Rites of Passage

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But now the stark dignity of

Entrance—Still, the profound change

Has come upon them: rooted they

Grip down and begin to awaken

from “Spring and All” by William Carlos Williams

 

I have been aware that I will end up in this position—belly against back, belly against bed—without protest.

* * *

Hemmed in by my parents, I slouched on a pew near a cracked statue of St. Joseph and St. Mary while an adamant priest debunked an article published in a science journal which, according to him, the man of God, purported a correlation between homophobia and covert same-sex sexual desires. “We are not homophobic in the first place,” he defended, “so don’t you worry, for we do not hate homosexuals.”

Mother nodded like a bubblehead at the emphasis.

“But we are not going to tolerate,” he continued, waving a finger from his pulpit like a pious politician declaring an uncontested speech, “their abnormal behaviours!”

Glancing at father, mother gave a silent clap.

“Common cold is common,” my old man said, as if to himself, then turning to me, he finished his proposition, “but is nevertheless a virus.”

“Bow your heads brothers and sisters,” commanded the shepherd of the flock, “and close your eyes. Let us pray for the salvation of the souls of those who are in the wrong path.” The congregation obeyed in unison.

Then I escaped to the washroom and crouched in one of the dingy cubicles, a cave on which wall scribbled the dogma: GOD IS LOVE!

When the Mass ended, I got out of the cave. Manoeuvring through the tight crowd, I bumped against a silhouetted, feathered figure by the vestibule. “I smell you,” uttered the figure. Without looking back, I treaded through the dispersing mass to the parking lot.

From Gino’s firm lips the words I smell you were uttered—his small, sensitive nose had detected—perhaps, identified—the gentlest wisp of my Cool Water perfume. Animalistic. That, let me assure you, is not hyperbolic: I’d been to his apartment, a haven a drag queen would have envied—vast perfume collection displayed, grand theatre paraphernalia abound, glamorous costumes neatly hung. He is a nymph.

“What’s that smell?” father asked while driving the family van. “Is it you, Hon?” I loosened my necktie, a fashionable noose that I had voluntarily tied around my neck.

“You know what perfume I wear,” mother answered, sending flying kisses to father, who then shooed the smooches as if they were fat flies. I met father’s gaze at the rear-view mirror.

“Not me,” I said, switching my gaze to a rally of rainbow-men-and-women down the street, their colourful placards and banners waving gaily in the air. “Only homos like that smell . . . those fags.

“Good,” he said and shaking his head, honked at the protestors crossing the pedestrian. “See how common cold has proliferated.”

“Is that Gino?” mother chimed in, pointing at a half-naked man prancing along the sidewalk, a pair of white wings flapping heavily on his back.   

I cowered at my seat.

“That should be addressed,” she added, “—cured.”  

“Exorcized,” I had to throw in.

“So where should we go for brunch?” father said.    

***

After dining at a family diner, we headed home. Entering my room, I shed-off, as if snakeskin, the necktie, the suit, the white-collared shirt, and the pants, leaving my satin underwear on, and piling them on the floor, I crawled onto my bed and hissed my way to a dreamless sleep.

I awoke feeling anew.

Donning a tie-dye shirt and skinny jeans, I trudged downstairs to the kitchen and gulped water straight from a pitcher. “What a brute!” mother commented, hunching over the stove.

“Don’t drink too much, or else you’ll be too full to eat!”

“I won’t be here,” I said. “I’m going out with Jericho for dinner.”

“You young men can just eat here.”

“C’mon,” I protested. “I’m not a boy.”

“You’ll always be my baby boy,” she said, smiling.

Mother and I had started discussing my nearing departure for the university when someone banged at the backdoor.

“That must be him,” she said, “Goliath.”

Like Cinderella at a ball, I glided towards the door, and sure enough Jericho staggered in, charging his chiselled chest and brawny arms against my lithe physic. “What’s up?” he said then tiptoed behind mother: “What are you cooking Mrs. Giles?”  

“My specialty,” she said, winking. “Would you like to have some?”

“I’d love to, Mrs. Giles,” he answered, “but tonight is male-bonding time.”

Jericho and I excused ourselves and went to a local pub and settled at the bar. He ordered straight whiskey; I ordered a Bloody Mary.

“Did you see the protestors at the church today?” he said.

