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 9

“God, James!” exclaimed a very upset Jackie. “I’m so sorry. Do you think  she’ll accept
it?” I had just told Jackie about my mother discovering that I was gay.

I met her on the steps as she came walking down the sidewalk. My mother wasn’t home
when I got up, and I had to fix breakfast for Janet and make sure she got safely on her
school bus.

“I don’t know,” I replied sadly. “She wasn’t home this morning, so I didn’t get a chance
to see how she reacted. If you could have seen how hurt she was, though. I don’t think
she hates me, but I don’t think she’s going to ever accept this.”

“She’ll come around,” replied Jackie, trying to sound upbeat. “She’s always been
understanding before. Remember when you thought you wanted to be an astronaut a
few years ago, and she paid to send you to Space Camp that summer?  She didn’t get
mad after she spent all that money, and you came home and told her you would rather
be a lawyer.”

“Yeah, but this a little different,” I said. “This is more than a kid making his twentieth
career change in a month.” Jackie nodded in agreement.

I worried all the way to school if I would run into Donovan. The last time I saw him, he
was sprawled out on the floor from the punch by Roy. With his social standing among
other students, he could make my life hell for the remaining years of high school. I had
always been a rather unknown student in school. Now others would look at me as
Donovan’s ex-boyfriend. I had to laugh to myself. I hadn’t even had a chance to be his

When I walked down the hallway to my locker, several students who had been at
Sylvia’s party stopped and stared at me. They then turned and began talking
animatedly. I knew they were talking about me.

“Isn’t that him?” I heard one girl ask another when I walked by.

“Yeah,” she replied. “That’s him. Wait until Donovan sees him.”

My heart began to pound when I heard her warning. I guess Jackie heard it too, because
she reached down and grabbed my hand.

I noticed several more students staring at me. Some hadn’t even attended the party; so
I assumed that word was quickly spreading around the school. I found it ironic that
Sylvia’s parties were rampant with drinking and sex, but no one ever talked about that.
But for some reason, what had happened between Donovan and me was suddenly the
topic of conversation.

The rest of the morning was the same. I tried to keep a low profile. However, in every
class I attended, it seemed that someone from the party was there. I could see
students watch me out of the corner of their eyes and then whisper something to
someone else. They would then look back over at me.

One of the students was a girl who I remembered having sex with a boy by the patio. I
wanted to stand and shout, “You fucking hypocrite! You get drunk and have sex with a
guy you probably didn’t even know; but you have the audacity to whisper about me
behind my back.”

On the way to my third period class, I stopped by the office to see Mr. Marshall. He
wasn’t in, so the secretary asked me if I wanted to leave a message. I told her to tell
him that I didn’t want to be the manager of the basketball team. I left without giving her
a reason.

I met up with Jackie at lunch. I wanted to skip and go to the library; but I knew that
sooner or later I would have to face Donovan. I went through the line and got my usual
generic slice of pizza, chips and a soda.

“How’s your morning been?” she asked as soon as I sat down.

“Just great,” I replied sarcastically. “I hate this school. Everyone is such a hypocrite.”

“Not everyone is.” I heard a voice behind me say. I turned and saw Roy standing behind
me. “Can I sit down?”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. I was a little overwhelmed that he had come over to our table.
Usually, he sits at the jocks’ table with Donovan.

“You all right, Buddy?” he asked, looking at the bruise on the side of my face. “Was
everything okay when you got home?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Why aren’t you with Donovan?” I looked over and saw him sitting with
his friends. He glanced over at me, but he quickly looked away.

“I’m not exactly on his best friend’s list right now,” he explained. “When he woke up
Sunday morning and saw the black eye I gave him, he kind of disinherited me as his
best friend for a while.” When I gave him a questioning look, he started laughing. “It
usually lasts about a day or two, and then he’ll start talking again.”

“Is he mad at me?” I questioned.

“Why should he be? You’re the one who should be pissed, not Donovan. Fuck him. He
was wrong for what he did.”

“But everyone's been talking about me behind my back all morning,” I said. “I didn’t do

“Oh that,” he laughed. “They do it after all of Sylvia’s parties. They have to build it up so
everyone will have something to look forward to for the next one.”

“So they’re not mad at me?” The whole incident was becoming more bizarre.

“Are you kidding?” he laughed again. “You’re hot right now. You’re the first guy to tell
Donovan no. He always gets everything he wants. They enjoyed seeing him being

“Ouch!” I screamed. Jackie had just kicked me under the table.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend,” she smiled sweetly at me, and then
she looked over at Roy and batted her eyes.

“Roy, this is MY disinherited best friend, Jackie,” I said. I watched as Jackie stared into
Roy’s eyes before offering her hand to him.

