The blue mailbox was standing on a slab of concrete facing a dark, empty parking lot. Small beads of water clung to its metal frame. The drizzle falling from the sky fed the beads, slowly causing them to swell to the point where they could no longer hold on.
The mailbox's guardian had come hours ago to gather what it had collected that day. Since then, an occasional visitor had stopped by and given it something. But now it was late, and the street at the other end of the parking lot was quiet.
The drizzle was still falling when a car pulled into the parking lot and made a beeline for the mailbox, its headlights bathing the metal container in light. The car stopped a few feet short and just sat there with its wipers squeaking across its windshield every few seconds. After a while, the door opened. A man got out of the car and slowly walked over to where the mailbox dutifully stood. He started to insert a letter, but apparently thought twice about it. For a moment he stood next to the concrete slab with his letter pinched between his finger and thumb, dangling inside the mailbox.
Suddenly, he let go. The mailbox swallowed his letter.
"Oh my God. Oh my God."
He jumped back into the car and drove off into the night.
I came to the University of Kentucky when I was 20 years old. What a change it was from community college, where I lived at home and drove all of 5 minutes to class! This college was big huge. My dorm room, however, was just a glorified closet whose square footage had been reduced over the years, be it ever so slightly, by the layers upon layers of paint that had been applied.
At orientation I made a bonehead of myself. It happened like this. We were all in a big theater and they had spent the last hour showing us films and everything. Then they had a sort of cultural thing where the speaker called out "Irish", "French", "British", etc. and you were supposed to stand according to what you thought you were and everyone would clap. Well, they went on and on and I looked around at someone and with all sincerity whispered, "When do you think they'll call American?" Right about that time, I heard "?American", so I stood up. Hummm, not as many Americans here as I would have thought. After looking around a moment, I also noticed that everyone standing seemed to be black. The people around me gave me odd looks. Here I was a thin, brown-haired, blue-eyed, white boy with a gay sexual orientation coming out in front of everyone as a black man at orientation. Yikes.
Back then though, if someone had asked me if I was gay, I would have denied it vehemently. I didn't date girls. When I fantasized, it was about guys. When I did a double take while walking on campus, it was because of some cute guy. Nevertheless, I absolutely refused to acknowledge my same sex attraction. How could this be? Simple, grow up in a place where gay people are despised, kept in the closet, called abominations, and made the subject of countless jokes. It takes a strong teenager to be able to stand against that and reason it out. I was not a strong teenager. I told gay jokes.
I drove the four-hour trip home almost every weekend. About the only social activity I did on campus was going to the Baptist Student Union and playing for their softball team. While growing up, my family went to church about half the time on Sunday morning (though the reason for doing so remained largely unspoken) so the BSU seemed a logical place to look for friends. I really didn't make any friends my first semester at UK, but during one game while I was sitting on the sidelines, a guy came up and started talking to someone sitting beside me. I kept looking at him, but pretending I was looking past him at something else. I don't remember saying anything to him, and he only showed up at that one game. I would not see him again for another year, when I would find out his name was Leo.
I spent most of my time during the week studying for my engineering classes and trying to avoid my roommate. After softball ended, I only went to the BSU every so often. However, the next semester a friend from back home came to UK. We became good friends, laughed a lot, hung out, and rode back home together on the weekends-me because I didn't really like Lexington and him because he had a girlfriend. We decided to go to the BSU for their Tuesday night worship service, and I think it was during this semester that I started to really think about why I "believed" what I did.
Have you ever taken a class where you made a good grade, but when you got out you really didn't "know" any more than when you started? Sure, the teacher lectured, you took notes, and regurgitated the information back when it was test time, but did you learn or just collect data? I think a lot of my life has been like that.
Who are you? Jamie
What is the derivative of sin x? cos x
In MLB, what is the distance between home plate and first base? 90 feet
How many bits are in a byte? Eight
What color is that? Blue
Who is Jesus? Son of God
What is hate? Intense dislike for something or someone
Do you love someone? Yeah
Ahhh, very good young grasshopper! Now I test you further.
Without using a label, who are you? uhhh
Why study calculus? Well, I sort'a have to because it is in my curriculum.
In MLB, what does it feel like to run between home plate and first base? I wish I knew
What is this message: 100100110011100110100100101011110? Well, that's binary but it could represent a number or it could be ASCII characters or something else.
