Middle School

14 – After the Dance

It was late when I woke up. I’m not sure I would have woken up when I did if I’d been left alone. But I wasn’t. My mother was sitting on the bed next to me, stroking my hair.

I glanced at the clock and read 11:36. I’d slept most of the morning away. I usually slept late on Saturdays but not this late.

I looked up at my mother. She was giving me the compassionate look she wore when she knew there was something wrong. And that reminded me of Chad, and why last night had been so awful. And today would be too.

Every day.

She must have seen something in my eyes before I rolled over, away from her, away so she wouldn’t see. Too late.

“Marc? What is it? I thought I heard you crying when you came in last night, but your door was closed by the time I got up and came down the hall to see. I didn’t want to disturb you then, and your father said if you were crying, you’d probably want to wait till today to talk about it anyway.”

I sort of shuddered under the covers, the way you do sometimes.

I hadn’t rolled far enough that she couldn’t still reach my head. She stroked my hair a couple of more times, then said, “I’m getting you some breakfast. You’ll be able to talk after you eat something. I don’t know what the matter is, but in this family, we talk things out. Then we can face them together. So get up and dressed and come down. Pancakes, I think. Comfort food.”

I liked that she wasn’t trivializing whatever the problem was. I didn’t know about talking about it, though. But the mood I’d been in last night, one of depression and despair, was rapidly overtaking me again. What difference would it make if I talked or didn’t talk? At least if I did, they wouldn’t be nagging me until I opened up, and maybe they’d even be sympathetic.

But, I realized, that wouldn’t work unless I told them everything.

I might not have been able to do that yesterday. Now, nothing seemed terribly important. I was losing Chad, so telling them I was probably gay seemed to have much less significance than before. And there was no way they could understand the significance to me of that loss unless they knew what kind of love I felt for him. If I was going to tell them about Chad, I had to tell them I was gay first.

I visited the bathroom and got dressed. My movements all seemed slow, almost like I was a robot. I wasn’t me, that was for sure. I wondered how long this feeling would last.

Mom was cooking when I got down there. She’s pretty sensitive. For some reason, she seemed to realize that if she cooked sausage or bacon, I might throw up just from the smell. I was upset and a little unbalanced. I didn’t need anything but pancakes, syrup and milk.

Even then, I only ate two pancakes, where I usually eat about six. Halfway through the second, I was having to force each bite down. When I was on my last bite, Mom said, “Don’t eat any more if you don’t want to. I can see you’re struggling.”

I put the fork down, the last bite still speared on it. Then I just sort of lowered my head. Tears started coming. Damn, I hated that.

My mom pulled up a chair next to me, sat, and pulled me into her chest. I started sobbing then. She just held me tight and rocked me a little.

While we were doing that, my dad walked into the kitchen. Through my sobs, I could hear his footsteps.

Kids at school all talk about their parents, and you hear stories and learn there are all kinds. I was blessed with the good kind, and in my mind, I thought I had the best parents I’d ever heard of. This was a good example of that. My dad, when he saw us, came and knelt down next to us and put his arms around me, too. Didn’t say a word, just held me, showing he was there for me.

I don’t know how long we stayed like that. Long enough for me to cry myself out at least. I finally sat back up, both of them releasing me when they felt me start to wriggle. I looked back and forth at them, then said, “Can we go into the living room? I need to tell you guys something.”

They both sat on the couch; I was in a chair at right angles to it, right next to them. My mom could have reached out and touched my knee. I felt good, being that close.

“Mom, Dad, I wasn’t going to talk about this, not for a while yet, if at all. But something’s happened. I owe it to you, because I’m feeling awful and will be for a while, and you deserve to know why. I hope you’re ready to hear this. Mom, Dad, I think I’m gay.”

I stopped, watching their faces closely and trying not to make it look that way. Dad’s expression hardly changed. He’d been looking at me a little sadly, a little bit worried, and that expression simply stayed the same. Mom gave a little gasp. Then the compassionate look she’d worn all morning got a little deeper, her eyes a little warmer.

