I’ve always liked older men.
Normally, when you make a statement like that, people assume you have daddy issues or that you’re on the prowl for a sugar daddy. I don’t have the balls for that, although shopping at the Galleria or strutting down the palm tree-lined streets of Highland Village (which is kind of like the Rodeo Drive of Houston), would be a lot more fun on someone else’s dime.
My affinity toward older men started in middle school. Well, I wouldn’t say it started (I’ve come to understand that the attraction was always there, lying dormant, waiting until I was old enough to know what the word gay means. Remember High School Musical? Troy Bolton, AKA Zac Effron? Yeah. He was cute, but I was more interested in seeing what his dad (Coach Jack, AKA, Bart Johnson looked like without a shirt. Blue eyes, dirty blonde, and shaped like a dad that played basketball in college.
Remember “Baby Boy?” Most people lust after Jody, better known as Tyrese. Nah, I was into the man playing his stepdad, Melvin (Ving Rhames). The one who was in the kitchen cooking breakfast butt-ass-naked and drinking all the Kool-Aid. Prison muscles, tattoos, built like a football player, (not the big burly linebackers, but the quarterback), full goatee, and a 5’o clock shadow. Mmmm, aged and a little rough around the edges. That’s how I liked them.
I would later find myself wondering what it would be like if I was the love interest in these love stories. I remember thinking how I’d rather have the attention of those guys than any girl I knew at school. That’s when I fully realized my unusual attraction toward other men. Something about the thought of being held by an older man felt safe. Soon after that, I learned that Google Images has pictures of all sorts of fine, naked older men. And by older, I mean at least 20 years older than me. I googled so much, I discovered gay porn. “It was a whole neeeew wooooorld!” (in my Aladdin voice).
At times, after the deed was done, I was disgusted with myself. But I would grow out of that phase. After that, I discovered the gay chatrooms that dominated the early 2000s. A few scrolls past daddies with big chests and full beards, and they soon finagled their way onto my playground. Some of you may remember the G.Y.C or Adam 4 Adam. I was always browsing, but never acting on any of my homoerotic impulses. Hell, I didn’t know how. I always felt like I was doing something wrong. Something shameful. Yet, it felt as natural as any straight man lusting after breasts. All the while, I stayed with a girlfriend on my arms all through junior high and high school, but I digress.
During my Sophomore year in high school, the iPhone was only three-years-old and had taken the mobile phone industry by the balls. The App Store changed not just the tech game, but the gay hookup scene was flipped upside down. In came the infamous…Jackd and Grindr, the virtual playground of choice for men seeking men. I’d mention Craigslist, but that’s where weirdos, serial killers, and pedophiles like to play…allegedly. For some odd reason, the black gays flocked to Jackd and the white gays played on Grindr. It was almost an unspoken rule at the time.
I got my first iPhone when I was 15. A sleek and glossy iPhone 4. And so, long story short, I downloaded Jackd. Jackd is where I met my first, a Spanish-American guy named Rick. Rick was a mere leaf on a tree. When the wind blew hard enough, he would surely go with it. Rick was 19 at the time and hanging on to his college ball player label by 1/10 of a point on a 4.0 grading scale. Something like that. I was never good at math.
Because of the age gap, I didn’t give him any more of a reason not to take me seriously. I didn’t want him to see me as some cliché high schooler, who was still getting grounded for high school drama like missing curfew and getting bad grades in math. Lame. I had to be “mature”. More mature than I was capable of being at that age. And so, I did what I did best back then. Lied. We’ve all told a lie at least twice in our lives. Some lies are potentially more dangerous than others. The ugliest lies tend to steer us into complicated situations and inevitably, internal suffering.
I told Rick that my parents pretty much let me do whatever I wanted and that I was 17 because I had convinced myself that saying I was 18 would have been pushing it a bit.
He never questioned me, though. I thought it was because I was really convincing but now, not so much. Reflecting on it, I should have run from a grown man willing to “date” a 17-year-old. But hey, if Mariah Carey doesn’t know numbers, then why should I? Did that make me complicit in my molestation? It’s still molestation in the eye of the law, right? I don’t know. I’m no lawyer.
