by William Cole
Rated: 13+ · Non-fiction · LGBTQ+ · #2286466
A true story about the importance of friendship during difficult times.
This piece contains depictions of an abusive household involving alcoholism. It also mentions internalized homophobia. These were central features of my late childhood, when this story takes place, and serves as the antagonistic force of the story. My life is much better now and if you are going through something similar, please know that it will get better for you too.
2014 was a year of discomfort. My highschool girlfriend broke up with me, my parents were in the early stages of their separation, and the closet was getting lonelier by the day.
Coming home after school was a risk. Usually Dad just played video games or quietly watched tv. But sometimes when I got home, he’d be sitting on the couch, picking at its cracked leather. A brown bottle rotating in uneasy hands. His eyes would be glassy, red at the corners contrasting the green of his irises. Stewing.
My brothers had both moved out by then. Mom worked two jobs, so she would be sleeping or working. He never hit me, and only laid a hand on me once. But he would put his face so close to mine I could smell the hops on his breath, the sweat on his forehead. The thick, nicotine-stained finger at my face. Even when I was 17, he was nearly a foot taller than me. I’d tell him to sit down or else I wouldn’t talk to him. He’d tell me he loved me, that he wanted me to be a hard worker so my life would be better than his. My mom ruined his life by going to school during the recession and because of my laziness, his home was a pigsty.
I started staying at school later and later. I started tutoring, and when the weather was nice I would walk my friends home and chat outside their houses until their mothers made them come inside for dinner. Dad had ranted about money so many times that I never accepted an impromptu invitation to join them. If I was lucky, Dad would be sleeping or otherwise incoherent before I returned.
A lot of my friends were involved in the QSA - the Queer-Straight Alliance - at our school. While I knew I was queer, I never went to their meetings. It wasn’t that I thought it would out me. I didn’t like who I was and I felt that going into a room filled with rainbows would confirm what I didn’t want to be true. In short, I was scared that it would be comfortable.
I left Foods class one Thursday afternoon filled with dread. Thursdays were the worst - my dad didn’t work Fridays, so he could drink until he fell asleep without having to worry about waking up in the morning. I didn’t have tutoring, so I was getting ready to search the school for someone to hang out with. I saw my friend Kamal and a girl I hadn’t met before (I think her name was Ruby?) hauling a cart filled with red boxes of cupcake mix into my classroom.
Kamal’s the kind of person who could make a prison jumpsuit high fashion just by putting it on. She got a job working at the local second-hand store just for the discounts. She wore her hair in a bob, and an impractically fuzzy jacket that had been cropped so high I could see her rib cage poking out the bottom. I found out later that she was staying at school late for the exact same reason I was.
I asked Kamal what she was doing, and she said that she was making cupcakes for the bake sale tomorrow. I asked if I could help (I’m a pretty good baker, after all), and she nodded and said it was for the QSA. Emily and Megan are coming too.
My heart skipped a beat. I had spent months avoiding it, but it seemed to be my only ticket out of going home. Plus, my closest friends would be there.
Emily and Megan are twins, though they don’t really look like it. Emily is an idealistic dreamer, while Megan is more practical and grounded. Emily dressed in florals, with long hair and tights. Megan wore all black, and had shaved one temple under her bleach-blonde hair. I looked up to them a lot, still do, because they both knew who they were even in high school. They’re unabashed artists, kind and outgoing. In time, they would help me to be more in touch with my own artistic side.
I told myself that this wasn’t really a QSA event. I was there helping my friends bake! I decided that was justification enough.
We set up kitchenettes in the classroom. There were six stations, each with an oven, a sink, and a full supply of utensils. I would live in a few apartments whose kitchens were less equipped than these. My friends were really glad I was there, because I knew the classroom well and I had the most baking experience. Ruby didn’t even know how to preheat the ovens!
My tendency to order people around quickly earned me the half-sarcastic title of “Master Chef”. We all agreed that my decisions were generally good, but I could have made them a little more kindly. I put an empty cupcake box on my head as a chef hat and accepted the title with grace. It felt good to be in charge.
The plan was straightforward. We would separate the pre-made icing packets into six bowls, and dye them the six colours of the Pride flag. Emily desperately wanted to put a stripe of each colour on every cupcake, but given the overall lack of frosting experience in the room, I talked her down to making the pride flag out of the cupcakes instead. We used the front two kitchen stations for baking, the middle two for icing and decorating, and the final two for keeping our rows upon rows of finished cupcakes.
After several hours of baking and icing, when the sun started to set and orange light filled the class, our bellies were empty and the tables were full of cupcakes. We had a debate about whether or not we should all take a cupcake. It was short lived, as only Kamal and I were on the ‘pro’ side. Instead, Kamal and I each took a leftover packet of icing and dared each other to eat the entire contents. I was joking. I find icing disgusting, even on a cupcake. Then someone suggested that we make it into a race, and the winner would get a cupcake.
Oh, it was on.
We cut open the packets and assumed the position - head back, legs spread, packet-to-mouth. On the count of three, we squeezed hard, and the room was filled with cheers as everyone claimed their champion. The icing was thick and gritty, plain but for the sickly sweet of pure sugar. I gagged a few times as it oozed down my throat and into my empty stomach. Master Chef would not back down. Before long, the cries grew louder, and Kamal declared victory. I had barely gotten through half of mine.
We shook sticky hands, and Kamal took her prize with glee. Watching her eat a cupcake after downing a full bag of icing in a matter of seconds both impressed and nauseated me.
With that, we just needed to clean up and find a fridge large enough to store a few hundred cupcakes - thankfully, the classroom fridge wasn’t too packed.
I found myself dragging my feet cleaning up. Not just because cleaning is the worst part of baking, but because I didn’t want this day to end. What had started as an excuse to stay out had become a place that I was comfortable in. It was no longer just the lesser of evils.
But it was late. I hugged my friends and said goodbye. They thanked me for my help and company. As I walked home, the sun was hiding behind cedar trees pressed like black stamps across the suburban sprawl of North Delta. I licked icing from my lips and spat, longed for my toothbrush.
When I got home, Dad was in bed. An empty case of Alexander Keith’s sat on the coffee table. The TV was still on, showing some History Channel “documentary”. Then Master Chef made himself some Kraft Dinner.