I can’t believe I let myself slip with Matias. He is standing there basically glaring at me. His face seems like he won. The guy was never any good. He was always a fucking drug that I needed to kick. Not even moving down south could separate me from this guy. He did shit like this that made me think gay relationships were just a whole bunch of mess and drama. It was just a whole bunch of shit that I didn’t want to deal with.
“If I can’t have you…no one will,” Matias tells me.
I want to fight him. I want to punch him in his face and knock him the hell out. I don’t though. I just let him walk out of there and instead I just bang my head on the closest thing to me.
I walk out of that janitor’s closet with this fucking sinking feeling. It’s this feeling I can’t put my finger on. It’s a feeling that lets me know I fucked up something big in my life somehow. I don’t know why this is important to me but I know it’s a wrap.
I spend the rest of the school day zoned the fuck out. I mean it wasn’t like I was some great student, to begin with, but now I had something on my mind. I’m biting my lip trying to focus on what the fuck got me in this position in the first place. I’m almost like a zombie and I can’t get the kid out of my head. And for the first time almost in my life, it’s not Matias that I’m talking about. It isn’t until school ends and I am rushing out of the class to see if I can find Desta at his locker that I realize so much has changed.
Before I would have been stressing over Matias. I wouldn’t have been able to get him off my mind. Now I could care less about Matias.
Maybe I am not addicted to Matias anymore.
“I need to holla at you about Desta,” a voice states.
I turn and see Prince. One of his many girlfriends was with him but I guess she knows better to get involved in one of his conversations because she walks her huge ass past us. I give a look to Prince. I couldn’t stand this guy. He was all pretty boy Rico suave looking like some fake ass clone of August Alsina with twice the confidence. I know that he’s bothered by the fact that I’m a guy who looks just as good as he does if not better but I don’t have to be a dickhead to everyone I meet.
There is one person who he isn’t a dickhead too. There is one person who he cares about. A lot.
“Yo, what happened in that closet is between us. If he wants to discuss it then I’m only talking about it with him?”
He gives me a weird look, “What happened in a closet?”
“You came to talk to me about something else?” I ask.
He looks irritated, “I came to tell you that Priscilla wants him to come back.”
I notice how he doesn’t straight up call Priscilla his mom. Maybe he wants to hide the fact that he is in love with his goddam adopted cousin. I caught onto him though.
“Why ain’t you telling that to him yourself?”
“Cause he ain’t’ fuckin talking to me. He ain’t talking to anyone in the family,” he explains, “Hell he’s not really talking to anyone period…”
“Yeah. I guess.”
I can see the reluctance in Prince’s voice to acknowledge that. Truthfully it made me kind of feel special that Desta was actually going out of his way to communicate with me. I was the one who he told he had gotten kicked out. He had stayed in my bed last night. All of those things start hitting me and it feels good to know that Desta actually trusts me.
And I wonder if I betrayed that trust.
“I’ll talk to him, when I see him,” I state.
He nods, “Cool.”
He turns around and starts walking away but Prince stops himself as though remembering something.
“Hey, …you know that new nigga Matias?”
Fuck. What the fuck was this about?
“Yeah. Knew him from back home.”
“You might want to warn him. He’s talking a whole bunch of shit about the Suwoo gang. A bunch of Eastside niggas not feeling that shit. You might want to let him know that he’s new here and he might want to be careful. If that’s your friend.”
I shrug, “That’s his business man. I don’t do that gang shit. I said I knew him. I didn’t say he was a friend….”
Prince nods as he walks away.
And I stand there at Desta’s locker waiting for him. I don’t get it. He always came to his locker between classes. It’s the end of school now. He had to walk home with me. Right? I’m sure he did. Only he wasn’t here. And I knew that left only one thing. There was only one place that he could be right now.
Head down, as I watch my feet take turns hitting the ground
Eyes shut, I find myself in love racing the earth
And I’m soaked in your love
And love was right in my path, in my grasp
And I and you belong
I wanna run (run)
Smash into you
I wanna run (run)
And smash into you
I find him on the stage. He twirls around. I sit at the back of the bleachers. Desta doesn’t see me there. He’s way too into the music and the dancing he is doing. He takes off across the stage. Relevé in fifth. This was a dance move that Ana taught us not too long ago. As the sounds of Beyonce strums over the speakers Desta lifts himself onto his toes. He has risen to full pointe from the fifth position. The fifth position is where one foot is placed in front of, and in contact with, the other. The heel of one foot is perfectly aligned with the toe of the other foot. Relevé means rising from any position to balance on one or both feet with heels off the floor or higher to full pointe. With Desta rising in that position it was like he became a phoenix balancing carefully on these heels of his.
