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To have an idyllic childhood in a small Texas town, all you have to is love God, love guns, and hate gays. Loving God was easy. I was raised in the Church, I didn’t know any other way.
Loving guns was hard. I didn’t like loud noises. And, I couldn’t kill anything. If I had given it any thought, I’d have been a vegetarian. But, I bit the bullet, so to speak, and became a crack shot. I massacred clay pigeons.
Hating gays was hardest. My mother’s only brother was gay, although my parents refused to acknowledge it. Kurt was my Uncle’s “friend,” and my parents pretended Kurt and my Uncle were simply bachelors who had not yet found the right woman. That they had lived together since before I was born was explained as economy. They were both doctors in Chicago, and the fact they didn’t need to economize was unsaid.
I love my Uncle David with all my heart. He’s the most interesting person I’ve ever met. He reads everything. He taught himself to paint. And to play the cello.
Unlike everyone I knew, he didn’t think Texas was the be all and end all. In fact, he hated visiting “the backwater” where we lived, but that was the only way to see us; there was no way my parents would leave Texas, much less go to Chicago. We even vacationed in Texas.
Kurt and Uncle David vacationed every where. They trekked in Nepal. They went to concerts in London. They volunteered at orphanages in Cameroon.
I lived vicariously through them, their postcards and their stories. I wanted them to visit more than they did. My parents wanted them to stay away.
I am Evangel Michael Tyler. “Evangel Michael” to my parents, Earl and Miss Lily. “Evan” to my friends. E.T. to my sisters, Chastity and Prudence, who delight in telling me to “phone home” in the croakiest voices they can muster.
Our names are not ironic. My parents are conservative Christians, dragging us to worship every Wednesday and Sunday, and praying with us at every opportunity that presents itself. They love the Lord almost as much as they love talking about how much they love the Lord. They aren’t hypocrites, but they also aren’t humble. They want everyone to know how pious they are, so they advertise it on our cars and with a “Jesus Saves” sign over our garage door.
They are certain the new President is godless (and not an American), and they would almost certainly vote for Texas to secede if it got on the ballot. Until then, they back the most patently religious conservative in any election and rail against the impending loss of our identity as a Christian nation, against liberals, and, of course, against gays, who they dismissively call Sodomites. Their world is small, and they have no interest in it getting any bigger. They’d actually prefer it smaller. They are comfortable in their willful ignorance.
They have no idea their only son is a Sodomite. They believe the fact I’ve never had a girlfriend is somehow related to my inherited Christianity and self-imposed chastity. I have no idea how they reconcile my ambivalence about sports with the fact that my bedroom walls are covered with posters of David Beckham, Tom Brady, Grady Sizemore, and other hot, male athletes. The fact I have no idea what sport any of those idols play seems lost on them.
I am an 18 year old math geek. Innately, I see math problems and solutions in three dimensions. I can turn them upside down and inside out in my head. For me, solving math problems is like breathing; it’s natural, and it brings me life. I would rather work through algebraic groups or play with the Goldbach conjecture than read a great book or watch a better movie.
I do not look like a math geek. I look like Alex McKensie. My dad was a famous Texas high school quarterback. He went to Baylor on a scholarship, met a beautiful heiress, married her, and now lives off her trust fund. As sharp as the crack of a whip, he has turned the fund into a fortune. When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, he moved out of the market and into cash. He bought a bunch of gold in October and held it for six months, increasing the fund 25%. In March, he sold the gold and moved back into the market, believing it had bottomed out. It had, and the fund has more than doubled since the market has climbed from its nadir.
I got my father’s build, but not his athletic talent. I am 6’4″ tall and have hair that I wear long and is more orange than red, eyes that are more green than blue, a crooked smile that comes easily to my face, and a runner’s/swimmer’s build. I prefer being alone, so I have been running and swimming since I can remember. I can drown out the world when I run, and water fills my ears when I swim. I contentedly think through math problems with each stride or stroke.
I had acquaintances but no real friends in high school. I didn’t mind. I liked spending Friday and Saturday nights in my room, listening to music and trying to solve the unsolvable. The only wall in my room that was not covered by beautiful men was a corner to corner white board güvenilir bahis that was covered in my favorite thing in the world – numbers.
