My life continued almost as if nothing had changed. I moved out to a tiny apartment close to my job, but that was about it. Once the several broken bones Dad had given me as a parting gift were fully healed, I returned to work. I started seeing a therapist but stopped going to my sessions after a few months. I was fine, so there was no need to see a shrink.
A year later, my girlfriend and I decided to break up. It just wasn’t working out, and a few months later, she was already dating another guy. I, on the other hand, didn’t have any interest in dating. It took too much effort, and I much rather focused on my work and working out. I became better at fixing cars and stronger while pumping iron, and slowly, I felt like I was getting the hang of life.
My boss – my father’s ex-friend – was kind enough to help me out from time to time whenever I needed help with figuring out how to take care of myself. He was disgusted when he heard about what kind of man my father was, and I figured he felt guilty for ever being friends with someone like him, so he was now trying to make up for it by helping me. He even gave me a raise, which was nice since the cost of living was a bit of a surprise to me, not to mention all the other adult stuff I needed to take care of. My dad never bothered to teach me anything, except for how low of a human being I was.
Before I knew it, I was twenty-five. I still worked at the same place, lived in that same tiny apartment, and was still completely unable to form any kinds of relationships. I left for work in the morning, hit the gym after my shift was over, then headed home to watch TV before bed. I guess I would’ve continued living that life until the day I died if it wasn’t for this one, small business that opened doors right between my home and the closest gym.
It was a gay bar.
I felt almost nauseated when I saw the place opening their doors. I hated it. It disturbed my balanced life. Things I thought I had forgotten, things I never wanted to remember, flooded in the second I saw the first rainbow flag.
“Disgusting pigs… Fags everywhere. Squealy little whores, every single one of them…”
I wanted it out of my life. I was so angry that for days, I fantasized about burning the place down. Every time I was forced to walk past it, I wanted to punch someone in the face. I wanted to punch them all in the face…! I wanted it gone!
One night, I found myself standing in front of it. The flashing neon lights and colorful flags taunted me with their presence. The people in front of it were laughing, smoking their cigarettes, and chatting loudly, some more sober than others.
I guess it was the first time in nine long years that I finally understood I was not fine. These terrifying thoughts I had were not mine. These dangerous urges I had were not mine. The hate I carried inside me wasn’t caused by that bar or the people in it. I had no reason to be angry at them.
I hadn’t seen my father in nearly six years. I didn’t even know if he was still alive or eaten away by his own ridiculous hate. Yet, I was still the same; the man he made. Why? Why was I still trying to please him…?
The next day, I got myself a new shrink. I promised myself I’d really commit to it this time. I’d continue seeing the guy until my head was glued back together. I was scared of myself, and I knew it had to be fixed as soon as possible or I’d end up sharing the cell with my old man.
But it wasn’t easy. Talking about feelings and shit was not manly. No matter how hard I tried, everything I did or said was shadowed by that one simple thought. Not manly. I wasn’t a man. Every time I opened my mouth, trying to put my thoughts into words, I could hear my old man shouting and throwing things at me as he tried to stuff me back into the mold he created for me.
“Oink, oink, little piggy!”
In the end, I couldn’t go through with it. I exchanged the expensive sessions with a shrink to cheap liquor, and it did the trick. I only drank just enough to keep myself numb and indifferent, being careful not to let it get out of hand. I used to hate alcohol, but I loved getting away from myself, even for short periods of time.
My life was running smoothly again. Work, gym, watch TV and drink. Day after day, week after week, month after month. The small apartment looked more and more disgusting with each passing day, but did I notice? No. Even if I did, I didn’t care. It was enough that I took care of myself.
I didn’t have anyone to bring home, anyway.
I guess that thought was always there, constantly lurking below the surface, slowly eating away at the walls I’d built to protect myself. I didn’t have anyone to bring home, anyway. I was too numb to notice how strong of a hold that thought had of me. Thank God, I didn’t notice it until it was too late. If I had, I would’ve fought against it, trying to make it go away. But it grew.
It started at the gym.
There was a guy. Tall, around my age, brown hair, and equally brown eyes… I saw him there every now and then, and even exchanged a few words with him, but if he’d walked past me in a grocery store, I wouldn’t have remembered him. Not in the beginning.