My birthday rolled around and that’s when things got interesting. I can still say it is the bleakest birthday of my 25 years of strolling around without a clue. I had been carrying the closeted homosexual burden for about a year at the time. I managed to snag my first boyfriend thanks to Jackd, and still maintain a heterosexual charade for my friends and family. With my knack for lying, I thought I had control over everything. Nobody suspected a thing as far as I knew. During school hours, I was dating a girl named Melanie, a biracial girl with long hair and sassy. I had a whole routine.
After my track coaches blew the final whistle for the team to hit the showers around 5 p.m., I’d kiss Melanie goodbye, then dart across campus to freshen up in a restroom that was almost always empty around that time. After, I’d hop in the car with Rick, whom Melanie believed to be my cousin. It worked for a while until Progress reports rolled out. When my parents saw all the A’s printed on that thick green piece of paper, were stained by the letter D, my life was over. They confiscated my glorious iPhone 4 I begged them to buy me for Christmas and imprisoned it inside the junk drawer in their bedroom.
My weekends in front of the 65-inch TV screen in the upstairs theater room with surround sound, catching up on Pretty Little Liars, Sex and the City, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, was over “dot com” (as Tamar Braxton would say). My relationship with Rick would suffer from neglect and I worried he would likely move on in my absence. On top of that, I wasn’t allowed to participate in track, which meant my chances at qualifying for the Regional track meet were, as my mom put it, “ain’t gonna happen” if I didn’t get that damn math grade up before they mailed out the final Report cards for the grading period.
None of that mattered. My birthday was the exception to the rule (in my naïve opinion), and so I figured I should have my phone and all the freedom in the world on my birthday. Sure, I would have to sneak down the stairs in the morning while my parents were sleeping and steal my phone out of their drawer without them noticing, but it hardly seemed like a challenge. My dad’s snoring was sure to mask any noise I could possibly make in the effort of being stealthy. He only ever snored like that when my mom slipped a little something extra in his drink to help him sleep.
All the stars were aligning in my favor. Getting caught would have its consequences, but I had convinced myself of a lie: Mom and dad want me to have a good birthday. Having my phone would ensure that. Therefore, they wouldn’t mind. Hell, they’re probably planning to give it back to me for my birthday anyway.
After saying repeating it in my head a few times I believed it was the truth, knowing damn well that it could all blow up in my face. Still, salvaging what I had left with Rick was more important. For some reason, I’ve always been utterly submissive in relationships. I was very much all about doing what it takes to please my man. In most of my dating experiences, it was obedience. I didn’t mind the headache. Rick talked a lot about a future where we both would move to California and start a life together. He would become a big-time filmmaker and I would be free to train for the Olympics. The way he used to describe it, made it sound like a fairytale. My very own love story. I was and still am very much a believer in a Cinderella Story and Prince Charming.
That said, getting my phone taken was literally the worst thing that could happen. Stealing the phone was a success, though. When I got home after school that day, I wore an unbuttoned red Polo shirt, pinned with dollar bills from friends and a smile. My mom, however, sat at the bottom of the stairwell, wearing her power suit and a scowl. Remain cool, calm, and collected. I remember thinking.
“Heyyyy, ma!” I said, trying to pretend as if I had done nothing that warranted the soul-crushing glare she was laying on me.
“Where is your phone, Khai?” My mom was never one to beat around the bush when she was pissed. I lied, of course, and told her I didn’t know. She hollered for my dad. He got all up in my face and asked the same question while he placed his thick hands on my small shoulders and gripped them like a stress ball.
“Y’all had it. The last place I saw it, was in the drawer.”
At that point, my mom decided to negotiate with me. She said she would look around for the phone one more time, and she had better find it, or, “Ima have ya ass on the bed in silky underwear!”
