I'll never forget the feel of my hand in his.
The soft, soothing, warmth of his palm being pressed against mine.
Walking into that building like this was such a terrifying experience for me. Unprecedented. But as Brody held his grip on me despite the few strange looks that we got from the people who went out of their way to notice what was going on, I just...let myself relax and absorb the moment for what it was. You know? I felt almost as though I was getting stronger and stronger with every step. Not that the nervous jitters in my stomach had gone away. No, not at ALL. But, even though my deepest secrets tried to use those cringe worthy shivers to shake me to pieces, I didn't dare let go of Brody's hand.
I forced myself to be strong for him. Just like he forced himself to be strong for me. It was one of few times that I took an active roll in what was happening to me. One of the few times where I still felt vulnerable, but nowhere near being 'helpless'. Scary, but refreshing.
It was like this violent vibration was threatening to tear me apart, my once confident mask of normality cracking and splitting under the intense tremors being forced into my life from such a shameless threat of exposure. There were moments when I almost wantedto lose my nerve. Moments when the few sideways looks and raised eyebrows from the people staring at us nearly broke me down into the scattered fragments of the despicable coward that I know I've always been. Moments when my father's abrasive inner mantra tried to convince me that Brody was merely parading my blatant stupidity around the entire school for the sake of humiliation. It SUCKS to always think like this. But how do I stop it? I've never had any other choices before. Maybe I'm just damaged beyond repair. Maybe I'm supposed to be this way.
Just when I'm ready to give up the charade, just when I'm prepared to push Brody back to arm's length and give myself enough room to breathe again...Brody's naturally stunning duo of optical wonders look me right in the eye, and he smiles...making me too weak to concentrate on anything other than the golden promise of his endless love and affection for me.
Heh...weak. Strong. Weak. Strong. Brody really makes it really hard to realize whether I'm coming or going these days. I just know that I'm willing to follow him wherever he leads me.
I'm coming from a place of total mistrust for everything and everyone that I've ever been foolish enough to get close to. Sam and Adam both had to work hard to get as close to me as they did. Even now, I can't really say why I initially chose to confide as much as I do in their friendship and camaraderie...other than I was desperate to keep myself from having to handle the horrors of my life alone. But I made the right choice. They've been amazing friends. They stick by me through thick and thin, and never hesitated to jump in to help and make me feel better when the rest of the world was trying to swallow me whole. Adam and Sam are a special breed of friend. They're the ones that you keep by your side for a lifetime. The ones you'd go through hell to protect because you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that's they'd be right there to do the same for you. And even though they now have a hint about the kind of misery that I go through when they're not looking...they're willing to stand up and be strong for me, regardless. My friends. The best there is.
Then there's Brody.
My angel. My savior. My escape from it all.
All of this pain and conflict and difficulty that I sloppily spilled out at his feet without warning...and he loves me anyway. WHY???
I just feel like I'd be able to relax and rest easy if I could just look at myself in the mirror and find some legitimate reason for a boy like Brody to give a shit about me at all! That's all I needed! Just one reason. One!!!
Instead, I'm trapped in the mindset of thinking that he's making a big 'joke' out of this whole thing, laughing behind my back while my father waits patiently for me to inevitably return to that dark void of loveless agony that I had been trained to accept since I was old enough to tell the difference between love and hatred in the first place.
WHY, Brody? Please...give me some peace of mind by letting me know why you even care? Just...UGH!!! Make it clear to me why I'm worth your time. He can do so much better. I don't want him to leave...I just wish I knew why he wanted to stay.
"Stop it!" Brody giggled.
"Stop what? What'd I do?" I smiled when I said it, but I was actually worried that I might have done something to destroy this really cool vibe that we had going here.
"Hehehe, you're tensing up again." He said. "This is ok with you, right? I mean...I know that it was kind of a spur of the moment type of thing, but if you want to...like...not do this..."
"No. It's cool. Totally cool." I lied. "I like, ummm, hehehe...holding hands with you." Wow. Maybe I wasn't lying after all.
He tried to play it cool, but his face turned such a deep shade of red that it almost looked like he was having an allergic reaction to the compliment. Hehehe, he could be soooo sweet sometimes.
"Cool..." He softly moaned under his breath. And we walked to class like that. Hand in hand. The rest of the world be damned. I think it was the first time that I didn't mind being misunderstood. I didn't care about my sense of 'normal' matching up to anyone else's notions of what 'normal' might be. The stares were frightening, but hardly scary enough to get me to let go.
