Update: Family

Today I phoned home at the usual time for our Sunday call.

The first thing my mom said was, “Your grandmother is driving me crazy.”

My grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and we spent most of the call talking about how difficult it’s been for my mom to take care of her.  She’s going to need round the clock care soon, and this is a huge burden to my mom.  Being the oldest daughter, she feels that she’s the one who is responsible for taking care of her.

As an only child, I get that sense of obligation.  I feel it three times a week when I dutifully phone home so that my mom knows I’m not “lying dead in a ditch somewhere.”  If I forget a call, she becomes frantic with worry.

I feel it twice a year, in summer and at Christmas, when I spend a week with them.  The three of us sitting in different rooms, watching different TV shows.  I wonder about what will happen when she gets old and needs to be taken care of.   Will I be as dutiful a child?  Is the only thing that connects us now a sense of obligation?

“So I got your book.”  She says, finally.

“Isn’t it cool?”  I ask, happy that she finally brought it up.  I hold my breath, nervous about how she’s going to answer.

“Yes and no.”  She says.  “You’re an adult and you can live your life any way you want, but I don’t want to know about it.”

I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach.

“But I want to be able to share who I am with my family.”  I say.

“I’ve got enough stress right now.”  Is her response.  “I just want things to keep going the way they are.”

I was a teenager all over again.  Being rejected by the people who raised me for something that was as natural a part of me as my eye color.

I thought that in the intervening years since I’d first come out to them, she’d had time to grow and come to terms with who I am, and that maybe this time she could be accepting.  I’d taken little things that she’d said as signs she was coming around, like when she talked about liking the TV show Will and Grace.  She isn’t religious, so I don’t even know what her problem with who I am stems from.

Carlos seems more upset by her rejection than I am.  He feels that maintaining a relationship with them takes an emotional toll on me that’s damaging.  That I’m not doing myself any favors by talking three times a week and visiting twice a year out of obligation.  But his parents are accepting and supportive.

I’ve had a lifetime to grow accustomed to rejection.

Who my parents are, like my eye color, or my sexuality, isn’t something I can choose.  Maybe I’m just ridiculously thick, but I still hope that eventually her attitude will change, and she’ll be able to love me for who I am, and not for who she hoped I’d be.

So at the end of the call when she said, “I’ll talk to you on Tuesday?”

I said, “Okay.”

“Your dad and I love you.”

I said, “I love you too.”

 

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The Book

My mother and I speak on the phone three times a week.

Three times a week we hash over three repeated themes.  Work.  The weather.  Our family.  We’ve unconsciously agreed that these are the safe subjects.  The comfortable ones.  We do not deviate.

Even she is aware of the repetition.  Once she pretended to be a recording.  We laughed about it, but by the next call we were back at our old stand-by.

When I came out as a teenager she made it clear that she didn’t want to hear about that part of my life.  So I grew accustomed to changing pronouns and omitting big chunks of my history when I related it to her.  I’ve edited out half of my life.  Romances.  Relationships.  Heartbreaks.  Dreams.

Even now, 15 years later, I don’t know how to talk to her.  I can say, “Carlos and I went out for breakfast.”  But I can’t say, “Carlos is my boyfriend.”

I’m afraid to go through the pain of rejection I went through when I came out a second time.  But I want her to know me.  All of me.  I want to be able to share with the people who raised me the person I want to spend my life with.

So I made a picture book.  I found a company online that allows you to arrange pictures with a story and print it out in a nicely bound, hardcover print with glossy pages.  I put together pictures of my odyssey from Los Angeles to Seattle.  The coffee shops and restaurants that I frequented.  Pictures of my friends.  All of the places she’ll never see and the people that she’ll never meet.

I told the story of how Carlos and I met in a coffeehouse.  How he was waiting for me at the finish line when I ran the marathon.  The two of us eating sushi.  Us going out for drinks.  Hiking.  Our anniversary.  The two of us smooching.  Sweetly.  Eyes closed.  Smiling.

