After the Fourth and Final Parent’s Day at AEGIS, which Daddy has once again failed to attend, Jonathan promises to take me up on the roof after he, once again, attends church with me instead of meeting his own parents.
We’re the only two boys in Theatre. Most others, my friends Dan and Blake included, are in Music or Art. Dance is unquestionably female.
The Art Education for Gifted Integrated Studies camp was a month-long intensive college campus experience for high schoolers, only available through scholarship to those who submitted a portfolio impressive enough to gain admittance. As I was turning 14 and starting Freshman year in August, I was easily the youngest in attendance. Something of a pet for the Seniors who found my wholesomeness adorable. And Jonathan was no exception.
“This is so cool!” I stage-whisper as he gently closes the roof access and looks around for chaperones or counselors.
“Yeah, Kimberly told me about it last year. We don’t ever bring Fish up here, but I know you’re cool. So it’s okay.”
I beam at Jonathan until he gives me a quick, calculating glance. He’s only slightly taller than me, but sleeker and more muscular, with dark skin and long braids he keeps tucked into his head-wrap.
“How old are you again?” His eyebrow cocks up and I quickly reply, “I’ll be 14 in two months! That’s when I start high school.”
“Christ, you’re just starting? I can’t wait to get out of there,” he sighs and unrolls a blanket from his backpack next to the industrial sized AC units, out of eyesight of the door. We settle with our backs buzzing against the warm metal surface.
“When I graduate, I’m moving to New York to write for Saturday Night Live. That’s where my family’s from. My mom’s family. New York accepts everybody. The weirdos and the crazies and the queers. Anyone else the rest of the country doesn’t want can all live together in New York.”
Jonathan turns to me and smiles before he produces a joint from under his head-wrap.
“Ever had one of these?” He teases.
“No,” I sheepishly admit, “But I’ve always wanted to try.”
He cups his hand and lights it in a smooth motion, “Here, let me spark it for you.”
He puffs until the tip glows red, then hands it to me, “Remember to inhale — hold it in — and then slowly exhale.”
I’ve never smoked anything in my life, but I do exactly as he says despite almost immediately gagging on the first breath. My face turns scarlet before I finally back out an enormous cloud, quickly covering my mouth to muffle the sound.
“Whoa! Slow down, killer. Don’t try so hard, you’ll feel it soon,” he takes the joint from my fingertips to puff on it twice while I regain my composure.
He’s right. By the time he passes it back to me I already feel an enormous weight lift from my chest. Before long we’re giggling and leaning close against one another.
“Don’t be offended,” he says as he flicks the roach off the roof, “But why are you in Theatre and not in Music with your other little drummer boys?”
Pot loosening my tongue, I tell him the truth, “Honestly? I wanted to get as far away from my home as possible so I could just be by myself. I needed a break and this camp was a month-long and free.”
“A break from what? You’re only 13.”
“I don’t know…Life? I guess?” I place my head on his shoulder and he rests his own on top of mine.
I can feel the deep vibrations of his voice as he asks, “What, your dad?”
“No, I mean yeah, but not just that. It’s—“ the proximity and the pot and the camp camaraderie embolden me further as I take a deep breath, “I’m…I’m a…I’m not a boy…”
It sounds so ridiculous out loud! I turn away in tears but Jonathan wraps his arms around me and rocks me into his chest as I take shuddering breaths.
“What do you mean, you’re not a boy? It’s okay, baby. I won’t laugh or tell anyone. I promise,” I smell his lotion as he tenderly kisses my neck from behind, sending shivers down between us.
“I mean I’m not a boy. At least I don’t think I am. I think and act a lot more like a girl and I…I think I might even like boys…”
This last sentence hangs in the air, barely a whisper, but his face is so close to mine I know he hears me. He begins to stroke my hair and I can feel his bicep flex against me as he holds me tighter still.
“It’s just not fair! I go to church, I help others, I practically raised my younger siblings, but I’m still never going to be what I feel like I really am!”
I turn around to bury my face and he holds me and rocks me until I finally look up into his brown eyes. He doesn’t say anything. He just leans his face toward mine. And then he kisses me. I open my mouth and find his tongue with my own.
My first real kiss! And it’s with a boy! I feel a slight twinge of guilt about Angela back in Dallas, but that doesn’t stop me from allowing Jonathan to gently lower me onto my back as he crawls on top of me. His bulge swells up against me as he becomes more earnest, and I more willing.
I don’t know if we kissed like that for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, but when he pulls back he gives me a sweet smile as I try to regain my senses.
“Well, you sure don’t kiss like a boy, that much is true,” he winks before moving away slowly to sprawl on his back on our abandoned blanket, “I thought maybe you were gay but maybe you’re right. Maybe you are a girl.”
I move to his side and rest my head on his chest, gazing up at the stars and moon with him.
“I try really hard to hide it from everyone, you know? I’ve been praying for God to make me a real boy for years, but I know He can tell I don’t mean it. And it’s a sin to lie to God. That’s why he punished me with these.”
I lift his free hand and place it under my shirt. He gives an appraising squeeze before quickly resting his hand on my head instead, stroking my hair gently.
Finally he sits up and lights another joint for us, “It’s like this. I can’t tell you if you’re a gay boy or a girl or whatever. Right? Only you have the ability to figure that out, but it probably won’t happen right away. That’s okay. You’re young, you’ve got plenty of time to experiment. But you also still have four years of high school and your parents to deal with. Only you can decide if you need to do that in secret or out in the open.”
Before long my spirits lift with our clouds, and I feel comfortable enough to ask him, “So what about you? Are you out? No offense, but Arkansas isn’t exactly super friendly to gay black men.”
He coughs out a laugh, “True, it’s not ideal. But this is my home too. Oddly enough, God gave me the strength to be gay. I used to feel like it was a curse or something I needed a cure for, but think about it? Why would God make me gay if he didn’t want me to be gay? Because it’s actually my character God is testing. To see if I’ll stand up for myself in the face of Hatred and Judgement. That’s what Jesus did, and he changed the world.”
“Yeah,” I cough sarcastically, “And what did they do? Kill him.”
“Well shit, kid. You have to make sacrifices if you want to make change. Some people sacrifice higher than others, but the reward is Salvation. I’m sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of religious nut.”
“Hell don’t worry about me, you already know I’m a Jesus Freak,” I laugh and pass the joint back, “But God, I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed.”
He puffs and passes back. I look into his eyes.
“Can I tell you something? I used to love going to church. I used to close my eyes and sing my heart out and feel the Holy Spirit rush through my soul. But now? I’m just not so sure.”
Jonathan just gives me a distant smile as we puff and pass once more.
“There’s just so many ‘Good Christians’ out there who only care about appearances. Who cast out sinners instead of loving them. And they care more about death than being better people now. You know I’ve actually heard preachers say good deeds don’t count without a baptism? I mean, surely Jesus can see past circumstances, but what if I’m wrong? What if I’m still damned no matter what I do?”
Jonathan pinches the last of the joint and holds it to my lips before flicking it off the roof.
“God in the mouths of men makes for some cruel irony, Kid. But you’ll be alright. Just have faith.”
Eventually he folds up the blanket and smuggled me downstairs back to the dorms. He kisses my forehead goodnight and whispers, “Break a leg!”
Shit. I totally forgot tomorrow was The Showcase. Last day of camp.
At least I’ll be leaving for Dallas and not Searcy when I’m done. Until August, when I have to go back.