Mama’s Day

MumsWhen we were little, my mom made all my cousins laugh. She created a game by dividing us up–April, Amy, Erin, Carrie, and I. The team that didn’t laugh at her antics won the prize. Of course, Mom always assigned Carrie and me to opposite teams. She knew. The second she opened her mouth or made a ridiculous face, my cousins were rolling on the floor in sidesplitting fits. Carrie and I sat–equally stoic–eyeing the $1 prize we both so desperately wanted to win.

Forty years later, she still does it. She still makes everyone laugh. The nurses, aides, cooks, and assistants at her health care center (because we’re not allowed to call it a nursing home) adore her. Even on the days her body betrays her the most, when you can see the pain in her chocolate eyes, she’s witty and wise and wonderful.

She is the same in so many ways, even though she’s also so different. It is surreal, to visit your mom in a home that is not her home, after so many years of living by her side, in her presence, with all the things she’s loved so well surrounding her… and you.

She’s always been my biggest cheerleader, my number one, my go-to. Whether it was a basketball championship or a softball double-header or a college vocal performance or a coming out, she’s never faltered. Not once.

Her love is unconditional. Her support, unmatched.

As my kids grow up, my mom grows older. It is the inevitable march of time.

And her wheelchair, her immobility, the handfuls of pills and shots she receives every day, the soft cotton of her hair… they are all reminders that I will not have her forever.

But what I will have forever is the imprint of her on my heart, the knowledge of who she’s helped me become with her famous tuna casserole and her unparalleled wisdom and her shared Keoke coffees. We don’t look alike, but we are alike in so many ways. I am a mirror of many parts of my mom… irreverent, sassy, fun, a little bit impatient, a lot of balls-to-the-wall love. The wrinkles of our hands are similar, the shapes of our fingers.

She taught me by beautiful example how to raise my own kids with love and compassion and understanding and high expectations and a cherry chip birthday cake and everything they need, but not necessarily everything they want, and always–always–a soft place to land in this sometimes harsh and jagged-edged world.

Living four hours away… with two kids still at home and two making their way through college… and freelance work to juggle… and a long-distance relationship to grow… and dogs to tend… and grass to mow… makes visiting a challenge. If George doesn’t have a recital, Mary Claire has a concert. If I don’t have a deadline, the dogs have vet appointments. There is always something that makes the 8-hour round trip an impossibility.

But there she is, waiting. Living. Growing older moment by moment.

Just as we all are.

And when my Navigator is parked outside the door of her health care center and I walk into her shared room, her eyes inevitably light up. “Trinks!” she says, her voice growing a tiny bit smaller and weaker with each passing day. She might be in her bed or in her chair or playing Bingo with her sisters, but she never fails to give me that radiant smile and welcome me home.

Because whether she’s in Weston Village or Bowman Acres or Springhurst, she is always home. My home.

I am so very grateful for all the love.

And the laughter.

 

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Clarity in the Silence

Ruby

In her “Misfit’s Manifesto,” the brilliant Lidia Yuknavitch states, “I am not the story you made of me.”

Narratives are interesting. A different lens, an alternative look, and the story goes in a totally different direction. New eyes, an added perspective, another firsthand account.

No story line is ever set in stone.

When I was young, I used to experience what I described to myself (because I never dared talk about it with anyone else) as the “out of place” feeling. I might be playing in the field with my friends or shooting hoops in my apartment complex’s back lot or riding my bike–the one I won in a Jim Dandy coloring contest–to Bowman Acres, and it would overcome me… this sense of not belonging, of being an outsider, of not fitting within my own skin. It was almost ethereal–nearly an “out of body” experience–but it always left me with a roller coaster rush in the pit of my belly.

The internalized message: You don’t fit in.

But I did with that message what I did best in my youth… I fought it. I argued with it, I stomped it with my fake Zips, and I rode my bike–the one I won in a Jim Dandy coloring contest–over it.

Because what I wanted most was to fit in.

