Marble Eyes (Part 1)Posted: January 16, 2012
If I could whisper into my fourteen-year-old ear, I’d tell me not to say anything in the kitchen that afternoon, because my mom would be embarrassed of how she reacted and I’d cry harder than I ever had before.
I walked through the kitchen door, since it was next to the garage, which is where I put my pewter, BMX bike every day after pedaling home from school, the one with pegs on the back wheel that I had saved up to buy the summer before freshman year. I was fat, so the two-and-a-half mile ride made me sweat more than my friends, and I’d always grab a paper towel from the wooden stand on our canary-and-cream tile countertop to wipe away the salty drops from my pimpled forehead. I threw my backpack on the floor and leaned against the wall. My dog’s black, ceramic food bowl was under my feet, and my mom was drying dishes at the sink with one of those deep red, waffle-pressed rags. My sister was sitting on the counter, or maybe leaning against it; I can’t remember. But she was there, which was why the whole thing started, in a way.
“How was your day, Todd?” my mom asked.
“It was good,” I began. “This crazy thing happened at lunch.” I started to explain how the gay-straight alliance—the club on my high school campus that supported gay and lesbian students—had hosted an event on the quad. “They had a microphone, and people could walk up to it and say if they were gay or bi or whatever, and then everyone would cheer and hug them, and a lot of times the people would cry because they were so happy, I think.” I thought I had probably made a mistake when my mom put the cloth down, and definitely knew I had when she turned her body toward me. She wasn’t smiling, like she usually was. Her lips were pursed, like my nephew’s were that time I made him try a lemon from our tree in the front yard. She separated them to speak.
“That’s embarrassing, Todd. I can’t believe your school would allow something like that to take place. It’s shameful.” I didn’t look in her eyes, but let them sink to the floor, like marbles in the bathtub.
“Mom!” my sister said. She was wearing a sweatshirt from her college, and I wanted to be like her so much that my favorite smoothie at Jamba Juice was Strawberries Wild because that’s the one she bought when I went to visit her at school. “Mom, what would you do if Todd were gay?” I immediately felt naked, my skin, like cellophane; I was certain they could see my hammering heart. I kept my eyes on the veined linoleum.
“Well, we would send him to camp to have him fixed.” She decidedly said. The two of them kept talking, but—like listening underwater—their words hit my ringing ears in indecipherable waves. I started sweating again.
As quietly as I could, I left the kitchen and headed toward the hall. Once they couldn’t see me, I started hurrying and didn’t stop until I was safely lost in the covers of my bed. The sweat and tears twisted like braids down my unsettled face, and I cried until my eyes ran out of water and my throat was crackly.
Six years later, we were sitting in my parents’ hotel room. I was a senior at the college my sister graduated from 10 years before, and I had told my fiancé I couldn’t marry her 3 hours earlier. I was slouched in an emerald, padded chair, and my mom sat at my feet, her blonde head resting in my weary lap. She raised her eyes to meet mine, and I knew she’d been crying, too, because they were cherry and raw.
“Son, I don’t know what I think about all this, but I know that I love you.” She put her hand on my knee, and squeezed like she did when I would burrow in the sheets of my car bed because I was afraid of robbers coming through my window. Humbly, she confessed: “My whole life I’ve thought homosexuality was a choice. After an hour of listening to you, though, I know it’s not.” That night, she began a yearlong journey, one of questioning and learning and shaking and wrestling.
We didn’t talk about that afternoon in the kitchen for a couple months, and when we did she cried again and told me how sorry she was and how much she loved me and how she wishes I would have said something sooner.
“Todd, I had no idea,” she said.
“I know, mom, and it’s ok,” I assured her. “I’ve always known you’ve loved me. Always.”