Reflections

Peace in Our Time

Yuval-Yairi-photography-1

Note: In honor of Spirit Day, an anti-bullying campaign in support of LGBT youth, I dug out this piece that I scribbled back in 2009. The editor in me really wanted to clean this story up, as I usually do when I re-post something dusty, but in the end I decided to leave intact my thoughts from 6 years ago about a time 25 years before that…

Friends,

Okay, taking a bit of a break from my normal routine of making fun of myself and my life circumstances, wherein we all have a good laugh and them move on. Just read a multi-post discussion on Facebook concerning whether or not to attend one’s approaching high-school reunion (whatever year-increment it may be).

First, let me say that I have never attended any of my reunions. Initially, I had no desire to go back. I could not WAIT to get out of that place, what I considered a hell-on-earth situation. I actually don’t have my high school diploma, because you had to go back to the high school after the graduation ceremony and show your cap in order to get the diploma. No interest in doing that. I don’t have my senior yearbook, even though I was on the yearbook staff, because you had to go back after graduation to get it. I ran like my butt was on fire and never looked back.

I graduated in 1983, so it’s been a while. Over the years, I did eventually contemplate going to a reunion. Just to see. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as my memories made me think. Then I would surreptitiously troll the websites where people were planning the reunions, and I was always marked as “unable to locate, can’t find him”. Hello? I’ve never had an unpublished number, my last name is pretty rare, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to track me down. Apparently, nobody wanted to try real hard to find me.

So I would go back to my dark place. The pain of the high school years would come bubbling up, and I would avoid the reunions.

See, I was this odd dichotomy in high school. President of my Junior Class. Student Council president my senior year. Hey, sounds good, right? People must like me. Yay. But I was also gay. A horrible secret that had to be hidden away in the early 80’s, and really, for years after that. And I guess I didn’t really hide it that well, because some people knew, or suspected, or were just hateful.

Picture this, especially those of you who were there in those days at Broken Arrow Senior High at the old campus. The main hallway that ran east/west, with what seemed like hundreds of classrooms. I hated that hall. Because there were so many times when I would be walking down that hall, just trying to get to my next class, when somebody would spit on me and call me a faggot. It became a daily challenge. Would I get to class without having to wipe spit off my face?

Shocking, right? Should be. But it wasn’t shocking in that time and place, it was perfectly acceptable, and there was no one to protect you. Wait, let me qualify that. There were a few friends who knew, and supported me, who did what they could out of love. That was my spark, that’s what got me through. But I still don’t want that damn diploma. I didn’t graduate, I simply managed to survive. I don’t need a piece of paper for that.

Flash forward 25 or so years, and now we have Facebook. It’s a fascinating thing. Thrills me to see former classmates posting about acceptance and love for their gay friends, it seriously does. And then I accept a friend invite to find that someone I remembered as being progressive is now a member of some “God hates fags” group. What is wrong here? What fundamental thing do I not understand?

Then I have to remember. It’s not about me. It’s not about what I personally hope or wish for. Every human being has their own free will. That’s the “human” part. Set aside those wants, or hopes, or wishes. Free will, to each his own. End sentence, next paragraph.

This is the test, to live with that.

Let me rephrase, the test is to make the BEST of that.

So, to bring it back around, do you go to your high school reunion when you have baggage?

Depends on the baggage. How much do you have? If you’ve got enough that you have to check some of it in and pay the service fees every time you travel, you’ve got too much. Get rid of it, learn to fly with just a carry-on. I believe I discarded my first piece of luggage somewhere outside the Broken Arrow city limits. There should be a diploma and a yearbook inside. And maybe a skinny tie or two.

Sometimes you have to get far away from something before you can actually see it for what it was. And what it wasn’t. And then you can slowly go back, if you choose. But now the choices and decisions are your own. You pick your classes. More importantly, you pick your teachers. It’s an open campus, you have your own car, there aren’t any bells ringing, and lunch lasts as long as you let it…

Welcome to the You-niversity. Would you like some coffee with that?

