What happens to you when you're forced to face your fears?
What happens to you when that person forcing you to face your fears is yourself?
‘It was a dark and stormy night…’
”Oh crap,” Jonas screamed out to the cherrywood covered walls of his dad’s study as he pushed his chair away from the ancient typewriter. “I can’t write this dribble.” The night answered appropriately as the wind from the coming storm knocked at the window behind his father’s desk.
‘I can’t seem to have an original thought. Why is writing so hard?’ he thought as he ripped the page from his grandfather’s old Smith Corona, crumpled it, and threw it against the far wall.
Jonas sat for a moment, fuming. He knew that he wasn’t a good writer. Turning to look at the crumpled page on the floor, he wondered how writers, even bad writers, come up with something meaningful to write, something that people would want to read.
The assignment for his Creative Writing class was simple enough. He was told to write about an adventure that he had experienced in his life. All he could come up with was repeating the words he had seen in a Peanuts cartoon.
He turned his attention to the life size painting of his father hanging on the far wall across the room. His dad was in full military dress, a cluster of medals hanging from the coat’s left breast, and cap in hand. His eyes narrowed as he looked closer at his father’s face, the chin slightly raised, the eyes concentrated forward on something outside of the painting and the smile that wasn’t there. He could see that the man in the painting knew who he was and where he was headed.
‘Why can’t I be like him?’ Jonas thought. ‘I have no clue where I’m going, much less who I am.‘
It was a Wednesday evening, and Jonas had only four more days to finish his writing assignment. He had to turn it in on Monday, the first day back at school after the Christmas break. It was only supposed to be 2,000 to 2,500 words. Then he had to read the paper in front of his class. ‘Easy enough, right?’ he thought.
He pushed his chair back from the typewriter in front of him, wondering what he should really write. Nothing came to him. His life was boring from the start and continued that way up until his now 16 years of age. Real adventures had never happened to him as they had to his father. ‘How could I write about nothing?’ he thought. ‘Nothing adventurous has ever happened to me.’
Looking up again at the painting, he wondered why his life had been so different from his father’s. His father was a full “bird” colonel in the Army. Jonas hated the military because he had to leave friends for each of his father’s new deployments.
His dad had traveled the world. Jonas hated even going as far away as Windsor, Canada, which was just across the River from their current home in Detroit.
His dad spent his weekends on their family’s 38 foot motor yacht traveling to different ports on Lake Erie and Lake Huron; there’s not much to see on Lake Saint Clair in between the other two Great Lakes. Jonas hated boats and the water. They made him seasick.
His dad played golf with his fellow officers. Jonas hated all kinds of sports.
He kept staring at the painting, realizing that his father had lived a life full of adventure.
Jonas loved his father. He always had. His mother had died from cancer the year Jonas turned twelve, and his father raised him as best he could, given his military career. Fortunately, his dad was able to hire help for the house and someone to watch Jonas while he had to be away. His dad was good to him, respected him and gave him the responsibility to make choices in his own life appropriate for his age. He didn’t push Jonas to follow in his footsteps either. His dad had told him that military service was an honorable and fulfilling profession, but if he didn’t want a military career, it would be alright.
Jonas knew that he was not like his father, nor would he ever be. In his heart, he knew that he would never measure up to his dad.
Jonas stared at the painting, and as the first tear escaped his eye and slid down his cheek, he knew why he wouldn’t be like his dad. ‘It’s because I think I’m gay,’ he thought to himself. ‘Dad would never understand what it’s like being me. I’m not sure if I understand what it’s like being me either. I don’t want to be gay. I can’t. I won’t.’
Looking at the old typewriter on the desk in front of him, he returned to the reality of the paper that was due in just four days. He knew that he had procrastinated for most of the holiday, but then started to fume at Mr. Crocket for giving such an assignment over the holiday.
“Not tonight.” he said aloud to the typewriter, shaking his head from side to side. The thought of possibly being gay had shaken his concentration, and he couldn’t focus anymore on trying to lie about an adventure in his life that had never happened.
The wind increased its assault on the window, shaking the frame against the wood channels holding it. Suddenly, with a final gust, the window blew inward, showering the room with shards of glass which embedded themselves in Jonas’ arms and cheeks. Fortunately, they had missed his eyes.
The wind rushed into the room, blowing the heavy drapes horizontal, producing a surreal sound. The wind rose to a deafening pitch, and Jonas shielded his eyes with his arms in fear.
Jonas remained in the same spot for a long time, blinded from the raging storm by his arms, waiting for something to happen, anything. But nothing happened. The raging wind racing around him was all he could hear or feel.
Slowly Jonas lowered his arms to see the disaster surrounding him. It was a mess. ‘It’s only a storm for Christ’s sake,’ he thought, trying to build his courage. Looking at the broken window, Jonas knew that he needed to close off the opening somehow, but he knew that there was no way he could with the glass broken in the way it was. Moving closer to the storm outside the window, Jonas thought of using duct tape to seal a sheet of plastic over the window.
“Don’t even think of it!” a voice said from behind him.
Jonas opened his eyes wide, and his heart started to race. Jonas was close to full panic, but he forced himself to turn around to see who had spoken to him. The room was empty, but for himself. He shook his head and turned back toward the gaping hole in the window. The wind had subsided, and the drapes fell back to their original position. The room became quiet again.
Just then, Jonas thought he heard a small shuffling sound coming from behind him. It sounded like shoes walking across a wood floor. He quickly turned around, away from the window, searching for its source.
Again, a small shuffling sound came from behind him.
“What?” Jonas shouted as he turned around and looked into the hole that used to be a window.
“We need to talk.”
This didn’t come from inside Jonas’ mind. Jonas heard these words as spoken words. He turned around to find himself, again, alone in the room.
Turning toward the gaping hole, he became terrified of the voice.
“Who are you?” Jonas cried to the broken window. “Where are you?”
“I am you. I am your past, I am your present, and I am your future. I am all of you, and I am right here with you.”
‘What in the hell is going on?’ Jonas screamed to himself.
Jonas looked around the room, trying to find somewhere to hide from whatever was speaking to him, but could find nothing to protect himself. ‘Whatever the voice was outside,’ he thought, ‘it could enter the room and find me, or it’s already in the room.’ His hands went to his chest, grabbing handfuls of his tee shirt, and stepped backward, keeping his eyes glued to the gaping hole.
Jonas stumbled over the trash can beside his dad’s desk and had to release his tee shirt to grab a handhold on the arm of one of the chairs to steady himself.
Jonas began to feel the wind increasing against his bare arms. He then heard the screech of the wind getting louder. It steadied for a moment, but then continued its relentless assault on the study. Papers flew about the room in a vortex. The curtains, once hanging straight downward toward the floor, became horizontal again, reaching for the walls on the other side of the room. The wind was now much stronger than the blast that had burst the window panes inward. Jonas threw his hands upward to cover his ears as the sound of the roar became deafening. He never took his eyes off of the opening in the window.
After a few moments, the wind died slightly, but was still just below hurricane force. The longer he watched the opening, the more he realized that nothing was happening, other than the wind was dying. The fear started to leave him, and he began to calm down.
‘The voice was calm, not threatening.’ Jonas thought. ‘It seems to hold no malice toward me. All it said was that it was my past, present, and future, and that we needed to talk. What did it mean that it was my past, present, and future?’
Jonas then stood tall, faced the broken window, and waited.
“Well, I’m glad that I didn’t scare you too much.” The voice came from behind him.
Jonas spun around so quickly that he almost fell over and had to hold onto the chair again. He gasped when his eyes stared upward at a boy standing behind his father’s desk.
The boy cocked his head slightly to his right, smiling down at Jonas. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not here to hurt you.”
Jonas shook his head slightly, not aware of who – or what - was standing in front of him. He slowly stood upright, facing the boy. They stood eight feet apart, staring at each other in silence for a moment.
Jonas’ fear retreated again, as the boy in front of him did not show any sign of hostility. The boy looked to be about Jonas’ age.
“Who are you, and how did you get in here?” asked Jonas.
