Greg is driven to succeed on the football field.
What begins for him as a simple attempt to win a starting position on the team
ends up as a journey to discover who he really is.
It was a very quiet and red-eyed Dad I found sitting at the breakfast table the next morning. He could barely look at me. He did so, however, just long enough to apologize. He did so in a soft tone of voice I barely recognized as his.
I’d thought a lot last night, not sleeping well either. I discovered it’s hard to sleep with a mind racing at about 200 miles an hour. I’d kept trying to turn my thoughts off, but nothing worked. In many ways I loved my dad. But he had a few hang-ups, the main one being his hatred of homosexuals, which I now partially understood but didn’t really. Why hadn’t he gotten help? Why did he allow himself to live with all that self-hatred? And why hadn’t Mom stepped in? I understood they led somewhat separate lives, but still...
I’d read somewhere that thing about not understanding someone till you’d walked a mile or two in his moccasins. Maybe that’s what this was. Maybe without going through what he had, what both of them had—the upheavals and disappointments they’d felt when they were only slightly older than what I was now—I couldn’t clearly or thoroughly understand. It was easy to second-guess from the sidelines.
What I was feeling might not have been what I should have felt, but it was what it was. I was angry. And I saw no reason to hide that.
After he’d apologized, I said, “Dad, you need help. Did Mom talk to you about counseling?”
He nodded with his eyes still down.
“Good. You need to go. Not for me as much as for you. I’ve been trying to figure out why you were so angry so much of the time. I don’t think you were comfortable with yourself, with who you were. I hope this psychologist or counselor or whatever can help you with that. Now, just so you know, I’m going to invite my girlfriend to dinner, maybe next week. You’ll like her. She’s great.”
I’d been standing, but now I pulled out a chair and sat across from him. “But that isn’t all. The kid in the pictures? His name is Brent. He’s 14; a freshman. We don’t have sex. I don’t want to have sex with him or any other boy. I’ve never seen him naked, though he does change his clothes over here. But that’s no problem because I’m straight.”
I glared at him for a moment, then repeated that. “I’m straight, Dad. But even if I wasn’t, you’d have no business throwing me out of the house. That was just wrong.”
He glanced up at me, and from the pain in his eyes I could see how much he was hurting.
“I know,” he said, then looked down again.
I was going to say what I needed to say, and even if he was indeed hurting, he still needed to hear it. I took a big gulp of air. “You need to know this, Dad. The boy in the pictures—he is gay. He comes over here and lifts with me because he wants to look good for his boyfriend. He’s as cool a kid as you’ll ever meet. He’s out and not a bit ashamed of who he is. He shouldn’t be. The people who have problems with gay kids are the ones who have the problem, not the kids. The kids are just who they are. Brent is not a monster. Not a sex addict. He doesn’t have AIDS. He’s never had sex! He’s none of the things you kept telling me gay people are. What he is, is just a kid. I want you to meet him, too. Maybe not right away. Maybe after you’ve had some sessions with the counselor. But I want you to meet him to see that gays aren’t how you’ve been picturing them. They’re not bad people. OK? Will you do that?”
All right, I knew I was being a little rough with him, pushing him, but as I said, I was angry.
I waited, and he finally glanced up at me. “OK,” he said. And then he surprised me. He reached across the table and put his hand over mine.
“All right then. Nuff said.” And I reached for the cereal box.
It wasn’t the following week when Caitlyn came to dinner. It was the week after that. No one else seemed to feel as I did, which was nervous as hell. Mom was so excited that she was flitting around, touching things, moving them a half inch here and there and then back again, waiting for Caitlyn to arrive. Dad was quiet, as he had been since he’d attempted to throw me out, but he didn’t look nervous; he simply appeared to be looking inward.
Mom didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t picking up Caitlyn and bringing her to our home. She said that’s what a gentleman did, especially on his date’s first time at his home. I told her she didn’t know Caitlyn.
