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May We Have A Minute Of Your Time


"As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children." --Anita Bryant, singer, Born Again Christian, and reproduction expert, speaking in 1977

I knew they were worried about something.

They were always worried about something, but when the worry was accompanied by whispered conversations that shut down when you entered the room, then the worry was about you. Meaning that a conversation was coming, a sit down James we need to talk talk. Like being on Death Row, no escape from an inevitable conclusion. 

Understanding my powerlessness to prevent that conversation (one not requiring my input), I'd turn to delaying and forestalling tactics, in the hope that whatever it was would be forgotten, or put aside as unnecessary, in the face of my shining behavior, and my ability to make myself scarce and small. Why, he's no bother at all, let's buy him a Star Wars toy instead. 

Nice to hope, but it's not gonna go that way.

The impending storm of the conversation is descending on me. I'm walking to the Safe Zone of my room when I sense them, the Parents. Gathering behind me, joining forces, two amoebae jelling into one, a rare alignment made necessary by their shared interest in the task, or my mother's ability to drive my father like a pedal car. 

I'm an exaggerated stride to my room, when they call out: James? James would you come here a moment?

They are seated on the couch. The small couch. The love seat, though we never call it by its secular name. The small couch is at a right angle to the big couch. Both are sealed in heavy zippered plastic, each cushion encased like a lab specimen. Any uncovered skin adheres to the surface, when one sits, and any attempt to stand up again includes a peeling sound similar to the hiss of a helium pump filling a mylar balloon. The couch did not want to let you go, and held on like a lamprey eel. Thus we only used these couches when we had company. Or when we had conversations, such as the one waiting for me in the increasingly airless living room. 

I gingerly sit, my skinny adolescent legs bonding to the plastic. I shift, but the couch holds me like flypaper. Be still, it says to me. Fighting will only make it worse. 

My parents are stiff, with the sort of smiles that might accompany an announcement that they have sold me into slavery. I smile back. It is all very pleasant. We are sharing a moment. This is nice. We should do this more often. Unfortunately I really need to get back to...

James there's something we need to talk to you about. My father is using his serious voice and is sitting up straight and his face is very serious, as if he's auditioning for the part of the Serious Father for a daytime television docudrama involving a very serious discussion with a teenage son. I assume a similarly serious expression, which immediately threatens to devolve into a burst of nervous, psych-ward-style laughter. Laughing, during a conversation on the plastic covered couch, would be a deadly mistake. I compose myself, and wait. 

It's all coming to this moment: the recent whispers, the huddled talks, the silences when I enter rooms, the peripherally-sensed studying look, that is nothing, nothing, when I ask why I'm being looked at. No reason at all. Do I need a reason to look at you, my handsome son with just a bit of an acne problem and are you losing some hair? The probable recent meeting with the priest, the talk about James: we don't want him to/we do want him to/we're worried because... Hmmm, says the priest, twining his fingers together and leaning in thoughtfully. Hmmm, he says, in a very priestly way, and they know that he is about to say something very wise, very spot on, very WWJD*.

(* What Would Jesus Do?)

My mother looks at my father in a supportive way that says blow this and I'll gut you like a fish. He nods hurriedly and assumes an even more serious posture. I pretend to miss their entire interaction, it was so subtle that I would need micro-sensitive equipment designed by NASA to pick up on it. It doesn't hurt to "fluff their pillows" leading into whatever is about to be said. I'm the Good Son. I've got this. I think. 

He continues: there are some, ah, people, going around the neighborhood. They give each other a significant look at the word "people," but I miss it, dammit they are too sneaky fast, espionage spy-novel fast. These people...my mother cuts in, these men...Yes, says my father, these men, well, they are in the neighborhood. 

He's the color of a boiled ham. 

It's been on the news James, says my mother. 

Yes, says my father, backing her up. These...men, they're traveling around, knocking on doors and looking for...

Looking for what, I ask, except not out loud.

They're very good at it, my mother says. You'd never know, really, what they're doing. 

Doing what, I ask, except not out loud. 

They're trained, these young men, says my father. They're very good-looking, says my mother, they seem very nice, but they are very Anti-God, James. 

