You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
A short story by Meg Drummond-Wilson
When I was growing up, I had a best friend.
His name was Abel, and it was the usual deal with friends you've had since birth our mums had known each other well and gotten pregnant round about the same time (personally I think this is a little creepy, but then I don't know much about women at all!). We'd been born within a fortnight of each other and grown up together. Some of my earliest memories are of Abel and his cloud of white-blonde hair, scrunchy toddler face happily smeared with jam and dirt and other unidentified substances. We always managed to get into a right mess together, digging in mud, clutching fistfuls of oozy brown happiness between our little fingers, exploring the world and the gleeful squashiness of squashy things.
When we were about six, Abel started to talk about God.
I didn't know who God was, at first. Abel told me he was a big person, up in the sky, who punished you when you did something wrong. I thought this sounded pretty crap, to be honest. Like some kind of giant teacher. I imagined him huge and scary, thick brows drawn down over mean, cold eyes. Shouting. Loud. In fact, I was getting pretty nervous, remembering all the wrong things I'd done, like stealing two extra biscuits last night and pushing over Lucy Grey in the playground. But Abel tried to reassure me, putting a thin little arm around my shoulders. "God's great," he told me earnestly. "He's really great."
I didn't know if I believed him, but, well, Abel was usually right.
When I got dropped back off at home I asked Mum what the deal was with this "God" bloke. She took a deep breath and out came a long and complicated answer that didn't all make sense. I came out of it knowing that some people believed in God and some people believed in many gods and some believed in nothing except themselves. I asked Mum if I had to believe in a God. She smiled, sadly, and told me that I didn't have to do anything I didn't want. So I stole another biscuit, because I didn't want to not steal it.
Eventually, it all kind of unfolded and just became part of life, the way Abel's faith differed from our heathen atheism. They were Christians, we weren't. Of course the families were still the best of friends why would differing faith cause any inter-household problems in today's modern society? Love. Acceptance. Indiscrimination. Those were the keywords of our age.
Abel and I grew up.
"You need to get a girlfriend," he told me one muggy day, tossing a cricket ball back and forwards between his hands.
We were twelve. I saw no reason why I should get a girlfriend, especially as all Abel did with his was hold their hand at lunch and have awkward, stilted conversations about church and the weather.
"Because otherwise everyone'll think you're a fag, Peter," he said, looking at me with big, world-wise eyes. Abel knew everything.
I'd heard that word fag before, but I wasn't entirely sure what it meant. It seemed to just be a general insult, like dickhead or ugly or whatever. I didn't see what the connection was between me having a girlfriend or not having one. I settled with a non-committal grunt for my response.
Abel suddenly laughed. The sunlight caught the outline of his profile, young and boyish but already fine-boned and delicate. He was pretty. No wonder so many girls wanted to hold his hand. "You're my best friend! Gotta take care of you."
"I can take care of myself," I muttered, but I was secretly pleased at the compliment. Abel was one of those people you wanted approval from. He always seemed to know exactly what to do, what to say, how to go about things, and if he didn't want people to think I was a 'fag' (whatever that was) then it was probably better they didn't.
Two years later, I still hadn't managed to get a girlfriend. I'd tried, once, but her lipgloss has put me off. It tasted like strawberries and I'd never liked strawberries and anyway it was just unpleasant. Lots of people, mostly adults, told me it was okay to not have a girlfriend just yet. This was good news because I was now very aware what a 'fag' was and I was very aware that I was one, and also that women would probably have no place in my romantic life ever.
Gay. Homosexual. Faggot. Poofter. Bent. Queer. So many words for it, take your pick. We seem oddly obsessed with it as a culture. Is it the novelty of it? Or just the departure from everything you're taught as a child (man and woman come together, baby is made). The subject certainly didn't deserve the endless panicky attention I poured into it. Just another aspect of me, like my freckles or my Adam's apple. But it threatened to disrupt everything, and it almost killed me inside. The knowledge that I was gay came to me one day and the knowledge that I'd always actually had that knowledge, and with it a giant sweep of rushing panic and fear. My first thought was of Abel: oh god, oh god, he'll hate me.
Fourteen-year-old boys get scared more often than you'd think, the deep down kind of fear that hums in your bones even when you aren't thinking of it, and God, was I scared. For some reason, in taking thousands and thousands of words on the subject was the only release I could find from this fear. I'd always liked reading and information and I needed to know everything I could. Know your enemy. I researched it endlessly, soaking up angry Internet debates, reading long and clinical essays on the genetic factors involved in male homosexuality. I read arguments where people said it was okay and it was fine to be gay and that made me feel better for two minutes, and then on the next page there was someone saying "I'm not homophobic but
" and it went on and on and on. Once I got injured during a Phys. Ed lesson, got an angry red scrape along my collarbone. A boy I didn't really know whistled through his teeth in sympathy and reached out to touch the bruised skin at the edges of the graze. I punched him.
And all the while I followed Abel, faithful, quiet, holding my secret inside of me.
Me and Abel saw a gay couple in town. They were tourists, not locals a short, stocky bloke with dark curls and a tall, slim one wearing skinny jeans that clung to his legs. They were just holding hands loosely, looking around, talking quietly to each other in American accents, pointing out various things here and there. Once, one of them broke into song, a few snatches of some stupid pop ballad, and the other nudged him and told him to shut up.
