Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, you will never change.

-- Les Brown



"Get the fuck outta the way, asshole!" I growled at the kid.

Sure, he was probably only ten or eleven years old. I wouldn't even be surprised if it was his first time here at the skate park. But, for some reason it pissed me off way more than usual that some little dweeb, just blindly wandering around with his head up his butt, had caused me to wipeout right after I just landed a perfect move. But, I'd been in a shitty mood all day.

We both ended up on our asses, sprawled out over the concrete. He looked up at me in fear and surprise, like he was just about to piss his pants, or go cry to his mommy, or something. I just gave him an evil look, shook my head in disappointment, and slammed my board back on the ground as I prepared to take off again.

"Yo, Rusty!" I heard, as someone called out my name from behind.

"What?" I said, turning angrily.

"Whoa...take it easy dude! That's fuckin' Eric Swenson's little brother! If he finds out you've been raggin' on him, you're gonna get your ass kicked, bro."

"Fuck off, Petersen. I'll let you know when I need your social advice," I said, as I yanked off my helmet in frustration. I grabbed my board and my backpack, and stormed out the gate. I plopped down angrily on a bench in the shade of a large tree, grabbed a bottle of water out of my pack, and downed it slowly.

Don't get me wrong...I was feeling pretty bad about hassling the kid, and then getting all in Tim Petersen's face. He was a pretty cool guy, and he was right. I probably did have a major ass-kicking comin' my way after what I did to Swenson's little brother. After all, Eric's only the starting center on the varsity football team...about 6-4 and 250 lb., I'm guessing. He might have me by double just in weight and height alone. Gee, I can't wait until he finds out...sigh.

The truth is, I really was pretty angry, but it had nothing to do with what had just happened at the skate park. I'd been pissed at the world a lot lately...maybe I was just getting' cranky from not having enough sleep (thanks to my stupid dreams!). But really, I knew I was just angry with myself, and taking it out on a helpless little kid and a guy who was the closest thing to a friend I really had. How pathetic is that? I'm just getting so tired of this whole act of mine. I hate the fact that I feel like I have to go around pretending to be someone I'm not just to survive, ya know? Sometimes, I get so frustrated with this stupid life, that I feel like I'm just gonna explode. But, when I saw myself bullying that poor kid, I just totally lost it. I was so tired of myself and my sorry little act, that it just made me feel sick to my stomach all of a sudden. It's just not me! God, I wish I could just be myself, for once...but that just doesn't seem possible right now. It's either this stupid act, or, well...


I just sat there on the bench, staring off into space and stewing in my own anger and self-loathing for a while. I feel like some kind of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde lately...at times I'm just pissed off at the world, and at other times I feel really depressed and disappointed in myself because of it. Ultimately, I realized I had to do something about this whole hard-ass act... about not really being free to be myself in front of the world. I could see that my own frustration at having to put on this `tough guy' act had caused me to become the one thing that I was trying to avoid...a heartless bully; and that just made me want to throw up. Literally. I mean, how fucked up was that? Lately I can just feel the pressure slowly building inside me, and I know some day I'm really gonna lose control. I have to figure out how I'm gonna keep it together here...Fuck!

I was just beginning my senior year of High School. I only had a few months left in this shit-hole, and I was determined to survive them any way I knew how. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel at this point, and I could practically taste my freedom. I was eventually gonna get out of this place, and then I would finally be free. I could start a new life in college or design school. Then, I promised myself, I could finally just be me...if I still knew who the hell I really was by that point.

But not yet. I had to keep up the bullshit act until I graduated, didn't I? I just don't see how I'm gonna make it out of here unless I do. I mean, if people really knew...well, it scared the hell out of me to think about it.

I looked out at all the different guys (and a few gals) skating and standing around shootin' the shit in the skate park. They all respected me, and they all left me alone. But, not a single one of them really knew me. Not a single one of them cared what happened to me today, tomorrow, or next year. Well, maybe Tim Petersen did. Sometimes he tries to be a friend, but I never give him the chance. I mean, if someone got to know me too well, I knew my cover would be blown for sure. No, friends were definitely an unacceptable threat to me. I had always made sure never to allow that to happen.

