I have love in my heart, but it wasn't always so. Perhaps a glimmer of it occasionally burst within me, at times when I felt most connected with the world, but for many years I did not know what the word meant. I could feel it on occasion in the embrace of a friend, or in the peaceful sanctuary of water, but overall the tremendous burden which weighed on my heart prevented me from acknowledging that sweet peace which connects all of humanity.
This may not be what some consider a happy ending; it may not even be considered an ending. But to that I say, "What story really ends?" Even if these words were to stop flowing from my inability to write them, whether from death or some other obstacle, the story would continue without me. Because this story isn't just about me, Zane Thompson, it's also about all the people I knew who got me through it. My life has been a group effort since the beginning, and it will continue to be until the end.
We are interdependent. Life cannot exist without other life.
And so I've pondered, staring at this blank page for months after finishing the rest of the story, wondering how to explain what happened next. My story, our story, took several tragic turns which pain me to dwell on, but it also took many paths I never expected which turned out to be more wonderful than I could ever imagine.
I currently sit at a crossroads, three and a half years after my father tried to kill me, preparing for my graduation from high school. I first began writing my story a year ago, or when I was born, depending on your perspective. I didn't know it would bring me here, questioning my path and wondering where I go next, but I do know which direction I want to walk; I'm moving forward, and nothing will stop me from that.
My father, Stan Thompson, was a complicated man. Even I can't believe what I'm about to say, but it is the truth; I owe you nothing less.
I loved my father. I adored him as a child, and I remember the pain his separation from me caused. When I was little, he'd read me stories about space and adventure, and he inspired me in many ways which still affect me to this day. While I tried to follow in his footsteps in a vain attempt to earn his approval, it didn't work out. I was lost until I remembered Clint had suggested something else to me, that I become a writer.
Over the past few years, I've done as he suggested, and I've slowly improved, but this, too, is part of a path my father set me on. If he'd never read me those stories as a child, I don't know if I'd been so keen on telling such stories now.
So, perhaps it's best to say my father had a positive influence on my life after all, even if it was in a roundabout way. Not everything he ever did concerning me was a failure; he didn't always view me negatively or wish I wasn't his son. He cared deeply about me, in his own way, and in the last few months of his life I finally learned the truth.
It's said the truth will set you free, but sometimes it completely wrecks you first.
That first week after my father tried to kill me was filled with interesting experiences. I had to give a statement to the police, Clint did, too. I didn't want to go to school, but I wanted to stay in the house even less and so I attended. This is all secondary to what was going through my mind, but it's important you have background. It's important that you know I tried to get on with my life as normal, because it will show you how much it wrecked me when I couldn't.
Life went on. Of course it did. You can't stop the progression of time, and no matter how much I wanted to freeze my life in that special moment with Clint, knowing he'd love me forever, I couldn't. Instead, I had to face reality, and that reality came quickly and severed me from that sweet feeling of love.
The first few days I spent in Clint's company, and Greg and Celeste were there almost as often. I avoided school for the first day, but as soon as Clint's dad told Clint he had to go back, I went with him. I didn't want to be alone; I couldn't face the reality of the empty house where it had happened, even if my dad wasn't there. And so I went back to school, a temporary cane in hand as I shuffled through the halls, trying to get back into the swing of things.
My hand found the texture of the knobbed cane foreign, and every step I took reminded me that nothing was ever going to be the same again. I'd broken my previous reality, and I'd have to get used to that, just as I'd have to get used to the feeling of the smooth wood supporting me.
But at least I could become distracted in the other things happening around me. My friends had lives moving forward, too, after all. Rebecca and David celebrated their relationship openly, and I was glad at least something good had happened over the weekend. I also wasn't the only one who had a terrible weekend. A new friend, Shane, from the GSA had a terrible time which Travis ended up right in the thick of. Later that week I even broke my replacement cane in their defense. As terrible as it may sound, it was comforting to know I wasn't the only one having a horrible time.
Celeste and Greg were no longer fighting, proving to me that sometimes the best thing for a relationship can be the end of it. That, more than anything, continued to weigh on my mind as I went forward. I had to acknowledge the pain I felt; my father had tried to kill me, and in that he showed me he'd never really be my father again. That relationship had ended, for good; or so I thought.
It was a cold day in November, several weeks since I'd seen my father, when my mother pulled me aside and told me the truth. Clint was in the other room, told to wait there while my mother spoke to me privately. I'd told her that Clint needed to be with me, but she'd insisted. She said this was just a family matter, and she meant it.
And then she told me something which shook me to my core. My father was sick, and had been sick for a long time. She'd known all along, but she'd never told me, and he hadn't either. Only after my father tried to kill me did she feel guilty enough to reveal the family secret.
Some of you have probably already figured it out, and it's okay. I should've seen it, too, but I wanted to believe differently. It's amazing how sometimes the things we wish to believe are what keep us from the truth, even if it's staring us in the face.
