Geoff's Senior Year

Geoff's Senior Year (by Grant Bentley)

By Grant Bentley

I am a senior in Churchill Memorial High School. I guess most of my classmates would call me a jock. I’m on the school’s football team and on the hockey team. I don’t really see myself as a jock. I may not be on the honour roll, but I do maintain a 76% average in all my courses. And…I’m not a conceited ass who thinks he’s better than anyone else or more important than anyone else either. I’m just a kid who likes sports. But this isn’t all about me. It’s more about my best friend, Geoff. So I guess this is Geoff’s story.

Thanksgiving always seems like a special time of the year. I mean, Christmas is good and all, but Thanksgiving, I don’t know, seems like a time when good things happen. At least for me anyway, and I felt this year wasn’t going to be any different. Friday afternoon as I was leaving school, looking forward to another awesome Thanksgiving long weekend with my friends, I saw a kid from my class walking just ahead of me. His name was Geoff and he had just started at CMHS a few weeks ago. I knew that because he was in my homeroom, not because I ever talked to him or anything. I’m not sure why I didn’t. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but he was very quiet and seemed kinda shy. I had seen some of the guys give him a hard time a few times, but he seemed to just brush it off, so I never bothered to step in. 

What stuck me as weird, was it looked like he was carrying all his books and I do mean ALL his books. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, looks like he’s got a fun weekend planned. Either he’s a total nerd, or he just plain has no life outside of school.’ I had made sure I had almost no homework. I had a great weekend planned, and books weren’t going to be a part of it. A party at Michelle’s tonight, a football game with the guys on Saturday, a major Thanksgiving feast with family on Sunday, and more football with the guys on Monday. I just kinda grinned as I looked at his pile of books, then at the one book I was carrying, and continued on towards home.

We hadn’t gone more than a block though before I saw four guys running towards him. I was a bit surprised when they didn’t just run past him like I assumed they would. They ran at him. One of the guys body checked him so hard his books went flying everywhere and he fell flat on his back on the sidewalk. I don’t know how he didn’t crack his head open when he landed. The whole time they were laughing and calling him nerd boy and faggot and a few other choice names. Then, just as quickly, they ran off still laughing and yelling out more stupid, ignorant names.

By this time, I was standing almost on top of him. When he looked up as they ran off, I saw this incredible sadness in his eyes. There were no tears, just this sadness and my heart went out to him.

I tried to smile as I reached out to help him up and said, “Don’t pay any attention to their bullshit. They’re just a bunch losers trying to look cool.”

He looked at me, gave me this little smile, took my hand, and as I helped him up, he said, “Yeah I guess. Thanks.”

I helped him pick up his books and, as we did, I asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived on the next street over from me and like two houses down. When I mentioned that he had been in Churchill for a while and I hadn’t seen him walking home before, he told me that, until today, his dad had been picking him up. He also told me that he had lived with his mom in the northeast part of the city but had decided to move in with his dad about a month ago. I didn’t want to seem all nosey as to why he had moved across the city to his dad’s or why his dad picked him up everyday, so I didn’t pursue it. Instead, I started talking about the weekend and we went from there. We talked about this, that, and whatever else came to mind all the way to his place. Never once did he mention friends or even a friend and I got the impression he was seriously lonely. But he also seemed to be seriously cool, so I asked him if he wanted to play some flag football on Saturday with my friends and me. I got a big smile this time and a definite yes.

As it happened, except for Michelle’s party and Sunday dinner, we hung out together all weekend. We played football Saturday and Monday. He wasn’t very big, but man could he run. Not one of us had a hope in hell of catching him. He could also catch a football like nobody I’ve ever seen before. We all decided that he should definitely join the school’s football team because we were in serious need of a good wide receiver. When he said that he had never really played football before, except for the odd game when he was younger, none of us could believe it. Whether he played much or not, he was a natural.

A bunch of us wandered the mall after football on Saturday, watched a movie and hit the food court three or four times. On Sunday, Geoff came over and he and I played video games after dinner. I quickly came to realize that I was truly a video game amateur compared to him. On Monday we all went to the go-cart track after football and had a blast. We spent more time crashing into each other than racing though and got yelled at by the attendant a few times. All-in-all, it was one of the best Thanksgiving weekends ever…great company, great fun, and, for October, great weather.

