AwesomeDude 10th Anniversary
The knight was focused, almost as if he was centering himself on some distant point behind me, a meditative trick to keep him straight and true as he lowered his lance and prepared for the charge. He kicked his black steed into a gallop and advanced toward me, quickly gaining speed. I tried to urge my own horse to respond, but it seemed frozen in fear at the incoming knight. It wouldn’t move an inch.
I raised my arms in fear to protect myself, but it proved to no effect as the lance collided with my stomach, painfully driving me off my horse and into the ground. I lay there clutching my stomach for a moment, knowing that I had lost and would most likely die of my wounds.
Glancing back as I lay dying, I saw the knight had hardly taken notice of me. Instead he continued on to where his focus had been, and he slowed his horse down as he joined the group of his fellow knights, each with their own lance held at their sides. They didn’t notice me at all, and I carefully disguised my pain to keep myself from getting their attention. There was little point in letting them know I wasn’t dead yet or they might have come to finish the job.
“Hey, are you alright?” said a voice to my side. I looked up into the face of another knight, this one was different than the others, and I instantly liked him. He had his hand stretched out toward me, offering me help up from the dusty ground. As I took his proffered hand and let him pull me up, I was brought back to reality.
He wasn’t dressed all that differently than me, though he was definitely older. He was at least sixteen, and tall, which meant that he towered over my twelve year old frame, especially since I was shorter than most kids my age. His white tee shirt hung loosely, as if it was a size too large, but I was used to that image in the mirror, considering nearly every tee shirt was too large for me. It hung over the top of his black jeans low enough to cover his pockets, but not quite low enough to cover the crotch entirely, and I couldn’t help myself from glancing at that area while he was pulling me to my feet.
I quickly looked away, of course. There was no way I would let another guy catch me looking, especially an older one who had just saw me get taken out by one of his friends. It was bad enough that the pain of the collision had brought tears to my eyes, even though I wouldn’t be caught dead crying in the middle of a busy bus station like this one. I had managed to hold them back, but I knew that he could see that my eyes were moist. My only hope was that he would take my embarrassment as a result of almost crying, instead of looking where I shouldn’t have been.
“Are you alright?” he asked again, and there was genuine concern in his voice. It wasn’t something that I was used to getting, which is probably why I didn’t recognize it immediately. Maybe he really was my knight, coming to my rescue.
“Yeah, I should have just moved out of the way, but I guess I was thinking about something else. I’m good though, thanks,” I finally answered as I flashed him a smile. I didn’t want to let him know that I had been caught off guard while daydreaming about knights. That would have brought on a completely different level of embarrassment.
“Still, Nick should have been watching where he was going,” the older boy answered. Curious as to how the two of them were associated, I looked over at ‘Nick’ and I quickly noticed the details I had missed. He was pulling a hockey bag behind him, the stick strapped to the side, though it was hanging a little looser since it had rammed into my stomach. His friends he was talking with all had similar bags behind them, and looking behind the boy that helped me I saw similar gear. My knights had all been hockey players.
“I’m okay, really. Thanks for the help though,” I replied, trying to make my weak smile reassuring enough that he would leave me alone. While he had so far been nice, I really didn’t want to push my luck. Social situations were not my strong point. It would only be a matter of time before this guy gave me the cold shoulder and told me to buzz off. My week had already been bad enough, and I didn’t feel like making it any worse.
I don’t know what he saw in my expression, but it was apparent that he got the hint that I’d be okay by myself. He nodded and then patted me lightly on the shoulder as he said jokingly, “Try not to stand in the way of rampaging hockey players. We don’t always look where we’re going, and some of us are inconsiderate assholes.” With a grin he grabbed his hockey bag and added, “Looks like my team is meeting up to discuss our situation, I’ll see you around.”
He waved as he walked off, and I waved back sheepishly. I was sure that despite his last words it would be the last time that I would see him. The bus terminal was large and had buses leaving all the time. He was probably on his way out, and I was just coming in.
