By Maddy A - Madasonaysha@aol.com
Later that summer I moved into Aunt Mickey's small studio apartment. She lived in Southern New Jersey near the shore. She was willing to stay in Montclair but I couldn't bear to be around anything that reminded me of the great life that I use to live. I couldn't stand to be around my friends either. They started to treat me like I was fragile, always watching what they would say or did around me. They knew about most of my past but nothing about Hector. I didn't want anyone to find out about that. I didn't want to be looked at as being helpless. My parents, Dan and Jamie, were understanding. They never questioned me as to why I could be so quiet and introverted at times. Or why sometimes I would want to be alone. They would just let me be me, never trying to change me. God I loved them so much. They gave me everything and I gave them nothing.
For the first two months, Andy and Wes would call me constantly or take the train down to visit me. They tried their hardest to cheer me up but I was always so sullen when they were around. They reminded me of a life that I no longer could live, so I just pushed them away. But they kept coming around. They were my best friends and wouldn't allow me suffer on my own. Finally, I had to sit them down and tell them I needed sometime to myself. I needed to be alone. They both had goofy personalities and were laid back kind of guys, always down for a good time. I was surprised by the amount of emotion they showed when I had that conversation with them. Andrew, easily over six feet tall and was just over two hundred pounds. He was a fat kid but the years of playing football helped him trim that baby fat. Wesley was just two or three inches shorter than him and only about twenty pounds lighter. They were an unusual contrast to my five foot seven ( and a half ) one hundred forty pound frame. To see those two giants get upset by something that I said, made me feel even more awful inside than I already did. Andy spoke the words that they both were struggling to find.
"Chris we are all boys, we just want to be here for you. You just lost your folks and this is not a time when you should be alone." Andy said sadly. His head hung high, eyes locking with mine. I responded but I looked away.
"Andy, Wesley... you guys are the best buds that I could ask for. It's just that I need some time alone. Every time I am around you two I am reminded of a life that I use to have. A life that I won't ever get back. I know the two of you are trying to be here for me and I appreciate it, I really do, but the best way for you to help is if you let me get myself together, on my own. I need to deal with this alone. I know you probably don't understand why I need to and to be honest I don't either. I just know I do." Wesley spoke for the both of them.
"Chris man, you need us to chill out for a minute, we will. Just know if you need anything just holla at us. Okay?" Wesley said. His face was as down as Andy's but he tried to conceal it. That was Wesley's personality. In many ways we were alike. He tried to cover up his problems too, masking them with smiles.
"I know dudes. I love you guys." I responded. I didn't want to embarrass myself so I suppressed the urge to cry. They both looked at me with shocked faces, "What??" I asked. Andrew spoke.
"Nothing, its just we've all been friends for like what, six or seven years? And that is the first time I've ever heard you use the word " dude". Mr. Education using slang, its just a little tripped to me." Andy managed to say through his laughter. I didn't use slang a lot but dude was a pretty common word and I knew he had to have heard me say it before. He was just trying to lighten up the mood and I appreciated him more in that moment than I had in a long time. Through the tears that were gathering in my eyes I laughed.
"Well, what can I tell you it's this beach living. It's turning me into thug." I replied.
"I ain't never heard of no beach thug? Don't you mean a beach bum?" Wesley interjected. For a Polish kid from Montclair, he talked, dressed and acted like he was black. He had three older brothers and two younger sisters and none of them acted the way that he did. From the baggy jeans and whitey's he always wore (I.E., a "whitey" is a baggy white T-shirt) he looked like he should be coming from "the hood" instead of our little suburban town. Okay, I know that theoretically there is no such thing as "acting black" or "acting white", but if there was, then Wesley was the epitome of it. I have been told a time or two that I "act white" and I know how it feels to feel like someone is judging you on the basis's of how you talk or music you like so I would never say anything to him about it. Besides I felt pretty hypocritical about my thoughts anyway. I guessed that maybe Andy and I being black, and his best friends might have had something to do with the way that he acted but I wasn't completely convinced. We were the first friends that he made in America but neither one of us acted real tough. Andy could be a little rough around the edges and had a temper but he was the furthest thing from being "thuggish" and I had to wonder where Wesley picked that up from. Wesley was Wesley and I loved him regardless.
