Saturday, April 2, 2011


    Andrew was sitting in his bedroom, stunned, practically paralyzed with fear, when he heard his father’s truck pull into the driveway.  He heard the back door creak open and shut...and then the chair slide along the kitchen floor as keys jangled against the table.  He could hear his mother’s quivering voice but couldn’t make out what she was saying. 
    Of course, he knew exactly what she was saying.  She was telling his father that she had walked in on Andrew with his best friend Clem that afternoon.  She was no doubt sobbing and sniveling as she recounted how she’d dropped the laundry basket when she stepped in to find Andrew with his mouth full, sitting on his bed facing Clem, whose pants were around his ankles and whose hand was wrapped around the back of Andrew’s neck.  She was probably managing to somehow make the whole thing about her, asking what she had done for God to punish her so, going on about how hard the whole ordeal had been for her and how she’d never be able to forget the image that had been burned into her mind...
    Then...the kitchen went silent.
    Andrew said a prayer, turned around and watched his bedroom door, waiting breathlessly for whatever calamity was to come.  But nothing came.  He sat there staring at the door, his red hair soaked brown with sweat, for forty-five minutes.  No one ever came in.  He finally stepped outside his room, the floor creaking beneath his bare feet and walked toward the top of the stair case to try to hear what was going on in the kitchen.  Nothing.  Silence...
    So he went back into his room, lay in bed facing the wall, his tongue running back and forth against the back of his unbrushed teeth and eventually, he fell asleep.

    He woke up the next morning, showered, ate breakfast and made his way to school alone.  The house was as eerily silent as it had been the night before.  On any other day, while he was getting dressed, he would hear his father’s work boots clomping down the stairs, the back door slamming shut and the truck backing out of the driveway.  Normally, when he’d go downstairs five minutes later to eat, he would find his mother in the kitchen watching something on the 700 Club, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette at the table.  But on that day, neither parent was seen or heard.  Andrew ate quickly and left twenty minutes early so he could walk to school and get there before first period.  He couldn’t bear waiting around for his mother to offer him a ride through her gritted teeth of self-righteous disgust.
    But as he walked down the street, the morning sun shining in his bright blue eyes and the crisp Ohio air filling his lungs, he was warmed with a sense that everything was going to be all right.  His mother was most likely too racked with Christian guilt and self-pity to go public with the information.  And his father obviously just didn’t want to talk about it at all.  Dad hadn’t wanted to talk about much of anything for a long time...
    For years, Andrew’s father used to drag him out to baseball fields and into batting cages.  Every summer would begin with everyone in the house hoping against hope that Andrew had grown out of his ‘awkward phase’ and that he would finally take to the sport that for some reason meant everything to his dad.  But they’d all stopped hoping by the time Andrew began high school.  He knew that his father had given up on him a long time ago...  As it turned out, that very apathy might have been Andrew’s saving grace.  His father may have already been too bored with being disappointed to even bother addressing the whole blow job in the bedroom fiasco.  Maybe it would all just blow over.  Ha!  Blow...
    Andrew knew that he and Clem would just have to get through the next four months and then they would both be at University of Chicago.  That’s when their real life together would finally begin...  They’d be able to stay up late to watch their favorite Madeline Kahn movies together in bed.  (Andrew was obsessed with “Clue” while Clem couldn’t get enough of her Mel Brooks stuff.)  They could play their R&B divas loud and proud--Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, just to start--without any sideways glares from their CMT-fixated kinsmen.  And they would get to hold hands and kiss each other on the lips whenever they wanted, which would be all the time. 
    Andrew had already started having recurring dreams of the two of them waking up in the same big bed with the sun shining in through the giant bay windows of their modest future apartment.  Hardwood floors and homemade curtains.  Walking distance from the famous Halsted Street in Boys Town.  Just thinking about how simple and genuine and sweet it would be left him all choked up ...

