WHAT LIES WITHIN: CHAPTER 13
You cannot change the truth, but the truth can change you.
I made my way home from the river; feeling pretty satisfied that I had sorted a lot of things out in my head. I felt more comfortable with myself...more in touch with myself...than I can ever remember being. But, the closer I got to home, the more that familiar sensation of fear and dread began creeping back into my mind.
Today, I had basically stripped myself of all the emotional armor that I had been using the last few years to protect myself from them...at home, just as much as at school. Suddenly, as I approached our house, I felt completely unprepared to face my dad. Part of me wanted more than anything to just stand up to him, and show him who I really am...but then, the reality of that concept struck me. Shortly after his eyes finished bugging out, I figured I would be little more than a stain on the wall. A not-so-fond memory.
By the time I reached the house, I was so nervous I was literally shaking. If my stomach hadn't already been completely empty, I think it would have been soon enough.
I paused outside the back door, checking to see if the coast was clear. Dad's truck was here, so I knew he was already home from work. But, I thought I could hear the shower running, so I hoped I could slip inside to my room without a close encounter of the dreaded kind.
Quietly, I cracked the back door open and slipped inside. I had taken no more than three silent steps, when I jumped in surprise.
"Rusty...what are you doing sneaking around like that? What's going on with you these days?" my mother asked innocently, now standing directly behind me.
"It's...uh...nothing, Mom. I'm just not really in the mood to deal with, uh... him...right now," I said quietly. I gave her a weak smile, in a lame attempt to win some extra points for good acting. But, none were given, I'm afraid. "I'll uh...just be in my room, ok?"
She gave me a very strange look...like she had just had some big revelation, but she didn't say anything.
I made it to my room, and collapsed on the bed. I found myself on the verge of tears again, for some reason. Here I was, feeling totally unwelcome in my own house. Home didn't feel very safe, or very comfortable all of a sudden.
Man, that idea hurt more than I really wanted to admit to myself.
I turned on some appropriately depressing music, and lay there on my bed wallowing in my sadness. When I heard my dad's truck start up and pull out of the driveway, I felt a little bit relieved. But, when I heard the knock on my bedroom door, I jumped so high; I almost fell off the bed.
"What...uh, who is it?" I choked out.
"It's me...can we talk for a minute?"
"Ya, sure..." I said, without much enthusiasm.
"Ok, spill it Rusty..." she said, sitting on the end of my bed, and giving me that knowing look that all mothers seem to possess by instinct...you know, the one that says "don't even pretend that I don't already know what you're thinking, so let's just get this over with, and don't fuck around with me, ok?" Ya, that one.
"It's nothin' Mom. I'm just not in the mood to deal with his bullshit right now," I replied. Heck, I wasn't ready to give in that easily!
She just sat there and shook her head with disappointment. "Rusty, we used to be so close...I don't know what makes you think that you can't talk to me any more."
I gave her a brief apologetic look, and shrugged my shoulders. But, I held my silence. I knew she was right, of course. Before I became "friends" with Billy, my Mom was my best friend. I liked the fact that she didn't really treat me like a kid. She took me seriously, when nobody else would. But then, how many people really take you seriously at that age?
I glanced at my mom again for a second, as she sat there lost in her thoughts. She really hasn't changed much at all, I noticed. The only difference I could see was the very few gray strands creeping into her long dark hair. I always liked her hair; but then, maybe that was only because mine was just like it. There were times that I thought it would be cool to let it grow really long like hers, but Dad would never have it. As it was, I kept it as long as I could get away with...even now, the only time it gets cut is when Dad has a fit about it.
"You know Rusty, I'm not as dumb as you might think I am. I have a pretty good idea what this is all about," she began carefully. "I am your mother, after all; and I see things...more than you probably give me credit for. And, I can still put two and two together," she said, pausing for effect.
She looked expectantly at me, but I wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet.
"Son, I know you've been in denial about some things in your life for a long time now, but it looks like maybe you're finally coming to grips with them, and I'm glad to see it. I knew it would have to happen sooner or later...that you would meet someone, uh...someone special. Again."
Ok, give Mom credit for being smart enough to make her first shot a really good one.
My mouth opened, and every lame excuse and clichéd denial my brain could think of on the spot tried to come rushing out, all at the same time. But, they just seemed to get all tangled up with each other. In the end, I just sat there with a shocked expression on my face, and my mouth hanging open.
