Two Boys Kissing

Page 3


We would playfully think of sleep as the enemy, the scourge. Why reside in the house of sleep when there was so much going on outside of it? And then the fight became more desperate. When you know you only have months left, days left, who wants to sleep? Only when the pain is too much. Only when you are desperate for the negation. Otherwise, sleep is time you’ve lost and are never getting back.
But what a pleasant negation it is. Drifting over the land of sleep and dreams, we can see why insomniacs beg and dreamers lead. We watch Craig curled on Harry’s lime-green couch, under an afghan that Craig’s great-grandmother crocheted. We watch Harry in his bedroom, his arms rounded and his hands beneath his head, his body a lowercase q. In another corner of the same town, Tariq has fallen asleep with headphones on, Icelandic music looping through his nighttime travels. In another town, Neil in his pajamas dreams that he and Peter are playing tic-tac-toe, while Peter in his T-shirt and boxers dreams that emperor penguins have taken over the local mall and are trying to sell sunglasses to Emma Stone. Back in a town called Marigold, Avery falls asleep with a phone number written on his hand, while in a town called Kindling, Ryan has taken a sleeping bag and has fallen asleep under the stars, smiling at the thought of a pink-haired boy and what they might do tomorrow.
Only Cooper is still awake, but that won’t last long. He types himself into other time zones, talks with men who are just waking up, men who are sneaking a moment from work. He deceives them all, but cannot deceive himself. He is still nowhere, and no matter how hard he looks, there’s no somewhere to be found, especially inside of himself. He believes the world is full of stupid, desperate people, and he can only feel stupid and desperate to spend so much time with them. We are worried by this. We tell him to go to sleep. Everything is better after sleep. But he can’t hear us. He goes on and on. His eyes start to close more and more. Go to bed, Cooper, we whisper. Go to your bed.
He falls asleep at the computer. Men from other hours ask him if he’s still there, if he’s gone. Then they move on to newer windows, leaving Cooper’s empty. He cannot notice when everyone else has left the room.
This is an incomplete picture. There are boys lying awake, hating themselves. There are boys screwing for the right reasons and boys screwing for the wrong ones. There are boys sleeping on benches and under bridges, and luckier unlucky boys sleeping in shelters, which feel like safety but not like home. There are boys so enraptured by love that they can’t get their hearts to slow down enough to get some rest, and other boys so damaged by love that they can’t stop picking at their pain. There are boys who clutch secrets at night in the same way they clutch denial in the day. There are boys who do not think of themselves at all when they dream. There are boys who will be woken in the night. There are boys who fall asleep with phones to their ears.
And men. There are men who do all of these things. And there are some men, fewer and fewer, who fall to bed and think of us. In their dreams, we are still by their side. In their nightmares, we are still dying. In the blurriness of night, they reach for us. They say our names in their sleep. To us, this is the most meaningful, most heartbreaking sound we ever had the privilege and misfortune to know. We whisper their names back to them. And in their dreams, maybe they hear.
We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.
We no longer sleep, and because we no longer sleep, we no longer dream. Instead we watch. We don’t want to miss a thing.
You have become our dreaming.
In the middle of the night, Harry’s mother opens his door, checks that he’s safely asleep. Then she heads to the den and does the same for Craig, smiling to see him wrapped in the afghan. She knows they have a big day tomorrow, and she is worried for them. But she will only show her worry when they are asleep. Mostly she is proud. Pride is allowed to have an element of worry, especially when you are a mother.
Harry’s mother tucks him in for a second time. She kisses him lightly on the forehead, then tiptoes from the room.
We miss our mothers. We understand them so much more now.
And those of us who had children miss our children. We watch them grow, with sadness and amazement and fear. We have stepped away, but not entirely away. They know this. They sense it. We are no longer here, but we are not yet gone. And we will be like that for the rest of their lives.
We watch, and they surprise us.
We watch, and they surpass us.
The music in Tariq’s ears fades, the battery diminished. He doesn’t notice. It is one of the body’s greater gifts, the ability to prolong music long after it’s faded from the air.
Asleep in his backyard, Ryan does not notice the halo of dew that gathers around him as the night warms into morning. His eyes will open to a sparkle on the grass.
The waking world. Even the most cynical among us must greet it with a touch of hope. Maybe it’s a chemical reaction, our thoughts communing with the sunrise and creating that brief, intense faith in newness.
We fall quiet as we watch the sun reach over the horizon. No matter where we are, no matter who we’re watching, we pause. Sometimes we look to the distance to see the dawning of the day. And other times we witness it as it’s reflected on the people we’ve come to care about, watch as the light spreads over their sleeping features. How can you not hope as the world, for an instant, glows gold? We, who can no longer feel, still feel it, the memory is so strong.
Waking is hard, and waking is glorious. We watch as you stir, then as you stumble out of your beds. We know that gratitude is the last thing on your mind. But you should be grateful.
You’ve made it to another day.
Harry wakes up excited. Today is the day. After all the planning, after all the practice. This particular Saturday is no longer a square on the calendar. It is no longer a date talked about in future tense. It is a day, arriving like any other day, but not feeling like any day that has come before.
