Wednesday, March 9, 2011

AS GAY AS A PICNIC BASKET

I was going to call this chapter The Awakening or something dramatic like that. Then I realized that was so pretentious I made my own self sick a little. I wish I could say that my life changed the moment I walked out the doors of The Really Big Church. I wish I could say that rainbow flags shot out of my tailpipe as I peeled out of the parking lot while It’s Raining Men was blaring from my stereo. It was not like that. In fact I was quite somber. After all I was never so frightened in my life. I had decided to come to terms with what I was, that was as far as I got. I hadn’t a clue as to how to do that. Just because I admitted it to me did not mean I had any idea how to tell anyone else the truth.

Truth! What a powerful word. I knew that all my life I’d been something of a liar. As I kid I would run the gamut from spinning little white lies to telling huge whoppers. Most of the time I lied to cover up for something I either didn’t do and was supposed to or did but wasn’t supposed to do, like pretty much every child ever, most of the time I lied because I wanted to paint a picture of how I wanted people to see me. I never wanted to appear weak or vulnerable in any way. It probably stems from my childhood, and my reluctance to make waves. I lied to make it seem like I was always ok when I was not. Mostly I lied out of fear of being caught, because being caught might mean being exposed. How and when did I become such a liar? And why had I? I know now it was because I had no concept of truth whatsoever. I was never true to myself so it was impossible for me to be truthful with others. So I accepted the truth, the truth that despite all the years of lying and denying and fighting it, I was in fact as gay a picnic basket.

When I didn’t go to college immediately after high school I could sense that everyone was disappointed. My brother in-law Jay told me that it was a proven statistic that people who didn’t go to college right away rarely ever went at all. He told me this repeatedly in fact. But I knew in my heart that one day I would go to college. I began taking summer courses the summer I left The Really Big Church and enrolled full time for the upcoming fall semester. I was going to be a 23 year old freshman, how hilarious that I thought I was old at the time. I had a plan, but I was still lost. It was a difficult transition. I didn’t fly out of my former life with the wings of a fairy. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even have a job. I moved into my mom and step-dad's basement for the summer. I had not lived at home for a couple of years so the adjustment was hard, especially living with Alli again. I knew it was only temporary until I stared school in the fall and got a student loan check. The problem was I could not see the Fall; I could barely get through the day in front of me. For the next few weeks I would wake up go to class then return to the basement. I cried all the time. I was obsessed with my childhood, I would watch and re-watch all the movies that were my favorites growing up and I would just sob. I realize that The Goonies, and Grease 2 weren’t exactly Oscar winners but I don’t think they were supposed to make you weep like a baby. I felt as if I was mourning something, mourning my innocence, I felt like once I said what I was going to say the little boy I was would be dead. That summer I looked through all of my mother’s photo albums and studied pictures of me growing up. I looked really hard at my own face in these pictures to see if I could connect with that boy again, to see if there was anything in that boy’s eyes that would shed some light on how I ended up the way I was. I fell rapidly into a deep dark depression because I did not know how to verbalize to my family no matter how many times they asked me what was wrong, what it was I was going through. Then right before the Fall semester started after weeks of secluding myself in that basement my mother came down the basement stairs, took my hand and said, “Boy if there is some that you think you can’t tell me, there isn’t.” I looked at her “is there something?” I couldn’t even say yes, I just kind of said “um-hmm,” and started crying. “Do you know there is nothing in the world you could say to me that would ever make me love you any less?” she said. “umm-hmm,” more tears. “Jake, there is nothing you can tell me that I am not ready for, you are my son. You are the best son anyone could ask for. You are my son, I’m ready, I hate it that your life has to be this hard, but I’m ready, are you afraid of telling that you think your gay?” sobbing now I took a very long pause trying to compose myself. Finally I looked into her eyes and said “yes.”

That moment in the basement with my mother felt like someone loosened a vise that had been tightening around my heart, squeezing the breath out of me. In fact after I said “yes” I could actually feel my lungs fill with air. I cried, I cried a lot. My mother did not, she was perfectly composed, perfectly calm, “you know it doesn’t matter one bit to your family” she said stroking my head “I just don’t want your life to be hard.” We really didn’t talk much I just laid there with my head in her lap while she assured me that everything was alright. The she asked me if I’d like to talk to a therapist we knew named Becky. My head shot up out of her lap and I immediately said “yes” “ok,” she said “I’ll go call her.”

I am not sure exactly what my mother told Becky but I had an appointment the next day. I wouldn’t say what I felt was nervous; it was something different than that, it felt like something closer to anticipation. She greeted me with a warm friendly hug and said “well sweetie, long time no see. What’s up?” “I think I’m gay,” I blurted right out. “Well” she said “first of all, have a seat.” I was still standing the doorway. I sat down and she said “you think you’re gay?” I said “yeah” she just smiled at me and repeated herself “you think you’re gay.” It felt like my skin was alive; it was as if I could literally feel stuff peeling off of it. I said again puzzled “umm yes.” She just kept looking at me and smiling, it seemed like forever when it dawned on me to say “I’m gay” no “I think” about it. She just smiled some more and said “Sweetie, that’s wonderful.” Now I was pretty sure Becky was about as liberal and open minded as you can get so I wasn’t expecting her to yell “Queer, get the hell out of here!” but the word wonderful threw me. “Is it?” I asked. “Yes sweetheart it is. You can live your life now.” At once every fear I had, every ounce of anger and resentment I’d been storing up over being gay evaporated. You know the old cliché about feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Well that’s a cliché for reason people because in an instant that weight was gone. There are no words that could adequately do justice to the way I felt. Elation, exhilaration, hope yes, I felt these things but oh so much more. It is hard to describe feeling that kind of complete and total release. I think very few people will ever experience it, I know I never will again in this lifetime. In that moment I felt absolutely no shame, I was truly and utterly free. Aside from the very moment we are born few of us ever get a completely blank slate to start again with, but that’s what I felt I’d been given. I am fairly sure my feet didn’t touch the ground when I left her office, stepping outside was like I’d spent my entire life wearing dark sunglasses and they were suddenly ripped off. Every pore on my skin seemed to be taking in oxygen and just like that it was done, I had come out, I know it sounds so cheesy to say I was reborn but I’m telling you, that’s how I felt. Of course this feeling didn’t last forever, there was no way it could, but from that day forward I was unafraid. I got home and told my mother, she said “Well when you find the right man I want you to have a ceremony because I really want to wear pink and I didn’t get to at the girls’ weddings.” It’s funny that I’d spent that summer trying to re-connect with the little boy I used to be because really, that’s who I was. I was that little boy who used to play with the utensils. I was a confused little child. When I left Becky’s office that warm, sunny afternoon that boy was finally becoming a man.