This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness. Many of you are familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.
I was stuck at a truly dull party the other day. It was one of those awkward events where no-one actually knows anyone else, but everyone pretends they do - all at the instigation of one friend, who seems obsessed with resurrecting old school acquaintances. If I haven't spoken to someone in 10 years or more, there's usually a reason for it.
So here I am, bad drink in hands, checking the clock for the earliest polite opportunity to leave and vaguely considering whether jumping out of a third storey window to freedom would hurt all that much, when an old schoolmate approached. And I had a deer-in-headlights moment
"Do you remember me?"
Yes. I remembered him.
He was my best friend, my oldest friend - a boy I'd known since we were both in nappies He was the first person I came out to, when I had just turned 14.
I remember my oldest friend hitting me then kicking while I lay on the floor until things cracked.
I remember being taken to hospital by my horrified parents. I remember lying to them about what had happened, saying I'd been mugged (like that was believable). I remember lying to the police.
I remember them not believing me. I remember the months - years - afterwards of them not trusting me, of their worry about what I was involved in, of the constant questions, whether I was using drugs, what I was doing, where I was going. I remember lying about it all. I remember them not believing a word.
I remember my oldest friend telling him.
I remember him and his group ostracising me. I remember him calling me "faggot" and "queer" and "arsebandit" and "fudgepacker"
I remember them throwing things at me. I remember trying not to leave school unless I was in a group. I remember him and his friends waiting for me as I walked to school and walked home.
I remember coming home bruised and bloody and my parents asking why. I remember lying to them, again. I remember the trust I lost, the rift it created. I remember them worrying, I remember my mother crying about it - and still not telling her, still lying to her. I remember lying to them in the hospital and the doctor's office.
I remember him telling my friends, gods I remember him telling half the damn year. I remember people avoiding me, I remember the whispers. I remember lying to them too. I remember telling them I wasn't gay. I remember constantly insisting on being straight when I wasn't. I remember feeling like I had to deny what I was.
I remember lying to my teachers, pretending there was nothing wrong, refusing to talk to them. I remember being angry and snarling at them when they pressed. I remember them wondering if there was something wrong at home.
I remember I stopped going out, becoming something of a hermit because I didn't know if I would meet him and his friends. I remember driving many of my friends away because I didn't trust them any more, because I was scared of them.
I remember being afraid pretty much all the time, I remember being ashamed. I remember hating myself. I remember trying to change. I remember fear of hurting my family being the only real thing holding me back from despair.
I remember this lasting until I left school. I remember picking a college based not on what was best for me - but because I was sure he and his friends weren't going.
I remember it being years before I had the courage to come out to someone again. I remember it being years before I convinced myself they were wrong, not me. I remember it was years before I realised I deserved to be happy, to love, to be.
I remember this, though I've tried REALLY hard not to over the years. I still have the scars - physical and mental. I was damaged by these memories, badly. Not the only damage or perhaps even the most severe, but damaged nevertheless. Damage that took a long time to repair, damage that still isn't entirely fixed.
But he didn't remember, or wanted to pretend it didn't happen. And he stood there and smiling and carrying on the great pretence that we were friends. That we had good times to talk about. That we had happy memories and pleasant reminiscences.
And I played by the script. I pasted a plastic smile on my face. I laughed, I told pathetic jokes and helped slop whitewash over the mess of history. I joined in the pretence, I kept up the act. I let the lie stand that it didn't matter, that it was bygones, that time had healed all wounds. All the while not sure whether I wanted to run away or go for the throat. But I played nice. I did the acceptable thing, the mature thing.
After all, I'm 28 now. Isn't it petty to hold grudges over things that ended when I was 16? Doesn't it mean I am weak and pathetic to still be hurt by that? Shouldn't an adult be able to put that behind them? Surely there's something wrong with me for this still to matter? Surely I'm being ridiculous treating incidents as a teenager as important?
But it feels important. It took me 4 days to write this. 4 days, when normally I tear off a post in a few hours (hence the typos). 4 days where I kept coming back, deleting, stopping, considering scrapping the whole thing. Beloved and friends have kept me from a funk of depression, I've been trying to raise some anger, to force humour - anything to not feel so... small and weak over this. I still don't know if I'll finish it or how to finish it.
I spend a lot of my time running and hiding from the various incidents of homophobia in my life. It has long been my way of (not) dealing with them. It's ironic that I devote so much time to fighting, confronting and combating homophobia but still do my level best to deny and avoid my own experiences. It is hard to have those walls torn down, to be forced to look at the things I've been so studiously ignoring. And I can't help but feel ashamed that those walls coming down still hurts, that I have somehow failed
So, yes, it was 12-14 years ago, but I am still vulnerable to it. And, though I'm having a problem accepting this, I have a right to be vulnerable to this, to be hurt by this. I have no reason to be ashamed that I am not strong enough to brush this off, nor should I feel like I've failed because it still leaves its mark on me.
Easy words to type... much harder to believe.
It has to be said, as far as parties went it wasn't the best. Next time, I'm totally bringing a cheaper bottle. And maybe an axe.