It’s safe to say that I don’t really remember the first time we spoke to each other. I just remember the first time I had seen him.
The winter of 2012 wasn’t really the best time for me. I was practically homeless and at the time, I had just lost my job. My mom and sister had abandoned me for the second time and I had the horrible pleasure of staying with my father. At this time, I was still attending New Jersey City University and was being tormented at school after my break-up with my ex-boyfriend Charles. I hated stepping foot on campus and being asked questions about my ex and the rumors he had started about me. I started to have panic attacks and crying spells every day. One time, the panic attack had gotten so bad while I was walking to school. I stopped at Lincoln Park and sat by the Statue of Abraham Lincoln and cried. I could not understand what was happening to me. I felt like I was trapped inside my own head and I couldn’t get out of it.
I had become a little more involved with Hudson Pride Connections Center at this time, thanks to Tyree. Tyree could talk me into doing anything for her and she did. I started hosting the open mic night over at the center and it quickly became a hit. I enjoyed watching the kids come in and sing, rap, and recite their poetry. I enjoyed entertaining as the host and talent filler. It was a lot of hard work putting the show together and figuring out music every time we did the show. I was always nervous, but by the time that music started and someone handed me the microphone, my energy level went up and my nerves disappeared.
Through Hudson Pride Connections Center, I heard about a new center that was opening up for gay men in the city called Project L.O.L (Live Out Loud) It was a sister program for the Hyacinth AIDS foundation. When I was told that they were having their grand opening. I decided to go with some of the friends.
Chris, Cain, and Raphael and I got together one night and decided to run to Project L.O.L to check out the scene. I was nervous. I told Chris that I did not like meeting new people because I never give off the best first impression. Gay men don’t always like me when they first meet me. I’ve been told by many people when they first meet me, I come off as a snob and very stuck up. I always laugh that off. I have come to learn that everyone will have opinions of me and that is really how life is. My fear of people comes off snobbish. I’ve been told by someone who attended the same church as I once attended, that I come off as “untouchable.” I somehow love the thought of being untouchable, it makes me feel superhuman.
At Project L.O.L, which was once located on Communipaw Avenue near “the Junction.” The community room was laid out as a living room. I can still remember the sofas, coffee table, refrigerators, television. They had music playing and some snacks. I had seen two people there who I had already known. One of the guys who were starting the program was Quincy. I had known Quincy through Facebook. So I was very excited when I had met him there. My friend Chis and I had sat on the sofa where there were snacks laid out on the coffee table in front of us. There was a great turn out of guys. The men there were all rather young guys the community. Most of the guys there, I had never met before. That was the moment my life had changed.
Every time the doorbell rung and I saw new people arrive, my stomach grew with the most uneasy, nervous feeling. I was really afraid of who might walk through that door. I didn’t want to have any kind of riff with anyone there; I just wanted to have fun. But eventually, the bell rung and I saw him. He walked in wearing a black leather jacket, a cute scarf; black Polo boots and a backpack. He was with two friends, a guy and a girl. My heart pounded. I wasn’t sure how old he was, but he was so adorable. Raphael had known him and introduced me.
“Justice, this is my boo Tiger!” Raphael claimed everyone as his boo. Tiger smiled and said hi. I nodded because I don’t think I could actually speak. Tiger and his friends Ashley and Brandon sat on the other side of Chris and me and talked. I have no clue what they were talking about, but I kept flipping my hair, (this was my dreadlocks stage) to sneak a peek at Tiger and Ashley. Ashley, as I remember her, was a gorgeous girl. I wondered if she had gotten the memo that this was an all boy party. Either way, that day, I was smitten by this skinny Spanish kid with a joker smile. His eyes lit up the room. It was the first time I had been in a room with someone who had as much presence as I had. I was enamored!
I kept going to Project L.O.L because I wanted to support them as a new program. I liked the thought of getting to know more people. I believed in the services they provided to the community of gay men. The programs and events were great and I decided to volunteer some time. I also got a chance to still a look at Tiger.
Tiger and I didn’t really talk as much the first couple of time I visited the program. This is mostly because I was afraid of him. I know that sounds weird, but I will explain. I am terrible at approaching people and even when Tiger spoke to me, I was weird and tense because I did not know that to say to him. The guys in the program would always hang out and I started to become close to them, they were starting to become almost like a family to me. Every one of them had my phone number and they knew that they could call and text me at any time. I had started to be uncomfortably close with a kid named Robert.
