I don't know.
Every second that my mind was able to wander back to that profane document in my backpack...the more nervous I became. What did I say? What have I done?
I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was trembling to the point where it was starting to make me nauseous inside. What if he finds out? Seriously. What will my father actually DO to me if he figures it all out somehow, and realizes that I totally snitched on him and all of the things that he did to me and my mom in that house?
Oh God...my mom...
Was I even thinking about her when I made this decision? How selfish was it of me to put her life in danger too by typing this story up, printing it out, and then even letting the idea cross my mind that I could just hand it over to somebody else for them to read? To judge? A TEACHER, no less...who I'm sure is pretty much obligated to tell someone about my strange behavior or any signs of depressing activity. Am I INSANE???
I couldn't keep my mind off of the overall threat of even having such a blasphemous account of damning evidence sitting right there next to me at that very moment. My breath got short. My temperature began to rise. And I was trying to fight it off, but the tightness in my chest continued to constrict until it felt as though my ribs would literally crack and shatter under the pressure of it all. Was I....was I having a panic attack right now? I can't catch my breath. I can't think straight. I can't...I just...I can't, right now...
Without even raising my hand or asking for permission, I suddenly grabbed my books, shoved them back into my backpack, and I got up from my desk to hurry towards the front door of the classroom as tears began to well up in my eyes.
"Excuse me!" My teacher said...but I didn't stop. I didn't even feel like I could if I wanted to do. My deepest survival instincts had suddenly been triggered in a way that I wasn't used to dealing with, and I felt like I would actually DIE if I didn't get out of that room. Right at that moment. There was nothing to discuss. I just had to go. "Zack...?" She asked.
"I'm sorry..." I managed to say with a soft and shaky voice as I rushed out into the hallways and headed towards the nearest bathroom. This looks bad, doesn't it? Really bad. They're probably all laughing at me right now. Probably making fun of me for being such a wimp. A worthless pretty boy with nothing to offer the world at large. A piece of shit, not worthy of sharing the same space with them.
I don't know what I did to fool Brody into loving me...but I know that I was a bastard for doing it. He's so much better than me. He deserves somebody more stable...
Yeah, I recognized all of those thoughts as being my father's thoughts instead of my own...I know that. It's just...fighting them off can be sooooo hard sometimes. It's hard for me to explain it with words alone. You have to feel it. You have to live through it. Nobody comes out of a severely abusive home life and simply gets over it with the strength of will power alone. Not when his words make so much more sense than what I want to feel in my heart of hearts. You know?
What would you think was more realistic? That I'm just some stupid teenage boy with a fantasy and an unattainable dream of being infinitely happy some day in the future? Or that I've caught the eye and captured the heart of the most beautiful boy that I've ever laid eyes upon...and merely have to accept his love in order to gain my 'happily ever after', fairy tale, ending after years of torture and ridicule? Secrets and pain? How can any rational mind ever process that and see it as a feasible outcome for me after everything that I've been through?
There's no escape from my own mind. From my history. From my very identity.
My father isn't trying to crush who I am as a person. My father is an essential PART of who I am as a person. Full stop. I can't help but to feel like I'm going to fall eventually...and all Brody can do for me is go down with me.
Like I said...he deserves so much better than that.
Running into the bathroom, I grabbed some paper towels and wet them with some cool water in the sink. I made sure to look at myself in the mirror. Right in the eye. I couldn't stop shaking, but I did it anyway. It was a painful experience. Can you imagine what it feels like to look at your own reflection and feel a level of shame that you have to fight to keep from turning away from?
Breathe, Zack. Don't listen to that voice in your head. It isn't real.
Look at yourself in the mirror...and try to see what Brody sees. Just...just try, ok?
I stared into my own eyes, and I found a build up of pain and anguish that I have spent half of my life trying to avoid. Trying to run away from, hoping that I would never trip myself up over something as stupid as love or true friendship...leaving me helpless as the demons within caught up to me and finally consumed me once and for all. And I began to cry...
I grabbed another paper towel to wipe my eyes...but the tears just kept coming. It wasn't even about the story I had written anymore. This was something different. A door had been opened. I had become aware of a personal truth that I couldn't take back. A genie that I couldn't put back in the bottle. And the more I tried to contain myself and get a grip, the harder it pushed me to give it the notice and attention those buried feeling thought they deserved. Every defense that I had ever built against their attempts to take me over had crumbled. They were gone for good. And, not only could I not repair them or get them back...but I didn't even have the heart to build new security measures and put them in place to keep from going completely fucking MAD!
Oh God! I love you, Brody...I really do...but what have you done to me? You left me so defenseless in a world of horror and pain. And now I have to depend on you to 'save' me when I fail. Not IF I fail...but when.
I'm trusting you, baby. Please don't disappoint me. Don't let me disappoint myself.
I'm not sure how long I stayed in there, but once I was able to stop crying like a baby and breathe normally again...I made my way back to class...with only about ten minutes left in my class. I gave a brief apology again as I opened the door, interrupting the lesson and giving my teacher a gentle nod to let her know that I didn't mean any disrespect. If only she knew how uch of an emergency it was at that very moment...she'd understand.
