On Saturday, I woke up early to shower. It was my mom’s graduation day, from her online grad school. The entire family came down to visit. I am anxious, so my memory is fuzzy.

            My mom left early, at 7:45 AM, with her friends to arrive at the graduation, because she was walking on stage. So my brothers and I got ready to leave. 

            Before the graduation, however, my brothers and I went to Party City buy balloons to surprise my mom. They had graduation decorations everywhere. I spent more money on balloons than my brothers, because the little graduation weight to hold down the balloons cost $5. My younger brother chose individual balloons to blow up, while Jason and I chose pre-inflated “happy graduation” sets of balloons. Matthew’s choices aligned with the school colors, that Jason did not especially like, and the Party City workers took 20 minutes to inflate the balloons. They kept popping them, and, in order to make up for the popping, they replaced some of the school-colored ones with “happy birthday” balloons that did not match any of the others. Jason yelled at Matthew for his bad color choice, but it was the workers’ fault I guess. We brought the balloons home. We were late for the graduation.

             At the gate, security stopped me. I had a giant telephoto lens for my camera, so that I could take pictures of my mom. They stopped me and said, no professional cameras, and I said are you sure? and they said, you have to be part of the photo team, and I said, how do I become part of the photo team, and they called their manager, who said something about allowing the telephoto lens because it was a graduation and not a concert. I walked in and one of the security workers was impressed with the lenses I had, so I told her that my mom only graduates once and I better have the best stuff, and she said congratulations, before I caught up with my brothers and we tried to find the rest of my family. We had no idea where to find the rest of the family. I tracked my dad with my phone and we found the entire family quickly, while a graduate’s speech about the creative potential of Chat GPT boomed throughout the stadium.  As I took a seat, I saw my childhood pastor on stage and the whole day began to feel like a fever dream, like a recurring dream that I could not escape, while another man stood on stage talking about how he should have gotten Chat GPT to write his speech for him. I turned to my brother, and then to my other brother, confirming that the man on stage was, in fact, our pastor from childhood. I zoomed in with my telephoto lens to get a better look. He reminds me of Jim Jones. I did not know that the school my mom went to was Christian. My grandpa kept shushing people around him, and thought it was disrespectful that people talked in the outdoor stadium, while the crowd was whooping and hollering for their graduating relatives. My grandpa and my aunt shushed the security guards. And one by one everyone walked across an empty stage, shaking hands with nobody. I thought it was appropriate for an online school. The pastor gave a benediction at the end of the graduation. Maybe Chat GPT wrote it.

            All 19 or 20 of my mom’s friends came to lunch with us afterwards. We had a large table. One of the friends complained to the waitress a lot. Everyone else looked beat. I became restless. We stayed for 2 hours eating lunch. My mom’s friend told me how relieving it was that her pastor taught “objectively” about different religions. I told her that it is rare to talk about religion from a distance, and that you have to be careful about how you’re comparing different religions, but that care is what makes studying religion so interesting. Often comparing slightly distorts each religion, by forcing it to fit into the terms of the other, so sometimes it’s interesting to look at what you can’t compare. I told her that sometimes churches teaching “objectively” might be sketchy, because they will add something about the truth of Jesus Christ at the end of the study, and that then the study becomes less objective. She said that she loves how her pastor teaches objectively, but always ends the sermon with a message about the truth of Jesus Christ, and in that sense it’s edifying.

            Most of the family came home together after the lunch, sitting in silence in the living room together. My aunt thought it would be a good idea to take family photos with my mom in her graduation garb, and I thought it would be a decent idea too, because then we could knock out photos and be done with our plans for the day. My mom said, I have had enough wine and there are bags under my eyes now so we should take photos tomorrow instead. And I said, okay then it is decided. And my aunt said, no. blake can photoshop your eyes. we could get the photos done with right now. I told my aunt, no, my mom said no, and I do not want to photoshop her eyes. And my aunt said, well now your mom knows that you do not want to photoshop her, so you could surprise her and do it for her anyways and she might be pleased. And I said, no, my mom said no and it is decided already, and I am not going to photoshop the photo; we can take the pictures tomorrow because it is my mom’s day today and she has already said no. My aunt sat down. My mom opened gifts, and after she was all done, the whole family sat in a silent circle together. It was morose. I walked up to my dad and said, I am going to pride in Long Beach now, are you sure we do not want to do photos, because this is the last call, and he said it was okay, and to hug my mom goodbye, so I hugged her and drove, all-gas-no-brakes, to Long Beach, where I met up with Ulysses, whom I had never met except for chats on Scruff, Instagram, and, as of that afternoon, texts. I texted another friend at pride, who got back to me initially, but then never got back to me after that. He confuses me.

