After coming out to his parents, Wade thought he might never see them again — until his mother unexpectedly called from a bus stop.
“I’m on a Greyhound bus, I’m callin’ from a pay phone in Rolla, Missouri, and I’m comin’ to see you.”
“What?” I asked my mother in confusion.
“I want to see you,” she answered. “And I want to meet Gary.”
This was decades ago. It was just before Christmas, and I was working in St. Louis. Hearing my mother utter these words was the equivalent of my assistant saying, “Miss Sharon Stone is waiting outside your office.”
I had come out to my parents mere months earlier, and my father had basically disowned me. After we’d spoken, he had sent me a letter that essentially ended our relationship.
I had spoken to my mom only a couple of times the following few months. This was via clandestine calls from work, in which she had told me my father was forcing her to choose between me and him. I had been anticipating a depressing holiday season.
“What about Dad?” I asked.
“He was not willin’ or able to come with me at this point in time,” Mom said in only the way she could.
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When Gary and I picked her up, I was petrified. After all we’d been through, what would she think of Gary? Our life?
Mom high-stepped it off the bus in her unique way. (My mother tended toward walking with the same speed and gait as a turkey.) Within seconds, Gary – a hugger – reached out and grabbed her tightly. In response, she went limp.
“I thought he would be older?” my mother observed, looking at me. “Your father said Gary would be a much older, wily gentleman, perhaps in his late fifties.”
“No, he’s younger than me,” I replied. “Despite what dad believes, I was not coerced into being gay. Nor was I seduced in a back alley. In fact, I’ve known forever.”
“Well,” my mother began awkwardly, “it is nice to meet you – finally. Yes, yes, that is correct. Nice to meet you, sir.”
I had warned Gary about my mother’s nervous talk. It was filled with odd tics and strange tales. But he was charmed. “I love your voice,” he said. “Very Steel Magnolias.”
I clutched my breath. But my Ozarks Mom simply smiled at Gary, finally embracing him back.
For the next hour, my mother — whose stories always walked a fine line between fact and fiction — told Gary a fictionalized tale of Shirley MacLaine’s life. I knew it was fictionalized in part because, for sure, she didn’t star in Funny Girl. She also proceeded to tell Gary how she believed that in previous lives she had been Clara Barton, a lioness and a blind cobbler, (not necessarily in that order). Gary told my mother he believed he had been an Egyptian goddess, a Russian dancer and close relative of Suzanne Somers (definitely in that order).
I told both of them that I was in Hell. Neither seemed to care. They were too busy bonding, talking and laughing, like long-lost friends reconnected. My mother had immediately adored Gary, and he adored her right back. Gary and Geri were, in short, a match made in heaven.
Despite all the family drama that preceded it, there would be no fights, no anger, no personal drama during her visit. That’s the thing about when you stop judging and start loving, accepting and understanding. You’re more aware, you live in a place of light, you move forward.
By jumping on that Greyhound, my mother made a stand that changed my life, Gary’s life, and the life of my father, who came around not only to accept but also to deeply love me and Gary. He likely would not have without my mother’s bravery. Over the last 20-plus years Gary and I have been together, his parents have given me wonderful gifts my parents could not. And my parents gave Gary things his parents could not.
On this, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, we all must continue to make a stand for what matters in life, no matter the consequences. When we do, lives change dramatically for the better. When we don’t, things remain the same or get even worse. My mom’s show of strength — when all could have been lost for her — changed lives and continues to.
My mother passed away in 2009. But when I’m down, when I need to feel strong and proud in the face of the world’s vitriol, or when I need a reminder to take a stand, I think of my mother buying a bus ticket, jumping on a Greyhound, and running away from home to show her son that she loved him.
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Last modified: June 7, 2019