I drive my sisters batty. One and two years younger than me, they were social butterflies, brainlessly embracing almost every stereotype associated with the blond hair they and my mother purchased at a salon. They constantly complained that my reclusiveness “embarrassed” them. I never saw how. I think they just used it as an excuse to complain about me.
They often accused me of being gay. My parents shushed them when they did, explaining they “know better than that” and not to “talk nonsense.”
A pleaser, I pretended to share my parents’ religiosity. My sisters engaged in no such pretense. They had already been caught with alcohol and pot. While neither had been caught with a boy, I doubt either would have survived a virginity check. They were misnamed, as they were neither chaste nor prudent.
I benefitted from their wildness. Since my sisters shamed my parents, they poured all their love and pride into me. I lied to them every day so I could bask in it.
I was thrilled to be headed to Rice for college. We were Texans, and my parents insisted that I continue my studies in Texas. So, MIT, Princeton, and Harvard were out, even if I could go for free.
With only Texas options, my choices were Rice or UT. While UT had a slightly better mathematics program, I didn’t want to be in a school as big as UT. And, much of my high school was there or headed there. I wanted a different experience. I didn’t want to relive my high school.
I was also thrilled Rice was in Houston. My parents thought cities were dens of iniquity, so we stayed in small-towns. We never visited Dallas or Houston. We didn’t even talk about Austin. If my parents wanted a cosmopolitan experience, they drove into Waco. But, they rarely wanted one.
I did not share their suspicions. I looked forward to exploring Houston and all it had to offer, including – I hoped beyond hope – people like me. I didn’t know any in our town. I experienced life only though my computer, but not much of it. I had to submit it to my parents for inspection upon demand. I was pretty sure I was more technological than they were, but the risk of them finding any Sodomite history on my computer intimidated me into inaction. I barely masturbated, having been taught from the age I first knew what a penis was that masturbation was a selfish, sinful act.
Rice did not disappoint me. It was open and accepting. I came out, at least to my friends, to an aggressive shrug. Being a gay Rice student was the functional equivalent of being a Rice student.
I even dated a little bit. Nothing serious, as the idea of what would follow – kissing, touching, whatever – terrified me. I may have moved away from my parents’ house, but I was having trouble moving away from their judgments. I never would have if I hadn’t had to. As a teenager, I begged God to change me, to convert the female body from an object of distaste to one of taste. When it didn’t work, I prayed harder. It was that period of perceived piety that helped entrench me as the object of my parents’ love and pride. If they had known why I was praying so fiercely, they wouldn’t have embraced me; they’d have sent me away.
Praying harder didn’t work. So, I was left to confront a cruel reality: Either God didn’t love me enough to answer me, or I was ignoring His answer. Since I couldn’t bear the notion of the former, I embraced the latter. I stopped praying for change and accepted I was created in His image, as He intended me to be. I had not chosen this. I was this. At Rice, I read works that reconciled Christianity and homosexuality, especially The Children Are Free. I may have been deluding myself, but my Christ did not judge me for me for being gay.
I knew I may be on the wrong side of Occam’s razor. But, I also believed that chaste was not man’s natural state, and that the absence of intimacy in a relationship diminished the relationship. I did not believe my orientation should consign me to a life of celibacy. If you choose celibacy, it may be a gift. But, if it’s forced on you, it seems like punishment.
I was not ready at 18 to live a lifetime of lies. But, I also was not ready at 18 to untether sex from love. I couldn’t get married, but I could at least honor the notion of marriage by limiting sex to a committed, loving relationship.
Upon enrolling, I learned Rice had an elite baseball team. It had been to the NCAA tournament every year of Coach Grantham’s tenure, and it had won the 2003 College World Series. I was so disconnected from the sports world, I had never heard of Reckling Park, much less been to it.
Even with Rice’s track record, it was tough for Rice to recruit against traditional powers, so it had to be innovative. One innovation was the Owl Program. In that Program, every recruit met a Freshman who would “Owl” him through their time together at Rice, mostly from türkçe bahis an academic standpoint. Those who owled the athletes were called Sammies, after Rice’s mascot, Sammy the Owl.
