Can you keep a secret? Now there’s a question. Of course anyone can keep a secret, it’s the next two questions most of us really want answered. Do you want to keep a secret and will you? In addition to that some secrets must be kept from the world whereas others need only be kept from one specific person. Mine falls somewhere in between.
My secret shouldn’t be a secret at all. This is 2020 and we live in a time where an African American can be president, an orange man can succeed him, and an East Asian woman can be nominated for vice president. It’s an era of #MeToo and rainbows and non-binary acceptance. Why then, please tell me, is revealing my secret so hard? Wait, don’t answer, I’ll tell you. It’s because the only person I really want to accept me and my secret may not, and the thought of that rejection is far worse than keeping a secret with which I can no longer live.
My name is Ricardo and before you ask I am not of Spanish or portuguese descent, my parents just liked the name. My friends call me Rico and since I was ten I have introduced myself as such. My mom is a humanities teacher at The University of Kansas and my dad is a non profit lawyer. The family joke had always been that being non profit wasn’t intentional it just worked out that way. Both of my parents were born 20 years too late and 20 years too early. They were flower children long after it was cool and ultra progressive before it came into fashion. I was raised to be open minded and was told specifically that love was love and who I chose to date or marry didn’t matter as long as they loved me.
My parents may have been born at the wrong time but I was born into the right family. Unlike the other boys at school I liked the other boys at school. In many families this would have been cause for anxiety and counseling and in the worst case scenario, conversion therapy, but in my home the revelation was greeted with hugs and smiles and encouraging words. This is not to say that my classmates and their families were so open minded and on more than one occasion I came home with my eye black and my clothes torn. Honesty and openness, a hallmark in my family, could be dangerous in school or in our small town.
There was only one other youngster who accepted me for who I was. Terry Whitaker had moved next door when I was nine years of age, a full 2 years before I came out. We were thick as thieves from the moment we met and the Whitaker household shared more in common with my family than with the narrow minded hoard that inhabited the rest of the town. The day I told Terry of my attraction to boys it barely registered a blip. I remember a little sideways glance and then we went back to playing with our trucks before climbing our favorite tree. I’m not sure what the exact definition of friend or acceptance is but I’m pretty sure if you look either up in the dictionary there will be a picture of Terry’s smiling face.
The rest of my high school years were brutal. My parents had encouraged me to live my “true” life and in theory they were right. In practice, not so much. Being gay in my home town was to say the least complicated and truth be told it was a recipe for disaster. It was bad enough that everyone knew but what made it worse was no one else was gay. Yes, that’s right, 500 kids in my class and over 2000 in the school and I was the only gay one. A school full of kids from different families, different backgrounds and different ideals and Terry was the only one who stood beside me, the only one who would admit to being my friend. As a result the two of us had something in common, we each had only one friend but to us one was enough. Like I said I was born into the right family but I lived in the wrong town.
It’s a funny thing about being gay, you have a sixth sense, a “gaydar”. I know that’s cliche but it’s true. I could tell the guys in my school who were in the closet and I even liked some of them but if I ever tried to act on my feelings that was when I received the aforementioned beatings. It became clear to me that I could live my true self as long as I didn’t try to actually do anything about it.
No one was happier than me when I walked across the stage and received my diploma, well except for maybe Terry. The two of us were getting out of this town and were headed to college where we hoped we would find greater acceptance. We no longer climbed trees or played with trucks but we were still thick as thieves and we were going to college together.
When you spend your life feeling like an outcast, trust doesn’t come easily and neither Terry nor I were ready to take a chance college would be any better than high school. For this reason we rented a small apartment just off campus instead of taking our place in the dorms. This allowed us to live together and also gave us the chance to see from a safe distance if things were really different. Two old friends, inseparable and like minded, living together. What could go wrong? In a word, everything.
From the moment I met Terry the only feelings I had were platonic. This made sense, I didn’t know it when we met, but Terry was never my type. Not only was I gay I was particular. I wanted boys but I wanted them big and strong. To say the least Terry was nothing like that. Yes, my feelings for Terry were always platonic until they weren’t.
This brings me to my secret. The first time I ever really saw Terry everything changed. We had been friends for ten years but that day in our apartment was the first day I had ever seen Terry naked. We both knew we weren’t interested in each other, we were friends that was all but there had never been a time where being naked would have fit into our friendship until now. Terry had just taken a shower and walking across the room to get the clothes, left on the chair, I was treated to the most beautiful body I had ever seen. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have many points of reference, just a few magazines and a couple of porno's I had watched online, but this was different. I had been wrong all along about my type. Terry was not muscular, not really or at all hairy, but I was floored at what I was seeing. All of a sudden I realized Terry was more than a friend. I had been too blind to see it and now all I could think about was how this would play out. If I told Terry it might change everything, heck who am I kidding, it would change everything. Could we still be friends? Did Terry have an inkling or feel the same.
There is a saying in football that when you throw a pass, three things can happen and two of them are bad. That seemed to be a metaphor for my new dilemma. I could reveal my feelings and Terry could say thanks but no thanks and we could go back to being friends but with a giant cloud over our heads. I could pour out my soul, freak Terry out and lose my one friend, or I could trust my instincts and find that maybe, just maybe Terry felt the same. The only thing I knew was that the status quo would not work.
Love at first sight is a myth, I had fallen in love with Terry in that moment but it was a love nurtured over years. It was trust and acceptance and kinship. It was shared experience and unified outlook and commonality. It was love and it was with Terry and I had to be honest.
Public places are the best place for shocking declarations and as much as I knew that Terry wouldn’t make a scene, I wasn’t taking any chances. I set up a table for two at a local restaurant and told Terry I wanted to treat for dinner to say “Thank you” for all the years of support. Never underestimate the power of free food, as odd as my request seemed to me, Terry accepted without hesitation and the “date” was set. The day of our dinner had each of us in class with different start and end times so we agreed to meet at the restaurant. Terry would be there first, get the table and order drinks and I would come as soon as my class let out.
Seeing Terry sitting there waiting crystallized the gravity of what I was about to do. There was no way to know how it would come out but there was no turning back. As I sat down and looked across the table at the object of my affection my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat. I grabbed my wine glass and drank its contents in one gulp. I then cleared my throat and posed the question. “Can you keep a secret?”
“With my life.” came Terry’s response. “You know that.”
“I’m in love with someone who has no clue about my feelings.” The words, in any other situation would have been totally normal for old dear friends but nothing about this was normal.
“That’s fantastic, I think.” Terry responded “Are you sure they don’t know?”
“I’m not sure, do you know?”
“Do I know? What do you mean? You are in love with me?” I nodded my head. “Yup, it’s you. I’m as surprised as you are. So what do you think?”
“You know I’m a girl right? And that you’re gay.”
“I thought I was but turns out I was wrong.” and with that I filled my glass, again emptied it in a single swig and waited for Terry’s response.
“All of a sudden I’m not hungry.” The look on her face reminded me of the day I told her I was gay but instead of going back to playing with trucks she smiled, took my hand and said “Let’s get out of here.”
Can you keep a secret? I guess anyone can but my question to you is, why?