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(UPDATE, March 15, 2007: In a proof of how small the world really is, I received an e-mail from Ben last night. After mentioning that he had found this page by Googling his name, he most graciously accepted the apologies I made in this update, and apologized for some things he felt he did wrong at that time. Additionally, he asked me to remove his surname, which I had included in the original writing, from this update; I have complied with this request.)
This update is devoted to one of the issues from my past that I have been talking about in this section recently. I have been working on this project for the past two nights; I finished it so late last night that I decided to save the proper format changes (from text to HTML for here, and from text to Microsoft Word for a printed, mailed copy) until a little bit ago. The version that I am putting up here is going to be in an "open letter" format; it will be a slightly abridged version of the letter I am mailing. I must preface the open letter with some background information, for those who don't know the story at all.
When I enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1998, and moved into a campus dorm, I had some very serious issues (i.e., property vandalism/destruction) with my original roommate. Within a week, I asked for and received a different room in another wing of the same building. It was upon making the permanent move to the fourth floor of Bartlett House in Bursley Residence Hall that I met a then 17-year-old freshman named Ben. From the moment I first saw him, I knew he was the most beautiful young man I had ever seen. He stood about 5' 11" (180 cm), and I would guess he weighed 160 lbs. (73 kg) or so. He had the most amazing, transfixing pair of blue eyes; a brilliantly perfect pale-colored complexion; semi-short jet-black hair that was always combed impeccably; and a smile warm enough to melt the coldest hearts. A few times, I had the privilege of seeing him in only a tee-shirt and boxers; while I don't really have a leg or foot fetish, I have to say that he was every bit as beautiful below the knees as he was above the neck-line.
My heart fell fast and hard for Ben. However, I had a serious problem at the time: I was unable to accept any possibility that I might not be straight. I had a terrible conflict going on within myself at the time, and over the next 19 months, Ben suffered needlessly because of it. Today, I can't help but think that I was a real asshole for psychologically and emotionally abusing such a beautiful, attractive young man. Without further ado, my "Open Letter to Ben" follows:
I know that it has been a long time since we saw each other last, and I would bet you probably haven't given much thought to a lot of what happened, but I feel a duty to face up to the mistakes I made several years ago that made your life more difficult than it should have been. I did some really terrible, inexcusable things to you, and I owe you my deepest, most sincere apologies for having done the things I did.
I might as well start at the very beginning of the time I knew you, in September 1998. A week into that fall term, I moved into a room on 4th Bartlett, down the hall from you. The very first time I saw you, I was completely in awe. There, in front of me, stood the most beautiful young man I had ever beheld, with the face of an angel and a pair of beautiful blue eyes I could lose myself in for a long time. Had I been listening to my heart, it would have told me that it was falling for you almost right away.
Unfortunately, I stupidly ended up listening to my mind. I was deeply conflicted about myself at the time; a part of me already "knew" that I was gay, but another part of me said, "There's no way this can be true. I'm not gay. This thing with attraction to guys is just a phase." Having gone to a Catholic high school, and having known some gay young men there, I had come to believe that being openly gay was going to completely destroy any chance I had at making any friends and being liked at all. I was scared — terrified, honestly — at the thought of this, and I felt that I had to do whatever it would take to keep my terrible secret safe.
In a way, because of the strong attraction I felt for you at the time, you unknowingly became the focal point of the conflict I was having within myself. One part of me was (secretly) madly in love with you, but the other part told me I had to disavow any thoughts of love toward another man. Like I said, I was terrified of what might have happened had I listened to my heart and told you what I was feeling inside. The mental image of you angrily saying "I'm straight, you f'ing queer!" and telling everybody else on the hall was enough to cause me nightmares. To avoid having to deal with such pain, I felt I had to prove to all of 4th Bartlett just how "straight" I was, by pretending to be interested in girls and taking on homophobic attitudes.
Psychologists would call this "projection," which is an immature self-defense mechanism used to shield the "projector" from the things he hates about himself. At that time, I hated even the idea that I might be gay, and by projecting my own hatred of myself onto you (because I felt so attracted to you), I was able to blithely ignore my own issues. Needless to say, doing this to you was wrong, unethical, immoral, stupid, immature, and downright horrible of me, and in looking back on it, I deeply regret what I did to you. I feel terrible about having made your life in Bursley as difficult as I did, all because of my own inability to deal with my issues.
