Thomas is a Homosexual in College
Thomas struck gold. The Goodwill near his dorm always had good finds, which contributed to the “does your grandma live here?” question he nearly always received when new friends came over. But this time, he felt like he’d found a precious jewel, a diamond in the rough: a typewriter. He’d wanted a typewriter for a long time, and in spite of his friends calling him a hipster whenever he brought it up, he couldn’t wait to bring home his $20 find.
Miraculously, the thing worked. He’d had to find ink, but in the age of Amazon that wasn’t hard. He sat down at his desk, switched on the overhead florescent light for the first time that semester, and fed the beauty a fresh sheet of paper. His goal was to write one letter a week to friends, family, and people who’d made an impact on him. There was a thankfulness campaign happening at his church, and while the encouraged approach of phone calls spiked his anxiety, letters he could handle.
Who was he thankful for? His first thought was his family. Over the past year he’d felt his relationship with his parents become more and more strained. He felt like a complete ass when he would lash out like a 12 year old, only to have them turn around and make a tuition payment. They loved him, and he knew it. He loved them too, but something was pulling them apart. He knew what it was, but didn’t like thinking about it.
He hadn’t spoken to Mia since the fall semester had started and he began to consider her a “back home” friend. He was happy with how his life was shaping up, and although he was sad at how his past relationships were fading, he’d found real community at college. His roommate, Caleb, and his next-door neighbors, Ali and George, were his best friends. He had been sad to leave them for summer break the previous year. Anxious to keep in touch, he was the one who suggested creating a private Facebook group for the four of them to post and share their summer mishaps and adventures. Thomas rediscovered this group years later and, a relic from the age before group chats and private social media stories, had to laugh at the lengths they went to in order to communicate.
Racking his brain for people who had made a lasting impact on him, Thomas suddenly stood up. Had anyone else been in the room they would have questioned his behavior, but he was alone. It was Saturday and the boys were off playing intramural soccer. He often went and cheered them on, but took that particular day for himself. He stood because, from the periphery of his recent memory, he retrieved a single name: Henry.
He couldn’t possibly write to Henry. His heart began to beat faster at the thought of it. The two of them hadn’t spoken in two years, and Thomas’ stomach flipped at the thought of reaching out to him again. What would he possibly have to say to Henry? Hey, Henry, just wanted to send you a quick letter to say thanks for breaking my heart! I really enjoy the commitment issues I now have because of you. Have a great life! Hardly worth the ink.
Thomas had met Henry his freshman year at the university library. He had gone with the mission of picking up books for a research paper even though he wasn’t sure what the professor was asking for. He had been circling the same row of books for nearly twenty minutes trying to find the title he’d seen online before he spotted it’s spine, clearly placed on the wrong shelf. Thomas was flipping through the pages when he felt the presence of someone else nearby. As he looked to his left he noticed a man, probably a few years older than himself, who had quickly averted his gaze. Thomas looked away, but felt the man’s eyes return to him as he began looking for the second book he needed.
Thomas had knelt down to search the bottom shelf when he heard: “do you need help finding anything?” The man was now beside Thomas, kneeling down to meet his gaze. Thomas immediately noticed the coolness of his eyes, gray and strong like steel. His blonde hair was groomed and spiked with gel, and the stubble on his face looked to Thomas like it was intentional.
Unsure of how to respond, Thomas asked: “umm… do you work here?” He looked for a badge or some sort of indicator that he was employed with the university but found none. The man let out a soft but gravelly laugh, obviously amused by the question. His laugh made Thomas’ heart flutter.
“No, I don’t. But I spend a lot of time in this section. I’m Henry.”
Thomas stood as he introduced himself. Henry reached out his hand and, when Thomas took it, electricity shot through his body, his heart rushing blood to just below his waist. The handshake lasted longer than normal, and Thomas felt his palm began to sweat in Henry’s firm grip.
“I’m currently working on my masters, so I basically live in the library,” Henry explained, finally letting go of Thomas’ hand.
