by Rin Willocks
It was freshman year, my very first day of high school. I pressed myself into an old writing desk in Mr. Copper’s room first thing in the morning getting ready to suck at Spanish. The night before, I had decided to wear my favorite shirt. I had bought it on a white water rafting trip the previous summer. It was tie dye with a rainbow peace sign; the words “Peace, Love, and Paddle” danced on it in bold letters.
A chubby boy in black popped into the seat next to me as my friends from middle school filled in the holes. It was high school! Things are going to be awesome! The teacher Mr. Copper recited the Spanish alphabet excitedly encouraging us to join him. Big wet stains glared at us from under his arm pits. After giving up on enthusiasm, he turned to his big old teacher’s desk and readied a hand-out, giving us students a moment to chat. The boy in black shifted in his chair to face me.
“Hi!” he squealed bubbly, his attitude protesting against his Goth clothing and make-up. “I’m Jon. I just love, love, love Spanish!”
“Hey, I’m Sarah…”
He squinted his eyes as he tried to make out my mumbling. I looked down at my finger nails, tracing a pitiful drawing of a lizard breathing fire scratched into the desk. Jon gave me a once over, taking in my clothing all the way down to my orange Chuck Taylors.
“So.” His eyes landed on my t-shirt. “Are you gay?”
His words slipped in my ears. My throat closed up like an allergic reaction to such a statement and my arms and legs felt as if thousands of needles were bombarding my skin.
“Uhhh…” I didn’t know what to say. Couldn’t he read?! My shirt was obviously about rafting. Gay? My middle school friends, what would they think? My eyes gingerly wandered as I looked for an escape because even though I was gay, I sure as hell wasn’t about to tell somebody that. I didn’t want to be different. Different was scary.
We once had a kid come out as gay back in middle school. Everyone just ignored her at first but then came the staring, the whispering behind the back. Then there weren’t whispers any more. There were dirty words just as forceful as the hands shoving her against lockers. Eventually she had to leave the school. I just watched her go, thankful it wasn’t me. That I had had the sense to keep my mouth shut.
“I, uh. No. I’m not.”
“Oh, well it would have been cool. If you were, I mean.” He looked disappointed as he turned back in his desk to examine the cartoon hand-out Copper had slid in front of him.
I tried to breathe, testing my lungs after what had felt like a five story fall from comfort. I found that it came. Air filled my lungs. Lies filled my lungs, and I let them. Welcomed in the thought that I could be ordinary. I was choosing this moment to make lying a habit as easy as breathing.
One year later I slipped into the school library.
There was a girl there who everybody nicknamed Panda sucking air into her lungs as if an invisible straw sat between her swollen lips. Settling across from her gingerly, I peered through her eyes. Brown, dull. Seemingly lost in some past or possibly future that I could never comprehend.
Hi.” I slid my backpack between us on the library table. Her neck snapped and suddenly I was real. Her lips folded up into a smile as hot as the sun and just as distant.
“Hey, Sarah. What can I do ya for?”
I didn’t know. Panda was the oddest girl in the school, probably the world. I just wanted to be more like her. Maybe she could change me. I wanted to be more than just a shadow that melted when the sun was down. I wasn’t good at anything, had no talent or skill but I wasn’t bad at much anything either. I was ordinary and ordinary was boring. I was done hiding and I was hoping she would be the one that found me. I was tired of putting people’s interest to sleep, in Panda’s world no one was sleeping. So I told her the truth.
“I don’t know. I just wanted to sit with you.”
She looked at me, actually looked at me this time, her eyes no longer dull. Her dark brown bangs hid her bushy eyebrows as they shot up. “That’s weird,” she said.
I was relieved.
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