You know the funny thing about tragedy, is that it has no regard for convenience. Sometimes tragedy will hand wash you, ring you out, and put you in a mean spin cycle in the middle of the night. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was nearly 11 p.m. and I was exhausted. Ryan and I had just toured the north strip in Vegas, and as far as I was concerned, hell the party was over. It was time to call it a night. Ryan on the other hand, insisted on going to take pictures of the fountains at The Bellagio. Honestly, I was simply too tired to disagree with him. We settled on an agreement for him to be back no later than 12:15 a.m.
By that time fatigue had taken control of my body and mind, and my thoughts had bled into my dreams. Around 2:15 in the morning, the hotel phone had rang out. I found myself adjusting my eyes to find the handle in the darkness. My first thought was who in hell could need a thing at this time of morning, then I remembered that Ryan had gone to the Bellagio...DANG, I sat up, and managed to squeak out a meager, “Hello?” To my surprise it was the concierge from the front desk. "Hi Mr. Carroll. Do you happen to know a Mr. Ryan Bray?" My neck had stiffened at the seriousness in her voice. I had involuntarily reached for my phone to make sure I hadn’t missed a call from him. “Crap” I said. My heart had started racing. “I...uhhh, Yes, I do,” I stammered. Trying to talk myself out of the fear of thinking the worst I asked… “Uh -oh, what did he do?” Her response was contrite, but still professional. “Everything is ok, please meet us downstairs Mr. Carroll.” With that, the line went dead. Of course I got dressed and headed down as fast as I could. I don't think anyone would've been prepared for what I was about to see.
My heart fell to my toes. I couldn't think, I couldn't breathe, I was in total shock. Ryan was attacked heading back to our hotel, The MGM Grand. I should’ve been with him, I could’ve helped him. This was a nightmare. The damage was done. Ryan ended up with 5 facial fractures, 6 staples in the head and a hemorrhage in his left eye that would last about 6 months. He had no recollection of what happened. I had fallen in love with Ryan all over again. To see him helpless intensified my love for him. I prayed and thanked God for sparing his life. It could've been worse and that terrified me. I could not see my life without Ryan.
I know God places people in our lives for different reasons. I am a firm believer Ryan was put in my life for love. Without any help from dating sites, friends, and or social media, I had finally found love hidden in a Spanish Lab at Sam Houston State University.
I have spent my entire life finding myself on my own terms with no regret. You see we as beings are perfectly flawed. We make mistakes, we learn from them, we make more, we continue to learn. My lifestyle, my journey is the only thing that is not a mistake. It's not something I stumbled upon and liked. It's a part of who I am and does not make up all that I am.
Growing up, this difference in lifestyle has been dipped in judgment and polished with hate. It has been the hardest thing I've had to endure simply because of the learned response. I was taught to think of the worst when it came to homosexuality. I was reminded through movies, magazines, and gossip that being gay was frowned upon, perverted and disgusting. Social media has held hates' hand on anything not of the "perfect" life.
There is the connection of homosexuality and learned response, it's HATE.
I didn't watch "Tu Wong Foo" one day and say I want to be gay. Nor did I grow up around tons of homos that pressured me to snap in a Z formation. It blows my mind how someone outside of this lifestyle can pinpoint the chain of events that has made homosexuality a learned response. I grew up in a household with 4 straight older brothers and 1 straight older sister. I had a Dad that carried a gun everywhere he went and was not afraid to use it. I also had a hard working mom that taught me how to love Jesus. My family is not perfect by any means but I definitely didn’t learn to be gay in this household. I was Devin from the start.
But the question that I kept asking myself was, could I be Devin? Could I openly be who I am? Yes I could, but at what cost? I would be losing family members, and losing my friends. I had to choose either lose myself or potentially lose everyone else. For once I was selfish and I chose happiness. I chose to love like I've never loved before. The free choice that God gave me was applied to love. As hate continued to rain on my parade, I saw the beautiful rainbows it left behind, my friends I didn't lose, my God that didn't turn his back on me, and my family members that knew and chose to love me.
