"You're not really scared of that stupid security guard, are you?" Brody asked me with a grin. "Dude...I highly doubt that he gets paid enough to interrogate the both of us, get our home phone numbers, and call our parents. That's just...that's not, like, a thing they do." He put his arm on my shoulder, but I was quick to step away from him. "Zack? Seriously...it's no big deal. We're ok. He was just bluffing."
"But what if he wasn't bluffing?" I said, my chest still heaving with panic and confusion. "I can't have anyone call my house for something like this. I can't."
"He's NOT gonna call your house! What are you talking about? Dude, just..." Brody put his hand on me again, and he was shocked by what he felt. "Omigod...Zack...you're fucking shaking! What is happening right now? Are you ok?"
I felt tears welling up in my eyes, but tried to fight them back as best I could. "I don't think...I don't think I can do this anymore." I nearly choked on the words. My throat was burning and my stomach tied itself in knots, but...when you've been through the kind of torture that I've been through at such a young age, and for such an extended period of time, it's hard to recognize anything else as being normal. Who am I without the pain? Who could I possibly be without the stress of always wanting to be better?
"Can't do what anymore?" Brody asked. "What are you saying?"
"THIS! You and me! I...I really want to, but...I can't...I can't connect, you know???" I began to cry and pounded both sides of my head with my fists as I tried to stop myself from feeling so empty. "I TRIED, ok! But I'm just...I'm damaged, Brody! It's just like your mom said. And I don't think I have the power or the courage to fix what's wrong with me! Chances are...I'm always going to be this way. And I'd be bringing you down with me if I stuck around long enough to ruin your life too!"
I interrupted him. "I can't promise you that I'll EVER get any better!!! Don't you get it? I don't think I'm even CAPABLE of being who you need me to be!"
Brody said, "I don't NEED you to be anything! There's nothing that you have to do to impress me! Nothing that you have to change about yourself in order to satisfy me! Zack...what is all this about? Why can't you just let me in?"
"BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW HOW!!!" I shouted, looking around the parking lot to see if anyone heard me screaming louder than I had planned to. Wiping tears off of my face with both hands. "I don't expect you to understand, ok? None of this is your fault. None of it. This is just who I am, ok? NOT hating myself isn't an option for me like it is for most people. I don't have time for wet dreams and fairy tales, because they're not REAL in my world. And I know that you're..." I choked up again, but my tears relieved some of the pressure needed to open my throat again. "...You're one of the most beautiful, most amazing, things that has ever happened to me. Like...ever! But I can't accept that any of this is ok. I mean...do you get it? You can't ever be 'real' to me. I don't know how to make that leap of faith. You keep telling me that I CAN, but I CAN'T!" I sobbed. "This isn't my life. I don't deserve ANY of this! I haven't earned it. How can I be anything other than a worthless burden to you? How I can I ever hope to be less than a massive disappointment? God...you're so perfect, Brody! You're so special. So loving. So...so...EPIC! And having you tell me that you care about me just sounds like another LIE! Do you understand that? It makes me feel like shit, having you LIE to me like that!!!"
Brody moved forward to hold me, but I just pushed his arms off of me, again and again. Trying to get him to leave me alone. Trying to maintain some level of distance before my heart was too corrupted for me to ever fix it again.
"Zack...what are you doing to yourself? What are you doing to US? Stop it!" He kept trying to embrace me, but I wouldn't let him.
"If that security guard called my house...it would be a wrap for me. My father would KILL me! And it would be MY fault!"
"Your fault? What the hell are you talking about?" He asked me. SEE??? He's angry now! He hates me! I KNEW he would end up hating me!
"I don't get 'warnings', Brody. I don't get second chances. When I get home, he's going to be waiting for me. And its gonna HURT! Do you understand! It's gonnaHURT!!! I don't want to provoke him! I have to be careful to not give him another reason to hurt me!"
The look in Brody's eyes nearly broke my heart. Especially once I saw a single tear roll down his cheek. "Is that what you think?" He asked. "You think that you gave your a dad an actual reason to hurt you? That anything you did could possibly justify what he does to you?"
I didn't want to look him in the eye. And the shame of it all only caused me to cry harder.
"Zack...that man may be a monster...he may be the worst human being ALIVE for what he's put you through..." He said, stepping closer to press his forehead against mine as he lightly caressed the back of my neck and we allowed our tears to flow freely between us. "...But if you honestly think that you're somehow responsible for this...this violence in your life...then he's already won. And I can't imagine any physical beating being worse than that." He sniffled. "Nothing that he can do to you can ever be worse than what you're doing to yourself. Nothing."
