In the summer of 1992, I worked at a summer camp in Maine. In the first few days of being at the camp, I fell into a friendship with another counselor I’ll call Steven. Steven and I became fast friends, both Midwestern, both religious, both bespectacled. Steven was 19 and I was 22.
That summer, there was a Rich Mullins song that I often listened to on my CD Walkman called What Susan Said. It starts off, “Two lonely-eyed boys in a pick-up truck
And they’re drivin’ through the rain and the heat
And their skin’s so sweaty they both get stuck
To the old black vinyl seats
And it’s Abbott and Costello meet Paul and Silas
It’s the two of us together and we’re puttin’ on the mileage…” I felt like Rich Mullins had written this song just for me and Steven. We’d borrow his friend’s pickup and we’d go for drives. One day off, we drove from Maine, through New Hampshire, into Vermont and back to camp, talking about the kind of things two people talk about when their friendship is new. Over the course of two weeks, I felt like he was the best friend I’d ever had. I was, at this point, ostensibly straight. We talked about girls and God and I talked a lot about how I’d been a youth minister, just less than a year before. But one night, when we were sitting on the roof of the main bunk house, I told him something that had burdened me. I told him that I thought I was gay. He was the third person I ever told. He told me that he’d kind of been wondering if maybe I might be. Earlier in the summer, he told me that he’d had a friend who was bisexual and the way I’d asked a lot of questions about that guy stuck in his mind. When he did not freak out over the first piece of information, I told him that I thought I was in love with him. He was very quick to tell me that he was straight, that I knew that he liked Claire (one of the other counselors). He also started to cry. He told me that he thought I just wanted to be his friend. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation played out, but at the end, I did think that we would remain friends. As it turned out, we never really talked at length again. He called his mother to tell her about it and she told him that I was one of those gays that preyed on young men. (Again, he was 19, I was 22.) For the rest of the summer, he kept his distance. If the Rich Mullins song had affected me one way before my confession to Steven, I clung to it that much more after our friendship was severed. I’d listen to the song as I lay in bed at night, hoping and praying that I would either not be gay or that Steven would love me.
As it came to pass, neither prayer came true. When camp ended, I moved back to New York and began the process of coming out to myself. Steven was the last straight I guy that I fell for.
Rich Mullins was a singer that I saw a lot of when I was growing up. He would be at week-long youth conferences I attended, so besides being on stage, I witnessed the way he interacted with others. Long before I heard What Susan Said, before he even wrote it, I thought that perhaps Rich and I had something in common. (I have no validation of my theory.)
I’ve attached a YouTube video of the song. I’d hoped to find a version of Rich singing it in concert instead of the generic video I’m posting. If you ever attended a Rich Mullins concert, you know he had a gift. He was funny and serious, humble and arrogant, simple and erudite. There is another line in the song about how love is found in the things we have given up more than in the things we kept. I often wondered and still wonder if Rich Mullins had a Steven in his life. Someone must have inspired such an intimate song.
Years have passed since that summer. Rich Mullins died in 1997 in a tragic car accident. Some would think it ironic that a Christian song would have played such a reflective part in my own coming out process. But when I hear the song, it takes me back to those days when I was on the precipice of my journey to become the person I am today. And Steven, I sometimes wonder what happened to him, but I hope that if I ever come into his mind, as the final words of “our” song say, I hope he’ll have the strength to just remember, I’m still his friend.