The boy gave a wide friendly smile and shook his head. He looked at the floor in front of him then looked back upward toward Jonas. Still smiling, the boy softly said, “I’m you.”
Jonas shook his head, just as the boy had. He stood up and stated defiantly, “I’m me. You can’t be me.”
The boy turned, keeping his eyes on Jonas, and started walking around the desk. He continued walking toward Jonas and stopped within a few feet of him.
Jonas, never taking his eyes off the boy, followed his every movement.
“Jonas, I am you. I am who you are, not what you think you are. I am not what others think you are either. I am just you; the real you.”
Jonas watched the boy intently, taking in what had just been said to him. “Are you this Father Christmas guy who is supposed to show me the error of my ways?”
“Ha!” the boy laughed. “No. I used that line from Dickens to get your attention. Everyone’s heard of A Christmas Carol and I thought it would work for my introduction.”
“Well it worked, because you scared the shit of me when you said it.” Jonas was starting to like this boy who claimed he was him.
The boy let out a short chuckle. “Yeah, sorry about that.”
“So, if you’re supposed to be me, why don’t you look like me?” Jonas asked.
Looking back toward Jonas he said, “If I had taken on the look of you, we wouldn’t be talking right now. You might have freaked, and it would have taken a lot longer for us to be talking like this, or you would have freaked so bad that we could have never talked. We need to talk, and that’s why I caused the wind, broke the window, and spoke to you.”
“My dad’s gonna kill you for that, you know?”
The boy stifled a laugh. “No, I don’t think so. You see, it never really happened. I put that in your mind to get your attention. Take a look.”
Jonas looked toward the broken window only to see that all was as it had been before. The window was not broken. He looked at his arms and could not find any cut marks. He then looked back at the boy, staring at him for a long moment. Jonas still did not fully understand.
“Okay, you got my attention, and we need to talk, but what about?” Jonas asked.
“What do you mean?”
“We need to talk about who you are. Simple enough?”
Jonas’ worried. ‘I don’t even know what this guy is. He says he’s me, but he wants to talk about me. How’s that possible? Where’d he come from? Am I just stressing from the pressure of getting my paper done? Am I just fucking going crazy?’
“You’re not going crazy Jonas. And the pressure that brought me here has nothing to do with your paper. And I must remind you that you still have four whole days before it is due,” the boy chuckled.
“Fuck you.” Jonas turned away from the boy.
“Oh, come on Jonas. I’m just ragging you a bit.”
Jonas fumed for a moment, but then turned back toward the boy. “What do you want from me?”
“What do I want? The question is more like what do you need.”
“Are you going to be with me for a while? I mean do I have to live with you like for the rest of my life?”
“Jonas, I will be with you for as long as it takes.”
‘For as long as it takes to do what?’ Jonas thought. “What do you want to do to me?”
“I don’t want to do anything to you. I am here to do something for you.”
Jonas thought for a moment and then looked at him. “What do I call you? My name is Jonas, and if you’re me, you must be Jonas too. It’ll be too confusing to keep calling each other Jonas.”
“Okay, what do you want to call me?” the boy asked.
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“How about John or Jane or whatever you want?”
“Jane wouldn’t work, cuz you’re a boy.”
The boy thought for a while, and Jonas saw his face light up. “How about Oliver? I’ve always liked that name.”
Jonas looked at him, thinking that the name fit his looks. ‘This boy may have said that he was me, but he sure doesn’t look like me,’ he thought. ‘His face still has that baby-like roundness with a turned up small nose and when you add his disheveled semi-long hair to his face, he does look like an Oliver. If he were dressed in rags, the image would be complete. But he’s dressed as I am, jeans, t-shirt and sneakers.’
“Okay, ‘Oliver’ it is, Oliver.” Jonas said to him with finality.
Oliver smiled at him as he moved closer to Jonas, all traces of the happy banter leaving his eyes.
Jonas wasn’t sure what had changed in Oliver, but Oliver’s new demeanor heralded a change in their conversation. He knew that he was about to find out who Oliver was and why he was here.
Oliver stopped within a few feet of Jonas, still keeping his eyes on him.
“Jonas, I am you. But I’m not the you that you are now. I’m the you that you’re meant to be.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Okay, let me show you who you are now. Come with me.”
“To your Physics classroom.”
”What? It’s Christmas break, and we don’t have classes right now.”
“No, this will be a class that you had a little over two weeks ago, just before the Christmas break started. I want you to see it again. Close your eyes.”
“I said close your eyes, Jonas.”
Jonas stared at him in disbelief. ‘What’s closing my eyes got to do with anything?’ he thought.
“Just close them. You’ll see what I mean.”
Jonas shook his head, but closed his eyes anyway.
He wondered how long he should keep his eyes closed, he didn’t feel anything, nothing was happening. So he opened his eyes, wanting to ask Oliver what he should be expecting.
Mr. Clark, Jonas’ physics teacher, was standing at the whiteboard of his physics class. He was writing on the board, and Jonas immediately recognized the diagram that he was sketching. It was of a block of wood on an incline held in place by a string attached to a scale that would measure the force needed to move the block upward on the inclined surface. He remembered this lesson in friction.
Jonas was standing at the back of the classroom. He looked around, seeing his classmates watching the whiteboard, until he saw himself in the front row writing in his notebook. Yes, it was his notebook, because he remembered the half eaten pages enjoyed by his dog.
“Don’t worry Jonas. They can’t see us.”
“That’s me, isn’t it, up there?”
“Yes, that’s you. Just watch.”
Mr. Clark turned around after he had finished his sketch and looked over his students. “Can anyone tell me why it takes more force to move this block on this incline than it would if the plane was flat, not at an angle?” His eyes fell upon Jonas (the one in the front row), because he knew that he would have the right answer.
“Jonas?” Mr. Clark asked.
“I know the answer to that. It’s simple,” Jonas said to Oliver.
“But just watch,” Oliver quipped.
The front row Jonas looked down at his notebook, not wanting to answer the question. He knew the answer, but was afraid of looking like part of the brainiac sect. He eventually looked up at the teacher and said, “I don’t know.”
Mr. Clark frowned for a moment, knowing that Jonas knew the answer. Then looking around the room for someone that he knew would have the right answer, he picked out Kathy. “Kathy, do you know why it takes more force?”
Kathy stood up from her desk and said, “It’s because the force has to overcome not just the friction but also the force of gravity.”
“Well said, Kathy.” Mr. Clark smiled, but then glanced at Jonas for a moment,
“I knew the answer to that, Oliver.”
“But then why didn’t you answer him, Jonas?”
Jonas turned his eyes toward the window and thought of why he was so afraid to answer that question two weeks ago.
“Jonas?” Oliver asked.
Jonas looked back at Oliver and almost yelled, “It’s because I didn’t want to look like an idiot if I was wrong.”
Oliver smiled. “Jonas, what does that tell you about yourself?”
Jonas just glared at Oliver, feeling his anger rise to the surface. He knew what Oliver was trying to do. He was trying to make him think about himself, and why he didn’t want to answer.
Oliver’s smile faded and took on a look of deep concern as he watched Jonas.
Looking back at the windows, Jonas would not answer him.
Oliver moved closer to Jonas, looking intently at him.
“Jonas? I’m you, remember? I know why you couldn’t answer the teacher’s question.”
Jonas’ mood softened. He looked back at Oliver, but was silent for a moment.
“You know what I was thinking?” Jonas asked.
“You wanna tell me what I was thinking?
“No. I want you to tell me what you were thinking. I want you to be able to say why you were afraid to answer the teacher’s question. You knew the answer.”
Jonas didn’t have to think about why he was afraid. He turned his gaze to the floor tiles in front of him and said, “It isn’t because I didn’t want to look stupid. It’s because I didn’t want people to think of me as this brainy kid.” He looked up toward Oliver for his response.
“Why not Jonas? You are a smart kid. What’s wrong with being smart?”
Jonas looked up at Oliver, a quizzical expression in his eyes. “Maybe it’s because I would look like an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong.”
“Is that important to you Jonas, I mean that, you belong?”
“So you have to be accepted by those around you? You need to be like everyone else?”