“It’s so nice to meet you, Roy.” She took his hand and held it.

“Nice to meet you too, Jackie.” I couldn’t believe it when he continued to hold her hand
and stare into her eyes.

I thought I was going to get sick when he said in a husky voice, “Where have you been
all my life, Pretty Lady?” Jackie withdrew her hand and began to blush.

“I’ve been here,” she giggled shyly. “You just haven’t been looking.”

“Well, I’m looking now.” He placed his elbows on the table, put his head in his hands and
continued to stare at Jackie. She blushed and cast her eyes down at the table.

“Jesus, guys,” I moaned. “Get a room.”

“Maybe I should call you tonight and discuss how we are going to handle being
disinherited friends, “he suggested. He pulled out his cell phone and asked for Jackie’s
number. It amazed me when she actually gave him the right number. I had always heard
that girls give a wrong number to a guy just to stop him from asking.

“Well, I’d better go. I’ll call you tonight,” he said to Jackie before getting up and
returning to the jock table. I noticed that he didn’t sit beside Donovan.

“Oh, my God, James!” shrieked Jackie as she grabbed my arm, cutting off my circulation
with her tight grip. “Roy Reed is going to call me. I think I’m going to die right here.”

“Good,” I said sarcastically. “Then I won’t have to hear you carry on about it.”

“I’ve listened to you carry on about guys,” she replied angrily. “I didn’t say a word about
it.” She looked away and pretended to be angry. She suddenly turned and pleaded,
“Please, please, please! I’m going to go crazy if I don’t talk about this!” I rolled my eyes
and smiled. She proceeded for the next ten minutes to talk about how wonderful a guy
Roy was. I listened attentively.

I was happy for Jackie. It was the first time a boy had ever shown interest in her. Also,
what she said was true. She had been there for the past two years when I raved about
this guy or that. The least I could do was to listen to her.

When the bell rang ending lunch, I watched as Jackie walked out of the cafeteria walking
on air. I said a silent prayer that she and Roy could get together. I loved Jackie like a
sister, and I had a feeling that Roy was a really nice guy, even if he was a little jaded by
being Donovan’s best friend.

As I was heading to class, a hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me into a nearby
boys’ restroom. Once inside, I turned to confront the person- it was Donovan.

“What do you want?” I asked angrily. I balled my fist up to defend myself if I had to. I
knew he could kick my ass, but I was determined that this time I would protect myself.

“Chill, James,” he said softly, throwing up his hands to indicate he wasn’t going to hit
me. “I just want to talk to you.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” I said coldly. “I think I know what you want.”

He pushed me gently and pinned me against the wall. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was drunk.
I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He leaned down and attempted to kiss me. I slid under his
arms   and headed for the door.

“Can’t we talk about this?” he asked.

“No, Donovan.” I was beginning to become emotional. I didn’t like the fact that we were
alone in the restroom with no one else around. He had already tried to hurt me once,
and I had no idea what he was capable of doing. “I  don‘t want to see you again.” I
opened the door and ran to my next class.

About half way through the class, an aide came to the door and told the teacher that
Mr. Marshall wanted to see me. I knew he wanted to ask me about resigning my position
as manager.

“Come in.” He motioned me into his office when I appeared at the door. I sat down and
fidgeted in my chair as he studied me.

“Why did you tell the secretary this morning that you didn’t want to be manager
anymore?” he asked.

“It’s personal, Mr. Marshall. I’d rather not give a reason.”

“Does it have to do with the rumors I’ve heard going around school today?” I sat
stunned, not sure what to say. I didn’t know just how much he knew.

“Would you like to talk about it?” he asked in a fatherly manner.

“No, Sir,” I replied quickly. “I just don’t want to be manager anymore.”

“Very well, James. But if you have any problems, you come see me right away.”

“Yes, Sir,” I replied as I got up and walked out of his office. I think he was aware of the
seriousness of the situation involving Donovan, but it really wasn’t a school matter. I
also had a feeling he didn’t know how to handle it. Therefore, if I said nothing, then he
wouldn’t have to deal with it.

As I was going to my locker at the end of the day, I passed Dion in the hall. He looked
at me, and it appeared he wanted to speak. But instead, he hung his head and walked
past me without saying anything.

On the way home, Jackie talked endlessly about Roy. I realized that I must have
sounded just as irritating rambling on about the boys I liked. She must have been a
true friend to listen to me for so long.

“Oh, my God!” she shrieked. “What am I going to say when he calls me tonight?”

“How about Hello?” I joked.

“I’ve never done this before,” she said nervously. “Sure, we’ve talked for hours on the
phone, but you’re nobody.”

