When we arrived at school, I fumbled around with my book bag so that Samuel- or Tiffany- could exit before I did. I don’t know why, but I wanted to watch other students’ reactions as he-or she- entered the school.
I guess since she enrolled in school as Tiffany, I might as well get used to referring to him as a girl. As I followed her, I tried to understand what would make someone want to go through the torment and ridicule that she would surely experience. However, no part of my brain could comprehend it.
I had been struggling with my own sexuality since I entered puberty. However, living with a father as rigid as mine, I never allowed myself to explore my feelings. Sometimes late at night after he and my mother were sound asleep, I would imagine sinful things. Sometimes I would wonder what it would be like to kiss a girl and cup my hands around her breasts. Other times I would close my eyes and remember my classmates playfully chasing each other naked in the shower room in the ninth grade as they tried to snap each other with a wet towel.
My imaginations always left me with a hard erection. However, I never dared to touch myself as I had heard boys often do. Instead, I would roll over on my stomach and rock gently until my erection would erupt and my body would feel exhausted. I would then get out of bed, remove my soiled underwear, hide them under the bed and put on a clean pair. In the morning, I would wash them clean when I took my morning shower. I would then hang them on a nail at the back of my closet where they would not be seen by my mother. Once they dried, I would take them to the laundry room and bury them at the bottom of the laundry hamper.
So I felt as confused as Tiffany. And although I hated to admit it to myself, images of the boys in the shower always produced a stronger orgasm than cupping my hand around a girl’s breast.
Buses let students off at the south side of the building. There is a long sidewalk that leads to the front doors of the building. Along the sidewalk are numerous concrete benches where students congregate until the final warning bell rings. Students then make a mad two-minute dash to his or her first period class.
As Tiffany made her way toward the building, the reactions of other students were cruel and tormenting. She held her head down and clutched her book bag tightly as she shuffled slowly forward. I watched as my fellow students laughed and muttered vulgar obscenities. In all the years I had known them, I had never witnessed them to be so cruelly vicious.
I had been the object of many of their comments since grade school, but they had never uttered such vile and abusive language toward me. Usually, it was harmless comments about my clothing or my religious character. However, what I was witnessing was shameful and disgusting. I could not understand how they could treat someone so cruelly. They seemed to delight in mocking and ridiculing Tiffany’s sexuality. Several boys grabbed their crotches and made sexual comments to her as she passed. Everyone would then break out into hearty laughter.
However, she trudged forward and appeared to ignore their vile comments. I sensed that it was probably something she was accustomed to doing. And again, I wondered why she would permit herself to be the object of their ridicule. Why had she enrolled in a rural community knowing how other students would react to her presence?
She had almost made her way into the building when Darryl Standafer stepped into her path. Darryl is the wide receiver for our football team. To say he is handsome would be an understatement. Many nights I had rolled over onto my stomach after imagining him chasing other boys naked around the shower room with a wet towel.
Others gathered quickly to watch as he folded his arms and blocked Tiffany’s path. He stood defiantly before her and hissed angrily, “We don’t want your kind around here.” Other students started to mutter their agreement.
Tiffany stood before him with her eyes looking downward. I heard her timidly ask, “May I go into the building now?”
Darryl’s face reddened with anger, and his voice became louder. “Didn’t you hear me, Freak? We don’t want your kind around here.” By now, many students had formed a circle around Tiffany and began to taunt her. Again, they began to shout vulgar and cruel words at her.
Unable to bear it any longer, I closed my eyes, looked toward heaven and pleaded softly, “God give me the strength to do this.” I then pushed several students aside until I was standing face to face before Darryl.
His eyes narrowed as he angrily asked, “What do you want Jacob Long?” Everyone burst out laughing when he asked, “Are you here to protect your girlfriend?”
I shook my head and replied, “This isn’t right, and you know it.”
He asked mockingly, “What isn’t right?” He looked around the students for support. “What isn’t right, Jacob Long?” He then pointed his finger at Tiffany. “What isn’t right is this faggot coming to our school.” All around me were shouts of agreement.
