"You know, for a guy who grew up in Kentucky, you seem pretty well adjusted to the whole gay thing."
I thought about what Greg had said as I drove home. I hadn't replied other than to smile and nod. What would he feel if I told him all of it? I toyed with the idea, but it was too early for that. He didn't need to know just how damaged I was.
Regardless of my choice to keep the entirety of the truth from Greg, I couldn't stop it from replaying in my mind. It was just as well. I had hours to go before I was home.
I was raised Southern Baptist in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Fire and brimstone were a part of my world, and variation from the word of God was a sure path to damnation. That's how this begins.
Something drove me to join the US Navy. I was seventeen years old, and I had never been away from home. Yet I signed up for a six-year stint in the military. I was terrified to go, but something in me knew that I couldn't stay. The Navy was my way out, and I took it.
I made a fantastic sailor because I was great at doing what I was told. I didn't let myself think all that much, and I just acted on the orders given. Something is freeing and therapeutic about a lack of choice. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it allowed me to function during a time when my mind wasn't ready for the processing it would need to do later.
My first duty station after a year of training as a Hospital Corpsman (essentially a medic) and some additional schooling was Okinawa Japan. I was eighteen, and I quickly found a fellow named Chris who needed a roommate for his apartment off-base. We also worked together, so it was great.
That first year was good. I got to know Chris well, and I came to feel for him an amount of fondness I'd later know as love. At the time I didn't know better. I just thought we were best friends.
We even shared a bed. That was fine until the morning I woke, and Chris had his arm around me. He had turned in his sleep, and it was purely innocent (Chris was straight, through and through). I lay there, more turned on than I had ever been in my life. I had no understanding of why - and I told myself it was merely the fact that another person was touching me in a somewhat intimate way. That if it were a girl, I would have reacted the same.
After that, I insisted we sleep in different beds. I was deeply disturbed that my body behaved in such a manner. I even paid half for his bed, and we put it together. All was well again, for a time.
A few months passed, and Chris met Gina. They hit it off. A part of me wanted to be happy for him, but by far the most consuming emotion I felt was a burning ache of jealousy.
I tried hard to find someone of my own. I was still a virgin. I dated girls, but none of them made me feel anything at all. Chris and Gina continued to try and set me up on dates, and eventually, I came to dread them.
There's only so long that a person can deny the truth. My moment came to me, just after I had turned twenty years old. I lay in bed. It was two a.m., and I couldn't sleep. I had work that morning at six, so I sat up and said aloud, "What is wrong with me?"
The answer struck like a bolt of lightning. It slammed into me, the undeniable truth, and I sat there, stunned. It was the worst possible thing I could have imagined, and I couldn't fix it. I couldn't make it go away.
Something broke. Something just snapped in my mind. I don't remember deciding to do this, but I got up, went to the bathroom, and I took down a package of Bic razors. Chris and I had just bought a new set of six, so I had plenty to work with.
I started with my head. Shaving cream, all through my short hair, and I scraped it all off with one razor. After that, it was dull as hell, so I tossed it. Then I moved on to the next. My chest was next, then arms, legs, and groin. Why I saved it for last, I have no idea, but by the time five a.m. rolled around, the only thing left was a tiny patch of hair on my belly. As I was shaving that last bit, Chris surprised me.
"What the fuck are you doing?!?" He stood at the doorway to the bathroom, gaping at me.
Imagine for a moment what he saw - twenty year old me, completely naked and hairless, covered in splotches of shaving cream. I jumped when he spoke, and I snapped the razor I had been using against my belly. I frowned down at the cut I made, dabbed it with some toilet paper, and very calmly spoke, "I'm shaving." Then I picked up the last razor and continued.
Chris blinked. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." I finished up, rinsed the razor, and put it on the sink. I looked at him. "I'll buy more razors today." Then I toweled off and walked past him to get my clothes on for work.
The next six months I lived in this weird state. A few nights a week I would go up to the top of our building, and stare down at the concrete six floors down. The scary thing now is how fearless I was at the time. I only had one worry - and that was if the fall would actually kill me. I didn't want to live through that, because I'd have to tell people why I jumped. My logic was - since there's nothing I could do to fix me, and I was going to go to hell, then why wait?
I got sick of living that way. So, one night I decided that I was going to either do a swan dive off of my building or learn to live with being gay. Unbeknownst to my sister, I decided that however she reacted would do it. It took the choice from me since I couldn't seem to make it.
I worked nights at the Blood Donor Center on the island, and I called my sister in the middle of my shift. She picked up and immediately knew something was wrong.
"Bub, what's wrong?" I could hear it in her voice. She was worried, and I had barely spoken.
"Sis, I've got something to tell you."
She was quiet for a beat, then she said it. "You're gay."
It wasn't even a surprise to me that she knew. There were only a few things which could warrant the tone in my voice, and that was one of them. I nodded, "Yeah."
There are these moments in other lives where we have a tremendous amount of power, and she exercised hers without even knowing it. "Well, bub, that's okay."
And that was how my sister saved my life.
I pulled up to my apartment in Ridgecrest, California. Finished with the drive, I was tired. But the weekend with Greg was fun, and he was worth the time and effort of the trip. As I unlocked my door, I smiled slightly.
"Well adjusted." I shook my head, entered, and kicked the door shut.