Gesture & Body Language
by Carlos Antonio Piñón
May 25, 2018
I finally did it. I finally had The Talk with my parents at the ripe age of 22.
I'm lying down in bed, shirtless, in the arms of my boyfriend. We had just come home from his parents' house when I get a text from my mom.
"What do you mean you're in a relationship on Facebook?" She asks.
"I'm in a relationship lol," I reply. I'm pulling my hair sending this text. I've never done this before, and I've never seen it happen except for on TV.
"What kind?" My mom asks as if there was any other kind.
"The dating kind," I reply. My heart is pumping blood at about the same speed I imagine a horse at full speed gallops.
Rapheal, back against my chest, feels the change in my heartbeat. He turns to me and signs, "you O-K?"
I say yes, but I'm lying. I actually don't have enough information to determine my mood yet. Anxious? Absolutely, but what kind of anxious? Good anxious, bad anxious, no anxious? I feel like I'm at a car dealership that accepts all kind of anxiety.
My mom texts me back, "And you didn't think to tell us before you made it known?"
And just like that, I'm driving the car off the lot to Anxietyville. I can't return the car without its value intrinsically going down. This is my car now and I'm driving it; only I don't have my license and some part of me deep down is thinking my dad should've taught me how to do this.
How I met Rapheal is everybody else's fault. Though I could go back further and blame my parents for giving birth to me as hard evidence for why I'm like this, where I'd like to begin pulling receipts is with my friend Ariel and her reading on the last Wednesday of January.
I don't know much about astrology, but from what I gathered from the super blue blood moon was a sense of renewal. One after another, the storytellers and performers exposed their vulnerabilities from hardships and heartbreaks. There were tales of loss and distance, but through it all, everyone who performed came out ready to move on.
As a recent college graduate with my own adversity, I only managed to scrape together enough change for bus fare to get to the show. I entered the new year in an argument, with no job or money, and still saddened by the death of my cat. I felt like I had nothing and no one.
My entire life changed the moment I came across a posting after the show that read "ACTIVIST JOBS to help stop LGBT bullying. Fight hate groups, teach tolerance, seek justice." I was so ready to make a fresh start, I let go of all that baggage as I sat dreaming of saving the world.
"Mijo, I want to talk to you," my dad says. "Come home tomorrow by yourself."
I hadn't been home in a few days. I had known deep in my heart that an argument was waiting for me, but I've already had the whole argument by myself. In my head, I have already fought my dad for every single possible objection. There's nothing new he could say. All it would do for me is make me angry. After all, my dad had always asked me how many girlfriends I had. My mom would say, "Oh, he's focusing on his education instead of dating." Now that I was done with school, what's my excuse? Having one girlfriend is one thing, but novias plural? Who does he think I am? And how is it that having one novio singular changes anything? It's like not even a political thing. I'm finally out here living my best life and he's acting like I personally killed my cat.
"You could talk to me right now," I say as I walked away closing door. Rapheal was waiting for me in my room. This isn't the first time he's been over my house, but it is the first time since.
Rapheal didn't want to come over. "Your mom's closed minded," he had said earlier that day.
"I don't think she is," I replied.
"Does she not approve of us to be in a relationship?" Rapheal asked me.
I hesitated. "I think she's caught off guard because I didn't say anything first," I told him. I'm not sure who I was trying to convince more, Rapheal or myself. After all, I don't even have an "interested in," so as far as everyone knows, I'm not interested at all.
When I return, Rapheal notices the look on my face and asks, "Is your dad mad at me?"
"No." I pull out my phone to try to explain, but what is there to explain? Why do I have to be the one to make sure everyone is okay? Why do I have to do all of the convincing to make sure everyone's on the same page? Why do I have to take care of everyone else?
Rapheal can tell I'm stressed out. He runs his hand through my hair, gently caressing my face with the back of his hand, softly across my neck and chest until he reaches the side of my ribs when he clamps on. I can't stop laughing. He already knows all of my ticklish spots: just below my armpit, the back of my knee, my stomach. He knows that the slightest touch on my arm and neck are enough to cause me to jerk my entire body.
He locks his legs with my legs and he grabs my wrists with his hands so I can't tickle back. I can feel the air come out of Rapheal's lungs and enter mine. I look into his eyes and he kisses me.
I got a call for an interview at the grassroots place the very next day. That Friday morning, I wore my best outfit: grey pants topped by a navy blue button-up, accented with a shiny red tie.
Among the questions asked were how to do we make change and why it was important to stand up for the things we believe in. It is my sincerest belief that the only way to embark change is by spreading knowledge and compassion. By educating those around us, we could make a difference because everyone one of us is directly affected by bigotry and hate. It is my firm belief that awareness is the first step to understanding.
The red-haired person who interviewed me smiled and said, "I think you'd be a good fit."
It's been days since I've closed the door in my dad's face. Since then, I've only seen him like you see shadows moving out of the corner of your eye.
