Small world on our flight last evening.
Not only did we have the same flight attendant that we've had for the past couple flights home from Boston, but we also had the "pleasure" of being on the same plane as the man who vindictivly outed me to my parents 26 years ago.
The man, henceforth referred to only as "Walt" (not his real name, of course), was my roommate in Washington DC during a semester study program in the winter and spring of 1983. Walt and I ended up being roommates because we connected in the dorm as early move ins, and you know how miserable life can be when when you don't click with a dorm mate. I was scheduled to live with one of the other Journalism program participants, but Walt and I decided to switch roommates since we had sometime to talk, and so it was done. After all we laughed at the same things and appeared to share the excitement about being in Washington, which was a far cry from his tiny college and my small Ohio college. What could go wrong?
We got along OK at first. We did a walking tour of Washington with a couple schoolmates of his from his school who were there in the same program. However, by the end of third weekend, the friction was starting to show, and by the time I discovered that he was an idiot, it was too late. We were stuck with one and other.
The discovery that Walt was an idiot happened when my cousin Betty, called a cousin on her mother's side who lived in DC and arranged for Jenny to take Walt and I out for dinner. In the course of conversation, Jenny mentioned that her mother and father would be hosting our mutual cousin, and my mother at Jenny's fathers house the following month. "Your parents, they are divorced?" Walt asked. Jenny explained that yes, they were divorced, and sensing a moral lesson on the tip of Walt's snarling tongue tried to politely divert the conversation to another topic.
Walt, however had other plans, and proceeded to attack. "I think that divorce is a sign of weak character. Parents have an obligation to stay together for their children whatever the cost may be, " he judged.
Jenny and I were both dumbstruck.
First of all it wasn't polite. Second of all, it was none of his business. Third of all, only an idiot would say such a thing.
Its one thing to be thought an idiot, its something else to open ones mouth and remove all doubt as Walt had just done. Adding insult to the injury that he inflicted, was the snarl of implied superiority and snobbery that threw into jab, as if the action would twist the sword that he believed he just delivered.
Within a week or so of this, Walt started getting very pissy. And he started reading my journal. By the end of the semester we barely spoke. Walt availed himself to being very bigoted, very narrow minded, and very dangerous.
However judgemental, petty and snide he was, I never thought it was within his ability to call my parents and disclose to them that their son, that would be me, was gay. This came about after Walt confirmed what he suspected. He had seen me out in DC with the man I was dating. And according to mutual friends, he was digusted.
I don't know what followed next, but sometime in the next couple weeks a caller started making anonymous phone calls to my parents. Unlike the caller ID of today, or the power of *69, in 1983, such calls were untraceable. The caller told them that they had a right to know about my deviant lifestyle.
In May of 1983, we parted. I was as glad to see him out of my life as I would be to get over food poisoning. And by July 1983, the cat was out of the bag with my parents. What followed was a scene out of Tennessee Williams. Again, it was 1983, and 26 years ago being gay was still not something that most families even acknowledged in other people, let alone in their own children.
For a while I was angry and betrayed. Then the dawn of knowledge slowly gave way to just anger. However, when the dust cleared, and while his act was malevolent, Walt had done me a huge favor. While my friends around me twisted themselves in knots on how to come out to their families, I didn't have to live that lie. The deed was done. The cat was out of the bag. And in the end, we were a much healthier family for it.
Ironically, I settled in Columbus, and as it turns out, Walt went to grad school in Central Ohio. We may have crossed paths three time in 26 years, but it amount to nothing but an icy stare.
So when we sat down in row 13 of Delta Connect plan yesterday, the graying pudgy man behind us looked familiar, but his identity was still unknown. While we waited for everyone to board, the man behind us started several quick phone conversations, and it was then, after hearing that nasally, snarky voice, that Walt was confirmed.
Its a delicate difference between confronting the past and allowing it to be. The line is thin as a single thread. If Walt was the one who made those calls to my parents, then no amount reasoning could be made with him, no repayment for damages done could be collected. And what was I angry about? That he betrayed me? Hardly. If anything my anger with him is what he made innocent bystanders go through at the time.
Walt's outing me made me more sensitive to the plight of people being outed, and for that gift I am grateful. And for the many years of not having that weight on my shoulders, I am grateful as well.
I'm sure that Walt and I will cross paths again. It seems that we are destined to do so. I wish him no ill will, I wish him all the happiness that he sought to rob from me and my family. I have a home, we have our health, and the husband and I have each other. We have so many good things going for us and those we love - we have plenty to share with others, even Walt.