I didn’t realize then what a glorious, beautiful mess my young life was. I didn’t know how much growth and understanding and strength would come from the struggles that most will never know… sexual abuse, poverty, paternal abandonment, questions of sexuality. What I understood then was that I wanted a white picket fence life. I wanted the marriage and the kids and the dogs in the right house in the right neighborhood in the right town.

And so, I made it happen.

Only, I discovered decades later that there wasn’t much truth in the story I’d created of myself.

My kids. Of course, my kids. They are my ultimate truth.

But me?

What of me?

I lived four decades of a mostly good life full of noise and distraction: Cheering sports fans, sorority parties, drunken friends, four kids in five years, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and fish. Kids’ sports, kids’ theatre, kids’ music, elaborate kids’ birthday parties. Freelance jobs, full-time jobs. Long evenings and weekends of parenting solo while my husband got his master’s degree, then his doctorate.

The gift of solitude wasn’t mine to receive until recently.

In late 2016, I came out. In early 2017, I moved out. A month later, my full-time job was eliminated.

Enter silence.

For the past year, I’ve been searching… for a job, for myself, for peace and understanding.

And what did I do during that search? What I’ve always done best, of course: I fought. I fought with my ex and my friends and my family and my new partner. I fought with those I loved and those I’d let go of. I fought because facing the silence was too excruciating.

But then I stopped fighting.

And the silence read me a new story… my story.

I spend many hours in this house by myself. Having been used to a house filled with kids and the buzz of constant activity, a silent house was unsettling at best. But I kept the TV off, turned the music down, lit the candles, and listened.

It is no great surprise to me that the puppy I rescued during the holidays–the one who is rescuing me in return–is silent. She doesn’t bark, doesn’t cry, doesn’t whine. She’s never made a sound louder than the reluctant click of her nails on my hardwood floors… and she most commonly makes that sound after I’ve gone upstairs to bed.

She was abused and neglected for the first seven months of her life. She is learning to trust again–herself and others–one baby step at a time. She spends most of her time in her crate, popping her head up to look at me from time to time with those soulful brown eyes. She used to have to be carried out of the house to go to the bathroom, but now she walks out (albeit skittishly) on her own.

She’s finding her footing. Her place.

She’s teaching me that alone doesn’t mean lonely.

It simply means solitude.

It means space to think and listen and be.

It’s a blank page on which to write the rest of my story.

The story of who I am instead of the story of who I thought I was supposed to be.

The story with the heartache, the hope, and the happy ending.

 

Posted in Big Thinks, coming out, Furry Friends, Me Myself And I, My Kids | 2 Comments

The Choosing

Silence of Our Friends

Those of you who’ve read my work for a long time know I’m not one to mince words or smooth the rough edges. Life is messy and hard, and my role as a writer is not to pave the way with pre-cut stepping stones, but to look at the rugged path and say, “Yeah. That’s a fucker. Step carefully, wear a helmet if you’ve got one — knee pads, even — and know that someone else has been there before and made it to the other side.”

So, let’s talk about divorce. Let’s talk about the messiness of it, the broken glasses, the shattered vases, the tiny shards that work their way under your fingernail and ache every time you lift your coffee cup.

No matter who you are, divorce is hard. It’s painful. It’s messy. It’s complicated. Choosing to end something you once thought would last a lifetime is not a decision taken lightly. And for us, it involved moves, counseling, tears, arguments, angry words, and temporary reconciliations. It caused us to drag old skeletons out of the closet, to say, “You did this,” and “You did that,” and “I was never really happy, anyway.”

History reinvented as  a means of survival.

You may think you’re going to be the greatest divorced couple in the history of divorced couples. (We did.) You may think everything is going to be smooth sailing and that you’ll expand your family rather than subtract from it. (We did.)

But life has a way of taking your smug resolution and turning it upside down.

Why?

