Dark Thoughts and Dim Lights
I run to the park, hoping he’s there since his parents said he wasn’t home, but it’s full of kids. I run to his apartment complex and search the parking area, the pool, nothing. I run up the stairs to his apartment and start banging on the door.
“Zayne! Zayne are you in there?” No answer, “Zayne come on. Your parents are worried about you, I’m worried about you, Arriana is worried about you. Arriana knew I wasn’t going to hide anymore, she doesn’t care what people say, she cares about me. She cares about you, about us.”
I pull out my phone and call his mom, she tells me where to find the spare key to get inside. She also knows they didn’t lock the door. I dig for the key and shove it in the door, I run inside but trip over what I assume is a chair. It’s completely dark in here, all the blinds are closed and the lights out.
“Zayne?” I let out a harsh whisper, “Come on where are you?”
I pull out my phone, turning on the flashlight. The apartment is for the most part still clean and tidy, but a couple chairs are knocked over and Zayne’s backpack is on the floor by the coffee table.
His door is closed, the lights are out in there too. I don’t see or hear anything, the entire apartment is still. I’m almost afraid that I’m walking into some horror movie shit.
I go into his room and find the light switch, illuminating the room and finding curled into a ball on his bed.
I sit next to him, “Zayne? Zayne what’s going on?”
He’s got himself buried in blankets, only the top of his pink hair poking out. He’s shaking slightly, making the bed shake with him.
I pull the blanket off his face to find him squeezing his eyes shut, crying. I pet the back of his head slowly.
“Zayne, you scared us. Your parents didn’t know where you were, you just disappeared for close to an hour. Arriana and your mom sat in the office staring at me hoping that you would respond to my texts.”
He starts sobbing, pressing the blanket to his eyes, “Why did you do that?” he mutters between the hiccups.
“Do what?” I run my hand down his neck to his shoulder.
“Why did you come out like that? Why did you get in the middle of it? Why? I never wanted anyone to say those things to you, or Arriana! I never wanted your parents to find out the way mine did, because of a fight!”
“I promise you, it’s all ok. Honestly I was so sick of hiding it, hiding you and both Arriana and I knew what the backlash would be. We didn’t care Zayne, living an ugly truth is better than a constant lie. Arriana encouraged me to do this. My parents though,” I take a minute and think of my journal, “Zayne I couldn’t even start to tell you how many times I’ve tried to figure out the perfect way to tell them, how many times I prepared a ‘perfect’ speech. I’d rather they find out by me standing up for someone, and someone I care about, instead of me telling them in a pre-planned conversation. I’m happy to finally be free of a lie, I’m happy I can really be here for you now, the only thing I’m not happy about is how you’re feeling right now. None of this is your fault, Zayne. Conrad brought this whole thing down on us, he’s the one who made it messy.”
He lays there completely still aside from his shaking. I try to pull his blankets back but he fights me to keep them close. I grab tightly and pull back as hard as I can, revealing him shirtless on his sheets with deeper cuts now on his arms and even some blood soaked into the sheets.
“Zayne,” my heart stops, most of the cuts aren’t bleeding anymore but a few still are. I don’t know what to say.
He grabs the blanket and pulls it back up to his chin. I get up and leave the room, not taking my eyes off him as I call his mom.
“Can you or Mr. Daveen come get us. He’s not doing good, he can’t be alone right now. I need to talk to my parents and I know I have to face the consequences of the fight but I can’t leave him,” she tells me she’s on her way, Zayne’s dad and my dad are both heated and yelling at the counselors and Mrs. Jennings.
I go back to sit with Zayne, pulling him out a fresh shirt and his hoodie, he refuses to get up until his mom opens the door. He sits up and glances at her for a second before yanking the shirt from my hand. His eyes are dark and drooping, as he pulls his shirt on his mom starts crying at the sight of his arms.
Zayne pushes past her and walks out the door, leaving me to comfort her as she tries to hold back the tears.
“My baby,” she cries quietly, “He used to be so happy, so energetic and friendly. You’d never see him without a smile. They’ve destroyed him, they took his spirit and stomped it out, they’ve taken my baby from me,” she cries into my shoulder for a minute before composing herself enough to drive.
Zayne wanted to sit alone in the back for the short ride, his mom and I keep glancing back at him. When we park back at the school I take Zayne to the nurse while Mrs. Daveen goes to continue with the principal.
The nurse cleans his cuts before putting gauze over them and wrapping his wrists tightly, she gives a sad, concerned look before he slips on his hoodie and walks out.
He doesn’t look at anyone, not me or even Arriana as he sits in the corner bouncing his leg. He put his headphones in and I can hear his music from three seats over.
“Josh,” Mrs. Jennings peaks around the corner of the doorway, “Your parents want to talk to you.”
I feel sick to my stomach, giving my sister one last smile before taking my final walk. I walk to Mrs. Jennings office where she leaves me and my parents to talk in private.