“He wanted some extra practice,” someone whispers to me.
It’s Cornelius. He’s in the gym with me.
“Extra practice for what?”
“A competition is coming up,” Cornelius explains, “He’s going to try to win some money. A scholarship. I’m thinking you all can enter the contest.”
“How much money?”
“Enough to get you out of the Bottom,” Cornelius explains, “Using the talents that you have. Desta is intent on getting it.”
“I think he’s more intent on not seeing me,” I respond.
I look at Desta dancing. The way he moves to the music was as though the song was written just for him. He escapes dashing from one side of the floor to another. Now the Grand Pas De Chat. His feet lift him clean off the ground. He jumps sideways. While in mid-air, he bends both legs up bringing the feet up as high as possible, with knees apart. He flies through the air with his leg extended. He might as well have grown wings.
How was it possible for anyone to jump as high as Desta did. It was like his heels were made out of springs.
“He’s so broken,” Cornelius explains to me.
I nod, “I know about it. He told me about his father. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m really helping with all the stress that he’s going through right now.”
“You mean his crush on you?”
I look over at him. I’m shocked Cornelius is talking about this right now.
“You know about that?”
“Come on. I’m can’t use my legs, but my eyes work perfectly fine,” he states, “It’s clear. What’s a little bit unclear to me, however, is how you feel about my nephew in return.”
Fuck. It was awkward having this conversation with Desta’s uncle. For someone so lonely he definitely seemed to have a lot of family who constantly asked me about him.
“He’s cool. He’s the homie.”
“That’s a problem, don’t you think?”
“He’s in love with you and you think of him as a homie?”
“He’s not in love with me,” I sigh before stopping taking a deep breath and gasping a little bit, “Oh shit, is he?”
Cornelius shrugs, “I don’t want to speak for him. I’m just assuming. I can’t put anything into his heart. In the same way that he can’t put anything into your heart. He can’t force you to feel something that you don’t feel.”
“It’s not that.”
“So you do feel something?”
Fuck this is awkward.
I shrug, “Can’t put it into words what I feel.”
I think for a second. No one ever really asked me to do that.
“He reminds me of music. And I love music.
The music is yours, but the dance is mine. Merengue. Dominican flags in the Bronx.
It’s all about rhythm and dancing. He reminds me of the girls dancing flinging their skirts up and up so the boys can see. The girl is yours but at this moment she’s mine. It’s all about timing.
The heart of a nation. He reminds me of Step, step, come dance, come dance mami, conmigo. Grabbing your partner close. Merengue. The beat is yours but the steps are mine.
Make love on the floor. Stepping along. He reminds me of the dance. The music. And all of a sudden sometimes when he’s dancing it’s as though he’s creating the music. The singers sing up, Esta Vida es mía, pero este corazon es suyo. Esta sonrisa es mia, pero la razon eres tú.
“What does that mean?” Cornelius states.
There is a smile on his face.
“It means the life is mine, but the heart is yours. The smile is mine…but the reason is you.”
At that moment Desta hits the floor. A loud clang as he lands perfectly leaving it open to a pose. He looks up into the sky taking this moment and claiming it as his own. I look at him and I’m obsessed. Even with all the things, he’s going through you would never know by how he dances. You would never know by how owns this body.
He didn’t have control of his family.
He didn’t have control of his finances.
He didn’t have control of his gang.
Hell….he didn’t even have control of me.
The only thing he had control of was that body of his. That perfect, slim, body that could be a thug with the best of them but still be as graceful as a Russian ballerina.
“The things that you described to me…those scattered thoughts that you just proposed,” Cornelius starts off, “You think that’s friendship?”
I pause. It’s as though the world was closing up on me. Cornelius seemed to understand what I was going through in some weird way. Even in those scattered thoughts, I felt a passion. I felt an idea. I felt a hope and the entire time all those thoughts came from looking at Cornelius dance his dance.
I can’t even speak. It’s as though I’ve said too much.
I shake my head.
