How to leave home
Being gay didn’t make him a pervert. Did it?
One thing he knew for sure was he’d never met anyone who was wrong the way he was wrong, so maybe he was wrong, and everything about him was wrong.
He’d known he was different for a long time. Like all the way back when he’d been little and obsessed with Batman and Robin. It drove his dad crazy that he wanted to be Robin for Halloween, year after year. Who wants to be the sidekick instead of the hero? Be a hero, for God’s sake, Daniel.
Maybe his dad knew about him even then. After he’d outgrown his second Robin costume – maybe third grade? – his dad refused to buy another one, so his mom bought fabric and sewed him one, and it came out much nicer than any store bought cape and plastic mask. He hid the costume under his bed after Halloween so he could sneak it on at night, like pajamas. But it wasn’t at all like pajamas, not really.
He’d lie in his bed and snug the cape around himself, pretending it was Batman’s arms, holding him tight and safe, and maybe Batman chided him, just a little bit, for needing to be gotten out of a jam. Again. But then he’d feel Batman’s lips at the nape of his neck, and then he’d feel… holy hard-on, Batman.
He was the only one who’d learned to read just so he could interpret the mystery of the dialog bubble, and the only one carrying old Marvel comics back and forth to school.
He wore his Robin costume for the final all-school Halloween parade in sixth grade. And at the Halloween dance in seventh grade, his first year of junior high. And yes, his mother had tailored it to his new height, but he could tell by her raised eyebrows that even she was starting to find his Robin obsession a little weird.
By eighth grade the bad words were going around: faggot and gay and queer. None of them had been applied to Daniel yet, but he knew they would be if he tried to be Robin one more time. So he asked Marcy Anderson to the Halloween dance and they went as Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger, and Daniel felt so horribly awkward and uncomfortable that he never went to another school dance ever again.
He knew he was gay, but no one else did, and he thought he would die if anyone else found out.
Girls were like aliens and they terrified him, but Daniel was pretty with his blond hair and bright green eyes, and by the time he reached high school, they flocked around him all giggly with big eyes and coy smiles. He was forever blushing and stammering and staring at his feet, hedging that he wasn’t allowed to date, that homework took up too much of his time, that his dad would never let him skip the after school science program.
But it was the girls that got him in with Johnny J and the gang. And thank God for that, because at least he had somewhere to go when he got kicked out of the house two weeks ago. And sure, he knew he wasn’t the only gay person in the world – he wasn’t that oblivious, but it felt like he was the only one here, in this town, and no one he knew was ever going to be okay with that. Case in point, his father. Yeah, stealing the car was stupid, crashing it even dumber, but it was trying to talk to his dad about being gay that turned out to be the real problem.
Because he might to do something to the baby.
He needed a job, soon, to help pay for stuff like rent and cable, but he had no idea where he could work. Johnny J said, “Take your time. Meanwhile you can do dishes and mow the lawn and all the house crap I hate doing.” He was the eldest of Daniel’s friends, nineteen, and had a job, an apartment, and a car.
“Earth to Danny,” Johnny J said now, flicking Daniel’s ear with brazen fingers. “Quit thinking, we’re here to have fun.” All five of them were crammed into Johnny’s bright blue Civic cruising Canal Park for chicks on a Saturday night. They parked in the public lot and tumbled out of the car, waiting to see who all showed up. Daniel grinned as he watched Eric scale a lamp post, showing off like a tall, skinny chimpanzee. “Whoo-oo-hoo-oo,” Eric called down. “Betcha can’t follow me, Danny-boy!”
Danny-boy. He hated the nickname, but they’d all caught onto it at once, and the more he told them to stop, the more they used it. Boys were assholes that way.
Daniel brushed his hair out of his eyes and stretched his arms up, grabbing the post just above his head. He was about to boost himself up when a violent shudder ran through him. From head to toe and back. Twice. His arms came down and he bent over to cradle himself, wracked with the uncomfortable sensation.
Eric called down, “I knew you couldn’t do it!”
“Smokin’ too much weed, Danny-boy,” jeered Marcus.
Thomas boosted Manny up the post toward Eric.
