By John Cole November 23rd, 2012
Just got off the phone with my surrogate family, and it made me feel old as hell.
I got off active duty in June of 1992, and when I did, the very first thing I did was go to a Grateful Dead concert at Buckeye Lake with my old school friends. It was awesome. But then I had to get into school and make something happen, so I applied to WVU, and with the help of an old family friend, I got in, and I had a couple credits transfer. This old family friend had a son named Ben in the Naval Academy (Ben was my childhood friend in Bethany and we beat each other up all the time before they left my hometown in 1979 and moved to Morgantown- I still remember throwing up in their car on the way to Star Wars- he later went on to graduate at the top of his class at Annapolis and become a nuclear submariner and is still the smartest person I have ever known), who had met this guy who was also going to WVU. At any rate, I went to a BBQ at their house, and they said you have to meet this guy named Jack. ?You?ll like him,? they said.
Jack and I became fast friends, and he was an Army Ranger and a sophomore, and played rugby, and he introduced me to a shitload of people. Basically, my social life as a 22 year old ?freshman? was just hanging out with his friends. After a while, I hooked up with the lacrosse crowd, but he and I were already good friends. We made plans to move in together and share a house, and we had another roommate who was a former Marine who lived with us. Since we were all non-traditional students, we didn?t have to even think about traditional housing, and we just rented a big house. The running joke was no one would ever rob us, because there were probably fucking land mines all around the house, given our past experiences.
Before we moved in, Jack went to DC to work as an intern for some jackass in the House, and I stayed and kept the house running and clean and put in an AC. But the whole summer, every time I went out, I would hear rumors from the more subtle folks, and from other people who wore abrupt and dickish, ?Hey- your buddy is a fag. Why do you hang out with him??
At the end of the summer, I went away for a couple of days, and came back and found Jack in my bed after his internship at DC was over. Not for the reasons you are probably thinking, but because I had the only air conditioner in the house. He then told me- ?I know you have heard all the rumors, and they are true. I?m gay.? I just responded- ?I?m really not as stupid as I look, I already knew, and I don?t care.?
I?d never given a shit, one way or another, about people being gay. I remember when I was on active duty and the issue of homosexuality was brought up, I?d always joke ?I wish you all were gay. It would make my odds at the bar a shitload better.? But this was a real turning point for me. I?d never known anyone who was openly gay, and the first person I meet who is gay turns out to be my best friend and someone I looked up to and still do. It forever changed me, and is probably part of the reason that even when I was a full-fledged wingnut, I was never a gay basher and attacked those who were.
I became close friends with Jack?s mother and father (his dad was a very successful dentist) before they knew he was gay, and they had us out to dinner at least once every three weeks. I used to be terrified of his mother and would always make Jack drink a bottle of wine with me before we went to dinner, but that is another story (we never were able to successfully lie to her- she always always sniffed through all our bullshit). I became good friends with all his younger brothers, and watched all of them grow up to be doctors. We went on vacation together. I felt like the fifth brother in the family. Later, when I went to grad school, I lived with his brother for three years while he went to dental school.
I actually love them all as brothers, too. Last year, their father, who always treated me like a son and was the most generous, decent, kind human being on the planet, died of cancer. It was quick. Not quick for the family, who watched him die over a six month period, but quick in the sense that one of the most vibrant, decent, kindest human beings died faster than he ever should have.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I just got off the phone with Jack and his brothers and their mom and all their wives and children, and this was their first Thanksgiving without their dad there. And it just made me nostalgic. I?ve had such a good life and been blessed with such good friends. At the same time, I was hopeful, because my story is the same story that is changing the way Americans look at gay rights.
And I am rambling.