I sent the text message signaling my arrival and anxiously looked around in every direction of the snowy parking lot, waiting for her to appear. I could only hear the sound of my rapid heartbeat. After driving over 300 miles, almost half the trip on a spare because my tire blew out near Ann Arbor, I now found myself parked at the top of a two-story parking garage of an Ohio apartment complex. The tall, sodium vapor lights gave the snow-covered lot a surreal, warm glow and for a few moments I quietly watched the flurries from inside my car. The sound of distant footsteps crunching in the snow came from the right and I quickly turned to look out the passenger window. There she was, making her way through the orange snow. I took a deep breath, opened the car door, and stood up. She froze and her eyes followed me as I walked towards her in the middle of the parking lot where we embraced for the first time.
“It’s really you,” she whispered as the orange snowflakes gently fell around us.
As happy as I was in that moment, I was also terrified. I felt guilty. I felt pain. At that point in her life she had a boy’s name—she looked like a boy, dressed like a boy, and she even called herself my boyfriend. I felt all this fear because I believed the community in which I was raised would never approve of the love we shared. I felt the need to lie about where I was going and with whom I was meeting because of the fear of what would happen if those close to me knew what I have known since I was very young.
I like girls, but I like boys, too. For a long time I could barely understand it so I thought there was no way anyone that knew me could understand it either. This resulted in secret road trips like this one, secret plane rides, hotel rooms paid in cash, late night conversations whispered under a blanket; I didn’t feel safe expressing my love to another man in my community and so I felt forced to look elsewhere. These journeys are still unknown to many people that know me, but they have become a part of who I am.
I wouldn’t say I’m proud of these journeys, but I also wouldn’t say I’m ashamed. They taught me what love is and what love isn’t. They gave me experiences and memories that I will never forget, as well as ones I wish I could. These journeys helped me become who I am today and taught me the value of travelling and shared experiences. I am glad I tried new things even if they terrified me; I got to experience new cultures and visit places I had only read about. These journeys have brought me to where I stand before you now and I realize I don’t need to travel to find love anymore. I travel for the journey and the experiences, not for who is waiting at the destination.