But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.
Sorry Michael Sam, you're gay and not MAN enough for the NFL.
Sorry Michael Sam — a gay man like yourself has no place in the NFL — football is still and forever will be a man’s game, as pointed out in Sports Illustrated by an anonymous NFL source:
"I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
So sorry, Michael Sam. After coming out publicly, you’ll need to take your athletic talents and homosexual-ways elsewhere, because football is a sport for REAL men; men of a certain caliber, men like Ray Rice, or Darren Sharper. Never mind that Rice beats his girlfriend and drags her unconscious body like roadkill, or Sharper, where being investigated for drugging and raping women are seemingly routine for him.
No, these must be the type of men that football fans so fanatically worship; role models like Ray Lewis, who has taught us that money can get you out of anything; say murder, for example. Aaron Hernandez should take note. Better yet, take child molester Gerry Sandusky, or Joe Paterno, a coach who is still regarded by many as a legend and treated with near-deity status, despite the child sex abuse scandal that surrounds his legacy. Because they must definitely be the kind of manly-men that football, and the NFL, prefers over someone with the sexual orientation of Sam.
Because Sam does not fit into the NFL and football’s warped image of masculinity, one that has always taken pride in it’s machismo and elitism. It is a sport that supposedly “creates men,” but sadly, is deeply rooted in homophobia. A league that has been so successful and grown so large in popularity in such a short period of time is, on the other hand, slow to keep up with the times.
They continue to believe in their own grand, dated, and delusional idea of what it takes to be a man — an unrealistic ideal that they hold on to dearly; forgetting that past all the glamour and fame, they are encouraging an institution that excludes and discriminates. And if gender is a social construct, then football players and coaches have done a damn-good job in creating their own hypocritical version, one they continue to pass on to each new generation. Sam’s NFL career will, and already has, suffered from this.
Instead of embracing Sam into their fraternity and taking on such a challenge to progress as an institution, the NFL would rather tiptoe around the issue, still holding on to their sacred game and its traditions, damming Sam in the process.
If football is really to be the man’s-man game, then the NFL, its fans, and football culture as a whole, has to show it is not afraid of their fellow man, because showing fear, of course, is not what a man does.
And unlike the NFL executives and personnel in the Sports Illustrated article, who ironically, would rather hide in anonymity instead of standing behind their words as they criticize him, Sam showed no fear when he came out to his teammates in college, or when he came out publicly to the media.
If anything, Sam has shown courage; courage to stand up to a homophobic institution, and did so with utmost honesty; with dignity and class. And that, if anything, is the sort of man I’d rather be teammates with.
“A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world. That means trying to understand, take in, connect with, what wickedness human beings are capable of; and not be corrupted ― made cynical, superficial ― by this understanding.”—Susan Sontag
I first met Tami when she was blonde. Fun, easygoing, and cool as hell; it didn’t take long before we got along with the usual small talk, before bonding over making fun of Nelson. I liked her immediately.
Later came Tami the brunette. Still cool, but no, blonde Tami was always my favorite. I guess I’m bias. Damn blondes. But blonde, brunette, pink hair – that’s all trivial, really; utter nonsense in pale comparison to the realization that Tami herself, who is bald now, might not be around anymore.
Bald Tami. Tami with breast cancer. That was hard getting used to. And as the chemotherapy progressed, her body became weaker, the hair kept falling, and just like that, Tami was bald.
At that point, I could not help but feel once again fascinated and baffled by the irony of chemotherapy – treatment that, thankfully, should ultimately help, but which side effects only further robs you of your own lifestyle, your autonomy, and of course, your hair. And for a woman, it is hair that she has toyed with and brushed and combed and cherished since she was a little girl, as if having cancer wasn’t enough to mock her for her misfortune.
But who the hell am I to say, when Tami is the one who has to deal with the pain, has to make the sacrifices, watching every little detail of what she eats and does. To see your friend have to struggle just for another tomorrow, all with an uncertainty and a sense of living on borrowed time – so really, there is nothing I can describe that could ever fathom what Tami has had to go through.
But if I am segueing towards a sob story, then I have to regress. Most cancer stories are sad; sad stories we tend to avoid, sad stories without a happy ending, and that’s the honest truth.
But as for Tami’s story, it’s far from over. It’s still going, as many of ours are. It is not a cancer story. Because if you saw her today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything sad about her. She just won’t let you.
You could say adversity builds character, but I feel more than anything, it reveals it. And Tami, she’s as tough as nails. She might not have breasts at the moment, but she sure hell has bigger balls than most of us.
She has her days, she says, and I don’t doubt it. We all have our bad days – those days we get a parking ticket, or those days we drop our phone on the pavement. Bad days, I’m sure.
So yes, she has her days, but it’s tough for me to believe her when all I see is her smiling, taking solace in the “little things,” as she puts it, still being good to her people. She’s not giving any reason to feel sorry for her, not letting the cancer define her. Because she is better than that, better than being a sob story, better than simply being a bald girl with cancer.
When it comes down to it, though, this is all unfair. It is unfair to Tami, to her family, to anyone who has had cancer affect their lives and their loved ones. But don’t let the world beat you up, because it will – it will throw everything at you, when you least expect it, when you’re most vulnerable – from everything that is in and out of your control, from cancer, to people, your own friends, even, may get to you. And the world will make sure of that. But it hasn’t for Tami; it has not got the better of her. She is a testament to that.
