I have loved writing since I can remember – always.
Consistently there has been something enticing to me about putting pen to paper, eagerly seeking (and earnestly hoping) to capture the nuances of life through words, descriptions, and stories of all kinds – amusing, difficult, mysterious, complicated, sweet, painful, hopeful, and joyful, just to name a few. Life is these things, and words can be both not enough and more than enough, and it is fun, frankly, to play with that reality.
From the beginning of my childhood, and still until now, I journal regularly.
Some people hold onto collections of stamps, coins, or baseball cards like they are the true gold standard in our world. Others have difficulties in letting go of sentimental birthday cards. For me, it has always been those damn journals. Recently, I was packing belongings to move to a new place in Denver and decided that I had to fit all the notebooks, planners, and decorative journals into one (yes, one) box. I did it – but it was not easy. When you have over 30 notepads of thoughts, dreams, and reflections, packing becomes slightly more complicated.
Because of this persistent affinity for writing, I chose to take a journalism course while in my first year of high school. It was a dream; I learned about different types of reporting, writing styles, and ways in which to conduct interviews. Following my time in this class, I was tempted to join the newspaper club, but instead, opted for yearbook. I began the following year as a staffer and bopped around the school, taking photographs, carefully placing them in lay-outs, and writing unique, engaging captions.
Yearbook was full of lively, energetic, and interesting people. As an athlete, I knew a great deal of the football, soccer, and field hockey communities, but when I joined yearbook, I experienced a deep-dive into the circles and groups of people that worked behind the scenes to share what was happening within our high school community at-large. I made new friends, and I liked it.
One of my new friends was Chelsea.
Chelsea was Editor-in-Chief when I joined the club, meaning that she was overseeing and managing both the staffers and editorial team, ensuring that our content was high-quality and “on-theme.” Most yearbooks have a “theme” (typically chosen at the previous summer’s Yearbook Camp – yes that’s real – for the following year).
I liked Chelsea from the start; she had an infectious laugh, a strong drive to do impeccable work, and an approachable attitude for when I – or others – had questions. By the time I was a junior, and she a senior, I was also on the Editor team, with the role of Copy Editor. This meant we had long nights in the yearbook room when deadlines were looming, and more regular meetings together to ensure the copy of the yearbook matched the photographs and overall story of Grandview, our high school.
A year ahead when I was a junior, Chelsea graduated Grandview High School in 2006 and prepared to leave for college – but not before I could write in her own yearbook, per standard high school tradition.
We found this book recently, amidst old dust and faded boxes, with intrigue about what I might have possibly written inside.
You see, last summer, Chelsea and I re-connected in the most unexpected and surprising of ways, after over eight years without any regular, consistent communication. With yearbook behind us and a lot of life lived, we remained “Facebook friends” but not meaningfully connected, considering we were both roaming around the Denver area.
Our lack of connection changed only because of a happenstance conversation with my roommate. On a breezy, mid-summer evening last year, we headed to the movie theatre to see “Me Before You.” We had each read the book and cried (okay, sobbed) and wanted to see the movie so we could assess the adaptation. On the drive to the theatre, we had what would be a life-changing conversation.
Casually, she probed, “So, Heather, what’s going on with you? You haven’t mentioned anyone special in your life? Are you dating anyone?”
My stomach tightened.
Sweat began to trace along the hairs of my neck.
I swallowed hard and hoped that my voice wouldn’t be too shaky.
I knew I was gay. I was ready to be out. But, I was also excruciatingly scared. Still, I knew that I needed “practice” if I was going to start living out my truth and being 100% authentic with the people I knew. My roommate was a safe person, so I decided to take a risk and speak honestly.
I said the quickest of prayers, hoping this wouldn’t wreak havoc.
“You know, actually I am not dating anyone right now. The thing is, I want to date a woman…and as you know, I’m a Christian…and I’m just now sure I can find anyone who is both – gay and Christian.”
“Oh! You should meet my friend! I mean…not like a set-up or anything…but as a mentor and a person to talk to. She came out late last year and has continued a journey of reconciling and integrating her identity as a gay woman and her faith. You all should meet up. I’ll connect you.”
