His toughest opponent is himself.
His toughest opponent is himself.
World Boxing Champion Santino Malavé González has been fighting since he was a kid. Poverty, domestic violence, and emotional abuse were early contenders.
Guilt and self-loathing were beaten into him at an impressionable age, and now machismo, an integral part of the Latino culture, rules his life. In the ring he’s undefeated. Outside the ropes life constantly hits him below the belt. It takes a sucker punch from his best friend to finally knock the denial out of him and force him to face his true nature like a real man.
A natural born entertainer, Luca Jenaro Betancur Ferrer has grown up serving God, performing, pursuing a career in music, and celebrating life among his tight-knit Catholic family under the scorching Puerto Rican sun. Singing the wrong note on stage is not a mistake the multi-platinum award-winning singer would ever allow. Falling in love with a man is not a transgression his devout
family may ever accept. The ties that bind him are strong, but the pull toward his childhood best friend may just be enough to tear it all to shreds.
Anger, mistakes, bigotry, and the need to conform put up a good fight throughout their life journeys. Their religious and chauvinistic society constantly challenges their pursuit of happiness, and only time will tell if their relationship will survive the battles, or if they’ll lose each other by technical knockout.
“Take this.” Julito handed him the other bag. “It’s your boxing gear.”
“Why’s this here and not in the shed?”
“I’ve been bagging it up every night before going to bed and putting it back in the shed before leaving for work for the last couple of weeks. I told you to put on your shoes.”
Santi obeyed immediately. “Why’d do you do that?”
“I’m ready,” Omayra said from the door, sounding scared, sad, and excited in equal parts.
“We can’t leave without Ma,” Santi repeated. “He’s hitting her because—” He felt like he was choking on his own words. His father didn’t love him. His mom was sending him away because he’d told her he liked boys. She’d failed to stand up for him… hadn’t even tried to reassure him that she’d always want him regardless of who he was. It sucked. “Mami and Papi are disappointed in me,” he forced himself to say. “All this is happening because they think I’m gay.”
“He’s hitting Ma because he’s an abusive prick,” Omayra countered.
“I’ve got to show him I’m not gay,” Santi whispered. “This is my fault. I’ve got to do everything I can to make things right for Mami.”
“And you’ll start working on it as soon as we’re out.” Julito grabbed his keys and wallet from the milk crate that served as a bedside table and took a few towels from his bed. He looked around the room one more time before pushing Santi toward the door. “We’ve got to go.”
Only muffled noises could be heard in their parents’ bedroom when they ran out of the shack they’d called home for the past two years. That was a good sign. Papi had either passed out, or he’d calmed down.
They were soaking wet by the time they ran across the yard, got inside Julito’s old El Camino and locked the doors.
Julito pushed their bags behind the seat and started the truck. Omayra grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself, then used the other two to cover Santi and Julito before settling between them on the truck’s bench seat. Santi stared at the small, dilapidated ranch through the windshield, the rain, and the darkness of night. None of them said a word as they sped away from the house.
“Where are we going?” Omayra whispered several minutes later, taking Santi’s hand.
“’Uela Esperanza’s,” Julito said quietly as he navigated the dark curvy road down the mountain.
Omayra sniffled and wiped her face. “How will we know if Ma’s okay?”
“I have Sister Dominga’s telephone number,” Julito said. “Ma’ll go to the convent after mass on Sunday and wait for our call.”
Santi rested his head on the back of the seat and closed his eyes.
He thought about the conversation between himself and his mom. About the stupid Health class that had started this mess. About the moment his dad walked into the bedroom and about the conspiring looks he’d seen pass between Julito and their mom.
“Where’s Héctor?” he asked without opening his eyes.
“He’s living with Titi Migdalia in New York,” Julito said.
Omayra gasped. “But I thought he was still in juvie.”
“They reduced his sentence for good behavior. Papi had said he didn’t want Héctor in his house, and Ma didn’t want him to go back to that hell anyway, so she asked if I could help her buy a plane ticket for him, and I said yes.”
“How long has he been out?” Omayra asked. “Does Pa know?”
“Six months or so, and no, that bastard doesn’t know,” Julito said with a smile. Santi’s eyes were closed, but he could hear the smile in his brother’s voice. “He’s working in Tío Tato’s bodega and going to school at night. He’s doing fine.”
“I’m so happy to hear that,” Omayra said with a laugh. “That’s a great opportunity for him. I hope he turns things around for himself.”
“When did you plan this?” Santi asked is a shaky voice. “When did Ma decide to get us out of the house?”
“Right after ’Uela Esperanza and Tío Miguel came to visit the last time. She talked to them. Made sure we’d have a safe place to live and a gym where you could start training again. She was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, but she had to be ready in case—” Julito cleared his throat. “In case you turned out to be gay,” he finished in a careful tone. “She knew Pa would never leave you alone, so we came up with a plan.”
“Taunt Papi and let him think it was his idea to disown us and throw us out of the house?” Omayra snorted. “He’s an idiot, and Ma finally did something right. I wish she’d come with us, though.”
“We’ll figure a way to get her out,” Julito assured her. “Life will be different now. She found a way to give us a chance, guys. Let’s make it count.”
“I never said I am gay,” Santi pointed out. He opened his eyes and looked at his brother and sister, desperate to convince them that he wasn’t a pervert. “I’m not in love with another boy, and it isn’t my fault Papi’s hitting Ma.” He lowered his eyes and stared at the beaded bracelets he’d been squeezing in his hand the entire time. “This mess isn’t my fault…it can’t be my fault… It isn’t! I’m not gay.”
Julito clasped Santi’s shoulder and said, “I know, buddy. I know you wouldn’t let me down that way.” He patted him on the back a couple of times before focusing his attention on the road.
Omayra glared at Julito, and then kissed Santi on the cheek. “I’ll always love you, no matter what you do or who you are,” she whispered as she gave him an understanding smile. “Don’t forget that.”
Santi leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes.
He never let go of the bracelets or Omayra’s hand.
humanity and a lover of history, museums, and all things 80s. She shamelessly indulges in mind-numbing reality television, is crazy about fashion, and passionate about civil rights and equality for all.