High school feels like a distant memory, but there’s something about it I still refuse to let go of. I suppose that having gone to a Catholic school most people would assume that my life has always revolved around faith. While that is partially true, the majority of my life has revolved more around question, and the rest of my young adult life has revolved around him.
Just like every other teenage girl I was driven by the idea of sex. I’m sure most men would assume that a girl my age, in my environment at the time still retained some sense of innocence. Sure, physically speaking I’m still innocent, but mentally I’m probably as depraved as they come. I feel like I should clarify that, perhaps “depraved” isn’t the word I’m looking for. I mean, I’m not into anything considered taboo or sick…Well, not by majority standards, however that may not apply to my mother’s or the church’s beliefs. Does that make sense? I guess all I’m saying is I think about sex… A LOT. (No more than the next girl, I guess) but if a guy I’m into wants to pin me down and spank me a little, I’m alright with that…but I digress.
It was the summer before my second year at Christ the King Regional High School. I’m pretty sure this was the point my hormones decided to attack. I don’t remember the exact moment, or feeling, but it was like my romantic dreams went from Prince Charming waking the Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, to Sleeping Beauty waking Prince Charming with his member in her mouth. Happily ever-after consisted of something entirely different now. It was no longer about the white dress, the ring…But whether or not you were able to achieve orgasm. (This was also the point when I discovered the clitoris, and the ability to create such explosive moments.) And it was just as my body was beginning to change, and my sexual desires beginning to start fires in my loins, that I met Gene.
I’d been living in the Elder Lofts for most of my life, where I’d been before that, were the years I vaguely remember. The apartment across from ours had been vacant for a few months before Gene and his family moved in. It was late May, summer had just started, and it was then that a mysterious new face showed up in the halls of my complex.
His name was Gene Chaplin, and he was unlike any other male youth I’d ever encountered. His hair was dark and fell down past his shoulders like a river of silk. He was delicate and grungy. His eyes sparkled, and not in the way fairy-vampires do, but in a way that a candle does in dim lighting. And their shade of blue was piercing against the strands of hair that fell against his face, and the dark stubble that decorated his chin.
I was on my way out to meet a friend when I first met Gene in our hallway. He was wearing a red flannel shirt, that was unbuttoned just enough to reveal the black undershirt hiding his broad torso. I remember how the fabric of the flannel hugged his biceps as his arms wrapped around a thick box. (Oh, how I wanted to be that box.) As I shut the door to my own apartment I could see him heading towards me, and that’s when I noticed the door across from me was open, and I could see boxes upon boxes stacked throughout the living space. As I turned back to the oncoming gentlemen I now refer to as Gene, I felt a rush of warmth in my cheeks as his eyes captured mine.
That was what he said as he smiled at me, with a mouth that knew no imperfections, and a nod.
I’m sure the word caught in my throat as I spoke, but as I watched him enter the open space before me, and set down the box in his arms, I was too busy being distracted by the way his ass filled out his torn jeans to notice.
I wanted to be more engaging, say something more, introduce myself, but I was, and I am still, an idiot where men are involved. As luck would have it though, Gene was not afraid of anything. As I stood there in awe of my new neighbor, forgetting to do any of the things I should have been doing, he turned to face me. As he approached the doorway, after gracefully placing the box in his arms amongst the others I diverted my glance as quickly as humanly possible. (To this day I’m still positive he caught me staring and ignored it for the sake of sparing me the added embarrassment.)
“My name is Gene,” he spoke, extending his hand to me.
“Stephanie,” I replied, accepting his hand.
He was warm, and his hand firm and inviting.
“It’s nice to meet you, Stephanie.”
And that was the beginning of the friendship I have come to know and cherish. It just so happened to be that Gene would also be attending Christ King Regional High School that year. When he first told me this, I found this surprising. Gene was far from being your typical Catholic school boy, and while he looked like the bad boy every girl dreamed of, I’d never met anyone more charming.
Considering how much I’ve expressed my desire for sex earlier on, I’ve probably come off somewhat shallow or easy…But the truth is, while I considered the idea quite often, I am a romantic at heart, which is probably why I retain my virginity at the age of 22. While most of my friends during high school had found others to share their passion with I hadn’t found that “special someone”. Not to mention that I’ve always been a wallflower. A shy, romantic, nymphomaniac… (You must think I’m a liar as well.)
At some point in the years I spent with Gene, my weak heart fell for him. He was my best friend, and I spent more time listening to him speak than I spent listening to my own thoughts. I wouldn’t say my high school career was by any means difficult. I was well liked, maintained a 4.0, but like any human being I had low moment and when I did, Gene was there. When I worried about getting into New York University, (and oh, how I worried) he reminded me of my accomplishments. Whenever I was breaking down, Gene had this way of fixing everything. Whispering all the things I needed to hear, when I needed to hear them.