My father was schizophrenic. He'd known about the problem since his mid-twenties, but kept it concealed in order to protect himself professionally. He'd just finished his first PhD, and had been accepted by NASA. Mental illness is a difficult selling point in the scientific community, and so he and my mother worked together to keep anyone from ever finding out aside from their one trusted family friend, a psychiatrist who'd write my father monthly prescriptions for his meds.
My sisters didn't know, only my parents. But, despite keeping it from all of us, it was I who suffered most. Ever since my father's accident which ruined his chance at becoming an astronaut and nearly ended his career altogether, his schizophrenia, barely kept at bay by his medication, developed a complex centered around me, his disabled son who now could never amount to anything.
I spent a decade believing my father hated me, and all my parents ever had to do to change that was open their mouths. Yet not until my father tried to kill me did they finally come clean. It was all to protect my father's career, because they wouldn't even trust their own children. They believed it was better to keep the secret and let me believe I was my father's greatest disappointment than to trust me with my father's illness.
Even when my father started acting stranger than normal, my mother said nothing. There were some things she didn't know; she didn't know that my father's psychiatrist had left the country without remembering to fill my father's prescription, for instance. She didn't know that my father had run out of his medication the same week I started dating Clint. She did notice that he was starting to act differently, but still she said nothing.
Greg once asked me if I would be okay with losing my mother if it meant getting a loving father like Clint's. I never expected to be faced with the reality of that question. Now, I still don't know what to think about her. My father was crazy, but her? She was supposed to protect me, and instead she almost got me killed.
As soon as my father's medication ran out, his delusions began to take hold of his life. He became fixated on me, and on my relationship with Clint. He believed Clint to be some alien entity bent on destroying the family. At first, he believed I was under Clint's influence and needed to be swayed otherwise, but soon he came to the belief that I was being completely mind-controlled by Clint and that the only way to cure me was to kill me. That's what he was trying to do when he threw me in the water. When Clint tried to stop him, the delusion shifted and his warped perspective of Clint took over.
This isn't just conjecture. My father told me himself, once he had everything figured out. Once he knew the secret was out, he didn't keep things from me any longer, and once he was on better medication, he didn't hate me, either. He didn't hate Clint, he didn't hate anything. He was every bit as loving as he'd been when I was five.
It was strange for a while, visiting him in the institution where they kept him under close watch. I slowly started to forgive him until I came to understand it was the sickness which caused his actions, and not a conscious choice to do me harm. He knew and remembered exactly what he had done, and I could see the guilt and remorse in his eyes every time I visited him. I should've known what was coming, but maybe, like my parents, I didn't want to admit what I was seeing.
As time went on, they stopped watching him closely. Two years ago, late in August, they found him dead in his room. I don't know if it was better or worse that way. I'm sure he saw it positively, that he was free of pain, and he'd finally reclaimed his mind. But it hurt me far more than I'd expected; it tore my family apart, each of us in our own way, but I had only recently regained him as a father. At the time, I couldn't help but feel I was the cause.
It didn't help that my mother felt the same way. For the second time, she nearly caused my death. I was so distraught by her subsequent rejection of me after my father's death that I nearly ended my own life. If it hadn't been for Mr. Fjeldsted, at the request of my dear, desperate Clint, I wouldn't be here anymore. My story would've ended before it was written, and you wouldn't know, dear reader. You wouldn't know what brought me here, because no one would've told the story.
Mr. Fjeldsted, my second father, suggested emancipation, and to my surprise and a tiny shred of anger, my mother agreed to pursue that path. Grief does strange things to people, I realize, but at that point I felt I'd lost both of my parents for good. Only the love of Clint, his family, and my friends kept me going.
But at the end, the judge signed off on my emancipation and I was freed from my family. I moved in with the Fjeldsted's. The first night, Mr. Fjeldsted allowed me to sleep with Clint, knowing I needed comfort, but he told me that wouldn't be permanent.
After a year, he still hasn't altered the sleeping arrangements. I don't call him Mr. Fjeldsted anymore. Clint and I will be married sooner rather than later, and I've already started calling my future father-in-law 'Dad'. I've never questioned his love for me... It's easy to see where Clint gets it.
And why am I telling you all of this? Why didn't I write all this as a brief synopsis instead of telling it to you like a story? Because I no longer wish to dwell on those things which once destroyed me. I'm done living in the past; I'm done with the burden of things done to me, and the guilt my biological family wished to heap upon me.
The place I sleep may have changed, but my family remains the same. Those who accepted me, all of me, and trusted me with their lives as I trusted them... they are my family. Clint, Greg, Celeste, Rebecca, Angie, David, Travis, Shane, Parker, Donny, Brent... I could go on and on about the people in my life, the ones who truly cared, who saved me from myself when I was at my lowest.
