For most of his life, he had thought people were basically Good. He believed most people wanted to be nice to one another, and that, given the choice between hurting someone and not, that most people would choose not to do it. He thought the place he lived was safe and that the people there were kind to others, and that, if there did happen to be a bad person, well, the Good people around would help someone who was in trouble.
Those illusions were shattered in one night. He knew that the way he felt about it was, perhaps, exaggerated, considering how light the consequences were for him. It didn’t matter. It was still a shock that it had happened at all, because it ruined the way he had seen the world.
He’d left the house that evening feeling positively effervescent. Bubbles of tingling happiness flowed up through him: it was his first date, after all, and more importantly, his first date was with a boy he liked. His mother had been surprisingly supportive, even though he could tell she was struggling with the idea that her son was gay.
Of course, about half of those bubbles were nervousness too. What if his date didn’t like his outfit? What if he made some dumb mistake, and his date ended up hating him? What if he accidentally farted in the car and his date noticed and thought he was disgusting?
None of that happened. His date was a year older than him, a senior, and he had his own car. At first, there were too nervous to even make eye contact. The chatted about the movie they were going to see. They were both excited about it, and had been for a while.
In years to come he would regret that he couldn’t remember the more pleasant details about the night very clearly. What else had they talked about in the car? Who had paid for the movie ticket? Had his date complimented his outfit, which he’d put a lot of thought into? When had they first broken that invisible wall between them and started holding hands in the dark in the movie theatre, an act which had felt simultaneously amazing and frightening?
He couldn’t even remember if they had liked the movie, though to be fair, that wasn’t because of what had happened later. That was because he’d been so distracted by being near another boy in this fashion. He was finally with someone to whom he was attracted who reciprocated that attraction. It was an entirely novel experience which made the mundanity of a movie, even one he’d been waiting for, feel trivial.
It was the dinner that he remembered better. He remembered sitting down across the table from his date. They were at a cheap diner, because neither of them had a lot of money, and he hadn’t wanted to ask his mom for dinner money after she’d already bought him a whole new outfit. The waitress asked them what they wanted to drink: water for him, and a soda for his date.
He would remember thinking that either nobody would notice that they were on a date, or nobody would care. He barely thought anything of it: two guys, sitting across from each other, on the same bill. They could just be friends, for all anyone knew, who just happened to be grabbing dinner together.
People noticed. Their waitress, though she served them, gave them no pleasantries. She never asked how their meal was. She didn’t refill their drinks unless they asked for it. She set their food down with an indelicate thump and then trundled off to see to other customers. He tried to ignore all this and pin it on her grumpy personality rather than the fact that he and his date were gay.
That was nothing, really, compared to the man sitting at the table across from them. There were halfway through their dessert, a piece of cake they’d decided to split because he thought it would be cute to share, when the man stood up to leave. As he stood, the man grabbed his brown soda, which the waitress had just refilled, and leaned across the aisle toward them.
“Fucking faggots,” the man had said as his soda poured out of the glass.
Khaki shorts and a light blue t-shirt absorbed the soda well. He would always remember the feeling of shock as the icy liquid drenched him, soaking right through to his flesh. He and his date had both frozen, mouths hanging open, as the man had left. They didn’t know what to do. His date had unfrozen first, grabbing napkins from the holder.
He was already crying by then. Then the waitress came back and set the bill on their table without saying a word. She hadn’t even brought them more napkins. Crying still, he’d tossed a wad of money on the table and left, with his date following close behind him.
He wished, then, that he could tell his father what had happened, and that if he could, that his father would care enough to do something about it. Literally nobody in the restaurant had even reacted. They’d just continued eating their meals, as though somebody hadn’t just poured a cup of their hate out on a couple of teenage boys.
His father would have been among those people. He wouldn’t have been the one that poured the glass, but he wouldn’t have stood up to defend him, either. He would probably have shrugged and gone back to his meal, with the words “They probably deserved it” hovering just behind his lips.
Once, his mother might not have done anything, either. She might now. He wasn’t sure. He didn’t think he wanted to find out. All he really wanted, in the aftermath, was to go home, throw his clothes in the washer, and cry. So that’s what he did. His mom knocked on the bathroom door, while he was in the shower, crying beneath the water so that he could pretend it was all his tears. She gave up when he didn’t answer, but all that mattered to him, right then, was that she had tried.