How a Single Summer and a First Love Still Shape a Life

Photo credit: Olesiabilkei at Getty Images.

The first funeral I ever attended was the funeral of the first boy I ever loved, the boy who died by his own hand, the boy whose suicide note, in a paragraph near its end, mentioned — me.

Whose suicide note, as it happened, outed me.

Losing a boyfriend, even a secret boyfriend, is a lot to bear for a sixteen-year-old kid.

Being outed is a lot to bear, at any age.

But when I attended my secret boyfriend’s funeral, as I stood before his coffin in my scratchy shirt and tie, I didn’t yet know about the suicide note.

My childhood as a tireless master detective.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.

A few days ago, I received an email that broke my heart a little. The email was a mass one from a socially conscious company and was sent to its LGBTQ-identifying customers ahead of Father’s Day in the US. It read, in part: “We understand events like Father’s Day can be tough for many of our customers. If you don’t want to receive Father’s Day emails, let us know.”

Growing up queer means growing up with people who aren’t like you — at least for the vast majority of us who grow up in straight families. You spend every day…

An “ordinary” death in the time of a pandemic.

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Just this week, a dear friend of the family passed away. A few people asked me a question, an unsurprising one given the times.

“Did she die of COVID?” they asked.

One or two people, in fact, when I answered that the family friend, Claudia, had died not of COVID but of an unexpected heart attack, seemed instantly and noticeably less interested. A flicker of sympathy remained, to be sure, but the flame of curiosity was gone.

When I was a little kid, I was talkative and bright. …

What can happen when you throw away the key.

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In this year of nothing being normal, who isn’t recalling the moments — and magic — of holidays past? This is one such story, a little Christmas miracle of auld lang syne…

The rain came down hard and cold, but at least it was rain and not snow. Snow did fall in that part of Texas, and even great blizzards sometimes blew in, painting the cacti a foot deep in white.

The long, low building in which I sat was hot despite the wet and cold outside, a kind of dive bar/truck stop/resting place for derelicts, like me. …

The things that remain — and sustain — in a year of change.

Author photo.

Somewhere in my memory
Christmas joys all around me.
Living in my memory
All of the family here with me. — “Somewhere in My Memory

Christmastide, 1990

As soon as he picked up the phone, all landlines in those days, I rushed to inform him of my plans. “It’s a beautiful day! Have you been outside? A perfect, warm winter’s day!”

“Is it?” he said, yawning, his enthusiasm not nearly matching mine. “What time is it, anyway?”

I looked at my watch. “Almost ten! I’ve been up for over an hour! And I have an idea. A great idea! Since it’s such…


On finding our way back again to a place we maybe never were

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A dusty diner on a long and featureless road in west Texas may seem like a strange place to serve as a kind of crossroads of the world, but so it was — at least to my wide and impressionable ten-year-old eyes.

Though the old diner’s food was more venerable than tasty, a crowd was always gathered there. Situated in a little town of few restaurants and among cattle ranches and oil fields, the diner could always count on hungry cowboys and rig crews to fill its booths and perch on its stools.

Whenever I set foot in that diner…

When a first kiss opens wide a door of hope

Photo by Laith Abdulkareem on Unsplash.

“Come on, aren’t you curious?” I taunted. “Don’t you want to know?”

My friend Milo squinted his eyes and pursed his lips — his thinking face.

“I’m not sure, Bri,” he said at last. Then, decided, he added, “Nah, I don’t think so. Just forget about it, will ya?”

I groaned out loud and rolled my eyes, but only because I knew Milo expected me to. There was something else I knew. Milo’s hesitation, rather than instant refusal, was actually a good sign.

I’d planted a seed of interest in my friend’s curious brain. …

On objects that hold memories inside: a poem.

Photo credit: Pikist.

Once upon a long time ago:
(isn’t that how fairytales start?)
the little boy buttoned up his coat
to armor his just-broken heart.

The kids had called him that name again,
but because of his burgeoning pride,
he’d said not a word to parents or friends,
but when his grandfather phoned him — he cried.

The old man knew well the little boy’s tears
(for, of his grandkids, this lad cried the most!).
He knew, too, how to heal with a gift, and said:
“Look for something from me in the post!”

The little boy pushed warm tears away
(his cheer…

On art and bullying — and finding a route of one’s own.

Photo: Rudy and Peter Kitterians/Pixabay.

The boy was blond and blue-eyed and his brightest feature was his smile — usually. In this moment, though, tears spilling hot on his cheeks as he looked over the edge of the man-made ravine that was the great noisy highway, he didn’t smile — he screamed.

Screamed as loud and long as he could, still no match for the mechanical roar from the pavement thirty feet below.

What would it be like to plunge over the edge, he sometimes wondered, he who was not scared of heights but was scared of falling?

When I was a boy, kids still…

On the music that plays as we fall in love.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash.

(Note: Many LBGTQ kids miss much of the magic of being a teen in love. So many queer kids never experience the teenage rite-of-passage of dating and flirting — simple and delightful pleasures their straight peers take for granted. Sometimes, though, the lightning bolt of teen love strikes even a couple of dazed, ridiculously lucky gay guys. This is a true story of one such magical night.)

Starting high school is tough, no doubt about it, for most kids. For me, though? I’d never been happier as I entered freshman year — and for one big reason. Against all odds…

Brian Fehler

[Taking a little break!] Storyteller/Scholar/Rhetorician 🏳️‍🌈 Twitter: @brianfehler (He/Him)

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