D for Dylan - 2. Chapter Two
“What do you mean?” he asked. I could feel hot tension morphing into a thick wall between us. On the other side of that wall, my father looked at me with pure disgust in his eyes.
“I...” my voice was breaking, throat got clogged with a lump made of bare nerves, preventing me from speaking up. “You heard me, dad. I’m gay.”
He clenched his mandible and looked away. It seemed as though he couldn’t take a breath for a few moments. His face turned darker shade of red, a tortuous vein bulged out on his temple, spreading across the scalp towards forehead. I could swear I sensed the heat radiating off his face.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me...” dad hissed through gritted teeth, after taking a sharp breath.
As a 13 year old kid, this is the last thing you want to hear from your parent after coming out. Dad had a pretty rigid set of expectations from me and I always did my best to meet them. No matter how unrealistic and downright ridiculous his milestones were, I consistently reached above and beyond them, knowing that one day I wouldn’t be able to meet the most important one. Dreading that day came as a given, but to say I expected a different outcome would be a lie. Knowing what will happen didn’t ease my pain, though. I tried to stay calm, but those burning hot tears rolled treacherously on my eyes, squeezing the lump in my throat.
Mom knew for a while, of course. When I told her, she played a silly card pretending she had no clue. My words made her so happy, I think she’d have disowned me if I told her I was straight instead. Her reaction made it ten times easier to tell Liam next. With my father it was a little different.
He grew up on a farm in Colorado, was raised in ultra-conservative family. His parents were red-blooded white supremacists and I suspected that my grandma Gloria was secretly roasting little babies in her oven every Sunday. She was a genuine southern lady, a proud republican and a devout Christian. I remember her in front of the tv, mouthing along shitty documentaries, mumbling how she’d burn all the fags at the stake, if only she could. She and grandpa Frank have severed ties with dad after he married liberal city-girl from Illinois, but mellowed out after I was born. Intricacies of my father’s upbringing were always fascinating to me. By his twenties that unbendable set of values was already woven deeply into his cortex. Mom ironed out some of the rough edges, but the damage was already done - courtesy to my beloved grandparents.
“It’s that fucking Henderson boy, isn’t it?” he asked. His knuckles turned white from how tightly he squeezed his fists.
I didn’t expect this question. Not from dad. From mom, perceptive and shrewd, who always knew a little more than she showed, maybe. But not from him. He couldn’t possibly...
“Tell me the truth, you little shit!”
“Dad he’s not...” I was going to state the obvious - Liam wasn’t gay. He cut me off, however.
“Of course he’s not!” dad spat in contempt, adding, “That’s wasn’t a fucking question, was it?”
I felt cornered. The walls of our dining room suddenly got bigger, closing in on me, making me feel small and helpless.
“He has something to do with it, doesn’t he?” dad hissed, forcing pressurized droplets of spit to disperse around his mouth, “Fucking answer me!”
I jumped in place, startled. I’ve never seen him this angry. Shrouded, I broke down in tears, unable to hold them.
“Yes...” I cried, “He does...”
I wasn’t going to lie to him. He deserved to know the truth, I promised myself that there won’t be any more lies starting today. If this too had to come out, I won’t hide it anymore.
Dad slapped me across the face and sent me flying down on the floor, where I hit and bruised my arm. The rest of the evening was a blur. I confessed everything, I cried and begged him to forgive me, to accept me. He didn’t. I remember that metallic taste of blood in my mouth, the overwhelming dread fettering me in chains as he beat me like a rag doll, senselessly and violently. He cried and screamed, he spat at my face, forcing me to crawl in the corner like a horrified animal.
For the next couple of weeks I felt nothing. I was floating around my body, detached, looking at myself from distance, severed from all perceptions of joy or sadness. Bruises changed their color a few times and have soon faded away, but it didn’t make me feel any better. Mom sent me to therapy. All I could think of was how I let everybody down. How it was all my fault - my mother and father separated because of me, I singlehandedly destroyed the lives of my parents and my little sister. Thanks to me, my poor father was now all alone, living in a hotel out of state, paying alimonies and trying to make ends meet.
The only person that kept my heart beating was the same person that inadvertently provoked my turmoil.
I think I fell in love with him before I even understood the concept of love. For as long as I could remember, no other human being could push my buttons the way Liam did. He effortlessly stopped my breath with his signature half-smirk, piercing me with those gorgeous green eyes, framed by thick, dark eyebrows. His soft olive skin was always covered in a thin layer of sweat, making it glow in the light. Straight nose and full lips morphed seamlessly into a strong square jawline. His perfect smile drove me insane every time he flashed those big white teeth, with fangs protruding just enough to make it irresistibly sexy.
