For nights and days I thought about Freckles, long after I saw him in that Subway restaurant. I had this deep yearning to know more about him. To ask questions, learn as much as humanly possible about everything that was his life. All the things he liked, all the things he didn’t like, anything about his family, about his interests, his past, his present life and the dreams he had about his future. Where did he want to go, what did he want to become and who did he want to fall in love with?
How rare a thing was this, to have fallen so deeply into captivation, to be so utterly enthralled by someone I didn’t know anything about. Why did I have these intense feelings, how could I react so strongly to someone just by seeing them during such a short amount of time? What did this mean, did it mean anything at all? Was I being irrational?
Just the thought of Freckles could make my heart race, I didn’t have to see him in person, just the thought of his face caused a reaction in my brain and in my body. But how so immensely did I wish to see him again. I entertained the thought so many times in the weeks that followed. Every morning I would wake up in hopeful belief that I would see him again and every night I would go asleep seeing his face… occupying my dreams and wishing he could occupy my heart.
The summer months had come and gone and still I had not seen Freckles again. My heart began to ache with the thought that maybe I would never see him again. Could life truly be so harsh to bring Freckles into my view, only to take him away without ever giving me the chance to speak to him? I only needed a chance to say hello, to just approach him one time and start a conversation, to figure out who he was and what gender he was interested in. I feared that perhaps one afternoon in Subway was the only chance I would be given, by whatever hands or whatever fate that controlled our lives; that indeed I had blown my one shot to say hello. Surely a guy with such power over my thoughts and my feelings couldn’t just come and go with nothing more than a glance? I refused to believe that I would never see him again, I only needed to hold out and remember one day I would have my chance.
Each day passed and I tried to live out my life the best I could, my eyes forever open. I didn’t know what I would say to him when I saw him again. I tried to rehearse it in my head, but too much time had passed and I knew that I couldn’t bring up our one-time-meeting in Subway. I wanted to socialize with him, not scare him away by being creepy and making myself out to be a stalker by saying, “Hey, I saw you in Subway one time and we made eye contact, I’ve been thinking about you and looking for you every day since.” I needed general conversation, in order to get a feel for what type of guy he was and which team he played for.
I had additional problems though, as I was in the closet. I told no one about my feelings and remained in a battle with myself. I recognized the feelings I had for Freckles, but I struggled to believe that I could one day tell the people I loved, relied on and trusted that I was gay and that indeed another man made my heart flutter. I was eighteen years old and so much of my life was uncertain to me, so many questions and so few answers. About the world and about myself. I decided that I needed more time to understand myself and what path to follow in my life. If I stumbled upon Freckles again, I would fight for him, but until that day came, I needed to fight the battle for my identity.
Being gay was complicated, not so much for me, but for those who were not me. And through their misunderstanding would come the realization that I wasn’t fighting just to accept myself, but to find a place in a world that struggled to embrace my right to live as me. Gay people don’t fear themselves, they fear what will come of themselves when the world they know is altered by the truth of their identity. That was the battle I had to face, how to come to terms with the reality that my life would not be the same when I walked outside the closet and whether or not I was strong enough to take the chance of opening the door and walking out of it.
Before Freckles came crashing into my perception of reality, I didn’t know if it would have ever been possible for me to date a man, I simply didn’t know if I wanted to. At that time, I was still dating girls, in some destined-to-fail attempt to feel normal. Or what society had made me believe was normal. Freckles changed everything simply by existing.
Now, there was hope or perhaps the desire for hope that I could actually be happy with a guy. A guy whom I nicknamed Freckles.
I wondered many times if he was gay or straight. The reality was I simply didn’t know, I hadn’t had enough observation and no interaction to even try to make a conclusion. It was a shot in the dark, but I felt so compelled and so infatuated, I had to hold onto the hope that just maybe he was capable of reciprocating my feelings. Hope gave me courage and in that phase of my life, I needed all the hope and courage I could muster.
Trying to live the life that wasn’t my own was strenuous. It took a lot to pretend to be someone that I wasn’t. I wondered that if Freckles was gay, was he going through the same thing? When I saw him that afternoon, across the room, smiling and laughing with his friend, was he silently hurting inside too? Was he also using those smiles and that laughter to cover up what he felt inside? Putting on a show so that no one would notice and inquire about things he didn’t want to talk about?
When he looked across the room and into my eyes, what was he thinking about? Did he somehow know what I was trying to hide? Is that why he looked, could he tell that I was gay? So many questions always cycled through my head about so many different possibilities and no matter how many different answers I would come up with, I always ended up with more questions.
