Long before we got married, my wife and I had a very good friend. Actually he was more her friend than mine. I inherited him as a friend when we started dating. He was the one person who knew and understood her better than me. When we had a major hiccup one year into our relationship, it was this friend who she turned to for support and he provided it while still being a good friend to both of us.
There is no doubt he was her best friend and its very likely she confided in him much more than she did to me during those years. I am okay with that. They had known each other for longer than they had known me, I was the intruder into this friendship.
However, this friend had issues. He had a difficult home life and he despised his father, every now and then he’d let his darkness show and we would get a glimpse of the pain he was hiding. Normally though he was a very jovial and fun person to be around. I guess he needed it to be that way.
I never met his father, he never seemed to be at home, but I did meet his mother on a few occasions. She was a pleasant but very quiet person. I do recall this friend had an awful lot of freedom at home, given his teen years. Not just a computer and TV in his bedroom, but a phone as well. His bedroom was right at the top of the house, out of the way of everyone else and large enough to include a sofa area too; visiting friends always went directly up there, no exclusions.
As soon as he left school and got his first job, this friend moved out of home and bought a small flat; smaller than his bedroom almost. Girlfriend and I spent a lot of time visiting him there.
Moving out of home changed our friend. For starters he became a little freer in talking about his home life issues. He would only visit home when he knew his mum was at home alone so he could see her on his terms. He talked a lot about dropping off the radar so he could be free of his family, I remember an attitude of grim determination fuelled by hatred.
We were all committed Christians at the time and in our mid-late teens. We attended many evangelical services and socialized in a Christian youth group and then a Christian 18+ group as we aged. We had bible studied together and prayed together and partied together many times with our wider Christian friendship group.
But our friend was continuing to have his issues and he moved on. He got a job in London and started living there, renting out the flat he had bought. He started attending church there in London too. Seeing him became more and more of a logistical challenge and contacted started to peter out.
By this time girlfriend and I were engaged. She missed her friend though and made extra effort to continue the contact, travelling into London and going out of her way to maintain the contact.
Then the bombshell dropped.
He told her he was gay.
In hindsight we should have realised, but at the time it came as a surprise. At the time I was very much of the opinion of many fundamentalist Christians today, that homosexuality is just plain wrong. I wasn’t at that meeting, it was just girlfriend and him. Girlfriend told friend that I would not be impressed, she was right, but it likely wasn’t the right thing to say. Friend needed some encouragement and support. He’d just told his closest childhood friend his biggest darkest secret and he hadn’t had the response he needed. In her defence, girlfriend was caught off-guard and really didn’t have much time to absorb the information. It came from left field at a time of concern and vulnerability and girlfriend was utterly unprepared to deal with such a revelation.
She did her best to reassure friend that his friendship was still valuable. However, that was the last time she would see him. They would speak once more; it was a difficult conversation with friend being withdrawn despite girlfriend’s reassurances. After that he never returned her calls and they never spoke again. He wasn’t at our wedding.
Nearly 20 years later, she still very much regrets those final moments and genuinely wishes that she could have played that conversation differently and kept a good friend. We don’t have many regrets in life but this one is by far the biggest and by a long margin.
In reality, I think he was going to disappear anyway. His bigger issues had driven him to leave his old life behind and girlfriend was the last thread linking him to his old life and I think he was going to cut it anyway. His long term plan had been to change his name and leave the country, I have no reason to doubt this happened very soon after.
This of course is no comfort to my wife and she still feels the pain of a lost friendship that she believes she had the power to retain but failed to act in the right way. On the few occasions we’ve discussed this over the years, it has made her cry; such is her feeling of loss. Friend being gay was never going to be a barrier to a continued friendship, despite the personal objections of lifestyle choice.
There have been a couple of times over the years when, in our involvement with youth work we’ve been able to use this story to caution young people on how they respond to their friends when faced with similar revelations. Its not an easy story to tell and the sense of loss has never left us, but we do hope we can use it to stop others suffering the same.