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A Gay Teen Love Story - Overcoming The Barriers
Beyond The Rain
Dorothy: Weren't you frightened?
Wizard of Oz: Frightened? Child, you're talking to a man who's laughed in the face of danger, chuckled at catastrophe, and sneered at danger. . . . I was petrified!
That was so great when Mr. Strickland offered Aaron the job. The look on his face was cool. It was like someone had given him a present. I don't know how Aaron went from one of the happiest boys in school to this quiet guy I am getting to know now, but whatever happened, it can't be that bad. I'm hoping he'll spill one day soon, so we can talk about it.
I'm thinking way too much about Aaron. Yesterday, when I was waiting for him to come to Psych class, I was praying he didn't turn back into that silent kid. We had made a little move toward friendship and I so hoped he wasn't regretting it. I know sometimes, you tell someone a secret and then you can't look at that person again. I hoped he wasn't gonna do that to me.
So, when he walked in, sat down and didn't look back to where I was sitting, my heart kinda fell. I just kept looking his way and finally, he turned his head and looked right at me. It was like sunshine blasted through the windows. His face lit up and I knew he'd been thinking the same way I had. I couldn't wait for class to be over, so we could talk.
And, when Mr. Strickland came over and offered him the after school job, I think I was almost as happy about it as he was. I wasn't sure where my mind was headed as far as Aaron Sorensen was concerned, but I knew he made me happy. Maybe I could just have him for a really good friend. Gay guys can have straight friends, can't they? I can keep my mind off him 'that way', can't I? I thought about his liquid brown eyes, the way he wrinkled his nose when he was thinking hard, the soft brown fuzz that was growing all over his head like bunny fur. I wanted so much to help him past whatever had happened and I sure couldn't do it by pouncing and scaring the bejesus out of him. He had enough problems.
I had told him I'd call him later last night to find out if his parents would let him have the job and his answer was real weird.
"I um......I'll tell you at school tomorrow, k?"
"I can't call you?"
Aaron had looked so embarrassed. "I'll explain later, okay?"
I woke up this morning, my first thought, 'What did his parents say?' I was surprised, but happy to see Aaron waiting by my locker when I got to school.
"They said 'Yes!' he grinned.
It was one of those awkward moments where I wanted to hug him right there in the hall. He was so happy that I could feel it pulsing off him. Whacking him on the arm instead, I congratulated him and grabbed my books out of the locker. We walked side by side down the hall, me headed for Art class and Aaron on his way to Trig.
"See ya later," I called as we split up.
"Yeah," he smiled, the old Aaron smile. "See ya later, Billy."
Mr. Cantor was in a rare mood when he started talking in Psych class. I wished I was sitting closer to Aaron, but it was probably better that I was way over here. I had made a promise to myself and sitting next to Aaron might have been more than I could have handled. My mind tends to drift during class and I didn't want it drifting toward Aaron's neck or Aaron's arms or anything Aaron. I watched Craig Larkin bend over to retie his sneaker, the line where his suntan stopped across his lower back popping into view. I raised one eyebrow, but found my attention slurring back across the room to see if Aaron was awake.
"Mr. Sorensen," I heard Mr. Cantor's voice through my daydreams. I came to attention as I realized he was gonna make Aaron talk.
"Yes sir?" Aaron's voice didn't sound too sure.
I didn't even know what the teacher had been talking about, so far away in la-la land had my thoughts been.
"We've been talking about the basis for bigotry. What makes a person become a bigot. What are your thoughts?"
I waited to see if Aaron was going to be able to answer. I was just gonna pop my hand up and spew out some kind of answer if he couldn't. I didn't want him crawling back into that dark cave again.
He sat for a minute and then said softly, "A bigot is a person who is intolerant of anyone who doesn't believe what he believes and doesn't like anyone who is different from him. I kinda think a person becomes a bigot from what he's taught as he grows up. I mean, a little baby loves everyone. A little baby doesn't care what color someone is or what he's like as long as he's gentle. I think kids learn to be bigots from their parents and from the other kids at school. If the parents hate something, then the kid is likely to be that way too. If the other kids at school pick on a certain kid, then a kid learns what he has to be to get along."
"How do people show their bigotry?" Mr. Cantor went on.
"They make the person feel less than he is by trying to take away his dignity," Aaron mumbled.
Mr. Cantor turned to Allie Campbell. "Have you seen bigotry here at this school?"
Allie frowned, "Oh sure."
"Can you give me an example, no names?"
She thought for a minute. "If someone does something in a different way than everyone else, people say 'That's so gay'. I guess it isn't really right to say that, is it?"
"No," Mr. Cantor smiled at her, "It isn't."
Aaron was quiet as we drove over to the feed store that afternoon. I just let him find his way.
Mr. Strickland walked up as we were climbing out of the truck. "Hey, boys. Aaron, your dad came by this morning. I told him you'd be fine here and I'd get you home by 6:30 for dinner. You go straight home, okay?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Strickland," he replied, looking at the ground. It was as if hearing that his father had been there made things not so special after all.
