Infantile whimpers had always unnerved him, even now that he had two boys of his own. Carlos never made a conscious choice to be a father, or a husband, or the kind of man he said he was or acted impeccably as.
“Hi, daddy,” Dominico said as he swung the rear door open flooding the car with a cacophony of youth, drowning out the drowsy, vocal fry of early afternoon NPR news.
“Sup, dad,” Carlitos said, heaving breath back into his sweaty body, having sprinted to the car from God-knows-where. He was the oldest, named after Carlos himself just like he was after his father.
“How was school?” Carlos asked, not because he really wanted to know— he could care less about the inane goings-on in the life of two prepubescent grade-schoolers; elementary and middle school—but given that he was playing the role of father as he was the role of husband to his wife Maria Fernanda, he needed to ask.
“We got a lot of homework today,” said Dom.
“Suck my dick, bitch,” Carlitos yelled out the window at a group of boys walking away from the school’s front gate. He burst into laughter as he settled back in the passenger side seat. The group of boys exploded into a laugh track of hoots and gibbers.
Once his son’s hysterical laugh dwindled to a satisfying, prolonged sigh, Carlos felt that nagging inner voice that cried at him whenever filial care and responsibility was required. It told him to reprimand his son, but, What the fuck do I know about sucking dick? he thought.
Aside from the “rights-and-wrongs” that every father needed to impart on his children, being Mexican, he also needed to pass on to his sons the rules and stipulations on how to be a man. What the fuck do I know about being a man? Carlos asked himself.
Carlos was reluctant to teach his sons anything— regarding life or manhood— because of the repercussions these “lessons” would ultimately have on their lives. Looking over at the seat Carlitos was sitting on, his wife’s seat, Carlos remembered the last time he had gotten his dick sucked on that very seat, but not by its owner. Back when his email used to be firstname.lastname@example.org and prepared meals primarily with ghee and coconut milk. How his dad’s ultra-macho, Übermensch speeches and close-fisted beatings did nothing to dull the raw desire he felt for his older cousin Heriberto after the night they slept together in a car. What the fuck did that cheating bastard know? Carlos thought, wiping away a tear.
“Are you okay, daddy?” his younger son Dom, sometimes going by Dommie, asked. He was always looking at Carlos; mimicking even the way he laughed. He was his favorite person. It annoyed the living fuck out of Carlos. Who the fuck am I to have anyone want to be like me? was what he really wanted to tell his son.
“No,” Carlos replied, looking at his son’s concerned eyes— his eyes— in the rearview mirror. “I’m just wiping some dust from my eye, buddy. Don’t worry.”
Carlos had his mother Concha’s eyes and her taste in men; guys who didn’t love you because they didn’t even love themselves. They loved no one and hated the world. Brash, passionate men that didn’t give a damn about you, but that knew how to love with their soul. That’s why you can’t stop loving them, even after they leave, Concha used to complain; your bed or this godforsaken earth. Carlos also inherited from his mother the ability to lie to himself and hold true to the deception no matter how miserable the outcome made him. He lied to everyone; about wanting a big family, and falling in love with the woman who he would eventually marry, Maria Fernanda. But mostly, he lied to himself about how much he loved Heriberto, his second cousin. His affection for Heriberto grew commensurate to their maturing bodies. They would go years without seeing each other, and when they finally did, it was as if they had never lost communication.
“Look at those two,” Papa Carlos would tell his cousin Lencho. “Those two love each other like brothers.” Butt-brothers.
Carlos was driving his family to meet Heriberto. They had lost touch with one another for over 14 years. The last time he saw Heriberto, they were both thirty, single, and writhing in forbidden urges.