So what has changed about Tami? Nothing, nothing at all. Her hair, perhaps. But she is still fun, still easygoing, still cool as hell. She’s still smiling. And when this is all over, when her hair grows back, when this difficult time in her life, her story, comes to pass, it’ll be nothing more but another rough chapter she overcame, leaving us all the more impressed. I just hope she goes back to being blonde.
What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.
He watched them pass by. One by one, they drifted past his sight. So many of them. And they moved fast. Too fast, for his liking. But he liked it up there, his head up in the clouds. They left as soon as they appeared, but the clouds left their mark; against the blue canvas, a palette of colors so pure it was almost surreal.
He tried to turn them into things. Animals. Buildings. People. But to no avail. His mind wandered in place, but there was no memory, no sense of reality in his thoughts. Nothing.
"I must be drunk."
He sat up. Beside him was her. She was reading then. They sat under the shade of a tree. A lone tree, a tree in the middle of nowhere. It was if that tree was planted there for this very purpose, its shade meant to protect her from the burning sun on one of those hot summer days. And now the tree embraced him too, as she did. She looked at him.
"Yes. And you need to learn how to share." She held up the empty wine bottle.
"Sorry." he said.
"You doze off for a bit. Were you dreaming?"
"No," he said. "I don’t know. If I was, it was probably about you."
He laughed. She rolled her eyes and went back to reading.
He stared up at the sky again. “I couldn’t see anything in those clouds. They’re just, clouds.”
"You must have no imagination then." she said.
"Maybe." He fell backwards on the grass. "Maybe, I have nothing left to imagine. Everything I need is right in front of me." He turned and smiled at her.
"Wow. You are so fucking corny." She grabbed a handful of grass and sprinkled it over him.
She laughed as he tried to fight this off. He brushed his face, spitting out the grass that landed on his mouth.
He got up again. He eyed the book laying in her lap. It was dog-eared and beat-up, worn out from the passing of time. But it seemed to hold itself together for her, knowing that one day it would be read once more.
"Are you liking that book so far?" he asked. "—again, I mean." He knew she did not like to reread books.
"Yes. I love it so far." she said. "Sometimes it’s good to revisit things. A book I did not like at first, maybe I’ll fall in love with it next time around."
"That’s a good way to put it." he said. "I like to think so, too."
A light breeze picked up. The leaves of the tree started to rustle, and she shivered as it passed through.
His first reaction was to wrap his arms around her, to keep her warm, to shield her from this wind that would give her discomfort — he would do anything in his power to keep her from harm, from anything that would dare threaten her — he cared for her in this way. He only, and always, wanted to make her feel good.
But he knew better; he knew he need not do anything. He knew of her strength, her courage; he knew she could take care of herself.
She shook it off. She sat up straight. She closed her eyes, as if meditating, like Buddha under the Bodhi Tree, greeting the wind as it came to her.
He watched as she did this. She looked lovely that day. Or as always, he thought. She had fixed a single, thin braid that went across a side of her head, and it was those little details that made him appreciate her more. But the wind caught some of her long hair, and it waved gently in the breeze, covering part of her face from time to time.
So damn lovely, he thought.
But he remembered this would not last. He knew he might not see her again like this. He did not want to think about it.
Then, the sky began to clear, and the sun, sneaking behind those clouds this whole time, showed itself to them. Its rays broke through the branches of the tree, showering her in light.
But she simply smiled and basked in it, feeling the warmth of the sun on her delicate skin.
And she glowed. She glowed like the sun that brightened her. She glowed like nothing he had ever set his eyes on before. Angelic.
He wanted to hold her in his arms so bad, but he could not bring himself to ruin the moment. He wanted this image to last forever. Picture perfect. He felt the rush as if he was seeing her for the first time again. As if he had hiked to the top of a hill for a cliffside view of a Hawaiian beach, to experience a sunrise painting the Grand Canyon, to gaze up at the heavens and marvel at the Northern Lights; she was that breathtaking sight men travel the world for.
Enlightened, the universe suddenly became clear to him. He believed himself a philosopher just then, and he had answered the meaning of life. He had escaped Plato’s cave and behind the flickering shadows was her, this goddess of a woman.
It was clearer than ever; she meant everything to him. She was everything, and everything. Nothing in the world made him happier, than being with her right there and then.
"God, you’re beautiful."
She opened her eyes and looked at him. Those shining eyes. She gave him a faint smile, that distinct Mona Lisa smile she always had, but a smile that brought out everything that was enigmatic and amazing about her. She leaned over and kissed him. He kissed back. She held his hand. He was on top of the world.
Aomame pressed an ear against his chest. “I’ve been lonely for so long. And I’ve been hurt so deeply. If only I could have met you again a long time ago, then I wouldn’t have had to take all these detours to get here.”
Tengo shook his head. “I don’t think so. This way is just fine. This is exactly the right time. For both of us.”
Aomame started to cry. The tears she had been holding back spilled down her cheeks and there was nothing she could do to stop them. Large teardrops fell audibly onto the sheets like rain. With Tengo buried deep inside her, she trembled slightly as she went on crying. Tengo put his arms around her and held her. He would be holding her close from now on, a thought that made him happier than he could imagine.
"We needed that much time," Tengo said, "to understand how lonely we really were."