            Pride was free, and spanned a few blocks, where streets were closed for different vendors to host something like a street-fair, and in the park there were stages and vendors and alcohol stands. I parked a few blocks from the park. I walked, and then met Ulysses and two of his friends, then bought a drink, and I guess we walked around a bit before making it to the Brit. His friends left. Ulysses and I walked over to The Mineshaft. It was packed. We squeezed through the crowd. He bought me a drink and we chatted in the back, while other couples smoked. One twink walked in with another man and they felt each other up, and Ulysses and I took their spot after they left. We walked to the Falcon, but neither of us felt the vibe, so we walked down the closed-off street, while most of the prideful people dissipated (in the late afternoon light). Ulysses pulled out some poppers from his bag, and I tried them (I cannot remember the last time I tried them, or if I even have), and I felt a rush (thinking of how other poppers brands are called “rush”) to my head and thought I was going to trip over my own feet the whole time, feeling lightheaded and relaxed. We looped back around to the park, sat on a bench overlooking the ocean, and got close. We kissed and he gave me a part of an edible, telling me that I would need to drive home before it hit. So we walked back through the park, stopping at the porta potties so that we could pee, and then I drove Ulysses to his apartment in Long Beach, and then drove home and sat on my bed while the edible hit and I felt like sinking into my own bed and was mad that I had no one to hold onto. I checked Instagram, and the friend that confuses me posted that his brother had died that day. I imagined that transition from pride to death, and the caption that he posted felt so strange—that he never really saw eye-to-eye with his brother. I fell asleep.

            Sunday was work early in the morning, where Josette and I practiced drawing penises with latte art. I told Josette that I had put in my 2-weeks notice, and she talked about how she would need something lined up after this coffee shop job in order to consider putting in her notice. I don’t really have anything lined up, but I do have freelance work that pays better, I told her, and we ended up talking about the different dates we both had been on. I learned that she also keeps a list of men who have brought her into weird situations, or broken her heart, or whatever. My younger brother came in and we talked about astrology, and I told him some of my gay stories. We complained about the family, and he told me that after I had left for pride the day before, my aunt threw a fit, because I was supposed to take photos of my mom that day, and photoshop her eyes and everything, instead of waiting until later, and that my dad had had to step in and say, no blake was clear and we decided to do photos later anyways, any my aunt was so displeased with the whole thing. I sighed—the things that happen when I’m gone are none of my business.

            I went home, and had planned to go on a date with another guy—we had been chatting on snapchat for a while, because he intended to come out to his religious family, and I had plenty of queer-religious resources that I collected somewhere. But my aunt said that we had to take photos—she mentioned this right when the sun had set—so that I said, ok if you want to take photos we need to go outside right now and knock them out. The whole family slowly gathered outside and I took some photos, while my aunt micromanaged the photos and said, blake you might want to try this angle, and both my mom and I said, no that photo would look bad, and she said, try it, and I took it but when I look back on it now the photo is absolute garbage, and so my grandpa said, blake gets paid to take photos, and I said, yes I am trying to knock them out quickly, and my aunt said, you can photoshop them, and I told her there is not one ounce of my body that wants to photoshop any of these photos because I do not want to spend any more time than I need with these pictures, and she said blake you might want to try that different angle, and I said no it does not look good we’re trying to go fast, and my grandpa said blake does this professionally just trust him, and then when we all took a group photo and my aunt was in it, she was the only one doing an awkward pose because I think she must have seen it in a guide somewhere and it looked so bad but I just wanted to get the whole thing done with so I told my aunt to move and be less awkward and then we were done, and I drove my car quickly to downtown huntington beach to meet a gay man on a date, before pulling up behind someone with a hitler-youth haircut and a bluelivesmatter bumper sticker with the skull and everything, and I thought, well my rainbow shoes don’t make me feel that safe, so I parked in a different spot, and waited for this dude to pull up. He walked around a bit, of course he was wearing a flannel, and I spotted him and he talked about how much he liked his boots, how he only shops at boot barn, and how his sister also has cowboy boots like him, and how his family is homophobic and he’s worried to come out to them.