His masters. So Thomas was right, Henry was older than him. Henry turned to leave, motioning for Thomas to follow him. He quickly forgot about the rest of the books he needed as he walked through row after row, following a man he barely knew. He was curious and maybe turned on? Henry led him to a quiet corner of the floor where a small couch and coffee table sat invitingly. They both sat and Thomas immediately noticed how small the couch was, warmth radiating from Henry’s thigh as he sat next to him.
“So, your masters?” Thomas said the first thing that came to mind. He wasn’t sure why he was squished onto a small couch with someone he had just met; his heart was pounding. He wasn’t the type of person who did this. He was more of an in-and-out, mind-his-own-business type of person.
“Yeah, my masters. I took a few years off after my undergrad, but I couldn’t stay away from school for long. I’m a nerd; I love to study.” He let out another gravelly laugh, the reverberations traveling from leg to leg at lightning speed.
“You took a few years off, so, you’re what, twenty something?”
Thomas couldn’t hide his surprise, which made Henry laugh again. Why did his laugh make Henry want to take off his clothes? Henry rested a hand on his own thigh, his pinky finger dangerously close to Thomas'. His heart sped up.
“People often tell me I look young for my age, but damn I feel like I look ancient.”
“No, you look…” Thomas didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t know why he started it, or why he was sitting here on a Wednesday afternoon with a complete stranger talking about his age. He had to get out of this. “Look, I need to-“
“Want to grab a cup of coffee?” Henry spoke through a smile, letting his pinky finally slide over to Thomas' leg. Thomas agreed, ignoring his fight or flight instincts telling him he was dangerously close to something he'd thought about since he hit puberty. How harmful could coffee be?
The line at the campus coffee shop was long, but soon enough Thomas and Henry found a seat in the bay window, warm to-go cups in hand.
“When did you come out to your parents?” Thomas had been staring out the window when Henry asked the question. In that moment he wanted nothing more than to jump out of it, running into the woods never to return. He’d heard of feral children and wondered if he could survive in the wild. He sipped on his latte while he thought of a response. He settled on the truth.
“Henry, I need to tell you, I’m not… gay.” Thomas whispered the last word, not wanting anyone around them to hear it.
“Oh. Are you sure?”
Thomas was gay. He knew he was gay. He had never been surer of anything in his life, albeit it was a recent revelation. College had quickly opened his eyes, mostly because he lived on a floor with 50 other boys who grew very comfortable walking around in nothing but their boxers. It was the Walmart men's underwear section come to life. Yeah, he was definitely gay. Still, he hadn’t told anyone else, and although his body was telling him to throw himself on top of Henry, he said, "yes, I’m sure. I think I’d know if I were gay.”
“Hmm.” A low rumble from Henry as he thought. Thomas couldn’t think of a more awkward situation to find himself in, and yet he wanted Henry to keep talking. He didn’t want the electricity inside to stop. Henry stared at Thomas for a moment, eyes examining eyes, steel to dirt. “Thomas, when you close your eyes and think private thoughts, do you think of men or women?”
Thomas lowered his drink. Scratching his chin, then his neck, he replied: “men.” It had come out so easily, and with it, a spark. He felt something begin to happen inside, but it would be years before he discovered what it was. The catalyst? Truth.
“So, you daydream about other men, but you’re not gay. Are you bi?”
Anger bubbled to the surface, and Thomas lashed out, unable to control himself. “Why are you asking me these questions? What do you care who I like?” He was embarrassed by his behavior but couldn’t stop spitting out the words.
“Because, Thomas, I like you.”
His heart almost stopped. He slowly raised his cup, but instead of taking a drink, he rested his mouth on the recyclable lid, steam coiling between his lips. I like you. Thomas had never had another man even look at him, and now there was a tall, intelligent, attractive man sitting across from him telling him he did.
“I’m sorry, what?” Thomas was incredulous, but he couldn’t help but smile.
“You’re very handsome, Thomas. Has a man ever told you that?”
“My grandpa, once, before my junior prom.”
A rocky laugh. “Has a man other than your grandfather told you that?”
