I could not tell you their names. They were my neighbors. I mean my gay neighbors. That was important to this newly married seminary student ready to discover all things spiritual. At first I was shocked. There are gay couples in the world? After all this was in the early 1980s, long before gay was cool. I realized God had moved me into this apartment for a reason. My purpose was to show these men the true blessings of heterosexuality and let them see this little light of mine.
Of course this project would have to be done in my spare time as my studies and prayers came first. It pleased me when I realized the walls were thin enough to hear through. This meant every time I made love to my new wife they would hear the bliss that is heterosexuality. Of course I did not realize that would also mean I would hear the bliss that is homosexuality. Strangely some of the sounds were very similar. But of course this only meant that I had to coax my wife into more vigorous and vocal sex. After all the reputation of heterosexuals was at stake. I found that explaining this to my wife was not an aphrodisiac.
I also decided to add to the bliss that was heterosexual sex; I had to give witness that I was happier than they were. So every time I would see them on the landing I presented my biggest smile and proclaimed in typical Oklahoma musical style what a glorious day it was. This may have seemed odd to them when my new wife and I were fresh from a heated discussion which I am sure they could hear through the walls. And I was now on the landing because my wife had locked me out of the house. But I am sure they were amazed at how happy I could be even in adversity. Oh what a beautiful morning!
They were hard to beat in their willingness to help others. Although this should be the true Christian’s calling card. They had some kind of gay thing going on with the downstairs neighbor. She was an elderly woman who lived by herself. They checked in on her and went shopping for her and often brought her meals. I do not know what they saw in her. She was a nuisance to me. She was always stopping me to talk on my way out or in. I was trying to go to my seminary classes to learn about Christianity so I could help change the world, and there she would be saying hi and wanting conversation. And she could talk. If she stopped me, I could be there at least five minutes. So I developed the habit of peeking out my door and seeing if she was visible and if she was, I waited until she went back into her apartment and then I would run down the stairs as fast as I could to get to my class. This practice could sometimes make me late for school. But she was a tricky one; she would sometimes go back in her apartment and immediately come back out and there I would be stuck talking with her, or rather, listening to her. And she knew me; being the good Christian I would be compelled to stop and talk with her.
The couple next door…. To call them gay seems so old fashioned. I am experienced now. I was surprised to learn one of them had been married before and had a child. And that child would come visit them. I always thought, “poor child” but years later she would be in the daycare where I worked to help pay the bills, and I found she was a unique and beautiful child. I know what it means to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, I saw this young child do it.
Trying to be better than my neighbors was hard when they would frequently knock on our door; I would answer and they would have fresh baked pie or cookies to share. They were nice. Too nice; I wondered if in some kind of wicked gay agenda they were competing with me. This thought disturbed me because they seemed better at the game than I was. But that was only because I was so consumed with studying to be a spiritual leader; after I graduated I would have more time to be nicer and defeat their gay agenda.
One day they knocked on my door and asked me to do them a favor. At last an opportunity to show them who was the boss of niceness. I had never had to knock on their door to ask them for a favor. Well, there was once when I needed a ride or I would be late for class. I laughed inside as they drove to the campus they were probably the first gay people to ever set foot there. But now here they were on my doorstep asking me for a favor and I would of course say yes and show them my natural Christian benevolence. But God was testing me. They were going out of town for two weeks and wanted to know if I could check in on the dreaded elderly neighbor downstairs. What a wicked gay agenda plot they knew my Christian charity would compel me to say yes. Agree. They gave me the key to her apartment. She trusted them with a key! Here I was the good Christian and she gave them a key! Go figure.
The first week I was diligent to do my Christian duty to my elderly neighbor; I stopped by every day. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. She was nice and thankful, although she kept telling me about the nice dinners the boys (that was what she called them) brought her. She made me uncomfortable because I think she was hinting for me to bring her some food. The second week I was busy with God’s work. It was finals and I wanted to be sure the professors knew how spiritual and wise I was becoming.
The long week passed and I was having my after-dinner prayer and scripture time. Then I heard the boys come home. I heard a girly scream and patter of feet. I shook my head thinking, “Man, they are so gay.” I heard a knock on the door and there was one of my neighbors all stressed out and overwrought with emotions, just like a girl. He looked at me and asked when I had last seen our elderly neighbor? I thought and realized to my chagrin I had forgotten all about her for the last few days. And then with tears down his cheeks he said, “She is dead.” They had called an ambulance and asked me if I could I stay by her door while they phoned and notified her family. I said yes. I walked downstairs. Her door was open. I stepped inside and there was her body by the coffee table. She looked as though she had fallen, hit her head, and had been dead for at least a couple of days. I had failed the niceness test.
There I stood at the woman’s door helpless. I realized my neighbors were calling her closest of kin and arranging her affairs. I was the guardian of the door. They met the medics and told them where the body was to be taken answered the police’s question. I watched feeling guilty and not knowing whether to stay or go. Finally one of them approached me and could see the shame on my face and said, ‘She was old and her time came no one is to blame.” He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a thought, “He would make a good minister, too bad he was gay.”
That evening after everything had calmed down. I had a quiet dinner with my wife. I was not my usual enlightened self, regaling her with some new truths I had learned in class. After dinner as was my habit I retired to our second bedroom which we had converted into a study and prayer room for me. I sat down in my chair numb, to the world about me. I did not feel like praying so I picked up the Bible and read the liturgical reading for the day. The gospel reading was Luke and it was the story of the Good Samaritan. The one where the outcast Samaritan takes care of the beaten stranger after all the good religious folk passed him by. The story that ends with Jesus asking, “Who was the good neighbor?” I wept.