I remember standing outside the cafeteria waiting for the bell to ring. Someone handed me a piece of paper folded into a square. It read, Will you go with me?  Circle one Yes or No. I was surprised. No one had mentioned that my 6th-grade classmate, Harry, liked me which was unusual for our small town middle school. I wondered, why me?

I eventually circled yes and returned the note. I really didn’t like Harry as a boyfriend, but I think it was a combination of feeling as though he was a nice boy, cute, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I was flattered.

Our 6th-grade romance consisted of holding hands and a peck on the cheek. We would talk on the phone for hours, though. We also wrote each other notes, many I still have today.

While our middle school romance fizzled, our friendship continued. Harry and I went to a Christmas dance and prom together. However, we lost touch after graduation.

Then while I was living in California, I found out Harry had died. Shocked, I questioned how and received little information. I was told Harry was gay. He moved to New York City and became sick. It was the early nineties. My heart ached. Harry never told me he was gay. He could have trusted me. I was his friend.

I thought about the pain he must have felt growing up in a small town in the eighties. How maybe he never felt like he could be himself. Perhaps he feared what others would say or feared for his safety. I had a difficult time grasping all the emotions Harry must have been going through. I wished we would’ve talked about it.

The novel I completed a few months ago I titled UNFORGIVEN back in 2013. I had finally listened to the lyrics of Metallica’s song THE  UNFORGIVEN. Back in the early nineties when Eric and I were dating there were few songs on Eric’s playlist that didn’t have me running for a bottle of Excedrin. This was one of them. My husband loves his heavy metal. Anyway, after years of listening to the music, I finally Googled the lyrics. I cried. The song’s about a boy who grows up never being able to be himself.

New blood joins this earth,
And quickly he’s subdued.
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules.

What I’ve felt,
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown.
Never be.
Never see.
Won’t see what might have been.

What I’ve felt,
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown.
Never free.
Never me.
So I dub thee unforgiven.

Writers: James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich

When I think of what Harry must have gone through as a boy and a young adult, I feel pain. He had to hide who he was for fear of not being accepted…loved.When I first started writing my novel I knew leading an Unforgiven life was still something I struggled with. I always had trouble understanding how much I lived my life based on societies expectations and what I truly felt. Not upsetting others, following rules, finding a husband and having children were all very strong messages I received as a young girl. It wasn’t until my daughter’s accident and then turning forty that I began peeling back the layers of who I thought I should be to get to who I was. Writing a novel about a girl who challenges religious rules and societies expectations of girls was what poured out of me. In some ways, Faith Hope Michaels is what I wish I could’ve been when I was seventeen. Creating her voice was certainly a lot of fun.

I wish I would’ve had the chance to tell Harry to be courageous and be himself. I wish I could have told Harry that he was a beautiful person. I hope there was someone in his life who did.

Be yourself and let others do the same. We all want to be accepted and loved. We all deserve to be accepted and loved.

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