"Oh, don't look so surprised, Rusty. The last time I saw you acting like this...the way you've been the last few days, you know, without your `tough-guy' act...was the day before Billy died. That was the last time I saw the real Rusty. I've been waiting a long time for him to come back. I was getting worried that it might not ever happen."
She took a deep breath, and studied me carefully for a moment.
"Rusty, I know how important Billy was to you. I could see how devastated you were when he died, and I realized that you two must have been pretty `special' friends. It's ok, son. I understand that you are who you are...that you didn't choose to be this way, not that there's anything wrong with it. But, you have to know that I love you just the way you are. You've always been a very special boy. I've been waiting a long time for this day. I've always hated to see you hiding so much of yourself all the time."
Once I got over my initial sense of shock, my survival instincts took over immediately.
"Mom...I don't believe you! I can't...I mean, how can you say that...Shit!...we are not having this conversation!" I yelled.
I realized I needed to stay in control here, so I took a deep breath, and began again more quietly.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, and I would appreciate it if you didn't go around saying things like that about me to people..." I said, trying to stay as calm as possible. But, the rising pitch of my voice gave a little too much emphasis to that last word, and I'm sure it gave away the urgency of my situation.
I'm sorry, but we just cannot be having this conversation! Period!
"Rusty, don't play that game with me. And here I was, thinking that this whole denial phase was finally over with. Maybe I was wrong," she said disappointedly.
"Please Mom, just leave me alone right now. I'm not feeling too great. I just need to get some sleep."
She stood up, and studied me a while longer, lost in thought for a moment.
"Ok," she said with disappointment, "you get some rest."
She didn't fool me, though. I knew what that meant. We weren't done with this conversation yet...not by a long shot.
After she left, and closed the door, I lay back on my bed and covered my face with my pillow. Sleep? Not hardly. As much as I needed it, I wasn't gonna sleep for a second tonight. I just had to figure out what I was going to do! I mean, if she starts talking like that in front of Dad...
FUCK! This could get ugly real fast.
After laying there tossing and turning on my bed for a few hours, my stomach began to grumble. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, which I had lost this morning in the gutter beside the highway, anyway. I realized I was gonna have to eat something, or I'd never make it through the night.
I hadn't heard my dad's truck return, but I wasn't really paying all that much attention. The clock radio beside my bed said it was now 9:45 PM...almost five hours since I got home.
Sure enough, when I peeked my head around the corner to look into the kitchen, there she was. Sitting there waiting for me. She looked at me like she'd been expecting me. Shit, I was probably late, too...
Maybe it was just the fact that my brain wasn't working real well due to low blood sugar...or, maybe it was simply that knowing look on her face that was telling me to just give up the act, and stop pretending that I didn't know what this was all about.
Whatever the reason, I finally caved.
I sat down beside her at the kitchen table, and put my head down in resignation, and covered it with my hands. If I had to do this right now, I definitely couldn't look her in the eyes.
"Dad?" I asked weakly.
"He's still out...he went to watch the Laker's game at one of his friends' house. He won't be back for an hour or so, I imagine," she replied calmly.
"Oh..." I said, trying to think of a way to start this conversation...but, I was just too scared to think clearly.
"Rusty? You have something you wanna say?" she asked expectantly, waiting for me to get on with it...
"Ok. You're right," I sighed. "I just don't know what to do, Mom. If he finds out, he'll kill me. Please promise me that you'll never tell him?" I asked, breaking down in tears again.
"Well, maybe it isn't time for him to know about this just yet, but I don't want to hear you talk like that." After a brief pause, she said sadly, "You really are afraid of him, aren't you?"
"Shit, Mom! He doesn't exactly spend all his time making me feel like he wants me around, ya know...I mean, you see all the time how he treats me! He hates me!" I said, angrily.
"I've told you this before, Rusty...your father and your brothers don't hate you...they just don't...they don't understand you. You're just not very much like them, and they don't know what to do with that."
"Oh ya? What about my so-called brother? You know, Mark beat the shit out of me when he found Billy and I together...right before Billy died," I said, staring right at her defiantly. "He told me not to tell anyone about it, or he'd kill me for being a fag!" I shouted.
"You know what else?" I asked hotly, "Mark outed Billy at school. He killed Billy, you know, one way or the other...it was all his fault, the asshole! I hate him for that! God, you don't know how hard it was for me to live in the same house with him after..." I sobbed angrily.
