To my loving parents. I gave the child you wanted but not the son you dreamed of. After some nineteen years of life in your house, in your life, and in your dreams, I have done everything I could to make you happy and proud of me. Every girl I bring home you assume she is my girlfriend. Every boy I bring home you assume theyre gay or they must be selling me drugs. Fruits you call them, queers or homosexuals, you cant bring yourself to say the word in a civilized manner but only when youre angry or thinking of me.
I sat at your door one night and listened to the truths from your mouths. Dad getting up in the middle of the night to change my diapers, to eagerly warm my bottle, were all lies and justifications in your mind. I didnt ask to be born the way I was, a small baby so full of innocence. These thing do happen you said, accidents will occur, and dreams will be shattered by the cry of a child. Did I cry when I was a baby, or was I quiet as a mouse? Is this why you didnt put me up for adoption or send me off into the family? Did I let you sleep in the night, this unplanned problem that you had, this problem you decided to deal with and get through it. What was it you planned for me?
I remember standing in the kitchen in Kentucky, you remember the big house mom wanted but dad did not? The big house in a small town, just a half hour from her mother but five hundred miles from the closest realization of culture you knew dad. That Christmas when the pie was cooling, I went in and took a piece. How the warm, sweet pumpkin filled my nostrils and my stomach groaned. I carefully lifted the piece to my plate and walked out of the kitchen and into the bathroom. The pie still hot burned my eight year old fingers, small and thin under the cheap china. Crash the plate went to the tiled floor and the sound of the easy chair clunking into place in the living room. Mom appeared first. "You werent supposed to eat that yet!" she yelled. Father behind her, his belt snaking from the loops. I stood shocked without a word. Then the strike. The leather burned into my skin as dad hit me with the belt several times. So many years later I asked why and you said it never happened. "Dad never hit you!" How can I argue with my parents who must have a better memory than I do. I never struck back and if I have children I will never do that to them. Since then Ive been angry at you for hitting me, a small child with no understanding or realization of the world or what it could do for him.
Do you remember the skating party at school in first grade? I hated school but you never listened. Every day someone picked on me, even in first grade, someone had something wrong to say about the way I dressed, my happy attitude, or my playful smile. I was left out of everything. When the girls would walk around with small invitations to birthday parties, I yearned to be invited and stood eagerly awaiting an invitation. But as they carefully looked through the crowd of students, they only selected those who were most popular. I had no friends in school and you never believed me. So you remember the skating party don't you? The only party I ever went to in my school life, and it was being put on by the school itself.
That one girl, Lindsay or whatever, the one with the long brown hair and the finger nails a mile long. Her and her friends pushed me down and laughed, they all laughed. You laughed and told me I was unbalanced and clumsy. "Learn to skate!" She said to me as I sat on the concrete. "Don't you know how to skate?" dad asked me, even though you knew Id never been taught. I went to get up and that boy ran into me and fell over. His cries echoed in the gymnasium like a trumpet. I felt your hands dad wrap into my arms. "Why do you keep running into everyone! Do you want to go home?" I just cried because I didnt know what to do. I felt you pull me from the gymnasium and into the car. The only party I ever went to and you took me from it because I couldnt skate.
When I was seven I made my first friend. Jason was the first person that ever sat down to talk to me. We met on the track behind the middle school, remember? I brought him home so proud and happy to have a friend. I wouldve given him anything he wanted but he declined. When he left many hours later, I knew you never expected to see him come back but he did. He came back day after day and became my friend. By this time youd thrown me into the "bad" class for kids who couldnt stop talking. The "bad" class for kids who couldnt sit still in their seats. I learned the rap stars and the gangsters but I didnt learn the ABCs or the 123s. When I would get excited my mind would swim and my body would fill with energy. The only way the teachers knew how to calm me was to tie me up in knots and bend my arms in all sorts of ways. Oh how the pain hurt in my arms and back, the weight of Ms. Ann on my back, her strong, hairy arms breaking my bones. I would cry and cry to be let go but was never given that relief.
So many years later I told you about this, again and again and you finally listened. You asked me why I never told you before. But didnt I tell you every day? I was a child with too much energy. In the public school system, too much energy is not welcomed. I saw Jason in with all the other kids, the quiet and well mannered kids. I was ashamed to let him see me with the other kids, the four or five kids of different ages all singled out in the lunchroom, singled out in the hallways, and singled out in the school. I cried to you ever night to put me with the regular kids, but you wouldnt listen. The school was always right, they knew what I thought and how I would be. You listened to them and shoved the medicine down my throat, the kind that made me walk when I wanted to run. The little white pills at morning, lunch, and bedtime.
I tried to tell you once what Stephen did to me when I was six. He was fifteen and so grown up compared to me. You left the light on, low and dim for me when I was scared of the dark. The crimson carpet looked so deep and enticing from atop my bed, in the dim orange glow of the bulb. Stephens white, naked body stood in my doorway like a ghost. I couldnt see his face but I saw his body, the stark whiteness in such a dark room. His fingers curled around the light knob and the room went to black. Why didnt you hear my screams and cries in the night? Why didnt you come running like you did when I was a baby? When I tried to tell you when I was six what happened that night, you didnt listen. You threw a bar of Palmolive in my mouth and told me to be quiet. Stephen came a few more times to my room, but I never cried again and I never told you again.
