AwesomeDude 10th Anniversary
They beat Mick up again today. I saw the start of the fight, but after the first two hits, I pulled my cap down and tried not to get noticed by anyone as I walked off. After school, Mick skipped baseball practice and I saw him wade across Goose Creek to get home. The right arm of his Braves jacket had been ripped off.
All year, since I got to high school, I've been looking up to Mick thinking he had everything, wanting to be like him when I got to be a senior. Now, all day I've been wondering: Why did Mick do this to himself?
Two otters played in the dark water of the tree-lined river. Their chattering seemed like laughter to Damon as they took turns chasing and bumping each other on the far side of the river. Usually otters hid when people appeared, taking their private little games underwater, but they never seemed nervous around Gramps. Damon and his grandfather were alone in one of the thousands of hidden spots off the St. John's River that Gramps knew by heart. The spring air was heavy with the smell of moss as their boat floated in the shallows under a large cypress.
Gramps and Damon made this trip about every month—more often when school was out. Sometimes they brought Jake, though not today. It always amazed Damon the way Jake would get quiet once the fishing poles were out, the only time he ever shut up.
"You know, you ain't gonna catch any crawpee if you don't toss the line in." Gramps pronounced 'crappy' with even more of a drawl than was normal for North Florida.
"Uh, yeah," said Damon, looking at the rod in his hand as if seeing it for the first time. He tossed the baited hook next to a tree stump, then flicked his finger nervously against his necklace of small blue beads.
"You fixin' to ask me something?"
Gramps always seemed to know.
"I got a decision to make," Damon said. "I'd really rather not choose at all, Gramps, just let it be, but I kinda have a deadline now."
"So, if this decision is so hard, then I'm assuming there's good and bad on both sides?"
"Yeah. If I go one way I get what I want, but I also get a whole lot of people mad at me. If I choose what makes those people happy, then I'd feel like I betrayed myself."
"And these people who might get mad at ya, they important?"
It's been a while since I wrote in this diary journal. (Kids have diaries. This is a journal. Well, sort of a journal. It's just pages in a 3-ring binder, so I'm not sure it qualifies.)
I've thought of Mick a lot since he quit school. Never for long, though; guilt tends to make you avoid things. But now I'm looking at this diary journal whatever the hell it is and thinking about it all. See, Jake Smolensky plans to make the same mistake as Mick next week.
Jake is going to come out to everyone.
He wants to go to the senior prom with his boyfriend as a couple and in the process they're going to declare themselves to the world and live without lying anymore.
The problem with this is that I'm Jake's boyfriend.
You know, I've barely ever been able to admit even writing here that I like guys. I've never even used the 'g' word here. I can't imagine how Jake got the idea that I'd go along with his crazy plan. In what universe does he imagine we won't get beat down over this, in every sense of the word?
Like always, Damon drove the boat home. Given his nine year record of safety, Gramps trusted him.
The man had groaned in despair at the three scrawny crappy in their white bucket and then dumped them over the side. "I guess the Lord don't want us takin' none of his creatures today."
Even though Damon had not explained exactly what his problem was, Gramps had given good advice. "Doing something to make other people happy ain't important," he had told Damon. "Even doing it to make yourself happy ain't where it's at. Doing what's right is the important thing. And you're smart enough to know right from wrong."
The problem with good advice was that it wasn't always useful advice. Where was the right or wrong in being out?
A small wooden dock came up on their right. Sitting there with a small black dog was Mick. Damon hoped that Mick wouldn't recognize him and turned his face. Gramps seemed to stare Mick down however.
"That's that damned Gilroy boy, isn't it?"
"Uh, I wasn't really looking."
"Damned shame how he turned out to be a faggot."
Damon mm-hmm'ed as they drove on and hoped that Gramps was done with it.
"I know his parents," Gramps said. "Carl and Eileen. They're good, decent people. They raised him right and he still has to go flaunting himself all over."
"Well," Damon offered, "at least he came home to help look after his mom now that she's sick, right?"
