by Lydia Hall (Norman North)
“Why won’t you just tell them that we’re together?” William asked Craig for the four-hundred-thirty-seventh time that week, not that Craig had been counting or anything. William gently traced patterns onto the back of Craig’s hand.
Craig sighed and rubbed the ever-growing crease between his eyebrows with his free hand. “Will, they don’t even know that I’m…gay.” It was a struggle to get that word out even with his own boyfriend.
Craig stood, somewhat frustrated. William stifled a giggle, and yanked on Craig’s arm, pulling him back beside him on the living room couch. “Well, you aren’t gay. You just like me, remember?” Craig smiled at the bittersweet, but pleasant, memory of asking out his best friend.
The summer before their sophomore year had been one of discovery. William had figured out his sexuality and began to constantly point out cute boys to Craig, which left Craig jealous, confused, and questioning his own preference. Craig had never looked at boys that way before, but he never really did look at girls as much more than friends, either.
William had always been the more confident, the more daring, the more friendly and the more outspoken of the pair. Toward the end of the summer, William had bluntly asked Craig if he was gay or straight, and after weeks of dancing around the topic and red faced denials, William refused to speak to his best friend until he gave him an answer.
Of course, that only lasted about three hours, because Craig couldn’t survive without his other half. He decided to tell William the truth, which really was confusing. It took almost ten minutes of explaining, his exact and final words being, “I’m not gay, but I do like a guy. Well, not just a guy. I like you William, okay? I only like you.”
Craig, with a distant look in his blue-gray eyes, shook the memory from his mind. And though he was trying to remain unaffected, he couldn’t help but smile at his boyfriend. “Yeah, I know,” he replied. “Plus I don’t want to upset my dad anymore than he already is. He’s been pretty down lately…” William nodded in understanding, and that was really all that Craig needed.
He looked down at their interlocked hands, their skin colors contrasting a bit. Will’s hand had a few dark and misplaced freckles on the pale, smooth skin, while Craig’s hand was more tan with a pink undertone. He couldn’t help but think that their complexions were complementary.
“Craig, I promise you everything will be just fine.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Believe what I say,” William said, brushing the dirty blonde fringe from Craig’s gray-blue eyes, hands lingering on his cheeks. Cupping Craig’s chin in his hand, William leaned forward and pecked him on the lips, his brown hair tickling Craig’s face. “My parents didn’t flip, so why would yours?” William’s parents were also at least ten years younger than Craig’s and much less old fashioned.
Craig sighed. “Will, you don’t…know them like I do.”
Will scoffed and laid back on the couch. “I am one hundred percent sure that your mom won’t care.”
“Yeah, you say that now…” William perceived Craig’s realism as pessimism. “But you don’t know. Not for sure.”
William pulled Craig into his side and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Just think about it, really. We wouldn’t have to sneak around anymore, we’d be free.”
Craig was silent, lost in his thoughts, but comfortable in his boyfriend’s hold. He sighed and shifted so that he was even closer.
Lucky for Craig, William’s attention span was lacking, so he quickly began speaking his new thoughts. “Are you free this weekend?” William asked.
Craig thought for a moment, almost nodding his head, but then remembering his father’s words from earlier in the morning. He involuntarily shuddered. “No, I’ve got to go visit my grandpa.”
William also visibly cringed. “Ugh, I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t stand that bitter old fart.”
Craig giggled, yanked his hand away, and then hit William in the arm. “That’s my grandpa you’re talking about.”
William rolled his eyes, with a playful smirk on his lips. “Oh, you hate him, too.”
“There’s no denying that.” Craig sighed, then groaned. “Every time I’m there he has to comment about how my jeans are too tight or my hair’s too long or how I’m a ‘pansy’ for not playing any sports.” He covered his face with his hands, groaning again. William squeezed Craig’s side sympathetically.
Once again, William’s attention was redirected as he laughed, a memory dancing in front of his eyes. “Do you remember that time that your dad caught us playing dress-up with my sister’s clothes when we were five?”
“Oh, my God, yes.” Craig joined in with William’s laughter, grateful for the relief of the tension that had been building in the pit of his stomach, though his face flushed red with embarrassment at the memory. He had never seen his parents laugh so hard in all of his life.
“Well,” William began, his voice taking a bit of a more serious tone. “I think that your parents already have an idea, Craig. I mean really, think about it.” Craig’s brows furrowed. “We’ve been attached at the hip since for almost thirteen years now. Your dad wasn’t upset about us playing dress-up, or dolls, or the fact that you wanted to wear eyeliner on the first day of eighth grade, or you taking an interest in singing rather than football.”
Craig inhaled slowly and tried to really comprehend everything that William was saying, while reflecting on his entire life at the same time. The task was proving to be difficult.
“Craig, I seriously think your dad won’t care. For as long as I can remember, he’s never looked down on you in any way. What makes you think this’ll be any different? I really think you just ought to tell him.”
