Taking Off the Mask
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without
and know we cannot live within.  -James Baldwin
Chapter 4
Dion Washington! She said her son was Dion. It couldn’t be possible. I had just finished
serving detention with him, and now I had to spend my Saturdays being treated rudely.

“What’s the matter, Dear?” I guess she noticed the astonished look on my face.

“Dion is your son?” I managed to stammer out.

“Why yes,” she replied. “Do you know him?”

“Yes, Nurse Dorothy,” I answered. “We just got through spending a week of detention
with Mr. Marshall.”

“So you’re the James he speaks so highly of?” She looked at me and smiled.

So highly of? This is a joke, right?  He hadn’t said more than a half dozen words to me
the whole time we spent a week together. However, he goes home and tells his mother
about me. I looked up and met her puzzled look.

“He doesn’t like me,” I confessed. “He won’t even talk to me at school.”

“That’s just the way Dion is,” she responded. “He’s been through a lot. It’s hard for him
to open up to people.”

“Been through what?” I asked. My mind was begging for answers. What was there about
him that would make him treat someone he likes as if they were an enemy?

“Let’s get you started.” She took my hand and led me down the hall. I guess she was
trying to avoid telling me any more about Dion. “I want you to meet Mr. Wilbur.”

She led me down the hall and into room 212. There was an elderly black man sitting in a
recliner reading a book. He was thin, and he appeared to be about seventy years old. I
immediately noticed that he was missing a leg. He put the book down and smiled when
we walked in.

“Mr. Wilbur,” said Nurse Dorothy. “I’ve brought you a new friend. His name is James.”

He studied me for a minute before extending his hand for me to shake. “Nice to meet
you, James.”

His hand was large and rough. Mine dwarfed inside it. His face was deeply wrinkled with
the passing of time. His hair was gray, and he wore a white, shaggy beard. I immediately
noticed his penetrating brown eyes. He looked as if he was a man who had traveled the
world, and he knew all its deepest secrets.

“Hello,” I said timidly. I felt uncomfortable under his gaze. He had not stopped staring at
me since I entered the room. It was as if he was trying to read me like the book he had
just put aside.

“You two get to know each other,” said Nurse Dorothy as she headed out of the room.  
“I’ll stop by and check on you later.”

I remained standing, not knowing what to do. She had left without giving me any
instructions. Finally, Mr. Wilbur spoke.

“Do you play chess?” he asked. I shook my head. “Checkers?”

“Yes, Sir,” I replied. “My dad taught me how to play when I was a boy.”

“Well, good,” he smiled. “You’ll find it over there.”  He pointed to a table. There were
several games sitting on top of it: chess, checkers, Yahtzee, Sorry, and Backgammon. It
appeared Mr. Wilbur loved to play games. I got the checkers set and handed it to him.

“Pull up a chair, Young Man,” he said. “and be ready to get whipped by an old man.”   
I smiled and handed him the game. He set it up on a snack table sitting beside his chair.
I sat down and waited for him to finish.

We spent the next half hour in an intense game. He was a good player, but I was
determined to beat him. He seemed to like the challenge and was happy that I wasn’t just
letting him win because he was old. In the end, however, with his three kings to my one,
he was able to beat me.

“I told you,” he bragged. “No one’s beat me yet.”

“I’ll get you the next game,” I smiled. “You were just lucky this time.” I was beginning to
like him very much.  

“Set them up again, Smart Ass,” he laughed. “Let’s make a little wager this time.”

“I don’t have any money on me,” I informed him.

“Then you can pay me the next time you come,” he said. “How about a quarter a game?
But don’t tell Dorothy. She’ll get mad. When I took her son for a dollar, I never heard the
end of it.”

“Dion plays checkers with you?”

“Yes,” he replied. “He’s been coming in and playing games with me on the weekends for
the past year. He’s a nice young man- just like you.” He looked over at the clock. “He
should be here any time now.”  

He had no sooner said it than Dion came walking into the room. He was dressed in a tight
white tee shirt and a pair of shorts. My eyes drifted to his smooth, hairless legs. They
were muscular and well defined, like a runner’s legs.   

“What are you doing here?” he asked rudely. My face began to burn with anger. It
seemed like anytime he saw me, he acted like it disappointed him.

“Sit down, Dion,” said Mr. Wilbur. “We’ll play a game of Sorry.”

