Was I bullied, or wasn't I? Did I suffer or not? That it seems so long ago as to make no difference tells me all I need to know. It either wasn't that bad, or it was worse than I allow myself to remember. To look back for even one detail is dangerous. To glimpse the tail of my history is to pull that tail all the way to the mouth that first bit me, to the time where I was confused but was expected by everyone else to be surer about this one part of my desire than they'd ever been about anything in their life. All this not from a safe distance but pinned down in their judgement, their teeth in me trying to taste what made me different, and I hoped that instead of trying to stomach me, they would just spit me out and let me go.
And in my case, they always let me go. Distaste has an evolutionary power greater than hunger.
When I got that one thing I hoped for, to be released, I had freedom for the other thing: the near-naked men on the underwear packages at Wal-Mart, the guy who dated my best girlfriend and who would change his voice and hit me with pillows when she left the room, the memory I had of someone beautiful at a urinal at the mall, the neighbor who took my cousin out on his jet ski at the family reunion to be part of the search party for a boy who'd drowned. Always my attraction was tangled into secret spaces where no one else thought they'd find me. I was the snake under the rock, my tail the only hint to where I hid. And they, unlike me, would never grab that tail, would never suffer the resulting bite. I get it now, maybe too late, maybe just in time, that looking back, the tail of that history, the tail I grab for is, of course, my own. The tails of my bullies fell off a long time ago and never grew back. Their teeth as well. They bite me now but softly, like when I used to feed the carp by hand from paper bags of cat food at the lake. The same lake where that boy drowned.
If I can say anything for survival, I can say this—at least I wasn't that boy, and even if it felt like it at the time, my bullies were not that lake.
Sometimes people think I'm younger than I am. I'm tempted to take it as it comes. What I like to think it means is that I look younger than I am, that I'm "well-preserved." The white in my beard betrays me but not enough. Because I know what it means when they're surprised I'm older than I look. For a lot of queer people, life is lived backwards. We remember when we were really born, and we know what it's like to be an adult as a child, to parent ourselves to a free space to be kids again. What I'm saying is if I seem young now, it's because I had to be old first.
Often, I think I'm over it, that it's buried deeper than I can find. But the dirt gives up both bones and treasures. Which are these? Bones or treasures? They are both. What I buried yields growth now. A lot of love. More love than my straight friends can imagine being able to handle. "I just couldn't do it," they say.
But I can.
I've done enough to know, I can do anything.