As I look out at the bleak city landscape from the window of my apartment, I can't help but wonder if this will be the last time I see it as a married man. I don't want to even contemplate the alternative, but after nearly 20 years of living as a closeted, married gay man, I know that I'm at a crossroads. Behind me is a life of comfort, warmth and love. Ahead of me is something unknown and terrifying. The thing is, I really want to continue the comfortable, happy life I've been living. I really have no reason to come out now - I deeply love my wife and have no intention of leaving her. That I am gay is a secret I could well take to the grave. And yet, somehow, I know that I just can't do that. I can't live with the ongoing deception. The guilt of hiding such an important part of me from the person I love more than anything on earth has just become too great a burden to bear alone. As much as I want my marriage to continue, that marriage is built on trust. How can my wife trust me, if I can't trust her with something as important as this?
Turning away from the window, I prepare to brew a cup of coffee. Inside the apartment it is dark, with the only illumination coming from the windows and that is meager at best. It's a rainy morning - as they say, "April showers". . . . An occasional flash of lightning makes the scene inside seem surreal, and the thunder that follows sends a chilling sensation through my spine. Grinding the beans and filling the coffee maker with water only serves as a brief distraction from my thoughts. My wife was up hours ago. She already called me to say she was on her way. The trip would take six hours or possibly more, so I have plenty of time to prepare. Yet, I cannot see how any amount of time could prepare me for what's to come. In one way I just want it to be over with - but at the same time, I dread it coming at all. As the smell of gourmet coffee teases my nose, I think back on the events in my life that brought me to this day.
It was on another spring day that my life as I knew it began, but that one was bright and sunny. I was going to school in Colorado at the time and it was a beautiful Sunday morning. I had joined a hiking club a few weeks before, but had yet to meet anyone interesting. The problem was that there were just too many people in the club and it was difficult to connect with anyone in a crowd of sixty or more hikers. But then I'd read of a new hiking group that was forming a little closer to home and I thought I'd give it a try. After all, what did I have to lose? I liked to hike and perhaps I might meet an interesting girl, or perhaps even an interesting guy.
You see, deep down I knew I was gay, but I just didn't want to accept it. It had been a few weeks before when it all came to a head. My best friend's wife was out of town and he invited me over for a "bachelors' night", with steaks on the grill and some good beer. Hell, anything was better than holing up in my room while my roommate made out with his latest conquest. So I threw on a light jacket and headed over to my best friend's place and we spent the time eating, joking and having a great time together.
We were sitting on the floor in front of his TV, watching Saturday Night Live as we slowly got wasted. We were both sitting there wearing only shorts, socks and T's. As he laughed, I noticed how his shirt kept riding up, exposing his toned abdomen, and I started to feel myself get hard. As I started feeling the way I'd only allowed myself to feel with women before, I got scared.
Nothing happened until I got home later that night, and then it hit me. Jerking off to thoughts of my best friend's hot bod was nothing new. That night I had seen the real thing and, with thoughts of his bare abdomen, his toned thighs and his sock-clad feet, my orgasm was ten times more powerful than anything I'd felt before. That night I realized I'd always jerked off to thoughts of guys and never of women.
The gurgling sound made by the coffee maker as it finishes brewing brings me briefly back to the present. The chill of the cold April day reminds me of the fear I feel inside. I pour a little milk and sugar into the bottom of a mug and then pour the coffee over it - `why doesn't anyone else do it this way?' I think to myself. It makes for a much more evenly sweetened cup of coffee than doing it the other way around. Hmm , funny how your mind wanders to the stupidest of things when you're trying to avoid dealing with reality. So I start sipping my coffee and throw a TV dinner into the microwave. It sure will be nice to get back to real cooked meals - that is if I still have a wife after today. As I wait on my brunch to heat up, I continue sipping my coffee and thinking back on what happened after I realized I had a crush on my best friend.
In the days that followed our "bachelors' night", I thought at great length about what had happened. I could barely look my best friend in the eye after that, and I'm sure he must have noticed. Finally I decided to do something about it, so I picked up the phone and made an appointment to see a campus shrink - but a lot of good he did. He had a three-fold message:
Firstly, he said my shyness was more a cause than a symptom of my sexuality. Come on, how many people turn gay because they're shy? Nope, I don't think so, but at the time it kind of seemed reasonable. I'd never dated in high school, and perhaps I'd only convinced myself I was gay because it seemed safer than dating girls.
