Clyde punched the bag repeatedly. His hands started to hurt. Clyde wanted to stop. Enrique kept pointing at the stopwatch whenever Clyde looked at him. Enrique held the stopwatch up to make sure Clyde could see it clearly. The idea was that Clyde would hit the punching bag until the watch sounded the alarm. Clyde’s frail hands were in pain. He couldn’t take anymore and stopped.
“What the hell are you doing? No one told you to stop hitting the bag,” Enrique yelled with the thunderous authority of a drill sergeant.
“My hands hurt. I can’t do it anymore,” Clyde yelled in response as he nursed his bruised hands.
“Your enemy won’t care if you can’t continue. In fact, that’s what they’re hoping for,” Enrique informed, his voice remaining thunderous and intimidating.
“What’s the point of all this anyway? You have me lifting weights, teaching me how to fight, and making me learn different things day in and day out. I’m always tired, hungry, and dirty. I haven’t had time to do anything I like,” Clyde complained.
“What you like is irrelevant. Punch the bag until the alarm goes off,” Enrique ordered in a low, impatient tone.
“What are you trying to do? Are you trying to toughen me up? Make me into what you think a man should be? Is this because I’m gay?” Clyde yelled back defiantly, his voice getting louder.
“Yes,” Enrique responded without hesitation or change in his tone.
“I knew you were doing this because of my sexuality. You’re a bigot. A homophobe. You want to change me. I can’t change. Being gay is a part of who I am. I’ve learned to love myself over the years. I’m proud of myself. Proud of who I am. I don’t care if no one else can accept me. I love myself. I have the right to be gay if I want to,” Clyde raised his voice at Enrique as he stared the bigger man in the eye.
“No, you don’t. Don’t come to me with that bullshit about how much you love yourself and having rights. You’re right. I am doing this for you because of your sexuality. I’m trying to toughen you up. I am trying to change you. You’re wrong about one thing though. I am not trying to change you because I hate gay people. I’m trying to make you strong enough to be the man you are without fear of the outside. If I were homophobic, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to show you how to defend yourself and make a man out of you. I’d let the world do whatever it wanted. Right now, you’re showing me you don’t love yourself. If you love someone or something, you’re willing to defend that love even at the cost of your own life. You’re willing to be strong enough to protect it. As far as rights are concerned, human rights don’t exist without the ability to enforce them. If the cops aren’t around when some actual homophobes start beating you and you don’t have the means or ability to protect yourself, you have no rights. Your free will is taken from you with every beating you receive until you’re either dead or driven to suicide. I aim to prevent that. If you can protect what you love, no one can stop you from loving it. Now show me how much you love yourself and your rights. Punch the fucking bag. Or don’t. I won’t lose sleep either way,” Enrique sat back after making his point, reclining on the rocking chair and starting the stopwatch again.
Clyde felt a wave of shame hit him in the chest. Enrique wasn’t coddling him, but he did care about Clyde. No one had ever shown Clyde tough love before Enrique stepped foot in the boarding house. His friends may have supported him, but none ever made him question himself. Enrique challenged his very belief system and it made Clyde learn to respect the other man a little more. Clyde went back to the punching bag and started to hit it.
Until the next daydream……..
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