Sometimes late at night I would look out my window and into the night sky and would wonder if Freckles was doing the same thing. Did he lay awake at night in fear of his feelings, worried about how his family and friends would react to the way he felt, something so incredibly out of his control? Did he worry about being abandoned too? Of losing everything or everyone that mattered to him? I hoped that he didn’t. I couldn’t bear the thought that he was unhappy or depressed from hiding a part of himself.
Summer had finally come to an end and I was getting ready to attend school. I had enrolled at Vale Tech, the same as my friend Scott. He was just taking general education classes, but I was attending to get an associates degree in computer programming. I didn’t know anything about it, but with my parents’ encouragement I figured I could learn on the go. I also hoped desperately that Freckles hadn’t graduated in the late spring and that he would be returning to the school for fall classes. I didn’t know for a fact that he was a student there, but my gut feeling convinced me that he was… or perhaps my wishful and love-drunk teenage heart convinced me so. I didn’t have any fragment of a thought as to what courses he would be taking, but no matter what, I was going to keep my eyes on the lookout for him.
I was sad to see the summer end, it was the summer after my senior year of high school, a transition into the next stage of my life. I saw a few friends here and there through the summer, but as autumn approached many of the them went their own ways. I had started to feel as though life was changing in ways I wasn’t ready for. It was sad to think that those good days were actually over.
By the time that school started, I started to feel something draining out of me. I hadn’t seen Freckles in months and like an addict going through withdraw, I felt restless and incomplete, lacking the fix that gave me what I craved. I wanted or more so I needed to see him again. To replenish my hope, to make me remember what I was going to fight for. I struggled for a couple weeks and eventually I dropped out of school, completely lacking any desire to be there when no sign of Freckles was found and when I was overwhelmed by the fight going on inside of me.
Over the next few months I got into it with my parents and moved away from home and in with Scott and his mom. My parents still didn’t know I was gay – despite rumors that had surfaced started by Scott’s mom. I didn’t know whether Scott believed her or not, he never brought it up with me. While I lived with him, I got a job and was working full-time. Even though I was making money for only a month, Scott’s mom wanted me to start paying her. I couldn’t both save to rent my own place and pay her rent at the same time and so I moved out and back home.
Freckles started to become a fading memory as the dilemmas of my life at that time began to consume my mind. Several more months went by as I worked full-time and saw Scott less and less. By December he left for boot camp and I felt completely alone. A month later I broke down and ended up in a hospital on suicide watch.
The burden that gay people carry on their shoulders can often break them down, crippling them under the weight of worry, inner conflict, low self-esteem, negative external influences from the environments they find themselves in. Such a burden brought me down and for three days I stayed locked away behind steel doors with tiny windows. In that low point in my life I learned that I needed to be less afraid of who I was and more concerned with how easily I allowed the opinions of other people to bother me. If I could accept myself, then it wouldn’t matter whether or not others accepted me. The time away allowed me to look inside my own heart and begin the path to self-acceptance and self-understanding.
When Scott and I were still in high school, he had encouraged me to join the military. Something that I had wanted to do right after school, but was not able to because of a perforated eardrum. When I was released from the hospital, I felt a yearning to do something with my life that had real meaning and value. With a new sense of inspiration, I decided to work until I could afford the surgery required to fix my eardrum and then enlist. It became my life goal, my new dream. In two years I achieved that goal and Freckles for me became a distant memory.
In 2007 I swore my oath of service to the United States Armed Services and began my journey into the Marine Corps… or so I had intended, but what would eventually happen in the end was the realization that I was chasing someone else’s dream once again, living a life that was not mine to live. In a place far different than what most people in the world ever get to see and experience, I was forced to face myself. Not just the limits of my body, but the farthest reaches of my mind and my understanding of self. Boot camp, at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California of all places, was the place that made me see that I would never be myself until I accepted that I was gay and there was no life for me to live, save my own. A life I had to find on my own, by my own decisions and with my own devices and not through anyone else. Only I could find and walk my path through life.
I wish that such a realization could have happened as smoothly as those words read, but that realization was forced out of me through six weeks of grueling self-examination and re-evaluation, of long nights and dark thoughts, of tip-toeing on the edges of sanity and insanity. A state of mind I don’t ever want to go back to.
In the final days before I returned home from California, I was reminded of Freckles. In my Recruit Separations Platoon, I found a young guy and though he had black hair with pale skin and green eyes, adorned across his face were distinct freckles. And in those days I spent there I knew that indeed I had to follow my heart. That out there somewhere was the man of my dreams, or at least the dreams I had once known and that it was time for me to chase those dreams, to seek out the possibility of love that I knew existed, perhaps waiting for me, perhaps remembering that same spring afternoon that so continuously revisited my thoughts. Where in a Subway restaurant in a small town in the middle of Missouri, I found the hope of love with a splattering of freckles all across his face.
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