He rolled both of the windows down in his tiny two-door sports car, letting the crisp autumn air whip through his hair and beat against his skin. His loose calculus notes fluttered in circles before flying away, settling peacefully in a little trail on the road behind him as he traveled. Driving on his favorite two-lane country backroad, he pushed the pedal down intensely on straightaways, letting up a tiny bit as he approached those amazing curves that the car hugged so gracefully. He glided smoothly around the bends, barely considered stop signs, drove to make himself happy, and to make himself forget. He had possibly had the worst morning in the modern history of mornings, and it was made that much worse because he brought it upon himself.
Technically, it wasn’t completely his fault; the motivation behind the action wasn’t up to him.
The action itself though was stupid, and self-destructive, and rushed, and unnecessary.
Every so often, when he was safely traveling through a straight stretch, he’d glance down at his cellphone, and appropriately take in all of its deadness and darkness. He’d turned it off, not to make sure that nobody could contact him, but just because he couldn’t handle any connection to the outside world. Well, not that he didn’t want anyone to contact him, it was that he specifically didn’t want his parents to contact him. Still, he’d resolved that even if his phone was on and his parents left him alone, he still wouldn’t be able to read the messages, and look at the posts, and take in all of the superficiality. His mental state at the moment just wouldn’t allow it.
After taking the long way, and giving his hair and clothes a good tousling, he finally arrived at school. He reluctantly rolled up his windows and pulled his key out of his car, the rickety old engine sighing from irresponsible overuse. He pulled on his nearly empty backpack and trotted nervously into the main building, taking the unusual opportunity of a completely silent phone to fully appreciate his environment. The sky was a particularly bright blue that day, with puffy, candy-like clouds floating so unhurriedly that it made him question if anything was really worth worrying about. The breeze, when not experienced from inside a car doing twenty over the speed limit, was serene, and calming, even. He took a deep breath in, closed his eyes, appreciated this rare moment of limbo that he’d created for himself.
When a person usually breaks big news, their life changes instantaneously, and their world transforms as the rippling effects begin to influence every aspect of their life. This time, though, he’d gone through all of the emotional trouble to reveal this intimate detail about himself, to his parents, the two people he found he wanted to share intimate details with the least, and yet, the Earth went through its motions slowly and surely, somehow telling him that things would be okay.
He pushed the door open, leaving the reassuring Earth behind him, entering into what he saw only as a metal box of artificial light and recycled air. The glimmering gold and silver of the many trophies in the rows and rows of trophy cases caught his wandering eye, and he veered closer to study them. Four were for wrestling, two were for tennis, five were for basketball, and there were countless for football. He gently touched the polished glass separating him from those cheap, mass-manufactured symbols of athletic achievement, and he wondered whether sports players felt the world speaking slowly to them in the same way that he just did. He wondered if they got that feeling that everything would continue just as it did before, regardless of what happened in one person’s life, including your own. As he let go of the case, at the demand of an angry janitor, and continued up the stairwell to class, at the demand of an angry hall monitor, he forced himself to put this idea all the way through his head.
“However things go for me, life will go on.” He thought, over and over. He focused so intently on it that it almost escaped from his lips.
“However things go today, everything will be okay.” He began to focus on a revised version, but this one he had particular trouble believing.
He slid into his chair at the back of the room, weakly waving hello to his nearby acquaintances, and pretended to listen to his teacher talk about the meaning of American history, and how it applied to everything they did. On any other day, his notebook would be out, his ears would be perked, his brain would be rapidly memorizing this information, but he couldn’t get his mind off of the possible mistake he made, because if it was a mistake, it was easily the costliest mistake he’d ever made. Once he made eye contact with the teacher, he found it a tad bit easier to pay attention, and just by reading his lips alone, he deducted that the day’s lesson was focused on the various civil rights movements throughout history.
He had just finished outlining the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was moving onto the Stonewall Riot of 1969, the pivotal moment in the movement for gay rights. As he processed this information, he stopped himself, threw a hand up over his mouth. It wasn’t too dramatic, but it was enough that it attracted worried stares from his friendliest acquaintance, which he was then forced to quell with an insincere smile and a dry chuckle.
“You okay?” She mouthed, pushing her hair out of her face, wearing a look that could almost be mistaken for genuine concern.
“Yes!” He mouthed back, putting on his best positive façade.
She nodded back, flashing a small smile, before picking her pen back up, disappearing back into her own bubble.
As the teacher delved deeper into the history of the LGBT rights movement, he couldn’t help but get emotional, couldn’t help but realize that this teacher was talking so quickly and casually about not just any people, but his people. For the first time, it went through his brain that he was technically a part of the community now, and he should probably know about where all of the freedoms that he had access to even came from. He thought that he should probably start learning about what’s going on in the community now; the lingo, the issues, the style, the music. He’d adopted a whole new culture, all with the construction of one emotionally charged letter, and the grandeur of it all was incredibly overwhelming. He didn’t know if he could handle all of the readjusting, and learning and growing that was staring him so blatantly in the face.
He reached down and felt his phone again, thinking about all of the calls and texts from his parents that must be piling up, the disbelief they must be in, the disappointment that must be permanently altering their perception of him. He could feel the tears building up now, the breathing growing unsteady, the headache setting in. Luckily, class ended just as he felt like he was going to explode. It was the end of first period, which meant ten minutes to talk to his best friend before he had to report to calculus. He walked briskly to their meeting spot next to the vending machines, and found her leaning lazily against one of them, most likely texting her boyfriend about every detail of her day.
