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You were born with a bottle of glitter by your side, an invisible crown on your head, and the image of a sequin-covered diaper implanted in your mind. I think it’s safe to say that even way back then, during the days of nursery school and preschool television, you stuck out prominently. No one was sure if you did it on purpose, or if it came naturally, but as far as I was concerned, there was no one else on earth quite like you.
From the moment you could walk and talk, you began lighting up the world around you, whether it was by dancing, writing your own songs, or creating colorful outfits on paper.
Our mothers were best friends, and because of that, our very early years were spent side by side, drool dripping from our lips.
Looking back in photo albums, it seems we were nearly inseparable, tied together by our mothers’ friendship, and the fact that we were born hours apart. But the shame of that is that I have no memories of our moments together; the days we spent waking up after an afternoon nap, sharing apple juice and animal crackers, and fighting over plush toys.
The only reminders left of those days are the scraped photos and lively home videos. And I can honestly say that it’s strange; missing something I can’t even remember. But if there was a remote that could control time, I would easily choose to go back to those days of Blue’s Clues, chewable fruit snacks, and decorated bibs.
The sad truth is that as we grew older, we slowly began drifting apart. The wedge that formed between us was caused immensely by my embarrassment, and partly by your flamboyant nature that exuded confidence. It always seemed as though that invisible crown was perched regally on your head, but it was just the way you carried yourself; tall, and eager to smile and talk with anyone.
I was a coward in every way possible, unable to handle someone who bled joy out of every pore of his body. But every year was still marked by some memory.
It was by age five that you’d decided your favorite colors were pink and gold and you refused to wear anything that wasn’t either of those colors. Your room was painted pink with gold stripes, and whenever I came over for play-dates, I’d be hypnotized by the majestic aura of the room.
When night fell, we’d set up a tent on your ground using the lamp, a bed-sheet, and several chairs and rulers. We’d laugh and chortle, hungrily eating cookies that left crumbs all over your floor.
Every night, right before we went to bed, you’d ask for a kiss from your best friend. Back then, I thought little of it—seeing my mom kiss so many of her friends—and always leaned in, pecking you lightly on the lips. Your face would absolutely light up.
By age seven, you’d grown accustomed to playing with dolls, and during recess, you’d always be found playing dollhouse and tea party with the girls. All the while, the guys would shake their heads at you, forcefully chucking balls at one another. They’d turn to me, ask why I bothered hanging out with such a girly-boy, and I’d turn my red face away in shame, thinking about the good-night kisses and long hugs that came along with being your friend. And when I’d look back at you, your face glowing as Barbie and Ken kissed, I’m ashamed to say now that I always spat in your direction. And the guys would laugh like hyenas.
After that, we saw less and less of each other. Plans to hang out were canceled, and I spent more and more time with the ball-hugging guys. By age ten, you and I were in completely different worlds; me constantly surrounded by friends from baseball, while you were normally by yourself.
By age thirteen, you were well known around the entire elementary school as the Glitter Boy. It was utterly corny and derisive, but strangely, it fit you. You were always wearing diamond studded tiaras to school, and outfits dotted with dazzling, luminous jewels. That, and you just seemed to shine, wherever you went.
You’d walk down the hall with a spring in your step, bobbing your head to some energetic song and swinging your bag freely. No matter where you were or what you were doing, all eyes were locked on you, whether they were scrutinizing or admiring. In my case, my eyes were always admiring.
I would always look away before anyone could notice.
By age fourteen, there was no one in the school who hadn’t heard about you, and no one who hadn’t seen you at least once. Your actions were uniformly talked about, like the time some kid made fun of your jewels, and you went as far as to sit next to him during lunch—glitter sticking to your eyelids—and talk with him; your hand on his arm, your voice soft and gentle, and his face growing redder with every second. He almost jumped you, and even had to be held back by his friends, but you just sat there, a kind smile on your face.
Then, there was the time someone drew a picture on one of the stalls in the boy’s bathroom: an explicit sketch of you having sex with something that resembled a baboon. All the guys talked about how you walked into the stall and came out crying like a baby; how you tried preaching them about wrong and right. We were at lunch when we were talking about it, passing snacks between us. In the middle of the fourth time retelling the story, we heard a loud laugh, and turned to see you at a table by yourself, happily writing in your notebook.