Darryl laughed and continued, “Look at him. He’s... he’s.... a friggin’ freak.”
I glanced over to see tears welling up in Tiffany’s eyes. She looked like she wanted to run, but she was boldly standing her ground. Our eyes met and she slightly shook her head. In an almost inaudible whisper she said, “You don’t have to do this.” She clutched her book bag tighter. “I can take care of myself.”
Again, there was a burst of laughter and more crude comments were made. I reached out my hand and grabbed her arm. She backed away at first, but then she let me grip her tightly. “Come on,” I said as I tried to lead her from the mob of students.
Darryl attempted to block us. Our eyes met briefly. My cold stare let him know that I wasn’t going to be intimidated. One of the advantages of never being confrontational was that others didn’t know how I would react if I was challenged. This was the first time I had ever challenged their behavior, and I could tell they didn’t know how to react. Besides, they were probably afraid that if word got back to my father, he would appear on their doorstep interrupting their family dinner.
Students began to part from the sidewalk, and a path opened for us. As we continued forward, I gripped tightly to Tiffany’s arm. When we were ten feet away, I heard Darryl threaten, “This ain’t over, Jacob Long.”
When we entered the building, Tiffany removed my hand from her arm. Her eyes glistened with tears as she muttered a quick “Thanks,” and then she hurried down the hall toward the office. Behind me, I could hear students entering the building. They were still laughing and discussing what they had just witnessed a minute earlier.
My book bag was violently ripped from my shoulder and tossed across the hall. Darryl looked angrily into my eyes and threatened, “Do something about it, Fag.” He pushed me before hurrying off down the hall surrounded by his admiring friends.
Dear God, Why do people have to be so cruel? Bobby
I don’t usual write in my journal until late at night. However, when I entered my first period class, I had to pull it out of my book bag and jot down this question.
Tiffany should never have been treated as inhumanely as she was this morning. I’m still not sure yet how I feel about the whole situation, but at least I didn’t treat her like some mongrel dog.
It broke my heart when she looked into my eyes, and I saw tears in hers. My heart literally ached. It was as if I could feel her pain surge through my body. She seemed so small and fragile. For a brief second, I wanted to hold her and tell her that everyone wasn’t so judgmental.
It’s ironic that I’m a preacher’s son, yet I felt the most concern for her. I even stood before Darryl and told him to leave her alone. When I got dressed for school this morning, a confrontation with Darryl Standafer was the last thing I would have thought I would experience today. Everyone would have assumed that I would harbor my father’s bigoted and judgmental attitudes. After all, they had witnessed his values instilled in me over the years.
However, no one had ever taken the time to sit down and talk to me. I had never opened my heart to anyone, except God in my journal. Only He knew what my heart really contained. I was nothing like my father. In fact, I despised everything he stood for. I would sit and listen to his weekly sermons, and then I would go home at night and tell God how wrong he was.
So even though it surprised everyone else when I stood before Darryl and tried to protect Tiffany from his intimidation, it didn’t surprise me. They were wrong for what they were doing, and I couldn’t just stand idly by and watch.
I looked up when Mrs. Hawthorne, my English teacher, called out my name. My face reddened as everyone turned to stare at me. I had been lost in thought, and I didn’t know what she had asked.
I replied timidly, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Hawthorne. Could you repeat the question?”
She smiled slightly and asked, “What did you do this summer? If you had been paying attention, you would know that we were discussing how we spent the summer?” My face reddened even deeper as several girls began to snicker.
I began to stammer, “I... I... I didn’t do much. I read a lot.” Several more students tried to contain their laughter. They all knew that I lived the life of a hermit.
Mrs. Hawthorne responded, “That’s nice, Jacob. What kind of books did you read?”
A boy sitting to my right muttered, “The Bible. What else?” Several boys started to giggle.
I attempted to ignore them as I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Just books. Nothing special.” I knew that they would have laughed if I told them most of my reading material had been historical novels. Since taking American History last year, I had developed a keen interest in slavery in the South. I was particularly interested in the inhumane way slaves had been treated.
