“You know, if this country was a monarchy and I were King, you would be the first on my hit list…” Nathan said in a voice that seemed as though he were forcing the sounds out of his mouth to come from his toes. “Along with every other fag,” he continued in a tone that made me think of ghost stories being shared between friends late at night. He had the kind of crawl in his voice that was mustered behind a flashlight, pointed at your face, no lights on while exaggerating facial features—telling creepy stories. The sound I imagined dead old men carried as they roamed the graveyard searching for their souls, loved ones, or business they had not quite finished.
I chuckled in a fearful tone during third period, Anatomy. He militantly sat beside me, a rough 5-foot tall, naturally tanned complexion. He had dark chestnut colored eyes, which complimented his light brown, dirty blonde, flattop hairstyle. But because of his bitter, sick, and twisted mindset toward anyone unlike his army-brat self, his attractive features were lost because of the vulgarity that poured from his lips, directed at diversity.
Though I didn’t acknowledge I was a homosexual in high school, I was one. Quickly searching Google shows that I wasn’t the only one who dealt with sexual orientation bullying. At the time, I thought I was the only bullied homosexual because the rural campus I went to forced me to attend class with individuals that didn’t appear to accept diversity. Actually, 9 out of 10 LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) students reported being verbally harassed, which was polled in 2007 by the National School Climate Survey—my junior year of high school. Of those bullied students, almost one-half reported physical harm was present, yet reported incidents show roughly one-third of the school staff supporting the bullied students did nothing to help.
“Teachers, pardon my interruption,” the loud speaker droned in an annoying voice that was all too familiar. The voice of our high school principal, Jim Trainer, “But Colonel Crawford students I come today bearing bad news,” he said in a calm, gravelly tone like a pastor reading a eulogy. “Our fellow Eagle, Nathan E. Krahling…” lingering on the name like he was verbally reading Braille—a slow and steady pronouncement of the name. Shit. Of course something would have happened to Nathan since it appeared I didn’t have to sit by him today, see his Germanic-hateful face, and acknowledge him as a fellow classmate. The voice poured from the loud speaker, “Had a serious accident last night. After waking with a headache he was rushed to the emergency room,” Mr. Trainer’s voice reeked with sorrow as he delivered the news. His voice filled the room as he continued his thought, “To find a tumor that has formed on his brain. Please…” he urged each and every student as he took a moment to capitalize on this dramatic speech. “Keep him and the Krahling family in your thoughts and prayers throughout the rest of today and this week,” he ended with a slight incline on “eek.”
Now looking back on this announcement, I don’t know that it was the best way to address the situation at hand, but Nathan’s family was academically and athletically important to Colonel Crawford. Honestly, so rumors wouldn’t start about Nathan and his family, I am sure this was probably the best way to approach the morbid truth. I went to a small high school where everyone knew everyone. Seriously, my graduating class was about 85 students. There was no hiding anything, getting the truth out as quickly as possible was a must. I remember wondering if Nathan had been sick prior to this, or if he just fell ill—I believe the latter. I don’t think Nathan had any symptoms of his illness until the night he was sent to the emergency room, which started the year from hell for him and his family. Nathan died my senior year of high school.
Sometime after November 27, 2007, death seeped into the body of Nathan like fluid preserving a corpse. It was inevitable, but shocking that life was stripped of the 17-year-old boy. I stood in line to view his casket, looked at his body one last time, and saw his family before filing out of the overcrowded funeral home. Crowded with faces I knew and some I did not, crowded with loved ones related to the body that lie in the casket, crowded with ones that loved the army brat that wished me dead. I stood in line waiting to see the dead body of a classmate who wanted our roles reversed—me dead instead of him. I stood frozen and numb in line, watching people around me cry streams of loss, rivers of death, and creeks of sorrow.
Looking back on that moment, I stood alone in a crowded room. I knew some people, but felt as a stranger in a family home. I attended the showing alone because I asked no one to accompany me while I walked this dehydrated emotional territory. I was physically exhausted as I made the humid hike through the funeral home, but felt relieved as I exited because I detested the teen that lay in the casket yet presented myself as a concerned classmate. I wasn’t the one in the casket because of my internalization of the hatred he verbalized. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, LGB teens are about seven times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers because of the bullying they experience on a daily basis—I wasn’t a statistic.
I took a step forward—still numb from the disbelief of the fatality of a former friend, merely an enemy. Flowers budded with grief, filling the incredibly gaudy funeral home that hosted Nathan’s remains. Pictures framed just about every second, every moment, every damn year of the 17 years he inhabited this earth. A video repeated footage that celebrated the life that Nathan embodied.
I took another step forward, another step toward the casket, another step toward his body for the last time, and another step toward the beloved family of my enemy. I kept my eyes fixed to boards of photographs that pinned Nathan’s life according to his family’s perception, boards strategically arranged to the right of me. Perhaps one of the pictures showed his dedication to swimming as he stood in water that hugged his hips, covering his probably black and gold Speedo, surrounded by a handful of other guys arranged in a professional manner in our high school pool.
I gravely took another step forward. The board of photographs highlighted the relationships he had with close friends and family. I was not on it. If there were a board that represented his hit list, I would have been pinned on it. I probably would have taken the first spot.
I took the last step, the only step separating myself from the casket, his body, and his family. I approached his emotionally drained-looking mother at the opposite end of
his casket like I was walking the plank of my death. She stood at the head of his casket. I took a deep breath, my heart pounded so fast I could feel it throbbing in my chest. My arms were heavy. They felt like weights hanging by my side making this emotionally draining voyage more rewarding. I braced my weighted arms for a hug from Nathan’s mother. A long, hardy hug that said, “Your child was a piece of shit to me, but I still care that he’s dead. I care for you!” My condolences were shown, not said. Shown by my warm hug amongst the cold presence of death, my presence among enemy lines, and the puddles of water forming along the ducts of my eyes for the enemy. As
I stood embracing a mother who spoke slowly, saying, “He cared about you…” Her
words hit me like a brick smacking water as it was tossed from a cliff. “Though he didn’t show it in a normal way.” I wonder how she knew to say that, at that exact moment? It was known that we did not get along, at all. Just about everyone knew that he did not like me, so I can imagine her taking that into consideration as she saw me standing before her, before him.
She was right, he did not show it in a normal way and if I believed what he said, if I let him convince me that I was as worthless as he thought I was, or if I let him win the mind control video game he was attempting to play, I would have given in. I would have given up.