My dad stood behind her, holding a thick orange extension cord that belonged in the garage and not on my ass. My mom made no empty threats. I had to do something. I was not about to be like my brother when my dad stuffed a sock in his mouth and my mom whooped his ass with a fat switch for trying to hide his Report card. No, ma’am. I wasn’t there for it.
She had me stand still next to the dresser while she and my dad looked around the room for it. They were all under the bed and peeping behind the headboard, searching high and low for my stolen phone. My heart was palpitating, but I managed to keep a poker face and shrugged every time she took a second to glance at me and raised her brow. My dad lectured me background about lying. All I did was nod and said, yes sir, when I felt it appropriate. Finally! My opportunity arrived to salvage the crisis. They both went into their bathroom and checked the drawers and the closet. So, I took the phone out of my duffle bag and tossed it across the mahogany wood flooring and it slid underneath the dresser.
I cringed at the thought of the scratches that would be on it later, but it was desperate times… They emerged from the bathroom and my mom told my dad to check the junk drawer one more time. This time he looked behind it. It was a solid wood piece with brass accents and handles and a white marble top they bought while in Korea during their military years. The legs were shaped like the flexed paw of a lion with brass claws that gave the illusion that they were digging into the floor.
The sharp tips taunted me and the more I stared at them, the harder it became to stand. As my dad was moving the dresser, the light exposed the shadow that was hiding my phone and my mom spotted it. All hell broke loose after that. I had a grin on my face and was eager to gloat.
“Told you so!” I said, with my chin in the air. My dad shook his head.
“So, you mean to tell me if I turn it on and go through the messages, there won’t be any from today?” Time slowed for a split second and my head was spinning like something out of “The Starry Night” before my heart fell to my feet and my body was thrust headfirst back into real-time. Damn near fainted.
With eyes big as Krispy Cream donut holes, I said, “Nope. Not a one.”
I was bluffing. It failed. Miserably. My dad turned the phone on and demanded I unlock it. For half a second, I ransacked my brain for ways I could wipe the phone clean with what little time I had to unlock it with him hovering over me. “WHO. THE HELL. IS RICK!” I was determined to deny it until all four wheels fell off the wagon, going uphill with a load of river rocks.
“Just my friend.”
“You sure he’s just a friend?”
“Yes, sir,” I said through the lump forming in my throat. My mom snatched the phone and read my dirty text messages to Rick aloud. It was embarrassing as hell.
They sounded so much better in a text than read-aloud. That’s for sure. My dad asked me repeatedly, “Go on and say it, you’re a faggot!” To which I just kept saying no. I wouldn’t say it out loud. Not to him.
“Fuckin’ flower child! Own up to your shit!” The next thing I knew, he launched himself at and me, slapped me so hard, speckles of light danced behind my pupils. He was in my face and I was cornered. My head banged against the wall when he head-butted me like a stranger in the street who had just hit on my mom. My flank grazed the corner of the dresser where the junk drawer lived, causing a stabbing pain in my side that lingered for several minutes. An aged photo hanging on the wall of my parents holding hands and kissing on a yacht in Miami dug into my scalp.
My face twisted up and I closed my eyes. I couldn’t make eye contact with my dad. I thought if I clenched them together hard enough, the tears, and the shame that tugged at the apex of my heart would cease. It didn’t. It only intensified and birthed one of those silent cries that leave you gasping for air as the ache in your throat chokes the life out of you.
“Eric! Please!” My mom cried. His eyes were beaming through mine like lasers. I broke out in tears and kept saying, “No! No! No!” As if I were trying to convince myself. My mom finally pleaded for him to put me down long enough to irritate him. When he did, he stormed out of the room. My shirt was all twisted up, a few of my dollar bills were torn and I just sat there on my knees in total disbelief. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment, but it would have been nice to have at least seen it coming.
My mom embraced me and kissed me on the forehead, falsely reassuring me that everything was all right. There was no evidence to prove that. She swore that my dad was only angry because of the lying. “We always knew you were…that way.” Something about the way I carried myself and my obsession with Carrie Bradshaw and Mariah Carey had everything to do with it. She said that they just hoped that they were wrong. I couldn’t respond because I thought it ridiculous. Can’t a guy watch Sex and the City and idolize one of pop’s most notoriously glamorous divas and not be gay? My mom walked me upstairs where I would find that my dad had taken all the doors off their hinges in my room, including the bathroom! He insisted that they had given me too much privacy… Still makes no damn sense today.
