I’m Liam, Liam O’Connor. I’m the youngest of six boys. Mam says that I’m the lucky one because I came last and by then she and Da had figured out how to raise kids and how to prevent them, but I’ve known for a long time that she couldn’t have any more. Something happened when I was born 12 years ago, and she had to have an operation, so I’m secure in knowing I’m the last.
My brothers are Tommy, 13, Bobby, 14, Henry, 15, Johnny 16, and Mikey, 17. Mikey is now trying to get us to call him Mike. He thinks ‘Mikey’ is a little kid’s name and he’s not a little kid. In fact, he’s already over 6 feet and still growing. But we still call him Mikey.
Before I was born, Da invented something to do with computer chips. That was when the family was still in Ireland. He made a lot of money and moved the family to America. So Mam, Da, Mikey, and Johnny are citizens of Ireland, while Henry, Bobby, Tommy, and I are all American citizens. I think Mikey and Johnny are gonna become American citizens someday, but I don’t think Da and Mam are gonna do that. Da says it’s too much work.
Anyway, Da bought us a huge house outside Boston where we’re all living now. It has four big bedrooms, so my brothers and I all double up, two to a room, while Mam and Da have one.
Once, when I was little, I walked into Mikey’s and Johnny’s room without knocking. They were both lying on their beds pumping their willies for all they were worth. I had no idea what they were doing.
Mikey saw me in the doorway and said, “Shit!” He stopped pumping, but Johnny looked at me and said, “You might as well come in and watch.” So I did. Soon they both began to groan, and then white goo shot out from their willies onto their stomachs. I was spellbound.
When they stopped and cleaned themselves off with old socks, I got up the courage to ask, “What was that?”
“It’s called cum, and it helps to make babies,” Johnny answered.
Awestruck, I asked, “Were you making babies?”
“Nah,” said Mikey, “you need a woman for that. We were just practicing.”
“Oh,” I said. “Can I do that?”
“Not yet,” Johnny said, “but one o’ these days you’ll be able to. And you’ll like it. It feels good.”
So that was my introduction to sex. When I told my friends about it, whispering on the playground, they oohed and aahed, all except Caleb, who said, “Oh yeah. I know about that. I saw my older brother doing it.”
“So how does it make babies?” I asked.
“Well, the guy puts his cock in a girl’s hole and shoots into it. Then the cum makes a baby.”
“Into her asshole?” I asked, incredulous.
“Nah. She’s got another hole she uses. It’s where cocks are on boys.”
It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that I learned more. That was the first year we got sex ed. We’d get it again in seventh grade. Anyway, I learned what the girl’s part was called – the vagina. And I learned how the sperm in our cum floats down a passageway until it finds an egg, where it joins the egg and begins a baby. It all sounded gross to us boys, and we vowed we’d never do that. Little did we know.
Being six lively lads, we got up to our share of shenanigans. Mikey often led us on prowls through the woods where we’d peek out at neighbors’ houses and spy on them. A pretty girl who was about Mikey’s age lived in one house. One day she lay by her pool and took off her bathing suit. I guess she thought nobody could see her. Mikey was almost drooling he was so excited. He had to go off into the woods and pump himself. He said her name was Clara and she was in his grade at school. He said all the boys were in love with her, but he’d bet he was the only one who’d seen her naked. The others all commented on her tits, which, I guess, were a pretty good size, but they didn’t interest me.
Other days we’d wander into town. Whenever we went into a shop, the clerks eyed us closely, because they’d learned that by the time we left, the shop would be missing some candy bars or comic books. There were just too many of us for the clerks to keep track of.
There was a field behind our house where sometimes we played games ̶ tag, or blind man’s bluff, or a game we called ‘last man standing’. Of course, being the youngest and by far the littlest, I was usually tackled first in last man standing, and then I became it and had to try to take down the others. But when I got one down, usually Tommy, he could help until all of us finally took Mikey down. Or sometimes we’d wrestle, enjoying the closeness, and the warm sun, and just being kids.
After all that freedom, it was hard getting back into the discipline of school.
The week before school began, Mam took us all to the clothing store for new school clothes. Our clothes were handed down from brother to brother, so Mikey always got the most new clothes and I got the fewest, only replacements for shirts or pants that had become too worn or torn for school. This didn’t happen because we couldn’t afford new clothes, but because my parents had come from poverty and had learned to waste nothing.
