Two Boys Kissing

Page 10


Just the thing.
Another hour has passed, and Harry and Craig remain in their kiss. More people gather. Mr. Nichol, a science teacher, takes over for Ms. Luna. There are now two thousand people on the live feed. Tariq hands Harry and Craig their phones, so they can tweet and respond to the comments on the feed. Already it’s gone global. People in Germany are sending in encouragement; a boy in Helsinki has made a sign that reads GO KISSERS, GO! Some of the g*y blogs have picked up on what’s happening. Word is spreading.
Harry loves responding to the comments. But mostly he’s concerned that his feet are starting to hurt, and it’s only been four hours. He leans on Craig and shakes them out. Then the sun starts to hit, and he shapes his hand into a U, so Smita will come and hold an umbrella over his back, making sure not to get in the way of the camera. (There are backups from other angles, but everyone feels it’s important that the primary feed should only be blocked in emergencies.) He and Craig are both wearing old-people socks, to try to keep the blood flowing in their feet. But the bottom line is that being upright for a long time is not how the body is supposed to work. Already he feels like he’s at a standing-room-only concert and there have been seven opening acts.
The song “Dream a Little Dream of Me” comes on Tariq’s playlist, which makes Harry think of the movie Beautiful Thing, as Tariq no doubt knew it would. Harry can feel Craig smile under his lips, and knows he must be sharing the same thought. As confirmation, Harry feels Craig’s finger on his back, tracing the letter B, then T. They start to shuffle and slow-dance. It feels good to move their legs. Smita steps back with the umbrella, and Tariq steps in and starts to dance with her. Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez step in as well. Other people look like they want to join in, but Rachel, watching the cameras, tells them they need to keep clear, not get in the way. The police officer who’s been assigned to watch over things offers to get some caution tape—Rachel says that might be a good idea, but asks if there’s any way it can avoid saying caution. The officer says she’ll see what she can do.
It feels so good to Harry to be dancing. It makes him so happy to see his parents smiling as they sway. He wants to sing along, but knows he can’t. He holds Craig lightly, and they glide in a slow circle. Craig’s eyes are closed, Harry’s are opened.
Which is how Harry sees her first.
Craig feels Harry stop. He feels Harry clasp him tighter. He traces a question mark on Harry’s back. But there’s no way for Harry to respond. He only kisses Craig closer, puts his hand on the back of Craig’s neck, warning him to stay focused, warning him not to turn.
Then Craig hears it. His name. His mother’s voice. His name.
We all turn to her. She is a small woman, who until ten minutes ago thought Craig was on a camping trip for the weekend. She looks more confused than angry, and we wish there were a way that we could explain it to her. We want to pull her aside and tell her everything we know, everything our mothers did wrong, everything our mothers did right. Your son is alive, we want to tell her. Your son is living.
She doesn’t understand why he isn’t answering. She doesn’t understand why he goes on kissing this other boy even though she is standing right behind him, saying his name.
“Mrs. Meehan called me and started to talk to me, and I had no idea what she was talking about.…”
Craig wants to turn around. He wants to try to explain. But he feels Harry’s hand on the back of his neck. He remembers why he’s here. They are already too far along. He can’t reset it.
His mother’s voice is cracking.
It’s Smita who steps forward. She lets go of the umbrella and walks over to Craig’s mother.
“He can’t say anything,” she says. “They have to keep kissing.”
Craig’s mother knows Smita. She’s known Smita for a long time. Smita is the only thing that makes sense to her now. It’s only vaguely that she understands the crowd, understands the cameras.
“What’s happening?” she asks, her voice the thinnest of lines.
This was not the way she was supposed to find out. Craig feels the tears starting in his eyes. He tries to stop them. But it’s too much. They leak down his cheeks. Harry holds on. Craig shudders, and Harry presses his mouth closer. This was not how it was supposed to be. He’d imagined telling them after. Somehow, he believed it could be kept a secret until it was over. He’d have this big accomplishment, and then he could tell them. He imagined gathering them in the den, sitting his parents and his brothers down on the couch while he stood in front of them and told them, like when he was little and he’d put on one-man shows for them right before bed—and whatever happened, they wouldn’t be able to take anything away from him, they wouldn’t be able to erase anything he’d done.
But he wasn’t thinking about them. About what it would be like to be in that audience. He realizes it with such shock. He wasn’t thinking about them at all. Few of us did. It was our revelation. Our event. How could we know that they had a right to feel things, too? They had no right to deny us. But they had every right to feel things.
He gets this all from the sound of her voice. The way she’s said his name.
Harry’s parents have never met Craig’s parents. Harry’s mother comes over to Craig’s mother now and introduces herself. She and Smita try to tell her what’s happening. They tell her about the world record. Tell her what Craig and Harry are trying to achieve.
“But I don’t understand,” Craig’s mother says, crying now, too. “I don’t understand.”
