Losing shame

First of all I have to give a trigger warning. The following story contains violence of physical and emotional nature. The incidents portrayed really happened and might or might not have been edited by the very nature of my memory, names have been altered to protect privacy.

1997, when I was 14, I met Natalie. I was travelling to Frankfurt (Oder) to visit my grandmother. She was walking through the train and asked everybody if they had a weekend ticket (you could take up to four people with you, a great way of saving money). I said yes, she sat down in the opposite seat and we started talking. She was eight years older than I was and she was an aspiring teacher. We really got along well, and before she got off the train, we exchanged phone numbers. This was a time, when nobody had a cell phone, so you had to use the landline and the wireful.

We became really good friends and I spent a lot of time with her and her flatmates. They lived in a shared flat in the city and to me this was the pinnacle of freedom, having to endure to live in a small vilage, because my parents had decided to move out of the city, just when I had found my first friends in High School. I continued going to the same school and preferred travelling 15 km each day over changing schools. Being with Natalie and her friends meant freedom. My parents were told I slept over at some friend’s house and they had their phone number, so it was in order. A whole world opened up to me. Philosophy, cigarettes and my first crush on a student of sinology who had exchanged his birth name to the more poetic name Demian, referring to Hesse. Times were exciting. Until one night it got bad.

Although I always seemed mature for my age, I was only 14, when one nigt we decided it would be a great idea to go for coffee in a nearby fast-food restaurant, the Grillmaster. I was with Natalie’s flatmate Auda and sporting some checkered red trousers I had borrowed from my sister and we didn’t even consider looking around, when we entered. We should have. We ordered coffee and sat down at a table in a corner. Some minutes later a very drunk and very bald young man approached our table. He planted himself in front of me and asked “Who do you think you are?” I didn’t understand, just looked at him confused and smiled a shy smile. He asked again and again I couldn’t answer his question. Then he said “I tell you, what you are. You are a faggot.” Then his fist connected with my nose. I was in shock, holding my face. Auda, who was smaller that I was , stood up, positioned herself between us - me holding my nose, completely lost in a world of pain and terror and he, throwing mad glances at me.

That night Auda saved my live. She somehow convinced him to go back to his table and sat down with me, making sure I was ok. I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything anymore. Some moments later, another guy appeared, obviously he was a friend of the other young fellow, as bald as his friend, but he was smiling. He sat down next to me and engaged in conversation. It was casual, borderline polite, until he asked what my hobbies were and I replied that I acted. He then told me “I’m an actor, too.” and then, for the second time that night, I felt someones fist in my face. That must have been a cruel joke, that couldn’t be real. Again Auda, this brave woman protected me and drove him away to their table. They probably got bored because i didn’t fight back, so they left, not without telling me “We are expecting you outside!” Now I wasn’t only terrified - I was scared to death.

We adressed the two women behind the counter, both in their forties. They pretended they didn’t see anything. They were scared, too. Still I felt angry. Eventually they let us use the phone and we called the flatmates, asking them to come pick us up. Some minutes later they arrived, armed with bottles and grim faces. I never went to the police. I buried that night in the depths of my mind and it kept on haunting me until years later, in 2007, during a therapy session I was finally able to share my story. To share my shame. That’s the most cruel part. Not feeling helpless, powerless but feeling shameful. Until that moment I started talking about it, I always thought I should have been stronger, I should have stood up to them. Two fully grown men, hitting a scared 14 year old kid.

After releasing part of that shame I started to imagine, what those two were doing. Ten years later I tried to emphasize with the people that had terrorized me. I imagined them being in prison and it didn’t make me feel better. Their faces were still haunting me. But the shame was leaving my body. Everytime I found the courage to tell someone, part of that shame left my body until it wasn’t anymore. Now I’m writing a story about this most terrifying night in my life and there is only the echo of that terror and no shame. I couldn’t have done any different. Letting go of that shame was made possible by forgiving myself, not them. They deserved a punishment and they might or might have not got one. But that is not the point. The point is, that although they wounded me deeply, they didn’t manage to break me.

Being able to tell the story is also granting myself the respect I deserved as a 14 year old, discovering his sexual identity, as a 24 year old in therapy, as a 31 year old going back to school. It doesn’t feel all that comfortable and it probably shouldn’t. I can remember the events in that night, they are blurry, but I can recall them. Seventeen years later the shame has left. I moved on. I became a man without their approval. A gay man, who walks the street holding his boyfriend’s hand. And I feel fine.

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