Oh. The Anti-God people. What form of AGPs are we dealing with, I ask, except not out loud. Rock singers? College professors? Rabbis? 

If you see them, my mother continues, you should never open the door. This should be easy, because my mother's Do Not Answer The Door List is extensive. Salesmen, the paperboy, Jehovah's Witnesses, a stranger with an eye patch, Ed McMahon (with or without Publishers Clearing House representatives), kidnappers, the Avon lady, Democrats, a Harlem Globetrotter, the mailman, Mexican day laborers, and many more too various and atheistic to list. 

On those rare occasions when someone does approach our house, and the heavy brass crucifix-shaped knocker on the front door bangs bangs bangs, we all jump and then assume rabbit-still positions. If crew members from the original Star Trek beamed into our house, directly after a knock on our door, they would think that we were held in stasis by a evil government using a ray device, who would need to be taught a lesson on how people really should be treated, because the Star Trek crew is from a time in the future when people have advanced beyond being controlling dickheads. 

Some solicitors give up after one attempt. Others are more tenacious, and knock again. We sink lower, careful to stay out of view should anyone peer through a window. A practiced signal, a frantic jabby pointing finger from my mother, and the television volume is silenced. A hand slides over the cat's mouth. The house is grave-still. I struggle to control my breathing, lest it rasp through the walls of the house and alert the murderous Amway salesman outside. Eventually the knocking subsides. Someone creeps to a window, and gives either a hissy "he's still here!!" which tends to make all of us, my mother included, break into nervous, if sonically controlled, giggles; or "he's gone!" and we stretch and breathe and try to remember what we were about to do. 

They seem very normal, and very nice, my mother is saying. You'd never know, really... She puts a worried hand to the side of her chin and looks at my father. They dress nice, he adds. They're very good looking, James, she says, unaware of her repetition. They seem like businessmen, or students from a local college.

Good looking men, trained, skilled at what they do, at our door. Check. I'm totally fucking confused, but check. 

If you do answer the door, which you shouldn't, do not, under any circumstances, take any literature, no books, no pamphlets. 

What kind of pamphlets? This time I say it out loud. 

Don't you worry what kind! My father, red-faced, cools at a glance from my mother. 

God says that they are sinning, it's in the Bible, says my mother. It's terrible, what they're doing. I'm sorry for their mothers, how they must worry. But there's still time for them to come back to Jesus, she assures me. 

What are they doing, I ask. 

Never you mind what they're doing! says my father, red-faced. 

We are at an impasse. I know they won't say more, because they would have to employ words that are not approved by the Vatican. 

I understand, I say. I've got it. I won't open doors if they show up. Don't worry. 

I'm relieved the conversation is over. They are too. They're relieved I'm not interested in whatever those good looking young men are doing. Which is probably true. I'm certainly not going to prolong things by asking more questions. I'm already straining against the plastic-encased cushion beneath me. They get up, their polyester clothes neatly separating from the love seat. Small couch, that is. They're done with me. I struggle to stand, the plastic releases, and I fall forward into the room. 

Several weeks later, I'm home alone, during that terrible middle portion of a summer day when life is as empty and meaningless as an episode of Falcon Crest. I'm considering either going outside to listlessly throw a tennis ball against the garage, or staying in and going through my sister's stack of fashion magazines, when there is a knock at the door.

I freeze, and listen. Maybe it was the wind? A tree branch falling repeatedly against the house? The foundation settling? 

Another knock. 

It's a bright, confident sound, like a bell over a church that people actually enjoy showing up to. There's none of the slinking oiliness of a confidence man's knock. A quick scan of the street outside reveals no parked white vans with motor running. No Harley Davidsons with a spike-studded helmet hanging off the back rest. I squint to catch sight of a blood trail up the driveway, but there is only the clean shimmer of summer heat. 

I'm intrigued. Maybe someone found a bag of money and is going around knocking on doors to find the owner. Oh there it is! I was so worried. Thank you sir. Here's a hundred for your trouble. No, wait, take a twenty instead. There's a good fellow. 

