Going Down

**Beastly’s Note: This post had to be retitled because the original title had the word “f*ggot” in it (asterisk included) and WordPress, along with my social media accounts, did not like that. I proudly identify as a f*ggot, but the new, heavily-censored internet does not care about how I and many others identify.**


Last Thanksgiving was the first time I took a boyfriend down to the farm to meet my family. The plan came together at the eleventh hour. Jose got his dates wrong — his flight to Caracas was scheduled three days after our college kicked everyone out of the dormitories for winter break. He had nowhere to go. I told him he should just come home with me.

As soon as I said it, I knew it would really happen, and it would be the first time I would ever do something like this. I had never brought a guy home to the farm to meet my family. When I called my father and told him I was planning to bring Jose home, I presented this as a chance to showcase traditional, red-blooded Americana to someone from another country. “Jose’s never experienced an American Thanksgiving,” I said. “He’s excited to see what it’s like. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” Dad said. And that was that. And I was troubled. Where was his fury?

Jose had no real interest in the holiday, but he did need a place to sleep. We both knew he’d have to meet my parents at some point, and this seemed as good a time as ever to do it. He knew about my history with Dad. For example, he knew that last Thanksgiving, Dad reminded me that my homosexuality was the work of evil spirits, and I threw a suitcase at him from the second floor of the farmhouse, followed by a can of bug spray that exploded upon impact somewhere in the kitchen.

Jose’s presence would keep us from doing that again. Southern people can be trusted to deliver hospitality even when they hate you. Dad would be on his best behavior. My parents would make Jose sleep in the guest room, and I told him this. The night before I drove home would be our last night sleeping together for a few weeks.

The truth is, things have been getting better between me and Dad. I think my absence, and the absence of both his children, has been softening him the way loneliness softens parents. When I graduate from college, I will become an empty gap in his life — radio silence. He knows it and I know it.

The problem is, I have seen my father’s uglier faces too many times — that marked look of disappointment bordering on disgust. If he stood still, I could mold whatever expression he was making into that face. I’d dim his eyes, redden his skin, but could I capture that hateful spark? I have wondered if he still sees the boy I was, the one with skinny legs wearing an oversized shirt at six or seven years old, with big eyes and slack wet mouth, grimacing at the camera. I never knew how to smile as a child.

My parents’ house has always been beautiful in the fall and I was excited for Jose to see it. We built the house when I was in high school in a clearing of hardwood forest along the Ogeechee River. As I drove down the half-mile gravel road through the trees, the house appeared on its wooded hillside like something out of a storybook.

I parked. Jose squeezed my hand. “We can do this,” he said.

Dad walked out to greet us. “Dad, this is Jose.”

“Hey, Jose.” My dad shook his hand. Jose had an eyebrow piercing and nose ring, and I saw these things for the first time as deep insurrections.

Dad asked, “How was the drive?”

Jose ignored his question. “This place is beautiful!” he said. “The trees are amazing!” Whenever Jose gets excited, his words barely come together. His English is perfect, but if he speaks too quickly, the words tumble over each other and he has to start again. This happened a lot that day.

Dad took Jose on a tour of the house and grounds. Jose was delighted, but I was uncomfortable, bared, ready for a fight — one that, almost to my disappointment, never happened. In fact, it was almost the most perfect “take home the boyfriend” story one could want. No tense moments, no slammed doors.

In the house, my mother was warm and bustling and asked loudly if we were hungry. Rebecca, my sister, had been cooking all morning. She stood by the fireplace. “Hey, Jose!” she said, then, “Hey, brother!” This was how she greeted me now: “Hey, brother!”

The cast was assembled. Other family members arrived, my aunt and cousins. At some point, I pulled Jose aside on the porch and asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. Everyone here is really, really nice. The only one with an issue here is you.”

“Me? These people are cruel!”

At that moment, we looked through the window into the kitchen where Dad was gently handing out slices of pecan pie to everyone.

After we ate, I took Jose for a ride on an ATV through the woods. Far from the house, we kissed against a tree. I unbuckled his pants and knelt in the dirt. His dick tasted so good, with the smell of a long day on it. It curves to the right, and when I suck him off, I have to tilt my head to take it to the back of my throat. We’ve wanted to do something like this for months, but there were no private outdoor spaces in our college town.

After the blowjob, back at the house, Rebecca asked Jose about his tattoos. Jose was an illustrator. That was his major at art school. He showed my family pictures of his work. I could not tell if they were impressed. He drew the tattoo on his arm — a mason jar filled with flowers. He explained to them that his sister and mother all got the same tattoo — their family tattoo, their mark of kinship. My sister loved it, but she and I both knew our family would never do something like that. Our parents hated tattoos, and more than that, we did not have the necessary stuff among us, whatever it was, to make such a publication declaration of love.

