Last summer, I ran into a girl I knew in high school at the local Starbucks in my hometown. I was fond of her back in the day, so we engaged in polite-cute rapport before she bought her coffee and left. I didn’t think about the exchange until much later when I was on the phone with Anna, a high-school-turned-college-turned-life friend of mine.
“I ran into Cari today,” I said, picking at my nails. It was a usual beginning to a conversation we’ve had many times when we gossipped about people from high school.
“Remind me how you guys were friends,” Anna replied. I tried to remember. I thought back to the first time I met her: band camp the summer before ninth grade. I’d spent six weeks in the harsh, unforgiving sun trying to learn marching drills and impress her. We developed an easy-going friendship based on multiple mutual friends and the few occasions when she would laugh at my jokes. There was something really infectious about her, a certain glimmer in her eyes and a motion her hair would make when she really laughed.
I remember a night in the back of the bus, after marching a show during halftime at the football game; we were both sweaty and tired. We were talking about who was dating who, and I made a crack about being dateless forever. My method to bearing uncomfortable truths has always been cracking a joke. “Some people have talents other than being pretty, I guess,” I said with a grin. Cari’s sleepy smile immediately tightened into a serious line. I was suddenly very aware of how close her face was to mine. “Are you kidding me?” she said, “When you smile, it’s like… something else.” A small fountain of pure gold and sunshine erupted in my chest. I couldn’t help but smile, despite feeling self-conscious. “Thanks, Car,” I said, and stared out the window and up at the stars for a moment. There were a lot of post-football game bus rides in high school, but I only remembered that one.
I recollected all of this to Anna on the phone and after a brief pause, she spoke.
“Uhm, Gray,” she said, “That doesn’t sound like just friendship.”
And then I realized.
Anna was the first person I ever came out to. She essentially held my hand when I was first navigating queerness, so when she said it out loud, I realized that she was right.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually not unsurprising. High school was centuries before I came out. It was back before I even entertained the notion of my identity being anything other than default heterosexual with “something off” about it. It would never have occurred to me that I was interested in anything other than friendship with Cari then. But the more I began to think about it, the more it made sense.
Our bond wasn’t forged on the strongholds of female adolescent friendship. We didn’t hang out outside of band. Her non-band friends were cooler than me. Yet, I had this inner pull to get to know her better. I had to make her laugh. I remember distinctly the way her hair reflected sunlight. I had close friends back then, but none of their voices reminded me of the sound of pure, steady waterfall. The way my whole day lit up if she complimented me or called me over to sit next to her, the way I fell under the spell of her kindness and her intoxicating presence, I was in love with her.
I smiled, thinking of how tragically confusing it must have been for little, fifteen-year-old me. “I wanted to be her friend so badly,” I said to Anna, laughing.
“I can’t believe you have a queer ‘One time at band camp…’ story,” Anna said.
As we laughed together, I found myself feeling both amused and kind of sad. Like most nostalgia, it soon passed, but I was profoundly relieved that I wasn’t confused anymore.