WHAT LIES WITHIN: CHAPTER 11
I think what we fear are the possibilities; but the truth we already know.
-- Fox Mulder
I couldn't believe myself. I just sat there, frozen...staring at him. Part of me wanted to just jump up, grab him in my arms, and hug him tightly to my chest. But, of course, I could never allow myself to do that. I had this huge battle raging inside my head, and inside my heart. It was killing me. It felt like I was tearing my own heart into two pieces...
Part of me wanted so desperately just to hold him...to feel what it's like to wrap my arms snugly around him. He looked so soft and warm laying there...so huggable. Yet, I was afraid that I could never allow myself to do that. It made me so sad...to think that I could never have the one thing I wanted most in the world right now. Simply because I was afraid.
I'm such a fucking coward. Sometimes, I really hate myself.
When he passed out downstairs, I kinda freaked out. But, after a few seconds, it was over. It appeared that he was still at least semi-conscious, but clearly in a daze. I half-carried, half-dragged him to my bedroom like a cheap drunk. I had a couple hours until anyone would be home...I hoped he would be ok by then.
I helped him onto the bed, and stood back to look at him. By that point I think he was merely asleep...he looked peaceful enough as he lay there on his back, breathing softly.
I studied his face again for a long time, as I wondered to myself again just who he really was. Nothing about his face was remarkable on its own, but all in all, everything just seemed to fit together so well. He wasn't what you would call `classically handsome,' but he had a face you could definitely get used to looking at. He had a pretty unremarkable nose...not too big, not too fat, a little tiny bit upturned at the end...mostly, just nicely average. He still had a trace of childhood freckles across his cheeks. He did seem to have very long eyelashes it appeared, as I looked at him now with his eyes closed. His fine, medium brown eyebrows looked perfectly at home with his fair complexion. His brown hair looked so soft and inviting to me...I leaned over and carefully brushed his bangs away from his face. I couldn't resist lightly running the back of my finger over his soft, peach fuzz cheeks as I let out a huge sigh. The more I was around him, the more and more attractive he was getting to my eyes.
He just seemed to be such a good person. I couldn't picture him doing anything mean or inconsiderate to anyone, and I found myself hoping that some of that goodness would somehow find its way inside of me.
I knelt next to the bed, absorbing all of him I could with my eyes, and my hand tentatively reached out to touch his chest. But, as soon as I realized just what I was doing, my hand snapped back to my side as if it had been slapped with a ruler...I could almost feel the sting. Sadly, I resigned myself to the fact that I may never be able to allow myself that simple pleasure.
Defeated, I turned my desk chair around backward, and sat down to stare at him from a safer distance...with my arms folded across the top of the chair back, and my chin resting on top of them. I could feel something growing deep in the center of my chest, as I gazed at him...the same place that had been jolted inside me earlier today when he touched my shoulder...that place where Billy still lived inside my heart. It was a strange feeling...an expanding warmth...a glow...a sense of growth. It's kinda hard to describe, really.
At that point, it was impossible to deny to myself that I could easily develop some pretty strong feelings for him. But, at the same time, I was terribly saddened by the fact that I knew I could never allow myself do so. It was simply too dangerous, and I was just too afraid...
Still, while I sat there in the safety of my room, watching him sleep, I did allow myself to imagine briefly what it might be like to hold him tightly in my arms, to feel the warmth of his body against mine, to actually smell the scent of his hair. My mind raced back to the images from my dream...of him kissing me, and his hand reaching down for my...NO! I can't let myself get carried away here. I could already feel myself beginning to respond in my shorts.
Still, I longed so much for the feeling of another person. We were definitely not a `touchy' family...that simply wasn't a manly thing to do! I couldn't remember the last time I'd even had a simple hug. I could sense a deep hunger inside of me...a hunger for that feeling of validation and assurance that comes from another person sharing their physical self with you...their vulnerability, their compassion. I don't know what it is, but there's just something about a simple hug that really makes you realize "I'm not alone in this world"...and for most of my life, I've always felt sooo alone. Except for those few moments when I enjoyed a brief hug. My grandma was always the best: she was definitely a `hugger.' But, she passed away when I was only seven years old. I sure miss her...