He walked over and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to convey the gravity of his terrible morning without saying a word. Thankfully, they’d been friends since they were seven-year-olds basically living in the soccer fields next to their homes, and he’d gone through this process with her naturally a long time before. She put away her phone immediately, and locked hands with him, intertwining her fingers in that comfortable, familiar way she always did. “You actually did it?” she asked, her eyes alive with excitement.
He nodded fearfully, still holding back all of the anxiety waiting to burst out of him, and she pulled him into a tight embrace, before pulling back and looking him in the eyes. “You have nothing to be afraid of. If they have a problem with it, that’s something they have to fix about themselves, not the other way around.”
He nodded again. The words had stopped flowing ever since he’d picked up the pen from the paper that morning. Ever since then, his life had transformed into feelings and observations. The feeling of the wind against his face, the view of the towering trees juxtaposed against the sky, the realization that problems that matter to one person now don’t matter to the rest of the world.
“How’d you do it?” She asked, prodding him for a response. She knew how to do it carefully, how to pull him ever so gently out of his comfort zone, and when he saw it happening, he felt safe enough with her to let it go on.
He opened his mouth, encouraged by her compassionate demeanor and her rotating hand, and closed it, before mustering up the strength to admit that he’d written his parents a letter. The kicker was though, it wasn’t just any letter, it was one he’d written in about forty minutes before he left for school, and it contained all of the things he’d always wanted to admit to them. He told them he was sorry they wouldn’t get their ideal vision of a rich son with an equally rich, beautiful wife. He said he was sorry that he was their only child and he was ruining their chances for biological grandkids. He told them their opinion of him haunted him, each and every day. He told them that his phone would most likely be off for the remainder of the day, even though that hadn’t stopped them from contacting him obsessively before.
Her face dropped reflexively, then picked itself back up again once it realized it had a distraught friend to comfort. She told him that although he didn’t choose the best things to say and the best way to say them, the important thing was that he’d actually done it. He smiled, sincerely this time, letting his love for her blossom through his expression. At the moment, he couldn’t verbally express how much he appreciated her, but they locked eyes again, and she smiled hugely back at him, and they both somehow knew.
“I’m proud of you, babe. Oh, and I love you to pieces.” She said, kissing him softly on the cheek, then running off to class.
He turned around and descended a staircase, turning left to get to his calculus class, passing several people along the way who he knew just well enough to awkwardly acknowledge through shapeshifting crowds of teenagers. He took his spot at the back of the class again, this time with paper out, leaning against the wall. He let math class consume him because when he was working out equations, he wasn’t a person with desires or preferences, he was a machine that churned out answers, solved problems, and valued efficiency.
He coasted through the rest of the day like this, allowing his classes to dominate his consciousness, even studying for his science test during lunch, even though it was more than two weeks away. The conversations, the jokes, the people, even the food, it all seemed to matter that much less, maybe because he knew that all of the people would look at him differently once the news spread, or even not address him as a person at all. The small talk was rendered useless, especially since it was no longer guaranteed itself. So, he just sat there and tried to stay productive, at this point so opposed to the idea of checking his phone that it was tucked neatly away in the bottom of his backpack, zipped up with his extra pens and pencils.
After what seemed like a small eternity, the final bell rang, and he meandered through the overcrowded hallways toward the packed student parking lot. He was almost out the door when a hand tapped on his shoulder. Turning to his right, he saw that it was his second-best friend, the occasional third to the unbreakable duo. He beckoned him over, drawing him away from the fast-moving crowd until they were leaning against the wall.
“She told me what happened today, and I totally understand that you don’t want to talk about it,” he said, wearing a face of genuine concern, with uneasy eyes that hinted toward something else. “But, I just wanted to say that I’m proud of you! I’ve known you for, what, three years, and this is the bravest I’ve ever seen you! It’s a good look on you, friend.” He then pulled him into a warm hug, his friend letting him bury his face in his chest for a few seconds.
He liked the feelings he got, feelings of safety and protection, and that kind of weird feeling you get when you know something just fits. His friend then waved goodbye and continued off in the other direction toward the other parking lot, but before he was too far away, he stopped in his tracks and turned back.
“And also, when you’re ready, I don’t wanna be your friend. I don’t know if that helps or hurts, but it’s the cold, hard truth. I mean, I guess if things don’t go well when you get home you can kind of keep that in the back of your mind? Okay, what I should say is, I think you’re fucking amazing, and dammit, they should too! They will!” He fumbled his way through, taking little awkward pauses and smiling uncontrollably.
He felt a large, involuntary grin creep automatically onto his face, and the thousands of ambiguous moments the two had shared over three years all suddenly replayed and became beautifully clear. As he strolled out to his car, key in hand, ready for the windows down again, he resolved to start making more observations, so he could catch things like this in better time, and just appreciate their peculiar loveliness. He had no idea what was waiting for him across town at his house, but for some reason, he felt readier for it than he ever had before. He had already realized that life would move on regardless of the outcome, but he saw right then that this was actually a good thing, because it meant that either way, the best times of his life, the sweetest memories, the closest relationships, the most honest living, it all started after this one thing was over with. That, and that alone, had him smiling the whole way home.