I got recruited to be a Sammy my first weekend on campus. I was still in the throes of “all things Rice,” so I readily agreed. By the time my recruit showed up on campus, my enthusiasm had evanesced. I didn’t have the desire or the inclination to meet Luke Black, much less pledge to spend three years owling him.
From what I gathered during my debrief, Luke Black was one of the best pitchers in the nation and one of the most sought-after recruits. He had been drafted as a high school Senior, but he had decided to go to college instead. Every powerhouse wanted him, and he was visiting Rice only because his father was a graduate. My job was to sell the Owl Program to him and, more importantly, to his parents.
The coaching staff passed the Blacks to the academic staff just before noon on the first Saturday of October. We were to take them to lunch. I made sure to sit right next to Mother Black.
Like her son, Mother Black had jet black hair. I asked whether that was why her son was called “Jet,” and she laughed. “It could have been,” she answered, “but it’s not. He’s called ‘Jet’ because of his arm and how hard he throws. The ball flies out of his hand as if propelled by a jet engine.”
“I don’t know much about baseball,” I admitted.
“That’s good. It means you’ll treat Luke like a student, not a star.” By the end of lunch, I had hooked her. She loved the idea of him having me as his Sammy.
My flagging commitment to the Owl Program was renewed when I met Jet. He was about two inches taller than me and, like I said, he had jet black hair. His eyes were just as black. It was impossible to decoct where his pupil ended and his iris started. And, his skin was flawless and creamy white. He wore a bright white shirt, a rep tie, and plain fronted khaki trousers. His hair was parted on the side and slicked down. He reminded me of Keanu Reeves from that horrible movie, Devil’s Advocate.
He was built like a pitcher. He was broad shouldered, thick chested, and thick thighed. He captured my imagination from the moment he said, “Hi, I’m Jet.”
He was also remarkably polite. Even when talking to me, it was “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” and “Yes, please” and “No, thank you.” If he displayed even a hint of gracelessness, his mother shot him a glare that reminded me of Heart’s “If Looks Could Kill.”
His parents were already famous helicopter parents. They were like the parents of Todd Marinovich and Michelle Wie. Jet was their world. They quit work and took loans against his future income to fund their lives. They went to all of his games. They monitored his diet, his pitch counts, and his sleep. They opined on in game strategies, on who should start behind him, and on how he should pitch certain hitters. They were ubiquitous.
When our visit with the Blacks was ending, it seemed clear to me that Mother Black was going to be more influential in his college choice than Mr. Black would be. I thought she may even have a louder voice than Luke himself.
I emailed her as soon as the academic staff turned the Blacks back to the coaching staff:
It was a pleasure meeting you today. Thank you again for your attention and time. If you or your son have any questions about Rice going forward, then please do not hesitate to contact me. I will answer honestly and truthfully and without regard to how the answer my affect your son’s decision-making.
I know Luke would love Rice as I do. It truly is an extraordinary place.
I also know he would get the education you want for him. As Luke’s Sammy, I promise to make sure he graduates on time and is educated. I will inspire and protect him.
Be safe. And with Christ.
I was pleased with my effort as I reviewed it before I hit send. I had thanked her “again.” I had used “your son” twice before moving to Luke. I had appealed to her interest in his education. I had subtly recognized her religiosity. And, I had used my full Christian name.
Still, I didn’t expect Rice to land Luke. During his visit, Luke talked a lot about a former Major Leaguer he called the “Rocket,” who was his hero and who had gone to UT. Since “Rocket” was taken, he had lobbied for the nickname “Jet.” It was as close as he could get. He wanted to be the next Rocket. I assumed hero worship would lead him to UT.
When Mother Black answered my email, I decided to subtly take a few shots at Austin. I wanted her to wonder what would happen to her son if he chose to live there for four years.
Thank you for your email. I am sorry, but I cannot call you “Linda.” My parents would be terribly disappointed if I were impolite or informal with you.
