“Are you gay, Pa?” Mani asked me one day when he was six years old.
I hesitated. I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t lie to Mani and would always try to be honest with him. But I’ve been hiding from this question for so long that neither answer feels true.
“I don’t know,” I said finally.
“Oh,” said Mani.
And he looked at me innocently with his big blue eyes so much like his uncle’s.
“I think it would be good if you were gay,” he said, “then Alan Sebastian can be your boyfriend and he can live here with us.”
I feel like I’ve tripped over and I’m falling.
I don’t get out of bed for two days. I feel like I’m operating my body via a faulty remote control which keeps dropping out and I can’t seem to stop crying.
I think of the adults in my life who had such strong opinions about what kind of person I was and I wonder why I still want so badly to prove them wrong.
But if I am gay. Or bisexual. Or some other kind of queer person… shouldn’t it be easy? Shouldn’t it be simpler to ask Alan Sebastian to come home? I’m 22 years old. Shouldn’t I have worked this all out by now? My mother always told me that if I really cared about something I wouldn’t lose it and if I really wanted something I would do it. And the fact that I keep losing Alan Sebastian seems like evidence that at some deep unconscious level I don’t really want him. And I think I’m most afraid of facing that.
I think that’s my deepest shame. And that’s my deepest fear. That I’ll discover there is a reason I have pushed him away for all these years.
“Do you want me to come up?” Alan Sebastian asks. He hasn’t visited since Christmas and I’m worried he’s been staying away on purpose, “I could probably take some unpaid time.”
But I don’t know if I can see him. If that will make the whole thing worse. So I tell him not to come.
“I’m disappointed I won’t see Mani for his birthday,” he says.
“Maybe he could come to you,” I suggest, “If I’m there to put him on the plane and you pick him up… he’s only little but it’s not too long a flight.”
I don’t want Mani to miss out on seeing Alan Sebastian.
I just want it not to feel so terrifyingly complicated. I want it to be simple and straightforward.
And later, when I meet her, Dierdre helps with that.
I’m going to visit my Uncle Alan Sebastian in Melbourne for my birthday. It’s not on my actual birthday but Pa says it’s for my birthday because going to visit Alan Sebastian in Melbourne is my birthday present.
I am very excited because I have missed Alan Sebastian a LOT and Pa has too. I haven’t seen him since Christmas which was when I was six. And I’m seven now. Because I had a birthday. But I’m going to Melbourne by myself and I’m a bit scared to be going without Pa and I know Pa has missed Alan Sebastian too and I think he should come too. I don’t mind sharing my birthday present with him. His birthday is only a few days after mine! But he says no and I go by myself but it’s okay because Pa takes me all the way to the airport and there is a lady there who says she will look after me and she pins a special tag to my jacket which says UM.
Alan Sebastian picks me up from the airport. And he picks me up! He is very strong.
I ask him if he is stronger than Pa.
He says “Probably. I lift a lot of heavy weights at the gym.”
Alan Sebastian takes me to his house and I meet Gina. Gina lives with Alan Sebastian but they are not a family together they are just friends. There is another lady there called Julia. Gina tells me that Julia is her girlfriend. But Julia does not live with her and Alan Sebastian. I like Gina and I like Julia. I do not like either of them as much as I like Alan Sebastian.
I did not know that adults could be boyfriends or girlfriends and not live together! But that makes sense because Alan Sebastian doesn’t live with Pa either.
I am very very tired after my trip and Alan Sebastian says I should have a nap in his bed. He is going to sleep on the ‘sofa-bed’ which is a couch which turns into a bed if you unfold it. I want to sleep on the couch bed but Alan Sebastian says I need to sleep in his room because the other people in the house will probably want to stay up later than me.
“I’m seven now. I am allowed to stay up until eight o’clock on the weekend! That’s very late.” I tell Alan Sebastian. He says I’m not allowed to sleep on the couch but he promises to show me how it turns into a bed later after dinner.
I lie down in Alan Sebastian’s bed. It smells different from my bed and from Pa’s bed. The sheets feel funny and stiff because they have just been washed. I don’t think I will be able to go to sleep because I can hear a lot of noise outside the window. At home it is very quiet.
I do fall asleep though and when I wake up I am scared and don’t know where I am until I remember that I am in Alan Sebastian’s room at Alan Sebastian’s house and I get up and go and find him.
He is in the kitchen and there is a man with him and Alan Sebastian says “I told you my nephew was coming to stay. Just leave before he wakes up.”
That’s me. I’m his nephew.
Then the other man kisses Alan Sebastian right on the mouth and I do not like it and I do not think Pa would like it at all either.
“Hey! What are you doing?” I shout at them.
“Mani! You’re awake,” says Alan Sebastian like he wasn’t just kissing someone who isn’t even Pa.
“I’ll leave that with you I guess,” says the man and he walks away.
“Goodbye Jeremy,” says Alan Sebastian. I do not like Jeremy.
“I do not like Jeremy,” I say.
“Okay,” says Alan Sebastian, “You do not have to see him again. I have told him I am busy hanging out with you for the whole weekend and you can have me all to yourself.”
I still don’t like Jeremy and I don’t like that he kissed Alan Sebastian. It makes me feel all mixed up and sad inside and I start to cry.
“I don’t like Jeremy and I don’t like that he kissed you.” I tell him.
“Do you want to tell me why it upsets you so much?” he asks me.
“I’ve never seen you kiss anyone that isn’t Pa before,” I say.
“… I didn’t know you had seen me kiss Pa…” he says. But I have.
“Does Pa know about Jeremy? I don’t think he would like it. Do I have to keep it a secret?” I am worried. I do not want to keep a secret from Pa but I don’t want to tell him something that will make him sad.
“It’s not a secret!” says Alan Sebastian, “I know Pa would never want you to keep a secret from him. Okay?”
But I am still worried that Pa will be upset.
“Is Jeremy your boyfriend?” I ask him.
“No,” he says.
“Good,” I say. “I know you are not supposed to have more than one boyfriend at a time.”
“Okay,” says Alan Sebastian.
“I know that sometimes people have boyfriends and sometimes they have girlfriends. And I know that you are not supposed to have two boyfriends or girlfriends at once. But can you have one boyfriend and one girlfriend at once?” I ask Alan Sebastian.
“I think it’s okay to have more than one boyfriend or girlfriend if everyone knows about it and agrees it’s okay,” says Alan Sebastian, “I don’t think it matters if they are both boyfriends or girlfriends or if they are different.”
“Do you have more than one boyfriend?” I ask Alan Sebastian, worried. I know that he doesn’t have any girlfriends because Alan Sebastian is gay which means he likes boys. I know that girls can be gay too and that means they like girls. I do not know if that is different or the same as being a lesbian. Also sometimes people can be bisexual which means they like both and I think that one sounds like it would be the best but I am not sure if you are allowed to choose. Pa says it’s okay not to know because I am only seven and I have plenty of time to figure it out.
“I have zero boyfriends,” says Alan Sebastian. That makes me angry because it is not true and it is not nice to lie about things.
“That is not true,” I say. “It is not nice to lie about things.”
Alan Sebastian does not say anything about that but I am getting hungry so I ask him if we can have dinner and he says we can and he shows me a LOT of takeaway menus. We do not have this many takeaway options in Havenport. I think I would like to stay for longer so we can try all of them but Alan Sebastian says I still have to go home on Sunday.
Pa calls me later on Alan Sebastian’s phone.
“Alan Sebastian told me you were upset because you saw him kissing someone and he thinks you were worried I would be upset by that. I don’t know why you would think that!” he says. But he does not sound happy and I don’t think he is.
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