The car ride was silent at first. Carlos used this time to analyze every single detail in Heribertos’s car that was within his field of vision. The first thought that came to mind was that the car was spotless. The smoky scent of leather made it feel as if he had just rolled it out of the dealership. The rug under his feet was slick, absent of any grit to cut the friction of his leather-soled boots. The inner-door didn’t contain wayward pennies or dimes rattling around. There weren’t any crushed, half-drunk plastic bottles rolling around underneath his seats. The interior smelled of Heriberto; not quite cologne or car-freshener, but also of his sweat and minty breath. It was a quality that Carlos had noticed of Heriberto upon first meeting him since he had become an adult. His presence simply took ownership of whatever place he inhabited. His locker at the gym smelled that way as well. While other lockers smelled of old ass boiled in armpit sweat, served with a side of farts and smegma, Heriberto’s smelled of freshly-bathed skin; that smell soap releases when it’s first wet by hot, slightly scalding water, how it fizzes and bubbles, and melts into a white, smooth lather. Carlos could still see this lather reservoir in Heriberto’s belly button— and innie that he wanted to dip the tip of his longest finger into— and trapped in his nicely trimmed and landscaped pubic hair. It continued to waterfall down his pubic bone, framed beautifully by his protruding hip bones and perfectly-defined obliques. The rush of water pushed the foam past his pubic bone, on and around his flaccid, yet large penis, slowly dripping off his smoothly-shaved, puckered testicles.
It was at that moment that Carlos knew that he really liked Heriberto. Mainly because he had never thought of someone’s body as much and because it felt wrong. While watching porn, the male performers were as attractive to him as the female. He often imagined the man’s chiseled body slamming hard against the woman’s round and fleshy bubble butt doing the same to him. Carlos wanted to search man-on-man porn, but he was too afraid of liking it more than straight porn. The same went for tasting his own semen. What if I like it so much that I become addicted to it? he wondered. The problem wasn’t that he had sexual feelings for another man, or that the man was his cousin. The main issue was that Carlos felt that he couldn’t feel good about enjoying anything that felt good in life. According to his parents, everything in life was either vanity or a sin. That’s why most of the things Carlos did were done so behind everyone’s back, and if he could do them behind his own— as a safeguard to not feel guilt or remorse— then he would.
Carlos could hear his dad’s voice saying, Carlos, cabron. You better not be thinking of what you’re thinking. Remember that time I ripped off a branch from out pomegranate tree and beat the shit out of you and made you sleep outside naked? That time I found you and Heriberto acting like fags. Being gay is a sin. It’s being less of a man. Everyone you know will stop loving you for thinking and feeling this way. So, just stop.
“How long have you had this car for?” Carlos asked.
“This old rust bucket?” Heriberto replied. “Uh, I don’t know. For about two years.”
“Really? I’m impressed.” Heriberto had a lust for fast cars, and his 2004 Mustang GT, in lipstick red, was beginning to close off the world it was speeding on. The faster Heriberto drove, the more distant Carlos felt from the world within his own head tying him down, making his own body and soul accessible to him once more.
“Really? Why’s that?”
“I don’t know.” The more comfortable that Carlos got, the wider the spread of his legs became. The closer his left knee got to the center console, the more separated Heriberto’s vision became, as if each of his eyeballs operated independently of the other, playing tug of war with his eye sockets; splitting their focus between the harsh, bumpy road and Carlos’s tanned, hairy legs. “Most people would’ve trashed their cars by now, I guess.” Carlos let out a nervous laugh.
“Well, you know me. I like everything to be in order. I hate messes.” The truth was that Carlos didn’t really know him. The reason he had decided to accompany his cousin to the gym was to prove, once and for all, whether either of them felt anything for one another. Whether pursuing this crazy feeling he felt deep in his guts was worth ruining his whole life for. “Speaking of which, would you mind handing me something from the glove compartment?”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Oh, it’s just my cologne.” Carlos leaned forward and pushed the button on the center of the compartment and it popped the lid open. He couldn’t help but take a quick look around at its contents. The giant box of Magnum condoms sparked his interest immediately. A pack of 36. Why would he need so many? Carlos wondered. How much tail is this guy getting?
“Here you go,” Carlos said as he closed the compartment and handed the half-empty cologne bottle to Heriberto.
“Thanks, man.” Heriberto spritzed a pump on each side of his neck, one on his chest, reaching under his shirt, and the last in his pubic area, lifting the elastic band of his track pants. “You never know when someone might pay a visit downstairs, am I right?”
Heriberto noticed that Carlos was looking into the tent pitched as if looking for boy scouts.
“I go commando after I shower,” Heriberto said, smacking the waistband against his abs.
“Oh, that’s cool,” Carlos said, fumbling his gym bag over his lap, trying to conceal from Heriberto that he too was pitching a tent.
