520 miles away, I found myself


Larry Miller

Liam (left) and Eve (right) Miller posing for a picture on Halloween.

I’m 520 miles from home, scrolling endlessly through my camera roll, trying to find pictures where I’m truly happy. This assignment sounds simple — find a picture when you’re younger that makes you happy — but somehow, it’s incredibly difficult as every picture has a bad memory behind it and no longer makes me happy.

In one my family is huddled together at Disneyland, posing in front of the castle. We’re surrounded by laughter as couples, all wearing red, hold their significant other’s hands and pause for pictures. 

“Why is everyone wearing red?” I ask.

My mum kneels down to eye level and whispers, “We can’t talk about it.” 

Looking back at it, I’m sure growing up in the Catholic Church in England wasn’t easy for her and it’s probably what she had been taught. She’s my mum — she’s nice, caring, patient, supportive — she doesn’t mean harm to anyone. I trust her and what she says because she’s only looking out for me.

I brush it off and figure I’ll understand when I grow up. I smile and pose, too innocent to understand what this would mean to me in the future. 

I can’t use this Disney picture because it no longer makes me happy. 

I’ve always been relatively close with my family. There were never any major issues in my childhood. My parents loved each other, I had a good education, and my brother, Liam and I got along (or as much as brother and sister do).

We fought when we were younger about who got to use the foam sword and who got to use the lightsaber in our duels, but as we’ve gotten older I know he looks out for me.

In another picture, the whole family is dropping Liam off at college in Texas. We stand outside his dorm room, smiling for the camera, excited for him and his future. All the parents hug and cry as they say goodbye to their children who are no longer kids. 

Later that night, the warmness of the night signals summer is coming to an end, but the empty seat next to me is cold and I begin to miss Liam. For some reason, it feels like the perfect night to be honest, so I blurt something out, something I’ve held onto for so long already — just two words, just two syllables — but I immediately regret it. 

The blank stares and silence for the next few days is all I need to know going forward.

I keep my head down and my mouth shut, and hide myself for four more years. 

I can’t use this picture either. It no longer makes me happy. 

What people say about the “Orange County bubble” is true. Being born and raised there, I grew up thinking everyone was nice. Everyone goes to Saddleback Church, has a nine to five hour job, goes to soccer games on the weekends and the beach later in the day. Your biggest issue was finding your parents to pick you up in the long line of cars after school.

High school was the definition of freaks, geeks and jocks. I would walk out of class, look to my left and see cheerleaders making out with their deadhead football boyfriends. I’d look to my right and see kids growling at me like an animal. 

In all the pictures of me in high school, I can’t help but notice the unhappy, angsty teenager who can’t even tell her friends who she is for fear of not being accepted. I was never into dressing up for dances or loved talking about boys. Sure, I was captain and goalkeeper of the varsity soccer team, but it wasn’t in a cool way. I wasn’t the poster child for sports that everyone knew would go on to become a star, but I also wasn’t the weird kid who would have their buttcrack showing constantly. 

Instead, I was always told my quietness was intimidating and that everyone was scared to talk to me. What no one knew was my quiteness was actually the anxiety in my head telling me that everyone knew I was gay and was making fun of me. 

The weight of this “secret” was pushing me further and further from the point of ever gaining the strength to lift myself up. A lot of my friends at the time had no idea who I was and, in all honesty, I was beginning to lose sight of who I was too. 

I’d only told people who I felt deserved to know. My small group of friends that mostly consisted of my teammates were about the only people I was openly talking to about my sexuality. They knew my situation and that I wasn’t completely out of the godforsaken closet. But to most, I was just your regular, One Direction obsessed, straight teenage girl.

I can’t use any of these pictures in high school either, as I’m not truly smiling in any of them. 

Oh, here’s one! Having just graduated high school the week before, I felt unstoppable. I’m standing in front of a ferris wheel, nervously smiling. The air is warm again as the sun fades behind the hills. Crowds of families and teenagers lineup all over. The smell of churros, funnel cakes and deep fried oreos lingers in the air. 

I’d heard horror stories about cruel people wanting to hurt people like me, but figured I’d be one of the few lucky ones.

 I was wrong. 

As I walk away from the ferris wheel, my partner at the time reaches for my hand. Hesitant, I go along, knowing I need to trust more. The longer we hold hands, the sweatier they become, but the bigger my smile grows. Finally, I feel comfortable and free. Confidence grows inside me. 

All we wanted to do was win a colorful green betta fish from the infamous fish booth. As we walk toward the booth, hand in hand, more comfortable with each second that passes, we notice three older men staring at us. I feel my heart sink. I slowly start to hide our hands behind my back, but it’s too late. 

The 6-foot-something man with a gray beard and a Harley Davidson shirt locks eye contact with us as we get closer. I watch in slow motion as he puts his lips together and spit comes out from between his chapped lips, making its way to our faces.


As the saliva runs down our faces, I pull my hand away from my partner’s in embarrassment. Guilt, shame and humiliation rush through my body and I can still feel them all to this day. He said it as if it was something he did everyday to girls who hadn’t even turned 18 yet.

Driving back from the fair later that night, I held our fish, Greg, in my lap and stared at it. It didn’t feel right. How could I take care of Greg when I couldn’t even stand up for myself? For the rest of the summer, I stared at Greg each day wishing I was him. I’d have a ten second memory and could just swim around peacefully in a small bowl with pretty rocks and a scuba diving helmet that could only fit a squirrel.

This is a memory I wish I didn’t have a picture of.

The guilt never seems to go away. I can still feel it today as I did three years ago whenever I lie to my friends and family when they ask if I’ve found a boyfriend yet. I have to sit next to my girlfriend, pretending she’s my “best friend” just for our safety. 

The guilt of not being truthful to the family I love. The guilt of putting my girlfriend through the pain of lying about our relationship. It’s a never-ending nightmare. 

While my parents know I’m gay, it feels like a conversation that will never be brought up again out of fear of it going the wrong way. Everytime I go home, I tiptoe around the subject. Am I able to tell my grandparents, neighbors or family friends? I’ve been too afraid to ask for eight years because they might say no. 

Without knowing, there’s hope that I can be open and free to everyone one day. But with a hard no, that hope is completely diminished, as I’ll then have to make the decision between having my family in my life or my happiness. Not knowing the answer makes life easier and stops me from having to make a decision that will change my life either way.

I just long for a place to feel safe. And I think I may have finally found it. 

I’m sitting on a cliff at the Skyway lookout point during sunset. I’m turning 19 and while the world seems chaotic, I feel at peace. 

“Look over here,” my girlfriend yells at me.

I look back and smile at her. I’m just about to start my sophomore year of college and I’m starting to feel more confident in myself.

520 miles from where I was born, in a small college town, is the only place I can feel free and hold my girlfriend’s hand in public. I can pose for pictures and show affection without hesitation. I love my home and family more than anything in the world, but being away at school, getting to be open and free with myself and those around me is what I’ve always hoped for. 

There was a time when I never thought I’d be able to have friends who actually know who I am and accept me anyways — 520 miles away is the only place where I can truly understand why people wore red to Disneyland on that one particular day. The people wearing red were there because it was the designated gay day at Disneyland. Here, I don’t have to whisper about it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. I can say those two words that I regretted uttering eight years ago: 

“I’m gay.” 

It may have taken me my 20 years of existence, but I finally know what pride is. 
Eve Miller can be reached at [email protected] or @evebmiller on Twitter.