When my parents announced that Sunday morning that it was time for a “family meeting,” my stomach lurched and the golden, glistening fried eggs I’d just eaten threatened to reappear. My younger brother, Mark, and I jeered and jabbed at each other on our way down the stairs, but part of me knew something wasn’t right. While we joked in whispers that we’d better start doing our chores more diligently, the silent scream in my head warned me to stop time, to take the brittle hands of the clock and snap them like sticks, freezing us in this moment forever, untainted.
As soon as we sat down on the couch across from my parents, we knew this wasn’t a meeting to assign more chores or rake us over the coals about something we’d done wrong. Mom was crying. Ever the lawyer, Dad was pacing with a legal pad and it wasn’t long before he began his opening statement. He was preparing to defend himself. “This is about honesty, integrity, respect, and my love for all of you,” he began nervously and somewhat formally. I suddenly couldn’t stop looking at the dirty off-white carpet beneath my feet, its fuzzy fibers unraveling in places. I felt myself unraveling, too, things inside me twisting and pulling against each other. I wanted to take a loose loop of wool and run with it, clamp my hands over my ears and shout, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” like a young child often does when there’s something she doesn’t want to hear.
Dad announced he was moving out, his sentences littered with awkward but telling third-person references “Your mother and I are getting divorced because your father is a homosexual.” He couldn’t own it himself, the secret he’d just spilled from his lips. It was like he was speaking about someone else who wasn’t there. He said he’d known he was gay since he was 12 years old, but thought he could hide it, squash it down, and lead a normal life. He thought he could pretend it away by marrying Mom. I tasted my breakfast in the back of my throat. I hoped that this was either a very realistic dream or April Fool’s in November. Of course it was neither. As the tears threatened to roll, all I could think about was that I needed to get out of that house. I needed a friend. I needed air. I needed to think. This couldn’t possibly be happening. A lot of my friends’ parents were divorced, but mine never seemed like potential candidates—they always got along so well and things seemed relatively normal. I was also quite certain none of my friends had a gay parent.
As soon as they were done talking to us, I tore upstairs and called my best friend *Michelle. She was out of town at a soccer tournament. I called *Joe next. I think I blurted out, “My parents are getting divorced.” He suggested we meet at the nearby park and do homework together. I borrowed Mom’s car and left as quickly as I could. I think Mark retreated to his room, and only Kevin, the youngest of the three of us (nine years old at the time), remained with my parents to ask lots of questions I don’t think they were prepared for.
I got to the park and could barely speak. Just lots of tears, sobbing, and snot. I remember copying some of Joe’s Latin homework. Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatis, my dad is gay? My brain wouldn’t process anything, especially not Latin vocabulary and verb conjugations. I was on auto-pilot. Miles upon miles of senseless thoughts raced through my mind, colliding and causing traffic jams. Joe lent me an old handkerchief he found in his jacket pocket. At 15, he was ill-equipped for such an emotionally charged situation, but he did the best he could; he held me while I cried and he tried to make me laugh. As the afternoon sun waned and the skies began to darken, I knew I’d have to return home and face the challenges ahead.
Stay tuned for the next installment, my brother Mark’s perspective on the very same day….
(*Some names have been changed.)