I had learned upon arrival that my bus wouldn’t be leaving until ten o’clock a.m., which was still a good three hours away. When the social worker had dropped me off at the terminal he hadn’t known that the bus had been delayed, and I didn’t feel like calling the number they left me in my packet to inform them of the change. My dad could wait and worry all he wanted at the other end. The thought actually brought me a small bit of satisfaction.
My life had been bad for the past five years, but for the last few months it had been hell. My parents had gotten a divorce when I was seven, and for awhile the only thing my mother had told me was that it was my dad’s fault. I had gotten used to throwing away letters and birthday cards; at least the one’s that my mom didn’t throw away. I hadn’t even read most of them, though I had definitely pocketed the cash. My mother had full custody, so I hadn’t seen the man over the entire time. She didn’t want me to have anything to do with him, and when I turned ten I found out why.
I don’t remember what triggered it, it was a television show or a movie, something that brought up homosexuality, but she turned it off immediately and told me that we had to talk. It was then that I found out my father was gay, and living with another man. She told me how vile and disgusting he was, and that it was important to remember how evil homosexuals were, and that I needed to stay away from them.
And now I was going to live with him. It still seemed like a dream, or possibly a nightmare. I
still wasn’t sure which it was, but I knew that I wasn’t comfortable with the
situation at all.
The sudden need to relieve myself brought me back from thinking about my situation, and I quickly scanned the terminal for the restrooms. I grabbed my backpack and slung it over my shoulder as I hurried toward the men’s room that I could smell from where I was sitting. It surprised me that I hadn’t noticed it before, but then again I had been distracted by my thoughts.
Inside the bathroom the smell was at least twice as bad, and I moved to the nearest urinal so that I could get done as quickly as possible. I had just unzipped and started when I heard the door swing open again and the voices of two teenaged boys reached my ears. Trying to ignore them and finish my business, I cursed silently as one of them came to the urinal next to me, while the other one took one a little ways down the row. They continued their conversation, which had something to do with hockey, and I continued trying to ignore them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so for long. My curiosity about their identity got the better of me, and I glanced at the one to my left. To my surprise and horror, he was looking in my direction as he talked with his friend, and his eyes clouded over angrily as he caught me looking.
“What the hell is your problem?” Nick asked. The same kid who had run into me with his hockey stick had just caught me looking at him while he was using the urinal. Even though I hadn’t actually been peeking, he definitely seemed to think that I had been. I hurriedly zipped up and tried to step away, but he had apparently finished at the same time and quickly stuffed himself back in his shorts and grabbed my arm.
“I asked you a fucking question, kid,” he said menacingly as he snarled at me, “Were you staring at my junk?”
I shook my head and averted my eyes and he shook me in response, his already tight grip tightening even more as he did so. “Hey Frankie, we got ourselves a little gay kid here. Maybe we should put him to use.”
Realizing that whatever he had planned for me wasn’t going to end pretty, I tried even harder to get out of his grip, but it was like iron. His friend came up from behind and grabbed me from the other side, and soon they were pulling me toward the stalls. A second later they were shoving me into one, and closing the door behind them. Things were getting ugly, really fast.
“If you want my dick, you can have it kid. You’ve ever given someone a blowjob before?” He asked sickeningly. Horrified, I tried to slip to the side of the toilet and under the stall wall, but they grabbed me by my backpack and pulled me back up. Nick’s friend forced me to a kneeling position as Nick slid his shorts down enough to reveal his manhood.
“You ready for this, faggot?” He asked as he brought himself to full mast. Just then the door to the bathroom slammed open and Nick hurriedly put himself away again at the sound. We heard quick footsteps headed in our direction, and I felt a wave of relief as familiar black jeans appeared in the opening beneath the door. Maybe he really was my knight.
“What the hell is going on in here?” asked the voice of my savior. Nick opened the door quickly and tried to casually smile at the boy on the other side, but all he got was a harsh glare in return.
“Nothing’s going on in here, Gavin,” Nick replied, his smile only slipping a little as he nodded back toward me and explained, “We were just making a new friend, weren’t we Jake?”
