Episode 44Brett Trapp

Love Storms

Episode 44Brett Trapp
Love Storms

NOTE: This is the final installment of Blue Babies Pink. Think of it as the last chapter in a book. If you haven't read the previous 43 episodes, I highly recommend you do that first. -bt

Something changed in me after that trip to the lake. The words I'd texted Anne, "I don't think I want to be lonely anymore," embedded in my soul.

It was a subtle declaration I wasn't sure could be undone. For the first time in my life, I'd cracked open the door to a new possibility, a different outcome. I'd like to say it was calculated and thoughtful. I'd like to say it was a sober, prudent pivot after years of spiritual reflection.

It wasn't.

I decided not to be lonely anymore the way a single mom decides to dial 911 after hearing someone kick in the front door at 2 a.m. It was a decision of desperation and survival.

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A couple nights after coming home from the lake, I decided to dial relationship 911 . . . so I downloaded Tinder. 


At the time, Tinder was a fairly-new dating app that had changed the online dating game by reducing it to the most primal level possible:

  1. The app serves up a picture of a person.
  2. If you find that person unattractive, you swipe left—discarding them into a virtual trash heap.
  3. And if you think they're hot, you swipe right—signaling that you'd like to connect.
  4. If that person sees your pic and swipes right, it's a match!
  5. Once matched, you can chat with that person in the app.

The Tinder process was simple, and that's what had fueled its explosive growth.  

When I downloaded it, most Millennials had either heard about Tinder or were already using it.

I knew lots of single straight friends in Atlanta on it, and most of them had had pretty good experiences. It was an easy way to score a casual date. I also knew a few people who'd actually found love through it. Of course, back then Tinder had gotten a lot of press for being a "hook-up app" because it made hook-ups easier to find too. That made me nervous.  

I'd heard about all the dating apps, and this one just seemed easiest, so I went with it. I wasn't looking for love or a hook-up when I downloaded the app. I really was just looking for a simple, single date. 

I think I told my friend Anne I was downloading it, but she was the only one.

I was super nervous and very secretive about the whole thing. I was in my bedroom at our house in Buckhead when I downloaded the app. I created a profile and pulled in a few of my best pics from Facebook. I wrote a basic little description about myself. Back then, you declared your gender and then you told the app whether you wanted to search profiles of men or women. Nervously, I checked the box that said MEN. My profile was live. 

This was a significant moment for me because now my profile was on a dating app and theoretically, anyone could see it. I mean, I didn't really have many gay friends then so the odds of someone I knew seeing me on there were slim. But it was impossible to tell. I was still very closeted then so the risk of being found out was still very scary. But ultimately, I didn't care. I began swiping. 

Perusing a menu of men was a surreal experience.

Tinder let you filter by age and distance from location, but that's pretty much it, so I was seeing every gay persuasion in Atlanta.

There were white guys, African-American guys, Asian guys, Hispanic guys.

There were preppy guys and jocks and nerdy types.

I think I was expecting the experience to be more scandalous than it was, but it was surprisingly classy. There was no nudity and everyone seemed pretty normal. I don't know why I was surprised by that. 

After a few minutes, I got my first match. My heart did a little flip. I clicked on the match to see who it was.

It was a guy named Rick. He was a well-dressed white guy who looked to be about my age. His main picture was of him wearing a beige suit with a striped blue tie, and I thought he was very attractive.

After a few seconds, I got a notification. He had messaged me. 

I clicked into it and read, "Well hey there . . ." Who knew three words could nearly give you a heart attack?

Rick and I began messaging back and forth.

I was super-skeptical because I didn't know where this would lead, and I was cautious because I had no idea what I was doing. But after a few texts, I realized that Rick was a good guy.

He was a professional with a good job, living in Atlanta's Midtown neighborhood. He was well-spoken and nice. When I got on the app, I decided I was going to be honest with anyone I matched with about my situation. So I told him he was my first match which he thought was funny. I told him I was mostly closeted which he found even funnier.