"I suppose," said Gramps. "Still a shame he's a faggot though."
Damon mumbled another vague agreement and kept looking forward as he steered for home.
"I can't do it," Damon said, avoiding Jake's stare.
"You mean you won't do it." There was just enough accusation in Jake's voice to make Damon squirm.
"It'd be too hard," said Damon. "Everyone would know about me. Gramps, my parents, people at school, folks at chur—"
"Everyone knowing is the point."
They were sitting in a gazebo not far from the Green Cove dock, looking out over the St John's gloomy ripples. It was mid-afternoon and the fitful wind brought a stale, muddy smell with it. Damon pictured himself as an observer in their conversation, like he was sitting off to one side watching the two of them in the small park, grass and trees around them, kids shouting in the distance. He could think about what he was saying, standing back like that.
"Maybe we could start by telling a few people first," Damon said. "Like Jimmy and Duane. And Lisa. Lisa would be cool with it."
"No," said Jake, with an unusual quiet. "I'm fixing to do this one shot and done." Jake was an ordinary sized guy, slimmer than average if anything, but everything about his behavior was big. Big joys, big anger, big laughs. And now he wanted big revelations.
Damon asked, "Why do you always have to create this event out of everything? It's—"
"Prom is an event."
Jake was being militant again. That's what he called it. He'd been spending a time at these websites that talked about 'letting the Republican bigots know we won't take it anymore' and 'dragging America into the twenty-first century.' Gramps said 'militant' was what assholes called themselves when they used a cause to be assholes together.
Damon said, "Prom is for everyone. We don't have to monopolize it for ourselves. What's the point of flaunting that we're…like that?"
"Flaunting!? Just because we show up?" Jake stood and walked over to the wooden rail nearest the river. Even in the midst of their argument, Damon could not help but admire the way Jake's blond hair hovered over his collar, Jake's navy father prohibiting it from being longer.
"Well, flaunting's how people are going to see it," said Damon. "Like we're pushing this in their f—"
"Good." Jake turned around and pointed at Damon. "Cuz if we don't push, they won't let us have anything."
"We have plenty—"
"Where's your necklace?"
"I…" Again, Damon could not look Jake in the face.
"Shit, you're really serious." Jake dropped to the bench next to Damon.
"Well, you said you're doing it even if I don't." Damon looked Jake in his soft eyes. "Everyone knows we're best friends, Jake. I don't need to give them evidence—"
"So you and me are over?" For an instant Jake had the expression of a kid left alone at a bus stop. "Are we over, Damon?"
"My parents aren't going to let you come over anymore. They'll probably make me stop talking to you ent—"
"We're worth fighting for! You think I don't care what happens to you? I'm doing this for you too, you know. I don't want you living in this shit anymore than me."
"It's not about fighting," Damon said. "It's about what's possible. I'm not like you." Damon's sense of apartness was gone and tears were threatening.
"You are like me," said Jake. "People are all the same. They can choose what they want."
"Some people are free. Some people are bound. You think my parents are going to release my college fund if they think I'm gonna go fuck guys in my dorm room?"
Jake got up again. Damon took his hand to stop him, but Jake shook him off and started pacing. "You don't need your parents."
"I want them, okay? I don't want to be trapped inside the damned asylum alone."
"The only thing that makes sense to me in that whole sentence is the idea of putting you in an asylum. What—? I don't understand you sometimes."
"If you'd read Hitchhiker's Guide like I told you to, you'd know what I meant."
"You know," said Jake, "when I decided that being free was worth any price, I knew I'd have to give up some of my friends. Some of my family, even." Jake stopped at the gazebo steps. "I never thought that coming out of the closet meant giving up my boyfriend. It's like the most ironic thing ever."
"I love you, Damon. Since the day we met. But you know what? If being me the way I want to be is worth giving up my parents for? It's worth giving up you too."
