It would be a generalization of the worst kind to say that nobody expects their life to change ... but nobody really does. We follow the treadmill of our day-to-day conduct mindlessly, hitting the right notes and pleasing the right people. Seasons change, relationships wax and wane, philosophies crystallize or grow even more dim ... but the mode of life itself is rarely subject to radical transformation. There are scene shifts, intermissions, the addition of new characters. "All the world's a stage," as a favorite Bard of mine once said. We traverse that stage in the utterly complacent knowledge that, most likely, things will not get better or worse. It's too difficult to see past the interminable sunset of where we are now, our particular niche.
But sometimes, when they're least expected, miracles have the habit of occurring.
On the 8th of February, my life was subject to a very subtle alteration. I began receiving email from a fellow Oasis reader ... a young man named Aaron. By that time, I'd received a great deal of responses from my last article ... which, in my opinion, hadn't been worthy of the praise it garnered. But self-criticism is beside the point. When I first started scanning the mail from Aaron, I chalked him up to another proponent of my article. I prepared to send him a kind of form-letter ... you know, the response you develop once you've waded your way through piles and piles of email? Thank you (insert name here) for the praise, have a nice life. I shudder to think that I almost went through with it! But as I read Aaron's mail more closely, I noticed a twinge of something. He lived near me, for one thing, and I hadn't encountered that before. But there was something else.
He seemed to be reaching out ... if not to me, then to anyone. Just for a moment, I envisioned him crying out in the dark. And I remember being there, weighed down by the closet that my loving society had burdened me with. I feared to remember, but I couldn't dispel it. He had struck a resounding note within me ... an ache of kinship which, at first, I didn't even want to feel.
So I wrote Aaron back, and I was nice about it. Admittedly, I can be quite the bitch when responding to people. It's only because I've had to deal with so many genuine weirdoes on the Internet...I've developed a cold facade that doesn't lower easily. At any rate, Aaron and I began an email correspondence, which doesn't take much effort, of course. That's why most people opt for it. Even IRC requires a certain amount of time and commitment. But email can be posted whenever one feels like it. That suited me fine.
At least, it did at first.
We spoke intermittently. I decided that we might as well talk on ICQ, and Aaron busied himself with setting up the program on his computer. All I'd really managed to learn from his emails was that he'd just turned 20 and he was a student at UBC. I'm sure he knew even less about me, since I'm such a paranoid jerk when it comes to the Internet. I hadn't yet entered that stage of anticipation when one starts to wonder: "What is he like? Is he nice? What does he look like? Is he an axe-murderer?" I'd been soured to Internet relationships by now, and I didn't want this to be blown out of proportion. I was a prepared cynic.
(Sorry...I'm eating homemade cherry pie as I write this, and I feel the need to say that it tastes just delicious. All right...no more interruptions...)
Everything changed, believe it or not, on the 11th of February. (Yeah, we work fast.) Aaron finally got ICQ up and running. I was chatting with a friend of mine, and he popped online, asking if I wanted to talk. Gritting my teeth and hoping it wouldn't take too long, I said: "Sure thing," and proceeded to carry on two conversations at once. We started with the usual pleasantries, exchanging relatively inane information. If I sound harsh, it's because I'm a major critic of these Internet relationships. This is going to sound perfectly ridiculous once the story unfolds, but I'm still wary of the whole IRC/ICQ/Email correspondence thing. I'd managed to learn the hard way that people rarely resemble their Internet personalities in the flesh, and I wasn't about to make another mistake. I was playing this one cautiously.
But after about an hour of talking with Aaron, I started to realize that (and I know we've used this line countless times before...) he was...well...different. He was the genuine article. He didn't boast, or lie, or crack stupid jokes. He didn't say anything crass or make sexual innuendo. He was trapped in the closet, and quite frankly, he hated it. I hadn't expected myself to play counselor, but I found myself gently reassuring him that (the most idiot line of all time) everything would somehow be all right. I offered suggestions on how he could tell his parents. I praised him for the steps he'd taken so far. I don't know at what point in the conversation I suddenly blinked, and realized that I cared about this person...even though I'd never met him.
By the end of the conversation, we concluded that we simply had to meet. One conversation online, and we both wanted to meet! I'd never even considered something like that before. I finally disconnected and crawled into bed around 4:00 in the morning...but I didn't sleep until 6:00. I lay in bed and stared thoughtfully up at the ceiling. I had no idea what was happening, but a change had just taken place. I just didn't know if it would be for the better, or the worse.
