by Andre Wheeler
I decided that I wanted to kill myself after it started raining and I realized I did not have an umbrella. I know you’ll say that it must have been because of something else, some greater reason that will look better in black ink, but my dying wish is that you will believe me when I say that I want to die because it was raining and I didn’t have my blue umbrella, and not because of stupid Levi Able playing with my emotions.
God began making the sky pour like a bathtub faucet, and I wanted to die as soon as I began the half-mile walk to my house after refusing to ride home in Levi’s truck.
“Fuck you you fucking fucktard! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” I had yelled at the top of my weak lungs when Levi told me to just get in the truck and stop being a dramatic pussy. That I had just said it wasn’t a big deal if people found out the truth about me, so what was the big deal? “Fucktard!” I yelled, kicking his car door as he started his run-down truck and ran away from me.
I want to die because it rained and I did not have my blue umbrella and not because of stupid Levi Able.
Rain is just annoying. And stupid. Almost as annoying and stupid as life in Wylie Gardens is. I hold a fierce belief that rain is just God’s way of showing us that he’s still in control. Because when you think about all the things we can make and control it just doesn’t make any sense that we can’t stop some water from falling out of the charcoal-colored sky and onto us. We can cure diseases and create life in petri dishes, but we can’t stop a lousy high school baseball game from being cancelled because of God’s piss. Rain is just God having a pissing contest with mankind. And when we really need him to piss on us to end a drought, he holds it in for as long as he can until his kidneys explode.
But I’ve decided that I don’t have to stand here soaked in God’s urine. He’s not in control. Of me at least. I don’t know about you other dip-squeaks, but I know my life is mine, and after sixteen years of living it I’ve decided I’ve seen all I that I’ve needed to see to decide that it sucks. Plain and simple.
Okay, I admit that up until two hours I ago I did think that life was maybe worth living, but I was just being stupid. Really stupid. The thought had first poured into my delusional mind when Levi sat next to me in French last week.
“What’s uppppp Diegooo?” Levi had said to me while staring down at his iPhone.
“Nothing much,” I answered, suddenly conscious of every word I spoke. I was always careful to sit in the back of the class by myself so that everyone pretty much left me alone unless it was to make fun of the way I dragged my words out longer than the history of mankind when I answered the occasional question for participation points.
“I like your sweater. Where’d you get it from?”
“Express. My Mom bought it for me last week.”
Levi chuckled. “Cool.”
Levi didn’t talk to me again until Mrs. Richards handed out the quizzes for conjugating faire in the past tense. A quiz she had just gone over verbatim five minutes ago.
“Yo,” Levi whispered, leaning into me so that the smell of his smoky Hollister cologne grabbed my nose into a hug. At that moment, in the quietness of room 702, I prayed that Levi Able was about to confess his love for me, explaining why he had chosen to sit next to me that day. Instead, Levi pointed his questionably pink mechanical pencil at question number two, and I knew what he wanted. So I made a circle as round as the moon around letter B, and Levi somberly nodded his head once and returned to staring off into space. Then he stretched, leaned back, yawned, and circled the same answer, as if he was merely filling out a DMV form. We continued in this fashion for the rest of the quiz, Levi occasionally throwing me a treat by letting the purple band of his Abercrombie boxers creep out and come out of hiding. I turned in both of our papers to Mrs. Richards, who was definitely aware that Levi and I had cheated but had given up on teaching our class back in October. Levi muttered a thanks when I sat back down and laid his head on his desk to go to sleep. I spent the rest of class watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his back with a raging hard-on inside my jeans.
When the bell rang, Levi jerked awake, grabbed his binder (the only thing he brought to school each day), and threw me a smile of gratitude as he sauntered out of class. I walked out of the classroom to see Dayna and him performing their daily routine of hallway sex in the back stairwell. Levi’s lips were brushing against Dayna’s earlobes as he whispered God knows what into her lucky ears, and Dayna had both of her hands shoved inside Levi’s pockets doing God knows what. As I passed the two lovebirds, I pulled out my flip phone to pretend that I was cool enough to have someone text me.