Cornelius takes a deep breath, “Tell him.”
“You have to. Because that boy jumps high. He takes off when he leaves the ground. He flies. He has what it takes. One day he’s going to fly away…”
He was telling me it’s now or never. Now or never.
I get up. My heart is aching sending visuals through my chest. At this point, Desta is drinking out of a water bottle that he has off stage. He doesn’t look into the dark auditorium to notice that he’s had an audience while he was dancing. As I watch him, I come to the realization that Cornelius was right. It was now or never.
My scattered thoughts and confusion have always gotten the best of me. I had made a mistake and now was the time to fix it.
He turns. I surprise him. I can tell. Of course, Desta wants to believe he’s too gangster to be scared. He was raised that way. It still amazes me how in one minute he can be this amazing graceful dancer and the next moment put on this front as though he’s something he’s not.
I’m surprised when he smiles at me. I thought by now he would hate me.
“Wassup?” he asks.
He stares at me and smiles a little bit his smile getting wider, “You need the stage. I was almost done…”
“Actually I came to see you.”
“I was gonna catch you back at the house,” he states, “I should have mentioned something.”
“Listen I know you’re hurt about earlier…”
“Desta, I know you,” I explain, “You are just letting that shit pile up with all the other things happening in your life thinking you can bear it all. I don’t want to put that burden on you. What happened between me and Matias was a moment of weakness. It was a mistake. It was me mentally converting back to someone I haven’t been in forever. I’m sorry.”
I mean the apology but I know the explanation can use some work. That’s the hard part of it. Explaining things has always been difficult for me. I can tell he doesn’t completely accept it because he gives a half smirk and quickly looks away.
That’s all he says. All good. Its as though he can’t even be bothered right now.
“It’s not all good,” I respond, “I need to be honest with you about something.”
“We’re homeboys, right?” he asks, “Your words, not mine?”
“Do you do this to your homeboys?” I ask him.
That’s when I grab him. I can’t explain to Desta how I feel. It comes out all jumbled and confused. So instead of telling him how I feel, I want to show him. I kiss him. I grab him up as though he belonged to me this entire time and I had an ownership over everything about him. I press my body up against his. I want him to feel this shit. I want him to feel my lips smacking up against his. I wanted him to taste my wet tongue as it clashes into his mouth. I want him to feel my hands circle around the smalls of his waist. I wanted him to feel protected as I kissed him because honestly, that’s what I wanted for Desta. I wanted to protect him. I wanted to give him the kind of protection that he deserved.
He wanted to be so tough and so strong but I knew Desta wanted to feel protected as well. It’s why he called me when his Aunt kicked him out. He knew I’d come looking for him. He knew I wouldn’t stop until I found him.
And he knew that I’d protect him.
Did he feel it? Did he feel me? Did it all make sense now?
“We’re supposed to be friends,” he states.
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” I ask him, “Isn’t all this what you wanted from me?”
What the fuck was happening right now? I was even more confused than when I started…
He shakes his head, “It isn’t possible. Like you said. Not here. Not in the Bottom. I’m going to win this upcoming dance competition and I’m going to get the money I need to leave the bottom. For good.”
I was too late.
He had already taken flight.
I am sitting at Santana’s table. His mother has made us dinner that night. She calls it Pico y pala. She has it served in these cheap looking floral plates. All it is is chicken feet and necks. It has all sorts of things added to it from onions, cilantro, oregano, and sugar. There are plantains on the side and course there is rice. The shit is good as hell.
“Your food is amazing ma’am,” I tell her.
She looks over at me, “You can have as much as you want. Hell, you might as well eat Santana’s. He hasn’t touched his food.”
Santana is sitting at the table silently. I know why. Earlier in the day, we had a moment that I still didn’t quite understand. Santana had a change of heart. I think that’s what it was. There was no telling. I caught him basically about to fuck some guy in a storage room. This was after he basically shit on me. It was confirmation that I didn’t need to be focused on him…even though I desperately wanted to be. Santana wasn’t in the right place mentally and right now I had enough confusion in my own life to add him on top of that.
So when he changed his mind. When he kissed me…
I figured that was nothing more than some more confusion. Santana was once again lost in his sexuality and I was nothing more than a springboard for him to think about what he wanted.
“Not hungry,” Santana states.
“Santana you love plantains…”
“I said I wasn’t hungry.”
