I thought, in my youthful naivete, that we would be friends forever. But 27 years later, I still don’t know why our friendship ended. Perhaps I should refer to it as a “purported” friendship or “presumed” friendship. If a friendship ends, does that mean it was never a true friendship (whatever that means), anyway?
I can no longer remember the first time I met him. I know that it was near the end of our high school years. We spent a lot of time together during the summer immediately following graduation. It was 1974 and we were excited about starting college. I spent my afternoons and evenings toiling at Straw Hat Pizza, making $2.00 per hour (that was the minimum wage then). My goal was to earn enough money to purchase a Fender classical guitar. I bought it just before school began in the fall and was relieved to abandon my pizza-making career in favor of resuming my studies. We spent a lot of late evenings at Lodi Lake — on the swings, walking around to the North side, lounging on the grass. And when school began, we car-pooled since our days began in the early morning and lasted until late at night when rehearsal for the latest offering from the Drama Department ended.
A couple of years ago, my girlfriends caught me off-guard when they found a photo of us in an old album and began reminiscing about my crush on him. I truly had no recollection of ever having any romantic feelings for him! Remarkably, I had completely forgotten that for a very brief period of time, I did entertain a few vagrant fantasies, but, in retrospect, they could only have been rebound-inspired. He was a gentle, sensitive, and considerate guy who sent me flowers on my birthday, opened the car door for me, and wrote a few poems dedicated to me. But his sexuality was never in question.
Which is what made the abrupt end of our friendship so shocking, illogical, and downright bizarre.
The details are sketchy, at best. But the way I remember it now, the year was 1982. I was living in Southern California, as was he. After studying costume design in North Carolina, he returned to California and began working in television and movies. He was living in the Hollywood Hills and invited me to his house for dinner. We were both in relationships, but spent the evening having a quiet dinner at the home he shared with his then-partner. I don’t remember what we talked about, but do recall that it had been quite awhile since we had spent time together and felt as though we no longer had much in common. So I do remember sensing that it was difficult to keep the conversation moving. I also remember that a movie was being filmed at a house on his street and, as we sat in the hot tub after dinner, we could hear crew members loading equipment into trucks that were traversing up and down the narrow street.
I never saw him again. I don’t believe that we ever spoke after that, although there may have been one or two brief telephone conversations. And then? Silence.
I asked a couple of friends and was told that he believed we no longer had anything in common. Our closest mutual friend conveyed that he felt I had “a problem” with his sexual orientation.
Which, of course, made absolutely no sense because I knew from the first moment we met that he was gay. There was never any doubt. It was never a secret. He was never even slightly ambiguous about it. My parents knew it. Our friends’ parents knew it. Nobody cared.
The most ironic part of this whole bizarre saga is that our closest mutual friend grew up, as did I, in a mainstream Protestant religion. But while I became a civil rights attorney fighting for equality for all persons regardless of their sexual orientation, she became a teacher in a parochial school. As I became less and less enamored with organized religion and eventually left the church altogether — primarily because of my former denomination’s refusal to ordain gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons or recognize and sanctify their marriages — she became increasingly involved in and committed to the teachings of her church. She prays that our mutual friend will be healed, i.e., become heterosexual as a result of the power of prayer. She believes that is a real possibility and that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle. He continues to be her friend.
Me? Shut out of his life in 1982 with no explanation or rationale. He never expressed his feelings or afforded me an opportunity to respond. What did I say that so offended him? What did I do? Obviously, I will never know.
I reached out to him twice over the years, to no avail. I emailed him a few years ago, but never received a response. A couple of months ago, a friend directed me to his Facebook page. So I sent him a friend request and message, but he has thus far ignored my request.
This past Saturday, I was having lunch with several old friends, one of whom looked at me and said, “He accepted my friend request on Facebook.” Our eyes met and in hers I saw empathy, compassion, and puzzlement, as she shrugged her shoulders and added, “I don’t get it.”
I don’t, either.
This Tuesday Tribute is in his honor.
I have discussed with our mutual good friends many times that we are too old and have too much history together to let minor disagreements, slights or unintentional cruelties stand in the way of our continuing relationships. Our friendships are simply too valuable to let anything come between us.
I have reached out to him now a total of three times. I have publicly admitted that I have no idea what I did to upset him all those years ago. And, frankly, I still get angry every time I think about this situation because true friends don’t just turn their backs on their friends and walk away. I guess I must conclude then that we could never really have been friends in the first place. Friends tell each other when their feelings are hurt and offer their friends an opportunity to respond. Friends have their friends’ backs, standing beside them when times are rough, and celebrating their victories with them.
So it is his loss. He has missed out on so much since he chose to distance himself from me. He’s never met my fabulous sons, he’s never been over to visit us here in the Hickok Homestead where we spent so many hours and had so much fun all those years ago, and he’s voluntarily given up the chance to let me have his back and celebrate his victories with him. Those are things that I am really good at, as the rest of our old gang can attest. I am loyal, steadfast, and would never hurt anyone deliberately. I thought he knew that.
And just for the record: I have devoted my professional life to fighting for his civil rights. His sexual orientation was never and is not now an issue. So he need to get over himself already.
And know that in spite of it all, I wish him only health, happiness, and equality.