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Miserable America

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It was growing up in L.A that had always set his family apart from others. Of course, there were others who practiced religion as they did, but they were few and far between in their community. Even with this in mind, they insisted on sending him to a Catholic school even though it was two hours from their home. For years he’d tried reasoning with them, trying to convince them by saying he could still get high marks if he attended a public school that was closer to them. His parents brushed it off and said that St. Catherine’s would always be the best fit for Joba in any given situation. Once he hit his freshman year, he gave up trying to transfer to a closer school. If his parents hadn’t budged by then, they never would.

Starting his senior year was a challenge for all of them. The summer had brought a lot of changes after his parents found out about his plans to become a musician. His mother battered him for days, asking him what his life would come to if he actually pursued music.

“Russell, I don’t want you to pursue that kind of career because most of the men in that industry become homosexual pedophiles who live depraved lives of hurting young boys like you,” she said with tears misting her eyes as they drove to St. C’s for orientation only days before school began. Joba’s jaw clenched as he listened to her talk about musicians like David Bowie and Kurt Cobain succumbing to the ‘Dangerous Homosexual Lifestyle’, disrespectfully declaring their music the work of Satan. Joba knows if his dad had been in the car it would’ve been so much worse, as he would’ve pulled up conspiracy theories that talked about 2018 being the end times prophesied in the book of Revelation. He knew his parents lived in fear of something they would never get to know.

Joba remembers believing the bible to the fullest extent when he was a child, taking to heart the messages and “truths” preached every Sunday in a building full of hateful bigots. He didn’t know then that their “truths” meant hating people for something they couldn’t change was okay. He tries to think back on the moment when he realized that it really wasn’t something he could support, but his memory fails.

“Are you excited to see if you have any new classmates?” his mom asks, peering into his blue eyes from the front seat. He raises them, making eye contact with her for a fraction of a second before averting his gaze outside to all the cars passing them.

“Oh, uh… yeah, sure.”

He knows it’s not a solid answer and keeps his gaze averted, knowing she’s probably pursed her lips and is thinking of a way to get him to talk more. They pass by the school’s sister church, sitting high and proud on a hill that overlooks a bigger neighborhood. He knows it’s not a super well-off neighborhood and that the majority of the kids who live there go to the public school that’s a couple of blocks away. The car comes to a stop and his mom parks, unbuckles her seatbelt and gets out of the car. He follows suit, unbuckling his seatbelt and exiting the car before following her into the school. The halls are mostly empty, save for a couple of trophy cases brimming with varsity soccer trophies and ribbons from other various sports that Joba’s never had a desire to play. They get to the end of the long corridor and turn into the cafeteria. There are tables lining every side of it with teachers seated behind them, talking to parents and getting them up-to-date with their separate curriculums.

“Go and talk to some of the other children, you need a new best friend,” his mom says offhandedly. He knows it’s a direct dig at his ex-best friend who had moved back to Texas after living in California for the last six years. They had a major falling out two weeks before he moved back after he’d started talking about Joba’s ex-girlfriend, spouting slurs and saying she was disgusting for trying to ‘ruin the Boring bloodline’. Needless to say, Joba ended up punching him and severing their ties. His mom found out and scolded Joba for trying to oppress his freedom of speech. It was another one of the reasons Joba had become so critical of his parent’s ideologies in the past year. He watched as his mom struck up a conversation with Sister Maria, the second in command of the school’s theology curriculum. He turned the other way and started walking away from the pair of them.

He passed by cheerleaders and football players who’d been recruited to hand out flyers and applications all while keeping fake smiles and personas up for the entire time the open house had been happening. One of the cheerleaders sneered at him as he passed, turning her head slightly as she coughed out an audible ‘faggot’. He sighed and rolled his eyes, shoving his hands into his pockets as he pushed past the crowd of athletes. He recognized her as someone who’d been friends with his ex-girlfriend before she moved back to the other side of the city, back to Calabasas, he thinks. They’d broken up after Joba came out to her as bisexual. She’d assumed the only reason he decided to do so was because he was going to break up with her for a man. He gets to the back doors of the building and opens one of them, going outside for some fresh air.

He coughs a bit when he’s greeted with cigarette smoke and plumes of vapor from someone’s Juul. He looks back to see some kids he doesn’t know very well. A few of them were in his religion class the year before but he doesn’t recognize the kid with dark blue hair who has a cigarette resting between his pink lips. They lock eyes for a couple of seconds as the other puffs slowly, small clouds of smoke leaving his mouth in quick intervals.

“Lenzini, can you and Kev go around the side for a few?” He says, not breaking the eye contact between the two of them. Joba glances at the two other guys, one of them with bleached blonde hair barely covered by a neon orange beanie and the other with bright blue dreads and a sweatband on his forehead. The blonde nods, and mumbles a quiet ‘come on’ to the other as he puts his Juul back into his pocket. Joba recognizes him as Nick Lenzini, but can’t quite put a name to the other, all he knows is his name isn’t ‘Kev’

“I’ve never seen you around here,” Joba says, shielding his eyes from the sun that is slowly inching its way into his vision. He thinks the other looks ethereal because of the yellow glow that being cast across his features. The other takes one last drag from his cigarette before snuffing the butt out on the brick wall of the school. Joba swallows harshly as he comes closer, flipping his hair out of his face and digging his hands into the pockets of his pants.

"I’ve come here since sophomore year. My parents sent me to a gay conversion camp this summer, though. Down in Mississippi,” he says with a half-smile and a false southern twang. Joba finds it unsettling that he could just bring something like that up when he and Joba are talking for the first time ever.

“I guess that explains why I haven’t seen you around,” he says biting his lip when he stumbles over his words a couple of times. He didn’t really think there was anyone else like him at school, but then again he’d never really sought anyone out. It was kind of an unspoken taboo for anyone who went to St. C’s. Gay kids didn’t go to St. C’s because gay kids couldn’t be Catholic, and they certainly couldn’t believe in a God who hated them.

“My name’s Matt... if you were wondering,” He- Matt says turning his head and looking Joba from head to toe. Joba’s shaken out of his thought process and he directs his attention to Matt. He looks really well dressed and Joba is sure he’s seen the sweater Matt’s wearing on a high fashion website for more than four hundred dollars. He doesn’t look like the kind of kid who has been sent off to a conversion camp, and he certainly doesn’t look like his parents hate him.

“I’m Joba.”