The boy standing next to me nodded his agreement, but it did little to take away the rage in Gavin’s eyes. But what Nick said next made my heart sink to a whole new low.
“Come on, Gav, I know you’d like to have a little fun too, wouldn’t you?” He said suggestively, rubbing his crotch as he did so. I was watching Gavin’s eyes, my hope already fading fast, and it drained away completely as I saw a momentary flash of lust in those blue orbs. He wasn’t my knight after all, but instead he was going to help my captors rape me. I looked away and started to cry, my heart filled with fear and despair.
To my surprise, what I heard coming out of Gavin’s mouth wasn’t in agreement with their suggestion. “Fuck off, Nick, or I’ll tell coach. Trust me, he’s going to be a lot harder on you than me if he finds out,” he said with conviction. I found the ability to raise my eyes again and saw the same conviction in his voice reflected in his eyes, though they were accompanied by something else; shame. I didn’t know what he was ashamed about, but it was plain as could be.
Nick’s eyes widened in response as he nodded to Jake and said, “Come on, let’s leave the faggots alone,” he started walking out of the stall, but after he stepped past Gavin he looked back at me and said with a sick smile, “If Captain Gavin wants the boy all to himself, why should we care?”
Jake made for the exit twice as fast, and where Nick had shown contempt, he just looked embarrassed. Gavin watched them leave until the restroom door slammed shut again, before he turned back to me. He smiled reassuringly and extended his hand to help me to my feet for the second time that day. I hadn’t noticed that I was still kneeling until that point, but I quickly took his hand and let him pull me up.
“Thanks again,” I said as I wiped the tears from my eyes. Now I actually had cried in front of him, and I was more than a little embarrassed, even though I felt completely justified this time.
He just patted me lightly on the back and replied, “Don’t worry about it. Nick won’t bother you again.” With a half-hearted grin he explained, “Now that he knows I won’t stand for it, he won’t risk getting kicked off the team just for a chance to play around at the bus stop with a ten year old.”
I was a bit surprised at his boldness in talking about what had just happened as just “playing around”, but the end of his explanation made me a little angry, and I responded to that first.
“I’m twelve, thanks,” I said, and then rolled my eyes at his shocked expression but let it slide as I pressed the more important issue, “and I almost got raped back there. I wouldn’t exactly call that, ‘playing around’. It wasn’t fun at all for me.”
“God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound like that… really, I’m sorry that it happened to you,” he replied, and appeared sincere while doing it. Though I was unaccustomed to accepting apologies quickly, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt considering he had just saved me from a bad situation.
“Dude, just understand that it’s still a big deal, even though it’s over,” I said with a weak smile as we stepped through the door and back into the terminal, “It’s going to be awhile before I can even go to the restroom again without pissing my pants at the thought of what will happen when I get there.”
Gavin looked at me as he considered what I said, nodding as he processed it, but then he was smiling slyly and replied, “I guess that would kind of defeat the purpose of going there, wouldn’t it?”
I couldn’t help but laugh, and it did make me feel better. Gavin joined in a second later, and our laughter gained the attention of Nick and Jake who were over with their teammates again. We received a glare from Nick which only made me laugh harder, though this time Gavin didn’t join in. I looked over at him and saw that he seemed a bit confused.
He saw me looking back and explained, “One minute you’re super serious, and then I crack a joke at your expense and you’re suddenly laughing again. Don’t get me wrong, you’re definitely better off laughing, but I’m a bit confused.”
I shrugged and replied, “I don’t know. Maybe I just needed to laugh. I’ve had to get myself through some tough times before, and laughing has always felt better than crying.” With a small blush I added, “a lot less embarrassing too.”
The older boy gave me an understanding smile and tried to change the subject. “Let’s get you back to your parents, shall we?”
His confusion was certainly justified as I started laughing again, even though the only humor I felt was morbid. “I’m sorry, Gavin, I shouldn’t have laughed. I’m not here with my parents. I’m travelling alone.”
A complex mess of emotions crossed his face over the next few seconds, starting with surprise, then understanding, and moving through the territory of lust, regret, and then profound shame again. I didn’t understand where any of the last few came from, and so I just shrugged them off and waited for him to respond.
