As I strided over to the lone podium stationed in the middle of the auditorium, beaming-lipped, eager-knuckled, the tremors of the Pomp and Circumstance Walking March muffled within the greater baritones of human excitement, the first thing I did was allow my eyes to survey the swirling masses of prideful guardians: there you two were, sobbing while laughing, waving while bouncing (damn, you guys were a complete mess!) You were happy, nonetheless, a man and woman robbed of their usual soberness, now reduced to jittery children. But who could blame you? I was a good kid, took AP classes, won scholarships. I volunteered for the poor and the handicapped. Now, through a hand-to-hand transfer of a rolled-up parchment, my future was set for the stars, 18 years of your toil paying off in a congratulatory bellow of a walking march.
It wasn’t always easy. When I was younger, I was quite troublesome; no sky can limit what mischief one unsupervised toddler can create, especially since you were so busy caring for Brother. Your hands were tied though, because Brother needed you way more than I did. When Brother died, the whole family seemed to die with him then, but you retaliated with a new expedition set in your minds. I saw it, with one glance at the gleam in your eyes, that I was no longer the delinquent who sneaked out and messed around. Violin lessons ensued, Kumon, hours of multiplication practice; despite my wails of complaint, you were tenacious, two lions against one doe. Eventually, hard work became of my own volition. You intended to raise a king, and you witnessed his empire come to life.
Middle school rolled around, that precious time when boys became assertive, girls flamboyant. You sensed this and urged me to seek female acquaintances. I did try really hard to observe the girls, their chatter, their every movement, tried to figure out what it was about them that the boys found so tantalizing. While my mates relished in crimson lips and curved hips, I regarded them with little more than an air of indifference. You diagnosed my disinterests with none other than a case of pure nerdism.
Your coworker, Angelica Gladwell, dialed one solemn Monday morning and with a groan of exasperation, rambled that she needed to work late shifts for the entirety of the week, so would you please do her a teensy favor because one Adam Gladwell is in need of tending to. No worries, you assured her, and you sent me off to kinder-caretaker duty. I did it because I knew you worked hard and I was your good kid.
My first impression of the Gladwell house was that it was definitely not a place for guests. Toys of all shapes and sizes littered every corner of every room, a supposed abode haphazardly transmogrified into the dominion of a spoiled child. For some reason though, the scattered toys ignited some internal catalyst within me that corrupted the very equilibrium of my usually calm composure- my heartbeat thrummed a terrifying rhythm, sticky apprehension clinging to the contours of clenched fists, a state one would be reduced to when subjected to the cruel judgments of another- but I didn’t know why. Further contemplation of the absurdity of my current behavior was abruptly halted by a tug on the ankle, an imbalance in footing, and a violent clash of torso and nose against wooden floor. The snickers of a juvenile fiend soon followed, making hilarity out of my demise.
‘Gotcha!’ a shrill voice screeched while soft pads of footfalls drifted towards me. Little feet and midget toes with ridiculously feminine ankles were the first sight of Adam I consumed. There was an astounding absence of hair on his legs, and even above his knobbly knees, on his thighs, there was not one dusting of fuzz to be found. Spiderman knickers concealed his most tender parts, the garment’s navy blue in stark contrast to pallid skin. His tiny frame sported an undersized top, a crescent navel sneakily peeking from under the fabric’s rim.
When my gaze rested on the child’s face, it was as if an essence had flung itself crudely across the expanse of my conscience, shrouding out any inklings of rationale. Almond-shaped eyes not only saw but pierced, framed by chestnut strands that jutted out in queer angles like devil’s horns. The chubbiness of his cheeks obscured prominent bone-structure and then lower… I swallowed a lump when witnessing Adam’s delightfully arched lips, curved into a form which can only be attributed to the telltale outline of a Cupid’s Bow. An alluring ruby painted them more temptingly than any lip-stick any girl could ever wear...
I daringly wondered if the way I gaped at Adam Gladwell that instant could in any way compare to how lads eyed every passing girl in the hallways: if the light smirk dotting his mouth resembled the secret grins girls flashed, if the playful sway of his body was akin to the strutting of hips. The sight must have been a spectacle: the fiend inspecting the harlequin, seven years his senior, lying on the belly with a toy’s string looped around his ankle, mouth agape in infatuation, gawking back at the fiend the way a man looked at a woman.
I heard the child’s voice again, telling me I looked stupid, and the carnal fire roared.
Over the years through high school and university, I met many more fiend-like boys, all of whom were Adam-faced, Adam-aged. I got bolder with each encounter, more dangerously audacious, crossing questionable boundaries but never paying the consequences any heed: for I needed these boys and they needed me. All of them had something missing in their lives, whether it be a loving parent or a friend. And I was there for them. I saved them. I loved them the way a man loves a woman.
I met Frankie when he was welcoming his tenth summer and I had survived nineteen winters. He was a tragedy of a boy, orphaned at a tender age and thrusted into the care of a neglectful aunt. When we found each other, we were inseparable. While boys doted on girls with floral arrangements, I showered Frankie with a new issue of Walking Dead comics whenever it came out, his favorite. I was always thanked with rose flushing shy cheeks and a wet peck on the chin with gratitude.
Frankie and I made love within the secrecy of bedcovers and closed dorm doors. I worshipped him the way a king worships a queen, except I was his king and he was my prince. I knew people wouldn’t like what we did, but as long as we liked it and we kept it a secret, it was ok. I told him that and he believed me. I also used to believe that bad things never happened to kings. But it did, when one day, my roommate found Frankie laying with me. A moment of shocked silence, and then he screamed hell; jaws clamped my limbs, knuckles greeted softer flesh, and I tasted salt and metal while inhaling the pungent fetor of ancient dorm carpets.
It was an accident. A miscalculation on my part of the particular times when Donovan would enter our shared room or not. You always told me that accidents were the prime facilitators of success, as we become wiser when we learn from our mistakes.
My body was yanked from the carpet, dizziness blurring my vision…
It was a mistake. A big mistake, I know, but I know you will help me out of it because I can’t fix this alone. I know I can count on you, because it was your dream, to raise a king.
I was pushed out in the open, bare and ashamed, accused for the crime of love. Metal tightened around both my wrists and OW! Ma, please, it hurts…
I couldn’t help it. I don’t know why I am the way I am. If every man has the right to love, then why don’t I? The way you look at each other, is the exact same way I look at Adam, at Frankie, at all of them. I don’t understand why you don’t understand.
When they told you, all that echoed in your minds was why and how. I didn’t tell you back then because I remember faces would flash across the screen and you would shoot profanities at them, claiming they deserve nothing but a painful finish. Now I am one of those faces too. They told you I was a sick f**k, and you listened.
When Brother died, I saw a promise in your eyes. And promises never break, do they? I was a good kid, took AP classes, won scholarships. I volunteered for the poor and the handicapped. I was your king, your one and only, your hopes and pride, and although a king’s empire has fallen, it can be rebuilt with the loyalty of his people.