Monday, February 09, 2009

Lifting the burden of a secret, one person at a time

Last night we had dinner with a very dear friend who was actually a witness at my husband's and my ski trip turned elopement. Our friendship with this man dates back decades and is thankfully strong enough to weather the long periods of time that manage to slip in between visits as life intervenes with both the expected and unexpected. And as we would find out during the course of a shared evening meal, life did indeed present us all with many expected and unexpected events. There was cancer, a serious head injury, major moves, grandkids arriving, kids coming out, kids heading off to Ukraine, kids going off to college, kids graduating from college, kids working to save their marriages, parents moving back in, and parents passing away. And sadly, durable friendships like the one we have with this friend can end up being sidelined in the chaos of it all - as this one had been - we had not seen him for 2 1/2 years.

So as is always the case when so much time passes between visits, there was a lot of catching up to do. We spent the first hour and a half sharing beers and talking about the latest news pertaining to our respective families. And as we sat at the table enjoying each other's company, I couldn't help remembering the fear and dread I was feeling 2 1/2 years ago when we'd last gotten together. We had a secret I felt I had to protect at all costs and not even this good friend who had known our kids since they were born could be trusted with it.

Damn, secrets are awful. And keeping them from being discovered is exhausting. And the more desperately you want that secret to remain secret, the higher the stakes become and the more exhausting the task of protecting that secret gets. And let me tell you, backing yourself into that kind of corner can make an evening of casual conversation with a dear friend feel more like an eternity on the battlefield avoiding landmines. There are just so many subjects that can potentially lead to forbidden territory, which in turn leads to spending the entire evening completely on edge while trying to anticipate and steer clear of anything that could lead to questions we were not ready to answer truthfully. It was all about keeping the chatter in a safe zone without anyone noticing. And that's a lot of work. Needless to say, by the end of that evening 2 1/2 years ago, I was completely drained and relieved when we finally said good bye to our friend. I had kept our secret safe, but at too high a cost. I felt deceitful, ashamed, and completely unworthy to be my beautiful son's mother. I was so miserable.

Thinking back on it all now, I have to laugh at all the things I put myself through just to avoid telling people our son was gay. It really was crazy. But we simply were not ready to tell people about our son yet and to have done otherwise would have evoked a response (pity, sadness, embarassment) that would have made things worse. We had to be completely comfortable with it ourselves, and being comfortable with it for me meant it had to be a complete non-issue. And it just wasn't a non-issue with us at that point 2 1/2 years ago.

Well fast forward 2 1/2 years. And boy oh boy, what a difference a couple of years make. Gone are the heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and feelings of deceit and guilt after an evening out with friends. Gone is my crazy need to control the direction of even the most benign conversations. And best of all? Gone is the worry that people might accidentally learn our son is gay. It is simply not something we even think about anymore.

So last night when our friend started asking about each one of our kids, we welcomed the opportunity to talk proudly about each one of them and what they had accomplished in the time since we had last talked. And when the conversation started heading towards that used-to-be forbidden territory, I didn't give it a second thought. And when our friend finally asked if our middle son was still a ladies' man (really, I'm not joking), my husband and I very calmly and very matter-of-factly answered in unison: No, our son is gay. And my God! What a wonderfully freeing experience that was. We had lifted the burden of our secret with yet another person. And it felt so good.

Now I would be remiss if I stopped babbling right here. We had years to get comfortable with having a gay son. But we can never forget that when we tell someone about our son, especially someone who care about our kids, we will always need to be sensitive to the fact that the news will be new to them and could be shocking to them. And as I had expected might happen, our friend was quite shocked, in fact I'd have to say he was momentarily stunned into silence. But the beauty of it all was that my husband and I could not have been more at ease or casual about it and that made the whole situation so much easier for him. And best of all, there was no sadness, no pity, no embarrassment. We had simply stated a fact about our son.

So in the course of the evening last night our friend learned our son had graduated from college last June with honors, still has a zillion girls he calls friends, just not girlfriends, still isn't sure what he wants to do with his life, still has a desire to travel the world, still has blond hair and green eyes, and is still the great kid he was 2 1/2 years ago, except now we know he is gay.

And it was at that point we all decided we were ready for another round of beers, some dinner, and a whole lot more catching up. It was truly a relaxing and wonderful evening. Share

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