He seemed to take my shrug as something other than the dismissal I meant it as, and seemed to need to explain his thoughts. “I’m sorry, I’m really fucked up, dude. Since you’re alone, would you like some company until either of our buses leave?”
I shrugged again and replied, “I suppose. I’m not really going anywhere, and I’ll probably just get caught daydreaming again if I don’t have anyone to talk to.” I smiled sadly and then admitted, “Then again, that may not be a bad thing. I don’t really want to catch my bus anyway.”
“Come on,” he said with a quick jerk of his head, “let’s go sit on the other side of the terminal, away from my team. It’ll give us a chance to talk without harassment.”
“Sounds good to me,” I replied with a bit of relief, and then in a moment of clarity I said, “By the way, my name is Gabe.”
“Gabe, as in Gabriel?” He asked.
“Yeah, but if I catch you calling me that, we’re going to have a problem,” I answered quickly, making sure that my expression told him I was serious. I had always hated my full name, and that wasn’t something that was going to change anytime soon.
We took our seats and he smiled back at me. “No worries. I’m that way about my name too, that’s why I go by my middle name.” He must have seen the question in my eyes as he quickly added, “And don’t think I’m going to tell you either. Most of my team doesn’t know it, and I’d prefer if they didn’t overhear me.”
I nodded, knowing all too well what it was like, and dropped the subject. Instead, I decided it was time to question what he and his team were doing at the bus terminal. “So, don’t you guys have like a team bus or something? I have a couple friends that have been on sports teams in the past, and they’ve never had to use the terminal to get to their games.”
“Yeah, the bus we were on broke down, and they weren’t able to send us another one in a timely manner,” he explained with a roll of his eyes, “We double checked and found out that taking a bus from here would get us back home faster.
“Oh. Okay, so when does your bus leave?”
“I think it’s about nine-fifty, or something like that. When does yours leave?” He asked, and then he asked the question I was dreading answering, “Actually, where are you going? And travelling by yourself, too. I thought that they didn’t allow anyone younger than fifteen to ride alone.”
“Mine leaves at ten,” I answered simply and tried to leave it at that, but something about the way that he was patiently waiting for an answer told me that I could talk to him. I desperately needed to talk to someone, and he had already proven he could be trusted, but would he trust me after I told him the truth? I didn’t know, but I had to try.
“I’m going to live with my dad. He and my mom got a divorce a long time ago, and I haven’t seen him since,” I explained, though my voice was starting to shake as I was dealing with the emotions. I hadn’t opened up to anyone about it yet, except the details I had to tell the psychologist, “Mom went crazy a few months ago, and CPS got involved.”
“CPS? Like, child protective services?” He asked, and when I nodded he added, “What? Was she abusing you or something?”
I shook my head and tried to hold back tears, so it took me a moment to respond. It surprised me how patient Gavin was, and he didn’t press the matter but instead waited for me to continue.
“Not exactly. She never did anything physical, but mentally… she did quite a bit,” I replied with a voice more steady then I thought it would be. “She told me that she was going to beat me, and she took a lot of my things away, but really she just made my life hell. She threatened to send me to a reform school, or a camp; something to make me a good person again. One of those ones that are supposed to beat the gay out of you.”
I braced myself for the biting remarks I knew would come. I hadn’t even meant to tell him that I was gay, but my tongue had had a mind of its own. He had been so easy to talk to, and now, like everyone else in my life over the last few months, he was going to abandon me. Or even worse, I realized, as I thought back to the moment in the restroom. He might take advantage of me.
“Dude, that sucks… I’m sorry you had to go through that,” he replied smoothly and easily, and I looked back at him with surprise as he added, “I lucked out in that regard, my parents didn’t really care that much when I came out.”
“Wait, you’re gay too? You’re the first person I’ve met other than me, and I became gay only six months ago.” The revelation was something I hadn’t expected at all. I was still under the impression that gay people were rare. My mother had done a great job of sheltering me, and keeping me from the truth.
