[oasis] [columns]

Derek Elmer

December 1996

Sometimes the simplest things in life impress me the most. Usually, I realize this many times throughout each day, but never more so than when I go home to visit my mom. When I’m there, I often head over to the beach to sit on the jetty that separates the Atlantic Ocean from Barnegat Bay. I like to stare off toward the horizon and imagine what life is like on the other side of the ocean.

Last September I did this for what seemed like an entire day. I thought about what it took to get me to this point. Earlier in the year, I began to face the life that I was tried to run from, because in the end, denying the fact that I’m gay just beat me down anyway. I knew I had a long way to go, yet it seemed as though I’d learned so much about myself already. As I thought of this, I recalled a simple conversation that occurred between my roommate Katie and me not too long ago. Without even knowing it, she helped teach me an important life lesson that I continue to learn as this year draws to a close.

It occurred about four months ago as I tried to leave the house to avoid being later than I already was. However, before I got to my car, I heard Katie trailing behind me asking what I’d like to do for my birthday. She offered to cook dinner or to make a cake, anything really. She just wanted to do something to celebrate. While it was nice of her to offer, I told her not to worry about doing anything. I just wasn’t in the mood to celebrate.

I sounded kind of nasty as I told her this, which made me feel even worse than I already did. And I wondered why I reacted that way. "After all," I reasoned, "she was just trying to be a friend."

The next night, I came back home to find her busily baking something for me in the stove. I wasn’t surprised to find out what she’d done, but it was still an unexpected gesture. And a very warm one at that like I said, she didn’t have to go through the trouble.

I’m lucky, I’ve got it easy. There are a lot of good things in my life. I’ve got my health, a decent job, a lot of very good people around me, and I try not to take life as seriously as I used to, but I guess everyone has bad days. Quite a few people around me are willing to do the same sort of thing Katie did and not think twice about it. Despite this, I still didn’t know what I had, much less how to appreciate it. I needed to learn.

Later that same night, I was on the phone with an old friend who I hadn’t spoke with in quite a while. In mid-sentence, I heard a lot of noise in the living room, and it seemed to be drawing closer. I looked up to see a darkened figure clutching something and belting out a mean tune of "Happy Birthday." Judging from the voice, I knew was Susi and she had brought what turned out to be some "birthday milk." She gradually fell silent and I just sat there with my mouth open. Soon enough, a slight grin began to twist across her face.

Then I just started to laugh so hard, that I couldn’t get words out. I had to hang up the phone and just give her a big hug, to say thanks.

And that’s what it hit me...I was actually laughing. And it was great. I hadn’t done that in a long time. For the better part of five years, I asked a constant question: "Will my life be good?" I always questioned my prospects of being a happy person, simply because I am gay. Even when I could accept myself, I wondered if I knew how to live normally. And I got so wrapped up in these concerns, that I began to ignore those people around me who were disproving these fears all along. Katie and Susi were good friends, and I’d told them several months prior to this day, that I am gay. They didn’t care, as long as they saw me happy.

It seems I had found the answer I was looking for. That night, it dawned on me; the hardest part of coming out to everyone was that I had to believe these people who said they were my friends, really meant it. And when they proved my importance in their lives was something very real, I was amazed.

So, as we gathered in the living room, we didn’t even cut the cake, we just sat around the coffee table eating out of the cake pan and sucking down the "birthday milk." And that’s when I knew it was time to start trusting people again.

Occasionally, I still have to tell myself that it’s okay to open up to people, but old habits die hard. The other day Doug Ferguson reminded me of this. I’ve never met him, but I admire his strength more than words can describe. I think he’s got a lot to teach all of us. Some of Doug’s writing has been contributed to Oasis, and if you haven’t read it, you really should.

He uses his words in a very powerful way. Perhaps what seemed to strike me over and over again is his believe that we all tend to leave some sort of impression on those close to us. So, the image you leave with these people is the true way you make your mark in this world. Your legacy lives on through their memories of you.

If you can embrace those around you, then you’ll never be forgotten. To do that you have to be willing to let them embrace you too. There’s no reason to go through life on your own...and that’s the lesson I learned last August. The funny thing is, I've known it for a while; I just needed to be reminded.

Thanks Doug. Who would have thought I’d still be saying "Happy Birthday" to myself in December.


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1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.