An ongoing journey...

I began writing from some of my earliest memories of thoughts and emotions, so each new entry builds upon the one before it. And each new entry represents an evolution at that
particular point in time.
Thank you for reading and hopefully sharing.


It was a placed filled with:
Paranoia, obsessions, loneliness, compulsions, ignorance, anger, indifference, bigotry, conceit, lust, faith, confusion, happiness, suspicion, bitterness, realizations, betrayals, enlightenment, hatred, and love.

I always thought of high school as a mental institution where the patients were given free-reign to psychologically and physically torture each other. Being committed to this place for four years scarred my soul and strengthened my body, and scarred my body and strengthened my soul. It truly was the very best and the very worst of times.

Manny was a sincere, good natured boy in his junior year at the institution. He was dark skinned and slightly chubby, had a toothy grin, and was as "out" as you could get away with in high school in 1977. He was outspoken and slightly effeminate, and he barely attempted to conceal his innermost self where others didn't have the courage. Manny was a glaring light of purity and truth that caused the rest of us to flush with self-consciousness, and revealed the darkest corners of dishonesty and secrecy we kept hidden.

Disaster was inevitable.

As any normal, red-blooded, American gay boy should be at the time, he was active in performing arts. That year's spring production was "South Pacific" - a play about love and prejudice, oddly enough. The setting is a military base on a beautiful, Polynesian Island during World War II, where the navy men and women work together in the steamy tropic heat. The production requires a large male cast, which is a complication because female actors usually outnumber males by at least six to one. Girlfriends were asking their boyfriends, some of them from the football and basketball teams, to be in the play. They didn't have to sing or dance, or even say anything. All they had to do was just pretend they were in the navy on a desert island... and possibly appear onstage shirtless.

Manny was of course delighted when the boys removed their shirts as the scenes called for it. For Manny, the stage offered a much more intimate setting than the pool, the beach, or even the locker room, because in public areas he may have felt compelled to keep from staring. But in this case, feeling at home and confident in his element, Manny was making comments openly. He complimented their muscles, their chest hair, their nipples... most of them just laughed and were good sports about it. Their acceptance was surprising, either because they didn't understand he was actually aroused or because they honestly didn't care. This was high school in 1977 and he was taking a risk.

One of the guys was the boyfriend of one of the girls in the play. Steve was a senior on the football team, and a big blond, good looking stud. He actually seemed more like a stoner-type than a football player with his shaggy hair and scruffy appearance. He was the type of guy the girls drooled over, and the other guys were jealous of. He was a "true" blond, and had a lean, muscular build. He almost always wore sandals, jeans, and a tank top which showed off his thick arms, broad shoulders, and fine blond chest hair. He was known for being moody and aggressive, which was bad considering he had a man's body and a child's brain. His girlfriend would complain to the other girls about their arguments and his jealousy. And he, unlike the others, didn’t like Manny or any of his comments.

One night between scenes, the guys were all changing in the greenroom. Steve was joking around with some of the guys from the football team who were also recruited for the play. Manny was changing with them and was making it very obvious he was leering at Steve. When Steve dropped his pants he was wearing a jockstrap, which for Manny was like hitting the beefcake jackpot. The other guys laughed and asked him why he was wearing it and making comments about its worn-out condition. Manny couldn’t hold back and told Steve that it looked like he was too big for it, and asked him if was wearing a cup underneath.
If someone else, anyone else, had have made the same comment, it would have been laughed off... but it wasn't. Steve's team-mates were laughing, but the comment made Steve self-conscious and embarrassed. Steve got right up in Manny’s face, pushed him hard enough to knock him down and told him he was going to “kick his queer-fucking ass”. The other guys told Steve to "leave the little faggot alone”, and then went back to changing. Steve seemed unusually upset by Manny’s remark, making gestures and glaring at him for the rest of the night. Manny was a nervous, but tried to make a joke of it.

No one saw the fight, but they did see the aftermath the next day. Unbelievably, Manny showed up for school wearing the same clothes he had been beaten up in the night before. He obviously hadn’t showered or made any attempt to clean himself up. The first thing you saw was that the collar of his shirt was torn so that it exposed his entire shoulder. The second thing was his face, which was scratched, bloody, and swollen. His eye was bruised and beginning to swell shut. There was dried blood on his face and clothes from where his nose had been bleeding profusely. Both of his lips were thickening and split, seeping fluid and blood. With his torn, dirty clothes, and his beaten face he was immediately being questioned by friends and teachers. But all he would say about the way he looked was that he had an accident on his way to school when he fell off his bike. This might have been somewhat believable if he said he was hit by a car on his way to school. Or that he rode his bike off a cliff. He was sent to the office, and his mom (who apparently hadn't seen him earlier) was called to pick him up. Everyone questioned him, trying to get the real story.

Steve couldn’t stop himself from bragging about how he had “messed up the little faggot”. Steve was truly one of the inspirations for the phrase; Young, dumb, and hung. He was like the spring break frat-boy smashing windows and tipping over cars, while smiling and fist-pumping for the television news cameramen. His girlfriend was furious when she found out, and let him know by reaming him in front of his friends. Some of his teammates were a little humiliated by him beating up on someone who was virtually defenseless against him. Steve was pulled into the office where both of his parents, and a police officer were waiting for him. His parents, to their credit, were not angry just because he was caught (or confessed), but because they were truly embarrassed and disgusted with him. Apparently Manny begged his parents not to press charges, and to my knowledge, they never did. Steve was suspended, but he had his supporters who said that Manny asked for whatever he got.

Why did Manny come to school without changing clothes, cleaning up, or telling anyone what really happened? Some said he was just looking for attention. But I think in some way, he was actually wearing his damage like a badge of honor. Like walking through fire and coming out alive on the other side. You have less to fear afterward. But he didn't ever talk to anyone about what happened.

A few years later while I was attending a local community college, I ran into a friend I had known from drama class in high school. We were talking about the old days and I asked her if she still saw anyone. She said she was still friends with Manny who had been taking acting classes at the college. She told me that the guy who beat him up actually tracked him down, which was easy because Manny still lived with his parents in the same neighborhood. I thought maybe Steve finally looked him up to finish the job he started. She said that Steve admitted to Manny he was gay, and actually pleaded for Manny to forgive him for what he had done. I could hardly believe it, but it did make sense. She said she couldn't believe it herself, because she said that Steve just didn't seem "that way". She said Steve was with girls all the time in high school, and she didn't know what could have happened to "turn him into one".

This was the first time I had ever witnessed this type of phenomena firsthand. You hate something about yourself so badly, you're willing to destroy someone else who shares the same characteristic. If you eliminate them, you might be able to snuff out the thing you hate in yourself.

I remembered.

I had done the same thing at an earlier time.

No comments:

Post a Comment