Every breath I took felt like a stab to my lungs. Holding my breath didn’t stop the pain; the stabbing sensation only intensified. Holding my breath made my head lighter, and I saw my world grow dim. The ghastly gloom forced me to exhale, but no relief was afforded to me, only more pain.
Ten years ago, I anxiously paced the hot hallway of my home, counting the beige paint bubbles on the walls. I needed a way to pass time and keep my anxiety from hitting the roof. In less than one hour, my father would come home for the first time in 12 years. I could not contain my emotions. I was happy, nervous, and scared.
I imagined a magical father and son reunion, like in Finding Nemo but without being underwater. I always teared up a little bit whenever I saw movies where father and son found each other after being separated. And that’s what I expected: a magical moment between me and my father. I expected him to hug me, apologize for leaving me, my mother, and my little sister and promise me that he will never leave us again. Instead, he shook my hand like he would a friend, then insulted me for how high my voice was.
“Put some bass in your voice,” my father demanded. “Whenever you talk to me, put some bass in your voice.” Then, he politely shoved me out of the way so that he could hug my little sister. No matter how much I write, and how good at writing I become, I can never describe that feeling with words. I felt worthless and invisible; I felt like the ice cube that drops to the ground and gets kicked under the fridge. I felt my world turning upside down. I felt that unbearable stab, piercing my lungs each time I took a breath, and holding my breath would only strengthen the pain.
Less than two hours later, he took me and my sister out for some ice cream. I had a sundae with bits of brownie, whipped cream, and hot fudge. Finally, I started to feel that father and son magic I craved for most of my childhood, but maybe it was just the ice cream. The magic went away the moment he said to me, “You been fuckin’ bitches?”
I stared at him, a creepy expression etched across his face. “No,” I replied.
He stared at me with a frown that switched into a scary glare. “You gay?” he asked. His stare lasted for three awkward seconds before I replied.
“No!” I replied in a high-pitched voice. He didn’t mind the pitch of my voice this time, or he ignored it. However, he continued to ask me the same question, over and over for five minutes straight. I stood firmly on my answer, afraid of what he might do if I told the truth. He went to jail for shooting at someone after losing a scrimmage basketball game. I could not fathom what he would do to me if I had professed my queerness to him.
My answer did not satisfy him; I could tell. An awkward silence filled the air, and my tongue was numb, not from the cold–but from the creepiness that dwelled that endless night. I wanted to throw up. My nerves snatched the taste from my mouth. I wanted to go home and pretend that the day never happened.
The next day, I overheard him threatening to harm my mother. I don’t know why he was threatening her, but I knew that I was going to defend her, just as she would defend me. “You’re not going to hit her,” I said, standing in between them. He stared at me with a devilish expression and said, “I will choke the life out of you, you little faggot.” My mother quickly stood in between us to make sure that he did not lay his hands on me, but she could not protect me from the harsh words he spoke.
Before that, I had been called names like “fudge-packer,” “sissy,” and “fairy,” but no one has ever called me a “faggot” to my face, not even my most hateful classmates. I felt my heart sink to my stomach and my stomach sink into my legs, making them go numb. That word rendered me silent; I could not think of anything to say, and I did not have the courage to say anything.
In the past, whenever someone asked me to recall the first moment I experienced homophobia, I return to that moment. It hurts like hell, but it reminds me to hold people accountable for how they treat me. That moment gave me a story to tell people who may be going through similar experiences.
I learned that there isn’t a story that’s not worth telling, even the ones that hurt.