I don’t know how it starts but Desta makes me feel like old school vibes. I’m talking about the Isley brothers. We are taking a Voyage to Atlantis. This mysterious misty man. He backs up into me. It’s the kind of slow dance where you get hard halfway through and wonder if the other person can feel it. Can you feel it? Yeah, you feel me. You feel these vibes man. His ass pressed against my dick, his ass cheeks up against my thighs and our face cheeks smudged so close to each other that I can feel his teeth. Real fuckin old school Isley brother vibes. Feel me?
We’re dancing…naked. It’s just him and me and Ronald Isley.
I’ll always—come back to you.
It’s guitars. It’s drums. It’s bass guitar. It’s keyboards. It’s synthesizers. I wrap my arms around him and we do a two step. Nothing crazy. Nothing dramatic, but we don’t stop moving. It’s like we’re in unison. He puts his hands on my hands so I won’t loosen my grip. Shit so dope that if we were naked I would slide right in him right here and then.
“You aight?” a girl asks.
It was a dream. It was a day dream. I’m no where with Desta. I’m in class and realize that my hands are outstretched holding onto nothing. Nothing at all. This girl is there from the class.
I snap out of it, “Yeah I’m cool.”
I can almost smell him but he’s not there. He’s in the back of the class. Him and his homeboys are laughing bout something. I’m not sure what it is, but damn…I am feel drenched with him. I can still feel him backing up on me grinding as we slow dance.
“I seen you starin…” she says, “You must like what you see…I see that tent…”
In that moment when she says that I am all uncomfortable and shit. I shuffle in my seat to push my legs underneath the desk and hide what clearly is a hard dick from my daydream. It has to be one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Had she known somehow that I was thinking about Desta? Could she somehow know what I was day dreaming about?
My heart stops, “What?”
“It’s OK. If you wanted to ask me out, just say so…”
Oh she was definitely flirting. I look back at the room. Sure enough Desta was seeing me talk to this girl. I wonder what was going on in his mind. We make eye contact for a quick second but Desta quickly lowers his head and starts playing with his pencil. He flicks it around a few times but then stares hard at the paper he had in front of him. My eyes linger for a few extra seconds hoping that he will lift his eyes again but he doesn’t. Damn…
“Wait, you thought I was staring at you?”
Her eyebrows raise. I wasn’t staring at her. Not purposely. My mind was in the back of the class with Desta. But here I was, feeling like I was caught with my dick in hands with no explanation on what the fuck was going on. It had happened last night as well. The same dream. The same dream of Desta and I dancing. I felt so…uncomfortable.
I do the only thing I can think about doing and saying, I shrug and say, “Maybe.”
It was easy to flirt with her. I can tell she likes it when I say that. She smiles all wide. I hadn’t noticed that the entire time I was thinking about Desta my eyes are glued to a Spanish girl. I have to admit that she has a pretty smile. She has straight white teeth. She has long hair. The kind of hair that just makes you wonder how she maintains it all. She has big hoop earrings She isn’t dressed over the top. She doesn’t seem to have this extra demeanor. She was just a pretty Dominican girl. The only way that I could describe her was…easy.
She was easy. Desta was hard.
Just then the bell rings and as people are walking out I see Desta getting up. He’s walking out. I get up as well. I don’t know what I’m thinking but in the next second I’m distracted again.
“Take my number,” she tells me.
Desta’s eyes sneak over to me. I think about it. A part of me is thinking I shouldn’t take the number, but then another part of me is thinking how unnatural all this is. I shouldn’t be even thinking about liking another guy. Hell…for all I knew Desta was straight. Even with all those modern dance moves. I couldn’t even be putting myself in that space. Guys were complicated. I’d learned my lesson with that.
So I smile at her and I nod, “Aight sexy.”
She writes down her number. She doesn’t stop there. She leans over and gives me a kiss on the cheek.
I’m at my locker right after class. I look down at the girl’s name. Her name was Rosa. Easy Rosa. I could probably get with this girl, date her for a little bit. That’s what I should do. She had everything I should want. She was Dominican. She was clearly sweet. She was into me. So why the fuck when I hear the locker next to me open I get butterflies in my stomach.
“She was cute,” he says.
It’s Desta. I know he’s talking about Rosa but I’m all nervous. My voice is in my throat and I close the locker and just look over at him.
“Who you talking about?”
“Homegirl you gave your number to.”
