Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trying to say goodbye

The afternoon Todd told me that he loved me he also talked about how stressed out he gets that I’ll call when his wife is standing right there. He said that she’d wonder why he wasn’t answering and he knew that if he did answer and it was me he didn’t think he could hide his emotions. We had already devised a plan for me to block my number whenever I called his cell phone so that it wouldn’t show up on the bill. But Todd was worried that he couldn’t block his number too so we devised yet another plan. Todd is, well, “technologically challenged” and his cell phone looks like it’s from 1906. Coincidentally we had the same cell phone carrier – which made sending one another voice messages possible without making an actual call. No call meant that there would be no repeats of my phone number. Todd and I lay on the bed in our motel room and I showed him how to send me a voice message by calling his voicemail and then pressing #2 to record a message to me. Still – whenever I left him a message I had to pretend that I was a business associate named “Jason” but that was fine with me. The way I saw it, this was just one way in which I could keep Todd safe.

On Father’s Day I had a few margaritas and felt myself longing to hear Todd’s voice. After everyone had left I utilized the sending a voicemail message plan to leave Todd a message. Of course I was still “Jason” and calling about a “job” but I managed to hear his voice and went to sleep for the night. What I didn’t know was that , although his cell phone didn’t ring, it did let out a loud pinging sound when a message was left. Wouldn’t you know it, his wife just happened to hear it and commented that it seemed strange that she hadn’t heard it ring. Todd managed to cover quickly and adequately but the damage was done and had added to what had already been a difficult day for him. As I suspected it would, being with his wife and kids, on the day that was to honor him as a father buried him in guilt. The ping of his cell phone and his wife’s questioning sent him into a tailspin. Todd later told me that he couldn’t get me out of his head – a problem that I’d also been having on Father’s Day – and it filled him with more guilt than he thought he could handle.

The Monday after Father’s Day Todd called me as I was on my way to work. He’d started a job in San Francisco that day and was hoping we could have lunch. . I had actually driven in late that day, alone so I had my SUV. I’m fairly well known around the campus where I work but I didn’t hesitate to say yes! I couldn’t wait to see him. When I met Todd I whizzed him through campus and into the bowels of the parking garage where I had intentionally parked in a very private corner with no other cars around. We climbed into the back seat and he threw his arms around me. He kissed me and told me that he had missed me terribly. My 30 minute lunch turned into an hour and half in which we made love in the back of my SUV, in the parking garage of the place that I work! When we were finished we lay in each other’s arms and he told me how difficult his Father’s Day had been. He told me that there were times when he just didn’t know if he could go through with “this.” I promptly took the opportunity to remind him that he had already gone “through with it.” “I know,” he said. “I just don’t know if I can keep doing it.” I just held him tightly. He went on, “but then I see you and you make me feel so good. So alive. I just can’t imagine not having you!” He sighed and declared that we’d just have to “find a way to make it work” because he couldn’t give me up. I could feel his pain and all I wanted to do was take it away from him.

The following day Todd was working in San Francisco again. He called me in the morning and asked if we could meet during my lunch break. Of course I said yes. He picked me up and I took him to one of my favorite parks in San Francisco. On a clear day you can see the entire Bay Area. On this day the weather was overcast but we found a spot underneath a tree that was well hidden. I had thought ahead and brought an old blanket that wouldn’t be missed. Todd and I lay under the tree and he kissed me in the way that I had grown to cherish. I sensed that he was struggling with his emotions so we talked quite a lot about how hard this all was for him. The more he talked the more I realized that I just couldn’t help him with much of what he was dealing with. It became clear to me that he was dealing with what I had dealt with 20 years earlier, as I was about to graduate from high school. Todd was discovering the sexuality that he had tried his entire life to suppress and thought he could “manage” through random and meaningless encounters with strange men. He had told me on several occasions that he knew that he could not go the rest of his life without being with a man. So I asked him if he’d prefer the random encounters in places that would almost surely get him caught, and perhaps arrested, to being with me. “That’s just it.” He said. “I don’t want to go back to that.” “It’s different now.” When Todd said that a light went on in my head. I looked up at him and, with tears in my eyes, I said in a very gentle and loving tone, “Baby – you’re life has changed.” “Things will never be the same for you.” ‘You’ve fallen in love with a man and that’s no small thing.” Todd began to sob as he buried his face in my neck. He tried his best to convince me that he’d be able to find a way to deal with this and asked that I be patient with him. Of course I agree but deep down I wasn’t so sure.

