Ghosts

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They told me to just keep it. To lock it inside and never, ever let it out. As if letting it out would penetrate the basis of society, destroy our dear, dear country, set fire to the churches, and plague the infants. God forbid I ever feel comfortable enough to be myself; because according to Pastor Thomas i am the definition of sin. I,  who has never harmed another, never stolen or missed a Sunday service, I am the basis of immorality. Why? Simple: I am in love with a boy. I am in love with a boy named Jack Kulister. He is 17, a year older than I. And he loves me back. Me, Sean O'rell, a boy. 

It is not a choice, for centuries girls have fallen for the wrong guys, the abusive ones, the drunks, and yet no one calls THAT a disease. You can't choose who you love, Jack and I did not choose to be chastised by society. It just happened, and to be honest, I'm not even sure what "it" is. But I know what "it" does. It feeds on my misery, my differences, devouring each of my scrumptious idiosyncrasies. It changed Jack into something unrecognizable, a poorly designed doppleganger of what he used to be. And it brought me to this spot, room 302A, Saint Mary's Hospital. But you couldn't understand how I got here unless we rewind back to the beginning. So let's start there. 

My mom and I moved here for a fresh start, sort of. I was born in this town, but i moved to New York when I was nine. My mom was engaged to this hot shot lawyer, Kevin Roshershield, a real up and coming tool. Although I had never met my real dad, I wasn't exactly excited to finally use the word in reference to Kevin. You see my mom and I are a statistic in Seventeen magazine, one of those most unfortunate teenage pregnancies. She was only 17 when she had me, but never once has she treated me any less than she should. She has never called me a mistake, never blamed me for the interruption of her life. My mother in a saint, a rare type of human nature: the good kind. My mom simply raised me the best she could as unprepared as she was. My grandparents, strict Christians, shocked everyone when they gave her their full support. My childhood was not the stereotypical tragic, abusive, bastard child life. I was a happy kid, loved and ignorant that there was anything wrong with my beloved mother or me. And my mom didn't run off to New York with Kevin because she is some trailer trash mom who marries every guy that knocks on the door. Kevin was an old classmate of hers from high school, a seemingly nice enough guy who initially treated my mother well. But I wasn't sure about him becoming family. I was 13 when my mom caught him banging the receptionist. My mom was three months pregnant. 

Life changed after that, my mom was absolutely crushed. By the time she was four months pregnant the divorce had settled, not leaving us with a whole lot. My mom moved us down to Connecticut to stay with her older sister. I loved my aunt and uncle, but going through puberty while sharing a room with my two cousins wasn't easy. Though I could never care to complain, the months following were a painstaking battle. I never managed to make friends at my new school, and skipped a lot of days to take care of my mom. At six months my mom miscarried. 

I spent my 14th birthday in our run down little apartment, about a mile from my aunt and uncle's. We had only moved in a week before, but my mom still insisted on throwing a little party. My aunt, uncle, cousins, and a couple awkward school friends came over. My mom made my favorite, chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. I wouldn't have suspected that this little apartment party would be a life changing event, especially in comparison to the prior year, but it was. My little twelve year old cousin Sophie ran up to me, vanilla icing smeared on her cheeks, enthusiastically interrogating me on how it felt to be fourteen. Then she asked me who I liked, after all I was a 14 year old boy, time to get interested in girls. Never before had I given this any thought, but I just didn't like girls.

After everyone had left that night I spent some time studying myself in the mirror. Shaggy brown hair, a couple scattered freckles, pale and scrawny body, nothing too exciting. I never spent a lot of time on my appearance, or friends, or crushes. But all of the sudden all of these insignificant details meant the world to me. Suddenly nothing made sense anymore. Boys, I liked boys.

