By Bart Vogelzang

This was to have been my last Sinterklaas as a youngster, but I think I screwed it up, badly. In fact, I think I screwed up not just Sinterklaas, but my whole life.

A few months ago I turned 12, and just a couple of days ago my mam and pap took me aside after dinner, and explained, in agonizing and unwanted detail, ‘the birds and the bees’. Without even thinking about it, while shuddering in horror at the details of the female body and its cycles, I blurted out that it would never be a concern to me.

Dead silence. Two pairs of steely eyes froze me in my place; my mouth now clenched shut, after it was way too late.

“Are you saying you don’t care if you get a girl pregnant?” my mother hissed at me, looking hopeful, paradoxically, all without ever losing the steely stare.

“Uh, no?” I quavered, groping for an answer that would free me from this horrid tableau, without turning me into a macho creep in the process.

“What exactly do you mean then, son?” my father asked, sounding much friendlier than my mother, his eyes no longer on me, but turned towards mam.

I started to cry, knowing there was no turning back, no way to unsay what had been said, and stuttered, “I don’t like girls. I like boys. I don’t think I will ever get a girl pregnant. I can’t even imagine touching a girl. I think there’s something wrong with me. I know I’m not normal.”

“You’re gay?” mam hissed again, no longer looking the least bit hopeful, pinning me with her staring eyes, as if I was about to be bitten and left to die.

“No! Yes? I don’t know. Is that what it’s called if you like boys and not girls?” I barely managed to croak it out over my distress at her reaction. My dad didn’t say a word, just looked at me blankly, then at my mother, and got up, leaving the room. My mam then got up and left too, leaving me to my misery. It was pretty obvious that they didn’t love me anymore.

In the last two days, I’ve had to endure dead silence at breakfast and dinner. Thank goodness for school, so I could have some normalcy for a few hours. Not that they were happy hours, since I was worried sick about me and my parents. For meals my mother still set my place at the table, but wouldn’t talk to me at all, even when I asked a question. My dad would answer, but it was obvious that things were by no means normal. Even my mam and pap didn’t seem to be talking anymore, at least not around me, although there seemed to be plenty of glances.

All my childhood, from as far back as I remember, Sinterklaas was huge fun. This traditional Dutch celebration, held on December 6th, is the forerunner of Santa Claus. His true name was St. Nicholas but is known to the Dutch as Sinterklaas. After coming to North America two years ago, I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain it all to my schoolmates. I studied up on it a bit, and was able to then tell them Sinterklaas had been introduced to America in New Amsterdam (now New York) and there it had eventually been changed to St. Nick and to coincide with Christmas. Unlike Santa though, Sinterklaas will leave you a lump of coal if you’ve been bad, but something really nice if you’ve been good. And if you’ve been truly awful, his helper, Black Peter, simply loads you in a sack during the night and takes you away from your family for punishment. That evening, Black Peter sneaks about the house creating great excitement by throwing small candies wherever you aren’t looking, and no matter how much you try to spot him, you never can. Just before bedtime, I would take my shoes and put them near the chimney, or, in our new American home, the hot air register from the furnace, and leave a small glass of milk and some cookies for Sinterklaas, and for his horse, some grass, since we had no access to hay anymore.

This Sinterklaas was to have been my last one as a youngster. No more shoes being left for a present after this one. But deep down inside me I already knew it was gone forever. There were no candies strewn willy-nilly about the house. There was no excitement. There was no mistaking the silence. My childhood was gone, and all because of one stupid blurt from my mouth. Deep with dread, I left my shoes in the required spot, got Sinterklaas a glass of milk, and some cookies, and even found some grass outside, where the snow had not yet covered it, then went to bed, knowing in the morning I was going to find a lump of coal in a shoe, if I wasn’t actually kidnapped by Black Peter.

I made it to morning. Maybe I wasn’t that bad a kid. On the other hand, maybe Sinterklaas and Black Peter weren’t into gathering a harem of gay boys. Who knows? All I know is, I survived that night. Slowly, torn between dread and hope, I edged towards my shoes, holding my message from St. Nicholas. Did he leave me a lump of coal, or condemn me completely by ignoring me? I just didn’t know which would be worse; which was going to make me feel the most pain.

My hand trembled and my tears were near at hand as I reached into my left shoe. Nothing. Empty. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Barely able to see through the tears now coursing from my eyes, I tried the other shoe. Something was there. It was wrapped in some paper, and felt hard as a rock. Dread almost knocked me off my feet. Shaking fingers fumbled with the paper, dread warring with despair at what I would find within. Shock! Amazement! Joy! Complete puzzlement.

It was not a lump of coal. It was my favorite Sinterklaas treat. Marzipan. It was an apple-shaped, and dyed, marzipan treat. And not a small one like in other years, but a huge one. It was incomprehensible. Sinterklaas loved me anyway?

As my tears, now of relief, finally stopped flowing, I noticed writing on the paper wrapping. “Dear son, the marzipan is a gift from us, not Sinterklaas, and it being an apple is deliberate. The apple never falls far from the tree. Yes son, I’m gay too. Your mother and I have stayed together to raise you as a family, and just as we still love each other after I told her, we love you too. It was just such a surprise and shock to her that she didn’t know how to react. I know I should have said something right away, but I just didn’t know what to say that might not have hurt her badly. We needed to talk to each other first. I hope you can forgive us for our poor reactions, and I hope you know we really love you very much. Pap, and mam.”

This was to have been my last Sinterklaas as a youngster, but instead it became my first one as a trusted partner in our family.

© 2001 Bart Vogelzang All Rights Reserved