“Jamie, if my brother were older would you date him?” I stared ahead as we walked, a grin starting to dance around on my face.
I looked down at her and jokingly said, “Shay, you know I’m absolutely in love with your brother, but there’s just one tiny problem. It’s him. He’s too short.” Shaylee gave me the exact reaction I expected her to give me for that statement.
“I knew you were gonna say he’s too short! Ya know, he’s got a great personality, and maybe if you weren’t a giant, height wouldn’t be such an issue to you!”
It was exceedingly easy for me to know how she’d react to things. We’d been best friends for a little under three years, so nothing she did ever shocked me anymore. I knew that if I whispered the words “lovers” or “passionate” to her, she’d physically cringe, because she thought those words were repulsive. I knew if I pointed my sharp, arrowhead-like tongue at her she would scrunch her face up, so wrinkles formed around her eyes while she stepped backwards to get away from my “weird tongue”, and I knew that if I yelled at her even the slightest bit, she would stare at me in dismay for no more than three seconds before proceeding to cry. I knew her. That’s just how it was.
We continued on. I was still smiling about her predictability, and she, for whatever reason, was silent and staring straight ahead as if she were looking for something far off in the distance. By then, I’d figured she was silent because she wanted to tell me something. Before I could ask her what she was thinking about, she stopped, turned to me in a very deliberate fashion with a grin on her face, and asked, “Okay, so if you wouldn’t date my brother because he’s short, then you definitely wouldn’t date me?”
Deciding I should tease her a little bit, I replied, “Shaylee, you’re great. I mean you’re not as amazing as your brother, but you’re still pretty fantastic. But…there’s just one small problem. You, like your brother, are way too short for me.” I couldn’t keep a straight face as I finished my sentence, because Shaylee’s laughing eyes instantaneously turned into daggers that shot through me as soon as I mentioned the word “short”. I began to laugh, and so did she.
As we continued walking, Shaylee fell back into her state of silence. Suddenly, she stopped walking as if she had come face to face with an invisible wall that prevented her from moving forward. A serious expression covered her face.
“Jamie”, she began, “I have to tell you something.”
I stopped moving and looked at her. “Okay, go ahead.”
She closed her eyes for a split second, breathed in a small breath, and exhaled through her nose. “I’m…I’m gay.” My relaxed face unintentionally dropped into a grimacing, disapproving expression. Shaylee, noticing the change in my countenance, worriedly tried to continue her confession in a manner that would make me seem less disapproving. She stumbled on her words, trying to justify herself. “Well, I…I’m not 100% gay. I’m actually bi…bisexual.” I continued to stare at her with disgust.
Then I spoke. “How long have you lied to my face about this? I tell you everything, and you’ve never felt like telling me you’re gay?”
Her eyes began to tear up as she spoke. “I didn’t know how to tell you. I’ve wanted to for so long, but I…I didn’t know how you’d react. I was afraid you wouldn’t like me or want to hang out with me anymore.”
I took a deep breath, and tried to calm myself down, analyzing the whole situation in my head. I wanted so badly to be okay with this. She was my best friend after all, but I didn’t see her as the same person anymore. She was a gay. She was an outcast, different. Uncomfortable questions began to appear in my head like “breaking news” alerts on television. What had went through her mind when she’d seen me naked in our high school locker room? Did she ever try to flirt with me? Did she hang out with me, because she was secretly in love with me? More “breaking news” alerts appeared. What would happen if people discovered her secret? What would my friends think of me? How could I live my life being friends with a gay? How could she do this to me? A final question appeared.
Why couldn’t she just be…normal?
I looked up from the asphalt road, and turned to Shaylee, unable to meet her eyes. I dug for words inside of my mind, searching for something, anything, to say. I opened my mouth to speak, expecting to find nothing, but instead finding three simple words, the only words I could muster. “I’m sorry, Shaylee.”
I walked away, towards my Chevrolet Impala that I had parked at our high school before track practice. Shaylee was left standing there in the street, tears visibly falling from her large, blue eyes. Part of me wanted to console her. The other part of me wanted to just jump into my Impala and drive away.
I didn’t console her.
As I opened the pearl-white, front door into my home, I heard the sound of my parents talking about the “goddamned liberals” that were “ruining” our society. That happened every time they watched FOX News. On the topic of liberals, my parents had also mentioned how they were sick of seeing more and more “faggots” coming out to the public. Listening to that rant wouldn’t have been something I could’ve bore at the moment, so I started getting ready for bed.
While lying in bed, I began thinking about the obscene comments my parents had made about gays. To me, they weren’t uncommon comments to hear. Nearly my whole town was conservative, and frankly, almost all of them were anti-gay. I recalled a time at Shaylee’s house when her own parents were talking to Shaylee and I about how they wished the gays at the national gay-pride parades would just be shot in the streets. When I genuinely tried to remember and visualize what that conversation was like, I realized Shaylee hadn’t been as talkative as I was on that subject. In fact, when I truly thought about it, she said little to no words at all.
I then thought about everything that I, myself, had said about gays in front of Shaylee. Countless times I had talked to her about how disgusting gays were for “fucking their own gender”, and how we should just get rid of all of them, because they’re weren’t “normal”. I had told her that all “closeted gays” should stay in the closet, because they shouldn’t be accepted if they came out. I endlessly used derogatory terms to describe gays in front of her; fruit, fag, faggot, queer, fairy, homo, dyke, etc. I had shared every explicit comment about gays with her with complete confidence, because I never imagined her to be anything but straight.
Feelings of embarrassment and shame rushed through my entire body like water down a raging river. All those years I had been so offensive towards the idea of gays, and I had never truly opened my eyes to that fact until Shaylee told me what she was. It was likely that all of those distasteful statements I had made about gays in front of her played an immense role in haunting her dreams, and scaring her away from coming out. I was finally hit with the realization that Shaylee probably had to work up an extreme amount of courage to tell me she was bisexual, and that I reacted in the worst possible way. Maybe I should’ve been more supportive. However, I didn’t know if I could genuinely be her friend anymore. I’d be turning my back on my beliefs. What would my family say if they knew? Would I be able to support or handle it? I had to make a tough decision that night.
The next morning at school, I shuffled into the Art Room, looking for Shaylee. It was time to handle this.
There she was, drawing in her notebook, pastel colors covering her dainty hands. She glanced up at me, immediately looking away. I swallowed down my anxiety before sitting down next to her. She somberly continued to draw as she waited for me to speak.
“Shaylee, I’m so sorry about yesterday”, I began. “I acted like a total dick. I know how hard that must’ve been for you to open up about, and I just wanted to let you know I support you no matter what.” She looked up at me, showing a faint smile. I continued. “I really mean it. You’re my best friend, and I don’t plan on changing that.”