“Haha, you don’t become gay, you just are. You’re born that way, Gabe,” he replied with a smile that told me everything he said was sincere, “And yes, I am gay as well. I’m guessing your mother was some religious nut, dragged you off to church every Sunday? God, that’s a terrible way to grow up… I’m glad it didn’t happen to me, but I’m sorry you went through it.”
“It wasn’t so bad, for the most part, though church was pretty boring. But, what do you mean, you just are?” I asked, completely caught off guard by the concept, and then I muttered defensively, “I didn’t always like guys.”
“That would be a little thing called puberty, my friend. Didn’t your dad…” I started to wince before Gavin finished the sentence and so he shook his head helplessly as he continued instead with, “I’m sorry, Gabe. Like I said, I’m fucked up. I didn’t mean to talk about your dad like that. You’ve obviously got something against him, or you’d be glad to go see him instead of your mother.”
I shook my head and clarified, “Have something against him? I don’t know what to think about him, honestly.” I shrugged uncomfortably and continued, “I mean, my mother sure did, and the church did too, but do I? They got a divorce because he’s gay, and my mother told me my entire life how evil he was, and that I should never be like him. So, I don’t really have any idea who he is now.”
“You’re dad’s gay too, huh? See, I’m not the first person you’ve met who is. I’m probably not even the second, just some people haven’t admitted it to themselves, yet,” Gavin replied with a knowing smile, “Nick’s a prime example of that, by the way. He refuses to admit that he’s gay, even though he only ever goes after boys when he’s looking for a ‘good time’.”
“Does your whole team know that you’re gay?” I asked incredulously. There was no way that an entire team would be accepting like that, at least not in a way that my mind could process. I hadn’t even come out at my school, and I had been singled out as the gay kid who everyone picked on. To be accepted for something that I knew was a terrible thing was an impossibility I couldn’t imagine.
“Oh yeah, I told them right off the bat so that they would know what to expect,” he replied casually, and his eyes told me that what he said was true. “They make jokes sometimes, but they’re all pretty much over it. I had to win a few battles, but that’s how you have to handle bullies. Don’t back down and they’ll almost always leave you alone.”
I didn’t immediately respond, and Gavin let the silence between us linger. The events that had led me to where I was now were starting to add up, and I was angry at the fact that I hadn’t known all this before. I was angry at my mother, for keeping me in the dark about how things really were. I was angry at my father, for not fighting for me more, and being there to teach me these things. Last of all, though it couldn’t have been helped, I was angry at myself for not knowing how to act. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had known everything that Gavin was telling me before it all went to hell.
“I wish I would’ve known all of that,” I whispered bitterly, “Then maybe I wouldn’t be in this mess.”
His comforting hand on my shoulder told me that he had heard me, but it was his words that really helped me start my climb out of the darkness. “You know what, Gabe? Sometimes things are meant to happen. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way because that’s the way the lessons become a part of us. I don’t know what happened to you, but I can tell you that where you are now is not necessarily as bad as where you could be.”
I met his eyes and saw something in them that I didn’t understand. He wasn’t entirely talking about me, and I got the impression that this conversation was one he had already had once, but from the opposite end. He was smiling, but it was a sad and thoughtful smile, and his eyes were moist, as if he were on the verge of tears.
“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand, Gavin,” I replied, honestly, “I don’t really see how things could be that much worse, other than being dead.”
“Let’s see if I can explain it better,” he said with a slight smile, but then his eyes grew more serious as he explained, “If your mother hadn’t found out you were gay, you would still be living with her, still going to her church, and still learning things about the world that simply aren’t true. You’d be part of a culture that constantly looked down on you and told you that you were evil, and even though your mother didn’t know you were gay, you would know.” The seriousness did not diminish, but the sadness was back as he added, “I’ve seen it happen before, and I see that being raised that way as much as you already have been, you’ve already shown signs of one of the three roads people normally take when faced with that situation.”