By the time I was 15 my mom had a well paying job and we moved from our tiny apartment to a comfortable little house down the street from my aunt and uncle's. Although i still hadn't made much progress making friends, I had managed to find a couple. There was Sarah, the new girl from Georgia who wore her blonde hair up in pigtails and talked with a thick southern accent, and there was John, the head of the chess club. Obviously our little triangle did not consist of "cool" kids, but it didn't matter much to me. I was just grateful to have friends and a house, things seemed to have finally settled down. Then February came along. February changed things.

In this battle, Valentine's day is the enemy. I, being 15 and never even kissed, definitely felt the sting of single's awareness day. My mom and I usually stayed in watching sappy movies and eating chocolate, because as lame as it may seem, my mom is, and always has been, my best friend. In my opinion, people who think I'm a loser have just never had a mother as amazing as mine. But Sarah, being the outgoing girl that she is wanted to throw a party, and as her friends John and i were obligated to attend. And participate in all the party games; things like spin the bottle, and truth or dare. I hadn't reconsidered my sexuality since my 14th birthday, suppressing all that confusion, but Valentine's Day, the demagogue of love, wanted to force me to confront my fears. Because I did go to Sarah's party, and I did play those games, and when I spun that goddamn bottle, it landed on John.

Why girls find the idea of two (supposedly) straight guys being forced to kiss so entertaining, I don't know. But they all broke out giggling, the awkward tension of our frozen bodies only adding to their amusement. John may have been the head of the chess club, but he didn't look it. In fact most girls liked him, I've even caught Sarah giving him the goo-goo eyes. I know sometimes I couldn't help but stare, and now, eyes locked in uncertainty sitting almost directly across from each other, I noticed him like I haven't before. Teresa announced the rules of three second lip lock, no exceptions. I gave an awkward half smile and shrug, moving over towards him. I was two inches away from his face, taking in his scent, hearing, feeling, seeing only him. Everything else drowned out. One inch away. "WHOA, WHOA, hey, I'm not gay." John interrupted, backing away. And I snapped back to reality. All eyes were on me. They were waiting for me to confess the same, to laugh about how I closed my eyes and leaned in with all the anticipation in the world, to gag that out of all the girls in the party I spun the bottle and landed on John. But that's not how I felt. I stammered, an "umm" escaped my throat, I sat back in the circle, staring at the floor, all I could do was ask who's turn was next. But all eyes were still on me, and my bright red face. They wanted me to deny it, to lock it inside forever. They wanted to ask, too, but no one did. Most of them just ignored me the rest of the night, pretending they weren't watching me out of the corners of their eyes. So I pretended, too. About them staring, anyways. I couldn't pretend I didn't want to kiss John. I could not pretend that I enjoyed kissing Rebecca four turns later. I could not pretend that I ever wanted to kiss another girl.

Don't ask me how they knew, but suddenly the entire school, who had never before acknowledged my existence, they were all talking. They stared in the hallways, whispered as I walked by, looked for me at lunch as I cried in a bathroom stall. Dan Wesman called me a fag and flushed me down the toilet. I just wish I couldn't have really flushed down those pipelines, swirling down with all the other piles of s***. I left early that day, and never came back.

My mom didn't care that I was gay. She accepted it right away, she didn't say so but I had a feeling she had always known. Like I said, my mother is a saint. She scraped together some money to hire a tutor to homeschool me, and started looking for a job back in our home town. A fresh start, right back to the beginning. On my 16th birthday, we hopped on the train, leaving all the Connecticut bullshit behind.

That's how I got to September 17th, my first day at my new school. Five days later than everyone else, because two days before school started I got the stomach flu. Lucky me. Most of my life I was the "new kid," but i wanted things to be different this year. I'm older now, so I'm more aware of when I'm socially ostracized, and I can feel the sting of the outcast. That's kind of the curse of getting older, everything is real, and you're so aware of that reality. I'd rather be two than sixteen, getting your Legos knocked over is easier than getting your head shoved down a toilet.