The shrink's second message was that I was, "at most" bisexual. Well, yes, I'd had sex with women, and even had sustained relationships. I'd never had sex with guys, which is true even to this day, but I certainly was attracted to them and that was the problem. Somehow, I just don't think that the shrink could relate back then.
Finally, he ended my half-hour session with, "Besides, it's not a good time to be gay." Well, that was true - it was the 80's and we were still a long way off from finding any effective treatments for AIDS.
I guess the message I got after my session was that I needed to get out there and socialize, and not worry about my sexuality. That actually wasn't bad advice, but it forestalled my facing the fact that I really was much more gay than straight.
When that fateful Sunday came, I almost shut the alarm clock off and went back to sleep. But then I remembered what the shrink had said just a week before and I grudgingly pulled myself out of bed, showered and dressed. I ate a quick breakfast and put together a light lunch - I think it was a PB&J on rye, some carrot sticks and a few granola bars. Definitely granola bars. Yeah, that played a big part in what was to come.
Of course, when I got out of my car in the parking lot of the mall where we were all supposed to meet, what I made myself for lunch was the last thing on my mind. I was meeting new people and I always felt nervous and shy in such situations. Still do. I barely had time to exit my car when a woman around my age came up to me and said, "Hi, I remember you!"
I looked at her face with her beautiful green eyes, her long lashes and her infectious smile and, rather than returning her smile, I panicked. I didn't recognize her at all and I had no idea where I'd met her before. I know I mumbled something to her, but I couldn't tell you what if my life depended on it. She later told me that she thought I was a snob, especially after I didn't even offer to let her carpool with me to the trail. At the time, riding with this beautiful stranger who obviously knew me, but whom I couldn't remember, was the last thing I wanted to do - I was terrified of her. In some ways, I still am. Little did I know how quickly my opinion of her would change.
The piercing sound of the microwave, signaling that my meal is ready, startles me out of my reverie and brings me back to the present. I grab the dinner and quickly drop it onto a plate as I shove my right index finger into my mouth, cursing myself for burning it on the steam from where I pulled back the plastic wrap. As the pain starts to subside, I get out a fork and sit down at the kitchen table with my dinner and my coffee.
The chill of the room increases as the folds of my robe open up, exposing my chest. I look down and notice for the first time that some of my chest hairs are starting to turn gray. I wonder, briefly, if I do lose my wife, what gay man would be interested in a middle-aged, newly divorced partner. I don't even want to think about losing my wife, but if the worst happens, I know I could never be happy as a single man. The whole dating scene seems even scarier now than it did way back when, and finding a lover of either sex at my age seems daunting.
I start to take a bite of my - what is this stuff I'm eating? - I think it's some form of processed chicken - and my thoughts once again drift back to that time two decades ago.
It was a warm day for early spring and we had just finished hiking a little over five miles. To this day, my wife swears that the entire eleven miles was all up hill. We stopped at our destination, a beautiful waterfall whose name now escapes me, and started spacing ourselves out to eat lunch. At some point I'd started talking politics with an older guy, and the beautiful woman I'd met in the parking lot eventually joined in on the conversation. By the time we stopped for lunch, the other guy had dropped out of the conversation and it was just the two of us.
We sat down together on a rock and I offered her some of my granola bars, and she offered me some of her strawberries. I didn't know it yet, but we were already falling in love. On the hike back, we ended up talking about more personal things - the movies we liked, our favorite foods - which, it turned out, were nearly identical - the types of music we liked to listen to, our families (we didn't tell each other how messed up they were until much later), and on and on.
We both groaned inwardly when the older guy we'd talked to before joined us in my car for the trip back to the mall, but afterwards I invited her out for ice cream at Swenson's, and after the ice cream for drinks at my apartment. Things were a little crowded in my apartment that night, since my roommate, his latest girlfriend and her baby were there, but we still managed to find privacy in my room, where we kissed and made out until two AM.
We spoke on the phone every night after that. We went to a movie on our first official date the next Friday and saw Witness, with Harrison Ford - what a great movie! By the end of the weekend, scarcely a week after I'd met her (she claims she met me twice before in the other hiking club, but I don't remember it), we were engaged. Two months later, when my roommate moved out, my fiancée moved in.
A loud clap of thunder startles me and brings me back to the reality of the present. I look down at my dinner to find that it has mysteriously disappeared, and my coffee is gone. `Did I really finish them?' I think to myself. I get up from the table and throw out the remnants of the meal, and then pour myself another cup of coffee. My wife will be here in only a matter of hours and I still need to clean up the place, shower, dress and make myself presentable. I just don't seem to have the energy. So I go back to the window and stare out at the rain-soaked streets of this strange place as I continue sipping my coffee, remembering the days just after my wife and I met.