A deep silence followed William’s statement, followed by a beep of a watch signifying eight o’clock, followed by, “I have to go.” Craig stood, Will joining him. William’s thin frame towered almost half of a foot above Craig’s, something Craig was accustomed to. He brushed imaginary dust off of himself and kissed his boyfriend goodbye.
“Just think about it!” William called out one last time as Craig shut the door behind himself.
Craig tried, he really did, to envision a positive future for himself and his boyfriend, one that didn’t end in heartbreak, pain, or loss. It was extremely difficult, impossible almost. He could be abandoned, beaten, bruised, killed. But finally, he saw it--himself and William, together, and happy. It didn’t matter to him if his parents approved or not, he’d still have Will.
That sudden vision startled Craig to a stop on his ten minute journey home. He found himself rushing back to William’s house, bursting through the front door, and running up the stairs to William’s room.
“I’m going to do it.” Craig said, breathlessly, to William, jolting him from the textbook he was studying.
“Going to do what?” William asked skeptically. Though he was confused as to why Craig was back at his house, William nonetheless tossed his textbook aside as Craig stood awkwardly in the doorway.
Craig refrained from rolling his eyes and smacking himself in the forehead. “Tell my parents.”
William’s face, all lit up and happy, was reason enough for Craig to stay true to his word. “You mean it?” William stood and grasped his best friend’s hand.
“I’ll tell them as soon as I get home.”
There was a shine in William’s brown eyes. “Promise?”
“Promise.” With that, Craig exited William’s house once more, and traveled home.
After approximately two hours of pacing, debating, thinking, and even a bit of crying, Craig took a final steadying breath and found his parents sitting in the living room. He was still unsure of every possible outcome.
I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay.
“Mom…Dad…I have something important to tell you.”
Craig’s stomach churned with a ferocious snarl. Bile rose in his throat as he thought about how these next few seconds could quite possibly change the rest of his life, not only the remainder of years that he’d be living under the same roof as his parents. He’d been over every possibility numerous times, each one worse than the last. He expected all of them. He expected none of them.
Tears had already sprung to his eyes for the third time that evening--each time before he even sat his parents down. His mind blanked completely, unable to even begin to form the words to begin the speech he had been mentally preparing for weeks at the least.
His parents were looking at him expectantly, their hands linked together firmly. To Craig, this was another reason why he should just keep to himself. That was the way it should be. A man and a woman. Not a man and another man.
Craig’s mother placed her other hand on her son’s shoulder. “Craig, honey, you know you can tell us anything. We’ll love you no matter what.” I wonder if she’ll still say that when she knows she won’t be getting any grandchildren from me.
“Did you get a girl pregnant, Craigery? What did I tell you about using protection?” his father joked, chuckling. His mother stifled a smile and then rolled her eyes at her husband’s antics.
Craig failed to see anything remotely funny about those questions. In fact, his father’s statements almost caused him to back out of his initial plan and joke right along. Yeah, Dad. I got a girl pregnant. What ever shall I do? The hurt on Craig’s face went unnoticed solely by his father. His mother relocated her gentle touch to Craig’s hand.
He hesitated for only a moment more. Nerves replaced by annoyance and anger, Craig blurted, “Actually, Dad, that isn’t a possibility at all, seeing as how I’m dating a boy.”
Craig’s eyes went wide and his face flushed with color. He bit his lip, almost to the point of drawing blood, waiting for his parents’ replies and instantly regretting the way he had gone about that statement. Eyes then shut and head hung low.
A sharp breath stole the last of the oxygen out of the room for the next eternity, though in reality only twenty seconds at the most. His mother’s eyes immediately trained themselves to her husband’s pained expression. The smile vanished from his father’s face and was replaced by a look of pure distaste.
Not being able to take the suspense, nor the reaction from his parents, nor the burning sensation in his gut, Craig fled to his upstairs bathroom and emptied the contents of his stomach into the central porcelain bowl after slamming and locking the door. He retched repeatedly until there was nothing but air being squeezed from his lungs as his stomach convulsed.
Craig slumped to the floor, grateful for the coolness that the tiles offered. He was surprised that there were no tears on his face, only a horrifyingly empty feeling in his chest.
His mother was standing outside the door, a soft knock announcing her presence. “Craig, honey? Open the door.”
Craig remained unresponsive, partly from the shaking of his shoulders and the silent closed-mouth sobs overtaking his body. He couldn’t face his mother nor his father.
“Craigery Owen Jennings.” Craig’s stomach dropped at hearing his full name. “You open this door right now.”
Shakily, Craig stood, flushed the toilet, rinsed his mouth, and unlocked the door.
He opened the door slowly to reveal his mother, an almost solemn grin on her face. Craig never realized before how much taller he was than her. “Come here, sweetie.” she said, opening her arms. He bent down a great deal and she took Craig into a gentle embrace, murmuring into his hair, “Don’t ever be afraid to tell me anything. I said I’ll always love you no matter what and I mean it.” She kissed her son’s forehead. One down, one to go.
Craig wiped a tear from his cheek. “What about Dad?” Only then did he notice that his mother’s face was tear-stained as well.
