to cheer for a team of capable young boys that do not suffer from any physical restrictions. To me, there’s more to cheer for than that. Me, I’d rather cheer for this boy who will never have a chance to play in a real game. I bring my eyes back to the court, back to the boy that is hindered by the lack of coordination in his arms.
He fires up another shot, landing perfectly on his feet while his arms take off in different directions. The sound of the ball hitting the net warms me. I continue to watch as he continues to shoot the ball. Over and over again. The boy takes his form, which appears so foreign and uncontrollable. To him, it appears to be a motion that he has mastered. Shot after shot goes up. His expression, unchanged. Some shots go through the net while others bounce off the rim. The boy’s spirit remains untouched, confident in his form, and lost in complete passion.
As I make my way through the door to leave the gym, I smile at the boy. Although he never notices me, one day I’d like to tell him that I don’t start cheering until the fifth quarter.
The lump in my throat begins to swell until it finally bursts. A pulsing throb is released from my glands as my secret slips from my tongue. I choke on each syllable as I say it out loud. To actually hear my voice speak these toxic words sounds foreign. It is a voice I barely recognize but it is my own.
There it lays. My secret, projected from my tongue and now vulnerable and exposed on the floor for all to see.
“You’re gay?” her lip curls into the question mark that follows the query. Her words hang in the air as if they are being hoisted on a flag and waved across the room. My body slumps deep into the couch cushions as her express grows.
I cannot bear to reintroduce my own eyes with hers. She examines me as if I’ve just been born and she’s seeing me for the first time. This time, instead of welcoming her baby son into the world, I feel her trying to define this new specimen that sits before her.
A tear falls from my eye and finds a home on my bottom lip. What is she thinking? Did I make a mistake? Shit. She had to have seen this coming. The temperature in my cheeks climb to new heights like a hot summer day. The waves radiate, sending touches of embarrassment in my mother’s direction.
“I had no idea,” the words leave her lips as if they were poison. For a split second, my insides laugh at the irony. How did she not see this coming? I’m not exactly Mr. Jock. I imagine myself as a young boy, begging to play with my sister’s Barbie dolls. Maybe she doesn’t remember that I only played on the Volleyball team because there were no cuts.
She had to have known, I tell myself. My entire group of friends is made up of girls. There is no macho male best friend in my life where we go out in the back and work on trucks or watch Tuesday night football. I don’t even like football.
To me, it has always been obvious. In fact, for years I have felt like it’s been written across my forehead, stamped across my back only to serve as laughing material for my peers. I hear the whispers at school. Apart of me has always assumed that those whispers continued when I got home between my parents.
But she sits in front of me, shocked. Her eyes continue to appear in hollow form like she is no longer looking at me. It is like she is looking through me, past me.
As if I don’t even exist at all.
The only noise that fills the room are my racing thoughts. I wish I kept this in, buried. My mother sits idly and in silence. She sits in her favorite red chair. She tucks the blonde wisps of hair behind her ears and fidgets to get comfortable. Her legs move from crossed to tucked to crossed again. Her nerves seem to be overwhelming her.
I rewind to the seconds before I unveiled myself; when my mother saw me as her normal boy that would come home from college with his suitcase in one hand, his all American girl in the other. She has to say something. Anything.
Have I crushed her? I wish I could climb into her mind to see the horror of her thoughts, although I am sure I would want to jump right back out. Will she tell my father? What will he say?
Oh God. My father.
My mom has always been the easier of the two. When my dad would go off on me for not taking a more active role in sports, it would be my mom standing up to him in my defense. If she is not taking this well, there’s no way that he’s going to. My corner feels empty.
I wish she’d just say something. Anything. Instead, we both sit submerged in silence. We both sit; crippled and crushed.
My legs continue to rattle together and my head is bowed messily between my shoulders. I feel like I am unable to bear my face to what seems the world. But it is not the world, it is just my mother.
Even though it feels like a million set of eyes are examining me, there is only one pair staring back at me. This is just one person, I tell myself.
I say the words in my head again. This is just one person. To my surprise, these words fail in healing my new wound. Instead, it quickly escalates and in that moment I realize, yes this is just my mother. One person. For years I have played out how this conversation would unfold. And for years I pictured that with this one conversation, I would be free. Out. I imagined that once I spoke the words out loud in the comfort of our living room to my mother, the chains would be lifted, the mask removed. It never occurred to me until right now, as I stare into my mother’s vacant eyes, that this is just the beginning. This is one conversation of a million yet to be had.
“I just want you to have a good life,” her words disrupt the lingering silence. Her lips come together while her cheeks become soiled with salty tears. She clears her throat with a hard cough as if she is trying to smother all of her tears from parading from her eyes.
“I just want you to have a good life,” her words repeat themselves, “that’s all I want for you.”
Life. My mind chews the word up until it is fully digested. She is right. My life is going to be anything but normal. Coming out is not a singular act, it is a reoccurring conversation with every single person that enters a person’s life. Here I was thinking that that today would be some monumental milestone for me. What was I thinking? As if today was my Sweet 16 and I’d be gifted with a car and a crown. This is anything but sweet. This is a conversation that I better get freaking used to. This is my life.
The next few minutes are spent playing ping pong with our words. She speaks in short choppy sentences; not saying too much but at the same time not saying enough. I absorb her words, find my footing, and send my own back in her direction.
To my surprise, I feel my thoughts take flight and watch them fly through the body length windows that line the living room walls. Just seconds ago, the only thing that mattered was this conversation. Now, I can only think of the conversations that will occur outside of these four walls. I tune back into the familiar face on the love seat across from me. Her words trail off, my mind close behind.
