They're out there right now, like sharks beneath the waves of seemingly calm waters. I've never understood what kind of sick thrill it gives them to dedicate so much of their life towards trying to hurt other people. What is it that they gain from the emotional torturing of another human being to the point of feeling like they have no right to breathe the same oxygen as they do? As if they have no right to any moment of joy, whatsoever. What are they so scared of? Do they think so little of themselves that they have to constantly lash out and try to put people 'beneath' them with insults and bullshit? What made them feel so low in the first place? Do they ever take a moment and think about it? Do they ever look at themselves in the mirror and see a cruel monster staring back at them, created by the things they've said and done?
I would hate myself, through and through, if I went out of my way to deliberately cause another person a single moment of pain. If I made them cry, or throw away their self esteem...just for an egotistical moment of pointless power over them. It would make me sick to my stomach to know that I caused that. But maybe abusers don't have the humanity needed to experience that feeling for themselves. Maybe they never will. And for that...I feel sorry for them.
The thing about abusers...they have to wait until they can find a target that they perceive as weak. Vulnerable. They need victims to have any meaning or purpose at all in this world. A wannabe bully without any victims to lash out at is just about the saddest thing in existence. My father made me a target. Somewhere in his mixed up mind, he thinks that I can be an outlet for his rage. That he can channel his own self destructive thoughts about himself and his miserable life into something constructive by making me the blame for it all. Because 'I'm the bad guy', right? He follows me around and tries to make me feel like garbage because I'M the reason he's so angry at the world. That must be it. Sure.
But...one thing that I'm slowly beginning to figure out, thanks to Brody...thanks to Sam and to Adam...
Love? Friendship? Loyalty and support? They eat away at a bully's effectiveness. It corrodes their hold on me like a powerful acid. And once you can push past the damage that's already been done, and you can allow the affection of your true friends into your heart...you just cease to care anymore. You begin to find a sense of self worth that you didn't even know you had before, and it gives you strength. No...I take that back. It's not 'strength'. Strength would suggest that an abuser's motives ever had any legitimate effect in the first place. A bully can only be powered by the fuel that I give him. And the second that I stop feeding that fire, his entire assault on me crumbles to pieces. The same way that I took Mr. Raffe's power away from him by letting him know that his comments and his opinion of my work simply don't matter anymore. He has no way to hurt me. In fact, he looks sad and desperate even putting forth the effort.
I've got actual love in my life now. Love that my pathetic abuser will NEVER experience because he's decided to be such an insufferable asshole instead of being a caring and loving human being. He might never experience that again. He may never be able to repair the damage he's done to the hearts of the people who were willing to ride with him to the very end of the road if necessary. That love has been ruined forever. Not like the love I experience now. From my best friends, from my mom, and from one of the most breathtakingly beautiful boys to ever walk the Earth's surface. People that I can laugh with. People who stand up for me...the underdog who was never meant to be anything other than my father's punching bag. I have come a long way from the misery that I was once drowning in, and I'm finally beginning to see why the journey was worth it. Shaky parts and all.
Brody took notice of my infatuated grin and my intense focus on him, giggling, "What are you looking at?"
"You." I said.
"Why? Do I have something on my face?"
"You have some 'cute' on your face." I grinned. "Right there. And some more over there. Oh wow...you're whole face is, like, covered in 'cute'! But don't fix it. I think it's awesome."
Brody shook his head. "You are SO corny!"
"That wasn't corny! What are you talking about?"
"That was CORNY! I'm just saying!" He grinned. "Save that shit for a greeting card or something."
I gasped while giving him a surprised look, and it made him laugh out loud. "This is the last time I compliment you. You've got to realize that, right?"
"Hehehe! Don't be cruel just because you're corny!"
"I'm NOT corny! I was trying to be sweet!" I giggled.
"Well...fail." He said, and I was about to start pouting. Because, even though I knew that Brody was just kidding around, sometimes the hurt and humiliation of it all tries to sink its claws into me regardless. I had no defense against it. My father's treatment of me had poked holes in my emotional shield long ago. So everything gets through. Even the tiny jokes at my expense.
I really needed to fix that.
"We're here! Are you ready?" Brody asked with a wide grin.
"Ready for what?" I looked around at our surroundings, and the only thing of significance that I could see was a big toy store at the end of a half empty parking lot. "Hehehe, what? The toy store? You're taking me to a toy store?"
"Damn right, I am! C'mon!" He said.
"What theâ€¦? Brody, hehehe..."
"What? What's the matter?"
"NOW who's being corny? Nobody goes to toy stores anymore." I told him. But he just took a hold of my hand and yanked me along behind him.
"And who's fault is that? It's people like you who think nobody goes to toy stores anymore!"
"Kids don't play with toys these days. Everybody has cell phones and next gen video game systems. Even Legos have gone digital. Who needs physical toys? Imagination makes my head hurt. Hehehe!"
"C'mon! It'll be fun. Like a museum of stuff that's brand new and not all that old at all."
"I don't know..." I said, but Brody's infectious smile was already pulling me forward with more of an influence than the strong hold he physically wielded on the sweaty palm of my nervously trembling hand.
