Andy Goodling met his boyfriend, Bryan, at college in Pennsylvania. Six years ago, they started dating — but for years, they kept their relationship hidden.
"Bryan was my best friend, but we were both very much in the closet," Goodling tells his father, Scott, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "You know, we knew who we were. We just didn't want to actually say it."
Indoors, at Goodling's house, they were boyfriends. They would spend time together in private, express their love for one another — then, when they stepped back into public, they'd put their hats back on and assume a familiar act, "trying to be straight," Goodling says.
He even changed Bryan's name in his phone to a woman's name, just in case someone happened to be looking over his shoulder when he received a text.
"Any possible way to show that I wasn't gay I would do it."
Goodling says they'd decided finally to tell their families about the relationship while on a trip to Florida. When they said goodbye to each other at the airport, Goodling was so nervous he was scared to hug and kiss Bryan, for fear of someone seeing them.
It was the last time Goodling saw Bryan. In April 2014, Bryan died suddenly from pneumonia. And Goodling was left with the lingering memory of that abrupt farewell.
"I will always be upset that I couldn't have said a proper goodbye," Goodling says.
Still, he summoned the courage to tell his father about their relationship.
"You called me roughly 3 p.m., and I knew immediately from your tone of voice, something was really wrong," his father, Scott, recalls. The elder Goodling listened as his son explained that Bryan wasn't just a friend, that Bryan had been his boyfriend for four years.
Even now, it remains something Goodling feels uncomfortable admitting to his father.
"I'm afraid of disappointing you," he tells his dad. "I'm afraid it doesn't fulfill the life that you probably intended for me to have. And I also didn't want to change our relationship."
His father's response?
"I've never had any of those thoughts about planning a life for you," he tells his son. "Whatever it means for you to be happy, that's all I care. I told you, right after Bryan died, anybody that's that important to you is that important to me."
At Bryan's funeral, his cousins approached some of the girls both he and Goodling knew. They asked around, trying to find out which of them was Bryan's girlfriend. All the while, Goodling stood by and watched.
"This is not the time to say it," Goodling recalls thinking to himself at the time, "but you really don't know who Bryan was."
Partly to help with that, to draw back the curtain Bryan had kept over his secrets, Goodling says he wrote Bryan's parents a letter — "because I think they should know that he was loved and that he was in love."
They haven't responded. And while Goodling harbors hopes, he says he doesn't know if they ever will.
"But I want them to know that Bryan was my everything," he says. "And we had an amazing future planned."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Von Diaz.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There's the music, so you know it's time again for StoryCorps. Today, a romance cut short. Six years ago, two young men who met in college in Pennsylvania started dating. Neither had come out as gay, so they kept their relationship hidden. We're going to hear from one of them now. Andy Goodling lost his boyfriend Bryan to a sudden illness in 2014. Andy came to StoryCorps with his father, Scott, to remember Bryan.
ANDY GOODLING: Bryan was my best friend, but we were both very much in the closet. You know, we knew who we were. We just didn't want to actually say it. He would come over to my house. We would hang out, you know, and then we would hug each other inside the building, say that I love you and then immediately once we walked out the door, hat backwards, walking down the street, trying to be straight. I remember even when I first started seeing him I changed the name in my phone just in case he sent me a message.
SCOTT GOODLING: Did you change it to a girl's name?
A. GOODLING: Yes, any possible way to show that I wasn't gay, I would do it.
S. GOODLING: Talk to me a little bit about the last time you saw Bryan.
A. GOODLING: It was when we took a trip to Florida. We went to dinner and said that we would start talking to our family. I couldn't even eat that night 'cause I was so nervous even thinking about saying it. And I remember the last time that I saw him, you know, I was so scared to hug and kiss him goodbye at the airport.
S. GOODLING: Because of somebody seeing you.
A. GOODLING: Because of somebody seeing us. And I will always be upset that I couldn't have said a proper goodbye.
S. GOODLING: You called me at roughly 3 p.m. and I knew immediately something was really wrong.
A. GOODLING: I said that Bryan wasn't just my friend. He was my boyfriend of four years, but even then I didn't want to say it.
S. GOODLING: Why is it still something that you're uncomfortable with?
A. GOODLING: I'm afraid of disappointing you. I'm afraid it doesn't fulfill the life that you probably intended for me to have. And I also didn't want to change our relationship.
S. GOODLING: I've never had any of those thoughts about planning a life for you. Whatever it means for you to be happy, that's all I care. I told you right after Bryan died anybody that's that important to you is that important to me.
A. GOODLING: I remember at the funeral his cousins came up to his girlfriends, you know, our mutual friends and asked do you know who his girlfriend was? You know, was it one of you? And I was standing right there beside them thinking this is not the time to say it, but you really don't know who Bryan was.
S. GOODLING: If you could talk to Bryan's parents, what would you say to them?
A. GOODLING: I mean, I did write them a letter because I think they should know that he was loved and that he was in love. They haven't responded to me, but I want them to know that Bryan was my everything, and we had an amazing future planned.
S. GOODLING: Do you think you'll ever hear from them?
A. GOODLING: I don't know. I hope so.
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MONTAGNE: That's Andy Goodling and his father, Scott. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. It's part of OutLoud, StoryCorps's initiative to collect LGBTQ stories. Read more at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.