The Long Kiss Goodbye

Finding out that Lisa loved me that long ago somehow validated me in a strange and wonderful way, and I feel like my emotional passport finally got stamped. I am now free to move about the universe.
02/27/2012 05:51 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

We all reach a point in our lives where we develop a need for self-examination, to try to pinpoint the events that may be responsible for aspects of our personalities or relationship behaviors that we cannot otherwise explain. Is it because we so desperately need to place blame or have an excuse? I don't think so. I think it's important to us because it's the only way we can assure ourselves that we're not crazy, or stupid. There is nothing worse than going through one's entire adult life with unanswered questions.

Unlike many people, as I have recently discovered, I have known since shooting out of the womb that I was gay. I didn't feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops; it was just who I was, and that was that. Bear in mind that in the early '70s, when I was sneaking up on puberty, being gay was not cool. Nobody was gay -- no teachers, classmates, or celebrities (except Liberace), and certainly no characters on sitcoms. Nobody was gay. I felt like I was the only gay person alive, and it was a tragic and devastatingly lonely existence on many levels. I thought a lot about suicide.

To cope with my loneliness, I wrote songs and poetry like a machine, churning them out at an alarming rate, and the running theme of my life was unrequited love. Almost every song I wrote and performed throughout junior and senior high was about loving someone who didn't love me back, and while it sounds quite pitiful now, these tunes made me quite popular among the girls in school. Often, they were unknowingly the very people about whom these morose ditties were written. One such person was Lisa in my 9th-grade class. She was a beautiful and popular cheerleader who was drawn to my music and would sometimes plop down next to me on the floor of the hallway in which I was playing and singing. One day she began to sing along, and I was so tickled that she knew the words to my songs and yet couldn't carry a tune. Somehow, we became unlikely friends, and we spent that whole summer between junior and senior high school getting to know each other.

We attended different high schools, and after that summer was over, she seemed to drop off the face of the Earth. I remember being so hurt and surprised, and I chalked it up to the popular girl not wanting people to know she was friends with that creepy little tomboy who always played guitar in the girls' bathroom.

Seven years passed, and one fall night, my mother handed me an Army business card with a familiar first name written on the back, along with a telephone number. Mom had worked at the same pharmacy for years, and she had worked there that fateful summer, so Lisa knew where to find her in order to find me. I couldn't wait to call her, to see her, to ask her where she had gone. She had cut all her beautiful, blonde hair short, and I was surprised to realize that it wouldn't have mattered if she had shaved her head; she still looked gorgeous to me. It wasn't long before she was confessing her love for me, and thus began a whirlwind romance that burned hot right through Christmas.

She came to the Christmas Eve service at my church, and my Great-Aunt Lolly fell asleep on her shoulder as I rang handbells and sang in the choir. After the service we went back to my house, where I gave her a music box that played "Evergreen," and it was the best Christmas I could remember. I couldn't stop thinking about fate and destiny, about how amazing it was that this person I had felt such a connection with all those years ago had come back to me out of the clear blue sky and professed her love for me. It was meant to be. It was perfect. And I was happy, for the very first time.

Then one night I went to pick her up, and she was gone. Her family was suddenly quite hostile to me, and nobody would tell me where she was or when she would return. It was like a bizarre movie that I had been thrown into, and it went on for weeks... no phone calls, no nothing. I kept showing up at her family home and was repeatedly turned away without explanation. I started driving down her street in hopes of seeing her, but to no avail. Months had passed without answers, then years, when I found myself standing in the Giant helping my mom rent a carpet cleaner and looked up to see her standing in line with her mother, and a baby.

I felt like I had lost my mind, that it had all been some weird dream. I was driving down the road one night and spontaneously traded in my car for a new one, simply because my car was literally haunted by memories of her, and I just couldn't take it anymore.

Over the years I found myself incapable of trusting, and I had several failed relationships whose downfall was entirely my doing. I pushed people away to strike the first blow, to keep from getting hurt, and ended up thrusting myself into more loneliness. I found myself drawn to the unattainable, those I knew could never be mine, for in some strange way, they were safe. If I could not have them, they could never leave me. They could never drop off the face of the Earth and break my heart.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa for the first time in 25 years and finally heard her side of the story. It was her disapproving family that was our undoing. She told me how sorry she was for hurting me, and that after years of living someone else's life, she had finally come to terms with who she is, which made me glad for her. And although I had waited all those years for an apology and was grateful to finally get closure after half a lifetime, I was brought to tears was when she told me that she had known in the 9th grade how much I loved her, and that what I never knew was that she had loved me back. I am not a person who cries, and yet I sat there with the phone to my ear, silently weeping.

I had spent my life believing I had been unloved, and having given my love so freely and honestly all those years ago only to be abandoned without explanation had felt like a cruel joke. And it touched every relationship that followed in one way or another, as all experiences do. Finding out that she loved me that long ago somehow validated me in a strange and wonderful way, and I feel like my emotional passport finally got stamped. I am now free to move about the universe.

If you love someone, tell them. If you don't, tell them that, too. The love we share is a powerful thing, and the love we withhold can be devastating, especially if it's from ourselves.