Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Two Lives

On August 30th 1986 I woke up at around 7:30am. I was tired and anxious. It was the very first time I had slept over in a man's house.

The man, a very distinguished Englishman in his early 50s, was extremely gracious. Although I had repeatedly refused his advances the night before, he let me lounge, undisturbed, in his bathtub for the better part of an hour. Then he served me a delicious, traditional English breakfast.

We had met the previous night at a small club in London. He took quite an interest in me after I told him it was my final night "out" before reporting to school the next day in Oxford. He wanted me to have a grand time and to experience what being out and gay in London was like. Much of the night was a blur, even then, because of too many drinks, too my clubs, and too many wild taxi rides.

Today is the 25th anniversary of that day. It's a day I remember quite vividly - like the day I got married and the days when my children were born.

What was most remarkable about the ten hours that I spent with that man was what he said as I stood up to leave after breakfast. He said, "Please don't go. Stay with me. Don't go back to college. Stay with me and I will take care of you. We can spend the rest of our lives together, you and I, and you'll never have to worry about a thing."

He was quite serious about his offer and that made it all the more stunning.

I couldn't believe how serious he was; the idea was preposterous! An Englishman more than twice my age? Whose name I couldn't remember? Ridiculous! Besides, tuition had been paid and a commitment had been made. Could he seriously believe that a 20 year old American kid would instantly change his life in order to become a kept boy in a foreign country?

I politely refused his offer, several times, and eventually made my escape from his flat. As I left, he pushed a small piece of paper into my hand and asked that I please call him when I got to Oxford.

A half-block later, I was still tightly gripping the note in my hand. I wanted to read it but I also didn't want the man to see me do so.

I walked a little further, then turned back to see if I was being watched. I wasn't. I scanned the neighborhood, and for the first time, noticed how strikingly handsome all the houses were. Without a doubt, the man was very wealthy. I opened the note and stared at the phone number for a few seconds. What would happen if I stayed? I wondered.

Then, realizing how dangerous the temptation was, I crushed the paper into a tiny ball and flung it as far away from me as I could.

That was at around 9:30am. Less than three hours later I was in my new dormitory room in Oxford.

I was one of the first students to arrive; the hall was empty. With no one around to talk with, I spent the next two hours unpacking my things and setting up my room. I was pretty much settled when I heard the doorbell ring at the hall's entrance. The Headmaster had let me in and I expected he would do the same for other students as they arrived. But the bell rang a second time, then a third. I decided I'd better answer the door myself.

When I opened the door, a very cheerful girl excitedly greeted me. She was struggling with two large bags and a very large wooden chest, so I grabbed the chest and one of the bags and hauled them up the stairs to the main floor. We talked for a minute and were both amazed to discover that we came from the same part of California but there we were meeting in the center of Oxford.

Because the Headmaster wasn't around, we decided to leave her things near the entrance and search the hall for her room. We found it another floor up; her name "Gabbie" was on the door.

I gave her a tour of the building, then we went back down to the entrance just in time to be greeted by the Headmaster's wife. Gabbie was welcomed and received her keys. I brought the large wooden chest and her two bags up to her room.

Gabbie later told me that she liked me from the moment we met. I don't know why.

More than a few times I have wondered what would have happened if the Headmaster's wife had opened the door for Gabbie instead of me. We still would have met but I would have been one of 50 other students in the program. Instead, I was 'special' from minute one, simply because I was there to welcome her and carry her luggage up a few flights of stairs.

The ironic juxtaposition of meeting my future wife on exactly the same day that I was offered a lifetime of financial security by a man continues to amaze me. It makes me think of a game show with Door #1 and Door #2. Except that I had no clue at the time of the momentousness of my decision.

Meeting Gabbie that day completely changed the direction of my life. Had we merely been friends or even just classmates, I would have stayed closeted for the remaining two years of college, but not much longer after that. My best friend from college, who was a year behind me, came out during his senior year. Chances are that we would have hooked up as lovers, probably for a short time, but his support would have undoubtedly given me the courage to come out as well - in 1989.

I sometimes think about that timeline - that alternate universe - that other life. I'd have no kids. I'd have an entirely different career. I'd live in an entirely different place. And hopefully, I'd have a partner with whom I'd be sharing the rest of my life.

That thought always freaks me out. Somewhere out there, right now, there's a man who would have been the center of my life. But I've never met him. Nor will I ever.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day everything changed, the day my one life split into two.

Commemorating this day has become a big deal for me. Gabbie always liked to make a big deal about our wedding anniversary but this year we both tried our best to pretend it was just another day. I told her then that we should choose August 30th as a new date to celebrate, as it marked the day our friendship began. Now that the day has arrived, I can tell that she has completely forgotten.

I'll be surprising her at work with roses, chocolates and a small, personal gift. Her days at work are very gloomy right now and I know I'll be able to cheer her up. At least for a few minutes.

"Are you freaking nuts?" You might ask. "Why do you continue to carry a torch for a woman who clearly wants to be done with you?"

I'm not carrying a torch, I'm drawing a circle. Or at least trying to. I hope that by marking this day, I can draw a neat circle around 25 years of our lives. We had our separate lives before we met; we've had our time together; now we're starting a new phase. I hope that by doing this, it will give both of us, and especially me, an appropriate sense of closure.

So although I am giving my wife chocolates and roses today, and I won't be dating men tomorrow, I will be dating them very soon. And that makes me wonder - what will happen in the next 25 years?

9 comments:

  1. Cameron
    Terrific post - shows the serendipity of life - as we all ponder the 'what if' question.

    Wish you happiness in your new life.

    Tom from Cleveland

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  2. Wow, interesting post. Amazing how these little things can completely change the direction of your entire life.

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  3. This is like something out of a film. It's weird how things shake out sometimes.

    -Rob

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  4. Man, something weird was happening in the space-time continuum on that day. Or something. That's pretty wild.

    Good luck with the next 25 years.

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  5. Great story. I think you should sell it, write a book.

    Good Luck. I hope things go well for you as this change in direction continues.

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  6. Cameron, to say "Two Lives" was an interesting story is certainly an understatement. At the age of 64, I sometimes look back at the "August 30ths" of my life and muse about the roads not taken.

    From the vantage point of the present looking back over more than 45 years, the twists and turns of life are quite evident. Some were minor. Some were major.

    I often wonder, why I was one of the lucky ones. The paths I chose in that twisting and turning journey led me to happiness and accomplishment beyond what I had ever imagined.

    Best wishes to you that by the time you complete the 25 years that now lie before you, you can look back on years of happiness, accomplishment and satisfaction.

    Jack Scott

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  7. I think you should continue to mark the day. Just because it didn't last forever, doesn't mean it wasn't worth it.

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  8. Loved this post, Good Job...Adrian

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  9. Beautiful story. I, too, can recall a few August 30ths in my life. Maybe someday I can communicate them as eloquently as you have.
    I really love people. Many of us are so kind, and, well...humane.

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