This Thanksgiving, I took Jose to meet my family for the first time. It was a last-minute plan. He didn’t have anywhere to stay until his flight back to Venezuela in three days — our school boots you out over the holiday to clean the dorms. I was going home, so it fit for him to spend two days with us.
I was a wreck about the whole thing. Last Thanksgiving, my father said my homosexuality was the result of evil spirits, and I threw a suitcase at him. I hoped this year would go better.
My parents are trying. I think my father knows the truth. Someday I’ll be the silence at the end of an unanswered phone call. Whenever I visit, he scrambles to appear interested in my ridiculous art school classes, tries to strike up a conversation about my life. I give him the most meager answers possible, and after some paltry back-and-forth, it’s done.
Their house is beautiful this time of year. It’s tucked in a clearing in the middle of a hardwood forest. Overhead is a canopy of yellows and fiery oranges. I drove down the long gravel driveway slowly so Jose could see it all. When I parked, he squeezed my hand. “Let’s do this,” I said. My father walked out to meet us and I spoke first. “Dad, this is Jose.”
“Hey Jose,” he said with a half smile, shaking his hand. Jose has an eyebrow piercing and nose ring, and I could see my father zeroing in on these details immediately. “How was the drive?”
“This place is beautiful!” Jose said, ignoring the question, looking up. “The trees are amazing!” Jose’s accent is most adorable when he’s excited. It sounds like the words are barely coming together at the last second. His English is perfect, but he always sounds like that — like if he goes too fast, his words will tumble over themselves and he’ll lose his place. But he likes going fast, and he gets giddy easily, and that is why I love him.
This was their first time meeting a boyfriend. My mom did well. She smiled her beautiful, sincere smile and asked if we were getting hungry. Rebecca, my sister, stood awkwardly in an oversized shirt. She had been busy all morning preparing food. “Hey Jose!” she said, followed by, “Hey brother!” She ran up to me, gave me a hug, then ran back to mix the green beans or whatever.
After a few hours, I pulled him aside. “How are you doing?”
I must have looked terrified because he said, “I’m doing OK Alex. Really. They’re really really nice. How are you?”
“OK for now.”
We toured the house, and then I told everyone I wanted to take Jose on a ride through the woods on an ATV. I wanted to add that this is what I get to do — I get to go off with my boyfriend to show him my home — but it wasn’t needed. Dad handed me a set of keys. “Be careful,” my mother called as we left.
Far from the house, we stopped in the middle of the woods. Jose leaned back against a tree, I unbuckled his pants, knelt in the dirt, and sucked his beautiful, delicious cock. In the city, we never get to do sexual stuff outside, and this was the perfect opportunity. “This is like a porno,” he said.
Back at the house, Rebecca asked him about his tattoos. Jose is an illustrator, and he showed my parents pictures of his work on his phone. I can’t tell if they were impressed, but he’s really very good. The next morning, I drove him four hours to the airport so he could catch his flight to Caracas. After he was gone, the world lost all color. We did this, I thought. I’m not sure if he realized how momentous this milestone was for me — I’m not sure anyone did. I wanted to celebrate it with him. The passenger seat looked miserably empty.
Driving back, I passed through Augusta and made the terrible mistake of turning off the highway to stop at a shopping mall I like there. I completely forgot that it was Black Friday and was instantly stuck in a line of cars snaking around the building. It took an hour to find a parking spot. I looked at the horde of cars honking and idling, waiting to get out, and realized it would take just as long to leave, so I went in.
The mess inside was indescribable. Walking through the doors of Bloomingdales, I was nearly bulldozed by a blonde woman loaded with shopping bags who was screaming at the man behind her, presumably her husband. I’ve never had to kick aside strewn piles of underwear to make it through a store, but this time I did. It was a madhouse.
Outside Michael Kors, a little girl pointed. “Mom, I wanna see Santa.”
“You shut your fucking mouth,” a woman yelled from inside the store. “Don’t fucking ask me that again.”
Somewhere overhead, Jose was rocketing through the air on his way to a place I’ve never been, a place I may never go. The political unrest in Venezuela is all over the news these days. Before this trip, his parents told him that this is likely one of the last times he could go home. His sister moved to Panama and the rest of his family is trying to follow.
What must it be like to go home for the last time? What is it like to fear violence every time you walk out the door? I’ve had a pretty easy life. I’ve never lived in a dangerous place. The only violence I’ve known is this — wrecked department stores, screaming babies, and people madly grabbing boxes at Best Buy. America’s violence always seems tame to Jose’s stories. With every white, racist cop that murders a black unarmed man, Jose learns of a friend that got kidnapped or reads how many people got shot at the last protest.
When I was little, I loved Black Friday shopping. I loved the decorations and people running everywhere. Before things got bad with my family, Thanksgiving and Christmas were things I looked forward to, events I prepared for. I made Christmas lists and hand-wrote letters for everyone I knew.
Every year, my parents would take my sister and me to find a Christmas tree. I always wanted to help cut it down, so my dad cranked up the chainsaw, stood behind me, and placed my hands next to his. I remember his impossibly strong hands, how they felt like rocks next to mine. He guided me, pushing the whirring blade through the wood. It rackled as it broke, like peanut brittle. When it was close, he told me I did a good job, and I moved out of the way to let him finish. In every family task, my dad and I performed the “man’s job” while my mother and sister did everything else, and this made me feel strong and proud. I loved him then.
There was always a flicker of skepticism in the Santa idea for me, but I remember wanting to believe it and getting very excited about the possibility that it might be true, and that was enough. My parents still believe that someone listens to their prayers every night — presumably, the same person who died thousands of years ago before rising again with a cosmic ‘gotcha!’
If I had a magic sleigh, I’d follow Jose south, far from this dizzying American cacophony, far from my parents and Christ. I’d land on his doorstep in Caracas with the hope that this meeting — our past and present lives colliding — would go as smoothly as mine did.