I was finished.
As I stood there returning the salute of the men that had my back for the past ten years, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I could not believe that my stint in the navy was over, nor could I believe that chances were I would never see half those men again in my life.
It was a bittersweet moment, for I was happy to be leaving because I could finally be myself. For a man to be gay in the Navy was a giant taboo, and I had managed to keep that side of my life private; but on the other hand, I was unhappy to be leaving because I loved my time there.
Slowly I walked from the USS Frankfurt and stood with my duffel bag in my hand just staring at the ship like a child seeing the giant carrier for the first time. It was magnificent.
My eyes burnt as the tears I had been fighting all month long threatened to fall. I stared at this ship that had been my home for so long and felt like a deserter. I felt as though I was abandoning it as soon as I learned there was more to life. But there was more to life. I fingered my hat in my hand, holding off putting it back on my head for as long as I could. I was paying my final respects to the Frankfurt; saying my farewells.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I stuck my hat back on and turned away from the ship, refusing to look over my shoulder as I walked away. I had to feel as though I was leaving it in my past or I would die from regret. It had to feel as though it was a decision I hadn’t pined over for a year and a half before making.
I was doing the right thing.
The bus leaving from where I disembarked to carry me back to the mainland was waiting, and soon I was sitting in the back seat, with my head down, fighting back the emotions that threatened to spill forth. I wanted to be left alone to wallow in my self-doubt, anger and uselessness. Maybe the other passengers felt the way I was feeling, for none of them walked over to ask how the navy was like they normally did. Sometimes a few guys would go as far as to tell me that the navy was for ‘pussies’ that couldn’t hack it in the Marines.
I remember the day I got sick and tired of hearing that. It wasn’t that I was mad that he said the navy was for pussies. I was mad because I felt he was calling me one. I had reared back, tightened my fist, and let him have it, right in the nose. My fist hurt like hell for days afterwards but it was worth it.
Now that it was all over, what was I going to do with my life? Had I even thought it through enough? Maybe I could move to New York like I’d always wanted and spend my days walking along Broadway, trying to pick up fashion tips from eccentric actors. If I wasn’t so depressed, I’d have chuckled at that, for most actors wouldn’t know a good fashion tip if it crawled up and bit them on the ass. During shore leave from the navy, while other sailors were out drinking themselves stupid and sleeping with everything that walked, I locked myself into a hotel room and drew. That was the thing that kept me sane but mostly I found myself drawing the same man; whenever I wasn’t doodling clothes.
I had known Michael Stamos ever since I was a baby. Our parents had insisted that we had play dates since they were best friends and Michael and I were born a day apart. Strange really, it was like we were meant to be friends; but I digress. Growing up, he always had my back no matter what stupid thing I had managed to get myself into. Take the time I accidentally blew up the science lab in high school. That had gotten me suspended, even though Michael had tried to take the blame. But he was the good kid at that time, and me? Well, let’s just say that once anything went wrong, the first person investigated was yours truly.
For years after, we had a good laugh over that, and laughed even harder when we remembered the time in eighth grade when I had the bright idea to superglue our music teacher Mr. Chester’s ass to his chair.
When he asked who did it, everyone looked at me. I tried to shrug it off but after a search, I was found with the irrefutable evidence; the tube of crazy glue. I got detention for a month and because Michael had laughed so hard he threw up, he got detention for a week. Even with our punishments, they were still good times.
“Last stop!” the driver’s voice called and I looked up to see the others leaving the bus. Picking up my duffel bag, I gave the driver a mock salute, which he happily returned. Most men who weren’t military loved feeling that they could be in the military if they wanted to be, and the salute was the simplest way to make them feel that way. I hopped from the bus, looking around.
It had been seven years since I last saw Michael. I’d been on shore leave in Halifax, Canada and he was there by accident on business. Some would call it kismet, ajnabee, coincidence; but whatever they called it, I was happy it happened. After that, on every shore leave, I kept my eyes open. At one point, I even called all the major hotels in the area to see if he was there, but he wasn’t. We spent a wonderful weekend together in Halifax, fishing, bowling, drinking ourselves silly. It was just like the good old times, before. After my parents found out that I was gay, they had disowned me. What else did I expect? They had expectations of me bringing home some beautiful girl and having sex with her in my bedroom so they could give me ‘the talk.’ They had their hearts set on grandkids and a large, white wedding. As their only child, I had all but taken that away from them.
It seemed that everything I did they believed was about them. My mother thought I was only being gay to spite her. “Yeah, mom,” I had called as I stormed up the stairs to pack my things. “I am going through being shunned by the whole world for being a pervert just to spite you.” As I was leaving my childhood home for the final time, I saw her tears and felt bad, but I wanted her to know that she had hurt me with her words and I wouldn’t be standing for it anymore.
The longer I looked around, the more depressed I got because I didn’t see him. That meant he hadn’t come to get me after all. Taking a deep breath, I slung my bag over my shoulder and began thinking of a plan B. I know, a really bad time to be thinking of a secondary plan when you are in the moment with plan A and nothing is happening. I was too excited to see him to think of anything but him. Another mistake I made that I shouldn’t have. Assuming that he would take time out of his busy schedule to come and pick up a friend he barely remembered, he probably had no clue what I looked like since the last time he saw me. My body had bulked up some; I’d packed on more muscles since the last time. I had even shaved off all my hair at sea. It was easier to manage than the corn-rows I tried to get each time I landed on an island shore. They were expensive to get done for one and hard to maintain at sea. I had done everything to avoid shaving my head, even dreadlocks; but my superior frowned on that one.
“Well hello, Commander,” the voice that I would recognize anywhere came from behind me. The smoothness of his voice sent delicious shivers down my aroused body and I bit back a moan. I tensed and slowly turned around to face him. He was just as sexy as I remembered with his green eyes and black hair. Michael Stamos had a bright smile on his face that caused his beautiful eyes to dance at me. I removed my hat and laughed, then walked into his arms. Wrapping my arms around him, I inhaled his scent before pressing my forehead against his shoulder.
“I know it’s hard,” he spoke as his arms circled me. “Giving up something you love. But now we have to find something for you to do. It’s good to see you, Bright.”
I laughed and pulled away from him reluctantly. “I know what you mean. It’s been way too long.”