I watched curiously as Mr. Strickland patted Aaron on the shoulder and said softly, "You have friends here, Aaron. Just take deep breaths."
Aaron's head jerked up and he met Mr. Strickland's eyes. Something passed between them and Aaron seemed to relax. His smile came back and he really did take a deep breath.
We worked together unloading 50 pound bags of dog food and some new cattle feeders. It was hard work but the money was good and now I had Aaron here to talk to.
We took a break, grabbed a couple of cokes, and sat under a big old cottonwood that shaded the back parking lot.
"I liked what you said in class today," I said.
Aaron looked away from me, his voice low. "It's just so wrong to hate someone for the color of their skin or what they believe in or how they're born."
"I agree totally. You'd think people would have enough to worry about just taking care of themselves. It's like the church people and how their way is the only way." I realized what I'd said. "Oh, I don't mean you, Aaron."
"Nah, that's okay. I know what you mean. And besides, I don't believe in church anymore."
Whoa......that was big coming from him. "Aaron, you know you can tell me anything, right? I think we've established that we're friends."
He looked at me carefully. "Yeah, but even friends can't accept some things."
"Well, did you kill someone? Are you a drug addict?" I couldn't think of anything else.
"No," he said. "Apparently, it's worse than that. They would be happier if I was a murderer or a stoner." I saw tears welling up in his eyes.
"Oh Aaron, what have they done to you to get you to this place?"
"I thought I could tell them," he sobbed, trying desperately to hide his face. "I was so tired of hiding how I feel. I thought they loved me and I could share my unhappiness and my fears with them and they'd make it better. I trusted that they would be able to accept that I'm. . . . . . ." His words drifted off to nothing, but I knew and he knew that I understood.
I got this choked feeling in the very back of my mind. I hadn't thought it was possible, but here was Aaron trying to tell me that he was gay. Everything he was feeling, I had felt. I knew that feeling of wanting to tell someone. Of wanting to yell it from the rooftop, but I knew it didn't work that way. And, I knew my parents. Apparently, Aaron had thought he knew his.
I opened my mouth to tell him that I understood all too well, but before I could tell him, he said brokenly, "I told them I was gay. I wanted them to know. I loved them and expected them to love me no matter what. They don't. Now, all I can do is try my best to fight this. The church people are helping me. It's why I went to that retreat. They talked and talked and talked. I have to fight this. If I want them to love me ever again, I have to not be this."
Not be this! In one fast second, I knew that to tell him about me would only make things worse. It all cleared suddenly, like the sun through the early morning fog. No wonder we clicked. No wonder I couldn't wait to see him. No wonder his face lit up when he saw me.
I stood up and walked to the edge of the sunlight where the shade touched the toes of my sneakers. Everything fell into place. No baseball, no scouts, I suddenly realized no phone or friends either. They didn't know about me working here or they never would have let him have the job. Did Mr. Strickland know? I bet he did cause he went to that church.
If I turned around right now and told Aaron that I was gay and I understood exactly how he felt and his eyes met mine in a new way, what would happen?
Could we be like the other kids and just be friends? Somehow, I didn't think so. I asked quietly, "What happens if you mess up?"
"I don't know. I guess back to that place. I can't go back there, Billy. I can't."
My heart broke. There was no way that was gonna happen. Not because of me. "Well, we just won't let that happen, will we?"
"You don't care that I'm. . . . . . ," he couldn't say the word.
It took all I could not to say what I was feeling. If I could be the difference between this sad beautiful boy making it through the next days, then so be it. I had lied before, I could lie again. It wouldn't even be a lie; it would be a very very painful omission that would keep his head above the water.
"No, my friend," I said slowly, "I don't care. We'll work this out. You will not go back to that place."
"Really?" he asked, wiping his face with his hands. I handed him my red bandana and he grinned, like a little puppy who had expected to get kicked.
"Really," I smiled. "You're my bud. Buds stick together."
"I just wanted someone to talk to, someone who would understand, well, maybe not exactly understand but, at least, not hate me."
"What's to hate? It's the way God made you." (and me, I thought)
Somehow, even though I wanted to tell him so bad, I knew in my heart that this was the right thing to do. Yeah, it would be great for him to know that he wasn't alone and that the one person he had chosen for a friend was like him. Thing was, if he knew and we acted on it in any way, he would get sent back there and that just wasn't gonna happen. There would be no way to keep being happy a secret. His father would find out about it and Aaron would be gone.
I knew I'd regret my decision a million times over and I had a feeling I'd cry as soon as I was alone, but one look at Aaron's red eyes was enough for me to swear I would never be the reason he got sent back to that place.
We got back to work and I could feel every time Aaron looked my way. I would look up, grin at him and the look of pure happiness in his eyes made me know that, for right now, I would be his friend.
Wasn't it amazing, that out of 416 kids in my high school, out of the 42 gay kids, I would stumble across the one with the broken wing who just didn't need one more thing to make his little house of cards go tumbling down. Dang!
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