What hurt the most, was seeing my mom cry. It made my stomach hurt. I couldn’t bear the sight of my mother’s pain. Especially when I was the cause of it. After that, my dad made me call Rick and tell him that I was not allowed to see him again. I was relieved that he didn’t answer, even after 3 attempts. “Leave a voicemail!” My dad ordered. I would see Rick for a few weeks after that, but I had hoped that I could fix it later when things cooled down.
My driver’s test was 2-days away and my mom had convinced my dad to give me one last lesson. I had to ask her to do it for me because I was afraid to ask myself. After my coming out, he just isolated himself from us. He’d sleep all day in the guest bedroom and would leave to go to work around 6 p.m. 3-days out of the week. My mom spent most of her time in her office and I hid upstairs in my room as long as I could. I’d only come out to eat and do my chores. My brother had moved in with his fiancé, a year before my life went to shit and I grew to resent him for it. I had no one to talk to, so it was just my mom and I sitting at the dinner table most days, talking about everything but what mattered.
Usually, we used my mom’s Escalade for my lessons, but this time, he decided to pull out his 99 Corvette. It mostly stayed in the garage. I would say it collected dust, but he cared for it like it was his child. He had just installed brand-new Goodyear high-performance tires. The black paint was so shiny it looked wet and the bold yellow letters on the tires, made my heart race. I couldn’t believe he was about to let me drive it.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked. He nodded and started typing a message to my mother on his phone. He frowned at it momentarily, as if he was unsure if he should send it or not.
“Don’t be all timid and take forever to turn like you always do. I don’t have time for it today. I’m tired.” He said, just before I heard swooshing from the message being sent. That was the friendliest he had been in a while, so I let it roll off my back and laughed. He didn’t. He just stared blankly out the window. It was a nice spring evening, with low humidity, so he told me to drop the top. We were pulling out of the neighborhood when he said” Let’s do something different today. Turn left.”
Normally we turned right and drove down the back road to Walmart and back. The rumble from the exhaust was exhilarating. I had never been behind the wheel of something with so much power. It was getting dark as we drove down the eerie backroad about 5-miles from the house. My dad had the radio tuned to Majic 102.1. Maxwell's “This Woman’s Work” was playing quietly in the background. It made me think about how odd my parents had been acting toward each other. So, I figured I’d ask because if they were talking divorce, I wanted to know sooner rather than later.
“Everything all right with you and mom?”
“You need to stay out of grown folks' business, boy. I perched my lips and refocused on the road. The clouds were threatening to dump a shower on us, and I had never driven in the rain in a car like that.
“I think I’m good,” I said.
“Yeah. Looks like it’s about to rain, and I don’t feel comfortable driving your baby in it, to be honest.”
“Can’t be a sissy all your life!” He said. “All right, pull over here.” He pointed at the side of the road. I did as he instructed, and we swapped seats. As soon as he pulled off, the sky was purple, and heavy rain fell. The way it hit the windshield, you would have thought someone was dumping a garbage bag full of skittles on the car. The revving engine resonated on my back as it vibrated the seats and my dad turned the music up louder, so loud, it was deafening.
I remember reaching for the volume knob only to be thrust back into my seat. I was begging for him to slow down and before I knew it, I woke up 3-days later in Memorial Herman Hospital with a shiny laminated band on my wrist and my mom at my bedside in tears and a firm grip on my hand that told me she would never let go.
My mom hardly cries. I knew it had to be something terrible for her to be balling the way she was. I couldn’t believe it when she told me my dad died. It was surreal, like a lucid dream. Just a few moments ago, we were just together and he was breathing. Now, he was gone. I scanned the room to avoid eye contact with my mother. There was no sign of relief in her grieving eyes and face. Only devastation.
