The night before everyone kept asking when I was leaving to drive home for Christmas. "I'm going to try to leave by 6 a.m.," I would say. The women at church always responded with looks of concern. The men just kinda nodded with the acknowledgment that that was early. "Yeah that's why I'm going to rush right out after the second service," I'd say next. We have two Christmas Eve services.
Six a.m. was early. I'd been up for an hour getting cleaned up and finishing my packing. All the gifts were already in the car. I wasn't sure how long the drive would be, probably close to six hours, so I was trying to get there by noon. I hate arriving late to a family get-together. I hate being the one everyone is waiting on.
The day before I had spent mostly alone, until I went up to the church in the afternoon to help get things ready. I had spent the day cleaning the house and getting it ready for my return. I'd put the flannel sheets on the bed because they are so warm, and they make me feel like I'm being hugged. I had also got everything I could packed into the car in order to make the morning go more quickly.
Close to six I was cleaned up and dressed and the car was ready. I turned down the thermostat, left open the doors on the kitchen and bathroom sinks, took one look around and paused for a moment. When I returned all would be different.
Back in October I'd seen him again. He came to town for the weekend to spend time with his sister Sarah and her husband Lucas. They invited me to hang out with them that weekend.
I had a youth Halloween Party that Saturday night. I went dressed as "the Paint Nazi," a name the kids started calling me on the mission trip that previous summer because I'm such a stickler for painting properly. When I got to Lucas and Sarah's I changed clothes. I had brought my nice jeans and a nice shirt. Why? We were just sitting around the apartment, not even going out to do anything.
John was there; that's why. John supposedly had a crush on me. Sarah had said for years that she wanted to set me up with her brother, that we were perfect for each other. The only problem was that I was "straight" (she would have said it with the quotes). Back in the spring of 2001 I had met John for the first time at Sarah's apartment, when she and Kelli Kiser lived right next door to my house in Shawnee. At that time, I was preparing to move from Shawnee to Fayetteville. John laughs about how unattractive my outfit was that night we met -- Star Trek t- shirt, shorts that he thought were too short (though he admitted that's what folk were wearing then), and Tevas (which he doesn't like).
But why was I now dressing up for this guy? That thought bothered me for weeks.
So, on Christmas morning I was finally headed north for Miami and Grandpa's house for Christmas with the family. But all I was thinking about as I drove was John. I'd specially picked the music for the drive -- Elton John, Indigo Girls, Rufus Wainwright, etc. You see, John was coming to visit the weekend after Christmas. In two days I'd be driving back to Dallas, and John would be there that evening. For the five hours of the drive, that's all I could think about.
The Tuesday before Christmas it looked as if John wasn't going to come to Dallas. Originally, he was coming for the weekend to stay with Lucas and Sarah and to hear me preach that Sunday. On Tuesday Lucas and Sarah found out that they'd have to leave town for the weekend and go with Lucas' family to a wedding in Arizona. I was excited, because this solved my problem really. I had been wondering how I'd get a chance to talk to John if he was at Lucas and Sarah's. Now all I'd have to do was invite him to go ahead and come for the weekend and stay at my house.
That Tuesday night Sarah and Lucas came over to my house. We were sitting in the living room chatting casually when Sarah said, "You're being cruel. You know John has a crush on you and now you've invited him to stay the weekend with you." I said, "I'm not trying to be cruel." The conversation went on its way. Then they were getting ready to go when I said again "I'm not trying to be cruel, about John." Sarah looked at me. I then added, "I want to explore the possibility of a relationship with him."
Lucas was getting up about to leave and when he heard that said, "I guess we're staying. How about a drink?" So I told them the whole story.
After John's October visit I couldn't get him out of my mind. Clearly I was attracted to him and had been the previous times we'd met. He was attracted to me, at least this is what I had heard and sensed. What did this mean? And what was I going to do about it?
For years I'd told myself stories. The story of late was that I was bisexual, but was going to act on my (minimal) attraction to women because that was easier. There was some point in every single day for most of the last decade that I had rehashed this conversation in my head. Why did I have to go through it every day?
Because I think I really did know the truth. I knew that my earliest memories of sexual feelings were homoerotic. I knew that my sexual fantasies had been about men since I had begun to develop sexually in late childhood. I knew that I spent most of my adolescence racked with guilt over my sexual desires and worked as hard as I could to repress them. I knew . . . There was so much I really, really knew, but I was working so hard to deny it and live the way I was expected to.
Now faced with my attraction for John, the old stories weren't working anymore.
By mid-November I realized that there was no way I was going to avoid "this" this time. Finally I had to deal with my sexuality.
Mid-November I took a day of private retreat. There are these church members who have a gorgeous home in the Southern style. The foyer has these heavy antique English doors with brass knobs. The living room has huge comfy leather chairs and big windows that look out over the lake. When I first moved to Dallas they offered their home for private retreat space anytime I needed to get away.
Sitting in the living room of that house I prayed and meditated and thought. What was I considering? "Am I gay?," I wondered. What would happen to my life? My family? My job? Everything and everyone around me? Hours I prayed about this, spending a good deal of the time lying prostrate on the floor.
Finally I felt a peace and tranquility. Maybe what I was about to go through would be a "dark night of the soul," but I had this sense that it would be a positive transformation for me and for other people. I left there that afternoon with an overwhelming joy.
When I told her all of this, Sarah was thrilled. She was so happy for me and so happy for John. For years she had wanted us together. She said she wouldn't say anything to him, but that she would want to hear all when they got back from Arizona.
My drive to Miami didn't seem like five and one-half hours. I was in ecstasy the whole way. I kept rehearsing what I would say to him. I kept imagining how the weekend would play out. I kept dreaming about the possibilities for the future. I was hopeful that a year from then we would be making this drive together.
Christmas with the family was weird. To think what might happen within the next year. How would they respond? Would I even be spending another Christmas with my family? Would I have a family left in another year? I stayed a couple of days longer than everyone else in order to spend time with grandpa and his wife. At the time I figured that would be the last time I'd get to spend with them like that.
My high school friends and I hung out one day. I got to see Amie's new baby boy. It had been almost a year since I'd seen any of these friends, so we were doing a lot of catching up. They wanted to hear all about the break-up with the girlfriend that had occurred months before. As I recounted this story, Jason started talking about my miserable record with women. "Have you tried being gay?," he asked. I almost didn't know how to respond, but just smiled.
The drive back to Dallas was just like the drive to Miami. I never got bored; all I was thinking about was John. When I got home, I put the finishing touches on cleaning the house. Here I was, about to take this major step into a new life. Everything was about to change.
We were watching The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I pushed pause on the DVD player and turned to him, "I want to explore the possibility of a relationship with you." That's what I'd rehearsed. It was both the opening line and the closing line of what took most of an hour to say. I explained my sexual history, my confusion, my excitement, my worries about the future, my desires, what had happened since I'd seen him last. I asked him if he wanted to take all that on, with all the risk, becasue if so I wanted to explore that possibility with him.
He said he did. But we had to go get Tums because he was now so nervous that his stomach was upset. Once we were in the car headed for the convenience store, I reached over and touched his hand and started caressing it and had the most amazing feelings I'd ever had.
After he left that weekend I called my old college roommate, Matt. "I'm dating someone," I said. "His name is John."