Because divorce cuts into the core of your existence. It’s about you. It’s about him. It’s about the four amazing creatures you created together. But it’s also more than that. It’s about your new partners. Your in-laws. Your cousins. Your aunts and uncles. Your siblings. Your neighbors. Your individual friends. Your mutual friends.

Your mutual friends.

That’s the part I want to talk about today.

That’s the glass under my fingernail that’s turning into an infected abscess.

That’s the part I didn’t see coming.

You see… Chris and I had this wide, deep conglomeration of mutual friends. That happens when you grown up in the same hometown, after you spend almost 30 years together, when you build homes and raise kids and cross state lines together. It happens.

And you invite those friends into your home over the years. You serve them drinks and you blow up air mattresses for their kids and jump into ponds and swim in pools and walk around neighborhoods and reminisce together. You laugh and drink Limoncello shots as all your kids try to set up a tent that’s way beyond their camping capacity. You smoke cigars and turn up the music and revel in these amazing relationships you’ve been lucky enough to nurture and enjoy.

You wash beach towels and scrape cake off the floor and run the dishwasher 10 times and try to get the stains out of the carpet when all is said and done. But you don’t care what’s left behind because your friends left it behind. They left the stains and the memories and the cake crumbs and the laundry, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

But then the divorce comes.

And even though no one asked them to choose a side, they still do.

There are invitations for him and he brings his new girlfriend, even though you begged him to wait just a little bit longer, to give everyone a little breathing room… five, six, seven invitations since you split homes nine months ago. You see them all online, drinking and laughing and going to concerts and swimming and “friending” each other on Facebook. You see them carry on as if you were so completely replaceable that she — his new love — can just swoop in and take your place, smoothly, simply, without a second thought.

But how many invitations have you and your partner received?

None.

Not one.

Do they know how amazing your partner is? Do they know what they’re missing? Do they care?

And when you express your hurt at this dismissal? When you have to block your friends on social media because you can’t bear to see it all go down as if you never existed? When you cry and plead and beg for some understanding? It’s then that you’re met with anger and vitriol and accusations.

Is it really that hard to understand that pain? Truly?

Is empathy so far removed that no one can honestly see how hurtful that is?

This convenient erasure?

Why not invite both of us and our partners? Why not let Chris and I decide whether we are able to handle being there together with our significant others? Why not give us the benefit of the doubt?

Yes, I’m gay.

My partner is gay.

But I am still the same woman you once called friend.

I’m still the same woman you sat in the hot tub and sang under the white lights with. The one who challenged you to a diving contest and lost. The one you laughed with while we danced in the living room and played “Cards Against Humanity.” The one who stood by you through your own divorce, who helped nurture and comfort your kids, who fed your dogs, who watched your kids get safely on the bus, who loved you just because you were you.

And you were a friend.

I’m not perfect — by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been a good friend, and I’ve been a shitty friend. I was a good wife, and I was a shitty wife. I’ve been a good mother, and I’ve been a shitty mother. I am black and white and all the shades in between.

So is Chris.

So are you.

Is it just so much easier to replace one heteronormative relationship with another, regardless of the people involved? Trade the former wife for a similar model? Is she just easier to accept and welcome because she’s straight and has kids and looks like a suburban mom and doesn’t challenge your Midwestern norms? Is it that easy to write me off because in your eyes, I’m now different?

You liked me when I was with him. You slept in my guest beds and drank my wine and ate my guacamole and talked with me around campfires into the wee hours of the morning. We shared coffee and bagels and laughter and stories and dreams. Has all that so drastically changed? Must it? Just because a marriage ends, do friendships have to go, too?

Let me assure you that a marriage never goes down solely because of one person. Just because I came out and owned my homosexuality doesn’t mean that this ship — the one that was keeping our marriage afloat — hadn’t been going down for a long, long time. Do you really believe it could be that one-sided? That singular in its demise? Twenty-eight years? Do you really think there aren’t layers upon layers upon layers of hurt and disappointment and betrayal… on both sides?

Do you really?

