"Pass the salt for me, would you?" Pop jerks his chin in my direction during dinner. He never really looks at me. He always makes short glances or looks past me, as if he could see right through me.
He only looks at me when I play for my school's basketball team and win a game or a scout finds me and refers me to their school. Now he's too busy looking at the muted TV in the living room that was brightly broadcasting pro basketball stats.
"So, what'd you do with your night out yesterday?" I didn't know Pops knew I went out last night. He must've seen the car out of the garage when he woke up exceptionally early to watch the Jackets play.
I pass him the salt shaker -he had yet to look me in the eye- and picture myself answering his question honestly. “Hung out with Javier, the guy I'm in love with. Yes, Pops. I said guy. No Pop, I'm not joking. He's a college freshman at Grambling, the college I really want to go to despite your udderless efforts. He does a little modeling on the side. You know, if you met him, I think you'd really like him.” Then Pops looks me dead in the eye and passes out, possibly of shock or a heart attack.
I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't either. That's how all of my conversations with Pops end in my imagination. "I just needed some air. I drove around for a while," I say instead.
I'm not ashamed of Javier. I wish I could tell everyone I know about him. Just walk down the street, knock on every door, and yell in everyone's faces, including the occasional dog I come across. It's just complicated right now.
I didn't realize I could feel so strongly about a guy until I met him. Yes, I've been suspecting for a while now, since I was eleven actually, but I buried those thoughts and feelings as far down as I could. I'm a Southern guy with dreams and the intuition for an NBA career, and being gay is not how I'm supposed to be wired.
I remember when I was thirteen, I had a crush on a guy. His name was Christopher and he was built like a masterpiece. I walked up to him -Big Momma said I put my “big boy pants” on- and told him that I thought he was cute. I still cannot etch the look of his face when I told him from my memory.
He laughed in my face and told all his other friends. Somehow they’d gotten my number and sent threats to me. I remember crawling into Big Momma's arms, her holding me as tight as she could, and crying while telling her about it. The next day, she took me to the phone store and bought me a brand new phone.
The next day when I went to school, I had forgotten about the new phone and left it in my desk. The day after that, Christopher took me aside in the hallway and showed me my phone. He called me a bad word and smashed my phone on the ground; grinded it with his heel.
I was taught that wasn’t the way. To be gay, I mean. My family always said: "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." They always told me these feelings came straight from the devil. So I packed it down with hopes that one day I could be brave enough to stand up to them.
Of course, I've told others about Javier, but I always left out the part about being in love with him. I can't admit that to anyone yet. I can't tell anyone that it's not just a phase and I'm not experimenting. It's not a distraction caused by stress. It's real.
Big Momma was right all along. Last year, I had a girlfriend and her name was Breonna. We met on a field trip and we were forced to sit next to each other. She was really nice and I grew fond of her. The next thing we knew, we rushed into a relationship, and it was the greatest thing I could've ever had.
But I didn’t get butterflies in my stomach when she texts. When she called in the middle of the night because she wanted to talk to someone, I didn't feel the exhilaration of doing something I knew I shouldn't be doing. When I was with her, I didn't feel like the air had been sucked right out of my lungs.
When I told Big Momma, she told me that she saw the way I looked at Breonna, that I wasn't in love with her. I thought about Javier and how he made me feel. How understanding he was, then I knew. I was in love with him.
But me-and-Javier only exists when we are alone. Moving it to the public scares me half to death. It's bad enough I'm fighting to be in the league as a regular guy. Adding black and gay to that only makes it worse.
And I know Pop won’t like it. I just know it! My heart stops every time I think about what he would say if I told him. He's one of the "Christian people" who call gay people "faggots". Every time we see a gay couple on TV, he rolls his eyes in disgust and talks about how normal people shouldn't have to go through this. Whatever this is.
If I tell him about Javier and me, the seventeen years of being the picture-perfect son would be picked up, shredded, taped back together, and thrown in the garbage disposal. He'd never look at me the same way again.
I look from Pop to the TV. It was playing a game between the Knicks and the Mavericks. So far, the Knicks had kept a ten-point lead for the majority of the game, and now they were up by 2, but Anthony Hamilton from the Mavericks team crossed over DeAndre Fielder on the Knicks and scored a three-pointer right as the shot clock timed to say the game was over. Just like that, the Mavericks won the game.
Maybe my life is more like a basketball game. One moment, you're winning the game, confident you'll come on top, then one wrong move can make you lose the whole game entirely.
Just then, my phone tings from my pocket. The text reads: I know you don’t know who I am but I know about your predicament with Javier. Download this app.
I excuse myself from the table and set off to my room. I make sure to close the door behind me to drown out any of Pop’s shouting at the basketball game. I can’t think with all the noise. Who just texted me? How do they know about me and Javier? Who else knows?
The text is an external link so I click on it. The app’s name is BeBrave and there’s writing below the name. It says: “Are you struggling coming out of the closet? It’s ok. I know it must be hard for you. That’s what we’re here for. We want to help you get closure, so that you can live a happy life. All you need to do is be brave!”
What? Be brave? What does that even mean? Just then, a pop-up pictured appeared. It was a big smiling face, similar to an emoji, that pointed both hands at itself and it says Click me!
So, I clicked the smiling face. There was a fillable form. It asked for my name, gender, sexuality, age, phone number. It asked when I found out about my sexuality, if I had a lover, who is my lover, and worse of all, who I wanted to talk to about it. The options ranged from friend, to parent, to great grandparent.
I wonder if this is the right decision. Should I really fill this out? I don’t really think this is the right time. What if Pop kicks me out of the house? Where would I go? If this message is really getting sent to the person, what would it say?
I fill out the basic information and pause at “send to”. Who should I send it to? Big Momma already knows about Javier, so who do I want to tell? I can barely hear Pops except a faint muffled yelling. And in the drop down menu, I press “Father” and hit submit.