Coming of Age Gay LGBTQ+

As a child, I wasn’t sure what constituted a good kid. I kept to myself in gentle hobbies of coloring and reading, keeping to mild mannered behavior. I was not a bad kid, but calling me a good one seemed too far a stretch, as though it weren’t an earned title. Most adults simply thought me shy, a bit too quiet for a growing boy. I thought them right. It seemed to me that adults had the sense of it all, and I’d gathered in my limited mind that my mother was the smartest lady to walk the planet. A woman from Mexico emigrated to America with a less than stellar education and a poor understanding of English, she knew far less than I’d envisioned. When it came to me, she knew next to nothing at all. 

I was a small and anxious early 2000’s boy with curled hair that frizzed at its lack of care, for no one really knew how to deal with it. The curly hair praise wouldn’t take off until nearly 2017. Its soft bounce was butchered before long, often brushed and shaved into a taper to make less of a nuisance to manage. I suppose then began the frequent forced changes—unsightly, relentless adaptations. Being less of a nuisance remained the point of highest priority.  

Mom had little to lean on in America save her faith, and lean she did. She dragged my sister and I to church every chance she could, though I rarely mustered the strength to stay awake. There were available classes catered to children, but I refused to leave her side, insisting I stay for the adult’s sermons. Being around strangers my age felt terrifying, and trudging through their questions and forced companionship was a battle best left unfought.

Mom would give a quiet sigh, strongly encouraging I join the other children in the bible classes on the other side of the church, but my protests continued. Her expression would give, and she’d allow me to stay, under the condition that I remained alert. Try as I might, my head would bob before long and I’d slump over, the preacher’s words lulling me away with stories of morality and burning punishment.

Mom tolerated this until she met a kind faced man at church, one who would turn my stepfather come few months’ time. He disapproved of my blatant disrespect, the audacity of my seven-year-old mind’s rebellion, and so I could persuade her to let me stay no longer. In my eyes, she had chosen the side of a man over her son’s. To my dismay, it wouldn’t be the last time.

The bible children were far too excitable and God loving for my comfort. I felt foreign, plopped onto an island with nothing but my throbbing anxieties. I couldn’t stand being forced into something. One might say that’s the playing field of every child, but for me it was an especially immense pain. The forced socializing served a purpose that I couldn’t quite fulfill. Mom wanted a pious, sociable son. A son who played, talked, and prayed and would make her life just a little bit easier. Mom wanted someone normal. She’d made a point to state this often, and I’d so badly wanted to deliver. I found it impossible.

By fifth grade, my social stamina had not grown much further. I had good friends, of course, but none that felt appropriate to Mom. None of them were boys, and so none of them fulfilled the social quota. She’d ask why I had no male friends and I wasn’t sure what to offer in response. Boys wanted to drag each other around and have pushing contests in fields of dirt, while girls wanted to make mud pies and magic potions. Boys did not easily approach me, while girls popped up on end with eager eyes and quick offers of friendship. Possibly most important, boys would grow into men, like the father who hurt Mom, like the stepfather who fed into the idea that I was difficult. For me it was a no brainer, but it proved difficult to express the difference to an adult. It was unbelievably difficult for me to express most things to Mom.

The day before the first of fifth grade, we were encouraged to come up to the school to meet our teachers. Upon arriving, mom ran into an old friend of hers whose son was also enrolled in my class. Mom had looked after the both of us when we were still babies, so in a sense we had already met. Our mothers were friends, so perhaps we could be friends as well. Somehow the circumstances made things feel easier. We were introduced, the both of us reluctant, but willing to speak further come the first day of class. My lack of male friends made this exciting, but terrifying still.

His name was Reuben, and he was a tall boy, taller than any I’d ever seen. His hair fell around his face in jet black swishes. It looked much softer than whatever was sitting atop my own head. His face was delicate, though still boyish. I envied him and the way he carried himself. He was confident and agreeable, things that made me unsure of what he saw in me as a friend. Still, he stuck to me like glue, and for reasons I couldn’t fathom, my heart stirred.

One night during a sleepover, Reuben turned to me excitedly and asked if I liked any girls in class.

“I think I like Maritza,” he said. He stared expectantly.

“I don’t think I like anyone. I’ve never thought about it.”

“Really? I’m sure someone likes you though.”

“Why would they?”

“Someone has to! You’re the best guy I know.” He turned away, digging into his pizza. The innocence of it hurt in recollection. Something within me sank with his words. Soon enough, I understood the monumental difference in his friendship and the ones I’d had with all the girls prior. Regardless of understanding, I could not process.

Mom’s plan had backfired in the most awful of ways. Were she to find out, she’d become furious, I was sure of it. I drowned myself in guilt, and come sixth grade, a whole new world of stress and insecurity, I could bear no more of it. I pushed Reuben away, changed middle schools, and ate away at myself. The dryness of my hair started to flake at my scalp, and I scratched at it. I itched and I itched, using the pain to cope with my lack of normality. I looked a disaster. Mom worried of the target on my back. Her son, a quiet boy with odd mannerisms and dandruff and an extreme lack of charisma, out for the world to tear apart if he didn’t know how to fight back. She forced me into self-defense classes.

I cried at the first meeting, and the second, perhaps even the third. I’d expressed so clearly my disdain for karate. Being made to gather around others and kick and shout and find an inner strength that was so beyond me I writhed within myself at being forced to grasp it. I started skipping the meetings altogether. My Mom and stepdad would drop me off and I’d enter the facility, only to exit a mere two minutes later and hideaway next to a building across the street. It was hot in my karate uniform, a solid black from head to toe. I sat and I waited forty minutes underneath a tree, texting my mom when I was finished with my lesson so I could walk back towards the front of the self defense center, feigning having been there the entire time.

This was my game every Wednesday and Thursday of every week in the summer months following seventh grade. The jig was up when Mom dropped me off then looped back around to give me a piece of gear I’d forgotten. She texted me that she was outside of the facility, waiting to hand me my sparring gloves. My stomach hit the floor as I walked up to her van, clearly coming from across the street and not the self defense center she was parked in front of. She was fuming, her face with the redness of hell.

“I pay fifteen dollars a month for you to not even go to the classes?! What do you think you’re doing, making me look like a fool! Why didn’t you just talk to me, why can’t you be normal!”

I sobbed in the backseat, yelling back at her for the very first time. “I told you I didn’t want to go! I told you every day, but you don’t listen to me! You never listen to what I say!”

She remained quiet; her lips pursed. We rode all the way home in a heavy silence. That night she had a fight with my stepfather about withdrawing me from the karate classes. My shoulders drooped with fatigue, but my chest tingled. I wiggled myself free, if only just the smallest bit.

I could do little to placate my Mom in the coming years, but in that moment I’d found a small voice of sorts. Something to fight back with. I could be anxious and depressed, a mess of a human lacking in social skills and afraid of the world, a man who liked other men, who colored his hair and applied blush to his cheeks and who disappointed his mother from the age of seven, but that was all fine. I could not be made to become something I was not. I would not be made to satisfy an insatiable woman’s standards of normalcy, drilled into her by our culture.

I am just me, and from now until forever that would unmistakably prove more than enough.

July 16, 2021 23:45

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