Door Number Three

Chapter 11

“Come on, Billy,” I muttered to myself, “answer your damn phone.” I was sitting in a Burger King about four blocks from our house. I had been there for about an hour trying to decide what I should do next.

I just wasn’t ready to face my parents. I knew by now they had to have received a phone call from Mrs. Jarvis. I’m sure she told them that I had been in a fight with Kenny. I just hoped that she hadn’t mentioned what the fight was about. Perhaps she didn’t know. I don’t recall Coach Brunswick mentioning why Kenny and I had been fighting in the boys’ shower. Then again, I had no idea what they had discussed before I entered his office.

They would be surprised for two reasons. First, I was in trouble for fighting. I had never been in a fight in my life. Hell, except for my brothers, I don’t think I had ever raised my voice in anger at anyone. Secondly, I had gotten in a fight with Kenny, my best friend. That, perhaps, would be the most surprising thing.

I really can’t explain what happened. I guess after his actions the past several days, I knew he was going to act like an ass. That was Kenny. If something was on his mind, it was on his lips. Deep down I knew a confrontation would soon arise. I was hoping that our friendship had meant something to him, but it meant nothing when his pride was at stake.

I know he felt I had deceived him. Actually, I hadn’t, or I don’t think I had. I guess that somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered why I didn’t feel about girls the way he did. Even when he talked about him and Alise having sex, it was always him I pictured naked, never Alise. I just thought that my lack of interest in girls was just delayed. I figured I would wake up one morning sporting wood and I would want to find the nearest girl. However, that morning never came. Now I knew why.

If he would just have let me talk to him before all this erupted, I could have made him understand. However, with Kenny, there was nothing to understand. I was a fag, a homo, a cocksucker, a fudge packer. He had a hundred names for me now. It would have been easier to make the French fry I’m holding in my hand understand more than it would to get through Kenny’s bigoted mind.

Therefore, it eventually had to come to a confrontation. I just didn’t expect the rage that consumed me when he intentionally began to embarrass me in front of my teammates. He tried to humiliate me with his filthy comments. He crossed the line when he called Adrian a nigger. Everything that had been boiling up inside me for days erupted. I wish I could regret my actions, but I felt content that I had been able to hit him, at least once. I felt satisfied knowing that I was responsible for the bruise on his face. Now there were to be consequences to pay. My future was now in doubt.

“Hello?” Billy muttered sleepily into his cell phone. It was the third time I had tried to call him.

“Where the hell have you been?” I shouted before looking around to see if anyone heard my outbreak.

“I was sleeping.” I could hear him yawning. “Where are you?”

“At Burger King down the street,” I told him. “Where are Mom and Dad?”

“Across the street at the Fletcher’s house, why?” I felt my stomach reel, and I thought for a minute I was going to hurl up the burger I had eaten minutes earlier.

“What are they doing over there?” I asked nervously. Things seemed to be going downhill suddenly.

“Don’t know,” he replied. “Dad got a call from Jarvis and then he called Carl. Him and Mom walked over there about…” He paused while I’m sure he looked at the time on his phone, “a half hour ago.”

“Are you dressed?”

“Duh,” he laughed. “I’m in bed.”

I looked at my watch. It was only 7:38. “What are you doing in bed so early?”

“I was doing my homework,” he yawned, “and I kind of fell asleep.”

“Well,” I insisted, “Can you kind of get dressed, get on your bike and come to Burger King?  I need to talk to you.”

“Now?” Billy whined.

“Yes,” I responded emphatically. “Now. I’m in trouble and I need to talk to you.”

“Shit!” I could hear him throwing back the covers on his bed. “What kind of trouble?”

“I’ll tell you when you get here,” I said. “Now get dressed. And hurry.” I said urgently as I closed my cell phone.

I watched anxiously out the window for Billy. Finally, after about 15 minutes, I saw him riding up on his bike. He put it in the back of my truck and then came inside.

“Hey,” he said as he sat down and looked at my now very black eye. “Damn,” he whistled softly. “That‘s some shiner.” I winced when he touched the side of my face. “Does it hurt?”

“Hell yeah, it hurts,” I cried out.

He looked at me worriedly. “Now tell me what’s going on? What kind of trouble are you in?”

He listened intently as I explained the fight with Kenny. I could tell by the look on his face he was as upset with Kenny as I was. He let out a low whistle when I told him I might be suspended because I had thrown the first punch.

“What about track?” he asked worriedly.

“I’m not worried about that right now,” I replied. “What about Mom and Dad?”

He looked at me worriedly. “Yeah, right.”

“They’ve got to know by now,” I said sadly. “If they went over to the Fletchers, then Kenny has surely said something to them.”

