Last week one of my buddies told me that a alumni chapter of my school meets in a local bar to watch our football games. So this weekend, having nothing to do, I went to watch the football game.
It was great to walk into a bar and see my school colors splattered all over the walls and our emblem on so many t-shirts. I didn’t know anyone there, but because of the common “rebel” yell which echoed through the room, felt right at home. I took a seat towards the back of the bar, ordered some blue cheese and curly fries and of course the customary football dish buffalo wings.
The guy beside me struck up a conversation. He had graduated about 20 years before I did, but said he never missed a football game in this tavern. He said he loved watching the football game with other people who were just as enthusiastic about our alumni as he was. He was evening grooming his children to go to our school. I saw a t-shirt with our emblem hanging down from the ceiling and asked him if the tavern sold the shirts cause I would just add one to my tab. He said no, but pointed me towards a guy sitting at a table who was responsible for the items.
I walked over to the guy and asked him if I could purchase one of the t-shirts, he smiled and said yes. He introduced himself (let’s just call him Steve).
As he asked me for my size and I handed him my credit card, he suddenly looked at me with some recognition. He asked me what year I had graduated and he said that he had graduated two years later. He told me that I looked really familiar and then it came to him.
“You were really active with student government and a lot of the associations,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. Many of my friends were student government leaders and student body board members.
And then his memory hit him, I saw the recognition in his eyes. And as he gained a memory in time, my memory also came back.
This guy was also involved with many school projects and clubs. One of those clubs was the gay and lesbian association. I remember on one of the nights during our school’s elections a bunch of candidates were going out. Since I was helping some of my friends with their campaigns, I went with them.
Steve also came out and recognizing a table of familiar faces he walked over to us. He made his rounds shaking hands around the table and promising his votes to some of the candidates. Some of the candidates asked him to help them spearhead some projects should they get elected. There was a chair beside me that was empty and he eyed it. As he made his way to it ,the closeted person in me felt somewhat threatened (because I knew that many other brothers had “gaydar”).
He sat down and introduced himself to me. I shook his hand politely and said that I was just helping with so-and-so’s campaign. He made some small talk and then the waiter came by to take drink orders, he turned to me and said “let me buy you a drink”. I told him that I wasn’t drinking that night and declined.
One of the guys I was really good friends with called me to a different end of the table and I thought to myself that this would be the way I could get away. I excused myself and made my way to that end of the table. This buddy said to me “hey what’s with the empty hand” and poured a drink from his pitcher of beer. I willingly accepted and then toasted him good luck.
Later that evening Steve came up to me (I had a mug of beer in hand) and said “I thought you weren’t drinking”. He looked somewhat offended. Before I could offer an excuse he turned and walked towards other people he knew.
Today, I can’t believe my rudeness and ignorance. I know it was just a drink, but now I also know that he somehow had known my rejection of his drink offer was because of his out orientation. I had hurt someone’s feelings because of my own selfishness.
After I purchased my shirt and walked back to my seat, I wondered if a friendship could have been forged had I the courage to accept the drink (drink it–lowering my inhibitions enough to talk to a brother). And if this could have led down a different path for my coming out.
When the game was over, I walked back over to Steve and asked him if they met for every game. He said they did and at the same place.
He asked if I would be back and he welcomed me to this local alumni chapter. I told him that it beat watching the game alone. He smiled and handed me the alumni roll call sheet which I signed.
I can’t believe that in my effort to stay closeted, I shrugged off a potential friendship all those years ago. I also wonder what the rules are for apologizing for being a complete ass. I know it’s necessary, but I wonder if he still wants one.