I think that's how I responded to him when he asked what I was doing in the park and what I wanted. Washington Park, to be precise. Near the Fruit Loop but not actually in it. The park sits just above downtown Portland and is where Portland's world-class Rose Garden sits. Amazing views and a perfect place to spend the day wandering around -- in the Rose Gardens, not the Fruit Loop.
We began our friendship in this very way. I drove my rental car behind his Jeep as I followed him down the hill and into Northwest Portland to his apartment. I begin to spend my time in Portland with him ... and with other Portland friends. You see, I still lived in Boise, Idaho. I was still not out yet. And, glory be to the father son and holy ghost, I was still married...barely. To a woman, for those in disbelief. Michael was really my very first introduction into many things that I now take for granted. Like taking public transportation. Like drinking lattes. Like recycling. And watching PBS British Comedies. And walking instead of driving. And walking into a co-op instead of a grocery store. Like alternative thoughts against the modern mainstream Christian church that I was immersed in. And living with an indoor animal -- he had a cat, to which I was allergic -- in addition to not liking animals one little bit at that particular dark period in my life. Can you even imagine...me not liking animals?? Wild!
We continue our little tryst for numerous months on my visits to Portland. And I remember the night at home in Boise when I made up some excuse to sneak out of the house that I shared with my wife. I drove down to the Payless Drug Store and found a pay telephone (you remember those, don't you??). It was December, Christmas time. And it was snowing as I stood outside in the cold winter air making a pay call to Michael in Portland. To break the news to him. To be honest and tell him I was married. Remember, I still wasn't out yet. I had told no one that I was gay....he was the first person that I'd ever told. This phone call was a big deal -- I still hadn't learned how to live my life honestly yet at that point. He was nothing but understanding and continued helping me along this particularly rough patch of life's road over the next months. And it was when I returned from a trip at Michael's house when I found a little note in my bedroom in Boise. From my wife saying that it was over. And that's when the whole thing started going down -- I filed for divorce and came out. April 1997. Michael was there. Right there. A very good friend, indeed. And it was also during these same few months when my one-year-old niece (now 15!) found out that she had been born with a heart defect -- valves malfunctioning and missing parts of the septum in her heart. Michael went through this very scary time with me. And we were watching PBS British Comedies at his house late one Saturday night when his parents called to tell him that his brother had died. And there I was. Not knowing quite what to do. We were friends at some very difficult times in our lives. And then, just as fast as it started, it ended. Because of me. Because I was going through so much in a particularly small window of time in my life. And because Michael was telling me things about my church-going days of mainstream Christianity that I didn't want to hear. I remember he came to Boise the very month after I came out. He was the very first gay person that I introduced my mother to. Man oh man, I was so nervous.
Fast forward. To today. We were absent from one another's lives from May 1997 until about a year or two ago. Via Facebook, I found him. And sent him a message. And he responded with nothing but a positive spirit. I can't imagine the change that I've undergone from those times 13 years ago until today. He didn't know me as an out, gay man with strong leaning liberal tendencies and grey hair. He knew me as a scared, sort of out, unstable man who went to church every Sunday and didn't know what recycling was all about and didn't like badmouthing the Christian church. So, imagine my surprise last summer when LoverBoy and me were at one of Portland's free Summer Concerts in the Parks when Michael rolled up on his bicycle. Right up to us. After all of these years. To say hi.
We now see each other a bit. All of us. At our Tuesday Happy Hours. He has a couple of dogs. We have one. He has offered to doggy sit for us if we ever need it. It's been so nice to get reacquainted under better circumstances. He's become a good friend. And, believe it or not, LoverBoy and I are now die-hard fans of Saturday nights watching PBS British Comedies. Because of Michael.