I’ll never forget sitting down at Uno Pizzeria & Grill downtown Fort Worth one early summer evening. The atmosphere of Uno is always casual and dark. Sitting at a booth just a few rows back from the main entrance and enjoying a nice dinner with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in several months.
He had started going to school in the fall and I had been working. Transportation issues kept us apart, but we still kept in touch here and there. Our first meeting in awhile was fun and enjoyable, just as they had always been in the past. This night was different though. This was a night that he was going to put everything out on the line and it took many many years to understand the weight of what he was going to tell me. He was gay.
He didn’t come out and tell me directly. He made it in a joking manner by saying that he had ‘almost kissed his roommate.’ I honestly didn’t think anything of it at the time. I asked him why he hadn’t told me sooner and he was unsure about how I would react. This was 2002. I was 19 years old and honestly didn’t think much about anything in regards to people and the varying types of relationships. To me, this was my friend and it didn’t matter who he liked or didn’t like.
I spent the next several months hanging out with him practically every day. He ended up joining me working for J C Penney and we would hang out at lunch and after work whenever we could. I met many of his friends from school; some of whom were gay, and I even had no problem listening to his relationship ills when he wanted to date someone or was in a relationship with another guy. We went to parties; including Halloween where he dressed up as Cleopatra; wig and all, and I was his ‘date.’ None of this bothered me and I never understood the possible weight that might be on his shoulders if any of this was seen in a different crowd. I never understood that secrets were important in maintaining certain relationships and that as long as he pretended like he was something he wasn’t, then others would be okay.
See he comes from a very traditional Hispanic family. He was 1 of 8 brothers and sisters and with the exception of his oldest sister, none of his family knew. He couldn’t let them know because of their possible reaction and the shame it might bring. I never understood how people think and why this was a big deal to some. I couldn’t understand how important it was for him to keep hidden who he was from those around him. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want people to know other than his family. My lack of understanding led to me making some poor decisions when it came to my friend.
I had a big mouth at the time. I told people that we worked with; who were mutual acquaintances, about the story and how he had told me that he was gay. I betrayed a trust that I didn’t understand that I was betraying. It ended up biting me in the rear and of course word got back to him. I found myself lying to my best friend at the time about a story I told instead of being honest and listening to his feelings. I not only wasn’t respectful of his choices, but also wasn’t respectful enough to be honest with him. I was naive to the world that he lived in.
As the month’s went on; and changes kept happening, I began dating someone. She was my first real girlfriend and I was enveloped in our relationship. I started hanging out less with my friend and practically abandoned him. I ended up losing my car and was relying on my girlfriend then for transportation at the time, so my time available for my friend became even more scarce. I let his irritation with me and lack of communication between each other cloud my judgement. I then altered the course of our history together and the future friendship we would have by uttering words during an argument at work. I told him that he was being a ‘Fag.’ I told him this because he was upset that I hadn’t pushed harder in a time of his need. I hadn’t been the friend he needed me to be in a moment when he was stranded somewhere and needed a ride. I didn’t want to push my girlfriend to have to pick him up, so I refused and then that was my reaction when he confronted me later. I took his hurt feelings and tossed them aside. I not only turned my back on my friend, but I threw away the trust that came with it in one fell swoop. I walked away from our friendship after that.
I could have gone to him the next day and apologized but I felt bitter. I felt like he didn’t understand my situation and that it wasn’t fair for him to expect so much from me. I didn’t see that my best friend at the time needed a rock, needed solid ground, and I had always been that. I was a fool.
For the past 13 years, I have often thought back to those moments. Those moments were crucial in my attitude in this life. How I went from a naive child to a grown man who sees what so many are still going through today.
A lot has changed in the past decade when it comes to gay rights. A lot has changed in the public perception of people in general. We as a society are more accepting, but we still have a long way to go. I was lucky. I was lucky that I had someone who trusted me enough to instill in me the fears that they had. I was; like so many are, naive though in thinking that the rest of the world was accepting as I was. I often times have questioned how accepting I was because of the word I used towards my friend. I realized a moment of anger was just that; a moment of anger and nothing more.
So many people on the outside scream each and every day for gay rights, or equality for the LGBT community, yet they cannot even fathom living a day in those shoes. The young people will never realize and learn the lessons in which I have learned. Even to this day, I still don’t know what that world is like, but I have a glimpse into a world through my own mistakes. I realize that a betrayal of trust in certain situations, is much more than just a simple betrayal from a friend. It’s the same betrayal seen each and every day from a society that wants to control other’s lives based on simply who they are.
I have sat and watched my friend from a far. We’ve been friends on Facebook for years now and I’ve watched him travel the world and become successful in his life. Learning languages, teaching students, and having a good time. I often wonder more though. I wonder if he’s found love. I wonder if he’s found happiness beyond the successes he’s had and worked for. I have always wished the best for him.
I think my point in all of this, is that I am sorry. I am sorry to my friend for abandoning him. I’m sorry that I wasn’t man enough to apologize before and that I walked away from a great friendship. The fun, the laughs, everything. I still remember taking my opera loving friend to his rock concert and attending many operas with him. I remember so many great times that I could have never had with anyone else. I also realize how special that friendship was and the trust that was there and then broken. I think it takes a lot of patience in any relationship, but it takes even more understanding in one where people have differences. Not because those people aren’t tolerant or understanding, but because others may not be. When you’re young all you want to see if the good in people, but as you get older you realize that there is a lot of intolerance in the world and that the person who you see as someone that is awesome and that you love dearly, someone else will see them as something less than human.
So this apology is also a message. Love your friends. Love them for who they are, but also respect them for who they are as well. Don’t ever turn your back on a friend. If you make a mistake, apologize. If you say something you shouldn’t, don’t lie about it. Be a respectful friend, just as you would want them be to you. If you turn your back on a friend, then you become no different than those who treat them poorly to their face. Be better than that. Be kind, caring, and loving. Remember that what you have is special, as no one else knows that but you.
To my old friend; if you read this, thank you. Thank you for the memories and thank you for the life lesson that I still appreciate to this day. There will always be a special place deep within my heart for you, for our old friendship, and for the memories we made.