I think that I was only ten minutes into my next period class before my thoughts started to swirl themselves up into a cyclone of madness and paranoia that I really had to fight to escape with every annoying tick of that damn high school clock. I mean, I wanted this, right? I was willing to move forward and make a real go at living the kind of life that I always wanted to live...deep down inside. Even if I didn’t know it at the time. And Drew was worth the effort. Oh man...he was so worth the effort. I just...I made the decision to maybe try to ease my best friends into the idea of me being gay with another boy so that it wouldn’t seem so strange later on when I was inevitably forced to come out to them anyway, right? This shouldn’t be as difficult as I was making it out to be. I’m gay. Drew’s gay. We’re gay together. They should be happy for me for finding a boyfriend. Hell, I’m even getting laid! That should score me some points, right?
Oh, who am I kidding? Hell, Billy and Joey are probably going to blow a gasket and run around telling everybody that Drew was the one who made me gay. Like it’s contagious or something. And Jermaine will probably distance himself from me to keep from being outcast from the popular crowd that he’s so obsessed with being a part of. I mean...I never thought that I’d ever have to question our friendship before, nor did they ever give me any reason to...but right now I feel like I’m existing as some kind of mixed up ‘half breed’ between two worlds that I desperately want to be a part of, but can’t really find a way for them to coexist in some sort of civil and agreeable way. No matter which side I choose, I’ll always be missing out on something that’s deeply important to me. And if that’s what it comes down to in the end...I think I’d rather be with Drew.
It puts so much of my life in a painfully awkward perspective, you know?
I found myself getting more and more anxious, the closer that I got to lunch...tapping my pencil incessantly on my desk until even my teacher couldn’t concentrate and turned away from the blackboard to ask me to please stop. I began to think about the fact that Jermaine has probably already figured everything out on his own. He knew that day on the basketball court, didn’t he? What is he’s fully aware of the fact that Drew and I are boyfriends? What if he told somebody? What if he told everybody? Plus I already came out to Patrick and let him know that I was the boy that Drew was always talking about. I’m sure that somebody let the secret slip somewhere along the way. And that secret probably got overheard by people who had NO business knowing in the first place. Which means that they probably started spreading the word around until it hit the ears of people who work themselves to the point of exhaustion to hurt, shame, and ridicule me to the point of nearly being suicidal just to get away from them. That might be why people bump my shoulder in the hallway, whisper and giggle behind my back, and write that bigoted bullshit on my locker. People who HATE the idea of me and Drew loving each other...when it doesn’t even have anything to do with them. It’s not like we make out in the halls or anything. It’s not like I invited him to Prom! We just want to live and be happy. Do they even ask themselves why that bothers them so much? Would the be able to explain it if anybody took a moment to look them in the face and ask them to say it out loud in a place where everybody else could hear it and see them for who they are? What would their excuse be for being so cruel?
Ugh...this is the hardest part of coming out to the one or two people you trust, or even having someone find out by mistake. You lose all control over the narrative. Now the most personal parts of myself are just...’out there’ for people to use and blab about without my consent. I don’t even know who’s doing it or why. Or what their intentions might be in telling somebody else at all. It sucks. Everything about this sucks.
Jermaine told Billy and Joey about us...didn’t he? I can tell. Just from the look they gave me in the hallway this morning...they have to know what’s up. I’m going to look so weak if I try to avoid talking about it. Like a total liar. I should just...go see them in the cafeteria and put my fucking balls on the table and get it over with so I can find out who they might have told so I can figure out who keeps writing ’FAG’ on my locker. I highly doubt that it’s Patrick, as he seems to be ok with whole concept of me and Drew being together. But I can’t just keep coming to school with a tube of toothpaste and a wet sponge to clean my locker off day after day. It’s got to stop. I’ll try to do it on my own, but if it comes down to telling teachers and Principals and stuff...then so be it. Even if it eventually gets back to my parents at some point, it would beat being bullied and harassed for the rest of my high school years.
Oh man...my parents. Grrr, almost forgot about that part.
If my parents find out about that part, then my grandparents will find out too. Then my aunts and uncles will know. Then my cousins will know. I mean...how am I supposed to know what ALL of their personal politics, beliefs, and potential objections they have to this sort of thing. How can I expect them to love me despite this one particular ‘defect’ in my attractions when I, originally, couldn’t even find a way to love myself?
UGH!!! Why is this so fucking complicated???
When the bell rang right before lunch, I couldn’t tell if I was being bold and determined to go talk to my friends and finally force them to deal with who I was, once and for all...or if I was just so terrified and worn down that I just wanted to rip the whole thing off like a Band-Aid and get it over with so I wouldn’t have to deal with the burden of it anymore. Because I was sooooo exhausted with the task of hiding it these days. I mean, having people figure me out might actually turn out to be a huge sigh of relief in the ultimate scheme of things. I might be bullied and beaten up for it...but if it’s coming from an outside source, at least I’d have a chance to ball up my fucking fist and fight back for a change. Right? Better that than having to deal with the psychological horror of beating up on myself all the time. I just so happen to be the one person that I can’t fight. I know all of my own moves. And even if I was delusional enough to temporarily trick myself into believing that the rest of the world is to blame for my shortcomings and misfortunes...when I lay down at night...I know the truth. I can’t run from it, hide from it, or protect myself from it. It’s right there, staring me in the face, and shaking its head in shame as I wear myself out trying to pretend that I don’t know it’s there.
