During the years since December 2001 I have grown a lot, and, in real terms this is behind me. Even so I remain curious, and perhaps a little wistful. So many years have passed, and I've seen his picture online. The boy has gone, but a sad look remains.

He is successful, a head of a busy and well managed law enforcement department in a large rural county in England. He has many heavy responsibilities and is well respected.

I think he is grown up enough, now, to receive another letter. So I sent it inside a birthday card. I sent it on the date of his birthday that he might receive it the following day

25 November 2010

Dear John

Happy birthday. Yes, I mean it. I thought you might look more favourably on a note from me after quite a time had elapsed. We're both older and wiser. Well, I'm older. I doubt I'm much wiser. I've rewritten this note about ten times. I decided to time it to arrive the day after, at least, just in case hearing from me annoyed you on your birthday. I don't want to spoil that. It's special, and I would be intruding.

I was quite surprised when I did, some time ago, a Google search for your name and found your official mugshot. I hadn't realised how successful you are. You're at the top of your profession. Well, you know that already. It's not really a surprise; you were always determined and competitive.

I know what a stressful job it is from [g/f], my son's girlfriend. Her mother's head of [somewhere or other]. Small world or what? I imagine you've met her. Not [g/f], obviously, but [mama].

I don't know about you, but I hate official pictures of me. You probably loathe yours, but it shows something very important about you apart from the fact that you carry your age well.

It shows that you are a kind man. You've never lost the kindness you had as a boy. There's a joke in there struggling to get out and your eyes show compassion. If I'm any judge I think you must be a damned fine boss. You must be a pretty good dad, too. Your kids are lucky.

I looked at some of the other links in google, too. You're highly respected and valued by your colleagues. Things like that have never happened to me in my career. I've just passed through jobs and never been missed.

All those years ago, when we spoke on the phone, you implied that you felt in some way a failure. You said that you were the first one in your family not to be a doctor, and you sounded as though it mattered. But you're a success. I'm not. All I've had in my working life is total crap. I'm just a survivor. And some of that ability to survive is somehow because of you.

The thing I don't understand is why you are so afraid of meeting. You can't seriously think I expect you to leap into my arms, declare undying love for me and we skip happily off into the sunset, surely? Why would that ever happen? I'm the gay one, not you, and anyway I'm settled with my life; I'm married and I plan on staying that way. You are too. Maybe it upset you to know you were loved at school, maybe I disgusted, disgust you. I don't know.

I've just been hoping, stupidly as it turns out, that you would take pity on me one day, and let me drive to [home town or work town] and let me buy you dinner while I embarrass myself because I've been such a total fool. I'm sure you understand my need for closure, and I understand that a meeting might feel difficult for you. I also know the only thing we have in common today is some weird memories of a pretty poor school that failed us both. Maybe the meal would be awkward, maybe we'd just get along pretty much as we always should have done, maybe we could end it as we always ought to have, as quiet and distant friends. Or maybe we would just shake hands and part as, well, something different from friends. But I would like to see your face and shake your hand even if I get the punch on the nose I half expect.

Sometimes it still hurts, and hurts a lot. I was truly stupid over this at school and after school. I thought I was being sensible by trying to blank it all out. As it happens I have hurt myself badly by doing that. I wish I'd talked to you then, but I was so afraid of rejection, something that is ironic since that is all I have ever had. There are days when it hurts almost too badly to bear. I had one of those days recently. I wasted so much of my potential by moping over something that was never mine to have. Some days I catch myself moping again.

We've moved home from [old town] in December 2009, we're now in a tiny terraced cottage, built in 1865 or thereabouts, overlooking the harbour in [new town]. We've retired early because we're both pretty much burned out by the rat race. My mother's death, sad though it was, enabled our retirement.

You know, I hope, that I only wish you well. I have always wished you well. I can't ever be free from my childhood, and it's not possible to forget my first love. There is no 'what might have been' and there never would have been. I just failed to let myself grow up back then.

Today I've grown up enough to be 'out' to the world as who I am. I campaign for human rights, emphasising LGBT rights simply because I can't campaign for everything. I draw on my experience of growing up scared and gay, and I try to bring humanity and humility to my campaigning.

I came out to my entire family 15 months ago, almost all with a good result. I lost a cousin who is simply a bigot. No real loss there. I came out to the OE alumni magazine last year. Perhaps you saw that and passed it by. I'm not the sad old git I seem to be painting myself in this letter. I have a great life. I've tried very hard to find and apologise to everyone I hurt as I was growing up, but I can't find them all.

Since I'm starting to ramble, and since I'm pretty sure you haven't read even this far, I'll stop by wishing you a happy birthday, health, wealth and happiness.