And in my backpack...that story still remained.
There was a part of me that wanted to trash it. To tear it up into unreadable pieces of confetti and walk away from this silly idea that it would make any difference in my life at all. But I didn't. I think...I think I actually wanted my story to be out there this time. I wanted to be free of it's stranglehold on me and everything that I do. There was a time when that didn't seem possible, but...if Brody believes in me? Maybe it's time that I start believing in myself.
There might actually be a way OUT of this madness. Right? What if I could wake up one day in the near future...and simply not have this be a part of my life anymore? Wouldn't that be worth it? Wouldn't anything...hell, everything...be worth it?
When the bell rang, I half expected my teacher to hand me a detention slip or at least ask to talk to me after class to straighten me out for ditching her class without warning. But as I slowly peeked over at her while passing her desk, she looked into my eyes and figured that it wasn't worth the struggle, I guess. Am I that obviously fucked in the head now? Ugh...I can't even hide it anymore.
And yet, when I walked out of the classroom...Brody was standing right there across the hall with a welcoming smile. Just like he promised he would. I took a moment to cherish the vision of him leaning up against the lockers...those soft lips, those bright eyes, and that random little half-straight curl that always slipped down over his forehead. Heh...so stunning. More beautiful than the word, 'beautiful', could ever hope to describe.
Brody as more than my super attractive new boyfriend. He was the symbol, the promise, of a new day. A covenant with the angels above that gave me the strength to keep going and do what I knew was right.
I'm going to turn in that paper today. I'm going to do it...and whatever happens...happens. End of story.
"I was starting to think that you left before I got here." He grinned. "Are you dragging your feet now, or what?"
"Just had a lot on my mind. That's all." I told him. "I can't be late for my next class though. I've got a biology test that I'm sure is going to kick my ass next period."
"No worries. I'm right here with you. Let's travel." He smiled, and he made the effort to escort me to class, just so that he could spend some extra time with me for the rest of the morning. A comfort that I was more than willing to welcome. Especially now.
I think we were pretty quiet for the first minute or two that we were walking together. Crowded high school hallways aren't the ideal places to talk about anything meaningful anyway. Just gossip and noise, mostly. But whenever Brody and I looked each other in the eyes and smiled gleefully at the fact that we were together again, even if only for a little while...was more than enough to convey the message that we wanted to get across. We were in love. And we wanted to share that with one another as often as humanly possible. That's all there was to it.
Sometimes...I look at his breathtaking profile, and I'm reminded of that day that he fell asleep in the desk net to me during that class film. I remember the way his wet t-shirt hugged his slim frame while we did our best to escape the downpour of rain that was assaulting us that day that we were running back from the park. And I remember the first time his incredibly delicious lips touched mine for the very first time.
It seemed as though we had been in love with each other for ages now. As if our affection had somehow spanned many lifetimes worth of struggle and validation in order to bring us to where we are right now. And yet, that was all a fantasy.
It just felt like we had known each other forever...when, in reality, it had only been weeks. Maybe a few months. It's hard to remember when things became 'official' between us, at this point. But...however long it's been...Brody has proven himself to be exactly what I needed him to be, and more. He takes the pain away. He silences the voices in my head and makes me believe in love and affection the way a small child believes that he's going to grow up to be a fireman or an astronaut someday. He is my passion...and my strength. He's my solace and my shield from the rest of the world...and at the same time...he's my exposure and my introduction to that same world as if I'm being initiated to it for the first time ever. And I couldn't be more grateful.
It's hard to live without the 'mask', yes...but I'm learning.
I've got a good teacher.
When I got to class, Brody lightly petted my arm, and asked, "Are you doing alright?"
"Yeah. I think so." I replied. "Why?"
"I dunno...you look a little rattled today." He said. "Are you sure? We can take off and get out of here for a bit if you really think you need a break."
"No, I can't. Seriously. I'm fine."
"I know, I know...biology test. Whatever. Just put your game face on and ace that fucker. K?"
With a giggle, I said, "You're faith in my science knowledge is flattering, Brody...but...I highly doubt that I've got an 'ace' in my current future with this one."
"Well, whatever grade you get...we'll celebrate later. K?"
"Hehehe, what if I flunk it, straight out?"
"We can celebrate that too. I'll do what I can to make you feel better afterward." He smirked, adding, "Whatever it takes to get you naked. You can't lose, right?"
"You are too much!" I laughed, looking around to make sure nobody else was really listening to us or thinking that we were serious.
I think Brody felt a bit shy about it, and I immediately got paranoid as a matter of habit...but he reached out and took a hold of my hand, rubbing his thumb over the back of my knuckles and looking me directly in the eye with the most flirtatious of gazes. And, very softly, he said..."So...see you at lunch?"
Turning red in the face, I responded with, "Pizza day..."
"Heh...yeah. Pizza day."
"M'kay..." I said, bashfully, and got a bit nervous as he looked like he was about to kiss me right there in the hallway. Nooooo, please don't! As long as this remains our little secret, it stays special. Nobody else needs to know. Nobody else has the right to butt in with their own stupid opinion and completely ruin what it is that we're feeling right now.