I, too, looked at UT. But, I was disappointed in the liberalism and secularism of Austin. I was raised conservative and religious, and I feared Austin güvenilir bahis siteleri would try to change both. Your son is more confident and sure than I was at his age, so I’m sure he’d be safer there than I feared I’d be. I’m weak enough that I’d rather remove temptation than try to resist it.
Have a great Thanksgiving. Please tell Mr. Black and Luke I wish them a Happy Thanksgiving as well. I am spending mine with my family, which – as you know – is very important to me. Christ and family are two cornerstones of a happy life. And, I have a happy life.
Be safe and with Christ.
Again, I was pleased with my effort. I felt bad that I was being at least a little insincere. I didn’t care about the baseball team. But, I wanted to be Jet’s Sammy.
Rice – and every major college program – was stunned when Jet plucked an Owl hat and put it on his head during his college announcement. I was not. Linda had sworn me to secrecy, but she had told me via email the prior day that Luke was headed to Rice:
I want to thank you for your candor throughout our selection process. We have prayed and prayed on this decision, and we have decided that Rice is the best place for Luke. Our decision was based in no small part on our confidence and trust in you to protect and inspire him. If we cannot be there to watch over Luke, we are happy that you will be. Any of the schools competing for him would have prepared him for the next step in his baseball life. But, you showed you care more about his academic and spiritual life than his baseball life. We look forward to you being part of our family.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Please do not share this news with anyone. Luke does not want it leaked before he places Rice’s hat on his head tomorrow. Thank you in advance for your discretion.
I felt a little bad about how I had manipulated Mother Black, but I was thrilled with the news. I looked forward to three years with Luke.
My relationship with Luke got off to a cold start. He had wanted to go to UT and so was not happy to be going to Rice, a choice his parents had forced on him. And, he blamed me for it, accusing me of convincing his mother to force Rice on him. Apparently, she had referred to “Evangel” so much during the recruiting and selection process that it became a toxic reference to him. He was curt and direct in his emails with me, and he was only responsive; he never initiated contact.
Sammies and their subjects had to arrive on campus before everyone else. Luke and his parents showed up for orientation as a threesome. The Blacks were the only parents participating in the process. The rest of the parents moved their children in, helped them get settled, and said good-bye. The Blacks were not going to say good-bye until they absolutely had to.
Luke and I had worked on his schedule via email, and he was happy with it. As a scholarship athlete, he’d be taking a lighter load by one, giving him time for practice and for the mandatory study sessions we were to share. I was pensive about those. I was not sure how to repair the rupture my role in recruiting him had caused.
Each Sammy had a private meeting with his or her subject during orientation. Fortunately, Luke was too polite to let his pique show. He shook my hand and smiled broadly. I still see that smile in my mind’s eye. It was a conversion smile. If you weren’t sure about Luke before, you were after.
Our meeting was very businesslike. Luke made it clear his primary focus was on baseball, aiming to help Rice win the CWS and to position himself to be taken number one overall in the MLB draft. But, he’d be a student also, as his parents had already decided he’d be staying at Rice all four years, regardless of if and when he was drafted. Their public pronouncements on the subject were well-covered and would have the intended effect. No MLB team would waste a high draft choice on a player it knew it couldn’t sign, and the Blacks were adamant they would not be persuaded into an early departure.
As we spent time together, Luke warmed up and filled in his backstory for me. He was an only child. He had almost killed his mother during birth, and his father was convinced she had been saved through the power of his prayers in the hospital chapel. His conviction led them to God, but quietly so. They were humble people, so they eschewed any outward sign of their religiosity, other than to refer to Luke’s arm as a “gift from God.” Still waters run deep, and their religious conviction was deep.
While I had rejected – at least internally – my parents’ religiosity, Luke embraced his. He was as devout as they were, and he immediately joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the campus Christian Students Association. He was surprised I was not a member of the CSA. He raised it with me during one of our mandatory sessions.
“Luke,” I warned, “the CSA is the only hotbed of intolerance on campus. They picket and protest constantly, whether it’s a speaker who happens to be pro-choice or anything else they deem un-Biblical. They are judgmental and intolerant, and it’s tough to tolerate their intolerance. I went to a couple of meetings, but they weren’t for me.”
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