What About Me?

What About Me?

[May 21, 2017]

In my senior year of high school I wrote and starred in a play called What about me?  I wrote the play as a way of dealing with my feelings about my home life. It recounted the story of my oldest brother Ricky and his addiction to drugs and alcohol. At the time I had a lot of anger about how his addictions had affected me. Looking back on the play now, I realize that it wasn’t really so much about my brother but rather about my relationship with my mother.

In the play, Marcus—the character that I played—feels neglected by his mother. A mother who is doing her best to keep her family together and survive the addiction suffered by Marcus’ older brother Jaret. The play dealt with the feelings that I had never resolved about a difficult time in my life; feelings that I should have resolved privately with my family, but instead resolved publically on stage for everyone to see.

The play was a very selfish thing to do. Though I denied that the play was autobiographical, the local community knew that it was really about the secret life of my family. I had no right to air my grievances and express my anger in public the way that I did, and I cringe now thinking about my mother in the audience watching me do so. My performance was raw and the mother in the play took the brunt of all my anger. My actual mother listened as I unloaded on stage years of resentment about being put second. She listened as I scolded her fictional counterpart for not trusting me because she couldn’t trust my brother, and she did it all without being given the chance to respond to any of my accusations. All that she could do was sit in the audience, in silence, and know that those lines were spoken to her.

My mother had every right to be angry with me that night. She had every right to be embarrassed and hurt by what I had done. But she wasn’t. That night, my mother was the first person on her feet when the cast came out for its curtain call. That night we got a standing ovation, hundreds of eyes looking directly at me, but the only eyes that I saw were the teary, pride-filled eyes of my mother.

After celebrating the play’s debut with the cast and crew, the next day I sat quietly and talked to my mother about why I had created the play. We said things that had remained bottled up for years, and finally put the past behind us. She never once talked about the hurt feelings and embarrassment she must have felt watching the play. Instead, she focused completely on the pain that her son was so desperately trying to express. Our relationship changed for the better that day, not because of the play but because of the message that she had chosen to take away from it. Her son was hurting and he needed to know she loved him. She put my feelings selflessly above her own, which is what she had always done with my brother; and being on the receiving end of such a generous act I realized that I could no longer judge her.

That ability to put her children’s feelings above her own is what gave me the courage - in my late 20s- to come out to my mother, and it is probably the main reason that, among my family, she is the one that I told first.

Now, to be completely honest with you, my mother was not actually the person that I had intended to confide in first when I journeyed back to my hometown one weekend. That was supposed to be my big brother Kevin and his lovely partner Christine. My mother, however, has this knack for knowing when something is bothering her kids and, because of this, suspected that I had something I needed to share. Letting me know that I could share anything with her, my mother opened the door when I arrived and encouraged me to unburden myself. Thinking that she might have somehow guessed what I needed to tell her, I took a deep breath and I told her that I was gay.

The words were barely out of my mouth when I realized she had no idea that that was my secret. Composing herself, she asked me if I was sure and when I assured that I was, she took her own deep breath and stared back at her youngest boy. Wanting to fill the silence, I told her that I was in love and that I had finally found someone that I could spend my life with. I then told her all about Stacy and reminded her that, until that point I had never really had anyone in my life. With tears in my eyes, I told her that I wasn’t strong enough to live my life alone and then, under the weight of that statement, proceeded to break down. Isn’t it sad that for the better part of my life I thought that living my life alone was truly my only option?

After I told her my secret, it was clear to me that my mom needed some time to process everything that I had told her. She didn’t tell me that she was disappointed in me and I didn’t get the feeling that she was. It was just obvious that she needed some time to come to terms with this new reality. In that moment I never questioned that she loved me. I knew that she did, but I also knew she was worried about this new path that I was on. Like she had done all of her life, though, she put her child’s feelings before her own and never voiced her concerns or misgivings.

After our conversation, she went into the kitchen to do some dishes and clean the counter. At this point, always ready to break the tension with an inappropriate joke, I quipped that at least I had not presented her with half-naked pictures of Stacy and I together. Laughing, she agreed that she wasn’t ready to think of me being with another man. But through that laugh I could tell that she was already doing the work to accept me. Curious about what she thought my secret had been, I asked her what she thought I was going to tell her. To my surprise, she revealed that she thought I might have gotten my best friend pregnant. I guess I had covered up my secret better than I thought!

During that visit, after I told my mother, I went on to tell Kevin and Christine. Not ready to divulge my secret to anyone else, though, they kept my secret for a year, never breaking my confidence to the rest of the family. Telling Kevin and Christine and indeed the rest of my family are separate stories and I promise to share them in another entry. For now I want to continue concentrating on my mother.

I wish I could tell you that we resolved everything during that visit, that we had a tearful hug and my mom told me that she would love me no matter what. Life rarely gives you those types of Oprah moments though, and our parting after that visit was not something Oprah would have aired on her talk show. As I said, mom needed some time to process it all and I left that day afraid it might all be too much for her.

Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted. Given the time to process my news my mother has become my greatest supporter. She has welcomed Stacy into the family and truly made him feel at home. She allowed him to be in the receiving line—beside me—at my father’s funeral; and she walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. Like the mother in my play, she has spent her life doing everything in her power to keep her family together; be it by helping her eldest son with a drug problem, care-giving for her sick husband, or walking beside her youngest boy on his journey to self-acceptance.

Everything I know about finding strength in adversity I have learned from my mother, and I am a better person because she loves me. We have learned together that there should be no secrets between those that you love and that to live in truth, though hard sometimes, is the only way to be truly happy. I will always be grateful that God saw fit to entrust my life to her, for because of her I know what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. I only hope that I can live up to her example.

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