In Honor of National Coming Out Day I'm sharing a piece I wrote last year for a storytelling competition.
'Loretta, my mother, thought she had her solution nailed. After all, the shrink she’d scheduled me with for an emergency appointment the following day was not only a psychologist but a Presbyterian minister and former fraternity brother of my father’s. Credentials matter with Loretta. So for the woman who’d found my father at Bethel Presbyterian Church in 1950s Sacramento and then put said husband through his PhD at UC Davis both selling shoes and transcribing shorthand for campus staff while living the newlywed life surrounded by other Kappa Kappa couples in Aggie Villa, the on campus married student housing, well Dr. Robinson’s resume was my mom’s super lotto gold triple extra large bonus winning ticket.
It was the day after Christmas1984, and my two older brothers knew I’d planned on telling my parents I was gay that afternoon—which was why while I was reclining with my book on the family room sofa they were standing in the kitchen waving their arms in baseball’s “you’re OUT” pattern, mouthing and shaking their heads NO. While Eric and Brian were in my field of vision, mom had her back to them while seated at her appointed dining table chair where she was enjoying decaf coffee and a design magazine. Clearly, they thought it a bad idea, that she could’t handle it. This was the same woman, who, excited for my arrival from college for a visit the previous year had met me on the front porch and greeted me with a wail of “Oh, AMY!’ followed by an outburst of tears, upon seeing my peroxide blonde Billy Idol hair. It was 1983. She couldn’t handle it, nor the multiple piercings in my ear.
As was my habit I ignored the advice in front of me and said “Hey Mom, guess what?” Dutifully raising her head towards me she said “What?”, to which I replied: “I’m gay.” Once again I heard the plaintive voiced “Oh AMY,” only this time followed by her repeated utterance of the word “no.” No. no, no. She pushed herself back from the table and put her head in her hands as she folded forward from her waist. She was crying. Working her way to hysterical crying. Crying. And a little bit of that wailing thing. Suddenly it was all starting to feel a little too Tennessee Williams for me: the tall, dark, handsome gentleman, my father, enters stage left to offer his wife, who’s overcome with the vapors, a hanky; in the kitchen the brothers stand silently (for the first time ever), eating in a continuous stream to both appear busy and seem incapable of speech; Amy, our protagonist, notices the growing twilight and a dog’s howl…and get’s the hell out of there.
When I returned after dinner around 7, my mother had taken to bed: something we’d never seen this protestant work ethic club member do. She wasn’t handling it. But she had orchestrated her solution. My dad, always the calm force in the quick breaking waves of our crazy household, told me he’d drive me to my appointment the next morning. Dr. Robinson, who I’d known from my father’s infrequent poker nights, was kind faced and smoked the occasional cigar during their card games, and this translated into me not being nervous to meet him at his office. My father deposited me exactly on time, and the two old friends exchanged Presbyterian/Kappa pleasantries before Dad’s exit. The door closed and before I could sit the good Doctor looked me directly in the eyes and said “Amy. How are you doing?” It was the most unexpected and welcome question of my life.
Mom was happy when, after a particularly bad breakup, I swore off women. She was really happy when I told her I was dating a guy: after all, he and I allowed our co workers to convince us to dress as Pebbles and Bam Bam for a workplace halloween party. Mom was also happy when I continued down that heterosexual pathway all the way into a twin pregnancy. An unmarried and pregnant daughter? she handled that news with veritable glee: grandkids. A shotgun wedding? No problem. She was a retired florist. Wedding, handled.
Truly, I know now Loretta handled my divorce, my coming out a second time (she adores my partner), her 66 year old husband dropping dead of a heart attack, followed 16 months later by her 36 year old middle son committing suicide…well she has handled it all better than most ever could. And her early practice handling her alcoholic father and graveyard shift working, negligent mother surely helped shape mom into the warrior survivor churchy nasty artist woman who continues to inspire me. If only she could have handled that keg party I threw senior year.
Time to Read
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