I looked at him again, lying there on my bed. I knew, of course, that he was attracted to me in a physical way, and that was kinda exciting to me in one sense (well, considering the dreams I've had, maybe more than `kinda'!). But, I still had to wonder if he actually knew the real person inside me, if he would like the `me' on the inside as much as he liked the `me' on the outside. Hell, lately I don't even like me most of the time!
It scared me a little bit that he could be attracted to me just on how I looked, because it felt like he wasn't really responding to me as a person. I mean, it's ok to know that someone thinks you're good looking physically I guess, but it doesn't make your heart soar like I imagine it would if someone was attracted to you for what's inside. And unfortunately, that's just what I'm afraid of. What's inside...what lies within.
Could anyone (including myself) really love the person I am on the inside? Whoa...now that's way too scary of a question to even consider answering!
As he began to wake up, I was startled out of my troubling thoughts. I was still curious just exactly what had brought him to my house. After my breakdown this afternoon, I was so totally embarrassed and afraid; I didn't think I could even bear to look at him again for a long time...Yet; there he was standing at my front door. I was pretty shocked. I wasn't sure if he was here out of guilt, pity, or just simply being a decent person...
I had to ask him why he was there with words, but for some reason I was more interested in the reply his eyes gave to me. At times it seemed like I could look right inside him, and it was fascinating to me. As I asked him that question, I absorbed every little bit I could from his eyes...I searched every inch of his soul, but I could find nothing but good intentions inside him. In the back of my mind, it felt like there was something else I was searching for inside him, but my subconscious wasn't quite ready to reveal it to me just yet. It was a little uncomfortable...knowing that there was some kind of important unanswered question floating around in my head, but I didn't even know what the damn question was.
Oh, I could also see that he was afraid too; but his fears were very different from mine. He was afraid of me; or rather, what his feelings for me may bring about. But, he was quite comfortable with who he was as a person, and he totally accepted himself. He knew he wasn't perfect, but he took his own shortcomings as a personal challenge...an obstacle to overcome...and I could sense he was pretty tenacious guy. It was everyone else that scared him...confused him. They were so hard to understand. He wondered why the world couldn't be nearly as accepting of him as he was of himself.
In a lot of ways, I admired him. Maybe I was even a little bit jealous. I can't even imagine what it's like to be happy with your own life, and who you are. I've always felt like my life wasn't ever really made by my own choice, and I didn't have to like it...I just had to live it.
As he walked out and closed the door to my room, I remained sitting there...frozen in disbelief. I couldn't believe I was letting him just walk away from me...without saying something to let him know how I was feeling. But, when the time came, I simply couldn't bring myself to do it.
I felt like such a fucking hypocrite. I spent all that time telling him that even though I wasn't exactly straight, I was still gonna pretend that everything was the same. I wasn't going to acknowledge my feelings for him, or anyone else (not that there was, but you know what I mean...). All the while, a voice in the back of my head was screaming at me...you're such a coward! Why can't you just admit you like him? As the battle grew and grew inside me, it began to totally consume me. After a while, all I could do was just sit there completely frozen, while the tears of my own frustration were running down my face.
Then, he was gone.
After he left, I stared at the back of that door for a few more moments until the feeling hit me. That gnawing sense of despair and self-disappointment you get when you know you've just made a huge mistake...missed one of the biggest opportunities of your life...and the only person who's gonna suffer is you.
I collapsed face down on my bed in agony. It hurt far too much to cry...it was the kind of pain you just had to endure, somehow. I suffered through it, because I knew I deserved every bit of it. I pulled my knees up to my chest, and I smelled the scent of his hair on the pillow, as the pain of watching him leave washed over me once again.
Eventually, I fell in to a fitful sleep.
From a distance, I thought I saw him lying on the ground, with several people gathered around...just standing there sadly, looking down at him. I rushed over, and pushed the crowd of people aside. My heart sank when it looked like he might even be dead.
