When I was in high school, I had a slightly sexual, slightly romantic relationship with a very closeted guy who was on the football team. He was a grade or two behind me, so not in my circle of friends, and he was definitely my first love. When I went away to college, he found someone else to carry on the hidden affair with. All the while he had a girlfriend, played football and baseball, and no one would have ever guessed that he liked boys.
I think about him once in a while. Not in any fantasy, or romantic or longing way, but about who he is now, what his life must be like, and if he still harbors feelings for men. He still must. I don’t think you just get over that.
Unfortunately, he’s not on social media, and I can’t really ask anyone about him since they would probably wonder why I was asking about someone who “wasn’t in my class.” It dawned on me a few months ago to try and find him on LinkedIn, and I did. And while I’m no Brad Pitt, his profile picture didn’t resemble the disarmingly cute guy he was in high school.
And I’ll be honest, I was really disappointed that he didn’t look like the guy I knew. I’m not sure if it bothered me because it made me feel older, or if I had a sudden fantasy that he would still be hot, and we would reconnect at some point and rekindle what we had. I'm half-joking of course, since, I have no need for that now and quite happy with where I am now.
When I read about Buzz and Tommy — centering around a long-lost photo from over 70 years ago that depicts two male lifeguards holding hands and a loving enscription on the back of the photo — it made me think of my high school romance, and all the young love relationships that many of us may have had that were not unrequited but were eventually quitted. Ended because one of the love interests could not come to terms with their sexuality, could not risk being exposed as possibly gay, simply just met someone else, or could not fathom a life of being gay. Two young hearts, indecisive minds, and mutual desires separated for good, for the best, or for regret?
According to what has been written about Buzz and Tommy, the men would be in their 80s or early 90s. Everyone who reads and comments on their story has been speculating about their love, their lives, and their whereabouts.
Were they summer loves who waved goodbye to each other, tears in their eyes, in front of their parents, as they each headed back home? Off to live “normal” lives with wives, children, white picket fences, and unspeakable secrets? And the constant, burning, lingering question of “what if?” Dying with devastating secrets and half-lived existences.
Perhaps they are like Jack and Ennis from Brokeback Mountain, who did all of the above, but managed to find time for themselves, sneaking away from“normal” and meeting each other in secret throughout their lives. Only to find out one day that Buzz, or Tommy, had died, leaving the lone lover tormented by grief and contemplating the possibility of what could have been.
Could Tommy have been Buzz’s elder, their May-August romance indicative of Buzz’s adoration for his idol? A fleeting summer fling that meant the world to both at the time, but memories of a young, lustful love laid to rest during a lifetime? Perhaps like Oliver and Elio from Call Me By Your Name? Buzz called Tommy and Tommy called Buzz.
Or, did Buzz and Tommy live that “normal” life, but then decide, decades into that false normalcy, that the real truth was too much to hide, and come clean with their lives? And go on to find love with other men, or each other. Sort of like Saul and Robert from Frankie and Grace? Living their lives contented, happy, and finally fulfilled.
Finally, could the two men have lived a long secret life of happiness together? “Roommates” for a lifetime filled with intimacy and love behind closed doors. In a relationship in the closet for decades like Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, players in the women's baseball league that inspired the movie A League of Their Own, who spent 65 years together as more than just teammates?
The reality is Buzz and Tommy were not a movie, or a television show or some novel romance. They are just a simple, black and white photograph, with expressionless faces, and a sly hand hold. The secret lies not in their picture, but in the written words “All my love, your Tommy.” They were a “my,” and a “your” at one point in their lives.
We will most likely never know more than that. Unless someone develops a movie or mini-series and gives us a fictitious look at the love of Buzz and Tommy. But we do we really need all of that?
What many of us have is our own memories of a first love, a summer love, or a brief romance that consumed our young worlds, and then just as soon as it started, it was over, and we went on, left only with a momentary memory and an occasional surreptitious smile.
Or, if we cared that much, or wondered that often, or impulsively remembered that person, we’d spend a few hours searching the internet, attempting to unearth a reminiscence.
Someone has unearthed Buzz and Tommy’s picture, and in the process, probably unearthed all of our own Buzz and Tommy stories.
John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.