Years of training are failing me. My legs are moving toward the door. My fingers are working the locks. One lock open, another lock open, slide the door chain from the track, turn the lock on the knob. A sense of expectation, a presence outside, just beyond the faux wood pattern of the vinyl door. They are sure, whoever is out there, sure I'll open up, sure they will succeed at whatever intention, fair or foul. I am bewitched. The knob turns, the door pulls back, I step to the screen. 

Two men are outside. Smiling. Well-dressed and groomed, awfully nice-seeming. I'm immediately at ease. 

Hello! one of them says. Hello! I say back, ignoring my promise to my mother to never say hello to anyone I don't recognize from Sunday mass.

They wonder if they could have a minute of my time. May we come in, or we can talk right here if that's more comfortable. Nonsense, my mouth says, the screen opens, and in they come.

Oh my goodness, one of them says, eying the hermetically sealed couches. Let's sit at the table. We all laugh knowingly about the couches, although I don't completely understand why. I know that they know, and I have put my trust in them somewhere in the last 42 seconds. We turn to the table. 

This table was bought in an impetuous you-don't-live-forever moment from a furniture store specializing in Viking decor. It is heavy, hard-wood, ornate, and as out of place in our house as Bella Abzug at a sports bar. Scrolled legs and sides, an expanse of table top; high-backed refectory-style chairs with velvet-cushioned seats, jarringly situated near the plastic coated couches and cheap acrylic paintings and ceramic tchotchkes and wall to wall carpeting.

Wow, says one of them. What a table. There's a meaning there, again, that I'm missing but I totally get it even though I don't. Yes, I say. It sure is!

Well! Let us tell you why we're here! 

They are glowing as they speak. The glow of people people raised in homes with sensible, esthetically pleasing decor. By sensible, esthetically pleasing parents. God in heaven I want to be like them, whoever they are. Would they take me clothes shopping, if I ask? 

They tell me their names. I immediately forget them. No matter. Their words pulse and wind like birdsong and campfire smoke. I am entranced. I have no idea what they're saying and I could care less. I feel at home with them. I'm pretty sure I'm committing some sort of sin, sitting here with them, but for the moment, I don't care.

They slide a pamphlet across the table. The cover has a picture of two men very much like the ones in front of me, standing on a beach in some tropical getaway. I take it, coolly, as if I'd ordered it and these two work for a laid back, fun delivery service. I know whatever this booklet contains will make sense to me. I know because it comes from them. These two get me. If they were aliens, I'd gladly float with them to their ship. If they were pirates, I'd happily saw off a leg, poke out an eye, and join them. If they were...

A bang, somewhere in the house. I jump, an electric shock jolting my insides. What was that, they ask, smiling in a whoa kind of way. Is anyone else home? I suddenly realize what I'm doing, and how deep the shit I'll be in is if I'm caught. They sense my shift. Standing, they thank me for my time and remind me to take a look at the pamphlet when I get a moment. Just like that, they're gone, the door is shut, locked again, the pamphlet burning guiltily in my hand. I rush to the kitchen garbage can, stuff it in at the very bottom, and carefully cover it with trash, so the can looks natural and untouched and not hiding anything. Then I look for the source of the noise. 

The cat is on my parents' bedroom dresser, stretching and rolling over playfully, as if life is a carefree lark. On the floor is a painted statue of Jesus, Lord and Savior of us all, who died for our sins. His head has come off, and I get on hands and knees to find it under the dresser, nestled in a dustball. I stand the statuette back in place, carefully balance the broken neck line of Our Lord's severed head on the broken neck line of Our Lord's headless body, and slip out of the room, pushing away the thought that this is a message from On High, and that, as my mother says, God sees everything, which is why I've taken to wearing a bathing suit in the shower.

There are no more mentions of any well-dressed men who might knock on the door. I count on my parents' fear of whatever it is they're afraid of to keep them from bringing up whatever it is they're afraid of. I know they're still worried, about whatever it is they're worried about, as the worried glances sporadically continue, and the dinnertime bait-trap small talk to draw me out and reveal potential sinful transgressions is still attempted at dinnertimes. I don't flinch. A decade-plus of being a member of my family has trained me to be in complete control of my external, viewable physical reactions. If a gun were pulled on me while I read a book, I'd simply yawn and turn the page. I might be exploding with fear inside, but I won't show it. This will have remarkable effects on my digestive system later in life, but for the moment it is a survival mechanism akin to a deer's ability to stand still in a field of wheat as the hunter passes by.

