You get off the bus and it’s still sorta cold out but not quite cold enough to snow, so you’re drenched in freezing rain. Let me tell you something: there is nothing worse than freezing rain. It reaches to your core and freezes that and then your body takes the rest of your nerves along for the ride. It makes you feel barren. Not even a living human being. You are a husk of ice.
Your history teacher was talking about the Holocaust when Jews and Socialists and Homosexuals were killed and she said that trauma is indescribable with regular words. The only way to know is to feel it yourself. So you know you’re cold, but you can never really tell somebody what it’s like.
First period is Trigonometry. Most of the class is made up of juniors, so you know they won’t be graduating at the end of the semester along with you. And since they’re a year ahead of the rest of their class they’re probably smarter than you. Either way, you don’t fit. But you like the class because Gabe is in it.
You know you’re not supposed to think Gabe is attractive. He’s not your type, of course, because you’re a boy and boys are supposed to like girls. But you’ve never really been into girls, or maybe you just couldn’t find the right one if Pastor David knows what he’s talking about.
On the first day of class your teacher told you that math was the universal language. If you ever meet a space alien, do some math for them. These other beings might not know sight or sound or love or language but they have to know math. Draw a right triangle and do Pythagoras on it. Show that you know things. Or at least, show that the Greeks knew things.
After that, though, you’re pretty much screwed as far as continuing conversation. You have one opportunity to communicate with the extraterrestrials, to tell them one thing about yourself and it’s that you know how a triangle works. No individuality, but that’s just how being a representative works. You are your species. The default human being. Best of the best and most human of humanity.
You know who would be a damn good representative? Gabriel Jonson. Not only is he beautiful, but he’s pretty smart. Smart enough to share three classes with you even though you’re a senior and he’s a junior. He could probably chat it up nicely with some aliens. Unlike you, who can’t even sum up the power to come out.
Most of the time you’d be annoyed with somebody that perfect who doesn’t even seem to notice you, but whatever, there’s a pop quiz and you have to figure out sines and cosines and there’s no time for your brain to go on a tangent. So you let it wander instead.
You met Gabe in youth group back when you were a sophomore. Every Sunday evening of your high school career you’ve been going to youth group because your friends and parents expect you to.
Just like any Sunday, Pastor David came up to the front of the auditorium that used to be a gym back when the church was the old high school. He never goes on the stage because he wants to be close to the youth. Instead, you can remember him shuffling some notes on a tiny pulpit on the ground with you and your peers.
David is short but stocky, with a crooked smile and a new wife who he met shortly after you first met Gabe. The man is young and hip and he relates to the kids of today, according to whoever made him the youth pastor. He’s also exceptionally handsome, but not quite your type anyway. By contrast, the new guy Gabe is tall and he expresses himself not through his smile but his bright blue eyes. He’s open and friendly and popular.
You noticed Gabe immediately.
Pastor David loves to talk about challenging yourself to grow with God. That Sunday he went on his usual call, that it can’t be all about you. You have to listen to what God wants. Read your Bible every day, not just when you feel like it. Wake up a half hour early to pray. Live a pure life. Don’t run around too much with girls.
You never really had any trouble with that last one.
The group split into guys and girls to talk about the whole purity thing. You, David, Gabe and about a dozen other guys sat in an awkward circle. Each person there had to give their share, how he struggled with porn or checking out girls or whatever. It’s just kind of assumed that every guy has these problems. For you it’s gross to even think about. You’ve seen porn and tried to make yourself think about girls the way these guys do, but really all you want is something real, something loving and the sex stuff can come after. But whenever you imagine the scenario, it has to be with another guy. It always has been. There’s just something about boys that makes you feel more secure. Everything would be right for you if you could ever be with a man you loved, you just know it.
Whenever it came to your turn you made up some excuse. Something about how you’ve got other stuff on your mind so you don’t really worry about girls. But you do worry, because you don’t date and eventually, someone is going to ask why and you’re not going to be able to say.
Gabe had a girlfriend but he said they were staying pure or whatever. They aren’t together anymore. You wonder why. What the relationship was like. How his hair smells when you’re right up there cuddling him and how it feels to know there is somebody who loves you.
Second period is English. It’s not fun. Gabe isn’t even in the class. You’re getting a C and your parents made the joke about how you already speak English, so you should be doing a lot better.
Your parents think you can speak English but in reality there are a few things you can’t say. I’m gay is one of those things. Not even when you’re alone. You can’t sum up the courage to say it out loud. You’ve tried while sitting in the shower warming your tired body, just to whisper your suspected sexuality out loud, but the words won’t come out. Whether or not Hamlet really loved Ophelia is another thing you can’t say. This is unfortunate because that’s what the class is discussing right now.
You know in your heart that the longer it takes you to come out the harder it will be. Maybe you’ll just spare yourself the trouble and pretend you like girls and get married and have a family. That’s what you’re supposed to do, anyway. It wouldn’t be that bad to never kiss a boy, right? You can fake it. You can pretend to be in love like Hamlet might be doing. Come to think of it, he and Horatio were pretty close…
But you can’t even say that in class. You can’t even say somebody else, a fictional character, might be someone like you.
In French the teacher, Mrs. Ruth, starts the unit on imperative case. You know, telling people to do things. Wake up becomes levez-vous which literally means lift yourself. Wake up. Rise and shine. Get out of bed. Start. All of these translations are technically correct. Something is always lost when people communicate. That’s why they call it a language barrier.
You took French for three reasons. One, French is sexy. Two, Gabe is in the class. Three, Gabe speaking French is just about the most beautiful thing in the world. You just want to have him hold you as you float down some river in France and gaze up at the stars. Anybody can get a civil union in France. Well, not just anybody. You can’t. You can’t even admit anything and you kind of hate yourself because the words just will not come.
At least not in English.
So you raise your hand. Too late to back down now. You might as well be waving a rainbow banner because it’s coming out. Je suis un homosexual. Je suis gay. That’s all you have to say.
But you can’t, so you just ask if you can say love in the imperative case. Logically, aimer would become aimez or something like that, right?
You look over at Gabe. He’s not even paying attention. He’s writing a note on a little yellow Post-It Note, probably using his sexy French skills to charm some lucky girl. And you’re just sitting there, your hand still half raised, asking a stupid question. You get a little chill. Mrs. Ruth keeps the classroom cold.
You don’t even know Gabe that well. You’ve acknowledged each other’s existences, but for all you know he’s nothing like you imagine. And vice-versa, the guy doesn’t know any more about you than anybody else in the world.
Mrs. Ruth looks confused. She just tells you that you can’t make someone love. You can’t tell somebody to love someone else, no matter what language you’re speaking.
So you slump down in your chair and keep your mouth shut.