As I marched up the stairs, Levi shouted out: “Yo, Diego! Thanks, man!” I stopped dead in my tracks to do or say something cool in response, only to have some dude crash-land into my backpack and fall down the stairs. White sheets of paper flew everywhere like snow. I swooshed down the stairs to help him up while at the same time performing a dramatic eye roll for Levi in the hopes of downplaying my utter embarrassment. Levi just stood there, hands draped around Dayna’s small waist, amused at the ruckus he had caused.
Dayna ripped herself away from Levi to help. My stomach dropped when I heard Dayna say “Here ya go, girl.” Looking more closely at the guy dressed in dad jeans, ragged Converses, and a comic book superhero T-shirt, I could see the distant features of femininity. The curve of his hips, the incredible smoothness of his skin, and the faint impression of breasts hidden underneath Wolverine’s face. It was definitely a girl. The two girls exchanged a look of acknowledgement towards my idiocy, and the girl blasted off to class.
“Sorry,” I yelled out to her as she leapfrogged up the stairs.
I pretended not to hear her mumble “Fucktard” in response.
“You should really be more careful and respectful. Jessie gets a lot of shit for the way she dresses. Just like you do you do for the way you talk. Aren’t you two supposed to be like allies or some shit like that?” Dayna asked me in her raspy man voice. Dayna was only five five, but her confidence was taller than me, and I’m six one. “Also, your shoe’s untied,” she said without ever breaking the painful eye contact she had me locked into.
I mumbled a thanks and launched off to class. I refused to give Dayna the satisfaction of seeing me fumble with tying my shoes right then and there. There’s something utterly humiliating when a person tells you your shoe is untied or your fly is down or that there’s a stain on your shirt. It’s like they have the advantage of noticing your flaw first and can witness your raw vulnerability and embarrassment when they use it against you.
Halfway up the staircase I looked down to steal one more look at Levi. What I saw was Levi staring up at me intensely with his bottomless eyes while Dayna brushed her body against his. I felt thunder and lightning rumble inside my chest and a mountain rise in my pants. Scared that he could see it, I rushed off to the boys’ restroom.
The next day Levi sat next to me again, using a compliment on my lime-green oxfords as a hello. As we sat in the darkness watching a French cartoon meant for three-year-olds, Levi’s summer breath whispered into my ear, “You ever went out with a girl before?”
I stared at the screen with wide eyes. “Why?”
He leaned in closer to me. “Just wondering.”
“Not really. I went out with Katie Cox for one day in seventh grade.”
He laughed. “That doesn’t count. She’s gone out with every guy in our class. So… do you like girls?”
“Why does it matter?”
“I mean, it’s cool if you don’t. I don’t have a problem with gay guys. It’d just be nice to know if you are one. You know, to say I have a gay best friend.” He laughed. “I mean I would fuck Justin Timberlake in heartbeat if I had enough beers in me.”
“So you are…?” I whispered in fake disgust and horror, because that’s what you’re supposed to do in Wylie Gardens.
“Nah,” he answered, letting the word unravel out of his mouth slowly like a spool of thread. “I like my bitches for sure.”
“Okay, then that’s that.” I returned to tracing over my crossword puzzle with the French names for the days of the week hidden inside of it.
A couple of minutes later Levi started at it again. “Well, if you do like girls you should definitely change up your style a bit.”
“What do you mean?”
“You gotta dress less nerdy. Look at me.” He pointed to his daily uniform of sagged slim jeans, Obey T-shirt, and black Vans. It’s what all the guys at Wylie High wore. The cool, hot ones at least.
“That’s not my style,” I answered sharply, annoyed that he was insulting the hours of careful planning I put towards my outfits to make it clear that I was not like every other asshole there.
“You gotta loosen up, man. We should hang out at the mall one day. I can buy some of those cool sweaters you be wearing, and then I could show you some cool clothes at Urban.”
“I told you to just go to Express to buy the sweaters. They’re sixty dollars.”
Levi smiled through the darkness. “Yeah, but I need you to tell me which ones looks good on me.”
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to respond to that, so I just said, “Okay.”
