I inhaled a puff of smoke that had been blown in my direction like someone in need of instruction and comfort. We had been sitting by the fire for what seemed to be more than two hours. Jamie had invited me to join him in his quest for his manhood. The thick smoke attached itself to my throat causing me to cough uncontrollably as my eyes filled with unwanted tears. I finally caught a breath as Jamie stared me down in disapproval. There always seemed to be something of me that people disliked or couldn’t get over and very often I found myself rearranging all of me so that I could fit into some kind of mould.
The fire had begun to grow bigger as the guys threw in pieces of wood they had found around the forest one after the other showing off their personal strengths as to not seem weaker than the other. I watched as the fire spat out sparks in every direction almost attempting to burn everyone as a sign of true macho. Heat vapers could be seen from our lips so clear in the freezing night air making sure that all secrets spoken had a physical print as they escaped lips making them easy to catch and find. I was always on the outside even though I had known Jamie for all my life. I was the last to know and last to be called and I had always wondered why I was so much less than all the other guys that made the group. Maybe I was a little too interested in things that didn’t speak to the world of masculine. Or maybe it was the different shades of pink I found myself loving that had left me on the outs with the blue obsessed boys.
The fire warmed my feet and left me feeling at ease even though I was in a space so unsettling. A cold wind blew in picking up the smoke from the fire and sent it in one direction, awakening those that had fallen asleep with a fog of smoke and ash. The guys begin to reshuffle attempting to find comfort away from the horrible smoke well-smoking blunts.
I had known that morning that my showing up in the forest with them would mean that I wasn’t happy with who I was and that I desperately needed change. Don’t we all want a change from the things we know and the things we don’t want to face about ourselves…People say it’s easy to be you and walk your own path but that’s a fortune cookie lie because the truth is the hardest thing anyone can be is themselves. It’s easier to dress and act like somebody else because then you have a buffer of armour protecting you from the critical, shitty world. I had always been the pretty boy and nothing more. It didn’t matter that I had seen things unthinkable and that my head pounded with ideas of hatred and shame but I was the pretty boy who looked and smiled like a doll. I was never given the chance to be myself and I was never allowed to be anything that wasn’t me. I wonder sometimes if when I was born a curse was set on me, that detailed how the world should see me and how my personality would depart from what was expected to be the norm of my gender and style.
“Hey if you’re not going to drink don’t pick up one,” Gabe grunted at me as he snatched my untouched open bottle throwing it aside into the frost making sure nobody could find it. I watched as the alcohol emptied out on the cold soil leaving behind bubbles and nothing more. I stood still in front of the fire watching the commotion that seemed to be growing with every breath I had taken.
“Why did you throw that bottle away, Gabe?” Aiden asked as he witnessed the loss of another bottle disappearing into the forest.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you. What I’m doing is none of your concern okay!” Gabe yelled assuring us all that he knew what was best, as he always did. Gabe was the type of guy who never took no for answers but rather a request for things to be explained or better yet a chance for him to change things around. I never could understand how Jamie was friends with this guy, after all, he knew that there was no room for negotiation in certain situations things meant what they did. I guess Gabe was never taught that or if he was he dismissed that teaching completely.
I had stood watching the group of guy’s wave in and out of their true selves and identities they had taken up in order to fit into something they never understood or questioned. My head throbbed from smoke and dislike as my body and mind felt out of place pretending so hard to be so much more but feeling so much less.
“Hey, are you okay?” I looked at Jamie who held out a cup of unknown alcohol to me in an attempt to connect and understand me but all I could see was a shadow of a person I had known and a cup of suppression.
“I’m fine…I think I should go home, it’s getting late and my mother might be worried.” I attempted to whisper my response afraid of the response it might receive from the others.
“Okay well see you tomorrow at school I guess.” Jamie retracted his cup of confusion and in an action of relief, he downed it instantly subduing his own self.
I had walked away from the blazing fire that had begun to burn a hole in me like a sinner in hell forced to endure burning pains. I had escaped their captive words that they seemed to share so callously like judge and prosecutor attempting to redesign me in their own attempt of overcoming the darkened hatred that brewed within them for themselves.
The cold had become my new comfort as I left the group that was full of warmth but loathing in every aspect. I wandered into the forest passing all the empty bottles that had been chucked out and away into the clean trees and plants that once were perfect. I had known that I wouldn’t be able to maintain my image for so long as I moved further away from the burning light.
The snaking roots that covered the forest floor tangled my feet almost holding me back from civilization and all the ideas that made it up. I stopped to tighten my sneakers laces as I turn to find another root that was less challenging to follow. The night had deepened as I wondered about looking for a way out of the forest unable to tell from one tree to another I found myself coming to a dead stop in what I had imagined being the centre of the never-ending forest. I looked up to the dark night sky to point out the North Star in an attempt to come up with some sort of navigation system.
“That won’t help.” A soft voice uttered from below
“Great now I’m going mad” I sighed looking up at the sky in complete exhaustion.
“You’re not going mad.” Another voice interjected now coming from above.
I attempted to look for a sign of a person, machine or sound source as my heart had begun to race with the endless possibilities of insanity befalling me as I wondered uncharted planes. I hand faintly fell on my shoulder sending me into panic as a faint light is directed at me. In an instant, my eyes are awakened to the sight of people sitting amongst the trees and plants.
“I don’t understand what are you doing here?” I asked in confusion.
“We all were trying to find another part of us we hoped existed so that we could be seen as others.” I couldn’t understand how so many people had walked the path I had taken and how they all landed up in the same place, unable to change or act like another.
“Why are you here?” a hidden voice from far away asks me as I begin to sit on the thick tree roots that had sprawled out in every direction. I looked out into the dark forest unable to respond but knowing that I too had tried to pretend but found myself struggling with the chaos that was required of me.