            I told him about the man with the bluelivesmatter sticker, and how it, with the combination of the haircut and the downtown huntington beach location, made me slightly nervous, and he talked about how one day he wanted to be a cop, and I thought I did not hear him correctly, so we walked around a bit and he said that he thought the pier was a far walk, and I thought, well it’s only a block away: this guy must not like walking. So I said, I know you like to drive around, so maybe we can drive down the coast a bit, and he agreed. So we walked to his car and he had a bluelivesmatter license plate, and I thought I saw it wrong because it did not register correctly, and suddenly I was in the car with him, and he talked about how much he wanted to be a cop one day—that that was his future—maybe in upstate New York or something, and I said, you know, you’d really like this show called The Wire, it’s about cops and drug dealers and the systemic issues that happen with the policing system. And he said he didn’t like idealistic, unrealistic shows about cops, and I said, no you’d really like this one, because in season four the cops literally do nothing and are all assholes, and I wondered whether I could say acab in the car, but we kept driving, and he mostly kept talking about driving from Arizona to here, or Tennessee to Arizona, and his dog, and I thought of asking him to ask me a question, but I no longer thought of it as a date because I was just trapped in his car while he drove further and further from huntington beach, so I told him that I had work at 6:30 in the morning (true fact) and he decided to drive me back, but on the way he mentioned that all covid deaths were caused by poor ventilation in hospitals, not actually covid (and I thought, being silly, of how maybe the virus infected hospitals’ ventilation systems instead of people because how else would there be such a drastic change in death rates…). When the dude mentioned that he had only gotten his associates degree, I was not surprised, and he dropped me off rather quickly with short words and I thought he would never want to see me again so that it would be easy to let the conversation die off. He sent me a photo of a table yesterday. I do not know why.

            I left for work at 6:15 AM, but at 6:13 AM my mom told me that my brothers had gotten into a fight. I told her I did not want to know about it. She told me that Jason choked out Matthew—that Matthew screamed at Jason, and that Jason responded by choking him out. He left bruises, apparently. There was a hole in the wall somewhere, but I did not know what that meant. Matthew left after, and while Matthew was leaving, Jason put his hands on his shoulders and said, I love you, and apparently felt remorse. I shuddered, telling my mom, that’s icky and manipulative. I checked my brother’s location on find my friends, and he was at Phillip’s apartment. I felt rage, a rage at that two-minute exchange between my mom and me, and rage at Jason for repeating the things I thought had been left in the past, and so I pressed the gas and let the engine roar, wondering why I felt so angry at an event that had nothing to do with me.

            I went to work and talked to Mykah—one of the owners—about putting in my two-weeks notice. She said it was fine, and that in order to prepare the other owner—Sam—for the news, she suggested that we hire more people. Sam refused, because we have reliable workers now, and Mykah kept pressing the issue, and Sam kept refusing to hire more people, until they ended in a mutual silence. And Mykah said that fifteen seconds later, my two-weeks notice arrived in Sam and Mykah’s email inbox, except that only Sam saw it, and got very short with Mykah and told Mykah to check her email. Mykah said, sam why don’t you just read it to me out loud. And Sam said to go check your computer, and did not talk to Mykah for the rest of the day.

            I talked to Mykah about her exchange with Sam, and how I do not work with Sam for the rest of my time there. I guess we laughed about it. It seems absurd. We closed early that day, so we could go to Home Depot to buy flagpoles for pride flags for the shop. Then we drove to Barnes and Noble, so I could drop Mykah off to get fingerprinted for her new job, and I bought the gay history book “On Christopher Street,” which, on the Barnes and Noble register, was abbreviated to “On Christ,” and I took a mental note of that, thinking of how difficult it is to escape even an accidental Christianity. I dropped Mykah off at Whole Foods and when I got home, my dad told me that it was time to pick up my car from the mechanic, and I told him that he could drop me off at the mechanic when he got home. So I waited upstairs for him, until I heard him arrive in the door, but he sat in the living room, stuck with my younger brother—no longer at phillip’s house—and my mom. And my younger brother had said that he would not come home until Jason was out entirely, and began to pack. And so my mom cried because the family seemed to be fragmenting and falling apart, and I thought that maybe the date I was on with the man I now just call “Boot Barn” was actually good, because I missed this whole debacle, and my brother drove up to San Jose. My dad told me to drive the van to pick up my car, and then we can pick up the van later.

