I can’t say exactly when I knew I was in love with him. Maybe I fell for him the moment I laid eyes on him. I know that I was drawn to him from the start. He was a few years older than I was, a senior. (And at this late date, my ego will allow me to admit that he was a bit more mature.) He was a little taller than me, but not really tall. He was fit and well toned, but he wasn’t overbuilt. In fact, he was slightly skinny, but that may have been because he was sick with hepatitis the year before. His hair was dirty blond, and his eyes were brown. But the most important thing about him was that he was kind to me. One could even say sweet. He paid careful attention to what I had to say and often complimented me on my observations and wit. He laughed at my jokes. I wasn’t used to getting much attention from boys, especially boys I liked. Many boys from high school had been openly hostile, so I was usually nervous and withdrawn around boys. But David broke through my shyness and encouraged me to open up. I’m sure that by the end of September I was in love. He was my hero, and in a way, I’m still in love with David.
He was very serious about his politics. And his politics was informed by a deep interest in justice and fairness. David believed very strongly in equality. Ronald Reagan had just started his second term, and David couldn’t stand him. He bucked the fashionable conservatism of the decade. He scoffed at conspicuous consumption and status symbols. He proudly stated that he admired Jimmy Carter, and he embraced the 60’s counter culture. David was a liberal.
My politics were still pretty much unformed. I guess you could say that I naturally leaned to the left, but I hadn’t really figured out politics. Being a gay boy from a fundamentalist West Virginia family, I was used to oppression. I had learned how to survive by slipping by unnoticed, and I really couldn’t imagine changing the world. It didn’t cross my mind that I might help things change. But David helped me see things differently. He put the fire in my belly, and before Reagan left office, I filed by the White House in a candlelight march to commemorate those who had died of AIDS and to draw attention to the fact that our government had treated them like outcasts because they were gay and contracted a deadly sexually transmitted virus. David’s example encouraged me to add my voice to the debate.
David also had a playful side. He loved to switch out letters in certain words so that they would sound absurd. He had a whole vocabulary all his own, and it didn’t take me long to pick up his personal language. To this day when I say the word pizza, somewhere in the back of my mind I think ’za. When he didn’t know someone’s last name, he would assign them one that sounded ridiculous--Brian became Brian Terwilligerrock. He was big on pulling faces, too. His favorite was his baby face. He would adopt a remarkably naïve expression. Then he would tilt his head slightly to the right and place the tip of his crooked right index finger into the side of his mouth. I had the warm fuzzies every time he did that. I adored him like a puppy when he gave me his baby face.
I always felt protected when I was with him because he looked after me. When we were crossing the street together, he would hold out his arm in front of my chest to prevent me from stumbling out into traffic. I was a bit of a scatter brain, and when I was with him, my attention was on him and not anything as trivial as traffic. He often helped me open soda cans because I had trouble getting my finger under the tab. David had no problem touching me. Whenever he would step behind me, he would place his hands on my back to let me know he was there. And he wasn’t adverse to us being in close proximity. We would often stand shoulder to shoulder behind the main desk at E. Moore. And when we went to see a movie, he would sit in the seat directly beside mine, even if we had the row to ourselves.
One time when we were alone together in his dingy basement apartment, he said he wanted to show me some photographs. So he got out a photo album and sat beside me on the sofa so close that our knees, thighs, hips, shoulders and elbows touched. I don’t remember the photos very well because he was practically in my lap. I wanted more than anything to kiss him. Oh, God, how I wanted to kiss him, and hug him, and do all kinds of things with him. But I just didn’t have the courage to make my move.
Several times that year, David suggested schemes that would allow us to be together forever. For instance, he once suggested that we could join the faculty at the same high school. I could teach English and he could be the wrestling coach. (David had been on his high school wrestling team, and he had a giant poster of himself in his singlet over his bed…but I digress.) These seemed like romantic overtures to me. At the time, it felt like he was saying he was in love with me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Down in my bones, I can’t help but feel he was trying to say that. But it just wasn’t direct enough for me. Most of the young men I knew were extremely homophobic, and although David never gave me reason to believe that he would react negatively if I told him I was gay, at that point, I just wasn’t used to coming out to people unless I knew they were gay or supportive of gays.
Coming out twenty-five years ago was still a scary thing, especially for this teenage West Virginia boy. I wanted more than anything for David to be my boyfriend. I dreamed of us living together and sharing a life together. I dreamed of us holding hands and kissing. I dreamed of going down on my knees in front of him, and lying back on his bed and allowing him to get on top of me. I wanted David. I wanted him more than I’ve wanted anything in my whole life. But his friendship was the best thing that had ever happened to me up until then, and I was afraid that if I told him I loved him I would lose his friendship. Looking back on it, I don’t think I was being fair to him. I was judging him based on the homophobic reactions I had gotten from other boys. That was wrong of me.
David started dating a girl after Christmas. That broke my heart, and it pretty much dashed any hope I in finding my will to make any kind of overture. He got married to that girl after they graduated, and they had three sons. His first born is probably old enough to be in college by now. After that year, we saw each other a few more times, and we talked on the phone and exchanged letters now and then, but eventually he faded from my life. I have been in contact with him once in the last fifteen years. Last I heard, he’s doing well and he’s still with his wife.
I often think of what my life would have been like if we had become lovers and partners. Even though he got married to a girl, I’m not convinced that he was 100% straight. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s a closeted gay man. I suspect he does love his wife. But sexuality is often not an either/or proposition, and I was picking up a lot of romantic vibes from him back when we were together. I’m aware that maybe I was just projecting, but the regret of not knowing for sure burns me up. I feel like I missed my chance. If I had it to do over again, I would roll the dice and tell him that I love him.
I have felt those pangs of love for several guys in the years since, but my feelings for them never progressed further than a crush. That may very well be my fault because I was not assertive with those other guys anymore so than I was with David. I never allowed anything serious to develop. It was as if once I lost David, I was too afraid of getting hurt again in a similar way. David’s absence still hurts me. He left a void that no one has been able to fill. And yet I am eternally grateful that we had that brief period of time together when we were young. Rick and Ilsa had Paris. David and I had E. Moore. The relationship was chaste, but I loved and I felt loved, at least for a few months.
E. Moore, WVU's Downtown Campus, Morgantown, WV