Peace,
Brian

 

(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 06/02/09. Not updated, no extra flair.)

(Note: The suitcase image is the work of Israeli artist Yuval Yairi, with more info here.)

 

19 replies »

  1. Wow, that really moved me on so many levels. It reminds me of the many struggles my friends and I faced, whether it was to do with race, sexuality, size or just being shy. My heart truly breaks for the you back then, the one who had to go through all that crap. But your end message is both positive and uplifting and I love that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The things that humans can do to one another can be mind-numbing at times. When I originally wrote this, I didn’t want it to have a “blame others” tone (even though those others deserve blame). I tried to focus on what you can do for yourself, because sometimes that’s all you’ve got: you. But it can work out, and it can be okay, and at some point you can breathe again…

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This was powerful! Well done, Brian from 6 years ago, and well done Brian from today, choosing to post it intact.
    I graduated in 1982, in Phoenix — bigger city and maybe a bigger school than yours, but hate is hate wherever you live. I can remember how loosely those derogatory words were thrown about, or the taunting song the football players would sing whenever someone walked by whom they suspected was gay. (My God, why was it always the football players? Was there some requirement they be assholes?) Years later when I became more aware, I wondered at the cruelty handed out to anyone who was different, and we just accepted it? Why was it never questioned?
    I work at a high school now — I’m admin assistant to the principal — and you wouldn’t believe the changes! Students seem much more accepting, there’s a LBGTQ club on campus and it’s well attended, by both gay and straight students. It really is remarkable how much better the climate is, although I know it’s not perfect — hatred and ignorance can never be completely erased. Even so, there are signs.
    In March of this year, the church denomination I belong to voted to allow gay marriage — which was a long time coming but still a surprise. Then in June when I woke up to hear the Supreme Court decision, it blew my mind! It feels like we’re living in a new age, doesn’t it? I mean, I realize it’s far from over, that there is still so much to do, but … well, it seems possible now, right? That more and more, people will be allowed to love who they want to love. And others, the ones who hate them for it, will get smaller and smaller, until one day, no one can hear them anymore.
    Anyway, wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this post.
    Peace out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, this comment could be a blog post on its own, and deservedly so. That last full paragraph is very heart-warming, culminating in the great hope that “no one can hear them anymore”. (I think I got something in my eye while I was reading that, dang it.)

      And yes, it did always seem to be the football players, right? At least it was in my case, for the most part. It was such an overwhelming aspect of high school at that time. Football was King, the star players were gods, infallible, and the rest of us did our best to stay out of their way. (I’m exaggerating a bit, but not really, especially in Oklahoma.) You are spot-on in highlighting the cruelty that was blithely accepted in those days. So much pain, discounted, ignored. Then again, we didn’t know any differently. It was the culture of the time. Individuals could be enlightened, but the masses could turn on the TV and get their prejudices reinforced with nearly every program.

      It’s nice to hear that some school systems, these days, are moving toward tolerance, but as you mention, we’re not quite there yet. It hits me in the gut every time I hear a news story about a gay teen suicide, often the result of bullying by peers, a despicable activity that has actually been made easier by the throw-a-brick-and-run ease of social media. (Sometimes modern inventions have their downside, despite good intentions.) So we have to keep fighting, for ourselves, for each other, for decency. And one of the ways we do that is for someone like you to have honest, supportive conversations with someone like me.

      Thank you.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever left such a lengthy comment before, but the topic has been in my mind even more than usual lately due to some things I’ve been hearing and reading. I’m normally a quiet person, but when something hits the bone, I can talk for hours!
        And yes, conversations are good. Always. Thanks for putting yourself out there like that. It took a lot of courage and I admire that.

