We continue today with the second installment of Aibird’s story. Read Part One Here.
[TW: There is a traumatic violent scene between Aibird and another man.]
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My high school years were a myriad of confusion. I knew two things for certain:
1. I loved Rita, but what that meant in terms of our friendship confused me a lot.
2. I was determined to be the defender of Christ, and try hard to live my life full of love as Christ asked us to do.
To do this, I decided to try to be the person people could go to if they needed someone to talk with. I was very optimistic and idealistic at that age, and I was certain I could reconcile the Catholics and the Protestants in my school, ending the war between them, and help them all to grow as brothers and sisters in Christ. I felt certain that if I just acted with love toward both, listened to both, and tried to be supportive this would help them grow in Christ and stop expressing such anger and misinformation. It didn’t take long to discover that the Catholics at my school had no wish to be apart of this, they only wished to be left alone by the Protestants and to stop being accused of not being Christians. The protestants? I found them to be far more judgmental than I’d ever guessed.
I remember my freshman year when I was standing in line for lunch. The line was long and wound around the bathrooms and toward the cafeteria doors. The girl ahead of me, Amy, was a devout evangelical, and we had only recently met a few weeks ago. She started to cry in line, and confused and worried, I asked her, “What’s wrong?”
She said, “Look at all these people. They’re all going to hell, and it’s all too much. How can I save them all?”
I was dumbfounded. How could she know what was in their hearts? Only God knew that. So I decided to quote the Bible. “Do not judge, lest you be judged. Amy, you’re not Christ. You cannot know what is in their hearts. They could already be followers of Christ but may just be private about it. Please don’t cry about it. Instead think about how awesome Jesus is, and how God works in ways we may never understand. He may be working on their hearts right now.” She stopped crying at my words, but we never spoke of this again. Instead, I became known as the tolerant Christian in my school. I had friends who were atheists, agnostics, Christians, and pagans. I didn’t try to convert them; I just listened to them and offered them friendship.
Yet, this was never enough. I felt so exhausted at times. No matter how much I gave to others, it only accentuated how alone I felt. How I didn’t have anyone I could speak with about my own fears and worries and sins. I was afraid to even go to my priest at Church, for I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear the exact teachings. So I hid behind this facade. I tried so hard to be cheerful at all times, to be happy, to be understanding and kind. It was exhausting. The truth was I hid behind Jesus’s name out of fear. I wanted answers, but no one was willing to listen. I’d pray at Mass and during my prayer times at night about who I was, what these feelings meant, and why I was who I am. But there was no answers. Reading the Bible, and searching for answers their, only brought more confusion. There wasn’t really anything there that even remotely described my dilemma, and I didn’t know what parable or biblical advice would make sense in my situation.
In my sophomore year of high school, my locker partner, Katie, took me aside one day out of concern. “Why do you try so hard with Rita? She’s popular now. We’re not.”
“Because I love her.” It was as simple answer. I couldn’t really offer any other kind of explanation.
Katie shut our locker door with a sigh. “She’s often mean and it hurts you. That doesn’t seem like she loves you back. Not the same way at least.” Her words haunted me for weeks. It made me realize there were different types of love, and so I had to do research on it. To try to learn more, but again, all I found was the usual four types: agape (unconditional), eros (sexual/romantic), familial, and platonic. It felt good to understand there was different types of love, but it left me confused as to what type of love I did have for Rita. That was when I began to wonder if something was severely wrong with me. The more I looked into this problem, the more I realized my love was far too similar to my friends who had boyfriends, and how they were devoted to their guy. I was devoted in a similar way to Rita. What did it mean? I had no words for how I felt. My school used abstinence only education, and thus I knew very little about sex, LGBT issues, or really anything similar to it. Lesbian, homosexual, LGBT — none of those words were ever mentioned in my high school or in my family, and if they were mentioned in Church, it was to emphasize sexual purity and/or celibacy. Never really explaining, only condemning. It often felt like I was the only one who had this problem, that no one else with this existed. There was a journal about the size of my hand that I called my secret journal. I choose it because of the black and white cat on the cover and the lock it had; it’s small size made it easy to hide under my bed, and the lock gave me the illusion of privacy. In that journal, I wrote about my fears, my pain, and my desperate entreaties to God. When I was sick with bronchitis, I wrote a long entry about how I ripped open the doors of my heart and laid myself bear to the Lord. I wanted his healing love to wash through me, to wipe me clean, to ease my fears, and to help me find my true self, so I can follow him better. I wept so many tears that night. The love of Christ felt so close for such a brief while, then reality returned, and the isolation settled back into my soul. No matter what I wrote in that journal, it didn’t ease the fear and isolation.
