When I was probably three or four years old I attended a Catholic mass with my parents. I remember staring at the wooden pews, and trying to divine the pattern of standing and sitting. The high ceiling seemed intimidating. I probably wanted a nap. At one point, an elderly man dressed in fancy robes began walking down the center aisle.
“Is that God???” I asked my parents loudly, as they hushed me.
Though early elementary school, music was by far my least favorite “special” class. I didn’t care for learning about music notes, or playing fun little games with miniature instruments.The classroom itself was in a damp corner of a damp basement that eventually had to be shuttered for two years as they cleared out mold. One day the music teacher — whose name I cannot recall — told us that rhythm was important because if our heart beat out of rhythm we would be dead. I told her that if our heart didn’t beat at all we’d be even deader. She didn’t like me very much.
Before the start of music one day in the second grade, I overheard somebody say the word “gay.” I don’t remember what the context was.
“It’s when two men kiss!” one of my classmates enthusiastically explained, as if finally able to reveal some closely guarded secret.
“No,” another classmate said, “It’s when two boys get married.”
When I was in fourth grade, my parents both decided I needed therapy. I huffed and puffed at the idea, but actually I was rather keen to have someone be contractually obligated to listen to me for sixty minutes.
They took me to a psychiatrist with plump face who had 3.1 stars on RateMDs. She asked me about my life, and I mostly told her the truth. I droned on to her about how I was worried about poison getting in my cereal. She told me I had anxiety. She put me on a slew of medications that kept me up all night. We gave up on therapy for a while.
My best friend growing up was my jock-y neighbor named Phil. When we met, Phil and I had a ton in common. We liked playing pretend and exploring the woods behind his house. We would try to build forts out of discarded planks of wood, and bust our knees open trying to dam up the stream that weaved through his property.
When he was in the fifth grade he was upset that some “player” was dating the girl he was interested in. I wasn’t interested in girls. I offered to help out the player as a cheater, though.
Once, Phil asked me what girls I was thinking about dating:
“Um, maybe Haley?” I said. “I would settle for Nicolette though!”
In the sixth grade I was enrolled in this school workshop to help “build self-esteem”. Even at 10-years-old, I could already tell when something was total bullshit.
“What are you looking forward to this weekend, Jake?” The student counselor asked me when we met every Friday.
“Getting out of here,” I said the last time they let me attend.
I remember the first time someone told me they were gay. It was a fellow gamer on some government simulation I played because I had no friends IRL. I was in the seventh grade and it was winter. I remember it was winter because I would stay up late into the night — huddled on my bedroom floor by the heater — and pretend I was the congressman from Ohio’s 2nd district instead of some loner kid who needed a haircut.
We were chatting on AIM, or maybe it was MSN Messenger, and he told me he was dating this other male player from the sim. I should’ve been concerned that a 13-year-old was dating someone online. Instead I was concerned about the genders involved.
I saw Phil sometimes in the hall in between classes. He always seemed to be talking intently about his football season, or some girl he was interested in.
I was still playing pretend.
In the eighth grade I got set up with this girl who thought my jokes were funny. She asked for my phone number and wrote hers on my hand. I asked her to go to the dance that Friday. I quickly regretted it all when I realized having a GF interfered with my Rollercoaster Tycoon schedule.
Because this happened in an age before every snot-nosed middle schooler owned a cell phone; I had to ghost her by hiding in the back of the library and reading about the fall of Germany’s Weimar Republic instead of just ignoring her texts.
During lunch a few weeks later we decided to be “just friends”. We didn’t stay friends because I didn’t have friends.
In the ninth grade I joined my church’s youth group in attending the Xtreme Conference. We all crammed into cheap white vans that were probably used by some America’s Most Wanted killer to kidnap children, and drove four hours from Cincinnati to Gatlinburg.
The conference itself was mostly shitty, how interesting can Jesus kids and their over attentive chaperons be? There were a few “good” musical guests and tons of speakers who clearly didn’t understand anything about the Bible.
On the final day, a fiery speaker, who has hopefully died by now, broke the seal on talking about “political” issues.
He circled the drain for a while, talking vaguely about courts and judges and laws of man not matching up with the laws of God. By the time he finally got there, the audience was practically salivating for it. In one fell swoop — within a single breath perhaps — he spat about the evils of abortion and homosexuality.
The audience let out a roar, and all my friends around me began to stand and clap.
That same year there was a really cute boy in my remedial algebra class. I helped him factor algebraic equations and tried to convince myself that I spent so much time looking at him because I wanted to copy his style.
He didn’t really have good style.
I became one of the leaders in my youth group and by the 10th grade was put in charge of leading certain youth events. During one event, I randomly pulled audience members to participate in a skit. I wrote the skit myself, so it was probably as stupid as anything else I wrote at 15, but people laughed.
One of the boys I pulled didn’t typically attend our church. He came along with a friend. He had short black hair and was wearing a tank top with jean shorts.
He added me on Facebook the next day. He messaged me and told me I was funny. He said we should hang out sometime. I replied that we should hang out at church.
In the 11th grade I started writing a book about a gay teenager who eventually found his self-esteem and stopped being gay. It’s the only full-length fiction novel I ever had the motivation to finish.
When I transferred high schools, one of the first kids who eventually became a friend described me to others as the “super gay new kid.”
A few weeks later he apologized and said I was actually really cool. I told my friend Josh about his apology excitedly. Josh asked why I had even cared in the first place.
My old prayer journal from high school is filled with requests to find a girlfriend. I hope that God found a way to filter them into his spam folder by the end.