So I’m waiting. And waiting. At least the car is getting warmed up; I’m sure he appreciates that. But where the fuck is Michael? We’re late for school. So I text him: Were late dude. Nothing. I do it again. Nothing. Then it’s WTF Michael were late get out here!!! Nothing.
So I go in, obviously his parents are already gone. He’s passed out, in bed, and get this: there’s a gun with its business end in his mouth. He’s still breathing, so I – really carefully – pull the gun out of his mouth. It’s his father’s gun. Even though we’re later than shit, I’m happy he’s just waking up, because I’m shaking that he didn’t go through with it.
It feels like someone is tugging at my teeth! Then I open my eyes and — presto! — it is morning. Ian is standing by the bed. What is he doing here? I think, and the terrible brightness of the morning is made only worse by the halo of hair around Ian’s head.
Ian is holding a gun, my father’s gun; I can see the mother-of-pearl handle with Iron Mike inlaid in turquoise. Water is dripping from the gun. Then I realize that my own chin is soaking wet, with saliva.
“Michael!” Ian half-whispers. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Why’d you do it?”
What can I say? I have no idea.
“The gun!” he shouts. “Why’d you put the gun in your mouth?”
“I don’t know. I got drunk last night…” Now I feel the throbbing in my head. Drunk is not an adequate word for it. But the gun. “I don’t remember.” Ian is about to go on, but now I say, “Hey, Ian, why are you here?”
“We’re late for school!” he says. “I was waiting outside in the car, and you didn’t show. Are you okay? Are you going to school?”
“Yes,” I say. “Yeah, I’m going to school.”
“Well, you better hurry the fuck up, then.” Now he sounds more like the Ian I know, Mister In-Charge. “We’re late, man!”
So I get up, and immediately I have to run to the bathroom to vomit. When I straighten up, I look out the bathroom window into our back yard that faces the Rio Grande, which is anything but grand, and there’s snow. It must have fallen during the night. So that’s why everything is so bright. All the way out to the levee, our lawn looks so smooth and untouched. I haven’t seen this much snow since we moved south from the northern edge of New Mexico a few years ago. I’m just about to tell Ian there probably won’t be school anyway, but this is not Aztec, it’s down south in Las Cruces; the snow will surely be melted by afternoon here. I stagger back to the bedroom. Ian is pacing.
“Listen,” I say, “I’m feeling under the weather, as they say. It’s the liquor, I guess. You had better go on. I don’t want you to get into trouble.”
But I can’t get Ian to leave. He helps me get dressed, or really, he’s the one who is dressing me. Ian the all-American boy is playing valet to the faggiest boy in school. I’m still non compos mentis, so he actually roots around in my closets and drawers for underwear and socks.
“Ian,” I say, as he piles my heavy winter clothes onto the bed, “Ian, this is Las Cruces, remember? They’ve even got palm trees here! I do not need all this.”
Ian goes, “Bzzzz! Wrong! The palm trees are shivering in the cold, Michael. Come on outside, it’ll wake you up for sure.”
He passes underwear to me, and I put it on. Then the jeans; what a struggle. I end up trying to put both feet in the same leg and fall down. I know I’m blushing now, but Ian just waits and hands me the flannel shirt. Then the sweater; I cannot seem to get that right either, putting my arm in the head hole. Ian wants to help, it is so embarrassing. There is no time to pretend I don’t trust him, so I let him do it. He eases me into the sweater, and then, I swear it, he sits me down to put on my socks and my ugly tennies. This is too much, and I ought to tell him I can do it myself, but I know how I would feel bending over right now, and it is the one thing I absolutely do not want to do, so I let him, the whole time angry at myself because I’m making him do these menial things. I like him, more than I could ever tell him, and I am ashamed of that, too.
When I stand up and begin to take over for myself, Ian goes off to the kitchen. He comes back with some fruit and a glass of orange juice, and hands me the juice, but before I can drink it he pulls some vitamins out of his pocket (his pocket!), and makes me take them. I pretend that I don’t want to eat out of his grubby hands, but of course that’s precisely what I want to do. He tells me it will make me feel better; perhaps it will. I drink the juice, but I really don’t want the apple or the orange or the banana, so he manages to get them and my books into my pack while I go back to the bathroom. This time at least I don’t need to heave.
