chapter 1When I was six years old, I received my first marriage proposal. I’d only ever seen engagements happen in movies and on TV. Beautiful white women would cry tears of joy as their handsome lovers placed sparkling engagement rings on their slender fingers. I hesitated for a moment. Could I say yes to this proposal even though I wasn’t one of those glamorous white ladies? I was a boy, so I was supposed to be the one to propose. But then again, the person who had proposed to me was also a boy. Could this even work if that were the case? Weren’t there rules that had to be followed?
“I want to say yes,” I said hesitantly, my insides nervously tightening. I wanted nothing more than to say yes to Wes’s proposal, but even at six-years-old the expectations of society were crippling to me.
Wes looked up at me from the ground, as he had gotten down on one knee just like in the movies. We were the only kids on the playground that afternoon. My mom and his grandmother sat comfortably on a bench near a row of trees on the far side of the playground, barely paying attention to us. We were under the jungle gym, and we’d just finished having a swinging contest. I’d won because I was able to swing higher than him.
“Don’t say no,” he pleaded. “I love you, Harvey.”
“I love you too,” I replied, deciding I didn’t care about the rules anymore. I ignored my nervous stomach, now feeling more excited than anxious. If we loved one another, it shouldn’t matter if we were both boys (or that we were only in the first grade). “I’ll marry you, Wes!”
He stood, coming to his full height. Even back then he towered over me. He reached into the back pocket of his shorts and pulled out a plastic package of peach rings. They’d already been opened, and he removed the rubber band that had been keeping the bag closed. “This is all I got,” he said. “I’ll get you a real big ring when I get a job.”
He handed me two peach rings. He grabbed two more, eating one and placing the other on his left pointer finger. I ate one and did the same. “Do you think we’ll have a big wedding?” I asked. “I don’t know that many people.”
He didn’t respond, instead kissing me on the lips quickly. We looked at one another seriously for a moment, and I could see that he was scared that he’d made some sort of mistake. I smiled, trying to signal that I wasn’t upset, and he returned my smile with a wide grin, displaying his missing front tooth. His dimples made him appear all the more wholesome. “Promise not to tell anybody about the kissing,” he said. “I’ll have to hit you and that won’t be good for our marriage.”
“I won’t tell anyone about the kiss,” I said. “But can I tell my mom we’re getting married?” He nodded sheepishly. I grabbed his hand and dragged him over to my mom and his grandmother. I told them excitedly about our engagement.
Wes was holding onto my hand so tightly that it kind of hurt, but I didn’t ever want us not to be connected like that. I didn’t want him to be afraid. I knew it’d be hard for us to get married because we were both boys and so young, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have a successful union. Both my mom and Mrs. Lennox looked at us like we were naïve. If they could have filmed us and submitted the tape to America’s Funniest Home Videos, they would have. They explained, with soft chuckles and furtive glances to one another, that we couldn’t get married because we were too young.
I found out later on there was another reason we couldn’t get married.
We stayed best friends for another year or so before we slowly began to grow apart. He was always into football and sports. I didn’t even know how to throw a football, and in a small farm town, football was everything.
We’d give each other head nods in passing as the years went by. I thought that was how we’d interact until one of us went away to college, but then, in eighth grade, things got weird—at least for me. It all happened at a boy-girl party. My first boy-girl party. The only reason I went to the party was to see what it was like. I could cross it off of my bucket list and then never have to interact with my peers again.
“Spin the bottle!?” Emma, a girl in our class, exclaimed. “This isn’t 1960!” Everyone laughed, but the hostess, Hailey Abbot, was not having it. She wanted things to get hot and heavy. She wanted a party people would still be talking about come Monday.
“You don’t have to play Emma,” Hailey said. “Not like anyone here wants to kiss you anyway.” The group bust up laughing and Emma’s face reddened considerably. She sat silently outside of the circle that housed the participants of the game, which I somehow managed to be included in. There were six boys and five girls. A boy and a girl would kiss, some even full-on making out, and everyone would roll with laughter. It was my turn and the bottle spun around several times before it pointed to Wes.
We’d probably had one conversation all school year. We locked eyes in the smoky-aired basement. I glanced away, my face red and hot.
“Gross, that’s so gay!”
“Spin again! Spin again!”
“Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.”
Wes leaned across the circle, lingering for a moment before kissing me on the forehead. Everyone laughed again. Crisis averted. I still thought about that moment over four years later. I was happy. I was happy that Wes had kissed me, but I was embarrassed. I didn’t think of that moment as some joke, some queerbait-y stunt to appease the heterosexual masses.