“Thanks, Jackie.” I tried to sound insulted.

“You know what I mean,” she replied. “What if I say the wrong thing and he doesn’t talk
to me again.”

“Just be yourself,” I assured her, “and he’ll like what he sees.” We had arrived at my
house. I gave her a hug and told her to call me later.

Surprisingly, my mother still wasn’t home when I entered. It was rare for her not to
greet me and my sister when we got in from school. I went to the kitchen to see if she
had left a note, but there was nothing. I made a sandwich and went to my room.

I was playing a video game when I heard the front door open. “James. Come down
here,” my mother hollered out. I headed downstairs and found her sitting at her desk.
She gave me a warm smile when she saw me.

“Hello, Sweetie,” she said cheerfully.

“What is it Mom?” I asked. I couldn’t figure out why she was so happy; especially, since
the last time I saw her, she was crying.

“Come here.” She extended her arms. I walked over and she embraced me. I wrapped
my arms around her and held her tight. She let me go, and then motioned for me to
take a seat.

“Guess where I’ve been today?” I gave her a blank look and shrugged my shoulders.

“With Mrs. Grimwald.” I again gave her a blank look. The only Grimwald I knew was
Agatha. I couldn’t figure out why she would be talking to her mother.

“I guess this isn’t making much sense, is it?” she laughed. I shook my head.

“Mrs. Grimwald is the president of the local chapter of PFLAG,” she informed me.      
“Her daughter, I believe, is in your class.”

“Agatha’s gay?” I asked excitedly.

“Oh, no,” she laughed, “but her older brother is. Anyway, after talking to you last night,
I had a lot of questions. So this morning I contacted PFLAG and talked to Samantha,
Mrs. Grimwald. It was very enlightening.”

I continued to sit and look at her, not knowing if I was to say anything or just listen.    
I opted to listen.

“We met at her home, and then we ended up going out to lunch,” she explained.
“Afterwards, she took me to her son’s apartment. I met Gerald and his partner, William.”

“That’s nice,” I replied, again not knowing what I was expected to say.

“I was so busy thinking about myself and how much you being gay affected me, that I
didn’t stop to think how it would be for you,” my mother admitted.

“Gerald opened up my eyes to what you’re facing right now.” Tears began to appear in
her eyes. “This is hard on me, but I can’t even begin to imagine what you must be going
through.” She stood, walked over to me and pulled me up. I wrapped my arms around
her as she continued to cry.

“You’re going to have to be patient with me.” She pulled me back and looked into my
misty eyes. “This is new to me. To be quite honest, I really don’t know how to react.”

“It’s not that easy for me, either,” I confessed.

“Do you need to see a psychiatrist?” she asked worriedly.

“No, Mom,” I laughed. “I just meant it’s not easy to be a gay boy, when it seems like the
rest of the world isn’t.”

“You’d be surprised,” she responded. “Samantha says that about ten percent of the
population may be gay. Here.” She grabbed some pamphlets off her desk and handed
them to me.

“What’s this?” I asked, thumbing through the material.

“It’s some things Mrs. Grimwald told me to give you. I read most of them during lunch.”
Most of the material was about coming out or growing up gay. I had read a lot of it on
the internet last year when I suspected that I was gay.

“How do you know you’re gay?” she asked. “Have you had sex with a boy yet?”

“Mom!” I shrieked. “Why are you asking me this?” I know my face had turned about ten
shades of red. Besides, I’d only had sex with Donovan; and considering the situation, I
didn’t even want to count it.

“I was just wondering is all,” she replied. “How do you know that you are gay?”

“I just know, all right?” I responded embarrassedly. I didn’t want to tell her about all the
times  I’d masturbated thinking about boys in my class. There are just some things you
can’t tell your mom.

“Does anyone else know?”

“Jackie,” I admitted. “She’s known for about two years.”

“My word,” she exclaimed surprisingly. “You could tell Jackie, but you  couldn’t say
anything to me?”

“I was going to someday,” I assured her. “I just didn’t know how you’d take it.”

“I guess I acted foolishly yesterday,” she replied. “No wonder you didn’t feel you could
trust me.”

“It’s all right, Mom,” I said. “At least you’re trying to understand.”

“I am, Honey.” She reached over and took my hand. “Just give me some time.” I nodded
my head. I felt fortunate that I had a mother who was willing to face what had to be a
disappointment, and try to make the situation better.

“Is Jackie a lesbian?” she questioned. “I’ve never seen her with a boy other than you.”
I started laughing hysterically.