I remember walking into school that day thinking that coming back to this little pinpoint of a town was hardly a fresh start. I went to elementary school with most of these people, not that they'd remember me. I wasn't a super social child after the Peter Pan incident in 2nd grade. I tried out for the school play, and yes I was cast, as some prop-turned-role, like a tree or something ridiculous like that. At the last minute our lead actress got the chicken pox, so I stepped up and volunteered to play her part. You see, that was the problem, it was HER part, and I am a HE. So they just laughed at me. I didn't try out for any school plays after that.

One thing I can take splice in is people are selfish; no one cares about the skinny pale kid walking down the halls unless it effects them. I maneuvered the hallways as if they were lined with lasers, bumping into someone would set off the alarm. As soon as my shoulder hits theirs they have to come out of their self centered cocoons and notice me. People are self centered, but they're also nosey as hell. All it takes is one bump and they'll start asking around then everyone will wonder, and who knows some jerk could say, "Hey isn't that Sean O'rell? The one who's mom got knocked up in high school?" or "That kid who wanted to play Leena Glover's part in Peter Pan?" Maybe I'm paranoid, but you never know what people will remember. That's why I walked into school thinking this pinpoint town is not a fresh start.

Irony made a spectacle of me that day, September 17th incase you forgot, because I was so wrapped up in thinking about how self centered people are, I got sucked into my own thoughts and ran straight into someone, snapping mE back out of MY self absorbed a coma. 7:53, entering the peach colored attendance office, I run into him in the doorway. People walked by without noticing us. A lady in the background tapped her pencil methodically on the desk. A ceiling tile dangled precariously above us. I didn't notice any of it. All I saw in those 60 seconds was Jack Kulister standing right in front of me, shaggy dirty blonde hair, bright blue eyes, tan complexion, preppy football jacket, and the most amazing smile I'd ever seen. In other words, he was a stereotype peeled directly off some magazine page. But let me tell you- I'd buy THAT magazine. He was gorgeous, the kind of beauty that makes your throat dry up and your cheeks bright red. If I did not understand what it meant to "swoon" at 7:52, the denotation was crystal clear to me by 7:53. After that we exchanged apologies, then greetings and names. He showed me around since I was new, and he was so genuine about everything. His personality was practically flawless, somehow not a word he said was boring.

Every event I have narrated has led up to September 17th, but now the real story begins; all the things leading up the day, December 7th. Jack and I ended up becoming friends, then good friends, then best friends. Each of his idiosyncrasies never failed to dazzle me, despite the lack of effort on his part. It's not like he went around dressing and acting like an ostentatious d-bag. No, not Jack, Jack was naturally captivating. Anyways, if you haven't noticed I'm kind of big on remembering specific times and dates, I've never missed someone's birthday in my life. I don't need to check Facebook to remember that stuff like some people do. So of course I knew October 22nd was Jack's birthday, I just wasn't sure how to hand him a casual gift when all I wanted was to pounce on him and commence wildly hot birthday sex. But even if Jack and I were friends, it was an odd sort of friendship. Besides the whole part about me being madly in love with him it was awkward because I am a nerdy looking new kid and he's some super popular guy on the football team. No, not the star quarterback, he isn't THAT stereotypical, just some position on the team. To be honest, I don't even know, he's told me a few times but I've never watched sports a day in my life. Boys raised by single mothers just don't receive that sort of education. I mean, who would have taught me, Kevin Roshershield? Yeah right. My overall lack of sports enthusiasm combined with my pale skin and occasional shyness around strangers stuck me in the nerd pack, except that i hang out with Jack. Jack is MY friend, which has some sort of second-degree "cool" effect on me I guess. I wasn't considered a loser, but I wasn't the hottest kid on the block either. Just average I suppose.

October 22nd was a Thursday, so naturally Jack planned out his birthday party for Friday. I don't know how he ended up convincing me, but I skipped school with him on Thursday, just me and him. That was the day he said he loved me. I don't know the exact time, maybe around 2"30, or maybe time had just stopped completely by then. Because he kissed me. Jack Kulister kissed me.

