Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Wound That Won’t Heal

It was back in September or October of 2004 just before the presidential election when my mother and I received an invitation to go visit a longtime family friend (whom I shall call Mary). Mary now lives on Coronado Island near San Diego, California. I was elated about the prospect of seeing her again after so many years. This was someone I loved, adored, and admired as a child growing up.

Let me backtrack a little at this point. My childhood was a bit rough. My mother, through no fault of her own, ended up a single mother of 5 small children. I was the oldest. My mother was responsible for raising and supporting my 4 brothers and me after my father’s long and very horrible decline into the deep dark world of extreme mental illness. He went from being a successful dentist to a man that could barely function most of the time. My father’s painful journey took him through periods of near catatonic states, wild frightening tirades, and paranoid delusional behavior depending on the medication or lack of. Ultimately in-and-out stays at the State Mental Hospital were routine. (This is an over-simplification of the years of hell in which this drama played out. I don’t usually share this story with anyone so putting any part of it here on the website is a bit akin to walking naked in front of a stadium full of football fans for me. I share this now only because I want those reading this to understand the depth to which I loved and admired this childhood friend.)

My mother is an amazingly strong woman who thankfully had a good college education and as a result a good job in the medical field that allowed her to keep her head above water and her family off the welfare rolls (do you hear that Rick Santorum?). And she had a cabal of strong (mostly women) friends that served as an amazing support system. Mary was one of those women.

Because I had 4 brothers my mother spent many, many of her nonworking hours on some kind of athletic field, either baseball or football depending on the season. It was there that Mary and my mother forged their strong and lifelong bond. My memories of these two women out there in the bleachers, screaming their hearts out in support of their sons while sharing laughter and camaraderie, still brings a smile to my face today. And after the games everyone would end up at Mary’s house for a buffet and an opportunity to discuss and analyze ad nauseum all of the plays of the just-finished game once again. I believe these were some of the happiest days of my brothers’ and my life. They were certainly the events that kept our lives feeling somewhat normal.

Mary had her own rough life story to tell, but she didn’t. Like my mom she took what life dealt her and made the best of it, with no complaints. Like my mom she was strong, optimistic, and amazing. I used to spend hours around her kitchen table, drinking iced tea, and listening to these women laughing and talking as though they did not have a problem in the world. I remember thinking that I wanted to be as good a mom as they were and hoping that God would give me the same kind of unbelievable strength and optimism to deal with life’s ups and downs as these 2 women had.

So when Mary picked us up at the San Diego airport that day my heart was beating with such excitement and anticipation. She arrived in this funky Volkswagen van with the same big warm smile I remember from my childhood days. She hugged us both as though she would never let us go. I could not have been happier to see anyone than I was to see her at that moment.

Because of the configuration of the seats in her van, I took a seat way in the back (there were no center seats in the vehicle) and my mother took the passenger seat next to the driver and off we headed to Coronado Island. We had no sooner pulled away from the airport curb when Mary began passionately talking about the upcoming presidential elections. She let us know in no uncertain terms that she was a Bush supporter, which really wasn’t necessary since she was wearing these huge dangling earrings with red, white, and blue balls the size of ping pong balls on each ear that said Bush For President. She talked and talked and talked about how Bush JUST HAD TO WIN, and how any other scenario would be a disaster. I sat in the back, conflicted, confused, and silent. This was not like the Mary I knew from years ago and I could only attribute this personality change to her recent stroke. I could not remember her ever being so political or loud and forceful with her opinions in her younger days.

The drive from the San Diego airport to Coronado Island is not a long drive, but this drive felt like an eternity. And just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, they did. Because of the rumble of the engine (over which my behind was firmly planted) I had a hard time hearing every word of the conversation and thankfully that gave me a built-in excuse for not being an active part of it, but the bits of it that I was catching clued me in that I did not want to be a part of it.

Now I must digress again for a minute. This was back in 2004 and I was still grappling with my rather recent discovery that one of my sons was gay. I had not yet told any of my family about this, including my mother with whom I am very close. I had made a pact with myself that I needed to have everything worked out in my own mind and be totally at peace with everything before I started telling others. I did NOT want to be breaking down in tears as though I was conveying news of a tragedy, I just wanted to tell people in a “this is the way it is” manner that left no room for any response other than “oh, ok”. Also, I did not want to tell anyone until I had my son’s blessing, which at that point in time I didn’t have.

So when I heard Mary saying that Bush was going to save America from the evils of Gay Marriage, I truly felt like I had been sucker-punched. This otherwise intelligent, thoughtful woman had fallen for the filthy, homophobic, fear mongering crap that this pathetic and desperate president had felt he needed to resort to in order to hold on to any chance of winning in the upcoming election. Watching a woman that I had always admired and wanted to emulate buying into this hogwash hook, line and sinker was almost more than I could take. But when she began saying that parents are responsible for making their children gay by either being overbearing mothers or weak or absent fathers, my devastation became completely overwhelming. My eyes began to sting with tears that I quickly swiped away and I fought hard not to vomit right there in the back of the vehicle. I actually started fantasizing about some way to “accidentally” fall out of the car and get mercifully run over by freeway traffic, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to this crap anymore. I knew I could not and would not blurt out that I had a gay son in a moment of anguish just to shut her up. That would not have been fair to my mother or my son and it would have been a cruel way to humiliate her into embarrassed silence. That would not have made me feel any better. Besides, I still wanted to believe that she was just suffering from the aftermath of a stroke.

Then a truly beautiful thing happened. My wonderful mom spoke up with the first words of wisdom I’d heard since climbing into the car. My mother, the unknowing grandmother of a gay grandson herself, told Mary that she had never ever bought into any of that utter nonsense. She said she had known many wonderful gay people and she absolutely, positively believed that none of them had had a choice in the matter. She also went on to debunk completely the myth that parents are to blame for their children’s homosexuality. And she summed it all up by saying: “… because if weak or absent fathers, or strong and as you say overbearing mothers are reasons for gay sons Mary, then I would have had 4 gay sons. I am truly shocked that you could believe that garbage. You know better than that.” And with that, the subject was put to bed for the rest of the stay. Unfortunately my sadness was not.

I think of that painful drive to Coronado often and it still hurts as much as the day it happened. I replay it over and over wondering if there was something I could have said instead of agonizing in silence. It was sad watching the image of one of my childhood heroes shatter before my eyes that day, but it was wonderful watching my biggest hero, my mother, rise to new heights. I still love Mary with all my heart; nothing can change the role she played in my life. I know now that she is human and that she certainly does not have all of the answers. I just had to grow up to realize it. The time just wasn’t right to speak up about my son that day, but someday I hope to have another opportunity to gently tell her about my beloved son and let her know what a wonderful young man he is. And then I would add that even if I could change him, I wouldn’t. He is just as God intended him to be: Gay and perfect.



Jarred said...

Your mother sounds like quite the woman. It's plain to see where you get it from. ;)

dbv said...

well, your mom rocks too, i see where you got it from!!! and such a polite way to do it too... love her!!!