Face Time

Despite my best efforts to stop it, Christmas has come, anyway. I just keep thinking what kind of world is this that my mother is not here? What kind of world is this that in some sense, I will never go home again? What kind of world is this where there will be no pictures of my possible wedding, possible kids or step-kids, no possible anything with my mother in them? The only thing I have that even comes close is a few pictures of my high school graduation, and that’s it. No graduation from college, no graduation from divinity school, no ordination, no pictures of me standing in front of my first call or church plant. No pictures of her at the piano playing during my first service. I am certainly not, but there are times when I feel utterly alone, as if no one understands and yet, plenty of people do.

What kind of world IS THIS?

It is new and frightening, not because of world events, but because of my own… although it seems as if my mother’s death should be writ that large. Everyone should know what a light the world has lost, and everyone should share in my pain. Of course, this is impossible… but when you lose a parent, it seems as if earth has stopped rotating on its axis and spinning around the sun. Nothing should ever be the same, because I won’t. It’s selfish and egocentric to think that the world should stop for everyone else, and it doesn’t.

Other people go on about their busy lives as I try to put my own back together into some semblance of the new normal. The only problem is that it can’t be normalized, and never will be. I feel guilty for all the moments I missed, and yet I know that I can’t be held responsible for what I didn’t know. And Jesus, there are so many things I didn’t know.

Why in the crippling fuck did I choose to move? Because at the time, it seemed like the most sensible solution to ending my relationship with Dana, because I never could have done it without a physical boundary. Our relationship was so sacred, so full of energy that I never would have stopped trying, never would have allowed myself or Dana the space to really think about whether getting back together was a good idea, never would have stopped thinking that she was the only person in the entire world for me, because at the time, she was my world. I couldn’t move without thinking of her on the exhale. She was my electricity and my grounding wire all at the same time. In addition to being absolutely crazy about her, she was also my “Danabase,” the person that created location memories because I’m terrible at it, so when I was tearing about the house looking for my keys, wallet, phone, etc. most of the time all I had to do was ask her for it. She was invaluable to me in both romantic and companionate love, the easiest relationship I’d ever had most of the time. Therefore, since we didn’t have children and therefore nothing tying me to Houston, I just left. I know myself too well. I would have fought to the death to get her back and gone through an even bigger world of pain when it didn’t work, and on some level, I knew it wouldn’t. It was better for me to slink off with my tail between my legs than it was to put energy where it wasn’t wanted. I could rebuild. I always do. However, to paraphrase Eleven, I’ll never forget the time that Leslie was me.

What I Know for Sure™ is that if I could go back and do it again, knowing that my world was about to end, I would have stayed put. I would have gone to my mother’s every choir performance, I would have visited more, I would have shown up. I would have completely forgotten my own needs and just spent more time getting to soak up her everyday life, and she would have wanted that. We were always trying to make up for lost time, and it has run out in the most disastrous way possible.

I am not ready for Christmas, and possibly never will be again, but my mother just died in October. It is a cruel joke that the holidays and my mother’s death are so close together. It is so hard to find new life, new hope the child will bring… and listen… to the angels sing.

I just thought the holidays were hard after torching my relationships with Diane, Dana, Argo, and countless others as I turned inward because I’d done so much wrong in so short a time. What I have to remember is that I torched my relationship with Diane because it needed to happen, butt quick. I torched my relationships with others because my reactions to it were cut down to wet cat backed into a corner, claws extended…. except with my mother.