“Mom, she’s great, and you’ll like her, but don’t expect her to be anything like you expect her to be. She won’t be. She isn’t.”
“What do you mean, Greg?” She stopped being flittery for a moment. I think I suddenly had her worried and probably thinking: ‘Was this girl going to be good enough for my boy? What is wrong with her?’ That kind of thinking.
“Nothing’s wrong with her. She’s great. I like her better every time I’m with her, more than I’ve ever liked any other girl. But she’s not exactly, uh, typical, I guess. For one thing, she’s outspoken. She says what she thinks. The filter between her brain and her lips seems defective—or maybe completely missing; I don’t know. And she’s taller than most girls. Also, she dresses how she dresses, which isn’t how some girls dress. Uh, actually, not like any other girls dress. She’s entirely unique.”
I rushed on before Mom could respond. “But, she’s smart, and attractive, and, maybe best of all, she thinks I’m handsome.” I had to stop there and shake my head at the absurdity of that; I still found that a complete wonder. But then I continued. “Can you believe that? Me? So, maybe she needs glasses, but I’m not going to recommend them because who knows what might happen if she got some?”
I gave a sarcastic snort. “But, mostly, she’s unique. There’s no one else like her, she’s her own person, and kinky, but I think I’m falling in love with her.”
My dad looked up from his newspaper. I hadn’t seen any of his anger since, well, that night. And I didn’t see it now, either. He said, “This is the one?”
“I don’t know, Dad. She’s the only girl I’ve ever felt this way about. But, she could be.”
“She’s special, then.”
I opened my eyes a bit wider. That was a compliment. For both Caitlyn and for me. That wasn’t something you heard from my dad every day. But he’d been calmer since he’d started talking to his counselor.
My mom went back to her fussing. The dinner was about done, what needed staying warm was in a low oven; other things were in the kitchen waiting to be brought to the dining room. We were eating there for Caitlyn. We rarely did.
She came ten minutes late, which Mom told me as I was going to the door was actually ten minutes early. Women!
“Hi,” she said to me, and kissed me on the cheek. That was Caitlyn. She’d never done that before. On the lips, a couple of times, yes, with no one else around. On the cheek, no. With my parents watching?! No, again. She had a way of knocking me off balance like no one else did, making me blush, making me feel like I was twelve.
“Mom, Dad, this is Caitlyn. Caitlyn, my parents.”
Whew! I’m not good at that kind of thing.
The thing is, my mother wasn’t the chattiest person in the world, and while my dad had always carried the bulk of the conversations he’d held with me, spouting his views, he hadn’t been that way since, well, since ‘then’; he’d spoken very little, in fact. Now, with Caitlyn there, when I’d have expected him to be talkative, he wasn’t.
I was surprised to see, with Caitlyn, my mom sort of assumed a new personality. She was animated and talkative and kind of began behaving like what I assumed was a flighty teenage version of herself.
Caitlyn, for her part, was herself. Which of course meant, she was weird. She’d dressed for tonight much more traditionally than usual. At school she dressed, well, eclectic might describe it. Weirdly eclectic. Always different, and always unexpected. Tonight she was wearing a pretty dress I’d never seen her wear before—I’d never seen here wear any dress before, actually—and so she looked like a very ordinary girl, except it was a pale-blue dress with some sort of lace around the edges of the sleeves and bottom hem, and with it she had put on a bright-green vest.
With little orange and purple octopi on it.
Anyway, Caitlyn was Caitlyn. Here’s an example:
We were sitting at the dining room table. It was mostly Caitlyn and Mom talking to each other. Mom asked her if she dated a lot.
Caitlyn answered. “No, not at all. The only boy I’ve been out with since sixth grade is Greg. I grew too tall, and I’m kind of competitive. Did Greg tell you I’m on the volleyball team? Well, I am, and I hang some with my teammates, and because of that most guys think I’m a lezzie. So no, no dates. But I’m not a lezzie, even though I haven’t had sex yet, and I don’t really know what to think about it. Well, about either of those things.”
