I’ve been emotionally on my own since I was fifteen.
I was forced out of the closet my sophomore year by my high school girlfriend. Fortunately, nobody in the band really cared. Or maybe, I was too naive to realize what people were saying. I just kept my head down and moved on.
At sixteen, my family scolded me about “my issue.” My brother said it was wrong to be gay. My mom said, “don’t do this s^%& in my house.” My dad ignored it and pushed it under the rug.
I guess you can say I learned how to shut out my own family. We had minimal contact in college. We had less contact in Chicago. And then I moved to South Korea where we had almost no contact.
But let’s fast forward to today. Things are much different now.
At thirty-six, I look back and think about all the people who came into my life at certain, memorable points to bestow their knowledge on me. I’m not talking about people on a plane who just start talking just to be polite.
My “teachers” left a distinguished mark on my life when my family was anywhere but in the picture. Whatever reason for them- angels, the universe, luck, fate- one thing is true: I am very grateful for them.
In college in Athens, Georgia, I quickly befriended Sherry, the post office lady. We would joke about life and laugh as if we had known each other our whole lives.
Man, did she hate her job some days! But she always...always was in a good mood. She taught me to smile more often and just be happy.
I was in Menasha, Wisconsin shopping at the Family Dollar before a camping trip. There was something about the cashier that I couldn’t put my finger on. I had to talk to her.
She randomly opened up to me about how she believed in the power of positivity. She said that if she could emanate positivity, maybe someone around her would want to be more like her. She taught me to think about my own outward presence.
When I was in that maze in Marrakech, Morocco, I stumbled upon a man in a trinket shop who was a lot kinder than I had expected.
I mistakenly gave him $100 in Moroccan currency for a gold necklace that should have only cost me $1. Apparently I can’t calculate the extra zeros correctly.
We argued, bartered, argued a little more, and bartered a little more until I almost threw a vase at his head. He told me that the extra money I gave him would go to his family and Allah. I told him that the extra money was going to me.
Fifteen minutes passed. Mind you, his English was as fluent as my Arabic. But I finally got all of my money back.
In the end, he said, “You, my friend. You nice American. Don’t stop being you.” Here the whole time, I thought I was being a butt.
Could I tell you his name? Certainly not. But this random man somewhere in Morocco in the middle of a maze of shops taught me that any two people can work through their differences. Friends, for me, were my family.