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I Am Here
I am sitting on a park bench. That’s all, nothing special, nothing unordinary. There are white, cotton-ball-like dandelions all over the rich green grass in front of me. Humongous, full green trees surround me, casting shadows over the entire park. Birds are chirping, butterflies are fluttering around me, and all other kinds of springtime normalities. It’s fairly warm out, a nice, slight breeze and everything.
I begin to think to myself–I am constantly swimming in the veritable ocean of my incomplete, problematic thoughts. I think about how strange I am, I think about my family, I think about all the friends I had back just last year in eighth grade and how we would sit in this very park together, making fun of the kids sitting alone on benches. Ironic, I know.
My friends back in eighth grade weren’t great–they didn’t know me at all. They knew the person I was forced to play every single day. I am still veritably swimming in that ocean of those fifty thousand thoughts–it’s great–only not.
That person I played everyday, that person was Stephanie Archer. I am not Stephanie Archer. Stephanie was the girl who would compromise her morals to fit in with the other girls, because that was the only way she knew how. Stephanie was the girl who had no clue who she was. Stephanie was the girl who prioritized lipgloss over her grades. Stephanie was a cool, popular girl. Stephanie was the stupid girl I mistakenly thought I was.
My name is not Stephanie. My name is Stephen Archer–Steph for short–that’s what everyone calls me at least. Archer is my mother’s last name. I am not a Johnson- my father is a Johnson, and I am nothing like him. I don’t exactly know how I’m nothing like him, but I’m not. All I know is he is very Catholic and I am very against religion. God is the Santa Claus for adults; it’s something fantastical to wish for to get you giddy.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate my whole name. I like my first name, I really do, because it’s weird. I mean, I did choose it myself, so it being weird makes sense. I’m pretty weird, and every single person that’s ever met me knows it. It’s just a bit hard to live with sometimes, my name, like an annoying little brother that you hate yourself for loving. It sounds so dorky, so odd, so geeky. Stephen. Sounds like some weirdo king from the fifteenth century, or some other bull like that. But, for some odd reason, I kind of like that. It’s dorky, yeah, sure, but it’s also different, but in a good way. Like pineapple on pizza–sweet, but it just doesn’t belong. A lot of people hate my name, but I love that.
They hate it because I’m trans. They don’t like that I am the way that I am, and I wish I could say I don’t even care. But I do. I care about a lot of things not worth caring about. Still swimming.
I jolt back to reality and watch the colorful butterflies fluttering through the air. I lean back against the old, mossy wood of the bench and go back to thinking about my name, having nothing better to do.
Thinking about my name, I start thinking about back when I played Stephanie. And then I start thinking about my friends. And then I start thinking about how much they sucked. They really did. One of my friends, her name is Maya, she got me in trouble...big time. Not that I mind all that much–I get in trouble a lot. But this time something about it was just different. It was stealing. And she was okay with it. In fact, she was having a grand old time.
She took me to the nearest convenient store, which happened to be a Walgreens, and told me to take anything I liked. When I refused to shoplift, she simply shoved a beanie and a pack of gum in my hand. It was too much, I wasn’t a thief. I ran to the nearest restroom to clear my head–as much as I could at least. The walls were grey and it smelled of generic hand soap. There were crumpled up paper towels littering the floor. She followed me into the bathroom, and I started talking. I wasn’t telling her anything coherent or comprehensible–I was telling her anything, everything. And that’s when the manager walked in, and we were caught.
“...and we have security near the door, so don’t even think about making a run for it.” That’s the only thing I can remember her saying. She was speaking to us like we were...criminals. My heartbeat was nonexistent, my throat was tight, muscles tense, hands shaking, palms sweating, thoughts racing. I thought I was going to drop dead right there.
Sitting here now, thinking about what happened, my heart rate’s starting to pick up. I spot a mosquito on my forearm, slap it off, and get lost in my head again. I guess the whole shoplifting incident wasn’t too bad.
At least they didn’t press charges.
When I finally got home from shoplifting, having gotten a ride from Maya’s parents, I walked up the carpeted stairs and into our small bathroom, taking off my shoes to feel the cool tile through my socks, and, eventually, the blade found its way into my hand and to my wrist. I didn’t dare utter a sound for fear of being heard. That was the first time I had ever done it. Definitely not the last.
Sitting on this stupid bench, my racing mind is going from one thought to the next, and the next; however, one image sticks in my mind. The bleeding gashes running along my arm and the sting of fresh wounds I inflicted upon myself that day so long ago. Still swimming.
Maya and I were no longer friends after that. I lost a lot of friends after that day, actually. Again, I wish I could say I don’t care, but I do. I just can’t help myself–I care.
Looking at the colorful chalk drawings, presumably made by children, on the sidewalk in front of me, I momentarily lose sight of the negative. They are not my friends anymore, and I am alone, and I love that. But I still care.
I come back to the real world for a couple seconds, and feel my back against the wood of the park bench. And then I continue to think again. The continuity of the human mind is honestly great. The shrink I went to once told me that the average human being has nearly fifty thousand thoughts every day. That’s great; only not in my case, for a myriad of reasons.
I mindlessly start to fidget and flex my arms a bit, lost in my mind but starting to come back to reality. I flex–a lot. It’s just a nervous habit of mine. I’ve tended to do it since I first came out. It takes me a while to realize that I’m involuntarily accentuating my biceps, visible on the count of my sleeveless Rings of Saturn hoodie. I look down at my baggy, ripped black jeans and my–also black, save for the red graffiti marks–Doc Martens. I slowly bring my hand up to feel my hair, dry and stringy from dyeing it so much, a fair amount shaved off the right side, the rest hanging sloppily over my bright red, angular glasses. It’s rainbow right now, because I impulsively decided to dye it the gayest thing I could imagine after getting beat up for being trans again. It’s kind of feminine, rainbow hair, but I have a rather masculine facial structure which makes up for that. Fifty thousand seems a pretty small number for my ocean. Still swimming.
