Regardless of how happy I am being out – and this is “holding conversations with family members about my partner” happy, or “I’m excited for my life” happy – I have cold, harsh realities to face.
A few years ago, I was perfectly fine missing the holidays. I worked through those days as if they were any other. I called my sisters to catch up, and I called my mother because that was the one obligation I still felt I had.
With this arrangement, I believed I was happy. Maybe it was true for a while.
Coming out was swift, but messy. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I think if I had waited, I probably never would’ve done anything. Admittedly, this doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s fine. There are no two gay people alike. There is no right or wrong way to come out.
But I’m getting off the subject.
I’ve been so fucking happy. Life has felt so much better than it did a year ago. I know what I want from myself and I have more direction. I have plans and a vision.
And I think… that’s what makes moments like this so blindsiding.
I looked forward to Christmas this year because I was home. I had extra money to spend on my family, and I appreciated the opportunity considering the times. We gathered at my mother’s house and I cooked a full meal. We watched movies, my nephew opened the first Christmas gifts of his life, and there weren’t any petty family dramas to sigh over.
After my sister and brother-in-law decided to head home and put the baby to sleep, I asked my mom for a ride so I could pick up clothes and toiletries (I share the car with my sister and brother-in-law since we stay together for cheaper rent). Mom – of course – loves when I stay over, because it reminds her of the old days. She won’t say it, but my sisters and I all know. Ever since our dad died, she’s struggled to stand on her own.
On the way back, she warned me that she recently started drinking again. Nothing heavy, but a single beer while she watches the football game. Of course I wasn’t happy, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not my business. I’ve done all I can to help her, and whatever choices she makes, she has to live with what comes from them. Besides, a single beer wasn’t as bad as the full case she could knock out daily.
But she insisted on projecting.
She’s always been paranoid, and she accused me of making faces in response to her talking about alcohol. I told her it was all in her head, and if I made faces, it was due to her comments on things like her boyfriends (because no one wants to hear what their mom thinks of men; truly I’d rather lose my hearing). Almost instantly, I knew she was offended by how I raised my voice and basically told her to never again tell me about her love life.
She refuses to make friends she could actually discuss that subject with – which I imagine is difficult when you’re fifty – so I almost feel bad, but my sanity can’t handle it. And I know better than to raise my voice, but she won’t listen if I don’t. As she climbs up in age, I have to remind her that I’m also older, and she needs to listen to me equally.
So she said, “I know you’re uncomfortable with my drinking, you’d prefer I didn’t. Just like I’d prefer you didn’t hang out with your girlfriend, and instead found a nice man.”
I couldn’t stop myself. I argued, “The difference is, you have a choice.”
“And so do you.”
I chose to stop after that. I let her talk, and for the first time in a long time, I sent myself somewhere far in my head. This used to be my coping when I was a teenager that couldn’t do much else. I ran through elaborate fantasies of a better life. Of happiness.
She seemed to figure out that if she wanted me to keep visiting, and not turn into a seldom caller again, she’d drop the subject. No matter what she did, however, I was rattled. For a split second, I thought I could cry.
Ultimately I didn’t.
We got home, and she started telling me about a strange animal she saw running through her yard. She swore up and down that it was a beaver mixed with a weasel and raccoon. When we pulled into the driveway, I saw two of them. Ferrets.
Naturally, I told my other sister (who still lives with our mom), and we all had a good laugh. I was relieved, because the earlier hiccup started to fade on the backburner.
We put on Hell’s Kitchen just to mindlessly watch something and let our dinner settle. The wind is going crazy outside, so I think about making a few repairs to the house in the morning. My sister got a stand mixer for Christmas, and she was most likely going to bake treats for us – I figured doing some outside work and stuffing my face was the bread and butter of a decent day.
Being lost in thought, I almost missed what was going on in the show.
God, I wish I had.
One of the guys was a little extra chummy with his teammate – who just so happened to be another guy. It wasn’t a big deal in the slightest.
My mom said it with such ease, and I suppose that’s what bothered me the most.
“He looks like a faggot.”
Immediately, my mind ran through a Rolodex of reasoning. She’s old, that’s just how she talks. She’s drunk, she has no filter.
Except she’s been sober; I haven’t seen a single can of beer because she thinks she has to behave.
And regardless of how much you say, “not to be rude,” whatever you’re about to say is definitely gonna be rude.
At this point, my mind is still racing with: Nobody says that kind of garbage anymore! It’s not real! You’ve glitched out of the matrix and you’re seeing something horribly unreal!
In my head, I was free falling down a terrible black hole, where all I could hear was that one sentence. It didn’t sound like my mother. It never sounded like her when she was being awful and homophobic, or any kind of ignorant. The voice was too ugly; it matched the words.
For a split second, I was completely yanked out of my seat and forced to accept that yes, she really did say those things.
I’ve been happy for a solid year now, but I realized happiness is a lot like sobriety.
I fell off the wagon, and I don’t blame anyone else who struggles through the holidays.
I have to remind myself that this woman isn’t paying my bills (quite frankly, I’m paying hers), nor is she actually as crucial to me anymore.
I enjoy spending time with my family. I do. These days, I typically have a decent relationship with my mother and grandparents. She struggles with making sense, due to her years of drug use and alcohol abuse, but I’ve known her long enough to keep conversation going.
But I left (escaped) the nest despite her desperately wanting the opposite.
This next train of thought seems irrelevant, but I swear there’s a point.
My brother-in-law and I once discussed how men are raised in other countries, or other time periods. Once they’re of age, they leave the village and sometimes they don’t come back. This translated to a modern day article we found that talks about how boys have to metaphorically kill off their mom and start their own life. It sounds ridiculously dramatic, but after growing up the way I did, I understood.
I needed those ties severed so I could live my best life. Obviously, I didn’t have to completely cut her out, but I needed to be my own person. As unfair as it is that my sister can bring her husband over for the holidays, but I can’t bring my girlfriend, I can’t let it drag me down. Eventually, I’ll come over for less time, because I’ve started my own family and traditions. That’s what happens.
I don’t need the permission of my family to be happy.
I’m on track to getting there. I have steady work doing exactly what I want to be doing. For the first time in my life, I know who I am and I don’t care what anyone else has to say. I’m comfortable in my skin, I have a healthy relationship… Life is good.
Just not always. And that sucks.