The rusty red Toyota Tercel traveled eastbound on Highway 1 with the Vancouver skyline shrinking in the rearview mirror. Ahead the Rocky Mountains grew larger making any man-made structure look like ants in comparison. I veered left onto an exit, took a bridge over the highway and stayed straight until I made it to the Bible college. I pulled into the school’s single parking lot, where colorful balloons danced in the wind, barbecue smells swirled in the air and people gathered in small groups meeting one another for the first time. A stranger pointed me in the direction of the student center, where overzealous student leaders welcomed me to Canada and pointed in the direction of the apartment complex, which acted as the male dormitory, a half block from the school.
The glass double doors opened to a foyer with a set of stairs leading to the second floor and hallways off to the left and right. The burnt red carpet and beige walls screamed a throwback to the seventies with its wooden trim along the floor matching its wooden doors. Four guys lived in a two-bedroom apartment with desks situated in the corner of the small living room. A directory of local churches were left on each desk listing over a hundred different church service options. I chuckled to myself of the irony of it all. I didn’t want to live at my parent’s house in the Bible Belt, so instead I ended up living in Canada’s Bible Belt. I walked into one of the bedrooms with two twin beds squished against the outer walls giving enough space to get out of bed in the morning. Excitement grew inside of me ready to meet the new roommates.
I took my time walking back to the college and took in the local scene. Every building had larger windows than the ones back east. Trees kept the deepest green color I had ever seen. Facing west I could see the Rocky Mountain range. I could fall in love with this place. I arrived back to the welcome party surrounded by five hundred or so unfamiliar faces making basic conversation with one another. A student volunteer handed me a Styrofoam plate with a hamburger and small bag of chips as my welcoming meal. I thanked the man and sat underneath a large pine tree with a group of students unable to say a word as I tried to listen their conversations and the dozens of others happening around me. I quickly ate my meal and politely excused myself to dispose my non-compostable dinnerware.
“Nate?” inquired a strong masculine voice. The voice’s tone seemed too familiar and I couldn’t figure out why. I wrote it off as a figment of my imagination and began to walk away from the picnic.
“Nate?” The thick Canadian accent questioned again. I scanned the faces around me like a child eagerly looking for Waldo among a thousand cartoon imposters. Each unfamiliar face I glanced at brought disappointment until finally I landed on a slender, bearded mountain man.
“Dave?! What are you doing here?” A strange unexpected roommate reunion.
”What am I doing here? What are you doing here!? I’m from Canada!” Dave exclaimed.
Laughter filled the air as we embraced one another and others looked on at our joyous reunion. Dave, the man I ran with along the Mediterranean coast after the lawyer dream now attended the same college as me. Maybe, just maybe, this God moment stood as a small confirmation that being led to another far destination was imperative after all.
The gentlemen in my day to day life were the following: Chris, the video-game-playing comedian and my roommate. Jeph, the hockey-loving waiter, and the newly-engaged Reuban shared the second bedroom in our apartment. The apartment directly across the hall from ours held Chuck the introvert, who went home after a semester; Pilon, the fix-anything-entrepreneur; Josh, the guitar-playing singer-songwriter and Reide, the eccentric no-filter says-it-as-it-is bro. Together we gathered once a week for what the Christian world called “accountability” or “fellowship.”
Male accountability had always left a sour taste in my mouth.
Male accountability had always left a sour taste in my mouth. Discussions stuck to the same few topics: pornography, masturbation, not reading your Bible enough and needing to pray more. The topics were unrelatable…. Okay, maybe not the last two. If you didn’t have the whole Bible memorized then obviously you could read more Scripture. I must have missed a significant part of my youth because I had not experienced the worlds of pornography or masturbation yet and most certainly did not want to spend an evening discussing those topics.
In the most Canadian way, our first meeting was held at a restaurant overlooking a community hockey rink. Avid sports fans got their fix from the numerous televisions broadcasting sports channels and from a large window with a view of the local youth practicing their hockey skills. Our fearless leader, Pilon commenced our gathering as we sipped soda pop so as not to start the year off with a drinking fest. In strong confidence, Pilon started, “I want this to be a space where we can be completely vulnerable with one another and share anything.”
I felt my stomach churn like a gallon of milk left out in the hot sun, which came with an unexpected outburst, “Well, that’s completely unrealistic.”
