When In Rome…
Things were moving too fast, much too fast for my liking. It was hard enough having to visit my brother upstairs in the hospital. But now, having to have this conversation with my best friend. At least, I hoped he was still my best friend after what I had to tell him.
I always knew I was different. I don’t why, but I just knew. It wasn’t anything that I could explain either. And I knew enough not to tell anyone that I was different. I learned that rather quickly too. Life can be a vicious teacher at times. It wasn’t until I was twelve and Jeremy and I were spending the night at his house, as we often did during the summer that I discovered how I was different.
Jeremy, my oldest and best friend in the world. We’d been “buddied” up that first day of first grade. The teacher did that with the entire class. Everyone had a buddy. Wherever your buddy went, you went with them.
We went through grade school together and our bond of friendship was fortified even further. No matter what, we were together. It got to the point where if one of us was picked for a team, the other was automatically included. It didn’t matter what it was, dodge ball, kick ball, soccer, whatever. You name it, we played on the same team.
We told each other everything, well, almost everything. I didn’t tell Jeremy about my feelings of being different. I don’t know why I didn’t, at least not with him. I figured out early on not to tell anyone else, but I couldn’t figure out why that extended to him as well. He knew me, or at least it seemed like he knew me, better than anyone. Better than my parents, better than my brother and sister, and even better than myself. But, he didn’t know this. At least I don’t think he knew. If he did, or at least suspected, he never said anything.
Like I said, I never knew what it was about me that was different, at least not until that night, when we were twelve. It had gotten to the point that our parents stopped trying to get us to go to bed at a decent hour when we slept over, even during the school year. Try as they might they couldn’t get us to go to bed. We’d stay up talking, watching TV, whatever. So finally they stopped trying.
Late one night, when we were twelve we were watching TV cause his parents had just gotten satellite TV and they had all the channels. We were flipping by one of the movie channels, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime; I don’t remember which one it was. But they had this movie on. It was some British movie called “Beautiful Thing”. We watched a small part of it, curious to see what it was about. It was at that point that I realized what I was, why I felt different. Being typical kids, we didn’t watch the rest of it, we just flipped around until we made our way back to MTV2 and they had a video on for a band we liked. So we left it there. Neither of us said anything to the other about the movie, but something for me clicked.
The feelings of being different stayed with me as we finished out Junior High School and went into High School. Our high school was huge. We shared it with several of the surrounding communities. We each had our own grade school and Junior High, but they decided to combine the communities for High School. It worked ok I guess. It just meant that the sports teams had to travel further to play opponents since all the closest towns were already together.
I still felt the feelings but I didn’t do much about them. I’m not sure why that was, maybe because I was scared of what I was, or maybe it was because I was afraid of being discovered. Maybe it was both, I wasn’t really sure. It wasn’t until my brother Kelly graduated from High School and went to the local college that I was really able to learn about myself, discover what I could.
You see, we never had a real computer at home. Well, we had a computer, but it was Dad and Mom’s work computer. Both Dad and Mom worked out of the house. Dad sold insurance and Mom ran the office. It wasn’t until my brother went to college that Dad finally relented and bought a computer for the house. Jessie had moved out, so it was really a computer for both of us. Kelly kept it in his room but he told me I could use it whenever I wanted.
The computer opened up a whole new world for me. I’d used a computer at school and at Jeremy’s but I didn’t dare look for anything that I really wanted to look for. The last thing I wanted was for someone to come up behind me and see what I was doing. I’m sure Jeremy would have been ok with it, but I wasn’t sure about his parents. Plus I wasn’t ready to tell anyone yet, not my brother, not my folks, not Jeremy. Hell, I wasn’t even ready to tell myself.
I used the computer in Kelly’s room whenever I could, especially if he wasn’t around. I covered my tracks as best I could. I kept it clean, or so I hoped. I finally admitted it to myself a few months ago, and it was shortly after that I met Kyle. I ended up spending a lot of my free time with Kyle, to the expense of my other friendships, especially Jeremy. It got harder and harder to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t do something with him, or why I wasn’t around. I felt bad too, but I wasn’t ready to admit this part of myself to him or to my family. When I finally did tell someone, it didn’t go well. It was after that disaster that I decided I wasn’t telling anyone else. But now with my brother in the hospital, Kyle dead and Jeremy wondering what’s been going on, it looked as though my decision is going to be overturned. I just hoped that it would go better the second time.