I think Mrs. Hawthorne began to feel guilty for calling on me. She had been my English teacher in the ninth grade, and she understood what I was going through socially. She had several times offered to stay after class if I wanted someone to talk to about my problems. When she first moved to Northdale, she had attended my father’s church. She and her family left several weeks later. I don’t think she agreed with his sermons.
She’s also the only person who knows I want to be called Bobby, but she only calls me that when we are alone. One day she gave us a creative writing assignment in which we were to describe what one thing we would change about ourselves if we had the chance.
Earlier that morning, I had a big fight with my father. So I was still upset when I wrote that I hated my name, Jacob. I rambled on about how it stereotyped me as a preacher’s son. Other students would stress my name to ridicule me. In my essay, I confessed how I wanted my name to be something simpler, like Bobby. Since then, when no one is around, she’ll call me Bobby. I think she’s testing me to see if I really want to change my name.
Anyway, my father and I had gotten into a serious confrontation during breakfast. I was growing up, and like most teens, I felt that I should begin to exert some control over my life. I was too big to switch then, or I’m quite certain he would have beaten me to death for my insolence.
It was after Christmas, and I was starting back to school in the new year. Aunt Joyce, my mother’s oldest sister, had spent the holidays with us. She was a widow from Milwaukee. My Uncle Ted had died before I was born, so I never met him. However, I knew all about him because she talked incessantly about their lives together. Anyway, the day before Christmas, she took me to the mall. We went inside a Sears store, and she told me to pick out a shirt that I liked for a Christmas present.
I started to pick out a plain white cotton shirt, but she stopped me. She took my hand and led me over to a rack with colorful shirts. She took several off the rack and held them up to my chest.
“Your eyes are so pretty and blue,” she said with a smile. “We should find a shirt to match them.” After holding several up to me, she finally decided what she considered the perfect color. I tried to convince her that my father would never let me wear anything but white, but she wouldn’t listen.
“He still thinks we live in the fifties,” she snorted.
“He won’t let me wear it,” I lamented as I left the store carrying the bag in my hand.
I hid the shirt from my parents during Christmas. I was surprised when my aunt lied to my mother and told her she had given me cash for Christmas. I guess she felt guilty, because before she left, she did slip me a twenty dollar bill.
When I dressed to go to school that morning, I pulled the shirt from the bottom of my dresser drawer and put it on. It really was a nice shirt. It was like the ones other boys wore when they wanted to dress up to impress a girl. The label read Tommy Hilfiger, but that didn’t mean anything to me. I just knew it was expensive. It was pale blue with colorful stripes. When I looked closely in the mirror, it did match the color of my eyes.
When I furtively entered the kitchen and sat down, my father glanced over the top of the newspaper at me and asked angrily, “What do you have on, Boy?”
I looked down at the table and responded meekly, “A shirt, Sir.”
I jumped when he slapped his hand on the table, “Go upstairs and take it off.” He shouted louder, “Now!”
I could feel my body trembling inside. I’m sure he noticed how scared I was. I jumped again when he hit his fist on the table. “Well, Jacob? Did you hear me?”
“Yes, Sir,” I managed to squeak out. I then looked up into his eyes and said valiantly, “I like this shirt, Father. Aunt Joyce gave it to me for Christmas.”
He huffed and said, “Your Aunt Joyce is a sinful old fool.” My mother didn’t say a word as she poured more coffee into his favorite mug.
Tears started to well up inside my eyes, but I knew better than to cry in front of him. “Please, Father,” I begged. “Please permit me to wear this shirt. All the other boys wear them.”
He stood and held out his hand. “Jacob,” he insisted, "take that shirt off.” My mother stepped in front of me and began to unbutton the shirt. I stepped back and continued to unbutton it. I removed it and threw it into his outstretched hand.
His eyes narrowed in anger as he scanned my bare chest. I think it surprsed him that my body was muscular. Then, I was almost six foot tall, and my body was becoming well-formed. I had secretly been doing sit-ups and push-ups in my room late at night. Looking back, I think I was trying to rid my body of the sexual tension I was beginning to feel. I often worked out so intensely that I would crawl into bed when I finished and go fast to sleep.
