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December 17th, 2012

Hurting Mom on My First Gay Christmas

There is so much distance in my mother’s eyes that I fear she may never come close to me again. Circling her stare are wrinkles of pain, betrayal even, and in her hand she holds the watch.

It was December of my senior year of high school, and things had calmed down considerably after my having burst forth from the closet that Fall, wearing go-go boots to school dances and openly flaunting my twenty-something boyfriend. But these were all healthy choices, I told myself.

If there was nothing wrong with being gay, then there should be nothing defiant about letting my family know about it. And my friends. And my teachers. And people at church. Never mind that we lived in Bossier City, Louisiana. Or that it was 1977.

But there was something about that look in my mother’s eyes, in that moment. It took all my arrogance to protect myself from it, to seek refuge from the shocked stare, the battle in her face between heartbreak and fury. She was squeezing tightly to the silver watchband, and her hand shook imperceptibly.

The boyfriend had been my downfall, of course. He was both too old and too immature for me, and Mom knew it. She also knew that spending so much time with him that previous summer wasn’t usual for a 16-year-old. So when she spotted a letter I’d written to him, she figured it would tell her what she wanted to know. She opened it.

It never occurred to me to place blame for that indiscretion. I was relieved when my parents found out, actually, and once that suspense was over I could get on with the business of scandalizing my high school.

There were brief exchanges between us following my big gay reveal, tense moments crowded with frustration and unfocused love. “What’s your problem with it?” I would ask, adorned with multiple pooka shell necklaces or sporting a man-made hickey without shame, “What’s your problem with me being gay?” I possessed more self-righteousness than an HRC dinner.

She would sigh with resignation, hand leaning on the kitchen counter. “Mark, it’s just that I know this won’t be easy. It’s your whole life, and this will just make it difficult.” There were no scripture readings or ignorant signs of homophobia. Just a mother’s perfectly legitimate concern that a child’s life could be tougher.

I didn’t appreciate her enlightenment. I would reply with a teenage shrug, just before some eye rolling and a saunter out of the room that must have made her want to strangle my pretty little gay neck.

As Christmas approached that year, I made it known that there was a gift that would be just swell for a certain high school senior. Something sophisticated, to show his increased maturity.

A watch.

But then, on my birthday two days before Christmas, I walked through the front door prancing like the Queen of Sheba — meaning, more prancing than usual — and on my wrist was a glimmering gold watch, a shiny new gift from my boyfriend. It was not a quality timepiece, not that I knew it, and the gold was destined to fade faster than the relationship. But it looked quite fabulous as I strutted and posed like I had just discovered that I could vogue.

Mother didn’t betray her emotions. She waited. And two days later, wearing a robe and a gold wrist, I opened a Christmas present from Mom and Dad that had been hidden behind the tree and saved for last.

It was a Timex, and it was beautiful. Silver.

There was more than the standard holiday tension as I slipped off my gold watch to try on the Timex. True to form, Mom kept her own counsel, but something told me that I wasn’t simply being presented with an additional watch, but with a choice. And I didn’t want to make it.

All that year I had been trying on a confident young gay identity for size — and that included a boyfriend who had given me what I wanted for Christmas. I valued him and I valued his gift. But family emotions were fairly clear: his gift was a bit much. After all, Mom and Dad could have had the man arrested for taking up with their 16-year-old. Seeing him shower me with jewelry had to push the limits of their patience.

But such concerns were beyond a self centered teen like me. I was convinced that flaunting his gift was about my new-found gay pride, and about respect for my sexuality and all sorts of other lofty, misdirected ideals.

Later that day, after the mountains of wrapping paper had been cleared, Mom and I sat near the tree. “So, this is a bit strange,” she began, as casually as she could muster, “having two watches… what will you do?” She had never had to compete with another gift giver for my gratitude. Someone outside the family. And a man.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked, knowing.

“Maybe you should talk to your friend, and…”

“And what, Mother?” I snapped back, propelled with a little too much righteous indignation. “Look Mom, I have an idea…” I slipped off the Timex and handed it to her. “I think you and Dad should return this. Silver isn’t really my color. You should know that.”

It is then, that moment, which continues to replay in my mental catalogue of regret. I wanted to collect the words from the air and gobble them up, but of course it was too late.

MarkAnneOnDeckHer face was blank at first, and then a stunned, hurt expression flashed across it that was as heartbreaking to me as it was utterly foreign. She looked like she was the target of some cruel joke. And then suddenly her vulnerability was abolished for her usual calm. Her face made the whole journey in an instant.

I moved to say something more but thought better of it. Instead I reached for the watch in her hands and took it back, my face a silent promise never to give it up again. Mother withdrew without further words.

It was a milestone, a snap of the apron strings, a selfish or brave gesture of independence, depending on your point of view. I can consider whether it was an important step for a gay teen or simply the self-indulgent act of a child, but the debate doesn’t interest me. My minds eye only remembers her face.

Even now, more than thirty years later, I want to take it all back.

Mark

(This posting first apppeared on My Fabulous Disease on December 7, 2010. — Mark)

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4 Responses to “Hurting Mom on My First Gay Christmas”

  1. Charles Says:

    December 17th, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    “Everything had to happen exactly as it did, without any exceptions in order for you to be here, in the exact location in which you find yourself right now. You needed to do it all, and all you have to do, to really learn this lesson of forgiveness, is to allow that thought in and lovingly forgive yourself.” — Dr.Wayne Dyer

  2. Steve Kerbow Says:

    December 18th, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Mark, I can totally relate. Though none of my suitors gave me any jewelry, my mother had her own reservations about my homosexuality. To the point that I was sent to a Phsyciatrist(?). I was 16 in ’75, right before my 17th birthday and she found a letter that I had written to a guy in my summer school class. Hot guy and never did get with him, but that’s not the point. I too, have my regrets of things done and said to my parents that can never be taken back. It wasn’t until 2 years ago that she found out that I was HIV+. I have been for about 20 years now. The rest of the family had known, but I was trying to save my mother from the guilt and heartache. She’s fine with me now as she sees how dedicated I am to my doctors and meds! So here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and very Prosperous New Year!

  3. Bobbin Wages Says:

    December 19th, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Mark: I think this blog post can speak to anyone who has struggled to pave their own pathway that is different from the pathway their parents’ took. Unfortunately breaking those traditions can cause some pain, but typically parents can get over it – and it’s worth it in the end. Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman. Happy holidays to you and your family! – Bobbin Wages

  4. Sue Says:

    December 26th, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Bless your mother for being so wonderful.

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