Back in the bedroom, Ian has my coat ready, even my watchcap, but I can see he’s going to say something first. And he does.
“Michael, I’m your friend. Please tell me, why’d you do it? I need to know. I don’t want you to die, Michael. I mean, really.”
“I already told you, I don’t even remember doing it at all. I got drunk last night.”
“I don’t know,” I tell him, yet again, and it’s true. I don’t know.
Ian realizes that the interview is over, so he puts on my coat and hat, and pushes me out the door, into the sunny, snowy day. Boy, does that cold air feel good! It really is cold, the coldest day I can remember since our families moved here, so close to Mexico. And there is Ian’s Rambler panting and growling by the curb. I laugh again for the thousandth time over Ian’s devotion to this decades-old wreck, but I get into the car without saying anything about it. I discover I’m sitting on Ian’s track shoes. When Ian took me to the dog races, he kept pointing out how beautiful it was to watch the greyhounds, so muscular and yet so graceful. Finally, I just told him straight out, it was exactly like watching him, moving across the track like water flowing.
I go to all the in-town meets, just to see him. Sure, the other guys are nice to look at, but Ian is something special, perhaps because he is not so taken with himself that he flaunts his beauty to everyone. Does he even know how heartwrenching his grace and the fluidity of his movements are?
I push his shoes onto the floor. The car is moving. I watch the snowy front yards pass the window. Now they look even more identical than usual; the little garden gnomes and flamingoes are all covered. I like it. It looks quieter, somehow. Then, as we drive from our little suburb south toward the school, I see all the pecan trees in rows, with snow on them. They are so carefully arranged.
Ian nudges me and points to the road. The snow is mostly gone from the blacktop, but a misty white steam is snaking up from the road ahead of us as far as we can see. There’s still snow on the farms and the yards, but we are on this bizarre transporter device that seems like it belongs in some other world. I watch as Ian navigates us through it.
“You didn’t say anything about the seatbelts,” Ian says.
“There aren’t any seatbelts,” I say.
Ian almost explodes. “I know there aren’t any seatbelts! But you always say something about it. Every morning you tell me how I need to get them.”
“Ian, I have a headache. I’ve got a hangover. That’s right, isn’t it, isn’t that what you earthlings call it, a hangover?”
“Michael, you’re such a shit sometimes!” Then Ian’s voice softens. “Look, where did you get drunk?”
“At home. My father has this fancy collection in the dining room closet. He never drinks except on New Year’s Eve. I just took a little of everything, so he wouldn’t notice.”
Ian shakes his head. “You’re not supposed to mix…” But he doesn’t finish. The car skids slightly. I think for a moment that I’m going to get sick, but I don’t. Good. Anything but throw up in this holy relic, the car he has been working on restoring since he was ten. But Ian recovers easily. Pretty body, pretty face, always in control, always cool. I ought to be nicer to him like everyone else is. Who else gives a damn about me?
I come out of my reverie again because Ian is talking to me again.
“Okay, you don’t remember doing it. But you gotta know why you wanted to. Why, man?”
“I …. I don’t know.” There are so many reasons. Which one makes sense? Which one can I tell Ian? “Ian, I’m sorry. I just don’t know.” And maybe it’s the right tone of voice, because Ian quits the interrogation. His phone rings, but he shuts it off. And then I realize that he has not been playing music, either. Whether it is because of his own agitation or for my sake, I cannot tell, but I am grateful.
We enter the high-school parking lot, and Ian finds a place to park the car, where the snow hasn’t drifted up. We get out, and walk toward the school. I know I can trust him, but I still have to ask. “Ian, don’t tell my parents, okay? I’ve got to figure this out without them going crazy.”
Ian nods his head but I feel paranoid right now, so I need a better answer. I ask him again, “Don’t tell them, Ian. Okay?”