On the Wednesday when school began, we all rode bicycles to our schools. All the schools were together around a big grassy area called the quadrangle. Lots of times we ate lunch on the quadrangle when the weather was good. In the winter it was where we had snowball fights during recess. My older brothers complained because they didn’t get recess anymore. Knowing that was our future, we made the most of the recesses we got.
Riding my bike that first morning of sixth grade, I was joined by Caleb, who was my best friend, and not just because he knew more about sex than the rest of us. We had known each other since second grade. Sometimes one of my brothers would tease us, saying that Caleb and I were gonna get married someday. Caleb and I laughed along with the rest, but inside, I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it might be nice to spend my life with Caleb, but I had no idea how he felt about it.
In sixth grade, Caleb and I had Mrs. Harding, who turned out to be my favorite teacher of all time. The first day she looked at me and asked, with a smile on her face, “Are you the last of the O’Connors?” When I told her I was, she said, “Finally!”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, as you probably know I taught all five of your brothers, and the whole clan is full of mischief, so I guess you’ll be the same.”
“Oh, no ma’am,” I said, “I’m not like the others.”
“Well, I’ll wait and see, “she replied, but then she smiled and said, “Welcome to my classroom, Liam.”
I thanked her and then she called the class to order. I soon learned that Mrs. Harding was both kind and smart and had a good sense of humor. She treated us as individuals, and she clearly knew a lot about teaching sixth graders.
When Hallowe’en came, I decided to go as a witch. I had thought about being a fairy, but I knew my brothers would never let me get away with that.
On the big day, there was a Hallowe’en party at the school, and we all wore our costumes. The whole elementary school paraded through the middle school showing off our costumes. The middle schoolers, who were seventh and eighth graders, applauded especially creative costumes and laughed at or commented on some others. We knew it was all in good fun, and by sixth grade, we had done it every year, so we knew what to expect.
As we passed through one class, one of the boys pointed at me asking, “Is that a boy or a girl?” At that, my brother Tommy grabbed him from behind and said something I didn’t hear, but everyone stopped laughing. I was mortified and couldn’t get out of the room fast enough.
Later, when it was time to go trick-or-treating, Tommy said he was too old for it, so I wound up going alone.
There were a lot of kids out going from house to house, and I just went with the flow. I had some difficulty seeing through my mask. I could see straight ahead but not to the sides. When it began to get dark, the younger kids went home and a little later, I decided to head home, too.
As I walked, I became aware that there were boys on either side of me. Because of the dark and the mask, I couldn’t see them, but I sensed they were bigger than I was. When they spoke to each other, I could tell that their voices had begun to change.
“So, faggot,” one of them said, “You were asked before, are you a girl or a boy?”
“I’m a boy.”
“So why are you wearing a girlie costume?” the other asked.
“I’m not. There are men witches as well as women ones,” I said.
“I think we’re gonna have to check you out,” the first boy said, and suddenly, something like a bag was put over my head and I couldn’t see anything. Each one grabbed an arm and they steered me into some nearby woods.
“Don’t make a sound,” one of them said.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“We’re gonna find out whether you’re a boy or a girl,” came the answer. As we walked in the woods, they had to support me once or twice when I tripped over something.
When they decided we’d gone far enough into the woods, they took the bag off my head, but it was so dark I couldn’t really see them.
One of them tore off my mask; then the other started to take off my costume. By then I was so scared I was trembling. At last they had me naked except for my undershorts and my sneakers.
“Take off your undies,” one of them said.
“No,” I replied. “I can’t.” A fist hit me hard on the shoulder.
“Take them off,” the voice said again.
“No,” I said. This time the fist hit me hard on my nose. I heard something crack and I could feel some blood running from my nose. I began to cry.
“Last chance. Take them off!”
“N-n-no.” This time one of the boys grabbed me and threw me to the ground. I felt hands pull off my undershorts and then my sneakers and socks.
“Well looky there,” one of them said as he shone his flashlight onto my crotch. He’s got a wiener after all.”
“He’s still a fairy,” the other said.
“Yup, and a faggot and a queer. We hate homos.”
“I’m not a homo,” I sobbed.
