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|Have you ever had that time in your life when you were knowingly heading into the unknown, that place of uncertainty so terrifying that you were unsure of how it was going to turn out? It consumed every part of you, every thought, every feeling, that you were almost paralyzed, but you somehow ventured there nonetheless. That was how I felt about coming out to my mom.
Mind you, it wasn’t like I didn’t want to tell her the truth – I did – but it was really the fear of what she would say or do when I finally told her. Her father had been a strict Lutheran minister back in Minnesota, so I knew first-hand how conservative our family was. I mean, my grandfather nearly flipped when my mom got engaged to my dad, a Catholic. What would she say about this? Would she accept my homosexuality and my love for JP? Would she be able to understand that I couldn’t possibly imagine being with anyone else but him? Would this change her view of him as a person?
That’s why when I uttered those two small words that morning, my whole world came to a sudden and staggering halt, waiting for the response that would surely change my life. There was no way I could take back what I said – it was already out there.
My mom looked at me calmly for a long, agonizing moment. It was probably only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. In her eyes, I swore I saw the look of pain a mother feels when her child disappoints her and my mind raced. Shit, I thought to myself, this is it. I braced myself for what was to come next. Every nightmare passed through my head – I was never going to be allowed to see JP again, I was going to be sent to some kind of boarding school or something. This was not going to be pretty. But then, something happened that I could have never predicted. She smiled.
I let my mouth slip open in utter shock. What did this mean? None of my fears had ever expected this reaction; it only made me even more horrified. I glanced over at JP who I could tell was doing his best to stay as stoic as his usual self.
“I was wondering when you were going to tell me,” my mom finally said gently.
“What?” I responded, more instinctively than consciously. She smiled again and looked at me with the most caring eyes I’m sure she could manage. I knew this was as hard for her as it was for me.
“I’ve known for a long time,” she continued. “I knew ever since that first night you brought JP home for dinner that you two were in love.”
“You did?” I was dazed.
My mom nodded. “It was the way you looked at each other.” Then, she briefly looked away, as if embarrassed. “And it only was confirmed when I walked in on the two of you one morning” – she nervously cleared her throat – “cuddling in Matthew’s bed.”
JP shifted uneasily in his seat. Oh, fuck! I shut my eyes in humiliation. An extremely awkward pause followed. I searched frantically for what to say next.
“So…you’re ok with it?” I asked hopefully.
“No,” she answered flatly, but with a tinge of regret in her voice. I felt my heart collapse. Then, she raised her eyes to me, the most sincere eyes I had ever seen coming from my mom. “But…” she started, “I don’t know how to say this.”
Pressing her fingers against her forehead, she let out a sigh. There was nothing I could think of to help her, half expecting her to burst into tears out of disappointment in me. Instead, she looked up at JP with her strong eyes. His, however, were almost panicky, unsure of how to take in what he was seeing and hearing.
“JP,” she tried again, “you are the nicest, most mature and most caring young man I have ever had the privilege to meet. I can completely see why my son has fallen in love with you.” She paused, slowly turning toward me. “And that’s why I have no choice but to accept this.”
Oh, my God, I thought to myself. She couldn’t possible be saying what I thought she was saying. I looked at her questioningly.
“Matthew,” she went on, “when you were born, your father and I had the greatest of expectations for you. We wanted you to grow up to be strong, healthy, successful and, most of all, happy. We both promised to try our hardest to raise you the best we could.” Oh shit, here it comes, I thought. This is the part where she starts blaming herself. I closed my eyes again, not wanting to witness my mom falling apart.
“Meeting JP was the best thing that has ever happened to you,” she said softly.
Huh? I immediately darted back at her with surprise and relief.
“You have become stronger and happier since you met him,” she continued, “and that is the best thing that your dad and I could have ever hoped for. I don’t necessarily agree with or understand your being gay, but I recognize the love you boys have for each other. And I do know that the worst thing I could ever do to you, Matthew, is to tear you apart from him and make you unhappy.”