Craig can’t bear it. He opens his eyes, looks over to Tariq, who has tears in his own eyes. He mimes writing. Tariq scrambles for a marker and some paper. He runs it over to Craig. All the things Craig has to say boil down to the essential. It’s the thing that neither Smita nor Mrs. Ramirez can say. It’s within everything they’re saying, but they can’t unfold it for Craig’s mother, can’t spell out the foundation.
Craig rotates his and Harry’s bodies so he’s facing his mother. Then he holds up his shaky sign. He sees her eyes as she understands it. Then, quickly, he writes another sign.
He is not sorry for being g*y, but he is endlessly sorry that this is how she’s found out. Or maybe not found out—she doesn’t seem entirely surprised by the revelation, only in the way it’s being revealed. Only in the way it’s being confirmed. She’s asking Smita if this is Craig’s boyfriend, and Smita, poor friend, doesn’t know what the better answer is, so she goes with the truth and says, no, that’s not what this is about. Harry and Craig are friends. They are kissing to show the world that it’s okay for two boys to kiss.
Mr. Ramirez brings over a chair, so Craig’s mother can sit down.
“It’s a lot to process,” he says.
At this point, some of our mothers would have laughed, would have said, Understatement of the year. Others would have said, Fuck you, and stormed away. Still others did exactly what Craig’s mother does now—falling silent, falling completely into the sound of her own thoughts, which can’t be heard from the outside. Mrs. Ramirez tries to hold her hand, give her support. Craig’s mother pulls her hand away.
Craig is twisting in place, a bystander to one of the most important moments of his life. Harry understands this and loosens his grip. If you need to go, it’s okay. But what can Craig say? And if he lets go now, all of this will have been for nothing. He lets the paper and marker fall to the grass. He wraps his arms around Harry and pulls him in for a real kiss, a true kiss. His tears run down his cheeks, into their mouths.
Don’t let go.
The crowd cheers. Craig and Harry had forgotten they were there.
Tariq can’t stand it. He feels it’s in some way his fault, too.
He plants himself right there in front of Craig’s mother and says, “You need to love him. I don’t care who you thought he was, or who you want him to be, you need to love him exactly as he is because your son is a remarkable human being. You have to understand that.”
And Craig’s mother whispers back, “I know. I know.”
This time it’s Smita who takes her hand, and she doesn’t pull away.
“It’s okay,” Smita says. “He’s fine. Everything’s fine.”
Harry can feel Craig going slack, and catches him. All that tension, suddenly released in sobs. Harry keeps his mouth on top of Craig’s.
They do not break the kiss.
Some of our parents were always on our side. Some of our parents chose to banish us rather than see us for who we were. And some of our parents, when they found out we were sick, stopped being dragons and became dragonslayers instead. Sometimes that’s what it takes—the final battle. But it should take much, much less than that.
For fourteen minutes, she sits in the chair. Watching her son. Watching her son kiss this other boy. Smita does not leave her side, but she doesn’t try to talk to her, either. She lets her take it in. Lets her feel it through.
At first Craig can’t face his mother. He and Harry stand so that she is seeing their profiles, out of their sight lines. But eventually he has to see her. So he shifts them around, dances a quarter turn, and looks at her over Harry’s shoulder. Their eyes meet, and hold for a few seconds as Craig forgets to breathe. They both start crying again, but it doesn’t seem as desperate as before, as devastating.
There are all these moments you don’t think you will survive. And then you survive.
There are so many things Harry wants to say to Craig. All of the comforting words that gather on the inside of his mouth but must remain unsaid. We know how he feels, because we gather those words inside us every single day, knowing what we know now, seeing what we see now. But at least Harry can hold him. At least Harry can give him strength that way. And then he realizes there’s another thing he can do. He makes the sign for phone, and then, after Tariq has given him his phone, he makes the gesture for phone again and points to Craig. Tariq is confused, but Rachel understands. She brings Craig’s phone over to him and opens it to the message page.
Over his shoulder, Harry texts him.
It’s better this way. It’s going to be okay.
Craig texts back:
I think I know that. But it’s hard.
Harry knows the answer, but he has to ask, anyway.
Do you want to stop and talk to her?
Craig shakes his head slightly, their lips still touching.
No. We’re going to do this.
Meanwhile, Harry’s mother has brought her own phone over to show Craig’s mother the thousands of comments that have been left in support of Harry and Craig so far. There are close to four thousand people watching, cheering them on.
“I know you don’t know me,” Harry’s mother tells her, “but we definitely have something in common.”
This time when she offers her hand, Craig’s mother holds it, squeezes it once before letting go.
It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being.
It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings.
It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.
It’s sometimes easier with aunts.
Ryan’s aunt Caitlin gives Avery and Ryan some pink lemonade and some freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies. Countless times, Ryan has sat at this kitchen table when the world has felt like too much for him, when he’s wanted to sit inside a house that fully felt like a home. We’ve all done this—created our mix-and-match families, our homemade safety nets. This table, he thinks, has seen so much of his anguish. But now, with Avery, it’s witnessing the opposite of anguish. The table’s presence makes it more real, because it makes it more a part of Ryan’s life.