We just got back from Daytona Beach. I still can't believe Jake and I got to spend all of spring break there. The whole place was one giant party. Me and Jake were worn out just watching all that crazy shit Jimmy and his college buddies were doing.
This guy named Duane shotgunned 6 beers in a row. Then this girl they know from UF, Lisa, showed up and Jimmy and Duane spent a whole afternoon in their room fucking her. Me and Jake were outside giggling the whole time while we listened to her moaning. Then she came out and it was like the whole situation was the most normal thing in the world for her. She was talking about the Marlins and The Arctic Monkeys with us on the couch like we hadn't just heard her get her brains banged out by two guys.
Duane was teasing us that we'd want to go to UF too now, on account of Lisa. He wasn't far off. The whole trip made college seem so cool. Like, Jimmy was talking about how they have student clubs for anime and drama and skating and even for gay kids. And nobody gives the gay kids a hard time or anything. I'm so glad my parents have been saving up to send me to college. UF, man. I'm going.
Anyway, that's not important really. I haven't written in here since Mick came out two years back and got everyone riled up at him, but this trip was so magical I feel like I just have to put it all down…
Jake kissed me!
I still can't believe it!
It was a real kiss and everything. In fact, we had a fullblown make out session.
We were up alone on this private ocean view balcony at the Paradise Club, and we were both buzzing from a few drinks Duane had got us and we were looking at each other and Jake got this goofy expression with his mouth. I mean, he's already got the cutest lips, but he kinda twisted them in this goofy way and we laughed and then next thing I know I had my tongue in his mouth and everything. And he was into it!
The whole of the next day was awesome too. It was our last day there and he and I just hung out at the beach talking. He told me a secret. When his dad retired from the navy last year, Jake got the choice of where they should settle down and he chose to come back to Green Cove because he got along so well with me in junior high. He moved all the way across the fucking country to be with me!
That story was so sweet I felt like we had to commemorate it somehow. So when we passed this souvenir stall, I made Jake buy matching bead necklaces with me. He said it would be dorky. But in the end, I got this cool ice-blue one and Jake got this red and yellow fire-looking one. It goes really great with his hair.
We didn't really talk about what he and I are now. I mean, no one used the word 'boyfriend'. Maybe he was just sex crazy after a week in Daytona. I'm not worried though. I trust Jake. Even if he's not interested in more, we'll be cool. Nothing's really going to change.
Late that afternoon, Damon took the boat without asking his grandfather. As he steered to the inlet of the creek, he stroked the outside of his jeans, feeling the necklace in his pocket.
Oh Shit! Oh Shit! Oh Shit!
Mom found my diary. I can't believe I got so careless. I came home and she had moved it from the closet while cleaning and just left it on my desk. I'm pretty sure she didn't read anything or else she'd have freaked, but what if she had? Maybe she read all that stuff in the front from 3rd grade about what I ate for lunch and how I hate math and got bored.
I know I should really be keeping these notes on my computer, but they feel so much more real when I write them on paper. And I started it that way, with pencil. It means too much to just throw it out.
But the Daytona stuff can't stay. Everything before Daytona about me liking guys I can just dismiss as 'confusion' or 'feelings' or something if I ever get asked. Daytona is like a signed confession.
Mick wasn't at the dock. There was still an hour before Damon would be missed though, so he dropped the anchor and waited alongside. He got his tackle box from the corner locker Gramps had assigned him on the boat and he opened the combination lock. He lifted up the top tray of lures and hooks and then the one under that.
At the bottom was a plastic bag with the folded journal sheets Damon had taken from the binder the year before. He sat on the river reading his thoughts about Daytona.
He had read everything twice before the dog started barking at him.
Mick was standing on the dock, wearing only shorts. The black dog stood protectively in front of his dark green sneakers. Mick had filled out. His shoulders still seemed built for motion rather than strength, but they were plenty strong now too.
Damon folded the pages into his back pocket and stepped onto the low dock.
"You looking for me?" Mick asked.
