(Editor’s Note: This story is an expansion of “The Burrito Kiss” which was published on the gar spot previously. The story is set c. 1992.)
Saturday nights meant church service and that usually meant glares and taunts from Righteous, my older brother Jerome. Hurry up. Comb that mess on your head. Wear something appropriate. Don’t be looking like no mess and embarrass me . . . and the family, he’d add almost like an afterthought. Inasmuch as this Saturday service saw his confirmation in our puny church’s hierarchy, it stood to reason that the reminders to straighten up and fly right would come pounding heavier than usual. But Righteous ignored me, except to silently look me up and down. He had a way of looking at me as if he were casing me out, the way guys tend to do. His eyes looked like slits, which accentuated his long eyelashes. His lips were pursed in an almost smile which in any other context might look sexy – in this context, seeing that we’re siblings, it looked nothing buy creepy. The pose lasted for a while, even after I noticed him standing there. It was a game of chicken, and I lost.
“What?” I said.
He didn’t say a word. He removed himself from the doorframe and walked away with a silent chuckle from his lips, shoulders, and strut. Righteous knew how to work it.
Anyone with half a brain could see Jerome was a closet case. He was way queenier than me. But I was the unholy one because I didn’t buy all the church stuff. Correction, I didn’t buy all of their church stuff. If I had, if I had blindly parroted Jerome and learned my verses, memorized my hymns, prayed earnestly and regularly, and made of point of putting on airs like he did to show what a man of the Lord I am, then I probably would have passed just like he did. And he did pass, no matter how much he camped it up.
That they found out about me was my own fault. I didn’t want to play their game.
About three months before Confirmation Day, I discovered Kurt. I saw him sitting in the bleachers looking my way while I was doing practice laps. I didn’t want to believe that he was looking at me, so I rationalized that he was probably looking at the new computerized scoreboard our piss-poor high school just installed. Everybody did, more in disbelief than anything else.
I kept running around the track, eyes forward.
Then I ran in front of the banners. They’re bright and colorful and eye catching. He’s reading them word for word, I told myself. We all did. During every game. Even though we’ve seen them a thousand times.
I kept running around the track, peripheral vision set on high.
But then came the real test. There’s a wall along a stretch of the track, at the far end. Where will his eyes be after I come from behind the wall? I stared into the blue sky, aiming for detachment.
Oh god! He’s really staring at me, I thought. At the same time, I wondered if he’ll be in the shower room later on. I ran faster.
First I dripped with sweat then with shower water. Vainly, I wondered when I looked sexier. But he wasn’t there. Not in the shower room or the locker room. And he wasn’t out in front, lingering. I lingered for a bit and continued imagining the what-if scenarios I started during my shower. Then I left for home.
It went on like that for a couple of weeks until finally I came out of the showers and there he stood waiting for me.
“Hi,” he said.
I said, “Hi,” then I said, “You weren’t here yesterday.”
“Yeah, I was.”
“Where were you?”
“I waited here, but you didn’t come out so I left.”
“Well, how come you’re here this time?” I said.
“I waited longer.”
“Why didn’t you come inside?” I said.
“Are you fucking crazy? They kill faggots at this school!”
“I’m not a faggot.” I don’t know why I said that. Maybe just to fuck with him, cause he seemed so sure of himself. He smirked a lot. I hate it when white boys smirk. It seems to come so natural to them.
“Yeah, you are,” he said.
“Are you a faggot?”
“Duh! I’m going to the Castro Saturday.”
“Wanna come along?”
“Never been. What do you do there?”
“Hang out. Then get a burrito.”
We had a church thing that Saturday and I told him that I couldn’t go. He looked depressed and sort of shuffled away.
There weren’t that many white boys at my high school, so I’m surprised I had never noticed him before. He was actually kinda goofy looking, like his face was somewhat out of proportion. But I couldn’t stop thinking about him the rest of the week. So anyway, I went to the church thing that Saturday and skipped out of dinner with Righteous and my folks. I lied and said I had a track meet. Then I ran to BART. I transferred to Muni. I got off at Castro Street station and walked up the steps to street level. I entered another planet only a spit’s distance from my own.
I just stood there. What was I doing? I didn’t know where to find him. And there were sharp blue eyes looking at me from everywhere. I heard their tongues smacking and I felt their thoughts carving me up. Fresh meat. Dark meat. Forbidden fruit. I started to freak, so I walked down the block. Eventually, I ducked into a bookstore. I hear it ain’t there no more. It was packed with sharp blue eyes, too, but at least they were looking at books and not me. At least not directly.
He was at the magazine section, reading an Advocate.
“When did you get here?” he said.
“Just a while ago.” I smiled, relieved.
“Cool! Are you hungry?”
We walked to this burrito place next to the Pendulum. Kurt explained that’s the bar where white guys go find black guys. I just nodded my head. I hear it ain’t there no more either.
We both got super-sized burritos with the works. I took a chip off his plate, even though there were still plenty on my own. He didn’t say nothing.
“So,” I said, “You ever go next door to find some black boys?”
“Don’t have to, do I?”
Then he smirked.
I put my burrito down. Sat up. Reached over the table. Grabbed the sides of his head. Then kissed him square on the lips, deep and long, until the sour cream and salsa from our mouths dripped onto the table. When I let him go, we both caught our breaths.
“Why don’t you sit next to me?” he said.
“Sure.” So I sat next to him. “You got guacamole in your hair.”
He smirked, and told me to lick it off, then. So I did.
That’s when I realized that I fell in love with his smirks.
To see each other outside of going to Castro, we both signed up to sell Oakland Tribune subscriptions. We made a half-assed effort to sell the things, but usually we just went to some part of town far away from home in East Oakland and hung out, reading the papers together. The last time we did was on Confirmation Day, that afternoon. We hung on the second floor landing of this pink apartment building near Piedmont Avenue, a semi-enclosed space that did not face the street. Apartment 7 had a little rainbow flag hanging on a nail in the door. It felt cool to be there.
But anyway, despite our attempts at discretion, Righteous managed to find out about us. I think he spied on me to live his life through mine. Probably saw us in Castro. I know he went there, though he’d never admit it. He lied a lot, for a man of God.
He waited until we all sat together at Sunday dinner.
“Were you selling papers again with your friend?”
“Why you always with him?”
My parents remained silent. They usually let Righteous do all the dirty work. I stayed silent, too.
“He ain’t on the track team, so don’t try to play that one. There ain’t no white boys on the track team.”
Finally I got sick of the innuendos. He’s such a chicken-shit, I thought to myself. He’ll never come out and just say what he means. So I said it for him.
“At least I ain’t no damn closet case like you!”
There was a “motherfucker” implied after the “you.” I probably shouldn’t have choked on it. I think I could have said anything, including that I was a secret axe murderer, and gotten away with it. I swear they all froze in exactly the same pose, their mouths opened with the same size gap, the same amount of food inside, unchewed, their forks at exactly the same height above their plates gripped tightly in their right hands. It was priceless. My kingdom for a Polaroid.
Then I got the silent treatment from all three of them for the next couple of weeks. I killed conversations. When I walked into a room, whatever they had been talking about disappeared. Everywhere I went in the house it was the same thing. Nothing. I did not exist. Finally, one day, I said to my mother, “Momma, what did I do?”
She gave me a tear of a look. “You know precisely what you did, young man. May the Lord have pity on your soul.”
Which brings us back to Confirmation Day. Jerome smirking in the doorway at me as I got dressed was the first communication we had had for two weeks.
The rest was yet to come.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.