“No.” Jonas frowned. “I don’t need to be like everyone else. I’m me.”
Oliver smiled. “Exactly,” he said.
Jonas had another quizzical look on his face.
“Jonas, let’s go. There’s something else I want you to see. This will be a treat for you.”
“Where are we going now?” Jonas knew that this night might never end. He was going to be dragged wherever Oliver wanted him to go.
“We’re going to the gym. I want you to see what really happened there.”
Jonas thought for a moment. “So, ah, how long ago did this happen?” he asked.
“It happened after school was out on the same day as this Physics class.”
“Oh” was all Jonas said.
Jonas again looked at Oliver, wondering how much the ‘treat’ that he was about to show him was going to upset him.
“Close your eyes, Jonas.” Oliver said, again.
Jonas looked at Oliver. He did not want to continue with this parade. He felt that he was being dragged into a world of self-discovery, and once in, he would feel alone and afraid. But Jonas closed his eyes anyway.
“Get the fuck off me you faggot.”
“Not until you say you’re sorry, you dickhead.”
Robin squirmed under the pressure of Keith’s body holding him to the wood floor of the basketball court of the gym. The other players looked on in disbelief as the two boys wrestled on the floor.
“Stop it you two!” bellowed Coach Morgan, as he ran over to break up the fight. Keith rolled off of Robin and stood.
“This is between Robin and me,” Keith said as his coach approached him.
“This is no place for your personal problems. Take them out of school. Now, in my office, both of you.”
Keith looked down at the floor.
Jonas and Oliver were standing in the corner of the gymnasium watching the basketball team practice that had occurred two weeks ago. Jonas remembered the fight. He had been watching the practice from the bleachers while trying to read from his Physics textbook. But most of the time, Jonas would sit in the bleachers watching Keith. He had never spoken to him before, but he admired him.
Jonas glanced up toward the bleachers, and found himself where he had been watching the practice. The Jonas in the bleachers was standing, grief on his face.
Just then, the real Jonas’ eyes went wide, and he turned toward Oliver, his mouth open.
“I see you remember what happened,” Oliver said, with a grin on his face.
“Ah…” was all that Jonas could say as he watching Keith emerge from the side door of the gym and walk across the basketball court toward the bleachers where Jonas was sitting. Keith climbed the few steps toward Jonas and sat next to him. The team stared at him, unmoving from their positions, wondering what was happening.
“You know what he said to you, don’t you Jonas? Oliver said into Jonas’ ear.
“Yes, I remember. It’s plagued me these past two weeks.”
“You want to hear what the coach said to them in his office, Jonas?”
Jonas turned to Oliver, meeting his eyes.
“What happened in there? Can you tell me? Because what he said to me after he came out has changed everything that I think about.”
“No, I won’t tell you. I want you to see it for yourself. Close your eyes Jonas.”
When he opened his eyes again, he saw Coach Morgan’s grey, Government Issue desk with the coach sitting behind it. Keith and Robin were seated in two folding chairs in front of the desk. Robin was looking at the coach, while Keith was looking at his hands in his lap.
Jonas and Oliver stood off to the side where they could see the faces of both the coach and the two boys.
“Look guys, what’s going on? You’ve been friends forever,” Coach Morgan asked.
Robin looked over at Keith, and then looked back toward his coach. He started to open his mouth to speak, but Keith cut him off.
“Coach, Robin’s my best friend, well, was up until yesterday. We had a disagreement.”
Robin bolted out of his chair, looking down at Keith. “Disagreement?” he shouted. “Is that what the hell you call it?”
“Calm down Robin,” the man said. “You want to tell me what this disagreement is about?”
“No, it isn’t important,” Keith said.
“Oh, it isn’t?” Robin questioned. Robin turned toward the coach. “Last night, this pervert admitted that he’s a fag,” he yelled.
Jonas felt as if someone had just plunged a dagger into his heart. He felt the anguish that Keith was feeling as his own heart seemed to bleed from his own fears.
Keith sank further down on the chair and held his hands to his face, covering his eyes.
“Is that what this is about?” the coach asked, his eyes darting between the two boys.
“See?” Robin pointed at Keith. “Look at him. You can tell he’s admitting it.”
“Sit down Robin,” the coach said.
“But coach…” Robin started to say, when the coach interrupted him.
“I said, sit down! Now!”
Robin looked at the coach for a moment and then sat back down.
The coach turned his attention toward Keith. “Keith, you don’t have to tell me if it’s true or not.”
“It’s true,” Keith said looking back up at his coach. “Half the school knows by now, thanks to Robin’s big mouth.”
Keith looked down at the floor for a second, and then looked back toward the coach.
“I told my parents and my little brother last night while we were all together for dinner.”
A tear slid down one cheek. Keith wiped it away with his arm and continued. “They didn’t hate me like I thought they would.”
Keith looked down and chuckled for a moment. “My little brother, John, he’s twelve, well, all he could say was ‘Oh cool!’ Mom said that she had suspected, and that it would make no difference. Dad said he, too, had suspected, and he was happy that his son was honest and was trying to be himself. They still loved me.”
“Robin?” the coach said, turning toward him.
Robin had been looking at the floor, thinking about what Keith had just said. Hearing his name, he looked up.
“You know, Robin, Keith has no say in his sexual orientation. It’s not a choice. How long have you known him?”
“Most of my life. We grew up together. I’ve known Keith ever since I moved here when I was three.”
“And, he’s been your best friend all those years?”
Robin looked down again, remembering the good times. “Yeah,” he said to the floor. Robin then looked up at the coach. “But now the whole school will look down on him.”
“I don’t think so. You know Robin, instead of being angry with him, you should be proud to have him as your friend. He had the courage and the trust in you to tell you his deepest feelings. That doesn’t happen in most friendships. From now on though, things will be good for him, because now he can finally be who he is, without fear.”
Robin looked at Keith, but was talking to the coach. “But I told everyone in the school about him. Why would he trust me now?” Robin asked.
“I still trust you Robin,” Keith said, looking directly at him.
“Robin? Nothing’s changed between you and Keith. He’s still the same Keith that you’ve always known.”
Robin remained quiet for a moment. He first looked toward Keith, then the coach, and then finally toward the floor. Before looking back up, he sniffled twice.
“I know. I was mad at him for not telling me sooner.”
“Robin, it sounds to me that part of your anger was directed at yourself. I think that you may have regrets for telling someone else about Keith.”
Robin looked down again, but quickly looked back toward the coach.
“Yes, I was angry at what I did.” Robin turned toward Keith. “Keith, I am so sorry. You shocked me is all, but I reacted and did a stupid thing. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Are both you guys good now?” the coach asked.
Robin nodded at Keith, and Keith said, “We’re good,” looking directly at Robin.
Robin started a smile. “You’re still a dick, you know?”
Keith laughed openly. “And for you, my dickhead friend, I accept your apology.”
“Boys, I think you had better start watching your language in here. I’m still your basketball coach, and I don’t want to have you suspended. Now kiss and…no, I mean…hug and make up. Then get out of here.”
“Oops,” both boys said together.
As the boys reached the office door, Keith turned back toward his coach. “Coach, can I have a few minutes before I return to practice? I need to talk to someone,” he asked.
“You’ve got 3 minutes, then, it’s back on the court.”
“Thanks coach,” Keith said as he and Robin turned and headed for the door.
After Keith and Robin had left the room, Oliver turned toward Jonas. “Don’t look so surprised, Jonas,” he said, as they watched the coach go back to work. “You knew this all along.”
“Yeah, but I hadn’t seen the look on Keith’s face when Robin accused him like that. I felt the same fear that he was feeling.”
“What fear, Jonas?”
Jonas looked at Oliver. He knew Oliver was him and knew his thoughts.
But Oliver wanted Jonas to say it. He wanted him to say it out loud, to mouth the words.
“I’m afraid to tell my father,” Jonas finally said as he looked at the floor.
“That you’re gay?”
“Yeah” Jonas looked back up and emphatically said, “Yes!”
“But why? Why are you still afraid of telling him?” Oliver asked, looking directly at him.
“Because, it’s one more thing that’ll disappoint him even more.”