Long suppressed emotions, that had been buried somewhere deep inside me, were suddenly coming out with such tremendous force that they were impossible for me to control.
"I HATE HIM...I HATE HIM...I HATE HIM...!" I screamed, pounding my fist as hard as I could on the table with each repetition, then bursting into tears again.
My mom came up behind me, and wrapped her arms around me tightly. She whispered tearfully in my ear.
"Oh Rusty...It's ok honey, everything's gonna work out ...I won't let anything happen to you. I promise..."
My mom had been a real lifesaver, for sure. She had managed to keep me and dad apart all weekend. She took me shopping for most of the day Saturday...just looking for clothes and shit. God, I had totally forgotten how much fun it was to shop with my mom...she used to love to take me out when I was a kid, and dress me up like a little Ken doll...with her and the salesladies all fussing over me and crap. They always told me I should go into child modeling or some crazy thing, because clothes all looked so good on me. I loved it (but, I did have to disagree...only certain clothes looked good on me--some clothes looked absolutely terrible on me!). And, I have to confess...I felt like such a girl getting that excited about trying on new clothes and stuff. But, I just can't help it. I've always had my own certain look that was just my style...and it was important to me. It was one of the few ways I'd ever allowed myself to express my true identity, in some sense.
The last big surprise of the weekend had come on Sunday night. I was laying on my bed, reading my stupid English Lit assignment, when mom knocked on my door again. I opened it, and she silently handed me the cordless phone. Weird. I hardly ever get phone calls...
"Uh...hello?" I asked, curious just who in the hell would be calling me on a Sunday night.
"Yo, Rusty! What's up with you dude?" I heard blaring out at me from the headset.
"Oh, hey Tim. Uh...what'ya mean?" I replied with curiosity.
"Come on Rusty...get real! Like, I was standing right there in the hallway Friday morning, dude. And, ya know, I didn't see you all weekend at the skate park...so, I was like, just wondering what's up with you...and him...everything's ok, isn't it?"
"Uh, ya...I'm fine. Just been pretty busy this weekend," I lied. Kinda.
"That's cool. Well, in case you were like wondering, or anything...he took it kinda hard, ya know? You were pretty brutal with him, dude. What did he do to piss you off like that?" he asked gently.
Fuck. My heart sank right down to my shoes. I wanted to be honest with Tim, and instinctively I knew I could trust him. But, I just wasn't sure how far I would let myself go with the truth right now...I was still kinda getting used to this `new me' thing.
"God, I feel really bad about that," I sighed. "It wasn't his fault...it was, I dunno...bad timing, I guess. He just caught me when I was kinda pissed off with myself...and I totally lost it. I feel terrible, dude. Nobody was hassling him about it, were they?...about, um... what I said?" I asked, trying hard not to make it sound, you know... the wrong way.
"Well, dude, I'm not totally sure." He answered thoughtfully. "I mean, a lot of people were standing there, and they all heard you for certain. But, I didn't hear anything much about it the rest of the day, so I can't be sure. I guess we'll have to see tomorrow...you know, in case it got around school on Friday."
God, I hoped I hadn't completely fucked things up already...
"You know, you really should talk to him, Rusty. At least, like, keep an eye on him to make sure nobody fucks with him. I'll keep my eye out for him too, ok?"
"Ya, you're right Tim. I owe him an...uh, an apology ...or an explanation, or something...and, I'll try to make sure nobody messes with him, like you said. I appreciate you're help, too."
The line was silent for a moment, while I thought to myself. I really wanted to say more, but I wasn't quite ready to just come gushing out with something like "Oh ya, I'm gay and I think I'm in love with him," ya know? Actually, it went more like:
"Uh, well... thanks for calling, dude...(long pause) Uh, Tim? Ya know, he's uh... pretty cool...once you get to know him and all. I hope I haven't, like, totally screwed up his life, have I?"
"No...just the opposite, Russ dude. If you can make things right between you guys, I think it just might be the best thing that ever happened to him."
I could literally hear him smiling to himself when he said that. Weird.
"Cool. I guess I'll...uh, see ya tomorrow then, dude."
"Ya. Later, dude," he replied, and then the line went dead.
I woke up Monday morning, and just by looking at my bed it was clear that I had tossed and turned all night. Again. I couldn't sleep at all...and it had been a really long weekend. I never sleep well when I have a lot on my mind.
