There was this guy in my secondary four class who was very effeminate. We called him “prostitute” because he was really animated and flamboyant in his actions, and with his limp wrists, he often behaved like a whore. He was also very easy to bully, as he wouldn’t retaliate. His name was Jeremy.
I was the class monitor as well as the ringleader who would influence people to do all sorts of things. One day I decided we would make fun of Jeremy. I broke up pieces of coloured chalk and gave them to all the boys in the class. We then surrounded him and on my count, threw the pieces of chalk at him. We had such a good laugh about it.
I remember the noise we made as we stood around Jeremy, how he was seated, recoiling with his legs up to his chest as we attacked him.
I also remember the coloured marks the chalk left on his shirt.
* * *
It wasn’t easy sexually experimenting with other guys while dating girls at the same time. It’s like you know it’s wrong, but you want to try it anyway before going back to your usual routine.
At that time I was still afraid, deep down, that people would ask if I was gay.
* * *
It was sometime in September that year, while at Carl’s place, that he made a move and initiated something.
That was when it hit me. Now I’m gay. I came to terms with it eventually, and accepted him as my first boyfriend. He was good-looking and very sweet, but as we know, good things don’t last.
Carl was also very violent. This emerged about a year into our relationship, and you cannot imagine the level of violence he would use on me. It started with him being impatient, sometimes shouting loudly and quarrelling with me in public. I wouldn’t respond when he did this, as I was worried that other people were staring at us. But he didn’t care.
Then it became slapping. He would slap me on my face when he got angry. It was frightening for me, but I still didn’t do anything. I would give in to him instead. Once I tried to retaliate, grabbing him very tightly and bit him. He cried, and when he did that, I got all soft-hearted and let him go. He told me not to bite him ever again, and I never did.
But he never stopped. At home he would hit me with the bamboo poles we used for hanging the laundry, leaving bruises all over my body. Other times he used shoes or stools, or just kicked and punched me. Sometimes when we were asleep in bed together, he would wake up suddenly and hit me. When I asked him what had happened, he would just say “Go back to sleep”. He once hit me in the face with a pair of roller blades; another time he pushed me down an escalator and left me there, bleeding. Each time I would just recoil, and he would keep going until he was tired or when he saw that I was exhausted.
Sadly, I got used to living with him like that. He had the whole flat to himself as his sister and mother lived elsewhere; they let him stay there as our school was nearby. I was 17 and he was two years younger when we met, and basically we were living on our own without any adults. Looking back I know it wasn’t a healthy arrangement. That three-room flat was my jail. Often a day didn’t go by without a quarrel, and most times there was also a big fight where I would get beaten up.
* * *
Each time I wanted to break up with him, he would threaten suicide. He would say things like “This will be the last time I’m talking to you, so take care.” It got me really worried whenever I heard that. Once I even saw him trying to jump out of the window; that was a frightening image that stayed with me. Up till about a few years ago, I would get jumpy whenever I heard a loud thud. Or I would walk past an HDB void deck and feel jittery with the mental image of someone falling. I was so afraid that one day Carl would jump to his death.
He even bought a knife and said it was for me. It was a steak knife which he kept by his bedside. One time he lost control and tried to stab me. I was trying to block him, and one of his stabs grazed the skin on my chest. I started bleeding through my t-shirt, and that’s when he stopped and said, “Go and see a doctor”. He didn’t go with me of course. I still have a scar here on my chest from that attack.
The family doctor knew about all my injuries, but I said they were caused by a violent brother. I said I just wanted him to know what was going on, but didn’t want to take things any further. He respected my wishes, and did what was necessary to treat my wounds. I saw him when I fell from the escalator and hurt my nose, when I had the cuts on my face from the roller blades, and again when I was stabbed in the chest by the knife.
* * *
My mum didn’t know about any of this. She knew that I had moved in to live with Carl because we were good friends, and was fine with it as she trusted me. Besides, I told her we lived near my school, and I would still go back to see her once in a while. It was only after four-and-a-half painful years that we finally broke up. Towards the end I could tell he was already very tired of the whole thing, but was still holding on until he eventually met someone else at a gay club. When I found out I told him that I was willing to let him go, and he did. On that December day I must have been the most relieved person on earth.
* * *
What if someone said my story was far-fetched? I wouldn’t blame them. Instead I would just remind them that they are lucky because they didn’t go through what I did. Maybe it would be easier for someone who has actually gone through similar experiences to believe my story. I don’t think I need to convince anyone.
I wish I could apologise to Jeremy, the effeminate boy I bullied when I was in secondary school. I would tell him about what I was going through at the time, and why I did what I did. I really just want to say “sorry”. As for Carl, there is nothing left to say to him. Perhaps I could manage a “hi” and a “bye”. I don’t want to be associated with him in any way, anymore.
If I could turn back time and speak to my teenage self, I would tell him that he can walk out of an abusive relationship. Just walk out bravely. Let go of your fears about losing him; this is your life, you take control of it or you will be ruined. I would also tell him not to be ashamed. The saddest thing in life is to deny to yourself who you are. Rather than conform to what others expect of you, you have to first accept yourself.
Above all, the most important affirmation for me now is the realisation that we shouldn’t need to feel ashamed of ourselves.
* * *