“Here, give me your number so I can text you sometime and we can hang out.” He threw his phone onto my desk and leaned back in his chair to stare at me while I typed my number into his phone with shaky fingers. “Perfect,” he said when I handed it back to him. “Can you turn my paper in for me? Thanks.” And then he returned to sleeping through the cartoon.
When I got home that day I added Levi on Facebook. He accepted my friend request within seconds. Creeping through his profile, I found mostly pictures of him and his numerous girlfriends throughout freshman and sophomore years. First it was Dayna, then Lexie Flinch, then Jessica Oblainder, then Patience Sackey, then Brianna Nap, and then Kelli Hudson. Other than that, it was mostly tagged photos of him drinking with Carlos, Jose, and Taylor (the trailer trash kids destined to drop out of Wylie High any time soon), and a few photos of a prepubescent Levi with his Mom here and there.
It was weird, because up until then I never even imagined what Levi’s home life could have been like. I guess I just imagined him as this feral child who survived alone in the world through his wit and attractiveness. At least that had always appeared to be the case. Every time I spotted Levi outside of school he was by himself, at Walmart or the mall or the library or McDonald’s. Besides, I figured somebody who got sent to ISS (in school suspension) as much as he did had to have nonexistent parents like mine, or none at all. But that’s the weird thing, I guess. Everyone has been weak at one point in time and needed to be taken care of. Even Levi Able.
I saved a photo onto my laptop of Levi beaming at the camera with a can of Miller Light in his hand. It was my favorite photo of him. In the picture, Levi’s midnight black hair swooshed perfectly above his brown eyes, and his mouth hung open in delight. He looked as if no problem in the world existed inside of him. Like he was just Levi in that picture and not Guarded Levi or Asshole Levi or Player Levi. Just Levi. I believed that I could be the thing that made Levi smile like that instead of the Miller Light.
Levi texted me at 11:34 p.m. that night.
Me: Hey! What’s up?
Levi: Just chilling
Levi: U think I could wear that pink sweater u were rockin da other day?
Me: I don’t know…
Me: I haven’t washed it since I wore it the other day.
Levi: It’s cool. U always smell good so im sure it can’t be that dirty
Levi: I’ll give it back 2 u at the end of da day
Levi: Pleaseeeeeeeee 😀
Me: *sigh* O.K.
Me: Do you want to meet by the 700 hall stairs in the morning?
Levi: Yea. Thanks man. What shoe size do u wear?
Me: 10 1/2. Why?
Levi: Imma let u wear a of pair of my vans tomorrow
Me: Alright What color are they?
Levi: Red. My 1 rule is that you CAN’T wear a bow tie with them. LOL 😛
Me: Alright, I’ll try my best not to 😛 See you tomorrow!
Levi: C u later Go Diego Go 🙂
Levi: That’s ur new nickname since ur always racing thru da halls.
Me: LOL. I like it 🙂 Good night!
Levi: Good night 😛
The next morning I threw on an old pair of Converses (a relic from my All-American fashion theme of freshman year), black J.Crew jeans that faintly looked like the Hot Topic ones Levi wore, and an American Eagle T-shirt that was from an ancient time period when I wanted to be like everyone else. I prayed that Levi would like the horrid outfit.
In the mornings, the school forces all of us to sit in the cafeteria and mull each other to death until the bell rings. To escape, I told Mr. McCall, whose large body sat sunken in a broken plastic chair blocking the pathway to the rest of the school, that I had to go talk to Mrs. Richards about my project real quick and that I’d be right back. He mumbled an alright without ever looking up from his game of Candy Crush. As I rounded the corner to the 700 hall, I saw Levi and Dayna viciously making out in the back stairwell. Levi’s hands were gripped onto Dayna’s butt cheeks like a mother holding her crying baby. I turned back around and walked to the 600 hallway to pretend that I was struggling to open a locker that wasn’t even mine. When the two passed me, Levi shouted out my name, his smooth voice bouncing off the high ceilings and riding into my body. Dayna glared at me.
