Father to Son
by S. Shaw
Damn! An air of dismissal and contempt stood at attention, all mocking and stuff, as she, my sister Candance, calmly and showing all of her crooked front teeth, just flatly blurted out, "…he dances the way all them gay guys dance."
She sat there at the end of my parent's bed expecting me to comment. Like hell girl, I thought to myself, I'd be dead and in heterosexual hell before I justified a homophobic statement like that. "Look how he throws his hands all around like some spastic disco chicken with his tight ass on fire."
I waited for the derision flavored "humph" to fall from out of her mouth like rotten teeth that would stink up the room the minute her mouth opened, making me gag and cover my nose. Lord knows the stuff that she was saying was stank-butt funny, hilarious no less, but just not in the way that she intended. The sense of familial camaraderie she tried to foster between us, died the minute her mouth opened and those words popped out.
Like always I tumbled back inside of my hurt, smiled, turned around and mumbled forget you girl, quietly to myself. The words, "she ain't got a clue, Miss-I-ain't-got-a-thing-against-gays," reverberated through my echoing mind as I continued to watch the images that washed vacantly across the television screen.
Light from the t.v. flickered throughout the darkened bedroom, and music, yes disco, filled the spaces between my silence, that my sister didn't even know that she had created, and my sister's constant laughter. I sat there beside her on the sloping end of the bed and thought just how totally whack it was that people could actually and honestly mistake a lack of malice for caring.
"Well," my sister that I loved more than anything else in life, would always say when the subject of Them Folks came up, "at least I don't hate them people. They're human too. Carl at work is the biggest sissy there is, and we hang all the time." She and my father would laugh out loud, while my mother would in a quiet, though conspiratorial way, smile politely while looking anxiously in my direction.
Her words "they're human, they're human," would always make me mad, and I would think to myself, "thanks for at least giving us that." I would say nothing else, just letting the bull-crap pile up higher and higher till I felt that I would suffocate from it all. My sister would always give her opinion of gays in the same tone of voice she reserved for speaking about rapists and child molesters.
"…mm, mm, mm. But, I don't hate them. I didn't want to be a "them" and wasn't yet ready to come out as a "sissy, queer or fag" to my family, so I took the madness. I kept silent, taking the verbal abuse, even after my father called me "faggot" the first time. I was sitting at the kitchen table sipping on a cup of Red Zinger tea, talking to mama and that sister chile of mine, just doodling around the edges of a fierce poem that I had written earlier that morning, and just recited out loud like I was James Earl Jones, or Lawrence Fishburne in Hamlet or something. Mama smiled and as her wont, praised the poem to high heaven, saying over and over again how good it was. Sis laughed when I stumbled over the words in my haste to get it out, but I could tell that she was gigging on it though. I didn't know that pops was in the room, so when he cleared his throat, I jumped.
His words were meant to cautionary or something, kind of like that wacked out country song, "Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys." Instead if my father were writing the lyrics they would sound more like "mamas don't let your babies grow up to be fairies and punks." Whatever. He always did believe that mama coddled and babied me too much. "Baby," he would always say to mama, "don't keep doing things for that grown-tail boy, he gonna grow up to be soft and a punk."
So, anyway, that morning in the kitchen, he stepped up to the table his long, thick fingers with their nicotine stained nails, taking hold of my poem twirling it around and around in circles on the little four cornered, yellow and green, Formica topped table. Looking around, trying his best to make it look like he was speaking to no one in particular, yeah right, he blurted out,
"Only girls, people who are fifty-one-fifty, and faggots write poetry. Not real men." He looked over at me as he spit out the word "faggot." His face contorted, eyes glared wide open, and his mouth twitched, looking all nasty and hateful. Coughing loudly once then twice, he moved over to the sink, poured his coffee down the drain and left the room.
But, I was fifteen, scared of my own sexuality, and still in love with him, and the idea of father and son bonding. So once again I let the stank go, not wanting to dirty my new shoes in it.
But two years later when he stormed into my bedroom without knocking, screaming at me to take "take that faggy-stank-butt calendar off of the back of my closet door, where it had been hanging in relative obscurity for the past ten months, or he'd "personally remove it," and then kick my "faggot butt up and down Bonar Street." Right then and there, my heart racing like horses charging down the straight-away, I knew it was time for me to be a man, and get my move on. So I packed my stuff, making sure to take with me my "faggy-stank-butt" calendar;" twelve fine brothas all nicely clad in next to nothing, and got on with myself.