I closed my eyes, my cheeks soaking wet, doing all I could to pry my heart open and give Brody's love the access it deserved. But it all felt like a dream. A fleeting fantasy that was going to vanish into thin air like wisps of smoke the second I opened my eyes again. "I can hear him..." I said.
"My father. I can hear his voice...in my head. Telling me that I'm being stupid. Telling me that I'm not good enough. That I'm...some 'pretty boy' who doesn't believe in working hard enough to matter to anybody." I sobbed, gripping Brody's shoulders as I lowered my head even further. "I hear him every minute...of every hour...of every day. It won't go away. It's like a fucking poison in my veins, and it makes me sick to know that I can't tune him out like I want to."
"Yes, you can, Zack. Don't listen to his voice. Listen to mine. I love you. Do you hear me? I LOVE you!"
As orgasmic as it was to hear that from him in that moment...I felt like I knew what was best. For the both of us.
Staring down at his shoes as he kissed the top of my head...I said, "I'm sorry, Brody. But...I think that we should just accept the fact that...this isn't what either one of us thinks it is. We need to find something more. Something better."
Surprised, Brody asked me, "Are you saying what I think you're saying?" I felt his hands slip away from me, and he sadly mumbled, "Zack? Look at me. Please?"
It took a few seconds to gather my courage...but I finally opened my red, burning, eyes...and I stared up at him. A face so pretty that it used to feel me with awe and a sense of divine purpose...but now only brought me more pain. "The truth is..." I started, gritting my teeth to make sure that I didn't mince words this time. "...You weaken me. And I can't survive if you disarm me of the only weapons I have to keep my life from devouring me alive. Everything about this act of ours is bad for me. And I don't want to be a part of it anymore." I almost felt my knees buckle when I said it, but...I said it. Defiantly, even. Adding a meek, "Ok?"
It was as if Brody's heart broke right there in front of me. All of the glorious shine and warmth that I used to see reflected in his beautiful eyes had disappeared to the point where I could have sworn that they changed color on me. Darkening to a shade that I didn't recognize. And as tears drenched his pretty face in rivers of pain, I knew that I had finally delivered the potent message that I was trying to get across to him from the very beginning. The message that...I'm not worth the struggle it takes to love somebody like me. I'll never be good enough. I can't let go of who I am...even if it's to make room for who I desperately want to be.
Brody stepped back from me, and he sniffled, "You wanna know something, Zack? I think this is so selfish of you. It really is." He wiped his face on his sleeve, and he said, "You keep trying to push me away. You keep trying to punish me for loving everything about you, until I'm so used up that I don't have anything left to give. And you wanna know something...?" He asked, backing away from me in that empty parking lot. "...It's starting to work. It's really starting to work this time."
It was then that Brody sobbed a bit more, and then turned around to walk away from me. He...he actually walked away. And he didn't look back. Not once.
Was it over? Can I go back to a sense of stability and comfort again in my life? Can I start rebuilding my mask and get back to something that doesn't feel so shaky and artificial when it comes to my real world experience? I'll miss Brody, sure. It already hurts to not be as close to him as I was a few minutes ago...but...
...Sometimes it's just easier to deal with the devil you know.
And my father is that devil. I know what to expect from him. I know how to navigate around certain situations involving his abuse. And...at the end of the day...Brody's love for me might fade once he notices how utterly despicable I am on the inside. By my father? He sees it. He knows. And his rage for me will never fail me. As much as it hurts...at least it's reliable. At least it's permanent.
I think I can live with that.
Not that I have much of a choice.
I wandered the streets for a few hours after that. I couldn't go home, after all. Not until I was expected to be walking home from school. I couldn't let my father know that I ditched. It would just be another opportunity to unleash his wrath upon me in the most painful ways possible. So I just tried to stay off the main streets and sat by a dumpster behind a local strip mall so that I could take my books out and get some homework done. Sneaking out of school is a lot easier than sneaking back in, funny enough. I'd fare better just staying gone until tomorrow, I guess.
I tried to do my math homework...but thoughts of Brody's heartbreaking stare haunted me. To the point where my vision blurred and I found myself crying again. So I switched to my History homework instead. I have no idea why I thought the War of 1812 would somehow heal my wounded heart...but I gave it a shot. It worked for a minute or two. Maybe even five. But...soon, the pain of Brody's voice began to echo in my ears. 'Selfish'. That's what he called me. Selfish.
Doesn't he know that I was doing this as much for him as I was for myself?
I don't want the boy that I love more than anything in this world, myself included, to wake up one morning and think...'God. I totally wasted my time on this.'
Great. Now I'm crying again. Dammit! I thought this would bring me some relief. Give me some difference. I was hoping that I could drop the 'hot coal' before it burned me too badly. But now I feel even worse than I did before.
I hurt him.
Brody took a chance on me...and I hurt him.
