A morning making lunch for someone. Well, technically it’s breakfast food, but why not? French toast is a perfectly good food for lunch. Especially when I wrap it around maple breakfast sausage links. Not healthy, but we had just come back from a run. My young companion’s time was terrible, but she’s just starting. While she has taken to swimming and is even starting to keep pace with me when I take my own turns and challenge her to a race (kiddo can’t resist it. Too easy, and I push her to her limits), running was much harder for her. Steps toward improving her health, and subsequently making her ready if she still has this idea of becoming a pilot when she graduates. I’m still skeptical, but she is so eager to learn about the Navy that I can’t help but think at least part of her is on the level.
“Can we finish the tree today?”
Looking up from my stove, I nodded. “Aye. Might as well. Don’t like leaving a task half-done.”
“Definitely!” All warmth and sunshine, this one. At least she was now. As I understood it from John, over the years she’s gotten progressively more depressed. He tried to help, but she wouldn’t talk to him and he had his own obligations. Ever since we started hanging out, her mood had gotten progressively better. The obvious assumption was that she was lonely and now she had a friend that she could hang with regularly. However, I couldn’t help but notice that things have really been improving with all the training. Perhaps she also needed something to work toward. It’s a great motivator. Whatever the case, I was glad that my time with her was helping. Purpose for me too.
Which led to the Christmas tree. Had kind of left things in shambles because of the fight with Bethke, but that was fine. It was salvageable. Rain was pouring outside, so this was kind of a cozy little Christmas decorating party. It was fun. I haven’t enjoyed decorating a tree since I was a little kid. Two lifetimes ago, it felt like.
“Awww, come on mom! We can get the boxes out at least. Then it’ll be ready for when we do want to put the Christmas stuff up!”
Mom just rolled her eyes. “Oh, I know you better than that. We get those boxes out, and then it’ll be ‘why don’t we put up the Nativity? That’s easy, right?’ Then it’ll be. ‘Well, we did that, so let’s do this box! What’s one more?’ Then, a few hours later, you’ll be wanting to do the tree.”
I pouted. “I will not!”
Big sis looked over, shaking her head. “Yeah, you will, QQ. We know you better than that.”
Sitting down in my chair, I crossed my arms. “You all are Grinches…”
Daddy always played that he didn’t love Christmas as much as the rest of us, but we all knew he did. It was his favorite time of year, and when the tree was up, he would sit in his chair and watch the lights for hours, or while he was watching the evening news. I looked over at him and could see him already cracking.
“Oh honey, I don’t see the problem with getting out a few boxes. Will save us time later.”
Mom gave me a mean look, then sighed. “You two are in cahoots, I swear.”
Couldn’t quit the smile from my face. “Dad says it’s fine, so can we?!”
“Fine! I swear, today is just gonna be about decorating the tree. You two are awful.”
We gave each other a look. Mission accomplished! Wouldn’t let these Grinches keep us from getting into the Christmas spirit.
After getting the rest of the garland up, we decided to turn on the lights. As good a time as any, right? It was gorgeous! I had gone a little overboard, because I remembered how much I loved the lights. It was my favorite part. So glad we had a fake tree. Kept us from having to worry about watering it if I was on contract. And we didn’t get a pre-lit one so I could put actual ornaments on it. You’re not supposed to put them on the pre-lit ones. Couldn’t have a tree without ornaments and garland. Just not right.
My selection of ornaments was lots of shiny things. I like shiny things because they reflect the lights. Adds to the effect of the rest of the ensemble. I could stare at this thing forever. My companion snuggled up next to me. Decided it was a good idea to make hot cocoa. Not that powdered mix garbage. No, this had milk chocolate melted in milk and heavy cream. Added a little peppermint vodka to mine. Just a hint. Don’t want to get drunk, just get that nice little edge.
Kiddo asked if I could do that for her.
“Hell no! You’re way too young to be drinking.”
“Oh come on! It’s not like I haven’t done it before. Snuck in some wine with my friend Maddie when we were 11. We spilled it all over her mom’s carpet, tried to hide it with the rug when we couldn’t scrub it out. We got SO busted.”
I chuckled. “Well, that should’ve learned you.”
“Whatever. I refuse to believe you weren’t drinking when you were a teenager.”
More memories came flooding in.
We sat there, leaning against the giant cross at the apse.
“Me first!” she said.
“No fair! I was the one who had to sneak into Father Michael’s office to get it!” I shot back, grabbing at the bottle.
“But it was my idea, so I drink first!”
I scowled at her. “You just made that up.”