"It's either this...or we head back to school. And I know you're not gonna suggest we head back to school. Not now, when I've got you all alone and stuff."
"I'm pretty sure we won't be 'alone' inside of an open toy store, even if it's totally dead in there..."
"Details, details...you're wasting time. Come with me. Come on." He said, pulling me close. Our faces only inches apart. I was scared that he was going to kiss me, but...he hesitated. Not out of fear or embarrassment. He just smiled at me...waiting to see if maybe, just this once, I might lean in and kiss him first. But I couldn't. At least not yet. It's not that I didn't want to...because I did! DESPERATELY! But it was a barrier that my lack of self confidence couldn't quite cross yet. At least, not out here in a public parking lot in broad daylight.
Maybe one day...just not today.
"Lead the way." I said, trying to break the intensity of our eye contact before he tempted me into making a mistake that I might regret later.
Brody's eyes gazed into mine for a few seconds longer, then he ran his fingers through his soft collection of loose curls and smirked, "Chicken..." He said, and then pulled me along before I could respond. How does he make every moment of my life feel like such a crazy adventure just by allowing me to remain in his presence for more than a few minutes at a time. What kind of witchcraft IS this???
The automatic doors of the toy store opened up as soon as we were close enough to trigger the sensor, and we were greeted by some lady behind the register that looked as if she only talked to us because of a well rehearsed habit than anything else. No emotion at all. I guess I would feel the same way if I was at school all day and had to greet every single person who walked through the classroom door. I swear, I am SO not looking forward to my first job! It just looks like a sad way to barely make enough money to survive. You know?
Some cheesy, top 40 type of 80's and 90's pop music played overhead. Not loud. It was kind of muted, to be honest. I saw tall shelves lining empty aisles...filled with bright colored boxes and outdated action figures. And while I felt a little silly even walking through those doors at first...I couldn't help but to remember what it was like to be a little kid again. Going to a toy store was like this magically transformative experience. Not just the first time, mind you...but every time. I can remember when places like this seemed so endless. So big. So full of joy and wonder. Hehehe! Coming to a place like this meant it was time for me to make a Christmas list, or it was my birthday...or my grandparents were in town, and thy could easily be manipulated into grabbing me something if I wanted it bad enough.
I doubted the impact of being here...but the little boy in me couldn't help but to reignite a bit of that childish spark when I saw the shelves full of...potential.
I wasn't exactly sure what the hell we were going to do in this place, but it didn't dampen the blinding shine of Brody's smile one bit! H ahaha! I didn't even know what half of this stuff was that I was looking at! It looked...weird to me, you know? Brody gave me a little elbow in the ribs, "Brighten up! Have fun with me!" He said.
"Hehehe, what's fun about this?" I said, trying to hide a bit of a rush from his bright eyes.
"You are literally in a building full of 'fun'' right now! This is, like...the shopping mall equivalent of Santa's sack, right now!" Brody heard me snicker from the naughty sound of it all, and he rolled his eyes, "You KNOW what I mean! Pervert!" Then he pulled me further into the store, trying to lift my spirits. "How are you not smiling right now? You're being the toughest crowd ever right now!"
I blushed. "Hehehe, I'm sorry. I don't mean to sour the moment."
"There you go again..." He said, shaking his head. "You're fine! You're awesome! And you're not souring anything. And I'm gonna keep bashing you over the head with positive reinforcement until you believe me. Deal?" I rolled my eyes again, but this time, with a wider smile. "WHAT???"
"NOTHING!" I giggled. "Let's go...look at some toys, or something."
"Hehehe, don't patronize me!" Brody said, giving me a shove. Something about his physical contact just turned me to silly putty every time he touched me. The shock didn't come from the surprise gesture...but more from the disbelief that a boy this incredible would look for reasons to make contact with me at all. It just...it refuses to sink in.
I'm so SORRY! I know that this might be annoying and frustrating for anyone else who grew up without the kind of mindset that I've been cursed with...but, this is really STRANGE for me! Ok? My emotions are trying to adjust, but they just...can't. I can't even force them too.
Imagine if you bought a scratch off ticket from your local gas station...and you won a BILLION dollars! Just think about that. How long would it take your mind to truly look at that ticket and process what was going on at that very moment in time. How would you handle it? Wouldn't denial and a TON of second guessing and review be in order before you were able to accept that such a thing could ever be possible? Well...that's where I am right now. Just...with an entire childhood of physical and emotional trauma set up as the background and very foundation of who I am as a person. That's all.
I envy people who can just dive in and 'go for it' whenever they see an opportunity for something amazing to happen to them. Whatever it is that keeps them going? I don't think I have that. Not in that capacity, anyway. It was beaten out of me a long time ago. So...maybe I'm just an annoying asshole in their eyes. Some weak, piece of shit, that's too afraid to go after what he wants in life. Yep. That's me. Take your shots at the severely insecure abused kid while you can, folks. You never know when this is going to be my last show on stage.
I'm thinking that suicide is cheaper than therapy...
"What happened?" Brody asked. "Are you ok?"
