Brody was quiet for another brief moment, but after taking a short breath, he touched my arm and said, “You act like you're just joking around...but I know you're not.”
Dammit! Ok...so Plan C is to change the subject. “What's wrong with joking around. I thought you 'liked' my jokes. Why don't you try making ME laugh for once, huh? Hehehe!”
Another failure on my part.
He gathered up a little more courage, and he slowed down his pace in an attempt to keep me from practically running away from him. He sighed, “Zack? I'm not trying to be...I mean...I don't want to make this weird, but...can I ask you something?”
It felt like something was squeezing the oxygen out of my lungs when he said that. My legs instantly got weak, and my footsteps felt labored and graceless as I tried to think up other ways of NOT having this conversation. But...even though I was on the verge of hyperventilating and dizzy from the threat of saying something that might make him absolutely HATE me for who I am...I worked to remind myself that I was going to try to be better about this sort of thing. It was going to be a serious FIGHT to speak the words out loud...but for Brody? I'll try.
“Yeah. I mean...if you want to, sure.” I said.
Brody asked, “If...somebody were to say something...I mean, just to try to help you out of your...'situation'…?”
“But somebody wouldn't DO that, Brody! Right??? Because I begged them NOT to do that and they PROMISED me!” I answered abruptly.
Defeated, Brody said, “I know. I promised and...I don't like it. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to leave you alone about it.”
I fought to stay steady. Remain calm. You can do this, Zack. You've got to grow up. You've got to learn how to do this.
So...I was truthful when I said, “I'm sorry. This is just really hard for me to talk about. Ok?”
I looked into Brody's eyes, and he appeared a little reluctant to ask, but said, “How long have you been...I mean...how long has your dad been…?”
“Abusing me?” Did I say that? Really? Has it gotten easier to say out loud? I always felt like the word itself was enough to choke me to death before now. “I don't know. It's hard to tell.” I told him. “It's been so long that I really don't remember much of a life without it.” I was trembling inside. I was almost sick from the jitters I felt. “That's the honest truth, Brody. Ok?”
“I'm sorry.” He said. “Am I pushing?”
I don't know...was he? Should I tell him that? If I do...will he abandon his questioning altogether? Or should I, for ONCE in my pathetic life, struggle through whatever this intense barricade of fear and secrecy and actually TALK to somebody about this?
“You're not pushing too hard.” I said, but I still felt a touch of humiliation for having this be a part of my life. I don't think anyone will ever know what it's like to look back at their childhood and see a horror movie full of torture and torment instead of the sunlit memories that most people have growing up. Not only did I want Brody to know about it...but I almost wanted to protect him from it. That's just how much I cared for him. Because I'd rather carry the burden on my own...then ever let something so unforgivable, so atrocious, take away from the glowing brilliance of Brody's smile.
That would be a pain that I couldn't live with.
“What would happen if you just...left?” Brody asked me, once again taking a hold of my hand, giving it a supportive squeeze. “What happens if you tell?”
The tremors in my gut got even worse, but I kept trying. Kept forcing those buried feelings to the surface without allowing tears to form in my eyes. I can only afford one shameful display at a time when it comes to standing in front of the most incredible boy in existence. I swallowed hard, and said, “Ummm...I don't know. To tell you the truth, it was never really an option before.”
He's like, “Of COURSE it's an option, Zack! You could tell somebody! You could...” But as soon as he started getting all excited and bossy about it all, he saw the look of embarrassment in my eyes, and he managed to contain his easy answer to it all. “I'm just saying...”
“I know.” I said. The only thing that hurt more than having to make myself so vulnerable to his questioning was the idea that I'd somehow have to allow him to make me feel so STUPID for not taking the easiest way out of the most hurtful, most oppressive, part of my life. God...why are people so eager to assume that they'd have a remedy for something like this? I mean, really? Could they do it? Could they walk a few blocks in my shoes and still have the energy to hold their heads up? Could they live my life for a single day and not want to totally kill themselves before it was over?
I fought the urge to withdraw from him. I fought the urge to resent him for even asking. It takes practice to not see the slightest request for information and trust as a total invasion of privacy. But I tried my hardest. I swear!
