“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
When I got home, I went to my room without getting a snack. I wasn’t hungry. I was still upset with Ricky. Usually, he would walk home with me, and we would grab something from the kitchen before going to my room. After changing out of my school clothes into shorts and a tee shirt, we would go to his house. There really wasn’t much to do in my room. Even though he shared a bedroom with a younger brother, he still had a computer and an Xbox set up on his television so we could play games. Since Christmas would be in a few months, he was hoping his parents would buy him and his brother a Wii video game station. I wasn’t sure what it was, but he made it sound exciting.
Now, I guess, I’ll never know.
I did my homework since I had nothing else to do. I had an assignment in my American History class, but I would have to wait to do it since it required research on the computer. One strict rule my Dad has is that I am never to use his computer without him being present. I don’t know if he is afraid that I might do something to it, or if I will look at a website I shouldn’t visit. It’s not like I would visit a sex site. I’m not that stupid. I know that whatever sites you visit can be stored, and he would certainly know if I clicked on a site like that. Once when I was using the computer and he left the room, I was tempted to go to the history and see if he had ever visited one of them. Ricky showed me how to check one day when we were in his room. But I was afraid Dad would return and catch me. How would I explain that? Besides, I’m certain that he would never do anything like that. As moral as he is, all the sites he visits would probably be religious anyway.
I fell asleep for a while when suddenly Mom hollered up the stairs that dinner was ready. She must have had a hard day because we were eating take out from KFC. I don’t know if she bought it or if Dad did. And since she had a bad day, her dinner blessing lasted about three minutes. She went on and on about a patient who had a problem getting her insurance company to pay for her treatments. I’m quite sure that God doesn’t answer prayers about an insurance claim. However, it still didn’t prevent the chicken legs on my plate from getting cold. Maybe I should have asked Mom to pray to warm my meal back up.
I was taking a bite of my cold chicken leg when Dad asked, “How was school?” I knew he didn’t really want to know how school was going. He was asking, did you get in any more trouble?
“It was fine, Sir,” I replied. He nodded and continued to eat. He knew that if I had gotten into any more trouble, I would have confessed. But not because I would feel guilty by what I had done. I just knew that if he heard something about me second hand, he would make my punishment harder. Although, I’m not sure what else there is left to do to punish me. I have been sent to my room so much that I don’t even feel I am being punished. It is normal for me to spend long hours in my room with nothing to do but read. It would be a better punishment to make me sit outside in the sun for a few hours without sunscreen. Then I would get burned. But I’ll never suggest that. He would probably think it is a good idea.
I took another bite of my chicken and noticed my mother staring at me. I looked over and asked, “What?”
She looked at my hair and asked, “Don’t you think it is time for another haircut?” She added, “Your hair is getting too long.”
I ran my hands over my head and replied, “It’s not too long. I like it this length.”
“Well,” she clicked her tongue. “If it gets much longer, no one will be able to tell if you’re a boy or a girl.” I rolled my eyes and didn’t respond. I just wanted to eat quickly and leave the table. I didn’t feel like sitting through an hour rant about transgendered kids. Does it really matter to her if a person is a boy or a girl? She sees them once on the sidewalk while she’s going to work, and she’ll never see them again. I tried to make that point one time, but it ended up into a long rant about it not being the Godly thing to do. She didn’t think it was funny when I reminded her that Jesus had long hair. In fact, I was sent to my room for a week for that comment.
I ate quickly and returned to my room. I lay on my bed and thought about how boring my life is. I’m sixteen, and it is as though I don’t exist. The only person who seems to really care about me is Ricky. And now he’s gone.
Why did yesterday have to happen? I would right now be over at his house losing some video game to him. But it wouldn’t matter. At least I am doing something. Now, I feel like I could just disappear, and no one would care. My parents would probably be happy. They wouldn’t have to deal with a wayward son. My Dad has called me that a few times. It always ends with him quoting some passage from the Bible about a son who disrespected his parents and family. Maybe I rebel by not going to church with them anymore, but that doesn’t make me a bad person, does it? In fact, looking around at the students at school, I probably act better than most of them. I don’t cause my teachers any problems. When the classes get rowdy sometimes, and students are talking, I usually just sit quietly and watch them. Sometimes I may laugh at something someone says, but I rarely join in. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called a teacher’s pet because I don’t get into trouble. That is why the incident in Mr. Harper’s room yesterday shocked a lot of students. Ricky can sometimes act a little crazy, but even he knows when to stop if it gets too out of hand.
