I had no idea why we'd been called in for the meeting. There had been a few issues at the Essendon Hockey Club recently but surely nothing an email couldn't clear up.
Shortly after the meeting, which was held last month, began, our friend and former goalkeeper Gus Johnston arrived. Instead of commanding the room as he usually might, he asked us to gather around the projector.
He spoke briefly and unlike himself. He was uncomfortable. His voice trembled and his hands shook. He tripped on his words. Even before he said it, I knew it was cancer.
He said that he'd made a video that he'd like us to watch that would explain everything. For 12 minutes we were transfixed. No one spoke or moved. A room full of young men, suspended in the flickering of the projector.
Gus wasn't dying, he was gay.
Gus is a fearless hockey player and a natural leader. To realise that it had taken someone this courageous 32 years to open up to his friends was deeply upsetting. It was heartbreaking.
None of us had known, and none of us knew what to say. For a time we sat there, dealing with the shock and the nasty realisation that we had all in some way contributed to our friend's distress.
We didn't do too well putting these feelings into words; it was a lot to process. We were so proud and yet so sorry and more than anything we just wanted our friend to know that we were there for him. Thank god for hugs and handshakes.
Afterwards Gus and I went for a beer and a chat. I remember thinking, "Who are the good politicians for gay people?" I then realised with questions like that I might struggle to bring intelligent input to this conversation. I felt a sting of shame when I realised that because homosexuality wasn't my "problem", I'd never learned much about it.
Like most people who haven't had much contact with gay people I had no idea what it must be like. Hours after Gus showed us his video he posted it on YouTube. I hope that it encourages people who are struggling to be as brave as Gus and that they can find support from their family and friends as well as their community.
Sitting there with Gus that night, all that I could do was ask what I hoped were fair questions and pray that I learned something. So amid pots and parmas, two blokes had a go at discussing homosexuality, love and loneliness.
Gus listened patiently to my waffling and our conversation went in a lot of different directions as we allowed it to take its own shape. Doing his story justice meant that years of buried memories were pushing their way to the surface.
It was at times difficult to hear about what growing up had been like for him. What it was like to be a teenager, trying to make sense of what was going on without anyone to talk to.
As he shared his thoughts, I could see the relief sinking into his bones. The distinctly human reaction to having someone to talk to and equally, having them listen and try to understand. At that point I forgave myself for every moment where I didn't really know what to say because I realised that I was making a difference by just being there.
Andrew Beck is the goalkeeper for the Essendon Hockey Club and the Victorian Vikings. He is an advertising student at RMIT and works as a freelance copywriter.
Source: The Age