Andrew playfully knocked him upside his head for that last comment and we all laughed. I hoped that this wouldn't be the last light hearted moment that I would share with them. I pulled them both into a hug that lasted a little longer than normally. As we pulled apart, Wesley made some sort of comment of us looking like a bunch of fags and Andy cracked up agreeing. I just smiled because I was use to those kind of comments from them. I have been hearing gay jokes from them since the sixth grade and I would be a liar if I said that it never bothered me.
I 've known that I was different every since I was little but I never could place just what made me feel that way. As I grew older, I thought that maybe I just thought that I was gay because of what had happened with Hector. I thought that I was confused and maybe just bisexual but the interest in girls never came. The truth hit me hard when I had my first crush on a boy in seventh grade. His name was Saul and he came from India. I thought that he was the most beautiful thing that I ever saw. He looked like he was black with his extremely smooth, dark brown skin. He had these big dark brown eyes that made my stomach get all jittery when he looked at me and short jet black hair. He spoke with the cutest accent. To me, he was the most beautiful thing that I ever laid my eyes on. We were in the same P.E. class and it would drive me crazy to see him run around during soccer in the little uniforms we had to wear. I would have to forcibly stop myself from staring. He was the first boy that I can honestly say I felt an attraction for. An honest raw want to be near him possessed me for the better part of that year. I never allowed myself to get any closer to him than an occasional "hello" or a random conversation about the likely hood of Power Rangers really existing, in some alternative universe. I didn't want to be gay and I was disgusted by my feelings for Saul. I felt shame, almost like I was a disappointment. It took a long time for me to except myself but occasionally I would be plagued with feelings of guilt that surfaced from some unknown place buried deep down inside myself somewhere.
Now I loved my best friends, we were like brothers but I knew that they couldn't find out that I'm into guys. I knew that there would come a time when they would have to know the truth but I didn't plan on that happening anytime soon. Especially with the way they put down gays. I think that Wesley might have suspected but thankfully he never questioned me. He caught me staring at Saul in the locker room once but pretended that he didn't. I knew he did but I was glad he never brought it up because I don't know how I would have reacted.
Andy and Wes left later that afternoon, agreeing to what I had asked of them. As I watched them walk away, an intense sadness washed over me. I couldn't help but feel that I just pushed away the last links to my old life. For some random reason a song by My Chemical Romance came to mind , "I'm Not Okay ( I Promise )". The chorus played inside my head. "I'm not okay, I'm not okay but I'm not okay....
I was to start tenth grade that year. My new high school was completely and utterly Caucasian. I was the only minority of any type. To say that I was a little nervous the first day would be putting it mildly. Coming from Montclair, I had gotten use to being around people of just about every nationality you could think of and race was never an issue for me, especially since I was raised by two white people. I just naturally assumed that kids in my new school would think of me as the "little black kid". We are all guilty of ignorance occasionally.
During my first day something unexpected happened, nothing at all. All my fears about being an outcast were unfounded. Everyone was friendly towards me and made me feel welcomed. If anything, they went out of their way to be nice, curious to know who this black kid with the hazel -green eyes was. My shy introverted nature was really tested with the outpouring of friendliness I received. It had been eight months since I had my conversation with Andy and Wesley. We use to hang out almost every day but now I found it hard to find things to talk about with them . We were down to three or four phone calls a month. We had drifted apart and I knew it was of no fault but my own. They were both respectful of my wishes and didn't try to push me. They both seemed to have bonded even more since I had moved and I couldn't help but feel a little jealous.
I was beginning to adjust to my new school and even hung out with a couple of people from time to time. No one I would consider to be friends with but only because I didn't want to get close to anyone. It was just with everything that had happened to me during my life, I didn't want to let someone else in who could cause me pain. My Aunt Mickey was one of those people. I think she understood because she never pushed to get closer to me than I would allow. Besides she was too busy living her own life.
She was a free spirit in every sense of the word. She was still young at 33 and still wanted to party and sometimes I felt like I was holding her back. She was always out at this party or that one under the pretenses that they were all business related. She was a wild woman and she didn't seem to care that I knew it. Many times she would throw parties late into the night when she knew I had to get up for school the next morning. Having a small studio apartment did not make for much privacy. I loved my Aunt Mickey but I hated the way she lived her life. It wasn't in a destructive manner, just a careless one. It amazed me how she was still able to get up in the mornings for her jobs. Aunt Mickey had three. She was and Artist, a Photographer and Florist. I know weird but that was Aunt Mickey (like the mouse ). So a few more months pasted and the school year was just about over when my Aunt Mickey told me something that I was not at all prepared for. She sat me down and I could tell from her mannerisms that she was about to deliver bad news.