Ricky. When am I going to get him out of my head? Until yesterday, we were like a pair of shoes. Where one walked, the other followed. I’m now wondering if others are thinking we were boyfriends. For years, we’ve been by each other’s side. It was never anything sexual. It was a brotherly bond. Since I’m an only child, Ricky became the brother I never had. And things were going along fine- until he kissed me.
But it isn’t the kiss so much that is bothering me. I keep wondering why we never did it before. I closed myself off so much from my feelings, that I never once considered that I did have feelings. Even with Stephanie, I don’t feel anything when I’m with her. We have fun, but I never want to cuddle with her like I know she wants me to. The times I have kissed her goodnight after a date, I didn’t feel anything. Most guys joke about how they get an erection when they are with their girlfriends, but I never felt like that. Even with Ricky, I never thought about him sexually. It isn’t because I felt it was wrong. I just pushed the thoughts so deep out of my mind, that I became numb.
I think I started feeling this way when I stopped going to church. I knew that not attending church with my parents would make me seem like a sinner in their eyes. I wanted to prove to them that I could be a good person by not going to church. So, if I did anything that made them think I am a sinner, then they would be justified in thinking that they were right all along, and I am now destined to go to hell for all my sins and transgressions. So, I didn’t want to commit any sins or transgressions. I blocked anything from my head that would give me bad thoughts.
Maybe it is because I’m getting older and I can now live my own life without worrying about how my parents think about me, I’m beginning to realize I am living my life wrong. I don’t have anything to prove. I know who I am, and I know what I want.
Maybe Ricky’s kiss on my lips woke me up from the state I’ve been in- the state of denial. For the past twenty-four hours I’ve been reevaluating my life. I can continue to live in a state of boredom, or I can feel Ricky’s kiss on my lips. Yes, he kissed me. And yes, I enjoyed it. I felt his erection pressing against mine, and I didn’t feel sinful. I felt excited.
And now, I realize I want more. I want what Steinbeck said in his boring book. There ain’t no sin, and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. And I want to do more stuff. I want to live my life the way I want to, not the way my parents expect me to live it.
Thursday, October 23. I’m going to mark this day in my calendar. It is the day I’m going to stop living the way everyone expects me to live. I’m not going out and do anything foolish like getting drunk and having wild sex in the streets. That isn’t who I am. I’m a good person. I’m not going to do anything much different than I normally do. However, I’m going to be honest with myself.
I’m going to start by accepting that Ricky is still my best friend. He may have wanted to ignore me yesterday, but I’m not going to let him do that to me today. We have to talk. We have to talk to each other about our feelings. He kissed me suddenly for a reason. I must know what that reason is. And after talking it out, maybe I’ll feel like kissing him back. I don’t know if I really want to, though. He is still like a brother to me. I might feel like we’re committing incest or something. I’m still going to leave the door open. If I want to kiss him, I will.
I also need to decide what I want from a relationship with Stephanie. If I’m merely dating her to please everyone, then I realize I am deceiving her. It isn’t fair to her. However, I don’t know what I’m going to say to her. I like her. I really do. But, I know now that I don’t want a girlfriend. At least right now. I opened a door last night, and I have to look around outside. I need to know what I want. Maybe I’ll decide that I do want Stephanie. But if I don’t, I want her to move on to someone who she can really love without all the baggage I’m bringing along.
I get to the school doors, stop and take a deep breath. ‘This is it,’ I say to myself. ‘You’re a new Matt Stevens.’
I went to my locker and got out my books. I expected Stephanie to show up, but she didn’t. Neither did Ricky. Suddenly, I felt alone. The confidence I had earlier was beginning to disappear. I saw Charles coming down the hallway. Another boy stuck out his foot and tripped him. Charles fell to the ground, and his books flew out of his arms. Students turned and began to laugh as he rose, brushed himself off, picked up his books and rushed off down the hall. Tears filled my eyes.
I couldn’t do it. Charles was being his true self. Look what it got him- ridicule and laughter. I can’t do that to myself. I’m just not prepared. I’m not strong.
