When the Red Ribbon Fell

By Sean, sleeve@frontiernet.net

I sit in my steel carriage while staring at children playing in the street through the window. I remembered what it was like to be able to play with the children. All you had to worry about as a child was getting the newest toy before your best friend. Then you had to grow up and things in your life got even more complicated.

Cynthia, my ten-year-old niece, came up to me and asked, "What are you doing?" All I could reply was "Remembering good times." She looked puzzled as she stared at me. I picked her up and put her on my knee. Cynthia told me I didn't have to put her on my knee but I told her I didn't mind. I looked over at my angelic niece and noticed something in her hair. It was a red ribbon. I stared at the red ribbon holding back my tears of a dreadful event in my life. Cynthia took notice to my sadness and immediately asked, "What's wrong?" How do you explain to a child the past? How could she understand the significance that such an event had on my life? Sure she could see the physical effects but not the emotional.

She questioned me again. I was still unsure of what to say so I asked her if she wanted to hear a story. Of course any ten-year-old, being the curious creatures that they are, wanted to hear a story. She said yes immediately and I pushed her body unto my lap. So I started the story.

When I was sixteen years old I had already faced a lot. I was young, and already I had faced the horrors of life. My father had died three years ago by that time and I was forced to get a job to support my mother and my sister. While working two jobs I also had to keep up with my schoolwork. My Mother didn't want me to drop out because she said then I would have wasted my life.

My school wasn't that bad. I wasn't very popular seeing that I was from the "other side of the tracks" so I usually kept to myself. I was made fun of but that didn't matter to me. I never let my Mother know what problems I had at school with the other students because she had enough to deal with. I always wanted to be popular. I have no idea why but it was something I wanted. Looking at life now I say that everyone in High School wants to be popular in some way. There was this guy I always wanted to be like. His name was Stephen Summers. He was the boy from the "good part of town." He was your All-American Football Player without a blemish in his life, so I thought at least. He had a lot of friends, most of them made fun of me, and not to mention all the girls who wanted him. I wanted him.

I loved his blond hair, and blue eyes. Yet, that wasn't the part of him I was most attracted to. His friends were mean to me and everyone who wasn't perfect, as I mentioned previously, but he wasn't. He was nice to everyone no matter who you were. You could be the poorest and ugliest thing on the planet that ever walked the Earth and he wouldn't say anything about you to anyone. He respected everyone and made sure he worked hard for everything he got. Now being a Football Player people thought he was dumb. Let me tell you, Stephen wasn't stupid. He did well in most of his classes, all except English. He didn't do badly on everything but he couldn't grasp some concepts of stories.

Around this time I started to get more comfortable with my homosexuality. I used to just say to myself "This is a phase." I was also afraid of going to hell. When I went to church, if someone was gay they were going to hell. I can't believe I actually choked that crap down! One day I questioned my pastor why homosexuals would go to hell and he went on this one-hour tangent about how it was the most immoral sin anyone could commit. Then I asked him "If it is immoral then why did God let them be born?" He replied "Everyone makes mistakes." I then asked, "Weren't we taught that God is perfect?" He couldn't answer me and said he had to go to the hospital to make his rounds. After that day, talking to him, I knew that I wasn't going to hell. I did a little research and realized that a lot of great people were gay.

Did you know that Alexander the Great was gay and his lover was a Macedonian warrior named Hephaestion? And that Tchaikovsky married a woman to quiet the rumors of his sexuality but separated from her and wrote a letter to his brother saying that he couldn't avoid his true nature. Or the fact that a man having a male lover was common during the period of ancient Rome. I guess researching all this stuff made me feel more comfortable with my own sexuality.