The more time I spent with him over the weekend, the more I got to like him. The guys all thought he seemed totally cool too. He was smart. He was funny. He was competitive. And, he could play football. We did learn that his move and transfer to Churchill was the result of bullying by a number of students in Valley Ridge. We didn’t push him for a reason; not that bullies need a reason. If there was one, he didn’t divulge it, and we didn’t feel we needed to know. He was a good guy, we liked him, and that was enough for us.

When Tuesday morning came, there was Geoff with his huge stack of books again. I never did ask him why he had packed all his books home that weekend. I do know he didn’t open any of them…well maybe one. As he approached me, I grinned, reached out, took half the pile, and got a big grin back. A block later, Tony and Ross came running up as we made our way towards the school. They immediately set in trying to convince him to join the football team and didn’t stop till we got to school. Actually they didn’t stop till we got to homeroom and Mr. Harris told them to be quiet.

They did finally convince him to talk to Coach Wilson. The three of us got him to catch a few passes and run with them. The coach was impressed and asked him to come to practice after school. He did and he blew everyone away. Not one guy on the team could come close to catching him once he had that ball in his hands. Needless to say, he did join the team. In fact, he became the city’s all time highest scoring receiver. He averaged something like 2¾ touchdowns a game throughout the remainder of the season. Not bad for a guy who had never really played before.

A couple of weeks after he started playing, we were playing his old high school. We actually heard what sounded like a collective gasp when he was introduced and ran onto the field. By the end of the game, we weren’t hearing gasps. Instead, we were hearing moans as the final score was 39 to 14 and included two touchdown passes to Geoff and a ten yard pass followed by a sixty yard run for his third touchdown. Just to rub it in, Ross and I hoisted him on our shoulders and carried him to the dressing room. To say he was elated would have been an understatement.

It wasn’t long before Geoff and I were becoming best friends. We had so much in common, we were like twins…well, except I was about four inches taller that him. It wasn’t long before, whenever you saw Geoff, you saw me. Then, one Sunday, about three weeks after we met, and after a particularly exciting 43 to 7 semi-final victory over our biggest rivals, Geoff and I were lounging around in our family room downstairs when he gave me a particularly worried look. In fact, I would say he looked downright scared. That of course scared me too. Especially when he got all quiet and began to fidget and stare at the floor. We were never quiet when we were together. Especially after winning a game. Just ask my mom.

After a minute or two I couldn’t take it any more and I had to ask, “Is something wrong? Are you okay?”

He looked up at me and there were tears in his eyes and that nearly put me over the edge. I was almost ready to freak out.

“What’s wrong?” I asked worriedly, “Come on. I’m here for you man. Tell me what’s going on.”

After another minute or so, he finally replied, “First, I gotta tell you, you’re the first real close friend I’ve had since before junior high. You’re the first person to give a damn about me other than my mom and dad.”

“Of course I give a damn,” I responded, “You’re my best bud.”

“I know,” he said quietly, “Because of that, I think you need to know everything about me. This is something big. Something almost nobody understands.”

“You’re scaring me here,” I said, “And there’s nothing you can tell me that I won’t be cool with…nothing.”

“Oh God,” he responded with a huge sigh. Then, after a long pause, he said, “You have no idea what kind of hell I went through in Valley Ridge because of this.” Then in almost a whisper he added, “My birth name was Janet…not Geoff.”

I just stared at him. I was in total disbelief. I thought maybe he was going to tell me he was gay or something. But this? I knew about transgender people from the internet but I never expected I would ever actually know one. I mean, definitely not my best friend. Holy shit….

But, then I thought, ‘So what? He was Geoff when I met him and he’s still Geoff now. Nothing has changed. Well I don’t think so…has it? No…fuck no…of course it hasn’t. He’s not my best friend because of the equipment he was born with. He’s my best friend because he’s the coolest guy I know and I love him.’

Of course the look on my face and my silence scared him even more than he already was and the tears started to flow.

“I should just go,” he said through his tears, “I’m sorry.”

“Go?” I asked, “Go where?”

“I should probably just get out of your life and leave you alone,” he replied, “But, please…please don’t tell anyone.”

“Get out of my life? I don’t think so,” I stated forcefully, “Last I checked you were my best bud and I don’t see you going anywhere.”