One night in October of that year, we had a petty disagreement about a particular problem in a Math 156 assignment. I had expected to meet you for lunch the next day, but I couldn't find you anywhere in the Bursley dining room. I was a bit disappointed, but that doesn't even begin to justify or excuse the actions I would take from that point forward. Using my disappointment over not having met you for lunch as "justification," I completely made up a story about you offering me a sexual favor in exchange for the answer to that math problem. By making you out to appear to be a gay slut, to put it bluntly, I felt I was able to "prove" to Lou, Gary, Ziv, Keith, et al. just how "straight" I was, so they might think I was "cool." I know you're probably thinking about how stupid that sounds, but that's precisely what I was then — stupid. Not only did I not accomplish what I thought I would in the hall social scene, but I also caused you a lot of anguish that you most certainly did not deserve.
I acted even more stupid than that, to be honest, by not even bothering to really consider your feelings. I honestly never knew then (and I still don't know today) whether you actually were/are gay, straight, or bisexual. I was so caught up in myself and my own "image" that I didn't stop to think that — if you were in fact gay — I was putting the brakes on your journey to self-acceptance. Knowing what I know now about still-closeted young gay people and their risks of self-harm or suicide. I realize that I could very well have put your life at risk just to preserve a false image of myself. Of course, for all I know, you could be (have been) straight, and that wouldn't have been an issue, but even in that case, I still slandered and maligned you among other hallmates. I mean, I have been tested to have an IQ of 145, but thinking that my reputation was more important than your life makes one wonder if I wasn't really closer to zero on that scale.
I'm not going to re-hash too many of the events that occurred, as I'm sure you can probably remember a fair number of them. In the end, I settled on destroying your character among other people on 4th Bartlett and eventually 6VD, and carrying on a "cold war" of sorts by refusing to even look you in the eye. In doing so, I denied you a number of friends you could very well otherwise have had, and perhaps worst yet, I denied you your basic human dignity by practically refusing to acknowledge your existence. I can't think of anything more evil than destroying a person's dignity, and I don't know how a person can find it in his heart to forgive such a heinous act. If you still have a lot of anger, depression, or hard feelings over my actions, I can totally understand and respect why you would feel that way. I'd certainly have a very hard time forgiving a person who did those things to me.
I'm not sure the English language contains words strong enough to express how horrible I feel in regards to my mis-treatment of you. There is absolutely no excuse for a person to treat another human being that way, period. The things I mentioned above demonstrate that I was certainly not in my right mind in those days, but that still does not get me off the hook for my actions. I feel a deep regret for doing what I did to you, and I know I'll never forget about that as long as I live. Simply stated, Ben, I am as sorry as a person can be for my actions toward you, from the bottom of my heart.
I want you to know that I am not writing this letter to demand or expect anything at all in return from you. I am no longer secretly "pining away" for you as I was in 1998-2000; at this point, the only feelings that I have for you are my very best wishes in all aspects of your life. While it would be nice to hear back from you, I won't be excessively disappointed if you choose not to reply at all — I know that you may very well still feel tremendously hurt by my actions, and you have every right to completely ignore me if you so desire. I am writing this letter because it is the right thing to do. I made some grievous, terrible mistakes several years ago, and one hallmark of true manhood is the ability to face up to one's mistakes, admit responsibility, apologize, and ask for the injured party's forgiveness. I know there's no way I can expect, force, or beg you to say, "yes, Larry, I forgive you for what you did," but I am compelled to do my part by acknowledging my personal failings which caused you undeserved pain.
I hope that the five years (April 2000-present) since I last saw you have been very good to you, and that you have been able to find happiness in your life. It should go without saying that I have come to disagree with Catholics on many issues since high school, but I would still like to believe that there is a God who loves us more than we can imagine; I pray that He will grant you prosperity, happiness, health, and love beyond your wildest dreams for as long as you live. Even if I never hear from you again, I will continue asking God to pull the strings that make your life better, happier, and more fulfilling. You deserve that, Ben, and I most certainly owe that to you. And remember, smile — a happy expression on your face can melt hearts; it most certainly did mine.
No matter what happens, I wish you all the best for the rest of your life, and you'll always have me rooting for you behind the scenes, even if you don't realize it. Good luck, and God bless.