Aaron and I talked for more or less the same duration the following night, and the night after that. The more we talked, the more we wanted to meet, and eventually we decided on a Saturday. He had to attend a dance at UBC on Friday, and he wasn't looking forward to it at all. He invited me rather sheepishly, but I declined, like the jerk I was. All of a sudden, I realized that I didn't want to wait until Saturday. I emailed him, and basically said: "Screw the dance. Come on Friday, and we'll spend the day together." What was I doing? This was totally insane for both of us.
The next few days were a living hell. I climbed the walls, paced the carpets, and stared like an idiot out the window, as if I could somehow will his arrival into being. It was as if the central goal in my life had shifted from something intangible to something about to happen. All I cared about was meeting Aaron on Friday. I immediately became a nervous wreck.
Friday rolled around, and I rose late, chatting like a parrot with my mom while glancing at the clock every few seconds. If the traffic from Vancouver to Chilliwack wasn't too bad, he'd get here around 2:00 or so. My mom could tell that something rather surreptitious was going on. I always talked a great deal with her when I was about to do something sneaky. But she didn't say anything. I pretended to receive a phone call, then said: "Mom ... my friend Aaron from school wants to go for coffee." She smiled and offered a perfunctory "Yes, dear." Still, she knew something was up ... but she couldn't quite divine what it was, so for now, I was beyond her reach.
Aaron phoned from the airport ... a few steps away from my house ... and my stomach tied itself up in knots. Here was the moment of truth. I threw on a jacket and headed out the door. I could feel the blood pounding in my ears. The only I prayer I offered was: "Please God, just let him be halfway normal." That was all I wanted. When I neared the airport parking lot, I recognized his jacket, and lacking anything better to do, I waved. He waved back. Suddenly, I was possessed by the overwhelming urge to run in the opposite direction. But I resisted it. A large sign obscured our view of each other at first, but we both walked around it, and within seconds he was standing before me. I remember thinking: "He looks older than I expected." It was only because he'd neglected to shave that morning. He had brown eyes, and a sincere smile. He extended his hand, and said: "Nice to meet you." I took it ... and that was when everything changed.
His hand closed around my own, and I felt something almost completely indescribable. It was as if someone had quite unexpectedly struck a bell in the back of my head, or sounded some note of mysterious wonder in my ears. I wanted very much to keep holding his hand, but I let go so as not to seem like a maniac, and we engaged in polite conversation. I kept looking at him from the corner of my eyes, and I noticed (with great pleasure) him doing the same to me. We got in his car, and I proceeded to give him directions to the nearest coffee shop. Now, I remember this moment with the utmost clarity. He was glancing at a map of Vancouver. He pulled out his reading glasses, and started chewing absently on them ... it's hard to describe how he did it. But I knew something profound as I watched him. Funny ... I didn't know what I knew, but I definitely knew something.
We hit the coffee shop, and then walked around the park at the Library for a while. We sat on a bench and talked about the randomness of life. Our conversation kept inexplicably coming back to the strange series of coincidences that had brought us together. At one point, I think I smiled crookedly and said: "It must be fate." He smiled right back, and said: "Maybe."
Everything seemed idyllic ... until chaos ensued.
Aaron and I went back to my place, which was empty, thank God. I looked at the pictures he'd brought, and smiled like a great fool. Then one of my friends called, reminding me that it was Kevin's birthday party. (Remember Kevin? My best friend?) Well, Karen (the friend who called) wanted to meet Aaron anyway, so she came right over. We basked in each other's company for a while, and it was pretty obvious that we all didn't want to attend Kevin's party. The plan had originally been for Aaron to go watch "Titanic", because it was three hours long. After that, Karen and I felt that we could both leave the party and pick Aaron up. But sometimes even the best-laid plans tend to fall on their face.
As we sat in the midst of our good friends, Karen and I soon realized that the party was a bomb. Nobody was really talking at all. Kevin started playing a card game with a few other people, and Karen and I sat in the corner, completely ignored. I couldn't stop thinking about Aaron. It was literally staring to drive me crazy. I dragged Karen into the kitchen, and she asked: "Are we going to leave?" I just nodded. We went back into the living room, and concocted a terribly weak story involving a rather large migraine that Karen had just developed, and the fact that her fictional medication was at home. I said that I was just going to drive her home, and then we'd be back. Now that I think of it, I realize that Kevin knew I was lying. But he just nodded, and said: "Sure. Go ahead." And we took off for the movie theater.