My junior year of high school, I felt even more isolated than usual. One of my band friends, Shannon, tried very hard to convince me to hang out more with Jack, this short guy with a lot of body hair — it seemed to just pop out of his shirts and he never could seem to keep a beard from growing no matter how often he shaved. Shannon told me how Jack confessed to her about how much he liked me. I didn’t really like him back; in fact, I felt nothing for him. Nothing at all. I wasn’t even sure about being his friend, especially if he liked me as more than a friend. Wouldn’t that be leading him on? I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
For Prom that year, Shannon convinced me to go with her and Jack and some other friends to Prom. I was not fond of dresses — hated wearing them to be honest, but I did it mostly because I wanted to hang out with my friends. It was rare for any to ask me to hang out with them outside of school. Usually I’d go home and write my science fiction novels and worked on homework. If I did hang out with anyone, it was usually Rita or Katie or my younger sister, Ariel. Despite people talking to me at school and often confiding random thoughts to me, most of them were not interested in actually being a friend, so I felt I couldn’t pass down this chance to feel accepted. A part of a group. How badly I had wanted that!
Except that was not how it played out. Shannon was determined to have us take Prom pictures. “How can it be Prom without official pictures?” she said. I didn’t like the idea but tolerated it mostly since it would make her and the others happy, and wasn’t that good? Except, when it came our turn, Shannon grabbed the other gal with us and pulled her out of the picture, so that it was just Jack and I standing there. Jack grasped my arm, and the picture was taken. I felt shocked and confused. Shannon then told me to go have fun with Jack, and that it’d be good for me to have a boyfriend. I didn’t want that at all. I was uncomfortable the entire night, and when they tried to convince me to go to afterprom, I declined and said I felt tired and my stomach hurt. So they took me home. The next day Rita called me and asked me if Jack and I were an item. I almost started to cry. She reminded me of our celibacy vow to stay pure until marriage, and I said in reply, “Rita, I would never break that vow. You know that.” She did, but she wanted to make sure and at the same time, she told me she was glad I was finally growing up. Being interested in boys is no big deal, she said that night, and it was healthy and good. She had been worried for me since I hadn’t shown any interest in them yet. Her mother, and even my own parents, had decided it was because I was a late bloomer. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I wasn’t a late bloomer at all. It just wasn’t guys that interested me. But I couldn’t say it to her. I was trapped in this closet of silence, unable to speak the words but unable to lie about it either.
Jack began to show up at my locker, much to Katie’s chagrin, and he then started to follow me to class. He put it as “escorting,” but it didn’t feel that way to me. I’d come out of my class during passing times, where we only had ten minutes to reach our next class, and there he’d be waiting for me. My band and drama club friends were elated and thought this was adorable. For me, it was strange and discomforting. I didn’t know what to think of it, and so one day I asked him, as he stood by my locker, if he could stop escorting me to classes. My locker was situated at the end of a side hall, right by a set of doors, so it was in the farthest corner of the high school. Jack turned his body so that his back was to that hallway, and my view of it was entirely blocked. He put his arm above my head and leaned close to me. “I like you. Don’t you like me?” He inched forward, and again I panicked. I didn’t want him to kiss me. I didn’t want it. I stumbled to the right, and ran into the doors. I pushed them open, and just at that moment, Katie sprang up from behind Jack and cuffed him in the arm. “Leave her alone! This is our locker. Not yours.” Jack frowned but left.
That night I slid my kitty journal out from under my mattress and sat down to write about Jack. To try to convince myself to like him. That it was healthy, like Rita said, and that I was being unreasonable, but Katie’s words stuck with me. The truth was I wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted to say those words to him, the words Katie could easily say, but I was scared to say. I didn’t know what Jack would do. He was so much stronger than me, and all my other friends were on his side. The rest of my junior year, I tried to hide from him by ducking behind taller people and following in their footsteps with my head down. It tried to look small, invisible. I tried to tell my friends that I didn’t like him that much and I was not dating him, but they only pushed me toward him and urged me to just get a boyfriend. To be a real girl.
