Out of the Pan

I hated it. The relentless uniformity of heartbreak, the cycle that began at age fourteen, the torture of it, irremediable. This time his name was Paul and he’s in love with a cunt named Margie. I hated that I still hadn’t learned: straight men were the nemesis; when their kindness was brutal, their bodies sinewy, their indulgence disastrous. I hated that sometimes I wished I were straight, or prayed for a vagina. I hated the downtown cruising areas, that I knew where they were, dark alleys and empty lots, abandoned tenements and tracks; seedy corners where I treated my infirmities with whimpered moans and glistening ejaculate - the heartbreak cure. I hated my lust, that even as I tried to hold out for as long as I could, it had never lost, that its release exceeded the remedy of alcohol, that the bliss stopped after the pants are redone. I hated that I did all the work, none of the dark faces returning the favor, that I kept going back anyway. Because it was delicious to feel wanted, to forget that I wasn’t, however briefly. I hated my shame, the bellicose culture that conditioned it, the Church that coddled its vicious gluttony. A misplaced rebellion against a faceless recipient. I was a bottle of self-loathing. The need to hide, the fear of consequences, the crippling muck I couldn’t brave to thaw.

It was two a.m. when I staggered in. Ma had been waiting in the living room, rosary beads rolling between fingers. 8 days straight, she had been patient. But tonight Ma sat me down, prepared to pull my guts out through my throat if necessary. What was the alcohol binge about, the muffled sobbing in the bath? What was wrong? She wouldn’t desist.

So I told her, screamed it to her good ear.

I hugged her through my rage, the terror and despair turning my grip viselike. Her arms around me were just as ironclad.

“I know,” Ma whispered.

“I know you know,” I challenged because she couldn’t deny it any longer.

She held me while I cried and I spoke to her through snivels, through wheezy disrepair. She cooed in a broken voice. “It’s going to be okay.”

But Ma was a pragmatist, grown to jobless but unapologetic parents, and 8 younger siblings she needed to start feeding when she was too young to know how. She was emotional, dramatic, but her histrionics halted mid-spring, her brain always kicking in. Her irrevocable definition of morality preceded everything else.

“Don’t do anything to bring shame to the family,” Ma said.

The alcohol in my head stopped me from contesting. Shock kept the words at bay. Did she forget that I had always been the golden child? I inherited her wit, her sass, her performer’s abilities. I achieved Dad’s artistic inclinations in full, Great Grams’ storytelling prowess bled through my pen, Gramps’ street smarts made the bullies run. I started speaking full sentences when I was 8 months old. Nobody in the family spoke fluent English yet I mastered it at fourteen. The first writer in 8 generations at least, the anomaly whose words could challenge a fist, this despite being raised in a book-free household. I received my first regional literary award at 18, won my university paper’s literary competition three years in a row, finished my studies three semesters early. At twenty-four, I was managing an ESL school, supervising a faculty of 28 people each of whom was at least 8 years older than I was. I was the highest earner in the family, hers and Dad’s combined. I paid the bills, Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners, out-of-town trips. I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. Exactly what kind of shame did she think I was capable of?

“This stays between us,” Ma added. “We can never tell your father and sister about this.”

I almost laughed. Outside the four of us, everyone knew. My friends, my sister’s friends, the neighbors, every school I went to. Everyone was just too polite to claw at her denial, to let her suffer the shame she was terrified about. Her mind had taken a different mold, hardwired to reject any sexual or romantic implication that came with my big reveal. She loved me, but she couldn’t let me be a cocksucker, a bender, a cumwhore, whatever monster was cooked up by the society we were raised in. It was never to be spoken of again.

The next day, I woke up a winner; a droopy-eyed, clammy-mouthed victor. Hung over like a body without bones. I did it. I had come out!

It was 8 a.m. Ma told me I should sleep in and skip work, asked what I wanted for breakfast. But I heard a different music thrumming behind her kindness, a silky voice singing a dirge. She killed something last night. It was dead, as far as she was concerned.

The inconvenience was over, dealt with. I had won and the prize was binding. An umbilical cord tinted with the blue of loneliness, solitude’s conquered gray. I needed Ma’s acceptance and hated her for it. Her unconditional love was a closet, more solid than mine had ever been, a wider storage space where the screams echoed louder and deeper. I hated that we both wanted me to fit in it. I hated that I didn’t fight, that I just stepped in.

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