At first I couldn't find Aaron in the dark. I sat down near the aisle, and basically sulked, because I'd have to watch the rest of the movie alone, and the whole damn covert operation had been a big bust. Then Aaron appeared beside me, and I smiled. "There you are," I said, trying not to sound too excited. He sat down next to me, and he was silent for a moment. That worried me. Then he leaned over, and whispered: "I'm so glad you came." I started to grin from that point on, and replied: "Me too."
After the movie, we went out for coffee with Karen and her boyfriend. Aaron and I sat next to each other, and I remember clearly that the whole time, all I wanted to do was hug him, or at the very least lean against him. But neither of us made a move. He slept over that night, and it took us a long time to finally fall asleep. I have a huge bed, so he just slept wrapped in a quilt, and I lay underneath the covers ... craving company, of course. We whispered and laughed for hours, and when we did decide to call it a night, I couldn't help but notice that we were sleeping very close to each other. Our hands were almost touching. Almost.
Things turned sour the next morning. Remember, I'd told my mom that Aaron was a friend from school. But when we were gone the night before, she just happened to see his knapsack lying on my bed, and she noticed the schedule-book from UBC. She also say his address written somewhere or other ... North Vancouver. This was bad, to say the least. When I rolled out of bed around 12:00, there were three messages from her on our machine. I was getting nervous now, and so was Aaron, to some degree. I answered the phone while I was making us breakfast, and it was her ... pissed off. Very pissed off. She accused me of lying to her about Aaron, and insisted that he be out of the house before she got home from work. I told her that was unfair. We argued about it at some length, and she finally agreed to let him stay one more night.
Even though we were both immensely stressed-out, Aaron and I managed to spend a nice day with each other. We got home and waited for her ... I sent him upstairs, because I didn't want him to feel as if he were in the middle of things...even though he was. We were waiting for her to get home from work, and I paced around my room. Aaron kept telling me that everything would be fine. I desperately wanted to hug him now, but I couldn't think of a way to engineer it. Finally, I just held out my arms and said: "Just one hug, to give me strength." It was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to say in my life. He gave me a kind of one-armed embrace, and that was a little disappointing. I smirked, and said: "We have to teach you how to hug, my boy." Notice I said we instead of the more dangerous I. All I expected him to do was chuckle. But instead he wrapped his arms around me in a warm, firm embrace. I was in heaven. We held each other for a few seconds, and then parted. Now I was genuinely confused. My life was losing all perspective.
My mom arrived, and I fully expected to have a long talk with her. But all she said was: "We don't need to talk. If you're not going to listen to me, then you can make your own decisions. Do whatever you want to do." Then she walked away. My confusion doubled. I'd really wanted to talk to her about Aaron. But things were already spiraling out of control. Aaron and I left as soon as we could ... the house was suffocating us. We had dinner at a local restaurant, which of course was lined wall-to-wall with couples, since it was Valentine's Day. We were pretty smug about the fact that we were the only two men in the restaurant sharing a table. The waitress got a big kick out of it as well. All in all, it was an interesting dinner.
After that, we returned the library, and were struck by its sense of stillness. We just sat in his car, reminding each other that Valentine's Day was almost over. We both just kept saying that, but we didn't now what to do. We finally left the car, and walked around the park. I stepped up onto a cement divider, and he followed me. Both of us watched the surface of the pond, utterly black, illumined only by the red glow atop the nearby hotel, which pulsed with the regularity of a heartbeat. Our hands almost touched...almost. But nothing happened.
We spent a more subdued night...still laughing, but not quite as much. It didn't take us long to realize that we had to leave. I didn't feel comfortable in my own house anymore. So when morning dawned, we packed out bags, and basically snuck out of the house. We grabbed ourselves breakfast, and within an hour, we were on the road to Vancouver. It was probably the craziest thing that either of us had done. But his parents were in Hawaii for the weekend, so we pretty much had the house to ourselves. Sure, we'd have to avoid his brother...but we weren't thinking rationally. By the time we entered Vancouver, I was so full of energy I could have exploded. What the hell was happening to my life?