Seven sets of eyes peered in my direction as I grasped the moist cup of Coca-Cola a bit tighter. Why did I say that? How could I be so bold and rude to men I have known for less than two weeks? I attempted to save face by giving a further explanation, “Well, we don’t have history with one another, so bearing our deepest secrets would probably be unwise.”
A couple of people nodded their heads as I watched Pilon look at the other young men. In his wisdom and with an effort to keep the conversation moving, Pilon agreed and changed the topic. Embarrassingly, I knew my unexpected outburst caused a dramatic shift within the conversation, but I knew I could not share my sexual orientation, especially since I lived with them. The discussion steered off to a safer topic probably about Scripture reading or prayer like a typical Bible student discussion would. The uncomfortable hour eventually ended, we paid our individual tabs and exited the restaurant.
“What a way to start life in a new city, you idiot,” I mumbled to myself. I wanted friendship, but I had an interesting way of approaching it. I unconsciously secluded myself at the inception of my college career. Self-protection became my new safeguard, especially in Christendom.
Self-protection became my new safeguard, especially in Christendom.
On Tuesday afternoons, I sat in a first year Intercultural Studies course listening to the instructor, Bryan Born. Bryan had a receding hairline, kept a bright smile and often spoke about his love of his home away from home, Botswana. Bryan acted as the Intercultural Studies’ Director, while carrying a heavy teaching load. Joy filled the space as he spoke with compassion and conviction in his lectures. On this Tuesday afternoon, Bryan gave us insight into what our third year internship would look like. A required eight months or more immersed in another culture while working alongside a local mission agency and the nation’s people. Expectation grew in the classroom as my peers and I straightened our backs and leaned in to listen as Bryan told us stories from prior students.
Bryan handed out small pieces of paper with an unknown bolded name followed by three fellow classmates. The bolded names were fourth year students, who recently returned from their cross cultural experience. “Caroline May” stood bolded above my name followed by Paul. Bryan stated the groups are designated prayer groups. Our group leader and classmates would meet once a week to pray for different parts of the world. Bryan opened the door to allow the fourth year students in and to introduce themselves. Their faces glowed with excitement knowing they once sat in our place and now they got to pass the baton. One woman came in with laughter and joy, which filled the classroom. Her dirty blonde hair touched the top of her shoulders and her rosy cheeks radiated a genuine heart. I became enchanted by her. In the background, I could hear Bryan read off the names of the fourth year students, who would then raise their hand to introduce themselves.
“This is Caroline May,” announced Bryan. The one I had been instantly attracted to lifted her hand and continued to smile. Following Bryan’s introductions, Paul and I met with Caroline, exchanged phone numbers and marked our calendars for our first group meeting. I felt her heart’s excitement as her gentle voice encouraged us in our first few days into the semester. She was the unexpected welcome I wanted. Anyone near her could feel spiritual fire blazing within her. Her sincerity and inviting warmth made me realize the cross-continental move to college was worth it all.
The following evening, I sat in a Community Development course with the same instructor. Bryan’s consistency between the flow of the course humored me, yet I also welcomed the consistency within the program. Bryan handed out small sheets of paper with grouped names for a future project. My classmates did not look familiar due to taking a fourth year course in my first year of studies. I silently scrolled through the list of names to see a familiar name: Caroline May. I smiled and looked around the classroom to find her. She must have read my name at the same time as our eyes locked. We smiled at one another and looked away and at the end of class, we re-introduced ourselves, got a good laugh and got to know our third group member.
My friendship with Caroline quickly grew through project preparation, group prayers and outside discussions on faith and social justice issues. We kept each other company over hot cups of tea as our young minds wrestled with taking on any world problem together. I looked at her as if I knew her since my childhood. Our relationship felt innocent, safe and filled with kindness. Caroline felt like the half of me I had been searching for. And with each passing day, I had the privilege of listening to Caroline’s heart through the meetings and classes we shared.
Caroline felt like the half of me I had been searching for.
The end of fall semester drew near, so Caroline and I exchanged contact information in order to keep one another in the loop about our holidays. In our winter correspondence, we wondered what it meant to “survive on the minimum” like the majority of the world did each day despite being surrounded by people caught up in the busiest retail season. This long distance conversation inspired us to lead a campus-wide rice and bean fast in the spring semester. The food sacrifice was small, yet life-changing. I had a small vision of calling folks together, Caroline had the courage to help make it happen. I appreciated how our teamwork and communication came so naturally as we supported each other with both humility and honor.