Dad was having trouble. His eyes had opened wide, and I couldn’t tell if he wanted to laugh and was keeping it in or having a heart attack. I turned back to watch Caitlyn.
“But whatever, I’m sure I like boys more than girls. I like Greg a lot. I don’t know about the sex thing, though. You see people in the movies having sex, and you see even more details on the internet, and sometimes it looks really intimate and loving, and other times it looks mechanical or athletic, and I don’t know what to expect. Or even what I’d like. But I think the loving kind of sex is more appealing. That’s what I want to try with Greg.”
Dad couldn’t contain it any longer. He broke out laughing and couldn’t stop and eventually left the table. Caitlyn looked questioningly at me.
“He gets that way some times,” I said innocently, lying through my teeth. “Ignore him.”
My mother looked like she’d swallowed a turnip whole. So I picked up the conversation, and eventually we made it through dinner. Not something I want to go through again, a first dinner with a girl I’ve brought home to meet my parents. My mother, though, bless her, after Caitlyn had driven herself home, told me that Caitlyn, while perhaps unconventional, seemed very taken with me. Mom said she could tell by the way Caitlyn looked at me. And as far as she could see, Caitlyn being as she was, facing the world on her own terms and not afraid of it, was in a far better place at 17 than she herself had been.
The thing about that dinner that had really surprised me wasn’t my mom’s acceptance of Caitlyn. It was how my dad had reacted. Yes, he’d been at counseling for a short time now, but it was just that and no more. Yes, he’d been less angry since Mom had spoken to him that night and I guess read the riot act to him. But still, Caitlyn had spoken of homosexuality very casually, talking like it was no big deal one way or the other, and that hadn’t been Dad’s attitude all my life. So the fact he laughed, instead of screamed, puzzled me.
I hadn’t talked to him at all about his counseling sessions. I didn’t want to open that particular bag of snakes. There’d been a change in him, however. He didn’t seem to have an undercurrent of anger waiting to burst forth any longer and because of that, somehow he seemed a little smaller. But at the same time, he seemed warmer, too. Easier to talk to. More interested in what I had to say. I was getting used to a whole new personality.
But I had to find out about what I found strange in his reaction to Caitlyn. So, the next night while he was in the living room after dinner reading his paper, I sat down in the chair next to him and waited till he lowered the paper and looked at me.
“Dad? Last night? What did you think of her?”
“She’s wonderful! You got a winner there, Greg. Hold on to that one.”
“Really? But she talked about, uh, lesbians. I thought that would make you mad.”
He looked away from me then for a moment before turning back. “Greg, I’ve got my demons. I’m talking to a man who was recommended to me, and I can tell that it’ll be a long time before I feel OK about myself, if ever. I do see my problems clearly now, however. Solving them, liking myself as I am, is something else. But if I’d had Caitlyn’s open outlook when I was her age instead of the fear and hatred I got from my father, I’d have done much better. She’s a breath of fresh air. There won’t be keeping anything hidden under the rug with her. She’ll talk about whatever’s bothering her, and nothing will get bottled up like it’s been with me.”
That was my dad. It was why I loved the guy, beyond the anger and the self-hatred and what had grown out of that. People aren’t one thing. They’re a mixture of all sorts of things. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just what they are. In meeting Caitlyn, my mom had turned into a schoolgirl, and I wondered if she was reliving her own experiences at that age. I wondered if she was reflecting back, wondering what might have been if she’d been more the way Caitlyn was. My dad had laughed instead of ranting in fury. Both behaviors were not what I’d expected, but I liked them.
I was happy Dad was getting help and hoped this current absence of anger would be permanent. And I was delighted he, and Mom, too, liked Caitlyn.
It has to be hard when you introduce your boyfriend or girlfriend to your parents and they are disapproving. At least I wasn’t going to have to deal with that.
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