That sparked a great text conversation about being in the closet and coming out. He had come out years earlier and had been dating for a while. He asked me if I had read the book Velvet Rage, and he talked about how that book was helpful for him in his own journey. Within a few minutes, I realized I was having a normal conversation with another gay guy, and it wasn't weird. 

After a while, I told him I needed to go to bed and that I was going to delete the app from my phone.

I didn't want my profile sitting out there for anyone to find. So I mustered the courage to ask for his phone number. He gave it to me.

This was real.

For the next few days we texted back and forth. It was all very casual and slowly began to feel normal. Finally I got up the nerve to ask him out.

The actual text convo . . .

Hey I'm gonna be down in the city tomorrow night for a meeting. Coming back thru Midtown. Wanna grab a drink? Will be sometime between 9 and 10 probably. 
Rick: I think we can make that happen. 
Cool . . . where should we go?
Rick: Hmm . . . guess it depends on time but honestly Campagnolo or Empire State South in Midtown would be cool if good with you. Any prefs?
No preference. Never been to either . . . heard ESS is great tho.
Rick: Yup great space . . . we should try it out.
Done.
Rick: I live nearby so just text when you're headed in that direction and I'll meet you there.
Cool will do. By the way, I have no idea what I'm doing.
Rick: Driving to a restaurant/bar? It's really not that hard Brett. 😉
Bahhhhh . . . Not talking about that. Haha.
Rick: I know. I'm just teasing you. In all seriousness, look at this as meeting a new friend who you can talk to and be open with. No pressure/stress whatsoever . . . just easygoing. Good guy here who's also good in conversation. ;)
Me: LOL . . . yep, sounds great.

It was official: I was going on a date.

 
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Empire State South was known for having great cocktails which is essentially my love language. We settled on that as our spot.

That day at work, I was a total mess and completely distracted. It was a weird combination of nerves, giddiness, and fear. But it was fun fear, and I didn't know fun fear was a thing.

I texted my friend Anne to let her know the date details. That way, if this guy abducted me and sold me into a gay Taiwanese sex syndicate, at least the cops would know where to start looking. I'd obsessed over what to wear but settled on jeans and a button down shirt. I didn't want to be slouchy but didn't want to overdo it either. I was also worried about being seen . . . on a date . . . with a dude. So I concocted a plan—a story—in case we bumped into someone I knew. I think it involved Rick being a friend from college or something like that. I was a little crazy.

I got to the restaurant about five minutes late which, for those who know me, is completely unsurprising.

Empire State South was about what I expected—trendy vibe, lots of reclaimed wood, tufted leather-back booths, and good light fixtures. The mark of good restaurant design is in the light fixtures. It was later in the evening so the place was mostly empty. This seemed like a great spot for a first date.

When I walked in, I could see Rick seated across the bar looking at the menu. 

Butterflies. All the butterflies. A whole swarm of them. All the butterflies in Brazil were having a Red Bull-sponsored rave in my stomach. 

He looked just like his picture from Tinder—light brown hair, fair skin, clean-cut, and professional. 

Not a psycho . . . relief.

I walked over and took a seat. For the first time in my life I was sitting across from someone who I found attractive and who found me attractive back. This was new.

Conversation flowed easily, and we talked about everything. 

I told him about growing up in Alabama and moving to Tennessee and then finally landing in Georgia. We talked about work. I told him I was a Christian and that I'd been on this lifetime-singleness track. I told him this was a first for me.

Looking back, I'm pretty proud of how honest I was. I thought about faking it, about acting like I was a pro, like I knew what I was doing. I've always been a terrible liar, so I went the route of brutal honesty.

We also talked some about being gay and growing up being attracted to guys. To have this conversation with another gay man was a first for me, so I had a lot to say. The conversation would get really serious—really heavy—and then Rick would cut the tension with a joke. He was very charming. 

Two cocktails and three hours later, and they were shutting down the restaurant.

