de Christian Andino Borrero
As I walk into you, the sound of my steps bounce off your floor, onto your walls and your ceiling, consecutively.
I still remember my deck of Pokémon cards when I was eight years old. I would always annoy my mother to buy a limited edition blue Pikachu. It wasn’t exactly a sacrifice for us to buy them. All our family pictures are beautiful with wide, whitened smiles and backgrounds that scream, We’re really rich!
Of course, that was not the reality. Like I said, no sacrifices had to be made to buy anything, including Papi’s whores. He always called them whores, but the correct term is prostitutes.
Mami was an alcoholic, abusive bitch… Kidding, she was not.
She was probably my favorite person. She didn’t care about the whores. Marriage was business, and they both knew what was ahead of their empty love. However, Mami was a smoker, and I do think my parents sometimes had sex. Mami actually bought a male prostitute once, but I guess it wasn’t her kind of fiesta.
Papi was always working, or, again, fucking whores. My parents were better friends than most in-love married couples I’ve encountered. They joked together, laughed, took care of me, barely argued. The only real difference between them and others was that they slept in separate beds. It was my normal, but most people’s weird.
Mami only argued with Papi when she tried to make him go to church. Mostly, he wouldn’t, so I usually went with Mami alone.
“Leonardo, coño, get back here!” Mami would demand as I ran in between the columns of seats imagining I was Naruto, raising my arms behind my back as I held my fluffy octopus by one of its tentacles. I accidentally crashed into an elegant, middle-aged black lady.
“I’m so sorry.” Mami would hustle to me and pull my arm. I would know that any more disobedience would pull hell on earth. We sat.
“Okay, do the cross,” she commanded.
“En el nombre del padre…,” I poked my forehead, “del hijo…,” I poked my belly, “y del espíritu, santo.” I poked my shoulders consecutively and Mom finished with “Amén” as we both kissed our fingers softly. “Bien, mi amor.”
Everything else in the ceremony was blurry, just daydreaming of being a shinobi. However, when the father started speaking directly to the crowd, Mami would lightly slap my thigh to get my attention on the holy priest.
“There is an epidemic infecting our home… And not just our home, God’s home.” The father spoke clearly into his microphone. “From the readings, I would like to highlight something extremely important. God made women for the men, and vice versa. This right here, this makes it completely clear. Homosexuality is not the word of the Bible, not the word of Jesus, and most certainly, not the word of God. It is perverse and sinful…”
The ceremony finished. Mami and I walked to the car. “Do you want some Wendy’s?” she asked. “Yeah,” I replied.
We got home to Papi having leisure time in front of the flat screen TV. “Hey hijo!” He exclaimed. “How was church?”
“It was peculiar.” Mami answered for me and sat next to him on the couch. I stood by the entrance looking at them and holding the bag of Wendy’s. “Are there any telenovelas on right now?” she questioned.
“No, so I’m just watching this movie.”
“I think I’m homosexual.” My cheeks were suddenly wet and my nose runny, clutching tightly onto my fluffy octopus’s tentacle. I was eight years old, and a little too smart. Mami and Papi looked at me, the voices from the movie prevalent in the thick silence. “Does…” It felt like my throat had been stabbed, like my words were drowning in themselves, causing chaos to all get out at once, but the words found their way through the fissure as fast as the stab that caused it. “Does God hate me?” My voice broke across a beautiful orange sunlight coming in through the windows.
On the second floor of our house, in the hall, my back to my parent’s bedroom wall, I was suffocating my octopus in a clenching hold. I looked into nothing without sobbing, although most certainly crying, as I tried to discern the muffled words… I could hear Mami crying.
“Maybe he can be fixed,” Mami suggested.
“I-I don’t think it works like that.”
“HE’S ONLY EIGHT!” Mami exclaimed, making me flinch and hold my octopus tighter. “HE CAN’T KNOW WHAT HE’S TALKING ABOUT.”
After more mumbling and crying, Papi opened the door and closed it softly, shutting out the glimpse of Mami sobbing. He looked at me with watery eyes and a worried countenance, rough and rigid. I kept looking at nothing, trying to disappear into it. Papi crouched down next to me.
“Leonardo, look at me.”
After hesitation, I did, with wet cheeks and a dead expression.
“It doesn’t matter what happens, both your mother and I love you.” Sobs came out abruptly as Papi held me. At that moment, I realized I wasn’t scared of God, nor the Devil, nor the Father. I didn’t care whether God hated me or not. I just didn’t want them to hate me. And I guess I knew they wouldn’t, but sometimes knowledge isn’t enough.