Of course not. Thomas had never considered himself handsome, and the thought of another person thinking so had never crossed his mind. Yet here he was, sitting next to an impossibly attractive man, who thought he was handsome. What world had Thomas fallen into on his way to the library just hours ago?
Henry took a sip of coffee and said, with a warm smile on his face, “I’m sorry for assuming. Look, why don’t we go back to my place for a bit? Just to talk.”
From some previously untapped well of courage and recklessness, giving into a desire he was tired of fighting, Thomas agreed to go. Day turned into night, and talking turned into much more in a flurry of lips, skin, laughs, and sweat. Giving into himself had never been so easy.
The beeping of the microwave snapped Thomas out of his thoughts. He had reheated his coffee for the fourth time that afternoon, and, picking it up, leaned against his window. Some of his floor-mates were on the quad below tossing a football, the last warm rays of summer beating on their glossy backs. He opened his window and could smell fall approaching, lingering with the sounds of unrepentant joy coming from outside.
As Thomas sat back down at his desk, he pushed the typewriter aside and opened his laptop. A few clicks later and he’d found Henry’s Facebook page. His profile photo hadn’t changed since the first time Thomas had looked at his page years before; that warm, tempting smile pulled him in all over again. He scrolled down his profile and saw little activity. Some birthday posts from the past summer, a link to an article weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a PhD, and endless photos of drunken nights out. Thomas kept mindlessly scrolling until he reached the year they had met, 2011, and saw a post that made his stomach drop.
On September 9th a friend had posted a Buzzfeed article to Henry’s wall titled: 10 Perks of Dating Young and Why It’s Not Just For Silver Foxes Anymore. Thomas had met Henry only a month prior to the post. Opening the comments, Thomas saw Henry’s response: do these perks still apply if it’s just a sidepiece?! Hahaha, followed by a smattering of jokes and emojis. Even through the screen Thomas could hear the gravel vibrating from Henry’s laugh. A sidepiece? Thomas’ buried insecurities came boiling back to the surface.
“This feels so right,” Henry had told him that first night at his apartment, “laying here with you.” Thomas wasn’t sure what was right or wrong in that moment, but he remembered wishing it would never end. Now, sitting at his desk, that distant memory felt like it could've happened to someone else. He had only been with Henry for a couple of months, the duration of which was clunky and completely anxiety inducing. As Thomas looked back, he realized how little Henry had actually cared about him. He’d go days without hearing from him, and they spent very little time together, and when they did, it was mostly physical. Thomas knew in retrospect that Henry hadn’t thought much of him, but seeing it in writing made him feel sick.
Henry was the only man Thomas had ever been with, and although it was a time mired with manipulation and self-doubt, he had never completely let him go. After all, it was his first relationship of any kind, and it was so intense that he couldn’t get himself to move on. Sure, Henry had been 12 years older than him, bordering on a predator, but Henry was blind to it at the time. He wasn’t sure when it had finally ended, he just knew it slowly fizzled out. Texts went unanswered, and eventually the desire to reach out to Henry left him all together. The pain of being ignored overpowered the desire for connection.
Thomas closed his laptop and returned to the typewriter. With a deep breath, he knew who the first letter was for. Checking the clock, he saw he didn’t have long. As he began to write, he felt an immense weight lifting off his shoulders. He was writing his story, his past and present. He wrote about the first time he looked at a boy and felt butterflies. He wrote about all the times in high school when he denied who he was, and how every time he did so he buried his true self a little deeper. His fingers were clunky on the typewriter, but he filled one page, and then two with his pain, his thoughts, and his yearning to be known, excavating the Thomas he thought he’d never be. I may not be who everyone thinks I should be, he wrote, but I know it’s time to be who I was made to be.
Thomas took the sheets of paper and folded them neatly, scribbling a small note on the front. He grabbed his wallet, laced his shoes, and, on the way out the door, placed the letter on his roommate Caleb’s pillow. He’d be back and have read it by the time Thomas returned. Hesitating, Thomas left the room, locking the door behind him, knowing his life was about to change.