My family is in the loving smiles and gentle hugs of those who choose to be around me. It's in the honesty and the trust of people who wanted me to be happy, even when I didn't know the definition of the word. It's in the eyes of those who noticed I never smiled and always smirked, and hoped to the ends of the earth they could reverse that.
Now, standing at the edge of a thousand potential tomorrows, I understand at last. I understand happiness, I understand loyalty; I understand love as well as a man can. I still smirk from time to time, but I smile every day after I wake up next to the beautiful boy who has never stopped loving me. Life is good.
When my father attacked me, I couldn't go back in the water. My sanctuary had been stolen from me, torn asunder by the violence perpetrated against me and Clint. Yesterday, I swam for the first time since that night. Clint and I went to the mountains, found a secluded spot in a bend of the slow-flowing water of Aspen Creek where the water pools to shoulder-level in the spring runoff. We stripped off our clothes and swam together, then camped out on the bank under the stars.
I knew I could heal then; I knew I could finally let go, and I came back here, and stared at a blank page again, and then I began to write. The words came slowly, but now are drawing to a close, and this chapter of my life will be over.
Thank you for being a part of it. You are the reason someone gets up in the morning. You are the reason someone smiles instead of smirks. You're family. We are interdependent, and we need each other. We must bear each other's burdens, and only then will we all be weightless.
Never forget I love you.
Zane Thompson set down his pen and closed the small leather bound book, placing it back on the shelf next to him. It was the first time he had taken it down in months, except for short periods where he stared at the empty page, wondering how he was supposed to close this chapter of his life. It was painful to let go, but necessary; he was about to begin a new chapter of his life, and he didn't want to take any excess baggage into the next leg of his journey.
He stood, fingers pressed against the top of the desk for support as he looked at the large bookcase next to the desk. Two full shelves held the entire collection of his handwritten stories, most which had been inspired by Zane's muse who was currently across the hall. He'd written to Clint in so many of them, but the one he'd just finished had been written to himself, and to his father. It was time to say goodbye.
The door opened, and Zane looked over his shoulder, smiling warmly as he saw Clint dressed in his graduation gown. Clint also had a white-collared shirt and sported a black tie, and if there was one thing which turned Zane on, it was seeing his rowdy and rambunctious boyfriend dressed so formally. Although he always looked uncomfortable in a tie, the thoughts of taking it off him always made Zane's mind go wild.
Today, however, Clint did not appear the least bit uncomfortable, which made Zane slightly wary. The only thing that a comfortable Clint meant was that he had an idea. "God dammit, Clint!" Zane said, sighing in mock exasperation, "what are you going to do at graduation?"
Clint smiled innocently and replied, "Nothing. It's already been done."
Zane cocked an eyebrow. He reached for his cane, a carved eagle-headed piece built in part from the remains of the same cane Zane inherited from his grandfather. Clint had repaired it in woodshop a year before, and then gave it to Zane as a present out of nowhere. It was for no reason other than to show his love for his boyfriend. The cane served as a symbol of what they had endured together, and every time Zane held it in his hands, he connected to the entire path he and Clint had walked together. He was glad he'd have it now as they walked at graduation together.
"Hmm..." Zane said as he closed the distance between them. He looked Clint up and down and then noticed that Clint's tie wasn't quite straight. Tucking his cane under the crook of his arm, he reached up with both hands to straighten Clint's tie. "Well, if you don't want to tell me what it is, I can't prepare for the fallout. How am I supposed to help if I don't know?"
Clint didn't respond, and instead he blushed and started to pull away. Zane thought this behavior odd for a moment until he noticed the obvious tenting in the front of Clint's gown. He laughed slightly then said, "Clint, are you not wearing anything under there?"
The game was up, and now that Clint was caught there was no shame in his face. He turned back to Zane, grinning widely. "Zane, you know how I feel about wearing pants. This may be the only opportunity I'll ever have to not wear pants in public. I have to take it."
Zane shook his head, laughing softly. "I love you. Never change, Clint. At least not this part of you." He met Clint's eyes with a mischievous glint in his own. "Now, how do you feel about being late to graduation?"
"Zane Thompson, I think you might just be sick," Clint replied in surprise, "you're never late for anything."
"Well," Zane said as he started to loosen the tie he'd just straightened on Clint, "if we hurry, we might not be late at all. But you know how I feel about seeing you in formalwear. I just can't keep my hands off you..."
Before Zane could finish the thought, Clint's lips met his as he guided him back toward the bed, the same bed they'd shared for a year. The familiar creak of the springs welcomed them and their combined weight, cradling them as they lost themselves in the throes of passion.
But the burden of their bodies on the old box spring was nothing compared to the burden which had been lifted from Zane's heart. With Clint, he had always been free, but now he felt a release he had been craving for years. He had released the burden of a decade of bitterness and grief, and now floated as weightless as starlight.
Darkness would never seem so daunting again.