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Matters of the Heart
By Julia Rose
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
My story, Matters of the Heart is a true story taken from a compilation of short stories that I hope to someday have published. I felt compelled to share my story about unconditional love and making an effort to teach others how to love without a catch! There are countless mothers out there going through exactly what my sisterís friend Trisha was going through. When you are caught in the middle of a heart wrenching dilemma, sometimes all you need is a helping hand, even if it is from a total stranger. Read along and see if you would have handled the situation the same way I did under similar circumstances.
I was in a quandry about which category I should choose for Matters of the Heart. I've decided to categorize it under "parenting" but wish I could add Women, Gay/Lesbian and Bi, family etc. because I think people in all categories will benefit from and enjoy my short story.
Outside a bright Arizona sun cast it's brilliant rays directly into my eyes. Squinting eased the glare from the bathroom mirror but it did nothing for my hint of laugh lines that were slowly turning into crows feet the longer I stared. I decided to close the shutters and rely strictly on artificial illumination. "There!" I said. "Now I look way better." With eyes open wide I continued to watch myself pat and rub all the products that were supposed to keep me lovely and young.
For a few moments I was so engrossed in my work that I had almost stopped thinking about my problem that had kept me awake until right before dawn. Assuming my favorite thinking position, I cocked my head to one side and stared directly at the woman in the mirror and before I knew it, I was knee-deep in conversation with her. My reflection mimicked my every word, my every move. No, I am not crazy! I've done this lots of times, literally spending days right here in my own house solving one crisis after another. I rather enjoyed arguing with myself. It was a win-win situation. I didn't make any enemies and I always got the last word!
"Okay now, how are we going to handle this new situation? What did you say? Tell Lousie no? Do you remember the last time we told her no?" I put my hands on my hips hoping for an answer. "Can't remember? That's because we never have!" Getting as close to the mirror as possible I dabbed more eye shadow right where it was needed, then wagging my finger at myself disgustedly admitted; "Girl you are a pushover."
"No I'm not!" I answered defensively.
"You try telling our older sister no.... You know her as well as I do. She never gives up. We'd be guilt-ridden for the rest of our lives. I've told her a million times that her friend needs professional help, I am not a family counselor!"
Sitting on the vanity and getting a closer look, I noticed lip gloss on my teeth, but with one swift swoop it disappeared. After adjusting my skirt and pulling my sweater over my head, the bantering heated up as the familiar face in the mirror seemed to develop an opinion of her very own.
"What was Louise thinking? You can't solve her friends problems, that is something she has to do herself." Giving myself the once over I had to admit, I didn't look half bad. "You know," wagging my polished finger in the air, my sweet sister was right about one thing. I could teach that friend of hers a thing or two about tolerance!" With sobering thoughts I smiled and thanked God for the sixties and seventies, of course for the obvious reasons but more than that because of the breath of fresh air that had showered down on humanity giving us more of an opportunity to become more tolerant and loving. "Julie-girl your more conservative friends are right, you are a "bleeding heart liberal" through and through. I calmed down and smiled thinking about my sweet, crazy sister, always wanting to help. Then of course, somehow always getting me involved in the process.
I continued my one-way conversation as I put the finishing touches on my short dark hair. Me, myself and I agreed that it wasn't a subject to get into with a perfect stranger, I know myself, I can be brutal...... I leaned in again and said rather loudly, "read my lips dear sis this conversation ain't gonna happen!" Besides how bad could it really be? Would they really have turned their backs on their own son, their own flesh and blood? That doesn't happen anymore does it? I mean could it? As my grandpappy used to say, "never say never, it will come back and bite you in the butt." I guarantee somewhere along the way your kids won't live their lives according to your plans. But that doesn't give parents the right to try to get even by saying adios, bye bye or worse than that, "you didn't become what we expected so we just don't love you anymore, go away!" Please, we'd all be orphans. I shook my head in anger and mumbled through clenched teeth slamming the medicine cabinet one last time. I felt my anxiety rise, this is what I didn't want to happen! I don't want to preach, I get into all sorts of trouble when I climb on my soap box. By now though, my thoughts were gathering momentum and my opinions were ready to lash out at this poor woman I had never even laid eyes on before.
