When I was in my second year of A-Levels, there came a boy in the freshman batch who was instantly detected by my then nearly non-existent Gaydar. But the truth was, you really didn't need to have a Gaydar to realize that he was gay. You could have a single conversation with him or just observe him for sometime, and come to the very obvious conclusion. Everything about him screamed gay!
During those days, I myself was going through the inevitable process of soul-searching. Everything I had imagined for myself had been tossed into an unrecognizable mess by Alex. Even though I wasn't dreaming about Alex as much as I used to, I was still unclear as who I was. The only part that was clear to me was that I was attracted to men and even the thought of that scared the shit out of me. I would be lying if I denied that I hated myself for being what I am. I had labeled myself 'Freak'.
Nobody knew about it but I still felt vulnerable. I felt exposed. I was specially careful and reserved when I was around Alex. I felt that the tiniest display of emotion from me would translate into affection that would show in bold red letter across my face. I didn't want to be labeled as something out-of-ordinary or abnormal.
I had stayed in a school where I was called 'Geek' and 'Nerd' for about six years. A new school meant a new chance on life, it meant that I could totally recreate myself. Nobody needs to know about the geeky sixteen year old who couldn't sink a single basket if his life depended on it. Nobody needed to know about the nerdy sixteen year old who qualified for the Inter-school Creative Writing competition every year but never managed to win. I had a brand new start and I was a part of the 'Cool' crowd. I was doing pretty good in school as well. I definitely didn't want it to end. Just 7 more months and then I graduate and head into my University life.
Day in and day out, I saw this kid being bullied by his classmates and by his senior; my classmates. Often when a group of students assembled, they would make fun of the way he walked or how he talked or his limp wrist or how he rolled his eyes. When we had our formal dinner, he wore a pink tie and I remember somebody making a comment about how everyone expected him to wear pink. He took it with a smile. He was a nice kid, very well-mannered from what I remember.
One time he got into a fight was when another student threw an insult about his parents. I was a proctor so I had to jump in between to stop the fight. The shrimp couldn't defend himself but he was putting up a terrific fight. I pulled him away and took him into a corner. "You really should not have started that fight, you know!", I told him sarcastically. "He could have easily beaten you into pulp!"
"As if I care!", he spat out wiping the sweat forming on his brow. "I'm everybody's punching bag around here! Everybody's favorite past-time is to pick on me! And you proctors are absolutely useless at controlling them!"
I bit my lip. I was truly ashamed. He was like me, except he had not been as lucky as I had been in disguising himself into molding to ensure easy survival. I didn't know what to say next. He took my silence as his cue to exit, which he did after washing his tear tracks. He didn't come back to the cafeteria where the fight first took place. I figured he had probably wandered off to the library or the art-room or somewhere to be alone. When the bell rang for my class, all thoughts about him vanished from my mind. It remained that way for most of the day. I didn't see him till school got off. He was standing by the tuck shop sipping a soda. I made my way over so as to apologize. "I'm sorry about today. I should have stopped him before it got to fists!", I said in all honesty.
He looked up with the straw still in his mouth. "Don't sweat it! It's an everyday scene with me! I've more or less gotten used to it by now! It's just two years anyways, then I won't be running into these idiots again!"
"Don't mind me saying this!" I said hesitantly, "But the fault is partly yours. If you stood up for yourself from the start, things would have never really gotten this worse!"
"I tried everything, Phunk!", he told me dejectedly "I tried everything! I tried everyday! But it's just me and it's a whole bunch of them! I can't fight them everyday! I can't fight them all! I can't fight anymore!". Anybody listening could have easily sensed the despair and hopelessness that clung to his speech. He was fighting for those words to come out. "I just pray it's all over soon and I move on from here unharmed! There is no hope for me here. Nobody really understands whatever I have going on with me. You're being nice and that's great. But even you don't!".
Boy, was he wrong!
I wanted to hug him but I didn't. I couldn't. I just rubbed his back and treated him to a burger that we split in half. I never came out of the closet to him and then I graduated. We had become friends or as much friends that we could become given the social stigma that surrounded him. I graduated and moved on to my University. While he was in his senior year, I visited my school three times on separate occasions just for fun. He was a proctor now and from what I heard, he was a favorite amongst his juniors. I was very happy for him. A few months later he graduated. Though I visited my school later on many times as well but I only saw him on the alumni get-together that the students organized. I always made sure that an invitation got to him.
The last time I met him which was December 2009, he was enrolled in a hotel management course. He had dropped out of the engineering degree his father wanted him to do and was pursuing something he felt strongly about. I couldn't help but wish him the best in everything. I'm hoping that I get to witness great things from him in the future. He was bullied and ridiculed about his sexuality, even though he was closeted and nobody had any concrete proof about him being gay. But he survived it. He is in a better place now. But would all this have been possible if the bullying had pushed him over the edge?
The recent teen suicide incidents have left me completely shaken. Being unsure about your own self is worse enough, but having somebody pick on you because of that is the absolute pits. Pushing somebody so much that they resort to the only means of ending it. They end themselves!
Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi all are no more because of some people who just felt that they didn't deserve to live. How many more are to be laid to rest before a change comes?