I didn’t give them the chance to say anything. I wanted to say everything before they could respond, just to get through it. “You know I’m 13. I guess it isn’t unusual for boys to feel attractions to other boys at this age. Well, I do. But it’s more than that. I’m pretty sure I’m gay. I’ve been feeling this way for some time, and I’ve been denying it to myself, telling myself I’ll probably change, or might change, as I get older. But I think I have to face up to what I am. I’m pretty sure I’m gay, and going to stay that way. It just feels like that. And—this is the first time I’ve really admitted it to myself, as well as told anyone else.”

I closed my eyes, then. Just sat there for a moment with them shut. It was as though I’d just finished one book, laid it down, and picked up another. The old book was over and done with. The new one was waiting for me to open it.

I heard Mom start to say something, opened my eyes, and saw Dad lay a hand on her leg, then barely shake his head at her. He was going to let me finish. How did he know I needed to do that?

“I wrote a story for English this year about a gay boy coming out to his parents. Chad wanted me to show it to you guys, but I wasn’t planning on telling you then. I wouldn’t even be doing it now, if it wasn’t for last night. It wasn’t that I was afraid to tell you, or that I was afraid of how you’d take it. I just wasn’t ready, that’s all. I’ll let you read it now, if you want. But it isn’t about me. In the story, the parents don’t take the news very well. They do eventually, but not at first. It was a story from my imagination. I knew, somehow, that you guys wouldn’t have a problem with my being gay. You don’t, do you?”

Mom glanced quickly at Dad, then said, “We love you, Marc. You’re the most important thing in our lives. This doesn’t change that at all. And I’m really happy you know that, and weren’t worried about telling us.”

My dad said, “Marc, you’re the most perfect son I could ever imagine. We’re here to help you any way we can. And I’m so proud of you for being able to talk to us. It means you trust us, and believe in us. That’s just how we feel about you, too. We love you, Marc.”

And they both came up off the couch and hugged me again. I didn’t cry this time. Well, my eyes might have got just a little blurry, but I didn’t cry. This was how I thought it would happen.

When they were seated again, I continued. “OK, now the rest of it, I guess. I’m gay. I have to get used to accepting that. I’m gay. But there’s more. I’m in love with Chad. And he doesn’t know anything about it. About me being gay, or me being in love with him. He’s straight. And he’s my best friend. Since we’ve been friends, it’s kind of like my life has just gotten better and better. I’ve been wanting to tell him I’m gay, but have been so afraid our friendship will change if I do. I know he’s not prejudiced, he has nothing against gays, but I don’t think I can simply tell him I’m gay. If I tell him that, I’ll end up telling him I’m in love with him too. Maybe not the same day, but very soon. He asks me questions all the time, we talk about everything, and he’s smart, maybe smarter than I am. So, he’ll find out. And I don’t see how my being in love with him, when he knows, won’t change things.

“So that’s what I’ve been thinking and worrying about. Until last night, when I found out it didn’t make any difference any longer. He’s going to be going to a different high school. Madison. So I’m losing him. He’ll get new friends that are going to be doing the same things he’s doing there, and he won’t have the time to spend with me. It’ll never be the same.

“That’s why I was crying last night. It hurts so bad.”

Mom looked at Dad again. I couldn’t read her expression, but something had changed. Dad had sat up straighter. Whatever the something was, they both had some insight I didn’t have.

“Marc, what did Chad say last night?” Mom had an intent expression, asking me that. “Did he say he wouldn’t be your friend anymore? Did he say he wouldn’t be spending time with you? Did he give you the idea he was breaking off your friendship?”

“No, he seemed unhappy, too. At least he was very quiet. I was crying all the way home, and he walked with me, but never said another word. I thought he was just feeling bad for me.”

This time Dad looked at Mom. I was getting annoyed. They seemed to be communicating silently, somehow, the way they often did, and I knew it was about me. I wanted to know what those glances meant.

It was Dad who spoke again after a moment of silence. “Marc, we have something to tell you. We didn’t before because, well, you’ll see. Anyway, you didn’t know, but about a month ago, we got a letter from Madison High School. It said they send recruiting letters to the parents of all students in the city who are maintaining an A average through middle school. The letter said you’d qualified for admittance at Madison, and wanted to know if you’d be interested in attending. We have until the middle of June to respond.”

