“Hello. I hate the word ‘hello.’ I hate the word ‘shower.’ I hate the word ‘cheese-stick.’ I hate the word ‘hate’ most of all. It puts a bitter taste in my mouth, and that’s why I hate it so much.”
Editor’s Note: This story references self-harm and contains homophobic characters who use offensive slurs.
Hello. I hate the word “hello.” I hate the word “shower.” I hate the word “cheese-stick.” I hate the word “hate” most of all. It puts a bitter taste in my mouth, and that’s why I hate it so much. Jeez, here I go again, thinking of a word that makes the sides of my mouth droop down even more. The teacher turns around to the class to see my scathing expression.
He laughs. “Rain, does the scientific advancement of the printing press really make you want to burn the world down? I happen to think it is a very important part of history, and I would appreciate it if you give it some attention so you won’t have to go to summer school, despite the printing press’s pure and utter boringness.”
The nerds in the class laugh. I fake a little smile, but when he turns around again, I give such a goddamn dramatic eye roll at his goddamn obnoxious comment that my goddamn eyes hurt. I put my head down on the desk and wrap my arms around them like a little comforting burrito. Due to ordering a small instead of a large coffee this morning, I pass out until the bell rings, and I have to force myself up.
I try not to meet the stares of people in the hallway because keeping eye contact is an extremely laborious process. Only when I get my life saving energy drink in 3rd period can I have the mental and physical motivation to cover myself with a plastic bag and suffocate the true person I am. To be the Rain that everyone loves to see. No one wants to be friends with a broken, sassy, gay boy.
Lunch comes around, and I am forced to sit with my friends and laugh and smile and wink at girls and act like a complete and utter jerk. You see, everyone wants to be me, everyone wants to have my friends, everyone wants to have my sense of humor, everyone wants to have my girlfriend, everyone wants to have my popularity. I wish I could give all of those things — except for the humor, of course — away. I wish it was as easy as giving someone a birthday present. But alas, I am known for not being a generous person, so maybe, just maybe, I keep these dreaded parts of myself because I like being able to taunt people about the things they don’t have.
My friend, Brandon, snaps his fingers in front of my face. “Get out of your dumbass head, bro. Is it stormy in there, Rain?” he says, very amused by the extraordinarily idiotic pun that he made with my name.
Everyone at the table cracks up, and Brandon lightly shoves my head. They all go back to talking about who has the hottest girlfriend. You see, I never space out, I always listen — I can be in deep thought, but I will always hear what everyone else has to say. That’s the only way that I have been able to withstand these stupid conversations for so long.
After my friends finish talking about girls, they move the conversation to one of my most dreaded topics: who can list the most reasons why Gregory is a f*g. The thing that perplexes me most is how I contribute the most to this conversation topic whenever it is brought up. With each fiery, disgusting word that comes out of my mouth, my throat burns more. And that burning of my throat travels down my body to my heart, my stomach, my legs, arms, feet, and everything else. When it travels everywhere, that’s when I act like the stupid jerk I am expected to be.
Eventually, the school day ends, but I have to stay back in detention with Ms. Peder’s class because apparently drawing dicks on the whiteboard is “inappropriate.” I personally think it’s just gay. Either way, I drag myself to the classroom, but upon looking into the room, I stop dead in my tracks. In the back row of the seats are these blue, magnificently bright eyes shining though shiny, windswept hair that is dark as night, but an inviting kind of dark, a dark you want to explore.
Ms. Peder clears her throat. “Rain, come in already, we don’t bite.”
I reply with something smart and bitchy that I say purely out of instinct, but I don’t really realize what I say because all of my brain power is focused on not blushing and not staring at this boy. I hobble into the room and almost trip over a few desks until I find my favorite seat. This seat is right next to the window, and through that window you can look out into the pile of rubbish, overly enthusiastic lights, and broken but loyal people that come together to form what we like to call New York City in the 1980s.
Looking out of this window distracts me from blushing and thinking about the guy right behind me. It’s kind of mesmerizing — the crowded landscape feels so small from the 5th floor, it makes me feel powerful. So I just sit there staring and craving to feel this power more intensely and craving to feel control at least over myself until the hour is over and I am free.
As we get let out of the classroom, I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn around. I jump with surprise as I see those bright eyes again. He gives me a gentle smile.
“You never thought that you’d talk to one of us nobodys before, did you, Mr. Popular?” He says this in a very sly, unashamed but extremely cute and somehow flirtatious way.
No no no no. He’s got this all wrong, I don’t want this popularity, I don’t want any of this. I just want to escape. I really hope he can see that. I really hope he is joking.
