Behind the Closet Door - Jacob Smith
I first learned to tuck pieces of myself away at six. Too young to feel attraction, all I knew was my eyes rested easier on the boy in my kindergarten class than I’d learned they should. The world was tying knots into the fabric of my framework before I understood the parts of me someone had decided were laced wrong. We all do this, I know. Craft a character of who we think we’re meant to be and constantly hold our genuine selves up next to it. Who am I and who am I supposed to be? A boy. A boy ironed out and straight. A boy who likes girls.
In the following years, my discomfort with the way I loved stormed through me. Sadness has no place in who we wish we were, so we swallow it. Bite down on the truths and pretend, instead. I was a boy flashing a sunshine smile to friends who knew nothing of the raining of unheard prayers for change within my heartstrings. Nothing of the clouds of doubt in my eyes or the winds of self-disgust that curled my insides around and over each other until I was sick of who I was. In my small town world, a sexuality which doesn’t mean you love the opposite gender alone makes you something like a plague. I gathered each comment and remark, every last bit of the prejudice, used it all to define myself. A disease of boy, withering away without a cure.
When I did work up the courage to come out as gay at fifteen, my worries didn’t disappear, but some settled, like my best friends not drifting away at the drop of the word, but rather rooting themselves deeper at my side. Others were validated, like from an aunt and uncle who so lovingly said I was blameless, but relentlessly wished for my mom to send me somewhere to be rewired. To fix the places where my parents’ divorce must have left me short-circuited, and turn my channel back to God.
While by the book I came out at fifteen, so much of me still lives behind the closet door at eighteen. Sometimes I don’t even realize it myself, how much I keep locked away. I drift through days: laughing, talking, blinking, breathing, existing. On some days, it feels natural, like I don’t have to try. Sometimes the smiles are genuine and happiness feels more infinite than fleeting. I sip iced lattes with my friends and drift off someplace where I’m only human, and nothing else matters. Those same days may end in nights that I pour myself over the keyboard, typing away until I pass out at 2:30 AM. I wake in the morning with a headache and close the laptop before I have a chance to see what I wrote. Morning me wants to forget myself from the night before, frustrated at how my day, fine by all measures, ended in such incessant typing of this rain inside which never subsides. Why do I always mistake a parting of the clouds as a passing of the storm? I brace for the me of tomorrow.
I try to make sense of myself. I grab onto two threads from within and tear them out as parallels until the knot that is the eye of the storm pulls tight. My happiness and my sadness. It’s that simple, isn’t it? No. It’s not, and never will be. I chase the sunset but sunrise ties my heart around my lungs. I make home out of the night because I only know how to be loved in the dark. Only know how to spill truths by moonlight. I can want him as long as nobody can see. In the dark. Behind the closet door.
Telling someone who I’m attracted to is only the end of a piece of thread, a spool’s worth of tangled nests hidden on the other side of a doorway. Sometimes I work up the bravery to open the 2:30 AM document, a product of already sleeping inhibitions, and discover I keep myself from facing the mess my sexuality creates. Sometimes I catch myself in the middle of a conversation. Notice I said too much about the boy on the football team who picks me up for midnight drives, or forgot to bite my tongue when I spiral about how strange it is my friends never have to worry about whether or not someone they’re hanging out with is homophobic. But, what’s too much? Why do I bite my tongue? I worry about making others uncomfortable because I am uncomfortable, but there’s growth stitched into the three years stretched between when I first came out and now, and it gives me hope for a morning where the infinite wakes with me.
Each day I try to tug a little bit of thread further from the mass. To unravel my midnight truths. I run it through my fingers, examine each fiber wrapped together to form the whole, and think maybe who I am is exactly who I’m meant to be.
Once I’m ready, I draw it out from behind the closet door.