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Waking up the following morning was difficult for me.
For the first time in ages, I sat up in my bed, and swung my feet around to step out onto shaky ground...completely unaware of what the rest of my day was going to bring my way. My sense of privacy, security, my very sense of control over the life I led within the walls of this household and beyond...suddenly seemed to have been snatched away from me. Leaving me unprotected...and alone. The panic of it all nearly left me breathless.
They know. My best friends in the whole world knew my darkest secret.
The boy I loved more than life itself...knew my darkest secret too.
It was so embarrassing. I could feel the shame of it churning in the pit of my stomach, and I hated it. God...I HATED it!
I had only been awake for a minute or too before the heavy pull on my emotions brought tears to my eyes.
Allowing my bare feet to touch the carpet this morning was a personal confirmation that I was willing to go through with the rest of the day, a decision that I didn't make lightly. The act itself was proof that I was willing to face my demons and get past them once and for all. But...facing your demons and being ready for that battle to take place, are two completely different concepts. Aren't they?
My demons knew me better than anyone else on this Earth. They MADE me! They are the only foundation that I have ever had to stand on. And as much as I absolutely loathe them with all of my heart and soul...I would much rather keep them and their predictable level of malice close...then run away from them and find myself dealing with problems and obstacles in my life that I know nothing about and can't possibly prepare for ahead of time.
If nothing else...the pain in my life was consistent. It was one of the few things that I could always depend on. My pain never left me, never abandoned me, never played games with my heart and never concealed its sinister plots to tear me apart from the inside. Could I say the same about 'love'?
Sadly...no. I couldn't.
Even after all of his kisses and his sex and his super sincere confessions of love...I just couldn't 'fall' for Brody the way that I wanted to. The way I knew I should have. I tried, but my nerves remained tense and untrusting of his every smile...no matter how adorable it may have been at the time. Indulging in the boyhood fantasy of having someone like Brody, or someone in general, love me in such an innocent and unconditional way...? I don't see it. Something about that whole idea seemed too farfetched for my brain to fight off the illusion of it all. Going into the bathroom to brush my teeth, I tried to avoid looking my own reflection in the eye. I heard myself sniffling, and turned the water in the sink on to drown out the sound of it. All I could think about was how much Brody must pity me for being such a pathetic waste of time. I tried to picture the conversation he must have had with Sam and Adam to get them to come over here yesterday. What did he tell them? What hidden 'clues' did they share with one another? Did they laugh behind my back? Did they suck their teeth and complain about how stupid I was to let myself be abused this way? Did they think back to every bruise? Every cut and scrape and lame excuse I tossed their way? Are they sad for me? Or are they angry at me for being such a fucking liar?
Probably the second one. I'm pretty sure it's the second one.
I cleared my throat and tried to keep on brushing my teeth. But as I looked myself in the eye...I couldn't help but to feel like my life was over. Completely over. And it HURT! It hurt so much that I almost couldn't bear it.
I could see my eyes getting watery and weak as I brushed faster. Hoping to finish quickly so I could look away and busy myself with something else. But I wasn't fast enough. I sniffled a few more times, and my face turned red. I kept brushing my teeth, but once the tears began to roll down my face, I spit everything out and just tried to regain my composure. Regret...and misery...and heartache...they can be so heavy sometimes. So heavy that it's hard to breathe.
I sat on the side of the bathtub and let the tears come to me, if for no other reason than to reveal the intense pressure involved in holding them back.
However, the bad thing about extreme sadness...once you open those floodgates, it becomes a lot harder to close them again.
Suddenly, I wasn't just dealing with silent tears and a couple of sniffles. This building emotion suddenly swelled to the point where the giant lump in the back of my throat could no longer hold it at bay. A few loud breaths and a bit of panting caused my quiet weeping to turn into audible sobs. I tried to put my hands over my mouth, holding my breath to control the sound...but the pain. It hurt sooooo much. I was weak from the ache of it. Dizzy, even. I reached for some tissues to blow my nose, but the tears were now streaming down my cheeks, two or three rivers at a time, it seemed. What the hell was the matter with me? I just wanted to brush my teeth.
That sick and sour feeling decayed within me, and I had to fight to keep from making any noise. I really didn't want to cry, I just...I didn't understand why it hurt so much. There was a hole in the center of my heart. An absence in my life. I couldn't help but to think that I was giving this 'happiness' thing my all...and as always, I just wasn't good enough.
No matter how hard I try...I'm never good enough.