Todd drove me back to my office building and we went down into the parking garage where we sat in his truck and talked for nearly another hour. It was during this conversation that I told him that I truly believed that he was dealing with something that I could not help him with. I told him I could be his friend and be there for him but he had to figure it out on his own. I held his face as I said, “I wasn’t going to tell you this Todd, and I’m not sure you’re ready to hear it, but I think you’re starting to realize that you might actually be gay.” I held him tightly as he cried in my arms. There are few things in my life that can compare to the pain and agony I suffered when I realized that I was gay. I had tried so hard to fight it because I didn’t want to be “that way.” All I wanted to do was take that pain away from him. I remember it like it was yesterday. It wasn’t just the pain of the realization that I was gay but it was the primal, horrifying fear – and absolute certainty – that I would lose everyone and everything important to me that nearly destroyed me. My heart ached for him as my friend and all I could think of was how terrible this is going to be for him. At the same time it was the first time I started to realize that this might actually be too much for ME.

As I got out of Todd’s truck I kissed him gently and asked him if he was going to be okay. He said he would be but I made him promise that he’d call me after work when he was on his way home. We’d agreed that we’d meet on Friday at the motel because it was a “work at home” day for me and he didn’t have any appointments that afternoon.

An hour after he had left me in the parking garage I called to see how he was. He wasn’t good and I heard it the second he answered the phone. I asked him if he was okay and he said, again, that he didn’t know if he could do this. The guilt was eating at him. “Todd, I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “If being with me is that difficult for you then maybe we should just call it off.” “I care too much for you to be the cause for so much suffering.” Deep down I knew that he needed me far more that I needed him but I couldn’t let him tear me up every time he was having a hard time. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “I think we should just end it now.” “I just don’t think I can do this.” I was stunned and hurt and I sat in my office with tears rolling down my face as I began to shake. I knew he was right and I knew that the best thing, for me and for him, would be to get out now. Softly I said, “God - I don’t know if I can do this.” “Yes you can,” Todd said. “You’re strong.” This has been a common misconception most of my life. People assume that I am strong because I am able to plow through most situations but inside I am falling apart and that is exactly how I felt in the moment that Todd and I had decided to break it off. I felt broken. All I could say was, “No Todd, I’m not.” Todd started to say something else and the sound of the torment in his voice was more than I could bear. I hung up without saying another word.

The next hour at work was hell. Thankfully my coworker was not in the office so I closed my office door and sobbed. An hour after I had hung up on Todd, impulsively, I reached for the phone and called him back. When he answered I blurted out, “I don’t think I can do this!” Todd’s voice was shaking as he said, “I know but I don’t know what else to do.” “I feel like I’m torturing you.” He was right, he was, but I didn’t tell him that. We made some small talk for a few minutes and then I said, “Look, if we are really going to end this then I think we owe it to one another to do it face to face and in private.” I asked him if we could still meet as planned on Friday at the motel and he agreed by saying “I think that would be a good idea.” It was settled. We’d meet, cry together, and let one another go in a way that showed respect to the love we had for one another.

I got up that Friday in a surprisingly good mood. Todd called me and left me a message as he had promised. He sounded sad and disjointed. I didn’t get the message right away and he called two more times while I was in the shower. When I returned his call he sound relieved. I asked him if we were still on for meeting and he said yes and asked if we could meet earlier because he’d finished what he’d been doing earlier than he thought he would. I told him that I couldn’t meet earlier because I had some work I needed to finish. I agreed to call him when I was in route.

