Post #551 NCOD, A National Day of Courage

October 12, 2017 at 2:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day (NCOD).  I meant to write this yesterday, but events conspired against it.  So bear with me.

I knew from a very very young age that I was different.  I didn’t know the term to put to it until I was a teenager, but because of personal circumstances, I couldn’t accept it of myself.  I spent most of my life despising myself.  I was hugely unhappy, felt reviled and unloved, struggled daily with depression, and at one time came perilously close to ending my life.

My story isn’t so different from most others of my generation.  It was a different time, a different place.  But this post isn’t about my story, which I’ve shared here before.  I came out about twelve years ago, and I’ve been largely comfortable with myself ever since.  This post is about someone else.  Someone I was lucky enough to meet early in my coming out process who was considerate enough to be my friend and stay my friend.

There are a lot of unsavory people “out there” and dating is difficult at the best of times.  My job didn’t leave me with a lot of free time and I traveled a lot.  I considered very carefully and decided to create a profile on a gay dating site.  Back then, things like Facebook and MySpace were in their infancy, and Grindr didn’t even exist yet.  So the site I went to was like a personals column dedicated to gay men.  Your profiles could allow you to narrow the scope of your search, and it had email capability so no one had to have access to your personal account information.  You could even add up to five pictures!  Woo Hoo!  Chuckle if you want, but that pretty amazing then.

I emailed a few guys and started conversations, but nothing ever really clicked well.  Either I wasn’t in town often enough, or we had differing goals.  A lot of the guys were looking for one night stands while I was after the elusive LTR, whether it was friendship or something more.  Then a guy contacted me.  He seemed pretty interested in me.  He lived close by.  We liked the same kinds of things.  He didn’t seem to mind that since I was newly out I was still shaping my life.  He also didn’t mind that my travel schedule kept me out of the country so much.

Over several weeks, emailing only, we got to know each other better.  He’s a teacher (retired now), and taught 6th grade history.  So he was very focused on using current technology to enhance his syllabus.  We finally decided to meet at a local diner to talk in person.  In all the novels, that would have been that “magic moment” where everything fell into place and we walked into the sunset together for the rest of our lives.  What really happened is that I spilled ketchup on a white polo shirt, and he uttered the famous line about his standard relationships “Usually, we meet, we do it, we’re done.  We never see each other again.”

I’ve never been like that, my whole life.  Hell, Partner/Spouse and I didn’t “do it” until we were practically living together.  I can’t give up the physical side of things until I’m certain of the emotional side of things.  But he was okay with that.  He didn’t mind taking things slow.  I almost decided not to waste his time after he made his history clear, but he said he wanted to build a friendship first.

So we did the date things.  We walked our dogs in the nearby National Park which we both knew inside and out.  We went to local plays and productions.  He went shopping, hung out, watched television.  My first night back in town, we’d get together over dinner at a restaurant so I could regale him with all the stories of where I’d been.  Once, I even flew him to where I was so we could experience it together.

We were sitting at a hamburger place in our town one Saturday afternoon.  His burger had so much stuff on it, it was dripping out one end.  Mine was the same as I always order.  Once I find a combo I like, I generally stick to it.

“What’s on that?” he asked.

“It’s a double with extra cheese, mustard, and dill pickle.”

“How is it you’ve never eaten a Cuban sandwich?”  It was something we’d discussed before.  I’d never heard of it until he brought it up.  “Those are most of the ingredients for one.”

“What’s missing?” I asked.

“Pork roast, mostly.  And it needs to be grilled.”

“Hmm, I have some left over pork roast at home.  Wanna make me one?”

His eyes lit up.  “Sure!  Come over tomorrow with it, and I’ll have the rest of the stuff.”

I nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll bring a salad too.  What time?”

“Let’s do this at 3 and we can walk the dogs after.”

So the next day, I loaded up my jeep with my dog, a bowl of salad made from baby spinach, walnuts, mandarin orange slices, shaved parmesan cheese, croutons, and a light thin dressing made from plain yogurt and juice from the oranges, and the left over pork roast, and drove over to his house.

I watched as he made the sandwiches.  I’d never watched him cook before.  He had a small kitchen, smaller than a walk in closet.  He told me he had plans to renovate some day, but for the moment, he could do whatever he wanted.

Cuban sandwiches aren’t really from Cuba, and I used to know why they were called that, but I don’t remember right off just why.  Essentially, they are a grilled cheese sandwich on a sub roll stuffed with provolone, yellow mustard, thinly sliced ham, thinly sliced pork roast, and thinly sliced dill pickles.  Usually they are made in a sandwich press of some kind.

He didn’t have one, so he heated a large skillet so he could make two at a time.  Inside the skillet were two bricks wrapped in clean aluminum foil heating up too.  I watched as he sliced the buns, slathered on the mustard, layered the cheese, meats, and pickle, then put them in the pan.

“Now comes the fun part,” he said.  “You need to keep pressing on them.  Most of the time you’d use a panini press, or something like that.  Since I don’t have room for one, I make do with bricks wrapped in foil.”

“Oh, right, that makes sense.  I suppose that’s what they did before machines were invented.”

“Who?” he asked with a grin and a twinkle.

At a loss, I replied, “Whoever was making these sandwiches.  I guess it wasn’t Cubans, then?”

He laughed and finished up the sandwiches which were amazing and delicious.  Along with the salad and wine, it was great.  So he taught me not only to make the Cuban sandwich, but also how to make do when you don’t have “the right” equipment.

Later, as we were waking the dogs, I was mildly complaining about life in general.  “I never thought that at 47 years old, I’d be reinventing my entire life.  And certainly not as a single gay man.”

He said, in a quiet voice, “I admire you tremendously.  It’s not everyone who has the courage to leave everything they know and do something new.”

I was surprised.  “What are you nuts?  You’re the one with the courage!  You came out when you were 20, back when coming meant everyone would disown you.  Back when you could be killed for it and no one would care.  Back when you could lose your job, your home, everything.  You were the one who paved the way for people like me.”

We were both silent for a moment, then the dogs barked wanting to be on the move again.  We never shared those sentiments again, so if he’s reading this I hope he knows that I still admire him for that.

And for teaching me about Cuban sandwiches.

And a lot of other food things, too.

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