I might have been a faggot, but I was damned sure I wasn't gonna be his, or any other fools, whipping boy; if I had to be a faggot, I was gonna be my own. Besides, the minute that pops tried to lay a hand on me, I would've kicked the crap out of his dusty black ass like he was my child. This six foot four, one hundred and ninety six pound, muscled, don't-ask, don't-tell, chocolate-drop, dreadlocked faggot-butt brotha, would've tried to make sure that pops never again called me, or nobody else a "faggot."
So, I stepped. Went out into the world carrying only a gym bag with a couple pairs of boxer briefs, a few pairs of pants, three shirts, deodorant, toothpaste and brush, an extra pair of shoes, fifty hard-earned bones, and nowhere to go.
You know, all of my life I heard from pops, neighbors in the hood, friends and my gay uncle, who's so under he could kiss his own butt, "that black men aren't gay. It's a white thang, a white man's disease." I always wanted to pimp slap my uncle when he would say stuff like that; scream at him for not being more of a man and standing up to my father, his older brother and rightly claiming who he was.
I would stare at myself wondering "what the hell am I, if not black and gay?" For that point, what were my fabulous uncle, and all those other brothas and sisters, that I saw nightly hanging out at the gay clubs doing? Were they performing some sort of strange, sexual masquerade? My father and all them folks were perpetrating, acting as if gay black folks were just confused, or got this way from some airborne virus transmitted to them by their white next door neighbor, or that skinny white dude that sat down next to them early one morning while riding the BART train to work.
I still couldn't get over it though. My daddy, my own flesh and blood, the man who professed to love and care for me, called me a "faggot." And the last thing that I remember hearing from him as I slammed the door and stepped on out into the world, was "Go on, go on boy go …"
***** ***** *****
"...take your funny self on outta here boy. You ain't no son of mine" I, I, I could feel my rough and husky voice tumbling from my mouth as if dusty and jagged stones down a steep hill. I couldn't catch my breath as I screamed, and I wanted to stop. But the heat kept rising, and I kept picturing him, my own flesh and blood bent over some bathroom stall letting some pervert abuse him over and over again, and him moaning with pleasure.
So, so, I kept screaming and ranting. "You ain't no son of mine, ain't, ain't nobody in my family that way." I could feel my breath as it exploded from my mouth, coming out in choppy spurts watering the air, could feel my chest rising, my pulse racing, my hair standing on end; could see my wife staring at me like I was some madman fresh from the nuthouse, or from the pages of one of her true crime magazines. I could see her eyes widen with fear, her mouth part and tremble. In slow motion I watched as she stared at me refusing to cry.
"Boy, boy, you bettah ask the good lord for forgiveness and ask him to save your sick and damned soul 'fore it's too late." My ears listened to me as I called upon a man I ain't talked to, or thought all that much about since I was a child, heard me call out, "LORD, LORD," over and over again, louder and louder till my voice broke and tears flowed down, wetting my cheeks, soaking my fingers that clawed the air in front of my face.
I see him practicing basketball, tossing it up towards the basket just to have it fly long. I see him in my mind's eye, as a gawky and gangly four year old chocolate scarecrow with bucked teeth and a frenetic personality that bordered on the hilarious, and a smile that reflected back my own. "No, no!" I scream out, fiercely thrusting the pictures that are too hard-edged to hold, from my mind
I tried to recall some old church song, any old song my mama used to sing while getting ready for church early Sunday mornings, but nothing came to mind. Nothing. So I stared. I saw the front door with the silver filigreed, ornate handle that I had been planning on replacing, frozen in space, not remembering when it opened or if it closed. Not knowing if it slammed or was eased shut with the grace of a coming home late from a date, or sneaking out in the middle of the night, shoes in hand and living on the mind. My mind wouldn't play back the moment he left to hear if he cursed or smiled my way before or after he kissed his mama and told her he'd see her later. All my ears heard was a terrible wailing sound, a car horn somewhere outside, another pair of lungs forcing air roughly out and in, and the snot that expanded from my nostrils in bubbly breaths.
While I lied on the couch dehydrating and breathing like a fiend, my wife, the boy's mother and guardian, whispered something in Morse Code. Something about love. Something about love not always being a lot, but sometimes it's all we have. And she kept repeating something about my faggot son... "...he loves you fool man. He loves you."