As You Are
I've read this about eight times and every time I've cried at the end.
Even though I have never once experienced anything even resembling this.
Or so I think.
My mother opens the front door to the house I grew up in, takes me from the porch into her arms.
“Michael,” she whispers.
“Hi Mom,” I say, hugging her in, trying to keep her warmth and love, because I know it’s going to be a while before I’ll have it again.
I step into the foyer as she takes my coat, hangs it in the closet where I used to hang my backpack beside my brother’s. I think to tell her that I won’t be here long enough for a coat on a hanger, that we should just sling it over a chair so I can grab it more easily when I leave in haste.
But then I don’t tell her this. I don’t tell her a lot of things. I don’t think she can take it.
“Your father’s waiting downstairs,” she says in the same it’ll-be-okay-voice she has said it in so many times before.
When I failed my eighth grade math final.
When I hit the mailbox backing out of Tommy Lane’s driveway.
When I didn’t want to play football.
He’s always been waiting.
I head toward the stairs knowing that this won’t be like any of those times though. I’m not going down there to try to explain myself and hope he’ll understand and forgive me and tell me I’m not so bad. Im not going down there for that.
I’m going down there to say goodbye.
As I reach the door to the stairs, I turn back and look at my mother who I know loves me and who stands up for me in the only way she can, not with demands and ultimatums directed at my father, but with love letters she sends me through the mail and early dinners we meet privately for.
This time will be the longest though. It might not even have an end, and as I look at her I wonder if I will ever again know my mother in anything other than those secret letters and dinners.
Slowly then, I move toward the bottom of the stairs. When I reach the final step I do what I did the last time I came here, after I didn’t take the call for an interview from a colleague of his. I turn to go back up, to say fuck you to this bullshit shame and intimidation. But now, just like then, he knows I am there and he says my name.
And just like that I am seven years old and I have broken a vase that I was trying to get out of a cabinet to hold the flowers I’d picked for my mother. And I feel horrible that the glass is all over the kitchen floor and that my mother has cut her toe and that the dent will never come out of the hardwood and that the vase was his grandmother’s.
So I don’t turn and go back up the stairs, say fuck you to this bullshit shame and intimidation, because maybe I believe I deserve it.
“Michael,” he says as I turn the corner. But he says it like a question, like he wonders who I am.
“So you’ve really outdone yourself this time,” he says, not easing in at all, just getting right to the point. I wasn’t ready for that. I thought I had more time.
“Dad, I’m sorry you were caught off guard. That wasn’t my intention.”
“Oh yes. Hurting me or your mother is never your intention is it? It just sort of happens.”
And then suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, but really out of tremendous fatigue from years and years and years of this I don’t say what I would usually say. I say something else.
“You know Dad. I really can’t control what hurts you. I can only control my intent. And my intent was not to hurt anyone. My intent was just to be myself.”
“What kind of new-age shit is that? Huh? You completely embarrassed your mother and me in front of all of our friends and family. You disgraced us. You didn’t know that would happen? That wasn’t your intent?”
“Why would that ever be my intent?”
“Because you’ve always thought you could just do whatever you wanted with no regard for this family,” he replies.
That is completely untrue. That is absolute propaganda, so much fucking bullshit. And suddenly I snap with the weight of it, the years and years and years of him telling me I’m someone I am not.
And there’s Ryan now too. There’s Ryan.
“Bullshit Dad. That’s fucking bullshit.”
He snaps his eyes shut and then open again very quickly, as if I have slapped him, and he steps back too, just a little bit, hardly at all, enough to only barely notice.
“You know what Dad? I’ve had it. I’ve fucking had it with meeting you in this basement for the last twenty years to be shamed and intimidated and to never be heard. I’m done. I am twenty-five years old and I am fucking done with it.”
I turn to leave then, but he regains his composure and his voice booms my name and I am thirteen and I have gotten my mother’s eye shadow on their bedspread.
“You think you can post photos of you and some gay guy for the whole world to see and then just walk out of here like nothing happened?” he yells. “Yeah, the fuck you can,” he bellows.
I turn toward him again and his face is red with rage and hate. He hates me. He likely always has. Maybe because he’s always known.
I let the fear come but I don’t let it tell me what to say. And with a shaky voice I speak.
“That gay guy’s name is Ryan,” I tell him softly. “And I love him. And I’m sorry if for some reason that I will never understand that hurts you or scares you, but . . .”
He starts laughing.
“Hurts me? Scares me? No. It disgusts me. You disgust me. I called you here to tell you that until you get this shit out of your system you are not welcome in this house and you are not welcome anywhere else either.”
I turn to leave. He continues.
“And those fucking cards and sneaky trips you and your mother take together? Those are done too. You are fucking done as long as you continue to be some fag.”
And then my mother is in the room. She is in the room and she is filling it up in a way that she never has before. Or at least not that I have ever noticed.
And she is saying how dare you. She is saying he’s our son. She is saying I’ve had enough. She is saying if you ask me to choose again then this time I choose him. I choose my boy.
Then tears are rolling down my face. They are shaking my body and my soul and I am sixteen and down here alone with him in this basement because I came home an hour late and my mother is upstairs at the kitchen table listening to him yell at me, only this time she’s not. She is here. She is standing between us and she is saying I choose my boy.
She is saying that she chooses me, in the great wide open for everyone to see, not in sealed letters and dinners for two until he allows us to be together again.
She is saying I choose you today just like I chose you on the day that you were born and I will choose you no matter what and I’m so sorry that I got scared for so long and didn’t make it more clear, but it has always been so. I have always chosen you.
As you are.