Jamie and Miranda were the only girls out in middle school.
We didn’t see them much outside of homeroom
but in gym, they were always sit-up partners.
They were really cute together.
At lunchtime, they would eat with their free hands
while their others were hidden under the table
locked, the entire time.
Those of us with the first camera phones
snuck pixelated photos from next to our legs, to catch them,
Those of us that learned how to send mass-texts
circulated the photos like a viral newscast.
The captions were never witty remarks,
we didn’t laugh, it wasn’t funny,
just made sure to include their names and the word
lesbo, so that everyone was warned.
I chose my friend with the longest legs to drive.
The rest of my boys lay flat in the bed of the truck
while we cruised the back roads we knew they preferred
to the main ones.
At 13, we didn’t have much of our own money
but what we did have this day we spent on tomatoes.
Just around the corner on Saddlerock Drive
the girls, our targets, were spotted.
This was the funniest game we had yet to invent,
took pride in the aim we’d learned from little league,
cuz I played baseball until high school social circles
steered me toward the girls teams.
But this day, I was one of the boys.
The red stains we left on the concrete
from the fruit that landed at their shoes stayed there
for the next four days, we checked, and laughed every time.
At 17, my girlfriend and I were captured
by the rest of my boys on their first iPhones.
The videos of our female bodies
we believed to be safe did not circulate,
were only played in back room closets at parties I threw
in my mother’s house.
They never asked us what were thought we were doing,
just made sure everyone was warned.
We continued to kiss boys, because high school
kids knew sharper words than ‘lesbo’.
I apologized, to her, for leaving her alone
in our hometown with all of the people I used to be.
I never apologized to the girls I made targets of
for loving the way I was afraid to.
But Jamie sent me a message
to tell me that she spent five years serving our country
and she is happily married, and she is happy
that I am happy.
She thanks me for finally being honest,
for coming out, for sharing my story,
and I wonder if she remembers who she is thanking.
Does she remember the tomatoes?
Did she check the concrete for stains?
I hope she knows that when I tell stories about her
I don’t laugh any more.
I think she remembers me smiling at her
when I thought no one else was looking.
I hope she knows that I am sorry.
I read her message through three times,
respond, as if we have both forgotten
and think “I hope you know that you are braver than I
have ever been.”
Ethan Walker Smith is a performance poet and LGBT advocate, currently performing at venues around the country and working at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston, MA. Find Ethan at https://www.facebook.com/ethanwalkersmith