Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is homophobia, (brief) teen homelessness, emotional whump, and other angst. The decent characters provide support, though. If these are sensitive areas for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"To Put Together a Family"
In the coldest, darkest part of January
my nephew showed up on the porch.
In his shirtsleeves.
I pulled him into the living room
and said, "What the heck is going on?"
"I-I can't stay at home anymore,"
he said through chattering teeth.
"I just can't. M-mom is a wreck
and my sister n-needs her and
I'm almost eighteen."
"You can stay here with us,"
I said firmly, drawing him into a hug.
"We've put up long-term guests on
the hide-a-bed couch before."
"It won't b-be for long," he said,
tentatively hugging me back.
"I'm going to c-college in the fall."
Then he slumped. "Or I was.
I don't know what will h-happen
to me now. I d-don't know what to do."
"Go upstairs and take a hot bath,"
I said, because he's freezing and
smelled of melancholy teenager.
"I will go out and get some of
your things from your room."
"Okay," he said, heading upstairs.
I tapped the hide-a-bed couch
with my foot. "Go ask your cousin
to throw some towels in the dryer."
"Going," said the monster under the bed.
I drove carefully over the snowy roads,
my knuckles white on the steering wheel.
My sister was surprised to see me.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
"To pack a suitcase,"
I said through my teeth.
"Oh," she said. "Good."
I clenched my jaw so hard
that it popped, on the way
to my nephew's room.
Fortunately a quick search of
his closet turned up a big suitcase.
I had no idea which items were favorites
and which were junk, so I just packed
some of all the essentials and what
few mementos I could find.
His school supplies were all
in his backpack, thank goodness.
In the bathroom I found his toiletries
stuffed into a leather travel case,
and grabbed that too.
Remembering my own youth,
I swept a hand under the mattress.
I tried the far side.
In one place, I felt a bump --
the magazines were actually
slipped inside the mattress itself.
I pulled them out, trying not
to look at the swimsuit-clad men
on the glossy covers.
Then I unzipped the pillowcase,
stuffed them inside it, and
resealed the pillow.
pillow, good to go.
"He won't be coming back here,"
I informed my sister at the door.
"If anything else is needed,
I'll come for it myself."
"Understood," she said quietly,
and closed the door behind me.
At home I found my nephew
sitting on the couch with
his shoulder-length hair
wrapped in a towel.
Someone had loaned him
clean clothes and called
his boyfriend, who sat
beside him making
soft soothing noises.
"I brought your backpack,
personal supplies, and as
much else as I could cram
into your suitcase," I said,
setting everything on
the floor by the couch.
"Thanks," my nephew whispered,
squeezing me with desperate strength.
"You're welcome," I said.
"It takes a lot of work
to put together a family
and keep it running well.
It's worth every bit of that."
Boyfriend flashed me a smile.
"Nice that somebody knows that."
"My sister is ... having some difficulties,"
I said as diplomatically as I can muster.
That earned me a sideways hug
from the boyfriend.
It took a few days for my nephew
to settle after moving in with us, and
another trip to pick up stuff I missed.
Then a trip to the grocery store
for things that teen boys need and
my idiot sister hadn't bothered
to make sure that he had.
Things like a new winter coat and
the facial scrub he'd run out of but
been too embarrassed to mention,
plus a box of condoms and
The Joy of Gay Sex.
He blushed scarlet when
I handed him the bag, but
he didn't try to refuse it.
The next day I sent out
another invitation, and later
that evening the doorbell rang.
The boys were surprised and
pleased to see our gay neighbors
whom they'd met in the spring
when the couple first moved in.
"Do you do hugs?" they asked.
"We like hugging friends."
My nephew and his boyfriend
looked at each other, shrugged,
and hugged them both.
"We brought fairy friendship bread,"
the shorter one announced,
holding out a basket of muffins
with candy sprinkles on top.
"We heard you're planning
to start college this autumn,"
said the taller one. "Did you
know there are scholarships
especially for gay youth?"
"Uh, no," my nephew said
as he took two fairy muffins
and passed one to his boyfriend.
"I'd like to hear more about those."
In that moment I had no doubt
that, despite the challenges, he would
manage to put together a family.
* * *
"It takes a lot of work to put together a marriage, to put together a family and a home."
-- Elizabeth Edwards
Gay teens face many challenges including family acceptance/rejection and homelessness. They need understanding and support.
The Fairy Friendship Bread was inspired by a quickie version, but instead uses a real friendship bread recipe as the base, plus icing and candy sprinkles.
Explore some gay youth scholarships.