Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Old Man

He appeared in my window, an elderly man with white-gray hair and a slight paunch. I'd been trying to pour my problems into the moon, and the next thing I knew he was there.

I drew back, startled.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. I didn't mean to sound rude, but he and I had a checkered history; in the past, his visits had not often been pleasant.

"It's lovely to see you, too" he said gruffly. His wispy helpers wheeled around him, shining and insubstantial. "We need to talk."

"I'm not in the mood for talking," I countered. "Do you know what time it is?"

His face was expressionless.

"Time is an illusion," he answered stoically. "As you know."

"Right," I said with a roll of my eyes. "Well, I'm pretty sure the ten-thirty class I have tomorrow actually isn't an illusion."

"Since when do you suddenly care about going to class?" he asked.

I scowled but he waved my irritation away.

"Beside the point," he continued. "Issues of a pressing nature have arisen and will soon arise. We must discuss them."

"No," I answered. "No, we won't. You and I have nothing to discuss anymore."

I scoffed at his absurd cross-legged posture.

"You realize I'm on the third floor, right?" I asked. "You look ridiculous."

He surveyed the night air around him and seemed for the first time to take stock of the fact that he was floating nearly forty feet in the air on the outside of my dormitory building.

His gaze returned to me with some irritation in it.

"Once again, beside the point," he said.

"How?" I asked incredulously. "Someone's going to see you."

His stare yielded nothing.

"In order for someone to see me they would have to be paying a great deal more attention than most are apt to do," he offered. "But this is all periphery. We must return to the matter at hand."

"No," I insisted. I jumped off the bed and my bare feet hit coarse carpeting. "You and I said our last words to each other back in '09. Leave me alone."

He assessed me.

"I've always judged you to be a bright young man," he said calmly. "And as my judgement by definition cannot be in error, I feel confident in asserting that you never truly imagined our relationship to be concluded."

I gave him the angriest stare I could.

"You should go," I said. I was trying not to shake. "I want you to go."

"I can't," he said simply. "You of all people should know that a man cannot escape his fate."

"I don't believe in fate," I came back immediately.

"No," he declared. His voice was stern now. "You don't want to believe in fate. That's quite different from not believing in it."

I huffed.

"Well, that's your perspective."

He leveled that scourging gaze at me again.

"In your moments alone, all the doubt fades away," he said with disconcerting authority. "When you walk home in twilight and cannot shield yourself from the scrutiny of the setting sun; when you stand in the shower and hold your own arms, always with the lights out; when you find yourself lying awake in bed on nights like tonight, you know. It is your constant terror."

I tried to glare but failed. The expression came off as weak and frightened, and the eyes I'd hoped to make huge with anger were just big with fear and sadness.

"Oh, BB," he sighed, and in that moment I believed he really pitied me. "My dear, sweet boy. Did you really think you could escape? Be normal?"

There was no sneer in the last word, no hint of mocking. I appreciated that but wouldn't tell him.

"I..." I began. "I don't know. I don't know what I thought. Maybe I believed it. For a little while at least."

"And it's not as if credit isn't due," he assured me. "Really, you've done a fine job of it. Even the most perceptive of those around you are aware on only the dimmest of levels that something is a"

He reached through the window and patted my shoulder.

"A finely engineered facade," he commended. "But a facade nonetheless."

I looked away, my silence the most damning admission I could give.

"You see the truth in what I'm saying," he went on. "It's obvious."

I brought my hand to my forehead and rubbed my eyebrow.

"You're right," I said. "I just don't understand..."

"What?" he prompted. His face held a look of such sincerity that I opened up even though I didn't want to.

"It's just..." I began. "There seems to be this undercurrent of tragedy."

"Ooh, 'tragedy,'" came the helium voice of one of the helpers. "A bright one, boss."

"Yeah, he doesn't miss a thing," said another.

"Quick, hide the drugs!" a third piped in.

"Enough," the old man pronounced. "That is neither necessary nor helpful."

His servants buzzed off into the night and careened into a few trees across the courtyard. The man suppressed an urge to grumble under his breath, then turned back to me.

"Everyone's destiny holds both positive and negative elements," he said. "Yours is unique in several respects, but that does not make it inherently worse than anyone else's. In fact, it's quite better than normal in some respects."

"I know," I said. I was still looking down. "But sometimes I wonder..."

I looked up at him and saw the guileless compassion in his eyes. I decided to take a shot.

"How will it end?" I asked.

"That will be up on you," he said. A subtle grimace shaped his face. "To a degree."

I sent him a quizzical look.

"No matter how well you do," he explained. "There is a chance that it will all end quite badly."

"How badly?" I asked.