It did not take long for outsiders to take notice of the natural bond forming between Caroline and I. Every Christian community held onto a motto, “Ring by Spring.” As a result, our peers pulled us aside individually wondering if our relationship was made official yet. Unfortunately, the student body did not know the secret I kept inside. The real reason we could not date.
One afternoon, on my way to class a mutual friend of ours, Ben, approached me. His demeanor felt similar to his father and our professor, Bryan. Ben spoke with compassion and a lightness in his tone to make others feel comfortable no matter the situation. Ben also started to have a receding hairline like his father. I always felt grateful for Ben. He seemed atypical at our college. He enjoyed harder music, zombie movies, beer and he swore on occasion, yet also stood passionate about social justice issues. In a secular context, Ben would seem quite normal. In the Christian world I highly welcomed the change.
Ben quickly mentioned the noticed connection between Caroline and myself. I smiled and allowed Ben to verbally process his thoughts about Caroline and I and ultimately what I thought about her. I had been living in British Columbia for more than six months and still no one knew my secret. I kept the locked pandora’s box in the depths of my soul and blindly hid the key in a place that even I did not know how to reach.
“Ben, Caroline is one of my best friends here. The connection is there…. But….. I am not sure if I am physically attracted to her.”
Ben attempted to relate as he shared similar feelings of his lack of attraction to women he thought were great. Initially, I wondered if Ben really understood what it meant to be oriented towards other men, but his continued dialogue of what type of woman he liked made me quickly realize this was not the case. I listened to his descriptions, added a few verbal affirmations and prayed I did not give any feedback. Our conversation lingered for a bit until the winter mist turned into rain drops. The rain became my scapegoat as we said our farewells and parted ways. I finished my walk to class and wished I could make myself love her like a straight man could.
Winter in the Pacific Northwest could be described as this: A consistent mist in the atmosphere with a shade of grey covering every part of creation and every man silently praying for the sun to break through, if even just for a moment. The mist made umbrellas purposeless as it felt like walking through a rain cloud. Damp and cold. Day in and day out. The sun’s absence accentuated the emptiness I held inside, and I realized it was deeper than I previously thought. The same is true for many others silently dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In the Spring Semester, I took Evangelism and Outreach with Bryan. Most postmodern Bible students sought to opt out of this course since telling others about Jesus became taboo. Unlucky for them, the college mandated the course for multiple programs. Even with the uneasiness, Bryan taught the course with a heavy amount of mercy and grace.
Bryan announced our next task, “I would like for you to write a paper on your testimony or a God moment you had in your life. I would like for you to describe how God showed up and encountered you without using any unnecessary Christian jargon.”
Any event would do for this paper. My baptism in Croatia or a conversation I had with a friend. Any God moment would do. For some reason, this assignment made my soul ache. I reread the black print on the rubric a thousand times as the blank computer screen stared at me and waited for my response. Any God moment would do. Any one at all. In frustration, I placed my head on the desk mulling over what to do.
“You need to tell someone back home about this.” Mr. Whittaker’s voice echoed inside my head.
In determination, I lifted my head, placed my fingers on the keyboard and proceeded to write about everything. The words naturally flowed as I reminisced about my time in Spain. The suicidal nightmares, the inner pain, the anguished cry for help and giving God his ultimatum near the Mediterranean Sea. The words came out with ease until my finger tensed and froze. I bit my lower lip and forced my fingers into submission. In a rhythmic fashion, I typed one letter at a time, h – o – m – o – s – e – x – u – a – l.
My hands dropped down as I saw in plain black letters the word “homosexual” staring at me from the glowing laptop screen. I told myself it would be okay and typed a closing paragraph with Mr. Whittaker’s merciful voice inside of me telling me to share my story with someone. I would finally be known and this time I could not run. I had no strategic exit plan. No more hiding.
Bryan, Please contact me once you read this.
Overwhelming fear crept in on the eve of the assignment’s due date. I needed a “now read response” from Bryan as soon as possible like a text message received when a package arrived at its final destination. I paper-clipped a handwritten note to the assignment: “Bryan, Please contact me once you read this. No one knows this part of my life.”
I tucked the assignment in between folders in the backpack I used during the Europe trek in hopes other college papers would hide it. I forcefully zipped the bag closed like a prophetic statement announcing no intruders allowed. I placed the backpack next to my twin bed and laid down to sleep the night away.
