Alpha test; usual statement – crap crap crap crap, but potentially hiding a diamond. Lets hope. This one was … sorta personal. Based, loosely, on a conversation that I had with a kid who was too young to know what he was, but would have recognised it with a few more years under his belt. I remember that kid and Josh here is modelled on him to a small degree. I’m almost certain he made a similar decision to Josh and I hope he had an easier time of it.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Rain began a soft patter against the windows. I turned the volume up on my computer, letting Johnny Cash duet harmonise with the drops.
I tossed the final book on the pile, letting my pen fall to the desk. Marking finished I closed my eyes.
“Mr. Kidd,” said a voice. I looked up to see a lad hanging on the door frame of my classroom. He was short and slight, his body language timid.
“Mr Kidd, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure, Josh, come on in.”
Josh was a good kid. Quiet, reserved almost, if such a thing was possible for a fourteen year old.
“Yeah,” I said. Josh came in and, to my surprise, closed the door behind him. He sat down. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t prompt him to. Man in Black played into the void between us. His breathing – deep but quick, as if he was about to say something heavy, so heavy that it was physically hurting him. He looked in my direction but never at me.
“You Ok?” I asked.
I normally get pupils coming in for a chat after school. Because I always played music when doing my marking I’ve developed a reputation as one of the ‘cool’ teachers. I can’t see it myself. Mostly they pop in and do homework or read until they get picked up. I don’t mind.
But this was different.
Josh tried to speak, but the words seemed to stop before they left his lips. Johnny Cash sang a few lines before Josh eventually managed, “I’m gay.”
I wasn’t sure what to say.
This isn’t something you get taught how to deal with in training. Hell, it’s not the sort of thing you get taught how to deal with in life.
“I’m gay,” Josh repeated, as if I possibly could have not heard him the first time. It felt like he was trying out the sound of it, getting his mouth used to the shape of the word.
“Yeah,” I said, immediately regretting it. There was nothing I could say that wouldn’t sound pathetic and irreverent.
More silence. My music had stopped.
“I want to come out in your class.” Josh paused, letting the thought linger before continuing. “Your class is safe. You’re safe.”
I felt a small hard lump come into my throat. I didn’t know what to say. I knew I had to though. I had to validate his trust, had to make sure he knew that he had made the right choice. But I just had no words. England is better than it was, but the ecology of any school isn’t kind to those that differ from a perceived norm.
“So should I just up and say it?” he asked, as if I had the faintest fucking clue.
He was looking at me now, right in the face, his eyes wide and moist. His face was white. The look on his face damn near broke my heart.
“Alright,” I said, very slowly, “we can do this.” No plan was forthcoming, but my words brought a small sharp smile to his face.
“You’re not alone,” I told him. “I’m here with you. We’ve got this,” I said, knowing damn well I didn’t. “You’re not alone. We can do this.”
There was another unconscious smile on his face. My own eyes misted and I felt a hot tear make its way down my cheek.
“First thing you need to do is sit on this for a few days. Make sure you’re certain. If you’re still sure after a few days, then we can make plans. Once you’ve done that pick a few people to tell in private, because this is going to fly around the school fast. Anyone who you feel deserves to hear it directly from you and not through rumour — tell them first.”
He nodded along as I kept talking. I felt light headed. My words gabbled over themselves, like I was a washing machine spilling wet laundry on the floor.
“Next week, if you’re sure. Next week I’ll make a space for it in class.”
He got a sick look to him, like he’d just tasted vomit. Probably thinking ‘oh, god, it’s real, it’s really real’.
“No shame in backing out if you need to. If it gets to the point where you just can’t say it then I won’t make you. You just shake your head and I’ll move on.”
Josh started crying. It took me a moment to realise that I was too.