I start walking away. He reaches over and grabs me, “Damn did I say something wrong? I wasn’t trying to be shady. She really is a cute girl. She been checking you out forever. I wasn’t trying to be rude…”
I hadn’t even noticed Rosa checking me out for as long as she was. My mind wasn’t even on it.
“Nah it’s just…”
I look down the hallway. I needed to get away from this boy. I needed to escape him. I needed to not be anywhere near him.
“You acting kinda weird. Thought we were cool man,” he says.
“Then why you been avoiding me. Did someone in my family say something to you?”
I hesitate. How could I tell Desta about the dreams I’ve been having without making it seem gay as hell. How could I explain to him that I didn’t want to be gay. I’d had a horrible experience with a guy. How could I explain anything that was going on in my head to Desta. I didn’t know him.
“Naw. It’s just…you remind me of someone,” I explain.
I think about Matais. He looked nothing like Matais. They didn’t sound alike. They didn’t even have the same kind of personality. Desta reminded me of how Matais made me feel. I fought it back then too. No one wants to be gay, especially when it comes late in life. It wasn’t a natural fuckin thing. And I took this gamble on Matais. I followed my heart. Just so he could leave me high and dry.
“Nevermind,” I state, “My fault for acting weird.”
“You still going to the dance squad opening right?”
“Oh shit that’s today?” I ask.
“I been practicing. Lowkey though. You don’t know how hard this is. I know it’s stupid because it’s just dance but it means everything to me.”
He’s smiling. His smile is so wide. He’s so hype. Every part of me wants to be hype for him, but I want to do it from a distance. I don’t trust myself with him.
“Why you so nervous about dance?
“My dad hates it. I had an Uncle who was a dancer. My dad refuses to even let me meet the guy,” I state, “Dad thinks it’s gay.”
“What do you think?” I ask.
I shrug, “I think it’s worth it. I think my dad wants me to be something I’m not. I’m even skipping my mother’s B-Day for this man.”
I force a smile, “You’re good at what you do.”
There is an awkwardness when I force the smile. I want to be happy for him. I am happy for him. It’s just he makes me so uncomfortable.
“We’re good at what we do together.”
“Don’t say that shit man,” I immediately cut him off.
“We not dancing together or nothing,” I correct him, “It’s separate. It’s just…”
“Ha. You need to chill out man. I didn’t even mean it like that. We’re on the same page when it comes to that. TRUST me. You wanna walk there?”
“With you?” I ask.
“I mean…yeah that was kind of the idea.”
I look down the hallway. I’m looking for an escape route. Luckily I see Chico and his homeboys. A few of them are giving me weird looks probably because I’m talking to one of their enemies in the middle of the day. I can tell when Desta sees them he gets a little uncomfortable.
“Let me just get up with my people real quick, I’ll just meet you there.”
“Aight I’ll see you then.”
“See you then.”
There is an awkwardness. Fuck I hated it when it happened with him and it always happened with him. A few seconds where neither of us talk and we’re just looking at each other trying to figure the next thing to say. He ends it by not saying anything else and just walking away and there I am just staring at him. Not no normal stare neither. I’m staring at him HARD.
I shake my head. The day was almost ending. That meant that we would be joining the dance team at the end of the school. I’d be spending even more time with him. I had to figure this out before then. This is making me uncomfortable. It’s making me real fucking uncomfortable.
I’m pacing back and forth at my locker.
It was my idea to get him to go to this thing. I was the reason he was deciding to do it, but now I was punking the hell out. Why the fuck did I get so nervous around this guy?
I needed some escape.
I needed some reason to get out of here. I couldn’t take being around him.
I’m on the other side of the hallway. A bunch of Chico’s gang members are there. They are gathering up for something. I don’t know what but it definitely seems like they got some shit going on.
“You good?” Chico asks, “You lookin all nervous and shit.”
He had no idea. The dreams. The thoughts. All the shit that was going on with Desta was beginning to freak me out. All the shit that Matais had put me through when we were together only to get up and leave me like it was nothing.
“Yo what you bout to do?” I ask, “I need to take my mind off something.”
“In school? Why don’t you just go home?”
If I went home I’d probably get bored and fall asleep. Sleep didn’t help. Not when it came to Desta. It had to be because I didn’t have friends down here really. I needed a distraction. I needed something to take my mind off of Desta one way or another.
“I’m trying to ride…with ya’ll?”
“You know what that means, riding with us?” Chico asks, “You trying to be down with M83?”
