When the Russians Came

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Ok friends. We are going to span this chapter over several seasons, but let’s start shortly after I was stationed as an Air Force troop near Salt Lake City, UT. I was 21 when my world fell apart and forever changed the way I viewed and judged everyone around me. Let’s do this.

I was stationed at this base from at 20 years old until I got out. This was me:

269663_2059744406898_1502543_nThis particular picture happens to be smiley, as I was for almost every photo, but I had some major anger problems. My duty section treated me poorly (and I was equally horrible back) and I fought feelings of resentment towards the other troops. They were my age, yet untarnished, not yet traumatized and horrifically naive. It wasn’t that I hated them; I was embittered that somehow I hadn’t had the same life. Not long after arriving at the base, I quickly became aware that I was drawing attention from a lot of guys. I had never dated anyone, being too absorbed with trying to stay alive, and I realized that in my new, safe life, it was something I could try out.

When I say that I was getting a lot of attention from the guys, it’s not to flatter myself. Female troops were few as it was, but in my career section (munitions) we were a critically endangered species. At first when guys started asking me to spend time with them I had simply assumed it was platonic, as my options were incredibly limited. I was usually wrong. Let’s start with Max.

Max was a mousy, very short kid. He talked a lot and I was immediately annoyed by him. He did seem to have a sweet side, so when he knocked on my dormitory room door, I let him in. He wanted to watch a movie and I agreed. As I walked past him to use my restroom, he slapped me on the butt. I was unsure as to what to do so I ignored it. I conveniently ‘lost WiFi connection’ and walked him out of my room. Later that week I was selecting my dinner at the chow hall and Max entered. Pretending to be an MTI (drill sergeant), he got in my face, shouting jokingly, then slapped me on the butt again. Instead of eating in the chow hall as planned, I took my meal to go and dodged back to the dorms. I knew how to handle these situations on the streets, but obviously I couldn’t stab anyone here. I didn’t know how to get rid of him in this new world with new rules. The next day when I left the dorms for dinner, I drove. Looking in my rear-view mirror, I saw Max’s truck. This punk was following me to the chow hall! I skipped dinner and called my shop chief for help. The next day my First Sergeant had hunted him down, put the fear of God in him and established a restraining order. Max, however, lost his fear after a couple months. Dressing up in a giant wolf costume, he would frequent the same clubs as I did. In just a couple months I had learned quite a bit, punching him in the wolf face and letting it roll off, exposing his head. Eyes wide in fear, Max fled. I never saw him again.

Then there was Kade. This kid was also a new troop. He had a cute face framed by his blond military cut and blue eyes. He was tall and moved with lazy confidence. He actually asked me on a real date. I was excited until the date turned out to be a bro-show: Jackass 3. I slept through most of it while he laughed. We went to a cornfield (This was October) afterwards and I stuck with him through the maze. He spoke ill of the military but there was something I felt like I had in common with him. I was struggling to figure it out when he named it. Kade was using drugs like I had just in the last year. When we parted ways that night I was deeply unsettled. Drugs were more than a cardinal sin in the military, and I grew angry. The Air Force had saved my life from them and it was a place where I could pretend they never existed. Kade shattered that safety net. Another call the the chief, another meeting with the First Sergeant and soon Kade was gone.

Josh was educated at least. We worked very closely with each other on the flight line so when I started spending time with him, I felt relieved. He was older and even though he was nervous and awkward, I enjoyed his sense of harmlessness. One night a group of us went to a local fun center, playing laser tag, bowling and getting stuck on the go-cart course as the staff left for a smoke break. I had a blast! We took dozens of pictures with my little camera and laughed all night. I wasn’t really interested in actually dating Josh, but I wanted to be. The next morning I realized I’d left my camera at the fun center. With my Jeep in the shop, I asked Josh for a ride. We cruised down the freeway chatting happily and I was able to reclaim my camera easily when we arrived. As we were getting on the freeway ramp to head back to base, he spoke:

Josh: Skye, you’re fun, smart, pretty and so tough! I’ve been thinking-

Me: Well you’re a spiffy guy yourself. We all had a lot of fun last ni-

Josh: SKYEWILLYOUBEMYGILRFRIEND?!?!

I barked an uncomfortable laugh. He had spit everything out all in one shouted word, but I didn’t know how to gently let him down or ask for more time. Before I could say another word, he seized my face, squishing it into a guppy face and shoved his lips into mine. I sat there, shocked. We were on the freeway. I couldn’t jump out. For the rest of the ride I didn’t say a word or look at him. As soon as we were back on the base I got out of his Jeep at a red light and walked back into the dorms. At this point my chief had given me the First Sergeant’s number so I gave him a quick call. He was exasperated and promised to handle it. For years, Josh would send me long, borderline psychotic messages, which I would ignore. I knew he was stalking me from afar, but I paid him no attention. This was not the last time I had to deal with Josh.

