Bryan Wilmoth, 46, talks with his brother Mike Wilmoth, 42.
Bryan Wilmoth: I never really told Mom and Dad that I was gay, but Dad used to go through our stuff, I guess, and he found a love letter from a guy buried in my box of things. I was probably nineteen by then, and I kept that letter with me because it was the first love note I ever got. Dad read this letter and lost it. So he took me for a ride and dropped me off in the country in the middle of the night with a five-dollar bill. All I remember is sleeping outside.
I really missed my brothers and sisters when I left. I remember hearing that if I called the house and you guys talked to me that you’d get a beating, because Dad didn’t want you to “catch gay.” So I wouldn’t call. I knew Mom and Dad were talking about how horrible gay people were and how I was probably going to hell — and you guys believed that.
So as each of you guys moved out or got kicked out of the house — or, in your case, ran away at thirteen and a half — I would make an effort to contact you and try to be a big brother again. At first, you were really resistant. And it took a long time for our relationship to build. You didn’t know anything about gay people —
Mike Wilmoth: Didn’t want to. Granted, it was fear based.
Bryan: Of course. But it was still something I had to try to fix. I remember after you started to accept it, every time you met another gay person you would say, “You’ve got to meet my brother!” [Laughs.] I always thought that was really funny, and really sweet.
Mike: Do you remember when you found out that you were HIV positive?
Bryan: It was 1985, and I was twenty-three. They told me I had six to eighteen months to live. When I called Dad and told him I was HIV positive, he said, “Boy, you’ll do anything for attention, won’t you?” At first I was really shocked. But I think it was actually the best thing he could’ve said, because I was going to need a lot of emotional support, and right up front I knew that that wasn’t where I was going to get it.
Dad wanted nothing to do with Mom’s side of the family, and so we had been estranged from Granny and Grandpa. And then I got a message from our aunt Kathy, who I hadn’t talked to in years. She said, “I know it’s short notice, but Granny and Grandpa are having their fiftieth wedding anniversary day after tomorrow, and I just thought somebody from your family should know.” I mean, this is my mom’s parents, and Mom’s got eight kids and nobody knew that Granny and Grandpa were having their fiftieth wedding anniversary. So I called Kathy back and I got on a Greyhound that night.
I remember walking in with Aunt Kathy, and Granny and Grandpa were sitting at the head table with this huge banner over them that said “50 Years.” Way across the room, Grandpa Guy stood up and said, “Is that Bryan?” And he came all the way around, grabbed my arm, and gave me a big hug. He took me up to the front table and put me right next to him and Granny.
We talked the whole night long. They already knew that I was gay and they knew I was HIV positive, but Grandpa wanted to know everything. He wanted to know if I’d ever been in love, he wanted to know if I was happy . . . I never expected to have a night like that with my grandpa.
Mike: That event opened the doors for all of us with Mom’s side of the family.
Bryan: That’s true, isn’t it? After that, I started telling you guys what great people they were, and that’s when we started coming back together as brothers and sisters: Bryan, Pam, Chris, Mike, Jude, Amy, Josh, and Luke-Henry.
Now, Luke-Henry I didn’t even know because he wasn’t born till I was nineteen or twenty. I hadn’t seen him — ever — and he never got to talk to me. But when he graduated from high school, he called me and said, “Bryan? This is your little brother Luke.” And I lost it.
He was estranged from Mom and Dad, too, and he was about to go to University of Dallas. So I took my savings, which wasn’t a lot, and I bought a round-trip ticket to Dallas. Mind you, this is a white-bread Catholic Christian school, and I’m the big gay brother running around getting him set up for his dorm room.
At one point I think I said to Luke, “I really feel more like a parent than a big brother.” And he just looked at me, and he said, “You know, I really needed a parent this weekend.” He was that kind of kid. So we go through this whole weekend, and the last event is this huge mass. I sat in the church, and after the ceremony, this bell rang and all the kids said good-bye to their parents and started heading down towards the dorms. I gave Luke a hug and a kiss and told him how much I loved him, and he started walking away. He got way down to the bottom of the hill and I was just watching after him, like, Wow, I finally got to be a big brother. And at that moment, he turned around and mouthed, “I love you.” It was the most beautiful moment I had ever experienced. That changed everything for me.
Mike: You brought eight siblings that were so far apart as close together as we all became. You are my mountain.
Bryan: Even though Dad didn’t treat me well, and to this day doesn’t speak to any of his eight children, I still love him very much. Because if it hadn’t been for him, I never would’ve found myself living the life that I’m living today.
I just want to tell you that whenever I think of doing something with the person closest to me, I always think of you, because there’s nobody else I’ve ever felt safer with, Mike. I even moved in with you when I got sick. And I want you to know how much it means to me that you’ve loved me like this. For that, I will be forever grateful. It is the foundation relationship that I’ve put the rest of my life on.
Recorded in Los Angeles, California, on February 15, 2009.
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