You didn’t look upset.
In fact, you looked like you didn’t have a care in the world. Maybe you were putting on a facade, but we still knew that the story we’d heard before was false, and we all fell quiet, some of the guys muttering about how gay you were. None of them mentioned the picture again, and by the next day, it was gone. You continued as if you’d never even seen it.
Moments like that weren’t unusual. You were the school’s own personal celebrity, and rumors about you spread like wildfire; things like your mom being just like you—a boy who dressed like a girl— and your dad being a girl who dressed like a boy. Then, there were the rumors about how you wanted to marry a boy one day and be his bride. Some even said that there were at least three guys who wanted to meet you on Myspace--how you were cheating on all of them with an old geezer who you saw every night.
I remember when one of my friends confronted you about getting married. You looked him straight in the eye, and with a quirk of your lips, answered, “Would you come to my wedding if I invited you?” My friend ran faster than he ever had before.
You had zero shame, no insecurity that anyone could see, and that terrified so many people, especially my friends. As for me, I was slowly burning on the inside, because I wanted your fortitude and buoyancy. I wanted to look at you and your glitter and your sparkle and your creativity freely. I wanted to talk to you without restriction, and maybe even touch you.
My mind was constantly filled with memories of stolen kisses and chocolate smudged drawings, made just for me. I missed you like crazy, but my fear of being an outsider overrode my other emotions, and maybe you were simply afraid of getting hurt. Either way, we remained apart.
The next year was spent even farther apart from each other. The stories about you continued to circulate, but I ignored them; spending my days tossing balls around and pretending to love my girlfriend, my buddies glued by my side. Time passed leisurely and without much excitement. When my girlfriend and I broke up, I put on a sad face and pretended not to feel any glee. The rest of the year passed even slower. Summer flew by without a sight of you, and then, with the two of us finally sixteen, our sophomore year started.
The start of sophomore year brought many surprises, one of them being in the same history class. The two of us were paired up for the first project of the year, and I remember our eyes meeting and locking. It seemed as though those emerald colored eyes were glaring, and not just staring, so I looked away nervously. When I looked back, you were still staring, but the gaze was softer, kinder. You still hadn’t changed. And when I looked away again, I realized I hadn’t either. I was still the same d*** coward I’d always been.
The project forced us to meet outside of school, and I was careful to make sure that was the only time we met, when all my friends from baseball had left, and there was no one important nearby. We’d walk home together, the leaves falling around us, the wind blowing your long blond hair in unruly angles, and the sun shining down on your jewel-covered dress.
I kept tripping over my feet, tripping over my words, and eventually gave up talking all together. You continued to smile anyway.
When we’d get to your house, we’d work for hours in your living room; the music blasting from your speakers, you dancing in all your glitter and makeup, and me watching with a goofy grin on my face. Finally, when we were covered with glue and exhausted from research, you’d ask me if I wanted to watch some TV, maybe eat something. I would say yes without hesitation every time.
We’d sit on your couch, a bowl of popcorn between us, and exchange jokes and comments as MTV ran on. Occasionally, there’d be arguments that resulted in popcorn fights, our fingers touching, and our bodies closer than they’d been in years.
And then you’d say it softly, every single time; “This feels like old times, doesn't it?”
I’d back away as if I’d been burned and scurry as far away as possible. It was like a game, this thing we did every day; the two of us coming closer, only to have me run away. Run like the coward I was.
However, the fact was, I always came back; no matter what was said between us, how close our lips got, and how frightened I became.
I always came back.
The day we finished the project, you turned to me with a fake smile, your eyes twitching sadly.
“I guess we're finally done.” You said.
The tears welled up in your eyes, and my chest collapsed. It was the first time I’d seen you be anything other than happy, and it made me angry. Looking back, I’m not sure why I felt like that. Maybe it was anger that I’d hurt you, anger that I couldn’t be with you, anger that I was too afraid to do anything, and anger that I felt anything at all.