I could cry with her, and her mirror neurons made her cry with me, simply because I was hurt. I could be vulnerable with her in a way that I couldn’t be with anyone else. I got to have conversations with her that I never thought I would have, because I thought that she was too homophobic to have them. Once those issues were resolved, the conversation I remember the most clearly is when Dana and I were trying to get pregnant (we only made it as far as seeing the OB/GYN and exploring picking out a donor) and she listened, telling me her long and difficult story of trying to get pregnant with me. It took five years, and she told me that the reason why is that something was wrong with her uterus. She thinks that she may have gotten pregnant once before, and the implantation stuck before the cells died. She went to the doctor and had the procedure to remove that damaged tissue, and got pregnant relatively easily after that… but she lamented the years she didn’t know what was wrong, and told me that she and my dad were just starting to explore adoption when she found out she was pregnant. She laughed when I told her that Dana was not interested in getting pregnant, but if her family was any indication, she knew she was “fertile Myrtle” if I wasn’t.

It now makes so much more sense about why I was such an attack dog in trying to protect Dana from her own parents, who made it clear that they wouldn’t come to our wedding (finally, finally they changed their minds on that one) and my children would not be their grandchildren. It was the only reason I wanted Dana to get pregnant instead of me… so that their grandparents would see them as valid, because my parents would have, anyway. My mom listened as I told her that if the kid was indeed mine, Dana needed to go and stay at her parents’ house with the baby alone, so that they saw her as the mother of that child and not just a glorified babysitter. We also decided that breast feeding would be limited, so that either one of us could feed our child and have those bonding moments, and my mom just listened.

You cannot imagine how hard it was to say the words to my mother that I wanted to have a baby, because I thought they would awkwardly hang in the air. Relief flooded my body when they didn’t. She just loved me so unconditionally even when she was uncomfortable. Because she was uncomfortable, I wish I’d tried harder to bridge the gap. My main coping mechanism was to have hours-long phone calls in which we only talked about her… and perhaps it was for the best, because I wasn’t running away from her entirely, just self-selecting what she knew about my life and what she didn’t.

For instance, I wore long-sleeve shirts around her for three years so she would find out I’d gotten a tattoo on my forearm so long after the fact that it wouldn’t matter anymore. She didn’t meet anyone I was dating until we we’d been together so long that the relationship was solid. The only people she didn’t meet that I wanted her to were Dana’s parents, because they had dinner with my Dad and Angela, but would have shared so much more common ground with my mom, because she struggled so much harder to accept me than my dad did… and mostly because she was worried about me, as if I had some sort of design flaw that she’d created herself. By the time she would have met Dana’s parents, she’d let go of that idea and if the conversation had steered in that direction, perhaps my mother would have been their own personal PFLAG…. and now I’ll never know, for so many reasons.

I remember that at HATCH (Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals), I won an award for all the public speaking I’d done at local churches, and she went to the awards ceremony with me. She was dating a Republican judge at the time, and she choked on her water when she found out the keynote speaker was Sheila Jackson Lee. She wasn’t threatened by a room full of gay people, but a Democrat was just beyond the pale.

As she got older, she got more and more liberal, but at that time in her life she was all “R” all the time. She used to wear this t-shirt I loved that said, “take the law into your own hands… hug a judge.” I also remember that phone call, the one where she was wailing and said, they found the judge dead in the bed… and the phone was off the hook because he’d been talking to me. She berated herself for a long time because she thought she could have done something, but his heart just wore out… probably from being too big. My mother used to teach in a school that was predominantly black and poor, and the judge poured out his pockets for it. When they needed school supplies or coats, he was all over it. At his funeral, we were considered family, and I remember riding in the limo to the cemetery absolutely not knowing what to say, because there was nothing to say.

Just like there is nothing anyone can say to me now that would carry more weight than the tapes that run in my own mind. One line that is keeping me sane is something Dr. Susan Leo said in a Christmas Eve service long ago… that Christmas Eve is the one night of the year where the membrane between heaven and earth stretches so thin we can reach up and touch it. I can imagine it. I can touch my mother’s face.

I have never believed in the traditional versions of heaven and hell, choosing to focus on the heaven and hell that’s already here… most notably, the heaven and hell I create for myself. But tonight, of all nights, I choose to believe that Susan is right, and that my mother will be reaching down to touch my face as well.



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