Jerame's mom, Sherry, is a small wisp of a woman with a spine of steel. She's shy and retiring; she'd rather melt into a puddle than draw attention to herself, but be careful if you ever make her angry. She'll pop with as much furious noise and stunning visuals that it's like throwing a lit match into a firecracker factory.
The first time we met, I'd been dating Jerame for a few months. He'd already met my mother and stepdad the previous Christmas. Jerame had come out to his family shortly before we started dating. His mom discovered that Jerame (who'd had a string of girlfriends and fathered a child) is gay by accident and his dad didn't take the news well at all. I was the first boyfriend Sherry had met with the foreknowledge that we were being intimate.
We went to a Greek restaurant together and she spent the vast majority of the time giving me the full "Curse of a Mother's Eye." I could tell that the "ick factor" was the problem. She didn't see a relationship yet and could only think of all she really knew about gay men; they have sex with each other. Sherry wasn't homophobic, but she was wary and extremely quiet.
"I don't think she liked me," I told Jerame as we left the restaurant.
"Probably not. It's a big change for her," Jerame said. "But she came. That's a start."
His family lived about a half hour away from us in a small conservative town. After we both lost our jobs and during the time we were waging internet war, we moved to his hometown to lower our cost of living. We were living in a town built around Indiana University and the rent prices reflected the captive population's necessity for off-campus housing.
While Bloomington is one of the most liberal cities in Indiana thanks to IU's influence, Columbus is exactly the opposite. While the town boasts about the diversity of its world famous architecture, it's not reflected in the citizens' respect for LGBT people or racial minorities. The bigotry isn't necessarily outright as often as it subtly shapes the character of those who live there.
I hated living in Columbus. I'd come from a much more gay-friendly atmosphere and I dropped from a large mania into a deep depression shortly after we moved. When Jerame's daughter and her brother came back to Indiana for the summer that year, Jerame's mom and I started drifting into a low-key friendship while arranging child care and sharing stories about the kids and other family members.
She stopped seeing me as the guy sleeping with her son and as her son's partner, Bil. It's an important distinction and Sherry got it quickly. Once she did, she really opened up.
Jerame's family comes from the country and they're a little rougher than I was used to seeing regularly. They fight and squabble while my family internalizes and gripes; large hand gestures are common in his family while showing any loss of control is frowned upon in mine. Like a Jerry Springer episode, they fascinated me and introduced me to a wholly different world.
Sherry's stories about lawbreaking kin, inter-familial intrigues, and dramatic histories of the clan's past drew me in like a magnet. Normally quiet and a bit of a wallflower, Sherry is a fantastic storyteller alight with huge hand gestures, snarky asides, and facial expressions.
When she came to visit last year I was able to experience plenty of other firsts for Sherry. Her first Starbucks, first sushi, first mimosa, and first trip to all the national monuments were shared with us. It was also the first time she met and spent time with someone she knew was Jewish - contributor Mike Rogers.
While shy sweet Sherry still made sure to allow Jerame to lead the group decision making, she relished all the new experiences. She slurped down her first venti mocha with whipped cream, ate raw tuna and salmon without a moment's hesitation, caught a small buzz from the champagne, and ooohed and ahhhed appropriately throughout the weekend. And she became good enough friends with Mike that they've connected on Facebook now.
She also called once she'd returned home to ask where the nearest Starbucks was to her house. (It's about a half hour away.) She may be small, but she's determined. For Sherry, there's no turning back - a quality she passed on to her son.