He inhaled.

"Appallingly," came his answer. "Appallingly. It's one of those things I regret but can't change."

I swallowed.

"Why?" I wanted to know. "Even if I do well..."

His eyes narrowed.

"When you were a child, were you particularly cruel?" he asked.

I was confused.

"Not at all," I replied. "In fact, I was weirdly kind, all things considered."

"And did that for a moment stop people from hurting you?" he asked.

I understood his reasoning, then.

"Ah," I said. "Right."

"You can at least rest assured that it won't be mediocre," he said. He shook his head in disgust. "In truth, there's a sort of a hellish grandeur to it."

I shuddered at the idea of something that, for him, had already happened. Or could have happened. Or might happen. Things with him were always complicated.

"But that, even should it come, is far away," he continued. "And there will be great brightness in between, regardless of whether the conclusion is pleasing or not."

The old man smiled.

"And, of course, the ultimate conclusion will be quite joyous where you are concerned," he said. "No matter how you are dispatched to it."

I tried to feign resolution.

"Okay," I said. "I guess I'll just have to be strong."

He smiled again.

"You will be."

He started to float away, but I called after him.

"Wait!" I exclaimed.

He descended to my level once more.

"I'm sorry," I said. "But have you seen Good?"

He shook his head.

"But fleetingly," he said. "It is an unfortunate fact that our paths do not cross nearly often enough."

"I figured as much," I admitted. "But Fate?"

"Yes, BB?"

"The next time you run into her, please tell her I said hi," I requested. "I miss her. I need her help now."

"Of course, BB."

"Okay. Thanks, Fate."

He nodded humbly.

"It is the least I could do."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Birthday

Norwegian stood in my bedroom, her soft face carrying a concerned expression.

"Drink this," she said, pushing a delicious mocha coffee my way. "You need it."

"Thanks," I said, gratefully sipping from the plastic cup.

"I don't get how you're still going," she noted. "I would be balling my eyes out."

"I'm kind of going back and forth," I admitted. "Every once in a while it'll really hit me and then I start crying, but I've been trying really hard not to do that."

She nodded.

Today was not the birthday I expected it to be. No one has died or is seriously ill or injured, but it was a very trying experience. I'll write a fuller post on it, when I have the energy. I haven't slept in more than a day.

"Yeah," I said. "I kept thinking it was the worst birthday ever because of everything that happened, but then this afternoon I looked on my Facebook page and saw how many people had written to wish me a happy birthday or just ask if I was okay. And then there were all the voicemails on my phone from people checking in to make sure I was alright."

The tears started welling in spite of me.

"I kind of realized that a lot of people love me," I said. My words were halting. "A lot of people really care about me. So I was a pretty good birthday."

Norwegian's blue eyes started to water.

"I think you need a hug," she said.

"I think so, too," I seconded.

She wrapped her arms tightly around me and I didn't fight it at all.

There, my face against her shoulder, it was okay to weep.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Three Years On

Today marks the third anniversary of my debut on Blogger, an event that, encouraged by a generous mentor and driven by my own relentless need to share, would prove to have a major impact on me. Blogging marked a shift in the way I viewed my life and consequently in the way I lived it; in a way that mere journaling could not, it forced me examine myself in a critical, accountable manner.

Most of this was because I had an audience.

A diarist may pour his heart and soul into his writings, but generally speaking those writings are seen by no one but himself and whatever progress he derives from them comes exclusively by way of reflection.

A blogger, however, benefits from many voices. Those voices add to one he puts forth, shape his narrative arc with support, advice, and, when needed, gentle criticism.

I have been routinely touched and amazed by the number of people who take the time to read what I say and then share thoughts of their own. I am often surprised to look at my statistics page and see that I've received visitors from all across the United States and from as far away as Malaysia, Australia, France, Germany, and Britain. That is deeply heartening.

Both longtime friends and more recent ones have been a valued part of this experience. Your input helped me understand when I was doing something wrong. It also helped me realize truths I needed to see: that being gay was nothing to be ashamed of, that self-acceptance was beautiful, that the abuse perpetrated on me during my childhood was completely wrong and utterly inexcusable.

Thank you for that.

As always, no commemoration of this day would be complete without my acknowledging the debt I owe to Jo(e).

This phenomenal woman is a testament to what good parenting and good living can and should be. I first encountered her when I was a nineteen-year-old college sophomore just beginning to work through serious emotional problems, and our correspondence not only led directly to my establishing this blog but also constituted a major revelation.