I will lay out my “sins” for all to see. I will own them, claim them, atone for them. Just because Chris doesn’t necessarily feel the need to do the same doesn’t mean he doesn’t have sins, too. I won’t reveal them. They’re his to sleep with at night. Would you feel differently about them if they were known? Are his sins just easier to forgive because you can’t see them?

Judge not lest ye be judged. Isn’t that what your god says — the one some of us believe in… the one some of us don’t?

I had friends I thought were true. And loyal. And on my side… even if they were on Chris’s, too. I didn’t want there to be sides, never asked for that. I wanted them to keep loving us both. And for those who have continued to say, “I love you, and I love him, and I’m trying hard to navigate that gracefully…,” thank you. Thank you for speaking it, for communicating, for being aware, for thinking about both of us and our current partners, for considering our kids. But there were other friendships I thought would survive the storm. I have been shocked and saddened to learn how quickly they were destroyed by winds that hadn’t even yet reached tropical storm level. The hurricane wasn’t even on the horizon.

Here’s the lesson I’ve learned… the one I hope you will learn, too… Nothing is as simple or straightforward or as you’ve created it to be in your head. There doesn’t have to be a villain and a hero. Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be. But you — mutual friends — are part of a divorce, too. You contribute to how everything plays out in the future — from graduations to weddings to grandkids. Remember that. Remember how your choices — and most painfully, your silence — affects others. Remember that what you do and say and post online hurts and harms and irrevocably damages.

Tread gently. There is enough hurt already.

If you can do anything to help support a divorcing couple, it’s this: Don’t cause more harm.

I have friends who have divorced, I have been witness to relationships that ended. In retrospect, I have not been nearly as kind and giving and compassionate and empathetic as I needed to be.

I will never, ever make that mistake again.

When we know better, we do better.

These are lives we’re talking about.

The lives of those — both of those, all of those — you used to call friend.

 

~ ~ ~

“She always figured that they were her friends. But maybe they can live without her.”

~ James Taylor

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Freckles and All

IMG_2791

I hated my freckles when I was little. They were unwelcome stains across my face, on my chest, covering my arms.

My best friend had long, straight Marcia Brady hair and perfect, pale skin. I was all unruly red curls and polka dots. She was quiet and sweet, a swimmer, a pianist. I terrorized the boys with my wicked strong left arm during recess games of dodge ball.

My sister was a beauty pageant winner. Her feathered hair was perfect. Her dimples, enviable. My cousins were long and lean and gorgeous. They were scholars and student council leaders and track stars and cheerleaders.

I was skinned knees and sweaty t-shirts and cut-off jeans.

I wanted to be someone else.

When I was young, there was this feeling I used to call the weird feeling. It would overtake me on a daily basis — this notion that I was different, a freak, an outsider. That I was looking into a world where I didn’t belong. It was a physical sensation, an out-of-body experience. It made me feel like an alien.

My freckled skin never quite fit.

It’s been just over a year since I came out.

A year of the biggest, most profound changes of my life.

When people ask how I’m doing, I typically say, “It’s been the best of the best and the worst of the worst.”

My 28-year relationship has unraveled. And with it, so have many other relationships. I have lost family members. I have lost friends. In many ways, I am the pariah — the outcast I always knew I was.

My ex and his girlfriend are still invited to hang out with our mutual friends. They have been to dinners, to gatherings, to concerts with the people I once believed were mine, too. He and his girlfriend are safe. They are familiar. They are white picket fences and PTO meetings.

I am not. Those invitations no longer come my way.

My true blue, Andi, says, “Let it go, Kat. You’ve outgrown that life. It’s no longer yours.”

And when I unclench my fists and open my eyes, I can see that she’s right. There’s magic in letting go.

Live and let live.

The ones who have stayed by my side have burrowed themselves so much more deeply into my heart. And the screaming silences from some have been filled with a beautiful community of new loves, new friendships. What once was has made way for the what’s next.

