“Yes! YES! YES!” I held up the letter to my mom. “I got accepted into NYU as a counselling and psychology major!”
“Counselling?” Dad raised his eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you have shot a little higher? You have the best grades in your school, for heaven’s sake.”
“Dad, this is what I want to do. To talk to people like me. People who have been through a lot.”
Dad rolled his eyes. “Your life hasn’t been hard. All of your conflicts worked themselves out.”
“Well, what if I wanted to help others work their conflicts out? Would that be such a bad idea?”
I sighed and stomped to my room, closing the door.
“He has a point, dear,” Mom told Dad when I left. “I mean, smart as he is, he couldn’t be a doctor or a surgeon or work on computers like you wanted him too. He has eye problems, and you need to recognize that.”
Mom lowered her voice. “Why can’t you just accept our son for who he is?”
I sunk down to the floor and held my head in my hands. Was Dad the one pulling the strings all along?
Ryan got into NYU also, as a Computer Science major. It was as if we had our whole lives planned out.
“We need a quote to put in the yearbook,” he commented to me.
“I dunno. Some type of statement. Senior quotes or something.”
“Geez, it seems like I have all of these ideas until people ask me to come up with something,” I said. We were laying in the park, looking up at the stars. It was a warm night in March.
“Can you seriously believe this is happening?” Ryan turned his head to look at me.
“All of this, man. We’re growing up.”
He turned his head back to look at the stars.
“I remember the first time I saw the moon,” I said. “Back in 9th grade. I just sat on the porch, staring up at the expanse. I couldn’t get enough of it. I kept thinking of everything I’d missed out on, back before the surgery.”
“You didn’t miss out on anything,” Ryan said. “It was everyone else who was missing out.”
I sat up, turning my head.
“I mean, before you got the surgery, all you knew is darkness… and when you saw the light, it was amazing.”
“Me, I’ve always known the light. But I never really appreciated it as much as you did. I never loved the stars, or the moon, or the sky, or anything as much as you did. That’s what I think I love most about you. The way you see things.”
There was a gaping silence, but it wasn’t awkward this time.
“I made valedictorian,” I said.
“What? Over me? No fair.” He punched my arm. “I didn’t know I was dating an intellectual.”
I laughed. “Good thing I already have a speech for it.”
“Oooo, a speech?”
“It’s nothing. Just something I wrote back in 11th grade and I’ve been tweaking it since.”
“Valedictorian? That’s great!” Mom hugged me.
Dad grunted, took another sip of his coffee. “Good job, son.”
I was really nervous for it, to the point where I had to ask Derek for tips.
“Wait… my genius brother is asking me for advice?”
I laughed. “Don’t flatter me.”
“Okay,” he sat up in his chair diplomatically. “So what I usually do is close my eyes, and take a deep breath.”
“Some people say it’s a good thing to picture the audience in their underwear, but it never worked for me. So what I do is imagine they’re not there. Or, like pretend only the people I like or only the people I know are there. I single out a few people, and give my speech to them.”
I smiled. I knew who I was going to single out.
“You’ve got all the right clothes? The right robes? The right hat?” Mom was more antsy than usual.
“Mom, I got this,” I said, smiling. She nodded, but still fidgeted.
My hands had been shaking all morning, and she recommended eating a banana. “I hear they stop the shaking.”
“Mom, you’re more worried than I am. I’ll be fine.” I never had a taste for bananas anyways.
Derek was talking a mile-a-minute in the car, as if I was going to leave as soon as I graduated.
“Tone it down, little bro. I still have a summer left with you.” I tried assuring him, but he still pouted.
“Well, see you from onstage,” I said, wishing I’d eaten that banana. I was shaking like crazy now.
Ryan met me on our way to be seated. “I’m excited to hear your speech,” he said. “I better be in it.”
“Don’t worry. You are.”
As I approached the podium, I thought of my past. All the people that had touched me. My grandmother, with her hands on my shoulders, was guiding me now. I was holding baby Derek in my arms. Daria cheered me on. My mom rocked me to sleep.
As I looked at all those people, that sea of faces, I singled one face out. He sat in the middle of the crowd, leaning forward in his chair. I guess he was always the one I needed to talk to.
I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.
“This speech is for you, Dad.” I closed my eyes again, feeling blind. I had to do this with my eyes closed; his red face swam in my corneas. I was going to say this as how I was for the first 15 years of my life, something I could never forget.
Since you first adopted me, I was always rejected
You were cold, I was warm, you had always reflected
All the hate, all the fear, I stuffed my feelings inside
When you were there, you didn’t care as you shoved me aside
I was blind, yes, but I saw even before the surgery
Who I really was, who you didn’t want me to be
Conversion camp was hell, I lied my way through
And coming back, I always watched it leading to you
There's someone I need to mention, someone I need to adress
He's been standing here with me through all of this stress
He was never you, Dad. He loved and encouraged me,
His name is Ryan Ocampo; and my friends, Lamar Brown and James Freed.
I tried to change who I was, change who I’m meant to be
I was broken and rejected, but now I’m free
After all these months of fear, I can finally say
If you love me, you’ll accept me as who I am… gay.
There was a collective gasp from the audience, and I spent one more blissful moment with my eyes closed. I felt my grandmother with me all over again, my heart racing… I opened my eyes again to the beautiful light and all the faces of the people. I’m not blind anymore.
“Your heart never lies,” she said to me in my head. “This is who you are, Aalam. David. And I love you.”