I was a sophomore in High School in a small town thirty miles south of Atlanta. After coming out, I was the pariah of little Sharpsburg. Its deeply religious townsfolk were vocal about their disapproval.
Internet dating was still taboo in 2004; at least it was to me. But, without any other outlet and not knowing another gay man, I did it. I used the big, bad, scary internet to plan a meet with a guy. I lied about my age and told him I was eighteen. I didn’t know what I wanted not sure if I preferred genuine companionship or just sex. Either way, I knew I couldn’t be honest about my inexperience. I played along as I typed and acted like I understood what we chatted about. He told me he lived in Atlanta, but would drive down to meet me. It happened quickly, but lonely little me, didn’t care. I’d throw caution to the wind to engage with someone like me. I lied to my Dad and drove my lemon of a car to a coffee shop next to the interstate.
My phone rang and I could feel my pulse quicken. Sans coffee, I tasted bitterness in my mouth. I tried to calm my breathing and I took the call.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hi, are you here?” he asked.
“Yes. Are you?”
“I’m parked in the white Jeep,” he replied.
I looked into my rear-view mirror and scanned the paint of the cars in the parking lot. I found the white Jeep and squinted to see the back of man’s head. I thought I spied a bald spot on it, but dismissed it as the guy I’d chatted with said he was only twenty. I locked the door to my car and walked to the Jeep. A cheap grin was all I could manage to keep on my face as I tapped my knuckle into the glass of his car window. A man turned to me as he rolled the window down.
“I’m sorry. I mistook you for someone else,” I said.
“Josh?” the man’s voice sounded rough like sand paper.
“Yes? That’s my name,” I tried.
“It’s me Nate,” the man said.
I tried to process the man my eyes saw and the picture I’d been sent online. Either the picture was two decades old or not of the man I spoke to at all. It wasn’t his age that bothered me it was that he’d lied. I felt anger at myself and at the deception.
“You want a ride?” Nate asked.
“No, I’m good,” I said and walked to the safety of my car.
I learned a valuable lesson about loneliness and desperation. I could have found myself in peril quite easily. Fortunately, I was able to not fall victim to my own lies or those of others.