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Fiction Gay Coming of Age

Dunn tugboated his way around the convention center parking lot. He passed tons of available spaces and was equally oblivious and accepting of the daze that had seized him. He was having difficulty re-framing his son’s participation in the Best Bagger Competition as something to be proud of. It messed up his ability to park, he wasn’t in the right headspace to make decisions. His dad friend’s had kids that were all doing cooler activities than his son, West. One dad friend in his orbit had a kid that was the starting tight end on the football team, another played the guitar, and there were others too that did things like skateboard, or be good at golf. Dunn didn't understand his son, and he wasn’t ’sure of the connection he wanted from him. What was he supposed to get out of the relationship? The question is often hard for parents of teenagers to answer. 

Dunn slipped into a slight psychosis and saw a woman grow a black tail from underneath her skirt. She was just walking to the convention center and then, bang, something in his mind put a tail on her. He shook his head to snap out of it, the tail disappeared and all that was left were available parking spaces. Parking lots always look weird when they’re a quarter full, something about all the open space, it was like a plate with no food on it. It made him wonder where all the people were - not at the event his son was participating in. 

The National Grocer’s Association didn’t have the same draw as the Monster Jam - that was the last time Dunn attended an event at the convention center, with West for the Monster Jam. He remembered his excitement vanishing when he looked at West and saw he didn’t give a crap about Grave Digger smashing cars. Dunn felt ashamed, it reminded him of when he was a child and his dad would take him to airshows. Little Dunn didn’t care about airplanes, he wanted to be a soccer star. Dunn let out a sigh and parked the car. His son wanted to be the Best Bagger, he should respect that. 

Knowing many years are a losing battle - that’s parenting. Dunn stopped being an active parent in his son’s life when West turned fourteen. Two things happened that year; Dunn formed a habit to (legal) cannabis, and West started puberty. The years that followed were a blur of Dunn wondering if he’d become a stoner and him being told by West that he, "didn't get it." “It” meant everything. Dunn had somehow become removed from his son's life, but at that moment none of what happened before mattered - West was a senior in high school and he was moving out soon - that’s what was important. Dunn was the category of father who got his points from just showing up. He wasn’t always willing to participate, hell, half the time he was high out of his mind on edibles, but at least he wasn’t a no show. To hell with understanding your kids, just show your support.

He texted West, “Hey. I’m here.” 

****

West was nervous all morning. Ten rows in front of him was the stage where the tables and the groceries were, where the competition would take place. He still couldn’t believe that the Best Bagger competition was even a thing, but he loved it. It was quirky, it was something different and new, it put people in a good mood, and it helped him get attention at work. Of course, he had nerves because he’d be competing, but it wasn’t the competition that was creating the butterflies in his stomach, it was the pledge he made to himself to be himself. He was coming out. 

West was done existing with split personalities; acting one way in front of his parents and another way in front of his friends and co-workers. The competition was always about more than bagging, it was an opportunity for him to show everyone in attendance who he was and to be proud while doing it. He planned to have his mom there too - his dad never looked like he belonged anywhere without her by his side - but even without her, West was going to push on. He wore make-up and had glitter on his face. For the first time, he didn’t give a damn that his dad would see, he wanted him to see, and everyone else too. He needed this to happen before he left for college, his parents had to know. He texted his dad back.

The convention center was buzzing with people, but West ignored the sponsored booths, which were packed full. Who could blame the guests that lined up in long rows? Lays, Pepsi, Tropicana, all the big names were there. It felt like West’s Olympics. He tried to visualize the day to see if he could imagine himself winning. Instead, he just analyzed the stage in front of him. It was set up with at least eight foldable tables (to mimic check stands) that had bag racks on the end of them. Atop their granite colored plastic surface were thirty-eight commonly used groceries, glimmering at him like gold. The winner of the Best Bagger competition was the person who won the most points. There were thirty points in total that a contestant could win and they were broken down into categories; speed (10 points), Technique (10 points), Distribution of weight (5 points), and Style (5 points). The winner not only got the title of Best Bagger, but ten thousand dollars. West leaned into the fantasy of winning and then going home - he and his dad entering the door together, happy. There would already be a chunk of weight off his shoulders, he would already be feeling good, and then he’d tell his mom that he was gay and the weight would disappear entirely and he would feel even better. Then, he’d tell her he’d also won ten thousand dollars. His dad and mom would cheer for him. It would be the perfect coming out story. 