My mouth dropped open and I felt like I was about to cry. I never for a moment believed that my mom would have this reaction. I couldn’t have possibly asked for better; I didn’t know what to say. She leaned forward and lowered her voice to a near-whisper.
“And I promise you that I will try my hardest to accept this,” she said, a sudden waver entering her tone which so far had been faultless. “I love you, no matter what – you know that.” A tear escaped from her eye and began rolling down her cheek. She immediately raised her hand up to her face in a vague attempt to hide it.
I also fought back a storm of tears that were welling up in my eyes. I opened my mouth to speak, but the lump in my throat kept any sound from getting out; my lower lip just quivered uncontrollably.
“Thank you, Mrs. Andersson,” I heard JP softly say, knowing that I was temporarily frozen with emotion. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my boyfriend turn his head toward me, a deep look of concern on his face. Damn, I loved him so much! He was so good to me!
“Your welcome, JP,” my mom responded, smiling slightly at him. She looked back at me, still silent, and reached out her hand to my arm. Her touch was warm and almost comforting.
“Thanks,” I croaked, barely able to get the word out of my throat. I kept looking down at the table, avoiding my mom’s eyes, afraid that I would lose it if I didn’t.
“Well,” she sighed, standing up, “why don’t you two go upstairs and get dressed and I’ll finish the dishes here.” Knowing that I desperately needed some time to think, it was the only thing she could have suggested at the moment. JP helped me out of the chair and guided me up to my bedroom.
Once my door was closed behind us, I burst into tears. JP immediately took me in his arms, offering his shoulder for me to bury my face into. It felt so good to just let loose right there with my boyfriend protecting me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from him.
“It’s alright,” he comforted me, rubbing my back with his strong hands. “Just let it out.” I had the feeling that he was almost as overwhelmed as I was, but he knew he needed to stay strong for my sake…and it was working. My quiet sobs began to slow and I looked up into JP’s eyes, my face still wet from crying.
“I am in such awe of you,” he whispered to me, taking my head in his hands. “I can only imagine how much courage that took.”
“It’s because of you,” I sniffed, my voice cracking like mad. JP grinned.
“Matt, you did most of it yourself; you know that,” he assured me.
“No,” I said, shaking my head and sitting down on the bed, “my mom only reacted that way because she loves you.” JP sighed as he sat next to me. “She thinks you’re amazing. She wouldn’t have said those things if you hadn’t been there.” I was almost to the point of tears again. “What I’m trying to say is…you’re too perfect. I don’t deserve you.”
He bit his lip and kneeled down in front of me. “Matt, listen to me,” he said firmly. “She said those things because she thinks you are amazing.”
“JP,” I groaned, rolling my head away from him. Surely he was just saying that to make me feel better.
“No, Matt, wait,” he protested, directing my attention back down at his eyes again. “Your mom said it herself – she loves you, no matter what. Even if I weren’t there, she would still feel the same way.” I looked at my boyfriend like I didn’t believe him…and I didn’t.
“Come on, look,” he said, pulling me up and bringing me in front of the bedroom mirror. “Look in the mirror,” he instructed me. “What do you see?”
“Me standing next to the most perfect body in the world,” I answered stubbornly.
JP rolled his eyes. “Will you stop looking at me for once, and look at yourself?” He put his hands on my shoulders and stood behind me. God, I looked like crap; my eyes were all puffy from crying. “You have a killer body, you’re gorgeous and you have the most stunning eyes anyone could ask for.”
I blinked and looked again. In a way, he was right. The reflection that I saw staring back at me was one that I could have only dreamed of a year ago. I was in the best shape of my life, my muscles were well defined and I looked like a top athlete. I may not have been the Adonis that my boyfriend was, but I still looked pretty good. JP wrapped his arms around my chest and placed his chin on my shoulder.
“But best of all,” he continued, “you’re a strong person on the inside. You have a huge heart and you are so caring to those around you. But that’s something you’ve always had.” His voice was almost down to a whisper now. “Why do you think I fell in love with you?”
