I walked through the screen door and by instinct I searched for a copper basin of holy water to genuflect. My grandparents’ house can easily be mistaken for the gift shop at St. Peter’s pearly gates.
Every space in the house was occupied by a ceramic replica of a saint or a life size crucifix. Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph; all the angels and saints glared down at me as I walked through the holy halls.
A Sunday morning after church at the Gonzales household was like experiencing the last ten minutes of an Indiana Jones movie. As a child, I always had the hunch that a holy toothbrush or some sort of relic with divine powers resided within the depths of their home. Most likely guarded by some sort of troll, demon or pissed off dead ancestor of mine.
Their walls are decorated with those holographic images of Jesus being stabbed, then dying, stabbed again, then dying….depending on which eye you had open. I’d like to give Catholicism full credit for my obsession with gladiator movies, Harry Potter, and prostitution. They really set the cornerstone for today’s pop culture.
For the Gonzales’, the turn of the century was when the years switched from B.C. to A.D. and that’s the timeframe their mindset is still in. Mass is held daily in the living room (twice on Sundays) and any call to their landline will be answered with a jubilant, “Praise the Lord!” They can relate any topic to a passage in the New Testament, which always left me with my weekly dose of Catholic shame that quickly dissolved into gratitude towards my mother for eventually transferring me to public school.
I walked to the kitchen where my father and grandparents were waiting for me at the kitchen table like the Spanish Inquisition. Francis welcomed me with the same loud screech that could shatter a wine glass. “HI MIJJOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Her face would compress into only lips, eyes, and teeth to greet me. I always thought that the Gonzales’ closely resembled premature chimpanzees when they were excited. That and the excess amount of hair that covered their bodies, minus their craniums. Any hair they lose on their head would migrate south to rest on their backs. I thank God every day that I don’t share any hereditary traits WHATSOEVER with this family. I’ve got a full head of hair and I don’t throw judgment or feces at anyone when I’m angry. This is what gives me faith in Immaculate Conception.
Like their chapel/home, my grandparents never altered their appearance. Conrad Sr. always wore a white t-shirt with dress slacks like he was running late for church (which I’m sure was a recurring thought in his head) and Francis was always dressed like she shared a wardrobe with Mother Teresa.
I refer to my grandparents by their first names to make up for the fact that they always forgot mine. “Hey Mijo, still playing football?” My grandfather would ask me this question every time I encountered him. “No, not this year. Just trying to concentrate on school right now.” “Big guy”,“mijo” and “there he is” were the only terms he used to acknowledge my presence. For a good portion of my life (present day included) I was always skeptical if he even knew my birth name.
Perhaps he’d remember my name if it was 2003 because that was the first and only year that I ever played football. If I had been the first-born son of my father, I’m sure Conrad Sr. would have no problem recalling my name, but I’m more than thankful that the “holy trinity of Conrads” was completed before my conception. It was my poor half-brother who was granted that privilege. I praise the Lord and give thanks for my father’s previous marriages.
I never really planned on telling my father’s family that I was gay, but at the time we were in a dark age in American history known as “The Bush Administration.” This was before we had Modern Family or black presidents so there wasn’t any real beacon of hope for minorities. You couldn’t serve in the military if you were gay, yet proper grammar and spelling wasn’t required to sit down in the oval office.
Sitting nervously in the kitchen, I fathomed what their reaction would be. When my brother was 12, he was given a skateboard with a flaming skull on its face for Christmas. That evening, Francis built an altar in the backyard and set fire to it. I wondered what she’d do to a homo such as myself. I probably wasn’t worthy of a crucifixion, so she’d probably just hose me down in holy water to make me sizzle and melt into a puddle of strawberry flavored KY and glitter.
“So I’m not sure how you guys are gonna take this, so I’ll just go ahead and say it.”
“It’s ok mijo, the Holy Spirit will speak for you.”