I wouldn't say this is a love story, even though there is love in it. But that's why this isn't a love story, "it," remember I told you in the beginning that whatever "it" is it feeds on misery. So maybe Jack and i had the rest of October for happiness, maybe for halloween we dressed in matching costumes, and maybe at the time we thought everything would always be that perfect. But November didn't agree. Our tiny vulture infested town didn't agree. These people are hungry, maybe THEY are "it." All they want is some entertainment, some gossip to spread around. The walls had eyes, I could not feel safe in my own home. We knew it would get around eventually, I guess we just didn't think it would happen so soon. I should have known these vultures couldn't keep off our bones, not even for a second.

People in small towns have too much time on their hands, and too much contempt for the world around them. Small town folks have the time to perfect the smile they'll show you as they put a knife in your side. If they're the salt of the earth, then the earth is an open wound. God damn the internet though, god damn everyone knowing everyone else, and god damn Sarah Corenly and her stupid little country pigtails.

It just so happens that my old friend from Connecticut was someone's cousin's best friend, someone who went to my school, what are the odds. And what are the odds she'd be talking about me to her best friend, and what are the odds that her best friend would be staying with her cousin, Jane Soulley, who recognized my name. Jane Soullen isn't a dumb girl by any means, in fact she wants to be a mathematician. But she's one of those nerdy little girls dying for her 15 minutes of high school fame, to be popular or at least talked to if only for a short while. There couldn't be a better ticket to popularity than outing me and the boy they suspected to be my lover, Jack of course. That is some hot gossip to feed to the leeches. She didn't think of the ramifications it would have for Jack and I, of course not, people are self centered. She didn't think, she just picked up her camera and started stalking us; our own personal paparazzi. I never noticed, how could I have known? How could I know that on November 18th she'd snap a picture through my bedroom window, and right after that deadly snap she'd run right down to Cindy Lautner's house, since Cindy always has been the "it" girl. Also, she's a straight up b****. Within an hour everybody knew. All through that hour I sat with Jack completely unaware. How could we have known?

Of course things changed after that, they couldn't help but change, it's almost like they had to change. I wanted to be with Jack, I did, but all of the sudden I was scared to even touch him. I had no trust in the walls confining our secrets, because those same walls gave us away. That wasn't even the worst part though, maybe the swirlies or the hate graffiti, or the stares in the hallway could be considered the worst, but that's not what got to me. What got to me the most was the way it got to Jack. He wasn't the same, hardly ate, all loquacious tendencies disappeared, I swear I didn't even know who he was anymore. I don't know if you've ever slowly watched your loved ones fade into nothingness, but I'll tell you now it's f*ing terrifying. What was I supposed to do? Do you think just because I'm a gay bastard child I know how to deal with "rough times?" People are dumb. People are idiots. People like Sarah just don't think this stuff through. Those stupid small town folks with common, boring names like Sarah and Jane, the ones who are absolutely average in every single way, they're the worst. I'm telling you stay in the city, everyone out there is too wrapped up in themselves to care what you're doing. I never had any trouble in New York. It's these small towns. All the people are stark mad. Urbanization is gift to humanity.

