Author’s note/CW: this is the third story in my trilogy on marriage. I specifically found myself musing on all the ways matrimony impacts our society these past few weeks. I found myself wondering what I would have done had my husband come out of the closet to me right before our wedding day. This is that story. There’s some degrading language and a whole lot of anger, but it’s all used to hi-light the complexity of the human heart.
“Speak now or forever hold your peace,” I mumble under my breath. I had thought I’d get to hear those words at our wedding and I want to scream at you, “Why don’t you see my pain?” as I pass you in the hallway. Of course you’re wearing your cream colored cardigan over that stupid, blue, striped shirt—it makes your green eyes pop.
During the first week after the breakup, you kept your head bowed down real low, like you were forever in a pose of contrition. And I think I could live with that version. It was my proof, like watching you wave your white flag over the battlefield of our office, that you were to blame. That in fact, it was your fault that we were calling off the engagement of the century.
Except, now, you in your perfect sense of entitlement have managed to raise your head. It’s clear now your shame over the engagement, over the break up, over me is gone—overshadowed by the literal PRIDE that you get to boast now. Now you get to say to anyone who has ever cared about the fact that you chose emeralds for my engagement ring that you are not just a gay man, but a gay man out of the closet.
But tell me, where does that leave me?
My mother clutched her false pearls when I told her the news. I drove from our shared apartment into the suburbs nestled outside of our city to my childhood home. The one with the lion’s head knocker that we couldn’t get enough of us kids. I said, “He’s called it off, Mother. He’s gay.”
“A fag!?” my father’s incredulous voice boomed from the living room.
“Not a fag, dad. A gay man,” I corrected him because I will forever be by your side. That’s the commitment I made when you slipped that silver band onto my finger and I, in a slightly love drunk daze, cooed down at the emeralds sparkling in the sunlight. My eyes, downcast and full of shame, committed to memory every groove in our old kitchen table.
Mom, for her part, cleared her throat before scolding Dad, “Herald, come inside the kitchen if you’re going to comment.” I’m sure he mumbled, grumbled, groaned before he turned the volume up on the football game. Mom pressed her lips together, those ruby red lips with the perfect cupid’s bow. “Your father doesn’t mean it,” she said with a smile that faded as quickly as a single firefly on a July night. “We always liked Kyle for you,” her hand reached for mine and I gave it over slowly, “And we still do.”
“You gave the ring back?” she asked incredulously. “How do you know you won’t patch things up? Isn’t that bi…bi…something still a thing? Where you can like boys and girls?” I offered her one single look and she shifted her tone, “Well, I suppose that’s for the best, on account of…of…well…” More lips being pressed together. She dropped my hand, then. The second human to do so in one night. It fell, limp and deflated back onto the table.
“He’s still Kyle, Mom. He’s still funny, and smart, and hardworking and loyal as Hell. He’s still the only reason I passed algebra 2 or chemistry. He’s still the son you always wanted,” I said while swallowing my tears.
Mom’s eyes look away from me as her chair scarped against the brown linoleum as she stood. Her heels clacked across the kitchen. She reached up into the darkest corner of the tallest cabinet for the Mandarin Orange Tea. Mom blew the dust off the top and made my cup the American way—in the microwave. The mug was placed in front of me. The honey lazily dropped in. The metal tea spoon clinking along the edges. Mom took her seat back across from me. “I suppose…well, if you need somewhere to stay…” she started to offer.
“No!” I practically shouted. “No…I….” my tone softened when I noticed Mom pulling away from me physically. Again, the second person to do so tonight. How could I wake up every day and face my father’s hateful words or my mother’s desperate attempts to apologize for him? How could I curl up on my old twin bed with the owl comforter and stare at the old photo booth strips of your lips on my cheek? How could I stand in my old bathroom putting red lipstick on just like I did for our first date? Back when we were fifteen, still sneaking out of Sunday school to make out beneath the oak tree by the church. “Imogene has offered me my old bedroom back…so…no,” I told her.
“Alright…well…thank you for telling us,” she said while I raised my cup to my lips. The tea tasted dusty, but the heat of the smooth, sweet liquid felt soothing. I closed my eyes, noticing tears once again threatened. I swallowed them with another gulp of tea. When I opened my eyes, I took in the image of Mom, picking red fingernail polish off her nails, knowing that she was already in the process of rehearsing her speech for what she might say to the ladies at church—the ones who she had boasted to that her daughter was not just engaged, but engaged to the future president of the largest meat supplier in the nation! And he was her high school sweetheart! She had already shown off the embarrassing photos of us naked in her kitchen sink at 2 years old, washing away a day of playing in the creek behind his family’s ranch. Talk about the perfect love story. Mom’s mouth pressed into a thin, red line of disappointment.
