By Mike McCareins
Crossing the ocean that Sunday in early December was like crossing into a new life. A life where my most important secret for over 21 years would now be out there – no going back.
I was on the train returning from a weekend exploring Copenhagen, Denmark, back to Aarhus, Denmark, where I was spending the fall 2017 semester studying abroad at Aarhus University. It was nearly midnight, the last train to town, and there were only a few other people in my train car. I felt more alone than maybe ever in the pitch-black night, zooming through rural Denmark. But I didn’t feel lonely.
Late at night, my usually carefree attitude often shifts to an emotional, more serious state of mind. Not necessarily in a bad way – I just think more about things at night. I think about life, and the important things about it. I can tell when I’m in that mood, because my love for rap music is pushed to the side and I’ll start listening to soft indie music. That night was no different, only I began thinking about perhaps the most important thing at that moment.
As we crossed the Great Belt Bridge, which connects the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen over a strait in the Atlantic Ocean, I pulled out my phone and starting drafting a message. “I know we joke about stuff a lot, but I’m being 100% dead serious. I promise I’m not playing right now.” Copy, pasted, sent to six of my most important friends at OU. Followed up by another, much shorter text, where I told them my secret.
My family already knew. After a night out in Brussels in mid-August – albeit with an assist from alcohol – I had the courage to tell my sister over the phone. The next day I gave her the thumbs up to tell my parents. But for some reason I had always been more nervous when it came to thinking of telling my friends.
Now, those six friends, a mix of rich and poor, liberal and conservative, religious and irreligious, all knew.
It was time to trust my friends and trust myself that I’d surrounded myself with accepting, open-minded people. Despite being nearly 5000 miles apart, I felt as close to those people as I ever had.
Regardless, I could feel sweat dripping down my sides. I was so overcome with nerves that I turned off notifications on my phone and sat there for five minutes listening to my Indie music, peacefully looking out the tinted window as we had crossed the bridge and were now on land. All I could think about was what they were thinking about. If they already knew. If how they thought about me would change. If my friendships forged with them the past three-plus years would be affected in any way.
Minutes past, and I summoned the courage to check my phone. Eventually, the replies began to roll in.
I went six for six.
I was infused and overcome with appreciation – eventually even feeling somewhat regretful. Could I have told them sooner in my college career? Probably, but ultimately, I told them there and then, and it felt natural. We all have those random moments throughout our lives that we look back on and remember. That was one of those moments for me. No matter where my relationship goes with those six people, they will always hold a special place in my heart.
My dorm was about a 15-minute walk from the train station in Aarhus. I vividly remember walking back in the wee hours of that Monday morning, seeing more rats (one) than humans (zero) the entire walk home. No noise, very few lights – just my music and my thoughts. I remember listening to, “Fallss,” by ‘Bayonne’. It was the same song I’d listened to months prior during a drive back to my hometown, Chicago, from Memphis in May. That day, the tranquility and feel-good vibe the song provided while cruising in rural Arkansas along the Mississippi River came at the same time I’d really accepted the person I was, and been OK with it.
It took me dozens of more listens to that song to understand the lyrics of the faint chorus. “Find the words I need to see – I can feel my fever start to break. Taking time to hesitate – I know the season’s about to change.” It’s like that song was written for me – for my circumstance.
It was as if the train reaching its destination was a change of seasons in my life. Not because anything physically changed around me, but it was day one of me being truly honest in every sense of the word.
That cold, damp December night in Denmark, my friends accepted the person I was, and they were OK with it – with me.
I don’t like to say my friends found out who I was, because as cliché as it is I don’t think it defines you. I do think my friends found out a very important part of me. A part that I believe is important because it’s a real-life example of, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
It’s tough to hide my immense passion for sports and rap music around classmates, co-workers, family and friends. However, I value the aspect of me that might surprise people.
Now, since that three-hour train ride, I’m just as OK letting people know I have a 59-hour-long rap playlist as I am with letting people know that I’m gay.