“You know,” I shout, trying to be heard over loud, thumping music. “If I knew the lyrics to this song you’d hear me more than the actual singer!” As I shout, the neon lights flash past the laughing face of my old time friend, Joslyn. We had been dancing with new people all night and together drank countless drinks thanks to Nova’s bailout fund. I had meet some nice looking people, and the more I drank, the more attractive they became.
“I see who you’re looking at,” I hear Joslyn say as the next song begins. “Go for it, what are you waiting for?” She shouts while gesturing to a guy a few feet away.
Wait, a guy? No.
“What? You think I’m looking at guy? Joslyn, I’m straight…” I say, instantly turning my back to the guy I was caught looking at.
“God Wes,” Joslyn replies, with an exaggerated eye roll to assist her annoyance. ‘How much alcohol is it going to take to pull you out of the closet?” She asks, laughing.
Her joke takes me by surprise as I am left speechless. The smile disappears from my face and the alcohol that previously pulsed through my veins seems to dissolve instantly as I feel myself sober up. I open my mouth in attempt to reply to her thoughtless joke, but like I said, I am left speechless. I turn away from her and start heading to the bathroom.
I focus my attention on the overwhelming EDM music as it drowns out Joslyn. I knew she was probably apologizing and asking me to turn around, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t return to that dance floor after what she said, and it wasn’t her fault.
I couldn’t return because she was right. I was looking at that guy she was talking about, despite my denial. I was ignoring it, as I always do. And I guess I wasn’t as good at hiding it as I thought I was. Joslyn seemed to read me like a book.
Now before you go assuming anything, I’m not gay. I was raised straight and I could never date a guy. My family would disown me and I could never live as a gay man.
You are, though.
“No, no. I can’t be…” I whisper through now teary eyes. I was approaching the drinking fountain by the bathrooms. I knew I was lying to myself, but I had no choice. If I even was gay, keyword ‘was’, I wouldn’t ever come out to my family. My father would be so ashamed and my brother would never look at me the same. It’d be a suicide mission.
I collapse against the wall beside the drinking fountain and start balling.
“Will I ever be happy?” I whisper again to myself through more tears, this time asking a hopeless question.
Yeah, I find guys attractive. But I never could show one that I think they are. I could never date one. So I couldn’t be gay, right? It’s just a phase, right?
“Oh really?” I hear a flirtatious voice ask close by. I look up to see Cassidy pulling some guy by the belt loop toward the women’s restroom. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He laughs in return to Cassidy’s playful behavior and my heart melts. His features were gorgeous and his jawline could cut-
God. Help me.
“Lucky,” I whisper without thinking. Slowly, I realize what I just carelessly said and bury my face into my hands. Automatic, home-grown disgust then takes over my mind. Thoughts of what my family would think bring me back to self-loathing and I start to cry again. However, I soon realize my tears were now gone, despite my depression and annoyance being still, ever-so present.
“Keep lying to yourself,” I hear Joslyn say calmly from above my position on the ground. I look up, probably with an unsightly appearance from crying, at my best friend who gives her trademark I-see-that-your-life-sucks-and-I-hate-that frown.
“And you’ll be crying every night for the rest of the semester.” She sits beside me and rests her head on my shoulder. “You need to accept yourself. I have, and I hate seeing you like this whenever you see someone you like.”
Joslyn was the one person I came out to in high school before taking it back the next day. It was sophomore year and I had kept every guy crush I’ve ever had to myself and it was starting to tear me apart. She was the one person who seemed to notice I wasn’t okay, and she asked what was wrong as we ate pizza in my basement one night. I would’ve kept the facade I had created for the world, but I could tell she saw past it, and my parents and brother weren’t home. I knew that if I was going to tell her, then, in the basement of my house with pizza in hand, was the best time to do it because I was sure that no one in my family would hear me. So I told her as I balled, my tears soaking her sweatshirt. She didn’t care either, she just hugged me until I let go. Then she smiled and said, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re a mistake. You’re perfect the way you are.” After that, we ate pizza and watched our favorite movies.
Despite her flawless response, however, my homophobic upbringing took over once she left to go home, because I stayed up all night regretting what I had done. I went to school the next day and took it all back. She seemed to not believe it at first, but eventually she convinced me that she believed I was not actually gay.
And now, here, by the disgusting bathrooms of some random night club, the truth of my sexuality was beginning to surface again.
“You don’t have to say anything; I know what you’re probably thinking. I just want you to accept yourself. You should’ve sophomore year, but you didn’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t now, though. I’m here for you, and I’m almost certain Nova, Annalise, Cassidy, Brent, and yes, even Reed- your facade’s scape goat for a false heterosexuality, will accept you too.” Joslyn says quietly as a quieter song fills the club.