Every single one of those friends were professed Christians. They would sprout Bible verses all the time, and we’d even pray sometimes together. Yet here they were ignoring my discomfort and trying to force me to prove to them that I could date a guy. I didn’t want to date a guy. My younger sister, Ariel, tells me that rumors began to arise about how I might be ‘gay,’ but I never heard these rumors directly. Or if they did, I just shut out their words and answered with silence. I didn’t confirm or deny anything, and my reluctance to date guys led to one altercation, where my younger sister stepped in between me and one of the trumpet players — a tall, buff boy — and a drummer — a tall but slim gal — and she threatened to beat them up if they didn’t stop making fun of me. After that, I never heard any of the rumors again. No one mentioned it to my face, or called me it. Probably because Ariel was always nearby, being a year younger and in the same school. She was almost like my protector during those years.
My senior year, after Jack had graduated, I ended up on the Student Council after some band and drama club members decide to write me into the ballots. I took on the challenge, since most of the board was the popular group and I was the only band and drama club student on it that year. I figured I could bring their concerns to the table. However, being on the council meant I had to go to all the dances and a lot of the activities we planned. This was why I was at the homecoming dance that year, a dance I really didn’t want to go to. Once I helped set it up, I had to spend the first half hour helping pass out stuff at the doors, and then I was free to enjoy the dance. It was right when I finished my half hour when a friend from band walked in with Jack. Since y shift was done, I waved at them and then ducked into the bathroom. I waited ten minutes, then left to hide amongst the people who waited on the sidelines, either too scared to dance or unable to find a partner. My band friend, Jenn, found me anyway.
“Jack needs to talk to you.” She took my arm and led me outside and to the right, away from the rest of the students and teachers. “Just please, talk to him, okay?” Jack stood a few feet away, his hands in his pockets. Fear curdled in my stomach. I shook my head, but Jenn patted my arm and left me. I was shocked to see him, and very uncomfortable. I thought about running to my car, but he stood slightly in front of me, his back to the parking lot, where I was parked, and my back toward the brick wall of the school. I told him the same thing I’d said the year before, I did not want to date him. He asked me to come with him to his car. I refused. I tried to walk away, but he grabbed my arm and pushed me hard against the brick wall of the school. “You want me. You have to.” Those words punctuated the air between us, and his brown eyes glowered at me as he pushed me harder against the wall. He leaned forward, and this time I kicked him hard in the leg and screamed. A teacher came to my rescue and shoved him away from me. That teacher then ordered him off the school grounds and led me to the safety of the indoors. I was badly shaken and sat in the restroom until I felt calm enough to drive home.
My Christian friends never spoke to me again about boyfriends, but they began to give me random clobber verses. I was left confused and betrayed. None of them wanted to hear my side of the story. Only Katie, my locker partner, and Ariel believed my side. Rita avoided the topic, and the rest gave me pamphlets of Bible verses about marriage between a man and woman or sexual purity. My last few months in high school was a nightmare for me, and I felt so utterly alone. Ariel and Katie may have believed me, but both advised me to stay quiet and they’d make sure Jack never came near me again. Stay quiet. Silence. That was the lesson of high school. Live in silence.
When I left for college, I was determined to start anew. I’d be even more fervent in my spirituality and really focus on living Christ’s love. I’d learn the truth about these feelings and I would defeat them. Rita’s Church, that summer before I moved into my dorm room, had a sermon about how gays could be straight, and that idea helped ease my fear somewhat. It gave me a chance to try to convince myself that this was just a trial. I was being tested by God, and I needed to be like Job in the Bible. I had to stay steadfast in my faith and I would be cured. I joined the Newman’s Catholic Center and leapt into as many activities there as I could. Except my feelings toward girls didn’t go away. A growing panic settled in my soul, especially when I encountered preachers on the Pentacrest, the center of campus, preaching about the sin of homosexuality. When I called my parents, asking them about this, their reply was to avoid that ‘lifestyle’ for it was unhealthy and sinful. Their words scared me even more. Was I trapped in sin then? Is that why the feelings didn’t go away? What more could I do? I was doing all I could to do well in classes and spend every moment I could living for Christ. I was trying so hard to live a life of love.
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Stay tuned for part 3