Taking a deep breath, I put on my best fake smile, grabbed my purse and set of keys and ran out the door. I was relentless as I got in the car. "I've got it, I just won't talk about my kids at all, then I won't have to ask about hers. Sure. That'll happen, my kids were my pride and joy, and at any given moment I could bore you to tears with hundrens of stories and even more photos of them. My husband was very clever though, he always stepped in at exactly the right moment and would rescue my captured prey. I'd feel a gentle squeeze on my shoulder then he'd pull me close and tell whoever was listening, "yeah if we'd had any idea how simply marvelous our kids were going to be we would have had at least ten. Right babe? Doc said she was built for havin' a dozen, he says it all has to do with the size of a womans hips. Chuckle, chuckle. As mortifying as it sounds, I'd give anything for his help right now.
Running late as usual I drove straight to valet parking, jumped out and walked in as cool and as casual as would any lunatic. Especially one who had just spent the last two hours conversing with herself!
There they were waiting for me, I thought about running but they had already spotted me. With a quick introduction, Trisha was her name. She was pleasant enough, but she had a sadness about her that entered a room before she did. Louise and I talked and laughed at a nervous speed, exchanging stories about our families. We included her in the conversatiion as often as she would permit. She smiled appropriately, nodding when necessary, but mostly sat quiet sipping her second glass of Chardonnay.....
Now in our family, we each had a role. I was known as the ice breaker, mainly because I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I could normally ask just the right amount of questions to get even the dullest person at the table to "spill their guts." Louise kept signaling with her expressive brown eyes, but I wouldn't take the bait. I have to admit, things were getting a little bit uncomfortable. It wasn't up to me to save the world. Was it? So for a while during our meal, all you could hear was the rustle of napkins and the clink of silverware on cheap china. When Louise finally asked about my daughter Monica, and my beautiful and by fair most intelligent grandbabies, my answers were curt and short. Puzzled, she glared at me with that "who are you look?" Sisters have such a knowing for the obvious, but it was apparent that my big sister didn't get it at all. I didn't feel like sharing my life with a perfect stranger, so I quickly changed the subject.
"Trisha, how's your chicken salad?" I asked without looking at her. I thought maybe she hadn't heard me so I asked again but this time I had mistakenly made eye contact with her as she slowly place her wine glass on the table. Here we go, it was time..... I could see the tears welling up in her eyes as the inevitable dam broke. She tried to speak inspite of the tightness in the back of her throat. She covered her eyes trying to stop the flow of tears.
"Don't cry," cooed my big hearted sister.
"I know talking to Julie will help. She's gone through exactly what you're going through!"
Now that made me really angry. "Uh not exactly sister dear. We didn't find it necessary to disown our son!" There I said it! Then I felt a hard kick under the table, and daggers shooting across at me from Louise's general direction.
"I'm sorry." I whispered, "but we didn't." I cursed silently as I bent down to reach my purse for a tissue. I handed both of them a square then kept one for myself, because right around the corner was that infernal lump in my throat that always threatened to gag me at times like this. In the end I gave them the whole packet then dug deep inside myself for some kind of comforting smile. It wasn't easy. Admittedly I eventually am an easy touch, however I couldn't believe my own ears when I gave up and finally asked, "Trisha, what can I do to help your situation? I'm a mother just like you. Most of the time I fly by the seat of my pants hoping that my decisions are the right ones. I mean what little Louise has told me, you and I aren't going to agree on much."
The poor thing tried to compose herself and dabbed at her puffy eyes. Still not a sound came out. During this agonizing moment I found myself wondering if Louise had asked for this out of the way private booth anticipating this very scene. I looked suspiciously at my innocent sister, of course, she was crying too. But in all fairness, she cried at football games. But darn her! Once again she had conned me, and this time it wasn't going to be easy.
Trisha nervously grabbed at my hands and held them for a couple of seconds. Then swallowing her pride she began. She spoke the most difficult truth she'd ever in her whole life have to admit to another human being.
"Our twenty-nine-year-old son is living with another man." She looked at me for some kind of reaction. It was like she had been holding back the truth all these months and now with her words just hanging there, a look of relief crossed her face. She went on.... "He said that in the last five years he'd recognized who he was and felt very comfortable with himself. Apparently the right person had come into his life and his turmoil had ended."
"We didn't even know he was in turmoil!" Tears were once again streaming down her face. Wringing her hands in desperation, she asked no one in particular.
"What did we do to deserve this?"