Levi dropped Dayna’s hand like a sore subject and walked away from her and towards me. He waved halfheartedly at her and mumbled that he’d see her later without ever looking back. She walked off slowly, confused and hurt, and glued her eyes onto me and Levi for as long as she could.
Once Dayna was out of sight, I pulled the sweater I had ironed that morning for Levi out of my backpack.
“Thanks, bro,” he said, taking his shirt off and revealing his french vanilla chest. Instead of putting the sweater on, he leaned against the navy-blue lockers and asked where did I want to meet up after school.
“Um,” I said, lost inside Levi’s belly button and scrambling for words, “wherever you want to.”
“How about outside the locker room around 3:10? It takes a while for me to get changed after football practice.”
“I have to catch the bus…”
“It’s cool. I can drive you home. You live in Wylie Gardens, right?”
“Yeah. Over by the pool.”
“I figured you did,” Levi mumbled. Then he caught me staring at his bubble-gum-pink nipples. “How do I look?” He looked down at his chest with a smile. “Coach has been killing us lately with drills.”
“Just put the sweater on,” I answered, pulling my eyes away from his nipples and down at my phone.
Levi laughed as he threw the sweater on in one fluid motion. Then he opened his workout bag and pulled out his spotless blood-red Vans.
“Here you go, Li’l Diego.”
“I thought it was Go Diego Go.”
“It is, but with these shoes on it’s Li’l Diego, cause you gonna look gangsta,” he said with a smile full of teeth.
It took me longer than it should have to put the shoes on, because Levi was staring at me in that weird way again. When I finished, he eyed me over and said, “Swag.”
We walked in silence back to the cafeteria, me having to walk in fast-forward to keep up with Levi’s long, confident strides. When we reached the cafeteria, Levi pulled me into a hug and whispered, “Later, bro,” into my left ear. Then he walked off towards Dayna and her posse. I stood there dazed and confused at the fact that Levi Able had just hugged me. I began to believe with all my heart that Levi had a crush on me, and therefore that meant I was madly in love with him. Bursting with excitement, I ran to a bathroom stall to think about it all before the bell rang for school to start. I imagined Levi washing his naked body in the locker room showers later today before giving me back my pink sweater.
During French class, Levi pulled out his iPhone while were supposed to be working on… I don’t remember what we were supposed to be working on, but somehow it ended up with Levi asking me if I wanted to see something and me saying, “Yeah, sure.”(Of course.)
It was a picture of Dayna and Levi in their underwear posing in a bathroom mirror. Dayna’s body was wrapped around Levi’s like a thorn around a rose, and the tip of her tongue was on his nipple. Levi was staring ahead at the mirror with that same stupid but cute, mischievous smile he was always throwing at me. Like the world was his video game and he had just beaten level nine.
“What the hell!” I screamed out. Mrs. Richard’s didn’t care if we cursed at each other or looked at nude pictures or threatened to fight each other during class. Just as long as we didn’t curse at her or actually have sex during class (you were supposed to go to the bathroom to do that) or actually beat each other up (you were supposed to wait for after school to do that).
Levi was hysterical with laughter.
“Here, listen to this.”
Levi pulled his earphones out of his pocket and slid them into my ears, his rough, warm hands grazing my face as he did. It was an audio recording of Dayna moaning and groaning as Levi kept grunting, “You like that, you like that, huh?” in the background. There was actual smacking you could hear.
“Oh my God!” I squealed. I was trying my hardest to act disgusted instead of turned on, but I’m sure the rise in my pants was telling a different story. “Why are you showing me this?”
“It’s so funny seeing your face.” Levi giggled. “You’re so innocent.” Levi shoved me playfully, but I still had to stop myself from falling out of my chair.
“Did she know you were recording her?
“Nah, I stuck the phone under the pillow.”
Levi doubled over in laughter. “I am, aren’t I?”
I shook my head for a while, waiting for my mountain to shrink down to a hill, and then asked, “Do you have any more?”
“Yeah, look here.” And then we spent the rest of class looking at pictures of Dayna Jones doing various things to Levi Able’s immaculate body with great joy.