Then the inevitable happened. Everyone somehow knew I was gay. First it started with name-calling. Everytime going down the hall I would hear someone yell "Burn in hell faggot" or "Eww, don't touch him he has AIDS." I was depressed and it finally reached back home. My mother didn't mind that I was gay. She told me that she always suspected it but she denied it. My mother hugged me as I cried telling her that I was so scared and so alone. She told me everything was going to be fine. Little did I know that everything wasn't going to be fine. When the church heard about me they basically told me to become straight or I wasn't permitted to go to church. I left and I was surprised one Sunday that my mother and sister came home from Church early. I asked what happened and my Sister told me that our mother had stood up in front of the entire congregation and said that they were "the biggest bunch of hypocrites that ever existed" and walked out. I was proud but I didn't mention it to her because I knew that it was tough for her to do that. My sister and I were the only thing besides the church that made her happy.

School only got worse after that. I was constantly being beaten up by guys while their girlfriends just laughed at me as I bled on the floor. When I complained to teachers they told me "you have to expect that when you are the way you are." They didn't punish the people responsible, they just told me to avoid them. How could I avoid them when they came and found me?

The something worse than anything happened. One day in English my teacher said she needed me to help someone with their schoolwork. I tried to get out of it but she made me feel sorry so I agreed. She told me the student would meet me after school in the Library. I went to the Library and I found Stephen sitting at a table. I thought to myself that this was the worse thing that could ever have happened.

When I sat down he gave me a warm hello and told me that he was happy that I was helping him. I told him not to worry about it and then we moved on with our work. We did this three out of five days a week. Every time after school and always at the same table. One day he forgot one of his books and I looked for him everywhere but I couldn't find him. I then saw the football team was practicing.

I went down to the field and looked for his stuff but I couldn't find it. I looked for him but I couldn't find him out there and if I yelled his name I thought it would embarrass him. I hid under the bleachers until the practice was over with. While he was walking by I grabbed him. He asked, "Why are you hiding under there?" I told him that I didn't to embarrass him. He laughed at the thought and told me not to worry about it. A group of his friends went by and made fun of him for hanging out with "the faggot." He told me not to listen to them because they were just dumb jocks. I laughed and gave him his book. He thanked me and I went on my way. It was nice to know one person in the school was nice to me. He was my friend and I didn't have to ask him that to know he was my friend.

Soon things between Stephen and I would change. Some would say the change was for the worse and others would say it was for the better. I really have mixed feelings about the subject. Some of me says that it wasn't for the worse but some of me contradicts that feeling. It varies day to day.

It was a Thursday, December fourth to be exact, that I would never forget. After our tutoring session I went to go catch my late bus but I missed it. I would have walked but it was snowing really hard and I lived far from the school. I sat on a bench outside in the cold and waited for the snow to let up. A car drove up to the curb and it was Stephen asking me if I wanted a ride home. I said it was too much trouble but he assured me it wasn't. He asked me how it was to be me. I was puzzled by the question and he cleared it up by asking how it was being openly gay. I told him it was hard and lonely. I sat there in his car, and poured my heart out to him. I don't think he expected me to tell him everything that I felt but then again neither did I. He sat there and listened and looked interested. I started to cry at one point and was completely embarrassed. He then moved closer to me and hugged me. I felt safe for the first time. My mother and sister always made me feel safe but not like Stephen made me feel safe. It was like a tsunami just washed away all my fears. He then looked at my face and wiped the tears from my eyes. After that he kissed me. I am not talking like someone kissing you on the cheek, I mean he kissed me on the mouth. It was better than I imagined. The kiss lasted only a minute or two but it felt like an eternity. I then got out of the car and went inside.

He didn't show up at school for an entire week. I overheard that he was sick but then I heard that he was skipping. Either way I felt responsible. I then decided to fix things and went to his house one day when I skipped school.

I was really afraid to knock on the door. I feared that his parents might answer or if he answered and he hated me he would slam the door in my face, but I knew if he was not going to school because of me I had to fix it. He answered the door and was really surprised to see me. I used the guise that I was bringing his homework to him as the reason I came to his house. He invited me in and got me a drink of water. We sat down but it was silent. I then told him that I was sorry if I was the reason he skipped school. Every thought in my head poured out. I explained that I was sorry about kissing him. He stopped me and told me "You didn't kiss me, I kissed you." That statement shut me up. He told me that he was scared by the feelings he had toward me. Feelings that most people didn't accept and that his friends wouldn't accept. He then grabbed my hand and told me that he loved me and wanted to be with me. That morning in his house, he and I made love for the first time.

