Please note this chapter deals with difficult themes, and makes reference to self-harm.
Thank you so much for the birthday wishes and the card! I’m 18, an old guy, just like you I can already feel my knees starting to hurt! It’s weird knowing I’m officially an adult now. I can vote! So much responsibility!
As expected, my mom completely ignored my wishes and threw a gigantic party. It was beyond excessive. Her argument – your only child only turns 18 once. She invited everyone, and I mean EVERYONE! It felt like the entire world was there. Well, everyone except you. I’m still a bit pissed that you didn’t come! Who says no to the birthday boy? But I understand why you weren’t there. Though, as I said before, I would never let anyone make you feel out of place. The truth is, you’re the only person who actually deserved to be there. I didn’t want a party. I didn’t need any of that. All I wanted was a super delicious chocolate cake, and your company. Just to be clear, I wasn’t going to let you eat any of the cake even though I know how much you love chocolate. I just wanted to smear some all over your face (insert evil laugh here). What’s the point of celebrating a milestone birthday without my lifeline, right?
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that word lately, lifeline. I know you scoff when I use that nickname, but it’s true, you’ve helped me so much this past year. I don’t think you fully understand just how much this friendship means to me, and I realize that’s kind of, maybe, just a little bit, my fault. I’ve hidden parts of my life from you, but I think it’s time I told you the truth. I'm ready and I trust you. I know in my heart you’ll never betray me.
I told you once how I’ve always known I’m different, that I don’t belong among the rich and pretentious. I’m not like them or my dad. I’m only an Easton in name. Unlike everyone here, my life isn’t consumed by the clothes I’m wearing, my car, or the size of my house. Yet, that’s all that seems to matter. Status is everything. But money alone doesn’t bring you happiness. The smiles, the laughs, the friendships, all of it is fake.
Including me. I’m fake.
All my life I’ve felt like an outsider. Even this weekend at my own party, I felt like I didn’t belong. I wear this fake smile to hide the discomfort, angst and pain consuming my soul. It’s as if all my life I’ve been wearing a mask, pretending to be someone I’m not, pretending to be who they want me to be. A mask to hide my loneness. A mask to hide my insecurities. A mask to hide the real me.
The truth is I’m different in other ways too.
I tried to ignore it, I tried to change, but it didn’t work. Nothing worked. The harder I tried the deeper I fell into despair. I lost hope. I lost faith. And I started to spiral out of control.
It felt as if the walls were caving in. Trapped in thick fog, there was nowhere to run, no one to turn to. I couldn’t breathe. All I felt was misery. I felt numb. I wanted to feel something, anything. And so, I did things to myself. I thought I deserved to feel pain, because that was all I was truly worth.
I was caught in a vicious cycle, and the clouds just kept getting darker and darker.
But against all odds, somehow, by some miracle, a single ray of light broke through.
For the first time, I had something to look forward to, a reason to get out of bed.
Your letters gave me hope.
You were the escape I so desperately needed.
All my life, all I’ve ever wanted is for someone to see me, the real me. Not for people to like me, or want to be my friend, because of the dollar signs attached to my name. But to care for me because of who I am on the inside. I know not all the people I hang out with are actually my friends. They think they’re better than everyone else, and they feel better by putting others down. They don’t get me. And if they knew the real me, they would never be my friend.
But you’re not like them. You’re different. You’re the first person who actually understands me. Just me.
For the first time in my life, when I’m writing to you, I feel like myself. I don’t feel judged or ashamed but accepted. You’ve helped me become comfortable in my own skin, to learn to accept my true self. That’s a gift more valuable than any stupid watch.
It’s taken me a long time to get here, to be okay with who I am. I still feel like I am on shaky ground sometimes and I do have bad days, but I don’t feel as scared anymore. I don’t feel as trapped, or as hopeless. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s all thanks to you.
But there is one thing I truly am terrified about – losing you.
It’s why I’ve hidden my truth even from you all these months. But something tells me you’ll understand, that you’ll be there for me, that you’ll accept me for who I am.
And if you can’t accept my truth, that’s okay. I won’t judge you.
The truth is I’m not like other guys. I don’t want a girlfriend … I want a boyfriend.
So, that’s the first time I’ve ever written that word. It’s the first time I’ve expressed my truth outside my own head. I can feel a chill going down my spine right now. My hand is shaking. My heart is racing. Part of me wants to quickly grab white out and erase it all, and then rip this letter up and burn it. But I know this is the right decision. I know you’ll understand.
I have so much more to say, so much more I want you to know, but I will refrain for now. I will wait for your response (and for my heart to calm down) to see how you feel before telling you more. And again, if this is something you can't accept, that’s okay. I know this is a lot to put on you at once, and for that, I’m sorry. Just know that I will always value your friendship.
And that brings me back to your nickname, and why I call you my lifeline.
You saved me when I was lost, when I was alone in the world. Because of you I have faith again. Because of you I know I don’t deserve to only feel pain. Because of you I no longer harm myself.
Because of you I’m hopeful. That is why you’re my lifeline.
If it wasn’t for you, I honestly don’t know where I’d be today.
I eagerly wait for your response.
In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go puke now.
P.S. I totally puked.
At the bottom of the page, clearly written later in different ink, in giant letters are the words ‘TURN OVER’. There is more on the back.
You were the first person I ever came out to. You may not believe anything else I say, but after the night we spent together, you know I’m not lying about being gay.
I wrote that letter, just like I wrote all the ones that came before it.
There is still so much more I want to explain. I hope you’ll give me the chance.
I’ll be at Riverside Park tonight after 8:00 o’clock waiting for you. I really hope I’ll see you there.
For those struggling, please remember to reach out to family, friends, and local services in your area. You are never alone.
Sorry this chapter was so short -- actually, I think the shortest chapter I've ever written. I'll make up for that with the next. Also, the next may be delayed by a day or two. I decided to rewrite large chunks so had to send it back to my editor. As for Chapter 11, two men are waiting for Jamie tonight: Oliver and Ali. Where should he go? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks.