• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    The plunge

    Since Atsushi and I managed to yum-yum our New Year’s rice cakes* right down without choking to death on them, it seems you’re stuck with me for another year.

    For that matter, in a few weeks’ time, Atsushi will have been stuck with me for exactly five years. Not even by being transferred to another island has he managed to escape.

    And–I don’t know what precisely jogged my memory of this, except possibly the general reflections one does on the passage of time during the holidays–it’s ten years ago today that I came out to my parents.

    They were still officially living in their old place, the little rented townhouse they’d moved into after marrying in 1971 and were about to move out of now that my little brother was ready to start college.

    The house they’d finally been able to put up a down payment for was a fixer-upper three or four miles down the road. It had been abandoned by tax evaders and left vacant for a few years, during which time someone had broken in and defaced it. The master bath was sooty with the remains of a fire in the shower. There were holes punched or hacked in some of the walls. And others had been spraypainted: “This is our house.” “Satan lives in this house.” The former message made my parents say that the malefactors had probably been the former owners’ much-tried children. The latter message, which was accompanied by a point-up star inside a circle, made a college friend of mine [from McKean County] roll her eyes and say, “Trust rural Pennsylvania Satanists not to be able to draw a freakin’ pentagram right.”

    I was home from New York for the New Year. My parents were full of talk about wallpaper patterns and rented floor sanders and other sweat equity stuff. Dad makes wooden furniture as a hobby, so Mom was coming up with all kinds of elaborate cabinets that could be contrived for this or that odd space. I’d been dating a man for over a year and out to myself, in that final way, for a few months. My only vague thought about telling my parents had been that it might be a good idea after I’d been in grad school for a few years, when I was twenty-five or twenty-six and my having lived in the City for a while had gotten them used to the idea that my life was not going to be the return to the hometown that they’d envisioned for me. After all, lots of gay men and women with conservative Christian families found ways not to break their parents’ hearts without lying to them.

    And then some time during those last few days of December, the thought creeped up on me that I had an opportunity that wouldn’t come up again. The house was a project that would be occupying my parents for at least a good year; it was something ready to hand that they could throw themselves into if they were feeling distrait. The room I’d slept in for eighteen years before college wouldn’t be down the hall every night. Everything at the house on Broad Street was going to be packed away and removed, anyway; if they decided they had to cut off contact with me, I could get whatever stuff I needed and leave without its being the only such Event going on.

    I also knew that they were not the sort of parents to go to their grave resolutely believing that their son wasn’t a homo but just a workaholic who hadn’t found the right girl. I’d had the usual frictions with them as a teenager, but we’d always gotten along well and communicated frankly. Eventually, I’d be thirty-five years old and home for dinner, and Mom would deposit the platter of Swiss steak on the table with a clunk and demand to know just what was up with me and that long-term roommate of mine. Or Dad would hand me a cup of coffee one morning and ask, once I had a good mouthful, whether I really expected them to believe I’d been sleeping on a couch for six years. My parents have a talent for delivering a zinger when you least expect it.

    Of course, this was going to be my zinger, and I knew that if I started trying to plan it, thinking about all the possibilities–I should probably have bus money in my pocket in case they throw me out right then and there–would make me lose my nerve. So I decided to wait for a good break in the conversation and improvise, but not to think too much about it until then. (That actually wasn’t all that hard; we were really busy entertaining friends and running around and stuff. I was too exhausted at night to lie awake being anxious.)

    Straight readers may find this surprising, but I honestly don’t remember clearly how the actual conversation went. Not really. Not the way, with my lit-major brain, I can often replay other memorable scenes word for word in my head for years afterward. I know I said everything I thought I needed to say, without being halting about it they way I’d been afraid I’d be. I know they assured me they weren’t going to disown me and then, after the inital shock wore off, qualified that by suggesting all the things you can imagine conservative Christian parents’ suggesting.

    And a few days later I was back in New York, and my parents were moving. And things were okay. That much I do remember clearly.

    * お餅 (o-mochi: sticky rice, often cut into cakes of approx. 1 cm * 4 cm * 5 cm that are toasted and eaten wrapped in sheets of pressed seaweed). The Japanese can make deadly foods out of not only poisonous fish but also rice–that’s how bottomlessly resourceful they are. It fills you with a kind of awe.

    Added on 4 January: As a friend just pointed out to me, o-mochi is also often served in soup, which makes it more stretchy.

    3 Responses to “The plunge”

    1. Connie says:

      Thanks for sharing that. Your parents love YOU more than the picture they had of you.

      It’s tough. You DO have dreams, plans, and pictures of how you hope your children will find happiness. They just had to have a little time to change that picture, maybe grieve over the loss of it, but they made new pictures once they knew more about what you wanted, what you were capable of, and who you had become.

    2. Toren says:

      Just remember, when eating mochi, to always have a vacuum cleaner handy. (Thanks to Juzu Itami’s great film Marusa no Onna for this important safety tip.)

    3. Zak says:

      I’ve always thought the perfect murder would be merely to strangle someone on New Year’s and then stuff a piece of mochi down their throat. No one would ever question it.

    Leave a Reply