Holidays Suck for Queer People

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. 

The f-word. 

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. 

Grieving Is Nonlinear

Nobody can prepare you for a lot of the junk you’ll face as an adult.

The most useful piece of information a teacher ever gave me was about paying off debt. He said that even just five extra dollars a month would cut down the interest, and he was right.

But nobody told me about taxes or the forms I needed to fill out. I had never heard of a 1099-INT until I started working at a bank.

Not a single person told me about how you should definitely stretch every single day when you wake up. Cause if you don’t, you might pull your back muscles, or your knees and calves will act up during the day.

Worst of all, no one told me how lost I would be after my dad died.

I was well past the age of needing him, or so I thought. I was nineteen and just starting to figure out where I wanted to go with my life (which is laughable, because no I wasn’t). He suffered a fatal heart attack, and I was there when it happened.

I remember the night clearly; I had trouble sleeping. His health had been steadily deteriorating – I think maybe a month prior, we were told his kidneys were failing and there was nothing left for us to do. So I expected his death. I thought about life without him every so often.

We had been evicted from our apartment and were living with relatives. The house was crowded and there was never any money. I felt like my life had gone on hold, because I couldn’t just leave my two sisters behind. They were still in high school, and as far as sisters go, we’re pretty close. My mom was too difficult for them to handle on their own.

So all of our frustrations were reaching a boiling point.

Looking back, I regret letting those things bother me. Who cared? Why did it actually matter? We were with family and we were getting back on our feet. Eventually, anyway.

October 28th, 2013. Around 4AM. I was awake on the couch; I always struggled sleeping on that uncomfortable piece of shit. But it was better than outside, so I lived.

Dad came out of the room he shared with my mom, wobbling and feeling around because it was too dark to see. His vision had pretty much bailed on him; by the time he died, it was my understanding that all he could see were blurs.

I pretended to be asleep, because I didn’t want to help him. He wasn’t afraid to ask for help, and I hate myself for ever being annoyed by that. I’ve never opened that box of feelings, because I know there’s a lot to sift through. I’m angry at myself for being selfish. I’m angry that maybe I wanted him to just finally pass away, so we wouldn’t have to worry about taking care of him. He was losing control of his whole body; he’d have accidents at least once a day. His hands shook too much to administer his own insulin shots. He couldn’t eat anything we could eat normally.

I think I was angry that he wasn’t the man I remembered and looked up to my whole life. I was scared of how fragile he became. It felt sudden, even if it wasn’t.

Dad came out of his room, and I pretended to sleep, until he tripped and knocked over my phone. Instinctively, I reached out to grab it. He steadied himself, and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

I try not to look for a deeper meaning in those words, because I feel like that would be… reaching. It’d be silly. Because he only apologized for what? Waking me up? Knocking over my phone?

He couldn’t have been apologizing for what he knew was coming.

The worst part of dying is that nobody can tell you what it feels like in those last hours. They’re dead.

I stayed up talking to a friend after he went back to sleep, and snoozed for another hour before my aunt took my sisters and cousins to school. She was gone for maybe two minutes before I heard a weird, strangled cry from my dad’s room.

I didn’t tell this to anyone for years, but when I heard that noise? I didn’t get up.

I heard a thump, quickly after the cry, but I didn’t move. I checked the time on my phone. 6:45 AM.

I tried to tell myself: “He probably just slipped while getting out of bed. He’s okay. He’s fine.” But I couldn’t not check. So three minutes later, I got up and tried to open the door.

And I’ll never forget the panic that electrified my bones and paralyzed me when I couldn’t.

His head blocked the door, and I was too stunned to do anything. Another couple minutes later, my aunt came home and I felt as though I were in a dream, telling her what was going on. To this day, she’s my hero, because she forced that door open and called 911. I knew what was happening. I knew he died.

But I still went through the motions. I helped my uncle flag down the ambulance. I waited beside my sister (who had stayed home sick that day) as the paramedics worked on him. When they came out and said he was gone, and my uncle punched the floor, I felt my mouth open and words tumbled out.

“There’s something you can do,” I said. I think I’m a terrible actor. I wasn’t fooling myself at all, and probably not anyone else.

It happened. We knew it was coming.

I didn’t feel anything.

Now that I look back, I’m sure I was in shock.

Because even if you’re expecting the death of your parent, when the day comes, you’re a different person.

A piece of me still stands in that hallway, not knowing what to do with my hands. Not knowing if those ten minutes I spent being useless could’ve changed anything. Dad wouldn’t have wanted to live in a vegetative state. He wouldn’t have wanted to suffer longer than he needed to.

But damn it, he was my dad – and he was a great dad, which I know is unfortunately rare.

I spent the morning staring at his shoes. A pair of dusty, black crocs that he wore to every single event. He wore them when he took me to my first concert, and I was horrifically embarrassed when he got sucked into a mosh pit, and somehow one of the crocs landed on stage in front of my favorite band.

I kept thinking of moments that I treasured, and looking for signs from him in everything that came up over the next few days. I wanted it all to mean something.

But it didn’t.

He just died.

And I continued to live.

I remembered writing my thoughts about this years ago, and at the time, I approached it more logically than emotionally. I had already experienced the crucial life moments I saw on TV. The first date. First time driving. First time getting high at a party and subsequently being busted. Prom. Graduation.

But all those events mean shit. Once you graduate, you’re done.

Once you have your license, you never have to experience that awful first time jitter again.

Once you start life, that’s it.

You keep living.

I was nineteen and I lost my dad at the actual most crucial time in my life, because I was still deciding who I wanted to be.

I hadn’t come out yet. I was still years away from that.

Sometimes I wonder if it would’ve mattered to him. Not knowing is the worst part.

It’s been seven years, and I drove to his grave for the first time a couple weeks ago. I always hated going to cemeteries, because I could never decide how much time was appropriate to spend there. Was I doing too much or too little? What do I say? Do I have to say anything?

I didn’t expect much. I certainly didn’t expect to cry as hard as I did.

At the beginning of the year, on the same day my nephew was born, I lost my aunt. I know. I couldn’t make this shit up.

She died, and the last thing I ever said to her was… nothing. She had been drinking heavily the last few years of her life, and after everything my mother had gone through, I had little tolerance. I ignored her. Coldly.

So cold that when she came into the room and the mood changed, my brother-in-law got scared. He’d never seen me so angry.

That woman used to be my favorite. She was the life of the party, and my best friend. She always had a meal for you if you needed it. She loved watching movies. She did everything to take care of her kids.

And then she was gone.

So I went to my father’s grave and I talked. I talked about my nephew and how big he’s gotten since January. I talked about losing my aunt. I talked about… just how much I really missed him. Which I do. All the time. And it occurred to me that maybe I haven’t cried enough, or let myself feel everything I needed to feel.

I sure as hell felt it that day. I sobbed for half an hour with little break.

I’d like to think that part of it was because I stepped in an entire swarm of giant ants and unforgiving spurs (one of which lodged into my foot and broke off). But I know better.

I felt better.

I had one experience with crying about two years ago, though it wasn’t as cathartic as this one had been. I was watching The Wedding Singer (one of Adam Sandler’s VERY FEW good movies), and a part came up that my dad used to laugh endlessly at. He would say the line and giggle to himself, and when the actor said his line, I started laughing.

Then the laughter turned to hysterical sobbing. It lasted for five minutes before I got a hold of myself and tried to brush off my astonishment.

And while I hate crying, and all the overwhelming emotions that come with it, I think I should do it more often.