by Hye Sung
My mom didn’t talk to me for forty days after I came out to her as gay. I’d revealed that the friend I kept bringing when I visited family was actually my boyfriend of two years. She was shocked.
Because my mom believes in a sanctified numerology, forty days was the time she needed to sort through her hurt and disappointment with God. At the end of the forty days, she concluded that I had a clean conscience, and she couldn’t argue with that. But in spite of her tolerance of me, her theology remained unchanged.
She’d once told me that gay people were “spiritually lower than animals,” so perhaps this was a progressive position for her.
What followed, though, was silence.
We talked some on the phone but never about anything important. She’d update me on family gossip and I’d tell her I was busy but doing well. I kept things brief and vague. I couldn’t talk about my favorite person with her. I’d tell her about trips, outings, concerts, all sorts of events and occasions, but I’d always leave out that I went with my boyfriend.
Before she knew he was my boyfriend, she used to ask about him all the time, how he was doing, what he was up to. She would often remind me to be more like him – a good boy. This was also her way of saying that I should go back to school. That was before she knew we were together. She didn’t bring him up after she found out. I lived across the country, so this arrangement of silence felt doable. It didn’t feel good, but it was something I could live with.
A year later I moved back east, staying with my sister and her husband. Then, six months later, my parents decided to move in as well, to help with my newborn nephew.
Things were strained and surface-level. I was hiding my life, barely explaining why I was flying to Texas every other month or why I wasn’t doing Thanksgiving with the family. My family is good at denial. Things too confusing, too difficult, too awkward, just get put away where we don’t have to look at them. This was just like all the other things we never deal with.
But then my boyfriend broke up with me. And all I could do was cry. The tears would well up without warning. I’d run to my bedroom or the backyard or go on a walk. I felt like a teenager again, hiding things from my parents. Smoking out of my windowsill became sobbing into my pillow. I’d practice looking happy in front of the mirror after hours of crying like I used to practice looking sober during parties.
But even without seeing the tears, my mom knew something was wrong. She could see the way I dragged my body. Concerned, she approached my sister. And my sister told her everything. She told her about the boy, about the breakup, about how my mom had proven she wasn’t a person I could share my life with.
My mom climbed the stairs to my room. She knocked on my door. I answered, and there she was, her eyes filled with tears. She wrapped her arms around me, held me tight, said again and again and again how sorry she was for the pain she put me through, for the pain I was living in. She promised I’d find somebody better for me, that I would be happy again, that I deserve that much.
That night my mom slept in my bed, holding me, wiping down my wet face. Only a few weeks before the break-up, she’d switched my glass of wine with Martinelli’s at dinner, thinking she was sneaky and that somehow I wouldn’t notice, but this night she kept asking if I needed a beer, if I needed to smoke. She was willing to break her rules for me. She was willing to go against her church. For me.
Sometimes love does that, at least the good kind of love. It breaks the rules – especially the religious ones – in order to embrace people in pain and to reassure them. You don’t have to be alone. Because I’m here with you. And I love you.