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The Strains of DADT on One Couple


I met Rocco in April of 1993. He was a Navy master chief serving in San Diego. He was 35, butch, built, and very sexy. I was 24, good-looking, and a psychiatric nurse working for the state of California. I first laid eyes on him during registration at the Buffalo Bar in Las Vegas. He was wearing shorts, a tight-fitting T-shirt, and construction boots.

After my friend Eric told me a little bit about Rocco, he warned me, "He does have a lover, but they're in an open relationship."

"I just want to meet the guy, Eric," I told him.

I spent the better part of the meet-and-greet staring at Rocco as I mingled with other motorcycle men. Eventually, he introduced himself as I was walking away from the bar. "Hi, I'm Rocco. I understand you want to meet me?" Speechless and feeling awkward, I stammered for words.

Soon I was at ease and laughing at his witty humor. I later met his lover, Christian, who was there with Drill, who was, fittingly, a drill sergeant. He looked like a pit bull on steroids with a penchant for getting drunk and picking fights. I realized that most of the people around me were in the military. Aren't any of them afraid of being caught? I wondered. Rocco was a master chief, Drill was a drill sergeant, and another guy was a first lieutenant and a pilot.

At 3 a.m., I was exhausted but still sitting in the bar. I had to sponsor the eye-opener cocktail party in three hours and needed to get back to my hotel room.

"Hey, um, we are leaving too. Would you like company?" Rocco asked.

"I am sorry, I don't do groups," I said. Rocco laughed, and for a second I felt insulted.

"Did you think I meant all of us?" he asked. I told him I was staying at the MGM Grand. Coincidentally, he was staying right across the hall.

The moment I opened the door, we were on each other, ripping clothes off as if they were on fire. After a night of wild passion, I was falling for him. I knew this was completely crazy -- I barely knew him.

When we met up with everyone, Christian asked if I'd had a good time with Rocco. I did not know what to say or how to react. I was not used to being the other man. Christian said he didn't mean to surprise me, but Rocco had returned to their room in a happy state. "He told me he had a great time with you," he said. That didn't sit well with me.

Early Monday morning Rocco and I had decided to go for a motorcycle ride. We arrived at Hoover Dam as the sun started to peak. I looked at Rocco in leather chaps, a wife beater, and a half-skull helmet, and I pulled my bike up beside him. He leaned over and kissed me. I asked him why he wanted to come all the way out here to Hoover Dam. Rocco looked at me and said, "We only live two to three hours away by car. I would like to continue seeing you."

We made plans for dinner that Wednesday.

We returned to Las Vegas to say our goodbyes to everyone. We packed up and headed out to our cars and bikes. I kissed Rocco and watched him, Christian, and Drill drive away. Eric could see that Rocco and I had fallen for each other. He also warned me not to play any dangerous games that I couldn't afford to lose.

I drove home to Palm Springs, Calif., with feelings of excitement and uncertainty. I wondered if I would hear from Rocco and how I should deal with Christian.

I told my mother about my weekend as I unpacked my suitcase. During our conversation my cell phone rang and my mom reached for it. I quickly grabbed it from her and told her to go find another one of her children to torture. She laughed. "They all caught on and left home," she retorted. "I keep hoping you will get the hint."

I was still laughing and shooing my mom out of my room when I answered the call. It was Rocco. He had made it home and wanted to make sure I had too.

When I met Rocco two days later, my jaw dropped to the floor at the sight of him -- he was in full uniform. I walked up and Rocco put out his hand to shake mine. I realized this is how it would be. As we made small talk, I made a checklist in my head: He has a lover, he is in the military, and we would have to be secretive. Was this worth it?

He invited me to his and Christian's home for the following weekend. I expressed my concern for his lover, but he told me that they had been together for 15 years and had not not slept together or had sex with each other in years. In fact, they had separate rooms. I asked why they were still together. "We have so many financial ties, and I am afraid he would come after me and try to ruin my military retirement," he said.

"Rocco, I don't know if I can handle this," I said. I got up to leave. "We had a great weekend. Let's just leave it there." But he explained how out of love he was with Christian. He knew it would come to an end. He had been trying to hold out longer than Christian, so he would have no reason to fear being blackmailed.

"Had he done that in the past?" I asked. "Had he used the Navy as a threat?"

"All the time," Rocco said.