When we moved back to Georgia in eighth grade, I didnt know who I was then and neither did you. I felt like such an outsider in this new school, such a big classroom, above ground with so many other kids. Id never been in a class this big before and I was so scared. I didnt know how I should feel, or how I should act. I felt their eyes watching me all the time. I heard their whispers in my ears from across the room. When they openly harassed me, calling me a fag or a queer, I told the teachers. I didnt know what those words meant but I knew I didnt like them. The teachers told me to keep quiet and do my work. Stop acting like such a baby. When I came home I told you what happened but you didnt listen to me then either. I was the proud son, the one not in prison but the one in school getting educated. I was the proud son you had to show to all of your friends, eagerly pulling out the baby pictures whenever you could. You made up lies to your friends and told them I was a straight A student, but I was so miserable my mind could barely keep up with a D.
One day I got so angry at myself, angry at the people around me who wanted to make my life miserable that I lashed out. I lashed out and they threw me away, threw me back into the "bad" class without a question. I stopped taking the pills then and started to act the way you wanted. I was slowly seeing who I really was inside and out. I was overweight, glasses and ugly, a big kid with a soft heart. My grade level was nine but my mental level was only 6. I didnt know the math and the English and the history and science like everyone else did. I just wanted to be out of the school and back to my room. Back to the cool dark room where I lived most of the time, in fear that someone would find some fault of me in there.
Then one day I got to go out into a little bit bigger class. Ms McAfee the English teacher thought I wrote beautifully. She knew the stories and the books she gave us to read, would be read completely by me first. She built inside of me a sense of hope that Id never felt before. And so one day I got up from that bad class and walked out the door. I was too big to be restrained and so all they could do was waddle after me yelling to get back in my seat. I went straight to Ms McAfees door and told her I was leaving school than sit in the bad class one more day.
She called you while I sat in the principals office. She called you and told you what happened in that class. When she called you finally listened and understood the words I kept telling you. After that you finally took me out of that class and put me into the regular world. By this time Id discovered my sexuality as that of something off the wall. I didnt like the girls in my class but rather the football players and the guy behind me in math. I knew you wouldnt approve of this, the way you spoke so happily of grandchildren, and the bitterness the way mom said queers should burn in hell.
I made friends in high school but and I began to tell people about myself. As my sexuality became known the friends I had began to disappear. And so I was taken from one bad class and put into another. A bad class called queer. When I told the teachers, they told me to be quiet and do my work. When I told you, you said they were just kids. When I told the principal, he asked me if I was gay. How could I reply to that question without killing your grandchildren. When I said no, he said I had nothing to worry about then. And then he sent me on my way.
When I finally graduated, barely on the line, you were so proud of me. I took off in my car and drove for the ocean, the end of the land where the water is murky and salt-filled. In the colors of my school I swam in the ocean, alone and at peace. You thought Id gone downtown with my friends. The friends I never brought by the house. The friends that never called and the friends you never saw.
I thought by then you had come to understand me. My subtle hints of being "queer" was something you just didnt want to hear. When Matthew died you cheered dad, and mom you told me as you sat chopping potatoes: "I hope you never become that way." But I did mom, I did become that way and I'm happy for myself. You never knew it but Jason was the same way. When we moved to Kentucky I was lucky enough to continue talking to him. But when we moved to Georgia, I stopped hearing from him. I called everyone he knew that I knew, but no one had heard a thing. Finally on my sixteenth birthday I drove across the river to where we first met. I stood aside the tree we first climbed, chopped down and rotting. The nails our little feet stood on, now dug into the cold ground. I walked across the track where we rode our bikes and across the street to his grandmothers. When I told her who I was, she said nothing but motioned me inside.
Mother and father, Jason killed himself when we was fifteen. He told his dad that he was gay and that hed found the love of his life. But his dad told him to leave and never come back. Oh how his grandmother wept as she told me he roamed the streets for days. He had left a message on her answering machine one morning while she was in the shower. Hed condemned his life to nothing and knew his soul could never be well. She played the tape for me and his Tennessee voice choked in tears as he told her he loved her, and told her not to worry. A few days later someone found him in a park, his body slumped in the brush, the blood from his wrists caked and dried down his arms. While I listened to the tape of his voice, I saw myself and what would happen if I told my secret as Jason did.
A week later you asked me what the scabs on my wrists were. I told you the cat scratched me, and you believed it. I tried three times but could never do it. Each time I woke up the next morning with the sun in my eyes. The blood wouldnt flow and my heart wouldnt die.
Now I sit aside my window sill, looking out across the street at the moon in the sky. The candle light burned bright but my heart was extinguished. The bag at my feet is all I will ever need. All the things you have given me, sit naked in my room now. When I heard you resign yourself to the detestable fact of my sexuality, I knew then that I couldnt be your son anymore. Fear not I will not kill myself. I am not ready to join Jason yet, and I know there is more in this world I can do besides sitting here in this room, alone and desperate for love. In a short while I will walk past your closed door, down the steps of your house, and our the door of your life. The next time you hear my cries in the middle of the night, a ghost in your ear from an empty room, remember all the times you couldve come running but didnt.
Good-bye. Andrew, the child who never cried.