OH GOD NO!
As I rushed into the circle to see what had happened, everyone looked up at me. I could see the looks of disgust and disbelief in their faces. It was immediately clear that they all blamed me for this. It was all my fault...and I knew in my heart that somehow they were right.
One of them looked at me, and asked "How could you do this to him, Rusty? Now, he's gone...just like Billy. Why did you have to love him too?"
BUT IT'S NOT MY FAULT! I DIDN'T MEAN TO!
A searing wave of pain and guilt tore right through me. It felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart with a red-hot knife. I struggled with all my might to endure the intense pain, but it eventually drove me down to my knees...I didn't even have the strength to remain standing.
I collapsed on the ground a few feet away from him, with my teeth gritted tightly against the terrible pain. I tried to look at him...to see if he was truly dead, but I just couldn't tell. Through my tear soaked eyes, I could see them walking away from us now...just shaking their heads in sadness and disappointment as they murmured to themselves.
HOW COULD YOU DO THIS, RUSTY?
WE'RE SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU!
I wanted to call out to them for help, but I just couldn't. I wouldn't let myself, for some reason. I simply had to lie there and endure the pain. Somehow, I knew I deserved it...
I'M SO SORRY! IT WASN'T MY FAULT!
Suddenly, I could feel myself getting more and more angry...angry with myself, and angry with them. They just didn't know what it was like...
WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND?
WHY CAN'T ANYONE JUST FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME?
I woke with a start, and sat up quickly in my bed... disoriented by the intensity of my dream. My heart was racing, and I was drenched in sweat again. I had a terrible, unsettling feeling inside me, but I had no idea why. I didn't remember the dream I had been having this time, for a change. It was almost worse than that recurring nightmare of mine...having that awful haunting feeling, but not even knowing why. My gut was telling me that something terrible was gonna happen. I tossed and turned for another hour, before finally succumbing to another round of unsatisfying sleep.
They say that anger is really just a secondary emotion; the byproduct of fear or hurt. But, the anger that boils inside you from self-hatred is a special kind of anger. The kind that has the potential to ruin lives.
As soon as I awoke that next morning, I could feel the frustration already building inside me...and it hardly seemed to matter that I was really only angry with myself. The toothpaste was the first to suffer my wrath, as I slammed it down on the counter and threw the uncooperative cap against the wall of the bathroom. One of my shoes met with a violent death, as I was unable to untie the severely knotted laces. The trashcans were dealt a long series of brutal kicks and blows as I wrestled them out to the curbside for the weekly pick-up. Thank god they were plastic bins.
I should have seen the signs myself. But, I was already too far gone to even notice. I was so consumed with anger and self-hatred by that point, I wasn't able to see anything clearly. But, everyone who knew me seemed to notice right away...carefully avoiding me at school that morning. Perhaps they could already see the warning signs. Or, maybe they simply saw the black storm cloud hovering over my head that was surely following me everywhere I went today. But, for whatever reason, they were indeed wise enough to avoid me.
Everyone except him.
Ian apparently didn't know about my long history of nasty moods, or perhaps he didn't care. Maybe he was just too innocent and naïve to assume anything but the best, I think. That was his first big mistake.
Once again he searched me out, just as he had done yesterday afternoon...catching me before my first morning class, obviously still concerned about my state of mind from the day before. As soon as I saw him tentatively hovering a safe distance away with a question obvious in his face, I though to myself "Please, dude...just don't do it. Now is really not a good time." I tried to scare him off with a harsh look, but it didn't deter him. The level of concern I could see in his eyes just increased, and he seemed truly torn about what to do. I gave him an even harsher stare, and slowly shook my head no, and waved him off with my free hand.
At that, his eyes narrowed, and the level of concern and resolve apparent in them increased dramatically. He took a deep breath, and walked up to me. That little voice that lives inside my head was screaming out silently to him..."No...don't do it...please!!!! Big mistake, Ian. Huge mistake! But, he pressed onward.
