I’m not one to cry much (hey, I’m a guy). You might not believe that given that I’ve blogged about some of the events in my life where I’ve mentioned it, but as an adult I can only recall a handful of times where tears have actually been shed. Most have been related to my son and his health, including tears of sorrow when he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes just after his first birthday, to tears of joy on the day the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare (tears that surprised even me, given the spontaneity of my reaction). In terms of all-out, tears falling down my face, the moments have been few and far between, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been more frequent occasions where my eyes have welled up and I’ve had to choke back the tears a bit.
Yesterday was one of those moments, and it too was a very spontaneous, unexpected event. Some background…I went to college at the University of Nebraska, for both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In High School, I was incredibly shy, and while I had my fishing buddies and we occasionally did other things, for the most part, I was a loner. The first year or two of college was hard. There were other classmates from my hometown of Beatrice, and oh…I think there was a twin brother around at the time too, although given our relationship, the details of his presence fail me at this time. We did hang out, played a lot of video games, etc., but still…I remained quite shy and was much more of a loner than those around me.
Without the influence of two people in my college life, I honestly wonder where I would be today. The biggest influence by far was my wife, who I didn’t meet until my last year of grad school. Without her influence, without her support and the confidence she helped instill in me, I think I’d still be in my “shell”. That shell included both my personal and professional life, as even aside from the social side of things, I don’t think I’d be nearly as confident or effective in my career if I hadn’t met (and married!) her.
The second, big positive relationship during my college days was with a long-time roommate…we’ll call him “Derek”, in honor of his beloved New York Yankees. I don’t even remember when or where we met…I think it was playing in softball leagues in Lincoln…but “Derek” and I become roommates for several years in college.
I continued to hang out with my old Beatrice classmates in college, playing poker, softball, video games…but looking back, it just wasn’t as “real” as my friendship with “Derek”. Especially as we all turned 21, playing video games or poker instead morphed into bar-hopping. I went along with it. If I DIDN’T act as if I were into it, I really would have been an extreme loner, so I played the game, went to bars, drank far more than I should have…and played the part of the typical college guy. But in reality? I didn’t enjoy going to bars. I didn’t enjoy hanging out and getting hammered, just for the sake of getting hammered. In short, I was faking it, just to look like “one of the guys”. In reality…I was just as much in my “shell” as ever, never really letting anyone close.
When I started rooming with “Derek”, I never had that discomfort, the feeling that I was faking it. I was still one socially awkward young man, but…there’s no one in college I’d have rather spent time with than “Derek”. I don’t remember really going out to bars at all much, but instead, we did a lot of things I can say I truly enjoyed. Fishing…”Fine Swining” (his term for going out to eat)…playing softball…and some of the most intense, multi-day “Axis & Allies” (a war board game) marathons you could imagine. In short…with him, I could always be myself, and I really lucked out having him as a college roommate for those years. Towards the end of my grad school days, he moved on right about the time I met my wife…
After college, we talked on a few occasions. After college, my wife and I had a year and a half in hell (my term for the Washington DC area), but then moved to South Dakota. On a couple of occasions, “Derek” came up and we went fishing, but we kind of lost contact until a few years ago. ALL of my friends from college were big baseball fans, and we started a fantasy baseball league in 1986, way before fantasy sports was widespread at all. A few years ago, I was surprised to learn that league was still going in Lincoln! And, one of the league members was still “Derek”. I was asked to rejoin the league, and for the past few years, I’ve been an active participant, and have reconnected a bit with “Derek”.
Whew…a long background, but necessary for you to understand my reaction yesterday. I came home from work, plopped on the couch with my iPad, and started playing around. I looked at Facebook, and noticed many people giving congratulations to “Derek”. It took me a while to figure out what the congratulations were for, but “Derek” had gotten married over the weekend to “Mariano” (OK, yes, another Yankee stand-in name!).
I was such a misfit back in college, and rarely mustered the courage to get out and date much, but even back then, I never saw “Derek” with a girlfriend or out on a date. In the years such, I knew he was still single, but never asked him about it, never questioned it. All I knew…here was the greatest, nicest guy on the planet, and he was seemingly alone.
Now I hope you can understand the flood of emotion that hit when I read the news that my long-time roommate and friend was gay, and had just married. The tears themselves? DEFINITELY tears of joy…I was so happy for “Derek”, so happy that he had found someone to share his life. But I admit that with the flood of emotion, came an undercurrent of sadness…sadness that after all those years living with him, after the subsequent years as adults, I never knew he was gay.
The guy was the best friend I had in college, someone I thought the world of. However, in the world we live in (and lived in at the time, some 25 years ago), “Derek” must not have felt comfortable sharing this with me. Given the testosterone-driven freakshow that can define college life for a guy, I can understand his decision to not advertise his sexual orientation. There are also a couple of “friends” (not the textbook definition) on Facebook who have made no bones about their feelings about gay marriage and the like, friends from high school or college who also obviously went through that era, and STILL choose to act like bigoted neanderthals 25+ years later. With the joy I felt for “Derek” yesterday, I just couldn’t help but feel that undercurrent of sadness that for those years we lived together, in that world…he didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about it.
The flood of emotion also had me second-guessing MYSELF yesterday. Why SHOULD he have shared that information with me? What kind of world do we live in where it’s even NEWS what your sexual orientation is? Why SHOULD I feel sad that he never shared with me…it’s not like I shared all the intimate details of my love life (or lack thereof) with him!! And hence the title of the blog post…
In a perfect world, “Derek” wouldn’t have worried about what his friends thought, or what others might think. He wouldn’t have had to worry about any backlash, about any bigotry or intolerance directed towards him because of his sexual orientation.
In a perfect world, this wouldn’t have touched me so deeply yesterday. In a perfect world, other than the marriage itself, this wouldn’t be “news” at all.
Here’s to you bud…so glad you found someone to share your life with. And here’s hoping that “perfect world” may become reality someday.