            Phillip, who spent the whole day with Matthew, called and said that Jason needs therapy, and boundaries, and that the whole family needs to come together as a force to talk to Jason. He was on speakerphone. My mom talked to Phillip, distressed. None of those behavior is new for him, we said, and my dad suggested family therapy, and I told him how Jason should go to therapy first, because I refuse to go to therapy with all of my family, and I thought of how I just don’t really trust them that much. And my dad left the room and my mom told him to listen, and he said, no. they’re all just saying the same thing in circles, and I said, no that’s not true, you’re missing the details, and he got in the car and drove away. When he got back, I asked if he wanted to go pick up the van. He looked sore. We picked up the van.

            That night, I met up with a man that I had met two or three years ago, named Adam. We agreed to take pictures. When he walked up to me, after standing around confused in the parking lot, he looked older than I thought. I wondered about his age because we met at night last time. And it was one of those prolonged meetings, one of those you feel like you just need to get through, while a lump sits in your throat and your nerves feel pressed against the wall. And we talked a lot about abstract life as if we were familiar, but the entire time I got a nervous feeling that I did not actually want to be there, and so I told him the different things about photography that I know, and the different spots around the park. I thought of how he told me years before, and again now, that he’d rather get to know someone slowly to date them, and I thought of how I ask different questions from my friends than I do the people I want to date. We could talk about photography all day if we were just friends, nothing more. But I want to talk about gay culture, emotions, and an individual’s subjective experience of the world, or the mushy romantic stuff, being serious and upfront with someone I want to date. He was the religious sort, that felt slightly repressed, which is something I’m working on too; and I remembered how he did not disclose anything about his own life the last time we met. But we kept walking in circles, where we talked about the gays as traumatized by religious families, but there was a strange feeling the whole time—like I got the sense that this guy was kind-of a lone-wolf, and eventually I offered to show him my car. And then we drove around a bit and I tried to drive in a way that would force him to grab onto the “oh shit” bar, which is a bar above the glovebox of a geo tracker, and he said that he was not much of a car guy. So I parked next to his car, and said, wow it is getting late and I woke up early this morning, and he said that he understood, but talked about computers, and I checked my phone again and said, it really is getting late, thinking of how we stayed up until 4 am the last time we met,  and he did not leave the car, and I thought he must be expecting to make out and I do not have the energy to make out because my brother just choked my other brother and my family thinks that we are falling apart and my dad does not know how to fix it and so will probably ignore it until this whole violence repeats itself again—and I thought of that strange feeling when my childhood pastor showed up to my mom’s graduation, how the past just repeats itself over and over, like this man from three years ago coming back into the present, but I feel as if I have grown and do not want to kiss him, so he opens the door and says bye three times and waves and I drive away.

            I got home. The lights were on. I saw a silhouette of Jason in the window. I have not seen Jason since I left for pride. And I walked in. Jason asked me if I told mom that he scares me. I said no. He said, do you believe that mom can tell an objective story without bias. I said, Jason I am not playing these games. I was not there. I do not know. I do not want to be involved. And Jason ran upstairs and yelled at my mom, that phillip and blake are not scared of him. I pulled out my phone. I posted a selfie with the 16mm film filter, asking if someone else had a place to stay for the night, and drove to my friends’ house in Pasadena. I slept on the couch. I dreamt of Matthew and Jason, both owning their own shops, competing, and woke up annoyed that I even dreamt of the situation that I tried to drive away from, that had nothing to do with me at all. I woke up, my friends left for work, and drove away to find breakfast.

            I spent the day taking side streets from Pasadena to Fullerton to Yorba Linda. Ulysses texted me that he needed a box, and asked whether my work had any extra cardboard boxes that he could get his greasy paws on, and I said that I’ll check the next time I come in, and he said that he’s not just using me for my cardboard connection.

