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In all my years as a lecherous homosexual, I have never, not even once, hooked up with someone in my hometown. And so, whenever I find myself in my old room with its lovely view of the mountains and the miles upon miles of yellow grass we call the Great Plains, I am forced to find another outlet for my sexual energy — one that doesn’t involve actually meeting anyone. Scruff is different from its notorious counterpart Grindr in a number of ways. You can “woof” at people you find attractive instead of messaging them, an appealing option for an introvert. The primary reason being: My hometown is miles away from anywhere an openly gay man would likely take up residence. But most importantly, unlike distance-based dating apps, you can talk to people from all over the world. But I am always seen, and when I am, it feels like the monster caught me. The way after someone called me “faggot” he would parrot them, ally himself with them, use me to form solidarity with others. As I got older, I became impossible to argue with or criticize. My mission in these nightmares is to avoid being seen, to hide behind locker doors until I make it to the safety of the bathroom. I think it was the casual way he joined in on the harassment that made me hate him. He doesn’t know it, but he’s had a major impact on my life. If I ever let my guard down, someone would hurt me again. That was me: A weird-ass tree that had grown up, around, and in spite of something, shaping myself to it even after that “something” had long gone.
I came to see him as the embodiment of what had happened to me. Whenever someone tried to confront me, even in a respectful way, I would see his face again.
This is before I knew what fight-or-flight meant or what PTSD was. The object, whatever it was, was later removed, resulting in the tree’s strange trajectory.
I recalled, of all things, a tree outside my old apartment in Oklahoma City. This was because, as my landlady explained to me, the tree had grown up and around something instead of straight up. This person wasn’t the one-dimensional villain I’d made him out to be.
If rural Oklahoma is good for one thing, it’s long walks outside, especially in the fall when the night air is clean and crisp.
A better, more appropriate tree-ism came to mind: “The axe forgets; the tree remembers.” I had to walk for a while. In the town he and I had grown up in, being gay was seen as one of the worst things you could be. I was fortunate enough to have parents who accepted me. When he saw me getting pushed or getting my books smacked out of my hands or getting slurs thrown my way, he must have been relieved it wasn’t him.
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