I have found a beloved group of women online. Women who — like me — are coming out in mid-life, after having husbands and kids and so many unanswered questions. They are brave and beautiful. Our stories are all different, yet they are so much the same. Last week, someone lamented that a friend thought her “coming out” was a lie, a way to make her life easier, a means to escape a marriage that no longer served her.

Trust me, friends, there is nothing easy about this.

But there is necessity in being true, in being you.

In the reassembling.

I don’t expect everyone to understand. I know there are judgments and whispers. But here’s what I would ask for myself, for others: Empathy. Kindness.

There is enough pain in the transition. There is enough grief. There is enough loneliness.

And couldn’t we all use a little more empathy and kindness? In whatever situation we face?

For everything I have lost, I have gained so much more.

Most importantly?

I have gained me.

True me.

Real me.

Skin that finally fits.

Freckles and all.

 

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It Is Not a Lie

RainbowI was recently reduced to this by one I thought once loved me: You are nothing but a user, a taker, a fraud. You have lived a lie your entire life.

When a family redefines itself, many ugly words are spoken… from all angles. There is pain and grief and loss, and the jagged edges create dangerous, rocky terrains where soft landings once existed. Some words and actions hurt more than others. It stung, this accusation, this generalization. It was a hard slap on tender skin. It was a minimization of my existence… all the nuances, the moments, the experiences.

Demoralized.

Dismissed.

Diminished.

Those words were a cruel and lazy attempt to tie up a story that could not be easily contained. It is akin to the assumption that the demise of my 22-year marriage is solely due to my sexuality.

Loves, know this: There is always more. Nothing is ever that simple. There are always multiple, complex, misunderstood sides to every story.

Always.

Under the surface of the sea, an entire hidden world exists. Under the surface of our external lives, the same.

When the sting of that accusation subsided, I was left to sort through my truths, my own realities. And I uncovered these…

It is not a lie to not know, to question, to hide.

It is not a lie to choose the easy and expected route in response to your Catholic upbringing, to your community, to your family.

It is not a lie to rest in the cocoon of heterosexual privilege. Especially when – in support of your LGBTQ friends – you change your Facebook profile picture to a rainbow background, and a family member comments on how far you’ve strayed from your conservative upbringing, how much your soul needs prayer and redemption.

It is not a lie to love as hard and as well as you could for 28 years even though it wasn’t the kind of love either of you truly needed.

It is not a lie to give birth to and raise four incredible human beings. It is not a regret. It is not a falsehood. It is the greatest gift you’ve even been given.

It is not a lie to fall in love, unexpectedly, wholly.

It is not a lie to look in her eyes and feel kindness, comfort, equality, safety, warmth.

To feel home.

To those of you who might be hiding, questioning, afraid… It’s okay to be you. You should be nothing else but you. You are unique… the one and only. Those who don’t see, who don’t understand – they don’t matter. But you do. You matter. You and your big, brave heart. Do not stand silent with an angry foot on your throat. Sing your song, tell your story, hold the hand of the one you love. You are not this part or that part… you are the sum of all your beautiful, broken parts – the good and the bad – stitched together in perfection.

I just received feedback from my amazing editor, Peter, on my memoir-in-progress, Hurricane Lessons.

The prologue outlines the story burning inside me, the one I have lived and experienced and maneuvered for forty-seven years. The one that might speak to you, too.

A preview:

~ ~ ~

“And isn’t it a kind of madness to be living by a code of silence when you’ve really got a lot to say.” ~ Billy Joel, Code of Silence

I did not form my own identity. I let it be formed for me. For forty-five years, I allowed circumstance and inertia and expectations mold me into the girl I thought the world wanted me to be. It was important for me to be accepted by the masses, to be identified as the good girl, to acquiesce.

Until it no longer was.

In retrospect, there was always a storm brewing right under the surface, a bubbling that had been there since birth, rolling clouds, dark skies, the ominous inevitable. A wall of thunderstorms surrounding my calm middle, the eye of the hurricane waiting patiently for the atmospheric shift, for the undoing.