I knew what she’s dying to ask-the question I was bombarded with at the end of phone calls as I canceled the caterer, told the bridesmaids their services weren’t needed anymore, and inquired about the rules of returning a wedding dress: you’ve known him all your life; how could you not have known he was gay?
I stood. Dad’s football game broke for commercials so he muted the TV. And it was silent. It felt like decades, but after a few minutes, the familiar whistle sound came crashing through to the kitchen. The players were back on the field, just like Kyle was all four years of college. And me, shivering to death next to Imogene in the stands.
Mom held out her arms, but they felt more like limp pasta than a mother’s. She offered me three, little, pats on my shoulder. I thanked her for the tea, breathing in the familiar scent of her perfectly coiffed curls. She walked me to the front door. I took one step out. She swung it shut. And I was greeted with a familiar door that now felt hostile for the second time that night.
My feet drug along the concrete walkway as I approached my car. Ruefully, I smiled at the big, beautiful moon. You would have loved it. In fact, maybe the moon was to blame for your sudden confession. I laughed until I got into my car. Then, I cried. I turned on Taylor Swift because her words always managed to put my feelings into something tangible.
I wondered what you were up to. What did you eat for dinner after I left? Were you even hungry still? Did you turn on some stupid sitcom to drown out your tears? How many boxes of my things did you pack up before running away to your lover’s house? Do you have a lover?
That was a mean thought. It brought an onslaught of tears.
When I had composed myself enough, I made the drive to my old apartment. The one you called, “A wee bit shabby,” in a fake English accent. I noticed that Imogene had naturally parked in the #6 designated parking spot out front of the 1980s brick building—the one that used to be mine, so I made a rebellious choice and parked in the visitor’s spot, with the knowledge I’d have to move first thing in the morning. I collected my red plaid overnight bag from the passenger seat. It was stuffed with five different outfits for work. My toiletries rattled about as I pulled open the glass door to my old building. I had to be buzzed in. Imogene answered right away, “Come on up, Sweetie.”
The second set of doors unlocked with a beep and I took the elevator instead of the stairs because it no longer mattered what size I was…I didn’t have a wedding dress to fit into anymore. Imogene stood in the doorway of our old place, her beautiful, red, curly mane framed her freckled, cream colored face like the petals of a sunflower. She embraced me. Her hug felt like a mother’s hug because she didn’t let go first. She let me. I rested my tired head on her shoulder and she beckoned me in.
On our old coffee table were two very full glasses of red wine. The apartment was lit by soft, flickering candles. I melted into the couch. I took a huge swig of wine. It felt better than the tea by a long shot. Imogene looked on, her brow furrowed like a caterpillar on a leaf. “So, what happened….” she asked in a hushed whisper. I nodded at her, held up my index finger, and took another big sip.
“So…” I was startled to find my voice trembling. I cleared my throat. And took another sip of wine. “So we went to mass and on the way home he was just so…quiet. But I asked him if he wanted to go out to dinner so I thought maybe…”
“Maybe he was thinking it over!” interjected Imogene with a smile. Coming home to an old friend somehow felt better than my parents because she was the third musketeer in our trio. She was the one who told me Kyle had a crush on me in sixth grade. She helped plan both his promposal and literal proposal. She was going to be our joint maid of honor/best man.
“Maybe he was thinking it over,” I said. “But he wasn’t, I guess…and I drove us home. And I asked him if he wanted me to reheat the leftover spaghetti and meatballs,” I cast my gaze to her ceiling with a brief thought to the way I had stared at that very ceiling on the night of my engagement. Only then I had stared with such hope. It was all planned out: you, me, the house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the kids in the backyard playing with the dog. Imogene was going to be the cool aunt who lived in the guest house out back.
Imogene’s hand rested on my right bicep as she said the words I had been dying to hear all night, “Of course you did because you’re going to be such a good wife.”
A wry chuckle escaped my lips as I parroted, “Yeah. Such a good wife.” I took a deep breath reaching for my wine glass, but set it down when I noticed Imogene hadn’t had a single sip. “So while I’m bent over the fridge, searching for the leftovers, he says, ‘I need to tell you something,’ and I say, ‘in a minute,’ and he says, ‘no, now. I need to say something now.’ And I shut the fridge and I notice his face is in his hands and he’s on the couch and…and…”
Imogene took a sip of wine.
“And he just says it, ‘I’m gay.’ And I laugh. Oh, Imogene,” I said with a wail. But she was giggling. The giggles spread and morphed like an infectious disease. And we were both laughing. And it felt good. It was the first moment I felt good all night.