He almost always had friends with him, and the first time I really noticed his existence was when I saw the workout routine their group had. It was impressive, to say the least. They weren’t particularly buffed, but they were making really good progress in a short period of time. I wanted to learn what they did to get in that shape, maybe even steal the whole routine, so I… stalked them.
It was completely innocent. I just wanted to learn from them. I was still using the routine my old man forced upon me, and I’d only made a few changes to it over the years. These guys had shown me I was doing something wrong, and I guess it was the first time I actually questioned something my father had taught me.
It was a new feeling. A different feeling. It was confusing, maybe even overwhelming. I had just managed to get my life back in order, and now this little feeling, this… thought that my father never actually knew much about workout routines was trying to push me out of balance. I couldn’t even understand why it made me feel so weird.
I didn’t want to think about it. It didn’t matter anymore, anyway, so I ignored it. I knew how to numb myself to these thoughts. I knew how to avoid thinking about it; how to pretend it didn’t exist.
Everything was fine again. I still continued watching the group, but not letting myself think too much into it. I just wanted the routine, that’s all.
But as I watched them almost every day and saw the tight friendship they shared… They joked around, pulled small, stupid pranks, and encouraged each other to do better… The empty corner I had barricaded myself into years ago suddenly felt bigger and emptier, and it got worse by each passing day.
They always had someone to talk to, and I had no one.
That, too, was a new feeling. And I hated it. Men were not supposed to care. They were not supposed to have these feelings. They were not supposed to have feelings at all.
“What are you, a sissy?! I didn’t raise a fucking sissy…!”
I began avoiding the group really soon after that. If I knew when they were coming, I tried to hurry up so I could leave before they arrived or waited for them to finish before taking my turn. I was determined, but at times they’d change their schedule, and I was forced to run into them. I couldn’t completely avoid them, and at the same time, my little corner kept growing bigger and lonelier…
And then I ran into him.
I was already heading home, leaving the locker room just when he was entering it.
“Sorry… Wait, Hey! Haven’t seen you in a while,” he said, smiling when he recognized me. “What’s up?”
He spoke to me like we were friends…
“Oh, uh… Just been busy,” I said, my heartbeat suddenly growing faster. It confused me.
“Yeah, as a business owner, I know the feeling,” he said, grinning. “You already finished?”
I only nodded, unable to think of anything to say.
“Okay. Well, I uh… Let you get… going then?” he said.
“Thanks,” I said and walked straight out of the building.
It took me hours to figure out the guy had wanted to chat with me.
For some reason, after that, I found myself arriving earlier at the gym when I knew they were still there. The guy would wave at me when he spotted me, but I guess I’d made things awkward, so he didn’t try to talk to me again. But it was fine… I was… I was fine with watching him from afar.
And before I knew it, I was looking forward to it. It became the highlight of my day. Not that I let myself be aware of it. It would’ve been too confusing to be aware of it.
On one Tuesday evening, I left work earlier than usual. I just simply didn’t feel like working overtime this time. I thought nothing of it as I hurried to the gym, walking through the heavy rain with a certain lightness in my step.
He had a leg day today… I let that thought slip past my barriers only once, and the confusion returned, but I was getting pretty good at ignoring it.
But when I got to the gym, I couldn’t see him anywhere. He wasn’t in the shower or the locker room, either. Even the restroom was unoccupied. Maybe he was coming in late? He usually didn’t do that, though…
I felt… weird. My normal routine seemed harder this time. Pointless. I kept peering at the door for no reason, my focus completely gone. I nearly injured myself by not paying attention to the weights I accidentally left loose.
It was the first time in a long time I didn’t go through with the entire routine. I hit the shower, trying to get rid of the heaviness in my chest, wondering why I was feeling so odd. Was I sick? Probably…
As I walked home, I barely noticed the rain pouring down on me. When I was walking past the gay bar, I peered at the rainbow flag like I always did. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t just ignore it. Seeing it made me feel uncomfortable every single time, but I still had to look at it. I couldn’t stop my eyes even if I wanted to.
Then I saw something that completely wiped the flag out of my mind, and I came to a halt.
He was in the bar.
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