“Damn,” I say as I wipe my running nose. “You know me better than I know myself.”
“Well yeah,” She responds, “But only because I don’t distract my judgement with what people say you should be. I see you for you. And I’m sorry, but it’s extremely obvious once you can see past the facade. You’re gay. And that’s not a bad thing.” She says, laughing as she announces how supposedly obvious my sexuality is to her. I join in her laughter and we find ourselves in a comfortable silence once our laughter dies down.
I feel my phone vibrate, interrupting our suddenly silent conversation. Joslyn sits up, giving me the opportunity to get my phone out of my pocket. I reach for it and look to see who was calling me.
“Who is it?” Joslyn asks, as I look up from my phone as I go to accept the call.
“Danny,” I answer with the name of my twin brother, confused.
Danny had been at basic training for the US Air Force since the middle of the summer and wasn’t allowed to have a phone during his training, let alone his personal phone. How was he calling me, and why?
“Danny?” I ask, looking at Joslyn, who looked just as confused.
“Wes, I don’t have long. Mom wanted me to call you before you heard somewhere else,”
“Wait, what? What are you talking about?” I ask quickly, plugging my other ear in attempt to mute the club’s music. Silence answers my question and I begin to worry. “Danny, what’s going on?” More silence answers my question before I hear my brother finally respond. His voice cracks as he answers.
“Dad’s gone, Wes.” He says as I hear him tear up through the call.
“Wh-what?” I reply as I feel tears I thought were gone form. Joslyn sees my change in expression and instantly becomes worried. “What do you mean he’s gone?”
“Please don’t make this harder than it needs to be,” I hear my brother request as he continues to cry. “He died this morning on the way to work, his car collided with another’s.”
I am once again speechless as I drop my phone to the ground. I hear my brother’s voice as it hits the concrete and I run. Past the dancing crowd, past the bar, past the guy I was eying earlier. None of it mattered. I just kept running.
Tears stream down my face as my mind rejects the reality. I refuse to accept the truth. I refuse to accept that I just talked to my brother for the first time in months just for him to tell me that our dad is dead. I refuse to accept that he was actually gone. No, it’s all fake. I am in a nightmare. I try to think of ways to wake up but soon find the disturbing truth:
I’m not dreaming.
I start to hyperventilate as I come to more realizations:
There’s so much I didn’t get to tell him. He never will see me graduate. He never will see my brother get through basic training. He’ll never know how much I loved him. He’ll never know his grandchildren, if Danny or I have any. He’ll never know what this is will do to my mom.
He’ll never know I’m gay.
I hear an instant buzzing noise as I suddenly realize I was somewhere else. I look around and see that now I am in my dorm room, in front of the mirror in the corner by my closet. Confused, I realize that somehow my thoughts blocked out my memory of getting here. I look down to the source of the buzzing noise and see a hair trimmer on the counter before me. I look back up to see myself in the mirror. More tears arrive as I hear my father’s voice in the back of my mind:
“Look at your brother, he looks so much more mature than you with his buzz cut. Why don’t you want a haircut like his?”
Ah, alright brain. Reminding me of the all too familiar guilt trips to be more like my brother, huh? Want me to revisit the parental pressure to be more manly, more reserved, less emotional, and less– well, me?
Fine, here we go.
Danny wanted to be in the military ever since my dad bought us our first toy tanks and soldiers. Me, on the other hand, well, I just didn’t care for the typical little boy games. Instead, I wanted to read, but not superhero comics like my dad insisted. Instead, I wanted to read books, create stories of my own, and stay as far away from the son my dad wanted me to be. Not because I didn’t respect him, but because the son he wanted wasn’t who I was.
The son he wanted was Danny. The masculine, sporty, military hopeful. The only time I ever saw my Dad cry was when Danny told him he wanted to be in the Air Force. The news made my father so happy he cried tears of joy. When I got my acceptance letter from Bellview, my father was happy too, but not crying-tears-of-joy happy. Nope, he was more worried about how I was going to pay for it.
Whenever my father pressured me to get a buzz cut, Danny would have there. When my dad first started complaining about my hair, Danny rubbed it in my face. As a little kid, he thought it was great that our dad preferred his appearance over mine, despite us being identical twins. However, the older we got, the more my brother saw that the comment annoyed me, and eventually it annoyed him too. By the time he left for basic training, I felt as though he actually felt bad for me.
Everything changes as you grow older, I guess.