Shortly after hitting puberty, he turned into one of those drop-dead gorgeous guys people got instantly attracted to on the streets. He grew very tall and muscled, he was ideally proportioned, had just the right amount of body hair. I always got dizzy from the smell of his cologne mixed in with his natural body scent. Every single time Liam took his shirt off in front of me I was loosing my mind, blushing like a stupid kid, stealing glances at his sweaty abs and strong chest.
It wasn’t all about the looks, of course. It was his character that captured my heart. He was the bravest guy I knew, he’d always be the one to grab the spider with his bare hands while I’m standing there petrified. He was the first to jump through any obstacle, encouraging me to explore the world and open up to it the way he did. He protected me from bullies, he was loving and caring, visiting me when I was down with a flu, bringing me his mom’s chocolate chip cookies and spending nights at my place watching horror movies and making sure to catch that flu from me. He singlehandedly pulled me out of the dark hole I found myself in, after dad left us.
Was he aware of how I felt? Not really. He was always clueless to it. Perhaps, it was because I fell for him before it became mainstream? Or maybe, I was too good at hiding my feelings? In any case, Liam was oblivious and I was glad about that. My biggest issue with falling for my best friend was the guilt - it was eating me out alive. It wasn’t because loving him meant I was gay - I was always comfortable in my skin. It was the shame of loving him, in particular. We grew up together, were raised like brothers and I felt dirty, as if my love was forbidden simply based on that fact. I feared that he will find out and hate me for it. This fear played a major role in my development as I grew up. Somehow, nondescript clothes became very comforting, glasses shielded me from being seen, and I felt safe knowing that no one in their right mind will ever think of Liam being involved with someone who looked like me. On many levels this defensive behavior meant a self-imposed exile from my peers, which with time, however, I learned to appreciate. Being an outcast helped me unmask false friends and filter through those who were too shallow to see past my looks. There was much more depth in books - I loved loosing myself in them, reading one after the other, from Salinger to Dostoyevsky, living through their characters and learning more about people than real life could ever teach me.
Looking back, I see how narrow-minded and arrogant this worldview was on my part. I had that perfect person by my side and I didn’t really feel like I needed anyone else. Friendship with Liam completed me, I never strived to have a wider social circle. Having him around was more than enough, and stepping into a freshman year of Montgomery High, I was convinced that Liam didn’t need anyone else either.
One might think that a pair of naive 9th-graders starting high school would walk around the brand new campus anxious and lost, but it wasn’t the case for Liam. He had just turned 16 back then, he grew up over the summer, got even more handsome and a high school crowd noticed him right away. Before the week’s end he was accepted to the football team and had a stray of girls following him around to practice and bombarding him with messages on Instagram. He loved the attention, we often spoke about the girls he liked, and I was genuinely happy for him and his newfound popularity.
One of the last good memories I had about freshman year before the life pulled a complete 180 on me, was the day Mr. Henderson took us to Chevy dealership. Liam picked his first car, a black Camaro. I’ve never seen him happier, he dreamt of this day for years. We spent all weekend being nasty teenagers, driving around the city, cutting through downtown blocks and touring Harvard premises, with loud music blasting off the speakers, annoying the hell out of pedestrians.
I can’t really say that things have changed suddenly, because they didn’t. I was just too blind and too stupid to see and admit that he was changing. If I’d have to pinpoint the exact day when our friendship cracked, it would be the day when Trish Collins asked Liam to sit with her and her friends at their table in cafeteria. He liked her. As cliché as it sounds, she was the hottest and most popular girl in the school. God, this phrase was so beaten, but it was true. She started junior year and was 16 years old, just like Liam. To put an icing on the cliché, she was a captain of the cheerleading squad.
Trish was one of those naturally beautiful white girls that didn’t require any makeup to look stunning. Blonde hair, blue eyes, puffy lips, perfect skin and an adorable baby face. A complete mismatch of personality and appearances. They began dating almost right away. It was a match made in heaven, really. Liam got pulled into her circle and soon I was finding myself alone at recesses and cafeteria breaks.
Climbing the social ladder came with its own challenges and Liam got himself into several fistfights. Every time I saw another dumb jock trying to jump him, I felt bad, knowing who exactly will end up covered in blood on the ground. Liam never lost. He wasn’t violent, but he instinctively knew how to fight. I was convinced that it was something genetic - his cat-like reflexes and reaction time were lightning fast, he was extremely accurate and collected, moving like a cheetah, beating the shit out of everyone who was stupid enough to challenge him. Needless to say, in this primitive teenage crowd this quickly got him all the respect he needed.