"We have always let you do your thing," my mom texts me, "you can't expect for pop to change his ways. We don't expect you to change. Give pop time. Don't force it on him."
I don't respond. It's been three weeks since I quit the grassroots job. Turns out, I'm the black sheep of applicants. After three days of rescheduling, I tried canvassing, but nothing prepared me for the dozens of people who pretend you don't exist. What bothered me most was the fact that I wasn't fighting hate groups, teaching tolerance, or seeking justice. I was soliciting money.
After a few days, I find myself talking to my best friend Moises who tells me I should try to be more patient because he's my dad and I should see what he has to say.
"I don't want to," I tell him.
He tells me that I'm letting my feelings get in the way and that I should give him a chance.
With lots of resistance, I agree let let my dad say what he has to say and move on.
Later that evening, I'm sitting at the dinner table, which is already out of character. I watch my dad go back and forth, avoiding eye contact with me, literally doing anything else in the world before I open up and say, "Okay, so what do you want?"
My dad sits down across the table, looks in my direction but not quite at me and asks, "Mijo, what are you doing?"
"My best," I say.
My dad turns to my mom, who's cleverly avoiding this conversation in the other room, and says, "Dice que está haciendo su best." He looks back at me and says, "Do you think what you're doing is right?"
"What do you want me to say?" I tell him. "Do you think what I'm doing is wrong?"
My dad doesn't respond. He sits there, sighing as if he's already made his main objection.
"Yes, I do think what I'm doing is right," I say. "But I want to hear you. Do YOU think I'm wrong?"
"Pues, sí," he says.
"Okay then. What part of it is wrong?"
My dad starts off with something about the Bible, but honestly, we're already beyond that. I shut that excuse down so quickly. "No, what specifically do you not like? What exactly is it?"
When he doesn't answer, I ask if he loves my mom. He says yes. When I ask what he loves about her, my dad freezes. "Why do you love mom?"
"¿Qué? No hay mujeres?"
"That's not the point," I reply. "Why do you love mom? I mean, do you like the way she looks? Does she make you laugh? Does she make you feel good? Because that's how Rapheal makes me feel. You're just scared to answer because you know it'd be the same."
"Because she's a woman."
"So, it doesn't matter that it's mom." I tell him. "I mean, you're saying that it doesn't matter who she is. She could be any woman and it doesn't matter to you."
"Where did I go wrong?" he asks, ignoring my mom crying from the other room.
"Nothing's wrong," I tell him. "It's just always been like this."
He tells me he's not going to change and that he doesn't want to see it, but I tell him that I don't care if he does.
"You don't have to like it," I tell him. "You just have to accept it."
After my job interview, I found myself at one of Columbia's dorms celebrating with a bad game of pool when I hear the elevator doors open. In came some nerdy looking guy with his shaggy hair and glasses. He raised his hand hello and made a noise.
I said hi, but he didn't respond. Instead, he pointed to his ear and then mouth. I passed the pool stick to my friend Matt as the nerdy looking guy approached me, typing on his phone.
He says his name is Rapheal and that he's deaf. In between turns, I took my phone out to talk to him. He's 22 and he goes to Columbia for animation. As I make my next shot, I turned around and noticed he was smiling with my phone in his hand. He showed me pictures of me while I was playing. He tells me he likes to take pictures of people while they're having fun.
I noticed he had been standing particularly close to me since we started talking. We exchanged phone numbers before he left.
The next day he texted to invite me over to his dorm to watch anime. I felt a surge of excitement that I hadn't felt before. I said yes and got there as soon as possible.
Rapheal looked absolutely adorable showing off the view from his room on the 17th floor. I told him I didn't know sign language. He told me it was okay, we'd communicate using gestures and body language, and I would learn over time. I smiled, staring at the boy I would come to love.
I ended up spending that whole weekend at Rapheal's dorm. I learned the alphabet and how to say "bathroom" and "food" at first, but over the next few weeks, my vocabulary would grow.
Hungry, drink, play, go out, phone, like, dislike, gay, lesbian, straight.
Rapheal invited me to his parents' house for dinner some time later. Eager to meet his family, I agree only to find myself in such a different house than my own.
"Hi, my name is C-A-R-L-O-S. Nice to meet you."
Dad, mom, brother, sister, grandpa, grandma, cousin, uncle, aunt.
I talked to Rapheal's mom and sister, both of whom assured me that I'd learn to sign the more time I spend with it. His brother and sisters, most of which are also deaf, taught me how to play UNO using sign. This is "blue," "green," "yellow," and "red." Watching Rapheal be amongst his family, I felt so welcome and at home, too.
Rapheal asked me, "is it hard?"
"A little bit," I replied. "But then again, I studied German. I'll be fine."
Zero, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
I still struggle with "seven" and "eight," but I can say "happy" and "mad" and "good" and "bad" and "see you later." I could say "please" and "sorry" and "thank you" and "you're welcome" and "I miss you," but most importantly, I can say "I love you."