“A good military haircut never hurt anyone,”
I then find myself picking up the trimmer with tears filling my eyes. I let it press against my head and I find myself soon shaving off all of my hair. The removed hair next falls all around me like I was shaving off years of pain and tolerance without acceptance. My father would be so proud, but I didn’t know how that made me feel. All I know what that I need to try to drown out the voice of my father. It’s not like I despised him, it’s just this one peculiar comment, that had annoyed me all my life, was the one comment that seemed to replay in my mind.
I hear a knock at my door but ignore it and continue to shave off the rest of my hair. The knocking escalates as I finish. I set the trimmer back down once I’m done and look back into the mirror.
“There you go Dad, it’s what you always wanted.” I say in the most monotone voice I ever remember having. All of my emotion had been drained. I felt hollow inside as the echo of my father’s request faded into silence.
Throughout the haircut the knocking continued, and soon it became too unbearable. So unbearable, in fact, that I am forced to answer the door. I quickly walk over and open up to reveal the person on the other side to my complete vulnerability.
The door swings open and I watch as my best friend stares in shock at what I had done. Joslyn knew the story behind buzz cuts and my father’s persistence on me getting one. Her face soon transformed from shock to complete understanding.
“Wes,” She says, walking in to hug me.
Joslyn– the girl who can see past all my facades, knows me better than anyone, even myself. Ever since we were young she seemed to understand me perfectly. Whenever I resisted any sort of game when we were kids, she knew it was probably due to how it made me feel too masculine. Whenever I resisted any sort of crush as we grew older, she knew it was for a reason I wasn’t ready to admit, even if she knew the truth long before I did.
And now, as her embrace causes my vulnerability to sky rocket, she knew why I cut my hair even before I did too. I accept her hug as she rests her head on my tear-soaked shirt. We hold each other tighter than ever and eventually I realize from her grip. I hear a phone vibrate and remember I left my phone at the club.
“Shit,” I say, bringing my right hand up to rub my face. “I left my phone at the club,”
“No you didn’t, it’s right there,” Joslyn responds, pointing at the phone on my bed.
Wait, what? Didn’t I drop my phone after Danny called?
“What day is it?” I ask, suddenly lost in time.
“Saturday,” Joslyn replies. “Your father’s funeral is tonight,”
“What?” I ask, suddenly amazed. “I just got back from the club though,” I reply. “Did I blackout?”
“Oh my god,” Joslyn responds, raising her hands to her face. “You don’t remember,”
No, I don’t.
“You dropped your phone at the club, but I picked it up and chased you back to campus. I found you outside the Student Center, lying in the sprinklers. You weren’t yourself. This explains everything,” She said, pausing before continuing. “These past few days have been so strange. You haven’t talked to anyone outside of classes, you never seemed to want to hang out. I’m honestly surprised you let me in. Everyone is really worried about you. I guess it does make sense that you blacked out– it explains a lot.”
“Oh god,” I reply. “What’s everyone saying? Do they all know I like guys? That’s probably what they’re assuming.” My mind quickly traces back to the original problem I had at the club– accepting myself.
“Even if they are,” Joslyn begins, putting her hand on my arm. “They won’t care, trust me. If anything, Brent might be relieved that you-” I interrupt her before she can complete her sentence.
“Please, Joslyn. I don’t need you to try to hook me up with anyone right now.” I say, sounding unintentionally hostile. “Sorry, I’m just going through a lot…” I apologize.
“You’re fine. I was going to say he’ll be relieved you finally are coming to terms with who you are, that’s all. But hey, if you want me to try to-” I interrupt again.
“Joslyn, not now.”
“Okay, okay.” She replies, retreating from the topic.
“I’m just so lost right now,” I begin to speak my thoughts, which is what I’ve been tending to do around Joslyn more and more lately. “So much is happening so fast…” I pause to think of what was going on… I acknowledged I like guys, my father died, I black out, and then I cut my hair. What was happening to me? “I can’t believe I can’t remember anything after the phone call, I can’t believe I blacked out,”
“Well, you’re back now!” Joslyn says, attempting to be optimistic. The attempt fails as my mind continues to race.
“Did you talk to my mom?” I ask, suddenly more worried about my family and what they were going through rather than my own problems.
“No, I’ve been at the hospital whenever I’m not in class.” My best friend answers, finally shutting the door behind her. “It’s been a long week, but they said she’s almost ready to leave! So that’s good, at least. Right?” She asks, though I have no idea what she was talking about.
“Wait, what? Who’s in the hospital, and why? Is everything okay?”
“Oh wow, you really don’t remember anything, do you?” Joslyn asks, just to continue after silence replies. “Cassidy was raped at the club, Wes.