Hey everyone, it's RichardAdams. I'm here to talk about my last chapter. In Chapter 8, I delved on the topic of homophobia and bullying. The chapter was particularly hard to write because I have been fortunate to live in a community where feelings of hate and discrimination are virtually nonexistent, bullying in school doesn't happen, and where the people are incredibly accepting. I have never seen homophobic feelings once in my entire life and I am incredibly grateful for it.
I'm going to talk more about bullying and homophobia in this chapter. I hope you all enjoy Chapter 9 of 'Am I...?'
Leo and I visit Brian Saturday, spending most of the day just sitting and talking with him. His swelling has gone down significantly and he seems to be breathing normally. Brian tells us that he's going to be released on Sunday and will be back at school on Monday. Brian may be a bit small, but he's a strong guy, stronger than I would've imagined.
On Sunday evening, the phone rings and Mom tells me Mr. Greenwich is on the phone. After talking about how Brian's been doing, he tells me that he wants to see me in his office early Monday morning to discuss a few things. I don't question it, but I have a bit of trouble sleeping that night wondering what Mr. Greenwich wants to talk about.
I get to school and find that the parking lot's almost empty. But as I'm driving in, I see Leo getting off his motorcycle. I honk my horn to get his attention and pull in next to him. "Leo," I say as I'm getting out. "What're you doing here?"
"I was just about to ask you the same question," he replies.
"Mr. Greenwich called me last night and said he wanted to talk about a few things."
"Same with me."
We're both incredibly confused as we head into school and quickly get to Mr. Greenwich's office. Leo knocks on the door. "Come in," comes from the other side.
I open the door and see Mr. Greenwich sitting behind his desk and Brian sitting in a chair with a pair of crutches next to him. A few of his bandages are gone, but the bruises still remain. "What're you guys doing here?" Brian asks.
"Mr. Greenwich called both me and Josh in this morning," says Leo.
"Because I would like to talk to all three of you," says Mr. Greenwich.
Leo and I take seats in two more chairs and look to our principal. "Are we in trouble?" I ask.
"Not in the least Josh," says Mr. Greenwich. "I've called you all in here to talk about the events of last Friday. First things first, I'm very sorry about what happened, Brian. As the principal, I'm supposed to keep an eye on what goes on in my school. I've let you down for not seeing the bullying Danny was doing to you and failed to see the warning signs of him attacking you. I'm very sorry."
"It's okay Mr. Greenwich," says Brian. "I don't think anyone could've seen what Danny was going to do. I didn't even know he was going to hurt me. But now that's it's happened, I can only recover and move on from it."
"Thank you for your understanding," says Mr. Greenwich. He directs his attention to me and Leo. "Josh and Leo, I'm very proud to call you students of Franklin High School. What you did for Brian is admirable and an example of how all the students here should act when something like this happens."
"I didn't do very much," says Leo. "Josh here did most of the work."
I look to Leo. "Leo, we've talked about this. You and I both helped Brian. You called the ambulance and stayed there when Brian and I needed it."
Leo smiles at me. I really want to give him a reassuring kiss, but Mr. Greenwich is watching us. "Josh is right Leo," Brian says. "You could have easily have just walked away and pretended like nothing happened. You weren't a bystander. You were a hero, just like Josh."
Leo and I both smile at and thank Brian. "Now I have a favor to ask all three of you," says Mr. Greenwich. "I'm going to announce an emergency assembly for all the students and faculty during first period this morning. I would like to talk to everyone about bullying and harassment and would like all three of you to help me get the message across that Franklin High School will not stand for it."
I look to Leo and Brian, who both nod. "Okay," I say. "We'll help you. What do you want us to do?"
"Talk to the students and faculty about how last Friday was for you. I would very much appreciate it."
"Sure," says Brian.
"Okay," Leo and I both say.
"Thank you all again. I'm going to announce the assembly not too long after first period starts. You three will have seats in the front row of the auditorium. I'll see you then."
The rest of the early morning slowly goes by. As Leo and I are sitting in Biology, the intercom turns on. "Attention all students and faculty. Please make your way to the auditorium for an emergency assembly."
