Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Edward R Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Laura Polin
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
Solve for G
I think I can confidently say that I’m not a terrible problem solver. I enjoy math, but only really because I’m pretty good at it. It can be fun to work at a problem for a while and be incredibly cathartic to find the solution: I guess the easiest problems to solve are linear. But I suppose that just because you’re good at math doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem you can’t solve, because here I am, racking my brain for answers I can’t seem to find because it must be clouded with thoughts of the French boy I’ve only known for a year and a half.
In my junior year in high school, it had suddenly dawned on me, as if by some divine intervention, that I had barely any proof to my college application that I was invested in my own academic interests. Sure, I had joined a robotics club, but how could that have been enough when college was already such a tedious crapshoot? I needed solid evidence if I wanted to make my case in the court of life, and after some searching, I found my answers as a crew kid. I joined my school’s stage crew in the middle of fall in order to acquire more experience in technical theatre: I referred to it as “broadening my skill set”, pretentious as it sounded. In the long run, it certainly paid off. For one thing, I was learning so much about how much effort it takes to put on a single production, and it gave me a newfound respect for the school plays I used to roll my eyes at when they were advertised during morning announcements. Gone are the days of “Ugh, seriously? Into the Woods? How much lower can you stoop?”: now I’m more concerned with how they’re gonna get the foliage right.
But more importantly, I saw a slight return to form to who I was before I landed in middle school. When I started 6th grade at a brand new school, I became a massive introvert. I made a grand total of 4 or 5 friends, barely spoke to anyone else that I didn’t have to, and never stayed after school. This even carried on to my first year and a half in high school, when I was allowed out of the building at noon and thought that was a genius idea. But now that I was apart of a “crew”, something much bigger than myself, a new environment that gave me a second chance at friendship, I thought it necessary to seize this chance while it would last. I met and reunited with so many characters that were certainly interesting to say the least: a girl one year my junior who loved to draw and ridicule her brother, another girl my age who was a poet with an art tool of any kind, even some weirdo who would be on top of his work one minute and bark at cars on all fours the next. Obviously, I was new to the social scene once again, but the difference between elementary school and here was simple. There, my anxiety only stemmed from losing a school spelling bee. Now, half of it was the never-ending horror that was the college application process, and the other was a boy.
Infatuation was and still is hell, and I’m certain that he was walking proof: alluring, beautiful proof. Other guys never thought of each other in the same way I did: well, at least, not the normal ones. When they did it, it was for the sake of a joke, but in my case, it couldn’t be more authentic, and that’s what irked me the most. I thought about his laugh when he cracked himself up with his own joke in his head. I thought of his soft features and the way he tucked his wavy hair behind his ears. I thought of how he made speaking French sound so easy with his accent, and how I sounded like a choking ostrich in comparison. His aura was as infectious as his smile: it wasn’t hard to be around him often, and it seemed like every day he was making a new sound that was so bizarre it made you laugh. He knew so much about music, and I was always told music kids were often out there, and while it wasn’t incorrect, I didn’t care: he made them look like saints. Some days, he was hard to read; others, he was perfect; but regardless of who he was, the “what” was always the same to me: a grim reminder that I was never going to be another grain in the mold, like I always I would have been.
I never talk to my parents much about my emotions, but only because I never thought they’d show a place of caring. Sometimes, it feels like we’re watching each other from two glass houses, fragile and in need but reluctant to visit one another. I’d been holding off for what felt like ages, but considering that it was a rite of passage, I decided that now was a better time than any. After only reading stories of wholesome success and tragic failure when coming out, it was finally my turn. But I can’t imagine what I was expecting when I made the choice: my entire lineage was practically married to God, and everyone knows what that guy would think of me. I was walking into a lion’s den, foolishly praying my company would let me settle in.
Naturally, I began with my mother, my greatest chance of success. Despite her occasional intimidating demeanor and her incredible Christian devotion, I knew that she was kind at heart and she certainly tried, so the optimistic part of my brain considered the idea that things would go right. It happened on a Saturday afternoon or so, when my mother and I were discussing a topic that honestly evades me at the moment in our dining room. All that I remember is that I couldn’t find the words to tell her myself: she gradually prodded it out of me. When she asked the fateful question, “Are you gay?”, I hesitated to give my answer, but decided that if I were to do it at all, it would be the only opening I’d get if not by myself. I gave her a slow, frightful nod and braced myself for her reaction. In return, I received a slight smile and a flicker of reassurance in her eyes. “It’s going to be alright,” she spoke slowly, “no matter what, we’re family. We’ll always love you.” I wasn’t one for tears, but the swell of relief coupled with the release of the exhaustion after all these years was almost enough to make my eyes water. There was no better feeling than to have her, or someone, or anyone on my side. That link of sympathy where I thought I would find only rejection, truly had to be one of the greatest plot twists in history: to think, not even an all-powerful deity could get in the way of her love for me. In that moment, I felt closer to my mom than I’d ever thought I had before.
Unfortunately, I’ve deciphered that she may have accidentally been using the royal “we”, after I decided that I’d do the same with my father. Dad felt like the person I was the farthest away from, in most cases. We occupied the dinner table nine times out of ten during the day, but we usually had our headphones on, faces buried in our laptops on adjacent sides, unacknowledging of each other sometimes. He encourages me going to church for my mother’s sake, not that he would go because he believes he’s above it all. Of course, we have expectations of each other: I simply want my father to see my own emotional side and try to sympathize with me, while he almost solely demanded all A’s. I wanted to make my father proud, but never thought I had the potential in me, and it didn’t help that I felt so much pressure when he would tell me, “This is your future we’re talking about here!” in regards to my SAT scores. And the maraschino cherry on top was his signature condescendence, because he believes every child is the same and he knows how I’ll grow up, what I’ll do, and how I’ll do it: ergo, he knows more than me. The only thing we really had in common was our patience, or lack thereof, and our reluctance to do chores. In retrospect, my decision to come out to him really was half-brave and half-stupid.
