From a brand new station wagon and a newly built custom home, to an old car, an old apartment, and a different life.
A 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass wasn’t a status car in any way. It was an average family moving vehicle. The one I was about to buy was 12 years old. It was in pretty good shape and ran well. It was to be a second car. We only had one car and life was changing.
I told Kristy that I wanted a divorce.
I had plans to discover my true self. In my mind I told myself that I had found the missing piece of the puzzle that I had tried to put together for years.
I was gay. That’s it! I am gay!
I thought of myself as being a responsible person. I met my obligations. I wasn’t a deserter. I’m a moral person, I value family, marriage, and commitments. There was this part of my heart and mind that didn’t seem to fit that paradigm so I just split my brain into two parts. The rational, sane John and the John that was curious, confused, and longing for a connection that I had dreamed of. That part of John didn’t seem to think about responsibility, commitment, or values.
I was on a track to find others like myself. Ken, my gay friend from work, told me that he would introduce me to others like us, gay men. The first gay men that he introduced me to were a couple. Ken called them Tom and Ben. While it sounded strange to me to hear two men’s names used like that, I was curious and anxious to meet them. So, Ken invited me to their house one evening.
I told Kristy that I was “going out.” By this time she was in so much shock and grief, no questions were asked. I took this to mean that I was free to go wherever I wanted to go for whatever reason I had. Her lack of intervention told me that she understood and was accepting the situation. Boy was I wrong.
So, still only having one car, I got into our new station wagon and drove into the city. Tom and Ben lived in a sixplex apartment building. It was built in the 1930’s and was designed as a luxury building. Each apartment had a maid’s quarters, servant’s button on the floor of the dining room underneath the table. I was interested in seeing how “gay” men lived. Their house was well appointed, clean, and seemed to be a little old fashioned. Tom was the decorator and Ben was the more practical of the two. They told me that the entire building was gay men accept one couple that were accepting of homosexual people. They were the artistic type, so they understood. I think my eyes were wide from curiosity and satisfaction that I had found this new world. It was like going through the hole in “Alice in Wonderland.”
A New Gay Friend
I immediately had a lot in common with Ben. He was a United States Postal worker like my dad was. He had been married and had two gradeschool children. We talked a lot about what it was like to be gay and have a wife and family. He gave me hope that there was a life outside of my marriage. He also was clear that this would be a challenging way to live. He didn’t sugar coat anything as though it was glamorous. I remember one of the most significant things that Ben told me was, “John, remember you are John first, your identity isn’t in being gay.” His comment laid a foundation for me that has played back in useful ways all through the years.
As I was leaving their home, they mentioned they had a friend who was also named John that they wanted to introduce me to. It was as though they were setting me up for a blind date. They mentioned that there was another man named Bob that I should meet. Bob was a psychologist and was about 10 years older than I was. So, leaving their house, I had something else to look forward to, meeting other people like me.
In a couple of weeks, Bob and I met for dinner. During our conversation, Bob made a profound statement. I was talking about my desire for a life long committed partner relationship. Remember, I am faithful and maintain my commitments. Well, Bob’s response was, “John, I have been at this lifestyle for 10 years and I do not believe it is possible to find that kind of relationship.” I didn’t care what Bob had to say, from his own experience. I would prove him wrong and find that one person to be with, no matter how hard it was. I wouldn’t be confined to someone else’s experience.
After our dinner, Bob invited me to his apartment. He lived in a downtown highrise. His place was on the tenth floor. When I walked in, I found a huge floor to ceiling window looking out over the city. It was like “Bob Newhart’s” Chicago apartment. I was mesmerized by the whole scene. As the evening progressed, Bob initiated physical closeness and the night ended up with a second homosexual encounter. This time, I didn’t feel particularly convicted about what had happened. In my mind I had already given myself permission to stray away from Kristy. My double mind had become a way of living. I was moving on.
Ben called me one day to say that he had arranged for me to meet John. I tried one more time to meet with Bob but it didn’t really work out, so I was enthused to meet John. I met him at Tom and Ben’s home. John was energetic, intense, seemed to be a great guy and at our first meeting he seemed to like me. So, John and I arranged to meet again the next week.
Two guys with the name of John
That seemed even weirder than “Tom and Ben.” We met up at his house. John was a creative, artsy kind of guy with a professional career in Human Resources with a large department store chain. His house was one of the most unique homes I had ever seen. Since John was a very small man in stature, it seemed his house reflected his size as well. It was tiny, creative, and he had a “straight” roommate that lived upstairs. His roommate was OK with John’s homosexuality, so having other gay men around wasn’t in any way a problem for him.
