Growing Up Blind (part 2, Junior High)
The nature of friendships changes between elementary school and junior high school. In elementary school I was friends with the boys my age who lived in my neighborhood; we played “Kick the Can” and climbed trees and traded comic books. By junior high, though, friends are generally people who share the same interests. I was slow to understand this transition and for a period of time in junior high I felt like I didn’t have any friends at all. (I was also prone to self-pity!)
During this period, I frequently longed for a “best friend” – the kind of ideal companion found in books and movies. I had a very romanticized perception of this friend in my mind, and frequently envisioned scenarios in which I would suddenly meet this guy and we would just immediately get along perfectly and want to spend every moment together. I wanted more than just someone who shared my interests: I wanted an exclusive, one-on-one relationship that would be deep and enduring. I didn’t have the emotional sophistication to distinguish between the desire for a friend and the desire for something more.
For most of my teenage years I thought I would eventually be the father figure in the same kind of home in which I grew up. I’d have a wife, some kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs. For many years I followed the steps I thought I was supposed to take to reach this goal. My brother always had a girlfriend, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to have one as well. When I was in junior high I asked a female friend if she wanted to “go” with me, and–voila– we were officially dating. “Dating” meant we would get each other gifts on birthdays and at Christmas and occasionally go roller skating. Eventually we broke up; I heard second-hand that she called me “slow.” I can’t say that I blame her if she was frustrated by the pace of our relationship. I liked her as a friend, but I was not physically attracted to her.
In the summer of 1983, when I was 15 years old, our church youth group had a discussion about homosexuality. I don’t remember any details, but it’s one of the only youth group topics significant enough to rate a mention in my journal. The same year, both Time and Newsweek ran cover stories on AIDS. My parents had a subscription to Newsweek, and I have vague memories of seeing TV news stories about the disease. Still, those stories were about adult men in San Francisco and New York, people who were far away and barely more real to me than the hobbits I was reading about in The Lord of the Rings.
That summer the first hint of a self-acknowledgement of my sexuality comes in two cryptic journal entries that look something like this:
CB–AZ, LX, YY, VB
“CB” stood for “cute boys” and the initials of the boys I thought were handsome followed the hyphen. (The initials have been changed to protect the innocent.)
It was both thrilling and terrifying to put something like this in my journal, even in a form it would be virtually impossible for someone else to decode.
Tomorrow, part 3 of Growing Up Blind – High School.
Image credit: John Warren