The phone rings at 3:30 in the morning and for a minute I think it’s my alarm clock. After letting loose a string of curses that would make a biker blush, my eyes drag over to the phone. My friend Chris from back home is on the other line, and he’s in tears.
I dig the last few grains of sleep from my eyes with my fingernails and ask him what’s wrong. Five minutes flash by on the digital clock before he can speak.
He says he hasn’t been able to sleep, pure and simple. He says he’s been awake for four hours crying in his darkened room over a case of insomnia. Bullshit. You’re not friends with someone for four years without being able to tell when they’re trying to feed you a line. I ask him again, this time letting him know that it’s now 3:45 and I have class in the morning.
Between the sobs, he says he hates himself.
Chris came out to me three years ago, and I told him I was okay with it. The tension eased at the lunch table and I changed the subject. He looked at me, his eyes telling me that I should say something more, but he’d just dropped a bomb shell, and I didn’t feel like going into it. We never went into it.
Three years later, he’s on the phone with me. There’s another silence before it all breaks loose, a flood of worry and doubt and fear and pain that he’s been keeping inside him for God knows how long. Now it’s rushing through the phone at me, making my ears ring. He tells me how his mom heard him crying earlier, when she asked him what was wrong he almost came out to her. Chris tells me about the guy he had met on a date who then promptly left him because he was “too fat.” He tells me that he wishes he wasn’t gay.
I can’t think, my head is starting to throb and the clock reads 4:45 in glowing red digits. I resort to knee-jerk answers: things will get better, it’s really late, I’ll call him tomorrow and we can talk then.
After I’m done making my excuses, all I hear is the slight hiss of static on the line. I can feel that same look he gave me three years ago during the lunch break, now crossing 160 miles of telephone wire, but I still ignore it. I have an early class in the morning. I have a headache.
He says good-bye, and the phone finds its way, after some work, back onto the cradle.
The next day he tells me he feels better, that he was considering killing himself before he called me. My stomach turns to lead and I feel the sudden need to crouch in front of the toilet as the burger I ate for lunch starts doing back flips. I realize that Chris is being nice to me by being so cheery. He’s trying his best not to let on that I fucked up, but it doesn’t work. It’s then that I say what I had two chances to say already: I’ll be there for you if you ever need to talk, and I promise I won’t hang up until you feel better.
Being gay is a big part of someone’s life, but by no means is it everything. It is, however, something the rest of us take at face value. Straight people don’t have to worry about their parents hating them or their friends leaving them. We have no fear about being discriminated against or harassed because of whom we date. I don’t think any of us have lost sleep worrying about being heterosexual.
We’re blind to a lot of the issues that queer folk have to deal with, and it’s a shame. Maybe we don’t realize that there is more to it than being either in or out. Maybe we don’t want to know. Maybe having a gay friend is more difficult for us to take than we let on.
My tongue still swells to the size of my foot every time I try to tell a gay friend that they can come to me if they ever need to talk to someone, that I’m willing to sit down and try to understand. It is hard to do and it hasn’t gotten any easier, but I know it’s right by the look on my friend’s face afterward. It’s a hopeful light that fills the darkness you get when you tell them it’s 4:45 in the morning and that you have an eight o’clock lab. It’s a look that makes the awkward moments more worth it.
We all need to start taking the time to understand what life is like for our queer friends. It’s Queer Pride Week now, so go out and take advantage of all that’s being offered. It’s important for everybody, and if I catch you making rude comments or tearing down signs, rest assured you’ll go to your grave with my teeth in your throat.
Steven Ruszczycky is a sophomore English major and biopsychology major.