SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Jon Schumacher

Out On the Lake

imageA day that will forever remain in my memory was a Saturday morning in October of 2005. David and I had gone fishing one last time before the weather grew too cold. The lake was a peculiar calm that morning, the water still like a plane of smooth glass, meeting seamlessly with the horizon. The lake’s condition was much like my relationship with my best friend, void of any cracks or fissures, the way things had always been. I did not realize how situations or relationships could be so fragile, ready to break or crack at anytime. We were fishing on the water’s edge staring across the lake, both in our own thoughts, when David asked me if he could tell me something.

Jon stared stone faced into the lake pondering his own thoughts as my insides churned waiting for what was to come ahead. I would have given anything to switch places with him; I wanted to be the one lazily daydreaming this morning. By the end of the day I did not know whether I would still have my best friend by my side.

Before I could even finish saying “Yes” David half-blurted out “I think I’m gay.” I guess he was so nervous he saw my mouth open to speak and it just all came flooding out. I asked him what he means by he “thinks” he is gay. He told me all the feelings he had and the way he resented them. Growing up a Mormon, David truly believed that by being gay he was damning himself to an eternity in Hell.

I sat there looking at David, who was now silently crying, and just thinking how hard it probably was for David to tell me about this. David feverishly tried to wipe the tears from his distinguished face, trying to rid his face of any shame. David had always been one of the strongest persons I had ever known, active in sports and athletics and I had never seen David cry, not even from some of his worst sports injuries. But to see someone I always had such a clear “image” of stray from that “image” was difficult. He was strong, he wasn’t supposed to cry, it wasn’t David. Now I have realized that telling me he was gay was one of the most difficult things David will have ever done, and it takes a strong person like David to do that.

 First I assured him that everything was going to be fine and that I didn’t think about him any differently. I then told him my opinion about his spiritual crisis; that I firmly believed he was not going to Hell. Despite my reassurances, I did my best to listen as he spoke but I couldn’t help my brain from buzzing like a hive of bees. This was just too much new information for my poor little brain to handle.

The words “I think I’m gay” rang out through the silence. Jon stared at me; I figure he thought I was going to tell him something else, something, anything but that. “Ok”, he said. “What do you mean you think you’re gay?” By now I had lost my nerve and began pouring out all my feelings and thoughts on the matter while Jon sat there looking at me. The look on his face was neither confusion nor disgust, not even surprise. He just sat there listening.

    While growing up, I don’t think I ever had a problem with homosexuals. But being raised in a conservative household didn’t exactly help give me exposure to their lifestyles. When Rosie O’Donnell or Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, it didn’t faze me. It was their life and their choice how to live it. I, like most of America, was outraged in 1998 when Matthew Shephard was beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming for being a homosexual. But those were my only exposure to issues involving gays. Things that were happening to other people I didn’t know or wasn’t involved with. I never thought someone that close to me could later turn out to be gay.

    David and I were raised in the same neighborhood by similar households, although his family was devout Mormons, we participated in the same activities. We were both in Boy Scouts, played baseball, and were friends with the same group of people. Looking back, I try to see things through David’s eyes while growing up. How did he feel when the Boy Scouts of America discriminated against gays or when one of our friends or teammates made a “fag” joke? I can’t say for sure when David knew he was gay, but it pains me to think I could have hurt my best friend with a joke or remark while he was struggling with his own personal demons.

We spent the next few hours discussing the new development in David’s life and I came to the conclusion that this event had not damaged our friendship and, if anything, had only made it stronger. I promised I would never tell another soul his secret until he was ready and that he could always come to me for help. I asked if he had told anyone else and he remarked that only “Me, you, and God know about it.” If I had to say what the biggest surprise that day was, it wouldn’t be learning that David was gay. It would be how much I didn’t know about my best friend, someone I thought I knew better than even he did.

 Out of all of my friends and family members for me to “come out” to, I don’t think any of them would have made it easier than Jon did. Before I had told Jon my secret that morning, I worried that this event could ruin a friendship that had lasted many years and would probably cost me many others. Now I see that could not be further from the truth. Our bond has only grown stronger and we shared something few friends have ever had the privilege of experiencing.

The evening’s rosy sun slowly descended, casting brilliant shades of soft, muted color across the lake’s glassy surface as it slipped lazily beneath the horizon. One of David’s main woes of confiding in me was his belief that our friendship would change. But it had not; it remained the same as it did everyday just like the act of the sun setting. No matter what happens during a particular day, the sun will always set. I think that is a great summary of my personal memory ethnography experience. The days go on; my friendship with my best friend David went on and always will.


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