“Jonas, do you really think that he’ll be disappointed in you? I know you love him and want to be like him, but you’re not him. When I took you to your Physics class, you said that you had to be you.”
Jonas looked down again. “Yeah, I did.”
“Does your dad love you Jonas?”
“Yes, of course he does,” Jonas said, looking back up at Oliver. “He says that to me all the time, and I know that he means it.”
“I’d like you to think about two things, Jonas. Love and acceptance. If you truly love someone, you accept them with all of their little idiosyncrasies, right?”
“Of course.” Just then Jonas’ eyes went wide. “Oh my God. You just showed me that Keith’s family accepted him, because they loved him.”
Once outside the coach’s office in the locker room, Robin turned to Keith and asked, “What’s up? Who do you have to talk to?”
Keith stopped and turned.
“Robin, I don’t think everyone knows about me yet, and I want him to know that I’m out now.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve got a boyfriend. You devil.”
“No, I don’t have a boyfriend, yet.” Keith grinned.
“So you want to come out to this guy. Who is he? Do I know him?”
“He’s not much of an athlete, so you probably don’t. But I got to know him in Creative Writing this semester. And, I think he’s interested in me.”
“Well, I’ve never really talked to him, but I see him in the bleachers at almost every practice. He’s usually trying to do some study work, but I see him looking at me, a lot. Come on. He’s out there now.”
Both boys turned, walked by the lockers, and went through the door to the gymnasium floor. Robin headed for the scrimmage on the court while Keith headed for the bleachers.
Jonas and Oliver had remained in Coach Morgan’s office after Keith and Robin had left the room.
“Want to hear what Keith said to you?” Oliver asked Jonas.
“No. I know what he said.”
Jonas looked around the coach’s office and smiled. He held his head higher than he had in weeks. Without looking at Oliver, he began to remember the conversation that he had had with Keith on the bleachers.
“Keith was running up the steps towards me,” Jonas said. “I was scared because I was the only one up there, and I knew that he was heading for me. I didn’t think that he had noticed me watching him while he practiced, but I knew that I had a crush on him. And now I felt like my world was coming to an end. I didn’t know what had happened in the coach’s office, but I remembered Robin calling him a fag. I was close to panic when he approached and sat next to me.
“He looked at me. I mean, he just looked at me without saying anything. I was too scared to move.
“Finally he said, ‘Hi.’
“That was all. I guess he was waiting for me to answer.
“I said, ‘Hi’ back, trying to be polite. He didn’t say anything right away, but he kept looking at me.
“‘I’m Keith,’ he finally said.
“My heart was bursting to get out of my chest. I think my palms could have filled a bathtub with sweat.
“‘You’re Jonas, right?’ he asked me.
“I looked at him, and he was smiling at me.
“‘Yeah, and I know who you are.’
“He smiled again at me.
“‘Ah, Jonas, I have to make this quick. Coach Morgan’s only given me a few minutes to talk to you. I’m taking a huge chance here. I’ve seen you here, watching practice, for a while. But mostly you’re been watching me. And, I’ve been watching you too. I haven’t spoken to you in Creative Writing because you sit on the other side of the room, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to,’ he said.
“‘Something happened last night and then again in the coach’s office just now. I…’ He lowered his head for a moment and then looked back at me. He told me that he had come out to his family and best friend last night. ‘You may have heard the rumors today.’ He said.”
“He stopped and stared at me. ‘No, I haven’t heard anything about that.’ I said.”
“This conversation was starting to interest me.”
“Keith continued talking to me. He said, ‘Robin blabbed about it to Heather, and knowing her, the word got around before the end of third period today. I’m gay,’ He said.
“My eyes went wide. I didn’t want to believe it, because that would make all of my fantasies come true.
“‘Jonas, I’ve got to hurry,’ he said. ‘What I wanted to know is, if we may think alike, and if you would want to go with me to have a burger sometime and talk, you know, just to get to know each other?’
“He then wrote his cell number in my notebook. ‘Let me know, Jonas. Sorry, but I really have to get back down there,’ He said. He then turned and ran down the bleachers to the court.
“Oh my God. I was so overwhelmed. I wanted this so much, but, Oliver, I was so scared.”
“Of what Jonas?”
Jonas again looked down at the floor, but then looked Oliver in the eyes.
“I was scared of outing myself to him.”
Oliver frowned at Jonas.
“Jonas, have you ever thought of what would happen if you never came out, what your life would be like if you continue to live with this fear?” he asked.
“No, not really.”
“Well, I’m going to show it to you.”
Jonas turned toward Oliver. “No. I don’t want to see it. It scares the piss out of me.”
“I’m sorry Jonas, but in this you have no choice. You’ve seen a couple of things so far tonight that would make you want to be honest with yourself and with your dad. You have one last thing to see. Close your eyes please.”
“Sorry Oliver, but I won’t.” Jonas kept his eyes open, looking directly into Oliver’s eyes.
But soon he had to blink.
The darkened room was only lit by the blue glow of a small television screen and a ceiling light further inside the room. An old man was sitting in an overstuffed chair, leaning over a TV dinner in front of him.
Jonas looked around, but couldn’t see much through the darkness. He didn’t even see Oliver.
“Oliver? Where are you?”
“I’m right behind you, Jonas. Keep watching that old man. I won’t get in your way.”
But Jonas turned fully around to look at him.
“Where am I? And who is that guy in the chair?”
“You’ll know soon enough, Jonas. But for now, I want you to just watch him, see what he does, where he goes.”
Jonas blinked, not sure what Oliver wanted him to see, and reluctantly turned around. Jonas watched the old man.
The old man was taking the last bite of his dinner. He sighed and sat back in the cushioned chair. He remained in the chair, looking at the ceiling for a moment, before he pushed the small table, holding the remains of the TV dinner, away from him. With slow movements, he got out of the chair, picked up his dinner’s tray, and shuffled, slightly bent over, to the rear of the room.
The man arrived under the ceiling light, and Jonas moved closer to him. Jonas could see that the area was a small kitchen. It appeared to be clean with uncluttered countertops. ‘The man, if nothing else, was orderly,’ Jonas thought.
As the man began washing the dinnerware that he had used, Jonas was able to get a better look at the man under the ceiling light. He had white thinning hair, and his face was wrinkled as of a man over 70 years old. He was wearing a faded thin robe over what appeared to be his pajamas. Parts of his face were still in shadow from the overhead light, but he thought that the man looked familiar.
The old man finished cleaning the kitchen and turned out the ceiling light, throwing the room into darkness, except for the glow of the television. While Jonas’ eyes adjusted to the darkness, he missed seeing the old man move into the larger part of the room.
Just then another light came on above Jonas. The old man was standing to his left, looking into a floor to ceiling bookcase covering the entire wall. ‘That must contain over a thousand books,’ Jonas thought. The old man thumbed the spines of several books, apparently looking for a particular one.
‘There you are,’ he said to the book as he removed his choice from the bookcase. He turned, and, shutting off the light and then the television, began shuffling back to his overstuffed chair. Jonas finally got a good look at the old man just before he turned out the overhead light.
‘Those eyes, the way his mouth is formed,’ Jonas thought. ‘He looks like someone I’ve seen before.’
Jonas suddenly turned to Oliver. “I know him, don’t I?”
“Yes you do, Jonas,”
“But where? Where have I seen him before?”
“Look at him again Jonas. It’ll come to you.”
Jonas turned back to watch as the old man slumped into his chair. The man leaned over and turned on the table lamp next to him. He then shrugged his shoulders, settled himself into the chair, and opened his book.
Jonas watched the man, trying to remember where he has seen him. After a few moments, he looked up and around the room. He wanted to find something that would remind him of who the man was. To his right, on the wall opposite the bookcase, he noticed a small table covered with framed photographs. There were at least a dozen of them. Alongside the photographs was an ancient Smith Corona typewriter.
Thinking that the man’s photographs might give him a clue to who he is, Jonas walked over to the table to get a better look. Oliver watched Jonas, but did not follow him.