Now it was his turn to stare at me blankly. Well, for about twenty seconds until I was wrapped in the tightest hug I have ever felt.

After a couple of minutes of tears, mine included, he pulled back and almost in shock, he asked, “You don’t care? I mean you’re like…okay with this?”

“Uh, yeah,” I replied, wiping a tear from my cheek, “Of course I’m okay with it. I have a shitload of questions, but I’m okay with it.”

And, I really did have a shitload of questions. And, Geoff had a shitload of answers. We talked non-stop for an hour until Mom called us for dinner. Then we talked for another two hours after dinner. I don’t think we missed a thing and it proved to be an emotional roller coaster for both of us. By the time he had to go home to do his homework for school on Monday, I think I was as close to an expert on being transgender as a guy could get without actually being transgender.

The best part was that, if anything, it brought us closer together. We were still best friends and always would be, and I gave him a huge hug as he was leaving just to prove it.

After he left, it took me a while before I could focus on my homework though. I couldn’t help but think about how weird it would be, and how hard it would be, to not be whom you felt in your heart you were. I was a guy. I was comfortable with who I was and there was no doubt about who I was. I tried to think of what it was like for Geoff. I mean, he was a guy just like I was a guy, but until two years ago, every time he looked in a mirror, he didn’t see a guy. Then once he did, he wasn’t allowed to appreciate it because he had to deal with ignorant hateful comments and bullying. Fuck…I don’t think I would have been able to deal with all that. I don’t know how he did it.

Monday morning we met up for our usual walk to school. Well it wasn’t totally usual. As we approached the school, Geoff was almost mobbed by kids still celebrating after our big victory and his three touchdowns. I even got a couple pats on the back for my two touchdowns rushing. I don’t think anyone got a lot of school work done that day because all they could do was talk about the game, and that in one more game and we could be city champions. By the end of the day every member of the team was walking on cloud nine…heroes each and every one of us. Well maybe not real heroes, but it was good to feel like one for a day.

The next day, we were in the dressing room after our last practice before the big championship game when RJ, one of the defensive guards came over and sat next to Geoff and me. RJ was a big guy, like 6’4” and 215lbs, and he was as tough and hardworking as they come.

He looked at Geoff for a minute and said, “My cousin Reg came over yesterday. He goes to Valley Ridge and was at our game there. He said knew you in middle school too.”

Geoff just went white and kinda stuttered an, “Oh…yeah?”

“What he told me, that’s why you never shower with us after a game or after practice isn’t it?” he asked.

All Geoff could do was sit there and fight back the tears. I put my hand on his shoulder to comfort him. I know he was picturing losing everything he had built for himself here at Churchill. He could see his life returning to the hell it had been at Valley Ridge and it just didn’t seem fair.

“Reg figures you’re some kinda freak,” he said quietly, “He figures a girl turnin’ into a guy just ain’t right. I can’t say I understand how that works and I don’t think I want to, but fuck it. In my books you’re all man and that’s all that matters to me. I told Reg he don’t know shit and to go fuck himself.”

I could literally feel the relief flow through Geoff’s body when RJ said that. A big smile lit up his face as he thanked RJ for standing up for him.

RJ just shrugged and said, “That’s what teammates do. Ain’t no big deal. Anyways, I gotta go. The old man’s prolly waitin’ for me. Be right pissed off if he has to wait more’n two minutes.”

“You don’t wanna catch crap man…and thanks,” I said as he walked off.

“Oh my God,” Geoff said with a big sigh, “I thought for sure I was in for it again.”

“You wouldn’t have been alone this time though,” I assured him, “I’ll always be here and I know the guys would have stood by you too.”

“Yeah I know I can count on you and the guys, thanks…and RJ now too,” he said with a smile, “I can’t believe he just up and said in front of you though. Thank God I told you the other day, cause this is not the way I’d want you to find out.”

“No, probably not,” I said grinning as I gave his shoulder a squeeze, “RJ’s not the brightest guy on the team, but he is a good guy, and he meant well. Besides, since we’re best buds, he probably figured I already knew.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said with another little sigh.

We didn’t waste any time finishing changing, getting out of the dressing room, and heading for home though. I know there was nothing to worry about, but after RJ’s declaration, I don’t think Geoff wanted to tempt fate.