I spent the rest of the day viciously attempting to imprint the images of Levi’s naked body into my jerk-off bank before they began to fade away.
It felt like hours as I stood outside of the boys locker room waiting for Levi to get dressed. Finally, as the number of toned, athletic hot guys began to decrease, I asked Levi’s friend, Carlos, if he had seen Levi by any chance. After looking at me as if I were a peasant talking to a king, he told me Levi was still getting changed as far as he knew and then asked, “You and Levi are getting real close, aren’t you?” with a wink. I looked down at Levi’s Vans and said we were just meeting up to finish some stupid group project for French. Carlos responded with, “Whatever you say. We don’t judge,” and walked off. I sat down on the floor, not nearly brave enough to go inside the boys’ locker room, and thought about what had just happened. Did Levi’s best friend think we were dating? Did that mean Levi was gay? I sat in a trance watching Pete the janitor mop the dirt off the linoleum floors until they were almost clean and then give up.
Maybe, I thought to myself.
Thirty minutes later, I got a text from Levi that said, “Yo. srry im taking 4ever. u can come in here and chill if u want 2.” I snatched my backpack and tried my best not to speed walk inside.
The locker room had always occupied a place in my mind as a garden of Eden. A place where guys could look at other guys’ naked bodies without getting punched in the face by said other guys. But what I was greeted with was the putrid smell of feet and ass as soon as I opened the door. Everywhere were dirty socks and shoes and a couple of jockstraps thrown here and there. It was a far cry from the sex-crazed oasis VarsityBoyz.com made it out to be.
I heard water running and knew immediately that it was Levi in the shower, since no one else was in there. I sat where I could conveniently see an inch of Levi’s bare body underneath the showerhead, pulled out my copy of Wise Blood, and pretended to be as deeply immersed in it as I was with Levi’s butt.
“I love that book. Are you reading it for class?” Levi asked as he strutted out of the shower room with no towel on.
“Um,” I said trying to focus my eyes on the word “redemption” and not on Levi’s butt. “Yeah, it’s for Mrs. May’s class. Who did you have to read it for?”
“No one. I just read it for fun. I’m a huge fan of Flannery O’Conner.”
Once Levi finished putting on his electric-blue boxer briefs and adjusting himself in the mirror, I looked up from my book and asked if he was serious about reading the book for fun.
“Yeah. I’m not as dumb as I pretend to be, y’know.” He turned around so that his whole front was facing me. “I just don’t see much purpose in trying when the world seems so dead set on making you fail anyway. I’m just conserving energy by refusing to participate in that whole American Dream bullshit. Y’know?”
“I don’t know…”
“About everything. If it’s all bullshit, then, like… what’s the whole purpose of all of this?” I said, throwing my hands up as if I held the whole world on top of them.
“I know that too.” He laughed and swooshed his hair out of his eyes and then said, “And you’re hard right now.”
“Huh?” I shouted, as if I couldn’t see the unapologetic sunrise in my pants.
“It’s whatever, man. I mean, I don’t really blame you when you have to look at this,” he said, pointing to his crotch, “but are you sure you’re not gay, dude?”
“I’m sure,” I whispered and sat so he couldn’t see the contradictory answer inside my jeans.
“I guess I should put some clothes on,” he said with a wink. “BT dubs, how does my butt look?”
“Ha-ha. You wish.”
Inside his truck, Levi reached over me to open the dashboard and pulled out his sandwich bag of weed, his arm lying on top of my crotch for a couple of seconds as he did.
“You smoke?” he asked.
“Nah, bro,” I said, copying the way words fell out his mouth like leaves off a tree.
“You’re not one of those losers that thinks that you’re going to go to Hell if you smoke weed, are you?”
“No,” I said, feigning annoyance and shock. I had always called myself drug and alcohol free, well, because my parents and Coach Seamans, my ninth grade health teacher, had always told me to be. Coach Seamans always showed these depressing videos of people who were homeless and alone because they smoked a joint at a party once and ended up becoming a meth head. It was frightening stuff. But with Levi sitting next to me, none of that seemed possible. And if it was going to happen to me, there wasn’t anyone else I’d rather it happened with. So I said I would take just one puff of “the weed.”
