How should I start this? I’ve never written a memoir before, so this is all new to me. Should I just start it with a conversation with myself? Self-aware beginnings are effective, aren’t they? Well, here goes...
My name is Rhys Thomas. I was born unto this world on the 7th of March in the year 1974. I was born in the Boston Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. It wasn’t a particularly interesting year. Well, I don’t remember much of it. I was only just born, of course. My home wasn’t particularly fancy, but it wasn’t bad either. I lived a pretty damn simple and quiet life, with my mother and my father. My mother was an elementary school teacher. A very kind and caring person, who tried her best to love as many people as she came across. She often donated to children’s charities, most notably UNICEF and the St Jude’s Children Hospital. I have tried to follow in her footsteps in my life, donating to similar charities. But she was more of a ‘philanthropist’ than me. I think that she’s one of the greatest women that I’ve known, influencing most of who I am today.
My father was also an influential person in my life. A courageous and brave soul. He was a firefighter in the Boston Fire Department, and a decorated one at that. He saved a lot of lives, and risked his life everyday. I wanted to be in a line of work where I could save people, just like he did. And that’s what I became. An F.B.I Agent. But before I delve into that part of my life, I’m going to have to go back. Back to my years in education.
It was my first day at school, and I was totally alone. I had no friends. My mom sent me to a school different to the one she taught at, to save me from ‘potential embarrassment’. Looking back, I think this was quite a smart decision on her part, but at the time, it caused a bit of torment. Cast out from all of the friend groups that were formed, I had no opportunity to develop social skills. When I was a small boy, I didn’t realize why. I thought I was weird, or annoying, or anything else a normal kid would ostracize another kid for. But I was wrong. It was because of my skin color. I was prejudiced because of it. And I didn’t have any friends. Until two weeks into my school life, when I met my best friends.
On that day, I was doing my usual routine. Which was sitting alone at lunch. I saw three kids glancing at me and whispering, which is a noticeable sign that they’re trying to talk about me without my knowledge. They started walking over to me. I was confused. No one had ever walked over to me before, so I didn’t know what to do. I just kept eating whilst internally panicking. They each pulled up a chair and sat with me. I had forgotten how to speak to kids my age at the point, so I struggled to bring out a quiet “Hi” from under my breath.
“Hello,” one of them said, “my name is Felix.” He introduced himself to me? Curious. I decided to look up at him. He had shaggy, dark blonde hair that covered his right eye. Periodically, I could see him blow his hair away to try and see out of his right eye. It made it easier to see that he had different colored eyes. Is it called heterochromia? I didn’t know at the time. It’s a word I only just learnt about a week ago, as of writing this. Anyway, Felix had, and still has, heterochromia. One eye green, and one eye blue.
“And I’m Charlie,” a short girl piped up. I had never known a girl called Charlie at that point. I did eventually learn that it’s gender neutral, “nice to meet you.” This was new. It was never nice to meet me, mainly because no one had said it to me. She had black hair which was tied into pig tails. Her hazel eyes flickered with child innocence. She seemed like a genuinely nice person. Just like Felix, and the third person did too.
“My name is Florence. But you can call me Flo.” Her smile was wide, and she spoke with a relatively cheerful tone. Wavy locks of blonde hair bounced with each word that left her mouth. But why were they hanging out with me?
“I’m Rhys.” I eventually answered, “Are you here because the teacher told you to?”
“What? No we’re not!” Felix replied, in a joking tone, “We thought you could use some friends.”
“You have been sat alone for the whole time we’ve been at school.” Florence reminded me.
“So what do you say, Rhys? Want to be friends with us?” Charlie asked, excitedly.
“I would like that.” And on that day, great friendships began. We were all inseparable by the next day. We shared many common interests. Charlie had a home console with Space Invaders on it, and we often would spend hours after school at her house playing it. Florence enjoyed a lot of sport, just like I did. When we were both 7, which would have been 1981, we had joined our local child soccer league. She was a hell of a lot better than me though, and I was jealous of her fancy feet. And Felix? We never failed to make each other laugh. One day, when I was over at his house, we were introduced to some great comedians, most notably George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Whilst our friendships lasted for years, I think that the bond I continue to have with Felix is a testament to those times spent bonding and laughing. It all went upwards for us from there. Until the start of Grade 6.