I guess my father has been trying to tell me that all along. He's been trying to get that through my thick skull. A sissy is what I am. A worthless pretty boy. A piece of gutter trash, trying to be more than what he was meant to be. More than what he is. That's why I'm not good enough. And not being good enough is why he beats me. If I worked harder, he wouldn't hurt me anymore. If I just kept pushing...he wouldn't have any reason to destroy me the way he does with a single look.
I'm not what he wants me to be, and he has to hurt me until I become what I should be. Until I'm something worthy of the kind of love I so desperately long for in this life. I've got to find a way to work harder, that's all. He'll love me then. They all will.
Cause and effect. It's as simple as that. Work hard, and you'll get results. He'll HAVE to love me if I push hard enough. He'll HAVE to!
My mom lightly knocked on the bathroom door.
Instantly, I straightened my back, wiped my eyes, and grabbed some more tissues to blow my nose again. "Zack? Honey, are you ok in there?"
I had to take a moment to try to stop my voice from shaking. My throat burned and my nose was plugged up, but...with the bravest whimper that I could possibly muster, I said, "Uh huh...I'm ok, Mom. Thanks." It didn't sound 'normal' at all. I strained myself to keep from sounding like I was sobbing into my hands like some stupid fucking BABY...but my voice came out so frail and damaged hat she must have known that SOMETHING was wrong.
"Are you sure? Zack, if you need to talk..."
"I'm ok, Mom! Just getting ready for school. That's all." I said, my voice a little stronger this time. I didn't want to sound rude or anything, but I needed to be strong enough to get her to leave me alone.
Things went quiet for a few seconds, but she said, "Well, I made you some breakfast. Get something in your stomach before you run out of here today, ok?"
"Ok, Mom. Thank you." Please go away. Please, please, please leave me alone. I don't know how much longer I can hold it in.
Finally, she said, "Well...alright..." It sounded suspicious and uneasy, but she walked away from the door...and I felt my tears letting go once again. At least it was easier to breathe when I was crying. I feel like I'm suffocating every time I try to keep from channeling the anger, the pain, the humiliation of it all. Sometimes...tears were my relief. Tears put out the fire.
I'd much rather remain cold. All the time.
I ate my breakfast that morning, but I didn't say much of anything. And the few words I did say were just short responses to my mother, who apparently sensed something severely wrong with me all of a sudden, and was trying to be subtle about making me feel better. Or to at least open up and tell her what was wrong. I hope she never knows the degradation involved when it comes to sitting across a breakfast table from your tormentor and having to keep still. Having to stay silent...and afraid...and alone. But sometimes, you live with a certain level of horror for so long that you become accustomed to it. You've been told you were worthless for so long that you believe it, and doubt you deserve anything better.
I was ready to make peace with the fact that I'd never be special. That I'd never be loved. That I'd never be good enough. That is, until Brody came along and changed all that. Maybe his affection for me was all a dream, false reflections in a hall of smoke and mirrors. But it was a fantasy that I desperately wanted to be a part of. He made me feel like such a ridiculous was possible. That being loved for no reason at all was a joy that was within my reach. You'd think that I'd be happy about having this beacon of light in the storm surrounding me...but I wasn't. When you've been in the storm for as long as I have, that beacon of light becomes more of a interesting 'threat' than a divine intervention.
I can't even look up from my breakfast plate for fear of meeting eyes with my father and being driven to near nausea with fear. How can I possibly claim to have what it takes to properly love somebody?
When I finished, I took my plate to the sink and washed it. Utensils and all. I dried my hands, and tied up the trash bag in the kitchen so I could set it next to the door before I went out. My homework was done, and tucked away in a folder for me to put in my backpack. I had even gotten into the habit of saving it to a USB card, just in case something happened to my work and I needed to print out another copy during study hall. The last thing I needed was for Mr. Raffe to find another reason to complain about something. I'd like to think that the last writing assignment I turned in was grade A material...but let's be honest, even if he liked it...I doubt he'd tell me so. Where's the fun in that, right?
I triple checked every nook and cranny of my room before I left. I saw a sock on my floor that had missed my laundry hamper, and was peeking out from behind it, against the wall. Thank GOD, I noticed it! I hurried over and picked it up to put in the hamper, and my closet door was cracked open just a little bit, so I closed it all the way. Everything was neat and clean and I was ready to go. The only thing standing between me and a beating was pre-planning on an almost neurotic scale. My mom gave me the strangest look of sympathy as I reached into the fridge to grab a soda to take with me to school for lunch. It looked like she was trying to hold back from asking me to talk about what was bugging me, so I beat her to the punch with a somewhat convincing smile. I kissed her on the cheek and said, "See you later, Mom!"
"Ok..." She replied. "I love you, Zack."
"Love you too." I grinned.
But that's when I heard my father's voice grunt, "Take care of yourself. Have a good one."