Christian had gone to officer training school after graduating college, at Rocco's urging. While on duty in Key West, Fla., out of uniform, Christian had been identified kissing another man. He was brought in for questioning and asked if the allegations were true. He said yes. Christian said that the Navy claimed to have photos of the kiss. After confessing, Christian asked to see the photos. The investigating team told him it was a ruse. There were no pictures. He was discharged for conduct unbecoming an officer.

I knew this was plausible. I did not want to get involved in the drama, but I could not deny that I really liked Rocco. Christian was a hurdle.

Thursday night I had my bags packed, and I was off to San Diego early Friday morning for the weekend. When I arrived, two people were playing pool, steaks were cooking on the grill, and Fleetwood Mac was blaring from the Bose speakers in the garage. Looking around, I thought, These people are out there for being military. Outside their house was a huge leather flag flying in the wind. I rationalized this because it wasn't specifically a gay flag but a leather one. No one knows what a leather flag is, I told myself. They could live a little less in secret since they lived just far enough from the base. After dinner, Christian and Drill went off while Rocco and I sat in the Jacuzzi drinking margaritas and played cribbage.

The next day Rocco wanted to get his hair cut, and he talked me into a high-and-tight cut. I looked severe. I looked intimidating. I liked it. My hair had not looked like this since I was a kid and my dad dragged my brother and me out to the garage and took clippers to us. We got back to Rocco's and put the back fence up. Drill and I dug holes, hammered and nailed dog-ear six-footers, and tore down thorn-riddled bougainvillea bushes.

Eventually Rocco and I started to meet up each weekend, and our relationship flourished. One weekend, I went to San Diego to celebrate Rocco and Christian's 15th anniversary at a friend's home. Rocco assured me that it only appeased Christian's craving to have a party. To deal with the kisses and hugs between Rocco and Christian, I had a few cocktails and chatted with everyone. I did my best not to be on Rocco's arm too much but began to ask myself why I agreed to be here. If I had not, I would appear jealous, and being there, I felt more jealous.

At the end of the night, Rocco came over to me. "We have a problem and we need to leave," he said. As we made our way to the car, Christian took a blow from Drill. Before I knew it, they were beating the hell out of each other. Rocco and I grabbed Drill to separate them, and as we did, I took a punch to my face. Drill had turned on me and started to throw blows. All bets were off, and I started to strike back.

Eventually the fighting died down, and I was later blamed and targeted for getting too involved. Their argument shifted focus onto me and how I was coming between Rocco and Christian. It became a swirl of emotions and resentment, with everyone involved.

After that incident I started to feel the heat. I refused to come to San Diego for weeks. Rocco started coming to Palm Springs more to spend weekends with me at my mother's house.

Both my parents (who were divorced but still friendly) took a deep liking to Rocco instantly. Soon enough, Rocco and my mom would go off house-hunting. Since her recent appointment at a major state developmental center, she wanted to be closer to work. Rocco would play golf with my dad while I was at work if he came up for the weekend. Rocco and my dad had the military in common, and soon Rocco had become very good friends with not only my parents, but my family of golfers, who welcomed Rocco to every tee-off we planned.

After eight months, I knew I had fallen in love with Rocco, and it was Christian's time to go. Additionally, it was time for Rocco to decide. I went to San Diego to talk with Rocco. I invited him to lunch in the Rotunda Room of the Hotel Del Coronado.

"I came here to break up with you -- I cannot be the other guy," I said with tears in my eyes. In uniform, he started to cry too. "OK, but do I have a say in this?" he asked.

We left quickly, and he apologized, vowing to leave Christian. To avoid a skirmish, we decided to approach the situation as though we had broken up so that Christian would not think their separation was because of me.

Christian took the news badly even with Rocco's offer for him to keep the house. They split up, and Rocco moved into military housing. Rocco agreed to everything as long as Christian would just let him walk without further threats. They made a verbal agreement (anything written could be used against Rocco). But in time Christian's demands increased. We had no choice but to submit to the demands and threats of blackmail. It came to a point where we stopped having friends over for parties. It seemed that whenever we had friends over, Christian would know what happened. To my surprise, my best friend, Eric, was informing Christian of everything.

Early on a Tuesday morning I kissed Rocco goodbye, and he drove off to San Diego to leave for Pensacola, Fla., for training. I was sitting in the kitchen talking with my mom when I got a call from Rocco. He was in tears. I could not understand him at all. Finally, he gained enough composure to tell me that Christian had called the Naval Investigative Service. He was to report to them the following Monday morning in San Diego.