My father was right about me. I'm not worth the filth that I'm sitting next to in this back alley dumpster. I'm lower than trash. Unlovable beyond words. And if breaking Brody's heart isn't direct proof of that...then I don't know what is.
I wish I could keep my brain from being stuck in this loop. Round and round we go.
At that moment, the back door of the store behind me suddenly opened up, and one of the employees was taking out the garbage when they saw me sobbing quietly to myself on the ground.
"Hello?" He asked. "Hey, kid? Are you alright?" He asked.
Embarrassed beyond belief, I immediately packed my textbooks and papers back into my backpack and stood up on my feet. "I'm sorry!" I whimpered, wiping my eyes. "I'll go. So sorry."
"Well, WAIT! Are you...?"
"I'm ok. I'm fine. Thanks." I said, and slung my backpack over my shoulder as I hurried away from him, hiding my distressed expression as much as I possibly could...running to find myself another hiding place. Somewhere.
I didn't slow my pace down until I was a few blocks away...breathing hard as my legs ached slightly from my quick 'escape'. But the moment the temporary panic faded away...the most somber thoughts began to move in on my heart from all sides. Squeezing it. Putting pressure on the overworked organ until it was almost ready to pop like a balloon. I'm no stranger to heartache. Certainly no strange to pain. But this was different. I hadn't built an emotional callous thick enough to defend me from whatever it was that was happening to me at that moment.
It was like a thick layer of ice was frosting over my heart...a collection of jagged icicles in the center of my stomach. I could feel this intense sensation of guilt crawling up the back of my neck and over my shoulders like tar...weighing me down. Suffocating my spirit.
But I'll be ok. I wasn't prepared for this but I'll deal with it. I always do. I'm supposed to be a soldier, remember?
It'll hurt for a while, sure...but eventually, Brody and I will just be two strange faces that pass each other in the hallway every now and then. Life will go on, we'll graduate high school and go our separate ways...and one day, he'll find somebody special of his very own.. Someone gorgeous and funny and super smart. Best of all...someone who won't self destruct every time someone tries to get him to put his shield down. Someone who can love him back the way he deserves. And that's when he'll finally understand why I did what I did. That's when he'll get it. And he'll thank God that he dodged that bullet for something more worthy of his time.
I can't be that person.
I just...I can't.
I had to wander the streets for a bit longer, constantly checking the time so I didn't go home before I was certain it looked like I actually just walked home. And then...the journey back to our apartment. The driveway. The back steps. Already, I could feel my muscles tightening up in defense of what might be waiting for me on the other side of that door. Will he be in a good mood? A bad mood? Will he do his best to provoke me into making him hit me? Or will he be so disgusted by the very sight of me that he sends me to my room and dares me to come out again until it was time for me to make dinner for hi and Mom? It really was a coin toss, most days. To say that there was anything predictable about my father's massive mood swings would be one of the greatest understatements of all time. But...as I ascended to the top of the steps, my hands trembling slightly as I pulled my house key out of my pocket...I knew that I'd simply have to face whatever was coming my way, regardless. So why even worry about it?
This is my home. It's not like I had any choice.
I turned the key, cringing at the sound of the door as it creaked open...alerting the 'beast' to my presence. I shut and locked the door behind me, and kicked my shoes off. Keeping my eyes open. Keeping my ears open.
And that's when I heard his footsteps approaching from the living room. An overexaggerated 'stomp', as if he had to prove to the world that this was his domain. My heart began to race frantically. He's going to know! He's going to take one look at me and hes going to know I wasn't in school. He'll dare me to lie to him, and I'm liable to take a knee buckling shot in the stomach for it. Am I ready for this? Am I ready?
Too scared to stand still.
Too terrified to run away.
Too scared to look him in the eye.
Too terrified to look away.
I just froze. Glancing up at his intimidating glare as he towered over me. Waiting. Always waiting.
However, this time, he didn't say a word. He gave me a dirty look for a moment, and sort of shoved me out of his way as he reached into the fridge and got himself a cold bottle of beer. Was that it? Is it over? Am I safe for now?
He saw me standing there, practically shaking myself to pieces...and as he opened up his bottle and tossed the top in the trash, he took a healthy gulp or two, and grunted, "Homework. Get it done. Let's go."
"Yes, sir..." I sighed, still stuck in a state of fear induced paralysis.
I didn't realize that I had stopped breathing until he turned to walk back to the living room TV again. He...he didn't hurt me. He didn't even yell at me. Good! This is GREAT!!!
Ok, so...homework. Right. And I'll make dinner, and my mom will come home, and things will be...they'll be normal.
See? I can have a good day too...on occasion. I just have to keep trying harder. That's all.
Keep trying harder.