“I’ve got to see my momma about something.” He then scurried out of the room.

“That was strange,” Mr. Wilbur said as he watched him leave. “I’ve never seen him act
that way before. He’s usually so friendly.”

“That’s the way he acts around me,” I informed him. “I don’t think he likes me very much.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Perhaps he likes you too much.” I had no idea what he meant by
that statement. If Dion liked me, then why was he always so rude to me?

We played three more games, and Mr. Wilbur won all three. I owed him seventy-five
cents. We were going to play another, but an aide brought him his lunch. She asked me if
I wanted something, but I told her no. I decided I would wait until I got home to eat.

While Mr. Wilbur ate, I left and walked around a little. Nurse Dorothy saw me as she
rushed down the hall. She grabbed my hand and said, “Come with me. One of the
patients has fallen and I need your help.”

We rushed into a room where Lillian was lying on the floor. Dion was kneeling down
beside her, trying to comfort her.

“Grab her arms and gently lift her onto the bed,” she instructed us. I took her left arm
while he took her right. “Ready?” I asked. He nodded and we lifted Lillian up onto her bed.
We lay her down and covered her with a sheet. He stood beside me with his arm rubbing
against mine as his mother made sure that Lillian wasn’t injured in her fall.

“Dion, go get my blood pressure machine,” she instructed. He left the room quickly.

“You’re doing a wonderful job, James,” she remarked as she continued to comfort Lillian.
“I’ll call your mother and tell her.”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” I responded adamantly. I didn’t want my mother to know that I
was doing well. When I went home, I wanted to play the pathetic role. I didn’t want her to
be under the impression that the experience wasn’t as horrible as I had first thought.

Dion ran back in and handed his mother the blood pressure monitor. He stepped back
and once again stood beside me, letting his arm touch mine. I looked over at him, but he
pretended to ignore me.

“I think everything is al right, now,” she reassured us. “James, why don’t you go back to
Mr. Wilbur‘s room. Dion can help me.”

Mr. Wilbur’s eyes lit up when I returned. “You ain’t lost enough money yet?” he laughed.

“Bring it on, Old Man,” I responded. He continued to laugh. “You young ones are all alike,”
he said. “Think you know it all, but you can’t beat experience.”

We played two more games, and I lost another fifty cents. I was going to have to save
some of my lunch money to pay him the dollar twenty-five I owed. I was putting the
game away when he astonished me.

“Are you out to your parents?” he asked matter-of-factly.

“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously. Why was he asking me something so personal? How
could he possibly assume that I was gay? I had said nothing to him.

“Do your parents know you’re gay?” he questioned again. I stood and looked in
amazement at him.

“Why do you think I’m gay?” I stammered. I was so nervous. I’m sure guilt was written all
over my face.

“Son, relax,” he said reassuringly. “I’m seventy-two years old, and for sixty of those
years I’ve been gay. I’m not judging you. I’m just curious if you’ve told your parents yet.”

“No, sir,” I replied. “But how did you know?”

“Gaydar,” he laughed. “I felt it the minute you walked into the room.”

“Am I that obvious?” I asked worriedly.

“Not at all,” he said. “But when Dion walked in the room, I noticed how you reacted to
him.”

“I didn’t react anyway to him,” I protested. “I told you, he hates me.”

“If you say so,” he said smugly. “How about a game of Sorry?” I looked at the clock and it
was almost one-thirty. I looked back at the anxious face of Mr. Wilbur. “Sure,” I replied.
“I have time.”

Mr. Wilbur told me all about his life. He said he came out when he was fourteen to his
family. Back then, parents didn’t always accept gay sons, so he lived until he was
eighteen with his grandmother. After graduating from high school, he said he left and
never returned. He has two younger sisters, but he never tried to contact them. He has
no idea if they are even still alive.

Like most young people, he said he headed out to make his fortune. He never
accomplished that, but he did become an experienced chef. He worked for some of the
finest restaurants in the country. He finally had to stop when his diabetes became worse.

“Did you have a boyfriend?” I asked. His life story had interested me and I wanted to
know more.

“Oh, yes,” he said dreamily. “I met this fine white man right after I started working in my
first restaurant. I was learning to cook, and he was a waiter. His name was Paul. Fine
man. Tall, handsome and smart. He worked his way through college, and then he became
an architect. We moved in together and had a wonderful life.

