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
There was a noise outside the house, and they both froze. “What was that?” Santi asked. “I can’t let Pa find me here.”
“I didn’t hear his car,” she said, staring at the bedroom door. She listened intently, then squared her narrow shoulders, and added, “It was probably the wind.”
“What do you mean we’re going away?” Santi sniffled loudly and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Are you getting a divorce?”
Please let her say yes.
“The church doesn’t condone divorce, and I’ve already offended God by… well, by failing to raise you right,” she said with the saddest smile Santi had ever seen on her. “Besides, your father would never agree to that. He’d rather see me dead than have people say he couldn’t keep his wife.”
“He’s told me he’d rather have a dead son than a gay one,” he confessed in a low voice. “You won’t tell him I told you I like boys, right?”
“You don’t like boys!” Mami shook him so hard his teeth clanked together. “You do not. And we’re going to keep it that way, right? Promise me that you won’t turn gay.”
“I promise.” He’d promise anything if it meant sparing his mom and himself from his dad’s rage. “I promise I’ll never fall in love with another boy. I won’t be gay.”
“Good…good.” She kissed his forehead and squeezed his shoulder. “You can’t be gay. Do not give in to that impulse. Conform to what society wants from you. Watch over your sister. Go pro as soon as you can and make lots of money. Show your dad how much you’re really worth. Get married. Have kids. Be kind to your wife and children, but let her know you’re the head of the household, and don’t you ever let anyone question your manhood.” She glanced at the bedroom door and hugged him tight, and Santi hugged her back. “Now, I know this won’t make sense to you, but I need to tell your dad about what you told me.”
“You don’t have to tell him, Ma.” He dragged his palms up and down his thighs, trying not to choke on the bile rising up his throat. “You said yourself I’m not gay. Please don’t tell him. He’ll go insane.”
“I won’t be able to get you out of here if I keep quiet. That’s the price I must pay, but you’ll be fine. As long as you don’t tell anyone you once thought you could be gay, everything will be okay.” She pushed him back and looked at him with a grave expression on her face. “Way too many gay men get hurt here, mi amor. You’ve got to protect yourself, and the best way of doing that is never letting anyone know that you used to be attracted to boys.”
“Can’t you take me to the hospital?” Santi wiped his nose on his sleeve again and blinked several times. “Maybe they can cure me.”
“I wish I could, but there’s nothing they can do about homosexuality.”
“You don’t know that.” He broke down in tears one more time. He didn’t want to turn gay. It sounded painful and lonely. “Take me to the hospital, Ma,” he begged. “The doctors will fix me.”
“I already told you, my sweet boy,” she whispered. “Only you can fix yourself and save me from your dad’s punishment.” She glanced at the door and gave him a quick kiss. “I’m counting on you to make things right for all of us.”
Santi pulled his knees up to his chest and looked at her with a glassy stare. “How am I supposed to do that?” he whispered, the weight of her expectations crushing him.
“Just be good and do as you’re told.” She hugged him tight. Santi was too scared to hug her back. “I’m very proud of you, indio, and I’ll always love you this much,” Mami emphasized, extending her arms to show him an infinite amount, the same way she did when he was a kid. “I want you to promise me you’ll remember that every time you feel I’ve let you down.”
Santi gulped at the sound of her favorite term of endearment for him.
He looked more Taíno Indian than Spaniard, African, French, or American, and he was the spitting image of his mom. He was convinced their physical resemblance created a special bond between them and absolutely loved hearing her calling him indio. Tonight that bond felt like a noose around his neck, and all of a sudden he was desperate to escape.
“¿Qué demonio tú estás hacienda en mi cuarto? What the fuck is going on here?” One second Santi was safely tucked in his mom’s arms, and the next his dad was yanking him by the back of his neck. “What were you doing, you little perv?” He threw Santi against the wall and kneed him in the balls. “Were you sniffing at your mom’s womanly parts?”
“No.” Santi doubled up and slid to the floor. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” He gasped and put his hands between his legs. His father took the opportunity to strike him in the face.
“Julio, please,” Mami begged. “He wasn’t doing any such thing!”
“First you’re a pato, and now you’re trying to get your freak on with your mom?” Papi yelled, kicking Santi’s legs. “You’re a fucking perv.”
“We’re just talking, Julio,” Mami said, and Santi saw her get out of bed out of the corner of his eye. “Please let him go.”
“Why are you here?” Papi slurred. Santi could smell the alcohol on him from his place on the floor. “Did you forget my bedroom is off-limits?”
“I needed to talk to Mami,” Santi said quietly. His balls were throbbing. Tears blurred his vision. His fingers trembled when he wiped the blood from his nose.
“Is this what happens when I’m not in the house?” Papi asked, grabbing Santi by the front of his sweater and punching him in the head. “How long has this been going on?” he yelled in his ear. “Good thing that piece of shit car broke down and I had to walk home.” He slapped Santi again. “Now I know what you do behind my back. No respect for your old man.”
“Shut the fuck up.” There was a cracking noise two seconds after he let go of Santi’s sweater. He’d heard it often enough to know it was the sound of his dad’s knuckles smashing the soft flesh of his mom’s face. It was followed by her quiet sob. “I told you to stop coddling this little shit.” He kicked Santi again. “It’s your fault he’s such a little pussy at his age. What the hell were you thinking? He’s the reason I can’t be happy. He makes me feel like a failure as a father, and it is both your fault that I get so out of control. Do you want him to be like your fucking brother? You’re turning my son into someone who’ll want to fuck little boys!”
“I don’t want to do that to little boys, and I’m not a pussy,” Santi growled, trying to get up from the floor. “Pussies are cowards, and I don’t hit women or kids,” he spat, sick of the abuse. Not caring if his dad was talking out of his ass or if he’d overheard Santi’s conversation with his mom. “That’s your specialty.”
“What did you say to me?” Papi barked. When he lifted his foot to kick him again, Santi grabbed his leg and pushed him away. He took a second to glance at his mom. She was sprawled on the bed holding her nose. He hoped it wasn’t broken again. It’d be his fault if it was, and Santi didn’t want for his mom to hurt. “What did you say to me?” He was so worried about his mom he didn’t see his dad move until his fist landed on Santi’s jaw.
“That’s enough,” Santi yelled, blocking his dad’s fist when he swung a second— or was it a fourth time? He’d lost count.
“I say when it’s enough, maricón,” Papi yelled back, spitting in Santi’s face. “Not you, you little bitch.”
“Don’t call me that ever again,” Santi growled, grabbing his dad’s hands with both of his. “I’m not a pussy.” He kicked his dad in the gut and backed away until his back was pressed to the wall. “I’m not a maricón!”
“Papi, please.” Omayra’s tremulous voice came out of nowhere. “Stop hurting Santi.”
“Go back to bed.” Papi took off his belt. “This piece of shit dared to raise his hand to me. He has to learn who the man of this house is.”