After that, it was a bit awkward, but not for long. They sort of ignored that the event ever occurred. Mami probably hoped that I was confused, and I didn’t explicitly know how Papi felt, but I guess it didn’t matter.
We kept going to Church, but it was different. Uncomfortable. At first, because being the Devil’s spawn is not ideal when in church, but as time went by, as I thought and thought, I stopped believing, and being in the presence of people who did felt wrong. But I never objected to worshipping what wouldn’t accept me.
I walk onto your platform and look out to the empty velvet benches.
Two years passed, and I turned ten years old. I made a best friend, Ben, a cute, tall white boy. He was one of Mami’s friend’s sons. He came over to our house one day and hung out in my room as Mami and her friend chatted in the living room.
“Hi,” I greeted.
“Hey.” He sat on the floor of my bedroom, slipped his smartphone out of his pocket, plugged in his earphones and texted. I waited, blowing raspberries, but I got bored and impatient within one minute.
“Hey!” I called out, but he continued undisturbed. I called him out again but snapped in his face this time.
“Stop,” he ordered without raising his gaze. I mustered up anger and pulled off his ear plugs. “Hey-” Ben was about to complain, but I beat him to it.
“Stop being a little bitch and leave your phone on the damn desk. If not, go to our mothers and hear them talk shit for two hours.”
Quiet. Ben stared right at me. I thought maybe the cussing was a bit too much, but he started guffawing. “Holy shit,” he responded. Our friendship flourished from there. We talked the whole two hours, about Naruto, about our favorite characters, which he unacceptably indicated was Sasuke. Ours was a different kind of friendship in comparison to my school friends, somewhat closer. He kept coming to my house weekly and we always caught up with each other. After some time, we just naturally referred to each other as best friends.
On your platform, looking down at the columns of empty benches, stands your altar. I run my fingers around the surface of it and place a kiss.
I reached twelve years of age. I had seen the gay flag. I hate rainbows and pink. Pink isn’t in the flag, but for some subconscious reason, I found myself needing to clarify that to people who thought I did.
Mami knocked harshly, “Get ready for church!”
We entered the car. Mami started the ignition and just looked forward at the grey glow from the grey sky, humidity fogging the gloomy view. She pulled me into a sudden hug and kept me there. Her hand on the back of my head and her arm on my back. “I just want you to be happy.” Her voice broke. “It’s all I want. No God and no Devil will ever take away my love for you.” It was sudden, but I cried in her embrace. I never went to church again.
After a week, they sat me down in the living room.
“Leonardo,” Papi began, “we understand you and accept you… but-”
“Have you been doing things with Ben in your room?” Mami spurted out.
“What?” I was left incredulous.
“Son,” Papi tried to continue, “we love you, and you’re a great kid, but we aren’t stupid. You’re almost a teenage boy. Gay or not, you still get horny.”
“Oh my God. Stop, nothing goes on between Ben and me.”
“Mmhm,” Mami mumbled sarcastically. Afterwards, Mami started checking on Ben and me in my room momentarily. My parents weren’t wrong though; Ben and I were horny fucks, just not for each other.
I look up and I look down with silence buzzing in my ears.
A certain day, still fourteen years old, I was scrolling through Tumblr on my laptop on my bed with Ben when Mami barged in. Her eyes were red and watery. Her expression seemed to triple her age. She was wearing her usual elegant skirt and blouse, her work clothes.
“We have to go right now. Ben, you as well.” Her voice was croaky, and it seemed like she had a lot of pressure in her chest.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as Ben and I stood up.
“Just… come on.” Mami’s voice seemed to almost break when she enunciated that last word. My mouth stayed shut.
In the car, I sat in the backseat with Ben next to me. Mami didn’t once glance back, just drove hurriedly over the speed limit, swaying through car lanes. I felt pressure build up in my chest. Ben grabbed my shoulder, and I texted Papi to see if he knew, preparing myself for a probable possibility. After a bit, I realized we were going to the hospital.
“Mami… is it Papi?” I asked. Ben acted like he wasn’t there, looking out the window, but he intertwined his arm in mine tightly. Mami glanced at me through her rearview mirror with the most melancholic face I’d ever seen her express.
