“You’ll go to hell for liking boys”, says the message
that comes to Andy’s email inbox.
At thirteen, peonies burst from my chest.
In the girls’ dressing room, other eighth graders
accuse me when I hide in private stalls,
They call me a fake, a fraud, say I stuff my bra,
nickname me “Cotton Queen”, “C.Q.”, for short.
Thirty years later in a nearby town:
Andy and his friends, all girls, giggle,
“Isn’t Joe hot? That tight end has a tight ass”.
He passes on dating, football, wrestle mania,
but plays cello and chess.
Boys call him fag, spray him with perfume,
punch him when teachers aren’t looking.
When I tell mom, “Kids at school harrass me,”
she says, “Ignore them. They want attention.
They probably don’t get it from their parents”.
Coming home from school, I hide behind trees
to avoid boys who poke me like fresh bread.
Andy types his cries to a virtual world,
“I want my gram and my friend up in heaven”.
A response reads, “Take your life if you want.
We’ll all be better off”.
Wine goes down like cocoa. Warmth rises into
my ears and soothes the icy taunts.
Mom throws the bottles out, sends me to therapy.
In technology class, I build boxes to hide away
echoes of schoolmates’ voices.
Andy can’t box the voices in his head.
One day, notes from his cello melody
swing from the backyard clothesline
In the studio his teacher waits alone.
Broken music drifts along the breeze.
Author’s Comment: Feeling a sense of acceptance or “fitting in” is so important to many schoolchildren. It can play a big role in developing a strong self-esteem. In many scenarios, children who are considered different or don’t fit the norm in some way are ostracized or, at worst, bullied. For some, this can be devastating. In the case of a local teenager recently, it led to a very unfortunate suicide. When I heard the news, I was brought face to face with my own difficult memories of being bullied as a teenager. It moved me to write this.
Bio: Lynn Ciesielski is a former Special Education Teacher from Western New York. She taught in city schools for eighteen years before she retired three years ago. Since she left her career, she has turned most of her energy to poetry. Her work has appeared in Avocet, Buffalo News, Maple Leaf Rag IV, Transparent Words (UK), Speed Poets Zine (Australia) and is upcoming in Iodine. She has performed in Western New York, Toronto, New Orleans and several cities in England.