Nausea woke me up the following morning matching the gut feelings I had during my high school swim team days. I often would have to run to the bathroom to throw up moments before my heat was called due to my nervousness about the competition.
This morning’s anxiety felt more unsettling as I consciously let someone in with nowhere to hide. I walked into the classroom, shoved my paper plainly titled “My Testimony” underneath the other students’ God moments and took my seat in the back row of the classroom. Bryan began the class and I sat staring at the stack of papers wondering what I had just done. For the next fifty minutes, Bryan’s voice became murmurs as my paper haunted me from across the room. The sound of chairs moving and backpacks being closed woke me from the trance I sat in. With my eyes kept on the paper, I grabbed my bag and walked towards the door. Every inch of me ached as I self-prophesied Bryan’s judgment of me as the disgusting homosexual on campus. Bryan would know. It was only a matter of time.
My exit from the academic building had become my entrance into hell. Love could only exist when secrets are exposed and acceptance is freely given. But the more I tried to come to terms with my own sexual orientation and to accept myself, the deeper my self-hatred spiraled out of control. I damned myself knowing that not even a prayer could purify my gay heart. I spent too many days and nights praying the homosexual thoughts would drift away. I wanted to be satisfied with intimacy only towards a woman. Yet, each time I thought about this I felt a load of bricks being stacked up to make a fortress announcing its impossibility.
Chris sat perpendicular to me on the oversized turquoise couch. He listened to me as I revealed my sexual orientation. Chris reflected on how his previous roommate also came out during his time at the Bible college. In a strange way, it seemed God-given that Chris had only gay roommates in college. My conversation with Chris became preparation for a discussion with the one everyone thought I would get married to. I needed to let my best friend know we would never be together.
“Caroline, I know you like me….”
Caroline and I planned a coffee date. Okay, not a “date.” A friendly conversation over a cup of tea, where “getting coffee” was normalized within the Pacific Northwest culture, hence, a coffee shop. It would be an intense, planned dialogue where two friends have time to catch up and go deeper. Caroline and I sat directly across from each other holding onto our white mugs with both hands as we waited to see who would start the conversation. In the tension, my lack of tact or my New England bluntness caught us both off guard as I began our conversation uttering the words, “Caroline, I know you like me….” Her brown eyes widened like a child caught drawing on the living room walls with permanent markers. In my mind’s eye, I watched her arm drop as her hand lost grip of a red Sharpie falling to the floor next to her and we stared at our freshly written initials within a solid heart.
“.... But we cannot date.” Her face turned down in disappointment staring at the picture we both thought would stay forever.
Caroline kept a positive affect as I shakingly recounted my personal history. I laid out the finer details mixed with bouts of shame. I felt like I led her into my living room wall drawings of a confusing sexual history with an uncertain hope of becoming sexually whole again. Her eyes spoke gentleness as she actively listened, nodding her head and radiating the glow I’d always known her to have. My rude start “I know you like me” did not scare her. She knew my heart. In both relief and disappointment, I outlined the expectations of staying great friends and never lovers.
Caroline graciously shared her heart revealing her own personal pain and life’s victories. True vulnerability continued over the next couple of hours. No condemnation or shame was held between us as we validated one another’s feelings. Caroline and I kept the space safe, a sanctuary every human longed for. Our conversation came to a close, we hugged, walked out into the misty day and drove off in our respective vehicles. I never felt so known and loved before. I started to question the walls I built that barred a relationship between us from ever happening.
In the days and weeks to come, sixty-minute classroom lectures on Scripture became a sixty-minute mind game of self-inflicted pain. Professors’ theological words spun around my head as I attempted to take notes, but visual hallucinations took over. A pencil became a lethal spear jabbing between my ribs over and over again, tearing away skin, bone and organs as if my ribs were never an obstacle. Veins popped from my neck as the intensity heightened with each plunge of my spear into my chest. The time is coming for me to die.
A professor, Mr. Greene, approached me after class stating we needed to get coffee one afternoon. I nodded and mumbled an affirmation unable to make eye contact with him as my mind watched a makeshift pocket knife digging out the rest of my flesh between my leftover ribs. I shuffled by him and walked out of the classroom. What did he want to know? I did not have a clear thought in my fucking mind and I kept these images inside.