Shit. I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'm taking a perfectly good moment and draining all the life out of it. The bad stuff is seeping into my brain again. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I swear to GOD, I'm sorry! I'll stop! I'll push myself back up into 'happy mode'.
"Yeah. I'm fine. I was just...just thinking. That's all." I worked up a smile, but Brody wasn't buying it.
"Unh unh. I've been dreaming about your smile long enough to know when it isn't real, Mister. Hehehe, come on. I've got work to do." He took hold of my hand again and quickly moved forward. I noticed the lady behind the desk taking notice of our contact, but her facial expression didn't change much, so I don't know if she thought it was unnatural or not. I never know what to expect from people when they see two boys together anymore.
Suddenly, Brody tossed a squeaky little goblin looking thingy in my face, and I had to let go of him to put my hands up and catch it. What the hell? "Hehehe, this is the ugliest thing I've ever seen." I said, feeling a few tingles of joy pushing their way past the threat of my own subconscious trying to do me in at every turn.
"I'm sure there's uglier! Let's look for something uglier!" He giggled.
"People let their kids play with shit like this? This is terrifying."
"People let their kids play with poop emojis, don't they? I mean...it's literally a smiley face on a piece of human feces. And people use it as a freakin' PILLOW on their couch! Welcome to the modern age."
"Yeah, but...the poop emoji's cute." I said, getting a sideways glance from Brody.
"If you're hiding any strange fetishes that I don't know about...just know that my answer is 'no'. Just...no negotiations. Flat out no!"
"Whatever." I snickered. "Next aisle..."
Brody and I went through that store over the next half hour, finding yo-yos to play with, and crazy looking stuffed animals, and mechanized water pistols, and other toys that looked as though their main and only purpose was to make a mess in the house. I don't have any little brothers or sisters, but I've got younger cousins and stuff...and I can just imagine how much fun they would have smearing some of this toxic slime all over the walls, while sprinkling some of these sharp pieces and obvious choking hazards all over the floor where my aunt and uncle wouldn't be able to make it through a single weekend without having their feet bleed. Jesus...were toys always this dangerous? No wonder everything went digital.
I was a little surprised by Brody's ability to give me a break from the voices in my head. His carefree nature nearly made me forget that those bad feelings were ever there to begin with. I mean, sure...they were persistent in trying to come back and totally ruin everything by attempting to puncture my heart and laugh while I bled out their feet...but as I saw Brody clumsily try to dribble a bouncy ball in the middle of the aisle, all around him and between his legs...hahaha, the voices got drowned out by the sound of my heart beating for Brody and Brody alone.
"Hahaha! STOP! Dude, what the hell? Seriously!" I cackled.
"What? I got skills, Zack! Don't be a hater!"
"That is the most awkward dribbling that I've ever seen. Like...ever."
He laughed, saying, "I bet you can't take it from me. Come on, hot shot...take it!"
That ball bouncing so loud in the middle of a mostly empty store, but my playful side was dying to get involved, and I moved closer to see if I could still the bouncing ball away from him while he tried, valiantly, to spin in circles to keep it from me. I reached for it while he pushed his butt back at me to keep me at bay, the bouncing of the ball getting even louder...not that we could hear it over our combined laughter. I reached for it a few more times and he could barely keep his dribbling under his control. Then he pushed me into one of the shelves, and with a strangely competitive impulse, my foot lashed out and kicked the ball half way down the aisle, bouncing off of one of the shelves and knocking a collection of vampire action figures to the floor!
"Hahahah! What the fuck? You're such a CHEATER!" Brody chuckled, and I was laughing so hard that it made me weak, and I had to lean on Brody's shoulder for balance. The ball rolled all the way to the end of the aisle...
...Where a security guard stopped it and picked it up. Giving us a stern look. "Let's calm it down, boys. Alright?" He said, his voice deep and gravely as Brody and I tried to stifle our giggles in his presence.
"Sorry, sir..." Brody grinned. I tried to keep myself from laughing, but...laughing felt so GOOD at that moment! I couldn't help myself. Hahaha! This is the most incredible boy EVER!
The guard walked past us, and put the ball back up where it belonged, making sure to keep an eye on us in case we started getting ourselves into any more mischief. When he turned the corner, I didn't even realize that I was still using Brody's shoulder for balance. The warmth of him, lightly heating my palm as he looked me in the eyes...his smile enchanting me from the inside out.
I felt myself blush profusely, forcing myself to look away. But it was too late. Brody gave in to his temptations...and he kissed me on the cheek. There was this urge for me to jerk away from him, and then search the store to make sure that nobody saw that...but...I fought it. I didn't give up. I stood my ground and let the comfort of the situation truly take over as my heart raced and a collection of goosebumps were raised on my skin. Hell, I even found the courage to look back into his eyes...allowing them to mesmerize me with the full power of their candy coated gaze.
I didn't chicken out this time.
I leaned in to kiss Brody on the lips. It was quick and it was innocent...but I did it. And I don't regret it.
The look on his face was priceless!!! Hahaha! Well, what do you know? I might be able to meet this angel half way in this relationship after all. I think that's a surprise to us both!