Many of the students are confused, but get up from their seats anyway. We all make our way to auditorium and Leo and I walk to the front row. We find Brian already sitting there (for a guy using crutches, he moves fast). The auditorium is full after five minutes, a low roar from all the students talking.
Mr. Greenwich walks out onto the stage with a microphone in his hand. It takes a minute to quiet everyone down. "Thank you all for coming here this morning," Mr. Greenwich says into the microphone. "I'm sure you're all wondering why I've called you here."
Mr. Greenwich glances at Brian, Leo, and me. "Last Friday, as I'm sure some of you may have heard, one of our students was the victim of a severe hate crime. Brian Mosley was attacked in the wooded area next to the school by Danny Walters."
From behind us, I can hear a quiet murmur of students whispering to each other. "Luckily, Brian was saved by two of your classmates. Josh Rusden and Leo Trigon came to Brian's rescue and managed to scare off Danny, called for an ambulance, and helped to treat Brian's injuries." He looks to us. "Brian, Josh, Leo, could you please come up here?"
Leo and I rise out of our seats and help Brian out of his. We help Brian onto the stage and walk with him to Mr. Greenwich. "As you can see from Brian's injuries, this is no laughing matter," says Mr. Greenwich. "Brian, Josh, and Leo have agreed to talk about what happened last Friday. I hope you all will pay attention to what they have to say."
Mr. Greenwich hands the microphone to Brian, who balances on one foot and one crutch to hold it. "Hi everyone," Brian says. "I...guess I'm going to tell you what happened. First off, Danny attacking me? It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I'm sure all of you know I'm gay, and Danny Walters thought that was a reason to try and hurt me.
"It happened when I was walking out to my car Friday after school. Danny grabbed me and pulled me into the woods. I tried to fight back, but he was too strong. Danny just started punching me, kicking me, beating the living crap out of me. He punched me so hard in the chest that it broke two of my ribs and kicked me so hard in the leg, my tibia and fibula shattered.
"I felt like I was going to die, like Danny was going to kill me. I prayed to every God there is, and thankfully my prayers were answered. When I saw Josh and Leo running toward me and Danny, it was the greatest thing I have ever seen."
Brian takes a second to wipe his eyes with the back of his hand. "Knowing that someone was helping me was the best feeling. Josh and Leo were my heroes that day, and I couldn't be more grateful to them."
Leo and I step around Brian and one arm hug him across his shoulders. This prompts a large round of applause from the audience. Brian hands the microphone back to Mr. Greenwich. "Everyone," he says. "Leo and Josh did the right thing and helped Brian. I hope you all can see this as an example of how you all should act when you see someone being hurt, harassed, or bullied.
"Franklin High School has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, but that doesn't mean the faculty and administration are going to be able to see it all. That's where you come in. If you see anything that even looks like bullying, please don't say anything and be a bystander. Speak up, tell someone, report it. It's the right thing to do.
"Homophobia is also a large problem at school. I know you all think it's okay to use 'gay' as an insult, but it's really not. It hurts others and no one deserves that. If you hear someone using words like that, tell them to stop. Homophobia spreads hate. Please end the hate.
"And I'm going to make myself perfectly clear to any one of you that may be bullying another student. If you continue your actions, you will face the severest of consequences. Franklin High School will become an example for other high schools. No bullying, no harassment, no hate. Is that understood?"
Another round of applause from the audience, even louder than the one before. "Fantastic. Now the basketball team would like to say a few words to Brian."
From our right, the entire basketball team walks out onto the stage, including the coach and assistant coach, bringing the total to about twenty. Justin Robinson, the captain of the team, takes the microphone from Mr. Greenwich. "Um...like Mr. Greenwich said, we have some things to say to Brian.
"First off, we're really sorry this happened. We all knew Danny was a homophobe, but we didn't do anything about it. Not all of us have the same mindset as Danny, but we give off the impression that we're just like him. As his captain, I should've done more to prevent this from happening.
"Second, the basketball team will change. We're not going to use words like 'gay' and 'faggot' as insults anymore and will be a lot more accepting of others. We'll do everything we can to keep something like this from happening again and will do something when we see someone getting harassed or bullied. I can guarantee you all that.
"Brian, you have every right to be mad at the basketball team. Hell, I would be too. But on behalf of the team, I ask that you forgive us."