God, why did he have to go and do that?"
"Rusty...is uh...is everything ok?" he said with concern. "I mean, um...you seem kinda upset...and, well...uh...last night, ya know ...," but I cut him off immediately.
"Dude, just leave me alone, I'm really not in the mood right now, ok?" I said, with my frustration obvious in my voice. "I'm fine...I just...I need some time to think about stuff, alright?" I continued, with my anger obviously still simmering just below the surface, and then I turned abruptly to walk away.
"But Rusty...wait! I...uh...I just don't want you to think..." he began, and I felt his hand on my shoulder again. I cringed, as I felt my whole body shudder visibly. That little voice in my head was almost crying now...desperately begging him..."No, dude! You just don't understand...don't push me when I'm like this...please...dammit! Why are you doing this?"
At that point, I finally snapped. I totally lost my patience with him, with the whole stupid day, with myself, and my whole fucked up life. Out of reflex, I whirled around to face him, grabbing my skateboard with both hands as I turned, and I began to swing it as hard as I could right at his face. Thankfully, I realized what I was doing, and I stopped myself just before crushing his head. My board stopped inches in front of his unbelieving eyes. Those big, soft, pale-blue, unblinking eyes. That just seemed to frustrate me even more...
"GODDAMIT! DON'T FUCKIN' TOUCH ME AGAIN...YOU...YOU...FAG!" I yelled at him.
He looked at me in horror. I can't even begin to describe the pain, the hurt and confusion I could see in his eyes at that moment. I felt my heart sink instantly down to my shoes. In one microscopic instant, all my rage had been hurled out of my body. Directly at him. I could feel it rapidly being replaced by a deep sense of anguish and despair that was welling up inside me. I turned, and quickly hurried away...desperately trying to hide the tears running down my own face.
God, I hate myself!
I couldn't possibly forgive myself for what I had just done.
I'm not sure how I actually made it out of school, because I could hardly see anything through the tears in my eyes. I just kept my head down and ran...I guess my survival instincts must have taken over and subconsciously shown me the way. Without even knowing it, I had run almost a mile away from school.
I found myself standing on a street corner, suddenly feeling a little bit lost. I glanced around the intersection to get my bearings, then I surveyed my choices...to the right was the road that lead towards the park; straight ahead was the shortest way home...but to the left? That was the road to the edge of town...to the bridge. To the place where Billy died.
I went left.
I wasn't quite in the mood to board right then, so I tucked it under one arm, stuffed my hands in my pockets, and walked on. As I plodded along the highway, I kept asking myself the same question over and over again. How could I have done something like that? It just wasn't me talking...it was someone...something else. It wasn't the real me. It couldn't be...I would never do something to hurt him like that on purpose, would I? I mean...well, I guess...I think I was really starting to like him. There was just something about him that kept drawing me in deeper and deeper.
Like that really matters now. I'm sure he hates me. I would.
Part of me was resisting like crazy the fact that I was beginning to like him...the part that was still scared to death of being found out...the part that was worried I would die too if I finally admitted I was...well, that I liked boys. But, as much as part of me felt compelled to resist, it was also beginning to fear that resistance was pointless. It was losing the battle, and it was getting desperate. Afraid.
After a while, my thoughts returned to him. As I began to think about how what I had done would affect him, I got kinda worried...I wasn't sure exactly how many people had heard my outburst, and I wondered how much trouble I may have already caused for the poor kid. Shit, he must really hate me by now. And, I wouldn't blame him a bit if he did. When I remembered the look of complete shock and horror I saw flash across his face, and reminded myself that I alone was the cause of all that pain, it made me feel totally sick inside.
I stopped for a second, and deposited my breakfast in the gutter beside the highway.
Eventually, I reached the bridge. I wandered part way out over the river on the pedestrian walkway that was separated from the road. I went over to the railing and stared down at the water for a long time. My eyes studied the ribbons of current as they wound around rocks, formed eddies, and eventually disappeared...only to be reborn in another section of water. After a while, it totally struck me how the river just kept flowing by...as if it could care less how I was feeling at that moment.