Winking at me. “Maybe, but I got the bottle, so-” She stuck out her tongue at me, taking a long drink.
“You gonna finish the whole damn bottle or am I gonna get some too?”
Wiping some that had gone down her chin, she handed it over. I tipped it back, letting the liquid run down my throat. I always hated this stuff. It tasted so bad. But this was about doing something because we could. And I might as well get wasted in the process, right? This was a big bottle, after all. Plenty for both of us.
Back and forth it went. She started feeling the effect sooner than I did. A lot sooner. But once we were almost done, there was this warm feeling in my head. A floaty, funny feeling. Was this getting buzzed? I could get behind this.
“You were so awesome!” Sara giggled. “I can’t believe you did this with me!”
Felt good getting praised by Big Sis. Of course, anywhere she went, I followed. Had been that way since we were little. Way I saw it, always would be.
Then, a noise! It was the door to the Father’s office!
“Oh shit!” Sis looked over at me.
“Who’s out there?! I know somebody’s in here! Come out now and I won’t call the cops!”
There was nowhere to go. He was between us and the door. We were so screwed. I thought he had gone home!
“What do we do?!” I asked, my hands shaking.
“I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way out of this.”
“Dad is gonna be so pissed…”
“Maybe. But that’s no reason for you to. God knows, there is enough shit for teenagers to deal with these days. Not gonna add to that list.”
She pouted, but took the cocoa I gave her. It was nice to just get to sit here and savor the moment. Don’t know how much time had passed as we stared at our handiwork. Enough that we finished our big mugs of cocoa. Today was an alright day.
“What’s up?” I replied, absentmindedly.
“What was Christmas like with your family? Did you enjoy this with them too?”
Figured we’d get back to the personal stuff eventually. “Aye. For a long time, it was. Every December I would always push mom to do it. She’d always say it’s too early, but then I’d get Dad to come to my side. Worked like a charm, every time. And Big Sis was always in it too. When we were teenagers, she’d play like she’s too cool to get into Christmas like when were were little, but I knew she’d come around. It was loads of fun.”
“How did they find out that you were gay?”
Clever girl. She’d been sitting on that for a while, and now found a family question to segway into it. Not bad.
“I was outed when I was 15. Not far from my 16th birthday. Sweet 16, yeah. For some girls, maybe.”
My companion laid her head against me. “Who outed you?”
Was I ready for this? Part of me didn’t want to, but then I remember opening up to my new friend last time. How good it felt. Would it be that way this time? Might as well find out.
“When I realized that I was gay, there was this girl that I was really into. She was beautiful, on the volleyball team, so nice. We got really close and I decided to make the first move. My bravery was nowhere near the levels it is today. Nearly threw up on her. It didn’t go well. She was totally repulsed and didn’t talk to me again after that. Then the rumors started. That I had tried to kiss her and that I was a dyke. It spread like wildfire. Everybody was talking about it soon enough.”
She snuggled even closer. “That’s awful. How did your parents find out?”
“When the swimming team cut me. I was so excommunicated among the other girls. They all kept their distance. People who had been my friends up til then were now afraid to even look at me. Guess they thought that my gayness is communicable. Like a disease. Might as well have been. Eventually, the coach came and told me he was cutting me from the team. I argued with him, but he told me to get out. That he didn’t want a pervert on his team. That none of the girls did. I left crying so hard. Turns out, he had called my parents too and told them that I was cut from the team, explaining why. A coach, who I had trusted, violated that to tell my parents all about the rumors.”
“Oh god. How did they react?”
“I remember the look on Sara’s face when they confronted me…”
“Is this true?!” Mom demanded, looking right at me.
I didn’t say a word. This was too much for one day. Way too much.
“I asked you a question! Is it true?! Are you a lesbian?!”
Looked over at Sara. She wouldn’t look at me. It was just like the rest of the swim team. Just like every girl at school. Mom being angry at me was nothing different than always, but Sara not even being able to look at me. My heart was smashed and crushed and destroyed. Tears were flowing down my face.
“I asked you a fucking question, young lady! Is this true?!” She was nearly screaming.
“Honey, please, you’re scaring her!” Dad was trying to be on my side, but I could tell he was unnerved too.
“I will not have a sodomite living in my house, Michael! I won’t!”
“Now sweetie, that’s too far.” He came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Honey, you can talk to us. It’s natural to question things when you’re young. But it’s just a phase you’re going through.”
I looked right at him. I suddenly had a burning anger inside of me. “It’s not a phase! It’s who I am!”
He shook his head. “You think that now, but trust me, everybody has moments when you’re growing up and you think about that. It’ll pass.”