I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and I was about to ask for clarification, but he already took note of my raised eyebrow as he continued, “In my experience, when you’re raised to hate what you are, you can either end up denying it and doing everything in your power to stop it, even when you see it in others, or you end up hating yourself so much that you slip into depression, and are willing to do anything to end the pain,” he clarified, but then he met my eyes again and the look in them told me the next bit was important, so I made an extra effort to listen well as he went on to say, “There’s a third option though, and it’s the best one. That’s the option where you stop hating yourself and move forward. You stop caring what other people think about you, and you allow yourself to be free. It’s the most difficult, but it’s definitely the most rewarding. Trust me, I’ve been down one of the other paths, and I know enough to say that both of the others end badly, but freeing yourself does not.”
Nodding slowly as I let it sink in I replied, “Okay, I think I can see what you’re getting at, but I don’t know how to free myself. What does that even mean?”
He shrugged helplessly as he answered, “Well, the truth is that I’m still figuring it out, but I know I’m headed in the right direction. It’s a journey more than it is a single thing you do. Sometimes it starts with a wake up call. I know that mine did… Maybe I’m meant to be yours? Maybe you met me so that I could talk some sense into you. How did your mom find out about you anyway?”
I didn’t answer right away. Considering what I had been through already that day, I wasn’t sure that I was up to drudging up the painful memories. That’s when I reminded myself that talking about it might just help me sort it all out. Besides, Gavin had so far been only helpful.
Taking a deep breath as I tried to keep the emotion out of my voice I began my story. “I thought I was being careful when I was checking out a kid at school, and a couple of guys noticed,” the tears started coming anyway, despite trying to hold them back as I relived the moment, “They were the wrong kind of guys, and they dragged me into a restroom and forced me to do things to them. It wasn’t as bad as what Nick wanted me to do, or at least not before a teacher caught us. Even though I told them that I had been forced, we all got suspended, and when my mom found out she started flipping out. A neighbor called CPS when she heard something my mom said to me, and that was what eventually led me here.”
“Now I feel even worse about what Nick did,” Gavin replied and then unintentionally whistled through his teeth as he took a deep breath, “maybe I need to tell coach anyway, even if it does cause me some trouble.”
“Why would it cause you trouble?” I asked, shocked that there could be any repercussions on him, “You didn’t do anything wrong! You saved me back there.”
“God… you’re probably going to hate me for this, but I guess you told me your story, so I might as well tell you mine.”
He gave me a hard and considering look instead of continuing on, and I thought I had done something to upset him, but after a moment he sighed and his expression softened.
I took this as an opportunity to reassure him. “I doubt I’ll hate you,” I replied thoughtfully, “I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone, even those who have hurt me. Dislike, yes, but not hate. Besides, like I said, you saved me. Why would I hate you?”
He sighed again and said, “Maybe you’re right, but you’ll see why I said that before too long.” Even though I shook my head and was about to assure him again that I wouldn’t he went on to ask, “Remember how I told you that there were three paths a person takes when they belong to a culture that teaches them to hate what they are? And that two of those are bad ways to go?”
“Yeah,” I replied, not sure why he was bringing it up.
“Well, I took the other bad way,” he clarified with a smirk, “You see, while my parents never gave me any reason to hate myself for being gay, my school certainly did. Students can be real assholes, and my school was no exception. From the time that kids first learn to throw around insults, being gay is one of the primary targets. I wanted to be popular, and I knew that I never could be if everyone learned my secret, so I went in the opposite direction. I became a bully.”
I looked at him incredulously and replied, “I find that hard to believe, considering how you act now.”
The smirk on his face only got stronger, and his voice took on a bitter tone as he continued. “Well, as I was saying earlier, sometimes you just need a wakeup call. I got mine, and it was a big one,” his bitterness lessened a bit as he switched directions, “But let me give you a little bit more of the past before I talk about that. You see, I made my primary targets the kids who everyone said were gay, especially those that were especially flamboyant.”