            I arrived in Yorba Linda where I told my friend what had happened and that I have wanted to cry all day, because whatever violence had happened was not new, but the culmination of what I had been telling my family for years. He understands. And we began to plan a new video for pride. I bought an outfit for pride month, but I could not decide whether I wanted a shirt that was historically- and politically-conscious, with a statement about conservative politicians’ homophobia, or whether I wanted a happy little rainbow for happy little pride month. I chose the former. And I drove home, where my mom hugged me and began to cry a little, and I showed her my pride outfit, telling her that I was done and not involved with whatever was happening at home.

            I reached out to another friend, Rafi, and he bought me a gin and tonic at a gay bar, where we talked about the different styles of gay dating, and the different ways our families have responded to gayness—he is not out, and he asked me whether I would date someone that was closeted, and I said probably not, but I knew he was closeted and so I wanted to tell him that he does not give off closet energy, but he said that he had never been to pride, so I invited him to one later, and I felt so emotionally saturated. I dropped him off at home, telling him I just needed to sleep, and we did that European kiss thing. I felt bad. We’ve kissed before. So why not now? I went home, and just sat in my car, wondering whether it was worth letting time just blow everything over.
              The next day was Queer Film Club. I do not know what I did that day, except that my pride shoes arrived, and I put eggs in my rice for lunch. And then, Snooze met me to go to Queer Film Club, so that we could drive there in the Geo Tracker, and I, somehow, like I do with everyone who rides in it for the first time, could find a way to make him grab the “oh shit” bar right in front of him. Although the car is very cute, it’s too bumpy for Snooze. We went to Fourth Street and walked around. Ulysses texted me asking when I’d arrive, and I told him early because it is easier to find parking. So Snooze and I drove up to Good Time in Long Beach, using the gps on my phone stashed up in the rubber storage-netting above my head, so that I could look up and see the directions, and we pulled up across the street from the parking lot with the projector. Snooze exited the car, and found a live bullet on the ground. We walked inside. Snooze went pee. I waited for him to finish, talking to one of the volunteers for Queer Film Club about how they found the movie, and then I went to pee, before buying a pizza. Joey, the owner of Good Time, said, “Hi Blake,” and I bought a blanco pizza, so he said, “I’m going to put your name in as Blako” and he laughed and I laughed, so that when I left to the parking lot where the pizza was being made, and the pizza man called out “Blako,” I laughed and grabbed my pizza, splitting it with Snooze. Ulysses walked up, and I asked, “how is your mouth,” because he went to the dentist earlier that day, and he talked about how his mouth is no longer numb. Snooze stared up at the sky. He likes clouds. Snooze laid his head on the cushion at the end of the blanket that I brought to the parking lot, and then sat up, asking Ulysses “WHAT IS YOUR PASSION.” I gave him a side eye. Ulysses stared at me and said that his passion was pop culture, especially movies, like the one we were seeing tonight, but Snooze asked whether this indie movie counted as pop culture, and I keep thinking about how for Ulysses, movies are a pop culture medium, which he texted me later: that the indie movies would not exist without the big Hollywood pop movies. It is one of the reasons that I find Ulysses attractive, especially when he commented on feminine representation of men in Ru Paul’s Drag Race, which I do not watch because I hardly watch television; Ulysses feels smart and very himself. And Snooze asked him another botched question “WHAT ARE YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS,” and Ulysses said something like ‘I don’t know’ and that it doesn’t matter so much, and Snooze laid back and stared at the clouds. Rafi walked up to our blanket, sitting down facing me and Snooze, seeing me and Ulysses, and his eyes began to become intense, his eyebrows fluctuated, and he looked at me, then looked over to Ulysses, and then Snooze, sensing what was happening, and suddenly (he bought me a drink yesterday! Oh no,) Snooze began to ask him questions, and Rafi talked about the one sad book that I read but he would never finish, and I looked to the group and said “he’s talking about a little life, which you can find in the barnes and noble pride section if you try, and it’s this thick,” holding my hand into a bracket figure, and Rafi talked about how long the chapters are on audiobook, and I said you could pause to make your own chapters but I’m not sure anyone was listening, and Ulysses laughed and the sun needed to set before the movie started. So Rafi, not facing the screen, asked, “how are we going to do this,” because he must have noticed how small the cushion was for all of our heads, and Ulysses had his own little blanket-pillow, so I set up my camera bag next to him to put my head on, and Rafi said, “no blake you should have the center of the cushion, so that we can switch,” hypothetically breaking up me and Ulysses,  and I said, no I set up my camera bag already it’s fine, you can have the whole pillow, and I’m pretty sure snooze didn’t move too much to make room but I couldn’t exactly tell, so Rafi laid to my right and Ulysses to my left, and the movie began but the audio was about 2 seconds off from the video, so I did not pay attention except for two scenes that I want to reproduce in my own photography.