On the ride home, Dom asked if Heriberto was gay. Maria Fernanda chuckled uncontrollably. The car suddenly broke. So hard that both of the brothers’ heads slammed against their parents’ headrests.
“What did you say?” Carlos asked lasering his dark-brown, almost black, eyes into his son’s; their intensity only augmented by the rearview mirror delivering them. Carlos’s wife stopped laughing. “Dominico. I asked you a question.” Carlos turned his head 180 degrees and around the driver’s side headrest as if it were slithering off his shoulders. Dom froze, tranquilized by the venom injected in him by his dad’s stare.
“Carlos, just stop it already,” Maria Fernanda said. “It’s okay, mijo. Just answer your daddy’s question.” She said so with the intension to fuel her husband’s rage rather than defuse it.
Dom felt like he had lost his ability to speak. He wanted to apologize, which is what he thought his dad wanted. Carlos always wanted to be right; to be the strongest, the smartest, and the kindest, even if it meant being the biggest asshole and ruining everybody else’s time, including those he wanted to please.
“I…I…” Dom mumbled, wanting to choose his words so wisely that he didn’t know which to choose, like rattling Scrabble tiles around on the wooden stand. “I just wanted to know if Heriberto wanted to get married again.” Carlos took a deep breath and Maria Fernanda a sigh of relief.
“Listen, Dommie,” Carlos finally said after exhaling, “Your grampa once killed a man for calling him gay. Do you know what gay means?” His wife winced, rolling her eyes and huffing air through her nose.
“Mmhhmm,” Dom shook his head.
“Well, son, being gay is bad. It goes against what we believe.” Dom continued to nod, tears rolling down his sunburnt cheeks. “And if you ever mention what you did or if I ever find out that either of you are gay— I’m talking to you too, Carlitos— I’m going to be so fucking angry that I won’t wait for someone else to kill you.” Carlos turned the key in the ignition. “I’ll kill you myself.” He wiped the tears his wife interpreted as rage-incarnate, gnashing his teeth together, trying not to yell at her, Stop looking at me! Can’t you see I’m tired of playing this fucking game?
Carlos Echeverría Senior, or Papa Carlos as his son would refer to him, was a migrant worker who would leave his wife and their son Carlos alone in their small home in Guadalajara, Mexico for months at a time. He was a seasonal fruit picker for the big growers in Central and Northern California.
By word of the town’s people, a young Carlos found out that his father engaged in extramarital acts and heavy alcohol and drug consumption. Not only did he have another wife, he also had another son that was also named Carlos and was older than him by a year. When Carlos confronted his mom regarding the town’s allegations against his dad, she slapped him across the face. Her blow carried the weight of repressed anger and the sting of conjugal subjugation; an impotence to speak her truth.
“Just shut up about it,” his mother Concha roared. “These neighbors just love to gossip, and the things your father does are his to know about and his alone.”
Carlos didn’t understand his mom or why at that moment he felt so much hatred toward her— even more than toward his dad.
“I only believe what he tells me. If he wants to lie and thrash around like a dog with all the town’s whores, he’s the one that’ll have to answer to his Creator.” The town whores were comprised of widows, abandoned women, and spinsters; those that didn’t have a husband to look after, therefore they tried to take them from those that did. “These dirty bitches bewitch married men with their big asses and sex-magic.”
Carlos looked over and noticed a headless Heriberto peeling his tight, moist white t-shirt around his ears and over his head. After he wedged his head out of the shirt, Heriberto’s unkempt hair and disoriented look brought a smirk to Carlos’s face. Heriberto smiled and threw the balled up cotton top over the steering wheel.
Heriberto’s chest rippled red; either from blushing or blooming with lactic acid. It may have been the massive amount of blood flooding the individual chambers in Carlos’s penis that was making him light-headed, but everything that Heriberto did began to play in slow-motion in his head. Heriberto placed the tip of his tongue on the tip of his right thumb and licked the distance between it and his index finger. The same distance popular science had deemed to be the measure of a man’s dick. In order for that to be true in Carlos’s case, he would need hands twice their original size. Clown’s hands. Heriberto began to lick the palm of his hand; purring and moaning in anticipation. The bright red head atop Carlos’s cock was shiny, glistening with pre-come.
