I couldn't seem to keep the ideas from swimming around in circles in my head when I got up for school the next morning. The thought that being with Drew, that him being with me, that us being together...might actually be...ok.
Before meeting that boy, I would have pounded my fists on the sides of my head in an attempt to shake myself free from such disgusting thoughts. I would driven myself crazy with self loathing until I was ready to collapse from depression. I never asked to be 'different'. I never wanted to make my life any more difficult than it needed to be, and as ridiculous as it sounds...now that I think about it...there was a huge part of me that truly believed that I could simply wait this whole 'gay' thing out and avoid having to deal with it all. That I could just run around with Jermaine and the guys, pretending to like girls and laughing at their jokes and playing basketball, until their shared likes eventually rubbed off on me. It seems like that was so long ago.
It's a strange feeling...having this whole socially acceptable vision of what you're trained to think that life should be suddenly disappear. The wife and the kids and the white picket fence with a garden in the back and a yard for the dog to play in. The more I come to terms with who I really am, the more that vision begins to fade and rewrite itself into something entirely different. Something that felt more like 'me'...even if nobody else was in a position to understand it.
And now? Now I don't know what I'm feeling. Wait...I take that back. I actually know exactly how I feel...I think there are just a few dysfunctional parts of my brain that refuse to accept it. I don't know why they're holding out on me, but they keep trying to lift the fog of raw feel-good emotions and steer me in the right direction before I end up blindly going over the edge of a cliff or something. Something that keeps telling me to be careful. Telling me to be SURE! Because there's no going back once I'm all in. No return to normal. No way to keep it secret. It's just a little scary, I guess.
I can't say that I've ever been in love before. Like...ever. So, I can only wing it and hope that I'm doing this right.
It was just something that stuck with me all morning as I made my way to school. A guy can go completely insane thinking about this stuff. As if trying to figure my identity out for myself wasn't hard enough. But...Drew? Sighhhh...he makes every minute of this constant confusion SO worth the effort. You know? It's like I keep seeing his smile in the back of my mind, and my heart beats twice as fast whenever I take a moment to adore it. The very thought of him was like magic. It's hard to keep myself from smiling sometimes. I must look so silly to average people on the street.
And I was really starting to feel good about myself. I was starting to think that, maybe I could do this. I could navigate my way through the kind of life that I really wanted. The life that I secretly longed for. Anything is possible, right?
Then...I got to school...
I was headed down the hall, already slipping my backpack off of my shoulder and unzipping the top to look for my books and homework so I could get it all together for first period. I'd only need a folder and my notebook. Textbook isn't all that thick. I could put my stuff away and just carry these in my arms without much of a problem. And then, I'll just...
I was approaching my locker, and what I saw sunk down into the pit of my stomach like a brick.
Where someone had drawn a big letter 'F' on my locker before...I guess they found enough of an opportunity to come back and finish the job this morning. I almost didn't want to approach the locker for fear that someone might see me...but as I got closer, the word 'FAGGOT' had been clearly spelled out in full across the locker door in black permanent marker. Right there, for everybody in the whole school to see.
Who would do that? And why? And how many people have seen it already? Are they watching me now? Do they know that it's my locker? What the fuck is going ON here?
Did it hurt? Yes! Oh God...what did I ever do to deserve having somebody write this on my locker? I wasn't hurting anybody. How did they even know that Drew and I were spending time together? I mean...where are the teachers? The janitors? Shouldn't they be cleaning this stuff up? Isn't this, like, a big gay slur or something? Maybe they haven't seen it yet either. It still looks pretty fresh. I just...I mean...what the FUCK is going on here???
I looked around at an entire school hallway full of students who were all passing back and forth, and an ice cold shiver of total fear raced through me. Some of them actually looked directly at the word splashed all over my locker door, and were kind of taken aback by it. Some of them giggled and joked about it, one boy even made a little 'dick sucking' gesture with his hand and mouth, causing his two friends to laugh in response. A few people sort of shook their heads and kept moving, and a couple classmates quietly commented on how 'rude' that was...but still kept walking without stopping to think much more about it. Either way, I found myself standing, frozen, in place. Too damn scared to go to my own locker for fear that the other kids would see me working the combination lock and opening it up, associating my face with the insulting word plastered all across it.
One small group of boys walked by, and pointed it out. "Omigod! Dude! Hahaha!" Said one of them, and they snickered to themselves as they hurried off to class.
I wish I could say that it didn't bother me. I wish I could stand as tall and as proud as I was expecting to when I woke up this morning. But, nothing deflates your confidence and destroys you inside as a person than being laughed at and humiliated by your peers. Nothing.
I could feel my shoulders slumping forward as I made the decision to just take all of my books and junk with me for the rest of the day. Somebody on staff was bound to walk down this hallway and see that and take care of it. Or maybe even find out who wrote it and make them scrub it off...right? Nobody has to know that it was my locker. Once the word has been washed off, I doubt anybody will even remember that it was ever there. Besides, who's to say that it wasn't just sort of random attack, anyway? They could have written that on anybody's locker, it didn't have to be mine specifically. Nobody is really going to believe that I'm gay, are they? Just because somebody says so? Who cares, right? People call other people gay all the time. It doesn't mean anything.
