One year later, in April 2018, divorced and assigned to vacation detail with the Obamas, I found myself in Mexico, south of Cancun. The four-day detail fit perfectly within my schedule. I would return home Sunday, just in time for my Monday class at George Mason University… At 10:00 a.m. in my hotel room, I felt the fatigue from two-years on the road and keeping up a frantic tempo. I rubbed my eyes as an email arrived from ops… The trip is being extended, it said. I had no choice but to stay.
RICHMOND, Virginia ꟷ On a cold, clear, sunny day in mid-December of 2009, I made my way from my condo in Richmond, Virginia to the gym. Having worked the late shift with the police department the evening before, my day started mid-morning. I weaved through light traffic to the nearly empty parking lot, my husband of six weeks sitting beside me. Just before we climbed out of the car, my cell phone rang.
I looked down and immediately recognized the number. I waited 18 months for this call to come from the Richmond field office of the United States Secret Service. For a year and a half, I felt suspended, with my life on hold. My husband and I looked down at the phone in disbelief, grinning and moving our eyes back and forth from the phone to each other. My heart began to race.
I turned down the radio and put the phone on speaker as I answered the call. “Sir,” I said. The Special Agent in charge of the Richmond field office introduced himself in a deep and commanding voice. “Are you still interested in a position with the Secret Service,” he asked. He spoke concisely and with brevity, exchanging no banter or pleasantries. Of course, I accepted the job. “You need to pick a location,” he continued, reading off a list of cities to choose from. I grabbed the first thing I could find to write on – a pink drycleaning slip floating around in the front seat.
I scribbled down Los Angeles; New York; Miami; Newark, New Jersey; Albany, New York; and Jackson, Mississippi. “How long can I think about this,” I asked him. After all, I needed to look at home prices, cost of living, and assess the friendliness of each location. My husband and I wanted to ensure we moved somewhere a gay couple could flourish. “You have two days,” he informed me.
A giddy, nervous energy swept through our bodies as we made our way inside the gym. We could barely contain ourselves. After 20 minutes pretending to exercise, we quit and left for home. After a quick internet search, we began leaning toward Miami, but I had to report for work. I threw on my police uniform and left the house full of hope and optimism. Before roll call, I pulled my sergeant aside and gave my two-weeks-notice.
Inside the roll call room three rows of chairs awaited the 15 to 20 patrol officers on shift. The sergeant walked to the front of the room near the big whiteboard and began to break down the events of the last 24 hours. A paramilitary environment, everyone sat quietly listening. Just then, a staffer walked in and pulled me from the group. I had a phone call, which I took at the workstation, separated from roll call by a small, cheap divider.
I tried to speak quietly. On the phone, I heard the familiar voice of the Special Agent, only three hours after I spoke to him for the first time. “What city did you pick,” he asked me firmly. “Headquarters is asking. We need to know now.” I answered, “Sir, I guess it’s going to be Miami.” I hung up the phone, returned to my seat, and a flood of thoughts raced into my mind.
On the third of January, I would report for duty with the Secret Service, and I needed to sell my condo, pack all my things, find a new home, and move to Florida, where we could be open and proud as a couple. I lived as a closeted gay man my entire police career, and believed going federal offered me many more protections. The excitement permeating my body seemed indescribable.
For the next seven years, life flew by. The Secret Service reassigned me to Washington, D.C. I wanted children desperately, but my husband and I experienced a failed adoption attempt. With two demanding jobs, we drifted apart, and I needed a vacation. April meant a swam of tourists flooding D.C. for the cherry blossoms, so I booked a trip to Florida, alone. With Miami Pride in full swing, I made my way to South Beach.
One evening, as I napped in my room, my friend urged me to come to the rooftop party at our hotel. The clear night sky and warm air mingled with the music that wove through the large crowd. Suddenly, a handsome young man in his mid-twenties in a white tank top with blue stripes and a pair of shorts walked toward me. At about five foot eight with a muscular build, his black hair swept across his forehead. He knew my friends and approached us wearing a beautiful smile. We crossed paths two more times that night and I offered to buy him a drink.
Eventually, we made our way to a club a few blocks from the hotel. Alex and I stopped by my room so I could shower while he waited patiently. Modest and coy, nothing happened other than a little kiss. We strolled to the party, our hands locked, and an indescribable energy flooded through me. This man seemed so authentic and far more mature than his age. In front of the doors, we snapped a picture. He stood close, his head leaning on my shoulder. “How long have you been together,” people asked. Though we just met, they recognized the natural familiarity between us.