“Yeah, right,” he said again. I looked at him and rolled my eyes.

“Can’t you say anything else?”

“What’s to say, Zac?” he responded worriedly. “They know you’re gay now. You’re going to have to go home and face them.”

He giggled when I said, “Yeah, right.”

He reached out and grabbed my arm, squeezing it gently. “You’re not going to tell Mom and Dad about me, are you?”

“No,” I said reassuring, “I’d never do that. Besides, right now might not be the best time to say anything. It’s going to be hard on them to accept me. I don’t think they are ready to be told they have two gay sons.”

“Yeah, right,” he said worriedly. “Maybe we should wait a while.”

I gave him some money to buy a burger and fries. When he returned we talked about what might happen. Both of us felt that our parents would be more upset with me being suspended for fighting in school than being told I was gay.

“I hate that fucking Kenny,” spat Billy. “The next time I see him, I’m going to knock him on his ass.”

I started laughing. “It did me a lot of good to try,” I said as I felt my swollen eye.

“Did you at least get in a couple of punches?” he asked. “It would be a shame to get suspended and you didn’t even hurt him.”

I started to smile. “I got in one good punch. I think his eye looks mine.”

“Good,” Billy smiled.

I let out a long sigh. “I guess we should go.” I looked at my phone. It was after a little after nine. “Do you have a blindfold?”

Billy gave me a puzzled look. “Blindfold?”

“Yeah,” I frowned. “It’s best to wear a blindfold when you’re going before a firing squad.”

“Yeah, right,” he said worriedly.

Billy kept assuring me everything would be all right as we drove home, but I knew it wouldn’t be. My entire life had changed recently. I didn’t expect my parents to be as accepting as Billy. If I had given them some reason in the past to question my sexuality, then they may have been more prepared. However, I had dated Rachel for two years, so they just assumed I was straight.

I looked over at Billy and wondered if they thought he was gay. He and Lonnie were always together. Then again, Kenny and I had been inseparable since we were six. However, Kenny and I never shared a closeness that my brother and his friend shared. We never lay side by side on the bed with our bodies touching. We never felt each other when we played basketball. I wondered if Mom or Dad had ever noticed it as I had.

Billy noticed me staring at him. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I replied as I turned away.

My heart started racing as we pulled onto our street. The lights were on in the living room, so I figured Mom and Dad must have returned from the Fletcher’s. Billy noticed my hands trembling as I turned off the ignition and took the keys out.

“It’s going to be all right,” he assured me. He walked around the car and put his arm around my shoulder as we walked toward the house. I glanced across the street and saw Kenny standing in the doorway staring at us. I wondered if he was enjoying seeing me go through the suffering I was experiencing.

“Fucker!” Billy spat out when he saw him.

When we entered the house, Mom and Dad were sitting in the family room. They were talking softly, but stopped when Billy and I appeared at the doorway. My mother’s eyes were wet with tears. My father’s face was expressionless. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Billy,” he said softly. “Go to your room.” Billy put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.

“Can I stay?” he asked. My father shook his head. Billy squeezed my shoulder again before leaving.

I stood in the doorway as they looked at me. I felt like a stranger in my own home. I knew what was going on inside their heads. They were wondering what had happened to the son they had always loved. I looked up when my father said quietly, “Sit down, Zac.”

I felt like a prisoner taking his last walk to the gallows as I crossed the room and sat down. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them. I buried my head in my hands wishing that I wasn’t their son.

I heard my mother get up and walk over to me. She lifted my head and looked at my swollen face. “Are you all right, Dear?” I couldn’t contain my emotions. I covered my face with my hands and started crying. She sat down beside me and tried to comfort me. I must have cried for about five minutes before I was able to stop. When I looked over to where my father had been seated, he was gone.

“Why don’t you go to bed, Dear,” my mother said as she helped me up. “We’re all too upset to talk tonight.” I nodded as I looked over once again at my father’s empty seat. She held my arm as we walked to my room. She then kissed me goodnight before leaving.

Billy was sitting on the bed when I entered. He jumped up and ran over to me. “Is everything all right?” he asked excitedly. “I didn’t hear anyone screaming.”

“I don’t know,” I sat down on the side of my bed and Billy sat down closely beside me. I explained how I had started crying and how Dad had left the room without saying anything to me.

As Billy had done all evening, he tried to assure me that everything would be all right. We talked for a few minutes before he got up, hugged me and then went into the bathroom to take his shower. I just sat on the side of the bed looking absentmindedly around my room.

I was drained of emotion. Too much had happened too quickly. I knew Mom would accept me, but now I wasn’t sure about my father. Perhaps he felt like Kenny. Perhaps he no longer wanted me to be his son.

