I need to wrap up my adventures in Kansas with two interesting encounters - one very unintentional, and one intentional - both of which turned out quite well.
On my way home, I met up with my friend Norma just north of KC in Liberty, MO. She was a fellow seminarian from KC whom I met in 1997 when I was first starting the whole part-time student thing at St. Paul School of Theology. She was one of the part-time/evening students, and we managed to pal around as part of a group of evening folk, frequently in each other's classes. We started dating around 2000 - just dinners and such, at first - and it became very clear that she really would have liked the relationship to go forward more than it was.
I wasn't completely clueless about my sexuality back then - but was definitely not ready to come out to my school and church. And although there was a great deal of affection between us, I just couldn't manufacture the desire or passion even to go past cuddling on the sofa - though I tried repeatedly. I tried to tell her at the time that it wasn't her - but she wasn't buying it, and she felt pretty rejected. The friendship recovered, and actually deepened over the years - but the relationship remained a pretty chaste one.
So, fast forward to the Kansas weekend. I'd arranged to meet Norma just for a casual lunch, and was also going to take advantage of the time to come out to her. As lunch was served, we were talking about stuff in her life and her work when down the aisle came this truly stunning-looking waiter - think Chris in Latter Days. And I did what my homo-mentor has been encouraging me to do - I looked. He and I locked eyes for just a moment, he smiled and walked on by...and I turned back to see Norma with this odd expression on her face. She asked, "What's up with that?" I must have blushed, and I muttered something about he looked like someone I knew. Norma gave me another weird look, and then said, "Steve...have you ever considered the possibility that you might be gay?"
Whoops. Busted. Big time.
"Actually, that was on the list to talk about today, Norma..."
It actually went pretty well from there - although the "Why haven't you said anything until now?" issue had her a little miffed. And there were some tears - at least a few of them healing, I hope - as I told her how much I'd wanted things to work out romantically between us, but I had just known that it wouldn't (even though I wasn't willing to admit, even to myself, why it wouldn't work).
I think it helped her to know that it was me, and not her, that was the breaking point in the romantic aspirations. She told me she knew that I loved her - that simple friendships would never have endured what we've endured - and I told her she was right. And as I left for Des Moines, she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and wished me well.
The visit in Des Moines, with my friend Nathan, was entirely different. I'd emailed him before I left, and linked him to this blog, and he emailed back to say, "Looking forward to seeing you." We had a delightful Lutheran-church-basement casserole dinner - pure comfort food - and we talked about everything under the sun except my orientation. And yet it didn't feel like "the rhinoceros in the living room" - we just talked about what was on our minds. And as I got in the car to leave, I had to wonder - was I avoiding the topic? Was Nathan? Or were things just that OK between us?
The answer came by email late last week:
I know that you are 'Steve.' Your new announcement is a scary thing to you, thus it can be so big. You are still the man who is my friend and the best man at my wedding, that has been successful. Nothing in our relationship has changed. It seems that even though you were not out at the time, you really have not changed since the day we met. You have just realized and accepted some things that are just are, since then.As the old song goes, "Who could ask for anything more?"
At this point, I'm wondering what else to do in the circle of church friends. There's a circle of about a dozen folks at the level of "good friends that I care about, have significant history with, but don't keep in constant contact with." Most of them I won't see, other than funerals or weddings, and part of me says, "Who cares if they know?" But part of me says that I need to come out to them, perhaps, most of all. Because there's a number of them - loving, caring people who have supported me and encouraged me - who are nonetheless Promise Keeper members and Focus on the Family supporters, who probably need to at least hear my story, even if they don't want to agree with it.
Decisions, decisions. For now, though, I'm pretty content with where I am, and the journey so far. And that's a good feeling to know.