We composed ourselves. I continued, “But after a minute, I realize he’s serious. And I asked him, ‘Are you serious?’ And he says ‘Wish I wasn’t.’ And I say, ‘I…I guess it’s over then?’ because I want him to laugh and say that he got me good or some other bullshit. But Imogene, he doesn’t,” I was sobbing then. Full shoulder shaking sobbing. Imogene wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into her chest like I wish Mom had. “Instead,” the words come out muffled against her chest, “Instead he just held out his hand all expectant like for the ring!”
“Oh, Sweetie,” Imogene’s hand began stroking my hair with each soothing word. “Shhh….shhhh…shhhh…I’m here.” The sobs went on a while longer. The shushing, too. Until I could sit up and wipe my snot from my nose. “Are you gonna keep your job? You can’t think to work with the man, right?” she asked.
“I have to…for now, at least,” I said into my wine glass.
“Babe,” Imogene said and shifted her weight so her beautiful blue eyes could meet mine. “You’re not…” she was picking her words carefully while I was doing the weird hiccup thing when you cry too much. “You don’t think…” she said with a sigh. “Honey…he’s not coming back to you. You get that…right?”
Those last words felt like someone had poured salt in the very open wounds of my heart.
“I still love him, Im, I still love him,” I told her.
“You wanna slash his tires?” Imogene asked, but her voice gets all high-pitched when she suggests something she doesn’t really wanna do, but she will do, because she loves you. Imogene’s voice skyrocketed an octave on that couch. I learned that when Kyle asked her if she wanted to play spin the bottle after Sunday school. The whole night I held his hand in a death grip because I was desperate to be his first kiss. But I wasn’t. A boy named Theo was. And the whole class said, “EWWW!” Mom picked all three of us up and Kyle held my hand, a Taylor Swift song about a terrible break up playing in the background.
It was an omen.
“No, no. I do not want to slash his tires. It won’t help,” I said forlornly. She was waiting for me to get mad. She was waiting for me to scream that Kyle took four years of my life away from me. That he was a liar. That it was real convenient he got to keep the apartment with all of our wedding registry gifts. That any reaction I give would make me the bad guy because it’s 2022 for heaven’s sake: if you’re gay, it’s ok!
I realized…I was waiting, too. Like an anxious bride, trembling as I listened for a single squeak in a silent church. Would you have waited? Would you have kept your secret until our wedding day?
Instead, I explained, only to Imogene since she was the only one willing to hear my case, “I understand why he couldn’t say anything. His parents are staunch, old school Catholics with old world money. I get why he felt so much pressure to conform. How could he have known they would’ve understood? How could he expect them to be okay with it all?”
“I know you understand, Sweetie. I know,” she affirmed. “It’s one of the things we both loved about you. We both admired how much you cared for humanity in all its shapes, sizes, colors. It just sucks that you’re collateral damage in the journey of his self discovery,” Imogene stood, leaving me with this new definition of my life and grabbed the bottle of wine from the kitchen to refill our glasses. We drank some more, this time in silence. Until the wine and the emotions of the day led me to exhaustion.
The next morning, I had one second where I forgot everything. In fact, I worried I lost my engagement ring. Isn’t that funny? But it hit me like a ton of bricks. So I pulled myself out of bed, regretting all that wine on a Sunday night, and stumbled to the shower. The hot water was healing. I borrowed some of Imogene’s shampoo, it smelled funny of course because it’s all natural biodegradable stuff. I so desperately wanted to linger in that hot, wonderful water. But instead, I hopped out before I could change my mind and got dressed into my perfectly selected outfit. It was the one with the least amount of wrinkles. In the kitchen, Imogene has kindly plated up two vegan “eggs” and a slice of toast. I could stomach the toast, but not the eggs. “You could call in sick,” she suggested. “Do you want me to text Kyle and pick up the rest of your stuff?” she whispered the question.
I shook my head and offered her one last hug before walking out the door. It mirrored my previous Monday, the one where I ran my hands over your shirt and kissed you goodbye for work.
The drive to the office was painful. No one was driving the speed limit and I got stuck behind not one, not two, but three school buses on the way. At least I had Taylor Swift to ease the pain-a song about starting over ended right as I pulled into the first spot I could find in the lot, grateful to be late because it meant I couldn’t dwell over your stupid, blue Jeep.
Instead, I rushed over to my desk, waving half heartedly at Cynthia, our receptionist. I seethed at the sound of phones ringing, people answering sales calls, and my full in box. I began picking my way through the pile when I noticed you. Your head bowed low as you passed my desk to the stairs. You are a second floor executive.
How lucky I was to have been your girl…