Coming Out: a collaboration between The Free Press and Outlook Columbus in honor of National Coming Out Day Editor’s Note: Linda Flickinger approached Outlook Columbus months ago with a proposal to collect and share coming-out stories as a way to ease the coming-out process for our fellow Central Ohioans who are just beginning the journey. We loved the idea, and we’re happy that she is the first to share her story. Oct 11 is National Coming Out Day, and to all those who have recently or are about to come out, welcome. Please step up to claim your toaster ovens. With Linda’s beautiful story, we launch our coming out series. We invite you to share your own coming-out stories, whether they’re funny, painful, happy or heart-breaking. We’ll post them on and create a space on our website where they’ll be archived as a coming-out resource. Forbidden Fruit By Linda Flickinger “The O-N-L-Y sanctioned relationships are those between a M-A-N and his W-I-F-E ... in the HOLY bonds of MATRIMONY ... You C-A-N-N-O-T live in S-I-N and get to heaven,” the booming rhythmic bass voice from the pulpit proclaimed. “Amen” is enthusiastically shouted on this typical Sunday morning in 1976 in rural Ohio, the church sanctuary filled with 200 faithful members perched on wooden, red-cushioned pews. I sit next to my best friend, my love. Yet no one knows we are in a “sinful” relationship. The preacher said “homosexuals” are the worst of all sinners. I’ve always followed the rules, but I have fallen for Ann (not her real name) and I don’t want to give her up. It doesn’t feel wrong, wanting to be together all the time, snuggling, teasing and touching. One seemingly typical Friday night, the late show ends and the console television transitions to static. My lightly sweaty hand holds hers under a blanket on the couch as her family sleeps upstairs. A bit of moonlight glows through the patio door. Her head is slowly closing in and I fix my eyes on the snowy screen straight ahead. Closer. What is she doing? My heart is racing, I’m barely breathing. I want her to kiss me. I hope she kisses me. Her breath is warm on my cheek. She gives me every opportunity to stop her, but I don’t. Her lips gently touch mine. Pressing in, she caresses my lips with hers. Somehow my lips respond like they know what to do and I surrender. I want another; knowingly, she responds. What a wonderful beginning. Over the next weeks, we move to her bedroom and share love physically and emotionally, enjoying each other for who we are. True love blossoms, deepens, and our secret is secure. We are not alike, yet we are. She is tennis shoes; I am heels. I am makeup; she is el naturale. She is social; I am shy. I am lip gloss; she is ChapStick. She is a little chunky, I am thin. I carry a pocketbook, she uses a pocket. She is flannel and jeans; I am polyester and cashmere. I have a Volkswagen Beetle, she has a Barracuda. We are good together. My religious teaching rises up as a smoke signal in the distance calling me. By kissing her, have I tasted the proverbial apple like Eve in the Garden of Eden? Are we barred from heaven? Would any man want me now? Is that even what I want? Two years later, and a day changes everything. Mom’s voice has that cold tone again, and it will be one of “those” talks. She sighs deeply, “I talked to the pastor, and he said he knows all about you and Ann. It is a sin, Linda. He blames you and that you are obviously corrupting Ann. He said to keep you away from her or he will take further action.” Her face is filled with pain and distance, and my body stirs uncomfortably. I could be exiled emotionally and may be homeless. I know the cycle of my life and my place in it. “Is what the pastor said true? Are you... more than friends?” “Yes.” I will not lie. “You are never to see her again. Do you understand?” “Yes, Mom.” My compliant answer releases her to leave in cold silence. The tears burn and flow freely down my freckled cheeks. Feebly my legs carry me to my bed and my broken heart pours into my pillow while I try to stifle the pain. That first long year my room held my secret tears that soaked my pillow every night. I prayed for Ann to find happiness, love I couldn’t share with her, to forgive me for leaving without explanation. Life moved on and I did find a man, of sorts. Ten years later with two small children, a domestic violence survivor, desperate financial issues, emotionally empty and considering suicide, I found the strength to leave him one final time. Maybe I can find some peace. I had settled for so much less than true love. My sons are teenagers now. Maybe I can try dating. Maybe I can trust again. But a man? Twenty-seven years have passed since I have looked into those blue-gray eyes of Ann’s. Maybe I should consider contacting... No, I can’t. It was, is forbidden. Things are different than in 1978, but has God changed his mind? Perhaps God doesn’t believe what Christians believe. Perhaps I just need closure. A note would work. After 11 drafts, it’s finally written. Dear Ann, How are you? I know it’s been a very long time… too long… you have always held a special place in my heart. Done. Thirteen long days later and the mail brings a response! It’s her handwriting! She opened up, but I could sense the caution. More letters, then phone calls and finally a get-together. The August morning is warm. The 99-mile drive from my driveway to hers passes like minutes. I see those eyes sparkling! Smiling, she breathes out an extended “Hhhhiiii!” She is still tennis shoes; I am still heels. I am still makeup; she is still el naturale. I am still lipstick; she is still ChapStick. I still carry a purse; she still has a pocket. Eight years have passed since that day, and our former lives are hard to remember. Last year we made the trip to New York, and on Dec 22, 2012, we were married.