Nevertheless, I made the rendevouz and over the first cup of coffee, he told me about his wife being in hospital after collapsing at work. As the time passed we discussed many things and then we moved onto my imminent move to The Gulf and keeping in contact and whilst commenting about security of the internet, he came out with ‘I know’ – the hairs on the back of my neck rose as he elaborated. It seems that his son had rang him almost as soon as he knew of Emma and had told his dad. Well, I don’t remember much of the conversation whilst we sipped a second mug of coffee, suffice to say that he reaffirmed that he was still my best mate, my brother and what I did in my spare time was not a concern of his.
Moving on a few days and I have thrown a dinner party to celebrate my wife’s birthday inviting my closest friends and their wives and partners, including my best mate - my friends all being players in my team. As is the norm when we are entertaining I was in charge of the cooking and with drinks in hand, the guys joined me in the kitchen whist I was putting the finishing touches to the dinner and the girls congregated in the living room and dining room chatting, music in the background.
Whilst stirring the Somerset pork in cider, one of the guys said we know!. One at a time my friends reaffirmed their friendship though expressing no understanding why I did it. These were all big guys and fellow rugby players accepting the fact that I liked to wear womens clothes and go out dressed! I was dumbstruck, and still today none the wiser why my best mate saw fit to say anything to anyone else! When I broached the subject in a personal letter I wrote once back here in the Gulf after Christmas, he denied telling anyone but said they already knew!
Back to the party, the evening went very well and after asking the guys to not mention anything to my wife about their knowing which they all agreed to, I tried to settle down and enjoy the rest of the evening. I did not want my wife to know that our friends knew about Emma before I moved out to the Gulf as I felt it would be unfair and whilst we have, since my disclosure to her of Emma some three years ago, endeavoured to be open and honest to each other, I felt in addition to my departure, this would add an unnecessary burden to her.
Moving on, I shipped out to the Gulf a few weeks later and concentrated on settling down in a new country, a new job and dealing with fresh and new challenges as they presented themselves. No Emma out here, she was left 3,300 miles behind though not out of mind.
I had originally planned to come back for the first time at Easter but soon decided I wanted to be home with my family at Christmas and feeling like Father Christmas was able for the first time in many Christmas’s provide very well for my family.
Christmas Eve, my wife and I decided to eat in a local pub and whilst there, one of my good mates rang to suggest we meet in the local Wetherspoons later for a few drinks to celebrate my return so to speak. This we did and sat down amongst the revelry catching up with what had been happening in my absence. Then after a few more beers my mate came straight out in front of his partner and my wife warning me of my intending attendance at the Boxing Day charity game. They know! Since my departure, someone came across my flickr site and the word had spread like wildfire with everyone taking a good look at my photos of Emma. Everyone is waiting for me to turn up on Boxing Day he warned me. My wife was almost in tears at this point, bearing in mind the fragility of the position and suffice to say it put a bit of a dampner on the rest of the evening. My mate grabbed me in a friendly way and came out with ‘I’m a man’s man!’ my response was ‘So am I!’ it takes balls to go out wearing a dress!! I reiterated that in every situation we had been in trouble we stood back to back and fought as equals, why do you feel that anything has changed! I am exactly the same person that you have known these last 15 years, nothing will change, only your knowledge has coloured your opinion. He then went onto profess no understanding as to why I did what I did and I also told him I had no idea why I was who I was. In the meanwhile my mates partner was comforting my wife. The end of the night came and we made our way home in silence.
Christmas Day whilst being everything we expected with our daughters home and one fiancé and one boyfriend as well, my wife and I were somewhat subdued. In my mind, what was going to happen the next day was preying heavily on my mind. In my own mind, not turning up was never an option.
Boxing Day and the day of reckoning dawned. I bade my wife goodbye and with heavy heart made my way to the rugby club with my camera to take photos of the game being held in aid of a cancer charity in memory of a young player who had died at the age of 23 of cancer several years ago.
