There are many things I admire and adore about my friend, Tomato. His ability to read my mind, how he always tells me the truth, his uncanny ability to help other people be their very best selves, his effortless dance moves, his big ol’ laugh that takes up the entire room, and the way he (no matter how much time has passed between seeing each other) always “gets” me.
But I think the quality I most admire about my friend is his absolute authenticity. Tomato was not always the self-confident powerhouse you see before you now. After almost twenty years of knowing one another, we have seen each other through some of the best and worst times. High school graduations, stupid school dances, concerts, late night talks, unfortunate hair don’ts, pool parties, family crises and heartbreak. He was there when I found out my father died and he held me as I cried. I sat next to him at his beloved Aunt Bernice’s funeral. We’ve seen death. We’ve seen life. And we’ve loved the whole way through it.
It was a few years after we’d given up trying to date when he took me out to dinner to share some big news. At first I thought he was telling me that he’d met a new girl but in actuality, he was telling me that he is gay. I’ve heard all the stupid jokes about how I “made him gay” or the curious inquires as to how I couldn’t have known- “Didn’t you guys date?” There have been a few too many times where I have had to shoot a pointed look at someone as if to say “are you fucking kidding me with this?!” because the ignorance and prejudice was just too much. Over the years I have become a passionate advocate for gay rights not just because some of my best friends are gay but because it is THE RIGHT THING TO DO. We all want to love. That’s it. Every single one of us should have a shot at that. Without shame. Without hostility. Without persecution. Tomato found the courage to be who he is and that’s something we can all, no matter what our sexuality, take a lesson in.
I am so grateful for my friendship with Tomato. He is the most alive person I know. He is carpe diem incarnate. He is my lighthouse, my safe harbor, my Madonna in the Cherish video rolling around in the surf. He’s Edie Brickell on a warm summer day driving around with the top down. He’s a surprise party with noise makers and decadent chocolate cake. He’s like Buddha (no, I am not saying you are fat) meets Bette Midler. He’s the deepest belly laugh I’ve ever met.
This weekend is Gay Pride in Seattle and today is Tomato’s birthday. I can’t think of two better reasons to raise my glass in celebration. Here’s to being proud of who you are! Here’s to a friendship that I can’t imagine my life without!
Happy Birthday, friend. You know I love you more than my luggage.