Summer fades, my first year of high school begins. It's far from home, a big Franciscan school my parents are willing to pay tuition for, so I might avoid the sinful pitfalls of liberal, Godless education. I forget the two well-dressed, good looking men, and the unexamined pamphlet. School days are spent dodging a pair of football players, one fat and mean, the other small and weaselly, who taunt me: fucking faggot! and grab at my ass. Weeks of anguish, afraid of the next encounter with this horrible comic duo, afraid of peoples' reactions to their accusations. I fall asleep each night imagining revenge scenarios that I'm too afraid to actually attempt. I finally snap and turn on them one morning, all six foot, 160 pounds of me: If I'm a faggot, why are you the ones so obsessed with my ass? Red-faced, angry, and stumped, in front of a small crowd of nervously giggling freshmen, they fall back on fuck you asshole and shuffle away, consoling each other. I'm not gay, are you gay? Nah dude, I'm not gay, you're not gay. We just are, like, inseparable pals who go ass-hunting together. 

I sweated through that first year, nervous-tic'ed my way through it. Nearly failed out, supposedly due to my repurposing my notebooks as sketchbooks. More likely it was the massive waves of anxiety that hit me daily. Near the end of the school year, I was close to being asked to not return for my sophomore year. The guidance counselor charged with pulling up my grades manipulated me to pull down my pants, his office door locked, him standing behind me silently, then telling me to pull my pants up and get out. A friend found me, panicking in the hallway. Was I ok? How could I explain what had happened, when I didn't understand the horrible feeling of violation, the near-passing-out dizziness enveloping me as I attempted to pull myself together? I lied, told him I was ok, and didn't speak to anyone about what happened until years later.

The advisor ignored me after that, leaving me feeling rejected, somehow. I stopped drawing, began what would become a usual late schoolyear push of studying. I passed my classes, just barely, and was mercifully released for the summer.

Each year, my summer goals were the same: lay around and do nothing as much as possible. My mother had other plans though, and daily sent me outside and locked the door. Come back for lunch, come back for dinner, and don't let me get a phone call from the neighbors. The locks audibly slid into place after the door closed. I'd have to knock to use the bathroom. And forget trying to slide into the family room in front of the television, afterward. She'd steer me outside as effectively as a border collie, doors locked again, curtains pulled, me standing on the porch wondering how I'd missed the turn to the TV.

There was an advantage to the banishment: as long as I hit my mark, coming back for lunch/dinner, I could go anywhere. Anywhere in biking range, that is.

Our boring suburban sprawl neighbored a touristy harbor town, complete with decorative anchors, big salvaged boats redesigned into restaurant fronts, little salvaged boats repurposed into planters, boat rope twined around poles, shitty marine-themed watercolor paintings leaning in stacks in front of stores stocked with shell-encrusted lamps and shellacked puffer fish and sharktooth necklaces. That kind of town.

This particular day, the one I'm writing about, was hot, and I was thirsty, and the type of stores that had drinks someone like me could afford were back in the town I had just biked out of. I picked a restaurant that looked like a take-out place, steeled myself, and headed in.

It wasn't a take-out place. Nor was it a restaurant. As the door closed behind me, and the cool woody darkness of the paneled interior enveloped me, I realized, with some horror, that I was in a bar. In that moment, time turned molasses-slow; airborne particles caught in dim overhead lights sparkled like deep sea phytoplankten; a golden stem of liquid beer fell, foam-flecked, into a glass, onto the exterior of which water droplets clung tenuously; a cartoon sea lion balanced a pint glass on his nose from a framed poster, as a zookeeper, or a police officer, ran toward him, both caught underneath imposing text, My Goodness, My Guinness; a taxidermied marlin, fixed to a plaque behind the bar, bristly with dust; the wobbly convex of a fly's descent, alighting next to a beer spill, its movements short, electric.