Quite frankly, upon first look Montgomery High resembled a school from a stereotypical 80-s movie. There was a strict segregation into social groups, people seemed to clump together based on their interests, popularity and perceived status. I found it amusing, but also very outdated and stupid. Following that logic, where would I belong? I was best in my class on math, chemistry and biology and it would seem I belonged with nerds, but I also loved to read history books and fiction, did that mean I was supposed to hang around with the book club? My best friend was surrounded by popular kids, wasn’t it making me “popular” by association? Oh, and last time I checked I was openly queer, so how about the rainbow crowd?
Trying to join any of those flocks didn’t feel right and didn’t make much sense to me. I didn’t want to reduce myself to a single distinguishing feature to submit to social standards of Montgomery High. My mom used to tell me that I wasn’t a drop in the ocean, I was an entire ocean in a single drop. If some people couldn’t see me for what I was without me putting a shiny label on my forehead, then maybe they weren’t supposed to be my friends?
Over the first couple of months, Liam tried to help me fit into his new circle. He got me acquainted with Trish, Mark and Sebastian. At first they acted pretty nice to me, but then the whispers began. Less than a week later I heard them making fun of my clothes and my glasses. At first, they made sure Liam wasn’t around to hear their gossip, but this too has changed over time.
“Look Dyl, I think you’re overreacting a bit, okay? It was just a joke!” Liam told me dismissively one afternoon when I confronted him about it.
“It wasn’t funny. I don’t think it was meant as a joke, Liam.”
“So what? They do have a point, you know. You need to get rid of those,” he said with a neglectful chuckle, tugging on the heavy frame of my glasses.
“Since when does it bother you?”
“It always bothered me, they make you look fucking hideous.”
He didn’t get a chance to finish his thought, Trish called him and he abandoned our conversation without even realizing how much he hurt me. I couldn’t care less about what his new friends thought of me, but his opinion was paramount to me. He said I was hideous. Hearing this from the most important person in my life wasn’t exactly easy on my ears, but it was nothing compared to what was coming.
He stopped answering my calls, began ignoring me in the school and acted as if we never knew each other. He spent more and more time with Mark and Seb, whereas outside of school he was mostly hanging out with Trish. He got very passionate about football and became more aggressive towards those who annoyed him. He changed to a point where I couldn’t recognize him anymore. I was leaving him voicemails and texts, asking to meet and talk, but he was keeping me in the dark.
I met him in the hallway by the lockers one day. Fishing him out of his crowd was probably rude on my part, but in my defense - Liam didn’t really leave me much choice.
“Can we talk, please?” I asked, holding onto his arm and pulling him towards my locker.
Liam visibly shivered and looked down at me in irritation. He appeared uncomfortable, constantly glancing at Trish and the rest of his ‘friends’, as if he was embarrassed being seen with me.
“What do you want?” he barked.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong? You’re not picking up my calls, I can’t get a hold of you. Are you alright?” I asked. “I spoke to Emma yesterday, she’s worried about-”
“You spoke to my mother?” he cut in, his eyes darkening.
“She called me, Liam.”
Hearing this had vexed him, he pursed his lips and looked away.
“Liam, quit talking to this fag!” I suddenly heard from behind his back.
Initially, I was convinced I just hallucinated there for a second, but no. It was Trish. She actually said it. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. It wasn’t the first time I heard this slur spat at me, but I couldn’t remember the last time, because Liam always made sure whoever said that, won’t ever talks to me this way again.
She walked up to us and looked at me demeaningly.
“Come on, you have to tell him,” she yawned leisurely, clinging onto Liam’s arm. “This is getting ridiculous, I swear...”
“Did you hear what she said?” I asked him, but he pretended not to hear me, distracted by his girlfriend leaning in for a kiss.
“Liam?” I called out loudly, forcing them to separate.
He looked back at me, his eyes were cold, his face radiated disdain. I felt chills running down my spine. Cool sweat beaded on my temples as my heart started racing. That terrible nervous ball clumped in my throat once again, forcing me to recall my last conversation with dad. This time was worse though. Whoever was standing in front of me wasn’t the Liam I used to know.
“Baby, you have to tell him.” Trish whispered in his ear.
“Tell me what?” I asked, clenching my teeth in distress.
Large tears rolled on my eyes blurring my vision, but I did everything to keep them still. A few sharp breaths later, tension between us reached it’s peak.