****

Dunn put eye drops in and then looked at himself in the scratched mirror of the convention center bathroom. Men were peeing in the metal trough behind him. He didn’t look high, but he was lit up. From the bottom right of the mirror, he saw a black tail start to uncurl itself and rise towards his elbow. He quickly left the bathroom. Sometimes he liked being paranoid when he was high, it made him feel alive. The issue with it though was that when Dunn was paranoid he wasn’t entirely sure of what was real or not. He slithered through the crowd towards his son thinking about how this event might be one of the last solo things he does with West before he goes to college. He felt guilty for not making more of an effort to spend time with his son. His wife, Sheryl, was always peppering him to support West, telling him to, “just try.”Dunn moved like cattle being shepherded through the slaughter line. He wanted to support his son but the sea of people wearing multi-colored polos and matching five-panel hats and aprons didn't appeal to him. 

When Dunn saw West and walked up to him he felt like he was floating, like a puppet being walked on strings. West was surrounded by three other people, who were all wearing the same hat. Dunn deduced they were his son’s coworkers. His face started to flush as he thought about how miserable it was going to be if he had to watch the competition with them. He didn’t get high to socialize. 

Sparkles were dancing off West’s cheeks as he introduced Dunn to all of his coworkers. West’s manager, whose name Dunn immediately forgot, talked about West as if he was going to be working as a bagger in the store for several years. It left a poor taste in Dunn’s mouth. He wished he had gum. Yet, West seemed not to notice his repulsion at all. There was a certain quality in his son that Dunn had never spotted before. West’s posture was more confident and his movements were more expressive than usual. There was something playful yet provocative about him. In addition, Dunn saw that he not only had sparkles on his face but was wearing make-up too. He wondered if they did up all the contestants in this way. The production value of the competition exceeded his expectations. He didn't know how much of what he was seeing was real. 

At a lull in the conversation, out of fear of confronting an awaked silence, Dunn asked every question he could think of about the point system and other aspects of the competition. Towards the end, when he was nearly depleted of questions, he gestured to a pint of ice cream, one of the thirty-eight items on the table, and asked his son, “You think that’s real ice cream? Can’t be, right? It would all melt.” 

****

West stood on stage astonished that his dad hadn’t said anything to him of any substance. He knew his dad noticed a difference in him, he could see it in his eyes, but it was always hard to get a read on his father, who reacted to everything with a slight delay. West squinted his eyes and looked for his friends in the crowd. His opponent, an Asian woman probably ten years older than him with a smile as big as half a pita, was doing the same. It struck him then just how crazy it was that he was there, on stage, for a bagging competition. The emcee went over the rules like it was a boxing match. West spotted his father through the bright lights, he was doing strange things with his face. West thought of how little his dad could be trusted when his mom wasn’t there. Dunn was opening his eyes as wide as he could and then closing them again. West watched him do it three times in a row. It was like his dad was in complete disbelief at what he was seeing. West wondered if he was witnessing the aftermath of his dad’s realization that he was gay. He felt a sense of regret for being himself in front of his father. Maybe his dad hadn’t said anything because it was too much to process.

West heard his co-workers shout, “West is the best!” and “Stay fierce West!” The longer he could stay in the competition, the more time his dad would have to process. West wanted to give his dad that gift to try to make things right. He wanted to come off stage, with a ten thousand dollar check, into the arms of his accepting father. He wanted to win. He wanted his dad to tell him he loved him.

The emcee welcomed two judges to the stage and announced them to the audience. West glanced at his opponent, she was still smiling as wide as anyone ever could. 

“Good luck!” She said. 

“Good luck.” 

The judge began counting down.

****

Dunn watched what happened on stage incredulously. West wasn’t acting like his son, he was a caricature of himself. He watched his son like he was playing a vaguely feminine version of himself. With every grocery that he picked up and put away, there was a certain flare. He could only reason that it was an attempt to gain points in the ‘Style’ category. 

He saw the black tails rise from behind audience members' shoulders and then curl over the backs of their heads and sway. It’s called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder. The edibles were too strong. It’d happened to him a couple of times before; flashbacks. If he learned anything from the previous experiences it was that he couldn’t trust any of what was unfolding in front of him. Dunn was standing alone in the crowd but West’s co-workers weren’t too far away and he could hear them shouting at his son. He thought he heard them say, “You go girl!” Dunn shook his head to try to snap out of it. 

