“No one would ever have predicted that Amir and I would get together. No one.” Ben is a slight man, his stature belying the ferocity of his words and the fire in his eyes to match.
“Well,” said Amir, “you wouldn’t have.” Amir is a soft-spoken man with dark, kind eyes.
Ben grimaced. “He’s right, though. My younger self would not understand the me of today. I was…pretty stupid.”
Amir patted Ben on the hand. “You got over it,” he said. Then he grinned.“Mostly.”
Amir grew up in Bangladesh – Muslim, poor, and happy. Ben grew up in rural Virginia – Christian, middle-class, and racist. “Not that I wasn’t happy too,” Ben assured us. “I mean, oddly enough, growing up with racism doesn’t preclude happiness. But it did make sure I was plenty angry by the time I was out on my own. And mean. I was vicious about Muslims, and the poor, and foreigners. And don’t get me started on the gays!”
Amir, for his part, wasn’t looking for a battlefield to sacrifice himself on. “We may not have had much when I was young, but my parents loved each other and they loved us children. I was raised to believe that love was, well, easy. I was surrounded by love at every moment, and I felt it in my whole being. It didn’t occur to me that there might be people out there, hating me without even knowing me. I was so innocent!”
Both men credit travel and education for changing their views on the world. “It was really eye-opening,” Ben said of his time in the Navy. “At first I was really resistant to just about everything, but after a while I relaxed. I told myself, what do I have to lose? I started talking to people about their experiences, and I learned a lot.” Including about himself – Ben came out after her retired from the military and started working in a corporate office. Amir attended university in London, then went on to get his master’s in political science in Washington, DC. “I am – actually, I think we both are – less religious than I was as a child. We both still hold the values of our traditions, but we are less strict. That helps.”
By the time the two met, they were…“ready for each other,” they both said in unison, and smiled.