by Nicholas Tristan, Features Editor
I first knew when I saw the magazine. It was one of those weird “men’s health” magazines that were basically a flimsy front for getting musclebound men in little to no clothing. I found it by the side of the train tracks, the place where you’d find all sorts of things that were no longer wanted.
I put down the magazine, my heart racing. The combination of terror and excitement and anticipation coursing through my veins. It was just like that theme park full of reanimated dinosaurs that had opened that same year: thrilling at first, but everything quickly became so much more complicated.
It’s hard to talk about the locker room still. I don’t think I would have ever been entirely comfortable in a locker room even if I was straight, but being gay and surrounded by naked boys that would hate you if they ever found out was just terrible.
And then, one day, the unthinkable happened. When your body’s changing, you don’t always have the control you want over every moving part. And one day, in the locker room, one part moved a bit too much.
“Hey!” I heard someone yell. “Hey, look over there!”
Sure enough, the attention was directed at me. I looked down, only to find that I was erect. It had happened. My worst fucking nightmare.
Of course, the whole incident was mostly overshadowed by the alien invasion, and President Whitmore’s rousing speech that today was the day we celebrate our Independence Day. He was a very good president.
Jeff was my first crush. He was tall, handsome, and loved basketball more than anything in the world. We’d play after school, and he’d smile and laugh when I missed all my jump shots, but never in a cruel way. I never told him how I felt, but I almost did that one night, the night that Air Bud won the championship a few towns over. Jeff couldn’t believe it, but he did concede that there was no rule that said a dog couldn’t play basketball. We sat and looked at the stars and Jeff told me he was scared he’d never be as good as Buddy the dog. I told him he would be. We looked into each other’s eyes, but I couldn’t find the next words to say.
My father was a stern man, your classic midwestern good ol’ boy with a farming background and no interest in emotions. If there was one thing that truly got him excited, though, it was Christmas.
I came home from school one day in December, crying after being bullied again. I came home crying a lot, and my father never seemed to care or notice at all. But today was different. Today he joined me as I sat, sniffling, in the living room.
“Son,” he said, “did you hear about what happened in New York?”
“A judge ruled that Santa Claus is real. Can you believe that? This crazy old man, tried with assault, went free because the court ruled he was actually Santa Claus. Totally unprecedented, except for that one thing sort of like it in the 1940s.”
“Just goes to show you, maybe there’s still some good left in this world. Maybe miracles can happen.”
And then he gave me a hug, something he had maybe done five times in my entire life. He leaned in and whispered, “Seven days till Christmas, son.”
“Oh, what is this garbage? They’re training oil men to be astronauts? Like that’s going to save us! Mark my words, this asteroid will kill us all...”
That one moment with my father was an ephemeral one. In the following years he only got more ornery and less interested in connecting to me. He’d sneer at my David Bowie CD collection, mutter “sissy” under his breath when he watched me play sports, and eye my male friendships with a wary gaze.
The summer of 1998 was a stressful one for my father, asteroid aside. He’d worked as a night watchman at a tracksuit factory for seventeen years, but that was the summer the factory up and moved to Bangladesh. That was also the summer I met Raj.
Raj’s family was from Mumbai, but that didn’t matter to my dad. They were all the same to him, and Raj bore the brunt of my father’s racial anger. It didn’t help that Raj seemed to like a lot of the same things I did: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tank Girl, and Kate Moss photoshoots.
I first kissed Raj in my basement while my father watched the President give a speech on the TV upstairs. I knew, deep down, that if he caught us in that moment he could have killed us. We came upstairs, faces flushed, and saw that my dad was yelling at the screen again.
“Great, we elect a black president and we get another fucking asteroid? What a summer.”