“Let’s just see if he has any balls.” A foot slammed hard into my crotch. The pain was excruciating, and I cried out.
“I guess he does,” the voice said. “You won’t mind if we take these,” he said, grabbing my bag of treats. They left me as I lay curled up in agony on the ground. I watched as their flashlights moved through the woods and out.
I lay there, hurting and crying. The pain seemed to stay with me forever, but it finally got a little less. I felt around for my clothes. It was then I discovered the boys had taken all of them. I was alone, naked, in the woods.
I began to grow cold, and I knew I had to get home, naked or not. I stood up, using a tree to help me stand. I was still hurting and I was barefoot, so walking in the woods was painful. I headed in the direction I thought the boys had taken. I moved very slowly, going from tree to tree.
Finally, I began to see a little light. As I moved on, I realized it was a streetlight. At first I wasn’t sure what street it was, but I kept going and eventually, when I knew where I was, I made my painful way home.
I opened our front door and almost fell into the hall. “Mam.” I called. “Da.” I didn’t think I was calling very loudly, but I heard footsteps come from the living room.
“Oh, my God!” Mam said. She knelt and pulled me up so I was sitting. Then she hugged me. We were both crying.
Da went to the kitchen to get some cloths to wipe me off and some ice for my nose. He gave Mam the cloths and she gently wiped my face. When she touched my nose, I yelled. That brought all my brothers tumbling down the stairs, all talking at once, asking what had happened and who had done it.
I couldn’t answer them. Da finally stopped them, saying, “That’s not important right now.”
When Mam had finished cleaning me as much as she could, Da handed me a cloth with some ice in it and told me to hold it on my nose. Then he gently picked me up and carried me upstairs to my bedroom, where he laid me on my bed. I’d begun to tremble again, so he pulled the covers up to my chin. Mam pulled my desk chair to the bed and sat, just holding my hand. I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the morning.
When Mam came into my room and saw that I was awake she called Da, who came and stood by my bed. “So now, tell us what happened,” he said.
I gave them a brief account of the events of the night before. When he asked if I knew who the boys were, I shook my head. My parents decided that I needed to get checked out at the hospital emergency room. They offered me breakfast first, but I said I wasn’t hungry. Mam insisted that I eat something, so I had a piece of toast.
At the ER we waited until I was finally called into a cubicle. Mam and Da came with me. The doctor looked me over and straightened my nose before taping it. That hurt a powerful lot and I cried out. When I calmed down, she told me my nose would heal on its own.
Then she asked, “Where else do you hurt?”
I wasn’t about to tell her about my balls but Da said I had to. She had me stand by the bed and pull down my pants. God, that was embarrassing. I guess if the doctor had been a man, I wouldn’t have been quite so mortified, but at Da’s urging, I did as she said. She took my balls in her hand and I winced. Gently, she felt of them some and announced that they were somewhat swollen. She ordered the nurse to get an icepack for me. Then she told my parents, “If his testicles aren’t better soon, bring him back.” I pulled my pants up, stuffing the ice pack inside on my balls, and limped back out to the car.
I stayed in bed all day Saturday. On Sunday I called Caleb and asked him to visit me. We talked for a while and that made me feel better.
Later in the afternoon, all five of my brothers came in, bringing chairs with them. They lined the chairs up beside my bed and sat down.
“Okay,” Mikey said, “tell us everything that happened.” So I did, more or less. Then he began to ask questions.
Did I know who the boys were?
Had they said why they were doing it?
“They said they wanted to find out if I was a boy.”
Why had they hit me?
“Because I wouldn’t take my underpants off.”
Did they say anything else?
“They called me names.”
I really didn’t want to answer. He repeated the question.
“Like fairy and queer and homo,” I replied.
Then he told me to tell him whatever I remembered about the boys.
“They were bigger than I was,” I said. “Oh, and they must be in Tommy’s class because they knew I’d been asked whether I was a boy or a girl.”
Anything else? Think hard.
I did and then I realized I knew something else about them. “Their voices are changing.”
“That narrows down the field a good bit,” said Tommy. “There are only two boys in my class whose voices have begun to change.”
“Good job,” said Mikey, and they left me alone in the room.
I didn’t go to school on Monday. My balls were still hurting some although I thought they were a little better. More important, I was scared. I didn’t know what the kids at school would hear or how they’d treat me.