Heriberto gripped Carlos’s penis tightly with his right hand while massaging a doughy bulge in his sweat pants. His penis was heavy with blood, stiff like never before. It felt to Carlos as though it was the first time he ever had an erection. An erection that had never been touched by anyone other than he. Heriberto’s veiny and sinewy hand looked stringy, and long but around his penis, it felt full, almost pillowy. The strangeness of his fingertips pressuring the thick dorsal vein running up and down his shaft— molding to the precise amount of pressure Heriberto was applying to it— felt as though his fingers would go right through it like a stick of butter.
The grip began to churn slowly, up and down loosening the skin on the shaft; which was practically shrink-wrapped, ready to rupture had his penis grown even a centimeter in girth. Heriberto’s strong, warm hands— the ones he used to beat all of the town’s kids, and some adults, with at arm-wrestling— could’ve melted wet a pillar of solid ice, as they were moistening the tip of Carlos’s cock. They could’ve turned his stone-hard erection into enough bread to feed an entire family. They felt miraculous.
It bothered Carlos that his wife looked so pleased; the fact that she was more concerned with his own soul-crushing performance than with the tears perspiring down her little boy’s eyes. The look she gave their son seemed to communicate, That’s what you get for being a little fag.
“I’m sorry,” Maria Fernanda whispered to Dom.
Being gay in Mexico meant going against God’s will: against the holy sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman; and the bearing and raising of catholic children. The shame that the town would subject those who didn’t comply was worse than the punishment their sin would be awaiting them in hell. The act of sodomy— technically a sin— was only looked down upon, but it wasn’t unheard of amongst straight men. Calling yourself gay was wrong, but fucking other men wasn’t. It was a prima-nocta-like ritual that straight men bestowed upon themselves; to bestow into a newly-declared gay man’s body their God-endorsed penis. The pecking order for staying a true man was to fuck and never to be fucked.
Carlos’s speech made his heart race faster than after being chased by rabid dogs when he was a child in Mexico. He actually didn’t care whether his son thought Heriberto was gay or whether he liked Heriberto or not; which he still did. He knew that his son wasn’t gay. There was something about Heriberto’s eyes and smile that made Carlos feel good, a goodness that he felt he couldn’t share with anybody; not even his son. A goodness that felt wrong to feel, but at the same time, felt so right.
Carlitos’s phone began to ring. The ringtone— Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”— was one that he and his mother had fought over as being too inappropriate for school.
“The school’s going to think we’re heathens,” Maria Fernanda argued.
Carlos saw it as a healthy form of self-expression, but he hated the creepy, looped toy-box music, Drake’s lazy way of rapping, and his gratuitously awkward interjections of the N-word.
“Pick up already,” Carlos snapped.
“What’s up, bitch?” Carlitos answered. “You like dick, don’t you?”
“I’m telling mom you said that,” Dom hollered from the backseat, taking on the parenting role that Carlos had no interest in relinquishing. The white noise of kid chatter, radio blasting rap, and a brass band of car horns placed Carlos in a daze.
For his sake, Carlos hoped that Carlitos did end up being openly gay, instead of living the repressed life he himself did. Carlos would have to reject his son, torture him with convenient-theology just to keep up appearances, mainly with his wife. But deep down, he’d be proud of his son for doing something he still wasn’t strong enough to do, even now as a full-grown, fully-formed fragmented man. Withholding the fact that he was and had always been gay. My sons will have to base their reality on what I tell them, he thought. Carlos somehow wanted to tell his kids that he loved them no matter what; that he didn’t hate them. He only hated himself for hating them; for being so much like the father he grew up hating. As his father did when his spousal fidelity came into question, Carlos would always deny being gay even if someone caught him with a cock in his mouth.
In Carlos’s mind, Carlitos was fated to become a fuck-up just by looking at the way he dangled his leg out of the car. It took a fuck-up to understand another. Papa Carlos thought too highly of himself. Nothing ever affected him; physically or emotionally. He never cried, or expressed any delight, at least not outwardly. Fuck, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him bleed, the thought once crossed Carlos’s mind.
“There are three ways of doing things: the right way, the wrong way, and my way,” Papa Carlos used to say. “My way supersedes the right way.”
Relief showing procession of offering bearers[Photograph]. Dynasty 12. ca. 1961–1917 B.C. Rogers Fund, 1909. Accessed on January 12, 2017. (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544193).