BRIDGES

by T.J. Boothroyd & Chris Johnston

 

It's all about the bridge, finding it, getting across it. I remember reading something like that once when I was in college. My mom instilled a fear of bridges in me when I was a child when she read me "The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, " a story that kept me from playing under the bridges in the Boston Commons.

Here I am on a beautiful bridge (no trolls beneath, guaranteed) in Central Park. This picture was taken at the end of 2003, after I had flown off to visit New York City on about 4 hours notice. During a period of great stress it was the best move I could have made. But with the new year came new challenges, new bridges to cross.

After writing my last article for BENT I found myself talking to a friend online. Chris expressed concern about what had been going on in my life. He also confessed that he wanted a change, that our friendship, as an Internet friendship only, had gone on long enough. I had been chatting regularly with Chris for some time, as I do with many of my Internet friends. Those of us in the same situation, alone and disabled, find that being able to turn on the computer twenty-four hours a day to connect with friends makes almost everything easier to bear.

With Chris, though it was different. I had always felt an unusual kind of connection with him. It's true that we share the same kind of educational background, we both face the world alone, we've both built our friends into family, but it was more, even, than that. Although we are gay, I never though anything more than an Internet friendship was possible. I mean, please—he is my junior by many years, he's totally adorable, and he had never brought up any of the big disability questions that are so important in my life.

We simply talked. We talked about everything: life, work, fears, loneliness, all the mundane things, too, like shopping and commuting. Then, during one chat, he slippedto my advantage. When I mentioned three guys I had chatted with on the Net that I really wanted to meet in person, he asked why he was not one of them. My answer was straightforward and honest. I told him that I was looking for more than a friendship. I wanted a relationship, the kind that you take to the grave.

Even though I had been in a serious relationship, "long term," as we say, one that ended badly (OK, spectacularly badly), I had not given up hope. I was tired of going it alone, I told him. I wanted more in my life. I have a lot to offer, after all. I am a good guy, I work hard, I have been faced with some heavy obstacles, but I have grown from them. I was feeling it was time to commit. What I wanted most was to get past the fear, take the chance, the plunge, step up.

Well, Chris stepped up. Boy did he ever. This wonderful friend, it turned out, had kept his feelings from me till I was ready to hear them. Like me, he was afraid that revealing his feelings might risk our friendship. When we finally decided to talk, he had me at "hello." Even across the phone line, I could tell he was smiling. Smiling at me. A real talk, a real voice, was what I needed to hear. Blame my disability, blame the stroke, but it's difficult for me to convey my mood in an e-mail, especially if it's a good mood: it's hard to write happy.

Now, on a typical day, we talk at 6:30pm, at midnight, and again at 4:30am when I wake to a ringing phone (thanks to MCI, I don't have to freak out about my phone bill). We continue our e-mails, too, which have turned into the most incredible love letters, purely non-sexual in tone, but my best female friends melt when they have the opportunity to read them—or parts of them, at least. Chris has even spoken to my loyal friends Virginia and Jeremy (Jeremy, after what we've been through together, has been his over-protective self, but he has earned it, and Chris understands).

After surmounting the latest crises in my life, including more health woes and the possible loss of my home, it's hard to believe I have found a guy who wants to go forward with me, who will stand beside my wheels and deal with anything that comes our way.

Chris and I have completed all the necessary immigration papers in the United States and are waiting for a response from the bureaucrats on the other side. And by the way, for those of us who, because of disability, have dealt with that nightmare called the Social Security Administration, nothing compares to what used to be called INS and is now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Want to know if you can trust someone? Ask them to submit to scrutiny by our government.

I am Chris, a fair-skinned Indian from New Delhi. My search for someone special has made me go through a lot. I've known I was gay since I was an eight-year-old in love with his loving cousin a few years older. That love seemed natural then. It still does. But what about all of the traditional Indian family values I was raised with? Could I believe in them and still be true to myself?

Knowing I was different and believing I was fully human often became a struggle. I carried on with hope even after my breakup with a boyfriend who believed he could juggle his love for me and his commitment to his newly married wife. God for me did not exist and destiny was a term for the weak. I was more than ever determined to find love.

And then one fine day I saw a simple one-liner in my mail from a guy who mentioned reasons why I should not like him (his wheelchair, his age). Under this veil was the beautiful heart of a man who had loved and been betrayed and even so had never lost the hope of finding love. How did I feel when I received this mail? I felt good about compliments coming from a sensitive writer (just the way I am). Anything more was moonshine.

Well, not because he was in wheelchair. That, in fact, never troubled my mind. What did was the fact that he was a typical American who loads a guy with praise but never expects to meet him. Just Net chitter-chatter. It never interested me. Somehow his wheelchair was not a cause for alarm or pity. It is just one of the things he is living with. In fact it made me jealous of his courage, his will to love someone and take care of them. It melted my brain more than my heart, it brought tears to my eyes not for him but for my own inability to stand and say, "Hey I am here for you, I will take care of you. If you want to be my boyfriend, my partner for life I will stand by you. I was rocked.

I looked for excuses to tell myself that despite what he wrote he could not be a serious or committed person enough to be the love of my life. I was proved wrong so many times. Even now as I write the thought of his ability to love selflessly shivers my backbone. I love him not because he is so good, but because I cannot think of anyone else I can be in love with, no one who can say those words that make me feel restless all night.

Soon I will be with my love. I am looking forward to doing all I could not do when I was far away from him. I still wonder so many times, if it wasn't him could it be anyone else? And every time I think of it I go blank. Maybe there is no answer. It is him. He has always been waiting for me as I have always been searching for him.

©2004 T.J. Boothroyd and Chris Johnston

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BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2004