One day, when all of the guys left Project L.O.L, we had decided to walk to Hudson Pride Connections Center to see what was going on there. Barely anything happened there that night, but we stayed downstairs in the community room, dancing and playing music. When Robert sat me down in a chair and started to give me a lap dance. Someone started recording it on their phone. Robert at the time was 16 years old and cute as fuck. I felt a little weird about letting a 16 year old grind up on me and I was 25 years old. As bad as I felt, my dick reacted with a hard standing ovation. As Robert sat and wiggled on my lap, playfully, I caught a glimpse of Tiger and realized that he had a half smirk on his face. He would later tell me, that it made him a little jealous.
One day, while at the program, Robert was sick and I had gotten him some ginger ale and walked him home. While I was walking Robert home, Tiger called me.
“Hey, where did you go?” Tiger asked me.
“I walked Robert home because he wasn’t feeling well” I told him.
“Yea, but Robert is a big boy, he will be okay.” Tiger said. “Are you coming back here?” He asked me. I was taken aback that Tiger had even cared that I had left in the first place
“Yeah, I will be back.” I said. “I should be there in a half an hour.”
“Okay, I will see you in a little.” I hung up and was surprised that Tiger had called. Then I heard thunder and was happy that Robert was home. I had planned to beat the rain and luckily, by the time I had gotten to the program, Tiger was still there and the rain had just started to pour.
I sat on the couch with Tiger as we talked to Brandon and Ashley. When we left I had ended up walking Tiger home. We spoke and we never addressed why he reacted the way he did to me walking Robert home. We sat on outside his apartment building for a while talking about life until I said goodnight. I walked back to my dad’s house beaming. I couldn’t believe this guy talked to me and actually showed me that he cared. But at this time, I was in denial to myself and a few of my friends when it came to what I felt about Tiger. I kept it a secret. I’m not sure why I kept it a secret; everyone knew that I was falling for him… Tiger knew this as well.
King of Hearts
As I became more involved with Project L.O.L, I started to help plan different events with the program. Tiger and I became CORE members and had a hand in planning different events, fundraisers, functions for the members at the program. Even though the CORE members were made up of nearly all the members of the program; I remember countless nights of Tiger and I planning events on our own with details. I remember one night being up until 4 am with Tiger at our friend Greg’s’ apartment as the other members watched us plan and tired ourselves out. Tiger and I were stretched out on the floor until we finally passed out on top of each other and fell asleep.
I had my share of Tiger obsessions, as I know now he also had a few obsession moments with me. I remember after Project L.O.L closed one day. Tiger had left the rest of the group to head off to class. Then he was attending Hudson County Community College in Journal Square. As soon as I noticed that he left, I said good bye to everyone and ran up Park Street from Communipaw headed towards Summit Ave to kind of follow him. I followed him to make sure he was safe. I didn’t catch up to Tiger until I had gotten to Summit and Montgomery.
At first I didn’t want him to see me following him at first. I stayed far behind him and blasted my head phones listening to Jessica Simpson’s “Back to You.” I crossed the street and walked on the opposite side of the street to act like I didn’t see him. Then, I wanted him to see me. I wanted him to talk to me. So I took off running, knowing that he would see me running ahead of him. I was certain this would get his attention. Sure enough, it did. Then, I heard someone yelling behind me.
“JUSTICE!!!” I heard Tiger yelling behind me and running to catch up with me, but I kept running another block. Then I slowed down and took my phone out as if I was checking to see what time it was. Then I heard steps getting closer and louder. “Justice” I turned around and Tiger was behind me. He handed me eyeliner pencils. “You dropped these.” I had taken them out of my pocket and threw them behind me hoping that he’d seen them and give them back to me.
“Oh, thanks!” I said.
“Where are you going?” He asked me.
“I have a meeting with Monica at Hudson Pride Connections.” I lied. I didn’t have a meeting, but I had to say something. “I had forgotten all about it and now I’m running late. I have to go over some ideas for the next open mic.”
“Oh okay.” Tiger said.
“Where are you going?” I asked him. We continued walking.