I got up and left the room. I felt like I could no longer breathe. My bedroom seemed to be closing in around me, suffocating me, sucking the air from my lungs. I went out onto the deck and dropped into a chair.

I had sat for about a minute when I saw a small flame appear across the yard by the old swing set that I used to play on. Brenda still used it occasionally, but as she was growing older, she hardly played on it anymore. I squinted my eyes and peered across the lawn when I saw the light flicker once again.

It was Dad. He was holding the swing by the chain as he let it sway slightly. When I saw the flicker again, I knew what he was doing. He was smoking a cigarette. Dad hadn’t smoked in about five years. He had smoked heavily until Mom convinced him to stop because as she said, “I don’t want to raise a houseful of kids by myself because you decided to kill yourself from lung cancer.”

When the light flickered again, I got up and walked slowly out into the yard toward the swings. He looked up as I approached, put the cigarette to his lips and took another puff.

“If you tell your mother I’m smoking,” he whispered softly, “I’ll deny it.”

“Don’t you think she’s going to smell it on you?” I asked as I walked nearer to him.

“Carl was smoking earlier,” he replied. “She’ll just think it’s his.” He sat down in one of the swings. I walked over and sat down in the swing beside him.

“I hope this thing holds my ass,” he said as he began to swing gently. He took a final draw on the cigarette and flipped it into the neighbor’s yard.

We sat quietly for a couple of minutes. I would glance over at him, trying to figure out what he was thinking as he looked out onto the backyard. His face appeared taut and strained, but then again, maybe I was just imagining it to be so.

Finally, he stopped swinging and turned toward me. “Can I ask you something?”

This was it. This was the question I had wanted to avoid all night. I blinked tears from my eyes as I nodded my head.

“How in the hell did you and Kenny become such good friends?” I gave him a puzzled look. He wasn’t asking me the question I thought he would. “He’s such a jackass,” he added.

Tears started flowing from my eyes as I looked over at him and laughed. “Yeah,” I cried. “I guess he is.” He stood up and put his arms out. I got up and fell into them, burying my head into his shoulder. He rubbed my back soothingly as I cried. He didn’t hate me. I still had my father’s love.

After several minutes, I stepped back and wiped my eyes dry. I noticed that his eyes were also wet as he smiled at me and sat back down on the swing. I sat down and we continued to swing for a minute before I finally spoke.

“So,” I asked, “you’re not mad at me?”

He stopped and turned. “Why would I be mad at you?” Suddenly, a mean look appeared on his face. “Except perhaps getting into that fight with Kenny.”

“But, Dad,” I started to explain, but he interrupted me.

“It’s okay, Zac,” he replied. “I had to listen to his bullshit for an hour tonight. If it had been me, I would have hit him too.” He started to laugh. “At least you got in one good punch.”

He looked carefully at my face. “Looks like he got the best of it, though. You’ve got one hell of a black eye.” I winced when I touched the side of my face.

“Yeah,” I smiled. We swung in silence for a minute before I spoke again.

“Why aren’t you upset about all this?”

He again stopped and turned toward me. “Who says I’m not upset?”

“Sorry, Dad,” I mumbled as I started to get up.

“Sit down, Zac,” he said. I returned to the swing and looked over at him.

“Of course I’m upset,” he said. “So is your mother. As I’m sure this isn’t easy for you, it isn’t any easier for us. It’s just going to take us a little while to accept.”

“Do you hate me?” I could feel tears starting to form in my eyes. He smiled and leaned toward me.

“Zac,” he spoke softly. “I was in the delivery room nineteen years ago when you were born into this world. As soon as you came out of the oven, the nurse handed you to me.” He started laughing. “You were all wrinkled, pink and puffy. You looked like a Shar-pei puppy.” He laughed even louder. “I thought, Dear God, what have we created.”

I smiled as he continued. “When I held your tiny, fragile body in my arms, I swore that I’d love and protect you always, no matter what.” He looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I could never hate you, Son.” When I dropped my head and started sobbing, he got up and pulled me into him

“I love you, Dad,” I muttered into his chest. He tightened his grip on me. After several minutes, we pulled away.

“Why don’t you go to bed,” he said. “You’ve been through a lot today. I’ll wake you up in the morning to take you to school.”

“I think I’ve been suspended,” I informed him.

“I know,” he said, “Mrs. Jarvis called me this afternoon and told me you have a disciplinary hearing at nine in the morning.”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” I apologized. “I never wanted to hurt you and Mom.” He put his hand on my shoulder and led me to the house.

“We’re not hurt,” he said. “We’re just a little surprised is all. Sometime this week I want you to sit down with us and discuss this.”

“Okay, Dad.” I no longer felt that I couldn’t talk to them about what happening. In fact, I thought it might help. Now that everything was out in the open, I could talk freely about what I had been going through. My parents gave good advice, and I knew I could now depend on them to help me through this.