Everyday activities – shower, homework, meals, walks – had their own unique detailed suicidal plan. The longer the activity, the more detailed the image became. The community swimming pool closed by eight each night, so a late night jog seemed like the perfect opportunity to subside my overwhelming depression and anxiety. My male peers walked in and out of each other’s apartments avoiding any and all upcoming assignments. I heard the laughter flooding the hallways. And in a strange way, their joy brought on a new torture as I visualized myself cuddling naked with one of them.
In frustration, I yanked on my navy blue shoelaces and tightly tied my running shoes. The shoe’s grip under my foot brought my thoughts back together as I grabbed my iPod and walked out the door. The sound of my shoes pounding against concrete echoed in the empty street as I quickly ran away from the religious community for the next thirty minutes. My rhythmic footsteps kept a constant pace guided by pop music attempting to drown the negative self-talk in my brain. Meaningless, easy-listening music to set me free.
An abandoned fallen tree branch laid across the sidewalk ushering me into my final destiny. I attempted to jump, but my feet stumbled over the limb as I lost my rhythmic running pace. My right foot kicked up the branch in between my legs and I stumbled into a passing car. The car’s horn blew loudly and I gasped for air as its bumper collided with my left knee launching me onto the car’s hood. The motor vehicle swooped my body up from its windshield onto its roof, then allowed me to roll off its trunk. The tires squealed as the horrified driver’s screams echoed down the dimly lit street. A warm, red liquid engulfed my white t-shirt as I lost consciousness.
A warm, red liquid engulfed my white t-shirt as I lost consciousness.
A passing car blew its horn and startled me as I awakened from another suicidal ideation and shifted my body off the street and back onto the sidewalk. I jumped over the lifeless branch laying flat and undisturbed in the sidewalk’s center. Top 40 music could not drown out my self-hatred. My heart rate quickened as I circled back around the block to the apartment building and jumped into the shower. The hot water’s steam filled the bathroom as I silently whimpered for the suicidal hallucinations to leave. Would peace ever find me? I dried myself off and got dressed, while looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Who wanted a faggot around anyways? The gays were a waste of space. I left the bathroom and checked my email before heading to bed.
Inbox (1 New).
Bryan had read my paper. My heart pounded as I scanned through the email with phrases such as “powerful story” and “authenticity”, but they felt untrue. He ended the email with an invitation to share a meal together. I typed back, “Sure” and closed the laptop.
The following day, Bryan and I sat across from each other at a local Thai restaurant. Wind chimes chattered outside the window and bamboo plants lined the walls. I could not muster up the words to fill the conversation as Bryan attempted to ask me questions. Bryan sought to bring normalcy to our conversation, even bringing his personal struggles to the table. I wished I could have been empathetic as Bryan shared. Instead, I silently sat in shame with the inability to relate to his life. Bryan’s heterosexual struggles did not face the level of hatred that the Christian community had toward the gay population. I wanted to believe our struggles, pains and worries were the same, but they weren’t nor would they ever be.
The final person I wanted to talk to was Ben. Yes, Bryan’s son. Our friendship grew during a Wednesday evening class filled with our sarcastic remarks being said under our breath to one another. Ben and I rode in his beat-up light blue Chevy with a six pack of beer to an unknown destination. Ben smiled at me and said, “I know the perfect place.”
The Chevy made its way through the dimly lit streets and stopped in an empty parking lot. We hopped out of the truck as Ben announced, “Here we are!” I grabbed the six-pack as we walked to an elementary school’s park.
“Here?” I jokingly questioned.
“Yes, here,” responded the bearded man. Ben and I sat on swings parallel to one another. We exchanged honest stories about our past hurts and future hopes while sipping on a local brew. My voice shook as I talked about struggling with homosexuality and wondering what my future life would be like. Would I be alone? Would I know what intimacy felt like? I verbalized these questions with a thousand more as the alcohol broke down any walls I built up.
“I’m sorry, man.” Ben’s face looked towards mine. I looked at him, commented, “It’s whatever” and quickly looked away.
Ben told me I was the first gay person he had known. I thanked him as if I gained a badge of honor. We continued to talk underneath the Canadian stars until we could sober up. Our slender bodies could not handle the intensity of alcohol from three beers a piece. At one point, we laughed at our inability to walk only to stumble back to the swing set to wait a little bit longer.
Chris, Caroline, Bryan and Ben each showed me grace and love, but I had no compartment in my soul to keep their kindness near to me. I did not know how to love myself. As a result, I could not accept the love of others. I secluded myself within awakened day and night terrors.