The big game was on us before we knew it. Of course it was now November 16th, snowing, and cold as hell, but Geoff didn’t let us down. He had four touchdowns under his belt before the game was over. I had one and Tony had one. Add two field goals and the final score was 48 to 37. It wasn’t a blowout, but it was a win, a big win, and for the first time in ten years Churchill had the city championship trophy to adorn the front entryway for the next twelve months.

The crowd went wild and the next day back at school was a lost cause as far as classes were concerned. The day started off with a general assembly. When we were to make our appearance, RJ lifted Geoff onto his shoulders. I handed him the trophy and we marched into the gym with RJ, Geoff, and the trophy leading the way. It took ten minutes for the cheering, whistling, and applause to end and another ten minutes for our hearing to return. There were a couple of speeches from the principal and the coach but I don’t thing anyone could hear them. It was one of the most awesome moments of our lives, especially for Geoff. I think we had some new bruises by the end of the day from being patted on the back so many times. Even our cheeks hurt from grinning so much.

Unfortunately now, football season was over. But fortunately for me, hockey season was well underway. In fact I had been trying to juggle hockey and football for a few weeks. Geoff was not a hockey player, but he never missed one of my games. However, he was a snowboarder and, along with some of the guys, we spent countless hours at COP, or Canada Olympic Park, on the west side of the city. We also spent several weekends either at Lake Louise, Sunshine, Fernie, or Nakiska snowboarding some of the best slopes in the world. Living and hour to an hour and a half from the mountains and Banff National Park definitely has its advantages.

By the time snowboarding and hockey season were over in the spring, we began to think about university. We both decided on the University of Calgary for obvious reasons. Not having to pay ten to twelve thousand dollars to live in a dorm being one of them. Still having all our friends close by being another. Geoff decided on a degree in science and then graduate studies in sports medicine. I decided on a degree in environmental science and then graduate studies in environmental design. I decided I wanted to try out for the U of C Dinos football team. Geoff decided not to try out for the team for what he said were obvious reasons. I thought RJ was big so I didn’t really agree with him. That is, until I saw how big most of the Dinos defensive players were. Then I had to agree, as he was just a wee bit too small to survive a hit by any guy their size. In fact I wasn’t too sure I would survive a hit from some of them.

As if being the school’s football hero wasn’t enough, Geoff was also valedictorian of our class and, of course, had to give the obligatory thank you speech. One thing for sure, I was glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. The other thing for sure was, like his parents, I was so proud of him. I still had to give him a hard time about being the class nerd though, for which I received a universally understood hand gesture.

After all the grads were introduced, it was time for Geoff’s valedictory speech. He stood up and slowly walked to the podium. He did the ladies and gentlemen, graduates, honoured guests bit and then started his speech. Here are some of the highlights.

“Graduation is a time to thank those who helped us make it through some of the toughest years of our lives…high school. Our parents, who created us, love us, support us, pushed us, and occasionally yelled at us, helped guide us to be the young men and women we are today. Our teachers, who taught us, who tutored us, also pushed us and occasionally yelled at us, gave us the knowledge we need to now pursue our dreams. But mostly our friends, who chose us, love us, support us, occasionally help us get yelled at, and often, knowingly and unknowingly, save our lives.”

Then he paused, looked at me, gave me a little smile, and stunned us all as he told the story of the day we met. 

“High school had not been good to me before I came to Churchill. Unfortunately, the first few weeks here didn’t seem to be any different, and I didn’t think I could face another lonely year of bullying and ridicule. I had cleaned out my locker the Friday of the Thanksgiving weekend. I did it so Dad wouldn’t have to do it later. Then, on my way home, a simple gesture of compassion saved me from doing the unthinkable.”

He paused for a few seconds, I think to let what he just said sink in, before continuing with, “I’m here today because one person cared enough to reach out a helping hand when I needed it the most and I’ve been thankful every day since. Thankful for that Thanksgiving weekend when Logan Wainwright reached out to help me, became my friend, and changed my life forever. I am thankful to Logan’s friends who became my friends that weekend too. Because of him…and them…I’m still here…and I’m loving every minute of it.”

He paused again for a few seconds and ended his speech with, “We must never underestimate the power of one small gesture…a smile, a word, a hand offered in support. That small gesture can change, even save, a life…and enhance our own in the process.

Thank you and enjoy the banquet to follow. I know I will.”