We got up from our seats and walked toward the door. We got outside, gave each other a little hug, and that was it. We both went our own ways—me back to my place in Buckhead and he, a few blocks back to his place in Midtown. 

I'll never forget the drive home. It was pretty much a straight shot, four miles down Atlanta's famous Peachtree Street all the way north to Buckhead. I called my friend Anne who had stayed up to get the update. I told her it went great.

Exhausted from such an emotional day, I crawled into bed as soon as I got home. My phone buzzed. It was a text from Rick . . .

Good night, mister 🌝😊

Another first. No one had told me that before.

I mean . . . I'm sure a friend or my mom had, but I never noticed.

But I noticed it this time. And it felt really good to know that someone thought about me before falling asleep. 

 
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I had to be at work at 8 a.m. I didn't get much sleep and woke up earlier than usual.

I got ready for work but had Rick on my mind the whole time. It's all I could think about. I kept replaying it over and over in my head. But it was July, and July was our team's busiest month at work so I couldn't afford to be this distracted. I tried to not think about it.

I got in my car and began my 30-minute commute up Highway 400 to the office. But this commute felt different. I couldn't quit thinking about that date and that "Good Night" text. Commuting in Atlanta traffic rarely causes you to smile, but I was all smiles that morning.

I decided to stop off at Starbucks before going into the office.

I stopped at the one off the Mansell Road exit which is the same exit our office was on. I went inside and ordered my usual—grande iced coffee with cream, two pumps mocha, one pump vanilla. I placed my order and slid over to the spot where you wait for your drink. As I waited, my mind was besieged by more Rick thoughts . . .

Was he up yet? Had he left for work? I wonder what he's wearing? I wonder if he had breakfast? I wonder what he thought about last night? Maybe he thought I was weird? Maybe he really liked me? Maybe he never wants to see me again? Maybe he wants to get married?

I suppose these are the thoughts a 15- or 16-year-old boy has after a first date. That's essentially what I was that morning. 

The coffee was taking forever, and I couldn't take it anymore. I had to text Rick. I snapped a selfie. This exact one actually . . .

I included the very profound caption, "TOO EARLY" and hit SEND. 

"Breettttt!" the barista barked as he slid my iced coffee onto the granite countertop. As I turned to grab it, my phone dinged. Rick had responded.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket, eager to see his reply. I pulled it in close to see what he said . . .

Who's the handsome guy in the pic? 😉

I blinked a few times, processing his sarcasm. 

Wha . . .

Huh?

Hans . . . gu . . .

Me?

Me.

I'm the handsome guy in the pic.

 
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I felt my chest tighten, as it had so many times before . . .

I felt a thousand pin pricks flow over my chest in waves and into my arms . . .

My heart hit double-time. 

Standing underneath the fluorescent lights of Starbucks and surrounded by strangers, I kept staring at those words . . .

. . . handsome guy . . .

My eyes began to water. My lungs sputtered, searching for breath. 

What's happening to me??? 

Next, I felt my brain . . .

The brain is not a part of your body you feel often, but I definitely felt it—like someone pumping helium into my skull. I passed out once when I was a kid, sucking too much helium from a balloon, and I'd tangled with bourbon a few times as an adult, but this was something different . . .

This was a different kind of helium, a different kind of bourbon.

Trembling, I reached . . . grabbed . . . felt for the edge of that granite countertop—white-knuckled—like a man clinging to a cliff for dear life. I had to steady myself.

My mind raced . . .

This was an assault, a euphoric invasion of the senses unlike anything else.

I was . . . handsome

Someone thinks I'm handsome . . . someone thinks I'm lovely. 

I gazed at that text like a caveman who'd just seen fire for the first time.

I'd seen lots of pretty men in my life. I'd had conversations with them in my head. But they were blind to me, mute to me. I'd trained myself to make them cardboard cutouts—inaccessible, hands-off, plastic, not real. 

But . . .

One of those cutouts just moved . . .

He looked at me . . .

