My Story in Song: Part 10
I roll over to check the clock and groan as my suspicions are confirmed. Not only does it feel like hours since I retired for the night – it’s actually been hours.
12 am. Happy freaking New Year.
Strangely enough for a mid-summer night, my sarcastic quip doesn’t seem to land too far off the mark. Because while tonight doesn’t mark the transition into a new calendar year, it does mark the transition into a new phase of friendship.
It all started earlier that night, when New Kid came by to pick me up. We were planning to meet my parents at a classic car show, but just as we were about to leave, my phone rang.
“Don’t bother coming,” Mom’s voice rang out. “Everyone’s leaving, and we’re heading home too.”
“Oh, okay,” I reply. It seems like a shame to waste the night, so I propose a counteroffer. “Do you guys want to meet at Dairy Queen instead?”
“No, something weird is going on,” Mom insists.
“The sky is dark and cloudy, and the sun’s coming through in strange rays. It’s creepy – Dad says it looks like the end of the world!”
Dang. You know a situation is bad when my father passes up the chance to eat ice cream.
New Kid and I venture outside. The sky is dark and cloudy, but hardly what one would consider apocalyptic. Then again, Mom and Dad were a fair distance away. Maybe things were worse where they were.
“Should we go out anyway?” New Kid asks.
“Yeah,” I decide with a shrug. “Why not?”
We hop in the car and start to drive, but as we do, an odd feeling begins to creep up on me. It’s a quiet sort of dread, with a heavy-handed nervous anticipation thrown into the mix. To say I was unnerved would be an understatement.
As we come to a major intersection, New Kid asks me which way to go. Left leads to the spot, far out in the countryside; right to my city’s downtown strip. In light of my present state, I opt for right.
Soon, we arrive at an outdoor plaza. Families like to stroll along the path connecting the series of stores that make up the strip mall, and it seems like a decent way to kill some time. But when we make the turn into the parking lot, I’m unprepared for what I see.
“The sky!” I gasp. “It looks like it’s been set on fire!”
I feel like I’m moving in slow-motion as I get out of the car and stare dumbfounded at the sight. The entire expanse of sky above us is burning a luminous, foreboding orange. This was no ordinary sunset – it looked more like videos I’d seen of people driving through wildfires!
What was going on?
Silently, I wondered if this strange phenomenon could have anything to do with what had happened two days prior.
It was a year of scandal, and news of the widespread clerical abuse was just then starting to break. Mom had been watching a news report covering one of the cases, and I had retreated into the kitchen for a reprieve. Spying a couple of stray crumbs on the ground, I embraced the opportunity to channel some restless energy into physical labor. I dragged the broom around the floor, but it didn’t stop my train of thought.
Those poor boys. My grip tightened as the details that I had just heard echoed throughout my mind. I closed my eyes in a vain attempt to stop the flow of information. It’s just so wrong.
I stoop to sweep the crumbs into the dustpan, but just as I’m about to toss them into the trash, I’m frozen in my tracks as clarity whips through me with all the wild force of a gale wind.
That’s what happened to him.
No. NO. Fear wraps its icy fingers around my stomach in a death grip, and I feel like I’m going to be sick. Please, God, not him.
It would make a lot of sense.
1am. Sigh… still awake. On to my second Rosary.
In the moments following that stunning revelation, I had done my best to push the thought out of my mind. I didn’t have any proof. I might be wrong.
But deep inside, I had a hunch that I had inadvertently stumbled upon the truth. And in the course of our walk, New Kid confirmed it.
I’m not sure what it was that prompted him to open up about his past, but an hour or so into our night, beneath that menacing orange glare, I was pressing trembling hands against my stomach once more, horrified at what I was hearing.
“Just please tell me that nobody hurt you,” I beg, willing this to be true with every fiber of my being.
New Kid obliges. He wasn’t seriously hurt. But he’d come close.
He tells me about the tactics and lies employed by his abuser. The shame he felt at knowing that something was wrong. The fear that had kept him from telling anyone. The guilt at believing that it was somehow his fault. The anger that those who did know did nothing to protect him.
