Soccer MatchJourney back to my erstwhile home, journey back over a decade. Emily jogs toward me grinning, my hand is outstretched. Her hand slaps mine, she moves on. As we run around, the darkness lowers upon us, the stadium lights flicker on. We regard each other, smirking in our minimal underarmour despite the cold, bumping and slapping into each other with camaraderie and a ferocity.

Often, she would leap at me from behind, grabbing my shoulders in a tough hug, her smile never quite overflowing into a laugh. The sports roughhousing was comfortable, but life is not.

She was killed slowly by forces I recognize but only weathered in small part. And her story is not mine to tell. Her story doesn’t lie interred, however, it plays out in melodies drawn back to the same theme. This: if you’re deviant from the supposed norm, if this deviance is askew in the eyes of the Christian parents, classmates, teachers, then comments are made about you and your kind, then you’re threatened, then you’re beaten, then there’s something wrong with you and you can’t escape this feeling nor this place and there’s this thing that can make you feel better and it wraps its tendrils around you and no matter how far you run, no matter how hard you drag yourself away from the rooted stem, it pulls you back, and then you’re swallowed into the soil, and that is that.

Except, after, voices above say the words “community,” and “love,” and “prayers” and these words are shouted out as a projection, bouncing off each other, to reaffirm the illustration, this is who we are. Except under words, there are actions, and it’s too late. There is no mirror facing the small town, engraved at the top of its frame with the question “and what did you expect?”.

Prayers can kill, and surface bruises leech into the heart.

Emily jogs toward me grinning, my hand is outstretched. Her hand slaps mine, and I don’t let go, and I take her with me.

There are no LGBTQ youth organizations where we grew up. If there is one in your area, I would encourage you to support it.