He said, “I don't mean to be insensitive. Honestly. I just...I can't wrap my mind around the fact that you've kept something like this a secret for so long. I mean...doesn't it, like...well, don't you ever…?”
I felt bad for making him struggle so much to talk to me in a 'careful' and tactful way. But I think that struggle helped me to understand his questions more clearly. “I make it through just fine. It's...probably not as bad as you think. You know? I mean...” I stopped myself, wondering where all of these new excuses were coming from. “I just try to keep him from being mad at me, I guess. Some days I'm good at it...and others...I'm...” The shame started to creep into my mentality again, but I fended it off. “...I'm just not good enough.” I said.
“That's total bullshit.” He said. My Brody...always the honest one. “How can you live like that? Day after day, thinking so little of yourself that it's ok to merely survive by not pissing off someone who's supposed to love you no matter what?”
There's still a part of me that wants to be defensive. A part of me that wanted to argue. To protect myself by protecting my father. And I KNOW that sounds ridiculous! Really, I do. But hating yourself is a hard habit to break when it's all you've been taught.
I shrugged at first. Lowering my head again. But I forced myself to lift my chin again and try to give him a decent answer. Maybe even give myself a decent answer for a change. “Sometimes...it hurts. Well, MOST times it hurts. And I struggle to understand it, but I struggle more to avoid dealing with it.” I said, my eyes misting up slightly. “The pain is just like any other pain. It's almost like when you twist your ankle...and it sucks, but after a while you just learn to walk with a limp. The 'suck' doesn't go away, but you learn to put it out of your mind and retrain yourself to walk a different way until it's better. As long as you don't aggravate it...you assume it'll be just fine in time.”
Brody looked so sad. I don't like it when Brody's sad. He asked, “I know it'll be difficult and all, but...can't you and your mom just...leave? Just say, 'fuck it, we're outta here', and put him in jail where he belongs?”
“I don't know, Brody. It's not like I don't think about it. It's not like it never crosses my mind that one phone call, one eye witness, or one conversation with a trusted teacher or something could make this all go away. It'll never reverse the damage that's been done, but...I could stop it from getting worse. Sure, I think about it. I think about it all the time.” I told him, quickly wiping a single stray tear off of my cheek before he saw it. “But...after being beaten and defeated so many times...thinking that you have any chance of making it better is like standing on the side of a cliff and trying to tell yourself you could fly...if only you had the courage to step over the edge. I know you think I'm weak and scared, but it's true. I don't have that kind of faith. I AM weak. And I AM scared. What seems so simple to you is coming from a completely different mindset. One that hasn't been battered into submission the way mine has. Things are different for me. So very different.” A short silence caused me to peek over at Brody to gauge some kind of reaction. He was the one looking down at the sidewalk this time. “Does...does that make any sense?” I asked, nervously...hoping that I didn't wreck our lunch date already.
See? There's a reason why I don't ever get the chance to talk about these things.
Brody seemed a little misty eyed himself, but that's when he smiled at me. His eyes glistening with a defiant withholding of tears. And he just put a hand on my shoulder to lean in and kiss me on the cheek. Then he says, “Yeah. I guess it makes a little sense.” Adding, “But I wish it didn't. I wish I could see things from your side so I could figure out how to help you, Zack.”
“You are helping, Brody. Believe me.” I grinned. “You're the lightning bolt that I wished for. You're exactly what I needed...to make things better.” Shit...now he's gotten me started. More tears came to my eyes, but it was mostly an expression of joy and relief combined. Wow...he really is the cure for the sickness inside of me. Who knew there even was one?
Brody reached up to help me wipe my tears away with his thumbs, gently caressing the sides of my face. “Don't you go getting all emotional on me right now.” He giggled, a tear of his own rolling down. “Man up. We're almost there.”
“Almost where? Where the heck are you taking me?” I sniffled.
“Just fix yourself up so we don't go in there looking like a couple of sad orphans. Come on, now. You'll like it.”
Lead the way, Brody. I'm right behind you. Always.
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