I am blind. Describe to me the color blue. ummm?
If you saw Jesus face to face, what would you say first? oh, geezzz, well I guess I really can't say
Why do you hate? Do I hate?
How did you know you were in love? I uhh?
So anyway, it was during my second semester at UK that I got really involved in the BSU and searched for answers to some of life's tougher questions. Then the next fall my friend from back home got invited to a church in town and I went with him. It was a large church with around 1200 in the morning service. They had a great college class for Sunday school, which I really liked. I made friends with a guy named Jot, a cool guy who wore purple pants and drove a car with a large cross printed on the rear windshield. Jot's two good friends were Matt and Leo. Leo looked a bit different from when I had first saw him a year ago, but I quickly recognized him. Something felt right about us meeting "again". If someone would have told me about the feelings I would develop for him and that five years later I would still not be over him, I might have changed things. I might have gone back home after graduation instead of trying to find a job here. That church would have just been a place where my faith grew while I was in college and then moved on. Instead, now when I drive by the building that I used to drive to, I feel both love and hate. I feel gain and loss.
On that day, somewhere in a realm that we humans rarely get a glimpse of, dual truths were launched on a collision course. The first truth was that I desired what God considers most important-to love him with all your heart, mind, and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. The second truth, one so dark that I dare not think about it, was that I was gay. It would take four years before the great collision became imminent. The impact sent friendships into deep unconsciousness-a coma from which they may never awake. It hurled me into a place of seemingly endless winter.
At the time, however, I was happy to be accepted. Our college class from church went on a trip to fix up a house that was really run-down. We went snow skiing together. We played cards a lot at somebody's house. We had bible studies one night a week. I found my only copy, a King James version that I had been given as a kid and had promptly shelved because of its funny words. I looked around at my friends' bibles and wondered what the heck was an NIV. When I found out, I went out and bought a more modern translation.
I loved my new friends and when it came time to graduate, I changed my plans about moving back home. I had a job already lined up back home and when I turned it down my parents were really surprised. Thinking of grandchildren, however, they theorized that I had met some girl. I had only gone on two dates with a girl in my life and one was a blind date set up by my mom! Even overlooking the fact that I liked boys not girls, the date was still a disaster. I really don't know if my parents have a clue about me or not.
Anyway, I graduated from college, stayed in Lexington, and found a job. Leo asked me to give him my resume, cause he worked with his brother-in-law who was the president of a small engineering company. About a month later, while I was at work, Leo called me up and said that his brother-in-law wanted to hire me. I loved the thought of getting to spend more time around Leo and working with him. They could have offered me less money and I would have taken the job!
I also took another job during this time. I became a part-time youth minister at a church in a small town 50 miles away from where I lived. It was a small church of around 100 on a typical Sunday. As far as I know, I was the only one who applied for the job. They put me in charge of their youth group and we met on Sunday afternoons. I was really excited about this opportunity. I wanted to create a small group where teenagers could talk, ask difficult questions, and learn about God's love and who he really is. It turned out I was not quite as prepared as I had thought. I quickly regretted all the trouble I had caused my teachers growing up! My youth group had lots of fun though. We went to concerts, youth conferences, held lock-ins, all that stuff. I drove a big 15-passenger van! Every week I would put in a few hours preparing a "lesson". Looking back, I think I'm the one who was probably taught the most.
Leo was still in school so he didn't work full-time like I did. I really, really liked working with him and our friendship grew just as I had hoped. One time, while over at a friend's house, Leo casually said we should move in together but that people might think we were gay. I detected something in the way he said that. I smiled at him and replied, "Well, we will just say we aren't."
A few months later we were spending time together playing computer games at his house. Warcraft II was a game you could play until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and several times we went to work with just a few hours of sleep. With one computer, it is just a single player game. We took turns while the other watched and offered strategical advice.
Once, while Leo was playing, I inched closer and closer to him-pretending to get a better view of the monitor. I loved the time we spent together playing and my emotions were starting to make my head spin. Without really planning it, I brushed my leg against his. I suddenly realized what kind of message this might send and the haze around my head quickly vanished. Leo noticed but didn't seem to mind. We spent the next few hours playing that game and talking. Then I went home and had to take care of myself several times.
Continued next month?
Jamie McDaniel is 25 and lives in Kentucky. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org