My smile vanished immediately when he spoke to me. The feeling I shared with my mother only seconds before had turned to something rotten. Something threatening and uncomfortable. With hardly any emotion at all, I looked at him briefly out of the corner of my eye and mumbled, "Yes, sir..." Then I grabbed the bag of garbage by the door...and I went out the back door with it.
I always breathe easier when I leave home behind me. There's nothing more relieving than being able to look back over my shoulder and not seeing that house of horrors staring back at me. Almost laughing at me, as if to say...'Hahaha, you pathetic loser. You'll come back. You've got no choice!'
It's something I go through every morning. And I have to wonder what a childhood routine like this is doing to me psychologically right now. Because I really can't imagine myself living any other way.
I cut through Adam's backyard and knocked on the door. I don't think I've ever had him rush downstairs to answer me so fast. He had to have known that it was me. Everybody else comes to the front door, and the rings sound different. Maybe it's just a little thing...but that one action of him rushing to let me in at break-neck speed was already a hint that things had changed since yesterday. I could feel it. "Zack! Dude, what's up?"
My eyes seemed to lower on their own. Humiliation crept over my shoulders like ice cold shadows. "Hey..." I instantly felt the awkward nature of having to stand in front of him...having my best friend know what he knows about me now.
A pregnant pause passed between us, with him not wanting to say anything too soon, and me not wanting to say anything at all. I don't know why I thought looking down at my feet protected me from anything at all, but my natural gaze seemed to have gotten really 'heavy' this morning.
"Come on in. Brody will be here any minute, and Sam will catch up when his parents quit spying on him as usual. Hehehe!" Adam smiled. It seemed genuine enough. If nothing else, at least he was putting some real effort into hiding the fact that he knew I was getting my ass kicked on an almost daily basis. Did I fall for the illusion? No. Not really. Hell, even I could grin and pretend that I was ok. But his effort made me feel good about walking in through that front door.
Adam's mom smiled and said, "Hey, Zack. How are you this morning, sweetheart?"
"Ok, I guess..." I told her. Does she know? Did Adam tell her? I don't know.
Adam took us upstairs to his room and sat me down, handing me a video game controller. "You wanna finish off my game? I'm not at a save point anyways, so just...you know...whatever. K?"
He's being nice to me. Adam's a good friend, but he's never this nice to me. We poke fun at each other. We curse each other out and make fun of every aspect of our lives together. That's been our relationship since we were little kids. But...this is how he treats me now. As though I'm some kind of oddity in his life. Someone fragile.
That hurt more than words could possibly describe.
This is why I don't tell anybody how worthless I am. This is why I stay silent. Oh God...I've ruined everything.
"Do you need anything? Or, like...Do you...?" Adam started, but the doorbell rang and he seemed really grateful for the interruption. I could see a certain 'brightness' return to his face once he realized that the entire burden of 'entertaining' me all by himself wasn't sitting on his shoulders alone anymore. "That's prolly, Brody! Be right back!" He said, and rushed out of the room.
The lump in my throat returned as I heard Adam's feet run down the steps.
He's coming. Get it together, Zack. Come on, now! Don't be a sissy about this.
My breathing became labored, and little heaves in my chest began as I heard Adam open the front door, and Brody's angelic voice could be heard in the background. I don't know if it was a panic attack, or what...but I began breathing even harder. And harder still. Then, before I knew it, I felt my eyes misting up again. He's going to hate me sooooo much now. I'm not ready. He's going to think I'm scum. He's coming. Fucking CHRIST, he's coming!
Before they could start up the stairs, I stood up and wiped the stray tears from my eyes...then I rushed into the bathroom to keep from being seen.
I faintly heard Adam say my name, but called back to him with, "Just a minute..." before shutting the bathroom door behind me.
Why does it hurt so much? I can't hold it in. I used to be able to push the pain aside, but I was exposed now. I didn't want to be here. I don't think I want to be around anybody until I'm able to escape the sinkhole of self loathing that I had submerged myself in when I opened my big fucking mouth to the rest of them.
How long had I been in there? Two minutes? Five? All I knew was that I'd have to come out before they started knocking to ask if I was ok, and I couldn't come out until I STOPPED FUCKING CRYING! Jesus! What's happening to me?
I blew my nose on some tissue, and did my best to 'will' the oncoming tears away. I never felt so hated. Never.
Were they whispering about me? Would Brody and Adam try even harder to make me feel like less of a total fucking failure with artificial smiles and positive comments drawn more from 'pity' the sincerity? I had to get out of the bathroom. I had to be strong. Rebuild my mask from scratch. I did it once, I could do it again, right?
