On Christmas Eve, 1988, I was home from college for winter break. Like every other Christmas Eve, I was gathering inspiration and ideas to begin my holiday shopping. Yes, begin. My mom turned to me and asked, "How are things going at school?" Though innocent enough, this was the kind of question that only seemed subtle. I could sense something was up, I just didn't know what. I replied, "Great, why?" Quickly, the subtle was no longer so, when she said, "Your father has been worried about you. He tells me you seem more and more distant when you two talk."
I felt my stomach flip, then sink. I think I know where this is headed.
Testing the waters, I responded with, "Well what if I am just choosing to share less, because I don't feel like dad will approve of what I am doing, or what I have to say, even if there's nothing wrong with it?" Unrelenting, my mom asks, "Like what?"
Suddenly I feel as though I am driving full-speed ahead toward an innocent animal trying to cross the road. Why has this animal darted so quickly in front of my car? Gripping the steering wheel, eyes closed, I pray that no one gets hurt, including me. I swerve, asking, "What if I am dating a man who is not Caucasian?" Knowing that she would not have an issue if this were true, but my dad might, I give her yet another out, another path to safety for both of us. I explain, "I am not sure dad would approve, but there's nothing wrong with it, so why would I want to tell him?"
Is the road clear? You know that feeling, like you've done your best to not run over a darting animal, yet this guilt lingers until you're certain. Persisting, my mom says, "Are you dating someone of a different ethnicity?" Afraid to look in my rear view mirror, I move forward, feeling as though I may just vomit. I muster up the courage to blurt out, "What if I am not dating men at all?" There. I said it. Sort of. Please let her know what I am saying because I can't say those three words, I can not say, I am gay.
The dance is over. My mom has managed to position herself perfectly to ask me the question she really wanted to ask when she started this conversation. Without the slightest change in her demeanor, she simply asks me, "Are you gay?" And I begin to cry. Still unchanged, her silence is kind and patient, inviting my response. Eventually I managed to say, "Yes, and I'm sorry. I am so sorry. I never wanted you to know, and I am so sorry to disappoint you."
Still etched in my mind today is her most amazing response, and I quote: "Michele, you have nothing to apologize for. You have done nothing wrong."
I will always have my mom to thank for helping me unwrap the gift of freedom that Christmas. A gift I'll never exchange.
Happy Birthday Mom. (October 10th, 2008)
by Michele O'Mara, LCSW