That river made me feel totally irrelevant in this fucked up existence. It reminded me, in an almost mocking way, that the world would keep moving on just fine, with or without me. I didn't matter at all in the larger scheme of things, really. Water would still be flowing downhill towards the ocean long after I was gone, just as it had been doing long before I was born.
Was it really worth all of this? Should I just end my pain right here...would anyone even notice? Would anyone even care?
I was so messed up inside, the weight of that question didn't even fully register in my head. That simple thought seemed just as irrelevant as everything else at the time.
Pretty soon I got tired of standing there at the railing, and I plopped down on a bench that was located nearby to overlook the river. I leaned my head back and looked up into the gray, leaden sky. I just sat there staring up into the nothingness for a while, feeling the cold breeze slowly sucking the warmth out of my body. I just didn't know what to do. Everything in my life seemed screwed up beyond repair at that point. I have no idea who I am anymore. Who is this person running around in my body? Why is he so determined to fuck up my life every chance he gets?
I shut my eyes tightly and began to cry again out of pure frustration. Why does it have to hurt so much? I'm getting sooooo tired of the pain. It seems like it never goes away any more.
I vaguely realized in the back of my mind that I was beginning to dream...
"Its time for you to make a choice Rusty," I heard a familiar sounding voice say gently inside my head. "You have two very different lives...two completely different paths in front of you...and it's time for you to pick one." Immediately, I could visualize two distinctly different images of my future side by side in my mind: one was filled with loneliness, emptiness and regret; and the other filled with warmth, caring and love. Heck, it seemed like such an easy choice...
"Don't be afraid, Rusty. You've locked away your heart for so long, you've forgotten what it feels like to care about someone. Even though it may seem a little scary right now, you still have it within you to trust someone again. Look inside your heart and you'll know what you need to do," the voice said calmly and reassuringly. "Let him in, Rusty. He won't hurt you."
Ya...HIM, I thought to myself...as his shy, smiling face appeared in my mind.
"You can't give in to the fear. You need to have courage; and most of all, you just need to believe in yourself, Rusty. You have so much to give to the world...and to give to him, if you just let yourself."
"You just can't do it alone...you have to let him in. But if you don't do it soon, it might be too late. There are no second chances with this, Rusty."
"I'll try Billy...I promise I'll really try," I muttered to myself...
My eyes opened with a start. I realized that I had nodded off for a moment as I sat there on the bench. The breeze changed direction suddenly, and an uncharacteristically warm gust blew over me...playing lightly through my long hair. The warmth of the air made me feel a little better somehow...kinda like a gentle, reassuring hug. Just for a split second, I felt a small sense of hope beginning to grow inside me...which is more than I've felt in a long time.
I took a deep breath and looked around. I realized that I was at the lowest point in my life since Billy died. But, in a strange way, it was also a relief; because I could see that things could only get better from here. It felt like a lot of weight had been suddenly lifted off of my back...and off of my heart.
I spent a long time down there by the river, and I worked a lot of things out in my head. And most importantly, I found something that had been missing from my life for a long time. ME.
Eventually, I think I reached the point of finally admitting a lot of things to myself, and accepting all of it in the end as just simply who I am. In the end, I decided that I really had no other choice. It was ok to be me. The real me. In my heart, I knew it wouldn't be easy. But, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like maybe I really could just be myself.
After I glanced around to make sure nobody was close enough to actually hear me, I finally said it out loud to myself for the first time in my entire life:
I'M GAY...I REALLY AM.
Wow...am I? Yes, I am. I admit it...I like boys. Well, mainly one in particular it seems. But, that's ok! I know in my heart that I have so much to give him...I wanted so desperately to point out to him what an amazing person he really is, to help him come out of his shell and challenge the world...to share his unique gifts...if I could just get the chance.
I think I'm ready to do what I have to do now. God, I hope he can find a way to forgive me.
Maybe it's really not too late.