I mingled with my rugby club friends on the sidelines whilst taking photos. No comments! After the game, I went back into the Club house to face my fate. Smiling, head held high I firmly entered the lion’s den to face whatever!
With a drink in my hand, I mingled. My strategy was to show that I didn’t give a shit! Let someone start the ball rolling and they did. I approached a group of three of the older ex players I was friendly with and after exchanging small talk, one of the guys finally challenged me. To be honest it was less of a challenge more of a fact finding conversation. Both the others made the point that they didn’t see any problem with what I did and even the original guy who broached the subject and who is a pretty abrasive character agreed that he had no problems with what I did. After about 20 minutes, during which I was subject to typical banter arising from my disclosure, I continued to circulate and now the ice was broken player after player came up to me in ones and twos expressing surprise and support and confirming that they had been fascinated in looking at my photos on flickr. Not one derogatory or insulting comment was made.
Several hours later and quite a few beers down my neck I left the Club the same way I had entered, head held high and didn’t look back. Other than a furtive text to my wife telling her everything was ok, that was that, or was it?
One interesting fact that came out of my conversations was the fact that they were still unsure of my name but to access my flickr site they would have to have known my full name. There was and still is no location or other information on the site which would lead you to myself, yet this is what happened. No one who initially discovered Emma knew my name so how did the whole of the rugby club come to check out my flickr site.
Back in the Gulf, I was upset to find out how fragile and exposed my wife felt being left behind in the full knowledge that all our friends now knew about Emma. With some trepidation I wrote a deeply personal letter to my best mate seeking an understanding as my wife had felt ostracised since my return to the Gulf and even myself started feeling paranoid in that very few of my friends seemed to make any effort to keep in touch with me either on facebook or by e-mail or messaging. My mate explained that there were a few of my friends who were having difficulty in the knowledge that they now shared but that he was trying to educate them on my behalf and in my absence. Suffice to say we exchanged a number of deeply personal e-mails and resolved many issues in my mind. The balance will be dealt with over a few whiskies this Easter on my return to the UK.
Finally, I am joining my team on tour at the beginning of May. This should finally put paid to any doubters and offer the opportunity to those uncertain about myself to seek a better understanding.
If you have made it to the end, many thanks for your patience and I hope that you can see that we all usually fear the worst, but when that doesn’t transpire, we can be pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, I still would have preferred my secret to have remained such – far simpler all around and less strain on my loved ones.
to put the record straight, I had been out in Leicester before that night and called in a pub that I knew he was associated with with the intent of saying hello on the understanding that this was not for general knowledge. I know, naive or not, I knew the guy and thought that that would not have been a problem. However, what did happen was I had arranged to meet Amanda at the pub and when I got there found out that she was going to be about 90 minutes so I took up a high stool at the bar and started chatting to the barman during the course of the conversation I asked if my friend's son was around. In actual fact he was at one of the other pubs/clubs doing something with the lighting for the evening disco etc and was too busy to come over or to the phone, however enough information was passed between him and the barman for him to identify myself and his last comment to the barman was he (me) is my dad's friend - end of story. So you see I did not have a chance to speak direct to him that night and I later found out as per my post above that he had rang his dad and told him. Hence when we visited one of the other pubs a few weeks later and came across him working behind the bar, the damage was already done so to speak and despite my comments to him on leaving not to say anything it appears it was too late by a few weeks.
Interesting enough, when organising the meal and night out for the girls in Nottingham, we had originally opted for going out in Nottingham itself only to have a number of the girls state they were uncomfortable so close to home and hence we switched it to Leicester, and the chance that the bar I had chosen may well indeed have someone there that I knew. Don't get me wrong, ultimately this was my choice.
Following on from that initial foray, the girls from Nottingham have now established a very successful and well supported regular night out each month and I wish them well, my only regret is the fact that I am now not able to join them.
In the bar in Leicester that fateful evening!