Sexual abuse, sexual violence, sexual identity.

All tucked into the corners of my life, neatly, quietly, until the corners no longer held.

A story of unraveling, a reclamation.

A story of a birth, four and a half decades after my first.

©2017

~ ~ ~

It is not a lie when the story you began telling ends differently.

There is great beauty in the unexpected.

Your metanoia.

The truth – even when traversing its darkest, most painful corners – really does set you free. The sunshine is right there, around that turn, waiting to warm your face. Keep going. Do you see it? That tiny, golden sliver of light? It’s yours. All yours. Bask in it.

 

Posted in Big Thinks, coming out | 2 Comments

In the Quiet Spaces

9th

some people

when they hear your story.

contract.

others

upon hearing your story,

expand.

and

this is how

you

know

 ~ Nayyirah Waheed

 

It’s been over seven months since I came out.

 

Long enough to cry a few tears.

Long enough to laugh with inhibition.

Long enough to learn a lesson or two.

Long enough to let go.

Long enough to fall in love.

 

First and foremost, I’ve discovered there is nothing more important than living authentically. Nothing that matters more than choosing your one precious life and saying, This. This is who I am. This is who I’ve always been. This is how I will move forward. For me. Nothing that makes you feel as whole, as powerful, as complete, as real as stripping off your pretenses, setting aside others’ expectations, and stepping into your own skin — the skin that’s been begging for you to come home. To stay.

 

But that doesn’t mean the journey is simple. Or straightforward. Or without stumbling blocks.

 

There are those who will blame you. Those who will shun you. Those who will question your truth, your identity. There are those who will cut you with silence, with their unspoken judgment. Their non-words will hurt more than the daggers others will throw without inhibition.

 

I hear it so clearly — the quiet whisper of disapproval (she’s destroying her family), of doubt (she can’t really be gay), of judgment (this isn’t natural or right).

 

There’s a shift, slow, steady, nearly imperceptible. But it’s there. The once-friends and family who are now silent friends and family. The ones who fawn over your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s picture with his new girlfriend, while your pictures with her, your beloved, remain largely unnoticed… or deliberately unseen. You hear their message in your head: We support this traditional path, not yours. You didn’t ask us to choose, but we chose anyway. We chose safety. Security. We chose what is more socially acceptable. More comfortable. We loved you when you were half of a heteronormative power couple, but not now. Not gay. That’s not the you we thought we knew.

 

Social media as a microcosm of our larger society.

 

Internalized homophobia. I know. I had it, too. For forty+ years.

 

And here’s what I think: I wish you could have chosen and supported us both, as unique individuals… once a couple, always co-parents, now on divergent paths.

 

 

You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to understand. It’s taken me four decades to understand who I am… and I’m still learning. But if you were my friend before, my sexuality shouldn’t change that. My amazing daughter is bisexual. And when she told me? I loved her exactly the same. Perhaps even more. Because I have a deep knowledge now of how it feels to be you in a world that wants you to be someone else. Someone safer. Someone more familiar.

 

And then there are those who will love and support you unconditionally. Those who will say, Yes. This is you. This has always been you. Those who will hold your hand and your heart and your oh-so-fragile soul. Those who will say again and again and again — and always when you need to hear it most, I love you. Just the way you are. Nothing more, nothing less. Forever.

 

Divorce is hard. No matter the reason. And the reason is never simple. The reason is never one-dimensional. But sometimes it’s easier for others to believe it is. Sometimes it’s safer to think, No. This could not happen to me. I am not _____ (fill in the blank). Often it’s easier to point fingers, to assign blame, to draw a line and step over it, choosing, alienating. But here’s what I have learned over the past seven months: Humans are multi-dimensional and complicated and beautifully broken and tenderly repaired. And I will never, ever again judge a situation I know little about. I will not point fingers when I have heard one side of the story, when I know 3% of the facts. I will give those I love the benefit of the doubt. I will understand and accept that every individual must make the best decision for herself. And I will trust that she is the only one who truly understands the decision that must be made for her survival, for the survival of those she loves most and holds closest to her heart.