            I did not really pay attention either because Ulysses placed my hand on his crotch and we played footsie a tiny bit, before I put my hand around him and he placed my hand in his shirt. We played around. And I could feel rafi next to me, and it was so strange to me and I felt very divided, because Ulysses got into a big spoon position, and I could do little to follow if I still wanted to pretend that I was watching the movie. I do not remember the movie, except when snooze laughed about the guy who wanted to get run over by a Suzuki samurai (it is funny because the samurai developed into the sidekick, which is the geo tracker, which is my car); and the “read my lips” shirt that a character was wearing, because I almost ordered that shirt as part of my pride outfit. The movie ended, and, as part of queer film club, there are questions to answer that we discuss as a group. I guess I said that I did not really pay attention to the film, and Snooze left for the bathroom so that it was just a triangle of me and Rafi and Ulysses, and Ulysses asked when we were going to leave and I said that I had to wait for Snooze because I drove Snooze here so that he could ride in the tracker, but Rafi said that he’d wait and keep me company, and I glared at Rafi, and we sat in a stale silence before Ulysses asked Rafi how he knew me. Rafi replied, “you don’t want to know,” and Ulysses replied, “you don’t want to know either,” before Rafi blurted out “tinder” and Ulysses, “scruff,” and Rafi, “Blake seems to have a type,” which is when I put my hood on and drew the drawstrings as tight as they could go and I glared at Rafi because Rafi was unhinged for someone who called me a friend the night before, and Ulysses got up to leave, but I felt like I was sinking into the concrete and Rafi said that he would stay with me again, and I did not get up to hug Ulysses goodbye, although I should have kissed him to spite Rafi, because now, thinking back on it, Rafi seems like a total bratty sub that needs a dom to put him into some type of place, and I was pissed as Ulysses walked away, when Snooze came walking up from his eternal piss break and Rafi seemed like he wanted to spend more time with me and I said “let’s go” and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, and I hugged Rafi goodbye, so that Snooze and I could cross the street and enter the Geo Tracker, close the door, and I could yell to Snooze about this whole situation. He enjoyed it. It was like two movies, he said, the one that Queer Film Club put on and the whole ordeal that I had created. And I went home and Snooze left and I sat in bed anxious because it is now gemini season and I can feel it as if I know what that even means, unable to sleep until I threw on ambient music on some headphones and woke up to work the next morning.

            Four people came to work, ordering coffee, before I even opened the shop. I dropped a shot glass. It shattered. I told Ryan about the week. I told her and some customers that we had no avocados. I took pictures of our boxes and sent them to Ulysses, but with that blurry effect that makes it look like nudes. It was just boxes. No nudes. I worked all day and then I hit 100,000 miles on the Geo Tracker, automatically striking the Check Engine Light after I’ve just spent almost $3000 on fixing my car that “apparently runs very well,” and drove to Ulysses place with a giant box of boxes. We made plans to hang out on Saturday or Sunday, maybe Monday, and as I drove home with an ominous red light on my car and very little gas in the tank,  Mikey texted me to meet up for drinks, so I turned the car around and met him at the Social List and we ordered two drinks there, before heading to the Mineshaft and talking about different boys and Ulysses texted me from a bar bathroom asking about Rafi. He asked who Rafi was and I asked him how he perceived Rafi and he suggested that Rafi could come to the movies with us, but that he would have to sit behind us. And I drove home alone, too many drinks in me, and, exhausted from this whole week, I fell asleep in my clothes at 9pm. I woke up at 2AM. I fell asleep. I woke up at 7AM. I told my mom about Ulysses, and she cried for Rafi.