I sat in between Ben and Mami in the waiting room. Mami tapped the floor incessantly. Ben didn’t know what to do to make me feel better, but he was there, and that was comforting enough. I was there, looking into nothing once again. A nurse came to us and Mami stood up immediately.
“Mrs. Andino?” the nurse asked.
“Yes.” The nurse seemed to shift uncomfortably. “Well, your husband, he was found with a bullet in his brain in his office and a gun in his hand. He was taken into surgery and he’s still alive.”
Mami took a moment to process. She seemed to look into nothing as I did while I stared at her and let the information sink in. “Is there any chance he’ll live?”
“… I’m sorry, Mrs. Andino. At this point, the doctors are trying to pull heaven to Earth.”
Mami let herself fall on the chair. I softly placed my head on Ben’s thighs, letting my body rest on two or three seats as he played with my hair, which he knew relaxed me.
Moments later, the doctors confirmed his death. Ben was picked up from the hospital. Mami and I sat in the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It was a bright night under a beautiful full moon. Silence. Silence. And silence.
Mami turned on the car and sighed, eyes watery and soul stolen. They might not have loved each other, but they most certainly loved each other. For a second, I imagined Papi with that bullet in his brain, but it was too blurry to fulfill its purpose of dreadfulness; all I felt was numb. Mami held back a sob, covering her mouth and looking down, letting her hair hide her face from me in the lack of light. It started pouring rain in the car, creating beautiful, disfigured reflections, although it was completely dry outside. “You know what really happened, don’t you?” Mami asked brokenly.
“I know.” Papi was in a dangerous occupation, and money is bloody.
When we got home, we both sat on the couch. Silence… Silence…
“Yes?” Mami looked at me.
“I want to die.” And silence… Mami looked forward, absorbing what I had just said. I was always too precocious; intelligence can be stupefying.
She held me… She sobbed loudly… I cried silently… She didn’t use her words, but they were clear to me. They said, “Me too.”
Papi wanted to be cremated. The flames ascending into the beautiful blue sky made me want to jump in with him. Ben didn’t say one word that day. In my room, he just clenched my hand, and I could feel him trying his very best to suck out all the suffering. But I didn’t want him to. I would remember Papi, even if it slowly sliced my throat.
As the flames crackled and the heat dispersed, I remembered that in Catholicism, burning your body means no resurrection, complete and sheer death. And I felt a weird comfort. Another thought bumped in with that one. He died before I did. I imagined my parents crying, breaking apart, because of me. I thought it’d be worse for my parents to see me dead than me seeing Papi with a bullet in his head, and I mentally asked the universe, or you, to take Mami before it takes me. I looked up at the sky, and silence…
After kissing your altar, I sit on the almighty chair that looks down at the crowd.
We sold the house, a lot of our clothes and my PlayStation console. Our new house was much smaller, but comfy and satisfying. I left my private Catholic school and coursed through the same public school Ben attended, which was all awesome. Papi was really the only thing missing. The only thing wrong.
When I biked home from school, my phone vibrated and Ben’s text read SOS. It was cold outside, so I snatched my jacket from my closet and left the house biking. When I neared his house, I heard screaming between his parents, insulting and cussing at one another. I saw Ben jump out his window and hustle to my bike flinching at the sound of a plate shattering. He wore sunglasses, short hair, Bermuda shorts and a light blue shirt. I rode off once he got on my bike and grabbed my torso. Sunset turned into a dense orange over gray clouds. The cold air brushed our skins. Ben didn’t speak, so I decided to go to a park. I lay on the comfy grass and he laid his head on my thigh perpendicular to me. The wind made soothing rustling with the grass.
“I’m fucking mad at you,” I blurted out after some time. As we spoke, we kept our gaze directed at the sky.
“You never told me it was that bad in there,” I responded.
“Well… it’s not that bad. They just need to get a divorce already. Besides, it’s nothing compared to what you’ve been through,” he explained.
“No. That’s shit. Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Pain is pain. It comes in different forms and sizes, and they all fucking suck. My pain does not take away from your pain. You have the right to feel like shit in this shitty world.” Ben stayed quiet. “Besides… you don’t need to do anything to help me, your presence is already enough.”
“… It was Dad. He hit Mom and it all went to hell. Mom told me they would fix it and to not tell anybody,” Ben recounted.
“You said that bruise was from you hitting your arm against the edge of a wall.”
“Yeah. I lied.”
“Like, months.” I took a moment to ponder and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah… aren’t we all?”