I mumble, “I — ”
“Save it.” And he smiles through one half of his mouth, winks, and walks away.
I stand there and stare as he leaves until I realize how dumb I look and how if anyone saw me gaping at this boy, my reputation would be ruined. But isn’t killing this reputation that I have what I want? Why am I so afraid of getting what I want? Maybe it’s because you can’t take back what you let out. The words of your truth will be permanently branded on your forehead for all to see.
Sometimes I wonder why I fear permanence when I practice the art of it, when all I want everlasting change, when I try all I can to secure something for the eternity of my existence. Hypocrites, aren’t we? Like writing on the bathroom wall, “Don’t write on the walls.” We fear becoming total hypocrites. But when we are what we fear, that’s when something even greater than permanence overtakes us. And that thing, that feared thing that we become, that dreaded thing is called being human.
I head out of school, longing for something to clear my mind, not to erase it or change it, but just to clear enough space for happiness and satisfaction. So instead of doing what most people my age do, which is drugs, I lug my cans of spray paint with me in my backpack to the place that I always go to when I have this longing. You see, I bring spray paint with me most days at school because I never know when I am going to need to use them to distract me from my overflowing thoughts.
I walk to the subway, past the guys sniffing cocaine on the stairs, past the turnstile, onto the platform. I press my back against the pillar on the platform based on habit so that no one can push me into the tracks in front of the train and smile as they watch my body get crushed. I don’t want to offer anyone that amusement.
I get out of the train and drag myself up the steps. I walk and walk and walk and eventually stand below my destination, gazing up at it. I check behind me as I walk into the alleyway. Once I reach the end, I climb onto the dumpster and jump to reach the bottom rung of the fire escape. Upon hoisting myself up onto the fire escape, I start my exactly 284 step journey to the top. I climb up hearing the familiar and calming clank of my footsteps on the iron rungs.
Eventually, at step 107, I get to the roof, but I don’t stop there like I used to when I was younger and afraid. So I run and leap from this roof onto the next. I live for the thrill of that jump, knowing that there is nothing under you but trusting that you will be safe.
I use this momentum to jump onto the wall on a higher part of the building. From there I walk along the wall until I reach a ladder and from the top of that ladder, I carefully step onto the brick oasis I love more than my home.
Underneath me is a pretty large brick floor and roof for whatever rats are living in the building. In front of me is a brightly lit, but not too obnoxiously bright, sign. The word “Pepsi” is spelled by these white cursive lights. Behind the sign is a brick wall about 12 feet high. On this wall is a mural that I have been creating for the past 3 years. Every week I come up here once to add patterns or images depicting what I wish myself to be, or what I wish the world to be. In my head I call it the dream mural — it’s what I dream to see if I were to kick that wall down and look out at the world. It is my own world, it is under my control, I can create anything I want and I can destroy anything.
If I turn around away from the sign, away from my dreams, I will see the city and its vastness. I will see the lights of buildings, cars, and the moon. It feels like standing at the edge of the world.
I decide to plug and unplug the Pepsi sign, making the light flicker. After a minute of flickering it to the beat of the song that is stuck in my head, I look across the street and see the sign spelling out “Cola” flickering to the same beat. I close my eyes in disbelief, but when I open them again, I see that sign flicker in the same way. Yes, that sign always flickers, but I swear, this time it is different. I smile at the thought of someone across the alleyway doing the same thing, and I suddenly don’t feel so alone.
I look to the side of the sign and my heart skips a beat at what I see. I rub my eyes but when I look again, I see the same thing. To the left of that sign, I see the same two bright fluorescent eyes gazing back at me. I see a smile light up on his face. Not caring if I am imagining this or not, I smile back.
I lift up my hand and begin to wave, but as my hand goes up, the light from the sign across the street flickers to black, and I am left waving at this big city. Little insignificant me, waving to this expanse of so much that is so much greater than me. But this time I am satisfied because I know somewhere in that city are those blue eyes, and at that moment, those blue eyes are mine.
I will never forget that moment, seeing or not seeing those eyes, because that was the last time I ever saw them. The next day at school I searched the halls, but I couldn’t find him. The principal said that he wasn’t coming back to school. No one really knew where he went, but there were rumors that he had to run away from home that night because he was gay or that his neighbors chased him away or that his father beat him to death or that he left without motive. No one will ever know what happened to him, and I will never know if I actually saw my bright blue dreams that night and his smile that illuminated the city stronger than all of those overly enthusiastic lights.