I came to learn that rumors and information spread very fast in the small town. Although everyone seemed to mind their business, something had definitely changed in how I was being treated. The lady at the local convenience store even changed some of the goods I brought to the counter because ‘that’s not what Nathaniel buys.’ People knew I was living with him, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. Since I ditched my missionary uniform more people waved at me and even greeted me. I guess from their perspective was no need to avoid me anymore. It’s funny how beliefs shape social bubbles.
I wasn’t even angry. I kind of understood why they had avoided me then. If I had a chance I would have pulled them aside for a chat like any missionary would, and them deciding they would rather avoid that was not really any different from when church members encourage you to leave the ‘difficult people’ for people more spiritually strong. There was a huge fear of contamination — not of sickness, but of divergent ideas.
Most of the time when I saw people from my church I would panic and find another route. I wasn’t ready to be confronted by them. I knew the drill, they wouldn’t offer anything helpful and would just make me more confused and out of touch with myself. Olivia and Sam tried to call many times, but after a week I blocked their numbers, feeling that it was the right thing to do.
“Mathew, are you listening to me?” The sound of Nath’s voice brought me out of my thoughts. I apologized, sighing as I rubbed my eyes. He just smiled, picking at his eggs. It was five in the morning, and we were having breakfast in the kitchen. Nath had something to do at the shed, so he had to leave the house earlier than usual.
“I was asking about what you wanted to do,” Nath said, picking at his toast. “Were you planning to go to college before?”
I thought about it a bit, realizing that after doing my missionary service I hadn’t really had a lot of plans. My father had talked about trade/technical college a few times, and that had been about it.
“If you need a job right away there are a bunch of places that would take you,” Nath went on, folding his toast before taking a bite. He chewed, swallowing before he continued. “There are a bunch of stores around here. There’s also a library here that’s understaffed...” he trailed, pausing before starting right at me.
“Am I being overbearing?” he asked in a concerned tone. I shook my head, rubbing my eyes again. I knew Nath was just trying to help.
“Have you talked to your family since then?” Nath asked me, and I shook my head. I hadn’t written home since I left the station. That was about a week plus ago. I guess I was stalling, and I wasn’t even sure if they knew now. It was likely that someone took it upon themselves to inform them.
Nath didn’t say anything, and he just kept eating his food. I started to pick the boiled eggs on my plate too, but the uncomfortable silence lingered on as we ate.
“I’m just worried,” Nath spoke up, making me look over at him. “It’s just... I’ve been through this and it can be very hard. You’re doing amazing,” he said, reaching out for my hand. I looked down at our joined hands. His dark one, squeezing my pale smaller hand.
“You can’t attend church anymore, right? If you want I could drive you out of town to the Catholic chapel I visit. It’s not like anyone will know if you know what I mean. It’s not the same but a church is a church I guess,” he mumbled, rubbing the base of my hand with his thumb.
“It’s okay, I’m fine. You don’t have to do that,” I said, and he just smiled, taking his hand away from mine. I stared at Nath, thinking about what he’s been through. He acted like leaving his mother didn’t faze him and throwing away a big part of your life like religion was such an easy thing to do. Or maybe it was, and I just wasn’t cut out for it.
“How did it go?” I asked, watching as Nath rose a brow at me.
“Can you tell me how it went—” I paused, licking my lips. I’ve been putting off asking him this, but I really wanted to know more about him, and how he came to most of his conclusions. “With your mum. How it went when you came out?” I asked, and Nath just stared at me with a blank look.
“You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to,” I added, hoping that he understood that.
“No, it’s okay,” he said, dropping his fork. “It’s not really one main event, it’s more like a series of events,” Nath started.
“So, when I was thirteen she sent me out to a Christian camp. I mean, it’s typical, a Christian mum sending you to a Christian camp.” he shrugged as a small smile formed on his face. “I had fun, it’s not like something extremely terrible happened or anything. We had regular activities, but there was also the Christian activates if you know what I mean,” he said, and I watched as his face dimmed.
