My eyes began to twitch — as tends to happen when I get nervous — and my hands started to shake profusely as if someone had just pressed the “vibrate” button somewhere on my body, even as each of my fingertips lay firmly and perfectly pressed in alignment with the keys of my keyboard. Pausing and taking a deep breath to absorb the reality of the moment, I moved my fingers from key to key, fluidly tapping each with a delicacy equivalent to that of the words I was typing.
Finally writing my signature at the end of the letter after having typed relentlessly for a solid five to 10 minutes, I barely hesitated before clicking “send” and pushing in the oak drawer of the desk that held the keyboard, throwing all of my thoughts in a mental recycle bin as I did so as a means to disconnect and repress everything I was either feeling in that moment or, even more intimidating, about to feel rush over me like a title wave.
I had just completed the 21st-century process of coming out to my mother: I’d sent an email.
I don’t recall much of what I did in the hours leading up to my mother coming home from work that day, but I do remember silencing my thoughts with a lot of Kelly Clarkson and Heart songs on my iPod with my head shoved under the covers of my bed, occasionally lifting the physical and symbolic barrier between myself and the “real world” to eat a snack or grab my Nintendo DS to play a video game. My “calm before the storm” came in the form of superficial entertainment — I had no desire to analyze my email or what reaction my mother would have in the lead-up to what was about to transpire. Despite any shock she may have, I knew even at the age of 16 that if someone couldn’t love and value me for the “me” I love, any act of rejection really meant nothing — even coming from my mother.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when I heard the garage door open below me and the kitchen door slam shut seconds later.
My mother is not the type of person who is left speechless — ever. Whereas my demeanor is contemplative and thoughtful, hers is typically less calculated, more effortlessly opinionated and quick to pounce on a problem like a cat on a mouse. Yet somehow, as she approached the threshold of the den where I had relocated myself moments earlier, her striking act of silence spoke every thought and opinion she would otherwise be screaming out loud.
I could feel the acceptance by the presence of her maternal eyes attempting to meet mine, yet I could sense the disappointment through her lack of action and speech. The way her eyes fell on me was all-at-once new and yet somehow familiar, full of love but left dumbfounded by what I’d said and how I’d said it.
And though our initial post-outing moment involved little in the way of speech or on-the-surface emotion, it didn’t take longer than five minutes and the uttering out loud of the words “I’m gay” — side-by-side and more tangible than they’d felt in their pixelated version — before tears streamed down my face and simultaneously flooded down hers.
The deed was done.
But it’s worth noting that despite any tension felt with my mother in those first few minutes, days, weeks and even months, things did — yes, really they did — “get better.” Time did heal our wounds, even if they did leave in their wake a series of scars as a reminder of the pain and anxiety I had felt during that freeze-frame moment.
Four years later, I better understand the disappointment I felt from the eyes of my mother came not from the fact that I came out as gay, but from my apprehensions about telling her for so long, which may be a more common reaction among parents than many, myself included, tend to realize in the moments leading up to and during the coming out process — those lonely moments where nothing else seems to matter in the world but your own thoughts, feelings and fears.
Today, I jokingly add a preface to emails I send my mother assuring her I’m not breaking life-changing news in the words to follow. But truth be told, I don’t think she much cares how I communicated the message with her — she’s just happy I did it at all.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.