This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a big step forward: I got to meet one of you face to face! I have determined to write a three-part series to try to document the occasion and share it with you. This is obviously the first part.
As always, my home stands open to anyone who wants to visit the Big Apple. I love to host and help my friends out in whatever way I can. GMB, who I started chatting with online a few months ago, had the opportunity to come to the east coast and spend a few days in Manhattan after another trip and had asked if he could stay. I was so happy that he took me up on my offer, and we planned to make the most out of his time. (I will write more about one specific shared adventure in my third and last post in this series. Believe me, it will be well worth the wait.)
Now, I must walk you through some of my thoughts and feelings as I geared up to meet this fellow MoHo blogger. I am a pretty level-headed guy, down to earth and outwardly confident. Nothing really fazes or surprises me. But when I realized I was going to meet someone else in person who knew I was gay, I was instantly discombobulated. I had never seen anyone in person who knew! My emotions were quite the uncontrollable roller coaster ride.
Existing behind the comforting veil of technology in a somewhat anonymous state, I have been at ease interacting with the MoHosphere. I have always been a better writer than a speaker, and online I can craft my image and emotions through well-placed words and thought-out phrases. I can be witty through the written word and use emoticons in place of my face to convey more emotion. Even through instant messaging and text messages, I can think through what to say and feel out the words in my mind as I physically type out the consonants and vowels.
But meeting someone in person, that comforting veil of technology was about to come crashing down and reveal the man behind the curtain. I was to be exposed for nothing more or less than who I am. Surprised with that thought, I instantly began to feel insecure, worried and self-conscious about myself, my mannerisms, my voice, my clothes, my body, my face, my lack of knowledge about gay culture, everything. I wondered if I was ready to meet someone who knew. I wondered if I would even be able to talk intelligently or if my body would just shut off all flow of knowledge from my brain to my mouth. I wondered if this would all be worth it.
I spent the days before he came preparing for his visit by cleaning pretty much anything that could be cleaned around my apartment. I mopped, washed, vacuumed, laundered, polished and dusted anything I could see or reach. Heck, I even cleaned out the fridge just in case he looked inside. I was determined that even if I wouldn’t be able to function normally, the things I could control, like the cleanliness of my apartment or planning and making certain events happen, would be top-notch. I got to bed late that night and didn’t get much sleep.
The morning came early and with a two and a half hour nap, I was up and off to the theater district at 5 AM. One of the things he wanted to do most was to see a specific play on Broadway that had special meaning to him, an exceptional one that has a limited run and has been sold out for the past two months. It is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway and almost impossible to get unless you are comfortable with paying about the same as a month’s rent for a two hour show.
However, I had done my research and knew of only one remaining way to get tickets. When the show's sold out, there's a slim possibility that standing room tickets will be made available to the public only to be sold the day of the performance when the box office opens in the morning. That was my shot! I really wanted to make this happen for him, and I was determined to get the tickets, so I headed to midtown earlier than I had ever before to claim my spot in line and hope that the tickets would be available.
Arriving around six, I saw that there were five people ahead of me who must have had the same idea and dedication as I did waiting for the box office to open. I hoped that there would be enough tickets for all of us, so I waited. About twenty people lined up after me in the minutes that followed. Four hours later (and an hour into when I normally start work, shhh, don’t tell!) the box office opened, and I waited with baited breath to see if I had arrived early enough. Slowly working my way to the front, I was relieved and rejoiced to get the second to last tickets available that night. Had I arrived a mere five minutes later than I did, I wouldn’t have gotten them!
I texted him excitedly that I had gotten the tickets and then ran to work, worried about arriving a bit late. Everything ended up fine, and I tried to carry on as normal for the rest of the work day even though I was exhausted. I was working on deadline on a significant writing project that day, and I still can’t believe I got it done in time. I wasn’t able to concentrate. I couldn’t think. My mind was wandering. I was worried that my phone battery might die. I was worried if it started raining. I was worried about if I had the tickets and checked to make sure I still had them constantly throughout the day. Though not soon enough, the time came when I got the text from him that he had arrived.
I texted back that I would meet him outside my building so he could drop off his things before we started our evening’s activities which were located near where I work. Gathering my nerves, I descended the elevator and silently prayed my mind wouldn’t shut down when I met him. Heading out the door of the lobby, I looked around at the hundreds of people moving about, getting off of the bus, coming up from the ground from the subway. It’s a city of strangers. Some come to work, some to play. I was looking around knowing that we were trying to find each other in the crowded streets. Making one more call, we connected. I saw him, standing with his luggage on the far corner of the street on a slightly raised walkway.
There he was. This was it. I was about to be seen. I was about to be known. I took a breath and then crossed the street.
I waved and caught his attention then went up to meet him. Sharing a quick embrace and saying hello, we had officially met and that was that. From the moment he said my name with a smile on his face, just like he had said my name when he was the first to discover who I was online, the insecurities and worries vanished and I was able to be myself, calm, cool and collected. Offering to take his luggage, we headed back across the street to my office as instant friends.
Inside, I was no longer worried. I was confident again. I was myself again. I had been worrying for no reason because I had just been accepted for who I was, no questions asked. I had met someone face to face who knew I was gay and suddenly for that instant the burdens of hiding my true self from the world no longer bore their weight on my shoulders.
We dropped off his things and I introduced him to my colleagues like an old friend. Soon after, I showed him around Times Square, delighting in the look of pure wonder on his face as he witnessed the crossroads of the world. We talked, easily communicating and connecting like any two normal people would. We grabbed a quick bite to eat near a wide, low pool and fountain before heading to the play. Entering the theater, we found the spot where we would be standing and then eagerly waited for the play to begin as we watched the people around us getting settled. Soon the lights dimmed, the audience quieted and the performance began.
The play was masterfully performed. It is powerful enough on its own to stand the test of time while communicating so much universal experience through such a simple story. During a particularly moving part near the end, I chanced a glance at my newfound friend and witnessed for myself how much seeing the play meant to him. It was his first Broadway experience. I turned back to the stage smiling to myself, knowing that the efforts I had gone through to get the tickets were appreciated. I let that happiness fill me up as we stood as friends watching side by side.
Looking back at the entire experience I feel so silly about the childish and unreasoned thoughts and feelings that raced through my head in the hours leading to our meeting up. Having been surrounded by self-imposed walls (and fences) my whole life, it was a relief to tear some down and let in a little light and fresh air. The power of simply being accepted for who I am was so significant, yet sublime, that I can only look back and smile.
I had a friend who I’d met in real life, face to face, who knew I was gay. He wasn’t just a pseudonym on a screen or a Facebook profile anymore, but a living, breathing human being who understood and accepted me. All of me. I could be free, I could be confident, I could be myself, and I discovered for the first time after a long while what it really feels like to be happy.