I don’t hear my waitress.
I’m staring out of the window by my booth, at the parking lot outside, at the street lamp growing up from the asphalt, at the occasional business person or family piling in and our of their cars, some laughing, some chatting, none arguing.
I’m paralyzed in front of this window, in a sort of personal hell, condemned forever to watch from afar. I can’t think now because I don’t know what I would.
I’m in suspended animation, floating out of my body, yet somehow motionless, watching from overhead as my waitress grabs refills and takes orders; watching myself sitting here in front of a plastic basket filled with chicken wings and ranch with a melted Diet Coke on a cheap cork coaster…
I’ve known since I can remember that I was gay, and though such a thing was sin, I knew, too, that God would fix me. If only I did what He commanded, all would be well. When I was young, I volunteered at hospitals, prayed every night, dated girls, involved myself in every school activity, and excelled in academics. But pleasing Him this way wasn’t enough—my sexual desires only intensified—so I graduated high school to pursue a degree in divinity.
I attended a rigorous, conservative, ultra-religious institution for my studies, and there I met, on my very first day, the woman I would marry. Her name was Rachel.
Rachel and I were the proverbial First Couple of the university we attended. I was the student body president and on track to become a minister; she was a music major on track to becoming Betty Crocker. We announced senior year that we were going to marry, and our engagement was met with great fanfare; the chancellor threw us a private party at his home and our picture-perfect families threw us a picture-perfect ceremony.
Fast forward 24 years and I’m walking into a Buffalo Wild Wings to meet my wife for lunch. Our marriage is in shambles. Married for 24 years, still in denial that I’m gay, and despite the utmost reverence I’ve paid to my faith and to my marriage, I’ve yet to please God. My lust for men will not wane.
Rachel found gay porn on the family computer a little while back. I sought counseling. She saw that I was too affectionate with one of my colleagues. I distanced myself from him. She and I grew apart. My resentment snowballed. Our sex life vanished (was there one anyway?). All that hung over our marriage now was the Invisible Monster: my sexuality.
“Hi! Welcome to Buffalo Wild Wings! How many?” The hostess thumbs through menus. I’ve arrived before my wife.
She sits me in a booth by a window overlooking the parking lot. I put in my order for a Diet Coke and look outside. It’s such a beautiful day. Sunny. Warm. And Rachel’s invited me to lunch. Things are looking up.
My wife joins shortly. We talk about small things—about how work is going, the weather, my upcoming business trip.
She’s wearing a business casual suit as she often does. It’s navy, I think. She wears minimal makeup, but she’s pretty enough without it. Her demeanor is as calm and collected as it always is.
She lets me order first, and then she doesn’t order at all… She doesn’t want to eat on a lunch date she asked for? Before I process how strange this is:
“Dillon,” she says abruptly, “When you get back from your business trip, I will be gone. I’m moving out of the house. I’m not telling you where I’m going. I’m taking the kids.”
A piercing ring stings my eardrums. What? I didn’t hear her. Did I?
No, no, no. Please, no. God, no.
“No, no,” I say. My face flushes. My chest tightens. I’m out of breath. I’m suddenly drowning. “I’ll cancel my trip. We can figure this out. No, Rachel, please.” I knew this day would come, but did I? It can’t be. It doesn’t seem right hearing it.
“If you cancel your trip, I’ll never come back.” She says it like she’s rehearsed it a thousand times.
And then she’s on the other side of the window, walking to her car. My chicken wings arrive. The conversation lasts five minutes. It happens all so fast.
“Sir? Excuse me, sir?” my waitress asks again, “Would you like a refill?”
Do I love her? Rachel, I mean. Did I ever? Yes, I think so. Maybe because I tricked myself into believing it. Love becomes a comfortable habit, doesn’t it? Did I waste 24 years of her life leading her on, and for what? To please God, Who abandoned me anyway? I’d like to think not, but I know I’ll live with the guilt.
And yet, though condescending it seems to think this way now, and though in shock I am, I feel a tinge of hope in my stomach as Rachel walks to her car. Freedom is on the horizon. For both of us.
“No thanks,” I say to my waitress. The ice in my Diet Coke is melted, but the glass is still more than half full. “I’m fine for now.”
Dillon D. lives in Arkansas