We had hooked up several times the summer before college.
By: Hunter in Chicago
My heart sank, my throat tightened, and I shielded my iPhone’s screen from anyone crammed around me that was riding the Redline train downtown. Here is what the private Facebook message said:
“Thanks for accepting my friend request. When we have our reunion next week, let’s play it cool. I have a great life now and just don’t want to mess things up.
It might be a good idea if you kept your distance … I respect the lifestyle you’ve chosen but it’s not my thing.”
After reading it, I wasn’t a grown gay man with a respectable corporate job or husband to a terrific guy; I was a shy, closeted 18-year old who went out of his way to hide his sexual orientation and pretend that I liked girls. With that one message, I could feel the shame of being gay all coming back.
His name was Calvin* and he was our high school’s quarterback. Back in the day, he was the quintessential school jock, standing at 6’0 with impressive muscles to boot. No, he wasn’t an Eric Decker look alike but he certainly was handsome – at least to me.
One look at his blue-green eyes in the hallway was enough to make my heart stop. During those days, he’d wear surfer t-shirts, Levi’s 501’s and expensive Air Jordans. I never really knew him back then but I certainly knew of him.
I mean who didn’t – he was probably one of the most popular people in our 1,500 student high school. But isn’t being popular always the case for jocks?
At that age, I knew that I was gay and I knew it big time. While I didn’t have a lot of sexual experiences under my belt, I had messed around enough to know what I liked. But because I lived in a conservative suburb of northwest Chicago, there was just no way to be out of the closet. Nobody could.
Bear in mind that it was the late 1980’s and unlike today, gay acceptance wasn’t even a fantasy. And let’s not forget that HIV fears were at their zenith back then and the word “Gay” was synonymous with “AIDS”.
And so I tried to go unnoticed as best I could, like so many gay men of the era. The only thing that saved my sanity at the time was my near obsession with gymnastics, which by no means was considered a “jock sport”. But it did afford a respectable place to hide.
My attraction to Calvin was a mixture of gushing adoration peppered with physical curiosity. Whenever we would pass by one another in the lunchroom, I always made it a point to say, “What’s up?” or “Hey man!”
On most days, he’d acknowledge me back with a wave and a smile as he made his way towards the table of other jocks … and their girlfriends.
Speaking of girlfriends, Calvin had one. She was a cheerleader for the football team and was also on the pom-pom squad. They didn’t become prom queen and king but everyone knew they were an item.
After we graduated that late spring, I took a part-time job at a mom and pop hardware store for extra money. I would be heading to college in the fall out of state and needed to earn as much cash as possible. Almost weekly, Calvin would come in for construction supplies because he and his dad were renovating their backyard deck.
Each time he would pop by, we’d get to chatting. On some days, we’d talk about the status of his football scholarship, which he eventually got to a “Big 10” school. Other days, we’d talk about our girlfriends, with his being very much real and mine being completely made up. And then there the days that he’d tell me about the progress being made on the deck – which was moving along very well.
One late July afternoon, he came in for a drill bit and asked me if I wanted to stop by his house to see the finished product. “You should come by tonight. We can knock back a few on the new deck if you want. My parents are out of town,” he said, as he wrote down his address on a receipt.
Did I mention that I already knew where he lived? Yep, I did. When you have a crush on somebody, you make it a point to find these things out.
Later that night, I can remember driving over to his place and hoping that his girlfriend wouldn’t be there. It’s not that I didn’t like her or anything. It’s just that I didn’t want anyone else around. Does that make me bad?
I’ll never forget when he opened the door. Calvin had no shirt on – just a pair of tan khakis and that were loose around the waist. “What’s up dude?” he said with a disarming grin.
To make a long story short, we met and he showed me the deck. We had a beer and talked about stupid crap, like what girls he thought looked hot and who might be going to the Super Bowl the next year. I faked my way through the bro-talk as best I could. What else could I do?
Nothing happened but I can remember feeling extremely attracted him, trying not to stare at his business as he sat in a wooden lounge chair. And for a brief nanosecond, I could swear that we made a connection on some level. “You have to show me how got so ripped man. I’m trying to put on more muscle,” Calvin remarked as I told him about gymnastics.
