Saturday, December 14, 2019

Excerpt of Learning To Fall by Dean Mann

I’ve always known I was different from everyone around me, I just couldn’t pinpoint what it was, until the moment the other boys were talking about girls and getting girlfriends, I was fantasizing about someone different. A boy, named Matthew Price - the cool kid, that everyone wanted to be friends with. He was tall, had black hair, and skinny, yet someone I had strange feelings for. It wasn’t until my friend at the time; Brad asked me why I haven’t said anything during the conversation. 
I shrug, “I’m just not interested.” 
His face changes, “Are you gay then?” 
Seeing as this is the first time, I’ve heard the word in my nine years, I have no connotation as to what it means, but it feels right, “What’s that?” 
            “It’s when a boy likes boys. You know, gay.”
             I shrug once again as if it’s the only thing I know how to do at this moment, “If that’s what it means, then sure. I guess so.”
            “Do you like me,” Brad asks. 
            Confused by his question, I respond with a question, “What do you mean?”
            “Like do you like me, like I like Olivia,” He states. 
            I reply honestly, “I don’t think so.”
            “Why not?”
            “I don’t know; I just like you as a friend. I guess,” another shrug. 
            “Who do you like then?”
            “I think I like Matthew,” I reply Uncrossing my legs from the crisscross position they were in. 
            Brad pauses, “Matthew?”
            “Yeah, Price.”
            “Why,” he asks, raising his eyebrows. 
            “I don’t know; I just do, I guess.”
           Later that afternoon, Brad went and told Matthew that I liked him and that I was gay.
I mean it wasn’t a lie, I didn’t see any harm in it. I was in fifth grade, how was I supposed to know there was a stigma attached to the word ‘gay’? However, I did get the memo when Matthew came up to me, punched me in the face, and proceeded to tell me to stay away from him. As if that wasn’t enough, he then told everyone to stay away from me. Which they did, because Matthew was Matthew. Pretty soon, I was known as the “gay” kid in school.
           That evening, when my mom (also known as Susan,) came home from work, she called me into the kitchen and told me she had gotten a call from the school saying I’ve been in a fight. 
“Okay,” I say. 
Her purse sits on the kitchen counter, as she rummages through it, looking for God knows what, “I also received a call from Mrs. Price,” she states. 
            “Okay,” I respond, not seeing what this has to do with anything. 
            “Do you know what she told me,” she looks up from her rummaging. 
            “That Matthew was sorry,” I was guessing, knowing it was wrong. 
            She shakes her head and replies, “No, that Matthew told her, that you said you were gay and that you liked him.” 
            “I like him yes,” I state, not wavering on my story. 
           Susan places her hands on her hips and bends at the waist, just slightly concerned, “But, as a friend.”
            “I don’t know; I think he’s cute.”
            The look on her face went from questioning to horrified. “You don’t mean that.”
            Confused as to why this is a big deal, I respond, “Yes, I do.”
           Susan stands upright now, her finger beings to wave in my face, “You don’t, and that’s final, do you understand?” 
            “I don’t see why I can’t like boys when everyone likes girls,” I reply, taking a step back. 
            “Because it’s wrong,” she says, taking a step forward. 
            “Says who,” I question her, and I see a spark in her eyes begin to light the fire underneath her skin. 
            “The Bible.”
            “We don’t go to church. Why do you all of a sudden believe the Bible?”
            Her posture changes to that of a teacher's when they begin to get fed up with all of the bullshit questions her students ask over and over again, "Because it's where our laws come from." 
            Knowing I won’t win or get a better understanding of who I was, I continue to question her, knowing what it could possibly lead to, “But, it’s not even a law. It makes no sense.” 
            “You better learn to find some sense in it, before I beat it into you,
 she states, spitting the words through her teeth. 
            “Okay,” I reply, dropping it. 
            “Okay,” she wants more, but I won’t let her have it.
            Taking a step back from her approaching body, I speak before thinking, “I said okay. Can I go now?”
            She nods her head, signaling to get out of her vicinity, but this conversation is far from over. 