Three nights a week I cleaned the third floor of the administrative building, which acted as the college’s library. I kept the same routine each time. I picked up abandoned scrap paper on the floor, pushed in chairs and wiped tables, and vacuumed the carpeted sections. I would then step into the janitor’s closet and prepare a mop bucket. I placed the water hose into the yellow bucket and turned on the hot water. I grabbed a light blue container of floor cleaner and added it to the mix. The suds in the bucket bubbled and popped in rhythmic formation. My head bounced to their dance as the silent beat cued me to empty the floor cleaner into my mouth allowing my digestive system to burn. And with each attempt to cough, I drank more reminding myself that the gays had to die.
I drank more reminding myself that the gays had to die.
The mop handle slid from its standing position against the wall, crashed onto the floor and awakening me from the ideation. My hand rushed to turn off the water preventing the bucket from overflowing. I shook my head in hopes the vision would stay away. I rushed through the final cleaning process to escape the detailed plan I just imagined. I clocked out and ran back to the apartment building to see Chris sound asleep in the twin size bed next to mine. I undressed, slid underneath the covers and took one last look at my roommate to remind myself that I wasn’t alone. The nights when Chris went home, I laid awake waiting for someone to help take the suicidal ideations away. Any human body near me would do. I only needed someone near to ease my pain.
Each moment of the day felt like multiple hours as I made lethargic movements as if my brain attempted to drag my body to do its daily duties. Even the simple act of shampooing my hair felt like lifting sandbags over my head as I washed my hair clean. Depression would be an inadequate term to describe the bullshit playing within my mind. I did not simply walk in a cloudy sadness. I visualized repeatedly slamming my head against a concrete wall fracturing my skull into a thousand pieces as blood gushed over its surface. A kitchen knife became death’s beginnings as I jabbed my stomach over and over again to end my suffering. Each image became more real and painful than the previous visual hallucination. And with each passing day the desire to die became stronger. I prayed my way to sleep each night.
Only love and wise counsel to shed away the years of torment I felt.
A single mic stood on top of a wooden podium waiting for its speaker to be introduced. In confidence, I walked across the stage attempting to look into the crowd and past the blinding light. I squinted my eyes to see a packed auditorium with thousands of people in concert hall seating. I slowly blinked my eyes in an attempt to lower my heart beat, took a deep breath and began my monologue. I spoke with conviction highlighting to both supporters and critics on the issues of mental illness, homosexuality and spiritual warfare. I threw no negative feedback at the critics. Only love and wise counsel to shed away the years of torment I felt. Life echoed in my speech and throughout the auditorium in my simple recognition that my life should have been cut short a decade or more ago. Without a closing statement, I moved past the wooden podium and down three steps to stand in front of the stage. I lifted my left arm to motion my guests to join me. A dirty-blonde-haired woman and three boys came to my side. The love of my life kissed me and stood by my side. She grabbed my hand as our three children stood in front of us. Neither the boys nor her were a prize I had won. We only stood with a victorious story of the waiting and knowing for true love. I loved, cared for and would die for them. The thousands in the audience stood, clapped and cheered as the stadium roared in excitement.
I woke from the dream staring at the beige apartment ceiling. Mentally, I scrolled through a Rolodex of questions wondering if the answer hid behind the barriers I had built. Did I meet her already? Did she attend my bible college? Was she actually blonde? How would we meet? Could I actually have children? Despite all of my internal questions, the morning’s silence did not seem as scary as it had before. It became strangely inviting. I felt a small amount of hope. Maybe, it could all become true.
Mr. Greene again asked me to get coffee with him, which I finally felt okay with agreeing to. Neither of us ordered a coffee that afternoon. He grabbed a bottled soda and I ordered my usual chai tea latte. Mr. Greene was a gentle man with a warm smile. He showed empathy to every person as he engulfed himself in their story. He was a pure academic with a brilliant mind and admired by many students.
For some reason, I began to recount the previous night’s dream. As the short story began to unfold I noticed his lips pinching together and eyebrows turning down and I closed my story to listen to his concerning response.
“It wouldn’t be fair to her. If you are having sex with her, you would be fantasizing about other males. It’s like one person liking apples and another person liking oranges. There is a difference, despite what many think this difference is okay and not sinful. It’s an attraction that is…. Your attraction towards males is just there. For others, it’s an attraction towards the opposite gender. For you, it’s for males,” spoke Mr. Greene with a gentle father-like voice.
