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The first time my eyes landed on Chris*, I knew one day he’d be my husband. There was no doubt in my 10-year-old mind. His blond, bowl-cut hair was shining under the classroom’s fluorescent lights. When the teacher assigned him to the desk right next to mine, my heart nearly burst.
“Hi, I’m Chris,” he said, turning to me. TO ME.
“I--I’m Emily,” I stuttered.
“Nice to meet you!” he said, perfect teeth sparkling.
The next day was a field trip to space camp. He followed me around and, amongst the fake moon rocks and stars, our friendship began to form. He had just moved from NY, a magical place I’d never been. By the grace of God, his parents chose a house down the street from mine. Our fate was sealed.
Throughout middle and high school we remained close. My crush on him was sometimes intense, and smoldering, and sometimes not existent at all. My diaries from that time period are littered with mentions of his name. I never told him though, fearing that him not reciprocating would ruin our perfect friendship.
Over time, my feelings for him changed from romantic, to platonic. Slowly his name was replaced in my journals. I still loved him. How didn’t matter.
By the time I went off to college in another city, those romantic feelings were completely dissipated. He stayed close to home, but we kept in contact. Chris would come up to visit for the weekend, both of us crammed into my tiny dorm twin bed, laughing and joking like we were kids. Things felt the same.
It wasn’t until he joined a fraternity junior year, and started dating a girl that I thought was wrong for him, that we started to grow apart.
I filled my time with church and friends from college. He filled his with drinking, partying and spending time with the girl that I secretly hoped he wouldn’t marry.
After graduation, I saw him even less. When we were together, it felt like something was off, but I couldn’t figure out what. To my surprise, when his girlfriend broke up with him after two years together, that “off” feeling didn't go away.
Then one day, I got a call.
“We need to see you tonight,” said Marie, Chris and I’s mutual friend.
“We who?” I didn’t try to hide the sigh in my voice. “
"Chris and I.”
“I’m so tired, can it wait? I just got back in town.”
Her voice changed, and started to shake a bit. “No. Tonight.”
“Alright, is everything OK?”
“Just call us when you’re close.”
As I pulled into the park by my apartment where I was meeting them, a list of possible scenarios scrolled through my mind. Could he have found out his girlfriend cheated on him? She was weirdly close with his roommate. Did he get a DUI? He wasn’t irresponsible, so I doubted that. His mother was a lifelong smoker, was she sick?
I exited the car and saw them sitting on a wide tree branch that hung low to the ground. In my neighborhood there was a park on every corner, all filled with humongous, moss draped oaks. It was late. I could hear the water from the river lapping against the concrete bridge to the left. Even in the dim light from the one lamp post, I could see that they both looked nervous. I sat down on a bench across from them.
“You guys are seriously freaking me out. Just tell me what’s going on.”
They looked at each other, and Chris laughed nervously.
“This was so much easier when I was drunk and told Marie.”
I was getting exasperated.
“Did you get a DUI? Is your mom OK? Did you get someone pregnant?”
He said it more to the ground than me.
“Emily, I’m gay.”
All the air left my lungs. I was taken completely by surprise. His coming out was not something I’d expected or prepared for. My mind flashed to a conversation Chris and I had in high school. During one of our nightly long walks together, we stopped to lie down in the grass and look up at the stars. I casually, carelessly mentioned a guy at school who referred to him as “faggot” when talking about Chris to me. He didn’t say anything.
After a long pause, I asked him if he was gay. Told him I would love him if he was. Without pausing, Chris said no. I had never doubted his sexuality since then.
The sound of a twig breaking beneath Marie’s foot snapped me back to the present. Chris’s eyes were focused on me. Waiting. With a deep breath I lifted myself off the bench, crossed the small space between us, and embraced him.
“I love you. And nothing is going to change that. Ever.”
The three of us left the park, and drove to a nearby dive bar. We ordered beer and nachos, and tried to act like nothing had changed. We crammed into a small booth in the most secluded corner, upon Chris’s request. I started to ask him some of the endless questions flooding my mind.
“Shhh! Not so loud,” he said, scanning the disheveled drunks on nearby bar stools.
No one was listening. Marie and I agreed not to tell anyone until he was ready to come out. Afterward, alone in my apartment, I sat on the couch and sobbed.
The tears were for partly for me, for not knowing this secret of his that he’d been holding for nearly two decades. But the most of the tears were for Chris. I cried because I feared for him, for what he might face. Hatred, judgment, discrimination, even violence. Shamefully, I was also scared of what this meant for my worldview. The one structured around a religious dogma that assured me homosexuality was always wrong and gay people needed to be “cured.” One that lumped me into the same category as the people I feared might attack Chris.
Today, four years later, I’m thankful that his coming out shattered my world. It was a world in need of upheaval. Because of Chris, I found my voice and passion, fighting for gay rights within the church, and out.
He led me to conversations and experiences that helped me realize that the only people who needed “curing”, were the ones fearing and loathing the gay community. With his guidance, I also realized something else. I didn’t need to leave my faith, the one that his sexual identity initially made me struggle against. I needed to change it.
That first day my eyes fell on Chris in 5th grade, I was sure that we’d always be together. Seventeen years later, even though I have a husband, and he has a boyfriend, we still are. I love him and he loves me. How doesn’t matter.