Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Assignment


I went into the kitchen. My mother was wearing her scrubs and taking things out of our Kenmore refrigerator. She passed me an empty jug of milk to put on the table.

“Honey, can you go downstairs and tell your father that I need a ride to the store. We have no food in the house.”

An assignment! “Okay mommy.” I proudly marched downstairs to deliver the message to my father.

My dad sat cross-legged in our rec room. Homemade shelves of vinyl records covered the left and right walls. A record player hung on the front wall and amplifiers sat on the back wall. Hesitating, I approached my father.

“Dad… Mommy wants you to take her to the store.” I kept my eyes fixed on the floor. I didn’t like asking him for things, even if it wasn’t for me.

My father’s eyes stayed fixed on the strings of his old Les Paul. The way he sat made his large stomach form a bubble. His chubby fingers formed the chords.

“Tell her no, I’m busy.”

I trekked up the stairs into the kitchen. My mother stirred a pot of boiling Kraft Dinner noodles.
“Mommy, Dad says no, he’s busy.”

I could see my mother’s brows furrow. She turned around and placed her palms flat on the kitchen counter. Her head hung lifelessly.

“You tell him that feeding his family is more important than his stupid toys. And I need a ride to work.” She kept her back to me and continued to stir the boiling noodles.

I began to lose the thrill of my assignment. I made my way down the stairs and knocked on the door, which was now closed. I could hear Black Sabbath playing on the old record player.

“Dad.” I said to the bone painted door.

No response.



My father’s yell was perfectly terrifying. I had heard it too many times. Sometimes when we didn’t eat the cream of corn he made us. Other times when my brother and I play fought. My father’s yell taught me to hide, to go to my room and wait it out. Eventually my mother would come home and I would feel safe again.

“M-m-mom says she needs a ride to work and the store is more important.”

“Tell your mother she can go fuck herself.”

My eight year old heart stopped. My dad could get mad, but I didn’t remember him swearing before. What if he was mad at me? I ran up the stairs to my mother.

“Mommy?” I said, choking on the words. “Dad said…”

My mother turned away from the stove and put her hand to her forehead.

“Stacey, go outside.” she said calmly. Without hesitation I escaped through our screen back door. Our cairn terrier, Meghan, followed me.

The thin screen door did nothing to conceal the argument.

“What do you want me to do?” yelled my mom, “take a cab to work because you’re too lazy to drive me? That’s the husband I have: a stupid lazy good-for-nothing…”

“Well I’m not going anywhere when you’re calling me every name in the goddamn book. You’re so fucking smart, figure out your own way to get to work.”

“The kids need food! You won’t even take me to work so that the kids can eat. That’s how much you care about your children.”

“You know what?!...”

Meghan followed me to the concrete slab that sat against our aluminum shed. The shed was no more than seven feet away from the house, but it was far enough. I sat with my back to the brown aluminum, letting Meghan curl up at my feet.

“That’s it! You’re outta here. If you come back home tonight, I’m calling the cops!” As soon as my mother finished yelling, my father stormed out through the front door. I heard the ignition of our grey ’92 Cavalier fire up and then squeal out of our narrow driveway.

I patted Megan’s grey coat. She jumped up on the concrete slab and lay down beside me.

Why did mommy have to go to the store so badly? Couldn’t she just wait?

I could hear the faucet turn on in the kitchen. I heard the boiling water drain into the sink and the refrigerator door open and close.

I thought about my parents. She should have just stopped bugging Dad, then he wouldn’t have gotten mad. I could remember when my father had been so angry that he put his fist through the microwave door. I tried my best to be quiet and not bother him.

The August afternoon warmth kept me outside for another half an hour. My mother came looking for me. She sat beside me and pulled me in close.

“You’re still out here, Stace? You okay?” Her face was flushed and her eyes looked tired.

My throat cracked. I wanted to be a big girl and not cry, but the tears refused to listen.

“Your dad will probably come back tonight,” she said, stroking my long brown hair. “He’s going to be angry. You and Shaun have to stay in your room, okay?” I nodded in agreement.

I couldn’t remember seeing my mother so tired. Her face looked older and her hands fidgeted. Her eyes stayed fixed on our brown brick house.

Without a word she took my hand and led me inside. She did not look down at me. Her grip on my hand tightened as she led me to a chair beside my brother. We ate the half-hour old Kraft dinner. We waited…

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just Write It

Just write it, she said.