We were married the following Thanksgiving weekend, in a beautiful ceremony at her mother's house. Neither one of us had wanted a big wedding, having endured the humongous weddings of our respective sisters some years before. We wanted something simple, yet tasteful and elegant. My mother-in-law went all out - she redecorated her family room including replacing all the furniture, she installed new carpeting in her living room, and she had the kitchen completely redone.
My mother-in-law is a lovely person and I hated to see her go to so much trouble. She assured me that all these things needed to be done anyway, but she wanted to do it for us. She went all out to make sure our day was special. The house was as elegant as anything I'd seen in a magazine.
The ceremony is still a blur to me. We settled on inviting only our closest relatives, but the house was crowded. Rather than walking down the aisle, we walked down the stairway into the living room, side by side, choosing to do so because it seemed hypocritical to enter separately when we were already living together. In my memories, it seems we actually floated down the stairs - I was so nervous, it seemed as if my feet never touched the ground.
I think I remember saying our vows - they were traditional, but the one other thing I remember is that I had difficulty getting the ring on her finger. I kept trying to slide it on the wrong finger and, finally, my new wife had to help me slide it on the right one.
The reception was catered by one of the finest caterers in the city. The food was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was served buffet-style, and there was a whole chilled baked salmon in the center, with thin slices of cucumber overlaying it, looking like scales. There is a funny picture in our wedding album of the two of us, vegged out with empty plates in front of us. I still don't have any memory of eating.
For some twenty years we've had a wonderful life together. There have been good times and bad, and we've traveled the world together, always hand in hand. We've never looked back - until now.
Another flash of lightning brings me back again to the present. I take a sip of coffee and realize it has gone cold. "What am I even doing here," I think to myself. And then the answer comes back to me in a flash as bright as the lightning outside.
"We've decided to consolidate your department." Those words still seem surreal to me, even now. One short sentence that changed my life. After school, I got a great job and was soon becoming known for my work. Things were going great and my wife and I were very happy. Only a few years later, when I got an offer for another job at substantially better pay, I jumped at it. It wasn't in a city my wife and I would have ever considered, but it was a nice town and we made it home.
Before long, we had a close circle of friends and had integrated ourselves into the community. My wife became a force to be reckoned with, and we soon were friends with some of the city's movers and shakers. In the meantime I progressed up the ladder in my job, and when my boss retired, I was offered his position. It was an opportunity I'd never thought I would have so early in my career. I dove into my new job with gusto and made it my own. But times change, decisions are made and consolidation is the name of the game these days. In a cost-cutting move, my department would be merged into a much larger one and my position was to be eliminated.
The worst of it was what I discovered when I started interviewing for new jobs. Although no one ever is fired from an administrative position unless you really f**k up - you're always given a dignified way out - there is a perception when you "resign" a position as a head of a department that you were forced out for a reason. It doesn't matter how successful you may have been or how much in-demand you are at the time - if you resign for any reason other than a move upward, there has to be a reason for it. Finding another job wasn't easy and it didn't happen nearly as quickly as I'd thought it would.
I ended up taking a position offered by an old friend from school, in a city I would have never before considered calling home. I think my friend took pity on me. At least it was a job as a division head and the division was just as large as my previous department had been. But it wasn't a position I would have actively sought. The worst of it was that I had to start at the new job right away since we needed the money - but we still needed to sell our old place, find a new place and find a new job for my wife, too. It was a difficult decision, but an obvious one - she would have to stay behind to sell the old place and keep her old job until we found something for her. That was six months ago and we still haven't even had a nibble on our home, even after lowering our price three times. With the stress of trying to sell the old place, my wife has barely begun to look for a job here.
Six months of living alone, basically for the first time in my life, and I know I'm really depressed. Who wouldn't be? I'm living in a scuzzy apartment while we still make mortgage payments on the old place. We can't even really start to look for a new place until we know how much money we'll have to work with. The neighbors are loud and obnoxious - I haven't lived this way since I finished school.
Then there's the loneliness. I feel so alone. I talk to my wife every night on the phone, but it's not the same. There's no physical closeness, and even more than the physical, I miss the everyday things we did together. I even miss the arguments - how trivial though they seem through the lens of time. God, I can't wait until she arrives! Then it hits me all over again. Today, I'm going to tell her.