If this is as scary as it gets, and it only get better from here, then I should have been doing this a long time ago.
When we got to my classroom, he gave my hand a little squeeze and turned me to look at him, face to face. Those eyes...glowing with a passion that turned my whole center into a liquid ooze of timid infatuation.
Our eyes connected as more boys and girls filed into the room behind me. I didn't dare look away from Brody, for fear that seeing their judgemental gazes would wreck everything and send me crawling back under the dark rock that I had made my home for so very long. I look away with a bashful grin as his lovely inspection of the windows to my soul became too intense for me to handle. A ticklish sensation bubbled up within me, and I found myself giggling out loud.
"Hehehe, what? What'd I do?" Brody asked.
"Nothing..." I grinned, speaking just above a whimper. His soft hold on my hand was making me erect, but I couldn't really figure out why. Just the contact alone was amazing, but it was my comfort around him that was the catalyst for making me so inexplicably horny.
I peeked up at his smile, and out of nowhere, he asked me, "Would it be ok if I kissed you, right now?"
My lungs suddenly filled with oxygen as the flirtatious invitation caused me to gasp out loud. "Hehehe, Brody...."
"I'm serious." He said. "Can I?"
I could hear the voices of other students in the hallway behind me. This wasn't just holding hands anymore. This was a bit too 'public' for my tastes. I was SO grateful for having him help me take a step or two out of my comfort zone...but I wasn't sure that I was ready for that just yet. So, reluctantly...I lowered my head and shook my head.
"No? Awww..." He smiled. "Are you sure? Because I'd really love to kiss you right now."
My body began to quiver with excitement, but as I looked back over my shoulder and took in my surroundings, I looked back at Brody and shook my head again to confirm it. "I'm sorry, Brody."
But he just nodded and gave my hand another squeeze. "It's ok. I totally understand. But I'm gonna make up for it later when we're alone. I hope you know that. Hehehe!" He understood? He's not mad at me for not being what he needed me to be? Who IS this person? "I'll come by and see you at lunch. K? Don't try to run out on me either, because I'll find you. And THEN I'm totally gonna tongue kiss you in front of EVERYBODY in school!"
"SHHHHHH!!!! Jesus, Brody! Hehehehe!"
"Seriously though...let's get together for lunch. K? We can go...wherever. Doesn't matter."
There was that suspicious feeling in my gut again, asking why he cared so much. Telling me not to fall for the magic trick. But, believe it or not, I was able to ignore that sensation this time around. Look past it. And once I allowed Brody's love for me just minimal access to my heart...the light I saw in him was almost blinding.
"I...I guess. Ok." I had to suppress enough emotion to keep from crying when I said it, but my voice trembled regardless. "Lunch then."
Brody finally let my hand go, and we both stood in front of one another, leaning from one foot to the other. I put my hands in my pockets because I felt myself growing stiff to the point of 'showing' for anybody who was paying attention. And Brody said, "I'll be thinking about you until I see you again. So...don't forget me."
Hehehe, was he kidding? I just mumbled, "Ok."
"Bye." He smirked, and he backed a few steps away from me before walking off to his next class. But I noticed that he looked back at me a few times as he got further away from me. He even waved once before turning the corner at the end of the hallway. He really does think about me. He likes me. Mabe even loves me, like he says. And the more he works to penetrate the suit of armor that I constructed to keep me from harm...the more my emotions are willing to accept that he might just be the one boy crazy enough to dismiss everything that's wrong with me and see the few dim sparks of light that my soul has left. Wild, right?
I walked into that class expecting to hear random snickers and scandalous whispers being passed around by the other students. I half expected to spend the rest of the hour long period with my head down, evading the glances of homophobes and potential bullies. But...surprisingly enough, I don't think anyone noticed. They hadn't eavesdropped in on our flirty exchange. They hadn't taken any tabloid photos of me and Brody holding hands. As far as my peers were concerned, it was business as usual. Nothing else had to be said. And that made my reluctant smile widen with confidence.
My life was changing. I could feel it! Hehehe, oh wow...I never thought this was possible!
