Boy Meets Boy

Page 37


“Paul,” Tony continues, “do you know how lucky you are?”
Of course I know this. Although I have to admit I always tend to think of other people as unlucky rather than thinking of my own life as charmed.
“I know I'm lucky,” I say, perhaps a little defensively. “But that doesn't mean it's easy. Kyle said it's easy for me.”
“That's not a bad thing, Paul.”
“Well, the way he said it, it was. And the way you're saying it, too.”
Tony is sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing with a thread from his sweater.
“The first time I met you,” he says, not directly to me, not directly to the floor—somewhere in between, “I honestly couldn't believe that someone like you could exist, or even a town like yours could entirely exist. I thought I understood things. I thought I would get up every morning with a secret and go to sleep every night with the same secret. I thought my life would start only when I was out of here. I felt that I had learned something about myself too soon, and that there was nothing I could do to undo the truth. And I wanted to undo it, Paul. I wanted to so bad. Then I met you in the city and on the train, and suddenly it was like this door had been opened. I saw I couldn't live like I'd been living, because now there was another way to do it. And part of me loved that. And part of me still hates it. Part of me—this dark, scared part of me—wishes I never knew how it could be. I don't have the courage that you do.”
“That's not true,” I say quietly. “You are so much braver than I am. You face all these things—your parents, your life.”
“Kyle feels lost, Paul. That's all he's saying. And he knows that you're not lost. You've never really been lost. You've felt lost. But you've never been lost.”
“And are you lost? Do you feel lost?”
Tony shakes his head. “No. I know exactly where I am, what I'm up against. I'm on the other side, Paul.”
I can hear all the emptiness in the house. I can see the way the pennants droop away from the walls of his room. I know that he's not happy, and it breaks my heart.
“Tony,” I say.
He shakes his head again. “But this isn't about me, is it? It's about you and Noah and Kyle and what you're going to do.”
“I don't care about any of that,” I tell him. “I mean, I care about it. But not right here, right now. Talk to me, Tony.”
“I didn't want to bring this up. Forget I said anything.”
“No, Tony. Tell me.”
“I don't know if you want to hear it.”
“Of course I want to hear it.”
“I love being with you and Joni and the rest of the group. I love being a part of that. But I can never really enjoy it, because I know that at the end, I'll be back here. Sometimes I can forget, and when I can forget, it's bliss. But this past week has been hell. It's like I've been pushed back into the shape of this person I used to be. And I don't fit into the old shape anymore. I don't fit.”
“So leave,” I say—and the minute I say it, I'm full of the idea. “I'm serious. Let's pack up your things. You can live at my house. I'm sure my parents will take you in. Then we can figure things out. We can find you a room somewhere—maybe in that room over Mrs. Reilly's garage. You don't have to be here, Tony. You don't have to live like this.”
I'm getting all excited. It's like an airlift. Tony is a refugee. We need to get him to a better place.
It seems so simple to me. But Tony says, “No, I can't.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can't, Paul. I can't just leave. I know you won't understand this, but they love me. It would be much easier if they didn't. But in their own way, they love me. They honestly believe that if I don't straighten out, I will lose my soul. It's not just that they don't want me kissing other guys—they think if I do it, I will be damned. Damned, Paul. And I know that doesn't mean anything to you. It really doesn't mean anything to me. To them, though, it's everything.”
“But they're wrong.”
“I know. But they don't hate me, Paul. They honestly love me.”
“Part of love is letting a person be who they want to be.”
Tony nods. “I know.”
“And they're not doing that.”
“But maybe they will someday. I don't know. All I know is that I can't just run off. They think that being g*y is going to mess up my whole life. I can't prove them right, Paul. I have to prove them wrong. And I know I can't prove them wrong by changing myself or by denying what I really am. The only way for me to prove them wrong is to try to be who I am and show them it's not hurting me to be that way. In two years I'll graduate. I'll be gone. But in the meantime, I have to find a way to make this work.”
I am so scared for him. I realize that what he's saying is beyond my scope of comprehension. What he wants to do is more than I've ever had to do.
“Tony,” I say, “you're not alone in this.”
He leans back against his bed. “Sometimes I know I'm not, and sometimes I really think I am. I don't like to get into the middle of things, but sometimes I stay awake at night, petrified that we're all scattering apart. And I know I'm not strong enough to keep us all together and keep myself together at the same time. Plus, you're in love, Paul. You might not call it that, but that's what it is. And I don't want to be the downer to your upper. I know there are only so many things you can float at once.”
I don't let him finish the thought. “I'm here,” I tell him. “I will always be here. And I know I've been overwhelmed by the past week. And I know you can't always count on me to do the right thing. But I want to help.”
“I don't know if I can do it, Paul.” I can tell he wants to. He's decided he wants to.
“You have a much better chance than I would,” I say. “You are so much braver than me.”
“That's not true.”
“Yes it is.”
The garage door opens. Both Tony and I tense up.
“I'll go,” I say, gathering my things, planning a quick escape.
Tony looks up at me and says, “No, don't.”