When my brothers got home from school and came to my room, they all sat by my bed again.
“So here’s what happened,” said Mikey. “Tommy told us the two boys were probably Dylan and Wyatt. At lunch time, we invited them to our table, and when they turned down the invitation, we more or less dragged them there. By then they were looking really scared. I told them that we knew what they’d done. They didn’t deny it. Then I told them they had two choices. They could write letters of apology to you about everything they did, including calling you those names. I gave them 24 hours to do it and told them if I didn’t have the letters in my hands by lunch on Tuesday, we’d go to the other option, which was to beat the holy shit out of them.
“That really scared them. I told them they were bullies and cowards for doing what they did, and then asked them what they were gonna do. They both said they’d write letters.”
“Thanks,” was all I could say.
All of the brothers left except Mikey. When they were gone, he said, “Liam, there’s something we need to talk about.”
“Those names they called you. You know what they mean, don’t you?”
“Well,” he went on, “they were mean names and the boys never should have said them. But Liam, your whole family knows you’re gay.”
I was stunned. I looked at him with my mouth open before I finally said, “I don’t even know that. Not for sure at least. How can you?”
“Let me ask you a couple of questions. Do other kids ever laugh and mimic the way you walk or the way you hold your hands?”
Sadly, I nodded.
“When you were in kindergarten and first grade, what was your favorite thing to do?”
“Play in the dress-up corner,” I mumbled reluctantly.
“Did other boys play with you?”
“No, just the girls. The boys played with blocks and toy cars and trucks and I never wanted to do that.”
“Do you sometimes go a little overboard on the drama?”
Giggling now, I replied, “I guess so.”
“Okay, here’s the big question. Think about it before you answer.” I nodded. “How often do you feel that you’re not like the other boys?”
Fear rose in my spine and stomach. At last I stammered, “Always.”
He said quietly, “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”
I just nodded.
“But deep in your heart, you know something now, don’t you?”
Again I nodded. By then I was crying.
“I’m not trying to make you unhappy,” he said, “but we all think it’s time you dealt with the truth.”
“W-w-will Mam and Da still love me?”
“Of course they will. We’ve all known for a long time and we all love you. You don’t ever need to be afraid of that.”
I just sat there, still crying.
Mikey stood, handed me the tissue box, and said, “I’m gonna leave you now, but remember, we can talk any time and if you ever need help come to me and we’ll sort it.”
I cried for a long time, first because I’d been afraid but then from relief. I knew I could finally be myself.
That night I went down to supper for the first time. Nobody said anything about my being hurt or being gay or anything. We all just talked like we usually did.
On Wednesday I went to school. I was really afraid of what other kids might say, but they just said hi, like usual. A few said they were sorry I’d been hurt but left it at that.
When we all got home, my brothers and I sat around the kitchen table, munching on cookies. Mam made the best oatmeal and raisin cookies in the world.
Mikey handed me two envelopes and suggested I read them myself first before I decided if I wanted to share them. They were both sealed and had my name on the outside.
I opened the first one and read:
I’m so sorry about what we did to you. I don’t even really understand it. When we began, we had no intention of hurting you in any way. We just thought it would be fun to blindfold you and lead you into the woods before we let you go.
We were wrong, of course. It wasn’t fun at all. I guess we were a little disappointed because we didn’t get the laughs we thought we would, so we began to carry things farther. Even then I didn’t think about hurting you.
When Wyatt hit you in the arm I thought that would be enough. When you resisted and he hit you in the face, I was scared, but with Wyatt there, I had to act brave.
Kicking you in the balls was the worst thing imaginable. I’ve felt guilty ever since I did it, and I really hope that you didn’t suffer any permanent damage.
I wanted to help you get up, get dressed, and go home, but when I looked at Wyatt, I knew I couldn’t. Sometimes he scares me.
As for the names we called you, that isn’t really me either. I don’t feel that way about gays. I think gays have as much right as anyone to be themselves and not go through life being afraid.
So again, I’m really, really sorry. If you turned us in to the cops, I wouldn’t blame you.
I wish I could be your friend, but I know that will take a long time to happen, if ever.
I hope you feel better soon.
I finished reading and handed the letter to Mikey. Then I opened the other one:
I’m sorry for what Dylan and I did to you. It was stupid and mean and you didn’t deserve it.