And he spoke back. The object of my desire had spoken back.

See . . .

I'd been walking around the world half-dead and fully invisible.

I'd taken desire—taken Love—and spent a lifetime running from it.

Love, to me, was the monster in the horror film, the ghost in the night, the shadowy figure in the graveyard.

I feared it. I hated it.

I'd designed a life to insulate me from it, protect me from it. And I'd mastered every possible distraction.

I ran and ran and ran, but I could never escape it.

And so when I couldn't run anymore, I stopped. I turned around. And with long steps and a rage-filled eye, I decided to deal with Love in my own way . . .

I grabbed it by the ears—pulling it toward me—and shouted I DON'T NEED YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! right in its face. The words echoed through my soul. 

I slapped Love in the face, but that wasn't hard enough, so I flung Love to the ground. I leapt on top like the bully that I was and began punching—blow after blow.

Love began to bleed . . .

but it wouldn't go down.

I hated Love.

I hated kisses and hearts and people holding hands.

I hated engagement rings and weddings and newlyweds.

Love may have been for everyone else, but it wasn't for me.

Love was my great tormentor—my black-hooded executioner waiting for me each day—and it had to be punished.

Bruised and bloodied, I picked Love up by the collar and slammed it up against a gray, cinder-block wall in my soul.

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a knife. And in a final act of deranged rage I plunged that knife straight into the heart of Love.

Red streamed down Love's chest and I spit in its face. Its body went limp, and I lowered Love back down to cold earth.

I reached for the rusted handle of an old, knotted wooden door—the one that led down to the basement of my soul. With everything in me, I strained to pull it open.

I grabbed Love's body, dragged it toward that door, and gave it a shove. It bounced down those stairs, landing with a thud in musty darkness. With both hands and everything left in me, I slammed that door shut. *hollow echo*

I slid the latch, snatched the key, and with a swivel of the wrist it was done. I had slammed the door on Love.

Love . . .

Was . . .

Dead . . .

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I'd finally killed it. I'd hidden the body. I told no one . . .

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And time passed. Years passed . . .

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And the spiders and bugs moved in.

Black mold crept up the walls and ate into the wood of that door. Inch by inch, vines and cobwebs snaked their way back and forth, until you couldn't even see that door anymore . . .

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And the dust settled in. That old lock began to rust . . .

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And that door sat quiet—cold, dormant, still. Deep, deep, deep within my soul where no one could find it . . .

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Not even me.

I forgot about that door—that one that was never meant to be closed. 

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I even forgot that Love was once a thing. And I forgot about the struggle, about the time I killed it . . .

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But . . .

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Love wasn't dead.

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Love never dies.

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You can't kill Love.

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No matter what you do to it, Love always has a pulse . . .

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Love always wipes away the blood . . .

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Love's bruises heal and bones unbreak . . .

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And Love always storms back up those stairs. 

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Even when tyrants try to silence it,

Love storms up those stairs.

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When armies besiege it,

Love storms up those stairs.

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When warlords bomb it,

Love storms up those stairs.

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When hateful hordes declare lovelessness as law,

Love storms up those stairs.

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When violent mobs try to burn down the house,

Love storms up those stairs.

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And even when sad little boys from Alabama try to murder it,

Love storms up those stairs . . .

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while standing in a Starbucks . . .

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with strangers watching . . .

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on a random Thursday morning.

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And Love—breathing hard, engorged with grace—kicks open that door,

grabs us by the arm,

pulls our soul in close and whispers,

"Dear Child,

You are loved.

And you are lovely.

And your future is incredibly bright." 👊

#SOYCD


B.B.P.S. — You made it! 44 episodes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

B.B.P.P.S. — Here's my final wrap-up on the story...


All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.

Brett Trapp is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes. 

Brett is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools. 

Brett is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, Tarantino movies, and CS Lewis.

Brett also serves on the boards of directors for Beloved Atlanta and the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity.

To learn more about Brett, visit the ABOUT PAGE.