“No, Mom,” I cried as tears rolled down my face from laughing so hard. “Jackie is not a

“Well, good,” she sighed. “And to think that I used to worry that you’d get her
pregnant because you two always seemed so close.” Her statement made me laugh even
harder. I couldn’t wait to tell Jackie what my mother had said.

After we laughed, she looked at me and said, “I want you to meet Samantha, Gerald and
his boyfriend soon. I think you’ll like them.”

“I’d like that,” I responded. It might be interesting to actually meet a real gay couple.

“And I talked to one of my editors today,” she added. “I’m going to do a story on
PFLAG. I didn’t realize what a wonderful organization it is. I even told Samantha that I
would attend their next meeting.”

I gave my mother a worried look. I knew how obsessive she could become over
something. I could see it in her eyes. She was going to be one of those crusading
mothers, defending gay teens from a discriminating world. Knowing her, in a year she
would probably run against Mrs. Grimwald for president.

She suddenly became quiet and looked worriedly at me. “I never did find out what
happened at the party Saturday night. I overheard some of your conversation with
Jackie. Did Donovan hurt you?” She looked at the faded bruise on the side of my face.

I sat quietly for a minute, looking down at the floor. I didn’t want to tell her what
happened because I was afraid she would want to call the police. I also knew that she
could tell when I was lying to her, so I knew if I made up something she would know.
Finally, I looked into her eyes and spoke.

“Will you just trust me?” I asked. “Something happened, but I really don’t want to tell
you. I am okay, though. Please?” A stern look came over her face, and then her
expression softened.

“You’re becoming a man,” she said. “Someday you will have to make your own decisions,
and I’m going to have to accept them whether I like it or not. Are you sure he didn’t
hurt you?” I looked her directly in the eyes and nodded.

“All right, then,” she said. “I’ll not pry right now. But if I find out that something did
happen that warrants my attention, then all bets are off. Do you understand?” I nodded.

“Thanks, Mom.” We both arose from our chairs and embraced. As I held her, I
considered myself one of the luckiest boys alive. I had a mother who not only loved me,
but accepted that I was gay and trusted me.

That evening Mom took Janet and me out for dinner. She let Janet choose where we
would eat, since I had decided the last time. Unfortunately, she wanted McDonalds. My
mother was offering to buy her whatever she wanted, and she chose a Big Mac with

Jackie must have been looking out her window for us to come home, because I had no
sooner gotten in my room when my cell phone rang.

“He hasn’t called yet!” she screamed. “I just knew it was too good to be true.” I could
tell that she was crying.

“It is still early,” I said, trying to make her feel better. It was only a little after eight. I
muttered a few silent words to Roy. He may be much larger than me; but if he hurt
Jackie’s feelings, I was determined to do my best to hurt him.

“I’m going to die an old maid,” she lamented. “I’m giving up on boys.”

“Aren’t you overreacting?” I asked. “He said he’d call you and he will. Maybe something
came up, or he forgot your number.”

“He put it in his cell phone,” she said sadly. “He probably erased it as soon as he got
home. I’m never going to talk to another boy again.”

“Jackie, please,” I begged. I was trying my best to be a sympathetic friend, but I felt I
was wasting my time.” “Maybe...”  

“Oh, my God, James!” she shrieked, almost rupturing my eardrum. “ I’ve got another
call coming in. It’s him!” Suddenly, the phone disconnected.

I pulled my geometry book out of my book bag and lay down on the bed. I was working
on the first problem when my phone rang. I picked it up, expecting it to be Jackie.

“Hey.” I recognized Donovan’s voice immediately.

“Why are you calling me?” I asked nervously.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he replied. “You did walk out on me today without giving me a
chance to explain.”

“What’s to explain, Donovan?” I was becoming irritated. He had trapped me at school,
and now he was calling my home.

“Won’t you give me another chance?” His voice sounded sincere, but I knew what he
was really like.

“Why?” I asked. “I’m not even your type.”

“That’s just it,” he replied. “You’re not like the other guys I’ve been with. I really felt
something between us. Chemistry.”

“The only thing I felt was you trying to force your cock in my ass! Fuck you, Donovan!”  
I shouted into the phone and then turned it off. I put the ringer on silent, so I couldn’t
hear it ring in case he tried to call back.

After finishing my homework, I tried to call Jackie, but her phone was busy. I tried
several more times and kept getting a busy signal. I guess Roy had called her, and they
had broken the ice. I was happy for her. I went to bed knowing that she would probably
give me a word for word replay the next morning.

When I awoke, I turned my cell phone on and checked to see if anyone had called me.
There was a text message from Jackie telling me she’d see me in the morning. There
was also a text message from Donovan.


Chapter 10                                        Return to TMJ