The gymnasium was decorated with crepe paper streamers and balloons in school colors. There were a few colored lights on a stand by the DJ booth and the DJ was a history teacher playing appropriate music.
It was the first dance of the school year following the first home football game. I had just turned 17 a couple of weeks before and it was the beginning of the end for me. The final step between me and setting off to be the man I was hoping to become. Senior year: a formality. I was fortunate enough to have a teen nightclub in my mid-sized Midwestern town. It was a place for all of the freaks and punks and misfits to meet and dance to Bauhaus while sipping coffee and smoking Djarums. I had met a lot of people like me that summer. Kids who didn't fit in, worshiped synthesizers and wore black eyeliner. I had road tripped to the first Lollapalooza, learned the magic that was 4AD and felt the pull of Chicago and the Industrial music scene that past summer. My eyes were opening. Even with someplace else to be, I didn't hate my high school. It felt like a part-time job that I was good at. So I wanted to participate by stopping by the dance, just for a little while, before setting off for somewhere better.
I was sitting on the bleachers talking with my Drama Club friends and having a nice time when Lauren came over and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and she asked me to dance. She was a beautiful and popular girl. She had bright blue eyes and permed blonde hair with hot-curled bangs that defied gravity. She spent the summer working at her grandpa's diner as a waitress and I saw her frequently on my way home from the teen club. She would make me chocolate malts and we would talk about how badly we wanted to escape to big cities and foreign countries. We also shared a peculiar affinity for Olivia Newton-John and we danced to her B-sides on the jukebox. Some nights, when the diner was slow, she would call me from the pay phone in back and talk to me until the quarter ran out. She was a lovely girl and I liked her, despite how obviously different we were. She came from a large family that was full of popular students including a long succession of prom queens, football stars and cheerleading captains. This was Lauren's first year to make the pom-pom squad herself and I could tell she was still full of adrenaline after her debut. I had promised her that I would go to the game to see her, and I did. I made it just in time to see her marching onto the field with her smile beaming as bright as a stadium light.
When we hit the dance floor ( basketball court ) we moved our bodies the way Technotronic told us too. She asked me if I saw her cheer and I said, "Yes, you looked beautiful." The music switched over to an awful Color Me Badd song and I made a quick turn to go sit back down. "Oh no you don't," she said as she grabbed my hand and pulled me back. I laughed and complied.
We were dancing slowly and I was more than a little uncomfortable. She had a new look in her eyes that confused me, so I closed mine. She leaned her head down on my shoulder and then she said it. She said "I love you." I stopped dancing and dropped my arms. My face began to turn red. She looked at me and I knew she was about to cry. I turned away, I can't remember if I ran out of the gym, but I may have. I was furious. I had just come to terms with the fact that I liked boys. I had just stopped hating myself and was determined that I was going to find a nice guy my age even though I was told that everyone would disown me. Even though I was told that sex would kill me. Even though I was repeatedly told that God hates fags.
This was not how it was supposed to happen. The first person who told me that they loved me was supposed to be someone I loved and now that would never happen. I was in the high school parking lot leaning over my Ford Fairmont when I was spun around and smacked across the face.
Stunned, I shook it off and looked at Bethany, Lauren's cousin. Arms crossed with a stern face, she was tapping her foot in her cheerleading outfit. "How could you?", she screamed. "How could you do that how could you just break her heart and leave her there in front of everybody when she's one of the most popular girls in school and you are lucky she even talks to you…" I interrupted her with a sharp "Because I am gay."
Bethany went silent. She uncrossed her arms and stopped tapping her foot. "You know, I thought so," she said as she lifted up her cheer skirt and pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds. Cheerleading bloomers have always been a mystery to teenage boys. She offered me one and she lit us up as we took a seat on the hood of my car. After a few puffs she said, "Most everybody thinks so, you know. I mean, senior year and you've never had a girlfriend." I nodded my head. I had suspected as much. I am sure doing show choir freshman year didn't help.
Bethany looked up at the sky and said, "My mom has a cousin who is really sick. No one in the family talks to him anymore, but when we were kids he was our favorite." She slid off of the car. "Look, I'll talk to her, okay? But she's going to be pissed that you didn't tell her yourself." She impressively flicked her cigarette over four cars and walked back to the dance. I got into my car and started the engine. "Losing My Religion" began to play when the cassette player kicked in. I rolled down the window to let the cool, fall air wash over me. I felt bad, but didn't know what to do. I had accidentally learned how to break a heart before my own had learned to fully function.