“Where is he now?” I asked. His dreamy look turned to a sad expression. I already knew
what he was going to say.

“September 22, 1979,” he said sadly. “That’s when Paul died. He was working at a
construction site and a beam fell and killed him.” We sat quietly looking at the pieces of
the board. I knew he was lost in thought, and I didn’t know what to say.

“But I got to spend twenty-six of the best years with him,” he said, breaking the silence.
“I wouldn’t trade a minute.” I looked into his eyes and noticed tears forming. “I miss him
so much. I’ve never been with another man since.”

“I’m sorry,” I muttered emotionally. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to love
someone so much and then lose them. Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair.

“It’s your move.” He pointed down to the board. “This old man is going to show a
greenhorn how to play.”

“Greenhorn, huh?” I laughed. “Better get your quarter ready.”

It was almost three when I finally left. Mr. Wilbur thanked me for being so kind and
spending all my time with him. I assured him that I had enjoyed myself and I would
return again the following Saturday. He was the first gay person I had ever met. The fact
that he also knew I was gay made me more comfortable around him. He had been where
I was going, so I knew I could count on his wisdom to help me along the way.

I looked for Nurse Dorothy and Dion, but then I remembered her saying that she worked
until two. I didn’t want to admit it, but I had enjoyed myself. Instead of cleaning out
bedpans like I had feared, I spent the day playing games with a lonely man who would
have otherwise spent the day looking idly at a television set or reading a book.

“How was it?” My mother hollered out from her office when I walked through the door.

“Okay.” I yelled back as I headed to the kitchen. I really didn’t care to keep her informed
about my experience at the nursing home for the next three months. I was doing what
she ordered me to do, so it really didn’t matter if I liked it or not.

“Mrs. Carson said you did a good job.” She walked into the kitchen while I was making a
peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I took my sandwich and glass of milk and headed for
the door.

“You don’t want to tell me about it?” she asked.

“What’s to say?” I turned and faced her. “I’m doing what you ordered me to do,” I said
sharply. A surprised look came over her face. It was the first time in sixteen years I had
ever spoken rudely to her.

My cell phone was ringing when I got to my bedroom. It was Jackie.

“Yes I’m back,” I stated, “and no I didn’t have to clean out bed pans.” I heard her giggling
on the other side.

“Guess I’ll have to throw away all these neat piss jokes I found online,” she laughed.

I started to say something, but suddenly my bedroom door opened. My mother walked
over and tore the phone from my hand.

“James can’t talk right now,” she said angrily and then turned off the phone. “Just what
makes you think you can talk to me like you just did? I asked you a simple question and
you get smart.”

“I didn’t get smart,” I insisted. “I just told you there was nothing to tell you.”

“That’s not what Mrs. Carson said,” she replied. “She said she’s never had anyone get
along so well with the residents. She had nothing but good things to say about you.”

“Is that what you’re going to do now?” I shouted a little louder than I probably should
have. “Are you going to be checking on me all the time like I‘m a little child? I’m doing
what you told me to do. What more do you want?”

“I want you to learn respect, Young Man,” she shouted back.

“Then you need to learn respect, too.” Oops. I had crossed the line with that remark. Her
face turned red and her bottom lip started to quiver.

“Fine.” She handed me the phone back and stormed out of the room. I sat down on my
bed and nibbled at the sandwich. I was no longer hungry. I knew I had hurt her feelings
once again. It seemed like I was doing a lot of that the past few days. We had never had
trouble communicating before, but now it seemed like we couldn’t talk to each other
without getting upset.

I stayed in my room the rest of the afternoon, trying to catch up on my homework
assignments. I was sitting at my computer when my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller
ID; it was Jackie.

“What was that all about? Your mom sounded pissed.”

“Yeah, I guess she was. We kinda got into it again.”

“Man, James. What’s going on with you guys? You’ve always had the coolest mom.”

“She’s just being stubborn. I make one mistake at school and she’s gotten all weird. I
don’t know what her problem is. Now she’s checking on me all the time.”

“Have you tried talking to her?”

“What good would that do? She acts like she can’t stand to be around me.”

“I doubt that. She’s always been crazy about you.”

“She’s not acting like it right now.”

“You want me to talk to her?”

“Yeah. Tell her what a wonderful son she has.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“Shut up, Jackie.”

“I got to go. See you at school on Monday.”