Now I understood what he was trying to tell me. While my mom struggled with my homosexuality, she still loved me for who I was and always would. But there was something else; most importantly of all, she recognized my love for my boyfriend as one that was real. She was willing to put aside her prejudices for our sake, knowing that we would be happier if she did. In a way, it was truly brave and mature of her, and I loved her even more for it. Somehow that morning, I was closer than I had ever been to my mom in a long time, and definitely since before the divorce.
It took the rest of the morning, but JP and I soon returned to our normal routine. I went over to his house for our daily workout and then we went running in a nearby park. The whole world felt different now that I had come out to my mom. She may only have been one person, but somehow, the weight on my shoulders was far easier to carry. Not only that, but it gave me another person to talk to. Although it would be awkward at first, eventually I knew that she would always be there for me.
Six weeks later, in the muggy heat of mid-August, JP and I had to cut our workouts short for a week. My boyfriend had to be on hand at school for the 1st Annual Central High School Wrestling Camp, teaching a group of young wrestlers the basics of the sport. Therefore, we could only do a light lifting session in the evening.
The event had actually been JP’s idea and Coach Graves, realizing the impact this sort of thing could have on future team rosters, enthusiastically agreed. So, along with a few other experienced teammates, he organized a one-week camp for middle school kids. Only about a dozen interested boys were allowed to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis, primarily because the coach wanted the camp to start out small. But if it went well, there were plans to possibly expand the camp to a whole month and add more kids, including grade school.
I was so proud of JP to take on such a huge task, but this was his element. He loved teaching others what he did best and he was a natural with the kids. Of course, it helped that they looked up to him like crazy, their eyes glued to every move he demonstrated. And it was no surprise that he was incredibly patient with them, always encouraging them to do better and congratulating them when they succeeded.
On the last day of the camp, Chrissy and I popped into the gym to see how it was going. Her 12-year-old brother Nick had been one of the first to sign up and she eagerly reported to me that he was loving the experience. Every night, he wouldn’t stop talking about the camp and his idol, JP. He even tried to persuade his big sister to wrestle with him, so he could practice his newly-learned moves at home.
I had asked JP how Nick was doing and he told me that he was probably one of the best kids there. “He could be a serious wrestler one day,” he commented. He explained to me how Nick seemed to have the natural skills to be a great athlete: quickness, agility and most of all, determination.
The final session was just wrapping up as we entered the gym. Chrissy instantly pointed out her brother who was in the middle of a scrimmage match with another camper, reffed by one of the high school wrestlers. JP, himself, was walking around supervising. I sighed inwardly as I saw him. The last six weeks of summer were beyond kind to my boyfriend. Not only did he pack on almost another 20 pounds of muscle, tipping the scales at an irresistible 193 pounds, but his skin was now a golden tan that made the sweat glisten angelically off his body. And that body filled the wrestling camp staff shirt to its max, his round arms and shoulders bulging out of the sleeves, his huge chest pushing at the front. His light brown hair, lightened to a dirty blond from the sun, was growing back now and he was planning to let it grow out. “God,” Chrissy remarked breathlessly, “that boy is so damn hot.”
I looked over at the girl and smiled as her eyes went into a daze. This was the power JP had on the people around him – a power that kept getting stronger as he got more beautiful. He constantly attracted attention wherever he went, but he took it all in his usual modest stride, his personality having never changed a bit.
JP stopped as he came to Nick’s dual. Even for a novice, Chrissy’s brother looked like he knew what he was doing. He quickly pinned the other boy and jumped up in excitement as the whistle was blown. He really did love the activity. His opponent, however, remained sitting on the floor, looking far from thrilled. After patting Nick on the back for his good work, JP immediately went over to the other kid and squatted down next to him. I couldn’t tell what he said, but whatever it was, his words made the boy smile and he gave JP a high-five before being helped up. That’s my boyfriend, I thought to myself, grinning. He always knew the right things to say.