As tired as I was, I forced myself get up and head for school that Monday morning way earlier than usual. I knew I would catch enough shit as it was from Mr. B with just one day of unplanned absence, and I really needed him on my side right now.
I had a plan, but I was definitely gonna need some help.
I knew that Mr. B always came in early in the mornings...usually before 7AM; that was his quiet time to prepare for the day ahead. But, he's told me a million times that he'd always be there if I ever really needed to talk. Today was definitely one of those days.
Carefully, I opened the door to the graphics lab, and stuck my head inside.
"Mr. B? Uh...you in here?" I asked, cringing a little bit as my voice broke the absolute silence.
I soon saw Mr. B's head poke out of his office. "Russell? What are doing around here at this time of the morning?" he said with concern. "Is everything ok? I was a little bit worried about you Friday, when you didn't show up."
I edged cautiously into the room. "Um...I'm ok now, I guess. But...well, you know how you've always said I could stop in some morning if I really needed to talk..." I began, "Well, today I was hoping...if you didn't have anything else really important...that maybe we could..." I said haltingly, choking back a few tears.
Damn! I was determined not to break down and cry again today, but I just couldn't seem to help it.
"Hey now, Russell...It's alright. You know I always have time for you. Come on in my office and let's sit down and talk about it," he said as he put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a little hug. Mr. B is the only person I've ever really talked to that actually made me feel better about myself when I was done. I didn't have to put on my act for Mr. B. He knew who I really was on the inside, and he didn't judge me. He actually seemed to like me in spite of myself, sometimes.
In some ways, he's more like a father to me than my own dad. I could never talk to my dad about anything important...certainly not about anything to do with how I felt inside. All my dad ever wanted to talk about was football, or how the niggers, the Mexicans, or the Jews were ruining the world (and don't even mention the word gay around him!). Mostly, I just avoided talking to my dad. It was less painful that way. Perhaps because I always knew subconsciously that I was gay, I've always bristled at the mention of different minority groups in a mean or derogatory way.
I've always gone out of my way not to have any preconceptions about people based on anything but what they show me by how they act and speak around me. In my mind, people like my dad just run around pointing out their ignorance and stupidity to anyone who will listen, and it makes me sick to my stomach to hear that crap after a while. I've always been afraid that one of these days I would lose my temper in front of my dad, and call him out for all of his stupid prejudices...and that scared the hell out of me. If I ever did anything like that, I knew my dad would just squash me like a bug.
We sat down in Mr. B's office, and he looked at me sympathetically.
"Of course, I heard about what happened Friday, and I have to say I was a little surprised at what was being said around school. But, why don't you tell me in your own words what really did happen, ok? Oh, and in case you're worried, I think he did ok. He was obviously pretty hurt, but he's a lot tougher than he looks underneath it all. He seems pretty resilient...and I bet he'd be more than willing to listen if you'll talk to him," he said...as if he had read my thoughts exactly.
"Ok...uh...well, it really all started a few days ago," I began...
For the second time in the last few days, I completely poured my feelings out to another person. Who actually listened. And, who actually cared. Wow, this is feeling really weird. Surreal.
"Well Russell, if you tell him honestly how you really feel, like you just told me right now, I think he'll listen. He likes you quite a bit, but I think you already knew that," Mr. B said, giving me a questioning look. "If you really want to take the next step, and grow as a person Rusty, you're gonna have to start being a lot more honest with people you care about...and with yourself. But, it sounds like you've already taken the biggest step...and the hardest one. It's never easy to confront yourself with the really big truths in life, and I know it can be pretty scary. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Russell. You are a remarkable person on the inside. It's always pained me to see how much of an effort you've put into hiding that. Do all of us a favor, Russell...just be that person. It's OK," he said with a heartfelt smile.
"I'll try," I said, taking a deep breath. I had to struggle again to hold back another round of tears. I really am gonna try, I promised myself. I just have to find the courage to battle that fear...and not let it win this time, damn it.
"I have a suggestion," Mr. B offered, "I have prep during second period, so nobody will be here in the room. Why don't you stay in here and catch up on some things during first period, and I'll let your teacher know you're doing some `important yearbook stuff.' I think I can locate Mr. Sullivan's second period class, and I'll have a note sent out directing him to come to the yearbook lab during second period for some sort of urgent business I need to see him about..." he smiled.