chapter 1I was your typical drama-geek, though a lot more subdued—hopefully. I prayed I wasn’t as obnoxious as those kids on TV shows about high school students. I wasn’t constantly giving long monologues about the idiocy of mainstream culture or strumming a guitar singing covers of Bruno Mars songs. I just highly valued theater as an art form. Man, that seemed kind of pretentious, but it was true! As lame as it may have sounded, theater honestly was my life. I had been in every production since freshman year—the fall plays, winter dramas, and spring musicals.
Sure, I was a good student, but that wasn’t fun. And it wasn’t like I was athletic or exceedingly popular. My passion was performing on stage, no doubt about it, and it was a surprise even to myself. I didn’t talk much, and I dreaded holding conversation with people. When I was in the fall play freshman year, it was the first time many of my peers heard my voice. I will say as I’ve matured, I’ve become more willing to speak up for myself, but four years ago you couldn’t pay me to answer a question in class, even if I was a hundred percent sure of the answer.
I worked hard as a member of the Jackson High Thespian Troop. I was incredibly dedicated to all of our productions, and I had even gotten the lead role in two separate shows. I was hoping to get the lead in the fall play this year, which would be Of Mice and Men. It was the story of the big, lovable oaf Lennie and his cynical pal George during the Great Depression.
The Troop had absolutely no clue who our Lennie Small would be. Nobody in our productions stood any taller than six feet, which was nowhere near as imposing as we needed our Lennie to be.
I was short, only about 5’5” and slim. Most of the drama crew was pretty small in terms of stature and weight. Everyone was really body conscious in the drama club. Most people didn’t outwardly speak badly of our larger members, but there was always an underlying negativity.
I was black, mostly. My dad was half-white, but for all intents and purposes, I was black. I thankfully had some natural muscularity, so I wasn’t all skin and bones. As I’ve said, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I couldn’t do anything involving balls, bats, or racquets. Running and swimming I was okay at, but other than that I was hopeless. My dad had been crushed by the fact that I couldn’t even get a hit playing T-Ball. I’d close my eyes every time I swung the bat. I was a regular Hank Aaron (I knew he was good, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you when he played or what team he was on. My dad loved the guy, claiming he was one of the greats). Thankfully, my younger brothers were already showing signs of being potential MLB all-stars. I’d just have to accept that I would never meet my father’s expectations.
We were in the second week of September (we had been in school for a about three weeks) and the weather was still fairly hot. I loved warm weather and the sun and the beach. I was still rocking my summer skin tone, so I had a golden-brown complexion. I’d get lighter as we went into the colder months, but for now I had a beautiful healthy glow. I hated winter. I was my worst self in layers and layers of clothing.
We’d had auditions last Thursday and after the roles were cast, the production would move next-level fast. It happened with every production; there was never as much time to prepare as we thought there’d be. I had auditioned for George. I went to the school’s bulletin board right outside of the main office that Monday to see if I had been cast. I was so nervous. The Troop had become my whole life.
Curley’s Wife—Jane Kingston
The Boss—Ken Ortega
Lennie and Candy’s Dog—TBD
I couldn’t believe it. I’d been cast as Whit. How in the hell was I cast as Whit? I mean, come on! He had fewer lines than Candy’s dog. I almost cried right there, and then I felt really silly about crying publicly over a high school adaptation of a John Steinbeck novel. I held back my urge to sob and made my way to the bathroom. I locked myself in a stall and let a few tears escape my eyes. Sure, it was silly, but it still meant a lot to me. This would be my last fall play ever. I was eighteen years old and graduating from high school in less than nine months. I had to make the most of every day I had left. I balled my hands into fists and closed my eyes. But wait! The worst part wasn’t even the fact I was cast in a role that could be performed by a mannequin—no, the worst fucking part would have to be that the lead went to Kyle Donnelly, who was a terrible actor and a total ass. His vibes were way harsh. I knew I didn’t like him, and he’d pissed off numerous members of the Troop, but he was still an integral member (his parents donated a lot of time and money to the drama club).
I had to calm down. This was no time for a meltdown. There was still the winter drama and spring musical.
I exited the stall and headed to class feeling worthless. I almost considered dropping out. I swear, if I didn’t get the lead in the musical, I’d blow my brains out. I had Spanish IV first period, followed by AP Calc and AP Bio. English IV was fourth period, with the head faculty director Mr. Murray.
I didn’t want to see him. He and the student director, Eva Porter, were the ones responsible for casting me as Whit. I’d spent the first three periods of my day hearing about how crazy it was Kyle would be the lead. It’d been brought up numerous times in shady remarks that Kyle and Eva dating probably played a major part in him getting the role of George. I wanted to believe Eva had integrity, so I ignored the gossip.
Mr. Murray was one of the oldest teachers in the school. He was pushing seventy, and nobody understood why he hadn’t retired yet. Kids said it was because he never got married or had children and that he wouldn’t know what to do with all that time to himself. Sometimes I thought I might end up like him, and it freaked me out. He was totally a latent homosexual. He mentioned women sometimes, but in a half-hearted way that made it seem like he was covering up something. (“Oh, that Saoirse Ronan is a beauty. If I were her age, I might be willing to settle down.”)
But at the end of the day, I was gay—and I was sure people knew it. Most of my closest friends in the Troop knew. I didn’t try to act all manly and stuff to hide who I was; I wasn’t that type of guy. But still, even though I was doing my best to be true to myself, I still worried about what people thought of me. Did I speak too girlishly? Did I move my hands too much when I talked? Did it ruin my chances of playing some of the great roles in theater history?
I sat at my desk as class started, totally disinterested in what Mr. Murray was talking about until he started a class discussion. This old queen was ruthless during class discussions, going out of his way to pick on the unprepared and the distracted. He wasn’t about to catch me slipping.
11 chapters, created 12 years , updated 2 years
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