When Max started working at the gas station, they put him on second shift with me. I had, of course, decided that he and I were not going to be friends. There were other things to do in the station besides running the cash registers; so, I stuck him on registers, and I began stocking coolers, organizing the back room, making sandwiches to stock the deli case, and anything else I could do to avoid standing next to him and having conversation. I probably worked harder when I was trying to avoid him than I did any of the other nights that I worked there. I’m not sure why either. I wasn’t out to any of the people who worked there, but I was still convinced somehow that he was going to come at me for being gay, tell me I was going to hell for drinking, and gasp in shock if my language went anywhere beyond G-rated. On second thought, I guess I do know why I avoided him.
As much as I tried to stay busy, there were times when there would be a long line and the counter, and I would need to come up and jump on the second register to help out. During one of the times that I rushed up to help, I noticed that there were some guys who weren’t leaving. They were apparently friends of Max. I almost began to walk back towards the coolers, but curiosity got the better of me. I busied myself with doing some stuff at the deli case so that I could hang around and listen. Max and his friends were talking about going back to a “campground” after he got off work. They had apparently stashed some alcohol and cigars back there earlier; so, that they could have them that night. I also got the impression that this was not the first time this had happened.
Well, this new information changed things a bit. First, I no longer cared if Max got into my business and tried to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. I had ammunition to use against him now. Second, I thought, “How typical.” Christians are always telling other people how to live and then doing whatever they want when no one is looking. My third thought was, “Hey. Maybe this guy and I can be friends.”
I went back to the coolers that night and finished up what I needed to do. When I came back up to the front, I began asking Max about his plans for that night. He seemed hesitant to share details at first, but he slowly opened up. The “campground” was apparently just a spot on a neighbor’s farm where they went sometimes to build a fire where they could drink, smoke, and just relax in general.
Over the next few nights that we worked together, Max and I talked more and more, and I began to reach the conclusion that I genuinely liked this guy, not in a romantic or sexual sort of way, but I just genuinely liked talking to him. Shortly thereafter, my parents were going out of town for a weekend, and I decided that I was going to ask Max if he wanted to come over one night after work.
Max, to my surprise, immediately agreed to come over. He said that he’d need to clear it with his parents. This caught me off guard slightly. While my parents drilled into me the importance of common courtesy and the decency of letting them know where I was going to be, they didn’t expect me to ask permission to go places. I was an adult now. So was Max. I decided to roll with it though.
Within a few hours, it was settled. Max was coming over, and we had made arrangements to secure some alcohol. There was just one catch. Before Max came over, his parents wanted to meet me. I didn't see the point. His parents had met me lots of times. They might not have known my name, but they both came into the station regularly. HIs mom was a very sweet lady and always very friendly when she came in. His dad, on the other hand, was always friendly, but he had a presence about him that I always found intimidating. He was a large Italian man that went by the moniker of Pastor Rob. He was almost always in a suit and wore long overcoats. He looked like someone who stepped out of one of the Godfather films. I was not looking forward to a conversation with him after which I was going to take his son to engage in activities that I knew he would not approve of. I tried to make every excuse that I could, but Max told me that this was the only way it would be able to work. He told me not to worry as if that phrase has ever been effective at relieving anyone's anxiety.
When we finally arrived at their house, Max went to his room to gather some things while I sat in their basement watching TV with his dad at completely separate ends of their large sectional couch. There we were, just me and Pastor Rob and all the distance and awkward silence (other than the TV) between us. I know he eventually spoke first. I know that he asked me some questions. I know that I provided some answers. I can’t, for the life of me, recall a single detail of that exchange now. It worked though. I can either conclude that he somehow approved of my answers or he knew full well what was going on and was allowing his son to make his own choices, or mistakes. As I would get to know Paster Rob very well later, I’d lean towards the latter.
Max and I spent the night back at my parents’ house in the pool and drinking beers. We just talked until both of us were tired and ready to call it a night. I remember, after having a few beers, contemplating whether or not he could be enticed to engage in any kind of sexual activity. I figured, even if he was straight, he’d probably be okay with me taking care of him, but something stopped me. At the time, I would have described it as a spiritual barrier, and I’m not so sure I wouldn’t still describe it that way now. Of course, I’m also open to it just being the voice of conscience, fear of being humiliated, or fear of Pastor Rob, but I’m also not completely willing to dismiss a spiritual element. To be clear, I don’t, of course, believe that there is a spiritual barrier to being homosexual, but I do believe that, possibly, that action in that place and that time with that person might have been something that I experienced a spiritual resistance to. Ultimately, Max got placed firmly in the friend category, and, if you remember from what I wrote about my high school days, once I placed you in a category, you stayed there.
© Joshua Culbertson 2014
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