Neil lived in the town of Summerville, at the base of the Alpine mountain range that surrounded their cozy town on three sides. He often thought it felt like being held in an embrace. He lived in one of the newer duplexes with his parents, Steve and Lena and his younger brother, Nathan. Neil was 13, Nathan 7 going on 17. Neil often thought his brother was an adult trapped in a child’s body. Nathan always had such profound things to say for a 7 year old. Neil loved Nathan more than life itself and made sure everyone at school knew if they messed with his l’il brother, they messed with him.
Nathan was a sensitive child with a slender build to match. He loved reading and could daydream for hours. On weekends, he would disappear after breakfast and take off for the mountains, walking miles upriver. Every so often, he would stop on the edge of the water, take off his shoes and settle onto the banks, feet dangling off the edge and let the cold water run over his toes. He would then hum a little song, a smile on his face as he sketched yet another picture of a house at the base of the hills with an orange sun rising in the backdrop.
Steve worked at the electronics store in the nearby town of Brussels. Brussels was a 2 hour drive from Summerville, which meant he only saw his family on weekends. Lena was the town seamstress. She made quilts and stitched the most beautiful dresses for the little girls in town. She was so good at it that soon the local school asked her to help with their uniforms. Often as she embroidered a flower on a dress or added a frill, she thought about how she would have loved to have a daughter. Nathan’s birth however had been a risky one and the Doctors had told her she could not have any more children. That was her one forever regret.
There were times when she would look at Nathan, singing softly to himself and wonder if he was maybe the girl she was meant to have. She adored both her boys but couldn’t stop worrying about how her younger son would do out in the world. Already Neil had told her a few times that he had to run off kids that were calling Nathan girl names or telling him to ask his mom to make him a dress. Nathan would stand quietly, head bowed, taking in the insults without retaliation. It made Neil’s blood boil though and he had been suspended from school twice for beating up kids that were picking on his brother.
Nathan knew he was different, he didn’t like playing sports like Neil did, he didn’t catch frogs or go fishing like other boys his age. He tried to fit it as much as he could, only so the other kids would leave him alone but the more he tried, the more of an outcast he became. The boys would laugh at him and the girls would avoid him. The teachers looked on him with a mixture of pity and despair. He had no friends to talk to. Neil was his only connection to the outside world.
One day as he sat at his mother’s dresser, trying on her high heeled shoes and pink lipstick, she walked in and for a second the look on her face reflected confusion, followed by clarity, followed by resolve. She smiled at Nathan. Last month she had found a dress she had been making buried between the mattresses in his bedroom and before that, her glittery lip gloss had gone missing. She had later found it in the bottom drawer of the kids’ bathroom, shoved to the far back. It had finally dawned on her that he younger child was gay. She would have to do something about it. She couldn’t smother him to make him fit into societal norms, nor would she stand for the townsfolk mocking her child.
The next day, Lena went online and started reading blogs and forums for parents with children like Nathan. It gave her comfort and courage to see that she was not alone. There were just as many haters and this would be a hard choice for him, but she vowed to make sure that her family would support him all the way. She decided to talk to the Pastor and the Principal at Nathan’s school.
Pastor Aaron was very supportive. He had worked at big city churches before coming to Summerville and was extremely tolerant. He even offered to dedicate a sermon to this topic at the risk of facing the wrath of some of the more conservative members. Principal Buckley was a little more old school but he was on the same page as Lena as far as mistreatment was concerned. He was not going to stand up for kids making fun of or bullying Nathan. Lena suggested posting articles on the school graffiti board to help raise awareness and offered to start a support group for other parents that might want to share or learn from each other. Principal Buckley said he would make sure the teachers help spread the word. On day one, there was one other parent, a single dad who didn’t know how to deal with his teen son’s tendencies towards liking other boys. He was grateful to have someone to talk to that wouldn’t laugh in his face.
Within a year, the support group was 15 people strong with parents of both boys and girls, rallying together to make sure their kids were treated with equal respect. Steve and Neil religiously attended as many meetings as they could to pledge their support to Nathan and his new friends. The group organized fun events, picnics and field trips and soon the rest of the parents wanted to contribute and participate as well.
At his graduation ceremony 10 years later, a tearful Nathan spoke lovingly of his mother’s courage and how she had chosen to support her son against all odds. He spoke fondly of his brother, Neil who was now away studying to be a lawyer and joked about how Neil would always be his personal bodyguard. Years later, Nathan moved to California to complete his degree in Interior Design where he met and fell in love with Awabe. Awabe did illustrations for childrens’ story books. Lena was besides herself when Nathan brought Awabe home for Christmas. He was the one Nathan wanted to spend his life with and Lena and Steve were proud parents. They admired Nathan for how far he had come from the shy boy he once was. When the state of California declared same-sex marriage legal in 2008, Nathan and Awabe were among the first wave of couples to exchange vows and rings. Neil, his wife Chelsea and Steve were there to celebrate with them. Lena had passed away the year before, finally succumbing to a congenital heart defect. Had she been there, she would have clapped the loudest and smiled the widest. Her son had finally come into his own.