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.”