A funny thought crossed my mind as I imagined an angelic voice with a lisp whispering into my ear. “I’m gay.” Silence. Maybe I didn’t say it loud enough…I cleared my throat and repeated, “I’m gay.”
My father broke the silence, “You’re what?”
In an act of panic and desperation, I assumed there was only one way to lighten the mood…Jazz hands. With open hands, flailing fingers, a hint of Rene Zellwegger from “CHICAGO” and whatever dignity I had left, I sung, “I’M GAY”.
The look on my father’s face wasn’t comfort. More like a man that was making sense of all those times his son reenacted the dance routines in “Bring It On.” The spirit fingers were back and here to stay.
“Are you trying to tell me you’re a homosexual?”
I guess third time’s a charm with these people. I wondered how many times Jesus had to say, “I’m the son of God!” and if he utilized jazz hands as well.
“Well yeah…that’s another way to put it. There can be hurtful names and I’d really appreciate you not using-“
“YOU’RE A FAGGOT?!” Francis screamed.
“Yup, that’s a perfect example!”
“This is your mother’s fault.” My father was convinced.
“She has you on the gay agenda MIJO!” Francis shrieked.
I took a moment to imagine the outline of the “gay agenda”. Maybe a morning run with Richard Simmons, a light brunch with the cast of The View followed by pilates with Liza Minnelli. Although all this sounded like fun, I’m pretty sure jazzercise, evening show tunes, and cosmopolitans were never activities for the pre-school my mother enrolled me in.
Before I could even question if this “gay agenda” involved tea and biscuits with Elton John, Francis was frantically searching for the phone, which I could only assume had the archdiocese on speed dial.
I’m sure my grandfather was still trying to figure out what day it was so I didn’t concern myself with his reaction. It was my father’s silent stare I was having a difficult time assessing. Didn’t he have any idea? For my last birthday, I asked for five tickets to see Mamma Mia! on stage…and then in the movie theater. There was that time I asked if he could take me to see a mariachi performance instead of the Spurs play… I mean, basketball players or mariachi’s. It was a win-win situation, but compared to loose fitting basketball shorts and tight mariachi charro pants; my mind was made up.
And who could forget the time he caught Jacob and I shacking it up in a tent at scout camp together? I tried to explain to my father that Jacob and I were simply practicing for our life saving merit badge, but what I couldn’t explain was why we weren’t practicing in the pool…and why we had no clothes on…and if we were indeed practicing for a lifesaving merit badge, why the hell was he tied up?
There was a slight depressing moment when my dad stared at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. I wanted to reach out to him, tell him I was still the same son and nothing was different (minus the sex with boys thing) but Francis crashed this moment when she started dousing me with holy water.
“FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSERS AND DELIVER US FROM EVIL!”
That was the last straw and I stormed out, never looking back.
I sat in my car trying to imagine what those twelve years of Catholic school did to me. We were taught to repent or we’re going to hell, go to church every Sunday or go to hell, put money in the basket or go to hell and, for anyone who was an altar server, how to keep a secret. Former classmates of mine graduated Catholic school wearing their Jesus and scriptures on their sleeves while I had only my guilt and an early craving for red wine.
I started to feel a burning resentment towards people. My father’s close-minded hypocritical family. The judgmental Catholics who don’t practice what they preach. Glenn Beck. The world. Then I took a second to ask myself the question I always sneered at: What Would Jesus Do? He healed the sick. Cared for the needy. He was a momma’s boy. He hung out with twelve random dudes and a prostitute. The heathens, the outcasts, the crazies. My kind of crowd. He wanted to make sure everyone was loved and had enough booze and bread so they could sit around, drink, talk, and have a good time. He was a merlot drinking zombie with super powers who provided universal health care. One more time, I asked myself, if Jesus were here, what would he do? Jesus would tell me to love myself, love those who don’t love you back, be thankful for what you have, and not to worry if we ran out of wine.
Adrian is a San Antonio-grown/Chicago-based writer who’s known for his signature margarita recipe and enthusiastic participation in Sunday morning Zumba classes.