“I’m going to school.” He said. We talked for the next couple of blocks about the open mic at Hudson Pride Connections Center. I told him that I enjoyed doing it and how much fun was every month. When I got to the center I told him I would see him later and he hugged me. My world seemed to have gotten brighter. It was possibly the best hug I had ever gotten at that time. I beamed.
One of the functions that I had helped plan was the LGBT prom. The prom was a joint venture with Our Youth Organization. I wasn’t extremely thrilled about working with Our Youth because that meant that I would have to work with a former friend Robert DeAnthony. Robert used to be friends with my brother Kyle. Robert and I worked together for a little at Our Youth, but that turned sour after he realized that I didn’t want to have sex with him. I let Tiger take the lead on dealing with Robert. When it came to fining a date, I didn’t know who I was going to bring. Tiger had a boyfriend at the time. I thought that I would just go solo.
“Justice, who are you going to the prom with?” Ashley asked me.
“I was thinking of not going at all.” I told her. “But if I do go, I’m going alone. I don’t have anyone to go with.” Ashley, Tiger and I were sitting on the floor at Project L.O.L working on decorations for the prom. The whole entire room was busy getting prepared for the prom.
“That’s so funny, because Tiger doesn’t have a date either.” She said smiling at Tiger. Tiger looked at her and started laughing.
“What about his boyfriend?” I asked Ashley.
“He doesn’t want to go and Tiger doesn’t want him to go.”
“Oh okay!” I said looking at Ashley and then looking at Tiger who was not trying to make eye contact, but Tiger kept looking at Ashley laughing. “Well, I don’t know if Tiger wants to go with me.” I said, hinting for Tiger to talk to me. He had been so vocal before. Today, for some reason, he didn’t really say anything.
“He wants to go with you!” Ashley said.
“Damn, can I speak?” Tiger finally said to Ashley.
“I’m trying to help you out. You’re the one with no date. Sitting there looking shy.” Ashley joked.
Of course, I had already realized that Ashley was put up to this. I knew it as soon as she mentioned that Tiger didn’t have anyone to go to the prom with. Truth is, Tiger could have gotten anyone at L.O.L to go with him to the prom, because everyone there had a crush on him. I was just in a state disbelief that he was asking me.
“Well, I was going to ask you, but I thought you had a boyfriend.” Tiger said to me. At the time, everyone believed that I was dating my friend Chris. Chris and I were inseparable for reasons that I could explain, but I won’t. Let’s just say that Chris needed me at that time and I was being a friend to him. However, Chris and I were not romantically involved… Except for that one night that I refuse to ever talk about.
“I’m single.” I told Tiger and Ashley. “Really single.” I smiled.
“Well, will you take me to the prom?” He asked.
“I would love to.” I smiled. “I wanted to go with him regardless of who asked who. I was just happy he had asked me, I sucked with rejection. Truth is, I had never been to a prom before. I never went to my high school prom because I couldn’t afford it. I had always dreamed of going to prom with the guy of my dreams. After Tiger asked me, I thought there was a good chance of this coming true! Tiger and I agreed to attend both Project L.O.L and Hudson Pride Connections Proms together. I was ecstatic.
Meanwhile, I was going through a lot emotionally at the time. As I mentioned before, I was staying with my father around the time that I had met Tiger. I hated staying with my dad so much than anyone would believe. There would be times when my dad was never at the house and when he finally decided to come home, I wasn’t supposed to be there. For instance, when I didn’t have a job, on weekdays I wasn’t allowed to be there while he was there. So during the winter when he was in the house resting, I had to get up at 6 or 7 in the morning and leave. Sometimes, I would go look for a job and other times I would walk down to my college and wait for my afternoon classes to begin. Many days, I slept in the University library. When I didn’t have money to eat, I would sometimes go to my grandmother house and hope that they would feed me. If not, I’d starve the whole day.
I couldn’t stay with my sister and her husband because they were on public assistance at the time. After a while, that didn’t seem to matter and I would stay the nights when I was really lonely. I remember when my dad hadn’t come home in about four days straight and I had gotten really hungry and finally went to my sister’s house to eat. That night I fell asleep on the couch. I didn’t want to walk to the other side of Jersey City. The walk from Neptune to Fairmount Avenue was a long trek. Honestly, I was feeling lonely. I was still depressed about not working and failing my classes due to my anxiety of going on campus.