You see, after living alone for six months, I've sort of developed a new life - not a happy one, but I have a new identity I never had before. The job has been hectic to be sure, but with no one to come home to and with no friends, I've had a lot of free time on my hands. I was never the type to go out and socialize with strangers and I don't care much for what's on TV, so I've retreated to the on-line world. I've found a new sense of community - the on-line gay community - and I can no longer hide in the closet. Not that I want to come out to my friends, my family or my colleagues, mind you, but I need to come out to my wife.
I can't believe how lost in thought I've been today. The last thing I remember, I was staring out the window and now I'm getting out of the shower. I don't even remember getting in the shower in the first place. As I shave, my thoughts drift back to the life I've been living the last six months.
Yeah, I've spent a lot of time on-line. I've never had so many friends before - friends that I made and not that my wife made or that we made together. It's strange to think that I have so many friends with whom I've shared so much personal stuff, although I've never met them face-to-face. Yet, I feel like I know them as well as anyone.
There are so many people like me - I never could have conceived of how many married men there are out there who live a double life. A lot of them are like me - gay and closeted. Some of them have a gay sex life that is separate from their marriage, but a lot of them are like me - monogamous and faithful to their wives, content to gratify themselves to fantasies of another life that might have been. A surprising number, however, are out to their wives. Of course, some of them are now divorced - and that's the part that really scares me - but some are still married and still in love with their accepting, or at least tolerant, wives.
In many cases, they're together for the sake of the children and I can't help but wonder if that really serves their children's best interests. With no children at home to worry about, at least I don't have that as a consideration. I don't think I could stand to live in a sham marriage.
If there's anything I've learned from the on-line gay community I've come to love, it's that each person is different. Some people tell me that coming out to their wives is the best thing they've ever done - that it brought them closer together. Some even told me that their wives had already known and I wondered if mine somehow already knew my darkest secret. But then some have never stopped regretting the day they told their wives, or now ex-wives. Some of them deliberately ended their marriages, hoping to find the man of their dreams, but not one of them has succeeded - at least in the community I know of. God, how I love my wife - I couldn't stand to lose her. I'm so scared!
I look out the window again. It's still raining. I hope the weather doesn't give my wife any trouble on her long drive here. Hmm, somehow I've managed to get dressed. I look in the mirror - except for a few gray hairs on my head and laugh lines on my face, I look pretty good. Well, I'd better start cleaning up the place. I may live in a crappy apartment, but it's going to have to be home for a while longer I guess, and I don't want my wife to see it like this - I wouldn't want her worrying about me unnecessarily. What a strange thought! Here I'm planning to come out to her, and all I can think about is what she'll think if the place is a mess? But even I can't stand living this way, and if she's going to be here for the next couple of weeks, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of our first hike together and looking for a job here, she should at least be comfortable. How ironic - she's coming here so we can be together for such an important milestone in our lives, and here I am planning to come out to her. Happy anniversary, honey!
As I start to pick up my dirty clothes from the floor, I can't help but wonder what role the gay on-line community might play in my future life. Obviously if my wife leaves me, it'll play a huge role. I'd rather not think about that now, however. What role will it play in my married life? Will I tell my wife about it? I don't see how I could not tell her, if I'm going to be honest. Will she try to cut me off from my Internet pals, or will she understand the critical role they play in my life? Will she be freaked out about the thought that I jerk off to gay fantasies? Will she accept my reading of gay fiction on-line as a part of who I am, or will she resent it, or try to curtail it? Will she take an interest in my new-found hobby of writing my own gay fiction, or will she ignore it, or even resent it? I guess I can live with less-than-total acceptance of my on-line life if she'll at least accept me for who I am. But I'm still going to read gay fiction and I'll still probably jerk-off to gay fantasies, as I've done throughout our married life - it's just that now she'll know that my supplemental sessions do not involve thoughts of sex with her.
On-line gay fiction. That's something I never would have thought could become such an important part of my life. I particularly like stories about gay teens. At first I thought that maybe I'm a pedophile and I agonized over this endlessly. It's bad enough to think about coming out to my wife as a gay man, but as a pedophile? I don't think our marriage could survive that. There's no doubt, I do like looking at teenage boys more than older guys, but when you think about it, don't most straight men enjoy looking at beautiful teenage girls? I've since come to realize that anyone who's honest about it is more attracted to youth, whether they're gay or straight.