"No, just— Yes. I'm Damon. We used to be friends— I mean, we used to know each other. When you were starting pitcher. I was a kid then."
"I remember you. Safe hands in center field. So you're not here to fight me?"
"God, no. Are people still trying to beat you up?"
"No. I think things are mellowing out even around here, but you never know, right?"
"So, what? You looking me up for old times' sake?"
"Kinda," said Damon. "I wanted to ask you about what happened back then. And to say I'm sorry."
"What for? You never gave me any shit."
"I know. But I never tried to help you either."
"What could you have done?" Mick asked, squatting to pet the dog. "Gotten your ass kicked?"
"I might have been good for moral support. But I couldn't figure out how to tell you that I was…like you."
"You mean gay?" asked Mick, looking up.
"You can say it you know. Gay."
"No," said Damon, smiling ruefully. "I don't think I can."
"So what did you want to ask me?"
"Why'd you do it?"
Mick said simply, "Didn't want to hide no more."
"Yeah, but why risk everyone gunning for you?"
"I was on the baseball team. Gay folks were on TV. There's a whole street of gay bars up in Jacksonville. Hell, it was 2010—That's a science fiction year, the future had arrived, man." Mick shrugged. "I figured it'd be okay. I was wrong."
"Would you do it again?" Damon asked, sitting cross-legged in front of Mick.
"Depends. I got a good life now." Then Mick laughed. "You should see South Beach, man. The place is wild and the guys are so fuckin' hot. Everybody's just hanging out as whoever they want to be and nobody cares."
"Really?" Damon said skeptically.
"Well, no. Like, I had this guy call me 'maricon' last month. That's 'faggot' in Puerto Rican or some shit. But it was just talk. There's too much faggotry in Miami to ever wipe it out, man, so nobody's trying." Mick's voice got bitter. "Not like here. Here, they figure if they stamp out the first couple faggots they see, they can stop the disease from spreading."
"Or drive you out," said Damon.
"Yeah," Mick said. "So I'm glad I got away. But maybe I could have gotten away without all the pain." Mick shook his head. "You know, I see those guys around now and they're all too busy with life to do more than scowl at me; like beating me up was an amusement they're too grown up to do anymore." Mick pulled the dog close. After a deep breath, he continued, "I just want to grab them and smash their face into a wall and yell at them that this shit never ended for me. Thinking about how scared I was back then makes me feel like throwing up. I wish I didn't have to keep living with that."
"No offense, Mick, but you don't exactly sound happy."
"Well, you don't exactly look like a ray of sunshine, either, closet boy." Mick looked out at the river. "Listen, Damon, straight folk don't hardly know what happiness is. What makes you think us gay guys got some formula for it?"
"So, happiness is an accident? Letting people know doesn't matter?"
"Sure it matters," said Mick, letting the dog lick his fingers. "You gotta stay safe. Survive. Anything else comes after that."
I met this great new kid in school today. His name is Jake and his father's a pilot. He's really funny and he doesn't let George and the others bully him. We ate lunch together and he told me all about navy life. Jake says sixth grade is a lot easier here than Italy where he was before.
I really like talking to Jake. I even like looking at him. That's kind of weird. He has really silky blond hair and this soft looking mouth and I even like how his head looks from the side for some reason.
I've never had a best friend before. I've told people I had a best friend, but they were only ever guys I spent a lot of time with. But Jake is totally cool. He even likes baseball and Final Fantasy. He'd make a good best friend. I'm going to ask Gramps if Jake can come fishing with us this weekend.
Damon lifted the anchor in by the chain. Nearby, two otters cavorted in the mud, throwing their bodies over each other, as if the rest of the world did not exist. So many people had a claim on Damon's life: Gramps, his parents, kids at school, even Jake. They all had some way they wanted him to be.
Damon pulled the string of blue beads from his pocket and looked at it. He double-checked the traffic then removed his other hand from the wheel so he could put the necklace on. After a brief tug to check that the clasp was secure, Damon took control of the boat as it cruised down the river.