“Hey bro, you in there?” Jeremy’s voice brought me out of my thoughts. He was waiting for me to tell him, waiting for me to give him the reason why I’d been distant, and all that these last months.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I answered taking another swig of my soda. It still wasn’t helping to calm my nerves. “This is just hard, you know?”
Jeremy nodded. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. We’re best friends, right?”
“So what’s going on?”
I leaned forward in my chair, getting closer to Jeremy. He did the same thing. “You remember that first night your folks got satellite TV?” I asked, lowering my voice so others couldn’t hear me.
“Yeah. We stayed up until like four in the morning just surfing and watching videos and stuff.”
“Do you remember that movie we stumbled across?”
“No. What movie?”
“It was called ‘Beautiful Thing’.”
“Never heard of it.”
“I hadn’t either, until that night.”
“What does that movie have to do with what’s going on?”
“A lot. You promise to hear me out, to let me say all I need to say?”
“Of course, I already told you that.”
As I got ready to open up my heart to Jeremy, an older couple ended up sitting at the table right next to us. The entire cafeteria was available to them and they had to sit right next to us. “Let’s go outside,” I said. Yeah, I know, I was delaying. I was having a tough time telling him.
Jeremy nodded and got up. We each grabbed our empty soda cans and headed out of the cafeteria. We walked in silence through the hospital until we came to the main entrance. We walked through the sliding doors and hooked a left. The grounds had a small garden area for patients and guests to get out of the sterile environment of the hospital. We entered the garden area and the rest of the world seemed to disappear. We continued further in until we came to a secluded bench. We couldn’t see anyone else around us. Jeremy sat first and then I dropped into the seat.
“So what’s going on? Why have you been so distant lately? Is it something I did? That I didn’t do?”
I clasped my hands together and then separated them. This was harder then I thought. “You have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. Not about anything.”
“You make it sound so serious,” Jeremy joked.
“It is serious, I am serious. If you can’t make that promise then I can’t tell you.” I started to get up from the bench.
Jeremy reached out and grabbed my arm. “Ok, bro, I promise I won’t tell anyone. Now what’s going on?”
I sat back down and looked down at the ground. “I...” I was having a hard time saying it. “Up until the accident, Kyle Usher was my boyfriend.”
“Your what?” Jeremy said. “Wait... Does this mean...”
I looked away from him. “Yeah, I’m gay, Jeremy.” There, I’d said it. I’d just told my best friend my biggest secret. Here’s to hoping it goes better than the last person I told. Jeremy just sat there for a minute or two, but it seemed like forever. I wanted him to say something, needed him to say something, anything.
“How long...” He started to ask, quietly.
“...Have I known?” I finished the sentence for him. He nodded. “Forever I guess. At least it seems that way. I’ve always had this feeling of being different. But I could never explain it. It’s always been with me. It wasn’t until that night, the night your folks got the satellite TV that I realized what it was. That short bit of movie explained it all to me. Made me realize what I was.”
“So how come you never said anything?”
“Cause I wasn’t ready. Hell, I’m still not ready, but given everything that’s gone on, I have to get ready. It’s going to come out eventually. Plus I was afraid. Especially after I started learning more about it.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Of what people would say, what they would do.” I paused. “Of how you’d react,” I added, quietly.
“How I’d react?” He responded. “How did you think I’d react?” His hurt in his voice showed his feelings.
“I don’t know. I’d hope you’d react and say it’s no big deal and that we’d still be friends. But all this stuff I found on line, all these news stories I read showing how people react to having a gay friend kept me from saying anything. The last thing in the world I want is to lose you as a friend, especially as a best friend. You’ve always been there for me, and I want that to continue. Especially now.”
“So is that why you’ve been so busy, so distant recently?”
I shifted my position on the bench. Like the seats inside, these weren’t that comfortable and not made for sitting for more than a few minutes. “Yeah. I’d finally had enough and I started hanging out in some gay teen rooms, and other rooms like that on IRC. I started talking to other kids like me. It was in one of these rooms that I met Kyle. We chatted a lot at first on the computer and then via cell phone. I wasn’t ready to come out to you, and I’m still not, so I kept my distance. I hated it, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Why did you think you couldn’t tell me?”