When I called Todd he sounded calm, relaxed and reflective. I asked where he was and he said he’d stopped by the side of the road and was looking out at the water thinking of me. He asked if I was okay and I replied that I was. That’s when I took a chance and decided to test just how resolute he was in his belief that we should discontinue our meetings. I told him that I’d been doing a lot of thinking and I realized that this all happened much too fast for him to really get a grip on it. No wonder he was feeling overwhelmed. I told him that it was very clear to me – and asked him to correct me if I was wrong – that we had developed a deep connection and walking away from it would be devastating to us both. He agreed. “Look,” I said. “You’re leaving for Hawaii in a couple of weeks so we’ll have some forced distance and what you’re going there to do is no small thing Todd.” “I know.” he said. “I’m really scared.” Todd was headed to Hawaii with his wife, his kids and his in-laws to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary and renew his wedding vows with this wife. He’d told me this the day he told me that he loved me and I took it in stride but secretly I was very worried that he would crack up before he got there. I knew how much pressure he was under and the roller coaster of his emotions had the potential of destroying everything he felt was important in life. “I think the time you spend in Hawaii will be a good chance for us to take a breath,” I said. “You can be with your family, relax, and hopefully figure out how you can move forward for the next 25 years with your wife but still give yourself what you and I both know that you truly need.” It seemed to make perfect sense to us both. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that neither one of us really want to let the other go,” I said. “No! I don’t want to let you go!” Todd replied. “I don’t know if I can, Jason.” “Okay then, let’s meet at the motel and work this out. I really think that taking a few steps back and allowing you to get some breathing room will give you a chance to see things more clearly.” I could hear the relief in Todd’s voice and I could see it on his face when he met me in the parking lot of the motel. I got out of my SUV and stuck my head in the window of his truck to kiss him.

By now it was standard procedure for me to check us in. Once we had our room Todd threw his arms around me with the excitement and jubilation of a child. “I think this is going to work!” He declared. We spent the next four hours laughing, drinking margaritas and crying. Todd thanked me over and over for not letting him go. He repeated many times that he had grown to believe that he really needed me. I didn’t think it was possible for him to give me anymore of his soul but each of the five times we made love that afternoon he gave more and more of himself to me. I could tell that he was scared, so was I, but I also knew that neither one of us was ready, or willing, to say goodbye to something that felt so right. Of all the times Todd and I had spent together this was the most amazing for us both. We felt renewed and energized. I told Todd that THIS was how it should always feel. We spoke of the fact that he would most definitely have more ups and downs and I told him that as hard as it was going to be for me, I simply had to stop trying to help him work through it because I felt like it was clouding his mind and smothering the natural process that he had to go through. I explained that he was going to need to find a way of getting through the rough patches on his own but if he truly needed to talk to me I would, of course, listen to him and be there for him in any way that I could. The tenderness and love that Todd showed that afternoon was even more amazing to me. It was now crystal clear that we had fallen hopelessly in love and Todd promised me that he would get through the rough patches one way or another because he knew that he needed me. I knew he was right but the pain I had just been through when I thought I’d lost him was not going to be easy for me to get past. I told him this and he promised that he was in and we’d figure it out.

My 39th birthday was the following week and Todd asked if we could do something. I had taken the day off and couldn’t think of anything I would rather do than spend the day in his loving embrace. Chad had been on me about fixing the sink in our bathroom. It was clogged and it was my job to fix it. I mentioned this to Todd and he said that he’d love to fix it for me. I didn’t even hesitate when I said, “Okay! Then we can get a room somewhere.” The one thing that we both felt strongly about was that we would not disrespect our family by doing anything in one another’s home. I wanted him to see my home and he wanted me to see his but we had to have limits. We agreed that it wouldn’t feel right.

The afternoon of our failed break-up Todd repeated many times that he still couldn’t believe that he’d found me. I seemed to good to be true and there were times when he was in such a panic that he wondered if I’d try to blackmail him or if I had some sinister motive. This made me laugh but I knew that even though these were fleeting feelings during periods of weakness and panic, for Todd, they were very real. He was placing his life as he knew it in my hands and trusting that I would never abuse the privilege. I have never been so resolute in making a promise when I made the promise of keeping him safe.

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