I cried myself to sleep most nights. I couldn’t stand to be alone with my own thoughts. I felt like I was trapped in my own head. I felt unwanted and unloved by everyone around me. I tried so hard to tell myself that this moment would pass, but I had time believing it myself. The fact remained. My mother had left, my sister had a life to live and I had a father who acted as if he had nothing to do with me. Worst of all, my father had a girlfriend who literally hated anyone who threatened to drive a hole between her and my father. I was never interested in doing anything like that.
One day, I walked into the house and my father was sitting on his bed and showed me a picture of my ex and I. We had done a photo-shoot for World AIDS Day! Around the time, Tyler Clementi had just committed suicide and it was making news. Tyler was known at my school by a few of my peers. As time went on, more LGBT youth were taking their own lives. I felt powerless. It sent me into s spiraling depression. I felt that there had to be something that I could do. So a few friends of mine got together and launched an online campaign. The pictures are the product of that.
The photos could still be seen today on my Facebook and social media sites because I am very proud of it because it was my concept and it was executed perfectly. My father saw the pictures of me half naked posing with a man with words like faggot, cocksucker, homo etc. written all over my body. He thought it was disgusting. He was focused on the fact that I was in the arms of another man, nothing else mattered.
“What is this?” He asked.
“A picture.” I smiled. I didn’t take him seriously.
“Why is it online?”
“Because I put it online.” I laughed. But he wasn’t laughing. He didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was weird that I was 25 years old about to be shamed by my father.
“You are naked in another man’s arms.” He said. “I’m actually wearing pants, but you can’t see them.” I said to him. “And there were no females available for the shoot.” I joked
“I’m not joking.” He yelled. “Is this the kind of shit you’re into?” He asked.
“First of all, this is art.” He interrupted me,
“Don’t give me that art bullshit.” That comment pissed me off. This man hadn’t done anything for me my entire life. All that he’d done is steal my childhood from me while he lived in a drug-hazed stupor from the time I was 7 years old until I was 16. Yet, He thought he was going to tell me what to do. “I don’t want this shit in my house.”
“How did you find it?” I asked.
“I didn’t” He said his girlfriend found it on Facebook. I thought that was weird, because I wasn’t friends with her on Facebook and my page was private. My name on Facebook is not my birth name, so it would be hard to search me. It turns out that my father’s girlfriend searched my uncle’s page to find my page. She sent my father the pictures on me asking, “How well do you know your son?”
I was pissed off. That was around the time, I was seriously done with him. As much as I had love for my father, I never loved him. I hated my father my whole entire life. He never knew me well enough to love me and vice versa. Staying with him was hell for me, I thought that there was a hope that we could learn to love each other and get to know each other. That never really happened. After that one accident and there were many more incidents after that. I lost so much respect for him. I never took the pictures down, regardless of what he said about them. His girlfriend was really low for it, but she was a bitter bitch. So I didn’t care about her extremes of separating my dad and I. She didn’t anything to me, neither did my father. I just needed a place to stay. As I type these words and if they are published, the truth will remain. If he dies, I wouldn’t care. You can’t love or miss something you never had.
Tiger’s birthday was coming up and I decided to surprise him with a small together at Project L.O.L. I got him a Carvel Ice Cream cake. He was a little surprised. Later that night, we all went to Hoboken for a party at Lana’s, which closed down and is now called Boa! We had some fun and I danced a little. Afterwards, I was going back to my sister’s house because I had something to do the next morning with her. I usually spent the weekends with my sister and my niece and my clothes were already there. Plans changed quickly, and I had to roll with the punches.
“Bye, you guys!” I waved to Ashley and Tiger. Tiger looked at me and asked.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m headed to my sister’s house; I’m supposed to stay with her tonight.” I said. “Why wassup?” I asked.
“I was going to come home with you tonight?” I smiled, I was a little confused. Tiger and I weren’t dating at this time. We had been spending time with each other. We hadn’t even kissed. So I knew sleeping with me wasn’t the plan that night. It so happens that Tiger hadn’t been home in a couple of days and needed a place to stay. This put me in a weird crisis mode. I called my sister and told her that I was on my way and that I was bringing Tiger with me. She was fine with it. Tiger and I started on our journey to my sister’s place. That’s when it started, that night I started to feel that I needed to protect Tiger and take care of him. As if, he was put in my life to help him. However, I still needed some help myself.