He beamed at me with that same smile in the photo I had saved on my laptop, and my heart jumped rope. “That’s my Li’l Diego.”
As he carefully wrapped the joint for us, he said to me, “I never would have imagined that I’d be rolling out a joint with you, Li’l Diego, but then again I couldn’t imagine half of the losers at our school being cool enough to smoke with me.”
“Does Dayna smoke?”
“Sometimes. She says she can’t do it because she has to watch her weight for cheerleading. She hates the munchies. But she’ll do it if I peer pressure her enough.” He laughed to himself. “Now my old girlfriend,” he went on, “was an annoying-ass bee-otch. She swore to God that I was going to go to Hell for practically everything that I did. Including screwing her in the ass, even though she loved it.”
“Is that why you dumped her? Because she said you were going to go to Hell?”
“No.” He lit the joint and took a puff from it. “I just got bored. With her. With life. There isn’t that much to Lexie besides sucking off Jesus on a 24/7 basis. I swear she made me want to give a blow job to a cactus every time she quoted a scripture to me.”
“Um, do you usually give out blow jobs to various objects?”
“No, Diego. I don’t go around giving blow jobs to things or people, so unfortunately you’re going to have to find someone else for that.” He smiled at me and blew a cloud of smoke in my face. “Here, it’s your hit.” He held out the skinny joint in his hand for me take.
“Um, okay.” I didn’t want to tell him that this was my first time, since he seemed to be so impressed with me when I said I would smoke with him. So I held the joint up to my lips and sucked on it like a baby with a bottle.
“Inhale,” he whispered, patient, “push it down into your chest. Like you’re about to go under water.”
I inhaled and exhaled a couple of times before I did it to prepare myself and then pulled the joint up to my lips quickly. Before I had time to think about it all, I inhaled the grassy smoke into my mouth and then punched the fiery stuff down into my chest.
“Now hold it in for as long you can!” Levi screamed at me, bouncing around in his seat with excitement.
I closed my eyes and mentally shouted a string of curse words as my chest burned like the sun on one of its bad days.
“Good. Good. Good,” Levi shouted, progressively getting louder with each one. I wondered how long this whole thing took. Levi had made it look so effortless, as he had been smoking and talking to me at the same time. I tapped my foot nervously, eager to get the pain out of my chest. I told myself that this was nothing to what I’d endured the past sixteen years of my life, but finally I gave up and blew smoke out of my mouth like an angry dragon with an agonizing scream to follow.
Levi clapped thunderously. “Good job! You are going to get such a good hit from that! Especially since it’s your first time.”
“How could you tell it was my first time?” I said in between breaths, eager to shove golden air back into my lungs.
“Li’l Diego, no one says “the weed,” bro. You can call it weed, you can call it hash, you can call it grass, you can it call it marijuana, you can even call it its scientific name and say cannabis if you want to, but if someone asks you if you smoke, just don’t say ‘Yes, I smoke the weed.’” He became hysterical. “Jesus, I love you, man.” He put his sandpaper hands onto my face and stared at me with stop-sign red eyes. I squirmed nervously in my seat. He was looking at me as if he had just seen a double rainbow. “You’re madly in love with me, aren’t you? Just say it. I’m not mad about it.”
“No.” I was beginning to feel a tingle in my chest, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the weed or Levi’s sun-hot hands.
He laughed once. “Whatever you say, cuz. You give me the same look that practically all of Dayna’s girlfriends give me. You gotta be honest with someone eventually, bro. Why not start with yourself?” I sat silent. “You know,” he drawled, his words dripping out slower than honey now, “you don’t seem like these other fucktards here. Fucktards. I like that word.” He repeated the word to himself a couple of times before starting again. “Why did Jessie call you that when she was the one practically walking up your asshole the other day? She can’t be mad when someone mistakes her for a boy when she consciously dresses like one.” He groaned. “I swear to God, they’re all retards.” And then he screamed at me, even though his face was inches from mine, “Don’t you see it too, bro?”