“I’ve done a little bit of research, and I found that it’s usually the case in bullying,” he explained as he stared off at the wall of the terminal, “The bullies target those that share the attributes they don’t like about themselves, the ones that they hide. In my case, it was my sexuality, but there are many times that it’s something else. A kid get’s abused at home, and he feels weak and vulnerable, and so the kids he preys on are those that seem weak and vulnerable.”
“Okay, so you were a bully,” I interjected with a shrug, “obviously something changed.”
“Yeah, you could say that,” he replied with the bitterness back in full force, though there was more anger then there had been before,” Nick used to be best friend, back when all of this started. We would pick on kids together, and then one day we decided to start taking our bullying up a notch.” He made sure his eyes met mine so that I could see the sadness and the seriousness in them as he continued, “This happened around the time that our teenage hormones were getting really strong, and sex was always on our minds. We decided it was time to get a little more from our victims. After all, they were gay, they wanted to anyway, right? At least, that’s how we justified it.”
“Wait, are you saying that it used to be you and Nick that cornered kids in the bathroom?” I asked anxiously. “You’re right that it makes me a little nervous, but I don’t hate you for it,” I admitted, then, thinking back on the encounter in the restroom I added with confidence, “Clearly you’ve gotten past that.”
“The thing is I’m not entirely past it. I mean, I’ll never do it again, but sometimes I’m tempted, especially when the potential victim is someone I find attractive…” He admitted with a nervous glance in my direction. I blushed in response and he went on hurriedly, “It’s a problem, and I’m working on it, but I hate the fact that I still want to sometimes. Like I did earlier today. See, now I’m sure you’ll hate me.”
“No,” I replied without hesitation, “because you didn’t do it. I saw you consider it for a second, but it was just a second, and then you did the right thing. Yeah, you were obviously an asshole in your past, but I think you’re a pretty good guy, Gavin.”
“Thanks,” he answered dryly, “but I still have a long way to go to make up for the crap I’ve done, especially considering what happened.”
“What happened?” I asked, noting the pain in his voice as he said it.
He took another deep breath and looked away again, but after only a few seconds he explained, “There was this one kid, Trent, who was a year younger than us. He was super cute, and I had a huge crush on him from the moment I saw him. Unfortunately, because I was still in bully mode that meant that he became my primary target. Nick and I were worse to him then we had ever been to anyone. We forced him to do a lot of things that we had never forced any other kids to do.”
The pain in his expression was obvious, and he swallowed to get over the lump in his throat as he added, “Eventually, he had had enough.”
“We came to school the one day, already planning the things we would get Trent to do, but when we walked through the doors everything seemed different.” This time it was Gavin who was trying to hold back tears, and his voice was both wistful and grim as he continued, “People were looking at us like we were guilty of something. Everyone was silent, and there seemed to be an awful lot of sadness and anger going around. It didn’t take long to find out that Trent had tried to commit suicide the night before, and he had said it was because of the bullying at school, but he didn’t name any names. We were free, but the students knew what had really happened, and more importantly, I knew.”
“It devastated me, and it broke me,” he admitted with a sad smile, this time a tear actually fell down his cheek, and I resisted the urge to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I really wish I had had my wake up call sooner. Maybe Trent wouldn’t have felt the need to take that step, maybe we could have become friends or more, but that’s just something I have to live with. It happened a little over a year ago now, but my life has changed so much since then that it feels like it’s been longer. I came out, which shocked Nick enough that it ended our friendship, even though he never tried to bully me for it, surprisingly enough. I created a GSA at my school, which shocked everyone. It took awhile to convince other kids to join, but it’s actually getting to be something. I was made team captain of the hockey team, because the coach saw how I treated people, and wanted me to do the same with my teammates. He never knew about what happened with Trent. No one does, except the kids; except for those of us that were involved.”
“I’m sorry to hear what happened, but it does seem like you turned it around. I don’t know why you expected me to hate you,” this time I went against my nature and let my hand rest on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze and then quickly letting go, “Maybe you’re following that other path still, the one where you end up hating yourself to the point of depression? You’re starting to make a difference; at least you did for me.”