I sat in my English class and pulled out my notebook, holding a pen in hand...just wishing that I had the words to describe this feeling inside. I wanted to write it down. I wanted to find the right words, the right metaphors, the right 'flow' and 'rhythm' needed to do this emotional flood of joy and playful torment some justice. But the words wouldn't come to me. In fact, words almost got in the way. There wasn't a turn of phrase or a poetic verse that didn't seem blasphemous in comparison to the surge of untold bliss that I was experiencing at that very moment. It all seemed so pointless to try and convey such a divine experience with a tool as limiting and mechanical as written language.
I couldn't force it. I couldn't bypass the importance of the feeling itself for the sake of just 'writing something down'. I needed more than that. Not only to remember...but to understand. Perhaps to make others understand. How can I make something so 'intangible' tangible? I struggle with it sometimes. But it's the one struggle that I'm happy to have in my life. That constant search. That burning question. And the hope that one day...I'll find just the right combination of words to make these restless thoughts of mine known. Finally giving me some peace of mind.
I actually sat my desk, staring at a blank page with the goofiest grin on my lips. Hehehe! The happiness...I almost couldn't contain it! I was slightly swaying from side to side, pen tip pressed to my notebook paper...almost GLAD that I didn't have the words to start writing it. Words would cheapen it somehow. Hehehe, I almost didn't want to translate it into something that could be shared with other people. People who couldn't feel it the way that I could. Brody was MINE! I wasn't ashamed to admit that I wanted to keep it that way.
Leave it to my teacher, Mr. Raffe, to completely deflate my good mood and snatch my moment of confidence and accomplishment away from me.
Honestly, I had come to expect negative comments from Mr. Raffe. I had almost taught to distance myself from every nasty word that he could throw my way, because...truth be told, he's never satisfied. He never will be. I try to ignore him and keep my chin up, even when he's roughly dragging my every effort over a field of sharp rocks and broken glass. Adam was right. I shouldn't care so much. And if it was just another homework assignment, I probably wouldn't. But writing what I do is a piece of my heart, you know? So his rejection of my writing is a rejection of 'me'. There's nothing more sensitive than your personal art. Nothing.
But...there was something significantly more 'violent' in the way that he attacked my last assignment. Something that made me wonder if he treated other kids in my class this way. It was colder than usual. Downright heartless. Why does he sound so aggravated by every single word that I put on paper? What the fuck did I ever do to make him HATE me so much???
I looked at his heavy handed additions of red ink on my last story, and he just had an issue with almost every sentence. 'Inconsistent'. 'Run on sentence'. 'Redundant'. 'Too contrived'. 'Comma splice'. 'What are you trying to say here? Too vague.' One nasty comment after another. He even used the word 'annoying' at one point.
I could feel my self esteem freezing as I read the paper. He gave me a 'B-', but that hardly merited the work I put in. My confidence was pouring out from every intellectual 'bullet hole' he fired into my stomach...and I fought to keep some of it to survive for just a little bit longer. It wasn't easy though.
Mr. Raffe never cared about the kind of story that *I* wanted to write. He only cared about the kind of story that he wanted to see. And if you didn't pander to his specific needs...you got punished for it. In the worst way.
However...this time, I felt something other than despair. Something more constructive than the acceptance of defeat in his eyes. I don't know what happened to me at that moment, but I thought back to the feel of Brody's warm palm being pressed against mine. I thought about the way he smiled at me, or chased after me when I walked off from everybody else, about the way he vowed to stick by me even when I was a total dick to him...and things suddenly 'clicked' in my mind. No explanation, no warning. It just sort of happened.
I never had to impress Brody. I never had to change who I am or do anything to appeal to what HE wanted me to be. I never once felt out of place around him, or like I had to 'perform' for him on a level that he set for me just to have him appreciate me for who I am and not for who he wanted me to be. Something about his unconditional tolerance of my every flaw and mistake...it gave me strength. Not a fake mask of strength like I was used to...but a real power within that I thought had been lost forever the first time my father beat me to tears and locked me in my room for a day and a half without food or water. It was a part of myself that had been long forgotten, now being revived and awakened by the lone kiss of a true angel.
I'll be honest, Mr. Raffe has trashed me so often that I don't even hold on to my graded papers anymore. I can't help but to give them a look, with the hope that he'll finally have something cool to compliment me on. But 99% of the time, I just crumple the paper up and toss it in the trash without saying another word. He's never going to be satisfied, no matter HOW hard I work on every paper I turn into him. He'll always put more energy into finding something wrong than he will encouraging me to build on what I'm doing right. So, why bother, you know?
Today I didn't just toss his comments in the trash without saying anything.
