Because of the unspeakable horror of what just happened in Orlando, I feel compelled to write this story. Am I writing it for the 49 + who died? Yes. For all people who have died violently since dawn’s time because they were “different”? Yes. But all that sounds way too noble and self-aggrandizing. I’m writing this for me and for a personal guilt I’ve always carried and always shall. Will writing about it make the guilt go away? To lessen? Never.
His name was Ralphie and everyone loved him, or seemed to. Ralphie was different from the other public high school kids; he didn’t do the 1950s Greaser bit but no one, even the Greasers, much cared. It was 1955, a time well satirized by the future 1978 movie “Grease.”
Ralphie was a gentle soul who loved the finer pursuits. He even had the courage to join the dreaded Home Ec that all 10th grade girls had to take, like it or not. Ralphie loved it and prepared the most wondrous meals for all of us. He knew how to knit and to do creative crafts. Ralphie joined the artistic clubs and loved talking fashion with all the girls and all the girls loved Ralphie. He was popular and very well liked. So I thought.
I will never forget suddenly seeing Ralphie flying through the air coming out of a classroom where he’d left his books, a pack of Greaser jackals after him. They were beating him horribly, screaming out vicious words and untrue accusations, and oh God, the sound of their fists hitting Ralphie was terrible, the bones in his face and nose shattering, the sounds like rotten wood being smashed with a sledge hammer. Kids, as they will do, encircled the melee, screaming FIGHT! FIGHT!
But there was no fight. Ralphie was being kicked, pummeled and stomped because he was Gay. He never tried to hide it, was not ashamed of it. But his attackers disagreed with Ralphie’s openness, his daring to not only come out of the closet but to never go into it in the first place, and amongst them they agreed he had to be punished. They permitted themselves to make that choice for Ralphie. And so those six big strong brave, heroic boys, some with bats, surrounded good little Ralphie and nearly beat him to death because of his sexual orientation.
I was frozen in fear. I loved Ralphie and weakly cried out to STOP IT! STOP IT! But I didn’t rush in, and so essentially, I did nothing.
I’d been carefully taught all my life that people of color, any color except white of course, or homosexual people, were all evil and really only put on this earth to take care of the white people, to do their work for them. In the case of Gay people, they did not deserve to live. Everyone I knew had it on personal first-hand God authority that they were unworthy to share “our” oxygen. They believed it to their very cores and so had to “take Ralphie out.” A passing teacher put an end to the carnage, but without a whole lot of enthusiasm.
Ralphie survived but I have never forgotten the blood and sounds and screams. It is clear to me today as if it had happened today. Ralphie was hospitalized but he lived. But how did he grow and live and have a life with those horrendous memories?
I owe Ralphie. Because of that terrible incident I turned an important corner and “saw the light” as is said, and today some of our very best friends are… well, fill in the blanks with the names of any and all religions and minorities out there.
Thus I owe Ralphie for saving me and our kids from a terribly narrow and twisted belief system. Because of Ralphie we are free of that mental rot and filth. I remember that terrible episode in my high school, but mostly I remember and cannot forgive that when it was happening, I did nothing. And now 49 innocents, 49 Ralphies have been gunned down because of their simply being born. Forty-nine families have been shattered forever and left only with the huge unanswerable WHY?? question. And I am tortured with the over and over unanswerable question; had I been at The Pulse in Orlando that awful night, could I, but more importantly, would I have done something to help? ©Jun 16, 2016 LC Van Savage
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