They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
I couldn’t take the bus, not when I was crying, so I walked home from school with tears streaming down my face. I’d never been so sad in my entire life. Everything had turned into a living hell.
Mom was still at work. I went into my bedroom and closed the door, grabbed and clicked on my iPod, then slumped down onto the floor and leaned against the side of my bed. I inserted the earbuds and pressed play. There was only one song in this playlist: I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miz — Les Misérables.
Our chorus teacher had decided to use this musical as the basis of what we’d do during second semester. Oh, we’d never be able to perform it before an audience; the royalties for a performance license were far beyond what our high school could afford. But we could, and did, sing it in class, learning every song, every nuance, every turn of phrase. I had fallen in love with this music, with these lyrics. I knew every song by heart and didn’t need the score.
I Dreamed a Dream was the first song we learned, and it was my favorite. I Dreamed a Dream meant more to me than any other. Maybe it wasn’t appropriate for a 14-year-old gay kid whose life had been shattered beyond recovery. It’s a song performed by a woman, not by a boy. It’s about unrequited heterosexual love, not a crushed teenaged boy’s gay love. I leaned my head back against the top edge of the mattress and listened to the song, then joined in, singing along. Les Misérables. I was miserable. So appropriate. So perfect. So sad.
My tears flowed and were unstoppable, the song repeated automatically, and I sang along, taking special meaning from the words.
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…
My bedroom door opened. Mom was back from work; she had heard me singing, and must have thought I was practicing. But when she looked into my bedroom she saw me sitting on the floor, slumped against the side of my bed, crying. The lyrics I sang were broken by sobs, tears running down my face, soaking my shirt. The next thing I knew she was sitting on the floor next to me, her arm wrapped around my shoulders, asking me what was wrong. I looked at her, then buried my face in her shoulder and cried and cried. She kept stroking my face, trying to wipe away the tears, but as she wiped away the tears, more appeared. It was hopeless, just like my miserable life.
Eventually I stopped crying. No matter how sad, how miserable, someone is, at some point they stop crying. Eventually.
“What’s the matter, Tony? Please tell me. Why are you crying?”
“Oh, Mommy!” ‘Mommy,’ what I called my mother dredged up from when I was a little boy. “I’ve lost him. I won’t ever get him back.”
“Tony, Tony, please tell me what you mean. Who have you lost? Tell me, and I’ll try to help you fix whatever’s wrong.”
“It will never be fixed.”
“Just tell me everything. Even if it can’t be fixed, it will help you if you tell me what’s wrong, why you’re so sad.”
So I started telling my mother the story of my life. Not everything, of course. Just the part that began three months earlier, when I was thirteen and starting the ninth grade, my freshman year in high school. Some of my story she already knew. But now she would hear more of it, including some personal, private things I’d never, ever tell her otherwise. Otherwise. That was the whole point. Otherwise.
It was the first day of my first year in high school. I was excited, looking forward to new adventures. I loved going to school, unlike some of my friends from middle school. I was a good student, and I always found that my classes were easy for me. Teachers liked me, and even though I was one of the ‘smart’ kids, other kids seemed to like me too. Maybe because I was friendly, and funny, and helpful if anyone in my classes had a problem.
I’d gone to Carver Middle School, the sixth through eighth grades. Now I was in the ninth grade and going to Wilson High School. Most of the kids from Carver were going to Lehman High. The school district decided the high school where you’d go would be based on where you lived, not where you’d gone to middle school. We lived two blocks inside the attendance area for Wilson High, so that’s where I had to go. That meant that most of my friends were going to Lehman, and that was a bummer. I decided it wouldn’t make any difference because I’m friendly and outgoing so I’d make friends at Wilson. Lehman was a good school, but Wilson had a better reputation, the highest academic rating in the city, the largest student body with over 2,000 kids, and the best football team. And I could take the 105 bus directly to school from where it stopped a half block from my house.
That first day I went to homeroom, then to English first period, World Geography second period, Chorus third period, and Algebra 2 and Trig fourth period. I liked all four classes, especially Chorus. That’s where I was introduced to ‘lay miz,’ as our teacher Mr. Emmonds pronounced it. I’d never heard the musical Les Misérables before. On that first day, after all of the first-day paperwork and sorting out by our vocal ranges, we got to listen to about 20 minutes of the CD of the original stage production of Les Misérables .
It was a revelation! I’d never heard anything like this music before in my life. I was totally captivated by it, as only a thirteen-year-old could be. I hummed one of the tunes, I Dreamed a Dream, over and over as I walked to the cafeteria for fourth period lunch.
I looked up as I handed the cashier my lunch ticket, and she punched it and gave it back to me. It was apparent that a boy five feet ahead of me, who’d just gone through the line, wasn’t talking to me because I’d never seen him before. But he seemed to be looking directly at me, with a grin on his face. I picked up my tray and looked around to see where I could sit to eat my lunch. There were some empty chairs a couple of tables away, so I started walking in that direction.
“Hey, Todd, what’s your problem, didn’t you see me? Can’t you hear me?”
It was that boy again. He was taller than me by two or three inches, had soft blond hair, and a friendly grin. He’d walked up to me where I was standing, and put his arm around my shoulders and started to guide me to another table.
“Uh, I don’t know you. And my name isn’t Todd.”
He stopped and looked at me.
“What kind of game you playing? One of your jokes? C’mon, let’s have lunch.”
