I’m thinking about Bob. I went to high school with him, and I just found out he died last night. He was young, only forty-one. I didn’t know him anymore, but we hung out with many of the same friends in high school, especially after I started acting in plays and musicals and then became a thespian with him.
Bob was irreverent when fitting in was still cool. He was sassy and snarky and had a biting wit, making obscure references to old Hollywood or theater that I could rarely follow, but I laughed anyway because his laugh was infectious. He was out there but in a way that even in our small, tight-knit theater troupe we only suspected he was gay, but it was never openly confirmed. He was the first gay boy I kissed, but not the last. In college I had a tendency to fall so very easily in love with gay men, because they were much more fun than the straight boys. I think that’s why I write about gay men today; writing straight is boring.
I was sixteen years old and sloppy drunk on two wine coolers at a cast party. There was an outdoor hot tub surrounded by snow involved too. It was the first time I’d ever had anything to drink, and since the wine coolers were so good, I guzzled them. Bob fell and landed in a sprawl on the stairs I was crawling up, so I straddled him and snuck a kiss.
A few days later, I found out he was dating his best friend, whom he eventually married. He married a girl. I really have no idea what happened between them because we all moved away, but eventually they divorced and Bob finally found the strength to share his truth with the world.
Back in high school, I thought he was funny but a little bitchy. I liked that about him. But I see him so differently today. He was living in a community where being gay was something to fear. Luckily, we had a huge arts community, so he found a niche where he could be himself, even if he couldn’t be out.
All us thespians refused to use the lockers out in the halls of the school and instead, stored our books and coats and dramatic flair—masks and Marilyn posters and makeup—backstage in lockers half the size of what the school provided. We did that because of the sense of community and acceptance we felt there.
I feel sad Bob didn’t feel enough of that acceptance to come out to us. Then again, my other gay and lesbian friends from those years didn’t come out then either. Some waited only months after high school graduation but several waited years.
I hope Bob found some peace after he revealed his truth. I hope he found happiness and someone to love him the way he wanted. He deserved that.
So, tonight I find myself mourning a man I no longer even know because he touched my heart so many years ago with his humor and a stolen kiss on the stairs.