The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time — a video game where the protagonist travels between his childhood and adulthood through the use of a magical sword. I’ve played through it dozens of times since I was a child, and I’ve been dressing up as the Hero of Time himself, Link, since I was ten. I still have that Link costume somewhere in my closet.
Perhaps it’s the wandering through the woods that I love, the isolation, the music; or, perhaps it’s something deeper that has stuck with me after all these years.
Perhaps it’s that I feel like the protagonist: adrift in time, unsure whether I’m a child or a man.
This is how I feel as I move back into my childhood bedroom — the place where my sexual trauma first occurred.
I got here two weeks ago. Typing this, I find myself sitting in the same spot where I discovered porn. Behind me is the spot where I discovered a boy’s body for the first time, while we were still so young. And just beyond this wall where —
I’ve changed so much. I know I have. So, why am I wearing this sweater? These pants? Why do I look exactly like I did in high school? I don’t dress like this anymore. Should I cut my hair? It looks too feminine. I look like my mom. That’s what the kids said in middle school when I grew my hair out.
I went to a coffee shop, and a boy who went to high-school with me walked in. He was a friend. He looks more like me now. I can’t talk to him. I’m too different than I was. He wouldn’t know me. I bury my face in my book and furrow my brow. Do I look pretentious when I laugh at the words of this book I’m reading? No one else is laughing.
My childhood best friend also walks in. She makes fun of me for drinking matcha instead of coffee. I try to explain that coffee makes my anxiety worse. She and her husband make fun of me and my wife for doing yoga instead of working out.
“You could never do one of our workouts,” she says.
“Of course not,” I respond. “I’m physically weaker than ever before in my life. I’ve lost thirty pounds.”
I love her. It’s always been this way. We always banter.
But why am I so angry at her words now?
My friend John makes fun of my billowy pants. I wore them because I knew he would do that. Why do I still feel bad about it? Why are clothes so important?
I wish Jonathan were here. They made fun of his bowling shirt that one time. He’s the only one who understands. Why is he halfway across the country? Why can’t he call?
I was lying on my bed; my spirit burning.
Why am I lingering on these images on my phone? Why do I want to see a naked man so badly?
I don’t want to see porn — just naked men. Why is everything porn? Zach, Dillon, and I had mooned Adam that one time. I saw their butts. Mitchell and I had gone streaking in the freezing cold. We waved our dicks in the store window and ran away. We gave each other piggyback rides through the snow. It was cold. There was no lingering then.
Why am I lingering now?
Oh, yes, because he is gone.
Because I moved across the country to take care of my dad; because someone lied about me and I lost my job; and now I’m back in my childhood bedroom, alone.
Am I a child or a man? My brother adrift.
I start to clear out my old closet; the poetic irony is not lost on me. Soon, I’m surrounded by all my old costumes: Peter Pan, age 5; Peter Pan, age 8; Link, age 11; Link, age 12; Link, age 14. All green-clad forest boys.
Link’s costume was originally based on Peter Pan, after all. Peter Pan never grew up, and Link was a young boy trapped in a man’s body. I look down, and I’m still wearing green, the color of growth.
Have I even changed? Am I trapped in an endless, timeless cycle? Will I ever escape?
Of course I want to see naked men, I think as I place another green tunic in the box. I had just gotten to a place where I could see male nudity without feeling ashamed. I was finally with a community of men who wouldn’t see me looking at them and think I was mentally fornicating them.
For the first time I wasn’t. Mitchell and I had stared at each other naked, assessing each other fully. I could never have done that before. I haven’t thought about him sexually, not once. He is my brother; he’s far away now. So is my other brother, the one I can hug until my boner goes away.
Back here in my hometown, none of the men will linger for a second if I hug them. They all think my wife is very hot. They brush me off when I say “I love you.” All their stories are about roofs and sports and hunting and business after I’d gotten used to every conversation being about emotions, trauma, healing.
Yes, I never once fit in here — not for eighteen years. I certainly don’t now that I wear harem pants, ponchos, and jewelry. Now that I’m depressed.
I start to find answers as I close the box of my old costumes.
I have one thread to hold onto through all of this; through all my adolescent years up through adulthood, the question of why always on my lips.
Why do I feel this way? Why do I think these things, want these things, look at these things, do these things?
I hated myself because I couldn’t find an answer to why; now, in this instant, the answer is too clear for me to ignore. In the past two years I have been surrounded with a fierce army of brothers. They all know my past, and I know theirs. We, five or so of us, love and protect each other fiercely. When one goes down, someone else is there to pick him back up.
While surrounded by these precious brothers I felt such a grand undoing of all my old questions. I could tangibly feel my wounds melt away from my body. My mind didn’t want men sexually anymore, not even a little bit, because it had found community — the community I had always wanted.
Now the community is gone. It’s all virtual now. And surprise, surprise, I feel gayer than ever.
My mind is in a constant state of longing for men, assessing every man I see. I’m having more gay sex dreams than I’ve had in years. I feel just like I did the last time I was here, back when I was a child, but for one thing that is so different.
I know why, I know why, I know why.
The absence of this brotherhood was the shadow over my childhood and adolescence, and the shadow is looming again now that I’m so far away from them all.
But I am not shameful for missing them, as my dreams would have me believe. Only let me not linger.
Let me remember all you have done, and let me not seek poison when I have had such sweet wine. Let me not chase shadows again, for I have basked in the wondrous light of true brotherhood, and I want nothing else, even if my flesh yells at me a different want, even if my dreams and thoughts betray me.
Remember, dear soul, your contentment.
For everything there is a season, and this season is lonely and bitter, and it is here to stay. I am both a child and a man.
But I am the child I was plus the brotherhood I have found, plus my many years, plus my wife, plus the answer to my childhood question of why. Give me the remembrance of what I have learned, so that I may engage my old wounds, and not be overcome by them; though they are all around me, within these walls.
My brother, we are all a walking contradiction: walking in both the present and the past at once, adrift in time.
Whether you are in a physical place that holds too many hurtful memories, or only there in your mind’s eye, know that you are not alone. We all walk this timeless road. He will bring us back, yes, just like Jesus went back to Nazareth.
But remember that Nazareth did not accept him either (Luke 4). Their perceptions were too strong, but they were not the truth.
Their perceptions are not the truth of you either, my brother.
Lean on the One who knows your identity best. Ask him who you are to him and listen for his answer; then replay that answer in your head again and again and again every time the other words come against you like fiery darts in your chest.
This is the only way I can seem to remember myself when my past surrounds me, and even then I fail. But I do not despair like I used to. And that inch of growth is worth everything to me — even if it is only an inch.
I love you, my brother adrift.
Have you felt loneliness or despair upon returning to a place of your past? Have you experienced community and brotherhood wane from one season to another? How have you overcome that sense of feeling adrift?