The stentorian bellow of his baritone voice echoed as if it were delivered through a microphone. Once categorized as a dipsomaniac to his peers—functioning of course—he was always the guy that nobody wanted to be around. Not because he wasn’t amiable but because he had a dark secret that festered into rage, ager and odium—he was gay. The longer he clasped this dark secret the way a mother clasps her pearls, the more he felt infinitesimal in this wide-open world. He stared into the mirror, fixated on his flaws, invisible to others but obvious to his ocean eyes. It presented itself in the shape of a target splayed across his face, splayed across his entire existence.
When he first began having feelings towards the same sex, strange sensations and false butterflies, he sought the help of a school nurse—a known lesbian, a woman who displayed a style that provoked curiosity in other women and disgust in straight men.
“What is wrong with me?” He asked through eyes blurry and streaked as bright as the cerulean sea.
“NOTHING!” She snapped back. “And don’t let anyone in this small, hick-ass town tell you otherwise!” He paused for a moment and collected his thoughts.
“Is there a cure?”
“No, it’s intractable. When you get old enough, just leave this town and never ever look back.” He never ever did.
His life into early adulthood was quite Delphic, until he confessed his dark secret to his best friend’s older brother on that hectic, humid, frenzied night. The bacchanalian partying on graduation night confirmed two things: one, that he truly was gay. And two: that he despised Everclear in the same fashion that he did yarn; it made him cringe.
His mercurial temper had almost been too unbearable to go on living, but then he left the holler and never looked back. On the same city block, he found a job, an apartment and a love like he had never known. He let down his emotional barricade, let go of his inhibition and learned to love himself the way he was meant to love himself—his way. When he came out to his parents, they attempted to dissuade him into not being an openly gay man.
“But mother, I am happy. Isn’t that what you want?”
“You’re not gay, son, New York City is gay. Come back home and get right.” She coldly said.
“Mom, this is me! My Modus Vivendi…like it or not. My happiness is more important than your ignorant sadness.” They didn’t speak again for two years. The time, like his fingernails, grew slowly as did the distance between them. But deep down, the sting of her words made him feel that maybe he would one day pay the price for her perfidy.
It never occurred to him that he wanted to be a writer, and oh, was he good. What was once merely a discursive habit—writing long essays in his diary—proved fruitful when it was suggested that he submit them. And he did. He was published in a local magazine, giving him a taste of what would be his future, his affair with life.
Sometimes he thought about the holler. About the procrustean way he was raised under a backwoods bigotry rule and wondered how he ever got out unscathed. But once he began living a life free of lies, people began to like him—hell, they began to love him—and they stopped questioning his moral rectitude.
One day in April, he got a card from his mother in the mail: “The aberrant way that you choose to live is damning the nation’s finest. You’re perpetuating the cycle and keeping New York City gay!!” He was equable as he read it, shook his head and filed the card away with all the other cards that were sent with the stingers of hornets and wasps in the form of sightless detestation. His favorite card: “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it…now come back to Kentucky!” It was so eloquently but beautifully written in calligraphy comparable to the Declaration of Independence on a card that had a bowl of miso soup, the message being: You Make Miso Happy, but she crossed out the word ‘happy’ and replaced it with the word ‘unhappy’. He cried when she died. His father demanded that he attend her funeral as a changed man—a blue-blooded, Kentucky bred heterosexual that preferred bull riding to brunch and cowboy hats to fedoras, but he hung up his cowboy hat and boots long ago and replaced them with a typewriter and was up against a deadline. A career defining deadline which changed his life and set him on a path he never even dreamed of.
I can’t quite commit to memory when my mother first gave up on me, but I do recall one occasion. I was seven years old, and it just happens to be my third favorite scar. I know it seems unusual, listing my scars as my favorite things. Most kids my age have a favorite toy or blanket or some type of materialistic possession which brings them comfort, but not me. Everything I had ever loved or attached myself to had always been taken away from me; I was always made to believe that I was the reason for the sudden removal of my favorite things. At quite a young age, I learned to love something that could never be taken away from me, my scars.
“What in the hell are you doing!?” My mother exclaimed as she snatched her favorite shade of lipstick out of my hand—Red Coral #2. I was seven years old, and to my defense it looked very similar to my Crayola crayons that had once been my most prized possession until they were quickly removed from my grasp once my mother took note of how happy and content they had made me.
