When I was around 25 years old I lived in Providence RI with my boyfriend and our life was pretty normal. We were young, had a nice apartment, went out dancing on the weekends, play cards with friends some nights. Life was pretty good. He even got me to join a saturday night bowling league. This was no ordinary bowling league night for us. He was out to win & he was a damn good bowler too.
Kevin was a little on the girly side but no one bothered us. Either because we were very comfortable with who we were or they knew we could bowl just as good as anyone else. Funny how straight men regardless of the sport view you differently if you can compete with them on their own turf so to speak.
I had some friends at work & we were the week day warriors that lived for a good friday night out after work kinda crowd. We were all fairly close & all young and finding our way in the corporate world.
One day Katie asks me if I’d do her a favor. She asked me if a friend of hers named Mike could call me sometime. At first I thought she was trying to set me up but he was only 20 and I was 25 & before I could say anything she stopped me and said it was something more serious.
“My friend Mike is having trouble with being like you & Kevin.” “Bowlers?” I asked sarcastically. “No, you know…gay.” “Could you talk to him sometime so he doesn’t feel so alone maybe?” I said “Sure, no problem.” I couldn’t imagine being that age and not being comfortable with my sexuality. What a horrifying thought.
One Friday night I got a group of us all together, including Mike, & got us all set up at the bowling alley for a night of fun with pitchers of beer & bad nachos. I know…totally not me today but I was happy back then with flat beer & shitty nachos & comfortable. I digress.
Mike came out with us & he didn’t seem nervous at all, just the opposite, he seemed super excited to be out with people who “knew” what his situation was but didn’t care. Eventually he & I went off on our own a little & talked a bit. I’ll never forget what he shared with me. All he wanted was to finish school & meet a nice guy to fall in love with…AND have his family accept him. What any young gay man would want. Love & acceptance.
The school part was a no brainer so that part of the conversation was easy. I let him know that he had plenty of time to meet that special guy & it was definitely going to happen some day. As good looking as he was & studying to be an architect, why wouldn’t he get scooped up. He didn’t believe me for some reason. The family part I couldn’t help him with too much. The best I could do was suggest that he has to be the one he has to make happy & be ok with himself. I really didn’t know the family so I couldn’t gauge how they might react to him coming out.
Mike & I kept in touch over the phone a lot, met for beers here & there. He came to dinner with Kevin & myself quite a bit or to card night at our straight friends house from time to time. I wanted him to know & see that you can have a normal life and still be gay. That being gay wasn’t the end of the world. Being who you were meant to be was entirely possible & was full of joy, love & happiness.
One night Katie called me, very late, like 11ish I think. We worked early hours so I knew it was kind of odd. She was crying & just said “Mike is dead.” It still didn’t register what she had just said. “What do you mean Mike is dead?” “Was he in a car crash, what happened?” she was sobbing & said “He killed himself.” “His family & brothers found out he was gay & he couldn’t take it anymore.”
I was dumbfounded. Mike was such a genuinely nice kid my heart broke right then & there. All he wanted was to be loved, by another man, & live a happy life.
I still remember the funeral & how young he was, how young we all were.
This was long before Will & Grace, before Ellen, before anything of that level of public acceptance was even on the horizon. Long before anyone could even think it would be legal to marry in the state of MA.
The recent events, especially the Tyler Clementi incident, remind me that even after all of the seemingly giant leaps forward under the guise of acceptance we “appear” to have made…we really haven’t come that far when it comes right down to it.