The bartender says may I help you young man. His expression indicates he knows I've entered mistakenly, and he will not give me shit about it. Two men at the bar have their backs to me; they turn as I stumble over my answer, attempting to explain my misinterpretation of the bar as a restaurant where I might buy a soda.

Give the kid a drink, one of the men says, and as he says it I realize I know who he is. One of them, the ones who knocked, who I let in, who gave me the pamphlet. Who I've put out of my head, men and pamphlet alike. He's smiling at me, a smile with no recognition behind it. I don't know the other man, who has turned away, uninterested in my plight.

A glass is placed on the bar. When I don't respond, the bartender gestures: go ahead. It's a soda. I move like I was recently constructed from spare limbs pilfered from the dumpster behind the city morgue. Sitting, I take a deliberate drink.

Not bad, right? says the man who once sat in my house, across from me at my dining room table.

What's that? I answer before I realize it would have been cooler to say, totally.

Free drink. He raises his glass. I raise mine. Roger, he says, with a slight lilt, as he extends his hand. Jim actually, I answer. He smoothly ignores my stupidity. Nice to meet you Jim. Yes you too, I say. Christ, I think to myself, his name is Roger. Him Roger, me Jim. I hope the light is low enough to hid my blush.

His friend glances at me. He's working a crossword puzzle. What's a nine letter word for sycophant? Asshole, offers Roger. He gestures back at his friend as if I'm familiar with his goofball antics, and isn't this par for the course. I acknowledge his deprecation with an unconvincing smile, while silently counting the letters in asshole.

The bartender busies himself at the end of the bar, wiping glasses, just like they do in old black and white movies and Warner Brothers cartoons. Whaddya know. I did learn something from TV. I watch him wipe out a glass with a cloth. Roger catches me looking, chin-points toward the bartender.

Nice, huh?

Hm? I'm not sure what he's talking about but it seems foolish to disagree. Uh, yeah.

He's taken, says Roger. Trust me, I've inquired. And you're too young! He punches my shoulder collegially.

Me? Too young for what? I resist the urge to rub my shoulder.

He shakes his head, as if I'm not ready for that information. Or maybe he's thinking of the careers I'm suited for, all involving industrial sized mops.

Crossword puzzle guy looks over. He folds his paper. Show time go time, he says. I wish like hell I knew what they were talking about.

Roger shakes my hand again. Ok champ, he says. The bartender looks up, nods. Stay loose, he says. Never, answers Roger, winking. I'm exerting a lot of energy trying to not look completely lost. Which is probably making me look even more lost.

He's leaving.

I want to follow, say, hey, do you remember me? And ask about the pamphlet. Maybe he has another. And oh, that noise, remember? That was the cat. Can you imagine? Cats are crazy!

It's too late, he's gone, the door swings shut behind him, a passageway to another world, closed.

Finish up, says the bartender. The after-work crowd will be in soon. This sounds ominous, so I tip the glass up, ice hitting my teeth.

Um, how much? I ask. Gra-teese, he answers, and I wonder if I'll ever be old enough, cool enough, calm enough, to understand this kind of language. Their kind of language. He's turned away, with my glass. Thanks, I say, as he disappears into a back room.

I push open the door, sunlight hitting my eyes like a swung plank. For a moment, I'm disoriented, then someone pushes past, heading into the bar. I step out of the way, swaying slightly, searching for the courage to go home again.

Notes: much of this story is true. Our parents did instruct us to not answer doors, and our responses to visitors are vividly remembered. I wasn't visited by "gay recruiters," but I was familiar with the idea, and both worried and curious about their potential appearance. 

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family meant not questioning my parents, particularly on any topic involving the possibility of sin. Mortal sins, those sins that would send you irrevocably to Hell, were very real elements of my childhood. Nothing was worse than sex. Sex in any form, lustful thinking, masturbation, or, God forbid, the actual act itself, led directly to an eternity of fire and pitchforks. I truly believed in that reality, as a kid. 