“I’d love the recipe…” I interrupt.
I can tell Desta’s mother is starting to feel some type of way and I hate it. I know that Santana doesn’t mean to be a dick right now. He’s the last person I would think would ever be so much of an asshole but right now he’s in his thoughts.
“Oh, I can give you all the recipes. I’ll show you my favorite recipes and Santana can be your taster. He’s can’t cook for his life. He sure can eat though…”
We laugh…at least his mother and me. Santana doesn’t seem to find it funny. I don’t think he cares that the joke is at his expense. I think he doesn’t want this moment. He doesn’t want to see this bonding between his mother and me.
“Nah he’s good,” Santana grinds his teeth, glaring up at his mother so hard she shuts up, “He won’t be around long enough to get good at it.”
“I’ll go wash the dishes,” Santana’s mom says, “Give you two some time to talk.”
He was making it very obvious. I hated that his mother was feeling how awkward it was between us. As she gets up from the table she puts her arm on me. It’s a soft touch but it’s supportive. She gives me a smile. It’s a soft smile but at least I know she cares somehow.
“Your mother is amazing,” I tell him.
He grunts. It’s kind of irritating that he doesn’t realize it at this moment. I would give anything to have my mother back especially with all this shit happening with my dad. I’d give anything to have that support system. He doesn’t get it though.
“She’s aight,” he finally dismisses me.
“You could have eaten her food. She spent time making it.”
“I told you I wasn’t hungry, aight?” he grunts shaking his head, “Fuck!”
He slams his napkin on the table and just stares down at the tablecloth. His face looks intense. Santana had some strong masculine features that managed to look intimidating and sexy ass expression. One thing this man would never lack is passion that was clear as day, but it was something I’d already known. I’d seen it personally in his dancing.
“Don’t put it on her,” I argue with him, “Don’t blame her because you feel some type of way about me.”
“I don’t feel some type of way about you,” he explains, “No bad way at least. I guess that’s the problem huh. I’m starting to really like being around you and you’re going to up and leave me.”
“What does being around me even mean…you want to be my boyfriend?” I ask.
All of a sudden the word boyfriend just clutches him and he looks up as though I was saying something completely alien to him.
“Exactly,” I respond, “You want me to put up my hanger on hopes and dreams that you haven’t even thought out completely. You are beyond confused.”
He grunts, “Come on bro. All I’m saying is take things one day at a time—”
How was I supposed to take him seriously when he kept calling me “bro” and “his homie”. It was almost as though he kept reverting back to these comfort blankets every time something got too serious between us.
“That’s the problem,” I admit, “I don’t have a lot of time left to figure this out and make my decision.”
“Wait, so you’re saying you didn’t make a decision yet?” he asks.
“You’re saying you haven’t made up your mind yet. I still have time.”
He wasn’t getting what I was trying to tell him. It was impossible. He hadn’t really come to terms with whatever gay relationship he had in the past and yet expected to just pick up with me even though it left such a sour taste in his mouth. Not only was his ex in town but his ex-was also a member of a gang that had serious beef with both Santana and me at this point.
It’s nice that Santana all of a sudden cared at this point but I just have this sinking and almost frightening idea that keeps rolling in my mind.
Was it too little too late?
We are interrupted by the doorbell.
“Stay here, OK, please we’ll figure this out,” he states, “We’ll figure a way that we can slowly get to where we need to be…somehow. Alright? All I need is hope and…time…”
Time was that thing I didn’t have. Not any longer.
I am sitting at the table. A few awkward moments pass before Santana comes back to the table. When he comes back he seems to be a little bit irritated. I can see it all over his face for some reason. It’s painfully clear that whoever was at the door wasn’t exactly someone he was looking forward to seeing.
“What is it?” I ask.
“You fuckin with me?”
How the hell did they find me?
“No. I can tell them to go away,” he states.
Hell no. Not unless he wanted Aunt Tonetta to roll up in this house with like 100 fucking gang members. No. I wasn’t going to say no to my aunts. I definitely didn’t even want those sort of problems in my life.
“I’ll talk to them.”
I find myself out on Santana’s stoop. Sure enough, my Aunts are standing outside including Priscilla. Of course, she is the furthest away at the bottom of the steps with sunglasses on looking like she’d rather be anywhere but here at this moment.
“What are you guys doing here?”
“Your Aunt wants you back in the house,” Claudia states.