I didn’t know where I was going to go, but I had to get the hell out of there. I couldn’t breathe. I pressed that damn call bell at least 50-times until the nurse showed up and sedated me. My mom and I stayed home for about two weeks after that. No more, no less. I’ll never forget the day she snatched the blankets off my shivering body, flicked on the lights, and told me I was going back to school. She was fully dressed in her power suit with her hair all done up in a tight bun.
“The show must go on, baby. The world doesn’t stop just because you need time to cope with your hurt feelings.”
Her eyes were unreadable. It was the toughest love she had given me, but it was the reality of the situation. She had a family practice to run and I had an education to get. We still had to survive. All I could do was nod and say, yes ma’am.
On my first day back, I skipped track practice to catch an Uber to see Rick. I was still trying to maintain some order. That turned out to be a mistake. Uninvited and unannounced, I stood outside Rick’s door. Knock, knock, knocking. Hope burned like fire in my chest, that he, would not be as deceitful as I hoped him not to be. I didn’t want him to be responsible for damage that I feared would never fully be repaired. He did not answer the door. I called. No answer. Instead, I got a text.
RICK: I’M IN CHURCH!
ME: Prove it! Send me a photo!
RICK: No. I’m done, bro. You doin too much.
He claimed to be at church, so the driveway should have been empty. Yet, there was an unfamiliar gray Camaro parked in front of the garage. Still, there was no sign of the Nissan Altima he and best shared. It gave me a small glimmer of hope.
But it kicked. Kicked, kicked, like an unborn child. My gut ached and my eyes watered. I knew something was not right. If he wasn’t home, then why was the A/C unit screeching and rattling inside his bedroom window? He was always saying they wanted to cut down on the electric bill. Running the A/C in an empty home hardly seemed like the way to go about it. I called repeatedly. As expected, he didn’t answer. I pressed my ear against the dusty hardy-planked wall and held my unsteady breath, listening for the truth. I listened and prayed that I wouldn’t hear what I thought I was going to hear. The pounding in my chest was deafening, but I was able to mute its, thump, thump, thumping, for a brief moment. And a brief was all I needed.
Voices… I heard Rick’s. It was deep and wrapped me in familiar warmth. Then, the voice of a stranger. I couldn’t breathe. An ongoing Final Destination-style 20-car pileup was taking place in my mind. Millions of irrational and destructive thoughts, bred from a place of hurt and betrayal, crashed into each other without mercy. I couldn’t move. Moans of pleasure enraged me. And so, I found the biggest stick I could find in the yard underneath a massive pine tree that stretched over the driveway and jammed it repeatedly into the A/C unit until it started hitting high notes like Mariah Carey. Briefly, I fantasized about them both dying from heat exhaustion or something. I was dizzy and short of breath running back to my car and there, in the middle of the pinecone-covered driveway, I collapsed. With the neighbors as my audience, I wept so hard my throat throbbed.
The strained relationship with my dad, eating at a vacant dinner table, witnessing my mom’s heartbreak, and feeling every bit of its crumble. After that, I spent 2-years changing in a separate bathroom before track practice, so that the other guys wouldn’t get the chance to second-guess changing in front of me… All of it, for nothing! I wanted to hide.
Rick made a fool of me, and I made a fool of myself. I wanted to believe Prince Charming was real. But in a world riddled with drugs, sex, murder, Jackd, and Grinder, holding on to optimism like that, is easier said than done. After Rick’s little stunt, I decided that maybe some men aren’t made for relationships. They’re made to be played. For years after that, I was hooking up every chance I got. 7 or 10 guys in a week. I was having hot-boy summers before Meg the Stallion could coin the term. I thought my heartbreak story ended with Rick. Nobody was allowed to get close.
It was all fun and games until I played with the wrong one and fell stupidly in love with an adonis named Terrence. Two years have flown by since my days with Terrence without stopping for me to take a beat. Meanwhile, I remain stuck here in my loveless suburban condo battling self-pity from my memories of love unrequited.
- Manstress Diaries - Book One