I'd rather it just be us, you know? Just me and Brody...with Sam and Adam on the sidelines, cheering us on. I don't expect anyone else to understand...but I don't want to exhaust myself thinking that it matters what they think about us, anyway. Get a life! FUCK! Leave us alone!
"Are you sure that you're ok?" Brody asked again.
A bit nervous, and thinking about the possible consequences that might come from turning that paper in to Mr. Raffe and having him see my life, totally exposed...being completely vulnerable in front of the one teacher that I was sure absolutely LOATHED me more than any other teacher that I've ever come into contact with...I put what was left of my bullshit mask on in front of him, just to make sure that Brody wouldn't feel bad about anything that was sure to come from doing this. And I said, "I'm ok. I'm better than ok, actually." And I choked the excess emotion back as I found the courage to look him directly in the eye and bare my soul to him the way I always wished that I could have, long before now. "Brody...I love you. Ok? I mean that."
"Wait...what's going on here?" His facial expression changed completely, and he pulled me aside to another part of the hallway. It was probably no more private than anywhere else that we could have gone to talk, considering the mass of high school students walking past us...but I doubted that they were paying us much attention anyway. "Zack...you're closing yourself up again. What's the matter?"
"I'm not." I smiled, a clog of emotion in the back of my throat. It almost felt like a 'goodbye', to be honest. But...a good one. One of the best. "I'm free, Brody. At least a part of me is. And I have you to thank for that." I said, trying to keep my misty eyes from getting more blurry than they already were. "It's time. You were right about me, k? Everything you said...you were spot on."
Confused, Brody asked, "Zack...? What is it? What did you do?"
And all I said in return was, "I did everything that I felt I could do to set things right, Brody. To finally get myself out of this prison forever...one way...or another." And with teary eyes, I gave him a shameless hug around his neck, right there in the hallway. I don''t care how it might look to other people...I just wanted Brody to know that...in the one moment...I loved him with all my heart. And I wasn't afraid to tell him so. "Listen...if anything happens to me beyond today..."
"HAPPENS??? What are you talking about? Zack...dude..." He was so distressed. That wasn't my intention at all. If anything, I think I felt more at peace with the idea of leaving things up to 'fate' than I ever have before. So I put an arm on his shoulder to calm him down, even as a tear dripped down from my eye. "We need to go somewhere and talk. Come with me. Zack...let's just..."
"It's ok." I assured him, a genuine smile shining through my watery eyes. "You've saved me in every way that you possibly could, Brody. It's up to me to take things from here, moving forward." And I gave him another brief hug, giving him a secret kiss on the cheek. "Thank you. You've given me the courage to finally speak my truth...and to lay some of my most hardcore demons to rest. I never even thought that something like this was possible...but you showed me the way. You gave me the light that I needed to find the truth. And it hurts...GOD...it hurts!" I said. "But...if I don't face it now...I never will. So, please...let me do this. It's not something that you can help me with. I need to fight this battle on my own...and when I'm done...I hope you'll still be there, waiting for me on the other side."
Brody began to cry, his bottom lip quivering as he tried to be strong for me. Not for himself...only for me. And I I felt some more tears slide down my cheeks as I reached up to caress the side of his face. "Thank you, Brody. For everything you did to give my soul some meaning. Some purpose. No mater what happens from here on out...you saved me. Don't ever forget that, ok?"
It was some bullshit teacher or security guard in the hallway that heard the bell ring and was insistent in splitting us up so we could get to class. But, as worried as Brody was to see me walk away...I made sure to give him a genuine smile to let him know that I was totally giving myself over to what I was about to do. I mean, he really didn't have any say in the matter, to be honest. But...if I was going to finally tell my story...then I was going to do it right. I was going to speak from the heart, and I was going to share the truth of the pain and torture that I went through for oh so long.
And maybe...just MAYBE...it'll reach out and touch the heart of some other kid who went through the same thing. Maybe it'll do some good. And if it does, then every beating, every insult, every soul destroying minute of my childhood abuse will be worth the despair, the agony, and the suicidal thoughts, that I had to experience growing up...will have some merit. It won't be just some useless story of another beaten and neglected kid who ended up as some random statistic in the news. I MATTER dammit! We all do! And I just wish that kids like me could realize that. I really do.
It was those thoughts that led me to take that long printed story of my abuse out of my backpack when I got to Mr. Raffe's class...and turn it in as my final project. I didn't even look him in the eye when I dropped it on his desk. He wanted my heart exposed...to be criticized and judged and ripped to shreds by people who could never understand what it's like to live the way I live? So be it. Here it is. In total.
It's the truth. My truth.
Deal with it.
I might regret it later, but that's tomorrow's problem. For now? This is my greatest weakness. My biggest failure in life. And thanks to Brody's love building me up to be more than anything that I ever thought I could be....it's worth putting out there for other people to read. To see what I see. To feel how I feel. For the first time in my life...I get to talk about who I really am.
Nobody respected or accepted that before Brody came along. Before my best friends were let in on my big secret. Before my mom came home to comfort me in my time of grief. Now...they'll know. And even if my father decides to kill me for it...
...At least I got to speak my truth. Just once.