“Cause I was afraid, afraid of how you might act, of what you might say. I was afraid of you rejecting me, of hating me for something I don’t have any control over.”
“I wouldn’t reject you, Todd. You’re my brother.”
“I know, and I appreciate that, but I didn’t know that for certain. And it’s not like I could find out without telling you about myself. I’ve seen what the high school kids are like; I’ve seen what can happen. Look at Matthew Shepard. Look at what happened to him.”
I stood up, stretched and walked across the walkway to the maple tree that shaded the bench. A slight breeze had picked up and had dropped the temperature a few degrees. “I couldn’t risk that happening to me. I can’t risk that. I took a big risk in meeting up with Kyle and I’m taking a bigger risk in telling you.”
“Why is telling me a bigger risk then meeting this Kyle guy?”
“Cause until the accident, nobody I know knew who Kyle was. There wasn’t any chance of him running into someone that I know. There wasn’t any chance of someone I know seeing me with him. We were always careful about where we met, where we went. He was only out to a couple of people. I met them once. They seemed nice but we didn’t spend a lot of time with his friends.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.” Jer sounded a little angry.
“Cause I couldn’t predict what would happen, I couldn’t tell what you’d do. If you hated me because of what I am, look at the damage you could do. You could tell my family. You could tell our friends. My life could become a living hell because I told you.”
“I’m hurt that you’d even think that.”
“I’m sorry. I know it doesn’t sound like a friend to think that way, but this isn’t like I took your bike or I took the last cherry Popsicle. This is bigger than that, bigger than us. I wanted to think that you’d be ok with it, but I didn’t know for sure.”
I stopped talking and he didn’t say anything. I stood looking at the tree and he was still on the bench. How he could still be sitting on that, I’d never understand. Maybe cause he’s not as tall and I am. I was pretty tall, on the basketball team you know. Maybe that’s got something to do with it.
“Since we’re being honest here,” he finally said, quietly. “I’ve been wondering if you were.”
I turned around to face him. His expression was a mix of concern and guilt. “You have?”
“Cause of the fact you seemed to shut down toward me, blocked me from your life. Besides the fact that you’ve not dated any of the girls in school, nor shown any interest them.”
“Am I that obvious?”
“Only to me bro, only to me. I don’t think anyone else had noticed.” He paused. “Did you love him? Did he love you?”
“I don’t know. I liked him, I really did. He was funny, sweet and had the cutest smile. I think I might have been falling in love with him, but I’m not sure. And now I’ll never know. This sucks. I can’t say anything about Kyle, unless I want to give myself away, but I have a feeling I’m going to have to. I can’t publicly morn him otherwise people will know. I can’t attend his funeral cause then people would know. I can’t do anything but cry privately.”
I moved over to the bench and sat back down. Silence fell between us once again. I don’t know what Jeremy was thinking but I was thinking about the fact that I had shut him out, that I hadn’t had the guts to trust him with this. I should have known that I could trust him. I think I did but part of me didn’t want to believe it. The part that read all the stuff on the web about kids who came out and lost everything because of that.
“Can I ask you something?” He finally said.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Have you ever thought about killing yourself?”
“What? Why would you ask that?”
“Cause like you, I’ve spent some time on the computer too. When I first started thinking that you might be, I did some digging around on the web and one of things I kept finding was that gay teenagers had a much higher rate of suicide then straight teenagers.”
I looked at Jer again, his previous expression was replaced by one of fear. “I saw those statistics too. No, I never considered suicide. I’m too much of a wuss to. You know I hate pain and the thought of doing something painful like suicide doesn’t appeal to me.” I looked down at my watch. We’d been out there longer than I expected. I stood up and Jer stood as well. “We should probably get back in before they wonder what happened to us. We ok?” He leaned into me and grabbed me in a hug.
I hugged him back before releasing him. We started heading out of the garden and back to the hospital entrance.
“I do have a question though,” he said as we reached the entry doors. “What was Kyle doing in Kelly’s car?”
I turned to look at him. “That’s a good question. I don’t know.”
Editors Note: If you would like to contact the author of this chapter, you may use this email address, CollisionAuthors@Deweywriter.com. Please include the author’s name. Thank you.