I don’t want that life. That would be HELL! And worse...it would b a hell of my own making. So why do it, you know? Why?
I wouldn’t be fooling anybody. And I wouldn’t be fooling myself. So, again...why?
I had my backpack slung over my shoulder as I stopped by a water fountain in the hallway, trying to get myself well hydrated before tackling this whole thing, and then I made my way down to the cafeteria. I won’t lie...I was shaking so badly that I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to really eat much of anything before getting nauseous from the violent tantrum brewing in the pit of my stomach. But I kept pressing forward. Grabbing my tray and getting my lunch while looking around the room to see if maybe I could catch sight of my friends anywhere, possibly getting their food at the same time.
No such luck.
I grabbed a fruit punch bottle on my way to the register to show my card and be allowed to go out and find myself a seat. But I already knew where I was going. Once I exited the lunch line, I saw Jermaine, Joey, and Billy, sitting at our usual table...and even though my weak kneed approach took a bit of effort to get going and pointed in the right direction...I puffed my chest out, lifted my head, and put my shoulders back as I confidently walked towards our typical eating spot. Yeah, they were going to give me shit for it, and yes, Joey and Billy were going to indulge in their weird little fairy tales about what they think it’s like to be gay...but I don’t care. Not today.
Drew’s worth it. That’s what I have to keep telling myself. Drew’s love will keep me strong. Even if he isn’t here to hold my hand through this.
I just approached the table and slammed my tray down before sitting down with the rest of them without saying a single word. I opened my fruit punch, twisting the cap off, and took three or four healthy gulps before I allowed my eyes to connect to anyone else’s at that table. Maybe I was overcompensating a little bit, and trying to broadcast this ‘I really don’t give a fuck’ vibe of immature insecurity...but I wasn’t quite sure what else I could do. It’s not like I was going to get down on my knees and beg for them to take me back. I didn’t do anything wrong! I was just trying to...well, I mean...look I was in love, ok? And I just wanted to...
They were all staring at me, and I thought that I might have made a mistake by flashing my audacity to just return to our lunch table without so much as greeting them or explaining why I haven’t been around in such a long time. I mean, I could have just reached out to say ‘hello’, or something to let them know that I still cared. But I guess I was too busy for all that at the time. I was just out there doing my own thing and, frankly, didn’t even think about them all that much. But these were my best friends. I wouldn’t even be who I am if it weren’t for their camaraderie and playful influence. I am who I am because they were here for me when nobody else was. And I repaid them by ditching them the second a pretty face lured me into a wet dream lullaby and gave me something bigger to hope for.
I guess that I kinda suck for that. But I didn’t realize it until just now until I realized that I was right back here where I started...looking to have them ‘entertain’ me again by being the support that I always needed but took for granted when I had it.
No wonder I was afraid to make eye contact...
“Ethan...” Jermaine started, but I cut him off.
“Look, I fucked up. Ok? I know that. And I wasn’t being fair to you guys, but at the time...I was just going through a lot of soul searching or whatever. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I really didn’t mean to push you guys away, but I’m sure you all know why I found the need to do that, right? I mean...with what Billy and Joey said about gay teens making other teen boys gay and stuff...and, I mean, it wasn’t friggin’ like that at all!”
“I WANTED it, ok? And I’m not going to apologize for it!” I said. “You guys can frown up all you want in the hallways and shit, but at the end of the day, me and Drew are happy together! And if you don’t like it, then you can fuck off! Because this is the way things are now.” I said, feeling more emboldened as they stopped eating lunch and just gazed at me as I practically broke myself down with my vulnerable confession and confident response to their unwanted opinion on it all. I’m GLAD that they were totally stunned by my sudden outburst! I’m so SICK of having this part of my life matter so much! “I’m GAY! Ok? Just deal with it! I know that everybody knows now, so I don’t see the need to pretend anymore. This is just stupid. We’ve been friends FOREVER, and this is what’s going to tear us apart? This tiny little thing? I’m not the one who should be ashamed here. YOU should be the ones hanging your heads low, and tossing and turning in bed every night, wondering how you could be so goddamn petty over something that doesn’t even fucking concern you! Like...at ALL!!!” I growled, and I gave Jermaine the meanest of looks, saying, “Why would you even tell them about me? That wasn’t your secret to tell. You’re such an asshole for that!”
And after looking down at the table for a moment, and sighing with closed eyes...Jermaine said, “...I didn’t.”