That brings me back to it. For lack of better diction, "it" is what destroyed Jack, it tore up the roots of this pinpoint town, it started digging our graves long before we knew death was due. I remember when it brought me face to face with Pastor Thomas, at a frozen yogurt place for christ sakes, God really does work in mysterious ways. I don't understand how someone could love you so dearly, then turn on you in a second. I grew up with Pastor Thomas, I used to go visit him after school when I was younger. He taught me how to ride a bicycle. I haven't changed, either. I used to write letters to him after I moved to New York. When I moved back I almost immediately went to visit him. I know I said I never had a father, but he was the closest to a father I ever had. But he stood there in line at Rogers' Freezers of all places, and looked at me as if I were a stranger, the most repulsive thing he'd ever seen, as if my very sight made his pure Christian heart bleed. The ghost of Jack snapped back long enough to grab my hand, and maybe I grew up all my life as a Christian, but f*** it if I've never felt safer than when Jack takes my hand. I'm a stranger to Pastor Thomas, that's why he had no trouble calling me a sinner, just like my mother. I'm a dirty, disgusting sinner and I'm going straight to hell. We held our heads high through out the whole thing, or at least we tried to, but everyone was staring at us as the poor shaking cashier coyly told us we'd have to leave. I don't know if he thought we were going to eat him or something, I mean God knows what us crazy gays will do next. Sure we just nodded and walked out, but who's to say we wouldn't come bursting back in wearing skin tight dresses belting out And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going by Jennifer Holliday. And you, and you, and you, you're gonna love me.

Well we didn't bust out the sequins and show lights, besides I'm sure Jennifer Hudson's got me beat on that performance. No, we just went back to my house, which has turned into "our" house ever since Jack's parents kicked him out. My mom didn't mind, she had more love and faith in her pinky toe than Pastor Thomas had in his whole body. I didn't lay in Jack's arms bawling because I'm gay, I'd like to see any straight guy go through this s*** and be able to hold his proud heterosexual head up. They also kicked Jack off the football team, football wasn't his passion or anything, but still he enjoyed it, and I can't imagine how embarrassing that was for him.

I remember coming home that day and he was smoking a cigarette, of all things. Jack doesn't smoke. Now, I'm sure all the smokers out there can argue that it's a great 'stress release', and I'm sure they'll need to relieve their stress as they lay dying of cancer. I'm aware sometimes I can be a 'worrier', but if you had seen him that day. The look on his face. I swear I was staring at his ghost. Somehow the smoke lit up the room and I saw it all: the pale skin, baggy eyes, practically skeletal figure. I shut the door, and I walked out.

December second is the day I caught the ghost, formerly Jack, smoking. I can't lie it scared me to death, prior to then thing seemed manageable. Like this was some over coming life challenges movie, and in the end we'd be okay. But everything suddenly became so much darker than that, suddenly I realize that the way we were hated here would be the way people were going to hate us for the rest of our lives. This wasn't just a high school thing, or a temporary problem. Jack and I will face crap like this forever. I don't think you know what's that's like. Jack must have realized this a lot sooner, and it was just eating away at him. So I ran back to the house to talk to him, and when I got there, he was gone.

Have you ever been having a lousy day and you're walking down the street when suddenly someone comes up to you, flips open their pocket knife and digs it into your gut? They don't stop there, either. After that they continue to carve out your insides, managing to keep you alive all the while. Finally, they barbwire you to a crucifix and light you on fire. Then some self righteous douche "saves" you just in time so that you don't get the sweet release of death, you have to live with the excruciating pain. No? That's never happened to you? Then I guess you wouldn't understand how I felt when Jack left. Or how i felt reading the note he wrote for me. He knew I hadn't 'been there for him.' I knew it too, in the back of my head. I was just hoping it would never surface. I sobbed for hours, I could hardly form words when my mom came home from work late that night. I guess it made her think of when my dad left her cause suddenly she was sobbing too.

The next seven days were the worst of my life. The boy who was possibly the love of my life was missing, could be dead, or dying. How would I know? He never called. I know it's really silly but I kept praying that it would end up like when Mimi ran away at the end of Rent. When she came back Roger sang his mediocre song to her and then everything was okay, and all the problems they had before seemed petty. I know it's stupid but I wished everything would end up okay, like in movies and books.

Those seven days were the longest of my life. The first day I tried going to school, but without him by my side life seemed hopeless. The next four days I stayed home and focused all my attention on one thing: finding Jack. On friday,the fourth day, I spent the whole day driving around in my car looking for him. On Saturday, the fifth, I woke up to find my tires slashed and profanities carved into the sides. On Sunday, the sixth, I went to the police who seemed to care more about me being queer than about Jack being gone. And on Monday, the seventh, I got the call.