 

When Chris and I made the decision to go our separate ways, we vowed to be the best divorced couple in the history of divorced couples. I want to walk you down the aisle again someday, he said. I will always be your best friend. I will stand beside you through this transition. But life has a way of stepping in and altering the course. And promises made become promises easily broken. You find you have betrayed and disappointed each other in every possible way. And you hope that someday you will return to each other with white flags raised, as friends, as co-parents, as two humans who were once willing and happy to build a life together. You have to first figure out how to build lives on your own, though. That is new and unfamiliar terrain. You have to find your way to the other side before you can find your way back.

 

But there are these four almost-grown children. And they are kind. And open-minded. And funny. And smart. And understanding. They love their Mom. They love their Dad. There is no finger-pointing, no judgment in them. Of course, there is sadness. There is always sadness when what you thought was forever no longer is. But there is also this: a desire for all six to be happy, to be content, to have what each wants, deserves, needs.

 

And so you try your best to emulate them, these once-babies who are all nearly adults, wise and wonderful. You know their happiness, their security, their growth is what matters most.
And you.

 

You matter most, too. Because you’re the only one who will take care of you. You’re all you have left.

 

Except for those ocean eyes in New York City, the ones you weren’t looking for, the ones you never imagined you’d find. The ones in which you lose yourself again and again. You recall the feel of your hand in hers, the initial fear and self-loathing, the eventual comfort and acceptance, the speed at which it enveloped you. Her wisdom and kindness and support. Her laughter. That smile. Then the fall… swift, graceful, without hesitation. A welcome surrender. The totality of it. A future together. The soft skin. The thumb touching yours.

 

A place you were once afraid and ashamed to call your own.

 

Home.

 

Posted in Big Thinks, Me Myself And I, My Kids | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Love Is Love Is Love

love-is-loveDear Ones, these are probably the most important words I have ever shared with you. Some of you know, some of you are wondering, some of you are speculating. Today, I’m here to clear the air, to tell the story that’s been waiting to be told.

On October 16 — one day after our 22nd wedding anniversary — Chris and I sat down with our three high schoolers and Skyped in the college boy. I’d written a letter to them because I knew I wouldn’t get through the conversation otherwise. And here’s an excerpt of what I read:

“Your dad and I have something to tell you.

But first, there is something I want to remind you.

Each of you grew under my heart – from the day you were conceived until the moment you made your way into this world. You are the best pieces of both of us, the boldest, brightest, shiniest parts. We love you unconditionally, forever. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing. You are always safe in and under both of our hearts. Forever.

Your dad and I have stood side-by-side for 28 years through sunshine and storms. We have deep and abiding respect for each other, for the humans we both are individually. There is nothing either of us would change about the last 28 years.

And we have many more years ahead – both of us. It’s important that we live authentically, that we live fully, that we live our truest lives… both for ourselves and as an example to you.

So what I need to tell you is this: I am attracted to women, not to men. I am gay. Both your dad and I have always known this on some level, it just took me multiple decades to own and embrace it. The labels are a little tricky for me, but the reality is not. This is who I am.

There was more to the letter. Of course, there is always more. Life tends to be a bit more complicated and complex than we imagine. The kids were amazing and supportive and strong. They hugged us and made jokes and shed a few tears. Somehow, we’ve made some pretty amazing human beings. Chris and I had big plans to co-habitate and co-parent while we lived our separate lives and supported each other on our new paths.

But plans and reality don’t always align.

For the previous two years, Chris and I had grappled with how to move forward — or whether we even should. We’d been through counseling. We’d experimented with many possible solutions, including opening up our marriage. But ultimately, we’d recognized this as our truth: Both of us deserved more than just pieces of each other. And although we’d given each other some of our very best pieces, we both understood that “most” was not enough, was not fair or equitable, was not authentic. It was not what either of us wanted for the rest of our days.