Leo and I look to Brian. And underneath the bandages and bruises, a small grin spreads. He nods at Justin, who smiles in return. "Thank you Brian," Justin says. "We'll do our part to keep homophobia, hate, and bullying out of this school."
All of a sudden, there is a thunderous roar from in front of all of us. The audience is cheering and applauding like there's no tomorrow. I smile at the sight of it and see Leo and Brian smiling as well. Things are going to be a lot better here...
In the days following the assembly, school has become a much more peaceful environment. The yells of 'faggot' and 'cocksucker' I used to hear every day in the hallway have disappeared, but it came at a price. Six students were suspended because of prolonged bullying and a few dozen received detentions for a few spouts of bullying.
It surprises me to see how much bullying there was at school that I didn't even see. But at least the message the assembly had is changing the school. I've talked to Leo about how although school has become a lot more accepting, neither he nor I are ready to come out just yet.
It's the day before Thanksgiving break and everyone's buzzing with excitement for the four day weekend. Leo tells me his grandparents are coming in from St. Louis, and two aunts, three uncles, and seven cousins are visiting from all over the United States (his parents like big Thanksgiving dinners).
Mark and Shawn are both heading out of town, Mark going to Texas to visit his very rich grandparents, and Shawn going to Virginia to see much of his extended family. Brian's still recovering, but all his bruises have faded and his cuts have almost disappeared. He and his parents are visiting his aunt and uncle in Florida for Thanksgiving. My family has the same arrangement every year: just Mom, Dad, me, and Ryan, a simple family Thanksgiving dinner.
With the final bell, I say my goodbyes to Mark, Shawn, and Brian, and tell Leo I'll call him later. I get home to find Mom and Dad home early from work. They tell me they're going to pick up Ryan from the airport in about an hour, which I'm excited for. I haven't seen Ryan in person in about three months since he left for his final year at Berkeley.
While Mom and Dad are getting ready upstairs to head out, I'm sitting in the living room watching some TV. There's a knock at the door and I get up from the couch and walk to the door. "Who is it?" I call out.
"It's your favorite brother!"
"And his roommate!"
I grin to myself and pull the door open and find Ryan and Nate standing on the front porch. "Hey guys!"
The both pull me into a tight hug. "Hey little bro!" says Ryan. "You look great!"
"So do you!" I separate myself from both of them. Ryan's my height with a very built body, which seems to have more muscle than the last time I saw him in person. His dark brown hair is a bit longer than the last time we video chatted and he seems to be growing a goatee. Nate hasn't changed at all, his hair still buzzed and his skin still tan. "What're you guys doing here? Nate, what're YOU doing here?"
Nate grins at me. "My parents had to go visit my sick grandmother and when I asked if I could spend Thanksgiving with Ryan and his family, they said yes. So...here I am."
"Mom and Dad said your flight didn't get in until seven tonight. How're you here so early?"
"The flight before ours was under-booked and needed more passengers," says Ryan. "We said we would get on the flight and they gave us two first-class seats. Best flight of my life..."
"We landed about forty-five minutes ago and took a taxi here," says Nate. "We would've gotten here sooner had the taxi driver not gotten lost. I think that's how taxi companies make money. Drivers get 'lost' and the meter rises."
"Well, come on in," I say. "Mom and Dad will want to see you both." We walk into the house, Ryan and Nate carrying some small bags, and shut the door behind us. "Mom! Dad! Brother Unit One and Roommate Unit One are here early!"
I hear a door open and see two shadows coming down the stairs. Mom and Dad get to the landing and see me standing with my older brother and his roommate. "Sweetie!" says Mom.
She rushes down the stairs and hugs Ryan tightly, which he returns. "Hi Mom! I missed you!
Dad comes down and approaches Nate. "Nate! Great to see you!"
He hugs Nate. "It's great to see you too Mr. Rusden!" Nate says.
There are a few more hugs and a lot more talking. Things finally calm down a bit after few minutes. "Well, who wants to go out to dinner tonight?" says Mom. "Wentz's sounds really good."
"I was thinking the same thing," says Dad. "Does that work for you boys?"
"Sounds great," says Ryan. "I haven't gone to Wentz's in months. The filet mignon sounds amazing right now." He turns to Nate. "You'll love it. The food is fantastic."