I sit across from them in the empty seat in front of Mrs. Jennings desk, “Josh,” my mom’s voice is tender and calm, “What happened?”
“Conrad had crossed the line one too many times, he shouldn’t get away with--”
“That’s not what I mean honey and you know it,” she leans forward, “What happened? What made you think that you couldn’t tell us?”
I look at my dad who is still red in the face, “I just was afraid to let you down, that you wouldn’t be able to look at me the same. That you wouldn’t look at me as your son anymore. I wanted to but I... I just never knew how and my fear always got the best of me. I didn’t want to lose you guys.”
A flip switches in my dad. He turns to face me, leans forward in his chair with his jaw clenched and his finger raised and pointed at me.
“Joshua,” his eyes started to shine with tears, “Don’t you ever think we’ll stop seeing you as our son, or that we’ll stop loving you. I still remember holding you for the first time when you were born. I made a promise that day, when I held all eight and a half pounds of you, that I would always love and support you when you needed it. Your mother and I could never be disappointed in you for being yourself.”
“Josh how long have you know you’re gay?” my mom looks at me with her eyes focused.
“Since the summer after freshman year, I told Arriana because I had to tell someone. I was just so scared you would shrug it off or try to change me because I was different.”
My mom comes in and hugs me, “Honey there is nothing wrong with different. Different is what gives your sister the courage to stand up for people she’s never even met, it’s what gave you the strength to help put a stop to the way that boy was being treated,” she looks at me and runs her hand over the top of my head, “I wish we could have known about him. I would have loved to meet him and talk, I’m assuming that’s where a lot of my food and Tupperwares have gone.”
We laugh and I nod, “He’s had it really rough and I just, I want him to know he’s not alone. That he has me regardless of what his parents, or classmates think. He deserves so much better than he has.”
I look out the glass wall and see him sitting in his chair, half asleep.
My dad grabs my and my mom’s hands giving a tight squeeze, “Maybe you could tell us about him? Heck, maybe this weekend, his family can come over for dinner.”
I smile as my mom sits back in her chair, “How did you two meet?” she smiles happily. Talking about this takes a load of pressure off of me, and I already feel like a wall has come down between the three of us.
I tell them everything, from seeing him in the mall, to our first kiss, to the group session. They aren’t happy I’ve been sneaking out, but they do say they understand why I thought I had to. I tell them about Zayne and his family, I talk about how beautiful it is to listen to him play the violin. I talk about all the nights I watched him cry, about his eating disorder and his cutting. It reaches a point where I look out at him and see how crushed he is and I start crying.
My parents pull me into a hug, “It’s ok honey,” my mom whispers repeatedly into my ear, “We’re all in this together now. We’ll find a way to make it better.”
We talk some more and then we finally give Mrs. Jennings her office back. She suspends Conrad for a week starting next week and tells his parents there is a real chance for expulsion at this time, as he has now received a warning but continues harassing students.
Zayne is offered another week to stay home, with me bringing him his homework so he doesn’t fall behind.
I talk to his parents some, trying to figure out where we go from here, “He said he really doesn’t want to go to therapy, but we need to consider it at this point. If he isn’t improving within two weeks I really think one on one therapy is what he needs. We’re going to search high and low for a therapist that will treat him right and make him feel safe, he’s been terrorized enough,” Mr. Daveen shakes his head with every word.
I tell them that my family would love to meet them and get to know them, “I really want Zayne to meet my parents, I want to break down these walls. We’d love you guys to come over on Saturday for dinner, I hope seeing all the support we have will help cheer him up a little. Plus my family really wants to get to know all of you, especially him.”
They smile and give a happy thank you before going to set up the details with my parents. I look and see Zayne glance over at how everyone is communicating. Arriana and my parents are openly talking and laughing with his parents, so I go sit next to him.
He pulls out an earbud, “I’m sorry Josh,” his lip quivers, “I didn’t mean to let you down or upset anyone and you finding me like that was not my intention. I just couldn’t handle it, everything had calmed down, I did what they said in group and it didn’t help. Hearing Conrad talk about you like that, hearing people talk down to Arriana. I felt like it was all my fault and I couldn’t handle putting you through any of that.”
I pull him into a fast, deep kiss before looking him in the eyes, “What people say or do is on them. Nothing anyone says about us will change how I feel, nothing they say is your fault, and nothing the can do will make any of us disappointed in you. Things should start looking up now, Conrad is getting suspended, you’ll be free of him for two weeks. Plus, this Saturday, you all are coming over to my house.”
He looks up in surprise and tentatively matches my smile. I take his hand and walk him to the door where his parents are waiting. They take him into a loving embrace as they walk off and drive home.
I turn to my family and go to join them, meeting my own loving circle of embrace.
“I love you guys,” I whisper to them all.
We all leave to go home too. Arriana and I have been sent home to recover from the intense day. I have a feeling there will be a lot of recovering together as a family tonight.