I watch as the walls of my living room come tumbling down.I picture the cappuccino colored walls crumble into ash until they resemble coffee grounds. Where the walls of my home once sat, I now imagine them covered with posters of half naked girls and sports teams. The air smells of cheap beer and too much cologne. There is a boy who is holding a beer can. Cheap beer. Gross. He presses the can to his lips and does not come up for air until it is empty. A goofy smile splashes across his face and he looks to me for approval. His backwards hat fits tightly on top of his messy hair. His face is red and hides behind a soft beard.
“We should make a bet,” he wipes his mouth with his sleeve before he reaches for another beer, “who’s gonna be the first to bring a girl back this semester.”
He raises the beer in the air and instead of reciprocating the gesture, I am haunted by the familiar unsteady feeling in my legs. The walls of the dorm room morph back into the four walls that I’ve known for my entire life. I am tossed back into the seat I’ve never left.
I watch as my mother breaths in a hard, long sigh. She pats her hands against her knees and drags herself from the living room. As I watch the frame of her body disappear through the double doors, I let the walls close in on me again. Four walls; trapping me, taunting me to pull myself into the light or to let the walls collapse on me. I picture the boy’s face yet again, hidden under facial hair and beer goggles. How do I tell this boy, who appears to be my roommate, that I am not interested in picking up girls? I picture myself chugging the beer and choking on it to stop me from having to speak. What will he say behind my back? Faggot? Queer? He will surely tell all of his friends. I picture myself grabbing beers upon beers until I can finally talk myself into wanting the same things that he wants. Maybe I can pretend. Maybe I don’t have to tell him after all.
Is this what college will be like for me? Maybe I’ll just go to community college and commute. That way I won’t have to deal with a roommate or coming out to him. My mind continues to play tug a war with itself; launching itself back and forth until my head begins to pound. I take my hand to my temple to sooth the pain.
A sliver of light peers beneath the closet door that I feel trapped in. Somehow, I pull myself out. I picture myself in the dorm room with this boy. This time, instead of picturing myself drinking a beer and putting on a charade, I see myself as just that.
My face finds a home between two stray pillows that lay beside me on the couch. I want to yell and scream as loud as I can. Instead, my mind ejects me from this living room yet again.
The air now reeks of fresh brewed coffee and cleaning products. My shoes shine a deep black, a pair I do not recognize. A large bald man sits before me with his hand across his swollen stomach. He is wearing a black suit, freshly pressed. His deep maroon tie is tucked neatly under his jacket and his leg hangs across the other. A cheesy grin remains stamped across his face.
“Will you be bringing a special lady friend to the Holiday party?” his voice plunges into a deep tone while his eye brows take off in the opposite direction. My legs go numb again before they even return to full strength. Although my head remains between the pillows, my mind has completely left my living room. Here I am, yet again, being forced to launch myself out of darkness.
Before I can reply, I feel the seat drop me from the stiff cubicle. My mind is tossing me from one scene to the next. It’s like I am watching a movie in fast forward. As I feel my mind soaring, I am crowded by these questions, replaying each conversation over and over in my mind. I close my eyes and my fingers latch onto my hair for any type of security. With my feet pressed against the shiny hardwood floors of my mother’s living room, I just want to open my eyes and rewind.
Finally, I am back in my parent’s house. Every blink sends a strike of fear down my spine. Not knowing where my mind will take me next, I fight to close my eyes. My eyes burn as if someone is dabbing them with vinegar. After a few seconds, my mind launches me again.
I find myself sitting at our family’s dining room table. A beautiful center piece sits before me. I can tell my mother made this herself. Three empty chairs share the large, oak table. On top of the striped place mat that sits before me is an envelope. It appears to hold a wedding invitation inside.
I look down at my arms and see the hands of a middle aged man. My mature fingers slice through the envelope. The response card falls from the thick paper invitation and my eyes read the cursive words, “plus one.”
Silence fills my ears like I’ve been held under water for minutes. This time, there are no eyes staring back at me. This time, there is no pressure of having to say anything out loud.
Instead, a different feeling takes over. A feeling of surprise. My eyes fixate on my hands that appear to be worn and decorated with experience. Yet I am still coming out for the first time everyday. It is unclear who this invitation came from, but the masked feeling yet again drowns me. Will this feeling ever stop, or will it accompany me through every day of my life? It is clear to me that my life will be filled with these conversations. A row of closets to constantly escape.
I stare at the small card. Is there someone special in my life? Will I bring him with me to whoever’s wedding this may be? I see myself in black pants that are held up by a matching belt. A smooth, silk tie is draped perfectly across a sold grey dress shirt. My hair is slicked back and my arms are entwined in a strong pair in front of me. The arms pull me in until I can smell the cologne dashed across his neck. We move together to the music along side other couples. I picture us happy, drunkenly dancing and stopping to laugh. My eye wanders past our dancing feet to the rest of the crowd. Men and women paired beside us on the dance floor. Children hopping around, shoeless and on a sugar high. What will they say when they see us dancing? More importantly, how will we feel?
I picture the hands of fathers covering the children’s eyes as we sway back and forth together. Couples whispering in each other’s ears; poking fun at the two fairies on the dance floor.
I stop to picture myself again. This time, I am alone. I see myself on the same dance floor, dressed in the same sleek outfit as before. I watch myself dance idly, clapping my hands together to the beat of the song, stepping from side to side.
When I open my eyes, my head is between my legs. Puddles of sweat nestle inside of my palms. My mother places herself back in the same seat where she always sits. A soft smile now shares the cheek where her tears used to run. I can tell by looking at her that she has shared the same thoughts that I have; that she too has envisioned the same scenarios that I have. These conversations will follow me into every part of my life, no matter how old I grow to be. She knows that and now I know that.
We both know that my life will be an endless hallway of closets to escape.