“Okay.” Ian grabs me by the arms. “But you better not do it again.” He says very quietly,
“Michael, I don’t want you to do this. Promise me you’ll tell me before you try to do it. Promise!”
And, this is so strange, suddenly I want to tell him to fuck off. Ian’s obsession is his reputation at school. Everyone connects the two of us because we’re both from Aztec, the same hick town, at the other end of the state. Whenever I do something stupid – such as registering an opinion of my own in class – Ian takes a little more flak for it. Well, too bad.
So I think all this, and then I look up at his face, his beautiful face, and I know that Ian is scared. I say, “Sure, Ian. I mean Yes. I will tell you.” I don’t say I’m sorry. “I’ll see you after school?”
Ian says, “Well, I’m supposed to… Yeah, I’ll get you home.”
I look hard at Ian’s face. It is important to remember that face. Maybe it will stop me the next time. I remember that serious face when we split up to go to different home-rooms. I know that the face has something else to tell me, something I need to know.
In Algebra, I do not pay much attention. The teacher is too busy with all the stupids. I stare out at the street where there is running water alongside the still white snow, water running as smoothly as Ian’s running or swimming. I remember almost drowning back in Aztec, when I was twelve. Fat as I was, I should have floated like a cork, but no, I fucked up in front of Ian and nearly everyone our age in Aztec. And it was Ian, of course, who came in and saved me, and it was Ian’s face, that same pretty face, so serious, as he dragged me to safety. And I can still remember how ashamed I was of having failed Ian so badly, and how he never said a word about it, not even later when it was clear I would recover.
Why did you do it, Michael? Because you’re ugly? Fat? Unpopular? Because you are the only male in school who can see Ian’s loveliness? No, no, no. I check them all off. I still cannot really feel whatever it was I felt last night. But then… maybe it was No Hope. A lack of any hope whatever. It just seems so hard to make sense out of what I am supposed to be here on this planet, and I seem destined always to screw up.
All around me, school rushes by. Classes, bells, lunch. Did I eat that fruit? I must have; they are gone. In the afternoon, Ian is waiting by his car. Even though I am half an hour late from having the Astronomy Club meeting. I have those terrible twin feelings again: Overwhelming relief that Ian is actually there. Disgust, for Ian, for myself.
I try hard to keep up the conversation on the way home. What troubles me is that I want to ask Ian to call me late in the evening, just in case. But I do not want Ian to see me so weak. The same two feelings, just a little bit different. I am able to keep my cool all the way home, but as soon as I shut the car door, I run after Ian, stopping him, asking him,
“Listen, do you think you could call me tonight? I mean late, like say eleven?”
“Sure, man,” Ian blurts out. “I’ll call.” He looks so satisfied, I hate it, but there is this other need, and I have to take care of it. Ian is still looking up at me from the driver’s seat.
“Is there anything special I should say?”
“No,” I answer, “just call. No, there is something. Ask me if I drank anything.”
“You won’t, will you?” Ian asks.
“I don’t think so. I’m too afraid.” And I didn’t want to say that, either.
“Good. Maybe that’s good.”
I look at Ian’s face; I have to agree.
My problem is Michael. Not my so-called boyfriend Val, not classes, not the idiot track coach, not even Mom and Dad. I can’t let Michael’s almost offing himself get to me. I make it through the whole school day, and you can bet I don’t tell anyone anything about this morning.
I’ve always known that there’s something different about Michael and me. Like, we’re both aliens – gay – but everyone knows that he’s an alien, and no one knows that I am. I see the way he looks at boys and all, but he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. I used to hope no one else saw it, but they figure it out eventually. And I know that’s why he tried that gun thing.
So what am I supposed to do about that? It hurts me when he says those things, the little stupid things like calling everyone earthlings. Like, even if it’s true, in a way, you just don’t say it to anyone. You gotta keep yourself up, or you’ll die.
But he never tried anything physical before. That’s just not who he is. In fact, to tell the truth, I’m almost proud that he actually did something. I just wish it was something better.