“Stephie,” he would whisper before taking me in his arms and as he playfully called me stupid for things, that looking back, were ridiculous, he would run his fingers through my hair and I would just cry.
Those were the moments I felt safest…And the moments I fell hardest for Gene.
Somewhere between our meeting and high school graduation, I fell in love with Gene, and I have retained those feelings all this time. Gene and I are now in our senior year at New York University, and this marks the seventh year of our friendship. I have never had the courage to verbalize to Gene how I feel, but somewhere inside me I know he knows. I suppose that’s why I have always been so afraid to confess it to him. How could he not know? And if he does, then he must not feel the same, otherwise he would have said something by now…right? Or maybe he’s thinking the same thing. I mean, in all the time I’ve known Gene he’s never held a relationship. Besides me he didn’t really talk to many girls.
After considering everything, and realizing that at the end of this year Gene and I will more than likely be going our separate ways I decided to finally admit to him what I’ve kept secret all these years.
It is the morning of September 5th, the last day before classes start. I’ve never felt so uneasy. Gene is on his way to meet me so we can go get the last few things we need before the semester begins, and little does he know I’m about to change our friendship forever. I feel like I’m going to throw up, but I’ve made up my mind. I need to know. Oh, God, my cell is ringing. That means he’s here. Just outside the building. Waiting…Shoot, I missed the call.
I throw my bag over my shoulder, grab my phone, and head for the door. I feel like my legs are going to give way as I run awkwardly down the stairs. By the time I reach the front of the apartment style dorms I call home I am out of breath, and Gene is standing there, looking down at his phone…No doubt preparing to call me again.
“Hey,” I manage to call out between heaved breathing. I am not this out of shape, but my heart has been racing all morning, and seeing him standing there makes everything real…And it’s taken every inch of air straight from my lungs.
“I was just about to call you,” he speaks, with a light laugh just beyond his words, “I thought maybe you slept through your alarm as usual.”
Little did he know I haven’t slept at all.
“Oh, no, I was just putting my hair up, that’s all,” I was laughing so ridiculously through the lie I knew he could tell something was up. He was cocking his brow like I was crazy.
“Suuure thing, babe,” he smiled at me as he patted his hand against my shoulder, “Silly girl. Well, you ready to get going. I’m sure the bookstore looks like Disneyland on a Saturday right about now.”
I nodded, and we began to make our way down the street. He was talking to me about something, telling me a story about someone, asking me about a such and such…I don’t know, I could hear his voice, deep and raspy, but I couldn’t make out the words. My heart was beating so greatly against my ribcage I could hear it echoing in my ears. I’m surprised it wasn’t visible. I was sure it was about to burst through my chest the way it was drumming against it.
“Steph, are you alright, is something on your mind?”
I heard that. It cut through me and I was sure I’d collapse. I stopped in my tracks and I watched as he followed, turning back to look at me in question. This was it.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’re about to pass out?”
“Gene, there’s something I want to tell you.” Oh, God…There it is…the catalyst, which ends what we’ve always known.
“Alright,” his voice became softer with concern as he spoke to me.
“Gene, you see, I,” I was stammering, what was it I was saying. Things I’m more than unsure of, but as I struggled to make sense of my racing heart everything seemed to settle as Gene reached out and took my hands in his.
“Stephanie, what’s wrong?” Every time he called me by my full name I knew more than ever he was there, and everything grew quiet.
“I love you.”
That was it. I said it. Or perhaps it was more of a murmur, but I know he heard it because I could feel his hands slipping from mine and it broke my heart.
“I always have, but I’m sure you knew that.”
My hands turned into small fists as I looked towards my feet, avoiding his eyes which I knew were looking for mine in apology.
I was on the verge of tears. I wanted him to say something, anything…But more than that I wanted him to hold me. But he was now more distant than he had ever been.
“Say something, please.” I was begging. How pathetic.
“Stephanie, there are a lot of things you don’t know about me, and I feel terrible that this is how you have to come to terms with it…But I wasn’t sure how to tell you. I knew…All this time I’ve known, but I suppose I hoped maybe things could change…For you….For me, but it’s complicated,” now he was looking away from me. He’d never looked from me before. Never.
What had I done?
“It’s alright Gene, I understand,” it wasn’t alright.
“No, you don’t understand,” and here is where he’d explain it to me, why it was he couldn’t love me back.
I’d played the scenario in my head a thousand times. He thought of me more like a sister. Which really meant I wasn’t pretty enough. He didn’t want to ruin our friendship. Which really meant he wasn’t even remotely interested because he wasn’t willing to try. There was someone else.
“Stephanie, I’m gay.”
