Although you taught me, mentored me, worked with me over the next few years, we never spoke of this incident again. We discussed many other subjects. I’d ask a question; you’d pause and take a breath as if the matter required oxygenated thought. Then you’d twist your mouth a little to the side and deliver a considered, witty, impassioned response with the kind of nervous energy that characterized everything you did. You were an odd duck. Bold wardrobe choices, fussy personality, fluttery hand movements. Mannerisms today I’d describe as “queeny.”
Once, after telling me a good friend of yours is gay, you made a statement that struck me as peculiar: “Of course, I’m always very careful whenever I’m around him and we’re alone.” I gave it little thought at the time. Now it seems telling.
When I came out as a gay man, I was kicked out of my church, marriage, job. No place for me in polite society. You and many other former friends were conspicuous by your absence.
And then you were found out.
Way I heard it, you left incriminating images open on your office computer. The cleaning crew spotted them, reported you. You’d long worked for a church-related organization, very religious, very conservative, very small town.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something,” your employer said. This on a Friday. You had the weekend to think about it. You knew well enough what would happen—you’d lose your job, marriage, church, friends, your standing in the community.
You didn’t show up for work on Monday.
They tell me there is a moment of euphoria as a person drowns, when all is bliss and joy. I hope you found it. I hope you experienced relief and release. I hope you relaxed into one long moment when all was well, you were acceptable, had nothing to hide, no one to hide from, no one to harm you.
I wanted to stand up and shout, “The hell we don’t!” But I kept mum. We must accommodate to our surroundings.
I used to believe the coming out process, though painful, ultimately liberates. Your fate is not my idea of freedom, your baptism not my preferred mode of salvation.