West won the first event and in doing so Dunn realized his son had a talent for bagging. He seemed to beat the first opponent with ease. In the second round, Dunn watched much more closely. Everything his son was doing was calculated, there was a strategy to his performance that surprised Dunn. West had multiple bags open at once so he could start to fill them all up at the same time. West’s opponent was only bagging one at a time but doing it incredibly fast. Turning back to his son, he could have sworn that his eyebrows were freshly plucked. He’d never noticed that before. It was like his son was existing in another world. 

The majority of the groceries were bagged about forty-five seconds in. Dunn thought there was a chance his son could win, then West ripped his bag with the edge of a penne box. The groceries came spilling out. His son didn’t get past the second round.

**** 

As soon as the bag ripped, all West thought about was the exchange he was going to have with his father. The competition was only a vehicle for him to come out. He wanted his parents to see that he could be who he was with pride. He hoped his dad could see that. 

His friends embraced him first. They told him how good of a job he did. How it isn’t all about the win and how fun it was to watch him up there. He chatted with them for a few moments before walking to his dad, who didn’t offer a hug. 

“Nice work up there.” His dad said. 

“Would have liked to have done better.” West said. 

“Look…” His dad stopped and rubbed the back of his neck. West could feel the moment coming - his dad had something to say. Whatever was to happen next was going to be part of his coming out story. 

“Yea?” West urged him. 

“I never really understood you until now, and now that I came here and I watched you. I get it.” His dad took a breath. West felt tears forming in the back of his eyes and an anvil in his throat. His dad continued, “I never thought there was talent in bagging but I see why you like it. You showed talent up there. I get it now. I’m proud of you.”

West’s heart sank. His dad was clueless, somehow he ignored every single sign that West tried to show. He retreated inside of himself. He’d have to try again another day in another way. He wouldn’t rely on signs next time, he’d tell them. He'd make sure his mom was there. 

“Ok?” His dad asked. He seemed to want West’s stamp of approval. 

“Ok.” West conceded. 

****

Dunn got in the car and immediately searched the glove box for some gum, which he quickly found. This was what he did - he placed things in bag pockets, and cases like a dog burying a bone, exactly for these moments. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror and thought about how old he was. He looked older than he had this morning. He got down on himself. Then, he looked away from the rearview and out towards the people walking around the parking lot. He expected to see some more black tails but he didn’t. Instead, he saw a father and son, around the same age as him and West, who seemed so engaged with one another. There was a pang inside of him just then. He had a strange feeling that he’d done something wrong. He shook his head. He showed up, he reassured himself. He was at the event. That’s more than other fathers. 

****

West was in his car holding his phone. He half thought he should call his mom and tell her right then that he was gay. He wanted to cry, but it felt so damn cliche that instead he just chuckled. The anvil in his throat never left and each subdued laugh hurt a little. Still, it was all he could do. His coming out wasn’t what he wanted it to be. He had never considered that his dad wouldn’t be able to read the signs. 

Instead of calling his mom, he called his friend, Becky. He went to her house and told her everything that happened. He was upset at first, but she helped him understand that in the scheme of things it didn’t matter. She said, “Parents just suck sometimes.” Eventually, he calmed down and they smoked pot. He started to distance himself from the happenings of the day and once he was high he changed the subject to his future. He told Becky how excited he was to move away. All he wanted was to move away. 

January 29, 2021 21:41

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7 comments

Correen Robinson
11:40 Feb 01, 2021

Nicely told story with the use of two different characters at the same event but with contrasting views. I hadn't thought of bagging being a hobby someone might have in the past so that adds to the novelty, I also liked the way the characters progressed.

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Angel {Readsy}
05:43 Apr 06, 2021

You are Professional having potentials and strength in writing

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Scott Skinner
03:13 Apr 08, 2021

Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words.

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Angel {Readsy}
23:51 Apr 22, 2021

Kindly read my story I need to talk to a fairy

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Ari Berri
16:39 Feb 04, 2021

This story is awesome. One suggestion, though: Break it into more paragraphs. It'll make it easier to read. Great job!

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Scott Skinner
15:05 Feb 06, 2021

Thanks for the feedback!

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Ari Berri
16:12 Feb 06, 2021

No problem.

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