It'll all blow over soon. They'll forget all about how destroyed I am inside soon and we can all go back to being friends again. I'll be better next time. Next time...I'll stay quiet. I promise. My father calls me a crybaby because I AM one! A stupid, weak, little crybaby...and I need to stop it. I shouldn't hurt like this all the time. I just shouldn't.
I stressed myself out making the spontaneous tears go away...but the redness remained. I'll just have to keep my head down then.
I shoved the tear soaked tissues in my pants pocket. I don't know why I thought Adam would bother to dig through his bathroom trashcan to see if I'd been crying, but...you know...better safe than sorry, I guess.
I opened the door and went back into the bedroom to see Brody taking over the game that Adam had left for me to play. Adam looked at me, but didn't say anything. Brody paused the game and scooted over slightly on the floor. There was plenty of room for me to sit beside him, but he seemed to use the gesture as a hint for me to sit next to him anyway.
I hated this. I hated the added tension. I hated wondering whether or not I was going to burst into a fit of random tears again. I hated thinking that I was going to do something to demonstrate how irreparably damaged I was as a human being, further confirming my need to get the kind of help that I don't think I was really ready to ask for yet.
I'll never get them to understand. They don't know what it's like. Maybe I can't expect them to. But their ignorance of the situation is going to be the one thing that tears them away from me. To look down on me. And to, eventually, hate me enough to walk away.
I'm sorry, Brody. I wish I wasn't such a disappointment to you.
I should just enjoy all the kisses I can get from you while you're still confused enough to stay here....
"Hey!" Brody said. Cheerfully, I might add.
"S'up?" I muttered under my breath. And I picked up another game controller in the hopes that it would distract everyone enough to watch the screen and not look at me.
I think that scared me more than anything. The fear that Brody would look at me...and I'd look back...and that once lovely and affectionate synergy between us won't be there anymore. When people pity you...it's because they're better than you. They look down on you from above and see you as this lost little animal that they want to help...but could never love. Never.
I'd rather be loved than helped. Totally. Ohhhhh, if only I could go back to that moment where Brody and I stood under that bullshit shelter in the heavy rain, soaking wet and searching for bolts of lightning...I'd know what it was like to be happy again. All physical contact aside...I think that was the sexiest moment of my life.
I missed that.
Even though we all played video games up until the moment when Adam's mom called upstairs to tell us to get the hell out so we could get to school on time...I didn't say much. In fact, I was afraid to really engage them too much for fear they'd set of that miserable geyser of raw emotion all over again. In fact, I was glad that it was time to leave, just so the change of activity would provide us with another distraction to keep any uncomfortable silence from being an opportunity to assault the issue at hand.
I just wanted them to forget about it. All of it. Just make it go away. It's MY problem. I'll deal with it when I'm ready. And I may never be ready. But if I ever reach the day when I breakdown and destroy every aspect of my family that I've grown used to over years of beatings and vocal destruction...I'll be sure to give them all the credit for doing the right thing. That's what they want, right? Credit? Praise and applause and a clear conscience to help them sleep at night? That's the only reason to help anybody at all these days, I think. It's like tossing a shiny nickel into a homeless person's cup.
Whatever. I'm thankful either way.
But as we gathered our stuff and got ready to go...Brody gave me a really weak smile, and I could just feel the pain in his heart. I didn't want to talk about it, and neither did he. But as usual...so much of our communication was unspoken. I doubt our love for one another could really be expressed in words anyway. Still...the big question remains...
Is this the end of everything we had as a fresh young couple of gay teens, exploring our first relationship with one another? Or was it the end of a bullshit fantasy, where reality sets in and the illusion recedes to the point where our 'puppy love' pursuits just isn't worth it anymore?
God...if you can hear me...or better yet, if there's ONE conversation that I would want you to pay attention to...please let it be this one. I know that a silly little kid like me doesn't have any real impact on your grand design for humanity...but if you could just take a moment out of your busy schedule to give me this ONE boy to stay by my side...just this ONE...I'll be forever in your debt! K? I've never been loved before. This is my first time. And...as stupid as it sounds...I want to be good enough this time. I want Brody to look me in the eye with a smile, and just think to himself..."I don't want anything more. He's perfect."
I've never known what it feels like to be appreciated...just for being me. So...if you can...please grant me this one wish, and let me experience what it's like to escape the life that I'm in.
If only for a little while.
Thanks in advance. I mean that.
Tell me it's ok, Brody. Validate my existence. It will only take you a few seconds to keep me from feeling so alone. Please, Brody. You're my only escape from all of this. You're all I have.
Please don't let me down...
I'm pretty sure that you're all I have left to live for.