Keep You: Part One

February 27, 2011

You grew up out in a rural part of the state of Missouri.  You consider yourself a small town guy, you know a lot of people, but you hold onto a few close friends.  Most of the people you know now that you are about to turn 21, are the same people you knew when you were six or eight years old.

Your mom and dad are by no means rich, but you can’t say that they are poor either.  They live within modest means and socially you don’t feel like you were ever the most popular kid in school, but you were also never the guy everyone picked on or made fun of.  You were on the outside of the inner circle, people knew your name and where you lived, they knew what your parents did for a living, they knew who you were related to and maybe even what you wanted to do with your life.  What they didn’t know, was everything that you held inside yourself.

During school you saw your guy friends dating, relationships that would sometimes last a week or sometimes last a couple years.  You, on the other hand, never found yourself dating anyone.  You all went out road tripping on Friday nights and on the weekends down gravel roads, you went fishing on farms in ponds, lakes and even on a boat out on the river.  On occasion you even went to the Lake of the Ozarks.  You are not a heavy drinker, but you’re not afraid to put down a beer or two.  The outdoors is something that you keep close to you, it’s like an extension of your home, you might even consider it your home.

You keep yourself in good physical shape, you’ve lifted weights for years.  You are by no means a beast, but you flatter yourself by flexing in front of a mirror or window when no one is around.  It gives you a boost of confidence and you’re not afraid to take off your shirt or wear cut-off or sleeveless t-shirts in front of other people.

You’re the kind of guy who likes to wear jeans and a t-shirt.  You have a favorite baseball cap that is kind of worn out, but you can’t bring yourself to throw it away.  You may not like to dress up, but when you have to, you try your best to do so.  Even if that’s still not good enough for some people.  You like sports, but you’re not exactly good at any of them.  Still that doesn’t keep you from bragging about yourself to other people about how your weightlifting and about how good you were at it.  You don’t consider yourself nerdy, but you like to play video games and there have been times when you stayed up most of the night playing them.

You don’t tell everyone, but you do like to watch movies that are considered chick flicks or T.V. shows that are directed towards female audiences because you find them amusing and you have a couple female friends that also watch them.

You’re not from Texas and you don’t live in Texas now, but you like wearing cowboy boots just the same and you wear them a lot.  You think muscle cars are cool, but you prefer trucks, for some reason they are synonymous with freedom.  You like when they’re clean and shined up, but at the same time you could care less if they are dusty and covered in dried mud, it seems to be a statement of rebellion against social conformity.

Likewise, you are not the cleanest or neatest person.  Some people might even say you are sloppy or messy.  That attribute is reflected in how you keep your room.  However, in your mind everything has its place and you know where to look when in search of it.  And if you think you need to or someone tells you to, you can clean things up as well as the next person.

Some people might say that you are a little clumsy or maybe even forgetful and even though you try to make people think you don’t care what they have to say, deep down you do concern yourself with what other people think of you.  And the thought of being judged by someone makes you nervous.  And when you get nervous you get a little shaky, you can feel your face get red and at times your words don’t always come out right.

Politically, you don’t give a crap about democrats or republicans, all you care about is what’s good for the people.  So your vote goes to whoever is willing to represent the voice of the people, which is what democracy is supposed to be about.  Traditionally you might be Christian, but if you are you don’t take it seriously, maybe you go to church on occasion, but it doesn’t define who you are or what direction you take your life.  In your mind, life isn’t about what you already know, it’s about what you have yet to learn.

And finally you are gay.  You’ve known since maybe sixth or seventh grade, but you are not open about it.  It’s taken you a long time to understand yourself, you know who and what you are, but you’re not sure how to come to terms with being gay.  Most, if not all of your friends don’t know about it, especially the people who have known you a very long time and your family definitely doesn’t know.  The idea of telling them scares you because you don’t want to lose them.

You think about what it would be like to no longer be afraid.  You think that maybe one day it will be different and you can find out what it means to be loved by someone, just like you’ve seen all your other friends date and experience love.  For now though, you keep it inside, the only place it seems safe…

And then one day you meet someone who somehow can perceive all the things that you try to hide and you have absolutely no idea what to do.  The thought that someone knows your secret even though you never told them, terrifies you.  It makes you think that you’re not hiding it as well as you thought you were.  A girl at work had asked you if you were gay before, but this time there’s a guy giving you a lot of curious looks.

You make eye contact with this guy often.  You never say a word to him and he doesn’t say a word to you, but it’s as if you communicate with him just using your eyes.  One night this guy sends you a message on Facebook and asks you whether you are straight or gay and he goes further and tells you that he likes you and wants to get to know you.

Horrified that someone knows your secret, you don’t respond.  You can’t say anything because then someone you don’t know will know for sure and the idea that it could spread to others grips you with fear.  You go back to work afterwards and pretend like nothing happened, as if you never got the message.  You keep looking at him, trying to figure out how much he knows and how he could possibly know at all.

Finally one day, he approaches you and asks to speak to you in private.  Your mind shuffles with what to do, you freak out wondering what he’s going to say or ask and what you should do in response.  You convince yourself that you can’t possibly tell him how you feel because then other people might find out, you’re not ready for this…

You step outside with him and he asks you if you know what it’s about.  You hesitate and ask if you’re in trouble about something with work, if you’ve done something wrong or messed something up.  He laughs and smiles, you wonder whether he believed your attempt at being oblivious about his message to you…

He goes further and directly asks you if you are gay or straight, in person this time!  You can feel your eyes get bigger, in shock you can’t believe this guy has just asked you that question again!  You don’t waste anytime in responding and blurt out that you are straight.  Curiosity compels you to pose the question of how he came to inquire about your orientation, so you ask him if some girl in the building had said something to him.  You tell him that a girl had asked you the same question, in case he had heard a rumor from that girl.

The guy says that he hasn’t heard any such rumor and that no one told him that you were gay, he seems to accept your response that you are straight though and abruptly says that’s all he wanted to know and you part ways.  Finally you can breathe, you walk away a little shaky and you reach for your cigarettes, you definitely need one now to calm yourself down…

A year later you come back to work temporarily at the same place, knowing full well that guy is still there.  Just like before, you continue to make eye contact with him.  You make attempts at getting used to talking to him, you ask him questions about work related stuff and he never makes a single mention about what happened last year.

You don’t know if he believed you or not, but you still have this feeling that he thinks about it, why else would he continue to look in your direction.  When your eyes meet his, you can’t help but look away, you don’t want him to know that you notice, but at the same time you can’t help yourself and you just keep looking to see where he is and if he’s noticed you.  It’s complicated, it’s scary and it’s exciting all at the same time.  You wonder what you should do next, are you ready to make a move, are you ready to be the person to say something this time around?  Or will you give into your fear of being outed and do absolutely nothing…



This essay is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

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