Jonas found some old faded photographs of people that he did not recognize. But one in the center caught his eye. It was a picture of a boy standing with a man dressed in a military uniform. The man had his arm over the boy’s shoulders. The man was strikingly handsome. Jonas bent down to get a better look.
Jonas instantly scrambled backwards and tried to catch his breath. He had just seen a picture of himself, taken when he was about thirteen years old, standing with his father. He turned around to see Oliver standing across the room and rushed toward him.
“That’s me, isn’t it, the boy in the picture?”
“Yes it is.”
“And that’s my father next to me, isn’t it?”
Oliver took a few moments to look at Jonas before he said, “Yes it is, Jonas.”
“Well then, what am I doing on his table of photographs?”
Oliver did not answer.
Jonas reached up and ran his fingers through his hair, staring at Oliver. Suddenly, he turned away from Oliver and watched the old man. After a few moments he turned back toward Oliver.
“That old man is me, isn’t it? That’s me in the future,” he said, his voice now under control.
Oliver looked into Jonas’ eyes for a moment.
“Jonas, that’s what your future holds.”
“But, that man is alone.”
“Yes he is.”
The table lamp went out. Jonas turned to watch the old man get up from his chair and walk to the side of the room with the table of photographs. He heard a door open and then a light came on within the room. Jonas hadn’t noticed the door in the darkness before. He and Oliver walked closer to the open door, and when they were close enough to see inside, Jonas saw it was a bedroom. It contained a single bed, a nightstand with a reading light, a dresser, and a single chair on the opposite side of the bed.
The old man sat on the side of the bed and looked outward, but it appeared as though he wasn’t seeing anything. After a moment he turned on the night light, got off the bed, walked to the door, and turned off the overhead light. He then returned and sat down on the side of his bed again.
“Jonas?” Oliver said to him.
Jonas didn’t respond.
“Jonas? Oliver repeated.
Jonas turned toward Oliver. Jonas had tears flowing over both cheeks. He sniffled.
“Oliver, there’s only a single bed in there. Did you see that?” he asked.
“Yes, I saw.”
Jonas couldn’t speak for a moment, trying to stop the tears.
“Oliver, he has no one, no one to be with him in his old age.”
Oliver looked at Jonas without answering.
“That’s what I’m going to be like,” Jonas said to no one as he watched the old man climb under the blankets and sheet. Shortly afterwards, the night light went out.
Jonas kept his eyes toward the darkened room, no longer able to see himself. Jonas was scared.
“Jonas, I think we’re done for tonight,” Oliver said from behind Jonas.
Jonas did not move. He kept his eyes on the darkened room.
“Jonas, it’s time to go.”
Jonas turned around, but was only able to stare at Oliver. He nodded his head as his eyes closed.
“Jonas, I’m going to leave you now. My night is complete. I’ve showed you what your life can be like. The choice is yours.” Oliver then moved around the Colonel’s desk toward Jonas.
Jonas, standing in front of the desk, still shaken from the vision of the lonely old man, stared at Oliver as he approached. It took him a moment to speak.
“Will I see you again?”
Oliver chuckled. “No, Jonas, you won’t see me again. But, I’ll always be with you, because, I am you. I am your past, your present, and I am your future, remember?”
“One last thing before you go…do you remember that table with the photographs on it?”
“Yes. It’s what I hoped you’d see.”
“There was an old typewriter on it, remember?”
“Oh yeah, it’s always been there.”
“Is that the same typewriter that I was using when you first came to me?”
Oliver stared at Jonas for a moment.
“Jonas, the old man kept that typewriter because it had always reminded him of our voyage tonight. What it meant to him was a journey not taken.”
Jonas smiled for the first time that evening. “Good bye Oliver,” he said.
Oliver smiled. “Make the right choice, Jonas. Give yourself the chance to be who you are, and love who you are.”
Jonas continued to use the old Smith Corona typewriter to work on his paper for most of the next few days. By the end of the fourth day, he had it finally finished. It was Sunday, New Year’s Day, and school would begin tomorrow.
During previous Christmas breaks, Jonas would spend his time basically doing nothing. But the end of this break was special for him. As he looked at the finished typing, he knew that he had written the greatest adventure of his life. He hadn’t seen the Rocky Mountains, hadn’t seen Africa on a big game hunting expedition, or hadn’t seen the world fly by him as he was bungee jumping off of a bridge. No. What Jonas had seen was something far more important. He had seen himself.
He had a dream three nights ago, but he wasn’t quite sure it really was a dream. If it was a dream, it wouldn’t matter. But if it were real, that somehow he had been able see his future, then he knew that if he finished the paper on the typewriter, the old man would be released from his hell.
Jonas’ father had missed Christmas at home this year. He had to fly to Afghanistan to be with the troops. They weren’t his troops, but the Army had asked him be with the men to show support. Jonas hadn’t seen his father since December 22nd, but he knew that his father would be home the week that school started. Jonas was to turn in his paper on the first day back at school.
As Jonas’ mind relaxed after completing his paper, he suddenly remembered Keith. ‘I need to call him,’ he thought, ‘Right now.’
Jonas found his cell phone on his dad’s wooden desk and punched in Keith’s number. He waited, for what seemed an eternity, before someone answered his call.
“Hi Keith. It’s Jonas.”
Silence came from the phone.
“Jonas! Hm…I didn’t expect to hear from you.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I should have called you sooner.”
“No, that’s okay. I’m glad you called though.”
Jonas was unsure of what to say next to him. But after a moment, he cleared his throat.
“Keith? Remember when you talked to me at your basketball practice two weeks ago, in the bleachers?”
“Yeah, I remember. I remember being scared to death too.”
“You came out to me that afternoon.”
Keith didn’t say anything for a few moments.
“Keith. Are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here. I’m sorry Jonas. I’m still working through that.”
“Working through what?”
There was silence again for a moment.
“Jonas, I hadn’t heard from you for two weeks. I’d watch you in class, but you seemed to be avoiding me. I didn’t know what to think.”
Now there was a silence on Keith’s cell phone.
“Keith. I’m really sorry. I guess I’ve been working through a few things too.”
“It’s okay, Jonas.”
“Keith, you asked me if we could get together and have a burger, and…well…I’d like that. I think we may have a few things in common.”
Now Jonas heard the silence.
“How about right after school tomorrow? Oh, shit. You have practice right after school, don’t you?”
Again, Jonas heard silence.
“Well, I could miss practice.”
Jonas was overjoyed. “Okay, I’ll meet you at Daly’s at say 3:30. That should give us time to get there.”
“What’s wrong with McDonald’s? It’s a lot closer.”
“Daly’s is a bit further from the school, I know, but it’s not so crowded. There’re some things that I would like to talk to you about, some things that would help you get to know me, the real me.”
“Okay, let’s meet there then.”
“Okay, see you then.”
Jonas left his father’s office and went to his bedroom. He laid down on his bed with his hands propping up his head as he gazed at the ceiling.
‘He’s going to talk to me,’ he thought. ‘This isn’t a date, yet, but maybe, maybe, if things work out, we might actually go out on a real date.’
Jonas felt so right with the world. He had made the decision that his life was his own and no one else’s. Jonas thought back to the night that he had spent with himself, the Oliver self. He knew it was a dream, but then he remembered that it had started while he was awake.
The sound of the classroom door closing turned the attention of the class toward the front as Mr. Crocket walked to his desk. It was Monday morning, and Jonas was seated in his second period Creative Writing class,
“Good morning class,” the teacher said. “Let’s get right to work. First, pass the papers that you had to do over the holidays to the front.”
He waited until all of the papers had been passed and he had collected them. After placing the pile on his desk, he looked back at his class.
“Now, who wants to tell me what you felt while writing that paper?” He looked over the face of each student in the classroom.
Just then, Keith raised his hand, and Jonas threw him a look.
“Yes, Keith,” the teacher said.
Keith stood up, but glanced at Jonas for a moment before returning his eyes to the front.
“Well, I wrote about the time that I went sky diving with my uncle. I had never done that before, and it scared the sh…crap out of me, but I have never before experienced such a thrill. But it also taught me something.”
Mr. Crocket smiled at Keith. “And that was?”