My stomach twisted around the icecream I'd just eaten.
Openly, quietly, unobtrusively. This was no flamboyant, rainbow-painted parade, no thrusting, falsetto display of political opinion.
They were so normal, so unremarkable, and yet so fascinating.
I'd spent months thinking of myself as some weird, abnormal, vulgar thing, weighted down with drama and confusion and self-hatred.
have to be that way?
My secret swelled inside me.
The couple disappeared into a souvenir shop. I looked over at Abel, who was kicking his legs idly, tongue darting out at his icecream (strawberry).
"Abel, I'm gay."
The words tumbled off my lips, suddenly and heavily and awkwardly.
There was a moment of silence. I felt horror crawl down between my shoulderblades, but my mind was blank. My heartbeat sped up, my palms sweated, my body panicked and my mind floated somewhere else.
Abel threw his head back and laughed, his hair a halo of white-blonde. "Nice. You had me scared for a minute."
"No, I mean. I'm
It kind of felt like everything was falling apart in jagged, ruined pieces when Abel looked at me.
Oh god, oh god, he hates me.
I could see it in his face, in the slight furrowing of his brow, the curl of his mouth, barely discernable but disgust. Abel, Abel, the one I'd loved since I was so very little oh, not in that way, I had no inclinations towards him, but I'd grown up with him, he'd taught me everything, we'd discovered the world together, he was as much a part of me as my freckles and my Adam's apple and my
I made an odd choking noise, got up and ran away.
you know, I still don't really know why I told Abel, first of all.
I knew that he thought homosexuality was a sin. I knew he wouldn't take it well. Teenage boys are uncomfortable about the idea of gayness outside of lesbian erotica, and that's the open-minded ones. I knew he'd hate me for it and that it wouldn't ever be the same again.
I should have told my Mum. I should have rung one of the gay helplines I came across in my voracious research. I should have told one of the quiet, sweet girls at school Lucy would have understood.
I'm not sure that you understand. Abel was my brother, and he hated me, not for something I did or for something I could change or remedy with time, for something that was just me. I couldn't change my gayness, I knew even then at the young, experimental age of fourteen that I was rock solid gay.
Oh, it did hurt, and the hurt of a fourteen-year-old boy is hard to put into words.
I went home and listened to music, loud, loud, loud, until my ribcage thrummed with the vibrations of it and my mother yelled uselessly from downstairs to 'TURN IT DOWN' and it pounded in my head.
Abel wouldn't tell anyone.
Even if he thought I was disgusting, he'd keep it to himself. I could live with the one I loved the most in the world hating me but if he betrayed me
Next day at school, I feared it, and it came.
Someone shoved into my back, hard. It jarred me all through, but the pain didn't really connect because all I was feeling was the 'oh God. He told them. He told everyone.'
Yes, that is exactly right. You may have been able to predict it. In fact, you probably knew it all along, that Abel was not a good, devout Christian. He'd taken the parts of his religion that suited him and for the rest of it, he was a bit of an arrogant, teenage dickhead.
My whole life I'd put up with him, and his hateful comments, and the ignorant things he said and did, and I'd never argued with his faith and the insults 'in the name of God'. I didn't want to do that anymore.
I staggered forward, the force of the shove pushing me. Luckily, my knees didn't buckle and I didn't hit the ground I was able to straighten up (only in the literal sense) and turn around to face the attacker.
He was Stupid Teenager number four million and something of our school, with an annoyingly cliché brutish build and thick neck.
"Real fking funny." I tried to sound cool, but my breath was still constricted and it came out more as a wheeze than anything else.
"Nahh, you liked it." He laughed.
"Whatever." I pulled my bag up on to my shoulders and started to walk away as quick as I could, shame and humiliation prickling between my shoulderblades. My life now, eh?
I passed Abel on my way to the class. He'd seen the whole thing. We looked at each other for a moment. His mouth was curled into a smile at the corner, but there was pain in his eyes. I will tell you this now and I am not lying there was pain in his eyes.
Then I looked away and kept walking.
It was kind of pointless to deny the rumours, and so they became truth.
I became 'the gay boy'. It wasn't as bad after the first week. People forgot about it, moved on to something new. I wasn't that interesting, really. Apart from the fact that if I ever did get a romantic partner, which I probably wouldn't because I was more awkward than an upside down turtle, it would be a male, I was as boring as dust.
I wasn't sure what to do without Abel. It felt like I'd lost an arm or something, even though I was angry at him all the way to my bones.
I got used to it, though. Cauterized the pain. Sealed the loneliness off, didn't let it nag at me until I collapsed into bed at night and stared at the ceiling. There was no way of stopping it then.
One day, there was a new boy at school.
"That's Peter. He's a fag," someone said helpfully, pointing me out.
I rolled my eyes and started to walk away, but not before I heard a faint: "Awesome. So am I."
Loud noises started up behind me, possibly a punch-up, and I decided maybe I'd have to talk to this new kid at some point.
Things got better.
Things always get better.
I know that now, but if you are a fourteen-year-old boy who's gay and has just lost his best friend, it's a hard sentiment to believe in. You just have to wait for it. The proof is in the pudding. It'll happen.
Oh, by the way, I told my mum.
"I'm gay," I said.
"Oh, okay. Do you want some more vegetables?"