It happened while we were in the car, driving across the highway. It was just the two of us, and I found this to be the perfect set-up. Back then, I was certain that my father would understand after my recent success with my mother, and so hopeful things would begin to work out between the two of us if I could claim this small, simple victory. I hesitated for a while, as I do with most decisions, playing and replaying every outcome in my head regardless of triumph or tragedy, before finally speaking up. I told him there was something that I wanted to get off my chest, and he looked into the mirror, waiting patiently for a response. I had no choice but to follow through at this point, and finally, the words “I’m gay” left my mouth, though with pure unconfidence. I couldn’t bare to look into the mirror to see my father’s reaction, but before I turned away, I saw his pupils sharpen a bit before darting back to the road, never to return to mine. A solemn silence passed between us, before it was finally broken by my father: “Son…wait ‘til you’re older. As a young kid, you’ll learn that you make a lot of mistakes.” My heart immediately sank, and the dread I’d felt before I even confessed to my mom came flooding back. A mistake, I thought. That’s what I am to my father now. It was bad enough that we rarely ever talked. It was bad enough that he only ever wanted to squeeze a perfect test score out of me. But now I thought it would be a bright idea to level with him emotionally, and that only dubs me a mistake. I didn’t know what to feel primarily in the moment. I slouched with defeat, terribly disappointed but unsurprised. My eyes searched the car roof frantically with desperation, pleading to the God that wouldn’t listen anymore for a redo. I bubbled with anger, at my father’s refusal and my foolishness for believing in a ridiculous idea. But above all, I felt insurmountable regret: not from my confession, but that I ever existed in the first place.
I count myself so incredibly lucky that I have the support of the friends I’ve made in place of my father and my hyper-Catholic extended family. When I can’t find sympathy among my family, usually when my mother isn’t there, I look to them for solace, or sometimes, just to make me forget that I can never be the same person at home. I do forget often, in between the shows and concerts I do lighting work for, and the small outings we have from time to time. But other days, the blissful ignorance that the shows provide don’t do anything, and I’m caught right back up. One night in particular of a show, I found myself sitting cross-legged backstage on my own on a piece of one of the sets, a prisoner of my own self-deprecation. In moments like those, I almost enjoy the lack of company, but was ashamed of myself at the same time. It wasn’t anything new, and I was certainly making things worse for myself. I sat there, transfixed by the black marble stage floor, slouched in silence while I waited for the show to begin, when suddenly I noticed that the boy had approached me. I looked up and met his dark brown eyes, partially obscured by a lock of his hair.
“Khiari, is everything alright?” he spoke softly. I was always bad at talking to him, as I’d either be too caught up guessing at what he was thinking of me in the moment, or the past, or what he would think after the exchange, but wouldn’t say for the sake of my own feelings because after all, we were friends, or sometimes I’d just be daydreaming. Here, I guess I would be too down on myself to confirm or deny or crack a joke, even to him. But in response, I averted my gaze and just shook my head, if it were as good a response as any. I hated the lack of interaction, but I hated the fact that I could never act on it even more. The guilt only made me more agitated, and right in front of the one boy I couldn’t bare to disappoint. I expected him to get frustrated with the way I acted, but instead, he surprised me when he extended his arms downward toward me. Clearly an invitation, I let him take my hands into his, and that was when he lifted me from the set piece slowly and locked me in a warm embrace. He told me, in that same, easy tone of voice, “Whatever it is you’re going through, I hope everything works out. I’m always here for you.” It was kind of funny: as if I couldn’t be fooled any more, he even had my mother’s sympathy.
There was so much I wish I could tell him, even to this day. I want to tell him about the chaos these feelings bring me. I want to tell him that it was never his fault, and it was always mine. I want to let him know how I really feel, because if I do, then maybe the satisfaction will make it easier for the both of us, and the weight off my chest would allow me to walk freely. But I could never bring myself to actually do it, no matter how much I wanted to. Every ounce of me loathed my heart’s persistence to say something, and I feel a whirlwind of emotions I know are immoral. I feel intense jealousy when I shouldn’t, impatience and envy when I never wanted to, and the desire to be with somebody who, by my own fault, wouldn’t give me the time of day. But of all things, I blew everything out of proportion. I saw him every day, I talked to him every day, I feared him more and more every day when I shouldn’t have to. My mind races violently with so many contrasting feelings: longing, angst, confidence, anxiety, wholesome pride, terribly shameful lust, yet displeasure triumphs it all. And it kind of makes me wish things ended up the way they did in those progressive new TV shows and movies.
When the curtains close on this chapter of my life and I’m off to college in roughly a year or so, things’ll get better, barring the potential student loans and new sense of responsibility. I’m a firm believer in that, at least. But even then, there’s still too much to think about, like the new difficulty of my classes and my imbalanced financial state. There’s also the possibility that everything will be just fine: after all, I’ve been told that I’m an expert at being over analytical. There’s a lot to consider when I’m there, and a few loose ends to tie up before I go. Maybe my father would appreciate it if I lied and told him I’d been cured of my decision to be gay, instead of confidently telling him off as a final goodbye. After all, it would reach my ancestors eventually, and that would mean the end of my family line. Maybe I’ll apologize to my sister for ages 10-13, and tell her not to look for me if word gets out. I really exist in a vast pool of probabilities here. But when I mull them over eventually as I drift off to sleep sometime soon, I only know of one certainty: I’ll think of him. And I’ll never find a solution.