Marc was almost exactly the boy next door. He lived just down the street from me growing up. We went to the same elementary school, we waited at the same bus stop. We used to host Bus Stop Olympics with the other kids, where we would perform various athletic feats while waiting to go to school. Most feats involved jumping over the ditch behind the stop.
At school he was one of my best friends, and the other kids would taunt us. Elementary school boys and girls both have cooties, so it was strange for a boy and a girl to be so close, and to joke so often. Marc and I never understood their accusations. We were just friends.
The line separating school districts ran right next to our houses, and we ended up going to different junior high and high schools. But Marc still lived just down the street, and he would come visit me after school and during the summer. His visits were always an unplanned surprise. My family poked fun at us, because it seemed strange to have a young boy just show up asking about their daughter. Marc has always been a great piano player and a fantastic musical improvisor, and he would play my parents’ piano when he came to visit. My grandparents came up to stay with us every summer, and grandma loved listening to Marc play. For years, whenever I’d talk to my grandmother she’d ask about Marc. She always wanted us to get married.
Sometimes Marc and I would play games in which he would be improvising on the piano and I would strike a key in the middle of the piece at random. He would immediately pick up on it and adjust the tune to incorporate my arbitrary note. Sometimes I would make up a story and he would compose a soundtrack. Sometimes My mom would shout out a composer and and Marc would improvise a piece in that composer’s style.
And sometimes we wouldn’t do anything at all. Marc would just hang out while I worked on the computer. Marc loved to draw, and he would create detailed doodles of architectural designs. Sometimes he would draw pictures of me. At Halloween Marc and our friend Peter would be the only kids in the neighborhood willing to walk to the far end of our driveway to go Trick-or-Treating. My sister was sure he was in love with me. In college when I wrote a play featuring a complicated romantic relationship between a boy and a girl who were long-time friends, my mom was sure I was talking about Marc. I wasn’t, but that’s a different story.
Marc and I went to the same college but lived in different dorms. He was on the other side of campus and it was the farthest we’d ever lived from each other. We stayed close for awhile, but after some time we developed our own interests and our own friend groups. We still saw each other, but not as often. College ended and I knew Marc had moved away, but I wasn’t sure where or when.
And then one day, some ten months after I had last spoken to Marc and even longer since I’d seen him, I received the following message in my Facebook inbox:
Subject: oh hay
I miss you and hope all is well. Also, I am gay.
My boyfriend was in the room when I read the message. He had heard many stories about Marc. He asked me how I felt about it.
“I’m surprised,” I said. “…but not shocked.”
What had been more shocking were the photos I saw of Marc popping up on my newsfeed. He was buff. Very buff. Marc had always been a very skinny guy. Suddenly he looked like a bodybuilder. And he was living and working in Washington D.C. It would take me another three years and a trip across the country, but eventually I managed to visit him.
I parked my car about a block away from Marc’s D.C. apartment, and ran into him on the street while he was out walking his roommate’s dog. “Sorry,” he told me, “but he had to go poop.” Marc looked at the dog, then at a bag in his hand. “Let me throw away the poop and we can go inside.”
Taking a dog out to poop may seem like a strange detail to include in this story, but you have to understand that I have never met anyone else who talks the way Marc talks. There’s something gently musical about it that I can’t quite explain. Which means no one pronounces the word poop like Marc does. And I knew as soon as I heard him say it that despite the years we’d spent apart, his huge physical transformation, and his coming out of the closet, he had not changed one bit.
Inside Marc cooked up some pasta, explaining that there were really no good restaurants in Washington D.C. We talked about his life and his job, about my trip and my travels. We talked about segregation and how when you take the train from his apartment into the city you can watch the passenger load change from black to white with each stop. Eventually the conversation moved to the unavoidable topic of his life changes. He told me that when he came out, it was easy to tell the people he casually knew, and he dreaded telling the people closest to him. Peter and I were the last people he told. “I think I was afraid that it would change how people viewed me,” he said.
Coming out paralleled his physical change. He told me that after being skinny his whole life, he realized that he just wanted to be big. He was tired of being a scrawny guy. He’d always wished he was bigger. And he always pretended he didn’t care, because having lots of muscles seemed like it was a shallow desire. “I told myself I was above all that,” he said, “because I thought people would think less of me if I paid too much attention to something so superficial.”
Eventually he realized that this was something he really wanted, and it was stupid for him to be something he didn’t want to be. So he changed. He worked hard. He still works hard. He has to spend a lot of time at the gym and pay close attention to his diet, but he’s finally happy in his own skin. “I get a lot more attention now,” he said with a sly and embarrassed smile.
“From men?” I asked.
“From everyone,” he told me with a grin.
It’s good to see Marc so happy.
I spent the next day on the National Mall and came back in time to get dinner with Marc. He took me to one of the few restaurants he finds worthwhile, explaining that he mostly liked it because they had “adult milkshakes,” a menu item that makes him giggle. I told him I still didn’t like alcohol, but that I’d give it a try. He said he didn’t like alcohol much either, but he liked these. The shake was among the best alcoholic drinks I’ve ever had, but it still took me all of dinner to finish it. Marc suggested that he and I might both be “super tasters.” He asked how I felt about coffee, grapefruit, and carbonated water. I hate all three.
“It’s the bitterness,” he said. “I don’t like any of those things either.”
Over dinner we talked about writing, about music, about everything. Marc is still one of my best friends, despite our years apart. And we picked up right where we had left off, despite all the things that had happened in those years. He’s still just the boy that lives down the street and comes over in the middle of the day because he’s bored. He’s still strange and sweet, and he’s still my friend. I never thought Marc’s sexuality would change how I see him, but I worried the time and distance might. It didn’t. We are the same as we always were and I miss having him around.
Even so, it’s probably best that we don’t tell my grandmother. I think she’s still holding out hope.