#WhyIDidntReport

TreeWhen I reported my rape at age 21, two weeks after–in a cold, sterile, eerily quiet room; with the smell of him still, forever, in my nose; after my concerned sorority sister called my mom to tell her; and after all the viable evidence had been scrubbed away repeatedly, obsessively in scalding showers–the male police officer required me to take a polygraph test to prove my story was true.

As if my nightmares weren’t enough. And the shaking that wouldn’t stop. And the tiny, little death behind my eyes. The one that has yet to be resurrected 28 years later. Nearly three decades since he held that knife to my throat in the elevator that took me home, to my college apartment.

When I disclosed my childhood sexual abuse in my 40s, I thought it was solely for me. For my healing. For my heart. I knew no one would ever be prosecuted for the things I was made to do at age 10, 11, 12. I also knew I could not go through the questions and the polygraphs and the vivid, detailed recalls again. The sketches. The eyes that suggested a hint of disbelief. The scribbled notes. The remembered smells and sounds that woke me in a breathless panic at night, year after year after year.

But this truth I could not hold any longer. Not in my hands, not in my heart, not in my words. It was toxic within, eating away at me bit by bit.

Silence so often is.

I had to let it go.

What I now know is that the telling wasn’t just for me. It was for all of us who have first been harmed, then silenced.

It was my cry of solidarity.

#metoo

At 48, I still sleep behind a locked bedroom door, and Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” makes my palms sweaty. The just-right blend of body odor and the perfect, thick heat of a summer night makes my stomach churn, the bile rise. If someone playfully pulls on my ponytail, I am paralyzed.

I am not “fight or flight.” I am “play dead.”

Play dead.

Play dead.

It’s easy because a tiny piece of me already is. I have been well-conditioned by men who greedily took what was never theirs to have. At age 10, 11, 12. At age 20.

One man, I trusted. One, a stranger.

There are reasons why we don’t come forward until we can no longer be held back.

Or be held down.

Literally, figuratively.

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Posted in Me Myself And I | Tagged | 4 Comments

Mauve Sheets and Almonds

GeorgesRoom_0445This weekend, George was invited to play in a Mendelssohn octet at the Toledo Museum of Art. I had just moved a state away for my brand new job, and I made the first of what will be many decisions to not drive back to Ohio. It was not an easy decision. It will never be an easy decision. But life requires making hard decisions sometimes. We are all learning that lesson.

I watched the recording and cried–my handsome, talented boy playing his violin with such grace and passion.

I unpacked boxes and made his bed in my new apartment. I stocked my pantry with almonds and quinoa. He’s a vegan now, my boy. Except when there’s ice cream. Then he’s “low key vegan.” But that’s okay. Life often comes in shades of gray. Black and white is hardly ever sustainable. And ice cream is good.

He had requested gray sheets for his new bedroom in Indiana, a gray quilt. Just gray. But for now, his sheets are mauve. They are the only twin-sized sheets I have, left behind by his big sister, his best friend, who will fly far, far away to college in less than 30 days.

Less than 30 days.

Within that time, my three oldest will be in three separate states, living three different lives. They need so little from me now, and my needs continue to expand: My need for them to be safe, to be smart, to be kind, to make good decisions, to eat some vegetables, to give to those who have less, to care for those in need, to hug, to love, to never leave a man or woman behind in a drunken stupor, to have a heart that breaks so they can learn it’s capable of mending, to be good humans… the best humans they can be. And to answer their mother’s texts. At least most of the time.

And my fourth. My baby. The last to form beneath my skin and under my heart. His mauve sheets are waiting. His almonds, too.

You expect the hard goodbyes when your babies pack up and move to college. You have time to prepare. Time to reminisce. Time to look through baby pictures and smile and remember. But this goodbye was unexpected, and I am missing that boy with every ounce of my being. He was always the one at my feet, talking incessantly, all up in my business. He was the caboose who clamored for attention, and he preferred his Mama’s attention over the rest.

He reminded me recently that he loved sitting on my lap when he was little, but that he often remembered me saying, “Sit still, George, or you’re going to have to get up! Your bony elbows are stabbing me!” And he admitted that he would sit until his tiny feet and legs fell asleep, trying to soften the points of his elbows, afraid that if he moved, he’d lose my lap.

That lap is empty now, taken only occasionally by a small, skittish puppy who is still learning to trust me completely. She misses Lucy, her alpha, who stayed in Ohio with George because Lucy’s old canine hips can no longer handle the twelve stairs up to my second floor apartment. I miss Lucy, too. But they have each other–boy and dog.

And I have this ache in my heart to touch them, to hold them, to have a squirming, precocious, golden-haired boy on my lap just one more time, to have a brown-eyed Lucy pup panting at my feet. “I think she loves me,” George said when we first saw Lucy.

And she does.

As I recently heard Steve Almond (his name so… serendipitous) pointedly proclaim on a Dear Sugar podcast, “The price of an examined life is a certain amount of sorrow.”

I examined.

I examined hard.

And I feel it… this exquisite sorrow.

But there is, of course, the happiness, too.

Life often comes in shades of gray.

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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