"I know," says Nate, with a smile. "You gave me a twenty minute lecture about it two years ago that I still remember."
We all giggle a bit. "Josh, why don't you help your brother and Nate carry their things upstairs to Ryan's room while your father and I make a reservation for seven o'clock?" Mom asks.
"No problem," I say.
I take a bag from both Ryan and Nate's hands and walk upstairs with them and into Ryan's room. Ryan's room is decorated with posters of sports teams and numerous awards he won during high school, along with a few pictures of Mom, Dad, and me. I set the bags down next to Ryan's bed and Ryan and Nate do the same.
Nate falls onto Ryan's bed. "God, I'm exhausted," he says. "Ryan, you had to wake me up at six in the morning?"
"Yes I did!" Ryan says. "I wanted us to get a good breakfast before we headed to get to the airport!"
"Our flight wasn't until five in the afternoon!" Ryan shrugs and smiles. "You're lucky you're so freaking cute."
Ryan always want to be early, no matter the occasion. It's been a problem since he was twelve years old and it does get annoying at times, but it's always really funny to see him flip out a bit when someone's running late. "You know you love me," says Ryan. "I'll be right back. I'm going to get a soda from the fridge. You guys want anything?"
"Coke please," Nate and I both say.
"Three Cokes. Got it. I'll be back in two minutes."
Ryan heads downstairs and Nate suddenly jumps off the bed. "Josh, I need to talk to you. It's really important."
"What's up?" I ask concerned.
"You know I love your brother more than anything in the world, right?"
I nod. Nate kneels down to a bag of his and I instinctively do the same. Nate digs in his bag and pulls something out. "What're you doing?" I ask.
"Getting something important." Nate looks back to me. "Josh, Ryan is the most amazing person in my life. I love everything about him, even his anal retentiveness of being on time. I'm going to ask you something very important."
Nate holds his hand out to me and I see a small black box. I know that velvet box anywhere. "Is that...?" I start to ask.
Nate grins and opens the box. Inside, I see a bright, shiny, metal ring. "Josh, will you give the honor of letting me ask your brother to marry me?"
I'm shocked beyond belief. Nate wants to propose to Ryan! I feel myself grin back at Nate. "Of course! Yes! You and Ryan are perfect for each other. I would love to see you guys get married."
Nate closes the box and pulls me into a hug. "Thank you Josh. I promise to be the best husband there is and will give Ryan all the love he deserves."
I hug Nate back. We pull apart when we hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Nate puts the box in his pocket as Ryan walks in with three cans of Coke. "One soda for my little bro and the other for my beautiful boyfriend!" he says.
He hands one can to me and the other to Nate. "Oh by the way Ryan," I say. "It looks like you aren't the only gay son Mom and Dad have." Ryan and Nate snap their heads to me, eyes wide. "Yeah, I'm gay. And I have a boyfriend."
Ryan and Nate rush to me and scoop me up in another tight squeeze. "Holy shit Josh!" says Ryan. "Why didn't you tell us sooner?!"
"I only realized I was gay three weeks ago," I say. "I've had a lot on my plate. It was incredibly awkward when Dad walked in on me and Leo, that's my boyfriend's name, when we were making out."
I leave out the masturbation part of Dad walking in on Leo and me. Ryan and I are really open with each other, but not that open. "Shit," says Nate. "How'd they take it?"
"Really well, actually. They were pretty shocked at first, but they said me being gay doesn't change a thing about how they love me."
Ryan and Nate breathe a sigh of relief. "Oh thank God," says Ryan. "I was really nervous. Nate and I decided we were going to come out to Mom and Dad over the weekend. Now that we know how accepting they are of you, it'll make the conversation we have with them later a lot easier."
Nate and Ryan begin talking about how they're going to come out to Mom and Dad. I look down at Nate's pocket and see the bulge of the box, causing me to smile.
About an hour and a half later, after everyone's showered and dressed, we head over to Wentz's. We're seated at our table and as we start looking at our menus, I see a familiar lean frame, light brown hair, five o'clock shadow, and model-like face walk up to us. Nelson sees me and smiles. "Josh! Great to see you again!"