Charlie and Florence went to a different middle school than Felix and I. They went somewhere in North Massachusetts, whereas we went somewhere in or near Dorchester. And within the first week, we were bullied. Because of our incredible friendship, some people at the time thought we were closer than that, making fun of us for being a ‘mixed couple’. Even if we were, would it matter? To them it definitely did. During lunch time one time, one of our regular bullies came over to me, whilst I was waiting for Felix. He kept belittling me and kept saying, “You don’t have your boyfriend to stick up for you now!” That did make me incredibly angry, but I decided to take the hit. I shouldn’t have. Bottling up feelings is never good, but if I didn’t, I definitely would have punched him in the jaw. So in that situation, definitely don’t react. That’s all he wanted. A reaction. And he definitely got one from Felix. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see this tall, sturdy blonde gentleman drop his lunch tray and book it straight for the bullies. He slid across the lunch table and pushed him onto the ground, shouting in his face.
“Don’t talk to us ever again, you homophobic piece of crap!” Felix screamed. He immediately got kicked in the side by one of the bully’s cronies. He quickly got up and kicked him back. I always admired Felix for his resilience, and even then, I watched on in admiration at my friend defending my honor. A crowd began to form, chanting and shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Felix was getting battered by this point. When I saw him spit out blood, I knew I had to jump in and do, well, something! I pushed through to help him out, and was just laughed at. The main bully put his knee straight into my stomach, which made me sink to my knees, holding my abdomen. I was spat on. And that was the tipping point. I screamed as loud as I could, so the whole school could hear me, and jumped up, sending my fist into his jaw with an uppercut. He fell to the floor. I knocked him unconscious.
For their actions, the bullies were suspended for two days. For spouting homophobic slurs and beating up two students, one of which was a minority. For defending ourselves and our dignity, Felix and I were suspended for a week. It was laughable! But I couldn’t speak out. Knowing that my school may have been a bit homophobic and racist, who knew what they’d do if I got angry at the principal? I’m just so glad that many more people are accepting of things now. When I got home, my parents both gave me a tight embrace and were understanding of what I did. She too was fearful that I’d be expelled if I said or did anymore, and my dad was very proud that I stood up for myself and protected my friend. He was the one to suggest self-defense classes to me. And I accepted that decision. Felix and I both signed up to the same place and were in love with it. Every week we would carpool to go to our karate classes. We even chose to do taekwondo as well, and were soon proficient in both. Life was going wonderfully. Until the 17th June 1987, when I was 13 years old.
It was a typical post-school afternoon for Felix and I. We both left the building as soon as the bell went, and we booked it back to Felix’s house. Sprinting upstairs, he went into his room and I locked myself in his bathroom. At exactly the same time, we burst out of our respective rooms in our full martial arts gear. “Rhys! Felix! Are you both ready?” His mother called from downstairs, “We only have five minutes!” We both ran down the stairs side by side, and went straight for the car. I didn’t know what the rush was, though. The karate centre was only three minutes away. I didn’t dwell on it. I was way too excited to do martial arts with Felix again. It was a fun hour, but the fun didn’t stop there! The drive back to my house was relatively uneventful. As usual, Felix and I would talk about what had happened that session, as well as the things that we would be doing next week. When I was dropped off at home, I waved goodbye, and went through the door of my house.
My father’s dead body was splayed across the floor in multiple pieces.
A man I didn’t know stood over him, his face obscured by shadows.
He looked at me, and threw something at me. It was a baton.
I was knocked unconscious.
It had been an hour since the police arrived. My mother and I were sat in the back of an ambulance, shock blankets draped over our still shaking bodies. Crime scene investigators had swarmed our house for the entire hour, and policemen were taking statements from our neighbours. They heard no sign of anyone entering. There were no fingerprints, no footprints, no signs of forced entry, nothing. My father’s killer was practically a ghost. Holding an ice pack on my head, my tears continued to endlessly stream as I sat in silence. My mother, however, was very emotive. When she heard that my father was murdered, her screams could be heard from Minnesota. Her clothes were soaked from tears, and she could barely stand from how emotional she became. I couldn’t feel anything. I was numbed from the trauma and the pain.
The next week was spent away from school, grieving. Felix would come over to my house everyday after he finished school to help me catch up with anything I missed. He was my emotional support pillar for me and my mom, like any good friend should be in a time of need. After that week, when I started going back to school, nobody paid any attention to either of us. I don’t know if it was out of empathy or anything, or if they didn’t want to bully someone who’s dad was recently murdered. My teenage years were the hardest parts of my life, but somehow I pushed through into my forties, where I am now. I don’t if anyone reading is going through anything, but know that, no matter what you are going through, it can only go uphill from where you are right now. If it can work out for some old coot like me, it can work out for young-uns like you.
Wow. I sound like my dad.