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Charlie Howard's Story
Based on “Charlie Howard’s Descent” by Mark Doty
“I just don’t understand, Charlie.” Mrs. Howard was half whining to Charlie, half to her husband. Charlie stared at his hands, fingering the offending ear piercing, sitting at the kitchen table across from Mr. and Mrs. Howard.
“We just-” Mr. Howard exchanged glances with Mrs. Howard, attempting to put their feelings into words. Mrs. Howard continued her husband’s sentence.
“Charlie, we were fine with one piercing; even a piercing in both ears. But three? In each ear?” She broke down into overdramatic hysterics, and Mr. Howard took her hand and soothed her.
“Charlie,” Mr. Howard said in his deep man voice, “I think you’ve been spending too much time with that young man…what’s his name, dear?”
“I haven’t seen him in years, you know that…” Charlie grumbled.
“Alan,” Mrs. Howard sniffed, ignoring Charlie, “he’s a rotten tomato if there ever was-“
“Shut up!” Charlie stood up so forcefully he knocked the red velvet chair onto the cold, white marble floor.
“Charlie!” Mrs. Howard gasped
“I’m eighteen! I can do whatever the h*ll I want!” Charlie slammed the door on his way out. He didn’t know he was angry till after he screamed.
Charlie started walking, each snow-boot clad foot pounding the asphalt that formed the skeleton of the suburb of his childhood. Hearing the sounds of a party at James’s house, he bent his steps towards the bridge that led over the river into town. Snow started to fall, and Charlie started to shiver: he’d forgotten his jacket. Charlie hated the snow. The snowflakes echoed his peers at Springfield High: queer, they whispered, f*gg*t. As the first snow of the year started to cover autumn’s trash, the dead twigs and the golden leaves fallen from grace, he saw the nightmares of his adolescence. He saw the day he realized he was gay, the day he started defending himself. He saw the day he tried to kiss Alan, his horrified face as he sprinted away forever. He saw the day he stopped fighting the most, though, over and over again. He was a different person now, different than the kid who realized he really didn’t want to kiss Cindy in fifth grade while they were playing spin the bottle. All the jokes, the insults, the harassment, the beatings: this was what defined Charlie Howard, eighteen years old, on his way to Rutgers to major in English. Charlie stopped at the bridge, clinging to the railing for support, out of breath. He didn’t know he was running till he couldn’t breathe.
Charlie stares at the rushing water beneath the bridge. A pair of headlights, belonging to a Toyota blasting music, were growing larger in the distance. He scampers off the bridge, crouching in the shadows to avoid his partying peers in the car. He is not in the mood to be the butt of James’s jokes, to be called a f*g, to be punched around. As the headlights recede into the distance, Charlie gets back on the bridge, leaning over the railing to stare at the water. Charlie Howard, still a boy, really, barely eighteen, starts to cry. His tears vent the hatred, the animosity. The tears are Charlie Howard, beautiful, sweet, loving Charlie Howard, destroyed by the cruelty of those who should love him and reduced to hiding from his classmates. Charlie Howard’s tears are stopped as a torrent of water rushes into his failing lungs.
He didn’t know he was dying till he drowned.
He didn’t know he was jumping till he fell.