"It's great to see you too Nelson," I say. I look at my confused family and Nate. "Guys, this is Nelson. He was my waiter when Leo and I went out on our first date."
"So you told Ryan and Nate?" Mom asks me.
"Yup," I say. "They feel the same way you do about me being gay."
"That's great," says Dad.
"And I have an announcement," says Ryan. "Mom, Dad. I've been keeping this in for years. But I feel the time is right to finally tell you. I'm gay too. And Nate's my boyfriend."
Mom and Dad's eyes go wide, but the shock disappears within a second. "Ryan, we love you all the same," says Mom. "We're so happy you've managed to find love, with Nate nonetheless."
"Ryan and I have been dating since sophomore year and every day together has been phenomenal," says Nate.
Ryan smiles and looks back to Mom and Dad. "So you don't hate the fact that I'm gay?"
"Of course not," says Dad. "We'd still love you if you wanted to change your name to Terry, quit college, and get a job as a guy that sweeps up hair at a barber shop."
We all, including Nelson, laugh a bit. "Thanks guys," says Ryan. "I love you both."
"And we love you sweetie," says Mom.
"Well I guess this calls for free drinks for everyone!" says Nelson. "What'll it be?"
"Vodka tonic please," says Dad.
"A sidecar please," says Mom.
"Could I get a screwdriver please?" says Nate.
"I'll take a rob roy, thank you," says Ryan.
"I'll take a Coke please," I say, being the only one at the table not old enough to drink.
Nelson writes down all of our orders. "I'll get those for you right away," he says. "Enjoy your dinner."
Nelson heads off to the bar with our drink orders. "He seemed nice," says Mom.
"He is," I say. "He was really nice with Mr. Creswell and Coach Coddler when I was in here last time." I look to Ryan. "Oh yeah. Mr. Creswell's gay too and my football coach is his husband."
Ryan's head flies back in exasperation. "How many people do I know are actually gay?" he asks.
"Speak for yourself," says Dad. "My list is still growing..."
We all laugh at Dad and his ever-growing list.
Dinner is fantastic. Everyone is so talkative and it makes dinner that much livelier. Nate tries Wentz's food for the first time and it's hilarious to see the face he makes when he takes his first bite. We're all slowly savoring our desserts when Nelson walks up to the table. "How is everything?" he asks.
"Delicious as usual," Mom says.
"Fantastic. Is there anything else you need?"
Nate looks to me, and I smile and nod. "I have something," he says, "but it isn't for you."
Nelson, Mom, Dad, and Ryan all look lost. Nate looks to Ryan. "Ryan, you're the greatest person I have ever met. You're kind, smart, caring, loving, and...perfect. I love you with all my heart and can't imagine a day that doesn't have you in it. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Nate scoots his chair back and reaches into his pants pocket. He pulls out the box and goes down on one knee in front of Ryan, causing Mom to squeal and attracting the attention of several other diners. But the best face I see is Ryan's, who looks to be in a state of amazement. Nate opens the box and I can see the silver ring. "Ryan, will you give me the privilege of being my husband? Will you marry me?"
I hear several 'awws' and look to Ryan. I suddenly see two streams of water fall from his eyes and a large smile spreading. "Yes. Yes! A million times yes!" Ryan yells.
Nate smiles and begins crying too. Nate slips the ring on Ryan's finger, a perfect fit, and he and Ryan stand up and kiss, not caring who sees. A large round of applause comes from all the other diners and even the wait staff and bartenders. I look at Mom and Dad. Mom's crying with a smile on her face and Dad looks like he's the proudest parent in the world.
Ryan and Nate kiss for a minute before sitting back down, their chairs side my side now. "This night has been the highlight of my two years working here," says Nelson. "I'm very happy for you two."
"Thank you," says Nate, wiping his eyes. "We're really happy too."
"If only my boyfriend, George, would propose to me someday." Nelson sighs to himself. "Oh well. I still love him. I'll go get you your check. Congratulations again."
Nelson walks off through the restaurant, a bit more spring in his step. "And that's one more to my list," says Dad.
We all laugh again. Throughout the laughter and great mood, I look to Ryan and Nate, both of them smiling, and the ring on Ryan's finger shining in the candlelight.