A young man has a secret admirer, or so his sister says.
|She’s talking to me again, and I zone her out. My older sister’s mouth moves as she busies around the kitchen getting dinner ready. I pay little attention to her. She wears her hair long now, to her shoulders. I liked it better when she was fourteen. She wore her hair short, in a bob to her earlobes.
She turned 17 last February; I’ll be 17 this month, December. Irish twins they call us, siblings born in the same year. I have the same dark hair as her except I’m a boy. Now I’m the one wearing the bob haircut. I’m adding an emo twist, though – long in front and shaved in back.
I’m Tommy. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my face in my hand, elbow on the table, listening to her talk about Susie Winnemeyer. According to Danny, Susie has a crush on me, and Danny thinks I should ask her out. Daniele is my sister’s name. I call her Danny. She’s graduating in January and heading off to the University of Washington, on the bus across town.
She takes every AP course known to man and travels back and forth to UW for classes, tests and the like. She is already a second-semester freshman – before she graduates High School. Danny’s a mover, always on the go. If you tripped her, she would skid and make sparks on the sidewalk.
Listening to Danny talk about Susie is turning into dog years. Susie is in the eleventh grade with me. I like her fine. Susie has long, soft, blond hair and she smells nice. She wears all the right clothes and shoes. I love her jewelry choices. But there’s a problem. How can I look my sister in the eye and tell her Susie isn’t built right?
I’m not ready to talk to my sister about that. I’m not prepared to talk to anybody about that. Susie doesn’t come with the right equipment. Bouncing breasts. Boring.
I giggle, and Danny spins around. “What? Did I say something funny?” She asks smiling. “Tell me, Tommy,” she says with the same grin she wears since we were kids. It is the same one that gets me to trust her and always gets me to tell.
Me? I don’t like talking about me much. I am interesting, some might say, in a negative way. I have feminine ways which frustrate some people. Some boys, in a passive-aggressive manner, tell me I act like a girl and turn away. They want me to stop, or leave, or some other things but are chickenshit to say so. But some boys are alpha and get that anger in their eyes and I know I’ve made a mistake. They say to get my queer self away. I rub them the wrong way, so to speak.
It doesn’t take long to learn who’s who in High School.
I have girlish appearances, with long lashes, thick lips, big brown eyes. I’m super skinny. I can stand in front of the full-length mirror with my knees together and see the wall behind me through my thighs. Dad can squeeze both my wrists in one fist and touch thumb to finger.
“Saying she’s interested in me struck me as funny,” I say. “She could get a big jock guy, but you say she wants to date skinny me. That’s a laugh. She’s popular too. How did this infatuation happen? I’ve talked to Susie, but it was in the hall, like, ‘Susie did you get the paper done for Mrs. Trimble?’ that sort of thing. How sexy,” I say with a sarcastic tone.
“Did she smile at you and did you smile back?” Danny asks looking at me with her head cocked like I did something Susie found exhilarating. I made her fall for me without knowing it.
I speak slow and clear. “Danny, I didn’t give her any sign that I’m interested in her at all,” I say.
Danny poured milk into a bowl making the batter to dip the pork chops. Danny glances back at me with her mischievous, wicked grin. “She’s curious about you. Susie wants to take you out. She said you were glad to see her. I mean super glad,” Danny says, giggling and making a gesture with her fist and arm indicating a hard-on.
“What! She didn’t! Did she say that? She said I had a welcome party in my pants?” I shook my head. That is not possible. I roll my eyes.
Danny laughs out loud and nods. “She wants to screw you!”
I snort out loud. I didn’t mean to. But it’s hilarious. I must put an end to this, but how? I cannot come out to Susie. The whole school will know. I must tell Danny I’m not interested in Susie and let it hang out there like that. She will have to ask Susie to stop.
“I’m not interested in Susie, Danny.”
“You don’t want to screw? I never heard of a seventeen-year-old boy not wanting to screw, especially with a girl as hot as Susie.” Danny rinses her hands, dries, and rakes her hair out of her face. She is not smiling. She stares me down with her big brown eyes like she’s done since we were kids.
I need to think of a different way to say it. “Susie is pretty, but she isn’t my type,” I say. Danny continues to stare at me without smiling.
Danny steps toward me. I’m looking up at her. “Type? She’s got boobs and a vagina. What other types of girls are there?” she says and scoots her chair facing me, then sits. My heart races. She knows I’m lying. I scratch my head. She grins because she told me once when we played poker, going to my head is my “tell.”
She sits still and lets me stew. She knows.
“You know don’t you,” I say.
“Know what?” she asks and continues her constant stare.
“Why Susie’s not my type.”
Her right eyebrow flicks up a little. “You have to say it,” Danny says. Her knees touch mine and she leans forward. “It’s okay, Tommy.”
I can’t tell! My heart hurts, and my eyes fill. I’ve held this big fat secret for five years. Since the sixth grade when I sneak peeks across the urinal at boys peeing. One day I stole a kiss from another boy on his lips in the playground. He kissed me back. He became ashamed and never told anyone. Not only that, he never looked me in the face again.
I close my eyes like she’s about to slap me and brace myself for it.
“I’m gay,” I say as soft as I can.
It’s the first time those words ever crossed my lips out loud to anyone, I’m stiff, trembling, waiting for the world to end. Danny’s finger is under my chin, and she lifts my head. She wipes my tears off my face with her soft towel. I open my eyes, and she’s crying, too.
She pulls me in and hugs me. The dab of perfume she put behind her ear this morning is sweet, like flowers.
“Please forgive me, Tommy,” she says in my ear and sniffs. “I made all that up about Susie. She never talked to me about you, or your hard-on.” Danny chuckles. “I’ve wanted to have this conversation with you for years. I couldn’t go another day! I know you’re gay, Tommy. I’ve seen you eyeing other boys. Mom and Dad know, too.” She pulls away, frowns, seeing the anger in me.
I raise my voice to her. “Why! Why put me through all that? I would come out on my own time when I’m ready!”
“We need you to talk to us, Tommy. We’re suffering, too! We’re walking on eggshells trying not to say anything about it. It’s time to come out of the closet! Mom and Dad aren’t going to hit you or send you to military school. They’re ready to hear it now!”
I have not thought about that. I did not consider how Mom and Dad felt. This opens my eyes to how self-absorbed I am. Not sharing with Mom must be killing her.
Later, at the table during dinner, I clear my throat and get everyone's attention. “I’ve been hiding from both of you,” I say and pause looking around. Mom’s face changes. Her eyebrows go up, her lips part and her eyes fill up with tears. “I’m keeping a big secret from you.”
“Let me guess. You’re gay,” Dad says as he forks a piece of pork chop in his mouth. He chews with a smile on his face looking at me. Danny’s got her silverware in her hands grinning at me. I gawk at everyone like I fart and draw a blank about how to brush it off.
“You’re finally coming out to us,” Mom said, and she lets her tears fall. She cackles out loud like I’m at the park trying to swing a bat. I’m not expecting her to laugh. Mom puts her napkin on the table. She sighs and rolls her eyes. “We can finally talk about it!”
“Let’s give him a group hug!” Danny says. They do. Everyone gets up and comes around the table and wraps me up.
My parents went on to tell me they’ve known deep down for a long time and hug my neck more and more. They say I can live a gratifying, happy life being a gay man and I break down and cry. Not what I expected at all. I ask my family to respect my anonymity. They agree and make the zipper motion across their lips.
Dumb little me. I cry for two days and finally get all my feelings to settle. I’m not free to shout out from the mountaintop, but here in my little world, I can be myself.