I knew she was right. Why can't I just hammer on the keyboard and get this thing out? I can crank out an article like a machine. Why does this stupid non-fiction piece seem so hard?

The class had just ended and I drudged back to my car. The effects of the rain were evident on the soaked bottoms of my jeans. Lovely, I thought to myself. Once in my car, I dropped my forehead on the steering wheel. I closed my eyes and breathed. That went... okay, I told myself. I expected something else. Walking to the podium, I had prepared myself for a just-don't-go-there response. Instead, I got a lets-see-how-this-goes response. I drove home and fixated on it all night.

Last week, I thought up a great blog entry. I wrote it out and gleefully relived the experience. As I re-read it proudly, those damn words caught me again.

So what?

The more I thought about the blog post, the more I fixated on my "so what." Maybe I didn't handle that very well. Maybe he resented my "so what."

I talked to Susan Goldberg. I needed approval, and I refused to move forward without it. I anxiously approached her podium and laid it out. I told her I didn’t know how to write about a person who is gay without risking being offensive; without becoming a villain for my “so what.”

“Just write it,” she said. "Sometimes it's better to make take these risks." She suggested I write about this—the struggle to write this post. I deleted my old draft and started new, but the puzzle was missing something. Still, I couldn’t let myself write.

Some people don't like talking about sexuality. I think people fear confronting it because they don’t know how to respond. To talk about who people sleep with and love is to risk saying something intrinsically offensive. People think it’s safer to “not go there.” I know what it's like to hate these thoughts, and sympathize with them at the same time.

Despite this, I know my experiences are my own. I am a straight white woman given almost all the privilege in the world. I don’t understand how it feels to be gay. I am just me. I can only be honest with my own feelings.

Eighteen year old versions of Matt and I sat in his red Jeep outside of the Fat Cats on Red River that night. The yellow light from the signage flooded his car, dying both of our faces like the Simpsons. He was looking away from me, holding back. I could tell he was concealing something. I didn't want to pry. I guess he'd tell me if he felt like it.

"Stace, I need to talk to you about something.”

Finally, I think to myself. “What is it?”

He locks his eyes on the ground and murmured. “I'm... that thing."

"What thing?"

"You know, uhh… that thing," he mumbled and shifted his feet a little. “Ummm, I, uh, play for the other team…”

To this day, Matt still won't say the word "gay." In fact, he won't say penis, vagina, or anything sexual unless in a medical context. I tease him for this constantly, and he readily admits to his own prudishness.

I look up at him. I say the first thing that comes to mind.

“So what?”

Oh. My. God! Did I honestly say that?! My inner voice shrieks at me. My chest swelled with anxiety and my throat closed. Instantly, I moved onto the defensive.

“I didn’t meant that. Well, I did, but not the way you think…” Verbal diarrhea poured out as I scrambled to explain myself.

“You really don’t care?” he questioningly responded.

I didn’t know the right thing to say. I tried to determine what he expected. Did he want me to jump up and cheer? Be shocked? Appalled? Confused? I didn’t know. All I could give him was honesty.

“No, I don’t care. It’s great, but you’re still Matt. You’re my best friend, this doesn’t change anything”

When we drove home that night, the pink elephant was gone. We talked about how he felt about it and what his fears were. I liked letting him talk. It opened the door to greater honesty; to an unspoken bond between the two of us that still keeps us strong.

Still, the “so what” haunted me. I will likely never know what Matt felt like, as it’s simply assumed that I’m straight. The term for this is heteronormativity- the idea that the "norm" is straight. This didn’t bother me as much as the idea that I may never know how it would feel to hear “so what.”

This post choked my creative mind. I let the document sit open for days. A few days ago, I got a call from Matt.

"Hey Matalina!" I sing into the phone.

"Stacey, my love, how are you?" he said, as his cool baritone voice flooded my Blackberry.

This was my chance. I let some small talk pass and eventually I dove in: "Matt, were you happy with how I responded when you came out?" I held my breath until he replied.

"Pleasantly surprised," he said flatly. "You were definitely one of the good ones."

Phew!! I breathed in and out. "Really? You weren't off put by my 'so what?'" I prepare to explain myself, but Matt cut me off.

"No, I knew what you meant,” I hear him smiling through the phone “You know, I’m not the person I was a year ago,” he tells me. “I know who I am and I love it. If people don’t like that, then screw them.”

I hung up the phone and went to my lap top. My fingers moved faster and my heart beat slower. I stole his confidence to write this. Just write it, I said to myself.