Inside the club, the atmosphere of Pride Week pulsated around the room. We made our way to some seating off to the side where we talked until the wee hours of the morning, barely finishing a drink. It felt like a trance as our eyes locked. When I breathed in deeply, everything in the background disappeared. I felt a fire lighting inside me. Throughout my early adulthood as a gay man, I never felt anything like this before. When Alex and I parted ways at 3:00 a.m., a vacuum left an emptiness in my heart. The following days played out like a movie.
We met for coffee the next morning and that evening, made our way to a friend’s house where we sat alone in the hot tub in the backyard. The stunning 75-degree air surrounded us as the stars dotted the clear night sky. We talked and talked. The next morning, I had a flight home, and he would soon be starting a doctoral program in North Carolina. We kissed that night, but never went any further; and when the clock struck 6:00 a.m. we resigned ourselves to sleep.
Before our eyelids closed, fear consumed us both. I grabbed his hand and said, “Don’t worry, you can go to sleep. You’re safe. We will figure this out. It isn’t a dream.” He nodded off in my arms. A couple hours later, the alarm jerked us back to reality. Our time had come to an end.
As the sun lit up the early morning sky, I walked him to his car in the driveway. To this day, that felt like the hardest goodbye I have ever said. Time stood still as I looked upon this person who encapsulated everything I ever wanted, and I had to let him go. Crying, I said, “I love you.” He asked me to say it again, and he said it back. He lifted his wrist and removed his favorite, lucky, leather bracelet and put it on my arm. “Until we see each other again, know I am with you,” he said.
For months, we continued to talk and met a couple of times, but between the intensity of my work and his education, the relationship faded. I went through my divorce and life moved forward in the Secret Service. Despite these endings, the experience with Alex became one of the most pivotal moments of my life, both as a person and a gay man.
It told me I was alive. For the first time, I knew what love should feel like and I wanted to shed the facade of being happy, for actually being happy. I needed a different kind of experience – one where I was more present in my body and my mind. I wanted to let down the walls I had built over so many years of hiding my true self. The electric energy of the time I spent with Alex permeated my being and pushed me to never give up hope. People say when you stop looking and expecting something, it finds you. In that magical moment, I learned to love without fear of failure.
One year later, in April 2018, divorced and assigned to vacation detail with the Obamas, I found myself in Mexico, south of Cancun. The four-day detail fit perfectly within my schedule. I would return home Sunday, just in time for my Monday class at George Mason University. Due to work, I already missed two classes. A third absence meant failing my class and possibly being dropped from the program.
At 10:00 a.m. in my hotel room, I felt the fatigue from two-years on the road and keeping up a frantic tempo. I rubbed my eyes as an email arrived from ops – the nucleus of our agency which pushed out notifications and changes to the teams. The trip is being extended, it said. I had no choice but to stay.
A lump of emotion arose in my throat as my blood pressure spiked. I felt irate and I knew I needed to do something. I made my way to the hotel gym and hopped on a spin bike, where I pumped my legs for an hour – sweating through the anger and emotion as I looked for clarity. When I gazed down, a pool of sweat puddled on the floor beneath me.
Thank goodness no one else came in that morning, because the tears streamed down my cheeks as I felt the pressure caving in on me. I was trapped by a life completely out of my control, but I could not say no. I could not fail my agency or my teammates. We lived in a “no-fail mission,” and it was our job to ensure the protectees were safe at all costs.
When the hour passed and I slowed down my pace, I crafted a Facebook post. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said. “I have to affect change in my life.” To that point, the outside world only saw the glory: the amazing trips around the world on private planes to exotic locations. When I made my way home, people wanted to hear as many stories as I could share. When you work with people like President Barack and Michelle Obama, the conversations inevitably revolve around your work. People’s genuine curiosity made the badge on my belt my whole identity.
Yes, my time as an agent was beautiful and privileged, but I existed on the periphery of worldly and influential people and traded away my life for theirs. Once I came clean, the veil dropped, and people began to see the deeper context of Cory. I did leave the Secret Service and one year to the day I made that Facebook post in Mexico, I started my new job in California. Uprooting my existence and moving to the west coast, far from family, felt scary, but I did it. I packed up my car, and my dog Simba and I set out on a new adventure.
Today, I lead special agents in two offices, teaching and molding the next generation. Shortly after moving to San Francisco, I met my now fiancé on a cruise. We have both wanted children for as long as we can remember, so we started the surrogacy process. As I sit on the floor at my friends’ houses playing with their children, I cannot wait to be a dad. After a long life in law enforcement, learning how to be a gay man in a para-militaristic world, and finding out what it means to really love in a vulnerable way, today, I am making my dreams come true. It is possible for me; and it is possible for you.
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