Everything stopped. His eyes had finally found mine and as they did he spoke.
He was what? But…How…He was…No…WHAT?
How could I not have known that? How could he not have told me?
“This isn’t anything new, but it isn’t something I share with a lot of people. It’s not that I didn’t trust you Steph, it’s just… I’m still not comfortable with the idea myself. Like I said it’s complicated,” he let out a sigh as he closed the gap between us, and took me in his arms, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you…I’m sorry I’ve hurt you. I wanted things to be different. I thought maybe I could change, but I am who I am. And I have hurt you in the process of accepting that, and for that I am incredibly sorry.”
I could feel the tears staining my cheeks, but that was it. Where once I would have felt the warmth from Gene, I now felt nothing. The heartbreak was numbing.
“I have been selfish,” he continued apologizing, but none of it mattered, none of it made it better, none of it changed who he was, and none of it changed how I loved him.
“Before I moved to the Elder Lofts, or even New York, I was going to a public high school in West Virginia,” he began the story that was supposed to make me understand as he pulled back, finding my watered eyes. “Before high school started I knew. I knew that I was different, because where other guys my age were busy thinking about girls I was obsessed with the thought of other men. I never voiced that to anyone, and I had done my best to be like everyone else…But inwardly it was killing me. I was lonely, and I wanted more than anything to love just like everyone else. Physically, emotionally…All of it. When I started high school I met someone. His name was Robert Latchkey, and he became my best friend. Rob had no idea that I was gay, and I didn’t care at first because we were only friends, but shortly after the beginning of Spring Semester I realized that I loved him. So much so I risked everything. One night we were leaving a concert and I don’t remember exactly what he was going on about, nor do I remember exactly what came over me, but I kissed him. Needless to say, it ended badly. I ended up with a black eye and a broken heart. After that I was a social pariah. My parents were concerned, and that summer we moved to the Elder Lofts.
They thought New York would be a little friendlier to me, and that maybe Catholic School could change me. I thought maybe you could too. After what happened back then I have always been afraid of my sexuality…So much so that I was willing to let you get close, and get hurt. Let there be no mistake though, I am your friend, and I do care about you more than anyone I know, and I tried, I tried to love you the way you do me, but I don’t…And now you know why.”
It was too much. All this time…I had no idea. I had never been around anyone who was gay growing up, so aside from what was in the media I had no idea someone like Gene could be hiding such a secret. I’m sure everything I say or think sounds offensive, but I didn’t understand it. He didn’t look or sound like, a typical homosexual (see offensive). It just didn’t make sense.
It’s pathetic how naïve I am. I mean, I live in New York City for crying out loud. How could I have spent the last seven years fawning over someone who doesn’t even look at my gender as a mating option? How could I not have known that my best friend was hiding something like this?
“I’m such an idiot,” my head was spinning, and the walls of my inner monologue came crashing down. Every disorganized thought came rushing out, and there was little I could do to keep the word vomit from spilling into Gene’s ears. I was broken and in shock, which is by no means a positive mixture.
“God, how could I be so stupid,” I was pacing back and forth now as I criticized myself out loud, “I mean, how could I have not seen it. You never spoke to girls besides me. I guess if I wasn’t so busy hoping it was because you were interested in me, I would have seen the signs. I mean, for Christ’s sake Gene you look me in the eye when you’re talking to me!” My voice increased in volume as I grasped my chest like a fool. I am sure bystanders were slowing their pace to see the show, but I just couldn’t stop. “Sure I don’t go around flaunting them for the entire world to see, but they aren’t exactly an easily hidden secret. Not like your whole trapped in the closet clandestine.” I paused, catching my breath, throwing my arms back to my sides, and trying to understand what it was I was feeling. I was angry, and confused. I was hurting unlike I ever had before and didn’t know how to deal with it. I was angry with myself for feeling so stupid, and angry with Gene for making me feel that way.
I looked to Gene, searching for the comfort I used to find there. I could feel the tears starting again, and before I turned into a sobbing mess I turned and I ran…like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel. I ran and the tears trailed off behind me. I could feel the distance, and it stung so bitterly. I wanted him to call after me, but instead he stood in silence.
Somehow I managed to carry myself up the stairs to my apartment, and somehow I managed to hold back the remaining tears until I was safely behind the door. My back sank back against the steel of the door, and as I began to slide towards the floor, the waterworks followed suit.
