Two Boys Kissing

Page 5


Across the street, someone saw. The woman behind the counter of the Thai restaurant came running out, yelling and waving a broom. The guys laughed at this—laughed at her broom, at her broken English. But then two of the busboys came out behind her, and they heard her yelling police. Tariq didn’t see any of this, didn’t even hear it. He was trying to get his vision straight, trying to curl further into himself, trying to spit the blood out of his mouth. As far as he knew, they were there, and then, with one last kick, they were gone.
His father pulled up a minute later. Found him. Took him to the emergency room before the police arrived.
As he bled on the pavement, pebbles and gravel grinding into his wounds, we felt ourselves bleeding, too. As his ribs broke, we could feel our ribs breaking. And as the thoughts returned to his mind, the memories returned to ours. That dehumanizing loss of safety. It is something all of us feared and many of us knew firsthand. We are not unfamiliar with what happens next with Tariq—the long healing, the surprising concern from some (including his parents) and the unsurprising lack of concern from others (like some, but not all, of the police).
The assailants covered their tracks well, and were never caught. We know who they are, of course. Two of them are haunted by what they did. Three of them are not.
Tariq is haunted, too, although mostly he is defiant. “They beat the shit out of me,” he told people, soon after. “But you know what? I didn’t need that shit inside of me. I’m glad it’s gone.”
He will not let it stop him from going into the city, from dancing. But still, the fear remains. The bruises. And there in the back of his mind, residing just as they did in the back of our minds, are the most insidious questions of all:
How did they spot me? How did they know?
What did I do wrong?
People like to say being g*y isn’t like skin color, isn’t anything physical. They tell us we always have the option of hiding.
But if that’s true, why do they always find us?
Cooper’s loathing of everyone else—his parents, the people in his town, the men he chats with—is surpassed only by his loathing of himself. There is nothing that will add depth to despair like the feeling of deserving it. Cooper drives around, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to go. He barely notices that he’s running low on gas. Then the warning light pops on, and he’s almost grateful for it, because now at least there’s a next thing to be done.
He wasn’t always like this. Nobody is ever always like this. There was a time he was happy, a time that the world engaged him. Catching inchworms and naming each one. Blowing out candles on a cake his mother had made, with twenty of his fifth-grade friends around him. A home run in a pivotal Little League game that made him feel like a champion for weeks. A desire to draw, to paint. Shooting baskets at lunchtime with the other guys.
But high school confused things. He didn’t want to do sports anymore. Friends moved away—if not from town, then from his lunch table. The dullness started to pervade the outside of his life, and the noise started to grow on the inside. He spent more and more time on the computer. This wasn’t really a choice; it was simply the one thing that was always there.
Now his laptop is dead in the backseat. It doesn’t really bother him.
In another car, Avery drives to Kindling. The land around him is flat, the horizon long. He tries not to rehearse what he’s going to say to Ryan, because he doesn’t want it to sound like a performance. All of the dates he’s been on before have been half-hearted attempts with a boy in town who’s known him way too long. Neither one of them was sure what he wanted, so they tried to put one another into that void. It never held, and Avery just happened to realize it five minutes before Jason did. “No harm, no foul,” Jason had said, and this phrase in itself pointed to why Avery wasn’t interested. He wants to be with someone who knows that a harm is much worse than a foul.
A boy with blue hair would have to know this, Avery thinks. Or at least there’s a chance he knows this.
Avery is about to find out.
After a year, Peter and Neil feel they are beyond the discovery phase. But we’re sure that they will continually discover this not to be the case. There’s always something new to learn about the person you love.
Neil is not surprised to get to Peter’s house and to find him still in his boxers, sitting on the floor of his rec room, navigating a fantasy world on his game console.
“I’m sorry,” Peter says. “I’ve almost gotten the Guild of Wizards to sign my treaty. Twenty minutes, I swear.”
Neil foolishly forgot his own homework, so he goes to Peter’s room and fetches Peter’s homework to do instead. It would be one thing if Peter’s game involved massive amounts of battle and swordfightery. But from what Neil can tell, it’s more about making and breaking alliances. In other words, politics, with beards and robes. Not his thing. Balkan Bloodbath 12, the game he brought over yesterday, sits on the ground.
Peter knows Neil’s not into it, but can’t help but play anyway. Because once this treaty is signed, he is going to be able to travel to the water nymphs’ world for the first time.
He doesn’t even notice what Neil’s doing until he’s through. Treaty accomplished, he finds that Neil is halfway through his English assignment.
“I can do that,” Peter says. He knows he should like it when Neil does his homework for him, but he doesn’t. He knows Neil does it because it’s easier for him … and that’s precisely why Peter doesn’t like it.
“You have more important things to do,” Neil says. “I mean, what’s John Steinbeck compared to the fate of the Guild of Wizards?”
“I like Steinbeck.”
“You know what would be cool?”
“If your game took place underwater.”
Peter knows Neil is going somewhere with this. Some joke. But he can’t figure out the punch line.