I like Michael. I mean, I really like him. He’s smart, and the teachers will never know how smart he is. He knows how to fit stuff together, to make sense out of what happens. And he does what he thinks is right. I’ve never told him all this; I don’t know if I can. We’re so different, him so intelligent and all, and me, well, I’m not in his league.
And, suppose I told him what I know and how I feel, he would right away want to hook up. And I’d have to say no. That’s just the way it would be. He’d get all sloppy. And he wouldn’t know how to keep it quiet. Even if he tried, the whole high school would know it like right away. And, the other reason, Michael isn’t very hot to look at. I mean, the sex would be really great, just like it is really cool the way we can talk with each other; there’s no one else I can do that with. And I’ve even had wet dreams about him, but it doesn’t make any difference. You can’t date someone just because they turn you on. I mean, you’ve got to have some standards if you’re in high school.
And I do, I have standards. Everyone knows who I hang with at school, the cool guys, and no one disrespects me. I don’t hook up with them, of course, but I do get that good feeling when the other guys look at me and know how hot I am. I date girls, only the hotties, and they’ve got to be at least a little smart.
And, hey, I don’t crap out on my friends, either. People know, they can’t fuck with Michael without me jumping in their face. I tell them we were buds in Aztec, and they shut up. It helps, I guess, that I casually make a fist while I’m telling them.
So I go through the whole day, see Michael exactly once between classes. I grab his arm just to remind him; I can’t tell if he even sees me. After school I wait out in the yard for almost half an hour before he waddles back out. I’m really getting ticked off waiting, but I always do what I say, right?. I think about him trying to off himself, and then I get really pissed. I even get angry at him for trying it. And then I think about the time he almost drowned back in Aztec.
It was my fault, totally. I was the one who kept pushing him to jump in the pool, and he kept whining, “No, I can’t swim.” So he finally jumped in and right away sank like a stone.
I freaked! I pulled him out, but I felt so awful for having made him do it. So I remember while I’m waiting how he was still nice to me after that, even helping me with math for an awful long time. We took these long walks, especially at night, and he showed me all the stars, and how they moved around the sky. One night there was a lunar eclipse. It was like really slow but it felt really amazing out in the desert to watch how everything changed. When the moon was shining, you could see the plants and the faraway hills, but they all disappeared when it went in.
So it comes to me, waiting in the parking lot: It’s his Astronomy day. Duh! It’s a good thing I remember that before he actually comes out. On the way home I try to get him to set his mind on doing something positive, I ask him about seeing a shrink or something, but he says the last time he did that, it was with the school counselor, who actually told his parents, and they punished him! It tears me up, because I know he’s telling the truth. He’s gay, he doesn’t want to be gay, and he doesn’t know how to climb out of that! What can I tell him?
When I drop him off, I pull a U-ie and head right down to Val’s place. I’m hoping he won’t get pissed because I’m so late. I sure as fuck don’t want to have to tell him the whole story. As if Val would really care about Michael. Sure. Val cares about pretty boys. Michael’s a sweetheart but, like I said, he sure isn’t anything you could call pretty. And besides that, you always have to act a certain way around Val. You can’t ever do anything he thinks is nelly, and that could be almost anything at all. Like worrying about sissy friends, for example.
Val has this little house he rents close to the University, and you have to drive through a dirt alley to get to it. I think it’s cool; you can always see people walking to school or from school, or to a party.
Okay, so I went all the way north to drop off Michael, and now I’m coming back south again, back past the high school, driving like crazy, down to Val’s apartment. He promised to introduce me to some of the other college kids today. It’s supposed to be some potluck supper but I don’t have to bring anything. I’m psyched; I want to meet other people, not just Val. I want to meet someone I can actually talk to. Some of them are even driving in from Deming and Alamogordo, like an hour away.
I used to think Val was hot. But he just knows how to dress and what’s cool. He doesn’t let me play with his hair with all the product and all. Actually I don’t think I want to get too involved with someone like him, but he can set my idle up as high as it’ll go. He likes me because I’m so young — so “fresh” he says — and probably because I haven’t done anyone else hardly at all, so he says I’m safe. He’s says he’s on top with other guys, but he makes an exception for me.
