Breathless. Unblinking. Confusing. Heart-stopping.
Then, explosive nausea. It shoots from my stomach and into my spine. It rushes my head, cuts down through my lungs and into my veins. Vomit-inducing anxiety fills me.
And fire. I feel like I’m on fire.
I’m in a flower-strangled bedroom: there’s a floral comforter covering floral sheets; there are floral curtains against floral wallpaper; none of the patterns match, no color scheme’s apparent. It’s summer. There are Bluejays on Mama’s clothesline and squirrels in the bird feeder. From sun-baked streets rises mosquito-ridden Carolina humidity, like the steam from Mama’s frying pan.
I hear my friends playing outside, waiting for me to return with my homemade Wizard’s mantle. My grandmother fashioned it for me from an old pillowcase and a couple of safety pins. I keep it here, under the bed in the guest room.
I’m laying on itchy brown carpet reaching for my costume when my arm brushes an upside-down Kmart shoebox. It moves too easily out of my way, as if nothing were under to resist.
There should be.
I keep a secret under this shoebox: a notebook, college-ruled, spiral-bound. It’s a pathetic thing I bought for fifty cents from a discount store called Rose’s. Inside I write sexual fantasies I have of my friends and classmates–“queer” fantasies, my father would say. He is the first thing I think about. I hear in my head his domineering voice saying in disgust, “queer.”
I stop reaching for my costume. My heart speeds up. What if my notebook isn’t there? What if someone’s found it? My family will know I’m “queer.” They’ll hate me.
I beg God: Please, please have left it unfound. I’ll throw it out right away and I’ll never think those sinful thoughts again. Please, God. I turn over the shoebox. My vision tunnels. Everything blurs.
My journal is missing.
I scramble. I’m just overlooking it, I must be. A thousand times I check around the box. It CAN’T be gone. I stand up, shaking, and walk fast-paced around the room, thinking so many things that I can think nothing at all. I’m hot all over. I’m dizzy. I’m nauseous. I’m scared.
Someone’s found my secret, and they now know the dirty, “queer” things I think about.
Who would’ve known? Who would’ve taken it?
I think about how my family will respond, what they will say, and I start thinking up excuses in response. I must have an escape. How about: A friend wrote it and asked me to keep it. He wanted to pretend he was me, which is why it’s written from my point of view. That’ll work. Right?
My family won’t love me if they know I’m “queer.” They’ll throw me out with Mama’s frying grease.
I’m so hot I’m sweating. I want to vomit. My fingers tingle from the anxiety.
My friends are knocking at the bedroom window now, asking me to come outside. I barely can hear them for the ringing in my ears, and I can’t respond. I can’t breathe. I want to die.
I’ll tell my family I know nothing of it. I’ll just deny everything and everything will go away.
My heart feels as if it’s slamming against my rib cage. My face feels sunburned. And the flowers. All the fucking flowers. I’m trapped in a floral-painted nightmare; this is God’s way of punishing me for being “queer.”
I curl up in the corner of the room and cry. I want my mom, but she’ll hate me, too.
Minutes ago I was running around Mama’s backyard with a stick I found by a dogwood tree. It was my wizard’s wand. But with a wand of such great power, a friend told me, I must wear a cape with which to hide it. So I left my wand outside to come in and fetch one.
And here I am now among the flowers, an arm’s length from my cape, and a million miles from my wand.