Hitting print was one of the hardest things to do. With the word document staring back at me from my computer, not even saved, I still had plenty of time to change my mind. I could simply exit out of it and pretend that those twenty minutes of typing had never happened. Only they had, and trying to talk myself out of printing this letter would get me nowhere but into deeper trouble. I had to do this; if not for myself, at least for the person I loved. With a guilty feeling still pushing down on my chest, I hit the print button.
I let out a little sigh, then stood up from my desk and shuffled across the room to the printer – time to pick up my own demise. I stood in front of the printer for ten seconds, but the usual clicks and whooshes that came from the machine as it printed did not come. It stayed completely unaffected. While I was having problems retrieving my papers, my coworker Caroline was doing fine at the opposite printer, gathering a stack of freshly printed documents from it. Just as she was going to turn away from the printer and return to her desk, she heard the printer start again and produce a few more sheets. I counted in my head as each paper dropped into the retrieval bin; it was the exact amount I had printed. Yes, I had indeed pressed the print button successfully, but what I had failed to do was send it to my printer.
Caroline hadn’t looked closely at the pages when she picked them up, but I knew that she would look at them soon. I lurched forward a couple of steps in her direction, ready to tell her of my mistake, but I was stopped abruptly by a hand clapping gruffly onto my shoulder.
“Morning, Jeff,” rang out a deep male voice, more enthusiastic than needed.
“Ah, good morning, Theo.” I replied after turning to face my interruption. “I’m actually a little busy right now, so if you’ll excuse me –“
“Oh, Jeff, you haven’t forgotten about our product meeting have you?” Theo said through a perfectly painted on smile, as he hit me on the shoulder, presumably to be friendly. I really hate it when people touch me.
“Right. I’ll be there in a second, I just have to –“
“Come on, now.” Theo’s smile became tight as he began losing patience. “You can’t hold us up any longer. If I hadn’t come to get you, you would have showed up fifteen minutes late like you did these past three weeks.” It was true I had been slacking some in the past month. Still, I glanced over my shoulder seeing that Caroline had already gotten back to her desk and was reading the stack of documents. I had to get that letter away from her.
Theo put a hand on my shoulder again pulling me forward and pushing me towards the meeting room. “Come on, Jeff. No excuses this week. We’ve got a company to run here.”
I sat in that meeting for an hour, twelve minutes, and eight seconds. I know because I was watching the clock as soon as I took a seat. Caroline would find that letter at the end of her pile of work files and everything I knew as privacy would come to a halt. I knew I should have waited until I got home to type it. I shouldn’t have been doing that during my work hours in the first place. Though admittedly, I had finally gotten the courage to write it today when I walked into the office. I didn’t want to risk losing my nerve by the end of the day, and resolved to get it all out then. And writing it at home probably would have led me to be more nervous. Why hadn’t I taken the time to check the printer? Why didn’t I send it to my email and print it at home - to save my own paper and ink? This is what I get for being a damn cheapskate. Every minute was a minute closer to my private life being put on a pedestal for the rest of my coworkers to judge. Finally, I heard the shuffling of chairs and binders, and looked around me and saw my coworkers filing out of the room back to their desks. I had been worrying so much that I zoned out of the meeting. Either way, it was over now and I practically sprinted my way to Caroline’s desk. When I got there in an obvious fluster, Caroline was already holding out papers to me.
“There you are, Jeff. Here are those papers you wanted.”
I stood there for a moment, catching my breath and straightening my suit coat, while also examining Caroline’s face. It was all business. She didn’t have a speck of reaction to the letter on her face. The papers she was hold were indeed my letter, and I knew then that she’d read it, yet she was down playing it. She was giving me an out. I took the letter from her finally and said, “Thanks,” also keeping my face emotionless.
The rest of the day I focused on my work. For whatever reason, Caroline decided not to inform anyone of what she had read. I thought she might gossip about it or at least inform our boss, but I wasn’t harassed the entire day. She was keeping it to herself, at least for now. Work ended and I got ready to make my drive home. I had a new worried feeling in my chest. This was when that letter was going to come in handy. I couldn’t help feeling like a jackass for not being able to talk about this, but I saw no better choice. I’d gotten into my car and was backing out of my spot in the parking garage when a figure suddenly appeared behind my car. I hit the break immediately and the figure ran up to my passenger window looking inside. It was Caroline. I rolled down the window and said half angry and half concerned, “What was that about?!”
Caroline had an apologetic look on her face as she asked in a quiet voice, “May I get in? I have something I want to ask you.”
My stomach dropped. This had to be about the letter. She saw me tense up and then quickly said, “I promise I’ll make it quick. Please.” She had kept her mouth shut today, so I guess I owed her some time. I unlocked the door and said, “Alright.”
She sat down and closed the door back quickly. She was quiet for a little then simply asked, “How long have you known?”
I laughed a humorless laugh and said, while looking out the windshield, “What? That I don’t love my wife, or that I’m gay?”
“Wouldn’t you figure those out at the same time?” she asked seriously. “I’m sorry, that was stupid to say.” She flushed.
“No, it’s okay.” I said looking at her. “I knew there wasn’t something right between me and Amy for a while. I cared about her but that spark that everyone told me I should feel – that everyone thought I was feeling – never really came. I didn’t know what it was for a while. I didn’t look at other women and she was a great wife. A great mother. A great woman. Then I realized a few months ago…”
“That you didn’t want a woman?” she asked, piecing it all together.”
“Yeah,” I said, lowering my head in shame.
“Jeff, why didn’t you say something to someone?”
“Probably the same reason you didn’t tell on me today, am I right?”
Caroline nodded slowly. “But, we all don’t feel that way, you know? You could have told me. You didn’t have to go through this alone.”
“Sure,” I said, reclining my chair a little – so much for it being quick. “I know you don’t feel that way now, but look at where we work Caroline. We’re employed by the most religious Southern Baptist Christian businessman in the state. All our coworkers belong to some denomination of church. Hell, it’s one of the questions they asked us at the interview. I can’t just announce that I’m leaving my wife to be with my male lover.”
The cabin was quiet then. She didn’t know what to say and neither did I. It was true. I had been raised to think of homosexuality as a blight on the community, and that I would grow up to marry a beautiful woman one day. I hadn’t questioned it until my emotions revealed that I wasn’t satisfied with life; that I had never been quite satisfied. Coming out as homosexual would at least make me the ridicule of the company, and at most have me terminated.
Finally, Caroline found some words to say. “Jeff, if this is what you want, I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. If you ever need help, someone to talk to, anything, I’m here. This company might not be here for you, but I am.” She said every word with an un-quavering voice. I believed her. She didn’t care what my sexuality was, and was ready to support me. I had never taken time to get to know Caroline before, but now I felt that I was missing out on a beautiful and warm friend.
“Thank you. Thank you so much for everything.”
“No problem. Just promise me that you’ll give Amy that letter. Don’t think about your job or what others will say. Think about yourself.”
Caroline opened her door and hopped out. She rearranged her face to be all business again then said plainly, “I’ll see you tomorrow at work,” then closed the door and strode away to her own car. I sat for a minute more, thinking about what transpired just then, and then I drove home to deliver my farewell letter to my wife.