"And she lived happily ever after with Prince Charming. But you know, she could have married Princess Charming too, and she still would have lived happily ever after."
That's how my parents used to end bedtime fairytales. I didn't pay much attention—sure, that was fine for Cinderella, but she wasn't real. In real life, boys married girls, and that was all. Gay people were fictional, or so rare that I wasn't likely to ever encounter one.
In the conversion from elementary school to middle school, my parents stopped reading me bedtime stories. Growing up was all science. Make-believe games deteriorated in the sudden centrifugal distribution of classmates into categories. Kids oscillated into and out of new styles and personalities; I reverted to a mild state of confusion.
Most perplexing to me was dating. Everyone seemed fixed on forming unstable covalent bonds, boys and girls uniting and splitting again and again, experimenting with the electron-flitting of handholding and shy kisses. It was too soon for me—I was still more interested in books than boys.
Then I met Sky.
There was something undeniably special about him. He was a rare blend of intelligence and charisma, and I respected him. He encouraged the pursuit of questions—does time exist? what is reality? how do you describe infinity?—and concocted complex hypotheses I had never thought about before. He was Stephen Hawking and the Dali Lama condensed into a 13-year-old with dreamer's eyes and a flair for dramatics. He wasn't the ingredient that transformed me into a new compound of thoughts and beliefs and emotions—he was the catalyst.
I ricocheted through eighth grade. Sky was more affectionate and capricious than he'd ever been. In math class he leaned his head on my shoulder and hummed Italian operas into my ear; I traced the Cassiopeia freckles spangling his left hand and turned his homework into artwork.
"Has Sky told you his secret?" Marie asked me one Thursday. She was a mutual friend, though to this day I can't fathom why, of all his friends, he chose her as his initial confidant.
"I don't know—No—I mean, what secret?"
Marie shook her head. "No. I can't tell you. It's totally his business."
"Marieeee," I cajoled. "Come on, tell me. Please? I promise I won't tell him you told me."
"It's his secret, not mine."
I didn't see Sky until the end-of-the-day spill of students bubbling out of classrooms and overflowing into the hallways. I caught his shirt. Today he would not evaporate into the afternoon. "Marie said you told her something, but she won't say what."
His eyes emptied. The smile on his face dissolved into detached panic. "Tell her she can tell you. I don't care."
"She won't tell me."
"God! I can't go through this again. Wasn't saying it once enough?"
"Please? Sky, please?" My words rebounded against obstinate ears.
Right before the bus doors absorbed him, he relented. "Okay. It's three words. The first two are 'I am.' The last has only three letters."
I stewed over the third word all evening. Fat, Sky, and God all didn't seem to fit.
"It's really not that hard," Marie said the next day. "It usually doesn't take you this long to figure things out, Ash."
I whined petulantly, "I'm bad at guessing games. Just tell me already."
I turned to Sky. "You're being totally unfair." I had learned that not only did Marie know, but so did Rose, Cammi, and a sampling of others. Secrets tend to be contagious. I was jealous that I was being protected.
He gave me that hopeless, how-could-you-possibly-be-so-dense expression.
I threw out my arms in exasperation. "Why won't you tell me?"
Julie happened to be passing by. She was a peripheral friend, more Sky's than mine. Perceiving the essence of the conversation, she interrupted us. "You idiot, Sky. I'll tell her." Her features condensed into solid seriousness. "Ash, he's coming out of the closet."
I gave them all a blank look. He's coming out of what?
"I'm gay," Sky said bleakly.
There was a pause while I ingested this. Then—
"Jesus, Ash!" he burst out.
"What? I mean it." I really did, too. I was grinning like a lunatic.
"You're so weird. Don't shout it, okay?"
As he always did, Sky had set off an explosive reaction of new thoughts in my head simply by being himself. He shattered my preconceived theories about reality, and turned the page to reveal what I had not understood as a child: Gay people exist, just as poignantly real as anyone else.
Sky was the first of my friends to truly embrace his sexuality. It wasn't long before others started questioning and declaring their attractions. My perceptions of people crystallized as I learned to identify who belonged to which category. I inevitably magnetized toward my high school's Gay-Straight Alliance; it assimilated me. There, I advocated the reality of love in all its combinations. I encouraged other kids to question their preconceived beliefs and to question themselves. But while discussions sparked around me, I quietly examined something much more elusive: myself.
Here I am, more than three years after Sky, ricocheting through the twelfth grade in a mild state of contented confusion, still waiting for my own happily-ever-after. I'm no longer confused about the interactions and attractions of boys and girls—dating isn't so strange. Instead, my confusion has turned inwards and equalized. When asked the question "Are you straight or not?" my honest answer is a flippant "I have no idea!" Society's word for it is questioning. After 18 years of life, I have a blank sexual identity, and I can accept that. In the grand equation of life, I'm more a hypothetical question than an answer. As Sky proved, it's the questions that matter. It's the questions that shake life up. It's the questions that catalyze the transformation from a child to a unique blend of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that compose an individual.
------- Thank you for reading and responding to this as it has gone through its various forms and stages. All names have been changed, including mine.
A/N: This was my college entrance essay. It originated as a piece I wrote one day titled "Sky," a biography of sorts about one of my best friends in middle school and how he was such an amazing person. The second version, which I've had on fictionpress for awhile and just now removed, was a highly-edited, rather stylized "paradigm shift" essay for one of my 12th grade classes. This, the final third version, is the last one.
Thank you for reading and responding to this as it has gone through its various forms and stages.
All names have been changed, including mine.