As bad as I wanted to answer her, I knew it wasn't time. We let her tell her story without interruption.
"My husband threw him out and told him not to come back until he came to his senses." Finally, Louise broke our silence when she asked her, "Did you say anything?"
"I wanted to, really I did. I didn't want to let it end that way, but I was stunned. I stood there speechless,then watched as my son walked out of our lives. That was six months ago and we haven't heard from him since."
I hesitated then asked, "Do you know how to contact him, he must have tried to give you at least a cell phone number to reach him in case of an emergency. I'm sure he is probably waiting to hear from you. I mean your husband did throw him out. Would you come back after that?" She sadly shook her head no. "Even if I had his number, I couldn't call him. My husband checks all my calls. We never even mention his name. He says that as far as he is concerned, he is dead, then he walks away in silence."
I wanted to cry for her, but at the same time I wanted to shake her to make her understand that the situation did not have to be this way. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Louise begging me to say something inspiring and comforting. I took a long sip of water and slowly tried to shed some light on her desperate situation.
"No one ever plans for their child to be different. But even if they are, they're still our children. He is your flesh and blood even though he's not living his life according to your plans. I bet he's always been a source of pride for you and your husband. Hasn't he?
Trisha shook her head remembering. "Tell her a little about Jason, Trisha. He's such a nice young man," gushed Louise. "Please, tell her about him."
With an almost strange shyness she did. "He was a beautiful baby, such a sweet little boy. Always an honor student. He earned a full scholarship to NYU and graduated first in his class. He owns a very successful investment firm and he's barely thirty." With pride in her voice and a tear in her heart, she told us he had never given them a moments worry, he was always an over-acheiver. She continued. "I used to tell him to slow down, he didn't have to conquer the world by himself." For a brief moment she was living the past and we let her stay there for a while. Taking a deep breath, I tried to sort through her feelings.
"We're not so different after all," I said. We are the mothers, we are the heart and soul of our families. Somehow we end up being right in the middle of every issue, and most of those issues are matters of the heart. Everything flows through us and even though it's difficult sometimes, we should be proud of this role. No one ever said it would be easy, that's for sure." Leaning forward and holding her hand I knew what she wanted. "At this very moment all I know is that you want your son back. Unfortunately I don't have any magic up my sleeve. All I have is my experience and my personal feelings that perhaps may help. It won't be easy to heal the hurt that you and your family are going through right now. But honestly you can repair the damage, but most of it's success will depend on you."
"I'll do anything!"
"Will you be willing to open your mind and change your prejudices and fears? Ideas that have been ingrained in your brains from the time you were a child will have to be thrown out."
"Trust me," she said. I am so sick of living with hate in my heart I'll do anything to like myself again, not to mention having my son back in my life."
"What about your husband? It sounds like he may never come around. You'll have to battle with him just to make him agree to even see Jason." Sighing I admitted, "he certainly is a victim in all this too, I mean someone taught him these prejudices. You and you alone will have to teach him about love and tolerance, the exact opposite of what he has felt his whole life. Even then Trisha you can't guarantee he'll ever be capable of changing his beliefs, much less accept his son's lifestyle. "I saw the look of defeat in her eyes, so I tried to cheer her up by stating that if she could learn to respect who Jason was, so could her husband. "He'll have to learn from you."
Trisha took out her compact and pressed the powder lightly around her red eyes then looked up at us and firmly stated, "If I have to spend the whole rest of my life proving that my love for Jason is more important than what other people think, I will! I will never lose my son again. I wish with all my heart that I had been stronger when he told us. That is the one thing I will regret for the rest of my life!"
"Don't dwell on the past, believe me it doesn't get you anywhere." I took the last swallow of my wine and shared one more thing with her. "In all the ups and downs in my life, I've learned that all we really have to offer each other in this world is love. Understand when I tell you that I believe with all my heart that our sons can't change who they are anymore than they can change the color of their skin, or their eyes, or their parents. The first fact that you must face is that they are much more than their sexual preference. They are the same beautiful human beings they always were before they came to us with the truth. The second fact is that this siutation isn't about you or your husband, it's about your child. He didn't choose his life to spite you, he is living his life in spite of you.
"But why? Why would he choose to become gay?" Questioned the confused mother.
"That's a tough one. You've probably heard many different theories on the subject of choice. All I can offer you is what I believe. I believe it's not a choice, it's the way they were born."