With a deep breath, I pulled you to me forcefully, nearly crushing you in my grip. You cried into my chest, and I held you tightly, whispering with a broken voice how much I missed you, everything we had, everything we were, and all the things we could have been. When we pulled away, you looked me in the eye.
“I won’t ask you to kiss me,” you said softly.
I could feel you clinging onto me, as though I could disappear any second. All the past memories came flooding back, and I could only hold you closer.
“You don’t have to,” I answered.
Without another thought I pressed my lips against yours. And when you kissed me back, I wanted to press pause on that remote control, the one that controlled life. I wanted to pocket the moment and take it with me everywhere. But when I realized that was impossible, I continued to kiss you, and kept it up until our lips lost feeling, your knees gave out, and my fear returned.
When we pulled apart this time, my heart was pounding, my head was spinning, and you already looked heartbroken. The latter I couldn't stand, so I did the only thing I knew how to do, and ran. Ran until my legs collapsed.
The next few days were spent avoiding you, and those emerald eyes of yours. Whenever I thought about the kiss, my heart went racing along with my mind. But whenever I thought about my friends, and the relentless stories and rumors about you, my heart would break for the things that could never happen, the things I wouldn’t let happen. I was still the coward I’d always been. And I didn't know how to change.
All of that brings me to the present, only a few months after the kiss. Looking back, maybe it would have made more sense to start this off with ‘Dear Danny,' or 'Dear babe,' or something sentimental of that sort but, for whatever reason, I don't think it would have fit, at least not with us; definitely not with you. You’ve always encouraged individuality in every possible way. Maybe it’s about time I followed your lead.
I guess you could say that I'm writing to apologize, or even check up on you. A month ago, I heard about the beating at school. I don’t know what pushed them over the edge, but I heard it was bad; they’d broken a few of your bones, and no one outside of family was allowed to visit you at the hospital. One part of me wanted to find the guys who hurt you, and make them suffer through the same things you had, if not worse. But a larger part of me knew that you wouldn't want me to. So I kept everything inside, even my pain at not being allowed to see you. But honestly, I questioned myself whether or not you’d want to see me. After all, I kept deserting you, didn’t I?
A few days ago, I finally saw you again. But you weren’t yourself. Your blond hair was tied up, and you wore a sweatshirt and sweatpants. No glitter, no tiara, no bounce in your step. When I got home, I went through all the photos, all the memories…and I started crying. Not just with tears, but heavy sobs. Sobs that rocked through my body and shook my soul, breaking my resolve in the process. I cried until I felt empty, until I felt nothing. Eventually, I did feel empty, but the thing is, I still feel that way. That emptiness brings me to today; my real reason for writing.
I think you’ve forgotten who you are and what you stand for, and I needed to remind you; needed to let you know that I’m ready and willing to stand by your side, no matter the consequences. No more hiding and no more running, because I’ve realized that cowardice has gotten me nowhere, and it hasn’t gotten me what I want: you.
My god, all I want right now, and maybe ever, is you.
I want you and me together. I want us to make delicate tents and eat baked cookies on your bedroom floor. I want to watch you create, watch you inspire. I want to give you good night kisses that steal your breath away. I want us together because together, we could build a wall so strong, no bullet could possibly penetrate it. And together, we could rebuild that relationship we once had, maybe make it even stronger.
Those shadows from the past will always remain, those wounds might not go away easily, but they didn’t steal your tiara, Danny. They didn’t steal your glitter, your jewels, and your light. They don’t have that power. No one does unless you, yourself, let them.
So all I’m saying is take that tiara back out, place it on your head, and prance around like a goddess. Paint your face, paint those pictures, paint the entire world if that’s what you want. Leave your colorful mark in this school, and together, we’ll wear our hearts on our sleeves and make the area explode with spouts of laughter.
I haven’t forgotten, Danny; about anything. So don’t you forget either, okay? And if you’re ready to take those first few steps forward, so am I. But it’ll have to be one step after the other.
A coward can’t handle too much at a time.
Happy Valentine's Day, Danny.