The election was Dad’s obsession for months before it was even close. The idea of going back to what we used to be, what he used to be, terrified him. To own a hardware store. At this point, he’d climbed too far up the latter if he fell he’d crack open his skull. The man running against him was Gary Edison, Orla’s Father. For the first week, I knew her I didn’t realize they were related. I had to hide from Father that we were friends. Gary was a respectable guy, who treated his family well and strangers like family. And Father resented him. He was the kind of person to take opposition to heart. Eric’s family was big and loud and were the definition of red-neck. No, I don’t mean they had thick accents or orange beards down to their nipples, but their necks were always so sunburnt I’d fear they’d start bleeding. They played golf at such a constant rate with their arched necks under the blistering sun that they became one with the rays. That was, all of them but Eric. He hated golf with a passion. Emmylou’s Mother left her when she was ten, and for the year after a bunch of people talked about her behind her back. I remember people whispering about why it could be. Some people said her mom was a crazy alcoholic who mysteriously died. Some said she just didn’t love Emmylou. Her hair was always braided down her back, and was bleached blonde and straight. The black roots of her hair were usually covered with a Got Milk? or e/c^2 sqrt(-1) pv/nr MIT baseball cap. She was born in London and lived there till she was five, and sometimes you could hear the accent in her words. She only wore light colors and had six different overalls. When she spoke she’d lock and unlock her knees repeatedly. She leaned her head against Eric’s in the theater. I saw him smile in the projected light of the color movie. They were slowly becoming a couple, and no one knew but me. To me it was clear. One night the five of us were huddled around a slightly Anti-Semitic board game from the eighties, talking about sexuality.
“I just feel like the generation before us is so much more hateful,” Eric said. We all nodded.
“There’s definitely a divide. That doesn’t mean people our age aren’t homophobic, but I know for sure more of them are older.” I said, rolling the dice onto the board. “I mean I don’t think I’m straight.”
Orla looked up at me from my shoulder. “Really?”
“I still like girls I don’t know,” I responded. She leaned back on my shoulder, slightly relieved.
“So you’re bi.” She said.
“What’s that?” Had I missed something big?
“Liking both.”, Emmylou said from Eric’s shoulder. “My sister’s trans, but she’s not out to my dad.”
“I guess I am. I didn’t know you could like both.” I guess it’s a lot more complicated?
“You should probably tell your mom and dad.” Rudder said from the floor. I don’t know if I can do that. I remembered the electricity in the room when gay marriage was legalized.
“No. I can’t. Not now, at least. Not this close to the election.” I was in a bubble. It was so comfortable to fly away in the oily rainbow surface, but the longer I refused to expose myself the more it’d hurt to hit the ground. That night I danced all the way home from Rudder’s. The night air gave me energy, like the dark made the light in me more visible. I ran down the center of the street humming show tunes. I wasn’t out of the closet but I was body slamming the door. At least now I had unlocked it. The moonlight bounced off of car windows and the glistening tar on the street. I was a spotlight. All eyes on me, from the squirrels in the trees to the reflections in the dim windows of the houses bordering me. My audience. I was on display, I was known, I was putting on my own little show.
The next day Eric came out to his parents as bi. He was screamed into the sunken wooden floor. He had to outrun them with rocks, shoes, and food showering behind him. And before I knew it, he was gone. I could not offer him a place to sleep, in secret or not. And I didn’t hear from him. Not for days. He didn’t answer calls or texts and practically disappeared. And then just one text message. I’m safe. I and the knot inside my chest burned away. Where? My fingers lingered on my phone eagerly, scratching at the cracks on the lucid screen. And again he didn’t respond until that night. New York City. He started telling me more over time about how he hitched on cars and the backs of trucks until he reached the city. There he started sleeping in abandoned buildings and had already met some decent people. All he had brought with him was a sleeping bag, phone, and charger. He was eating at soup kitchens, hanging out in libraries and sometimes even stealing food from stores. And that was it. My friend was gone.
I burst into my house to find my parents, grandfather, and Elena waiting at the door for me.
“Welcome home Aaron.” Mother said.
“Where’s Marissa and Avery?” I asked, looking over her shoulder for them. Mother was silent.
“They’re gone,” Father said, his hands in his pocket. I looked at the four of them, all avoiding my eyes.
“What do you mean?” I asked Mother.
“I sent them back to their motel. They have no place here.” I stood in shock, my stare forcing her to look back at me. “But that’s not why we are waiting at the door for you. We need to talk Aaron.” They sat me on the couch and each went over what was going on. Mother said I was scaring her every time I didn’t come home. Father said it angered him when I brought Avery and Marissa into our house. They all kept telling me of all I did wrong. “And that Eric, just terrible. Such a waste of a young man. I just feel it’s unhealthy to have homosexuals be part of your childhood.” Mother said.
“Okay… but what if I’m gay too?” My voice cracked and faltered. My mouth went numb. They all watched me, paralyzed.
“Excuse us.” Elena and Grandpa stood up slowly and walked away. They did not look at me The room was silent. I could not only hear all our breathing, but our heart beats and the blood in our ears. Mother began to silently cry. My face was still frozen. I wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t conscious. I whispered to quiet for them to hear.
“I’m sorry.” Father stood up, took Mother’s hand and led her away as she burst into tears. And then I felt my own tears rush down my cheek but wiped it away as quickly as I could. Her sobbing faded upstairs and I sat still. And then I laughed. I laughed just to remind myself that just because it was dark didn’t mean I couldn’t smile. I screamed up the stairs. “I’M SORRY THAT I’M A FUCKING SHAME TO THIS FAMILY!” My voice echoed through the house. And I am absolutely sure I heard Mother mutter that I wouldn’t be the first.