A continuous breeze floated through the open window on that mid-July night. It was 2005, and I was fourteen years old, sitting on my bedroom floor next to my only male friend. His name was Nick. He was a year older and half a foot taller than me, but had the same shaggy, brown hair I sported. We were a month away from our first day of high school, and at that point, had known each other for about two years.
We’d never spent time alone before, but on this warm summer evening, we found ourselves in such a situation. We had spent the evening with a mutual female friend, bouncing from my house to the nearby public park and back again. However, she left us to chase after a guy she was interested in, and we were left to spend the rest of the evening together–alone.
Nick and I were on friendly terms, but we never took the time to get to know each other. I dated an ex-girlfriend of his immediately after the two of them broke up, and within a month or so, I too pulled the plug. Neither of us ever mentioned it to the other, but we knew our attraction to each other was lurking somewhere under the surface.
Another piece of unspoken baggage was that the two of us were frequently persecuted and tormented by our male classmates. They frequently threw homophobic slurs our way, asking us who our boyfriends were and making harassing gestures behind our backs (and sometimes to our faces). Though neither of us had ever dated other guys or done anything to confirm these suspicions, we were among the “gay targets” of our class.
My classmates were right about me: I was, in fact, gay and desperately hiding in the closet. Living in a small, conservative town in rural North Dakota prevented me from feeling like I could even begin to think about being honest with others about my sexuality. I occasionally searched for gay-related websites on my family’s computer, but quickly erased any trace. I never spoke about any of this to another soul. Who could I really trust?
I often wondered about Nick, as well. Though he wasn’t what I had in mind when I imagined what I wanted a future boyfriend to look like, he wasn’t awful. He was funny and well-liked by our friends, and I felt comfortable around him. But there was no way I could ever bring it up. If I were wrong about him and outed myself to someone who didn’t have a similar secret to share, how could I know that mine would be kept safe?
That July evening, Nick and I returned to my bedroom and browsed the internet on my dad’s laptop. The conversation was light, noncommittal to any specific topic. Without completely realizing it, I started moving closer to him. Maybe it was the warmth of the summer air, or perhaps because it was just him and me alone in my bedroom together for the first time.
It started innocently enough, just a tiny scootch in his direction. I tested the waters carefully, only moving in small increments. Each time I moved, I watched him intently. Nick wouldn’t move when I did. In fact, he stayed right where he was.
I kept at it, and eventually, my hand was next to his. My heart raced, and my breath intensified. To my happy surprise, I noticed that his breath seemed to quicken as well. Then, I felt his hand move on top of mine.
We sat like that for what felt like an eternity, but it was probably only a minute— a very electrifying minute. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My hand was under his, and slowly, I turned it over. He responded positively and clasped my hand in his. Until then, I’d never experienced anything so passionate, so erotic, so intense. I kept my gaze on the computer screen, as did he. But slowly, we both started looking out of the corners of our eyes, getting a sense of whether the other was looking, too.
Eventually, my eyes found his. We both took turns looking down at our hands, which we began to move in stroking manners, caressing each other’s palms in a tender, loving way. Our heads turned to fully face one another. Nothing else in the universe mattered now. It felt like we were the last living souls on the planet, locked into this fiery, confusing, and exciting moment together.
I’m unsure who moved first, but our heads slowly moved toward each other. It wasn’t an instant lip-locking moment. We moved in slowly, hesitating. What if halfway there, one of us pulled back, laughing and chanting the similar phrases our classmates threw out at us daily? What if we were found out, shamed, and shunned for letting our guard down in this one moment? What if this wasn’t real?
Turns out, it was real. My lips met his, and my world was instantly filled with euphoria. Fireworks ignited somewhere in my brain; not the kid-friendly sparklers that are safe and just for fun, but the loud, high-in-the-sky ones that not only shimmer, but create the “fizzle” sound that can be heard for miles. Nothing could beat this feeling.
I’d kissed a girl or two in the past, most recently the same girl Nick and I both dated. And although that gave me some slight excitement, it meant nothing to me. I knew in those moments that those previous kisses were meaningless. They were for show, to prove to my classmates, the girl I was with, and, really, myself that I wasn’t actually gay. But none of that shame or deception mattered here at this moment; none of it was present.
This kiss was passionate, exciting, and completely real. Nick’s hand continued to stroke mine, and our free hands found each other’s faces. Time was relative. Seconds felt like eternity for the two of us, locked into this authentic, bewildering moment. We both finally found a place of safety where our guard could come down, and we could have something we genuinely wanted.
We shut the computer, turned off the lights, and moved to the bed. Bathed in moonlight, we continued kissing passionately, familiarizing ourselves with each other’s lips and tongues. We saw details in each other’s faces that previously went unnoticed, unable to be seen. No longer was this that “other guy” in our group of friends. Here, in my bed, was a place I could find shelter. This was a safe space to be my unhidden self. I think Nick felt that, too.
At some point, the excitement exhausted us both, and it became clear we weren’t prepared to break down every single barrier in one fell swoop. Neither one of us could quite believe what transpired between us just moments before. We were lost for words and couldn’t quite comprehend what it all meant. Were we really gay? Were we bisexual? Was this a one-time thing we’d never speak of again? Questions like these, that had no definitive answers, raced through my mind.
Uncertainty got the better of us, and a sense of embarrassment began to set in. We were so used to shutting off all those feelings, thoughts, and ideas that we couldn’t believe we allowed ourselves to go that far. Nick got out of my bed and found comfort on the sofa on the other side of my bedroom. I stayed put in the bed. Neither one of us spoke. Despite the tension in the air, sleep found us both quickly.
Throughout high school, Nick and I found opportunities to relive the ecstasy between us whenever and wherever we could. We found time before movies with friends, got together on early release afternoons from school, or found shelter in stolen moments when everyone else had left the room.
But time moved forward, and Nick and I lost touch somewhere along the line. He ended up marrying a wonderful woman, and they now have a few kids and a lovely life together. I went along my own path and found love, heartbreak, and, eventually, myself.
Since sharing hidden moments with Nick, I’ve kissed quite a handful of men. Many were just for fun and meaningless, while a select few of them meant something profound to my heart. Though the kisses I shared with Nick will go down in history as among those that meant relatively minor, I’ll never forget the first pair of lips that made me feel genuinely safe and unashamed to be my true self.
Ben Haynes is an elementary school teacher living in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the past decade, he has taught hundreds of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students in Arizona and North Dakota, where he was raised. Following various traumatic experiences in his life, Haynes now devotes his spare time to therapy, journaling, and inspiring others to do the same. Though this piece is his first published work, he has plans and aspirations to continue to produce and publish meaningful work to inspire a younger generation of LGBTQI+ to live authentically every day.