Keith, again, looked at Jonas for a moment, but then returned his attention toward the teacher.
“It taught me that everything in life has risks. You can have fun, but you also have to look at the risks that you take in having that fun. But more than that, I looked ahead and figured that whatever you do in life has risks. You have to look at the risk, and ask yourself, is doing what you want to do worth that risk.”
Jonas looked at Keith in total admiration, but, it had started him thinking about his decision to come out to his dad. There were risks.
Mr. Crocket smiled again. “Well said Keith.”
The teacher again looked around the classroom. “Anyone else dare to venture into our literary world?”
A guy seated next to Keith raised his hand.
Mr. Crocket looked at Mark and smiled.
“Okay, Mark. How did you find the experience?”
Mark stayed in his chair to answer the teacher’s question. “I wrote about a trip that I had with my older brother to Disney World in Florida last year. It was cool, but the best part was that I met Julie.” Mark grinned. “I met the most wonderful girl.”
Mark looked down for a moment before looking back toward the teacher. “But Mr. Crocket, I didn’t like having a writing assignment over our Christmas Break. It took away from the fun we were supposed to have.”
The writing teacher looked at Mark, quizzically. “Mark, what did you learn from this assignment?” he asked.
Mark lowered his head for a moment before looking up again.
“I guess I learned that love can find you anywhere. It doesn’t happen when you plan it. It just happens out of the blue.”
Jonas looked over toward Keith to find him looking back at him.
“Thank you, Mark.” Looking over the class again, he asked, “Anyone else?”
No one raised their hand.
Mr. Crocket returned to his desk, stacked the papers into a neater pile, and sat behind his desk. He then looked up toward his students.
“I’ll have grades for you on Wednesday. That will give everyone a day to rehearse, edit some if you need to, and be prepared to read them to the class on Thursday.
He then looked at the pile in front him before looking up again.
“No one should be embarrassed about reading their stories. You are all good writers, and I want you to enjoy the experience of telling your classmates about something that excited you.
“Now, please take out your journals and see what you have written over the past few weeks. Given what you heard in the class today, I want you to write an entry about what you’ve learned from this assignment. You have the rest of the period to complete your entries.”
Jonas looked toward Keith and saw him smiling back at him. Both boys nodded to each other and began taking their journals out of their backpacks.
Mr. Crocket picked up the first paper and began reading.
After Jonas had finished his journal entry, he looked over at Keith and watched him in anticipation of their meeting after school. Looking up at the clock, he wondered what he should do for the last twenty minutes of class time. He began doodling in his journal.
The bell finally rang, signaling the end of class.
Daly’s was virtually empty, as he expected it would be. Their burgers were the best in town, but most of the customers came for the evening meal. It was too far away from the high school to attract many students after school.
Jonas walked through the front door and looked around the restaurant for Keith. He saw him sitting just to his right at a window table, far from the few other customers, who were seated closer to the back. He turned immediately and walked over to him.
“Hey,” Jonas said.
“Hey,” was Keith’s reply.
“Have you ordered yet?”
“No. Not yet. I just got here.”
Jonas immediately took a seat opposite Keith.
“Okay if I join you?” he asked.
Keith sat back and laughed. “Well, we’re supposed to meet and eat a couple of burgers together, so I guess it’s alright.”
Jonas looked at the table in front of him, embarrassed. He knew that he had opened up the conversation by putting his foot in his mouth.
Neither boy spoke for a few moments, looking down at their napkins.
Keith finally looked up.
“For calling me, and for having a burger with me.”
‘This guy is so nice,’ Jonas thought. He kept looking at Keith.
“Keith, I’ve wanted to talk to you like forever. When you came up to me…”
“What can I get for you guys,” the waiter asked.
Both boys looked up at the boy standing next to the table. He looked no older than seventeen or eighteen.
“Ah, I’ll have a Daly’s burger, no mayo and a large coke, please,” Keith answered.
Jonas looked at Keith and smiled. He turned his attention back toward the waiter.
“I’ll have the same,” he said.
“Okay, be right up,” the boy said, turned, and left Jonas and Keith to continue their talk.
Both boys were looking down at the table, when Keith finally looked up.
“You were saying?” he asked.
Jonas looked back up toward Keith, pausing for a moment.
“I was saying that when you came up to me, I thought that you were going to hit me. I thought that you had seen me watching you while you were practicing.”
Jonas looked down for a moment but returned his gaze toward Keith.
“When you told me that you were gay, I didn’t know what to think. I was scared, but…I was also thrilled, because I’d been attracted to you for a long time, ever since you walked into our Creative Writing class. I was scared because I realized then that I might have to admit to you that I’m gay too. I wasn’t ready to do that then.”
“Then?” Keith asked. “Has something changed?”
“A lot! I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I’ve been thrown under the bus for my way of trying to hide who I am. What you did to me, coming up and telling me what you did, really helped open my eyes.”
Keith looked at Jonas with questions, and Jonas saw the questioning look.
“Keith, something happened to me the other night. It may have been a dream, I don’t know, but I saw myself, outside of myself, if that makes any sense, and I saw me, the real me.”
Keith remained quizzical.
“Keith, don’t try to understand what happened to me, other than to know that I’m gay too. I didn’t want to admit it. I’ve questioned it for a long time, but the other night, I accepted it. I’m going to be me.”
Keith looked down at the table, looked back up, and threw away his questions.
“Jonas, look at me, please.”
Jonas looked back up into Keith’s eyes, and saw understanding in them.
“You wouldn’t believe what I went through. Just like you, I wouldn’t believe it about myself either. It took me a long time to finally understand who I was. And just like what you’re doing right now, being honest with yourself, telling someone else, I went through the same thing. I have a good idea of just how nerve wracking this experience is for you.”
The boys then smiled at each other, a budding bond being forged.
“Here’s the best burgers you’ll ever taste in this town,” the waiter said as he put a basket in front of each of them. He then placed their cola drinks in front of each basket.
Both boys looked up at the young waiter, grins on their faces.
The waiter smiled back at them, guessing that there was more than just a best friend scenario between them.
“Enjoy,” he said as he left them alone.
After the waiter had left, both boys stared at each other, wondering what to say next.
Jonas broke the ice.
Jonas looked down at his burger basket for a moment, but then looked back into Keith’s eyes.
“Keith? I want to be your friend.”
Keith smiled back at Jonas. “And I want to be your friend, Jonas.”
Jonas was home alone that evening. He had finished what little homework he had and was about to head for the living room to watch some TV when he heard his cell phone ringing. He turned around, walked over to his desk, and when he picked up the cell phone, he noticed that is was his father calling.
“Hey kid. How’s it going?”
“All’s good, Dad.”
“I guess school started back again for you this morning, huh? Any problems getting up on time after being allowed to sleep in for the past two weeks?” his father asked, snickering.
“No, Dad. It was a good start,” Jonas said, also snickering, knowing his dad was ragging on him.
“I’m so sorry, Jonas, that I couldn’t have been there for Christmas.”
“That’s okay Dad. I know that when the Army asks you to do something, it’s not really asking, is it?”
Jonas’ father laughed into the phone.
“Well, I could have turned it down, but it would be nice to have that star before I retire.”
“What would I call you then? General Dad?” Jonas laughed into his cell.
“Funny, Jonas,” his dad said, and then asked, “So, what did you do during your break?”
There was a slight pause.
“Mr. Crocket, our Creative Writing teacher, gave us a writing assignment to do over the holidays. I spent most of my time writing on it. I even spent time when I could have been welcoming in 2012 at a typewriter.”
“That old Smith Corona?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Why would you want to use that old thing when you’ve got a computer?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I saw it on your desk, and…I don’t know why, but something told me to write on it.”
“That was your grandfather’s, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Was it an interesting assignment?”
“Yeah, it was, but it wasn’t. We had to write about some adventure in our lives. Problem was that I couldn’t think of any adventurous things that have happened to me. Now, everyone has to read their paper to the whole class on Thursday.”
“What did you finally write about?”
Jonas gulped. ‘I can’t tell him that,’ he thought. Jonas knew that it was not the time to tell him something that could shatter his father’s life.