“They are getting bigger,” I said, “stronger.”

“Gino was with them.”

“He has all the right to be there.”

“In an angel costume?” he said, his face cringing. “What an insult!”

“But didn’t he look fabulous?”

“He looked like a fallen angel in a freak show,” he exploded. “Has he lost his sense of shame—if he has any at all—facing all the people he has deceived?”

“As far as I’m concerned,” I said, “he didn’t lie to anyone—not to me, at least.”

“Tell me I’m wrong.” He chugged down his whiskey and banged the empty glass on the table. “Why does it seem like you are always trying to defend him?” He gestured at the bartender for one for more glass of whiskey.

“I am—”

“Homos,” he interrupted, moving closer to my face, “are like fat leeches.”

“I feel—” 

“They cling to your skin, then after sucking life out of you, leave you wounded and bleeding. They are despicable creatures.” He paused and crossed himself. “God did not—does not—create them.”

I signalled at the bartender for a shot of whiskey, which I emptied right away, and my hand shaking, I handed back the glass and ordered one more.

“What were you saying again?” Jericho asked.

“Oh,” I said, chagrined, “it’s nothing.” I let out a forced belch.

“Just spit it—”

“It’s unimportant.”

“For Christ’s sake, just—”

“I’m gay,” I coughed.

“What did you just say?” he bellowed, hiking up his sleeves.

I lifted my head up. “I am gay.”

***

I guess I blacked out—or perhaps I was simply too afraid to open my eyes, I’d always been—after repeating my confession, because the next thing I knew, I was ensconced in a couch at the corner of the pub.

“Jericho ran away,” said a familiar voice.

I could see the shape of a haloed head looming above me, but due to the bright yellow bulb on the ceiling, I could not make out its facial features. Did he catch me before I hit the ground, as an angel does when a toddler falls out of a cradle? Then cradled me in his arms, as if in a Pietà, an adoptive mother lamenting for her wounded son?

 “Don’t worry,” my angel whispered, kissing my swollen eye. “I’ll take you home.”

Gino took me under his wing to this apartment, his haven. Huddling pillows in a couch, I recuperated while he bathed. Beside the couch there’s a CD rack, and thumbing through the records, I pulled out and played Lou Reed’s Transformers: He said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. When the song ended, I pressed the BACK then the REPEAT button. Déjà vu. The song’s soothing bass line reminded me of the times I had spent here: back when Gino and I would hurry to his apartment to listen to Lou Reed after our church-choir practice, when we sang doo do doo with the coloured girls while sipping red wine, when only the two of us knew, knew of the things that no one else should know—like when he kissed me, that I liked it when he kissed me, and that I kissed him before he could kiss me again . . .

Cocooned in an immaculate robe, Gino “cat-walked” out of the bathroom. “God,” he said. “I love that song!”  

“Nostalgic,” I said.

“The suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return,” he opined, spreading his robe open like a butterfly. Wearing only his underwear, he applied lotion to his shaved arms and legs. “By the way, you can sleep here tonight, if you want.”

“Sounds good,” I said, grabbing the lotion from him. “Thank you. Move here.” He sat on the floor while I, sitting on the couch, massaged his back.

“We can listen to Lou and VU all night, just like old times.”

“Can’t even remember the last time I heard Venus in Furs.”

“What?” he said. “Don’t tell me Madame Giles banned—”

“I’m afraid you’re right,” I said, scratching my head.

“Your father really is a nasty—”

“Bitch,” I murmured.

He got up, then rummaging at the CD rack, picked up his The Velvet Underground & Nico album, and ejected the playing disc. Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather . . . “There you go,” he said, caressing my hair. “Want some wine?” Gino opened a bottle of red wine and offered me a glass. “Kampai,” he chanted, his voice unnaturally gentle, and slowly raising his glass with both hands, he bowed his head. 

“Cheers,” I seconded. “Thanks for looking after me at the pub. I had no idea you were there.”

He kissed my forehead. “We are everywhere.”

***

As if caught between the unpredictable current of a vast sea and the misleading footprints on a sandy shore, I follow the natural movement of the tide, which is why, after finishing the bottle of wine and the music marathon and retiring in Gino’s bedroom, this room, the room where I, pulled by something like gravity, have inevitably arrived, his belly is against my back, and mine is against the bed.  

espilehiyo

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