Ricky passed me in the hall on the way to the cafeteria. I guess he had been waiting for me to leave my locker before he went to his. We looked quickly at each other, and then we looked down at the floor as we passed. I don’t think I had ever felt so miserable in my life. I couldn’t even look at my best friend anymore. I hated myself for how I had let myself down. This morning I was so sure I was going to be a changed person. Now, I had withdrawn back into my former shell. At least there I felt safe from scorn and ridicule.
Stephanie smiled when I walked up and sat down at our table. Teddy and Brenda nodded and continued to talk about a project they were working on for chemistry. Stephanie looked worriedly at me and asked, “Are you okay, Matt?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied with a forced smile. “I’m just tired is all. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Is anything bothering you that you want to talk about?” she asked.
I thought, ‘Yeah sure. My whole life is messed up. I got these very religious parents who think everything is a sin. I feel like I’m a puppet with everyone pulling the strings the way they want me to move. My best friend kissed me and now we’re not talking. I like you as a friend, but I don’t think it will ever be anything more.’
“No,” say instead. “I’m okay.” I then turned to Teddy and Brenda and tried to appear like I was interested in their chemistry project.
The day was the same as the day before. Ricky avoided me in every class we shared. Yesterday, he looked back at me a few times as if he missed me. Today, he didn’t turn one time. Even in gym, it was as if we weren’t in the same class. We played dodge ball, and we were on the same side. He was at one end of the line, and I was at the other. If we had been on opposite sides, at least I could have watched him play. He dressed and quickly left.
I went to my locker to put the books away that I wouldn’t need for homework. I wanted to leave Grapes of Wrath, but we had been assigned another chapter to read. I would have read it last night in my room, but it was too difficult to concentrate with everything else on my mind.
As I was leaving the building, I noticed Charles walking ahead of me. When he exited the door, a couple of guys approached and surrounded him. One was James Arnold who had tripped him earlier this morning.
“Hey, Fag,” sneered James as he grabbed his cock. “I heard you like licking the Pleasure Pump.” The others started laughing.
Charles tried to ignore them by walking around them. James stepped back in front of him and shoved his shoulder. “Didn’t you hear me, Black Boy?” He shoved him again in the chest. “Don’t you want a piece of this?” He again grabbed his crotch and thrust it at Charles.
Charles clutched his book bag tightly and pleaded, “Please let me go by. I’m not doing anything to you.”
“Yes, you are, Fag,” responded James angrily. “You’re breathing the same air I am.”
He started to push him again, when “Leave him alone!” escaped my lips. James looked angrily at me.
“Ohhh,” he cooed. “Hey, Matt. You sweet on this black boy?”
My whole body was shaking as I responded, “He isn’t doing anything to you, James. Just leave him alone.”
James walked around Charles and stood before me. “Who made you my master, Matt?” He stared me angrily in the face. Then a smirk appeared on his face as he grabbed his crotch again as his friends surrounded me. “Maybe you want some of this sausage, too.” His friends howled with laughter.
“You’re sick,” I muttered as I tried to push my way past him. Suddenly, James grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. Before I could react, he hit me squarely on the right side of my face. I swooned backward and fell to the ground. For a brief second, I lost consciousness. When my eyes focused, James was standing over me. “That will teach you not to mess in other people’s business.” He kicked me in my side, turned and headed away with his friends following. Several students rushed over and knelt. They kept asking me if I was okay.
I sat up and felt the side of my face. I hurt badly. I could tell that my right eye was swelling shut because I was having trouble seeing out of it. I looked around for Charles, but I didn’t see him. I wanted to make sure he hadn’t been hurt by James.
“I think I’ll be okay,” I responded as I tried to stand. Two girls helped me to my feet. They looked worriedly at my face.
“James is an asshole,” muttered one of them.
The other asked, “Do you want me to go get Mrs. Davis?” Mrs. Davis is the principal of the school.
“No,” I insisted. “I’ll be okay.” I picked up my book bag and headed off down the sidewalk. It was going to be a long walk home.
I rushed to the bathroom when I got home. I stood before the mirror and looked at my face. It was worse than I thought. My right eye was darkly bruised and swollen shut. In fact, the whole side of my right face was badly bruised. I screamed out in pain when I touched it.
I didn’t know how I was going to explain this to my parents. I couldn’t say I had run into a locker door that someone left open. They would never fall for that. It looked like what it was. I had been hit in the face by someone. By the looks of it, I might have been hit by Mike Tyson.