I thought if she could see what my life was like, the other half that we don’t speak about, then maybe it wouldn’t be so alien.  Maybe we could actually have a real conversation about something meaningful.  Maybe she could see me, all of me, and have the opportunity this time to accept me.  To love me for who I am, instead of insisting on rejecting all but a portion of me.  The bland and inoffensive bit.

I mailed the book to her three weeks ago.  I sent it with a handwritten inscription that though it may not seem like it, my life is really full of happiness and beauty, and that I hope someday we’ll be able to talk about those things too.

I waited nervously for her response.  Would she think it was sweet?  Would she be disgusted?  No matter the response, at least it would be a conversation starter.  A chance to talk about something real.  A door to an authentic relationship.

But every conversation is the same as all the ones that passed before.  Work is fine.  It’s raining today.  How’s dad?  Grandma isn’t doing well these days.

I guess I should have been prepared for it, but it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t mention it at all.  The book, like my relationships, my hopes and dreams are things that just don’t exist to her.  It’s disappointing, but if she can’t accept my sexuality, at least I can accept her limitations.  And love her anyway.

Things

The books were the first to go.  I thought they’d be the hardest.  So much of my concept of self was bound up in them.  Floating like motes of dust between the pages.  Glued and stitched into the binding.

There were hundreds of them.  I’d lugged many of them from Austin to Los Angeles.  From Los Angeles to Seattle.  From Seattle to Portland.  Box after box of heavy books…always the hardest part of moving.  But now, faced with the prospect of moving again, this time from the West coast to New York City, I was forced to re-think my attachment to them.

Books were my first love.  As a sensitive, artistic kid growing up in rural Texas, a book was like a teleportation device into another world.  Another life.  But of the hundreds of books on my shelf, there were maybe a handful of books that I treasured enough to re-read multiple times.  Most of them, though enjoyable, were read once, and then did nothing except occupy space.

I had this idea that if a stranger were to visit and see Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, Remembrance of Things Past, and all the other, equally impressive titles on my shelf, then they’d somehow be impressed.  That my worth would be measured by the books that I’ve read.  But of all the strangers that have passed through my various apartments over the years, (and let’s face it, there were plenty of them), none saw my bookshelf and was wowed.  It was all just vanity.

Rather than attempt to move hundreds of books to another coast, I purchased copies of the handful of books I knew I’d want to read again for my Kindle and sold the rest to a used bookstore, to let them be read and enjoyed by other people.

I thought it would be impossible to part with them, but once they were gone, I felt…liberated.

So the downsizing continues.  All of my music fits on my phone.  All of the photos from all of my photo albums have been scanned and fit on a small flashdrive.  I got a 3 terabyte external harddrive and am going through the tedious task of ripping all of my hundreds of DVDs onto it.  An obscene amount of movies and TV shows will soon fit onto a device the size of a videtape.

Those were the easy things.

The replaceable things.

But other items have proven harder to part with.

The gold and silver sun and moon that Courtney brought me back from Mexico when we lived together in college.

The t-shirt friends gave me on birthdays past, inscribed with phrases like:

“Lance, a Celebration.”

“Lance, the Celebration Continues.”

“Lance History Month.”

“Lance, When Celebrations Attack.”

“Lance, Episode XXIX, Revenge of the Celebration.”

The candleholder I stole from Bryan.  The blue hoodie I stole from Anna.  The little wooden nightstand I’ve owned my entire life.  The one that was in my nursery as a baby.  My childhood bedroom, and every bedroom since.  The one that’s been painted a dozen different colors, but that has always ended up with me, even though it doesn’t go with anything else I own or hope to own.

These are harder to part with.

But when Carlos points out that it would cost more to ship our things across the country than it would to just buy new things when we get there, I can’t argue with his logic.  So I decide to destill the accumulated detritus of my life to what will fit into two suitcases.  To relegate certain mementos to the past in order to make room for a future.  Together.

When I was younger, I had this idea that if someone were to read the books that I love, listen to the music that really meant something to me, watch the movies that I related to the most, then they’d be able to really understand me.  They’d know me.  But now that I’m older, I realize they aren’t me, and they aren’t what matters.  What really matters is what I do, the people I love, what I hope for, and what I dream.  That’s who I am.

The rest are just things.