Brotherly Love

STORY: 1976-1979—I moved to NYC for a position in a bank training program in October 1976 and almost immediately befriended another trainee: Brad was a Princeton grad, captain of his football team, and a tight end who’d been drafted by the NFL’s New England Patriots. He was smart, muscular, handsome, and charming, a combination that drew me to him like a bee to honey. I was smitten, but I kept my feelings to myself. Despite this, or perhaps because of my underlying attraction to him, we became quite close.

Early on, Brad invited me for drinks a few times in his apartment. On one visit, I met his beautiful sister, Beth, who was living with him while she sought more permanent lodging in Manhattan. While I secretly pined for Brad, Beth entered my life.


On a wintry early Friday evening in January 1976, Beth called me up out of the blue and asked what my plans were for the evening. I told her I was headed to see the movie “Rocky” alone and grab some dinner afterward. I was surprised by the call since we’d only met twice before. But, I sensed we’d be simpatico and invited her to come along, letting her know I had plans for later, so we’d need to separate at midnight. However, as the evening wore on, and we had dinner and a few drinks at my father’s jazz club, I found myself really liking her. The prospect of following through on my plans to hit a few gay bars grew less appealing.


“Didn’t you say you had plans at midnight?” Beth asked, glancing at her watch. It was well past midnight now.


“Well, yeah, but I’ve decided to forget about them since we’re having such a good time.”


“Oh, where were you planning to go?”, she asked.


“A bar…” I replied hesitantly.


“What kind of a bar?” She asked, fishing for more.


Despite my intentions not to disclose my sexuality to her, I did. “A gay bar…” I said.


The cat was out of the bag and there was no turning back. With prompting from Beth, I shared my life story, how I was fairly newly “out”, and I even admitted that I was attracted to her brother. After more drinks and the continued sharing of intimate secrets, at 3 a.m., I drove Beth home on the icy Manhattan streets. When we reached her brother’s place, where she was staying, she invited me up for a drink.


“Really?” I replied, giving her a skeptical look.


“Don’t worry! You’re safe. I’m not going to rape you!” She exhorted.


I acquiesced, parked the car and we headed upstairs. Brad was away at the time. She poured us both a drink. We’d already had quite a few. One thing led to another and we ended up in bed—Brad’s bed no less.


After our training program ended, Brad and I were placed in jobs in different areas of the bank, but our friendship prospered and we were thick as thieves for the next two years. At one point, I planned a much-needed vacation to visit my dad’s house on the island of St. Martin and invited Brad to join me. Did he want me to invite his sister or another friend to come with us? He said no. He just wanted a relaxing vacation with me. My imagination ran wild with the possibilities.


When we arrived in St. Martin, I had visions of replicating an earlier visit where I had seduced a Canadian backpacker and enjoyed a week-long romantic vacation idyll with him.


When Brad and I arrived there, we dropped our bags at the entrance to the house, began making Pina Coladas, smoking marijuana, and taking hits of amyl nitrate (also known as poppers). Donna Summer’s latest sexually-suggestive disco album was playing at full blast, as we sat on the terrace under a sky full of stars, made more vivid in this remote Caribbean island.


“What do you want to do next, Bam?” Brad lazily asked.


“I’d like to take another hit of poppers and then hold you,” I responded honestly.


“Bam, how do you tell someone who means as much as you do to me that you can’t give him what he needs?” he asked.


His words were said caringly, but hurt more than I could ever have imagined. After all, I’d only asked him for a hug. As much as I might have wanted to, I would never have pushed things beyond that point. I felt utterly rejected that he couldn’t give that much.

The rest of the week was a blur. I retreated inside myself, couldn’t shake the feeling of rejection, and was no doubt miserable company for him. It was so uncomfortable that, when the week ended, Brad raced onto the plane, while I stayed a second week with another friend who joined me. It was as if he couldn’t get away fast enough. Beth later tried to console me, suggesting that Brad might have been afraid that, if he had hugged me, he would have been tempted to go further, and he wasn't prepared to let that happen.


When I returned to NYC, I tried to clear the air, apologizing for how I’d behaved the rest of our week together. Brad said it wasn’t a problem, but things weren’t the same and we drifted apart. I heard that he eventually rose to become head of an investment bank’s London trading operation, married a woman, and had kids. I only recently reconnected with Beth, via Instagram, after 40 years and learned of the trajectories their lives took after that.


Brad was the last straight man with whom I allowed myself to become infatuated. The pain and frustration from such intense unrequited affection were too great to ever allow it to happen again.


—Mike Balaban

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