He goes straight from his bed to the kitchen—moppy hair askew, clothes sleepworn—and finds his parents there, gearing up in their way for his day. His dad is making breakfast and his mom is at the kitchen table, reading the crossword clues out loud so the puzzle can be filled in together.
“We were just about to wake you,” his mother says.
Harry keeps walking to the den. Craig is sitting bolt upright on the couch, looking like the morning is a mathematical problem he needs to solve before he gets out of bed.
“Dad’s making French toast,” Harry says, knowing the addition of food to the equation will help it get solved faster.
Craig responds with something that sounds like “Muh.”
Harry pats him on the foot and heads back to the kitchen.
Tariq’s alarm goes off, but he doesn’t feel alarmed. With his headphones still dulling the outside noise, it sounds like there’s music coming from the next room, and he takes it, slowly, as an invitation.
As soon as Neil is out of the shower, he texts Peter.
You up? he asks.
And the reply comes instantly:
For anything.
We smile at this, but then we look over to Cooper’s house and we stop. He is still asleep at his desk, his face just barely glancing the keyboard, keeping the computer awake through the night. His father is coming into the room, and he doesn’t look happy. All of Cooper’s chat windows are still on the screen.
We shiver in recognition at what’s about to happen. We see it on his father’s face. Who among us hasn’t done what Cooper’s just done? That one mistake. That stupid slip. The magazine left spread-eagled on the floor. The love notes hidden under the mattress, the most obvious place. The torn-out underwear ad folded into the dictionary, destined to fall out when the dictionary is opened. The doodles we should have burned. The writing of another boy’s name, over and over, over and over. The clothes shoved in the back of our closet. The book by James Baldwin sitting on our shelf, wearing another book’s jacket. Walt Whitman beneath our pillow. A snapshot of the boy we love, grinning, the conspiracy of us in his eyes. A snapshot of the boy we love who has no idea that we love him, captured oblivious, not knowing the camera was there. A snapshot we kept in our top desk drawer, in a fold in our wallet, in a pocket next to our heart. We should have remembered to take it out before throwing it in the laundry hamper. We should have known what would happen when our mother opened the drawer, looking for a pencil. He’s just a friend, we’d argue. But if he was just a friend, why was he hidden, why were we so upset to have him discovered?
We want to wake Cooper up. We want to make the door louder as it opens. We want his father’s footsteps to sound like thunder, but instead they sound like lightning. His father knows how to do this, his anger building quiet speed. He leans over his son and reads the remnants of last night’s conversations. Some are merely conversational, a bored patois. What’s up? Not much. U? Not much. But others are frank, sexual, explicit. Here’s what I’d do to you. Is that the way you want it? We look closely, hoping for concern to spread over the father’s face. Concern is okay. Concern is understandable. But we, who have looked so long for signs of concern in others, see only disgust. Revulsion.
“Wake up,” the father says.
Anger. Rage.
When Cooper doesn’t stir, he says it again and kicks Cooper’s chair.
That does it.
Cooper jolts awake, his face pressing into the keyboard, creating an unsayable word. His contact lenses feel like dry wafers on his eyes. His breath tastes like morning worms.
His father kicks his chair again.
“Is this what you do?” is the angry accusation. “When we’re asleep. Is this what you’re up to?”
Cooper doesn’t understand at first. Then he raises his head, swallows the meager spit in his mouth, sees the screen. Quickly, he closes the laptop. But it’s too late.
“Is this what you do in my house? Is this what you do to your mother and me?”
From a cold distance, we know that confusion is at the heart of this disgust. And into that heart is pumping a steady flow of hate and ignorance.
We know that Cooper doesn’t have a chance.
His father grabs him by the shirt and pulls him up, so he can be screamed at eye to eye.
“What are you? How could you do this?”
Cooper doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what to do. There aren’t even answers.
The father’s face is burning red now. “Do you just go off and f**k men? Is that it? While we’re asleep, you go out and f**k them?”
“No,” Cooper finally says. “No!”
“Then what is this?” A disgusted gesture to the closed computer. “What kind of whore are you?”
Fuck. Whore. These are not words any son should hear from his father. But the father’s rage has its own language. It does not have to talk like a father.
“Stop,” Cooper whispers, tears filling his eyes. “Just stop.”
But there is no stopping. Cooper’s father pushes him against the wall. Impact. The wall shakes and things fall. Cooper is no longer nowhere. He is somewhere now. And it is a horror. It is everything he never wanted to happen, and it’s happening.
His mother comes running into the room. For a moment we are grateful. For a moment, we think it will stop. But the father doesn’t care. He keeps yelling. Faggot. Disgrace. Whore. Sick.
“What’s going on?” the mother yells. “What’s going on?”
Cooper cannot stop crying, which makes his father even angrier. And now his father is explaining to his mother. “He sells himself to men on the Internet.”
“No,” Cooper says. “It’s not like that at all.”
“Open it,” his father commands his mother. “Read.”
Cooper actually lunges, tries to grab the laptop away. But his father knocks him back, pins him down as his mother opens the computer. The screen lights up. She begins to read.