Pulled back from his hand on my shoulder. “What the hell would you know about it?! You like boys, growing up?!”
Letting out a sigh, he shook his head. “No.” A slight pause. Odd. Was there more to this story? “But we all wonder things as we are young. Everyone’s gone through it, but I promise, you’ll come to see that it was just part of who you are. I mean, you’ve had a boyfriend, haven’t you?”
It was true. He’d take my virginity, and I his. I loved him with all my heart, but it wasn’t the same. He’s how I realized that I was gay. Because I knew that as much as I felt for him, it wasn’t the kind of longing I did for Alicia. He was the first person I told. We never kept secrets from each other. I remember how scared I was to tell him the truth, afraid of how he would react. But he was so nice and supportive. It was so wonderful. Told me he wouldn’t tell anyone, because of how the school is, and I believed him. I know he tried to fight the rumors that were started about me. Wished he was here now. I need to be held so much.
“Lulu and I broke up, a few months ago.”
Dad shook his head. “I see. Did he know, about this phase you’re going through?”
So much anger inside. “Stop calling it a fucking phase! I know who I am! I’m gay, alright! Can’t bear to say it?!”
“Language, young lady!” Dad got more stern. I could tell that I was turning him against me too.
Mom stepped back over. “Now you listen here. You’re just a confused girl who is taken in by all this liberal Hollywood. You’re not gay, and I won’t hear another word about it! Not if you’re gonna be in my house! Do you understand?!”
I looked over to where Sara was supposed to be. She had left. So she was abandoning me too. Wanted to break down sobbing. So much anger and rage and pain and all sorts of negative emotions. What were my options? If I let myself be who I am, then I’d be kicked out. If that happened, where was I supposed to go? I’d have to lie. Just suck it up and deal with it for as long as I could. Until I was 18, and I could get out on my own. I couldn’t believe that my sister had turned on me too. What happened to always being together, forever? When we promised that no matter what, we’d never leave each other? That happened to that? More lies, like everything everyone says.
“Whatever.” That was all I could manage, walking out of the room. Mom started after me, but Dad stopped her. More talking about how I just needed time, how the phase would pass. I hated both of them so much in that moment. More than I’ve ever hated anybody.
“That’s just awful. Did any of them come around?”
I shook my head. “Oh no. It got so much worse. Big Sis wouldn’t even look at me. Ever. Anytime she was coming out of the shower or something, because we shared the same bathroom, and I was around, she’d immediately move to get as far away from me as she could. It hurt me so much. Part of me was like – does she think I’m going to rape her or something? It was so strange. She’s my sister. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean that I’m gonna try and have sex with every girl there is. I didn’t understand this at all.”
“What about your parents?”
“Oh boy. Mom kept setting me up with boy after boy from the church we went to. Kept saying she’d put the straight back into me. It was awful. So many miserable ‘dates’ that I was forced to go on. Dad would just not talk about it, hoping it would go away.”
“It all must have ended somehow. You said at Thanksgiving how they disowned you. What happened?”
As I thought, the more I talked about this and got everything out, the better I felt.
“Their ‘date our daughter until she’s straight’ plan didn’t work, so they figured they would try another approach. Something very extreme. And that’s when it all fell apart.”
I looked at the pamphlets in front of me. Straight camp. That’s what this had come to.
“Since you won’t repent of your sinful ways, we decided that we have to do something more. I won’t see our daughter in Hell because you are a sodomite. So, if you want to keep living in this home, you have to go to this retreat, to help you find yourself with the help of God.” The look on Mom’s face as she spoke.
I looked at Dad. “I haven’t said anything about this in months! You all are the ones making a big deal out of it! Why do I have to do this?!”
He sighed, but the look on his face showed solidarity. “Honey, this is for the best. I know it looks bad now, but trust me, you will thank us for this later.”
The rational part of my brain screamed that what I was about to say was a bad idea, but that part just fell by the wayside. It was time to end this, permanently.
“I’m not going to this fucking camp! Okay? I don’t even believe in your stupid God, so why would I go somewhere that his fake ass is supposed to help me be straight?! I’ve always thought your religion is bullshit, and I’m not gonna let you all do this to me!”
You know those moments where you knew that you crossed a line? I could see I had blazed right past it.
“Excuse me?” Dad said. “You’re not only a dyke, but an atheist?!”
Mom stood up, her face a mask of pure rage. “Get out! Get the hell out of our home! I won’t have a sodomite and a heathen in this home! Do you hear me?! I won’t have it! Get the hell out!”
I stood up. “Oh, I’ll go. Just let me grab my shit and you’ll never see me again.”
