I’m standing by the church.
The stony, nineteenth century building breaks the afternoon November sun and casts its familiar shadow over the small, empty car park, the low wall bordering it, the pavement on the other side and me.
I’ve grown in this shadow.
It used to be familiar, made of something beautiful, of angels, miracles and sky, until the beauty was broken into pieces and encased in books and rules, the shadow turned into a heavy mantel of shame.
Now angels are only made of stone, miracles just fairy-tales and the sky distant.
Our father, who art in heaven…forgive us our trespasses…
My hands search the pockets of my jeans, fingering the questions I always carry with me. I close my fist and trap one inside: who am I?
There’s a different answer, a different me for everyone: my friends, my sister, my baby brother, my mum, my dad, the priest, the teachers, the people of this small town.
Yet, to everyone I’m Samuel Daly, seventeen year old, the quiet, thoughtful eldest son of the pharmacist, Patrick Daly, who writes letters to the Bishop about the corruption and decay at the heart of respectability, forced as he is to stand side by side with divorcees and single mothers, in his cast-iron righteousness, while his daughter lines up for communion before running off to make love to her boyfriend, his twelve year old son serves on the altar minutes after stealing money from a smaller boy and his firstborn is going straight to Hell, wrapped up in filthy dreams and fantasies.
My hand is still holding on to the question.
Who am I?
I can’t bring myself to dig it out. It seems pointless, when the answers are already there, in the shadow.
A freak. A joke. A sinner. A queer. A poof. A faggot.
I know I am. I know that’s what they would call me. Some would laugh, some would hate. And perhaps some would love me, a thought that still scares me and warms me up inside at the same time.
I wish I could get out of this shadow and stop asking myself questions. I have been asking them for too long and for too long ignored the answers.
But I know who I am, now.
The wind blows over the dead leaves at our feet.
We kicked them as we walked along the path in the park, half an hour ago and for eight autumns before then.
We go back a long way, Alan and I. We walked together many days and through many streets, outside school, in the playground, by the canal, along the back alleys of our estate.
We walked together today, from the church where we met to the public park a few yards away, my slim shadow next to his, better proportioned. We walked almost in silence, as he finished his cigarette and I jangled lose change in my pocket and gathered thoughts in my head.
Today is the day I am going to tell him.
I don’t know why I decided it would be. I hadn’t set out to have this conversation, when I left home, but the shadow is suffocating me and I need to find an escape, somehow.
Alan… my best friend and the object of my fantasies and desire.
I stare at his handsome profile, his straight nose and his Mediterranean complexion, his full lips, dark eyes and short black curls, and I hold my breath.
We walked here, to this bench, and here I broke my silence, stepped out of the shadow in just three words: I’m gay.
I can let go of my questions, now, open my fist and let them all crawl away. It’s out, it’s real, it’s true. I’m gay. I’m me. It even seems beautiful and I wonder what I was so afraid of. I can be me and I can love him my way, though he’ll never know.
Alan’s profile turns to face me, his ink eyes looking at me from under a frown.
‘You’re confused, right?’
‘No, I’m not.’
I’ve never been less confused in my life.
Alan leans back on the bench, hands sunk into his expensive designer coat.
‘Wow… just… wow.’ He shakes his head. ‘Maybe it’s just a phase, though… I mean… they happen, gay phases…’
‘It’s not a phase.’
‘Can’t you… like… change your mind? You know… maybe if you shagged some hot girl…’
‘It’s not something I can change. It’s not something I want to change.’
‘You want to be a queer?’ He sounds affronted by the idea, his tone getting aggressive. ‘You want it up your arse?’
The shadow is chasing me and I want him to pull me away from the fear it’s trying to tie me with. I want him to love me his way. More than anything, I want him to understand that.
I lift my hand.
‘Just let me…’ Let me be me, I want to say, but my hand moves to his face, my fingers touch his smooth skin and my thumb strokes his lips.
He jumps up.
‘Let you what?’ His breaths are short and rapid. ‘You tell me you’re a queer and then you make a pass at me?’ His eyes dig into me as if he is seeing me for the first time. ‘Did you think…Did you imagine we could…Fucking Hell.’
I’m shaking now and the shadow is upon me once more.
‘It’s not like that.’ I try to free myself. ‘It’s…’
‘I don’t want to know what it is like. You’re…’
I can fill in his pause for him.
Queer. Pervert. Disgusting.
Somehow his voice becomes confused with my father’s in my head.
I wish I hadn’t told him. I wish I had remained in the shadow, hidden away.
He doesn’t answer. He’s already walking away, his shadow growing longer and distant in the setting sun.
Continues in Part Three