“Imagine how I’d feel if you hadn’t stepped in?” I asked, and he turned to meet my gaze, teary eyes to teary eyes, “I may be gay, but that doesn’t mean I wanted either my first or second sexual experience to be forced on me, and you stopped the second one from happening. I may owe you my life.”
“Well, thanks for your confidence in me, but I hope you don’t mind that I let myself feel bad for awhile,” he said with his same sad smile, “It keeps me motivated to keep making a difference. I can’t let what happened to Trent go unnoticed.”
“I’m not telling you to,” I replied with my own encouraging smile to try and erase his sad one, and was pleased when I saw a little of the sorrow drain away from his face, “You did some bad things, and they had bad consequences, but you’ve changed because of it. I’m not telling you to forget, but you have to learn to forgive yourself. That’s one lesson I learned when I was young that I’ll never forget.”
“Wisdom from a twelve year old,” he said with a laugh, then asked, “Who taught you that?”
“My dad, actually,” I answered with a blush, “He said it was the most important thing he had learned in his life, and I always remembered it, even though I was only seven at the time. That was right before their divorce, when my dad came out to my mom.”
“Your dad sounds like a pretty good guy,” Gavin replied honestly, “Tell me again why you don’t want to see him?”
“Because he’s gay and that means he’s evil, just like me, and that’s why my parents got a divorce,” I explained, adding my own smirk to the conversation, “At least that’s what my mom told me.”
“Don’t tell me you still feel that way,” he replied with a knowing smile.
I shook my head and said, “Not at all, thanks to you. Well, maybe I already knew some of it. I just had to learn that I did.”
“I’m glad,” Gavin said as he reached over and squeezed my shoulder, “Maybe we can both move on then.”
Our conversation turned to better things then, and we got to know each other a little bit better. True to his word, he kept me company until he had to catch his bus. Much to my surprise, he gave me his cell number and told me to call him if I ever had problems or just needed to talk. I didn’t have a number to give him other than my dad’s, and I wasn’t sure if he’d like me giving that out, and so I told him I’d call him when I got there.
He convinced me to use a payphone to call my dad and tell him that I would be delayed. The conversation was something I had been avoiding, but once I spoke to my relieved father on the other end, I was surprised to find that I felt a lot better about the whole situation. Gavin stood by me the whole time, offering encouragement.
Neither Nick nor Jake came by to bother us again, though a couple of times I caught them sending nervous glances Gavin’s way. My new friend had assured me that he was going to put a stop to their activities once and for all, and I was proud of him for it. He said it might cost him his spot on the team, once his coach found out, but that wasn’t as important as keeping kids from getting hurt, or worse.
As I watched his bus pull out of the terminal, I waved to him until he was out of sight. For the first time in a few hours, I was alone, but I didn’t really feel that way. I didn’t feel as isolated from the real world as I always had, and I knew that was Gavin’s doing. I couldn’t help but smile as I once again thought of him as my knight in shining armor, come to defend my honor. The knight didn’t always have to save the princess, right? It could be a prince too. Who said that being gay meant you couldn’t have your fair tales?
Being gay. I supposed that was something I was going to have to get used to. I wasn’t going to be able to change it, and there was nothing wrong with it, despite what I had always been taught. It was who I was, and I had to learn to like myself if I wanted to be happy. I walked toward my own bus with a smile on my face as I recalled my past. It was the first time I had ever been able to think about my past with something other than guilt.
When I turned ten, my mom thought I was old enough to know the truth about my dad, and reality. It’s funny what you believe at ten, just because your parents tell you. Turning ten was the start of me learning to hate myself for something I couldn’t control; something that was as much a part of me as my skin color.
I climbed onto the bus just in time to hear the terminal’s giant clock begin chiming in the tenth hour. The clock had turned ten, and seemed to be urging me on my way, each chime resonating with the truth I had learned from Gavin about moving on and freeing myself. With a grin that I hadn’t felt on my face in a long time, I took my seat and the bus pulled away from the terminal, leaving my old life behind.
Ten o’clock, the time I had been dreading, was now the beginning of my new adventure. I would learn and I would grow, and I would leave the past in the past. It was time to be me.