I’m pretty sure you’re gay, but we shouldn’t have called you those names or hit you or anything like that.
If it makes you feel any better, we didn’t enjoy it and afterwards we felt really guilty.
Please don’t tell the cops. My dad would kill me!
When my brothers had all read both letters, we looked at each other. “What can I say?” I asked. “They’re bastards and I don’t think I can ever forgive them.”
“You don’t have to,” said Bobby.
“Dylan’s really not a bad kid,” said Tommy. “I think he just got carried away doing something he couldn’t find his way out of, but whether you forgive them or not is up to you.”
Mikey handed me a bag which he said Dylan had given him. In the bag was my ruined costume, my underwear, my sneakers and socks, and even my goodie bag.
I smiled a little saying, “Dylan must’ve gone back to the woods and retrieved all this. Maybe you’re right, Tommy, maybe he’s not so bad after all, but it’ll still be a long time before I forgive him, if ever.”
“What about the cops?” asked Henry. “Should we tell them? After all, we’ve got two written confessions.”
“No,” I said. “But I’ll keep the letters, so if they ever hurt a kid again, I can use them.” I went on, “Thanks for being behind me and dealing with this. You’re the best brothers I could ever wish for.”
With that, we considered the case closed.
But I still needed to settle things at school. I knew the kids had heard something and they were aware that I was out of school for a few days. My black eye was fading somewhat but was still clearly visible and I still had the bandage on my nose.
On Friday I asked Mrs. Harding if I could talk to the class, so right after she took attendance, she called on me and I walked to the front of the room Sand turned, facing the kids. I was incredibly nervous and had no idea how what I was going to say would go over with my classmates. My palms were sweating and there was sweat running down my spine. I wondered if the kids could see how nervous I was.
“Hi,” I said. “What I’m gonna say is kinda hard for me, but I hope you’ll bear with me as I bare my soul.” I paused while a few giggles went through the class. “As most of you probably know, I was mugged a week ago by some older, bigger guys, who dragged me into the woods, stripped me and then hit and kicked me.” There were a few gasps. “Then they left me in the woods without my clothes and I had to make my way home.
“The reason they did this, they said, was because they thought I was gay.” Now a few groans. I was shaking as I went on. “You probably know that I’ve five older brothers and they sorted it with the two guys, but that didn’t deal with the question of whether I was gay or not.”
I looked around the room, seeing I clearly had everyone’s attention. Caleb was looking at me intently.
Fearfully now, I went on. “Well, it turns out that I…I am. Maybe you’ve seen me sometimes walking or gesturing a little oddly. Maybe a few of you’ve observed me being a little overly dramatic. Maybe you guessed or maybe you didn’t. And by the way, just for your information, not all gay boys fit the stereotype as much as I do.
“The odd thing was that I was the last person in my family to know. It was my brother, Mikey, who first told me I was gay. I’ve thought about it a lot over these last few days, and I’ve decided that deep down I always knew what I was, that I was not like the other boys I knew, but I was denying it. I think I was afraid to really look at myself.
“Well, I’m not denying it any longer. I’m really scared about doing this, because I don’t know how you’ll react. If what I’ve told you grosses you out, I’m sorry. But I want you all to know that nothing has really changed. I’m still the same, slightly weird ─ okay, more than slightly weird ─ boy you’ve known, so you won’t see any big changes. But what I need most is acceptance, acceptance for who I am, with all my quirks and flaws. That’s something we all need. I’m not gonna ask for a show of support or anything, but in the coming days I’ll know if I have it; I’ll know who my friends are. And if you can’t be my friend, well, I’ll be sad we can’t be friends any longer.
I looked around the room again before saying, “So, thanks for listening.” I went to my seat and sat, still shaking and now weeping. I’d been so scared. As I walked, someone started to clap, and then everyone was clapping and standing and smiling. Caleb stopped clapping just long enough to give me a hug. I was the only one who was crying, but it was finally not from fear but from relief.
Throughout the day, I got smiles and hugs from a lot of kids. That made me feel really safe, and when school ended, I went home with a feeling of relief and yes, joy.
I know I’ve really only started my adventure, but now I know I have the support of my family and my friends. And that means a hell of a lot!