We walked on the beach by UBC, and once again, I wanted to hold his hand...but we kept our distance, respectably. When we arrived at his house, I started to get nervous. His brother just sat in front of the television, saying virtually nothing. That made me even more nervous, because I have this sometimes irrational need to get to know people. I need to make conversation with them, and smile, and give them a place in my life. Aaron's brother wasn't about to make conversation with us ... in fact, he made it his business to ignore us. I felt the discomfort growing as we entered Aaron's room. The fact that I was in an alien city, miles away from home, started to sink in. I worried about what my parents would think. I had to call them...but when? And what could I possibly say to make them understand. We sat on his bed, and I couldn't relinquish all of the doubts that were gnawing at me.
Aaron put on some soft music to relax us, and we both lay on his bed. Once again, I felt that wordless something begin to take over. We lay very close to each other ... our faces were inches apart, and I could see for the first time how wonderful his brown eyes were. It occurred to me that I'd always dreamt of someone with blue eyes, but my platonic fantasies were gradually changing. Brown eyes, I've found, harbor a touching gentleness that can't be found anywhere else. Brown eyes enfold your whole heart with a single glance. I realized all of this as I stared at him. He looked sleepy, and I wanted to reach out and touch his face just once ... to close those eyes, and kiss his forehead, and stand sentinel over him the entire night.
Our hands were touching now. None of us said anything. At one point, he had to fiddle with the CD player, and I sat up. To this day, I'm not sure why. Perhaps I thought he would lean against me. Perhaps I just needed some kind of movement, lest I fall asleep. But he sat down next to me, and I remember that our shoulders were touching. My heart beat a little faster each minute. Finally, he said very quietly, almost in a whisper: "Would you mind if I did something?" Now my heart was ready to pound its way out of my chest. I smiled and said: "Go ahead."
He leaned close to me, and rested his head on my leg. I couldn't believe it! I'd been grilling myself on how to initiate something for days, and now he was making the first move. I laughed softly, and said: "Aaron, you continue to surprise me." Then I put my hand on his head, and gently began to stroke his hair. I'd wanted to do that from the first moment we met. He made a very small sound, and inched even closer to me. We just sat like that for a while, like one person. Then we held each other, and in the almost-darkness of his room, broken only by the dim light of the CD player, our lives connected ... never to part.
Even though we had to avoid his brother, we didn't really leave each other's arms from that point on. We stole every moment together that we could. We took his dog for walk at night, hand in hand, beaming at each other. We ran around the field of a nearby High School while Ranger (his dog) watched us with some manner of canine disdain. We lay like one person on his couch downstairs, watching TV while not really watching it, if you know what I mean. I listened to the metronome of his heartbeat. I looked more deeply into his eyes than I ever had with anyone ... and it was in that moment I decided that I loved him. It took me about an hour of mental preparation, but I eventually told him so. He looked at me with the widest, warmest smile, and said: "I love you too." And we lay in a state of blissful shock, wondering at how easy it had all been.
Later, our emotions started to catch up with us. My mother was frantic. She figured that I had run away to Vancouver and was never coming back. I had to keep phoning Karen (I was actually frightened to phone home) and telling her to reassure my parents that we were safe. Aaron was also terrified ... for different reasons. He hadn't yet come out to his family. He told me: "I thought I would never tell them until I met you. Jes, you're my reason for coming out." We drove to the Vancouver airport, and watched the planes take off in eerie silence. Finally, Aaron was so overwhelmed ... not just by what was to come, but by the hellish week itself ... that he began to cry. My heart broke. I just held him in the car, whispering: "Everything will be all right."
Later, we danced by the runway. It was cold, and there was no music, but we danced anyway. A whole minivan full of people seemed immensely interested in what we were doing, but we didn't care. We gave them a show they won't soon forget.
Time passed. Aaron and I grew closer and closer. Eventually, he had to drive me home. I confronted my parents ... no mean feat, I'll add. There was a lot of crying, and a lot of explanations flying back and forth ... but everything settled itself back to normal in the end. My mom has grown very fond of Aaron, and she looks forward to seeing him when he drives down this weekend. My friends are all desperate to meet him. Aaron has come out to his parents, and they're both dealing with it...just like parents always do. He hasn't come out to his brother yet, but he will soon. As the Indigo Girls say: "Everything in its own time." Aaron and I love each other to a degree that manages to increase every day. We still can't believe all of the strange coincidences that have brought us together. And ultimately, we have Oasis to thank. We couldn't have done it without our mutual connection to the magazine.
So...happy endings do exist. And lives do change.
Always when you least expect it.