        Liked by 2 people

    • I lucked out in finding that. I normally try to use my own photos, even if I have to doctor them, but I couldn’t find anything of mine that felt right. So I just googled “old suitcase” and there it was. It spoke to me instantly and I knew I was going to use it. I had never heard of this artist before, but his work looks very interesting if you want to follow the link…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian, I just saw this post. Don’t know how I missed it but a very moving and thought provoking post, felt like I was walking down that school corridor. I come from a different culture and religion and I see and hear all kinds of prejudice. Before and now. Four years ago someone dear to me asked me what I would do if one of my sons were gay. I had to think about it for a few minutes to truly know if my answer was a true one but I was glad to tell her that we would love them as they are and they will always have us no matter what. if not us then who?
    My school years were the same but different angle, this time it was my religion, the thing that sticks out most on my memory is walking into my school head down and keeping my head down. I hated the whispers, I hated how they tried to isolate me because of my religion. I thank almighty things are a bit different now. You’re right about the social media, its really easy to spread the hate and victimise a person. Thank you for writing such a honest account,I’m sure it was not easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jehan, thank YOU for sharing as well. It’s unfortunate that so many of us had to go through things such as this, and it’s unfortunate that there are still people today who do not (or refuse to) understand the effects of their intolerance. (Usually because those folks have never been the minority in a situation, whatever that situation might be. Sometimes experience is the only way to gain wisdom.) But if there was any “good” that came out of how I was treated in my youth, it’s that it strengthened my resolve to accept people who were “different” from me. We are all unique, shaped by genetics, and experiences, and spiritual beliefs, and our opportunities in life, and things that may have happened to us on a random Tuesday. At the end of the day, we all bleed the same color, we all have dreams and expectations, and most of us are just trying to do what is right to make our individual paths lead us to a place of happiness and peace…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I did get the piece of paper (barely…and that was a cause for great angst for my mother because I was the ‘good’ kid who always studied and got good grades. Hormones and 11th grade can inspire rebellion in the stodgiest of souls.) I went to my graduation amid a huge fight between my ‘foster’ mom and my biologic mom over who was going to purchase the 70s style frilly gown one attended such things in. Both ended up getting worn. And I walked out of there knowing something important had changed and that I’d finally have to stop reading all those books and mooning about a fantasy life and actually get out there and live it. It was shocking actually. I spent the next couple of decades rebelling, sleeping with all sorts of men, trying pot, and in general kicking over the traces. Found out when I was somewhere in my 30s that it’s true what they say “One day you wake up, your ass (or tits) are beginning to sag and you find out nobody wants to take you home and play patticakes any more.” So I got married (horrible decision). And a couple of years later I attended the only reunion my graduating class has ever held (to my knowledge). It was for my twentieth. Everyone was fat, everyone (male) was bald or balding, the high school quarterback (a literal golden boy…tall, tanned, blonde, I got to go on one date with him) was serving serious prison time and the head cheerleader (his wife) was a gaunt looking woman who had this perpetually scared look in her eye. The bad boys had all gotten steady jobs and one of the baddest was a non-denominational minister. There were still cliques and groups of folks who had hung out together, still sitting together at the same table and that stuff, but it was mostly because they had never left the teeny tiny town from which I graduated high school and I found something liberating and interesting out from going to that thing: I didn’t give a fuck about any of it or them. In my days there I was a loner and a weirdo, now I was someone who had ‘escaped’ the confines of the town, gone to the big city and ‘made it’. Liberating. Very liberating. I’ve never gone to another one though (if they even held one). Something about that particular graduating class was the fact that nobody stayed in touch that well and I think mostly everyone scattered eventually and moved elsewhere. I’m sorry you left with such horrible memories of high school and that people were so freakin’ ugly to you. But small minds don’t know any better, not that it’s much comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melanie, please tell me that you have saved this comment somewhere in your archives. It is wonderfully touching and honest and you don’t want to lose what has been encapsulated here. Actually, because WordPress is untrustworthy with their notifications and you many not get notice that I have responded, I am saving if for you. Perhaps some day we can review it together and remember yet another moment when we bonded…

      Liked by 1 person

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