Before I met Jo(e), I'd experienced precious little in the way of wisdom, kindness, or understanding from my elders. Most of them had earned nothing but my contempt. Then along came this intelligent, giving English professor filled to bursting with empathy, this person who showed me what a real grown-up was supposed to look like. She was a successful professional, a lovely writer, and managed to be a wonderful mother to her children while still nurturing herself.

Her example gave me something to aspire to. It gave me hope.

And for that, I will always hold her in the highest regard I am able to convey.

Thanks as always, Jo(e). You played a bigger part in my turnaround than I think you realize.

For a turnaround indeed occurred.

If there's one thing this blog has chronicled, it is a path of immense change. The nineteen-year-old boy who opened his first post by marking himself blackened has gone away, a phantom of misery and suffering that I doubt I'd be able to recognize today. I have progress left to make, but the life I lead now is defined by laughter, by smiles and affection and plenty. It's a good life, one I strive to make better.

So, for those of you who don't know (or perhaps would like to be reacquainted), my name is BrightenedBoy, but you can call me BB. BrightenedBoy was my second pseudonym, one I adopted when I discarded the initial moniker BlackenedBoy. For a long time I felt that this shift to the lighter BB was a natural one that was good for me to make, but as I've reflected on it I've come to believe that I should have remained BlackenedBoy. I am not a one-dimensional creature composed solely of happiness, for the trauma of what I endured still forms the mold of everything I am, even in my times of joy. That's not a bad thing, either. I have been BrightenedBoy for a long time now, though, and BrightenedBoy I will remain.

I am twenty-two years old, and currently a college student at a major university in the American South, where I'm studying political science and journalism. For a variety of reasons I will graduate in December of 2011, a year and a half later than originally intended. That can be mostly attributed to my adding a minor to my degree in 2009 and taking a semester off from school in 2010 to pursue an opportunity with a major record label.

When I'm not in school, I live with my parents, David and Marie (not actual names). They also reside in Southern State, along with two of my three siblings: Thomas (aged 15), and Pie (my sister, aged 7). My cousin, Beautiful Cousin (aged 20), attends a university close to my parents' home and stays with us so she can commute. They are all about an hour and a half away from my university’s campus, where they live in Mountain Town, a rural and isolated community remarkably cut-off from the extremely affluent area immediately to its east (the Goldlands).

Another brother, Powell (aged 21) now lives in Western City as he works through the consequences of some very bad decisions.

My profile picture for 2011 was taken last summer, when I went to visit a fellow blogger in Marble City. It shows me as I like to be, in shorts and a tee-shirt, with soft heat on my shoulders and a golden sun illuminating my flaxen hair. I'd like to think that it will be a fitting symbol for the next twelve months.

And now, a year in review:

April, 2010: I turned twenty-two years old and was presented by my friends with a poster bearing the name of then Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

May, 2010: I left Local Records. I also concluded my spring semester at Major University. Though I did not know it, it would be the last time I was enrolled until the following January.

June, 2010: I began a public relations internship at Major University and also started work at the Mountain Town Book Shop.

July, 2010: I wiled away countless days with Laquesha and Norwegian, two close friends from Major University who happened to be in the Mountain Town area for the summer.

August, 2010: Suddenly and very unexpectedly, I was presented with a huge opportunity from a major record label that was considering extending me a recording contract.

September, 2010: At the very end of the month, I was informed that the record executives who'd been considering me and with whom I'd met had decided not to offer me a deal.

October, 2010: Major domestic discord and a violent incident with my mother led me to essentially stop speaking to my parents. During this time I was happy to get away to Major University, where I made several weekend trips to party with my friends.

November, 2010: I registered for spring classes at Major University.

January, 2011: I resumed classes at Major University.

February, 2011: I moved onto campus after commuting from Mountain Town for nearly a month, and was lucky to find a genuine friend in Patrick, my new roommate.

March, 2011: I began searching for literary agency internships in the Goldlands region for the summer.

Thank you for being here for me, whether it's been for three years or only a few weeks, and thank you for allowing me to be here for you. For what you share, on your sites and on mine, I am very grateful.

Being a member of your community has been a privilege.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sometimes She Astounds Me

Sunday evening was a stormy one in Mountain Town.

Coal-colored clouds rolled across an already-black sky, rumbling with umbrage and occasionally igniting in brilliant sparks of light. My parents and Beautiful Cousin were watching a movie in the living room, and even over the din of the television I could hear the groan of thunder outside.

The house shook slightly, but no one else was unnerved by it.

"Where's Pie?" I asked.

During our romantic comedy viewings my 7-year-old sister often retreats to the second floor to see the Nickelodeon shows she loves, and I figured she may have done so now.

"She's upstairs," my mother said. "I think she has the Kids' Choice Awards on."