            Fast forward to four years, and I’m in the ninth grade, keeping to myself. My once outgoing personality faded after that dreaded conversation with my mom and a few more beatings, just to ensure I understood.  I began to keep my feelings to myself. Something I never thought I’d have to do. I was quiet now, I kept my head low, but it didn’t stop my once friends from pushing me into the brick walls around the school, hitting books out of my hands and trying to trip me every chance they got. My first year of high school sucked mainly the freshman dance, which is the only time I’ve ever gone to a school function by choice. 
 It was when I had finally decided just to say fuck it and be open about my sexuality. This dance was the perfect place to really let go, of all of my worries. I had no date, nor did I go with friends. I Just wanted to go, to blend in and let people know I’m normal and they have nothing to fear from me. 
            The lights were blue and purple; it was winter formal. I had my mom buy me a black suit, with a yellow vest, teal tie, and a pair of yellow converses. Pretty much, I stood out from the moment I stepped out of her car. 
            Matthew, the one I had the crush on in my younger years had really taken a turn after his dad went to jail for fraud and his mom slowly lost it, so he kind of became the popular outcast. Well, what made him popular was the fear he instilled in people. Any aggression he had, he took it out on me. I guess looking back at it, I have no idea why I wanted to go to this dance, knowing he’d be there. 
Well, after standing in the back, bobbing my head, and moving to the dancefloor for the cha-cha-slide. (Yup, that's the only dance I dared to go to,) I decided it would be a good time to go home while I still felt like I accomplished something. Matthew, on the other hand, though I was having too much of a good time and followed me out to the parking lot as I waited for my mom.
            His black hair spiked, and his pukka shell necklace sat tight against his throat. “You shouldn’t have come tonight,” he said. 
            I try to stand my ground, though my voice quivers, “I go to this school too; I can go to whichever event I want to.” 
            “Fags like you don’t belong here,” he states, thinking that a simple word would cause me to back down from the impending doom he wants to cause. 
            I bite, knowing what I’m about to say will increase the urge in him to fight me, “Fag, huh? That a word your dad taught you while he’s been in prison.” 
            I watch his fists tighten. I keep an eye on them, waiting for them to swing. There’s a part of me that wishes he would. “At least my dad’s not a queer, butt pirate like you.” His insult lands flat on me. 
            “Do you know what happens in prison, especially to the ones that steal money? By the time your dad gets out, he’s going to be gayer than me,” I smirk, proud of myself for standing my ground. 
            Matthew, body trembling, raises one hand, and three of his cronies making their way out onto the sidewalk behind me.  
            “You’re dead, faggot.” He throws the first punch, landing on my jaw, I try to fight back, but two people grab my arms and begin to hold me down, forcing me to my knees as Matthew takes his cheap shots. A few to the stomach, then to the face. I feel the blood, warm as it falls from my lips. I can taste the iron. My left eye begins to swell as he removes his fist from the socket. 
The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital, and my dad, yelling at Susan for letting this happen to me. 
            “He can’t go back to that hick school. I will not allow it.” My dad says, standing at the end of the bed. 
            “It’s not the school that did it to him,” Susan replies.
            I can hear Dad trying forcing himself not to yell, “Oh, no? They didn’t try to stop it either. I’m sure they sat there and watched before trying to intervene.” 
           Susan rebuttals, “If he would just listen to what I’ve said and just kept his mouth shut about his sickness.” 
            “Sickness, sickness? Susan, our son, is 13 years old he’s tried to kill himself once, because he’s different than other kids, and then he gets the shit beat out of him because he finally wants to be who he is. No, I will not allow that. He can come live with me and go to Clarence.”  
            “You can’t raise him, you’re never home!” she begins to raise her voice. 
            Dad argues, but remains calm, “Honestly, Susan, we can move him anywhere, and he’d be better off than here with you,” 
Learning to Fall_Cover.pdf           I can her trying to keep her voice low, as to not wake me up.  “You take that back.” 
            “Look at him, Susan. Look at what you have done to our son and will keep doing if you make him stay with you.”             Susan sounds as if she’s about to cry, the idea of losing her son must be too hard for her, even if he is the least favorite child, “I’ll switch his schools, somewhere they won’t know he’s gay, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t say a word.” 
            This is when I feel I need to step in, for me at least, "I'd rather live with dad," I grunt. My chest hurts, and my face tight.  
            Both parents rush over to my side. “You’re just in pain; you don’t know what you’re saying,” Susan says. 
            “I’m not going to hide from the world. I’d rather go somewhere I can be open with who I am. It’s what my therapist said I needed anyway,” I lie, but for a good reason this time. 
            Susan’s pencil-thin lips pucker as if she just sucked on a lemon, “I won’t have you live under my roof if you plan to be openly gay.” 
            “Then it’s a good thing I choose to live with dad,” I say before closing my one open eye.

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