written by Amira K. Wolf
“54, 55, 56, 57…” I whispered to myself as I lied in bed, aimlessly counting the distinct ticks of my mounted wall clock.
Tick. “58.” Tick. “59.” Tick. “60…” There were no other sounds to fill my ears; my mind. Well, at least… None that I really cared to listen to. The trees rustled in the breeze outside my window; the birds sang their afternoon songs; cars whizzed by… But although I could hear these sounds, I wasn’t listening to them. I had more important matters on my mind that I wanted, no, needed to escape, and only drowning myself in the constant, solitary sound of my wall clock could grant me peace. Although, only for a moment…
Tick. “61.” Tick. “62.” Tick. “63—“ I was able to mutter before three soft, yet firm knocks at my bedroom door interrupted my meditative state.
The door swung open only a crack, and the head of a plump-faced woman peered inside. “Rick, you ready to go? I’ve got the car started,” she said to me.
I inhaled a deep breath and slowly opened my eyes. “Yep, just resting my eyes, Francine.” I lifted myself from my pillow and swung my legs off the edge of my bed. “You don’t have to keep watching me, you know. I’ll be down in a minute,” I said to my sister with a shooing wave of my hand.
Francine frowned slightly, but gave me a nod as she retreated through the door and closed it behind her. I could hear her footsteps, muffled by the carpeted floor, as she walked away and down the stairs.
I sighed. I needed to stand up. I needed to get ready to go, but I was weighted down by thoughts of how today was going to go. Would things go well? Or would they backfire? My body felt like cement, but eventually I took in another deep breath while closing my eyes, gripped the edge of my bed, and, with as much effort as I could muster, I stood up. Unfortunately, the sudden ascension made me light-headed for a second, but I quickly recovered.
I then left my room and made my way down stairs where I grabbed my jacket from off the coat rack and slipped on my best pair of leather shoes. Then, with some hesitation, I walked through the front door.
About an hour or so later, we pulled up to a red-coloured brick house, not too far from the downtown area. It was a modest house fit for either a newlywed couple, or a small family. The latter being the case because of some child paraphernalia that was scattered along the front lawn.
We parked in the driveway behind a silver mini-van, and as soon as Francine turned off the car she looked directly at me; eye-contact never wavering. “You’ll be okay, Rick.”
I shifted my gaze away from hers and nodded. I knew she just wanted to comfort me, but I honestly didn’t know if I’d be okay. My hands started to shake, and my throat felt dry.
Francine opened her mouth to add to her last statement, but before she could say anything I hastily exited the car. I had this feeling that if she had continued her pep talk, I’d end up feeling worse than I already was.
I walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. Not even a second later, I could hear pitter-patter of tiny footsteps rushing to the door, and soon enough it was opened by a little girl not even half the door’s height.
“Mama! Daddy! Granpa here!” The little girl screamed in excitement.
“How’s my little Nina?” I asked her in the highest pitch my grumbly voice could handle.
“I’m good!” She screamed with a hug.
The door then swung open a little wider to make room for a thin yet muscular man.
“Hey Dad, glad you could make it,” he said before coming in for a hug.
“You can thank your aunt for that,” I replied, forcing a subdued chuckle.
“Yes, please do,” Francine added as she joined me with a container of food that she had made. I had no idea what it was. “Hi Chris,” she smiled and went in for a one-armed hug.
Chris then ushered all of us inside, including little Nina who was pulling at Francine’s pant leg. His wife, Lana, was in the dining room setting up the table for supper and, of course, Francine and I both greeted her. We then continued to the back porch where a table was set up with various snacks and lemonade.
“I thought it’d be nice to set up outside. Beats spending the night inside a stuffy house, right?” Chris said, patting Nina’s head at the end of his sentence.
“Yep,” I replied in a low, withdrawn tone; hands in my pockets. From the corner of my eye, I could see Chris raise an eyebrow at my response and look back at Francine. I’m not sure what her expression was, but whatever it was it prompted a reaction from Chris.
“Hey Nina, why don’t you show Aunty what your new room looks like, okay?” Chris gently asked.
“Okay!” Nina exclaimed then yanked Francine back inside.
Chris closed the sliding door behind them then took a seat at the patio table where he gestured me to sit with him. So, I did.
“So, how’ve you been, Dad?” He asked.
I shrugged, not quite sure how to answer honestly.
Chris leaned over and poured two glasses of lemonade. He passed one to me, but I politely turned it down with a wave of my trembling hand, which Chris noticed. He set aside both glasses.
“I really am glad you decided to stop by,” he said with a warm smile that I could barely look at. “Aunt Francine said that you’ve been doing a little better these days.”
“A little…” I said but my voice came out dry and raspy. I can’t do this, I suddenly thought. I could feel my chest tightening like someone was squeezing the life from my lungs. I can’t tell him… I’d disappoint him.
“Dad? Are you okay?” Chris asked, but he sounded so distant. My hands shook worse than before, and I could feel tears welling up. I tried my best to hold them back. I had to, I felt like I needed to, but… I couldn’t. The tears streamed down my face and, in hopes of hiding my shame, I crouched.
“Dad, w-what’s wrong?” Chris asked, concerned that the man he looked up to was crying for the second time in front of him. “Talk to me.”
I didn’t know what else to do. I had driven myself into a corner by breaking down like this, and there was only one way out. So, with my voice distorted from crying, I confessed to him the secret that I thought I could hide forever.
“I… I’m…” The word I wanted to say caught in my throat, thus I was reduced to something simpler. “…I like men.”
“What?” Chris responded, taken aback.
There was a pause after that. A pin-drop silence from Chris that I assumed was him processing what I had said. Finally, he spoke anew.
“Dad, I don’t really understand where this is coming from so suddenly. You were married to mom for over three decades and scoffed at people who were openly gay…”
“I… I know, but I… Grew up in a time and place where you were better off being on the streets than being… Gay.”
“So… Did you never love mom?” He asked, trying to understand. “Did she know?”
“No, no… I loved your mom very much, I really did, but… It didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel comfortable, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that… And I felt like I would’ve disappointed you. The only person who knew was your aunt.” I stayed crouched as I continued to speak. “But when your mother died… Something snapped. I suddenly felt so guilty for not telling her. I felt like I made her live a lie… Like I made both of you live a lie. And it’s been eating away at me for the past year… I’m so sorry, Chris…”
I cried like I had never cried before. I felt filthy, but I also felt good. Like a weight had been lifted. But unexpectedly… Something warm was embracing me. Chris, my only son, was on his knees, and his arms were wrapped around me.
“You should have told us. You shouldn’t have kept this a secret for so long,” he said, his voice sounding as if he was about to cry as well. “I’m not disappointed in you. I’m glad you told me, but upset that you felt trapped. Dad… I love you and mom loved you too.”
In that instance, I felt something snap again; something freeing. I hugged Chris back. Those were the words I needed to hear.