An Evangelist Stole My Mother’s Sisterhood
For many years I’ve kept stories. Keeping a story is not difficult in the beginning because there’s always some kind of threat if the story gets away, it might be dismissed, ridiculed, beaten or worse, killed. So, it sits quietly in a corner of you somewhere beneath your breastbone, content, safe, happy to do so.
Your story begins to manifest a mental defense some kidnapping victims seize upon to survive. Stockholm Syndrome. In time, your story begins to see the darkness as an ally. Hiding is normal.
When a story is set free, often times it doesn’t want to leave the shadows where it lived for so long. It will resist and kick and scream and blame you for rescuing it. You are ripping it from the only place your story ever considered home.
And so it is.
I share my experiences, my story with you not to titillate the imagination or to inflame moral or religious ideations, but to invite discussion and awareness, to coalesce beside my tribe and where it’s possible to inspire accord.
So, on with my story and the follow up which was promised you.
Somewhere in the late 1980’s I made a home trip to see my parents. Going home had become something like a bi-annual event and it felt oddly like making a guest appearance in a play about my former life, the life and people I’d left behind.
Except it wasn’t a play, these were my parents, my Mom and Dad and despite all the mistakes we’d made and trespasses committed, the trampling upon each other’s ideas of the way things “should be”, I loved them and I still do.
I call this period in my relationship with my Mom and Dad The Delusional Period. After my first fling with coming out which led to a period banishment, our interactions snapped backward into something resembling former life, but not quite the same when I receded back into the closet and quietly clicked the lock under a familial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
The details of said policy could have informed the military on the rules of the road, years later. I suspect my family code of mutual deniability probably HAD informed the the military’s official Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy as the likelihood was high, that at least one or two military officials might have been gay themselves or knew someone who was. We are everywhere.
For me and my parents DADT seemed like a perfect solution, at first. It allowed us to be together again. No one had to be uncomfortable, except me, and I could come around twice a year. There was NO DADT in the military yet, so by comparison this seemed like quite an advancement. My parents weren’t grilling me about a bar I visited, they weren’t rifling through my trash for love letters, and they were not treating me like a criminal about to be shackled and thrown in the brig. It was a truce with carefully unspecified stipulations and frankly I welcomed it. Everything is relative, right?
I’m home making my first guest appearance of year in a small midwest town and things are quite lovely between me and them. One afternoon my Dad invites me to ride along with him on his errands. Going to the bank and Krogers are not exactly the highlights to the weekends I’d been used to in Southern California, but when you’re home, this kind of activity becomes just the exciting break in a monotonous stream of sitcom T.V. and football you’re looking for.
My Dad regards me with a kindness in his eyes I’ve not seen very often and I can’t hold his imploring gaze for long. Luckily neither can he. We head out the back door into the van and we’re in town in a few minutes. My Dad is a good driver if you like your driving done defensively with a little road rage on the side. I used to tell people my Dad drove by the “stomp and slam” method. Stomp on the gas and slam on the brakes. It’s exhilarating, if you can get used to it.
First stop was the bank. In his lap, he’s fixing his papers and deposit slip when he turns toward me and fixes me with that look again. An alternating look of tenderness and wariness moves over his face. His hands fall into his lap and it looks like he’s made a decision of some kind. I’m frozen in the passenger seat. I have no idea what’s coming, but I’m growing anxious and it’s so quiet in the car I think I can hear the seconds ticking off his Timex.
Finally, he turned to me and began to speak about his wife, my mother.
“Your mother never has had any friends, you know.” he began.
“It’s been just me and her. She gets lonely, especially now that you’re gone. She could talk to you, Sandy.” he stumbles on, and I’m not quite sure where he’s going.
Then he said something that knocked the wind right out of me.
“I blame that damned Billy Graham. Your mother was listening to him when we’d first been married. He was getting popular and he made a particular sermon she’d heard about women being friends with other women. He warned the Devil would surely be after them. It scared your mother. She wouldn’t have anything to do with other women after that, after he’d said getting too close to other women was dangerous, too close and they were risking becoming LESBIANS.”
My Dad only whispered the last word, but it sounded like he’d said LESBIAN through a megaphone with only the distance between driver and passenger seat to travel. My mind reeled and his youngest, his little motormouth was left speechless.
A coherent thought has already been made about as possible as me flying to outer space on gossamer wings, but my shock mounts as he quietly continues and it seems he might be asking me if I thought my mother could be, might have been, would want to be a lesbian?
I could contrive something of a response here, but I won’t. The simple fact is I don’t really remember what I said to him, but in my usual fashion of family “counselor” I probably put aside the glaring detail which loomed unpsoken in the warm car, the fact she had given birth to, not one, but two lesbian daughters. I set myself to address his fear. Seeing his worry and pain I forgot me, and I assured him his wife, my Mom, wasn’t a lesbian, whether I believed it or not.
What fresh hell inside a pandora’s box did I leave them with when I left home? I have worried and grieved over the possibilities and in the end I’ve had to let it lie inside the family shoe box of photographs, secrets and misunderstandings and understand the lives my parents lived were largely the intimate dance they had with each other and it was none of my business.
However, this sunny day in a bank parking lot in my hometown is as solid as a chunk of petrified wood in my memory and when all the other trees fall to the forest floor, this one will never disintegrate into pulp. It’s the one I turn to when I need to be reminded of the potent effect our words have on each other. Though we may not intend a certain outcome we must be vigilant in our speaking so words do not play a part in tripping another while dancing the dance of vulnerable steps to the music they choose.
I believe it’s also wise to mention we should guard our hearts and minds at their entrances against the intended hate and separation with which many use words to divide us.
In case you missed the first part of this story click below.
When Does COMING OUT End?
Becoming more and more open about what has always been hidden or obscured about me is becoming easier, but I’ve found…
s lynn knight 2016