THURSDAY! My favorite day ever because tomorrow is Friday! And, because it’s LFB DAY! Woot!
This week’s topic is another vignette: Your character is secretly gay and has to decide how to come out.
Mark’s hands gripped the wheel as Ben spoke. Ben’s tone was even, conciliatory, but Mark still felt vaguely attacked.
“Look, Mark, I’m not saying we have to make out in front of your family, for God’s sake, but I really think you need to talk to them. They deserve the truth, and I think you sell them short when you assume they can’t handle it.”
Mark did not respond. Instead, his mind turned to his family, and their likely reactions to his secret. He thought of all the careless ways in which his family made fun of homosexuals…how his sister sometimes says something is “gay”, his older brother calling someone a “fag”, the looks of vague awkwardness that crossed his father’s face any time he was confronted with the specter of two men or women in love with each other. He cringed inside, but kept his face smooth. How could Ben even remotely understand? His parents were those new-age, modern hippie types, talking about love and tolerance for everyone. They had gay friends, their friends had gay children, it seemed they were completely comfortable moving in that world. Mark’s heart sank as he contrasted Ben’s background to his own.
Ben continued with his eyes directed out the window, oblivious to Mark’s distress. “I mean, seriously, Mark, either you love me, and you’re not ashamed, or you are ashamed which means you can’t love me as much as you think. This is 2006, for God’s sake! The gay population is growing, and people aren’t as bigoted as they used to be. It’s not like it’s the forties and you have to hide what you are. I feel like you’re denying me when you refuse to tell your parents what’s going on here. What’s the real problem?”
Mark’s lips thinned to a slash in his face as his cheeks flushed. It was still hard for him to profess his love for Ben, and to hear Ben talk about it so openly still made him uncomfortable. What was his problem? Why couldn’t he just shut up about it instead of flaunting it all over the place? Couldn’t he see how it made people uncomfortable? Couldn’t he see the looks people gave him, the faint sneer, the whispers behind hands as he walked away? Didn’t he care what people thought of him? Mark felt his hands squeeze tighter on the steering wheel and made a conscious effort to relax them.
Breathe. Breathe. Not a big deal, right? Hey Mom, hey Dad, I know you’re wondering why I haven’t had a girlfriend for five years. Guess what? I’m gay!
He groaned in despair. Ben turned to him, abandoning his study of the countryside, and took his hand. “Look, Mark, I can see the stress this is causing you. I know you don’t want to do it. I know you think I’m overt about our relationship, maybe even flamboyant, and that you think it’s totally easy for me to be this way.” Mark shot Ben a startled glance at that. He’d thought he was being careful about hiding his discomfort, but apparently not.
“It wasn’t as easy for me as you think,” Ben continued. “I lost a lot of friends. I had people I had grown up with that just couldn’t come to terms with my “newfound” sexuality. They backed off, sometimes got nasty, until all I was left with were the people who truly just didn’t give a shit who I wanted to sleep with. Those are the valuable people, Mark. Those are the people whose opinions I care about.” He gripped Mark’s hand tighter, willing Mark to look at him, just look at him, just for a second. It was so important that Mark listen well to what he was saying.
“I don’t know when it will happen, or how far you’ll need to be pushed before you’ve had enough, but I know it will happen. You will have to talk about it sometime, or you’ll explode. Your family loves you. They care about your happiness. They might have trouble at first, but they’ll get over it. You won’t be able to keep this a secret forever, and frankly, I’m surprised you would even want to. You’re so worried about what other people will think that you will ruin what we have. Can’t you see how this fear of telling people is making you pull away from me? Can’t you see how it’s cooling off our relationship? Is that what you want? Do you want to break up? Because neither you nor I can go on like this much longer. I guarantee it.” With that he let go Mark’s hand after a final squeeze and turned back to the window.
Mark’s thoughts were in a turmoil. He did love Ben. He did! At thirty-two years old, he was experienced enough at love to know the real thing when he encountered it. At the same time, the idea of saying the fact out loud, making it real by shaping the words that would alter his world forever, made him shrink inside. It made him feel sick. It made him want to close his eyes and climb under the covers and pull a pillow over his head and just shut out Ben’s voice, his persistent ideas of what Mark needed to do, and just go to sleep. Ben’s words hit so close to home that he almost wished they had never been spoken, wished that Ben had never made him think about these things. Almost.