I shrugged my shoulders, because that’s all I thought my now heavy body could do.
“I guess.” It took so much effort for me to push the two words out of my mouth, and when I shrugged my shoulders I was scared that my tiny head was going to fall off my neck.
“Lemme ask you,” Levi whispered into my ear, his breath tickling every nerve in my ear. “Do you believe in God?”
“I… D… K.” Pushing each word out of my mouth was a struggle comparable to the holocaust, or slavery, or the American Revolution. IDK, I was high.
“Well, I don’t. If there is one, he’s not doing his job very well.”
“I don’t think… you can say that…”
“Why not? I can say whatever the hell I want to. It’s all his fault.”
I closed my eyes to focus on saying words and also to get rid of my hard-on, which had showed up out of nowhere and was dead set on sticking around. “Levi…”
“What? It’s the truth.”
The thoughts in my head only began to travel faster underneath the curtain of my eyelids, so I pried my eyes opened and looked outside the window. Outside, the sad, sunken gray sky looked as if it was in an even deeper angst than Levi and I were. Every now and then a purple flash of lightning would bruise the sky, and I would think to myself, God’s angry at us.
“He’s trying to find us,” I said, still staring out the window with fear painted on my face.
After I counted to Mississippi ten, the sky began to rumble and tumble, and I knew God was getting closer and closer to finding us.
“Why don’t you ever say what’s really on your mind, Diego? You always do that. Leave your sentences hanging in the air. Just say it.”
“You know what, Diego.”
How did everything always get back to this one thing? This one awful thing about me.
“Why does it matter?” I slurred. Why does it matter? It had always been my go-to phrase every time someone would ask me the question—at least once a day, every day, since seventh grade—and even I was starting to get tired of hearing it.
“At least mouth it, man, if you’re really that scared to say it. You gotta open up to someone. It’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up like this. Emotions can spoil and rot your insides.”
I opened my mouth. It’s just an ugly word. That three-letter word. It takes so much effort to force it up and make it come out of the deepest, scummiest part of your throat, while “straight” just slides right out of your mouth, smooth as silk.
I saw another flash of lightning and counted to Mississippi six before God started yelling at us again. He’s getting closer and closer, I thought.
Levi placed his hand in my thick black curls and began twirling his fingers around them.
“You do like me, right?”
I couldn’t look at him, so I looked at the skinny, defenseless trees bending helplessly to the wind. I couldn’t have answered the question even if I wanted to. The weed had scattered every part of my motor skills like a cloud, and I couldn’t bring them together again. Levi placed his hand on my thigh and leaned into me even more. His face was inches from mine, and I noticed new things in it that I had never noticed before. Like the heavy bags under his eyes that looked like sadness had set up home there. Or the way his eyelashes curled up so they extinguished the fire of his wide brown eyes, eyes that looked as if they were trying to take in the whole world with one blink. He opened his mouth, and suddenly his lips were on top of mine. He kept moving them, I guess like you do during a normal kiss, but I didn’t add anything to the procedure. So he placed his tongue on top of my tongue and tried to start a sword fight between them. Scared, I clenched onto the door handle, willing myself to open it but unable to find the strength to actually do it. Then a flash of lightning struck one of the trees in the distance, the top catching on fire, and stricken with new life, I threw the car door open and tumbled out of the truck.
I lay on the dead grass, trying to summon up the energy I needed to move. My mind was racing in fast forward with thoughts of “Fuck” and “Shit” and “I am I dying” and “Call 9-1-1,” but my body lay cold and lifeless.
“Are you okay?” Levi shouted over the heavy wind.
“Come on, man, I don’t have time for this bullshit! Get up!”
Levi got out of his truck, cursing me the whole time, and scooped me up in one gentle motion and laid me down gently on the bed of his truck. The sad, senile raindrops that get pushed out of God’s old crusty dick before the real piss starts to flow kept letting me know it was all real when they fell into my open mouth. Levi lay next to me and lit a cigarette.
“Do you want me to talk?”
I mouthed “No,” and Levi nodded his head in understanding.