The only acceptable sexual activity occurred in a loving marriage, between a man and a woman, both God-fearing Christians, for the express purpose of having a child. Which excludes, of course, about 99.9% of the sexual congress that happens in this world. Christians really do corner the market on Heaven. Controlling sexual urges, which are connected to all the passions that drive individual existence, is a neat way to bottle people up and pop in the cork. A neat way to create a willing flock of sheep who will not question, and (even better), will attack those sheep who attempt a color other than white for their wool.

Every Hell has a deeper Hell. I say nothing was worse than premarital sex, but that is not entirely true. Another category existed: homosexuality. The first girl I found myself attracted to, Jean Marie, in middle school, had the most lovely head of hair. It's all I thought of, when I considered her, that and her classical Italian face. The rest of her not only didn't interest me, it scared me. From a distance, of course, as no self-respecting girl would allow me to get close to them. Or so I told myself. 

The first time I was sexually attracted to another human being was in high school, my Freshman year. The attentions of that ogreish Laurel and Hardy team baffled me, but I reserved my real ire for a teammate of theirs. I believe he was the quarterback, and I hated him passionately. Hated his stupid perfect hair, his Ken doll face, his new clothes that fit him like a tailored suit. His easy capacity with others enraged me, as did his composure and calmness. Unlike my oddball suitors, he completely ignored me, not harshly, but as someone would who is occupied with other things. He was popular without wanting to be so, surrounded by girls without seeking their attention, admired by the bullies who made my days torture. 

High school brought the horror of the locker room, the revealing of my scrawny, chicken bone body to others. Me, and those like me, searched for unpopulated corners, undressed and dressed with silent rapidity, hoping to not catch a leg on sweaty pants and topple over, drawing the attention of the dominant pack. I could not fathom this quarterback boy's comfort level, any more than I could fathom the chiseled statuary of his body. I burned with envy and hatred, and obsessed, obsessed, on his existence and the unfairness of it, the chiaroscuro contrast of his life with mine. 

The bus ride to school started early, each day, and went long. I was one of the first on my bus. Picking up the other kids, then taking the Long Island expressway through rush hour traffic, amounted to over an hour each morning. Plenty of time to think. Thinking, one morning, of my foil, my opposite, and then realizing suddenly that I desperately wanted him, and, horror of horrors, I was turned on, erect, thinking of him. Bent forward in my seat to hide my loose polyester uniform pants, terrified. I'm gay, I'm gay, went through my head like a siren. I was sure the people around me knew, could tell. I even turned around to see who was looking at me. No one. I was certain, though, that it emanated from me like smoke. 

The shame, the fear, was crushing. I pushed back hard, as hard as I could. The animal of my true nature had entered my awareness, and I put my feet against it, and forced it back out. Forever. 

I truly think if I had allowed myself to be gay, as a kid, I'd be dead now. I was increasingly suicidal as my teen years advanced. The tensions with my parents led me to run away, at 16, but the internal tensions I carried with me were far stronger, and more tenacious. 

I've spent my life fighting my weakness. Whatever I thought that might be. My sensitivity, my anxiety and depression, my vulnerability to bullies and angry men, my failures sexually and in relationships. Even in my art, which for years reflected my attempts to hide, to be seen a certain way. It took a long time to let the fun, silly stuff out, pushing past the scarred, smoking men who stood sentinel. 

With my father passing, last summer, and my mother now sick with cancer, my life and my thoughts have been filled with memory and questioning. The silt at the bottom of my past has raised up in clouds, and parts of me, and my childhood, long forgotten, have revealed themselves. My father's terror of parenting boys; his infrequent, but horrifying, rages; his disappearance, for a year, to a psychiatric facility, after a full-on breakdown at home of which I have no memory; his affairs, his absences, his shaming me, publicly, with his terrible sense of humor and his awful fundamentalist Catholicism and politics. 

My mother's rages, her constant, unyielding energy, the Borderline's capacity to hold out indefinitely, to withhold love. To not speak to her children, for a week or more, the only sounds coming from the hard cracks of pots and pans on the stove, against the sink, reminding us how we hurt her. The final reckoning, for however I hurt her, meant visiting her room, her setting up in bed, bible on her lap, explaining the pain I caused her, for whatever thing, a knife twisting in her heart, she'd say, and act it out. 

