I can still remember it as though it were yesterday. It was a steamy August evening in 1979. I was laying across the bed of my college friend helping with a paper on the genetic predisposition of aberrant sexual behavior. During a lengthy and involved discussion on clinical trials, in mid-thought, with no segue-way, I asked Mark about something completely, totally unrelated.
In one swift motion he grabbed me by the chin and placing his face just a hair’s breadth from mine he growled: “Sometimes it is impossible to like you,” I quickly retorted “so, you like me?” to which he replied “Yes, but you need to channel your thoughts and energy. Stop screwing around in the factory, go back to school and do something with that twisted mind of yours.” Two days later I turned in my resignation at the factory and began the college enrollment process.
Fast-forward to June of 2005. It’s around 5:30 in the morning. I’m sitting at the bedside of my partner of 22 years – he’s just come out of kidney transplant surgery. The ICU nurse and I have been discussing the implications of the transplant and how it might affect our lives. At one point she looks at me and tells me that I need to simplify things and bring down a few barriers. She said in the coming weeks and years I would need all of my energy focused on what’s important.
I asked if she was asking me if I was gay. Her answer was amusing and thought provoking. “I know you’re gay, but you’re wasting a lot of energy trying to keep from saying it.” Over the next few minutes this matter-of-fact nurse told me things about myself that I never realized, some of which were not particularly flattering.
Later, sitting all alone, I began to think of the similarities between the conversations with the nurse and my college friend 26 years earlier. While I have a successful career by most standards, throughout much of it I have turned aside the help and advice of friends, family and coworkers. I was too wrapped up in myself to see it.
My stepmother always said that you shouldn’t regret the past since you can’t change it. Instead look to the future. Shortly after the discussion with the nurse, changes came fast and furious. My partner and I went to Canada to be married, we’ve begun volunteering; we go to movies and we travel. I’ve joined a gym and now don’t need blood pressure medicine. I’m looking forward to my family reunion next month and my 30th class reunion next year.
I can’t regain the lost time but this I do believe: We absolutely must listen to what others are trying to tell us about ourselves. Then we can be happier, more complete and maybe even a bit healthier. This I believe with all my heart.
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