On my first day of college back in the fall of 1991 I met so many people who would become instrumental in the rest of my life. I didn’t know at the time how they would change and influence me. Sure, I listened to my older sisters who told me my college friends would become some of the deepest connections I would ever make. But I knew I already had a bestest best friend so anyone new could never replace her. I had so much to learn about friendship.
I met David while we were on our way to a new student orientation activity on the campus lawn. I had just said goodbye to my parents and he was standing outside our dorm trying unsuccessfully to get rid of his own family. I remember smiling at him and I think I asked if he was going to the lawn. I was using a manual wheelchair at the time and he offered to wheel me over to the others as an excuse to leave. It didn’t work and his family joined us on our walk.
Our friendship developed over the next few months. As we parted for the holiday break, he gave me a hug and said “I’ll miss you this next month.” This worried me as I wondered if he was feeling romantic towards me. I felt nothing of the sort towards him and I didn’t want to lead him on. Little did I know.
Shortly after we returned to campus, David came into my dorm room one night and upon closing the door, sat in my empty wheelchair and announced, “OK – I’m gay. There, I said it. Now you know.” I was stunned. Of all things he could have said to me, this was an announcement I had not seen coming. I don’t know what he was expecting from me, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t ready for my, “So what? You’re still David.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?!”
I told him I didn’t care who he was attracted to, or who he wanted to kiss or date. He told me about coming out to his mother and we talked about his fears and concerns related to his coming out. Then, because we were 18, we spent some time discussing which members of the baseball team we wouldn’t mind getting alone.
David was the first of my friends to come out to me during my college years but definitely not the last. Together we navigated what it means to be authentic to yourself in a world full of fear and stigma. This was the height of the AIDS epidemic and attitudes towards people of different sexual or gender orientation were not as welcoming or understanding. Only a handful of people knew David’s secret then and I was honored to be the recipient of such trust. David’s story was his to tell, and I respected his desire to choose how and when to tell it. As the semester passed, he gradually opened up to others and his self-esteem began to grow.
Although my relationship with David has never been romantic, I have learned a great deal about love from him over the years. David has supported me through dating disasters, family illness and death. He has been my partner for fun adventures – be it Times Square for New Year’s Eve as we welcomed in 2000 or in Washington D.C. for Independence Day. He forgives me when I forget important events and never pushes me when I need time alone to deal with whatever is on my mind. He is patient with me when I stubbornly insist I must try something on my own even when he knows he will just end up helping me anyway. He says “yes” whenever I ask and always says “I love you” at moments when my heart needs a boost.
Thank you David for opening my eyes to the fact love takes many shapes and for helping me become an advocate for equality for all. I’m grateful for the gift of friendship which has been a part of our lives for so many years.