After considering what I had said, Carman asked, “Why are you so sure of that?”
“Because I’m afraid", I replied. "After hearing my parents talk about Chaz, and after you telling me about how bad things were for you, I just don’t think I could take that. I’ll never be able to talk to somebody like I did with Aiden. It’s something I’ll have to keep secret forever”.
Carman almost jumped off his stool. “What? Bad for me? Weren’t you listening? Shawn and I were as happy as could be. Sure there were some rough patches. Not everyone accepted us, true. But the people who mattered did, and the people who didn’t, didn’t matter. I wouldn’t trade my time with Shawn, or any of the decisions I made, for anything! When I came out it was the hardest thing I ever did, but my life got a million times better!”
Now I was getting confused. “But you said.... those people... your job...”
I considered. “Yes”.
“Ok, well, here it is: You are thirteen years old and in junior high school. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Don’t ever think that just because you’re lonely right now means that you’ll be lonely forever. You’re too young to even be thinking such things anyway. Don’t look at me like that! You’ll see! All of your straight friends will go through a bunch of girlfriends and boyfriends as you all go through school. Sometimes friendships will be strained by that, sometimes they’ll be destroyed. That is life, and it is a part of growing up and figuring out who you are and who you’re compatible with. You are going to have things a little harder than your friends because you’re different than them, and you’ve got to keep a secret.”
I interrupted, “But does it always have to be a secret?”
“Oh yes it does, at least until you’re a little older! Listen. I know there’s nothing wrong with you, and so does everybody in this house. I can’t stress it enough that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. But other people might not see it that way. How do you think your parents would react?”
“I don’t know.”
“Again, exactly. They might accept you and they might not. So suppose you came out and nobody accepted you. Do you think you could handle that?”
He softened a bit. “Ok, that’s worse case scenario. We don’t know that would happen, but you’ve got to consider it as a possibility. Now consider this. Suppose everything went perfectly smoothly. Your parents embraced you with open arms, your siblings acted like nothing had changed, and even your closest friends didn’t bat an eyelid at your revelation. Everything’s hunky-dory, right?”
“I guess so”.
“No! Nothing is hunky-dory! Your family and close friends might have accepted you, but what about school? Do you think things would go over that well at school?”
I looked up at him again. “I don’t care what they think”.
“Oh, really? You think you could handle being the outcast? You’ve still got at least five and a half years of school ahead of you, more than that if you go on to college or university. Do you think you could handle six years of being taunted, being called names, being bullied, and being shunned even by kids who don’t actually have a problem with you but who are afraid of being associated with you because of what others might think of them?”
“I don’t know...”
“Yes, you do know. It would be hell and you know it. Surely you’ve seen examples of people being bullied just because they are seen as different?”
I thought back to that incident with Peter. Carman must have read my mind, because he said:
“Hell, I know you’ve seen it because I know you’ve experienced it. Aiden told me about that Peter kid that caught you looking at him. Do you think he's ever forgotten about that? Do you think he didn’t tell any of his friends? Right now they only have vague suspicion. If you confirmed it you’d give them everything they need to make life hell for you.”
“I’m not afraid of Peter”.
“Oh, really? How about Peter and his friends? Think you could take them all on? How about the higher grades? You’re a pretty big kid for your age, but are you as big as a ninth grader? How about a gang of ninth graders?”
I stared at him.
“And how about the teachers? If they found out, do you think they’d be any different? Remember, teachers are from my generation and older. They’re old fashioned. And as much as they teach fairness at school, do you think many of them actually practice what they preach?”
I finally broke. Tears started forming in the corners of my eyes. “ALL RIGHT! All right! I won’t tell anyone! I’ll just stay lonely forever.”
Carman looked at me for a little longer. He sighed, then began. “You and I both know that’s not what I meant. I would never expect you to keep that part of yourself bottled up forever. It’s not healthy. Indeed, it will be very difficult for you to do so even though you must, at least for the time being. Right now you’re too young to put yourself through that. You’re thirteen! Don’t be in such a bloody hurry to grow up! Go be a kid! Play video games, go fish, ride your bikes, do all of those normal kid things. You shouldn’t have to worry about the future right now. Keep it in mind, of course, but treat it as something to look forward to, not something to be afraid of. Your friends will inevitably ‘couple up’. Don’t be jealous of them, be happy for them. Be there for them when those relationships fall apart (and they will fall apart). And observe and learn from them.”
“But what about me? Don’t I get to have anyone?”
“Of course! You will eventually find somebody! But you’ve got to be careful. Once again, you are normal, but you are different. Because you are different your teenage years are going to be more difficult than your friends. For one thing, encounters are going to be harder for you to come by, and because of that you’re probably going to think you’re falling in love with every boy that you become involved with. That is puppy love, and there is nothing wrong with that. You will go through more than one relationship in which you think you’re truly in love. Don’t confuse excitement or infatuation with real love! This will only end up hurting you. How many times have you heard one of your friends tell a girl they love them? And the next week they’re making out with a different girl? You are too young to fall truly in love, and you are too young to expect anybody you meet to feel the same way that you think you feel. As you age you’ll start getting a better feeling for the type of person you want to spend the rest of your life with. In the meantime, don’t be in a rush!”
I thought about this. It wasn’t what I was hoping to hear, but it was good advice. It really wouldn’t do me or anyone else any good if I got myself into a situation where I was homeless or being bullied.
“Promise me. Promise me that even if you don’t always follow that advice you’ll at least keep it in mind.”
I looked at him. He had a genuine look of concern on his face. I had only really met him a few hours ago, but I could tell he truly had my well being at heart. I wished I had an uncle like him. I grinned at him and said “I promise”.
“Ok then. I’m glad we had this talk.”
He then looked over at the clock and said “Holy shit, it’s supper time. We should...”
“So THERE you two are!”
It was Bryon, his head sticking into the apartment doorway. “Supper is ready. Mom has been calling for you two.”
He then disappeared into the hallway. Carman looked at me and said “I hope you’re hungry”.
“Famished”, I said. I was still grinning.
We got up and started heading out of the room when a thought occurred to me.
“So if Shawn died a long time ago, how come you’re not dating anyone now?
Carman winked at me and said “Who says I’m not? But Mum’s the word. I haven’t told anyone yet.”
We went downstairs and joined Aiden’s mom, Bryon and Betty at the dining room table.