The house creaked again and I had an image of my second-grade sibling flying through an open hole in the ceiling.

"I'll go check on her," I announced.

When I walked into my parents' room, Pie was sitting on the bed avidly watching some unseemly game show wherein contestants competing for various prizes were doused in green sludge as the host and audience members laughed uproariously.

"Hey, Pie," I said, plopping down on the bed. "Whatchya doing?"

"BB, leave me alone," she muttered. "I'm trying to watch this."

She scooted to the other side of the bed and I rolled over to her, whereupon she hopped off the blankets and onto the floor. I decided not to follow her and gazed toward the window instead. I could just make out flashes of bright light from behind the blinds.

"Hey, Pie," I said. "Come watch the lightning."

She got up, grousing the whole time, and trudged to the window. I thought for sure I was about to lose her to the show, but then a huge trident of white-blue flame cracked through the sky like a gleaming serpent of electricity and her whole demeanor changed.

"Whoa!" she exclaimed. "BB, did you see that?"

"I did," I answered. "Quick, go grab the lights."

She hurried to the other side of the room, flicked the switch, and was back to the window within moments.

The glass through which we stared reflected the television screen, upon which a distasteful individual had shed his dignity in mucous-colored slime as the maniacally grinning judge urged him on towards some laudable reward.

"Pie, turn that off," I petitioned.

"No," she remonstrated.

Another lightning strike zigzagged down from the clouds and her will was broken.

She slammed the power button on the set and I breathed a sigh of immense satisfaction. I'd defeated the television.

We sat there for about twenty minutes, watching as truly spectacular wires of lightning wound their way out into the sky in angular patterns of magnificent luminescence.

From miles away we could see the low clouds over the mountains charging with energy that they then spewed into the valleys below. Rather than manifesting itself in single bolts, this lightning took the form of rolling waves, hurtling from one side of the landscape to another like an impossibly fast sun.

"Wow," Pie whispered.

I was pretty taken with it myself.

"Hey, BB," she began. "Do you think there could ever be a lightning bolt big enough for the whole world to see?"

I pondered the question.

"Well," I answered. "The world is round, so I'm not sure how the people on the other side would be able to see a lightning bolt that happened here."

"But could it happen?" she asked.

"I guess," I said. "But any lightning bolt that big would probably incinerate the whole planet."

"Will the planet ever incinerate?"

I weighed what my answer would be. Pie poses uncomfortable questions sometimes, but my general policy is to be as honest as is good for her and I decided to do so in this instance.

"Yes, sweetheart," I told her. "Eventually, it will."

"How will it happen?" she asked.

She was very calm.

"One day, we'll fall into the sun," I replied.

That's not entirely truthful; the sun will actually explode outward and envelop us, but the end result is the same anyway.

She looked right into my eyes.

"Is that going to happen when I'm grown up?"

"No, honey," I said. "You'll be long gone by then."

She turned to the window and was suddenly lost in contemplation. It was like I wasn't even there.

"I don't know myself," she murmured.

"What do you mean, Der-Der?" I asked.

"I don't know myself," she repeated. "I don't know why He made this world. What would it be like if this world weren't here? It is here, though. I don't know why."

Not for the first time
, I was blown away by the depth that exists within this little girl, a little girl whose peers probably grapple with no question more difficult than what their favorite nighttime snack is.

"Pie," I said again. "What do you mean, honey? When you say you don't know yourself? What do you mean?"

"I..." she struggled with the words, a 7-year-old child trying to articulate concepts so much bigger than most 7-year-old children ever touch upon. "I can't explain it. But I don't know myself. I don't really know anyone. Sometimes when I'm at school I'll just look at the ground and wonder why we're here, and I don't know. I don't get the point."

She inhaled.

"The world is not to know yourself, though," she said. "The world is for you to be here."

I was hoping by this time that she hadn't registered my total dumbfounded shock.

She turned to me with the earnest eyes of an elementary-schooler.

"BB," she asked. "Do you think Santa knows why God made the world?"

I sighed, weirdly relieved but a bit sad as well. Maybe that sadness comes from knowing that, with a mind like hers, the delightful combination of mystery and certainty that comprises childhood will be neither mysterious nor certain before long.

"No, sweetheart, he doesn't know," I answered. "No one knows."

Her face fell and her shoulders visibly sagged.

The sound of the Country Music Awards coming from downstairs quickly lifted her out of her funk, though.

"BB, come on, come on!" she exclaimed, racing for the staircase. Mortality and higher meaning and all their implications were forgotten. "Carrie Underwood is singing!"

I stared out at the clouds for a moment longer, slowly rose to my feet, and followed my sister down the stairs.