Coach Graves made a few closing comments, thanking all the wrestlers for their hard work and dedication that made the camp successful. As he spoke, he looked over at JP, beaming with pride. The young superjock blushed and looked down at his feet. I smiled with pride. When the coach dismissed everyone for the last time, Chrissy and I headed over to JP, who was standing with a teammate of his, going through a checklist of things that still needed to get done before they could leave.
“You have quite an operation going on here,” I said, sounding as cheesy as I knew I would.
JP looked up and grinned brightly. “Hey, what’s up Matt? Nice of you to stop by.” He glanced over at Chrissy, who was still all flustered. “How are you, Chrissy?”
“Good,” she muttered.
“You’re Chrissy Angelakis, right?” the other wrestler asked her. She nodded, finally breaking out of her trance. “Hi, I’m Danny Trang.” He outstretched his hand to hers and she took it.
I blinked. Oh my God, I barely recognized him. Danny had wrestled the same weight class – 103 pounds – as JP his freshman year and although he was nowhere near JP’s size, Danny had grown up considerably in the last two years. He was still rather thin and wiry, but he was much taller and the muscles in his neck and traps were thick and strong. And his forearms rippled as he shook Chrissy’s hand.
“Your brother Nick is really promising,” he went on. “He’ll be a great asset to this team in a few years.”
“Thanks,” she responded quietly.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, Danny,” I interjected. “Looking to move up a few weight classes this season?”
“Oh, yeah,” he beamed coolly. “145’s all mine. I finally hit that growth spurt.”
“Yeah,” JP smiled. “Don’t be fooled by his size, he’s as strong as a bull.”
Danny laughed as he slapped my boyfriend on the back. “Dude, I’m nothing compared to you, Mr. I-can-bench-400-pounds-no-sweat.”
“It’s 390, actually,” JP humbly corrected, “and it was a one-rep max.”
“Did you see me, Chrissy? Did you see me?” a squeaky voice chirped from behind us. We turned around to see Nick running toward us, his short, lanky body bounding across the gym floor. He threw his arms around his sister with such enthusiasm that it almost knocked her over. This was really the first time I had ever met him in person and he was adorable. His bright, white smile contrasted sharply against his darkly tanned skin. And his cheeks held the cutest dimples.
“Eww, don’t hug me!” she exclaimed. “You’re all sweaty!”
“Can I sign up for next year?” he continued, talking so fast, he was barely comprehensible. “Can I? Can I?”
“You’ll have to talk to mom and dad first, Nick,” she answered, smiling.
“Hi, I’m Nick,” he turned to me without so much as taking a breath. Man, this kid was a bundle of energy. “You must be that Matt Andersson guy Chrissy keeps talking about.”
I looked up at Chrissy and grinned. She bit her lip. “Uh, yeah, I am.”
“Nice to meet you,” he rushed before turning back to his sister. “I wanna go home and try my new moves.”
“Ok, ok,” Chrissy pleaded, rolling her eyes in a way that made us laugh. “Wait for me, will you? I’ll see you guys later,” she hurriedly waved at JP and Danny. Then, she looked coyly over at me. “Bye, Matt,” she giggled. JP bit his lip to keep from smirking out loud.
“Damn, JP,” Danny said almost under his breath once the girl was away. “You never told me Nick’s sister was hot.”
“Well,” JP stammered, “you never asked.”
“She so obviously wants you, Matt,” he remarked, shaking his head. “Did you see how she smiled at you?”
I nodded, feeling my face turn red. Danny may have thought I was lucky, but on the inside, I was worried. How could I tell Chrissy that although she was an amazing girl, I really wasn’t attracted to her? But even more troubling, how could she know that I was already involved with the most popular guy of Central High School, the god that everyone looked up to and admired? And that’s when it hit me for the first time, the high stakes of this charade we played. It was horrible to think about, but it was sadly true.
If it ever got out that JP was gay, his whole world would come crashing down.
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