I’d felt stunned last night by the suddenness of my world falling apart. Now, it was the reverse. I realized immediately what this meant. I didn’t have to be separated from Chad! Well, I thought that was what it meant.

“Can I go? Does it cost more? Will you let me go?” I rushed the words so they were tripping over each other. My heart was suddenly beating faster, too.

Mom grinned. I guess she liked seeing me regaining my spirit. “Of course you can. We’re really proud of how you’ve done in school. We didn’t tell you about the letter, and we weren’t going to, because, well, we’ve seen how you’ve been for the past few months. We didn’t know how much Chad meant to you, but we did see how much happier you were since he’d become your friend and had been spending so much time with you.”

My dad interrupted her. “We saw how much more self-confident you were. That was the biggest thing. You’re standing up straighter, you’re speaking up more, you don’t seem as timid as you used to be. We didn’t want to change that. If it meant going to your high school instead of Madison, we thought that was a good trade. A happy, self-confident boy instead of a frequently sad one who’s also shy, lonely and slightly better educated. I’m not sure every parent would make that decision, but they haven’t seen the change in you that we have.”

I got up and sat down on the couch between them, forcing my dad over a bit. I put an arm around each of them. Then I kissed each one on the cheek, sat back and just smiled.

Which was when my mother said something that maybe I should have figured out for myself, but I’d been so upset, I hadn’t really had the ability to think very straight.

“Marc, you said Chad was quiet when he told you, and didn’t talk all the way home with you. You were really hurt last night. Do you think that maybe he felt the same way? Maybe he was crying too, and couldn’t talk, walking home with you?”

It was as if someone had slapped me. Shit! Chad had taught me how to say that, and it seemed appropriate to say it to myself now. I’d been so caught up in my own self-pity and misery, I hadn’t even thought about him.

“I have to go talk to him,” I said, and jumped up from the couch.

“Do you want to phone, just to see if he’s there?” my mom asked as she stood up, too.

“No. I’m just going.”

And I did. Went. I started out walking, and ended up jogging. I needed to see him. I had to.

The jog gave me time to think, which was good. I was really kicking myself for not considering his feelings, and it made me realize something. I’d never really thought he cared for me anywhere near as much as I cared for him. I’d ignored his feelings last night because it had always been in the back of my mind that he was with me because he felt sorry for me, not because he really liked me, and certainly not because he loved me. I loved him. My feelings were much stronger, and so I felt much more grief last night than he did.

That’s what I’d felt. But we hadn’t ever discussed what we felt about each other. Boys don’t. What if I had it wrong? I didn’t understand how he could, but what if he liked me, as a friend, as much as I liked him? What if he depended on me as much as I did him?

I had to talk to him. And as I was thinking that, I realized, I had to tell him I was gay, too. No matter what. I’d be going to high school with him after all. This was the time to tell him, before we started. When we had the whole summer in front of us to work out any problems that caused. I’d already thought I’d lost him. Maybe I would, if I told him, but if I wasn’t going to lose him because of going to different high schools, suddenly I had the courage to think I wouldn’t let us get separated just because of the silly fact that I loved him.

I just wouldn’t let it happen.

oo))((oo

I knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, and it seemed like it would never be answered. But his dad opened it, probably in normal time, looked at me, and without inviting me in, said, “Are you the reason my boy hasn’t got out of bed yet and keeps yelling at me to leave him alone?” He didn’t sound very friendly.

“Yes, sir,” I said, rather meekly, I thought. “But I need to talk to him. I think I can get him up, and maybe get him to apologize to you, too, if you want him to.”

He stared at me for a moment, then said, “What happened? Last night. He came in and his eyes were all red and he wouldn’t talk to either his mother or me. All he said was, ‘Marc!’ Just went up to bed and we haven’t seen him since and it’s after noon already.”

“I’d rather that he told you what it’s about, sir. It’s nothing bad. Just a misunderstanding. But I have to talk to him. Please? I’ve got to.”

Maybe it was how I said it, maybe it was because I was only 13 and looked 12, but he got a faint smile on his face that he quickly got rid of, and stepped back, opening the door wider.

“Can I go up?” I asked, as I was already started.

“Sure. Tell him I want to talk to him.”

But I was already running upstairs, and didn’t answer.