I went on easily over a hundred first (and last) dates over the course of the year. I was looking for a guy I would be attracted to with no success whatsoever. Some of them were actually pretty handsome; until they began to speak. After some time and many drinks, I was texting with a Senior Airman in my own shop, Brett. Brett was sarcastic and quick witted, but cute and silly at the time time. He had a nice build. He asked me on a date and I said yes. While in his apartment watching movies, I asked for his WiFi password. Barneyskids, he said. As I logged in, perusing funny videos, he leaned in and told me how cute my young face was. It was time to go. I wasn’t ready to kiss him or do anything. He wanted me to spend the night and ‘just cuddle’ but I stammered some really lame excuse and insisted I go home. We packed into his massive, double stacked red truck and left. Idling in the parking lot of the dorms, he leaned in for a kiss. I turned my face and blocked him into a hug. He whispered his request in my ear and I sighed. I told him I needed more time.

The following Monday I was chatting with a fellow female munitions troop in the shop next to mine and quietly told her I’d been on a date with Brett. Her eyes grew wide and she seized my wrist, dragging me into the bathroom. She spun me around to face her with fear and urgency in her eyes.

Me: Holy cow. I just told you I went on a date. We didn’t do anything; if you like him then he’s all yours.

Troop: We DID date and then I realized something. Galvas, he has a secret.

Me: Well, if it’s so important then what is it?

She paused, her face smothered in a torn expression. She didn’t want to say. I couldn’t tell if it was because she wanted to protect him or if she was actually concerned for me. Turns out, it was both.

Troop: Did you happen to see his bedroom? Or did you hear his WiFi network and password?

I vaguely recalled Barneyskids was his password. Straining my memory, I remembered his network name was NeverEverland. What was she getting at?

Me: I didn’t see his room. He wanted to cuddle and I made him take me home-

It clicked. Pulling little details from everything I had learned about him in working side by side with him, the truth slid in front of my mind’s eye. I blinked but it stayed put.

Yup. Brett was a pedophile.

After that, I asked him if we could stay friends. I kept him at a distance as I continued my disastrous foray into finding a guy.

I went on so many dates that year that around October, when yet another guy took me out to the nearby Red Lobster, the waitress gave me a disdainful look and asked me if I wanted to get ‘the usual’. No matter how much I tried, I just didn’t feel the draw to anyone I dated. I’d even met a few decent guys. Straining, coaxing and cajoling my mind wasn’t getting me anywhere in being attracted to any of them. I decided that my relationship with my father as well as some of the later traumas I have been through had damaged me; I became convinced that once I worked through my ‘daddy issues’ I would be all set to date a gentlemanly stud with full engagement.

January rolled around and I had given up on dating, focusing instead on trying to staunch the rage that flowed through every word and glance I gave others. I was taking inventory in a shed one day and a black truck rolled to a stop at the entrance. A petite Senior Airman dropped her window to lean out and swipe her access badge, granting her entry into the main bomb center. She looked at me and I stared back, curious. I hadn’t seen her in my unit before. I could see on her uniform that her name was Dunn.

Me: Hey are you ammo?

Dunn: Uh yeah. I work in inspections.

Me: When did you get here? I haven’t seen you before.

Dunn: I got back from Egypt two weeks ago. Wait, you’re Airman Galvas?

My reputation for being violently hostile and constantly angry apparently preceded me.

Me: That’s me. Nice to meet you Dunn.

She smiled warmly. Wow. She was really nice. I immediately wanted to be her friend. The security gate swung open and she drove on. I resumed my inventory work. Upon finishing my counts, I returned to the office where the rest of the troops from my section were lounging around. I mentioned that I had met Dunn and one of the supervisors laughed, saying she was ‘the hottest, strongest dyke ever.’ I was surprised and very deflated to learn that she was gay; I wasn’t a fan of them. My upbringing had taught me that gays were just normal people who decided to do perverted things and I wanted nothing to do with perverts. I decided to stay far away from Dunn.

The next week we had a slightly unusual event: The Russians were coming to look at our munitions. Under the terms of the Star treaty with them, they are permitted to come with very little notice to inspect military installation arsenals. Strangely enough though, troops are also posted up to guard entry to certain areas. Being a low ranking airman, I received such a post. I sat in a bobtail (towing vehicle) trying to keep warm for hours. To my surprise, the passenger door swung open and Dunn climbed in.

Dunn: The chief told me to post up with you while the Russians are here.

