growing up in a bathroom
Years ago, before Grey’s Anatomy, George Bush, The Dark Knight and Britney, there lived a young boy starting his first day at a new high school. As he stepped on the bus that morning and saw the pointing and giggling, he immediately second guessed his wardrobe choice. Apparently in this town, jean jackets and bandanas had definitely gone out of style.
At lunch, the young boy anxiously walked through the cafeteria, hoping someone would ask him to sit down. But even with the jacket and bandana safely stowed in his locker, nobody did. And so he wandered outside, sat down beside the maple tree where the stoners were passing a joint, and quietly ate alone.
When he got home, the young boy’s mother asked how his day had gone and he lied. His father asked if he learned anything and he lied. His sister jokingly asked if he had a girlfriend yet and he jokingly threw her on the couch. And later that night, as he laid under the covers in the darkness of his bedroom, he started to cry.
As the weeks turned to months, the young boy slowly took comfort in two other young boys who didn’t ignore him. He took comfort in two other young boys who actually talked to him. And it felt good because he started to think that maybe one day he would belong. It felt good because in some ways, he thought, that's all high school was. Finding a way to belong.
One Tuesday afternoon in the spring of his freshman year, the young boy walked into the school bathroom. In the corner, by the stall with the crooked door, stood his two new friends. The two young boys who didn’t ignore him. The two young boys who actually talked to him. The two young boys who made him feel like he belonged.
As the young boy moved closer, he could see another young boy, one he hadn’t seen before. This particular young boy was laying face first against the toilet of the stall with the crooked door, his pants pulled down and wrapped around his ankles. As the young boy stood watching, his two new friends took turns kicking this other young boy on his behind, as he screamed and gasped for air.
And they smiled. And they laughed. And all the while, they yelled one word. Over and over.
When the young boy's two new friends turned and saw him watching, they grinned. One of the boys walked over, gently placed his hand on the young boys shoulder and spoke.
“Your turn. Kick that faggot.”
And so on a Tuesday afternoon in the spring of his freshman year, three minutes before the closing bell, one young boy kicked another young boy in the school bathroom while shouting the word “faggot.”
By the time the young boy became a senior, his life had dramatically changed. He no longer worried about what to wear or where to sit during lunch or who would talk to him. He no longer cried himself to sleep at night. Instead, he played hockey, went to parties on the weekend, got drunk and kissed girls.
Soon the young boy would go to college, graduate, get a job on Wall Street and marry the girl he met on the train one summer morning on the way home from visiting his family by the shore. The young boy had grown up and become a man.
And then one day, while walking his new baby daughter in the park, the once young boy saw him. Sitting alone on a bench by the hot dog stand, was the young boy from that bathroom.
The once young boy wasn’t sure how to act. What to do. He thought about quickly running down the path, hoping he hadn’t been spotted. Hoping he hadn’t been recognized.
But before he had a chance, he was spotted. He was recognized. And so the once young boy slowly walked over to the bench by the hot dog stand. At first, he tried to smile but his face wouldn’t cooperate. He then tried to speak but his mouth wouldn’t cooperate.
“Do you remember me?” The man on the bench asked, already knowing the answer.
And so they talked. First it was small talk, easy memories of their hometown and former life. But after a few minutes, the once young boy asked the man on the bench where he had been since high school.
The man on the bench told him that his parents had kicked him out of the house as soon as he graduated. That he had moved to the city, where he had been living ever since. And that he hadn’t seen his family in over ten years.
The once young boy was confused. Didn't he miss his family? Didn't he miss his old town? Why hadn’t he seen his parents in so long? At that moment the man on the bench suddenly stood up.
“Because I'm a faggot.”
The once young boy was silent. He didn’t know how to respond. Or maybe he did, but was scared.
“When I was in high school, I gave up believing in god. Because look at what he did to me. Look at what he made me.”
The once young boy wondered if he’d ever be able to talk again.
“But then, one day, everything changed. Life suddenly was life. And I suddenly wanted to live in it. And, amazingly, I believed in god again. And I was happy. I was finally happy. Do you want to know why?”
The once young boy again tried again to open his mouth, but couldn’t.
“I found love.”
It was at that moment that the once young boy, his chest now aching, his hands now shaking, his eyes now watering, slowly did open his mouth and managed to say to the man on the bench the two words he never had.
The man on the bench reached over, gently placed his hand on the once young boys shoulder and smiled.
The once young boy looked up and stared back at the man on the bench. And he saw strength.