"Shouldn't there have been some signs? He played football and basketball and every other sport my husband could think to put him in. He dated several very nice girls all through school. We had to have done something wrong for him to turn out this way."
"Actually I like to think we did something right! We shared love, understanding, support and above all we taught them to be strong and honorable human beings. We taught them to stand up and be who they were meant to be. It's better than living a lie, don't you think?" As I watched her, I felt she really did agree, even though she still had so much turmoil going on inside her head.
I tugged at my quiet sister's arm. "Let's get out of here!" We gathered our belongings and waited. Luckily for us the service at this supposedly five-star restaurant was terrible! Our waiter had never come back so Louise went to pay the bill and thankfully Trisha had calmed down a bit. I thought we could use a more quiet place to continue our talk, so we met Louise at the door and we were ready to leave. I must have had a determined look on my face as I dragged my new friend out the revolving door because people were beginning to stare, so Louise felt it necessary to run interference for us.
"Please let us through, my friend isn't feeling well!"
Louise loaded us into her brand new Lincoln and chauffeured us directly to a near-by park. She must have done some serious scouting before today because she took us to a nice quiet spot away from the traffic of joggers and playing children. Then like a paid catering service, she pulled out a basket of goodies and a blanket to sit on. She smiled her "I knew you'd do it smile" and squeezed my hand in appreciation.
The afternoon was lovely and it's beauty had a calming effect on all three of us. For awhile we sat just taking in the sights, then finally it was Trisha who broke our silence.
"Julie, tell me about your son, his name is Ken isn't it? Was it hard for you and your husband when you learned the truth? I mean did you ever think it would turn out this way?"
"No I didn't," shaking my head slowly. But like I said earlier expect the unexpected. You're wondering if we ever saw any signs. We are human, we thought about it; but neither one of us could come up with anything out of the ordinary."
Trisha still felt like they should have seen in coming.
"What signs should we have looked for?" I asked.
"Sometimes he played with his big sister's dolls, but she played with his trucks and GI Joes too, and she's married to a man and has four kids! Let's see, he loved to help me in the kitchen. What does that prove? That someday he would be self-sufficient and be able to cook for himself. Don't you see that signs don't tell us anything? Someday you will understand that. As far as being difficult or sad for me, it wasn't. More than anything we felt he had distanced himself from us, that was what was unusual. When we did speak I heard something in his voice that wasn't quite him. I admit I was concerned. He kept assuring me that it was his move from New York to Los Angeles, he was growing impatient with his career. Ken had never pretended to be somebody he wasn't. He was who he was, a son to us, a little brother to his sister Monica and an intellectually kind and spirited young man. Everybody loves him."
Trisha asked sheepishly. "Do you mind telling me how your son broke it to you? Was it over the phone, were you and your husband together, I mean how did you feel the first time you heard about it?"
I thought for a moment and decided to finally tell her my story. "It was in person. He had flown home for a visit and my husband and I picked him up from the airport. He was all smiles, full of hugs and kisses. He was very happy and that made us happy too. The next morning after his dad had left for work, Ken and I sat down for a leisure breakfast. We had made plans for the three of us to meet for lunch at our favorite cafe, but we had lots of time to chat.... Understand, it is a very normal thing for my kids and I to talk about everything; and I mean everything! Happiness, sadness, faliures, love, religion, sex, etc. etc. Many times in our debates, my young son loved to play the devil's advocate and our opinions would get louder and louder. Free thinking, that is how we had raised our kids. But today, he was quite agreeable. Somewhere deep in the center of my brain, a light bulb went off. He hadn't mentioned his girlfriend on the east coast or the one in the west either. I just sort of knew what was going on. Don't ask me how? I just knew! So I kept leading him back to subjects that would allow him to level with me and that whatever he had to say, I would listen. Finally he asked me."
"Mom remember when I told you that I ws thinking about seeing a "shrink?"
Staying calm I answered, "Uh-huh I do. Did you ever go?" I was at the stove and felt more than heard him move closer to me. I turned around and saw the hint of tears welling up in his eyes. He melted into my arms and I could feel my hugs giving him support and strength, he greedily accepted both. Cupping his beautiful face between my hands and reassuring him that there was not a single thing in this world that would ever change my love for him, he began.
"Mom." He whispered. "I've realized through my counseling that I am gay." I continued to stroke his back.