“All right. See ya.”

I lay down on my bed and tried to figure out just what was happening. I had always been
the perfect son. I slip up once, and she gets all upset and makes me spend my Saturdays
at St. Andrew’s. I had already served a week of detention. Wasn’t that punishment
enough?

I feel asleep for a while. I started dreaming about a cute guy who I had seen last
weekend at the mall. I dreamt that he invited me home with him, and we started making
out on his couch. We were doing a lot of heavy petting, and he had put his hands inside
my pants while shoving his tongue down my throat. I pulled away to tell him to go slow,
and I was looking into the chocolate eyes of Dion once again.

I awoke and sat up in bed. My cock was throbbing, and I felt I was going to cum in my
pants. I quickly pulled them down and started jerking off, thinking about the boy at the
mall and our hot make out session. Just as I began to cum, Dion’s face appeared once
again. I shot all over my stomach visualizing his handsome face.

As I cleaned myself up, I kept trying to figure out what was going on in my life. I was
fighting with my mother, who had always been the center of my life. I could look into her
eyes and know she was disappointed in me.

Then a boy who I didn’t even like kept creeping into my sexual fantasies. Neither of us
liked each other, but yet I seemed to be drawn to him. It was the second time I had a
powerful orgasm picturing his face.  My mind was whirling with confusion.

I went back to my computer and started working again on my lit paper. I had been writing
for about a half hour when there was a tapping at my door. My mother peered into the
room.

“Are you busy?”

“No, not really. Working on a stupid paper for lit.”

“Can we talk?”

“Sure.” She walked in, sat on the bed and asked me to sit beside her.

“I know I’ve been rough on you, and I shouldn’t have.” I watched as tears formed in her
eyes. She was looking away, but then turned and looked into my eyes.

“I’ve been taking it out on you because of your father.” I gave her a quizzical look. I had
no idea what he had to do with it.

“When we would argue, he was always telling me to shut up.” Tears began to flow down
here face. I was blinking my eyes to keep the tears from appearing in mine. “It was so
demeaning. He wouldn’t even listen to what I wanted to say to him. He’d just tell me to
shut up and then  he’d walk out.” She buried her head in her hands and started crying.

I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time she had ever talked about my father since
his leaving. I knew they had been fighting for about a year before he left. I could hear
them arguing behind their bedroom door. Usually it would end with the slamming of the
front door, as he walked out for a few days.

But since he left, she’d always been strong and acted like it didn’t bother her. It was the
first time I saw just how vulnerable she was. I reached out, put my arm around her
shoulder and pulled her into me.

A few minutes later, she regained her composure and sat back up. I put my hand around
her waist and continued to hold her. She wiped away the tears from her streaked face.

“I never wanted you to disrespect a woman like your father did me,” she said. “I’m sorry I
took my hatred for him and transferred it to you. You’re a wonderful son, and I love you
so much. I was wrong for being so hard on you. Please forgive me.” It was my turn for
tears to appear. She wrapped her arms around me as we held each other tightly for a
minute.

“It’s all right, Mom.” I sat up and wiped my eyes with my sleeve. She looked at me and
smiled.

“You’re such a handsome young man.” She ran her hand across my hair and kissed me
gently on the cheek. “I’m so proud you’re my son. There’s nothing you could do that
would ever change that.”

“I love you, Mom,” I responded.

“You don’t have to go back to St. Andrew’s next Saturday,” she informed me.

“I think I’d like to go back,” I said. She gave me a puzzled look. I spent the next few
minutes telling her about Mr. Wilbur and the fun I’d had playing games with him. I felt he
would be disappointed if I didn’t show back up next Saturday. She started laughing when
I told her I owed him $1.25.

“That old rascal,” she laughed. “Taking advantage of a sixteen year old boy.”

“He didn’t,” I grinned. “I let him win a few of those games.” She reached out and ruffled
my hair.

“That’s my boy.” She gave me a final hug before getting up and walking to the door. “Get
dressed. We’re going out for dinner. Pizza?”

“Yeah,” I said excitedly. “Gino’s Pizzeria?”

“It’s a date, Mister. Now get dressed.”

As I changed my clothes, her words, ‘There’s nothing you could do that would ever
change that,’ began to haunt me. I wondered if she would still feel the same for me if she
ever found out that I was gay?


Chapter 5                                          Return to TMJ