“You realize I will tell Mami about this,” I clarified. “Please,” Ben said. “I can’t wait any longer for things to get fixed.” We laid there for a half minute in silence. I was so glad he was there. The pressure in my chest decreased. I just needed him right where he was, in my presence. And he needed me right where I was, in his.
I stand from your almighty chair looking up at the dome ceiling and at the cross of your all forgiving son, waiting.
Mami died in her sleep. I couldn’t wake her, and I knew the universe had granted my wish. After her funeral, I started university somewhat far. I lived with Ben as a roommate in a rented apartment. I worked at Dunkin Donuts and he worked at McDonald’s.
“Wanna get a free happy meal?” he suggested.
“I hate McDonald’s,” I said.
“I know.” He smiled and we went.
He changed clothes for the sole purpose of showcasing his new pink shorts. When we were closing the entrance to our home, I realized I left my wallet.
“Wait, don’t close th-” I looked at the closed door. Ben frowned and looked. Someone spray painted FAGGOT on our door in bright red.
“Shit,” Ben scoffed. “Come on, we’ll just fix that when we get back.” I wasn’t incredulous or astonished, because similar occurrences had been happening. Since it never got physical, we ignored it, although that was a little over the line for them.
I hated eating the Happy Meal, but I stuffed it into my stomach anyway.
“Wendy’s is better,” I mumbled.
“You’re such an idiot,” he responded. “So you don’t agree?” I questioned. He scoffed and threw a fry at me, which I caught in my mouth.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling grateful for more than just the fry.
The next day, I was in my room. My phone vibrated and Ben’s text read SOS. I frowned and hustled out of the apartment. I jogged on the way to McDonald’s, but instead, I saw a group of five guys with red fists punching someone on the ground.
Two of the guys screamed “Faggot!” and spat at him. His face so bruised… his body so immobile. I saw someone calling 911.
I called them out, heart pounding out my chest, eyes watering, fists closing and readying. One of the guys slipped a gun from his jeans and shot him swiftly.
Everything else happened in blinks. I threw myself on the guy, the gun shooting the other guy’s leg. I pulled the gun out of his hand and hit him with the metal again, and again, and again with odd satisfaction. Sirens went off, and they all ran like pests running from a broom.
Everything went mute. The beautiful blue of the sky shone down. Cars drove by. I looked at Ben, his left black eye too swollen. I saw bloody teeth next to him, and green grass covered in red. His pink shorts were still perfect, with no wrinkles and no stains, just pink and bright over the red and death. I cried, cried over every other noise, over the guard, the cars, the air. I sobbed. I laid my head on his thigh perpendicular to his body and stayed there until the ambulance arrived.
His death was confirmed in the hospital. I called his mother, because his father was in jail. I caught every sob from the phone and kept it in my ear pockets. I thought about Papi with a bullet in his head. I thought about Mami and her ceramic appearance on her deathbed. I looked at him, and for the first time, it felt like I was clenching nothing.
I had to keep working and studying. Taking Chemistry class and managing the cash register with a smile. I had to finish papers for Philosophy. I had to bathe myself in ignorance… but I couldn’t.
So I came here, into you.
As I walked into you, the sound of my steps bounced off your floor, onto your walls and your ceiling, consecutively. Silence.
I walked onto your platform and looked out at the empty velvet benches. Silence.
On your platform, looking down at the columns of empty benches, stands your altar. I ran my fingers along the surface of it and placed a kiss on it. Silence.
I looked up and I looked down with silence buzzing in my ears. Silence.
After kissing your altar, I sat on the almighty chair that looks down at the crowd. Silence.
I stood from your almighty chair looking up at the dome ceiling and at the cross of your all forgiving son, waiting. Silence.
I hate you.
I don’t know why I came here. I don’t believe in you, but I guess I feel… I need you. I feel like home has been broken piece by piece. I feel like dying. I feel like carving my skin out and leaving myself naked in front of you. I feel like the Devil is more welcoming than you are. And I don’t know what to do about it, because I don’t have the balls to put a bullet in my head… I hate you. If you exist… I don’t care. I just don’t care.
I sit at the edge of the platform looking at the empty crowd, caressing my face with my palms and moving them onto the back of my head, crying in the presence of emptiness. The silence hurts. It hurts.
I realize that even if God exists, He doesn’t interact with us, so while I’m alive, He doesn’t exist. He might as well be dead.
The breath of His absence and emptiness on my neck stab me,
and I keep crying,
because there’s nothing else to do in the nothingness.