I look down the hallway. I’m not imagining when I see the Counselor. Mr. Harsh. He waves over at me. I think he’s trying to tell me that the dance team is meeting up soon. He has this light in his eyes. He’s all excited. And right then and there I just feel nervous. I feel scared as fuck.
I nod to Chico, “Yeah I’m down.”
“OK cool. We got a little initiation planned for you tonight.”
“You gonna take off your bulletproof vest?” I ask.
“Nah son, I just bought this shit,” Prince says.
“We dancing. Ain’t nobody gonna shoot you out here.”
“Man you heard M83 setting for us. Dancers ain’t bullet proof my nigga.”
I give Prince my hand, “Prince?”
He shakes his head and takes off the bullet proof vest under his shirt. It makes him look a lot thinner. Sometimes I think he wears it just to look extra bulky. There is this nervous looking boy who watches as Prince drops it off on the seat next to him. Prince was a gangster. I’m surprised he wasn’t strapped.
“I can’t believe you dragged me to this shit,” Prince says, “If Tray-Dog found out we were here…man…”
Prince doesn’t even finish his thoughts. He’s referring to my dad when he says Tray-Dog. I could only imagine what would happen if my Dad found out I was here. He would probably beat me and Prince to a fucking pulp, call all his gang members to come in afterward and jump us until he got the “fairies” out. I know this would happen because it happened before. I remembered the first time I got “jumped” into the gang. I remember how my father just watched from the sidelines emotionless. He didn’t say a word and towards the end I swear one of the boots stomping on my face was his.
“You are free to go,” I state.
“I ain’t letting you do this shit alone,” he states, “Just come with me. We can still make your mom’s party…”
“Go ahead. I won’t be alone. Santana should be coming…”
Prince raises his eyebrows at me. I can tell he’s not at all happy I brought up the name. I had been real careful to keep my growing friendship with Santana secret from Prince. As far as we knew Santana was hanging around M83 a lot.
“He’s cool people…”
“No he’s not,” I state shaking my head, “Trust me. That’s not even the type of guy Santana is. He’s cool. He just wants to dance. Maybe if you stick around and get to know him, you can be friends.”
“Ok, Dr. Phil. Where the hell is he then?”
That was a damn good question. There were about 6 of us in the auditorium besides Prince and I. Most of these people I’d never spoken to before. Prince spent the first 20 minutes mean-mugging all of them. I swear if he had his way he would probably fight some of these people just for kicks. I knew he didn’t want to be here. I knew he didn’t want to dance.
“I don’t know…” I state looking around.
It was so weird. He’d been acting weird before this though and I didn’t understand why. The more I think about it, the more I get a little bit upset.
“Get out my seat,” Prince tells this one boy.
“Yes sir,” the boy stutters and gets up almost tripping over himself to get out the way.
The boy is definitely a nerd. He has these huge glasses that fall off his face when he trips over Prince. I can tell that he’s going through it. I help the guy with the glasses. ;
“Sorry for my cousin,” I tell the boy.
Prince grunts at me. I can tell he isn’t here for the other people in the room. Besides the nerd, there are three girls. Two of them seem like they lost or they came here for the snack station which they are heavily partaking in right now in the auditorium below the “WELCOME DANCE TEAM” sign. The other girl is older. She has on tights and seems like she is the only one here who really knows what the fuck she’s doing.
“Yo I don’t trust this dance teacher. And I don’t trust this shit…”
“It’ll be cool,” the girl with the tights says, “It’s OK to be nervous at first. In this neighborhood, people don’t dance. This dance instructor is great…”
The girl is clearly eavesdropping on our conversation. She’s pretty. Real pretty. I watch how Prince all of a sudden seems real interested.
“I’m Prince,” he says all of a sudden getting all hype.
“Ana,” she smiles.
She is pretty Spanish girl. I hadn’t seen her here before. She looks just a few years older than us if that. She has curly hair that falls all the way down to her butt. Prince is all of a sudden all hype to be in this situation. He’s all of a sudden all hype to be here.
“You go here?” I ask.
“I’m the dance assistant,” she explains, “You’ll like the dance instructor. He taught me everything I know…”
“I can teach you a few things too ma,” Prince states.
I elbow Prince hard as hell. It was hard to get him to think about anything other than sex especially when there was pretty girl in the picture. Within the next few seconds I swear he licks his lips a million times putting on his best Rico Suave impression. He’s been the most attractive guy in the school for far too long. It was getting to his head.