The funny thing about making love to Stephen is that I don't remember when it happened. You hear people all the time talk about their first time. I don't remember when it happened. I do remember where and who it happened with but I remember the kiss Stephen and I had much more clearly. I guess the reason I remember the kiss much more clearly is because it was the first time in a long time I felt loved by someone else other than my mother and sister.

Week after week we were always together somehow. We would sneak around the school and give each other kisses. I didn't mind hiding it, people wouldn't accept it. No one really knew the extent of our relationship until the bitter end.

After making love one afternoon he got out of the bed and went to his dresser. He pulled a red ribbon out of his top draw and came back into the bed. I sat up and he asked me if I knew what the object in his hand was. Thinking it was a trick question I said I didn't know. He laughed and said it was a red ribbon. He explained to me that the Japanese viewed couples as being connected by a red ribbon, forever binding them together. Stephen put away the red ribbon and told me that no matter where I was, I was always in his heart.

Things couldn't be better for him and I. Stephen and I were happy, and nothing could destroy that happiness. So I thought at least. Stephen called me up one night telling me that one of his friends saw us together kissing in the woods and told everyone. His parents took the news reasonably well so everything with them was OK. The bad things Stephen went through happened at school. The Coach of the Football team didn't let him play anymore and made some despicable excuse that with all his problems it would affect the team. Stephen didn't let me see the pain that he was in. He always told me that he was happy, but I knew he wasn't. Football was everything to Stephen. Some people have the stereotypical view that gay guys hate sports, and sing Broadway show tunes. That isn't the truth at all. Stephen loved sports, and he hated Broadway show tunes. Now they took away the only thing that mattered to him besides his family and I. My heart was broken because I knew the pain that he was going through. One night Stephen finally broke down and cried and poured his heart out to me. I listened to him like he had listened to me before. I will never forget the tears from his eyes that night.

When I thought nothing could get worse, life surprised me yet again. Stephen and I were driving back from the movies one night when a deer jumped out in front of the road. Stephen swerved out of the way and we hit a telephone pole. I woke up to see my mother's face looking at me and she told me that I had been in a car accident. Mom then broke the news to me that I was paralyzed and probably would never walk again. I asked how Stephen was but she just ignored me until I demanded an answer. He was in a coma and the doctor's felt it was improbable that he would ever wake up. Stephen's parents let me visit him when they decided to let him die peacefully. I held his right hand as he died.

Mr. and Mrs. Summers waited until I was able to move around, to have the funeral. It was a nice funeral. His former friends came and they all came up to me expressing their condolences. I think they realized that Stephen being gay was nothing compared to Stephen being dead. It's like the old saying "You never knew what you had until it's gone." I could have been angry with them but it wasn't the time or the place and they were making a sincere effort to say they were sorry. When it was time to let down the casket Mr. and Mrs. Summers wheeled me up to the edge and I looked at all the people. I told them that Stephen would have liked that they were here because he did love all his friends and family. I took out a red ribbon from my pocket. "Did you know the Japanese believe that couples are connected by a red ribbon" I asked them all? I ripped the red ribbon in half and dropped it into the grave. The red ribbon landed on top of the casket and soon I started to cry. They buried him that day. Everyone I knew was asking how I was for months. All I could tell them was "It gets better everyday."

It is strange though. Stephen was dead, and would never come back. But, it didn't matter. I felt he was always by my side and would never leave it. Now every year, on December fourth, I go to his grave and tie a piece of a red ribbon around a rose and leave it on his tombstone.

I looked out of my Sister's window with tears rolling down my face. My niece tugged at my shirt and snapped me out of my trance like state. She had untied the red ribbon in her hair and was gesturing me to take it from her. I took the red ribbon and tied it around my wrist and I hugged her tightly as we both watched the sun going down over the horizon.

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