3 min

The well-polished lie

Special dissenter status a crock

Credit: Xtra West files

Ryan tossed the Xtra West onto the table and wiped his fingers as though they had doughnut jelly on them. “Gay media,” he roared to anyone who would listen (for Will certainly would not) “have become the opiate of the minority!”

When the rolling student body neglected to cheer, Will gave over a tart response, driven by the hope of nipping Ryan’s rant in the bud. “You only say that to sound clever. Last I checked, you adored opiates. You used to flutter your eyelashes and call them ‘those heavy-handed pillows.'”

“I like barbiturates, Will. Barbiturates are absolutely hypnotic. You know things. You see things. Opiates just pass you out. …” Ryan slowed and his speech dropped off the cliff of his tongue. Buchanan Building had risen up above them with its smug grimace of windows-it seemed the architecture itself was aware that neither boy had studied much. But, then again, memorizing the details of Canadian literature when one could concentrate on more exotic studies seemed to them unnecessary as masturbating at an orgy. It was Ryan’s analogy.

Snapping his fingers, Will pulled Ryan away from the building’s entrance and produced a lint-covered joint from his breast pocket, begging a binner for a light.

Ryan was anxious, annoyed. “You’re really going in high for a Canadian Lit final?”

Will made whistle lips and took a puff. “What better reason to get high?” He passed Ryan the joint and explained: The trick was to write exams on whatever drug you took while studying. If you learned something high, you only know it high.”

“Bull.” Ryan made the face kids make when parents tell wonderful lies. And he bit his lip. “Well, give me a toke then.”

Now was the 11th hour before the exam and academic dregs were fluttering past the entrance. These were caricatures of scholarly distraction, complete with papers flying behind them and books drawn in tight at the bosom, as though one final fact might be gained via the miracle of osmosis. “What the hell do they care so much for?” wondered Will, stamping at the now-dead joint. Some guy stepped on a pencil and rolled into the crowd at the door, setting off a wide-eyed cartoonish whirl of arms, legs and paper.

Will held up the wall, and took another meditative draw. “You know, I would totally fuck that guy just for falling down like that. Do I look like James Dean?”

“You’ll fuck anything that appears more wounded than you are. And no, you don’t.” Ryan made to leave, finishing over his shoulder: “You should be more serious. This is your life, you know!” Here Ryan’s voice had the timbre of Maria Callas in her later years. One understood it was heartfelt but couldn’t help noticing the similarity to a dying seagull.

“This,” shot back Will, “is not my life.”


Three hours and one failed exam later, Will was busy wearing a circular path into the Rose Garden’s manicured lawn. He looked up at the last trace of snow flirting on the West Coast mountain range: a white skirt, a blue knee.

He understood the cliché of it all. Failure is easy and requires no humility. He sat on the back of a bench. That was the crux, he figured. Humility. What if you try hard and still fail? What then? The problem terrified him.

It was the same problem he had faced over a year ago, coming out to his mom. He had written the word ‘Gay’ a hundred times on loose leaf. He had taken Polaroids of his own dick, then cut up the evidence and flushed it all down the toilet. There seemed to be always a terrible potential, waiting like a backdraft of fire behind the closed door.

The day he told her, his mother drank coffee all afternoon and stared out windows, talked about gardening and haircuts. After two days of silence he came home to find her sitting on the landing with red eyes. A load of laundry had been spilt and forgotten.

But Will’s self-consciousness, if that was the word you use, only deepened the pressure he already felt. Somehow, diagnosis was more crippling than anything. Knowing why he did things, or did not, offered little in the way of comfort. So self-knowledge, he was shocked to discover, did not amount to self-fulfillment. This seemed contrary to what he’d been taught. Even blasphemous.

Self-knowledge did, however, make him feel normal. And that was bad enough. Now that his stupid rebellion, his refusal to work at school, had turned transparent, it revealed itself to be a measly bid for irresponsibility. It made the special dissenter status he clung to nothing more than a well-polished lie. And he swore to himself he would change. He dug in his pockets for a cigarette and, finding none, shouted “Fuck!” to the Rose Garden, now painfully in bloom.