My breath began to get short as more and more kids walked past my locker, and turned their heads to read what was on it. Reactions varied, but I can't say that a single one of them made me feel any more comfortable than I did when I first caught sight of it myself. In fact, I kept feeling worse and worse as I suddenly felt my closet door being forced open with a crowbar...all to satisfy the curiosity of a bunch of fucking strangers that had no goddamn business looking in there to begin with!
There it is again. That craving to just be left alone. Why do they care? Just...let me and Drew be happy. You don't see us running around trying to poke our nose into their private lives. Why work yourselves into our relationship. You don't belong there.
It was getting hard for me to breathe. What was happening to me? The paranoia was weighing heavy on me at that moment, and it felt like my shoulders were about to crack under the pressure. I looked at the students walking past me, blushing furiously as I fought to evade their eye contact after the first few seconds. Do they know? Have they been watching? There were a few boys and girls that I didn't even really know or have any classes with who were now looking directly at me as they walked past. Did THEY know? Who told them? Are they the ones who wrote that offensive shit on my locker? Do they know who did?
Oh, God...it feels like the whole WORLD knows now! I feel like crying!
I even saw Wayne Scott walk past me...giving me a bit of an angry look. Did HE do this? It's hard to tell. Wayne has been giving me evil looks ever since I slammed him up against the lockers and told him to back off of Drew before I made his life a living hell. So, I guess that's to be expected. But still...who did he tell? Maybe it was one of his asshole friends or something. Hell, it could be anybody in this nightmarish pit of vipers that we so affectionately refer to as 'high school'.
I was going to turn tail and run away, but I managed to catch a glimpse of Drew walking down the hall behind me and heading in my direction. He was a bit shorter than the rest of us, but that soft storm of light brown curls always stood out in a crowd. I couldn't let him see this! Drew would be soooo hurt if he saw what was written on my locker. So I had a split second decision to make, and I chose, almost involuntarily, to hurry forward to my locker and lean back against it to hide the word 'Faggot' behind my shoulders as Drew approached with a smile.
"Hey, Ethan." He grinned bashfully. That smile. Wow...it never ceases to make me feel all melty and cheesy inside. He's such a beautiful boy.
"S'up?" I said, nervously. "You're here awfully early today. What's that about?"
"Well, I can't be late every day for class."
"Your dad made you get up early, didn't he?" I smiled.
"Hehehe! Stupid school computer sent home a tardiness report. So I need to be on my best behavior. For the next couple of weeks, anyway." He grinned, and as he got closer, I pressed my shoulders even tighter against that locker. Ugh! Just my luck, the marker ink is just fresh enough for me to have it rub off on the back of my shirt and I'm stuck walking around with the word 'faggot' on my back for the rest of the school day. Still, I'll deal with it. Better than having Drew having to see it. God knows he's been through enough in this place.
"Sucks to be you." I grinned. "That's what you get for being a slacker."
"Whatever. Like it matters." He said. Then he reached in his backpack. "I brought you something. Some gummy bears. I know you like these, so..."
He handed the bag to me, and I couldn't contain my smile for a moment longer. "Wow. Nice. Thanks, Drew." I said, and our eyes connected in such an intimate way that I almost found myself leaning forward to kiss those sweet boyish lips of his on impulse. It's really hard to hold back from loving him completely in front of other people. "Heh...c'mon. Let's go. Don't want you to get to school on time and have you be late to class anyway, right?"
Drew seemed happy about it, but I noticed him sort of looking over my shoulder at my locker door. "What is that?"
"Nothing. It's not important. Just something stupid." I said, hoping to answer his question and get him to turn and look away from it before he got any more interested in it. "You ready?"
"Yeah. Just...are you marking up your locker or what? Hehehe, what's going on back there?"
"Drew...seriously..." I said with a more serious tone of voice. "It doesn't mean anything. We should really go. C'mon."
But that only caused Drew more distress, and when he asked me to step aside so he could see it, I really tightened up my stomach muscles, a desperate need to shield Drew's sensitive heart from having to see something like that. But it's not like he couldn't come by later and see it for himself. So...when my hesitation was creating more of a scene than simply letting him see it ever could...I, reluctantly, stepped aside.
The look on Drew's face made me lower my eyes to the floor. It wasn't the initial shock that really got to me...it was the deep, unavoidable, look of pain in his expression that truly broke my heart. "Oh god...Ethan..." He said softly, trailing off.
"DON'T sweat it, Drew. Ok? It's just some asshole coward who decided that he was going to pick today to take a shot at me. It doesn't mean anything. I don't even care." I said.
"It DOES mean something!" He said, with a shaky voice. "I should have known this would happen. I just should have known. " Drew took a step or two back from me, and I reached out for his hand to keep him from distancing himself. "Ethan, I'm sorry! I'm so SO sorry! This is all my fault!"
"No! What the...? What are you talking about?"
