With a sigh, I huddled under my favorite cedar tree, wrapped my arms around my chest and hugged myself tightly as the heavy rain poured down around me in a chorus of quiet murmurs. Alone in my oasis of dry land in a sea of damp earth, I shuddered and rested my head against the scarred trunk of the ancient tree. As I looked up through the maze of twisted, moss-covered branches to the gray sky above, three fat raindrops plicked onto my cheeks, mingling with my tears. I sighed again, deeply this time, and as I turned my thoughts inward, the sound of the falling rain grew to a deafening roar.
“Mom,” I said, after a long and awkward silence, “I need to tell you something.” We’d been talking for over an hour now. My stepdad was out in the shop, pointedly avoiding us both. Mom and I could read each other well enough that she knew I had something very difficult to say, and I knew that she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it. I took a deep breath, held her hands, looked into those caring, deep eyes I’d known my whole life, and said, “I’m gay.”
Silence. Her pupils dilated in surprise, her face paled, her eyes momentarily unfocused. “No,” she stammered, shaking her head, “I don’t believe it. No!”
She let go of my hands.
Off to my left, a trio of bullfrogs began their evening serenade, loudly clamoring to be heard over the rain. The branches above me were mostly soaked now, and more water was getting through. Heavy raindrops, cold and hard, drummed against my already numb face. This isn’t how it was supposed to go, I thought to myself, my fists clenched tight in frustration, teeth gritted against the pain and the cold.
Neither of us spoke for several moments. The clock on the wall tick-tocked the growing awkward silence with cold precision. “Mom,” I began, willing her to understand, “It’s true. This is who I am.” I reached out to take her hands again, to comfort her.
She pulled away.
A quick look flashed across her face. Disbelief? Revulsion? Anger? Before I could decide which, she caught herself and quickly erased her expression into a grim frown, only too late. I’d seen it. And she read that in my eyes. Her frown melted into a look of sorrow. “When?” she sighed, “How long? What happened to... You’d talked so much about finding the perfect girl and marrying...” She shook her head. “I just... Why? Why keep it a secret?”
How could I tell her? I couldn’t tell her the whole truth, she was too vulnerable now. We’d both opened up to each other, and to attack at this point would only be cruel. After years of hearing all the hurtful things they’d said about “The Gays” and “that sinful lifestyle,” how could I not keep it a secret?
I wrung my hands and scrunched my toes into the thick carpet. “Things change, Mom. People change,” I said, “and well, y’know...” I finished lamely with a shrug. It’s not what I really wanted to say. She could tell that, and she sat back and shook her head, massaging her temples.
Thunder rolled across the hills to the south, and the sky grew darker. I should be going home, I thought to myself, but not yet. Not just yet. I knew these woods like the back of my hand and could find my way out in the dark, if it came to that. The rain was falling softer now, still cold, but gentler and more slowly. My anger and frustration began to recede as well. While cold, the rain was refreshing. I shuddered as another deep sob came over me, and I just let go, let myself weep freely. It may have been minutes or hours later, but eventually I had no more tears, I was all cried out. My face hurt. Heck, my whole body hurt.
My heart hurt as well.
I knew that sooner or later, I’d have to talk to her again. But for the moment, what we both needed was time. Time, and distance; the space to sort things out on our own and find our footing. I hoped that the damage done to both of us was only temporary, that this crack in our relationship wouldn’t widen into an impassable chasm. I wanted to talk to her, I needed to talk to her. I wanted to be held by her, bury my face in her shoulder, lose myself in the familiar feel of her arms around me, the smell of her perfume, and be told that it’ll be all right. I laughed once: a harsh, phlegm-strangled bark, and wondered if everything would ever be all right ever again.
The loud silence between us drew out uncomfortably. I shuffled my feet, sighed, and looked at her. She sighed and looked away. I stood. “I love you, Mom, but I think I’d better go.” Silence. I moved toward the door; she stood, wavering on shaky legs. I turned with a sad smile, held my arms out for a hug. I got a barely-there pat on the back.
“Call me sometime, okay?” I said, anxiously searching her face for understanding. “Just... well, not too long, Mom. I... I love you.” Her hands flew to her face, and she managed to croak out a ragged “-love you-” before fleeing into the house. I got in the car and left without a word to my stepdad. I was already exhausted and drained; I just couldn’t handle another confrontation.
Subconsciously, I noticed a shift in the mood of the forest. The rain had stopped. Not only were the bullfrogs still singing, but I could hear other activity as well: the snap of a twig, the rustle of underbrush. Those who had taken shelter from the storm were now emerging, the forest was refreshed and renewed.
Moss clung to my hair, knocked loose from the tree by the heavy rains. I shook myself off and pulled my hands through my hair. I looked around, surveying my twilight surroundings. Trees stood in hulking shadows, the trail a snaking path of silvery not-quite-so-darkness leading the way home. My cramped legs cried for motion; my feet started walking, leading me home. My mind wandered, taking its leave of my exhausted body. Eventually, I found myself with one hand on the car door, halfway wondering how I got there. I opened the door, the last rays of sunlight peeking through the breaking clouds to glint off the window and brush my cheek. I headed home. I didn’t know quite how I was going to do it, but I knew what I had to do.
She came to see me alone, guarded and awkward, her eyes showing hope/sadness/guilt, her hands full with a wrapped package. “Hi,” I said, opening the door, “uh... Come on in.” Eyes downcast, she shuffled in; I closed the door. We hugged awkwardly. “Mom, look,” I began, and she fought back the tears and put her hand on my shoulder.
“Stop,” she said, not looking me in the eye, “I need to say this.” She paused, gathering herself. “I...we, we love you.” (Then why isn’t he here too?) “And also, well...” she continued, “we want you to look at this. I know we don’t see eye to eye on everything, but... look, we love you. This is just hard for us all. I better go.”
Mom thrust the package into my hands and left. She left me stunned, holding a mystery package, wondering and dreading what lay within. She left me with unanswered questions, with things unsaid. She left me wondering just where we stood, or if this would be the last time we would speak.
She left me alone.
I unwrapped the package, and the box fell from my hands as if it was on fire, and I crumpled to the floor, stunned and horrified. “Well, fuck,” I sobbed, eloquently.
Love Won Out, a DVD by Focus on the Family, promising to lead gays and lesbians from their “life of sin” through the magical power of Jesus, lay on the floor before me.