I jumped when I heard the front door downstairs slam shut. I rushed to my window to see if it was Mom or Dad who had come home early. It was Dad. Why would he be coming home so early? He normally comes home about an hour after Mom gets home. Dinner is usually ready when he arrives. My heart began pounding when I heard him coming up the stairs. I rushed over to my bed, jumped on it, pulled the covers over my head and pretended to be asleep.
I heard the door open, and he shouted out loudly, “Matt!”
I continued to pretend like I was asleep, but he stomped across the room and tore back the covers. “Sit up, Matt!” he hollered. “I know you’re not asleep!”
I rose and looked at him. Tears were welling up in my eyes. I knew by the angry look on his face that I was in trouble. “Holy, Mother of God!” he hissed when he saw my face. “You did get into a fight,” he remarked angrily.
I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t get into a fight. I didn’t even have a chance to defend myself. However, he had already decided I was in a fight. He began pacing around the room, stopping occasionally to look angrily down at me.
“I got a call at work,” he said. “Some young girl was crying and telling me that you had been hurt at school.” He stopped in front of me and looked at my swollen face. “She said you had been in a fight at school.”
I started to cry. “I didn’t get into a fight,” I sobbed. “Someone hit me, and I didn’t do anything.”
“You had to have done something!” he hollered. “Someone doesn’t just hit you for nothing. You must have done something to make him angry.”
“I swear, Dad,” I pleaded. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Then why did this person hit you?”
Tears were running down my cheeks. “He was picking on another student,” I tried to explain, “and I just told him to leave him alone.”
“Him?” My father asked with a puzzled look on his face. “This other student couldn’t defend himself? You had to get involved? Why?”
“He was calling him bad names,” I replied as I choked back tears. I knew what the next question would be.
“What kind of names?”
I replied nervously, “I’d rather not say.”
My father leaned down and stared angrily into my face. “What kind of names? What did he say that would warrant him hitting you so hard?”
I held my head down and muttered, “He was calling him a fag.”
My father asked angrily, “He was calling him what? Hold your head up so I can hear you.”
I looked into this angry face and replied nervously, “He was calling him a fag.”
My father jumped back and stared down angrily. “You got that black eye because you were defending a homosexual?” When I didn’t respond, he shouted, “Well?”
“I guess so, Sir,” I replied nervously. I was beginning to be upset. I felt I had done the right thing my stepping in and telling James to leave Charles alone. No one else had said anything. In fact, most students appeared to be enjoying watching Charles being bullied. I couldn’t just stand by and say nothing. However, instead of being proud of my actions, my father seemed to be disgusted by what I had done.
“Why?” Dad asked. “If someone is going to claim to be a homosexual, then they should be prepared to be bullied by other students. It isn’t your duty to try and protect them.”
“I didn’t try to protect Charles,” I protested angrily. “I merely told James to leave him alone.”
My father gave me a puzzled look. “Charles? The Charles who attends our church. The homosexual that Pastor Simpson is trying to save?”
“I don’t know, Sir,” I replied. Since I didn’t church anymore, I wasn’t sure what had happened. I had heard my parents talk about Pastor Simpson trying to do an intervention with Charles, but I wasn’t sure what had happened.
“Are you and this deviant friends at school?” my father asked angrily.
The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. Deviant? Did my father just call Charles a deviant because he was gay? Tears filled my eyes as I responded, “That isn’t a very Christian thing to call someone.”
My father’s face reddened with anger. “Are you trying to defend that pervert by questioning my religious beliefs?” For a minute, I thought he was going to hit me. He turned and started pacing around the room.
“Look at you!” he shouted as he stopped in front of me. “You have a shiner the size of Kansas because you attempted to protect a pervert who should have gotten hit.”
I couldn’t take anymore. I rose from my bed and stood before my father. “Shut up!” I screamed. At first, he seemed surprised by my outburst, then his eyes narrowed in anger. “Charles isn’t a pervert, deviant or fag,” I said adamantly. “He’s a good person, and everyone should just leave him alone.”
My father’s eyes darkened as he asked, “Are you one of them too?”
I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to tell my father I was just to get even with him for the way his was acting. However, I wasn’t sure how he would react. And once I told him I was, there would be no way I could ever convince him I wasn’t. And at the moment, I wasn’t sure.
I didn’t reply. I went back to my bed, lay down and threw the covers over my head. My heart was pounding because I didn’t know what he would do next. I could hear him breathing heavily. Finally, I heard him storm from the room and slam the door shut.