“Oh, don’t worry about your father,” she assured him, though her voice shook. “He’ll come around.”
Craig reluctantly let go of his mother. His mother was the epitome of warmth and safety, understanding and acceptance. “Well, where is he?”
His mother cleared her throat and looked away. “He said that he needed to be alone.”
Craig shuffled his feet but he understood what that meant nonetheless. But Craig was determined--he wouldn’t, couldn’t accept that as an answer. “Mom?” His voice was desperate.
Craig’s mother cleared her throat and met his eyes. “Outside.” He knew exactly where to find him.
As Craig located his father, he mulled over his parents’ reactions and once again, he found his eyelashes becoming damp. He blinked the wetness away. Raising his head, he saw the that streetlight illuminated the outline of the house and he identified his father’s shoe sticking out from behind the part of the roof where the sloping parts meet.
Craig took a deep breath and stepped outside. He stood still under the low stooping eave, debating on whether or not to disturb his father’s thoughts. Knowing that there was truly no debating the matter, he cleared his throat.
“Dad?” Craig called. He almost expected his father to scream at him, maybe yell, “You are not my son!”
After approximately five seconds of silence and a deep sigh, his father responded. “Up here, Son.”
Craig climbed up onto the eave, just as his father probably had done minutes before. Five feet of shingles separated him from his father. Craig’s father was still in his business attire, consisting of a suit, tie, designer shoes… The only difference was that now his tie was loosened, his hair a little messier.
Their eyes met. Turmoil was evident. “Come over here, Son.” Craig took a deep breath but sat beside his father nonetheless. To Craig, the silence that followed was extremely uncomfortable. Just as Craig opened his mouth to speak, his father began to say something as well. His father sighed, “Go ahead, Craigery.”
After a few more moments, Craig began, initially struggling. “Dad, I understand if you feel like…No, if you--if you think I’m not your son anymore. I get it, I do. But I just had to tell you both. I can’t go around living a lie. You’re always joking about girls and stuff and I can’t say that I know what you’re talking about.” Craig became more confident as the words flowed from his mouth. “I just…I can’t even begin to tell you how much better it feels to have told you. I’m tired of lying to you and Mom all the time and sneaking around. So, I understand if you hate me or want to kick me out or just, whatever, I don’t know.”
Craig avoided his father’s eyes. “Craigery, you honestly think that I would kick you out for being yourself?”
He shrugged in response. “Maybe, I don’t know.”
“That hurts, Craig.”
“Sorry,” Craig mumbled.
His father coughed and cleared his throat. “It’s Will, isn’t it?” Craig sheepishly nodded, his cheeks burning crimson.
“I can’t say I wasn’t expecting that,” his father sighed. “But now I feel a little awkward about all of those sleepovers a few years back.” Craig’s blush intensified.
“So, you’re…okay with it?” Craig met his father’s eyes.
“Of course I’m okay with it! Let me tell you something, Son.” He inhaled and exhaled slowly. He paused. “Do you know why we’re going to visit my father this weekend?”
Craig shook his head. He knew that they only saw the overbearing man on major holidays and only one other weekend during the entire year, but not the exact reason why. Anytime he tried to argue about staying versus going with his mother about it behind his father’s back, she would immediately give Craig the look--the one that every woman is capable of giving, to cause others to stop right in their tracks and head in the opposite direction.
“Well, this weekend is the anniversary of Jonathan’s death.” Craig was shocked, hearing about his uncle, a taboo subject in his household for as long as he could remember, a subject that got him the look each and every time. “And Craig, you…you made the choice that my brother never could. I’m grateful, more than anything, that you had the guts to tell your mother and me. Jonathan, he…couldn’t do it. He thought that our father would have killed him. And he probably would have. He couldn’t handle it at all. It became too much for him and he decided to commit suicide.”
Craig was speechless for a moment. “Wow, Dad, I…I-I’m so sorry. That’s horrible.”
“It really was.” Craig’s father rubbed at his eyes.
Another silence came and went, but Craig was bursting with emotions. Almost inaudibly, Craig wondered aloud, “How did he do it?” He then clasped his hands over his mouth as he realized that the sounds escaped him.
However, his father did hear his question. This was a subject that he didn’t ever want to have to address again, but the sincerity and genuine curiosity that Craig showed caused him to answer.
Craig saw that his father’s eyes were unfocused, distant. “He…well, we used to walk along the train tracks all the time together. I showed him the tracks…if I would have known. That night, he woke me up and said that he wanted to go walk on them with me. I just brushed him off. It was around two in the morning. So, he went alone. ” His father choked on his words a bit, then composed himself. “The police knocked on our door the next morning. They had his jacket and a note, which they said was on top of the jacket.”
Craig watched, silent with disbelief and horror evident on his face, as his father wiped a few tears from his own face. After a shaky breath, his father continued, eyes finally focused. “But he didn’t take the risk that you did, Craig. He gave up, and now he’s gone. So,” His father reached for him, wrapped his arms around his only son, his world. “Thank you for telling me.”