[oasis] [columns]

Derek Elmer

January 1997

I remember going home one day last fall just thinking, "I wonder how Alisa's doing." We've known each other since our high school days, a few years back. We sat next to each other in our first hour humanities class, and since we had a lot of the same friends, our paths crossed often. So, we became pretty good friends.

Since that time, she's gone off to explore the world. Over the years, Alisa would write back to tell me of her adventures in Zimbabwe or how she'd been to the freedom parades, in South Africa after Nelson Mandela's release from prison there. Or closer to home, I'd hear about her latest tale in Montana or Arizona. But whether she was just down the road, or 4000 miles away, she was a constant. Alisa remained as interested in what was going on in my life as I was in hers. So, after not hanging out with her in almost three years, I was pretty excited the day I fished the letter out of my mailbox that said she was moving back to Michigan.

The thing about this person is that she provides a focus for me. She's the first person I came out to, and for good reason. I knew she'd accept me for who I was because she's never been one to play up to an image, so I wasn't worried about that. But by telling her what I was about, she could see I was being more honest with myself...it was my way of saying to her, "Hey Alisa, look at what I learned from you."

I think in some ways we've all got an "Alisa" in our life--something pushing us to our limits to achieve what we want.

So, a year ago last December, I "pushed" myself to what I considered my "limit" to be. It was as the holidays were winding down. Ironically, I'd just gotten off the phone with Alisa, who was in town for Christmas. I'd just finished telling her how I was sorry we didn't get together while she was here. I wasn't sure when we'd get a chance to hook up again. Because soon after New Year's, she was heading back home to Alaska.

I remember looking around the house that day. Because of the holidays, it had been emptied of my 5 roommates, their animals, and any sign that it was supposed to be the happiest time of the year.

"Yahoo." I thought.

After I got done talking to Alisa on the phone, and surveying my surroundings, I became lost in thought. Eventually, I only saw two paths I could take. "One," I thought "is to keep living my life as I am, and every holiday will be like this one." You can only push people away for so long before they stop coming back. The other path I saw was to come to terms with being gay, and open up to the important people in my life about what this meant to me and how it affected my life. Common thoughts I'm sure a lot of people who are just beginning to come out think of.

So, I tried to imagine how I'd be perceived; what my friends would say, how my family would react, and how I would deal with everything. Of course, it's impossible to ever find every solution you're looking for, at least on your own, but that philosophy didn't matter much to me. Because all the while I was still looking for answers to some of the same questions these people would undoubtedly ask. I knew I was going uphill in this, for a while alone, but I never could have imagined what the new year held in store for me.

After going over hundreds of scenarios in my mind, I decided to tell Alisa that I am gay. Even though I hadn't seen her for a long time, I thought she should know, and I decided to have her be the first person I told for a couple of reasons. I respect her a lot because she's not afraid to do what it takes to be happy...an ideal that I still find myself striving for at times. Like I said, she's not one to put on an act. In a funny sense, knowing that I had the ability to find people like this made me feel somewhat more at ease about my own problems. In a sense, that gave me strength.

I also decided to tell her first because she was in Alaska, and even though I expected her to react very positively to what I had to tell her, I'm not sure I was ready, or able, to handle much face to face discussion about my sexuality. Its hard to see yourself in a different light when you're so used to something else, even if what you're accustomed to is nothing but a lie. So, oddly, this massive distance between us put me at ease.

So, I sat down that night to write a letter that would dramatically change my life.

"I'm sorry we didn't get together while you were still in Ann Arbor" I began. "Because there's something I wanted to talk to you about..."

It took me about three weeks to send that letter, and I must have rewrote it about five different times. But when I finally decided to mail it, I knew very well what I was about to do, and the implications it would have on the rest of my life...and I couldn't have been happier as I watched it slide into the mailbox. After years of unhappiness, I found the strength I needed to be myself. It was such a freeing feeling.

I knew what I'd done was right. I had no regrets about this. In fact, it was one of few decisions I made that week which I didn't obsess about. However, when Alisa called a couple of weeks later, it was all I could do to muster up a dry mouthed "hello."

"I got your letter," she said reassuringly. "I always felt there was a part of you I wasn't seeing, I just couldn't put my finger on it."

She eventually told me she wasn't too surprised to hear me tell her I'm gay. She even said that it was in the back of her mind when we were in high school. Apparently, another friend of ours, her boyfriend in fact, said the same thing.

I saw Alisa for the first time in about three years yesterday. And we simply picked up where we left off before she got on that plane to Zimbabwe. I don't think finding a friend like her is that unusual. It seems we all have people we look to for guidance and support. I hope I'm able to do the same for somebody else in my life.

Alisa's got a lot of gay friends, and likes to talk to them about being gay since she isn't. She seems to be the type who is very interested in individual differences. Perhaps that's why I respect her to the degree that I do. Not enough people are actually known for embracing individuality within themselves much less in others.

So, since its been about a year since I came to terms with being gay and opening up to other people about it, I guess it's appropriate to look back on this mile marker about now to see just where it is that I've come in the past 12 months. Yesterday, as the two of us went hiking, and I told her about how I've spent the past year coming out to just about everyone in my life, and then about my first boyfriend she just looked at me and said "Jeez...you're gonna look back on this year with awe for quite some time."

As she was talking, I began to concentrate on the sun; lazily sinking behind the hills of Kalamazoo, but I did hear her say this. And I couldn't help but think about how right she was.


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