"Don't try to make me feel better! I KNEW this was gonna be a bad thing for you!" He looked as though he was getting misty eyed, and he sniffled as he tried to back away from me again, looking around the hallway to see who was watching us.
"It's not a bad thing. It's random. Totally random." I said, hoping to calm him down.
"No, it's not." He said. "Ethan, you don't know how bad this can get. Or how fast things can turn to shit once it becomes the 'popular' thing to do. I TOLD you...I didn't want you to have to go through what I go through on a daily basis! I never meant to put you in that position. I tried to save you from this, but now they've put a target on your back too." He sniffled again, wiping his eyes on the back of his wrists. "I knew this was too good to be true. I ruined your life. I just...I ruined it!"
"Whoah! What are you even talking about?" I said, touching his shoulder, but he pulled even further away from me, swiveling his head back and forth as he watched the rest of the people surrounding us to see who might be eavesdropping in on our conversation. I stepped forward to grab a hold of his shoulders and looked him in the eye. "Drew! You haven't ruined anything. This will blow over, and everything will go back to normal. You'll see."
"No. No it won't." He accidentally let a tear slip from his eye, but was quick to wipe it away as he pushed my hands off of him. "You may not realize it now, but I probably just made a mess of your whole life...and I wouldn't blame you if you hated me for it. It wasn't fair to put all this garbage in your front yard." He said, quickly adding, "Maybe...we should spend some time apart? Stay away from each other for a while and let things cool down a little bit so nobody thinks that we're..."
"Whoah, whoah, whoah...what's going on here?" I said, almost more hurt and disturbed by the very idea of Drew not wanting to be seen with me for 'a while'...however long that may be. "We're not spending time apart over something so stupid!"
"You don't understand, ok? I'm doing this to protect you."
He was beginning to cry even more now, and the other kids in the hall were starting to watch us. So I took Drew by the arm and guided him over to one of the nearby bathrooms so we could talk. There was only a minute or two before first period, so finding the bathroom empty wasn't all that strange. Still, I made sure to double check all of the stalls and everything before handing Drew a few paper towels to dry his eyes with. "Dude...NONE of this is your fault, ok?"
"It IS though!" He sobbed. "I'm sorry. I guess I just get carried away sometimes, and I think about you all the time, and sometimes I forget how much people HATE me for being who I am. But I should have let that stay MY problem instead of dragging you into it."
"You didn't drag me into anything." I assured him. "Drew...I LOVE you!"
"You shouldn't." He pouted quietly.
"Well, I do. Like it or not. So deal with it." I said. "Whoever wrote that on my locker was just being a jerk. And, to be honest, they're probably jealous that we have something that they can't ever have. Or ever appreciate the way we appreciate one another. I mean, what's their point supposed to be? Seriously. Do you really think, for one second, that I'm going to stop feeling the way I feel about you, and walk away from the greatest thing that's ever happened to me just to keep some random asshole from calling me names? They're extremely arrogant for even thinking that their closed-minded opinion would have any impact at all. I mean, is that who I'm supposed to be 'performing' for? Am I just a character on a stage for their amusement? Are YOU?" I'm not even sure where the words were coming from, but they rang true for me. Inside and out. And I'm starting to think that I'm much stronger when it comes to fighting for Drew than I am when fighting for myself. Maybe he was the catalyst that I needed all along. The light that I needed to finally find myself within the darkness that I had been surrounding myself with all this time.
Drew's head was still hanging low, sniffling, "I'm sorry, Ethan. i'm glad to have you stick by me...but you don't know what it's like. Not yet." He said. "Give it time. You'll see. They're never going to leave you alone. Not ever." He wiped his eyes again, and blew his nose. "Make me a promise, ok?"
"There's no need for you to be so torn up about this..."
"Just...humor me for a second, alright?" He said, and I nodded, feeling a little emotional myself. "If...when...the teasing and the bullying comes your way, and you want to break up or...or just stop hanging out so much where people can see us...you'll tell me. Ok?"
"I MEAN it, Ethan! Just...promise me, ok?" He cried. "Because I don't want things to get so bad for you that you regret ever loving me in the first place. That would tear me up like you wouldn't believe. And I don't want that. I can't bear to think of you regretting ever being my boyfriend. I don't think my heart could snap back from that. So just...promise me, k?"
What was I going to do? What could I say? I just...I nodded. I mean, it seemed like the right thing to do in the moment. Like I said, I'm brand NEW at this kind of thing! Am I being overly optimistic to say that I can't imagine things ever getting so bad that I'd see a need to put distance between me and the love of my life ever again? Because I've made that mistake before. On multiple occasions, in fact. I'd like to think that I've learned better since then.
But Drew wouldn't accept any other answer than my solemn vow to completely cut him off as far as our public interactions were involved. So...God help me...I nodded in agreement. And we reached for one another to hug each other tight. "I love you, Ethan." He sniffled.
"I love you too, Drew. I love you too." I answered.
We heard the morning bell ring, and we'd be late to class today...but so be it. I just wanted to hold my baby close and let him know that I was there for him. Win or lose. No disappointment required. Just like my mom said about me.
We just want the rest of the world to leave us alone. Please?
Just leave us alone!
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