Well, to clarify, my mom got the call, at 1:07 AM. i wasn't asleep, I hadn't slept in days. In five days, to be exact. She came into my room with this grave look on her face and said, "I just got a call from the hospital. "She didn't have to say anything else, I knew.

We got there at 1:22 AM and I nearly punched a nurse in the face in my rush to get to him. It makes my stomach flip flop to think about what I saw lying in that hospital bed. The room was white, the bed was white, and Jack was black, blue, and red. I didn't know it then, but they carved FAG into his chest. He might have that scar forever. He could hardly breathe through his blood crusted mouth, and the air he managed to lap up passed coldly against his newly chipped tooth. I swallowed the puke creeping violently up my throat, and this made me remember that I was still standing, still alive. I could tell there was some life force left in my veins because i could sense my fist clenching as my other hand held the door frame to keep my body from collapsing into a withered ball on the sterilized floor. I could faintly hear the doctor speaking urgently to my mother, but it felt as though the inches of distance between us consisted of miles. In the center of it all, I could see, crystal clear, the love love of my life bleeding out before my eyes.

I know I am gay, I'm reminded of this constantly. I know according to churches and republicans I'm not right, I know how the world views people like me. But none of it, NONE of it, justifies what happened. I didn't sing to Jack that day, and none of our problems became petty, insignificant details of the past. The reality is that that ending is an unreachable dream for us because of the things and people that make us happy. Jack almost died because my heart beats fast when he passes me by, because the world slows down when he holds my hand and kisses me on the head. And because I love it when he wears shorts in 50 degree weather, or combs his hands through his hair when he gets real stressed out. It's because I love him and he loves me. That's the justifiable reasoning behind this and all other hate crimes.

The police never found the people responsible, they never really tried. I told you this isn't a love story. We moved again after that, back to New York. I'm still with Jack, it's been six years now. Nothing's been the same since, though. I'm not telling this as a sob story, I'm telling our story because I am hoping and praying that maybe, just maybe, it can save at least one life. 3,971 suicides are committed each year, and out of that 1,488 are homosexuals. That means nearly half the suicides could be prevented if we lived in a more accepting world. I know these sorts of things don't change over night, but God, sometimes I'm not even sure we're trying. They say gays are four times more likely to kill themselves, and I know it almost got Jack. It almost ruined everything. But we didn't let it.

This isn't a love story because our love isn't accepted by half the country. This isn't a love story because in 2008 1,617 hate crimes were committed against gays, at least those are as many as we know of. This isn't a love story because of Brand Mclnerney, who shot and killed 15 year old Lawrence King, just because he was openly gay.

I do not care if Pastor Thomas calls me a sinner. I do not care if people stare when Jack and I hold hands. All I want is for you not to care either. It's people like Sarah Corenly, Jane Soulley, Dan Wesman, Officer Kenter, and Pastor Thomas who almost murdered Jack. They may not have put the knife to his throat, but they might as well have. Their words, their hate, they formed the fists that pounded against Jack's crumpled body. We lived in a small town, it's more than likely someone watched him bleed, and looked the other way. And that, that makes me sick.

Jack is, and always will be, my one true love. He has been since 7:52 AM, September 17th. Trust me, I'd rather write this as a love story. I'd rather tell you that yesterday he woke me up at 9 with pancakes and roses, kissed me and told me no one in the entire world could never replace me. I'd rather tell you that when he holds me in his arms, the world dissipates and all that's left is us, no hate, no Sarahs or Janes, just us. And I'd like to tell you that he looked at me and told me, "Sean, you are my one and only, the light of my life, my irreplaceable love. I will never regret choosing to spend my life with you." After that he sprayed whipped cream on me, so I threw a pancake at his face. If Brandon Mclnerney had been there, would he have shot us point blank, too? This can't be a love story, it came way too close to being a tragedy.





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