Ya, I thought to myself sadly, I did a really good job of that. But, it sure gets fuckin' lonely around here sometimes. God, how did I turn into such a prick?

Eventually I remembered just why I was here. Today was Friday after all, and I always headed to the skate park on Fridays, just to de-compress from the pressures of the week at school and totally lose myself in that amazing feeling of flying through the air on my board...bustin' some moves. It's about the only time I can really let some of the pressure out, and I knew that a good hard skating session was the best thing to mellow my attitude today. I decided that I couldn't let anything get in the way of my weekly `therapy' session here. But, I promised myself not to lose my temper again ...I think I've already done enough damage for one day...sigh.


As I was finishing up my skating workout, I stopped for a minute to wipe the sweat off my face and body with my loose t-shirt. As I tossed it down next to my backpack, I felt the sensation of being watched, somehow. My eyes scanned around looking for the source of that eerie feeling, but I couldn't place it just yet.

I took a few slow cruises around the concrete to cool off. The sensation of the cooler air moving across my bare skin always felt sooooo good. I never went shirtless to show off my body or anything (like I had something to show off...ya right!), I just loved that sensation...that sense of freedom.

On my second slow pass around the park, I finally saw him. I noticed him looking at me, and I smiled inwardly to myself. I don't know exactly why, but I just did. He was sitting on a park bench under a tree, watching us. Occasionally, he would pick up his camera and use the zoom lens for a closer look. Something in my gut told me I had to check this kid out. Maybe, I was just being naturally curious.

I gathered up my stuff, passed through the gate, and casually skated along the sidewalk...slowly circling around to where he was sitting. When I reached him, he was looking at the other skaters again through the zoom lens of his camera. I stood there for a moment, like I was lost in another world. I just had this sense that something...I dunno, uh...important (?) was about to happen. I felt all the anger and frustration of the afternoon wash away from me. For some reason, I felt almost...well, glad this was happening. Pretty weird, I admit.

He didn't notice me right away, so I took the chance to study him a little bit. He was maybe a couple inches taller than me, but probably a year or two younger by the looks of him. A sophomore, I bet. He was really thin, but not in an unhealthy looking way. His medium brown hair was parted in the center, and hung down in long bangs over his face. From what I could see, he was a pretty good-looking guy. But, he just didn't seem to carry himself in a way that really brought it out...his whole body language lacked...I dunno, self-confidence or something.

When he eventually detected my presence standing near him, he dropped his camera from his face and jumped back a little in surprise. I barely noticed his reaction, because when I finally saw his big, pale blue eyes staring at me, I totally lost it for a second. Instantly, memories of that stupid nightmare flooded through my head. For some reason, all I could see in those huge eyes of his was the same look of fear and helplessness that haunted me almost every night in my dreams...and for a moment he was Billy Jenkins looking at me again, reminding me of the last time I ever spoke to him behind our garage. It shocked me a little. Ok, well...it shocked me a whole lot.

No, the kid obviously wasn't Billy, but somehow he had the same...I'm not sure exactly...just something about him. He had that look...that innocence, that sweet shyness that Billy had. Something inside me told me...demanded, really...that I just had to talk to this kid. It was like having a chance to re-live your own past as it was happening again right in front of your eyes...but for real this time. Did that make sense?

As he sat there looking at me in fear and confusion, my mind was racing. What am I gonna do here? I gotta think of something to say...lemme see...I pulled off my helmet slowly, to give myself a chance to think. God, he looked so afraid of me. I hated that thought. For some reason, I really didn't want him to be afraid of me. I wanted to make him feel a little more at ease here.

"Whoa, dude...sorry to sneak up on you like that," I said, trying to give him my best casual smile. "You just seemed so totally into what you were doing, I didn't want to ruin your little moment."

He sat there staring at me, completely frozen in fear. God, it seemed almost like he couldn't even hear me. My heart sank a little bit.

Shit! Why was he so terrified of me?

"Please," I thought to myself, "just please don't be afraid of me..."


I  was lost pretty deep in thought as I cruised slowly towards home on my board.

After our initial awkward little moment, I had at least succeeded in communicating (just barely!) with him. Now, I was even more curious than before...there was just something about him that seemed to trigger long forgotten feelings in me. Between that and those stupid dreams, I was kinda forced to think about Billy again; and I realized how much I missed him. And how much it still hurt.

