By Anel Viz
How long had it been there? How many people had seen it? In bright red letters, no less. Block capitals. They burned into his soul as if written in fire: JERRY BURTON IS A HOMO.
True enough, but why should anyone think that? He hadn’t sucked a cock in his life, never peeked at another boy at the urinals, never come on to anybody. A couple of other boys weren’t any good at baseball either. He went on dates with girls. Why him? Was it something about the way he dressed, his walk, the way he talked?
What he really wanted to know was who had written it there. What he would do if he knew was another matter. Graffiti something about him? Not beat him up, that much was
certain. He couldn’t beat anybody up.
Whoever had put it up might not have meant it literally. Probably hadn’t in fact. He just wanted to write something insulting. Lots of guys had stuff written about them on the bathroom walls. It happened all the time, and no one paid it any attention. Jerry only wished he had come up with something else. Homo was about the worst thing you could call a person, worse than motherfucker. Nobody took that literally.
He tried washing it off. It was useless. It wouldn’t even smear. Oh well, the janitor would get rid of it soon enough.
But two days later it was still there. Jerry bought an indelible red marker and went to cover it up. The janitor caught him.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Scribbling over this so no one can read it.”
The janitor hauled him off to the principal’s office.
Mr. Franklin was not amused. “So, you were writing on the bathroom wall. You’re in big trouble, boy.”
“I was not.”
“Drawing pictures then.”
“I was crossing something out.”
“Something someone wrote about me.”
He hung his head and answered in a whisper. “Jerry Burton is a homo.” Saying it even that way it sounded like a confession.
“Why didn’t you report it?”
“Why didn’t the janitor get rid of it? It’s been there at least three days.”
“I’m sure he tried.”
“Well, I tried too.”
“Don’t get fresh with me, boy!” And he suspended him for three days.
Jerry’s parents punished him too. They felt no sympathy for him. All they knew was that he had mouthed off to the principal. He was too ashamed to tell them what about.
The graffiti was still there when Jerry got back to school. He went straight to Mr. Franklin’s office and complained.
“I’ve spoken to the janitor about it. He says it won’t come off.”
“So it stays there?”
“For now. Until we can figure out how to remove it.”
What could he do? Tell his parents and have them make a stink? He’d sooner die than have them find out what someone had written about him. And word would get around to the other kids, too. Nobody had teased him about it yet, but they would if his parents stuck their noses in and made a fuss over it. If you’re a mama’s boy that’s just one more piece of evidence that you are queer.
So Jerry got an indelible black marker and wrote “MR. FRANKLIN SUCKS DICK”. Not right next to the red-letter words, a few urinals down from them. This time he wasn’t caught.
It wasn’t worth mentioning if someone scribbled something insulting about one of the kids in the high school john. It happened all the time. To target the principal and put it that bluntly using dirty words, that was unusual. The whole school was talking about it, asking who could have had the balls to write something like that. None of the kids suspected Jerry; he was too much of a wuss.
Mr. Franklin called him to his office anyway. Jerry denied he had written it. There was no proof, so that was that.
The next day the slanderous statement about the principal was gone, but the handwriting on the wall still proclaimed Jerry a homo. It would stay there forever, too. Jerry knew that Mr. Franklin suspected him and would instruct the janitor to leave the offending words where they were. It was only a matter of time before the teasing began in earnest.
Jerry knew it was coming and tried to think of how he should handle it. He couldn’t just ignore it. He could if he was tough or one of their star athletes. Nerds like him couldn’t just shrug it off or the kids would think he was a gay nerd.
Joel made the first wisecrack. He made it in front of a few other kids, some of them girls. Jerry had planned to say, if a guy said something first – it would be a guy for sure – “Why? Are you the asshole who wrote it?” Not to Joel, though. Joel would flatten him. Instead he said, “Did you see the one about Mr. Franklin?”
“Yeah, that sure came down quick enough. What about it?”
“Who do you think he sucked off?” It was tantamount to admitting he’d written it, but he didn’t think anyone would snitch.
One of the other guys came to Jerry’s defense. “What’sa matter, Joel? You jealous? You think he’da wanted to suck yours?”
The support made Jerry bolder. “I’ll say!” Maybe he could put a stop to it once and for all.
“Been eyeing me in the showers?”
“Don’t have to. It’s no secret whose is bigger.”
That was big a risk, but all Joel said was “Fuck off!” The worst was over. People would leave him alone now.
Jerry hadn’t meant to start a rumor. It would have stunned him to learn that a couple of weeks later the Board of Education sent a deputation to see the principal.
“What brings you here?” Franklin asked. “Did I forget we had an appointment?”
“This is serious business. You’ve been accused of molesting one of your male pupils.”
“You heard me.” The others nodded gravely.
“I have never – absolutely never – laid any kind of hand on any pupil in this school or any other school anywhere ever. Period.”
“I hope not, but we want to get to the bottom of this before it goes any further. Nobody’s filed a complaint yet.”
“Nor will anyone. Just where did you hear this shit?”
“Can the profanity. We need to decide if we can afford to let you stay on for the time being or should have you request a leave of absence.”
“I’m not going to request a leave. If you’re going to put me on paid suspension, go ahead. I’m not afraid of any police investigation. There’s nothing to come to light.”
“We don’t want it to come to that.”
“Then come back when you have something solid to tell me. Better yet, tell me now.”
“We can’t do that.”
“Then you’ll have to tell my lawyer. Now go do whatever it is you have to and leave me alone. I have work to do.”
No more rumors made their way to the Board, and the matter was dropped. They regretted having jumped the gun and acted in haste.
Just one thing. Another piece of graffiti showed up in the boy’s bathroom: WATCH OUT FOR FRANKLIN. This time the janitor took care of the one about Jerry when he scrubbed it off.