I cried for weeks after that. It was all it took for me to realize that I was gay. That stupid kiss on the forehead confirmed to me that I liked boys. I agonized over that kiss day after day for the rest of the year, unable to look Wes in the eyes. I wasn’t the same fourteen-year-old kid, but I couldn’t let it go, and I knew that I never would if I stayed in this small town with small-minded people.
Wes continued to grow, getting bigger and better at sports and I continued to fade into the background of his life. I doubted he ever thought about the proposal or the forehead kiss. Why would he? I was just an old friend he didn’t hang out with anymore. He was never mean or rude to me, but we never talked. I wouldn’t even know how to talk to him anymore. I couldn’t bring up things we were interested in when we were six. It’s not like I could say, “Oh yeah, hey Wes, I know we’re both eighteen now, but did you catch the latest episode of Sesame Street?” He’d probably think I’d lost my mind.
“Harvey!” my mother hollered. I sat up in bed, glancing over at my clock. It was seven-thirty, and I most definitely was going to be late for school. Had I been dreaming about the past again? It always happened out of nowhere, me thinking about Wes and how I had a weird semi-crush on him. “Are you up?” she screamed.
“I’m up!” I yelled in response. “I promise I’m up!”
Leave it to me to oversleep on the first day back from winter break. I had never been much of a morning person and having two weeks without needing to be anywhere in the morning had really screwed with my sleep schedule.
I hopped out of bed, scrambling to find something to wear in the piles of clothes I had around my room. I found a pair of jeans and a Roosevelt High hooded sweatshirt, pulling them on in record time. I ran to the bathroom to take care of brushing my teeth and washing my face. Thank goodness I showered the night before. I had to complete my skincare routine or the whole day would be ruined. I had a four-step process, and I couldn’t skip any of them.
My hair was a sandy brown color. It was cloud-like on the top and faded on the sides. I made sure to moisturize it, picking out any dented parts with my fingers. I’d gotten a haircut right before the holidays and I’d have to go see Mr. Henderson in his shop sometime soon.
I grabbed my bag and ran down the stairs, stopping to put on my jacket. I was out the door with fifteen minutes until first period. I booked it the six blocks to Roosevelt High, slightly sweaty under my winter coat when I arrived at my locker, tossing in my bag and jacket. I walked into the Studio Art classroom right as the bell rang. I smiled to myself, celebrating my small victory.
At this school there were barely any art programs. I loved music and I could play three instruments, but I’d already taken Intro to Band and Band II. Last year I took Intro to Art, so this school year I had to take Studio Art. All students took two years of band and two years of art. It didn’t matter which you took first, so the classes were a mix of grade levels. Ninth and eleventh graders would mix, as would tenth and twelfth graders.
I’d been taking cello lessons since I was five, adding violin lessons at ten, but those weren’t instruments offered for the high school’s band course. That meant I had to pick a new instrument to learn when I started high school, so I picked up clarinet.
I wished I could spend more time playing music, but it wasn’t like I hated Studio Art. Today we were sketching a still life of cubes and spheres using oil pastels. I had barely made it on time, and as I took my seat, I noticed Wes and a couple of other guys were absent. But they were always late, so it was merely an observation. They’d won the championship back in late November and become untouchable, the school’s celebrities. They’d all been scouted and would be playing for these amazing universities next fall. Coming to school for them at this point was a formality.
“Mr. Lennox, Mr. Jacobs, Mr. Greene, you all are late.” I looked up at Wes and his friends John and Freddy.
“Uh, yeah, sorry,” Freddy said, not sounding remotely apologetic. “Morning conditioning ran long.”
“Just take a seat, gentlemen,” Mrs. Kerr said with a sigh. Wes sat down across from me and started sketching the cubes. I didn’t say anything.
My eyes traveled up from the still life to Wes’s face. He was pure farm boy. He had a brush cut type of hairstyle that was honey blond. His eyes were icy blue. His masculine jaw and browbone made him seem years older. I hated myself for looking at him. I hated myself for noticing his broad shoulders and beefy chest. I hated myself for noticing how he walked because he was so large. I hated it all. I hated this town, and these people, and feeling so constricted. It even had me hating myself.
When his eyes met mine, I averted them quickly, making sure not to meet his gaze again that class period.
10 chapters, created 12 years , updated 1 year
9 6 24323