“You’re lovely to remember, and looking back then feeling like I’m walking very slowly through a soft and misty rain. And a beautiful sadness comes over me. Though, I’ve never been so lonely, I’m happy in a way, for the love that I still feel when I think of you today. And a beautiful sadness comes over me.” (Beautiful Sadness, Leikin, M.A. / Holdridge, L.E., © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC)
Finding myself like the proverbial “duck out of water” in oh, so many ways, as both married to my husband and living in the middle of Amish country in Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to leave the insurance business and move back into my chosen career of technical editing/writing. The company was known around town as “the bomb factory” although this was supposed to be a big secret. The place was a front for the CIA, although when it all fell apart a few years after I joined, of course the government denied this and several people, including the founder, went to jail.
I don’t remember interviewing with my supervisor, Sue. I don’t remember first meeting her. My brain cannot process when it did not have a picture of her in it. Straight line skirts, long-sleeved silk blouses with modest V-neck, just a peek of camisole. She was in her late 40s when we met; I was in my late 20s. She had a hearty laugh. She walked briskly and confidently around the proposal production center, which she managed. I was smitten. It was safe. She was married; I was married. I wasn’t smitten totally in that way, but I was smitten further than I had ever been smitten before. (The last time I had been smitten was for a boy named Mark in 5th grade.)
I had known I was gay for a long time. No, a long, long, long time. Growing up, I knew I was different since at least age 10. I had suspected I was gay since at least my mid-teens. Being brought up Roman Catholic, having the expectations of a Mrs. Degree, the white picket fence, the kiddies; it just was not an option. By the time I arrived in California for my final two years of college, it was a foregone conclusion. I had one acquaintance on the student paper I would confide in about this when I got really drunk (a frequent event), but it was confusing because there wasn’t anyone I was “into” in that way.
Then there was Sue.
That throaty laugh. The way her camisole peeked out on her suntanned chest. Her confident, brisk walk.
I had it bad.
We became fast friends. She already had a great girlfriend at work, which made me insanely jealous. That, however, was her “shopping” girlfriend. We had more. (Oh, the things we tell ourselves sometimes!) Her husband was soon dying of cancer. I was soon drinking and drugging, and realizing I was gay and needed to leave my husband. We glommed onto each other like the two dysfunctional, co-dependent, alcoholic, needy people we were.
I was in heaven.
During frequent breaks in the lactation room off the ladies’ room, I’d bare my soul while she’d smoke. After her husband went into the hospital for good and I left my husband, these breaks became less frequent and instead, I’d head to her house after work while she drank and bared her soul while I listened.
One Saturday night after I left my husband, I decided it was finally time to determine whether I was gay. My therapist told me I was unusual because most gays and lesbians come out “with” someone or “because of” someone, but I did not. I decided I must go to the local lesbian bar, find someone to make out with, and see whether I was really gay. (This has all the makings of a bad movie, does it not?)
I am a painful introvert, and drinking never helped. I didn’t have moves. I didn’t have lines. It was sad. Finally someone started paying attention. She was older, which I liked. I definitely needed someone with experience. A few drinks later, I agreed to go back to her place. One thing led to another and another thing led to…The Crying Game. I sobered up fast and things came to a halt. We actually became good friends, but if I said it wasn’t traumatizing at the time, I’d be lying.
First thing at work Monday, I dragged Sue to the lactation room. “You won’t believe what happened to me Saturday night!” I was in hysterics as I recounted the story. “Yeah, so?” She said, in the totally non-judgmental, chill way only she could do. It was not a dismissive tone; it was an embracing, “It could happen to anyone” tone. This was in the middle of the 1980s, people!
Through my whole coming out, separation, divorce, first girlfriend, getting sober, first time getting 13th stepped at AA – through every single thing – this friend of mine never once judged, never once stopped being my friend, never stopped, dare I say, loving me for me. We lost touch a few year after I left the area and she remarried, but I’ve never forgotten her kindness.
So, last night about midnight, I had this thought about her, and I googled. She confidently and briskly left this earth in 2011 at age 72. I am so glad that when I was in her area in 2010, I looked her up and phoned her. I reminded her of my “night of self-discovery.” She laughed that throaty laugh. I now know she was very ill. I thanked her. She said she was happy I was doing well, and she couldn’t wait to tell her daughter I called. I told her I still want Meryl Streep to play her in the movie adaptation of my book.
“I always thought you were the best, I guess I always will. I always thought that we were blessed, and I feel that way still. Sometimes we took the hard road, but we always saw it through. If I had only one friend left, I’d want it to be you. Someone who understands me and knows me inside out. Helps keep me together, and believes without a doubt. That I could move a mountain, someone to tell it to. If I had only one friend left, I’d want it to be you.” (One Friend, Seals, D., © Alfred Publishing Co.)