"Fuck it, I am going to tell them everything!" he said.

My mother overheard what was happening and grabbed the phone. At this point I was in tears. She asked Rocco where in the house in San Diego were all the papers, documents, and pictures that could possibly link him to Christian. My mother got off the phone with Rocco and told me, "We are going to San Diego to get things out of the house while Christian is at work tomorrow." Since Rocco's name was still legally on the house, we were technically not breaking in -- we had his permission.

While on the way to San Diego, my mother called my dad on the car phone. "Our worst fear happened," she told him. "We are on our way to San Diego. I will call you later, but in the meantime, check flight arrangements."

I threw a tantrum as my mother drove. She pulled over to give me a reality check.

"We do not have time for you to fall apart. You must listen to me, because I'm only going to say it once. I came up with a plan in the event that this was to happen, but I need you to go along with it." Her plan was to marry Rocco to protect him.

I laughed hysterically, partially masking my fear of losing the man I loved. But I went along with it, because being discharged from the Navy under "don't ask, don't tell" would destroy Rocco.

We cleaned out Rocco's house, removed pictures, specific documents, and anything that linked Rocco and Christian as a couple. Later that night we picked up Rocco and boarded a plane to Las Vegas, the city where we had met only months ago. When we arrived, we checked into a hotel, and then a justice of the peace legally married Rocco and my mother as I stood witness.

Rocco went to his scheduled NIS meeting the following Monday. I never did know what was said, and I never asked Rocco. Despite all of these efforts, Rocco retired a year later. At the end of his retirement ceremony, a single sailor blew a ship's whistle as my mother and Rocco walked past naval officers saluting him. I fought back the tears, as I knew something Rocco loved so very much was now at an end.

Rocco and I had a wonderful six years together, but eventually our relationship ended too. We grew apart and finally started to see other people. My mother helped him get a job with the state, and Rocco rose in the ranks rapidly. What was initially a good idea became my biggest regret. I realized how Rocco used me and how it was about him and his career with the state. Everything became rooted in business between him and me. What was a matter of convenience was now taking on the appearance of a legitimate yet sexless marriage between Rocco and my mom. I felt insignificant, small, and invalidated. It seemed that Rocco and my mom got in over their heads with power and greed, and both gained so much from each other. My mother provided the connections, and Rocco had the intelligence to pull off climbing up the ladder.

On several occasions I proposed that we leave and he break things off with my mother, but Rocco would not do it. I left our relationship mentally -- I had already felt excluded from their inner loop, since they were married to each other and working together.

The last straw was that when a manager position became available, my mother would not help me get the position, but when she was offered an administrator position, she declined it, passing it off to higher-ups to give to Rocco. My own mother passed me over for an opportunity for promotion but pulled all kinds of strings for my lover. In February 2000, I moved out. It was a bitter breakup, and my mother sided with Rocco. Shortly after I left, my mother recognized his manipulations, and we repaired our fragile relationship. She realized I had been treated unfairly and that Rocco did not do enough to make our relationship work. She admitted to getting caught up in her career while neglecting her son's needs. I am glad I mended fences with my mother.

In 2004, Rocco and my mother's divorce became final. My promotion finally happened, and I became a unit supervisor at Napa State Hospital. My mother retired and moved back to Michigan, where she grew up. Five months after retiring, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I received the call at work, and for the next six weeks I took care of her. On March 31, 2005, she died in my arms. Rocco never showed up at the memorial service I held for her.

Rocco and my mother had a bitter divorce. I was told that Rocco trashed my mom, who helped him advance his career to where he is now as an executive with the state of California. It was through me that he got there. When I walked away I lost everything. My mother had the ability to say she was wrong and tell me how sorry she was. I had asked Rocco to marry me many times. We had matching bands, and my mom had one hell of a rock on her finger from Rocco. My mother requested that I scatter her ashes on Elia Beach in Greece. I took the ring I wore for Rocco and the ring that Rocco had given her, and with her ashes, I said goodbye. I watched the rings disappear to the bottom of the Aegean Sea. Forever bound in time, a memory frozen in time. A love for a man, my mother who protected him, and my thoughts; the death of these these things will remain scattered in the wind.

Looking back now, I do not regret the action, only the outcome.

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