"Chris, honey do you like living here?" She asked me. I didn't think that I ever gave her any reasons to think that I didn't other than the fact that I would have rather been back at my old house with my parents still alive.
"Yeah at first I didn't but it's okay now...why?" I responded. She shifted her body uncomfortably and I grew more anxious.
"Well...how would you feel if we moved." She said hesitantly.
"Move? What do you mean move?"
"Well sweetheart you know how I take pictures right?"
Mickey was beginning to get on my nerves the way she was talking to me like I was a little kid. I had been sixteen for over a month at the time. I let my irritation show.
" Yeah you are a PHOTOGRAPHER right?!" I bluntly stated.
"I suppose trying to ease you into this isn't going to work so let me be blunt. I was offered a job working under a very prestigious photographer for the summer."
"Well if it's only for the summer why are we going to move?"
"Well it's a chance that this could turn into a permanent position. This is the exact thing that I need to get my career going. What do you think?"
Honestly I didn't want to move. I mean this place wasn't so bad I and was getting used to it, but this seemed important to Aunt Mickey. I could tell her how I really felt but what would be the point. I would never want to stand in her way. I already felt bad enough that she had to look after me so what kind of person would I have been to prevent her from doing something that she obviously wanted to do.
"Aunt Mickey if this is something that you want to do than I am all for it. So where are we moving to"? She got quiet and the nervous look on her face deepened. She started to get fidgety and stood up to walk across the room, trying to buy herself some time. I spoke a little louder than I usually did.
"Aunt Mickey, WHERE are we moving to"? I repeated.
"Newark." She said so low, that it came out as a whisper. She knew how much I hated that place. I was sure that Mom and Dad had told her my story even though Aunt Mickey never brought it up. When she said that, my heart fell from my chest and dropped into my stomach. The two years that I spent in the youth house were not pleasant ones. The crime, the pain that I felt, the isolation and all the grit of that city was something I didn't want to go back to. A small part of me didn't want to go because it was a ghetto. I have never been a tough kid and if my early years were so difficult then I could only imagine how life for me would be now. I was only a child then getting picked on by other kids. I could only imagine what would happen to me now that these same kids were older. If they were brutal then...OH GOD!
"NEWARK!!! WHY NEWARK!!!" I yelled.
"I know Chrissie that this is a shock but it's were the job is located and my friend Tammy is going to lease us her house. I know that you had some bad experiences there but I promise you this time things won't be like they were. This is not going to be the Newark that you remember." 'Damn! She used that nick name on me' I thought. She only called me Chrissie when she was trying to sweeten me up for something and it usually worked. She had no clue what she is asking me to do.
"Why can't we live in a city near there? Like Irvington or Belleville?" I asked.
"Because if we don't live there I can't get this job. One of the job requirements is to be a resident of Newark so that's why we would have to move." God she was killing me. I didn't want anymore changes to come into my life.
"What exactly are you going to be doing?" I asked her, doing a bad job of keeping the fear out of my voice.
"Well, my would be boss is Roger Williams. His photo's have won Pulitzers and they depict urban life. What I would be doing is essentially that, taking photos of the city. I would be working under him as an assistant to a new project he's working on but I have to move there. He's already agreed to hire me even though I have never lived in Newark previously but only if I move there. He said it's so I can get a real sense of what life there is really like." She said. All in one breath.
"Aunt Mickey I can tell you how life there was like for me. I used to get picked on every single day. Do you know how many times I got beat up because some guy thought that I thought I was to good to be there? Or thought that I was some pretty boy and wanted to show me that I wasn't? HUH! Do you know what it's like for them to call you names every moment of the day until they would break you down? Do you know what it's like to feel broken. To feel like people are trying to kill your spirit...NO TO KNOW IT! And those were just the good times, you don't even want to know what the bad times were like." If it hadn't been for my Mom and dad I don't know what would have happened to me. I know their love saved me from a life of complete misery. All of those memories of my life before Dan and Jamie became my parents started to come back. I couldn't control my emotions. The tears fell and the sobs wracked my body. Aunt Mickey threw her arms around me but I shrugged her off. I didn't want to be comforted. I needed to let out a lifetime's worth of frustrations. A lifetime's worth of fears. I cried for my real mother and I cried for what Hector did to me. I cried for my adopted parents and how unfair it was that they had died. I cried for the fact that I pushed all my friends away and how lonely I felt. But I cried mostly for the fact that I knew I would be moving.....