This was the moment I had been dreading, and hoping, and praying that I would never have to witness. Rejection…and this was far worse than I could have ever imagined. I was not only shot down faster than James W. Rodgers, but I was also proven to be a greater fool than I had originally thought. Sure, I suppose I was as prepared as I could be for him to turn me away, but no part of me had even considered what had happened to be an option. I was blindsided, and as the stream of tears began to run dry the emotions shifted back to anger and confusion. I reached for the nearest object, which happened to be the purse I was carrying with me, and focused all the frustration I felt into tossing it against the wall. As my luck would have it, the bag missed the wall entirely and crashed into a small end table decorated with assorted, framed pictures. I watched as irony brought the frame containing myself and a smiling Gene crashing to the ground.
Perhaps I had hit the bottom at that point, or maybe it was that I was running on no sleep, but I found myself unable to stand, and so I crawled over to shattered glass, and removed the image from the shards, and held it loosely in my hand. An almost painful solace came rushing over me as I glanced down at the image and remembered the day it had been taken, and all the moments leading up to where I was now. It felt surreal, and I wanted to believe that at any moment I would wake up and the nightmare would be over…But first I would have to sleep.
I don’t remember cleaning up the pieces of glass, nor do I recall the moment I had found my bed, but that was where I found myself a few hours later when the phone began to ring. There was a lapse in time that I aim not to remember, as I am sure it was a moment of hurt, and thus I care not to recall it.
Regardless of what happened in those moments, I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing, and found myself curled up in the safety of my bed. The emptiness I was feeling was not something I wanted to share with anyone, and so, though I heard the called, I left it unanswered. But it rang again…And once more…And finally, I caved.
The voice on the other line was that of another close friend. Her name was Arini, and we had been friends since elementary school, long before I met Gene. However, around the time I met Gene, Arini became involved with someone who caused a bit of a drift between us. While Arini was still one of my closest friends, I found myself confiding in her less and less, and more so in Gene, who was closer, and had more time for me.
Arini, of course, was one of the only people who knew how I felt about Gene, and she knew I had intended on telling him how I felt, so it was no wonder she was on the other end of the line.
“It is about time you answered!” Arini was always extremely forward and never hesitated to say what she was feeling, and her tone of voice always conveyed more than her words did. “Don’t tell me, you and Gene have been fooling around this entire time, and that’s why you’ve been ignoring my calls!”
“It’s not like that,” I tried not to sound as soulless as I probably did, but it was to no avail, because sure enough, that’s all it took for Arini to change her agitated tone.
“Oh, no, Steph, he didn’t,” Arini sounded concerned.
“I’d really rather not talk about it,” all I wanted to do was crawl deep into the covers and lose time again.
“You can’t just hide from it Steph, it won’t get better that way,” how did she know me so well. Was I really that easy to read?
“I was rejected, what more is there to say,” admitting it made it real, and I felt like my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach.
“Did he at least say why?” there was sympathy, or perhaps it was pity, lacing her voice now. The way a parent coos to their child with a scraped knee, that, was the very song she was singing to me.
“Well, what did he say?”
“Look, I really can’t talk about it.”
I knew that answer would not be sufficient enough, and I knew that she would continue to press me for an answer, but I couldn’t tell her. Maybe it was because I was embarrassed for not knowing the truth when I had been so close to him for all this time, or maybe it was because even though I was hurting, and felt betrayed, I was still loyal to Gene, and I didn’t want to let anyone else know the secret he kept from even me.
So, knowing that not having an answer wouldn’t suffice, I did what anyone would. Lied.
“There’s someone else…He said there was someone else.”
“No way? Did he say who!?” She sounded furious at this point, or maybe it was disbelief.
I continued the lie, “No, just that there was someone else.”
“Well, whoever they, there’s no way they’re as wonderful as you,” and there it was, the beginning of “I’m sorry you’re hurting, but here’s some forced compliments to help you feel better, even though you’d rather not hear them, as you have to reason to believe them, because you were rejected,” speech.
And so it went. She rambled on for a few more minutes, about how it was “his loss” and what have you…But little did she know that he wasn’t missing anything because our entire gender wasn’t even on his sexual radar. Oh well.
Finally, after her obligatory pick-me-up phrases she was done. She apologized, wishing she could talk to me more, but she had things left to do before school tomorrow. Which in reality was just her polite way of saying: “I have no idea how to help you because I have a boyfriend who wants to touch me.”
And that was it. Her excuse however did bring the realization that tomorrow I would have to see Gene, and would have to face the real world to my attention. I wasn’t ready, just the thought of seeing him started the cycle over again, and once more I was staining my pillows in tears trying to muffle my sobs.
It was then I understood that seeing Gene would never be the same. I had not only been discarded, but I had lost my best friend. I knew the risk I was taking, but I suppose that ultimately there was a part of me who thought everything would change for the better, and yet there I was.
I turned on my side, and held my damp pillow close to my chest as the sobbing died down and I began to weep silently. It could have only been mid-afternoon, but for me, the day was done. I pulled the covers over my head, and returned to the safety of sleep.