Without saying a word, he walked over to the fireplace and tossed the shirt into it. He then returned to the kitchen, got a book of matches, returned to the fireplace and set the shirt on fire. He watched it burn for a minute before returning to the kitchen.
I could hardly contain my anger, but I did. His look challenged me to say something. He then sat back at the table, took a sip of coffee, opened his newspaper and began reading.
I wanted to cry out, “I hate you!” However, common sense overcame my teenage adolescence. I stormed out of the kitchen, returned to my bedroom and put on a clean, crisp white shirt. As I buttoned it up, I swore to myself that I would leave as soon as I graduated from high school. And the first thing I would do... change my name to Bobby. After that, I did start signing my letters to God with my new name. I just hope He knows it’s me.
School is school. It never changes. I don’t think it has since the Pilgrims educated their children. The only difference is the Bible isn’t taught in school anymore. I’m really glad about that. I get enough of it at home and at Sunday worship services.
Since I do nothing but study when I get home, school comes rather easily for me. Other students resent me for that. I have had teachers who grade on the bell curve. More than one has announced that I ruined the curve. That hasn’t exactly helped my social standing in school.
My morning classes dragged on infinitely. By the end of fourth period, I felt like leaving. If I had, though, the office would immediately call my father because they would have feared that something terrible had happened to me since I never missed any classes. Even though I’m too big to whip, I’m sure he would think of some appropriate punishment for my sinful transgression. Once in the eighth grade, he made me copy the entire Book of Psalms. All I did then was fail to turn in an assignment I had forgotten to complete. The teacher called him that night to inform him of my ‘deviant behavior,’ as he called it. She was more concerned that I was having trouble with the assignment, and she offered to tutor me after school. He was offended that his child needed special assistance, and he politely dismissed her offer. I didn’t escape his wrath as easily. It took me almost a week to finish his punishment.
Lunch follows fourth period. I eat the garbage they dish out to us. In junior high school, mother packed my lunch, but I got tired of eating a bologna and cheese sandwich each day. My father felt that after a big breakfast she served each morning, I could wait until dinner to eat again. He viewed the sandwich as merely a snack.
The cafeteria was buzzing with excitement when I entered. Since it was the first day back, students were catching up on the latest gossip. I couldn’t help but hear Tiffany’s name mentioned several times as I made my way to the lunch line. I had to wait over five minutes before I reached the serving line. Two girls in my class talked incessantly about Tiffany. They knew I was listening, but they didn’t seem to care.
“Did you see him yet?” Marilyn asked Jenna.
“You mean that freak show, Tiffany?” They hugged each other and began to laugh.
“I don’t get it,” said Marilyn. “Why would a guy want to be a girl?”
Jenna asked, “Do you think he’s done it yet?”
Marilyn gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Done what?”
“You know,” giggled Jenna as she pretended to cut something with scissors. “Had his dick cut off?”
“Oh, my God,” squealed Marilyn. “I didn’t even think of that.”
They continued to giggle and talk about Tiffany. Each comment became more outrageous. I considered leaving the line, but I was hungry. I should have, though. The hamburger was undercooked, and the French fries were cold.
I headed for a table in a far corner where I had been sitting alone for the past two years. However, a group of freshman were sitting there. They appeared afraid, and I guess they thought that table was good for not gaining the attention of other students. I shrugged my shoulders, looked around and headed to another.
Cafeteria tables are designed for six students, and most were full. However, I noticed a table where only one student was seated, Catherine Downing. In previous years students had nicknamed her Acne Cathy. Pubescence, I guess, hit her with a vengeance. For about four years her face was covered with red, swollen zits. I always felt sorry for her, and I attempted to talk to her whenever I could. However, many years of teasing had made her timid and quiet. That was something I could relate to. Now that she was older, she had outgrown the hideous complexion problems of the past. That didn’t, however, change her social standing.
