What is your darkest secret?

Don’t tell me, just think about it.

Have you done something criminal or so damaging that you will take this secret to your grave?

The problem with secrets is what they steal from us. They steal our level of comfort. The steal our independence. They steal our self respect and self worth.

For years, my secret was that I was gay.

I guarded that secret as if it were the nuclear launch codes that would start WWIII. Making up excuses to not attend this function or that. Creating elaborate stories about my life and my “roommate”. Pretending that I was perfectly happy and content being a “single mom”, when in actuality I had a partner.

Even looking back, I realize the word “partner” was misplaced.

She wasn’t allowed to be a part of my world. She wasn’t allowed to attend Christmas parties or happy hours. She wasn’t allowed to make decisions about my health and well being at work.

I remember on one occasion, I was injured at work. We were working in the field and an overly zealous new SGT was giving 10 lbs of crap to a private in his unit. “Get that cap off that tourette, now!!”

The tanks have a steel cap that fits just in side the opening of the barrel (tourette). They have a rubber gasket that keeps them in place and at times the fit is so snug you have to use a sledgehammer to get them off. This was one of those occasions.

This poor guy was being screamed and yelled at while we all looked on. He wasn’t in our platoon, so it wasn’t our place to intervene.

As he was swinging away with this sledge, the cap comes loose and hits me square in the face. Breaking my cheekbone. (The reason why I have one eye that looks larger than the other and I have to force myself to smile straight or my face contorts into a crooked grin)

The medic smacks an ice pack on my face, rushes me into a Hum V and off we go to the hospital.

On the way, I call my “partner”. She arrives at the hospital just as I’m being wheeled in. I feel both panic and relief. I know this woman loves me and is worried. But, I also know that the Army can’t know my secret!!

My face is starting to swell to the point that I tell them I asked my “friend” to come help me with the paperwork since I can’t see. They allow her to stay during this. As soon as I’m in a room and the doctor walks in, he looks at her (btw, my gaydar went off like a tornado siren when I met him so this really pissed me off!) and very coldly says, “you’re not her family. Get out!”

For 3 hours she waits in the lobby wondering what’s going on.

I didn’t protest, complain or interject. That would have meant compromising my secret.

After the Army, I went to work for the State of Texas. While we don’t ride horses or carry side arms, this is still one of the most backwards, conservative states in the country. And TxDOT was the breeding ground of the good ole boys network.

Once again, I was hiding. Lying. Pretending to be someone I’m not. Forcing my partner to live a lie, as well.

There were times that someone I’d work with would walk into her store and she’d let something slip. “I’ll tell her when she gets home.” A simple, harmless sentence that could jeopardize everything. I’d find myself chastising her for the slip. “You can’t say shit like that!” “You have to be more careful!!”

Needless to say, she thought life after Uncle Sam would change. When it didn’t, she decided she was done. Tired of lying and hiding. She hadn’t signed on for this and she was gone.

That was Debbie. She was my partner for over 8 years. Patiently waiting for me as I went from this assignment to that. Dutifully sitting by the phone as she waited for the sporadic calls that the Army would allow. Even after we broke up, I remember the fear in her voice when I told her I had to go to Ft. Sill to prep for deployment to Afghanistan.

After her, I slipped back into my routine. Casually seeing women. Not ever allowing myself to get too attached because that could lead to the discovery of my secret.

I wasn’t very nice to many of them. I acted as if they were disposable and to a certain degree, they were.

This was a pattern. A habit. It started in high school. While I was sneaking out at night to meet with Julie, I was “dating” the pitcher from our baseball team. While I was living with Debbie, I was legally “married” to another soldier (Shemp).

When I was at TxDot I had gay male friends that I would pretend were my “dates”.

For my entire adult life, I lied. It got to the point that lying came easier to me than telling the truth about my personal life.

This secret had to be maintained. At all costs. It could jeopardize my career, mine and my children’s safety, my life.

When I moved to Houston and ventured out into the private sector, I decided I was tired of lying. Pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Forcing the people close to me to lie in order to keep my secret.

It was hard. I had split my world into 2 different realities for so long that I had to “teach” myself to be honest.

Let me tell you something. Addictions are hard to break. Smoking, alcohol, drugs. They can grab a hold of you and force you to become a person you never thought you’d become.

Lying was my addiction. For years I even told myself I wasn’t “lying”. I was simply protecting my family and myself.

The day I decided I was done lying, it felt as if a weight had been taken off of me. I was free to be myself and be honest about my life.

It was scary as hell!!

I didn’t go out and buy a pride sticker to slap on my truck, or tattoo a rainbow flag on my arm. I simply decided that I’d managed to “hide” for so long that I if someone asked me about my personal life, I’d be honest. No more elaborate stories or made up scenarios to justify my “odd” home life.

My first test came just a few months after moving here. I was in the asphalt lab teaching one of my technicians how to test a sample. It was just the two of us and we’d always gotten along. He too had been in the Army and had worked for TxDOT in Houston so we had a common bond.

“Can I ask you something? It’s none of my business so you can tell me to fuck off, but are you gay?”

No one had ever “asked” me before. I’d had that word thrown at me in a negative, accusatory way in the past but no one had ever said it in a way that made it sound “o.k.”.

I was afraid. He was someone I enjoyed talking to at work and all my fears came rushing back.

“Will he tell everyone? Will he look down on me? Will he stop respecting me? Stop being my friend?”

That was the chance I had to take if I wanted to get my monkey off my back.

“Yes, Jay, I am. Why?”

“I was just wondering. You talk about your kids but you never talk about anyone else.”

And that was it. The end of our discussion about it. He didn’t run out of the room screaming, he didn’t call me names. In fact, he and I are still good friends. I helped him through his divorce and his move to South Carolina. I talk to him at least once a week. The world didn’t come to a screeching halt.

I still have those moments of panic. Those moments when fear grabs me and doesn’t want to let go. But, I’m comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life.

I don’t flaunt my orientation. While it’s obvious by my appearance that I’m gay, I don’t discuss my life unless asked. But now, I answer openly and honestly.

I sent an email to someone I knew in school a few months ago. I haven’t talked to this person in years. In the email I actually used the word “girlfriend”.

I thought twice about sending and considered altering my choice of words. Then I decided that it was just fine.

This is who I am.

I hit send and that was that.

I no longer have any secrets. No skeletons lurking in my closet. No fears gripping my soul.

I definitely like this way of living better!


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