Oh, this was wrong. This was horribly, terribly wrong. But it all made sense now. The last piece to the puzzle had finally clicked into place, and the truth about New Kid’s nomadic life came rushing to the surface:
He wasn’t exploring. He was hiding.
But his strategy hadn’t worked. No more than two years ago, he had been targeted yet again. Words explode out of my mouth in violent bursts, despite my attempts to keep them at bay – single, incredulous words of repetition that sound like fired gunshots powered by a veritable powder keg of shock and disgust.
How could they? How COULD they?!
The man standing before me is easily the most kindhearted, beautiful, and gentle soul that I have ever had the privilege to encounter. He’s a bright and shining star, a truth he once tried to hide beneath his measured façade but that had become so clearly evident in those radiant bursts of luminosity that had toppled his walls, leaving me to gaze awestruck upon the brightness and brilliance that was New Kid.
And THIS is the person they target? Cruel monsters!
I’ve held back for as long as I could, but I can’t let this go on any longer. Love, purest love, propels me forward, closing the gap between us. I wrap my arms around his waist and hold on tight.
“I am so sorry you had to go through that,” I whisper. “You didn’t deserve it.”
He rests a hand on my back as I try my hardest to empty that sudden wellspring of love from my heart into his. I’m hoping and praying that it might impart some kind of healing, no matter how slight, all the while knowing that he carries wounds far too large to be made well by one solitary hug. No matter. I resolve then and there to do whatever I can to help him. Whatever he needs, whenever he needs, I will be there for him. Always.
New Kid shifts slightly, and I let him go.
“Thanks,” he says softly, apparently no more convinced of his innocence than he was before my hug. “I just feel bad, because I ruined those friendships.”
“No.” My voice is calm and steady, but it’s laced with an iron edge. “Those people were not your friends.”
He’s watching me with tumultuous eyes, a pained expression on his face. He wants to believe me – at least, I hope he does – but I suppose it’s hard to undo decades’ worth of lies. Still, I try. That forlorn look, and my desperate desire to remove it, leads me to insist, to use our friendship as a foil.
“If you told me that spending time with me was hurting you, I would leave you alone. I promise.”
And I never promise anything.
2am. I still don’t know what to do.
About my insomnia or about New Kid.
After his confession, we had resumed our walk, tending toward lighter topics. When the sky finally cleared up enough to see the stars, I looked up and took notice, assuming that New Kid had done the same. But after a moment of silence, I hear,
“You’re very special.”
The words are quiet, barely above a whisper. Turning around, I find New Kid regarding me with an intensity the likes of which I’ve never seen before. An intensity that tells me that the stars, while beautiful, are the last things on his mind.
Special is his word; he throws it around like confetti. To hear him use it is nothing new. But this time, for the first time… I know that he really means it.
I wonder then about his plan to remain single. In light of the night’s disclosures, it seemed like his decision stemmed not from a free choice but from a perceived obligation. Where I had once considered him a carefree wanderer with no desire to settle down, I now saw a broken man who wanted nothing more than to love and be loved, but who questioned his ability to do so, fearing the long-term effects of his past. He wasn’t keeping others out for his sake, but for theirs.
…But, there’s nothing wrong with New Kid. He just doesn’t see that.
I wonder if it will make any difference now that he’s disclosed such things to me without my running away. I wonder if it matters that his secrets have only made me love him more. I wonder if he’ll ever change his mind and deviate from the path of loneliness laid out before him.
I wonder if he’ll ever trust me enough to at least try.
I run my hands across my face, tired, confused, and frustrated. That’s not for me to decide. And New Kid has been through enough. If he ever decides to change his course, he’s going to have to come to it on his own. Being his friend is already the greatest gift I’ve ever received in this life; I can’t – I won’t – ask for anything more.
At this point, I get up, tiptoe my way across the landing, and set a hand on the door.
Despite all the upset of the evening, one thing is perfectly clear: this is far too much for me to handle on my own.
Listen to Bent by Matchbox 20 here