One tense car ride and two hours later, they pulled into the drive of his parent’s palatial colonial home. The white siding and graceful columns had never appeared more forbidding than they did this moment. The green shutters on the windows, once so welcoming and bright, appeared to Mark like eyes, all looking at him, thinking censorious thoughts and condemning him with their silence. The red door, his mother’s pride and joy, once Mark’s favorite part of the house, seemed now like the doorway to hell. He wasn’t sure he could get out of the car.
Ben again took his hand, and this time his voice was soft, gentle, the voice he used in the middle of the night when Mark could finally speak his mind to the velvety darkness without fear of judgement, the voice he used when they talked about their love, and their hopes and dreams for the future. “Mark. Mark, look at me, please.” Mark wrenched his gaze from the red door to Ben’s face. His heart hammered in his chest so loud he was sure Ben could hear it in the close confines of the car. “Mark.”
His voice was so calm, so confident, that it soothed some of Mark’s agitation. His breathing evened out and he focused on Ben’s eyes. “Look. We don’t have to do this tonight, okay? I understand how hard this is for you. Beleive me. It’s me, remember? I sleep next to you every night. When you wake up from your nightmares it’s me that comforts you back to sleep. I know what this is doing to you.”
“We don’t have to do this tonight. Just know that we do have to do it soon. This can’t go on much longer, okay? I worry about you.” Ben’s eyes were warm. Loving. Mark smiled, tentatively, a small smile of relief, a tiny, rueful smile. “Okay.” He had to clear his throat before the word would come out. “Okay.”
“I’m so not even kidding, you guys. It was the funniest thing I’d heard all week!” Mark’s sister, Janie, was telling a story about the concierge at her favorite fondue restaurant.
“He answered the phone, and he was like, ‘No ma’am, no, you’ve got to allow at least two hourth for your reservation, okay? Thith ith a two hour dining exthperienth.” Janie’s expressive face told the story as her voice mimed the man’s effeminate accent. She even flopped her hand at the wrist in the universal “I’m gay” gesture. “I was like, trying so hardnot to laugh, this guy was so gay!”
“Dude, what a fag!” This from Mark’s older brother, Gary. Gary was the all-star, the football champ, the athlete. No way you’d ever catch him in love with a man.
“Gary!” Mark’s mother Berneice admonished her son with a stern look, spoiled somewhat by the tiny grin she wore in response to her children’s antics. “That is just not nice!”
“Oh, mom, jeez.” Gary affected a huge sigh. “It’s just a saying. It’s not like I have anything against fags–” At his mother’s raised eyebrows, he amended, “–homosexuals, gays, queers, whatever. I just think they should, you know, keep it to themselves. Why do they need to talk like that, anyway? Does being gay give them a speech impediment or something? Do they think that makes them more gay, or less? That’s what I want to know!” Janie laughed with her brother. Mark did not. Ben just forked some more peas into his mouth and regarded the family with bright, interested eyes.
Mark knew that Ben loved coming to these gatherings. His family was so…well, quiet. Restrained, maybe. It was just him and his parents, and Ben, obviously, had not married or produced any additions of his own to the family. He loved coming here because, as he put it, of the “jokes, food, and general sarcasm”. It was like mother’s milk to Ben. He never seemed put off by Mark’s family’s crudity, just amused.
Mark, on the other hand, was at his limit. All night, it seemed like everyone was making some comment about gay people. Maybe he was just super-sensitized to it, but it felt like tonight there were more references than ever to the taboo subject. He was getting angrier by the second. How could they be so ..so…crass?
“No wait, no, wait, I got one. What do you call three gay guys screwing in a lightbulb?” Janie was laughing at her own joke, before she even finished. Her eyes were sparkling, her cheeks flushed from the wine, and suddenly Mark knew. He’d had enough.
“I’M GAY!” He thundered, leaping from his chair, slamming his hand on the table and causing instantaneous silence around the table. His father was staring at him with a fork full of mashed potatoes halfway to his mouth. Janie was stopped with her mouth wide open, gaping like a fish. There was a clatter as his brother’s spoon hit his plate.
Mark gazed around the table angrily. “You guys, I’m gay. Okay? I’m fucking gay.” He started laughing hysterically, a little crazily. “Fucking gay! Get it? Get it? Good joke! I’m gay. I’m gay, and Ben is my partner, and so help me, if I ever hear another gay joke come out of your mouths, I’ll…I’ll…” He sputtered to a stop. “I’ll…well, I’ll be really mad! Really, really MAD!”
Silence reigned. He gazed at the faces around the table, gaping at him. His mother broke the silence first.
“Well. It’s about time, Mark. For the love of pete.” Unperturbed, she picked up the corn and handed it to him. “Would you like some corn?”