I come back to Earth and the bench and the park and the springtime normalities and start to absent-mindedly watch people walking by. I wonder if they see me as a guy. Or they probably don’t care and just label me as what they see; some gender-confused lesbian punk kid who likes to creepily sit in the park and watch people. I slowly reach into my backpack and grab a fag and a light, pretending I don’t see the couple-a-dozen signs prohibiting smoking. Still swimming. Only, the water is rising.
I’m somehow thinking even more than I’m used to. I inhale, deep enough to feel the expansion of my ribcage, and hold the air still in my lungs.
It’s been a good four or five minutes when I start to gasp for breath. At least now I have something to focus on. I start to count each green leaf on one of the trees in front of me in a desperate effort to distract myself and catch my breath.
Once I can breathe normally again, I proceed to people-watch, getting less and less interested as each monotonous second ticks by. I sigh heavily, promising myself I’ll give the world one last chance to impress me, to amuse me. I give a glance around, grabbing my backpack, getting ready to leave, when the world decides to strike it’s chance in the spleen, or however that stupid phrase goes. Thank god the water stopped rising, not like I know what would happen if it hadn’t. I don’t really feel like drowning today, thank you very much. It’s still now, calm, the water–as still as an ocean can be. Still swimming.
I see somebody–I don’t know who he is, and I’m not sure I want to know. The first thing I notice are his gorgeous, silver eyes. His eyes are very much like mine, at least one of mine. I have two different colored eyes, one a pale silver-ish blue, and the other a deep, layered hazel brown. His eyes look like my silver-blue eye, more or less at least. His eyes are flat totally grey...almost like an ocean.
I observe and deduce a couple things about him. He’s wearing subtle eyeshadow and mascara and his gelled back, bleach blond hair is the obvious result of him trying to cover up his long, feminine bangs, and his Whitechapel t-shirt, as well as his shredded black and white jeans let me know that, reassuringly enough, there is somebody like me in those eyes. We are similar in some way. Still swimming.
He notices my staring and starts to walk over, most likely pitying how alone and retarded I look; I am a bit of a loser, so the dude ain’t too far off. I wonder whether or not he can tell I’m trans. He almost looks trans himself, wearing lip gloss and clear nail polish. If anything he’s closeted, but who knows and, honestly, who cares? I do, though. The rainbow hair probably isn’t doing me any good. Still swimming.
This guy has got to feel pity for me or something. Yeah. That’s why he has such a fake smile plastered on his handsome face.
Maybe I hate him. Maybe, with each step he takes, I hate him a little bit more. He continues to walk over anyway, and it takes an eternity and then some.
“Can I sit?” His voice is ecstasy.
“Why the hell not?” Mine isn’t. So he sits down next to me and takes his phone out of his pocket.
He really does pity me...something like that at least.
Or maybe, as he’s sitting on the rotting, ancient wood of the bench right besides me, texting some random person, he’s thinking the same thing. Maybe he’s kicking himself in the mind-crotch for ever acknowledging me. He shoves his phone back in his pocket and broadens his smile a bit, and I respond with a stoic somewhat-of-a-glare. The horrendous awkward silence is weighing down on my shoulders with the weight of a dead elephant. Still swimming.
And, resigning from the awkward, kind of creepy situation, he gets up and walks away.
I lost my chance.
I get up and walk away too, following the sidewalk out of the park and onto the street. What I walked away from, god only knows, but I had to have walked away from something. I walked away from the bench, I walked away from the ocean.
I’m not swimming anymore–I swam to shore, wherever that is. I’m not thinking as much. I mean, honestly, I’m not thinking at all. I cross the street and keep walking at a moderate pace, feeling the sun trying to warm my ice-cold heart, watching the buildings flash past me.
Only, all of a sudden I’m swimming again. Those fifty thousand thoughts, they all flood into my mind at once, the shore disappearing beneath my feet, replaced by quickly rising water.
That guy, he left because he either realized I’m trans, or he thought I’m a gay chick and deemed me useless. He left because I was weird. He left because I think too much–yet not enough.
I walk down the long street, counting the buildings, panic quickly rising within me. One foot in front of the other. Now the other foot in front of that one, and repeat. Just keep moving one foot ahead–that’s how you walk.
Could he see my chest through the binder...was that it? Could he somehow tell I’m not a real guy, that I’m just a phony, a wannabe, an imposter?
I start running, my heart rapidly pounding against my chest, adrenaline rushing through my veins. I sprint as fast as I can out of the park, having no idea where I’m going.
I end up standing dead still in front of a five-story building. I spot a stairwell, and I’ve never climbed stairs so fast. Everything around me whirs past in one, flashing instant. I’m almost completely out of breath, I can hear my rapid heartbeat, I can feel the blood rushing to my face. I get to the top of the building, and swing the unlocked door as fast as I can with all my strength. I’m on the roof.
Water still rising–over my head.
I walk to the edge in slow-motion, just about to fall off. I am standing right on the exact in-between of life and death, and I love it. I glance at everything below me, around me. The grayish-silver of the ledge I’m standing on, the gentle golden sun behind me, the bright pale blue sky and the full green trees in the distance.
And, gradually making my way out of the ocean I’ve been swimming in for so long, I think…
I don’t care.
I feel the wind on my face, and spread my arms wide as if I’m conducting a sermon.
The ocean is subsiding. I’m on the shore again, my toes in the sand, the static nothingness back.
I’m here, World. Come and get me.
I am here.