When I returned to my room, Billy was lying across his bed reading a comic book. He sat on the edge of his bed and watched me as I started to undress. “Where did you go?” he asked worriedly. “I was afraid you’d run away or something.”

I walked over and stood before him. “Dad and I were talking.”

“Is everything all right?” he asked. “Dad’s not going to kick you out of the house, is he?”

I frowned and acted as if I was upset. “Yeah,” I said emotionally. “And when I told him you were gay, he told me to tell you to pack your things too.”

“What!” He shrieked as he jumped from the bed. “No shit?” he asked worriedly. “We gotta leave the house?” He started for the door. “I gotta go talk to Mom!” He stopped when I fell on his bed and started laughing uproariously.

“You mean we don’t have to leave?” When I looked up at him and continued to laugh, he jumped on top of me, pinning me to the bed. “You Fucker!” He shouted. We wrestled around on the bed for a minute until both of us became tired.

I lifted myself on my arm and smiled at him. “We got cool parents, you know that?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I could have told you that. So things are going to be okay?”

I rolled over on my back and looked at the ceiling. “I wouldn’t say they’re going to be okay,” I replied. “I still have the suspension hearing in the morning, and then someday I’m going to have to go back to school and face everyone.”

“Yeah,” he said worriedly. “That’s right.”

“Billy,” I spoke in a serious tone. “You have got to promise me one thing?”


“No matter what you hear someone say about me,” I pleaded, “you can’t do anything about it.”

He sat up and looked down at me. “I can’t promise you that. You’re my brother. If someone calls you a fag or something, I’m going to knock the shit out of them.”

I sat up and grabbed his shoulders. “But you can’t, Billy.” I looked him directly in his eyes. “If you do, it will only make things worse. You know how students are. If they find your weak spot, they’ll go for it. If they know you’re going to react every time someone says something about me, then you’ll be fighting all the time. You’ll even get suspended like me.”

He looked into my eyes as tears appeared in his. “I love you, Zac,” he said softly. “I can’t just let people say bad things about you without saying something.”

I reached out and hugged him. “If you love me, then you’ll do this for me, okay?” I knew I was getting through to him when he squeezed me tightly. “I love you, too. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

He pulled away and looked into my teary eyes. I reached out and wiped a tear from his face. I smiled when he started laughing.

“Look at us,” he laughed as he wiped away tears with the back of his hand. “You know we’re gay, crying like a bunch of girls.”

I laughed before I stopped and looked intently into his face. “Promise?”

He looked worriedly at me. He smiled when I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow. “Okay,” he said as he pretended to spit on his hand and held it up. “I promise, but I don’t like it.”

“Thanks,” I said as I pulled him into another hug.

One big step had been taken. I was now out to my parents. They were upset, but I already expected that. I knew it would take some time before they could look at me once again without thinking about me being gay.

It took me over an hour to finally fall asleep. I kept picturing different scenarios in my mind, and none of them were pleasant. I imagined Kenny going around telling everyone who would listen that I was gay. I pictured the knowing stares and muted giggles as I entered a classroom. “There’s Zac. Did you know he was gay?” I could hear them say.

I imagined my teammates shunning me on the track field and in the locker room. Where we had once walked around unashamedly unclothed, I could see them wrapping towels tightly around their bodies to cover their nakedness from me. I could picture them moving to another area if I stepped up beside them to shower. I could hear their laughter echoing in my mind at the ‘don’t drop the soap’ jokes.

And I wondered if this is the nightmarish thoughts that consume every gay guy or girl’s conscious thoughts late at night? Do we lay awake in the lonely night worried about how others might react to us? Do we worry that our parents may not love us even though they say they do? Do our hearts begin to beat faster when we consider how we will react when someone we believed to be a friend one day looks at us and calls us a fag or a dyke?

I wondered if all of us share a certain isolation created by our experiences of hurt and humiliation? Can anyone possibly understand if he or she has never felt what it is like to be different? Can they begin to understand that what we are was not by choice, but somehow we are what we are and we do not understand it any better than anyone else?

Being gay was not a prize won in a child’s game at an early age. We didn’t look at the sky and sing ‘twinkle, twinkle, little star’ and then decided we wanted to be gay. And what troubles us most- we don’t understand why others can’t accept that. Why do they assume we decided we wanted to be different? And why do they refuse to accept that we accepted and embraced that difference and we are not ashamed? We took, as my father said, the hand that was dealt to us and we live with it every single day.  Why do they not understand that?

So sleep didn’t come easily. I lay awake with remorseful thoughts of the multitudes who can never sleep well at night because of other people’s demons.