When the bell rang, I got up from my desk, hurt feelings and all....and I took the English project in hand over to his desk. And I stood there. I stood there right in front of him, and I held out my English paper, the story that I worked soooooo hard on...in total silence.
I was shaking inside, but I looked right at him, and I sniffled, "Can you do me a favor? Can you throw this in the trash for me?"
Mr. Raffe gave me a strange look, but I just held out the papers, waiting for him to take it. I wanted to show a brave an unemotional front at first...but my real strength came in the release of a few stray tears, allowing them to roll down my cheeks right there in front of him.
I wanted him to see that he wasn't just writing a bunch of negative comments on a piece of paper. I wanted him to know that he had affected me. I wanted him to look me right in the eye and feelit. The same way that I feel it. I wanted him to see my heart breaking, instead of chewing my hard work to bits and moving on as though my feelings didn't matter. I wanted him to FEEL something! Look at me, you son of a bitch! And be ashamed. Because this is what your thoughtlessly harsh comments do to kids like me...who just want to work hard and bare their soul in places where other people can rip them apart without consequence.
For once...for ONCE...see my humanity, and realize that you're no less of an abuser than my father is. Kids like me...we can always tell the abusers when we see them. They're always around you. The people with so little empathy that the excuse of 'I love you, so that gives me the right to hurt you' motive is forever present. They treat you like they hate you....but they stay close. Very close. Taking a stab at your soft spots whenever they find a ripe opportunity, because hurting people is what they're good at. That, and nothing else.
But not today. I'm not going to let that happen.
"Zack...if you'd like to contest your grade..." He said, but I sniffled again and never took my eyes off of him. Even when he turned away to pretend to look for something in his teacher's desk.
"I don't want to contest anything. I just want you to throw it away." I said.
He sighed quietly to himself, and couldn't really look me in the eye. Yeah...it's different when the people you hurt are staring you in the face, isn't it? "If you could just take some of my notes to heart instead of ignoring them all the time, I think you have what it takes to be a really good writer some day, Zack. I really do believe that."
"Thank you." I said. "But for right now...I don't feel like writing anything for you at all. Nothing. So...if you'll be so kind...I'd like you to take this project from my hands, and personally throw it in the trash." I said. "I highly doubt that you've got a kind word to give me no matter how much effort I put into it. So...please...throw it away. I think I'm just going to write for myself from now on. Just me." He didn't take the paper from my hand, so I just laid it down on his desk in front of him. "People 'get' me. You know that? There are folks out there who love what I do. And if you're not one of them, that's fine. But one day, you're going to realize that I can reach just as many people my as you can with yours." I backed away from his desk, hoping that he felt a pinch of shame for treating me this way. "I'm not going to let you crush my spirit, Mr. Raffe. I've got something to say...and I'm going to say it. If it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to create something amazing. Something that's never been done before. And, by then, if you're still too stubborn to enjoy it for what it is...then you'll just have to do without my contribution t the art that I'm so passionate about. But, whatever...this is me." I said. "And it's ok to be me."
With that, I turned to walk out of his classroom. I was terrified. I was CERTAIN that he was going to call me back and give me an eternity of detention for mouthing off to him the way I did. My brain began to shut down with the amount of excuses it was trying to create in order to keep me out of trouble if I was asked to explain myself. A part of me CURSED the idea of Brody's belief in me making me believe more in myself. Maybe it was too early for that. Maybe I was moving too fast. Maybe it was hormones and teen angst that made me do something so...so dangerous! Mr. Raffe could flunk me in a minute, if he wanted to. He could make my life a living hell with a few scribblings on a piece of paper and flunking me right out of his class.
But as I took one step, then another, then another...without having Mr. Raffe get upset and calling me back to face him at his desk for a punishment that was currently out of my realm of understanding...I noticed that he wasn't calling me back. I mean...like...I just kept walking. Right out of his classroom and out into the hallway. He didn't chase me, or yell at me, or call for anyone to come and collect me so they could drag me back to his teacher's desk.
No. The further I got away from his class, the better I felt. In fact, I actually felt a smile spreading out on my face as the freedom of finally telling that academic bully what I thought of him for the first time flowed through me like one HELL of an intense sugar rush!
I did it! I did it! Hehehe, omigod, Brody, what are you doing to me??? Hahaha!
Love isn't just about the way you feel about the other person. It's about the way they make you feel about yourself! And I'm feeling like a brand new person right now!