I think I like high school tales for a couple of reasons. First of all, there's so much sexual energy during those years, and for gay teens there's so much more involved. They must come to terms with being gay, and then they must decide whether or not to come out, and to whom to come out. They may have to face rejection by their parents and their friends. And of course there's the danger involved in trying to find other gay teens. I like reading about kids facing these problems and overcoming them - something I never managed to do.
Secondly, there is the fact that being a gay teen is something I never allowed myself to experience. I like reading of gay sex among teens because it allows me to vicariously live the life I denied myself. After all, I could never go back and live that life, nor would I necessarily want to. Junior high and high school were dark times in my life and I think in most people's lives, and I'd never want to repeat them. And, of course, I would never want to miss meeting the one person in my life today who makes it all worthwhile.
Then it comes back to me, and I shudder. But how should I come out to her?
I don't think I should just blurt it out. "Honey, guess what; I'm gay." Yeah, that would go over well. I don't think I should tell her as soon as she arrives - I need to at least let her get situated in this little hell-hole. She'll be tired, so we'll probably go out for dinner. Should I tell her at dinner? In a restaurant, I doubt that she'd really raise her voice at me. On the other hand, knowing my wife and the way she does occasionally manage to loose her temper in public, she just might make a scene. She might even walk out on me. No, scratch the restaurant idea. Perhaps we could order in a pizza. I chuckle to myself as I imagine the sight of red pizza sauce dripping down my face. I guess that telling her after dinner would be a better idea, even if the thought of it might make me want to throw up during dinner. Should I wait until tomorrow? Nah, I'll be too nervous and she'll figure something's up. It'll have to be tonight.
Well, I've got the when part settled; now what about the how?
How in the world should I broach the subject? Somehow, I think that even saying something like, "Honey, I have something to tell you," would set us off on the wrong foot. She'd immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm leaving her. Hell, she'd probably think I've been cheating on her. Unless you count what I do with my right hand, nothing could be further from the truth.
Shit! I stop vacuuming for a minute as a million thoughts stream through my head.
I remember the movie War Games and the final scene in which the computer simulates every possible scenario for World War III, finding that in every case no one wins. I struggle as I imagine every way I can think of to start the conversation, and every one of them leads my wife to draw the wrong conclusion, right from the start. "Honey, I'm gay," seems to be the only one that leaves no doubt, but I cannot imagine anything short of Armageddon emerging.
Then I think to myself, what if I start by telling her I'm scared?
Perhaps being honest about how I feel from the get-go would disarm her. After all, I love her and she loves me - we love each other more than anything in the universe. Although it may be a cliché, as far as I'm concerned, we're soul mates. If I tell her I'm afraid of losing her and if I know her as well as I think I do, she'll immediately go on the defensive and tell me that there's nothing that could ever split us apart. She knows I jerk off a lot, and telling her I feel guilty about what I think about when I jerk off might be a good way to explain what it is I'm going through. I'm sure she already realizes that not all my jerk-off fantasies could be of wild sex with her. I think that could be the perfect way to ease into it.
I look up at the clock and see that it's nearly 3 PM. Damn! What happened to the time?! At least the place is clean and respectable now, but she'll be here any minute! Now it seems so real that I can almost taste the fear in my mouth.
Whatever the outcome, our twenty-year bond of love will change. Our lives could well be torn apart, but I hope instead there will be the building of a new foundation - one based on love, trust and honesty.
I look out the window and am startled to realize that it's sunny out. The sky has cleared and the streets are starting to dry out. When did it stop raining? The ringing of the doorbell tells me she is here.
Although this story is largely autobiographical, there are significant differences from what really happened on a cold December night, just after my wife's and my twentieth wedding anniversary, when I came out to her. I felt it appropriate to end the story where I did because there are so many different possibilities. I wanted the reader to have the freedom to imagine what it would be like if they were in this situation.
I'm still very happily married four years later, although the look of total shock on my wife's face when she realized what I was telling her is something I will never forget until my dying day. If anything, our love is indeed stronger now, but to say my wife is supportive may be stretching the truth. She accepts me for who I am, she believes me when I tell her I have never cheated on her, nor will I ever cheat on her, and she even sends me links and gives me clippings of stories dealing with "Brokeback" marriages.
She prefers the term "bisexual" to gay and, after more than twenty years of monogamy, I'm hard-pressed to argue with her. She is not particularly enamored of my on-line activities, but I can understand that. The bottom line is that we are still soul mates, and very much in love.
The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing and Trab in proofreading my stories, as well as Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Codey's World for hosting them.