Oh. Well. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
I smiled, taking a deep breath, grateful that I could trust myself – and God – to be open and share. And hey, who knows! A new friend. I could always use one of those.
We saw the movie and went home and everything was fine.
Until, a few days later when everything was not fine.
It was…well, it was insane.
When speaking with my roommate again, I found out that her friend was Chelsea. As in yearbook Chelsea! I was speechless, flabbergasted, and amused. Just in the previous weeks, I had seen a photograph of Chelsea at her brother’s wedding and decided to look at her profile like any respectable Millennial. Immediately, I was impressed with the fact that she was open, out, and public with her sexuality. I admired that, perhaps because that was what I so deeply wanted, too.
We laughed, and I knew then, that yes! I wanted to see Chelsea. An old friend, I wanted to reengage, learn from her experiences, and understand more about how I could simultaneously move closer to God – and to my own authenticity. I was excited; Chelsea and I exchanged a few messages and we planned a coffee meet-up for a few days after at one of my favorite places – Purple Door Coffee.
We did have that coffee date, and then we had another one, and another one after that, and soon, walks in the park with ice cream. Things unfolded both slowly and quickly, and I found myself intrigued, enthused, and terrified by the way that I felt. I was beginning to like her – yes, Chelsea – my yearbook friend. The crazy thing was (and is) that re-learning about a person almost a decade later is like learning about a new person entirely. We aren’t the same people anymore. We changed, experienced more of life, had joys, had pain, and certainly, had a lot to talk about.
I had intended our coffee connection to re-ignite our friendship. I did not expect to fall in love. But, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.
This of course, coincided with years of previous work I had been doing to exist in the difficult space of unpacking my identity as gay Christian woman. I have known I was gay for a long time. For much of that, I didn’t have the words to articulate. For some of that, I didn’t have the time to process. Sadly, for a great deal of that, I was hidden, ashamed of who I was, scared of what it might mean. I tried “praying the gay away” – I did that for at least two years of my life. But, in 2016, before I met Chelsea, I finally was giving myself to God, asking who He wanted me to be. I was committed to authenticity and love, largely from what I was seeing in the world around me; the Pulse shooting happened, and suddenly, I knew that my hiding was over. Enough was enough.
Most of all, I didn’t want to live my life holding back, shielding the “real me” for the rest of my life. That is hardly living; in many ways, that’s an active kind of death – and I was not interested.
So, Chelsea and I get together, we date, we talk, and we begin to grow – together.
Which brings me back to the boxes and of course, that old high school yearbook.
We have been packing for the last two weeks because we are moving into a new apartment – together – in the Lowry area of Denver, just about a half-mile from the first house I ever lived in, right after I was born. That’s kind of beautiful, I think. When we dug through some old items in Chelsea’s boxes, we found the yearbook, and we found what I wrote (which, warning, is slightly embarrassing, largely because of the strange vocabulary that I thought was acceptable in 2006) –
Where do I begin? You have made YBK everything and more for me! You’re such an amazing leader and a fantastic editor in chief. You always made me smile and your laugh kicks booty.
You’re gonna kick butt in college and wow! You’re gonna work with babies someday! I’ll call you when I’m pregnant! I love you so much!
Have fun in Oklahoma…when I’m visiting my grandpa (he lives in Hooker), I’ll call you so we can hang out. Good luck and we will miss you.
Visit tons! We should hang!
Yes, I loved writing, and reading these few sentences might be my most cringe-worthy pieces I have ever put to paper. I mean, “booty”…really?
But my, how we laughed when we found this.
How wonderfully, ironically, perfect.
Perhaps we do not always know what our words can do or where they will take us, but sometimes, they come back and make us laugh, cry, joyful, and nostalgic. I still can’t believe that my story – our story – has played out like this. I still cannot believe that all of this, this part of my story, is real. I’m happy, honest, and most importantly, truly, authentically alive.
I’m only here because I chose truth over lie. I’m only here because I chose life over death. I’m only here because I, in the core of my being, knew that I could trust God’s love enough to be gay.
I’m here, and my writing is proof of it. Even in small scratches of words in yearbook. It’s all with us, it all reminds us, and it all moves us forward as we exist in the tensions of who we were and who we are, and who we will grow to be.