The first time I met Allan, we were sophomores. It was also the first time I met Ron, who would eventually become one of my closest friends. That year was a year of many firsts for me, but high school being high school, it wasn’t easy.
Allan was an interesting guy, funny but insecure. Our relationship settled on that gray area between acquaintances and friends; we joked around each other, but we were never close. Ron knew him better, and they shared many intimate details about their lives and dreams.
One memory stands out among the collage of images that form in my head whenever I think of Allan. It was free period, and we were joking in class. We didn’t have a lot of homework, so we were rowdier than usual. Allan walked up to me. I expected the usual banter, so his bullying came as a complete surprise.
“Bading ka ‘no? (You’re gay aren’t you?),” he said, giving my shoulders a little push. I’ve just gone through a growth spurt, so the bullying surprised me on two levels: first, because I thought we were friends; second, because he was a head shorter than me. If it wasn’t so out of the blue, I could’ve kicked his ass.
Instead, I kept my mouth shut. This was a new experience for me, and I had absolutely no idea how to react. How do other people deal with it? I remember Ron once hit a guy because the guy said something Ron didn’t like, and Ron is around two-thirds my size. I wanted to hit Allan, but I felt paralyzed and unsure.
I’ve been hiding in the closet for so many years that the idea that someone may uncover my secret terrified me. And here he was, declaring the truth for all to hear. I wanted to deny it, but I knew it was true, and that I’d only sound insincere. I sucked it up and kept quiet.
The bell rang. I spoke with Ron about the incident, and together we developed several ways to exact revenge. Ron’s more of the physical type, he said he probably would have hit Allan if the latter did that to him. I said I’d rather be subtle, let’s destroy his reputation.
We were only fantasizing really. I don’t doubt Ron would have hit him, but I probably wouldn’t be able to go through destroying Allan’s reputation. It would weigh on my conscience too much. Besides, I had the sinking feeling he was bullying me to impress his friends.
Lunchtime, the same day, Allan went up to me and apologized. I was still with Ron, still cooking up ways to destroy Allan, and here he comes offering an apology. I was angry of course, but I also understood. High school can be hard on those who refuse to go with the tide.
We were seniors, and Allan had to repeat a year because he got sick. It was Ron who told me.
“Allan’s dead. He killed himself last night. The last person he spoke to was his sister. He tied a belt around a beam in his room, and hanged himself.”
I didn’t know how to react. More than a year had passed since I last spoke with Allan, so I forgot about him. The lukewarm friendship we shared had easily dissolved into a fading memory. I knew he had a new set of friends now, but I didn’t know anything else. No one was sure why he committed suicide.
Ron asked if he can hitch a ride to the wake. I said yes.
The story spread through school as fast as one would expect with news this big. Rumors sprung like mushrooms. “It was because he got caught with X-rated magazines and alcohol during a school retreat,” someone said. “His father beats him up regularly,” a sophomore insisted. “He’s secretly gay,” said another.
The last one struck me, not because it was true, but because I understood why a closeted high school student would want to kill himself. I knew, because I thought about it myself. I know that that part of my life made me who I am today, but actually living that part was a nightmare. Being misunderstood is only fun in hindsight, not when you’re being alienated at that specific point in time when your peers’ approval is as necessary as air, or water.
Someone once said that adolescence is the worst because that’s when you are at your ugliest, in that period where it was the most important thing for you to be your prettiest (or handsomest). It was a joke, but it was also true. My friend Ioanis (who studied in the same high school) told me once that he never understood why I considered myself an outsider.
That’s because I was, I told him. Ioanis had already gone through the process of coming out, and though he lived in the fringes of the high school hierarchy, he had friends there, who knew him and accepted him. My secret forced me in a place similar to the relationship I had with Allan: a gray middle ground that offered few opportunities for real friendship. I was still lucky. I found two.
I wondered what secrets Alan kept. What drove him to that final, desperate act? I remember the boy, always funny, his words always tinged with an unsure quality, and I realized I knew nothing about him at all.
We’re at the wake, Ron and I, sitting a few rows away from the coffin. Ron pointed out the father; a short, stocky man in a black Lacoste shirt, eyes red and glistening with unwept tears. We sat for a few moments, unsure what to do. We decided to approach Allan’s dad to offer our condolences.
He was exceedingly gracious, with a voice that was much more composed than what his face belied. He asked if we were Allan’s classmates. I said yes, but didn’t elaborate further. I didn’t think it was appropriate to bring up the fact that his son had to repeat a year.
He reached for this piece of cardboard that stood on the coffin, and showed it to us. Proudly he said it was a poem written by his son, for an English class. It spoke of love, and friendship, and understanding. In that context, a father obviously holding back grief for a dead son, I wanted to weep. Ron was unnaturally quiet. We said it was a nice poem, and sat back down.
Ron was fidgety, and because I couldn’t stand it any longer, I asked him what the matter was.
“You know that poem?” he asked. “I wrote that. I showed it to Allan one time and I never thought about it until now. I can’t believe he passed it off as his own.”
I was stunned by the complete absurdity of the situation. “Well, keep quiet about it. I don’t think now’s the best time to accuse someone’s dead son of plagiarism.” Moments later, I started to find the whole thing funny. “You know what? Think of it as a parting gift. He was our friend after all.”
Photo taken here.