“You just wouldn’t get a hint, would you?” Liam exhaled.
“What hint?” I dared.
“Geez, you’re really fucking dumb.” Trish spat at me.
“I’m sorry, who are you again?” I asked her.
It turned out that mocking genuine and blatant disregard to her narcissistic persona was the single most triggering reply I could come up with. She gasped in shock as if I had just slapped her.
“He insulted me,” she told Liam, “Do something.”
Liam looked like he was about to actually hit me. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way he would hurt me, right? I couldn’t even begin to describe my emotions. I was scared, heartbroken and furious.
“Are you going to hit me?” I asked, staring in his eyes. “Really?”
“Don’t fucking tempt me,” Liam replied. “Faggot.”
My heart sank to my stomach. Tears fell off the eyelids and burned my cheeks.
“Let me make it easy for you,” I heard myself saying, turning towards Trish, “I think your girlfriend is a fucking cunt.”
He grabbed me by the collar and started beating me in the face with his fists. He hit me harder than my dad did, forcing me to thrash against the cabinet doors and cut my head against its metal ridges. He shoved me into the lockers, delivering powerful blows to my jaw, my nose, my cheekbones, forcing blood to gush out of my nostrils and smear his fists. He punched me in my chest and abdomen, hit my ribs and kicked my legs. I don’t remember feeling much pain in the moment, I was too shocked, too convinced that I’d wake up and it’ll turn out to be a nightmare. Everything happened so fast, I barely registered it. At some point he knocked me out unconscious and I woke up in an ambulance. Drive to the hospital was spotty in my memory, I briefly recalled seeing ED doc, being inside the CT machine, having a bunch of surgery residents jamming every part of my body with the ultrasound probe, putting stitches on my scalp.
I didn’t really talk much after that. Partly because my throat hurt too much, but also because I didn’t want to. I spent the rest of the week at home. When mom asked me if I wanted to press charges against him, I asked her not to. I was still underage and it was ultimately her decision, but she was in a tough position. He was a son of her best friend, the most important and dear person left in her life. Emma was visiting me every day, apologizing for what Liam did, unable to hold tears seeing the cast on my arm, looking at the bruises on my face. Mom ended up listening to me and didn’t file any complains against him, but I knew she wasn’t happy with this decision. It ended up damaging her relationship with Emma and I couldn’t help but blame myself for it. She ignored her calls and avoided her, distancing us from Henderson family in an attempt to protect me. I think it might’ve turned differently if Liam came to check up on me at least once.
He didn’t. He never apologized, never showed his face at my house.
When I came back to the school, things got even worse. People couldn’t look at me without wincing, I guess my face resembled Christmas tree a little too much. At least Liam and his bunch of assholes found me amusing. It didn’t take them a week to start scoffing me, chipping at me bit by bit, testing waters. I wasn’t going to be an easy prey, I was never scared of them. Even though I’ve gotten intimately familiar with their fists over the next few years, I never let them get under my skin.
It was painful and it took me a very long time, but I managed to burn all the bridges and cut him off my life entirely. Instead, I focused on my future. I excelled at pre-med subjects, volunteered at hospitals and nursing homes, joined molecular biology research group at Harvard and got good letters for my college application. I also got a part-time job at Baskin Robbins to help mom with the bills and started tutoring my sister on pre-school subjects to save money. I even managed to get mom a little piece of jewelry for her birthday.
With time, I found great friends without really looking for them. I met Elle in sophomore year, when she transferred to us from California. Later same year we started hanging out with Peter. At first, he was a bit of a jerk towards Elle, but apparently he was trying to hide a huge crush on her and soon they started dating. Somehow, I never felt like a third wheel in their relationships, but rather like their awkward foster child.
Unbeknownst to Liam Henderson, I thrived in my own little world. I couldn’t be bothered less by any events in his life or lives of his friends. My disinterest, for some reason, they considered extremely offensive. Frankly, I didn’t really care. By senior year I learned to live with them, learned how to be the lamb in the field full of wolves.
Speaking of the wolves, over time I stopped crossing paths with Liam. He lost interest in bullying me several months ago, I suspected it was because I stopped giving him what he wanted. I used to cry back in the day, passing those pleading looks at him while he beat me, trying to see if I could find that old Liam hidden somewhere in his eyes. These days I was done looking, there was nothing in there. Nothing at all. That gorgeous, kind boy I once loved, was long gone. This Liam was a typical senseless brat, a football jock hooked on light drugs, who treated girls like shit and had no respect or interest in those he couldn’t exploit.
The only emotions he evoked in me now, were aversion and contempt.
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