He gives in and asks why.
“Because then the wizards could be fish, and it would be the Guild of Gilled Wizards.”
Peter smirks. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“More like you swam into it.”
Peter likes these jokes, these jibes. Really, he does. It’s just that he’s not always in the mood for them. Sometimes he wishes he were dating someone a little stupider, or at least someone who doesn’t think about each word in every sentence he utters.
Neil doesn’t realize he’s gone one step too smart. He doesn’t change the subject because he senses something (slightly) wrong. Instead his innate gauging of the rhythm of the conversation knows it’s time to move on.
“Pancakes,” he says. “I think we need pancakes.”
This time, Peter knows what’s coming, and joins in. They both start jumping up and down on one leg, yelling, “I-hop! I-hop!”
We are such wonderful idiots, Peter thinks.
We often believe the truest measure of a relationship is the ability to lay ourselves bare. But there’s something to be said for parading your plumage as well, finding truth as much in the silly as the severe.
Your humor is your compass and your shield. You can hone it into a weapon or you can pull its strands out to make your very own cotton-candy blanket. You can’t exist on a diet of humor alone, but you can’t exist on a diet without it, either.
All the quips in the world couldn’t prevent Oscar Wilde from becoming a lovesick fool. But he rallied at the end. More than one of us borrowed his last words, staring off into the distance and uttering, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.” There were even variations: “Either the mayor goes, or I do” or “Mother, either those shoes go, or I do” or “Honey, either that mustache goes, or I do.” Maybe not our exact last words, and maybe not Oscar Wilde’s exact last words, either. But you get the point. When the end comes, there will be important things to say, for sure. But there will also be that last laugh, and you will want it.
Laughter rarely lasts longer than a few seconds, it’s true. But how enjoyable those few seconds are.
Before Harry and Craig begin their kiss, they are presented with some gag gifts.
Harry’s parents present the two boys with a canister of Binaca. We laugh when it’s clear that neither boy knows what it is. How would we explain it to them? That long ago, when you wanted your breath to be doused with mint, you’d pull out one of these slim metal tubes and spritz a little Binaca into your mouth. Whether you were covering up booze or covering up a more general sourness, you could rely on this hissing blast to do the trick. It didn’t taste like anything natural, and if you were doing it before kissing someone, it always worked best if you both took a dose, so you could taste chemical together. In our arsenal of subterfuge, it was a largely harmless selection. We’re amused by its presence now, in the same way that Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez are amused. After an explanation, Harry and Craig thank them, but neither of them tries the spray. They’re chewing gum instead.
Their friend Rachel shows them that she’s decorated a bedpan with the face of an infamous radio talk-show host. They won’t be able to use it during the kiss, but maybe right afterward. Smita takes out a bag of valentine hearts—not easy to find in the off-season—and shows them she’s filled the whole bag with hearts that say KISS ME on them. Another friend, Mykal, has gone with another holiday and has attached a piece of mistletoe (also hard to find in the off-season) to the end of a fishing line, so he can dangle it over their heads as they kiss.
Finally, it’s Tariq’s turn. He’s been setting up the cameras, making sure everything’s been positioned right, so the lamps that illuminate the yard will also light Harry and Craig once night falls. If the kiss works, nobody’s going to take their word for it. Everything needs to be documented precisely, so Tariq’s got an army of cameras at the ready and a troop of reinforcement batteries on hand. Not only will the kiss be recorded, it will be streamed live, so no accusation can be made that the kiss was faked, or that any break was edited away. Three of the teachers from school have offered to take shifts as witnesses. Ms. Luna, the head of the math department, is starting.
But first Tariq has his gifts.
The first requires him to drag a duffel bag over the grass.
“Is that a body?” Harry asks.
“Or maybe just a head?” Craig wonders.
They are not far off. With a grin, Tariq lifts out a bust of Walt Whitman to preside over the event. Then, to mark the occasion, Tariq recites one of Whitman’s poems:
We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.
Everyone applauds.
Then Tariq breaks out his second gift—an iPod with exactly thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds of music on it, each song chosen and sequenced with the same care a DJ would use. All of Harry’s and Craig’s favorite songs are on there, as well as hundreds of other songs “donated” by friends.
“Just tell me when to hit play,” Tariq says.
They are almost at the start.
In another town in the same state, Cooper realizes that a full tank of gas is only going to solve one of his problems, and a minor one at that.
He pulls into the parking lot of a Walmart. He takes out his phone and looks at the names in his contacts list. That’s what they feel like to him—contacts. People he has contact with. Contact in class. Contact in the hallways or at lunch. Not friends. Not really. Not if being someone’s friend means not being fake. He’s been fake with all of them. Are there some who’d let him come over if he asked? Sure. Are there even some who would listen to what happened, who would worry on his behalf? Probably. But when he tries to play out that scene with any of them, it falls flat. It doesn’t help. It only adds bystanders to what’s essentially his burden, and his alone.