LOST MY STRAIGHT
…the bells in my head were clanging…
My friend Gloria and I were enjoying a beautiful warm, sunny day hanging out at her pool in her lovely backyard drinking a glass of wine. It was the best fall day ever in temperate San Diego soaking up D’s and watching the dogs NOT swim. Poodles are supposedly water dogs, but not Bernard and Hazel. Apparently, Bernard and Hazel never read the dog breed description that assigned them to the water retriever group. Hazel hates the water. Bernard sinks and would drown if left to his own devices. There has never been a dog, especially a poodle, that was more inept in the water than Bernard. To be fair, it was the first time he had ever seen a swimming pool.
As the poodles dashed off in a wild chase with Hazel in the lead, Gloria and I were laughing hysterically at their antics. Bernard being the quintessential problem solver, thought he would outsmart Hazel and take a shortcut across the pool. Immediately, he realized he was not the canine Jesus. He spewed and sputtered with his hind end sinking and his front paws frantically pawing to keep his head above water. I had no choice but to jump in and rescue him. Hazel could not disguise her canine giggle.
I pulled the soaked, humiliated poodle out of the water and dried him off as Gloria began lamenting about living alone. Her husband died a few years ago and she was not enjoying a solitary living lifestyle. She started imagining a roommate that would be a good fit so she wouldn’t be alone. She longed for a friend/companion that would accompany her in her world travels, and to plays and other events she enjoys. Gloria is a problem-solving kind of person. We joke that when the tiniest decision is to be made that she must open her Excel app to weigh all the options. Let’s see, she would say, I need to buy a new brand of cat food. Then the dissection of brand after brand would begin with an Excel spread sheet for comparison.
Gloria approached getting a roommate in the same way. She listed the attributes of the ideal roommate. She insisted on a woman. After all, men are men. They leave the toilet seat up, drink out of the milk carton, and leave dirty socks everywhere. As she continued, Gloria became quiet and contemplative, appearing far away and unreachable. I wondered where she had disappeared in the recesses of her thoughts, but respectfully did not interrupt. I, instead, basked in the unfilled silence watching the dogs continue to not swim.
Jarring me from the blissful afternoon sun and gentle caress of the breeze, Gloria jumped up and exclaimed, “Nope, can’t do it.” Startled, I asked, can’t do what? In detail she related the daydream she had been entertaining while I was basking. She concocted a perfect imaginary roommate. In her vivid fantasy she envisioned hugging the ideal female roommate intimately. She went on to describe the sensation of turning her head and brushing lips. She loudly declared in the telling, “Wait! Hard brake! Not happening! Nope, in a million years I could not imagine kissing a woman! Yuck, Yuck, Yuck!” The lip brush had rudely detonated her fantasy. She asked if I could imagine kissing a girl? To my surprise, my immediate thought was, yes, I could, but I did not say.
Shocked at my thought, I did not know where my answer came from? It was as if a stranger permeated my thoughts and took my brain hostage.
Trying to process the weird scenario, my mind was firing random, uncontrolled synapses. I could not breathe. My vision blurred. Gloria did not seem to notice the cerebral meltdown I was experiencing. Dominating my internal dialogue was the instant thought that I could never tell Gloria that I am gay after her violent reaction to the visualized kiss. Wait, where did that come from? Of course, I am not gay, so there is nothing to tell, right?
What could I possibly be thinking? Me, gay? I can’t be gay! I have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and was married twice. I never considered being with a woman, except, if I am honest, the wonder had occurred to me multiple times. When the wonder bubbled up, I quickly denied the thought and filed it in a cluster of unreachable brain cells. Each time the idea--- am I?--- could I be?--- popped into my consciousness; I quickly explained it away. I have no time to explore this I told myself. Maybe, someday. Besides, I was certain every woman questioned their sexual orientation and had dreams about women. Questioning didn’t mean I am gay, does it?
I am 70 years old. I would know by now if I were gay, wouldn’t I? Friends often wanted to set me up with their brother or recently divorced friend. I realize they care about me, but it is annoying that they are of the mindset that to be whole one must be partnered. I made it very clear that I had no desire to be set up. I had not been in a relationship for years and had zero interest in pursuing one. I convinced myself that my “picker” was broken and there was no chance I could pick a male companion for a healthy relationship. Having a platonic male companion to share interests with could be compelling, maybe, but beyond that, the thought of a male partner did not appeal in the least.
Devastated when my marriages failed, I concluded that I had two strikes—Everyone knows ----three strikes and you are out! I was self-contained, happy, living a full and complete life with family, dogs, hobbies, and work. There was no room for more. Just because I preferred to live alone, single, didn’t mean I am gay, right?
As my mind began to clear, my attention veered back to the pool side. My exterior was nonchalant, but the thunderous storm of anxiety on the inside could not be abated. The words “I think I might be gay” were looping in my head. Gloria continued to prattle, oblivious to me teetering on the brink of an acute identity crisis.
