by Melanie Hutsell

When I was in the fourth grade, there was a boy named Robby Shelton that I really loved. He was my boyfriend, but actually he just felt like another girlfriend. Mom had my hair cut like Tony from Captain and Tonielle, which was basically a glorified bowl haircut. And Robby got this really tight curly perm; he sort of looked like Mike Brady. Needless to say, we were quite the pair. I couldn’t believe the names other boys would call him, like girl, faggot and sissy. All I could think was, “ Okay he’s my boyfriend and you just don’t know Robby, you’re just jealous because he has style and he’s funny. We used to go behind the water tower and hold hands. While all the other kids were making out, we preferred sitting and talking about something else we had in common-Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. And then two years later, we were torn apart because we were zoned for different junior highs. My first day at Walland Middle, I knew right away that there was no one that even came close to Robby and I really missed him.

Other than that, I was gonna have a great year. I was definitely the cutest I ever remember being. I was blonde and tan in my white painter’s pants. I made cheerleader and I even won class president. Thank you. It was the next year that everything went awry. My nose grew, but my chin didn’t and my hair was getting darker by the day. My overbite became very prominent. At this point, it was, as though my Mom had a mental list and by God she was just gonna start taking care of it. She taught me a lot of great life skills like how to walk like a model and how to stand like a beauty pageant contestant so you look like you have a smaller waist. One day she said, “Mel! You can not start beauty too early and we might be a little late, now get in the chair!” Then she pulled the hair through one of those awful plastic caps with a crochet needle, “Mom I’m bleeding!” “Oh Melanie that’s not that much blood! Now be still.” Then I got braces, but my overbite was too severe. So in order for my Mom to save me from having “headaches” later in life, she took me to a plastic surgeon. He asked to see my profile and I remember ever so slowly turning my head to the side, “Ouch! Looks like we got ourselves a little turtle. Ever seen a turtle with a chin, I don’t think so! I’ll see what I can do.”

So during the long and arduous surgery, the Doctor came to my parents in the waiting room, “Mr. And Mrs. Hutsell, we broke Melanie’s jaw and brought both jaws forward as much as possible to no avail, let me spell it out for ya! We still don’t have a chin yet!” What would you think about a little silicon implant?” Before my dad could even speak, my Mom said, “Do it! Do it!”

Post surgery I looked like a human sized chipmunk. So to cheer me up, my parents surprised me by taking me to Robby’s big, rich Babtist church to see a musical. We belonged to a humble Methodist church where I was related to half of the congregation. So this was a big deal to me, of course so was going to Red Lobster. Robby was fabulous that night. I felt like I was watching a star being born. As he sang, “Day by Day, Day by Day,” he sounded like a man. Just like Mel Tillis loses his stutter when he sings, Robby lost lisp. When I left that night, I knew he was going to be more than fine. He was on his way. I was kind of jealous. I mean there Robby was in the spotlight singing his heart out and here I was in the congregation, jaw clinched semi-permanently and I was too embarrassed to wait around to tell him good job. Our phone relationship continued, but eventually with his heavy church schedule -every night, it just kind of fizzled.

During my recovery from surgery, as if I needed any further discomfort, the heat was unbearable that summer. My cousin Heather finally convinced me to go to John Sevier Pool. My body probably looked the best it ever did, but nobody was looking at it because they couldn’t help but stare at my giant swollen head. Heather said, “Trust me Mel, a tan will help, it’ll make your head look smaller.” Who would of imagined that any boy would want to talk to me that day, but the wires and swelling didn’t stop Scotty Lovin from coming over.

I guess the string I wore around my neck, with wire cutters attached, in case I threw up, intrigued him. Scotty was a good, looking, athletic Junior High God but of course not exempt from his own issues. He called me later that day “Melanie?” yes Scotty” “Would yooooooooooooou like to go out with me sometime?” “I guess I could go get a milk shake. “ “Meeeeeeee and my Dad will come pick you up at 7:00 tomorrow night.” “ Okay.” With his stammer and my jaw wired shut, we were also quite the pair. When they finally took the wires off, Scotty and I had to make up for lost time. The first time we kissed, my jaw locked, but we just kept going. Then we worked our way up to marathon make out sessions. He used to hump me in such a way that like he put his knee in to my groin repeatedly. Whatever he did, it felt good.

The other boy I once loved, on the other side of town, Robby, wasn’t having such an easy time of it either. I heard through the grapevine that he poured a whole bottle of lotion on some girl on the bus. Who knows what she said to him to cause him to do that, but yet he was the one that got suspended.

The next thing I heard about Robby was that a girl by the name of Kelly Ashmore had a huge party and did not invite Robby. He lived on her block! He decided to show up anyway, some jock answered to door, “Hey Kelly, I didn’t know your girlfriend was coming!” Kelly came running to the door, “Hey Robby. What are you doing here?” Little did they both know that Robby had already covered himself in gasoline? He lit a match and burned to death right in front of their eyes. While somebody ran to get a blanket, he was yelling out, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!”

Robby’s death hung heavy over Sevierville for years but out of respect for his family; no one ever really talked about why he did it. He was a young gay boy with no possibility of hiding it from anyone. Robby was dealing with something he could not change. The world’s response to him sucked and he had the unfortunate wisdom of knowing it wasn’t going to change anytime soon, especially not in Sevierville and certainly not in that Baptist church of his.

A few weeks after Robby died, I went to church just like I did every Sunday. Services had begun as my Nana was up in the choir singing the first hymn slightly off key but to the top of her lungs, how great thou Art, when I looked back and saw Kelly Ashmore and her family being escorted in as guests. As she walked down the isle, with her long wavy blonde hair, dark eyebrows and green eyes I felt a shock go through my body. I thought, “Wow that’s pretty courageous. Is she coming to ask God for forgiveness?” I wanted to hate her, but just seeing her right there in front of me, made her so human. I knew that if it hadn’t been her stupidity, it would have been someone else’s. I was amazed at what stupidity could lead to. How will Kelly ever move on from this? How will Robby’s family ever deal with this? And even as his long lost friend, how will I? You never get over it.

Without really knowing it, I had many gay friends in high school, gay boyfriends in college that considered me their last hope of being straight and now I have my gay friends that I don’t know what I would do without.

A few years back, I was in Tennessee, driving around and got completely lost. When all of a sudden I saw a road sign that said Robby Shelton Road. Robby Shelton Road. That was pretty cool.