The next morning, I drove Jose four hours away to the airport so he could catch his flight to Venezuela. He checked his bag, we kissed, and then he was gone. The world normalised. Colors became less vivid. I was alone.

I had done something significant — I had brought a man home for a holiday. It felt like a significant step in a gay man’s life — and it happened without a single fight. No thrown luggage. No thrown bug spray. I called it a success. My family was changing. Maybe even maturing. We were coming into something else, something that felt like a step in the direction of forgiveness. If only I could learn to forgive.

On the way to the airport, Jose told me that I was too harsh with my parents — that I was unwilling to move on from the past. This was true. I was unwilling. I was holding on to things I did not know how to let go of. I did not tell him that I believed I would always hold on to these things. These were hurts that defined me in the most foundational way: without them, what would I be? I was a young man who had come of age by way of loathing and rebellion. I knew nothing else.

Parents make mistakes. All parents do. But is a continued, sustained moral condemnation of something I myself was struggling with — years of fighting and forced prayers, mandated counselling sessions with the pastor, Bible readings before bed — a mistake? More importantly, can those fervent feelings just switch off? I knew my parents still kept their beliefs inside them, hidden behind a thin wall of affable behaviour during my brief vitas. I did not think for a minute that their faith had changed or their beliefs softened, and it was their beliefs, truly, that I hated, not them. In the same way that they believed they could love the sinner (me) while hating my sin (a beautiful, vital part of my life), I had to somehow love the believer while hating everything they stood for.

Driving back, I found myself ruminating through all this, unsure of where to go or what degree of peace with my parents I was willing to settle on. I drove home through Augusta and made the terrible mistake of stopping at a shopping mall to eat at the food court. I forgot that it was Black Friday, the biggest shopping day in the U.S., and I was immediately trapped in a line of cars snaking around the building. There were very few places to park. I realized it would take a long time to get out so I just decided to park somewhere and go in.

The shopping mall was wrecked. Piles of strewn clothes. Screaming kids. In the food court, I watched the crowd. Most of the people were families with small children, but scattered throughout were teenagers on break from school. A girl pointed: “Mommy, I wanna see Santa.”

“You shut your fucking mouth!” said a woman — her mother, presumably — from inside a store. “Don’t you fucking ask me that again!”

Somewhere overhead, Jose was flying through the air on his way to a country I had never been in. He knew the political unrest in Venezuela was only getting worse. His parents told him this was likely his last trip home. His family was trying to move to Panama, where it was safer. His sister, who he loved deeply, had already left the country.

What would it be like to go home for the last time?

I realised then: I had had an easy life. The only violence I knew was of American cops killing Black people and mass school shootings — our distinctly American violence, which seemed cheaper and more embarrassing than the kind of true-blooded political unrest happening elsewhere. Jose’s stories from home were of kidnappings and car bombs, Molotov cocktails. When I heard these stories, I realised I had no idea what was like to live in a place of unrest. I had been sheltered — by whiteness, by my family’s wealth, and by the trappings of conservative, upper-class stability in the United States. Protest. Despot. What do these words really mean?

When I was little, I loved Black Friday, Christmas, and all the stuff that comes this time of year — carolling, candles, bright lights. But now I can’t think of anything more garishly American than Christmas — a time of unbridled consumerism, a commercialist pit, a black hole of waste. As a child, I always had a flicker of skepticism about Santa, but I loved all the rest of it. And even then, I wanted Santa to be real — wanted to so badly, in fact, that many nights I prayed for Santa to be real. In time, I learned my prayers about Santa were being offered to someone just as fictitious as the jolly man in a red sleigh.

My parents still prayed. I knew this because, before every meal, Dad still instructed everyone to bow their heads for the blessing, which he does himself as part of his solemn duty as our family’s moral anchor and spiritual guide. When my parents pray, they believe someone hears them, but the recipient of their prayers is not a jolly man in a red coat. As I grew up — as their beliefs turned against me — I realized there was a chasm between believing in something and wanting to believe in it. I could do one but not the other. In the end, after I examined my own life and asked questions about what I thought was true, I realised that I believed almost nothing, in no one. But I wanted to believe in everything. But that wasn’t enough.

I wanted to be someone who could speak of faith as something real and supernatural, something that really makes mountains move and blind men see. But all I found was just this, just what we were: a family, a country, people, divided.

As I left the destroyed shopping mall, I would have given anything to have a magic sleigh. I would have followed Jose south and left behind this American nightmare. I would drop down to his doorstep in Caracas, meet his father and mother, and be removed from any need to understand my parents, absolved of all responsibility to forgive them.

Love, Beastly

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