Just because you dreamt it doesn’t mean you have to run towards it.
His insight felt like air slowly leaking from all four tires as the driver attempted to stay on course but instead headed straight into a boulder knocking the driver out to announce the joyride had ended. The exciting destiny I thought I had gained crumbled within minutes of my discussion with Mr. Greene.
“You dreamt this dream because it’s something you badly want. Just because you dreamt it doesn’t mean you have to run towards it.”
I embraced his logic within the moment he gave it. I conspired the dream only came because of my unrealistic twenty-something-year-old’s yearning to stay within orthodoxy. And in mutual agreement, we met weekly over bottled soda and chai tea lattes. And week after week celibacy seemed to be the only answer.
With the spring semester ending, conversations with Mr. Greene became more sporadic and I moved into a basement suite with four other guys that summer. My mental health sat at a new low, so I decided to stay in a place where I knew someone would always be around. Chris continued to be my roommate in one bedroom as the three others took the larger bedroom.
Monday through Friday, I drove across the international border for work. I spent my weekends working with a local wedding company. I hung drapery, arranged centerpieces and tied sashes around chairs dolling the banquet halls with expensive chair covers. It felt like an unconscious fulfillment of a gay man stereotype. I kept a large workload in an attempt to keep the lingering suicidal plans at a distance.
But I could not keep the demons inside
In my spare time, I spent hours reading Henri Nouwen’s books. In a strange way, Henri became my dead mentor. The deep wisdom in his writings inspired me and kept the small hope inside of me alive. I learned from a biography that we had similar stories of wrestling with sexual identity. The only difference, Nouwen kept his struggle to a few close friends in order to not ruin his religious influence with people. The era in which he lived was so different. I could not have survived back then. For Nouwen, his hiding came out of a necessity to avoid being tainted by his hidden demons in order to help the greater population be filled with God’s love. But I could not keep the demons inside as I watched knives jab into my wrists, vehicles run over my body and chemical consumption burning my insides each and every day. Only out of desperation I functioned at a fifty-hour work week to temporarily escape my private hell.
The tight basement quarters overwhelmed me with the close proximity of four other men sharing the space. Gratefully, I spent random evenings at a college friend’s house about thirty minutes across the border. Jeremy and I always had a depth to our conversation. We became quick friends from being a part of the Presidential Leadership Scholarship group. His academic ability was far superior to mine, but I held my own.
On a balmy evening, Jeremy and I drove twenty minutes to sit along the Pacific coastline as we split a large Little Caesars pizza. For me, it became a bitter-sweet reminder of the Rhode Island days. I recalled the vulnerable conversations I had with Kendall and our youth pastor questioning about our relationship. If only I knew what it was like to love a woman. The low tide politely tossed the pebbles around offering a gentle sound to my restless soul and lack of conversation.
I knew Jeremy was my ally. Still, I cringed and became uncertain of this if I opened up to him about my sexual orientation. There would be no more splitting of a pizza. No more sitting by the ocean's shoreline. No more brotherhood. I could not muster up the words for a normal conversation, so we sat in silence.
On the drive home, Jeremy questioned my abnormal silence. I bit my lower lip trying to make sense of the painful condemning thoughts I had for myself. Jeremy needed to know. I needed Jeremy to know. I opened up to him knowing I did not want to hide my struggles for the sake of the religious like Nouwen did. I kept repeating how sorry I was for any inappropriate pass I may or may not have made towards him. The self-accusations became greater in my mind than the real circumstances actually were.
Jeremy broke his silence with a simple question, “Nate, do you trust God?”
Nate, do you trust God?
The question stung my nervousness as my neck tensed forcing me to look at the evergreen trees we drove passed. I never thought of that. Did my confession show a trust or at least an attempt at trust? What does trusting God look like? Weren’t we all trying to get to that high and holy place even though it may not be perfect at times? That was trust, wasn’t it? Can a questioning faith still mean trust? How could I trust with all of the hallucinations haunting me?
“I’m trying to trust. I really am. I …. I just don’t understand all of the visions in my mind right now. I don’t understand the dream I had. I don’t know what God wants. But He knows I’m trying.”
Jeremy thanked me for my honesty. And I, in return, thanked Jeremy for his friendship. The burnt red 1992 Volvo turned left into his family farm. We both exited the vehicle without a word and went to bed that evening. I mulled over the question if I trusted God. And I wondered if He could be trusted.