Silence held our home together. For me to speak, to question my parents, to ask why my life felt so terrible, was to break us all apart. I held that responsibility, it was given to me at a young age. Speak, and you destroy us. Speak about your father, and whatever he did to you, and you will destroy him, and all of us with him. 

Is that what you want, James?

Somehow, at the age of ten, I sent my father to Kings Park Psychiatric Center. For a year. The police came and got him, from our house, after he flipped out and covered the bathroom walls in toothpaste. I was less than ten feet away when this started, and I do not remember it. Only recently have I come to realize that I hold myself responsible. I did it, somehow. I wasn't silent, and I didn't protect my father, and he was destroyed and never returned. At least not as the same person. Replaced, a year later, by a religious fanatic. 

It's not unusual for a child to take responsibility, for a traumatic event in their family. It's less usual for a family to encourage it, and, in my mother's case, enforce it. My father did something to me, and I wasn't silent about it. And look what happened. 

I still can't remember what he did. There are deep coils of fear that run through my physical being when I consider the question. Revulsion, self-hatred, a psychic fetal curl over my sexuality, which is harmful, so harmful, so dangerous. Such a failing. My failing. That's what I feel. 

I'm gay. I'm finally out from under the pressure of saving my family. I'm dealing with the feelings it pulls out of me. The sense of freedom, accepting who I am, is enormous, and global. The opposite, when I struggle, when I shut down, is all the light and color going out of the world again. It is a daily battle, but this time I'm determined to stay out. Rather than what my childhood, and my family, asked of me. This time staying out, and staying alive, truly alive, is my focus. 

What does this mean, for my life? For my marriage? Laurie is an angel, she is my heart, she is my best friend, and I cannot live without her. Her unfailing commitment to me, and her ability to allow me to search through myself, and heal (which often means I am debilitated in the moment, in one way or another), and to support and love me through that process, is breathtakingly precious to me. I still have a hard time believing she's willing to be this good to me. That I'm worth it. She's saved me, and in saving me, I'm moving away from her. Physically, at least. 

She's a beautiful woman. We have struggled, sexually, for years. I found all kinds of excuses to not sleep with her. As a stay at home dad, it was easy to come up with headaches to reject her advances. It wore on her. Hurt her confidence. Her self-esteem slipped as she blamed herself. Blamed her looks, blamed whatever she felt her failures were. I found ways to support her perceptions, without being aware I was doing so. A closeted husband relies on his wife's insecurities to keep his cover solid. Yes, you are gaining a little weight. No, that is not the best dress you've ever worn. It's terrible, but we do it, until we take responsibility for who, and what, we are. 

Laurie and I are working through what this means for us. We both know we have to move on from our marriage, to find the physical partners who can meet us more completely. I will be living openly, and fully, as a gay man, for the first time. I understand, now, what Pride means. Because when I am truly myself, that is what I feel. Pride is what was denied me, growing up. Pride is what I denied myself, as I got older, became a husband, a father. Self-hatred is the opposite of pride. Those who have not lived a closeted life may not understand how complete, how insidious, how global that self-rejection is. Letting it go is opening myself to everything. 

Thank you for reading. Anyone who cares to comment, reach out, give advice, please do. I'm jumping in an ocean to learn to swim. Comment, or email me at jimdgarmhausen@gmail.com



























Comments

  1. I'm so glad you're gay (and not Mormon).

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Somehow I responded as Laurie, initially. So, do-over! Thank you so much Jill. And yes, I'd crush my parents if I turned Mormon.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for this Jim. It helps me understand. What an epic journey you have been on to finally find and take pride in who you are. I'm here to support both you and Laurie.

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  3. Jim, I emailed you. I am so very proud of you. I'm floored. I'm proud of Laurie, who I think reacted out of pure love, partnership and friendship. As it should be, but not so easy in practice, I'm sure. All of us "straight" girls glibly say, "well, it'd be easier if my man left me for being gay, than another woman". But, in that naivete, don't understand how complex this can be. Yes, this is SO about you but equally about your brave partner and co-parent.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! I got your email, thank you for it. Responded. Laurie is truly a partner in this process, and in life, though in a new way.

      Delete

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