“Hey, shut up, guys, he looks sick.” Johnny J’s voice was just loud enough to be heard. “What’s the matter, Danny?”
Daniel straightened up. Shrugged. “Feel a little sick, that’s all.”
Johnny J seemed to look him over, skepticism showing in the set of his mouth. “Sure, Danny, sure. Maybe you better knock off the stuff, anyway, just in case. Got it?”
Daniel got it, but didn’t want to stop. He could give up drinking – he didn’t like the taste of beer anyway, which was all they ever had. But the weed, man, Daniel liked how it let him see the big picture, how everything that was muddled suddenly made sense.
When he was high, he was proud of who he was, proud of everything Daniel, and could see bits of himself in everybody else, too. Like how Johnny had a secret smile just for him, one that could be interpreted as indulgence for the youngest of them, but which Daniel knew, when he was high, meant he probably wouldn’t be rebuffed if he made a pass. He just hadn’t got up the nerve yet. When he was high, he could see in perfect clarity how to get the fuck out of this town, and how to make Johnny go with him. He never felt real fucked up, just above it all, like there was a line between himself and other people, and he was on the better side. The smarter side.
Alcohol, well, that was different. Daniel got messy when he drank, miserable, and sick, eventually puking his guts up and crying his eyes out. He pretended to drink, but he spilled or poured out most of his beers, paranoid he’d get shitty drunk and do something stupid like hit on Johnny J, or come out to the whole gang all at once. It would be a disaster if the girls quit coming around. Girls still rendered him awkward and speechless, and that gave the other guys a chance to swoop in with their suave tongues, ribald jokes, and busy hands.
He supposed he’d have to quit smoking up if that’s what Johnny J wanted, but man, since he’d been staying with Johnny J, he’d been smoking every day, and he liked it. He couldn’t find it in himself to care if he was making himself sick. Nobody else gave a shit.
Nobody else, like his dad.
It was that goddamn car. His dad won prizes for taking such good care of it, and no one gave prizes for taking care of a kid. His dad loved that car more than anything else. Daniel remembered the power he’d felt when he’d tromped on the accelerator of that car. And the rush when he lined the front end up with the tree trunk.
Manny tumbled, knocking Thomas to the ground, and Johnny J reached up to tap the light post just beneath Eric’s foot, and when he did that, his shirt rode up, exposing the delicate skin above the waistband of his jeans.
Daniel went hot and tried to fight a blush. Yeah, here he was again, pretending to be normal like all the other normal guys, picking up chicks, pointing out the cutest girls in the crowd… hiding, always hiding that it was Johnny who made his dick twitch. Terrified he’d have to actually hook up with a girl, and that he wouldn’t know what to do, and then everyone would know.
Johnny yanked Eric’s foot, pulling him down from the light post. “Hey!” Eric yelled, and they were off, leaving the car and pounding across the grass to the ship canal, laughing and chasing and shoving into each other like little kids.
Their happy shouts and unselfconscious joking made him miss life before his mom died.
His dad’s new wife, Autumn, was kind of a bitch behind everybody’s back, but only Daniel seemed to notice. She made rude sounds at night with his dad, and made rude sex jokes at the breakfast table, and was always ordering Daniel around. He hated her so much that when she announced she was pregnant, he seriously considered murdering her.
Then the kid was born, and that idiot named her Mystery, and never woke up at night to take care of her. And that baby was going to cry until someone took care of her, so Daniel figured out how to change diapers and mix formula. The baby was warm in his arms and kind of cute. One night she smiled at him, and something warm and mushy happened in his chest. The baby liked him. She liked him a lot. He called her Missy because Mystery was too stupid to be a real name. She was almost three years old now, and crazy about Daniel. Made him feel like a big shot.
The shiver sensation and the sick feeling in his stomach was some new weird thing, and he would have just blown it off, except it had been happening almost every night since he’d been kicked out of the house.
He didn’t think it was a sign of some disease or anything. At least, he hoped it wasn’t. Maybe that was a gay thing, too, feeling weird shivers around other guys. He didn’t know, and had no one to ask.