“I’ll tell you all about it when you get home. It’s a long story.”
“Okay. Well, the reason I’m calling, Jonas, is to let you know my plans for coming home. They’ve got me booked on a military flight out of Kabul early on Wednesday morning. I have to change to a civilian airline in Germany. One more stop in New York, and then I should be back in Detroit sometime on Thursday morning. If all goes well, I should see you at home after school on Thursday.”
“That’s the day that I have to read my paper to the class. Why don’t I just skip that day so I can be here when you get home?”
“No, I think you should go to school. Although I would love to be there when you read your paper, I don’t think I’ll be home in time, so I’ll probably see you after school.”
“I’ll be glad to have you home, Dad.”
“It’ll be good to be home again. Anyway, I have to run. Good night, son.”
“Love you Dad.”
“Love you too.”
The phone went dead, and Jonas stared at it for a moment. He loved his dad so much, and was starting to become afraid of what he had to do.
Tuesday’s classes at school became a drudgery for Jonas. He wanted the week to fast forward to Thursday so that he wouldn’t have to think about it for the next two days. Two days seemed like forever to him. But, by Thursday night, it would be all over.
After school, Jonas met Keith for a burger snack. This time they went to McDonalds. When they sat down at a table and started gobbling French fries, Keith stopped eating and looked at Jonas.
“Jonas?” he asked. “Something’s bothering you. I can tell. I noticed it during Creative Writing and at lunch today. You seem nervous.
Jonas looked toward Keith.
“Wanna talk about it, Jonas?”
Jonas stopped eating, a single French fry still in hand. He dropped the fry, and looked directly into Keith’s eyes.
“Keith, I’ve made a decision to come out to my father when he gets home.”
“Whoa. What brought that on?”
“It’s been in the back of my mind ever since I had that dream.”
“The one you told me about at Daly’s?”
“Yeah, but I really didn’t tell you what it was about.”
Keith looked on with curiosity.
“Keith, the dream was about me. Remember the storm we had last week?
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Well, in my dream, the wind shattered the window in my dad’s study and a boy came in through the opening. The boy was me.”
“The boy was you? I don’t understand.”
“This is hard to explain, and you probably won’t believe me anyway.”
“Give me a try, Jonas. I’m really curious now.”
“Okay. The boy said that he was me, well, the me that I’m supposed to be, not the me that I was back then.”
Keith raised his eyebrows.
“He then went on to show me what I’ve been like. He took me to my Physics class, and I saw myself telling the teacher that I didn’t know the answer to a problem, although I really did know the answer. This actually happened just before Christmas break.”
“You mean the Physics class?”
“Yeah, and I had to admit to myself that I didn’t want to answer the teacher’s question because I didn’t want to look like a geek.”
“He made me see that I was trying to be like everyone else, and I wasn’t being myself, because I really did know the answer.”
“Hmmm,” Keith replied.
“Yeah. Next he took me to the gym, where I saw the fight you had with Robin.”
“It wasn’t much of a fight. Oh! That’s the day that I went up to talk to you in the bleachers, right?”
“That’s the day. But before you came up to me, he took me into the coach’s office and…”
Keith wrenched. “You heard what we talked about?”
Jonas saw the embarrassment in Keith’s eyes.
“I’m sorry Keith. I know it was a private conversation, but something good came out of it.”
Keith stared at Jonas.
“Keith, I heard what you said to the coach. You said that your family accepted your being gay because they loved you. I realized right then that my father would accept my being gay too, because I know that he loves me.”
Keith’s head tilted slightly to the side.
“This has a lot to do with your coming out to him, doesn’t it?” Keith asked.
“Yeah. A lot!”
“And that was your dream?”
“No. There’s more. After we left the coach’s office, he took me to my future. He showed me this old man that was all alone. If I stay in the closet all my life, that old guy would be me.”
“Wow,” was all Keith could say.
“You can say that again, Jonas.”
Keith’s smile soon faded, replaced by a quizzical look.
“But Jonas, you said that this dream started when you were working on your paper. That means that you were awake when it started.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Both boys stared at each other for a moment.
“So this ‘dream,’ as you call it, is what helped you make up your mind about coming out to your dad?” Keith asked.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“But Jonas, what if your dad doesn’t accept you being gay?”
Jonas looked down at his half eaten hamburger, but then turned back toward Keith.
“I don’t know, Keith. You said it yourself. There’s always some risk associated with everything that we do. I’ve thought about that, a lot. I’ve been trying to weigh the risk of him disowning me against me hiding who I really am.”
Just then, Keith’s eyes went wide.
“Ah, Jonas? Is this dream what you wrote about?”
“Yeah, quite an adventure, isn’t it?
“Jonas, you’re reading that to the whole class on Thursday. You’re coming out to everyone. You know that, don’t you?”
“I know. But Keith, it’s going to happen sooner or later anyway. I’ve got to be who I am, just like you did.”
Keith nodded his head at Jonas.
“But…I am worried about my dad. I think he will accept me, because he loves me, but I’m so scared of disappointing him.”
“I know the feeling Jonas. I really do.”
On Wednesday, Jonas began thinking about seeing his dad the next day as he finished the last of his cereal. He had been trying to rehearse what he was going to say to him all morning, but everything he thought of saying, just didn’t seem to come out right. He had just today and tomorrow to come up with the perfect way to say it.
‘Oh, Dad? By the way, I’m gay,’ he thought.
Jonas shook his head.
By the time he reached his Creative Writing class, Jonas still hadn’t thought of a way to approach the subject with his father.
“Good morning class,” Mr. Crocket said as he walked to his desk. He placed a stack of papers on top and turned toward the class.
“Well, I must say that I’m impressed with your work. Some of these are very good. Some need a little polish, but on the whole, you did well.”
The teacher picked up the stack of student papers, began calling names, and handed them to each student individually. When he called Jonas’ name, he walked over to where he was sitting, but hesitated slightly before handing him his paper.
“Jonas, could you see me after class?” Mr. Crocket asked.
Jonas had a questioning look on his face, but he slowly nodded.
Jonas looked down at his own paper as his teacher continued to pass out the remaining papers. Written across the front of the paper in bold red ink were the words, “Excellent work Jonas.” At the top of the paper was an A++. He smiled and held the paper up for Keith to see.
Keith noticed Jonas holding his paper in the air for him as Mr. Crocket handed him back his own. He looked at the top page, and grinned. Keith then held up his A- for Jonas to see.
As the class period was about to finish, Jonas began to wonder what it was that Mr. Crocket wanted to talk to him about. When the bell finally rang, he waited in his seat for the classroom to clear before making his way toward the front of the room.
As he approached the desk, he noticed Keith standing in the doorway with a questioning look on his face. He held up his index finger and mouthed to words, “One second.” He then turned his attention toward his teacher.
“Jonas, I’ve got to say that that was a remarkable story you told,” Mr. Crocket said. “It took a lot of courage to write what you did, but you know that you’ll be outing yourself to the whole class tomorrow. Are you sure you want to do that?”
Jonas looked toward Keith for a moment before answering his teacher.
“Yes sir. I believe I have to.”
“You’ve given this a lot of thought?”
“Yes sir, I have.”
Jonas looked down for a moment and then returned his gaze toward his teacher.
“I’d like to say a few words to the class before I read my paper, if it’s okay with you.”
“Given the subject matter, I think a few words of warning are appropriate. Okay, go ahead. And Jonas, I know that tomorrow won’t be easy for you, but I admire you for what you’re doing.”
Jonas smiled at his teacher, nodded his head, and walked across the room to join Keith.
The knot in Jonas’ stomach was beginning to tighten as he walked into his second period class on Thursday morning. ‘This is the day,’ he thought to himself.
As Jonas was taking his seat, the bell rang, and Mr. Crocket walked into the room.
“Good morning class,” he said as he made his way to his desk. When he arrived at the front of the room, he turned to face the class.
“Let’s begin, shall we. This is a small class so we should be able to get to everyone by the end of the period.”
The teacher looked down at his desk for a moment, his hand moving over a piece of paper. He then looked up at the class. “I’m going to start with the paper with the lowest grade first. But the lowest grade was a B-. All the papers were good.”
