Originally published in our October 2015 newsletter.
When J. Alex Cook graduates from high school in Paragon, Indiana he has almost $5,000 in savings, a shitty Dodge Neon, middling grades, and a varsity letter in wrestling. He also has a friend named Gemma Hyong who lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania and that he has never met, and together, they are moving to Los Angeles, her to become a star, and him not to be the movie magic, but to make it.
His mother, watching him as he walks across the stage erected on the school’s worn football field, covered in dying grass from a combination of drought and the lack of any meaningful maintenance budget, has no idea. She also doesn’t know he’s gay. Or about one of the two times his sister, Delilah, has tried to stab him in their kitchen. One day, he imagines, this might be a little bit funny.
Alex doesn’t tell his mother he’s leaving until the morning three weeks later when he packs his things into the Neon. That she looks happy about it, at first, breaks his heart. Because a stupid plan — and in his gut he knows running away to Los Angeles with a girl he’s never met is a very stupid plan indeed — is the best hope she has for him ever getting out of their shitty town. Only two people in his graduating class are going to a college not prefaced by the word “community” and most of them not even that. He’s not even sure he and his sister have the same father, and mostly, that relieves him.
He hugs his mother goodbye before he comes out to her. It seems a safer order of business, even if the only disappointment she expresses as he goes is the degree to which he has never been anything but secrets to her.