One of the first boys I ever dated was a talented, beautiful, tall, muscular young man who gave me butterflies every time I was alone with him. Only problem was he did everything in his power never to be alone with me. Sometimes when he picked me up for a date, he’d have another friend in his truck to accompany us. I would get so mad until finally one day, he revealed to me that the reason he was scared to be alone with me was because he was gay. And he didn’t know what to do about that. He couldn’t come out. His dad was a hardcore Christian cowboy who ran a ranch who would never accept having a son like that.
It was so brave of him to tell me that. In realization of that fact, we ended the “boyfriend/girlfriend” thing immediately and became fast friends. Understanding what Jeremy (I changed the name because it’s not my place to out him) had to deal with, I became one of his confidants and we stayed close friends through the years. Once he could now (at least around close friends) be who he really was, he was even more fun to be around. Made me laugh all the time.
He eventually did come out to his dad and true to Jeremy’s fear, his dad disowned him. Cut him off from any financial help whatsoever. Jeremy would lament to me how cruel his dad could be. “You know what my dad used to call you, Georgia, back when we were dating? The Jew. That’s all you were to him.”
Jeremy had to deal with his father’s cruelty for years. Then one day, Jeremy changed the game. He told me: “My dad calls and leaves me disgusting messages sometimes just to bully me and make me feel small. I couldn’t take it anymore. So the last time he left me a message that said ‘I just want you to know, Son, you’re a big ZERO. A NOTHING. And I’m so ashamed that you’re my son…’ here’s what I did: I called him back and when he didn’t pick up…instead of leaving him a message, I hit play on my voice message machine and played his message back to him over his machine. Then I called and did it again. And again. And again. I was so mad, I must have left him ten messages with nothing but the sound of his own voice to listen to.
“Then the strangest thing happened. He called me back and said ‘Do I really talk to you like that? Do I say things like that to my own son?’ He started crying, he was so ashamed.”
I haven’t talked to Jeremy in years. Life went really wrong for him and instead of being a loving force in my life, at some point, he became a dangerous place for me to visit. I have always been a believer that how we’re raised influences who we become but doesn’t ultimately seal the deal on who we end up being as grownups. I’m a big believer that if you have at least one adult championing you when you’re growing up in a dysfunctional household, you really do have a chance at changing your outcome. But I’ll always wonder how Jeremy’s story could have been different. Jeremy started out with the most loving heart and tried so hard to overcome his demons, but as of my last hearing about him, he hasn’t been able to do that yet.
I have never forgotten the story of the voice message. It makes me wonder: if only we could all stop talking for just a minute and listen back to the words we put out in the universe. To know that what we say lands on someone’s ears and can do one of two things: hurt that person or help that person. Devastate them or elevate them. Discourage them or encourage them. If we could only step outside our own insecurities and urges to lash out for just one minute and think about what we’re really doing: either making the choice to give something of value to someone other than ourselves or choosing to take something away from someone else in order to serve ourselves…I’m guessing if we were a little more conscious of that, the world could be a better place.