Claudia was the fixer. Without her, this family probably would have fallen apart a long time ago. Truth is though I didn’t know how together we really were in the end. I guess Claudia wasn’t doing that good of a job. You couldn’t tell her that though. She is standing there with this self righteousness like she has come to save the day. All Aunty Claudia missing right now is as a cape to complete the look that she’s giving.
I ain’t falling for her bullshit. Not today.
“Didn’t seem like it,” I sigh, “Look at her. She kicked me out…”
“She’s sorry,” Claudia states, “Ain’t you, Priscilla?”
“Speak up bitch before I walk over there and snatch that cheap weave off your scalp,” Tonetta grunts.
“I’m sorry goddamit,” Priscilla states from the bottom.
I notice the hesitation in Priscilla’s tone. She’d been crying. It’s clear as day to see. The emotion is etched out all over her cheeks even though the sunglasses cover up her eyes. Even now it seems like she’s beating back tears.
“Come on home,” Claudia states, “Where’s your stuff…we can help you bring it to the car.”
Claudia has that condescending look on her face. She feels like she’s done it again. She’s put one of her temporary patches on one of the huge problems in our family. And now she expected everyone to pat her on the back and say what a problem solver she is. She makes me sick the worst…even more than Tonnet and Priscilla. At least they lived in their truths. Claudia was the spitting image of my mother but unlike my mother, she couldn’t keep it real. Not even for a minute.
“Shit ain’t fixed,” I state, “I ain’t’ going nowhere with you people.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Is that a serious question Aunt Claudia?”I ask, “The shit happening with my dad, the shit happening with the fact that this gang control our lives. The fact that none of you talk to Uncle Cornelius even though I’m starting to understand where all the ‘help’ you guys have been getting have come from throughout the years. What made you guys stop talking to him? Did he finally cut your asses off?”
None of them answer. It’s goddam irritating really that I can read my Aunts like a book at this point.
“Every family has problems,” Claudia brushes it under the rug.
“Not like ours. You know I’m gay right?”
I literally hear Aunt Tonetta grunt like this is the biggest inconvenience in the world when I bring up my sexuality. How dare I make her uncomfortable by talking about the single most important thing in my life at this moment?
Still, her reaction is nowhere as bad as Claudia who has the nerve to put on a smile. She puts on a fucking smile in the next minute.
“That has nothing to do with this conversation.”
“It has everything to do with the conversation,” I explain to my Aunt, “Why do you think my father treated me the way he did? You guys always let him. He stopped me from doing the one thing that meant the most in my life. Dance. You guys know I’ve been dancing forever now? No. You haven’t even been to one of my performances.”
“We didn’t stop you from doing the gay shit,” Tonetta responds, “We all got shit we have to worry about.”
“That’s why I don’t plan on adding to that,” I respond, “I’m leaving the Bottom.”
“With what money?”
“Money I’m going to win doing the dances that I love to do. Twirling around like a fairy,” I respond with my head held up high, “And I don’t give a FUCK what any of you have to say about it.”
At this moment I feel so powerful. I’m reclaiming an independence that I’d never really had. Not even when my mother was alive. My Aunts had come in and held my entire life hostage but now I was setting it free. At this moment I was becoming me again. At this moment I was becoming free and the shit felt amazing. Even if it lasted for a minute.
“Let’s go home,” Claudia tries to do her fixer-bullshit again, “We’ll talk about it. You know your aunt didn’t mean anything she said.”
By talking about it Claudia means she’d sweep it under the rug and do just enough to clear her conscious over the bullshit that they’ve allowed to happen in this family for years.
“Like her?” I ask, “Look at her. I’m not going back to her. She’s over there crying over some bullshit.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Priscilla states.
“Yeah, I do. You don’t give a fuck about me. You crying because your man left you. That’s why you crying.”
Claudia and Tonnet look down. They are surveying the ground.
“You have no idea why I’m upset.”
“I have no reason I should go back to a household where I am not wanted.”
Priscilla shakes her head.
“Prissy is back. Your father left her stranded. Your Uncle Cornelius had to pay for her flight back here….”
I’m shocked. Fuck.
“That has nothing to do with me. It serves her right. Lesson learned. I still see no reason why I need to go back home.”
“She’s pregnant…” Priscilla tells me, “The baby’s your dad’s.”