For a very small town—it was as though someone had gone into the center of it and fired off a cannon—and I was the only one who heard it—and watched it’s devastation…
I remember the night—as clearly as if I were right back there—sitting in my overalls—they were all the rage in the mid-70’s. My hair was really short—and my nickname was PK—just initials—just that—Sammy would come later—he would be there for that and a whole other wealth of names and experiences. He would be there…because that night cemented something that would never be shattered—a secret was shared—what others would call a terrible, dark secret that made the telling of it almost seem like he was committing a crime.
And that night—I became his accomplice…and I would stand by him through it all…never fully realizing just how important that was–that I stayed—that I didn’t shrink away in horror—that I didn’t call him an “abomination”—that I didn’t think that because of his confession I was somehow a “failure”—that I did not look at him with disappointment overshadowing all other emotions.
We sat there by the lake. It was so hot. I remember feeling whiny—that he had drug me out at nearly 1am in the morning (a thing which my Father would be really pissed off about, the next day). I remember that he seemed a bit down—a bit unhappy and I remember—so shamefully—that he had been that way a lot lately and I was tired of it—such a drama queen I would say. Never understanding that this “drama” would become his life—and that he would have to fight for his right to live as he desired for the rest of his days.
He was so quiet. For someone who rarely shut his mouth this should have been the first sign that alerted me to the fact that something bad was coming down—I never in my wildest dreams thought it would be something that would change us irrevocably—that would set the course for the rest of our lives.
“Uhm, I have something to tell you.”
I recall how the way he said it suddenly made this small ball of fear rise in my stomach. He was hardly ever the serious one in our friendship—still isn’t unless you talk politics with him—then—whoo boy, watch out. But then? No, he was rarely down, rarely serious, rarely anything but happy—or so I thought. How very wrong I was…to this day it grieves me that I was so blind.
“I don’t know exactly how to tell you this.”
This was not going to be good news. I knew it then with a certainty borne out of fear. He was moving? He was no longer going to be my friend? The anxieties rose higher and higher until I felt as though I would choke on them. I had no clue that he had been choking for so long nor that my little bit of discomfort was actually a real slap in the face to him. I didn’t understand what it was to suffer—I still don’t understand. But thankfully he forgives for that and allows me to stay.
He was always a softie—still is. Would always cry if something made him really sad—but not a crybaby—no never that. So as we sat by the lake on the hood of his car and the tears began rolling down his cheeks, I was pretty sure that whatever he had to say to me was something that I didn’t want to hear. Little did I know that this sentiment would be the defining one for every other person he would share this news with for the next two years. My god, I shake my head in awe and wonder at how he ever survived that time.
“I’m gay. I’m so sorry. I’m gay.”
Wait…sorry? Sorry? Oh my god. He was sorry for being, well, himself. For being the boy—soon to be the man that he was. How did this happen? How did we live in a world that made my best friend feel the need to apologize for his very existence? And, oh, god, what had I done—what had I said—to make him think that he had to apologize to me? What had I said, how had I acted that made my best friend in the entire world think that I would demand an apology for simply being what god had created him to be?
“I know this is a lot to take in. I’m sorry. I know you’re probably upset. I’m really sorry.”
Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up! Why are you apologizing?? Oh Christ—what did I do to make you think that who in the hell you choose to love is more important than our friendship? When, oh god, when did I fail you?
“Please just say something.”
I love you—do you hear me? I LOVE YOU! I don’t care—I don’t care if you’re gay or straight or…or…anything. I love you. Please stop crying. It’s okay—it’s okay. I’m sorry too. I’m so sorry that you were scared to tell me. I’m so sorry that all those nights when I slept over at your house or when we walked to school together or sat in the cafeteria that you couldn’t turn to me and just tell me—without being afraid of how I would react.
“Really? You don’t hate me?”
Oh shit! NO—NO! I could never hate you. Never. You’re my friend. My friend. My dear, sweet friend. My friend who two years later would be told that his was a sin so big—so huge that god could never forgive him—that he was an “abomination in the eyes of god and no longer welcome in the church we had been attending since we were toddlers.
My friend who, two years later, would stand holding my hand in a grip so tight, as he watched his mother cry and his father shake his head and see the painful awareness in their eyes that they had somehow “failed.” But they would still “love” him—they were just a little “disappointed.”
My friend who would sit in my basement an hour after telling his mom and dad and cry and cry and cry as I rocked him and the tears flowed down my face because I finally could see the horrible impact of that trembling statement he had made at the lake two years before.
My friend who would one day bury his first love and hold my hand as he scattered his ashes and then turn and cry once more and curse the idea of such a disease as AIDS existing in this world.
My friend who has no right to marry the man he has been with for twenty plus years. Whom he cannot acknowledge in the eyes of the state as his husband. Who bitterly watches the votes on same sex marriage and shakes his heard at the bigotry of it all.
My friend…in whose shoes, I will never be able to walk. Who loves me anyway, but especially when I stupidly make statements that exclude his right to love another man. Who tolerates the fact that I take for granted all the spousal rights I have—that I am never taunted, yelled at, made to feel like shit over whom I choose to love.
My friend, who I would lay down my life for…who is gay…who has suffered more in this life at the hand of a nation that chooses to live in fear and hate. All because he chooses to love.
We sat there 36 years ago. On the hood of his Toyota and he took my hand and he said to me, “You’re the only person I could tell. You’re the only person who I really hoped would understand. And you do. You’re my best friend. And I love you. And we’re going to be best friends forever. You and me.