In early August, he stopped by the hardware store again – this time with his girlfriend in tow. He needed some outdoor lightbulbs for a party his parents were having to celebrate their anniversary. “If you want to come by and say hi, stop over tomorrow night,” he said. As they left, his girlfriend turned her head and giggled as she waved goodbye.
I never went. The last thing I wanted to do was feel awkward around a bunch of people I didn’t know, including his girlfriend. And speaking of girlfriend …
Calvin called me up a few days later. I could tell he was disappointed that I didn’t show up to the party. “Let’s hangout man – what are you up to tonight?” he asked in a friendly voice. I didn’t have shit going on so I invited him over to my house.
That’s when it all happened …
The evening he came over, he shared with me that his girlfriend told him that that I was gay. I have no idea how she knew this or if it was just that obvious but apparently, his girlfriend knew. Her stupid little giggle at the hardware store that day suddenly made sense. Of course she knew. Girls almost always do.
I denied it of course – I was too afraid to admit anything like that, let alone that I was massively attracted to him.
“What do you get out of it?” I remember him asking me out of nowhere
I can’t tell you how it happened or even why it happened but at some point, the conversation turned into something physical. All of this was taking place in my parent’s home, in my bedroom. Needless to say, I was nervous as hell and excited at the same time.
As he unbuttoned his jeans, I can remember thinking how surreal things seemed. Was this really happening?
With my bedroom door locked, we quietly took turns going down on one another, with him seeming to be more experienced than he should be. And afterwards, when we were done, he made some more bro-talk and then took off.
On that first encounter with him, there was no kissing, no hugging, and no real affection. In fact, it was pretty darn transactional.
But in those last remaining weeks of August, just before we both took off to our respective colleges, we would hookup several more times. We never did anything more than oral but we did make out once and there were some other forms of exploring. Looking back, it was all pretty innocent.
“What do you get out of it?”
Anyway, after college, I really never saw him again. I moved to the big city and lost myself among the masses. Not unlike a lot of gays I am sure.
When Facebook came along, I would occasionally pull him up to see what he looked like. He appeared much as I had remembered him over the years, save some wrinkles and graying hair. And yep, he was still handsome.
I never friended him – or even “followed” him.
Fast forward to our 25-year high school anniversary reunion. The organizer sent me a personalized invite and encouraged me to attend. In the past, I always blew these events off because I just felt I would be perpetuating a lie. “Everyone is accepted – please make an effort to come,” she encouraged.
The world has changed so much in the past several years. Gay people more and more are being embraced by society and same sex relationships are no longer hidden. In fact, I wasn’t hiding mine anymore. You see, I’ve been married now for several years to a wonderful man who makes me very happy.
But apparently, Calvin must feel guilt over what we did so many years ago. That’s about the only reason I can come up with regarding why he sent me that gay-shaming message.
I had heard through the grapevine that he was on his second marriage and that he had some kids. A few people also said he was big into church and considered himself “born again”.
I wondered if he was living a lie and if my presence at the reunion was just too much for him?
My hubby knows everything about me, including my now ancient hookups with Calvin. And so when we went to the reunion together, he made sure that I pointed him out. “You had a crush on that?” he joked.
Old friends I hadn’t seen in years welcomed us in a swarm. We felt totally accepted – even celebrated. It was kind of overwhelming. “You two are such a cute couple,” said one of the girls I went to biology class with.
It seemed like we were the life of the party – or the funky, cool gay couple that people wanted to be near. Either way, it was great. And what was really cool was that we wern’t the only gays there.
During all of this, Calvin seemed to act like I didn’t exist. As he mingled with his old jock friends and relived glory days gone by, I would occasionally see him staring in my direction. He was with his wife, who I must say looked beautiful.
That’s why when I went to the bar to get a glass of wine, I was stunned to see him following quickly behind.
As I tipped the server for the drink and turned to walk away, Calvin stepped in front of me and said, “Hey, it’s good to see you. Sorry about the stupid meesage I sent. We should hang out some time buddy.”
I simply said, “Good to see you. I need to get going.”
Since the reunion, I’ve blocked him on Facebook. My days of living a lie or being gay shamed are over. So is my attraction to Calvin.
*name changed to cloak identity.
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