Me: Why you?

I couldn’t hide my surprise. She said she had no idea why, but that everyone was giggling. I noticed she had a sweet, gullible side to her. Even if she didn’t know why, I did. Everyone knew I was homophobic; this must have been a hilarious opportunity for them. I sat as close to my door as possible. After long silences, there really was nothing to do but start chatting. If I hadn’t known she was gay, I thought, we could have been good friends. She was sweet, played tough, was incredibly honest and had a fantastic smile. By the end of the duty day, I was intensely annoyed. I thought she was great; why did she have to be such a pervert? It was hard to not enjoy her company but I was determined.

The week sprinted by. We talked about everything. Eventually I decided I would just pretend to myself that she was just a normal straight person. Not long after that decision, she destroyed my chances at pretending she wasn’t gay. She told me about her religious family and the pain she felt at being judged when she came out. Heck, she even wiped a tear away. Agh, I thought. I wondered why she just didn’t stop being gay. I had no idea how to respond. Her words were so honest and her pain was tangible; I changed the topic.

Our last day posted up in the bobtail was a completely different scene than the first; we huddled together in the center of the truck seat to keep warm in the January winter, talking about everything. She was telling me all about her trip to Egypt and I listened, enraptured. She was talking, but I didn’t hear. She was smiling but I saw her mouth instead of her eyes. For a split second, I had a terrible urge to kiss those lips. I threw myself back, shocked and disgusted with myself. What the heck was wrong with me? Was this what perverts did to people? How could I be so frustrated in my dating life that I would stoop as low as to want to kiss another girl?

At the end of the duty day, I hurried back to my dorm room, pulling the blinds and tearing my uniform off for something more comfortable. Sitting on the edge of my tiny bed, I put my head in my hands, still disturbed about the sudden urge from earlier. Was this part of my ‘daddy issues’? Was I truly so sexually frustrated that I’d look at a girl like that? For over an hour I turned every possible explanation over in my mind, trying to sort through how I could be so messed up emotionally and sexually. I hit the limit of my capacity to think through my issues and giggled. I thought, ‘maybe I should play a prank on her and tell her I’m gay.’ I stood to grab my keys and go to the chow hall just as reality came crashing down on me. I crumpled. In that split second, everything made sense.

I’m gay. I’m gay?! That’s impossible. I didn’t choose this! I’m not a pervert. I can’t be gay. Holy crap I’m gay; it’s the only thing that explains everything. Could it be I don’t have complex daddy issues? I’m really just….homo? That’s not right though because I don’t want to date other girls. I can’t be gay… My mind rattled away at a hundred miles an hour. All my questions about myself were answered. With this new terrible realization, I had a new massive undertaking before me: I had to reexamine every part of myself. This changed everything. Could I be cured? Was this a byproduct of daddy issues?

Suddenly what I had felt were mysterious and deeply complex psychological effects from my traumatic past became simple and clear: I was gay. No wonder why I hated every second of each date and had a two hour limit for the sake of my sanity. It suddenly made sense why I had thought of the male body with such revulsion.

Usually new knowledge would spur me into action, but this time, I was at a loss. No one could know this secret. I had to decide what I was going to do with the knowledge. Over the course of the next eight months, I read. I read about conversion theory, therapy and other methods that claimed to make someone straight. I read countless stories of other gays realizing their identity and they so closely matched mine that I cringed. I was one of the people I had judged and despised my whole life. Finally, I knew the truth: it wasn’t a choice.

I ended up falling for Dunn. We spent time off duty together, going out with friends on the weekend to drink and goof off, and I believe one night I had a few drinks more than I should have and gave myself away. She had likely figured out I was a heavily closeted gay, but she respected my process and never said anything. Either way, I was smitten with her. She was dating someone else and was soon engaged, but after several years I mustered up the courage to tell her how I felt about her. By then, it was too late. She had been transferred overseas, had broken up with her fiance and was settling in to marry another girl.

After those eight months, I still didn’t know what to do with my dark secret. As I walked around the city with one of my closest friends, I couldn’t contain it anymore and I told him. Years later, he told me that when I had begun to share my secret with him, he was preparing himself for me to tell him I was in love with him. Poor guy.

I started to slowly tell people that I was gay. After the events of another chapter of my life I was suddenly surrounded by new people, and I found it was much easier for them to grasp if they hadn’t seen me try to be straight in the years past. After another year or so I began to date, this time with girls. It was weird at first and stranger yet to finally go out with someone and feel a strong attraction. Eventually, I met my person and we are now happily married.

The best part: Every time I go to the doctor and they ask me if there is a possibility of pregnancy, I giggle.

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