“This is a very hard shade to find, and you ruined it! You ruin everything!” She stated as her face turned a shocking shade of red. Her fists shook in protest. “Oh, I have something for your ass!” She mysteriously said as she stormed out of my room. I sat there, blissfully unaware of any wrongdoing, but I began to contemplate how I could fix this. She hated me. Hated my very existence…yet I yearned for her. I wanted her love, her touch. It seemed the more she yelled, the harder I tried to make her love me—to see me as a person deserving of her love.
She returned a few moments later, a certain rage had all but taken over. She looked different; her eyes were black like two coals on a snowman in the middle of a blizzard. Her breathing is what frightened me the most. She had a furrowed brow and a clenched jaw, breathing through her teeth. She grabbed me by the right arm and began to drag me down the hall towards the kitchen.
“STAY QUIET!” I thought to myself. “Don’t do anything to make her even madder”.
“Why do you make me do this, Nobel, you think I enjoy hurting you?!” She asked as her combustion hair floated freely. I remained silent, unaware if that was a rhetorical question or if a response was expected. “Answer me God dammit; do you think I want to hurt you?”
“I’m sorry mommy, I promise I’m sorry. I won’t ever do it again.” I pleaded.
“That’s not good enough, and what did I say about calling me mommy? You call me Theresa or nothing at all. Still, I must punish you. A punishment you will always remember.” A smile slowly appeared out of the corners of her mouth.
She dragged by my arm into the kitchen and made me stand next to the oven. I watched in horror as she took the spatula she had been roasting on one of the stoves burners. I stood there paralyzed by shock and fear, unable to make a fun for it.
“She wouldn’t.” I thought to myself. Even though she rejected my very existence, I was still a product of her. “She wouldn’t.” I repeated. I was rooted to the floor, unable and unwilling to escape.
“Turn around and pull down your pants, Nobel, do NOT make me tell you twice!” She assertively stated as she held the radiant cherry spatula in her hand. I had no choice but to concede to her will. I anticipated what burning flesh would sound like, what it would smell like. An ambush of questions flooded my mind until the exact moment that she pressed the metal spatula against the right side of my buttocks, causing me to scream and cry. Excruciating pain, I collapsed on the floor with my pants still around my ankles. I was crying harder than I ever had before. The pulsating pain that throbbed with every heartbeat caused sweat to form in a puddle underneath me as I gasped for breath.
“It’s over now. The worst is over. Calm down.” I unconvincingly told myself.
“Nobel…do you know how amazing and powerful the human brain is?” She asked wryly. “All it took was for you to see the spatula being heated on the burners of the stove. You began to tell your brain that this would be painful. When you pulled your pants down and turned around, I grabbed a different spatula from the back of the freezer. I pressed the cold one against your skin.” She explained. For a seven-year-old, I fully understood what she was saying. Showing me the red-hot spatula, she let me do all the work and get myself all worked up. She had defeated me in so many ways before, but never psychologically.
“What an idiot!” I thought to myself as I pulled my pants up and wiped the tears from my face.
“So now, I hope you learned something from all of this Nobel. I can and will always win. You will never know what is real or fake. Not unless I tell you. I win!” She triumphantly stated as she turned and walked out of the kitchen, laughing frenziedly to herself. I walked over to the stove and slowly turned the dial to the off position, the most painful thing of all.
I made my way up to my room and closed the door behind me. Although my mother explained the process, I still felt actual pain. I couldn’t see any lingering marks from the frozen spatula, I just felt a piercing pain.
“I have to see it; I know if I could just explain the pain then I can move pass this.” I told myself as I gazed at the broken boy in the looking glass. “Why can’t I see the ugly mistake that she sees? What am I really?” I asked my reflection as I slowly disassembled the razor blade that was left behind by one of my mother’s many illicit affairs. Don’t you ever tell your father, or you will pay the ultimate price! Her words echoed through my head like I was standing in a dark cave, and I never did tell my father. I reminisced until I felt the corroded, cold but relieving razor blade carve through the flesh on my buttocks. I decided to cut a wonderful square—two inches by four inches—in the area where my mother had psychologically defiled. Although I was bleeding, I felt no pain. In fact, the pain that I recently felt had now all but vanished and now all that was there was a square reminder of the notorious game she played with my life. Her signature on my skin would forever hurt, mentally not physically.