As always, my thanks to my beta reader and editor, Tinnean, for your work on this story and for helping me improve my ability and creativity. You’re the best!
I’m the first born, my brother, Dougie, being three and a half years my junior. I’m also the golden boy, the chosen one. Our father, making it abundantly clear I’m to be the standard bearer for all things righteous, is grooming me to walk in his footsteps as an ordained minister of God.
Up to this point in my life, a few days shy of my sixteenth birthday, I’ve taken my assigned role seriously. I always do good because it’s the right thing to do. I need no other motive.
For the last couple of years however, my goodness has been wearing thin; so thin that it seems my putrefaction cannot be hidden much longer. I’m unraveling. I need help but will my parents know how to fix it? For my part, I have to believe it can be fixed because with my current state of mind, alternative conclusions don’t bear contemplation.
The time has come. It is now Sunday dinner. The four of us, Mother, Father, Dougie, and myself are seated at the table. Father has just completed his usual blessing of the food. I glance nervously at Father and open my mouth. The words tumble out verging toward incoherency,
“Uh… listen, guys… I'm, uh… I think I might… Ummm… I think I'm gay.”
That word! I berate myself for expressing it like that. It cracks like thunder, rending the sanctified family atmosphere. As the sound fades, silence reigns, bringing a thunder of its own to our table. It only lasts a few seconds, the silence, but tension mounts exponentially as they tick by, each second comprising an eternity of its own.
Father chews methodically, his jaw muscles tense, the vein in his left temple pulsing, his eyes ablaze with an anger as yet unleashed. His hands, knuckles white, grip his steak knife in one tightly closed fist, his fork in the other.
Mother stares at me open-mouthed, her face a mask, her fork poised in midair. The bite it holds teeters briefly before plopping back to her plate, splattering meat sauce across her best blouse. It goes unnoticed.
The silence stretches, interminable, but I know it can't last. The air jolts around us as my little brother's voice ruptures the family paralysis.
“Oh, this oughta be good!” he scoffs loudly, voice laced with irony, “Austin, dude, you’ve crapped in the pool!”
At age twelve, Dougie has little respect for the religious dysfunction he says holds sway in our home. He seldom expresses that disdain openly but when he does, his remarks, though witty and poignant, are never welcomed. He’s so different from me it seems impossible we’re of the same blood. I’ve always resented his attitude.
Today however, with both of us aware beyond doubt that all manner of hell is going to break out in our home, everything changes. Our eyes meet and lock across the table. What I see there takes me by surprise. Gone is the vexing pre-teen bravado I’ve always ascribed to him. In its place is a level of concern and regard for which I’ve deemed him incapable. Time seems static as this new reality crashes into my consciousness.
Our gaze holds steady and I silently convey to him my gratitude. He acknowledges me with a wink, one corner of his mouth turning slightly upward in a wry smile. With humbling clarity I realize he’s right, he always has been, and in that moment I discover a profound affinity with him that heretofore I’ve never experienced. For the first time in a very long time he and I agree on something, and that something is the most important question of my life; what is my worth, outside the influence of my father’s authority? My little brother has changed my life. That change is at once frightening and exhilarating but I am ready, come what may.
Some would call what happened for me that day an epiphany, but when I look back from the distance of years, I call it beautiful. You see, on that pivotal day, in that one, brief, snapshot in time, I came to understand that having a little brother also means sharing a loving and treasured, lifelong bond.