Snails & Oysters: “Star Wars,” My Mother and Me

Growing up, I learned to compartmentalize my feelings from a
very early age. I spoke to my brother about music and nothing else.
I talked to my dad about things I enjoyed collecting, instead of anything that
actually mattered to me.

The only person I spoke to about anything important was my mom. But even with her, I kept a lot hidden.

Let’s just say we weren’t the Brady Bunch

So whether to “come out” as bisexual to my family was a question that didn’t really come up until it was already pretty much too late. That aside, I can say with some certainty that I have no
real idea how my mom would have reacted.

My mom, you see, was a wonderful woman. She did everything
for her family. She was the breadwinner, the peacekeeper, the CEO and the heart
of us. I understood this on some level growing up, but I didn’t really appreciate it.
It’s so different now, looking at her life through an adult’s eyes.

I know that more than anything, she believed in family. She stuck with my father, who was an impossible man, just because she felt it was important for us to stick together. She supported my oldest brother (whom I  “affectionately” refer to as the Loser), no matter how many ill-advised schemes he got into, or how badly he treated her.

To give you some perspective on my mother’s outlook, she grew up in war-torn Germany. She and her mother and her brothers had to look out for each other just to stay alive. For her, I think, family was something sacred.

I looked up to my mother and I spent much of my youth trying to make her proud of me. She doted on me, much to the consternation of my brothers. But then, around age 10, she started to push me away. I suspect she was afraid of turning me into a “momma’s boy” or something, but I don’t know for sure. All I knew at the time was that I was being shut out from the only affection I really knew.

In response, I shut down. I stopped trying to be the good son, stopped doing all those things that made her proud of me. But even worse (in her mind), was that I turned my back on the family. I was grappling with a lot of things in my teens — depression, dismay about my sexual orientation, school problems, and the loss of friends. On top of all that, I couldn’t bear to handle all the crap from my brothers or my father’s coldness. So I shut them all out of my life.

The nadir came when, after suffering for years with my depression, my mother finally learned what I was enduring. I was eighteen and miserable and angry at everything. She was struggling to keep the family together and I was not helping at all. One day she kept at me until I finally snapped and said, “For the last few months, I’ve been thinking about killing myself.”

It wasn’t a heartfelt confession. It was a low-blow meant to get her to stop attacking me. Her response was to say, “Well, then get some help and stop hurting the family.”

To say I felt betrayed by her response would be putting it mildly.

After a while, I calmed down and I decided to make peace. I don’t remember just what the gesture was, but it immediately showed her that I was going to try and give the family another chance.

And so we began to repair the damage we had both done
to our bond.  I remember, weirdly, that it all came down to Star Wars. No,
really. I was pretty obsessed with Return of the Jedi and watched it repeatedly. I don’t really remember why. It might have been to see
Princess Leia in a bikini, or it might have been my wishing it was Luke in the slave
outfit. Or maybe I just loved the movie.

Choices, choices!

Anyway, one night my mom joined me on one of my evening walks and asked me what it was about the
movie that I was so fascinated by. That was it. She had forgiven me. It was also the first time she had seemed to want to get to know who I really was.

I think she might have become my best friend. But I’ll never
know. She died in 1993 before I was even 21.

Ever since, I’ve been asking myself why I didn’t come out to her when I had the chance. Now,
it was a long time ago and my memory is getting a little fuzzy. But what I
remember thinking then is that I really had no idea bisexuality was a “thing” that described something fundamental about a person. I barely
knew what being gay was. That is to say, I had heard there were “freaks” who
had sex with people of the same sex, but that was about it.

Well, by age 15, I was about the biggest freak one could possibly
be. My attempts to play sports were horrific — I think I actually drained the
talent out of people around me like some sort of black hole of talentlessness.
I had grown to my
full 6″2′ at the precocious ages of 12 and my nervous system could not figure out how to operate limbs that
long. I was a champion at tripping over my feet. I was smart, but hell if I was going to let anyone know that. Plus, I had glasses — but the cool
ones! The ones that shaded in the sunlight! And I had the fashion sense of a
psychotic blind man.

So, it would be accurate to say I was not exactly popular. Most
days, I was content if no one noticed I existed.

Then, suddenly, there’s this other thing that I have to deal with. On top of all this other crap, I’m
attracted to both genders? It was like, “seriously, God, what did I ever do to you?”

Not surprisingly, I latched onto the then common notion that orientation is a choice, and all I had to do was choose to be straight. I decided that I was
full up on oddness and took the part of me that was attracted to guys and
buried it in cement. Of course, I wasn’t really able to turn it off, but you
can deny anything for a good long time with enough willpower.

It’s a shame, too. There was a guy at school, a real
sweetheart who I was marginally friends with. It never occurred to me then, but
looking back now, I can’t imagine how I didn’t notice his flame trail. Phil, if
you’re reading this, you were a major hottie! I’m sorry I was made of stupid!

So, anyway, I ducked into the closet and nailed the door
shut.

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