I approach the school on the hill quietly. My footfalls soft so as not to draw attention to my presence. It is my highschool’s 50th anniversary reunion.
In my years at Birchmount Park I was not what you would call popular. On the contrary, as a closeted teenager during the rapidly crescendoing years of the AIDS crisis, I was widely regarded as Persona Non Grata.
What do you call a gay filipino? Adios Infected Dick Sucker!
Such vitriolic play on the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome sums in a nutshell my greater recollections of life in secondary school.
So why my return? Curiosity certainly. To conquer old demons? Not really. I feel I’ve done that. I came to see the school. I came to feel what it would be like to roam the hallways once again.
I arrive at 12:30 p.m. The hour that the graduates of the 1960’s are to be there. My crowd isn’t due for another two hours. These people of the 60’s wouldn’t know me. They wouldn’t know of my scars. And so for them there were no scars to look for. No scars to stare at. As I meander the halls I can hear laughter. I see hugs and smiles. But none are for me. And that is fine. Given my history in these hallowed halls being invisible suits me perfectly.
I walk undisturbed and unnoticed. My steps resounding off the basement corridors of the science and physical education wings. Even my class graduation photo is missing. As if to further echo my hidden soul.
I hover through the cafeteria. A place I avoided during my tenure. There is no place to hide here. And I did not wish to be exposed. To be exposed was to be vulnerable.Vulnerable to attacks, both verbal and physical. I didn’t like that. But today is different. Today I return invisible. Ghostly. I observe but am in turn unobserved. Unnoticed. I could walk through these people and be wholly undetected.
I peer into the kitchen and fire off a picture. Turning, I see a kindly face gazing upon me. I startle at being detected. Wordlessly, my very expression beseeches
Can you see me?
As if in reply, the kindly face smiles. And I approach. It is my grade 7 geography teacher come to say “hello” to her children as she still so lovingly refers to us.
As time passes I am recognized more. My cloak of invisibility having fallen away. I am seen now. And interestingly I am welcomed.
Perhaps it is this passage of time, not in hours, but in decades that has allowed me to be seen. To really be seen and in turn to be valued.
Signs created by the school’s current student body are all around. Placards which admonish acceptance and equality.
It is a different era.