To this day I don’t know if my college roommate ever came out. I hope he has. I hope he is out and happy and in love.
Bethel College used to consist of a small cluster of classic red brick buildings outlining one long city block, with a grassy treed courtyard in the middle. Today it’s Bethel University, on a massive beautiful campus, but back then we looked kind of Ivy League.
I arrived a few weeks early as a freshman because I had a football scholarship and our two-a-days started in the heat of St. Paul’s final days of summer. I hauled my luggage up a few flights of stairs and began looking for room 308. Since the football players were the first to inhabit the dorm, they roomed us together. The halls were sweltering and already smelled like sweat, dirty laundry and patchouli incense (a favorite at Christian colleges in the 70’s, to disguise pot smoke).
I knocked on 308 and pushed the door open slowly. Karl greeted me with a big smile. He was (I am not making this up) lying on his bed wearing only the tiniest of leopard print Speedo briefs. Propped up on one elbow, his smiling face was cradled lovingly in his right hand and his wet hair was wrapped high in a bright green towel. “Hi Roomie!” he said with absolute enthusiasm. He jumped up. “Let me help with those things,” he offered, grabbing a bag. “Do you mind if I take this side? I already have my posters up.”
Karl was maybe 5′ 6″ and 165, but on the field he was fast and fearless and he hit like a Mack truck. In the dorm he was loved and revered. Karl knew what made college girls tick and he was generous in the sharing of it. He would interrupt any conversation we were having if he saw a guy passing our door on a Friday night. “Oh, heaven’s no. Get back here! You are not wearing that on a date, right?!” The poor kid would look down. “But I’m late.” It didn’t matter, the poor schmuck would have to go back to his room and redress in whatever Karl decided. “She can thank me later, but don’t tell her I picked this out.”
My girlfriend dumped me mid-year. As I moped, it was Karl who came up with the two part plan to win her back. “You have to start dating, so she sees that you’re valuable and that she might lose you,” he advised. “And, you have to do all you can to pursue her. We all want to be pursued.” He understood my girlfriend (now wife) much better than I did at the time.
Karl dated the beautiful girls that others were afraid to ask out, but they always turn into just friendships. Karl loved Jesus and he signed the school’s “lifestyle code.” He would have been asked to leave if he were openly gay. I only asked him once about it. He smiled and graciously said, “People are complicated, let’s leave it at that.”
Yes, let’s. Still good advice.