When I sat down, she looked up from her laptop computer and smiled slightly. I nodded, opened my hamburger and took a bite. I looked over at a table where some students had burst out into uproarious laughter. A boy had stood and cupped his hands over his breasts. I assumed they were probably making fun of Tiffany.
Cathy looked over quickly, then looked at me, frowned and muttered, “Fucking morons. They need to grow up.”
I had just taken a sip of my coke, and I immediately started to choke. Cathy was the last person I would expected to respond like she did to our classmates’ antics. For years, she had been the target of their immature behavior. I had never seen her respond to their intimidations.
I couldn’t contain my laughter. I asked, “What did you say?”
She closed her laptop and moved to the seat directly across from me. A sullen look appeared on her face as she asked me, “Don’t you get tired of it, Jacob?”
“Get tired of what?” I asked.
She looked over at the adjacent table as the students once again burst out into laughter. “Their bullshit,” she replied as she shook her head.
I shrugged my shoulders and responded, “Yeah, I guess.”
“Oh, come on, Jacob,” she said as she studied my face. “Me and you. We’ve been putting up with it since grade school. Don’t you get sick of them sometimes?”
I laughed and replied, “I get sick of them all the time.” A slight smile formed in the corner of her mouth.
It was the first time I had really noticed Cathy. The zits that had previously adorned her face were gone, and she had grown into a pretty woman. She was slightly overweight, and that is probably why boys never considered asking her out on a date. Besides, whomever did would be forever labeled the guy who took Acne Cathy out to a movie.
Her facial features, however, were pretty. Years of medicated creams had smoothened her complexion. She had large brown eyes that seemed to dance when she spoke. It seemed funny that I had never taken the time to notice before.
We both turned when we heard laughter coming from another table. Five students were looking at us and giggling.
Cathy looked at me and sighed. “I guess they’ll have us boyfriend and girlfriend by the end of the day.” She started to get up and move to the seat where she had been sitting.
“No, don’t,” I pleaded. “Please sit back down.”
She looked worried as she sat and asked, “You sure?”
I smiled and replied, “They’ve been talking about us for years. What’s a little more gossip?”
“Yeah,” she giggled. “Who gives a shit what they say.”
I laughed, “Yeah. Who gives...” My face began to redden. “Who really cares.”
Cathy smiled and said, “You can’t say it, can you?”
“Shit,” she giggled. “You really can’t do it.”
“Sure, I can,” I insisted. “I just don’t think it’s necessary, is all.”
Cathy’s smile faded. “It must be awful being a preacher’s son.”
I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I manage.”
Cathy smiled warmly. “I guess you have to.”
We ate in silence for a moment when suddenly I mumbled, “Shit.”
Cathy’s eyes widened and she started to giggle. “No, you didn’t!”
I looked around to make sure no one was listening. Then I leaned toward her and said softly, “Shit, shit, shit.”
She laughed again and asked, “It feels good, doesn’t it?”
I worriedly replied, “I hope God doesn’t strike me dead.”
Cathy replied, “Jacob. We’ve been dead a long time.”
I gave her a puzzled look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She sat back and looked around the cafeteria. “Look at us,” she said. “We’re sitting here in a crowded cafeteria with hundreds of other kids, and do you think anyone really cares?”
I shrugged my shoulders and responded sadly, “Probably not.”
She looked around the cafeteria again. “All they care about,” she continued, “is who they can talk about next.” She leaned closer and asked, “Have you seen that new person who enrolled in school?”
“You mean Tiffany?” I asked.
She remarked, “I thought he was a guy?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “She rode my bus this morning, and everyone gave her a really hard time.”
She asked, “Did you?”
“Of course not,” I responded with indignation. “I would never be cruel to anyone.”
She smiled softly and said, “Same old Jacob. You’ll never change. Will you?”
Before I had a chance to reply, the students at the adjacent table broke out in laughter once again. A guy pretended to pull out his genitals and cut them off with a knife.”
“Assholes,” muttered Cathy angrily.
“Yeah,” I responded. “Assholes.”
We looked at each other, and for the first time we began to laugh.