That night, Tiger and I slept in the room together. I still remember how the moonlight came through the window and shined on his face as he lightly snored. I couldn’t do anything but look at him. He was so beautiful. It was such an amazing sight. Even now, it takes my breath away just thinking about it. I watched him while he slept
Thoughts ran through my head. When my nerves usually get the best of me, I start to shake. I really couldn’t believe that Tiger was lying next to me. I wanted to hold Tiger, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. What if Tiger didn’t want me to touch him? Surely Tiger would have said something if he wanted to be touched. There would be some sign somewhere.
Tiger moved over closer to me and turned towards me. I was now face to face with Tiger. I looked at the moonlight on Tigers face and seen how beautiful his eyelashes were. My breathing started to get heavier and my heart started to pound in my chest. Tiger then opened his eyes and looked into my eyes. My heart started racing as Tiger started to move closer. There was simply no turning back as I reached my arm out to Tiger bringing him into my arms. I finally kissed him for the first time. I had dreamed of this very moment for the month and a half that I had been seeing Tiger. That moment was far beyond what I had ever imagined.
Oh shit! I kissed Tiger! My thoughts kept saying over and over again. Tiger and I continued to kiss each other heavier and deeper; I placed Tiger on top of me and Tiger let out a soft moan… I stopped myself and apologized to Tiger. I felt Tiger become a little hesitant about going further.
“I’m sorry” I said abruptly after I pulled myself away from him. “This is wrong, you have a boyfriend.” I said sitting up and sitting on side of the bed with my back turned my back to Tiger. I then picked up a pillow. “You sleep on the bed and I will take the floor.”
“Why?” Tiger asked.
“Because, if I sleep with you. I’m going to continue to kiss you and I’m going to want more. And we can’t do that.” Tiger looked at me. Almost confused but then agreeing with me. I wanted so badly to have sex with Tiger that night. I needed to make love to him. But I wanted him to love me. I couldn’t sleep with him. My thoughts wouldn’t allow me to.
“You’re right.” Tiger said. I threw a blanket on the floor and wrapped myself in it.
When morning came, I was sitting on the edge on the bed watching Tiger sleep. I knew that I was falling madly in love as I listened to Tiger snore lightly and watched his lips part. At that moment, I wanted to make sure that Tiger was forever protected. I wanted to make sure that no matter what happened between us; Tiger was protected and that Tiger felt loved. Tiger woke up and looked at me and it took my breath away. “Hey.” Tiger said.
“Hey.” I replied. “How did you sleep?” I asked Tiger. Tiger yawned and stretched his little body. I smiled at the thought of how he stretched like a small kitten.
“Okay, I guess. I’m still a little sleepy.” Tiger said.
“Okay, Go back to sleep.” I said.
“How did you sleep?” Tiger asked me.
“I really didn’t sleep.” I said. I hadn’t I was up all night trying to figure out how Tiger ended up here. How we ended up kissing. I thought about how I was going to try my best to protect him. I tried to figure out how I was going to take care of him. I tried to figure out if he wanted me to take care of him. So much about that boy confused me.
“I’m not surprised. You never sleep.’ Tiger smiled at me. That was the truth that everyone knew that I never slept. I started to get up and leave out the room. “Are you about to go out?” Tiger asked.
“I was going to let you get more rest.” I said.
“Oh. Okay then.” Tiger said. I started to walk out. But I instead stayed in the room sitting on the bed. I was filled with nervous energy and my hands started to shake. I looked at Tiger and asked.
“Hey, Can I hold you for a little while?” I nervously anticipated the answer when Tiger smiled and said.
“Yes.” Tiger turned over to face the wall as I got in the bed. I placed my body beside Tiger’s. I then placed my arm around Tiger and suddenly tapped Tigers tight stomach twice gesturing Tiger to move closer towards me. Like clockwork, Tigers body moved closer to me. I remember that was the first time I felt my heart pound and it felt like I had finally found someone who could possibly love me forever… We slept peacefully for a while.