A SHAFT of light entered through the high school doors. I immediately turned to it, totally enthralled by its brightness. I had never felt those feelings before. Who was this blond God who made me feel lighter than air, which for a buffalo like myself was not an easy task.
I know all of this sounds dramatic and corny but to an outcast sixteen-year-old it was all too real. I had led a very sheltered, you could say almost cloistered life. Saying that I kept to myself would be an understatement. My family had moved to Miami from New York about a year earlier. I found it just as difficult to make friends here as I had there, the difference being that there I knew where I stood. People were not averse to telling me to get out of their faces. Here everybody was polite, a wee bit more sociable, but the end result was still the same. I was always alone.
I was never one for fitting in, though nothing would have made me happier. I was not your typical boy. Sports were anathema to me, as were profanity and vulgarity. I didn’t like to get dirty. I didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. I watched silent movies, read comic books, and listened to the Andrews Sisters. A real recipe for student council president.
My parents didn’t know what to make of me, so they basically left me alone. I was raised by The Brady Bunch and taught how to dance by Soul Train. My role models were Mike Stivic and Laverne De Fazio. My romantic fantasies attracted me to Robin on Batmanand Major Donald West from Lost in Space.
Perhaps it was my parents’ unfamiliarity with the customs of this country or their complete disassociation from the English language that made them leave me to my own devices. Perhaps they just realized how different from the others I really was, and figured “What’s the use?” Whatever the cause, the effect was that, if I didn’t see it on TV, I didn’t know it existed.
So, here I was, with my Brooklyn accent, at an all-male, Jesuit prep high school, trying desperately to fit in. To make matters worse, my peers (and I use the term loosely) were always conservatively vocal on everything from race relations to homosexuality. I was sure that I was gay, though I had nothing to base it on. I knew I didn’t behave like the other guys. I never wanted to date, had no desire to look up skirts or down blouses, and felt strange sensations during gym class.
But then I met Nelson, and I had something tangible to base it on. I had never felt this way before. I couldn’t wait to see him every day at school. I would sit behind him in English class and stare at those broad shoulders and his muscular nape with gently curving, sandy blond hair caressing it. I fantasized about caressing it, among other things that I’d like to do. My mind was filled with romantic scenarios from all the movies I’d seen. He would take me in his arms and protect me from any villain.
It occurred to me that this feeling was too wonderful to be bad. I had never had an issue with being gay, because I was already an outcast, the school misfit, the one everybody laughed at. I was used to being criticized about my speech, the way I walked on my toes, my Coke bottle glasses, my inability to throw a ball. What was one more thing to be ostracized for?
These feelings I had every day: these butterflies that tapdanced inside my stomach; this rapid heartbeat every time he approached; this torturous anticipation to see his smile or hear his voice. All of this was heavenly to me. It filled my world with such joy that I knew, then and there, that this sensation could not be bad. Nothing that brought such joy, otherwise unknown to my drab existence, could be sinful or wrong. Whoever didn’t approve be damned! I would not allow anyone to rip the happiness from me or sully it with disapproval. For the first time in my nebulous existence, I saw the flickering light of expectation and hope. That light would not be dimmed by anyone. I simply could not allow this to happen.
We became friends and nothing else. After graduation, when I found out that he too was gay, I also learned that he had no interest in me. I carried a torch for him for many years, wondering what might have been. But the fantasy of my high school sweetheart and I having a lifetime together was over. On the other hand, those feelings of exaltation were not. The idea that I was notbroken or sinful or perverse was as strong as ever. I will be forever grateful to my unrequited lover for bringing such fortitude into my life by the mere fact of his existence.
They say that things happen for a reason. The reason for Nelson was to illuminate my understanding of myself, to bring light into the darkness of my life, to allow me to be. So, when I remember those honey-colored eyes or that winning smile or those powerful arms, it brings a smile to my heart. Without those symbols of powerful emotions I would never have evolved from the inhibitions of my upbringing into the empowering acceptance of my current life.