As painful as it was to remember Billy, I couldn't deny that there was something good about that kid...it was like he had a little piece of Billy inside him. At least, for whatever reason, he sure seemed to trigger a lot of those old feelings in me. But, in spite of the painful memories of Billy he evoked in me, I had suggested that he come back to the skate park tomorrow so he could shoot pictures of the skaters, since that seemed like what he wanted to do. He also seemed most interested in me being there. Hmmm...part of me was thinking it might be easier to just blow it off and not show up tomorrow...and avoid any more of these painful and awkward feelings. But, I realized I had to be there. Left on his own, those idiots would probably eat him alive... even if he somehow found enough courage to actually take some pictures. No, I told myself, I had to go.

Hell, part of me really wanted to go, and I knew it...I just didn't want to admit it.

All of these strange thoughts were bouncing around in my head as I arrived home and walked in the back door. My mom was just setting the kitchen table for dinner, and she gave me an odd look.

"You sure look like you got something on your mind today, Rusty," she said.

My mom can still read me pretty good, even though we aren't nearly as close as we used to be. I really love my mom...she was like my best friend until I was in third or fourth grade, when she finally forced me (gently) to reach out and get some friends my own age. But, especially since Billy died, we haven't been close. At times I kinda miss that...but it just feels kinda scary now. I have too much to hide, and she's too good at reading my feelings. I just can't risk it.

"It's nothin' Mom," I replied, trying to end this conversation as soon as it started.

She just looked at me and shook her head. Clearly she wasn't buying it.

"You teenagers all think that it might be fatal somehow to share how your feelings with someone," she chuckled. "One of these days you'll figure it out, Rusty. You'll find someone you actually want to share those feelings with, and life will never be the same again."

"Right mom," I said, with typical teenage indifference. "What's for supper?"

"Spaghetti and meatballs...garlic bread...your favorite, if I remember right..." she grinned slyly.

"Cool," I replied, trying not to act too excited.



"Your dad will be home soon...we'll eat when he gets here."

"Oh," I said without much enthusiasm. Great. Another quality `family moment' with dad.

I don't know what it is about my dad...but he always treats me funny. Like he doesn't really trust me, or something. He's always looking at me suspiciously...like he thinks I'm an impostor...because clearly, I'm not a true `Thompson Man' (Oh ya...that's my last name...). I'm not big and hairy, I'm not stupid, and I'm not an outspoken bigot...so, I guess he must be right. Both of my brothers are obviously true to the gene pool, but I seem to be such a disappointment to him. I don't even look like a `Thompson.' Very suspicious indeed...

Needless to say, we've never been close.

When I was younger, I was always too small to be much of an athlete. I tried to play little league, but it was clear from the beginning that it was a waste of everyone's time. My dad kept saying I was just too much of a sissy and a momma's boy, but I think I was just a `late bloomer.' I think my abilities on a skateboard show I'm not completely un-athletic at this point. But, my dad and my brothers could only see it then as a sign of weakness in the Thompson family gene pool, or something. If I was a puppy, they would have drowned me to protect the breeding line, I'm sure.

So, as I got older, I tried different things. Individual sports seemed best. I liked karate in the beginning, but the first time I got kicked in the face, it was pretty much over. I liked basketball, but I was just too short. Football? Get serious. Eventually they gave up on me, and left me alone. Thank god.

But, ever since my dad finally gave up on me with the sports thing, I've been looked upon with great suspicion. Whenever he wants to brag to his friends, he's quick to mention his two sons who got into college on football scholarships (which is lucky for them too, because they're both as dumb as posts, as far as I can tell...). But, for some reason he doesn't mention his other son who's made honor roll every year since I've been in high school, and who wants to be an artist. No, we don't use the "A-word" around my dad. Shit, if he knew what it cost to go to a top-notch design school, he'd be rooting real hard for me to get a scholarship too, I bet.

At least my mom has been cool about it. She's been really supportive when I tell her what I'm hoping to do. But, you know...I've always been meaning to ask her if I really am a Thompson; you know...genetically speaking? Nah...my mom would never have been capable of having an affair...she's just too dedicated to the whole wife/mother thing...not possible...couldn't have happened.

Could it?