“We used to have bible study every thirty minutes of the day in the morning, and a long one hour talk outside with a preacher in the center, talking about God. You know the usual,” he said. “I was Catholic, and there was special attention on none Christian kids in the camp, and kids that were not the ‘right’ type of Christian, if you know what I mean. It’s an evangelical Christian camp, so ‘the wrong types of Christians’ would be Catholics etc.”
“I didn’t really care much, but there was one talk that really hit me. You know, it was a time when people started talking about LGBT+ people. No one was pretending they didn’t exist anymore, so of course, they were preaching against them.” Nath paused. “I already knew I was gay then. The religion thing was confusing for me because I was trying to meet a compromise.”
“The man that was talking to use that day said: ‘Imagine if heterosexuality is a clear glass of water, and homosexuality is a glass of water, but with a drop of milk in it. What cup of water do you think God would drink?’,” Nath said. “I remember thinking that it was such a shitty thing to say. And I remember thinking God must be shitty too for being so picky about his children,” he laughed at his words, sighing before he reached out or his mug of coffee. He brought it to his lips, taking a sip before he set it down.
“It was just such a shitty thing,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“On the last day, of course, the counselors would pull us aside and ask us about our home environment, give us some pamphlets and all that gaze…” he trailed. “All I could remember was feeling very angry and confused. I didn’t feel bad for being gay, I was angrier that God didn’t want me because I was gay if that makes sense,” I said.
“If you don’t want me, I won’t force you to want.” Nath shrugged. “I’m not going into a relationship with — in this case, religion, where I have to compromise my personhood to be accepted. That sounds toxic.”
“After camp was over, and I went home. I went about my life and all, and I remember not being able to take all this God talk. I don’t know. It felt really patronizing and exhausting. I told my mum I was gay a few years later and she broke down in front of me and told me why I didn’t have a dad, and how I was breaking her heart by turning out the way I did. For a few days, we didn’t talk. We just stayed in the house together minding our own business. I noticed she didn’t go to church that Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the one after that...” he trailed. “And one day she just dumped a duffle bag in front of my door and told me to leave. She told me I was giving her nightmares, and I should know why.”
“So, I left.” The room went silent after that. I didn’t say anything, and Nathaniel went back to eating his breakfast. When he was done he got up and washed his plate in the sink.
“I’ll be back early today,” he said, turning back to face me as he dried his hands in a hand towel. “Call me if you need anything.”
“Okay,” I said as I watched him walk over to me, bending a bit so that he could press a kiss to my forehead. He cupped my face in his hands, peppering my forehead and cheeks with kisses. he pulled away, and I got up, moving closer so that I could hug him. He hummed, causing his chest to vibrate.
“For what?” Nat asked me as we swayed a bit.
I frowned, thinking about it. What was I sorry for? Maybe for pushing religion on him when he had such a bad experience with it? I’m not sure.
“I don’t know...” I trailed, shrugging when he pulled away from me. “For bothering you with all the missionary stuff, in the beginning, I guess.”
Nath let out a loud laugh, and I watched as he shook his head. “No, don’t be. Missionaries have their hearts in the right place, I think most people just forget how triggering it can be for some people.”
My lips remained in the thin line as I thought back to home. I remembered a returning missionary talking about approaching random people that looked like they needed prayer to pray with them. Now that I think about it, it might have seemed patronizing and demeaning to the strangers he randomly approached.
“I would love to just hug you and stare at you, but I have to leave,” Nath said, and I nodded. His hair was in twists today. I liked it, it looked nice. I followed him out of the kitchen, and out the front door. I stood by the front door and watched as he walked down the stairs and started walking out of sight. I stood by the door until I couldn’t see him again.
My eyes moved from the roads to the flat beside us. The lady that was taking out her trash waved at me, and I waved back. I then closed the door and headed for the study where Nath kept most of his books, spending my day reading as I waited for him to get back.
They were interesting to read. Most of them were Catholic based. I’ve never really asked why Nath had so many books on faith. Sure, he talked about liking theology, but it seemed more like an off-thought thing — like he was trying to clench on to something.
“The religion thing was confusing for me because I was trying to meet a compromise.” I remembered Nath’s words from breakfast and I felt conflicted. Compromise? Was there a compromise to be made with Christianity? Nath didn’t think to seem there was.