Slowly rolling the blue and red capsule between my thumb and forefingers, I came awake to the sensations within myself. Adrenaline coursed through my chest, my biceps tightened, and my mind swam in thought as my eyes intensely studied the product of a life-long dream: a single pill. Visually unremarkable, it could have easily passed for a Tylenol or an Advil. A Tylenol for the soul, I thought to myself, trembling.
The sound of nearby crickets brought me back to an awareness of my physical surroundings. I clutched the two chains that were suspending me in the swing and launched myself up into the August night, creating a cloud of rocky dust with my feet. I had chosen the location carefully. The cologne of the freshly mowed lawn, the rhythmical sound of the crickets, and the stillness of the air all enveloped me, beautifully affirming my decision to do it here. What better way to end a painful chapter of my life than in the very place it began? It was here, on the Wilson Elementary School playground, that I first felt the feelings that never passed, the needs that never left, and the panic that never died. "It's just a phase," I told myself over and over again on this playground. "It's just a phase," I convinced myself as I stared at the crotches of the boys playing soccer. "It's just a phase," I screamed at my twelve year-old self as I dreamed of kissing their captain, of laying my head between his broad shoulders, of clasping my palms against his nearly-shaved head. Soon, the declarations turned into desperate pleas to God as freshman year in high school arrived and it became clear that the phase wasn't a phase.
The shock of being gay was made bearable by a finely tuned defense mechanism that my mind used to respond to my feelings, my needs, and my panic. This psychological immune system immediately divided my life into two worlds: the open, light, acceptable world of Mom and Dad, basketball practice, Cindy Crawford-ogling with the guys, and algebra homework and the closed, dark, sketchy world of hidden mens' underwear circulars, stolen glances at shirtless baseball players, online chats with characters named "teenboy15," and World Wide Web sites devoted to gay teenagers. Without a separation of the two worlds, I couldn't have survived. These irreconcilable universes allowed escape from one another; my gay world healed the pain of my straight world and, likewise, my straight world masked the pain of my gay world. In the light world, I never had to think about my inability to have children of my own, of being hated simply for who I was, of being defined as a feminine stereotype, or of living a life that would be whispered about and then be dismissed in an ever-so-politically correct, "not that there's anything wrong with that" manner. In the dark world, however, I could be myself, however abnormal that self was. I could tend to and nourish my attraction to men, exploring this critical slice of my identity through the Internet, through intense sexual thoughts, and through untethered observation of gay people. This, of course, I could never do in my light world, the world that everyone but me knew.
The worlds became more and more difficult to keep apart, I thought as I sat down on a swing. So many cover-ups to be made, so many revealing e-mails to be erased, and so many hastily-manufactured excuses to be made to friends and family anxious to find the perfect girl for me. I grew tired quickly of the daily battle to exist simultaneously in two worlds, to put on the show, to keep the worlds apart.
Swinging back and forth, I extended my feet, trying to touch the leaves of the nearby Oak as I did when I was younger. Moonlight, straining through thin veils of clouds, illuminated the thick tree. Memories began to collide within me.
Hey Dan, wanna join KFC: Kill All the Fags club?
Dude, I don't care if people want to be gay as long as they don't come onto me.
God made Adam and Eve... not Adam and Steve.
Did you hear about that kid in Boston that took another guy to the prom? How weird is that shit?
Why don't they just make themselves straight?
Dan, we gotta get us some gay friends... I've heard gay people are so funny. Too bad we don't know any.
Know what would be so cruel? If you're really pissed at someone, put a pink triangle on their bumper. They'll get rear-ended? Get it?
It can't be a choice... I mean who in their right mind would choose to be gay?
"No more," I whispered to the Oak as I tagged the tree and swung back down to Earth. Braking myself, I sat still and opened my hand, staring, once again, at the pill. The doctor had given it to me that afternoon with a big smile.
"It's the first day on the market. Mark, it works wonders. You'll take it once and you'll be set for life. No more problems. It works like a virus; it will invade your cells, actually rewrite the DNA on the gene that controls your sexual orientation, and, in effect, make you heterosexual. No side effects, no nothing. It's a miracle pill something so wondrous that I have frankly never encountered anything like it," she said proudly.
My eyes began to well up as I asked her, "How long does it take to work?"
"An hour. An hour after you take it you'll notice your attraction to males has been eliminated and replaced with an attraction to women," she answered. She handed me the pill and a Dixie cup. "It will make your life so much more fulfilling, so much more rich with a sense of normalcy. Your parents, your friends, no one will ever even know you were gay."
"Can I take it later?" I asked looking up abruptly.
"Why would you want to do that?"
"I just need to clear my head."
She paused. "Okay. I understand. Here... take it home with you and take it when you feel ready."
I had spent the afternoon pretending that it wasn't there, pretending that the answer to my prayers, the turning point in my life was in the front pocket of my Dockers. Something, though, kept me from taking the pill immediately, and I didn't know what it was. I continued my examination of the pill. What held me back earlier today? Ashamed at my earlier hesitancy, I placed the pill onto my tongue. The thoughts of what the pill would do crescendoed in my consciousness as I prepared to swallow. The thoughts became progressively simpler, faster, and louder:
I'll never have to wonder whether Kevin and Chris would take me camping and sleep in the same tent with me if they knew.
I'll never have to tell my father that he raised a gay son.
I'll never have to worry about being affectionate in public.
I'll never have to escape into that dark, dirty world just to be myself.
I'll never have to pretend I like Pamela Anderson's body.
I'll never have to hide my letters.
I'll never have to be different.
I closed my mouth. My cheeks burned with heat. My throat swelled as one last thought pierced through my mind, resonating all around me in the light of the moon, in the coldness of the swing's metallic chain, in the sound of the crickets, and in the smell of the lawn.
I'll never be me.
The pill landed near the roots of the old Oak tree.
Dan, 18, is from Massachusetts, and attends college in Minnesota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org