“What he means is that we’d love to meet the instructor,” I correct.
“He’s just finishing up a meeting with someone he hasn’t met in a while. He should be out in a…oh wait, there he is…”
“Yo—–is that your mom?” Prince asks me.
Just then we see my mother come out of the back. I’m shocked when I see my mother walk out. She walks out and she is clearly having a talk with the dance instructor. When I see the dance instructor I’m shocked because I recognize the face. I’d seen him before. I’d seen him in the park. He was the guy trying to give me dance tips. He was the Grand Jete guy.
“We got to go,” Prince states.
He’s panicking. He tries to grab me. I shake him off.
“Man, I already told you that you can leave if you want. I’m not going anywhere.”
I push Prince away. Prince doesn’t let me or hell even the pretty dance teacher assistant keep him in this place any longer. I can see in his eyes that he wants to leave. I watch as he turns and starts running out of this place. It’s clear that he doesn’t feel comfortable being here when people who recognize him could see.
As soon as Prince leaves I’m left alone and I can admit I’m tempted to run with him. I’m tempted to turn away and get out of here before my mother can see me, but I don’t. For some reason I’m just standing there looking at my mother trying to figure out why she was here.
She seems surprised to see me here. I’m nervous. A part of me felt like she was here because she knew what I was doing here. I thought she was here because she knew that I was here and she had come to stop me from doing this. I was wrong. She seems completely surprised. So why was she here? What was she doing?
“Ma…you know this guy?” I ask.
My mother nod, “Desta. This is your Uncle Cornelius…”
I’d heard stories about him. I had never seen him though. I knew he was famous. I knew he had travelled the world dancing, but I never explored him. My father wouldn’t let me explore him. Seeing him now up close and personal I can almost see the family resemblance. He looks at me and smiles a little bit.
“I was hoping you’d come join the team,” he tells me, “Thought I was going to have to stalk you. Seems like you found your way here on your own.”
He gives me a wide smile. It’s warm. It’s friendly. I’m not used to men my dad’s age smiling at me. Most of the men my dad’s age were OGs. Young guys who had kids before they became adults and never really learned how to raise them. They were children raising children. Seeing this Cornelius man definitely seemed different. It was almost like he had a maturity about him. He was so removed from anyone in my family. I was shocked that I was related to him.
“Did you know…that day in the park?” I ask.
“Your mother told me where I could find you,” he states, “You’re a big reason I came back to the Bottom.”
I look over at my mother. I’m more confused then anything.
She explains, “I knew you danced. Always knew you danced. I’m your mother. I saw you in the backyard endless nights, pretending you were in some place that you weren’t. Pretending you were someone you weren’t. It reminded me so much of my little brother. I’ve been in contact with your Uncle. Hoping that maybe he can take you to that place you want to go. I was hoping that maybe he can make you into that person you wanted to be.”
I’m shocked. If my father knew she was doing this he’d trip. My father wasn’t the type of person you crossed either. Family or not, we all learned that the hard way.
“I’m not just here for you either,” Cornelius explains, “There are other people in the Bottom. There’s so much talent out here. So much drive. I’ve been away for too long. Afraid that if I come here I’d be sucked back somehow. I’m not running from my past any longer.”
“I was hoping to reunite the family. Let everyone know that your Uncle was back in town,” My mother says, “Introduce him to all his nephews and niece at my birthday cookout. But I guess the timing is off.”
“Maybe afterward I can come by,” Cornelius states, “I’ll bring Desta with me.”
“I’d like that,” she states, “Take care of my son, Corny. Or I’ll have to come fuck you up like old days.”
They laugh together. Ma spoke about him from time to time. She’d call him Corny all the time. It was endearing. She’d talk about how successful he was. She’d talk about how proud he was. But what I don’t understand is why he stayed away for this long? Clearly my mother supported him. Was he so disgusted with the Bottom that he couldn’t take it to stay here.
I look over at my mother, “I should probably just leave with you now…”
I look over at Cornelius. He looks over at me. I think he can read my face. He can read my expression. But I make it clear, “Can I get some privacy yo?”
He turns and walks away, leaving me to talk with my mother.
“You don’t got to be so rude,” she tells me.
“Dad would kill me if he found out I was with him. I don’t know much about Uncle Corny but what I do know is that my dad don’t want me anywhere around him.”
“You living your life for your father or you living your life for you?” she asks.
“You don’t get it.”
