My hand trembled as I tried to maintain a hold on the phone.
I went numb. Completely numb. I haven’t the slightest clue what you said to me in the moments following your initial confession. It was… one of the biggest shocks of my life. It is hard to recall exactly how I felt. All I can remember was being in a state of deafening confusion and disbelief. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. And all at once, I was rendered just as bewildered as you were.
“I mean, I’m not gay gay. I know I love you. It’s not that.”
The word had crawled up from my gut and gotten caught in my vocal chords, making me croak it out like it was pure mist.
“I love you. I know I do. I like girls, but I think I might like guys too. I don’t know!”
“I don’t— I’m sorry. I don’t understand…”
The conversations we had in the weeks and months that followed are embossed into my memory. I quickly recovered from the shock, but that was more of a function of wanting to adequately tend to your pain opposed to fully comprehending anything. I can assure you that I understood nothing. All I knew was that you were hurt and scared. And even though you had thought that I’d be angry or disgusted by your truth, it never once occurred to me to turn my back on you. If anything, it had become my duty to be there for you more than ever before. I loved you, so if there was nothing else I could do to help, I’d just keep showing it.
I can’t lie though; I was scared too.
Things were very different back then. It is not uncommon for high schoolers, junior high students, or even elementary school-aged children to be recognized as openly gay at school these days. While some of these students still experience bullying and discrimination at the hands of their fellow peers, teachers, or even parents, the general climate has greatly improved since when we were in school. But back then…? You know how it was.
I still remember being in eighth grade and having the teachers at school hold an assembly about the prevalent use of the phrases “That’s gay” or “You’re gay” by students who routinely found it amusing to use the word “gay” to label someone/something as bad or stupid. It was always said as a casual insult, but it was rare to get through a class period without someone screaming it out. It had become such a severe issue that teachers had started giving out detention slips to students caught throwing the words around.
Most of the kids didn’t care to follow the new rules or watch their tongues because they couldn’t identify with the things they said. They could comfortably use it amongst each other because it didn’t really describe them or their experience. However, I knew of one boy who could, so I ca’t even imagine how this may have impacted him. Many people accused him of being gay on a daily basis, and although he never denied it, he never verbally confirmed it either. That poor boy didn’t remain at our school longer than three months, the bullying got so bad.
Until you came out to me, I hadn’t known of a single male student who ever admitted to being gay, bisexual, or anything remotely similar. Sure, some girls openly admitted to and borderline bragged about dabbling in this or that in order to peak the boys’ interest. Despite this attention-seeking, none of them ever dared to refer to themselves as a lesbian, nor did any of them publicly date other girls. The mere accusation of being gay could make someone’s life a living hell, as being gay was widely viewed as a negative thing amongst the student body.
I didn’t know much about what it meant to be anything other than straight. The only openly gay man I had ever known was a much, much older family friend who had grown up with my mother. Outside of him and whatever tidbits I had heard from other people, I was clueless. This made giving you any valuable insight into the matter quite difficult. When you asked me if it was possible to stop the way you were feeling towards certain guys it would have been nice to have a definitive answer, but I didn’t have one. Perhaps this is why I still blame myself.
Seemingly overnight I had lost you to the worst depression I’d ever seen you go through. I knew you were struggling to process and accept how you felt, but I was helpless to help you fight against your despair. What could be done? What could be said? I was only your friend, the girl you loved and trusted. I couldn’t explain anything to you or make anything go away.
By then, you knew you could never go home. You knew your father would never accept you or your feelings. This killed you. I wish I had been able to give you somewhere else to go when you needed to move out of your friends house. You shouldn’t have had to worry about your father’s reaction or finding your way through life all alone. As a minor who lived with her parents, I know my hands were tied; I couldn’t have done anymore to help than I did. All I could do was continue to be there for you. Encouraging. Listening. Loving. Accepting.
I kept telling you to be yourself and accept whatever allowed you to do exactly that, but you resented what felt authentic to you. You grew more and more dejected by the day. Pushing me away became your greatest talent. We talked less and less. When you would call, the conversation would always turn into a planning session for how we could turn you “back to normal” again. I hated when you’d talk about yourself like a problem that needed to be fixed, but your mind was made up. Between who you were and what your father wanted you to be, you’d turned into someone angry and foreign. I knew it was only a matter of time before I lost you.
As you know, I eventually did.
My mere presence in your life seemed to serve as a contradictory reminder that you were “flawed”. Loving me as you always had was no longer effortless. It now came with tremendous effort because it always came with a “but” as well: You knew you loved me, but you thought you loved your bandmate too.
Remembering this reality always angered you. I could tell when you’d grow frustrated by me because you would suddenly become very short and abruptly end the call. Your dismissal hurt my feelings, but I tried until the very end to understand what you were going through. It wasn’t enough though, was it?
One day, you just stopped calling altogether.
(To Be Continued…)
© C. M. 2018 All Rights Reserved
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