Love is color blind and the only race we knew were whose heart beat faster. There was still an entire world outside of us that we could not get away from.
Ryan is from a small city called Vidor, Tx. This city was known nationally as a “Sundown Town.” African Americans were not to be caught in Vidor, Tx. Back in the day, this town actually hosted KKK rallies. This city still continues to be perceived with hate. It was a learned response from the community to continue to shine their hate flashlight as the sun went down. Not all of the people of Vidor felt this way, but the world saw this city that way. I have been to Vidor on several occasions and have never felt uncomfortable. The people that I have come in contact with are genuine, and kind.
Myself being a black man, I know what you are thinking. How is this going to work? You want to know my honest opinion? I asked myself that as well, I had no idea. I chose to focus on him and us and prayed everything else would fall into place. That's the beauty of love, you must take that blind step forward and trust God to write your love story. We came from two different back grounds. None of our families are racist but we grew up differently. This was financially and socially.
Both of our families were built up through the Church. My Grandpa received his Doctorate in Theology. I also have two Uncles that are Pastors and an Aunt that is an Evangelist. Growing up, I lived directly in front of the church and my childhood dream was to actually become a Pastor. Almost every weekday I would make my way to church for either prayer meeting, choir rehearsal, bible study, you name it. My inspiration for playing the piano came from my early childhood watching cousin Ozela Heights better known as "tee-tee pie" play for New Jerusalem Baptist Church. I would bang on the pew in front of me as if it were a piano. I loved the Lord and enjoyed everything about the church.
Ryan’s father is a Pastor as well and has a Baptist church in Vidor. This relationship just gets even more complicated. I remember one time in the very beginning Ryan’s mom shared a moment with me as she visited one weekend at Sam Houston State and said, “I prayed that Ryan would find someone like you.” It’s sad that a moment like this, was instantly torn down with shame and lies. Ryan’s mom had no idea we were dating. Did God answer her prayers? I know he answered mine. I chose not to disclose our relationship because of the learned response of hate. Ryan’s Parents didn’t even know he was gay until 4 years into our relationship following the Vegas accident. I was his "best friend." I was the guy his mom prayed for. I was an actor. I played my role and I played it well.
We lived a lie in efforts to protect our love for just a little bit longer.
Some family members have been supportive while other members have not. This is not to single out one side of the family, but both sides. The thing is, support should not be needed for happiness. Of course the Bible has been thrown in our direction more than I can count. It is very frustrating to see the blinders of religion being placed on their accusations of love choices. It got to a point to where I was starting to feel hate towards those family members that made us feel that we were not deserving of God’s love and grace. My favorite of all time, "love the sinner, hate the sin." How about we love each other and don't judge. My faith and walk with Christ is a personal journey between Him and I and He has blessed us in so many ways.
How could God not love us for something we cannot change? At times I have felt ashamed to be me. Am I blaming bible thumping Preachers and Christians for making me feel this way and not having compassion unlike Christ had in the New Testament with everyone he came in contact with? Absolutely. My concern is that their compassion is selectively warranted to those they think are deserving. Now if that is not playing the role of God, I don't know what is. Am I trying to change the non supportive family members and friends’ judgment on our relationship? Yes I am, but not as an attempt for acceptance, but merely as a way to show them that being different is ok and being loved is minimum Christ-like.
“The show must go on!”
I was determined to continue to love Ryan with all of my heart despite how family members and some friends treated us. I popped the big question.
As years passed by, on the anniversary of his accident, we could feel the negative vibes and uncontrolled emotions. This is why four years later I chose to flip this emotion by asking Ryan to spend the rest of his life with me. He said "YES" in our hotel room at 2:15 in the morning, the exact time and day I got that dreadful phone call. We were overlooking the sandy beach of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. A sigh of relief and an abundance of love filled the room and made circles around our hearts.
I've learned that relationships are work. It's a never finished masterpiece that always yearns for more love, more patience, and more understanding. I am more because of him 10 years later. The wrong you see in me is right and the love we have for each other has not and will not be tainted.