He was bigger and stronger and he guided me — actually, he sort of dragged me — to a table in the back corner of the cafeteria.
The kids facing us across the table looked up, and their expressions changed — to shock, maybe, or to confusion — or some of each.
“What?” My ‘guide’ sounded confused, probably because of the reaction of the kids who were staring at us.
A boy sitting directly in front of me and facing away from me, apparently curious to see what caused the excitement, turned around and looked up at me. I almost dropped my tray. Sitting at this table, in this cafeteria, in this high school, was another kid who looked exactly like the kid I saw every time I looked in a mirror. He had hair the same color as mine, kind of a dirty blond, thick and just a little wavy at the ends. He had a pale complexion, with just a hint of a tan, exactly the same as mine. His eyes were the same color as mine, a greenish blue. He had freckles on his cheeks but none on his nose, just like me. His nose had the same shape as mine, kind of small and as my mom always called mine, cute. His teeth were real white and straight, just like mine. His ears stuck out from his head a little too far, just like mine. His had a dimple right in the middle of his chin, just like mine. His lips were kind of pouty, just like mine. All I could think about was ‘No way!’
He broke off staring at me and looked at the boy who had ‘guided’ me to the table.
“OK, Brian, what are you trying to pull?”
I assumed ‘Brian’ was the name of my ‘guide.’
“What… who… but…” Brian kept looking back and forth between me and Todd. “I don’t….”
“Jeez, Brian, how’d you get someone all made up to look like me? This goes way beyond the practical jokes you played at Edison.”
“This isn’t a joke, Todd! I saw you, uh, him, in the lunch line. I thought he was you.” Brian turned and looked and pointed at me, and ‘Todd’ stood up and stared at me.
I stared back. “I don’t believe it. You do look exactly like me. Except my name’s Tony. Tony McKinley. And your name’s Todd, right?”
“I don’t believe it, either. Uh, yeah, I’m Todd. Todd Anderson. Jeez. I just can’t believe it. Shit, we’re even wearing almost the same clothes! It’s like I’m looking into a mirror!”
I looked down and saw he was right. We both were wearing blue shirts, mine was just a little darker than his, khaki pants, and brown Rockports and tan socks. I started to laugh.
“Maybe we’re twins, separated at birth.”
“That’s probably impossible,” Todd said. “So how old are you Tony, and when’s your birthday?”
“I’m thirteen, and I’ll be fourteen on November eleventh. Yours?” By the time I got the sentence out I knew from the shocked, unbelieving expression on Todd’s face that his birthday was the same as mine.
“No shit! There’s no fucking way!” He looked over at Brian. “You set this up, didn’t you Brian!”
“No, no! How could I have found someone who looks exactly like you?”
Todd looked back at me. “Where’d you go to middle school?”
“Carver. I’d guess you went to Edison, right?”
“Yeah. Where do you live?”
“On Oakmead Court, near Trimble. You?”
“Solano Drive, not far from the Old Creek Mall. When did you move here?”
“Been here since second grade. You?”
“Last year. I moved here the summer before I started eighth grade.”
I just stood looking at him. Brian pulled my tray out of my hands and put it on the table. I guess he thought everything might slide off of it onto the floor, which probably would have happened in a few seconds.
Todd kept looking at me. “I’m about 5 foot 6. How tall are you, Tony?”
“Um, I’m not sure. Probably about the same.”
Brian grabbed a tray from in front of one of the guys sitting at the table and shoved the dirty dishes and utensils off. He pushed me so I was standing face to face with Todd, pushed tightly against him, body to body. I liked being pressed up against Todd’s body, breathing in as he exhaled, smelling his scent, staring into his eyes, feeling his heart beat in his chest. I was starting to get turned on. I couldn’t keep pressing against him; he’d feel it if I got hard. Brian put the tray so it was across both our heads.
“Look! You two’re exactly the same height! What do you weigh, Todd?”
Brian put the tray on the table, and Todd and I pulled back from each other. Just in time. Any longer and I would have absolutely gotten hard, and Todd would have felt it, and I’d have died of embarrassment. Todd was shaking his head.
“I, do, not, fucking, believe, this! No way, José! This cannot be happening!” He was grinning, big time. It looked as though he actually liked the idea that we looked like twins. I actually liked the idea a lot.
I laughed. “Me, too. I agree. No way. But here we are, you and me. Maybe we are twins!”
“Yeah. If we’re twins I’ll bet one of our mom’s would of wondered what her being pregnant for nothing was all about.”
“Look, Tony, if we’re twins, one of our mothers was pregnant with both of us, right? Then the other mother either wouldn’t have been pregnant or would’ve been pregnant but didn’t have a kid. The first one’s improbable and the second one’s impossible. But if we were twins it would hafta been that way, right? The only possibility might be what if there was a mix-up at the hospital where we were born. Where were you born?”
“Glendale, California. How ‘bout you, Todd?”
“Chicago. Guess that proves that we’re not twins, just look-alikes who were born on the same date. Weird. Amazing, but totally weird!”
“Yeah, I agree. Way totally weird. And way totally funny, too.”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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This story and the included images are Copyright © 2015 by Colin Kelly (colinian). They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted. Original image is Copyright © stock.xchng. 'I Dreamed a Dream' lyrics from Les Misérables are Copyright © 2012 Cameron Mackintosh Overseas Limited.
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