Dawn arrives, crisp and cool. Crickets chirp, insects chorus from the trees. A gentle breeze waggles green maple leaves, spiked with what I imagine are the red-brown eggs of some creature whose larvae will hatch and dine before their great green dinner plates turn mustard-color and slip away. Bright sunshine dapples the ground. I savor the early morning chill, knowing afternoon will bring sweltering heat and humidity. I step barefoot across dewy grass, dig in my toes and say, “Ah, Mother!” I do not know whether I am addressing the planet or the woman who yesterday was laid to rest in its earthy embrace.
The caress of the breeze. The cool of the day. The soles of my feet wet and chill. Simple pleasures not afforded the dead.
I hear the phone ring. Earlier this morning I called my first lover—he of some 27 years ago—and left a message informing him of my mother’s death. He calls from France to offer condolences, to share some verbal snapshots of my mother. We both agree she was a wonderful person, funny and engaging, warm, interesting. “Most of all I remember her eyes,” he says. “They were so bright. They glistened with life. They were vibrant. I remember her eyes most of all.”
Hmph. This, the same woman on whom I turned my back three months ago as she lay dying. I walked away when even on her deathbed she refused to accept me as I am, to see me as worthy enough to provide care for her. You’re gay, therefore you’re not good enough, not accepted here, not acceptable. This the message both she and my siblings communicated.
I’m outta here, I said, and left.
I have tried in the 12 years since my coming out to be the good son, to care, to love, to show my family that I am the same person I ever was. I’ve tried to please them, educate them, scare them a little into opening up their worldview, into looking past religious prejudice to see me as a person. I’ve tried to show them love, patience, tolerance, acceptance, hope, life. A new way of being in the world. How happy I am. How angry I am. How much I have to offer.
I might as well have tried to baptize a cat.
I did not attend my mother’s funeral. I choose to direct my energies toward life, not toward people for whom I will never measure up. Better, more honoring of the bright-eyed woman I hold in my heart, to nurture awareness of life and its simple pleasures—now, while I still can.
Yesterday, as my siblings gathered about her casket in a cavernous church building some 12 hours away, I stood alone under an arch of blue sky in our back flower garden. I laughed, cried, sang and spoke remembrances of the woman who gave me birth. This morning I dove my toes into dewy grass and said again, thank you for life.
This essay appeared in The Letter, Spetember 2008.