I brought my boyfriend home to meet my family for the first time this past Thanksgiving. It was a last-minute plan. He didn’t have anywhere to stay until his flight left in three days. I was going home, so it just fit that he would go home with me for a day or two.
Last Thanksgiving, my father told me I was gay because of evil spirits. Then I threw a suitcase at him from the second floor. I hoped this one would go better.
Over this past year, my parents have changed a little bit. They’re trying. Maybe they realize that they’re losing me, day by day. My father knows the truth: Someday I’ll be the silence at the end of an unanswered phone call, nothing more. The labor of maintaining life with them has made me nearly call it quits a couple times. It would not be easy. I picture my mother sobbing as she hears the same tired message of my voicemail, her only way of knowing what I sound like and that I’m still alive.
Maybe they’re making more steps to try and bridge this divide between us. Maybe I’ve become more forgiving. I don’t know.
The poor people. They don’t have anything but their money and their land, gorgeous as it is, and their sorry, hate-riddled little faith. It keeps them afloat. I try to be understanding. I need certain things to live on and so do they.
After talking to Jose, I mustered up the courage to send my father a simple text. My boyfriend is from Venezuela and has never experienced Thanksgiving. Can he come?
My father texted back. Sure.
It was the first time they ever been confronted face-to-face with the fact that I date, kiss, and fuck another man. At one point we simply had to get away. We drove into the woods on one of our ATVs and started making out against a tree. I knelt down in the dirt and sucked his dick. It was like a porno.
He did well. He and my sister got along. They asked him about his tattoos, about his illustration. He showed them some of his work on his phone. I can’t tell if they were impressed, but he’s really very good. He played with our dogs and followed me outside to the rope swing. I wanted to kiss him so bad, in front of everyone, as he swung over the river like that, my mountain boy.
The day after Thanksgiving, I drove him four hours away to the airport so he could catch his flight back to Caracas. Everyone in love knows the feeling after you drop your person off. The world loses its color.
The billboards that line the highway from Savannah to Atlanta appear like this: “Got hemorrhoids? Call [insert number here],” “Uncle Chuck’s Chicken Shack: the best fried chicken in the South!” “Mt. Zion Baptist Church,” “Are you addicted to painkillers? Call [insert number here],” “GOD IS MAD AT YOU NO MATTER WHAT,” “Granny’s Southern Cooking: we cater!” “CHOW DOWN Chinese Buffet, Sushi, Buffet, Barbecue: All you can eat for $5.99,” “Put your heart at rest: BELIEVE IN GOD.”
I have never understood why Christians try so hard to sell god to nonbelievers. Shouldn’t it be easy to sell a creator? Why do we need such convincing? If you have to wave god in our faces with shitty roadside billboards (a visual onslaught of bad graphics, overdone drop shadow, and Impact font) then god’s existence must be difficult to elucidate from nature. I don’t see god’s thumbprint on animals, but I do see traces of other animals, which suggests a common ancestor, not Adam and Eve. I can’t help but feel, Christians, like all this is for you, not me.
You know it’s true. You know in the back of your minds that if you were alone spouting this nonsense — if you were the only one in a world full of atheists — you would feel uncomfortable. We would question your sanity. Your belief gets bolstered in better numbers, and us, the secular intellectuals constantly beating you at everything but farming, threaten your world of god with our very existence.
You want to round us up. It’s okay, I know you do. I want to round you up too.
The next sign: “TRY JESUS.”
My boyfriend was somewhere overhead on his way home to Caracas. I was driving through Augusta, one of the trivial towns between the coast and the capital. I pulled into the mall to go to Barnes & Noble and realized with horror that it was Black Friday. The road to get out of the mall was bottle-necked. Nobody was moving. I parked.
Then it all came together: America, my parents, Caracas, and all these people trampling each other for sales. Social unrest in Venezuela; political dictatorship. And who were our American dictators? Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, Diesel. We are the sons and daughters of materialism. This is America, where you can get anything you want if you wake up early enough on Black Friday.
What had happened to Walt Whitman’s America? The America of Langston Hughes and Jack Kerouac? The America that James Baldwin returned to? Was it ever a good place? Was it ruined from the ground up — from the signage and on through the years? Slavery came, then AIDS came, and where had we gone since? What was our great achievement? Strip malls and democracy. A polarized political scene. Burger King.
I walked through destroyed department stores, sidestepping piles of decimated designer underwear, and my thoughts returned to Venezuela where my boyfriend would soon be landing. I only know of the situation from what he tells me, and from what I read. I don’t know firsthand what it’s like.
But I do know my own brand of American violence. I know about white cops firing rounds into unarmed black teenagers and families battling each other through the doors of Toys ‘R’ Us.
In front of me, a little girl with pigtails screamed and pointed to a man in a red suit. She was almost crying. The man waved back softly with a white mitten. He was standing in a little house with fake snow on it. Hordes of children were lined up to sit on his lap.
When I was a kid, I loved Black Friday. Before I was old enough to understand the salesmanship I was living in, I loved the lights and toys and people running around. It meant Christmas was close, and Christmas promised presents, and presents promised something even more wonderful: the idea that magical things really happened, that fat men rode sleighs to bless us in the night.
Everybody wants to believe in Santa or something like him. My parents, their pastor, and all their white, churchy friends. Everyone wants to be blessed at Christmas, to wake up reminded that life is important.
My friends and neighbors ask for angels to protect them while they sleep. My parents pray to someone they can’t see and ask him for guidance. They believe he hears them.
I want to understand. I want to put on a red suit and come down to all of them in the night to their bedsides and whisper, “I hear you. I’m here.”
But if I had my own personal sleigh, I would fly south to a country that lost its dictator only to have him replaced by a new one. I would go to one bedside and lay down silently and hold my boyfriend all night. As if on cue, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” started blasting over the Macy’s men’s cologne.
The girl with pigtails could not contain her joy. Her mom yelled at her to sit her fucking ass down. I kept walking, missing the days when I left cookies on the kitchen table, certain that he was watching me, certain that I was loved.