from my bookshelf: the big book of misunderstanding by jim gladstone


joshua royalton remembers his difficult childhood, high school years, and early adulthood. royalton shares the pain, joy, and fear that comes along with his discovery that he is homosexual, his contemplated suicide, and what it was like to come out to his parents. royalton is simultaneously delicate and strong, scared and brave, depressed and joyous. his story is relatable to those who have been through similar experiences, but also to anyone who has felt out of place, confused, and torn by their own identity compared to their perception of what people want them to be.


“My father gave us a book once, The Big Book of Safety Fun. It was scary, no fun at all. Careless stick-figure kids called the Nit-Wits stuck their fingers in sockets, were bitten by dogs, and got run over by cars. The picture that scared me most was a little stick boy who stepped into a shower without first testing the water temperature. The Nit-Wit screamed, his bottom bulging crimson in the scalding downpour. Some nights, thinking of that image, I would run the shower so my parents would hear it, but I’d never step under to wash.”

“I glanced at my parents, my brother, and the other families all around us, calmly watching and listening to Jenny and the bird. My stomach heaved and my forehead grew clammy as it occurred to me, more strongly than ever before, and maybe nothing was wrong with the world and everything was wrong with me.”

“In the backyard, Lew demonstrated how to grab on to a branch and pull up, but, strain as I did, I didn’t have the strength to boost myself onto even the lowest limb. Frustrated at being weaker than my younger brother, I returned to the tree alone many afternoons, gradually hoisting myself into the lower branches, but too timid to make the risky maneuvers that would lend me the widest view.”

“In the waning nights of summer, beneath its arching canopy of trees, Roslyn Avenue was illuminated by swirls of fireflies that seemed to have adopted our house as their vortex. Approaching home, we saw not so much a house of stone as a wavering net of phosphorescence. In younger years, I’d filled mayonnaise jars with these creatures and laid in bed, trying to read by their light. Now, I wanted to read the light itself, as if it were Morse code. We pulled into the driveway, and I stared at the blinking caul around our house; Light, dark. Safety, danger. Love, loss. I wanted fireflies to offer answers. I wanted all the mixed messages unmixed. I wanted a family less complicated than nature.”

“The last image I recall from our meeting in the park is my reflection in Meri’s eyes as she calmly turned away. I see myself, in the tears that silently streamed down her fine-boned cheeks. It was the end of my blissful, submarine year. Forced to reemerge from the green pools of her eyes, I stood alone in a hot summer breeze, shivering all over. I went home to cry. My parents wrapped me in their arms and said they understood how it hurt. But I knew they didn’t; they’d never broken up with anyone in their lives.”

“A familiar seizure kept me from setting point to paper, as though protecting us all from the stories I might write.”

“Harris Royalton was a family man. Now, for the first time in his life, he found himself alone. He found himself lost. Behind that arched oak door, he was slowly becoming unhinged.”

“But there is a difference between purity and permanence in love. One is an unexpected flash of magic, the other a painstaking work of art. I walked around the corner that morning and called my father at his office.”


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