And so, we agreed to our separation and began dating other women.

I met someone in New York who immediately felt like a kindred. She is kind and funny and smart and feisty. She is thoughtful and introspective and sweet and inclined to break out into impromptu dance parties. When she first held my hand on 5th Avenue, she asked, “Is this okay?” And I’d never felt so okay. Getting to know her has been a homecoming. We can talk about everything and nothing for hours. We work out together and order meals in and argue about who falls asleep first during a movie. We enjoy both similar and different interests. We are learning each other. She has quickly become one of my favorite stories.

Chris, too, has met someone in Ohio. He says she is the one bright spot for him in this tumultuous time.

He and I have made many missteps over the past few months. We have spoken harsh words. We have hurt each other. We have apologized. We have rinsed and repeated. This is not an easy journey. Twenty eight years is a long, intersected time. There is much to unravel. But we are trying to be the best we can be so our kids have space to be the best they can be.

My sad, sweet Mom — when I had the hardest conversation I’ve ever had with her — said to me, “But if you’ve always suspected you were gay, why did you get married? Why did you have kids?” And my answer remains the same… because I grew up in the Midwest. I attended a Catholic school and was raised by a very Catholic family. I was told from my earliest days what was expected of me — not necessarily in so many words, but in everything I read, heard, ingested, lived. And I met a boy who loved me. And I loved him back… in many good, true ways. And the thought of the silences and stares and judgment was harder to bear than the thought of white picket fences and puppies and the suburbs.

I wasn’t brave enough to be me in a world that told me I should be someone else.

And the silences and stares and judgment have come to fruition, multiple decades later. What I feared for all those years has become reality. I feel the empty spaces where friends used to be. I hear the silences where laughter and conversation once existed. I miss the invitations that used to come fast and furiously. I see the confusion in my mom’s eyes. It’s the hardest juxtaposition of all. For the first time in my life, I finally feel at peace and completely comfortable in my own skin. And yet, there is so much fallout.

There is guilt.

There is blame.

I made a beautiful family, and then I broke it.

I know those pieces will someday reassemble into something new and different and more authentic. I believe that what rises from the ashes will be even better because it will finally be the truth. But today, there is heartache and confusion tucked into the cracks between the joy and peace and contentment.

The other thing I know for sure is this: I wouldn’t change one thing about my past, about the decisions I made 28 years ago… or about the decisions I’ve made today. Because no matter what else we might have done wrong, Chris and I did four things so very right. Their names are Sam, Gus, Mary Claire, and George.

And for those who are wondering and searching and questioning the truth of their own lives, here’s the other story I want to share: Once upon a time, there was a little girl who grew up safe and loved and cocooned in the arms of her mother and big sister. She loved the girls in her life far more than the boys. She kissed her female cousins innocently in closets, giggling and discovering. And when she turned double digits, she learned from a man who should have known better that her purpose on earth was to please men, to serve them, and to stay quiet about the details. She learned from her society and her religion that loving girls was wrong, even though no other love felt quite right. She learned there was a path she was supposed to follow, and she followed it. Then multiple decades later, she learned that life is too short to live for someone else or by anyone else’s rules and standards and expectations. It was the lesson she wanted to leave for her children, for the man who held her safely for so many years, for all the little girls and boys who still wonder… Am I doing what is expected of me? Or am I living what matters most to me? The little girl who followed the path she was supposed to — simply because she was supposed to — doesn’t have regrets. Just a story to tell… one that took a long time to learn and accept and understand. And it goes like this:

Love wins. Whatever love feels right, no matter who might say it is wrong. And the story — even though it might not have the ending she expected and envisioned — will still have a happy ending. Because the final sentences will be these: She loved. She loved well. She loved honestly. And with her whole heart. And she finally — finally — learned to love herself enough to live her truth.

The beginning.

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