John and I began a regular relationship. In my mind, I had found that man who I could be with maybe even long term. But John kept telling me he wanted to be able to have other guys to be with. He said that meant he didn’t like me, actually the word “love” came up often. I figured that I just needed to roll with this in order to keep John by my side.
Ben introduced me to a couple of gay clubs in town. It seemed that this was the place to meet people and have a good time around others who were like me. Since I had never really gotten out much when I was younger, I was like a kid in a candy store! I wanted to go back more often but I was still a “family man” and continued to attempt to fulfill my responsibilities there even though I was deceived into thinking of myself that way.
My new life story began to circulate. Kristy began to make phone calls to my family about what was going on. In the middle of the night, around 2:00 AM I got a call that woke me up. It was my step dad. “John, I heard what you are doing and I just want you to know that if you don’t get this worked out I am going to kick you so hard that you are going to be wearing your asshole as a necklace.” He followed cussing me out even more. A deeply seated fear rose up in my heart.
The other side of my brain woke up and I wanted my own children to NEVER have to experience the rage that I had from my step-dad years earlier in my life. I called my mother the next day and with great passion I said, “Mom, I left your home 10 years ago to get away from what I experienced last night on the phone. I will never allow that to come into my home again!!!!” Wow, I had never stood up to my mom before. This was coming from my own pain and a desire to protect my kids. I didn’t speak to my mom again for four years. She didn’t call me, and I certainly didn’t call her.
Kristy had arranged a meeting with her mom and the two of us. As we sat at the kitchen table, with love in her heart, her mom said, “John, I’ll never believe you are gay.” I knew she loved me but I wasn’t about to accept her assessment of who I was. It just felt like she didn’t understand and somehow wanted life to be different. She wasn’t the only one to try to talk with me.
I was at my dad’s one afternoon and we were talking about my situation. I was coming very close to separating from Kristy at this point. My dad, with tears in his eyes, said, “John, I know how hard you are struggling, but my greatest concern is the loss of your family and a divorce.” “I don’t want you to go through a divorce like I did.” My dad’s heart, care for me, and his perspective shocked me into my other brain for a moment. I went home to Kristy that day and for the first time in years my heart was open to her’s. I told her that I wanted to try to work this out and that I wasn’t leaving.
I knew that this was a mess and that I was causing many people a lot of pain.
I began to research people we could talk to. As I did, the other side of my brain came to life and my heart went cold to her again. I was going to go my own way. My friend Ben, told me about someone he and his wife had talked to. He said that “Pastor Laura-Gross Thamert” would help us. She was gay sensitive and understood the issues.
So, without talking to Kristy about this pastor’s perspective, I told her we were going to talk to a pastor about our situation. When we met her, she basically said that Kristy had to just accept that fact that I was gay and that our marriage would likely end. I am sure Kristy was devastated, I just checked off another box that said, “I tried.” Then I found some counselors that would help us “divorce amicably.”
All of these meetings seemed like a sham to me but I just wanted to find the easiest way to let Kristy down to the reality that I wanted to move on to my own life and the freedom to discover more of my gay life. Nothing was going to stop me now.
I had been working on finishing our basement into a play room for the kids, so I began to set a timeline that included the finishing of that project before I would leave. As I look back certainly I can see the strange set of priorities, but with the double mind that I had developed it isn’t that much of a stretch to understand what I was going through.
I had made arrangements to leave that included an invitation for me to stay with Tom and Ben for a season. So, one Sunday when Kristy and the kids were out, I packed all of my things up and put them into my ‘67 Oldsmobile “escape car.” Yes, I bought the car with the intention of using it for my new life. I had given Kristy another rationale for purchasing the car, but I had it in my mind all along what I wanted it for. As I finished, and got ready to leave, Kristy came home. I was full of anxiety as she came in and decided to unpack the car and stay. I knew that deciding to stay was not what was in my heart, I just lost the courage to leave.
A week later, Sunday afternoon again and Kristy and the kids were gone. I called my new friend, John, to talk with him about leaving. He said, “John, how will you feel tomorrow if you don’t leave?” That was the answer I needed. John invited me to come to his house when I left. I hurriedly packed my things and got them into the car one more time. As I went out to the car to leave, Kristy came home again. I had made my mind up. I was leaving today. While I was packing, Kristy’s sister called, “Hi, John, how are you?” “Oh, just fine, Kristy and the kids are gone.” A little chit-chat later I hung up the phone. Little did she know I was next to the bed with all of my things on it and I was about to leave in a few minutes. But I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that.
Kristy came home again as I finished loading the car but that wasn’t going to stop me this time. So, closing my heart up even further, I got into the car and began to back out of the garage. Kristy and my beautiful blonde little girls stood in the garage. I will never forget that picture in my mind, the three of them just staring at me as I left.