For what felt like the history of the universe, Levi and I lay side by side underneath the light drizzle of God’s piss, listening to the boom box of the thundering sky. It was the fulfillment of a dream I had prayed viciously for God to allow to happen, but it wasn’t happening exactly the way I wanted it to. God should have a customer service number or a thirty-day refund policy on answered prayers.
When I woke up, I felt reborn. As if I had undergone an exorcism and all of the demons of my anxiety, paranoia, and self-hate had risen out of me and entered someone else’s body to torment to Hell. I turned my head to see Levi sitting next to me cross-legged, reading a rugged copy of Wuthering Heights.
“So you do read?” I spoke slowly, feeling the burnt grass leaves still lodged in my throat.
“Yes,” he said playfully, “I do read, fucktard.” He smiled at me, and I knew we had turned that ugly word into something different and made it ours. “Are you okay now?” He rolled his eyes. “The Mary-Jo-Ana is not for you, Go Diego Go.”
“What happened to Li’l Diego?”
“It’s gone. You lost it after your Britney Spears nervous breakdown.” He laughed. “Also,” he said, suddenly serious now, “just so we’re clear, I’m not gay. I’m sorry for kissing you, if you can even call that a kiss. I was just… trying to make you feel comfortable enough to say it. I thought that if you thought I was gay too that you’d…” I was silent. “You’re never going to say it, are you?” I shook my head. “I feel bad for you, man. You’re going to have a hard-ass life if you don’t. Rougher than what mine’s going to be.” He paused. “Plus, I just wanted to see if you were a good kisser.”
I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. Not with him smiling at me like that with his two dimples that were as deep as an open grave. I was just exhausted from him and the weed and had had all of the Levi Able I could handle for the day. “Can I go home now?”
“Of course. I’m not holding you hostage or anything.” He paused. “Unless you’re into that kind of stuff?”
“Oh my God.”
“Hey! I’m prepared to go to whatever lengths it takes for you to come out, man.”
I sat up on my knees and held his face in my hands like he had done to me. “I’ll say it”—I spoke through my teeth—“if you can tell me why you care so goddamn much. You say you’re not gay, and you say you don’t like me, so tell me, why do you care so much!”
Levi licked his lips and looked around the Earth. “Because. Wylie Gardens needs more people like you and me. People who actually see the world. That’s how this place survives, you know? By persecuting anybody who even dares to be different or actually see things for what they are. See, you not saying the words aloud is exactly what they want. It means they’re winning, and I have a problem with that. But if you say it, not just to me, but to every goddamned fucktard in the world, that’s one victory for us. And who knows, maybe even people like Jessie Sowers wouldn’t get so butthurt when people call her a guy, even though she told Dayna she sees herself as one.” He pushed me. “So say it.”
The warm rain was beginning to pick up, and I had to keep blinking water out of my eyes to look at Levi swooshing his perfect wet black hair out of his face. The ten feet of snow that I had kept the loaded word buried underneath was beginning to melt, and I could feel it moving to the forefront of my brain. It was quickly becoming part of my identity. Shame. Hell. No wife. No kids. No picket-fenced house.
“I’m…” I reached deep down into the scummiest part of my throat and pushed the ugly word out, “gay.”
Levi looked down and then back up at me, laughing. He put his hands into his pockets and shrugged his shoulders to show me that it didn’t matter.
I felt good. Like the first day of spring.
“Now scream it out to the world!” Levi shouted at me, his voice cracking with glee as he did.
I jumped off the truck bed into the grassy fields and ran out towards the country road, imagining that the passing cars filled with mindless bodies could hear me through their ignorance.
“I’m gay, you fucktards!”
“And you don’t care if the world knows?” Levi screamed as he ran around the fields erratically.
“I don’t care if the world knows!”
“Good!” Levi said, stopping in front of me. He winked, pulled me into a bear hug while kissing me on the cheek, and then reached into his back pocket to pull out his iPhone when I pushed him away. On the top of the screen I could make out the red bar that said “Recording.”
“Don’t be mad at me, but Carlos owes me fifty bucks now.”
You’re all fucking fucktards.