    Clem didn’t show up at school that morning and his cell phone kept going straight to voicemail.  By the time lunch rolled around, Andrew was sick to his stomach with worry.  He skipped fifth and sixth period to walk to Clem’s house and make sure everything was okay.  He decided on the way to stop at home to drop off his book bag and brush his teeth. 
    When he turned the corner on to his street, he saw them right away.  There were trash bags lined up along the sidewalk outside his front gate.  As he got closer, he saw that the bags were filled with his clothes and all his things.  His Spelling Bee trophy from fourth grade had been broken and the bottom half was poking out of a plastic bag.  His personalized cover to his favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was on the ground next to the bags but the book itself was nowhere to be found.  There was a chain with a deadbolt lock around the entrance to the front gate.  He dropped his book bag on the sidewalk and hopped over the fence.  When he got to the front door, he found his key didn’t fit in the lock.  He walked around to the back door, his heart racing, terrified, and found the same thing.  He banged on the door, hoping to see or hear his mother stirring inside.  Nothing. 
    He banged and banged on the door until the flat side of his fist was red and raw, then he slid down the back door, scratching his face against the peeling paint, his body shaking uncontrollably.  When he finally collapsed into a pile of quivering limbs on the back step, he began sobbing.  He cried until his body went into convulsions because he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs.  Then he just whimpered and choked because his eyes had dried out...
    When the sun went down, he was still laying on that back step.  Nobody came home.  Nobody opened the door.  Nobody called.  He went to dial Clem again and got a recording that the phone he was using was no longer in service.  It was really happening.  His parents were completely cutting off their only child because he was in love with another boy. 
    He got up, wiped his face and walked unsteadily back toward the front gate.  Mrs. Acton, the old lady next door, was watching him from her front porch, smoking a cigarette, shaking her head and sucking her teeth.  She knows...  He hopped over the fence and rifled through the trash bags for a jacket and as many clothes as he could fit into his book bag.  Then he walked to Clem’s house.

    Clem’s father answered the door, reeking of whiskey and cigarettes, and stood in the doorway with so much revulsion in his eyes that Andrew was honestly scared for his life.  He could feel all the muscles around his knees turn to jelly...  “Clem don’t want nothin’ to do with you.  Now don’t be callin’ and don’t be tryin’ to talk to him and you stay the fuck away from him.”  Then he slammed the door in Andrew’s face.
    Andrew stood there on the front porch, his eyes glazing over as locks and bolts were fastened on the other side of the door.   This isn’t happening.  This is not happening.  When he finally walked away from the house, he saw Clem looking down from an upstairs window.  His cherubic face was lifeless and detached and a purple bruise above his left eye was barely visible behind the shadow of the lace curtain.  Clem shook his head, ‘No’ just before he let the curtain fall in front of his face and he backed away from the window.  Andrew understood.  It was all over.  Nothing could be done.

    When Andrew finally fell asleep on a bus station bench that night, he dreamt of the same future apartment with hardwood floors and homemade curtains.  But instead of Clem at the kitchen table, it was his mother, chain smoking, sucking her teeth, glaring back at him with her purple, bruised eye.  Sadly, her clear contempt felt absolutely normal to him.
    How long had he known that his parents didn’t like him very much?  How long had he been accustomed to them holding him at arm’s length?  How long had they been walking around him rather than looking at him and addressing him directly?  How long had they been merely tolerating his existence in their house? 
    They seemed to have recognized something untoward in him before even he had managed to comprehend what is was that made him different.  By the time he had been able to qualify his attraction to other boys as something they probably wouldn’t approve of, their hearts had already hardened.  He couldn’t even remember a time when the three of them had been openly affectionate.  His parents didn’t even seem to like each other very much...  And it was that lack of tenderness, that emotional indifference that had made him so eager to start his new life in Chicago with Clem.  As normal as his loveless home-life had become, he never stopped believing that there was more in store for him.  He knew that the God he loved and honored wouldn’t let him down.
    Then his entire world shattered.  A nightmare come to life...

    The next morning, he paid forty-five of his last four-hundred and twenty dollars for a bus ticket to Chicago.  As he watched Ohio’s flat green landscape drift past from his window seat, he said one last prayer for his parents.  He asked God to forgive them and watch over them, because he knew he would never see them again. 
    And he closed his eyes and imagined Clem walking into their future apartment... His curly blond hair glowing like a halo and his angelic face smiling, strong and safe.  Love would prevail.  Because it had to.