“I grew up with Trayvon. I was just as afraid of your father as you are. I know just as well as you how terrifying he is. I have the scars to prove it. I have the marks where he used to beat me. I still walk with a limp from when he pushed me down the stairs for nothing more than smiling at someone at the grocery store. Your father is terrifying…but I’m not going to pass down my fear of him to you. I’m telling you that there is more to life.”
I look over at my mother. It was easy for her to say. She didn’t have to deal with my father. They co-parented most of my life. She kept it cordial when she saw him and was even friendly but she didn’t spend as much time with him as I did. She could escape my father if she wanted to. I was his only son. I was his blood.
There was no escaping for me.
“Dad says he’s a faggot ma,” I state, looking across the room at Cornelius, “Is that true?”
“He’s gay,” she tells me, “Yeah he is.”
“He got the AIDS?”
“You sound like your father,” she says.
“Dad said he caught the AIDS. Dad says that’s why he really ain’t never come back to the Bottom. He didn’t want people to know he was dying…”
My mother pauses. She puts her hand on my hand, “Baby, I don’t know about all that. I know one thing though. I know he’s living. That’s what he’s doing. He’s living his life. And it’s about time you start living yours as well.”
“I want you to dance,” she states, “For me.”
With that she leaves me there. With that she leaves me there and I’m feeling so reluctant to stay. I shouldn’t have come here. By now it was clear that Santana wasn’t shit and that he wasn’t going to come. By now it was clear that this man was my Uncle. The one my father trashed and made clear he didn’t want to hear that name anywhere around him. People were afraid of my father and they respected that wish. Maybe that’s why when I look over at him right now he’s nothing more than a stranger.
And I should have left with Prince.
I look at the door.
Is it too late? Is it too late to leave and go to my mother’s party?
“I know you don’t trust me,” he states.
He looks over at me. Can he see the way I feel? He keeps looking at me like he can see it.
“I don’t want to do no fag ass dancing man,” I tell him as bluntly as possible, “I was waiting for my homeboy and it’s clear he isn’t going to show up.”
“You came here for a reason. You came here because you want to dance.”
“Didn’t I just fuckin tell you—”
“No dancing today OK?”
I give him a look. Was this some sort of trick?
“Then I’ll just leave…”
“You can leave. Door’s open. Hell your mother probably hasn’t even made it to her car yet. You can go to her car and go to one of her birthday cookouts. Or you can stay here and watch Ana dance. She’ll demonstrate some routines. And then you can decide if you want to come to the second meeting. No pressure. No obligation. Dance is about feeling. I want you to feel like it.”
I look at him.
I look at the door.
Cut me down
But it’s you who has further to fall
Ghost town, haunted love
Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones
I’m talking loud not saying much
I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium
We listen to Titanium by Sia. I’m surprised when the two girls are still there bobbing to the song. I’ve learned their names are Katrina and Portia . They made it clear that they weren’t dancers but Corny fed them some line about how everyone could be a dancer so they stayed. Bulletproof. I watch as Ana swirls around. She does dances that I’d never seen. She does things I’d never been able to explain. She twirls. Her curly hair bounces around with her. She is so goddam young and so goddam talented. I watch as she dances to this song Titanium with a strength that I could never have. Here was a girl in one of the most dangerous cities in the world talking about how she is made of Titanium and bulletproof.
I should have known when I saw how Corny gets a call and leaves that the song is bullshit. He seems to have gotten some crazy news. Ana is unaware and continues dancing but I’m distracted.
Right past Ana I see a figure.
A recognizable figure.
I make my way to the back of the auditorium where Santana is He’s standing there and he has this look in his eyes. He’s shaking. I don’t understand why. I look at him really hard trying to figure it out.
“You’re so late, what the fuck?” I ask.
“That’s some fucked up shit to invite someone to something and not show up. That’s kind of grimey.”
He’s shaking. I just notice it. It isn’t a little shake either. Something has got his nerves real bad. I’m not sure what it is but I know something is on his mind. I’d never seen someone shake the way that he was shaking right now.
“What is it?”
What the hell was going on with him?
“Desta…something went down,” he starts off…
Before he can finish it I feel an arm on my shoulder. I turn and see Corny. My Uncle Cornelius. He has tears in his eyes. They are real tears. He has phone in his hand.
“I’m busy…” I tell him.
“You need to get this,” he starts.
“I’m having a conversation man…”
“It’s your mother Desta. Her birthday party got shot up. She didn’t make it.”