It was ten years ago this month before I first told anyone I'm gay.
I was a junior in college. By the time I had finished high school my gay closet was pretty well built. Piano playing, girlfriends, nights I cried out to God - each shelf in that closet stored a different piece of my life. In college, the panic attacks became so severe that I'd chase down sleeping pills with shots of vodka.
I eventually dropped out and became a youth minister. I spent that time reading books on how to not be gay, and, I prayed a lot. But my best efforts were doing nothing to make me straight. So I went back to school and there I met my first boyfriend. What I had once thought to be a perversion was now being lived out as a loving connection between two individuals. The fact we both were male, had little to do with it.
When I was ready to tell someone, I went to see a professor of mine. It must have taken a good half hour before anything came out. Then, one by one, I began to remove those dusty items from their shelves. Betsy Ervin wrapped her arms around me, and held me there as if she knew that stepping outside of her office would mean stepping into a world where many didn't feel the way she did.
In the years that followed, Betsy and I became friends. When I moved from North Carolina to New York City, we lost touch. Around her birthday two years ago, I called a mutual friend to see if he had Betsy's phone number. He told me that Betsy was battling breast cancer, and would love to hear from me. Before I got around to it, I received an e-mail from that same friend telling me that Betsy had passed away. She was just forty three.