“What?” I asked angrily.
“I didn’t tell anybody anything, Ethan. I would never do that.” He said softly.
It was like my throat suddenly locked up on me and all of my fake bravado sank down into the pit of my stomach like a brick as my mouth dropped open slightly, and I looked across the table to see Joey and Billy sort of frozen with wide eyes as they attempted to really understanding what I was saying at that particular moment.
Oh….oh God...what did I just do?
“You mean...you didn’t, like…?”
Jermaine was like, “NO! Why would I ever do that? Didn’t you know me any better than that? C’mon, Ethan...Jesus...”
“...oh...” I mumbled under my breath.
Both Billy and Joey were so shocked by sudden accusation that it actually took them almost a full minute of silence to recover from the impact of it all. That’s when Joey said, “Dude...you’re...you’re gay?”
Billy just stared down at the table, saying, “Whoah...ok...”
More embarrassed than ever now, I looked back at Jermaine...who seemed to be equally embarrassed for me. “I thought...I thought for sure you would have told them by now.”
Joey was like, “You knew about this?”
But Jermaine answered, “NO! Not really! I mean, I started to suspect a few things here and there, but...”
“Why didn’t you tell the rest of us?” Billy asked.
“It wasn’t any of our business!” Jermaine told him. “Besides, he said it wasn’t true, and that him and Drew were just friends. How was I supposed to know? I believed him when he said that he was just being cool...”
“I believed him too.” Joey added, “But we were obviously wrong about this!”
“I didn’t even suspect that Ethan might be gay! What the fuck, dude?” Billy said.
Confused, I just jumped in and said, “Wait...are you guys telling me that you had absolutely no idea that Drew and I were gay???”
Jermaine said, “Well...DREW, sure! Everybody knew that because he told us he was...” Then he was like, “...But it’s not like we were putting in any kind of serious detective work into finding out who was gay and who wasn’t in this school. We’ve got our own shit to deal with, dude. It’s not like we’re constantly collecting info and thinking about your sexual preferences all day and all night. That’s just friggin’ crazy.”
My jaw dropped. “You ASKED me if Drew and I were more than just friends, Jermaine!”
“It was a question! Not an accusation!” He replied. “And I would have been cool with your answer, either way! I was just trying to look out for you, bro. What were you thinking?”
“So...you didn’t tell Joey and Billy that I was gay?”
“YOU just fucking told Joey and Billy that you were gay, dude!”
Billy looked up ad said, “What’s so weird about us knowing that Ethan was gay?”
Joey replied, “I figured he was gay. Just saying.”
“Oh you did NOT!” Jermaine said, and all three of them went back and forth for a few rounds before I just put my hand up to stop them from arguing with one another.
“You guys...what the hell is even going on right now?” I asked.
“Are you serious???” Billy replied.
“I just...maybe I made a mistake with this whole thing.” I said, but Jermaine made sure to speak up.
“It wasn’t a mistake, Ethan. Dude, we couldn’t give two shits about you being gay. That’s cool with us. We just wish you hadn’t started avoiding us like the plague and acting all weird like we were the ‘enemy’ all of a sudden. That’s all.”
Joey added, “Yeah, man. You really kinda bailed on us. And you never even told us why. I’m not gonna lie, Ethan...it hurt. I mean, what did we do to deserve that? We were just trying to get our friend back in the mix with the rest of us, that’s all.”
Giving them a sideways look, I asked, “You mean...wait...” I had to compose myself. “...Are you guys really ok with me being...like...different?”
“Different?” Jermaine said. “The only thing ‘different’ about you was the way you started acting around us once Drew came along. We don’t care if you’re gay. Go for yours, dude. We just want our friend back.”
I’d be lying if I said that my heart wasn’t warmed by the sentiment. “I didn’t mean to just up and abandon you guys. I was just...a bit lost, maybe a little confused. I’m working my way through this as best as I can, you know? And it was hard to figure out who I could trust in all of this madness.”
Jermaine told me, “If we weren’t on the top of that list, then you’re telling us that we’re not doing our job as friends. And that’s not cool.” He put his hand on my shoulder and continued with, “We’ve been buds for as long as I can remember. It would be an insult to think for one minute that you couldn’t trust us to look out for you when you need us to. Just don’t be a dick to us, you know?”
I nodded. And said, “I’m sorry. Honestly. I fucked up.”
“Yeah. You did. But...lucky for you...you’ve got a cheat code with all of us. So consider it ‘old school’ from here on out. K?”
Jermaine gave me a sideways, one armed hug to seal the deal. And Billy and Joey were on the other side of the cafeteria table, but seemed to agree with our new pact to stay buds, despite my tortured confession. It did a lot to put my fevered heart to rest. And I could only hope that their pledge of loyalty to our friendship was as sincere and as genuine as it seemed to be.
Because...if it was, then that means that I had a small army on my side. Maybe on Drew’s side too. And this is one of those times when we could really use something like that.