“It’s our things, young lady!” Dad yelled. I guess he got past whatever love for family he had. I remembered how it was the strength of their religious beliefs that brought mom and dad together. Guess it was coming to bear on me now.
“That’s right, we bought them for you! You don’t own shit! Get the hell out of our home! I never want to see you again!” By this point Mom was downright hysterical.
Standing there, anger now directing me, it was a moment I would always remember.
“Fuck you! Fuck you and fuck your fake deity. Fuck this family and everyone in this shithole house! I fucking hate you people.”
“Don’t you say another word!” Dad growled. “Speak one more word about this family and I’ll give you a reason to believe in Jesus. Maybe some wrath of God would teach you respect, you ungrateful brat.”
Both fingers blazing, I flipped them off. They were yelling and screaming after me, but I wasn’t even listening. My ears were ringing. My head was pounding. Flaming rage burned inside me. So that’s how my wonderful family life ends? So be it.
When I got out the door, I slammed it so hard that I could hear things fall and smash inside. More screaming from Mom. Sounded like she had lost her mind. Tears were running down my face. I had lost everything, and now I had no idea what to do.
“I can’t believe someone could be that way to their own daughter. What kind of parent can treat their kid like that?!” Now she was angry.
“The kind who have Jesus as the steerman on their ship.” So much residual bitterness, bubbling up to the surface.
“What did you do afterwards?”
“Well, I went to Lulu’s. Only place I could go. His parents were super cool. Told me I could stay there as long as I liked. Felt so guilty about that. Living on my best friend’s couch for months. Eventually I couldn’t do that. School was falling apart too, so I ditched that. I dropped out, got my GED, went to work. Got this tiny apartment from a gay couple who was super cool. I met them through what small gay community there was in that town. They made me a rad deal and were understanding of my situation. Those two guys were the best. Saw how bad the community treated them too. Eventually I tried out college, but like I said before, that didn’t take. Then I joined the Navy. Made those guys proud when I told them.”
“Jesus Christ. That’s so horrible. I’m so sorry, Quinn.” Another hug from her. I hugged her back. As before, it felt really good.
We sat there in silence for a long time. It was kind of awkward, kind of soft. A weird feeling, to be sure.
“Did you ever hear anything about your parents again?”
Now it was back into territory I didn’t want to talk about. “I…kind of did.”
She gave me a look. “What aren’t you telling me?”
More words I had heard before.
Walked into my home, taking off my boots. It was late. Jean had already gone to bed. Wished I had gotten home sooner. After all that happened, I needed her.
Went upstairs, stripping off my uniform. Normally I don’t just throw it around, but today I didn’t care about wrinkles. Not one damn bit. Opened the bedroom door and saw her there, soft skin shining in the light. The two of us always slept naked. Even when it was cold in the winter, it was a habit. Fine by me. Both of us were cuddle-bunnies. Her back was to me. Shut the door softly, stripping off the rest of my layers.
Got in bed, putting my arms around her. Soft skin, soft hair. I needed this so much right now.
“Mmmm, you’re home.”
“How was your day?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
She wiggled and turned herself around. “Why not? What happened?”
“I really don’t want to get into it right now.”
“No secrets, remember? We keep enough because of work, so we promised we wouldn’t from each other. What are you not telling me?”
Tears were running down my face. “I got a call today, from my sister.”
“One of the girls from Alpha Team?”
“No. They wouldn’t have to call me. From back home. Sara.”
“Oh god. Wait, how did she get your number?”
“Damned if I know. But she called, said she wanted to talk to me.”
Her grip around me tightened. “Oh sweetie. I’m so sorry.”
“She said he wanted me to come home, to see me.”
“What did you say to her?”
The old anger, years passed, bubbling away as if it had never ended. “I told her to have Jesus talk to him, because he chose his fairytale over me, and that I hope he dies painfully and slowly. That I hate him and I will never speak to him again.”
No words from her. Just a gentle kiss, pulling me into her. Now the tears really started to fall. Pretty soon, I was that same teenager again, bawling into the arms of my fiance. Harder and harder, with her just holding me. I loved this woman so much.
“Not a thing, kiddo. I’m not hiding anything.” That was a part of the story that I was content to leave where it lay. Too much other anger wrapped up inside it.
“Alright.” She lay back and snuggled with me. Watching the lights on the tree. Something inside myself wanted there to be pain, but getting so much out, I knew that I would make this a new Christmas. At least, I wanted to. Maybe it would work. I hope it would.
Until next time, a quote,
“Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word.” – George R.R. Martin