Grace looked back at me through the window and smiled. "Who is she," asked my conversion therapist. "Is that her?"
It was one of those moments when you are talking about someone, and, then, they just happen to appear. I would say it was one of those "speak of the devil" moments, but, this was Christian college, it was a "God working in mysterious ways" kind of moment.
"Yep. That's her," I told my conversion therapist.
Grace and I were RAs and had met while taking sign-ups for new RAs outside of the school's cafeteria. "Wait, you haven't changed your shampoo formula in years," she asked me.
"No," I said, bewildered. Wasn't my two in one sufficient enough? "Am I supposed to?"
"Yes! Your hair totally adapts to the formula. I shift between two kinds weekly. Keeps my hair on its toes."
Grace was a foot shorter than me. Her hair fluctuated between a chestnut brown and dark chocolate, depending on the season. Her eyes had a slight touch of green, and she always dressed as if she was one of those Anthropologie sales people: earth tones, understated tribal prints and sheer mustard scarves.
After our shampoo meet-cute, we would run into each other almost everywhere. During RA training, we would find each other and sit for lunch. The RA training rendezvous developed into studying at the local Barnes and Noble, outings with friends where we'd drink our one drink Christian college maximum, and going to Spring Formal as friends.
Almost everyone in Res Life knew I was developing feelings for her. After Grace and I both were hired as Assistant Resident Directors (ARDs), my Resident Director (RD) thought we should hold a little mixer at his place to welcome the new ARDs. "Great. Grace loves cheesecake," I told my RD.
I never could muster up the courage to tell her. Opportunities did present themselves throughout the rest of our time in college. "Why weren't you at ARD training? I was so sad not to see you. People were saying you were thinking about not coming back," she asked during lunch early into our third semester.
"Just a lot happening." She accepted my vague response. Was I supposed to say that, despite my best efforts, the power of gay porn was too strong for me, and I was asked to step down because of it? Was I supposed to go into detail about the guys I ended up blowing in the bathroom at Splash that summer in New York? Though there may seem like an obvious "yes" answer here, at that point, there was still a part of me that wanted to hide that from her. A part of me that wanted there to still be a chance with her.
Later that year, the opportunity to discuss my feeling presented itself again. "I liked this guy, but he said he couldn't date a girl with my past," she said.
"But, there's nothing wrong with you or what you did. That's the past. It's awfully hypocritical for him to say that to you since he leads groups about God's power to heal. Remember Grace, you are fearfully and wonderfully made," I said. That last part was very Christian flirting 101.
"Aw. Thanks Chris. I needed to hear that. But, now it's awkward because he's overseeing the Missions trips, and I'm leading a Mission."
"Yay! Where to?"
"Sweden. It's like totally dark and liberal there. So many people struggling with homosexuality. I feel we could really be a light there...please consider coming with."
Gulp. Why would she suggest I come to a Missions trip to save the homosexuals in Sweden? Did she know? "I don't know if I am particularly called to go there. But, I'll pray about it," I said.
You could always weasel yourself out of an awkward talk about Mission trips by saying you'd support the team with your prayers. "Who are you leading with?"
"Ben. We talked over each other's testimonies. I think he's great," she said.
Double-gulp. Ben was the other "ex-gay" on campus. He came in the year after me, and, since word was going around that I had flown the "ex-gay" coop, he was the school's new poster child for freedom from the chains of sodomy.
That lunch was my last one on one with Grace. She ended up dating Ben after their trip. Seeing pictures of them together a couple of years later, I couldn't help but wonder: What if?
My conversion therapist would always say "People. Places. Things." He didn't mean it in a School-House-Rock-lesson-on-nouns kind of way. He used to tell me that if I surrounded myself with gay people, went to gay places and took part in gay things, of course I would be have gay attractions.
When I look back at my crush on Grace, I feel the same could be said. By that time, I had surrounded myself with Christian people, had only gone to Christian places, and had only taken part in Christian things. Were these feelings crafted for me by conversion therapy?
In the midst of going through conversion therapy, the woman you potentially will fall in love with becomes a goal in "recovery." It's very Beauty and the Beast in a way. You are made out to be a Beast because of your sexuality. Your therapist takes the role of Lumiere with phrases like: "She could be the one." And girls like Grace become your Belle. When she kisses you, you will be made whole again.
But, I was always felt something was a bit off in that narrative. I could never bring myself to treat Grace as if she were a "get out of hell free card," the key to personal salvation.
Now that I am some time removed from my experiences in conversion therapy, it's obvious why it would have never worked out. I'm gay. But, sometimes I still look out my window as if to return the smile to that girl who grounded and comforted me at a time when I was scared of my identity.
When you are in conversion therapy, your feelings for the girl may not be love, but, it just may be something like it.