One time I said I was a little afraid, and he went, “Look, dude, I’ll be the one taking cum, not you, so you don’t have anything to worry about. Besides, I don’t have it, because I use them with everyone else. So everything’s cool. That is, if you’re cool.” I said I hadn’t done anything with anyone else. It’s almost true except for some messing around I did with this one other guy at school, and we didn’t even do anything but jerk each other off most of the time.
So I’m looking forward to this potluck while I’m driving like a maniac down towards the University, but when I get to Val’s place, there aren’t any other cars there. So that’s it, I’m the only guest at the “party.” He’s going to try to get me to stay all night. I can’t do that; my folks will go crazy. And there’s Michael, I promised.
I’m actually at his door, but I whip around and pull out the cell and call Michael, his cell. He doesn’t always pick up but I don’t want to talk to his mom.
He picks up and right away says, “It’s too early, Ian, I said…”
“Michael, I love you,” I go. Total silence. “Michael?”
“Yeah, so I’m supposed to say I love you too?”
“Michael, you can be such an asshole. No, you aren’t supposed to say anything, you’re just supposed to hear it.” I can hear my voice crack. “And anyway, I already know.”
“What do you mean?” he goes, like it’s a surprise..
“I saw the way you looked at me this morning. Tell me you don’t love me. Go ahead, say it, ‘I don’t love you, Ian.’” By this point I’m pretty much on the verge of breaking down completely. I hear a noise behind me; I look back and it’s Val standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. He’s in his bathrobe, so I was right, no one else is there. And he’s pissed.
And meanwhile Michael isn’t saying anything, so I turn back away from Val and say, “So, Michael? That was pretty loud.”
“How could you love me?” he goes, “I’m the guy who made a fool out of you at the pool back in Aztec. If it hadn’t been for you, I would have drowned.”
“That wasn’t your fault, Michael,” I say, “I practically pushed you to jump. My fault.”
“Ian, it was not your fault; everybody was telling me to jump. You were the one who saved me.”
“But you were the one who stood up for me when I stuttered in class, and that was even before the pool. You told everyone they were stupid.”
“Well? Weren’t they?”
I laugh; that’s Michael. But I have to ask him, “So, am I stupid, too?” How the hell I have the balls to ask that I don’t know.
So he goes, “No, Ian, I don’t know anyone like you. You’re, you’re a complete human being.”
The feeling – like a blessing – washes over me, and from the heat I know that my whole body is blushing.
I can’t answer right away, but after a sec I go, “And I don’t let people drown when they’re my friends.”
We’re pretty quiet for a minute. I have my back to Val’s door, so I can see the sky going dark, Michael’s sky, purple now like it is only for winter sunsets. Then Michael has to say, “So, do you mean the kissy-kissy kind of love, Ian?”
Too much. I’m crying now. “I don’t know, Michael, I don’t know. We’ll have to work it out.”
“What about all your A-list friends?”
“Michael, I promise you, I’m there for you no matter what, no matter what they say.”
“Yeah,” he goes, “but that’s just because…”
So I have to shout at him, again! “Michael, it’s because I love you!” I can hear the door slam behind me. That’s goodbye to Val, and not just for tonight.
“What was that?” he goes.
“I’m supposed to be visiting this guy down by the college. I think he’s pissed.”
“Do you fuck him?”
“He’s prettier than I am.”
“So why aren’t you with him?”
I can barely hold on. “Because I don’t love him. I don’t even like him. He doesn’t like me.” And it hits me right then: Just like saying I love Michael – when I say it, it becomes real: And Val, I don’t even like Val!
We’re quiet again for a minute, and then he goes, “You know, maybe I won’t let you do it with me after all.”
Now I’m laughing and crying both. “Right!” And then in a really high voice, “’Help! Help! My best friend, the guy who loves me, he’s trying to have sex with me. Please! Please! Don’t stop him!’”
And Michael laughs! He laughs hard. And now I’m really laughing, because I know I’m in, totally.