“Heather, I believe you’re up first.”
As the readings continued, Jonas became more nervous. He was starting to have major doubts about his decision to come out today. He had wrestled with the possibility that it might not go as well as he would have hoped, but his resolve always returned when he remembered the lonely old man. Today, that resolve was having a hard time resurfacing.
Keith had just finished telling the class about his sky diving adventure when Jonas heard the door at the back of the classroom open. He looked around to see what was happening…and he froze.
His father had just walked into the room.
‘Oh my God! What’s he doing here?’
As his father walked over to stand at the rear of the classroom, Jonas quickly turned around. His eyes sought out Keith and found him looking directly at him. Keith had questions in his eyes.
Keith looked toward the back of the room momentarily before returning to watch Jonas. “What,” he mouthed.
Jonas sank down in his chair. He looked back toward Keith and mouthed, “My dad.”
Keith’s eyes opened wider as he understood what Jonas was saying. His eyes saw the fear in Jonas’ eyes.
‘This can’t be happening,’ Jonas thought. ‘I’m not ready to tell him yet. It was supposed to happen when I got home this afternoon, not now, not here.’
Jonas watched as Mr. Crocket walked to the back of the room and started talking to his father. After a brief conversation with his dad, the teacher returned to his desk.
Kyle had just finished reading his paper, and Jonas knew that there was only one more reader before it was his turn. He would be the last reader with his A++ grade.
‘What do I do now?’ raced through his mind.
‘Do what you have to do, Jonas,’ Jonas heard in his mind.
Jonas looked up toward the front of the classroom and saw Robby begin to read his paper, but another boy was standing behind him.
‘Oliver?’ he thought.
‘Yes, it’s me Jonas. Don’t worry, no one can see me.’
‘But, what are you doing here?’
‘I’m here to watch you become me. I’m here to see you become the real you.’
Jonas stared at Oliver for a moment, and in that brief moment, Jonas found his resolve.
‘I am not my father,’ he told himself. ‘I can’t be him.’
Jonas looked over toward Keith again, and smiled.
When Robby was finished, Jonas walked to the front of the room. Oliver nodded his head at him, and then smiled.
As Jonas reached the front of the room, he turned and looked directly into his father’s eyes. Jonas did not smile.
Jonas looked at his paper for a moment before returning to look at the class.
“I’m going to read my paper to you, but before I do, there are a few things that I want to say to you.
He then looked at the proud smile on his dad’s face.
‘I hope you’re still proud of me when this is finished.’ Jonas thought.
“I want to talk to you about what you all have been doing to each other. Some of what you do hurts. It destroys lives.”
The room became very quiet as Jonas let his words sink in.
“I don’t think that you do it maliciously, but it forces other kids to be afraid of ever reaching what is possible for them.
“I know. It put a staggering fear in me, a fear so debilitating that I was about to lose my life because of it.”
Jonas looked back at his father again.
“Dad?” he started to say, but the tears from his eyes kept his words back.
Jonas sniffed to clear himself before continuing.
“Dad, you are my rock. You always have been. I wanted to be like you so very much, but I now know that I can’t be. It’s not that I’m unable to be like you, it’s just that I have to be who I am, whoever that is.”
Keith saw the pain and tears in Jonas’ eyes and jumped from his seat. He moved toward Jonas, and when he reached him, he slowed and stood behind him. The then slowly put his hand on Jonas’ shoulder.
Jonas turned and looked at him.
Jonas smiled as he returned to look back at the class.
“I’m gay,” he said, softly.
Shuffling noises could be heard as the kids reacted to what Jonas had just declared. Jonas’ eyes narrowed.
“But the homophobia that runs rampant in this school was like an anvil around my neck. It kept a fear in me so prevalent that I refused to admit that I was gay. I was keeping me, the real me, so deep inside that it could never have come out.”
Jonas looked at his father again and saw the tears streaming down his cheeks. He also saw the pain in his father’s eyes.
Keith squeezed his shoulder, reassuring him that he was there for him.
“I also know that I’m not alone. There are many of you out there that are gay. You didn’t choose to be. You just are. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. Don’t let this ignorance that is all around you, be your anvil.”
Jonas turned around, searching for Oliver. He wasn’t there.
‘Jonas, I’m still here. I’ll always be with you now. I won’t be on the outside anymore, because I am now within you. You are the real you now.’
Jonas again looked toward his father. The tears were now heavier on his father’s cheeks.
Jonas began reading his paper to the class. It described his dream and how that dream made him realize what he had to do to preserve the life that he was meant to live.
The room remained deadly quiet after Jonas had finished reading his paper. Suddenly a boy at the back of the classroom stood and began clapping his hands. This was followed by another student. Soon the entire class was standing and applauding.
Jonas looked toward the back of the classroom…and watched his father walk out.
At the end of the class period, Jonas and Keith headed for the door. As they entered the hallway, Jonas looked up and saw his father across the heads of the kids moving toward their next class. He stopped and waited for the crowd to thin, still watching his father. The man had his arms folded across his chest, and the tears were still in his eyes.
As the crowd thinned, Jonas made his way across the hallway to his father. Keith watched him leave, but did not follow.
The closer that Jonas got to his father, the more his own tears began to silently flow.
Jonas’ father unfolded his arms as he watched his son approach.
Jonas stopped within a few feet of his dad. His lips were quivering again as he saw the pain in his dad’s eyes.
“Dad, I’m so…”
“Stop,” his father said as he held up the palm of his hand toward Jonas.
“Don’t say anything Jonas. It’s my turn.”
Jonas began to shake.
His dad sniffed a couple of times before he could speak.
“Jonas, I must have just missed you this morning when I got home. I had time, so I decided that I’d go to your class and hear you read your paper. And I’m glad I did.”
Jonas’ father looked over at Keith for a moment before turning his attention back toward his son.
“Jonas, I have never been as proud of you as I am today. I didn’t realize what anguish you must have been going through. It is I who needs to apologize to you for not always being there in the way you needed me to be. I am really sorry for that.”
Jonas flew into his dad’s outstretched arms, the man and boy bringing back the togetherness that they both so wanted.
Keith walked over to father and son, and stood behind Jonas. Jonas turned to look at him and then back at his dad.
“Well, are you going to introduce me to this young man?”
I apologize to Charles Dickens for using a theme from one of his stories, A Christmas Carol. Great composers use themes from other composers as authors also use ideas from other authors. Charles Dickens was one of the masters, and I have nothing but admiration for his creative genius.
I must also thank Colin Kelly and Anthony Camacho for their many hours of work in editing this story. I am indebted to them.
Richard submitted Oliver as his entry in the AwesomeDude 2012 ‘Coming Out’ Short Story Challenge. Codey’s World author DesDownUnder was the judge for the Challenge. He selected Oliver as the winner, and the following is what he wrote about the winning story:
I’ve now read all the stories in the challenge and found them all excellent.
Oliver, however, is a stand out for me because it touches on the human condition
in a most universal way with profound meaning for life itself.
Warning: Spoiler ahead
Richard, there is no need to apologize for using Dicken’s template of
A Christmas Carol, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last.
(I confess to doing it myself in my A Christmas for Carol story.)
The sheer creativity in Oliver displaces any idea that it is merely an adaptation of Dicken’s work. It is so much more.
Oliver is not just a ‘coming out’ tale. It is a ‘coming together’ story: the unification of youth’s evolving potential, and the discovery of what it means to let ourselves and each other be who we are. The way that Richard exposes the cultural pressures on Jonas to be other than who he is, is done with superb restraint and subtlety, relegating the drama to creating the atmosphere of a storm that was never as bad as it might have been.
The anticipation of the human drama is never less, or more, than it should be, but it manages to suggest the value of confrontation with self-discovery.
I cannot allow Richard’s work to go unpunished, so I am awarding him my appreciation award for writing a story that contributes to our understanding of
the human condition in life, love and coming out. Well done, Richard!
for his outstanding revelation of
the mysteries and evolution
of sanity in Coming Out
in his story,
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don’t want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren’t supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!