I tend to touch people as I talk, offer encouragement if the moment calls for it, or laugh at jokes. I like to laugh. A co-worker once told me that I was too happy, that I smiled too much. Smiled too much? How odd. He was strange. It wasn’t as if I was smiling at another place and time, oblivious to what was going on around me. Having a good attitude at work, in spite of the presence of quite a few non-smiling people, was definitely a good thing. No doubt about it. My former co-worker was the one with the problem. He rarely smiled. His soul stood slouched against the wall of time, waiting for age, old resentments and what he saw as endless disappointments to finally bring the weight of the world down upon him -- but the woman in the restaurant beaming at me years ago was in a great mood.
She was having a wonderful time, telling stories, laughing at my jokes and touching my arm now and then as she did so. She communicated like I do yet… there was something else. It took a few moments for me to become aware of the fact that I was the object of flirtation. I have several gay friends whom I know struggled with identity during their youth; but a woman was flirting with me! This was new.
Then it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t new. Maybe it was the first time I had become aware of a woman flirting with me rather than simply being friendly. I still do not know what it was that made me realize she was in more than an affable mood, but I remember I was flattered that another human being thought I was attractive in some way.
The realization of the woman’s interest in me resulted in a brief interruption in the flow of conversation, I think because a part of me did not know if she thought I was a lesbian, if I should say something about my being not only heterosexual but attached – or if there was a need to communicate my realization at all.
Before I could spend too much time pondering, I slipped back into simply enjoying the conversation with a very funny, intelligent woman. When I thought about it later, my response felt natural and right. Eventually Deborah and I became good friends. She shared with me her journey, including the dark areas where she was judged and ridiculed. I was thrilled when she found love.
Since first meeting Deborah at that restaurant, I have been aware when a few other women have been interested in me. I feel like the awareness has expended my understanding of the universe.
Deborah, who died of leukemia a few years ago, taught me a lot. She taught me more than what it was like for her to come out as a lesbian. What I learned from her went beyond everything that accepting and announcing who she was entailed, beyond the experience of raising her two wonderful children who went on to marry and give her grandchildren. Deborah instilled in me more faith that people are capable of living beyond the taunts often first heard in the schoolyard, and that co-workers and neighbors can learn that good people are just that.
The thought makes me smile. Too much? I think not.