I have no memory of the blurred four days after my visit to Gloria’s pool. I could not sit still, sleep, or think. I reflected on the times along the way when the thought of possibly being gay had popped up. I remembered a close female friend, that at the time, was the closest person to me in my life. I dreamed about her and yearned to be with her every day. When we were temporarily estranged, it was the mother of all break ups. Looking back, I realize I was in love with her. But no way am I gay, right? Ahem…
There were a few other women that crossed my path. Revisiting those relationships, I now realize I had romantic crushes that I denied. I went to a gay bar with a lesbian couple I worked with when I was in my twenties. They “accused” me of being one of them. Apparently, their gaydar was on track. How did they see ME when I was oblivious. There were times I allowed myself to secretly indulge in fantasies about the female body and wondeted what it would be like to be with a woman. I rationalized that the thoughts meant nothing and that probably everyone fantasized in that way. Nah…I am not gay. I couldn’t be, could I?
I was raised as a conservative born-again Christian. However, as an adult I began to form my own version of good and evil and reject the fire and brimstone teaching of my youth. Different, was unacceptable to my parents and church. I internalized a message of compliance and followed a pre-ordained path of marriage and kids. Society validated the thinking of the day. Gay bars were raided, and hundreds of people were arrested. The DSM 4 categorized homosexual people as having a mental disorder. As a kid, I never knew anyone who was gay. No wonder… Gay was an unknown, unexplored concept.
How much influence did religion have on bottlenecking the discovery of my true self? What subliminal messages did I internalize from family and society? I do not remember discussions about homosexuality while growing up. I didn’t know anyone who was gay at school. There was no escaping the internalized homophobia that denied my true self.
Fortunately, I was in therapy for grief after experiencing several devastating losses. My regular therapy appointment was scheduled four days after my secret encounter with myself at Gloria’s pool. I could barely wait to talk to my therapist. The internal turmoil and anxiety were unbearable. I felt like I would disintegrate. I could no longer hold back the flood of thoughts and feelings about my sexuality.
I was barely able to talk when the session started. I had to gather my calm to begin. When I was finally able to utter words, I began with, “I need to tell you something that I have never said out loud or told anyone before.” I can’t imagine what gruesome deed she must have been anticipating that I was going to confess. I stuttered and stammered until the words “I think I might be gay” spilled out. Long pause… “Nope, not might be. I know I am gay.” Dee, who knew I had only been with men offered that I might be bisexual. I thought about it for a minute and responded, “Nope, I am gay.” Despite never being with a woman, somehow, I knew.
Seventy years old and the long-concealed secret, buried inside beyond conscious access was illuminated. …words now spoken, that could never be unsaid. A sense of congruence engulfed me. For the first time in my life, I felt complete, whole. Wholeness is not about being partnered, or not partnered I discovered. It is about being fully integrated and authentic to oneself.
How did I lose/hide such a significant part of myself, only to find my truth so late in life? I longed for do-overs to erase many regrets. But the past cannot be altered. Then, I had an epiphany. I realized that every single day is a do-over. Had my sight been only on the future and the afterlife, would I have turned the corner on my journey’s path to find my authenticity? Or did the universe open my self-realization at just the right time? Does it matter? I often wonder how my life would have been different if I knew earlier? However, I believe the past informed my present at the right time… when I was ready.
Circling back, I shared with Gloria how my brain had seized control and held me captive that day at her pool. I told her how her imaginary roommate triggered the rise of long buried truths and sent me on a path to authenticity. The COVID lockdown prevented me from what would have been my preference-- to tell her beside the pool. Instead, I made an ominous request for a video chat. Gloria feared that I was going to tell her I was dying. Guess my news was anticlimactic to her anticipation of a terminal message.
I have always known Gloria to be a compassionate, accepting human. Still, I was nervous about telling her after her girl-kissing reaction. She said she didn’t see it coming, but she has been, and is, the best support I could imagine. I am lucky to have loving supportive people who have my back. Can’t wait for the opportunity to sit poolside again and watch Hazel and Bernard NOT swim while sipping wine and catching D’s.
Update: Gloria is still straight. She has not kissed a girl. She does not have a roommate.
Dante Alighieri recounts a journey through hell in a quest to get to heaven predicated on his religious perspective of morality. He prioritized the seeking of an afterlife with God over living in the present on earth.
I wonder, is it not a waste of one’s purpose, happiness, and contribution to humanity to deny engagement in the present? Can it be moral to deny your true self?
Dante may not have meant this quote in the way I have interpreted it. But it spoke to me.
“In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” Dante Alighieri’s, The Devine Comedy
At age 70, my journey is a bit past the middle. I embraced my truth after traveling through the dark woods of self-denial and found that my “STRAIGHT WAY” WAS LOST…
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