"Mom did you hear me?"
"I heard you son." I replied softly. "It's o-kay!" I held him until his tears subsided.
He asked again. "Are you sure you understood what I said? I'm gay... I've been gay my whole life and didn't know it or understand it." He looked like a little boy when he confronted me with the next question.
"Did you know? Could you see signs that I denied?"
With a touch of his ever present humor he added, " you know like I never played sports and was always interested in acting? Well you know what they say?"
Geez, even he wanted a sign!
So there it was out in the open, and I had so much to tell him. "First of all son, I don't believe in signs and you know it. What I do believe in is listening and respecting choices. Letting others live their lives in the best way they can, especially my kids! What I do know is that your dad and I love you more than life itself."
"I would die if you were ever ashamed of me. But for the first time in my life I feel like a whole person. I know who I am and I am proud of it!"
Louise had listened to my story like it was the first time she had ever heard it. But this time lightly touching her arm, I added something that I had never shared with anyone. I felt the proverbial lump rising in my throat once again trying to gag me, and with tears hidden behind my sunglasses I feebly tried to talk.
"My sweet son confessed that he had briefly considered suicide as a way out. He would take his own life rather than risk disappointing us or losing our love. I was shocked! I thought I knew him better than that? I thought he knew us better that that! I can honestly tell you that thought bothered me more than anything else!"
"Oh my God!" Was all that escaped from my sister's lips, and by now the pained look on Trisha's face had gotten deeper. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned the thought of suicide to her, but I wanted her to know that anything could happen.
for a while we didn't feel the need to speak. We just wanted to draw strength from our silence. The crisp fall air didn't seem quite as warm as before, perhaps my words had chilled the afternoon. My ever ready sister pulled out throw away cups and a thermos of hot tea and silently poured each of us a cup of the steaming liquid and for a few moments we sipped our drinks and commiserated in a way that only women know how to do.
Choosing my words carefully I broke our reverie and my next statement was aimed directly at poor tired out Trisha. "Where would my son be if at one of the most critical times of his life we had failed to love him. I tried not to dwell on what might have happened, but it saddened me to think that he had suffered alone wondering if his family's love would be taken away. I remember brushing back a lock of his hair, it's something I'd done since he was a baby. Just as I touched him, I saw the same beautiful little boy, the same beautiful spirit that wondered into our lives so many years before. Nothing had changed! He was still our son, a man to be proud of. I held him close for what seemd like forever, then I pulled back and looked him in the eyes and scolded him like a child."
"Shame on you for not having enough faith in your family! You didn't have to be alone during this most important discovery of your life. Promise me that you"ll never doubt the love that we have for each other, it is without condition. I can't tell you that I'll ever completely understand your new life, but I will always respect it." He kissed my cheek and told me that he loved me. That's really about all there was to the story. The rest of that morning flew by and as we continued to talk, he told me everything. I could see the new spirit in his soul. He was the proverbial butterfly that had left his cocoon behind. He had found a wonderful partner, a partner he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. I watched his happiness, I felt his joy and could see his completeness. How could that be wrong? I asked every question I could think of that was my place to ask. He answered without fear or shame because he knew my love outweighed everything else. He also knew I would not sweep his new life under the rug. There was no shame when you lived a good life, but he must be the one to tell all those that share their love unconditionally with him. Especially his dad, his sister, his gram and all the others that loved him for who he was deep in his soul. I'm proud to tell you Trisha that their love also prevailed. I'm not a fool, nor am I naive. I know how some people feel about homosexuality, and like any other parent it saddens me to think that anyone could ever be unkind or hurtful to my child. Above all, I know in my heart that my son is a child of God and God is his only judge."
I looked over at my sister. She lovingly touched my shoulder and said, " I've never told you this before, but I am so proud of you! You chose love then dared the rest of us to follow, and we did."
I smiled at Trisha and wiped the last of her tears with my used tissue. "You can do it too, if you want to. Listen to your heart. When you give your love back to your son, everyone else that matters will too. Find him, go to him and talk until there is nothing left to say. Tell him all your fears, all your hurts, cry together. Above all tell him that you love him no matter what! I promise you everything else will eventually fall into place.
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|Reviewed by Denise Contreras
|Children come through us we do not own them. They have their own path in life. Great story.
Thanks for sharing this part of your life.