* * * * *

But they tortured you and burned you
They beat you and they tied you
They left you cold and breathing
For love they crucified you
-Melissa Etheridge "Scarecrow"

* * * * *

Jakob used to be your best friend. The real kind of friendship: the strong, never-ending, forever sort of thing. You met in preschool; he shared his blocks with you when every other kid just stared at you. The two of you are kindred spirits, you're sure.

You played basketball every recess, just the two of you, and by the second grade it was a well-known fact that you wouldn't let anyone else play. So they stopped trying and always left a ball for you.

By high school you were in separable. You were both on the basketball team and student council. Your schedules were practically identical. No one could think of Jakob without thinking about you and vice versa. Sometimes they thought he was your brother. And you liked it like that; you liked having a best friend like him.

And you were going to be best friends forever. The two of you were going to go to college together, live in a bachelor pad together, go to bars and pick up women together. You were going to be a physical therapist; he was going to be a doctor. He was going to be the best man at your wedding, and you were going to be his. He was going to be the first person you'd call when you found out that you were going to be a father and when you actually became one.

Jakob used to be your best friend, before a few whispered words on a summer afternoon shattered it all.

"I'm gay," he said. His voice wavered and he was trembling, and you knew that this was no joke, but it didn't matter. Your brain was already turning, denying it.

"No, you aren't," you responded, because he wasn't; he couldn't be. He was your best friend.

"Yes, I am." He started to cry, and you realized that you hadn't seen him cry for so long. You felt sick that he had been reduced to this, and for an insane moment you considered hugging him before you realized how stupid that would be. He started to sputter unintelligibly but you didn't listen anyway.

You hit him, causing him to fall backwards and to cry even harder. So you kicked him and hit him again. And again. And again and again. You hit him because he was your best friend and it wasn't supposed to be like this.

You left him bleeding on the floor, looking disgusting - like the monster that he was.

And as you were walking out the door, through his tears he whispered weakly, "Please don't tell anyone."

You snickered under your breath, and you told everyone you knew.

People used to love Jakob. Suddenly they hated him.

Teachers gave him nasty looks. Kids wrote 'Faggot' on his locker in big red letters with spray paint. He got beat up daily. Rumor had it that his parents sent him to a psychotherapist and that they threatened to disown him if he didn't change.

You found new friends, new straight friends.

"Can you believe that you were actually friends with the queer?" they'd ask in obnoxiously loud voices so that Jakob always heard.

"Yeah, I know," you'd answer bitingly, trying your hardest to ignore the hurt look that he'd send you, and the odd urge to cry that that look always gave you.

Jakob found new friends too, the people that you always used to make fun of. They didn't seem to care about his preferences. They even protected him, defended him. They hated you.

And sometimes you wanted to scream at them. After all, he was your friend first. Then you'd remind yourself that he wasn't anymore. No, not since he'd changed.

Your best friend isn't gay.

Looking back, you feel nauseous.

You came to school one day a few months ago. Teachers looked haunted. Groups of girls looked melancholy. Jakob's friends were crying. Your friends were smirking.

"What happened?" you ask them softly.

They laughed. "The faggot finally killed himself."

"Yeah," another guy claimed as he slammed his locker shut, "cut his wrists open with a goddamn razor."

You locked yourself in the bathroom stall, feeling sick and dirty and like such a fool. You didn't understand why at first. It wasn't as though you two were friends anymore. Then you realized just how wrong you were.

You used to love him, a very long time ago; he was your brother, your kindred spirit, in a way.

Then you hated him, not so long ago. You hated him because you believed that he changed.

Now you hate yourself, because you realize that he never changed. You realize now that Jakob always was Jakob. And Jakob was always your best friend, nothing can change that. But now you can't tell him.

And you collapsed onto the bathroom floor in hysterical tears, because you were the monster - not him. "I'm sorry," you whispered to the walls, "I'm so sorry." Then you silently prayed that somewhere he heard you.

You miss him insanely. Not a day goes by that he doesn't cross your mind. You shed more tears each day; you think you'd be into the trillions or beyond now if you had been keeping track of them.

You blame yourself now. You blame your stubbornness. You think that if only you would have come to your senses sooner, he'd still be alive. And you'd still have your brother and maybe you'd love him even more because of it. After all, friendships are strengthened by admissions like that. Aren't they?

You'll never know.

Because Jakob used to be your best friend, and he just happened to like guys more than girls.

But he's gone now.

And you don't really understand why you had a problem with him not being straight in the first place.

All you know is that, gay or not, you'd give anything to have your best friend back.